Greek Election – Decisive Victory by SYRIZA
With more than 95% of the votes in Greece’s parliamentary election counted as of the time of writing, Greece’s far-left Syriza led by Alexis Tsipras was already certain to have won a decisive victory.
US Airdrops Ensure that ISIS Remains Well Supplied …
The US air force recently engaged in an air drop of various supplies in Kobani, including high quality weapons and ammunition, which were intended to aid the remaining Kurdish fighters still holed up in the town. ISIS will probably soon send a “thank you” telegram to Mr. Obama. They have every reason to. According to Reuters:
“A Pentagon spokesman says a U.S. airdrop over the Syrian border with Turkey “did not make it into the right hands.”
Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday, “that we are very confident that the vast majority of the bundles did end up in the right hands. In fact we’re only aware of one bundle that did not.”
The Pentagon is working to determine the authenticity of the amateur video posted online on Tuesday appearing to show a U.S. air drop containing military supplies, intended for Kurdish fighters in Kobani, in the hands of Islamic State fighters.
The U.S. military said it conducted six air strikes on Islamic State militants near Kobani on Sunday and Monday. It said one of the strikes destroyed a stray bundle of supplies from a U.S. air drop in order to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. The video was posted on a social media website and Reuters is unable to independently verify the location, the date and whether it was the consignment that the U.S. said it had bombed. It bears a logo which commonly features on Islamic State videos. The video shows what appears to be an airdrop of several boxes and containers with an attached parachute lying on the ground. A man wearing a black balaclava and combat fatigues opens boxes in the video, revealing packaged grenades and what appear to be rocket propelled grenades (RPGs).
So now the US air force is busy bombing its own “stray weapons” again…it seems much of the Pentagon’s work is based on the broken window fallacy. Order new weapons, drop them somewhere, and then destroy them. This will surely please US weapons manufacturers and we’re just waiting for Paul Krugman to explain what a great boon to the US economy these activities are.
The Reuters video the transcript above refers to can be viewed here.
Here is the video posted by an ISIS related account on You-tube about the incident (note that we cannot be sure for how long it will remain accessible, as You-tube often erases IS-sourced content):
Former Iraqi Pilots Allegedly Training ISIS Fighters to Fly Captured Syrian Planes
The immense Islamic radical fighting force that “came out of nowhere” already has everything from tanks, anti-aircraft weapons, heavy artillery, and so forth. Ultimately they have all these weapons were provided to them courtesy of US tax payers, who paid for the equipment that was originally given to Iraq’s army only to be later captured by ISIS with astonishing ease.
The only military plaything ISIS hasn’t had at its disposal so far is an air force. However, even that may be about to change according to recent press reports:
“Islamic State group jihadists are being trained by Saddam Hussein’s former pilots to fly three fighter jets captured from the Syrian military, a monitoring group said Friday.
The planes, which are believed to be MiG-21 and MiG-23 jets, are capable of flying although it is unclear if they are equipped with missiles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The jets were seized from Syrian military airports now under IS control in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqa, according to the Britain-based group, which has a wide network of sources inside the war-torn country.
It said that former Iraqi army officers who once served under Saddam were supervising the training at the military airport of Jarrah, east of the city of Aleppo. Witnesses have reported seeing planes flying at a low altitude to avoid detection by radar after taking off from Jarrah.
It comes as the United States and its allies carry out a wave of air strikes on IS positions in Syria and Iraq. The jihadists also control two other airports in Syria — Albu Kamal near the Iraqi border and Tabqa in Raqa province.
Destroying Iraq's Cultural Heritage
The fundamentalist retro-gang that has conquered Northern Iraq has decided it needs to go Taliban on cultural monuments it disapproves of. One of the most recent outrages was the destruction of the tomb of Yunus, better known in the West as the prophet Jonah (yes, the biblical one who spent some time in the belly of a whale). Jonah is one of the prophets revered by both Christians and Muslims, so the motivation is not entirely clear. However, this is by far not the only ancient religious site ISIS has destroyed in the vicinity of Mosul. Reportedly the group has by now destroyed some 30 ancient shrines, churches, mosques and Hussainiyas in the area of Mosul alone. Oddly, this included at least four Sunni mosques, so there appears to be a certain degree of arbitrariness to these actions. Yazidi monuments are of course also on the list of things ISIS destroys whenever an occasion presents itself.
In short, the group is not only killing people that don't conform to its harsh version of Islam, it is also trying to erase all traces of their history and culture. It cares not one whit how old or unique these buildings and monuments are. For instance, the mosque of Yunus was built on an archeological site the oldest parts of which date back to the 8th century BC. In short, there are buildings in Iraq that have survived 2,800 years of upheaval and strife, but they haven't survived the coming of ISIS. Apparently ISIS considers all the shrines and mosques it destroys “places of apostasy”. In the course of its rampage it has also burned the books of the Diyala province's library, so reading is apparently a no-no for ISIS as well.
A Preliminary Assessment – From the OSCE Mission
Mish recently posted about the German aviation expert Peter Haisenko, who claimed that the photographic evidence from the cockpit parts of flight MH 17 suggested that the plane must have been downed by air-to-air fire, not a surface-to-air missile.
The photographic evidence consisted inter alia of this high resolution picture of what was left of the cockpit. The decisive point according to Haisenko was the shape of the holes (round) and the fact that the metal was bent outward in several places (according to Haisenko, evidence of high caliber bullets entering the cockpit on one side, traversing it and exiting on the other side). Haisenko argued that missile shrapnel would leave different marks.
Mish reasonably concluded that non-experts cannot really confirm whether these claims have merit. However, a very interesting recent interview with someone from the OSCE mission examining the crash site has recently turned up in this context.
To our knowledge this interview went unreported in the Western mainstream media so far (which never fail to report claims made by the Kiev government, no matter how dubious they are – see this article by William Boardman who inter alia dissects a poorly sourced article in the WSJ – see also below).
We find the fact that this went unreported in the Western mainstream press almost more interesting than what the man is saying. He is seemingly confirming Haisenko's claims, while allowing that a final expert assessment remains to be awaited – so this is not yet definitive.
One thing is absolutely certain though: this version of events would fly in the face of everything Kiev and Washington have so far claimed about the incident – the storyline also promoted in the mainstream press with few or no questions asked. Given that multiple sources seem to confirm that Ukrainian war planes were actually shadowing MH 17, this would certainly be a piquant development, to put it mildly:
OSCE monitor notes there is evidence of machine gun fire in MH 17's fuselage, but “no evidence of a missile strike”. Oops.
A Brutal Bunch
ISIS is by all accounts is so utterly brutal that its arrival in a location probably does feel like Allah's wrath is descending like a ton of bricks on the heads of those who haven't fled in time.
Al Qaeda, which terrorism experts refer to as a 'brand that has great weight' in radical fundamentalist circles, has officially disassociated itself from the group, fearing it might damage Al Qaeda's image due to its unvarnished brutality. The background to this is reportedly a long-running dispute between the late Osama Bin Laden and the equally late (or even later, if you will) Abu Musab al Zarquawi, the Jordanian street thug who founded al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which eventually became known as 'Al Qaeda in Iraq', the group that has in the meantime mutated into ISIS or ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, resp. the Levant).
Rumor has it (letters exchanged between OBL and Zarqawi have apparently been found) that OBL disapproved of Zarqawi's harsh tactics, rightly fearing they would alienate Sunnis in Iraq. AQI was indeed almost defeated when Iraq's Sunni tribes turned against it.
The movement regrouped in Syria, evidently got its hands on a great many weapons and was joined by jihadists from around the world. However, it continued with its brutal ways, imposing harsh sharia laws wherever it took over. Videos of beheadings and other gruesome executions perpetrated by ISIS fighters have flooded the internet. Undoubtedly ISIS' reputation was a great help in getting Iraqi soldiers to flee their posts when the group recently swept across Northern Iraq.
Al Qaeda, under its new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri finally completely disowned the group, with the disavowal being made official in early February of this year. As one observer remarked, Al-Qaeda seemed to have concluded that “not all press is good press”.
Ironically though, ISIS is farthest along the goal of actually establishing an Islamic Caliphate, a long term plan of Al Qaeda. And the break seems not to have slowed its momentum one bit. It also appears it has changed its approach in Iraq, so as not to repeat Zarqawi's strategic mistakes.
Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister Maliki has made a grave mistake as well – he has failed to promote unity among Iraq's religious sects. The Sunni tribes in the North are disaffected and are therefore giving ISIS a chance – their help was probably a crucial element in the group's successful conquest of cities in the area.
The Dead of Odessa
Pro- and anti-Kiev protesters clashed in Odessa late last week, a confrontation which ended with numerous of the separatists being burned to death in the trade union building which they had fled into.
“It kicked off after marchers calling for Ukrainian national unity, which the Kyiv Post claims was largely comprised of supporters of the local soccer team, encountered a rival pro-Russian group. Barricades were set up and buildings set aflame. Initial reports suggest that dozens were wounded, with at least three people shot dead,according to police. Then, police said at least 31 people were dead after pro-Kiev demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails into a building where a pro-Russia contingent was holding out.”
This is according to the Washington Post, which was partly relying on live tweets by Journalist Howard Amos. Amos inter alia noted the strange passivity of the Odessa police force when it came to extending protection to the pro-Russian faction (at one point he tweeted 'pro-Russian guys appear surrounded from three sides, riot police nowhere to be seen').
That's all OK though, since the people demanding more autonomy for the predominantly Russian-speaking regions are all 'terrorists'. Here is a video our democratic friends united under the 'Euromaidan' banner posted on you-tube, seemingly reveling in the death of at least 39 people by fire (the number of dead has been revised upward to 39, while some local news organizations even speak of 43 dead people):
A Quick Overview
Below we briefly review updates of two charts we have employed in our recent market updates. The first one is a quick glance at several major indexes: the NDX, the SPX, the Russell 2000 and the DJIA. There have been multiple divergences between these indexes at their recent peaks, but there is also a divergence visible now that a rebound has begun – which is a direct result of the recent underperformance of momentum stocks. Note that we have taken this chart snapshot during the trading day, so it doesn't incorporate Wednesday's close yet.
The market has begun to bounce from a natural support level: lateral support in the NDX (as well as the Nasdaq Composite and the RUT) that has served as a support and resistance level on several previous occasions.
As you will see further below, although momentum and growth names are outperforming 'safe' stocks in Wednesday's trading, the trend toward safety is not undermined yet by this short term counter-trend move. There have been several short term pullbacks in the XLU-QQQ ratio since this new trend emerged in November, but the trend has continued all the same. On Tuesday, the ratio actually reached a new high for the move and is probably overdue for a pullback.
The Rydex sentiment measures we are keeping an eye on show practically no change since our last update. The only measure that is not firmly in cloud-cuckoo land just yet are total assets in bull and sector funds. However, relative to assets in money market funds and bear funds, they are near the peak levels recorded in early 2000. Bear fund assets and money market fund assets are at 17 year lows.
The First $3 Billion of a Ukraine Bailout Immediately Go to Russia
This is really too funny. Apparently, the Ukraine owes $3 billion to Russia in bonds that have been issued under UK law. One of the stipulations of the bonds is that if the Ukraine's debt-to-GDP ratio should exceed 60%, the bonds will become immediately callable.
Once the Ukraine gets funding from the IMF, this is of course going to happen right away – its debt-to-GDP ratio will then most definitely exceed 60%, so the first $3 billion of any aid the Ukraine receives in the form of loans will right away flow into Russia's coffers.
Of course there may be litigation first, but as Greek bondholders have found out, all those who held bonds issued under UK law were actually paid in full, while everybody else had to accept the 'PSI' and could basically go pound sand.
Of course it was all 'voluntary', but funny enough, the holders of Greek bonds issued under UK law didn't turn out to be as altruistic as all the other ones. At least we have not heard of any 'voluntary' contributions made by them. It seems rather doubtful that Mr. Putin will be eager to become a voluntary contributor to bailing out a government which he deems illegitimate. Instead he's going to take his money and run – or alternatively, make as-of-yet unspecified demands.
What the Economy Needs
We want to briefly comment on the suggestions that the Ukraine – this is to say the government of the Ukraine – allegedly needs to “borrow at least $35 billion”. This has been reported in terms such as these:
“The political crisis has cost Ukraine economically as the country is facing a possible debt default. Ukraine needs approximately $35 billion in aid to improve its economy, according to the country’s finance ministry.”
The last thing a country needs to “improve its economy” is a giant loan to its government. Government equals waste, even if it isn't prone to stealing, which we suspect the new administration in Kiev definitely is. Why should it be any different from the previous 'Orange Revolution' government? It's the same people, only fortified by a bunch of extreme right-wing nationalists this time, who incidentally hold a number of important portfolios, including everything relating to police, defense, national security and even the post of prosecutor general. Germany's news magazine Der Spiegel, which is largely sympathetic to the new government, reports this most recent tidbit from Kiev:
Ukrainian Government Issues Arrest Warrant for Aksyonov
The latest in a series of futile gestures surrounding the situation in the Crimea is a warrant for the arrest of the Crimea's new prime minister, issued by the central government in Kiev:
“A court in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev has issued arrest warrants for the prime minister and parliament speaker of the country's autonomous republic of Crimea, the Prosecutor General's office said Wednesday.
Criminal charges had been brought against them and some other politicians in Crimea, said Ukraine's acting Prosecutor General Oleh Makhnytsky.
Last Thursday, the regional parliament of Crimea appointed Aksyonov, leader of the Russian Unity party, as prime minister in a closed session and announced that a referendum would be held over the future status of the territory on March 30.
Aksyonov said Saturday that he had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to help ensure peace in the pro-Russian region. Ukrainian Parliament Speaker Alexandr Turchynov, who is also the country's acting president, later signed a decree to reject Aksyonov's new capacity.
Our guess is that Aksyonov's resolve has just been strengthened immeasurably. If they really mean it, then he has henceforth nothing left to lose. Just as Kiev thinks his government is illegitimate, so he believes the Kiev government to be illegitimate. The irony is that both governments were proclaimed by the same methods: First, protesters took over government buildings and thereafter, the respective parliamentarians appointed a new government. Both were slightly dubious affairs from a legal standpoint.
Russian Troops in the Crimea
“You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text," Kerry told the CBS program "Face the Nation."
This new-found respect for the sovereignty of foreign nations represents a laudable 180 degree change in US foreign policy. You just don't do that in the 21st century! Like e.g. invading Iraq by making up tall stories about “weapons of mass destruction” hidden there. It's just not done. As an aside to this: in February, the civil war currently raging in Iraq has cost yet another 1,705 lives, with 2,045 wounded. The death toll is a considerable increase from January's 1,284 dead and 2,088 wounded. Perhaps you weren't aware there is a civil war raging in Iraq? If so, that is no surprise. The Western media have fallen almost completely silent on the topic. Yet, this is what the famous 'mission' has actually 'accomplished'.
As Jason Ditz reports regarding the recent escalation in the Crimea:
“While US politicians have also ratcheted up the rhetoric, US officials concede that Russia’s troops in Crimea are setting up defensive positions and are in a “self-defense posture only.”
Reports from Crimea’s government say they’ve got Russian troops helping them protect government buildings in anticipation of the referendum, and with a sense that will easily back secession and re-accession into the Russian federation, it seems that Russia doesn’t need to “invade” at all, but simply needs to keep the interim government at bay until Crimean voters affirm the switch.”
War Games Enlarged
Russia has put some 150,000 troops on alert according to media reports, enlarging 'previously planned' war games near the border with the Ukraine. Russian politicians naturally continue to complain about the situation in the Ukraine, and their tone of voice has become quite a bit more strident over the past two days.
Part of Russia's Black Sea fleet is actually stationed in the Crimea, so it is easily conceivable that a pretext for a military intervention could be concocted. However, we tend to think these recent developments are just old-fashioned saber rattling, in spite of the strong interest Russia has in what happens in the Ukraine. Obviously, betting on Yanukovich was a big mistake – he was simply too corrupt and too big of a gangster. Still, markets were slightly rattled early on Wednesday and the Ukrainian hryvnia continued its free-fall. Interestingly though, Ukrainian stocks concurrently kept rising (adjusted for the fall in the hryvnia, the rally is of course not worth mentioning).
“Ukraine's protest leaders named the ministers they want to form a new government following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich, as an angry Russia put 150,000 troops on high alert in a show of strength.
President Vladimir Putin's order on Wednesday for soldiers to be ready for war games near Ukraine was the Kremlin's boldest gesture yet after days of sabre rattling since its ally Yanukovich was ousted at the weekend.
Moscow denied that the previously unannounced drill in its western military district was linked to events in its neighbor but it came amid a series of increasingly strident statements about the fate of Russian citizens and interests. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Moscow that "any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge – a grave mistake".
With the political turmoil hammering Ukraine's economy, the central bank said it would no longer intervene to shield the hryvnia currency, which tumbled 4 percent on Wednesday and is now down a fifth since January 1. Wednesday's abrupt abandonment of Ukraine's currency peg sent ripples to Russia where the rouble fell to five-year lows and bank shares fell.”
Russia has repeatedly expressed concern for the safety of Russian citizens in Ukraine, using language similar to statements that preceded its invasion of Georgia in 2008.
"In accordance with an order from the president of the Russian Federation, forces of the Western Military District were put on alert at 1400 (1000 GMT) today," Interfax news agency quoted Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.
Shoigu also said Russia was also "carefully watching what is happening in Crimea" and taking "measures to guarantee the safety of facilities, infrastructure and arsenals of the Black Sea Fleet," in remarks reported by state news agency RIA.”
Vaporization in Bitcoin-Land
It is still not quite clear what exactly happened at Mt. Gox in Tokyo, the formerly biggest bitcoin exchange in the world. According to the exchange, the so-called 'transaction malleability' problem allowed hackers to initiate countless bogus transactions, stealing some 744,000 bitcoins. Even at the recently somewhat lower price of $600 per bitcoin (at non-Mt. Gox exchanges), this sounds like a lot of money. In fact, it sounds as if the exchange has essentially been bankrupted/vaporized, and no amount of 'trying to fix the problem' can actually, well, fix it. Mind, this is just a hunch on our part based on the fact that about $450 m. are said to have disappeared.
In spite of no longer allowing withdrawals (whether of bitcoin or any other forms of currency) since February 7, trading actually continued at Mt. Gox until February 25. During that time, bitcoin prices crashed on the exchange, and a two-tier price system developed. There have always been slight price differences between the various bitcoin exchanges, but our impression was that arbitrage transactions kept prices at most exchanges for the most part quite closely aligned. However, after it became clear that withdrawals from Mt. Gox were no longer possible, the price of bitcoin traded there decoupled rather noticeably. While the currency weakened at other exchanges as well, it did so to a far smaller extent.
This week, trading at Mt. Gox finally stopped and the site became inaccessible shortly thereafter. Access has been restored in the meantime, but all the site does at present is display the terse message that can be seen on the chart below:
More Articles of Interest:
- It's Official: If You Question Authority, You Are Mentally Ill
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- The Riskiest Sovereign Credits
- The Lunatics Are Running the Asylum: Draghi's Money Printing Bazooka
- The Fat Lady is Clearing her Throat
- The Best “Old-Timer” Advice for Investors
- Mainstream Financial Press Promotes Economic Illiteracy
- In America, Government Pays You Interest. In Switzerland, You Pay Government.
- The Ph.D.’s Guide to Avoiding Big Stock Market Losses
- The Beginning of the End for the Credit Bubble?