Econintersect: Here are some of the headlines we found to help you start your day. For more headlines see our afternoon feature for GEI members, What We Read Today, which has many more headlines and a number of article discussions to keep you abreast of what we have found interesting.
Asia markets lose ground; South Korean shares under pressure amid tensions with China (CNBC) Asia markets traded lower Friday, following an overnight decline in U.S. equities, as the market priced in increasing chances the Federal Reserve might hike interest rates later this month. In the currency market, the dollar index continued higher, but slipped to 102.02 by 12:01 p.m. HK/SIN, from an earlier high of 102.17. The stronger dollar pushed gold prices lower, from levels above $1,260 an ounce near the start of the week to $1,233.34 at 12:02 p.m. HK/SIN Friday. Oil climbed by mid-day Friday as the dollar retreated slightly. U.S. crude was up 0.17% at $52.7 and global benchmark Brent added 0.13% to $55.15.
These Countries Are Getting More Miserable This Year (Bloomberg) If 2016 was the year of political shocks, this year could be when we find how they'll impact the global economy. Bloomberg's Misery Index, which combines countries' 2017 inflation and unemployment outlooks, aims to show us just that. For the third year in a row, Venezuela's economic and political problems make it the most miserable in the ranking. The least miserable country is once again Thailand - in large part due to its unique way of calculating employment - and the rest of the ladder features noteworthy moves by the U.K., Poland and Mexico, to name a few. Below are the 13 most miserable countries. Click on the title link for the full list of 65.
Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe (The Hill) Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday recused himself from any investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, bowing to mounting bipartisan pressure for him to do so given his contacts with Moscow’s U.S. envoy during the campaign. Sessions said he made his decision after consulting with officials at the Justice Department, who recommended he should no longer participate in the probe. He said during a hastily arranged news conference at the department’s headquarters in Washington:
“I have now decided to recuse myself of any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States."
Trump transition team canceled ethics training session (CNN) President Donald Trump's transition team, days before he took office, nixed plans for an orientation class that would have prepared political appointees and White House staff for a series of ethical and legal issues, documents provided to CNN show. The ethics program proposed by the General Services Administration would have helped White House staff and political appointees get through Senate confirmation hearings, work with Congress and corresponding agencies and comply with laws and executive orders -- all issues Trump nominees and staff have confronted during their first six weeks in office. Politico first reported that the training was scrapped.
Kansas Supreme Court Says State Education Spending Is Too Low (The New York Times) The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the state’s spending on public education was unconstitutionally low, dealing a new blow to Gov. Sam Brownback, who is facing a rebellion from his own Republican Party over his trademark tax-cutting doctrine.
In a unanimous ruling, the court said black, Hispanic and poor students were especially harmed by the lack of funding, pointing to lagging test scores and graduation rates. The justices set a June 30 deadline for lawmakers to pass a new constitutional funding formula, sending them scrambling to find more money to pay for a solution.
This is the second time in about a year that Kansas’ highest court has ruled against the state’s approach to paying for schools, just as Mr. Brownback finds himself wrestling with growing budget deficits and as his relations with fellow Republicans have deteriorated to new lows.
Top Asia Diplomat at State Department Joins Wave of Departures (Bloomberg) Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, the top diplomat for East Asian and Pacific issues at the U.S. State Department, is leaving the job to take a fellowship in New York, the latest senior official to leave the agency since President Donald Trump took office. Russel said he was taking up a yearlong fellowship at the Asia Society in New York and will remain a foreign service officer. He said that after more than three years in the position, he was ready for the next challenge and wasn’t asked to leave.
Politicians are fast learning how to bring climate denial into the classroom under Trump (Fusion) The debate surrounding science education in America is at least as old as the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial," in which a high school science teacher was criminally charged for teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee law. But bills percolating through state legislatures across the U.S. are giving the education fight a new flavor, by encompassing climate change denial and serving it up as academic freedom.
One prominent example, South Dakota’s Senate Bill 55, was voted down Wednesday, but others are on the docket in three states, with possible others on the way. Advocates say the bills are designed to give teachers additional latitude to explain scientific theories. Opponents say they empower science denial, removing accountability from science education and eroding the foundation of public schools.
In bills making their way through statehouses in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, and a potential measure in Iowa, making common cause with climate change denial is a way for advocates to encourage skepticism of evolution, said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education, an advocacy group.
Euro lawmakers press EU to impose visas on U.S. citizens (Reuters) The European Parliament called on the EU executive on Thursday to force Americans to apply for visas before visiting Europe this summer, stepping up pressure to resolve a long-running transatlantic dispute on the issue.
The European Commission stressed it was pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the row, leaving it unlikely that it would act on the vote by lawmakers setting a May deadline to impose visas - a move that could hurt Europe's tourism sector.
Washington refuses to grant visa-free access to people from four east European states and Cyprus, while those from the other 23 member states can enter using the U.S. visa waiver program. EU rules call for equal treatment for all Union citizens.
Banking: Europe’s battle to fix the ‘doom loop’ (EuroMoney) Will the ECB (European Central Bank) change the definition of risk-free for sovereign debt of eurozone members and issue Eurobonds (ESBs) as the eurozone risk-free asset? Germany's Bundesbank is strongly opposed, but it may be the way to stabilize the fragile state of the eurozone. The risks that have built are reflected in the Target2 balances which reflect the claims of national banks should the euro be dissolved. The graph below shows how much would be gained or lost in revaluation to local currencies (deutschmark, francs, drachma, etc.). Germany would lose hugely in that process and all other members of the former eurozone would experience gains.
Iraqi forces in Mosul fight Islamic State counter-attack (Reuters) Islamic State fighters launched a counter-attack against advancing U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in western Mosul during an overnight rain storm, as the battle for control of the militants' last major urban stronghold in Iraq intensified. A senior Iraqi officer said Islamic State staged its attack on units from the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) when the storm and strong winds hampered air surveillance and on-the-ground visibility. He said some militant fighters hid among displaced families to get close to the U.S.-trained troops.
Jeff Sessions controversy: Russia denies its US ambassador is a spy (CNN) Russia's Foreign Ministry has angrily rejected allegations that its top diplomat in Washington is a spy amid controversy over meetings he held with US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. CNN reported Wednesday that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia's top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, citing current and former senior US government officials. But asked by CNN's team in Moscow about the report, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova insisted Kislyak was "a well-known, world-class diplomat". She defiantly accused CNN of "spreading false news".
India's Feb gold imports surge on pent-up demand-GFMS (Reuters) India's February gold imports surged to 50 tonnes (55 tons), up more than 82% from a year ago, on pent-up jeweller demand and as retail consumers ramped up purchases for weddings, provisional data from consultancy GFMS showed on Wednesday. The rise in imports by the world's second-biggest consumer of the precious metal will support global prices that are trading near their highest level in 3-1/2 months, but could widen the South Asian country's trade deficit.
Tanveer Hussain: Indian athlete held over sex abuse in US (BBC News) A snowshoe athlete from Indian-administered Kashmir has been arrested in the US on charges of sexually abusing a minor girl. Tanveer Hussain, 24, has been remanded in jail in Saranac Lake, New York, where he participated in the 2017 world snowshoe championship. Mr Hussain was initially denied a visa, but managed to travel after campaigning by US activists and senators. His attorney has entered a not-guilty plea for him.
Saranac Lake police department said that the charges against Mr Hussain, which include endangering the welfare of a child, stem from him engaging in a "passionate kiss with the 12-year-old victim".
"There was no accusation of force. The charges are a result of the age difference of the individuals," the AP news agency quoted the police as saying.
Japan fourth quarter GDP seen revised up on capital expenditure boost (Reuters) GDP growth for the October-December quarter is expected to be upwardly revised to an annualized 1.6% from a preliminary 1.0%, according to the median estimate of 20 economists. It is expected that companies ramped up investment in plant and manufacturing equipment, a Reuters poll showed. Separate data is also expected to show the country's current account surplus for January likely narrowed from the previous month due to a temporary slowdown in exports before the Lunar New Year holidays, the poll of economists showed.
Ancient human tree cultivation shaped Amazon landscape (Reuters) Ancient indigenous peoples had a far more profound impact on the composition of the vast Amazon rainforest than previously known, according to a study showing how tree species domesticated by humans long ago still dominate big swathes of the wilderness. Researchers said on Thursday many tree species populating the Amazon region appear to be abundant because they were cultivated by people who populated the area before Europeans arrived more than five centuries ago. These include the Brazil nut, cacao, acai palm, rubber, caimito, cashew and tucuma palm. "So the Amazon is not nearly as untouched as it may seem," said study researcher Hans ter Steege, a forest community ecologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands and Free University of Amsterdam.
Mexican company: We'll provide cement for border wall (CNN) Cemex, one of the world's largest providers of building materials, said Wednesday that it would provide building materials for a border wall -- if a client asks for it. If Cemex does get involved, that could test Trump's promise to "buy American, hire American". That's because Cemex has a huge presence in the U.S., with offices in Houston and New York. Its cement is being used to build the largest building in San Francisco, the Salesforce Tower, and an 83-story skyscraper in Miami. The U.S. is the company's biggest market, accounting for 28% of its sales. About 20% of its revenues come from Mexico and 22% from northern Europe. The company said in a statement:
"If one of our clients requests a quote for materials, we have the responsibility to do so. But this does not imply that Cemex will participate in the project."
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