Why the U.S. dollar has been tumbling (Source Yahoo Finance) In the shadow of the stock market’s meteoric rise this year, the U.S. dollar has fallen faster and harder than most analysts expected. The dollar took a beating in 2017, falling nearly 10%, its worst annual performance since 2003. Rather than reversing that trend as the U.S. economy grows and the Federal Reserve raises the country’s interest rates, it has continued with the greenback the weakest it’s been in more than three years compared to a contingent of world currencies used to track its value. This has happened not just as the stock market has churned out almost daily record highs but as yields on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note have touched their highest level in three years and short-dated bonds have risen to their highest levels since around 2008. All of those things would typically back a strong dollar – one that would keep U.S. money at home and encourage overseas investors to park their money here. Analysts say one thing that’s driving stock, bond and currency markets in their respective directions is U.S. tax reform. The tax reform bill has equity investors excited about the windfall coming to shareholders, but it’s also expected to push the $20 trillion U.S. national debt higher. That’s driving up Treasury yields and pushing the value of the dollar lower.
“The tax cut is definitely responsible for the bulk of this (dollar weakness),” said Aaron Kohli, interest rates strategist at BMO Capital Markets in New York. “It was a huge deficit hole they were blowing and they’re doing it at a time when the U.S. economic cycle is moving and everything is going perfectly.” The dollar initially gained as reports circulated that the tax plan would include a border tax or other offsets that would increase U.S. tax receipts. But when the final bill was delivered, it turned out to be more of a tax cut than tax reform and the $1.5 trillion price tag had traders piling into dollar-negative short positions, betting on further weakness.
Speculators’ recently raised net short dollar bets on the dollar to nearly $12 billion, according to calculations by Reuters and Commodity Futures Trading Commission data.
As U.S. deficits rise, the country is forced to finance its debts by borrowing from other nations. That reduces the value of the dollar.
SUPER BLUE BLOOD MOON 2018: SUPERMOON AND LUNAR ECLIPSE TO LIGHT UP THE SKY (Source Newsweek)
January 31 will serve up a phenomenal lunar spectacle. For the first time since 1866, a blue supermoon will coincide with a lunar eclipse. Also the finale of a rare trilogy of supermoons, this will be the last oversized moon until January next year. The moon orbits the Earth in an ellipse, not a circle. This means it sometimes moves closer to us than usual. A supermoon occurs when the moon’s closest approach to Earth coincides with a full moon. Astronomers call this a perigee full moon. The moon will reach its shortest distance from us at 4:55 a.m. ET January 30, and a full moon will occur the following day. While not a perfect supermoon, it should still shine larger and brighter than usual.
However, the difference might be small to the naked eye. “The next full ‘supermoon’ will appear only 7% bigger and a bit brighter than an average full Moon,” said Italian astrophysicist, Gianluca Masi in a statement.
The best time to see a supermoon is shortly after sunset, when something called the “moon illusion” will make it appear even bigger. The closer the moon is to the horizon, the larger it looks. The moon won’t really shine blue in the sky—it will glow red. The term “blue moon” refers to the second full moon in a calendar month. Not as rare as you would think, blue moons happen once every two to three years. In fact, 2018 will see another in March, with no full moon in February. A spectacular total lunar eclipse will accompany this blue moon, shining red across parts of Russia, Canada, Asia and Australia. An eclipse occurs when the Earth lines up perfectly with the sun and the moon, casting a shadow that blocks the sun. As light filters through the Earth’s atmosphere it makes the moon glow red. “We will have a very spectacular total lunar eclipse as our satellite will completely sink into the shadow of the Earth,” said Masi.
Unfortunately, only some of the western U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska, will see the full eclipse.
Are There Zombie Viruses In The Thawing Permafrost? (Source npr.org) Last summer, Zac Peterson was on the adventure of a lifetime. The 25-year-old teacher was helping archaeologists excavate a 800-year-old log cabin, high above the Arctic Circle on the northern coast of Alaska. They had pitched tents right on the beach. Over the course of a month, Peterson watched a gigantic pod of beluga whales swim along the beach, came face-to-face with hungry polar bear, invading their campsite, and helped dig out the skull of a rare type of polar bear. But the most memorable thing happened right at the end of the trip. “I noticed a red spot on the front of my leg,” Peterson says. “It was about the size of a dime. It felt hot and hurt to touch.” The spot grew quickly. “After a few days, it was the size of a softball,” he says.
When I finished writing this story in December, I ended it with a faint warning about the dangers of human curiosity. I was convinced that the only way “pathogens” would rise up from the permafrost was if a scientist bent over backward to resurrect the creatures in the lab. The chance of it happening naturally seemed infinitesimally small.
But then I received an email from Zac Peterson: “After kneeling in defrosted marine mammal goo … doctors treated me for a seal finger infection,” Peterson wrote. A photos showed a purplish, red infection, covering the front of his knee. 0pikSeal finger is a bacterial infection hunters contract from handling the body parts of seals. The infection can spread rapidly into the joints and bones. Sometimes people loose fingers and hands.
With no deal in sight, Congress faces looming government shutdown (Source Reuters)The U.S. Congress raced the clock to avoid a federal government shutdown before a midnight deadline on Friday after a meeting between President Donald Trump and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer failed to produce a deal. Trump invited Schumer to the White House for talks as a stopgap bill to fund the federal government through Feb. 16 appeared headed to defeat in the Senate, where Democratic votes are needed to pass it. Trump said the meeting was “excellent” and that efforts were continuing. “Making progress – four week extension would be best,” Trump said in a tweet.
Shortly after Trump’s tweet, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told CNN he expected an agreement would be reached in the next 24 hours, meaning the government would shut down at midnight but be reopened over the weekend.
Schumer said earlier that the White House meeting lasted about 90 minutes but that differences remained in the pursuit of a short-term spending bill to keep the government running.
Democrats are demanding that the stopgap bill include protections for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants but Republicans have so far refused. “We discussed all of the major outstanding issues. We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue,” Schumer told reporters after the meeting, also attended by each man’s chief of staff – John Kelly for Trump and Mike Lynch for Schumer. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved the stopgap spending measure late on Thursday, but it has been sidetracked in the Senate by a dispute over immigration.
Defense Officials: Pentagon Monitoring Russian Intelligence Gathering Ship (Source newsmax.com)
The Pentagon is monitoring an intelligence gathering ship that Russia dispatched to the Caribbean Sea, defense officials said in a Washington Free Beacon report.
Two officials familiar with reports of the spy ship Viktor Leonov said the ship was spotted leaving Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago Monday after five days on the island, The Free Beacon reported.
“We’re monitoring the ship. It’s an annual thing,” one of the officials said in The Free Beacon.
An official said that the Navy is tracking the ship, and it appears similar to previous Russian operations in that region, the report said.
“What makes it noteworthy is the increase of Russian naval activity worldwide. It makes us pay close attention, not to the tactics, but to how this fits into overall Russian naval behavior,” the official said in the report.
The ship usually spends about two months spying off of the U.S.’s east coast, said Steffan Watkins, Canadian security analyst, in the report.
“I believe their mission is to take inventory of underwater sensors, military undersea cables, sonar, radar, and snooping on rocket telemetry from launches at Cape Canaveral,” Watkins said in The Free Beacon.
PUTIN CALLS FOR DEVELOPMENT OF DIGITAL ECONOMY WITHIN EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION (Source RT)
The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) has reached a significant growth rate and should continue its development, Russian President Vladimir Putin has told leaders of the five-state bloc, according to the Kremlin website.
“We assume it is necessary to accelerate implementation of the whole ‘digital agenda’ of the union, and to coordinate efforts on development of the ‘internet economy,’ creation of general digital trade rules, equal standards of exchange, and protection of information,” he said in the statement.
Putin called for the enactment of high technologies in public administration, industry, customs regulation systems and other areas, as well as “launching joint competitive, innovative and knowledge-intensive industries.”
According to the Russian president, it is important to “continue working jointly with our integration partners to remove the remaining barriers, limitations and restrictions in the way of building a common economic space. Our task is to intensify efforts towards creating single markets for goods and services, and providing conditions for free capital and workforce flow.” Putin added that it is necessary to involve the business sector in integration initiatives, including both big, small and mid-sized enterprises. The Russian President said that such areas as nuclear energy, renewable energy sources, ecology, medicine, space, tourism and sports provide great opportunities for boosting ties between EEU member states. The EEU is a trade bloc established in 2015 on the basis of the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan joined later. More than 40 countries and international organizations including China, Indonesia and Iran have expressed interest in a free-trade deal with the EEU.
Russian Subs Are Sniffing Around Transatlantic Cables (Source defenseone.com) The resurgence of the Russian navy has, among other things, jolted Western media and military leaders back to an awareness of the undersea cables that carry more than 90 percent of international communications — and of their vulnerability. Two years ago, unnamed commanders and intelligence officials told the New York Times that Russian submarines were operating worryingly close to various cables. In mid-December, Britain’s most senior military officer went public with the alarm, warning that Russia constituted an immediate threat to transatlantic cables; indeed, said the UK’s Air Chief Marshall Sir Stuart Peach, a “new risk to our way of life.” The threat to the submarine cables is indeed real, but it is hardly new to this age of strategic competition, and leaders would do well to temper their concerns about a highly redundant communications system and to increase their focus on other vulnerable undersea infrastructure. Certainly, the submarine cable network was not always so robust. The first transatlantic lines between the U.S. and Britain, laid in the late 1800s, often simply broke. Early in World War I, Britain severed all of Germany’s handful of cables. The action was repeated during World War II, and the United States commandeered the cut German cables to link to its forces in Europe. In the Cold War, special U.S. submarines tapped Soviet military cables in the Barents and Bering Seas — one of the era’s biggest intelligence coups. The Soviets took a similar interest in Western cables; in 1959, U.S. Navy forces boarded a Soviet trawler suspected of tampering with AT&T lines off the Newfoundland coast.
But to completely sever the communications coursing across the North Atlantic seabed today would be hard, if not impossible. Not because the cables are especially hardened or run along classified routes, but simply because there are so many of them that Russia’s skilled, but small, specialized submarine force would find it tough to get to them all. Still, even a partial loss of connectivity or bandwidth could prove disruptive and frustrating to both commercial and military operations. In 2008, an accidental cable break in the Mediterranean forced the U.S. military to reduce drone operations from Balad Air Base in Iraq from hundreds of daily sorties to only tens, as communications slowed to a crawl between the drones in Iraq and the operators in the continental United States.
Ex-CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee held ‘for spying for China’ (Source bbc.com) A former CIA officer has been arrested in the US on charges of retaining classified information in a case thought to be linked to the crippling of the agency’s spy operation in China. Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a naturalised US citizen, was held at New York’s JFK airport on Monday, the US justice department said. He worked for the CIA between 1994 and 2007, when he left for Hong Kong. In 2012 the FBI began investigating the disappearance of CIA agents in China. In the two years before, some 20 informants had been killed or jailed – one of the most disastrous failures of US intelligence in recent years. The FBI’s investigation into why the US was losing so many informants in China was by this point in full swing. FBI agents searched his hotel rooms in Hawaii and Virginia and found two small books with secret records, the US justice department says. They contained handwritten notes on details such as “true names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees”. Mr Lee left the US in 2013 after being questioned on five occasions by FBI agents. He never mentioned his possession of the books containing classified information, say the court documents. He has only now been detained while on another visit. It’s unclear whether he knew he was still under suspicion. The justice department says that Mr Lee, 53, has been charged “with unlawful retention of national defence information and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, if convicted”.
H.R. 1242 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act (source popvox.com) This bill was enacted after being signed by the President Donald Trump on January 8, 2018.
400 Years of African-American History Commission Act. This bill establishes the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619. The commission must: plan programs to acknowledge the impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on the United States; encourage civic, patriotic, historical, educational, artistic, religious, and economic organizations to organize and participate in anniversary activities; assist states, localities, and nonprofit organizations to further the commemoration; and coordinate for the public scholarly research on the arrival of Africans in the United States and their contributions to this country. The commission may provide: (1) grants to communities and nonprofit organizations for the development of programs; (2) grants to research and scholarly organizations to research, publish, or distribute information relating to the arrival of Africans in the United States; and (3) technical assistance to states, localities, and nonprofit organizations to further the commemoration. The commission must prepare a strategic plan and submit a final report to Congress that contains a summary of its activities, an accounting of its received and expended funds, and its recommendations. The commission shall terminate on July 1, 2020. All expenditures of the commission shall be made solely from donated funds.
WALMART ABRUPTLY CLOSING 260 SAM’S CLUB STORES, FIRING THOUSANDS ON SAME DAY IT RAISED MINIMUM WAGES (Source blacklistednews.com)
Wal-Mart was quick to make a media splash with the news that it was raising the starting hourly wages to $11/hour, expanding employee benefits and offering worker bonuses of up to $1000 in response to the Trump tax cuts; it was far more covert, however, with the news that on the very same day it was also closing hundreds of Sam’s Club stores nationwide and laying off thousands of workers according to numerous media reports. Jessica Buckner, an audit team lead at a Sam’s Club location in Anchorage, told local TV station KTVA that all Alaska stores are closing as part of a larger downsizing across the U.S. “From what I heard, there’s over 260 stores that have been closed down,” she said according to CBS News. The wholesale clubs’ official closure date is Jan. 26, Buckner said. The closures also affect stores in New Jersey, upstate New York, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. In some locations, per social media, people showed up to work only to be told that their location was closing, with nearly no advance notice. The chain, which competes with Costco , has more than 650 locations employing more than 100,000 people, with an average of 175 employees per store, according to the company. No formal announcement was posted Thursday morning by Sam’s Club, but the company acknowledged the closures on Twitter with a general statement. After a thorough review of our existing portfolio, we’ve decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy. Closing clubs is never easy and we’re committed to working with impacted members and associates through this transition.