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Argentina's Macrisis: Inflation exceeds 50% for the first time in 27 years

Data published today by Argentina's Statistics and Census Institute (INDEC) show consumer prices rising by 3.8% in February, and 51.3% from the same time last year.

The annual rate of 51.3% is the highest such reading since January 1992, as Argentina was emerging from a hyperinflation crisis. INDEC's 'basic basket' inflation was even higher: 55.8%.

Price increases last month were led by food and beverages (5.7%) and housing and utilities (6.4%).

Utility rates have increased sharply since President Mauricio Macri cut subsidies and deregulated rates in April 2016: rates are up 3600% for electricity, 2400% for gas, and 1000% for water - leading to unpaid debts of $450 million for light bills alone, according to wholesale power administrator CAMMESA.

February's rate hikes sparked nationwide protests. An entire town (seaside Villa Gesell) was threatened on February 28 by CAMMESA with having their electricity shut off over a $4.5 million debt.

These hikes far outstrip overall price increases of 188% since Macri was elected in November 2015. Real wages have fallen by 18% since then.

February's 3.8% monthly rate, compared to 2.9% in January, came despite a relative stability in the U.S. dollar exchange rate since September at around 40 pesos (currently 41.76) - the result of short-term rates of 64% and some $29 billion borrowed since June from the IMF.

Central Bank head Guido Sandleris reacted to today's news by promising to "flight inflation with no shortcuts." He pledged to slow monetary base growth (30.6% as of February) even further, leading to concerns Argentina's recession could deepen.

GDP had already fallen 7% as of December - the worst reading since the 2002 collapse.

The easiest thing

Macri was narrowly elected in 2015 by promising to beat inflation - already running at 25% annually under his center-left predecessor, Cristina Kirchner.

It's the easiest thing, he boasted at the time. "Inflation is a sign of government incompetence, and with us it won't be an issue."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&tab=wT&sl=auto&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.politicargentina.com%2Fnotas%2F201903%2F28510-inflacion-por-las-nubes-se-disparo-38-en-febrero-y-la-interanual-rompio-un-nuevo-record.html

The seaside resort town of Villa Gesell.

Villa Gesell became an unexpected poster child of Argentina's ongoing Macrisis when, on February 28, the national wholesale power regulator CAMMESA threatened to turn the lights off over a $4.5 million debt.

CAMMESA admitted that nationwide, some $450 million in power bills remain unpaid - just at the wholesale level.

Argentina: Judge overseeing Extorsiongate case testifies in Congress

Federal Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla, who oversees a case involving a massive extortion scheme involving millions in ransom payments and false testimony coerced against political opponents, testified in front of Argentina's Congress yesterday.

Ramos Padilla discussed the developing extortion case against Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli and his close associate, Marcelo d'Alessio.

Evidence gleaned from d'Alessio's mobile phones and hard drives implicate two pro-government congresswomen, the nation's leading right-wing daily (Clarín), Argentina's intelligence agency AFI (headed by a business partner of President Mauricio Macri), and elements in the U.S. Government.

"This is a para-state network of ideological, political and judicial espionage of great magnitude," the judge said before the Committee on Freedom of Expression. "A web of illegal intelligence operations linked to the judiciary, government, security forces, political powers, and the media."

He was invited to testify by committee chairman Leopoldo Moreau after the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Senator Juan Carlos Marino - a staunch Macri loyalist - refused to do so.

Other members of Macri's "Let's Change" caucus avoided the hearing altogether, including congresswomen Elisa Carrió and Paula Olivetto - both of whom are implicated in the scandal.

U.S. intelligence links

d'Alessio, the judge explained, claimed to work for U.S. intelligence, and had embassy documents, CIA manuals, and U.S.-issued weapons in his possession.

Messages gleaned from his phone showed d'Alessio discussing espionage against Uruguay, his coercing false testimony from a lawyer for Venezuela's PdVSA, and his reporting via diplomatic pouch to "our headquarters in Maine."

d'Alessio also boasted in messages to using data stolen from the state energy agency ENARSA as an NSA spy to help frame former Public Works Minister Julio de Vido and his deputy, Roberto Baratta. David Cohen, who prepared the falsified report, was indicted on March 8.

Other documents suggest offers from U.S. President Donald Trump's political staff to provide "media coaching" to Macri for his 2019 re-election campaign. Help with potential judicial and media operations was also mentioned.

The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, which denied ties to d'Alessio, refused to cooperate with Judge Ramos Padilla, and refused to comment.


d'Alessio, 48, was arrested on February 15, a week after 22 hours of incriminating audio and video collected by farmer Pedro Etchebest, from whom d'Alessio sought a $300,000 ransom, was submitted to journalist Horacio Verbitsky.

The tapes, made throughout January, show d'Alessio boasting that some $12 million in bribes had been collected by Stornelli since August.

The recordings also implicate among others Clarín writer Daniel Santoro - a close d'Alessio friend and author of numerous debunked claims against Macri's leading opponent, former President Cristina Kirchner.

And while Stornelli denied knowing d'Alessio, video and WhatsApp messages show a close working relationship between the two - as well as with Macri's hard-line Security Minister Patricia Bullrich.

Stornelli, charged on March 6 as a co-conspirator, was summoned to testify by Judge Ramos Padilla but refused to appear. He has likewise refused to turn in any cell phones - though Gustavo Sáenz, another close Macri ally and reputed bag man in the scheme, has.

Running on empty

Federal authorities have meanwhile refused to transport d'Alessio and two co-defendants (both former AFI agents) from Buenos Aires to Judge Ramos Padilla's court in Dolores, just 125 mi away, claiming "a lack of fuel." They informed the judge that they do not intend to take him to Dolores until March 23.

"We've been denied assistance and resources," the judge testified, "and they inform the public when I am without security."

Amid a severe economic crisis, Macri is facing job disapproval of 70% and has relied on corruption allegations against Kirchner and her former officials to boost his reelection chances this year.

"This is the gravest institutional scandal since democracy returned to Argentina (in 1983)," Committee Chairman Leopoldo Moreau said.

"This is a mafia dedicated to framing opponents, coercing false testimony, and espionage."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pagina12.com.ar%2F180623-es-una-red-ilegal-de-grandes-magnitudes

Argentine Federal Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla presenting evidence gathered from extortionist Marcelo d'Alessio during his testimony yesterday as Committee Chairman Leopoldo Moreau looks on.

The judge described "a web of illegal intelligence operations linked to the judiciary, government, security forces, political powers, and the media" as well as U.S. intelligence.

Besides illicit enrichment, evidence points to the goal of framing opponents in order to boost Macri's flagging re-election chances this year.

Mexico's AMLO enjoys highest approval in Americas; Maduro, Guatemala's Morales, and Macri, the least

A report by Mexico-based polling firm Mitofsky shows that, among 20 heads of government, Mexico's Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Peru's Martín Vizcarra enjoy the hemisphere's highest average job approval ratings with 67% and 63% respectively.

Three presidents, in turn, are enduring the lowest approval ratings of not only the Americas but of all 31 countries surveyed: Argentina's Mauricio Macri (19%), Guatemala's Jimmy Morales (16%), and Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro (15%).

Mitofsky analyzed recent polling averages for 18 Latin American nations, the United States, Canada, Australia, and 10 nations in Asia and Europe.

The right-wing Macri and left-wing Maduro are presiding over deepening economic crises, while Jimmy Morales, a conservative, has faced mounting corruption allegations.

The 20 Western Hemisphere leaders, weighed by their countries' population, averaged a job approval of 43%.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had job approval ratings of 44% and 42% respectively.

The data were as follows:

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&tab=wT&sl=auto&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.politicargentina.com%2Fnotas%2F201903%2F28476-ranking-de-presidentes-de-america-macri-ocupa-el-puesto-18-sobre-20-mandatarios-evaluados.html

"Like two bald men fighting over a comb," as writer Jorge Luis Borges might have put it, Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro and Argentina's Mauricio Macri have traded periodic barbs and are ideological opposites.

But they share key similarities:

Economies in deep crisis, increasingly authoritarian tactics, and a fondness for SmartMatic voting software - which international election observers consider easy to manipulate, and unverifiable if it were.

They - and Guatemala's Jimmy Morales - hover at the bottom of job approval rankings for Western Hemisphere leaders.

First-time voters for Bernie Sanders don't care about his age, say he speaks to what matters to them

College students who support Sen. Bernie Sanders and will be voting for the first time in 2020 say the senator's age is not an issue to them.

Sanders, 77, has faced questions as to whether he's too old to run for president since the senator announced he's running again.

Young supporters of Sen. Sanders say they're not concerned about his age as he makes another run for president.

At Sanders' rally in Iowa City, IA, on Friday night, students from the University of Iowa could be overheard talking about how the senator has "always" had the same values.

One such student, Sam Johnston of Forsyth, Illinois, told INSIDER he supports Sanders because he's "fair," "reliable," and he trusts the senator to "follow through" on his campaign promises.

Johnston, 18, who will be a first-time voter in 2020, said "age range doesn't matter" when it comes to Sanders because he "just knows our values and shares them."

When asked if they would support the ultimate Democratic nominee even if it's not Sanders, the trio hesitated to respond.

Johnston, appearing deep in thought, said "most likely, yes" but added that there's "so many" candidates to choose from and it's early. If it came down to it, Johnston said his second choice would would be Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

At: https://www.businessinsider.com/first-time-2020-voters-bernie-sanders-age-not-an-issue-iowa-2019-3

Argentina: Witness against jailed opposition lawmaker indicted for false testimony

Argentine Federal Judge Sebastián Ramos issued an indictment today against an energy market analyst for providing "distorted, plagiarized, and outright false information" in a report used to indict and expel an opposition lawmaker.

The analyst, David Cohen, 70, authored a study on which Federal Judge Claudio Bonadío based his October 2017 indictment against Congressman Julio de Vido on alleged overpayment for natural gas imports during his 2003-15 tenure as Public Works Minister.

The Cohen study was shown within days to have been both erroneous and plagiarized from a paper written by Chilean college students on that country's gas import market - not Argentina's.

Cohen's indictment comes exactly a year after the gas overpayment charges against de Vido were dropped due to the fraudulent nature of Cohen's own report.

Critics note, moreover, that de Vido's expulsion from Congress contrasts sharply with that of pro-government lawmaker Aída Ayala, who retains her seat despite being convicted last May for racketeering and having said conviction upheld in October.

de Vido, 69, served as Public Works Minister during the center-left administrations of presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner.

Mrs. Kirchner succeeded her ailing husband as president in 2007, and as senator is today a leading opponent of right-wing President Mauricio Macri.


Amid a imploding debt bubble and severe recession, Macri is facing job disapproval of 70% and has relied on corruption allegations against Kirchner and her former officials to boost his reelection chances this year.

But recent recordings suggest Macri and his chief media ally, the Clarín Group, have been working with Judge Bonadío and Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli to frame opponents - primarily by coercing witnesses to perjure themselves against former Kirchner-era officials and Kirchner herself.

The operative managing the extortion scheme, Marcelo d'Alessio, was indicted on February 25 by Federal Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla.

The mercurial d'Alessio, 48, was recorded throughout January by organic farmer Pedro Etchebest (from whom d'Alessio sought a $300,000 ransom), and provided extensive details on the scheme.

Some $12 million in bribes had been collected just since last August, according to d'Alessio. Other victims have since come forward.

Stornelli, who was charged on March 6 as a co-conspirator, was summoned to testify on March 7 by Judge Ramos Padilla but refused to appear.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&tab=wT&sl=auto&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.eldestapeweb.com%2Fclaudio-bonadio%2Fcausa-gnl-procesaron-al-perito-trucho-bonadio-n57066

Court-appointed expert David Cohen, whose falsified market study was the sole basis for indicting - and later expelling - opposition Congressman Julio de Vido.

de Vido and at least two other former Public Works Ministry officials remain in prison despite the debunked study and Cohen's own indictment.

Cohen's indictment comes amid a massive extortion scandal involving the same judge and prosecutor, and the same ends: coercing false testimony against Macri's opponents - as well as at least $12 million in ransom payments.

France unveils plan to tax internet giants

Source: AP

The French government on Wednesday unveiled plans to slap a 3 percent tax on the French revenues of internet giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook.

The bill is an attempt to get around tax avoidance measures by multinationals, which pay most of their taxes in the EU country they are based in — often at very low rates. That effectively means the companies pay next to no tax in countries where they have large operations.

About 30 companies, mostly based from the U.S, but also from China and Europe, will be affected.

France is set to be the first European country to implement such a tax as the bill presented Wednesday in a cabinet meeting is likely to pass in the coming months in parliament, where French President Emmanuel Macron's party has a majority.

Le Maire estimated the tax will raise about 500 million euros ($566 million) a year this year but that should increase "quickly."

Read more: https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/france-unveils-plan-to-tax-internet-giants/ar-BBUqKDw

'I'm not running': Hillary Clinton rules out 2020 bid for first time on camera

Hillary Clinton ruled out a 2020 presidential run for the first time on camera in an exclusive interview with News 12, pledging instead to take an active role by working with the candidates in the crowded Democratic field.

"I'm not running, but I'm going to keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe," she told News 12's Tara Rosenblum.

In her first local TV interview since the midterm elections, the former first lady and secretary of state opened up about 2016, 2020 and beyond. She expressed deep concerns about the state of American politics today -- and vowed to be vocal about those concerns.

Clinton pledged to take an active role in 2020 as the field of Democratic candidates continues to expand. She's already held private meetings with many of the candidates, and she revealed the substance of some of those closed-door discussions.

At: http://westchester.news12.com/story/40067049/im-not-running-hillary-clinton-rules-out-2020-bid-for-first-time-on-camera-in-exclusive-interview-with-news-12

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Not running in 2020 - but the real winner in 2016, always.

New election date set in North Carolina's 9th District following fraud investigation

Voters in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District now know when they will head to the polls, again.

The State Board of Elections met Monday and voted to set the dates for new general and primary elections in the district, after the results of November's midterms were tossed out last month. Those results were deemed tainted by the board after a months-long investigation into election fraud in the district.

The State Board voted to first hold a primary election on May 14. After that, Sept. 10 will either be the date of the runoff primary election, if it's necessary - or the general election. If a runoff primary is needed, the general election will be held Nov. 5.

Democrat Dan McCready, who trailed Harris by about 900 votes (0.3%) in the unofficial original tally, has been fundraising in preparation for the race since retracting his concession in early December.

Republican Mark Harris, who led in the unofficial results of the first election, has already announced that he will not run again for the seat.

At: https://www.npr.org/2019/03/04/699985857/new-election-schedule-set-in-north-carolinas-9th-district

Democrat Dan McCready and his 2018 GOP opponent, Mark Harris.

McCready, who lost in November by 0.3%, will try again this year for North Carolina's 9th District seat.

He faces as-yet undefined GOP opposition, as fraud scandal-ridden Mark Harris has declined to run.

Trump celebrates North Dakota football champs with fast food

President Donald Trump is again feting football champions with burgers and fries.

Trump is celebrating the Division 1-winning North Dakota State University football team at the White House with a lunch of Big Macs, french fries and Chick-fil-A sandwiches.

Trump served a similar spread that included hundreds of hamburgers to the college football champion Clemson Tigers in January, citing the government shutdown that was underway.

Trump says he could have offered the players chef-prepared food; but, "I know you people."

At: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trump-celebrates-north-dakota-football-champs-with-fast-food/ar-BBUmLwC

Cheeto and a cornucopia of cholesterol at today's White House reception for the winning North Dakota State University Bisons.

"I could have offered you chef-prepared food; but I know you people."

Pope Francis to open World War II-era Vatican archives to scrutiny

Source: Washington Post

The Vatican announced Monday that it would open up its secret archives on the World War II papacy of Pope Pius XII, whom some scholars have accused of keeping silent about the Holocaust.

Jewish organizations have long called for the Vatican’s archives from this period to be made accessible, saying Pope Pius turned a blind eye to the systematic persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. But Pius’ actions during this period are up for debate, and others say he worked behind the scenes to help Jews.

“The church is not afraid of history,” Pope Francis told members of the Vatican’s Secret Archives division. He said the period of Pius’s papacy from 1939 to 1958 would be opened to researchers on March 2, 2020.

“Pope Francis’s decision to make these materials now fully open and available for international scholarly research is enormously important to Catholic-Jewish relations,” Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious affairs, said in a statement.

“It is particularly important that experts from the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the U.S. objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times, to acknowledge both the failures as well as the valiant efforts made during the period of the [Holocaust].”

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/pope-francis-to-open-world-war-ii-era-vatican-archives-to-scrutiny/2019/03/04/2908ff80-3e75-11e9-9361-301ffb5bd5e6_story.html

Pope Francis and his wartime predecessor, Pius XII.

Pius' relationship with the Nazi regime, with which he had been acquainted since his days as Apostolic Nuncio (ambassador) to Germany, has been the subject of much study and speculation since his death in 1958.

Some credit him with helping thousands of Jews and others at risk leave Germany and Italy during World War II; but others have accused him of authorizing lucrative "ratlines" for Nazis and Italian and Croatian Fascists, through Croatia, after the war.
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