Saturday, February 6, 2016

More than 52,000 refugees and migrants crossed the eastern Mediterranean to reach Europe in the first four weeks of January, more than 35 times as many as attempted the crossing in the same period last year.  The daily average number of people making the crossing is nearly equivalent to the total number for the whole month of January as recently as two years ago, according to the International Organisation for Migration.  More than 250 people have died attempting to make the crossing this month, including at least 39 who drowned in the Aegean Sea on Saturday morning after their boat capsized between Turkey and Greece.  Turkish coastguards rescued 75 others from the sea near the resort of Ayvacik on Saturday, according to the Anadolou news agency. They had been trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos.  The eastern route into Europe, via Greece, has overtaken the previously popular central Mediterranean route from north Africa over the past year. Refugees have continued to use the route all winter, despite rough seas and strong winds.“An estimated 52,055 migrants and refugees have arrived in the Greek islands since the beginning of the year,” the IOM said. “This is close to the total recorded in the relatively safe month of July 2015, when warm weather and calm seas allowed 54,899 to make the journey.”Turkey, which is hosting at least 2.5 million refugees from the civil war in neighbouring Syria, has become the main launchpad for migrants fleeing war, persecution and poverty. Ankara struck a deal with the EU in November to halt the flow of refugees, in return for €3bn (£2.3bn) in financial assistance to help improve the refugees’ conditions.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The UN’s office for human rights has said refugee minors in Bangui, in the Central African Republic (CAR), have accused EU flag-wearing soldiers of sexual abuse. Two local girls, aged 14 to 16, said they were raped by peacekeepers in the Eufor-CAR mission. Two others, in the same age group, said they were paid for sex. Three of the four girls said the soldiers were from Georgia, which contributed 140 members to the EU’s 700-strong operation. Refugee children also accused French soldiers in the Sangaris operation, a unilateral mission. A seven-year old girl said she performed oral sex on a French soldier in return for a bottle of water and a pack of biscuits. A nine-year old boy said he, and several others, were abused. Children also accused UN peacekeepers. The UN assistant secretary general, Anthony Banbury, said on Friday (29 January) he knows of four new cases in Bangui. He said there were 22 UN cases in Central Africa last year, and 69 in total in the UN’s 16 missions around the world. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said, also on Friday, she alerted the EU, Georgia, and France on 19 January. She said she was “heartened” by their reaction. But she added: “Far too many of these crimes continue to go unpunished, with the perpetrators enjoying full impunity. This simply encourages further violations.” Banbury told press in New York: “It’s hard to imagine the outrage that people working for the United Nations in the causes of peace and security feel when these kinds of allegations come to light.” The Guardian, a British daily, said he was close to tears. For its part, the EU foreign service said it has “a zero-tolerance policy as regards sexual misconduct or criminal activity.” But it added that “responsibility for any investigation, disciplinary or criminal action remains in the hands of the contributing states.”  The Georgian defence ministry said: “In case such grave crimes are proven, perpetrators … will be brought to justice.” France made similar promises.  The EU sent Eufor-CAR to Central Africa in April 2014 to protect refugees in a brutal civil war. It pulled out in March 2015. Troops mostly came from EU states Estonia, Finland, France, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, and Spain.  Georgia, an EU and Nato-aspirant state, sometimes takes part in EU operations.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The current economy in the first world is a house of cards. It's a huge ensemble of jokers (- representing our top-heavy, too-big-to-fail service-based industry), resting outdoors, precariously, on top of a cheap and unsteady ladder (- representing the globalised primary and secondary industry)... And the winds are picking up, and the rains are gaining strength.  And yet we're told that - if we only add some more cards, or some more jokers to the pack in the form of mortgages or personalised debt - everything will be OK. We're so focused on the house of cards, that we cannot see our very precarious position, up the global ladder, in the wind and rain.  There is only one way our house of cards service sector economy is going: Down. How can it possibly account for more than 75% of our economy, and continue to be funded by a supply of endless bad debt and cheap non-renewable energy and goods?  Gravity will win. Our mainstream politicians and media have effectively become gravity-deniers. They are all mature; old and spent; close to retirement and the economy in Europe, US, and Japan is in much the same state, as the OECD are fully aware and outlining albeit in technocratic bullshit terms.  We are living in a system of neo-colonialism and neo-corportism which the first-world states have to partly or wholly subsidise and collude with each other in order to maintain. We say it's the 'free market' but it's more of a fascist market, once you get out of the shallow end.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Inflation is finally showing signs of returning to the eurozone after figures from January suggested consumer prices had risen to their highest level since October 2014. Headline inflation in the 19-country bloc rose to 0.4pc at the start of the year, according to a flash estimate from Eurostat, up from 0.2pc in December. More encouragingly for Europe's policymakers, core inflation - which strips out the impact of volatile elements such as energy - also inched up to 1pc from 0.9pc at the end of 2015. Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics, called the slowdown “a temporary blip” and would likely rebound next quarter. Next Friday the Labor Department will release its latest jobs report and the US is expected to have added another 210,000 in January. “People love doom and gloom. We had this the same time last year,” said Ashworth. “But GDP grew 2.4% last year and 2.4% the year before, that’s pretty good. It’s been enough to drive the unemployment rate down to 5% from 10% [at the peak of the recession].”A boost this year is expected to come mainly from consumer spending, which typically fuels about two-thirds of economic activity. Continued solid job growth could embolden consumers to spend more. Personal consumption accounts for more than two-thirds of GDP and rose 2.2% in the fourth quarter, down from 3% in the third quarter. The Federal Reserve issued a cautious assessment of the economy this week, leaving interest rates unchanged after raising its benchmark short-term rate in December from record lows.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged Wednesday and said it’s closely monitoring global economic and market turmoil, but gave no signal that it’s retreating yet from plans to raise rates gradually this year.  An increase was not expected Wednesday after the Fed lifted its benchmark rate last month for the first time in nearly a decade -- by a modest quarter-percentage point -- and said it aims to nudge up the rate slowly the next few years amid tepid economic growth.  Some analysts expected the Fed to hint that even a March hike had become less likely after this month’s troubling news about China’s slowdown, sharp fall in stock and oil prices, and concerns that the 6 ½-year-old U.S. recovery may be petering out. Adding to that mindset is that the cheap crude and a strengthening dollar have further pushed down meager inflation. In a statement after a two-day meeting, the Fed said it’s “closely monitoring global economic and financial developments and is assessing their implications for the labor market and inflation, and for the balance of the risks to the outlook.”  The comment suggests the Fed is taking a wait-and-see approach to the recent troubles, but isn’t yet backtracking from plans to gradually boost interest rates. Last month, the Fed provided a more upbeat view, saying the risks to its economic and labor market outlook were “balanced.” On Wednesday, it didn't say risks had shifted to the downside but did note it's keeping a close eye on the overseas troubles.

Monday, February 1, 2016

British couples should not try for a baby for a month if a partner has just returned from one of 23 countries affected by the Zika virus, public health officials have warned. Public Health England (PHE) said men should wear condoms for 28 days after coming home from countries like Brazil and Mexico if their partner was at risk of pregnancy, or already pregnant. Men who had suffered an unexplained fever while travelling, or who had been diagnosed with the virus, should avoid unprotected sex, or trying for children for six months. Woman have already been advised to avoid travelling to infected countries if they might be pregnant or are trying for a child. Around half a million people are believed to have travelled to Zika infected countries in the last six months, according to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics. The virus has already caused nearly 4,000 cases of malformed babies in the Americas and the World Health Organisation warned yesterday that the disease was spreading so quickly that four million people could be infected by the end of the year. Although the virus is mainly transmitted through mosquitoes, PHE said sexual transmission had been recorded in a ‘limited number of cases.’ Public Health England advised: “If a female partner is at risk of getting pregnant, or is already pregnant, condom use is advised for a male traveller for 28 days after his return from a Zika transmission area if he had no symptoms of unexplained fever and rash.  “Condom use is advised for a male traveller for 6 months following recovery if a clinical illness compatible with Zika virus infection or laboratory confirmed Zika virus infection was reported.”  Six Britons are already known to have picked up the disease through mosquito bites while travelling in Columbia, Suriname, Mexico, the Cook Islands and Guyana. Zika was first discovered in Africa in the 1940s but the first outbreak outside of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands only occurred last May, when a case was reported in Brazil. Since then the disease has spread to 22 other countries in south and central America and the Caribbean.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

What is happening now is extremely dangerous because it could easily lead to a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, only on steroids. If you look up a graph of global oil demand, you will note that, except during brief recessions, oil demand always goes up. That is because new oil consuming machines, which perform more work than humans alone could ever hope to do, are constantly being built. Last year China alone built 22,000,000 new vehicles. The world population is increasing, and globalization has displaced manufacturing far away from where products are finally consumed. So more oil is continually needed. Ask yourself what has to happen if all the oil the system needed wasn't available. It follows that since there is no substitute for petroleum in transportation that can replace the energy now obtained from oil in any reasonable period of time, the economy would be forced to shrink. Wishing won't deliver goods from China to the US, or move people to work, or fly tourists from the EU to the Olympics in Brazil. The price of oil could go to $300 a barrel, and the amount of oil produced could only be expanded so fast. It takes time to find oil and drill wells. Any shortage caused by lack of investment in oil exploration today, will take time to remedy. Therein lies a potentially dangerous condition - the time delay getting new oil to a refinery. With the record level of debt just about everywhere, and with interest rates near zero, a recession caused by a physical shortage of oil could rapidly transform a shrinking economy, otherwise known as a recession, into a financial collapse that takes down the banks and everything else. We could regret that today's low oil prices caused the search for replacement supplies to virtually disappear. That could be the thing that pops the global debt bubble that has been blowing for the last 35 years. That experience would be a lot more unpleasant than expensive gasoline or diesel fuel. All this talk of shutting down US shale producers is silly. Any shutdown forced on them by a world oil price at which US shale can't compete will only be temporary. Even if most of the current US frackers go broke, so what? The oil is still there and somebody owns it. When prices rise, as the Saudis pray, back will come the frackers. And what with Iraq coming back on stream, the oil world has changed, not that Saudi seems to have noticed. OPEC has never been anything other than a price fixing cartel and the sooner it collapses the better.