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U.S. farm bankruptcies hit an eight-year high

U.S. farm bankruptcy rates jumped 20% in 2019 - to an eight-year high - as financial woes in the U.S. agricultural economy continued in spite of massive federal bail-out funding, according to federal court data.

According to data released this week by the United States Courts, family farmers filed 595 Chapter 12 bankruptcies in 2019, up from 498 filings a year earlier.

The data also shows that such filings - known as “family farmer” bankruptcies - have steadily increased every year for the past five years.

Even billions of dollars spent over the past two years in government agricultural assistance has not stemmed the bleeding.

Nearly one-third of projected U.S. net farm income in 2019 came from government aid and taxpayer-subsidized commodity insurance payments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-farms-bankruptcy-idUSKBN1ZT2YE

A barn sits empty in a Maryland farm under pre-foreclosure short sale.

A recent wave of farm foreclosures has come on the heels of Trump's trade war with China, during which exports to the Asian giant have fallen by nearly 20%.

Fourth quarter GDP rose only 2.1%, and full-year 2019 posts slowest growth in three years at 2.3%

The U.S. economy grew 2.1% in the fourth quarter, closing out a year in which gross domestic product decelerated to its slowest pace in three years amid a continuing drag in business investment.

For all of 2019 the economy grew 2.3%, below the 2.9% increase from 2018 and the 2.4% gain in 2017 - the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, according to the initial estimate released Thursday by the Commerce Department.

Growth was well below the White House’s projections following the 2017 tax bill that cut corporate and individual rates. The administration has said the stimulus would lead to GDP increases of at least 3%, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Consumer spending grew at a 1.8% rate in the 4th quarter, and 2.6% for the entire year. Private consumption accounts for 68% of a U.S. economy that in 2019 reached $21.429 trillion, or $65,285 per person.

Gross private domestic investment fell 6.1% in the quarter - the third straight quarterly decline - and rose just 1.8% in all of 2019. Non-residential construction fell at a 10.1% rate, and by 4.4% for the year.

The decline in structures investment came primarily due to less mining exploration, shafts and wells.

Federal defense purchases grew by 4.9% in 2019, the highest figure since 2007.

At: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/30/us-gdp-q4-2019-first-reading.html

New cars await customers amid slow sales in a Ford dealership this year.

U.S. auto and truck sales were down 5.8% in December, and 1.3% for all of 2019 amid a gradual slowdown across most sectors - except defense spending.

Wisconsin governor signs order for redistricting commission

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order Monday creating what he promised would be a nonpartisan commission to draw new legislative maps next year for the Legislature to consider, a move Republicans have rejected as a sham.

Even though the Legislature won't be forced to vote on the maps the commission creates, the Democratic Evers said he hopes it will push them to consider less partisan maps.

At the very least, it will create a more public process than in 2011 when Republicans met in secret to draw the maps that were released with little time for public review or input before they were passed.

“People should be able to choose their elected officials, not the other way around," Evers said at a news conference in his Capitol office where he was surrounded by Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Attorney General Josh Kaul.

“Certainly I would hope that they see the light and adopt our maps."

At: https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Evers-signs-order-creating-new-redistricting-15007128.php

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signs today's executive order creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

Trump administration seeks to make it easier for banks to reject loans for people of color

The Trump administration is attempting to reverse Obama-era rules that fight racial discrimination in housing.

It's also targeting a federal law that's underpinned the desegregation of American neighborhoods for a half-century known as the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is completing a regulation scaling back a rule that combats discrimination even when its unintended - such as banking lenders' use of algorithms that disproportionately reject applicants of color.

Other proposed changes include eliminating a rule withholding federal funding from cities and municipalities that fail to confront segregation.

"The proposed rule entirely ignores the essential racial desegregation obligations of fair housing law," Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told The Washington Post.

At: https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/trump-seeking-roll-back-housing-desegregation-rules-discrimination-fair-act-2020-1-1028848036

HUD Secretary Ben Carson: federal efforts to desegregate neighborhoods, a "failed socialist experiment."

Probe launched in Argentina's National Bank over $292 million in bad loans to agro firm

The president of the National Bank of Argentina, Eduardo Hecker, announced an internal probe over bad loans made to politically-connected local soy giant Vicentín during his predecessor's tenure.

Some 18.4 billion pesos ($292 million) in export financing granted by the National Bank to Vicentín during former bank president Javier González Fraga's nearly three-year tenure is now in delinquent status.

The firm is delinquent on another $74 million to ten other local banks, and missed $350 million in year-end payments to farmers and other suppliers.

Vicentín, the country's sixth-largest agro-exporter, earned record revenues of $4.2 billion in 2018. But its $1 billion in total debts prompted it to declare bankruptcy on December 6 - four days before former President Mauricio Macri left office.

The firm was a top contributor to Macri's failed re-election campaign, donating $300,000 last August 6-8 alone.

Its CEO and chief shareholder, Alberto Padoán, 76, was vocally supportive of Macri's right-wing, 2015-19 tenure - which granted agro-exporters tax cuts worth over $1 billion annually.

Vicentín executives are currently in talks with Swiss-based commodity trading giant Glencore for a possible takeover. The two firms are partners in Renova, owner of Argentina’s largest soybean-crushing plant.

Hecker, appointed to the National Bank on December 23 by newly-elected President Alberto Fernández, refused Vicentín's request to restructure its debts, requiring the firm to sell assets to pay down its obligations before seeking relief.

"Vicentín was categorized as a prime borrower despite having missed payments for a year - nor did they present a payment plan," National Bank spokesman Sergio Resumil explained.

"There was a decision to not repay."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&tab=wT&sl=es&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pagina12.com.ar%2F243501-el-extrano-raid-de-vicentin-crecimiento-explosivo-con-fondos

Vicentín CEO Alberto Padoán (with moustache) in 2017 with former Argentine President Mauricio Macri (right) - of whom Padoán was a top backer.

Vicentín, which benefited from Macri's agro-export tax cuts, is delinquent on a total of $366 million borrowed from several Argentine banks - a figure similar to recent transfers made to Swiss accounts.

Amid a severe crisis, Macri was defeated for re-election - and the National Bank's new management is now demanding repayment from the soy exporter.

Brazilian jazz trumpeter Claudio Roditi dead at 73

Claudio Roditi, a Brazilian-born trumpeter whose lustrous sound fused hard bop with the jazz flavors of his native land, died January 17 at his home in South Orange, New Jersey. He was 73.

Roditi, born in Rio de Janeiro, was often a fiery presence on the bandstand, having mastered the language of post-World War II jazz trumpet; everyone from Clifford Brown to Woody Shaw made their presence known in his playing.

He was also capable of a preternaturally smooth tone that could take the edge off his ferocity or delve beautifully into a tender ballad. Rhythmically he was second to none, and in addition to bop and samba was expert in Afro-Cuban grooves.

This made him an ideal collaborator for the likes of Charlie Rouse, Herbie Mann, Paquito D’Rivera, and—inevitably—Dizzy Gillespie, in whose United Nations Orchestra Roditi played during the bebop icon’s final years.

The warmth of his playing was matched by a warm personality. He was famously jovial and always ready with a smile and a guffaw. “Claudio loved to laugh!” Park said in her statement.

“He always saw the humor in situations, and frequently we were doubled over laughing about something or other.”

At: https://jazztimes.com/features/tributes-and-obituaries/claudio-roditi-1946-2020/

Claudio Roditi, 1946-2020.

Planned Parenthood endorses challenger to Sen. Susan Collins

Planned Parenthood on Tuesday endorsed a Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, saying Collins “turned her back” on women and citing her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as well as other judicial nominees who oppose abortion.

Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, welcomed the endorsement from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

“There’s never been a more important time to stand up for reproductive rights,” she said, in the face of "systematic attacks on reproductive rights across the country.

Collins, who was honored by Planned Parenthood as recently as 2017 as “an outspoken champion for women’s health," is facing perhaps the toughest reelection fight of her career.

At: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/medical/article/Planned-Parenthood-endorses-challenger-to-Sen-14991195.php

Maine Democratic candidate Sara Gideon: giving Susan Collins cause for concern.

Cipollone falsely claims Republicans were barred from impeachment depositions

Source: Axios

White House counsel and lead Trump lawyer Pat Cipollone falsely claimed during the Senate trial Tuesday that Republicans were barred from attending the House impeachment inquiry's closed-door hearings.

"Not even Mr. Schiff's Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF," Cipollone claimed.

Head impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-N.Y.) responded that he would not suggest that Cipollone would "deliberately make a false statement,” but that "he's mistaken" and that Republicans were given equal time to question witnesses during the closed-door depositions.

Republicans who are members of the three committees conducting the impeachment inquiry — the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees — were invited to and did attend impeachment hearings, which took in place in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF).

Read more: https://www.axios.com/cipillone-schiff-impeachment-hearings-trump-7d580c7e-a44e-452e-b1b1-df9ed6c882b4.html

White House Counsel Pat "Big Onion" Cipollone: Laughing to keep from crying.

Argentina's government sending bill to Congress to solve debt crisis

Argentina’s new government is seeking to push through legislation to help solve a mounting debt crisis as the country struggles to make repayments to global creditors.

Economy Minister Martín Guzmán said on Tuesday he would send a “debt sustainability” bill to Congress aimed at creating a legal framework to improve debt terms on at least $100 billion in bonds and $44 billion in IMF debt.

“This bill, this law will give us the conditions to be able to structure and execute the operations needed to achieve the aim of restoring the sustainability of public debt,” he said.

“Today we have an unsustainable debt burden that mortgages the futures of all Argentines.”

Guzman, 37, was tapped by center-left President Alberto Fernández, who took office just last month, to revive the economy and lead debt talks.

They inherited twin economic and debt crises from right-wing predecessor Mauricio Macri.

Fernández faces a $195 billion public foreign debt - much of which has been in default since September - 54% inflation, 41% income poverty, and a 6% fall in GDP since the current “Macrisis” began in April 2018.

Columbia professor and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, Guzmán's mentor, foresees “significant haircuts” - though likely a fraction of the 48% discount most Argentine bonds are currently trading for.

The nation's most commonly subscribed sovereign bond, Bonar 24, recovered early losses today. It's value has risen 38% since Fernández took office.

At: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-argentina-debt/argentinas-government-sending-debt-bill-to-congress-to-solve-crisis-idUSKBN1ZK1T2

Argentine Economy Minister Martín Guzmán during today's announcement.

The bill being drafted will include a rescheduling and restructuring of over $100 billion in national bonds, and will seek a rescheduling of a $44 billion debt taken on by the former Mauricio Macri administration in hopes of saving his re-election chances.

“We want to make promises that can be fulfilled. Make commitments that are feasible to honor,” Guzmán said.

Argentina's new president to arrive in Israel as his first foreign visit

Argentina’s new president will travel this week to Israel as his first official foreign visit.

Alberto Fernández, who was sworn in as president last month, is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Tuesday to participate in the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem.

Argentina, home to the region's largest Jewish community, will be the only country from Latin America represented at such a high level at Thursday’s event.

Since 2002, Argentina is the only Latin American member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Argentina’s Jewish political umbrella DAIA called the president’s trip “very positive.”

The new governor of Buenos Aires Province, Axel Kicillof, who is Jewish, will travel with the president. The province is home to 3 out of 8 Argentines.

At: https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/argentinas-new-president-to-arrive-in-israel-as-his-first-foreign-visit

Argentine President Alberto Fernández and Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof flash victory signs during their decisive first-round win on August 11.

Fernández, the only Latin American leader invited to the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, seeks a closer relationship with Israel - whose leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, supported his right-wing opponent, Mauricio Macri, in last year's election.

Macri, the first Argentine president to lose re-election, had dissolved the prosecutor's office investigating the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing - an office Fernández reinstated within days of taking office.
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