Macro Links Jan 3rd – Button-Measuring Contest

Macro Links Jan 3rd – Button-Measuring Contest

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TRUMP’S BUTTON, NORTH KOREA

Trump Says His Nuclear Button Is Bigger Than North Korea’s – Bloomberg

“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night.

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Trump to North Korean leader Kim: My ‘Nuclear Button’ is ‘much bigger & more powerful’ – The Washington Post

The exchange represents a ratcheting up of rhetoric, after Trump in recent months had adopted a measured approach to North Korea — relative to last summer, when he warned of “fire and fury” — at the urging of his national security team.

Earlier Tuesday, however, Trump revived his derisive nickname for Kim — “rocket man” — in response to signs of relaxed tensions between South Korea and North Korea. South Korea agreed to an offer from North Korea for the two countries to talk ahead of next month’s Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Kim said in his Monday address that he was willing to send a delegation of North Korean athletes to the Olympics.

North Korea preparing for another missile launch: reports | TheHill

North Korea may be preparing for another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, according to Tuesday reports.

The missile activity, according to CBS News, is at the same site where North Korea launched an ICBM in November. That test was the isolated nation’s most advanced to date, capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States, according to analysts.

North Korea Will Revive Hotline for Talks With South – WSJ

North Korea said it would reopen a long-closed communication line with the South later on Wednesday to discuss North Korea’s possible attendance at next month’s Winter Olympics, amid signs of easing tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul.

The announcement, made by a senior North Korean official on state television, comes a day after South Korea offered to hold talks with North Korean officials and 48 hours after dictator Kim Jong Un indicated he would be open to sending a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.

South Korea Proposes Border Talks With North Korea After Kim’s Overture – The New York Times

South Korea on Tuesday responded to an overture from the North and proposed holding high-level talks between the countries on their border next week.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had suggested on Monday that the countries open dialogue on easing military tensions and on the possibility of the North’s participating in the Winter Olympics in the South, even as he noted that he now had a “nuclear button” on his desk.

South Korea’s Kim Jong Un ‘decapitation unit’ derided as inept

A recently formed South Korean hit squad tasked with eliminating Kim Jong Un in the event of war has been slammed by military analysts as inadequate and likely to be “wiped out” if deployed in the North.

As Pyongyang ratcheted up its missile tests in 2017, Seoul responded by fast-tracking the creation of a 2,000-strong team of commandos with a mission to eliminate North Korea’s supreme leader and his top aides upon the outbreak of hostilities.

South Korean intelligence officials say the move has stoked Mr Kim’s fears that he will meet his early demise in a “decapitation strike”. They told lawmakers that the North Korean leader began rotating his vehicles and minimising outdoor activities in a bid to avoid detection.

Trafigura Denies Involvement in North Korea Oil Transfer – Bloomberg

Trafigura Group denied it was involved in the illicit transfer of fuel to North Korea after the South Korean government said the world’s third-biggest independent oil trader originally owned a cargo that was shipped in breach of United Nations sanctions in October.

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IRAN PROTESTS

Hard-Liners and Reformers Tapped Iranians’ Ire. Now, Both Are Protest Targets. – The New York Times

While the protests that swept Iran in 2009 were led by the urban middle class, these protests have been largely driven by disaffected young people in rural areas, towns and small cities who have seized an opening to vent their frustrations with a political elite they say has hijacked the economy to serve its own interests.

Unemployment for young people — half the population — runs at 40 percent, analysts believe. Meanwhile, Iran has spent billions of dollars abroad in recent years to extend its influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The initial catalyst for the anger appears to have been the leak by President Rouhani last month of a proposed government budget. For the first time, secret parts of the budget, including details of the country’s religious institutes, were exposed.

21 dead in Iran’s bloody week of protests – Business Insider

Another bloody night of protests in Iran left nine people dead, bringing the total death toll to at least 21. State TV in Iran reported the nine additional fatalities on Tuesday morning, according to the Associated Press. They include an 11-year-old boy and a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Separately, an Iranian government official said security services had detained more than 450 people since protests began last week. In a series of tweets, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blamed the unrest on “wicked enemies backed by westerners, easterners, as well as reactionaries of the region.”

Hundreds Detained in Iran as Trump Renews Attack on Regime – Bloomberg

Trump’s tweets on the protests have drawn both anger and ridicule from Iranians, who point to the inconsistency between his apparent support for them and his policy to bar them from getting a U.S. visa. Iranian politicians are likely to use the president’s remarks to suggest that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief regional rival, are stoking unrest to weaken the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s disillusioned youth spare no one in display of anger

“It is shocking that some protesters easily stand up and chant ‘Death to Khamenei’,” said one reformist analyst. “Demonstrators behave as if they do not believe the political establishment is strong any more and as if it is on the verge of collapse.”

Iranians have also been surprised by the varied backgrounds of those taking to the streets. When the 2009 protests erupted after hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad won a disputed election, they were largely confined to Tehran with disgruntled middle-class Iranians at the forefront.

Iran’s Spending on Foreign Conflicts Raises Protesters’ Ire – WSJ

Iran’s costly efforts to project power beyond its borders in the wider Middle East are exacting a political price at home, with arrests and deaths multiplying as antigovernment demonstrations persisted into a sixth day Tuesday.

The billions of dollars Iran spends on foreign conflicts have been a focal point of protester anger at a time when domestic inflation and unemployment are in double digits. Crowds chanting “Leave Syria, think of us!” are seeking to force Tehran to reassess a cornerstone of its foreign policy: the use of proxies to spread its influence and challenge regional rivals, notably Saudi Arabia.

“The protests we see are out of desperation,” said a 35-year-old graphic designer in Tehran. “I don’t want even a penny of my country’s money to be spent outside this country because of our people’s bad economic situation.”

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BITCOIN, CRYPTOCURRENCY, INITIAL COIN OFFERINGS

Putin considers ‘cryptorouble’ as Moscow seeks to evade sanctions

Russia is exploring ways to create a “cryptorouble” that could help it circumvent western sanctions as the traditionally technophobic Kremlin gets swept up in the cryptocurrency craze.

Moscow officials say President Vladimir Putin has commissioned work on establishing a cryptocurrency, as state-run Russian institutions rush to embrace blockchain, the shared ledger technology on which bitcoin and other digital currencies are based.

Sergei Glazev, an economic adviser to Mr Putin, told a recent government meeting that a cryptorouble would be a useful tool to get around international sanctions.

“This instrument suits us very well for sensitive activity on behalf of the state. We can settle accounts with our counterparties all over the world with no regard for sanctions,” Mr Glazev said.

Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund Makes Monster Bet on Bitcoin – WSJ

Founders Fund, the venture-capital firm co-founded by Peter Thiel, has amassed hundreds of millions of dollars of the volatile cryptocurrency, people familiar with the matter said. The bet has been spread across several of the firm’s most recent funds, the people said, including one that began investing in mid-2017 and made bitcoin one of its first investments.

Thanks to its rise, the bitcoin investment is already estimated as the most valuable in the Founders’ most recent, $1.3 billion venture fund. People close to the firm said that the fund hasn’t made many investments yet.

Founders has also warned investors that bitcoin does share one potentially perilous similarity with more traditional venture capital investments: The digital currency could be worth nothing, or close to it, in the end.

North Korean Hackers Hijack Computers to Mine Cryptocurrencies – Bloomberg

North Korean hackers are hijacking computers to mine cryptocurrencies as the regime in Pyongyang widens its hunt for cash under tougher international sanctions.

A hacking unit called Andariel seized a server at a South Korean company in the summer of 2017 and used it to mine about 70 Monero coins — worth about $25,000 as of Dec. 29 — according to Kwak Kyoung-ju, who leads a hacking analysis team at the South Korean government-backed Financial Security Institute.

The case underscores the increasing appetite from cyber-attackers for digital currencies that are becoming a source of income for the Kim Jong Un regime. North Korea is accelerating its pursuit of cash abroad as the world tightens its stranglehold on its conventional sources of money with sanctions cutting oil supplies and other trade bans.

A No-Name Solar Firm Is the Latest to Tap Blockchain Craze for 233% Rally – Bloomberg

A little-known New Jersey firm that, as recently as 2011, specialized in renewable energy projects just became the latest to join the blockchain and cryptocurrency craze.

The penny stock TGI Solar Power Group Inc. said in a statement Tuesday that it planned to get involved in the “Blockchain and Crypto hot commodity market.” The news sent TGI’s shares more than tripling to as much as 0.2 cent, marking the biggest gain for the company since May 19. It closed at 0.1 cent.

E-Trade begins CME bitcoin trading as of Tuesday evening

E-Trade Financial has opened trading in CME bitcoin futures for customers beginning at 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, according to its website. It is the latest online brokerage to expand trading in the relatively new products.

Futures exchanges Cboe and CME began offering bitcoin futures in mid-December after a wild run-up in the price of the underlying bitcoin cryptocurrency last year.

Interactive Brokers also rolled out trading in the products last month, and TD Ameritrade and E-Trade began offering customers access to Cboe futures as well. Cboe Global Markets was the first to offer a bitcoin future followed a week later by CME.

The Criminal Underworld Is Dropping Bitcoin for Another Currency – Bloomberg

Bitcoin is losing its luster with some of its earliest and most avid fans — criminals — giving rise to a new breed of virtual currency.

Privacy coins such as monero, designed to avoid tracking, have climbed faster over the past two months as law enforcers adopt software tools to monitor people using bitcoin. A slew of analytic firms such as Chainalysis are getting better at flagging digital hoards linked to crime or money laundering, alerting exchanges and preventing conversion into traditional cash.

The European Union’s law-enforcement agency, Europol, raised alarms three months ago, writing in a report that “other cryptocurrencies such as monero, ethereum and Zcash are gaining popularity within the digital underground.” Online extortionists, who use ransomware to lock victims’ computers until they fork over a payment, have begun demanding those currencies instead. On Dec. 18 hackers attacked up to 190,000 WordPress sites per hour to get them to produce monero, according to security company Wordfence.

CEO of soaring ‘blockchain’ stock sells about $870,000 worth of the shares

The head of a small biotech company-turned-crypto has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock sales already.

John O’Rourke, president, CEO and chairman of Riot Blockchain, disclosed in a Friday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that he sold 30,383 shares at a weighted average price of about $28.61 a share.

That means O’Rourke received a gross payout of $869,256 and made at least $712,000 on Riot’s 600-plus percent price surge in the last few months on a name change that added the word “blockchain.”

Meet The Crypto Billionaires Getting Rich From Ripple’s XRP

Two billionaires who now easily rank among the wealthiest Americans include the current and former CEOs of Ripple, a San Francisco-based company using blockchain technology in international financial transactions. It issues a token called XRP that, as of Monday, January 1, had a market capitalization of $88.9 billion; each XRP was trading at $2.39, according to Coinmarketcap. Just the week before, Ripple had surpassed Ethereum to become the second-most-valuable crypto asset.

Cofounder and former CEO Chris Larsen, who stepped down in November 2016 and now serves as executive chairman of Ripple, has 5.19 billion XRP in his personal holdings and a 17% stake in the company, according to sources at Ripple. That gives him a net worth of $37.3 billion, using Monday’s exchange rate.

That would make him the 15th richest American on the 2017 Forbes 400 list as of Monday, tying him with Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO and current owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. He ranks a bit ahead of Abigail Johnson, the CEO of Fidelity, who is herself a big cryptocurrency fan, plus hedge funder Ray Dalio and investor Carl Icahn, both of whom have made headlines for calling Bitcoin a bubble.

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TAXATION, WEALTH HAVENS, INEQUALITY

Manhattan Home Resales Tumble as Tax Overhaul Sidelines Buyers – Bloomberg

Manhattan home resales fell in the fourth quarter as buyers wavered ahead of the expected tax overhaul and stood firm in their refusal to overpay.

Buyers who did commit to a purchase held out for the best deal. More than 88 percent of homes that changed hands in the quarter did so at or below the asking price, the firms said. Resellers offered discounts of 5.7 percent on average, compared with 4.5 percent a year earlier. The median price for resales was $916,425, up 1.8 percent.

“The buyer is very worried about overpaying,” Steven James, chief executive officer of Douglas Elliman’s New York City division, said in an interview. “The fourth quarter was when it absolutely just caught in their throat, where they said ‘No, I’m not going to do it.’”

Former Treasury Secretary Lew Says Tax Cuts Will Leave the U.S. Broke – Bloomberg

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said the Trump administration’s decision to add a significant amount of debt through last year’s tax legislation is leaving the country broke.

“It’s a ticking time bomb in terms of the debt,” Lew said in a Bloomberg Radio interview with Tom Keene and Jonathan Ferro. “You cannot run a fiscal policy by spending trillions of dollars you don’t have at a time that the economy is doing well.”

“The next shoe to drop is going to be an attack on the most vulnerable in our society,” Lew said. “How are we going to pay for the deficit caused by the tax cut? We are going to see proposals to cut health insurance for poor people, to take basic food support away from poor people, to attack Medicare and Social Security. One could not have made up a more cynical strategy.”

‘Double Irish’ and ‘Dutch Sandwich’ saved Google $3.7bn in tax in 2016

Alphabet’s Google moved €15.9 billion to a Bermuda shell company in 2016, saving at least $3.7 billion in taxes that year, regulatory filings in the Netherlands show.

Google has used two structures, known as a “Double Irish” and a “Dutch Sandwich”, to shield the majority of its international profits from taxation. The set-up involves shifting revenue from one Irish subsidiary to a Dutch company with no employees, and then on to a Bermuda mailbox owned by another Irish-registered company.

BP says US tax reforms will cause $1.5bn hit

BP has warned that US tax reforms signed into law by President Donald Trump last month will cause a one-off charge of $1.5bn but the changes would be beneficial to earnings in the long run.

Tuesday’s announcement from the UK energy group followed similar disclosures by large companies on both sides of the Atlantic as the corporate sector assesses the impact of the biggest overhaul of the US tax code for 30 years.

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RATES, LIQUIDITY, SYSTEMIC RISK, BALANCE SHEETS

Shutdown threat revived as Congress returns – POLITICO

Another shutdown showdown looms this month, and Congress isn’t even back yet. Happy New Year, Washington.

Congressional leaders from both parties will sit down with top White House officials on Wednesday to haggle over the basics of a budget deal they were supposed to settle last spring. And while aides say the talks will stick to spending, a fight over immigration looms, along with a host of other thorny policy disputes that will shape the 2018 legislative agenda.

Ahead of the meeting, there was little sign of conciliation on either side.

Private-Equity Funds Focused on Property Raising Less Capital – WSJ

Private-equity funds that focus on real estate have been raising less money for the past few years and chances are dim that there will be much pickup in fundraising in 2018.

But the reason for this trend isn’t that pension funds, endowments and other institutions that invest in private equity have lost their appetite for commercial property. A big part of the slowdown is that private-equity funds haven’t been able to spend all the money they have raised, according to investors, analysts and fund managers.

“Many of them tend to be sitting on cash,” said Michael Stark, partner with the real-estate group at Park Hill, a global advisory firm and placement agent. “It’s very tough to raise new money from investors if existing commitments aren’t being drawn upon.”

Draining of QE punchbowl sobers up bond bulls

The coming year promises to be an inflection point for central banks. The Fed has started reducing the pile of the bonds it acquired after the financial crisis — a process that will accelerate. The ECB started to trim its QE programme in 2017 and is expected to end it altogether in 2018. Even the BoJ is expected to raise its bond yield target slightly this year.

While markets thus far appear sanguine about the prospects, investors are eyeing the possible effects with rising trepidation. While it has not done it single-handedly, central bank support has been instrumental in levitating markets higher since the financial crisis.

“The coming changes in global monetary policy is nowhere near priced in and is actually grossly underestimated,” says Robert Michele, chief investment officer of JPMorgan Asset Management.

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2018 Feels Ripe for ‘Big Unexpected Crisis,’ Eurasia Group Says – Bloomberg

This year could see a geopolitical crisis on the scale of the financial crash a decade ago, Eurasia Group warned in its annual outlook.

Describing global political challenges as “daunting,” the New York-based political risk consultancy said that “if we had to pick one year for a big unexpected crisis — the geopolitical equivalent of the 2008 financial meltdown — it feels like 2018.” The biggest uncertainty surrounds China’s move to fill a vacuum as U.S. influence continues to decline, stoking tensions between the two powers, it said. That’s likely to affect economics as well.

“We see a much greater fragmentation of the global marketplace because governments are becoming more interventionist,” Eurasia President Ian Bremmer said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Tom Keene and Francine Lacqua. “Part of that is because the Chinese have an alternative model for their investments and they’re increasingly going to be seen as the most important driver of other economies around the world who will align themselves more with Beijing than with Washington.”

China’s Small Banks Dumped on Signs of More Policy Pain in 2018 – Bloomberg

A policy announcement on Friday highlighted China’s tough stance toward smaller banks, which are already a target of government efforts to reduce leverage in the financial system. The People’s Bank of China said it will set up a mechanism for lowering banks’ reserve requirements as needed during the Lunar New Year festival next month, letting national lenders use as much as 2 percentage points of reserves to meet liquidity needs for 30 days. The small banks, which are often the most cash-strapped, were excluded.

“This shows regulators are unrelenting in deleveraging efforts,” said Richard Cao, a Shenzhen-based analyst at Guotai Junan Securities Co. Small banks seeking liquidity will have to borrow from bigger banks at higher costs, he added.

China’s Longest Bond Rout Has Further to Go – Bloomberg

China’s sovereign bonds have fallen for five quarters, the longest losing streak since Bloomberg started to compile the data in 2005, as the government stepped up a campaign to cut leverage in the financial sector and inflation picked up. The 10-year yield rose last year by the most since 2013.

“Given the deleveraging and risk control efforts, liquidity will tighten further in 2018, though it may not be as harsh as last year,” said David Qu, a market economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Shanghai.

Business-Loan Growth Fell Off a Cliff in 2017 and No One Can Figure Out Why – WSJ

Bankers are scratching their heads at the sluggish expansion. After President Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, bankers and investors predicted that pro-business policies would lead to a surge in corporate borrowing. Instead, the rate of corporate-loan growth slowed markedly.

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MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS

“Oh My God, This Is So F—ed Up”: Inside Silicon Valley’s Secretive, Orgiastic Dark Side | Vanity Fair

Some of the most powerful men in Silicon Valley are regulars at exclusive, drug-fueled, sex-laced parties—gatherings they describe not as scandalous, or even secret, but as a bold, unconventional lifestyle choice. Yet, while the guys get laid, the women get screwed. In an adaptation from her new book, *Brotopia,* Emily Chang exposes the tired and toxic dynamic at play.

From reports of those who have attended these parties, guests and hosts include powerful first-round investors, well-known entrepreneurs, and top executives. Some of them are the titans of the Valley, household names. The female guests have different qualifications. If you are attractive, willing, and (usually) young, you needn’t worry about your résumé or bank account. Some of the women work in tech in the Bay Area, but others come from Los Angeles and beyond, and are employed in symbiotic industries such as real estate, personal training, and public relations. In some scenarios, the ratio of women to wealthy men is roughly two to one, so the men have more than enough women to choose from. “You know when it’s that kind of party,” one male tech investor told me. “At normal tech parties, there are hardly any women. At these kinds of party, there are tons of them.”

Donald Trump’s Year of Living Dangerously – POLITICO Magazine

Over the course of the year, I have often heard top foreign officials express their alarm in hair-raising terms rarely used in international diplomacy—let alone about the president of the United States. Seasoned diplomats who have seen Trump up close throw around words like “catastrophic,” “terrifying,” “incompetent” and “dangerous.” In Berlin this spring, I listened to a group of sober policy wonks debate whether Trump was merely a “laughingstock” or something more dangerous. Virtually all of those from whom I’ve heard this kind of ranting are leaders from close allies and partners of the United States. That experience is no anomaly. “If only I had a nickel for every time a foreign leader has asked me what the hell is going on in Washington this year … ” says Richard Haass, a Republican who served in senior roles for both Presidents Bush and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

So what the hell is going on? I’ve come to believe that when it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think. It’s worse. The president is not playing the leadership role the rest of the world has come to expect from the United States, and the consequences are piling up. Still, it is also true that the world hasn’t exactly melted down—yet—as a consequence, leading some to conclude that Trump is merely a sort of cartoonishly incompetent front man, a Twitter demagogue whose nuclear-tinged rhetoric and predilection for cozying up to dictators should be discounted in favor of rational analysis of the far more sober-minded, far less radical policies actually put in place by his team.

There’s something surreal about the Reassurers’ argument, because it ignores a harder-to-digest reality: One year in, Trump’s much-vaunted national security team has not managed to tame the president or bring him around to their view of America’s leadership role in the world. Instead, it’s a group plagued by insecurity and infighting, publicly undercut by the president and privately often overruled by him. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, is regularly reported by White House sources to be on his way out, with his demoralized, depleted State Department in outright rebellion. Meanwhile, the brawny military troika of White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general; Defense Secretary James Mattis, another retired four-star Marine general; and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a serving Army three-star general, has managed to stop the chaos of the administration’s early days while crafting a national security policy that gets more or less solid marks from establishment types in both parties. The problem is, no one’s sure Trump agrees with it.

As Flow of Foreign Students Wanes, U.S. Universities Feel the Sting – The New York Times

Colleges have cut programs amid a drop in international enrollment tied to several factors, including more restrictive immigration policies. Just as many universities believed that the financial wreckage left by the 2008 recession was behind them, campuses across the country have been forced to make new rounds of cuts, this time brought on, in large part, by a loss of international students.

Schools in the Midwest have been particularly hard hit — many of them non-flagship public universities that had come to rely heavily on tuition from foreign students, who generally pay more than in-state students.

The downturn follows a decade of explosive growth in foreign student enrollment, which now tops 1 million at United States colleges and educational training programs, and supplies $39 billion in revenue. International enrollment began to flatten in 2016, partly because of changing conditions abroad and the increasing lure of schools in Canada, Australia and other English-speaking countries.

And since President Trump was elected, college administrators say, his rhetoric and more restrictive views on immigration have made the United States even less attractive to international students. The Trump administration is more closely scrutinizing visa applications, indefinitely banning travel from some countries and making it harder for foreign students to remain in the United States after graduation.

Why the U.S. Spends So Much More Than Other Nations on Health Care – The New York Times

A large part of the answer can be found in the title of a 2003 paper in Health Affairs by the Princeton University health economist Uwe Reinhardt: “It’s the prices, stupid.”

The study, also written by Gerard Anderson, Peter Hussey and Varduhi Petrosyan, found that people in the United States typically use about the same amount of health care as people in other wealthy countries do, but pay a lot more for it.

Japan Inc: a corporate culture on trial after scandals

Data have been fudged on materials used in everything from Boeing aircraft and nuclear plants to space rockets and Uniqlo thermal underwear. Factories have been stripped of their Japanese Industrial Standards certifications and chief executives have felt obliged to make deep bows of apology. For an industrial economy that has built its global name on its reputation for quality, these are nerve-racking times.

No one thought that Japanese companies were intrinsically more honest than their counterparts around the world, says one former Toshiba executive, but there was an assumption both inside and outside Japan that everyone on the factory floor was devoted to the perfection of monozukuri, the craftsmanship that represents what is arguably the proudest of Japanese corporate boasts. “That assumption is what has taken the heaviest beating,” he said.

When Hiroya Kawasaki, the chief executive of Kobe Steel, first confessed that the company had been taking part in data falsification that dated back to the 1970s, his statement was almost apocalyptic: “Trust in our company has fallen to zero,” he said.

Veteran observers of Japan see the scandals as expressions of fundamental shifts that have until now avoided detection. “This may be the beginning of the crumbling of the organisational framework where [Japanese companies] would err on the side of quality rather than profit,” says Nicholas Benes, a consultant who helped write Japan’s 2015 corporate governance code.

louisgray.com: Why Silicon Valley’s Real Estate Crisis Is a Present Danger

Prices in secondary markets outside the Bay Area are skyrocketing as distressed Californians seek alternatives. Working class families are being priced out of the most desirable cities, forced to endure hours of commute times from far-flung outlying towns, or losing their homes outright. Some small businesses are closing because they can’t afford the lease, or can’t find enough help to keep their business running. Help wanted ads for service workers are visible practically everywhere, and few answers are clear, aside from pushing for more housing, which in itself finds opposition from the slow to no growth community.

The majority of children in school districts near Facebook headquarters are homeless. This is a new and growing crisis. Low to middle wage earners who can’t afford to buy homes here are living in their cars and RVs. I see many of them when I walk the dog at night and recognize familiar faces who are just trying to make it to the next day. Even as Sunnyvale and other cities nearby are raising our minimum wages to $15 an hour, that is not a sustainable wage that can cover high rents that continue to grow. And there is always resistance from NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) neighbors who enjoy the high home values, but want to avoid rising traffic, taller buildings and crowds that come with job demand. Add on to these issues competition from foreign money like China, where many area buyers come from, and you have a recipe for disaster.

US asset investment surge raises dollar worries

A thought to begin the year with: the world has never been more heavily invested in US assets. The question that investors in stocks, bonds and commodities must ponder is whether, as previous historical examples have proven, this is a flashing warning signal that a deep and prolonged bout of US dollar weakness is on its way. If this turns out to be the case, then it will have far-reaching consequences for all manner of financial assets in 2018.

Russell Clark, partner at hedge fund manager Horseman Capital Management, has noted how the so-called net international investment position (NIIP) of the US, which in effect measures the net assets of a nation against the rest of the world, has been significantly deteriorating in recent years.

So severe has been this widening between the value of US external financial assets versus its liabilities, Mr Clark notes, using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, that US foreign direct investment has fallen into deficit for the first time since 2000. This joins an already sharp deficit in portfolio investment in financial assets, driven by massive foreign participation in US stocks and debt. Foreign investment in US equities as a percentage of gross domestic product has more than doubled from below 15 per cent before the financial crisis to more than 35 per cent today.

Mr Clark notes how such large changes in a country’s net international investment position “tend to be good signs of potential currency weakness or of potential weakness in bonds where currency cannot make the adjustment”.

Recent dollar weakness may, in Mr Clark’s opinion, be actually a result of markets starting to price in this effect. In spite of the US having raised interest rates and markets pricing in several further increases, the dollar has not strengthened as it might be expected to. If he turns out to be correct, and a decline in the value of the dollar awaits, then the consequences across global markets may be both violent and unpredictable.

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USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES

In Cities With Low Unemployment, Wages Finally Start to Get Bigger – WSJ

In U.S. cities with the tightest labor markets, workers are finding something that’s long been missing from the broader economic expansion: faster-growing paychecks.

Workers in metro areas with the lowest unemployment are experiencing among the strongest wage growth in the country. The labor market in places like Minneapolis, Denver and Fort Myers, Fla., where unemployment rates stand near or even below 3%, has now tightened to a point where businesses are raising pay to attract employees, often from competitors.

It’s an outcome entirely expected in economic theory, but one that’s been largely absent until now in the upturn that began more than eight years ago.

During the past year, even Americans who had previously given up looking for work—so-called discouraged workers who aren’t counted in the unemployment rate—have come off the sidelines and returned to the labor force. And fewer people are now stuck in part-time jobs when they desire full-time work. That potentially points to improved income gains nationally in 2018, something the Federal Reserve will be monitoring as it looks for signs of nascent inflation.

The Trump Effect: Business, Anticipating Less Regulation, Loosens Purse Strings – The New York Times

A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation — and may finally raise wages significantly.

While business leaders are eager for the tax cuts that take effect this year, the newfound confidence was initially inspired by the Trump administration’s regulatory pullback, not so much because deregulation is saving companies money but because the administration has instilled a faith in business executives that new regulations are not coming.

“It’s an overall sense that you’re not going to face any new regulatory fights,” said Granger MacDonald, a home builder in Kerrville, Tex. “We’re not spending more, which is the main thing. We’re not seeing any savings, but we’re not seeing any increases.”

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GLOBAL ECONOMY DATA

Eurozone manufacturing sector growth hits record

European factories have reported their strongest month since before the creation of the euro, capping off a much better than expected year for businesses in the single currency area. The eurozone manufacturing purchasing managers’ index in December hit 60.6, its highest level since surveys began in mid-1997, according to figures released on Tuesday. Any figure above 50 indicates expansion over the month.

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Global Manufacturers Strain to Keep Up With Faster Economy – Bloomberg

Factories across the globe warned they are finding it increasingly hard to keep up with demand, potentially forcing them to raise prices as the world economy looks set to enjoy its strongest year since 2011.

A slew of Purchasing Managers Indexes published on Tuesday from countries including China, Germany, France, Canada and the U.K. all pointed to deeper supply constraints. The U.S. reading from IHS Markit rose for the third month in the past four, reaching the highest since March 2015 amid “increased capacity pressures.”

18F03 - GLOBAL FACTORY INDEX

New in the West Bank: A Credit Boom Waiting for a Real Economy – Bloomberg

The Palestinian economy is crippled by restrictions on trade, investments and access to natural resources, but driving around Ramallah you might get the impression it’s booming. Underground parking lots are brimming with Audis and BMWs, residential buildings are popping up at a frenetic pace, and cafes and restaurants are buzzing with customers.

Helping drive the appearance of wealth in the West Bank city, just 6 miles from Jerusalem, is the emergence of a consumer loan market that was all but non-existent just a decade ago. Its growth can be can be attributed to a 2008 law that forced banks operating in the Palestinian territories – which preferred to lend their money abroad – to extend at least 40 percent of their credit to locals. In the past four years, the debt market has more than doubled to $6.4 billion, of which $2.6 billion has gone to local residents, according to the Palestine Monetary Authority.

“This is a relatively new phenomenon,” said Samir Abdullah, a former Palestinian Authority planning and labor minister who now does research at the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute. “It’s opened a new world of possibilities for some Palestinians, and of course the banks are quite happy too, because they charge relatively high margins on the loans.”

Car Sales to Top 90 Million Globally for First Time – WSJ

Global sales of passenger cars and trucks likely surpassed 90 million for the first time in 2017, the latest indicator that demand for conventional automobiles remains strong even as driverless cars and ride sharing get increasing attention.

The results, based on preliminary data provided by WardsAuto.com, were fueled in part by a continued rebound in Western Europe and recovery in major emerging markets, including Brazil and Russia. Asian buyers are the main engine for sales growth with more than a quarter of the cars sold last year going to Chinese customers, up from less than 15% a decade ago.

TOP

POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS

Nasdaq Crests 7000 as Tech Giants Roar Into 2018 – WSJ

The Nasdaq Composite closed above 7000 for the first time Tuesday after racing to a fresh 1,000-point milestone in just over eight months—a pace not seen since the heights of the technology boom. Many global stock indexes have hit records or multiyear highs in recent months, lifted by signs of a pickup in economic expansion around the world.

Retail stocks surge as sub-index hits all-time high

Retail stocks raced ahead on Tuesday, with the S&P 500 retail sub-index hitting an all-time high after analysts at JPMorgan and Jefferies both issued upbeat notes on the sector.

The advances come as analysts at JPMorgan predict the US holiday sales season, which just ended, will be the strongest seen since 2014. In addition to growing consumer confidence, better inventory control and investments in their online operations, retailers have benefited from Christmas falling on a Monday, which they said has given shoppers an extra full weekend to make last-minute purchases.

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DEALS, MERGERS, IPOs, LBOs, RESTRUCTURINGS

Amazon Will Buy Target This Year, Gene Munster Predicts – Bloomberg

Amazon.com Inc.’s shake-up of the retail landscape may not be over, according to one well-known technology analyst.

The internet giant will acquire discounter Target Corp., Loup Venture co-founder Gene Munster wrote in a report highlighting eight predictions for the technology industry in 2018. Amazon made waves in retailing last year with its $13.7 billion purchase of upscale grocer Whole Foods Market Inc.

“Target is the ideal offline partner for Amazon for two reasons, shared demographic and manageable but comprehensive store count,” Munster wrote, noting both companies focus on mothers and families. “Getting the timing on this is difficult, but seeing the value of the combination is easy.”

MoneyGram and Ant Financial Call Off Merger, Citing Regulatory Concerns – The New York Times

United States officials have effectively killed a Chinese company’s $1.2 billion plan to buy MoneyGram, the money transfer company, signaling the Trump administration’s growing skepticism of Chinese purchases of American companies and of broader business ties between the two economic powers.

MoneyGram and Ant Financial, the Chinese electronic payments company, said Tuesday that they had canceled the deal after failing to win approval from a Washington panel that reviews foreign purchases of American companies.

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REAL ESTATE, HOUSING, REITS, COMMERCIAL

Love Thy Neighbor: Apartment Owners Team Up to Cash In – WSJ

Property developers are coming up with new ways, including collective sales, to feed the growing appetite in Singapore and other large cities for apartments as places to live and investments to store their wealth.

Here is out it works: Dozens of neighbors living in the same apartment complex band together to package all their units and sell the whole property to a developer in one big go. Selling this way produces a bigger payout than selling on their own.

Developers in the land-starved region are willing to pay up because they want to redevelop the property, often by knocking it down and building new. Most of the time they want to build more apartments and start the cycle all over again.

U.S. Apartment Market Softens as Supply Increases – WSJ

The multifamily housing market turned in a lackluster performance in 2017 as demand failed to keep pace with a deluge of new apartment supply, according to a new report to be released Wednesday.

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HEDGE FUNDS, PRIVATE EQUITY, MONEY MGMT

Steve Cohen Prepares Return With Help of Big Brother Oversight – Bloomberg

Behind Steve Cohen’s hedge fund comeback is Big Brother.

Inside what will be his Stamford Harbor Capital sits a command center in the middle of the trading floor. There, a 50-member compliance team is strategically positioned to listen in on traders’ conversations in real time, comb through emails for suspicious language and even veto job candidates.

The room is part of billionaire Cohen’s preparations to open the fund after his two-year ban on managing outside capital ended last week. The new firm, based in the same Stamford, Connecticut-based building as his family office, is slated to manage $3 billion to $4 billion of client money in addition to his own $10 billion-plus fortune. Through the internal oversight, Cohen looks to be trying to ensure that no one ever calls his new venture a “criminal enterprise.”

Stock Fund That Beats 95% of Peers Ignores CEO Talk, Research – Bloomberg

Kara and his team members, Ulrik Jensen and Rasmus Quist Pedersen, use three steps in their investment process. The first is a scoring system of 20,000 lines of code that Kara programmed himself. It looks at 6,000 to 7,000 stocks globally, scoring them on about 150 metrics based on fundamentals and valuation. What comes out on top is then culled based on the probability of accounting fraud, internal rate of return and the efficiency of the CEO. The final step is making a decision to invest.

“We combine our knowledge with the machine’s knowledge,” said Kara, who oversees $5.5 billion. “That’s a better approach than just filtering stocks using screens and just buying cheaply because we’re value investors.”

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ENERGY CRUDE OIL, OIL SANDS, SHALE

Oil price climbs to its highest level since 2015

Oil rose to its highest level since 2015 on Tuesday, climbing to an intraday high above $67 a barrel as hedge funds placed a record bet that Brent crude’s near 35 per cent rally over the past six months will continue into the new year, with protests in Iran stoking buying.

While Iran’s oilfields have so far been unaffected by the largest protests against the Islamic regime in almost a decade, traders said renewed risks in Opec’s third-biggest producer had added to momentum as prices test new peaks.

“Geopolitical risks are clearly back on the crude oil agenda after having been absent almost entirely since the oil market ran into a surplus in the second half of 2014,” said Bjarne Schieldrop at Nordic bank SEB. “Geopolitical risks started to impact the oil price again last autumn as production cuts then had drawn inventories significantly lower.”

Oil-Rich Venezuela Is Out Of Gasoline | OilPrice.com

“Gentlemen: There is no more gasoline in Venezuela. In Venezuela, we are out of gas. In Venezuela, there is no gas oil. In Venezuela, there are no lube oils,” said Iván Freites in a televised press conference. Freites is the secretary of the professional and technician division of the United Federation of Venezuelan Petroleum Workers.

In his address, Freites said that poor management led to the stoppage of 80 per cent of the country’s refineries. “Only Amuay and Cardón refineries are operative and that is nothing. They produce 40,000 barrels per day and the national demand is over 200,000 barrels of gas per day,” he said.

Russia’s Oil Friendship With China Makes Crude Costly for Europe – Bloomberg

“Russia is starting in effect immediately to shift crude exports away from Europe to China,” FGE said in a Dec. 29 note. “While we see overall crude exports from Russia flat year-over-year in 2018, this is bullish news for the Urals price due to its lower availability, in particular from the port of Primorsk.”

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ENERGY NATURAL GAS, COAL

Russia Natural Gas Output Jumps to Record in Expansion Drive – Bloomberg

Russia’s natural gas production rose to its highest ever last year, driven by increasing sales to Europe and rising domestic demand.

Government data published Tuesday showed that output jumped 7.9 percent to beat a 2011 record. With a pipeline of projects including plans to expand into China and new liquefied natural gas plants, the country may close the gap on the U.S., which leapfrogged Russia to the top spot in global production of the fuel nine years ago.

The U.S. Just Burned the Most Natural Gas Ever – Bloomberg

The U.S. burned the most natural gas ever on Monday, breaking a record set during the so-called polar vortex that blanketed the nation’s eastern half with arctic air in 2014. America consumed 143 billion cubic feet of gas as temperatures dipped to all-time lows on New Year’s Day, topping the previous high of 142 billion from four years ago, data from PointLogic Energy show. Prices for the heating fuel rose to the highest in a month.

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COMMODITIES AGRICULTURE & SOFTS

Americans Will Eat a Record Amount of Meat in 2018 – Bloomberg

For all the buzz about pea protein and lab-grown burgers, Americans are set to eat more meat in 2018 than ever before.

To be precise, the average consumer will eat 222.2 pounds (100.8 kilos) of red meat and poultry this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, surpassing a record set in 2004. Meanwhile, domestic production will surpass 100 billion pounds for the first time, as livestock owners expand their herds on the back of cheap feed grain.

18F03 - MEAT RECORD

Dairies Are Awash in Organic Milk as Consumers Jump to Alternatives – WSJ

Organic milk sales have cooled as the very shoppers who drove demand for the specialty product not long ago move on to newer alternatives, leaving dairy sellers and producers grappling with oversupply.

A yearslong surge in demand prompted food companies and dairy farmers to invest in organic production, which requires eschewing pesticides and antibiotics and allowing cows to graze freely. Now, organic-milk supplies have ballooned just as demand has stalled. Many shoppers have moved on to substitutes such as almond “milk,” which contain no dairy.

TOP

POLLUTION, CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT

Record-breaking big freeze grips much of North America | US news | The Guardian

Bone-chilling cold gripped the middle of the US as 2018 began on Monday, breaking a low temperature record, icing some new year celebrations and leading to at least two deaths attributed to exposure to the elements.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories covering a vast area from south Texas all the way to Canada and from Montana and Wyoming in the west through New England to the northern tip of Maine.

First Comes the Bone-Rattling Cold, Then Comes the Snow Bomb – Bloomberg

As if the deep freeze that’s sent temperatures plunging to all-time lows across the eastern half of the U.S. weren’t enough, the region may get hit with a snow bomb.

Now that Boston has tied a 100-year-old record with seven days of highs below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, New York’s airports have registered new lows and Chicago has enjoyed its coldest New Year’s Day ever, a storm is set to race up the U.S. East Coast on Thursday and dump snow along the way. Boston may see as much as 11 inches (28 centimeters), Manhattan could get 3, and Brooklyn and Queens are set for 4.

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CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND

Taxes Could Help Canada Keep Its Legal Marijuana Prices in Check – Bloomberg

Justin Trudeau’s marijuana czar is warning that policy makers may need to adjust taxes to prevent prices from falling too low after legalization. Canadian marijuana companies — which have surged in value — will achieve economies of scale that will help drive down production cost, according to Bill Blair, the lawmaker and former Toronto police chief leading the legalization effort.

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BREXIT, SCOXIT, LONDON, UK ECONOMY

UK looks to join Pacific trade group after Brexit

Britain has held informal talks about joining a flagship Pacific trade group, in an audacious bid to kick-start exports after Brexit.

The proposal, being developed by Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade, would make the UK the first member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that does not border the Pacific Ocean or the South China Sea. It would help to reinvigorate TPP, a key initiative of Barack Obama’s administration that appeared fatally wounded when Donald Trump withdrew the US last January.

Greg Hands, a UK trade minister, said there was no geographical restriction on Britain joining TPP. “Nothing is excluded in all of this,” he told the Financial Times. “With these kind of plurilateral relationships, there doesn’t have to be any geographical restriction.”

However, UK accession would almost certainly have to wait until TPP itself has been revised, and the UK has agreed its post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

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EUROPE

Berlin political deadlock stymies Macron’s eurozone plans

The political paralysis in Berlin is a headache, not only for Germany but for its European partners — not least the French president. In September, Mr Macron unveiled an ambitious vision for the future of the EU. He has been waiting in vain for a German response ever since.

The silence is seen by some as fraught with risk. “The erosion of the EU is one of the biggest dangers facing us in 2018 and beyond,” says Reiner Hoffmann, head of the confederation of German trade unions. “If we don’t act to stop it, the [EU’s] crisis of confidence could well turn into a real political crisis.”

France gears up for big privatisation drive

The coming year is set to be a busy one for France’s state-owned companies as President Emmanuel Macron paves the way for the first major government sell-off since he took office. The state’s privatisation drive is set to accelerate in 2018 as it prepares to sell large chunks of its holdings in order to fund ambitious spending plans.

France’s northern ports fight to stop hard Brexit

Much of the debate on the economic impact of Brexit has focused on the adverse effects it will have on the UK. But the fear in Hauts-de-France is that Brexit could have a similarly negative effect on its economy by disrupting trade with the UK, threatening a fragile recovery in a region where de-industrialisation has fuelled a rise in support for the far-right National Front.

“I am pushing the government . . . The divorce is settled, we must go full steam ahead” to influence the trade negotiations, says Mr Bertrand, a former centre-right labour minister. “Let’s not be naive. I don’t want my region to be outpaced by others.”

TOP

DACA, TRAVEL BAN, IMMIGRATION, WALL

Trump takes hard line on ‘dreamers,’ but remains interested in a deal – The Washington Post

President Trump escalated tensions with Democratic leaders Tuesday over the fate of young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers,” claiming the lawmakers are “doing nothing” to protect them from deportation as a key deadline nears, even though last year he ended the Obama-era program that allowed those immigrants to stay in the country.

But the Twitter salvo masked a murkier reality as lawmakers returned to Washington: Trump remains open to negotiations on a charged issue that has vexed him since his presidential campaign — and his brash partisanship was widely seen as a nod to his base rather than a sudden turn in the talks.

Broken political promises leave US ‘Dreamers’ in limbo

More than eight in 10 Americans support giving Dreamers permanent residency, according to a Washington Post-ABC News Polls, while US companies such as Apple and celebrities such as Britney Spears have led lobbying campaigns to back the Dreamers’ efforts. Two-thirds of Republican voters now say that Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship, according to a poll by Harvard-Harris.

At the same time, Dreamers have been given a series of false promises from lawmakers, many of whom had vowed to address their fate before the end of the year.

TOP

GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM

Five Mexican politicians killed in past week ahead of elections in the summer – The Washington Post

The violence was another reminder of the serious dangers inherent in Mexican politics, particularly at the local level, where drug gangs regularly exert influence. It also has prompted politicians from different parties to call for tighter security and to demand justice ahead of elections for more than 3,400 positions at all levels, including the presidency, this summer.

Over 1,000 cars torched across France as New Year’s Eve arrests rise – The Local

France saw a jump in arrests on New Year’s Eve as well as an increase in the number of cars torched by vandals, a ritual among revellers in the country’s high-rise suburbs. The number of vehicles set alight on the night of December 31st climbed from 935 a year ago to 1,031, while arrests rose from 456 to 510, the interior ministry said on Monday.

Islamic State Returns to Guerrilla Warfare in Iraq and Syria – WSJ

Despite Syrian and Iraqi claims of victory over Islamic State, thousands of militants still holed up in both countries have mounted a number of recent guerrilla-style attacks on civilians and military forces, according to the U.S.-led coalition fighting the extremist group and others.

The fighters, hiding in isolated desert or mountain regions or among civilian populations in the neighboring countries, are stepping up hit-and-run style attacks now that they have lost much of the territory they seized several years ago, according to coalition officials, local activists and other experts.

“Their way of fighting is like a wounded wolf,” said Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert on Islamic State. “A wolf is the only creature that does not flee when wounded. It attacks.”

U.S. service member killed, four wounded in Afghanistan combat – The Washington Post

A U.S. service member was killed and four others were wounded Monday during an operation in a part of Afghanistan in which U.S. forces have been combating both the Islamic State and the Taliban, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.

The fatality occurred in Nangahar province’s Achin district, in a mountainous area along the border with Pakistan. The Islamic State in Khorasan, the militant group’s Afghan affiliate, established roots there in 2014, and the U.S. military launched raids and airstrikes there in 2017 as it stepped up its campaign against the group.

TOP

PRIVACY, HACKING, CYBERWAR, SURVEILLANCE STATE

EU Asks: Does Control of ‘Big Data’ Kill Competition? – WSJ

European Union antitrust regulators are taking a hard look at an increasingly important corporate currency: data.

The EU’s competition chief is focusing on how companies stockpile and use so-called big data, the enormous computer files of customer records, industry statistics and other information. The attention diverges starkly from a hands-off approach in the U.S., where regulators emphasize how big data can generate innovation.

“In some areas, these data are extremely valuable,” Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition, said in an interview. “They can foreclose the market—they can give the parties that have them immense business opportunities that are not available to others.”

TOP

PROPAGANDA, CORRUPTION, AUTHORITARIANISM

Ryan Zinke taps almost $40,000 from wildfire preparedness fund to pay for a helicopter trip – ThinkProgress

In a rare acknowledgement of error, the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior admitted it made a mistake by trying to use wildfire preparedness funds to pay for helicopter rides taken by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that had nothing to do with wildfires. The admission came only after a news organization inquired about the account used to pay for the trip.

TOP

TRUMP WORLD

Happy 2018! Trump begins the new year with a bizarre Twitter storm | Toronto Star

U.S. President Donald Trump attacked his own Justice Department, called for the imprisonment of a political opponent, inaccurately criticized the New York Times, took unearned credit for airplanes not crashing, made a nonsensical claim about the politics of immigration, conducted high-stakes foreign policy while referring to North Korea’s dictator by a derogatory nickname, and responded to a Fox News program he was watching.

All on Twitter. All in three hours.

And then he went back online later in the day – to issue a startling boast that his own nuclear “button” is bigger than Kim Jong Un’s, to announce he would be giving out awards to “THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA,” and to issue a confusing pronouncement on the Middle East.

Happy 2018! In Washington, it looks a lot like 2017.

“I’m going to take a stab and guess that ‘Fewer Crazy Tweets’ was not one of Donald Trump’s New Year’s resolutions for 2018,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, former White House communications director to Barack Obama.

Trump’s base holds firm in industrial heartland

President Trump’s support among his Macomb County base, many of them autoworkers, appears as strong as ever. Home of the so-called Reagan Democrats, blue-collar Democrats who voted for Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980, Macomb County now has a new moniker: home of the Trump Democrats. Many supported President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but switched to Republican Trump last year.

Their faith has not been shaken by headlines about possible collusion between Trump officials and Russia in the election, the growing sexual harassment scandals that have revived pre-election stories about Trump’s relations with women, or the president’s failure to deliver on campaign promises such as building a border wall with Mexico.

“I am the ‘forgotten man’ that thrust Donald Trump into office, and the media elite and the hard left cannot stand it,” says Nelson Westrick, the 42-year-old team leader at the Ford Sterling axle plant in Macomb County. “I think there’s more Trump support now than before the election”.

Trump Accuses Former Clinton Aide of Failing to Follow Security Protocols – The New York Times

President Trump made his first “Crooked Hillary” Twitter post less than 48 hours into the new year on Tuesday, accusing a former Clinton aide of “disregarding basic security protocols,” and calling his own Justice Department a “deep state.”

Attacking Hillary Clinton, his former Democratic opponent from the 2016 presidential election, and taking aim at his own Justice Department struck familiar tones for the new year. Almost 14 months after the election, Mr. Trump has kept up a regular drumbeat of attacks on Mrs. Clinton. Last year, Mr. Trump also criticized the Justice Department and Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not pursuing investigations of his political opponents.

Trump Takes Credit for Air Safety System Run by Obama Holdover – Bloomberg

President Donald Trump is taking credit for the safety of the U.S. aviation system even though it is being run by a holdover from the previous administration and has avoided any commercial passenger fatalities for several years before he took office.

“Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation,” Trump said in a tweet Tuesday morning. “Good news — it was just reported that there were zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record.”

TOP

TRADE, PROTECTIONISM, REGULATION, OVERSIGHT

NSA’s top talent is leaving because of low pay, slumping morale and unpopular reorganization – The Washington Post

The National Security Agency is losing its top talent at a worrisome rate as highly skilled personnel, some disillusioned with the spy service’s leadership and an unpopular reorganization, take higher-paying, more flexible jobs in the private sector.

Since 2015, the NSA has lost several hundred hackers, engineers and data scientists, according to current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter. The potential impact on national security is significant, they said.

TOP

ELECTORAL POLITICS

Hatch retirement opens way for Romney to run for Senate

Mr Hatch’s retirement comes in spite of objections from President Donald Trump who had urged the 83-year-old Mr Hatch to stay on — in part to block the election of Mr Romney, who despite being shortlisted as Mr Trump’s secretary of state, has been a frequent antagonist of the president, both during the 2016 presidential campaign, and during Mr Trump’s time in office.

Orrin Hatch, Utah Senator, to Retire, Opening Path for Mitt Romney – The New York Times

Mr. Hatch’s decision marks another political setback for Mr. Trump, who lost a Senate seat in Alabama after his preferred candidates were rejected. He also faces an exodus of Republicans from both chambers of Congress and has been warned of a political typhoon in November.

Mr. Romney’s potential ascent is particularly alarming to the White House because the former presidential candidate has an extensive political network and could use the Senate seat as a platform to again seek the nomination. Even if he were not to run again for president, a Senator Romney could prove a pivotal swing vote, impervious to the entreaties of a president he has scorned and able to rally other Trump skeptics in the chamber.

Putin’s Rival Can’t Run for President, But He’s Still a Threat – Bloomberg

Now that he’s been officially barred from challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin in presidential elections next March, opposition leader Alexey Navalny is counting on becoming an even bigger nuisance for the Kremlin. The 41-year-old Navalny, who is banned from appearing on state television and whose name Putin never even mentions in public, is urging his supporters to protest nationwide on Jan. 28 as part of a campaign to boycott the vote.

“Going to vote now just means fixing Putin’s problems by helping him disguise his reappointment as something that looks like an election,” Navalny wrote on his blog after Russia’s Central Election Commission refused to register him as a candidate due to a fraud conviction that Navalny denounces as politically motivated. In a video, he accused Putin of being “afraid of running against me.”

Michele Bachmann says she might run for Al Franken’s Senate seat – The Washington Post

Former U.S. representative Michele Bachmann recently announced on a televangelist’s show that she is mulling a run for Al Franken’s U.S. Senate seat. Franken officially resigned Tuesday over allegations of sexual misconduct that emerged in late 2017.

Bachmann, who has five children and fostered 23 children, has become somewhat of a hero in some conservative circles, taking the stage at several conservative Christian conferences, including the Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit. She was part of President Trump’s evangelical advisory council during his campaign.

TOP

SCANDALS, LAWSUITS, FINES, REGULATORY

Spotify hit with $1.6 billion copyright lawsuit

Music streaming company Spotify was sued by Wixen Music Publishing Inc last week for allegedly using thousands of songs, including those of Tom Petty, Neil Young and the Doors, without a license and compensation to the music publisher.

Wixen, an exclusive licensee of songs such as “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty, “Light My Fire” by the Doors, (Girl We Got a) Good Thing by Weezer and works of singers such as Stevie Nicks, is seeking damages worth at least $1.6 billion along with injunctive relief.

Spotify failed to get a direct or a compulsory license from Wixen that would allow it to reproduce and distribute the songs, Wixen said in the lawsuit, filed in a California federal court.

TOP

MEDIA, CABLE, SPORTS, ENTERTAINMENT

Hollywood Had a Terrible 2017 – Bloomberg

One data point sums up 2017 for Hollywood film studios: moviegoing fell to the lowest level in a generation. Admissions to theaters in the U.S and Canada slumped 5.8 percent to 1.24 billion in 2017, the lowest attendance since 1992, according to estimates from researcher Box Office Mojo. Rising ticket prices, up 3.2 percent last year on average, kept revenue above $11 billion, but that’s still down from the 2016 record.

18F03 - HOLLYWOOD WAKE-UP CALL

Logan Paul, YouTube Star, Says Posting Video of Dead Body Was ‘Misguided’ – The New York Times

A YouTube star with millions of followers apologized on Monday for posting a video that showed a dead body hanging from a tree in a Japanese forest known as a destination for suicide victims.

Logan Paul, 22, posted an apology on Twitter after the video attracted a torrent of criticism online, saying that he had published it in an attempt to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention.

Logan Paul controversy: What is Aokigahara, Japan’s ‘suicide forest’? – The Washington Post

The lush green landscape is known for towering trees hundreds of years old. The Japanese tourism agency warns visitors to stay on the designated trails, writing on its website, “If you step out of the trail, you will only see trees around you, making it very easy to get lost.” In fact, there are ropes sectioning off certain areas in the forest and warning people about how they may get turned around.

But the forest is known for something else, too — it is where some die by suicide.

“In the old days in Japan, suicide was mainly known as a samurai’s act,” geologist Azusa Hayano told Vice, which translated his words in a 2012 documentary. “In other cases, poor families would abandon their elders in the mountains. That’s how it was back then. They weren’t killing themselves because they couldn’t adapt to society. That didn’t happen like it does now. It’s a modern phenomenon.”

TOP

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