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This is not Sparta. Greece folds to EU pressure. Schaeuble relishes victory

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that a funding agreement made with euro zone ministers on Saturday cancelled the preceding conservative-led government’s austerity commitments to the country’s international creditors. In reality, the SYRIZA government capitulated and agreed to most of the items Brussels insisted on.

Alex Christoforou

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In the end Greece blinked, and folded to EU pressure like origami.

The last minute deal hashed out in Brussels kicks the can down the street for another 4 months, at which time Greece will come before its rulers, once again, to figure out how it could possibly survive within the nightmare that is the European Union.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, now smelling blood in the water, was relentless in his comments…

“Greeks Certainly Will Have A Difficult Time To Explain The Deal To Their Voters.”

“As long as the program for Greece isn’t successfully concluded, there will be no payout”

Meanwhile, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis tried to put a positive spin to a now, even bigger hole dug up by Greece, assuring his countrymen that…

“Greek ATMs will have adequate cash.”

Zerohedge has this to say about the results of the agreement…

So for all those waiting for the real punchline, here it is – it also is the reason why Greece got until Monday to reveal the list of “reforms” it would undertake:

“We’re in trouble next week if creditors don’t accept Greece’s reforms”, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis says. “If our list of reforms is not backed by the institutions, this agreement is dead and buried.”

Under the conditionality of the Troika’s approval, the Tsipras government now has to walk back essentially all the promises it made to the Greek people – promises which by some accounts amount to over €20 billion in additional spending – or the Troika, pardon Institutions, will yank the entire deal and the Grexit can then commence.

And that’s the bottom line.

It’s also the reason Schauble was gloating: because he gave the Greek government just enough rope with which to hang itself.

Then again, if and when the Tsirpas government is booted out next once the Greek euphoria turns to disgust and disillusionment, does Germany really want to negotiate with Golden Dawn instead?

Which brings is to what was agreed upon, how much did Europe win, and what did the Tsipras’ government actually get by signing the country’s death warrant.

The deal agreed to extends the current Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement by four months, giving Greece time to fund itself in the short term, and to allow time for negotiations with Brussels going forward…based on the conditions of the current arrangement with the European Commission, ECB and IMF – formerly known as ‘the Troika’.

In short…the agreement hammered out in Brussels extends the existing agreement and the tied-in conditionality of the current Memorandum of Understanding…A memorandum which is extremely unpopular in Greece.

Open Europe explains in more detail the points which Greece capitulated on…

Completion of the current review – Greece has basically agreed to conclude the current bailout. Any funding is conditional on such a process:

“Only approval of the conclusion of the review of the extended arrangement by the institutions in turn will allow for any disbursement of the outstanding tranche of the current EFSF programme and the transfer of the 2014 SMP profits. Both are again subject to approval by the Eurogroup.”

This is a clear capitulation for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who said the previous bailout was “dead” and the EU/IMF/ECB Troika is “over”.

Remaining bank recapitalisation funds – Greece wanted this money to be held by the Hellenic Financial Stabilisation Fund (HFSF) over the extension period, and possibly be open for use outside the banking sector. However, this has been denied and the bonds will return to the EFSF, although they will remain available for any bank recapitalisation needs.

Role of the IMF – The Eurogroup statement says, “We also agreed that the IMF would continue to play its role”. Again, Greece has given in on this point and the Troika continues to exist and be strongly involved in all but name.

No unilateral action – According to the statement,

“The Greek authorities commit to refrain from any rollback of measures and unilateral changes to the policies and structural reforms that would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions.”

In light of this, a large number of promises that SYRIZA made in its election campaign will now be hard to fulfil. In the press conference given by Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem and EU Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, it was suggested that this pledge also applied to the measures which were announced by Tsipras in his speech to the Greek parliament earlier this week – when he announced plans to roll back some labour market reforms passed by the previous Greek government.

Four months rather than six months – Greece requested a six-month extension, but the Eurogroup only agreed to four months. This is a crucial point: it means the extension expires at the end of June. As the graph below shows, Greece faces two crucial bond repayments to the ECB in July and August which total €6.7bn. This is a very tough hard deadline. There is limited time for the longer term negotiations which will take place – provided that a final agreement on the extension is reached. It is very likely we will be back in a similar situation at the end of June.

What exactly did Greece get? Open Europe explains…

Greece has received a couple of small fillips in the wording:

“The institutions will, for the 2015 primary surplus target, take the economic circumstances in 2015 into account.”

This suggests that Greece may, during this year and the extension in particular, get more fiscal leeway. As we predicted many times, this would manifest itself as a lower primary surplus target. A small victory which may provide a bit of temporary breathing space for the government. In practice, though, it was already looking difficult for Greece to meet its target this year given significant shortfalls in tax revenue.

Greece also managed to get the word “bridge” into the statement, and a specific promise to discuss a fresh programme and approach:

“This extension would also bridge the time for discussions on a possible follow-up arrangement between the Eurogroup, the institutions and Greece.”

What happens now?

As was stressed in the press conference, Greece will on Monday “present a first list of reform measures, based on the current arrangement”.  Moving forward from this agreement, which is still largely in principle, will be conditional on these measures being judged as sufficient by the EU/IMF/ECB as a step towards completing the current bailout.

Once that is confirmed work will begin on getting the “national procedures” in place, so that all the necessary parliaments (such as Germany and Finland) have approved the extension by the end of next week.

In the not too distant future, discussions will begin on the “possible follow-up arrangement”. As we outlined in extensive detail here, there are a huge amount of differences which need to be resolved. The crucial ones being labour market and pension reforms, as well as debt relief. Chances of an agreement remain unclear, but we would expect Greece to struggle once again to get what it wants.

Finally, the Greek government has to return to Greece and sell what is almost an entire capitulation to its own MPs (some of whom would have rather left the Eurozone than abandon their aims), its coalition partner, and the public (which has strongly supported the hard-line stance). We got a taste of this in the presser, when Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said:

“From the very first day, we refused to see these negotiations as a zero sum game.”

“We’re beginning to be co-authors of our destiny.”

“The Eurogroup statement is a good example of ‘constructive ambiguity’ on primary surplus targets.”

“I’m pleased to report that our commitments are commitments we wanted to make anyway.”

Focusing on the longer term and selling the openness of the negotiation as an escape from the current programme. This may or may not be true, it is in the end a negotiation.

As we said yesterday, Greece has folded this hand but the game of poker continues. Greece is now short stack and living hand to hand (day to day). It continues to be in a very tough position, and how the evaporation of the vision which SYRIZA sold at the election will go down at home is a crucial and potentially explosive unknown.

References:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-02-20/germany-gives-greece-just-enough-rope-varoufakis-says-if-troika-rejects-reforms-deal

http://openeurope.org.uk/blog/greece-bends-eurozone-will-find-short-term-agreement/

 

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It’s Official: ‘Britain’s Democracy Now At Risk’

It’s not just campaigners saying it any more: democracy is officially at risk, according to parliament’s own digital, culture, media and sport committee.

The Duran

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Via True Publica, authored by Jessica Garland – Electoral Reform Society:


Britain’s main campaign rules were drawn up in the late 1990s, before social media and online campaigning really existed. This has left the door wide open to disinformation, dodgy donations and foreign interference in elections.

There is a real need to close the loopholes when it comes to the online Wild West.

Yet in this year’s elections, it was legitimate voters who were asked to identify themselves, not those funnelling millions into political campaigns through trusts, or those spreading fake news.

The government trialled mandatory voter ID in five council areas in May. In these five pilot areas alone about 350 people were turned away from polling stations for not having their papers with them — and they didn’t return. In other words, they were denied their vote.

Yet last year, out of more than 45 million votes cast across the country, there were just 28 allegations of personation (pretending to be someone else at the polling station), the type of fraud voter ID is meant to tackle.

Despite the loss of 350 votes, the pilots were branded a success by the government. Yet the 28 allegations of fraud (and just one conviction) are considered such a dire threat that the government is willing to risk disenfranchising many more legitimate voters to try to address it. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Indeed, the fact-checking website FullFact noted that in the Gosport pilot, 0.4 per cent of voters did not vote because of ID issues. That’s a greater percentage than the winning margin in at least 14 constituencies in the last election. Putting up barriers to democratic engagement can have a big impact. In fact, it can swing an election.

In the run-up to the pilots, the Electoral Reform Society and other campaigners warned that the policy risked disenfranchising the most marginalised groups in society.

The Windrush scandal highlights exactly the sort of problems that introducing stricter forms of identity could cause: millions of people lack the required documentation. It’s one of the reasons why organisations such as the Runnymede Trust are concerned about these plans.

The Electoral Commission has now published a report on the ID trials, which concludes that “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns” on this front.

The small number of pilots, and a lack of diversity, meant that sample sizes were too small to conclude anything about how the scheme would affect various demographic groups. Nor can the pilots tell us about the likely impact of voter ID in a general election, where the strain on polling staff would be far greater and a much broader cross-section of electors turns out to vote.

The Electoral Reform Society, alongside 22 organisations, campaigners and academics, has now called on the constitution minister to halt moves to impose this policy. The signatories span a huge cross-section of society, including representatives of groups that could be disproportionately impacted by voter ID, from Age UK to Liberty and from the British Youth Council to the Salvation Army and the LGBT Foundation.

Voters know what our democratic priorities should be: ensuring that elections are free from the influence of big donors. Having a secure electoral register. Providing balanced media coverage. Transparency online.

We may be little wiser as a result of the government’s voter ID trials. Yet we do know where the real dangers lie in our politics.

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Corrupt Robert Mueller’s despicable Paul Manafort trial nears end (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 79.

Alex Christoforou

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Paul Manafort’s legal team rested its case on Tuesday without calling a single witness. This sets the stage for closing arguments before the judge hands the case to jurors for a verdict.

Manafort’s defense opted to call no witnesses, choosing instead to rely on the team’s cross-examination of government witnesses including a very devious Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy, and several accountants, bookkeepers and bankers who had financial dealings with Manafort.

Closing arguments are expected on Wednesday. Jurors may begin deliberating shortly after receiving their final instructions from judge Ellis.

Manafort case has nothing to do with Mueller’s ‘Trump-Russia collusion witch-hunt’ as the former DC lobbyist is accused of defrauding banks to secure loans and hiding overseas bank accounts and income from U.S. tax authorities.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied a defense motion to acquit Manafort on the charges because prosecutors hadn’t proved their case.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the circus trial of Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, and how crooked cop Robert Mueller is using all his power to lean on Manafort, so as to conjure up something illegal against US President Donald Trump.

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Via Zerohedge

Prosecutors allege he dodged taxes on millions of dollars made from his work for a Ukrainian political party, then lied to obtain bank loans when cash stopped flowing from the project.

The courtroom was sealed for around two hours Tuesday morning for an unknown reason, reopening around 11:30 a.m. with Manafort arriving around 10 minutes later.

The decision to rest their case without calling any witnesses follows a denial by Judge T.S. Ellis III to acquit Manafort after his lawyers tried to argue that the special counsel had failed to prove its case at the federal trial.

The court session began at approximately 11:45 a.m.:

“Good afternoon,” began defense attorney Richard Westling, who corrected himself and said, “Good morning.”

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Judge Ellis responded.

Ellis then heard brief argument from both sides on the defense’s motion for acquittal, focusing primarily on four counts related to Federal Savings Bank.

Federal Savings Bank was aware of the status of Paul Manafort’s finances,” Westling argued. “They came to the loans with an intent of doing business with Mr. Manafort.”

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye fired back, saying that that even if bank chairman Steve Calk overlooked Manafort’s financial woes, it would still be a crime to submit fraudulent documents to obtain the loans.

“Steve Calk is not the bank,” Asonye argued, adding that while Caulk may have “had a different motive” — a job with the Trump administration — “I’m not really sure there’s evidence he knew the documents were false.”

Ellis sided with prosecutors.

The defense makes a significant argument about materiality, but in the end, I think materiality is an issue for the jury,” he said, adding. “That is true for all the other counts… those are all jury issues.”

Once that exchange was over, Manafort’s team was afforded the opportunity to present their case, to which lead attorney Kevin Downing replied “The defense rests.

Ellis then began to question Manafort to ensure he was aware of the ramifications of that decision, to which the former Trump aide confirmed that he did not wish to take the witness stand.

Manafort, in a dark suit and white shirt, stood at the lectern from which his attorneys have questioned witnesses, staring up at the judge. Ellis told Manafort he had a right to testify, though if he chose not to, the judge would tell jurors to draw no inference from that. – WaPo

Ellis asked Manafort four questions – his amplified voice booming through the courtroom:

Had Manafort discussed the decision with his attorney?

“I have, your honor,” Manafort responded, his voice clear.

Was he satisfied with their advice?

“I am, your honor,” Manafort replied.

Had he decided whether he would testify?

“I have decided,” Manafort said.

“Do you wish to testify?” Ellis finally asked.

“No, sir,” Manafort responded.

And with that, Manafort returned to his seat.

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One more step toward COMPLETE de-dollarization

Over the past several months, sitting here in Moscow, it has become increasingly obvious that while the US Dollar is unquestionably the world’s leading and liquid reserve currency, it comes with an ever increasing high price (of sovereignty and FX) if you are not the USA.

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I have opined and written about the trend towards de-dollarization before, but with the latest US –Turkish spat it has hit the wallets, mattresses and markets of a number of countries, be they aligned with Washington or not. One thing they all have in common was that in this recent era of low cost available money, many happily fed at the US dollar trough.

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This serves as a further albeit loud example to many nations for the need to diversify to an extent away from the greenback, or risk being caught up in its volatile, sudden and unpredictably risky increasingly politicized directions.

The Dollar and the geopolitical winds from Washington are today as never before openly being used as policy, which can be called the “carrot and stick”, a distinctly Pavlovian approach. Sadly, few if any can make out where or what the carrot is in this recent US worldview branding.

Tariffs, sanctions, pressured exchange rates, the Federal Reserve loosening or tightening, trade agreements and laws ignored or simply trashed… there is a lot going on which seems to democratically affect America’s allies as well as those on Washington’s politically popular and dramatic “poo-poo” list.

Just now from a press conference in Turkey, I watched Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov say that through the actions shown by the US, the role of the US dollar as a secure global reserve currency for free trade will diminish as more countries switch to national currencies for international trade.

He clearly spoke for many nations when he said; “It will make more and more countries that are not even affected by US sanctions go away from the dollar and rely on more reliable, contractual partners in terms of currency use.” Putting the situation in a nutshell he went on to say “I have already said this about sanctions: they are illegal, they undermine all principles of global trade and principles approved by UN decisions, under which unilateral measures of economic duress are unlawful.”

Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally and a key line of western defense during the long cold war years fully agreed with his Russian counterpart. The Turkish foreign minister Mr. Cavosoglu openly warned that US sanctions or trade embargoes can and are being unilaterally imposed against any country at any time if they do not toe DC’s political line.

He said at the same press conference; “Today, sanctions are imposed on Turkey, and tomorrow they can be used against any other European state. If the United States wants to maintain respect in the international arena, then it is necessary for it to be respectful of the interests of other countries.”

What is happening in Turkey is symptomatic of the developed and emerging markets globally. When trillions of dollars of newly issued lucre was up for grabs, thanks to several developed country central banks, it was comparatively easy for governments and companies just like Turkey’s to borrow funds denominated in dollars and not their national currencies.

Turkey has relied on foreign-currency debt more than most EM’s. Corporate, financial and other debt denominated mostly in dollars, approximates close to 70% of it’s economy. Therefore as the Turkish lira plunges, it is very costly for those companies to repay their dollar-denominated loans, and even now it is patently clear many will not.

The concern rattling around the underbelly of the global markets is what can be reasonably expected for assets and economies that were inflated by cheap debt, the United States included. All this points not so much to a banking crisis as has happened eight years ago, but a systemic financial market crisis.

This is a new one, and I doubt if any QE, QT, NIRPs, or ZIRPs will make much of a difference, despite the rocket-high equity markets the US has been displaying.

One financial trader I spoke to, whom I have known since the early 1980’s (and I thought him ancient then) muttered to me “we’re gettin’ into the ecstasy stage, nothing but the high matters, everything else including the VIX is seen as boring denial, and not the warning tool it is. Better start loading up on gold.”

Meanwhile, de-dollarization is ongoing in Russia and is carefully studied by a host of countries, especially as the Russian government has not yet finished selling off US debt; it still has just a few billion to go. The Russian Finance Minister A. Siluanov said this past Sunday that Russia would continue decreasing holdings of Treasuries in response to sanctions.

The finance minister went on to say that, Russia is also considering distancing itself from using the US dollar for international trade, calling it an unreliable, conditional and hence risky tool for payments.

Between March and May this year, Russia’s US debt holdings were sold down by $81 billion, which is 84% of its total US debt holdings, and while I don’t know the current figure it is certain to be even less.

The latest round of tightening sanctions screws against Russia were imposed by the State Department under a chemical and biological warfare law and should be going into effect on August 22. This in spite of the fact that no proof was ever shown, not under any established national or international law, or with any of several global biochemical conventions, not even in the ever entertaining court of public opinion.

Whatever Russia may continue to do in its relationship with US debt or the dollar, the fact of the matter is that Russia is not a heavyweight in this particular financial arena, and the direct effects of Russia’s responses are negligible. However, the indirect effects are huge as they reflect what many countries (allied or unallied with the US) see as Washington’s overbearing and more than slightly unipolar trade and geopolitical advantage quests, be they Mexico, Canada, the EU, or anyone else on any hemisphere of this globe.

Some of the potential indirect effects over time may be a similar sell-off or even gradual reduction of US debt exposure from China or any one of several dozens of countries deciding to reduce their exposure to US debt by reducing their purchases and waiting for existing Treasuries to mature. In either case, the trend is there and is not going away anytime soon.

When Russia clears its books of US dollarized debt, then who will be next in actively diversifying their US debt risk? Then what might be the fate of the US Dollar, and what value then will be the international infusions to finance America’s continually growing debt, or fuel the funds needed for further market growth? Value and the energy of money has no politics, it ultimately trends towards areas where there is a secure business dynamic. That being said, looks like we are now and will be living through the most interesting of disruptive times.

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