Jun 112019
 


James Ensor Baths at Ostend 1890

 

1 in 4 Americans Skip Medical Treatment Because They Worry About the Cost (M.)
House Committee To See Mueller Evidence (AP)
Was Mueller The Wrong Man To Investigate Trump? (G.)
Big US Defense Merger Touts Tech, But Trump Has Questions (AFP)
Google Earned $4.7 Billion From News Organizations In 2018 (RT)
Kim Dotcom Fights U.S. Extradition in New Zealand Court (AP)
We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Debts – Varoufakis (Jacobin)
China’s Rare Earth Monopoly Is Diminishing (ZH)
The Problem With Billionaires Fighting Climate Change (G.)
Canada Bans Capture And Breeding Of Dolphins, Whales (AFP)
Forest Twice Size Of UK Destroyed In Decade For Big Consumer Brands (G.)
The Permafrost Thawing Nightmare (CP)
Honey Bee Colonies Across Europe Plunge 16% (ZH)
Americans’ Extinction Denial Syndrome (CP)

 

 

Yeah, well, what do they know?

“48% of Americans said they believe the quality of the U.S. health care system is “the best or among the best in the world.”

1 in 4 Americans Skip Medical Treatment Because They Worry About the Cost (M.)

One in four Americans chose not to receive treatment for a health issue over the last year due to its high cost, according to a new survey released by Gallup and West Health, a health care nonprofit. Not only that, but 45% of Americans worry a major health issue could send them into bankruptcy and 19% have delayed purchasing medicine due to its cost. The findings, released Tuesday, display the personal and financial impacts caused by the rising cost of health care in the United States. Tens of millions of Americans are borrowing money to afford health care and cutting out other household expenses. And Americans share a concern over the rising cost of health care and how it will impact their finances and the U.S. economy.


Indeed, Americans borrowed around $88 billion to pay for health care over the last year, the study found. About 12% of Americans borrowed money for health care, and 23% cut back on household spendings to afford it. Health care spending in the U.S. rose to $3.5 trillion in 2017 — a 3.9% jump from 2016. In 2017, the U.S. spent more than $10,700 on health care per person. The U.S.’s health spending per capita far exceeds those of other countries, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Forty-eight percent of Americans said they believe the quality of the U.S. health care system is “the best or among the best in the world.” But when asked about the quality of care compared to costs, 31% said it was “worst of among the worst in the world.”

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It will never stop.

House Committee To See Mueller Evidence (AP)

The House judiciary committee expects to receive the first files of underlying evidence from Robert Mueller’s report soon, after a sudden shift by the justice department as Democrats weigh impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. It is unclear if the deal, announced moments before the start of a judiciary committee hearing with Watergate star witness John Dean, will ultimately be enough for Democrats, who have called for the full, unredacted report and underlying documentation from the special counsel’s work. However, it signalled the first real breakthrough in the standoff over the report and came at the start of a week of increased activity by the House in the Trump-Russia investigation.

The Republican senator for New York, Jerrold Nadler, , the chairman of the committee, said the justice department will provide some of Mueller’s “most important files” and all members of the committee will be able to view them. He said the files will include those used to assess whether Trump obstructed justice. In response to the agreement, Nadler said the panel will not vote to hold the attorney general, William Barr, in criminal contempt, for now. But the House will still vote on a resolution on Tuesday that would empower the committee to file a civil lawsuit for the materials, if Democrats decide to do so.

[..] Dean, a White House counsel under Richard Nixon who helped bring down his presidency, testified on Monday that Mueller had provided Congress with a “road map” for investigating Trump. He said he saw parallels between Mueller’s findings regarding Trump and those of congressional investigators looking into Nixon’s administration decades ago. He pointed to the way the presidents used their pardon power in an attempt to influence witness testimony, and their efforts to seize control of the investigation and direct the efforts of prosecutors.

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He was because he didn’t deliver Trump’s head on a plate.

Was Mueller The Wrong Man To Investigate Trump? (G.)

In so many ways, Robert Mueller was the right man for the job. The former special counsel was fast, precise, ran a tight ship and, working in a hyper-partisan environment under the full glare of history, Mueller managed to investigate and document a historic attack on the United States while retaining the public trust. But one week after Mueller first spoke out about his investigation of Russian election tampering and the Donald Trump campaign, concern has sharpened that in one big way – potentially the biggest way – Mueller was exactly the wrong man for the job.

For when the pursuit of justice took Mueller into unprecedented terrain – as the special counsel’s investigation came under sustained public attack by the president and the attorney general, William Barr – Mueller failed, his critics say, both to stand up for his investigation and to get the word out to the American people about what he had found. “To my mind, this is a Shakespearean-level tragedy,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who was part of the team that convicted the Gambino family boss John Gotti. “It is the tragedy of the principled person, who is constrained by principle, being opposed by the completely unprincipled – Barr, and the president, and their lackeys.

“The principled are chained, and the unprincipled romp free. And in a debate over reality, the unprincipled will always win, because they will just lie, and they will make reality whatever they want it to be.” Congressional Democrats convened hearings on the Mueller report on Monday, and the judiciary committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, has said he would call Mueller to testify about the 11 instances of potentially criminal obstruction of justice committed by Donald Trump and his campaign that the Mueller report documents. But Mueller has refused, and has said he will continue to refuse, in discussions of his findings, to go beyond the language in his report, which declines to weigh evidence against the president while leaving open the possibility that crimes were committed.

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Unholiness.

Big US Defense Merger Touts Tech, But Trump Has Questions (AFP)

Executives from United Technologies and Raytheon said Monday their merger would benefit the Pentagon and other customers but the proposed deal garnered immediate skepticism from President Donald Trump. The two companies, which unveiled a “merger of equals” on Sunday, said combining would boost development of faster weapons systems, connected aircraft and other envelope-pushing products, while saving the Pentagon and other customers money. But Trump, who has shown more willingness than past US presidents to haggle with defense contractors and interject himself into the private sector in general, emerged as a potential question mark, telling CNBC Monday that he was “concerned” by the merger.


“When I hear they’re merging, does that take away more competition? It becomes one big fat beautiful company,” he told CNBC. “But I have to negotiate, meaning the United States has to buy things, and does that make it less competitive? Because it’s already non-competitive.” Moments after Trump’s comments, United Technologies Chief Executive Gregory Hayes said on CNBC that the two companies currently have almost no overlap and that their combination would not dent competition. [..] The UTC merger with Raytheon would transform the two companies into a single conglomerate with varied but well-established brands, each in the top tier of its specialty. The two companies together would have about $74 billion in 2019 sales, according to the announcement.

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Do no evil.

Google Earned $4.7 Billion From News Organizations In 2018 (RT)

An explosive new report details how Google earned a whopping $4.7 billion in ad revenue from news organizations online in 2018, while the entire US news industry made a combined $5.1 billion from digital advertising.
The study, by the News Media Alliance, reveals the extent to which the tech giant profits from the work of web journalists and digital news organizations by monetizing Google search and Google News. According to the study, some 40 percent of clicks on Google’s trending queries are news-related, all of which are monetized. “They make money off this arrangement,” said President and CEO of the News Media Alliance David Chavern who argues that journalists and content creators deserve a cut of that money, “and there needs to be a better outcome for news publishers.”

Google does not pay for the content but generates web traffic clicks, and thus revenue, by sharing headlines and news summaries from various outlets verbatim. Furthermore, the $4.7 billion figure is a conservative estimate as the analysis didn’t factor in the personal user data collected by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, which can be further monetized. Details from the report generated a very mixed reception among journalists and media workers who particularly drew attention to the revenues built up by Google while news outlets increasingly lay off staff. What also seemed unjust is that the snippet Google shows “is all anyone cares about,” and readers don’t bother actually clicking into the full story. “Google should license/pay for this,” one commenter suggested.

People do realize though that the relationship between the tech company and news media is more complicated, saying that when Google “makes money on news it’s by serving ads ON publishers’ sites.” According to the newly-launched Save Journalism Project some 2,400 journalists have been laid off in the US so far in 2019 while 32,000 have lost their jobs in the last 10 years. They estimate 63 percent of digital ad revenue is controlled by Google and Facebook, the remainder falling under the auspices of Amazon, Twitter and Microsoft, among others.

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New Zealand’s under intense pressure to break its own laws.

Kim Dotcom Fights U.S. Extradition in New Zealand Court (AP)

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and three of his former colleagues on Monday took their fight against being extradited to the U.S. to New Zealand’s top court. The Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the seven-year-old case after Dotcom and the others lost several previous court rulings. But even if the men lose their latest appeal, they have legal options which could keep their case alive in the New Zealand court system and delay any extradition for several more years. U.S. authorities in 2012 shut down Dotcom’s file-sharing website Megaupload and filed charges of conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering. If found guilty, the men could face decades in prison.

Megaupload was once one of the internet’s most popular sites. U.S. prosecutors say it raked in at least $175 million, mainly from people using it to illegally download songs, television shows and movies. Ira Rothken, one of Dotcom’s lawyers, said in an interview that if anyone did something illegal in relation to Megaupload, it was the users. “This case is all about trying to hold Megaupload and Kim Dotcom and the others responsible for the acts of users,” Rothken said. “And we’re saying you can’t do that. You can’t do that in the United States and you can’t do that in New Zealand.” The Supreme Court has scheduled five days to hear the appeal. After that, it could take them several months to issue their decision.

Should the Supreme Court uphold the earlier court rulings and find the men are eligible for extradition, then New Zealand’s Justice Minister Andrew Little would need to make the final decision on whether the extraditions should proceed. And Little’s decision could also be appealed in the courts.

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Greece has snap elections on July 7. It won’t be pretty.

We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Debts – Varoufakis (Jacobin)

Amid the bad results for the Left in the European elections, the Greek outcome was particularly poignant. In the last such contest in 2014, Syriza rode the revolt against austerity to become the largest single party, in its final step toward national office. Five years later, in last month’s election, it finished ten points behind the right-wing New Democracy. And where once Syriza promised to spark change throughout the EU, it is now the best student of the neoliberal dogma “There Is No Alternative.” After four years of slashed pensions, sell-offs of state assets, and even a right-wing turn on foreign policy, Syriza is now also set to lose office.

Indeed, not only did Alexis Tsipras’s party enforce an even harsher austerity than its predecessors ever dreamt of, but as snap general elections loom, it is set to become an exhausted opposition to a sharply reactionary New Democracy government. Polls for the July 7 vote suggest the conservatives have a massive lead, and could even secure an absolute majority in parliament. The hollowing out of Syriza’s base is the expression of disappointment and despair. But there are also signs that some of its voters are turning to left-wing alternatives. Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s MeRA25 party achieved a particularly creditable result in the European contest, less than four hundred votes from electing a member of the European Parliament.

As Greece heads to a fresh general election, MeRA25 hopes to elect its first members of parliament, offering a platform for its call to replace austerity with Europe-wide investment. Jacobin’s David Broder spoke to Varoufakis about the effect of Syriza’s defeat on the wider European left, the prospects of a realignment of EU politics, and MeRA25’s own plans for a “political revolution” in Greece.

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Still substantial.

China’s Rare Earth Monopoly Is Diminishing (ZH)

Some while ago, precious rare earths important in the production of microchips, electronics and electric motors were almost exclusively sourced in China. However, as Statista’s Katharina Buchholz points out, in recent years, several nations have picked up production again while new players entered the market, diversifying it at least to some degree. Yet, China was still responsible for more than two thirds of global production, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. But as many countries are wary of depending on China, especially when it comes to technology products, countries with rare earth deposits are likely to exploit them further.

China also has the largest know deposits of rare earths, but Brazil, Vietnam and Russia also have a lot of (largely) untapped potential in the sector. The United States, together with Australia, emerged as a major producer of rare earths after 2010. The country, which has produced rare earths before for military uses, got back into the market as rare earths were getting more important as a part of the implementation of crucial technologies.

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The problem here is calling Bloomberg a benevolent billionaire.

The Problem With Billionaires Fighting Climate Change (G.)

Before the financial crisis, the top 1% held a collective $15bn in cash. Today they’ve got almost $304bn. And while the yachts and frequent flying habits of the wealthy are a pox on the planet, so is the fact that they now have more money than ever to throw into world-wrecking investments, buying off politicians and lobbying for their pet causes – namely, to let them keep doing more of the same. For every Michael Bloomberg there are dozens of Koch Brothers and Rebekah Mercers, who’ve poured tens of millions of dollars into spreading climate denial and blocking de-carbonization efforts at the local, state and national level. None of them should have as much money as they do.

The climate crisis isn’t going to be solved with the benevolence of a couple of billionaires, and their outsized control over our politics and economy stands in contradiction to our hopes for a liveable future. With rightwing populism on the rise around the world, having elites like Bloomberg as the public face of the climate fight is also risky politics. We don’t need their money to fund the Green New Deal – the US has more than enough for that – but we should take it anyway, with a far more progressive tax system than the one we’ve got. If that sounds radical, it’s worth remembering that the top marginal tax rate during the time hailed as capitalism’s Golden Age floated somewhere north of 90% in the US.

After it’d already fallen, Ronald Reagan’s administration collapsed it to 50% when he took office, and it would dip to just 28% by the time he left. The many billions that have been lost as a result are resources that have been captured out of democratic control, emboldening a handful of oligarchs to run roughshod over people and planet alike.

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100 years too late at least.

Canada Bans Capture And Breeding Of Dolphins, Whales (AFP)

Canada’s parliament on Monday approved a bill banning the capture and breeding of cetaceans such as whales and dolphins in a move hailed by animal rights activists. The bill, first proposed in 2015 and now awaiting symbolic royal approval, will not apply retroactively, meaning captive marine mammals can stay confined. And it will contain exceptions for marine mammals who require rehabilitation following an injury, or in other cases authorized by authorities. “This is such an important law because it bans breeding, making sure the whales and dolphins currently kept in tiny tanks in Canada are the last generation to suffer,” Melissa Matlow, campaign director for World Animal Protection Canada, said in a statement.


“We hope other countries will now follow Canada’s lead and that travel companies will also realize the declining acceptance for these types of attractions.” “Canada is now one of 11 leading countries that have taken a progressive stand against the keeping and breeding of whales, dolphins and porpoises for entertainment,” with Costa Rica and Chile among the others, said Nina Devries, the spokeswoman for the animal rights group. A backlash has been growing in recent years against theme parks that showcase whales and dolphins.

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“Meat consumption is set to rise by 76%… Soya production is also predicted to soar by almost 45% and palm oil by nearly 60%..”

Forest Twice Size Of UK Destroyed In Decade For Big Consumer Brands (G.)

An area twice the size of the UK has been destroyed for products such as palm oil and soy over the last decade, according to analysis by Greenpeace International. In 2010, members of the Consumer Goods Forum, including some of the world’s biggest consumer brands, pledged to eliminate deforestation by 2020, through the sustainable sourcing of four commodities most linked to forest destruction: soya, palm oil, paper and pulp, and cattle. But analysis by Greenpeace International suggests that by the start of 2020, an estimated 50m hectares (123m acres) of forest are likely to have been destroyed in the growing demand for and consumption of agricultural products, in the 10 years since those promises were made.

Its report, Countdown to Extinction, said that since 2010, the area planted with soya in Brazil has increased by 45% and palm oil production in Indonesia has risen by 75%. The environmental group accused major brands of failing to meet their commitments and warned that the current situation was “bleak”, advising them to evolve in order to “prevent climate and ecological breakdown”. Deforestation releases greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and destroy important habitat, threatening species with extinction. Greenpeace says it wrote to more than 50 traders, retailers, producers and consumer companies early in 2019 asking them to demonstrate progress towards deforestation by disclosing their commodity suppliers.

Only a handful replied and all of those that did disclose the requested information source products from traders or producers involved in forest destruction, they said. None of the 50 demonstrated “meaningful” action to end deforestation, the campaigners said, based on assessing their policies and publicly available supply chain information. [..] About 80% of global deforestation is caused by agricultural production [..] Agricultural consumption, and therefore production, is forecast to rise globally. Meat consumption is set to rise by 76% according to some estimates. Soya production is also predicted to soar by almost 45% and palm oil by nearly 60%, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

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Speeding up. Methane.

The Permafrost Thawing Nightmare (CP)

Permafrost covers 25% of the Northern Hemisphere. It is the world’s largest icebox, and its landmass is 4.5xs larger than Antarctica, 6.5xs larger than the United States. It is stuffed full of carbon locked in frozen ground accumulated over eons, which, by way of contrast, makes coal power plant emissions look bush-league. Most notably, permafrost has an image of permanence and slow/gradual change, “the sloth of the north.” But, that slothful image is now out-of-date. Global warming has changed the equation. Nowadays, permafrost disintegration is officially hot news.

Scientists that have long studied the gradual thawing of permafrost are now experiencing a dramatic switch from their former “eyes wide shut” viewpoint, i.e., refusing to see something that’s in plain view because of preconceived notions. That slothful image of yesteryear has been shattered via numerous studies, as for example: Merritt Turetsky, Canadian Research Chair in Integrative Ecology, University of Guelph, “Rapid Permafrost Thaw Unrecognized Threat to Landscape, Global Warming Researcher Warns,” Nature d/d May 1, 2019. Gradual permafrost thaw is now passé: “Turetsky and an international team of researchers are looking at something very different: Rapid collapse of permafrost that can transform the landscape in mere months through subsidence, flooding and landslides,” Ibid.

Based upon observations as recorded by the Turetsky research team, a climate crisis has already set in. It is here now: “We work in areas where permafrost contains a lot of ice, and our field sites are being destroyed by abrupt collapse of this ice, not gradually over decades, but very quickly over months to years,” said Turetsky. According to team member Miriam Jones, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist: “This abrupt thaw is changing forested ecosystems… resulting in a wholesale transformation of the landscape that not only impacts carbon feedbacks to climate but is also altering wildlife habitat and damaging infrastructure.” “It’s happening faster than anyone predicted,” Turetsky.

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“Portugal, Northern Ireland, Italy, and England had the most significant colony collapses of more than 25%..”

Honey Bee Colonies Across Europe Plunge 16% (ZH)

The total number of honey bee colonies across Europe plunged 16% over the winter 2017–18, according to COLOSS (Prevention of honey bee COlony LOSSes), an international, non-profit organization based in Switzerland, tasked with the goals of protecting honey bees. Allison Gray, the lead researcher on the study, sent a COLOSS questionnaire to 25,363 beekeepers in 36 countries: 33 in Europe, plus Algeria, Israel, and Mexico. [..] Gray and her team determined that Portugal, Northern Ireland, Italy, and England had the most significant colony collapses of more than 25%. The authors noted that smaller bee farms experienced higher loss rates than large-scale ones.

“The overall loss rate in winter 2017/18 was highest in Portugal (32.8%), a new country to the survey. Other countries with high losses (above 25%) were Slovenia, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Italy, and Spain, countries mostly in Western Europe,” wrote Gray. [..] The colony collapse of honey bees is a complex issue, wrote Gray, and are frequently caused by volatile weather or natural disasters rather than climate. And there is no solution at the moment. She noted that future investigations should be conducted into the impact of pesticides, and herbicides on honey bees.


Not too long ago, we reported that honey bees exposed to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, lose critical bacterial in their guts and are more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria. It showed how glyphosate is possibly contributing to a rapid decline of honey bees around the world, otherwise known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind the queen.

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“What are Americans thinking? Are they even thinking?”

Americans’ Extinction Denial Syndrome (CP)

When I go into a Lowe’s or Home Depot store to buy plumbing or electrical supplies, I’m assaulted as soon as I go in the door by the smell of lawn chemicals. Plastic jugs of Roundup are stacked six feet high right near the entrance of these stores for easy grabbing by shoppers heading for the garden supply area. At Costco, I found myself in line at the checkout counter behind a man who had a huge bag of grass seed that the label on the bag promised was already treated with “fertilizer and weed killer for a perfect lawn.”The weed killer, I discovered on checking further, is of course Roundup.

Most of Europe has banned Roundup because of both a determination that is carcinogenic and because its widespread use has been linked to the decimation of the world’s bees, essential for the pollination of some 90 percent of all plants and of 30 percent of food crops, and Monsanto/Bayer has so far lost three major lawsuits levying a total of over $2.4 billion in punitive damages against the company for cancers found caused by their glyphosate herbicide. Yet despite all this, the American public wants its pristine green lawns, unblemished by dandelions and other transgressors like violets, buttercups and wild strawberries. Glyphosate cancer risk and bee die-offs be damned!

Mentioning this bizarre attitude to the woman at HealthGuard, she replied, “I know. It’s crazy. People actually tell me they’re stocking up on Roundup because they say, ‘I’m sure the government is going to ban it eventually, but it really works, so I want to have it to use.’” This is a bit like the people who insist on buying incandescent light bulbs and stocking up on them for fear they’ll eventually disappear, even as LED lighting keeps getting better and cheaper, and uses a fraction of the electricity required by incandescent light bulbs. In our house, switching to LEDs has reduced our electrical bill by nearly two-thirds, lighting being the main share of our home’s electrical use.

What are Americans thinking? Are they even thinking?

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There is a snow leopard in this photo. Click for larger picture.

 

 

 

 

Dec 152018
 
 December 15, 2018  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Road menders at Saint-Remy 1889

 

US Banks See Biggest Unrealized Losses On Securities Since Q1 2009 (WS)
European Banks’ €300 Billion Race To The Bottom (BBG)
Global Debt Hits All-Time High Of $184,000,000,000,000 (RT)
Act V: Yellow Vests Prepare For Massive ‘Macron Resign’ Protest (RT)
Senior Tories Tell May To Work With Corbyn To Save Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Theresa May’s Brexit Strategy Left Brutally Exposed By Brussels Failure (G.)
Affordable Care Act Is Ruled Unconstitutional By A Federal Judge (CNBC)
Clinton Foundation Oversight Panel Hears Explosive Testimony (RT)
The War Against Globalism (Giraldi)
Yanis Varoufakis’s Internationalist Odyssey (Nation)

 

 

EU banks are disasters. US banks are too.

US Banks See Biggest Unrealized Losses On Securities Since Q1 2009 (WS)

The FDIC just released the aggregated third-quarter performance metrics of the 5,477 banks and thrifts it insures. The amount of their combined assets ticked up to $17.7 trillion. These assets – mostly loans but also investments of all kinds – include $3.6 trillion in securities (not including the securities in their trading accounts). And banks got hit by the biggest quarterly losses on those securities since the first quarter of 2009. Banks designate these securities either as “held-to-maturity” securities (valued at “amortized cost” or book value) and “available-for-sale” securities (valued at “fair value,” such as market value). For Q3, these were their unrealized losses – meaning, banks have not yet sold the securities:

• Available-for-sale securities: $51.5 billion in unrealized losses, or 2% of their amortized cost, as the FDIC said, “the highest loss level since first quarter 2009.” • Held-to-maturity securities: $32.8 billion in unrealized losses. • Both combined: $84.3 billion in unrealized losses. Note the damage done in 2018, after years of big gains: $83.4 billion in Q3; $66.4 billion in Q2; and about $55 billion in Q1; for a total so far this year about $200 billion in unrealized losses.

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And Draghi went for negative rates. One for the history books.

European Banks’ €300 Billion Race To The Bottom (BBG)

As we approach the end of a dismal year for European stocks, the question is: which sector had the worst year of them all? With a few trading sessions left before the end of 2018, banks and autos are in a tight race to the bottom. As of Thursday’s close, lenders are the biggest losers, with a quarter of their market value down the drain, a wipeout of roughly 300 billion euros in shareholders’ money. Banks haven’t seen such a bad year since the heat of the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis in 2011. As the final ECB meeting of the year confirmed, the central bank will keep rates unchanged at least until next summer and the grim outlook for the sector highlighted in one of our earlier Taking Stock columns remains valid.

Any attempt by the sector to break out from its downward trend in 2018 has so far failed. Perhaps it’s not a surprise as banks face a wall of worry from investors and nothing seems to be able to help them move forward. Repeated calls from some analysts that the sector is cheap hasn’t triggered any significant buying. A good example is Credit Suisse’s buyback and dividend announcement on Wednesday. That didn’t even raise investors’ interest with the stock hovering near its low. While any return of capital to shareholders is welcome, the dark clouds over its investment banking outlook seemed to weigh more.

Here’s the grim silver lining: …it doesn’t matter much to the rest of the market: Since the financial crisis a decade ago, the influence of banks over the broader European gauge has fallen dramatically, to a point where they now barely move the Stoxx 600. So what could help the shares regain their vigor? Although merger talk seems to find fruitful (speculative) ground, large cross-border deals remain a fantasy. But domestic love stories might be one theme to keep an eye on next year. Most prominent is the ongoing chatter about Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, the worst and third-worst performing stocks in the Stoxx 600 Banks index. While any merger is far from certain, market reaction shows that investors, or at least algos and punters, are betting on any consolidation as the last resort to improve bottom-lines.

And if you are gloating at the “fortress balance sheet” US banks, as BMO’s Brad Wishak notes, price and time are playing a familair hand in US bank stocks… Finally, BofAML strategists summed it all up very succinctly this week: “What we learned in 2018: That central banks trump everything, when global liquidity peaked in Q1, markets peaked; that we remain in a deflationary world which cannot handle a 10-year Treasury yield above 3%; That investors have no satisfactory answers to the existential questions of ‘If not stocks, what?’, ‘If not tech, what?’ ‘If not the U.S. dollar, what?'”…

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Sometimes you wonder if even a grand jubilee could change this.

Global Debt Hits All-Time High Of $184,000,000,000,000 (RT)

The world’s debt currently exceeds $86,000 per person on average, according to the IMF. The US, China, and Japan are the top three global borrowers, accounting for more than half of the global debt. The IMF has calculated that their share of debt exceeds that of output. It stated that the emergence of China among the top ranking is, however, a relatively new development. Since the beginning of the millennium, China’s share in global debt surged from less than three percent to over 15 percent, underscoring the rapid credit surge in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. According to the IMF, global debt has reached a record high of $184 trillion in nominal terms.

That’s the equivalent of 225 percent of the world GDP in 2017. The debt figure is $2 trillion higher than the estimated number released by the fund in October, because it includes the debts of several countries who had not previously reported their updated data. “By including both the sovereign and private sides of borrowing for the entire world, the GDD (Global Debt Database) offers an unprecedented picture of global debt in the post-World War II era,” said the IMF. GDD is a comprehensive dataset covering public and private debt for 190 countries dating back to the 1950s.

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As I write this, things seem to be quiet still.

Act V: Yellow Vests Prepare For Massive ‘Macron Resign’ Protest (RT)

Paris is bracing for yet another round of Yellow Vest protests, with demonstrators planning to take to the streets on Saturday. More than 10,000 people have already RSVP’d on Facebook to the ‘Acte 5: Macron Démission’ march. The demonstration is scheduled to take place in the French capital on the Champs-Élysées. The organizers, consisting of some 15 groups, have outlined their list of demands on Facebook, saying they will continue their action against Macron until all their demands are met. “Our organizations support the demands of tax and social justice brought by the movement of yellow vests.

They call for demonstrations Saturday, December 15, for social justice and tax, for a real democracy, for equal rights, for a true ecological transition…” the planners said in a statement, as quoted by Le Parisien. Similar demonstrations are also expected to take place in other cities across the country. Security officials are gearing up for the protests, with Paris Police Chief Michel Delpuech stating that tens of thousands of cops will be deployed across France, and some 8,000 in Paris. “We need to be prepared for worst-case scenarios,” he said. Delpuech told RTL that authorities are aiming to be in “better control” of the situation than they were last weekend, when more than 125,000 people hit the streets of France, 10,000 of whom protested in Paris.

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But why should he?

Senior Tories Tell May To Work With Corbyn To Save Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Senior Tories have told Theresa May to open talks with Labour as her only hope of salvaging a Brexit deal, after the EU’s outright refusal to renegotiate left her strategy in tatters. A badly bruised prime minister was urged to stop trying to “go it alone”, accept her proposed agreement is dead and that she needs the help of other parties to push through softer exit terms. Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, told The Independent that “cross-party support and proper discussions” were now essential, while Nick Boles, another former minister, said Ms May “must open cross-party discussions”.

The calls came after EU leaders dealt a devastating blow by scrapping written commitments, designed to help Ms May pass her deal through parliament, after disastrous talks failed to achieve a breakthrough. Brussels’ frustration at the prime minister’s inability to set out clearly what she wanted was laid bare when Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, branded the UK approach “nebulous”. At a press conference, Ms May put a brave face on, insisting her Brexit deal remained on track and that talks in the next few days would achieve “further clarification”.

[..] Jeremy Corbyn said the prime minister had “utterly failed in her attempts to deliver any meaningful changes to her botched deal”, calling for a Commons vote to kill it off without delay “Rather than ploughing ahead and dangerously running down the clock, the prime minister needs to put her deal to a vote next week so parliament can take back control,” he said. Nevertheless, Mr Boles said the route to success for Ms May was cross-party talks to “deliver their support for the deal”.

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She fled to Europe because she could, not to get anything done. The result is no Commons vote until after Christmas.

Theresa May’s Brexit Strategy Left Brutally Exposed By Brussels Failure (G.)

Theresa May has come home from Brussels empty-handed and without hope of further negotiations over the Irish backstop, with the failure to achieve any kind of breakthrough leaving her brutally exposed. Plans to work over Christmas on a legal guarantee over the temporary nature of the backstop had run into a brick wall, EU officials said, despite May’s claim that she would be holding further talks “in the coming days”. Brussels sources claimed May was just keeping up a pretence that the legal guarantee she had promised rebellious Tory MPs during this week’s leadership challenge was still on the cards.

Without clear evidence that she has made progress, May faces mounting jeopardy in Westminster, with Labour seriously considering tabling a vote of no confidence before Christmas, if it believes the prime minister’s DUP partners might support it. Jeremy Corbyn accused May on Friday of “dangerously running down the clock”. “The last 24 hours have confirmed that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead in the water. The prime minister has utterly failed in her attempts to deliver any meaningful changes to her botched deal,” he said. One shadow cabinet member said the moment at which Labour would table a no-confidence vote was getting “much, much closer”, but said it would depend on the stance of the DUP. “We are watching like hawks,” he added.

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Set up a bipartisan commission and get this solved. The US is a tragic laughing stock.

Affordable Care Act Is Ruled Unconstitutional By A Federal Judge (CNBC)

A federal judge in Texas ruled on Friday the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, potentially threatening health-care coverage for millions of Americans and setting up a new legal showdown over former President Barack Obama’s signature policy initiative. U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas issued the decision, declaring that key portions of the legislation were inconsistent with the Constitution. O’Connor’s ruling argued that the health-care law can not stand on its own since Congress last December repealed the individual mandate, which imposed a tax penalty on consumers who went uninsured. The mandate, which remains in effect for 2018, was a key part of ACA legislation, otherwise known as Obamacare. The mandate is the greater of $695 person per adult, or 2.5% of household income.

The lawsuit was backed by the Trump administration, and is likely to be appealed — which could mean the legislation will heard anew by the Supreme Court, which upheld Obamacare in a narrowly divided 2012 ruling. Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma told reporters earlier this month that CMS has a plan to protect pre-existing conditions if the law is struck down. A CMS spokesperson late Friday told CNBC, “The recent federal court decision is still moving through the courts, and the exchanges are still open for business and we will continue with open enrollment. There is no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan.”

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Government investigators who refuse to share documents with the House. Not just insane, but by now years of insanity.

Clinton Foundation Oversight Panel Hears Explosive Testimony (RT)

Fraud investigators have exposed the Clinton Foundation’s alleged misdeeds in a Congressional hearing, describing it as a de facto “foreign agent” devoted not to charity but to “advancing the personal interests of its principals.” The Clinton Foundation acted as an agent of foreign governments “early in its life and throughout its existence,” according to testimony by former government forensic investigator John Moynihan, which, if true, would not only render it in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act but also would violate its nonprofit charter, putting it on the hook for a massive quantity of unpaid taxes. Moynihan and fellow ex-government investigator Lawrence Doyle shared 6,000 pages of evidence with the IRS over 18 months ago, only to be met with silence.

They shared them with the FBI multiple times – ditto. Yet when the pair testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, they refused to turn over the documents, stating they did not want to interfere with any ongoing investigations. The committee chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) said witnesses’ reluctance to share all the documents was hardly a “good foundation for truth and transparency,” while Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) said he felt the duo was “using” the panel for their own benefit. “These are not our facts. They are not your facts. They are the facts of the Clinton Foundation,” said Moynihan, maintaining his interest in the case is purely financial – not political.

Testifying on their findings, Doyle highlighted the Foundation’s alleged “misuse of donated public funds,” explaining that it “falsely attested that it received funds and used them for charitable purposes which was, in fact, not the case. Rather the foundation pursued in an array of activities both domestically and abroad,” which included activities “properly characterized as profit-oriented and taxable undertakings of private enterprise, again failing the operational tests of philanthropy referenced above,” referring to the equally non-charitable pursuit of funding the Clinton Presidential Library. John Huber, appointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate the Clinton Foundation after Sessions recused himself from doing so, was conspicuously absent from the hearing, even though his job is to probe Clinton’s approval of the sale of US uranium assets to Russia.

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Globalism has been extremely destructive. Hard to defend.

The War Against Globalism (Giraldi)

The idea that republican or democratic government will eventually deteriorate into some form of tyranny is not exactly new. Thomas Jefferson advocated a new revolution every generation to keep the spirit of government accountable to the people alive. Call it what you will – neoliberalism, neoconservatism or globalism – the new world order, as recently deceased President George H.W. Bush once labeled it, characteristically embraces a world community in which there is free trade, free movement of workers and democracy. They all sound like good things but they are authoritarian in nature, destructive of existing communities and social systems while at the same time enriching those who promote the changes.

They have also been the root cause of most of the wars fought since the Second World War, wars to “liberate” people who never asked to be invaded or bombed as part of the process. And there are, of course, major differences between neoliberals and neoconservatives in terms of how one brings about the universal nirvana, with the liberals embracing some kind of process whereby the transformation takes place because it represents what they see, perhaps cynically, as the moral high ground and is recognized as being the right thing to do. The neocons, however, seek to enforce what they define as international standards because the United States has the power to do so in a process that makes it and its allies impossible to challenge.

The latter view is promoted under the phony slogan that “Democracies do not fight other democracies.” The fact that globalists of every type consider nationalism a threat to their broader ambitions has meant that parochial or domestic interests are often disregarded or even rejected. With that in mind, and focusing on two issues – wholesale unwelcome immigration and corrupt government run by oligarchs – one might reasonably argue that large numbers of ordinary citizens now believe themselves to be both effectively disenfranchised and demonstrably poorer as rewarding work becomes harder to find and communities are destroyed through waves of both legal and illegal immigration.

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I can still hope he succeeds, but it’s getting hard to see how.

Yanis Varoufakis’s Internationalist Odyssey (Nation)

Flanked by a dozen members of DiEM25, the pan-European movement launched in 2016 to “democratize” the continent’s institutions, Varoufakis announced that he would run for a seat representing Germany in the European Parliament. He would make his bid as a Greek, a European, and, you might even say, a Berliner—all to drive home a larger point about the necessity of thinking beyond borders. “No European people can be prosperous and free when other European countries are condemned to the permanent depression that eternal austerity creates,” he said. Persistent unemployment, cuts to welfare, and other suffocating economic policies across the continent help explain why Varoufakis chose Germany—a country he’s best known for antagonizing, precisely over its leaders’ support for austerity, in the fraught negotiations over Greece’s debt in 2015.

These circumstances are also the motivating force behind the Progressive International, an initiative that Varoufakis launched five days later in Burlington, Vermont, with DiEM25 and the Sanders Institute. Building broad-based coalitions takes time, and for now, the Progressive International is just a website with some inspiring language and a video. Its membership is also very Eurocentric. But Varoufakis hopes it will blossom into a global movement that helps leftists create coherent platforms, policies, and parties to defeat the “nationalist international” masterminded by Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. The logic is simple. Financiers have long had global networks; now, right-wing authoritarians do too, with coordinated social-media strategies and deep pools of dark money funding campaigns and disrupting elections around the globe.

It’s time for the left to go on the offensive and reclaim its tradition of internationalism: in Varoufakis’s words, to “mobilize workers, women, and the disenfranchised around the world” to prevent outright fascism from taking hold. This means local action, but it also means dreaming big. It’s a fuzzy plan, of course, and one that Varoufakis’s critics deem implausible. Aren’t ideas like “democratizing” the European Union and making global finance more “progressive” oxymorons? How will a ragtag group of leftists dream up a new monetary system and an ecological New Deal for the whole world when Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil call the shots?

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Dec 142018
 
 December 14, 2018  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Signac Boulevard de Clichy under snow 1886

 

ECB To Halt €2.6 Trillion Stimulus Despite Eurozone Slowdown Concerns (G.)
Shipping Costs From China To The US More Than Doubled In 2018 (CNBC)
China Reports ‘Ugly’ Industrial Output And Retail Sales Growth (CNBC)
Average UK Worker Earns A Third Less Than In 2008 (PA)
EU Leaders Scrap Plans To Help Theresa May Pass Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Labour Plans To ‘Throw Kitchen Sink’ To Force May’s Hand On Brexit (G.)
There Should Be No Exit from Brexit (Spiegel)
My Plan To Revive Europe Can Succeed Where Macron, Piketty Failed (Varoufakis)
A World That Is the Property of the 1% (Nomi Prins)
Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation (CNBC)
US ‘Miscarriage Of Justice’ In Butina Case Denounced (RT)
US Senate Passes Resolution Saying MbS Responsible For Khashoggi Murder (Ind.)

 

 

No. 1 victim will be Italy. ECB was the only buyer of their bonds. And bit by bit Europe will realize Draghi has been spending them into a blind alley. 2019 promises to be a crazy year in Europe.

ECB To Halt €2.6 Trillion Stimulus Despite Eurozone Slowdown Concerns (G.)

The European Central Bank will halt its €2.6tn stimulus programme in January despite concerns that the eurozone is poised to slow down over the next couple of years. Mario Draghi, the ECB boss, warned that rising uncertainty had forced the bank to downgrade its outlook for the currency bloc next year and the effects would continue to be felt in 2020. Draghi, without mentioning the US-China trade war, Brexit or the Italian government’s dispute with Brussels, said: “The balance of risk is moving to the downside.” He said growth would be limited to 1.7% in 2019, “owing to the persistence of uncertainties related to geopolitical factors, the threat of protectionism, vulnerabilities in emerging markets and financial market volatility”.

The worse-than-expected outlook sent the euro tumbling on international exchanges as investors cut back their expectations for growth across the continent. Figures showing that the German economy contracted in the last quarter were a clear signal that the eurozone had come under pressure from weakening global trade, while the slowing of the bloc’s other two major economies – France and Italy – only added to the worsening outlook. However, the ECB said the recovery was strong enough that it could stop expanding its QE programme that has seen it pump €2.6tn into the eurozone economy to stoke growth and inflation from January.

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Fear of tariffs and trade wars cause US importers to front-load their orders, causing shipping to get much busier. The US imported much more, not less after Trump’s tariffs rhetoric.

Shipping Costs From China To The US More Than Doubled In 2018 (CNBC)

The price of shipping a container from China to the United States has risen dramatically in the last year due to uncertainty surrounding trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. That’s because Chinese exporters have been rushing to get goods to U.S. ports before new tariffs kick in, but data are suggesting that trend may soon run out of steam. China and the U.S., the world’s two largest economies, have been locked in a tit-for-tat tariff fight over the last year, levying duties on each other’s imports worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the last few months. Increasingly strong fears of an all-out trade war have inspired exporters to push forward shipment dates — a phenomenon called front-loading.

In fact, freight prices for containers going from China to the U.S. have surged more than 100 percent from a year ago as of the beginning of December, according to data from Freightos, an online freight marketplace, “Transpacific ocean freight peak season has been a bonanza, with prices still more than double last year,” said a report on the most recent Freightos data published on the Baltic Exchange’s news website. That was as freight rates for China to the U.S. West Coast jumped 128 percent while those from China to the U.S. East Coast surged 123 percent compared to the same period a year ago. In contrast, China to North Europe freight rates were up just 11 percent in the same period due to pre-Christmas cargoes.

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And that is after exports to the US were frontloaded because of tariffs. What’s going to happen after January 1?

China Reports ‘Ugly’ Industrial Output And Retail Sales Growth (CNBC)

China on Friday reported industrial output and retail sales growth for the month of November that missed expectations, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, as the world’s second-largest economy started to show signs of slowing amid a bitter trade dispute with the U.S. Industrial output in November grew 5.4 percent from a year ago — the slowest pace in almost three years as it matched the rate of growth seen in January to February 2016, according to Reuters records. The growth in industrial production was lower than the 5.9 percent analysts in a Reuters poll had predicted.

Retail sales rose 8.1 percent in November — the weakest pace since 2003, according to Reuters’ records — lower than the 8.8 percent the analysts expected. November retail sales growth was down from 8.6 percent in October. Fixed asset investment rose 5.9 percent from January to November, marginally higher than the 5.8 percent the economists had forecast. FAI rose 5.7 percent from January to October. [..] The weaker Chinese data in November shows that the positive impact of front-loading had begun to taper off and that downward pressure on the Chinese economy was increasing, wrote Sue Trinh, head of Asia foreign exchange strategy at RBC Capital Markets in Hong Kong. The industrial output and retail sales data released on Friday were “ugly,” she added in a Friday note.

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Why Brexit, you asked?

Average UK Worker Earns A Third Less Than In 2008 (PA)

Wages are still worth a third less in some parts of the country than a decade ago, according to a report. Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that the average worker has lost £11,800 in real earnings since 2008. The UK has suffered the worst real wage slump among leading economies, said the union organisation. The biggest losses have been in areas including the London borough of Redbridge, Epsom and Waverley in Surrey, Selby in North Yorkshire and Anglesey in north Wales, the studyfound.

Workers have suffered real wage losses ranging from just under £5,000 in the north-east to more than £20,000 in London, said the report. The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “The government has failed to tackle Britain’s cost-of-living crisis. As a result, millions of families will be worse off this Christmas than a decade ago. “While pay packets have recovered in most leading economies, wage growth in the UK is stuck in the slow lane. “Ministers need to wake up and get wages rising faster. This means cranking up the pressure on businesses to pay staff more, especially at a time when many companies are sitting on large profits.”

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“..European leaders were left amazed when she turned up without any developed requests or ideas…”

EU Leaders Scrap Plans To Help Theresa May Pass Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May‘s Brexit plan was dealt another major blow at a meeting with EU leaders on Thursday night in a disastrous turn of events that resulted in them scrapping written commitments to help her pass her deal through parliament. After arriving in Brussels with promises to help the prime minister, European leaders were left amazed when she turned up without any developed requests or ideas. The 27 heads of state and government subsequently decided to delete lines from their council conclusions saying the EU “stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” and that “the backstop does not represent a desirable outcome for the union”.

The key paragraphs appeared in leaked earlier drafts on the conclusions and their absence leaves a barebones statement that does the bare minimum to help the prime minister. The limited assurances provided in the statement are extremely unlikely to placate Ms May’s MPs, who have said they want major changes to the agreement. Accounts of the meeting suggest the prime minister’s speech, in which she called for help to get the agreement “over the line”, was repeatedly interrupted by Angela Merkel asking her what she actually wanted from them. Senior UK government officials admitted that the prime minister did not bring any documented proposals with her to the meeting. The approach puzzled EU diplomats, who for days before the conference had said they needed to see what proposals Ms May had come up with before they could respond to her request for aid.

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Labour lacks all strength. What have they been doing in the past 2 years?

Labour Plans To ‘Throw Kitchen Sink’ To Force May’s Hand On Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will seek to increase pressure on Theresa May in parliament next week in a bid to prevent the Tories running down the clock on Brexit. As the prime minister urged EU leaders to offer fresh concessions in Brussels on Thursday, senior Labour sources stressed the party was determined to “turn up the heat” at home. May’s spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that “there will be no meaningful vote before Christmas”, while the prime minister negotiates with her EU counterparts. But Labour fears May will only be able to win cosmetic changes to the backstop – and that she will use the ongoing talks as an excuse to avoid testing the will of parliament.

“There must be no more dither and delay, or attempts to run down the clock in an attempt to deny parliament alternative options,” Corbyn said on Thursday. “People and businesses need certainty. The prime minister should put her deal before parliament next week in our country’s interest,” he said, adding that there was “no time to waste”. The Labour leader has held meetings with the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, who has been pressing for the party to table a motion of no confidence in the government before parliament rises for a Christmas break next Thursday. That option has not been ruled out – depending on the reaction of Conservative backbenchers and the DUP when May reports back to MPs from the European council meeting on Monday.

But the party is also studying alternative, less drastic options, including tabling an urgent question on the government’s no-deal preparations; and demanding a three-hour emergency debate to allow parliament to set out its expectations for the latest negotiations over the backstop. It could also demand a full parliamentary debate of regulations readying the financial services sector for a no-deal Brexit, which are currently due to be considered in a committee. “Essentially we can throw the parliamentary kitchen sink at them,” said another senior Labour source, “with all the trimmings”. Some shadow ministers are more sceptical about calling a no-confidence vote early, fearing it would only unite the Conservatives behind May. One told the Guardian: “We’ve got to wait until January now.”

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Germans that don’t want a way back for Britain. But that’s not their decision.

There Should Be No Exit from Brexit (Spiegel)

For two years, the British government has been negotiating the terms of its withdrawal with the European Commission, and now Prime Minister Theresa May is unable to secure a majority for that deal in parliament. The more chaotic things get in London, the more tempting it will become for the country to exit from Brexit through the emergency door the European Court of Justice unlocked on Monday when it declared that the British government could unilaterally move to revoke Article 50. A second referendum that would provide democratic legitimacy to that step seems increasingly likely. But such a move could potentially have graver consequences than an orderly Brexit — both for Britain and the EU.

There’s a good and perhaps even compelling argument for a second referendum: Now that a deal with the EU is on the table, voters would at least finally know what it is they were voting on. In the first referendum in June 2016, that wasn’t even remotely the case. But the campaign ahead of a second referendum would in all likelihood be even more xenophobic and hate-filled than the first. That could in turn produce a British society that is even more divided than it already is today, particularly given that recent polls show the pro-EU camp winning a second referendum by a narrow margin. This time, however, it is likely that the losers would be even angrier and more disappointed than the losers of the first vote.

Many would feel that their long-desired Brexit had been stolen from them and would turn away from democracy in frustration. It would provide a significant boost to anti-European right-wing populists. And this would lead to problem No. 2: Such an outcome would also be uncomfortable for the rest of the EU. The European bloc is currently desperately seeking to find common ground on important policy areas including economic and monetary union, defense and immigration. A Britain that is hopelessly divided on domestic policy could cause significant damage were it still an EU member state.

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I’m wondering how much of any Green New Deal -there are quite a few- depends on investing billions in allowing energy consumption to stay at equal levels, just with a shift from fossil to something else. How many people propose a 10-20-50% cut in overall energy consumption?

My Plan To Revive Europe Can Succeed Where Macron, Piketty Failed (Varoufakis)

[..] the latest Piketty manifesto retains a hybrid parliamentary chamber, but forfeits any Europeanist ambition – all proposals for debt pooling, risk sharing and fiscal transfers have been dropped. Instead, it suggests that national governments agree to raise €800bn (or 4% of eurozone GDP) through a harmonised corporate tax rate of 37%, an increased income tax rate for the top 1%, a new wealth tax for those with more than €1m in assets, and a C02 emissions tax of €30 per tonne. This money would then be spent within each nation-state that collected it – with next to no transfers across countries. But, if national money is to be raised and spent domestically, what is the point of another supranational parliamentary chamber?

Europe is weighed down by overgrown, quasi-insolvent banks, fiscally stressed states, irate German savers crushed by negative interest rates, and whole populations immersed in permanent depression: these are all symptoms of a decade-long financial crisis that has produced a mountain of savings sitting alongside a mountain of debts. The intention of taxing the rich and the polluters to fund innovation, migrants and the green transition is admirable. But it is insufficient to tackle Europe’s particular crisis. What Europe needs is a Green New Deal – this is what Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 – which I co-founded – and our European Spring alliance will be taking to voters in the European parliament elections next summer.

The great advantage of our Green New Deal is that we are taking a leaf out of US President Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal in the 1930s: our idea is to create €500bn every year in the green transition across Europe, without a euro in new taxes. Here’s how it would work: the European Investment Bank (EIB) issues bonds of that value with the ECB standing by, ready to purchase as many of them as necessary in the secondary markets. The EIB bonds will undoubtedly sell like hot cakes in a market desperate for a safe asset. Thus, the excess liquidity that keeps interest rates negative, crushing German pension funds, is soaked up and the Green New Deal is fully funded. Once hope in a Europe of shared, green prosperity is restored, it will be possible to have the necessary debate on new pan-European taxes on C02, the rich, big tech and so on – as well as settling the democratic constitution Europe deserves.

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From 2009 to 2017, the number of billionaires that own as much as the poorest 50% of world population went from 380 to 8. At that rate, pretty soon the world’s richest individual will own that much.

A World That Is the Property of the 1% (Nomi Prins)

Thanks to the massive accumulation of wealth by a 1% skilled at gaming the system, the roots of a crisis that didn’t end with the end of the Great Recession have spread across the planet, while the dividing line between the “have-nots” and the “have-a-lots” only sharpened and widened. Though the media hasn’t been paying much attention to the resulting inequality, the statistics (when you see them) on that ever-widening wealth gap are mind-boggling. According to Inequality.org, for instance, those with at least $30 million in wealth globally had the fastest growth rate of any group between 2016 and 2017. The size of that club rose by 25.5% during those years, to 174,800 members.

Or if you really want to grasp what’s been happening, consider that, between 2009 and 2017, the number of billionaires whose combined wealth was greater than that of the world’s poorest 50% fell from 380 to just eight. And by the way, despite claims by the president that every other country is screwing America, the U.S. leads the pack when it comes to the growth of inequality. As Inequality.org notes, it has “much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1% than any other country.” That, in part, is due to an institution many in the U.S. normally pay little attention to: the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve. It helped spark that increase in wealth disparity domestically and globally by adopting a post-crisis monetary policy in which electronically fabricated money (via a program called quantitative easing, or QE) was offered to banks and corporations at significantly cheaper rates than to ordinary Americans.

[..] In our post-2008 era, people have witnessed trillions of dollars flowing into bank bailouts and other financial subsidies, not just from governments but from the world’s major central banks. Theoretically, private banks, as a result, would have more money and pay less interest to get it. They would then lend that money to Main Street. Businesses, big and small, would tap into those funds and, in turn, produce real economic growth through expansion, hiring sprees, and wage increases. People would then have more dollars in their pockets and, feeling more financially secure, would spend that money driving the economy to new heights — and all, of course, would then be well.

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It should not be possible to have this kind of investigation into one side and not the other, simultaneously.

Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation (CNBC)

Manhattan-based federal prosecutors are investigating whether some of the $107 million in donations to then President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural committee were misspent, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said the investigation arose in part from the slew of materials seized in April raids on Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, by federal prosecutors. Cohen on Wednesday was sentenced to three years in prison on charges that came in part from those April raids on his office and residence. The criminal probe is also looking into whether some of the committee’s top spenders traded money for access to the incoming Trump administration, as well as “policy concessions or to influence official administration positions,” sources told the Journal.

“Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws,” the newspaper explained. “Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.” Federal prosecutors have reportedly also questioned Richard Gates — the ex-partner of onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — who pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and lying charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller. Gates, who has cooperated with investigators in Mueller’s probe of Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. election, served as deputy chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee.

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Exactly what I said about the case a few days ago. It’s become accepted in the US to coerce guilty pleas with vile threats and ugly treatment.

US ‘Miscarriage Of Justice’ In Butina Case Denounced (RT)

Maria Butina’s only crime is that she is Russian, legal analysts told RT, attacking the US justice system for keeping her in solitary confinement until she admitted guilt to at least one of the many charges brought against her. “This is an utter and total miscarriage of justice,” retired CIA agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou told RT after Butina pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to register with the Justice Department as an agent of the Russian government. “You can see clearly, this is not about justice, this is not about criminal activity. This is about making a political point. This is about identifying Russia and Russians as the enemy of the United States, and punishing them.”

“We arrested this young woman because we need dirt on Trump and Russia. And she is Russian, political and pro-Trump,” US legal analyst Jennifer Breedon explained. “We are seeing [the Foreign Agents Registration Act – FARA] being used specifically as it relates to undermining the Donald Trump administration or conservatives really with anybody involved in Russia, friends with Russia or contacts.” The Russian gun activist was subjected to “unbearable pressure” from US authorities, by being kept in solitary confinement in the Alexandria detention center outside Washington, and only allowed to take an hour-long break from her “cage” per day. John Kiriakou believes this borderline “torture” could have forced her to admit to a crime she might never even have committed.

“This woman is not an enemy combatant. So, unless news surfaces that there was some kind of skirmish or issue within the jail… it seems to go against US policy and laws as to who is forced into solitary confinement, just based solely on the charges that were lodged against her,” Breedon said. “You are kept in a steel cage 23 hours a day. And for what? Because she failed to fill out a form to send to the Justice Department?” Kiriakou pondered. “It is no wonder people in solitary confinement in the United States commit suicide every day.”

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Nothing to do with defying Trump, he wants this. Imagine he would say this, and then be held responsible for $400 oil. It’s much easier to speak as senator than as president. And many of these senators have politically supported Saudi for decades. They’re merely cleaning up their own mess.

US Senate Passes Resolution Saying MbS Responsible For Khashoggi Murder (Ind.)

The Senate has passed a resolution saying Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Defying Donald Trump’s desire to maintain close relations with Saudi Arabia including lucrative weapons deals, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker proposed the legislation, which has been backed by at least 10 of his fellow Republicans. The CIA is reported to have assessed with “high confidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed was involved in the order to kill Mr Khashoggi, partly based on the judgement that as the country’s de facto ruler he would have had to have known. Saudi authorities have blamed a “rogue” team of operatives for the killing and have repeatedly denied any involvement by the crown prince.

Mr Trump and a number of administration officials have sought to play down the CIA assessment, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying this week that it has been reported “inaccurately”. The joint resolution calls for the Saudi government to ensure “appropriate accountability” for all those responsible for Mr Khashoggi’s death, calls on Riyadh to release Saudi women’s rights activists and encourages the kingdom to increase efforts to enact economic and social reforms. However, it is unclear if the House of Representatives will consider voting on the measure.

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Nov 262018
 
 November 26, 2018  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh On the Outskirts of Paris 1887

 

Russia Seizes Three Ukrainian Naval Ships In The Black Sea (AP)
Not Remotely Possible For May’s Brexit Deal To Pass Parliament – UK MP (CNBC)
UK High Court To Rule If Brexit Vote ‘Void’ As Early As Christmas (Ind.)
Nineteen Months Of Brexit Wrangling – And That’s Just A Taster (BBC)
Business Leaders Rally Behind May’s Brexit Deal Amid Fears Of Crashing Out (G.)
Texas Is About to Create OPEC’s Worst Nightmare (BBG)
Tesla Was Weeks From Dying Earlier This Year – Elon Musk (MW)
Former Greek FinMin Varoufakis To Run In European Election – In Germany (R.)
Give In To The EU, Greek PM Tsipras Counsels Italian Government (K.)
Russia Space Agency To Check If US Moon Landings Really Happened (Ind.)

 

 

I would think Ukraine is trying to provoke things, but western politicians and media all disagree.

Russia Seizes Three Ukrainian Naval Ships In The Black Sea (AP)

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea on Sunday after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors, a move that risks igniting a dangerous new crisis between the two countries. Russia’s FSB security service said early on Monday its border patrol boats had seized the Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea and used weapons to force them to stop, Russian news agencies reported. The FSB said it had been forced to act because the ships — two small Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat — had illegally entered its territorial waters, attempted illegal actions, and ignored warnings to stop while maneuvering dangerously.

“Weapons were used with the aim of forcibly stopping the Ukrainian warships,” the FSB said in a statement circulated to Russian state media. “As a result, all three Ukrainian naval vessels were seized in the Russian Federation’s territorial waters in the Black Sea.” The FSB said three Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the incident and were getting medical care. Their lives were not in danger, it said. Ukraine denied its ships had done anything wrong, accused Russia of military aggression, and for the international community to mobilize to punish Russia. The United Nations Security Council is due to discuss the developments on Monday at the request of Russia, said Deputy Russian U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with his top military and security chiefs. Poroshenko said he would propose that parliament impose martial law. [..] Earlier on Sunday, Russia’s border guard service had accused Ukraine of not informing it in advance of the three ships’ journey, something Kiev denied. Russia said the Ukrainian ships had been maneuvering dangerously and ignoring its instructions with the aim of stirring up tensions. Russian politicians denounced Kiev, saying the incident looked like a calculated bid by Poroshenko to increase his popularity ahead of an election next year. In another sign of rising tensions, Russia’s state-controlled RIA news agency reported on Sunday night that Ukrainian forces had started heavy shelling of residential areas in eastern Ukraine which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

Read more …

She needs 320+ votes, has 260.

Not Remotely Possible For May’s Brexit Deal To Pass Parliament – UK MP (CNBC)

It is not “remotely possible” that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement would pass the House of Commons, which is the lower house of Parliament, in a crucial vote that will likely take place in December, a member of Parliament said on Monday. Lawmakers on both sides of the debate over the United Kingdom’s future as part of the European Union are unhappy with the proposals set by May in a 585-page, legally-binding document that lays out the terms of the former’s exit, Sarah Wollaston, who is also a member of the prime minister’s Conservative party, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“I just don’t think it’s remotely possible that this deal would pass the Commons,” she said, adding that it will likely fall short on the numbers needed to move the agreement forward. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that we would crash out with no deal because, certainly, Parliament, British parliamentarians are very opposed to leaving with no deal at all.” [..] May needs a simple majority of the 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons, but experts have indicated it will be an uphill task for the prime minister. Her Conservative Party holds 315 seats and represents the largest party in the House, but a significant number are against the plan, including some pro-Brexit members. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the opposition have mostly indicated that they will vote against the deal.

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Was the vote fraudulent to begin with?

UK High Court To Rule If Brexit Vote ‘Void’ As Early As Christmas (Ind.)

The High Court will rule as early as Christmas whether Brexit should be declared “void”, in a legal case given a turbo-boost by the criminal investigation into Leave funder Arron Banks. Judges are poised to fast track the potentially explosive challenge, after Theresa May’s refusal to act on the growing evidence of illegality in the 2016 referendum campaign, The Independent can reveal. Lawyers describe that failure as “absolutely extraordinary” – given the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) probe into suspicions of “multiple” criminal offences committed by Mr Banks and the Leave.EU campaign.

Now The Independent understands the case is likely to move to a full hearing and a ruling within weeks of opening on 7 December, with the clock ticking on the UK’s departure from the EU next March. Both its lawyers and a leading academic believe its chances of success have been given a big boost by the unfolding scandal and the government’s refusal to recognise the gravity of what is being exposed. The government is expected to deploy Sir James Eadie QC – the star barrister who led the unsuccessful battle for the government to trigger Article 50 without parliament’s consent – in a sign of the case’s importance.

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We haven’t even started.

Nineteen Months Of Brexit Wrangling – And That’s Just A Taster (BBC)

There was a definite “battle of the tones” at the seal-the-deal Brexit summit with Theresa May. EU leaders were determinedly sombre, while the UK prime minister had to sound upbeat and positive about her country’s Brussels-free future. It shouldn’t be under-estimated. Sunday was a huge day for the EU, signing off on the divorce papers of a departing key member state for the first time in the history of the bloc. In the eyes of many, Brexit counts as an EU failure. At the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron reminded the press of the fragility of European Union. Which is why, time and again, EU leaders in Brussels continue to make so much of the (unusual) show of unity the Brexit process has provoked in EU ranks.

For now, of course, all European eyes turn to the UK to see if the hard-negotiated Brexit deal passes through the House of Commons. If it doesn’t, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, insists there will be no deal. “This is the deal. This is THE deal,” he told me emphatically, ruling out the possibility of renegotiating the Brexit texts. If he’s true to his word, and parliament votes down the divorce deal, then all 19 months of painful EU-UK negotiations were for naught. And both sides could find themselves staring at the cost and potential chaos of what the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier calls a non-orderly Brexit. EU leaders are hell-bent on avoiding that.

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May sure scared the money.

Business Leaders Rally Behind May’s Brexit Deal Amid Fears Of Crashing Out (G.)

Business leaders have rallied to support Theresa May’s Brexit deal, even as an independent study showed that the prime minister’s agreement meant the UK stood to lose £100bn a year by 2030 in reduced trade and income. Executives in the City of London warned MPs to vote for the deal negotiated by the prime minister to avoid a no-deal Brexit that would harm the UK economy. TheCityUK, which represents banks and insurers in the Square Mile, said parliament had “a straight choice” between the agreement hammered out in Brussels and a no-deal Brexit, “which offers only higher risk, costs and disruption”.

Miles Celic, the organisation’s boss, said: “The focus must now be on securing the withdrawal agreement and the transition period it brings – which is critical for our industry and many others. There is much still to be negotiated to define the future relationship. The sooner that can get started, the better.” His warning echoed those of industry bodies and small business groups, which have become nervous in recent weeks that No10 would fail to overcome the hurdles towards securing a withdrawal agreement. The Institute of Directors, which has found in polls of its members that they split 50:50 over proposals for a second referendum, said they all objected to an outcome that leaves Britain with no deal.

“The deal the EU approved today provokes a wide range of reactions across the political spectrum, and indeed among business leaders, but the steer from our members is that avoiding no deal must be the main priority,” said Stephen Martin, the director general.

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Hmmm. Problem with shale is debt.

Texas Is About to Create OPEC’s Worst Nightmare (BBG)

OPEC helped create the monster that haunts its sleep. After it flooded the market in 2014, oil prices crashed, forcing surviving U.S. shale producers to get leaner so they could thrive even with lower oil prices. As prices recovered, so did drilling. Now growth is speeding up. In Houston, the U.S. oil capital, shale executives are trying out different superlatives to describe what’s coming. “Tsunami,’’ they call it. A “flooding of Biblical proportions’’ and “onslaught of supply’’ are phrases that get tossed around. Take the hyperbolic industry talk with a pinch of salt, but certainly the American oil industry, particularly in the Permian, has raised a buzz loud enough to keep OPEC awake. “You’ve got an awful lot of production that can come in very economically,’’ said Patricia Yarrington, Chevron’s CFO.

“If you think back four or five years ago, when we didn’t really understand what shale could do, the marginal barrel was priced much higher than what we think the marginal barrel is priced today.’’ That shift makes shale resilient to a price tumble. After touching a four-year high in October, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, has fallen by more than 20 percent. [..] August saw the largest annual increase in U.S. oil production in 98 years, according to government data. The American energy industry added, in crude and other oil liquids, nearly 3 million barrels, roughly the equivalent of what Kuwait pumps, than it did in the same month last year. Total output of 15.9 million barrels a day was more than Russia or Saudi Arabia.

[..] By the end of 2019, total U.S. oil production – including so-called natural gas liquids used in the petrochemical industry – is expected to rise to 17.4 million barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. At that level, American net imports of petroleum will fall in December 2019 to 320,000 barrels a day, the lowest since 1949, when Harry Truman was in the White House. In the oil-trading community, the expectation is that, perhaps for just a single week, the U.S. will become a net oil exporter, something that hasn’t happened for nearly 75 years.

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Now he tells us.

Tesla Was Weeks From Dying Earlier This Year – Elon Musk (MW)

Tesla Inc. was “bleeding money like crazy” during its Model 3 production ramp-up and almost went under earlier this year, Elon Musk said Sunday. In an interview aired Sunday night on “Axios on HBO,” Tesla’s chief executive said the electric-car company was “within single-digit weeks” of dying. “Essentially, the company was bleeding money like crazy, and if we didn’t solve these problems in a very short period of time, we would die. And it was extremely difficult to solve them,” Musk said. Earlier this year, Musk described “production hell” as Tesla ramped up production to build 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of June, and said he had been sleeping on the factory floor.

Musk admitted in Sunday’s interview that he had been stretched to the limit. “People should not work this hard,” he said of his stretch working 22-hour days, seven days a week. “This is very painful.” “It hurts my brain and my heart,” Musk said. “It hurts. It is not recommended for anyone. I just did it because if I didn’t do it… there was a good chance Tesla would die.” In late October, Tesla posted a surprise quarterly profit, and earlier this month, Musk said Tesla is not “staring death in the face” anymore, and it will likely be cash-flow positive for all quarters going forward.

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Godspeed. Politics? You sure?

Former Greek FinMin Varoufakis To Run In European Election – In Germany (R.)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was outspoken in his criticism of the austerity policies championed by Berlin at the height of the euro zone’s debt crisis, is to stand in European elections next year – in Germany. The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), which he launched in 2016 to “democratize” the continent, picked him on Sunday as a candidate for the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019. “I accept [the nomination] because it epitomizes the new trans-national politics we need in Europe,” he told a news conference in Berlin where his colleagues unfurled a banner with the slogan “European Spring.” “I call on all of you to join us in this pan-European quest for democracy in Europe, democracy in Germany as a condition for prosperity and authentic democracy,” he said.

The motorbike-riding academic-economist, who rose to celebrity status in the euro crisis, once described the austerity measures forced on Greece by creditors as “fiscal waterboarding”. Varoufakis, who frequently clashed with his hardline German counterpart at the time, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said the political center in Germany was under threat because of austerity. “On paper, Germany is drowning in money…but the German people have been victims of the same austerity as the rest of Europe. The result is low levels of investment,” he said. This, he argued, boosted inequality, share prices and house prices. He said his movement wanted to pour cash, raised if necessary via bond issuance, into green policies to tackle climate change.

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‘You’d better do today what they’ll do tomorrow..’

Give In To The EU, Greek PM Tsipras Counsels Italian Government (K.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has counseled the Italian government to give in to EU demands that it lower its budget deficit, according to newspaper Corriere della Sera. In an analysis piece titled “Tsipras’ advice to Italy: Give in now, then it will be worse,” Federico Fubini writes that Tsipras was sort of apologetic to the Italians for not taking their side in their conflict with the EU Commission. “I can not do anything because I would be the first to arouse suspicion,” Tsipras reportedly said. Rubini adds: “(Tsipras) no doubt remembers that Italy did nothing when he tried desperately to soften the conditions – then draconian – placed by the euro area on Greece.”

“But then Tsipras, mindful of the retreat that he improvised in July 2015 after blocking the bank accounts of the voters to avoid the collapse of the system, has offered advice to Italy. ‘You’d better do today what they’ll do tomorrow,’ he said. ‘If instead you have another idea – he added, perhaps alluding to the euro exit option that he refused – well, then, good luck.’”

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Ha!

Russia Space Agency To Check If US Moon Landings Really Happened (Ind.)

The head of Russia‘s national space agency has proposed a mission to the moon to verify whether the American moon landings really took place. Dmitry Rogozin responded to a question about whether Nasa’s Apollo programme actually put men on the moon back in the 1960s and 1970s during a conversation with the president of Moldova, Igor Dodon. He appeared to be joking, as he smirked and shrugged while answering. But conspiracies surrounding Nasa’s moon missions are common in Russia. In a video of their interaction, posted to his 815,000 Twitter followers, Mr Rogozin says: “We have set this objective to fly and verify whether they’ve been there or not”.

Nasa’s six well-documented official manned missions to the surface of the Moon, beginning with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969 and continuing with Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972, have been dogged with conspiracy theories. In 2015, a former spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee called for an investigation into the Nasa moon landings. Vladimir Markin said an enquiry should be launched into the disappearance of original footage from the first moon landing in 1969 and the whereabouts of lunar rock, which was brought back to Earth during several missions.

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Oct 272018
 
 October 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Mandolin and glass of Pernod 1911

 

Global Selloff Erased $5 Trillion From Stock And Bond Markets In October (MW)
Dow Down 300 Points, S&P 500 1.7% In Another Wild Day On Wall Street (CNBC)
Jeff Bezos Loses $11 Billion In One Day After Amazon Sales Disappoint (F.)
Trump Adds A Global Pricing Plan To Wide Attack On Drug Prices (Tribble)
Swedish Central Bank Makes U-Turn on Cash as NIRP is Ending (DQ)
FBI Reviews Tesla Model 3 Production Numbers As Part Of Criminal Probe (CNBC)
Varoufakis, Bernie Sanders To Launch Progressives International Movement (RT)
Mexico Offers Caravan Migrants Temporary Work Permits, Housing (BBC)
Hundreds Ready To Go To Jail Over Climate Crisis (G.)
US Withdrawal Of Gillnet Protections For Whales, Turtles Ruled Illegal (R.)

 

 

Or $8 trillion, depending on who you ask.

Global Selloff Erased $5 Trillion From Stock And Bond Markets In October (MW)

The recent stampede by investors has erased about $5 trillion in value from global stock and bond markets in October alone. But that shouldn’t be severe enough to affect the economy, for now, according to economists at Deutsche Bank. Still, unless the markets regain their footing soon, the pressure for the Federal Reserve to reassess their monetary policy will continue to mount, they said. “Academic studies of the wealth effect find that households and companies don’t react to short-term fluctuations in their wealth but instead react to a moving average of where their wealth levels are,” said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, said in a note to clients.

As the chart below illustrates, global markets shed roughly $5 trillion in market cap just this month, but the total value of equity and debt markets has increased $15 trillion from 2017. “The bottom line is that we need a more significant correction before it will begin to have a meaningful impact on the economic outlook,” he said. The Fed said wages and prices are rising in its 12 districts and overall economic activity expanded at a “modest to moderate” pace, according to the Beige Book released on Wednesday. The report, which compiles anecdotal observations about the economy, by and large suggests that the Fed is likely to stay on course to execute its fourth rate rise of 2018 in December and deliver additional increases next year unless there is a more dramatic unwind in the financial markets.

[..] The sharp selloff this month has prompted at least one market expert to suggest that stocks are in the midst of a sustained downward spiral. “With the S&P 500 only five weeks removed from its all-time high, we’ve not been definitive about labeling this move a new cyclical bear market. But it’s very likely we are experiencing one,” said Doug Ramsey, chief investment officer at Leuthold Group, in a report.

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At some point, the word ‘momentum’ will come into play.

Dow Down 300 Points, S&P 500 1.7% In Another Wild Day On Wall Street (CNBC)

Stocks fell sharply on Friday as investors slogged through another volatile session on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 296.24 points lower at 24,688.31 after dropping 539 points at its lows of the day. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.1 percent to 7,167.21. At its lows, the tech-heavy Nasdaq had fallen more than 3 percent. The S&P 500 fell 1.7 percent to 2,658.69 and briefly entered into correction territory, trading more than 10 percent below its record high reached in September. The average stock market correction, since WWII, results in a 13 percent drop and lasts for four months if it does not turn into a full-fledged bear market. Larry Benedict, CEO of The Opportunistic Trader, said traders “don’t want to be long heading into the weekend.”

He added, “S&P now down on the year and people are more afraid to be long today than they were when market was 10 percent higher.” Seven of the 11 S&P 500 sectors are down at least 10 percent from their 52-week highs, including energy, materials and financials. Around three quarters of the index’s stocks are also in a correction. “The 19.7 percent correction in 2011 is as close to a bear market as we’ve had in recent years. I don’t think we’ll get close to that, but I think we’re heading for a deeper correction than the one we had in January and early February,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. He noted investors are realizing that earnings growth will slow down moving forward, thus they are pricing this in.

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How much of Bezos’s wealth comes directly from cheap and easy money?

Jeff Bezos Loses $11 Billion In One Day After Amazon Sales Disappoint (F.)

Easy come, easy go: Jeff Bezos’ fortune dropped by $11 billion on Friday, a day after Amazon came out with quarterly results that fell short of the mark. Shares of the e-commerce behemoth fell almost 8% on Friday, swiftly knocking some $70 billion off the company’s market capitalization. The selloff also dragged down the broader market, which has been flirting with correction territory this week. Bezos’ net worth fell in lockstep, dropping by $11 billion to $135.8 billion. That is down from the $160 billion he was worth as of mid-September. Bezos, who owns 16% of Amazon, is still by far the richest man on the planet. He is trailed by Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, whose fortune clocks in at $94.8 billion.

Amazon, which briefly became the second U.S. company to fetch a $1 trillion valuation in September, shared third quarter results on Thursday that failed to live up to the high expectations that investors and Wall Street have come to adopt. Sales rose by 29% to $56.6 billion in the third quarter. However, that was a far cry from the $73.9 billion that analysts had projected. Amazon also told investors to brace for a slower holiday season. It expects revenue to grow just 10% to 20% in the fourth quarter, reaching $72.5 billion at most. That would make for Amazon’s worst holiday season since 2014. For the last three straight years it has boasted sales increases of more than 20% during the fourth quarter.

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Makes sense: “Trump proposed having Medicare base what it pays for some expensive drugs on the average prices in other industrialized countries, such as France and Germany..”

Trump Adds A Global Pricing Plan To Wide Attack On Drug Prices (Tribble)

President Donald Trump’s new pledge to crack down on “the global freeloading” in prescription drugs had a sense of déjà vu. Five months ago, Trump unveiled a blueprin to address prohibitive drug prices, and his administration has been feverishly rolling out ideas ranging from posting drug prices on television ads to changing the rebates that flow between drugmakers and industry middlemen. Thursday, Trump proposed having Medicare base what it pays for some expensive drugs on the average prices in other industrialized countries, such as France and Germany, where prices are much lower. The proposal is in the early stages of rule-making and awaiting public comments. The U.S., Trump said, will “confront one of the most unfair practices, almost unimaginable that it hasn’t been taken care of long before this.”

The proposal was met with hope and skepticism, with several experts saying they were happy the administration was taking on Medicare Part B’s rising drug prices but questioning its approach. Walid Gellad, director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, said in an online post that the administration’s proposed solutions were unclear. And, he said, they would “face insurmountable challenges.” While some industry watchers pointed to the announcement as a political move, Wells Fargo pharmaceutical analyst David Maris said that this is a broader effort by the president and his administration to attack the root causes of high drug prices. “The reality is he could very easily not take this on and do what other administrations have done and let the prices keep rising.”

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Defeat. Good.

Swedish Central Bank Makes U-Turn on Cash as NIRP is Ending (DQ)

Sweden’s Riksbank has become the first central bank in the 21st century to take concrete measures to ensure that cash does not disappear as a means of payment from the financial system. To that end, the Riksbank proposes, in a document published on its website, to make it mandatory for all banks and financial institutions to offer cash services. The pronouncement comes in response to a recent policy suggestion by the Riksbank Committee that only the country’s six major banks should be obligated to continue offering cash services. That prompted a backlash from Sweden’s competition watchdog, which argued that the plan would distort competition as it would affect only a few of the nation’s banks. In response, the Riksbank has opted to apply the rule to “all banks and other credit institutions that offer payment accounts.”

[..] For years, the government and the Riksbank have been pushing for a “cashless society.” The Riksbank has over 1,000 articles posted on its website on the “cashless society“. The emphasis worked: between 2013 and 2017, the amount of cash in circulation dropped by 35%, earning Sweden a reputation as the world’s “most cashless nation”:

Many of Sweden’s bank branches had stopped handling cash altogether. Now, they will have to begin doing so all over again. Many of them are not happy about it. Nor indeed are Sweden’s competition and financial watchdogs, which both oppose the proposal, arguing that access to cash should be the sole responsibility of the state and not private banks. “To secure access to cash is a collective good that the state should reasonably be responsible for,” the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority said. It’s an opinion that’s shared by ATM provider Bankomat, which argued that it should be the state’s responsibility to ensure that citizens have access to cash since the handing of notes and coins is such an important — and expensive — part of a country’s infrastructure. Bankomat is jointly owned by the five largest banks in Sweden.

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To be continued. Forever.

FBI Reviews Tesla Model 3 Production Numbers As Part Of Criminal Probe (CNBC)

The FBI is reviewing Tesla’s Model 3 production numbers as part of an ongoing criminal probe into whether the company misled investors, according to a Wall Street Journal report published Friday. Federal agents are reviewing Tesla’s stated Model 3 numbers dating back to early 2017, the Journal reports, citing unnamed sources. Tesla had previously said it provided documents to the Department of Justice regarding CEO Elon Musk’s controversial take-private tweet — a blunder that ultimately cost Tesla and Musk a combined $40 million in fraud settlement fees. Now Tesla says it also provided information to the Department of Justice regarding Musk’s public statements regarding production numbers of its Model 3 sedan.

Tesla says the company has not received “a subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process,” but the Journal reported Friday that former Tesla employees have received subpoenas and requests for testimony. Tesla struggled to ramp up Model 3 production as promised, plagued by factory issues and reports of unfit working conditions. Musk set lofty goals and insisted on sticking to them, according to countless media reports. Federal agents are probing whether the company knowingly made public statements of impossible production goals, the Journal reported.

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Godspeed.

Varoufakis, Bernie Sanders To Launch Progressives International Movement (RT)

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he and US Senator Bernie Sanders will in a month formally launch a left-wing counterpart to the nationalist movement being forged by Steve Bannon. A Sanders-Varoufakis team-up was suggested in an recent op-ed by the Greek economist published by the Guardian. The formal creation of Progressives International is to happen in Sanders’ home state of Vemont on November 30, Varoufakis announced during a press conference in Rome on Friday. Varoufakis, who led tough negotiation with European lenders in 2015 before resigning after Athens agreed to EU’s austerity terms, says the world today is facing a crisis of leadership similar to what Europe saw in the 1930s.

With the establishment failing the common people, populist nationalist forces are rising to power, offering quick and simple solutions to problems like social inequality, loss of jobs to countries with cheaper labor and mass migration. Steven Bannon, the former strategist for the Donald Trump 2016 campaign, is currently trying to unite such right-wing forces in various nations into a global movement. For Varoufakis figures like Bannon, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Hungarian President Viktor Orban and others pose a threat similar to the fascist movements of the 1930s, according to his Guardian op-ed. He and potential allies like Sanders or UK’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn can offer an alternative way out of the crisis, he believes.

But if they are to succeed in a struggle for power against both the globalist establishment and the nationalists, they need to unite across borders. “The financiers are internationalists. The fascists, the nationalists, the racists – like Trump, Bannon, [German Interior Minister Horst] Seehofer, Salvini — they are internationalists,” Varoufakis told BuzzFeed News. “They bind together. The only people who are failing are progressives.”

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Could be part of a solution.

Mexico Offers Caravan Migrants Temporary Work Permits, Housing (BBC)

Mexico has offered temporary work permits to migrants who register for asylum, as a big caravan of Central American migrants makes its way through the country toward the US. The plan also envisages temporary ID cards, medical care and schooling. But to qualify, migrants must remain in Mexico’s southern Chiapas and Oaxaca states. The US has warned that about 800 troops may be sent to the US-Mexico border to stop the migrant caravan. “I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency,” US President Donald Trump said earlier this week. “They [migrants] will be stopped!” The president also threatened cutting aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The caravan set off from Honduras several weeks ago.

The scheme, announced by President Peña Nieto, covers Central Americans who have officially asked for a refugee status in Mexico or are planning to do so in the nearest future. It is called Estas en Tu Casa (“This is Your Home” in Spanish). “Today, Mexico extends you its hand,” President Nieto said. But he added: “This plan is only for those who comply with Mexican laws, and it’s a first step towards a permanent solution for those who are granted refugee status in Mexico.” The plan envisages: • Temporary ID cards and work permits • Medical care • Schooling for migrants’ children • Housing in local hostels. But President Nieto failed to explain what would happen to the migrants if they chose to carry on regardless.

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But they confuse climate crisis and species extiction. Not the same thing at all.

Hundreds Ready To Go To Jail Over Climate Crisis (G.)

A new group of “concerned citizens” is planning a campaign of mass civil disobedience starting next month and promises it has hundreds of people – from teenagers to pensioners – ready to get arrested in an effort to draw attention to the unfolding climate emergency. The group, called Extinction Rebellion, is today backed by almost 100 senior academics from across the UK, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. In a letter published in the Guardian they say the failure of politicians to tackle climate breakdown and the growing extinction crisis means “the ‘social contract’ has been broken … [and] it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.”

Those behind Extinction Rebellion say almost 500 people have signed up to be arrested and that they plan to bring large sections of London to a standstill next month in a campaign of peaceful mass civil disobedience – culminating with a sit-in protest in Parliament Square on 17 November. Roger Hallam, one of the founders of the campaign, said it was calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a “citizens assembly” to devise an emergency plan of action similar to that seen during the second world war. On top of the specific demands, Hallam said he hoped the campaign of “respectful disruption” would change the debate around climate breakdown and signal to those in power that the present course of action will lead to disaster.

“The planet is in ecological crisis – we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event this planet has experienced,” he said. “Children alive today in the UK will face the terrible consequences of inaction, from floods to wildfires, extreme weather to crop failures and the inevitable breakdown of society. We have a duty to act.”

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Make America Great Again MUST start with American nature, with protecting species. Major flaw.

US Withdrawal Of Gillnet Protections For Whales, Turtles Ruled Illegal (R.)

The Trump administration unlawfully withdrew a plan to limit the number of whales, turtles and other marine creatures permitted to be inadvertently killed or harmed by drift gillnets used to catch swordfish off California, a federal judge has ruled. The decision requires U.S. fisheries managers to take steps to implement the plan, which calls for placing numerical limits on the “bycatch” of bottlenose dolphins, four whale species and four sea turtle species snared in swordfish gillnets. As currently written, the regulation in question also would mandate suspension of swordfish gillnet operations altogether off Southern California if any one of the bycatch limits were exceeded.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council endorsed the plan in 2015, and it was formally proposed for implementation by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service the following year. The rule was expected to gain final approval but was abruptly withdrawn instead in June 2017 under President Donald Trump, whose Commerce Department determined the cost to the commercial fishing industry outweighed conservation benefits. The environmental group Oceana sued, accusing the Commerce Department of violating U.S. fisheries laws and the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Oceana also asked the courts to order the agency to put the bycatch limits into effect.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner declined to force the National Marine Fisheries Service to immediately implement the restrictions in a decision handed down Wednesday in Los Angeles. But he sided with environmentalists in finding the agency’s reversal exceeded its authority and was “arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of its discretion.”

Read more …

Jun 012018
 
 June 1, 2018  Posted by at 1:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Nikolay Dubovsky Became Silent 1890

 

“European Stocks Surge Celebrating New Spanish, Italian Governments”, says a Zero Hedge headline. “Markets Breathe Easier As Italy Government Sworn In”, proclaims Reuters. And I’m thinking: these markets are crazy, and none of this will last more than a few days. Or hours. The new Italian government is not the end of a problem, it’s the beginning of many of them.

And Italy is far from the only problem. The new Spanish government will be headed by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who manoeuvred well to oust sitting PM Rajoy, but he also recently saw the worst election result in his party’s history. Not exactly solid ground. Moreover, he needed the support of Catalan factions, and will have to reverse much of Rajoy’s actions on the Catalunya issue, including probably the release from prison of those responsible for the independence referendum.

Nor is Spain exactly economically sound. Still, it’s not in as bad a shape as Turkey and Argentina. A JPMorgan graph published at Zero Hedge says a lot, along with the commentary on it:

The chart below, courtesy of Cembalest, shows each country’s current account (x-axis), the recent change in its external borrowing (y-axis) and the return on a blended portfolio of its equity and fixed income markets (the larger the red bubble, the worse the returns have been). This outcome looks sensible given weaker Argentine and Turkish fundamentals. And while Cembalest admits that the rising dollar and rising US rates will be a challenge for the broader EM space, most will probably not face balance of payments crises similar to what is taking place in Turkey and Argentina, of which the latter is already getting an IMF bailout and the former, well… it’s only a matter of time.

 

And now Erdogan has apparently upped the ante once more yesterday. Last week he called on the Turkish population to change their dollars and euros into lira’s, last night he ‘suggested’ they bring in their money from abroad (to profit from ‘beneficial tax rules’). Such things have, by and large, one effect only: the opposite of what he intends. He just makes his people more nervous than they already were.

It’s June 1, and the Turkish elections are June 24. Will Erdogan be able to keep things quiet enough in the markets? It’s doubtful. He has reportedly already claimed that the US and Israel are waging an economic war on Turkey. And for once he may be right. A few weeks ago Erdogan called on all member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to boycott all Israeli products (and presumably America products too).

On April 30, the IMF warned that the Turkish economy is showing “clear signs of overheating”. On May 1, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Turkish economy to double-B-minus. Economic war? Feels a bit more like a political war. Erdogan has three weeks left to win that election. Don’t expect things to quieten down before then. But as the graph above shows, Turkey itself is the problem here first and foremost.

Expect Erdogan to say interest rates -usury- are immoral in Muslim countries. Expect much more pressure from the west on him. Erdogan has also been busy establishing Turkish ‘enclaves’ in Syria’s Afrin territory (where he chased out the original population) and in the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus (where he added 100s of 1000s of Turks).

No, the West wouldn’t mourn if the man were defeated in the vote. They can add a lot more pressure in three weeks, and they will. Will it suffice? Hard to tell.

 

Back to Italy. Where the optimism comes from, I can’t fathom. The M5S-Lega coalition has never made a secret of its program and/or intentions. Just because pronounced eurosceptic Paolo Savona was shifted from Finance to EU minister doesn’t a summer make. New Finance minster Tria may be less outspoken than Savona, but he’s no europhile, and together the two men can be a woeful pain in Europe’s behind. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

The essence of the M5S-Lega program is painfully simple: they reject austerity as the basics of economic policy. And austerity is all that Europe’s policy has been based on for the past decade at least. That spells collision course. And there is zero indication that the new coalition is willing to give an inch on this. Tsipras may have in Greece, but Italy’s sheer size means it has a lot more clout.

To begin with, the program wants to do away with the Eurozone’s 3% deficit rule. It speaks of a 15-20% flat tax, and a €780 basic income. These two measures would cost between €109 billion and €126 billion, or 6 to 7% of Italian GDP. As Italy’s public debt stand at €2.4 trillion, 132% of GDP.

“The government’s actions will target a programme of public debt reduction not through revenue based on taxes and austerity, policies that have not achieved their goal, but rather through increased GDP by the revival of internal demand,” the program says. Yes, that is the opposite of austerity.

The parties want a roll-back of previously announced pension measures to a situation where the sum of a person’s age and years of social security contributions reach 100. If someone has worked, and contributed to social security for 40 years, they will be able to retire at 60, not at 67 as the present plans demand.

In an additional plan that will make them very popular at home amongst the corrupt political class, the parties want to slash the number of parliamentarians to 400 MPs (from 630) and 200 senators (from 318). They would be banned from changing political parties during the legislature.

 

And then there are the mini-Bots, a parallel currency system very reminiscent of what Yanis Varoufakis proposed for Greece. Basically, they would allow the government to pay some of its domestic obligations (suppliers etc.) in the form of IOUs, which could then in turn be used to pay taxes and -other- government services. They would leave what is domestic, domestic.

There’s a lot of talk about this being a first step towards leaving the euro, but why should that be so? The main ‘threat’ lies in the potential independence from Brussels it may provide a country with. But it’s a closed system: you can’t pay with mini-Bots for trade or other international obligations.

Italy, like an increasing number of Eurozone nations, is looking for a way to get its head out of the Brussels/Berlin noose that’s threatening to suffocate it. If the EU doesn’t react to this, and soon, and in a positive manner it will blow itself up. Yes, if Italy started to let its debt balloon, the European Commission could reprimand it and issue fines. But the Commission wouldn’t dare do that. This is Italy. This is not Sparta.

Anyway, risk off, as the markets suggest(ed) this morning? Surely you’re joking. And we haven’t even mentioned Trump’s trade wars yet. Risk is ballooning.

 

 

May 292018
 


Theodoor Rombouts( 1597-1637) Prometheus

 

On Friday, in This is the End of the Euro, I said: The euro has become a cage, a prison for the poorer brethren. The finance minister proposed by 5-Star/Lega and refused by Italian president Mattarella, Paolo Savona, has called the euro a German cage.

There are now stories spreading that the coalition, Savona first of all, were secretly planning an exit from the euro. A series of slides Savona prepared in 2015 on how to exit the euro is used as evidence of that secret plan. But the slides are not secret. Yes, he has said that it’s good to have a plan to leave ‘if necessary’. But that’s not the same as secretly planning such a move.

Every country should have such a plan, and you would hope they do. A government that doesn’t is being very irresponsible. But it’s true, this is how both the EU and the euro have been designed: not just as a prison, but as a prison without any doors or windows. No way to get out. And that will prove to be its fatal flaw.

It has more such flaws, for sure. The inequality of its members, which allows for the richer to feed on the poorer, is a big one. The US founders were smart enough to provide for transfer payments from rich to poorer, the EU founders couldn’t be bothered with that lesson. They must have studied it, though, and rejected it.

Credit were credit’s due: Yanis Varoufakis said it best when he compared the EU to the Eagles’ Hotel California. A few lines:

Mirrors on the ceiling
The pink champagne on ice
And she said “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”
And in the master’s chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast

Last thing I remember
I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
“Relax,” said the night man
“We are programmed to receive
You can check-out any time you like
But you can never leave!”

The EU was set up as some kind of eternal prison, a concept most familiar to us in the way Christian churches depict Hell, or the ancient Greek mythological story of Prometheus, who, as punishment for providing man with fire, was condemned by Zeus to being tied to a rock, with an eagle feeding on his liver every day, for eternity.

Rule number 1 for any organization: there must always be an escape, a way out. If there isn’t, that’s what will break the whole thing in the end. Think Leonard Cohen’s “There a crack in everything; that’s where the light comes in.” Every system must always be designed with inbuilt redundancy.

Paolo Savona understands that, and he said there must be a way to leave the euro. For Brussels and Rome, that means he’s not acceptable as a finance minister, no matter his competence, experience or credentials. It reeks of desperation on the ‘establishment’ side more than anything.

And now the entire financial world is in panic and turmoil. It’s ironic to see people decrying the sudden weakness in Italian “sovereign debt” at the same time they see pointed out, as if that were still necessary, that Italy is no longer a sovereign country. Think maybe there’s a clue to be found somewhere in there?

 

 

Italian bonds are falling so fast traders get vertigo. At what point will Mario Draghi be held accountable for the enormous losses this causes on the ECB’s books?

But fear not: the elites simply blame the whole thing on the people elected in Italy. Yes, that means they blame democracy. For daring to provide an election result that threatens their powers. And no, there is no other way to define what is happening than as a coup.

Italy will soon have all the characteristics of an emerging market. Which is a market from which no one can emerge in an emergency, according to one Don Cowe. I read that the six largest Italian banks together have €143 billion in Italian debt securities on their balance sheet. Systemic banks in the rest of Europe, mainly France, Spain and Germany, have €137 billion of Italian debt on their balance sheet. God only knows how much Mario Draghi holds:

 

 

That is one scary chart. And no, that is not the fault of 5-Star/Lega. It’s the fault of the European Union founders, and of its present ‘leadership’. What 5-Star/Lega have done is expose the stark-naked emperor. And the little boy who called out that sovereign didn’t undress him; he went out without any clothes on all by himself.

Varoufakis called out the naked emperor Brussels in 2015. Paolo Savona did so multiple times as well. The emperor’s reaction? Shut up the little boy, not get dressed. But the lesson contained in The Naked Emperor story is that there will always be another little boy to call him out. Shutting up the boy doesn’t solve the problem.

 

Greece and Italy are where western civilization was born. It appears wonderfully fitting to picture the EU at present as the German eagle picking at the southern European Prometheus’s liver for eternity. All the more so because Prometheus in Greek mythology was the champion of man: he first made man from clay, stood against the gods in favor of mankind, stole fire to provide it to man, and got punished for eternity for it.

The EU and euro cannot survive in their present state. But those who benefit most from both are also the ones who can stop either from undergoing desperately needed changes. That’s Hotel Europa.

 

 

Apr 012018
 
 April 1, 2018  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Christ and St Mary Magdalene at the Tomb 1638

 

US Homes Become ATMs Again (MW)
The Housing Crisis – There’s Nothing We Can Do… Or Is There? (Steve Keen)
Fear is Back (MW)
The S&P’s 200-DMA: Why It Ain’t No Maginot Line (Stockman)
Trump Renews Amazon Attack, Says ‘Post Office Scam’ Must Stop (BBG)
Senator Warren, In Beijing, Says US Is Waking Up To Chinese Abuses (R.)
Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Greece Is A Debtors’ Prison’ (G.)
Emmanuel Macron On France’s AI Strategy (Wired)
Conservationists Call For Urgent Action To Fix ‘America’s Wildlife Crisis’ (G.)
More Poachers Than Rhinos Killed In India Reserve (BBC)

 

 

There’s nonsense and then there’s nonsense. Staying in your home is now a “huge expansion of retirement options”: “We’ve seen a huge expansion of the types of retirement options people have. One is aging in place and retrofitting your house.”

US Homes Become ATMs Again (MW)

As interest rates rise, fewer households refinance their mortgages. And the refinances that do get done are often very different than those initiated during low-rate periods. “When rates are low, the primary goal of refinancing is to reduce the monthly payment,” wrote researchers for the Urban Institute in a recent report. “But when rates are high, borrowers have no incentive to refinance for rate reasons. Those who still refinance tend to be driven more by their desire to cash out.” “Cashing out” is shorthand for taking out a new mortgage that’s bigger than the remaining balance on the old one and using the money that makes up the difference for discretionary purchases.

As of the fourth quarter of last year, the share of all refinances that were cash-outs rose to the highest since 2008, according to Freddie Mac data. Rates have churned higher since the presidential election in late 2016, though they spent much of 2017 reversing the immediate post-election surge. It’s not clear whether the overall volume of cash-out refinances is rising. Right now they’re making up a bigger share of the pie because traditional lower-monthly-payment refis are plunging. Tapping into home equity is often a good way for owners to consolidate or manage other, more expensive, forms of debt like high-interest credit cards or bills for higher education.

“As people stay in their homes longer we see people reinvesting in their homes by using equity to update their homes and do repair work,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president for Carrington Mortgage Holdings and an industry veteran. That’s especially true for older Americans, he added. “We’ve seen a huge expansion of the types of retirement options people have. One is aging in place and retrofitting your house.”

Read more …

Housing markets need ever more private debt. So then does the overall economy.

The Housing Crisis – There’s Nothing We Can Do… Or Is There? (Steve Keen)

The supply side of the housing market has two main two factors: the turnover of the existing stock of housing, and the net change in the number of houses (thanks to demolition of old properties and construction of new ones). The turnover of existing properties is far larger than the construction rate of new ones, and this alone makes housing different to your ordinary market. The demand side of the housing market has one main factor: new mortgages created by the banks. Monetary demand for housing is therefore predominantly mortgage credit: the annual increase in mortgage debt. This also makes housing very different to ordinary markets, where most demand comes from the turnover of existing money, rather than from newly created money.

We can convert the credit-financed monetary demand for housing into a physical demand for new houses per year by dividing by the price level. This gives us a relationship between the level of mortgage credit and the level of house prices. There is therefore a relationship between the change in mortgage credit and the change in house prices. This relationship is ignored in mainstream politics and mainstream economics. But it is the major determinant of house prices: house prices rise when mortgage credit rises, and they fall when mortgage credit falls. This relationship is obvious even for the UK, where mortgage debt data isn’t systematically collected, and I am therefore forced to use data on total household debt (including credit cards, car loans etc.).

Even then, the correlation is obvious (for the technically minded, the correlation coefficient is 0.6). The US does publish data on mortgage debt, and there the correlation is an even stronger 0.78—and standard econometric tests establish that the causal process runs from mortgage debt to house prices, and not vice versa (the downturn in house prices began earlier in the USA, and was an obvious pre-cursor to the crisis there).

None of this would have happened – at least not in the UK – had mortgage lending remained the province of money-circulating building societies, rather than letting money-creating banks into the market. It’s too late to unscramble that omelette, but there are still things that politicians could do make it less toxic for the public. The toxicity arises from the fact that the mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down. And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income. Once that stops happening, demand evaporates, house prices collapse, and they take the economy down with them. That is no way to run an economy.

Yet far from learning this lesson, politicians continue to allow lending practices that facilitate this toxic feedback between leverage and house prices. A decade after the UK (and the USA, and Spain, and Ireland) suffered property crashes – and economic crises because of them – it takes just a millisecond of Internet searching to find lenders who will provide 100% mortgage finance based on the price of the property. This should not be allowed. Instead, the maximum that lenders can provide should be limited to some multiple of a property’s actual or imputed rental income, so that the income-earning potential of a property is the basis of the lending allowed against it.

Read more …

Fear is needed.

Fear is Back (MW)

The Dow and the S&P 500 halted a record-setting streak of quarterly wins at nine, and the clearest reason why may be explained by the VIX index, widely known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted a quarterly decline of more than 2.3%, snapping the longest streak of quarterly gains for the blue-chip average since an 11-quarter rally that ended in the third quarter of 1997. The S&P 500 index booked a 1.2% quarterly fall, ending its longest such stretch since the first quarter of 2015.

There are perhaps a host of reasons for the surcease of such a lengthy bullish run for the most prominent equity benchmarks: The Federal Reserve’s normalization of monetary policy, with the central bank lifting rates for the fifth time this month since December 2015; Intensifying uncertainty in the makeup and agenda of President Donald Trump’s administration, underscored by a number of high-profile departures; and the intensification of trade-war fears, after the president imposed duties on steel and aluminum imports and leveled more targeted tariffs at the world’s second-largest economy: China.

However, the surge in the Cboe Volatility Index VIX is perhaps the most correlated with the market’s downtrend. According to WSJ Market Data Group, the VIX posted its biggest quarterly rise, up 81% since it jumped in the third-quarter of 2011 following Standard & Poor’s historical downgrade of the U.S. credit rating and European debt-crisis jitters.

Read more …

Rhyme and repeat.

The S&P’s 200-DMA: Why It Ain’t No Maginot Line (Stockman)

For the last five years the S&P 500 has been dancing up its ascending 200-day moving average (200-DMA), bouncing higher repeatedly whenever the dip-buyers did their thing. Only twice did the index actually break below this seeming Maginot Line: In August 2015, after the China stock crash, and in February 2016, when the shale patch/energy sector hit the wall. As is evident below, since the frenzied peak of 2873 on January 26, the index has fallen hard twice—on February 8 (2581) and March 23 (2588). Self-evidently, both times the momo traders and robo-machines came roaring back with a stick-save which was smack upon the 200-DMA.

But here’s the thing. The blue line below ain’t no Maginot Line; it’s just the place where the Pavlovian dogs of Bubble Finance have “marked” the charts. And something is starting to smell. In fact, it’s starting to smell very much like an earlier go-round when Pavlov’s 200-DMA barkers had enjoyed a prolonged ascent – only to find an unexpected cliff-diving opportunity at the end. We refer to the nearly identical five year run-up to the March 2000 top at 1508 on the S&P 500. Back then, too, the 200-DMA looked invincible, and had only been penetrated by the August 1998 Russian bankruptcy and the Long Term Capital Management meltdown a month later.

Indeed, the bounce from the October 8, 1998 interim bottom of 960 was nearly parabolic, rising by 57% to the March 2000 top. That latter point might sound vaguely familiar. That’s because the rebound from the February 11, 2016 interim bottom (1829) to the January 26th top (2873) this year was, well, 57%!

Read more …

This is going to cost Amazon.

Trump Renews Amazon Attack, Says ‘Post Office Scam’ Must Stop (BBG)

President Donald Trump lit into Amazon.com Inc. for the second time in three days with a pair of Twitter messages that said the online retailer “must pay real costs (and taxes) now!” The president on Saturday claimed, citing reports he didn’t specify, that the U.S. Postal Service “will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon” and added that the “Post Office scam must stop.” Amazon has said the postal service, which has financial problems stretching back for years, makes money on its deliveries. Amazon shed $53 billion in market value on Wednesday after Axios reported that the president is “obsessed” with regulating the e-commerce giant, whose founder and chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post newspaper.

Those losses were pared on Thursday, the final day of a shortened trading week, even as Trump tweeted that Amazon was using the postal service as its “Delivery Boy.” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said on Thursday that while the president was displeased with the e-commerce giant, and particularly instances where third-party sellers on the site didn’t collect sales tax, there were no administrative actions planned against Amazon “at this time.” Still, Brad Parscale, who’s managing Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, hinted in a tweet late Thursday that the administration may act to raise Amazon’s postal costs. “Once the market figures out that a single @usps rule change will crush @amazon’s bottom line we will see,” Parscale wrote.

Amazon.com and the Washington Post have been regular punching bags for Trump. In July, the president mused about whether the newspaper was “being used as a lobbyist weapon” to keep Congress from looking into Amazon’s business practices. He echoed that comment on Saturday, saying the Post “is used as a ‘lobbyist’ and should so REGISTER.” [..] While full details of the agreement between Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service are unknown – the mail carrier is independently operated, and strikes confidential deals with retailers – David Vernon, an analyst at Bernstein Research who tracks the shipping industry, estimated in 2015 that the USPS handled 40% of Amazon’s volume the previous year.

He estimated at the time that Amazon pays the postal service $2 per package, which is about half what it would pay UPS or FedEx. A sudden increase in postal rates would cost Amazon about $2.6 billion a year, according to a report by Citigroup from April 2017. That report predicted UPS and FedEx would also raise rates in response to a postal service hike. Citigroup also said that the “true” cost of shipping packages for the USPS is about 50% higher than its current rates, leading some editorial writers to conclude that Amazon was receiving the type of subsidy cited in Trump’s Thursday tweet.

Read more …

Wait, wasn’t she supposed to be the anti-Trump?

Senator Warren, In Beijing, Says US Is Waking Up To Chinese Abuses (R.)

U.S. policy toward China has been misdirected for decades and policymakers are now recalibrating ties, Senator Elizabeth Warren told reporters during a visit to Beijing amid heightened trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies. Warren’s visit comes as U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to implement more than $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods meant to punish China over U.S. allegations that Beijing systematically misappropriated American intellectual property. The Massachusetts Democrat and Trump foe, who has been touted as a potential 2020 presidential candidate despite rejecting such speculation, has said U.S. trade policy needs a rethink and that she is not afraid of tariffs.

After years of mistakenly assuming economic engagement would lead to a more open China, the U.S. government was waking up to Chinese demands for U.S. companies to give up their know-how in exchange for access to its market, Warren said. “The whole policy was misdirected. We told ourselves a happy-face story that never fit with the facts,” Warren told reporters on Saturday, during a three-day visit to China that began on Friday. “Now U.S. policymakers are starting to look more aggressively at pushing China to open up the markets without demanding a hostage price of access to U.S. technology,” she said.

Read more …

A poisonous political climate.

Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Greece Is A Debtors’ Prison’ (G.)

Yanis Varoufakis is back. He, of course, would say he never went away, but in Greece’s hurly-burly world of politics his is a name prone to triggering toxic reaction. Abroad, the shaven-headed economist is feted as the man who took on Europe’s establishment. At home, the former finance minister is seen, on both left and right, as a reckless incarnation of all that was wrong with Greece at the height of its struggle to remain in the eurozone. In Athens and Brussels, his confrontational style is still blamed for the price the debt-stricken country had to pay to be bailed out in the summer of 2015. Although his resignation now seems a long time ago, the sight of Varoufakis launching his own party in Greece has unleashed emotions that have run the gamut from enthusiasm to anger and disdain.

Media reaction has been cool; so, too, has that of politicians. None of which seems to bother him in the least. “Nobody believes the systemic media in Greece, and they’re all bankrupt,” he told the Observer with typical defiance, days after announcing his new venture in a packed Athens theatre. “To those who say I cost the country, and I’ve heard €30bn, €86bn, €100bn and even €200bn… I say I cost exactly zero. The troika [of creditors] cost Greece two generations and continue to impose cost.” At 57, in his leather bomber jacket and boots, Varoufakis clearly relishes his anti-establishment role and believes the birth of his European Realistic Disobedience Front, AKA MeRA25, is not a moment too late. Greece, almost nine years after the eurozone crisis erupted, is still condemned to being a debtors’ colony, he says.

[..] MeRA 25 has been working behind the scenes for a year now. Its plan is to contest the European elections in May 2019, although Varoufakis acknowledges Tsipras may elect to call a general election before that. After almost a decade under international surveillance, Athens will exit its third international rescue programme – the biggest sovereign bailout in global financial history – in August. With his popularity compromised under the weight of enforcing measures he once vehemently opposed, Tsipras may opt to capitalise on the success of finally exiting the programme and economic oversight. “We have travelled the whole country and held rallies in all major towns,” says Varoufakis, adding that politicians are already expressing interest in jumping ship.

Far from being saved, Varoufakis believes Greece’s future has been put on hold. If anything, he argues, it is in for an even tougher time because Europe has elected to tackle its debt problem by taking the “extend and pretend” approach of prolonging repayment timetables and condemning the country to decades of further austerity. More pension cuts and tax hikes loom, legislated by MPs at the behest of the EU and IMF. Short of measures to stop the rot, Varoufakis quips that he sees Greece becoming another Kosovo, “with beautiful beaches, only it’s a protectorate emptied of its young people. Every month 15-20,000 young Greeks leave. Everywhere I go, I meet them.”

Read more …

Macron knows what’s best for you. He’s your big brother.

Emmanuel Macron On France’s AI Strategy (Wired)

I want to create an advantage for my country in artificial intelligence, directly. And that’s why we have these announcements made by Facebook, Google, Samsung, IBM, DeepMind, Fujitsu who choose Paris to create AI labs and research centers: this is very important to me. Second, I want my country to be part of the revolution that AI will trigger in mobility, energy, defense, finance, healthcare and so on. Because it will create value as well. Third, I want AI to be totally federalized. Why? Because AI is about disruption and dealing with impacts of disruption. For instance, this kind of disruption can destroy a lot of jobs in some sectors and create a need to retrain people. But AI could also be one of the solutions to better train these people and help them to find new jobs, which is good for my country, and very important.

I want my country to be the place where this new perspective on AI is built, on the basis of interdisciplinarity: this means crossing maths, social sciences, technology, and philosophy. That’s absolutely critical. Because at one point in time, if you don’t frame these innovations from the start, a worst-case scenario will force you to deal with this debate down the line. I think privacy has been a hidden debate for a long time in the US. Now, it emerged because of the Facebook issue. Security was also a hidden debate of autonomous driving. Now, because we’ve had this issue with Uber, it rises to the surface. So if you don’t want to block innovation, it is better to frame it by design within ethical and philosophical boundaries. And I think we are very well equipped to do it, on top of developing the business in my country.

But I think as well that AI could totally jeopardize democracy. For instance, we are using artificial intelligence to organize the access to universities for our students That puts a lot of responsibility on an algorithm. A lot of people see it as a black box, they don’t understand how the student selection process happens. But the day they start to understand that this relies on an algorithm, this algorithm has a specific responsibility. If you want, precisely, to structure this debate, you have to create the conditions of fairness of the algorithm and of its full transparency. I have to be confident for my people that there is no bias, at least no unfair bias, in this algorithm.

I have to be able to tell French citizens, “OK, I encouraged this innovation because it will allow you to get access to new services, it will improve your lives—that’s a good innovation to you.” I have to guarantee there is no bias in terms of gender, age, or other individual characteristics, except if this is the one I decided on behalf of them or in front of them. This is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. If you don’t deal with it from the very beginning, if you don’t consider it is as important as developing innovation, you will miss something and at a point in time, it will block everything. Because people will eventually reject this innovation.

Read more …

“..more than 150 US species have already become extinct while a further 500 species have not been seen in recent decades..”

Conservationists Call For Urgent Action To Fix ‘America’s Wildlife Crisis’ (G.)

An extinction crisis is rippling though America’s wildlife, with scores of species at risk of being wiped out unless recovery plans start to receive sufficient funding, conservationists have warned. One-third of species in the US are vulnerable to extinction, a crisis that has ravaged swaths of creatures such as butterflies, amphibians, fish and bats, according to a report compiled by a coalition of conservation groups. A further one in five species face an even greater threat, with a severe risk of being eliminated amid a “serious decline” in US biodiversity, the report warns. “America’s wildlife are in crisis,” said Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation. “Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates are all losing ground. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to prevent these species from vanishing from the earth.”

More than 1,270 species found in the US are listed as at risk under the federal Endangered Species Act, an imperiled menagerie that includes the grizzly bear, California condor, leatherback sea turtle and rusty patched bumble bee. However, the actual number of threatened species is “far higher than what is formally listed”, states the report by the National Wildlife Federation, American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society. Using data from NatureServe that assesses the health of entire groups of species on a sliding scale, rather than the case-by-case work done by the federal government, the analysis shows more than 150 US species have already become extinct while a further 500 species have not been seen in recent decades and have possibly also been snuffed out.

Whole classes of creatures have suffered precipitous drops, with 40% of freshwater fish species in the US now vulnerable or endangered, a third of bat species experiencing major declines in the past two decades and amphibians dwindling from their known ranges at a rate of about 4% a year. The true scale of the crisis is probably larger when species with sparse data, or those as yet unknown to science, are considered. “This loss of wildlife has been sneaking up on us but is now like a big tsunami that is going to hit us,” said Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist at George Mason University. Lovejoy was consulted on the study and said it “captures the overall degradation of American nature over recent decades, rather than little snapshots”.

Read more …

The future of wildlife conservation?! in 2015, park guards shot dead more people than poachers killed rhinos.

More Poachers Than Rhinos Killed In India Reserve (BBC)

A census in India’s Kaziranga National Park has counted 2,413 one-horned rhinos – up 12 from 2015. The Unesco World Heritage Site, in Assam state, is home to two-thirds of the world’s population of the species. The census is carried out every three years. It is an incredible conservation success story given the fact that there were only a few hundred rhinos in the 1970s, says the BBC’s South Asia editor Anbarasan Ethirajan. However, the conservation effort has not been without controversy. The government has in recent years given the park rangers extraordinary powers to protect the animals from harm – powers usually only given to soldiers intervening in civil unrest. About 150 rhinos have been killed for their horns since 2006, but in 2015, park guards shot dead more people than poachers killed rhinos.

[..] The census total given is an estimate, with authorities cautioning that the population could be bigger than that counted because some animals were concealed by tall grasses and reeds. This vegetation is usually burnt down to encourage its regeneration but this was hampered by unseasonal rains, said reports. It could mean the census is carried out again next year. Since its foundation in 1905, Kaziranga has had great success in conserving and boosting animal populations. As well as being a haven for one-horned rhinoceroses, the park was declared a tiger reserve by the Indian government, and is also home to elephants, wild water buffalo and numerous bird species. The endangered South Asian river dolphin also lives in the rivers that criss-cross the park.

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Mar 032018
 
 March 3, 2018  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Lilac Bush 1889

 

Juncker Threatens Tariffs On Harley-Davidson, Bourbon And Levi’s (G.)
Fed’s QE Unwind Marches Forward Relentlessly (WS)
S&P 500 Companies To Buy Back $800 Billion Of Their Own Shares This Year (MW)
End Times at the OD Corral (Jim Kunstler)
Theresa May Unveils Fragile Truce In Third Brexit Offering (G.)
Eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (USNews)
Low-Level Courts Turned Into Dickensian “Debt Collection Mills” (ICept)
The Devil Is in the Details of Citi’s Sordid History (Martens)
The Future Of Economic Convergence (WEF)
Elon Musk to Open Tesla R&D Plant in Greece (G.)
EU’s Wieser: Six Months Of Varoufakis Cost Greece €200 Billion (K.)
‘This Is All Stolen Land’: Canadian Offers To Share His With First Nations (G.)

 

 

I got this one: Translation: Jean-Claude Juncker finally gets his revenge on the 1960s (probably couldn’t get laid back in the day).

Also note: just about every headline and article says Trump wrote: “..trade wars are good, and easy to win..” He did not, or only after explaining conditions for that to be true: “..When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with ..” That makes a big difference. And therefore must be included.

Juncker Threatens Tariffs On Harley-Davidson, Bourbon And Levi’s (G.)

The IMF has warned that Donald Trump’s plan to impose stiff new US tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum would cause international damage – and also harm America’s own economy “The import restrictions announced by the US President (Donald Trump) are likely to cause damage not only outside the US, but also to the US economy itself, including to its manufacturing and construction sectors, which are major users of aluminum and steel,” the IMF said on Friday. The terse statement from the global body came as world leaders threatened retaliation against any fresh tariffs and the US president breezily asserted that “trade wars are good”.

In a morning tweet Trump wrote: “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!” The European Union, Germany, Canada and other countries have all threatened retaliation against plans to impose tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said US tariffs on steel and aluminum would be “absolutely unacceptable” and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned there would be consequences for the US.

“If the Americans impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, then we must treat American products the same way,” Juncker told German television stations. “We must show that we can also take measures. This cannot be a unilateral transatlantic action by the Americans,” he said. “I’m not saying we have to shoot back, but we must take action. “We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans – Levi’s,” he added.

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The consensus is more QE when this inevitably blows up. But maybe the Fed does see that coming, and has different plans.

Fed’s QE Unwind Marches Forward Relentlessly (WS)

The fifth month of the QE-Unwind came to a completion with the release this afternoon of the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ending February 28. The QE-Unwind is progressing like clockwork. Even during the sell-off in early February, the QE-Unwind never missed a beat. During QE, the Fed acquired Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. During the QE-Unwind, the Fed is shedding those securities. According to its plan, announced last September, the Fed would reduce its holdings of Treasuries and MBS by no more than: • $10 billion a month in Q3 2017 • $20 billion a month in Q1 2018 • $30 billion a month in Q2 2018 • $40 billion a month in Q3 2018 • $50 billion a month in Q4 2018, and continue at this pace.

This would shrink the balance of Treasuries and MBS by up to $420 billion in 2018, by up to an additional $600 billion in 2019 and every year going forward until the Fed decides that the balance sheet has been “normalized” enough — or until something big breaks. For February, the plan called for shedding up to $20 billion in securities: $12 billion in Treasuries and $8 billion in MBS. On its January 31 balance sheet, the Fed had $2,436 billion of Treasuries; on today’s balance sheet, $2,424 billion: a $12 billion drop for February. On target! In total, since the beginning of the QE Unwind, the balance of Treasuries has dropped by $42 billion, to hit the lowest level since August 6, 2014:

[..] to determine if the QE Unwind is taking place with MBS, we’re looking for lower highs and lower lows on a very jagged line. Also today’s movements reflect MBS that rolled off two to three months ago, so November and December, when about $4 billion in MBS were supposed to roll off per month. The chart below shows that jagged line. Note the lower highs and lower lows over the past few months. Given the delay of two to three months, the first roll-offs would have shown up in early December at the earliest. At the low in early November, the Fed held $1,770.1 billion in MBS. On today’s balance sheet, also the low point in the chart, the Fed shows $1,759.9 billion. From low to low, the balance dropped by $10.2 billion, reflecting trades in November and December:

And the overall balance sheet? Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet dropped from $4,460 billion at the outset of the QE Unwind in early October to $4,393 billion on today’s balance sheet, the lowest since July 9, 2014. A $67-billion drop:

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“The list includes Dow components Boeing, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Citigroup, American Express, Goldman Sachs, Mircrosoft, Apple, Cisco and Intel.”

S&P 500 Companies To Buy Back $800 Billion Of Their Own Shares This Year (MW)

S&P 500 companies will buy back a record $800 billion of their own shares in 2018, funded by savings on tax, strong earnings and the repatriation of cash held overseas, J.P. Morgan said Friday. That will far exceed the $530 billion in share buybacks that was recorded in 2017, analysts led by Dubravko Lakos-Bujas wrote in a note. Companies have already announced $151 billion of buybacks in the year to date. “There is room for further upside to our buyback estimates if companies increase gross payout ratios to levels similar to late last cycle when companies returned >100% of profits to shareholders (vs. 83% now),” said the note. “Corporates tend to accelerate buyback programs during market selloffs.”

The stock market has experienced two bouts of steep declines so far this year, the first in early February, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1,175 points in a single session to mark its biggest ever one-day point drop, driven by fears about interest rate hikes. There were $113.4 billion of buyback announcements in February, a three-year high, according to Trim Tabs Investment Research. The second selloff was ignited on Thursday, after President Donald Trump said he is planning to impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, triggering a more than 500 point drop in the Dow at its worst level, on fears the move would spark a trade war. The Dow was down another 300 points in early trade Friday.

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“Enjoy the last few weeks of relative normality.”

End Times at the OD Corral (Jim Kunstler)

Surely, the Deplorables of Flyover Land will not like the dumping of their Golden champion one bit. I’d stay away from post offices and other parcels of federal property for a while. If a bunch decides to march on the nation’s capital, it will be a messier affair than anything the hippies pulled off back in the day, perhaps the first battle of Civil War 2. The financial markets wobbled and puked on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, finally mirroring the tremendous stresses in our politics. They’ve been every bit as jacked on unreality as the two major parties for years now. The markets, after all, are not the economy itself, just indexes of the supposed values of things, stocks, bonds, gold, soybeans, etc., and the Federal Reserve has been jamming hallucinogens down their craw since the last little seizure in 2008.

The markets don’t seem to like the new chairman of the Fed, a cipher named Jay Powell. In his first big public performance since stepping into Janet Yellen’s tiny shoes this week, Powell managed to do a complete 180 in 24 hours on whether his outfit will stick to four rate hikes this year… or maybe just ride to the rescue of the floundering markets with their old tricks of lowering interest rates and “printing” shitloads of new “money” to get those animal spirits going again in the S & P. Absolutely nothing Powell’s Fed might try will work. In fact they will only make the cratering indexes fall deeper and harder, along with the value of the US dollar. Interest rates can’t go any higher, anyway, without blowing up half the paper obligations on earth.

Businesses will be terrified to transact. You can’t do much with a crippled financial system. The authorities and the news media will call it a “recession” but a sore-beset public will know it is the start of something a whole lot worse. As a nice side-dish to this banquet of consequences, the Democratic party will be deprived of its only reason to live the past two years: to shove Donald Trump off-stage. And the Republicans will be blamed twice over: once, for not coming to Trump’s defense, and again for getting behind him in the first place. Enjoy the last few weeks of relative normality.

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She’s never sounded more hollow. Theresa May is a certified masochist.

Theresa May Unveils Fragile Truce In Third Brexit Offering (G.)

If Theresa May’s first two speeches unfurled the promise of a “red, white and blue” Brexit, a cold grey day in March will be remembered as the moment a more faded flag was fluttered. As the nation took shelter from the beast from the east, this was intended to be May’s “reality bites” speech. Ten times she used the word “recognise” to underline she no longer believed Britain could have it all. “We recognise that we cannot have exactly the same arrangements with the EU as we do now,” she said. “We recognise this would constrain our ability to lower regulatory standards. We need to face up to facts. Our access to each other’s markets will be less”.

Little wonder that by the time it came for questions, and a German newspaper asked: “Is it all worth it?” The prime minister had to pause awkwardly before replying: “We are not changing our minds.” Much attention will focus on the remaining chasm between Downing Street’s hopes and the increasingly intransigent position adopted in Brussels. There was little to explain how they might solve the current crisis over Northern Ireland in the three weeks allotted. It would be churlish though not to acknowledge creeping realism from a politician whose heart has never really seemed in it. The weary call for “pragmatic common sense” was directed at both her own party and Europe.

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It’s useless to compare GSEs to the private sector. They exist to make ensure government control over the housing bubble.

Eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (USNews)

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s recent request for a bailout from the U.S. Treasury (read American taxpayers) has brought back into the public’s eye the unresolved legal status of these two government sponsored enterprises. In this debate, the assumption is that the GSEs, or some replacement entities benefiting from a government guarantee, are necessary for an effective housing finance market. The GSEs, however, do very little that cannot be done – and is not already done – by the private sector. In addition, these institutions pose a significant financial risk to U.S. taxpayers. Weighing this cost against the minimal benefits makes the case that the GSEs should be eliminated.

Without the GSEs, the mortgage market would not look radically different than it does today. Proponents argue that the GSEs lower mortgage rates, ensure the availability of the standard 30-year fixed rate mortgage, support home ownership and lend to people with lower incomes or weaker credit profiles, all of which the private sector presumably would not do. Not true on all fronts. First, the GSEs do not offer lower mortgage rates for consumers despite a government guarantee that allows them to raise capital at a lower cost than the private sector. In the past, the GSEs were able to charge lower mortgage rates by taking risks for which they were not compensated. The result was a massive build-up of housing risk in the run-up to the financial crisis of 2007-08.

Since 2009, the GSEs have been required to recognize risk in their pricing of mortgages, which has driven up their mortgage rates relative to the private sector. As a consequence, since 2014, new research undertaken with my colleague Steve Oliner shows that mortgage rates for private portfolio whole loans have been about one-quarter percentage point below GSE rates – after controlling for risk characteristics. And contrary to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s recent statement, the private market could ensure the availability of the 30-year fixed-rate mortgages on its own. Data from CoreLogic show that 76% of private portfolio mortgages originated in 2017 were 30-year mortgages, not much below the GSE’s 85% share.

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Unstoppable.

Low-Level Courts Turned Into Dickensian “Debt Collection Mills” (ICept)

Federal law outlawed debt prisons in 1833, but lenders, landlords and even gyms and other businesses have found a way to resurrect the Dickensian practice. With the aid of private collection agencies, they file millions of lawsuits in state and local courts each year, winning 95 percent of the time. If a defendant fails to appear at post-judgement hearings known as “debtors’ examinations,” collectors can seek a warrant for contempt of court — even if the debtor didn’t realize they were being sued. [..] “A Pound of Flesh: the Criminalization of Private Debt,” the ACLU report, sheds light for the first time on the frequency of modern-day debt imprisonment, estimating that courts are issuing tens of thousands of arrest warrants each year for debtors owing as little as $30.

Forty-four states permit judges to issue these warrants, often known as “body attachments,” in civil cases. “This has been a largely invisible problem, because the people it’s happening to typically don’t have lawyers and aren’t speaking out,” says Jennifer Turner, a human rights researcher at ACLU. “Many low-level courts have essentially become debt-collection mills.” One in three Americans has a debt that’s been turned over to a private collection agency, and the ACLU found cases of warrants being issued over almost every kind of consumer debt—payday and auto loans, utility bills, even daycare fees. Many cases begin with an emergency expense that someone is unable to pay, sending them into a spiral of debt and imprisonment.

The use of cash bail often compounds the problem; debtors languish in jail for up to two weeks, according to the report. In some jurisdictions, judges routinely set bail at the exact amount of the debt owed, then surrender it to the collector once paid. In other cases documented by the ACLU, people with outstanding medical debt were too ill to go to court, as in the case of an Indiana mother of three who had been living with family in Florida while she recovered from thyroid cancer. Unbeknown to her, a small claims court had issued three warrants in a suit over her unpaid medical bills, and she was arrested when she returned home.

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In case anyone starts telling you about Kushner and Citi.

The Devil Is in the Details of Citi’s Sordid History (Martens)

Wall Street On Parade has extensively reported in the past on the dubious dealings of Citigroup in Washington. Citigroup is the bank that pressured the Bill Clinton administration into repealing the depression-era Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. That act had prevented Wall Street’s speculating investment banks and brokerage firms from owning commercial banks that take in FDIC insured deposits in order to prevent another 1929-1932 style Wall Street crash. Just nine years after the repeal of Glass-Steagall, Wall Street experienced another epic crash, with Citigroup playing a major role in the contagion. Citigroup received the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history, taking in $45 billion in equity from the U.S. Treasury;

A government guarantee on $300 billion of Citigroup’s dubious assets; the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) guaranteed $5.75 billion of its senior unsecured debt and $26 billion of its commercial paper and interbank deposits; and the Federal Reserve secretly funneled $2.5 trillion in almost zero-interest loans to units of Citigroup between 2007 and 2010. Citigroup was created by the merger of Citicorp (parent of Citibank) and Travelers Group (which owned investment bank Salomon Brothers and brokerage firm Smith Barney). It would not have been allowed to exist but for the largess of the Clinton administration. And the Clintons needed a lot of financial help when they exited the White House.

In a June 9, 2014 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Hillary Clinton said this: “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.” One institution that had big confidence in the Clintons’ future earning power was Citigroup. “According to PolitiFact, Citigroup provided a $1.995 million mortgage to allow the Clintons to buy their Washington, D.C. residence in 2000. That liability does not pop up on the Clinton disclosure documents until 2011, showing a 30-year mortgage at 5.375% ranging in face amount from $1 million to $5 million from CitiMortgage. The disclosure says the mortgage was taken out in 2001.

“Citigroup also paid Bill Clinton hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees after he left the White House. It committed $5.5 million to the Clinton Global Initiative — a program which brings global leaders together annually to make action commitments. Citigroup employees have also been major campaign funders to Hillary Clinton’s political campaigns.”

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Oh, no!! Turns out developing markets have borrowed all their growth as well…

The Future Of Economic Convergence (WEF)

The world is now facing what observers are calling a “synchronized” growth upswing. What does this mean for the economic “convergence” of developed and developing countries, a topic that lost salience after the Great Recession began a decade ago? In the 1990s, developing economies, taken as a whole, began to grow faster than their advanced counterparts (in per capita terms), inspiring optimism that the two groups’ output and income would converge. From 1990 to 2007, the developing economies’ average annual per capita growth was 2.5 percentage points higher than in the advanced economies. In 2000-2007, the gap widened, to 3.5 percentage points.

Though not all countries made progress – many small economies did not do well – on an aggregate basis, the structure of the world economy was being transformed. Asian countries were catching up at a particularly rapid clip, driven by the large, dynamic economies of India and, even more so, China (which experienced nearly three decades of double-digit GDP growth). After the global financial crisis began in 2007, however, the dynamic changed. At first, it seemed that convergence was accelerating. With advanced-economy growth having ground to a halt, developing countries’ lead in per capita growth increased to four percentage points.

By 2013-2016, however, growth slowed in many emerging economies – particularly in Latin America, with Brazil experiencing negative growth in 2015 and 2016 – while growth in the United States picked up. Are we, as some observers have claimed, witnessing the end of convergence? The answer will depend on developing economies’ ability to find and tap new, more advanced sources of growth. In the past, the key engine of convergence was manufacturing. Developing countries that had finally acquired the needed skills and institutions applied advanced-country technologies locally, benefiting from plentiful, low-cost labor.

But, as Dani Rodrik has argued, that source of easy copycat catch-up has mostly been exhausted. The low-hanging fruit in manufacturing has already been picked. Technological catch-up is more difficult in the services sector, which now accounts for a larger share of total value-added. Moreover, today’s cutting-edge technologies – such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and bioengineering – are more complex than industrial machinery, and may be more difficult to copy. And, because intelligent machines can increasingly fill low-wage jobs, developing countries’ cost advantage may have been diminished significantly.

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Musk makes his latest victim. There’s one question that must always be asked in these cases: How much in subsidies does he get for this project? Articles that do not ask this should not be published, because they’re mere propaganda.

Elon Musk to Open Tesla R&D Plant in Greece (G.)

Elon Musk may have plans to colonise Mars but back on planet Earth he is extending his reach to Athens, by opening an engineering facility called Tesla Greece. Musk’s electric car business is an unsung success story for the Greek diaspora, with three of Tesla’s top designers boasting degrees from the National Technical University of Athens. Tesla’s plans for the country have such “game-changing potential” that the head of the Hellenic Entrepreneurs’ Association, Vasilis Apostolopoulos, has pledged to hand over his own industrial plant for free as a testing ground for new products.

Addressing delegates at the annual Delphi economic forum, Apostolopoulos said: “I have personally emailed Musk to welcome Tesla Greece … and to say that for the next 10 years I will give, at zero cost to his company, my group’s own industrial plant outside Corinth so that Greece can be on the frontline of global innovation.” Describing the move as a “vote of confidence” in the debt-stricken country, Apostolopoulos, who is chief executive of the Athens Medical Group, a leading private healthcare provider, said he was also prepared to offer full medical coverage for a year to all of Tesla Greece’s staff members and international staff visiting the country on company business.

“It is the least we can do to thank and welcome Mr Musk’s vote of confidence in Hellenic business, research and technology,” he told the Guardian. Outside the UK, the Netherlands and Germany, the electric car manufacturer has no presence in Europe. Its Greek office is expected to attract at least 50 engineers to run a research and development centre out of the state-run Demokritos Centre for Scientific Research. The centre is expected to act as a base for southeast Europe. “Greece has a strong electric motor engineering talent, and technical universities offering tailored programmes and specialised skills for electric motor technology,” a spokesperson told Electrek, a US news website.

It is understood that Tesla’s three Greek designers – principal motor designer Konstantinos Laskaris; motor design engineer Konstantinos Bourchas; and staff motor design engineer Vasilis Papanikolaou – are preparing to move back to Athens under the company’s plans. Demokritos has welcomed the news. “We are very happy to receive all the talented engineers who are returning to work beside us,” it said in a statement.

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In his book ‘Adults in the Room’, Yanis had nothing good about ‘the most powerful man in the EU’. Now, Wieser comes with an unverifiable and fully nonsensical story, that he knows even many Greeks will swallow hook line and sinker.

EU’s Wieser: Six Months Of Varoufakis Cost Greece €200 Billion (K.)

The first six months of the leftist-led SYRIZA government cost Greece around €200 billion, former Euro Working Group chief Thomas Wieser told the Delphi Economic Forum on Friday, describing that estimate as “safe” and “conservative.” In a discussion being moderated by the executive editor of Kathimerini, Alexis Papachelas, Wieser noted that the SYRIZA-led government was basically provoking Grexit from its rise in late January to July of that year. Wieser noted that in 2010, the German government decided that the participation of the IMF in the rescue program for Greece was necessary, noting that the Eurozone lacked the technical knowhow for that sort of program. He noted that former US President Barack Obama took an active role during Greece’s crisis, adding that then Treasury Secretary Jack Lew would call the Eurogroup chairman at the time, Jeroen Dijsselbloem up to five times a week.

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“..Somehow it turns out I’m the first white person to think about giving the land back since Marlon Brando..”

‘This Is All Stolen Land’: Canadian Offers To Share His With First Nations (G.)

Joel Holmberg had been batting the idea around for years. But the final decision came last month, as he scrolled through the online vitriol that erupted after a white farmer was acquitted of killing a young Cree man in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Holmberg turned to social media, but instead of joining in the often-vicious debate surrounding that case, he offered to share his family’s five-acre property in northern Alberta with a First Nations family. There would be no bills, no rent, he explained. Instead the family could join him, his wife and two children in living off the land; hunting, fishing and growing food.

“I wanted to offer some sort of hope,” said Holmberg. “It was really disgusting to see the way the racist people were speaking. I wanted to let them know that it’s not everyone in Canada that feels that way.” The invitation to share his acreage near Barrhead, about 100km north-west of Edmonton, seemed like a fair one. “We all know in our heart the truth, that this is all stolen land,” said the 45-year-old. “They’re our hosts and we’re their guests and they’ve been criminally abused for far too long and it has to stop.” Holmberg said his appreciation for First Nations culture began as a child growing up in British Columbia, when members of the Sinixt First Nation began bringing him along as they hunted and fished.

“I had the opportunity to do sweats with them and learn about their culture from them and learn about the real history of Canada,” he said. He continued to delve into Canada’s rich tapestry of indigenous cultures as he moved around the country, from the Northwest Territories to Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “They’re the kindest people I’ve ever met. They’ve been there for me in the worst times in my life when I needed help the most,” he said. “It is very clear to my family and I, that it is us that will be blessed by this thing happening most of all.”

Read more …

Nov 302017
 


Amedeo Modigliani Elvira Resting at a Table 1919

 

Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with Naomi Klein’s 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, in which she describes how neoliberalism, as developed by Milton Friedman and his Chicago School, wreaks often very brutal and bloody havoc upon societies under the guise of ‘crisis as an opportunity for change’, first in Latin America and later also in Eastern Europe.

One of the most prominent actors in the book, the man behind the term ‘shock therapy’ for economies, is Jeffrey Sachs, a Harvard prodigy. In an interview at the time, Klein had this to say:

 

Q: You mention the shift from shock therapy to shock-and-awe, but there are also attempts to soften the image of neoliberalism. Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who pioneered shock therapy, wrote his latest book on The End of Poverty. Is there any more to this than a rebranding exercise?

A: A lot of people are under the impression that Jeffrey Sachs has renounced his past as a shock therapist and is doing penance now. But if you read The End of Poverty more closely he continues to defend these policies, but simply says there should be a greater cushion for the people at the bottom. The real legacy of neoliberalism is the story of the income gap. It destroyed the tools that narrowed the gap between rich and poor.

The very people who opened up this violent divide might now be saying that we have to do something for the people at the very bottom, but they still have nothing to say for the people in the middle who’ve lost everything. This is really just a charity model. Jeffrey Sachs says he defines poverty as those whose lives are at risk, the people living on a dollar a day, the same people discussed in the Millennium Development Goals. Of course that needs to be addressed, but let us be clear that we’re talking here about noblesse oblige, that’s all.

[..] Leszek Balcerowicz, the former finance minister who worked with Jeffrey Sachs to impose shock therapy in Poland in 1989, said that the ideology advances in moments of extraordinary politics. He listed these moments of extraordinary politics as ends of war and moments of extreme political transition.

Around the same time, Alexander Cockburn said in a review of the book:

 

“Shock therapy” neoliberalism really isn’t most closely associated with Milton Friedman, but rather with Jeffrey Sachs, to whom Klein does certainly give many useful pages, even though Friedman remains the dark star of her story. Sachs first introduced shock therapy in Bolivia in the early 1990s. Then he went into Poland, Russia, etc, with the same shock therapy model. Sachs’ catchy phrase then was that “you can’t leap over an abyss step-by-step,” or words to that effect. This is really where contemporary neoliberalism took shape.

I’ve thought for all these years that Jeffrey Sachs, when out there campaigning for the end of poverty and other ostensibly grandiose goals with the likes of Angeline Jolie, should have at least provided a very public and detailed apology for his past endeavors. I’ve never seen one.

Which meant I was very surprised to see his name pop up as a prominent adviser to Yanis Varoufakis during the latter’s time as Greek finance minister, as Yanis describes it in his 2017 book Adults in the Room. Even more surprising than to see Larry Summers in a similar role in the same book.

The mother of all surprises in this regard, however, was to see Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement announce Naomi Klein as a member of its Advisory Panel yesterday, a panel which also includes the likes of Julian Assange. Because while he’s not on that panel, Jeffrey Sachs has done public presentations for DiEM25. Bien étonné de se trouver ensemble, as the French put it. Strange bedfellows. Maybe Naomi should explain.

I have said multiple times that I am a fan of Yanis, and his departure as finance minister has been a huge loss to Greece, because he was their best, and perhaps their only, chance at salvation from economic disaster, but I’m still not at all convinced about DiEM25 and its intentions (and I don’t mean to say they don’t mean well).

For one, because I think the EU is so throughly rotten to the core it cannot be reformed; its fatal flaws have been continually baked into the cake for decades. Whereas DiEM25 think they can get people elected in various countries across Europe and get Brussels to change direction and become democratic. It was never built to be democratic.

 

But all this before was merely a build-up to an article Sachs penned for Project Syndicate this week in which he claims to know precisely what Germany and Europe need. He doesn’t.

 

A New Grand Coalition for Germany – and Europe

With America AWOL and China ascendant, this is a critical time for Germany and the European Union to provide the world with vision, stability, and global leadership. And that imperative extends to Germany’s Christian Democrats.

Friends of Germany and Europe around the world have been breathing a sigh of relief at the newfound willingness of Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats (SPD) to discuss reprising their grand coalition government. The world needs a strong and forward-looking Germany in a dynamic European Union. A new grand coalition working alongside French President Emmanuel Macron’s government would make that possible.

We have all seen, in Greece, in Italy, in Libya, what leadership Germany has provided. In economics and with regards to the refugee crisis. It has been an unmitigated economic disaster everywhere but in Germany itself (and Holland). And that is no coincidence. It illustrates exactly what is so wrong with the EU. Germany has the power to squeeze the poorer and smaller countries into submission with impunity, and it does just that.

The last thing the EU needs is more such German ‘leadership’. In fact, it needs a whole lot less of that. It needs to find a way to diminish German influence. But to get there, it would require for Berlin to voluntarily step back, and that is not going to happen. Merkel can veto anything she likes, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

 

[..] The world and Europe need an outward-looking Germany that offers more institutional and financial innovation, so that Europe can be a true counterpart to the US and China on global affairs. I say this as someone who believes firmly in Europe’s commitment and pioneering statecraft when it comes to sustainable development, the core requirement of our time.

Not only does Sachs not understand that making Germany some superior power in Europe is the exact wrong way to go, he doesn’t understand sustainable development either. It’s as exasperating as it is predictable.

 

Economic growth that is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable is a very European idea, one that has now been embraced globally in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, as well as in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Europe’s experience with social democracy and Christian democracy made this global vision possible. But now that its agenda has been adopted worldwide, Europe’s leadership in fulfilling it has become essential.

A grand coalition government in Germany must help put Europe in a position to lead. French President Emmanuel Macron has offered some important ideas: a European finance minister; Eurobonds to finance a new European investment program; more emphasis on innovation; a financial transactions tax to fund increased aid to Africa, where Europe has a strategic interest in long-term development; and tax harmonization more generally, before the US triggers a global race to the bottom on taxing corporations and the rich.

There is so much wrong in those few lines we could write a book about it. First of all, and let’s bold this once again, there is no such thing as sustainable growth. It’s a lie.

If we want to do something that can actually save our planet, we have to decouple economic growth from environmental sustainability. We can and will not grow our way out of the disaster we have created with -our blind focus on- growth. This is the most dangerous nonsense story there is out there. We have to pick one of the two, we can’t have both. It’s EITHER growth OR a livable planet. Here’s what I wrote on December 16 2016:

 

Heal the Planet for Profit

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.

Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Jeffrey Sachs can now be added to the list of deluded ‘experts’ on the topic. The COP21 Paris agreement, which I re-dubbed CON21, is full of, and directed by, such people. I always think Trump was very right to withdraw from it, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.

CON21 is a CON. The recent CON23 in Bonn is too. It’s a scheme meant to get to your money under the guise of going green. If they can convince you that you can prosper of off saving the planet, you’ll give them anything, because it’ll make you feel good about yourself.

This is me from December 12 2015:

 

CON21

Protesters and other well-intended folk, from what I can see, are falling into the trap set for them: they are the frame to the picture in a political photo-op. They allow the ‘leaders’ to emanate the image that yes, there are protests and disagreements as everyone would expect, but that’s just a sign that people’s interests are properly presented, so all’s well. COP21 is not a major event, that’s only what politicians and media make of it. In reality, it’s a mere showcase in which the protesters have been co-opted.

They’re not in the director’s chair, they’re not even actors, they’re just extras. I fully agree, and more than fully sympathize, with the notion of saving this planet before it’s too late. But I wouldn’t want to rely on a bunch of sociopaths to make it happen. There are children drowning every single day in the sea between Turkey and Greece, and the very same world leaders who are gathered in Paris are letting that happen. They have for a long time, without lifting a finger. And they’ve done worse -if that is possible-.

[..] you guys are targeting a conference in Paris on climate change that features the exact same leaders that let babies drown with impunity. Drowned babies, climate change and warfare, these things all come from the same source. And you’re appealing to that very same source to stop climate change.

What on earth makes you think the leaders you appeal to would care about the climate when they can’t be bothered for a minute with people, and the conditions they live in, if they’re lucky enough to live at all? Why are you not instead protesting the preventable drownings of innocent children? Or is it that you think the climate is more important than human life? That perhaps one is a bigger issue than the other?

[..] The current economic model depends on our profligate use of energy. A new economic model, then, you say? Good luck with that. The current one has left all political power with those who profit most from it. And besides, that’s a whole other problem, and a whole other issue to protest.

If you’re serious about wanting to save the planet, and I have no doubt you are, then I think you need to refocus. COP21 is not your thing, it’s not your stage. It’s your leaders’ stage, and your leaders are not your friends. They don’t even represent you either. The decisions that you want made will not be made there.

But let’s return to Sachs and his -other- lofty goals: “..a European finance minister; Eurobonds to finance a new European investment program; more emphasis on innovation; a financial transactions tax to fund increased aid to Africa, where Europe has a strategic interest in long-term development; and tax harmonization more generally..”

We all know Europeans don’t want things that infringe even further on their country’s sovereignty. If they were offered the opportunity to vote on them they would defeat them in massive numbers. Which is precisely why they are not offered that opportunity. The only way to push through such measures is by stealth and against the will of the people.

Which already has, and will much further and worse, divide the EU. It’s not even the plans themselves, it’s the notion of the ever increasing erosion of what people have to say about their own lives. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are flaring off bright red warning signs about sovereignty, and they are completely ignored.

If the EU insists on continuing that way, it will be the cause of chaos and violence and right wing resurgence, not the solution to all that. Europe needs to take a step back and reflect upon itself before taking even one single step forward towards more centralization. But centralization is what Brussels is all about, it’s what it was built on.

The EU will never be viable if Germany in the end calls all the important shots. So a new Grand Coalition in Berlin, and its sympathetic stance towards Macron’s grandiosity, is not ‘needed’, it’s Europe’s biggest danger. But yeah, you’re right, it fits right in with Jeffrey Sachs’ neoliberalist dreams.

And there’s more centralization, globalism, neoliberalism and ‘green growth’ where that came from:

 

Contrary to the Germans who oppose such ideas, a European finance minister and Eurobonds would not and should not lead to fiscal profligacy, but rather to a revival of investment-led green growth in Europe. China has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative to build green infrastructure linking Southeast Asia and Central Asia with Europe.

This is the time for Europe to offer the same bold vision, creating a partnership with China to renovate Eurasia’s infrastructure for a low-carbon future. If Europe plays its cards right, Europe’s (and China’s) scientific and technical excellence would flourish under such a vision. If not, we will all be driving Chinese electric vehicles charged by Chinese photovoltaic cells in the future, while Germany’s automotive industry will become a historical footnote.

We don’t need more vehicles, whatever they run on, we need less, because we need to use less energy. Of any kind. We must not drive differently, in different cars using a different energy source, we must drive less. Much less. This shouldn’t be that hard, because our cities and societies are designed to be as wasteful as possible.

What we need is not green growth, but green shrinkage. We cannot grow our way into a sustainable planet or economic system. It is a fallacy. And it is time people like Jeffrey Sachs and Mike Bloomberg and Mark Carney (and Merkel and Macron etc. etc.) stop spreading such nonsense. If even Lloyd Blankfein supports the Paris Agreement, we should be suspicious, not feel grateful or validated in our warped views.

 

A European finance minister would, moreover, finally end Europe’s self-inflicted agony in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. As difficult as it is to believe, Greece’s crisis continues to this day, at Great Depression scale, ten years after the onset of the crisis. This is because Europe has been unable, and Germany unwilling, to clean up the financial mess (including Greece’s unpayable debts) in a fair and forward-looking manner (akin to the 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts, as Germany’s friends have repeatedly reminded it).

If Germany won’t help to lead on this issue, Europe as a whole will face a prolonged crisis with severe social, economic, and political repercussions. In three weeks, Macron will convene world leaders in Paris on the second anniversary of the climate accord. France should certainly take a bow here, but so should Germany. During Germany’s G20 Presidency, Merkel kept 19 of the 20 members of the G20 firmly committed to the Paris agreement, despite US President Donald Trump’s disgraceful attempt to wreck it.

Yes, the corruption of US politics (especially campaign funding by the oil and gas industry) threatened the global consensus on climate change. But Germany stood firm. The new coalition should also ensure that the country’s Energiewende (“energy transition”) delivers on the 2020 targets set by previous governments. These achievable and important commitments should not be a bargaining chip in coalition talks.

Oh, c’mon, Jeffrey. You really want anyone to believe that European politics is less corrupt than American? What do you think handed Monsanto its 5-year glyphosate extension this week? Why do you think the entire Volkswagen board is still at liberty? Thing is, all this is about money.

It’s just that Merkel thinks there’s more of it to be made supporting CON21, while Trump, who’s 180º wrong on on the entire topic, thinks otherwise. But they’re both equally focused on money, not polar bears or penguins or elephants. Trump is right for believing green growth is a load of humbug, he’s just right for all the wrong reasons. While Merkel is trying to sell you a CON. Take your pick.

 

A CDU/CSU-SPD alliance, working with France and the rest of Europe, could and should do much more on climate change. Most important, Europe needs a comprehensive energy plan to decarbonize fully by 2050. This will require a zero-carbon smart power grid that extends across the continent and taps into the wind and solar power not only of southern Europe but also of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

Once again, Eurobonds, a green partnership with China, and unity within Europe could make all the difference. Such an alliance would also enable a new foreign policy for Europe, one that promotes peace and sustainable development, underpinned by new security arrangements that do not depend so heavily on the US.

“Decarbonize fully by 2050”. Our entire societies have been built on carbon. Every single bit of it. Sachs simply doesn’t understand the world he lives in. He envisions bigger where only smaller could possibly help. We can decarbonize, but it will mean the end of our way of life. No amount of solar panels or wind turbines can change that. That are made with and from carbon.

It’s all just snake oil. We want to save the planet, and the life upon it, but we’re not willing to pay the price and bear the consequences. So we make up a narrative that feels good and run with it.

I have a tonic here that will cure all your ills, ladies and gentlemen. Only ten dollars. I know it sounds expensive, and it’s a full month’s wages, but just you think of the benefits. Think of your children!

 

Europe, a magnet for hundreds of millions of would-be economic migrants, could, should, and I believe would regain control of its borders, allowing it to strengthen and enforce necessary limits on migration. The political terms of a new grand coalition government, it would seem, are clear. The SPD should hold out for ministerial leadership on economic and financial policy, while the CDU/CSU holds the chancellorship.

That would be a true coalition, not one that could bury the SPD politically or deny it the means to push for a truly green, inclusive, EU-wide, sustainable development agenda. With Merkel and SPD leader Martin Schulz in the lead, the German government would be in excellent, responsible, and experienced hands. Germany’s friends and admirers, and all supporters of global sustainable development, are hoping for this breakthrough.

Long story short, Jeffrey Sachs still promotes disaster.