BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s anti-graft watchdog said roughly 1.34 million lower-ranking officials have been punished since 2013 under President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.
Demetrious Johnson and Tony Ferguson dazzle in history-making title performances. Take a look at the winners, attendance and gate numbers and bonuses.
Dozens of firefighters are fighting a blaze which broke out on the top of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, NBC New York reports. The fire broke out sometime before 8:40 p.m. on the roof of the 14-story building at 33 Liberty St. in Lower Manhattan, the location of the world’s biggest gold vault as Simon Gruber knows too well.
Manhattan: *2 Alarm Fire* Box 061 at 33 Liberty St, heavy fire of a federal reserve bank. Fire on the roof.
— NYC Scanner (@NYScanner) October 8, 2017
Several videos show numerous fire trucks at the scene around 9 p.m.
Uh the Federal Reserve is kinda on fire. pic.twitter.com/fK5ndqnzPd
— the ghost of jay (@jaydestro) October 8, 2017
Contrary to recurring rumors that the fire was created from excess money creation, the FDNY said that a generator on the roof of the building caused the fire in a chimney, although the severity of the damage to the building is not known.
— Daniel Feldstein (@feldstein) October 8, 2017
No injuries have been reported.
Must be a fire going on at the Federal Reserve… Never seen so many fire trucks in my life at least 15 pic.twitter.com/CByRumxRWN
— Michael Rothman (@TheRealRothman) October 8, 2017
— NYC NewsChannel (@NYC_NC) October 8, 2017
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is the most important of the 12 regional Reserve Banks that are part of the Federal Reserve system, the central banking system of the United States. As previously reported, the world’s most important trading desk, also known as the “Plunge Protection Team”, is located on the 9th floor of the New York Fed.
Here are some snapshots.
Blake Gwinn, left, and James White in the operations room at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (source)
A Trader Monitors Four Computer Screens on the Open Market Trading Desk at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (source)
Open Market Trading Floor at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (source)
And just because…
From accusations of Trump campaign collusion to Russian Facebook ad buys, the media has substituted hype for evidence...
In her new campaign memoir, What Happened, Hillary Clinton reveals that she has followed “every twist and turn of the story,” and “read everything I could get my hands on,” concerning Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election. “I do wonder sometimes about what would have happened if President Obama had made a televised address to the nation in the fall of 2016 warning that our democracy was under attack,” she writes.
Clinton has had a lot to take in. Since Election Day, the controversy over alleged Russian meddling and Trump campaign collusion has consumed Washington and the national media. Yet nearly one year later there is still no concrete evidence of its central allegations. There are claims by US intelligence officials that the Russian government hacked e-mails and used social media to help elect Donald Trump, but there has yet to be any corroboration. Although the oft-cited January intelligence report “uses the strongest language and offers the most detailed assessment yet,” The Atlantic observed that “it does not or cannot provide evidence for its assertions.” Noting the “absence of any proof” and “hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack,” The New York Times concluded that the intelligence community’s message “essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’” That remains the case today.
The same holds for the question of collusion. Officials acknowledged to Reuters in May that “they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.” Well-placed critics of Trump – including former DNI chief James Clapper, former CIA director Michael Morrell, Representative Maxine Waters, and Senator Dianne Feinstein – concur to date.
Recognizing this absence of evidence helps examine what has been substituted in its place.
Shattered, the insider account of the Clinton campaign, reports that “in the days after the election, Hillary declined to take responsibility for her own loss.” Instead, one source recounted, aides were ordered “to make sure all these narratives get spun the right way.” Within 24 hours of Clinton’s concession speech, top officials gathered “to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up.… Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.”
But the focus on Russia has utility far beyond the Clinton camp. It dovetails with elements of state power that oppose Trump’s call for improved relations with Moscow and who are willing to deploy a familiar playbook of Cold War fearmongering to block any developments on that front.
The multiple investigations and anonymous leaks are also a tool to pacify an erratic president whose anti-interventionist rhetoric—by all indications, a ruse—alarmed foreign-policy elites during the campaign. Corporate media outlets driven by clicks and ratings are inexorably drawn to the scandal. The public is presented with a real-life spy thriller, which for some carries the added appeal of possibly undoing a reviled president and his improbable victory.
These imperatives have incentivized a compromised set of journalistic and evidentiary standards. In Russiagate, unverified claims are reported with little to no skepticism. Comporting developments are cherry-picked and overhyped, while countervailing ones are minimized or ignored. Front-page headlines advertise explosive and incriminating developments, only to often be undermined by the article’s content, or retracted entirely. Qualified language—likely, suspected, apparent—appears next to “Russians” to account for the absence of concrete links. As a result, Russiagate has enlarged into a storm of innuendo that engulfs issues far beyond its original scope.
The latest two stories about alleged Trump campaign collusion were initially received as smoking guns. But upon further examination, they may actually undermine that narrative.
One was news that Trump had signed a non-binding letter of intent to license his name for a proposed building in Moscow as he ran for the White House. Russian-born developer Felix Sater predicted to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that the deal would help Trump win the presidency. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Sater wrote, believing that voters would be impressed that Trump could make a real-estate deal with the United States’ “most difficult adversary.” The New York Times describes the outcome:
There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises, and one email suggests that Mr. Sater overstated his Russian ties. In January 2016, Mr. Cohen wrote to Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, asking for help restarting the Trump Tower project, which had stalled. But Mr. Cohen did not appear to have Mr. Peskov’s direct email, and instead wrote to a general inbox for press inquiries.
The project never got government permits or financing, and died weeks later.
Peskov has confirmed he ended up seeing the e-mail from Cohen, but did not bother to respond. The story does raise a potential conflict of interest: Trump pursued a Moscow deal as he praised Putin on the campaign trial. But it is hard to see how a deal that never got off the ground is of more importance than actual deals Trump made in places like Turkey, the Philippines, and the Persian Gulf. If anything, the story should introduce skepticism into whether any collusion took place: The deal failed, and Trump’s lawyer did not even have an e-mail address for his Russian counterparts.
The revelation of Sater’s e-mails to Cohen followed the earlier controversy of Rob Goldstone offering Donald Trump Jr. incriminating information on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Goldstone’s e-mail was more fruitful than Sater’s in that it yielded a meeting, albeit one that Trump Jr. claims he abandoned after 20 minutes. Those who deem the Sater-Goldstone e-mail chains incriminating or even treasonous should be reminded of their provenance: Sater is known as “a canny operator and a colorful bullshitter” who has “launched a host of crudely named websites—including IAmAFaggot.com and VaginaBoy.com… to attack a former business partner.” Meanwhile, Goldstone is a British tabloid journalist turned music publicist. One does not have to be an intelligence expert to doubt that they are Kremlin cut-outs.
Then there is Facebook’s disclosure that fake accounts “likely operated out of Russia” paid $100,000 for 3,000 ads starting in June 2015. The New York Times editorial board described it as “further evidence of what amounted to unprecedented foreign invasion of American democracy.” A $100,000 Facebook ad buy seems unlikely to have had much impact in a $6.8 billion election. According to Facebook, “the vast majority of ads…didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate” but rather focused “on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum—touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.” Facebook also says the majority of ads, 56 percent, were seen “after the election.” The ads have not been released publicly. But by all indications, if they were used to try to elect Trump, their sponsors took a very curious route.
The ads are commonly described as “Russian disinformation,” but in the most extensive reporting on the story to date, The Washington Post adds multiple qualifiers in noting that the ads “appear to have come from accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency,” itself a Kremlin-linked firm (emphasis added).
The Post also reveals that an initial Facebook review of the suspected Russian accounts found that they “had clear financial motives, which suggested that they weren’t working for a foreign government.” Furthermore, “the security team did not find clear evidence of Russian disinformation or ad purchases by Russian-linked accounts.” But Russiagate logic requires a unique response to absent evidence: “The sophistication of the Russian tactics caught Facebook off-guard.”
The Post adds how Russian “sophistication” was overcome:
As Facebook struggled to find clear evidence of Russian manipulation, the idea was gaining credence in other influential quarters.
In the electrified aftermath of the election, aides to Hillary Clinton and Obama pored over polling numbers and turnout data, looking for clues to explain what they saw as an unnatural turn of events.
One of the theories to emerge from their post-mortem was that Russian operatives who were directed by the Kremlin to support Trump may have taken advantage of Facebook and other social media platforms to direct their messages to American voters in key demographic areas in order to increase enthusiasm for Trump and suppress support for Clinton.
These former advisers didn’t have hard evidence that Russian trolls were using Facebook to micro-target voters in swing districts—at least not yet—but they shared their theories with the House and Senate intelligence committees, which launched parallel investigations into Russia’s role in the presidential campaign in January.
The theories paid off. A personal visit in May by Democratic Senator Mark Warner, vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “spurred the company to make some changes in how it conducted its internal investigation.” Facebook’s announcement in August of finding 3,000 “likely” Russian ads is now an ongoing “scandal” that has dragged the company before Congressional committees.
Other election threats loom. A recent front-page New York Times article linking Russian cyber operations to voting irregularities across the United States is headlined, “Russian Election Hacking Efforts, Wider Than Previously Known, Draw Little Scrutiny.” But read on and you’ll discover that there is no evidence of “Russian election hacking,” only evidence-free accusations of it. Voting problems in Durham, North Carolina, “felt like tampering, or some kind of cyberattack,” election monitor Susan Greenhalgh says, and “months later…questions still linger about what happened that day in Durham as well as other counties in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Arizona.” There is one caveat: “There are plenty of other reasons for such breakdowns—local officials blamed human error and software malfunctions—and no clear-cut evidence of digital sabotage has emerged, much less a Russian role in it.”
The evidence-free concern over Russian hacking expanded in late September when the Department of Homeland Security informed 21 states that they had been targeted by Russian cyber-operations during the 2016 election. But three states have already dismissed the DHS claims, including California, which announced that after seeking “further information, it became clear that DHS’s conclusions were wrong.”
Recent elections in France and Germany saw similar fears of Russian hacking and disinformation—and similar results. In France, a hack targeting the campaign of election winner Emmanuel Macron ended up having “no trace,” of Russian involvement, and “was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone,” the head of French cyber-security quietly explained after the vote. Germany faced an even more puzzling outcome: Nothing happened. “The apparent absence of a robust Russian campaign to sabotage the German vote has become a mystery among officials and experts who had warned of a likely onslaught,” the Post reported in an article headlined “As Germans prepare to vote, a mystery grows: Where are the Russians?” The mystery was so profound that The New York Times also explored it days later: “German Election Mystery: Why No Russian Meddling?”
Following this evidentiary praxis, Russia can be blamed for matters far beyond Western elections. After the recent white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville, foreign-policy consultant Molly McKew issued a widely circulated appeal on Twitter: “We need to have a conversation about what is happening today in Charlottesville & Russian influence, and operations, in the United States.” (McKew recently testified at a US government hearing on “The Scourge of Russian Disinformation.”)
Writing for CNN, Yale Law School’s Asha Rangappa asserted that Charlottesville “highlighted again the problem of Russia.” Sure, Rangappa concedes, “there is no evidence to date that Russia is directly supporting extreme right groups in the United States.” But Russian government ties to the European far-right “when viewed through the lens of Trump’s response to Charlottesville, suggests an opening for Russian intelligence to use domestic hate groups as a vehicle for escalating their active measures inside the United States.”
Linking Russia to right-wing American racists contrasts with just a few months prior, when it was fashionable to tie Russia to the polar opposites. In March, intelligence-community witnesses soberly testified to Congress that Russia’s “21st-century cyber invasion” has “tried to sow unrest in the U.S. by inflaming protests such as Occupy Wall Street and the Black Lives Matter movement.” The evidence presented for this claim was that both movements were covered by the Russian state-owned television network RT.
Russian-linked tweets about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice show the Russians “trying to push divisiveness in this country,” says Republican Senator James Lankford. A Russian-linked ad about Black Lives Matter aimed at audiences in Ferguson and Baltimore “tells us…that the Russians who bought these ads were sophisticated enough to understand that targeting a Black Lives Matter ad to the communities…would help sow political discord.… the goal here was really about creating chaos,” says CNN reporter Dylan Byers.
But this story might actually tell us a lot more about the attitudes of pundits and lawmakers towards their audiences. On top of the 3,000 ads identified by Facebook, Twitter has now informed Congress of around 200 accounts “linked to Russian interference in the 2016 election.” Twitter has 328 million users. To suggest 200 accounts out of 328 million could have had an impact is as much an insult to common sense as it is to basic math. It also suggests Black Lives Matter protesters in places like Ferguson and Baltimore were unwitting foreign agents who needed Russian social-media prodding to march in the streets. To protest racism is not to sow “chaos” and “political discord,” but to protest racism.
Because the ads may have originated in Russia, it is widely taken for granted that they were part of an alleged Russian government plot. Few have considered a different scenario, pointed out by the journalist Max Blumenthal, that the ads could have been like those from any other troll farm: clickbait to attract page views.
Some who focus on Russiagate may be acting from the real fear and disorientation that follows from the victory of the most unqualified and unpredictable president in history. But those who partake, particularly those in positions of privilege, should consider that Russiagate offers them a safe and anodyne way to “Resist.” For privileged Americans to challenge Trump mainly over Russia is to do so in a way that avoids confronting their own relationship to the economic and political system that many of his voters rebelled against. “If the presidency is effectively a Russian op, if the American presidency right now is the product of collusion between the Russian intelligence services and an American campaign,” to borrow a scenario posed by Rachel Maddow, then there is nothing else to confront.
But economic discontent, along with voter suppression, the Democratic Party’s failures to reach voters, and corporate media that gave endless attention to Trump’s empty promises and racial animus, are among the issues cast aside by the incessant focus on Russigate, as are the very real US-Russia tensions that do not fit the narrative.
Amid widespread talk of Putin pulling the strings, Trump has quietly appointed anti-Russia hawks to key posts and admitted a new NATO member over Russian objections. Trump’s top military commander, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is backing an effort by the Pentagon and Congress to arm Ukraine with new weapons. President Obama had rejected a similar proposal out of fear it would inflame the country’s deadly conflict. Just before Russia’s recent war games with allied Belarus, the United States and NATO allies carried out their “biggest military exercise in eastern Europe since the Cold War” right next door.
These tensions only stand to worsen in a political climate in which diplomacy with Russia is seen as a weakness, and in which challenging it through sanctions and militarism is one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement. Conflict with a nuclear power may threaten the future annihilation of many, but it offers immediate benefits for some. “NATO concerns about Russia are seen as a positive for the defense industry,” the business press notes in reporting that military stocks have reached “all-time highs.” As have the ratings of MSNBC, the cable network that has pushed Russiagate more than any other.
Those unbound by Russiagate’s offerings need not succumb to them. Trump didn’t get to the White House via Russia, but by falsely portraying himself as a populist champion. The only con he will be undone by is his own.
The tests have shown no evidence for changing student attitudes toward drug use.
Harvey Weinstein’s attorney Lisa Bloom cut ties suddenly with her “radioactive” movie mogul client in a terse Saturday tweet.
“I have resigned as an advisor to Harvey Weinstein,” wrote Bloom – ironically a women’s rights advocate – who was brought in after the Miramax Films co-founder was accused by the NYT of spending decades sexually harassing the women he worked with. “My understanding is that Mr. Weinstein and his board are moving toward an agreement.”
I have resigned as an advisor to Harvey Weinstein.
My understanding is that Mr. Weinstein and his board are moving toward an agreement.
— Lisa Bloom (@LisaBloom) October 7, 2017
In a statement issued Thursday, Bloom said she was brought in to assist Harvey in using this “painful learning experience to grow into a better man.” The attorney also promised that “I will continue to work with him personally for as long as it takes.”
Apparently, it took 2 days.
Bloom did not elaborate what the agreement involving Weinstein might entail. Weinstein, 65, was suspended indefinitely Friday by company officials, including his brother Bob, amid devastating allegations of three decades of inappropriate behavior. Among those accusing Weinstein are actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan.
According to Variety and the NY Post, brother Bob Weinstein was among those executives calling for his brother’s firing. Miramax also brought in attorney John Kiernan to conduct an internal company probe of Harvey Weinstein’s conduct amid reports that fellow executives wanted him out.
* * *
Meanwhile, Democrats – until this week proud recipients of Weinstein’s financial generosity – are rushing to distance themselves from the suddenly “radioactive” film producer. According to The Hill, nearly a dozen Democratic senators, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and several potential 2020 presidential contenders, are pledging to donate the contributions they’ve received from Weinstein over the years to nonprofit groups advocating for women who have been the victims of sexual abuse.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) will give the money it received from Weinstein in the most recent campaign cycle to a trio of women’s groups (although in retrospect, they should probably also spend some on server protection and antivirus software). However, the DNC quickly came under fire for only donating a fraction of what it had received from Weinstein over the years, and for giving the money to political organizations rather than those that support victimized women.
“The allegations in the New York Times report are deeply troubling,” DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa told The Hill. “The Democratic Party condemns all forms of sexual harassment and assault. We hope that Republicans will do the same as we mark one year since the release of a tape showing President Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women followed by more than a dozen women who came forward to detail similar experiences of assault and harassment.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic campaign committees in Washington are working with lawmakers and their campaigns to assess how much Weinstein — whose donations date back to the early 1990s — might have given to their candidates and organizations.
* * *
Weinstein’s association with the Democratic Party runs deep. He has long been one of the most prominent figures on the donor circuit that runs through Hollywood. Many Democrats expressed disgust that Weinstein would open the party up to the same attacks they’ve levied against President Trump, whose “Access Hollywood” tape broke almost a year ago.
“The difference between Trump, Bill Cosby and Weinstein — none,” said Bob Mulholland, a Democratic National Committee member from California.
The Democratic disavowal of Weinstein began quickly after the publication of the Times story.
The amount of money the lawmakers received from Weinstein pales in comparison to what he has given to the DNC and the Democratic Senate and House campaign arms.
In total, Weinstein has given at least a quarter of a million dollars to the DNC over the years, with about $30,000 of that coming in the latest cycle. The DNC is giving the $30,000 to EMILY’s List, which supports women candidates that support abortion rights, Emerge America, which recruits and trains Democratic women for office, and Higher Heights, which supports black women running for office.
Weinstein’s influence went beyond his wallet. He was a top draw at Democratic fundraisers for former President Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, where tickets could run upwards of $35,000.
In 2015, Weinstein and his wife, Georgina Chapman, a fashion designer, hosted a fundraiser for Clinton in New York City, along with Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Weinstein had also teamed up with Wintour for at least two fundraisers for Obama in 2012, where a top-flight roster of liberal donors paid $35,800 to co-host and individuals paid $10,000 each to get in.
Spokespeople for Obama and Clinton did not respond to requests for comment.
Republicans hammered Democrats for the Weinstein connection, eagerly highlighting those who have yet to return funds he’s given dating back to 1993. “During three-decades worth of sexual harassment allegations, Harvey Weinstein lined the pockets of Democrats to the tune of three quarters of a million dollars,” said Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. “If Democrats and the DNC truly stand up for women like they say they do, then returning this dirty money should be a no brainer.”
Democrats were in no mood to hear that from Republicans, pointing to Trump’s own controversies and those at Fox News, where former chairman Roger Ailes and former anchor Bill O’Reilly were forced out amid sexual harassment accusations.
“The entire Republican Party, from the grass roots to the establishment, stayed with Donald Trump after they’d been made aware about what he said on the “Access Hollywood” tape,” said Jon Reinish, a Democratic consultant. “They all went on Bill O’Reilly and kissed Roger Ailes’ ring. I don’t want to hear from Republicans because they don’t have a leg to stand on here.”
Still, Democrats were doing their own soul searching about whether they had turned a blind eye toward Weinstein’s behavior, which was long the subject of rumors in Hollywood.
“There’s no question that for a long time Harvey was a mover and shaker and presence around fundraising structure of the party at a high level, he brought star wattage,” said one Democratic strategist.
“When the rumors are out there, whether about Harvey or someone else, all too many times they’ve turned out to be true. We need to do a better job of being true to our values and looking at the full picture, not just what someone can do for our movement.”
Lawyers for one billionaire financier who’s suing to stop his ex-wife from taking half of his assets have hit on a novel strategy for winning their case: Proving that the couple were never married in the first place.
Asif Aziz, founder and chief executive officer of the real estate investment company Criterion Capital Ltd., says he was never married to Tagilde Aziz under English law, in a case that could be one of the largest divorce cases in UK history.
The lawsuit was filed in Asif’s hometown of London, according to Bloomberg.
In their rebuttal, lawyers for Tagilde – who shares four children with Aziz – argue that, while they were never legally married, Tagilde was “presented to the world” as Asif’s wife and is seeking a “fair share” of his wealth, which she values at 1.1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion).
Funds overseen by Criterion investments, Asif’s firm, have invested in the Trocadero entertainment complex in London’s Piccadilly Circus, according to its website, and its most recent accounts show its revenue in the year to March 31, 2016, was 4.3 million pounds.
Ultimately, the dispute will likely turn on whether Asif’s lawyers can prove that two ceremonies held in Malawai in 2002 and in Wimbledon in 1997 constituted legally binding weddings.
Tagilde Aziz says she was already pregnant when they held a “nikah,” a type of religious ceremony, in South London at the insistence of family. She says she hadn’t divorced her first husband at the time.
Five years later, she says they had another ceremony at the home of his uncle in the African country with a “lavish feast.” Tagilde is also alleging that Asif has tried to intimidate her, in part by being the “puppet master” behind “ferocious litigation” that she faces in the UK and Gibraltar.
The ultimate ruling on whether the couple was married will be a big factor in Tagilde Aziz’s final recovery.
“If he were able to satisfy a court that they were not married, the wife would still get something but it would probably be substantially reduced,” said Graham Coy, a London divorce lawyer who isn’t involved in the case.
Asif, for what it’s worth, is claiming he is worth far less, with his lawyers arguing that he earns a meager 400,000 pounds a year. Court documents prepared for Wednesday’s hearing on behalf of Tagilde Aziz said Asif Aziz had argued that “he has no capital, is a man of straw and has accumulated debts as a result of these proceedings in excess of 600,000 pounds.”
I’ve written a lot about US public pension funds lately. Many of them are underfunded and will never be able to pay workers the promised benefits – at least without dumping a huge and unwelcome bill on taxpayers.
And since taxpayers are generally voters, it’s not at all clear they will pay that bill.
Readers outside the US might have felt safe reading those stories. There go those Americans again… However, if you live outside the US, your country may be more like ours than you think.
This week the spotlight will be on Europe.
The UK now has a $4 trillion retirement savings shortfall, which is projected to rise 4% a year and reach $33 trillion by 2050.
This in a country whose total GDP is $3 trillion. That means the shortfall is already bigger than the entire economy, and even if inflation is modest, the situation is going to get worse.
Plus, these figures are based mostly on calculations made before the UK left the European Union. Brexit is a major economic shift that could certainly change the retirement outlook. Whether it would change it for better or worse, we don’t yet know.
A 2015 OECD study found workers in the developed world could expect governmental programs to replace on average 63% of their working-age incomes. Not so bad. But in the UK that figure is only 38%, the lowest in all OECD countries.
This means UK workers must either build larger personal savings or severely tighten their belts when they retire. Working past retirement age is another choice, but it could put younger workers out of the job market.
UK retirees have had a kind of safety valve: the ability to retire in EU countries with lower living costs. Depending how Brexit negotiations go, that option could disappear.
Turning next to the Green Isle, 80% of the Irish who have pensions don’t think they will have sufficient income in retirement, and 47% don’t even have pensions. I think you would find similar statistics throughout much of Europe.
A report this summer from the International Longevity Centre suggested that younger workers in the UK need to save 18% of their annual earnings in order to have an “adequate” retirement income.
But no such thing will happen, so the UK is heading toward a retirement implosion that could be at least as damaging as the US’s.
Americans often have romanticized views of Switzerland. They think it’s the land of fiscal discipline, among other things. To some extent that’s true, but Switzerland has its share of problems too. The national pension plan there has been running deficits as the population grows older.
Earlier this month, Swiss voters rejected a pension reform plan that would have strengthened the system by raising women’s retirement age from 64 to 65 and raising taxes and required worker contributions.
From what I can see, these were fairly minor changes, but the plan still went down in flames as 52.7% of voters said no.
Voters around the globe generally want to have their cake and eat it, too. We demand generous benefits but don’t like the price tags that come with them. The Swiss, despite their fiscally prudent reputation, appear to be not so different from the rest of us.
This outcome in Switzerland captures the attitude of the entire developed world. Compromise is always difficult. Both politicians and voters ignore the long-term problems they know are coming and think no further ahead than the next election
Switzerland and the UK have mandatory retirement pre-funding with private management and modest public safety nets, as do Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, and Hungary.
Not that all of these countries don’t have problems, but even with their problems, these European nations are far better off than some others.
The European nations noted above have nowhere near the crisis potential that the next group does: France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Spain.
They are all pay-as-you-go countries (PAYG). That means they have nothing saved in the public coffers for future pension obligations, and the money has to come out of the general budget each year.
The crisis for these countries is quite predictable, because the number of retirees is growing even as the number of workers paying into the national coffers is falling.
Let’s look at some details.
Spain was hit hard in the financial crisis but has bounced back more vigorously than some of its Mediterranean peers did, such as Greece. That’s also true of its national pension plan, which actually had a surplus until recently.
Unfortunately, the government chose to “borrow” some of that surplus for other purposes, and it will soon turn into a sizable deficit.
Just as in the US, Spain’s program is called Social Security, but in fact it is neither social nor secure. Both the US and Spanish governments have raided supposedly sacrosanct retirement schemes, and both allow their governments to use those savings for whatever the political winds favor.
The Spanish reserve fund at one time had €66 billion and is now estimated to be completely depleted by the end of this year or early in 2018. The cause? There are 1.1 million more pensioners than there were just 10 years ago. And as the Baby Boom generation retires, there will be even more pensioners and fewer workers to support them.
A 25% unemployment rate among younger workers doesn’t help contributions to the system, either.
Overall, public pension plans in the pay-as-you-go countries would now replace about 60% of retirees’ salaries. Plus, several of these countries let people retire at less than 60 years old. In most countries, fewer than 25% of workers contribute to pension plans. That rate would have to double in the next 30 years to make programs sustainable.
Sell that to younger workers.
The Wall Street Journal recently did a rather bleak report on public pension funds in Europe. Quoting:
Europe’s population of pensioners, already the largest in the world, continues to grow. Looking at Europeans 65 or older who aren’t working, there are 42 for every 100 workers, and this will rise to 65 per 100 by 2060, the European Union’s data agency says. By comparison, the U.S. has 24 nonworking people 65 or over per 100 workers, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which doesn’t have a projection for 2060. (WSJ)
While the WSJ story focuses on Poland and the difficulties facing retirees there, the graphs and data in the story make clear the increasingly tenuous situation across much of Europe.
And unlike most European financial problems, this isn’t a north-south issue. Austria and Slovenia face the most difficult demographic challenges, right along with Greece. Greece, like Poland, has seen a lot of its young people leave for other parts of the world.
This next chart compares the share of Europe’s population that 65 years and older to the rest of the regions of the world and then to the share of population of workers between 20 and 64. These are ugly numbers.
The WSJ continues:
Across Europe, the birthrate has fallen 40% since the 1960s to around 1.5 children per woman, according to the United Nations. In that time, life expectancies have risen to roughly 80 from 69.
In Poland birthrates are even lower, and here the demographic disconnect is compounded by emigration. Taking advantage of the EU’s freedom of movement, many Polish youth of working age flock to the West, especially London, in search of higher pay. A paper published by the country’s central bank forecasts that by 2030, a quarter of Polish women and a fifth of Polish men will be 70 or older.
I could go on on reviewing the retirement problems in other countries, but I hope you begin to see the big picture. This crisis isn’t purely a result of faulty politics – though that’s a big contributor.
It’s a problem that is far bigger than even the most disciplined, future-focused governments and businesses can easily handle.
Worse, generations of politicians have convinced the public that their entitlements are guaranteed. Many politicians actually believe it themselves. They’ve made promises they aren’t able to keep and are letting others arrange their lives based on the assumption that the impossible will happen. It won’t.
How do we get out of this jam?
We’re all going to make big adjustments. If the longevity breakthroughs that I expect to happen do so soon (as in the next 10–15 years), we may be able to adjust with minimal pain. We’ll work longer years, and retirement will be shorter, but it will be better because we’ll be healthier.
That’s the best-case outcome, and I think we have a fair chance of seeing it, but not without a lot of social and political travail. How we get through that process may be the most important question we face.
Sharp macroeconomic analysis, big market calls, and shrewd predictions are all in a week’s work for visionary thinker and acclaimed financial expert John Mauldin. Since 2001, investors have turned to his Thoughts from the Frontline to be informed about what’s really going on in the economy. Join hundreds of thousands of readers, and get it free in your inbox every week.
Haven’t you heard? The Russians did it.
Julian Assange has outlined the key element to being a “Western journalist in 2017” and it’s quite simple: blame Russia.
Seemingly behind every major news event in the last number of years, Russia has been busy influencing world events simply by reporting on them, just like everyone else. And as RT notes, this, according to Assange, is key, as outlined in his three-point strategy on Friday.
First, “Pick a globally newsworthy event” which the Russian press “will also be reporting it by definition.”
Second, “Write story: Russian state secretly behind globally newsworthy event as proved by their press reporting it.”
And finally “Profit!”
Want to be a Western journalist in 2017? You can do it!
1) Pick random globally newsworthy event.
Russian press will also be reporting it by definition.
2) Write story: Russian state secretly behind globally newsworthy event as proved by their press reporting it.
— Julian Assange ???? (@JulianAssange) October 6, 2017
Assange’s comments echo that of The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald who, on September 28, reported on the demise of “yet another major Russia story” that most major US media outlets ran with as fact, despite the lack of any evidence whatsoever.
— The Intercept (@theintercept) September 28, 2017
Despite the fact that ‘Russia did it’ stories have been consistently debunked, the Catalonian independence referendum seems to have been the latest target, according to the MSM.
In the face of a brutal state crackdown by Spanish forces, Catalans voted overwhelmingly to leave Spain.
But, of course, this was not an action taken by the Catalan people (who have been seeking independence for 650 years) but a result of Russian meddling…
“Russian propagandists scored a victory in Spain this weekend after ‘boldly injecting fake news and disinformation’ into the debate over Catalonian independence and seemingly influencing the election results,” the Washington Post’s Dan Boylan wrote, citing “U.S. information warfare experts.”
So, that's 'fact' now, and yet another example of the mainstream media adopting Assange's strategy.