Frederick Carl Frieseke Girl In Blue Arranging Flowers 1915
Potential earthquakes and black swans are right ahead of us. What else is new? On April 16, Turkey has a referendum to decide whether Erdogan will become de facto supreme ruler. What happens if he loses the referendum is completely unclear, undiscussed even, but it’s obvious a loss would have the country shake on its already shaky foundations.
The Turkish economy is in horrible shape and Erdogan’s post-coup firings (hundreds of thousands) and jailings (tens of thousands) have made large parts of society unattended. The biggest of which may well be the army; you can’t fire large numbers of officers and pilots and expect to retain the same strike effectiveness.
Erdogan’s ongoing war on the Kurds is also turning against him, or at least internationally. Both Russia and the US acknowledge the important role Kurdish forces play in the battle against ISIS, and they’re not going to turn against them. So while Turkey demands a major role in neighboring Syria, it has essentially been put off-side, or benched.
Russia maintains (some of) its boycotts of Turkish products ($260 million worth of tomatoes) that were the result of Erdogan downing a Russian jet in late 2015, and the refuses to deliver arch-enemy Gülen, despite Michael Flynn’s best efforts. This means, by the way, that the country simply hasn’t provided irrefutable proof of the man’s role in the coup (if it was ever a real coup).
If Erdogan cannot come up a winner on Sunday, he would lose a lot of face. And he might lose more than that. Of course one must question if it’s even a option that the Turkish people vote NO, and that that would subsequently be announced as the referendum result. He controls just about anything in the country already; why not this too, by right or by might?!
Second black swan: France. It could be a genuine black one, as in unexpected. Less than two weeks before the first round of the presidential election, all of a sudden another contender has come to the fore. Far left Jean-Luc Mélenchon was never given any chance of winning, but one TV debate later his popularity is rising fast.
The French have long been tired of their political system, and this time around that could mean all established parties are out. Even perhaps including Emmanuel Macron, who doesn’t belong to a party but is still perceived as a member of the establishment, no matter how hard he tries not to be.
Come round two on May 7, voters might be faced with the -stark- choice between far left and far right, with a big gaping empty hole in between. That would leave no option of a ‘safe choice’, the big hope of everyone who doesn’t like Marine Le Pen. It would also leave no candidate who unwaveringly supports the euro or even the EU.
In fact, it’s ironic -make that funny- to what extent far left and far right ideas ‘meet in the middle’. Add to the irony that Melenchon’s rise makes a Le Pen presidency that much more likely, because a ‘communist’ is seen as at least as dangerous as Le Pen. That might give her the undecided votes she will need to prevail.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow, he’s way out of his league, and he knows it. His task is, if you read between the lines, to deliver warnings and threats to Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, but both are not only at least as smart as Rex, they have the many years of experience in international politics that he woefully lacks.
The White House issued a ‘we can prove it was Assad, and it was sarin’ report yesterday, but they can not. The sarin accusation even makes little sense given the photos of people attending to the victims with bare hands. Accusing Russia of being complicit in Assad attacking his own people with gas/chemicals doesn’t really fly either.
Tillerson said earlier in the week that Russia is either ‘incompetent or complicit’, that it should have made sure Assad had no chemical arsenal. But a 2013 treaty between the US and Russia established a UN body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), that is responsible for that. And the US is part of that body, and as such co-responsible.
And yes, there will be people saying that Russia delivered chemical capacity to Assad despite the treaty. But why should it? That question falls into the same category as why Assad would use chemicals to begin with at this point in time. It makes no sense, there is no logic. But then in the US logic has been in short supply for a while, certainly when politics are concerned.
Tillerson apparently was told to tell Russia that it has to stop supporting Assad or else, but that is just real dumb. Syria is Russia’s only haven in the Middle East, and there’s no chance they will give it up. And why should they? Would the world be a better place if the US can do whatever it wants in the region? Haven’t the utterly failed regime changes in Iraq and Libya done enough damage?
Sure, Assad may be a shaky asset. But what about the Saudi’s and their western-supported obliteration of the entire nation and peoples of Yemen? Want to look at some pictures that can drive Ivanka to tears? You won’t see them in your media, and neither will she. It’s all just biased nonsense, and by now it’s hard to see how Trump will find his own way in, let alone find his way out of, this foreign swamp.
Threatening Russia is certainly not that way. But sure, the President must feel eager to disprove the unproven non-stop allegations of collaboration between him and Putin. And the one-sided attacks did indeed stop only when the bombs started to fall. It’s all so predictable it makes you want to puke all over your morning paper all over every single morning, Groundhog Day style.
The New York Times was awarded a Pulitzer for “agenda-setting reporting on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to project Russia’s power abroad”. I kid you not. The American press has lost all concerns about its own credibility, and the Pulitzers follow them with a vengeance. And that same press did a weather-vane like 180 as soon as 59 Tomahawks were aimed and fired at an abandoned airport in the sand.
They were anti-Trump mongers the whole time, and changed like a leaf on a tree in seconds, to become pro-war mongers. It’s something to behold. They love him! The starkest example, among too many to keep count of, was presented in a publication named The Hill, which we are apparently supposed to take serious. It’s just another WaPo and NYT clone, but this thing by “General Anthony J. Tata, Opinion Contributor” sums it all up too nicely to ignore:
In the wake of Tuesday’s Syrian chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians, President Barack Obama will be remembered as America’s modern day Neville Chamberlain, the infamous United Kingdom Prime Minister who appeased Nazi Germany in 1938 by signing the Munich Agreement, setting the stage for the holocaust. Contrast Obama’s negligence with President Donald Trump’s decisive action a mere two days following the Syrian violation of international law. The Syrian government used chemicals to brutalize its citizens in Khan Sheikhoun.
President Trump immediately denounced the attacks, labeling them, “An affront to humanity.” Less than 72 hours later he ordered the launch of 60 cruise missiles to destroy the airfield from which the bomb delivering airplanes departed. If Obama’s passivity in the face of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) deployed in Syria in 2013 lends to Chamberlain comparisons, President Donald Trump’s military action against Syria this week compares favorably to Winston Churchill, Chamberlain’s effective wartime successor.
Just as Chamberlain and Churchill viewed Nazi Germany differently, how could two modern day American presidents see essentially the same horrifying pictures of chemical weapons attack victims and come to two decidedly different conclusions about their terror and an effective response?
Jarring images of Tuesday’s sarin nerve agent attack on its citizens that circulated the world this week were similar to those that went viral in 2013: bodies torqued in gruesome death poses, patients oozing bodily fluids from their mouths and noses, and children running blind through the streets. In 2013, an unimpressed President Obama found a passive, ineffective diplomatic solution relying on unreliable Russian oversight. Syria obviously maintained and built its weapons of mass destruction stockpiles. The United Nations was even in on the deal, declaring that there were no more chemical weapons in Syria.
There’s so much stupidity and mendacity in that, you really have to take some time out to let it sink in. But it’s also very representative of American media these days. CNN, WaPo, NYT, they’re all full of people who by now must feel really shortchanged because Trump hasn’t dropped many more bombs on Syria, and they’re more than willing not to show us the pictures of the children those bombs would maim and kill. After all, how many pictures have you seen of Yemen’s death and famine?
When Trump told Maria Bartiromo that “we’re not going into Syria”, you can bet your buttocks lots of executives behind the desks there were thinking of one thing only: how do we get him to do it anyway? They still have hope there’ll be a major war soon, I guarantee you that.
But Putin is not going to move an inch, not on Syria and not on anything else. He knows the US army can do a lot of damage, but it can’t win. It hasn’t won an actual war in many decades, and it won’t win this one either if whoever’s in Washington decides to start it.
Before I started writing this I was thinking about Rip van Winkle rather than Groundhog Day. The whole media 180, and the war cries, are exactly like they were in 2003. Now, Rip van Winkle allegedly slept for 20 years, not 14, but hey, details. The cute thing about the Rip van Winkle story is also in the details:
When he awakens, Van Winkle discovers shocking changes: his musket is rotting and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. He returns to his village, where he recognizes no one. Van Winkle returns just after an election, and people are asking how he voted. (Wikipedia)
That election thing is priceless. But Rip woke up to find his entire world completely changed. Whereas today’s hollow US war talk is something we’ve seen before, and many times. That’s more Groundhog Day style. There must be a way to connect the two stories in a way that fits today’s reality. Whoever finds it is in Hollywood blockbuster territory.
War is far too popular in America. It’s scary. Not least of all because the US has zero chance of winning. For the same reasons, by the by, that it can’t fix its health care system.
America as a country, a society, is not effective enough anymore to win anything, there’s no chance of a concerted effort, it’s too inward looking and distracted by TV-shaped reality and ‘social’ media, and its entire society is aimed only at maximizing profit at the expense of one’s own neighbors. America has turned into cats in a sack.
But yes, these are often the most dangerous times in the existence of an empire. The waning days. The downward slope. The swans that will pop up in that are definitely black; there’s no predicting those graceful beauties.
Electric cars have been around for longer than internal combustion engines. When they first appeared in the 1800s, they competed with steam-powered cars and horses. What Tesla has done is put them on the map. That was a huge feat. Now every global automaker has electric cars. They all, including Teslas, still have the same problem they had in the 1800s: the battery. But those problems – costs, weight or range, and time it takes to charge – are getting smaller as the technology advances. And the competition from the giants, once batteries are ready for prime-time, will be huge, and global. So in March, Tesla sold 4,050 new vehicles in the US, according to Autodata. All automakers combined sold 1.56 million new vehicles in the US.
This gave Tesla a record high market share of an invisibly small 0.26%. Volume-wise, it’s in the same ballpark as Porsche. GM sold 256,007 new vehicles in March, for a market share of 16.5%. In other words, GM sold 63 times as many new vehicles as Tesla did. For percent-lovers, that’s 6,221% more. Even if Tesla quadruples its sales in the US, it still will not amount to a significant market share. Then there is Tesla’s financial performance. It lost money in every one of its 10 years of existence. Here are the “profits” – um, net losses – Tesla racked up, in total $2.9 billion:
We constantly hear the old saw that stock prices reflect future earnings and/or cash flows, and that looking back ten years has no meaning for the future. Alas, after 10 years of producing losses, Tesla shows no signs of making money in the future. It might instead continue burning through investor cash by the billions. Based on the logic that stock prices reflect future earnings, its shares should be at about zero. This chart compares Tesla’s net losses (red bars) and GM’s net income (green bars), in millions of dollars. Over those eight years going back to 2010, Tesla lost $2.7 billion; GM earned $47.1 billion:
[..] In comparison with GM, Tesla is ludicrously overvalued. But it’s not “inexplicable.” It’s perfectly explicable by the wondrously Fed-engineered stock market that has long ago abandoned any pretext of valuing companies on a rational basis. And it’s explicable by the hype – the “research” – issued by Wall Street investment banks that hope to get fat fees from Tesla’s next offerings of shares or convertible debt. The amounts are huge, going back ten years: Last month, Tesla raised another $1.2 billion, after having raised $1.5 billion in May 2016. There will be more. Tesla is burning a lot of cash. Investment banks get rich on these deals. The bonuses are huge. So it’s OK to hype Tesla’s stock and sell it to their clients. Everybody wins in this scenario – except for a few despised short sellers who’re hung up on their silly notion of reality.
If anything defined the postwar economy between 1946 and 1999, it was the exodus of the middle class from cities to suburbs and the glorification of what Jim Kunstler calls Happy Motoring: freeways, cars and trucks, ten lanes of private vehicles, the vast majority of which are transporting one person. The build-out of suburbia drove growth for decades: millions of new suburban homes, miles of new freeways, sprawling shopping malls, and tens of millions of new autos, trucks, and SUVs, transforming one-car households into three vehicle households. Then there was all the furnishings for those expansive new homes, and the credit necessary to fund the homes, vehicles, furnishings, etc. Now the Millennial generation is turning its back on both of these bedrock engines of growth.
As various metrics reveal, the Millennials are fine with taking Uber to work, buying their shoes from Zappos (return them if they don’t fit, no problem), and making whatever tradeoffs are necessary to live in urban cores. Simply put, the natural progression of this generation is away from suburban malls, suburban home ownership and the car-centric commuter lifestyle that goes with suburban homeownership. Saddled with insanely high student debt loads imposed by the rapaciously predatory higher education cartel, Millennials avoid additional debt like the plague. Millennials have relatively high savings rates. As for a lifetime of penury to service debt–hey, they already have that, thanks to their “I borrowed $100,000 and all I got was this worthless college degree” student loans.
Consider the secondary effects of these trend changes. If Millennials are earning less and already carrying heavy debt loads, who is going to buy the Baby Boom’s millions of pricey suburban McMansions? The answer might be “no one.” If vehicle sales decline, all the secondary auto-related sales decline, too. Auto insurance, for example. Furnishing a small expensive urban flat requires a lot less furnishings than a 3,000 square foot suburban house. What happens to sales of big dining sets and backyard furniture? As retail malls die, property taxes, sales taxes and payroll taxes decline, too. Many cheerlead the notion of repurposed commercial space, but uses such as community college classes pay a lot less per square foot than retail did, and generate little in the way of sales and payroll taxes. Financial losses will also mount. Valuations and property taxes will decline, and commercial real estate loans based on nose-bleed valuations and high retail lease rates will go south, triggering significant financial-sector losses.
One of the great mysteries and biggest concerns in the economy right now is the slowing growth in bank lending. Economists are searching for answers but none are entirely satisfying. Total loans and leases extended by commercial banks in the U.S. this year were up just 3.8% from a year earlier as of March 29, according to the latest Federal Reserve data. That compares with 6.4% growth in all of last year, and a 7.6% pace as of late October. The slowdown is more surprising given the rise in business and consumer confidence since the election. And it is worrisome because the lack of business investment is considered an important reason why economic growth has remained weak. Loans to businesses have slowed most sharply, with the latest data showing commercial and industrial loans up just 2.8% from a year earlier, compared with 8.9% growth in late October.
Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate the slowdown in commercial and industrial lending alone equates to a $100 billion shortfall in loans. Investors may start to get more clarity on what is causing the slowdown when banks start reporting first-quarter earnings on Thursday. One explanation is that many companies have been tapping corporate bond markets to lock in low rates, and in some cases to pay down more expensive bank debt. In the first quarter of this year, corporate bond issuance rose by 18% from a year earlier, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. But one reason for the increase is that the first quarter of 2016 was dismal because of market turmoil. The rise isn’t enough to explain the entire shortfall in lending.
The 50 biggest US companies stashed another $200bn of profits in offshore tax havens in 2015 alone, taking the total to approximately $1.6 trillion, according to new analysis. Donald Trump’s plans to slash taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals and impose a border tax will harm average consumers further, Oxfam said in a report published on Tuesday. The 50 largest companies disclosed use of 1,751 subsidiaries in countries classed as tax havens by the OECD and the US National Bureau of Economic Research, an increase of 143 on a year earlier, the charity found. The true number may be far higher as only “significant” subsidiaries have to be disclosed. Big multinationals such as Google, Amazon and Apple have come under fire for routing sales through countries such as Bermuda, Ireland and Luxembourg, which offer them low tax rates.
While this is legal, critics say it does not reflect where the firms actually do business. The top rate of US corporate tax is 35% – one of the highest rates in the world, incentivising many companies to hold billions offshore. Mr Trump has pledged to reduce this to 15% and a one-off rate of 10% for money currently held abroad. That will hand a $328bn tax break to the 50 biggest companies, with Apple, Pfizer and Microsoft the biggest gainers, accounting for 40% of the total, Oxfam estimated. While some have welcomed the move as a sensible way to bring profits of US companies back to the country, Oxfam warns that it risks accelerating a race to the bottom that will harm consumers in America as well as the world’s poor as global tax rates plummet.
President Donald Trump declined to give top adviser Steve Bannon a vote of confidence during a New York Post interview published Tuesday, in which he also said the U.S. was not headed toward a ground war in Syria. There have been reports of discord among Trump’s top White House advisers, and rumors that controversial chief strategist Bannon may be on the way out. Last week, Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were reportedly told to iron out their differences. When asked Monday by Post columnist Michael Goodwin if he still had confidence in Bannon, Trump didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement: “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve.”
“I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.” “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will,” Trump said. In the same interview, Trump told Goodwin that, despite last week’s airstrike, U.S. policy toward Syria has not changed. “We’re not going into Syria,” Trump said. “Our policy is the same — it hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria.” Trump also acknowledged a growing rift with Russia — “We’re not exactly on the same wavelength with Russia, to put it mildly” — again called the nuclear deal with Iran “the single worst deal ever,” and said of the worsening nuclear situation with North Korea: “I knew I was left a mess, but it’s worse than I thought.”
Waging endless wars abroad (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Syria) isn’t making America—or the rest of the world—any safer, it’s certainly not making America great again, and it’s undeniably digging the U.S. deeper into debt. In fact, it’s a wonder the economy hasn’t collapsed yet. Indeed, even if we were to put an end to all of the government’s military meddling and bring all of the troops home today, it would take decades to pay down the price of these wars and get the government’s creditors off our backs. Even then, government spending would have to be slashed dramatically and taxes raised.
You do the math.
• The government is $19 trillion in debt.
• The Pentagon’s annual budget consumes almost 100% of individual income tax revenue.
• The government has spent $4.8 trillion on wars abroad since 9/11, with $7.9 trillion in interest. As the Atlantic points out, we’re fighting terrorism with a credit card.
• The government lost more than $160 billion to waste and fraud by the military and defense contractors.
• Taxpayers are being forced to pay $1.4 million per hour to provide U.S. weapons to countries that can’t afford them.
• The U.S. government spends more on wars (and military occupations) abroad every year than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.
• Now President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion.
• Add in the cost of waging war in Syria, and the burden on taxpayers soars to more than $11.5 million a day. Ironically, while presidential candidate Trump was vehemently opposed to the U.S. use of force in Syria, and warned that fighting Syria would signal the start of World War III against a united Syria, Russia and Iran, he wasted no time launching air strikes against Syria.
Clearly, war has become a huge money-making venture, and the U.S. government, with its vast military empire, is one of its best buyers and sellers. Yet what most Americans—brainwashed into believing that patriotism means supporting the war machine—fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at taxpayer expense. The rationale may keep changing for why American military forces are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and now Syria. However, the one that remains constant is that those who run the government—including the current president—are feeding the appetite of the military industrial complex and fattening the bank accounts of its investors.
Case in point: President Trump plans to “beef up” military spending while slashing funding for the environment, civil rights protections, the arts, minority-owned businesses, public broadcasting, Amtrak, rural airports and interstates. In other words, in order to fund this burgeoning military empire that polices the globe, the U.S. government is prepared to bankrupt the nation, jeopardize our servicemen and women, increase the chances of terrorism and blowback domestically, and push the nation that much closer to eventual collapse. Obviously, our national priorities are in desperate need of an overhauling.
Raworth begins by redrawing the economy. She embeds it in the Earth’s systems and in society, showing how it depends on the flow of materials and energy, and reminding us that we are more than just workers, consumers and owners of capital. This recognition of inconvenient realities then leads to her breakthrough: a graphic representation of the world we want to create. Like all the best ideas, her doughnut model seems so simple and obvious that you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. But achieving this clarity and concision requires years of thought: a great decluttering of the myths and misrepresentations in which we have been schooled. The diagram consists of two rings. The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy.
Anyone living within that ring, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation. The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world. The area between the two rings – the doughnut itself – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there. As well as describing a better world, this model allows us to see, in immediate and comprehensible terms, the state in which we now find ourselves. At the moment we transgress both lines. Billions of people still live in the hole in the middle. We have breached the outer boundary in several places.
An economics that helps us to live within the doughnut would seek to reduce inequalities in wealth and income. Wealth arising from the gifts of nature would be widely shared. Money, markets, taxation and public investment would be designed to conserve and regenerate resources rather than squander them. State-owned banks would invest in projects that transform our relationship with the living world, such as zero-carbon public transport and community energy schemes. New metrics would measure genuine prosperity, rather than the speed with which we degrade our long-term prospects.
Such proposals are familiar; but without a new framework of thought, piecemeal solutions are unlikely to succeed. By rethinking economics from first principles, Raworth allows us to integrate our specific propositions into a coherent programme, and then to measure the extent to which it is realised. I see her as the John Maynard Keynes of the 21st century: by reframing the economy, she allows us to change our view of who we are, where we stand, and what we want to be. Now we need to turn her ideas into policy. Read her book, then demand that those who wield power start working towards its objectives: human prosperity within a thriving living world.
I’ll bet pundits and pollsters will forever ponder how Donald Trump got elected. For me, it’s straightforward: The American people—or at least enough of them to propel Mr. Trump into office—wanted to infuse practical business experience into the government. To borrow a phrase from my friend, the economist Larry Lindsey, voters rejected the political ruling class in favor of real-world experience. Which brings me to the Federal Reserve. In 2012 Jim Grant, the longtime financial journalist, delivered a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “In the not quite 100 years since the founding of your institution,” he said, “America has exchanged central banking for a kind of central planning and the gold standard for what I will call the Ph.D. standard.” Central banking, in other words, is now dominated by academics. And while I don’t blame them for it, academics by their nature come to decision-making with a distinctly—you guessed it—academic perspective.
The shift described by Mr. Grant has had consequences. For one thing, simplicity based on age-old practice has been replaced by complexity based on econometric theory. Big Data has played an increasingly prominent role in how the Fed operates, even as the Fed’s role in the economy has deepened and widened. Rather than enlisting business leaders and bankers to fulfill the Fed’s increasingly complex mission, the nation’s political and monetary authorities turned primarily to the world’s most brilliant economists, who can be thought of more and more as monetary scientists. “Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of PhD academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink,’” argues former Dallas Fed analyst Danielle DiMartino Booth in a new book.
Ten of the 17 current Fed governors and regional bank presidents have doctorates in economics. Few have much experience in the private economy. Most have spent the bulk of their careers at the classroom lectern or in Washington. This is a sea change. In past decades, Fed members and governors frequently had experience in banking, industry and agriculture. Do the results indicate that our pursuit of intellectual horsepower has produced a stronger economy? Today’s labor-force participation rate is lower than at any time since the late 1970s; an oven from Sears that cost $160 in 1975 would cost more than $400 today; and despite unprecedented intervention in the economy, America has experienced its worst recovery since the Great Depression.Given the cumulative genius of the leaders of the Federal Reserve System, and the highly sophisticated quantitative tools and policies the Fed has developed under their direction, why aren’t we doing better?
The golden domes of one of Vladimir Putin’s foreign projects, the recently built Russian Holy Trinity cathedral in the heart of Paris, rise up not far from the Elysée palace, the seat of the French presidency. Dubbed “Putin’s cathedral” or “Saint-Vladimir”, it stands out as a symbol of the many connections the French elite has long nurtured with Russia, and which the Kremlin is actively seeking to capitalise on in the run-up to the French presidential election. France is an important target for Russia’s soft power and networks of influence. The country is a key pillar of the European Union, an important Nato member and home to Europe’s largest far-right party, the Front National, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is expected to reach the 7 May run-off in the presidential vote and has benefited from Russian financing.
Le Pen took the extraordinary step of travelling to Moscow to meet Putin in March, just a month before the French vote, to boost her international profile and showcase her closeness to the Russian president’s worldview – including his virulent hostility towards the EU and his vision of a “civilisational” clash with radical Islam. Yet she is far from being the only presidential candidate to favour warmer relations with Russia, nor to reflect a certain French fascination with the Kremlin strongman. [..] Russian meddling in elections has become a hot political topic in the US, and there has been much speculation about Russia’s attempts to favour Brexit as well as anti-EU parties in the Netherlands and Germany. But France is now widely seen as the key country where Russia has a strategic interest in encouraging illiberal forces and seeking to drive wedges between western democracies.
Turkish prosecutors are laying the groundwork for large-scale trials of hundreds of people accused of participating in a coup attempt last July, an undertaking that is already transforming society and will be a reckoning of sorts for a nation that has endured much upheaval in recent years. Authorities say the trials will shed light on alleged links between the accused and Fethullah Gülen, an exiled US-based preacher with a vast grassroots network. The onset of the trials has refocused attention on the large-scale purges of Turkey’s government, media and academia after the coup attempt, in which tens of thousands of people – many with no known links to the Gülenists – were dismissed or jailed. Meanwhile, Turkey is preparing for a referendum on Sunday on greater presidential powers, which could prove the most significant political development in the history of the republic.
“What happened on 15 July [the day of the attempted coup] and what is now happening for months is completely transformative for Turkey,” said a journalist who worked for a Gülen-affiliated media outlet and requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. “One big part of society has been subjected to extreme demonisation in a process that cost them their jobs, reputation, freedom or ultimately their lives. Another part of the society has been filled with anger and radically politicised. “Nothing can be the same as before 15 July any longer – ever,” he added. Turkish courts have already begun several parallel trials over the coup attempt. Last month prosecutors demanded life sentences for 47 people accused of attempting to assassinate the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the night of the putsch, and the largest trial yet opened on 28 February in a specially built courtroom outside Ankara filled with more than 300 suspects accused of murder and attempting to overthrow the government.
About 270 suspects, including Gülen, went on trial in absentia in Izmir in January, and an indictment issued in late February alleges that Gülenists infiltrated the state and charges 31 members of the military with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. The state intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (MIT), has sent prosecutors in Ankara a list of 122,000 individuals who allegedly used a secure messaging app, ByLock, which security officials say was widely used by the Gülen network for communications.
Migration Deputy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas announced on Monday that refugees will be getting cash instead of free meals and will be staying in rented apartments in order to decongest migrant camps. In a joint press conference with the participation of Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Greece Philippe Leclerc, President of Union of Municipalities of Thesssaly Giorgos Kotsos and Larissa Mayor Apostolos Kaloyiannis, Mouzalas explained the project of decongestion of migrant camps and relocation of refugees in urban centers and smaller municipalities. Mouzalas said that refugees will be getting cash in hand for their meals instead of rations and will be staying in apartments under the UNHCR program, so that they will be getting primary care. The program applies for 10,000 asylum seekers in 2017 and another 10,000 in 2018.
The deputy minister clarified that the apartments will be rented by owners under free market conditions and the municipalities will assist the implementation of the program. This way, he said, local communities will benefit financially. The program will apply provided that the EU-Turkey agreement for refugee returns will continue to apply. This way, Mouzalas continued, the 40 camps across Greece that host 40,000 asylum seekers will be reduced to 17-20 with a maximum of 500 people each for 2017. In 2018, another 10,000 asylum seekers will be relocated under the program. The project will start with 500 refugees leaving the Koutsohera camp and moving to Larissa, a municipality that expressed interest in the program. As the program progresses, the camps in Thessaly (Koutsohera, Volos and Trikala) will eventually close and refugees will relocate in municipalities.
“The UN will help in the expansion of the hospitality program for refugees in apartments to improve their living conditions,” Leclerc said. The program has already been implemented in Athens, Thessaloniki and Livadia. The president of the Union of Municipalities of Thesssaly underlined that the program gives municipalities the opportunity to inject money to local communities through the leasing of the apartments and the cash the refugees would spend on food. The Larissa Mayor said that “The municipality of Larissa will work in this direction. Previously there was pressure to accommodate migrants in apartments, but it was too early. Today we are not afraid to do it.”
The future for humanity and many other life forms is grim. The crisis gathers force. Melting ice caps, rising seas, vanishing topsoil, felled rainforests, dwindling animal and plant species, a human population forever growing and gobbling and using everything up. What’s to be done? Paul Kingsnorth thinks nothing very much. We have to suck it up. He writes in a typical sentence: “This is bigger than anything there has ever been for as long as humans have existed, and we have done it, and now we are going to have to live through it, if we can.” Hope finds very little room in this enjoyable, sometimes annoying and mystical collection of essays. Kingsnorth despises the word’s false promise; it comforts us with a lie, when the truth is that we have created an “all-consuming global industrial system” which is “effectively unstoppable; it will run on until it runs out”.
To imagine otherwise – to believe that our actions can make the future less dire, even ever so slightly – means that we probably belong to the group of “highly politicised people, whose values and self-image are predicated on being activists”. According to Kingsnorth, such people find it hard to be honest with themselves. He was once one of them. “We might tell ourselves that The People are ignorant of The Facts and that if we enlighten them they will Act. We might believe that the right treaty has yet to be signed, or the right technology yet to be found, or that the problem is not too much growth and science and progress but too little of it. Or we might choose to believe that a Movement is needed to expose the lies being told to The People by the Bad Men in Power who are preventing The People from doing the rising up they will all want to do when they learn The Truth.”
He says this is where “the greens are today”. Environmentalism has become “a consolation prize for a gaggle of washed-up Trots”. As a characterisation of the green movement, this outbreak of adolescent satire seems unfair. To suggest that its followers become activists only because their “values and self-image” depend on it implies that there is no terror in their hearts, no love of the natural world, nothing real other than their need for a hobby.
How far can a desperate government go to keep the whole overleveraged edifice of a housing bubble from tumbling down and doing God-knows-what to the economy and the banks? Australia is trying to find out. The housing bubble in Sydney and Melbourne, by now among the top in the world, is taking on grotesque proportions, not only in price increases, but also in political pronouncements. So much of the economy depends on this bubble that no politician can imagine bringing it down to earth. Prices for all types of homes in Sydney jumped 19% in March year-over-year, according to CoreLogic, with houses up nearly 20% and “units” (we’d call them condos) up 15%. Sydney’s home prices have nearly doubled since 2008. In Melbourne, overall home prices jumped 16%, with houses up 17%, and condos up 5%. The index for all dwellings in Canberra and Hobart also rose in the double-digits.
In Adelaide and Brisbane, prices rose in the mid-single digits. Perth and Darwin showed declines in the 4.5% range. The CoreLogic index is not based on sales pairs, such as the Case-Shiller index in the US, or on median prices, but on its own “hedonic methodology,” which, like the other two methods, has plenty of critics. The government has its own Residential Property Price Indexes. The latest edition, released on March 21, was for Q4 2016, so a little slow. Based on the median price, the index for Sydney jumped 10.3% and for Melbourne 10.8%. Real estate is highly leveraged, and household debt is at an all-time high. Wages even in Sydney haven’t risen at the same pace. So the inevitable is beginning to happen. Affordability becomes a political issue, and delinquencies become a financial issue.
[..] On February 24, Anthony Roberts, New South Wales Minister for Planning and Housing, was speaking at the launch of a 690-unit apartment development at Olympic Park, a suburb of Sydney, heaping praise on the developer for having committed to offer 60 units first to first-time buyers. A new policy on housing affordability would be announced in the “very near future,” Roberts said. But as a first step, he threw in an incentive for first-time buyers. Instead of the normal 10% down payment, they’d only need to make 5%. “This is the beginning, this is the start,” he said. And in hyping the Sydney housing market and the importance of getting in now or be priced out forever, he also said this: “This is about fairness, and this is about enabling people to get into the Sydney housing market. Once you are in the Sydney housing market, you are pretty well set then for the rest of your life.
Sydney property prices have increased by almost 20% in just 12 months, putting the city at the front of a nationwide trend that has seen dwelling values increase by 12.9% on average. Sydney house values soared by 19.65% in the past year, and unit values increased by 15.27%. New data from CoreLogic, released on Monday, shows house values in Melbourne (up 17.15%), Canberra (13.64%), and Hobart (11.05%) have followed Sydney’s rapid rise. Only homes in Perth (-4.68%) and Darwin (-4.41%) have bucked the trend, slipping backwards over the past year. CoreLogic’s five capital city aggregate – which includes Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth – shows prices for houses and units rose 12.9% on average last year.
But the news comes as the ratings agency Moody’s warned an increasing number of borrowers have fallen behind on their mortgage and car repayments, saying more borrowers are set to join them amid rising underemployment, record-low wages growth and a more difficult housing market. On Monday, Moody’s said delinquencies for prime residential mortgage-backed securities increased to 1.61% in January, from 1.57% in December, while 30-day delinquencies for car loan asset-backed securities rose to 1.80%, from 1.54% over the same period. “Weaker economic conditions in states reliant on the mining industry, rising underemployment, weak wages growth and less favourable housing market conditions will drive delinquencies higher,” vice president and senior analyst Alena Chen said on Monday.
In their struggle to cool red-hot property prices in Australia’s big cities, authorities are ratcheting up measures that could dent the whole market but avoiding more targeted steps that have had some success in New Zealand and China. Australian regulators first focused on reining in investment loans nationally in 2015, by imposing an annual limit of 10% on how much banks could expand their investor loan book. Those steps worked for a while, but the heat is on again in Sydney, where prices are rising almost 20% a year, having more than doubled since 2008, and Melbourne, where the pace is over 15%, according to property consultant Core Logic.
That and all-time high household debt prompted the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) to move again on Friday, asking banks to limit new interest-only loans to 30% of total new mortgage lending, from 40% now, and promising a lot of “monitoring”, “scrutinizing” and “observing”. Industry players doubt that will do the trick. “I personally don’t think this will have a material impact,” said Simon Orbell at mortgage broker Smartmove, as prices kept rising even though it was already a tough lending market. “Maybe more needs to be done,” he added. [..] There has been market speculation that the Reserve Bank of Australia will be forced to hike interest rates, a yet blunter instrument, though record low inflation and weak wages growth make that an unattractive option. There is also political resistance to measures that could make prices actually fall, with two thirds of households owning their homes.
The bond market has been quiet. Too quiet in fact. That’s about to change, says Societe Generale’s fixed income team led by Vincent Chaigneau. “Spring is likely to be more threatening for bond investors as US data improves, political risk in Europe ebbs and investors refocus on a slow central bank exits,” the team wrote in a note to clients on Thursday. The note is titled “The Sleeping Beast.” In the wake of the U.S. Presidential election, traders priced in the prospect that Donald Trump’s agenda of a protectionist trade policy, cutting taxes, rolling back regulations, and massive infrastructure would bring back inflation to the United States. Reflecting this, the yield on 10-year Treasurys rallied more than 80 basis points, reaching a high of 2.64%, in the weeks following the election.
But for the last few months, the yield has been trapped in a tight 35 basis point range as traders take a wait-and-see approach in regards to Trump’s ability to execute his proposed agenda. “We expect that to reverse in spring, especially if Trump proves a little more effective in pushing his agenda through Congress,” Societe Generale wrote. “Treasuries too present some seasonal patterns: the average of the past five years shows the 10yT reaching a low around mid-April before bearish forces start to take over.”
A small but growing group of hedge funds are positioning themselves to profit from the collapse of the real estate market. Sounds like 2007, right? It’s actually happening right now. But this time, hedge funds (along with Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley) aren’t targeting subprime mortgages—they’re going after commercial real estate. It’s no secret retailers and malls have been struggling for years, but it looks like the perfect storm is set to hit them in 2017. Bearish bets against commercial loans jumped 50% year-over-year in February—and with problems piling up for malls, it’s no wonder. Around $3.5 billion in retail loans were liquidated in 2016. Investment firm Gapstow Capital said losses on mall loans have been “meaningfully higher than in other areas.” This is because malls are reliant on retailers like Macy’s, J.C. Penny and Sears. Unfortunately for these landlords, their tenants’ businesses are failing, which brings us to…
As a result of falling sales, retailers are shutting up shop at a rate that has not been seen since the 2008 financial crisis.
…and they plan to close hundreds more over the coming years, which is very bad news for malls. Most malls are dependent on one or more of these big retailers. When anchor stores close, it reduces foot traffic, and that hurts other retailers. This begins a cycle of blight, leading other tenants to leave. Alder Hill (a hedge fund started by associates of billionaire David Tepper) is bearish on commercial loans and expects 2017 to be a “tipping point.” Morningstar Credit Ratings estimates roughly 40% of the loans due this year won’t be paid. This comes at a bad time for the industry. Commercial real estate prices have been on a tear since 2009, but with vacancies rising, prices have stagnated.
This, coupled with new rules that came into effect in December (which force banks to hold at least 5% of the loans they make on their books), has caused loan growth to stall. As a result, leading retail analyst Jan Rogers Kniffen expects around one-third of American malls to close in the coming years. So, what are the implications of this commercial collapse?
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen told a political rally on Sunday that the euro currency which she wants France to ditch was like a knife in the ribs of the French people. The leader of the eurosceptic and anti-immigrant National Front (FN) also told the rally in the city of Bordeaux that the forthcoming election for president could herald a “change in civilization”. Encouraged by the unexpected election of Donald Trump in the United States and by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Le Pen hopes to profit from a similar populist momentum in France, though opinion polls suggest she will lose the May 7 run-off. “We are at the mercy of a currency adapted to Germany and not to our economy. The euro is mostly a knife stuck in our ribs to make us go where others want us to go,” Le Pen said to loud cheers and applause.
Reiterating her anti-globalization and anti-immigration views, she declared: “We do not want France to be open to all commercial and human flows, without protection and borders.” A government under Le Pen’s presidency would take France out of the euro zone and bring back a national currency, hold a referendum on its EU membership and slap taxes on imports and on companies hiring foreigners. Le Pen says she would curb migration, expel all illegal migrants and restrict certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens. She hit out at her two main opponents in the French election, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and conservative candidate Francois Fillon, saying they belonged to “the same system” “The system is panicking because it sees people are waking up,” she said.
The euro-sclerosis and the euro-pessimism are only a few of the old neologisms that got a new lease on life thanks to “reformers” and “crisis managers” who devastated the euro area economy with their – take a deep breath – “austerity growth model,” consisting of deep public spending cuts, tax hikes, jobs-destroying structural reforms and a monetary policy that should look the other way. Predictably, the area’s economy took it on the chin and went down for the count, with millions of lives destroyed by soaring poverty and destitution – until the ECB stepped in to provide the antidote to that cruel nostrum and to begin a long process of healing and recovery.
The ECB’s intervention eventually stiffened the spines, and gave some oxygen, to scared and disoriented political leaders in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal – exactly one-half of the euro area’s GDP – who abandoned the fiscal madness and structural destruction to latch on to the life jacket thrown at them by their lender of last resort. The economic recovery we see now is a result of that policy mix. At 1.7%, the euro area growth last year matched the pace of the U.S. economy and seems poised for further gains in the months ahead. The ECB-driven recovery was also reflected in steadily rising asset values. As of last Friday, the euro area equity prices (Euro Stoxx 50 in dollar terms) were 17.3% above their year-earlier level, with nearly half of that increase (7.6%) recorded since the beginning of this year.
[..] France is the next political test with the first round of elections on April 23. Again, anybody betting against the euro and the EU will lose big. According to the French media, voters are largely indifferent toward the presidential candidates, but the economy is improving and low credit costs have unleashed a real estate boom that’s triggering solid consumer spending. The French are also great fans of the euro: An opinion poll published last Tuesday (March 25) shows that 75% of the French like the European currency, and half of them are pleased with the EU, although they believe that some of their neighbors were greater beneficiaries of the whole project. The French, of course, have Germany in mind. They are looking at Germany’s huge trade surpluses and the industrial takeover by the world-beating manufacturing companies across the Rhine.
Scotland Yard is examining allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Guardian can reveal, triggering a possible diplomatic row with Britain on the eve of Theresa May’s visit to the Arab state. The Metropolitan police confirmed that their war crimes unit was assessing whether criminal prosecutions could be brought over Saudi Arabia’s devastating aerial campaign in Yemen. The force’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit revealed to a London human rights lawyer that it had launched a “scoping exercise” into the claims before Maj Gen Ahmed al-Asiri’s visit to the capital last week. The revelation comes as May plans to underline Britain’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family on her visit to the Arab state this week, in which tackling the terror threat from Islamic State will be a key factor.
Speaking in advance of the trip, in which she will also visit Jordan, the prime minister said she wanted to “herald a further intensification in relations between our countries and deepen true strategic partnerships”. She argued that the intelligence relationship with Saudi Arabia had been critical, potentially saving hundreds of lives in the UK, and claimed there were huge possibilities for closer trade links as the UK moves towards leaving the European Union. May plans to stress the need for collaboration in the wake of the Westminster terror attack, while also pledging humanitarian support to Jordan to help it handle the huge volumes of refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict.
But the trip comes under the shadow of a war in Yemen that has killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than 3 million people. The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of killing thousands of civilians and triggering a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the region’s poorest countries. The UK, which along with the US supports the Saudis against the Houthis, has been urged to reconsider its arms exports to Saudi Arabia in light of the bloody air campaign.
A significant decrease of 13% has been recorded in the amount Greek households spend for daily purchases at the country’s supermarkets. This is the logical consequence caused by low wages, high unemployment rates and increased direct and indirect taxes. Factors that have lead to impoverishment of large groups of the Greek society. Worth mentioning are the extra charges (special consumption fees) imposed as of 1.1.2017 in a variety of supermarket products like coffee. Greek households spend monthly forty euros less for their shopping at the supermarket than in the previous year. The average monthly expenditure of households at the supermarket amounts to 274 euros from 310 last year.
According to research conducted by the Economic University of Athens, the expenditure decrease has been confirmed also by the turnover of the supermarkets. The decrease in sales was 10% in January 2017. The was a slight increase of 2.9% in February, but a serious decline of 15% in March. 63% of respondents said they buy fewer products. 45.8% said they restricted to what is necessary. At the same time, 54.4% said that buy cheaper products especially following a market investigation and that they chase discount offers and products of private label. 81.5% said that they compare prices before they decide which product they will pick up from the supermarket shelf.
99.2% of consumers stated that they do research before going to the supermarket, they know in advance what to buy and they avoid impulse purchases. 38% of respondents said that they would make fewer purchases in 2017, 5% that they will increase their purchases. 57% estimate that their purchases will remain unchanged. The average expenditure per supermarket visit remains almost unchanged. Expenditure in 2017 is at an average of €50.4 euros. It was at 49.5 euros in 2016. However, the frequency of visits has declined down to 6.8 visits per month from 8.5 visits last year.
As the inflow of undocumented migrants to the islands of the eastern Aegean rises with the improving weather, the government is planning action to ease the pressure on increasingly overcrowded reception centers. In the coming days, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas is expected to issue a circular, banning migrants who appeal against a rejection of their application for political asylum from a voluntary repatriation scheme being run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Meanwhile police on the islands are boosting efforts to locate and detain migrants who face deportation to Turkey in line with an agreement signed last year between Ankara and Brussels.
Last week, a new detention center opened on Kos, the function of which will be to detain migrants facing deportation. Others awaiting the outcome of asylum applications or inclusion in the IOM’s repatriation scheme are to remain in the island’s main reception center. A similar “closed” center for migrants awaiting deportation is operating on Lesvos. However, police face a problem on Chios, which has seen arrivals from Turkey intensify in recent days, and where local residents vehemently oppose the creation of such a center. A police official told Kathimerini that the main police precinct on the island is already full of migrants and there are no other facilities to accommodate new arrivals. “We don’t know what to do,” he said.
[..] even the money printers have made it clear in no uncertain terms that they are done for this cycle, anyway, and that they will be belatedly but consistently raising interest rates for what ought to be a truly scary reason. That is, the denizens of the Eccles Building have finally realized that they have not outlawed the business cycle after all and need to raise rates toward 2-3% so that they have headroom to “cut” the next time the economy slides into the ditch. In effect, the Fed is saying to Wall Street: “Price in” a recession because we are! After all, our monetary central planners are not reluctantly allowing interest rates to lift off the zero bound because they have become converts to the cause of honest price discovery – nor are they fixing to liberate money rates, debt yields, and the prices of stocks and other financial assets to clear on the free market.
Instead, they are merely storing up monetary ammo for the next downturn. But the Wall Street mules keep buying the dips anyway because they are under the preposterous delusion that one source of “stimulus” is just as good as the next. And since the gamblers have now decreed that the “stimulus” baton be handed off to fiscal policy, it only remains for Congress and the White House to shape up and get the job done with all deliberate speed. But they won’t. Not in a million years. The massive Trump tax cut and infrastructure stimulus is DOA because Uncle Sam is broke and the U.S. economy has slithered into moribund old age.
In that context, it’s not remotely the same as the 12 members of the FOMC sitting behind closed doors for two days jawing about the short-term economic weather; and then at the conclusion of their gabfest, ordering the New York Fed’s open market desk to flood the canyons of Wall Street with cash by buying another $80 billion of bonds with digital credits conjured from thin air. Au contraire. Fiscal policy is inherently an exercise in herding cats and an especially impossible one when the cupboards are bare. [..] what lies directly ahead, therefore, is another bumbling attempt by the White House and Congressional Republicans to hammer out an FY 2018 budget resolution and what amounts to a 10-year fiscal plan. And it is there where the whole fantasy of the Trump Stimulus comes a cropper. There are not remotely 218 GOP votes for what would be a $12 -13 trillion add to the national debt with the Trump Stimulus program over the next decade – even with all the “dynamic” scoring and revenue “reflows” that are imaginable.
How the sytem works (and then doesn’t): “..workers take on debt that fuels the profits of the corporates that dominate the consumer supply chains. However this rise in corporate profits has not been recycled back into the real economy via workers wages. There will come a point where the workers can no longer take on more debt. When this happens consumer demand will fall, wages will fall and unemployment will rise.”
John Maynard Keynes said that, a fall in bank lending leads to a fall in consumer demand creating recession. He was right, a fall in bank lending does create a fall in consumer demand, it also creates recession and in extreme cases can cause a complete meltdown of the entire economy as in 2008. So the question is, why does bank lending fall? A rise in interest rates can make new borrowing too expensive, it can also lead to existing borrowers defaulting on their loans. This was the catalyst for the 2007 subprime crash in the United States. The graph below shows that US interest rates went from 1% to 5% in the run up to the subprime crash.
Interest rate rises can accelerate a fall in borrowing and a fall in demand, but interest rate rises are not the cause of these falls. Borrowing would eventually, slowly fall over time even if interest rates had remained low. Most of us are now aware that banks create new deposits when they loan, they don’t lend other peoples deposits. How they do it is not important, accepting that they do, is fundamental to understanding the problem. See graph.
The bank creation of money via lending and debt is nothing new, what has changed is the amount of money creation and the ability to recycle this new money back to the debtors. The large increase in debt over the last 30 to 40 years has funded a massive increase in consumerism, consumerism is no longer constrained by wages but rather by how much debt people can accumulate. The graph below shows the result.
Basically we have a trickle up effect, workers take on debt that fuels the profits of the corporates that dominate the consumer supply chains. However this rise in corporate profits has not been recycled back into the real economy via workers wages. There will come a point where the workers can no longer take on more debt. When this happens consumer demand will fall, wages will fall and unemployment will rise. Existing loans made by workers will fall into default, creating another banking crisis. If the banks are not saved by government or central bank intervention the credit created by the banks will become worthless. So, it is in the interests of the wealthy elite to protect the banking system whatever the cost to the rest of society. In the end the wealthy elite will themselves, destroy the financial system by taking so much of it that demand collapses.
Once reviled symbols of rogue capitalism, Iceland’s ex-bankers now say they were scapegoats: jailed for their roles in the 2008 financial crisis, they’re taking their cases to the European Court of Human Rights. In 2008, after Iceland’s inflated financial system imploded, the three main banks Kaupthing, Glitnir, and Landsbanki collapsed. The government urgently nationalised them, then asked the IMF for an emergency bailout, a first for a western European country in 25 years. The crisis brought to light the bankers’ questionable practices, often involving artificially inflating the value of the banks’ assets by providing cheap loans to shareholders to buy even more shares in the bank. Without realising it, thousands of Icelanders had thus placed their life savings in a house of cards.
Since then, dozens of so-called “banksters” have been convicted, about 20 of them to prison, for manipulating the market. Some of them now claim they didn’t get fair trials, and have turned to the European Court of Human Rights. Sentenced by an Icelandic appeals court to four years in prison, Sigurdur Einarsson, the former chairman of the board of Kaupthing, spent one year behind bars before being released. He is critical of what he dubs Iceland’s “scapegoat” justice system, which he claims turned a blind eye to unlawful proceedings during his trial. “Some of the judges were partial … because they had lost a lot of money during the economic crisis,” Einarsson told AFP. “This was not a just and fair trial. (This is) very important because Iceland praises itself for being a Western democratic country, and one of the key issues for that is having fair trials for everyone.”
When Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign fails seemingly because he was a wet-behind-the-ears candidate who performed like a robot during debates repeating the same talking points over and over, you might have cited those shortcomings to explain why “Little Marco” flamed out. However, if you did, that would make you a Russian “useful idiot”! The “real” reason for his failure, as we learned from Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, was Russia! When Americans turned against President Obama’s Pacific trade deals, you might have thought that it was because people across the country had grown sick and tired of these neoliberal agreements that have left large swaths of the country deindustrialized and former blue-collar workers turning to opioids and alcohol. But if you did think that, that would mean you are a dupe of the clever Russkies, as ex-British spy Christopher Steele made clear in one of his “oppo” research reports against Donald Trump.
As Steele’s dossier explained, the rejection of Obama’s TPP and TTIP trade deals resulted from Russian propaganda! When Hillary Clinton boots a presidential election that was literally hers to lose, you might have thought that she lost because she insisted on channeling her State Department emails through a private server that endangered national security; that she gave paid speeches to Wall Street and tried to hide the contents from the voters; that she called half of Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables”; that she was a widely disliked establishment candidate in an anti-establishment year; that she was shoved down the throats of progressive Democrats by a Democratic Party hierarchy that made her nomination “inevitable” via the undemocratic use of unelected “super-delegates”; that some of her State Department emails were found on the laptop of suspected sex offender Anthony Weiner (the husband of Clinton’s close aide Huma Abedin); and that the laptop discovery caused FBI Director James Comey to briefly reopen the investigation of Clinton’s private email server in the last days of the campaign.
You might even recall that Clinton herself blamed her late collapse in the polls on Comey’s announcement, as did other liberal luminaries such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. But if you thought those thoughts or remembered those memories, that is just more proof that you are a “Russian mole”! As we all should know in our properly restructured memory banks and our rearranged sense of reality, it was all Russia’s fault! Russia did it by undermining our democratic process through the clever means of releasing truthful information via WikiLeaks that provided evidence of how the Democratic National Committee rigged the nomination process against Sen. Bernie Sanders, revealed the contents of Clinton’s hidden Wall Street speeches, and exposed pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation in its dealings with foreign entities.
The European Union on Friday offered Spain a right of veto over the future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU after Britain leaves the bloc, a move that could smooth Brexit talks but also dash Gibraltar’s hopes of winning a special status. The future of Gibraltar, a rocky British enclave on Spain’s southern tip, is set to be a major point of contention in the exit talks along with issues relating to Britain’s access to the EU’s single market or the future rights of EU citizens in the U.K. and of Britons living in Europe. Rows between Spain and Britain over Gibraltar have held up entire EU deals in the past – including current legislation governing air travel – and Brussels is keen to avoid a new bilateral dispute getting in the way of an orderly Brexit.
“This seems intended to give Spain something so they don’t try to hold the whole withdrawal treaty hostage over it,” one senior EU diplomat said in Brussels. According to the EU’s draft joint position on the exit talks, which the remaining members are due to approve on April 29, “after the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom.” In essence, it offers Madrid a special share of power over Gibraltar’s fate, but only once the territory is no longer an internal EU problem. A spokesman for the Spanish government said Madrid was satisfied with the decision.
“It is what we wanted and what we have said from the beginning… The recognition by the European Union of the legal and political situation that Spain has defended fully satisfies us,” Inigo Mendez de Vigo told a news conference following the weekly cabinet meeting. The Government of Gibraltar issued a statement on Friday evening saying that the draft suggested Spain was trying to get away with mortgaging the future relationship between the EU and Gibraltar. “This is a disgraceful attempt by Spain to manipulate the European Council for its own, narrow, political interests (…) a clear manifestation of the predictably predatory attitude that we anticipated Spain would seek to abusively impose on its partners,” the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said in an e-mailed statement.
Following the UK’s formal resignation on Wednesday March 29th 2017, the European Union has now laid out its approach to negotiating the United Kingdom’s exit from the bloc. At first glance, the draft negotiation guidelines appear friendly and reasonable. But don’t be fooled. They contain a trap with which followers of the Greek bailout negotiations should be all too familiar. At this point, Brexit supporters will no doubt scream “The UK is not like Greece!”. Of course it isn’t. It is one of the largest economies in Europe, and its departure will leave a gaping wound in the EU which will take some time to heal. A smooth, orderly exit is in everyone’s interests, to minimize damage on both sides and promote healing. And this is what both the UK and the EU say they want. So why do I say there is a trap?
The essence of the Greek negotiations is that the debt relief that Greece so desperately needs is conditional on Greece meeting all the EU creditors’ conditions, in full. The EU will not even discuss debt relief until sufficient progress has been made on everything else. Every time Greece draws nearer to debt relief it is snatched away, either by adding new conditions or by finding reasons to doubt that conditions have really been met. Of course, the UK is not looking for debt relief. It is after another prize. Theresa May’s letter outlined what the UK wants “Agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority. But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries.”
Wonderful. Not only does the UK want a free trade agreement to be agreed before it leaves the bloc, it apparently wants that agreement to give it better terms than any trade agreement the EU has with any other country. I don’t know who constructed this flight of fancy, but it has about as much chance of seeing the light of day as a bottom-feeder in the Marianas Trench.
Prime Minister May is keen to avoid a defeat at the hands of EU negotiators determined to do to the UK that which they did to Greece in 2015. Correctly, she has set out to arm herself with a credible threat. The problem is that she may have miscalculated her optimal strategy. By making a hard Brexit the default of the negotiations’ process, Mrs May has secured its credibility. However, a credible threat can still produce an undesirable outcome. London’s greatest miscalculation would be to assume that the EU’s negotiators are committed to the bloc’s economic interests. Whilst negotiating Greece’s debt to the EU with them, I realised in horror that they cared very little about getting their money back and a great deal more about shoring up their relative positions in the games they play with one another – even if this sacrificed large economic gains. Mrs May will encounter this mindset soon in Berlin, Brussels and Paris.
If my experiences are anything to go by, a frustrating two years await British negotiators. They are faced with the EU’s favourite tactics: The EU Run-Around (as Brussels refers them to Berlin and vice versa), the Swedish National Anthem Routine (the feeling that whether you have outlined a sensible proposal or sung Sweden’s national anthem they react the same way), the All-Or-Nothing Ruse (refusing to discuss any issue unless all issues are simultaneously discussed) and the Blame Game (censuring you for THEIR recalcitrance). Nothing good, for Britain or for the EU, will come out of this process. It is why I recommend a strategy that robs Brussels of all room to manoeuvre. That is: Request a Norway-like agreement for an interim period – something that they cannot refuse – and empower the next UK parliament to design and pursue Britain’s long-term relationship with the EU.
“Observers fear that Turkey could take other countries along with it. The country holds $270 billion of debt with international banks, with $87 billion of that total in Spain, $42 billion in France and $15 billion in Germany.”
[..] the aftermath of the coup attempt — the mass arrests of opposition activists and the confiscation of companies – has scared investors off. The rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have slashed Turkey’s credit rating to junk status and foreign investment plunged by over 40% last year. Yigit says that he can hardly find anyone anymore who is interested in doing business in Turkey. “The risk is simply too high for investors,” he says. Meanwhile, clients who have been economically involved in the country for years are now pulling their money out. The capital flight has triggered a downward spiral that has been particularly noticeable in the construction industry.
Turkey’s high growth rates in recent years were fueled primarily by infrastructure projects, with Erdogan pouring money into the construction of highways, hospitals and airports. Now, though, there is insufficient foreign capital available and growth is stagnating. Furthermore, political instability has led to a steep drop in tourism revenues, with a plunge of roughly one-third last year. There are hundreds of hotels up for sale on the Turkish Riviera, on the country’s southwest coast, and some 600 of 2,000 shops in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar have been forced to close since last summer, according to the bazaar’s merchant association. Turkish Airlines has taken 30 planes out of service.
The consequences of the struggling economy can be seen in day-to-day life: Companies have been forced to lay off workers and cut salaries; people have less money. Domestic consumption, which made up 60% of the country’s GDP last year, has shrunk. At the same time, the Turkish currency, the lira, has rapidly lost value and inflation stands at 10%. “We are heading toward the worst-case scenario: economic stagnation combined with persistent inflation,” says Istanbul-based economic writer Mustafa Sönmez. “Turkey is on the verge of bankruptcy.” Observers fear that Turkey could take other countries along with it. The country holds $270 billion of debt with international banks, with $87 billion of that total in Spain, $42 billion in France and $15 billion in Germany. Should the country default or partially default, Sönmez believes, it could trigger another financial crisis in Europe.
Like a marriage held together for the sake of the kids, the U.S. and Turkey keep saying nice things in public, while privately fuming and slowly drifting apart. The growing rift between the two countries stems from the intractable dispute over the U.S. plan to liberate Raqqa with a loose coalition of Syrian fighters comprising roughly 40% Kurdish YPG militia members, who Turkey considers terrorists. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered his military to drive the Islamic State out of its self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa, if only the U.S. will quit the Kurds. Turkey regards the Kurdish Popular Protection Units, or YPG, as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has been declared a terrorist group by both Turkey and the U.S. But the Pentagon says the Kurds have proven to be the most battle-hardened and combat-effective force fighting ISIS in Syria, and it has no plans to abandon them now.
Publicly the U.S. says it’s still working with its NATO ally Turkey to find a role for it in the upcoming Raqqa offensive, but here’s the unspoken truth: The U.S. has also judged that the Turkish military is not up to the task, based on its performance in northern Syria. On Aug. 24, Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield,” sending tank and troops into Syria with the stated objective of pushing ISIS back 60 miles from its shared border, and the unstated goal of keeping Kurdish forces from controlling an unbroken swath of land stretching back into Iraq. This past week, Turkey declared Euphrates Shield a success and ended the mission, a move Pentagon sources say was in fact largely because the U.S., Russia and Syria stymied the Turkish offensive from any further gains. The Turks did take the northern Syrian towns of Jarablus, Dabiq and al-Bab from ISIS, but their plan to move against the Kurds in Manbij was foiled when the U.S. positioned Army Rangers just outside the city and declared Manbij was in no further need of liberation.
And the Turkish forces had also suffered heavy losses in the fight against ISIS in al-Bab, or as one Pentagon official put it, “They got their asses kicked.” Meanwhile, Syrian and Russian forces have advanced across the Turkish forces’ southern flank in Syria, effectively blocking any movement south to Raqqa. Essentially hemmed in with nowhere to go, the Turkish forces called it a day and declared mission accomplished. Several Pentagon officials, who talked the Washington Examiner on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss war planning publicly, said the major U.S. takeaway is that Turkish troops lack the training, logistics and weaponry to successfully launch the siege of a fortified and well-defended city. Consider that across the border in Iraq, 100,000 Iraqi troops have all they can handle trying to finish off fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters in west Mosul.
Every day, salmon farmers across the world walk into steel cages – in the seas off Scotland or Norway or Iceland – and throw in food. Lots of food; they must feed tens of thousands of fish before the day is over. They must also check if there are problems, and there is one particular problem they are coming across more and more often. Six months ago, I met one of these salmon farmers, on the Isle of Skye. He looked at me and held out a palm – in it was a small, ugly-looking creature, all articulated shell and tentacles: a sea louse. He could crush it between his fingers, but said he was impressed that this parasite, which lives by attaching itself to a fish and eating its blood and skin, was threatening not just his own job, but could potentially wipe out a global multibillion-dollar industry that feeds millions of people.
“For a wee creature, it is impressive. But what can we do?” he asks. “Sometimes it seems nature is against us and we are fighting a losing battle. They are everywhere now, and just a few can kill a fish. When I started in fish farming 30 years ago, there were barely any. Now they are causing great problems.” Lepeophtheirus salmonis, or the common salmon louse, now infests nearly half of Scotland’s salmon farms. Last year lice killed thousands of tonnes of farmed fish, caused skin lesions and secondary infections in millions more, and cost the Scottish industry alone around £300m in trying to control them. Scotland has some of the worst lice infestations in the world, and last year saw production fall for the first time in years.
But in the past few weeks it has become clear that the lice problem is growing worldwide and is far more resistant than the industry thought. Norway produced 60,000 tonnes less than expected last year because of lice, and Canada and a dozen other countries were all hit badly. Together, it is estimated that companies across the world must spend more than £1bn a year on trying to eradicate lice, and the viruses and diseases they bring. As a result of the lice infestations, the global price of salmon has soared, and world production fallen. Earlier this year freedom of information [FoI] requests of the Scottish government showed that 45 lochs had been badly polluted by the antibiotics and pesticides used to control lice – and that more and more toxic chemicals were being used.
Italy has become Europe’s first country to pass a law giving comprehensive protection to lone child migrants. Known as the Zampa law, the legislation sets minimum standards of care, such as reducing the time children can be kept in migrant reception centres, guaranteeing access to healthcare and setting a ten-day window for authorities to confirm their identities. It also prohibits turning unaccompanied and separated children away at the border or if it could cause them harm, AP reports. Unicef, the UN’s children agency praised the move and said it was the first of its kind in Europe. Afshan Khan, Unicef’s special coordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, said: “While across Europe we have seen fences going up, children detained and pledges unmet, the Italian parliamentarians have shown their compassion and duty to young refugees and migrants.
“This new law serves not only to give refugee and migrant children a sense of predictability in their uncertain lives after risking so much to get to Europe, it serves as a model for how other European countries could put in place a legislative framework that supports protection.” The number of unaccompanied child migrants arriving in Italy is believed to still be on the increase, says the charity. In 2016, around 26,000 children arrived in the country without their families, the majority crossing the Mediterranean in unsafe boats from North Africa. In the first two months of 2017, 2,000 arrived, the majority aged between 14 and 17. Italy’s move is in stark contrast to the UK, where MPs earlier this month chose not to continue a scheme to accept more lone child refugees from Europe.
An average of 3,500 people have died each year while trying to make the journey to Italy from North Africa since 2014. Their vessels are overcrowded, unseaworthy, and have a near-nothing chance of making it to Europe. Most of the boats sink just 20 to 40 miles from the Libyan coast. These are preventable deaths. Since 2014, the European Union has deliberately chosen to keep their coast guard patrol boats far from where the shipwrecks happen, a decision detailed in an internal letter obtained by The Intercept and other leaked documents. Saving more lives, the logic goes, will only encourage more refugees to come. The result is that rescue boats are kept away from where rescues are actually needed.
The Italian navy used to run patrols near the Libyan coast. Their operation, called Mare Nostrum – “our sea” in Latin – involved a large mobilization of ships, planes, and helicopters in international waters close to Libya, where boats carrying refugees regularly capsized and sank. Mare Nostrum was enormously successful — in the year it ran, it saved over 150,000 people. Still, on October 31, 2014, Italy announced it would phase out the program. The following day, Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, took over with an operation called Triton. In a press release at the time, Frontex said its operation followed in the wake of Mare Nostrum and was intended to support the Italian authorities. There was one key difference from Mare Nostrum, however: Frontex would limit its patrols to just 30 miles off Italy’s coast, which was about 130 miles from Libya — at least a 12-hour sail. Frontex was deliberately not patrolling the area where most of the shipwrecks occurred.
What’s more, according to an internal letter obtained by The Intercept, the director of operations at Frontex privately told Italian authorities that his ships should not be called on to immediately respond to distress calls from outside their 30-mile patrol area. “Frontex is concerned about the engagement of Frontex deployed assets in the activities happening significantly outside the operational area,” Frontex’s director, Klaus Roesler, wrote to the head of Italy’s Immigration and Border Police, Giovanni Pinto, on November 25, 2014. The letter has been referenced in Italian newspapers and released with redactions that covered detailed descriptions of how Frontex coordinated its assistance with rescue efforts. The Intercept is publishing the letter in full for the first time.
Like any other vessels at sea, Frontex ships are obligated under maritime law to respond to distress calls when ordered by the relevant national authorities. For the Italians, an overloaded boat with an untrained captain was a distress situation by default. Typically, someone calls the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome by satellite phone from a boat or from the Libyan coast, and Italy initiates search and rescue. But for Frontex, at the time, that was not enough proof. [..] Frontex knew it had to respond to emergency calls. But it was deliberately patrolling in the wrong area and quibbling with definitions of distress, meaning that its ships would almost certainly arrive late, if at all.
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.
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.
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.
[..] 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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..”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
.@neelkashkari You recently admitted the Fed has a “third mandate.” What is the biggest S&P drop the Fed will accept before intervening?
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“”
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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..
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
[..] 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
[..] 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 . 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 . 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 .
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 . 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”