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peppertree's Journal
peppertree's Journal
April 28, 2018

Argentine Central Bank fends off $4 billion run on the peso

Argentina's Central Bank was forced to shed $4.15 billion in reserves to contain demand for U.S. dollars from financial speculators - a record for any single one-week period since the nation's December 2001 financial crisis.

The run on the peso, prompted by renewed fears the nation's ballooning foreign debt may soon require emergency measures to service, also forced Central Bank President Federico Sturzenegger to raise the discount rate by 300 basis points today, to 30.25%.

The dollar, which traded at around 17.50 Argentine pesos for most of the second half of last year, reached 20 pesos in February. This week's run pushed it past 21 briefly, before closing Friday at 20.90 after the interest rate hike.

Economy Minister Nicolás Dujovne appeared on television in an attempt to calm markets, noting that with Central Bank reserves at $58 billion, "this was nothing."

"Don't get so nervous," he admonished viewers.

Most analysts, however, now consider the Argentine peso overvalued as a result of a doubling in prices since President Mauricio Macri took office in late 2015.

Pressure on the peso has intensified since a record $27 billion in short-term LEBACs matured on December 18. These were largely redeemed (some 63%) rather than rolled over, with many of the proceeds wired offshore - a risky speculative practice known locally as the "financial bicycle."

The resulting purchase of dollars, whose trade was deregulated by the Macri administration, devalued the peso by 10% in a week. This trend has mounted since March, when the Economy Ministry reported that the nation's current account deficit more than doubled in 2017 to $30.8 billion and that the foreign debt swelled by a record $52 billion, or 28.6%.

Argentina's foreign debt has grown by over $80 billion since Macri rescinded foreign exchange controls and other financial regulations within days of taking office - the sharpest two-year increase, relative to GDP, since the height of a similar 'bicycle' bubble in 1979-81.

Its collapse forced the last dictatorship to step down in 1983; a later debt bubble led to the well-publicized 2001 crisis.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ambito.com%2F919614-jornada-frenetica-del-dolar-supero-los--21-pero-con-alza-de-tasa-y-ventas-del-bcra-cerro-a--2090

Worried Argentines talk dollars after a hectic week in Buenos Aires' financial district.

Mounting foreign debt, much of it taken on to finance trade deficits and speculative capital flight, has recently raised alarm bells among investors.
April 26, 2018

Ronny Jackson withdraws as Trumps nominee to lead Veterans Affairs

Source: Washington Post

Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s embattled nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, withdrew from consideration Thursday amid mushrooming allegations of professional misconduct that raised questions about the White House vetting process.

“The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated,” Jackson, the White House physician, said in a defiant statement. “If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years.”

Jackson’s nomination had become imperiled even before Capitol Hill Democrats on Wednesday released new allegations of misconduct. The claims include that Jackson had wrecked a government vehicle after getting drunk at a Secret Service going-away party.

Read more: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/ronny-jackson-withdraws-as-nominee-to-lead-veterans-affairs-after-wave-of-misconduct-allegations/ar-AAwkSc7?OCID=ansmsnnews11

April 24, 2018

Argentines protest new round of utility hikes, power outages with candlelight march

Argentines participated in a massive candlelight march in downtown Buenos Aires Thursday night to oppose the latest round of utility rate hikes announced by President Mauricio Macri.

The march, led by trade unions and social advocacy groups, followed pot-banging protests on Wednesday in cities around the country.

The candles were in reference to a 1700% rate increase for electricity since Macri took office in December 2015, as well as the fact that power outages have become two-thirds more frequent despite a relatively mild summer this year.

Consumer prices in general have doubled since Macri took office. Additional rate hikes of 1300% for gas, 1000% for water, and 300% for public transport, have led to the most prolonged consumer slump in nearly 20 years.

Pocketbooks and lined pockets

The Macri administration, according to Transport Workers Union leader Pablo Moyano, is insensitive to people's pocketbook issues.

"We hoped the administration would give families a break and revisit the issue; but, regrettably, they govern for only one sector," he said referring to the energy lobby - which includes the president's best friend and co-owner of the country's second-largest electric utility, Nicolás Caputo.

The resulting political fallout led Energy Minister Juan José Aranguren, a longtime Shell executive facing calls to resign since appearing in the Paradise Papers tax evasion scandal last year, to propose allowing customers to pay utility bills in installments.

Macri's 'Let's Change' caucus remained defiant however, and succeeded in blocking any discussion of rate hikes on the floor of the House by one vote on Wednesday.

"Instead of spending on electricity, people used to spend on 50-inch LED screens," pro-Macri Congressman Yamil Santoro scoffed yesterday.

The administration and allies such as the IMF defend the rate hikes as a way to spur investment by utilities as well as reduce fiscal deficits, which under Macri ballooned from $24 billion to $34 billion as corporate tax cuts weigh on revenues.

"It's easier to increase gas or transport," Moyano noted, "than to tax banks or mining companies."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.diariopopular.com.ar%2Fpolitica%2Fprotestaron-contra-el-tarifazo-una-marcha-las-velas-n350433&edit-text=

Marching by candlelight against Macri's repeated utility rate hikes, Argentines are now paying 18 times more for electricity but enduring two thirds more blackouts.
April 21, 2018

Six South American nations suspend participation in UNASUR regional bloc due to U.S. pressure

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru announced this week that they would indefinitely suspend their participation in the meetings of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

In a joint letter sent to the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Fernando Huanacuni Mamani, who assumed the rotating presidency of UNASUR on April 17, they stated that their withdrawal was related to the current lack of a secretary general of UNASUR.

The withdrawal was announced just 2 days after Bolivia assumed the presidency however.

The move can be seen as another move by the growing neo-conservative block in Latin America to break away from Latin American integration and move closer to a U.S.-backed agenda.

UNASUR was officially founded in 2008 in Brasilia to promote political and economic coordination between all 12 South American nations.

The project was one of the many that developed during the cycle of progressive governments in Latin America seeking to create a regional response to the efforts of U.S. interests to maintain unregulated access to Latin American labor, natural resources and markets - as well as to counter the Bush administration's political agenda.

“If UNASUR is dissolved the continent will be closer to a Free Trade Area of the Americas,” Argentine foreign policy analyst Martín Granovsky noted, in reference to a key Bush initiative.

“And this without Washington having needed to make the least effort.”

At: https://newsclick.in/six-south-american-nations-suspend-participation-unasur-regional-bloc-due-us-pressure

South American leaders inaugurate the Néstor Kirchner Building, UNASUR's headquarters, in Quito, Ecuador, in 2014.

Kirchner, who died in 2010, was instrumental in forming UNASUR - a move opposed by U.S. policy makers and neo-cons in particular.
April 18, 2018

GOP fears rise over West Virginia Senate fiasco

First Roy Moore, now Don Blankenship. Washington Republicans are worried about another potential GOP Senate nominee, this time in West Virginia.

Senate Republicans are escalating their attacks on West Virginia Senate GOP candidate Don Blankenship, increasingly worried that the coal baron and ex-prisoner will blow a winnable race against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

Republicans see West Virginia as a prime pickup opportunity in November, given President Donald Trump’s huge popularity there. But they say the multimillionaire Blankenship, running in a tight three-way primary against Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, is indefensible as a candidate after serving a year in prison for conspiring to violate mine safety violations.

Twenty-nine miners died at his company’s Upper Big Branch mine in 2010.

“Wasn’t he convicted of a crime?” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said in an interview Tuesday. “That sort of background doesn’t lend itself to public office, in my view. Being convicted of a crime is a real liability.”

At: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/17/west-virginia-senate-blankenship-republicans-530492

Blankenship getting away with murder at a West Virginia courthouse in 2015.
April 18, 2018

Wine enthusiasts celebrate World Malbec Day

World Malbec Day, designed to celebrate malbec in its various forms across the world as well as to promote the wines, is being celebrated by wine enthusiasts today.

The date commemorates the commissioning in 1853 of French enologue Michel Aimé Pouget to introduce new vines to Argentina's dry western foothills - which proved ideal for winemaking. The official who commissioned Pouget, Domingo Sarmiento, later became president of Argentina.

While they had been cultivated around Bordeaux for 800 years, the malbec grapes Pouget introduced did not grow well in France, where it is known as cot and where it can take years for the tannins to soften and the flavors to express themselves - hence its name, meaning "bad nose."

Nor was its Argentine varietal initially successful.

Around 1993, however, malbec's appeal began to grow among locals as well as internationally. Production expanded from just 283,000 quintals in 1993 (just 1.5% of Argentina's total) to 3.6 million in 2015 - one-seventh of the nation's wine output. Some 2.8 million quintals were exported, making Argentina the primary source for the increasingly popular red.

With 76,000 acres under cultivation Argentina now grows over half the world's malbec, with the best wines made from grapes grown in Mendoza Province, where 85% of the country's malbec is bottled.

Mendoza's high altitudes give the varietal its renowned freshness and vivacity, coupled with juicy, brambly black fruits and hints of tar and chocolate that make these wines so appealing and approachable, particularly when drunk with relatively little ageing.

What is also praiseworthy about Argentine malbec is the high quality at a low price and the overall reliability: indifferent wines seem rare.

It is simply fortuitous that malbec partners wonderfully with rare steak and roast beef, since that is also an Argentine specialty, as well as other roasted and barbecued meats – although its freshness makes them fine with a variety of fare.


Tourists enjoy malbec in the foothills of the Argentine Andes, where most of the popular varietal is grown.
April 17, 2018

Trump pick Gorsuch casts deciding Supreme Court vote against deporting immigrant

Source: The Hill

Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's first Supreme Court appointment, cast the deciding vote in a decision released Tuesday that sided with an immigrant fighting his deportation.

Gorsuch sided with court's four liberal justices in favor of the immigrant, James Garcia Dimaya, who the government sought to deport after his second first-degree burglary conviction in California.

The Justice Department argued his first-degree burglary conviction constituted a crime of violence, which is an aggravated felony that results in deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The court said Tuesday, however, that the law’s definition of a crime of violence is too vague.

Read more: http://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/383512-supreme-court-invalidates-law-requiring-the-deportation-of

Justice Neil Gorsuch. The subject of Trump's next Twitter meltdown?
April 17, 2018

Key Macri ally, denounced for holding political prisoners, embroiled in bid rigging scandal

Gerardo Morales, the governor of Argentina's remote Jujuy Province and a close ally of President Mauricio Macri, has come under fire over a bid-rigging scandal involving the provincial tourism ministry.

E-mails revealed yesterday by the progressive news site El Destape detail a scheme by which the Minister of Tourism and Culture of Jujuy, Federico Posadas, diverted close to 5 million pesos ($245,000) to a political communication consultancy firm through rigged bids and in some cases phantom contracts.

The e-mails, dated as recently as March 8, include detailed instructions as to how to skirt public contract bidding laws - including confidential data on competitors' bids.

The firm, Reale-Dalla Torre (RDT), received massive publicity contracts in 2014 and 2015 from Macri as mayor of Buenos Aires - of which 9 million pesos ($1 million at the time) remains unaccounted for.

RDT's owners contributed over $35,000 to Macri's 2015 presidential campaign - a violation of Argentine campaign finance law. The case against them for fraudulent contracts, filed in September 2015, remains stalled in the courts.

Double standards

The scandal highlights a pattern by the right-wing Macri administration and its allies of using courts to pursue only political opponents, leading to accusations that Mr. Macri is using the judicial system to neutralize the opposition.

One of the most emblematic such cases is in Morales' Jujuy Province, where indigenous rights activist Milagro Sala has been imprisoned for 27 months - first without charges, and then on charges of embezzlement but without evidence.

Critics note that prosecutors have offered no proof substantiating the charges, relying only on hearsay from individuals including an illiterate man who was later awarded a public contract and an ex-convict who was released despite serving a sentence for murder.

Citing lack of evidence and serious irregularities such as the use of bribed witnesses, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled in October 2016, that Sala's detention is in fact arbitrary, and urged Macri and Morales to release her immediately. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) did likewise in December.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.eldestapeweb.com%2Flos-correos-que-comprometen-morales-las-licitaciones-truchas-jujuy-n42322

Governor Gerardo Morales: Not a fan of e-mails.
April 17, 2018

North, South Korea mulling over plans to officially end Korean War

They're ready to give peace a chance.

North and South Korea are mulling over plans to officially end the state of war that has existed on the Korean peninsula for the last 68 years.

Leaders of the two countries, which are still technically at war, are preparing for a historic meeting next week.

Ending the military tensions between the neighboring nations could become a major part of the summit between South Korea President Moon Jae-in and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unidentified South Korean official, according to Bloomberg News.

U.S., North Korea planning Trump-Kim Jong Un meeting in secret
Pyongyang and Seoul have been at war since the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The heavily-guarded demilitarized zone separating the countries, known as the DMZ, serves as a physical buffer and symbol of the stalemate.

At: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/north-south-korea-mulling-plans-korean-war-article-1.3938847

April 15, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn: Launching Syria air strikes on humanitarian grounds legally debatable

Or rather: strikes on “humanitarian grounds” legally debatable.

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