Financial Freedom

Financial Freedom

The vibration of the spiritual expansion that is enabled by manifesting the kind of wealth that one is able to live freely and absent of any kind of financial limit.

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After cabinet backing, May girds for Brexit battle in UK parliament

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November 14, 2018

By William James and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May won the backing of her senior ministers for a draft European Union divorce deal on Wednesday, freeing her to tackle the much more perilous struggle of getting parliament to approve the agreement.

More than two years after the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the EU, May told reporters outside her Downing Street residence that she had won over her divided cabinet, which includes some senior Brexiteers.

“The collective decision of cabinet was that the government should agree the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration,” she said, after a five-hour meeting.

Speaking over protesters shouting anti-Brexit slogans from the end of Downing Street, she said the deal, 585 pages long, was the best that could be negotiated.

“When you strip away the detail, the choice before us was clear: this deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs security and our Union; or leave with no deal; or no Brexit at all,” she said.

No ministers threatened to resign over the deal, which May hopes will satisfy both Brexit voters and EU supporters by ensuring close ties with the bloc after Britain leaves on March 29.

But the weakest British leader in a generation now faces the ordeal of trying to push her deal through parliament, where opponents lined up to castigate the agreement, even before reading it.

INTO THE UNKNOWN

Brexit will pitch the world’s fifth largest economy into the unknown. Many fear it will divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional U.S. presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.

Supporters of Brexit admit there may be some short-term pain for Britain’s $2.9 trillion economy. Notably, the deal will give Britain’s vast financial center, the biggest source of its export and tax revenue, only a basic level of access to the bloc’s markets after Brexit.

Such an arrangement would give Britain a similar level of access to the EU as major U.S. and Japanese firms, while tying it to many EU finance rules for years to come.

But keen Brexiteers say that, in the long term, Britain will prosper when cut free from the EU – which they cast as a failing German-dominated experiment in European integration.

May gave no date for a vote in parliament but she will need the votes of about 320 of the 650 lawmakers. It is unclear whether she has the numbers.

A senior Eurosceptic lawmaker said the cabinet decision was a majority decision, not a unanimous one.

Asked if anyone had threatened to resign, a senior government official who declined to be named said “nobody”, adding: “The PM used the word ‘impassioned’ for a reason, and clearly there are strongly held views on this subject, which we acknowledge.”

During the cabinet meeting, British journalists said anger among Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers was so high that they might call for a vote of no confidence in her leadership. There was no confirmation.

DIFFICULT ROAD AHEAD

The ultimate outcome for the United Kingdom remains uncertain: scenarios range from a calm divorce to rejection of May’s deal, potentially sinking her premiership and leaving the bloc with no agreement, or another referendum.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recommended that EU leaders should now go ahead with a delayed summit to rubber-stamp the agreement. This is likely to take place on Nov. 25, diplomats said.

But EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier cautioned that the road to ensuring a smooth UK exit was still long and potentially difficult.

May, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the turmoil following the referendum, has staked her future on a deal that she hopes will solve the Brexit riddle: leaving the EU while preserving the closest possible ties.

But few are satisfied. Brexit supporters in May’s party, which has been riven by a schism over Europe for three decades, said she had surrendered to the EU and that they would vote down the deal.

Opponents of Brexit say Britain will lose more than it can possibly gain from quitting such a big single market and political alliance. Some want another referendum.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called it a “botched deal”.

The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which props up May’s government, said it would not back any deal that treated the British province differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.

“If she decides to go against all of that, then there will be consequences,” DUP leader Arlene Foster said, though she refrained from explicitly opposing the deal. She was due to meet May on Wednesday night.

IRISH BORDER

The most difficult issue in the talks was the Northern Irish ‘backstop’, an insurance policy to avoid a return to border checks between the British province and EU-member Ireland that could threaten a 1998 peace accord, which ended 30 years of violence.

The draft deal envisages a July 2020 decision on what would have to be done to make sure the border stays open after the post-Brexit transition runs its course if a new trade deal is not in place by then.

Either Britain would have to extend the transition period once beyond December 2020, or go into a customs arrangement that would cover all of the United Kingdom.

Under those arrangements, Northern Ireland would be aligned more closely with the EU’s customs rules and production standards.

Any changes to or termination of those arrangements, after the end of the transition, would have to be agreed between London and Brussels.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose desire to avoid a hard border was central for Brussels, said the deal satisfied all Dublin’s key priorities.

But it is unclear if the arrangement will pass muster in parliament as many pro-Brexit lawmakers have demanded Britain must be able to unilaterally withdraw from the backstop to avoid being chained to the EU in perpetuity.

“I cannot support the proposed agreement in parliament and would hope that Conservative MPs would do likewise,” Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of an influential group of pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers, wrote in a letter to his party colleagues.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Kate Holton, Andrew MacAskill, David Milliken, Alistair Smout, Elisabeth O’Leary and Stephen Addison; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Draft Brexit deal ends Britain’s easy access to EU financial markets

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November 15, 2018

By Andrew MacAskill and Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom and the European Union have agreed a deal that will give London’s vast financial center only a basic level of access to the bloc’s markets after Brexit.

The agreement will be based on the EU’s existing system of financial market access known as equivalence – a watered-down relationship that officials in Brussels have said all along is the best arrangement that Britain can expect.

The EU grants equivalence to many countries and has so far not agreed to Britain’s demands for major concessions such as offering broader access and safeguards on withdrawing access, neither of which is mentioned in the draft deal.”It is appalling,” said Graham Bishop, a former banker and consultant who has advised EU institutions on financial services. The draft text “is particularly vague but emphasizes the EU’s ability to take decisions in its own interests…. This is code for the UK being a pure rule taker.”

Britain’s decision to leave the EU has undermined London’s position as the leading international finance hub. Britain’s financial services sector, the biggest source of its exports and tax revenue, has been struggling to find a way to preserve the existing flow of trading after it leaves the EU.

Many top bankers fear Brexit will slowly undermine London’s position. Global banks have already reorganized some operations ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union, due on March 29.

Currently, inside the EU, banks and insurers in Britain enjoy unfettered access to customers across the bloc in all financial activities.

Equivalence, however, covers a more limited range of business and excludes major activities such as commercial bank lending. Law firm Hogan Lovells has estimated that equivalence rules cover just a quarter of all EU cross-border financial services business.

Such an arrangement would give Britain a similar level of access to the EU as major U.S. and Japanese firms, while tying it to many EU finance rules for years to come.

Many bankers and politicians have been hoping London could secure a preferential deal giving it deep access to the bloc’s markets.

Under current equivalence rules, access is patchy and can be cut off by the EU within 30 days in some cases. Britain had called for a far longer notice period.

BREXIT AND THE CITY

The draft deal is likely to persuade banks, insurers and asset managers to stick with plans to move some activities to the EU to ensure they maintain access to the bloc’s markets.

Britain is currently home to the world’s largest number of banks, and about six trillion euros ($6.79 trillion) or 37 percent of Europe’s financial assets are managed in the UK capital, almost twice the amount of its nearest rival, Paris.

London also dominates Europe’s 5.2 trillion euro investment banking industry.

Rachel Kent, a lawyer at Hogan Lovells who has advised companies on future trading relations with the EU, said the draft deal did not rule out improved equivalence in the future.

“I don’t see that any doors have been closed,” she said. “It is probably as much as we could hope for at this stage.”

(Reporting By Andrew MacAskill, editing by Andy Bruce and John Stonestreet)

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Trump Escalates “New Cold War” with China. President Xi Refuses Washington’s Demands

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Cold war with Russia and China could turning hot. The risk of unthinkable war between nuclear armed states is real.

According to the Washington Post,

“(i)f  China wants to avoid an all-out cold war with the United States and its

The post Trump Escalates “New Cold War” with China. President Xi Refuses Washington’s Demands appeared first on Global Research.

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Upset by Trump’s Iran waivers, Saudis push for deep oil output cut

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November 15, 2018

By Rania El Gamal and Dmitry Zhdannikov

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – When U.S. President Donald Trump asked Saudi Arabia this summer to raise oil production to compensate for lower crude exports from Iran, Riyadh swiftly told Washington it would do so.

But Saudi Arabia did not receive advance warning when Trump made a U-turn by offering generous waivers that are keeping more Iranian crude in the market instead of driving exports from Riyadh’s arch-rival down to zero, OPEC and industry sources say.Angered by the U.S. move that has raised worries about over supply, Saudi Arabia is now considering cutting output with OPEC and its allies by about 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) or 1.5 percent of global supply, sources told Reuters this week.

“The Saudis are very angry at Trump. They don’t trust him any more and feel very strongly about a cut. They had no heads-up about the waivers,” said one senior source briefed on Saudi energy policies.

Washington has said the waivers are a temporary concession to allies that imported Iranian crude and might have struggled to find other supplies quickly when U.S. sanctions were imposed on Nov. 4.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Nov. 5 that cutting Iranian exports “to zero immediately” would have shocked the market. “I don’t want to lift oil prices,” he said.

A U.S. source with knowledge of the matter said: “The Saudis were going to be angry either way with the waivers, pre-briefed or even after the announcement.”

A U.S. State Department official said: “We don’t discuss diplomatic communications.”

The U.S. shift toward offering waivers adds to tension between the United States and Saudi Arabia, as Washington pushes for Riyadh to shed full light on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“The Saudis feel they were completely snookered by Trump. They did everything to raise supplies assuming Washington would push for very harsh Iranian sanctions. And they didn’t get any heads up from the U.S. that Iran will get softer sanctions,” said a second source briefed on Saudi oil thinking.

Saudi energy ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Since the summer, Riyadh has led the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers to hike supplies by over 1 million bpd to keep a lid on prices as U.S. sanctions were imposed.

Brent oil had surged above $86 a barrel in October on tight supply worries, but prices have since slid to $66 on concerns about oversupply.

UNEXPECTED WAIVERS

Trump had wanted lower oil prices before the U.S. midterm elections earlier this month. Washington gave waivers in November to eight buyers to purchase Iranian oil for 180 days. This was more waivers than were initially expected.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a key Trump administration ally, wants prices at $80 or more for his economic reforms, sources familiar with Saudi thinking say.

“The waivers were totally unexpected, especially after calls to raise output. A few people are upset,” said a senior Gulf oil source familiar with the discussions among OPEC and its allies on output policy.

While the United States set a time limit for the waivers, it did not tell the eight recipients how much oil they could buy and has not eased payment restrictions, complicating purchases.

Iran’s oil exports are expected to drop sharply to about 1 million bpd in November from a peak of 2.8 million bpd earlier this year. Although output is expected to recover from December thanks to waivers, it is still not clear by how much.

Riyadh’s concern is to avoid the kind of oversupply in the market that led to a price collapse in 2014 to below $30.

But the lack of clarity about the level of Iran’s supplies makes it tough for Saudi Arabia to work out appropriate production levels, especially after Russia raised output steeply in recent months and has said it wanted to produce more in 2019.

Saudi Arabia would need to convince Russia to join in any move for new supply cuts.

“First the Saudis let oil prices rise to $86 per barrel and then flooded the market. Can they now cut back enough going into a seasonally weak time of the year? Without Russia it won’t be credible,” said Gary Ross, CEO of Black Gold investors.

Saudi Arabia must also contend with rising U.S. production that has hit record levels above 11 million bpd and is set to climb further next year. U.S. exports could surge from the second part of 2019 when new pipeline infrastructure opens.

Rapidan Energy Group said it saw a supply glut now lasting much more than just a few months in 2019.

“Now that the market has correctly priced weaker-than-anticipated Iran sanctions and much bigger inventory builds next year, we wish to emphasize that ‘OPEC plus’ officials face more than a single-year supply tsunami in 2019,” Rapidan said.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardnera and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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Unwrapping Armageddon: The Erosion of Nuclear Arms Control

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The decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Force Agreement (INF) appears to be part of a broader strategy aimed at unwinding over 50 years of agreements to control and limit nuclear weapons, returning to an

The post Unwrapping Armageddon: The Erosion of Nuclear Arms Control appeared first on Global Research.

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U.S. judge gives Florida voters until Saturday to resolve signature challenges

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November 15, 2018

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge on Thursday gave voters in Florida whose signatures on ballots were rejected by county election officials until Saturday afternoon to resolve the challenges as a recount continues in close-fought races for a U.S. Senate seat and governor of the state.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said his ruling was intended to ensure that an estimated 5,000 people who submitted ballots by mail that were rejected by election officials had a chance to have their voices heard.

“The precise issue in this case is whether Florida’s law that allows county election officials to reject vote-by-mail and provisional ballots for mismatched signatures — with no standards, an illusory process to cure, and no process to challenge the rejection — passes constitutional muster,” Walker wrote. “The answer is simple. It does not.”

His ruling extends until 5 p.m. Saturday the window for voters whose ballots were challenged to confirm their identities.

Initial counts following the Nov. 6 elections showed Republican outgoing governor Rick Scott leading in his bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Ron DeSantis holding more support than Democrat Andrew Gillum in the governor’s race.

In both races the margins of victory were below the 0.5 percentage point threshold at which state law requires a recount of ballots. The first round of recount, conducted by machine, is due to end at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday (2000 GMT).

Overall control of the U.S. Senate is not at stake in the Florida race. President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans extended their majority in the chamber while Democrats took a majority in the House of Representatives. But both the Senate and governor’s races are being closely scrutinized as Florida is traditionally a key swing state in presidential elections.

The closeness of the race has thrown up lawsuits on both sides around the validity or not of some votes.

Nelson’s lead attorney in the case, Marc Elias, praised the judge’s ruling on Thursday.

“Big victory in our Florida signature mismatch lawsuit!” Elias wrote on Twitter. “Federal court extends deadline for voters to ‘cure’ their rejected ballots.”

Republicans, who have also filed lawsuits challenging the process, decried Walker’s ruling and the Scott campaign said it would appeal.

“Another day, another chance for Marc Elias to rack up massive legal fees regardless of the blatant hypocrisy … or the damage this will do to Bill Nelson’s legacy,” Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said in an emailed statement.

If the first-round recount finds the margin of victory in either race below 0.25 percent, state law will trigger another round of ballot recounting, this time by hand.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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Israel cabinet to vote on Amir Yaron for central bank chief on Sunday

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November 15, 2018

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s cabinet plans to vote on Sunday on the nomination of Amir Yaron for Bank of Israel governor, the prime minister’s office said on Thursday.

Israeli-born Yaron, 54, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and who has lived in the United States for two decades, was chosen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month.

He would succeed Karnit Flug, whose five-year term concluded earlier this week. Deputy governor Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg has assumed duties as acting governor.

Yaron last week cleared a key hurdle by receiving approval from a special government vetting committee, which said they did not find any flaws with Yaron’s character.

The cabinet is widely expected to approve the nomination, making him governor at a pivotal time for Israel’s economy, which is growing at a solid annual pace of about 3.5 percent.

With inflation now inside the government’s target of 1 to 3 percent, policymakers are forecast to start raising interest rates sometime in the first quarter of 2019.

The next rates decision is slated for Nov. 26.

(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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France hopes to lure crypto-issuers with Gallic stamp of approval

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November 15, 2018

By Inti Landauro

PARIS (Reuters) – With hundreds of cryptocurrencies being issued every month, countries face a choice: ban them, leave them unregulated, or come up with rules to tame them.

France is pursuing the third option, which might be regarded as a Gallic middle ground. It wants cryptocurrencies to be issued in France as long as those backing them agree to be regulated. In doing so, it would be one of the first major countries to regulate so-called initial coin offerings (ICOs).

If coin issuers sign up to regulation, the French argue they will be seen as more trustworthy by investors, helping the currency gain credibility in the long run. France will even offer certification if the issuer wants. There’s only one small catch: the French state will tax any profits.

“The (cryptocurrency) community is ready to pay taxes as long as they are not confiscatory,” said Fabrice Heuvrard, an auditor working with a joint government-industry task force drafting accounting rules for ICOs in France.

Firms usually launch ICOs to raise money for new platforms or to fund businesses that use cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Most coins issued in ICOs are used as a means of payments on websites, although some are traded on the secondary market.

In its bid to lure the cryptocurrency community out of the shadows, France will introduce its new rules early next year.

The goal is to establish a market in Paris for companies raising capital through cryptocurrency issuance and in the process grab a portion of the expanding business, raise tax revenue and provide security to investors.

CoinSchedule, a website tracking ICOs, estimates 22 billion dollars has been raised via launches in 2018 alone.

France is not alone in seeking to find a niche in the sector, although few economies are taking its approach.

In Britain, most ICOs are unregulated, with the financial watchdog deciding on a case-by-case basis whether the issuance falls within its authority.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission wants to bring ICOs under the umbrella of securities rules, but has not done so yet. In China and South Korea, there is a total ban on cryptocurrencies due to fears of fraud and speculation.

On unregulated markets where no rules apply, investors are left totally unprotected if things go sour, and they often do.

According to Coinmarketcap.com, there are 2,080 cryptocurrencies in operation. Yet DeadCoins.com has identified more than 900 that are no longer active, of which it says almost 200 qualified as “scams”.

Under France’s regulatory proposals, authorities would verify who is behind a new coin’s issuance, check whether the issuers have a plan to hand back money if the project fails, and force them to abide by “know your customer” rules.

DEMAND FOR RULES

In France, firms have raised 89 million euros via 15 initial coin offerings so far. Sixty-eight others are in the works, of which Impak Finance is one. It says France’s approach appeals.

“The different regulators have been hyper, hyper-proactive,” said Paul Allard, chief executive of the Canada-based company, which intends to raise 400,000 euros via its French offering.

The question of tax status is not yet settled, however. The idea would be to consider the amount raised as sales revenue and tax it accordingly. The question of value-added tax – which is 20 percent in France – has not yet been resolved, a finance ministry official said.

“Our plan is to declare the money raised as revenue and pay taxes on the profits we will make on those revenues,” said Allard. “Since we are not close to making any profit, it doesn’t really affect us.”

The idea of government certification may be unattractive to some crypto enthusiasts who like secrecy, but there is a demand for regulation from many issuers, said Henry James, deputy CEO of Fincross International.

“A lot of token issuers are struggling against the stigma associated with cryptocurrencies: they are risky and present opportunities for scammers,” he said.

With other financial centers hesitating, the French bet may pay off, said Impak Finance’s Allard: “Cowboy capitalists will not come to Paris and, you know what, it’s better that way.”

(Additional reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic and Tom Wilson; Editing by Luke Baker and Andrew Roche)

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Soros Responds To “Alarming” Facebook Exposé; Demands “Thorough Investigation”

Following a shocking exposé in the New York Times revealing how Facebook resorted to guerilla tactics to deflect blame amid their various scandals, including hiring Republican PR firm Definers which cast liberal critics as operatives for liberal financier George Soros, top representatives for the Hungarian-American billionaire have demanded answers. 

While Facebook was under fire on Capitol Hill for allowing Russians to purchase advertising during and after the 2016 US election, liberal critics blamed the company for Hillary Clinton’s loss – including activist protesters who put a public face on liberal opposition to the social media giant.

Defenders sought to discredit the activists by linking them to Soros

A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.

He was a natural target. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in January, he had attacked Facebook and Google, describing them as a monopolist “menace” with “neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions.”

Definers pressed reporters to explore the financial connections between Mr. Soros’s family or philanthropies and groups that were members of Freedom from Facebook, such as Color of Change, an online racial justice organization, as well as a progressive group founded by Mr. Soros’s son. (An official at Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations said the philanthropy had supported both member groups, but not Freedom from Facebook, and had made no grants to support campaigns against Facebook.) –NYT

Responding to the Times report, Soros adviser Michael Vachon responded Thursday, stating “It is alarming that Facebook would engage in these unsavory tactics, apparently in response to George’s public criticism in Davos earlier this year of the company’s handling of hate speech and propaganda on its platform.

The Times’ story raises the question of whether Facebook has used similar methods to go after other critics or public officials who have tried to hold Facebook accountable. Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s claim that they were unaware of what the company was doing is more alarming than reassuring. What else is Facebook up to?
 
The company should hire an outside expert to do a thorough investigation of its lobbying and PR work and make the results public. 

Until then, this episode further demonstrates that Facebook continues to pursue its narrow corporate interests at the expense of the public interest. -Michael Vachon

Patrick Gaspard, president of Soros’s Open Society Foundations wrote to Sandberg: “I was shocked to learn from the New York Times that you and your colleagues at Facebook hired a Republican opposition research firm to stir up animus toward George Soros,” adding: “As you know, there is a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonize Mr. Soros and his foundations, which I lead—an effort which has contributed to death threats and the delivery of a pipe bomb to Mr. Soros’ home. You are no doubt also aware that much of this hateful and blatantly false and anti-Semitic information is spread via Facebook.”

The notion that your company, at your direction, actively engaged in the same behavior to try to discredit people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest Facebook’s role in disseminating vile propaganda is frankly astonishing to me. 
 
It’s been disappointing to see how you have failed to monitor hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platform. To now learn that you are active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale.

These efforts appear to have been part of a deliberate strategy to distract from the very real accountability problems your company continues to grapple with. This is reprehensible, and an offense to the core values Open Society seeks to advance. But at bottom, this is not about George Soros or the foundations. Your methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy.  -Patrick Gaspard

 Which PR firm will Facebook call now?


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Macron braces for motorist revolt on France’s highways

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November 15, 2018

By Sarah White

PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron, hit by a slump in popularity, faces a nationwide protest this weekend over rising fuel taxes that threatens to gridlock France’s roads and show the depth of discontent with his reforms to reshape the economy.

Dubbed the “yellow vest” movement, demonstrators are threatening to block motorways and access roads to some oil depots, including in Calais near the Channel Tunnel, a major passenger and freight link into Britain.

The protest is the latest confrontation between Macron and voters in the countryside and provincial cities which view the former investment banker as the representative of an urban elite out of touch with ordinary people.

In 18 months in power, Macron has stared down muscular trade unions and street demonstrations as he liberalized labor laws and overhauled the heavily indebted state rail operator SNCF, unflinching in his resolve to bring economic and social renewal.

He has tried to shrug off accusations he is a “president of the rich”, a tag milked by rivals after he scrapped a wealth tax. This time his administration – which appeared caught off guard by how fast the protest movement grew as word spread on social media – has sought to soothe poorer motorists.

“I hear the anger, and it’s a fundamental right in our society to be allowed to express it,” Macron said in a television interview late on Wednesday.

But he added the protest movement, embraced by Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally party and receiving tentative support from other parties on the left and right, had been hijacked by opponents and their supporters bent on obstructing reforms without a clear vision of their own.

The price of diesel, the most commonly used car fuel in France, at the pump increased by 20 percent in the past year to an average of 1.49 euros ($1.68)/liter, according to website http://www.carbu.com.

The higher taxes, approved in late 2017, started biting as oil prices surged in October though they have eased off somewhat since.

“WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE DOUGH?”

Increases in taxes on gasoline and tobacco as well as an increase to a social welfare levy before other tax cuts came into force left many voters feeling Macron’s reforms had eroded their purchasing power.

Their anger is reflected in opinion polls showing support for Macron falling to new lows of 21 percent.

The government is standing firm on the fuel tax hikes but on Wednesday announced a 500 million euro plan to help motorists with the lowest incomes, seeking to take the sting out of the protest movement.

The diesel tax increases are designed to encourage drivers to switch to more environmentally-friendly automobile models, part of Macron’s “energy transition” plan.

But critics say that while the government hits people’s wallets, it lacks a clear vision on switching to greener energy sources, citing foot-dragging by Macron’s administration on reducing France’s reliance on nuclear power. Rural voters are also angered by a speed limit reduction on countryside roads.

“What do you do with the dough, aside from changing the crockery at the Elysee palace or building yourselves swimming pools?” exclaimed Brittany resident Jacline Mouraud in a Facebook post viewed more than six million times.

“If that’s what the money is used for, we might as well change, there’s no point in you staying on.”

(Reporting by Sarah White; editing by Richard Lough and Marie-Louise Gumuchian)

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