Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Today's Links

"Fifteen years after launching its “war on terror,” Washington is not only directly allied with the supposed target of that war—Al Qaeda—but is preparing to unleash upon humanity the greatest act of terror imaginable, a third world war" Bill Van Auken, WSWS




1--Productivity Slump Threatens Economy’s Long-Term Growth-- Measure’s longest losing streak since 1979 could keep Fed from raising rates to past levels


The longest slide in worker productivity since the late 1970s is haunting the U.S. economy’s long-term prospects, a force that could prompt Federal Reserve officials to keep interest rates low for years to come.
Nonfarm business productivity—the goods and services produced each hour by American workers—decreased at a 0.5% seasonally adjusted annual rate in the second quarter as hours worked increased faster than output, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

It was the third consecutive quarter of falling productivity, the longest streak since 1979. Productivity in the second quarter was down 0.4% from a year earlier, the first annual decline in three years. That was a further step down from already tepid average annual productivity growth of 1.3% in 2007 through 2015, itself just half the pace seen in 2000 through 2007, and the trend shows little sign of reversing....

The slowdown in recent quarters has likely been reinforced by weak business investment in new equipment, software and facilities that could help boost worker efficiency.
...
Stagnant productivity and rising labor costs also could squeeze corporate profits, which have been under pressure from the energy sector’s downturn and other forces....

Commerce Department last month estimated that GDP expanded at a modest 1.2% pace in the second quarter. ...

But in the long run, slow productivity growth and other forces could keep interest rates depressed compared with levels seen in the past. ...

Business investment has been a notable sore spot for the economy in recent months. A closely watched measure of business spending, fixed nonresidential investment, has declined for the past three quarters, according to Commerce Department data. A proxy for spending on new equipment—new orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft—has declined on a year-over-year basis almost continuously for the past year and a half.
If wages continue to climb, companies may seek to contain labor costs by ramping up their investments in new equipment to boost efficiency, aided by low interest rates, or by raising prices.


2--New York Fed: Credit-Card Use Increasing Among People with Low Credit Scores-- Auto loans and credit cards are driving the growth in households’ debt


The credit card is coming back, even among people with the lowest credit scores.
In the second quarter, total household debt increased by $35 billion to $12.3 trillion, according to the New York Fed’s latest quarterly report on household debt. That increase was driven by two categories: auto loans and credit cards.

While auto loans have been rising at a steady clip for the past six years, rising credit-card balances are a new development. After the recession, households cut back on credit-card use until 2014. Since then, card balances have risen by about $70 billion.

The report underscores how the nation’s credit cycle has evolved, from broadly deleveraging in the aftermath of the financial crisis to a renewed—but still tentative—embrace of credit...

From 2008 to 2013, total household debts dropped by more than $1.5 trillion. But first student-loan and auto-loan balances began to rise, and then mortgages and finally credit cards. Total household debt balances are now $400 billion below their 2008 peak...

Now, credit cards are returning among individuals with low credit or subprime credit scores below 660. Among people with credit scores between 620 and 660, the share that had a credit card rose to 58.8% in 2015 from a low of 54.3% in 2013. Among those with scores below 620, the number of people with a credit card increased to 50% from a low of 45.6% two years ago. Both figures for 2015 are the highest since 2008.....


3--What’s wrong? Why is productivity growth so miserably low?


...And it’s not because Americans somehow forgot to work. Krishen Rangasamy, Senior Economist at Economics and Strategy, National Bank of Canada, put it this way:
Borrowing by corporations for the purposes of stock buybacks instead of investment in machinery and equipment does little to enhance an economy’s capacity for growth. We’re getting more evidence of that in the US where the average age of fixed assets is the highest in half a century and productivity growth is the weakest on records.

Given the productivity declines in the first half of the year, and even assuming productivity grows in the second semester at the fastest pace in six years, productivity growth in 2016 is set to be close to zero. As today’s Hot Chart shows, that would mean a six-year average of roughly 0.5% for productivity growth, the lowest ever recorded. That cannot be bullish for the US labor market....

It will eventually impact the labor market. Here’s why: despite the hiring that companies have been doing, sales – the ultimate measure of “output” – have been heading south since mid-2014....

Sales and productivity cannot decline forever while companies continue to hire. Eventually companies are going to react in large numbers. They’re either going to perform miracles and get their sales to jump through hoops, or if that fails, they’re going to bring their workforce in line with their lower sales. And that would be when the jobs recovery, as miserable as it has been, gets crushed. (Business investment plus consumption must equal productivity)

4--The US is hiring military contractors for operations in Syria


5--Consumer Credit, Mosler


Less then expected, last month revised down. No sign of the acceleration in credit we need to support growth here. And the mix between revolving and non revolving not encouraging either:


6--Negative Debt not working


7--Who Got Us Into These Endless Wars?


No, it was not “isolationists” who failed America. None came near to power. The guilty parties are the CFR crowd and their neocon collaborators, and liberal interventionists who set off to play empire after the Cold War and create a New World Order with themselves as Masters of the Universe....

Most Americans now believe Iraq was a bloody trillion-dollar mistake, the consequences of which will be with us for decades.
With a rebel uprising against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. aided the rebels. Now, 400,000 Syrians are dead, half the country is uprooted, millions are in exile, and the Damascus regime, backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, is holding on after five years.

Meanwhile, we cannot even decide whether we want Assad to survive or fall, since we do not know who rises when he falls.
Anyone still think it was a good idea to plunge into Syria in support of the rebels? Anyone still think it was a good idea to back Saudi Arabia in its war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has decimated that country and threatens the survival of millions?

Anyone still think it was a good idea to attack Libya and take down Moammar Gadhafi, now that ISIS and other Islamists and rival regimes are fighting over the carcass of that tormented land?



8--What Putin Wants But Doesn't Get from Erdogan

The successful attacks on Syrian government troops, led by Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham, a group that has recently made a show of breaking ties with Al-Qaeda, were apparently enabled by strong outside support in the form of weapons, cash and supplies, originating in Saudi Arabia and Qatar but coming through Turkish territory. The convoys bearing the supplies kept moving unobstructed across the Turkish border after Erdogan apologized to Putin and after Putin called him following the coup attempt.
Erdogan's "dear friend" Vladimir must have a hard time squaring that with the Turkish leader's gushing.

9-- Hundreds of military dependents ordered to leave Turkey


archive march 29, 2016

The Pentagon is ordering nearly 700 military family members to leave Incirlik Air Base and two smaller military installations in Turkey because of concerns over the deteriorating security environment there.
Families are expected to begin leaving Turkey on Wednesday, stopping first at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, before continuing on to the States or other duty locations, U.S. European Command told Stars and Stripes.

“We understand this is disruptive to our military families, but we must keep them safe and ensure the combat effectiveness of our forces to support our strong ally Turkey in the fight against terrorism,” EUCOM chief Gen. Philip Breedlove said Tuesday in a statement.
The mandatory departure order, announced by the State Department, affects nearly all Defense Department dependents assigned to Incirlik, as well as those at smaller bases in Izmir and Mugla. The families of U.S. diplomats in the same areas also are ordered to depart.

On Monday Israel issued a new travel advisory for Turkey, warning Israeli citizens to leave the country as soon as possible and avoid any traveling there.


10--Assange says murdered DNC murder victim was "politically motivated assassination"


11--The EU isn't a union, it's a suicide pact


12--High-water mark for NATO expansion??


Hahn then recalls a “historic timetable” for NATO’s expansion proposed by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book The Grand Chessboard:

“Admission of the “first” new Central European members by 1999; the beginning of accession talks and admission by 2005 for the Baltic states and Romania; eligibility for the Balkan states at about the same time; possible accession by Sweden and Finland; and somewhere between 2005 and 2010 the beginning of “serious negotiations” for Ukraine with both the EU and NATO.”
“Except for the last two stages, Brzezinski’s timetable played out approximately as he advised,” the author states....

– an unwillingness to bear the sacrifices of expansion – is the same as the one made by Ischinger,” notes Alexander Mercouris, an expert on international affairs in his article for the online journal Strategic Culture Foundation.
The debate within NATO is not ended but the neocon agenda of perpetual NATO expansion and confrontation with Russia is now finally being challenged – though very late in the day – from within the heart of the NATO elite, he further states, adding that, as it seems, “regardless of the outcome of the election in the US in November the high tide of NATO expansion may be over.”

13--Turkish military officer seeking asylum in United States: US officials


The case comes as Turkey presses Washington to hand over Gülen. The preacher, an ally of Erdogan in the early years after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in 2002, has denied any involvement in the coup, which came at a critical time for a NATO state facing Islamist militant attacks from across the border in Syria and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said anti-American feeling among Turks was on the rise and “turning into hatred” and could only be calmed by the United States extraditing Gülen.

14--Turkey, Russia on same page over Syria conflict: Turkish FM


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Russia, where he discussed the Syrian conflict with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In his Wednesday's remarks, Cavusoglu said a Turkish delegation, including Foreign Ministry, military, and defense officials, will travel to Russia for follow-up talks on the same day.
Observers also speculate that the Turkish overtures to Russia are coming at a time when Ankara is finding itself increasingly at odds with Western countries in the wake of the coup


15-- Putin and Erdogan Vow to Repair Ties as West Watches Nervously

Anti-Americanism has been on the rise in Turkey, amid accusations that the United States played a role in the failed coup in Turkey and widespread resentment of the White House’s criticism of the resulting crackdown.


Turkish officials have been further infuriated by President Obama’s reluctance to hand over Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Mr. Erdogan has accused of leading the coup attempt....


Moscow would like to draw Turkey into its orbit and into the security and trade organizations it is promoting in Asia, although such a shift is not expected anytime soon....


Yet the Kremlin also signaled on Tuesday that it was in Syria to stay. Mr. Putin called on Russia’s Parliament to approve an extended deployment of the Russian Air Force at Khmeimim Air Base outside Latakia, Syria, where its planes have flown sorties for almost a year to bolster Mr. Assad. Parliamentary approval is virtually guaranteed....


Russia’s gas industry, starting with Gazprom, the state-controlled behemoth, is eager to get the Turkish Stream back on track, because other routes to Europe have been blocked, and Turkey is just as keen on becoming a hub for gas distribution.


“I think the interests of Gazprom and the energy companies are the cornerstone of what is happening,” said Mr. Vasilyev, the analyst.


16--Erdogan and Putin meet in St. Petersburg


There are many indications that the July 15 coup was, at least in part, a reaction to Turkey’s new rapprochement with Russia. It was the Russian government that warned Ankara about the imminent coup, allowing Erdogan to escape and appeal to his supporters. Now the visit to St. Petersburg, which was scheduled before the coup, comes as Ankara’s relations with the United States and the European Union have almost reached the breaking point.

There is no doubt that Washington supported the coup, and Erdogan is openly accusing Washington of having done so. He is demanding the extradition of exiled Islamic leader Fethullah Gulen, who resides under US government protection in Pennsylvania....

In the US and other NATO countries, there are mounting fears that Erdogan’s visit might signal a strategic reorientation by one of the most important members of the military alliance. This could undermine not only Washington’s military encirclement of Russia, but also its attempt to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria......

day before the visit, Erdogan said in an interview with Russia’s TASS news agency and state television Rossiya 24 that the Russian Federation was the “primary actor in bringing peace to Syria,” adding, “I think that we, Russia and Turkey, should resolve this [Syria] issue by taking a step together.”

He described his impending meeting with Putin as a “rebirth” and declared: “Now, I believe, we have a chance to reconsider everything, to open a new page in Turkey and Russia relations. I believe we have a lot to do as two important actors in all areas, including cultural, trade, political, military, economy. I have no doubt in this matter.”


17--The battle for Aleppo and the hypocrisy of US war propaganda


They would only be reprising the essential features of the imperialist operation that gave rise to Al Qaeda 30 years ago, when the CIA—working in close alliance with Osama bin Laden—supplied similar support to the mujahedeen fighting to overthrow the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan.

While the blowback from that episode ultimately gave us September 11, the present operation in Syria holds far greater dangers. In what is now openly described by the corporate media as a “proxy war” in which Al Qaeda serves as US imperialism’s ground force, Washington is attempting to overthrow Russia’s key Middle East ally as part of the preparations for a war aimed at dismembering and subjugating Russia itself.

The frontrunner in the US presidential contest, Democrat Hillary Clinton, has repeatedly signaled that she intends to pursue a far more aggressive policy in Syria and against Russia, making neo-McCarthyite charges of Vladimir Putin’s supposed subversion of the US election process a central part of her campaign....


. The Nusra Front changed its name to the Fatah al-Sham Front and announced its formal disaffiliation from Al Qaeda—with the latter’s blessing—just one week before it launched the offensive in Aleppo.There is every reason to believe that this rebranding was carried out in consultation with the CIA in an attempt to politically sanitize direct US support for an offensive led by a group that has long been denounced by Washington as a terrorist organization.

The Times never names any of the “mainstream rebel groups” it says are fighting alongside the Al Qaeda militia, suggesting that they constitute some liberal progressive force. In point of fact, one of these groups recently released a video showing its fighters beheading a wounded 12-year-old child, and virtually all of them share the essential ideological outlook of Al Qaeda.

The Financial Times of London carried one of the frankest reports on the Aleppo “rebel” offensive, noting that it “may have had more foreign help than it appears: activists and rebels say opposition forces were replenished with new weapons, cash and other supplies before and during the fighting.” It cites reports of daily columns of trucks pouring across the Turkish border for weeks with arms and ammunition, including artillery and other heavy weapons.

The newspaper quotes one unnamed Western diplomat who said that US officials backed the Al Qaeda-led offensive “to put some pressure back on Russia and Iran,” which have both provided key military support to the Assad government.
The Financial Times also quotes an unnamed “military analyst” as stating that the character of the fighting indicated the Al Qaeda forces had received not only massive amounts of weapons, but also professional military training.

Significantly, even as the fighting in Aleppo was underway, photographs surfaced of heavily armed British commandos operating long-range patrol vehicles in northern Syria. Similar US units are also on the ground. These are among the most likely suspects in terms of who is training Al Qaeda’s Syrian forces....


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