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Three day weekend Grexit? Mark your calendar for May 2nd, 9th or 16th

When the Grexit happens, it will be on a weekend. The banks will be closed, parliament will be called into emergency session, and a packet of laws will be passed.

Alex Christoforou

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Post originally appeared on The Automatic Earth Blog.

Yes, more Greece, ever more Greece. Well, the focus is still very much there. It’s not the only topic, obviously, China warrants interest too, certainly with things like Tyler Durden quoting Cornerstone Macro as saying China’s true economic growth rate was just 1.6% in Q1 2015, not the official government number of 7%. Never trust anyone, especially a government, that consistently meets or beats its predictions. With housing prices falling the way they have, -6% or thereabouts, and over 70% of Chinese private investment in real estate, it’s hard to see how a 7% GDP growth number could pass scrutiny. Sure, there’s the stock market bubble, but even then.

GreeceRepayments2015-300But for now back to Athens. Or Washington, actually, where Yanis Varoufakis finds himself. From what we can gather on his schedule, Varoufakis has (or has had) meetings with Obama and Lagarde on Thursday, and with Mario Draghi, Jack Lew and Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday.

Also on Friday, he’s meeting sovereign debt lawyer Lee Buchheit, who’s a partner at New York law firm Cleary Gottlieb [..Steen & Hamilton], and has helped restructure debt for various countries. The Guardian, back in 2013 (how times have changed!), portrayed Buchheit as the ‘fairy godmother to finance ministers in distress’:

This is the man who stands up to the vulture funds – so named because they buy up the debt of desperately poor countries in order to chase them through the courts for repayment. So it is something of a surprise to meet a slight, mild-mannered lawyer, with more than a whiff of academia about him.

He insists he does not make a moral judgement in choosing who he acts for, but rather enjoys working for the debtor nations. “It’s just more fun,” he says. “If you represent the lender, your client is tiresomely saying things to you like, ‘Why don’t they just pay us the money back?’ When you’re on the debtor side, you can say, ‘If you want to get it back, why did you give it to us?’

In view of that last quote, it may be wise to once again reiterate that only about 8% of the bailout funds Athens is now on the hook for, actually went to Greece; the other 92% was used to save major European and American banks. As I said before, this has been a political decision, not an economic one. In that vein , we can take a look at the following from John Ward at the Slog, dated March 26:

At this link is an official EU release whose sole concern is the subject of ‘contingent liabilities’ entered into by EU member states. [..] the EU release in this instance contains some blockbuster facts….and adds another piece to the eurozone jigsaw of hypocritical mendacity. Contingent liabilities are often referred to as Shadow Debt: if you’re lucky, they won’t become an eventuality. But as the EU table shows, given the parlous nature of the ezone banking sector, every one of the liabilities is a racing certainty.

We’ve all been asking why Germany ignored the EC bailin directive last week and bailed out a small Bavarian Bank. The answer is simple: not to do so would’ve been illegal under BundesRepublik law, because Berlin had promised so to do. On this basis, while at first sight German national debt is a ‘mere’ 70% of GDP, add the promises it has made to its banks, and the number comes in at a horrific 222%. Not far behind comes the Netherlands with a similar ‘official’ national debt at 73% of GDP. But the contingent liabilities are 115%…making a pretty nasty mountain of 188%.

The Number One and Number Two top contingent liability millstones in the EU are – by miles – Germany and the Netherlands. Now let me see…who are the two chaps working hardest to stop the Greeks and their contagious banks from going their own way? Why, none other than German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, and Dutch finance minister Jeroen René Victor Anton Dijsselbloem. The third prong of Troika2 is of course the ECB’s Italian Mario Draghi. Without any contingencies at all, Italy’s national debt is 132.6% of GDP. Add its 45.5% of contingents, and this too adds up to 178.1% of GDP.

Before you know it, things are no longer what they seem. If you were Lee Buchheit, you might want to argue that Greece is being thrown to the lions and the wolves because Germany and Holland bailed out their bankrupt banking systems, and vowed to keep doing it.

That would make it very hard to imagine them saving Greece today, since to do that, they would risk their own banks, which they bailed out with trillions of their own taxpayers’ money. It would be political suicide. It’s much easier to tell those taxpayers that it’s Greece that’s at fault, not their own heroic leaders (I say heroic because that’s how Bernanke portrays himself in his ‘Courage to Act’ fictional fluff).

So when, oh when, could the Grexit come? Daniel Roberts at Raas Consulting thinks he might have part of the answer:

Why The Grexit Is Inevitable – and some singing PIGS

One thing in common for almost all of my Pinewood International Schools (TiHi to some) class of ’78 is that we left. Many still live in Greece and in Thessaloniki or have returned, and they are closest to the pain. The real pain of the past decade, that has destroyed wealth and hope. Unemployment is running at levels not see in Europe since after the war, and at levels that encouraged the socialist-fascist civil wars of the 1930s. Those did not end well.

But that does not explain why the Grexit is inevitable, and why it will happen very soon.
1) This is what the Greek people voted for. No, they did not vote to stay in the Euro, they voted for the party that said it would reduce the debt and meet pension obligations. The Greek people and voters are not stupid. They knew this could only happen by either the rest of Europe bailing out Greece again, or by leaving the Euro.
2) The Greek people know perfectly well that Europe is not going to bail them out, because to do so will only set everyone up for the next bailout.
3) The Greek people, and the rest of Europe, know full well that the debt will never be repaid, and that the Troika are now acting as nothing better than the enforcers of loan sharks.
4) Syriza knows that it had six months before the voters would throw them out, and once out, Syriza would never come back.
5) The Greeks needed to show “good faith” in actually attempting to negotiate a resolution with the Troika. This has now been done, and is failing.
6) The demand for reparations from Germany is designed not to actually extract the reparations, but to anger the Germans to the point that they will block any compromise that Syriza would have been required to accept.

The Greek government, elected by a battered and exploited Greek people, has been establishing the conditions that will give them the moral high ground (in the eyes of their voters) needed to actually leave the Euro. Having set the conditions, when will it happen? I’m still guessing May 9th. Why? Greece will leave the Euro, and they will do it sooner than later. They’ve made the April payment, but simply do not have the money for the May or June payments, and they cannot pass the legislation required by Europe and the Germans and stay in power. That gives us a late May or June date. So why earlier?

Capital flight. Imposing currency controls will be a fundamental element of any Grexit. Accounts will be frozen, and any money in accounts will be re-denominated in New Drachmas. Once the bank accounts are unfrozen, the residual, former Euros will now be worth whatever the New Drachma has dropped to, and the drop will be significant, over–correcting to the downside. Once it is accepted that the Grexit is coming and there will be no last minute deal, and with memories of Cyprus too fresh in every Greek’s mind, the money will flow out of the country. Not just corporate money (most of which is probably off-share already) but any remaining personal money in bank accounts. So Greece has to move before the coming Grexit is perceived as inevitable, and the money starts to flow out.

Weekend event. When the Grexit happens, it will be on a weekend. The banks will be closed, parliament will be called into emergency session, and a packet of laws will be passed. As this needs to be on a Saturday to avoid wholesale capital flight the moment that parliament is called into session, were it a weekday. This leaves only a few possible dates. And where there are few possible dates, I’m punting on the earlier date, so earlier in May. And looking at the calendar, that leaves us with May 2nd, 9th or 16th. My own guess is that the 2nd is too soon, and the 16th is too late. That leaves me guessing May 9th.

WebThe top graph on the left side of my essay shows all Greek payments due until September. It comes down to about €13 billion in the next 5 months. The country is desperately waiting for a last €7.2 billion bailout tranche the lenders won’t pay out, but it wouldn’t even make that much difference. So when will the drama come to an end? Turning to the second graph, we see specifics. The next payments are:

• April 17 and 20: a combined total of €273.5 million in interest payments to the ECB.

• May 1: €195.1 million to the IMF.

• May 12: €744.9 million to the IMF.

It’s hard to see how Greece can even attempt to make that last payment. Let alone the €1.61 billion due in June (numbers on both graphs don’t add up exactly), or the billions after that.

The big questions concern not just the difference between on the one hand, economic issues and on the other, political ones. Syriza doesn’t have the mandate to take Greece out of the eurozone. That is a huge point. But neither does it have the mandate to give in to the troika’s insistence on pensions cuts. At a certain moment, it may come down to what can be explained to the Greek people, and how well it can be explained. This explanation will almost certainly have to come after the fact, since holding a referendum pre-Grexit would carry far too much potential risk of uncontrolled demolition of the entire Greek economy and banking system.

Tsipras and Varoufakis are not the most enviable people out there at the moment. They have hard choices to make. Still, in the end, running a society, a nation, or a union of nations, cannot be just a matter of balancing your books. That can never be your bottom line. You’re talking about real people, not mere entries in a ledger. Schaeuble and other European politicians keep bragging about the ‘success’ of Greek government policies before Syriza came to power, even as it’s been well documented that many Greek children go hungry and people have no access to health care. How is that a success?

That attitude may be the most valuable argument Syriza has available to it in its upcoming discussions with its voters. Whether these discussions take place before or after a Grexit is hard to say at this point. But Daniel Roberts’ reasoning towards a May 9 event certainly has some logic to it. We may still hope that the troika doesn’t put Syriza into a position of an impossible fork in the road, but right now it doesn’t look good, it looks like they’re getting ready to sacrifice Greece on their pagan altars.

To top off the cynicism involved Bloomberg runs an article today entitled Germany: Has Any Country Ever Had It So Good?. At the same time, a few hundred miles to the south east, children don’t have enough to eat. The European Union sure is a great place to be. What a success story! Pity it’s about to end.

References:

http://www.theautomaticearth.com/2015/04/is-may-9-the-grexit-date/

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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

It is not usually the case that an American media outlet tells the truth about Ukraine, but it appears to have happened here.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Hill committed what may well have been a random act of journalism when it reported that Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Hill.tv’s reporter John Solomon that the American ambassador to that country, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting.

Normally, all things Russia are covered by the American press as “bad”, and all things Ukraine are covered by the same as “good.” Yet this report reveals quite a bit about the nature of the deeply embedded US interests that are involved in Ukraine, and which also attempt to control and manipulate policy in the former Soviet republic.

The Hill’s piece continues (with our added emphases):

“Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko, who took his post in 2016, told Hill.TV last week.

“My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime,” he continued.

Indeed, the Prosecutor General appears to be a man of some principles. When this report was brought to the attention of the US State Department, the response was predictable:

The State Department called Lutsenko’s claim of receiving a do not prosecute list, “an outright fabrication.” 

“We have seen reports of the allegations,” a department spokesperson told Hill.TV. “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”

This is an amazing statement in itself. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer”? Are Americans even aware that their country is spending their tax dollars in an effort to manipulate a foreign government in what can probably well be called a low-grade proxy war with the Russian Federation? Again, this appears to be a slip, as most American media do a fair job of maintaining the narrative that Ukraine is completely independent and that its actions regarding the United States and Russia are taken in complete freedom.

Hill.TV has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for comment.

Lutsenko also said that he has not received funds amounting to nearly $4 million that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was supposed to allocate to his office, saying that “the situation was actually rather strange” and pointing to the fact that the funds were designated, but “never received.”

“At that time we had a case for the embezzlement of the U.S. government technical assistance worth 4 million U.S. dollars, and in that regard, we had this dialogue,” he said. “At that time, [Yovanovitch] thought that our interviews of Ukrainian citizens, of Ukrainian civil servants, who were frequent visitors of the U.S. Embassy put a shadow on that anti-corruption policy.”

“Actually, we got the letter from the U.S. Embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about [was] under full control of the U.S. Embassy, and that the U.S. Embassy did not require our legal assessment of these facts,” he said. “The situation was actually rather strange because the funds we are talking about were designated for the prosecutor general’s office also and we told [them] we have never seen those, and the U.S. Embassy replied there was no problem.”

“The portion of the funds, namely 4.4 million U.S. dollars were designated and were foreseen for the recipient Prosecutor General’s office. But we have never received it,” he said.

Yovanovitch previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia under former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush. She also served as ambassador to Ukraine under Obama.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was at the time House Rules Committee chairman, voiced concerns about Yovanovitch in a letter to the State Department last year in which he said he had proof the ambassador had spoken of her “disdain” for the Trump administration.

This last sentence may be a way to try to narrow the scope of American interference in Ukraine down to the shenanigans of just a single person with a personal agenda. However, many who have followed the story of Ukraine and its surge in anti-Russian rhetoric, neo-Naziism, ultra-nationalism, and the most recent events surrounding the creation of a pseudo-Orthodox “church” full of Ukrainian nationalists and atheists as a vehicle to import “Western values” into a still extremely traditional and Christian land, know that there are fingerprints of the United States “deep state” embeds all over this situation.

It is somewhat surprising that so much that reveals the problem showed up in just one report. It will be interesting to see if this gets any follow-up in the US press.

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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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