May 142018
 
 May 14, 2018  Posted by at 1:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Brassaï Cat 1945

 

What’s happening to John McCain is tragic. It’s not something one should ever wish upon another human being. Nor is it decent, let alone useful, to wish that he would die. Wishing bad things upon someone because they did bad things is too close for comfort to what he himself did. But it’s good to remember that his brain tumor is not the most tragic part of McCain’s life on earth. And no, neither is his time as prisoner of war in Vietnam.

McCain’s main tragedy is that he didn’t learn the one lesson he should have learned about his time in Vietnam, and didn’t turn his back on warfare. Instead, he turned into the biggest and loudest pro-war campaigner in Washington for decades. Talk about a missed opportunity, a life wasted. If there was one person who was presented with the first-hand experience needed to turn against bloodshed, it was John McCain.

What’s more, during his time in the House and later the Senate, McCain completely missed out on a development that might yet have changed his mind. That is, wars became unwinnable. Something even that the US losing their war in Vietnam might have taught him. It entirely passed him by. McCain still never saw an opportunity to wage battle somewhere, anywhere on the planet, that he didn’t like.

That makes him a dinosaur and a fossil who should never have been allowed to remain in the Senate for as long as he did. At the age of 81, and after ‘serving’ for 35 years in Washington, it apparently becomes too difficult to see how the world outside changes, let alone to adapt to those changes. If you limit the time a president can serve, why not do the same for senators? Is it because those same senators would have to vote on that?

Moreover, if wars are unwinnable, but you incessantly call for new wars anyway, then regardless of moral issues about going to war in the first place, you have de facto become a threat to your own people and your own country that you purport to serve. Especially, and first of all, to the American soldiers you desire to send out there to fight those wars. But also a threat to the image of America around the globe.

 

When wars are unwinnable, there is no reason to fight them. Again, even apart from morals and ethics. You will have to find other ways to deal with ‘elements’ that feel and act less than friendly towards you. To find out what, it helps to realize that they understand it’s just as futile for them to attack you militarily as it is for you to attack them. It also helps to figure out why they are unfriendly.

What doesn’t help is to take yet another stab at Putin and say “Vladimir Putin is an evil man, and he is intent on evil deeds”, as McCain does in a forthcoming book. If that’s the best you can do, your best-by date has long since passed. That’s language fit for a 4-year old. And George W.

McCain’s father and grandfather were both 4-star US Navy admirals. Perhaps that partly explains his blindness to the evils of war, and the role the US has played in many conflicts, including -but certainly not limited to- Vietnam. It’s hard to imagine Apocalypse Now, Platoon or Full Metal Jacket being McCain’s favorite Hollywood classics.

And that is a bigger problem than it may seem. Because America has indeed been able to paint a vivid portrait for itself of why Vietnam was such an insane venture that should never have happened, and certainly not repeated. If your culture has the ability to put that in words and images, and as a nation you still don’t learn the lesson embedded in them, you’re pretty much lost.

Oh, and besides, you lost too, remember? You lost the war and the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of young Americans and over a million Vietnamese. To have been part of that and then turn around and strive to be Washington’s premier warmonger, that’s just totally bonkers. Or worse. Has McCain been promoting war all this time because he subconsciously wanted to redo Vietnam but this time not lose?

 

Unwinnable wars are bad news for the weapons industry. They will deny the existence of even such a concept as long and as strongly as they can. Because if you can’t win a war, why wage them? There will continue to be technological developments, but there’s no “throughput”. You can fire some missiles into some desert somewhere from time to time, and that’s it.

The military-industrial complex is happy only -because most profitable- if and when guns and missiles and jets constantly need to be replaced because they’ve been lost in a theater of war, along with young Americans. McCain knows this better than most. And he knows the captains of this complex, both the military side and the weapons producers. Far too well.

Being as beholden as it is to the arms makers and dealers, has made America lose whatever edge it once had militarily. In the US weapons are developed and sold to generate the largest profits possible; in Russia, they are developed to protect the country. This is largely why the American defense budget is 10 times larger than its Russian counterpart. All this happened on John McCain’s watch.

The entire narrative of “protecting and sharing our values” has become hollow propaganda. Because the US has engaged its military in more theaters of war and invasion than we can even keep track of anymore. The US armed forces don’t protect democracy or human rights around the world, they protect the financial interests of America’s elites, including the military-industrial complex. Does anyone believe John McCain doesn’t know this?

 

Unbeknownst to John McCain, the world has entered a whole new era. And this didn’t happen yesterday. Russia and China may have only recently announced new hypersonic missile technology, but it didn’t fall out of the sky. It does profoundly change things though. It ends all notions and dreams of American exceptionalism and unilateralism.

And America needs to learn that lesson. It will have to do it without John McCain. And it might as well, because McCain was incapable of changing, and of seeing the changes around him. But the American view of the world will have to change, because the world itself has.

Still, you’re right: the real tragedy is not that John McCain wasted his own life. It’s that he helped destroy so many others.

 

 

Apr 142018
 
 April 14, 2018  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Robert Capa Anti-fascist militia women defending a street barricade, Barcelona 1936

 

US Media Love War More Than They Hate Trump (Khalek)
US Defence Secretary Mattis Says ‘This Was A One-Time Shot’ – For Now (Ind.)
Why Is ‘Bad Guy’ Putin So Popular At Home? (Steve Keen)
Trump’s Actions in Syria Violate US Constitution (Kucinich)
Long Wars (Claire Connelly)
The Deep State Takes A Hostage (Stockman)
Irish High Court Sets Out 11 Questions For ECJ on EU-US Data Transfers (IT)
Mark Zuckerberg’s Testimony Lurched From Easy Ride To Headache (G.)
Making America More Indebted (Roberts)
JPMorgan Profits Soar 35% Thanks To Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts (Ind.)

 

 

How many people actually believe the Skripal and Douma stories they are being fed?

US Media Love War More Than They Hate Trump (Khalek)

American media outlets can’t help themselves. They love war. They love war more than they hate Trump. They love war so much, they are cheering on the president they hate to militarily escalate in Syria. And if he doesn’t escalate in Syria, it proves he is controlled by the Kremlin, they tell us. If he wants to demonstrate that Russia isn’t calling the shots, he must bomb Syria. And he must bomb Syria to punish Assad for an alleged chemical attack that has yet to be properly investigated to determine whether it took place and who is responsible. The US media isn’t interested in evidence, they have been repeating that Assad was behind this alleged attack from the beginning and through repetition it has become a truth.

NBC recently published claims fed to them by anonymous US intelligence officials claiming to have proof that the attack did indeed take place and that Assad is responsible. It’s not as if US officials have ever lied about weapons of mass destruction in the past to justify war, so why should NBC be skeptical of this? Meanwhile, CNN—when it isn’t busy obsessing over Stormy Daniels—has hosted a parade of war hawks agitating for military escalation against Syria, against Iran, even against Russia. For example US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has never seen a country he doesn’t want to bomb, was allowed to go on air and call Assad a legitimate military target, saying Trump should take him out to “send a strong message other bad actors like North Korea and Iran.”

He went largely unchallenged by the CNN host whose only qualm was where the US could bomb in Syria to properly punish the Assad government. “It’s tough to decide what option to hit. What is a good option? You’d be forced to take out the air force but it doesn’t sound like taking out the air force will stop if it’s chemical attacks coming out of a helicopter,” she said to Graham. The editorial board at the Washington Post, a newspaper that is owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos who has a $600 million contract with the CIA that is never disclosed by the paper on stories related to the intelligence agency despite the clear conflict of interest, agitated for Trump to go further than just bombing Syria once.

The Post wants to see a longer term plan for regime change and US military domination over Syria. “The reality Mr. Trump has not yet faced is that as long as the dictator he called “Animal Assad” remains in place, Syria’s wars will continue, breeding Islamist terrorists and propelling refugees toward Europe,” said the Post. But the reality is the opposite: it is the US’ war of regime change in Syria that has prolonged the war, bred Islamist terrorists, and propelled refugees toward Europe, and the Post is calling for continuing that regime change operation.

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The story is they struck chemical weapons facilities. That means the OPCW has zero credibility from now on; they stated just a few years ago that Syria had none anymore.

US Defence Secretary Mattis Says ‘This Was A One-Time Shot’ – For Now (Ind.)

The US military has revealed the three-nation stake on Syria targeting alleged chemicals assets is over for now – declaring “right now this is a one-time shot”. Defence Secretary James Mattis said the US, UK and France had acted together, having determined that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians a week ago. He said it would depend on Mr Assad if there were further strikes. “Right now this is a one-time shot,” he told a briefing on Friday night at the Pentagon. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, said the targets included a Syrian research facility, a chemical weapons storage facility and a command post. The first of these was located in Damascus, the first time that the US had struck close to the capital.

Asked whether the US and its allies was planning further attacks, Mr Mattis said: “That depends open Assad.” The Defence Secretary said he was “certain” the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons in an attack on civilians, something that Mr Assad and its Russian allies have denied. He said the US was still investigating what sort of chemical weapons had been used. “We are aware of one of the chemical agents” that was used, but further assessments were continuing. While it was reported that Russian forces were not warned in advance of the strike, he said that usual deescalation communications did go ahead, the process Moscow and Washington use to avoid unintentional attacks on each other’s forces, or accidental clashes or their aircraft.

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“..an extra 2.5-3 million Russian adults died in middle age in the period 1992-2001 than would have been expected based on 1991 mortality..”

Why Is ‘Bad Guy’ Putin So Popular At Home? (Steve Keen)

The destructive impact of the far-too-rapid transition was an increase in the mortality rate, which medical researchers concluded meant that “an extra 2.5-3 million Russian adults died in middle age in the period 1992-2001 than would have been expected based on 1991 mortality. ” In strict economic terms, the transition was an abject failure – that is, if you think it was intended to improve Russian living standards. GDP virtually halved between 1990 and 1998, living standards plummeted, crime proliferated, and Russian society almost collapsed. Even today, output is barely above pre-transition levels.n

The failure of the rapid transition policies forced on Russia by the US is even more apparent when Russia’s transition performance is compared with China’s, where the communists remained firmly in control, and where the transition was deliberately undertaken at a measured pace. Russia’s per capita GDP today is only slightly above its level at the end of the Soviet period. China’s per capita GDP is ten times what it was in 1990. However, viewed from the very bottom of this brutal process in 1998, Russia has made remarkable progress: from 1998 until now, GDP has more than doubled, in both total and per capita terms. For almost all of this time, Russia’s president or prime minister has been Vladimir Putin.

Prior to his election in 2000, Putin rose to prominence in part because of his successful repression of the Chechen revolt. This hardly endeared Putin to the Chechens. But it gave him the aura of a strongman at the time most Russians believed their country desperately needed one, to eliminate the low-level mafia who tormented the public directly, to subdue the Oligarchs who exploited them, and to stand up to the West when his predecessor Yeltsin had effectively been a puppet. Putin can’t be solely credited with starting the economic turnaround, but his strongman approach to running Russia was welcomed, and is still welcomed, by the majority of his countrymen.

Russia is far from perfect under Putin, and Putin is far from perfect himself. But its economy and its national pride have been restored under his rule, and the Russian public cannot be faulted for feeling substantial antipathy towards the West, and the US in particular. Given that Russia has legitimate grievances about how the West treated it after it decided to join the capitalist camp, and the disastrous outcomes of all previous Western attempts at regime change, I’d rather our so-called leaders aimed for rapprochement with Russia, and yes, with Putin, instead of heightened animosity.

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So what is Congress going to do?

Trump’s Actions in Syria Violate US Constitution (Kucinich)

President Trump acted without congressional authorization in ordering a military attack against Syria tonight. This is a clear violation of the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8 which makes it clear that only Congress has the power to declare war. The President’s Article II authority as “Commander in Chief” does not give him the authority to act independent of Congress on matters of war. This is not a mere technicality. The doctrine of separation of powers is the only thing which protects the US from becoming a dictatorship. The President is subject to the law. The gas attack on Douma must be dealt with in an international court of law. If the US does not stand for the rule of law, how can we demand other countries to do so?

The attack on Syria will embolden ISIS. Our military power should not be used to help, directly or indirectly, ISIS and those elements whose philosophy is inimical to the United States of America. The President has violated the Constitution, usurping the power of Congress. This is not about whether or not the President hates Syria’s leaders. It is about whether or not he loves the US Constitution, which he took an oath to defend. The President chose to order a military attack almost a week after the gas attack on Douma. He had plenty of time to seek congressional approval, but he chose not to do so, even though he himself specifically said “The President must get congressional approval before attacking Syria – big mistake if he does not.” (Twitter, August 30th, 2013).

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“.. the Arab world under the control of those who live and work in the Arab world.”

Long Wars (Claire Connelly)

From Syria, to Iraq, Iran to Libya, our understandings of the long-wars in the Middle-East as moral, humanitarian interventions designed to democratise and civilise are the result of a carefully crafted propaganda campaign waged by the US and its allies. Each of these uprisings were launched by US proxies, designed to destabilize the regions, justifying regime change that suit the economic interests of its investors, banks and corporations, captured comprehensively in a new book by Canadian author and analyst, Stephen Gowans, Washington’s Long War on Syria. You might be surprised to know that both the Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi government, led by Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez Al Assad, (succeeded by Bashaar Al Assaad) and Sadaam Hussein respectively, were socialist governments.

Or Ba’ath Arab Socialist governments, to be precise. Ba’ath Arab Socialism can be summed up in their constitutions supporting the values of: ‘freedom of the Arab world, freedom from foreign powers and freedom of socialism’. Its doctrine was supported in Libya, as it was in Iraq and Syria. Of course, particularly in Hussein’s case, we cannot claim that these governments were without their problems. Ethnic cleansing is not to be overlooked, but condemned on the strongest grounds. But of course these were not the reasons the US and its allies decided to get into it. “For the last quarter of a century, the US and its allies have waged highly destructive campaigns of economic warfare against Syria and Iraq, the economic equivalent of nuclear war,” writes Gowans,

“and have done so because they are opposed to Ba’ath Arab Socialist efforts to bring politics and the economics of the Arab world under the control of those who live and work in the Arab world.” In the case of Iraq, it had combined its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy, leading to what is known as ‘The Golden Age’, where, according to a State Department Official: “Schools, universities, hospitals, factories, museums and theatres proliferated employment so universal, a labour shortage developed.” When the Ba’ath Arab Socialists were driven from power in Iraq, the US installed military dictator, Paul El Briener who set about a ‘de-Ba’athification’ of the government, expelling every member of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist party and imposed a constitution forbidding any secular Arab leader from ever holding office in Iraq again.

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It ain’t over.

The Deep State Takes A Hostage (Stockman)

The Donald seems to be taking a Deep Breath on his Syria bombfest, but the Deep State has him by the orange hairs. So we doubt the delay will last much longer. That’s because our Art of the Deal genius is getting bamboozled yet again. They are telling him that wiping out up to a dozen Syrian airfields, military installations and a dog-eared factory or two that can be identified as chemical weapons sites will amount to some pretty serious Shock & Awe where it counts: That is, the mere witnessing of it will cause the Fat Boy of Pyongyang to brown his ample trousers, thereby getting his “mind right” for the upcoming summit. That’s exactly the kind of macho-bargainer stuff that the Donald thrives on, and is further proof that the Deep State has figured out exactly how to press his buttons.

To be sure, Trump is no innocent victim. He voluntarily made himself hostage to the War Party by surrounding himself with failed generals and the most rabid war-mongers to be found in the Imperial City—-John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel. Indeed, you have to wonder. How could anyone with even a half-baked notion of America First think that a hard core interventionist like John Bolton should be brought up right close and personal to the POTUS ear lobes, Walrus mustache and all? But whatever the Donald was thinking when he made such horrendous choices for his top national security posts, these denizens of the War Party have wasted no time shoving their own agenda right down his throat.

And at the top of that agenda is systematic, relentless escalation of provocations against Russia and Iran. That’s because confrontation with these demonized states is the best way to keep Imperial Washington (and therefore the entire country) on a war-footing and the national security gravy train overflowing with fiscal largesse. As we indicated in Part 1, the impending attack on Syria is actually a shot across the bow aimed at Tehran and Moscow. The cover story is simply a humanitarian sounding ruse. Ostensibly, Bashar Assad is being administered a good hard spanking via a barrage of cruise missile birch switches.

That begs the question, of course, of how homeland security is actually enhanced by selectively spanking some malefactors and not others. In this case, even the surely bogus claim that 40 civilians were gassed in Douma hardly compares to the 10,000 civilians that have been slaughtered by American bombs delivered by the Saudi air force in Yemen; or the thousands of anti-government prisoners that have been summarily executed by General al-Sisi in Egypt under this stewardship of Washington’s $1.2 billion annual stipend; or the thousands of civilians that Israel has killed during its periodic “lawn-mowing” exercises on the Gaza Strip.

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Huge challenge to Facebook and the CIA. How come only the Irish Times reports on it? The EU top courts is about to ban transfer on personal data from Europe to the US.

Irish High Court Sets Out 11 Questions For ECJ on EU-US Data Transfers (IT)

Legal uncertainty surrounds the capacity of companies such as Facebook to transfer European users’ data to the US after a High Court judge asked the most senior EU court to consider 11 questions on the issue. The referral stems from a case taken by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems. The questions raise significant issues of EU law with huge implications, including whether the High Court has correctly found there is “mass indiscriminate processing” of data by US government agencies under the PRISM and Upstream programmes authorised there. The questions also ask whether EU law applies to the processing of personal data for national security purposes regardless of whether that data processing takes place in the EU or US or other third country.

Other questions concern whether the Privacy Shield Decision and other measures in the US afford adequate protection for EU citizens whose data is transferred there. The ECJ is also asked to decide the extent of a data protection authority’s (DAA) power to suspend data flows if it considers a third country is subject to surveillance laws which conflict with EU law. After Ms Justice Caroline Costello set out the questions on Thursday in a formal request to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling, Paul Gallagher SC, for Facebook, asked for time to consider that in the context of possibly seeking an appeal against the judge’s decision to make a reference to the CJEU in the first place.

Michael Collins SC, for the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), queried whether there was any entitlement to appeal a High Court decision to direct a reference but did not object to Facebook being given a short time to consider its approach. The judge, noting she had given judgment last October sanctioning a reference, said she was anxious to make the referral but would allow Facebook time to April 30th. Among the questions for reference include whether, when deciding if data privacy rights of an EU citizen are breached, the issue must be examined against the EU Charter and EU law or the national law of one or more EU states, or an amalgam of the laws of all member states. The High Court had found the appropriate comparator was EU law despite Facebook disputing that.

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The challenege is in Europe, not the US.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Testimony Lurched From Easy Ride To Headache (G.)

As Mark Zuckerberg left Congress on Tuesday after testifying to the Senate, he may have felt relieved. The four-hour Q&A session had been largely dominated by mundane questions of fact about how Facebook works, requests for apologies and updates he had already given and was happy to repeat, and shameless begs for the social network’s cash pile to be used to expand broadband access in senators’ home states. Less than 24 hours later, however, a very different pattern of questioning in front of 54 members of the House of Representatives suggested a much more worrying outcome for Facebook – that this could be the week its crisis moves from being about mistakes in the past to inherent problems in the present.

Perhaps, the representatives implied, Facebook doesn’t just have a problem. What if it is the problem? Questions were still asked about Cambridge Analytica, the 9m other apps the company has to investigate for historical data sharing, and the revelation that more than a billion users had their data scraped by third parties abusing a phone or email lookup feature. But just as many were asked about problems that revolved less around mistakes and more around fundamental facets of Facebook’s business. Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg appeared less inclined to answer those. “Will you make the commitment to change … all the user default settings to minimise, to the greatest extent possible, the collection and use of users’ data,” asked Frank Pallone, the panel’s top Democrat.

Zuckerberg, declining to give a yes or no, eventually agreed to follow up with an answer after the hearing. “Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy,” asked the Democratic congresswoman Anna Eshoo. “I’m not sure what that means,” was Zuckerberg’s reply. Europe’s general data protection regulation, Democrat Gene Green noted, gives EU citizens the right to opt out of the processing of their personal data for marketing purposes. “Will the same right … be available to Facebook users in the United States?” Zuckerberg: “Let me follow up with you on that.”

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“..an additional dollar of deficit spending will reduce private GDP by $1.01, resulting in a one-cent decline in real GDP..”

Making America More Indebted (Roberts)

In December of last year, as Congress voted to pass the “Tax Cut & Jobs Act,” I wrote that without “real and substantive cuts to spending,” the debt and deficits will begin to balloon. At that time, I mapped out the trajectory of the deficit based on the cuts to revenue from lower tax rates and sustained levels of government spending.

Since that writing, the government has now lifted the “debt ceiling” for two years and passed a $1.3 Trillion “omnibus spending bill” to operate the government through the end of September, 2018. Of course, since the government has foregone the required Constitutional process of operating on a budget for the last decade, “continuing resolutions,” or “C.R.s,” will remain the standard operating procedure of managing the country’s finances. This means that spending will continue to grow unchecked into the foreseeable future as C.R.’s increase the previously budgeted spending levels automatically by 8% annually. (Rule of 72 says spending doubles every 9-years) The chart below tracks the cumulative increase in “excess” Government spending above revenue collections. Notice the point at which nominal GDP growth stopped rising.

Trillion dollar deficits, of course, are nothing to be excited about as rising debts, and surging deficits, as shown, impede economic growth longer-term as money is diverted from productive investments to debt-service. While many suggest that “all government spending is good spending,” the reality is that “recycled tax dollars” have a very low, if not negative, “multiplier effect” in the economy. As Dr. Lacy Hunt states: “The government expenditure multiplier is negative. Based on academic research, the best evidence suggests the multiplier is -0.01, which means that an additional dollar of deficit spending will reduce private GDP by $1.01, resulting in a one-cent decline in real GDP. The deficit spending provides a transitory boost to economic activity, but the initial effect is more than reversed in time. Within no more than three years the economy is worse off on a net basis, with the lagged effects outweighing the initial positive benefit.“

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Oh boy, are we doing great.

JPMorgan Profits Soar 35% Thanks To Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts (Ind.)

JPMorgan’s profits jumped 35 percent in the last quarter, compared to a year ago, partly thanks to a huge tax cut. Congress slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent in December as part of a major overhaul pushed for by President Donald Trump that also cut taxes for wealthy individuals. Higher interest rates also helped to boost profits, JPMorgan said. The bank earned $8.7bn (£6.1bn) in the first quarter, or $2.37 a share, up from $6.45bn, in the same period a year earlier. Analysts had predicted JPMorgan would earn $2.28 a share.

Pre-tax income rose by $2.6bn to $28.52bn in the quarter, the company paid $240 million less in taxes compared to a year earlier. “2018 is off to a good start with our businesses performing well across the board, driving strong top-line growth and building on the momentum from last year,“ chief executive Jamie Dimon said. “The global economy continues to do well, and we remain optimistic about the positive impact of tax reform in the US as business sentiment remains upbeat, and consumers benefit from job and wage growth.”

Read more …

Apr 112018
 
 April 11, 2018  Posted by at 8:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jan van Eyck The Last Judgement (detail) 1430

 

Hussman’s Script For A 60% Tumble In The Stock Market (MW)
World Trade System In Danger Of Being Torn Apart – Lagarde (G.)
Eurocontrol Warns Airlines Of Possible Missile Strikes Into Syria (R.)
Russian Envoy: Any US Missiles Fired At Syria Will Be Shot Down (R.)
We All Need To Unite Against War In Syria (CJ)
Zuckerberg Deflects Senators’ Questions, Gets $3 Billion For The Effort (MW)
Ban Targeted Advertising (Dayen)
EU Top Court Backs France Ban Of Uber (AFP)
Barclays Says Bitcoin Behaves Like An Infectious Disease (BBG)
The Failures of Anti-Trumpism (NYT)
Save the Children Faces Formal Investigation Over Staff Misconduct (G.)
Greece at Bottom of Eurozone Growth Rate (GR)
More Than Half Your Body Is Not Human (BBC)

 

 

“Investment is about valuation. Speculation is about psychology,” Hussman said. “Both factors are unfavorable here.”

Hussman’s Script For A 60% Tumble In The Stock Market (MW)

Enjoy days like this while they last, warns longtime bear John Hussman, because the volatility we’re seeing on the Dow and the S&P 500 only serves to reinforce his pessimistic view that the stock market is careening toward a painful drop of at least 60% and a decade or more of zero to negative returns. “We’re observing the very early effects of risk-aversion in a hypervalued market,” the Hussman Trust president wrote in his latest missive. “To some extent, the actual news events are irrelevant. I certainly wouldn’t gauge market risk by monitoring the day-to-day news on potential tariffs or even prospects for rate changes by the Fed.”

For those of you feeling a bit queasy because of what Hussman describes as the “rather minimal level of volatility” we’ve seen lately, it’s time to make some changes and rebalance your portfolio with some hedges, or at least lighten up by adding cash. “But do so knowing one thing in advance: you will experience regret,” he says. “If the market advances after you rebalance, you’ll regret having sold anything. If the market declines after you rebalance, you’ll regret not having sold more.”

The driving factor he frequently cites for the top-heavy market is that the Fed’s quantitative easing has inflated valuations to unsustainable levels, and as the free money goes away, the bottom will fall out, leaving a trail of blown-up investors in its wake. “Investment is about valuation. Speculation is about psychology,” Hussman said. “Both factors are unfavorable here.” He used this chart or the median price/revenue ratio of S&P components to show just how overvalued stocks are at this point, even after the recent tumble:

Read more …

Because the trade system benefits everyone, right?

World Trade System In Danger Of Being Torn Apart – Lagarde (G.)

The head of the IMF has warned of “darker clouds looming” for the global economy amid simmering trade tensions between the US and China, urging governments around the world to steer clear of protectionism or face negative consequences. Christine Lagarde said the current system for world trade was “in danger of being torn apart”, with the potential to upset the present global economic upswing and make consumers poorer. Speaking in Hong Kong amid signs the standoff could be abating, Lagarde said it would be an “inexcusable, collective policy failure” for world trade to break down with nations erecting punitive tariff systems against their rivals. “Let us redouble our efforts to reduce trade barriers and resolve disagreements without using exceptional measures,” she said.

[..] Using language that could be interpreted as a veiled attack on Trump in the speech ahead of the meeting, Lagarde said nations could make domestic policy changes to address trade imbalances and use international forums to settle disputes. “We can all do more – but we cannot do it alone,” she said. “Unfair trade practices have little impact on a country’s overall trade deficit with the rest of the world. That imbalance is driven by the fact that a country spends above its income.” Identifying the US as an example of a nation that could benefit from reforms, she said Washington could help tackle its trade imbalances by gradually curbing public spending and by increasing revenue, which she said would help reduce future fiscal deficits.

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Jamming.

Eurocontrol Warns Airlines Of Possible Missile Strikes Into Syria (R.)

Pan-European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol on Tuesday warned airlines to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria in next 72 hours. Eurocontrol said that air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles could be used within that period and there was a possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment. U.S. President Donald Trump and Western allies are discussing possible military action to punish Syria’s President Bashar Assad for a suspected poison gas attack on Saturday on a rebel-held town that long had held out against government forces.

Trump on Tuesday canceled a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus instead on responding to the Syria incident, the White House said. Trump had on Monday warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the Syria attack was established. The Eurocontrol warning on its website did not specify the origin of any potential missile threat. “Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR area,” it said, referring to the designated airspace.

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Clear as that.

Russian Envoy: Any US Missiles Fired At Syria Will Be Shot Down (R.)

Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any U.S. missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted, a step that could trigger a major escalation in the Syrian war. Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin, in comments broadcast on Tuesday evening, said he was referring to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian armed forces chief of staff. The Russian military said on March 13 that it would respond to any U.S. strike on Syria, targeting any missiles and launchers involved in such an attack. Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally.

The United States and its allies are considering whether to hit Syria over a suspected poison gas attack that medical relief organizations say killed dozens of people in the rebel-held town of Douma near Damascus on Saturday. “If there is a strike by the Americans, then…the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic. He also said a clash “should be ruled out and therefore we are ready to hold negotiations”.

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Yes, we do. But it’s very late in the game.

We All Need To Unite Against War In Syria (CJ)

Last night Fox’s Tucker Carlson did what may have been the most amazing thing that has ever happened on American television. As the drums of war beat louder than they have in years, Carlson stared right into the camera and did the exact opposite of what every mainstream US pundit is doing right now: he told the truth. He told the truth about Syria. He told the truth about Yemen. He told the truth about the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma. He told the truth about the bipartisan war machine which drops all pretense of opposition the instant it’s time for bloodshed. He told the truth about what war is, what it costs, and what it does to our world.

He stood in stark, unequivocal opposition to the trajectory the Trump administration appears to be moving along. And he did it on Fox News. I have a deep and abiding hatred in my heart for Fox News and all things Murdoch. I will never forget nor forgive the key role the Murdoch press played in deceiving our world into the unimaginable evil that was the Iraq invasion. But if I’d held a reflexive rejection of anything with the Fox News logo in the corner, I never would have seen Carlson’s epic monologue, never would have shared it with my social media following, never would have embedded it in this article, and this bright flash of truth would have been diminished by that much in the impact it was able to have on public consciousness.

And I know that there are many leftists who declined to help spread awareness of that Carlson monologue based solely on the fact that he’s a conservative pundit on a conservative network who has said things they disagree with in the past. This is stupid. We should be able to throw any weapon at all at the war machine, not fight with one hand tied behind our backs just because we don’t like conservatives.

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It was even worse than imagined.

Zuckerberg Deflects Senators’ Questions, Gets $3 Billion For The Effort (MW)

Mark Zuckerberg has come far since the early days of Facebook, and that growth was extremely apparent in how deftly the chief executive dealt with several hours of inscrutable questioning by U.S. senators Tuesday over the social network’s role in presidential election-meddling and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Wearing a conservative suit and light blue tie, an outfit he would rarely wear in Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg sat ramrod straight in his witness chair for most of the many hours of questions. He responded to each questioner by first addressing them as senator or chair. He looked earnest and serious for almost every question, even during some of the laughable questions from some of the less tech-savvy members of the Senate, such as the one by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who asked how Facebook makes money if it doesn’t charge users anything.

“Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg said with a smile. That calm response was in marked contrast to when Zuckerberg faced another type of grilling, at the All Things D conference in 2010, when he gave vague and rambling answers about Facebook’s changes to its privacy controls at the time, and had to take off his famous hoodie while wiping sweat from his face under the lights on stage. Part of his preparedness for the Senate hearing, where he managed to repeat several core phrases that the company has been perpetuating in the media, came as a result of Facebook’s information bombardment over the past month.

Some of the company’s obvious talking points have been repeated throughout the past weeks, such as how sorry Zuckerberg is, how much control Facebook users actually do have over their own data, how Facebook is trying to build a positive community and constant reminders of how the company started in a Harvard University dorm when he was 19. According to the New York Times, Facebook hired a team of experts to give Zuckerberg — who can be combative and defensive — a crash course in humility and charm ahead of the hearing in sessions that included mock hearings with its communications team and outside advisers. That preparation paid off: After the first two hours of questions were nearing an end and there was a call for a potential break, Zuckerberg took a sip of water and said he could keep going for a bit longer.

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Exactly. Stop that and all the Facebok nonsense stops. But those in power don’t want it to stop.

Ban Targeted Advertising (Dayen)

For the first 35 years of my life, like most Americans, I was exposed to lots of advertising. I absorbed billboards and print ads and direct mailers and television commercials and radio jingles. I learned about available products and services, and chose which ones I wanted. Some businesses I patronized survived and others didn’t. The economy mostly proceeded apace. Then, over the last decade, this form of marketing became seen as insufficient—or rather, the rise of digital media made a more invasive form of marketing too irresistible. Instead of having to cast a wide net in searching for potential customers, advertisers now could know every intimate detail about those customers beforehand.

They began targeting people geographically and behaviorally, based on common interests or things they liked in social media or what they wrote in emails to friends. The surveillance economy was born. The surveillance economy should die. This manner of advertising doesn’t serve the public and it’s not even clear it serves advertisers. It facilitates monopoly, as those with the biggest data troves receive all the ad dollars. That centralizes the potential for and magnitude of abuse, with Big Data used to discriminate against groups, steer vulnerable people to financial scams, and meddle in U.S. elections.

Cambridge Analytica’s scraping of 87 million user profiles through a simple personality quiz, and then weaponizing that information on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, revealed how information on social media is inherently insecure. Now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is appearing before Congress on Tuesday to explain how this won’t happen again. But instead of leaving regulation to Facebook, or devising one Rube Goldberg scenario after another to try to protect consumer data, the U.S. can take one simple, legal step to roll back this dystopian nightmare: ban targeted advertising.

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App or transport?

EU Top Court Backs France Ban Of Uber (AFP)

The EU’s top court on Tuesday backed the right of member states like France to ban a service by ridesharing firm Uber without notifying Brussels, in a fresh setback to the US giant. The European Court of Justice ruled in favour of France’s ban of the UberPop service, which links amateur drivers with customers, comparing it to a December decision backing traditional taxi firms in the Spanish city of Barcelona. “Member States may prohibit and punish, as a matter of criminal law, the illegal exercise of transport activities in the context of the UberPop service, without notifying the Commission in advance,” the European Court of Justice ruled. [..]

Uber France is facing criminal proceedings in a court in the northern French city of Lille for its UberPop service. It argues that member states like France were required to notify the European Commission about the criminal legislation under which the case was brought because it concerned a technical regulation of an information society service. But the court of justice said the French case resembled one it ruled on in December when it classified Uber as an ordinary transportation company instead of an app and should be regulated as such. “In the Court’s view, the UberPop service offered in France is essentially identical to the service provided in Spain,” the court of justice statement said.

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True or not, a nice angle.

Barclays Says Bitcoin Behaves Like An Infectious Disease (BBG)

Is the rise of Bitcoin analogous to the spread of an infectious disease? Analysts at Barclays saw enough similarities to develop a pricing model for the cryptocurrency that takes its cues from the world of epidemiology. Their diagnosis: Bitcoin has probably peaked. The Barclays model divides the pool of potential Bitcoin investors into three groups: susceptible, infected and immune. It assumes that as prices rise, “infections” spread by word-of-mouth (nobody likes missing out when their friends and colleagues are getting rich). Barclays analysts led by Joseph Abate in New York explained the rest in a note to clients on Tuesday:

“As more of the population become asset holders, the share of the population available to become new buyers – the potential ‘host’ population – falls, while the share of the population that are potential sellers (‘recoveries’) increases. Eventually, this leads to a plateauing of prices, and progressively, as random shocks to the larger supply population push up the ratio of sellers to buyers, prices begin to fall. That induces speculative selling pressure as price declines are projected forward exponentially.” A similar dynamic plays out with infectious diseases when the so-called immunity threshold is reached, “the point at which a sufficient portion of the population becomes immune such that there are no more secondary infections,” the analysts wrote.

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Does David Brooks realize that anti-Trumpism, of which he’s a proud supporter, is what won Da Doland da election?

The Failures of Anti-Trumpism (NYT)

Over the past year, those of us in the anti-Trump camp have churned out billions of words critiquing the president. The point of this work is to expose the harm President Trump is doing, weaken his support and prevent him from doing worse. And by that standard, the anti-Trump movement is a failure. We have persuaded no one. Trump’s approval rating is around 40%, which is basically unchanged from where it’s been all along. We have not hindered him. Trump has more power than he did a year ago, not less. With more mainstream figures like H. R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn gone, the administration is growing more nationalist, not less. We have not dislodged him.

For all the hype, the Mueller investigation looks less and less likely to fundamentally alter the course of the administration. We have not contained him. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is complete. 89% of Republicans now have a positive impression of the man. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 59% of Republicans consider themselves more a supporter of Trump than of the Republican Party. On trade, immigration, entitlement reform, spending, foreign policy, race relations and personal morality, this is Trump’s party, not Reagan’s or anyone else’s. A lot of us never-Trumpers assumed momentum would be on our side as his scandals and incompetences mounted. It hasn’t turned out that way.

I almost never meet a Trump supporter who has become disillusioned. I often meet Republicans who were once ambivalent but who have now joined the Trump train. National Review was once staunchly anti-Trump, and many of its writers remain so, but, tellingly, N.R. editor Rich Lowry just had a column in Politico called “The Never Trump Delusion” arguing that Trump is not that big a departure from the Republican mainstream. The surest evidence of Trump’s dominance is on the campaign trail. As The Times’s Jonathan Martin reported, many Republicans, including Ted Cruz, are making the argument that if Democrats take over Congress, they will impeach the president. In other words, far from ignoring Trump, these Republicans are making defending him the center of their campaigns.

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Et tu, Brute?

Save the Children Faces Formal Investigation Over Staff Misconduct (G.)

Save the Children, the global charity mired in allegations that it failed to investigate sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour by staff, is to be formally investigated by the Charity Commission. In a statement announcing a statutory inquiry, the commission said it had been prompted by “concerns about the charity’s handling, reporting and response to serious allegations of misconduct and harassment against senior staff members in 2012 and 2015”. The commission describes a statutory inquiry as its “most serious form of engagement” with a charity.

The news, announced on Tuesday night, will be another blow for the charity two months after it emerged that both Justin Forsyth, its former chief executive, and Brendan Cox, the former policy director and widower of the MP Jo Cox, left the charity in 2015 following allegations of misconduct. The two men knew each other from their years working for Gordon Brown and the Labour party. After he left Save the Children, Forsyth went on to a senior role at Unicef. He resigned in February after the reports of inappropriate behaviour emerged. Cox also resigned from the charities More in Common and the Jo Cox Foundation, set up in the aftermath of his wife’s murder.

The commission, which itself has been criticised for failing to follow up allegations involving the charities it polices, has been working with Save the Children since the facts about Forsyth and Cox emerged in the wake of the scandal involving Oxfam workers in Haiti. Save the Children is already reviewing its workplace culture and the implementation of recommendations made by a previous review. But the Charity Commission said its recent work with it, and new information from other sources that has recently come into the regulator’s possession, meant that the commission wanted to make further inquiries.

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It’s crazy to think the Greek economy is growing.

Greece at Bottom of Eurozone Growth Rate (GR)

Greece’s growth was the lowest among eurozone countries for 2017, with a GDP rise of just 1.4% while the eurozone average was 2.3%, according to European Central Bank figures. The ECB annual report released on Monday showed Ireland at the top of the growth chart among eurozone member states with a 5% GDP increase. Overall, 2017 was a year of growth for the whole of the single-currency bloc. According to the report, the main reason Greece fared so low in 2017 was that it showed only 0.1% growth in private consumption, compared to an average 1.6% increase in the rest of eurozone states.

At the same time, Greece showed a 1.1% decline in government spending, while the average in the euro area was a 1.2% increase. In terms of per capita GDP at current prices and adjusted for the cost of living, Greeks have an average annual income of €19,900 ($24,527) compared to €54,600 for each Irish citizen. In Portugal, average income amounted to €23,100, compared to €18,100 before the economic crisis. In Cyprus, the average income was €24,600 compared to €29,900 before the crisis. The “before the economic crisis” figures refer to the 1999-2008 period. On average in the euro area, per capita GDP stood at €31,700 according to the latest figures (2016), compared to €24,400 before the crisis.

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Bugs as drugs. “Originally it was thought our cells were outnumbered 10 to one.”

Well, our genes are outnumbered 1000 to 1.

More Than Half Your Body Is Not Human (BBC)

More than half of your body is not human, say scientists. Human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists. Understanding this hidden half of ourselves – our microbiome – is rapidly transforming understanding of diseases from allergy to Parkinson’s. The field is even asking questions of what it means to be “human” and is leading to new innovative treatments as a result. “They are essential to your health,” says Prof Ruth Ley, the director of the department of microbiome science at the Max Planck Institute, “your body isn’t just you”. No matter how well you wash, nearly every nook and cranny of your body is covered in microscopic creatures.

This includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea (organisms originally misclassified as bacteria). The greatest concentration of this microscopic life is in the dark murky depths of our oxygen-deprived bowels. Prof Rob Knight, from University of California San Diego, told the BBC: “You’re more microbe than you are human.” Originally it was thought our cells were outnumbered 10 to one. “That’s been refined much closer to one-to-one, so the current estimate is you’re about 43% human if you’re counting up all the cells,” he says. But genetically we’re even more outgunned. The human genome – the full set of genetic instructions for a human being – is made up of 20,000 instructions called genes. But add all the genes in our microbiome together and the figure comes out between two and 20 million microbial genes.

[..] Antibiotics and vaccines have been the weapons unleashed against the likes of smallpox, Mycobacterium tuberculosis or MRSA. That’s been a good thing and has saved large numbers of lives. But some researchers are concerned that our assault on the bad guys has done untold damage to our “good bacteria”. Prof Ley told me: “We have over the past 50 years done a terrific job of eliminating infectious disease. “But we have seen an enormous and terrifying increase in autoimmune disease and in allergy. “Where work on the microbiome comes in is seeing how changes in the microbiome, that happened as a result of the success we’ve had fighting pathogens, have now contributed to a whole new set of diseases that we have to deal with.”

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Mar 042018
 
 March 4, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea 1871

 

Global Bond Markets Have Become Grotesquely Distorted – Jim Grant (ZH)
From Currency War To Trade War To Shooting War (Rickards)
Central Banks Are The Agents Of Baby Boomers (G.)
Osborne’s Austerity Has Left UK Social Fabric In Tatters (Pettifor)
How America’s Clean Coal Dream Unravelled (G.)
Putin’s Megyn Kelly Interview (ZH)
Germany’s SPD Votes For Coalition Handing Merkel Fourth Term (G.)
Europe’s Band-Aid Ensures Greece’s Debt Bondage (Varoufakis)
Modern Food Farming Puts UK Wildlife Species At Risk Of Extinction (Ind.)
Three Billboards In Hollywood, California (TAM)

 

 

It’s all just one giant distortion.

Global Bond Markets Have Become Grotesquely Distorted – Jim Grant (ZH)

Jim Grant, the world’s most famous interest rate observer, ventured on CNBC this week to expose and explain the utterly farcical world of financial markets (and in particular, risk assets) and how grotesquely distorted global bond markets have become. He began with an example… “As an example of where the world is mispricing interest rates… look to Italy, which is having a big [potentially disruptive] election on Sunday… …there is a speculative grade Italian security, Telecom Italia, the 5 1/4’s of 2022 are trading at 0.61 percent, that is a junk bond with a zero handle.” This bond traded with almost a 6 handle just 5 years ago… Thank you Mr Draghi. But it doesn’t stop there, Grant warns…

“…and since interest rates are critical in the pricing of financial instruments, these distortions preceded the uplift in all asset values.. and the manifestation of this manipulation is in many ways responsible for what we are now seeing in the markets.” These distortions and the chaotic aftermath of their withdrawal are exactly what current Fed Chair Powell warned of in 2013… “[W]hen it is time for us to sell, or even to stop buying, the response could be quite strong; there is every reason to expect a strong response. So there are a couple of ways to look at it. It is about $1.2 trillion in sales; you take 60 months, you get about $20 billion a month. That is a very doable thing, it sounds like, in a market where the norm by the middle of next year is $80 billion a month. Another way to look at it, though, is that it’s not so much the sale, the duration; it’s also unloading our short volatility position.

“I think we are actually at a point of encouraging risk-taking, and that should give us pause. Investors really do understand now that we will be there to prevent serious losses. It is not that it is easy for them to make money but that they have every incentive to take more risk, and they are doing so. Meanwhile, we look like we are blowing a fixed-income duration bubble right across the credit spectrum that will result in big losses when rates come up down the road. You can almost say that that is our strategy.”

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But history merely rhymes.

From Currency War To Trade War To Shooting War (Rickards)

Currency wars do not exist all the time; they arise under certain conditions and persist until there is either systemic reform or systemic collapse. The conditions that give rise to currency wars are too much debt and too little growth. In those circumstances, countries try to steal growth from trading partners by cheapening their currencies to promote exports and create export-related jobs. The problem with currency wars is that they are zero-sum or negative-sum games. It is true that countries can obtain short-term relief by cheapening their currencies, but sooner than later, their trading partners also cheapen their currencies to regain the export advantage. This process of tit-for-tat devaluations feeds on itself with the pendulum of short-term trade advantage swinging back and forth and no one getting any further ahead.

After a few years, the futility of currency wars becomes apparent, and countries resort to trade wars. This consists of punitive tariffs, export subsidies and nontariff barriers to trade. The dynamic is the same as in a currency war. The first country to impose tariffs gets a short-term advantage, but retaliation is not long in coming and the initial advantage is eliminated as trading partners impose tariffs in response. Despite the illusion of short-term advantage, in the long-run everyone is worse off. The original condition of too much debt and too little growth never goes away. Finally, tensions rise, rival blocs are formed and a shooting war begins. The shooting wars often have a not-so-hidden economic grievance or rationale behind them.

The sequence in the early 20th century began with a currency war that started in Weimar Germany with a hyperinflation (1921–23) and then extended through a French devaluation (1925), a U.K. devaluation (1931), a U.S. devaluation (1933) and another French/U.K. devaluation (1936). Meanwhile, a global trade war emerged after the Smoot-Hawley tariffs (1930) and comparable tariffs of trading partners of the U.S. Finally, a shooting war progressed with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931), the Japanese invasion of Beijing and China (1937), the German invasion of Poland (1939) and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941). Eventually, the world was engulfed in the flames of World War II, and the international monetary system came to a complete collapse until the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944.

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We’re going to be watching this unfold until it’s too late.

Central Banks Are The Agents Of Baby Boomers (G.)

The greatest threat to our economy comes from its ageing population. With the baby-boomer generation making up a large proportion of society, we find ourselves in a situation where public policy is mostly geared towards shoring up the gains made by boomers over the past 40 years, and industrial disputes are driven by an ageing union membership most worried about its pension entitlements. It is a problem that Britain shares with its continental cousins, the US and Japan, now that all are struggling with a situation where a fifth of their populations is aged over 65 and the proportion is rising fast. Ageing populations have many effects on an economy, not least the desire among those nearing retirement age to save excessively.

Each country’s baby boomers pursue the holy grail of wealth slightly differently, but in the main, property and pensions are the twin pillars supporting decades of retirement. When wealth is your goal, there is one evil monster that needs slaying, and that is inflation. This is one of the main reasons that since the 1990s the Bank of England is under instruction to keep inflation anchored around 2%. A recent blog by economists at the Bank has caused a stir by arguing that far from the baby-boomer savings glut being a passing phase – or at least a situation that will fade as the boomers die off – it will be with us for decades to come.

They argue that boomers have shown that they want to keep saving even as they move into their 80s and 90s, to fund possible extra health and care costs, and to pass on the maximum amount of wealth they can to their heirs. Some academics have argued that boomers will be forced to spend more than they save in later life to pay for health and long-term care, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. The $100 trillion of savings sloshing round the global financial system just keeps growing. This is not just because people in young nations such as Indonesia and India are starting to build up savings, but because older Brits, Germans and Swedes are doing the same when there had been an expectation that they would switch to spending.

[..] The Bank of England blog argues that the persistent glut of savings in stocks, bonds and property will maintain the trend of the past 30 years – of an excess of money chasing too few investment opportunities. And if older savers resist spending some of their pension, demand for goods is lower than expected, and inflation stays low. Central banks, in seeking to maintain a 2% inflation target, are the agents of baby boomers. It is their savings and wealth that are protected, not those of the young, who have much less, if any.

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This is not typical for Osborne or the UK. ‘Saving’ the economy by making the poor, poorer, is widely accepted.

Osborne’s Austerity Has Left UK Social Fabric In Tatters (Pettifor)

There is growing consensus among economists that Osborne’s post-crisis austerity programme deepened and lengthened Britain’s post-crisis recession, causing public and private investment to fall further and real wages to decline. Making large reductions to government spending is itself a major reason why the economy has been so slow in recovering. (Consider the multiplier effect where an injection of public money helps generate income and tax revenues.) In his first budget (June 2010) Osborne told parliament: “We are on track to have debt falling and a balanced structural current budget by the end of this parliament” (ie March 2015).

He slashed welfare as promised, but the economy slowed further. While employment revived, jobs have been recast as part-time, temporary and insecure. As a result, productivity stalled. These declines will cause permanent damage to the British economy. Convinced that a chancellor should “never let a crisis go to waste”, Osborne used the opportunity to shrink the state, as cuts to government spending tore into welfare provision and public services. Real spend per head of population fell, and the real spend per head was particularly felt by the vulnerable citizen, as the population grew older and more fragile. Under his watch, total managed expenditure was cut in real terms by £14bn (2016-17 prices).

These cuts were made worse by a 3-4% rise in population, and by the increasing needs of an ageing population. Public sector net investment was allowed to fall from £60bn in 2010 to £35bn in 2016. It caused intense suffering to small and large firms and suppliers, many of which went and are going bust, laying off staff. The insistence on balancing the current budget also hurt millions of individuals innocent of the causes of the crisis.

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Oxymoron self-immolation.

How America’s Clean Coal Dream Unravelled (G.)

High above the red dirt and evergreen trees of Kemper County, Mississippi, gleams a 15-story monolith of pipes surrounded by a town-sized array of steel towers and white buildings. The hi-tech industrial site juts out of the surrounding forest, its sharp silhouette out of place amid the gray crumbling roads, catfish stands and trailer homes of nearby De Kalb, population: 1,164. The $7.5bn Kemper power plant once drew officials from as far as Saudi Arabia, Japan and Norway to marvel at a 21st-century power project so technologically complex its builder compared it to the moonshot of the 1960s. It’s promise? Energy from “clean coal”. “I’m impressed,” said Jukka Uosukainen, UN director for the Climate Technology Centre and Network, after a 2014 tour: “maybe using coal in the future is possible”.

Kemper, its managers claimed, would harness dirt-cheap lignite coal – the world’s least efficient and most abundant form of coal – to power homes and businesses in America’s lowest-income state while causing the least climate-changing pollution of any fossil fuel. It was a promise they wouldn’t keep. Last summer the plant’s owner, Southern Company, America’s second-largest utility company, announced it was abandoning construction after years of blown-out budgets and missed construction deadlines. “It hit us hard,” said Craig Hitt, executive director of the Kemper County Economic Development Authority. Some 75 miners, roughly half living inside Kemper County, have already been affected in a region where unemployment is 7.1% compared to a national average of just 4.1%. “It was going to be the biggest project in the history of the county, possibly in the state of Mississippi,” Hitt said.

Instead, this year, Kemper County was home to one of the first large coalmining layoffs of the Trump era. It’s failure is also likely to have a profound impact on the future of “clean coal”. “This was the flagship project that was going to lead the way for a whole new generation of coal power plants,” said Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. “If the initial project doesn’t work then who’s going to invest in any more like it?” [..] a review by the Guardian of more than 5,000 pages of confidential company documents, internal emails, white papers, and other materials provided anonymously by several former Southern Co insiders, plus on- and off-record interviews with other former Kemper engineers and managers, found evidence that top executives covered up construction problems and fundamental design flaws at the plant and knew, years before they admitted it publicly, that their plans had gone awry.

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“If you were to speak about an arms race, then an arms race began exactly at the time and moment the U.S. opted out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty..”

Putin’s Megyn Kelly Interview (ZH)

NBC’s Megyn Kelly has tried to establish herself as the US media’s preeminent “Putin whisperer” since confronting the Russian president last year over allegations he sanctioned interference by hacking groups in the 2016 US presidential election. In a formal interview with the Russian president, Kelly asked the Russian leader about the latest development in the ongoing controversy, Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities for election meddling. Ignoring that the indictment stated that the alleged activities of the trolls at the Internet Research Agency had no impact on the outcome of the election, Kelly insisted on pressing the Russian president about why Russia hadn’t acted to prosecute the men – including Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a wealthy Russian businessman.

Putin pointed out that no formal requests had been made by the US government, and no effort to share the incriminating information had been made. “I have to see first what they’ve done. Give us a document, give us an official request” Putin said in the NBC interview adding that “We can not respond to that if they do not violate Russian laws.” Kelly responded by listing some of the allegations, before Putin insisted that they shouldn’t be presented to him personally – but to Russia’s general prosecutor. “This has to go through official channels, not through the press, or yelling and hollering in the United States Congress,” Putin said. The broadcast aired a day after Putin grabbed headlines in Western media by revealing that Russia had recently finished testing a range of nuclear weapons that were capable of evading US anti-ballistic missile batteries, showing animated footage and digital representations of the missiles’ capabilities striking Florida which prompted an uproar at the US State Department.

Meanwhile, even though Russia has repeatedly criticized the US and NATO for installing anti-ballistic missile shields in Eastern Europe that Russia says more closely resemble offensive missile batteries, Putin pushed back against questions about whether the US and Russia were entering a new Cold War. The Russian leader said anybody spreading these accusations are more concerned with propaganda than accurate representations of the relationships between the two countries. “My point of view is that the individuals that have said that a new Cold War has started are not analysts. They do propaganda.” Repeating a claim that has been made by many Russian officials, Putin said the arms race between the US and Russia began when George W Bush withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002. “If you were to speak about an arms race, then an arms race began exactly at the time and moment the U.S. opted out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,” he said.

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Never a good idea for a party that losses big in elections to be in government; what are elections for? The SPD is so divided now it could turn its back on Merkel at literally any moment over the nexy 4-5 years.

Germany’s SPD Votes For Coalition Handing Merkel Fourth Term (G.)

Germany’s Social Democratic party has agreed to form another “grand coalition” government with the conservative CDU, ending months of political uncertainty in Europe and guaranteeing Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term in office. Sunday’s announcement by the party’s leadership ends almost six months of uncertainty in German politics, the longest the country has been without a government in its postwar history. A majority of 66.02% members of 463,723 eligible SPD members voted in favour of renewing the constellation that has governed Germany for the last four years, its treasurer, Dietmar Nietan, confirmed at the party’s headquarters in Berlin.

“We now have some clarity”, said the Social Democrats’ caretaker leader, Olaf Scholz, a contender for the role of finance minister, speaking at the Willy Brandt House. “The SPD will enter into government”. The leadership of the SPD had initially ruled out joining Merkel in government in the wake of historically disappointing results at federal elections in September last year. But the collapse of talks to form an unorthodox “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats and the Green party forced the German centre-left back to the negotiating table, where it managed to secure a surprising victory in getting the chancellor to cede control of the influential finance ministry.

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“..to borrow that €3 billion on behalf of its creditors, the Greek state added €816 million in interest payments to its debt repayments for 2025. Germany’s cost for rolling over the same sum, on the same day, was a mere €63 million…”

Europe’s Band-Aid Ensures Greece’s Debt Bondage (Varoufakis)

The big moment, it is said, will come in August, when Greece will be pronounced a “normal” European country again. Recently, in preparation for the government’s return to the money markets – from which it has been effectively excluded since 2010 – Greece’s public-debt authority has been testing the waters with a long-term bond issue. Unfortunately, all the happy talk about impending “debt relief” and a “clean exit” from Greece’s third “bailout” obscures an uglier truth: the country’s debt bondage is being extended to 2060. And, by ossifying Greece’s insolvency, while pretending to have overcome it, Europe’s establishment is demonstrating its dogged refusal to address the eurozone’s underlying fault lines. This augurs ill for ALL Europeans.

For an EU country to be considered “normal,” it should be subject to the scrutiny facing countries that were never bailed out. That means the standard twice-yearly checks of compliance with the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, as performed by the European Commission under the so-called European Semester procedure. Nevertheless, for countries like Ireland or Portugal, a tougher “post-program surveillance” procedure was designed following their bailouts: quarterly checks conducted not only by the European Commission but also by the European Central Bank.

It is plain to see why Greece’s road will be much bumpier than Ireland’s or Portugal’s. The ECB had already begun purchasing Irish and Portuguese debt in the secondary markets well before these countries’ bailout exit, as part of its “quantitative easing” program. This enabled the Irish and Portuguese governments to issue large quantities of new debt at low interest rates. Greece was never included the ECB’s quantitative easing program, for two reasons: its debt burden was too large to service in the long term, even with the help of ECB-sponsored low interest rates, and the ECB was under pressure, mainly from Germany, to wind down the program. Moreover, the post-program surveillance procedure does not give the “troika” of official creditors the leverage over Greece that they desire.

In celebrating Greece’s “clean exit,” while retaining its iron grip on the Greek government and withholding debt restructuring, Europe’s establishment is once again displaying its skill at inventing neologisms. Until 75% of Greece’s public debt is repaid – in 2060, at the earliest – the country, we are told, will be subject to “enhanced surveillance” (a term with unfortunate echoes of “enhanced interrogation”). In practice, this means 42 years of quarterly reviews, during which the European Commission and the ECB “in collaboration with the IMF” may impose new “measures” on Greece (such as austerity, fire sales of public property, and restrictions on organized labor). In short, the next two generations of Greeks will grow up with the troika and its “process” (perhaps under a different name) as a permanent fixture of life.

The celebration of Greece’s return to normality began a few weeks ago with the government’s oversubscribed €3 billion issue of its first seven-year bond in years. What the revelers failed to note, however, was that, to borrow that €3 billion on behalf of its creditors, the Greek state added €816 million in interest payments to its debt repayments for 2025. Germany’s cost for rolling over the same sum, on the same day, was a mere €63 million. Will Greece’s income rise by a similar amount between now and 2025 to make this sustainable?

Read more …

“The agricultural feed companies, the chemical companies, the pharmaceutical companies that provide the antibiotics fed en masse to factory-farmed animals, the equipment manufacturers that sell cages and tractors – they all benefit.”

Modern Food Farming Puts UK Wildlife Species At Risk Of Extinction (Ind.)

Some of Britain’s favourite wildlife is at risk of becoming extinct unless there is a new, 21st-century agricultural revolution, experts are warning. Species from hedgehogs to skylarks and birds of prey are being wiped out – in part by companies with vested interests in “destructive” factory farming, it was claimed on World Wildlife Day, which takes place today. The “alarming” declines in wildlife will threaten not just the richness of the planet but also our ability to grow food, according to the RSPB. After scientists warned last year that the world is facing a sixth mass extinction, turtle doves are on the brink of being wiped out, the latest survey figures show. Numbers of grey partridges, corn buntings and tree sparrows have dropped by at least 90 per cent in 40 years, leaving them all at risk of vanishing from Britain.

Earlier this month, a new report revealed that the number of hedgehogs in the countryside had more than halved since 2000. Nearly two-thirds of Britain’s skylarks and lapwings have disappeared, the European bird census showed, while Birdlife International says 95 per cent of turtle doves have vanished in 20 years. Just days after Environment Secretary Michael Gove unveiled plans to reward farmers who care for the environment, ornithologist Philip Lymbery warned of a culture among government policymakers and scientists of blaming biodiversity declines on climate change – instead of tackling those with “vested interests” in “disastrous” modern farming practices – because it was easier to avoid blaming anyone.

Mr Lymbery, head of charity Compassion in World Farming (CiWF), said changes in farming in the past half-century to drastically and artificially push up quantities of food produced were destroying species from nightingales to butterflies and peregrines. “I’m worried that policymakers and some scientists duck the issue by blaming all the things damaging nature on climate change,” he told The Independent. [..] “The agricultural feed companies, the chemical companies, the pharmaceutical companies that provide the antibiotics fed en masse to factory-farmed animals, the equipment manufacturers that sell cages and tractors – they all benefit. “It’s not the average farmer who benefits from industrial agriculture. And it needs to change.”

Read more …

Hollywood mirrors international charities like Oxfam. Pedophilia rules both.

Three Billboards In Hollywood, California (TAM)

Just days before the first Academy Awards ceremony since Hollywood was hit with allegations of rampant sexual harassment, assault, and pedophilia, a Los Angeles street artist made a bold statement just a few miles from the Dolby Theater where the Oscars will be held. Sabo, a conservative-leaning artist who has previously tagged the city with art referencing former President Obama’s drones, purchased three billboards, echoing the sentiment of a Academy Award-nominated film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which tells the story of a mother who seeks accountability for her daughter’s rape and murder, which police in her small town have failed to solve. In the film, the mother purchases three billboards that read:

“RAPED WHILE DYING”

“AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”

“HOW COME CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”

In Sabo’s version, the billboards plastered in Hollywood read:

“AND THE OSCAR FOR BIGGEST PEDOPHILE GOES TO…”

“WE ALL KNEW AND STILL NO ARRESTS”

“NAME NAMES ON STAGE OR SHUT THE HELL UP!”

Kevin Spacey’s career went down in flames last year amid the fallout of widespread allegations of abuse by now-scorned producer Harvey Weinstein. Anthony Rapp accused the actor of making advances on him in 1986, when Rapp was only 14. Other accusations against Spacey followed, including some others that alleged Spacey attempted to take advantage of the victims when they were under the age of 18. Further, Corey Feldman, who has long warned of predatory, pedophilic behavior in Hollywood, revealed several of his accused abusers last year, citing John Grissom, former talent manager Marty Weiss, and Alphy Hoffman, who was the son of a high-power producer and ran the trendy Soda Pop Club, where Feldman claims widespread harassment took place in the 1980s.

Feldman claimed there were six abusers total, saying one is an A-list actor who might kill him. He has previously said his fellow child star, Corey Haim, now deceased, received worse abuse than he did. In a 2011 appearance on Nightline, Feldman said: “[T]he No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia…that’s the biggest problem for children in this industry… It’s the big secret.”

Read more …

Nov 082017
 
 November 8, 2017  Posted by at 1:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dalí The oecumenial council 1960

 

Trying to figure out what on earth is happening in the Middle East appears to have gotten a lot harder. Perhaps (because) it’s become more dangerous too. There are so many players, and connections between players, involved now that even making one of those schematic representations would never get it right. Too many unknown unknowns.

A short and incomplete list of the actors: Sunni, Shiite, Saudi Arabia, US, Russia, Turkey, ISIS, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Kurds, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, Qatar, Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Houthis, perhaps even Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I know I know, add your favorites. So what have we got, or what do we know we’ve got? We seem to have the US lining up with Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia against Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. Broadly. But that’s just a -pun intended- crude start.

Putin has been getting closer to the Saudis because of the OPEC production cuts, trying to jack up the price of oil. Which ironically has now been achieved on the heels of the arrests of 11 princes and scores of other wealthy and powerful in the kingdom. But Putin also recently signed a $30 billion oil -infrastructure- deal with Iran. And he’s been cuddling up to Israel as well.

In fact, Putin may well be the most powerful force in the Middle East today. Well played?! He prevented the demise of Assad in Syria, which however you look at it at least saved the country from becoming another Iraq and Libya style failed state. If there’s one thing you can say about the Middle East/North Africa it’s that the US succeeded in creating chaos there to such an extent that it has zero control left over any of it. Well played?!

 

One thing seems obvious: the House of Saud needs money. The cash flowing out to the princes is simply not available anymore. The oil price is a major factor in that. Miraculously, the weekend crackdown on dozens of princes et al, managed to do what all the OPEC meetings could not for the price of oil: push it up. But the shrinkage of foreign reserves shows a long term problem, not some momentary blip:

 

 

Another sign that money has become a real problem in Riyadh is the ever-postponed IPO of Saudi Aramco, the flagship oil company supposedly worth $2 trillion. Trump this week called on the Saudi’s to list it in New York, but despite the upsurge in oil prices you still have to wonder which part of that $2 trillion is real, and which is just fantasy.

But yeah, I know, there’s a million different stocks you can ask the same question about. Then again, seeing the wealth of some of the kingdom’s richest parties confiscated overnight can’t be a buy buy buy signal, can it? Looks like the IPO delay tells us something.

And then you have the 15,000 princes and princesses who all live off of the Kingdom’s supposed riches (‘only 2,000’ profit directly). All of them live in -relative- wealth. Some more than others, but there’s no hunger in the royal family. Thing is, overall population growth outdoes even that in the royal family. Which means, since the country produces nothing except for oil, that there are 1000s upon 1000s of young people with nothing to do but spend money that’s no longer there. Cue mayhem.

 

 

And things are not getting better, Saudi Arabia loses money on every barrel it produces. There are stories about them lowering their break-even price, but let’s take that with a few spoonfuls of salt. A 25% drop in break-even prices in just one year sounds a bit too good. Moreover, main competitors like Iran would still have a much lower break-even price. So even if prices would rise further, the Saudi’s might only break even while Iran gets much richer. Running vs standing still.

 

Saudi Arabia Leads Gulf Nations in Cutting Break-Even Oil Price

Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest oil producer, is also a leader when it comes to slashing the crude price the country needs to balance its budget. The kingdom will need oil to trade at $70 a barrel next year to break even, the IMF said Tuesday in its Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia. That’s down from a break-even of $96.60 a barrel in 2016, the biggest drop of eight crude producers in the Persian Gulf. The break-even is a measure of the crude price needed to meet spending plans and balance the budget.

 

 

Gulf oil producers are cutting spending and eliminating subsidies after crude plunged from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to average just over half that this year. The need to curb spending is more urgent with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cutting output to reduce a global glut. Oil will trade at $50 to $60 a barrel for the “medium term,” the IMF said.

 

 

So a thorough cleansing job of the royal family is perhaps inevitable, albeit very risky. King Salman and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman are up against a very large group of rich people. But there’s no way back now.

 

Saudi Banks Freeze More Than 1,200 Bank Accounts in Anti-Corruption Purge

Saudi Arabian banks have frozen more than 1,200 accounts belonging to individuals and companies in the kingdom as part of the government’s anti-corruption purge, bankers and lawyers said on Tuesday. They added that the number is continuing to rise. Dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have been detained in the crackdown and are facing allegations of money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain. Since Sunday, the central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis…

Much more will have to follow that. Doing a half way job is far too risky once the job has started. Not even $800 billion sounds like all that much. Separate families and factions within the royal family have had decades to accumulate wealth.

 

Saudi Crackdown Targets Up to $800 Billion in Assets

The Saudi government is aiming to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in its broadening crackdown on alleged corruption among the kingdom’s elite, according to people familiar with the matter. Several prominent businessmen are among those who have been arrested in the days since Saudi authorities launched the crackdown on Saturday, by detaining more than 60 princes, officials and other prominent Saudis, according to those people and others. The country’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, said late Tuesday that it has frozen the bank accounts of “persons of interest” and said the move is “in response to the Attorney General’s request pending the legal cases against them.”

The most visible – and perhaps richest- of all those arrested -in western eyes- is Al-Waleed. The Bloomberg estimate of his wealth that came out this week is $19 billion. But their own article seems to indicate a much higher number. He owns 5% of Apple -says Bloomberg-, and that share alone would be worth $45 billion.

 

Alwaleed, Caught in Saudi Purge, Has Assets Across the World

Apple – Alwaleed bought 6.23 million shares, or 5 percent, of the computer and mobile-device maker for $115.4 million in 1997. He made these purchases between mid-March and April of that year while the company was still struggling to turn itself around. He has since continued to hold the stake while Apple’s valuation has soared to as high as $900 billion.

 

Going through all these numbers, you can imagine why the ruling family, or rather the rulers within that family, are getting nervous. And that’s where we get to an interesting piece by Ryan Grim at the Intercept, who says it’s not even 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, or King Salman, 81, who control the kingdom these days, it’s the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -and maybe Washington-.

The coup has already been perpetrated.

 

Saudi Arabia’s Government Purge – And How Washington Corruption Enabled It

The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington. The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it.

MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers. Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

The platitudes about reform were also challenged by recent mass arrests of religious figures and repression of anything that has remotely approached less than full support of MBS. The latest purge comes just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner, a close ally of Otaiba, visited Riyadh, and just hours after a bizarre-even-for-Trump tweet. Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain.

As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE. And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries. “Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately.

The kingdom’s broke. Not today, or tomorrow morning, but crown prince MBS is able to look at the numbers and go: Oh Shit! And if he doesn’t see it, he has Kushner (re: Israel) and Al-Otaiba to fill him in. All three relative youngsters -MBS is 32, Kushner is 36, Otaiba is 43- are exceedingly nervous by now.

And then you get war, or the threat of war. War in Yemen, a blockade of Qatar, and now ‘mingling’ in Lebanon with the somewhat mysterious removal of billionaire PM Hariri -allegedly on an Iran/Hezbollah assassination plot-, and outright threats against Iran and Hezbollah:

 

Lebanon’s Hariri Visits UAE As Home Crisis Escalates

Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, made a brief visit to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday despite a deepening crisis back home and a rise in regional tensions triggered by his surprise resignation. Hariri announced his resignation on Saturday during a visit to his ally Saudi Arabia and has not yet returned to Lebanon. He said he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accused Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.

His resignation has thrust Lebanon back into the frontline of the regional rivalry that pits a mostly Sunni bloc led by Saudi Arabia and allied Gulf monarchies against Shi‘ite Iran and its allies. Hariri’s office said he had flown to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and then returned to Riyadh, but it gave no reason for the trip. It also did not say when he would return home. Hariri’s Future TV channel said he would also visit Bahrain but gave no reason.

In short: billionaire PM Hariri is a puppet. Just perhaps not of Saudi Arabia, but of Abu Dhabi. Whether he’s under house arrest in Riyadh, as has been suggested, is still unclear. But it’s a safe bet that he didn’t fly to Abu Dhabi -and back- alone, or of his own accord. He went to receive instructions.

 

Saudi Arabia Accuses Iran Of ‘Direct Military Aggression’ Over Yemen Missile

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has accused Iran of “direct military aggression” by supplying missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, raising the stakes in an already tense standoff between the two regional rivals. Mohammed bin Salman linked Tehran to the launch of a ballistic missile fired from Yemen towards the international airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Saturday. The missile was intercepted and destroyed.

“The involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” the prince said on Tuesday during a phone conversation with the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. He added that the move “may be considered an act of war against the kingdom”. Iran has called Riyadh’s accusations as baseless and provocative.

We have way of knowing what is true or not about this. We do know that Saudi Arabia have been executing a barbaric war in Yemen. With weapons from the US, UK, et al. So someone firing back wouldn’t be that far-fetched.

 

Regardless, Pepe Escobar, a journalist who knows much more than his peers, or at least doesn’t hold back as much as them, doesn’t see this end well for MBS, UAE, Israel, US, and whoever else is in their corner. Another losing war for the US in the Middle East? We’re losing count.

 

The Inside Story Of The Saudi Night Of Long Knives

A top Middle East business/investment source who has been doing deals for decades with the opaque House of Saud offers much-needed perspective: “This is more serious than it appears. The arrest of the two sons of previous King Abdullah, Princes Miteb and Turki, was a fatal mistake. This now endangers the King himself. It was only the regard for the King that protected MBS. There are many left in the army against MBS and they are enraged at the arrest of their commanders.” To say the Saudi Arabian Army is in uproar is an understatement. “He’d have to arrest the whole army before he could feel secure.”

[..] The story starts with secret deliberations in 2014 about a possible “removal” of then King Abdullah. But “the dissolution of the royal family would lead to the breaking apart of tribal loyalties and the country splitting into three parts. It would be more difficult to secure the oil, and the broken institutions whatever they were should be maintained to avoid chaos.” Instead, a decision was reached to get rid of Prince Bandar bin Sultan – then actively coddling Salafi-jihadis in Syria – and replace the control of the security apparatus with Mohammed bin Nayef. The succession of Abdullah proceeded smoothly.

Power was shared between three main clans: King Salman (and his beloved son Prince Mohammed); the son of Prince Nayef (the other Prince Mohammed), and finally the son of the dead king (Prince Miteb, commander of the National Guard). In practice, Salman let MBS run the show. And, in practice, blunders also followed. The House of Saud lost its lethal regime-change drive in Syria and is bogged down in an unwinnable war on Yemen, which on top of it prevents MBS from exploiting the Empty Quarter – the desert straddling both nations. The Saudi Treasury was forced to borrow on the international markets. Austerity ruled …

[..] aversion to MBS never ceased to grow; “There are three major royal family groups aligning against the present rulers: the family of former King Abdullah, the family of former King Fahd, and the family of former Crown Prince Nayef.” Nayef – who replaced Bandar – is close to Washington and extremely popular in Langley due to his counter-terrorism activities. His arrest earlier this year angered the CIA and quite a few factions of the House of Saud – as it was interpreted as MBS forcing his hand in the power struggle. According to the source, “he might have gotten away with the arrest of CIA favorite Mohammed bin Nayef if he smoothed it over but MBS has now crossed the Rubicon though he is no Caesar. The CIA regards him as totally worthless.”

[..] The source, though, is adamant; “There will be regime change in the near future, and the only reason that it has not happened already is because the old King is liked among his family. It is possible that there may be a struggle emanating from the military as during the days of King Farouk, and we may have a ruler arise that is not friendly to the United States.”

In the end, it all comes down to a familiar theme: follow the money. And we need to seriously question the economic reality of Saudi Arabia. That graph above of their foreign reserves looks downright grim.

With money comes power. Who loses money loses power. Saudi Arabia is bleeding money. The population surge is uncanny, and there are no jobs for all these young people. Perhaps the best they can do is be a US/Israel puppet in an attempt to ‘redo’ the map of the Middle East, but that has not been a very successful project off late -like the past 100 years-.

Then again, when you’re desperate you do desperate things. And when you’re a 32-year-old crown prince with more enemies than you can keep track of, you use what money is left to 1) keep up appearances, 2) steal what others have gathered, 3) buy weapons up the wazoo, and 4) go to war.

It all paints a very dark picture for the world. Russia won’t stand for attacks on Iran. And Iran won’t let attacks on Lebanon/Hezbollah go unanswered. All that is set to push up oil prices further, and all parties involved are just fine with that. Because they can buy more weapons with the additional profits.

I’ll leave you with Nassim Taleb’s comments on the situation. After all, Nassim’s from Lebanon, and knows that part of the world like the back of his hand:

 

 

 

Aug 272017
 
 August 27, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Downtown Hat Shop Window, Pittsburgh 1950

 

Phillips Curve Doesn’t Help Forecast Inflation, Fed Study Finds (BBG)
Where Do Consumers Spend The Most Money? (Mish)
Should California Spend $3 Billion To Help People Buy Electric Cars? (LAT)
Tesla: A Canary in the Wall Street Coal Mine (Barron’s)
UK Labour Party Makes Dramatic Shift On Brexit And Single Market (G.)
Controlled Demolition (Jim Kunstler)
The War That Time Forgot (CP)
It’s Time To Accept Carbon Capture Has Failed (Conv.)
Industrial Farming Is Driving The Sixth Mass Extinction Of Life On Earth (Ind.)

 

 

The incompetence is deafening. Trillions have been washed away on the theory.

Phillips Curve Doesn’t Help Forecast Inflation, Fed Study Finds (BBG)

A fundamental relationship of mainstream economic theory at the heart of the Federal Reserve’s strategy for setting interest rates has been a poor guide for policy makers for at least three decades, according to a study by the Philadelphia Fed’s top-ranking economist. The paper, co-authored by Philadelphia Fed Director of Research Michael Dotsey, shows that forecasting models based on the so-called Phillips curve, which asserts a link between unemployment and inflation, don’t actually help predict inflation. “Our results indicate that monetary policymakers should at best be very cautious in their reliance on the Phillips curve when gauging inflationary pressures,” Dotsey and Philadelphia Fed economists Shigeru Fujita and Tom Stark wrote.

Their study is timely. Fed officials have been surprised by a deceleration in U.S. inflation over the past several months despite a continued decline in unemployment, the opposite of what the Phillips curve relationship would predict. Minutes of the last meeting of the central bank’s rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee in July revealed that “a few participants cited evidence suggesting that this framework was not particularly useful in forecasting inflation,” while “most participants thought that the framework remained valid.” If the majority view on the FOMC is that the Phillips curve framework is still valid, it implies that central bankers should continue raising interest rates with unemployment at a 16-year low, because they expect inflation will rise in the medium term even though prices pressures have been disappointingly soft.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George, who has been more forceful than many of her colleagues in recent years about the need to raise rates, lent support to that view on the sidelines of this week’s annual gathering of central bankers from around the world in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “There may in fact be something wrong with the models, I don’t know, I think that continues to be a question that many economists are asking,” George said during a TV interview with Bloomberg’s Michael McKee that aired Thursday. Even so, she favors another rate increase this year.

Read more …

Cars + gasoline account for almost 30% of all spending. Crazy.

Where Do Consumers Spend The Most Money? (Mish)

In Dealers “Wildly Overweight” SUVs as Sales Slow, I commented “Vehicles account for 20% of retail spending. A crash or even a significant slowdown will impact retail sales and thus GDP.” A reader asked me how I calculated that. Let’s take a look. My number came from the latest Census Department Advance Retail Sales Report. Here are some charts I created from 7-month totals (January-July) 2017.

Key Points
• Motor vehicles and parts account for 21.18% of retail sales. Gasoline stations account for 7.94%. Together that adds up to 29.12%.
• Food and beverage stores (grocery and liquor stores) account for 12.62 percent of retail sales. Food services and drinking places (restaurants and bars) account for 12.14. The food and drink total is 24.76%.
• Nonstore retailers (think Amazon) account 10.39% of retail sales.

Read more …

Yeah, let’s subsidize the car culture.

Should California Spend $3 Billion To Help People Buy Electric Cars? (LAT)

Over seven years, the state of California has spent $449 million on consumer rebates to boost sales of zero-emission vehicles. So far, the subsidies haven’t moved the needle much. In 2016, of the just over 2 million cars sold in the state, only 75,000 were pure-electric and plug-in hybrid cars. To date, out of 26 million cars and light trucks registered in California, just 315,000 are electric or plug-in hybrids. The California Legislature is pushing forward a bill that would double down on the rebate program. Sextuple down, in fact. If $449 million can’t do it, the thinking goes, maybe $3 billion will. That’s the essence of the plan that could lift state rebates from $2,500 to $10,000 or more for a compact electric car, making, for example, a Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car cost the same as a gasoline-driven Honda Civic.

Already approved by several Senate and Assembly committees, the bill will go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his approval or veto if the full Legislature approves it by the end of its current session on Sept. 15. California aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to a level 40% below what they were in 1990. “If we want to hit our goals, we’re going to have to do something about transportation,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), sponsor of Assembly Bill 1184. Without a dramatic boost in subsidies, Ting said, the state risks falling short of Gov. Brown’s goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California highways by 2025, and the California Air Resources Board’s goal of 4 million such cars by 2030. The bill is opposed by Republicans averse to taxpayer subsidies and even the Legislature’s own analysts have called it “duplicative,” “unclear” and “problematic.”

Read more …

“Once again, history and reality are replaced by dreams with little substance.”

Tesla: A Canary in the Wall Street Coal Mine (Barron’s)

Those who think today’s stock market is unlike that of 2000, when baseless enthusiasm pushed stocks up to wild valuations, only to collapse in subsequent years, should take another look. Do they remember counting eyeballs as a basis for value? Once again, history and reality are replaced by dreams with little substance. Tesla, in which I have a short position, is becoming the loudest canary in Wall Street’s coal mine. Tesla requires repetitive capital raises to fund persistent operating losses. This requires bullish analysts and holders to keep the stock aloft with projections of imagined earnings from future products, while they overlook existing businesses, which continue to lose vast sums of money. Morgan Stanley, one of Tesla’s major underwriters, has an analyst covering Tesla named Adam Jonas. Astonishingly, he raised his price target for the stock, despite recognizing the need to slash his earnings forecast.

In May, Jonas had estimated per-share losses (excluding stock-option expense) of $3.53 in 2017 and $1.14 in 2018, and a profit of $2.43 in 2019. His latest estimates: losses of $7.60 and $3.66, and a 2019 profit of $2.01. Raising the target price while more than doubling the company’s projected loss indicates the craziness of the times. Price targets are fantasies, discounting distant earnings estimates by analysts who show little accuracy in estimating only a year ahead. For most companies, profit is the major objective. Tesla is different because its founder is different. Elon Musk is driven by a mission to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. Unlike companies seeking profit maximization by using patents to establish exclusive rights to products, Musk encourages competitors and has made virtually all of his patents available. Almost all auto companies have imminent plans to compete.

Tesla has been first-to-market in electric cars, but this in no way guarantees success, as competition and technological change are major challenges. Remember Atari, Blackberry, AOL, Napster, Netscape, and Palm? Musk is smart and imaginative, but none of his major companies are profitable. Tesla has been around for 14 years and has cumulatively lost more than $3.7 billion, despite the massive subsidies that it and its customers have received. SolarCity, also a beneficiary of alternative-energy subsidies, lost hundreds of millions of dollars before being bailed out by Tesla. As subsidies diminish, and competition emerges, profits will be even more elusive. Tesla tries to convey the illusion of inexhaustible demand for its cars, yet sales of the Model S and Model X have been flat for four quarters. Tesla’s rising inventory and shrinking deposits suggest declining demand.

Tesla claims to have more than 400,000 deposits for the Model 3, but these aren’t orders. They reflect a decision by potential buyers to get in line for a $7,500 tax credit at virtually no cost. Shifting $1,000 from a savings account into a refundable Tesla deposit costs only about $1 per year in lost interest. Fewer than 100,000 of these depositors will actually get full tax credits before Tesla consumes its allowable allotment of them. Its competitors will be able to offer such credits to prospective buyers, just as Tesla’s expire.

Read more …

Jockeying for votes?

UK Labour Party Makes Dramatic Shift On Brexit And Single Market (G.)

Labour is to announce a dramatic policy shift by backing continued membership of the EU single market beyond March 2019, when Britain leaves the EU, establishing a clear dividing line with the Tories on Brexit for the first time. In a move that positions it decisively as the party of “soft Brexit”, Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure, it is to announce on Sunday. This will mean that under a Labour government the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice on trade and economic issues, and pay into the EU budget for a period of years after Brexit, in the hope of lessening the shock of leaving to the UK economy.

In a further move that will delight many pro-EU Labour backers, Jeremy Corbyn’s party will also leave open the option of the UK remaining a member of the customs union and single market for good, beyond the end of the transitional period. Permanent long-term membership would only be considered if a Labour government could by then have persuaded the rest of the EU to agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules. The announcement, revealed in the Observer by the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, means voters will have a clear choice between the two main parties on the UK’s future relations with the EU after a year in which Labour’s approach has been criticised for lacking definition and appeared at times hard to distinguish from that of the Tories.

The decision to stay inside the single market and abide by all EU rules during the transitional period, and possibly beyond, was agreed after a week of intense discussion at the top of the party. It was signed off by the leadership and key members of the shadow cabinet on Thursday, according to Starmer’s office.

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“..to reassure the masses that effective spells for favor of the Gods have been cast — except that in our civilization money is God.”

Controlled Demolition (Jim Kunstler)

This is the week-of-weeks when the official grand viziers of finance gather at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to confab and interpret the lay of animal neck-bones and other auguries scattered in the sand, with the hope of steering the awesome powers of the universe this was or that as they affect the operations of money. The exercise is hardly different in function from the sort of rude ceremonials that took place on top of Sumerian ziggurats and Aztec temples — to reassure the masses that effective spells for favor of the Gods have been cast — except that in our civilization money is God. Or “money,” we should say, because the old definitions don’t fit so well anymore. It used to have a straightforward relationship with the work required to produce actual things of value, but those days are gone.

“Money” nowadays is a byproduct of wishful analytics and computer legerdemain seasoned with generous measures of fraud and larceny. This is a big problem when everything is measured in money and it becomes quite impossible to state with assurance what the value of money actually is. Obviously, you end up not knowing the value of anything. That’s the perilous situation the world faces. And since the USA is the straw the stirs the world’s drink — at least for now — the utterances emanating from Jackson Hole may determine which way that situation turns. We should suppose that the officers of the Federal Reserve are upright, well-intentioned, patriotic people. No doubt they think they are. But the perilous situation is largely one of their own making, and seems to be veering out of their control, and reputations are at stake.

Their task at this year’s Jackson Hole confab is to maintain the appearance of confidence in their own rituals. But with a kicker. That kicker is named T-r-u-m-p. This modern Balaam, riding the ass of the Deep State into wickedness, must be stopped, perhaps at all costs. On his way to the oval office last fall, Trump prophesied that the stock markets represented “one big, fat, ugly bubble.” That was an offense to the grand viziers, for whom the elevated stock market valuations stood as the main testament to their power and wisdom. In fact, it was the only testament, and a rather flimsy one. More recently, though, the wicked Trump changed his tune and declared that the tower of stock market exaltation was his own doing, setting himself up for the revenge of the grand viziers.

Since nothing else has worked so far to dislodge Trump from the White House, a tumbling tower of stocks might seal his fate. The tower has to fall anyway, lest the moiling masses of flyover America think about besetting Wall Street with pitchforks and torches. A controlled demolition might be just the thing to appease these suffering holders of three part-time jobs (if they are so lucky) who have stood by in wonder and nausea while a tiny fraction of the elite gather unto themselves all the dwindling riches of the realm — at least in paper securities denominated in US dollars — while the wicked Trump will be left to the jackals of the Deep State, to be torn apart with the 25th Amenedment.

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Elizabeth War(ren).

The War That Time Forgot (CP)

If it’s Independence Day, then you can count on John McCain to be bunkered down in a remote outpost of the Empire growling for the Pentagon to unleash airstrikes on some unruly nation, tribe or gang. This July the Fourth found McCain making a return engagement to Kabul, an arrival that must have prompted many Afghans to scramble for the nearest air raid shelter. From the press room at NATO command, McCain announced that “none of us could say we are on a course to success here in Afghanistan.” The senator should have paused for a reflective moment and then called for an end to the war. Instead, McCain demanded that Trump send more US troops, more bombers and more drones to terrorize a population that has been riven by near constant war since the late 1970s.

McCain’s martial drool is now as familiar as the opening notes to the “Law & Order” theme song. What may surprise some, however, is the composition of the delegation that signed up to travel on his frequent flier program, notably the presence of two Democratic Senators with soaring profiles: Sheldon Whitehouse and Elizabeth Warren. Whitehouse, the former prosecutor (aren’t they all?) from Rhode Island, has lately taken a star turn in the role of chief inquisitor of suspected Russian witches in the Senate intelligence committee hearings. Perhaps he finally located one selling AK-47s to the Taliban to replace the guns they’d gotten from the CIA. (We now know that it’s the Saudis–not the Russians–who have been covertly funneling money to the Taliban, though don’t expect the Trump to impose any sanctions on the Kingdom of the Head-choppers.)

For her part, Warren largely echoed McCain’s bellicose banter that Trump needs to double down militarily to finish off the Taliban, the impossible dream. No real surprise here. To the extent that she’s advanced any foreign policy positions during her stint in the senate, Warren has been a dutiful supplicant to the demands of AIPAC and the Council on Foreign Relations, rarely diverging from the neocon playbook for the global war on Islam. Warren’s Afghan junket is a sure sign of her swelling presidential ambitions. These days “national security” experience is measured almost exclusively by how much blood you are willing to spill in countries you know almost nothing about. It didn’t take long for Warren to matriculate to the company position.

[..] Nothing better illustrates the eclipse of US global power than the fact that Afghanistan refuses to be subjugated or even managed, despite 16 years of hard-core carnage. Since the first US airstrikes hit Kandahar in October 2001, more than 150,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. Still Afghanistan resists imperial dictates. Even after Obama’s shameful troop surge in 2010, an escalation that went almost unopposed by the US antiwar movement, the Taliban now retains almost as much control of the country as it did in 2001. And for that Afghanistan must be punished. Eternally, it seems.

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There’s always a new theory. Don’t let’s stop using as much of the stuff as we can.

It’s Time To Accept Carbon Capture Has Failed (Conv.)

For years, optimists have talked up carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an essential part of taking emissions out of electricity generation. Yes, build wind and solar farms, they have said, but they can t be relied on to produce enough power all the time. So we ll still need our fleet of fossil-fuel-burning power stations; we just need to stop them pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Most of their emphasis has been on post-combustion capture. This involves removing CO2 from power station flue gases by absorbing them into an aqueous solution containing chemicals known as amines. You then extract the CO2 , compress it into a liquid and pump it into a storage facility the vision in the UK being to use depleted offshore oil and gas fields. One of the big attractions with such a system is it could be retrofitted to existing power stations.

But ten years after the UK government first announced a £1 billion competition to design CCS, we re not much further forward. The reason is summed up by the geologist Lord Oxburgh in his contribution to the government-commissioned report on CCS published last year: “There is no serious commercial incentive and it will stay that way unless the state demonstrates there is a business there.” The problem is that the process is costly and energy intensive. For a gas-fired power station, you typically have to burn 16% more gas to provide the capture power. Not only this, you end up with a 16% increase in emissions of other serious air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Concerns have also been expressed about the potential health effects of the amine solvent used in the carbon capture.

You then have to contend with the extra emissions from processing and transporting 16% more gas. And all this before you factor in the pipeline costs of the CO2 storage and the uncertainties around whether it might escape once you ve got it in the ground. Around the world, the only places CCS looks viable are where there are heavy state subsidies or substantial additional revenue streams, such as from enhanced oil recovery from oilfields where the COC is being pumped in. Well, say the carbon capture advocates, maybe another technology is the answer. They point to oxy-combustion, a system which is close to reaching fruition at a plant in Texas.

First proposed many years ago by British engineer Rodney Allam, this involves separating oxygen from air, burning the oxygen with the fossil fuel, and using the combustion products -water and CO2- to drive a high-pressure turbine and produce electricity. The hot CO2 is pressurised and recycled back into the burners, which improves thermal efficiency. It has the additional advantage that CO12 is also available at pressures suitable for pipeline transportation.

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Small is beautiful.

Industrial Farming Is Driving The Sixth Mass Extinction Of Life On Earth (Ind.)

Industrial agriculture is bringing about the mass extinction of life on Earth, according to a leading academic. Professor Raj Patel said mass deforestation to clear the ground for single crops like palm oil and soy, the creation of vast dead zones in the sea by fertiliser and other chemicals, and the pillaging of fishing grounds to make feed for livestock show giant corporations can not be trusted to produce food for the world. The author of bestselling book The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy will be one of the keynote speakers at the Extinction and Livestock Conference in London in October. Organised by campaign groups Compassion in World Farming and WWF, it is being held amid rising concern that the rapid rate of species loss could ultimately result in the sixth mass extinction of life.

This is just one reason why geologists are considering declaring a new epoch of the Earth, called the Anthropocene, as the fossils of soon-to-be extinct animals will form a line in the rocks of the future. The last mass extinction, which finished off the dinosaurs and more than three-quarters of all life about 65 million years ago, was caused by an asteroid strike that sent clouds of smoke all around the world, blocking out the sun for about 18 months. Prof Patel, of the University of Texas at Austin, said: “The footprint of global agriculture is vast. Industrial agriculture is absolutely responsible for driving deforestation, absolutely responsible for pushing industrial monoculture, and that means it is responsible for species loss. “We’re losing species we have never heard of, those we’ve yet to put a name to and industrial agriculture is very much at the spear-tip of that.”

Speaking to The Independent, he pointed to a “dead zone” – an area of water where there is too little oxygen for most marine life – in the Gulf of Mexico that has grown to the same size as Wales because of vast amounts of fertiliser that has washed from farms in mainland US, into the Mississippi River and then into the ocean. “That dead zone isn’t an accident. It’s a requirement of industrial agriculture to get rid of the sh*t and the run-off elsewhere because you cannot make industrial agriculture workable unless you kick the costs somewhere else,” he said. “The story of industrial agriculture is all about externalising costs and exploiting nature.” “Extinction is about the elimination of diversity. What happens in Brazil and other places is you get green deserts — monocultures of soy and nothing else. “Various kinds of chemistry is deployed to make sure it is only soy that’s grown on these mega-farms. “That’s what extinction looks like. If you ever go to a soy plantation, animal life is incredibly rare. It’s only soy, there’s nothing there for anything to feed on.”

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Aug 162017
 
 August 16, 2017  Posted by at 8:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Hydrant, New York 1947

 

The Greatest Crisis In World History Is About To Be Unleashed (von Greyerz)
After 100 Months of Buying The Dips – Peak Crazy (Stockman)
China Has Got To Fix Its Debt Problem, IMF Says (CNBC)
China Money Supply Growth Slips Again as Leverage Crunch Goes On (BBG)
UK Risks ‘Losing Its Place As Property-Owning Democracy’
The New American Dream: Rent Your Home From A Hedge Fund (Black)
Trump Signs Order to Speed Up Public-Works Permits (BBG)
German Challenge To ECB QE Asset Buys Sent To European Court (R.)
Washington’s Long War on Syria (Ren.)
Fish Confusing Plastic Debris In Ocean For Food (G.)

 

 

Debt leads to war.

The Greatest Crisis In World History Is About To Be Unleashed (von Greyerz)

Totally irresponsible policies by governments and central banks have created the most dangerous crisis that the world has ever experienced. Risk doesn’t arise quickly as the result of a single action or event. No, risk of the magnitude that the world is experiencing today is the result of many years or decades of economic mismanagement. Cycles are normal in nature and in the world economy. And cycles that are the result of the laws of nature normally play out in an orderly fashion without extreme tops or bottoms. “Just take the seasons. They go from summer to autumn, winter and spring, with soft transitions that seldom involve drama or catastrophe. Economic cycles would be the same if they were allowed to happen naturally without the interference of governments.

But power corrupts and throughout history leaders have always hung on to power by interfering with the normal business cycle. This involves anything from reducing the precious metals content of money from 100% to nothing, printing money, leveraging credit, manipulating interest rates, taking total taxes from at least 50% + today from nothing 100 years ago etc, etc. Governments will always fail when they believe that they are gods. But not only governments believe they perform godly tasks but also hubristic investment bankers like the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs who proclaimed that the bank was doing God’s work. It must be remembered that Goldman, like most other banks, would have gone under if they and JP Morgan hadn’t instructed the Fed to save them by printing and guaranteeing $25 trillion. Or maybe that was God’s hand too?

We now have unmanageable risks at many levels – politically, geopolitically, economically and financially. This is a RISK ON situation that is extremely dangerous and will have very grave consequences. There are numerous risks that can all cause the collapse of the world economy and they all have equal relevance. However, the political situation in the USA is very dangerous for the world. This the biggest economy in the world, albeit bankrupt with debt growing exponentially and real deficits every year since 1960. Before the dollar has collapsed, the US will still be seen as a powerful nation, although a massive economic decline will soon weaken the country burdened by debt at all levels, government, state, and private.

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“There is absolutely no reason for the stock markets to be at current levels, let alone melting-up day after day.”

After 100 Months of Buying The Dips – Peak Crazy (Stockman)

Just call it Peak Crazy and move on. There is absolutely no reason for the stock markets to be at current levels, let alone melting-up day after day. The fact that this is happening is a measure of how impaired capital markets have become as a result of massive central bank intrusion. The robo-machines and day traders keep buying the dips because that has “worked” for the last 100 months. There is nothing more to it than residual momentum. Under a regime of honest money and price discovery, the stock market discounts the future. There is no plausible future from here that’s worth 24 times S&P 500 value or 96 times the Russell 2000. Surely the year-ahead earnings boom that Wall Street’s artists have penciled in is not in the slightest bit plausible. With 84% of the S&P 500 reporting Q2 results, LTM earnings are still 1.3% below where they were in September 2014.

Nothing has happened to corporate earnings in the last three years except deflation in the energy, materials and industrial sectors. After hitting $106 per share in September 2014, the global deflation cycle brought them to a low point of $86.44 per share in March 2016 in response to low $30s oil prices. The latter has since recovered to the $50 dollar zone – bringing S&P 500 earnings back to $104.61 during the current quarter. The question remains: How does an aging business cycle and immense global headwinds justify the expectation of a red hot earnings breakout during the next 18 months? Yet that’s what’s happening on Wall Street. We’ve hit nearly $133 per share of GAAP earnings (and $145 of the ex-items variety) for the LTM period ending in December 2018, meaning a prospective surge of 27%.

[..] In this machine driven market, any of these indices could resume their mad momentum based climb. But negative divergences are breaking out everywhere, and that’s usually a sign that the end is near. Margins on debt has again reached an all-time high of $550 billion. The chart below leaves little doubt as to what comes next. After the 2000 peak, margin debt collapsed by 50% as stocks were violently liquidated to meet margin calls. All this while in 2008 the shrinkage of margin debt was even larger – nearly 60%. This time, however, a similar shrinkage would cause a $325 billion decline in margin balances. That’s a lot of stocks on a fire sale.

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“..outstanding bank loans and total social financing, both of which rose roughly 13% in July versus the same period last year..”

China Has Got To Fix Its Debt Problem, IMF Says (CNBC)

China’s economy is looking good enough that the IMF is raising its outlook, but the organization is doing so with a strong warning over growing debt in the world’s second-largest economy. The IMF issued its annual review of China on Tuesday, and has revised its growth forecast to 6.7% for 2017, which was up from 6.2%. The organization also said it expects China to average 6.4% growth between now and 2021, versus its previous estimate of 6%. Still, the organization warned that things were far from peachy. “The growth outlook has been revised up reflecting strong momentum, a commitment to growth targets, and a recovering global economy,” the IMF said. “But this comes at the cost of further large and continuous increases in private and public debt, and thus increasing downside risks in the medium term.”

What Beijing needs to do is to seize its current strong growth momentum “to accelerate needed reforms and focus more on the quality and sustainability of growth,” said the report. At the top of that list is working to tackle the debt issue: Going forward, the IMF sees China’s non-financial sector debt to hit nearly 300% of GDP by 2022, up from around 240% last year. Debt-fueled growth, the IMF warned, is a short-term solution that isn’t sustainable in the long run unless China tackles deeper structural issues. Experts have been sounding the alarm bell over this issue for years, urging China to rein in its old model of opening credit lines to fuel investment and spending and to find a better balance between supporting growth and controlling risks to the economy.

Chinese banks extended 825.5 billion yuan (about $123.44 billion) in new loans in July, down from 1.54 trillion yuan in June. Outstanding total social financing — a broad measure of credit and liquidity — came in at 1.22 trillion yuan last month versus 1.78 trillion yuan in June. Part of the drop is seasonal, and it’s “masking an uptick in underlying credit growth,” wrote China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard at Capital Economics. A better way to look at credit creation is to gauge growth in outstanding bank loans and total social financing, both of which rose roughly 13% in July versus the same period last year.

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As long as things look good for the Party Congress, who cares?

China Money Supply Growth Slips Again as Leverage Crunch Goes On (BBG)

Growth in China’s broad money supply slipped to a fresh record low, signaling authorities aren’t letting up in their drive to curb excess borrowing and safeguard the financial system. Aggregate financing stood at 1.22 trillion yuan ($182.7 billion) in July, the People’s Bank of China said on Tuesday, compared with an estimated 1 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey. New yuan loans stood at 825.5 billion yuan, versus an projected 800 billion yuan. Broad M2 money supply increased 9.2%, while economists forecast a 9.5% increase . Authorities pushing to cut excess leverage have squeezed the massive shadow bank sector, which shrank for the first time in nine months. Yet with aggregate financing remaining robust and bond issuance rebounding, the central bank is still providing ample support for businesses to avoid derailing growth ahead of a key Communist Party congress this fall.

Slower M2 growth will become a “new normal,” the PBOC said Friday in its quarterly monetary policy report. “The relevance of M2 growth to the economy and its predictability has reduced, and its changes should not be over-interpreted.” “The deleveraging campaign is still focused on the financial sector, which leads to the slowdown in M2 growth,” said Yao Shaohua at ABCI Securities in Hong Kong. “Bank support for the real economy remains solid.” “The easing in credit conditions in July was probably part of the concerted stability play ahead of the Party Congress, thus more likely to be temporary,” said Yao Wei, chief China economist at Societe Generale in Paris. “We’re still looking for more deleveraging measures and tougher regulations afterwards.”

“The divergence between M2 growth and aggregate financing reflects that the PBOC is trying to balance cutting leverage while ensuring enough funds to support the real economy,” said Wen Bin at China Minsheng Banking in Beijing. “Single-digit M2 growth is likely to stretch until year-end. And with ample support from the central bank’s credit supply, the drag effect of financial deleveraging on the economic expansion will be limited.” “Banks are still creating credit, and this credit is important to support economic growth,” said Iris Pang, an analyst at ING in Hong Kong. “If liquidity is too tight, or credit growth shrinks, the whole deleveraging reform will run into the risk that there will be too many defaults and the whole banking system will be shaken up.”

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“..first-time buyer registrations drop by almost 20% on the year..”

UK Risks ‘Losing Its Place As Property-Owning Democracy’

The UK risks losing its place as a property-owning democracy if house prices continue to rise, according to the boss of the UK’s largest independent estate agent. Paul Smith, chief executive of haart, said that “unaffordability is reaching crisis point” and urged the Government to stop “excessive profiteering” at the expense of aspiring home owners. The call comes as official figures showed that the price of the average house in the UK increased by £10,000 last year to £223,000. Property values increased by 0.8% between May and June according to joint figures from the Office for National Statistics, Land Registry and other bodies. In the year to June average prices were up 4.9%, down marginally from 5% growth in the year to May.

The report released on Tuesday said the annual growth rate had slowed since mid-2016 but has remained steady at about 5% this year so far. “House prices continued to rally with unflinching determination once again in June despite the ongoing economic uncertainty,” Mr Smith said. “However this means that the average UK buyer now has to fork out an extra £10,000 more to own a home than the same time last year. “Along with consumer price hikes and falling wage growth, unaffordability is reaching a crisis point. This is creating real impact on the ground as we see first-time buyer registrations drop by almost 20% on the year across our branches.”

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“..if you’re lucky enough to not be living in your parents’ basement, you’ll be relegated to renting your house from Blackstone.”

The New American Dream: Rent Your Home From A Hedge Fund (Black)

About a month ago I joined the Board of Directors of a publicly-traded company that invests in US real estate. The position brings a lot of insight into what’s happening in the US housing market. And from what I’m seeing, the transformation that’s taking place today is extraordinary. Buying and renting out single-family homes has long been the mainstay investment of small, independent, individual investors. The big banks and hedge funds pretty much monopolize everything else. They own the stock market. They own the bond market. They own all the commercial real estate. They even own the farmland. Single-family homes were one of the last bastions of investment freedom for the little guy. (Real estate is how I got my own start in business and investing so many years ago; I was a 21-year-old Army lieutenant fresh out of the academy when I bought my first rental property.)

But all that’s changing now. Last week a huge merger was announced between Invitation Homes (owned by private equity giant Blackstone Group) and Starwood Waypoint Homes (owned by real estate giant Starwood Capital). If the deal goes through, the combined entity would be the largest owner of single-family homes in the United States with a portfolio worth over $20 billion. And this is only the latest merger in an ongoing trend. Three years ago, for example, American Homes 4 Rent bought Beazer Pre-Owned Rental Homes, creating another enormous player. A few months later, Starwood Waypoint bought Colony American Homes. And of course, Blackstone was one of the first institutional investors to start buying distressed homes, forking over around $10 billion on houses since the Great Financial Crisis.

[..] medium-sized funds are buying up all the little guys. And mega-funds like Blackstone are buying up all the medium-sized funds. This means there’s essentially an ‘arms race’ building among the world’s biggest funds to control the market, squeezing small, individual investors out of the housing market. [..] the average guy isn’t making any more money, or able to save anything… all while home prices soar to record levels as major funds gobble up the supply. This means that the new reality in America, especially for young people, is that if you’re lucky enough to not be living in your parents’ basement, you’ll be relegated to renting your house from Blackstone.

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Prolonging the emergency with America’s own bridges to nowhere.

Trump Signs Order to Speed Up Public-Works Permits (BBG)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that’s designed to streamline the approval process for building roads, bridges and other infrastructure by establishing “one federal decision’’ for major projects and setting an average two-year goal for permitting. “This over-regulated permitting process is a massive self-inflicted wound on our country,” Trump said in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York. “It’s disgraceful.” Among other things, the president’s order will rescind a previous decree signed by former President Barack Obama that required federal agencies to account for flood risk and climate change when paying for roads, bridges or other structures.

It also allows the Office of Management and Budget to establish goals for environmental reviews and permitting of infrastructure projects and then track their progress – with automatic elevation to senior agency officials when deadlines are missed or extended, according to the order. The order calls for tracking the time and costs of conducting environmental reviews and making permitting decisions, and it allows the budget office to consider penalties for agencies that fail to meet established milestones. Critics say there’s danger in streamlining the reviews. “This is yet another outrageous example of Trump’s insistence on putting corporate interests ahead of people’s health and safety,” said Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director with the League of Conservation Voters, a political advocacy group.

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Way too late.

German Challenge To ECB QE Asset Buys Sent To European Court (R.)

The European Central Bank may be violating laws on monetary financing in its €2.3 trillion ($2.7 trillion) asset purchase programme, Germany’s constitutional court said on Tuesday, and it asked Europe’s top court to make a ruling. In the biggest challenge yet to the ECB’s unprecedented effort to revive growth, the court said bond buys under the scheme may go beyond the bank’s mandate and inhibit euro zone members’ activities. “Significant reasons indicate that the ECB decisions governing the asset purchase programme violate the prohibition of monetary financing and exceed the monetary policy mandate of the European Central Bank, thus encroaching upon the competences of the Member States,” the court said. It said it would ask the European Court of Justice to review the programme.

The ECB acted swiftly to defend the scheme. “The extended asset purchase programme is in our opinion fully within our mandate,” it said in a statement. “That is ultimately for the European Court of Justice to assess.” It said the €60 billion per month asset buys would continue as normal. The European court has already backed the ECB’s more contentious emergency bond purchase scheme known as Outright Monetary Transactions or OMT with only relatively minor limitations, suggesting that the challenge – lodged by several academics and politicians – may face an uphill battle. The decision to pass the issue over to the ECJ means any final ruling will come either after the bond purchases end or near the end of the scheme, which has already been running for over two years and is expected to be wound down next year.

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“The same State Department Official had written of Gadaffi in Libya that combining its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy “enabled Libyans to live beyond the wildest dreams of their fathers, and grandfathers.”

Washington’s Long War on Syria (Ren.)

From Syria, to Iraq, Iran to Libya, our understandings of the long-wars in the Middle-East as moral, humanitarian interventions designed to democratise and civilise are the result of a carefully crafted propaganda campaign waged by the US and its allies. Each of these uprisings were launched by US proxies, designed to destabilize the regions, justifying regime change that suit the economic interests of its investors, banks and corporations, captured comprehensively in a new book by Canadian author and analyst, Stephen Gowans, Washington’s Long War on Syria. You might be surprised to know that both the Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi government, led by Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez Al Assad, (succeeded by Bashaar Al Assaad) and Sadaam Hussein respectively, were socialist governments. Or Ba’ath Arab Socialist governments, to be precise.

Ba’ath Arab Socialism can be summed up in their constitutions supporting the values of: ‘freedom of the Arab world, freedom from foreign powers and freedom of socialism’. Its doctrine was supported in Libya, as it was in Iraq and Syria. Of course, particularly in Hussein’s case, we cannot claim that these governments were without their problems. Ethnic cleansing is not to be overlooked, but condemned on the strongest grounds. But of course these were not the reasons the US and its allies decided to get into it. In the case of Iraq, it had combined its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy, leading to what is known as ‘The Golden Age’, where, according to a State Department Official: “Schools, universities, hospitals, factories, museums and theatres proliferated employment so universal, a labour shortage developed.”

When the Ba’ath Arab Socialists were driven from power in Iraq, the US installed military dictator, Paul El Briener who set about a ‘de-Ba’athification’ of the government, expelling every member of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist party and imposed a constitution forbidding any secular Arab leader from ever holding office in Iraq again. The same State Department Official had written of Gadaffi in Libya that combining its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy “enabled Libyans to live beyond the wildest dreams of their fathers, and grandfathers.” Gadaffi would soon be removed by Islamists, backed by NATO forces after Western oil companies agitated for his removal because he was “driving a hard bargain”. Canadian paramilitary forces even quipped that they were “al-Qaeda’s air-force”.

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And then we eat it. Carbon will kill us yet.

Fish Confusing Plastic Debris In Ocean For Food (G.)

Fish may be actively seeking out plastic debris in the oceans as the tiny pieces appear to smell similar to their natural prey, new research suggests. The fish confuse plastic for an edible substance because microplastics in the oceans pick up a covering of biological material, such as algae, that mimics the smell of food, according to the study published on Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Scientists presented schools of wild-caught anchovies with plastic debris taken from the oceans, and with clean pieces of plastic that had never been in the ocean. The anchovies responded to the odours of the ocean debris in the same way as they do to the odours of the food they seek. The scientists said this was the first behavioural evidence that the chemical signature of plastic debris was attractive to a marine organism, and reinforces other work suggesting the odour could be significant.

The finding demonstrates an additional danger of plastic in the oceans, as it suggests that fish are not just ingesting the tiny pieces by accident, but actively seeking them out. Matthew Savoca, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead author of the study, told the Guardian: “When plastic floats at sea its surface gets colonised by algae within days or weeks, a process known as biofouling. Previous research has shown that this algae produces and emits DMS, an algal based compound that certain marine animals use to find food. [The research shows] plastic may be more deceptive to fish than previously thought. If plastic both looks and smells like food, it is more difficult for animals like fish to distinguish it as not food.”

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Aug 122017
 
 August 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Giorgio de Chirico The Enigma of the Hour 1910

 

The Logic of War (Jim Rickards)
Russia Says Bellicose Rhetoric On North Korea Is ‘Over The Top’ (R.)
US ‘Volatility Index’ Spikes To Highest Level Since Election (G.)
Chinese Foreign Real-Estate Spending Plunges 82% (ZH)
Battle of the Behemoths (Jim Kunstler)
US Poised To Become World’s Largest Public-Private Partnership Market (IBT)
The Fed Has 6,200 Tons of Gold in a Manhattan Basement—Or Does It? (WSJ)
UK Risks International Court Case Over Theresa May’s Brexit Plans (Ind.)
Greenspan’s Legacy Explains Current Conundrums (DDMB)
Social Security Requires Bailout 60x Greater Than 2008 Bank Bailout (Black)
All Is Not As It Seems In Venezuela (Ren.)
Asylum Seekers At Canada Border Tents Unfazed By Delays, Uncertainty (R.)
People Smugglers Pushing Refugees To Their Deaths At Sea Off Yemen (Ind.)

 

 

There are different kinds of logic. I hope for once Rickards is wrong.

The Logic of War (Jim Rickards)

This was the week that the logic of war collided with the illogic of bubbles. So far, the bubble is winning, but that’s about to change. The “logic of war” is an English translation of a French phrase, la logique de la guerre, which refers to the dynamic of how wars begin despite the fact that the war itself will be horrendous, counterproductive, and possibly end in complete defeat. [..] Given these outcomes, “logic” says that war should be prevented. This would not be difficult to do. If North Korea verifiably stopped its weapons testing and engaged in some dialogue, the U.S. would meet the regime more than halfway with sanctions relief and some expanded trade and investment opportunities.

The problem is that the logic of war proceeds differently than the logic of optimization. It relies on imperfect assessments of the intentions and capabilities of an adversary in an existential situation that offers little time to react. North Korea believes that the U.S. is bluffing based in part on the prior failures of the U.S. to back up “red line” declarations in Syria, and based on the horrendous damage that would be inflicted upon America’s key ally, South Korea. North Korea also looks at regimes like Libya and Iraq that gave up nuclear weapons programs and were overthrown. It looks at regimes like Iran that did not give up nuclear weapons programs and were not overthrown.

It concludes that in dealing with the U.S., the best path is not to give up your nuclear weapons programs. That’s not entirely irrational given the history of U.S. foreign policy over the past thirty years. But, the U.S. is not bluffing. Trump is not Obama, he does not use rhetoric for show, he means what he says. Trump’s cabinet officials, generals and admirals also mean what they say. No flag officer wants to lose an American city like Los Angeles on his or her watch. They won’t take even a small chance of letting that happen. The Trump administration will end the North Korean threat now before the stakes are raised to the nuclear level. Despite the logic of diplomacy and negotiation, the war with North Korea is coming. That’s the logic of war.

Read more …

It is crucial that Trump communicate with Putin and Lavrov. And Washington does all it can to prevent it. Let’s hope they’ve found a back channel.

Russia Says Bellicose Rhetoric On North Korea Is ‘Over The Top’ (R.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday the risks of a military conflict over North Korea’s nuclear program are very high, and Moscow is deeply worried by the mutual threats being traded by Washington and Pyongyang. “Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is now starting to go over the top,” Lavrov said. “We still hope and believe that common sense will prevail.” Asked at a forum for Russian students about the risks of the stand-off escalating into armed conflict, he said: “The risks are very high, especially taking into account the rhetoric.” “Direct threats of using force are heard… The talk (in Washington) is that there must be a preventive strike made on North Korea, while Pyongyang is threatening to carry out a missile strike on the U.S. base in Guam. These (threats) continue non-stop, and they worry us a lot.”

“I won’t get into guessing what happens ‘if’. We will do whatever we can to prevent this ‘if’.” “My personal opinion is that when you get close to the point of a fight breaking out, the side that is stronger and cleverer should take the first step away from the threshold of danger,” said Lavrov, in remarks broadcast on state television. He encouraged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a joint Russian-Chinese plan, under which North Korea would freeze its missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. “If this double freezing finally takes place, then we can sit down and start from the very beginning – to sign a paper which will stress respect for the sovereignty of all those parties involved, including North Korea,” Lavrov said.

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And that’s a good thing. Ultra low VIX means no price discovery.

US ‘Volatility Index’ Spikes To Highest Level Since Election (G.)

A US stock market gauge known as the “fear index” has spiked to its highest level since Donald Trump was elected president in a sign that his brinkmanship with North Korea is starting to unnerve investors. The Vix index has been at record lows in recent weeks but has been rattled by the remarks Trump has been making about North Korea. A breakthrough in Pyongyang’s weapons programme prompted Trump to warn on Tuesday that he would unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea if the regime continued to threaten the US. On Friday the US president tweeted that US military options were “locked and loaded” for use if Pyongyang “acted unwisely”. The Vix index measures expectations of volatility on the S&P 500 index of the US’s largest publicly quoted companies.

Its rise in the early hours of Friday prompted Neil Wilson, a senior market analyst at financial firm ETX Capital, to comment: “Volatility is back.” “The Vix just popped to its highest since the election of Donald Trump as jitters about North Korea roil risk sentiment. It’s about time the market woke up – nothing like the prospect of a nuclear standoff to sharpen mind of investors who had become a tad complacent,” said Wilson. oshua Mahony, a market analyst at IG, said: “For a week that has been largely devoid of major economic releases, Donald Trump’s confrontational stance with North Korea has raised volatility across the board, pushing the Vix from a rock-bottom reading on Tuesday, to the highest level in almost a year. “This has been a week of two halves, with complaints over a lack of volatility giving way to complaints over unpredictable volatility,” he added.

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Does that cover all housing bubbles? Well, not Holland and Scandinavia, probably.

Chinese Foreign Real-Estate Spending Plunges 82% (ZH)

Earlier this month, Morgan Stanley warned that commercial real estate prices in New York City, Sydney and London would likely take a hit over the next two years as Chinese investors pull out of foreign property markets. The pullback, they said, would be driven by China’s latest crackdown on capital outflows and corporate leverage, which they argued would lead to an 84% drop in overseas property investment by Chinese corporations during 2017, and another 18% in 2018. Sure enough, official data released by China’s Ministry of Commerce have proven the first part of Morgan Stanley’s thesis correct. Data showed that outbound investment in real estate was particularly hard hit during the first half of the year, plunging 82%. “According to official data, outbound investment by China’s real estate sector fell 82% year-on-year in the first half, to comprise just 2% of all outbound investment for the period.”

Overall, outbound direct investment to 145 countries declined to $48.19 billion, an annualized drop of 45.8%, according to China Banking News. The decline is a result of a crackdown by Chinese authorities after corporations went on a foreign-acquisition spree that saw them spend nearly $300 billion buying foreign companies and assets, with China’s four most acquisitive firms accounting for $55 billion, or 18%, of the country’s total. The acquisitions aggravated capital outflows, creating a mountain of debt and making regulators uneasy. Late last month, Chinese authorities ordered Anbang Insurance Group to liquidate its overseas holdings. In June, authorities asked local banks to evaluate whether Anbang and three of its peers posed a “systemic risk” to the country’s financial system. As Morgan Stanley noted, these firms were responsible for billions of dollars of commercial real-estate investments in the US, UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

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“..a great deal of American suburbia will have to be abandoned..”

Battle of the Behemoths (Jim Kunstler)

This has been a sensational year for retail failure so far with a record number of brick-and-mortar store closings. But it is hardly due solely to Internet shopping. The nation was vastly over-stored by big chain operations. Their replication was based on a suicidal business model that demanded constant expansion, and was nourished by a regime of ultra-low interest rates promulgated by the Federal Reserve (and its cheerleaders in the academic econ departments). The goal of the business model was to enrich the executives and shareholders as rapidly as possible, not to build sustainable enterprise. As the companies march off the cliff of bankruptcy, these individuals will be left with enormous fortunes — and the American landscape will be left with empty, flat-roofed, throwaway buildings unsuited to adaptive re-use. Eventually, the empty Walmarts will be among them.

Just about everybody yakking in the public arena assumes that commerce will just migrate to the web. Think again. What you’re seeing now is a very short term aberration, the terminal expression of the cheap oil economy that is fumbling to a close. Apart from Amazon’s failure so far to ever show a corporate profit, Internet shopping requires every purchase to make a journey in a truck to the customer. In theory, it might not seem all that different from the Monkey Ward model of a hundred years ago. But things have changed in this land. We made the unfortunate decision to suburbanize the nation, and now we’re stuck with the results: a living arrangement that can’t be serviced or maintained going forward, a living arrangement with no future. This includes the home delivery of every product under sun to every farflung housing subdivision from Rancho Cucamonga to Hackensack.

Of course, the Big Box model, like Walmart, has also recruited every householder in his or her SUV into the company’s distribution network, and that’s going to become a big problem, too, as the beleaguered middle-class finds itself incrementally foreclosed from Happy Motoring and sinking into conditions of overt peonage. The actual destination of retail in America is to be severely downscaled and reorganized locally. Main Street will be the new mall, and it will be a whole lot less glitzy than the failed gallerias of yore, but it will represent a range of activities that will put a lot of people back to work at the community level. It will necessarily entail the rebuilding of local and regional wholesale networks and means of distribution that don’t require trucking.

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But then combine Jim Kunstler’s piece with this:

US Poised To Become World’s Largest Public-Private Partnership Market (IBT)

As the debate over infrastructure policy intensifies, there is no dispute that the Trump administration’s initiative could open up a huge new market for financial firms on Wall Street. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that there are $4.6 trillion worth of needed investments to maintain and upgrade infrastructure throughout the U.S. In light of that, recent reports from Moody’s and AIG project a financial jackpot for private investors, with the latter predicting that America “is poised to become the largest public-private partnership market in the world for infrastructure projects.” That market appears to be a ripe profit opportunity for politically connected firms. On top of Pence’s overtures to investors in Australia, a country that has aggressively embraced privatization, Trump recently secured a pledge from Saudi Arabia’s government to invest billions in American infrastructure.

The Saudi money is slated to flow through the private equity firm Blackstone, which has been eyeing opportunities to profit from American infrastructure privatization since its CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, was named by Trump to run a White House economic advisory panel shaping federal infrastructure policy. At the same time, Cohn’s former employer, Goldman Sachs, has said in its financial filings that it too has plans to expand investment in privatized infrastructure. (Neither Schwarzman or Cohn have recused themselves from working on White House infrastructure policy that could benefit the firms, even though both own stakes in the companies.)

In the United States, the recent enthusiasm for public-private partnerships has stemmed from the visible success of several late-1990s toll road projects such as California’s State Route 91, the first fully-automated toll road with electronic transponders in the U.S., and Virginia’s Dulles Greenway, according to Robert Poole, the director of transportation policy at the libertarian Reason Foundation. More recently, he noted, states like Florida have enacted laws streamlining the legislative approval process for public-private partnership transportation projects. Both the GOP and Democratic Party listed infrastructure spending as objectives in their 2016 platforms. The Republican platform explicitly embraced public-private partnerships and “outside investment.” Prominent Democrats from former President Barack Obama to Bill and Hillary Clinton have also warmed to the idea of public-private partnerships — and the party’s officials have led some of America’s earliest precedent-setting privatization projects.

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Do we send in Dan Brown and Tom Hanks?

The Fed Has 6,200 Tons of Gold in a Manhattan Basement—Or Does It? (WSJ)

Eighty feet below the streets of lower Manhattan, a Federal Reserve vault protected by armed guards contains about 6,200 tons of gold. Or doesn’t. The Fed tells visitors its basement vault holds the world’s biggest official gold stash and values it at $240 billion to $260 billion. But “no one at all can be sure the gold is really there except Fed employees with access,” said Ronan Manly, a precious-metals analyst at gold dealer BullionStar in Singapore. If it is all there, he said, the central bank has “never in its history provided any proof.” Mr. Manly is among gold aficionados who wonder if the bank is hiding something about what it’s hiding. Other theorists suspect the gold beneath the New York Fed’s headquarters at 33 Liberty St. may be gold-plated fakes. Some conspiracy-minded investors think the Fed has been secretly leasing out the gold to manipulate prices.

“There has to have been a central bank spewing their gold into the market,” said John Embry, an investment strategist for Sprott Asset Management in Toronto until 2014 who once managed its gold fund. “The gold price didn’t act right” during the time he was watching it and the likely explanation for the movement was Fed action, said Mr. Embry. Fed officials have heard theories about their gold holdings for many years and don’t think much of them. After this article was published, a Fed spokeswoman said the Fed doesn’t own any of the gold housed at the New York Fed, which “does not use it in any way for any purposes including loaning or leasing it out.” The Fed has been selective in giving details about the contents of the vault and in the past has said it can’t comment on individual customer accounts due to confidentiality agreements.

[..] The Fed gives some information about the vault on a website and offers tours. A guide on one tour gave some details: Inside is enough oxygen for a person to survive 72 hours, should someone get trapped; custodians wear magnesium shoe covers to help prevent injuries, should they drop 27-pound bars; the Fed charges $1.75 a bar to move gold but nothing to store it; most of the gold is owned by foreign governments. [..] Visitors on vault tours see only a display sample and can’t verify bars up close. “All you see is the front row of gold bars,” said James Turk, co-founder of Goldmoney, a gold custodian. “There’s no way of knowing how deep the chamber is or how many rows there are.” Mr. Turk, based in London, believes much of the gold has been “hypothecated,” or lent out to other parties, and then rehypothecated, or lent to multiple parties at once. In doing so, he says, “central banks actually own less gold than people believe.”

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A phenomenal mess lies in your future. Wait till various courts get involved, representing entirely different jurisdictions, different laws.

UK Risks International Court Case Over Theresa May’s Brexit Plans (Ind.)

Britain risks a new Brexit fight in international courts if it tries to quit the EU’s single market without giving other countries official notice, The Independent can reveal. Legal experts, including one who advised the Treasury, agree Theresa May will leave the UK open to legal action in The Hague if she pulls out of the European Economic Area (EEA) without formally telling its other members 12 months in advance, to avoid disrupting their trade. The notice is demanded by an international agreement, but ministers do not intend to follow the process because, insiders believe, they want to avoid a Commons vote on staying in the EEA – and, therefore, the single market – that they might lose. As well as the a court battle, experts warn the stigma from breaking the agreement could also make it harder for Britain to secure the trade deals it desperately needs to secure the economy after Brexit.

Pro-EU MPs hope the legal opinion will help persuade the Commons to force and win the vote on staying in the EEA planned for the autumn. The Government has insisted EEA membership will end automatically with EU withdrawal but former Treasury legal adviser Charles Marquand, said: “A failure by the UK to give notice of its intention to leave would, I think, be a breach of the EEA Agreement, which is an international treaty.” The barrister said it was difficult to predict how another EEA states might seek to take action, if it believed its single market rights had been removed wrongly. But he added: “I believe there is a potential for international proceedings. One possibility is the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.”

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Are we going to lock him up?

Greenspan’s Legacy Explains Current Conundrums (DDMB)

On Aug. 11, 1987, the U.S. Senate confirmed Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Thirty years later, the fallout from that occasion is still being felt around the world as the central bank’s focus shifted under Greenspan from economics and the banking system to the financial industry. Greenspan’s first speech as Fed chairman took place less than a month into his tenure when he dedicated the Jacksonville, Florida, branch of the Atlanta Fed. Some 73 miles north of where he stood was Jekyll Island, Georgia, where the foundations of the Fed were first laid in November 1910. Rather than look back at the Fed’s roots, however, Greenspan peered into its future: “We have entered the age of the truly global marketplace. Today the monetary policy decisions of our nation reverberate around the globe.”

Those words resonate today as policy makers worldwide struggle to extricate themselves from extraordinary levels of market intervention. How did we get to the point where central bankers endeavor to resolve structural issues with the power of the printing press? Greenspan’s legacy provides the answers. It is notable that in the days before the Senate vote, President Ronald Reagan cited the “banking system” as one of the Fed’s primary responsibilities. While Greenspan included banking system stability as one of the “instrumentalities” of the government’s designs of the Fed, he emphasized that the Fed was “NOT just another federal agency.” The Fed was also a leader “within the financial industry.” It wouldn’t take long for the financial system to stress test Greenspan’s resolve. On Oct. 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22.6% in what remains the steepest one-day loss on record. From his first day in office to that October closing low, the Dow was down by 35%.

Few recall that Greenspan was in the air on his way to Dallas during the worst of Black Monday’s selloff, where he was scheduled to address the American Bankers Association convention the next morning. It wasn’t until he landed that he learned of the day’s events. Against his wishes, Greenspan never made it to the podium; he thought the better way to communicate calm was by maintaining his scheduled appearance. Compelled back to Washington due to the gravity of the situation, Greenspan issued the following statement in his name at 8:41 a.m. that Tuesday, less than an hour before stocks opened for trading: “The Federal Reserve, consistent with its responsibilities as the Nation’s central bank, affirmed today its readiness to serve as a source of liquidity to support the economic and financial system.”

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Best reason ever for a Universal Basic Income.

Social Security Requires Bailout 60x Greater Than 2008 Bank Bailout (Black)

A few weeks ago the Board of Trustees of Social Security sent a formal letter to the United States Senate and House of Representatives to issue a dire warning: Social Security is running out of money. Given that tens of millions of Americans depend on this public pension program as their sole source of retirement income, you’d think this would have been front page news… and that every newspaper in the country would have reprinted this ominous projection out of a basic journalistic duty to keep the public informed about an issue that will affect nearly everyone. But that didn’t happen. The story was hardly picked up. It’s astonishing how little attention this issue receives considering it will end up being one of the biggest financial crises in US history. That’s not hyperbole either– the numbers are very clear.

The US government itself calculates that the long-term Social Security shortfall exceeds $46 TRILLION. In other words, in order to be able to pay the benefits they’ve promised, Social Security needs a $46 trillion bailout. Fat chance. That amount is over TWICE the national debt, and nearly THREE times the size of the entire US economy. Moreover, it’s nearly SIXTY times the size of the bailout that the banking system received back in 2008. So this is a pretty big deal. More importantly, even though the Social Security Trustees acknowledge that the fund is running out of money, their projections are still wildly optimistic. In order to build their long-term financial models, Social Security’s administrators have to make certain assumptions about the future. What will interest rates be in the future? What will the population growth rate be? How high (or low) will inflation be?

These variables can dramatically impact the outcome for Social Security. For example, Social Security assumes that productivity growth in the US economy will average between 1.7% and 2% per year. This is an important assumption: the higher US productivity growth, the faster the economy will grow. And this ultimately means more tax revenue (and more income) for the program. But -actual- US productivity growth is WAY below their assumption. Over the past ten years productivity growth has been about 25% below their expectations. And in 2016 US productivity growth was actually NEGATIVE.

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Venezuela is dead simple. It has the largest oil reserves on the planet. Chavez kept Exxon and CIA out. Now they’re moving back in.

All Is Not As It Seems In Venezuela (Ren.)

An opposition backed by Exxon Mobil, a failed military coup that killed 40 people, staged photo-propaganda designed to create the perception of a failed state: Foreign powers have conspired to create the perfect conditions for yet another western ‘humanitarian’ intervention, this time in Venezuela. Former US Army solider turned documentary-maker, Mike Prysner, says the reality of Venezuela is very different from what we are being fed by the western press. [..] When I heard that Jeremy Corbyn had condemned violence on both sides in Venezuela, I was angry at first – because 80% or more of the violence is being committed by anti-government protesters. Their violence has far surpassed anything committed against them – and what has been done to them has been deliberately provoked. But then I began to recognise the skill in his statement – forcing everyone to confront the reality of what’s happening on the ground there. The reality bears little resemblance to what’s being presented to people.

The BBC is responsible for some of the most disingenuous portrayals. They’re showing violent protesters as if they’re some kind of defenders of peaceful protesters against a repressive police force, but in reality peaceful protests have been untouched by police. What happens is that the Guarimbas (violent, armed opposition groups) follow the peaceful protests and when they come near police, they insert themselves in between the two. They then push and push and push until there’s a reaction – and they have cameras and journalists on hand to record the reaction, so it looks like the police are being aggressive. We were once filming a protest and a group of Guarimbas challenged us. If we’d said we were with teleSur, at the very least they’d have beaten us and taken our equipment. But we told them we were American freelance journalists – they need Americans to film them and publicise them, so we were accepted.

The battles with police are actually quite small, but they’re planned, co-ordinated to disrupt different area each day to maximise their impact – but in most places life is pretty normal. It’s all about the portrayal. The US media mobilise everything for Guarimbas – there will be maybe 150 people but it’s made to look bigger and tactics are 100% violent – trying to provoke a response. And the level of police restraint is remarkable – the government knows the world is watching. One evening protesters were burning buildings for around two hours, with no intervention by the police. They only react when the protesters start throwing petrol bombs at the police or military, or their bases – but as soon as they do react, the Guarimbas film as if they’re victims of an unprovoked attack.

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Over 200 a day into Québec alone.

Asylum Seekers At Canada Border Tents Unfazed By Delays, Uncertainty (R.)

Asylum seekers, mainly from Haiti, clambering over a gully from upstate New York into Canada on Friday were undeterred by the prospect of days in border tents, months of uncertainty and signs of a right-wing backlash in Quebec. More than 200 people a day are illegally walking across the U.S. border into Quebec to seek asylum, government officials said. Army tents have been erected near the border to house up to 500 people as they undergo security screenings. Over 4,000 asylum seekers have walked into Canada in the first half of this year, with some citing U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stance on immigration. The cars carrying the latest asylum seekers begin arriving at dawn in Champlain, New York, across from the Canadian border.

On Friday, the first groups included two young Haitian men, a family of five from Yemen and a Haitian family with young twins. “We have no house. We have no family. If we return we have nowhere to sleep, no money to eat,” said a Haitian mother of a 2-year-old boy, who declined to give her name. Each family pauses a moment when a Royal Canadian Mounted police officer warns them they will be arrested if they cross the border illegally, before walking a well-trodden path across the narrow gully into Canada. Asylum seekers are crossing the border illegally because a loophole in a U.S. pact allows anyone who manages to enter Canada to file an asylum claim and stay in Canada while they await their application outcome.

Because the pact requires refugees to claim asylum in whatever country they first arrive, they would be turned back to the United States at legal border crossings. They Haitian family is arrested immediately and bussed to the makeshift camp. Border agents led a line of about two dozen asylum seekers on Friday into a government building at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle to be processed. The Red Cross is providing food, hygiene items and telephone access, spokesman Carl Boisvert said. He estimated the fenced-off camp, which has been separated into sections for families and single migrants, is about half full. Border staff and settlement agencies are straining to accommodate the influx, which has been partly spurred by false rumors of guaranteed residency permits.

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The values of our own lives are set by how we value other people’s lives.

People Smugglers Pushing Refugees To Their Deaths At Sea Off Yemen (Ind.)

At least 19 migrants are presumed to have drowned after 160 people were forced from a boat into rough seas off the coast of Yemen by smugglers in what may be a worrying new trend, the UN migration agency has said. The report from the International Organisation for Migration came less than a day after it said up to 50 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia were “deliberately drowned” by smugglers who pushed them from a separate boat off the coast of Shabwa province in southern Yemen. “We’re wondering if this is a new trend,” Olivia Headon, an IOM spokesperson, told The Independent. “The smugglers are well aware of what’s happening in Yemen, so it may just be they’re trying to protect their own neck while putting other people’s lives at risk.” Six bodies were found on the beach, while 13 remain missing, presumed dead, Ms Headon said.

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Aug 092017
 
 August 9, 2017  Posted by at 5:20 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Jean-Michel Basquiat Self Portrait 1982

 

A Guardian headline today shouts: “Trump Has Taken Us To The Brink Of Nuclear War. Can He Be Stopped?”. And I’m thinking that is such obvious nonsense, how dare you print it? The North Korea nuke build up has been going on for decades, and neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush nor Obama ever took any decisive actions against it. And now it all falls into Trump’s lap. But that doesn’t mean he’s ‘taken us’ anywhere at all. The last thing Trump wants is this.

It’s not the last thing people like John McCain want, however. Who said about Trump’s “fire and fury” threat to Kim Jong-un that you shouldn’t make that threat unless you’re willing to execute it. Yeah, that’s exactly what McCain and Lindsey Graham and their entire entourage of friends and servants on Capitol Hill have been looking for for ages: war. And they see this in the same way that their peers saw Grenada in the Reagan era.

Small country, no challenge, good publicity. But Kim, crazy as he may or may not be, has learned a few lessons on the way. Cheney, W. and Rumsfeld ‘regime-changed’ Saddam Hussein, and Obama/Hillary ‘came saw and he died’ Gaddafi. They got offed before they could develop nukes. Kim knows that’s the dividing line. Sure, as I said, he may be crazy, but then everybody in this movie is.

That “Trump Has Taken Us To The Brink Of Nuclear War” line is based on da Donald’s “fire and fury” comment. But that is just him trying to talk to Kim in his own language. It was my first thought as soon as I heard it. Every other approach has failed, try this. My second thought was it was directed as much against Beijing as it was against Kim: Xi Jinping, once again, you have to stop this.

Xi has taken notice. He has a crucial Communist Party convention looming this fall, and he can’t afford to have a war in his backyard. He just didn’t have a reason to prevent it before. A few hours after Trump’s “fire and fury”, North Korea released a Canadian prisoner sentenced to hard labor for life. Coincidence? That’s not likely.

What Trump, what America, would need right now is open conversation with Putin, who can make or break things in the area. But given the recent sanctions etc., he doesn’t have much incentive. And the White House has few channels left to communicate with the Kremlin, because every single phone line is under investigation from one grand jury or another, and no line can be trusted to be secret anymore.

That hampers Trump and his people, but it even more hampers Putin in expressing his opinions. At the very moment, when there are nuclear threats being openly, publicly, bandied around, and the US Congress has tied its president’s hands in a very questionable fashion, which makes it impossible for him to talk to the one nuclear power in the world that matters.

The strange, and worrisome, thing about the ‘Orwellian’ 99% vote to take Trump’s powers away from him when it comes to communicating with Putin is that Capitol Hill decided to take it away, only to endorse itself with it. While you can discuss into the wee hours and then some what a US president’s powers should be, and what not, for any political ‘entity’ to vote another’s entity only to have it fall upon itself is legally dangerous.

And that’s not just because John McCain has seemed hellbent on ending his life with a big bang, forever. It’s even more because Capitol Hill has proven that it can effectively strangulate any president it doesn’t like, even if the American people have voted him/her in.

The very ironic consequence, at some point we wish will never come, would be that if Da Donald wants to strike Kim with anything at all, he’ll have to ask McCain and Graham for permission. And they will say: of course: when can we do it, can we do a little bit more just to be sure?

But if Trump wants to prevent that war, be it conventional or nuclear, who does he have to turn to? Not McCain and Graham, McDonnell, that set. They’re lost in the pockets of the military-industrial complex. As are Hillary and Obama and whatever is left after the Democrats go through a court-induced DNC fall-cleaning. They are paid by the exact same sources.

So who? The generals he’s surrounded himself with in the West Wing? Come to think of it, they may be the only sane voices left in Washington. But at the same time, does that feel like a real confidence booster?

Look, America, there are a 100,000 things wrong with Trump. But he is your president. And even if the whole Robert Mueller dig ever gets anywhere, it may first of all be too late, second of all lead to absolute mayhem if any impeachment process gets anywhere, and third of all have you end up with something far worse, president Pence, president Hillary, whatever.

What little-big-boy Kim should be telling you is that it’s time to support your president, no matter how flawed and despicable you think he may be. Because, and this is not the first time I’ve said this, he may well be the only thing standing between you and war. And don’t listen to the voices who claim he’s eager to start it. Or at least don’t listen only to them.

There’s a real chance that Trump will start a war somewhere, but it won’t be because he wants one. Other people in Washington do though. Just about all of them, given that 99% vote on Russia sanctions.

It is time to support your president, America. Not because you like him, or because you agree with him. But because your country elected him and because if you don’t, god help you.

 

 

Aug 042017
 
 August 4, 2017  Posted by at 8:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Acropolis and Temple of Jupiter Olympus Athens 1862

 

Australia Slams the Brakes on Property Investment (BBG)
Toronto Home Prices Suffer Worst Monthly Decline in 17 Years (BBG)
Toronto Housing Market Implodes: Prices Plunge Most On Record (ZH)
Euro Junk Bonds and “Reverse Yankees” Go Nuts (WS)
Global Inflation Hits Lowest Level Since 2009 (WSJ)
Japan Buries Our Most-Cherished Economic Ideas (BBG)
Britain’s Finance Sector Will Double In Size In 25 Years – Mark Carney (G.)
London’s “Land Banking” Ventures Expose Startling Wealth Inequality (O.)
Russian Ban On Turkish Tomatoes Bears Domestic Fruit (R.)
Trump Will Now Become the War President (Paul Craig Roberts)
IMF Admits Disastrous Love Affair With Euro and Immolation Of Greece (Tel)
Why Have No IMF Officials Been Prosecuted For Malpractice In Greece? (Bilbo)

 

 

It’s just words. The illusion of well-managed control. When property goes down, and it must at some point, it will take the entire Australia economy down with it.

Australia Slams the Brakes on Property Investment (BBG)

One of the key engines of Australia’s five-year housing boom is losing steam. Property investors, who have helped stoke soaring home prices in Australia, are being squeezed as regulators impose restrictions to rein in lending. The nation’s biggest banks have this year raised minimum deposits, tightened eligibility requirements and increased rates on interest-only mortgages – a form of financing favored by people buying homes to rent out or hold as an investment. Australia’s generous tax breaks for landlords, combined with record-low borrowing costs, have made the nation home to more than 2 million property investors. Demand from those buyers has contributed to a bull run that has catapulted Sydney and Melbourne into the ranks of the world’s priciest property markets. Now, signs are emerging that the curbs are starting to deter speculators – and home prices are finally starting to cool. [..]

The biggest banks have hiked rates on interest-only mortgages by an average of 55 basis points this year, according to Citigroup [..] ..property auction clearance rates in Sydney have held below 70% in seven of the past eight weeks, compared to as high as 81% in March before the curbs were imposed. And investor loans accounted for 37% of new mortgages in May, down from this year’s peak of 41% in January. That’s helping take the heat out of property prices, particularly in Sydney, the world’s second-most expensive housing market. Price growth in the city slowed to 2.2% in the three months through July, down from a peak of 5% earlier this year, CoreLogic said Tuesday. In Melbourne, rolling quarterly price growth has eased to 4.2%. “There have been some signs that conditions in the Sydney and Melbourne markets have eased a little of late,” the Reserve Bank of Australia said on Friday.

Now, with costs increasing, and price growth slowing, property may lose some of its luster as an investment asset. [That] changes “reduce investors’ ability to pay, and means they have to pay owner-occupier values rather than investor values,” said Angie Zigomanis, senior manager, residential property, at BIS Oxford Economics in Melbourne. The restrictions will take “some of the bubble and froth” out of the market, he said, forecasting median Sydney house prices will decline 5% by the end of mid-2019 as investors retreat.

[..] banks may need to get even tougher on lending standards in order to meet the regulator’s order to restrict interest-only loans to 30% of new residential loans by September. Interest-only loans are seen as more risky because borrowers aren’t paying down any principal and may look to sell en-masse if property prices decline.

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Bubble? Nah…

Toronto Home Prices Suffer Worst Monthly Decline in 17 Years (BBG)

The benchmark Toronto property price, which tracks a typical home over time, dropped 4.6% to C$773,000 ($613,000) from June. That’s the biggest monthly drop since records for the price index began in 2000, according to Bloomberg calculations, and brings prices down to roughly March levels. Prices are still up 18% from the same month a year ago, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board. Transactions tumbled 40% to 5,921, the biggest year-over-year decline since 2009, led by detached homes. The average price, which includes all property types, rose 5% to C$746,218 from July 2016. That compares with a 17% increase at this time last year.

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“..transactions tumbled 40.4%..”

Toronto Housing Market Implodes: Prices Plunge Most On Record (ZH)

Until mid 2017, it appeared that nothing could stop the Toronto home price juggernaut:

And yet, In early May we wrote that “The Toronto Housing Market Is About To Collapse”, when we showed the flood of new home listings that had hit the market the market, coupled with an extreme lack of affordability, which as we said “means homes will be unattainable to all but the oligarchs seeking safe-haven for their ‘hard’-hidden gains, prices will have to adjust rather rapidly.”

Exactly three months later we were proven right, because less than a year after Vancouver’s housing market disintegrated – if only briefly after the province of British Columbia instituted a 15% foreign buyer tax spooking the hordes of Chinese bidders who promptly returned after a several month hiatus sending prices to new all time highs – just a few months later it’s now Toronto’s turn. On Thursday, the Toronto Real Estate Board reported that July home prices in Canada’s largest city suffered their biggest monthly drop on record amid government efforts to cool the market and the near-collapse of Home Capital Group spooked speculators. The benchmark Toronto property price, while higher 18% Y/Y, plunged 4.6% to C$773,000 ($613,000) from June. That was biggest monthly drop since records for the price index began in 2000, and brought prices down in the metro area to March levels.

More troubling than the price drop, however, was the sudden paralysis in the market as buyers and sellers violently disagreed about fair clearing prices and transactions tumbled 40.4% to 5,921, the biggest year-over-year decline since 2009, led by the detached market segment.

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Wolf Richter with a good example of just how detructive Draghi’s -and other central bankers’- QE really is. The bonds may go nuts, but Draghi IS nuts. Or rather, Europeans are nuts not to stop him.

Euro Junk Bonds and “Reverse Yankees” Go Nuts (WS)

The ECB’s efforts to buy corporate bonds as part of its stupendous asset buying binge has not only pushed a number of government bond yields below zero, where investors are guaranteed a loss if they hold the bond to maturity, but it has also done a number – perhaps even a bigger one – on the euro junk-bond market. It has totally gone nuts. Or rather the humans and algorithms that make the buying decisions have gone nuts. The average junk bond yield has dropped to an all-time record low of 2.42%. Let that sink in for a moment. This average is based on a basket of below investment-grade corporate bonds denominated in euros. Often enough, the issuers are junk-rated American companies with European subsidiaries – in which case these bonds are called “reverse Yankees.”

These bonds include the riskiest bonds out there. Plenty of them will default, and losses will be painful, and investors – these humans and algos – know this too. This is not a secret. That’s why these bonds are rated below investment grade. But these buyers don’t mind. They’re institutional investors managing other people’s money, and they don’t need to mind. [..] The average yield of these junk bonds never dropped below 5% until October 2013. In the summer of 2012, during the dog days of the debt crisis when Draghi pronounced the magic words that he’d do “whatever it takes,” these bonds yielded about 9%, which might have been about right. Since then, yields have plunged (data by BofA Merrill Lynch Euro High Yield Index Effective Yield via St. Louis Fed). The “on the Way to Zero” in the chart’s title is only partially tongue-in-cheek:

The chart below gives a little more perspective on this miracle of central-bank market manipulation, going back to 2006. It shows the spike in yield to 25% during the US-engineered Financial Crisis and the comparatively mild uptick in yield during the Eurozone-engineered debt crisis:

How does this fit into the overall scheme of things? For example, compared to the US Treasury yield? US Treasury securities are considered the most liquid and the most conservative investments. They’re considered as close to a risk-free financial instrument as you’re going to get on this earth. Turns out, from November 2016 until now, the 10-year US Treasury yield has ranged from 2.14% to 2.62%, comfortably straddling the current average euro junk bond yield of 2.42%.

If you want to earn a yield of about 2.4%, which instrument would you rather have in your portfolio, given that both produce about the same yield, and given that one has a significant chance of defaulting and getting you stuck with a big loss, while the other is considered the safest most boring financial investment out there? The answer would normally be totally obvious, but not in the Draghi’s nutty bailiwick. That this sort of relentless and blind chase for yield – however fun it may be today – will lead to hair-raising losses later is a given. And we already know who will take those losses: The clients of these institutional investors, the beneficiaries of pension funds and life insurance retirement programs, the hapless owners of bond funds, and the like.

In terms of the broader economy: When no one can price risk anymore, when there’s in fact no apparent difference anymore between euro junk bonds and US Treasuries, then all kinds of bad economic decisions are going to be made and capital is going to get misallocated, and it’s going to be Draghi’s royal mess.

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Hint for central bankers: look at money velocity. People don’t spend, they borrow. Keyword: debt.

Global Inflation Hits Lowest Level Since 2009 (WSJ)

Inflation in the Group of 20 largest economies fell to its lowest level in almost eight years in June, deepening a puzzle confronting central banks as they contemplate removing post-crisis stimulus measures. The OECD said Thursday that consumer prices across the G-20—the countries that accounts for most of the world’s economic activity—were 2% higher than a year earlier. The last time inflation was lower was in October 2009, when it stood at 1.7%, as the world started to emerge from the sharp economic downturn that followed the global financial crisis. The contrast between then and now highlights the mystery facing central bankers in developed economies as they attempt to raise inflation to their targets, which they have persistently undershot in recent years.

According to central bankers, inflation is generated by the gap between the demand for goods and services and the economy’s ability to supply them. As the economy grows and demand strengthens, that output gap should narrow and prices should rise. Right now, the reverse appears to be happening. Across the G-20, economic growth firmed in the final three months of 2016 and stayed at that faster pace in the first three months of 2017. Growth figures for the second quarter are incomplete, but those available for the U.S., the eurozone and China don’t point to a slowdown. Indeed, Capital Economics estimates that on an annualized basis, global economic growth picked up to 3.7% in the three months to June from 3.2% in the first quarter.

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At what point are mainstream economists going to admit they have no clue as to what’s going on? It all sounds like if reality doesn’t fit their models, something must be wrong with reality.

Japan Buries Our Most-Cherished Economic Ideas (BBG)

Japan is the graveyard of economic theories. The country has had ultralow interest rates and run huge government deficits for decades, with no sign of the inflation that many economists assume would be the natural result. Now, after years of trying almost every trick in the book to reflate the economy, the Bank of Japan is finally bowing to the inevitable. The BOJ’s “dot plot” shows that almost none of the central bank’s nine board members believe that the country will reach its 2% inflation target. Accordingly, the bank has pushed back the date at which it expects to hit its 2% target. That’s a little comical, since by now it should be fairly obvious that the date will only get pushed back again and again. If some outside force intervenes to raise inflation to 2%, the BOJ will declare that it hit the target, but it’s pretty clear it has absolutely no idea how to engineer a deliberate rise in inflation.

The bank will probably keep interest rates at zero indefinitely, but if decades of that policy haven’t produced any inflation, what reason is there to think that decades more will do the trick? Some economists think more fiscal deficits could help raise inflation. That’s consistent with a theory called the “fiscal theory of the price level,” or FTPL. But a quick look at Japan’s recent history should make us skeptical of that theory – even as government debt has steadily climbed, inflation has stumbled along at close to 0%. Japan’s situation should also give pause to economists who want to resurrect the idea of the Phillips Curve, which purports to show a stable relationship between unemployment and inflation. Japan’s persistently low inflation comes even though essentially everyone in Japan who wants a job has one.

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Yeah sure, and then double again the next 25 years.

Britain’s Finance Sector Will Double In Size In 25 Years – Mark Carney (G.)

The governor of the Bank of England has predicted that the financial sector could double in size to be 20 times as big as GDP within the next 25 years, but warned that the government must hold its nerve and resist pressure to water down regulation after Brexit. Speaking to the Guardian to mark the 10th anniversary of the start of the global financial crisis in August 2007,[..] eant repeating the risky speculation of a decade ago. Carney dismissed suggestions that London could become a financial centre with only light-touch regulation – often dubbed Singapore-on-Thames – in order to attract business after the UK left the EU. He said the size of the financial sector would increase relative to the size of the economy if things went according to plan after Brexit and that meant there could be no going back to the lax regime that existed before 2007.

The Bank, he said, was aware that “we have a financial system that is ten times the size of this economy … It brings many strengths, it brings a million jobs, it pays 11% of tax revenue, it is the biggest export industry by some token … All good things. But it’s risky”. He went on: “We have a view… that post-Brexit the level of regulation will be at least as high as it currently is and that’s a level that in many cases substantially exceeds international norms. “There’s a reason for that, because we’re not going to to go the lowest common denominator in a system that is 10 times size of GDP. If the UK financial system thrives in a post-Brexit world, which is the plan, it will not be 10 times GDP, it will be 15 to 20 times GDP in another quarter of century because we will keep our market share of cross-border capital flows. Well then you really have to hold your nerve and keep the focus.”

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I told you: feudal. UK needs full reset.

London’s “Land Banking” Ventures Expose Startling Wealth Inequality (O.)

No place is feeling the bite of the UK housing crisis quite as savagely as London. While homelessness, social housing heartbreak and painfully high housing costs reveal the harsh reality of living in Britain’s capital, empty property numbers in London stand at their highest level in 20 years. Who are the culprits? Many would argue it’s the billionaires, whose “land banking” ventures are becoming ever more profitable. At a time when wealthy people purchase property and leave it empty, only to make a huge profit when they sell their investment, ordinary citizens are living in the throes of a 21st century housing crisis that is crippling the capital. Recent government figures show around 1.4 million homes have been lying vacant in the UK for at least six months – the highest level of “spare” homes in two decades.

At the same time, London has witnessed a staggering 456% increase in “land banking” over the last 20 years. Kensington and Chelsea – London’s richest borough, where the Grenfell Tower tragedy took place – has the highest number of empty homes. Land banking in London has long been exploited by the super-rich. In 2014, one-third of the mansions stood empty on Bishops Avenue, a single street in north London that has been dubbed “Billionaires Row,” which ranked as the UK’s second most expensive street with an estimated £350 million worth of empty properties. The famous row of mansions – believed to be owned by members of the Saudi royal family – has stood virtually unused since being bought by investors between 1989 and 1993.

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Putin says he likes globalization, but his country increasingly takes care of itself. The sanctions work to strengthen Russia, the opposite of what America hopes to achieve. Hopefully Russia doesn’t turn tomatoes into some large industrial thing.

Russian Ban On Turkish Tomatoes Bears Domestic Fruit (R.)

A ban on Turkish tomato imports that was motivated by geopolitics has inspired Russia to become self-sufficient in tomato production, a windfall for companies who invested in the technology that would increase year-round production. Russia has been ramping up production of meats, cheese and vegetables since it banned most Western food imports in 2014 as a retaliatory measure for sanctions meant to punish Russia’s support of rebels in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. After Turkey shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border in November 2015, Moscow expanded the ban to include Turkish tomatoes, for which Russia was the biggest export market. Ties between Ankara and Moscow have since largely normalized but the ban remains in place and may not be lifted for another three to five years, officials have said.

That may be too late for Turkish exporters if Russian efforts to ramp up domestic production bear fruit. Greenhouse projects being built with state support are key to Russia’s plans to become self-sufficient for its 144 million population by 2020, industry players, analysts and officials say. Although Russia only imports about 500,000 tonnes of the 3.4 million tonnes of tomatoes consumed annually, the country’s notoriously harsh winters have limited its ability to ramp up to full capacity, IKAR agriculture consultancy said. Currently only 620,000 tonnes of production comes from “protected ground”, or greenhouses, IKAR said. The remainder comes from “open ground” productive only from June to September, and most of that comes from private plots maintained and used by individual families or sold at local farmers’ markets.

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This is what I wrote the other day I fear will happen if Americans don’t stop the demonization of Trump. Really, you should all think again, or you’ll find yourself in a war that nobody can oversee.

Trump Will Now Become the War President (Paul Craig Roberts)

President Trump has been defeated by the military/security complex and forced into continuing the orchestrated and dangerous tensions with Russia. Trump’s defeat has taught the Russians the lesson I have been trying to teach them for years, and that is that Russia is much more valuable to Washington as an enemy than as a friend. Do we now conclude with Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that Trump is washed up and “utterly powerless?” I think not. Trump is by nature a leader. He wants to be out front, and that is where his personality will compel him to be. Having been prevented by the military/security complex, both US political parties, the presstitute media, the liberal-progressive-left, and Washington’s European vassals from being out front as a leader for peace, Trump will now be the leader for war. This is the only permissible role that the CIA and armaments industry will permit him to have.

Losing the chance for peace might cost all of us our lives. Now that Russia and China see that Washington is unwilling to share the world stage with them, Russia and China will have to become more confrontational with Washington in order to prevent Washington from marginalizing them. Preparations for war will become central in order to protect the interests of the two countries. The situation is far more dangerous than at any time of the Cold War. The foolish American liberal-progressive-left, wrapped up as they are in Identity Politics and hatred of “the Trump deplorables,” joined the military/security complex’s attack on Trump. So did the whores, who pretend to be a Western media, and Washington’s European vassals, not one of whom had enough intelligence to see that the outcome of the attack on Trump would be an escalation of conflict with Russia, conflict that is not in Europe’s business and security interests.

Washington is already raising the violence threshold. The same lies that Washington told about Saddam Hussein, Gadaffi, Assad, Iran, Serbia and Russia are now being told about Venezuela. The American presstitutes duly report the lies handed to them by the CIA just as Udo Ulfkotte and Seymour Hersh report. These lies comprise the propaganda that conditions Western peoples to accept the coming US coup against the democratic government in Venezuela and its replacement with a Washington-compliant government that will permit the renewal of US corporate exploitation of Venezuela.

As the productive elements of American capitalism fall away, the exploitative elements become its essence. After Venezuela, there will be more South American victims. As reduced tensions with Russia are no longer in prospect, there is no reason for the US to abandon its and Israel’s determination to overthrow the Syrian government and then the Iranian government. The easy wars against Iraq, Libya, and Somalia are to be followed by far more perilous conflict with Iran, Russia, and China This is the outcome of John Brennan’s defeat of President Trump.

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Two pieces on the IMF’s own internal report.

IMF Admits Disastrous Love Affair With Euro and Immolation Of Greece (Tel)

The IMF’s top staff misled their own board, made a series of calamitous misjudgments in Greece, became euphoric cheerleaders for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory. This is the lacerating verdict of the IMF’s top watchdog on the fund’s tangled political role in the eurozone debt crisis, the most damaging episode in the history of the Bretton Woods institutions. “Many documents were prepared outside the regular established channels; written documentation on some sensitive matters could not be located” It describes a “culture of complacency”, prone to “superficial and mechanistic” analysis, and traces a shocking breakdown in the governance of the IMF, leaving it unclear who is ultimately in charge of this extremely powerful organisation.

The report by the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) goes above the head of the managing director, Christine Lagarde. It answers solely to the board of executive directors, and those from Asia and Latin America are clearly incensed at the way European Union insiders used the fund to rescue their own rich currency union and banking system. The three main bailouts for Greece, Portugal and Ireland were unprecedented in scale and character. The trio were each allowed to borrow over 2,000pc of their allocated quota – more than three times the normal limit – and accounted for 80pc of all lending by the fund between 2011 and 2014. In an astonishing admission, the report said its own investigators were unable to obtain key records or penetrate the activities of secretive “ad-hoc task forces”. Mrs Lagarde herself is not accused of obstruction.

“Many documents were prepared outside the regular established channels; written documentation on some sensitive matters could not be located. The IEO in some instances has not been able to determine who made certain decisions or what information was available, nor has it been able to assess the relative roles of management and staff,” it said. “The IMF remained upbeat about the soundness of the European banking system… this lapse was largely due to the IMF’s readiness to take the reassurances of national and euro area authorities at face value..” [..] “Before the launch of the euro, the IMF’s public statements tended to emphasise the advantages of the common currency,” it said. Some staff members warned that the design of the euro was fundamentally flawed but they were overruled.

[..] In Greece, the IMF violated its own cardinal rule by signing off on a bailout in 2010 even though it could offer no assurance that the package would bring the country’s debts under control or clear the way for recovery, and many suspected from the start that it was doomed. The organisation got around this by slipping through a radical change in IMF rescue policy, allowing an exemption (since abolished) if there was a risk of systemic contagion. “The board was not consulted or informed,” it said. The directors discovered the bombshell “tucked into the text” of the Greek package, but by then it was a fait accompli.

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Bill Mitchell read the whole thing.

Why Have No IMF Officials Been Prosecuted For Malpractice In Greece? (Bilbo)

I have just finished reading the 474-page Background Papers that the IEO released in 2016 and which formed the basis of its June 2016 Evaluation Report – The IMF and the Crises in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. It is not a pretty story. It seems that the incompetence driven by the blind adherence to Groupthink that the earlier Reports had highlighted went a step further into what I would consider to be criminality plain and simple. The IEO found that IMF officials and economists violated the rules of their own organisation, hid documents, presumably to hide their chicanery and generally displayed a high level of incompetence including failing to under the implications of a common currency – pretty basic errors, in other words. The IEO Report sought to evaluate: “… the IMF’s engagement with the euro area during these crises in order to draw lessons and to enhance transparency..”

The period under review was 2010 to 2013, which covered the “2010 Stand-By Arrangement with Greece, the 2010 Extended Arrangement with Ireland, and the 2011 Extended Arrangement with Portugal.” The IEO noted that the IMF involvement with the Troika was quite different to its normal operations. 1. “the euro area programs were the first instances of direct IMF involvement in adjustment programs for advanced, financially developed, and financially open countries within a currency union”. 2. “they involved intense collaboration with regional partners who also were providing conditional financial assistance, and the modality of collaboration evolved in real time.” 3. “the amounts committed by the IMF … were exceptionally large … exceeded the normal limits of 200% of quota for any 12-month period or 600% cumulatively over the life of the program. In all three countries, access exceeded 2,000% of quota.”

So one would think that the IMF would have exercised especial care and been committed to transparency, given that for the “financial years 2011-14, these countries accounted for nearly 80% of the total lending provided by the IMF”. It didn’t turn out that way. Interestingly, the IEO for all its independence was set upon by “several Executive Directors and other senior IMF officials” at the outset of the evaluation process (when establishing the Terms of Reference), who claimed that the 2012 Bailout was just a “continuation of the 2010 SBA” and so it was not possible to evaluate them separately. In other words, the IMF was trying to close down assessment of its activities.

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