Category Archives: United States

(JN) Farfetch cumpriu o sonho de içar a bandeira portuguesa na bolsa de Nova Iorque

(JN) A Farfetch tornou-se esta sexta-feira a primeira empresa tecnológica portuguesa no mercado de valores mundial e içou, literalmente, a bandeira de Portugal no edifício da maior bolsa de valores do mundo, em Nova Iorque.

“Colocar a bandeira portuguesa no New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) era um dos pequenos sonhos que tínhamos e que foi realizado hoje”, disse José Neves, fundador da empresa, numa entrevista à Lusa.

O empreendedor português fez questão que a bandeira portuguesa estivesse içada neste dia em que a Farfetch se estreou no mercado de valores mundial a 27 dólares por acção e pouco depois já passava dos 30 dólares.

“Hoje foi um dia fantástico de celebração. Este dia é para equipa”, afirmou José Neves. “Eu sei que todos os nossos escritórios internacionais, incluindo os escritórios de Portugal, celebraram com muita alegria. O trabalho é deles, os resultados são deles”, adiantou, agradecendo à “equipa fantástica de três mil pessoas”, das quais metade tem nacionalidade portuguesa.

Sem adiantar números nem mercados a conquistar nas próximas etapas, José Neves afirmou que, depois desta oferta inicial pública, “começa o segundo capítulo”. “Não damos números concretos, mas vamos continuar a empregar mais pessoas e a gerar mais emprego”, garantiu.

O empresário referiu que desde a fundação da empresa, em 2007, estes 11 anos serviram para criar relacionamentos “fantásticos” com as marcas e “estabelecer a presença internacional” da Farfetch, que se encontra agora nos principais mercados de luxo.

A Farfetch é uma plataforma global no sector da moda de uma indústria que factura mais de 300 mil milhões de dólares anuais, a indústria de luxo.

Segundo o gestor, actualmente apenas 9% das vendas de luxo acontecem na Internet, mas o número vai mudar para 25% nos próximos dez anos, que representam 100 mil milhões de dólares (85 mil milhões de euros), um crescimento “exponencial”. “Penso que a oportunidade para o sector de luxo ‘online’ é enorme”, considerou o empresário.

A Farfetch orgulha-se de ser o único ‘marketplace’ do mercado de luxo e não ter concorrentes nesse modelo de negócio, mas admite ter de disputar a atenção do cliente, que pode comprar em diversos ‘sites’, mas que não oferecem o mesmo serviço.

Além de ser a única que não vende nada seu, o crescimento da Farfetch na primeira metade do ano de 2018 foi de 60%, o que deu a esta empresa luso-britânica mais quota de mercado.

O que se segue são “mais dez anos de crescimento, de inovação e continuar a construir uma empresa que é gerida com base num sentido de cultura e de valores muito fortes”, sustentou José Neves.

Um dos valores que a Farfetch agora assume é ser uma inspiração para outras empresas. “Espero que este lançamento em bolsa seja uma inspiração para outros empreendedores em Portugal. As ‘startup’ portuguesas estão a ter muito sucesso”, declarou José Neves, numa alusão ao programa de aceleração de ‘startup’ da Farfetch, o Dream Assembly, que dá aos empreendedores participantes conhecimentos e contactos na indústria de luxo.

(Reuters) Google staff discussed tweaking search results to counter travel ban: WSJ

(Reuters) Google employees brainstormed ways to alter search functions to counter the Trump administration’s controversial 2017 travel ban, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing internal emails.

Google employees discussed how they could tweak the company’s search-related functions to show users how to contribute to pro-immigration organizations and contact lawmakers and government agencies, the WSJ said. The ideas were not implemented. on.wsj.com/2DePzWh

President Donald Trump’s travel ban temporarily barred visitors and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries. It spurred public outcry and was revised several times. Trump said the travel ban was needed to protect the United States against attacks by Islamist militants, and the Supreme Court upheld the measure in June.

The Google employees proposed ways to “leverage” search functions and take steps to counter what they considered to be “islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Iran’, etc.” and “prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from search terms ‘Mexico’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, etc,” the Journal added, quoting from the emails.

A Google spokesperson said the emails represented brainstorming and none of the ideas were implemented. She said the company does not manipulate search results or modify products to promote political views.

“Our processes and policies would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

(NYT) Justice Department Is Examining Tesla After Musk Comment

(NYT

Elon Musk on Monday. Mr. Musk’s abrupt declaration on Twitter that he hoped to convert Tesla into a private company kicked off a furor in the markets and within Tesla itself.CreditCreditChris Carlson/Associated Press

Tesla said on Tuesday that the Justice Department had requested documents from the company after its chief executive, Elon Musk, abruptly announced that he had lined up funding to convert the publicly traded electric-car maker into a private company.

The request for information suggests that the Justice Department has opened a preliminary investigation into Mr. Musk’s market-moving Twitter post on Aug. 7 about the potential buyout.

The Justice Department inquiry, along with an intensifying Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into Tesla’s practices and communications, substantially increases the risks facing the embattled company. Tesla already is under intense financial pressure, with its shares down 25 percent since early August, and the government investigations introduce the possibility of costly penalties or other sanctions.

Tesla said in its statement on Tuesday that it received the Justice Department’s request last month and “has been cooperative in responding to it.” The company released the statement after Bloomberg News reported that federal prosecutors had begun an investigation.

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The Justice Department inquiry is being handled by the United States attorney’s office in San Francisco, according to a person familiar with the matter. It is unclear whether the inquiry is criminal or civil or whether it is at such an early stage that the question has not been settled.

While the specific scope of the Justice Department inquiry isn’t known, prosecutors in investigations like this one might look at a company’s accounting practices, the adequacy and accuracy of its public disclosures and whether executives had sought to mislead investors.

Tesla said the Justice Department’s request was not a subpoena but rather a “voluntary request for documents.” The company added: “We respect the D.O.J.’s desire to get information about this and believe that the matter should be quickly resolved as they review the information they have received.”

Investigators in the S.E.C.’s San Francisco office are examining whether Tesla misled investors about its production goals. They also are looking into Mr. Musk’s tweet, in which he said he had “funding secured” to take the company private for $420 a share.

Elon Musk

@elonmusk

Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.

The tweet blindsided Tesla’s board and ignited a rally in Tesla’s shares. It soon became clear that Mr. Musk had not nailed down the billions of dollars in outside funding that would be required for such a deal. Nor had he retained any banks to assist in the fund-raising process.

Mr. Musk said later in August that he was shelving the idea of converting Tesla into a private company.

As part of the investigation, the S.E.C. in the past month has sent subpoenas not only to Tesla but also to financial institutions that it hired to explore the going-private transaction, according to people briefed on the subpoenas. Goldman Sachs and Silver Lake, a large investment firm, both received subpoenas demanding materials about their interactions with Tesla, the people said.

It is not clear whether the Justice Department inquiry is, like the S.E.C.’s, focused on a wide range of issues at Tesla or in particular on the circumstances surrounding Mr. Musk’s Twitter post.

Mr. Musk and the company he helped found have been bouncing from crisis to self-inflicted crisis in recent months.

There have been severe production problems at Tesla’s California plant, and the company is burning through its cash at a rapid clip. Mr. Musk has faced off with many so-called short-sellers, who are wagering that Tesla’s shares will fall. The company’s chief accounting officer resigned after a month on the job. Mr. Musk appeared to smoke marijuana during a recent video interview. He was sued this week by a British cave rescuer whom Mr. Musk accused of being a pedophile.

As the pressure mounts, Mr. Musk has retained his own lawyers to represent him in the government investigations, separate from the law firms hired by the company and its board.

Lawyers from Hughes Hubbard & Reed — including Roel C. Campos, a former S.E.C. commissioner — are representing Mr. Musk in connection with the S.E.C. investigation, according to three people familiar with the arrangement. Mr. Musk has also hired Steven Farina, a partner at Williams & Connolly who specializes in government investigations and accounting malpractice, to represent him, two of the people said.

A request for documents from a United States attorney’s office would often be a sign of a criminal investigation. But federal prosecutors sometimes proceed with civil, not criminal, cases. They generally do so when the conduct they are investigating does not clearly violate a criminal statute or when prosecutors’ main goal is to stop someone from a specific type of behavior. Civil lawsuits also carry a lower burden of proof than criminal cases.

The news of the Justice Department inquiry sent Tesla’s shares down more than 3 percent on Tuesday.

(Reuters) Netflix ties longtime Emmy darling HBO in total wins

(Reuters) Streaming service Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) and premium cable channel HBO battled to a tie at Monday’s Emmy awards ceremony, with each taking home 23 of the television industry’s top honors, though HBO scored the prestigious best drama prize.

The result underscored the rise of Netflix in Hollywood, which matched HBO’s total just five years after starting a big push into original programing. Before Monday, HBO had won the most Emmys of any single network for 16 straight years.

This year, HBO’s fantasy series “Game of Thrones” won the best drama honor for a third time and was the most-honored show with nine awards in total.

Best comedy went to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon Prime Video. It marked the first time a streaming service had won in the category. The show collected eight trophies overall.

The wins give networks and streaming services bragging rights to use in marketing to try to make their shows stand out in a crowded TV landscape where hundreds of scripted shows, reality series and other programing fight for viewers.

For Amazon (AMZN.O), Hollywood awards also draw people to online shopping, according to Jeff Bezos, chief executive of the online retailer. “When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes,” Bezos said at an industry conference in 2016.

The Emmy battle between HBO and Netflix has raged since 2013 when Netflix launched “House of Cards,” a political thriller that established it as a home for top-quality TV programing. HBO, now owned by AT&T Inc (T.N), had long dominated that space with acclaimed series such as “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.”

Netflix’s trophies on Monday included five for historical drama “The Crown,” including best drama actress Claire Foy, four for “Black Mirror,” and three for limited series “Godless.”

“Thank you to Netflix for your support of artists,” Jeff Daniels, a supporting actor winner for “Godless,” said as he accepted his award.

HBO’s “Westworld” landed four awards and “Barry” won three.

John Oliver, winner of best variety talk series for his weekly HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” applauded the network for its backing. “They have been incredible, whether we wanted to do a story about trade policy or about Russell Crowe’s jock strap.”

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Behind HBO and Netflix, Comcast Corp’s (CMCSA.O) NBC finished with 16 Emmys for shows including “Saturday Night Live” and “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” followed by 21st Century Fox’s (FOXA.O) FX with 12.

(AP) Co-founder of Salesforce buys Time magazine for $190 million

(AP)

Co-founder of Salesforce buys Time magazine for $190 million

September 16, 2018 09:53 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Time Magazine is being sold by Meredith Corp. to Marc Benioff, a co-founder of Salesforce, and his wife, it was announced Sunday.

Meredith announced that it was selling Time magazine for $190 million in cash to Benioff, one of four co-founders of Salesforce, a cloud computing pioneer.

Meredith had completed the purchase of Time along with other publications of Time Inc. earlier this year.

The Benioffs are purchasing Time personally, and the transaction is unrelated to Salesforce.com, where Benioff is chairman and co-CEO and co-founder. The announcement by Meredith said that the Benioffs would not be involved in the day-to-day operations or journalistic decisions at Time. Those decisions will continue to be made by Time’s current executive leadership team, the announcement said.

“We’re pleased to have found such passionate buyers in Marc and Lynne Benioff for the Time brand,” Meredith president and CEO Tom Harty said in a statement. “For over 90 years, Time has been at the forefront of the most significant events and impactful stories that shape our global conversation.”

Meredith, the publisher of such magazines as People and Better Homes & Gardens, had put four Time Inc. publications up for sale in March. Negotiations for the sale of the three other publications — Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated — are continuing.

The prospective sale is expected to close within 30 days. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Benioff said he and his wife were investing “in a company with tremendous impact on the world, one that is also an incredibly strong business. That’s what we’re looking for when we invest as a family.”

The purchase of Time by Benioff continues a trend of acquisitions of old-line media institutions by wealthy tech giants. The Washington Post was purchased by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2013 for $250 million.

Time, like other magazines, has struggled with continued declines in print advertising and newsstand sales.

Started by Yale University graduates Henry Luce and Briton Hadden, Time first went on sale in March 1923.

(Axios) U.S. on course for $1 trillion deficit

(Axios)

Donald Trump leaning over a table at a meeting with his mouth open
Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The U.S. deficit grew by $222 billion from this time last year — reaching a total of $895 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Why it matters: This increase was due mostly to the new Republican tax law and Congress’ routine decision to increase spending, which grew by 7% compared to revenue growth of only 1%. The CBO says the deficit will approach $1 trillion by the end of Fiscal Year 2019.

Editor’s note: This post was corrected to reflect that the CBO did not change their estimate of when the U.S. would approach a trillion dollar deficit. (We had incorrectly stated they changed their current estimate from one in April.)

(NYT) U.S. Weighs Sanctions Against Chinese Officials Over Muslim Detention Camps

(NYT

The Id Kah mosque in China’s Xinjiang region. Rights advocates say the mass detentions in Xinjiang are the worst collective human rights abuse in China in decades.CreditCreditJohannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies to punish Beijing’s detention of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs and other minority Muslims in large internment camps, according to current and former American officials.

The economic penalties would be one of the first times the Trump administration has taken action against China because of human rights violations. United States officials are also seeking to limit American sales of surveillance technology that Chinese security agencies and companies are using to monitor Uighurs throughout northwest China.

Discussions to rebuke China for its treatment of its minority Muslims have been underway for months among officials at the White House and the Treasury and State Departments. But they gained urgency two weeks ago, after members of Congress asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on seven Chinese officials.

Until now, President Trump has largely resisted punishing China for its human rights record, or even accusing it of widespread violations. If approved, the penalties would fuel an already bitter standoff with Beijing over trade and pressure on North Korea’s nuclear program.

Last month, a United Nations panel confronted Chinese diplomats in Geneva over the detentions. The camps for Chinese Muslims have been the target of growing international criticism and investigative reports, including by The New York Times.

Human rights advocates and legal scholars say the mass detentions in the northwest region of Xinjiang are the worst collective human rights abuse in China in decades. Since taking power in 2012, President Xi Jinping has steered China on a hard authoritarian course, which includes increased repression of large ethnic groups in western China, notably the Uighurs and Tibetans.

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch released a detailed report that concluded that the violations were of a “scope and scale not seen in China since the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.” The report, based on interviews with 58 former residents of Xinjiang, recommended that other nations impose targeted sanctions on Chinese officials, withhold visas and control exports of technology that could be used for abuses.

Any new American sanctions would be announced by the Treasury Department after governmentwide consultations, including with Congress.

Chinese Muslims in the camps are forced to attend daily classes, denounce aspects of Islam, study mainstream Chinese culture and pledge loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. Some detainees who have been released have described torture by security officers.

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Uighurs and their supporters near the United Nations in March protested Chinese surveillance of the ethnic group throughout northwest China.CreditSeth Wenig/Associated Press

Chinese officials have labeled the process “transformation through education” or “counter-extremism education.” But they have not acknowledged that large groups of Muslims are being detained.

The discussions over the mass detentions in Xinjiang highlight American efforts on issues that diverge from the president’s priorities. Mr. Trump has rarely made statements criticizing foreign governments for human rights abuses or anti-liberal policies, and in fact has praised authoritarian leaders, including Mr. Xi.

The Trump administration has confronted China over economic issues — the two countries are in the middle of a prolonged trade war — but has said little about rampant abuses by its security forces.

“The scale of it — it’s massive,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said of the Muslim detention centers in an interview. “It involves not only intimidating people on political speech, but also a desire to strip people of their identity — ethnic identity, religious identity — on a scale that I’m not sure we’ve seen in the modern era.”

Ethnic Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking group that is mostly Sunni Muslim. With a population of around 11 million, Uighurs are the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang. Some of the desert oasis towns and villages that they consider their homeland are being emptied out as security officers force many Uighurs into large detention centers for weeks or months.

Gulchehra Hoja, a Uighur-American journalist who works for Radio Free Asia, which is financed by the United States government, said at a congressional hearing in July that two dozen of her family members in Xinjiang were missing, including her brother.

“I hope and pray for my family to be let go and released,” Ms. Hoja said. “But I know even if that happens, they will still live under constant threat.”

A Chinese law student in Canada, Shawn Zhang, has compiled satellite images that show the scale of some of the detention centers.

In their demand last month, Mr. Rubio and other lawmakers urged officials at the State and Treasury Departments to impose sanctions on Chinese companies that have profited from building the camps or the regionwide surveillance system, which includes the collection of biometric and DNA data. They singled out Hikvision and Dahua Technology for the surveillance.

Mr. Rubio said the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, of which he is a chairman, will also ask the Commerce Department to prevent American companies from selling technology to China that could contribute to the surveillance and tracking.

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Congressional lawmakers singled out Chen Quanguo, who became party chief of Xinjiang in 2016, for sanctions among seven Chinese officials.CreditNg Han Guan/Associated Press

For many years, Chinese officials have talked about the need to suppress what they call terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in Xinjiang. In 2009, ethnic violence began soaring in the region. Security forces carried out mass repression in response, but large-scale construction of the camps, which now hold as many as one million people, did not begin until the arrival of Chen Quanguo, who became party chief of Xinjiang in August 2016, after a stint in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The congressional demand, outlined in an Aug. 28 letter, singles out Mr. Chen among the seven Chinese officials who would be sanctioned.

In Washington, officials grappling with the plight of the Uighurs and other Chinese Muslims are doing so in the shadow of the mass murders, rapes and forced displacement of Rohingya Muslims by Burmese military forces that began in Myanmar in August 2017. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh and live in squalid camps.

Some American officials see the actions of the Chinese government as another form of the genocide that occurred in Myanmar, according to people with knowledge of the continuing discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they have not been authorized to talk publicly about the issue.

Sam Brownback, the State Department’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom and former governor of Kansas, supports taking a hard line against the Chinese government on the issue of Xinjiang, they said. Mr. Brownback declined to be interviewed.

In April, Laura Stone, an acting deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters on a visit to Beijing that the United States could impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the Xinjiang abuses under the Global Magnitsky Act. The law allows the American government to impose sanctions on specific foreign officials who are gross violators of human rights.

That same month, Heather Nauert, the chief spokeswoman for the State Department, called on China to release all those “unlawfully detained”after meeting in Washington with Ms. Hoja and five other ethnic Uighur journalists who work in the United States for Radio Free Asia. The journalists shared details of the mass detentions and of harassment of their own family members in the region.

The issue of the Uighurs was raised in July at the first international minister-level forum on global religious freedom, over which Mr. Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence presided. Ahead of it, Mr. Pompeo wrote an op-ed that listed the Uighurs among several groups suffering religious persecution. “These episodes and others like them are abhorrent,” he wrote.

In a statement to The Times, the State Department said officials “are deeply troubled by the Chinese government’s worsening crackdown” on Muslims.

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“Credible reports indicate that individuals sent by Chinese authorities to detention centers since April 2017 number at least in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions,” the statement said.

The Trump administration has used an executive order tied to the Magnitsky Act once to impose sanctions on a Chinese official. In December, the White House announced sanctions against Gao Yan, who was a district police chief in Beijing when a human-rights activist died in detention.

(BBG) China’s Trade Surplus With U.S. in August Reaches Record

(BBG) China’s trade surplus with the U.S. rose to a record in August, as President Donald Trump ramps up pressure on Beijing.

The nation’s trade gap with the U.S. widened to $31.1 billion during the month, according to Bloomberg calculations. The increase came despite exports climbing at the slowest pace since March. Shipments rose 9.8 percent in dollar terms, the customs administration said Saturday. Imports climbed 20 percent.

Chinese exporters are feeling the pain as trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies get worse. Trump turned up the heat again on Friday, threatening to impose tariffs on an extra $267 billion in Chinese goods. That would be on top of duties on $50 billion already in force and another $200 billion in the works.

“Exports to the U.S. grew at a faster pace than the previous month as exporters front-loaded orders before the additional tariffs on $200 billion Chinese goods take effect,” said Gai Xinzhe, an analyst at the Bank of China’s Institute of International Finance in Beijing. Faster U.S. economic growth also pushed up demand, Gai said.

Trade talks last month between mid-level U.S. and Chinese officials led nowhere. China’s commerce ministry said the two sides have maintained contact on a working level since then.

Read more: Trump signals he’s ready to go all-in against China

“We believe the U.S. government will continue to escalate the scale and scope of trade and investment measures against China,” Raymond Yeung, chief greater China economist for Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Hong Kong, wrote in a recent note. “This policy direction is unlikely to change even after the U.S. mid-term elections in November. Besides retaliation, China is expected to offset the negative economic effects of the trade measures through a more proactive fiscal policy.”

While the yuan stabilized in August, rapid weakening in previous months would have supported exports. Last month shipments grew a faster-than-expected 7.9 percent in yuan terms.

WHAT OUR ECONOMIST SAYS:
“The People’s Bank of China’s move to halt a steep decline in the yuan suggests exports won’t get a boost from a more competitive exchange rate. In fact, by our estimates, the yuan remains overvalued — a headwind for exporters,” Wan Qian, China economist at Bloomberg Economics in Beijing, wrote in a note.

Trump said late last month that China was devaluing the currency in an attempt to make up for lack of demand. A cheaper yuan would make China’s exports less expensive, increasing their competitiveness in the international market.

(ZH) Trump Orders NYTimes To Reveal Op-Ed Source For “National Security” Purposes

(ZHTime to get the lawyers involved…

A clearly fuming President Trump has escalated his fight with The New York Times following tonight’s anonymous White-House-insider op-ed.

Trump begins by questioning whether a source actually exists: “Does the so-called “Senior Administration Official” really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source?”

And then comes over the top by playing the “Nation Security” threat card, demanding they hand over the source: “If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Does the so-called “Senior Administration Official” really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source? If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!

We can only imagine the level of liberal media mania this will cause.

While we are waiting for NYTimes’ response, CNN has put together the Top 12 potential sources of the op-ed  based on what we know about the various factions, likes, dislikes, motivations and ambitions within the Trump administration. These are in no particular order.

Don McGahn

We know the White House counsel is a short-timer — planning to leave in the fall. We also know that McGahn has clashed with Trump repeatedly in the past — refusing Trump’s order to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. And McGahn has already shown a willingness to look out for the broader public good, sitting down for more than 30 hours with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to aid their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Dan Coats

The Director of National Intelligence is very much a part of the long-term Washington establishment, having spent not one but two stints in the nation’s capital as a senator from Indiana. Coats has also shown a tendency to veer from the Trump songbook. Informed of Trump’s plans to invite Russian president Vladimir Putin for a summit in the United States this fall, Coats said “That is going to be special” — a line that drew the ire of the President.

Kellyanne Conway

I think it is uniquely possible that someone willing to pen an op-ed this bold and critical of Trump — and in the paper he hate-loves more than any other — might take significant measures to cover their tracks. And Conway is someone who has survived for a very long time in the political game. And not by being dumb or not understanding which way the wind blows. Plus, there is the X-factor of her husband — George — whose Twitter feed regularly trolls Trump.

John Kelly

The chief of staff has clashed repeatedly with the President and seems to be on borrowed time. Kelly sees his time in the job as serving his country in the only way left to him. Might he view exposing Trump in this way as a last way to be of service?

Jeff Sessions

Sessions sticks out as a possibility for a simple reason: He’s got motive. No one has been more publicly maligned by Trump than his attorney general. Trump has repeatedly urged Sessions to use the Justice Department for his own pet political concerns. And this week, Sessions found out that Trump has referred to him as “mentally retarded” and mocked his southern accent, according to a new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. Sessions is also someone who spent two decades in the Senate prior to being named attorney general by Trump after the 2016 election.

James Mattis

The defense secretary has been Trump’s favorite Cabinet member. But the quotes attributed to Mattis in Woodward’s book are VERY rough on Trump, though Mattis quickly denied that he ever said them. And if anyone has less to lose than Mattis — he is a decorated military man serving his country again — it’s hard to figure out who that would be. Plus, Mattis is an ally of John Kelly (see above) and Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state that Trump ran out on a rail.

Fiona Hill

Hill, a Russian expert who joined the Trump administration from the Brookings Institute, a DC think tank, might have reason to so publicly clash with Trump. She is far more skeptical about Russia’s motives than Trump — and was notably left out when Trump and Putin huddled on the sides of the G20 meeting in Germany in 2017. She was a close adviser to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who was removed from the White House. And, she was also reportedly mistaken for a clerk by Trump in one of her earliest meetings with him on Russia.

Mike Pence

The vice president is all smiles, nods and quiet, deferential loyalty in public. Which of course means that he has the perfect cover to write something like this in The New York Times. Pence is also ambitious — and there’s no question he wants to be president. But would taking such a risk as writing this scathing op-ed be a better path to the White House than just waiting Trump out?

Nikki Haley

The United Nations ambassador is, like Pence, one of Trump’s favorites. She is also, however, someone deeply engaged on the world stage and a voice of concern when it comes to how the President views Russia and Putin. Haley, again like Pence, is ambitious and has her eye on national office. Would this service that goal?

Javanka

The combination of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump — Javanka! — writing this op-ed would be right out of a soap opera. But that is sort of a perfect way to describe the Trump administration, right? Ivanka Trump said she would work to make her voice heard to her father, but there’s little evidence he’s listened much to her or her husband. Might this be a bit of revenge?

Melania Trump

To be clear, I don’t think the first lady did this. But her willingness to send messages when she is unhappy with her husband or his administration is unmistakable. (“I really don’t care. Do U?”) And, if you believe this administration and Trump are governed by reality shows rules, then Melania writing the op-ed is the most reality TV thing EVER.

(NYT) I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration

(NYT) I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

The Times today is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers. We invite you to submit a question about the essay or our vetting process here.


President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader.

It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall.

The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

I would know. I am one of them.

To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.

But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.

That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.

In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.

It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.

The result is a two-track presidency.

Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.

We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.

There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.

The writer is a senior official in the Trump administration.

(ZH) US Planned Nuclear Strikes To End China, Soviet Union As “Viable Societies”, Declassified Docs Show

(ZH) Like the famous George Santayana quote goes, “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And thanks to a cache of documents released by George Washington University’s National Security Archiveproject, the American people are learning just how close their country came to sparking a devastating nuclear conflict with Russia and China back in the 1960s.

The Lyndon Johnson-era “Single Integrated Operational Plan” (or SIOP) laid out how the US military would carry out a retaliatory (or preemptive) nuclear strike with the objective of eliminating the Soviet Union and China as “viable” societies, and the USSR as a “major industrial power.” The “overkill” plan intended to wipe out 95% of its top-level targets with loss of human life as the primary metric for success. No version of the SIOP has ever been fully declassified, meaning that the documents released by GWU offered the first complete picture of the US’s Cold War-era nuclear-defense plans. While the US military had created the first version of the SIOP in the early 1960s, the version published by GWU is from 1964.

Nuclear

Here’s a summary of the new information included in the documents.

The Joint Staff review of the SIOP-64 guidance includes new information on nuclear war planning:

The SIOP guidance permitted “withholds” to hold back strikes on specific countries. Recognizing the reality of Sino-Soviet tensions, it would be possible to launch nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union without attacking China or vice versa or to withhold strikes from Eastern European countries, namely Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania

Priorities for Task Alpha targets: At the top of the list of the most urgent target categories were: heavy and medium bomber bases, unprotected ICBM sites (silos did not shield Soviet ICBMs until early 1964), and IRBM/MRBM [intermediate range/medium range ballistic missile] sites.

For the top priority “Task Alpha” targets, the SIOP-64 guidance set an even higher damage expectancy of 95 percent, “a high degree of probability of damage.” Thus, overkill continued to be baked into the SIOP.  Yet, because nuclear planners based their assessments of damage on the blast effects of nuclear explosions, they did not take into account the further devastation caused by fire effects, especially in urban areas.

The purpose of one of the retaliatory options was to destroy the Soviet Union as a “viable” society because it targeted Soviet military forces (conventional and nuclear) plus strikes on urban-industrial targets – Task Charlie.

The 1964 plan didn’t include specific casualty projections, while an earlier version of the SIOP projected thatthe planned strikes would have killed 71% of the residents of major Soviet urban centers and 53% of residents in Chinese population centers. Meanwhile, estimates from 1962 predicted the death of 70 million Soviet citizens during a “no-warning US strike” on military and urban-industrial targets.

But even the most comprehensive plan couldn’t guarantee that the retaliation by the USSR and China wouldn’t lead to an “unacceptable” level of US casualties. This fear was the primary driver of the US-Soviet arms race, as GW points out in its analysis.

The urgency given to counterforce targets and the availability of preemptive options added momentum and instability to the U.S.-Soviet strategic competition. Washington identified more Soviet nuclear installations for the target lists, which then boosted the Pentagon’s requirements for more nuclear warheads.

Turning our attention to the present day, it’s tempting to dismiss these documents as relics from a bygone era. But this simply isn’t true. The latest US Nuclear Posture Review, released in late February, revealed that the US is still prepared to launch nuclear strikes against China and Russia in response to both nuclear and non-nuclear provocations. The plan embraces a hawkish approach to military cooperation with both countries and anticipates myriad threats in the military expansionism currently being embraced by both China and Russia. Given this paranoid outlook, it’s hardly surprising that Russia earlier this year unveiled plans for a revamped nuclear arsenal – while China’s navy last year surpassed the US’s fleet in size. Of course, these actions will be perceived as threats by the US…and the vicious cycle will continue until one side capitulates, or both sides plunge headlong into a full-scale nuclear conflict.

(DML) South Africa withdraws white farmland redistribution bill six days after Trump warned he was closely studying the situation

(DML)

  • South Africa’s ruling ANC party has withdrawn its farmland redistribution bill
  • The bill, passed by parliament in 2016 enabled state to make compulsory purchases of land to redress racial disparities in land ownership 
  • Donald Trump told Mike Pompeo to study ‘South Africa land and farm seizures’

South Africa has withdrawn its white farmland redistribution bill – six days after Donald Trump warned he was closely studying the situation.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) said the bill passed by parliament in 2016 enabling the state to make compulsory purchases of land to redress racial disparities in land ownership needed further consideration.

It comes after Trump criticised the country’s land reform plans in a tweet that touched on the overwhelmingly white ownership of farmland in South Africa – one of the most sensitive issues in the country’s post-apartheid history.

South Africa has withdrawn its white farmland redistribution bill - six days after Donald Trump warned he was closely studying the situation

South Africa has withdrawn its white farmland redistribution bill – six days after Donald Trump warned he was closely studying the situation

According to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who himself farms cattle on a 5,100 hectare ranch, the white community that makes up eight percent of the population 'possess 72 percent of farms'

According to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who himself farms cattle on a 5,100 hectare ranch, the white community that makes up eight percent of the population ‘possess 72 percent of farms’

It comes after Trump (pictured) criticised the country's land reform plans in a tweet that touched on the overwhelmingly white ownership of farmland in South Africa - one of the most sensitive issues in the country's post-apartheid history

It comes after Trump (pictured) criticised the country’s land reform plans in a tweet that touched on the overwhelmingly white ownership of farmland in South Africa – one of the most sensitive issues in the country’s post-apartheid history

‘I have asked Secretary of State… (Mike) Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers,’ tweeted Trump to his 54 million followers.

His tweet apparently followed a segment on conservative Fox News about Pretoria’s plan to change the constitution to speed up expropriation of land without compensation to redress racial imbalances in land ownership.

‘South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers’,’ said Trump’s post, which tagged the show’s host, Tucker Carlson, as well as the channel.

The country is in the middle of a racially charged debate over land reform, a lawful process that seeks to correct the legacy of decades of white-minority rule that stripped blacks of their land.

According to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who himself farms cattle on a 5,100 hectare ranch, the white community that makes up eight percent of the population ‘possess 72 percent of farms’.

In contrast, ‘only four percent’ of farms are in the hands of black people who make up four-fifths of the population.

The stark disparity stems from purchases and seizures during the colonial era that were then enshrined in law during apartheid.

South Africa’s government reacted angrily to Trump’s tweet with officials telling their American counterparts the comments were ‘alarmist, false, inaccurate and misinformed’.

The President asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to monitor 'farm seizures and the killing of white farmers' in South Africa, announcing this in an early morning tweet

The President asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to monitor ‘farm seizures and the killing of white farmers’ in South Africa, announcing this in an early morning tweet

People place white crosses, representing farmers killed in the country, at a ceremony at the Vorrtrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa

People place white crosses, representing farmers killed in the country, at a ceremony at the Vorrtrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa

In July, Ramaphosa said the ruling African National Congress party would amend the constitution so the state could start to expropriate land without compensation to speed up the process of land redistribution, but that has not yet happened and no land has been seized.

A fringe group of the white minority claims land reform will inspire violent attacks, though experts say farm attacks reflect the country’s generally high crime rate and are on the decline.

Claims of ‘genocide’ against white South Africans, however, have been picked up by some white nationalists in the U.S., and leaders of a right-wing South African group traveled to the U.S. in May to lobby officials about the alleged targeting of white farmers.

Trump’s tweet was quickly lambasted by many in South Africa, with one top ruling party official, Zizi Kodwa, telling the Associated Press that Trump has never experienced apartheid and doesn’t know its legacy of stark inequality.

Later on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the administration’s position was that land expropriation without compensation ‘would risk sending South Africa down the wrong path.’

Nauert toned down Trump’s language suggesting that massive land seizures were underway and did not repeat the president’s suggestion that large numbers of white South African farmers had been killed.

Trump’s tweet did find support among some South Africans, while some farmers spoke out about their security concerns.

‘We try very hard not to go and live in a walled security area somewhere, but it costs a lot of money in the first place to have the necessary security,’ said Leon Sholtz, a farmer in Broederstroom in North West province.

‘It is fact that we have lost four of our neighbors in the last 10 to 12 years due to farm murders. … I think it is something that the government should look into and try and stop as soon as possible.’

South Africa’s battle over land explained

President Cyril Ramaphosa has stated his plan is not a land grab

President Cyril Ramaphosa has stated his plan is not a land grab

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) wants to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation.

Here are the key issues in the debate.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED?

South Africa has a history of colonial conquest and dispossession that pushed the black majority into crowded urban townships and rural reserves.

The 1913 Native Lands Act made it illegal for Africans to acquire land beyond these reserves, which became known as ‘Homelands’.

While blacks account for 80 percent of South Africa’s population, the former homelands comprised just 13 percent of the land. The traditional leaders that oversaw the homelands still hold significant sway.

Estimates vary but the consensus is that most privately owned land remains in white hands, making it a potent symbol of the wider economic and wealth disparities that remain two decades after the end of white-minority rule.

WHAT HAS BEEN DONE?

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a ‘willing-seller, willing-buyer’ model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks. Progress has been slow.

Based on a survey of title deeds, the government says blacks own four percent of private land, and only eight percent of farmland has been transferred to black hands, well short of a target of 30 percent due to have been reached in 2014.

AgriSA, a farm industry group, says 27 percent of farmland is in black hands. Its figure includes state land and plots tilled by black subsistence farmers in the old homelands.

Critics allege that many farms transferred to emerging black farmers have failed because of a lack of state support, an allegation Ramaphosa denies.

HAIL TO THE CHIEFS

The 17 million people who reside in the former homelands, a third of the population, are mostly subsistence farmers working tiny plots on communal land.

Critics of ANC land policy say that instead of seizing farmland from whites, such households should be given title deeds, turning millions into property owners. Reformers in the ANC have signalled their support for such a policy.

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who headed a panel of inquiry into the land issue, described traditional leaders as ‘village tin-pot dictators.’

Tribal chiefs were not amused, and warned the ANC in July to exclude territory under their control from its land reform drive. The Zulu King evoked the Anglo-Zulu war and the spectre of conflict over the issue.

RISKS

Markets and investors are wary because of concerns about wider threats to property rights. The rand fell sharply and government bonds weakened after Ramaphosa’s announcement.

Yet analysts say South Africa is unlikely to follow the route of Zimbabwe, where the chaotic and violent seizure of white-owned farms under former president Robert Mugabe triggered economic collapse.

ANC officials have said unused land will be the main target.

Still, the risks are substantial. South Africa feeds itself and is the continent’s largest maize producer and the world’s second-biggest citrus exporter.

Agriculture accounts for less than three percent of national output but employs 850,000 people, five percent of the workforce. Threats to production would also fan food inflation, hurting low-income households.

WHY NOW?

Analysts say the ANC wants to appeal to poorer black voters, the core of the ANC’s support, ahead of elections next year.

The move also cuts into the platform of the EFF party, headed by firebrand Julius Malema, who has made land expropriation without compensation his clarion call.

Trump’s comments inflamed the high-octane debate on land, a country that remains deeply racially divided and unequal nearly a quarter of a century after Nelson Mandela swept to power at the end of apartheid.

Violent crime is a serious problem across South Africa and 47 farmers were killed in 2017-18, according to statistics from AgriSA, an association of agricultural associations. However the same figures show that farm murders are at a 20-year low.

But the issue has been a focus of outrage by right-wing organisations in South Africa and abroad.

Afriforum, which mostly champions white people’s rights in South Africa, has said it will intensify its campaign to inform the international community regarding the threat to property rights and farm murders in SA.

THE PROCESS

Some legal experts argued there was no need to amend the constitution because Section 25 states that if land is taken from a property owner, ‘compensation … must be just and equitable.’

To some, ‘just and equitable’ could mean no compensation, depending on the circumstances in which previous occupants or owners were deprived of or removed from the land, either in British colonial times or under apartheid.

Ramaphosa has said South Africans are taking part in public hearings on land reforms that are being held countrywide, as they wanted the constitution to make clear when compensation was or was not justified.

The ANC is then expected to take its proposal to parliament, where a two-thirds majority is needed to change the constitution. Together with the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), it has more than enough votes in the 400-seat parliament to effect the change.

(Economist) America’s escalating Russian sanctions

(Economist) Despite Donald Trump, Russia is being hit harder and harder

BARELY a week seems to pass without news of fresh Western sanctions against Russia. Sergei Elkin, one of Russia’s most popular cartoonists, recently captured the mood with a caricature of a hapless-looking Vladimir Putin holding a cell phone to his ear. “To hear more information about new sanctions, press one,” read the caption.

In August alone, America has slapped penalties on Russian shipping firms accused of trading oil with North Korea; imposed restrictions on the arms trade in connection with the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury; and begun congressional hearings on two new pieces of legislation designed to punish Russia for its interference in elections. Further Skripal-linked measures may follow in three months’ time.

Markets have been scrambling to digest their impact. The greatest threat to Russia’s economy comes from the two proposed bills, the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act of 2018 (DETER) and the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA). Senator Lindsey Graham, one of DASKA’s six bipartisan co-sponsors, called it the “sanctions bill from Hell”. When details of its contents made their way into the Russian press in early August, the rouble slid to two-year lows (see chart) and the share prices of Russian state banks began falling.

Investors see several reasons to worry. Chief among them are proposed bans on trading new Russian government debt and limits on the operations of state banks. With state-owned lenders accounting for over 60% of the sector, bans on just a few could force a “restructuring of the financial system,” argues Natalia Orlova, chief economist of Alfa-Bank, Russia’s largest private lender. This would be painful, but stop short of the abyss: America cannot impose Iranian-style sanctions—such as banning the purchase of Russian oil and gas—without harmful effects on the global economy.

The Russian authorities, meanwhile, have been taking prudent steps to prepare. “They have both insulated and isolated the economy,” says Chris Weafer of Macro-Advisory, a consultancy. The Russian central bank has dumped or disguised ownership of four-fifths of its holdings of American government debt, following sanctions imposed in April. The government has been funnelling extra revenues from rising oil prices into refilling its National Welfare Fund and building up reserves. And a weaker rouble actually helps exporters, though at the cost of higher inflation.

Yet no policy moves, short of withdrawing Russian forces from eastern Ukraine, can lift the sanctions-created uncertainty that dampens investment and messes up budget planning. Compared with a year earlier, foreign direct investment fell by more than 50% in the first half of 2018. “When the risk is debt, you can build scenarios,” says Ms Orlova. “But when the risk is sanctions, it’s impossible to know.” Many see the peril increasing as America’s midterm elections approach.

The irony is that the risk of new sanctions now emanates not only from Mr Putin, but from Mr Trump as well. His subservience to Mr Putin at a July summit in Helsinki spurred senators to draft the DASKA bill, says Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “[The bills] are born out of a deep distrust of the president when it comes to Russia,” a senior senate aide concurs. Even if Russia behaves this autumn, tweets from Mr Trump could well spur their passage.

(NYT) Microwave Weapons Are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers

(NYT) Doctors and scientists say microwave strikes may have caused sonic delusions and very real brain damage among embassy staff and family members.

U.S. Marines outside the embassy in Havana in February. Diplomats working here reported strange noises and mysterious symptoms that doctors and scientists say may have resulted from strikes with microwave weapons.CreditCreditAdalberto Roque/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

During the Cold War, Washington feared that Moscow was seeking to turnmicrowave radiation into covert weapons of mind control.

More recently, the American military itself sought to develop microwave arms that could invisibly beam painfully loud booms and even spoken words into people’s heads. The aims were to disable attackers and wage psychological warfare.

Now, doctors and scientists say such unconventional weapons may have caused the baffling symptoms and ailments that, starting in late 2016, hit more than three dozen American diplomats and family members in Cuba and China. The Cuban incidents resulted in a diplomatic rupture between Havana and Washington.

The medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats from Cuba made no mention of microwaves in its detailed report published in JAMA in March. But Douglas H. Smith, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a recent interview that microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.

“Everybody was relatively skeptical at first,” he said, “and everyone now agrees there’s something there.” Dr. Smith remarked that the diplomats and doctors jokingly refer to the trauma as the immaculate concussion.

Strikes with microwaves, some experts now argue, more plausibly explain reports of painful sounds, ills and traumas than do other possible culprits — sonic attacks, viral infections and contagious anxiety.

In particular, a growing number of analysts cite an eerie phenomenon known as the Frey effect, named after Allan H. Frey, an American scientist. Long ago, he found that microwaves can trick the brain into perceiving what seem to be ordinary sounds.

Hearing Microwaves

Scientists have known for decades that the brain can perceive some microwaves as sound.

MICROWAVES hitting the head in the area around the temporal lobe were perceived as sound in a 1962 experiment. Several theories have sought to explain the exact mechanism but it remains in dispute.

SOUND WAVES entering the ear make the eardrum vibrate. These vibrations are conveyed to the cochlea and converted into electrical signals. The brain’s temporal lobes receive signals from the ears and process them into sounds and speech.

The false sensations, the experts say, may account for a defining symptom of the diplomatic incidents — the perception of loud noises, including ringing, buzzing and grinding. Initially, experts cited those symptoms as evidence of stealthy attacks with sonic weapons.

Members of Jason, a secretive group of elite scientists that helps the federal government assess new threats to national security, say it has been scrutinizing the diplomatic mystery this summer and weighing possible explanations, including microwaves.

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Asked about the microwave theory of the case, the State Department said the investigation had yet to identify the cause or source of the attacks. And the F.B.I. declined to comment on the status of the investigation or any theories.

The microwave idea teems with unanswered questions. Who fired the beams? The Russian government? The Cuban government? A rogue Cuban faction sympathetic to Moscow? And, if so, where did the attackers get the unconventional arms?

At his home outside Washington, Mr. Frey, the scientist who uncovered the neural phenomenon, said federal investigators have questioned him on the diplomatic riddle and that microwave radiation is considered a possible cause.

Mr. Frey, now 83, has traveled widely and long served as a contractor and a consultant to a number of federal agencies. He speculated that Cubans aligned with Russia, the nation’s longtime ally, might have launched microwave strikes in attempts to undermine developing ties between Cuba and the United States.

“It’s a possibility,” he said at his kitchen table. “In dictatorships, you often have factions that think nothing of going against the general policy if it suits their needs. I think that’s a perfectly viable explanation.”

Allan H. Frey, at his home outside Washington. In 1960, he stumbled on an acoustic effect of microwaves that was eventually named after him.CreditAlex Wroblewski for The New York Times

Microwaves are ubiquitous in modern life. The short radio waves power radars, cook foods, relay messages and link cellphones to antenna towers. They’re a form of electromagnetic radiation on the same spectrum as light and X-rays, only at the opposite end.

While radio broadcasting can employ waves a mile or more in length, microwaves range in size from roughly a foot to a tiny fraction of an inch. They’re seen as harmless in such everyday uses as microwaving foods. But their diminutive size also enables tight focusing, as when dish antennas turn disorganized rays into concentrated beams.

The dimensions of the human head, scientists say, make it a fairly good antenna for picking up microwave signals.

Mr. Frey, a biologist, said he stumbled on the acoustic effect in 1960 while working for General Electric’s Advanced Electronics Center at Cornell University. A man who measured radar signals at a nearby G.E. facility came up to him at a meeting and confided that he could hear the beam’s pulses — zip, zip, zip.

Intrigued, Mr. Frey traveled to the man’s workplace in Syracuse and positioned himself in a radar beam. “Lo,” he recalled, “I could hear it, too.”

Mr. Frey’s resulting papers — reporting that even deaf people could hear the false sounds — founded a new field of study on radiation’s neural impacts. Mr. Frey’s first paper, in 1961, reported that power densities 160 times lower than “the standard maximum safe level for continuous exposure” could induce the sonic delusions.

His second paper, in 1962, pinpointed the brain’s receptor site as the temporal lobes, which extend beneath the temples. Each lobe bears a small region — the auditory cortex — that processes nerve signals from the outer and inner ears.

Investigators raced to confirm and extend Mr. Frey’s findings. At first they named the phenomenon after him, but eventually called it the microwave auditory effect and, in time, more generally, radio-frequency hearing.

The Soviets took notice. Not long after his initial discoveries, Mr. Frey said, he was invited by the Soviet Academy of Sciences to visit and lecture. Toward the end, in a surprise, he was taken outside Moscow to a military base surrounded by armed guards and barbed-wire fences.

“They had me visiting the various labs and discussing the problems,” including the neural impacts of microwaves, Mr. Frey recalled. “I got an inside look at their classified program.”

Moscow was so intrigued by the prospect of mind control that it adopted a special terminology for the overall class of envisioned arms, calling them psychophysical and psychotronic.

Soviet research on microwaves for “internal sound perception,” the Defense Intelligence Agency warned in 1976, showed great promise for “disrupting the behavior patterns of military or diplomatic personnel.”

Furtively, globally, the threat grew.

The National Security Agency gave Mark S. Zaid, a Washington lawyer who routinely gets security clearances to discuss classified matters, a statement on how a foreign power built a weapon “designed to bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves, causing numerous physical effects, including a damaged nervous system.”

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Mr. Zaid said a N.S.A. client of his who traveled there watched in disbelief as his nervous system later unraveled, starting with control of his fingers.

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The high-pitched chirping that diplomats heard while working at the Consulate General of the United States in Guangzhou, China, might be explained by a phenomenon known as the Frey effect — radio-frequency hearing.CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Washington, too, foresaw new kinds of arms.

In Albuquerque, N.M., Air Force scientists sought to beam comprehensible speech into the heads of adversaries. Their novel approach won a patent in 2002, and an update in 2003. Both were assigned to the Air Force secretary, helping limit the idea’s dissemination.

The lead inventor said the research team had “experimentally demonstrated” that the “signal is intelligible.” As for the invention’s uses, an Air Force disclosure form listed the first application as “Psychological Warfare.”

The Navy sought to paralyze. The Frey effect was to induce sounds powerful enough to cause painful discomfort and, if needed, leave targets unable to move. The weapon, the Navy noted, would have a “low probability of fatalities or permanent injuries.”

In a twist, the 2003 contract was awarded to microwave experts who had emigrated to the United States from Russia and Ukraine.

It is unknown if Washington deploys such arms. But the Pentagon built a related weapon known as the Active Denial System, hailing it in a video. It fires an invisible beam meant to deter mobs and attackers with fiery sensations.

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Russia, China and many European states are seen as having the know-how to make basic microwave weapons that can debilitate, sow noise or even kill. Advanced powers, experts say, might accomplish more nuanced aims such as beaming spoken words into people’s heads. Only intelligence agencies know which nations actually possess and use such unfamiliar arms.

The basic weapon might look like a satellite dish. In theory, such a device might be hand-held or mounted in a van, car, boat or helicopter. Microwave arms are seen as typically working over relatively short distances — across the length of a few rooms or blocks. High-powered ones might be able to fire beams across several football fields, or even for several miles.

The episode in Cuba

The Soviet collapse in 1991 cut Russia’s main ties to Cuba, a longtime ally just 90 miles from the United States. The shaky economy forced Moscow to stop providing Havana with large amounts of oil and other aid.

Vladimir Putin, as Russia’s president and prime minister, sought to recover the economic, political and strategic clout that the Soviets had lost. In December 2000, months after the start of his first presidential term, Mr. Putin flew to the island nation. It was the first visit by a Soviet or Russian leader since the Cold War.

He also sought to resurrect Soviet work on psychoactive arms. In 2012, he declared that Russia would pursue “new instruments for achieving political and strategic goals,” including psychophysical weapons.

In July 2014, Mr. Putin again visited Cuba. This time he brought a gift — the cancellation of some $30 billion in Cuban debt. The two nations signed a dozen accords.

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A Russian spy ship, Viktor Leonov, docked in Havana on the eve of the beginning of reconciliation talks between Cuba and the United States in early 2015, and did so again in subsequent years. Moscow and Havana grew so close that in late 2016, the two nations signed a sweeping pact on defense and technology cooperation.

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Raul Castro, president of Cuba, with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, at a welcoming ceremony for Mr. Putin in Havana in 2014.CreditIsmael Francisco/Associated Press
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In Havana’s harbor, men fishing near the Russian warship, Viktor, Leonov, in 2015.CreditRamon Espinosa/Associated Press

As a candidate, Donald Trump faulted the Obama administration’snormalization policy as “a very weak agreement” and threatened to scrap it on reaching the White House. Weeks after he won the election, in late November 2016, the American embassy in Havana found itself battling a mysterious crisis.

Diplomats and their families recounted high-pitched sounds in homes and hotel rooms at times intense enough to incapacitate. Long-term, the symptoms included nausea, crushing headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sleep problems and hearing loss.

The State Department filed diplomatic protests, and the Cuban government denied involvement. In May, the F.B.I. opened an investigation and its agents began visiting Havana a half year after the incidents began. The last major one hit that summer, in August, giving the agents relatively little time to gather clues.

In September 2017, the Trump administration warned travelers away from Cuba and ordered home roughly half the diplomatic personnel.

Rex W. Tillerson, who was then the secretary of state, said the embassy’s staff had been targeted deliberately. But he refrained from blaming Cuba, and federal officials held out the possibility that a third party may have been responsible.

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In early October, President Trump expelled 15 Cuban diplomats, producing a chill between the nations. Administration critics said the White House was using the health issue as a pretext to end President Barack Obama’s reconciliation policy.

The day after the expulsions, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a closed, top secret hearing on the Cuba situation. Three State Department officials testified, as did an unnamed senior official of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Hypothesis

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Beatrice A. Golomb, a medical doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, here in a beachside office, argues that microwave strikes can explain the diplomatic ills.CreditTara Pixley for The New York Times

Early this year, in January, the spooky impact of microwaves on the human brain never came up during an open Senate hearing on the Cuba crisis.

But in a scientific paper that same month, James C. Lin of the University of Illinois, a leading investigator of the Frey effect, described the diplomatic ills as plausibly arising from microwave beams. Dr. Lin is the editor-in-chief of Bio Electro Magnetics, a peer-reviewed journal that explores the effects of radio waves and electromagnetic fields on living things.

In his paper, he said high-intensity beams of microwaves could have caused the diplomats to experience not just loud noises but nausea, headaches and vertigo, as well as possible brain-tissue injury. The beams, he added, could be fired covertly, hitting “only the intended target.”

In February, ProPublica in a lengthy investigation mentioned that federal investigators were weighing the microwave theory. Separately, it told of an intriguing find. The wife of a member of the embassy staff, it reported, had looked outside her home after hearing the disturbing sounds and seen a van speeding away.

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A dish antenna could fit easily into a small van.

The medical team that studied the Cuba diplomats ascribed the symptoms in the March JAMA study to “an unknown energy source” that was highly directional. Some personnel, it noted, had covered their ears and heads but experienced no sound reduction. The team said the diplomats appeared to have developed signs of concussion without having received any blows to the head.

In May, reports emerged that American diplomats in China had suffered similar traumas. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the medical details of the two groups “very similar” and “entirely consistent” with one another. By late June, the State Department had evacuated at least 11 Americans from China.

To date, the most detailed medical case for microwave strikes has been made by Beatrice A. Golomb, a medical doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego. In a forthcoming paper to be published in October in Neural Computation, a peer-reviewed journal of the MIT Press, she lays out potential medical evidence for Cuban microwave strikes.

She compared the symptoms of the diplomats in Cuba to those reported for individuals said to be suffering from radio-frequency sickness. The health responses of the two groups, Dr. Golomb wrote, “conform closely.”

In closing, she argued that “numerous highly specific features” of the diplomatic incidents “fit the hypothesis” of a microwave attack, including the Frey-type production of disturbing sounds.

Scientists still disagree over what hit the diplomats. Last month, JAMA ran four letters critical of the March study, some faulting the report for ruling out mass hysteria.

But Mr. Zaid, the Washington lawyer, who represents eight of the diplomats and family members, said microwave attacks may have injured his clients.

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“It’s sort of naïve to think this just started now,” he said. Globally, he added, covert strikes with the potent beams appear to have been going on for decades.

Francisco Palmieri, a State Department official, was asked during the open Senate hearing if “attacks against U.S. personnel in Cuba” had been raised with Moscow.

“That is a very good question,” Mr. Palmieri replied. But addressing it, he added, would require “a classified setting.”

For his part, Mr. Frey says he doubts the case will be solved anytime soon. The novelty of the crisis, its sporadic nature and the foreign setting made it hard for federal investigators to gather clues and draw conclusions, he said, much less file charges.

“Based on what I know,” he remarked, “it will remain a mystery.”

(BBG) Trump Threatens to Pull U.S. Out of WTO If It Doesn’t ‘Shape Up’

(BBG) President Donald Trump said he would pull out of the World Trade Organization if it doesn’t treat the U.S. better, targeting a cornerstone of the international trading system.

“If they don’t shape up, I would withdraw from the WTO,” Trump said Thursday in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News. Trump said the agreement establishing the body “was the single worst trade deal ever made.”

A U.S. withdrawal from the WTO potentially would be far more significant for the global economy than even Trump’s growing trade war with China, undermining the post-World War II system that the U.S. helped build.

Trump said last month that the U.S. is at a big disadvantage from being treated “very badly” by the WTO for many years and that the Geneva-based body needs to “change their ways.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said allowing China into the WTO in 2001 was a mistake. He has long called for the U.S. to take a more aggressive approach to the WTO, arguing that it was incapable of dealing with a non-market economy such as China.

Lighthizer has accused the WTO dispute-settlement system of interfering with U.S. sovereignty, particularly on anti-dumping cases. The U.S. has been blocking the appointment of judges to the WTO’s appeals body, raising the possibility that it could cease to function in the coming years.

In the Oval Office interview, Trump said at the WTO “we rarely won a lawsuit except for last year.”

“In the last year, we’re starting to win a lot,” he added. “You know why? Because they know if we don’t, I’m out of there.”

For all of his complaints about the WTO, Trump’s administration has continued to file cases against other members. Earlier this week it launched a case against Russian duties on U.S. products that it argues are illegal.

Countries that bring complaints to the WTO tend to prevail and defendants in trade disputes lose.

But WTO data also shows that the U.S. does slightly better than the WTO average in both cases it brings and that are brought against it, said Simon Lester, a trade analyst at the Cato Institute, a Washington policy group that favors more open international trade.

Of the 54 cases brought by the U.S. over the life of the WTO, Washington won at least one finding in its favor in 49, or 91 percent, Lester said. Of the 80 cases brought against it, a WTO panel had ruled against it in at least one aspect in 69 cases, or 86 percent of the time.

The Trump administration has taken his complaints a step further by arguing that the WTO’s dispute settlement system is broken and in need of a major overhaul.

The EU has been leading an effort to propose reforms to try and defuse the conflict. Officials from the EU and Japan visited Washington last week to discuss potential changes as well as joint efforts to take on China at the WTO. But change at the organization may not come easy.

“Now it’s true that the threat by the U.S. to withdraw is really serious, that will concentrate minds, and then things could happen,” Alan Winters, a professor of economics at the University of Sussex, said in a Bloomberg interview. “But the WTO is in for a very large shock if it actually has to agree a new set of rules.”

Since World War II, successive U.S. presidents have led efforts to establish and strengthen global trading rules, arguing that they would bring stability to the world economy.

The WTO was created in 1994 as part of a U.S.-led effort by major economies to create a forum for resolving trade disputes.

(EUobserver) Trump rejects EU offer to eliminate car tariffs

(EUobserver) US president Donald Trump rejected on Thursday an offer from EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem to reduce all car tariffs to zero if the US did the same as “not good enough”. European “consumer habits are to buy their cars, not to buy our cars,” Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg. The EU is “almost as bad as China, just smaller,” he said.

(BBG) Trump Warns Google, Facebook and Twitter to ‘Be Careful’

(BBG) President Donald Trump warned Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. “better be careful” after he accused the search engine earlier in the day of rigging results to give preference to negative news stories about him.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday that the three technology companies “are treading on very, very troubled territory,” as he added his voice to a growing chorus of conservatives who claim internet companies favor liberal viewpoints.

“This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” Trump said in a tweet earlier Tuesday. The President’s comments came the morning after a Fox Business TV segment that said Google favored liberal news outlets in search results about Trump. Trump provided no substantiation for his claim.

“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD,” Trump said. “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal.”

Trump’s re-election campaign also texted his tweets to supporters, writing as part of an end-of-month fundraising push that “The FAKE NEWS machine is completely out of control.”

The allegation, dismissed by online search experts, follows the president’s Aug. 24 claim that social media “giants” are “silencing millions of people.” Such accusations — along with assertions that the news media and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia meddling probe are biased against him — have been a chief Trump talking point meant to appeal to the president’s base.

Google issued a statement saying its searches are designed to give users relevant answers.

“Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology,” the statement said. “Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users’ queries. We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”

Yonatan Zunger, an engineer who worked at Google for almost a decade, went further. “Users can verify that his claim is specious by simply reading a wide range of news sources themselves,” he said. “The ‘bias’ is that the news is all bad for him, for which he has only himself to blame.”

Google’s news search software doesn’t work the way the president says it does, according to Mark Irvine, senior data scientist at WordStream, a company that helps firms get websites and other online content to show up higher in search results. The Google News system gives weight to how many times a story has been linked to, as well as to how prominently the terms people are searching for show up in the stories, Irvine said.

“The Google search algorithm is a fairly agnostic and apathetic algorithm towards what people’s political feelings are,” he said.

“Their job is essentially to model the world as it is,” said Pete Meyers, a marketing scientist at Moz, which builds tools to help companies improve how they show up in search results. “If enough people are linking to a site and talking about a site, they’re going to show that site.”

Trump’s concern is that search results about him appear negative, but that’s because the majority of stories about him are negative, Meyers said. “He woke up and watched his particular flavor and what Google had didn’t match that.”

Complaints that social-media services censor conservatives have increased as companies such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. try to curb the reach of conspiracy theorists, disinformation campaigns, foreign political meddling and abusive posters.

Google News rankings have sometimes highlighted unconfirmed and erroneous reports in the early minutes of tragedies when there’s little information to fill its search results. After the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas shooting, for instance, several accounts seemed to coordinate an effort to smear a man misidentified as the shooter with false claims about his political ties.

Google has since tightened requirements for inclusion in news rankings, blocking outlets that “conceal their country of origin” and relying more on authoritative sources, although the moves have led to charges of censorship from less established outlets. Google currently says it ranks news based on “freshness” and “diversity” of the stories. Trump-favored outlets such as Fox News routinely appear in results.

Google’s search results have been the focus of complaints for more than a decade. The criticism has become more political as the power and reach of online services has increased in recent years.

Eric Schmidt, Alphabet’s former chairman, supported Hillary Clinton against Trump during the last election. There have been unsubstantiated claims the company buried negative search results about her during the 2016 election. Scores of Google employees entered government to work under President Barack Obama.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, responding to a question about the tweets, said that the administration is going to do “investigations and analysis” into the issue but stressed they’re “just looking into it.”

Trump’s comment followed a report on Fox Business on Monday evening that said 96 percent of Google News results for “Trump” came from the “national left-wing media.” The segment cited the conservative PJ Media site, which said its analysis suggested “a pattern of bias against right-leaning content.”

The PJ Media analysis “is in no way scientific,” said Joshua New, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Data Innovation.

“This frequency of appearance in an arbitrary search at one time is in no way indicating a bias or a slant,” New said. His non-partisan policy group is affiliated with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which in turn has executives from Silicon Valley companies, including Google, on its board of directors.

Services such as Google or Facebook “have a business incentive not to lower the ranking of a certain publication because of news bias. Because that lowers the value as a news platform,” New said.

News search rankings use factors including “use timeliness, accuracy, the popularity of a story, a users’ personal search history, their location, quality of content, a website’s reputation — a huge amount of different factors,” New said.

Google is not the first tech stalwart to receive criticism from Trump. He has alleged Amazon.com Inc. has a sweetheart deal with the U.S. Postal Service and slammed founder Jeff Bezos’s ownership of what Trump calls “the Amazon Washington Post.”

Google is due to face lawmakers at a hearing on Russian election meddling on Sept. 5. The company intended to send Senior Vice President for Global Affairs Kent Walker to testify, but the panel’s chairman, Senator Richard Burr, who wanted Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, has rejected Walker.

Despite Trump’s comments, it’s unclear what he or Congress could do to influence how internet companies distribute online news. The industry treasures an exemption from liability for the content users post. Some top members of Congress have suggested limiting the protection as a response to alleged bias and other misdeeds, although there have been few moves to do so since Congress curbed the shield for some cases of sex trafficking earlier in the year.

The government has little ability to dictate to publishers and online curators what news to present despite the president’s occasional threats to use the power of the government to curb coverage he dislikes and his tendency to complain that news about him is overly negative.

Trump has talked about expanding libel laws and mused about reinstating long-ended rules requiring equal time for opposing views, which didn’t apply to the internet. Neither has resulted in a serious policy push.

Trump has not always been hostile to Google. In July he lashed out at the European Union for imposing a record $5 billion fine against Google over its mobile phone operating system, calling Google one of America’s “great companies.”

(EUobserver) EU needs to stand apart from US, France and Germany say

(EUobserver)

  • Macron: “Partner with whom Europe built the post-war multilateral order seems to be turning its back” (Photo: elysee.fr)

France and Germany have reiterated calls for Europe to reduce its military and financial dependence on the US.

The EU needed “strategic autonomy” on defence in times when the US had “turned its back” on its old ally, French president Emmanuel Macron said in Paris on Monday (27 August)

  • Maas (l): EU needed to “form a counterweight when the US crosses the line” (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

It also needed financial “autonomy” to avoid US pressure on European companies, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said the same day.

“We need strategic autonomy and defence to respond to new threats … Europe can no longer place its security in the United States’ hands alone,” Macron told French diplomats in a wide-ranging speech.

“The partner with whom Europe built the post-war multilateral order seems to be turning its back on this shared history,” he added in a lament on the decline in transatlantic relations under US president Donald Trump.

Trump had put Nato trust in doubt, started a trade war with the EU, and torn up international accords, such as the Iran nuclear arms control deal and the Paris climate agreement, Macron said.

He said the EU had “never advanced so fast” in defence integration as in the past year, with the creation of joint military projects and budget lines.

His call to go further would see Europe play a greater role in conflicts in the Middle East, north Africa, and further afield in Africa, the French leader indicated, mentioning Libya, Syria, and the Sahel as priorities.

But an autonomous EU would also play a greater role on the geopolitical stage in what amounted to a “rebalancing of the world order,” Macron said.

“I really don’t believe that China or the United States of America think today that Europe is a power with a strategic autonomy comparable to theirs. I don’t believe that,” he said.

The EU would need to build new relations with Russia and Turkey, Macron added.

“Substantial efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis … will of course be prerequisites for real progress with Moscow,” he warned, alluding to EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey under president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also turning into “a pan-Islamic project regularly presented as anti-European, whose regular measures are rather against our principles,” he added.

But “we need to build a strategic partnership …. with Russia and Turkey, because they are two important powers for our collective security, because they must be tied to Europe,” the French leader said.

German echo

Macron’s vision of a changing world order was echoed by the German foreign minister in Handelsblatt, a German newspaper, also on Monday.

Trump might “unintentionally become the force behind the birth of a new western order,” Heiko Maas said.

But the forces shaping events were greater than one man alone, he added.

“The fact that the Atlantic has widened politically is by no means solely due to Donald Trump. The US and Europe have been drifting apart for years. The overlapping of values and interests that shaped our relationship for two generations is decreasing,” the German minister said.

“Now it is important to build a European security and defence union step by step, as part of transatlantic security and as a separate European project,” he said.

A “sovereign, strong Europe” could “form a counterweight when the US crosses the line” in order to defend “rule of law” in the international arena, Mass said.

He zeroed in on US threats to fine EU firms which do business in Iran after Trump tore up a deal to freeze its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

The EU needed to show “that we will not allow you to go over our heads, and at our expense. That is why it was right to protect European companies legally from sanctions,” Maas said.

“It is therefore essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels independent of the US, a European monetary fund and an independent Swift system,” the German minister said, referring to the Belgium-based global firm Swift, which handles international bank transfers.

“With Germany, we are determined to work on an independent European or Franco-German financing tool which would allow us to avoid being the collateral victims of US extra-territorial sanctions,” French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said in France the same day.

EU fascinations

Macron told the French ambassadors the “contemporary American position”, as well as Brexit, and the rise of populism in the EU arose from a “discomfort with contemporary globalisation”.

He repeated his call, first issued at a speech in the Sorbonne university in Paris last year, for a more “complete, ambitious [and] … united Europe” in reaction to the trends.

He warned the UK that any Brexit deal “can’t come at the expense of the European Union’s integrity”.

He voiced concern that some EU countries, such as Hungary and Italy, had developed “fascinations” with “illiberal democracy” and “xenophobic rhetoric”.

But he also issued a veiled warning on potential EU budget pressure if populist leaders did not mend their ways.

“Viktor Orban’s Hungary has never been against Europe’s structural funds or the common agricultural policy, but she is against Europe when it comes to holding great speeches about Christianity,” Macron said, referring to Hungary’s right-wing prime minister and to EU subsidies to poor and rural regions.

“Italy is against Europe which does not show solidarity on migration, but it is for Europe’s structural funds,” Macron said.

(BBG) Trump Says He’s Agreed on Mexico Trade Deal to Replace Nafta

(BBG) President Donald Trump said the U.S. is pursuing a new trade accord with Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement and called on Canada to join the deal soon or risk being left out.

Trump announced the agreement with Mexico in a hastily arranged Oval Office event Monday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto joining by conference call. Pena Nieto said he is “quite hopeful” Canada would soon be incorporated in the revised agreement, while Trump said that remains to be seen but that he wanted those negotiations to begin quickly.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is leaving a trip in Europe early to travel to Washington for Nafta talks on Tuesday, spokesman Adam Austen said on Monday. Canada and the U.S. are still at odds over some key issues.

The U.S. and Mexico agreed to increase regional automotive content to 75 percent from the current 62.5 percent in Nafta, with 40 percent to 45 percent of production by workers earning at least $16 an hour, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said in an emailed statement. They agreed to review the deal after six years, softening a demand by the U.S. for a clause to kill the pact after five years unless it’s renewed by all parties. Duty-free access for agricultural products will remain in place, USTR said.

The peso rallied, and the Canadian dollar also advanced. U.S. stocks rose, with the S&P 500 Index closing just short of 2,900 and the Nasdaq Composite Index topping 8,000 for the first time. Automakers and railroads were among the top gainers.

As he announced the move, Trump said he would drop the name Nafta from the accord because of its unpopularity.

“We’re going to call it the United States/Mexico Trade Agreement,” he said. Nafta “has a bad connotation because the United States was hurt very badly by Nafta for many years.”

‘Big Day’

While the president hailed it as “a big day for trade,” groups representing American workers and companies withheld full endorsements.

The Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs at major U.S. companies, said it was encouraged by the progress but said Nafta “must remain trilateral” and is concerned the announcement might not signal an improvement. A coalition of five unions including the AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers said more work is needed to fix Nafta. “We are not done yet,” the unions said in a statement.

An accord between the U.S. and Mexico is the biggest development in talks that began a year ago, punctuated by Trump’s repeated threats to quit altogether. Significant breakthroughs came during the past several days of bilateral talks on automobiles and energy. The three countries trade more than $1 trillion annually, much of it under the pact.

But questions remain about how the Trump administration will steer a deal through Congress, and whether Canada will be part of the final pact. Trump has been authorized by Congress to seek new Nafta through his so-called fast-track authority, which allows the president to submit trade deals to lawmakers for a basic yes-or-no vote, provided the administration follows certain procedures.

Canada Hopes

The U.S. plans to submit a letter to Congress on Friday, said Trump’s trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, told reporters on Monday. The U.S. hopes Canada will join the pact this week, but it will have the option to sign on later, he said. That suggests the administration believes it has congressional authority to move ahead with its current plan as a two-way deal.

But some experts are less certain. Trump would have to go back to Congress to ratify a bilateral agreement with Mexico, said Mickey Kantor, who oversaw America’s entry into Nafta as Bill Clinton’s first U.S. trade representative.

“They’d have to go back to the Congress,” he said. “To walk away from an arrangement with the two and try to set up bilateral deals would probably cause a tremendous political response.”

Canada firmly opposes a U.S. plan to scrap a measure that allows Nafta countries to settle disputes in cases involving dumping and unfair subsidies, and has also warned it won’t totally dismantle protections for its dairy industry, as the U.S. would like.

Important Step

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, called the deal with Mexico an important step but added that “a final agreement should include Canada.” As the main trade committee in the Senate, the finance panel’s approval will be key to any deal.

Canada, which has been on the sidelines of the talks since July as Mexico and the U.S focused on settling differences, said an overhaul of the trilateral pact will still require its endorsement. “Canada’s signature is required,” Austen, Freeland’s spokesman, said in an email on Monday. “We will only sign a new Nafta that is good for Canada and good for the middle class.”

Pena Nieto said in a tweet on Monday that he spoke with Trudeau and stressed the importance of Canada rejoining Nafta talks.

Trump doesn’t plan to invoke a clause to formally withdraw from the pact, which any country can do with six months’ notice, Lighthizer said. Since his election campaign, the president has repeatedly threatened to kill the pact.

Talks to update Nafta began a year ago, but in recent weeks have been held between just the U.S. and Mexico. The U.S. president says the 24-year-old deal has led to hundreds of thousands of lost American jobs, and he promised to either change it to be more favorable to the U.S., or withdraw.

The U.S. push to finish Nafta talks comes at the same time it’s in a spiraling trade war with China, and has threatened to place tariffs on cars imported from major manufacturing centers in Asia and Europe — efforts that have created new uncertainty for many businesses and investors.

“They want to talk,” Trump told reporters on Monday, referring to Chinese officials. But “it’s been too one-sided for too many years, for too many decades and so it’s not the right time to talk.”

(Reuters) US STOCKS SNAPSHOT-Record highs for S&P, Nasdaq on U.S.-Mexico trade deal

(Reuters) – A broad-based rally pushed U.S. stocks higher on Monday, with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closing at record highs for the second consecutive session as investor sentiment was buoyed by a trade agreement reached between the United States and Mexico.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 259.29 points, or 1.01 percent, to 26,049.64, the S&P 500 gained 22.05 points, or 0.77 percent, to 2,896.74 and the Nasdaq Composite added 71.92 points, or 0.91 percent, to 8,017.90.