Posts Tagged ‘jobs’

Critics bash Trump for not listening — but offer no solutions

March 11, 2018

Over Trump, We’re as Divided as Ever

March 9, 2018

One thinks: He’s crazy . . . and it’s kind of working. But everything we know tells us crazy doesn’t last.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump hold signs as his motorcade nears his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, Dec. 29, 2017.
Supporters of US President Donald Trump hold signs as his motorcade nears his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, Dec. 29, 2017.PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In just a few months, in June, it will be three years since Donald Trump announced for the presidency. It feels shorter ago and longer. I will never forget that day. I watched it live, at home, wondering where this circus act was going. But as soon as the speech was over the phone rang and it was my uncle—husky Brooklyn accent, U.S. Marine of the Korean era—who said, “So how do you like my guy?” There was silence. “He’s—your guy?” “Yeah! Maybe he can do something.” We no sooner hung up than my sister—working-class, Obama voter—called, and she too began without preamble: “I looooove him.”

And so I was alerted early on to an epochal change in our national political life. My uncle and sister are not ideological, are skeptical of both parties, and tend to back the guy who seems most promising. They love America and wear it on their sleeves. They’re patriots.

A great deal of embarrassed attention has been paid by the press as to why half the country in 2016 refused to do what it was supposed to do and reject Mr. Trump.

Granted: Mr. Trump didn’t start the fire. A great deal had to go wrong before America put a man like him, a TV star/brander with no political experience and a sketchy history, in the presidency. The political class right and left, Dem and Rep, had to fail, and did, spectacularly, with the 2008 crash and two unwon wars. Their biggest sin the past few decades: The wealthiest and most powerful Americans, those who had most benefited from its system, peeled off from the less fortunate and made clear they were not especially concerned about their problems. Stupidly, and they are stupid, they didn’t even fake a prudent interest. The disaffected noticed this lack of loyalty and decided to respond with a living insult named Donald Trump, whom they sent to Washington to contend with a corrupt establishment.

All granted and, in these pages, previously stated at great length.

But this is about those who do not back him, many of whom are centrists and moderates. I’m not sure enough attention is given to their thoughts. It’s also about a fairly widespread cognitive dissonance that is causing fairly widespread disquiet.

Suppose you are an able and accomplished person in business—a midlevel person, or a small-business owner, or the head of a company. You’ve navigated your way through life with judgment and effort. You’ve learned lessons.

If you are that person, when you look at the policy impact of President Trump’s first year, you see some good and heartening things.

He has established in his government a deregulatory spirit that is fair and helpful. Regulation, you know, is good—we’re all human; business leaders will make decisions that are good for the company or shareholders or themselves, but not necessarily good for the town, state, country. So regulation has an important role: It helps you be a good citizen and gives cover to you when you are one. But excessive regulation, especially when it springs from ideological animus or practical ignorance, kills progress, growth, jobs, good ideas and products.

Mr. Trump has put a sober conservative on the Supreme Court, and many conservative judges on the lower courts. This provides greater balance in the judiciary. In a split country, split courts—balance—is probably the best we can do.

The economy is improving. And Mr. Trump helped pass a tax bill that was better—maybe a little, maybe a lot, but certainly better—than what it replaced.

Not bad for a first year in office!

So you, moderate, centrist professional, should feel high enthusiasm for Donald Trump. And yet you don’t, not really. What you feel is disquiet, and you know what it’s about: the worrying nature of Mr. Trump himself. You look at his White House and see what appears to be epic instability, mismanagement and confusion. You see his resentments and unpredictability. You used to think he’s surrounded by solid sophisticates, but they’re leaving. He’s unserious— Vladimir Putin says his missiles can get around any U.S. defense, and Mr. Trump is tweeting about Alec Baldwin. He careens around—he has big congressional meetings that are like talk shows where he’s the host, and he says things that are both soft and tough and you think Hmmm, maybe that’s a way through, but the next day it turns out it was only talk. This has been done on the Dreamers, on guns and we’ll see about tariffs. He loves chaos—he brags about this—but it isn’t strategic chaos in pursuit of ends, it’s purposeless disorder for the fun of it. We are not talking about being colorfully, craftily unpredictable, as political masters like FDR and Reagan sometimes were, but something more unfortunate, an unhinged or not-fully-hinged quality that feels like screwball tragedy.

He’s on the phone with his friends: He doesn’t like the chief of staff; he may be out. He doesn’t like his national security adviser; he doesn’t like his attorney general; they may be out too. His confidante Hope Hicks is gone; so is Dina Powell ; now Gary Cohn is gone. His staff never knows what’s he’s going to do on any given day. And each day the Mueller leaks offer more evidence that whatever questionable or illegal activity took place during the campaign, Mr. Trump surrounded himself with a true Team of Screwballs.

Here is what you try to wrap your head around if you are a centrist or moderate who’s trying to be fair. You think: On some level this is working. And on some level he is crazy.

He’s crazy . . . and it’s kind of working. You struggle to reconcile these thoughts. You try to balance them.

Then you realize everything you’ve learned from life as a leader in whatever sphere—business, local public service—tells you this: Crazy doesn’t last. Crazy doesn’t go the distance. Crazy is an unstable element that, when let loose in an unstable environment, explodes.

And so your disquiet. Sooner or later something bad will happen—an international crisis, or damaging findings from the special counsel. If the president is the way he is on a good day, what will he be like on a bad day?

It all feels so dangerous.

A president who has relative prosperity and relative peace should be at 60% approval. This is why he is about 20 points lower.

Observations and criticisms like this make Mr. Trump’s supporters angry and defensive. So he’s not smooth, they say—“We never thought he was!” So he doesn’t have the right tone, he doesn’t always use the right words—“You’re like old-time snobs looking down on him because he uses the wrong fork.”

But it’s a little more essential than that.

Centrists and moderates are seeing what Trump supporters cannot, will not see.

Expecting more from the president of the United States springs from respect for the country, its institutions, and the White House itself. It springs from standards, the falling of which concerns natural conservatives.

It isn’t snobbery. The people trying to wrap their heads around this presidency are patriots too. That’s one of the hellish things about this era.

The opioid crisis is draining America’s workforce

February 23, 2018

“The job search has not been going good,” said Harsanyi, a baby-faced 27-year-old with tattoos poking out of his collar. “I think when you’re a drug addict in sobriety with a felony on your record, they look at you different, like you’re going to rob their store.”

Jobs are plentiful in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, which boasts an unemployment rate of 3.1%. But after doing time for an armed robbery committed while he was high in 2015, Harsanyi has so far been turned down for jobs at Valvoline and Jiffy Lube, and is only able to pick up occasional work as a tile setter for another recovering addict he met through his 12-Step program.

Harsanyi’s experience isn’t just hard on him. The opioid crisis is turning into a real problem for employers, who are having trouble finding workers in the midst of one of the tightest labor markets in decades.

There are nearly 6 million job openings in the U.S. and the unemployment rate, at 4.1%, is at a 17-year low. But the share of people working or looking for work still hasn’t recovered from before the recession. Part of the problem: The rise in abuse of prescription painkillers, partially responsible for the 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, has incapacitated thousands of working-age people whom employers would otherwise be eager to hire.

And it’s concerning officials at the highest levels of government. “Curbing the opioid crisis is of critical importance for ensuring a stable or growing employment rate among prime-age workers,” wrote President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors, in its annual economic report.

Related: How the opioid crisis is crippling America’s labor force

Last fall, Princeton economist Alan Krueger found that the increase in prescribing rates can account for between 20% and 25% of the approximately five-point drop in labor force participation that occurred between 1999 and 2015.

“Other countries had severe recessions worse, in many cases, than the U.S.,” Krueger said. “Yet they don’t face nearly the type of opioid crisis that the U.S. is facing. So I think this is at the moment a uniquely American problem.”

A map in Krueger’s study showing the intersection of opioid prescription rates and declines in labor force participation colors in large dark swaths over much of Appalachia and the Rust Belt. Those economically depressed places have become synonymous with the narrative of opioid addiction as a disease of the downtrodden, fueled by joblessness and despair.

opioid crisis

But the map also has dark spots in economically healthier areas, like coastal Washington state, northwest Arkansas and central Maryland, where unemployment rates are low and businesses increasingly complain that they can’t find enough workers.

Recent research by University of Virginia economist Christopher Ruhm suggests that while joblessness may have created fertile conditions for opioid addiction, the epidemic’s spread was fueled more by the availability of prescription drugs. Overprescribing has stricken communities on every rung of the economic ladder, and it’s now becoming a particular problem for places with more jobs than able-bodied workers.

“It’s coming out of areas where there’s a lot of money,” said Angel Traynor, who started a sober house for women in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2012 and now runs three of them. Many drug users can work for a while, but things usually fall apart when their habit becomes too expensive, which brings on crippling withdrawal spells. “Towards the end of anybody’s addiction, they’re not capable of holding a job,” Traynor said.

Related: Ohio blames drugmakers for fueling opioid crisis

Maryland saw a 70% increase in opioid-related deaths in 2016, when 1,856 people died. Although local law enforcement agencies often track overdoses, few governments have comprehensive data on the number of people in treatment for addiction at any one time. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that population has grown quickly.

As a result, some employers that typically screen drug users out through testing are starting to become less picky, according to Central Maryland Chamber of Commerce president Raj Kudchadkar.

“There’s definitely a direct impact on the business ecosystem,” said Kudchadkar, who has noticed changes primarily in the restaurant and retail sectors. “People have expressed fear about screening, because it might impact their ability to fill positions.”

deena bradbury
Deena Bradbury (right) at Grump’s Cafe with employee, Mehgan Degere.

Deena Bradbury, co-owner of neighborhood favorite Grump’s Cafe in Annapolis, said it would be hard to fully staff her two locations if she hired based on drug test results. One of her largest sources of labor are nearby sober houses, where residents are required to find a job, and usually don’t have a vehicle to travel far afield.

Bradbury will hire the people who list those telltale addresses on their applications, but she has to take extra precautions.

“Once we realized that there was a lot of folks with this set of circumstances, we changed how we dealt with it,” said Bradbury. For example, she makes sure that recovering addicts are honest about any past criminal records, and doesn’t assign more than one at a time to the same shift, to make sure they don’t negatively influence each other.

Related: Walmart is giving away free opioid disposal kits

It doesn’t always work out. Some employees relapse and disappear. But those who stay, Bradbury said, can be even better workers than those who’ve never popped a pill in their lives. “I think they tend to put forth more effort,” Bradbury said. “They don’t feel like a job is owed them. They tend to earn it.”

Such tolerance is not an option for all employers. Jobs that involve working with children typically bar people with criminal records. Construction companies, too, are less likely to take the risk of hiring someone who might come to work high and make a fatal mistake while on a ladder or using heavy equipment. In Annapolis, where a lot of construction work happens on government property, those rules are more commonly enforced.

But people in the treatment community emphasize that getting former addicts back to work is an essential part of recovery, and want more employers to give them a chance. For Mike Harsanyi, it’s another reason to stay on the wagon.

“When you’re not thinking about yourself, and you’re thinking about your job, and wanting to do better, and getting money, you just forget about you and your problems,” he said. “I really feel that addicts and alcoholics, once you get sober and once you get an opportunity, you flourish. But getting that opportunity is the problem.”

Includes videos:

Layoffs Arrive in Brexit Britain, and Auto Workers Are Up First — Globalization killing British industry?

February 16, 2018


By Suzi Ring and Christopher Jasper

Follow @Brexit on Twitter, join our Facebook group and sign up to our Brexit Bulletin.

In his 50 years working in Britain’s car industry, John Cooper has survived plenty of upheavals. None is scarier than the prospect of Brexit.

Being split off from their biggest market means the job cuts and production slowdown U.K. carmakers have imposed the past few months could be just a prelude to wholesale shutdowns.

The shock is only beginning to hit. Since October, 650 of Cooper’s colleagues have lost their jobs at the factory where Vauxhall Motors churns out Astra hatchbacks. The remaining 1,200 staff worry the plant may close if the U.K. loses tariff-free access to Europe. Across the River Mersey from Vauxhall’s factory, Jaguar Land Rover is planning production cuts.

“People shouldn’t underestimate the dangers that Brexit’s bringing,” Cooper, a union representative, said outside the sprawling factory in the town of Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool, where he’s worked since he was 18. “Why would Nissan continue to invest in the north east when it’s got a plant in Spain where it can build the same car without a 10 percent tariff?”

If Prime Minister Theresa May gets her way, by next year Britain will start severing ties with the bloc over a transition period, including quitting the customs union it’s been part of since 1973. Whether duties are imposed after that is still up in the air as London and Brussels wrangle over the terms of their divorce.

Tariffs and other hurdles to trade could be disastrous for the automotive industry since parts routinely move across borders several times during the manufacturing process. Take the BMW Mini, manufactured in Oxford. Before reaching the production line, each engine crankshaft is made in France, shipped to BMW’s U.K. engine plant in Hams Hall near Birmingham and then to Steyr, Austria for assembly.

The fate of the Vauxhall plant depends on whether its French parent company, PSA Group, decides to build the next Astra, a 2021 model, there. PSA, which bought Vauxhall from General Motors Co. last summer, has other options: it designs Peugeots and Citroens in France and Opels in Germany and could ship those to Britain with Astra logos.

Foreseeing these risks, Cooper had ardently campaigned against Brexit by canvassing workers at the plant, yet the leave vote still prevailed in the neighboring area—along with most of the other towns where U.K. carmakers operate factories.

Peter Southwood
Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

“It’s hard to see how anybody could sanely vote for anything that would make the business more difficult,” said Peter Southwood, 44, who’s worked at Vauxhall for 21 years. “They see the cars coming down the line, they see how many are going abroad, they see where the parts come from.”

Southwood’s grandfather and two uncles worked at Ellesmere Port and he hopes his son or daughter might uphold the tradition. But, Brexit or not, employment in Britain’s automobile industry isn’t what it used to be. In the heyday of the 1970s, 12,500 people worked at the Vauxhall plant. Headcount has since fallen 90 percent, largely due to automation.

The EU departure is dealing the industry an additional blow just as it scrambles to adjust to the transition into electric cars and government plans to phase out gas and diesel engines in the coming two decades. After touching a record in 2016, U.K. car sales suffered their biggest annual decline since 2009 last year as Brexit and the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal tarnished buyer confidence.

Not the Best Time to Buy

New car registrations in Britain fell most last year since the recession of 2009

Source: Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders

The cost of assembling a car in Britain could increase by 2,372 pounds ($3,337) under a so-called Hard Brexit, where a 10 percent tariff is imposed, according to estimates of London-based PA Consulting. Plant closures are most likely at Japanese-owned Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. since they export most of the cars they make in Britain, it said.

Foreign companies won’t stay “if there is no profitability of continuing operations in the U.K.,” Japan’s ambassador to the U.K., Koji Tsuruoka, said in an interview carried by BBC News this month. “It’s as simple as that. These are high stakes that I think all of us need to keep in mind.”

It will probably be too risky for both sides to let negotiations fall apart without a deal that allows goods to move between borders with few or no tariffs, according to Tim Lawrence, head of manufacturing at PA Consulting. “Britain is Europe’s second-biggest car market and it’s hugely important for EU companies like the German premium manufacturers,” he said.

But talks on trade haven’t even started—and the EU doesn’t expect a full detailed trade deal to be completed until after the U.K. has left.

In and around Ellesmere Port, a nerve center for the industry, workers are understandably anxious.

An Astra hatchback automobile sits in the lot at the Vauxhall Motors plant in Ellesmere Port.
Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

On a snowy day this month outside Jaguar’s Halewood plant where it makes Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport SUVs, several workers wearing green sweaters and trousers bearing the signature Jaguar cat logo said they’d been warned not to comment. One man said he’d voted to leave the EU because migrant workers crossing the bloc’s open borders had depressed U.K. wages. “I’m happy to get out of Europe, just not with the way the government have gone about it,” he said.

Another, 50-year-old Brian, was hopeful demand would pick up: “Rich people are still going to buy high-end cars,” he said. Owned by India’s Tata Motors, JLR is more shielded from Brexit because it exports a lot to the U.S. and China and a spokeswoman said new investments are planned at Halewood.

John Cooper
Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port site, by contrast, ships eight out of 10 cars to Europe, according to Cooper. He’s lobbying management for new production along with Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Britain’s national Unite union and an ally of opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The pair went to Paris last month to try to convince PSA Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares to grant two new models to Ellesmere Port. That’s the deal Cooper says is needed to guarantee survival, and both should include electric versions. Tavares hasn’t yet obliged. A Vauxhall spokesman said he couldn’t speculate.

After half a century at the plant, Cooper won’t give up without a fight. Vauxhall is an iconic brand in the U.K., appealing to Britons who want to support local industry and local jobs—something that, ironically, Brexit campaigners said leaving the EU would help safeguard.

“I don’t believe if you put a Vauxhall badge on a Peugeot 308 it would sell it in the same volume,” Cooper said. “I don’t want my legacy to be we didn’t get a car.”

— With assistance by Elisabeth Behrmann, and Hannah Recht

U.S. GDP Grew 2.6% at Year End, Extending Strong Stretch — Federal Reserve predicts 2.5% growth again in 2018

January 27, 2018

Image may contain: 2 people, suit

U.S. President Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 26, 2018


By Josh Mitchell
The Wall Street Journal
Updated Jan. 26, 2018 3:32 p.m. ET

Eight years into what has been an unexpectedly slow expansion, the U.S. economy appears to have picked up steam.

Business executives have reported solid quarterly earnings in recent weeks and pointed optimistically to investment and hiring plans for 2018, supported in part by federal tax cuts. Stock prices keep churning higher. And on Friday the Commerce Department reported that U.S. economic output remained on an above-trend path in the final three months of last year.

Gross domestic product—the value of goods and services produced in the U.S.—rose at a 2.6% annual rate in the fourth quarter, the government said. That didn’t match the second and third quarters’ above-3% growth rates, but it exceeded the 2% average that has prevailed since the early 2000s. Output grew 2.5% in 2017 as a whole, the most in three years, and the Federal Reserve predicts 2.5% growth again in 2018.

That puts the economy in unusual territory: not quite booming, but still gaining momentum deep into an expansion. The growth cycle that began in mid-2009 already ranks as the third-longest ever and is set to become the second-longest this spring. Rather than fizzling, the expansion is being spurred on by robust consumer spending and business investment. It isn’t near the vigor of the late 1990s, but that was the last time growth clearly accelerated this deep into an expansion.

“We don’t have a lot of history to guide us here,” said Richard Moody, chief economist of Regions Financial Corp. “It is unusual to see what looks to be a strong acceleration this late in the cycle.”


  • Heard on the Street: Why Consumers Can’t Keep Driving the Economy
  • Fourth-Quarter GDP At a Glance
  • How Hurricanes Hurt and Helped
  • Durable-Goods Orders Rose 2.9% in December
  • U.S. Employers Slowed Pace of Hiring in December
  • Tax Incentive Puts More Robots on Factory Floors

Investors cheered the latest evidence of an economy that won’t quit, driving up the Dow Jones Industrial Average by more than 100 points, or 0.4%, at midday.

President Donald Trump has pledged to return the economy to a growth rate of 3% or more, pinning his agenda on a $1.5 trillion tax cut he signed into law last month, a rollback of environmental, labor, financial and other regulations, and tougher trade positions. By Mr. Trump’s standard, growth didn’t measure up in the fourth quarter, but the pickup that has played out over the past nine months still has given the president something to boast about.

“There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States,” he said to business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland Friday. “America is open for business and we are competitive once again.”

While many economists anticipate a further pickup this year, many also say 3% will be difficult to achieve over the long haul given an aging population and meager productivity growth.

Several developments are helping the economy perk up. Among them: Synchronized global economic growth and renewed investment spending by U.S. firms, who had spent years hunkering down. Those factors have converged with low unemployment, tame inflation, low interest rates and a booming stock market to bolster business and household optimism and spending.

Shelving manufacturer B-O-F Corp. of Aurora, Ill., spent about $750,000 to combine two factories into a larger, single plant that opened this year. The company, which builds slanted shelves in cases at grocery and convenience stores, is aiming to boost production capacity by a third with the new plant.

Jamie Knorring, B-O-F’s president, credits the rebound in the housing market with his company’s good fortune, including a fourth quarter that was the company’s best ever.

“When they’re building more houses, they need to build more stores,” he said, adding the company plans additional factory upgrades and equipment purchases this year.

The global upswing is driving sales for Rockwell Automation Inc., the Milwaukee-based maker of factory software and hardware, as companies in a range of sectors look to boost productivity. Rockwell said this week its fiscal first-quarter revenue jumped 7% to $1.6 billion, driven by sales to heavy industry and energy companies.

Through Friday, 26% of S&P 500 companies have reported quarterly results, and out of those 76.69% beat earnings-per-share expectations. The current growth rate for earnings compared with last year is 12.3%.

Firms that earlier in the expansion focused on boosting payrolls while labor was cheap now appear to be renewing investment in facilities and equipment.

Employees perform quality control inspections on 2018 Honda Accord vehicles.Photo: Ty Wright/Bloomberg News

Stronger domestic demand prodded Heartland Produce Co., which sells fresh fruits and vegetables to grocers in the Midwest, to recently add 4,000 square feet to its warehouse in Kenosha, Wis.

“With the economy being stronger and unemployment being low, people have more buying power and they’re spending it at the store,” Heartland President Bill Dietz said in an interview. He said his company might look at opening another facility this year.

Investment in business equipment expanded at an 11.4% annual rate in the fourth quarter after a 10.8% growth rate in the third, the best six-month stretch since a burst of activity in mid-2014, Friday’s economic-output report showed.

While they were investing more, businesses pared back their inventories in the fourth quarter, which helped to reduce output. Inventory rebuilding could boost output in the months to come.

Consumers are driving growth, too. Consumer spending rose at a 3.8% rate in the period, an increase last exceeded in late 2014. Spending on long-lasting items known as durable goods rose at a 14.2% rate, the fastest pace since 2009.

David Alter, 34 years old, spent much of the past decade building his savings and investing in stocks. In December, he bought a car and a second home, in Orlando, Fla., where he just started a new job as a technology manager for a major theme-park company. He said the new job coupled with a big rise in technology stocks he owns gave him the confidence he needed to take on a second mortgage, a fixer-upper for which he just bought a new heating and ventilation system.

“I feel very good on how things are performing,” he said of the economy. “But it does make me worry like when that’s going to stop. It can’t ride up forever.”

There are other reasons for caution. A chunk of the fourth quarter’s growth likely reflected a temporary boost in spending related to a pair of hurricanes that ripped through Texas and Florida last summer. Spending that was halted by the storms—such as restaurant visits by consumers and construction—was simply pushed back into the year’s final stretch. Likewise the storms spurred a temporary boost in spending on repairs and replacement items, like cars.

The global upswing is a two-edged sword for the U.S. Exports are rising, but so are imports. So while consumer spending is on an upswing, many of the goods Americans are buying are being produced abroad. That runs against Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda. A widening trade deficit subtracted more than a percentage point from growth in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said. That came even though the dollar has weakened, a development that should be improving the U.S. trade position by making imports more expensive and exports cheaper.

—Andrew Tangel contributed to this article

Write to Josh Mitchell at

Donald Trump After one Year With Davos Up Next

January 19, 2018

Much of the attention on US President Trump focuses on what he says and tweets. But in his first year in office he has already had a significant impact on key issues affecting people in the US and around the world.

Donald Trump (Reuters/A.P. Bernstein)

International Trade

Donald Trump has made it repeatedly clear that he prefers bilateral trade agreements over multilateral ones. Since he took office, the US President has stopped the United States’ participation in negotiations over a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and put negotiations over a free trade deal between the US and the European Union (TTIP) on hold. In addition, he threatened to cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), forcing Mexico and Canada to re-negotiate the terms of the agreement. Meanwhile, America’s competitors are continuing their efforts to reduce trade barriers between them: The European-Canadian free trade agreement CETA went into effect in 2017, and 11 countries on both sides of the Pacific are continuing their efforts to establish a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement without the US. Although China is not part of the TPP negotiations, Trump’s critics fear that the US withdrawal will further strengthen China’s influence on commerce in Asia and the Pacific region.

Trump signing an orderTrump signed an executive order withdrawing the US from the TPP

Read moreOpinion: Donald Trump’s policies have fed China’s rise as world power

Business and Finance

Donald Trump’s first year in office was a good year for shareholders and other investors in the stock market: The Dow Jones Industrial Index rose from 18,589 points on the day after Trump’s election to more than 25,800 in mid-January. Compared to that, the Dow rose only moderately in President Obama’s first year in office (in the middle of the global financial crisis), but Obama also saw the Dow more than double over his full eight years in office: from just over 9,000 to more than 18,000. Also, under Trump the unemployment rate decreased from 4.8 percent a year ago to 4.1 percent today (when Obama took over from George W. Bush though, the unemployment rate was at around 8 percent).

Trump’s biggest legislative achievement, a tax reform signed into law at the end of December, reduces the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, and reduces income taxes for individual citizens across the board while doubling standard deductions. By far the biggest share of those cuts, however, benefits companies and high earners: Taxpayers earning more than $700,000 (€574,000) a year, who make up 1 percent of all taxpayers, will receive 20 percent of the total tax cut. And while the tax cuts for businesses are permanent, the reductions for individual taxpayers will expire after 10 years. The tax cuts are financed on credit, leading to an increase in the federal budget deficit of about $1 trillion over the next 10 years, according to the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Health and Social Security

Trump and the Republicans in Congress failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, the signature bill of Trump‘s predecessor in the White House. But in the 2017 tax reform, they did manage to repeal the “individual mandate,” a provision that demands that every American has to have health insurance, or otherwise pay a penalty. Without the Individual Mandate, less young and healthy Americans will be inclined to buy health insurance, leading to higher premiums for everybody else. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, as a result, the number of uninsured Americans could increase by up to 13 million. Meanwhile, leading Republicans in Congress — including House Speaker Paul Ryan — are advocating reductions on future spending on social security and other so-called entitlement programs — partly to offset the increase in the federal budget deficit caused by the 2017 tax reform.

Public discourse/Newspeak

Book presentation Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House Trump has left his mark on public discourse

What Donald Trump has done to public discourse is best summed up by stating that since his taking office it is generally no longer advisable to quote the president of the United States in the presence of children. Just in time for the first anniversary of his inauguration, Trump made sure to remind people, when he described Haiti and African nations as“s***hole countries,” something he later denied.

But it is not just the fact that the president has coarsened public discourse and routinely utters falsehoods at a staggering pace, (according to the Washington Post, who tracks his remarks, he made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims since taking office) with one of his earliest erroneous claims concerning the crowd size following immediately after his inauguration.

 Trump’s war against fake news

At least as disconcerting is the fact that the Trump administration has apparently shunned various words and phrases from public websites. According to a new report from the EDGI (Environmental Data and Governance Initiative), an international group of researchers, “climate” is a key word that has been rephrased or scrubbed from Trump administration websites, especially from the pages of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While the scrubbing of words like “climate” from government websites has been confirmed, media reports that other agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have banned the usage of certain words have been denied by officials.

Shrinking the government

Under Trump the size of the federal workforce has been shrinking. At the end of September, according to official data, the US government had 16,000 fewer permanent employees than at the end of 2016.

Beyond reducing the number of permanent employees the Trump administration has also still not filled many key governmental positions. In fact, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service which tracks the confirmation process, the Trump administration has still not filled 245 of 633 key positions that require Senate confirmation, among them such important posts as that of ambassador to South Korea.

Appointment of judges

Probably one of the most lasting impacts — and certainly most irreversible since it is a lifetime position — of the Trump presidency is his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. At 50, which is young for a Supreme Court judge, the conservative Gorsuch will likely remain at and shape the highest court for years to come. But Trump’s success at appointing conservative judges to the bench extends beyond the Supreme Court. Trump has also managed to get 19 additional top level judges confirmed by the Senate, among them a record number of 12 circuit court judges, which will likely leave their judicial imprint on the country for decades to come.

Foreign policy

While Trump continues to criticize NATO member states for not contributing enough, he has upped the money and American personnel dedicated to defend the alliance’s Eastern flank. Beyond Europe, Trump has engaged in what is widely viewed as a dangerous name-calling game with North Korea’s leader regarding the country’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program and Pyongyang’s aggressive behavior. By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as charting a tougher course vis-à-vis Cuba and the Iran nuclear deal, Trump has reversed decades of US foreign policy on the former and his predecessor’s stance on the latter issues. Generally though, many observers find that the Trump administration led by a president who is deeply unpopular in many parts of the world, still lacks a coherent foreign policy strategy.

Read moreDonald Trump’s presidency: Taking stock and looking ahead


Protests against Trump's DACA plansTrump’s immigration policy has sparked protests across the country

With the number of illegal border crossings down by 40 percent at the US-Mexican border last year according to official figures and an ongoing crackdown on undocumented immigrants by the Trump administration, immigration is one of the issues where the president has had a deep impact affecting tens of thousands of people in the US and around the world. While Trump’s travel ban against several countries is still tied up in the courts, the administration has signaled it will end the protected status that allows more than 200,000 people from El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua to remain in the United States. Trump has also ended the DACA program and repeatedly hammered the diversity lottery program that enables some 50,000 people from various countries to come to the US per year and wants to end it. And even though illegal border crossings have already dropped significantly, Trump still wants to fulfill his promise to build a wall along the US-Mexican border.


One of Donald Trump’s first decisions as President was to name Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A very controversial choice, as Pruitt is an outspoken climate-change skeptic who believes that the authority of the agency he now leads should be drastically reduced. As attorney-general in Oklahoma, he repeatedly sued the EPA. Since taking office, Pruitt loosened regulations designed to reduce pollution from coal and gas power plants, vehicle emissions, mining, landfills and oil and gas drilling. A new and controversial proposal by the EPA would also allow offshore drilling along most coastlines of the US. In addition, the Trump administration has given the Green Light to controversial projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and a review of the size of dozens of protected areas throughout the country; Last, but certainly not least, Trump also pulled the US out of the Paris climate change agreement.

USA Nebraska Keystone Pipeline By giving the green light for the Keystone Pipeline Trump reversed his predecessor’s stance

Consumer Protection

Reducing regulations for businesses is one of the main themes of the Trump administration not only with regard to the environment, but also when it comes to consumer protection. In a move mirroring Trump’s approach towards the EPA, he appointed Mick Mulvaney, a fierce critic of the powerful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as its new (temporary) director. The bureau, or CFPB, was established in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to protect consumers against malpractice from banks and other financial service providers. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Trump-appointee Ajit Pai, scrapped the so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. Pai argues that less regulation will increase competition, thus lowering prices for consumers and fueling innovation. But critics fear that broadband providers could favor big companies which can afford to pay for high-speed internet and better access for their products, while small businesses and start-ups would be disadvantaged, giving costumers less choice.

Tunisia deploys army, makes 300 arrests as violent unrest continues

January 11, 2018

Riot policemen hide behind a wall during anti-government protests in Tunis, Tunisia, Jan. 10, 2018. Tunisian authorities say 300 people were arrested and dozens of others injured across the country in recent days as violent protests against government-imposed price hikes spread to more cities and regions. (AP)

TUNIS: Tunisian protesters burned down a regional national security headquarters near the Algerian border, prompting authorities to send in troops after police retreated, witnesses said, as unrest over prices and taxes continued nationwide.

Over 300 protesters were arrested overnight and the army was deployed in several cities to help quell violent protests in Tunisia seven years after the overthrow of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in the first of the Arab Spring revolts.
In Thala, near the Algerian border, soldiers deployed after crowds torched the region’s national security building, forcing police to retreat from the town, witnesses told Reuters.
Tunisia’s unity government — which includes extremists, secular parties and independents — has portrayed the unrest as driven by criminal elements, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has accused the opposition of fueling dissent.
Rejecting that accusation, Tunisia’s main opposition bloc, the Popular Front, called for a major protest in Tunis on Sunday to coincide with the seventh anniversary of Ben Ali’s fall.
Tunisia’s Football Association said it was postponing all weekend matches because of the disturbances.
Anti-government protests have flared in a number of Tunisian cities and towns — including the tourist resort of Sousse, since Monday against price and tax rises imposed to cut a ballooning deficit and satisfy international lenders.
While Tunisia is regarded as the only democratic success story in the Arab world, it has also had nine governments since Ben Ali’s overthrow, none of which have been able to deal with growing economic problems.
The army has been deployed in several cities, including Sousse, Kebeli and Bizerte, to protect government buildings that have become a target for protesters.
“Three hundred and thirty people involved in acts of sabotage and robbery were arrested last night,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani said. That brought the total number of detainees since the protests began to around 600.
“What is happening is crime, not protests. They steal, intimidate people and threaten private and public property,” he added.
Many of the protests have been peaceful, however, with demonstrators expressing their anger and frustration over deepening economic hardship since the 2011 uprising.
“It is true that some protesters burned and stole during last night’s protests, but the rulers steal and destroy Tunisia in the morning and at night with their frustrating decisions,” said a teacher who was shopping in the capital and only gave his first name, Mohamed.
“We expected things to improve after Ben Ali was ousted, but it seems that after seven years of the revolution, we’ll give our salaries each month to Prime Minister Chahed for him to spend them,” he said.
The 2011 revolt and two major Islamist militant attacks in 2015 damaged foreign investment and tourism, which accounts for eight percent of Tunisia’s economic activity.
Unemployment nationally exceeds 15 percent, and is much higher in some marginalized regions of the interior. Annual inflation rose to 6.4 percent in December, the highest rate since July 2014.

Shirin Ebadi on Iran protests: ‘Government cannot silence the hungry forever’

January 5, 2018

Anti-government protests in Iran have grabbed global headlines over the past several days. In a DW interview, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi urges Iranians to pressure Tehran to hold a referendum on their political future.

Iran, Teheran, Protest (Getty Images)

The unrest in Iran in recent days has turned the world’s attention to the state of affairs in the Islamic theocracy. At least 21 people have died and hundreds have been arrested since December 28, as protests over economic woes turned into anger against the regime, with attacks on government buildings and police stations.

Iran’s political establishment has closed ranks against the unrest, with even reformists condemning the violence. The government, and above all Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has insisted that the protests are being orchestrated from outside the country.

The government has reported that it has put an end to the “sedition,” and Thursday saw massive pro-government marches and a very heavy police presence across the country.

Meanwhile, online messaging and photo sharing platforms Telegram and Instagram have been blocked on mobile phones, having been interrupted soon after protests began. At the request of the United States, the UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the wave of protests in Iran.

In an interview with DW, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi spoke about the demonstrations and the political reform process in Iran.

DW: Anti-government protests in Iran seem to have waned, due to the massive presence of security forces everywhere. Do you believe these demonstrations have the potential to turn into a major movement?

Shirin Ebadi: The presence of the Iranian people on the nation’s streets is supported by the rights guaranteed to them by the constitution of Iran. According to the constitution, marches and gatherings do not require permission. But the Iranian government has always ignored the rights of the people. At the moment, because of the suppression and violence of the government, the presence of people on the streets has diminished.

But I must say that in the small towns, people are still out on the streets demonstrating. Even those that have returned to their homes will go back on to the streets again and that time is not far away.

They will shout openly that they are idle, hungry and lacking economic prospects. The government cannot silence the hungry forever and have to listen to the people.

The vast majority of society has not joined hands with the anti-government protesters. The middle class has stayed away and remains skeptical. Why?

Iranische Anwältin und Menschenrechtsaktivistin Shirin Ebadi (picture alliance/Photoshot/ Luciano Movio/Sintesi)Ebadi: ‘My recommendation to the people is to avoid violence, but to use their legal rights and to raise pressure on the government’

The middle class has supported the protests in their own way. But the political leadership was in the hands of neither the middle class nor the economic elites.

The elites supported the protests by publishing a statement. Human rights defenders, lawyers and writers issued statements in support of the protesters. Some artists expressed their support, too. But do not forget that the popular uprising was intense this time round, as people protesting on the streets had nothing to lose. In contrast, people who have something to lose are always more cautious. The middle class has not starved like the people coming on to the streets. But they also backed the protests.

In Iran, it appears that most people are dissatisfied about the present state of affairs, but many say they don’t see an alternative to the current political set up. As a human rights activist, what in your view should be the first steps that government has to pursue to reform the political system?

There are clear demands. The Iranian people want a referendum held freely under the auspices of the United Nations to express their demands and say what kind of government they want.

Read more: Opinion: Is the end near for Iran’s theocracy?

It is natural that the government did not care for the demand of referendum until now. But people must peacefully address their demands by engaging in a civil struggle and pressuring the government to hold a vote and implement the will of the people.

My recommendation to the people is to avoid violence, but to use their legal rights and to raise pressure on the government. For example, if they have money in the bank, they should withdraw the money from the bank. Such a move would damage the economics of the state banks – and they would get to the brink of bankruptcy.

Or do not pay for water, gas, taxes and municipality services to pressure the government economically. This form of non-violent protest is not dangerous, because no one is killed or arrested, but the government is under pressure and forced to give in to the will of the people.

Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer, a former judge and human rights activist. For her contributions to democracy and human rights, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

The interview was conducted by Shabnam von Hein.

Saudi Aramco launches ship manufacturing venture

December 31, 2017

Major production and services are expected to start in 2019 and the project will be fully operational by 2022. (Courtesy: saudiaramco)

DHAHRAN: Saudi Aramco on Friday launched a joint venture in marine international industries with Lamprell plc, the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia (Bahri), and Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. to establish, develop and operate a world-class maritime yard.

The new project will provide one of the world’s largest maritime integrated service complexes, with completion expected by 2022.

The new joint venture will localize important workshops in Saudi Aramco’s supply chain associated with offshore drilling and shipping, reduce costs, response time and increase flexibility for the company and its partners.

The new facility will be able to manufacture four offshore drilling platforms, build more than 40 vessels, including 3 giant oil tankers, and annually service more than 260 marine products.

Saudi Aramco’s vice president for finance, strategy and development, and chairman of the International Marine Industries Company, Abdullah Al-Saadan, said: “The global marine industry will serve Saudi Aramco’s strategic goal of becoming the global leader in energy and chemicals by meeting the company’s needs in production and shipping.” He added: “The company offers a combination of technology, supply chain efficiency and sustainable partnership, enabling it to become a world-class company offering competitive services to customers.”

Al-Saadan noted: “The world marine industry is unique in its combination of industrial and operational leadership through a consortium of four global and regional entities in the field of energy and marine industries, and the International Maritime Industries Company has valid applications for the manufacture of more than 20 platforms and the construction of 52 ships over the decade.”

Major production and services are expected to start in 2019 and the project will be fully operational by 2022. The project will contribute to the development of national expertise in the field of marine industries and employment generation.


Chinese Imports And The ‘Deaths’ of American Factories

December 15, 2017


After years of denial, it is now widely known that the opening of the U.S. market to Chinese imports was devastating, inflicting deep and lasting damage to many areas in the U.S. Regions most exposed to competition from China not only lost manufacturing jobs, they saw overall employment decline and never recovered. Areas with higher exposure have also been shown to have more people relying on food stamps and disability payments, more people addicted to opioids, lower rates of marriage, higher rates of political polarization, and higher rates of incarceration.

New research suggests that one of the main reasons the damage has been so deep and lasting is that the jobs lost from Chinese imports were not just from companies downsizing or becoming more efficient but from closing manufacturing plants altogether. The paper by four economists — Brian Asquith of the National Bureau of Economic Research and University of California at Irvine’s Sajana Goswami, David Neumark, and Antonio Rodriguez-Lopez — finds that the so-called “China shock” operated mainly through “deaths of establishments.”

This makes the job losses from the China shock fundamentally different from other adverse shocks, such as recessions, that can hit the U.S. labor market. In those situations, job losses are primarily from contractions of the number of people employed at a plant, rather than the outright closing of a plant.

“From a local-labor markets point of view, regional economies are likely to suffer more from deaths than from contractions (which tend to be one-off events or cyclical) because closed establishments can more permanently reduce local employment,” the authors write.

The economists say that many of the workers thrown out of work because of “establishment deaths” are later “reabsorbed” into the “nontradeable” sector, mainly through the births of new establishments. What is not explored in the paper is that many of these nontradeable sector jobs, however, a likely to be lower-paying service sector jobs.