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Friday 02.10.2017

Syria’s Assad tells Yahoo News some refugees are ‘definitely’ terrorists

Weighing in on one of the most contentious issues in American politics — the danger posed to host countries by the 4.8 million people who have fled from Syria’s civil war — Syrian President Bashar Assad told Yahoo News that some of the refugees are “definitely” terrorists.

In an exclusive interview with Yahoo News at a presidential office in Damascus, Assad said President Trump’s freeze on admitting refugees from his country — part of an executive order that has drawn widespread protests and is being challenged in federal court — “is an American issue” on which he would not take sides. But asked if some of those who fled are “aligned with terrorists,” Assad quickly replied, “Definitely.”

“You can find it on the Net,” Assad went on: “Those terrorists in Syria, holding the machine gun or killing people, they [appear as] peaceful refugees in Europe or in the West.” He said he couldn’t estimate how many there might be, but he added that “you don’t need a significant number to commit atrocities.” He noted that the 9/11 attacks were pulled off by fewer than 20 terrorists “out of maybe millions of immigrants in the United States. So it’s not about the number, it’s about the quality, it’s about the intentions.”

As for the future of Syria’s 4.8 million refugees, Assad said, “For me, the priority is to bring those citizens to their country, not to help them immigrate.”

'SEE YOU IN COURT,' Trump tweets after court deals president a setback on immigration order

President Donald Trump issued a challenge after a federal appeals court unanimously decided to uphold a suspension of his executive order.

Trump's order restricted travel for people from seven majority-Muslim countries. Last week, U.S. Judge James Robart issued a temporary restraining order, halting enforcement of the president's action.

Following news of the ruling, Trump tweeted, " SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!"

Trump told NBC News that the ruling was a "political decision," echoing comments he made at a law enforcement conference earlier this week. The president expressed confidence that his administration would ultimately win this legal fight.

Merriam-Webster Adds ‘Microaggression,’ ‘Safe Space’ to Dictionary

Merriam Webster announced this week that it has added more than a thousand words to its dictionary—and among them are “microaggression” and “safe space.” The dictionary said in a news release that words are chosen depending on their frequent or increased use among a wide range of sources. “[They] are therefore likely to be encountered by a reader—and should be in the dictionary,” the news release said.

But sometimes, it can take decades for a word to get added. Merriam-Webster notes in its entries that the first known use of both “microaggression” and “safe space” was in 1970.

The new entry defines a microaggression as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).”

It also lists “microaggressive” as an adjective, as well as “microaggressor” as a noun. Merriam Webster defines a safe space as “a place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.”

Fed’s Bullard sees no reason interest rates need to move much at all

No matter what you have heard about looming inflation or President Donald Trump’s economic policies, interest rates can remain low, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said on Thursday.

Last year Bullard altered the way he forecasts the economy and predicted the federal-funds target rate would stay below 1% through 2019. In a speech at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis on Thursday morning, Bullard said nothing has occurred in the interim to alter his forecast.

“We think the low-safe-real-rate regime is unlikely to change in the near term. This means the policy rate can also remain relatively low over the forecast horizon,” Bullard said.

In comments to reporters, Bullard said he favors one interest-rate hike this year and wouldn’t speculate on when it might occur, according to the Wall Street Journal. The median forecast of Fed officials is for three rate hikes this year. The market is pricing in two. There is little danger of the economy overheating in 2017 as inflation remains muted, Bullard said. “The prerequisites for meaningfully higher inflation do not seem to have materialized so far,” he said.

Krawchek on Dodd-Frank: Need to keep the Volcker rule

Postal Service says it lost $200 million over holiday season

The U.S. Postal Service said Thursday it lost $200 million during the year-end holiday season, despite a strong quarter of package shipping and expanded use of vote-by-mail in the November presidential election.

The results also reflect continued erosion in the delivery of first-class mail as well as expensive mandates for pre-funding of its retiree health care obligations. The post office's report shows earnings of more than $1.4 billion between October and December 2016. But when effects of a $1.7 billion change in workers' compensation liability due to fluctuating interest rates are excluded, the service says it lost money overall.

Operating income came to $522 million, down from $1.3 billion in the previous year. The post office continued to notch double-digit growth in its package business, boosted by the strength of Amazon and other Internet retailers, but also suffered losses from a forced reduction in stamp prices last year. Election-related mail volume, meanwhile, rose to 1.3 billion, up from 214 million in the same period in 2015, a nonelection year.

An independent agency, the Postal Service does not use taxpayer money for its operations. Under federal law, it can't raise prices more than the rate of inflation without approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission.

IRS Can Revoke Americans’ Passports for Unpaid Taxes

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is preparing to implement its authority to certify to the U.S. State Department an American citizen’s “seriously delinquent tax debt.” The State Department may then refuse to issue, or even can revoke, the person’s passport.

According to the IRS website, seriously delinquent tax debt is “an individual’s unpaid, legally enforceable tax debt” totaling more than $50,000, including interest and penalties. There are certain types of debt that are excluded from that definition, including timely payments being made under an agreed installment plan.

Before denying a passport, the State Department will hold the application for 90 days, time to resolve any errors, make full payment or reach a payment agreement with the IRS.

Nigel Green, founder and CEO of financial advisory firm deVere Group, said in a Thursday press release: As President Trump hits out at the judge who has blocked his travel ban for citizens of seven Muslim majority countries, there are more travel complications from U.S. authorities being introduced – ones that could prevent U.S. citizens from travelling internationally. The IRS is to have a new tool to collect taxes. The new law will use the threat of stopping people being able to travel by revoking passports if there are unpaid taxes. It was passed by Congress in 2015 … .

Insurance giants may no longer be 'too big to fail'

Insurance stocks rose sharply Thursday as a memo circulated by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said proposed legislation would no longer deem those companies "too big to fail."

In the years after the financial crisis, the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a consortium of regulators, labeled AIG, MetLife and Prudential as "systemically important" to the economy – meaning a failure of one of those companies would have far-reaching effects.

But Hensarling's memo, obtained by CNBC, listed among other things a commitment to "remove remaining nonbank SIFI references." Large banks, it appears, will still fall into that category, which carries hefty regulatory costs, strict government oversight and the need to carry excess capital in order to avoid being bailed out in a crisis.

Companies hardly consider the designation a badge of honor. MetLife sued the government to have the title removed, and General Electric sold off its GE Capital unit to shed the affiliation.

Arby’s Admits Malware Infection And Credit Card Breach At Hundreds Of Restaurants

The last time you satisfied your craving for seasoned curly fries at Arby’s, did you use a credit or debit card? It’s time to start watching your statements for fraudulent transactions and also to watch your mailbox for a new card: Arby’s announced a payment card breach at a few hundred of its restaurants.

The fast-food chain came clean only when Krebs on Security inquired about a possible breach, claiming that the FBI had asked the company not to announce the malware incident.

“While the investigation is ongoing, ARG quickly took measures to contain this incident and eradicate the malware from systems at restaurants that were impacted,” an Arby’s spokesperson said in a statement to Krebs.

This was a familiar attack from recent breaches at businesses like Wendy’s, InterContinental Hotels, and Noodles and Company: The restaurants’ payment terminals were infected with malware, which captured customers’ payment card numbers, which the thieves in turn put up for sale.

Fitch: Trump tax cuts could force another Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac bailout

Speaking before a meeting with airline executives, President Donald Trump said Thursday that his administration plans to unveil a tax reform plan in the coming weeks, with changes to corporate and personal taxes likely on the agenda.

According to a report from Business Insider, Trump said: "We're going to be announcing something over the next — I would say — two or three weeks that will be phenomenal in terms of tax," said Trump during a meeting with airline executives on Thursday. The president also said he is "lowering the overall tax burden on American businesses big league."

Previously, the president spoke of cutting the corporate tax rate from the current federal statutory rate of 35% down to somewhere between 15% and 20%. While those changes would likely be well received by corporate America, there could be some unintended consequences for two companies that have close ties to the federal government.

According to a new report from Fitch Ratings, cutting corporate tax rates by as much as the president suggested could lead to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac needing another bailout from the government.

Whistleblower: Phoenix VA facility still a failure

Is Central Banking a Capitalist or Communist Concept?

If you visit the Federal Reserve’s Facebook page, you will seldom find a positive comment. That’s because people who don’t care about central banking won’t go to the Fed’s Facebook page. That leaves only the ones who are positive about it—if they exist—and the ones who don’t like central banks.

The right doesn’t like central banks because of their centrality. The banks centralize power over interest rates, and the right doesn’t like central control over pretty much anything. The left doesn’t like central banks because they represent money, capitalism, and “too big to fail” banks. However, despite the confusion and complicated hybrid setup of the Fed and other central banks, these institutions are more communist and socialist in nature than capitalist.

Contrast these two statements from two important historical documents. One calls for the “Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.” The other one gives Congress the power to “coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.”

Karl Marx and Frederich Engels penned the former statement in 1848 in their infamous “Manifesto of the Communist Party.” Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson were responsible for the inclusion of Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the source of the latter statement. So which camp is the Federal Reserve in—manifesto or Constitution?

Big Challenge For Auto Makers: Getting Millennials To Buy Cars

The 2017 Chicago Auto Show rolls into town where you can see the newest models with the latest technology and design. But the big question when it comes to new cars: Who’s buying? Once a car was a rite of passage into adulthood.

Vince Gerasole remembers his first car — an AMC Spirit purchased for $800. But Millennials don’t share that dream, and it’s impacted the way automakers are designing cars to win them over. He stopped by an urban coffee shop and met twenty-somethings who aren’t revved up about owning a car, yet.

“I think when you live in the city there is less need for a car. A lot of Millennials live in the city,” Julia Marback says. At 30 percent of the population, Millenials once gave automakers more headaches than a traffic jam.

“They didn’t have the kind of love affair with cars growing up because they were into more technology,” says Craig Patterson, Ford’s marketing manager. Cell phones gave younger Millennials their freedom, but they are now switching gears as they age. “They are buying cars slower. They are not buying cars when they’re in their 20s; they’re waiting until their 30s,” says Scotty Reiss of SheBuysCars.

Senate Letter Reveals Staggering Number Of Murders By Illegal Aliens With Previous Criminal Convictions

A letter written by the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2015 to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Loretta Lynch reveals news facts about the number and nature of crimes committed by illegal immigrants who had already been convicted of other crimes but were released back into the public either because their home country would not accept their deportation and/or because they exceeded a Supreme Court mandate prohibiting detention of deportable foreign nationals beyond six months.

According to the letter, published by the Miami Herald, statistics provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials confirm that 121 homicides were committed in the U.S. between 2010-2014 by illegal immigrants who had already been convicted of a crime but were released back into society due to limitations on their detention. In addition, ICE confirmed that of the 36,007 criminal aliens released from custody in 2013, 1,000 of them had already been convicted of new crimes as of June 2015.

“This disturbing fact follows ICE’s admission that, of the 36,007 criminal aliens it released from ICE custody in Fiscal Year 2013, 1,000 have been re-convicted of additional crimes in the short time since their release,” according to the letter, dated June 12, 2015.

The Senate Judiciary Committee letter revealed that 121 immigrant convicts were charged with homicide following their release from ICE custody between 2010 and 2014. It also noted that in 2014, ICE released 2,457 immigrant convicts because of the Supreme Court ruling prohibiting detention of deportable foreign nationals beyond six months.

Retail sales get political

Paris Builds Barrier Around Eiffel Tower to Limit Terrorism

Paris is spending 20 million euros ($22 million) to build a protective barrier around the Eiffel Tower to replace temporary structures that were put up after a series of terror attacks.

“Sadly, the risk of terrorism hasn’t gone away,” deputy mayor Jean-François Martins said at a Paris press conference. “It’s not a wall, it’s an aesthetic perimeter.” Martins wouldn’t confirm a report in Thursday’s Le Parisien newspaper that a clear glass structure would be built around the tower’s esplanade. The form the new structure takes will depend on solutions proposed in response to the city’s call for tenders, he said.

Temporary and movable metal barriers were sporadically thrown up in 2015 and have been in place continuously since France hosted the Euro 2016 soccer championships last summer.

The new perimeter will include the space under the tower, as well as two ponds on either side of it, an area roughly 200 by 300 meters. It must be able to stop bullets and vehicles, he said. Tourists will be free to enter the area after a security check, with payment required only to go up the Tower itself.

U.S. To Sell 10 Million Barrels From Strategic Reserves This Month

Some 10 million barrels of crude from the U.S.’s strategic reserve are scheduled to be sold later this month, the Department of Energy said. The shipment is part of a total 25 million barrels, to be sold over a period of three years, as per the 21st Century Cures Act, signed in December last year.

Sales from the SPR are conducted, according to the DoE, to “respond to a severe energy supply interruption, to prevent or address lesser supply shortages or to conduct evaluations of drawdown and sales procedures.” The Department added that the bidding is open to all companies registered in the Crude Oil Sales Offer program and the registration procedure is also open to new entrants.

UPI notes that the 10 million barrels to be shipped this month represent less than 2 percent of the strategic reserve’s current capacity, which is calculated at 695.1 million barrels. As such, the sale is unlikely to have a lasting impact on crude oil prices, although a brief fluctuation is likely.

The announcement comes on the same day that the EIA reported a massive build in commercial oil stockpiles, at 13.8 million barrels, in tune with, though lower, than API’s Tuesday estimate of a build of 14.23 million barrels.

California Democrats Propose In-State Tuition for Refugees

According to the Orange County Register, State Assembly Democrats announced a package of bills Wednesday to grant refugees in-state tuition at public colleges and provide money to school districts with large child refugee populations.

Another bill in the package would also give refugees with Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) who served the U.S. Armed Forces or State Department in Iraq or Afghanistan priority enrollment in public colleges and help them apply foreign work experience toward a professional license.

Assemblymembers Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), and Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) held a press conference in Sacramento on Wednesday to announce their package of bills.

“We’re not taking part in this fear mongering and this hatred, and in fact we’re going to do the opposite,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), the Register reported. “We’re going to open our arms. We’re going to continue to find ways to support them and say, ‘You are welcome.’”

Your Chicken Sandwich Costs More With a $15 Minimum Wage

Progressives are touting a $15 minimum wage as a low-cost policy to reduce poverty and income inequality. However, the costs of a high minimum wage are higher than its proponents would like to believe. In a recent Heritage Foundation backgrounder, James Sherk outlined the costs to consumers of a $15 minimum wage and took issue with methodological flaws in two studies that proponents of a higher minimum wage often cite.

Relying on peer-reviewed scholarship on the fast-food sector, Sherk estimates that increasing the minimum wage to $15 would raise fast-food prices 38 percent and reduce employment 36 percent. A chicken sandwich that currently sells for $3.05 would instead cost customers $4.21. The logic is straightforward: With higher labor costs and already narrow profit margins, fast-food restaurants will have to raise prices. But with higher prices, consumers spend significantly less on fast food.

Sherk goes on to argue that two studies predicting little effect from a $15 minimum wage on fast-food business models include fatal flaws. One study by Purdue’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management found that a $15 minimum wage would increase a fast-food restaurant’s costs by only about 4 percent.

However, the authors made a major mistake: They added up median costs, rather than average costs, which made 8 percent of all restaurant costs disappear. Since restaurants in the real world can’t make costs vanish, the study has little relevance for them.

Recession 2017? Things Are Happening That Usually Never Happen Unless A New Recession Is Beginning

Is the U.S. economy about to get slammed by a major recession? According to Gallup, U.S. economic confidence has soared to the highest level ever recorded, but meanwhile a whole host of key economic indicators are absolutely screaming that a new recession is beginning. And if the U.S. economy does officially enter recession territory in 2017, it certainly won’t be a shock, because the truth is that we are well overdue for one. Donald Trump has inherited quite an economic mess from Barack Obama, and it was probably inevitable that we were headed for a significant economic downturn no matter who won the election.

One of the key indicators to watch is average weekly hours. When the economy shifts into recession mode, employers tend to start cutting back hours, and that is happening right now. In fact, as Graham Summers has pointed out, we just witnessed the largest percentage decline in average weekly hours since the recession of 2008…

In addition to the decline in hours, Summers has suggested that there are a number of other reasons to believe that a new recession is here…

The fact is that the GDP growth of 4%-5% is not just around the corner. The US most likely slid into recession in the last three months. GDP growth collapsed in 4Q16, with a large portion of the “growth” coming from accounting gimmicks. Consider the following: Tax receipts indicate the US is in recession. Gross private domestic investment indicates were are in a recession. Retailers are showing that the US consumer is tapped out. UPS, another economic bellweather, dramatically lowered 2017 forecasts.

60 years old and still in student debt

Like a growing number of student loan borrowers, 60-year-old Beatrice Hogg will be paying off her loans well into her 80s.

“I'll probably die before I pay off the loan,” says Hogg, a social worker living in Sacramento, Calif. In total, she owes $45,000 in outstanding federal student loan debt. She borrowed the money in the early 2000s in order to finance her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction, which she received in 2004 from Antioch University of Los Angeles.

With monthly payments of $251, Hogg says she doesn’t expect to pay off her loans until well into her 80s. That could easily change if she runs into the same bouts of unemployment that have dogged her over the last decade, leading her to defer her payments several times. Hogg’s story is further proof that student debt has become a multi-generational issue. A recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found the share of Americans 60 years and older who carry federal student loan debt has quadrupled over the last 10 years — from 2.7% of all borrowers to 6.4%. In total, this group of borrowers carries roughly $66.7 billion — or 5.4% — of all outstanding federal student loan debt in the U.S.

According to the CFPB’s report, borrowers who carry student debt late into their lives have more trouble repaying them, reflecting other possible financial issues. Borrowers over the age of 60 were twice as likely to have missed at least one student loan payment compared to the same group in 2005, the CFPB found, and 2 in 5 of borrowers 65 and older have loans in default.

Gold Rally At Midpoint; Could Move Another 30% Higher – Analyst

This Robo Pizza Company Bakes Your Pie As It Drives To Your House

From the outside, it doesn’t look very different from any old food truck you know. But inside, it’s the world’s most powerful pizza-making machine on four wheels, custom-built like the Batmobile’s corpulent cousin, loaded with 56 separate ovens all coordinated with machine-learning algorithms and GPS. When it's four minutes out from its next delivery, the oven that contains the corresponding pizza fires up automatically, baking the pie so it's fresh the very moment the truck pulls into the driveway.

That’s right: In the future, you may never have to eat lukewarm pizza again thanks to Zume Pizza—the sort of food chain that could only be born in Google’s backyard of Mountain View, California. Founded by Zynga and Microsoft alum Alex Garden and Danny Meyer-trained restaurateur Julia Collins, Zume is how you might imagine Domino’s in 2027. Zume's pizza is not only no-additive, computer-optimized, and baked en-route to your house, it's also made with robot assistance.

When Zume opens for business at 11 a.m. each day, an algorithm has already predicted what pizza orders should be pre-prepared. Pizza customers are incredibly habitual, often ordering the same toppings every week, but Zume pushes its predictive model further by designing a menu that eliminates the specificity of those predictions.

Instead of building a pizza by toppings, customers choose prebuilt combinations from the menu. And that allows the algorithm to guess correctly more often. "Our technology is not designed for a full-scale customization of pizza," admits Collins. "We try to approach it by having a very well-curated menu."

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