April 9, 2014

Via Kevin Drum, we find that Greece might have a successful debt auction:

Greece is undergoing an astonishing financial rebound. Two years ago, the country looked like it was set for a messy default and exit from the euro. Now it is on the verge of returning to the bond market with the issue of 2 billion euros of five-year paper.

There are still political risks, and the real economy is only now starting to turn. But the financial recovery is impressive. The 10-year bond yield, which hit 30 percent after the debt restructuring of two years ago, is now 6.2 percent....The changed mood in the markets is mainly down to external factors: the European Central Bank's promise to "do whatever it takes" to save the euro two years ago; and the more recent end of investors' love affair with emerging markets, meaning the liquidity sloshing around the global economy has been hunting for bargains in other places such as Greece.

That said, the center-right government of Antonis Samaras has surprised observers at home and abroad by its ability to continue with the fiscal and structural reforms started by his predecessors. The most important successes have been reform of the labor market, which has restored Greece's competitiveness, and the achievement last year of a "primary" budgetary surplus before interest payments. [Reuters]

But let's not get ahead of ourselves:

(Source: tradingeconomics.com)

Given the kind of people who have been in charge of the thing, I guess it's sort of impressive that the European Central Bank has finally figured out how to use their infinite Euro-creation power to keep member nations from defaulting on Euro-denominated debt. But with unemployment still over 27 percent, I'd say let's hold off on talk of a recovery.

Indeed, I rather fear this could be the worst of all worlds. Moving off the Euro would have been awful, but at least held the prospect of returning to growth and full employment within a couple years (from a much lower base). By contrast, the bank Natixis recently estimated that, given very generous assumptions, it will take Spain (which is in similarly dire straits) 25 years to return to 2007-era employment. A nation can do a great deal of catch-up growth in that time.

Realistically, I'd guess this means that Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, etc., will never recover fully, and instead we're witnessing the birth of a crummy, tattered Franco-German empire with a permanently depressed periphery. Ryan Cooper

5:36 p.m.

The anonymous op-ed writer is still very anonymous.

But there might be a lot more linguistic clues to figure out their identity coming soon, along with a whole new look inside the Trump White House. That's because the anonymous senior official who wrote a New York Times op-ed about the silent "resistance" working under President Trump is writing a whole book called A Warning, their publisher said Tuesday.

It's been more than a year since an op-ed by an anonymous Trump senior official appeared in The New York Times, calling Trump's leadership style "impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective" and saying they are among a quiet "resistance" trying to stop Trump from executing the worst decisions. Pretty much every Trump official denied they wrote it, and the author's identity still hasn't been revealed.

Now, that person has written a whole book promising to be an expansion of the "behind-the-scenes portrait of the Trump presidency" they wrote for the Times. The author's literary agent wouldn't comment on whether the person still worked for the White House, but did say they will "donate a substantial amount of any royalties to the White House Correspondents Association and other organizations that fight for a free press that seeks the truth," per the Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:28 p.m.

The U.K. Parliament voted Tuesday to accept Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit deal but reject his quick timetable.

Parliament first granted Johnson the win on his overall deal before saying it wouldn't fully adhere to the agreement in the next three days. That makes it unlikely Britain will pull out of the EU by the Oct. 31 deadline, BBC reports.

Johnson was already forced by law Saturday to ask the EU for an extension on the U.K.'s membership until January 2020. He said Tuesday he'll "pause" progress on his Brexit legislation until he hears back from the EU, but criticized Parliament for plunging the country into "further uncertainty."

Emily Thornberry of the opposition Labour Party meanwhile called the Oct. 31 deadline an "artificial timetable," per The Washington Post. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn meanwhile called Johnson "the author of his own misfortune," but did say he'd talk to Johnson to agree on a "sensible" timetable for the prime minister's deal to advance. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:28 p.m.

Amazon forked over $250 million for the television rights to the Lord of the Rings franchise with the hope of launching their own Game of Thrones-sized hit — and it's clear that they're doing everything possible to guarantee a return on their investment. And what better way to do that than to borrow as heavily as possible from Game of Thrones? Joseph Mawle, who played Benjen Stark on Game of Thrones, has been cast as the villain in Amazon's Lord of the Rings series. Rather surprisingly, his character's name is Oren, not Senjen Bark.

Read more at Deadline. Scott Meslow

4:00 p.m.

A key diplomat says he was told aid to Ukraine was dependent upon the country announcing investigations into the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden, The Washington Post and The New York Times report.

Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified Tuesday before Congress as part of the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry, which is examining whether Trump abused the power of the presidency to push for investigations that he thought might help him in the 2020 presidential election and withheld aid to the country until such investigations took place. In previously released text messages, Taylor said it was "crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

In his testimony, Taylor told lawmakers he spoke with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who "told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President [Volodymyr] Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election," the Post reports. Burisma is the gas company where Biden's son served on the board.

Taylor reportedly went on to testify that Sondland "told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Amb. Sondland said, 'everything' was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.'"

"Sighs and gasps" were reportedly heard throughout the room as Taylor delivered his lengthy opening statement, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told the Post this was "the most damning testimony I've heard," while Rep. Stephen Lynch, (D-Mass.) told ABC News this is a "sea change," and it might "accelerate" the inquiry's timeline. Brendan Morrow

3:15 p.m.

Russia and Turkey agreed to extend their ceasefire in northern Syria in order to "remove" Kurdish fighters from the area.

After a six-hour-long summit on Tuesday, the two countries agreed to form a "buffer zone" between Turkey and Syria, which is allied with Russia. But first, Turkey will give America's Kurdish allies six days to leave the area before it and Russia jointly begin patrolling it, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.

Turkey views the Kurds, who are American allies, as a terrorist threat, and began attacking them within hours of President Trump announcing the U.S.'s withdrawal from the area. Trump later bragged that he'd brokered a five-day ceasefire between Turkey and the fighters. That ceasefire would've expired Tuesday, but now, Turkey has said it will not attack the Kurds for another 150 hours as it forces them out of the land they've long fought to hold on to.

Russia and its ally Syria have also said they'll start "removing Kurdish militias from the border region beginning at noon Wednesday," per The Washington Post. The area will then become a neutral zone between Syria and Turkey, expanding upon a narrower strip of Turkey's border that the U.S. and the country had agreed to establish as a buffer. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:02 p.m.

Lori Loughlin has just been hit with a brand new charge in the college admissions scandal.

The Full House actress and 10 other parents were charged by a grand jury Tuesday for having allegedly "conspired to commit federal program bribery by bribing employees of the University of Southern California (USC) to facilitate their children's admission," ABC News and CNN report.

Loughlin had previously been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud after being arrested in March for her role in what the Department of Justice has said is the largest college admissions scandal it has ever prosecuted. Prosecutors say Loughlin paid $500,000 to have her daughters falsely admitted to the University of Southern California as rowing recruits despite not being rowers.

She's one of the two most high-profile parents charged in the scandal, with the other being Felicity Huffman, who pleaded guilty and is currently serving two weeks in prison. Unlike Huffman, Loughlin has pleaded not guilty. When Huffman received her 14-day sentence, CNN legal analyst Elie Honig described this as "very bad news" for Loughlin, since this sentence would likely be the "absolute floor." TMZ reported Tuesday, though, that prosecutors are "open to plea discussions" with Loughlin.

In a statement Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said, "Our goal from the beginning has been to hold the defendants fully accountable for corrupting the college admissions process through cheating, bribery and fraud. The superseding indictments will further that effort." Brendan Morrow

2:24 p.m.

President Trump makes the rules. All of them.

Trump went after the Emoluments Clause on Monday, calling the Constitutional rule that bars presidents from profiting from their office "phony." But before that, he reportedly tried to ditch another major rule that bars executive malfeasance, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Back before his June rally in Orlando, Trump was pushing to bring Cabinet officials along to the event, which would launch his 2020 campaign, people present during the conversation tell the Journal. But Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney reportedly warned Trump against it, telling him it could result in violations of the Hatch Act, which bars executive branch employees from engaging in certain political activities. Cabinet officials and reelection launch rallies would likely fall under that designation.

But Trump reportedly didn't care, telling Mulvaney "I'm in charge of the Hatch Act" while surrounded by other top aides. He then called Mulvaney "weak," the people in the room tell the Journal. While it doesn't appear Trump actually said he'd listened to Mulvaney's suggestion, he did eventually drop the idea of bringing his Cabinet to the rally. Read more about Trump's rally-filled campaign at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

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