Graham Says 2018 Will Be a Year of ‘Extreme Danger’ — If Trump Admin ‘Blinks, God Help Us’

Sunday on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said 2018 would be a year of “extreme danger” in the United States relations with North Korea and Iran. Graham said, “He’s told the North Koreans ‘I will deny you the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tip missile.’ If they test another bomb, they’re closer to having that capability. And as last resort ‘I will use more force to stop you.’ Now, Iranians are watching us in North Korea. North Korea is watching us in Iran. 2018 will be a year of opportunity and extreme danger. The president has drawn a line in North Korea, telling the regime ‘I’ll never let you hit America with a nuclear-tip missile. If I have to, I’ll use military force to stop you.’ Iranians are watching the way he engages with North Korea and vice versa.” He added, “We’ve got a chance here to deliver some fatal blows to some really bad actors in 2018. But if we blink, God help us all.”

Iran president Rouhani urges against violence in protests, says Trump ‘has no right to sympathize with Iranians’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Lucas Jackson | Reuters Iranian President Hassan Rouhan

President Hassan Rouhani, giving his first public reaction to four days of anti-government protests, said on Sunday Iranians had the right to protest and criticize the authorities but their actions should not lead to violence or damage public property. “People are absolutely free to criticize the government and protest but their protests should be in such a way as to improve the situation in the country and their life,” Rouhani was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as telling the cabinet.  “Criticism is different from violence and damaging public properties.” Anti-government protesters demonstrated on Sunday in defiance of a warning by the authorities of a tough crackdown, extending for a fourth day one of the most audacious challenges to the clerical leadership since pro-reform unrest in 2009. Tens of thousands of people have protested across the country since Thursday against the Islamic Republic’s unelected clerical elite and Iranian foreign policy in the region. They have also chanted slogans in support of political prisoners. “Resolving the problems is not easy and would take time. The government and people should help each other to resolve the issues,” Rouhani said, according to IRNA. Rouhani also rebuffed U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments in support of the protests. “This man in America who is sympathizing today with our people has forgotten that he called the Iranian nation terrorists a few months ago. This man who is against the Iranian nation to his core has no right to sympathize with Iranians,” Rouhani said.

Iran cuts social media access as unrest turns deadly

Tehran (AFP) – Iran cut access to social media on Sunday in a bid to head off further protests after days of unrest that saw two people killed and dozens arrested. The interior minister warned protesters will “pay the price” as footage on social media showed thousands marching across the country overnight in the biggest test for the Islamic republic since mass demonstrations in 2009. The spate of demonstrations began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread throughout the country and turned against the Islamic system as a whole, with slogans such as “Death to the dictator”. Lorestan province deputy governor Habibollah Khojastehpour told state television that two people were killed in clashes in the small western town of Dorud late on Saturday, but denied security forces were responsible. There were no signs of major protests during the day on Sunday, though officials appeared to be bracing for unrest after dark. In an apparent attempt to stave off more unrest, the authorities began blocking access to photo sharing and online messaging services on mobile phones, including Telegram, which the government accused of being used to foment violence, local media and Telegram’s CEO said. After an initial silence, state media has begun showing footage of unrest, focusing on young men violently targeting banks and vehicles, an attack on a town hall in Tehran, and images of a man burning the Iranian flag. “Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and pay the price,” Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television. “The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted,” he added.US President Donald Trump said the “big protests” showed people “were getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism”. “Looks like they will not take it any longer,” he wrote on Twitter, warning that Washington is “watching very closely for human rights violations!”British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he was “watching events in Iran with concern”.

North Korea crisis: We do NOT have the luxury of time ex-US official warns amid WW3 fears

THE current situation with North Korea means “we don’t have the luxury of time anymore” a former US ambassador to the UN has warned as Kim Jong-un’s regime vows full steam ahead for its nuclear capabilities in 2018.

John Bolton, who served under George W Bush, said: “The issue is, is there a way to go after the facilities that we know about and destroy them.  “I think that is entirely doable. The problem is that any use of force against North Korea such as a targeted assassination of Kim Jong-un , the use of special operatives or cyber warfare could trigger a North Korean retaliation against South Korea. “That is what people are most worried about and legitimately so.” “You have to look at in a very cold and objective way because the threat to the America people of North Korea not only having this capability itself but selling it to others – selling it to Iran and terrorist groups.

Kim Jong-un and North Korea missile launchGETTY

The current situation with North Korea means ‘we don’t have the luxury of time anymore’ “We don’t have the luxury of time anymore and I think it’s that constraint that we need to keep in mind.” His comments come after North Korea revealed it will continue to enhance its nuclear capabilities in 2018 despite pressure from international sanctions to back down. 

An analyst and former American UN mission spokesman, Jonathan Wachtel also warned that Kim Jong-un will continue to build nuclear weapons in a bid to protect his dictatorship. Citing despots Muammar Qaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as examples, Mr Wachtel added: “They didn’t have nuclear deterrents… both those dictators are dead.“Kim Jong-un knows that if war breaks out, he is probably one of the first casualties.  “So having a nuclear deterrent is something Kim Jong-un understands in his calculus, trying to survive.”  In November Donald Trump officially declared North Korea was back on the US’ watch list for state sponsored terrorism which includes Iran – designated in 1984, Sudan – added in 1993, and Syria – listed in 1979. The announcement came after a United Nations report revealed that North Korean weapons were discovered on Iranian ships on route to war-torn Somalia.  According to the report, the Iranian ship was smuggling machine guns from North Korea to arm militants in Somalia and Libya.

Rep. Ted Lieu: Mueller ‘Knows Far More Than People Think’

Image: Rep. Ted Lieu: Mueller 'Knows Far More Than People Think'
Rep. Ted Lieu (AP) By Wanda Carruthers

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted Saturday Special Counsel Robert Mueller “knows far more than people think” regarding his investigation into claims of Russian collusion in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. “Important story below. Keep in mind no one was really aware of George Papadopoulos until his guilty plea was revealed. That tells us Special Counsel Mueller knows far more than people think. And Papadopoulos is cooperating with Mueller. The White House should be scared,” Lieu tweeted Saturday.

 Important story below. Keep in mind no one was really aware of George Papadopoulos until his guilty plea was revealed. That tells us Special Counsel Mueller knows far more than people think. And Papadopoulos is cooperating with Mueller. The White House should be scared. https://t.co/q4pDlxpRES

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) December 30, 2017

Lieu’s tweet comes after a New York Times story on Saturday claiming the Russia probe began following a drunken exchange in 2016 between George Papadopoulos, a campaign aide for President Donald Trump during his election campaign, and an Australian diplomat to Britain.

 

Papadopolous reportedly revealed to Alexander Downer, the Australian diplomat, that Russia had dirt on Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos indicated he had been told Russia had emails numbering in the thousands that could embarrass Clinton.

Two months later when Clinton’s emails began appearing online, Australian officials notified their counterparts in the U.S. about the statements Papadopolous had made. That revelation eventually led to an FBI investigation and, ultimately, the naming of Mueller to the special counsel probe.Papadopolous pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now reportedly cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.  Lieu is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which has interviewed various Trump campaign associates in connection with lawmakers’ inquiry into the Russia allegations.

Business chiefs warn Theresa May their patience over Brexit is ‘wearing thin’

Adam Marshall said firms want clarity and results from the Government but have been dismayed by 'division and disorganisation' across Westminster
British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general Adam Marshall

Theresa May has been warned that business chiefs’ patience over Brexit is ‘wearing thin’ and Westminster must get to grips with the challenge. British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general Adam Marshall said firms want clarity and results from the Government and suggested industry was dismayed by ‘division and disorganisation’ across Westminster.The BCC represents firms employing more than five million people across the country and Mr Marshall is the latest senior business figure to demand a clearer picture of what a Brexit deal will involve. Adam Marshall said firms want clarity and results from the Government but have been dismayed by ‘division and disorganisation’ across WestminsterPatient with Theresa May ‘is now wearing thin’ says the British Chambers of Commerce chief’Some very big decisions lie ahead,’ Mr Marshall told The Observer. ‘Getting the twin challenges of Brexit and the economic fundamentals right will require leadership, consistency and clarity – after a year in which business has been dismayed by what it sees as division and disorganisation across Westminster.’ He added: ‘Businesses have been very patient in waiting for clarity on Brexit in the 18 months since the referendum. ‘That patience is now wearing thin. Businesses want answers, they want clarity and they want results.’ The BCC, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Institute of Directors (IoD) and EEF, which represents manufacturers, have all called for the terms of a transition period after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 to be agreed as soon as possible, to give firms time to plan for the new relationship with Brussels. The longer the process drags on, the less value a transitional deal will have as firms will already have been forced to implement contingency plans which could see them shift work and jobs to one of the 27 other European Union members.

Blumenthal: Trump’s denial of Russia collusion ‘rotten at core’

Blumenthal: Trump's denial of Russia collusion 'rotten at core'

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) slammed President Trump on Saturday for his repeated denials of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia. “Trump denial of Russian collusion rotten at core and doomed to unravel,” Blumenthal tweeted Saturday. “Expect more serious convictions and indictments early in 2018 as Special Counsel climbs ladder of criminal culpability – and more panicky, preemptive attacks from Republicans.”

Blumenthal’s remarks come on the heels of a new report detailing how the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election began.

The New York Times reported Saturday that former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos prompted the investigation by drunkenly revealing knowledge of Russian opposition research on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In May 2016, Papadopoulos allegedly revealed to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that Russian officials were shopping possible damaging information on Clinton, likely implying that Russian officials were offering the information to the Trump campaign, the Times reported. Papadopoulos apparently shared information provided to him by Joseph Mifsud, a London-based professor with ties to Moscow officials, who told him that the Russians had “thousands of emails” obtained by hackers from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that had yet to be released. Australian officials informed their U.S. counterparts after leaked DNC emails began to surface online, according to the Times. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI for misrepresenting his communications with Mifsud and Olga Polonskaya, a woman who, along with Mifsud, attempted to broker a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump and other former campaign officials have denied Papadopoulos had a large role in the campaign. One former campaign aide, Michael Caputo, said Papadopoulos was a “coffee boy” who had “nothing to do with the campaign.”

Nick Bit: as Posted earlier Papadopoulos will not be the first coffee boy to bring down a King Pin…..

South Korea seizes another ship suspected of transferring oil to North Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean authorities have seized a Panama-flagged vessel suspected of transferring oil products to North Korea in violation of international sanctions, a customs official said on Sunday. The KOTI was seized at Pyeongtaek-Dangjin port, the official told Reuters, without elaborating, due to the sensitivity of the issue. The port is on the west coast south of Incheon. The ship can carry 5,100 tonnes of oil and has a crew mostly from China and Myanmar, Yonhap News Agency reported, adding that South Korea’s intelligence and customs officials are conducting a joint probe into the vessel.The official did not say when authorities moved in, but the seizure was the second to be revealed within just a few days.  South Korea said on Friday that in late November it had seized the Hong Kong-flagged Lighthouse Winmore, which is suspected of transferring as much as 600 tons of oil to the North Korea-flagged Sam Jong 2. The U.N. Security Council last month unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea for a recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, seeking to limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil. The United States has also proposed that the United Nations Security Council blacklist 10 ships for transporting banned items from North Korea, according to documents seen by Reuters on Tuesday. The Lighthouse Winmore is one of the 10 ships proposed to be blacklisted. The KOTI does not seem to be included on the list. China on Friday denied reports it had been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea in defiance of U.N. sanctions, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was unhappy that China had allowed oil to reach the isolated nation.

Donald Trump aide told Australian diplomat Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton during ‘night of heavy drinking’

George Papadopoulos spoke to high commissioner Alexander Downer at London bar in May 2016, catalysing FBI investigation, The New York Times reports

The FBI reportedly launched its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election after George Papadopoulos, then a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, told an Australian diplomat that Moscow had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.According to a report published by The New York Times , Papadopoulos made the revelation to Alexander Downer, the Australian high commissioner to the UK, “during a night of heavy drinking” at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London in May 2016.  Papadopoulos reportedly told Downer that Russian officials possessed thousands of emails that could harm Clinton’s candidacy. Australia is part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, with the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand. When WikiLeaks began publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials two months later, Australian officials passed the information to their US counterparts, The Times report stated. The FBI then began its investigation.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb declined to comment, saying in a statement that the administration was continuing to cooperate with the investigation now led by special counsel Robert Mueller “to help complete their inquiry expeditiously”.

 In October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the nature of his communications with the Russians. He is said to have been cooperating since July with special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed in May to oversee the federal inquiry into links between Trump and Russia.

The White House has sought to portray Papadopoulos as a low-level staffer whose contacts with the Russians were made independently.

The Times report said court documents showed Papadopoulos repeatedly tried to coordinate a meeting between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin and notified senior campaign officials of his efforts. The Times report comes as Republicans have escalated their attacks on the independence of Mueller’s investigation, zeroing in on the FBI’s use of a dossier regarding links between Trump and Russia compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele. Nick Bit: it will not be the first time the “coffee boy” bought down a King Pin

Bitcoin led the best-performing ETFs this year

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) offer investors instant diversification at low cost - tracking indexes, commodities, currencies or a basket of managed assets – with the ability to trade like stocks. Investors have been increasing their positions in these instruments, with assets in U.S.-listed ETFs and ETNs (Exchange-Traded Notes) totaling $1.2 trillion as of April 2012, a 6 percent increase compared to April 2011, according to the ETF Industry Association. According to the association, ETF net cas
The research director behind one of 2017’s top-performing exchange-traded funds is still betting on bitcoin and electric, self-driving cars.
 

Thanks to an early investment in the Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC), Ark Web x.0 ETF (ARKW) and the Ark Innovation ETF (ARKK) are the two best-performing ETFs this year, according to a report last week from ETF.com. At the time, the ETFs were up 95 percent or more for the year. They remained about 85 percent higher on Friday. Ark’s director of research Brett Winton said the company isn’t cashing out on bitcoin yet. “We hold bitcoin in the portfolio not because we think we’re more nimble than other people, but because we think we have a better long-term understanding,” Winton said in a phone interview with CNBC last week.”We see a young asset class like crypto assets as having lots of volatility and lots of potential upside.”

Alexander Demianchuk | TASS | Getty Images

As investors increasingly turn to passive investment vehicles such as ETFs, this year the funds saw record-breaking inflows of $476 billion and assets under management climb to $3.4 trillion. Even traditional money managers have rushed to launch their own exchange-traded funds. But the hot money has flowed into niche funds offering exposure to bitcoin, electric cars, robotics and artificial intelligence. Global X’s Robotics & Artificial Intelligence ETF (BOTZ) saw its assets under management surge from $4 million to $1.5 billion in the last 12 months, the company said. BOTZ is among the top 20 ETFs this year, up 57 percent, according to the ETF.com. Ark Web x.0 became the first ETF to invest in bitcoin via the Bitcoin Investment Trust in September 2015. The trust’s underlying asset bitcoin has blown away the performance of traditional investments with gains of 1,400 percent this year.

GBTC itself holds about a tenth of bitcoin per share and is up more than 1,900 percent this year. But the bitcoin trust is riskier than most funds since it trades over-the-counter, rather than in a formal venue like the New York Stock Exchange. GBTC had $1.69 billion in assets under management, as of the end of November, according to its website.

“We’re cognizant of the risks,” Winton said. He said in addition to bitcoin’s technological potential, the investment firm was interested in holding the digital currency because it wasn’t as tied to the performance of traditional financial assets. Ark’s Innovation ETF also holds the Bitcoin Investment Trust, with a 5.8 percent weighting as of Thursday, according to the company’s website.

White House surprised, frustrated by Trump’s New York Times interview: report

 Various White House officials were taken off guard and frustrated by President Trump‘s impromptu Florida interview with The New York Times, according to Friday report from The Washington Post. The Post said that Times reporter Michael Schmidt gained access to the president at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday after club member Christopher Ruddy introduced the president and the reporter. No aides were present during the on-the-record session. The newspaper quoted one official who was not aware of the interview, which was posted on Thursday evening, as asking, “What interview? Today?”

Another official was reportedly irked the sit-down took place and referred to it as “embarrassing.”

The wide-ranging Times interview with the president covered various areas such as his strained relationship with the news media and special counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia election meddling probe.  Trump told The Times he had the “absolute right” to do whatever he wanted in regards to the Department of Justice and that he believed Mueller would be fair to him in the probe.

The president also denied collusion between his campaign and Russia but said even if there was collusion, it would not be a crime. 

White House communications director Hope Hicks reportedly checked in on the interview “from afar” after word began to circulate that the president was speaking with the press. The Post reported the president as being enthusiastic about the interview and that he was happy that it was largely covered on television Friday.

Trump wants Postal Service to charge ‘much more’ for Amazon shipments

SEATTLE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump called on the U.S. Postal Service on Friday to charge “much more” to ship packages for Amazon (AMZN.O), picking another fight with an online retail giant he has criticized in the past.“Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!” Trump wrote on Twitter.  The president’s tweet drew fresh attention to the fragile finances of the Postal Service at a time when tens of millions of parcels have just been shipped all over the country for the holiday season.The U.S. Postal Service, which runs at a big loss, is an independent agency within the federal government and does not receive tax dollars for operating expenses, according to its website.  Package delivery has become an increasingly important part of its business as the Internet has led to a sharp decline in the amount of first-class letters. The president does not determine postal rates. They are set by the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency with commissioners selected by the president from both political parties. That panel raised prices on packages by almost 2 percent in November. Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos, who remains the chief executive officer of the retail company and is the richest person in the world, according to Bloomberg News. Bezos also owns The Washington Post, a newspaper Trump has repeatedly railed against in his criticisms of the news media. In tweets over the past year, Trump has said the “Amazon Washington Post” fabricated stories. He has said Amazon does not pay sales tax, which is not true, and so hurts other retailers, part of a pattern by the former businessman and reality television host of periodically turning his ire on big American companies since he took office in January.Daniel Ives, a research analyst at GBH Insights, said Trump’s comment could be taken as a warning to the retail giant. However, he said he was not concerned for Amazon.  “We do not see any price hikes in the future. However, that is a risk that Amazon is clearly aware of and (it) is building out its distribution (system) aggressively,” he said.

North Korea caused radiation spike in north west China:

Levels of iodine-129 in capital of Shaanxi province peaked two days after hydrogen bomb test 2,000km away

Radiation levels in a Chinese city nearly 2,000km from a North Korean nuclear test site spiked following Pyongyang’s latest and most powerful nuclear weapons test in September, according to Chinese scientists. The spike in iodine-129 levels Xian was probably  related to the detonation of a 100-kilotonne hydrogen bomb in a tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site on September 3.  The spike was recently declassified by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, prompting heated discussion among researchers about its possible cause, with some disputing the Europe theory. From September 3 to 11, levels of iodine-129 in Xian, capital of Shaanxi province in northwestern China, jumped to at least 4.5 times the average, according to readings picked up by instruments at the academy’s Institute of Earth Environment, which is based in the city. Iodine-129 is an isotope of the element iodine that rarely occurs in nature. It is mostly produced by man-made fission and is closely monitored around the world as evidence of nuclear weapons tests or nuclear accidents. The levels in Xian, nearly 2,000km west of Punggye-ri, peaked between September 5 and 6, when they were nine times as high as the day before the test. Zhang Luyuan, a physicist at the institute who is leading the investigation of the incident, said she had goosebumps when she first saw the spikes on the chart. Zhang admitted the need to avoid public panic was one reason the information had been kept from the public until the end of November.

Russian tankers fuelled North Korea via transfers at sea, Western security sources claim

The sales of oil or oil products from Russia breach United Nations sanctions, the security sources said. “Russian vessels have made ship-to-ship transfers of petrochemicals to North Korean vessels on several occasions this year in breach of sanctions,” said the first security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The sources cited naval intelligence and satellite imagery of the vessels operating from Russia’s Far East ports on the Pacific but would not reveal more details to Reuters, saying it was classified. Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the Russian Customs Service both declined to comment when asked on Wednesday whether Russian ships supplied fuel to North Korean vessels. The owner of one ship accused of smuggling oil to North Korea denied the claim. The US State Department, in a statement, called on Russia and other UN members to “strictly implement” sanctions on North Korea and to work “more closely together to shut down UN-prohibited activities, including ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum and the transport of coal from North Korea”. Ship satellite positioning data consulted by Reuters shows unusual movements by some of the Russian vessels named by the sources, including switching off transponders which give a precise location. The sources said the Russian-flagged tanker Vityaz was one vessel that had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels.

The Vityaz left the port of Slavyanka near Vladivostok in Russia on October 15 with 1,600 tonnes of oil, according to Russian port control documents. Documents submitted by the vessel’s agent to the Russian State Port Control authority showed its destination was a fishing fleet in the Japan Sea. Shipping data showed the vessel switched off its transponder for a few days as it sailed into open waters. The sources claim the Vityaz conducted a ship-to-ship transfer with the North Korean Flagged Sam Ma 2 tanker in open seas during October. Ship tracking data showed that the Sam Ma 2 had turned off its transponder from the start of August. The owner of the Russian vessel denied any contact with North Korean vessels but also said it was unaware that the vessel was fuelling fishing boats.

Workers could lose commuter benefits under new tax plan

More than three-quarters of US workers could see their commuting costs rise under the new Republican tax legislation, according to experts. That’s because companies that offer their workers commuter benefits — including subsidies of monthly train passes, parking garage fees or even incentives for biking to work — will no longer be able to deduct those costs from their tax bill. That, in turn, could shift more of the burden onto commuters. “There may be employers who will no longer provide commuter benefits to their employees because they no longer have that tax deduction,” Virginia Miller, spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association, told The Post. Almost 76 percent of companies pay for some or all of their workers’ transportation — which includes incentives to take trains, carpool, walk, bike, or company vans, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. But while companies will no longer be able to deduct those charges, they’ll get more than enough savings to offset that line item after the government slashes the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 37 percent on Jan. 1. “We think it will have a very small, negligible effect,” Jody Dietel, chief compliance officer for WageWorks, which works with companies to provide commuter benefits like MTA Metrocards, told The Post. WageWorks makes about 15 percent of its revenue from commuter benefit packages, but its business isn’t expected to be affected, according to Stifel, an investment bank.But driving into work may get pricier for some, since the tax code is doing away with a $255 yearly benefit for companies that subsidize their employees’ parking costs.  “If companies choose to provide this benefit, it’s going to cost them more,” Matt Gardner, senior fellow at the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, told The Post.

North Korea says it’s not backing down on nuclear development in 2018

(CNN)North Korea will remain committed to the country’s nuclear development in 2018, according to a report released Saturday by state-run news agency KCNA. “Do not expect any change in its policy,” the report read. “Its entity as an invincible power can neither be undermined nor be stamped out. The DPRK, as a responsible nuclear weapons state, will lead the trend of history to the only road of independence and justice, weathering all tempests on this planet,” the report continued, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.The report, titled “No Force Can Prevail over Independence and Justice,” provided a timeline of the country’s alleged 2017 nuclear weapon achievements, mostly focused on possible US engagement.  North Korea will “continue bolstering the capabilities for self-defense and preemptive attack with the nuclear force as the pivot as long as the US and its vassal forces persist in nuclear threat,” the report said. North Korea boasted about its new capability to strike “the heart of the US” and its new “status” as a “world-class nuclear power.” It said it will “deal with the US’s most ferocious declaration of war with fire surely and definitely.”New US weapon could stop North Korean missiles. The most provocative moment came November 29 when North Korea said it successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, topped with a “super-large heavy warhead,” which was capable of striking the US mainland. This missile flew higher and farther than any other previous tests and came came after a break of almost two months in testing. The UN Security Council responded by adopting a new set of severe US-drafted sanctions designed to further strangle North Korea’s energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling and the use of North Korean workers overseas. North Korea called those sanctions “an act of war” and said the United States and other nations that supported the strict measures will pay a heavy price.

Leaked Email Could Open Floodgates for Anti-Trump Lawsuits

Critics of President Donald Trump have had concerns over the real estate mogul’s business dealings since before he even took office, but a new report is likely to spark the controversy–and legal battles–all over again. A Daily Beast article about the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. includes an email from the hotel’s director of revenue management that claims the President is much more involved in his business than he let on. The email, which was supposedly sent by Jeng Chi Hung, said:

DJT is supposed to be out of the business and passed on to his sons, but he’s definitely still involved… so it’s interesting and unique in that way. I had a brief meeting with him a few weeks ago, and he was asking about banquet revenues and demographics. And, he asked if his presidency hurt the businesses.

Remember, Trump said when he took office that he was leaving the operation of his businesses to his children, even though he would not divest from them completely. That alone was enough for Trump to be hit with multiple lawsuits claiming that Trump was in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits those in office from receiving gifts from foreign countries or their representatives. One concern was that foreign actors would stay at Trump’s D.C. hotel in order to curry favor from the president. In fact, while it is common for hotels to lose money when they first open, the Washington Post reported that Trump’s D.C. hotel made $1.97 million in profits from the time Trump took office through April 15 of this year. The hotel expected to lose $2.1 million during that stretch. The Emoluments Clause lawsuits have been unsuccessful, but this evidence that Trump was meeting with hotel management to discuss revenue and his job’s impact on business could encourage more critics to give it a shot. While the email may seem like strong evidence to some, however, the truth of its contents have already been denied by the hotel’s managing director, Mickael Damelincourt. “This is total nonsense,” Damelincourt told The Daliy Beast. He went on to say:

Upon review of the email referenced in your inquiry, we have met with the individual and he has confirmed that he made these comments up in an effort to enhance his sense of importance to a former employer. In fact, this individual confirmed to me today that he has never met the President nor did any conversation ever take place. We are continuing to investigate this matter internally.

Whether the email was truly bogus, or if Damelincourt was just trying to cover for Trump likely won’t matter for litigious NeverTrumpers, because it’s something new they can add to a lawsuit as “proof” that the president is breaking the law. Of course, if the Southern District of New York’s recent decision is any indication, they won’t have much luck. Judge George B. Daniels wrote in his opinion that only Congress can determine whether the President has stepped out of line in receiving emoluments.

Trump Calls On Postal Service To Hike Rates For Amazon Shipments

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Noting that the U.S. Postal Service loses billions of dollars a year, President Donald Trump has called on the agency to raise the shipping rates it charges online retail giant Amazon (AMZN) and others. Trump claimed in a post on Twitter on Friday that a partnership in which the Postal Service carries Amazon packages in the “last mile” of delivery to customers is making the Post Office “dumber and poorer.” “Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!” Trump tweeted. Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post and has been target of Trump in the past. A report from the Washington Post cited a Wall Street Journal op-ed by a hedge fund manager who said the Postal Service loses an average of $1.456 for each Amazon shipment it delivers.However, Amazon rejected the claim at the time, telling Fortune magazine the Postal Regulatory Commission has consistently found that the company’s contracts with the Postal Service are profitable.

Apple’s rare apology over iPhone slowdowns targets ‘on the fence’ upgraders, analyst says

Apple's slowdown apology was a pr nightmare: GBH Insights strategy officer
Apple’s slowdown apology was a public relations nightmare: GBH Insights strategy officer

Apple’s rare apology over iPhone slowdowns targets consumers “on the fence” about upgrading their smartphones, tech analyst Daniel Ives told CNBC on Friday. The tech giant issued an apology Thursday over the revelation that its software slows down older phones to protect battery stability. Apple will cut the price of replacing an out-of-warranty battery to $29 from $79. Apple addressed outrage about its products at a time when it is charging $999 for its newest flagship smartphone model, the iPhone X.  Ives told “Squawk Box” the apology was a smart move by Apple as 350 million consumers are looking to upgrade over the next year and the company needed to lock in “on the fence” buyers. “This was a PR nightmare and this is something they needed to stop head-on,” said Ives, chief strategy officer at GBH Insights. “They’re going into their biggest product cycle potentially ever. … They’re going through a pivotal time and this was the last thing they needed.” The potential upgraders “weren’t going to necessarily switch,” Ives said, “but the last thing they needed right here was a deterrent to get them to upgrade.” The apology “was easy to do. They need to do it,” he said. “There was a bit of a misunderstanding and that’s why they needed to address this with a statement.” Apple will go into 2018 with a little tail wind, Ives predicted. But he expects significant upgrades that will continue through March and even into the summer.

Saudi Squeeze on Alwaleed Has More at Stake Than Money

The motive behind Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s purge might become clearer soon
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg
A First-Hand Account of the Days Before Alwaleed’s Arrest

Almost two months into it, Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on corruption is yielding at least some of the $100 billion the kingdom is targeting. Dozens of former officials and businessmen have exchanged part of their wealth for freedom. But in the increasingly drawn-out case of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the public face of the Saudi royal family to many foreign executives and investors, there’s more at stake than taking over his global business empire and talks on a settlement have hit an impasse. People with knowledge of the matter say Alwaleed is balking at demands that could see him relinquish control of Kingdom Holding Co. He also is resisting any suggestion of wrongdoing because of the impact it would have on his reputation, they said. The prince owns the vast majority of the $9 billion conglomerate, which has stakes in household names from Citigroup Inc. to Twitter.

The crushing of opponents fits into a pattern of what Arab and Western diplomats describe as an aggressive policy that is unsettling even some of Saudi Arabia’s allies.

Alwaleed and other remaining suspects are held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, a palatial hotel that hosted U.S. President Donald Trump in May. No official charges have been made public against any of the detainees, who numbered 159 at a count earlier this month.Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah and the former head of the powerful National Guard Corps, was released after paying the equivalent of more than $1 billion, a senior Saudi official said last month. Two other sons of the former monarch were released this week, according to a person familiar with the matter and a Saudi royal who celebrated their freedom on social media. “Prince Alwaleed is powerful and well connected, but this may not end well given that he is in a battle with an even more powerful group,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. The purge is “a harsh way to show that some of the old ways of doing business are over to a great degree,” he said.

The 32-year-old crown prince ditched the traditional Saudi decision-making process that moved at a glacial pace, but preserved consensus among the royals.  He plunged Saudi Arabia into a costly war against pro-Iranian rebels in Yemen and led efforts to isolate neighboring Qatar. The standoff with Qatar has gone nowhere.

Mohammed bin Salman Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Nick Bit: you have to be a freeging IDIOT to  get involved with this Bloodthirsty Monarch who might just start World War III. Only a idiot would have any part of the IPO.  They are clearly demonstrating that their is  NO rule of law. And they cannot be trusted. This is how they treat family members and the wealthiest people in the Kingdom. How do you think INFIDEL investors will fare under their medieval system straight out of the dark ages

Italy sets election date: Vote risks EU CRISIS with eurosceptic parties leading polls

 THE Italian President has dissolved the national houses of parliament ahead of an election that threatens to destabilise the European Union.

Italians

Italians will go to the polls on the 4th March to vote in an election that will test the strength of the EU. The country’s president Sergio Mattarella dissolved both houses of parliament, ending a five-year legislature that saw three prime ministers. However, current opinion polls show no clear winner between the parties, amid concerns a divided election will plunge the EU into renewed crisis.The latest polls see eurosceptic parties on the rise, with the Five Star Movement slightly ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party. Italians will go to the polls on the 4th March to vote in an election that will test strength of EU. November 2016: Florence erupts in violence as anti-Renzi protesters clash with riot cops. Hooded youths attacked lines of cops protecting embattled prime minister Matteo Renzi, who was in the city for crunch political talks.  A centre-right coalition, which includes the hardline Northern League and is led by former leader Silvio Berlusconi, follow up in third place.

Italy, which is the EU’s fourth-largest economy, has continued to experience sluggish growth and remains a weak link in the bloc. The country’s high levels of debt and weak banking system have also left the country vulnerable to financial crises.

The unemployment rate in the country is much higher than the EU average, with youth unemployment at a shocking 35 percent. According to experts, one of the most likely scenarios is an anti-euro populist coalition with a much more openly confrontational attitude at odds with Brussels. The Five Star Movement has previously threatened to replace the euro with another currency, while the centre-right coalition has gained popularity with strong anti-immigration policies. Gentiloni warned against “any sharp interruptions at a very delicate time for the Italian economy”

The pro-EU politicians don’t want to take openly pro-euro positions either because they know Italians don’t want to hear them

South Korea seizes Hong Kong ship for allegedly violating UN sanctions

 SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea said Friday that it was holding a Hong Kong-flagged ship and its crew members for allegedly violating U.N. sanctions by transferring oil to a North Korean vessel in October.

The Lighthouse Winmore is believed to have transferred about 600 tons of refined petroleum products to the North Korean ship, the Sam Jong 2, in international waters in the East China Sea on Oct. 19, after leaving the South Korean port of Yeosu, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said. South Korean customs authorities boarded the ship and interviewed crew members after they returned to Yeosu on Nov. 24. South Korea formally seized the ship after the U.N. Security Council on Dec. 22 imposed new sanctions on North Korea that allow member states to seize, inspect and freeze vessels that are suspected of transferring banned goods to or from North Korea, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules. The ship’s 25 crew members — 23 of them Chinese nationals and two from Myanmar — are being held at Yeosu but will be allowed to leave South Korea after authorities are finished investigating them, the official said. South Korea plans to report the results of its inspection to the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions committee. The ship, which also transferred oil to three other non-North Korean ships, was chartered by Taiwan’s Billions Bunker Group and stopped in South Korea to load up about 14,000 tons of Japanese oil products. It claimed its destination as Taiwan when leaving Yeosu on Oct. 15, the official said. The official said it hadn’t been confirmed whether the Sam Jong 2 returned to North Korea after receiving oil from the Lighthouse Winmore.  North Korea has come under heavy sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council as it accelerated efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program. In recent months, the North conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date and flight-tested intercontinental ballistic missiles three times, raising concerns it’s closer than ever toward gaining a military arsenal that can viably target the United States. Ship-to-ship trade with North Korea at sea is prohibited under U.N. sanctions adopted Sept. 11.

Airbus confirms $50 billion jet order, one of the biggest aviation deals in history

Bill Franke, Managing Partner of Indigo Partners (L) and John Leahy, Airbus Chief Operating Officer Customers, Airbus Commercial Aircraft (R) at the Dubai air show in November.
CNBC’s David Reid Bill Franke, Managing Partner of Indigo Partners (L) and John Leahy, Airbus Chief Operating Officer Customers, Airbus Commercial Aircraft (R) at the Dubai air show in November.

Airbus has said it has now confirmed its mammoth $49.5 billion order to supply 430 aircraft with U.S. private equity fund Indigo Partners. Veteran airline investor Bill Franke of Indigo Partners signed the preliminary order at the Dubai Airshow in November which will trigger delivery of 274 A320neos and 156 A321neos. The deal is Airbus’s largest ever single order and provides aircraft for Wizz Air, Frontier Airlines, Jetsmart and Mexico’s Volaris. Indigo has stakes in all ‎four airlines. Bill Franke, managing partner of Indigo Partners, said in a statement Thursday that the deal would help give customers of the ultra-low cost carriers “even more value”.

The aircraft in the spotlight at the 2017 Dubai Airshow
Getty Images | Karim Sahib | AFP
 

The list price of the aircraft is $49.5 billion but Airbus has previously confirmed that the private equity firm would not pay that price with the final cost not being revealed. Franke, who secured financing to conduct the deal on a sale and lease-back basis, said engine selections will be made at a later date. In a separate deal announced Friday, Airbus has revealed that China Aircraft Leasing (CALC) has signed up to buy 50 A320neos in a deal worth $5.42 billion at list prices. The European plane maker said the latest order brings CALC’s total order book with Airbus up to around 200 single aisle aircraft. CALC is currently the largest aircraft operating lessor in China and is listed on the Main Board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Chinese companies have placed huge aircraft orders in the past year. During a visit by President Xi Jinping to Germany in July, Airbus announced a $22 billion order to supply 140 planes. Nick Bit: This deal will never be completed. As the Chinese debt crises raises its ugly head this order will be cancelled… Its another bubble top insanity… All driven on massive quantities of debt!

Venezuela oil-backed cryptocurrency to launch in days, government says

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro (C) gestures as he speaks during a rally supporting him and opposing U.S. President Donald Trump, in Caracas, on August 14, 2017.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C) gestures as he speaks during a rally supporting him and opposing U.S. President Donald Trump, in Caracas, on August 14, 2017.
Carlos Becerra | Anadolu Agency | Getty Image 

Venezuela’s cryptocurrency will launch within days and be backed by 5.3 billion barrels of oil worth $267 billion, in a bid to offset a deep financial crisis, the socialist government said on Thursday. President Nicolas Maduro surprised many earlier this month when he announced the “petro” cryptocurrency, to be backed by OPEC member Venezuela’s oil, gas, gold and diamond reserves.

Despite the skepticism of cryptocurrency experts who do not think Venezuela has the wherewithal to pull it off, communications minister Jorge Rodriguez said the first petro offering would come within days.

“Camp one of the Ayacucho block will form the initial backing of this cryptocurrency,” Rodriguez told reporters, referring to part of Venezuela’s southern Orinoco Belt. “It contains 5.342 billion certified barrels of oil. We’re talking about backing of $267 billion,” said Rodriguez, adding that that differentiated the petro from other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Miners were already lined up, he said, without giving more details. Cryptocurrencies are obtained by users setting up computers to do complex mathematical calculations in a process known as mining. Cryptocurrencies are decentralized and their success relies on transparency, clear rules and equal treatment of all involved. Venezuela gave no technical details about the petro. The government appears to be hoping the petro will offset a collapse in Venezuela’s currency – 97 percent in one year against the U.S. dollar on the black market – and isolate the country from the U.S. dollar and Washington. Rodriguez also hopes to use the petro as part of a mechanism to pay international providers, many of whom have stopped supplying to Venezuela given its inability to pay its debts. With Venezuela’s 30 million people suffering shortages, runaway prices and a fourth year of recession, Maduro has long blamed the U.S. government for an “economic war” against it. Critics say incompetent policies are to blame for Venezuela’s economic mess. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has imposed various political and financial sanctions on Maduro’s government, accusing senior officials of rights abuses and corruption. “It will be materially impossible for the dictatorial financial centers of the world to intervene against this initiative,” said Rodriguez, citing the Portugal case. “It will allow us to overcome any financial blockade.” Nick Bit: This could work…. I am not so sure the lefty bus driver can pull this off. But Russia will at some point. Lets sit back and watch the show!

Fed could surprise markets with more interest rate hikes than expected

David Orrell | CNBC Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve Governor

Wall Street economists are warming to the idea the Fed could raise interest rates more than the three times it is forecasting for 2018.
One of the biggest concerns for stock strategists has been a more rapidly moving Fed if the economy does not continue to show a pickup in growth. The markets are not currently expecting four rate hikes, so there could be some volatility if the Fed moves forward, as expected by economists. Wall Street economists are warming to the idea that the Fed may raise interest rates four or more times next year, moving faster than its current forecast. The Fed has been forecasting three interest rate hikes for 2018, but the market has spent the past year doubting it will move even twice because of the sluggish pace of inflation — and until the second half of the year — the sluggish pace of growth. But growth has picked up to the point where there is potential for a three-quarter run of 3 percent growth, something that last happened in 2005. “I think four times is likely given the juice from the tax cuts,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “That’ll push unemployment below 4 percent and put a lot of pressure on the Fed to normalize rates much more quickly.” The Fed’s policymaking committee raised the benchmark short-term federal funds rate by a quarter percentage point to a range of 1.25 to 1.5 percent in December. The Fed raised rates three times this year and five times since it took the rate to zero during the financial crisis.

Stock strategists, meanwhile, say an unexpectedly aggressive Fed could be one of the biggest headwinds for stocks in the coming year if the economy does not also keep up its growth pace. Economists surveyed in the CNBC/Moody’s Analytics rapid update see an average 2.7 percent average growth for the fourth quarter, and Zandi said growth could continue in the high 2 percent range next year.

“It’s not that the Fed could get too aggressive. It’s that the market didn’t price it in,” said Diane Swonk, CEO of DS Economics. “The market has gone beyond anything that is considered Goldilocks.” She said the stock market has been riding high on a boost from the tax bill, which cuts corporate taxes to 21 percent from 35 percent.

Scoop: U.S. and Israel reach joint plan to counter Iran

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering a speech during a visit to the Israel Museum on May 23, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel have reached a joint strategic work plan to counter Iranian activity in the Middle East. U.S. and Israeli officials said the joint understandings were reached in a secret meeting between senior Israeli and U.S. delegations at the White House on December 12th. A senior U.S. official said that after two days of talks the U.S. and Israel reached at a joint document which included understandings on countering Iranian actions in the region. The U.S. official said the document goal’s was to translate President Trump’s Iran speech to joint U.S.-Israeli strategic goals regarding Iran and to set up a joint work plan. The Israeli team was headed by national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and included senior representatives of the Israeli military, Ministry of Defense, Foreign Ministry and intelligence community. The U.S. side was headed by national security adviser H.R. McMaster and included senior representatives from the National Security Council, State Department, Department of Defense and the intelligence community. As part of the understandings that were reached the U.S. and Israel decided to form several working groups according to the joint goals:

  1. Covert and diplomatic action to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons – according to the U.S. official this working group will deal with diplomatic steps that can be taken as part of the Iran nuclear deal to further monitor and verify that Iran is not violating the deal. It also includes diplomatic steps outside of the nuclear deal to put more pressure on Iran. The working group will deal with possible covert steps against the Iranian nuclear program.
  2. Countering Iranian activity in the region, especially the Iranian entrenchment efforts in Syria and the Iranian support for Hezbollah and other terror groups. This working group will also deal with drafting U.S.-Israeli policy regarding the “day after” in the Syrian civil war.
  3. Countering Iranian ballistic missiles development and the Iranian “precision project” aimed at manufacturing precision guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon for Hezbollah to be used against Israel in a future war.
  4. Joint U.S.-Israeli preparation for different escalation scenarios in the region concerning Iran, Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Senior Israeli officials confirmed that the U.S. and Israel have arrived at strategic understandings regarding Iran that would strengthen the cooperation in countering regional challenges.

The Israeli officials said:

“[T]he U.S. and Israel see eye to eye the different developments in the region and especially those that are connected to Iran. We reached at understandings regarding the strategy and the policy needed to counter Iran. Our understandings deal with the overall strategy but also with concrete goals, way of action and the means which need to be used to get obtain those goals.”

Billionaire Tilman Fertitta: Bitcoin’s here to stay, but a lot of people won’t buy in until it’s insured

Fertitta on bitcoin: It's here to stay

Tilman Fertitta on bitcoin: It’s here to stay

 

For billionaire restaurateur Tilman Fertitta, the rise of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin has striking similarities to the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. “I think it’s here to stay,” the founder and CEO of Landry’s told CNBC’s “Power Lunch” on Thursday. “It’s no different than anything new. Everybody forgets that if you put ‘.com’ at the end of your name just 20 years ago, your stock ran up.” Fertitta, also the star of CNBC reality show “Billion Dollar Buyer,” said his biggest reservation about the digital currency’s early days was the fact that it is not yet insured. The CEO shared an example: if some eager individual tried to withdraw $1 million in cash from a bank, the bank would probably be unable to fulfill the request. “They don’t have the money. It’s just paper. That’s all bitcoin is, is paper, but it’s not insured by the FDIC today. And until it’s insured, a lot of people are never going to buy it,” Fertitta said. Even so, the man behind the parent company of Bubba Gump Shrimp (and a slew of other successful dining and entertainment venues) said he could see his businesses accepting bitcoin as payment someday. “I think it’s going to happen,” Fertitta said. “I mean, I remember somebody walking into my office and saying, ‘The world’s going to change. There’s this thing called the internet.’ And that wasn’t that long ago. So we have to remember this. It’s just something new and everything moves at a quicker pace today.”

The new tax bill may drive retailers to hire less, automate more

Cashiers ring up customers at registers inside a Wal-Mart Stores location in Burbank, California.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images Cashiers ring up customers at registers inside a Wal-Mart Stores location in Burbank, California.
The cashier may be automated faster thanks to the tax bill.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday, the effective cost of buying new equipment will drop and savings from reducing payroll costs could jump by at least 20 percent. In other words: Buying labor-replacing machinery may be cheaper and firing employees may save more money. Up to 7.5 million retail industry jobs are vulnerable to automation within 10 years, the Cornerstone Capital Group wrote in May. Retailers have for years toyed with technology to automate anything from warehouses to check out, in hopes of saving money, space and time. Amazon has been perfecting its AmazonGo, stores without checkout lines or cashiers, and Walmart is testing similar technology, through its start-up incubator, Store No. 8, according to Recode. The investments required for automation, though, can be steep and the returns are not always offset by short-term labor savings. The math could change under the new tax law. Under the law, companies will now be able to write off the cost of new equipment immediately rather than over an extended time, thereby lowering their short-term taxes. Because money is worth more now than in the future (the time value of money), they will save more in the long run from deductions than they would have previously. With this provision set to begin to phase out in five years, retailers looking to automate are under the gun. “If prices of equipment don’t change, you might see companies accelerate plans to buy equipment they were already thinking about buying,” said Corey Goodman, a partner in the tax department of law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. “If a company is planning on investing in equipment, the tax savings will be greater doing it sooner rather than later.” Meanwhile, as the corporate tax rate drops from 35 percent to 21 percent, companies can keep a greater share of their income. That also means they can pocket more savings achieved through cost cutting, like laying off workers.

Broken down: If a retailer saves $100 in wages and benefits by laying off an employee in 2017, its after-tax savings is $65 ($100 savings less $35 paid in taxes). If it does the same in 2018, its after-tax benefit is $79 ($100 in savings less $21 paid in taxes).

A retailer thus pockets $14 more from laying off a worker in 2018 than in 2017, a jump of more than 20 percent. Retail trade groups have, by and large, supported the legislation. The National Retail Federation called it “a major victory” that will “jumpstart the economy, encourage companies to invest here in the United States, increase wages and expand opportunities for employees.” The National Grocers Association has commended it as a “weight lifted off [its] shoulders [that] will allow stores to invest more in their companies, employees, and communities.” To be sure, any company considering layoffs or buying new technology will weigh multiple and moving variables before doing so. The math itself is subject to changes: Manufacturing companies could simply charge retailers more, and retailers could charge their customer less, thereby dampening savings from automation. These considerations extend to industries beyond retail. But retailers are in a particularly perilous time: rising minimum wages, changes in shopping behavior and an omnipresent Amazon. They are furiously trying to steady their cost structure, including by making stores smaller and more profitable. “Any time there’s a change in a price of a product, people’s calculations about what they want to buy will change,” said Goodman.

Report: Record turnover for first-year staff at White house

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 06: US President Donald Trump speaks to the press during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on December 6, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Pool / Getty Images

The Trump White House has seen more first-year staff turnovers than any other of its predecessors, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal, citing Brookings Institute fellow Kathryn Dunn-Tenpas, the Trump administration’s 34 percent turnover rate is much higher than that of any other administration in the past 40 years. The previous record was held by the Reagan administration, which saw 17 percent of its senior aides leave the administration in his first year in office.  Dunn-Tenpas said the level of seniority of those who have departed the Trump White House is of particular note, crediting the lack of experience in Mr. Trump and of his West Wing.  “The first year always seems to have some missteps on staffing, often because the skills that worked well running a campaign don’t always align with what it takes to run a government. In this case, it’s a president with no experience in government and people around him who also had no experience,” Dunn-Tenapas told the Journal. “So it’s not surprising that it’s higher than normal, but it’s still surprising it’s this high.” The Trump administration suffered an early string of massive shakeups with the firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the departures of his chief of staff Reince Priebus and advisers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.  The exits however appear to have leveled off with the addition of latest Chief of Staff John Kelly — who brought an end to the 11-day reign of White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. The most recent high-profile departure was that of Director of Communications of the Office of Public Liaison and reality star Omarosa Manigault Newman.  Stacking up against his more recent predecessors, the first-year turnover rate for Mr. Trump was more than three times higher than both Presidents Barack Obama’s (9 percent) and Bill Clinton’s (11 percent).

Natural gas prices flare up more than 13 percent in past week on cold snap, strong demand

  • Pedestrians cross the street on Dec. 27, 2017, in Chicago.
    Getty Images Pedestrians cross the street on Dec. 27, 2017, in Chicago.

A polar blast has heated up natural gas futures, which are up more than 13 percent in the past week on strengthening demand and the outlook for more cold weather. Bitter cold weather across the northern tier of the U.S. expanded to the East Coast this week, and it is expected to remain frigid into early January. “This is a substantial strengthening in the heating demand outlook. The cold weather system that was supposed to be limited to the northern Midwest has spread to the eastern part of the country,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital. Natural gas futures for February were trading at $2.94 per million British thermal units, an increase of 7.4 percent on Thursday and more than 13 percent from a week ago. Recently, prices were as low as $2.56 last Thursday, close to the low of $2.522 of last February. The U.S. has an abundant supply of natural gas, and warmer winter weather has kept prices depressed. Prices were higher Thursday morning but gained more momentum after the government reported a withdraw last week of 112 billion cubic feet of gas from storage, the second week of a triple digit withdraw. Natural gas has been volatile within a relatively low range, and futures were trading as high as $3.22 a month ago. But winter weather failed to materialize until just recently, and now the outlook is for even colder weather. “Now, we are seeing risks that some of the strongest cold could come again between Jan. 4 and 6 before gradually moving out,” according to Jacob Meisel, chief weather analyst at Bespoke Weather. He said there’s potential for a warmer period in mid-January, with the coldest period expected Jan. 4 to 6.

Model forecast for seven days through Jan. 5

Source: Bespoke Weather, Pennsylvania State University

“We’re rallying because the warmup has been pushed back. … This move is almost entirely weather driven,” Meisel said, adding that U.S. production is at record highs and inventories are just below the five-year average. Meisel said natural gas bears believe the record U.S. production will continue to mean abundant supplies, but bulls are hoping the drawdown of some supply from storage will pressure prices. “What the market is all worried about is how much gas we have in storage in March,” said Meisel. “The question is are we going to have a gas shortage by the end of the winter if this cold sticks around. It’s been a wild few weeks in the natural gas market.” He said the next level to watch would be the $2.98 to $3.02 range. “Weather modeling has been difficult because of La Nina,” said Kilduff, adding that January until just recently had been expected to be warmer.

Jailed Russian Hacker Claims He Has Proof Kremlin Ordered DNC Hack

Image: Jailed Russian Hacker Claims He Has Proof Kremlin Ordered DNC Hack
(AP) By Theodore Bunker | Thursday, 28 Dec 2017 10:21 AM
 

Jailed Russian hacker Konstantin Kozlovsky claimed in a recent interview that he was directed by a Russian intelligence officer to hack the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election, McClatchy reports. Kozlovsky, who claims to have worked for Russian Major Dmitry Dokuchayev for 7 years, told Russian independent TV station RAIN that he left a data signature with the numbers from his Russian passport and the number of his visa to visit St. Martin saved as a generic data file on the DNC servers.  “Based on my experience and understanding of professional intelligence operations, the blending of criminal activity with sanctioned intelligence operations is an old page out of the Russian intelligence-services playbook,” Leo Taddeo, head of information security for Cyxtera Technologies, and also the former chief of cyber operations in the FBI’s New York office, told McClatchy.”What the defendant (in Russia) is describing would not be inconsistent with past Russian intelligence operations.”  Dokuchayev, also known by his alias “Forb,” was an infamous hacker who claimed in a 2004 interview to specialize in “hacking on request,” and to have participated in a successful attack on U.S. government infrastructure. He was arrested in December 2016 on charges of treason and working as a double-agent for the U.S. by the Federal Security Service (FSB), according to The Moscow Times. He also is wanted for arrest by the FBI.  “From at least January of 2014, continuing through December of 2016, Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev is alleged to have conspired with, among others, known and unknown FSB officers, including Igor Sushchin, to protect, direct, facilitate, and pay criminal hackers, including Alexsey Belan,” the FBI claims. “Dokuchaev and his conspirators allegedly agreed to, and did, gain unauthorized access to the computer networks of and user accounts hosted at major companies providing worldwide webmail and internet-related services in the Northern District of California and elsewhere.”

Italian president dissolves parliament calls election

Italian President Sergio Mattarella signs a decree to dissolve parliament at the Quirinale Presidential palace in Rome, Italy

ROME (Reuters) – Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday dissolved parliament ahead of an election which is expected to produce a period of instability in the euro zone’s third largest economy. Earlier on Thursday Gentiloni defended the record of his year-old government and said he would remain in office and ensure continuity until a new government is in place.With opinion polls pointing to a hung parliament, he told reporters Italy should be prepared to deal with instability but should not fear it, noting that it was now common to many European countries. “We mustn’t dramatize the risk of instability, we are quite inoculated against it,” he said, in reference to Italy’s frequent changes of government, adding that elsewhere in Europe there has been “an Italianisation of political systems”. All Italy’s main parties are promising to raise the budget deficit and slash taxes despite record high public debt, and immigration is set to be a central theme of the election, with right-wing parties frequently warning of a migrant “invasion”.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement leads opinion polls with about 28 percent of the vote, followed by the ruling Democratic Party (PD), of which Gentiloni is a member, on around 23 percent.

However, most seats in parliament are seen going to a conservative alliance made up of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) on around 16 percent and the right-wing Northern League and Brothers of Italy, with 13 and 5 percent respectively.

Tax-free no more: Saudi Arabia and UAE to roll out 5pc VAT after oil price collapse

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both planning to introduce a 5 per cent tax on most goods and services next year to boost revenue. The value-added tax, or VAT, will apply to a range of items like food, clothes, electronics and gasoline, as well as phone, water and electricity bills, and hotel reservations. The decision – which could affect the country’s reputation with foreign workers, many of whom are lured by a tax-free lifestyle – comes after a collapse in oil prices three years ago. There will be some exemptions for big-ticket costs like rent, real estate sales, certain medications, airline tickets and school tuition.

The value-added tax, or VAT, will apply to a range of items like food, clothes, electronics and gasoline, as well as phone, water and electricity bills, and hotel reservations. Pictured: Dubai at night

The value-added tax, or VAT, will apply to a range of items like food, clothes, electronics and gasoline, as well as phone, water and electricity bills, and hotel reservations. Pictured: Dubai at night The decision – which could affect the country’s reputation with foreign workers, many of whom are lured by a tax-free lifestyle – comes after a collapse in oil prices three years ago. Pictured: Shoppers at a mall in Dubai   There will be some exemptions for big-ticket costs like rent, real estate sales, certain medications, airline tickets and school tuition. Saudi Arabia recently unveiled the biggest budget in its history, with plans to spend 978 billion riyals ($261 billion, £195 billion) this coming fiscal year.  Saudi Arabia recently unveiled the biggest budget in its history, with plans to spend 978 billion riyals ($261 billion, £195 billion) this coming fiscal year as the government forecasts a boost in revenue from the introduction of VAT and plans to reduce subsidies. Still, Saudi Arabia is facing a budget deficit until at least 2023.

Report: Trump Legal Team Ready in Case Michael Flynn Attacks

President Trump’s legal team is prepared, should former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn accuse the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Attorneys for President Trump and his top advisers have privately expressed confidence that Flynn does not have any evidence that could implicate their clients, according to the report. Still, they are concerned by the lenient terms of his plea agreement, which suggest he has promised significant information. He is also the most senior former Trump adviser that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been able to net, as Flynn served as Trump’s national security adviser for about a month. Flynn was fired after he told Vice President Michael Pence and other members of the administration that he had not discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, when he in fact had. Flynn reportedly also told FBI agents in an interview in January that he had not discussed the sanctions. He was initially reportedly cleared of any actual wrongdoing during his calls with Kislyak. Earlier this month, Flynn pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to the FBI, which carries a maximum of five years in prison, but prosecutors said they will recommend zero to six months as part of his cooperation deal. There was media speculation that Flynn accepted the plea deal to get the special counsel to leave his son, who served as his chief of staff, alone. One person helping craft the defense’s strategy said they plan to use Flynn’s admission of lying against him.“He’s said it himself: He’s a liar,” the person said. Defense lawyers have also said privately, according to the Post, that if Flynn accuses anyone of anything, he will be unable to point to White House or campaign records to bolster that claim, and that none of those records suggest a conspiracy by Trump or his inner circle to improperly work with Russians against Hillary Clinton, people who have reviewed the documents told the Post.

Trump has not ruled out pardoning Flynn. On December 15, Trump said, “I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet.”

“We’ll see what happens. Let’s see. I can say this — when you look at what’s gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry,” he said.

 

China secretly selling oil to Kim Jong-un

US satellites ‘have spotted Beijing tankers transferring fuel to North Korean ships 30 times in three months’ despite UN trade embargo

US satellites have spotted Chinese tankers transferring oil to North Korean ships 30 times in three months – despite strict UN trade embargoes, it has been claimed.  Overhead images appear to show ships from the two countries shackled together for a fuel transfer in the West Sea off China. Such ship-to-ship trades are banned under a UN Security Council resolution adopted in September. But according to South Korean government sources, American satellites have pictured large vessels from both China and North Korea illegally trading in a stretch of the West Sea on multiple occasions.

US satellites have spotted Chinese tankers transferring oil to North Korean ships 30 times in three months - despite strict UN trade embargoes, it has been claimed. One picture (above), reportedly taken on October 19, shows a ship called Ryesonggang 1 connected to a Chinese vessel in the West Sea off China

US satellites have spotted Chinese tankers transferring oil to North Korean ships 30 times in three months – despite strict UN trade embargoes, it has been claimed. One picture (above), reportedly taken on October 19, shows a ship called Ryesonggang 1 connected to a Chinese vessel in the West Sea off China The US Treasury Department later placed six North Korean shipping and trading companies and 20 of their vessels on sanctions list.

It said the activity appeared to show attempts to bypass sanctions, though it has not been suggested that Chinese authorities were aware of the transactions. It comes a day after Chinese customs data was revealed claiming Beijing exported no oil products to North Korea in November. The figures apparently go above and beyond sanctions imposed earlier this year by the United Nations in a bid to limit petroleum shipments to the isolated country.  Beijing also imported no iron ore, coal or lead from North Korea in November, the second full month of the latest trade sanctions imposed by U.N. China, the main source of North Korea’s fuel, did not export any gasoline, jet fuel, diesel or fuel oil to its isolated neighbour last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Tuesday. It is unknown if China still sells crude oil to Pyongyang. Beijing has not disclosed its crude exports to North Korea for several years.

Rules to limit speculation in cryptocurrency trading are a good thing, says BitSpread

South Korea’s decision to further regulate speculation in cryptocurrency trading is “quite positive,” according to BitSpread Founder and CEO Cedric Jeanson.

Bitcoin

“I think it’s normal,” said Jeanson, whose firm oversees more than $1 billion in trades per month. BitSpread makes bets based on price disparities between exchanges that deal in cryptocurrencies. Authorities in Seoul plan to ban anonymous cryptocurrency accounts and want to close virtual coin exchanges. The government has already warned that virtual coins cannot function as actual currency and could result in high losses due to excessive volatility. And Seoul has announced plans to tax capital gains from cryptocurrency trading. “I think regulators have done what they’re supposed to do,” Jeanson told CNBC’s “Asia Squawk Box,” suggesting that regulators are simply acting to ensure that investors are dealing with an orderly market. Nick Colas, the co-founder of DataTrek Research who also was the first Wall Street analyst to cover bitcoin, figures the digital currency could slosh in a range between $6,500 and $22,000 next year. He expects “at least four crashes” of 40 percent or more. TenX Co-Founder and President Julian Hosp told CNBC that Bitcoin could hit the $60,000 mark, but added that he expects bitcoin to fall to the $5,000 level at some point next year. He’s not sure which will come first. Jeanson largely agreed, suggesting that bitcoin’s recent drop was to be expected, adding that investors may see “more and more” volatility next year, given the lack of liquidity in the market.

A computer screen at the Cboe Global Markets exchange (previously referred to as CBOE Holdings, Inc.) shows Bitcoin cash and futures prices on December 19, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

Getty Images
 “Yes, you can see throughout the various waves, there is always a retracement of 30 percent for the price of bitcoin,” said Jeanson. “Like in any other market — we’ve seen that in equities, we’ve seen that in commodities — it’s quite a usual kind of a pattern to be honest.” “I think there is going to be certainly some upside on this market,” he said, without providing a price forecast. Jeanson expects more retailers and online businesses to begin‎ accepting bitcoin in 2018, but debate rages over whether the volatile digital currency can be a viable means of exchange. “We have our doubts that the government of any country will ever really be comfortable accepting any other currency than what they themselves can control,” according to Hartmut Issel, head of Asia-Pacific equities and credit at UBS Wealth Management.

Steve Bannon cuts ties with far-right candidate trying to unseat House speaker Paul Ryan

Social Security Beneficiaries Hit Record 61,859,250

The number of Social Security beneficiaries hit a record 61,859,250 in November, according to data released by the Social Security Administration.

At the same time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with unemployment at the lowest rate since 2000 (4.1 percent), there were 126,827,000 full-time workers in the United States (including government workers). Yet that equaled only 2.05 full-time workers for each person receiving Social Security benefits. Even when all 153,918,000 people who had jobs in November are considered (counting both full- and part-time workers), the ratio of workers to Social Security beneficiaries was about 2.49 to 1.

The record 61,859,250 Social Security beneficiaries in November, included 45,439,781 retired workers and their dependents; 5,992,862 survivors of deceased workers; and 10,426,607 disabled workers and their dependents. The Social Security program has two primary elements: Old Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance. Each of these are supposed to be supported by a “payroll tax” imposed on a worker’s earnings. The payroll tax for the OASI is 10.03 percent and is split so that one half is deducted from a worker’s paycheck and the other half is paid to the government by the employer. The payroll tax for DI is 2.37 percent and, like the OASI tax, is split between a deduction from a worker’s paycheck and a payment made directly by the employer. In total, the worker and employer must pay the government 12.4 percent in taxes (on the first $127,200 a worker makes) for the combined OASDI tax. Self-employed Americans pay the entire 12.4 percent directly.

But this is no longer enough, says the Social Security board of trustees, which includes the commissioner of Social Security and the secretaries of the Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services.

In the past, when Social Security ran surpluses, the federal government loaned the surplus to itself so it could spend it immediately on other government programs. In their 2017 report, the Social Security board of trustees puts it this way: “The Department of the Treasury invests trust fund reserves in interest-bearing securities issued by the U.S. Government.” Without the “interest” the government pays itself back on the money it has already spent from previous Social Security surpluses, the Social Security program would not have enough money now to pay all the current benefits it owes. “The 2016 excess of total income over cost for the year was $35 billion,” said the trustees’ report. But “total income” — as the report calls it — includes the interest the government pays itself.

Mueller team questioning RNC staffers on 2016 digital operation: report

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has started the process of questioning various Republican National Committee (RNC) staffers about the party’s digital apparatus that worked with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential campaign, Yahoo News reported Wednesday. Mueller’s team is reportedly looking into the joint effort from the party and the campaign to reach out to voters in key swing states. Sources told the news organization that Mueller is seeking to determine whether the effort was related to efforts from Russian trolls and bots to influence American voters. The special counsel’s office declined to comment. The report comes as Mueller’s probe moves closer to the White House. Mueller has questioned President Trump‘s former chief of staff Reince Priebus, as well as former press secretary Sean Spicer and current communications director Hope Hicks. Mueller announced charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Richard Gates in October. Trump’s ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his foreign contacts earlier this month and is said to be cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

North Korea warning: Defectors living near nuclear test site suffering RADIATION exposure

NORTH Korea defectors who were living near Kim Jong-un’s main nuclear test site are showing signs of radiation poisoning, officials in the South have revealed.

North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site

North Korean defectors from the Punggye-ri nuke test site area are suffering from radiation exposure The underground facility at Punggye-ri has been used to detonate six nuclear bombs since 2006, and the network of tunnels allows Kim’s regime to test its latest weapons out of sight from spy planes and surveillance satellites.

Four former residents of Kilju County, where the subterranean test site is located, have now tested positive for radiation exposure, according to scientists at South Korea’s Atomic Energy Research Institute. The group are among 30 North Koreans who used to live in Kilju and have been examined by officials in Seoul since October, Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said. However researchers were unable to confirm whether the radiation exposure was related to the nuclear tests. Earlier this month, several defectors who were in contact with family in the North said residents still living near Punggye-ri were suffering from an mysterious debilitating illness which locals had dubbed “ghost disease”. The defectors said their loved ones were facing symptoms including headaches and vomiting as well as birth defects among newborn babies. And locals also reported the mountainous landscape was turning into a barren wasteland, with trees dying and underground wells drying up. Speaking in Seoul earlier this month, defector Lee Jeong Hwa told NBC News: ”So many people died we began calling it ‘ghost disease’.

Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea

Most of the Punggye-ri site is hidden underground, but its entrances are visible in satellite photos “We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly. Now we know it was the radiation.”

Rhee Yeong Sil, who lived just a few miles from Punggye-ri until she defected in 2013, said her neighbour had given birth to a deformed baby. She said: ”We couldn’t determine the gender of the baby, because it didn’t have any genitals. Seoul says the four North Koreans tested were exposed to radiation between May 2009 and January 2013, but defected before Kim Jong-un’s most recent test in September, which the regime claimed was a hugely powerful hydrogen bomb. Following the “ghost disease” reports, specialists at Seoul National University ran tests on many of the defectors but the results came back negative.

Mining activity at the Punggye-ri site in 2016DIGITAL GLOBE/38 NORTH

 

In op-ed, former intel experts say Russia never stopped cyberattacks on U.S.

Former CIA Director Michael Morell and former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, say that Russia has continued its cyberattacks against the United States. Morell and Rogers, who both serve on the advisory council for the Alliance for Securing Democracy, say that the U.S. has failed to stop Russia from using social media to “disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.  “There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day,” they write in a Tuesday op-ed for The Washington Post.The two write that the issue should be of concern for everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike.  “Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.” They write that the Russian government is still deploying effective tactics that target specific parties and politicians, much as they did by manipulating social media in the build up to the 2016 election.  According to Rogers and Morell, Russian-influenced Twitter accounts were leading participants in November’s #BoycottKuerig movement on social media. The boycott began to protest the coffee-maker company pulling its adds for Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.  “This was a Russian attack on a U.S. company and on our economy,” Morell and Rogers say.  More recently, Morell and Rogers say that in a single week in December alone, Kremlin-linked social media accounts attempted to discredit the FBI over an agent’s anti-Trump text messages, to attack ABC News for its erroneous reporting on Mr. Trump, and to warn about violence by immigrants after the acquittal of a undocumented man who was accused of murdering Kate Steinle in San Francisco. Morell and Rogers warn that Russia’s use of social media as a “political weapon” will keep moving forward, with more countries expected to follow suit, unless the U.S. intervenes. “The sanctions that the Obama administration and Congress put in place in the aftermath of the 2016 election are steps in the right direction, but they were not significant enough to check Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Morell and Rogers suggest. They add, “True deterrence requires policies that prevent adversaries from achieving their objectives while imposing significant costs on their regimes. So far, we have done neither.”

Barclays expects £1 billion writedown from U.S. tax reform

LONDON (Reuters) – Barclays expects to take a writedown of about 1 billion pounds on its annual post-tax profit as a result of the U.S. tax overhaul, the bank said in a statement on Wednesday.The reform to the tax system signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 22 will force the British lender to reduce the value of its deferred tax assets, prompting it to take a one-off charge in its results for the 12 months to the end of December.   It will also lead to the bank’s common equity Tier 1 capital ratio, a key measure of its financial strength, falling by about 20 basis points, the lender said.Since taking the helm at Barclays in December 2015, Chief Executive Jes Staley has streamlined the bank into a transatlantic lender focused on the United States and Britain.The restructuring has led it to exit a raft of non-core operations, such as its business in Africa and units in Asia, in a bid to simplify its structure and boost returns to shareholders. Barclays already slumped to a 628 million pound attributable loss in the nine months to the end of September following write-offs in the wake of its exit from Africa. The 1 billion pound charge to account for the U.S. tax changes is expected to push it further into the red. The $1.5 trillion tax overhaul is the biggest reform of the U.S. tax system since the 1980s and will see that corporate tax rate slashed to 21 percent from 35 percent. While Barclays said the reduction in the tax rate is expected to “positively impact” its future post-tax earnings in the United States, it also cautioned that the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT), which was included in the legislation and designed to prevent multinational firms from abusing the tax code, could significantly offset that benefit. “Due to the uncertain practical and technical application of many of these provisions, it is currently not possible to reliably estimate whether BEAT will apply and if so, how it would impact Barclays,” the lender added.

Bitcoin struggles to hold above $16,000; crypto marketplace Coinbase reports transaction delays

After Friday's crash, Bitcoin climbs back above $16,000
Bitcoin climbs back above $16,000 Bitcoin rallied Tuesday, recovering from a sharp sell-off late last week
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The digital currency briefly climbed more than 12.5 percent to above $16,100 late Tuesday morning and was trading near $15,965 late in the afternoon, according to Coinbase, the leading U.S. platform for trading major digital currencies.

However, Coinbase said on its status website at 1:24 p.m., ET, that “Due to high volume, we are experiencing a backlog of outgoing transactions for BTC and ETH. … Outgoing transactions of BTC and ETH may be delayed by several hours.”

The issue remained unresolved more than three hours later, according to the website. With Tuesday’s gains, bitcoin has now recovered more than 50 percent from a low of $10,400 hit Friday in an extremely volatile day of trading that had no immediately apparent explanation behind it. Trading on Coinbase was also down for more than two hours during Friday’s sell-off.

Nolan Bauerle, director of research at CoinDesk, attributed much of Tuesday’s price recovery to improved access to buying cryptocurrencies. “After last week’s sell-off, order books got some breathing room,” Bauerle said in an email to CNBC. “Those that wanted to buy at all-time highs suddenly saw discounts and more importantly could actually buy from exchanges that worked through the backlog.” Bitcoin has soared more than 1,600 percent over the last 12 months, according to Coinbase. A surge of investor interest has helped turn the once-fringe item to an object of Wall Street’s attention. CME, the world’s largest futures exchange, and its competitor Cboe both launched bitcoin futures this month. Many see the launch as a step towards legitimizing bitcoin as an asset class for institutional investors.

Ron Paul: Trump may be vulnerable to 2020 GOP primary challenge

Former Texas Rep. Ron Paul says a yearlong economic boom under President Trump is “a bit of an illusion” and that debt, inflation, and inequality could cause turmoil that benefits a “hardcore nucleus” of libertarians.The libertarian Republican leader told the Washington Examiner that Trump could face a strong challenger in the 2020 GOP primary, especially if “things are really much worse.” “The big opening for us is the fact that this system is coming apart. We’re on the verge of something like what happened in ‘89 when the Soviet system just collapsed,” he said. “I’m just hoping our system comes apart as gracefully as the Soviet system.” Paul doesn’t believe the U.S. will break into separate countries, but instead expects a rethink of monetary policy and an end to what he considers a U.S. “empire” overseas. “We have ownership of these countries, but it’s not quite like the Soviets did,” he said. “I think our stature in the world and our empire will end, and that’s when, hopefully, the doors will be open and [people will] say, ‘Hey, maybe these libertarians have some answers to this.’” Paul said “the country’s feeling a lot better, but it’s all on borrowed money” and that “the whole system’s an illusion” built on corporate, personal, and governmental debt. “It’s a bubble economy in many many different ways and it’s going to come unglued,” he said. The former congressman for years has presented issues in stark terms, refreshingly so for supporters and with an alarmist edge in the eyes of detractors. Although broadly critical of Trump, Paul likes the president’s talk about removing government regulations and implementing tax cuts. “Trump’s being a good cheerleader. He’s a cheerleader for Wall Street, and I keep my fingers crossed, maybe lowering some of the taxes will help, certainly lowering the regulations. But I think the problems are so deep and structural,” he said. Paul said he’s disappointed with Trump’s foreign policy, especially his approach toward North Korea and his support for Saudi Arabia’s military role in Yemen. “I think the foreign policy is a total disaster. Trump’s approach sounds good one day but the next day he’s antagonizing everyone in the world and thinks we should start a war here and there,” he said. The former congressman said he continues to view the U.S. as being on a path to fascism — on a long historical arch featuring authoritarian policies of Presidents Lincoln and Wilson.Paul said government policies that steer money to the wealthy create understandable anger among poorer Americans — pointing to the success of Sen. Bernie Sander, the Vermont socialist, in his 2016 campaign for the Democratic nomination. Paul said a libertarian answer, halting inflation and “crony capitalism,” would result in more freedom.”If they only hear our message, I know they would choose liberty and sound money and freedom and peace over the mess we have

Trump partly blamed Sessions for Alabama Senate loss: report

President Trump partly blamed Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the GOP loss in the recent Alabama Senate election, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Trump placed blame on Sessions for Republicans losing the seat because Sessions’s departure from the Senate seat to Trump’s Cabinet had caused the special election, according to the AP. Trump had nominated Sessions for the position, setting off the process. Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D-Ala.) defeated Roy Moore (R) in the election earlier this month. The president first endorsed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala) in the race before Moore won the GOP primary. Trump also backed Moore, despite the candidate facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. Trump tried to walk back his support for Moore in a tweet last week, saying he had known Moore “would lose” the race.

 

The president has also targeted Sessions on social media and in comments to the press, largely expressing disappointment with Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s election interference.

Trump said in July that he would not have appointed Sessions as attorney general if he had known that Sessions would recuse himself from the probe.

Sessions has said that Trump’s attacks on him were “hurtful” but that he will remain in his role. Trump has also stepped up his attacks on the FBI in recent weeks, which falls under Sessions’s purview in the Department of Justice.

Bitcoin bull McAfee urgers cryptocurrency investors to hold on

Joe Raedle/Getty Images John McAfee is a bitcoin bull

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Crytocurrency enthusiast John McAfee is advocating that those bullish on bitcoin stay the course and continue to hold on to the digital asset, despite a downturn over the weekend that saw it shed nearly half of its value from its December peak. On Dec. 25, McAfee, who founded the eponymous virus-protection software company, said: “Bitcoin is still the crypto giant. It is at a low price, and will never be cheaper,” he wrote on Twitter. “It will be ten times this price in 2018. Remember — it has the lowest circulating supply of any coin,” he said.

He also attempted to address some key criticisms of using bitcoin BT, +0.11% notably the high costs and slow speeds associated with processing transactions, that have given rise to splits in bitcoin, including Litecoin and Bitcoin cash:

McAfee has been among the more vocal supporters of bitcoin, predicting that the world’s most prominent cybercurrency would see a single unit hit a value of $1 million by 2020, doubling down on an earlier bet that a single bitcoin would be worth $500,000 over the same time. In recent trade, bitcoin was attempting to mount a modest rebound, trading around $16,000 in the spot market, after seeing its value tumble by more than a third since hitting an all-time high on Dec.17 near $20,000. At its lows, the asset plunged by about 45%. Overall, bitcoin’s price has climbed more than 1,550% so far in 2017.

Carl Bernstein: FBI isn’t tainted, Trump’s presidency is

Veteran journalist Carl Bernstein tore into President Trump on Tuesday over the latter’s attacks on the FBI, saying it’s Trump’s presidency whose integrity has been compromised, not the law enforcement agency’s.

In an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto, the legendary Watergate reporter accused Trump of acting contemptuously toward the FBI and other “instruments” of American democracy. “The key word… that he keeps using is ‘tainted.’ There’s really only one institution that has really been tainted through these months and that is the Trump presidency,” Bernstein said. “It’s tainted by the president’s lies, by his disrespect for American institutions operating under the law with traditional American democracy and the instruments thereof.” “He’s contemptuous of those instruments,” Bernstein added. Bernstein accused the president of doing a “grave disservice” to the country by undermining institutions such as the FBI. Trump, Bernstein said, should welcome moves from Mueller’s team if he really believes he will be exonerated in the end. “If the president is as confident as he says, if this investigation is going to end very soon with him being exonerated, he ought to welcome all of this instead of attacking constantly,” Bernstein said. “He’s doing a grave disservice to our democracy.” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that the FBI was “tainted.” His comment came after he sharply criticized Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Saturday over reports that McCabe will possibly retire in March. “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” the president tweeted.  “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” Trump added another tweet. McCabe has been the target of Republican criticism over a campaign donation his wife received from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a top ally of Hillary Clinton, just a year before the investigation he managed into her private email server cleared Clinton of wrongdoing.

Oil remains near 2015 highs on tight market outlook

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices on Wednesday remained near two-and-a-half year highs from the previous session as the market outlook for 2018 is relatively tight, although the gradual resumption of flows through a major North Sea pipeline prevented crude from rising.A storage tank is pictured on the site of Canadian group Vermilion Energy in Parentis-en-Born, France, October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau  “Crude spiked sharply in reaction to an explosion at a Libyan pipeline…(but) the price spike came with light volumes as London was closed for Boxing Day,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta. Libya lost around 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil supplies from a blast on a pipeline feeding Es Sider port on Tuesday.Wednesday’s dips were a result of the gradual return of the 450,000 bpd capacity Forties pipeline system in the North Sea. Flows through Forties will return to normal early in the New Year, operator Ineos said.  Both the Forties and Libyan outages, which together amount to around 500,000 bpd, are small in a global context where both production and demand are approaching 100 million bpd. But the disruptions highlight that markets have tightened significantly a year into voluntary supply restraint led by top producer Russia and the Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that following rampant oversupply in 2015, global oil markets gradually came into balance by 2016 and started to show a slight supply deficit this year, resulting in a reduction of global fuel inventories. EIA data implies a slight supply shortfall of 180,000 bpd for the first quarter of 2018. OPEC and Russia started withholding production last January, and the current schedule is to continue cutting throughout 2018. A major factor countering efforts by OPEC and Russia efforts to prop up prices is U.S. oil production, which has soared more than 16 percent since mid-2016 and is fast approaching 10 million bpd. Only OPEC king-pin Saudi Arabia and Russia produce more.

Matt Stanley, a fuel broker with Freight Investor Services in Dubai, said the rising U.S. output meant oil markets were not as tight as many analysts think it is.“U.S. oil production is…more than capable of plugging any supply deficits,” he said.

Tax break for disaster losses largely disappears in tax law

President Donald Trump speaks about the passage of tax reform legislation on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, December 20, 2017.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images President Donald Trump speaks about the passage of tax reform legislation on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, December 20, 2017.

If you lose your home to a fire next year, you may not be able to claim it on your taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the tax overhaul President Donald Trump recently signed into law, limits the extent to which filers can take a tax break for personal casualty and theft losses. Under current law, a taxpayer can claim an itemized deduction for property losses that aren’t reimbursed by insurance and that stem from natural disasters, fires, accidents or other events. The total of your losses on personal property must exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. With the new law, taxpayers may claim personal casualty losses only if the damage is attributable to a disaster declared by the president. This limitation starts in 2018 and will expire at the end of 2025. A total of 72,323 filers claimed casualty and theft loss deductions on their 2015 tax returns, the most recent data available, according to the IRS. “Floods occur almost monthly across this country and there are home fires where people are financially devastated,” said Douglas J. Lyons, managing director of Oceanic Capital Management in Red Bank, New Jersey. “To not be able to use this one simple tax relief to help people get back on their feet is going to be really painful,” he said. The winter season is particularly perilous for home fires: Half of all home heating fires take place in December, January and February, according to the National Fire Protection Association. For each year between 2011 and 2015, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 200 home fires that started with Christmas trees, the NFPA found.

 

Charitable giving could drop by $21 billion a year because of the tax changes

Fewer incentives for individual and corporate giving
Getty Images

The tax-code overhaul that Republican lawmakers approved and President Trump signed into law will raise the price of charitable giving for millions of Americans, surely reducing how much money the nation gives. As an economist and a scholar of philanthropy who researches how public policies shape charitable giving, I anticipate that the tax tweaks will lead Americans and U.S. companies to donate roughly $21 billion less per year to charity. My colleagues and I expect giving to be reduced chiefly through two of the tax plan’s key features — significantly boosting the standard deduction and cutting the top marginal tax rate. Research I co-led based on an earlier tax proposal showed that these changes would reduce household charitable giving by $13.1 billion per year. That would mark a 4.6% decline from the $282 billion American households gave in 2016. We also determined that the share of households that itemize their tax returns would fall to approximately 5% from the current 30%. While we based our estimates on a reduction in the top rate from 39.6% to 35%, the new tax law would reduce the top marginal tax rate to 37% — and there are other differences both in terms of marginal tax rates and where they kick in for different income levels. This difference in the top marginal tax rate would reduce the impact on philanthropy somewhat from what we originally estimated. Conversely, the new law increases the standard deduction by 90.5% for married couples compared to the 75% boost we were expecting when we estimated these repercussions. This change would magnify the toll taken on philanthropy compared to our base model.

That means the share of filers who get a tax break — a built-in incentive — for their charitable gifts will be falling even further than my team had estimated. This result is further exacerbated by the loss in personal exemptions of more than $4,000 per person through 2025. This means that even with the near-doubling of the standard deduction under the new tax laws, a married couple with one child would basically break even. Married couples with two kids would be paying federal income tax on more of their income in the future than they have until now. These lost personal exemptions will reduce the after-tax income that millions of Americans will have on hand to give to charities. And the GOP tax package does not create any incentives to give for the vast majority of households, some 95% of which will not be itemizing their returns. In short, I expect the loss to charitable