Jul 302018
 
 July 30, 2018  Posted by at 9:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Meditative rose 1958

 

Julian Assange’s Fate Is Being Decided At The Moment (ZH)
The Dollar Will Continue To Surge, Crush Emerging Markets Stocks (F.)
China’s Yuan Hits 13-Month Low On Weaker Fixing And Depreciation Bets (R.)
The Chinese Economy Is Held Together By Capital Controls (Peters)
Beijing To Shut 1,000 Manufacturing Firms By 2020 (R.)
Hedge Fund Manager Steve Eisman Bets Against Tesla (MW)
This Is What A No-Deal Brexit Actually Looks Like (Dunt)
As US Pushes For Mideast Peace, Saudi King Reassures Allies (R.)
Support For Macron & Merkel’s Coalitions Plunges To Record New Lows (RT)
IMF Reiterates Call For Greece To Meet Pledges (K.)
Number Of Migrants Prevented By Turkey To Reach Europe Increases 60% (An.)
Worms Frozen In Permafrost For Up To 42,000 Years Come Back To Life (ST)
Greece Fire Death Toll At 91, 25 Remain Missing (K.)

 

 

Ecuador refusing to meet Assange’s lawyers is not a good sign.

Julian Assange’s Fate Is Being Decided At The Moment (ZH)

Ecuador is holding high level discussions with Britain over the fate of Julian Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 after being granted political asylum, according to comments made by President Lenin Moreno to Spain’s El Pais daily newspaper. “The issue of Mr. Assange is being treated with the British government and I understand that we have already established contact with Mr. Assange’s lawyers so we can find a way out.” Not true, says Assange’s Attorney Carlos Poveda in a Sunday LaJournada article retweeted by the official WikiLeaks Twitter account. “The defense of Julian Assange is concerned about the contradictions of the government of Ecuador, which claims to be seeking a solution to the asylum of the founder of Wikileaks through dialogue, with all parties, but refuses to meet with their lawyers, said Carlos Poveda, one of the activist’s lawyers.” -LaJournada (translated)

“We have followed very closely the statements of President Lenin Moreno both in the United Kingdom and Spain,” said Poveda. “And I must warn that even the legal team that presides (the former judge of the Spanish Supreme Court) Baltasar Garzón requested a hearing to meet in London or Madrid, but they told him that Moreno’s schedule was full during the whole tour.” In other words – Moreno is talking out of both sides of his mouth while feigning a new found concern for Assange’s fate (after referring to the WikiLeaks founder as a “hacker”, “an inherited problem” and a “stone in the shoe”). “We know how (Moreno) addresses the issue , said Poveda, who said that the president’s statements leave us confused. In relation to the recent declarations of the Ecuadorian agent chief executive, of which his government is in “permanent” communication with London and with the legal team of Assange, Poveda maintained that that does not happen.” -LaJournada (translated)

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It’s much worse for Brazil and Turkey than it is for China.

The Dollar Will Continue To Surge, Crush Emerging Markets Stocks (F.)

A robust greenback is excellent for the U.S. economy because it attracts capital into the economy. More capital will result in yet more growth. But at the same time, the strong dollar is a nightmare for emerging markets because investors take their capital away and send it to the U.S. Emerging markets include lesser developed economies such as China, Russia, Brazil, and India. The result of this change in the value of the dollar has been falling values for stocks in emerging markets. The Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO), which tracks a basket of emerging markets stocks, has lost more than 6% this year while the S&P 500 gained more than 5%, according to data from Yahoo Finance. The figures do not include dividends.

Unfortunately, for those invested in emerging markets the rally of the greenback is probably not over yet. Friday morning we learned that U.S. growth in the second quarter hit 4.1%, according to the government’s first estimate. Meanwhile, growth in the single currency area of Europe, the so-called eurozone, has limped along at less than 1% for the last decade. The latest reading was a paltry 0.4%, according to data from Tradingeconomics.com that you can see here. Japan’s economy, the third largest in the world, is contracting, according to the latest reading. That differential in growth, between the U.S. and other developed economies, should be enough to keep cash flowing into the U.S. and away from other economies.

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Mixed blessings. A weaker yuan has benefits, too.

China’s Yuan Hits 13-Month Low On Weaker Fixing And Depreciation Bets (R.)

China’s yuan fell to a fresh 13-month low against the dollar on Monday, weighed by a much weaker central bank fixing and expectations the Chinese currency has further to fall as U.S. trade tensions worsen. In addition to developments in the global trade environment, investors are focusing on the amount of liquidity policy makers have injected into the financial system. “Together with announcements by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) that will ease credit conditions, and a more gradual shift in the monetary stance over the last two months, this represents a significant change towards more accommodative policy,” analysts at Moody’s said in a note.

Prior to market opening, the PBOC lowered the midpoint rate to 6.8131 per dollar, largely matching market forecasts, 189 pips or 0.28 percent weaker than the previous fix of 6.7942 last Friday. In the spot market, the onshore yuan opened at 6.8159 per dollar and eased to a low of 6.8401 before changing hands at 6.8353 at midday, 213 pips weaker than the previous late session close and 0.33 percent softer than the midpoint. The onshore spot yuan hit its lowest intraday level since June 27, 2017. The offshore yuan was trading 0.10 percent weaker than its onshore counterpart at 6.8422 per dollar as of midday.

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“The Chinese are dying to get their money out.”

The Chinese Economy Is Held Together By Capital Controls (Peters)

“Russia at its very worst is a moderate threat to the US,” said the investor. “They have modest regional ambitions. They’re mischievous. But plenty of countries don’t do what we want.” If they wanted to nuke us, they would’ve during the Cold War. “China is the real strategic threat. They’ve coopted much of the US political and financial system,” he said. “Wall Street makes a ton of money from China.” No one that matters makes money from Russia. “It’s so telling that everyone is in hysterics over Russia. It’s a distraction that makes you wonder if the Chinese aren’t enabling or pushing the narrative.”

“The best way to bring Beijing to its knees is by running a tight monetary policy in the US,” continued the same investor. “China has the world’s most overleveraged, fragile financial system.” In 2008, China’s total debt-to-GDP was 140%. It is now roughly 300%, while GDP is slowing. “The economy is held together by capital controls. If those fail, the whole system fails.” The capital flight in 2015/16 cost the government $1trln in reserves, and that was with ultra-dove Yellen in charge. Imagine what would have happened with Volcker at the helm. “The Chinese are dying to get their money out.”

“Engineering a decade of rolling Chinese financial crises would be the most effective foreign policy the US could run,” continued the same investor. Forget about the South China Sea, don’t bother with more aircraft carriers, just let Beijing try to cope with their financial system. “And we’re 80% of the way there – we instigated a trade war, implemented a massive fiscal stimulus, which created the room to raise interest rates,” he said. “The combined policy mix makes capital want to leave at the same time it makes the dollar more attractive and effectively shuts down new investment inflows to China.”

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That’s just the city itself.

Beijing To Shut 1,000 Manufacturing Firms By 2020 (R.)

China’s capital Beijing will shut around 1,000 manufacturing firms by 2020 as part of a program aimed at curbing smog and boosting income in neighboring regions, state media said on Monday. Beijing will focus on dynamic, high-tech industries and withdraw from “ordinary” manufacturing, the Communist Party paper People’s Daily reported, citing a recent policy document published by the Beijing municipal government. The city has already rejected registration applications from 19,500 firms, and shut down or relocated 2,465 “ordinary” manufacturers, the paper said.

China launched a plan to improve coordination in the smog-prone Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region in 2014 amid concerns that competition between the three jurisdictions was wasting resources and creating overcapacity and pollution. It plans to strip Beijing of manufacturing and heavy industry, as well as relocating universities and some government departments into Hebei’s new economic zone of Xiongan. The government also wants to create an integrated transport network and unify standards in areas such as welfare and education to make Hebei, known for its heavy industry, more attractive for investors. An official with Hebei province earlier this year said the plan has helped drive average incomes in Hebei up 41 percent since 2013, although they are still only half the level in Beijing.

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‘..being smart’s not enough you gotta execute and he’s got execution problems.’

Hedge Fund Manager Steve Eisman Bets Against Tesla (MW)

‘Look, Elon Musk is a very, very smart man but there are a lot of smart people in this world, and being smart’s not enough you gotta execute and he’s got execution problems.’ That is the view of Steve Eisman, the hedge-fund manager and investor who garnered prominence on Wall Street for his bets against dicey mortgage products engineered by some of the world’s biggest banks. Now Eisman is betting against Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. because, as he put it during a Friday interview on Bloomberg TV, he doesn’t see value in the company and doesn’t believe Tesla is doing enough in autonomous driving. “I don’t see the value in Tesla,” Eisman said. “We’re short Tesla,” meaning he is betting that the price of the company’s shares will fall over time.

Eisman said Tesla’s quarterly results could be pivotal for the electric-car manufacturer whose polarizing founder has been ensnared in a series of controversies in recent weeks and has been described by critics as a distraction for Tesla. [..] For his part, Eisman finds more appeal in betting on General Motors, which he says would benefit if autonomous driving takes off and has emerged as a well-run institution after the 2007-09 financial crisis. “The one stock in my portfolio which I say hasn’t worked yet but has the potential for a big home run is General Motors.” Eisman garnered fame after his story of subprime mortgage glory was told in Michael Lewis’s “The Big Short,” where he wagered correctly that arcane mortgage securities would eventually rock the financial system to its very core.

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Sometimes one thinks they do it on purpose.

This Is What A No-Deal Brexit Actually Looks Like (Dunt)

March 30th 2019 becomes Year Zero. Overnight, British meat products cannot be imported into the EU. To bring these types of goods in, they have to come from a country with an approved national body whose facilities have been certified by the EU. But there has been no deal, so there’s no approval. This sounds insane. After all, British food was OK to enter Europe with minimal checks on March 29th, so why not on March 30? Nothing has changed. The reason is that food is potentially very dangerous, so we have strict systems in place for it. Imagine that right now someone is eating a burger made from the meat of a cow with a neurodegenerative disease, like BSE. This is what happened in Britain in the late-80s and led to the deaths of 177 people.

Tomorrow’s tabloid front pages will ask certain very important questions. Where did the meat come from? Was it produced domestically or imported? Who was responsible for its production, transport and storage? The people responsible will be hauled in front of cameras and Commons select committees. Ministers will have to give statements to parliament. The press will demand that heads roll. The BSE outbreak almost brought down the government. That’s how severe these threats are. And there are plenty more around, including foot and mouth, avian flu, and African swine fever, plus those that do not exist yet. This is why the certification system for food coming into Europe is so stringent and detailed.

After Brexit, we will fall out of the eco-system of EU rules, agencies and courts and become an external country. That means certification requirements will apply to us too. Certificates are approval stamps, designed per product and country, documenting the fact that it meets the various standards for human health and animal welfare. Say a container full of pork loins is sent from Leeds to Amsterdam after Brexit day. It will need to be signed off by a vet to say that the meat was slaughtered, stored, quality assured, sealed and despatched in a certain manner, with appropriate documentation proving compliance. This will be a cold splash of water to the face for Britain.

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A preposterous headline of course. But interesting that the king whistles MBS back.

As US Pushes For Mideast Peace, Saudi King Reassures Allies (R.)

Saudi Arabia has reassured Arab allies it will not endorse any Middle East peace plan that fails to address Jerusalem’s status or refugees’ right of return, easing their concerns that the kingdom might back a nascent U.S. deal which aligns with Israel on key issues. King Salman’s private guarantees to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his public defense of long-standing Arab positions in recent months have helped reverse perceptions that Saudi Arabia’s stance was changing under his powerful young son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, diplomats and analysts said. This in turn has called into question whether Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, can rally Arab support for a new push to end the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, with an eye to closing ranks against mutual enemy Iran.

“In Saudi Arabia, the king is the one who decides on this issue now, not the crown prince,” said a senior Arab diplomat in Riyadh. “The U.S. mistake was they thought one country could pressure the rest to give in, but it’s not about pressure. No Arab leader can concede on Jerusalem or Palestine.” Palestinian officials told Reuters in December that Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, had pressed Abbas to support the U.S. plan despite concerns it offered the Palestinians limited self-government inside disconnected patches of the occupied West Bank, with no right of return for refugees displaced by the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. Such a plan would diverge from the Arab Peace Initiative drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002 in which Arab nations offered Israel normal ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.

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Shaky grounds.

Support For Macron & Merkel’s Coalitions Plunges To Record New Lows (RT)

The people’s dissatisfaction with the leading EU governments appears to be rising, as fresh polls show a record decline in the ratings of French President Emmanuel Macron and of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalitions. Support for Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), has gone down to its lowest level since 2006, an Emnid poll, published by Bild am Sonntag, has revealed. The CDU/CSU are currently polling at 29 percent, their lowest result in 12 years. Merkel’s party came out tops in the country’s federal election in September 2017 with 33 percent of the vote. Such a situation is worrying for CSU, which seems to be at risk of losing its absolute majority in Germanys’ largest state of Bavaria after the regional election in October.

The survey provided no explanation for the results, but Merkel’s coalition nearly fell apart in June over a rift caused by the migrant crisis. [..] Meanwhile, in France, Macron also “has beaten his own anti-record,” the Journal du Dimanche wrote, commenting on the results of the survey, carried out for the outlet by Ifop. Support for the French President has fallen from 41 to 37 percent in the period between July 18 and 27, the research revealed. It’s the worst ratings the 40-year-old has had since he became French president in May 2017, claiming 66.1% percent of the vote in a run-off against Marine Le Pen. Macron’s previous worst result was recoded in August 2016, when he was backed by 40 percent of the French population.

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This devolves into Beckett and Ionesco. Meaningless.

IMF Reiterates Call For Greece To Meet Pledges (K.)

The IMF is due to publish its Article IV Report on the course of the Greek economy on Tuesday. This will include the much anticipated Debt Sustainability Analysis, which was carefully examined at a meeting last Friday, with the board confirming the medium-term sustainability of the Greek debt as well as the need for the government to remain committed to reforms. The IMF’s executive board spent about an hour pouring over the contents of the report and the reform course that Greece needs to pursue in the post-program period. Fund sources told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Friday that the Article IV Report’s timing is important – even if it is a routine process – as it comes a few days before the completion of the European Stability Mechanism’s program next month.

ANA-MPA added that the board acknowledged the achievement of significant results by Greece, but also stressed there should be no complacency and that it is necessary for the country to implement its pledges so that the sacrifices already made do not go to waste. Another issue addressed at the meeting was that of bad loans in Greece, with several IMF board members expressing doubts over the high targets set for the reduction of nonperforming exposures.

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But arrivals are also up vs last year.

Number Of Migrants Prevented By Turkey To Reach Europe Increases 60% (An.)

The number of migrants held trying to reach Europe from Turkey using illegal routes has increased by 60 percent this year, according to data from the Coast Guard Command. A total of 14,470 migrants were held in the first seven months of this year, especially in the Aegean Sea, as well as in Turkey’s southern Mediterranean Sea and the northern Black Sea, the data revealed. This figure was 9,152 during the same period in 2017. According to the data, most migrants prefer to use the illegal routes in Aegean Sea to cross into Europe as a number of Greek islands are located close to Turkish coasts. A total of 13,336 irregular migrants used the Aegean Sea to cross into Greece this year, the data revealed.

Among the irregular migrants intercepted by Turkey so far this year, 1,640 were held in January, 1,363 in February, 1,849 in March, 2,534 in April, 3,398 in May, 1,925 in June, and 1761 in first 29 days of July. Coast Guard data shows 54 irregular migrants lost their lives this year while the figure was 20 during the same period in 2017. In March 2016, the EU and Turkey reached an agreement to stop irregular migration through the Aegean Sea, and improve the conditions of more than 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Turkey hosts some 3.5 million Syrians – more than any other country in the world.

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Hope?!

Worms Frozen In Permafrost For Up To 42,000 Years Come Back To Life (ST)

Nematodes moving and eating again for the first time since the Pleistocene age in major scientific breakthrough, say experts. The roundworms from two areas of Siberia came back to life in Petri dishes, says a new scientific study. ‘We have obtained the first data demonstrating the capability of multicellular organisms for longterm cryobiosis in permafrost deposits of the Arctic,’ states a report from Russian scientists from four institutions in collaboration with Princetown University. Some 300 prehistoric worms were analysed – and two ‘were shown to contain viable nematodes’. ‘After being defrosted, the nematodes showed signs of life,’ said a report today from Yakutia, the area where the worms were found.

‘They started moving and eating.’ One worm came from an ancient squirrel burrow in a permafrost wall of the Duvanny Yar outcrop in the lower reaches of the Kolyma River – close to the site of Pleistocene Park which is seeking to recreate the Arctic habitat of the extinct woolly mammoth, according to the scientific article published in Doklady Biological Sciences this week. This is around 32,000 years old. Another was found in permafrost near Alazeya River in 2015, and is around 41,700 years old. Currently the nematodes are the oldest living animals on the planet. They are both believed to be female.

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It has taken PM Tsipras a full week to visit the area today, only some 25km from his office.

Greece Fire Death Toll At 91, 25 Remain Missing (K.)

Fire officials in Greece have raised the death toll from a wildfire that raged through a coastal area east of Athens to 91 and reported that 25 people are missing six days after blaze. Before the national fire service updated the official number of fatalities Sunday night, it had stood at 86. Greek officials previously had not provided a tally of the people reported missing. The fire sped flames through the village without warning on July 23. A database maintained by the Center for the Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Brussels shows it as the deadliest wildfire in Europe since 1900. The vast majority of victims died in the fire itself, though a number drowned in the sea while fleeing the flames. Dozens of volunteer divers, some of them retired Navy Seals, kept searching the sea on Sunday looking for the bodies of more possible victims.

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Jul 292018
 
 July 29, 2018  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The old guitarist 1903-4

 

What the GDP Report Won’t Tell You About the Economy (DDMB)
Julian Assange Looks For Deal To End ‘Diplomatic Isolation’ (CNN)
In Refusing To Defend Assange, Mainstream Media Exposes Its True Nature (CJ)
Round the Bend (Jim Kunstler)
David Cameron’s Welfare Cuts Led Directly To The Brexit Vote (Ind.)
An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders: ‘No Bernie, It Wasn’t the Russians’ (MPN)
Putin Calls Christianity Foundation Of Russian State (AP)
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Star)
Nature’s Darkness-Creature Has Become Ours, Too (G.)
Migrant Arrivals Push Shelters To Breaking Point In Southern Spain (El Pais)
Number Of Fatalities In Greek Wildfires Rises To 88 (K.)

 

 

GDP may look strong, but sentiments are crumbling.

What the GDP Report Won’t Tell You About the Economy (DDMB)

Something is amiss in Corporate America. Both national and regional surveys reveal a sinking sense that the economy’s tailwinds are shifting to headwinds. The downtrodden confidence is a curiosity given many economists’ forecasts calling for second-quarter growth to have accelerated to a 4.2 percent annualized rate, the fastest since 2014. Soft though the survey data may be, the numbers don’t lie. If something doesn’t give – and fast – what follows is sure to be damaging to the real economy. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey for July revealed that the business outlook had slumped to the lowest level in over two years.

Odds are pretty good this number was dragged down by those with the highest incomes, many of whom are likely also business owners and corporate executives who’ve been on the front line of the rising costs to run their businesses. But there may be more than meets the eye among those whose incomes rank in the top third of households. While the majority of these respondents expressed concern over the tariffs, what they’re reading, hearing and seeing may be dampening their outlooks even further. As things stand, it’s as if January never happened, a month in which confidence was so high, the “news heard” among high income earners hit a 20-year high. By the beginning of July, “news heard” had slid to minus 18, the lowest in two years.

The six-month, 79-point swing is so severe it rivals August 2011, when the euro crisis shook world markets, Standard & Poor’s stripped the U.S. of its AAA credit rating and households were rattled by the debt ceiling debacle. [..] Consider the starting point for many companies. Last year’s weak dollar and natural disasters had many struggling to satisfy overseas demands and the massive needs required to rebuild. Labor and raw material costs were already on the rise to correct for the imbalances. The tariffs were the insult to injury many manufacturers could simply not afford.

“The actual economic impact will really come down to time,” cautioned Boockvar. “The longer this goes on, the more actual business activity will be negatively affected.” To Boockvar’s point, the collapse in business sentiment suggests many companies don’t foresee the ability to withstand further blows to their ability to profitably conduct business. Businesses are saying as much.

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Unbelievable garbage from CNN. That they pay attention to Assange now may be a ominous sign. They straight-faced claim that Assange fled rape allegations in Sweden. He did not. Sweden told him he was free to go to London. Only to turn around and issue a warrant for him.

Julian Assange Looks For Deal To End ‘Diplomatic Isolation’ (CNN)

Julian Assange walked into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on June 19, 2012 to claim political asylum. He has been there ever since – a total of 2,230 days – rarely seeing daylight. But multiple sources say his situation is now untenable and he may soon leave, whether he wants to or not. The question is: what will happen to Assange as and when he does walk out of his bolt-hole around the corner from Harrods? The recent indictments issued by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller imply that Assange and WikiLeaks were a conduit for Russian intelligence in distributing hacked Democratic Party emails in 2016. According to the indictment document, “The conspirators (…) discussed the release of the stolen documents and the timing of those releases with Organisation 1 to heighten their impact.”

Assange has always maintained that he did not receive them from the Russian government. He told Fox News in January 2017: “Our source is not the Russian government, and it is not a state party.” A member of Assange’s legal team, Jennifer Robinson, told CNN this week: “WikiLeaks has made very clear they were not engaged in any way with the Russian state with respect to that publication. There is no connection between WikiLeaks and any of those who have been indicted.” His lawyers argue that all Assange did was publish the hacked emails, as did other media, after being in contact with a hacker called Guccifer 2.0. The Special Counsel alleges that Guccifer 2.0 was a cover for Russian intelligence, saying in the indictment that on July 14th [2016], Guccifer 2.0 sent WikiLeaks an encrypted attachment that contained “instructions on how to access an online archive of stolen DNC documents.”

Whether a sealed indictment awaits Assange in relation to the Russian hacking investigation is unknown. But according to US officials, charges have been drawn up relating to previous WikiLeaks disclosures of classified US documents. Assange would face arrest if/when he leaves the embassy because he skipped bail in 2012 – when Swedish authorities were seeking his extradition to face accusations of rape. Last year Sweden suspended the investigation, but Assange’s lawyers fear his arrest would be swiftly followed by a US extradition request. Assange maintains his innocence.

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This feels like too little too late. We know all this, we have for a long time. And it’s worse: as I wrote in May in I am Julian Assange, the Guardian engaged in an active smear campaign against Assange then. So does CNN -see above. That’s much more relevant than that they don’t defend him.

In Refusing To Defend Assange, Mainstream Media Exposes Its True Nature (CJ)

Last Tuesday a top lawyer for the New York Times named David McCraw warned a room full of judges that the prosecution of Julian Assange for WikiLeaks publications would set a very dangerous precedent which would end up hurting mainstream news media outlets like NYT, the Washington Post, and other outlets which publish secret government documents. “I think the prosecution of him would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers,” McCraw said. “From that incident, from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.” Do you know where I read about this? Not in the New York Times.

“Curiously, as of this writing, McCraw’s words have found no mention in the Times itself,” activist Ray McGovern wrote for the alternative media outlet Consortium News. “In recent years, the newspaper has shown a marked proclivity to avoid printing anything that might risk its front row seat at the government trough.” So let’s unpack that a bit. It is now public knowledge that the Ecuadorian government is actively seeking to turn Assange over to be arrested by the British government. This was initially reported by RT, then independently confirmed by The Intercept, and is today full mainstream public knowledge being reported by mainstream outlets like CNN.

It is also public knowledge that Assange’s asylum was granted by the Ecuadorian government due to a feared attempt to extradite him to the United States and prosecute him for WikiLeaks publications. Everyone from President Donald Trump to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ranking House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff to Democratic members of the US Senate have made public statements clearly indicating that there is a US government interest in getting Assange out of the shelter of political asylum and into prison.

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The state of the media is something to behold. Can it slide even further? You bet.

Round the Bend (Jim Kunstler)

Some people you just can’t reason with, especially the hell-spawned man-beast who personally directed Russian “meddling” and “interference” in our election and stole certain victory from president-designee Hillary. (I know this because The New York Times and The Washington Post said so.) Another astonishment: in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would not recognize Crimea as part of Russia and would demand the return of the region to Ukraine. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mr. Pompeo is pissing up a rope on that one. Russia will not give up its warm-water naval bases on the Black Sea anymore than the US will return its San Diego naval installation to Mexico, and Mr. Pompeo knows it.

So do the posturing idiots on the senate committee, who apparently forgot that our own government officials fomented the 2014 Ukrainian coup that prompted Russia to annex Crimea and its military assets in the first place. How many of you feel a gnawing disgust and contempt for both sides of the US political spectrum? The news, day and night, reveals a nation unable to think, unable to discern reality from fantasy, avid to dissemble and lie about absolutely everything, eager to support any racketeering operation designed to fleece its own citizens, and utterly ignoring the genuine problems that can drive us into a new dark age.

On balance, and just for now, I’m more disturbed by the side represented by the Democratic Party, aka the “progressives” or “the Resistance,” because they are responsible for politicizing the FBI before, during, and after the 2016 election and that was a dastardly act of institutional debauchery in an agency with the power to destroy the lives and careers of American citizens. The product of that corruption is a dangerous manufactured hysteria inciting hostility and aggression against another nation that could lead to a war that humanity will not recover from.

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Austerity leads to right wing support everywhere.

David Cameron’s Welfare Cuts Led Directly To The Brexit Vote (Ind.)

As the Brexit negotiations roll on, we do see some signs of progress. Our understanding of the underlying causes of the referendum outcome has developed significantly in the last two years. Leave-supporting areas can be easily distinguished from those supporting Remain. Broadly speaking, they are more deprived, have lower levels of income, fewer high status-jobs, a weaker economic structure, and an ageing demographic with lower levels of educational attainment. Further, non-economic factors have also been highlighted as important correlates of support for Brexit . But an open question to economists, though, is what are the economic origins of the relationships between these characteristics and support for Leave?

An important cross-cutting observation that has been made over and over again is that Leave-supporting areas stand out in having an electorate that has been “left behind”, is particularly reliant on the welfare state and is thus exposed to welfare cuts. In a recent paper, I show that austerity-induced reforms, including widespread cuts to the welfare state since 2010, were an important factor behind the decision of many people to shift their political support to UKIP and, subsequently, support Leave in the EU referendum.

The austerity-induced reforms of the welfare state, implemented in the years after 2010, were broad and deep. In 2013, it was estimated that the measures included in the Welfare Reform Act of 2012 would cost every working-age Briton, on average, around £400 per year. Crucially, the impact of the cuts was far from uniform across the UK: it varied from around £900 in Blackpool to just above £100 in the City of London. Aggregate figures suggest that overall government spending for welfare and protection contracted by 16 per cent in real per capita terms, reaching levels last seen in the early 2000s.

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What is Bernie thinking?

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders: ‘No Bernie, It Wasn’t the Russians’ (MPN)

Let me preface this open letter of sorts that I’m writing to Senator Bernie Sanders. I’m not penning this missive as though I’m a crestfallen supporter, after falling for the okie doke in 2008 and waking up to the deception of Obama, I decided to stop putting my faith in politicians. Rather, I write this article on behalf of Bernie’s legions of supporters and the millions of Americans who put their faith in someone who spoke against the iniquities that are ravaging our nation and our planet as a whole. Bernie, it was your decision to speak against this consolidated graft that is cratering society that captured the imagination of the disaffected and gave people hope that their voices could be heard above the cash extortion that dominates our government.

Instead of continuing your rebellion against the establishment and speaking against the corrosive nature of our politics, you are charting a course towards irrelevance by jumping on this cockamamie #Russiagate narrative. Here is what I don’t get about your decision to glom on to this most ridiculous assertion that 12 Russians had more impact on our elections than the billions of dollars that are spent by corporations and plutocrats to bend elected officials like pretzels. The insinuation the punditry is making is that Americans were duped to vote against their own self-interests because they refused to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Never mind that Hillary was one of the most divisive and disliked politician to run for president in modern American history. Never mind that the DNC essentially rigged the primaries to ensure her victory at your expense. Instead of focusing on the structural and systematic flaws that render our votes irrelevant, fingers are pointed at a manufactured villain halfway around the world in order to distract from the fact that our elections have been hijacked by moneyed interests and entrenched leeches who are sucking the citizenry dry. Whatever efforts Russia might have made to influence our elections were outweighed by a kleptocracy that hacked down our democracy with dark money and self-centered politicians who put their interests above that of the people they purportedly serve.

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This one’s for you, bible belt.

Putin Calls Christianity Foundation Of Russian State (AP)

Vladimir Putin says that the adoption of Christianity more than 1,000 years in territory that later became Russia marked the starting point for forming Russia itself. Putin’s comments came Saturday in a ceremony marking the 1,030th anniversary of the adoption by Christianity by Prince Vladimir, the leader of Kievan Rus, a loose federation of Slavic tribes that preceded the Russian state. Speaking to a crowd of thousands of clergy and believers at a huge statue of the prince outside the Kremlin, Putin said adopting Christianity was “the starting point for the formation and development of Russian statehood, the true spiritual birth of our ancestors, the determination of their identity. Identity, the flowering of national culture and education.” The comments underline strong ties between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Read more …

Book review. Hope the book itself is better. What social media do to people’s brains and social lives is far more relevant.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Star)

If you’re online these days, you likely sense that something’s wrong with the internet. You probably feel weird about how many times a day you check Facebook or Instagram, and likely a little uneasy about how annoyed or envious you feel when you do. Maybe the hostility online depresses you. Maybe you worry about the next generation, and how anxious they all seem. Maybe you’ve even considered deleting your accounts. This is exactly what Jaron Lanier, a leader in the tech world, says you should do. Right away. Lanier — a pioneer in the world of internet startups, and virtual reality in particular — has long been a critic of the Silicon Valley status quo. In this slim, highly-readable manifesto, he lays out his case against social media. And it is a devastating one.

In 10 simple arguments, the tech insider paints a picture of a wide-scale behaviour modification apparatus driven by social attention — both the carrot of approval and the stick of criticism, which generates the most intensity or “engagement.” “There is no evil genius seated in a cubicle in a social media company performing calculations and deciding that making people feel bad is more ‘engaging’ and therefore more profitable than making them feel good,” he writes. “Or at least, I’ve never met or heard of such a person. The prime directive to be engaging reinforces itself, and no one even notices that negative emotions are being amplified more than positive ones.”

According to Lanier, the social media apparatus has made people into lab rats, placing them under constant surveillance. He believes the process is making people angrier, more isolated, less empathetic, less informed about the world, and less able to support themselves financially. Add to all that: Lanier says this highly tuned behaviour modification system is for rent to anyone looking to influence the public. The constant stream of data, and the algorithms that tweak subsequent efforts to sway people, aren’t just used to sell soap, he notes, but to influence politics.

Read more …

Wonderful tale. But given the demise of insect numbers, bats must be under severe threat.

Nature’s Darkness-Creature Has Become Ours, Too (G.)

Here’s a flicker in the periphery. I notice it because of the way it moves; it’s a sort of fast fidget – staccato and angular in movement and path, like a movie projected at the wrong frame rate. It doesn’t swoop like a swallow, or bumble like a moth. The bat moves like a bat, and like nothing else. I’m sitting near my home under some trees, watching the coming night deepen the navy sky. The day has been airlessly hot, and with nightfall relief creeps into the air like a balm. Animals are out – I can hear twitches in the bushes behind me. Young frogs; hedgehogs maybe. Looking for water. Then I notice this bat. Seconds after I see it, I feel it pass so close that it makes my hair move, with it a split-second rustle of papery wings. I shiver.

Bats are just flying mice, people say, except they’re not, at all. Worldwide there are two main groups: Megachiroptera, big-eyed, placid-faced, small-eared – almost anthropomorphic, a man-bat; and Microchiroptera, the opposite. Nature’s darkness-creature has over time become ours, too. Their thorny outline is so conversant with the sinister that we nearly forget why. Light never catches them. They are opaque, darkly anonymous silhouettes into which humans project all manner of eerie ideas. Unwittingly, bats reinforce these with their habits. They haunt churches. Fly by night. Sleep subversively inverted. And the one far-flung species that feeds on blood bears the name “vampire” all too neatly.

This solitary bat flies about me in rapid loops. This one is maybe a noctule, or a pipistrelle. Catching insects perhaps. I worry that it will hit me but it won’t. It sees by echoing its sounds off nearby objects like aerial sonar, and it’s an excellent way to navigate. Those sounds are too high-pitched for the human ear to detect, and so to us, other than those wings, the bat makes no sound. None at all. I watch it. Bats need to catch air under their wings to fly. They can’t lift off like birds: they must drop. Their flight is a fall, arrested again and again with each frantic flap. That’s why they don’t move like anything else. Except, perhaps, a human trying to fly.

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And so the issue keeps shifting. But it doesn’t get resolved.

Migrant Arrivals Push Shelters To Breaking Point In Southern Spain (El Pais)

Shelters in the south of Spain are struggling to deal with a huge influx of migrants, many of whom are being left without a proper place to sleep. The arrivals – 1,300 in the past three days – have stretched services to their breaking point with the strain felt particularly hard in Algeciras as well as other municipalities along the coast of Andalusia. The number of undocumented migrants arriving in Spain has doubled since last year. Spain is now the main entry point into Europe, above Italy or Greece. But shelter services have been unable to keep up with the demand, leaving many migrants to sleep in overcrowded centers.

Up to 260 migrants spent the past two nights on the deck of a Maritime Rescue ship, more than 50 huddled together on a small courtyard of a police station in Algeciras, and 90 more jostled for a spot in the port of Barbate. Many more are left to wander the streets of towns like Medina Sidonia and Chiclana after spending the maximum legal 72-hour period in police custody. Immigration officials have traveled to Cádiz to look for a solution to what the Spanish government describes as a “collapse” of services. In a press release, the government said that 400 migrants had nowhere to go and blamed the problem on the former administration of Mariano Rajoy for its “lack of foresight.” “The number of arrivals has not stopped rising since 2017 but despite this nothing was done,” said a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry.

IN NUMBERS
• The number of people arriving by sea has tripled in the past year. Since the beginning of the year, 22,711 migrants have reached Spain, 19,586 by sea.
• Spain has overtaken Greece and Italy as the country which received the highest number of migrants.
• An average of 54 people arrived in Spain by sea each day in the first five months of 2018. That average has since shot up to 220 per day.
• Since the beginning of the year, 294 people have died trying to reach Spain – almost double the figure from the same period last year.

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Your donations are now also feeding the people in Mati, where conditions are really bad. I’ll have much more on the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund soon, many new and very positive developments, after a bit of a lull. More donations of course are needed and welcome.

Number Of Fatalities In Greek Wildfires Rises To 88 (K.)

A 42-year-old woman who was in intensive care after suffering extensive burns in the deadly wildfire that ripped through the coastal town of Mati in east Attica this week died early Saturday morning, raising the number of fatalities to 88. On Friday night, authorities also identified the bodies of the nine-year-old twin girls and their grandparents that went missing after the wildfires. Their bodies were among a group of victims recovered by emergency crews on Tuesday lying close together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach. The news was reported on broadcaster SKAI by the private investigator the family had hired to find the children. It was confirmed by a reported friend of the family on his Facebook page.

The twins’ father had provided forensic authorities with a DNA sample and appeared on several TV stations seeking help in finding them. A total of 46 adult burn victims are being treated in hospitals in Athens, with nine of them in intensive care. Two children remain in hospital but authorities said their injuries are not life-threatening. Five days after the deadly blaze, there was still confusion over the number of those missing. The Athens Medical School’s Forensics and Toxicology Lab said it has conducted autopsies on 86 bodies, of which only 25 have been identified. As sources explained to Kathimerini, in the first 48 hours after the fires, several authorities wrote up lists of missing persons, which means the same people may have been recorded twice or more.

Since there was no official information on where relatives should report missing persons, police started separate investigations, when the relevant authority in this case would have been the fire service. On Saturday, Dimitra Lambarou, the deputy mayor of Marathonas, which has administrational jurisdiction over the majority of the devastated coastal town on Mati, said she is resigning over the deadly fires. “Since no-one else did it, I will,” she told broadcaster SKAI on Saturday. “I’m really ashamed for all those people who are in positions of responsibility,” she said and accused Marathonas mayor Ilias Psinakis of “not rising to the occasion.”

Read more …

Jul 272018
 
 July 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The three dancers 1925

 

The Mirage That Will Be Q2-GDP (Roberts)
Household Debt In UK ‘Worse Than At Any Time On Record’ (G.)
BRICS Nations Pledge Unity As Trade War Threatens (AFP)
Facebook’s $120 Billion Rout Biggest Loss In Stock Market History (CNBC)
Trade Deal With EU Greater In Scope Than Expected – US Official (R.)
Macron ‘Not In Favour’ Of Vast New US-EU Trade Deal (AFP)
EU’s Barnier Kills Off Theresa May’s Brexit Customs Proposals (G.)
Trump Threatens Turkey Sanctions Over Detained Pastor (AP)
US Government Misses Judge’s Midnight Deadline For Reunifying Families (Ind.)
Taxation Strangles Greece’s Growth Prospects (WSJ)
Death Toll From Greek Wildfires Rises To 85, Scores Stll Missing (K.)
Only 13% Of World’s Oceans Are Still Untouched Wilderness (Ind.)

 

 

Another great piece by Lance Roberts. Here’s the part on debt. It now takes $3.71 of debt to create $1 of economic growth. That won’t last.

The Mirage That Will Be Q2-GDP (Roberts)

With wage growth stagnant, corporations struggling to pass through rising commodity and tariff related costs and debt service requirements on the rise as the Fed continues to hike rates, the drag from the consumption side of the economic equation will likely dwarf the current boosts in the next two quarters. Furthermore, as I noted previously, tax cuts and reform, tariffs and other fiscal remedies promoted by the current administration fail to address the main drag to economic growth over time. The debt. “It now requires $3.71 of debt to create $1 of economic growth which will only worsen as the debt continues to expand at the expense of stronger rates of growth.”

In fact, as recently noted by our friends at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the U.S. deficit is set to surge. To wit: “The White House Office of Management and Budget recently released its annual mid-session review which updated deficit projections in its fiscal year 2019 budget request. The report projected deficits will reach $1.085 trillion in FY 2019 under their budget, which is double the $526 billion called for in the FY 2018 budget.” The report specifically addresses the biggest point of concern:

“The last time the nation experienced trillion-dollar deficits was during a serious economic downturn, no less – lawmakers took the issue seriouly. PAYGO laws were established, a fiscal commission was formed, new discretionary spending caps were implemented and policymakers entered a multi-year debate on how best to bring down long-term debt levels. This time around, with the emergence of trillion-dollar deficits during a period of economic strength – when we should be saving for future downturns – few seem to even take notice. On our current course, debt will overtake the size of the entire economy in about a decade, and interest will be the largest government program in three decades or less. This will weaken both our economy and our role in the world.”

Read more …

And more debt. And then some more.

Household Debt In UK ‘Worse Than At Any Time On Record’ (G.)

British households spent around £900 more on average than they received in income during 2017, pushing their finances into deficit for the first time since the credit boom of the 1980s. The Office for National Statistics said the shortfall amounted to nearly £25bn – equal to almost a quarter of the NHS budget – and the overspend was mostly paid for with borrowed money, though households also ran down savings. The figures pose a challenge to the government, which was warned last year that Britain’s consumer credit bubble of more than £200 billion was unsustainable. A dramatic rise in debt-fuelled spending since 2016 has also taken place against the backdrop of the Brexit vote, which triggered a rise in inflation at a time of weak wage growth. .

Analysts warned that a squeeze on household incomes from benefit cuts, lacklustre wages and high inflation would continue to force poorer households to borrow more to pay basic bills. Tom Selby, a research analyst at financial adviser AJ Bell, said the figures presented ministers with a significant challenge as they sought “to build financial resilience in the UK”. Researchers at the ONS said the situation was worse than at any time on record after the £25bn deficit last year surpassed the £300m deficit recorded in 1988. British household finances also slumped from being among the most solvent in the 1990s to being among the most indebted compared with households in other major western countries.

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42% of global GDP.

BRICS Nations Pledge Unity As Trade War Threatens (AFP)

Five of the biggest emerging economies on Thursday stood by the multilateral system and vowed to strengthen economic cooperation in the face of US tariff threats and unilateralism. The heads of the BRICS group – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – met in Johannesburg for an annual summit dominated by the risk of a US-led trade war, although leaders did not publicly mention President Donald Trump by name. “We express concern at the spill-over effects of macro-economic policy measures in some major advanced economies,” they said in joint statement. “We recognise that the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges. We underscore the importance of an open world economy.”

Trump has said he is ready to impose tariffs on all $500 billion of Chinese imports, complaining that China’s trade surplus with the US is due to unfair currency manipulation. Trump has already slapped levies on goods from China worth tens of billions of dollars, as well as tariffs on steel and aluminium from the EU, Canada and Mexico. “We should stay committed to multilateralism,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said on the second day of the talks. “Closer economic cooperation for shared prosperity is the original purpose and priority of BRICS.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who held a controversial meeting with Trump last week, echoed the calls for closer ties among BRICS members and for stronger trade within group. “BRICS has a unique place in the global economy — this is the largest market in the world, the joint GDP is 42% of the global GDP and it keeps growing,” Putin said.

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For what it’s worth.

Facebook’s $120 Billion Rout Biggest Loss In Stock Market History (CNBC)

Facebook on Thursday posted the largest one-day loss in market value by any company in U.S. stock market history after releasing a disastrous quarterly report. The social media giant’s market capitalization plummeted by $119 billion to $510 billion as its stock price plummeted by 19 percent. At Wednesday’s close, Facebook’s market cap had totaled nearly $630 billion, according to FactSet. No company in the history of the U.S. stock market has ever lost $100 billion in market value in just one day, but two came close. On Sept. 22, 2000, Intel shed $90.74 billion in market value as the dot-com bubble burst. Earlier that year, Microsoft lost $80 billion from its market cap in one day.

Other companies that have experienced similar one-day losses in dollar amount include Apple in 2013, when it lost $59.6 billion, and Exxon Mobil in 2008, when it lost $52.5 billion. Facebook’s enormous loss in value came a day after the company reported weaker-than-expected revenue for the second quarter as well as disappointing global daily active users, a key metric for Facebook. The company also said it expects its revenue growth rate to slow in the second half of this year. Several analysts downgraded Facebook’s stock, including Nomura Instinet’s Mark Kelley. “With stagnating core user growth, we think there is too much near- to mid-term uncertainty to recommend shares at this point,” Kelley, who downgraded the stock to neutral from buy, said in a note.

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But who’s winning?

Trade Deal With EU Greater In Scope Than Expected – US Official (R.)

The U.S. administration got more out of a trade deal with the European Union than it had expected and the two will work together to deal with China’s market abuses, a top White House official told Reuters on Thursday. President Donald Trump and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, struck a surprise deal on Wednesday that ended the risk of an immediate trade war between the two powers. “The EU came into the conversation and they were open to the proposals we had made about getting rid of tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump agreed on Wednesday to refrain from imposing car tariffs while the two sides launch negotiations to cut other trade barriers. Europe agreed to increase purchases of U.S. liquefied natural gas and lower trade barriers to American soybeans. The official stressed on Thursday that Trump retained the power to implement tariffs on cars if needed and said there was no deadline for the completion of talks. He said Trump was committed to getting zero tariffs from the European Union.= As part of the deal, the United States and Europe will work together on China. The two powers in the past have cooperated on measures to deal with theft of company secrets by Chinese entities.

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France doesn’t want to include agriculture. It gets 100s of billions in subsidies. So Macron talks about steel instead.

Macron ‘Not In Favour’ Of Vast New US-EU Trade Deal (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he viewed talks between US President Donald Trump and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker as “useful”, but he was “not in favour” of a “vast new trade deal” between the European Union and the United States. “European and France never wanted a trade war and the talks yesterday were therefore useful in as far as they helped scale back any unnecessary tension, and working to bring about an appeasement is useful,” the French leader said after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid. “But a good trade discussion… can only be done on a balanced, reciprocal basis, and in no case under any sort of threat,” Macron said. “In this regard, we have a number of questions and concerns that we will clarify”.

Macron said he was “not in favour of us launching a vast trade agreement, along the lines of the TTIP, because the current context does now allow for that,” referring to a transatlantic free-trade deal which stalled two years ago. And he reaffirmed his opposition to including agriculture in any such deal. “I believe that no European standard should be suppressed or lowered in the areas of the environment, health or food, for example.” Macron went on to insist that “clear gestures are needed from the US, signs of de-escalation on steel and aluminium, on which the United States have imposed illegal taxes. That, for me, would constitute a prelude to making further concrete headway” on trade.

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Rinse and repeat.

EU’s Barnier Kills Off Theresa May’s Brexit Customs Proposals (G.)

Michel Barnier has warned that attempts to appeal to EU leaders over his head were a waste of time as he rejected Theresa May’s proposals on customs after Brexit, in effect killing off the Chequers plan. On Friday Theresa May travels to Austria to meet Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and the Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, before heading off on her summer holiday. May’s trip follows the EU chief Brexit negotiator insisting there was no difference of opinion in European capitals to exploit. “Anyone who wants to find a sliver of difference between my mandate and what the heads of government say they want are wasting their time, quite frankly,” he told reporters at a joint press conference with the new Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, in Brussels.

The British negotiators have become increasingly frustrated with the EU’s attitude to the white paper thrashed out at the prime minister’s country retreat. They feel that it will take an intervention by leaders, most likely at a summit in Salzburg in September, to move the dial in favour of a deal. A number of cabinet ministers have been despatched around EU capitals to make their case for greater flexibility. The impasse in the negotiations was laid bare in the press conference in the European commission’s Berlaymont headquarters as a thunderstorm broke outside. While Raab insisted that with “political will” a deal on trade and on avoiding a border on the island of Ireland was achievable by a crunch summit in October, Barnier offered a damning verdict on a major element of the UK’s vision of the future.

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And the lira plunges some more…

Trump Threatens Turkey Sanctions Over Detained Pastor (AP)

President Donald Trump says the U.S. will hit Turkey with “large sanctions” over a American pastor detained on terror and espionage charges, and he called for the pastor’s immediate release. Tweeting from aboard Air Force One, Trump said: “The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being.” Trump said Brunson “is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”

Just hours earlier, Vice President Mike Pence said that if Turkey does not take immediate action to free Brunson, “the United States of America will impose significant sanctions on Turkey.” Pence spoke at the close of a three-day conference in Washington on religious freedom. Brunson, 50, an evangelical Christian pastor originally from North Carolina, was let out of jail Wednesday, after 1 1/2 years, to serve house arrest because of “health problems,” according to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency.

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Hope Judge Sabraw comes down hard on them. When he set the deadlines a month ago, he said: “These are firm deadlines; they’re not aspirational goals.”

US Government Misses Judge’s Midnight Deadline For Reunifying Families (Ind.)

US lawyers and activists have described “chaos and confusion” at immigrant detention facilities as the Trump administration scrambles to reunify the more than 2,500 migrant children it separated from their parents at the border in recent months. The government is rushing to meet a Thursday night deadline set by US District Court Judge Dana Sabraw, who ordered all of the families reunified as part of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union last month. As of Tuesday, officials said they had identified 1,634 parents possibly eligible for reunification with their children, and successfully reunified some 1,012 of them. The government was scheduled to provide an updated count to Judge Sabraw on Friday morning.

But the government also said more than 900 parents may not be eligible for reunification because they had waived their right to reunification, had criminal backgrounds, or were otherwise deemed unfit. Some 462 of those parents had already left the country, the administration said, though it was unclear whether they had volunteered to leave or had been deported against their will. Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney on the case, took issue with this number, saying the Trump administration was “unilaterally picking and choosing who is eligible for reunification”. “We will continue to hold the government accountable and get these families back together,” he said in a statement.

Immigrants’ rights groups warned that many of the parents who had left the country already may have done so under duress or coercion, or armed with bad information. Advocates described parents being pressured by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to sign paperwork they didn’t understand, or being told that they would not be reunified with their children unless they agreed to be deported.

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The Wall Street Journal forgets to mention that consumers have nothing left to spend. Growth prospects?

Taxation Strangles Greece’s Growth Prospects (WSJ)

Greece is scheduled to exit its marathon bailout this summer after hitting the tough fiscal targets set by its creditors. But the country has done so by raising taxes so high that they are strangling the small businesses that form the backbone of its economy. At the Dandy restaurant in downtown Athens, owner Charalampos Bonatsos said rising taxes have forced him to lay off half his staff and cut his remaining workers’ wages. He said he still struggles to cope with the last three years’ increases in corporate income tax, property tax and sales tax. “All that matters is reaching the bailout goals. No one cares whether doing business is possible with this policy,” Mr. Bonatsos said.

The tax increases have left Greece with some of Europe’s highest tax rates across several categories, including 29% on corporate income, 15% on dividends, and 24% on value-added tax (a rough equivalent of U.S. sales tax). Individuals pay as much as 45% income tax, plus an extra “solidarity levy” of up to 10%. Furthermore, workers and employers pay social-security levies of up to 27% of their salaries. The elevated taxes under Greece’s bailout program have fallen most heavily on small and midsize businesses and self-employed people. Lawyers and engineers, most of whom are self-employed, are fighting the government in court over having to pay what they say is up to 80% of their average monthly takings in taxes and levies.

Some also have to pay retroactive social-security contributions, to the point where professional associations say some of their members are having to pay more to the state than they make. The painfully high taxes reflect the tough demands of Greece’s main creditors: other eurozone countries led by Germany, and the IMF. Since Greece’s finances spun out of control, its bailout lenders have forced the country to cut its budget deficit from over 15% of GDP in 2009 to a surplus of around 1% in 2017. [..] The tax burden creates a serious disincentive for economic activity. It mainly hits the most productive part of the Greek society,” said George Pagoulatos, professor of economics at the Athens University of Economics and Business. “Greece resembles Scandinavian-style taxation, but its welfare state has nothing to compare to theirs: You don’t get anything in return.”

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Words fail. Yesterday, heavy rains flooded areas 25km from Mati.

Death Toll From Greek Wildfires Rises To 85, Scores Stll Missing (K.)

The death toll from the deadly blaze that ravaged the coastal town of Mati in east Attica on Monday rose to 85 on Thursday, after a 73-year-old man who was in intensive care in Athens’ Evangelismos hospital died and two more bodies were discovered by rescue crews. Earlier in the day, a fire service spokesperson told journalists the number had risen to 82. Stavroula Malliri said rescuers are looking for missing people but have not yet entered closed houses in affected areas. About 300 firemen and volunteers combed through the area looking for dozens reported missing, among them two 9-year old sisters.

“Understanding the agony of the relatives of those missing, we inform you that the search to find them will not stop until all buildings and areas affected by the blaze have been checked,” she told journalists. Malliri called on the relatives of those missing to visit the forensics department of the University of Athens in Goudi until Friday (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) where they will be briefed about the procedure followed to identify the victims. The Infrastructure Ministry announced earlier on Thursday that 1,218 buildings (48.93 pct) out of the 2,489 assessed by its engineers since Tuesday were deemed uninhabitable.

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Don’t worry, we’ll get to that yet.

Only 13% Of World’s Oceans Are Still Untouched Wilderness (Ind.)

The area of the ocean that remains undamaged by humans is tiny, according to the first ever comprehensive analysis of “marine wilderness”. Global shipping, fishing operations and pollution running into the sea from land have all taken their toll on the world’s seas, including some of the most remote areas. Areas of true wilderness are vital as they are some of the most diverse parts of the ocean and the last places on Earth still inhabited by sizeable numbers of large predators like sharks. Even the few fragments that remain are threatened as advanced fishing technologies and melting sea ice expose them to human activity. Most of the remaining wilderness, which covers no more than 13% of the world’s oceans, can be found in the polar regions and around remote Pacific Island nations.

The scientists behind the study have called for international agreements to recognise the unique value of these zones. Kendall Jones of the University of Queensland, who led the research, said they were “astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains”. “The ocean is immense, covering over 70% of our planet, but we’ve managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem,” he said. Crucially, less than 5% of the remaining wilderness is officially protected. “This means the vast majority of marine wilderness could be lost at any time, as improvements in technology allow us to fish deeper and ship farther than ever before,” explained Mr Jones. “Thanks to a warming climate, even some places that were once safe due to year-round ice cover can now be fished.”

Read more …

Jul 242018
 
 July 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Félix Vallotton Sunset, Bronze-Purple 1911

 

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)
Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)
NATO Trumped (SCF)
Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)
Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)
Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)
The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)
Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)
End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)
Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)
Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

 

 

Yesterday around noon the skies here in Athens started turning brown. We learned this was due to a wildfire west of the city. In late afternoon winds began picking up, a lot. Then this happened throughout the evening and night, in a wildfire at the exact opposite side of the city. Latest number of dead is now 54. 26 of them died together just 30 meters from the beach.

Wildfire Kills At Least 50 Near Athens, Families Flee To Beaches (R.)

A wildfire killed at least 50 people and injured more than 150 as it swept through a small resort town near Athens, with huge flames trapping families with children as they fled. The fire which hit Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, late Monday afternoon was by far the country’s worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. People scrambled to the sea as the blaze closed in close to the shore. Hundreds were rescued by passing boats but others found their way blocked by smoke and flames. “I was briefed by a rescuer that he saw the shocking picture of 26 people tightly huddled in a field some 30 meters from the beach,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time,” he said. A Reuters witness also saw several bodies in the area. Mati is in the eastern Rafina region, a popular spot for Greek holidaymakers, particularly pensioners and children at camps. The 26 deaths came on top of more than 20 casualties reported by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier on Tuesday. He said more than 88 adults and 16 children were injured.

Read more …

They’re walking this back a little bit.

Ecuador ‘Close To Evicting’ Julian Assange From UK Embassy (Ind.)

Speculation about Mr Assange’s future has grown this month after the Sunday Times said senior officials from Ecuador and Britain have been in discussions since last week about how to remove him from the embassy after revocation of his asylum. “The situation is very serious. Things are coming to a head,” the source, who spoke on condition on anonymity, told Reuters. He said the latest information from inside the embassy was, “It’s not looking good”. However, both the Ecuadorean government and British government sources played down suggestions there was likely to be any imminent movement to break the stalemate.

“The Ecuadorian state will only talk and promote understandings about Mr Assange’s asylum, within the framework of international law, with the interested party’s lawyers and with the British government,” Ecuador’s foreign ministry said in a statement ahead of the visit. “At the moment, due to the complexity of the topic, a short or long-term solution is not in sight.” A British government source also said there was no sign of immediate progress. Last month, Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan told parliament that they were increasingly concerned about Mr Assange’s health. “It is our wish that this is brought to an end, and we would like to make the assurance that if he were to step out of the embassy, he would be treated humanely and properly,” Mr Duncan said. “The first priority would be to look after his health, which we think is deteriorating.”

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“If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.”

NATO Trumped (SCF)

Indicators of European NATO members’ actual readiness and combat capability are stunning; the latest being “Only 4 of Germany’s 128 Eurofighter jets combat ready — report”; “Ground force: Half of France’s military planes ‘unfit to fly'”. “Britain’s ‘withered’ forces not fit to repel all-out attack”. “Europe’s Readiness Problem”. Obviously they’re not expecting a Russian attack any time soon. NATO is, as I have argued here, a paper tiger. It is questionable whether NATO members can conduct any operation without the USA providing satellite navigation and observation, air defence suppression, airborne command and control, inflight tankers, heavy lift and ammunition resupply to name a few deficiencies. So, either the Europeans are not worried; or, as Trump likes to say, they are free riders.

Six months ago I suggested that Trump may be trying to get out of what I called the “Gordian knot of entanglements”. President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements? By getting others to untie it. He stomps out of NATO leaving them quaking: if you say Russia is the enemy, why do you act as if it isn’t; and if you act as if it isn’t, why do you say it is? And firing, over his shoulder, the threat: 2% by next January.

I believe it is a threat and a very neat one too: If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye. If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.

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Their best shot may be if they can prove that Monsanto suppressed scientists.

Dying Groundskeeper Testifies In Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trial (G.)

Dewayne Johnson said that if he had known what he knew now about Roundup weedkiller, “I would’ve never sprayed that product on school grounds … if I knew it would cause harm … It’s unethical.” Johnson, a former school groundskeeper in northern California who is terminally ill, was testifying Monday in his landmark suit against Monsanto about the cancer risks of the company’s popular weedkiller. He is the first person to take the agrochemical company to trial over allegations that the chemical sold under the Roundup brand is linked to cancer. He spoke for the first time during the trial in San Francisco, detailing his use of Monsanto’s products, his extensive exposure to herbicides, and his belief that the chemicals caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cell cancer.

He also described the suffering he endured as skin lesions took over his body. “I’ve been going through a lot of pain,” said Johnson, a father of three who goes by the name Lee. “It really takes everything out of you … I’m not getting any better.” His doctors have said he may have just months to live. Johnson’s lawyers have argued in court that Monsanto has “fought science” over the years and worked to “bully” researchers who have raised concerns about potential health risks of its herbicide product. At the start of the trial, the attorneys presented internal Monsanto emails that they said revealed the corporation’s repeated efforts to ignore expert’s warnings while seeking favorable scientific analyses and helping to “ghostwrite” positive papers.

Thousands have brought similar legal claims across the US, and a federal judge in California ruled this month that hundreds of cancer survivors or those who lost loved ones can also proceed to trial. Johnson’s case has attracted international attention, with the judge allowing his team to present scientific arguments about glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.

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“We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.”

Russia Attacked Us (Jim Kunstler)

The Helsinki summit meeting has the look of a turning point in Mr. Trump’s political fortunes. One irony is that he may escape his enemies’ efforts to nail him on any Russia “collusion” rap only to be sandbagged by financial turmoil as the dog days of summer turn nervously toward autumn. Events will cancel the myth that his actions as president have produced a booming economy. If anything, the activities that make up our economy have only become more vicious rackets, especially the war industries, with all their inducements to counter the imagined Russia threat.

The financial markets are the pillars of the fantasy that the US economy is roaring triumphantly. The markets are so fundamentally disabled by ten years of central bank interventions that they don’t express the actual value of any asset, whether stocks, or bonds, or gold, oil, labor, currencies, or the folly known as crypto-currency. We await the fabled “moment of truth” when the avenging angel of price discovery returns and shatters the illusion that accounting fraud equals prosperity.

The revelation that Mr. Trump is not an economic genius will spur a deeper dive by chimerical Democrats into nanny state quicksand. They will make the new fad of a Guaranteed Basic Income the centerpiece of the midterm election — even though many Democrats will not really believe in it. They are pretending not to notice how broke the USA actually is, and how spavined by unpayable debt. The lurking suspicion of all this is surely behind fantasies such as Russia attacked us, the displacement of abstruse and impalpable fear onto something simple and cartoonish, like the President of the United States.

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“The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business…”

Cost To Insure Tesla’s Debt Rises On Growing Default Fears (R.)

The amount investors must pay to insure their debt holdings in Tesla Inc against declining credit quality rose on Monday to its second-highest price ever, implying the company is at a greater risk of default following a report that sparked concern that Tesla may need to raise funds. Insurance on Tesla’s debt, which is sold as a credit default swap contract, increased from Friday by 13 cents to $5.96 per $100 of Tesla debt. That followed a Wall Street Journal report on Sunday that Tesla had turned to some suppliers for a refund of previously made payments in a bid to make a profit, citing a memo sent by a Tesla global supply manager.

A Tesla spokesperson said on Monday that the company had no comment on the credit default swaps, but said in a statement in response to the WSJ story that Tesla had asked fewer than 10 suppliers to reduce capital expenditure project spending. Tesla said that any changes with these suppliers would improve future cash flows but not affect its ability to achieve profitability in the third quarter. Company founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk may be obligated to tap debt or equity markets again this year, according to analysts, though he has said he would do neither. [..] It cost $5.96 to insure $100 of Tesla’s debt, plus an upfront cost of around 18%, representing a total of 24.1% of the face value of the 2025 bond on Monday. “The CDS is saying that there are a lot of people betting this company is going out of business,” said Thomas Graff, head of fixed income at Brown Advisory.

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Trying to outdo Orwell. First blow a ginormous bubble and then claim there are not enough cheap homes.

The Low-Priced Home Shortage Continues (CNBC)

The nationwide housing shortage continues but is especially troublesome for homebuyers with a budget of $250,000 or less, Susan Wachter, professor of real estate and of finance at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNBC on Monday. Rising labor, land and material costs are slowing down the supply, “except at higher prices, which is simply not affordable for the great middle, and that’s where we see the hit in … existing sales,” Wachter said on “Power Lunch.” Sales of existing homes are down for the third month in a row due to a shortage of properties, which results in higher prices and pushes some potential buyers out of the market.

Existing home sales fell 0.6% in June, or 2.2% from June 2017. And as prices for new home construction increase, construction in general is on the decline. Housing starts, or the number of new residential housing projects, decreased in June, plunging 12.3%. The loss represents the third month in a row of declines or a nine-month low. “That sets a price point for the existing sale market as well,” Wachter said. And with inventory at historic lows and a lack of new construction, existing homeowners are holding on to their homes longer, Wachter noted.

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I’ll leave this here.

Exposing the American Okie-Doke (CP)

The “founding fathers” deliberately arranged a system of governance that would protect the wealthy minority from the majority. Over time, as it fused with capitalism, this arrangement transformed the US government into a market. Railroad tycoons and robber barons forced their way into this market during the Gilded Age. Big business controlled the “public agenda” throughout the 20th century, with multinational firms taking root in the 1980s and 90s. Ronald Reagan ushered in the neoliberal era, which amounted to an all-out corporate coup of American politics. And, in 2010, the Supreme Court placed its stamp of approval on this system with its Citizens United decision, allowing anonymous donors unlimited access to politics through Political Action Committees (PACs).

In other words, the US government has been a traded commodity for a long time, in many ways since the beginning of the country’s founding. Wealth determines elections (over 90% of the time the campaign with the most money wins). Politicians are commodities that are bought by capitalists. Legislation is a commodity that is bought by lobbyists (employed by capitalists). This is the case for both parties and all politicians (because it is built into the system). The point: If you still believe your 5th-grade textbook and think you have a say in determining public policy in the US, you are furious right now. Because you believe democracy exists and that it was hijacked by a foreign government. However, if you realize democracy (or a republic) does not exist, the Russia/Trump revelations mean only one thing: the traded commodity known as the US government has gone global, following all of the other capitalist markets that have been globalized over the past 40 years.

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Anyone convinced by Corbyn?

End ‘Botched’ Brexit, Corbyn Calls On UK To Back His Vision (R.)

British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn will call on the government on Tuesday to back his vision for a new customs union with the European Union to avoid a “botched” Brexit leaving the country “in hock to Donald Trump”. Unveiling a Labour Party campaign to boost manufacturing and keep public contracts in Britain, Corbyn will also increase the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May over her Brexit plans by suggesting she back his vision of “a brand new customs union”. May is struggling to sell what she calls her business-friendly Brexit to not only the competing factions in her governing Conservative Party but also across Britain just over eight months before the country is due to leave in March.

But Corbyn also faces dissent in his party, with many Labour lawmakers and members calling for him to back a second referendum on any deal and support keeping the closest possible ties with the EU by staying in its single market and customs union. “Theresa May and her warring cabinet should think again, even at this late stage, and reconsider the option of negotiating a brand new customs union,” Corbyn will tell the EEF manufacturers’ organisation in the city of Birmingham. “A botched…Brexit will sell our manufacturers short with the fantasy of a free trading buccaneering future, which in reality would be a nightmare of chlorinated chicken, public services sold to multinational companies and our country in hock to Donald Trump,” he will say, according to excerpts of his speech.

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Extensive report h/t ZH

Over-Promising Has Crippled Public Pensions (WirePoints)

The real problem plaguing public pension funds nationwide has gone largely ignored. Most reporting usually focuses on the underfunding of state plans and blames the crises on a lack of taxpayer dollars. But a Wirepoints analysis of 2003-2016 Pew Charitable Trust and other pension data found that it’s the uncontrolled growth in pension promises that’s actually wreaking havoc on state budgets and taxpayers alike. Overpromising is the true cause of many state crises. Underfunding is often just a symptom of this underlying problem. Wirepoints found that the growth in accrued liabilities has been extreme in many states, often growing two to three times faster than the pace of their economies. It’s no wonder taxpayer contributions haven’t been able to keep up.

The reasons for that growth vary state to state – from bigger benefits to reductions in discount rates – but the reasons don’t matter to ordinary residents. Regardless of how or when those increases were created, it’s taxpayers that are increasingly on the hook for them. Unsurprisingly, the states with the most out-of-control promises are home to some of the nation’s worst pension crises. Take New Jersey, for example. The total pension benefits it owed in 2003 – what are known as accrued liabilities – were $88 billion. That was the PV, or present value, of what active state workers and retirees were promised in pension benefits by the state at the time. Today, promises to active workers and pensioners have jumped to $217 billion – a growth of 176% in just 13 years. That increase in total obligations is four times greater than the growth in the state’s GDP, up only 41%.

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Oh yes, we really need censorship by a bunch of poorly educated kids.

Rubens Nudes Fall Foul Of Facebook Censors (G.)

Rubens nudes have entranced those visiting the world’s great art galleries for some 400 years. Contemporaries on whom the Flemish master is said to have had a profound impact include Van Dyck and Rembrandt … but none of this has passed muster with Facebook’s censors. In a move that has prompted a semi-playful complaint to the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, it has taken down a series of promotions on social media for the Belgian region of Flanders because they feature works by the artist famous for his Baroque paintings of voluptuous women and cherubs. Advertisements containing sexually oriented content, including artistic or educational nudes, apart from statues, are prohibited on the site.

In an open letter signed by most of the museums in Flanders, the Flemish tourist board, Toerisme Vlaanderen, has written to Zuckerberg to ask for a rethink. “Breasts, buttocks and Peter Paul Rubens’ cherubs are all considered indecent”, the letter says. “Not by us, but by you … Even though we secretly have to laugh about it, your cultural censorship is making life rather difficult for us.” Posts removed have even included an advert featuring Rubens’ The Descent from the Cross, in which Jesus is naked in his loincloth. The Flemish tourist board has pushed its point by releasing a short video in which the “nude police” drag away visitors at the Rubens House in Antwerp to stop them from gazing at the implicated paintings.

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Jan 032015
 
 January 3, 2015  Posted by at 12:55 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Joliet, Illinois. Leaving the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railyard 1943

Europe’s Bond Yields Fall To Lowest Since The Black Death (AEP)
Dollar Index Soars To Nearly 9-Year High (MarketWatch)
Greek And European Prospects For 2015 (Varoufakis)
Lithuania Joins Eurozone Despite 40% Of Population Being Against (RT)
Obama Sanctions North Korea For Sony Hack It Didn’t Perpetrate (Zero Hedge)
Oliver Stone’s New Movie: “Ukraine: The CIA Coup” (Zero Hedge)
China Zombie Factories Kept Open To Give Illusion Of Prosperity (FT)
Why The Stock Market Casino Is Dangerous: Looney Tunes And Sand Dunes (Stockman)
As Oil Price Drops, Good Times Run Out for Sand Producers (WSJ)
The ‘Shock’ That Awaits Pensioners At Retirement (BBC)
Michael Hudson: The War on Pensions – The US Budget Anti-Pension Law (NC)
New Consumer Debt Reaches Seven-Year High In UK (Guardian)
Right Wing In Europe Could Bring ‘Turmoil’ (CNBC)
General Motors: A New Year, A New Series Of Recalls (Reuters) <
Failure To Stop Petrobras Scandal Could Haunt Brazil’s Rousseff (Reuters)
The Imperial Collapse Playbook (Dmitry Orlov)
South Australia ‘Incredibly Dangerous’ Wildfires Worst Since 1983 (Bloomberg)

“Nothing like this has been seen in European history since the 14th century, after the depletion of silver mines set off a slow monetary contraction, followed by Edward III’s default on debts to Italian banks and the Black Death soon after..”

Europe’s Bond Yields Fall To Lowest Since The Black Death (AEP)

Bond yields have plummeted to record lows across the eurozone as deflation becomes lodged in the system and markets bet on a blitz of asset purchases by the European Central Bank this month. German five-year yields dropped below zero for the first time ever, touching -0.007% on the first day of new year trading, implying that investors are willing to pay the German government to store their money for the rest of this decade. Italian, Spanish and Portuguese yields have seen spectacular drops over the past two trading days. The French state can borrow for five years at a rate of 0.13%, and Ireland can do so at 0.32%. Nothing like this has been seen in European history since the 14th century, after the depletion of silver mines set off a slow monetary contraction, followed by Edward III’s default on debts to Italian banks and the Black Death soon after, compounding a deflationary collapse.

“What we are seeing is the ‘Japanification’ trade,” said Andrew Roberts, credit chief at RBS. “The eurozone is sinking into corrosive deflation and it is too late to stop. We think the inflation rate in December may already have been negative. The ECB are in trouble, and they know it.” Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, told Germany’s Handelsblatt that a slip into deflation “cannot be ruled out completely” and admitted that the bank is at mounting risk of breaching its price stability mandate. Mr Draghi said the ECB is “making technical preparations” to boost its balance sheet in early 2015, but offered no fresh clues on how much it will be or whether the measures will include full quantitative easing in the form of sovereign bond purchases.

Investors have taken his comments as a strong hint of QE as soon as this month, even though he repeated his usual caveat that new measures will be undertaken only “should it become necessary to further address risks of a too prolonged period of low inflation”. His interview may have been the trigger for the latest dash for EMU sovereign debt. There are not enough bonds to buy from certain countries if the ECB sweeps into the market on a grand scale. Bank of America said there would be an acute shortage of German debt since Berlin plans to run a budget surplus this year and will therefore be retiring bonds gradually instead of issuing them. The ECB would quickly run out of Latvian or Greek bonds trading on the open market. The US bank predicted bond purchases of between €180bn and €360bn a year, warning that the economic outlook will “deteriorate substantially” if the ECB is prevented from carrying out QE for political reasons.he said.

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On its way to parity.

Dollar Index Soars To Nearly 9-Year High (MarketWatch)

The U.S. dollar soared Friday, building on big gains scored in 2014, on expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates while the ECB and Bank of Japan continue to loosen monetary policy in the year ahead. The ICE dollar index rose to 91.11, up from 90.27 in late North American trade on Wednesday and marking its highest level since March 2006, according to FactSet data. The index rose almost 13% in 2014, to mark its best yearly gain since 2005. “We have entered ‘15 with the same themes that we ended last year, namely positive U.S. sentiment fueling U.S. dollar gains,” wrote Jeremy Stretch, strategist at CIBC in London. Meanwhile, the euro “remains bedeviled by broad-based uncertainty as the Japanese yen remains on the defensive as the Bank of Japan maintains that they still have various tools to ease policy,” he said.

The euro kicked off 2015 on a downbeat note, falling to its lowest level versus the dollar since 2010, after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi hinted that the bank is moving closer to launching a full-scale quantitative easing program. The shared currency fell to $1.2001, down from $1.2099 on Wednesday, its lowest level since 2010. The euro’s weakness on Friday continued a trend seen in 2014, when it lost 12.2% against the dollar on expectations the ECB will act in early 2015 to implement full-blown quantitative easing, to help avert outright deflation in the eurozone. Renewed political turmoil in Greece, which faces a snap general election in January, is also weighing on the shared currency.

Draghi spoke about low inflation in an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt, published on Friday, in which he said the eurozone remains in danger of falling into a downward spiral of declining consumer prices. “The risk that we do not fulfill our mandate of price stability is higher than six months ago,” he said in the interview. To fight off the risk of deflation, the central bank is therefore preparing to “adjust the scope, pace and composition of measures at the start of 2015, should this be necessary to respond to a too-long period of low inflation,” the ECB president said.

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“The threat to a SYRIZA government will not come from the markets. Remember: Greece is bankrupt and is not borrowing from private investors. [..] the threat to a SYRIZA government comes from the ECB, from the EU and from Berlin.”

Greek And European Prospects For 2015 (Varoufakis)

European media often speak of the “Greek recovery” and the growth of competitiveness of the country to try to persuade the public opinion about the effectiveness of austerity and structural reforms imposed by the Troika. Considering the macroeconomic data, however, we find a youth unemployment above 50%, a negative inflation rate and a debt-deflation spiral out of control. How is it possible to speak of “recovery” when three Greek citizen out of five have exceeded the poverty line? Over the past two years, no fact could get in the way of the EU propaganda machine which, approximately eighteen months ago, went into overdrive in an attempt to shore up the Samaras government, terrified at the prospect of a new government in Athens that insists of speaking truth to power. Have you noticed how the ‘Greek Success Story’ narrative disappeared once elections became inevitable? What kind or ‘recovery’ was it that went up in a puff of smoke the moment an election appeared over the horizon?

The answer is: a ‘recovery’ that existed only in the realm of propaganda. A ‘recovery’ that was engineered by means of two new bubbles, one in the bond market the other in the market for Greek banking shares – bubbles that burst the moment the Greek people seemed as if they were to have a chance to express what they felt about the said ‘recovery’ in the polling stations. A ‘recovery’ evidenced in one quarter’s positive GDP growth (equal to 0.7%), after seven years of continuous decline, which was due to the sad fact that nominal GDP fell – but for the first time it fell less than average prices did. So, let’s be frank: There was no recovery. What we did have was a monstrous denial that was functional to the story Mrs Merkel wanted to convey to European citizens: If austerity worked even in Greece, it must be the right cure for every European realm, and it must thus be accepted unthinkingly by every European – especially the… Italians.

In Greece there will be a general election next January 25, 2015. According to the latest polls, SYRIZA, the main opposition party critic of the austerity measures imposed by the Troika, could be the winner. But, victory at the polls could be precluded by the speculative attack of the markets on spread, aimed at creating a climate of terror among the public. What remains of democracy in this oligarchic regime of the European Union? And the same scenario could be repeated in other countries with those parties critical of the institutional architecture of the EU? The threat to a SYRIZA government will not come from the markets. Remember: Greece is bankrupt and is not borrowing from private investors.

When you do not borrow, you do not care about the interest rate! No, the threat to a SYRIZA government comes from the ECB, from the EU and from Berlin. Days after its election, there is a strong chance that our European partners’ officials, in violation of democracy’s – and logic’s – most basic principles, will threaten the new Athens government with a shutdown of Greece’s banking system until and unless it bows to their will. This is far, far worse, and morally more reprehensible, than being terrorised by the markets. Investors have every right to demand high interest rates in order to lend you money. Fellow democratic governments and unelected central bankers have no right to threaten a newly elected government with Armageddon if it dares ask for a renegotiation of an unsustainable loan agreement with the EU, the ECB and the IMF.

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HA HA! “EU economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici said that in joining the euro, the Lithuanian people are “choosing to be part of an area of stability, security and prosperity.“

Lithuania Joins Eurozone Despite 40% Of Population Being Against (RT)

Lithuania has celebrated the New Year by joining the eurozone. The decision is country’s bid to boost stability despite inflation fears and euro zone debt troubles. However, according to a November poll about 40% of the population opposed the move. Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius withdrew his first 10 euro bill from a Vilnius cash machine right after midnight January 1. The exchange rate is now set at one euro for 3.45 litas, the country’s old currency. Both litas and euros will circulate in the country till June. “The euro will serve as a guarantee for our economic and political security,” Butkevicius said at a ceremony which was attended by officials of other Baltic states – Estonia and Latvia.

Latvia joined the eurozone on January 1, 2014 despite opinion polls showing that a majority of the country’s population opposed the move, with just 20% strongly in favor. Estonia joined the currency bloc in 2011. “Myself, and I think, many of you feel sad that the litas, which has served us well for more than two decades, becomes history, but we have to move forward,” said Lithuania’s Finance Minister Rimantas Sadzius at the ceremony. Earlier the country’s President Dalia Grybauskaite said that joining eurozone is symbol of “deeper economic and political integration with the West.” However, not everyone in Lithuania shared the optimism of Grybauskaite.

According to a November survey released by the central bank, only 53% of the population supported the move, while 39% were against. “Financial commitments are a huge burden and increase the country’s debt. I think we should have delayed entry,” financial analyst Valdemaras Katkus told AFP. In the meantime the European Commission has put a huge banner over its headquarters in Brussels, saying “Welcome to the euro area, Lithuania!” EU economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici said that in joining the euro, the Lithuanian people are “choosing to be part of an area of stability, security and prosperity.” Lithuania has already donated millions of euros to the eurozone’s rescue fund for struggling EU members, such as Greece.

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“.. this action is so stupid no amount of commentary would possibly do it justice ..”

Obama Sanctions North Korea For Sony Hack It Didn’t Perpetrate (Zero Hedge)

US foreign policy just jumped the shark: a few days after both the FBI and the US State department were humiliated when it was revealed that it wasn’t North Korea but a disgruntled, laid off Sony employee that was responsible for the “hack”, and when the best possible course of action would have been to simply let this latest embarrassing incident fade from memory, moments ago Obama – currently not working out next to a rainbow or flashing his support of “Shaka” – just signed his first executive order of 2015, imposing even more sanctions against North Korea. From Bloomberg:

President Obama signs order imposing additional sanctions on North Korea in response to country’s “efforts to undermine U.S. cyber-security and intimidate U.S. businesses and artists exercising their right of freedom of speech,” according to Treasury Dept statement. [..] Sanctions target 3 entities, 10 individuals [..] Including North Korea’s intelligence agency, arms dealer, North Korea’s representatives in Namibia, Sudan, Iran, Syria, China “Even as the FBI continues its investigation into the cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, these steps underscore that we will employ a broad set of tools to defend U.S. businesses and citizens, and to respond to attempts to undermine our values or threaten the national security of the United States,” Treasury Sec. Lew says in statement.

That this action is so stupid no amount of commentary would possibly do it justice is quite clear, which is why we patiently await North Korean TV to escalate its comedic feud with the “monkey in a tropical jungle.” Perhaps the only silver lining is that Obama did not launch a nuclear attack on Pyongyang outright, although there is still a 2 year period until January 2017. And anything goes, especially once the NSA fabricates another YouTube clip.

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“The truth is not being aired in the West. It’s a surreal perversion of history that’s going on once again, as in Bush pre-Iraq ‘WMD’ campaign.”

Oliver Stone’s New Movie: “Ukraine: The CIA Coup” (Zero Hedge)

From Oliver Stone’s Facebook page: Excuse my absence these past weeks. A combination of overwork, prepping the Snowden movie in Germany & England, a side trip to Moscow, and a devastating head cold have laid me low. Recovering over Christmas in California; winter sun helps. Interviewed Viktor Yanukovych 4 hours in Moscow for new English language documentary produced by Ukrainians. He was the legitimate President of Ukraine until he suddenly wasn’t on February 22 of this year. Details to follow in the documentary, but it seems clear that the so-called ‘shooters’ who killed 14 police men, wounded some 85, and killed 45 protesting civilians, were outside third party agitators.

Many witnesses, including Yanukovych and police officials, believe these foreign elements were introduced by pro-Western factions – with CIA fingerprints on it. Remember the Chavez ‘regime change’/coup of 2002 when he was temporarily ousted after pro and anti-Chavez demonstrators were fired upon by mysterious shooters in office buildings. Also resembles similar technique early this year in Venezuela when Maduro’s legally elected Government was almost toppled by violence aimed at anti-Maduro protestors. Create enough chaos, as the CIA did in Iran ‘53, Chile ‘73, and countless other coups, and the legitimate Government can be toppled. It’s America’s soft power technique called ‘Regime Change 101.’

In this case the “Maidan Massacre” was featured in Western media as the result of an unstable, brutal pro-Russian Yanukovych Government. You may recall Yanukovych went along with the February 21 deal with opposition parties and 3 EU foreign minsters to get rid of him by calling for early elections. The next day that deal was meaningless when well-armed, neo-Nazi radicals forced Yanukovych to flee the country with repeated assassination attempts. By the next day, a new pro-Western government was established and immediately recognized by the US (as in the Chavez 2002 coup). A dirty story through and through, but in the tragic aftermath of this coup, the West has maintained the dominant narrative of “Russia in Crimea” whereas the true narrative is “USA in Ukraine.”

The truth is not being aired in the West. It’s a surreal perversion of history that’s going on once again, as in Bush pre-Iraq ‘WMD’ campaign. But I believe the truth will finally come out in the West, I hope, in time to stop further insanity. For a broader understanding, see Pepe Escobar’s analysis “The new European ‘arc of instability,’” which indicates growing turbulence in 2015, as the US cannot tolerate the idea of any rival economic entity. You might also see “Untold History” Chapter 10 where we discuss the dangers of past Empires which did not allow for the emergence of competing economic countries.

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No surprise here.

China Zombie Factories Kept Open To Give Illusion Of Prosperity (FT)

In the shadow of a group of enormous smokestacks and abandoned foundries, a peeling sign welcomes visitors to the Wenxi Steel Industrial Park. But in the nearby village, the working-age men and many of the women have gone, leaving only the elderly and the very young. ‘If you cut down the big tree, all the small trees around it will die’, says 69-year-old Wang Peiqing, referring to the collapse of Highsee Iron and Steel Group, which operated the foundries before its recent closure devastated the economy of a once-prosperous corner of Shanxi province in central China. The entire region relied on the steel mill; now the young people have to go and look for work across China.

Highsee stopped paying its 10,000 employees six months ago. Local officials estimate the plant supported indirectly the livelihood of about a quarter of Wenxi county s population of 400,000. Highsee was the biggest privately owned steel mill in Shanxi, accounting for 60 per cent of Wenxi s tax revenues. For those reasons, the local government was reluctant to allow the company to go out of business, even though it had been in serious financial difficulties for several years. By 2011 Highsee was already like a dead centipede that hadn t yet frozen stiff with rigor mortis, says one official. More than half the plant shut down, but it was still producing steel even though its suppliers wouldn’t deliver anything without cash up front and it was drowning in debt.

Across the vast expanses of China, similar experiences are playing out, with thousands of companies in heavy industrial sectors plagued by chronic overcapacity that should be going bust instead being propped up by local governments. With enormous power over courts, state-owned banks and local administrative departments, Communist party officials across China are prepared to go to great lengths to support the biggest failing employers in their jurisdictions. It was only last month, four years after Highsee began to flounder, that the company was finally allowed by the government to initiate bankruptcy proceedings.

In the past month alone Chinese media have reported on at least nine large steel mills that appeared to be suspended in limbo after halting production but which are forbidden from going formally bankrupt. There are large numbers of companies across China that should go bankrupt but haven’t done so, says Han Chuanhua, a bankruptcy lawyer at Zhongzi Law Office, a Beijing legal practice. The government doesn’t want to see bankruptcy because as soon as companies go bust, unemployment spikes and tax revenues disappear. By stopping companies from going bankrupt, officials are able to maintain the illusion of local prosperity, economic growth and stable taxes.

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“.. the Fed is committed to sending its interest rate change messages by pony express to speculators who operate in the nano-second based cybersphere of modern trading technology. It’s not even a contest; its a bad joke which showers the 1% with stupendous windfalls.”

Why The Stock Market Casino Is Dangerous: Looney Tunes And Sand Dunes (Stockman)

On August 4th the Wall Street Journal carried a breathless tale of how a handful of obscure oilfield suppliers were striking immense riches in the sand dunes of Wisconsin. Owing to the “shale revolution”, the stock price of an outfit that had originated in the stagnating business of supplying sand traps to golf courses, and which had been at death’s door as recently as 2011, had gone parabolic. Emerge Energy Services (EMES) presently traded at $145 per share, reflecting a red hot gain of 8.5X over its $17 IPO price fifteen months earlier. In a literal sense, silicon valley had come to the silicon dunes of Lake Michigan, as reflected in EMES’ valuation at 43X its LTM earnings.

Given the fact that EMES’ share price had most recently risen by $100 or $2.5 billion of market just since January 2014, the “momo” story was self-evidently all about upside growth, not current profits or cash flow. In fact, during its 14 quarters as a public filer, EMES had generated negative $50 million of operating cash flow after CapEx. So at a total enterprise value of $3.7 billion, the punters chasing the stock straight up the parabolic curve would seemingly have anticipated some stupendous growth indeed. Except……except they had no idea about EMES’ sustainable growth potential and didn’t care because the buyers were robots, day traders and flavor-of-the-month hedge funds.

They were piling into the stock of a company selling a form (white sand) of the second most abundant low-value commodity on planet earth for no other reason than Emerge Energy Services was another momo play on steroids. The “price action” was the investment thesis. Yet this typical momo “rip” had occurred not out of the natural elements of human greed and capitalist enterprise, but because the stock market has been destroyed by the Fed. That is, the combination of ZIRP and wealth effects “puts” have eviscerated all of the checks and balances that contain and modulate speculation in honest free markets. On the one hand, Fed policy has massively subsidized momo speculators in two powerful ways.

First, most of them operate through the options markets or employ other forms of heavy, short-term position leverage. Accordingly, their “carry” cost is close to zero, and their position leverage can be continuously rolled-over without risk. That’s because the Fed’s foolish commitment to “transparency” in pegging its policy rate means that speculators are in the catbird seat. In effect, the Fed is committed to sending its interest rate change messages by pony express to speculators who operate in the nano-second based cybersphere of modern trading technology. It’s not even a contest; its a bad joke which showers the 1% with stupendous windfalls.

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Sand ‘producers’? Is that like water producers?

As Oil Price Drops, Good Times Run Out for Sand Producers (WSJ)

“This isn’t our first rodeo” has become a catchphrase among oil-industry executives who are laying off workers and dialing back spending in the wake of tumbling crude-oil prices. But for many sand producers, this is their first time on the bucking bronco that is the cyclical energy business—and not all of them are ready for the wild ride, industry analysts say. Sand is an important ingredient in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has pushed American oil output above 9 million barrels a day, rivaling the production of Saudi Arabia or Russia. Sand companies’ biggest customers used to be golf courses and glass manufacturers, but the oil boom brought energy clients to their door and now roughly 60% of business is tied to fracking, according to PacWest Consulting Partners, which forecasts sand demand.

Now that oil prices have fallen, many fracking companies are retrenching—and that is bad news for sand producers. Earlier this fall PacWest projected sand use would grow by 20% each year in 2015 and 2016. But following the plunge in oil prices, PacWest now expects sand demand to stay flat. Meanwhile, new sand mines could add another 10% on top of the existing pile, creating a glut and pushing down prices, said Samir Nangia, a principal of PacWest. Global oil prices have plunged 50% since June, as the surging supply—thanks to fracking—collided with lackluster world-wide demand for fuel this fall.

With their revenue threatened, oil drillers and fracking companies are under tremendous pressure to dial down their spending and the companies they buy sand from will be easy targets, said Karen Nickerson, an energy analyst at Moody’s. “They’re going to push on who they can,” she said. U.S. Silica Holdings Inc., which operates sands mines in Wisconsin, Illinois and Oklahoma, says it is still expecting to grow in 2015, said chief executive Bryan Shinn. Even if oil companies drill fewer wells next year, they are increasing the amount of sand they use per well, he said. “This is providing us with a backstop,” said Mr. Shinn, adding that job cuts aren’t in the cards for his company. “We’re not even talking about that. If anything we might be looking to add jobs as opportunities arise.”

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Big collapse coming.

The ‘Shock’ That Awaits Pensioners At Retirement (BBC)

The next generation of Americans to hit retirement will be ‘shocked’ when they find out how little they have to live on. A former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury warns that the US government is standing idly by. “We need to do something, we’re not doing anything,” she says. Professor Alicia Munnell, who is now director of Boston College’s Centre for Retirement Research, tells BBC World Service’s In the Balance programme that most Americans’ voluntary 401(k) pension schemes are seriously under-funded. In a new book, Falling Short, she says the only answer is to work longer and save more. But it is part of a bigger global pensions gap between what is needed to fund pensions and what is actually available in private and public pension pots.

America’s 401(k) was introduced in 1978 as a tax-efficient way of encouraging individual citizens to save for retirement. But the average 401(k) fund, to which individuals and employers contribute, stands at $111,000. That’s about enough to provide just $400 (£256) a month in retirement. On the streets of New York, we questioned people on how confident they were about their retirement income. “I’d say fairly-to-very confident,” says Mark, aged 53 from Boston. “I think we’ve done our part, put as much dough aside as possible. “In the next five to seven years we should be able to save even more – we’ll have to.”

However, Prof Munnell says the first retirees who are going to rely solely on their 401(k) are going to be “stunned” at how little that average $111,000 balance provides them in terms of monthly income. “People are going to be shocked,” she says. Hannah, a 31-year-old New Yorker says: “I think it is getting to the point now in the economy where people my age are going to have to work until they die. “I don’t think social security is going to be able to do anything by the time I retire.” While Prof Munnell says that there will always be some kind of safety net in the US, “we need to put more money in to maintain current benefit levels”.

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And that collapse comes to you courtesy of Congress and Wall Street.

Michael Hudson: The War on Pensions – The US Budget Anti-Pension Law (NC)

On the Senate’s last day in session in December, it approved the government’s $1.1 trillion budget for coming fiscal year. Few people realize how radical the new U.S. budget law was. Budget laws are supposed to decide simply what to fund and what to cut. A budget is not supposed to make new law, or to rewrite the law. But that is what happened, and it was radical. Wall Street’s representatives in Congress – the Democratic leadership as well as Republicans – took the opportunity to create an artificial crisis. The press called this “holding the government hostage.” The House – backed by the Senate – said that it would shut the government down at some future date if two basic laws were not changed. Most of the attention has been paid to Elizabeth Warren’s eloquent attack on the government guaranteeing bank trades in derivatives.

Written by Citigroup lobbyists, this puts taxpayer funds behind future bank bailouts if banks make more bad bets on complex financial derivatives, such as packaged junk mortgage loans. Critics have focused on how there must be a loser for every winner in a derivatives contract. The problem is that if banks lose, the government will bail them out just as it did in 2008. Less attention has been paid to what happens if banks win. They will win largely in making bets against pension funds. Indeed, pension funds have not been treated well by Wall Street in recent years. They are in a bind. Pension funds will fall further and further behind what theyneed to pay retirees if they do not make the impossibly high returns of 8.5%.

The guiding philosophy of pension funds has been that instead of making employers pay enough to cover the pensions they have promised, funds can make money purely financially – by Wall Street sharpies. The problem is that safe interest rates today are less than 1% for Treasury bonds. Everyithing else – stocks, corporate bonds, and hedge fund derivatives – are much more risky. And when Goldman Sachs, or JPMorgan Chase draw up a derivative for a client, their aim is to make money for themselves, not for the client. So pension funds have been at the losing end. Most funds would have done better simply to turn their money over to Vanguard in an indexed fund, and saved management fees.

At the state and local levels, pension funds in New Jersey and other states threaten to go the way of Detroit pension funds – to be cut back so that bondholders can be paid. Many corporate pension funds also are behind, because companies are using their record profits to pay higher dividends and to buy back their stocks to create price gains for speculators. But the funds most under attack are union pension funds. These are the funds that Congress has gone after. The fight is not merely to scale back pension funds – and avoid the government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp (PBGC) being bailed out – but to break the power of unions to attract members or to defend them.

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And wouldn’t you know, some try to attribute this to ‘increased confidence’.

New Consumer Debt Reaches Seven-Year High In UK (Guardian)

Consumer helplines have sounded a warning after Britons ran up their highest level of new debt in November for nearly seven years, with the month’s borrowing on credit cards, loans and overdrafts hitting more than £1.25bn. National Debtline and Ste%hange said the figures from the Bank of England showed a worrying rise in consumers’ reliance on credit, and warned they expected a rush of people seeking help when the first credit card bills of the year started to arrive. Banks and credit card companies have been jostling for business with offers to attract new customers: loan rates have plummeted while balance transfer deals on credit cards have become increasingly generous. The £150bn UK credit card industry is to come under investigation this month by the Financial Conduct Authority over accusations of aggressive marketing after the watchdog suggested it had been pushing “payday loans with plastic”.

The £1.25bn net increase in unsecured borrowing during November was the biggest rise since February 2008, when Northern Rock was nationalised as the credit crunch took hold. It was the third month out of five that consumers had taken on more than £1bn of new debt. More than £980m was taken out in loans and overdrafts during the month, sharply up from the monthly average of £728m over the previous six months. Credit card lending fell to £269m, from £399m in October, but remained above the average for the previous six months. The Bank of England said over the course of three months unsecured lending had grown at its most rapid pace since October 2005, and in November was up 6.9% compared with November 2013. Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Economics, said the surge in retail sales around Black Friday was probably linked to the increase in borrowing – retail experts IMRG estimated £810m was spent online during the promotional day – but he added there were also likely to be other factors behind the rise in debt.

“Relatively high consumer confidence means people have become more prepared to borrow in recent months,” he said. “It also may well be that a significant amount of people have recently been borrowing more due to the squeeze on their purchasing power coming from extended low earnings growth.” The shadow consumer minister, Stella Creasy, said the UK had a “massive looming personal debt crisis” and many households were being forced to borrow to fund living costs. “They’re not buying big fancy TVs and posh holidays – they are borrowing to cover the gap between what they earn and what they need to pay for each month,” she said. Creasy said there was a “big gaping hole at the heart of our economy” being fuelled by borrowing, and tackling problem personal debt needed to be a political priority.

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In the US, it’s already taken over the government.

Right Wing In Europe Could Bring ‘Turmoil’ (CNBC)

European leaders have joined forces to warn of the rise of right-wing political movements on the continent, amid fears of “unrest and political turmoil” in the region if their growth goes unchecked. Speaking in her traditional New Year’s address, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned against right-wing populism and criticized recent anti-Islamic protests in the country, saying they were driven by prejudice and a hatred of foreigners. And Merkel is not the only leader aware of rise of the right among voters across Europe. Merkel’s counterparts in France and Italy have both made recent comments about the unpalatable prominence of populist movements in their countries. In their new year addresses, French President Francois Hollande attacked what he called “dangerous” populist movements, and Giorgio Napolitano, the 89 year-old outgoing Italian President, warned there was “nothing more unrealistic or dangerous” than calls for Italy to leave the euro zone.

As well as opposing immigration, many of these movements also campaign against the European Union (EU) and the single currency union, the euro zone. Examples include the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), both of which have positioned themselves as euroskeptic alternatives to the mainstream parties. But more extremist right-wing groups are also gaining in popularity in some countries, with Golden Dawn in Greece getting a boost from anger at the country’s rising unemployment and tough austerity policies, implemented as part of economic reforms. The party is often described as neo-Nazi, although it rejects this label. In countries like France, where growth remains anaemic, the political elite could face real problems from parties like the National Front, Howard Goldring, managing director of Delmore Asset Management, warned.

“The National Front is doing quite well and they are playing on popular fears (over immigration and the economy),” he told CNBC on Friday. “It’s clear that France really has problems and the economy could slow down further and, therefore, you can expect more unrest and political turmoil.” The party’s current leader, Marine Le Pen, has tried to clean up the party’s image after taking over from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who made several anti-Semitic comments during his tenure of the party. It comes amid growing concerns about Europe’s tentative economic recovery. Eurozone GDP grew by just 0.2% in the third quarter, on the previous quarter, and inflation remained subdued at 0.3% in November on the back of a lower oil price.

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They still recall more than they produce?!

General Motors: A New Year, A New Series Of Recalls (Reuters)

General Motors began the new year by announcing three new vehicle recalls on Thursday, as the ignition switch crisis continued to dog the automaker after millions of vehicles were recalled in 2014. No crashes or injuries were reported in the latest round of recalls involving 83,572 sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks. GM expects that fewer than 500 will be affected by the defect, an ignition lock actuator with an outer diameter that exceeds specifications. Still, the issue could spook consumers and investors. Ignition system problems were behind the record number of recalls made in 2014 by GM, which has struggled to rebuild its reputation following its 2009 bankruptcy. The recalls hit GM’s share price, which fell 14.6% during 2014, a year in which shares of rival Ford rose about 0.5%.

GM recalled more than 2.5 million vehicles in 2014 after accidents that caused more than 40 deaths. The compensation program, which is accepting claims until Jan. 31, has received more than 2,200 claims for injuries and deaths as a result of the issue. In the primary recall announced on Thursday, the outsized ignition lock actuator can lead to the ignition key getting stuck in the “start” position. If the vehicle is driven that way and experiences a “significant jarring event,” the ignition lock cylinder could move into the “accessory” position, affecting engine power, power steering and power braking. “Also, the timing of the key movement into the accessory position relative to crash sensing could result in the air bags not deploying in certain crashes,” company spokesperson Alan Alder said in a statement.

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“Investigators say they would have uncovered even more abuses if Petrobras hadn’t refused to provide key documents.”

Failure To Stop Petrobras Scandal Could Haunt Brazil’s Rousseff (Reuters)

When federal investigators first identified signs of corruption at Petrobras in 2009, Dilma Rousseff insisted Brazil’s state-run oil company had nothing to hide. “Petrobras has one of the most accurate accounting standards in the world,” said Rousseff, who was then chairwoman of its board and is now Brazil’s president. “If it wasn’t the case, investors would not be seeking out the company as one of the great investment targets.” Today, it’s clear her confidence was misplaced. Petrobras now acknowledges it overpaid on contracts for years. Prosecutors say engineering firms paid bribes to win Petrobras contracts, systematically overcharged it to the tune of billions of dollars and funneled a cut of the money to corrupt executives, vendors and political parties, including Rousseff’s ruling Workers’ Party.

A Reuters review of a 2009 federal investigation of Petrobras, and interviews with those who conducted it, indicates Rousseff missed opportunities to stop the graft before it erupted into a crisis so big it could push Brazil’s slow-growing economy back into recession next year. Rousseff says she did not know about the corruption, or participate in it, when she was Petrobras’ chairwoman from 2003 to 2010. Opposition leaders say they believe her and that she is unlikely to face impeachment. Polls show her popularity has suffered only slightly. Still, she faces mounting scrutiny over whether she did enough to halt the corruption at Brazil’s biggest company by revenue. The scandal could haunt her in her second term as president, which began on Thursday.

Petrobras’ stock has fallen nearly 50% in the last six months and its market value is down more than 80% from its peak in 2008. Two top former executives and three dozen other suspects allegedly involved in the scheme have been indicted. The accounting standards that Rousseff praised are now in such disrepute that independent auditors have refused to certify Petrobras’ quarterly results because, pending further investigation, they are unable to put a value on its assets.

Records from the Federal Audits Court, or TCU, show that investigators detected widespread over-charging on contracts and irregular tendering practices at major Petrobras projects. They included the Abreu e Lima refinery in northeast Brazil, the biggest single investment project in Petrobras’ history. The TCU advised both the government and Petrobras’ directors in a report that was sent directly to Rousseff and her board. Investigators say they would have uncovered even more abuses if Petrobras hadn’t refused to provide key documents. The TCU’s findings were “a clear warning sign of bigger problems and likely corruption,” Saulo Puttini, who was one of the auditing officials, told Reuters. “What’s happening now is not a surprise to us at all.”

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“.. if they can’t have the run of the place, they make sure that nobody else can either, by setting up a conflict scenario that nobody there can ever hope to resolve.”

The Imperial Collapse Playbook (Dmitry Orlov)

Some people enjoy having the Big Picture laid out in front of them—the biggest possible—on what is happening in the world at large, and I am happy to oblige. The largest development of 2014 is, very broadly, this: the Anglo-imperialists are finally being forced out of Eurasia. How can we tell? Well, here is the Big Picture—the biggest I could find. I found it thanks to Nikolai Starikov and a recent article of his. Now, let’s first define our terms. By Anglo-imperialists I mean the combination of Britain and the United States. The latter took over for the former as it failed, turning it into a protectorate. Now the latter is failing too, and there are no new up-and-coming Anglo-imperialists to take over for it.

But throughout this process their common playbook had remained the same: pseudoliberal pseudocapitalism for the insiders and military domination and economic exploitation for everyone else. Much more specifically, their playbook always called for a certain strategem to be executed whenever their plans to dominate and exploit any given country finally fail. On their way out, they do what they can to compromise and weaken the entity they leave behind, by inflicting a permanently oozing and festering political wound. “Poison all the wells” is the last thing on their pre-departure checklist.

• When the British got tossed out of their American Colonies, they did all they could, using a combination of import preferences and British “soft power,” to bolster the plantation economy of the American South, helping set it up as a sort of anti-United States, and the eventual result was the American Civil War. • When the British got tossed out of Ireland, they set up Belfast as a sort of anti-Ireland, with much blood shed as a result. • When the British got tossed out of the Middle East, they set up the State of Israel, then the US made it into its own protectorate, and it has been poisoning regional politics ever since. (Thanks to Kristina for pointing this out in the comments.) • When the British got tossed out of India, they set up Pakistan, as a sort of anti-India, precipitating a nasty hot war, followed by a frozen conflict over Kashmir. • When the US lost China to the Communists, they evacuated the Nationalists to Taiwan, and set it up as a sort of anti-China, and even gave it China’s seat at the United Nations.

The goal is always the same: if they can’t have the run of the place, they make sure that nobody else can either, by setting up a conflict scenario that nobody there can ever hope to resolve. And so if you see Anglo-imperialists going out of their way and spending lots of money to poison the political well somewhere in the world, you can be sure that they are on their way out. Simply put, they don’t spend lots of money to set up intractable problems for themselves to solve—it’s always done for the benefit of others.

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That bad is bad.

South Australia ‘Incredibly Dangerous’ Wildfires Worst Since 1983 (Bloomberg)

Wildfires raging east of South Australia’s capital Adelaide are the worst the region has seen in more than 30 years, damaging homes and prompting the government to warn of “incredibly dangerous” conditions. A major emergency was declared as South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill today urged residents to leave areas threatened by fires burning out of control for a second day. Blazes have also broken out in neighboring Victoria state. “It could be a catastrophic decision to leave late,” Weatherill said in a news conference broadcast on Sky TV. “We’re dealing with an incredibly dangerous fire” in and around the southern Mount Lofty Ranges, he said.

Conditions in the area are the worst since 1983, when 75 people in the two states died in what became known as the Ash Wednesday fires, South Australia Police Commissioner Gary Burns said at the news conference. Temperatures rose over central Australia in the past week and winds are pushing that hot air south, the Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement yesterday. It forecast temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) across the southern part of the country. The nation’s hot, dry climate makes wildfires a major risk in the southern hemisphere’s summer. In February 2009, bushfires across Victoria killed 173 people and destroyed 150 homes in the worst blazes in Australian history.

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