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Net job approval for Argentina's Macri sinks to minus 9%; 82% disapprove handling of inflation.

Amid mounting inflation and layoffs, as well as personal fallout from the recent Panama Papers scandal, Argentine President Mauricio Macri has seen his net job approval decline to negative 9%.

A poll taken last week by Buenos Aires-based Center for Public Opinion Studies (CEOP) of 1,200 people from across the country found that 53.3% of respondents disapproved of his performance, while 44.2% approved. His job approval was nearly balanced at 48.5% as late as April, according to CEOP; Macri enjoyed a net positive approval of more than 21% in his first month in office.

The poll revealed that despite largely positive media coverage by the Clarín Media Group and most other large media in Argentina, Macri's personal approval was under water for the first time since taking office with 46.5% approval and 50.8% disapproval.

The principal factor behind the decline in Macri's image, the poll showed, is an 82.1% disapproval for his anti-inflationary policies. The Macri administration decreed a statistical data blackout just after taking office; but the local, pro-market consulting firm FIEL estimated that annual inflation skyrocketed from 16.1% in November 2015 to 41.5% last month.

Worries over the country's rapidly deteriorating job market are also a factor. Numerous polls revealed that for the first time in over a decade unemployment is of greater concern to the Argentine public than inflation, with 33% pointing to unemployment as the most serious current problem in Argentina (compared to less than 10% last year) and 67% viewing the job market as now being in crisis.

The Argentine Congress is currently debating a Layoff Prevention Law that would mandate that all employers pay a double indemnity to those laid off. President Macri, however, has indicated he would veto the bill, which is currently being delayed in the Senate as a result of legislative maneuvers from Macri's right-wing PRO party and their junior coalition partners, the centrist UCR. The bill has 64% approval according to most polls.

Approximately 250,000 jobs have been lost since Macri took office, including 90,000 salaried private-sector jobs, 70,000 in the public sector, and the remainder among unregistered workers (mainly in construction, which has declined by around 25% in output since last year) and the self-employed. The plight of the self-employed is partly reflected in the number of empty storefronts in Buenos Aires, which rose by 15% over the same time last year.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/ultimas/20-299413-2016-05-15.html&prev=search

And: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.politicargentina.com/notas/201605/13790-la-desocupacion-paso-a-liderar-las-preocupaciones-de-los-argentinos.html&prev=search

Argentine president's cousin seeks to divest himself of contractor IECSA to avoid criminal liability

Argentine Federal Judge Sebastián Casanello was asked to halt the impending sale of one of the country's largest public contractors, IECSA - a company belonging to President Mauricio Macri's cousin and trustee, Ángel Calcaterra.

The amicus brief was filed today by five legislators in the center-left Front for Victory (FpV) caucus in connection with an investigation being conducted by Casanello against a contractor associated with former Presidents Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Lázaro Báez.

Báez was charged by Casanello last month in a $5 million money laundering case involving the use of shell corporations to buy and sell currencies to generate income. Báez provided evidence to the court last week, however, that Calcaterra was in fact one of his business partners.

Calcaterra was given nominal ownership of IECSA by President Macri's father, Francisco Macri, when the younger Macri ran for Mayor of Buenos Aires in 2007. This transfer was effected to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest since IECSA is a leading municipal contractor as well.

IECSA's public contracts portfolio increased dramatically under Mayor Macri to $1.8 billion, making his cousin Argentina's third largest public contractor. Báez's Austral Construction was, despite his relationship to the Kirchners, only the country's 36th largest public contractor.

Nevertheless, Báez's friendship and hotel partnerships with the Kirchners made him the focus of numerous widely publicized investigations during Mrs. Kirchner's second term. The investigations intensified once their top political rival, current President Mauricio Macri, took office in December - particularly after Macri and a number of his family members and associates were named in the international Panama Papers scandal.

The amicus brief filed before Judge Casanello by the five FpV legislators - Héctor Recalde, Juliana di Tullio, María Teresa García, Carlos Kunkel, and Rodolfo Tailhade - indicates that "the impending sale of IECSA, and the resulting divestment of assets (by Calcaterra), seek to limit any liability that may arise during the investigation." They added that a court injunction barring the sale would follow the same criteria already adopted by the court in issuing its injunction against any transfer of assets on Báez's part.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-299326-2016-05-14.html&prev=search

Argentina's Macri pressured newspapers to withhold Panama Papers story from headlines.

Argentine investigative journalist Jorge Lanata, an ally of the right-wing Macri administration, revealed that President Mauricio Macri personally pressured the country's two leading news dailies, the center-right Clarín and the far-right La Nación, to keep the Panama Papers story incriminating him and a number of his friends and family out of the day's headlines on April 3.

Lanata explained in an interview with Ángel de Brito on Channel 13 (a Clarín Group cable channel normally supportive of Macri) that contrary to his assertions the Argentine president knew at least 10 days in advance that the international scandal would be made public, and that his name and those of his associates would appear. "What did Macri do to try to mitigate the impact of the Panama Papers? He called Clarín and La Nación to pressure them into burying the story. La Nación abided; but Clarín did not - hence his current dispute with Clarín."

Macri was discovered to hold at least a dozen offshore shell companies in partnership with his father and other close associates, and was one of only five current heads of government found to have directly used the disgraced Panamanian corporate law firm Mossack Fonseca for such purposes.

Like Macri, both the Clarín Group and La Nación S.A. were found to control undeclared (and thereby illegal) offshore accounts in Panamá.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.politicargentina.com/notas/201605/13688-lanata-conto-que-el-gobierno-apreto-a-la-nacion-por-los-panama-papers.html&prev=search

Argentine Justice Minister holds secret meeting with leading Dirty War apologist.

Argentine Justice Minister Germán Garavano held a meeting with the country's most prominent Dirty War apologist and proponent of amnesty for the over 500 convicted human rights abusers, Cecilia Pando. The meeting, which was held on April 25, was meant to remain secret; it was, however, confirmed by the country's leading progressive news daily, Página/12.

"It was going to stay secret!" exclaimed Pando. "Our intention was not to comment, nor to let news of this get out. I don't know how they got the information, really!"

Pando then referred to the discussion as "humanitarian" in nature, explaining that "our concern is over irregularities regarding the trials of military officers."

Sources familiar with the talk confirmed, however, that Pando is looking forward to working with the Macri administration on the possibility of achieving freedom for those recently convicted of crimes against humanity during the last military dictatorship, and, as a first step, obtaining house arrest for some repressers.

Pando, 48, is the head of Memoria Completa, a group which advocates for the acquittal of the over 1,600 defendants charged with Dirty War-era crimes against humanity since their immunity was revoked by President Néstor Kirchner in 2003; the group's motto is "fascism is liberty." Known for her bombastic rhetoric and her death threats against Kirchner-era government officials, Pando became a vocal supporter of Macri's 2015 campaign after he referred to human rights as "a scam."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.diarioregistrado.com/politica/pando-se-reunio-con-el-ministro-de-justicia-por-la-liberacion-de-represores_a573328f97dc32a080ab86f6b&prev=search

Jolly's folly: Lawmakers still beholden to funders (by Lawrence Lessig).

Rep. David Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, FL, has generated enormous enthusiasm for his Stop Act — a proposal to ban members of Congress from personally asking people for money. 60 Minutes did a special segment about the idea. That followed an incredibly powerful piece by comedian John Oliver describing with perfect clarity just how absurd the system has become.

From my own survey of research, we know that members of Congress can spend anywhere between 30 and 70% of their time raising money. Even at the low end of that estimate, this should astonish anyone. Critics are wrong to call this a "do-nothing Congress." To the contrary, it does an incredible amount — of fundraising.

It is simple corruption — not of the members of Congress through bribery, but of the system itself. It is a corruption of the representative democracy promised to us by the Framers.

Jolly's reform purports to attack this problem; "staying the course," Jolly insists, "is no longer an option." He's right. Congress has a real problem, and fundamental reform is desperately needed.

But Jolly's proposal is the most cynical example of fraudulent reform that I have ever seen. No doubt, the Stop Act would make Jolly's job — and the job of other members of Congress — better. By law, none of them would have to spend their time engaged in the misery of direct fundraising. By law, they would all effectively collude to leave the fundraising to their staffs.

Yet this would change none of the causes of the corruption of Congress. For the piper would still be paid by the very same people. Members of Congress would still be dependent on the very same special interests to fund their campaigns. Indeed, Jolly's staffers have spread the word across Capitol Hill that the power of the big funders wouldn't really change with his so-called "reform." All that would change is that congressmen wouldn't have to do the dirty work.

Once again, we have a politician pretending to fix the system when in fact, he's just working hard to make his life easier. So long as corporations, special interests, lobbyists, unions and the wealthy pay the piper, the piper will play their tune. The only way to change that is for Congress to give back to us, the voters, the means to fund congressional campaigns.

That's why Republicans like Richard Painter, former ethics czar to George W. Bush, have proposed a $200 tax rebate to every voter to fund campaigns, so that members would be dependent on voters, and not special interests. That would be real change, unlike the folly that Jolly is pressing.

What Florida needs — what America needs — are politicians with the courage to fight for real change, not gimmicks that would actually change nothing.

At: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-david-jolly-reform-fundraising-050716-20160506-story.html

Offshore democracy, or Argentina through the looking glass.

Since the election of Mauricio Macri in November 2015, Argentina has found itself at the sharp end of an assault by Latin America’s New Right. Macri, the co-owner of at least a dozen front companies in tax havens, also follows the example of other heads of state implicated alongside him in the Panama Papers by using the judiciary to persecute opposition and block free speech.

Argentine news outlets affiliated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ICIJ) have downplayed the President’s involvement in the offshore accounts scandal. With the approval of their international partners, the dailies La Nación and Clarín kept Macri’s dirty secrets under wraps until after the presidential elections. What’s more, he was given a month’s warning about the publication: plenty of time to come up with PR and legal strategies to divert attention away from the shocking revelations.

The role of the mass media in the political establishment and in favor of the well-heeled is nothing new. However, there are different levels of obscenity, and the Argentine case is perhaps one of the most flagrant of recent times. When, under the leadership of the German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung, news outlets from several countries were invited to join the investigation, the only Argentine representatives were Macri stalwarts. No independent voice was allowed. La Nación itself appears in the Panama Papers, as the owner of offshore holdings.

Macri, meanwhile, declared himself “surprised” at discovering he was the director of offshore companies, along with his father and brother. At the same time, information has emerged suggesting that offshore companies in the name of Macri’s former finance minister in the City of Buenos Aires could have been used to transfer millions from the public coffers to the electoral campaign of his party, the PRO.

Media protection for the president and many of his ministers is just the tip of a very large and decades-old iceberg. The Clarín Group is, in proportional terms, one of the most dominant media conglomerates in the world, owning cable TV platforms, internet service providers, radio stations, television channels and print media. Alongside La Nación, the Clarín Group is a major shareholder in the nation's largest newsprint maker Papel Prensa - acquired from its original owners under alleged duress under the last dictatorship. As in Brazil with O Globo and O Estado de São Paulo, this has allowed them an almost 40-year hold on printed and audio-visual public discourse.

The Kirchnerist government attempted to break up this monopoly through its Media Law, approved by a wide margin in both chambers of Congress in 2009 and, after a prolonged legal battle with the Clarín Group, upheld by the Supreme Court in 2013. But on his first day in office, Macri hurriedly repealed the law by emergency decree. As a result of this bit of mutual back-scratching, the Clarín Group not only no longer has to divest itself of holdings, but is now in the process of signing contracts to access the only piece of the puzzle that was missing – the mobile phone market.

The few media outfits opposed to Macri find themselves in dire straits. Journalists who have raised critical voices have been sacked. So it’s no surprise that armed attacks on opposition buildings and bomb threats against human rights organisations have gone almost unnoticed. Demonstrations against the government have been ignored or underestimated, as have massive layoffs which, according to union sources, have now accounted for some 200,000 workers since Macri took office.

The media’s protection of Macri’s administration works in conjunction with sectors of the judiciary who, under the banner of denouncing “corruption”, are effectively seeking to go after, weaken and, if possible, imprison members of the opposition. Judge Claudio Bonadío – an outspoken supporter of Macri, formerly linked to the notoriously corrupt government of Carlos Menem, accused of burying cases related to the traffic of contaminated blood and the terrorist attack on the Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) in 1994 – called former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to testify in court over a case stemming from $4 billion in Central Bank losses caused by Macri's own devaluation.

The judiciary’s pursuit of Mrs. Kirchner should be viewed within a broader pattern of judicial anomalies, most notably the arrest of indigenous activist Milagro Sala in the northern province of Jujuy, where even her defense lawyer has been threatened with legal action. These judges, serving the interests of politicians and the media, appear to share a common goal: to see the opposition leaders behind bars.

This new political agenda marks the transfer of power and control of the economy to large corporations linked to members of Macri’s government. While the Macri campaign demonized Mrs. Kirchner's inclusive citizenship policies and dismissed them as pork-barrel politics or worse, relatives and friends of Macri officials are being hired as government officials or being awarded contracts; speculators are coddled (notably the vulture funds, who received a 1,180% payout); and regulations against tax evasion and money laundering go unenforced.

Plutocracy, after all, may well simply be the former name for this new offshore democracy.

At: https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/observatorio-argentino/offshore-democracy-or-argentina-through-looking-glass

As the U.S. expands access to Cuba, Macri cancels Aerolíneas Argentinas route to Havana.

The Argentine flagship airline Aerolíneas Argentinas announced today that it will no longer fly to Cuba. The twice-weekly Buenos Aires-Havana route will be discontinued effective July 27, company officials said.

Officials cited a decrease in demand for flights to Havana to justify the decision. Occupancy rates in this route, inaugurated just two years ago, fell from 78% in the Summer (January and February) of 2015 to 64% this Summer. The trend, however, is not unique to the Havana route as overseas flight volume from Argentina has generally declined since President Mauricio Macri ordered a 40% devaluation last December.

CEO Isela Costantini, a Macri appointee, explained that Cuba is an "expensive destination" for Argentines, and that they now prefer other Caribbean destinations such as Cancún (Mexico) and Punta Cana (Dominican Republic). The Airbus 340 that normally covers that route, she said, would be used to increase frequencies to these two alternative destinations.

Aerolíneas Argentinas and its affiliated domestic carrier, Austral, have shed a number of domestic and foreign routes since Macri took office five months ago, and Costantini has confirmed that more will be discontinued in the coming months.

The current crisis at the flagship airline originated in the Macri administration's decision to reduce its annual subsidy from $420 million in 2015 to $260 million this year (a 38% cut), and has been exacerbated by a decline in passengers since Macri's devaluation. The situation was described by Costantini in a leaked company memo as "a complex situation that will require that all 12,000 employees make an extra effort to cut costs."

Critics, however, believe political motives lurk behind the decision to discontinue flights to Havana, which, like the flights to Punta Cana, required a stop over in Caracas, Venezuela. Macri's right-wing party, PRO, is openly hostile to the Castro and Maduro governments in Cuba and Venezuela, respectively.

They likewise point to possible conflicts of interest behind the sharp cutbacks at Aerolíneas, since Macri's Secretary of Public Policy Coordination, Gustavo Lopetegui, had served as CEO of its chief rival LAN Argentina until his appointment.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.politicargentina.com/notas/201605/13747-aerolineas-argentinas-dejara-de-volar-a-cuba-en-julio.html&prev=search

And: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cronista.com%2Feconomiapolitica%2FEl-Gobierno-recorta-en-casi-40-los-subsidios-a-Aerolineas-Argentinas-20160504-0045.html

Argentine monthly inflation doubles to highest level since 2002: 6.9% (40.2% yearly).

Inflation in Argentina rose from 3.3% in March to 6.9% in April according to estimates released today by the economic consulting firm Elypsis for the City of Buenos Aires. Consumer prices, according to their estimate, rose 40.2% over the same time last year - the highest since the 2002 crisis.

The alternative, unofficial index is one of the few comprehensive estimates available for measuring Argentine inflation since the Macri administration decreed, just days after taking office last December, that official inflation figures not be released until September. Members of the centrist Renewal Front - which had initially supported the right-wing Macri administration - likewise revived the "Congressional CPI" estimate following Macri's statistical blackout decree; while their April index has not yet been released, their estimates as of March show a similar trend.

The annual rate of inflation in Argentina has risen steadily since President Mauricio Macri imposed a 40% devaluation on December 17, 2015 (a week after taking office). Inflation, a central Macri campaign theme last year, had already accelerated by 10 points as of March - from 23.5% in November 2015 to 33.5%. The 40.2% annual pace Elypsis estimated for April would make it the highest rate of annual inflation since December 2002, while the 6.9% monthly rate would make it the highest since the depth of the post-convertibility crisis in April 2002.

The jump in prices last month was mostly accounted for by the 200-300% increase in public utility rates and the 100% increase in public transport fares triggered by the Macri administration's decision to reduce public service subsidies. These hikes added around 5 points to consumer prices last month, or 70% of the total.

The public service hikes pushed inflation to 5.6% in the first week of April alone (the highest since 1991), after which it slowed to 0.5% a week. Accordingly, the report indicated that inflation in May should slow to between 2 and 3%. Even with this more moderate pace, however, inflation in 2016 will be far in excess of the "20 to 25%" goal set by Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay and will instead probably match estimates by consulting firms and labor unions for a 40 to 50% rate this year.

Inflation meanwhile continues to push the economy deeper in recession as consumers' buying power erodes. The monthly retail sales estimate published yesterday by the Argentine Medium Business Confederation (CAME) showed that real retail sales fell 6.6% in April from the same time a year ago. As has been the case since February, sales fell most for appliances and electronics (-12.3%).

CAME director Osvaldo Cornide pointed out that the decline in sales might have been steeper were it not for the Ahora 12 (Now 12) big ticket item finance program enacted in 2014 by former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as well as for the fact that many retailers are now liquidating inventory for the Southern Hemisphere winter.

Cornide noted that even so, "nothing could bring back the customers - not even window shoppers."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.politicargentina.com%2Fnotas%2F201605%2F13652-la-inflacion-llego-al-69-en-abril-en-capital-federal.html

And: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.politicargentina.com/notas/201605/13631-las-ventas-cayeron-un-66-por-ciento-en-abril.html&prev=search
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