Mar 162017
 
 March 16, 2017  Posted by at 2:53 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Marc Riboud Sur les Quais de Paris 1953

 

The Dutch elections on Wednesday have provided a whole bunch of Orwellian narratives. PM Mark Rutte’s right wing VVD party, actually the ‘business’ -or should we say ‘rent-seekers’ in 2017- party, who lost some 20% of the seats they had obtained in the previous parliamentary election in November 2012, down from 41 to 33 seats, is declared the big winner. While Geert Wilders’ very right wing party, PVV, won 25% more seats -it went from 16 to 20- and is the big loser.

Moreover, Rutte’s coalition partner, labor PvdA, gave up 29 out of 38 seats to end up with just 9. That’s a loss of over 75%. Together, the coalition partners went from 79 seats in the 2012 election to 42 in 2017. That’s an almost 50% less. Not that it could prevent Rutte from proudly declaring: “We want to stick to the course we have – safe and stable and prosperous..” Makes you wonder who the ‘we’ are that he’s talking about.

That course he wants to stick to had a finance minister named Dijsselbloem, and his party just lost by over 75%. So he won’t be back. But perhaps the EU can pull another ‘Tusk’, and leave him in place in Brussels as chairman of the Eurogroup no matter what voters in his own country think of him. Still, declaring your intention to ‘stick to the course’ when your coalition has just been sawed in half, it’s quite something.

 

The only reasons Rutte’s VVD ended up being the biggest party all have to do with Wilders. The anxiety over the election all had to do with polls. Wilders is a one man party and a a one trick pony. If he would leave, his party would dissolve. And his sole ‘message’ is that Islam is bad and should vanish from first Holland and then Europe. He doesn’t really have any other political program points. Ok, there’s Brussels. Doesn’t like that either.

Perhaps that’s why he largely shunned the pre-election debates. Problem with that is, these things attract a lot of TV viewers, crucial free air-time. All in all, since he’s his own worst enemy in many respects, it’s not that much of a surprise that Wilders’ support collapsed, and that’s just if we were to take Dutch pollsters more serious than their counterparts in the US and UK.

Talking of which, according to Rutte, those are the countries where ‘the wrong kind of populism’ has won and delivered Trump and Brexit. And of course there are lots of people who agree with that. What either they, or Rutte himself, would label ‘the right kind of populism’ is unclear. Maybe Rutte himself is the right kind of populist?

 

The row with Turkey over the weekend must have helped Rutte quite a bit. Not only were his actions in the row met with approval by a large majority of the Dutch population, including just about all other party leaders, the Dutch also got to think about what WIlders would do in such a situation. And there can be no doubt that Rutte is seen as much more of a statesman than Wilders.

Not that the row is over. After Turkey announced yesterday it would return 40 Dutch cows (?!) , today Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said Europe’s politicians are “taking Europe toward an abyss”, and: “Soon religious wars will break out in Europe. That’s the way it’s going.” There can be no doubt that a shouting war like this with Wilders as one of the participants would take on a whole different shape, and a different choice of words.

What Rutte’s going to do next is form a new coalition, this time not with the left but with the center-right, and no-one will be able to tell the difference. If Dutch, and European, and global, politics have one main problem, it’s that. Left is right and right is left and winners are losers. If a guy like Dijsselbloem can squeeze Greek society dry in his capacity as Eurogroup head, while he runs as a leftist candidate in his own country, and loses hugely, anything goes.

 

All those who think they can see in the Dutch experience, a sign that Marine Le Pen’s chances in France’s presidential elections in April and May have dropped a lot, would appear to be delusional. Judging from reactions in the financial markets, many seem to be. But Le Pen is much less of a fringe figure than Wilders is, and she certainly wouldn’t shun a debate. It’s true that her Front National is a one-woman operation, bit she has a much clearer political program than Wilders does.

And she doesn’t have an opponent like Rutte, who’s become a formidable presence domestically, as anyone would be who can be PM for many years and not be put out by the curb. The man who should be Le Pen’s main adversary is not; Hollande is out by that curb and doesn’t even dare run again. His Socialist party has become a joke. The next strongest opponent should be François Fillon, but he’s all but gone now he’s been placed under formal investigation.

That leaves only Emmanual Macron, an independent without a party and without a program. In France, you can be elected president in such a situation, but your hand are tied in all sorts of ways, because you need parliament to vote for things.

..the nuances of the French political system put Macron in a spot of bother. The president derives their power from the support of a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. Macron was a minister for the Socialist Party government but quit in 2016 to form his own political movement. Now he doesn’t even have a party, let alone a majority. Although the constitution of the French Fifth Republic, created by Charles De Gaulle in 1958, extended presidential powers, it did not enable the president to run the country.

There are only a few presidential powers that do not need the prime minister’s authorisation. The president can appoint a prime minister, dissolve the National Assembly, authorise a referendum and become a “temporary dictator” in exceptional circumstances imperilling the nation. They can also appoint three judges to the Constitutional Council and refer any law to this body. While all important tasks, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, amount to running a country. The president can’t suggest laws, pass them through parliament and then implement them without the prime minister.

The role of a president is best defined as a “referee”. Presidential powers give the ability to oversee operations and act when the smooth running of institutions is impeded. So a president is able to step in if a grave situation arises or to unlock a standoff between the prime minister and parliament, such as by announcing a referendum on a disputed issue or by dismissing the National Assembly.

So, why does everyone see the president as the key figure? In a nutshell, it’s because the constitution has never been truly applied. There lies the devilish beauty of French politics. A country known since the 1789 revolution for its inability to foster strong majorities in parliament has succeeded, from 1962, in providing solid majorities.

Perhaps those who believe that what happened in Holland is also likely to happen in France are swayed by the notion that both are part of the EU. But they are very different countries and cultures, and different political systems. And Le Pen is no Wilders. She doesn’t say crazy things anymore, she’s cleansed the public image of her party by getting rid of her father, and she keeps any remaining extremists out of view.

There is still plenty suspicion in France about her, and about her party, but there are also a lot of people who agree with a lot of what she says. The perhaps most noteworthy statement she’s made recently is that she would step down if she loses the referendum about membership of the EU she intends to launch if elected president. That should keep Brussels on their toes. Marine means what she says. And a lot of French people may get to like her for that. In a political landscape in which the competition keeps shooting itself in the foot.

Another thing about Le Pen is that her political program contains quite a few bits and bolts that could be labeled leftist; a 35-hour work week, retirement at 60, lower energy prices. It’s just that she wants to reserve these things for the French. Foreigners, especially, Muslims, are not invited. And she is very much opposed to neo-liberalism and globalization:

They’ve made an ideology out of it. An economic globalism which rejects all limits, all regulation of globalization, and which consequently weakens the immune defences of the nation state, dispossessing it of its constituent elements: borders, national currency, the authority of its laws and management of the economy, thus enabling another globalism to be born and to grow: Islamist fundamentalism..

Le Pen’s popularity does not come from an overwhelming innate racism in France -though such a thing certainly exists-. It comes instead from the formidable failure that the country’s immigration policy has been for many decades. At the outskirts of major cities ghetto’s have been allowed to form in which those that come from former French colonies, especially in Africa, feel trapped with no way out. The French tend to feel superior to all other people, and the political system has let the situation slip completely out of hand.

Now France, and Europe is general, will have to deal with this mess. So far, the main European reaction is to turn Greece into a prison camp for a new wave of refugees and migrants. That can of course only make things worse. And it doesn’t solve any of the existing problems. Which makes the rise of Marine Le Pen inevitable.

And Wilders too; he’s the no. 2 party in Holland, because his party won 33% more seats than in 2012 to go from 15 to 20. That 33% gain, versus Rutte’s 20% loss, makes Wilders a loser in the eyes of many ‘relieved’ observers.

Winners are losers, and as is evident in Le Pen’s social policies for the French, in European coalition governments that contain Labor and right wing parties, and in the course of the Democratic party in the US, left is definitely the same as right.

Orwell always wins. Next problem: the actual left are not represented by anyone anymore.


MarcRiboud Sur les Quais de Paris 1953

 

The Dutch elections on Wednesday have provided a whole bunch of Orwellian narratives. PM Mark Rutte’s right wing VVD party, actually the ‘business’ -or should we say ‘rent-seekers’ in 2017- party, who lost some 20% of the seats they had obtained in the previous parliamentary election in November 2012, down from 41 to 33 seats, is declared the big winner. While Geert Wilders’ very right wing party, PVV, won 25% more seats -it went from 16 to 20- and is the big loser.

Moreover, Rutte’s coalition partner, labor PvdA, gave up 29 out of 38 seats to end up with just 9. That’s a loss of over 75%. Together, the coalition partners went from 79 seats in the 2012 election to 42 in 2017. That’s an almost 50% less. Not that it could prevent Rutte from proudly declaring: “We want to stick to the course we have – safe and stable and prosperous..” Makes you wonder who the ‘we’ are that he’s talking about.

That course he wants to stick to had a finance minister named Dijsselbloem, and his party just lost by over 75%. So he won’t be back. But perhaps the EU can pull another ‘Tusk’, and leave him in place in Brussels as chairman of the Eurogroup no matter what voters in his own country think of him. Still, declaring your intention to ‘stick to the course’ when your coalition has just been sawed in half, it’s quite something.

 

The only reasons Rutte’s VVD ended up being the biggest party all have to do with Wilders. The anxiety over the election all had to do with polls. Wilders is a one man party and a a one trick pony. If he would leave, his party would dissolve. And his sole ‘message’ is that Islam is bad and should vanish from first Holland and then Europe. He doesn’t really have any other political program points. Ok, there’s Brussels. Doesn’t like that either.

Perhaps that’s why he largely shunned the pre-election debates. Problem with that is, these things attract a lot of TV viewers, crucial free air-time. All in all, since he’s his own worst enemy in many respects, it’s not that much of a surprise that Wilders’ support collapsed, and that’s just if we were to take Dutch pollsters more serious than their counterparts in the US and UK.

Talking of which, according to Rutte, those are the countries where ‘the wrong kind of populism’ has won and delivered Trump and Brexit. And of course there are lots of people who agree with that. What either they, or Rutte himself, would label ‘the right kind of populism’ is unclear. Maybe Rutte himself is the right kind of populist?

 

The row with Turkey over the weekend must have helped Rutte quite a bit. Not only were his actions in the row met with approval by a large majority of the Dutch population, including just about all other party leaders, the Dutch also got to think about what WIlders would do in such a situation. And there can be no doubt that Rutte is seen as much more of a statesman than Wilders.

Not that the row is over. After Turkey announced yesterday it would return 40 Dutch cows (?!) , today Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said Europe’s politicians are “taking Europe toward an abyss”, and: “Soon religious wars will break out in Europe. That’s the way it’s going.” There can be no doubt that a shouting war like this with Wilders as one of the participants would take on a whole different shape, and a different choice of words.

What Rutte’s going to do next is form a new coalition, this time not with the left but with the center-right, and no-one will be able to tell the difference. If Dutch, and European, and global, politics have one main problem, it’s that. Left is right and right is left and winners are losers. If a guy like Dijsselbloem can squeeze Greek society dry in his capacity as Eurogroup head, while he runs as a leftist candidate in his own country, and loses hugely, anything goes.

 

All those who think they can see in the Dutch experience, a sign that Marine Le Pen’s chances in France’s presidential elections in April and May have dropped a lot, would appear to be delusional. Judging from reactions in the financial markets, many seem to be. But Le Pen is much less of a fringe figure than Wilders is, and she certainly wouldn’t shun a debate. It’s true that her Front National is a one-woman operation, bit she has a much clearer political program than Wilders does.

And she doesn’t have an opponent like Rutte, who’s become a formidable presence domestically, as anyone would be who can be PM for many years and not be put out by the curb. The man who should be Le Pen’s main adversary is not; Hollande is out by that curb and doesn’t even dare run again. His Socialist party has become a joke. The next strongest opponent should be François Fillon, but he’s all but gone now he’s been placed under formal investigation.

That leaves only Emmanual Macron, an independent without a party and without a program. In France, you can be elected president in such a situation, but your hand are tied in all sorts of ways, because you need parliament to vote for things.

..the nuances of the French political system put Macron in a spot of bother. The president derives their power from the support of a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. Macron was a minister for the Socialist Party government but quit in 2016 to form his own political movement. Now he doesn’t even have a party, let alone a majority. Although the constitution of the French Fifth Republic, created by Charles De Gaulle in 1958, extended presidential powers, it did not enable the president to run the country.

There are only a few presidential powers that do not need the prime minister’s authorisation. The president can appoint a prime minister, dissolve the National Assembly, authorise a referendum and become a “temporary dictator” in exceptional circumstances imperilling the nation. They can also appoint three judges to the Constitutional Council and refer any law to this body. While all important tasks, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, amount to running a country. The president can’t suggest laws, pass them through parliament and then implement them without the prime minister.

The role of a president is best defined as a “referee”. Presidential powers give the ability to oversee operations and act when the smooth running of institutions is impeded. So a president is able to step in if a grave situation arises or to unlock a standoff between the prime minister and parliament, such as by announcing a referendum on a disputed issue or by dismissing the National Assembly.

So, why does everyone see the president as the key figure? In a nutshell, it’s because the constitution has never been truly applied. There lies the devilish beauty of French politics. A country known since the 1789 revolution for its inability to foster strong majorities in parliament has succeeded, from 1962, in providing solid majorities.

Perhaps those who believe that what happened in Holland is also likely to happen in France are swayed by the notion that both are part of the EU. But they are very different countries and cultures, and different political systems. And Le Pen is no Wilders. She doesn’t say crazy things anymore, she’s cleansed the public image of her party by getting rid of her father, and she keeps any remaining extremists out of view.

There is still plenty suspicion in France about her, and about her party, but there are also a lot of people who agree with a lot of what she says. The perhaps most noteworthy statement she’s made recently is that she would step down if she loses the referendum about membership of the EU she intends to launch if elected president. That should keep Brussels on their toes. Marine means what she says. And a lot of French people may get to like her for that. In a political landscape in which the competition keeps shooting itself in the foot.

Another thing about Le Pen is that her political program contains quite a few bits and bolts that could be labeled leftist; a 35-hour work week, retirement at 60, lower energy prices. It’s just that she wants to reserve these things for the French. Foreigners, especially, Muslims, are not invited. And she is very much opposed to neo-liberalism and globalization:

They’ve made an ideology out of it. An economic globalism which rejects all limits, all regulation of globalization, and which consequently weakens the immune defences of the nation state, dispossessing it of its constituent elements: borders, national currency, the authority of its laws and management of the economy, thus enabling another globalism to be born and to grow: Islamist fundamentalism..

Le Pen’s popularity does not come from an overwhelming innate racism in France -though such a thing certainly exists-. It comes instead from the formidable failure that the country’s immigration policy has been for many decades. At the outskirts of major cities ghetto’s have been allowed to form in which those that come from former French colonies, especially in Africa, feel trapped with no way out. The French tend to feel superior to all other people, and the political system has let the situation slip completely out of hand.

Now France, and Europe is general, will have to deal with this mess. So far, the main European reaction is to turn Greece into a prison camp for a new wave of refugees and migrants. That can of course only make things worse. And it doesn’t solve any of the existing problems. Which makes the rise of Marine Le Pen inevitable.

And Wilders too; he’s the no. 2 party in Holland, because his party won 33% more seats than in 2012 to go from 15 to 20. That 33% gain, versus Rutte’s 20% loss, makes Wilders a loser in the eyes of many ‘relieved’ observers.

Winners are losers, and as is evident in Le Pen’s social policies for the French, in European coalition governments that contain Labor and right wing parties, and in the course of the Democratic party in the US, left is definitely the same as right.

Orwell always wins. Next problem: the actual left are not represented by anyone anymore.

 

 

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

 


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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

The military-industrial complex.

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

Fed Rate Hikes + Low Growth = Recession (MW)

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Written just before Yellen’s hike.

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

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

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

Read more …

June 1 drop-off.

Beware the Debt Ceiling (BBG)

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

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Rutte lost big and is the winner.

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

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

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

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

Northern Ireland Vote Jolts Already Disunited Kingdom (R.)

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

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

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No visa-free travel either.

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

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

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

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Where it hurts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

 

Boomerang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source: Legatum Institute

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

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

Fragmentation Is the Solution, Not the Problem (CHS)

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

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

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

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

Economists Are Political Actors – Sapir (AHT)

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

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

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

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

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The mother of all asset bubbles.

One Chart That Captures the Debate Over Quantitative Easing

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

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

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Yawn…

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

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

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

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

Britain Is Politically Dead From The Neck Down (Monbiot)

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

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

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

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

Turkish Paradoxes (K.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unbelievable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boy, the sadness…

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

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

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

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