Monday, September 9, 2013
September 9, 2013
Terrified Christians claim Syrian rebels ordered them to convert to Islam on pain of death when they ‘liberated’ their ancient village.
Opposition forces, including fighters linked to Al Qaeda, gained temporary control of the Christian village of Maaloula after fighting with regime forces.
The reports have reignited fears about western support for the rebel groups, which are increasingly being infiltrated by Islamic extremists.
One Maaloula resident said the rebels, many of whom had beards and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great), attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after moving into the village.
‘They shot and killed people. I heard gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old quarters of the village. Where is President Obama to see what has befallen us?’
Another Christian resident said: ‘I saw the militants grabbing five villagers and threatening them and saying, “Either you convert to Islam, or you will be beheaded”.’
Just as we warned 4 months ago, the oldest bank in the world now faces a critical need to raise EUR2.5 billion in fresh capital - more than double its original plan. "There is no chance on the planet that they can raise [this] in 12 months... they are heading towards nationalization," exclaimed one investment banker, confirmed by another who added via Reuters, "it will be difficult to find someone to shell out all that money." The capital raise is equivalent to the entire market cap of the bank currently and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Italian state will be forced to provide the equity. The problem (for BMPS bondholders and depositors) is that under such a scenario, as Bloomberg notes, EC State Aid rules regarding a subordinated-debt bail-in could apply. However, given the small size of sub-debt in the capital structures, it is unclear who will get the haircut including senior bondholders and depositors.
...The size of the planned capital increase, which matches the current market capitalization of the bank and was announced by the economy ministry late on Sunday, underlines the problems still confronting Monte Paschi.The bank could fall under direct state control if it cannot raise sufficient funds from shareholders."There's no chance on the planet that they can raise 2.5 billion euros on the market within 12 months. They are heading towards nationalization,"..."I don't see how the market could take the news well today. It will be difficult to find someone to shell out all that money as it's not an insignificant amount," a Milan trader said.Some analysts said the bank's best option to avoid nationalization could be a debt-to-equity swap, converting subordinated bonds it has already issued into shares."That would be a hit for bond holders and also for shareholders, but at least it would be fairer on taxpayers and it would be in line with the new bail-in guidelines for banks,"...As well as the capital hike, the Monte Paschi plan also includes new cost cuts and a gradual reduction in the bank's huge government bond portfolio which totaled 29 billion euros at the end of June...
But, as we previously noted, a glance at the capital structure makes it very clear that there will be much more pain in the capital structure than simply sub-debt holders...
A quick glance at BMPS' capital structure shows that there isn't a whole lot (read: almost any) of impairable securities below the unsecured liability (i.e., deposit) level.It is also obvious that when the bad debt impairment begins and depositors start getting whacked at least senior bonds, which should be pari passu, will feel the pain too as per the Diesel-BOOM doctrine, although we doubt this particular case of pain sharing will bring much comfort to any and all uninsured depositors in the oldest bank in the world.
So it's time to apply that non-template 'template' it would seem
Credit Zero Hedge
The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year. More than 20 yachts that had planned to sail it have been left ice-bound and a cruise ship attempting the route was forced to turn back.
Some eminent scientists now believe the world is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century – a process that would expose computer forecasts of imminent catastrophic warming as dangerously misleading.
The disclosure comes 11 months after The Mail on Sunday triggered intense political and scientific debate by revealing that global warming has ‘paused’ since the beginning of 1997 – an event that the computer models used by climate experts failed to predict.
In March, this newspaper further revealed that temperatures are about to drop below the level that the models forecast with ‘90 per cent certainty’.
The pause – which has now been accepted as real by every major climate research centre – is important, because the models’ predictions of ever-increasing global temperatures have made many of the world’s economies divert billions of pounds into ‘green’ measures to counter climate change.
Those predictions now appear gravely flawed.
THERE WON'T BE ANY ICE AT ALL! HOW THE BBC PREDICTED CHAOS IN 2007
Only six years ago, the BBC reported that the Arctic would be ice-free in summer by 2013, citing a scientist in the US who claimed this was a ‘conservative’ forecast. Perhaps it was their confidence that led more than 20 yachts to try to sail the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific this summer. As of last week, all these vessels were stuck in the ice, some at the eastern end of the passage in Prince Regent Inlet, others further west at Cape Bathurst.
Shipping experts said the only way these vessels were likely to be freed was by the icebreakers of the Canadian coastguard. According to the official Canadian government website, the Northwest Passage has remained ice-bound and impassable all summer.
The BBC’s 2007 report quoted scientist Professor Wieslaw Maslowski, who based his views on super-computer models and the fact that ‘we use a high-resolution regional model for the Arctic Ocean and sea ice’.
He was confident his results were ‘much more realistic’ than other projections, which ‘underestimate the amount of heat delivered to the sea ice’. Also quoted was Cambridge University expert
Professor Peter Wadhams. He backed Professor Maslowski, saying his model was ‘more efficient’ than others because it ‘takes account of processes that happen internally in the ice’.
He added: ‘This is not a cycle; not just a fluctuation. In the end, it will all just melt away quite suddenly.’
The continuing furore caused by The Mail on Sunday’s revelations – which will now be amplified by the return of the Arctic ice sheet – has forced the UN’s climate change body to hold a crisis meeting.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was due in October to start publishing its Fifth Assessment Report – a huge three-volume study issued every six or seven years. It will now hold a pre-summit in Stockholm later this month.
Leaked documents show that governments which support and finance the IPCC are demanding more than 1,500 changes to the report’s ‘summary for policymakers’. They say its current draft does not properly explain the pause.
At the heart of the row lie two questions: the extent to which temperatures will rise with carbon dioxide levels, as well as how much of the warming over the past 150 years – so far, just 0.8C – is down to human greenhouse gas emissions and how much is due to natural variability.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2415191/Global-cooling-Arctic-ice-caps-grows-60-global-warming-predictions.html#ixzz2eOv691bp
Hebrew University researchers on Monday announced the discovery of a rare trove of Byzantine-era gold and silver artifacts, the most impressive of which is a 10-centimeter solid gold medallion emblazoned with a menorah and other Jewish iconography.
The find, unearthed in the area adjacent to the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, was dated to the early 7th century CE, in all likelihood the time of the brief Persian conquest of Jerusalem.
Professor Eilat Mazar described the discovery as a unique find with “very clear Jewish symbols.” She posited that the hoard of gold and silver objects, found beneath the floor of a Byzantine-era house meters from the massive walls of the Temple Mount, was brought by Jews who returned to the city after the Persians conquered it from the Byzantines in 614 CE.
“I have never found so much gold in my life!” she said with obvious excitement at a press conference on Mount Scopus. “I was frozen. It was unexpected.”
The centerpiece, a medallion that Mazar posited may have been used as ornamentation for a Torah scroll, is emblazoned with a seven-armed candelabrum — a menorah — a Torah scroll, and a shofar, a ram’s horn.
Close up of a Byzantine-era sold gold menorah medallion found near the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount (photo credit: courtesy Ouria Tadmor/Hebrew University)
The Torah scroll, she explained, is a unique icon that is not commonly found in artifacts from this time period.
Excavators also found a collection of 36 gold coins marked with the visages of Byzantine emperors from Constantine II to Mauricius, ranging over 250 years, and gold bracelets, earrings, a silver ingot and a gold-plated hexagonal prism.
Mazar stated that her supposition was that the hoard was a communal treasure, meant to help the sparse Jewish community survive hard times or rebuild what the Jews hoped would be a free community under Persian rule. “What is certain is that their mission, whatever it was, was unsuccessful,” she said.
The Byzantine Empire — the Eastern Roman Empire — ruled the Holy Land from Constantinople almost unimpeded until Muslim armies under Omar ibn Khattab conquered the city in 634 CE.
Hebrew University professor Eilat Mazar displaying a Byzantine-era gold menorah medallion found near the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount (photo credit: courtesy Ouria Tadmor/Hebrew University)
Mazar, a third-generation Israeli archaeologist, has overseen the excavations of Jerusalem’s City of David, the lower slope of the Temple Mount, since 2005. The digs, while contentious for taking place in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, have yielded the earliest known artifacts in the city, dating as far back as the 12th and 11th centuries BCE and, according to Mazar, evidence of the Biblical King David.
Credit The Times of Israel
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday warned America and its allies to expect multiple forms of retaliation, including a chemical attack, if the US goes ahead with a military strike on Syria, in remarks published Monday by CBS News.
Assad, speaking to Charlie Rose in a Damascus interview, said Syria was “not the only player in the region” and, if an attack occurs, the US and allies in return “should expect everything. Not necessarily from the government.”
“You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. You have everything in this region now,” Assad said, in what CBS News said was likely a reference to his close allies Iran and Hezbollah, which have threatened to hit Israel.
When asked if the response to a US attack could include chemical weapons, the Syrian leader replied that “it could happen” but only “if the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have it.”
“I don’t know. I’m not a fortune teller,” Assad added. Damascus currently maintains that rebel groups hold chemical weapons.
Assad was “remarkably calm” during the interview, even when discussing claims that he had used chemical weapons on his own people, Rose told “CBS Evening News” on Sunday.
In an excerpt posted online at CBS, Assad continued to deny that his government has used chemical arms and said that “we are not sure that anything happened.”
“Our soldiers, in another area, were attacked chemically,” Assad said. “But in the area where they say the government used chemical weapons, we only have video, pictures and allegations. We were not there, our forces, our police, our institutions, don’t exist,” he added.
“How can you talk about what happened if you don’t have evidence?” Assad asked, adding that the the US has so far not produced “a single shred” of evidence linking his government to the attack.
Rose’s full interview with Assad is scheduled to be broadcast on PBS’s “Charlie Rose Show” on Monday evening in the US, and excerpts are to be shown on “CBS This Morning,” airing at 7 a.m. Eastern Time Monday.
Israeli officials have ramped up preparations in the past weeks ahead of expected US military action against Syria, though they have also tried to calm the country, saying there is little chance Syria, Iran or terror group Hezbollah will retaliate, as they have threatened.
Turkey and Jordan have also begun to boost readiness in preparation for possible US action. Over the past couple of days, the Turkish army was reported to have stationed anti-aircraft missile batteries along the country’s border with Syria, according to Israel Radio.
In Jordan, security officials said authorities had begun taking precautions ahead of a US strike, according to an Israel Radio report Sunday, citing Jordanian media.
The possible US strike would come in response to a reported chemical attack by the Syrian regime in late August that left some 1,400 people dead according to an American assessment. Obama is hoping to get approval from Congress later this week for a “limited” punitive response.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials have assessed a “low” probability of the Assad regime or its allies hitting Israel in response to a US-led attack on Syria, though Syrian and Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to strike Israel if Obama goes ahead with military intervention.
Credit The Times of Israel
The US secretary of state has said that President Bashar al-Assad has one week to hand over his entire stock of chemical weapons to avoid a military attack. But John Kerry added that he had no expectation that the Syrian leader would comply.
Kerry also said he had no doubt that Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack in east Damascus on 21 August, saying that only three people are responsible for the chemical weapons inside Syria– Assad, one of his brothers and a senior general. He said the entire US intelligence community was united in believing Assad was responsible.
Kerry was speaking on Monday alongside the UK foreign secretary,William Hague, who was forced to deny that he had been pushed to the sidelines by the House of Commons decision 10 days ago to reject the use of UK force in Syria.
The US Senate is due to vote this week on whether to approve an attack and Kerry was ambivalent over whether Barack Obama would use his powers to ignore the legislative chamber, if it were to reject an attack.
The US state department stressed that Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the one-week deadline and unlikelihood of Assad turning over Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. In an emailed statement, the department added: "His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That's why the world faces this moment."
Kerry said the US had tracked the Syrian chemical weapons stock for many years, adding that it "was controlled in a very tight manner by the Assad regime … Bashar al-Assad and his brother Maher al-Assad, and a general are the three people that have the control over the movement and use of chemical weapons.
"But under any circumstances, the Assad regime is the Assad regime, and the regime issues orders, and we have regime members giving these instructions and engaging in these preparations with results going directly to President Assad.
"We are aware of that so we have no issue here about responsibility. They have a very threatening level of stocks remaining."
Kerry said Assad might avoid an attack if he handed every bit of his chemical weapons stock, but added that the Syrian president was not going to do that. He warned that if other nations were not prepared to act on the issue of chemical weapons, "you are giving people complete licence to do whatever they want and to feel so they can do with impunity".
Kerry said the Americans were planning an "unbelievably small" attack on Syria. "We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria's civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort."
The secretary of state repeatedly referred to genocides in eastern Europe and Rwanda in putting forward his case for taking military action. "We need to hear an appropriate outcry as we think back on those moments of history when large numbers of people have been killed because the world was silent," he said. "The Holocaust, Rwanda, other moments, are lessons to all of us today.
"So let me be clear," he continued. "The United States of America, President Obama, myself, others are in full agreement that the end of the conflict in Syria requires a political solution."
But he insisted such a solution was currently impossible if "one party believes that he can rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with impunity using chemicals that have been banned for 100 years".
Hague was forced to emphasise that the UK was engaged in the Syrian crisis through its call for greater action on humanitarian aid, as well as support for the Geneva II peace process.
He pointed out that David Cameron had convened a meeting of countries at the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg to ramp up the humanitarian effort.
Hague met members of the Syrian opposition last Friday and described its leaders as democratic and non-sectarian. On Monday, he avoided questions on why he was not providing lethal equipment to the Syrian opposition.
He said it was for the US to decide whether to attack Syria without congressional endorsement. "These are the two greatest homes of democracy and we work in slightly different ways and we each have to respect how each other's democracies work."
Kerry said he did not know if Obama would release further intelligence proving the culpability of Assad in the chemical weapons attack, saying the administration had already released an unprecedented amount of information.
Credit The Guardian
While the world was glued to the developments in the Mediterranean in the past week, Poland took a page straight out of Rahm Emanuel's playbook and in order to not let a crisis go to waste, announced quietly that it would transfer to the state - i.e., confiscate - the bulk of assets owned by the country's private pension funds (many of them owned by such foreign firms as PIMCO parent Allianz, AXA, Generali, ING and Aviva), without offering any compensation. In effect, the state just nationalized roughly half of the private sector pension fund assets, although it had a more politically correct name for it: pension overhaul.
By way of background, Poland has a hybrid pension system: as Reuters explains, mandatory contributions are made into both the state pension vehicle, known as ZUS, and the private funds, which are collectively known by the Polish acronym OFE. Bonds make up roughly half the private funds' portfolios, with the rest company stocks.
And while a change to state-pension funds was long awaited - an overhaulif you will - nobody expected that this would entail a literal pillage of private sector assets.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said private funds within the state-guaranteed system would have their bond holdings transferred to a state pension vehicle, but keep their equity holdings. The funds would effectively be left with only the equities portions of their assets, even this would be depleted, and there will be uncertainty about the number of new savers joining.
But why is Poland engaging in behavior that will ultimately be disastrous to future capital allocation in non-public pension funds (the type that can at least on paper generate some returns as opposed to "public" funds which are guaranteed to lose)? After all, this is a last ditch step which no rational person would engage in unless there were no other option. Simple: therewere no other option, and the driver is the same reason the world everywhere else is broke too - too much debt.
By shifting some assets from the private funds into ZUS, the government can book those assets on the state balance sheet to offset public debt, giving it more scope to borrow and spend. Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski said the changes will reduce public debt by about eight percent of GDP. This in turn, he said, would allow the lowering of two thresholds that deter the government from allowing debt to raise over 50 percent, and then 55 percent, of GDP. Public debt last year stood at 52.7 percent of GDP, according to the government's own calculations.
Government has too much debt to issue more debt
Government nationalizes private pension funds making their debt holdings an "asset" and commingles with other public assets
New confiscated assets net out sovereign debt liability, lowering the debt/GDP ratio
Debt/GDP drops below threshold, government can issue more sovereign debt
And of course, once Poland borrows like a drunken sailor using the new window of opportunity, and maxes out its new and improved limits, it will have no choice but to confiscate more assets, and to make its balance sheet appear better, until one day, there is nothing left in the private sector to confiscate. At that point the limit itself will have to be legislated away, and Poland will simply continue borrowing until one day there are no foreign lenders willing to take the same risk as the nation's private pensioners. At that point, Poland, which is in the EU but still has the Zloty, can just go ahead and monetize its own debt by printing unlimited amounts of its currency.
Of course, we all know how that story ends.
The response to the confiscation was, naturally, one of shock:
The reform is "a decimation of the ...(private pension fund) system to open up fiscal space for an easier life now for the government," said Peter Attard Montalto of Nomura. "The government has an odd definition of private property given it claims this is not nationalisation."
"This is worse than many on the markets had feared," a manager at one of the leading pension funds, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
"The devil is in the detail and we don't yet know a lot about the mechanism of these changes, what benchmarks will be use to evaluate our performance... (It) looks like pension funds will lose a lot of flexibility in what they can invest."
Catastrophic consequences for fund flows aside, the Polish prime minister had a prompt canned response:
Tusk said people joining the pension system in the future would not be obliged to pay into the private part of the system. Depending on the finer points, this could mean still fewer assets in the private funds.
"The (current) system has turned out to be built in part on rising public debt and turned out to be a very costly system," Tusk told a news conference.
"We believe that, apart from the positive consequence of this decision for public debt, pensions will also be safer."
You see, he is from the government, and he is confiscating the pensions to make them safer. Confiscation is Safety and all that...
Polish officials have tried to reassure investors, saying the overhaul avoids the more radical options of taking both bond and equity assets away from the private funds outright.
They say the old system effectively made Polish public debt appear higher than it really is.
Well, once you nationalize private assets, the public debt will lindeed appear lower than it was before confiscation: we give them that much.
End result: "The Polish pension funds' organisation said the changes may beunconstitutional because the government is taking private assets away from them without offering any compensation.... This may lead to the private pension systems shutting down," said Rafal Benecki of ING Bank Slaski."
Unconstitutional? What's that. But whatever it is, it's ok - after all the publicpension system is still around. At least until that too is plundered. But in the meantime, all such pensions will be "safer", guaranteed.
But best of all, in the aftermath of Cyprus, we now know what the two most recent European blueprints for preserving the myth of solvency are: bail-ins, which confiscate deposits, and pension fund "overhauls", which confiscate, well, pension funds.
And now, back to the global recovery soap opera.
Credit Zero Hedge
Syrian and Iranian officials are headed to Moscow on Monday to discuss a possible US-led strike on the Assad regime, in response to its reported use of chemical weapons in an attack near Damascus on August 21.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem is due to meet with his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, while Iranian Deputy FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian plans to meet with Russian Deputy FM Mikhail Bogdanov and other top officials.
“They [the talks] will focus on an all-encompassing discussion of all the aspects of the current situation in Syria and around it,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia has remained a staunch ally of the Assad regime, refusing to end cooperation and vehemently opposing any military action in the country, which has put it at odds with the United States.
Moscow has made it clear it is unconvinced the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, calling such claims “utter nonsense” and urging the US to present proof to the UN Security Council.
The visits come days after a G-20 summit hosted in St-Petersburg ended with world leaders divided over a course of action.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met briefly with US President Barack Obama at the summit, but the two failed to agree.
“We remained unconvinced by each other. But there is a dialogue, we hear each other and understand the arguments. I disagree with him, with his arguments, he disagrees with mine, but we hear [each other] and try to analyze [arguments],” Putin was quoted as saying.
The US, citing intelligence reports, said sarin gas was used in the August 21 attack outside Damascus, and that 1,429 people died, including 426 children. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists, says it has so far only been able to confirm 502 dead.
The attack caused an international uproar and prompted Obama to seek Congressional approval of a military strike against Assad’s regime.
The Obama administration has been making a big push to rally members of Congress and the international community to support a US-led strike against the Syrian regime. Lawmakers are this week to consider a resolution authorizing the “limited and specified use” of US armed forces against Syria for no more than 90 days and barring American ground troops from combat.
The White House asserted Sunday that a “common-sense test” rather than “irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence” makes the Syrian government responsible for the chemical weapons attack.
As part of a major push to win the backing of a divided Congress and skeptical American public, Obama’s top aides made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to press the case for “targeted, limited consequential action to deter and degrade” Assad’s capabilities “to carry out these terrible attacks again.”
“I call on members of Congress to come together and stand up for the kind of world we want to live in,” he said in a weekly radio address on Saturday, asserting that the “country will be stronger if we act together, and our actions will be more effective.”
The Syrian regime has consistently denied using chemical weapons. Syrian President Bashar Assad, most recently in an interview to PBS, excerpts of which were made public on Sunday, said there was no evidence his forces has used such weapons.
Speaking on the phone with PBS from Syria, interviewer Charlie Rose said Assad denied his army had any chemical weapons:
“He denied that he knew there was a chemical attack, notwithstanding what has been said and notwithstanding the videotape. He said there’s not enough evidence to make a conclusive judgment. He would not say even… even though I read him the lead paragraph of The New York Times today in the story about their chemical weapons supply. And he said I cannot confirm or deny that we do have them. He did, however, say that if in fact we do have them — and I am not going to say Yes or No — they are in centralized control and no one else has access to them.”
According to Rose, the most important thing Assad said is that “there has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people.” Rather, the Syrian president once again suggested opposition troops were behind the attack.
Credit The Times of Israel