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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Two Interesting Reads : (1) The Refugee Crisis (2) Charter Schools at 25

An excerpt from DER SPIEGEL, EU-Turkey Refugee Deal Dying in the Greek Islands:

The hunt for supporters of the coup has partly paralyzed Turkey's state apparatus. Erdogan has suspended several thousand police and military officials. At the same time, the war against the PKK, the Kurdish terror group, and the military operation in Syria are tying up troops. "At the moment we have more pressing concerns than policing our borders," an official says.

And so a storm is brewing. The neglected inspections, the economic pressure on the refugees in Turkey, the powerlessness of the Greek authorities and the overfilled refugee camps -- this all together is increasing the pressure on the refugee deal. President Erdogan is also threatening to scuttle the deal over the issue of visa-requirements for Turks.

Political advisor Knaus, whom many people describe as the creator of the refugee deal, warns that if the deal fails, chaos could result. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, he says, would arrive in Greece and try to break through the fences to the north. The Balkans would turn into a battleground for migrants, smugglers, border guards and soldiers, Knaus says. "That would be the end of European asylum policy."


An excerpt from THE WEEKLY STANDARD, A Quiet Revolution:

Behind this incremental revolution—the charter school movement, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this fall—was a collection of principles that will be familiar to conservatives especially. Charter schools explicitly shifted power from the government to individuals and neighborhood organizations. They prioritized local needs and local decision-making. They trusted families and practitioners to have better information and more wisdom than technocrats. They made room for entrepreneurialism and innovation. They cultivated a diversity of school options to suit a pluralistic society. They focused governments on outcomes instead of inputs. They emerged from piecemeal reform of a longstanding institution, which proceeded slowly from modest community initiatives, not all at once in accord­ance with grand plans devised by experts."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Life goes on...

THE TELEGRAPH provides a respite from the horrors of current events with this article by the Royal Horticultural Society, THE BEST TREES FOR SMALL GARDENS.

DER SPIEGEL on Syria : A Developing World War ?

Excerpts from the DER SPIEGEL staff article,  HOW SYRIA BECAME A GLOBAL WAR.

"Since the collapse of the cease-fire, the regime once again seems to believe that it can emerge as the winner of this war. Russian jets and Syrian helicopters have pounded besieged eastern Aleppo, transforming it into an apocalyptic wasteland. According to the United Nations, more than 300 civilians have been killed in the city in the last two weeks and five hospitals have been either partially or completely destroyed. Some 250,000 people are thought to be still living in eastern Aleppo, which is completely surrounded by forces loyal to the Assad regime.

Russian bunker busters and incendiary bombs are being dropped on eastern Aleppo without any consideration for the civilians living there. That, says UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, constitutes a war crime. Complete annihilation is a strategy that Russia has successfully pursued before -- in the 1990s assault on the Chechen capital of Grozny. But even as the West accuses Syria and Russia of committing war crimes, Moscow and Damascus have issued blanket denials.

Even if the Syrians are the ones being forced to suffer, for many of those involved, the conflict is no longer about Aleppo or even Syria. Of this, the Babylonian mixture of languages spoken on the frontlines and in the air above is just one of many indications. "I have the feeling that we have become laboratory rats for Russian, Iranian and Syrian weapons -- and for the West's political experiments," says Sharif Mohammed, a civilian who is holding out in eastern Aleppo.

In its sixth year, the conflagration has become a kind of world war in three respects. Firstly, for the last four years, large numbers of foreigners have been flowing into the country to join the fight. More than 20,000 radical Sunnis have joined Islamic State (IS) and about three times that many Shiites from a half-dozen countries are thought to be fighting on behalf of the Assad regime."


"It has been a year since Putin began his intervention in Syria -- on the pretext that he intended to fight Islamic State. For a year, the Americans and Russians tried to convince themselves that they shared common interests in Syria and could agree to fight terrorism together. But in reality, Russia is playing a role similar to the one it adopted in Ukraine: It is providing massive amounts of military support to one side, thus becoming a de facto party to the war, while posing on the international stage as a mediator and part of a possible diplomatic solution.

Many Western politicians had hoped that Russia would play a more constructive role this time around. That, though, has proven to be an illusion. And that helps explain why the diplomacy that many Western politicians had hoped would bring about a solution has repeatedly failed. Because Russia is taking part in Assad's air strikes on civilians, the US last week withdrew from all peace talks. In response, Russia pulled out of a deal for the disposal of surplus weapons-grade plutonium -- which can be seen as an indirect threat to use atomic weapons.

For the first time in a long time, officials in the US government are once again considering military intervention in Syria and bombing Assad's military. Former General David Petraeus said last Wednesday that it would be "very, very straightforward" to destroy Assad's air force using cruise missiles and other weapons launched from a distance.

Is it time for the US to finally take action? How dangerous would an American intervention be in Russia's backyard? Could Syria trigger a global conflagration?

Presumably to underline the plausibility of such fears, Russia is now sending two additional warships and a missile corvette with anti-aircraft capabilities to the Mediterranean. The Russian Defense Ministry has openly threatened to shoot down US warplanes over Syria and said that the Syrian military is in possession of Buk surface-to-air missile systems. That is the same weapons system used to shoot down Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. Putin is hoping that Barack Obama will not want to launch a military engagement in the final months of his presidential tenure.

And what are the Europeans doing? Not much. German Chancellor Angela Merkel doesn't believe sufficient support can be found for new sanctions against Russia, particularly since the Social Democrats, her center-left junior coalition partner, are pursuing reconciliation with Moscow."

Brain Explosion Time for BoSox Fans

Click to hear new Dead Sox anthem

...when Sox GM Dombrowski announced he will bring back John Farrell and his entire staff for next season.

To what purpose, other than to torture New England's lifelong Sox fans, one might sensibly ask ? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Wait Until Next Year ?

Former Bosox Lou Merloni went ape, if not thermonuclear, on Manager John Farrell--and the Red Sox in general--this morning on WEEI.

The COMCAST radio crew was as critical, though not quite as caustic or entertaining, as Lou.

Fortunately I watched exactly five innings of Sox-Indians series, on the assumption that Boston's lackluster play the last two weeks of the regular season would carry over into the playoffs.

If John Farrell survives this debacle, I expect hordes of disgusted fans to descend on Yawkey Way with the traditional pitchforks and torches. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tonight's Song from Blogger DJ... an implicit commentary on the political scene : Marvin Gaye performs AIN'T THAT PECULIAR.

Is Erdogan of Turkey about to trigger a wider Middle Eastern War--in Iraq ?

Excerpt of an article in REUTERS:

"Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has warned Turkey that it risks triggering a regional war by keeping troops in Iraq, as each summoned the other's ambassador in a growing row.

Relations between the two regional powers are already broadly strained by the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State militant group.

Turkey's parliament voted last week to extend its military presence in Iraq for a further year to take on what it called "terrorist organisations" - a likely reference to Kurdish rebels as well as Islamic State."

Goldilocks Brexit, Muslim Non-assimilation, and U.S. Economy stuff

William Hague thinks a Goldilocks Brexit it's doable, and tells us how in THE TELEGRAPH.

An excerpt:

"Introduce work permits for nationals of EU countries – yes, this is bureaucratic, but other countries manage perfectly well to monitor who is working within their borders. Make clear, however, that any of them who get a job here will be given such a permit, unless they have a criminal record, or are on a terror watch list. Say we will not help them look for work, we will not pay them out-of-work benefits, we will not give them social housing and they will have to earn the right to any in-work benefits over time, but if they find work here they can come." 

And speaking of Brexit, THE TELEGRAPH gives us 100 good reasons (in video form) for ditching the E.U.

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In THE NATIONAL INTEREST, Leon Hadar asks the reasonable question, "What if Muslim Immigrants don't want to be like us ?"

An excerpt:

"So while the liberal West has been opening its doors to Muslim immigration, shrinking Christian communities in the Middle East are being decimated and its members, facing a radical Islamic assault, are forced to leave countries where their ancestors had resided before the Arab invasion.

Liberals who adhere to the Whig interpretation of history face a dilemma. They cannot accept the idea that many Muslims living in the West, not unlike members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel and the United States, don’t want to be “like us,” and if anything detest the liberal and secular values that prevail in the United States and Europe.

Yet hanging to their liberal fantasy, policymakers and pundits accuse “Islamophobes” of wrecking progress and resist considering the inevitable: as these Muslim communities grow and expand, expect not only an end to same-sex marriage. Muslim citizens would then challenge other core principles of the Enlightenment, accusing bikini-wearing women of violating the changing standards of the community."

* * *

Should we be concerned that the CFNAI (Chicago Fed National Activity Index) has turned negative ? Russ Koesterich of Blackrock says yes, and tells us why in this SEEKING ALPHA post.

An excerpt:

"Of all the indicators I've looked at, the CFNAI has the strongest leading relationship with real gross domestic product (GDP). Over the past 35 years, the level of the CFNAI has explained approximately 40% of the variation in the following quarter's GDP (source: Bloomberg data). At the very least, the most recent reading suggests that the economic - and by extension earnings - rebound that the market is expecting in the second half may not materialize."

* * *

Is your ETF or ETN on the brink of collapse ? Check out the September edition of Ron Rowland's ETF Deathwatch.

An excerpt:

"ETF Deathwatch logged its largest one-month drop in membership ever with a net reduction of 32 products.  The count for September stands at 460 (361 ETFs and 99 ETNs), the lowest level of the past four months.  The decline does not change the overall upward trend. The count has zoomed 41% higher from a level of 325 in just the past 12 months.

Unfortunately, the reduction in names on the list is not the direct result of products getting healthier.  Instead, the majority of the decline is attributed to deaths and liquidations of ETFs and ETNs.   However, this may be an indirect sign that the overall industry is getting healthier by eliminating its weaker members.  With the median ETF holding just $72 million in assets, a level many observers believe to be unprofitable, a clean bill of health is still a long way off for the majority of products.

A record 41 closures occurred in August, but only 25 of those products were on ETF Deathwatch.  The other 16 closures were products with enough assets to exclude them from the list, which is evidence suggesting the current criteria may be too conservative.  Nine new names were added to the list, and 16 came off due to increased assets, an upturn in trading activity, or both.

Despite the large change in membership this month, the demographics of the members changed very little.  The average asset level of products on ETF Deathwatch declined from $7.2 million to $7.1 million, and the quantity of products with less than $2 million in assets shrunk from 93 to 90.  The average age increased from 47.9 to 48.5 months, and the number of products more than 5 years of age dropped from 197 to 183.

Here is the Complete List of 460 ETFs and ETNs on ETF Deathwatch for September 2016  compiled using the objective ETF Deathwatch Criteria."

Resuming Blog as of Wednesday, October 5, 2016

...and confining my Facebook entries to pictures of family, friends, and the like.

 The Blogger DJ song for the day is STONE FLOWER, from Carlos Santana's stupendous CARAVANSERAI album.

Be seeing you !