The government should reject the “Boris Island” Thames Estuary airport plan and expand Heathrow instead, a report by MPs argues.
The government should reject the “Boris Island” Thames Estuary airport plan and expand Heathrow instead, a report by MPs argues.
Original post: Thames airport ‘should be rejected’
Category : Stocks
San Francisco Chronicle
Jurors deliberate in Jodi Arias murder trial amid media spectacle attracting fans …
PHOENIX – It has become a real-life soap opera for people around the world and dozens of fanatics who camp out on a Phoenix sidewalk early in the morning to get into the show. One seat even sold for $200. A cable network has set up a stage nearby for …
Jurors deliberate Arias fate amid spectacle
Cosmos turns to the blogosphere in pursuit of the best Greek-island experience
Read the rest here: Cosmos Give Bloggers A Chance to Win A Dream Greek Holiday
The latest IMF loan does not ‘rescue’ Jamaica, whose debt must be written off if its people are to take control of their economy
Many people in Jamaica would have trembled as they read the financial press last week, telling them that their country is, again, due to be “rescued” by a loan package put together by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Over 40 years, Jamaica has been “rescued” on countless occasions. In the 1980s, the island became almost a byword for “structural adjustment”. Jamaica is one of the most indebted countries, spends twice as much on debt repayments as it does on education and health combined, and looks set to miss several millennium development goals. After four decades of austerity, the country has a few lessons for the likes of Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
The IMF has announced a $1bn (£650m) loan to “help” Jamaica meet huge debt payments due in coming years. As usual, the loan is to be accompanied by four years of austerity – precise details still pending, though a pay freeze, amounting to a 20% real-terms cut in wages, has been agreed.
This austerity will be applied to an economy that has effectively not grown since 1990. Huge debt has been a constant burden, with foreign debt payments of more than 20% of government revenue every year. When the financial crisis hit, the island was pushed into full-scale recession, before being pounded by Hurricane Sandy last year.
But Jamaica’s problems go back much further. The island’s economy has been shaped by centuries of violence, plunder and slavery. Hundreds of thousands of lives were wasted on sugar plantations, which “kept the wheels of metropolitan industry turning” in Britain.
Jamaica never recovered from slavery; former slaves remained deeply impoverished, and the economy almost totally dependent on foreign capital, mining and raw materials, while importing food and other essentials.
Jamaica became independent from Britain in 1962, but it was only in the 1970s that the government of Michael Manley initiated policies to reduce dependency on foreign capital, improve living standards and fight inequality. He supported health and education, nationalised industries, increased taxation on foreign investment and encouraged agricultural self-sufficiency.
Manley became a major figure on the global stage, joining leaders of the non-aligned movement to support the New International Economic Order – a radical set of economic policies to give developing countries genuine economic independence and reduce global inequality. In 1975, Manley told Americans: “Gross maldistribution of the world’s wealth and food is no longer a moral offence only. It now represents the greatest practical threat to peace and to any desirable development of mankind.”
But his project ran up against the oil crisis of the 1970s. As the price of imports rocketed and exports fell, Jamaica was forced to run up debts. When interest rates rose at the start of the 1980s, debt payments shot up: from 16% of exports in 1977 to a gigantic 35% by 1986.
This gave the IMF and World Bank the leverage to impose large-scale structural adjustment policies. The impact was devastating. During the 1980s, the number of registered nurses fell by 60%. Abolition of food subsidies and currency devaluation made the cost of food rocket, while the IMF held down wages. Health, education and housing were run into the ground. Many suffered what Oxfam called “a grim daily struggle to pay for food, clothing and transportation – even on the part of people who 10 years ago would have been considered middle-class”.
Ten years later, Manley returned to office, accepting the impossibility of creating an independent economy, and embracing neo-liberal policies as the only solution, much to the delight of the US and IMF.
There has been no progress in cutting hunger, or increasing basic water and sanitation provision. In 1990, 97% of children completed primary school. Now only 73% do. In 1990, 59 mothers died in childbirth for every 100,000 children born. Now it is 110.
Jamaica has repaid more money ($19.8bn) than it has been lent ($18.5bn), yet the government still “owes” $7.8bn, as a result of huge interest payments. Government foreign debt payments ($1.2bn) are double the amount spent on education and health combined ($600m).
Jamaica is classified as upper middle income. It was never eligible for debt relief. It has gone through deals with domestic private lenders to reduce interest rates, with little impact on government debt. As always, foreign creditors are fully protected.
Jamaica is not alone. Several Caribbean countries are also dangerously indebted. The IMF itself says: “Since growth in the current environment is virtually non-existent, significant fiscal consolidation is inevitable, but may not be enough to bring down such high debt levels.” Translation: countries like Jamaica need to make deep cuts, but because there is and will be no growth, the debt will remain.
The IMF “rescue” is a rescue for Jamaica’s creditors. It spells more suffering for its people. As Europe enters a fourth year of debt and austerity, Jamaica enters a fourth decade. The island’s debt needs to be written off, to open up the possibility for a better future and allow the people to take control of their economy.
Ray Bitar who was charged with bank fraud, money laundering and online gambling offences faced a jail sentence of 65 years
Ray Bitar, the online poker tycoon who ran the world’s second largest poker site from servers in Guernsey, has abandoned his defence against criminal charges brought by US prosecutors, striking a plea bargain as he awaits a heart transplant in California.
Bitar, 41, one of the founding figures behind Full Tilt Poker, becomes the second of 11 senior poker executives and payment processor intermediaries charged two years ago with bank fraud, money laundering and online gambling offences.
He was charged in April 2011 on five counts, and faced a maximum jail sentence of 65 years. Full Tilt was shut down and assets frozen. In four and a half years since the US enacted anti-online gambling laws, prosecutors alleged Full Tilt – branded around star players Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, each of whom had a stake in the business – had taken “at least an estimated $1bn” from the US alone.
However, bank fraud and money laundering allegations turn out to be just the start of Bitar’s woes. Detailed investigation led the US authorities to further allege that he and co-conspirators had secretly been plundering purportedly ring-fenced customer accounts, where poker players thought they had safely deposited cash and winnings.
Preet Bharara, US attorney for the southern district of New York, said Full Tilt had become a “Ponzi-style scheme”, with a $350m (£228m) black hole. The formidable prosecutor – best known for breaking the insider trading ring linked to New York hedge fund Galleon – said Bitar had “bluffed his player-customers and fixed the game against them as part of an international Ponzi scheme that left players empty-handed.”
A fresh indictment was issued and Bitar returned to his native the US last July. At the time he issued a statement through his lawyers saying: “I know that a lot of people are very angry at me. I understand why. Full Tilt should never have gotten into a position where it could not repay player funds.”
On Tuesday, his US lawyer John Baughman confirmed to the Guardian that an unusual plea bargain had now been struck, which took account of his exceptional health circumstances. Bitar is said to be awaiting a heart transplant in California. His serious health condition had not been made public previously.
Full Tilt had operated under a licence from the remote Channel Island of Alderney, though inadequate IT infrastructure meant it was forced to locate its servers on nearby Guernsey. Allegations that player accounts were plundered and that the company had been deeply involved in bank fraud for many years are highly damaging the reputation of the Channel Islands, where the offshore financial industry trades a on a reputation for not tolerating criminality.
While Full Tilt’s regulatory and IT functions were largely conducted from the Channel Islands, other operations were located on a business park just south of Dublin. Bitar is said to have spent much of his time between the Channel Islands and Ireland.
Together with market leader PokerStars, Full Tilt came to dominate the multibillion online poker industry after the US introduced tough laws making it illegal for banks to process payments from US citizens for internet gambling.
Scores of websites closed their operations in the US, including Party Poker, now part of London stock market-listed Bwin.party. PokerStars and Full Tilt for years appeared to flout the rules, continuing to take bets from America, which was said to account for almost half of global demand for poker games.
The two sites allegedly used a string of intermediaries who set up sham online retail websites – purporting to sell golf clubs, watches, bicycles, jewellery, clothing, or even settling medical bills. In truth, payments through these sites masked deposits into poker accounts.
PokerStars, based in the Isle of Man, was also targeted by Bharara, but struck a deal last July that saw it forfeit $547m to the US authorities. It had managed to continue trading outside the US, unlike Full Tilt. In addition, PokerStars agreed to rescue Full Tilt, pledging to reimburse $184m owed to the effectively bankrupt group’s players outside the US.
The Full Tilt site has since been resurrected and is operated by PokerStars.
Under the terms of its settlement with Bharara, PokerStars had to promise that its founder Isai Scheinberg would step down as a director of the company. Scheinberg, a former Canadian executive with IBM, is one of three facing outstanding criminal charges and is said by the US authorities to still be at large. Two years ago was charged in the US with five offences of variously committing bank fraud, money laundering and online gambling offences. Reputedly resident in the Isle of Man, but with strong links to Israel, he faces a maximum of 65 years in jail.
LONG ISLAND, NY–(Marketwired – Apr 10, 2013) – Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, PC (LIPSG), the largest and longest-running private academic plastic surgical practice in the United States, has announced the addition of Frederick N. Lukash, MD, FACS, FAAP as its 18th member physician.
Continue reading here: Dr. Frederick N. Lukash Joins Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, PC
The Central Bank of Cyprus eases some of the restrictions imposed as banks on the island reopened, following an international bailout deal.
Read the original here: Cyprus eases some bank restrictions
With the country’s banks finally poised to reopen, there is anger and fear – but above all uncertainty
Small countries feel the onset of poverty quickly. In Cyprus, now poised to become one of the biggest experiments in global financial history, people know that penury is just around the corner.
Waiting for poverty to strike is no game. It makes ordinary men and women helpless, desperate and scared. “If you look at it mathematically, there is no way out: we will just never be able to repay our bills to the EU and IMF,” said Haris Christou, one young Cypriot speaking for his compatriots. “Am I afraid? Of course I am afraid. Everybody knows everything in Cyprus is going to get bad, really bad. And nobody knows where exactly we are headed.”
On Wednesday night men and women, some young, some old, gave voice to that fear. They gathered outside the offices of the European commission, and then lined the road that leads up to Cyprus’s colonial-era presidential palace, to protest against a rescue programme that, wittingly or not, will destroy their country’s banking sector and bring its economy to its knees.
“Out with the troika”, “Fuck the troika”, “Go home Troika”, said the placards. “No to the policies of austerity.” “No to privatisations.” “No to the memorandum of catastrophe.”
But more than words, or any amount of hoarse chanting, it is uncertainty that now speaks loudest in Cyprus. The uncertainty that has come with the knowledge that the island’s economic output will shrink dramatically as a result of the austerity now being demanded in return for €10bn in aid. The uncertainty unleashed by policies that will see many Cypriots wake up with much less than they once had in the bank. And the insecurity of suddenly being the subject of capital controls that possibly could change Cypriots’ lives for years.
“Countries don’t normally go backwards,” said Leda Georgiadou, a woman in her 50s. “With this rescue we have taken a giant leap back into the dark.”
On Wednesday, the third day of Cyprus’s status as a bailed-out nation, that leap came in the form of restrictions on the movement of money in and out of the divided island.
Anger is now not the only sentiment talking Cyprus. Greek Cypriots are more afraid than their cousins in austerity-whipped Greece because they know that what is heading their way is like nothing else to have hit Europe’s southern periphery since the outbreak of the debt crisis.
The closure of the banks, which for the past 12 days has left streets, shops and restaurants eerily quiet – and thousands rushing to cash machines to withdraw money – was the first sign.
“In our case, the dogma of shock started on 15 March with the haircut,” said Giorgos Doulouka of the communist Akel party, referring to the massive losses expected to be enforced on depositors holding over €100,000.
“People who bother to attend demonstrations are shocked and terrified, but I can assure you that those who stay at home are shocked and terrified, too.”
In the race to prevent a mass capital flight from banks when they finally reopen on Thursday, the central bank has been working around the clock since the announcement of the €10bn aid deal to draw up measures that will stop money flooding out of the island.
At least half of the total €68bn (£58bn) currently deposited in Cyprus – in a banking system that until this week was at least eight times the size of the nation’s economy – is held by Russians.
Among the items of emergency legislation being announced was a ban on cheques being cashed, a prohibition on anyone leaving the island with more than €3,000 in banknotes, and the imposition of a €5,000 upper limit on monthly credit card spending. Cash withdrawals have already been limited to €100 following revelations that the island’s second largest lender, Laiki, would be shut down altogether.
Already dazed by the news that their once vibrant economy was a basket case – in poorer shape than even that of debt-stricken Greece – it is unclear how Cypriots will react to this latest bombshell.
In a bid to placate them, President Nicos Anastasiades’s government has said that the emergency restrictions will be in place for no longer than seven days, to allow the island to come to terms with the fallout from the EU- and IMF-sponsored rescue deal.
“We are like an animal under experiment now,” the former governor of Cyprus’s central bank, Afxentis Afxentiou, told the Guardian. “I hope that no other country experiences [anything like] it … curtailing deposits has been like an earthquake,” he said, lamenting the lack of solidarity shown to Cyprus by fellow eurozone states. “No one, including myself, expected the EU and ECB and IMF to behave in such a manner.”
A man of a normally sunny disposition, like so many of his compatriots, Afxentiou admitted that his homeland is likely to feel the full impact of the plummeting living standards that will accompany recession for several years. But he drew strength from the knowledge that Greek Cypriots have been through dark times before – losing more than 70% of the island’s resources when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece in 1974.
“Forecasts in economy are a very dangerous thing,” Afxentiou said. “But what I know is that we have lost everything before, almost all our resources, and rebuilt ourselves and our economy. We can do it again.”
G4S on guard
Private security firm G4S, slammed for failing to provide enough security guards for the London Olympics, will dispatch 180 staff to all bank branches across the island in an attempt to ensure that the reopening goes smoothly. Their deployment will keep a lid on any possible trouble, said John Argyrou, managing director of the firm’s Cypriot arm. “Our presence there will be for the comfort of both bank staff and clients, but police will also be present.”
Argyrou didn’t foresee any serious trouble once banks open because people had time to “digest” the extraordinary events of recent weeks. “There may be some isolated incidents, but it’s in our culture to be civil and patient, so I don’t expect anything serious,” he said. A further 120 staff from G4S would be assigned money transport duties, Argyrou added. G4S staff have been working overnight to restock cash machines heavily used since branches were closed nearly a fortnight ago. This year G4S revealed that it had lost £88m over the Olympics fiasco, in which the company was unable to supply all the 10,400 guards it had promised. AP
Cyprus risks deepening the eurozone crisis as austerity is failing across the continent. This is a tide that has to be turned
Europe’s flesheaters are back. The claim that the worst of the eurozone crisis is behind us now looks foolish. The deal forced on Cyprus by the German-led Troika at the weekend isn’t a bailout: it will effectively destroy the island’s economy. Instead of getting a grip on its grossly inflated banks, it will impose a brutal credit contraction, combined with sweeping cuts and privatisations, wiping out perhaps a quarter of Cyprus’s national income. Ordinary Cypriots, not Russian oligarchs, will pay the price.
Of course Cypriot politicians are to blame for having allowed the country to be turned into an adjunct of a bloated financial sector and a refuge for hot Russian money. But what tipped the divided island over wasn’t foreign investors’ sharp practices, but the impact of Europe’s wider crisis on its banks: in particular, their exposure to devastated Greece, currently also in the Troika’s tender care.
Some have hailed the fact the raid was carried out on Cypriot bank deposits over €100,000, rather than the public purse. At last the rich and those responsible for private banking failures are being made to cough up, it’s been said. Which would have been a good thing. But it’s savers, not bankers or shareholders, who are taking the 40% hit. And many of the targeted depositors, such as pensioners, are scarcely rich – or are small businesses which will now go bust.
The Cypriot government should instead have learned from Iceland: taken over the banks, isolated the bad loans, protected deposits, imposed losses on the wealthy, and used a publicly owned banking sector to rebuild the domestic economy. That would have offered its citizens a better future, almost certainly outside the eurozone. But it would have also encroached on private capital’s privileges and clearly couldn’t be tolerated. Instead, in classic EU style, Cypriots have been given no say, while German MPs vote on the deal. Meanwhile, Cyprus’s banks are still closed and capital controls will start to erode the euro as a genuine single currency. As the Greek economist Costas Lapavitsas argues, Cyprus has “reactivated” the European banking crisis.
Not that it had been resolved. Only last month the Dutch government was forced to nationalise the Netherlands’ fourth biggest bank, SNS Reaal, partly because of its over-exposure to losses in Spain. But since the European Central Bank president Mario Draghi pledged last year to do “what it takes” to save the euro, market fever had subsided.
Now the Troika’s decision to help itself to Cypriot savings has paved the way for a new contagion. In the short term that may be contained because of the island’s minuscule proportion of eurozone output. But the move has demolished confidence in bank deposits – a point rammed home by the Dutch finance minister’s blundering signal that the deal had set a precedent. That could easily turn into bank runs in states likely to need new bailouts, as investors move cash to safer locations. Given the spectacular failure of austerity across the continent to overcome the crisis, rather than deepen it as output shrinks and debts mount, more such breakdowns are clearly on the cards.
The eurozone has now become a zombie zone. And any further deterioration can only deepen Britain’s own crisis. Whatever the focus of the meltdown in each country – banking in Cyprus, property in Spain – all flow from the same crisis that erupted in 2007-8 out of a deregulated profit-hunting credit boom across the western world and has delivered a prolonged depression. In the eurozone, the impact of that systemic failure is made worse by a lop-sided one-size-fits-all currency straitjacket that was always going to come apart under pressure. In Britain, the power and weight of the City of London are a particular block on sustainable recovery.
But across Europe, people are being held to ransom by banks, bondholders and corporations determined to ensure that it’s not they who bear the costs of the crisis they created – and politicians who regard it as their job to oblige them. So even though Britain is facing the threat of a triple-dip recession, George Osborne last week ploughed on with a regressive austerity programme that is manifestly failing in its own terms but offers lucrative corporate opportunities in the spaces opened up by the rolling back of the state.
Next week some of the Cameron coalition’s most brutal cuts will kick in – including the deeply unpopular bedroom tax – just as anyone earning over a million pounds a year gets an annual tax cut of at least £42,295, and local councils face the loss of a third of their budgets by 2015. Resistance to death-spiral economics is hardening across Europe, but so is political polarisation. Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s radical left party, currently leading in the polls, compares the situation to prewar Weimar Germany. Cameron is not the only leader using anxieties over migration to deflect anger at the impact of his own policies.
In Britain, public opinion has long balked at the government’s cuts programme and is now increasingly opposed to attacks on welfare. That mood was reflected in last week’s rebellion by 44 Labour MPs against their leaders’ decision not to oppose retrospective legislation imposing benefit sanctions on unemployed people refusing private “workfare” schemes. Today unions and community groups launched a national “people’s assembly” to mobilise against austerity. One way or another, resistance has to get stronger – or they’ll devour us all.