Dec 032018
 
 December 3, 2018  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jules Adler Panorama de Paris vu du Sacré Coeur 1935

 

How Trump’s Bashing Of The New York Times and CNN Has Benefited All (F24)
Dow Futures Surge After Trump And Xi Agree To Pause Trade War (CNBC)
China Agrees To ‘Reduce And Remove’ Tariffs On US Cars: Trump (AFP)
UK Faces Constitutional Crisis Over Brexit Legal Advice – Labour (BBC)
Qatar To Withdraw From OPEC, Focus On LNG Exports (R.)
Macron Tells PM To Hold Talks, Mulls State Of Emergency (R.)
France’s Meltdown, Macron’s Disdain (Milliere)
Deutsche Bank Takeover Speculation Intensifies (ZH)
Merkel Protege Suggests Reducing Gas Flow Through Nord Stream 2 Pipeline (R.)
EU Delays Euro Zone Budget, Deposit Insurance Plans (R.)
World Bank Promises $200 Billion In 2021-25 Climate Cash (AFP)

 

 

A topic I’ve addressed a lot. It’s just that I would say “The New York Times and CNN’ Bashing of Trump”, not the other way around., After all, who started? Read the whole thing, it shows how smart Trump is when it comes to media.

“Concluding his December 2017 interview with The New York Times, Trump said: “Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes […] So they basically have to let me win.“

How Trump’s Bashing Of The New York Times and CNN Has Benefited All (F24)

Although Donald Trump has an antagonistic relationship with The New York Times and CNN, the ‘Trump bump’ has been a business boon to these outlets, while the US president has been keen to use them to pursue publicity and legitimacy. While Trump often rails against the US media generally – most notably as “enemies of the people” – the country’s foremost newspaper of record, The New York Times, and its oldest 24-hour news network, CNN, are frequently singled out for opprobrium as “The Failing New York Times” and “Fake News CNN”. The acrimony between Trump and CNN reached its zenith on November 8 when the White House revoked the press access of its reporter Jim Acosta after a rancorous post-midterm news conference – only for his press pass to be restored thanks to judicial review three days later.

Meanwhile the vitriolic rhetoric from the White House has provoked considerable alarm amongst the press. New York Times’ publisher A.G. Sulzberger warned on July 30 that Trump’s increasingly splenetic attacks on the news media “will lead to violence”, before its sister paper The Boston Globe led the way in launching the #EnemyofNone campaign against the president’s relentless attacks on the American press. Despite these tensions, The New York Times – like CNN – is far from failing. On the contrary, both outlets are enjoying booming subscription and viewer figures thanks to Trump’s presidency. From Trump’s election on November 8, 2016 until the end of that month, The New York Times saw an increase of 132,000 in paid subscriptions – 10 times the growth rate in November 2015.

This trajectory has continued. “NYT has well surpassed initial expectations for subscriber growth […] following the ‘Trump bump’,” JP Morgan analyst Alexia Quadrani wrote to clients in April 2018. The New York Times Company’s share price outperformed those of Apple, Amazon and Facebook between Trump’s election in 2016 and the end of June 2018, soaring by 141 percent. “When I talked to the [executive] editor of The New York Times [Dean Baquet], he told me with a smile on his face that Donald Trump has done at least one good thing – and that is that he has boosted the circulation of The New York Times,” Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. and author of “Enemy of the People”, a book on Trump’s hostile regard towards the US media, told FRANCE 24.

“People who subscribe to and read [The New York] Times are for the most part people who oppose Trump, who do not think it is fake news,” explained Robert Shapiro, a professor of political science at Columbia University, whose area of expertise includes the relationship between mass media and US politics, in an interview with FRANCE 24. The paper has “used the facts of the Trump presidency to draw attention to the bad things that he is doing, and that’s attracted readers who want to get information to use against Trump”, Shapiro continued.

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Anything to buy and sell some more.

Dow Futures Surge After Trump And Xi Agree To Pause Trade War (CNBC)

U.S. stock market futures surged after U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day ceasefire in the trade war that has weighed heavily on global stock markets for most of 2018. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 488 points as of 11:31 p.m. ET Sunday. The advance implied a 471.54 point gain for the Dow at Monday’s open. Meanwhile, S&P 500 futures added around 1.71 percent, while futures on the Nasdaq-100, home of many technology companies which sell to China, jumped about 2.75 percent. Futures on oil and copper jumped on hopes a possible new China-U.S. trade agreement would boost global economic growth.

The two leaders, who met for dinner on Saturday at the G-20 summit in Argentina, agreed to hold off on additional tariffs on each other’s goods at the start of the new year to allow for talks to continue. The U.S. agreed to leave tariffs on more than $200 billion worth of Chinese products at 10 percent. If after 90 days the two countries are unable to reach an agreement, that rate will be raised to 25 percent, according to the White House. Trade negotiations will address forced technology transfer and intellectual property. “The explicit delay in tariffs is on the positive end of expectations,” said Helen Qiao, China and Asia economist with Bank of America Lynch, in a note to clients. “In contrast to the fear — especially in Asia —that the hawks in US administration would make impossible demands, evidence of President Trump working towards a trade deal with China has emerged.”

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Something tells me they’ll want something in return.

China Agrees To ‘Reduce And Remove’ Tariffs On US Cars: Trump (AFP)

China has agreed to scale back tariffs on imported US cars, President Donald Trump said Sunday, one day after agreeing with Xi Jinping to a ceasefire in the trade war between the world’s top two economies. Asia stocks had rallied on the news that Washington and Beijing would not impose any new tariffs during a three-month grace period, during which the two sides are meant to finalize a more detailed agreement. “China has agreed to reduce and remove tariffs on cars coming into China from the U.S. Currently the tariff is 40 percent,” Trump said on Twitter. On Saturday, Trump and Xi agreed to put a stop to their tit-for-tat tariffs row, which had roiled world markets for months.

The Republican president called their agreement – which Washington hopes will help close a yawning trade gap with the Asian giant and help protect US intellectual property – an “incredible” deal. Trump agreed to hold off on his threat to slap 25 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from January 1, leaving them at the current 10% rate. In return, China is to purchase “very substantial” amounts of agricultural, energy, industrial and other products from the US. In July, China reduced auto import duties from 25 percent to 15 percent, a boon for international carmakers keen to grow sales in the world’s largest auto market. But as trade tensions ratcheted up with the US this summer, Beijing retaliated by slapping vehicles imported from the US with an extra 25 percent tariff, bringing the total tariff rate to 40%.

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May’s worst crisis to date. Parliament first votes on December 11.

UK Faces Constitutional Crisis Over Brexit Legal Advice – Labour (BBC)

The UK faces a “constitutional crisis” if Theresa May does not publish the full legal advice on her Brexit deal on Monday, Labour has warned. The PM says the advice is confidential. but some MPs think ministers do not want to admit it says the UK could be indefinitely tied to EU customs rules. Ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson has joined calls for its publication, which critics say could sink the PM’s deal. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will make a statement about it on Monday. He is set to publish a reduced version of the legal advice – despite calls from MPs from all parties to publish a full version.

His statement to the House of Commons will be followed by five days of debate on the deal. MPs say the statement from the attorney general does not respect a binding Commons vote last month, which required the government to lay before Parliament “any legal advice in full”. Labour is planning to join forces with other parties, including the DUP, who keep Mrs May in power, to initiate contempt of Parliament proceedings unless the government backs down. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News: “If they don’t produce [the advice] tomorrow (Monday) then we will start contempt proceedings. This will be a collision course between the government and Parliament.”

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Reuters manages to do an entire article on this without mentioning the Saudi-led Qatar boycott even once. Well done!

Qatar To Withdraw From OPEC, Focus On LNG Exports (R.)

Qatar said on Monday it was quitting OPEC from January 2019 but would attend the oil exporter group’s meeting this week, saying the decision meant Doha could focus on cementing its position as the world’s top liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter. Doha, one of the smallest oil producers in OPEC, is locked in a diplomatic dispute with the group’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia but said the move to leave OPEC was not driven by politics. Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi told a news conference that Qatar, which he said been a member of OPEC for 57 years, would still attend the group’s meeting on Thursday and Friday this week, and would abide by its commitments.

“Qatar has decided to withdraw its membership from OPEC effective January 2019 and this decision was communicated to OPEC this morning,” the minister said. “For me to put efforts and resources and time in an organization that we are a very small player in and I don’t have a say in what happens … practically it does not work, so for us it’s better to focus on our big growth potential,” he said. [..] Qatar has oil output of only 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), compared with the 11 million bpd produced by Saudi Arabia, the group’s biggest oil producer and world’s biggest exporter. But Doha is an influential player in the global LNG market with annual production of 77 million tonnes per year, based on its huge reserves of the fuel in the Gulf.

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Perhaps the best indicator of where Macron finds himself are the policemen taking off their helmets to show solidarity with the gilets jaunes.

Macron Tells PM To Hold Talks, Mulls State Of Emergency (R.)

Riot police on Saturday were overwhelmed as protesters ran amok in Paris’s wealthiest neighborhoods, torching dozens of cars, looting boutiques and smashing up luxury private homes and cafes in the worst disturbances the capital has seen since 1968. The unrest began as a backlash against fuel tax hikes but has spread. It poses the most formidable challenge yet to Macron’s presidency, with the escalating violence and depth of public anger against his economic reforms catching the 40-year-old leader off-guard and battling to regain control.

After a meeting with members of his government on Sunday, the French presidency said in a statement that the president had asked his interior minister to prepare security forces for future protests and his prime minister to hold talks with political party leaders and representatives of the protesters. A French presidential source said Macron would not speak to the nation on Sunday despite calls for him to offer immediate concessions to demonstrators, and said the idea of imposing a state of emergency had not been discussed. Arriving back from the G20 summit in Argentina, Macron had earlier rushed to the Arc de Triomphe, a revered monument and epicenter of Saturday’s clashes, where protesters had scrawled “Macron resign” and “The yellow vests will triumph”.

The “yellow vest” rebellion erupted out of nowhere on Nov. 17, with protesters blocking roads across France and impeding access to some shopping malls, fuel depots and airports. Violent groups from the far right and far left as well as youths from the suburbs infiltrated Saturday’s protests, the authorities said. Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux had indicated the Macron administration was considering imposing a state of emergency. The president was open to dialogue, he said, but would not reverse policy reforms.

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A president with a low enough approval rating and etractors that are sufficiently organized will always have a hard time.

France’s Meltdown, Macron’s Disdain (Milliere)

On November 11th, French President Emmanuel Macron commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by inviting seventy heads of state to organize a costly, useless, grandiloquent “Forum of Peace” that did not lead to anything. He also invited US President Donald Trump, and then chose to insult him. In a pompous speech, Macron – knowing that a few days earlier, Donald Trump had defined himself as a nationalist committed to defending America – invoked “patriotism”; then defined it, strangely, as “the exact opposite of nationalism”; then called it “treason”. In addition, shortly before the meeting, Macron had not only spoken of the “urgency” of building a European army; he also placed the United States among the “enemies” of Europe.

This was not the first time Macron placed Europe above the interests of his own country. It was, however, the first time he had placed the United States on the list of enemies of Europe. President Trump apparently understood immediately that Macron’s attitude was a way to maintain his delusions of grandeur,as well as to try to derive a domestic political advantage. Trump also apparently understood that he could not just sit there and accept insults. In a series of tweets, Trump reminded the world that France had needed the help of the USA to regain freedom during World Wars, that NATO was still protecting a virtually defenseless Europe and that many European countries were still not paying the amount promised for their own defense.

Trump added that Macron had an extremely low approval rating (26%), was facing an extremely high level of unemployment, and was probably trying to divert attention from that. Trump was right. For months, the popularity of Macron has been in free fall: he is now the most unpopular French President in modern history at this stage of his mandate. The French population has turned away from him in droves. Unemployment in France is not only at an alarmingly high level (9.1%); it has been been alarmingly high for years. The number of people in poverty is also high (8.8 million people, 14.2% of the population). Economic growth is effectively non-existent (0.4% in the third quarter of 2018, up from 0.2% the previous three months). The median income (20,520 euros, or $23,000, a year,) is unsustainably low. It indicates that half the French live on less than 1710 euros ($1946) a month. Five million people are surviving on less than 855 euros ($973) a month.

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Deutsche is the archetypical too big to fail hot potato. The Fed must help, and so does Merkel. But to what end?

Deutsche Bank Takeover Speculation Intensifies (ZH)

Since taking over troubled German lender Deutsche Bank back in April, Christian Sewing has watched the recidivist lender’s troubles go from bad to worse. On Friday, the bank’s shares reached an all-time low; they’re now down 50% YTD, making Deutsche the worst performer in a poorly performing index of the world’s largest global banks. The latest selloff was inspired by the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office deciding to raid six Deutsche buildings, including the bank’s headquarters The raid, which continued for two days, doubled as the first public revelation about the latest criminal scandal involving Europe’s biggest bank by assets, which has already paid $18 billion in legal penalties since the financial crisis.

Prosecutors revealed that they were investigating at least two employees in the bank’s wealth management unit (part of the division overseen by Sewing before he took the CEO job) for allegedly helping customers set up accounts in offshore tax shelters and helping criminals launder their ill-gotten gains – allegations that prosecutors said were inspired by the infamous ‘Panama Papers’ leak. During their raid, prosecutors searched the offices of five senior Deutsche executives, including the bank’s chief compliance officer, who was rumored to be leaving the bank in a report published just days before nearly 200 police officers, tax inspectors and prosecutors showed up outside Deutsche’s international headquarters and demanded that everybody step away from their computers.

Given the abysmal week the bank just had, it’s hardly surprising that the financial media has published a barrage of negative stories featuring anonymously sourced quotes from Deutsche “investors” effectively demanding that, if Sewing can’t get his shit together in the next quarter or two, he will need to abandon the “strategic alternatives” (cost-cutting, shifting the bank’s investment strategy to emphasize growth in wealth management) that he championed as a road toward salvation (alongside cost-cutting, of course) and seriously consider a sale.

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Nordstream2 would bankrupt Ukraine. Hence the anti-Russia desperation.

Merkel Protege Suggests Reducing Gas Flow Through Nord Stream 2 Pipeline (R.)

Germany must answer urgent, growing political concerns about the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project given Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships and their crew off the coast of Crimea, a senior German conservative said on Sunday. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a top candidate to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats, told public broadcaster ARD it would be “too radical” to withdraw political support for the project, but Berlin could reduce the amount of gas to flow through the pipeline. Russia is resisting international calls to release three Ukrainian ships seized last weekend in the Kerch Strait near the Crimea region that Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Moscow has accused the 24 sailors of illegally crossing the Russian border, which Ukraine denies. After meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Merkel on Saturday called on Russia to release the sailors and allow free shipping access to the Sea of Azov, but stopped short of endorsing any additional sanctions against Moscow. Kramp-Karrenbauer is a close Merkel ally but has taken a firmer stance on Russia’s actions in recent days. On Friday, she told Reuters the EU and the US should consider banning from their ports Russian ships originating from the Sea of Azov in response to the incident. She told ARD on Sunday that it was time to draw a firmer line against Russian actions, including its annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

[..] Her suggestion of banning Russian ships from European ports triggered criticism from some Social Democrats, including former foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, who urged calm and accused Ukraine of trying to drag Germany into a war with Russia.

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They’re still dead set on more Europe.

EU Delays Euro Zone Budget, Deposit Insurance Plans (R.)

EU finance ministers will agree on Monday to give the euro zone bailout fund new responsibilities, but they will delay decisions on the euro zone budget and a deposit guarantee scheme after failing to reach agreement, a draft document showed. The ministers will discuss deeper economic integration of the 19 countries sharing the euro, to prepare the single currency bloc for the next potential crisis. However, after a year of negotiations, fraught with political difficulties, little of the original ambition, championed by French President Emmanuel Macron, remains.

The two flagship ideas – a separate budget for euro zone countries to help stabilize their economies and a deposit guarantee scheme to make all euro zone bank deposits safe – are too controversial and will be worked on further until June 2019, according to the draft document, seen by Reuters. In the case of the deposit guarantee scheme, mistrust among euro zone countries is so great that they could not even agree on a roadmap for beginning political negotiations on EDIS (European Deposit Insurance Scheme), as mandated by EU leaders. “Further technical work is still needed to agree on a roadmap. We will establish a High-level working group with a mandate to work on next steps. The High-level group should report back by June 2019,” said the draft report by EU finance ministers.

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Advice: don’t support anything the World Bank is involved in. They are not your friends.

World Bank Promises $200 Billion In 2021-25 Climate Cash (AFP)

The World Bank on Monday unveiled $200 billion in climate action investment for 2021-25, adding this amounts to a doubling of its current five-year funding. The World Bank said the move, coinciding with a UN climate summit meeting of some 200 nations in Poland, represented a “significantly ramped up ambition” to tackle climate change, “sending an important signal to the wider global community to do the same.” Developed countries are committed to lifting combined annual public and private spending to $100 billion in developing countries by 2020 to fight the impact of climate change — up from 48.5 billion in 2016 and 56.7 billion last year, according to latest OECD data.

Southern hemisphere countries fighting the impact of warming temperatures are nonetheless pushing northern counterparts for firmer commitments. In a statement, the World Bank said the breakdown of the $200 billion would comprise “approximately $100 billion in direct finance from the World Bank.” Around one third of the remaining funding will come from two World Bank Group agencies with the rest private capital “mobilised by the World Bank Group.” “If we don’t reduce emissions and build adaptation now, we’ll have 100 million more people living in poverty by 2030,” John Roome, World Bank senior director for climate change, warned. “And we also know that the less we address this issue proactively just in three regions – Africa, South Asia and Latin America – we’ll have 133 million climate migrants,” Roome told AFP.

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Apr 222018
 
 April 22, 2018  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Green Wheat Field With Cypress 1889

 

US Hints at China Truce as World Warns of Trade-War Threat (BBG)
US Banks Push Mortgage Apps As Home Lending Slows (R.)
Chinese Gangs Are Laundering Drug Money Through Vancouver Real Estate (GN)
New Zealand’s Ban On Home Sales To Foreigners Is “Discriminatory” – IMF (BBG)
Whirling Whirling (Jim Kunstler)
Home Office Under Theresa May Was Urged in 2014 To Act On Windrush (Ind.)
Tory Ministers Milking The System Are The Real Shirkers (G.)
Theresa May’s Hateful ‘Hostile Environment’ Immigration Policy (O.)
Europe’s Depopulation Time Bomb Is Ticking in the Baltics (BBG)
Members of European Parliament Call For Boycott of FIFA World Cup in Russia (UAW)
World Bank Recommends That Countries Eliminate Minimum Wage (BB)
Hopes For Greek Debt Deal Low Amid EU-IMF Discord (K.)
Turkish Justice Minister: Greece ‘A Gathering Place For Criminals’ (K.)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb Has Never Borrowed a Cent in His Life (Esq.)

 

 

At least in words, China has caved.

US Hints at China Truce as World Warns of Trade-War Threat (BBG)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s considering a trip to China amid a trade dispute with Beijing that finance chiefs warn could derail the global economic upswing. Mnuchin said he’s “cautiously optimistic” of reaching an agreement with China that bridges their differences over trade. “A trip is under consideration,” Mnuchin told reporters on Saturday in Washington at the IMF’s spring meetings. “I’m not going to make a comment on timing, nor do I have anything confirmed.” China’s Ministry of Commerce said Sunday it is aware that the U.S. is considering a visit to Beijing to negotiate economic and trade issues and welcomes such a move.

A visit by the U.S. Treasury secretary to China could signal a breakthrough in the spat between the world’s two-biggest economies, whose threats to slap tariffs on each other have rattled markets and raised fears of a trade war. It would come at a sensitive time for the region’s geopolitics, with negotiations under way on a planned meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Mnuchin’s remarks came as finance ministers and central bankers at the IMF meetings gave their latest economic assessments, often citing trade as a threat looming over the strongest upswing in seven years.

[..] Mnuchin said he met with Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, at the IMF gathering this week. The discussions focused on issues related to the Chinese central bank, not trade, said the secretary. Mnuchin said they also discussed China’s planned further opening of some markets, a move that U.S. has encouraged and “appreciated.” “China will vigorously push forward the reform and opening-up of the financial sector, significantly relax market access restrictions, create a more attractive investment environment, strengthen the protection of intellectual properties and actively expand imports,” Yi said in a statement on Saturday. China has announced plans to gradually remove foreign ownership caps for limits for car-, ship- and aircraft-makers.

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“Buying a house is supposed to be a joyful thing..”

US Banks Push Mortgage Apps As Home Lending Slows (R.)

Big U.S. banks are racing to launch websites and mobile apps to make getting a mortgage faster and easier, investments that may have modest near-term payoffs as home lending activity slows. Lenders have been spending on digital tools to cut costs, eliminate error-prone paperwork and appeal to younger home buyers. However, they are chasing a shrinking pool of refinancing business and new home loan volumes are still below pre-crisis levels. Bank of America has spent $1 billion on its digital banking services in the last six years and launched its lineup of techy mortgage products last week. Wells Fargo rolled out its website and app service during the first quarter, and JPMorgan Chase, which is investing $1.4 billion in technology in 2018, plans to launch its offering later this year.

Bank of America’s app automatically fills in a customer’s address, employment history and other information that the bank already has, cutting out hundreds of boxes customers would otherwise have to fill. JPMorgan’s lets customers e-sign important documents. Quicken Loans was the first to gain traction with digital home loans following its 2016 Rocket Mortgage launch. The app is now key to its mortgage sales with more than 98 percent of the $20 billion in first-quarter lending volume accessing Rocket Mortgage at some point in the mortgage process, Quicken spokeswoman Brianna Blust said.

Quicken was the biggest home lender by volume in the fourth quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018, Blust said. It was the second-largest U.S. mortgage lender for the full year 2017, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance Publications. “Buying a house is supposed to be a joyful thing,” said Steve Boland, Bank of America’s head of consumer lending. “Filling out 330 fields is not, I think, something that brings you joy.” Refinancing volumes have plunged as interest rates have risen, meaning lenders must compete for a much smaller revenue pie in fresh home purchases.

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Bit over the top?

Chinese Gangs Are Laundering Drug Money Through Vancouver Real Estate (GN)

Criminal syndicates that control chemical factories in China’s booming Guangdong province are shipping narcotics, including fentanyl, to Vancouver, washing the drug sales in British Columbia’s casinos and high-priced real estate, and transferring laundered funds back to Chinese factories to repeat this deadly trade cycle, a Global News investigation shows. The flow of narcotics and chemical precursors — and a rising death count in western Canada caused by synthetic opioids — is driven by sophisticated organized crime groups known as Triads. The Triads have infiltrated Canada’s economy so deeply that Australia’s intelligence community has coined a new term for innovative methods of drug trafficking and money laundering now occurring in B.C.

It is called the “Vancouver Model” of transnational crime. Details of the Vancouver Model are outlined in a November 2017 report obtained by Global News from B.C.’s provincial government, in a freedom of information request. The report, by John Langdale of the department of security studies and criminology at Macquarie University, was presented to Australian intelligence officers and Austrac, the country’s anti-money laundering agency. B.C. Attorney General David Eby has reviewed the report, and recently travelled to Ottawa to inform a federal committee of his concerns. His message was blunt. Eby testified that Canada’s anti-money laundering system has completely failed. He told the committee that gangsters have been openly carrying hockey bags stuffed with hundreds of thousands in drug cash into B.C. casinos, and there has not been a single prosecution.

In an interview with Global, Eby said the Australian report shows “that Vancouver is now recognized internationally as a hub of transnational money laundering.”

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Is this also about Chinese gangs?

New Zealand’s Ban On Home Sales To Foreigners Is “Discriminatory” – IMF (BBG)

The IMF has criticized New Zealand’s “discriminatory” ban on home sales to foreigners, saying it’s unlikely to improve housing affordability. “Foreign buyers seem to have played a minor role in New Zealand’s residential real estate market recently,” the IMF said in a statement Tuesday, after concluding its annual Article IV mission to New Zealand. If the government’s broader housing policy agenda is fully implemented, that “would address most of the potential problems associated with foreign buyers on a less discriminatory basis,” it said. The new Labour-led government has pledged to fix the nation’s housing crisis with a raft of measures, including a ban on foreign speculators buying residential property, removal of tax distortions and an ambitious building program.

House prices have surged more than 60% in the past decade amid record immigration and a construction shortfall, shutting many out of the housing market. [..] Proposed changes to the Overseas Investment Act, which the government says will bring New Zealand into line with neighboring Australia, will classify residential land as “sensitive,” meaning non-residents or non-citizens can’t purchase existing dwellings without the consent of the Overseas Investment Office. While non-resident foreigners will be allowed to invest in new construction, they will be forced to sell once the homes are built.

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“Their parting shot to an unjust world was voting for Donald Trump. Next time, they won’t even be around.”

Whirling Whirling (Jim Kunstler)

It begins to look like The USA will litigate itself into Civil War Two with the first battle being half the lawyers in the Department of Justice prosecuting the other half until Anthropogenic Global Warming puts the DC Swamp completely underwater and all parties concerned scuttle off into the deep blue sea. It was rather a shock to see the photo lineup of all those familiar faces — Comey, Hillary, McCabe, Loretta Lynch et. al. — in the criminal referral “matters” sent over to the DOJ by congress on Wednesday, as if they were some mob of goombahs caught running a waste management kickback racket in the Hackensack mud-flats.

But the evidence trail has been in plain sight for more than a year that Justice Department officials of various ranks and stripes colluded to bring off a legalistic coup d’etat against the loathed and despised winner of the 2016 election — with a little help from (of all things and personae) Russia, as in that political smallpox blanket known as the Steele Dossier. Mixed metaphors aside, it looks like all the clones of Ricky Ricardo and Lucy engineered in some CIA black lab will never satisfy the amount of ’splainin’ that needs to be done, and that the ensuing trials may last longer than the lifetimes of millennials still struggling on campus with their gender presentation. There may be even more line-ups to come.

I’m thinking players like Susan Rice, the Podesta brothers, Huma Abedin, John Brennan, James Clapper, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and perhaps the gentleman who preceded the Golden Golem of Greatness in the oval office. This melodrama will make The Lord of the Rings look like a knock-knock joke. Meanwhile, the Republic actually whirls around the drain, both as a legitimate polity between Montauk Point and the Farallon Islands, and as an actor on the world stage. The Washington bureaucracy is not the only swamp that needs to be drained. There’s also the reeking Okeefenokee wasteland known as the US economy, led by its financial avatars on Wall Street who engineered the orgy of asset-stripping that chewed through the industrial states like some flesh-eating bacteria.

There is nothing left in Flyover-land. I drove through part of it yesterday on a book-reporting chore: the “quiet corner” of northeastern Connecticut south of Worcester, Mass, a valley of decrepitating mill towns and opiate addiction, like some place out of H.P. Lovecraft’s demon-haunted imagination, where the sun comes up twenty minutes later than anywhere else, and a dwindling population of malevolent diseased imbeciles shriek their lonesome agonies of failure and destitution to a God that never returned from lunchbreak one day in 1985. Their parting shot to an unjust world was voting for Donald Trump. Next time, they won’t even be around.

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No accident.

Home Office Under Theresa May Was Urged in 2014 To Act On Windrush (Ind.)

Home Office officials were urged four years ago to act on the growing problems facing the Windrush generation, it has emerged, including recommendations to create a specialist taskforce which was only set up this week. It follows intense pressure on the government department and Theresa May over their handling of the Windrush scandal that has highlighted the plight of members of a generation of immigrants who arrived as British citizens in the mid-twentieth century. This week both Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and the prime minister have personally apologised for the debacle, promising compensation for those affected and setting up a new dedicated team in the Home Office tasked with helping members of the Windrush generation prove their right to British citizenship.

But the government now faces renewed criticism after it emerged that a similar recommendation – the creation of specialist Home Office unit – was made in October 2014 while Ms May was in charge of the department as home secretary. In a detailed report, published in October 2014 by the Legal Action Group, it was also warned that thousands of migrants who have been in Britain legally for decades were falling victim to the “hostile immigration” policies aimed at illegal immigrants in the UK. The recommendations of the Chasing Status report also included maintaining applicants’ ability to work and claim benefits while their status is resolved.

[..]The Labour MP David Lammy, who has been a leading campaigner for those members of the Windrush generation experiencing difficulties, told The Independent: “It is utterly extraordinary that the Home Office was clearly aware of the impact that their pernicious policies would have, yet ignored all the warnings and impact assessments. “The apologies made by the home secretary and prime minister are merely crocodile tears given that they were fully aware of the human cost that their policies would have. It’s time for a proper and independent review of our immigration policy and the hostile environment.”

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“Lose one form, and you lose cancer treatment and your liberty – lose a generation’s forms, and you’re the effing PM..”

Tory Ministers Milking The System Are The Real Shirkers (G.)

If I were editing a tabloid newspaper this week – and I’m always open to guest stints – I would have had advertising vans out since Monday. They would have been crawling v-e-r-y slowly back and forth past the houses of Theresa May, Amber Rudd, Nick Timothy and David Cameron – and those just for starters. Instead of the repulsive GO HOME message that adorned the infamous vans May’s Home Office sent out, which resulted in the eventual deportation of precisely 11 migrants, I would have something along the lines of STAY HOME. Stay home, permanently. Whether they would get the message is uncertain. Collectively, Britain did its very best to provide a hostile environment for May with the election result. The message was very clear: take a hike. Not a hiking holiday, but the full hike.

Yet the import does not seem to have got through to the prime minister, or the various arse-coverers around her. It’s fair to say we are dealing with a very specific class of unworthy here. There are few groups who take less responsibility for their actions, as this week in the Windrush scandal has laid starkly bare. Some of the most senior political figures in the land are – in the purest sense of one of their favourite terms – shirkers. They are feckless. They act like these things are happening to them, as opposed to because of them. Given the judgments they like to visit on the weaker members of society for comparatively minuscule transgressions, this makes them the most raging hypocrites too.

[..] And on they all go. If the government is in any doubt as to why so many millions think it’s one rule for them and another for the little people, then this week couldn’t be a better primer. You lose one form and you lose your job, your cancer treatment, your benefits, your liberty; you lose a generation’s forms and you’re the effing prime minister. Those condemned to battle the systems that ministers design know what happens if they make tiny errors. Furthermore, they know that if they messed up a tenth as badly in their jobs, they’d be sacked. But in the arse-over-tit world of government, you’re safe because your sacking would make the big boss – May – look weak. Just like your HR department, right? Except on crystal meth.

I don’t want to fall back on a series of politicians’ best-loved cliches, but this level of irresponsibility is just scrounging with a red box. They play for high stakes – but never their own. It’s the sort of system-milking demonised in a benefits office in Grimsby but regarded as career progression in Westminster. It makes it appear there’s no glass ceiling in modern political life, just a reinforced lead floor. Once you’re in, you basically have to die to stop earning rewards.

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“Children as young as 10 who were born in the UK are subjected to a “good character” test when they apply for citizenship..”

Theresa May’s Hateful ‘Hostile Environment’ Immigration Policy (O.)

History will judge Theresa May harshly. In recent weeks, the appalling stories about the impact of the government’s “hostile environment” policy reported by our sister paper, the Guardian, have continued to grow in number. They paint a shocking picture of a Kafkaesque state that has denied people who came to the UK from the Commonwealth as children their rightful entitlement to work, to housing and to healthcare. May has maintained these are people who have been wrongly caught up in her 2013 decision as home secretary to create a “really hostile environment” for people living in Britain illegally. But their tragic stories are the direct consequence of a policy so punitive that it would inevitably make life intolerable for legal British residents.

People without a passport are now being required to provide an absurd level of proof – four pieces of documentary evidence for each year of residence – of their legal status. Without this, they can no longer work, rent a home, open a bank account or access NHS care and may be detained and threatened with deportation. Doctors, bank clerks and landlords have become obliged to snoop on their fellow citizens by checking up on their immigration status.

[..] Those who become caught up in this are confronted with a cruel Home Office bureaucracy that operates outside the principles of natural justice. Officials are incentivised to reject applications for the tiniest of technical errors; immigration application fees are so high they are generating profits of up to 800% for the state, and there is no longer any right of appeal or legal aid available in most types of immigration cases. Children as young as 10 who were born in the UK are subjected to a “good character” test when they apply for citizenship; if they have been cautioned, their application can be refused.

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The EU fails everywhere, and spectacularly. It sucks the periphery dry. Just like Rome did.

Europe’s Depopulation Time Bomb Is Ticking in the Baltics (BBG)

With much of Eastern Europe already in the European Union or looking to join, living standards have been rising in the cities that dot these former Soviet satellites. More storefronts beckon to western tourists, who have grown more eager to wander among the cobblestones of historic capitals that were once less than hospitable. But a closer look outside the central squares reveals a different reality. According to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, nine of the world’s countries most at risk of losing citizens over the next few decades are former East bloc nations. Porous borders and greater opportunity in the west have lured people away. Meanwhile, the populist wave sweeping the continent has made it next-to-impossible for African or Middle Eastern refugees to take their place.

Former Latvian economic minister Vjaceslavs Dombrovskis, now head of the Certus think tank, compared the westward migration of young eastern Europeans to the industrial revolution, when peasants rushed to large urban centers. He said these countries risk turning into what ancestral villages are for city dwellers: “a lovely place where you might spend an odd weekend with your folks.” The trend is hitting especially hard in the Baltics. Latvia, with a current population of 1.96 million, has lost about 25% of its residents since throwing off Soviet control in 1991. The UN predicts that by 2050, it will have lost an additional 22% of its current population—second only to Bulgaria—and by 2100, 41%.

In Estonia, with a population of 1.32 million, the UN foresees a 13% decline by 2050, growing to 32% by 2100. And in Lithuania, the current population of 2.87 million is expected to drop by 17% in 2050. By 2100, it will have lost 34%. As bad as those numbers look, the trend looks even worse for Ukraine and Moldova. The UN predicts 36% and 51% declines in those nations by the end of the century, respectively. Russia, meanwhile, is expected to lose 13% by 2100. Several factors are contributing to the depopulation of Eastern Europe, and Latvia has all of them: low income, compared with more developed EU nations; insufficient growth; and strong anti-immigrant sentiment. The average annual take-home pay among all EU nations was 24,183 euros ($29,834) in 2015, according to Eurostat, while in Latvia it was only 6,814 euros ($8,406).

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There are 751 members. 60 support this.

Members of European Parliament Call For Boycott of FIFA World Cup in Russia (UAW)

60 members of the European Parliament called on EU member states to boycott the FIFA World Cup in Russia, DW reports. The initiator of this appeal is a representative of the Green Party, Rebecca Harms. She believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot be a host of the World Cup while the war continues in Syria and Ukraine. She also pointed out that Russia supports right-wing extremist and anti-democratic parties in the EU and has been trying to influence elections. Overall, the statement was signed by representatives of 5 factions of the European Parliament from 16 countries. The authors of the document indicate that Russia itself is pushing Europe towards such steps.

A group of deputies reminded others about the poisoning of former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which they called a mockery of European values. MEPs believe that EU member states should take the UK and Iceland as good examples of the countries which counter the “strengthening of the authoritarian and anti-Western course of the Russian president.” The authors also draw attention to the unsatisfactory situation with human rights and freedoms in Russia, especially the violation of freedom of speech. Earlier, a White House representative urged British and American fans to think twice before going to the World Cup in Russia.

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Let’s shut down the World Bank. It’s been rotting for too long.

World Bank Recommends That Countries Eliminate Minimum Wage (BB)

A draft of the World Bank’s annual flagship World Development Report says that its creditor-states (the poorest countries in the world) should eliminate their minimum wage rules, allow employers to fire workers without cause, and repeal laws limiting abusive employment contract terms. The bank argues that this is necessary to stop employers from simply investing in automation and eliminating workers altogether. The report does not contemplate the possibility that the world’s governments would just raise taxes on corporations and their investors to provide for all their citizens.

Poor countries – especially decolonized countries – are often in debt to organizations like the World Bank and IMF, sometimes because they were forced to literally buy their freedom (like Haiti, whose slave-descended population had to remit a sizable portion of its annual GDP to the descendants of French slavers until 1947), sometimes because their wealth was looted by colonists during and after the colonial period, and sometimes because rich creditor nations were complicit in the exfiltration of the nation’s treasure by gangster-politicians, a practice that continues to this day.

Countries generally carry more debt than they can hope to repay, and teeter on the brink of continuous default, putting them at the mercy of creditor-organizations, who can order changes to national laws, sell-offs of public industries and assets, and other measures that further reduce debtor-states’ ability to prosper, creating more debt and deeper concessions. The World Bank’s recommendations feel like the beginning of the end-game of late-stage capitalism, a recognition that the post-war era in which cruel exploitation of workers was considered a bug rather than a feature is drawing to a close, and a return to a kind of market feudalism, where property rights – no matter how corrupt their origins – always trump human rights.

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Divide and rule.

Hopes For Greek Debt Deal Low Amid EU-IMF Discord (K.)

Hopes for a breakthrough on the issue of Greek debt relief at a summit of eurozone finance ministers in Sofia on Friday are muted following a lack of progress in talks between European officials and representatives of the IMF in Washington over the weekend. Talks involved all of the key players in the debate on Greece’s debt, including IMF chief Christine Lagarde, European Monetary and Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovci, and the finance ministers of Germany, Italy, Spain and France. But a long-standing rift between EU and IMF officials over how a debt relief mechanism should operate continued, with the Fund representatives insisting that it should be automatic and the Europeans saying it should be tied to conditions.

In view of the resistance put up chiefly by Germany, the EU’s largest economy, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos expressed his concern that the debt relief being considered for Greece would be inadequate. Another worry is over creditors’ objections to a growth plan proposed by Greece. European officials responded with a 30-page memo to Greece’s 85-page proposal, requesting more detail and a stricter time frame. The growth plan was one of the issues discussed by leftist SYRIZA’s political secretariat during a session chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday.

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What you say about a neighbor you want good relations with.

Turkish Justice Minister: Greece ‘A Gathering Place For Criminals’ (K.)

Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul has written to his Greek counterpart Stavros Kontonis saying “Greece is becoming a gathering place for criminals” following a court ruling releasing one of eight Turkish servicemen seeking asylum in Greece, Anadolu reported on Saturday. Gul’s letter came a day after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim slammed the Council of State ruling, saying Greece was becoming a “safe haven” for Turkey’s enemies. The ruling issued on Thursday by Greece’s highest administrative court relates to Süleyman Özkaynakçı, who piloted the helicopter in which he and seven other Turkish servicemen fled to Greece in July 2016 following Turkey’s failed coup.

However it is expected to apply to all eight servicemen. In his comments on Friday, Yildirim said it was “unacceptable” for people who took part in the coup attempt in the summer of 2016 to be protected by Greece. “Unfortunately, recently, criminals of the FETO organization have started seeing Greece as a safe haven,” he said, referring to what Ankara describes as a terrorist group led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. “I hope they will extradite the members of this organization,” he said, adding that Turkish authorities “do not desire a negative impact on Greek-Turkish relations because of members of the FETO organization.”

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“We have to worry about the 2 percent—the intellectuals and politicians making the big decisions who don’t have skin in the game and are messing the whole thing up for everybody else.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Has Never Borrowed a Cent in His Life (Esq.)

People ask me my forecast for the economy when they should be asking me what I have in my portfolio. Don’t make pronouncements on what could happen in the future if you’re immune from the consequences. In French, they use the same word for wallet and portfolio. I have never, ever borrowed a penny. So I have zero credit record. No loans, no mortgage, nothing. Ever. When I had no money, I rented. I have an allergy to borrowing and a scorn for people who are in debt, and I don’t hide it. I follow the Romans’ attitude that debtors are not free people. I carry euros, dollars, and British pounds. What I do with my money is personal. People who say they give it to charity, that’s a no-no in my book. Nobody should ever talk about a charitable act in public.

Better to miss a zillion opportunities than blow up once. I learned this at my first job, from the veteran traders at a New York bank that no longer exists. Most people don’t understand how to handle uncertainty. They shy away from small risks, and without realizing it, they embrace the big, big risk. Businessmen who are consistently successful have the exact opposite attitude: Make all the mistakes you want, just make sure you’re going to be there tomorrow. Don’t invest any energy in bargaining except when the zeros become large. Lose the small games and save your efforts for the big ones. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, so long as you pay the price. A used-car salesman speaks well, they’re convincing, but ultimately, they are benefiting even if someone else is harmed by their advice.

A bullshitter is not someone who’s wrong, it’s someone who’s insulated from their mistakes. There is less “skin in the game” today than there was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. More people determine the fates of others without having to pay the consequences. Skin in the game means you own your own risk. It means people who make decisions in any walk of life should never be insulated from the consequences of those decisions, period. If you’re a helicopter repairman, you should be a helicopter rider. If you decide to invade Iraq, the people who vote for it should have children in the military. And if you’re making economic decisions, you should bear the cost if you’re wrong.

Ninety-eight percent of Americans—plumbers, dentists, bus drivers—have skin in the game. We have to worry about the 2 percent—the intellectuals and politicians making the big decisions who don’t have skin in the game and are messing the whole thing up for everybody else. Thirty years ago, the French National Assembly was composed of shop owners, farmers, doctors, veterinarians, and small-town lawyers—people involved in daily activities. Today, it’s entirely composed of professional politicians—people who are just divorced from real life. America is a little better, but we’re heading that way.

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Mar 032017
 
 March 3, 2017  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC North approach, Pedro Miguel Lock, Panama Canal 1915

 

EU Votes To Suspend Visa-Free Travel To Europe For Americans (Tel.)
Snap IPO “The Ultimate Example Of Bubble Trouble” (CNBC)
Snap IPO: A Shareholding Monarchy (G.)
What If The 1980-Secular Bull Is Still Running? (Roberts)
Global Banks Have Paid $321 Billion In Fines Since Financial Crisis (BBG)
Home Ownership In England At A 30-Year Low (G.)
More Than Half Of New-Build Homes In England ‘Have Major Faults’ (G.)
China’s Parliament Is Chock Full Of Billionaires (CNBC)
The Tyranny Of A Cashless Society (Simpson)
A Goat Would Beat Le Pen In France’s Presidential Election (CNBC)
Elephants Are The Shortest Sleeping Mammal (BBC)
Dishwasher Becomes Co-Owner Of World-Famous Restaurant (G.)
Lake Once Worshipped As Birthplace Of The Sun Now A Deadly Garbage Dump (AP)
Greece Requests Loan From World Bank (K.)
Greece’s ‘Desperate Households’ (K.)
EU Threatens Members With Legal Action Over Refugees (K.)
Calais Mayor Bans Distribution Of Food To Refugees (G.)

 

 

Sure, make life harder for your own citizens.

EU Votes To Suspend Visa-Free Travel To Europe For Americans (Tel.)

Americans should be forced to apply for visas to travel to Europe, the European Parliament has said, in response to Washington refusing to allow all Europeans to travel to the States visa-free. The vote by show of hands is the latest in the ongoing “visa war” between Brussels and the US capital, which now looks set to come to a head after MEPs today agreed that US nationals crossing the Atlantic should require additional travel documents as long as citizens from five EU countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania) are kept from entering America without a visa. A European Parliament source told Telegraph Travel this was a “serious negative step in the EU-USA visa war”.

The EU Commission now has two months to reintroduce visas for Americans wishing to travel to Europe, after MEPs agreed the EU is now “legally obliged” to suspend the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) with the US for a year after the US administration failed to meet a deadline to respond something called visa reciprocity. Parliament and the European Council will have the chance to object to anything put forward by the Commission. The need to apply for a visa to travel to a country is widely seen as a turn-off to potential visitors, given the extra cost and time an application requires. A country looking to boost its tourism industry will often look at loosening any existing visa requirements. The resolution was passed despite warnings from the European Travel Commission (ETC) of the damage a visa war with the US might have on the continent’s tourism industry.

“We fully understand and respect the visa waiver reciprocity mechanism embedded in European legislation to ensure that all nationals of Member States part of Schengen can benefit on equal terms from exemption of visa requirement,” said Eduardo Santander, executive director of the ETC, in a joint letter with Michael de Blust, secretariat of the Network for the European Private Sector in Tourism, to MEPs. “However, we are very concerned about the economic and political impact of a suspension of visa waiver for US nationals. “Making it more difficult for US citizens to travel to Europe would certainly deprive the European travel and tourism sector of essential revenue, and put thousands of European jobs at stake in one of the few sectors which experiences a strong growth in employment.”

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“Morgan Stanley and Goldman should hang their heads in shame here.”

Snap IPO “The Ultimate Example Of Bubble Trouble” (CNBC)

Top investment banks behind the Snap Inc public listing are being slammed for the lack of voting rights that investors in the stock will receive. Snap Inc priced its initial public offering above its target range at $17 per share on Wednesday, valuing the company at $24 billion when staff stock and deal bonuses are included. The holding company, which owns social media phenomenon Snapchat, will debut on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday but investors have bought shares with no voting power. Stephen Isaacs, chairman of the investment committee at Alvine Capital, says the major investment banks behind Snap’s public debut are pushing through an unusual move that takes liberties with investors’ rights. “Morgan Stanley and Goldman should hang their heads in shame here. I mean not about the valuation but non-voting shares?

“Isn’t that the ultimate example of bubble trouble? So I say we are in a bubble, there is no value and investors should take a lot of risk off the table,” he said Thursday.Isaacs says the Snap Inc IPO could come to symbolize something bigger than just the deal itself as markets continue to bloat ever higher. “There are two views; the Warren Buffett view is that he market isn’t that expensive, the American economy is doing well and the long-term investor should always be engaged. And in the end he’s done a pretty good job of managing other people’s money. “The other view which I’m afraid I agree with is that we are in a cycle, we are at the top of the cycle, valuations show absolutely no value and then Snap comes along,” Isaacs said. “Sometimes a deal at the top of the market can be something that crystallizes the insanity”, he added.

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“They could retire to an ashram in India or spend the rest of their lives writing haikus. No matter, they will still make every major decision for Snap..”

Snap IPO: A Shareholding Monarchy (G.)

It is a paradox that a country that sought freedom from a king, the United States, is today happy to crown monarchs in commerce. Snap, which calls itself a camera company but is in fact a Silicon Valley firm behind a mobile messaging app, floated on the US stock exchange making billionaires of its two under-30 founders. True, 158 million people open the Snapchat app an average 18 times a day. But money and influence are not the only issues here. It’s also about unaccountable power. Snap’s initial public offering marks a turning point in US capitalism: it is the first time that the only shares on offer are those with no voting rights.

This form of techno-aristocratic capitalism means that the founders, 26-year-old Evan Spiegel and 28-year-old Bobby Murphy, will alone make the big decisions about Snap and maintain control over the social media phenomenon even if their employment is terminated. They could retire to an ashram in India or spend the rest of their lives writing haikus. No matter, they will still make every major decision for Snap, from appointing board members to a possible future sale. Only death will release the company from their control. Or if both sell more than 70% of their stock. It’s bizarre that in a country founded on a repudiation of old-world aristocracy, investors are pouring money into creating a nouveau US version of an ancien regime European aristocracy in business, replicating its extravagant and unaccountable wealth.

Snap is the worst example of this trend. Silicon Valley is now dominated by companies with weak or passive public shareholders. Many investors have been silly enough to hand over cash for little say in the running of tech titans such as Google, Facebook and Alibaba. Given how quickly today’s heroes are tomorrow’s zeros in technology, it seems foolhardy to cede control to listed companies that sometimes never make a profit or where incumbent managers cannot be fired to make way for new blood. Are investors so gullible that they believe the guff about new gods who see further than anyone else from Olympian-high pedestals – and are happy to get no dividends from their stock?

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Multiple trends coverging.

What If The 1980-Secular Bull Is Still Running? (Roberts)

[..] I have created the following thought experiment of examining the psychological cycle overlaid on each of the three full-cycle periods in the market.

The first full-market cycle lasted 63-years from 1871 through 1934. This period ended with the crash of 1929 and the beginning of the “Great Depression.” 

The second full-market cycle lasted 45-years from 1935-1980. This cycle ended with the demise of the “Nifty-Fifty” stocks and the “Black Bear Market” of 1974. While not as economically devastating to the overall economy as the 1929-crash, it did greatly impair the investment psychology of those in the market.

The current full-market cycle is only 37-years in the making. Given the 2nd highest valuation levels in history, corporate, consumer and margin debt near historical highs, and average economic growth rates running at historical lows, it is worth questioning whether the current full-market cycle has been completed or not.

The idea the “bull market” which begin in 1980 is still intact is not a new one. As shown below a chart of the market from 1980 to present, suggests the same.

The long-term bullish trend line remains and the cycle-oscillator is only half-way through a long-term cycle. Furthermore, on a Fibonacci-retracement basis, a 61.8% retracement would current intersect with the long-term bullish trend-line around 1000 suggesting the next downturn could indeed be a nasty one. But again, this is only based on the assumption the long-term full market cycle has not been completed as of yet.I am NOT suggesting this is the case. This is just a thought-experiment about the potential outcome from the collision of weak economics, high levels of debt, and valuations and “irrational exuberance.”

Yes, this time could entirely be different.

It just never has been before.

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The amount of fraud some people can engage in without doing time or losing a dime is stunning.

Global Banks Have Paid $321 Billion In Fines Since Financial Crisis (BBG)

Banks globally have paid $321bn in fines since 2008 for an abundance of regulatory failings from money laundering to market manipulation and terrorist financing, according to data from Boston Consulting Group. That tally is set to increase in the coming years as European and Asian regulators catch up with their more aggressive US peers, who have levied the majority of charges to date, BCG said in its seventh annual study of the industry published on Thursday. Banks paid $42bn in fines in 2016 alone, a 68 per cent rise on the previous year, the data showed. “As conduct-based regulations evolve, fines and penalties, along with related legal and litigation expenses, will remain a cost of doing business,” analysts led by Gerold Grasshoff wrote. “Managing those costs will continue to be a major task for banks.”

The era of ever-increasing regulatory requirements is here to stay, BCG said, despite President Donald Trump’s pledge to roll back the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that reshaped US banking in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The number of rule changes that banks must track on a daily basis has tripled since 2011, to an average of 200 revisions a day, according to the report. “Regulation must be considered a permanent rise in sea level – not just a flowing tide that will ebb or even a cresting tsunami that will recede,” the authors wrote. “We expect this theme to hold despite recent political developments in the US.” Almost 10 years after the onset of the financial crisis, the banking industry still hasn’t completely recovered from the losses it suffered by one measure, BCG said.

While finance firms created so-called economic profit of €159bn in 2015, a fifth annual increase, the industry remains €9bn in the red on a cumulative basis for the years 2009 to 2015, the data show. BCG calculated economic profit by taking a bank’s operating results and incorporating its cost of capital.

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Boy, what a mess. They’re going to have to reboot the entire country. Seriously.

Home Ownership In England At A 30-Year Low (G.)

Home ownership in England has fallen to its lowest level for 30 years, while the number of people privately renting is now higher than in the early 1960s, according to official figures. Government data reveals that the private rented sector has doubled in size since 2004, with almost half of all people in England aged 25 to 34 paying a private landlord for their accommodation. Ministers recently admitted England’s housing market was “broken”, with home ownership a distant dream for millions. Labour claimed the figures showed that the government was “out of ideas” and had no long-term plan to fix the housing crisis. The Generation Rent campaign group said runaway house price inflation and the difficulty of saving a deposit had trapped millions in private rented housing, “even more [people] than in the days of slum landlords like Rachman”.

The latest English Housing Survey, produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), found that of the estimated 22.8m households in England, 14.3m – or 62.9% – were owner-occupiers in 2015-16. It stated that owner-occupation rates “remain unchanged for the third year in a row” – but Labour and others were quick to seize on an accompanying table, which showed that the rate had slipped from 63.6% the previous year. This is down from a peak of 70.9% in 2003 and is the lowest figure since 1985, when it was 62.4%. By contrast, the private rented sector has ballooned in size and now accounted for just over 4.5m households – double the 2.3m in 2004. The new figure represents 20% of the total, whereas in 2002 it was 10%.

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No surprise whatsoever.

More Than Half Of New-Build Homes In England ‘Have Major Faults’ (G.)

More than half of the buyers of new homes have experienced major problems with their properties, according to research, which comes after Bovis Homes agreed to pay £7m compensation to customers for poorly built houses. A YouGov survey for the housing charity Shelter found that 51% of homeowners of recent new builds in England said they had experienced major problems including issues with construction, unfinished fittings and faults with utilities. The survey, which polled 4,341 UK adults online, was published alongside a Shelter report that concluded that the housebuilding sector is rigged in favour of big developers and land traders rather than families looking for homes.

The current speculative system of housebuilding is failing families by producing expensive, yet poor-quality homes, according to the report, published after the government branded the housing market “broken” in its recent housing white paper. Eight in 10 working families who are renting privately cannot afford to buy a newly built home – even if they use the government’s Help to Buy scheme, Shelter said. The West Midlands ranked as the worst region, with 93% of families unable to purchase an average-priced new home. In the report, titled New Civic Housebuilding, the charity calls for a return to building good-quality, affordable homes like the model villages for Cadbury workers at Bournville, the red brick developments of the Peabody and Guinness estates, the Victorian and Georgian terraces in Edinburgh and Bath, and the garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn.

The YouGov poll showed 41% of homeowners disagreed with the statement “I would prefer to live in a new home rather than an older one”; 29% agreed, and 26% neither agreed nor disagreed. And 45% disagreed with the statement “New homes are built to a higher standard than older homes”; 22% agreed and 23% were neutral.

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Communist Party.

China’s Parliament Is Chock Full Of Billionaires (CNBC)

Want to rub elbows with the rich? Go to China, where the country’s parliament could pass for an elite club of the world’s richest, where about 100 delegates are U.S. dollar billionaires. They made their fortune in everything from property to energy, according to data from the Hurun Report, which publishes the China Rich List. A bunch of tech entrepreneurs sit at the top of the list, including Pony Ma of Tencent, Robin Li of Baidu and Lei Jun of Xiaomi. The names are among delegates gathering for their annual meeting in Beijing starting on Friday, a roughly weeklong affair that’s big on posturing, but small on legislating. Delegates always vote to approve proposals from the ruling Communist Party. Here’s another fun fact: The richest 209 parliament delegates are each worth more than 2 billion yuan ($300 million) – their combined wealth is equivalent to the annual GDPs of Belgium and Sweden, using World Bank figures on GDP for those countries.

By comparison, the U.S. doesn’t have a single billionaire in Congress. The wealthiest member, California Republican Darrell Issa, is worth around $440 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. President Donald Trump claims he is a billionaire, though he has refused to release his income taxes to prove it – breaking with a practice followed by U.S. leaders since Richard Nixon. Still, China’s parliament – made up of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – includes delegates from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those who benefited handsomely as China’s economy has grown into the world’s second largest. But there’s another reason to show up – these sessions of China’s “rubber stamp” parliament are a chance to see and be seen. In a country where business and commerce are tightly restricted, a chance to rub elbows with top Communist Party brass could mean the difference between boom and bust.

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“If the minds behind a cashless society are allowed to have their way, America would become little more than a monumental ant farm..”

The Tyranny Of A Cashless Society (Simpson)

Like many people, I am a careful person when it comes to digital commerce, yet nonetheless I had two of my credit cards hacked (twice in the last four years) — one time by a supposedly reliable online retail company, another time when I rented a trailer. And both times, it required an incredible amount of time, police reports, phone calls, etc., just to get back to square one and get my money back. But my experience was not unusual. Nearly 18 million Americans suffered from some form of identity theft in 2014 alone. Digital commerce and credit cards are very problematic and are not the panacea that companies and the government want the public to believe.

Looking to a future in which governments abolish cash in useful denominations, it follows that they will then focus on eliminating personal and commercial commerce through the use of compact high-value commodities such as gold and silver, a natural progression if $100 bills are taken out of circulation in the United States. People today who are living in the legacy of the Barack Obama economy already need a fistful of $20 bills just to buy a week’s supply of groceries. And it’s easy to spend $400 a week on fresh groceries for two people, especially if you buy premium products and organic. If we consider the increasing trend where banks, institutions and big retailers are regularly hacked, combined with identity theft, digital commerce and credit cards aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and in reality are posing an ever-increasing level of liability on all levels through their use.

The relatively few people who may ultimately control all of the digital wealth of Americans will virtually have control of all the people in a cashless society. This results in a definite loss of freedom and liberty. There are many, many other ways for law enforcement to hammer criminals and curtail their enterprises, if that is truly the goal. But any method that inhibits or erodes the freedoms of Americans in any way, including limiting or infringing upon person-to-person commerce and personal privacy in any manner, is to be shunned and runs counter to the intents and spirit of our beloved U.S. Constitution. Digital currency transactions in lieu of cash would allow virtually 100% tracking of all Americans, including law-abiding citizens and all that we do.

We have already learned over the past eight years of the Obama-led government that governments don’t necessarily work for or even represent the will of the people. So how can anyone justify giving the government this much power over Americans? There is no such justification. The vast majority of Americans are not criminals, and therefore any action by government that affects or targets the vast majority of people in order to deal with a small factional percentage of criminals in the population is manifestly unfair. Politicians simply need to do the jobs they are being paid to do, and come up with anti-criminal tactics that strictly focus upon the bad actors, not the majority of law-abiding Americans.

If the minds behind a cashless society are allowed to have their way, America would become little more than a monumental ant farm, where the elitist class studies Americans to a much greater extent than ever before — how we move around and what we do, use, eat, watch and listen to — and then uses this deeply insightful personal information, potentially to plot how to control everyone. Things like if we’re allowed to be born (abortions already control this to some extent), how long we get to live, and what we are allowed to do in between. Orwellian, yes, but possible nonetheless.

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“I want to be perfectly clear for foreigners and for investors in particular, a goat, literally a goat, at the second round against Marine Le Pen, the goat is elected.”

A Goat Would Beat Le Pen In France’s Presidential Election (CNBC)

Those concerned that far-right leader Marine Le Pen will become France’s next president might be worrying too much, according to one political analyst. Thomas Guénolé from the Paris-based institute Sciences Po told CNBC Thursday: “I want to be perfectly clear for foreigners and for investors in particular, a goat, literally a goat, at the second round against Marine Le Pen, the goat is elected.” Guénolé added that there are many French voters who are “allergic” to the far right and would unite in the second round of the election to prevent Le Pen from winning. Le Pen is currently ahead in projections for the first round scheduled for April 23. But she is seen losing the second round to the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. “Basically the ideology of Mr Macron is opportunism,” Guénolé said. “He waited as long as possible before telling us what his platform is.”

Macron is due to outline his manifesto Thursday morning. This comes after French authorities decided to formally investigate the conservative candidate Francois Fillon for misusing public funds. Fillon who, until the scandal emerged, was well-placed to become the next president, announced Wednesday he is not stepping out of the race, despite previously saying he would if formal investigations were pursued. According to Guénolé, Macron has more to win from Fillon’s downfall than Le Pen. “I don’t think Marine Le Pen will benefit from this because in fact those who are right-wing voters and think Marine Le Pen is better already want to vote for Marine Le Pen. So I don’t think she’s going to win extra voters, but Emmanuel Macron can be an alternative for those who are right-wing voters and do not want to become far-right voters,” he said.

[..] Laura Slimani, spokesperson for the socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, told CNBC on Thursday that Fillon’s scandal “puts a lot of discredit on politics.” The socialist spokesperson said that all candidates to the presidential seat should disclose who’s funding their campaigns, as sentiment surrounding corruption seems to grow. “Who is today financing the campaign of Emmanuel Macron?,” Slimani said. “We know he is supported by big names in finance, in the business industry, so we want to know who is financing his campaign because this will have an impact on what kind of policies he will lead afterwards, at least it will have an impact on whether he will be a free president, if elected,” she added.

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Elephants have strong memories. But they sleep just two hours a night. Given how important we think (REM) sleep is for memory, that poses some major questions.

Elephants Are The Shortest Sleeping Mammal (BBC)

Wild African elephants sleep for the shortest time of any mammal, according to a study. Scientists tracked two elephants in Botswana to find out more about the animals’ natural sleep patterns. Elephants in zoos sleep for four to six hours a day, but in their natural surroundings the elephants rested for only two hours, mainly at night. The elephants, both matriarchs of the herd, sometimes stayed awake for several days. During this time, they travelled long distances, perhaps to escape lions or poachers. They only went into rapid eye movement (REM, or dreaming sleep, at least in humans) every three or four days, when they slept lying down rather than on their feet. Prof Paul Manger of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, said this makes elephant sleep unique. “Elephants are the shortest sleeping mammal – that seems to be related to their large body size,” he told BBC News.

“It seems like elephants only dream every three to four days. Given the well-known memory of the elephant this calls into question theories associating REM sleep with memory consolidation.” Elephants living in captivity have been widely studied. To find out more about their sleeping habits in the wild, Prof Manger and his research team fitted the scientific equivalent of a fitness tracker under the skin of the animals’ trunks. The device was used to record when the elephants were sleeping, based on their trunk staying still for five minutes or more. The two elephants were also fitted with a gyroscope to assess their sleeping position. Both elephants were followed for five weeks, giving new insights into their natural sleep patterns. “We had the idea that elephants should be the shortest sleeping mammal because they’re the largest,” said Prof Manger. “Why this occurs, we’re not really sure. Sleep is one of those really unusual mysteries of biology, that along with eating and reproduction, it’s one of the biological imperatives. We must sleep to survive.”

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Forgot this yesterday. Feel good news for today then.

Dishwasher Becomes Co-Owner Of World-Famous Restaurant (G.)

A dishwasher described as the “heart and soul” of the world-class Danish restaurant Noma has been made a co-owner of the establishment he has worked in for 14 years. The decision to promote Ali Sonko, who has toiled in the Noma kitchen since it first opened in 2003, was announced at a party in Copenhagen to mark the restaurant’s last day at its waterfront location in Christianshavn. The restaurant, named the world’s best four times by Restaurant magazine and three times in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best, is due to move to a new location and reopen as an urban farm in December. In a Facebook post, René Redzepi, the chef who runs Noma, said it was “one of the happiest moments of my time at Noma” to announce that Ali was to become one of his new business partners, saying it was in recognition of his hard work and enduring smile.

“I don’t think people appreciate what it means to have someone like Ali in the house,” Redzepi told friends gathered for a party to mark Noma’s move. “He is all smiles, no matter how his 12 children are faring.” Sonko, 62, who moved to Denmark 34 years ago after emigrating from his native Gambia, where he worked as a farmer, described his job as “the best ever”. “I cannot describe how happy I am to work here,” he told the Danish website BT. “There are the best people to work with and I am good friends with everyone. They show enormous respect towards me and no matter what I say or ask them, they are there for me.” Redzepi, whose restaurant also has two Michelin stars, said he planned to surprise other staff “with a piece of the walls they have chosen to work so hard within”.

Alongside Sonko, Lau Richter, Noma’s service director, and James Spreadbury, an Australian who has managed the restaurant since 2009, are also to be made partners in the business. Redzepi said his father, also called Ali, had worked as a dishwasher when he arrived in Denmark as an immigrant from Macedonia.

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The Automatic Earth banner shows Lake Titicaca.

Lake Once Worshipped As Birthplace Of The Sun Now A Deadly Garbage Dump (AP)

Tucked between snow-capped mountains, Lake Titicaca was once worshipped by the Incas, who proclaimed its deep blue waters the birthplace of the sun. These days the shores of South America’s largest lake are littered with dead frogs, discarded paint buckets and bags of soggy trash. Less visible threats lurk in the water itself: toxic levels of lead and mercury. The steady deterioration of the prized tourist destination has caused a rash of health problems among the 1.3 million people in Peru and Bolivia living near Lake Titicaca’s polluted banks. Untreated sewage water drains from two dozen nearby cities and illegal gold mines high in the Andes dump up to 15 tons of mercury a year into a river leading to the lake. “If the frogs could talk they would say, ‘This is killing me,'” said Maruja Inquilla, a local environmental activist who recently showed up at the Puno governor’s house carrying plastic bags filled with hundreds of dead frogs in protest.

Increasing concern about pollution has prompted a series of scientific studies and promises of official action. The governments of Peru and Bolivia signed a pact in January 2016 to spend more than $500 million to attack the problem, though the details were vague. A year later, Peru’s new president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, pledged to construct 10 treatment plants around the lake, putting the cost at $437 million, “so that the most beautiful lake in the world is the cleanest lake in the world.” But details of how the plants would be funded remain unclear and promises by politicians dating back two decades have so far gone unfulfilled. Many of the more than 400,000 tourists who visit Lake Titicaca from Peru each year stop first in Juliaca, a town that produces 200 tons of trash daily, much of it winding up in a river that has turned into a conveyor belt of waste heading into the lake. Hypodermic needles, tires, old shoes and used diapers are scattered among the potato fields that line the giant lake’s shores.

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“Greece’s current creditors “are not too happy about” the fresh request for funds..”

Greece Requests Loan From World Bank (K.)

Greece has requested an unknown amount of “financial assistance” from the World Bank even as bailout talks continue amid government officials and representatives of the country’s international creditors, according to a report in Politico. “The government of Greece has asked the World Bank to provide technical and financial assistance to address pressing challenges including: long-term unemployment, economic competitiveness and growth and social protection,” Politico cited a spokesperson from the World Bank as saying in a statement. “In accordance with World Bank procedures, any final decision on providing loans would be subject to approval by the bank’s board of executive directors,” it said.

The World Bank declined to specify how much money Greece is purported to have requested, Politico reported. Greece’s current creditors “are not too happy about” the fresh request for funds, an EU official was quoted as saying. The report also cited an unnamed government source as saying that negotiations were under way but not confirming the alleged request for a loan. “Preliminary talks have taken place indeed with [the World Bank] but we cannot confirm official application,” the source was quoted as saying.

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The endless litany of bad numbers continues unabated. This is from the ECB itself.

Greece’s ‘Desperate Households’ (K.)

Greek households generally own their home and have a car; they often have a house in the village their family hails from too. However, their bank accounts are shrinking, their loans are not being serviced as promptly as they used to be and their liquidity is close to zero. Unemployment is now changing the structure of households, resulting in young and old being forced to stay under the same roof. These are the main features of Greek households during the economic crisis as recorded by the European Central Bank’s Household Finance and Consumption Survey, which covers the 2010-14 period and was presented in Greece on Thursday in the weekly bulletin of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV).

Under the title “Desperate Households,” the bulletin highlighted that families continue to provide a safety net; however, it showed that their stamina is also running low, as is that of the friend network. The rate of Greek households that said they could seek financial support from relatives and friends dropped to 36.5% in 2014 from 59.4% in 2009. The situation is certain to have deteriorated further in the last couple of years. Few Greeks have the luxury of being able to save money: Just 13.5% of households said they added to savings on a regular basis, down from 21.9% five years earlier. This is by far the lowest rate in the European Union.

The index of liquidity as a ratio of disposable income was at just 2.8% in Greece, down from 4.9% five years earlier, and against a eurozone average of 16.7%. There was a notable decline in the rate of heads of households who are self-employed (from 18.9% to 14.4% within five years) and those who are salary workers (from 39.7% to 36.5%). In contrast, the rate of heads of households who were retired increased from 34.7% to 39.3%, and those who were out of work from 6.6 to 9.8%. Another study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research showed on Thursday that Greece is top among European countries in terms of poverty growth, as the number of Greeks below the poverty line grew 40% from 2008 to 2015.

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Worked great so far….

EU Threatens Members With Legal Action Over Refugees (K.)

The European Commission is piling the pressure on European Union member-states that are refusing to take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, as they had promised in September 2015, threatening, for the first time, to take legal action if they continue to do so. Although relocations increased in February, they are a far cry from the original targets set by the Commission in 2015 when EU countries had agreed to share some 160,000 migrants and refugees who had reached Greek and Italian shores in the previous two years. Of this number, only 13,546 have since been relocated – 9,610 from Greece and 3,936 from Italy. The 2015 agreement between EU countries stipulated that there would be 3,000 relocations from Greece and 1,500 from Italy each month. In total, the agreement provided for the relocation of 63,000 from Greece by September this year.

But at the current rate achieving this target appears highly unlikely, even though Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Thursday that the September target is still within reach. “There are no more excuses for the member-states not to deliver,” he said, insisting that “it is possible and feasible to relocate all those who are eligible from Italy and Greece by September.” Avramopoulos warned that if there are no tangible results by September, then the noncompliant countries will face legal action as the Commission “will not hesitate to make use of its power.” Only three EU states (Luxembourg, Malta and Finland) are close to fully meeting their obligations under the 2015 agreement. However, Hungary, Austria and Poland remain opposed to the agreement, while other countries, including the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia, say they are on board but will only take a limited number of asylum seekers.

With regard to the relocation of migrants and refugees from Turkey, EU countries have so far taken in 14,442 people, of whom 3,565 were Syrians. Meanwhile, the deal signed in March 2016 between Turkey and the EU to stem the flow of migrants into Europe is, so far, bearing results as the rate of daily arrivals on Greek islands has dropped significantly to about 43 per day, compared to as many as 10,000 on one day at the height of the influx in October 2015.

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Refusing to feed children, including thousands who try to reach family in Britain. Words fail.

Calais Mayor Bans Distribution Of Food To Refugees (G.)

The mayor of Calais has banned the distribution of food to migrants as part of a campaign to prevent the establishment of a new refugee camp as hundreds of people return to the port three months after the original one was demolished. Natacha Bouchart, from the centre-right Les Républicains party, said she would implement policies “to prevent the distribution of meals to migrants”, and legal documents setting out the restrictions were put up in the vicinity of the camp on Thursday. Officials have already obstructed attempts by local charities to open showers for teenage migrants in the town. Food distribution volunteers said they had been forced to do so in secret because of a heightened police presence. Refugee charities said they would ignore the ban but were taking legal advice.

The mayoral decree, dated 2 March, said the “regular, persistent and large presence of individuals distributing meals to migrants” in the area around the site of the former camp posed a threat to the peace and security of the area. It banned any “repeated, prolonged gatherings” in the area, in effect making food distribution an offence. Sarah Arrom, who has been helping to distribute food with the charity Utopia56 for the last four months, said police had fired teargas to prevent volunteers from giving breakfast to about 30 teenagers in a field near the motorway outside the city on Thursday. “They wanted to stop the distribution and they wanted to stop people from sleeping in the area,” she said. “There has never been teargas before when we’ve been trying to hand out food.”

[..] Christian Salomé, the president of the Auberge des Migrants charity, said a ban would be catastrophic for refugee children. “Adults will always find a way to buy food in the shops, but for minors it will be a real problem – they have no money at all.” He said no one had precise figures for the number of refugees around Calais. “People are arriving all the time and not many are getting through [to the UK].” Renke Meuwese, who works with Refugee Community Kitchen and Help Refugees, said the kitchens were making about 400 meals a day, up from about 50 last month. He said police seemed to be particularly concerned about reducing the visibility of refugees. “They are trying to make the refugees invisible, so they make it harder to distribute in town than the countryside. We can’t distribute at day so we have to do it at night. They are trying to push them out of sight.”

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Mar 252015
 
 March 25, 2015  Posted by at 7:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 25 2015


William Henry Jackson Jupiter & Lake Worth R.R., Florida 1896

The Long-Distance Relationship Between Americans and Jobs (WSJ)
American Cash Is Flooding Into European Stocks (CNN)
Bank of Canada, Government and Others Face Lawsuit for IMF Conspiracy (Epoch T.)
ECB Said to Limit Greek Lenders’ Treasury-Bill Holdings (Bloomberg)
Greeks Celebrate Independence as EU Creditors Discuss Their Fate (Bloomberg)
Next Task For Tsipras Is To Convince His Party (Kathimerini)
Greece: Fascists At The Gate (Hallinan)
China’s Influence Poised To Climb In Revamp Of Postwar Order (Bloomberg)
The New Chinese Dream (Pepe Escobar)
Gulf Should Be More Worried About Yemen Than Oil (CNBC)
Oil Stand-Off In Ukraine Shows Oligarchs Won Maidan Revolution (Sputnik)
Fiscal Virtue And Fiscal Vice – Macroeconomics At A Crossroads (Skidelsky)
Pension Funds Seek Shelter From Dollar’s Rise (WSJ)
Brazil Investigates Deficit-Ridden Pension Fund (Bloomberg)
Money May Make The World Go Round, But At What Cost? (BBC)
Obama Snubs NATO Chief as Crisis Rages (Bloomberg)
Paulson and Warren: The Unlikely Twin Towers of Dodd-Frank (Bloomberg)
Presidents, Bankers, the Neo-Cold War and the World Bank (Nomi Prins)
Financial Feudalism (Dmitry Orlov)
Antibiotics In Meat Rising Fast Worldwide, Especially Bacon (UPI)
Monsanto Bites Back at Roundup Findings (WSJ)

3 trillion kilometers driven last year.

The Long-Distance Relationship Between Americans and Jobs (WSJ)

For more Americans, jobs are moving out of reach, literally. The number of “nearby jobs”–jobs within a typical commute for residents in a major metropolitan area–dropped 7% between 2000 and 2012, according to a new study of census data by Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Minorities and poor Americans, who have moved to the suburbs in droves, fared worse. The number of nearby jobs fell 17% for Hispanic residents and 14% for blacks over this time period, compared with a drop of 6% for whites. Typical poor residents saw a drop in job proximity of 17%, versus 6% for the nonpoor. The growing distance between Americans and job opportunities is a discouraging trend amid what’s become the strongest job creation in two decades.

Last month, U.S. employers added a seasonally adjusted 295,000 jobs, the 12th straight month of 200,000-plus net job creation. That’s the best streak since 1995. Most of those jobs are full-time. (In 2012, where the Brookings analysis ends, overall U.S. employment in America’s largest metros was about 2% higher than in 2000, following the Great Recession’s catastrophic job losses.) But what matters for Americans’ employment prospects isn’t just the number of job opportunities, or even how “good” they are, but where they are. People near jobs are more likely to work, and have shorter job searches and periods of joblessness—especially black Americans, women and older workers, Brookings says. Among the poor, being near a job increases the chances of leaving welfare.

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The world gets more distorted by the day.

American Cash Is Flooding Into European Stocks (CNN)

American cash is pouring into European stocks. Last week alone, U.S.-based funds sent a record amount -$3.9 billion – into Europe equities. That’s according to EPFR Global, a research firm that tracks fund flow data. “The trend is definitely accelerating,” says Cameron Brandt, director of research at EPFR. U.S. investments going to Europe thru mid-March have already outpaced February’s total and are triple the size of January’s figure. Here’s why investors are flocking to Europe:

• Europe’s stock success: It’s no secret that European stocks are hot right now. Since the ECB announced its stimulus plan for the continent in January, markets have surged. The STOXX index (SXXL) is up 16% this year while Germany’s DAX has risen 21% in 2015. Markets in Belgium, Sweden and even Spain – yes, Spain! – are doing great so far too. That’s a lot better than the U.S. markets, which are up just over 1% so far this year. As U.S. stocks look pricey, investors see more upside potential across the pond.
“It’s time for Europe to play catch up,” says Kevin Kelly at Recon Capital. “That’s why you’re seeing investors and funds flow into Europe.”

The stimulus plan has weakened the value of the euro, and at the same time the U.S. dollar is gaining value. The euro has rallied a bit this week, but it’s still near 12-year lows. Many believe the dollar and euro could be equal later this year. The currency situation makes European companies more attractive to investors because their products are cheaper to sell than American companies’ products. European exports are on the rise, and the eurozone economy is showing signs of a pick up.

• Expect the trend to continue: The flood of money into Europe is unlikely to stop any time soon. Sixty-three% of fund managers want to invest more in Europe this year, according to the most recent BofA Merrill Lynch fund manager survey. That’s the highest rate since 2001. One of the hot-ticket items right now for investors is exchange-traded fund (ETF) that own European stocks. Investment in those ETFs so far this year has doubled compared to the same time a year ago, according to BlackRock.

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Intriguing.

Bank of Canada, Government and Others Face Lawsuit for IMF Conspiracy (Epoch T.)

It would be easy to assume the people suing the Queen of England, the Bank of Canada, and three ministers for a conspiracy against “all Canadians” wear tinfoil hats. They don’t. They may be conspiracy theorists, but they are also intelligent, thoughtful people who have a lawyer with a history of winning unlikely cases. And despite the government’s best efforts to have this case thrown out, it’s going ahead after winning an appeal that overturned a lower court’s ruling to have it tossed and surviving a follow-up motion to have it tossed again. The government has one more chance to have it thrown out through an appeal at the Supreme Court, but that has to be filed by Mar. 29 and that looks unlikely. That means the Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform (COMER) is going to have its day in federal court.

This little think-tank alleges that the Bank of Canada, the Queen, the attorney general, the finance minister, and minister of national revenue are engaging in a conspiracy with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Financial Stability Board (FSB), and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) to undermine Canada’s financial and monetary sovereignty. No major media have covered this story. That could be because of the powerful vested interests the suit targets, as Rocco Galati, the lawyer trying the case, suggests. Or it could be because there are parts of the statement of claim that read like they were pulled from the dark corners of some Internet conspiracy forum. They weren’t. These are serious people with wide knowledge of the financial and monetary system. And their lawyer is no slouch.

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Dangerous games.

ECB Said to Limit Greek Lenders’ Treasury-Bill Holdings (Bloomberg)

The ECB banned Greek banks from increasing holdings of short-term government debt, two people familiar with the matter said. The decision, approved by the ECB Governing Council, comes five days after the same body stalled a previous proposal by the institution’s supervisory arm, pending legal review. In the intervening days, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met high-level euro-area officials, including ECB President Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tsipras agreed to submit a comprehensive list of policy measures aimed at securing more financial aid from European partners.

Euro-area finance officials will hold a call on Wednesday to discuss progress on Greece, amid concerns that the country will run out of money by early April. The Governing Council decision makes previous supervisory recommendations legally binding, and reflects increasing concern at the ECB’s bank oversight body, the SSM, about Greek lenders’ exposure to the state and the accompanying default risk. The ban echoes decisions already made on the monetary policy side, such as a €3.5 billion limit on accepting Greek treasury bills as collateral, one of the people said.

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Independence Day. But not a lot of independence.

Greeks Celebrate Independence as EU Creditors Discuss Their Fate (Bloomberg)

Greeks celebrate their independence Wednesday with a military parade and a folk-music festival sponsored by the Ministry of Defense, as European officials more than 1,000 miles away review the financial aid that will shape their future. The ECB Governing Council will hold a weekly call to assess the Emergency Liquidity Assistance keeping Greece’s banking system afloat while euro-area finance ministry officials will have a separate discussion on the progress of the country’s economic policy program. Without access to capital markets, or the ECB’s normal financing operations, Greek banks rely on almost €70 billion of ELA to cover a financing shortfall exacerbated by steep deposit withdrawals.

While inspectors are gauging the case for continuing financial support for Europe’s most-indebted nation, many Athenians will be watching a parade of battle tanks and fighter jets to mark the beginning in 1821 of the war that won independence from the Ottoman Empire. The government of George Papandreou scaled down military parades to cut costs after the Greek debt crisis erupted in 2010. Fighter jets made a comeback to the skies of Athens last year at a cost of about €500,000, according to a defense ministry official from the previous administration.

With government cash supplies running out and negotiations on financial aid only inching forwards, European officials have said that Greece could default on its obligations within weeks unless there’s a breakthrough. The government has to pay about €1.5 billion of salaries and pensions by the end of March and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is at loggerheads with its creditors over the conditions attached to its emergency loans. Revenue from taxes also missed budget targets by about €1 billion in the first two months of the year, the country’s Ministry of Finance said Tuesday, further depleting cash buffers.

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Will Syriza blow it all up?

Next Task For Tsipras Is To Convince His Party (Kathimerini)

Returning from his official visit to Germany, one of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s main tasks will be to ensure his party’s support for the reform list his government is compiling and preparing to send to lenders, possibly by the end of the week. Sources said that Tsipras will take it upon himself to convince SYRIZA members and MPs to back the reform plan, which should secure Greece the funding it needs to survive until the end of June, when the government will have to reach a new agreement with its lenders. The prime minister’s first port of call in this effort to sell the current package will be the party’s political secretariat. A meeting is expected to take place in the next few days.

This will be followed by a gathering of SYRIZA’s parliamentary group, where Tsipras will try to persuade the party’s 149 MPs to back the reforms when they come to Parliament. The content of the reform package is not yet known but the government is concerned that it will contain a number of items that will not go down well within SYRIZA. This could include the retention of the contentious ENFIA property tax for another year, albeit adjusted so that the less well-off pay less, as well as labor and pension reforms. The coalition has already sought to defuse any tension over privatizations by saying that it will only seek strategic partnerships that allow the state to retain a controlling majority.

An area of increasing friction is what the government plans to do with value-added tax. Lenders want the special 30% reduction on VAT enjoyed by islands to be scrapped. Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani told ANT1 TV yesterday that one option might be to adopt regular VAT rates on the most popular islands, such as Santorini and Myconos. However, this runs counter to what government sources have been saying so far. It is believed the coalition is examining the option of adopting an across-the-board VAT rate of 15%, which means some goods will become cheaper and others more expensive, but with possible exceptions for some basic items such as medicines.

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Next in line if Syriza fails?!

Greece: Fascists At The Gate (Hallinan)

When some 70 members of the neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn go on trial sometime this spring, there will be more than street thugs and fascist ideologues in the docket, but a tangled web of influence that is likely to engulf Greece’s police, national security agency, wealthy oligarchs, and mainstream political parties. While Golden Dawn—with its holocaust denial, its swastikas, and Hitler salutes—makes it look like it inhabits the fringe, in fact the organization has roots deep in the heart of Greece’s political culture Which is precisely what makes it so dangerous. Golden Dawn’s penchant for violence is what led to the charge that it is a criminal organization. It is accused of several murders, as well as attacks on immigrants, leftists, and trade unionists. Raids have uncovered weapon caches.

Investigators have also turned up information suggesting that the organization is closely tied to wealthy shipping owners, as well as the National Intelligence Service (EYP) and municipal police departments. Several lawyers associated with two victims of violence by Party members—a 27-year old Pakistani immigrant stabbed to death last year, and an Afghan immigrant stabbed in 2011— charge that a high level EYP official responsible for surveillance of Golden Dawn has links to the organization. The revelations forced Dimos Kouzilos, director of EYP’s third counter-intelligence division, to resign last September. There were several warning flags about Kouzilos when he was appointed to head the intelligence division by rightwing New Democracy Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Kouzilos is a relative of a Golden Dawn Parliament member, who is the Party’s connection to the shipping industry. Kouzilos is also close to a group of police officers in Nikea, who are currently under investigation for ties to Golden Dawn. Investigators charge that the Nikea police refused to take complaints from refugees and immigrants beaten by Party members, and the police Chief, Dimitris Giovandis, tipped off Golden Dawn about surveillance of the Party. In handing over the results of their investigation, the lawyers said the “We believe that this information provides an overview of the long-term penetration ands activities of the Nazi criminal gang with the EYP and the police.” A report by the Office of Internal Investigation documents 130 cases where Golden Dawn worked with police.

It should hardly come as a surprise that there are close ties between the extreme right and Greek security forces. The current left-right split goes back to 1944 when the British tried to drive out the Communist Party—the backbone of the Greek resistance movement against the Nazi occupation. The split eventually led to the 1946-49 civil war when Communists and leftists fought royalists and former German collaborationists for power.

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What if a big recession hits?

China’s Influence Poised To Climb In Revamp Of Postwar Order (Bloomberg)

Seven decades after the end of World War II, the international economic architecture crafted by the U.S. faces its biggest shakeup yet, with China establishing new channels for influence to match its ambitions. Three lending institutions with at least $190 billion are taking shape under China’s leadership, one of them informally referred to as a Marshall Plan – evoking the postwar U.S. program to rebuild an impoverished Europe. Also this year, China’s yuan may win the IMF’s blessing as an official reserve currency, a recognition of its rising use in trade and finance. China’s clout has been expanding for decades, as its rapid growth allowed it to snap up a rising share of the world’s resources, its exports penetrated global markets, and its bulging financial assets gave it power to make big individual loans and purchases.

Now, the creation of international lending institutions is leveraging that economic influence closer to the political and diplomatic arenas, as U.S. allies defy America to back China’s initiative. “This is the beginning of a bigger role for China in global affairs,” said Jim O’Neill, formerly at Goldman Sachs, who coined the term BRICs in 2001 to highlight the rising economic power of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vision of achieving the same great-power status enjoyed by the U.S. received a major boost this month when the U.K., Germany, France and Italy signed on to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The AIIB will have authorized capital of $100 billion and starting funds of about $50 billion.

Canada is considering joining, which would leave the U.S. and Japan as the only Group of Seven holdouts as they question the institution’s governance and environmental standards. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet approved negotiations to join too, according to a government official who asked not to be identified as the decision hasn’t been made public. “China’s economic rise is acting as a huge pull factor forcing the existing architecture to adapt,” said James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute in Sydney. “The AIIB has shown the U.S. that a majority in international community support China’s aspirations for taking on greater leadership and responsibility, at least on economic initiatives.”

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It’s still all just printed Monopoly cash, Pepe.

The New Chinese Dream (Pepe Escobar)

It’s no wonder top nations in the beleaguered EU have gravitated to the AIIB – which will play a key role in the New Silk Road(s). A German geographer – Ferdinand von Richthofen – invented the Seidenstrasse (Silk Road) concept. Marco Polo forever linked Italy with the Silk Road. The EU is already China’s number one trade partner. And, once again symbolically, this happens to be the 40th year of China-EU relations. Watch the distinct possibility of an emerging Sino-European Fund that finances infrastructure and even green energy projects across an integrated Eurasia. It’s as if the Angel of History – that striking image in a Paul Klee painting eulogized by philosopher Walter Benjamin – is now trying to tell us that a 21st century China-EU Seidenstrasse synergy is all but inevitable.

And that, crucially, would have to include Russia, which is a vital part of the New Silk Road through an upcoming, Russia-China financed $280 billion high-speed rail upgrade of the Trans-Siberian railway. This is where the New Silk Road project and President Putin’s initial idea of a huge trade emporium from Lisbon to Vladivostok actually merge. In parallel, the 21st century Maritime Silk Road will deepen the already frantic trade interaction between China and Southeast Asia by sea. Fujian province – which faces Taiwan – will play a key role. Xi, crucially, spent many years of his life in Fujian. And Hong Kong, not by accident, also wants to be part of the action.

All these developments are driven by China being finally ready to become a massive net exporter of capital and the top source of credit for the Global South. In a few months, Beijing will launch the China International Payment System (CIPS), bound to turbo-charge the yuan as a key global currency for all types of trade. There’s the AIIB. And if that was not enough, there’s still the New Development Bank, launched by the BRICs to compete with the World Bank, and run from Shanghai.

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.. the Saudi Arabian foreign minister said the GCC would take “necessary measures” to resolve the Yemeni conflict..”

Gulf Should Be More Worried About Yemen Than Oil (CNBC)

Civil strife and terrorism in Yemen could pose a greater threat to the Gulf countries of the Middle East than tumbling oil prices, a major bank said on Tuesday. “We can’t help but think that the turmoil in Yemen is the emerging and underappreciated risk for investors in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) stocks,” said Citi analysts Josh Levin and Rahul Bajaj in a research note. Despite worries about Islamic insurgency and destabilization in the Middle East and North Africa, investors in the oil-exporting GCC countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have focused on the potential hit from the slump in energy prices, with crude oil down around 50% since a peak in June 2014.

However, Levin and Bajaj said that increasing strife in Yemen—which borders Saudi Arabia to the south and Oman to the west— could be an “underappreciated risk” to the GCC. “One of the key takeaways from our GCC trip in early February came from an executive in Qatar who observed that while most people are focused on the price of oil, the recent instability in Yemen posed a greater and underappreciated risk to the GCC. Recent events appear to bear out this executive’s observation,” they said on Tuesday. Yemen is in the grips of a worsening civil war, with fighting intensifying between ousted Sunni President Abd-Rabbuh Mansuh Hadi and the Shiite, anti-American rebels who seized power in a coup in January.

The rebels also face violent resistance from Sunni tribesman and competing Islamist extremists in the south. Last week, suicide bombers opposed to the rebels killed 137 people and injured more than 300 others during Friday prayers in the Yemini capital of Sana’a. On Monday, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister said the GCC would take “necessary measures” to resolve the Yemeni conflict, according to media reports. This is in response to requests for military assistance from Hadi, who belongs to the same Muslim Sunni sect as Saudi Arabia’s leaders. Levin and Bajaj warned that the turmoil in Yemen had the potential to spill over into nearby countries. “We have no edge or ability to predict whether or not the conflict in Yemen will spill over into neighboring countries or impact other GCC countries,” they said.

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Kolomoysky ‘resigned’ after the article was written.

Oil Stand-Off In Ukraine Shows Oligarchs Won Maidan Revolution (Sputnik)

Whatever the outcome of the stand-off between President Petro Poroshenko and his subordinate Igor Kolomoysky may be, their conflict over Ukrainian oil giant Ukrnafta reveals realities about post-Maidan Ukraine which mainstream media manages to circumvent. Firstly, the country is still ruled by oligarchs, not by the people, even though Igor Kolomoysky is formally governor of Dnepropetrovsk region. Kolomoysky’s private army simply took control first of Ukrtransnafta (Ukraine’s oil transportation monopoly) and later of Ukrnafta. What does this tell us about the Ukrainian state? Secondly, Ukraine’s oligarchs are not at peace with each other; the country is bracing for a major ‘war for assets’ between the country’s richest men (Kolomoysky is worth $2.4 billion on the Forbes list and Poroshenko is worth $1.3 billion).

Thirdly, the Maidan revolution not only left the country without any meaningful legal opposition in the parliament or in the media – as Kost Bondarenko, director of the Kiev-based Foundation for Ukrainian Politics, put it in his article for the Moscow-based Nezavisimaya Gazeta – but the revolution also left Ukraine in a situation of complete lawlessness, when neither laws nor even the words of the president mean much before brutal force and big money (the main weapons of oligarchs). The story of the weekend conflict between Ukraine’s president and the governor of Ukraine’s most important industrial region is a perfect illustration of all these sad truths. Kolomoysky’s men with submachine guns not only took control of Ukrtransgaz on Friday, but the governor of Dnepropetrovsk was apparently untroubled by President Poroshenko’s reprimand for his “unethical behavior” issued the next day.

Kolomoysky’s response to this “scolding” from Poroshenko was widely reported, along with an officially unconfirmed freeze on the accounts of Poroshenko’s companies in Kolomoysky’s bank (Privat-bank). Adding armed insult to the financial injury, Kolomoysky’s men on Sunday took control of Ukrnafta, the country’s biggest oil company, presenting themselves as members of the “voluntary battalion Dnieper” (a Kolomoysky-sponsored paramilitary group known for its atrocities against civilians in the rebellious Donetsk Region). Despite Poroshenko’s order to disarm the gunmen and the president’s promise that “there will be no pocket armies in Ukraine,” Kolomoysky’s men did not leave the building on Monday; instead, they started to put up metal fences around it.

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“..fiscal tightening has cost developed economies 5-10 percentage points of GDP growth since 2010..”

Fiscal Virtue And Fiscal Vice – Macroeconomics At A Crossroads (Skidelsky)

Until a few years ago, economists of all persuasions confidently proclaimed that the Great Depression would never recur. In a way, they were right. After the financial crisis of 2008 erupted, we got the Great Recession instead. Governments managed to limit the damage by pumping huge amounts of money into the global economy and slashing interest rates to near zero. But, having cut off the downward slide of 2008-2009, they ran out of intellectual and political ammunition. Economic advisers assured their bosses that recovery would be rapid. And there was some revival; but then it stalled in 2010. Meanwhile, governments were running large deficits – a legacy of the economic downturn – which renewed growth was supposed to shrink.

In the eurozone, countries such as Greece faced sovereign-debt crises as bank bailouts turned private debt into public debt. Attention switched to the problem of fiscal deficits and the relationship between deficits and economic growth. Should governments deliberately expand their deficits to offset the fall in household and investment demand? Or should they try to cut public spending in order to free up money for private spending? Depending on which macroeconomic theory one held, both could be presented as pro-growth policies. The first might cause the economy to expand, because the government was increasing public spending; the second, because they were cutting it. Keynesian theory suggests the first; governments unanimously put their faith in the second.

The consequences of this choice are clear. It is now pretty much agreed that fiscal tightening has cost developed economies 5-10 percentage points of GDP growth since 2010. All of that output and income has been permanently lost. Moreover, because fiscal austerity stifled economic growth, it made the task of reducing budget deficits and national debt as a share of GDP much more difficult. Cutting public spending, it turned out, was not the same as cutting the deficit, because it cut the economy at the same time. That should have ended the argument. But it did not. Some economists claim that governments faced a balance of risk in 2010: cutting the deficit might have slowed growth; but not committing to cut it might have made things even worse.

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Reinforce your local infrastructure!

Pension Funds Seek Shelter From Dollar’s Rise (WSJ)

The soaring U.S. dollar is driving pension funds into the currency markets, in part to protect their overseas investments but also to take advantage of some of the biggest price swings in the financial world. In January, the California State Teachers Retirement System, the nation’s second-largest public pension fund with $190.8 billion under management, handed $500 million to a pair of specialist currency funds as part of an effort to limit losses on their international investments, which fall in value as the dollar rises against other currencies. Late last year, the $150.2 billion Florida State Board of Administration expanded its currency investments by more than 10%, to $2.25 billion.

Last June, the $29 billion Connecticut Retirement Plans & Trust Funds hired two managers to help reduce the foreign-currency risks in its international stock investments. And the $14.3 billion Kansas Public Employees Retirement System is now looking to hire a currency manager. The clamor to protect against currency swings marks a return to a strategy that pension funds have tried on and off for years, with mixed results. While it is good news for the money managers that provide the strategies, which stand to reap tens of thousands of dollars in fees for every pension plan that signs up, it also adds to the risks taken on by pensions. Currency markets are among the most volatile, raising the potential for big profits, but also big losses.

“The pickup since December has been extraordinary,” said Adrian Lee, who manages Adrian Lee & Partners hedge fund. “We’ve had more funds interested in our strategies in the last three months than we’ve had in the last three years.” The fund’s assets have grown 30% in the past year, as existing clients raised their allocations, Mr. Lee said. At their most basic, currency strategies come in two flavors. A passive currency-overlay program that seeks to hedge against foreign-exchange losses typically costs between 0.05% and 0.1% of assets, based on a pension’s exposure to foreign markets, according to NEPC, a consultant to pension plans.

Active strategies that seek to profit from currency swings tend to be several times more expensive, as they include higher management fees and allow hedge funds to keep a share of profits. The rising dollar has re-energized interest in both strategies. While the U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates as soon as June, both Europe and Japan are pumping out economic stimulus at unprecedented levels, seeking to stimulate their economies by keeping rates low. The divergence in borrowing costs has sparked an exodus of capital, as investors quit euro and yen-denominated assets and head into the greenback.

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From one scandal to the next.

Brazil Investigates Deficit-Ridden Pension Fund (Bloomberg)

The deficit-ridden pension fund for Brazilian postal workers is being investigated for alleged reckless management after several years of money-losing bets ranging from investments in Lehman Brothers bonds to Argentine debt, two people with knowledge of the matter said. Pension-fund agency Previc, securities regulator CVM, the central bank and federal prosecutors are collaborating on the probe and meeting weekly to conclude a report on Postalis, Brazil’s third-largest retirement system by number of beneficiaries, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the issue is private. The findings may be released in coming days, the person said. Under Brazilian law, the agencies may seek penalties that may include fines of as much as 1 million reais ($320,200) and a 10-year ban from managing pension funds.

Postalis has been running a deficit every year since 2011 and the shortfall of 5.6 billion reais now eclipses its 5 billion reais in assets, public records show. Now, the pension fund created in 1981 to take care of Brazil’s more than 100,000 postal workers is requiring those same employees to boost contributions so it can keep making payments to beneficiaries. “They threw us under the bus,” said 36-year-old Douglas Melo, who is required to pitch in an extra 40 reais a month on top of the 55 reais he already contributes to guarantee future benefits of 200 reais a month. “The fund’s investments that later defaulted or were involved in scandals make no sense.”

Postalis amassed billions of reais in losses pursuing risky bets while its peers flocked to the relative safety and high yields of Brazilian government debt. Brazil’s pension funds allocated 15% of their combined 641.7 billion-real portfolio to Brazil local sovereign debt in 2012, according to the nation’s association that tracks the industry. Postalis held less than 1% in 2012. Postalis bet on a fund that booked 18 million reais of Lehman Brothers debt in August 2008, one month before the New York investment bank filed for bankruptcy, according to data from Brazil’s securities regulator. It bought bonds or invested in funds of mid-sized Brazilian banks that were liquidated by the central bank in 2012 amid fraud allegations and lack of capital.

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Rage against the monopoly. And then create another one just as fast.

Money May Make The World Go Round, But At What Cost? (BBC)

Banks once had a near monopoly on moving money around the world, and they charged a pretty penny for it. But since the 2008 financial crisis, their reputations have taken an almighty battering, and a growing number of technology-focused start-ups are intent on getting a slice of the action. Cost has become the battleground and technology the weapon in this huge business: people send more than $500bn (£334bn) abroad each year. TransferWise, for example, says banks and independent money transfer giants such as Western Union and MoneyGram, charge about 5-8% in fees when transferring money abroad, and these fees are often concealed within the exchange rate. It charges just 0.5% of the amount being converted. This can equate to a £100-£150 saving on a £5,000 international money transfer.

Founded by Estonians Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Kaarman, the firm achieves this by matching people transferring money in one direction with people transferring it in the other – so called peer-to-peer transfers. In other words, you are in effect buying your currency from other individuals, thereby cutting out a big chunk of exchange rate and “foreign transaction” charges normally levied by banks. “We didn’t understand why transferring money had to be so expensive,” says Mr Hinrikus, who was one of the first employees of Skype, the online communications company. “With us, it’s all about transparency – that’s really important. We choose the mid-market rate when we transfer money.” Another key to their success – TransferWise has shifted more than £3bn of customers’ money since 2011 – is the simplicity of design, he says.

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Does he do this of his own accord?

Obama Snubs NATO Chief as Crisis Rages (Bloomberg)

President Barack Obama has yet to meet with the new head of NATO, and won’t see Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, even though he is in Washington for three days. Stoltenberg’s office requested a meeting with Obama well in advance of the visit, but never heard anything from the White House, two sources close to the NATO chief told me. The leaders of almost all the other 28 NATO member countries have made time for Stoltenberg since he took over the world’s largest military alliance in October. Stoltenberg, twice the prime minister of Norway, met Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa to discuss the threat of the Islamic State and the crisis in Ukraine, two issues near the top of Obama’s agenda. Kurt Volker, who served as the U.S. permanent representative to NATO under both President George W. Bush and Obama, said the president broke a long tradition.

“The Bush administration held a firm line that if the NATO secretary general came to town, he would be seen by the president … so as not to diminish his stature or authority,” he told me. America’s commitment to defend its NATO allies is its biggest treaty obligation, said Volker, adding that European security is at its most perilous moment since the Cold War. Russia has moved troops and weapons into eastern Ukraine, annexed Crimea, placed nuclear-capable missiles in striking distance of NATO allies, flown strategic-bomber mock runs in the North Atlantic, practiced attack approaches on the UK and Sweden, and this week threatened to aim nuclear missiles at Denmark’s warships. “It is hard for me to believe that the president of the United States has not found the time to meet with the current secretary general of NATO given the magnitude of what this implies, and the responsibilities of his office,” Volker said.

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Barney Frank memoirs.

Paulson and Warren: The Unlikely Twin Towers of Dodd-Frank (Bloomberg)

On the surface, Henry Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, the populist Democrat from Massachusetts, seem an unlikely team. But former Representative Barney Frank, co-author of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation enacted in 2010, said he views Paulson and Warren as twin pillars protecting the financial system. In an interview this week on the Charlie Rose television program, Frank, who was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, recalled former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Paulson telling Congressional Democratic leaders, “The economy is about to fall apart and we have got to do something the public isn’t going to like.”

Frank worked with Bernanke and Paulson to push through the unpopular but ultimately successful financial bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Paulson, Frank said, remained helpful even after leaving government, assisting in the drafting and passing of Dodd-Frank. While Paulson helped establish Dodd-Frank, Frank said, “Elizabeth Warren is helping safeguard it” from Republicans eager to scuttle the law. He acknowledged that Dodd-Frank is complex. But Frank insisted it was neither politically nor substantively possible to make the legislation, which overhauls some regulations dating to the 1930s, less complicated. “In the thirties, there was no such thing as credit default swaps and collateralized loan obligations and collateralized debt obligations,” he said.

Frank’s memoir – titled “Frank” – chronicles his more than four decades in public life. For the first two decades, he said, he felt it necessary to hide his sexuality while celebrating his advocacy of liberal policies. Now, he says, it’s easier to be gay — he was married during his final term in Congress – and harder to champion liberal policies.

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The World Bank as a power tool.

Presidents, Bankers, the Neo-Cold War and the World Bank (Nomi Prins)

At first glance, the neo-Cold War between the US and its post WWII European Allies vs. Russia over the Ukraine, and the stonewalling of Greece by the Troika might appear to have little in common. Yet both are manifestations of a political-military-financial power play that began during the first Cold War. Behind the bravado of today’s sanctions and austerity measures lies the decision-making alliance that private bankers enjoy in conjunction with government and multinational entries like NATO and the World Bank. It is President Obama’s foreign policy to back the Ukraine against Russia; in 1958, it was the Eisenhower Doctrine that protected Lebanon from a Soviet threat. For President Truman, the Marshall Plan arose partly to guard Greece (and other US allies) from Communism, but it also had lasting economic implications.

The alignment of political leaders and key bankers was more personal back then, but the implications were similar to the present day. US military might protected its major trading partners, which in turn, did business with US banks. One power reinforced the other. Today, the ECB’s QE program funds swanky Frankfurt headquarters and prioritizes Germany’s super-bank, Deutschebank and its bond investors above Greece’s future. These actions, then and now, have roots in the American ideology of melding military, political and financial power that flourished in the haze of World War II. It’s not fair to pin this triple-power stance on one man, or even one bank; yet one man and one bank signified that power in all of its dimensions, including the use of political enemy creation to achieve financial goals.

That man was John McCloy, ‘Chairman of the Establishment’ as his biographer, Kai Bird, characterized him. The relationship between McCloy and Truman cemented a set of public-private practices that strengthened private US banks globally at the expense of weaker, potentially Soviet (now Russian) leaning countries. [..] During the Cold War, the World Bank provided funds for countries that leaned toward capitalism versus communism. Political allies of the United States got better treatment (and still do). The Nations that private bankers coveted for speculative and lending purposes saw their debt loads increase substantially and their industries privatized. Equally, the bankers decided which bonds they could sell to augment public aid funds, which meant they would have control over which countries the World Bank would support. The World Bank did more to expand US banking globally than any treaty or entity that came before it.

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Good read.

Financial Feudalism (Dmitry Orlov)

Once upon a time—and a fairly long time it was—most of the thickly settled parts of the world had something called feudalism. It was a way of organizing society hierarchically. Typically, at the very top there was a sovereign (king, prince, emperor, pharaoh, along with some high priests). Below the sovereign were several ranks of noblemen, with hereditary titles. Below the noblemen were commoners, who likewise inherited their stations in life, be it by being bound to a piece of land upon which they toiled, or by being granted the right to engage in a certain type of production or trade, in case of craftsmen and merchants. Everybody was locked into position through permanent relationships of allegiance, tribute and customary duties: tribute and customary duties flowed up through the ranks, while favors, privileges and protection flowed down.

It was a remarkably resilient, self-perpetuating system, based largely on the use of land and other renewable resources, all ultimately powered by sunlight. Wealth was primarily derived from land and the various uses of land. Feudalism was essentially a steady-state system. Population pressures were relieved primarily through emigration, war, pestilence and, failing all of the above, periodic famine. Wars of conquest sometimes opened up temporary new venues for economic growth, but since land and sunlight are finite, this amounted to a zero-sum game. But all of that changed when feudalism was replaced with capitalism. What made the change possible was the exploitation of nonrenewable resources, the most important of which was energy from burning fossilized hydrocarbons: first peat and coal, then oil and natural gas.

Suddenly, productive capacity was decoupled from the availability of land and sunlight, and could be ramped up almost, but not quite, ad infinitum, simply by burning more hydrocarbons. Energy use, industry and population all started going up exponentially. A new system of economic relations was brought into being, based on money that could be generated at will, in the form of debt, which could be repaid with interest using the products of ever-increasing future production. Compared with the previous, steady-state system, the change amounted to a new assumption: that the future will always be bigger and richer—rich enough to afford to pay back both principal and interest.

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A tragic species killing itself:”..antibiotic use in livestock will likely rise 67% by 2030 if livestock conditions don’t improve. About 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock”.

Antibiotics In Meat Rising Fast Worldwide, Especially Bacon (UPI)

In the next 15 years, countries around the world will see a major increase in antibiotic use in livestock, a new study finds. “The invention of antibiotics was a major public health revolution of the 20th century,” said senior author Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior research scholar at the Princeton Environmental Institute and director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy. “Their effectiveness – and the lives of millions of people around the world – are now in danger due to the increasing global problem of antibiotic resistance, which is being driven by antibiotic consumption.” The study was done by researchers at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, Princeton University, the International Livestock Research Institute and the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

The researchers found antibiotic use in livestock will likely rise 67% by 2030 if livestock conditions don’t improve. About 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock. Antibiotic resistance not only applies to the animals, but it can affect the humans eating the meat. The researchers found pig farmers producing pork and bacon use four times as many antibiotics as cattle farmers. One of the major reasons farmers are having to use more and more antibiotics is that demand for meat is going up, and animals are often subjected to smaller and smaller living quarters, where disease can spread.

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Feel the power.

Monsanto Bites Back at Roundup Findings (WSJ)

Monsanto Co. escalated its criticism of a World Health Organization agency’s finding last week that a commonly used herbicide probably has the potential to cause cancer in humans. The St. Louis-based agribusiness giant—a major seller of the weed killer—sought a meeting with senior WHO officials on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s finding, while a WHO agency official defended what he called an “exhaustive” review of eligible data. The IARC’s classification of glyphosate, the U.S.’s most commonly used weedkiller, as “probably carcinogenic” in a report published Friday reignited debate over a chemical that environmental groups have long criticized and the agricultural industry has defended as safe for humans and less harsh on the environment than others.

“We are outraged with this assessment,” Robert Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer, said Monday, arguing that the finding was derived from “cherry picking” data based on an “agenda-driven bias.” Monsanto, which markets glyphosate under the Roundup brand, sent letters to WHO members seeking to discuss the IARC classification, which Monsanto officials said ran counter to many other findings, including those by other WHO programs, according to Philip Miller, the company’s vice president of global regulatory affairs. Dana Loomis, deputy head of the monographs section for the IARC, said the agency’s classification of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” was based on an examination of peer-reviewed research and completed government reports on the herbicide.

“We feel confident that our process is transparent and rigorous, based on the best available scientific data, and that it’s free from conflicts of interest,” Mr. Loomis said. He also said it was “categorically not true” that the IARC overlooked research on glyphosate, as Monsanto and other agriculture groups alleged. He said the IARC seeks to find and review all publicly available, peer-reviewed research and government documents in their final form. That excludes draft research, he said, which can change before it is completed.

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Nov 092014
 
 November 9, 2014  Posted by at 7:56 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley Peerless touring car, Bay Area 1923

As I was writing The Broken Model Of The Eurozone yesterday, I already knew there would have to be a sequel, because doing everything in one go would have been too much. And then, considerably less than two seconds later, it dawned on me that if I wanted to cover broken models and systems, a book would be the very least. But I don’t want to write a book, or, certainly, not here and now. Therefore, the best I think I can do is to sit down and let it flow, train of thought, stream of consciousness, probably the approach that suits me best to begin with.

There’s no question that the eurozone is by no means the only broken model, design, system, structure, in our world, though its built-in fatal flaws are perhaps easier to pinpoint than they are in other models. Everyone can see why having no mechanism to keep poor member nations from getting poorer must of necessity doom the eurozone, and the euro. Everyone, that is, but the people with the most vested interests.

That said, when you get to think about it, it’s hard to find a model, a system, in our ‘modern’ societies that is not broken, through similar design flaws. Just the past few days, we had the US midterm elections, and it doesn’t come more broken than that. As Ron Paul stated once again, US politics is a monopoly system, not a democracy. That part exists only in people’s dreams and in media stories. In reality, it’s pick your favorite identical twin. Yet for some reason, people still vote. Go figure.

Then there was the BLS unemployment report, which is no longer even a joke, but such an outright insult to Americans that it’s difficult to see why anyone looks at it anymore, other than for propagandistic reasons. A model designed to ignore the combined erosion in labor participation, wages and benefits that has taken place in the US since 2007, and the number of people who can’t make enough to pay their bills and feed their kids, is useless as a gauge for the American economy.

What these, and just about any other model I can think of that we use to run our world, have in common, is/are a number of flaws:

First, they were designed to operate exclusively in growing economies. Perhaps not even on purpose, but they sure don’t function in less glorious days, if only because no provisions were made for such days. It’s at least one reason why protagonists are so eager to point to growth even where there is none.

Second, whether in days of growth or of non-growth, they offer no protection from destructive exploitation of the natural world, either by nations, by corporations or by ourselves. A self defeating model.

Third, they are so far removed from the ‘human scale’ that we can’t internalize the ways they work and don’t work, other than perhaps in abstract theory. We can’t understand how the systems work that govern our lives, and therefore not why they fail.

These three characteristics guarantee inherent self limitation, self defeat and eventual self destruction. Sort of like the spy message that destroys itself 10 seconds after being read.

I was reading John Michael Greer’s recent Dark Age America: The End of the Market Economy, in which he reiterates how an increase in complexity of a society means ever more intermediaries take position in between productive economic participants, skimming off the fruits of other people’s daily labor. And how a decrease in complexity, such as the one we’re seeing today in our world, forced by diminishing economic returns, will lead to those intermediary positions disappearing, and a renewed form of feudalism taking the helm.

There are many shapes and sizes of these intermediaries active in our present societies, but none are more powerful, in more than one way, than politicians and traders/investors. The political world and financial world don’t produce anything of value, they owe their wealth and power solely to others who do.

The past century – or two – of ultra cheap fuels, which have enabled one single human being to produce as much as a thousand of her ancestors, created the space in which the financial and political intermediate powerholders operate. The debt machine gone haywire of the last few decades either created even more of that space or made up for what was lost due to rising fuel prices. Both fossil fuels and debt now stumble on their last legs, and society will need to be remolded, along principles that may indeed well resemble feudalism more than anything else.

To be sure, Greer doesn’t define feudalism along the lines of the bad rap it has gotten, but simply as a system in which rights and obligations for both lords and servant are clearly defined.

What he doesn’t specify, but I will, is that the feudal model operates on a human scale. That points to another aspect: the servant – for lack of a better word – in a balanced feudal system knows his master. We, today, do not. We only know a bunch of people pushed forward for their gift of gab and telegenic faces. The way our leaders are (pre-) selected is not much different from seeing how many second hand cars or tupperware bowls they can sell on a TV sales channel.

But then those leaders are (s)elected to head entities so far beyond the human scale it should be obvious to anyone that they cannot function properly no matter how much growth there is. Leaders of entities like the US, the EU or China have little in common with the people they supposedly represent, and they don’t have to, nobody expects them to. The US midterms were mostly a a battle of the bulge, as in candidates’ bulging wallets.

And on top large scale national politics we have created yet another, even more anonymous layer of power. UN, World Bank, IMF, NATO, there’s an ever growing collection of supra-national organizations that keep on guzzling up more power and more money every single day.

Like ‘smaller’ entities such as the US and EU, only more, the supra-nationals attract a certain kind of people, those that like to assert power without being held directly accountable. In structures that far exceed the human scale, they are like fish in water. And that’s why we should never accept having them in those positions. IMF and World Bank have a history of at best disputable and at worst very bloody interventions in nations across the globe.

We should have today celebrated the end of NATO along with that of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. But it’s still there, and playing an active role in the flaring up of the Ukraine civil war. As for the UN, there should be a place for an organization like it, but not with the money gobbling corporate structure, serving shady interests, that it has today.

Our political systems don’t work. Our economic systems don’t work. We live on a steady – but hardly nutritious – diet of debt and propaganda. Our societies are no longer productive enough to allow for the numbers of intermediaries they have given birth to. But it’s the intermediaries who have more often than not taken up the most powerful positions in our societies. So they will fight, and initially often successfully, to keep their positions, at the cost of the more productive segments. It’s a mechanism that’s much easier to understand than it is to fight.

I tend to think that it’s easier to make the effort to get rid of things like models and systems and structures when you know they will need to go soon anyway. But that’s without counting in propaganda. Without including Freud and spin doctors and Edward Bernays and why detergent commercials work so well. When you do take all those into account, things don’t look so easy anymore.

What the EU has in common with all present day political and financial structures, bar none, is that it can, and indeed was built to, function only in times of growth. Take away growth and inherent flaws become exposed. Take away growth and panic ensues. Well, we no longer have growth, other than in our dreams and spin.

Or more accurately, there is indeed one thing that does still grow: our debt. It’s all we have left to keep up the pretense that we’re still growing. That and a pack of lies that grows more outrageous as time goes by. We run our societies on debt and propaganda. To a large extent, propaganda about why and how debt, and more debt, can’t hurt us.

Because as long as we believe that, we’ll leave our political and financial structures and power holders keep their plush seats. And as long as we believe it, they’re free to take more and more away from us. Something we feel powerless to stop, because we’re scared of what may happen when we stop believing. In broken models.

Oct 182014
 
 October 18, 2014  Posted by at 8:12 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Dedication, George Washington Masonic Memorial, Alexandria, VA Nov 1 1923

A comment on an article that comments on a book. I don’t think either provides, for the topic they deal with, the depth it needs and deserves. Not so much a criticism, more a ‘look further, keep digging, and ye shall find more’. And since the topic in question is perhaps the most defining one of our day and age, it seems worth it to me to try and explain.

The article in question is Charles Hugh Smith’s Why Nations (and organizations) Fail: Self-Serving Elites, and the book he references is Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

Charles starts off by saying:

The book neatly summarizes why nations fail in a few lines:

(A nation) is poor precisely because it has been ruled by a narrow elite that has organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people. Political power has been narrowly concentrated, and has been used to create great wealth for those who possess it.

The Amazon blurb for the book states that the writers “conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it)”, and continues with examples used such as ancient Rome, North Korea, Zimbabwe, the Congo, to make the point that some countries get rich and others don’t, because of differences in leadership structures. That in itself certainly seems true, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the whole story.

In the case of the Congo, for instance, the perhaps richest place on earth when it comes to resources, there’s not only the devastating history it’s had to endure with incredibly cruel Belgian colonial powers, there’s to this day a lot of western involvement aimed at keeping the region off balance, and feed different tribes and peoples with weaponry up the wazoo, in order to allow the west to keep plundering it. It’s not just about national goings-on, it’s – also – a supra-national thing.

That’s one of two shortcomings in the material, the breadth and width of why nations and organizations fail their people but serve their masters. In the present day, national boundaries, whether they are physical or merely legal/political, are not the best yardsticks anymore by which to measure and gauge events.

The second shortcoming, in my view, is that inequality, a theme so popular that even Janet Yellen addressed it this week in what can only be seen as her worst possible impression of Marie Antoinette, and expressed her ‘worry’ about wealth inequality in America. The very person publicly responsible for that inequality thinks it’s ‘just awful’. Go bake a cake, gramps.

Wealth inequality is but a symptom of what goes on. Charles Hugh Smith has a few graphs depicting just how bad wealth inequality has become in the US. We all know those by now. It’s bad indeed. But where does that come from? Charles touches on it, but still hits a foul ball:

I submit that this dynamic of failure – the concentrated power and wealth of self-serving elites – is scale-invariant, meaning that it is equally true of communities, towns, cities, states, nations and empires alike: all fail when they’re run for the benefit of a narrow elite. There is a bitter irony in the ease with which American pundits discern this dynamic in developing-world kleptocracies while ignoring the same dynamic in America.

One would imagine it would be easier to see the elites-inevitably-cause-failure in one’s home country, but the pundits by and large are members of the Clerisy Upper Caste, well-paid functionaries, apparatchiks, lackeys, factotums, toadies, sycophants and apologists for the very elites that are leading America down the path of systemic failure as the ontological consequence of their self-serving consolidation of wealth and power.

Here’s the thing: especially after WWII, though before that already as well, the western world woke up to the need for international co-operation. Dozens of organizations were established to structure that co-operation. But then, in yet another fountain of unintended consequences, something man is better at than just about anything else, we let those organizations loose upon the world without ever asking what happened to what they were intended for, or whether the original grounds for founding them still existed, and whether they should perhaps be abolished or put on a tight leash.

These are questions that should be asked about any large-scale organization. Be they multinational corporations, global banks, Google or indeed the United States of America. We can’t just assume these powers, which gather more power as time goes by, share and serve the purposes of the people. What if they gradually come to serve only their own purpose, and it contradicts that of the people? Should we not get that leash out?

Turns out, we never do. If someone would suggest today to break up the USA, because its present status contradicts that which the Founding Fathers had in mind (and there are plenty of arguments to be made that such contradictions exist in plain view), (s)he would not even be sent to a nuthouse, because no-one would take him/her serious enough to do so.

But wealth inequality still rises rapidly within America, and it doesn’t serve the people. So why does it happen, and why do we let it? Because the inequality that matters most is not wealth, but power. And we’ve been made to believe that we still have that power, but we don’t. Voting in elections has the same function today as singing around a Christmas tree: everyone feels a strong emotional connection, but it’s all just become one giant TV commercial.

Even if families are genuinely happy to meet up and exchange gifts and stories, it’s all modeled after the building blocks handed to us by chain stores. It isn’t really our story anymore, and Jesus certainly wasn’t born in a manger: he was born in a MacMansion and the first thing the child saw was his mom’s fake boobs, a wall-sized TV and an iPhone.

In that same vein, we lost the stories bitterly fought and suffered for by our grandparents through two world wars and the brutal invasions of Vietnam and Iraq, the stories of how we can best keep ourselves safe and out of – international – trouble. Not just military trouble, but economic and political trouble. These things are no longer our decision. We founded supra-national, indeed global, institutions for that. And then let them slip out of our sight.

The US is a bit of an outlier here, simply because it’s older. But the IMF, the World Bank, UN, NATO and the EU absolutely all fit the picture of organizations that have – happily – grown beyond our range of view, and that exhibit the exact same inverted pyramid characteristics we see on wealth inequality, only for these organizations it’s not wealth that floats and concentrates increasingly from the bottom to the top, it’s power.

Wealth comes after that. And one shouldn’t confuse that order. Because power buys wealth infinitely faster than wealth buys power.

All these supra-national institutions were established with good intentions – at least from some of the founders. But then we forgot, ignored, to check on them, and they accumulated ever more power when we weren’t watching (we were watching TV, remember?)

And what we see now is that any effort, any at all, to break up the IMF, World Bank, UN, NATO and EU would be met with the same derision that an effort to break up the USA would be met with. We have built, in true sorcerer’s apprentice or Frankenstein fashion, entities that we cannot control. And they have taken over our lives. They serve the interests of elites, not of the people. So why do we let them continue to exist?

What powers do we have left when it comes to bailing out banks, invading countries, making sure our young people have jobs when they leave school? We have none. We lost the decision making power along the way, and we’re not getting it back unless we quit watching the tube (or the plasma) and fight for it. Until we do, power will keep floating to the top like so much excrement; it’s a law of – human – nature.

That the people we voluntarily endow with such control over our lives would also use that control to enrich themselves, is so obvious it barely requires mentioning. But that doesn’t mean this is about wealth inequality, that’s not the main issue, in fact it’s not much more than an afterthought. It’s about the power we have over our lives. Or rather, the power we don’t have.