UK

Austria proves again why the EU needs to listen more and talk less

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God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we’d listen more and talk less,’ so the old saying goes This is what the EU gets for trying to bully its member states. It wasn’t long ago that EU President Jean-Claude Juncker was telling Austrians that if they democratically elected Norbert Hofer of the right wing FPO then the EU would remove Austria’s voting rights and cut off any transfers. Well the Austrians have voted for a conservative anti-immigrant party (which wants a programme to get immigrants to assimilate with the local culture) with a 31yo leader, Sebastian Kurz. His People’s Party garnered 31.4% (+7%) of the vote with the far-right wing FPO coming in second at 27.4% and incumbent Social Democrat Party coming in third with 26.7%. The Greens will probably not make the cut off of 4% to make a party, So once again the EU has had yet another major repudiation of its totalitarian ideals.

CM has been making the point for ages that forcing one’s beliefs onto others must be done in a way that listens to the other side. Otherwise it delivers results like Trump. It seems the EU hasn’t learned a thing.

So what have we had?

-Le Pen garnered 1/3rd of the French vote (double the best ever achieved by Front National),

-the far right Freedom Party’s (FPO) Norbert Hofer still managed 46% in Austria farcical re-run presidential election),

-Geert Wilders’ 25% increase in seats for the anti-immigrant PVV in The Netherlands,

-the surge in the Sweden Democrats to the top of the recent polls, Elections in 2018.

-Italy’s referendum which turned into a backdoor vote to oust PM Renzi. Elections in 2018 likely.

Brexit (although PM May is handling negotiations in true British efficiency – Fawlty Towers ring a bell?),

the Swiss handing back a 30yr standing free ticket to join the EU,

-the AfD in Germany getting 13% of the vote (Merkel may have won but it was her party’s worse showing in 7 decades)

…these don’t look like promising trends for an EU which is already badly listing. Despite ample warnings the EU refused (and still refuses) to change its course or exercise due care. It just issues more threats.

While the left openly voices its rage at these ‘right-wing’ parties growing in support, they never bother to seek reasons why. The right are generally just dismissed as racists, bigots or worse.  Major party loyalty has never been worse. The fabric of the loyal party voter base is wearing thinner. Take Australia’s One Nation Party led by Senator Pauline Hanson. The popularity of the mainstream LNP and Labor Parties is at record lows. One Nation is now 10% of the vote from 2% several decades ago. While some parties may claim their loyal base has abandoned them the stronger case to be made is the clear shift of the parties away from their once faithful constituents. Why?

Incumbent governments seem to cower at receiving negative news from the 24-7 polling cycle that is social media. Being careful to avoid inviting attack, they pander to all of the socially acceptable agendas – climate change, gender fluid bathrooms, laws clamping down on free speech, open borders and afffirmative action.

However political correctness is clearly not the answer as these results across Europe and elsewhere show. People are sick of the brow beating by socialist activists. Tired of the constant protests and social justice bleating. The NFL might find that most of its fans are against police brutality but they aren’t wanting a weekly lecture in grievance politics with the price of entry or their cable TV channel. Growing weary of the idea that it is ‘free speech’ and anything against those ideals are deemed ‘hate speech’. It is not to deny some positions are not necessarily palatable but in the marketplace of free speech, ridiculous positions can easily be disproven. Better to give extremist voices a chance to talk and invite public opinion on them at their own peril. Shutting it down forces it underground., making it inherently more dangerous.

Too many mainstream political parties are moving off the policy reserve that defined them so their once loyal followers are actively seek ones that will. While Hanson’s One Nation or Senator Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives may not tick every box to existing LNP voters, they cover enough of the positions that matter to them that they’ll tolerate some of the more out there ideas. It is not uncommon to hear the left complain at One Nation’s is growing popularity at the expense of the Greens but it is a devil of their own making.

So will the EU listen to the Austrian call? Will it pay attention to the Hungarians who voted over 98% against accepting forced migrant quotas? Think through the logic. If you were an asylum seeker, would you think your chances of unincumbered settlement would be best placed where 98.4% of the population doesn’t want you? It is irrelevant whether we think the Hungarians are insensitive brutes not to extend a welcome to those that are legitimately in need. It is their country and their democracy has spoken. If Brussels assumes to dictate to Hungary how it wishes to protect its culture and whatever it holds precious, why shouldn’t the EU have the same rights to enforce income tax, housing benefits and anything else it sees fit? Of course it is a preposterous notion.

It will not be long before the EU will be front and center on Greece. Let us not forget that the EU colluded with Goldman Sachs to ‘fiddle’ the accounts to make Hellas much prettier optically than it was. Was this pig without lipstick it wouldn’t have gained acceptance to the club. So the EU is not in a position to claim innocence over a deliberate ploy to ram-road the Greeks into its federal state yet have no qualms treating it with disdain. Talk about double standards.

In all seriousness the treatment of the Greeks by the EU is despicable beyond words. So for all of the left’s blind love for the EU and its socialist agenda, 36% of Greeks live below the poverty line and 58% of the youth are unemployed. So for all of the EU’s shared sense of purpose and equality, that means many can’t access affordable healthcare because it is generally provided by corporates and when you lose a job you lose the healthcare. This means many are forced to use A&E of major hospitals which are now overcrowded and understaffed as more doctors are leaving to seek better fortune for their services elsewhere.

If that wasn’t enough, mothers who had given birth were being restricted from taking their new-borns home if they couldn’t pay the hospital fees. While the government has banned this practice they have introduced new laws to allow the seizure of assets (e.g. homes) if debts are not settled.

Shortly, the Greeks are coming up for discussion over its debt position and austerity. With just months left before Greece’s latest lifeline expires, officials directly involved in the country’s bailout say they don’t have the stomach for contingent aid program when the current one expires in August 2018. While the EU and Athens are battle worn after 7 years of this knife edge rescue,  Greece will need to show it can go it alone but it’s eurozone creditors will be reluctant without further strings attached.

Here is betting that the EU doesn’t heed the lessons that have been ringing loud and clear for years. Sincerely hoping Greece leaves the EU and lets market forces revive its economy. Better to die on its feet than live on its knees.

Shocking state of suicide

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The National Institute of Health (NIH) lists the top 10 categories of causes of death in America in 2015 as above. Heart disease was the highest cause leading to over 633,800 deaths. Cancer was slightly under 600,000. Respiratory disease came in 3rd at 155,000. Homicide, while not listed in the Top 10, was around 14,000. Total drug related deaths were around 50,000, equivalent to deaths from car accidents and murder combined. Death from heroin and illicit opioid overdoses exceeded 20,000.

F4BB85AF-601B-44CD-8232-83590DB4455E.jpegSadly suicides in the US totaled a shocking 44,193 in 2015, most prevalent in younger age groups. Over the last 15 years we can see that suicides per head of US population has continued to climb.

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In 15 years, the incidence of female suicides has climbed 45% per head of population. While male suicide outnumbers female suicides per head of population by almost 4x the relative increase in 15 years has been 16.3%. In aggregate total suicides have grown 20.4%, an awful statistic. Half of the suicides were the result of self inflicted gunshot wounds. 1/3rd of women tended to commit suicide by taking poison versus 10% by males.

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The detrimental economic impacts are also quite heavy, The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Suicides cost around $51bn annually while homicide is around $26bn.

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Perhaps the most alarming part of the NIMH study was the 1.1mn people that made proper attempts to take their own life. Almost 10mn contemplated it.

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In Australia, suicide rates are also at a decade high of 12.6 people per 100,000 or almost identical to those rates in the US. 3,000 took their life in 2015. According to Beyondblue 3 million Australians suffer from anxiety or depression.

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The suicide rate in Northern Ireland has increased dramatically over the last 30 years – the male rate has increased by 82% in this time. Male rates remain consistently higher than female suicide rates across the UK and Republic of Ireland – most notably 5 times higher in Republic of Ireland and around 3 times in the UK.

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Since 2007, suicides in the UK have started to mildly trend back upwards from 10,8/100,000 to 10.9.

China accounts for 26% of the world’s suicides. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the country saw c.500 by women per day taking their own lives in 2009 or around 183,000 a year. At that rate some 1.5 million Chinese women have taken their own lives in the past eight years.

Japan is approximately down to 19.5 suicides per 100,000 but South Korea remains persistently high at 28.5.

It is a point worth reflecting on. There have been six people from my own high school year who have taken their own life. Seemingly happy and healthy on the outside, matters have taken a turn that not even friends could have detected until it is too late.

The most common symptoms that lead to suicide are due to depression or anxiety onset by

-substance abuse
-incarceration
-family history of suicide
-poor job security or low levels of job satisfaction
-financial insecurity
-history of being abused or witnessing continuous abuse
-being diagnosed with a serious medical condition, such as cancer or HIV
-being socially isolated or a victim of bullying
-being exposed to suicidal behavior

Worsening economic conditions are undoubtedly pushing more people toward suicide. Greece, which does not have a high suicide rate (8.8) compared to other EU countries (average of 11.6 people per 100,000), saw tough financial austerity measures leading to a 35% jump in suicide rates in a little less than 2 years, not dissimilar to Russia between 1989-1994. Each 1 percentage point rise of unemployment rates in men aged 20 to 59 was associated with a 0.19/100,000 population rise in suicide. Spain saw 20% higher suicides in 2015 vs 2008.

This is the mark of suicide prevention. Note that most countries have suicide prevention hotlines.

America

Australia

UK

Help is at hand.

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Merkel presides over worst outcome since 1949

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Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU looks to have sealed the largest support but it is her party’s worst showing since 1949. While much of the press is hailing her 4th term one can’t dismiss the rise of the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) which looks to cement in the third spot with around 14% (c. 6 million votes). In the 2013 election AfD only managed 4.7% (c. 2mn votes) which was below the 5% threshold required to take seats in the Bundestag. Zero seats then, Now looking at 95+.

As CM wrote on Nov 21, 2016,

Think of the coming German elections in 2017 as more like Australia’s recent federal election where Liberal Party PM Malcolm Turnbull scraped home with the protest vote going to smaller parties such as Pauline Hanson’s ultra conservative One Nation Party…Merkel’s power will be greatly cut back as she is forced to pander to the reduced majority and harder line elements the results of recent state elections have borne out clearly.”

While we are already hearing the major parties refusing to form a coalition with it (much like those Dutch parties refusing to team up with Wilders’ Party for Freedom) the message is clear. More voters are sick of the political hand wringing that glosses over issues that concern them. It was the same for Le Pen. Yes, she lost to Macron but she doubled the share of the vote of her Front National party to a record – more than twice as many cared for her platform. Trump’s win. Brexit. The Italian 5 Star Movement. The Italian referendum. The Hungarian referendum. The Dutch election. All showing large shifts toward ‘national’ interests. Why?

It doesn’t matter how far-fetched some might feel the views of people who are voting for ‘nationalist’ platforms may be, the reality is that the counter arguments and actions taken by the current crop of the apologist political class isn’t cutting through. The only way many can express their frustration is at the ballot box. Hence we get Merkel’s worst showing. Yet when political parties say they ‘refuse’ to partner with it, how can they realistically alienate a party that represents 14% of the country? The mainstream media pillorying the supporters of right wing parties are part of the problem. They are made to feel ashamed for holding legitimate  concerns so all that happens is they get pushed underground and resurface at election time. This is why opinion polls have become largely meaningless.

In Merkel’s case what did she expect when she tried to gag the media and police in Cologne on New Year’s Day to cover her gross misguided altruism? To then support the Mayor of Cologne’s suggestion that German women dress more appropriately so they won’t be pestered spoke to many as such a limp wristed response to common decency. Germans are fair minded people but they cannot be expected to sacrifice hard earned freedoms for some who treat their generosity with utter contempt. Hearts and minds can’t be one by political correctness which seeks to segregate swimming pools and encourage citizens to keep an arms distance from certain groups to avoid unsolicited contact. No wonder the hard talking AfD has taken advantage of this weakness.

Before the trolls scream “racist, Nazi or bigot” we must ask ourselves why these large shifts? Put simply, more people are wanting action over problems they are not being addressed by the political class.

In Germany, political violence has been at record highs. The domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz (BfV), reported  in Germany’s 2016 Report on the Protection of the Constitution, the number of left-wing extremists climbed last year, rising to 28,500 — the highest figure since 2012. It said the number of right-wing extremists was 22,471, about one-quarter of whom were neo-Nazis.

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Surely such demonstrations pointed squarely at politicians failing to be open and frank about issues. Talking about truck drivers ramming Christmas markets or shooting up Munich shopping malls as isolated events doesn’t fool anyone. Perhaps the most disgraceful cover up was the camera footage of three Bulgarian migrant thugs who kicked an innocent German female down some subway stairs where she broke limbs. The man who released the video as evidence of the lack of action taken by authorities was arrested for breaching privacy laws. It is like charging a home owner for knocking out a thief trying to break and enter.

Chalk this up as another loss for the political establishment.

 

 

Will Greenpeace Be arrested and charged with trespassing?

Greenpeace has disrupted a business which is already paying billions in fines. If only Greenpeace had the first clue about diesel emissions and the reality of the CO2 footprint of EVs at the production stage and charging.

I’ll stick with my instincts rather than fall for a Harvard study because it is from Harvard

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Harvard University is without question one of the top schools globally. It has an enviable reputation and having that on one’s CV is hardly a hinderance. It is a status symbol.  In a discussion over global warming an individual was trying to legitimize climate alarmism by citing a Harvard University study. Harvard by the way is ranked top 5 worldwide in Environmental Science. The study as it turns out had been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), a US government agency responsible for allocating 24% of science funding that had been raked over the coals by the US Senate for gross mismanagement, fraud and waste. The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope” paper from 2011 documented some of the misappropriation of funds as follows,

An $80,000 study on why the same teams always dominate March Madness”, a “$315,000 study suggesting playing FarmVille on Facebook helps adults develop and maintain relationships”, a study costing “$1 million for an analysis of how quickly parents respond to trendy baby names”, a study costing “$50,000 to produce and publicize amateur songs about science, including a rap called “Money 4 Drugz,” and a misleading song titled “Biogas is a Gas, Gas, Gas”;” a study costing”$2 million to figure out that people who often post pictures on the internet from the same location at the same time are usually friends”; and “$581,000 on whether online dating site users are racist”.Ineffective management examples, cited in the report, included “ineffective contracting”, “$1.7 billion in unspent funds sitting in expired, undisbursed grant accounts”, “at least $3 million in excessive travel funds”, “a lack of accountability or program metrics to evaluate expenditures” and “inappropriate staff behavior including porn surfing and Jello wrestling and skinny-dipping at NSF-operated facilities in Antarctica”.

It is often a tactic to cite supposedly credible bodies to legitimize and seek to win an argument. However at what point do we view Harvard’s stance on climate change as balanced? On Harvard’s own climate change page it is littered with a predetermined view. It is not to doubt the intelligence of the professors and scientists within the university but intelligence and ethics do not have to be mutually inclusive especially when it comes to procuring funds.

One has to wonder that the  NSF, which dispenses 24% of all university grants (some $7bn) is best positioned to fulfill this role given its past. As the Harvard climate page reveals there does not seem to be much attention paid to the alternate view. The offshoot of that is if the NSF wants to get ‘green policy’ outcomes, best pour funds into those schools that will help give the results they’re after.

In 2015 a claim was made against Harvard for not disclosing financial conflicts of interest. A press release entitled ‘Clean air and health benefits of clean power plan hinge on key policy decisions’ constituted a gushing praise of a commentary entitled ‘US power plant carbon standards and clean air and health co-benefits’ by Charles T. Driscoll, Jonathan J. Buonocore, Jonathan I. Levy, Kathleen F. Lambert, Dallas Burtraw, Stephen B. Reid, Habibollah Fakhraei & Joel Schwartz, published on May 4, 2015, in Nature Climate Change

The claim (a letter to the Dean) suggested that “two of the co-authors of the commentary, Buonocore and Schwartz, are researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Your press release quotes Buonocore thus: “If EPA sets strong carbon standards, we can expect large public health benefits from cleaner air almost immediately after the standards are implemented.” Indeed, the commentary and the press release constitute little more than thinly-disguised partisan political advocacy for costly proposed EPA regulations supported by the “Democrat” administration but opposed by the Republicans. Harvard has apparently elected to adopt a narrowly partisan, anti-scientific stance…The commentary concludes with the words “Competing financial interests: The authors declare no competing financial interests”. Yet its co-authors have received these grants from the EPA: Driscoll $3,654,609; Levy $9,514,391; Burtraw $1,991,346; and Schwartz (Harvard) $31,176,575. The total is not far shy of $50 million…Would the School please explain why its press release described the commentary in Nature Climate Change by co-authors including these lavishly-funded four as “the first independent, peer-reviewed paper of its kind”? Would the School please explain why Mr Schwartz, a participant in projects grant-funded by the EPA in excess of $31 million, failed to disclose this material financial conflict of interest in the commentary?Would the School please explain the double standard by which Harvard institutions have joined a chorus of public condemnation of Dr Soon, a climate skeptic, for having failed to disclose a conflict of interest that he did not in fact possess, while not only indulging Mr Schwartz, a climate-extremist, when he fails to declare a direct and substantial conflict of interest but also stating that the commentary he co-authored was “independent”?”

While I do not pretend to be a climate scientist by trade or study, fraud is fraud. The supposed beacons of virtue such as NOAA, IPCC, the CRU of the UEA have all been busted for manipulation of data to fit an end cause. The lack of ethics in certain cases has been so profound that had many of these scientists been in financial services they’d have lost licenses, paid multi billion in fines and served jail time. One person commented that too few in financial services have been locked up. I replied name me one scientist busted for fraud and misuse of public funds has seen the inside of a jail cell, much less fined or barred from teaching? The answer – NONE

I don’t need to possess a degree in astrophysics or science to determine poor ethics generally mean the science papers put forward should be viewed with deep skepticism. Yet we’re constantly told that the science is settled. How so? If one has to lie and deceive in order to scare us into action, how can one say that it is legitimate work? In fact I have been at pains to mention that the scrupulous acts of a few only ends up undermining potentially credible work conducted by others. Yet climate change has become a purely political issue and there is no question that sourcing funding dollars is easiest met when supporting alarmism. After all why would people want to throw dollars at skeptics who may come out with an alternative view? Don’t debate it. Some have suggested sceptics are like pedophiles and even more extreme views have suggested jail sentences. When people think that the only way to win the argument is to jail non believers you can be absolutely sure that the data is completely flawed in that it can’t stand on its own as an argument. Hence the manipulation to try to bully the movement onwards. Some Aussie universities (state funded mind you) are refusing a climate think tank being established on their campus for possessing an alternative view. You have to worry if universities, the bedrock of free thinking, are trying to ban it. Then again if kindergarten schools are being taught they are gender fluid and cross dressing is acceptable then you know there is a more sinister movement at work.

It was no surprise that Hurricane Irma has become Trump’s fault. Alarmists drew any data possible to connect Global Warming and hurricane activity despite the IPCC claiming several years back it  has little supportive data to prove it. So expediency is put before principle. Hopefully if no one has seen the IPCC climb down perhaps we can still convince them we can save the planet. All the meantime the IATA forecasts air travel will double in terms of passenger numbers between now and 2030 and SUVs top most vehicle sales in major markets.

To add to the farcical care factor for climate change by the masses The Australian noted, “On June 30 2017, after 12 years of “advancing climate change solutions”, the Climate Institute is closing its doors in Australia, a victim of the “I’ll ride with you but won’t pay” industry. You would think that Cate Blanchett, so happy to appear in the institute’s ads, could have taken the hat around her Hollywood A-list mates, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Bono, Emma Watson and Brad Pitt, to tip in a few hundred thousand a year for the cause….But alas, the caravan has moved on and the greatest moral challenge of our time is now the Trump White House. For celebrities who fly eyebrow groomers to the Oscars, climate change is kinda yesterday. Still, to humour the faithful and to keep the dream alive, the 10th anniversary of Earth Hour was celebrated last Saturday night. You didn’t notice?”

When I was a staunch opponent of Greenspan’s reckless monetary policy in 2001 and said his actions would lead to a financial calamity in 6-7 years, many laughed at me. I bought gold at under $300. People thought I was mad as did the Bank of England. Barbs were frequent – “how could you possibly possess the intelligence of Greenspan? Back in your box!” I was told. Of course as a contrarian by nature, speaking out against pervading group think was met with a constant wave of ever increasing vitriolic criticism. Of course the simplest thing would have been to roll over and join the band wagon but I stuck to my guns. GFC was the result. In all that time, people used to shame my thinking by citing Harvard or other Ivy League studies on new paradigms. Indeed many of the brains behind the CDOs which eventually brought the financial sector to its knees were brainiacs from the Ivy League. In the end my instincts were bang on. Nothing to do with education levels.

The same arguments were hurled at me during Trump’s presidential campaign. Many people defriended me because my data kept showing to me he’d win. I am not American, I can’t vote but casting my own instincts ended up being a no brainer. Not once were credible arguments made to counter why Trump could win. People would post NY Times polls, CNN polls and so forth to legitimize the argument. Then say I was blind, stupid, bigoted, racist and the usual leftist identikit used to demonise a view. Group think is so dangerous. What it is doing is suppressing real views which show up in the polling booth.

Everywhere I read, the media wants to throw Trump to the wolves and run the lunatic, racist white nationalist card. For 9 months now. To be honest I think he will comfortably do two terms because the media has learned nothing and anything he does is vilified. Most Americans aren’t looking to him for spiritual guidance. He is vulgar and his manner is far from conventional and sometimes not very fitting of the office he serves. However he gets no credit for anything. The latest UN sanctions on North Korea are in large part because Trump has told China to get on with it. Trump said on national TV that he wants “China to sort it out and to stop delaying otherwise we’ll do it for you”. Yet the media is drumming WW3 rhetoric.

Same goes for the Paris Accord. What a stroke of genius. Let France, Germany and other nations pick up the tab for their ‘green policy’ madness and make up America’s renewable shortfall. It is kind of ironic that none of these nations ever pick on China, India or Russia which make up 50% of CO2 emissions for their lack of adherence to actually doing meaningful things to abate climate change albeit signatories to the UN accord. I argue it is like NATO in reverse. US pays a way bigger share into NATO, why not collect a refund via other nation’s virtue signalling which actually helps America First by making other nations less competitive. Brilliant.

DACA – many Americans, including 41mn on food stamps, will welcome the removal of illegal immigrants from their country who in their view are siphoning their ability to get out of poverty. DACA to them isn’t about not being compassionate but realizing that a $20 trillion deficit and loading more onto an overcrowded system isn’t helping. Once again regardless of what people think of Trump he had the fewest white voters and largest share of black and Hispanic voters than Romney or McCain. Hardly the result for a white nationalist, racist bigot. At the current rate if the Democrats run Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren or any other identity politician against him in 2020 they’ll lose. The mid terms won’t be as bad as many calling. The one midterm already returned a Republican despite massive Hollywood support even ferrying voters to booths.

Transgender in the military. I spoke to two dozen US military personnel last month to ask their opinions. The 100% response was, “we think it is inappropriate for the taxpayer to fund sexual reassignment surgery while serving including several years of rehab and ongoing drug therapy…it is taking the p*ss…we serve our country because we love it and we don’t have room to support social experiments to protect freedom!” There was no real issue of transgender per se rather a problem of providing funds in n already tightly allocated budget for such medical expenditure. Several even spoke of the stupidity of LGBT pride day in the armed forces. What has the ability to fight got to do with what goes on in the bedroom? One said “if we had a heterosexual pride day” we’d never hear the end of it.

So when you communicate with the real people you find the truth if you are prepared to listen. The beauty of social media and indeed Google (which happily acts as a Big Brother on what it considers acceptable) is that many people reach for articles they probably haven’t read properly and use them as ways to ram home an argument because they carry a brand name. Harvard is a wonderful institution but as we’ve seen it has run into questions of conflicts of interest.

I happen to think that social media is having the opposite effect on brainwashing to tell the truth. 99.9% of what I see posted has little thought to it. The more people I speak to the more they are ignoring noise. Many people share articles without putting some basis of why they post it. In many cases people are too afraid to face a doxxing or backlash. Bring it on. To me if you post things in the public domain then be prepared to invite criticism. On my site I do not censor, cut off or delete readers. They are free to come and go as they please. I only request they keep profanity to a minimum.

So in summary, the idea that we bow down to venerable institutions to seek guidance is as flawed today as it ever was. I’ll gladly stick to gut instincts because to date they have worked so far. Having said that I should put a disclaimer that was always plastered on financial services product, “Past results are no guarantee of future performance”

Europe’s childless leaders – without progeny ruling on posterity

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Here is a picture of Angela Merkel as a child. Sadly this is as close as she got to having her own. It isn’t just her. The majority of European political leaders have no kids. France’s Macron – no kids. UK PM Theresa May – no kids. The Netherlands PM Mark Rutte – no kids. Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni – no kids. Swedish PM Kjell Stefan Löfven- no biological kids. Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel – no kids. Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon – no kids. EC President Jean-Claude Juncker – no kids. Incidentally Japan’s PM Abe also has no children.

As Europe’s population growth rate declines are these people best positioned to impart advice on how to stop it? Seems that surrender to mass migration is all too easy a policy to replace dwindling stocks of local inhabitants.

From the Washington Examiner

“The Boomers first grabbed the reins of political power in the West in the 1990s, as Communism collapsed and Francis Fukuyama declared “The End of History.” The Boomers live like they believe it. If history is over, if all that is left is consumer capitalism in a liberal democracy, if the stream has stopped flowing, why not climb out?

The late Benjamin Barber wrote a response to Fukuyama called Jihad vs McWorld. Barber argued that the death of the old conflicts—between nations—would go hand in hand with a new conflict: the clash between the McWorld of global consumer capitalism and the “jihad” of local, traditional, and “conservative” cultures.

It’s clear which side has political power now. But the demographics point to a different future. In 2009 Phillip Longman noted that in France (for example) a tiny minority of women are giving birth to over 50% of the children every year. These women are either practicing Catholics or immigrant Muslims.

One of the benefits of parenthood is the daily confrontation with free will—a human nature. Parents may have their child’s life, career, and happiness planned out, but a child has other ideas -constantly. Love, patience, teaching, negotiating, scolding—nurture—can help direct the child, but the overwhelming otherness of the child is undeniable. They are not blank slates upon whom the parent exercises his will.

Political leaders without this experience of parenthood may be susceptible to the idea that people are blank-slates, interchangeable units of human capital. As a parent and a teacher, I have seen many brilliant and well-meaning parents and colleagues crash their will and intellect against the rock of a child’s independent nature. Now, scale such a hubristic paternalism to a nation. Or a continent.

Contemporary childless leaders, however ascendant they feel today, may be the last gasp of secularism. The future is won by those who show up, and only the religiously orthodox are having children.

Those still swimming in the ancient streams of Faith and Culture in France will have the observant offspring of two rival religions living within the borders of one nation. The second Battle of Tours, (or Vienna, or Lepanto) might be extra bloody due to the policies of today, but the authors of those policies will not be around because they will be dead, and their offspring will not be around, because they do not exist.

The Founding Fathers of the United States established the Constitution to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”, posterity being their offspring. Looking out for one’s posterity, having a long-term vision, is necessary for the good of society, according to Harvard Political Scientist James Wilson. Do childless political leaders have skin in the game long-term?

In Europe today, those without progeny are enacting policies that impact the posterity of others.

Surely Macron, Merkel, Juncker, and the rest would argue that they can do their crucial jobs better because they don’t have children to distract them. C.S. Lewis provides the rebuttal: “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”

Whichever way you cut it, Europe’s childless leaders speak volumes of a continent in long term (terminal) decline.

Yellen’s Fedtime stories

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US Fed Chair Janet Yellen uttered perhaps some of the most bizarre words to come out of a central banker. So much so that Alan Greenspan’s “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” seems almost comprehensible by comparison. Yellen told an audience that she believes we won’t see another severe financial crisis in our lifetimes. Either Ms Yellen is not long for the world or denial is running deep within her veins. One of her own FOMC board members (James Bullard) wrote a piece on why the Fed needs to trim its balance sheet from $4.47tn to around $2.5 trillion) so they can prepare for the next horror that awaits.  Even Minnesota Fed Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari said the likelihood of another financial crisis is 2/3rds. We have a world with debt up to its eyeballs and global interest rate policies that have only led to the slowest post slowdown growth in history. The signs of a global slowdown are becoming ever more obvious even in the US. Slowing auto sales and rising delinquencies are but one signal. The imminent collapse of so many public pension funds another.

Had she not seen the European Commission’s decision to let Italy spend up to 17 billion euros to clean up the mess left by two failed banks? The news is not only another whack for Italian taxpayers but a setback for the euro zone’s banking union, and a backflip for the EU’s stance on non-standard bailouts. The Italian government wound down Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, two regional lenders struggling under the weight of non-performing loans which averages 20% across the nation and up to 50% in the south. Intesa Sanpaolo bought the banks’ good assets for one euro, and was promised another 4.8 billion euros in state aid to deal with restructuring costs and bolster its capital ratio. Italy’s taxpayers get to keep the bad loans, which could end up costing them another 12 billion euros. Even the Single Resolution Board — whose purpose is to take the politically difficult decision of whether to close a bank out of the hands of governments — chose not to intervene.

Last year four Italian banks were rescued and it seems that since Lehman collapsed in 2008 non performing loans (NPLs) have soared from 6% to almost 20%. Monte Dei Paschi De Siena, a bank steeped in 540 years of history has 31% NPLs and its shares are 99.9% below the peak in 2007. Even Portugal and Spain have lower levels of NPLs. The IMF suggested that in southern parts of Italy NPLs for corporates is closer to 50%!

Italy is the 3rd largest economy in Europe and 30% of corporate debt is held by SMEs who can’t even make enough money to repay the interest. The banks have been slow to write off loans on the basis it will eat up the banks’ dwindling capital. It feels so zombie lending a la Japan in the early 1990s but on an even worse scale.

Not to worry, the Italian Treasury tells us the ECB will buy this toxic stuff! But wait, the ECB is not allowed to buy ‘at risk’ stuff. So it will bundle all this near as makes no difference defaulted garbage (think CDO) in a bag and stamp it with a bogus credit rating such that the ECB can buy it. In full knowledge that most of the debt will never be repaid, the ECB still violates its own rules which state clearly that any debt they buy ‘cannot be in dispute’.

The Bank of Japan has no plans to cut back on the world’s largest central bank balance sheet. It continues to Hoover up 60% of new ETF issues at such an alarming pace it is the largest shareholder of over 100 corporates. Then there is the suggestion of buying all $10 trillion of outstanding JGBs and convert them into zero-rate (+miniscule annual service fee) perpetuals.

Australia’s banks are now the most loaded with mortgage debt globally at 60% of the total loan book.  Second is daylight and third Norway at 40%. Private sector debt to GDP is 185%. We have a government who can’t tighten its belt basing its budget on rosy scenarios that will be improbable. Aussie banks have been slapped with a new tax and with the backdrop of a rising US rate environment, the 40% wholesale funded Aussie banks will be forced to accept higher cost of funds. That will be passed straight onto consumers that are already being crushed under the weight of mortgages. One bank survey by ME Bank in Australia said that 1/3rd would struggle to pay a month’s mortgage if they lost their jobs.

Had Ms Yellen forgot to read the St Louis Fed’s survey which revealed that 45% of Americans can’t raise $400 in an emergency without selling something? USA Today reported that 7 out of 10 Americans have less than $1,000 in savings to their name.

“Last year, GoBankingRates surveyed more than 5,000 Americans only to uncover that 62% of them had less than $1,000 in savings. Last month GoBankingRates again posed the question to Americans of how much they had in their savings account, only this time it asked 7,052 people. The result? Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69%) had less than $1,000 in their savings account…Breaking the survey data down a bit further, we find that 34% of Americans don’t have a dime in their savings account, while another 35% have less than $1,000. Of the remaining survey-takers, 11% have between $1,000 and $4,999, 4% have between $5,000 and $9,999, and 15% have more than $10,000.”

So Chair Yellen, we are not sure what dreamland you are living but to suggest that we won’t see another financial crisis in our lifetime almost guarantees it will happen. The Titanic was thought unsinkable until history proved otherwise. Money velocity is not rising and every dollar printed is having less and less impact. I thought it nigh on impossible to surpass the stupidity of Greenspan but alas you have managed it.