Corporate CEOs are optimistic about the American economy – a new poll says so. A survey of 120 CEOs found a “confidence index” of 84.5, up almost five points from last quarter, and signifying economic expansion. Numbers on the ground back that up, with private hiring up higher than expected in November. Will Christmas shopping keep the party going? Only January will tell.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Kim Jong-un’s uncle, mentor and the man assumed to be the ruler’s No. 2 has been relieved of his duties, according to reports. Jang Song-thaek’s sizable influence dates back to Kim’s father, and some Korea-watchers expected he might fall out of favor as the son establishes his authority. Apparently politics runs thicker than blood: recent South Korean intelligence suggests Jang was abruptly removed from his position, and two of his associates were publicly executed. Kim Jong-un apparently is putting a decisive stamp on his own term as North Korea’s “Dear Leader.”
National interests are clashing with free trade ideology at the annual World Trade Organization conference in Bali this week. A deal driven forward by the U.S. and other developed economies aims to apply blanket trade rules to all member states to level the playing field. However, Indian representatives want a guarantee that their agricultural stockpiling program, which ensures food security, won’t attract subsidy penalties. This highlights the risk that such a deal would restrict countries’ capacity to prioritize domestic policy. After years of inconclusive talks, many feel this is a make-or-break moment for the WTO.
Last month, a Swiss report suggested that former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s bones showed traces of radiation poisoning. Now, a French study has concluded that the traces of polonium 210 found in Arafat’s remains, which were exhumed from the West Bank last year, were not the cause of his death. Arafat died in 2004, but the inquiry into the circumstances of his death has been ongoing since investigators discovered heightened radiation levels in some of his clothing. Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, has rejected the French findings and claims this new evidence is “just the beginning.”
If Congress does not renew the emergency unemployment program before Dec. 28, approximately 1.3 million Americans will lose their jobless benefits. Some suggest that many of those people will sign on for disability benefits instead, but a new study refutes this claim. A paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research charts U.S. unemployment rates against disability claims and finds no discernible correlation, indicating that Americans are not using disability benefits as a financial safety net. Some 8.8 million Americans claim disability, twice as many as in 1995. But that appears linked not to jobless benefit reductions, but to an aging population.
Source: Washington Post
Judge approves Detroit bankruptcy. (CBS).
Hezbollah commander killed outside home. (NYT).
The first UN observation drones launch in the Congo. (BBC).
Obama’s Kenyan-born uncle is allowed to stay in the U.S. (Washington Post).
Bob Dylan sued over comments called racist by a Croatian organization. (The Guardian).
U.S. House extends gun law without 3-D printed guns. (NYT).
Alan Rusbridger, chief editor of The Guardian, told parliament that his paper has been highly selective in its publication of leaked NSA files. In a spirited defense of The Guardian, which has been heavily criticized for publicizing the documents in recent months, Rusbridger insisted that his journalists are “patriots” and that The Guardian is not a “rogue newspaper.” Just 26 of 58,000 leaked documents have been published, he told the Select Committee, and said other documents held by the paper are secure. This likely won’t be the last time journalists face government questions over the leaked documents.
A Moscow court has sentenced former ballet soloist Pavel V. Dmitrichenko to six years in prison for ordering an acid attack against former theatre director Sergei Filin. The January attack, which almost blinded Filin, was arranged in connection with an ongoing dispute over the company’s artistic direction. Artem Ovcharenko, a principal at the Bolshoi who testified as a prosecution witness, said of the defendant, “You can’t not be emotional and dance the type of ballets he danced.” The incident is the latest in a string of scandals surrounding the Bolshoi Theatre, and a dark reminder of the Black Swan lurking in its wings.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has sparked indignation by suggesting that economic inequality is “essential for the spirit of envy” and “a valuable spur to economic activity.” With the world still reeling from the 2008 banking crisis, Johnson’s stance has been likened to the “greed is good” ethos of notorious fictional banker Gordon Gekko. Johnson appears to be repositioning himself as a potential candidate for the Conservative Party leadership in advance of Britain’s 2015 elections. His comments are throwbacks to the Thatcher and Reagan era, but many doubt that such stringent capitalist ideology can counter the economic slowdown.
Unless Bob Dylan is involved, most folk music movies are released without much hype. But then again, most folk movies aren’t directed by the Coen brothers. Nor do they promise Justin Timberlake singing folk ballads, John Goodman doing heroin or Oscar Isaac wandering Greenwich Village with a cat. Inside Llewyn Davis also snagged “best film” status at the Cannes Grand Prix and the Gotham awards. A high-profile review hazarded that this might be better than any other Coen production to date. It’s definitely not Lebowski-esque slapstick, but will it be dark enough for Ozy?
Major League Baseball isn’t known for financial restraint, but this week has been truly off the charts. Jacoby Ellsbury is likely to cut a seven year, $153 million deal with the Yankees. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed a three year, $21 million deal with the Miami Marlins, which didn’t even count as one of the five most important deals of the news cycle. Meanwhile, Carlos Beltran, in the twilight of his storied career, has a three year, $48 million offer on the table. And the prices could keep climbing.