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.
...violent crime has become an epidemic. The region accounts for only 9% of the world’s population but 33% of its murders. Its homicide rate of 24 per 100,000 people is four times the world average. Worryingly, murders have become more common even as socioeconomic conditions have improved (see chart). Robberies are increasing, too; some 60% involve violence. No wonder polls show that crime has replaced the economy as the main public concern in Latin America.
Sessions to respond in writing to questions over Russia contacts - DOJ (Reuters) U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will reply in writing to Senate Democrats' questions about his meetings with Russia's ambassador last year, the Justice Department said on Friday after a top Republican denied Democrats' request for a public hearing. Nine Democratic senators sent a letter earlier Friday asking Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to call Sessions before his panel to explain his failure until this week to disclose his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign. The letter came a day after Sessions, the country's top justice official and a key ally of Republican President Donald Trump, removed himself from any investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the election. Grassley replied that he had no plans for a hearing. Instead, Sessions on Monday will submit written answers to questions posed in the Democratic lawmakers' letter, such as why he did not come forward sooner to detail his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said. On Thursday, after The Washington Post reported the meetings on Wednesday, Sessions said he met Kislyak in his Senate office two months before the election as well as at an event with other ambassadors at the Republican National Convention. During the Senate confirmation process to become attorney general, Sessions denied having any contact with Russian officials during the campaign.
The Curious Case of Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s New Terrorism Guru (Foreign Policy) There has been a lot written lately about Sebastian Gorka. The former national security editor at Breitbart is currently deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and a member of Stephen Bannon’s internal White House “think tank," the Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG). If you’re not intimately familiar with Gorka’s foreign-policy chops, that’s not unusual - prior to taking his current position, Gorka, who holds a doctorate in political science from Corvinus University in Hungary, was an obscure figure, working on the fringes of the counterterrorism community. Part way through this article, the author raises a surprising concern:
I want to highlight a different concern here. You see, it appears Gorka doesn’t have a Top Secret or a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) security clearance. On February 16, the Associated Press noted: “The newly established Strategic Initiatives Group, headed by White House strategist Steve Bannon, includes a unit charged with counterterrorism intelligence, current and former senior officials say. The unit is headed by White House aide and former national security analyst Sebastian Gorka, who doesn’t have appropriate clearance, they said - something the officials expressed concern about given the sensitive mandate of the unit."
A key Republican explains why he wants to reinvent taxes, not just cut them (Vox) The House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady on taking the hard road on reform. His choice reflects what could be the boldest departure in conservative economic thinking since Arthur Laffer sketched a tax curve on the back of a napkin in the 1970s. To cure the ills of an American growth in a globalized economy, Brady believes, it’s not enough to just cut taxes. (Econintersect: Our simple summary is that Brady's proposals reduce taxes on income and increase taxes on consumption.) This author's summary:
His tax plan, released last year, includes rate cuts at almost every personal income level, for traditional corporations, and for so-called pass-through entities whose profits are taxed as individual income for shareholders. It would also eliminate most personal deductions, change how investments are written off, and, most controversially, begin to tax imports - but not exports - in a fundamental overhaul of how the government treats business income.
President Trump’s blaming the Democrats for Cabinet delays that are normal - and his own fault (The Washington Post) It is true that, at one time, Senate Democrats were dragging their heels on Trump’s Cabinet picks. In January, members of the party boycotted committee votes to advance nominees to the full Senate, slowing the process. In recent weeks, however, the process has happened in regular bursts. Three Cabinet picks have been approved in the last two days. How does Trump compare to past presidents? At this moment, he has two unconfirmed Cabinet positions - the same as Barack Obama had on Mar. 3, 2009. In fact, only three of the last six presidents have had their entire Cabinets in place at this point. The last two nominees have not yet had the formal requests forwarded by the White House.
Court rules Wyoming wolves should be stripped of federal protections (Reuters) Wolves in Wyoming should be stripped of Endangered Species Act protections and management given to the state rather than the U.S. government, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday, a decision that opens the door for hunting of the animals. U.S. wildlife managers in 2012 determined that wolves in Wyoming had rebounded from the threat of extinction and that the state plan to oversee the creatures was adequate to ensure their survival. But conservation groups sued, contending the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had acted in an arbitrary and unlawful fashion in finding Wyoming's plan acceptable. They argued the state would fail to maintain the animals at certain population levels and would subject a portion of them to being shot on sight.
A U.S. district judge sided with environmentalists in a 2014 decision and the several hundred wolves in Wyoming were once again placed under federal safeguards.
The state, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and others appealed that ruling and, on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia reversed the lower court, finding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had indeed "exercised its judgment in a reasonable way" in concluding that Wyoming's management plan would provide wolves with sufficient protections.
UK not legally bound to pay into EU budget if no Brexit deal - lawmakers (Reuters) If Britain leaves the European Union without agreeing an exit deal it will not be legally obliged to contribute to the bloc's budget post-Brexit, a committee of members of Britain's upper house of parliament said on Saturday. Money is likely to be one of the most contentious elements of the upcoming divorce talks. Other EU nations want Britain to pay its share of budget commitments -- estimated informally by EU officials at roughly €60 billion.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said only that the government would consider paying into the EU to participate in "some specific European programmes".
Under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, Britain has two years to agree a deal with the EU after which time it will leave without one unless all member states agree to extend negotiations.
UK economy's strong growth since Brexit vote starts to slow (Reuters) Britain's unexpectedly strong economic growth since last June's Brexit vote may be starting to fade as inflation picks up, according to a major business survey that chimed with notes of caution from several top companies. Slowing consumer spending started to hurt services companies in February, an unpromising signal for the economy ahead of Britain's divorce with the European Union, Friday's Markit/CIPS UK Services Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) showed. As finance minister Philip Hammond puts the final touches on his first annual budget on March 8, the survey is likely to reinforce his sense that Britain's strong growth since last year's vote to leave the EU will fade this year. The services PMI fell to a five-month low of 53.3 from 54.5 in January and suggested the economy is now expanding at a quarterly pace of around 0.4% - much slower than the 0.7% expansion during the fourth quarter of 2016.
UN: 4,000 civilians flee Mosul each day amid fighting (Al Jazeera) The U.N. says that over 28,000 residents have been forced from their homes since operation to retake western Mosul started on 19 February 19. The Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement put the number at 31,000. Overall, the total number displaced since the battle for Mosul started in October exceeds 176,000, according to the UN.
1990s Manifesto outlining Russia’s plans is starting to come true (news.com.au) In 1997, a Russian political scientist named Aleksandr Dugin and a serving Russian General named Nikolai Klokotov sat down and wrote a text that would become the foundation of Russian geopolitical strategy over the next 20 years. It was called “Foundations of Geopolitics" and it was all about how Russia could reassert itself in the world.
Chillingly, the book now reads like a to-do list for Putin’s behaviour on the world stage.
Perhaps surprisingly, the document is not a secret. It has long been known to observers of Russian foreign policy, and has served as a text book among a generation of military strategists. But with the scandal over Russian influence in the US elections, growing by the day, it’s surprising how little coverage this important text has been given.
The book starts out by saying that the shrewd thing for Russia to do is to steer clear of direct military confrontation. Instead, the book counsels Russian leaders to favour political stealth. It emphasises the need for the infiltration of Western institutions, and the use of soft power to shape the world in Russia’s favour. Sound familiar yet? We haven’t even got to the good stuff.
China's 2017 defence budget rise to slow again (Reuters) Defying pressure for a strong increase in defense spending, China said on Saturday its military budget this year would grow about 7%, its slowest pace since 2010. Last year, with China's economy slowing, the defense budget recorded its lowest increase in six years, 7.6%, the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit increases. With the administration of new U.S. President Donald Trump proposing a 10% jump in military spending in 2017, and worries about potential disputes with the United States over the South China Sea and the status of Taiwan, some in China had been pressing for a forceful message from this year's defence budget.
Exclusive: Trump administration considering separating women, children at Mexico border (Reuters, Investing.com) Women and children crossing together illegally into the United States could be separated by U.S. authorities under a proposal being considered by the Department of Homeland Security, according to three government officials. Part of the reason for the proposal is to deter mothers from migrating to the United States with their children, said the officials, who have been briefed on the proposal.
The policy shift would allow the government to keep parents in custody while they contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings. Children would be put into protective custody with the Department of Health and Human Services, in the "least restrictive setting" until they can be taken into the care of a U.S. relative or state-sponsored guardian.
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