US economy grew at robust 4.2 percent rate in Q2
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
AP Economics Writer
Thursday, September 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at a robust annual rate of 4.2 percent in the second quarter, the best performance in nearly four years, though economists believe growth has slowed in the current quarter partly because of a drag from trade.
The performance of the gross domestic product, the country’s total output of goods and services, was unchanged from an estimate the Commerce Department made last month, the government reported Thursday.
The strong GDP performance has been cited by Trump as proof that his economic program is working.
“We’re doing much better than anybody thought possible,” Trump said at a Wednesday news conference.
However, a big part of that growth reflected a temporary rush to ship soybeans and other U.S. exports out before penalty tariffs triggered by Trump’s get-tough trade policies took effect.
Economists believe growth has slowed in the current quarter to between 3 percent and 3.5 percent, still a solid pace. While trade boosted GDP by 1.2 percentage point in the second quarter, due to a surge in exports, it is expected to trim growth by around 1 percentage point in the third quarter. Some of that weakness may be offset by businesses rebuilding their inventories at a stronger pace.
“Growth still looks quite strong,” Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, said in describing the revised GDP report for the second quarter. He said he was forecasting third and fourth quarter growth at around 3 percent “before momentum starts to fade in 2019.”
A 3 percent growth average in the second half of this year would leave the annual growth in 2018 at 3 percent. That would be the best performance since 2005, three years before the 2008 financial crisis pushed the country into the worst recession since the 1930s.
The country is currently in the 10th year of an economic expansion, the second longest in history. But growth has averaged a lackluster 2.2 percent, making this the weakest recovery in the post-World War II period.
Trump often noted that performance when he campaigned for president, blaming the weakness on Obama administration economic policies. He pushed a $1.5 trillion tax cut through Congress last December and has emphasized deregulation and vowed tougher enforcement of trade agreements as ways to boost growth.
The administration is projecting growth will return to sustained rates of 3 percent or better over the next decade. However, others disagree with that assessment, forecasting growth will slow sharply in coming years as the impact of the tax cuts and increased government spending this year begin to fade. There is also an expectation that rising interest rates from the Federal Reserve will temper growth.
The Fed pushed its key policy rate up for an eighth time on Wednesday to a new range of 2 percent to 2.25 percent.
As he has done recently, Trump criticized that move, but Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday that outside criticism would have no impact on the Fed’s efforts to follow its mandate of promoting maximum employment and stable prices.
The Fed indicated that it planned to stick with its plan to raise rates one more time this year and another three times in 2019.
The government’s third and final look at second quarter GDP showed only minor and off-setting changes. Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, was unchanged at a solid growth rate of 3.8 percent. Business investment grew at a strong 8.7 percent rate, up slightly from last month’s estimate of an 8.5 percent growth rate.
The Original Comfy Launches National Partnerships with Bed Bath & Beyond, Kroger, and Fred Meyer
Retailers kick off the holiday season by offering The Original Comfy at more than 3,300 stores nationwide
Comfy Founders: “The Original Comfy is going to be the hottest gift this holiday season and we are excited our partners are offering it to customers across the country”
New York – The founders of The Original Comfy today announced a series of new national partnerships with Bed Bath & Beyond, Kroger, and Fred Meyer – helping drive attention and sales during the upcoming holiday season. The Original Comfy, a giant and ultra-soft blanket-sweatshirt hybrid, exploded on the retail scene this year when it received financial backing from Barbara Corocan on last year’s Shark Tank.
In addition to its strong success online and QVC, the Original Comfy will now be available in more than 3,300 retail stores across the country.
“The Original Comfy is going to be the hottest gift this holiday season and we are excited our partners are offering it to customers across the country,” said The Original Comfy founder Brian Speciale. “We launched The Comfy because we knew it would be the perfect product for our family – and we are excited to make it available to so many others. The Comfy’s unique blend of comfort and utility makes it the perfect gift this holiday season.”
The new partnerships come on the heels of The Original Comfy’s successful runs during Amazon’s Prime Day and QVC’s Christmas in July.
The Original Comfy was founded by brothers Brian and Michael Speciale in 2017. The brothers rose to TV and internet fame following their successful pitch of The Comfy on Shark Tank. After singing on national television and winning an investment from Barbara Corcoran, the brothers launched their product with wide success.
The Original Comfy, which retails for $39.99, will be sold in Bed Bath & Beyond, Kroger, and Fred Meyers locations. The product is one-size-fits-all and available in blue, gray, pink and black. Learn more at https://thecomfy.com.
Cryptocurrencies, blockchains and their dark side: 4 essential reads
September 28, 2018
Economics + Business Editor
Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation US
Crytocurrencies, after a wild ride, may be at a tipping point.
Bitcoin and other digital currencies exploded in 2017 only to spend much of 2018 losing a large chunk of those gains. A unit of bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency, climbed from under US$900 at the end of 2016 to a high of almost $20,000 in December 2017 and has since plunged to a little over $6,000.
The intense volatility and potential for hefty profits are catching the gaze of both hackers and regulators, either of which could jeopardize the future of cryptocurrencies.
Here are five stories from our archives that will help readers better understand cryptocurrencies and their dark underbellies.
What is money in age of bitcoin?
Before we talk about digital money, we should define what money is in the first place.
The answer is actually more complicated than you would think, according to University at Buffalo professor and philosopher David Koepsell. Money has changed so much recently that it has morphed into “forms that are barely understandable.”
And so, Koepsell asks, as the blocks of zeros and ones that represent digital currencies replace the colorful pieces of paper and coins, does money still exist and if so what is its value?
“Without government insurance or contractual guarantees, only mutual trust maintains the value and integrity of the system,” he writes. “What bitcoin owners own is the debt, just as those who own money in banks own debts that are recorded in bits. They do not own the bits that comprise the information representing that debt, nor the information itself, they own the social object – the money – that those bits represent.”
The value of blockchain
What makes bitcoin and other digital currencies work is the underlying transaction system known as a blockchain. Essentially, it uses a decentralized database to track and store information in a potentially reliable and secure way.
Beyond safeguarding money, however, blockchains may solve a “stunning array of problems, such as stabilization of financial systems, identification of stateless persons, establishing title to real estate and media, and efficiently managing supply chains,” argue Ari Juels and Ittay Eyal, computer science researchers at Cornell.
Technical challenges of blockchains remain, but bitcoins are proof that they can work, they write.
One of the pitfalls of cryptocurrencies is that a key strength – that they provide anonymity to users – is also a significant weakness.
That’s because their privacy fuels crime by enabling criminals to evade identification by law enforcement, explain Cornell’s Juels and Eyal along with postdoctoral associate Iddo Bentov. They believe the problem is only going to get worse as cryptocurrencies become even stronger, with no easy solution in sight.
“Crime-fighting tools require empowerment of authorities,” the authors argue. “Cryptocurrencies are innately anti-authority technologies. How this tension is resolved will determine the future of the world’s monetary systems.”
A problem that has long plagued financial assets is fraud and price manipulation, such as when traders work together to try to fix the price of a financial instrument.
Digital currencies were thought to be more immune to that type of behavior. Research by Tel Aviv University’s Neil Gandal and University of Tulsa’s Tyler Moore suggests price manipulation in bitcoin and its peers is happening on a very large scale, which helps explain the sharp rises and falls in their prices in recent years.
The Justice Department recently opened an investigation into whether there has been price manipulation in digital currency markets.
“The challenge for investigators and others in detecting price manipulation today is that there isn’t sufficient transparency about trading patterns of individuals, as there is in more regulated assets like stocks and bonds traded on stock exchanges like the Dow Jones and Nasdaq,” Gandal and Moore write. “The key lesson is that cryptocurrency markets need increased cooperation between financial regulators and trading platforms.”
“The consequence of not taking steps in this direction is likely a loss of faith in cryptocurrencies,” they conclude.
Llewellyn King: Achieve the American Dream, Start a (Little) Business
By Llewellyn King
I love little business. I say “little business” because “small business,” like “family farm,” has suffered politicization to a point of abstraction. Even the Small Business Administration doesn’t have a precise definition for small business. It defines “small business” either by revenue or by number of employees — and that can range up to a whopping 1,500 in some industries. To my mind, a small business starts with the owner and the first employee.
Politicians love small business and applaud it, but do they care? They listen acutely to big business through its lobbyists, who crowd Capitol Hill in Washington and every state capital.
If you’re stitching the cloth in a tailor’s shop and you have a problem with government, just stitch away because nobody is listening. Size does matter, alas.
Yet little business is the vital regenerator of the economy. It’s the fresh oxygen supply that keeps the economy fed with work and ideas.
For me, little businesses begin with moms-and-pops. They could be anything from a computer repair shop to a bowling alley, from a plumbing company to a bakery, from a convenience store to an optician, and from a service station to a painting contractor.
If the business is, say, a dry cleaner that uses chemicals, or anything else that discharges into the air or water, government will be all over it. But Bryan Mason, owner of Apollo Consulting Group, based in Newport, R.I., says there are plenty of problems for small businesses that don’t involve government.
“One of the big issues for the small business with, say, 50 employees, is that the owner-operator doesn’t know how to price his or her product or how to market it. You can’t undercut the big chains, so you have to offer real value and real quality,” says Mason.
As to strategy, Mason cites a bowling alley he advised. The bowling alley sold time on the lanes in two-hour blocks. The result was that patrons were keen to get their money’s worth by bowling for the whole period and not stopping to chat and, vitally important, not spending money at the concession stand on drinks and food.
Mason had them remove the time limit on the lanes, and profitability went up. Like cinemas, the money was in the concessions.
Little business — I owned and operated a newsletter publishing company with 20 employees for more than 30 years — is usually in direct relationship to the skill of the founder. A woman who worked in a florist may start her own shop, or an auto mechanic might start a service station. A construction worker might start a house renovation business, and a stone mason might set out to chisel and sell headstones.
Herein is a unique challenge for our society. It’s the artisans and people with skills who start businesses: a gardener, a landscaping service; a short-order cook, a food truck; and a hairdresser, a salon.
Left out of this progression are many liberal arts graduates who have skills that are suited to big organizations like schools, hospitals, government departments and giant corporations. You can’t start a sociology shop, a history wholesaler or a political science emporium.
If you have the itch to be self-employed, you might want to get a hands-on trade.
Some colleges are now sensitive to this need and are adding a practical course. I’ve been especially impressed with a little college in Charleston, S.C., the American College of the Building Arts, in which students take traditional liberal arts courses and spend two-and-a-half days each week in apprentice labs, learning one of six areas of craft specialization: architectural carpentry, architectural stone, forged architectural ironwork, masonry, plasterwork and timber framing.
The college aims to graduate “educated artisans,” but what they get is entrepreneurs: approximately one-third of their graduates have started businesses based on their artisanal training.
Owning a business is a fundamental part of the American Dream, and the quickest way to do it is to market a skill that you already have from dog walking to jewelry making, from furniture hauling to well drilling.
Steve Jobs, who grew his little business to enormity, said, “Don’t be afraid, you can do it.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
China, Russia to speak at UN as they face US allegations
By JENNIFER PELTZ and FRANK JORDANS
Friday, September 28
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Facing accusations of interfering in U.S. elections, China and Russia have the opportunity to respond in front of the world Friday at the U.N. General Assembly.
Both countries, which have denied the claims, are set to speak at the gathering of global leaders two days after U.S. President Donald Trump alleged that China is meddling in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections because it opposes his tough trade policies.
Russia, meanwhile, has been the focus of a special counsel investigation into interference in the 2016 election, a probe that Trump has lambasted as a political “witch hunt.”
It’s not clear whether China or Russia, neither of which sent their most senior leader to this year’s session, plan to address the accusations. Both probably will have plenty to say about their presence as world powers.
Russia is expected to use its turn at the podium to promote itself as a counterweight to U.S. influence in areas from the Middle East to Venezuela and the Korean peninsula.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has held a flurry of individual meetings with other countries at the U.N. this week and vociferously defended Russia’s strategies in meetings at the Security Council.
Syria has been a running theme as Moscow seeks to manage the end of the civil war and ensure a long-term foothold in the region. As a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russia wants Western aid for financing postwar reconstruction while also maintaining its upper hand in discussions about the country’s political future.
Lavrov promised wide-ranging Russian aid in a meeting with embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who faces international condemnation, increasing U.S. sanctions and fears of a possible U.S. intervention.
Seeking to maintain leverage in discussions on North Korea’s denuclearization efforts, Lavrov met with North Korea’s foreign minister the same day that Ri Yong Ho met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Lavrov also offered support to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas right after Abbas slammed the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
China, which is expected to send Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the podium, is speaking amid an escalating trade clash with the U.S., as well as Washington’s new allegations of election interference.
Trump increased tariffs Monday on $200 billion of Chinese goods. Beijing responded by imposing penalties on $60 billion of American products. That was on top of an earlier duty increase by both sides on $50 billion of each other’s goods.
The U.S. says China steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology, and that Beijing’s plans for state-led development of global competitors in robotics and other technologies violate its market-opening obligations and might erode U.S. industrial leadership.
China has accused the Trump administration of bullying. A Chinese official said Tuesday that China cannot hold talks on ending the trade dispute while the U.S. “holds a knife” to Beijing’s throat by hiking tariffs.
The next day, Trump stunned other members of the Security Council by saying that China was meddling in the midterm elections because it opposes his tough trade policies.
When questioned by reporters, Trump said there was “plenty” of evidence but didn’t immediately provide details. Instead, he zeroed in on China’s efforts to flood the U.S. with ads and statements against Trump’s billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese goods.
Beijing was quick to respond, urging Washington to stop slandering China and claiming that the Chinese government does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.
Meanwhile, the special counsel has spent months investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether there was any link to Trump campaign aides.
An indictment announced this summer accused 12 Russian military intelligence officers of hacking into the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent, and the Democratic Party, and releasing tens of thousands of private communications. Moscow denies any involvement.
Other scheduled General Assembly speakers on Friday include the leaders or Malaysia, Germany, Iraq and South Sudan.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton and Edith M. Lederer contributed.
Point: English-Only Laws Have a Disturbing History
By Karla Molinar-Arvizo
“Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out,” wrote Gloria Anzaldua in her bilingually titled book “Borderlands/La Frontera.”
That’s how Anzaldua, a Chicana writer born in Texas, described her experience growing up in Texas under a “English-only environment.”
Statements like hers feel so deep to me — they always string a cord when I think about the unfriendliness and history of English-only policies. I can feel it in my stomach, all the words I had to swallow when I was a kid growing up bilingual in the Southwest. I feared my ability to speak another language would seem disrespectful, or somehow not “American” enough.
The United States has never had an official language, but there have always been calls by some English speakers to make it theirs (and theirs alone). For some, maybe they think this means not having to “press 1 for English” anymore on the phone, or being able to skip the language screen when they use an ATM.
The reality of English-only laws in this country is much darker.
Anzaldua’s remark referred not only to her opposition to being muffled by some vague English-only attitude but also to the brutality of what English-only laws have meant for people subjected to them.
These laws have a disturbing and racist history. The drive to extinguish non-English languages allowed the deeply racist and brutal boarding schools for Native Americans, and the beating of Mexican-American children in New Mexico, Texas and California.
We’ve done it over and over in our history. And it doesn’t matter how it’s disguised — it’s always racist.
English-only laws don’t just silence non-English speakers. When government documents, ballots and even media aren’t available in the languages people actually speak, that destroys the transparency that the government owes its people — not just English-speaking people but all of them.
English-only policies not only make the erroneous argument that English is being displaced — the vast majority of immigrants, and especially their kids learn it — it also thrives on paranoia and fear of immigrants.
They negate the identity and rights of all Americans, and blind people to the unique contributions of Americans from different backgrounds — like the Navajo code talkers from World War II.
Declaring one language among many “official” creates a basis to deny American identity to certain people based on their language and heritage. It assumes that if people haven’t learned English, it’s because they don’t want to — another false anti-immigrant argument — instead of realizing that it’s difficult to learn English when you work multiple jobs.
These propositions underrate the harsh realities many immigrants already face. Ironically, legitimizing discrimination against them could only make it more difficult for them to learn English later on.
All this means immigrants feel inferior. It means their government can’t hear them, and they can’t hear their government. It means they feel like less than full citizens.
Instead of infringing on people’s freedom of speech, we should be reinforcing the freedoms of all citizens. We should celebrate the benefits of being a multilingual country that can communicate to the world, and each other, in every language.
At the end of the day, the goal of English-only advocates isn’t to help English learners actually learn English. It’s to create grounds for discrimination, based on racism, xenophobia and the fear of something different.
Don’t forget: The English language is an immigrant to this country, too. Modern immigrants still do their best to learn it, but it shouldn’t be because they’re scared and tired of being mistreated for speaking something less “American.”
In the end, our government has no business trying to tame people’s tongues.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Karla Molinar-Arvizo is a New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Counterpoint: An Official Language Is Not Hate Speech
By Jerome Danner and David W. Almasi
America is one of only seven countries without an official language. It should have one, and English is the natural choice.
Despite not being the official language, English has been the dominant one. Why? Assimilation was once seen as a virtue for immigrants, and thus English became pervasive. Subsequent efforts to cater to people in another “preferred language” — including those who were born here — resulted in the deprioritization of learning English, putting those who don’t understand it at inherent risk of ghettoization.
An official language should be recognized as key to the American ideal of a melting pot of true diversity.
Consider the act of voting. The federal Voting Rights Act mandates that communities of prescribed densities of people preferring a shared language other than English get special ballots in that language. In California, for example, ballots are printed in Spanish as well as Hmong, Punjabi, Armenian and other languages. But to secure a preferred ballot, one must live in that area.
That’s the definition of a ghetto. Beyond voting, it can also apply to those whose breadth of language drives them to shelter themselves from society at large in these secluded enclaves.
America’s need for an official language has been misconstrued as a manifestation of racial pride. While it would be foolish to deny bigoted behavior exists, mainstream advocates of an official language are not trying to force immigrants to divest themselves of their own traditions, culture or even language. They do not believe that someone’s native tongue is a threat to the republic. There is no deep-seated, irrational fear of multilingualism.
An official language actually benefits newcomers, particularly those intent on making our blessed nation their home. It makes sure there is, and should remain, a common communicative bond between American citizens and their government — as well as with key facets of society such as the marketplace and medical services.
English lacks political, tribal or religious aspects that plague some other official languages. There is no reason to create a Tower of Babel in the name of diversity.
At the moment, English is threatened with being cast aside in America. Census data from 2000 found that 8.3 percent of Americans have limited English proficiency. Imagine a day when the government uses one language while a majority of its citizens choose to speak something else. That government could create laws and do business in an opaque manner that disenfranchises many people. They could be left unaware of vital rules and how their taxes are spent. They may not understand the extent of their liberties because they are ignorant of the language their government uses.
A shared, official language unites people. Everyone being able to understand each other, even at a rudimentary level, can help prevent petty squabbles and overcome differences. And a common means of communication can mean safer roads, more accurate medical diagnoses and fewer workplace mishaps.
People coming to America know English is the native tongue. Overwhelming numbers support official English — 81 percent in an April Rasmussen Reports poll. Should there ever come a time, especially during emotional immigration debates, when the demand to make separatist speakers feel more comfortable impedes order, actual legislation may be necessary. A legislative means has been difficult federally, but 32 states have already adopted official English.
People are not being asked to forget their traditions and customs, especially in their homes and during different celebrations. Instead, they should appreciate the need for commonality when they are running a business or making transactions. People need to be able to understand each other to accomplish deals.
To put it another way, consider how the average household operates. Parents expect their children to do certain chores and behave in a certain manner. Children can only do what is expected of them if, and only if, they have a complete understanding of what they are being asked to do. It’s of no benefit to anyone if parents speak to children in a language they cannot comprehend.
An official language would be beneficial to the United States, if for no other reason than to ensure citizens and government leaders can communicate with relative ease. Society can only thrive when everyone understands one another.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Jerome Danner is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network. David W. Almasi is vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, the parent organization of Project 21. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.