Sunday, July 12, 2015

Euro leaders turn pressure on Greece; China GDP seen dipping; US, Japan in giant robot battle

1 Euro leaders turn pressure on Greece (Ian Traynor, Jennifer Rankin & Helena Smith in The Guardian) European leaders have confronted the Greek government with a draconian package of austerity measures entailing a surrender of fiscal sovereignty as the price of avoiding financial collapse and being ejected from the single currency bloc.

A weekend of high tension that threatened to break Europe in two climaxed on Sunday night at a summit of eurozone leaders in Brussels where the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and President Fran├žois Hollande of France presented Greece’s radical prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, with an ultimatum.

In what a senior EU official described as an “exercise in extensive mental waterboarding” to secure Greek acquiescence to talks on a third bailout in five years worth up to €86bn, the two leaders pressed for absolute certainty from Tsipras that he would honour what was on offer.

Two days of high-stakes negotiations between the finance ministers of the currency bloc resulted in a four-page document that included controversial German elements. Those measures included Greece leaving the euro temporarily by taking a “time-out” from the currency bloc if it refuses terms for talks on the new bailout or, in the event of agreement, that Greece sets aside €50bn worth of assets as collateral for new loans and for eventual privatisation. Both passages, however, did not enjoy a consensus among eurozone leaders.

The Eurogroup document said experts from the troika of creditors – the International Monetary FUND, European Commission and European Central Bank – would be on the ground in Athens to monitor the proposed bailout programme. The trio would also have a say in all relevant Greek draft legislation before it is presented to parliament. Furthermore, the Greeks will have to amend all legislation already passed by the Syriza government this year that had not been agreed with the creditors.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel called Sunday the biggest day of Merkel’s 10-year chancellorship and appealed to her to “show greatness” and save Europe. If Der Spiegel was right about the momentousness of Merkel’s day, the same could be said for Hollande of France who, with his government and officials, has been campaigning tirelessly in recent weeks to keep Greece in the euro, helping Athens to draft its proposals. A decision to go ahead with a so-called Grexit would be a shattering failure for Holland, say observers.

2 China GDP seen dipping (Khaleej Times) China's GDP growth likely slowed further in the second quarter, a survey has found, as a slowdown in investment and trade weighed on the world's second-largest economy. The median forecast in a poll of 14 economists indicates gross domestic product expanded 6.9 per cent in April-June, marginally down from seven per cent in the first three months of this year.

That would be the worst quarterly result since the first three months of 2009, in the depths of the global financial crisis, when China's economy expanded by 6.6 per cent. China's volatile stock markets have grabbed headlines this month after the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell more than 30 per cent in less than four weeks, before reversing course in the last two trading days.

Chinese authorities want investment to slow as part of their plan to diversify economic growth away from big-ticket projects to increasingly wealthy consumers. But too fast a deceleration can be harmful. The stock market turmoil could also create new risks in China's financial system, which faces numerous other challenges such as high corporate debt and an opaque "shadow banking" sector.

China last year recorded its slowest annual growth since 1990, expanding 7.4 per cent, down from 7.7 per cent in 2013. The International Monetary Fund lowered its 2015 global economic growth forecast on Thursday, citing a quarterly contraction early this year in the US, the world's biggest economy. Economists see positive effects to come from authorities' efforts to put a floor on the slowdown.  

3 US, Japan in giant robot battle (Emily Price in San Francisco Chronicle) San Francisco-based robot maker MegaBots has challenged the Japanese company Suidobashi Heavy Industry in a YouTube video last month to a robot duel, and Suidobashi has accepted.

The challenge was simple: “Suidobashi Heavy Industries! MegaBots, Inc. challenges you to a duel! You have a giant robot, we have a giant robot – we have a duty to the science fiction lovers of this world to fight them to the death,” reads the description on the YouTube page.

The battle will pit MegaBot’s 12,000 lb. Mark II robot against the Kuratas created by Suidobashi. The MegaBot takes two pilots to operate and is loaded with a number of guns, some capable of shooting a 3 lb. paint cannon at a speed of more than 100 mph. The Kuratas weighs in slightly lighter at 9,000 lbs.

In its acceptance video, Suidobashi agreed to the fight, noting that “giant robots are Japanese culture,” with one stipulation: the fight has to be hands-to-hand combat, with no guns used by either party. He says that building something and strapping guns on it is “Super American” and suggests that MegaBot should “make something cooler.”

Suidobashi has left the organization of the battle in the hands of MegaBots. The fight is expected to take place a year from now, which gives everyone time to fine-tune their robots and prepare them for battle. No matter who wins, it should certainly be something to watch.

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