Good morning, Q-MHI readers!
WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY
Jailed Reuters journalists in Myanmar lodge an appeal. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested while reporting on the Rohingya genocide. Their lawyers will argue that their September sentencing to seven years in prison for allegedly possessing classified documents was a set-up. Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in December 2017 and jailed for seven years for what prosecutors said was the possession of classified material on security operations.
Reuters disputed the charge, saying the pair were set up after investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims during a military crackdown. The ruling in September sparked widespread condemnation, including from US vice president Mike Pence, who asked leader Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene. But calls for their release have fallen flat inside Myanmar, where Aung San Suu Kyi has yet to speak up for the reporters publicly.
Defence lawyers filed an appeal against the conviction in early November, citing evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime. “We are looking forward to demonstrating to Myanmar’s high court why it should reverse the convictions of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo due to the egregious errors committed by the trial court in condemning them to prison for seven years,” Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler said in a statement. “We will explain to the appellate judge why, under the law, the only possible conclusion is that the appellate court must restore our reporters’ freedom and reaffirm Myanmar’s democratic principles,” he said.
Media advocates say the convictions sent a chilling message about investigating sensitive issues in Myanmaras it emerges from decades of junta rule. “This is unacceptable for a country that claims to be transitioning towards democracy,” Daniel Bastard from Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Myanmar dropped six places in RSF’s latest World Press Freedom Index, and Bastard said it would likely fall further next year. Outside the country the two young men have been feted with awards presented in their absence and hailed as heroes.
Steve Mnuchin convenes a call on financial markets. The treasury secretary will gather (subscription) a group of top market regulators to discuss “coordination efforts to assure normal market operations.” Mnuchin called the CEOs of six bank major banks over the weekend to confirm they have “ample liquidity,” in a bid to reassure markets experiencing continued volatility.
The FTSE 100 .FTSE was down 0.5 percent and the mid-cap index .FTMC was 0.8 percent lower, setting a bleak tone for a holiday-shortened week. Weakness in the dollar weighed on companies with a greater international presence, making them the biggest drags on Britain’s main index .FTSE. HSBC (HSBA.L) slipped 1.1 percent, while GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) was 1 percent lower.
Diageo (DGE.L), the world’s biggest drinks marker, and consumer goods giant Unilever (ULVR.L) were down by around 1 percent, while tobacco firms Imperial Brands (IMB.L) and British American Tobacco (BATS.L) fell 2 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg returns. The 85-year-old Supreme Court justice is working while recuperating in hospital from a surgery Friday to remove two malignant growths, a spokesperson said. The court meets again on Jan. 7; Ginsburg has never missed arguments.
The Supreme Court will ring in 2019 with a nearly full argument calendar. Today the justices released the calendar for the January 2019 sitting, which begins on January 7. The justices will hear oral argument in five cases (two per day on Monday and Tuesday, followed by one on Wednesday) during the first week of the sitting; during the second week, they will hear oral argument in six cases, two per day from Monday through Wednesday.
One of the last cases of the sitting will be familiar to eight of the nine justices: The justices heard oral argument in Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, in early October, before Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed. Earlier this month, however, the justices announced that the case would be argued again – presumably to allow Kavanaugh to break a 4-4 tie.
A full list of the cases slated for January, along with a brief description of the issues involved in each case, is available below the jump.
Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht (Jan. 7): Whether a plaintiff can bring a state-law claim for failure to warn about the risks from a drug when the Food and Drug Administration rejected the drug manufacturer’s proposal to warn about the risk
Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus LLP (Jan. 7): Whether the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies to foreclosure proceedings that do not require the lender to take the borrower to court
Herrera v. Wyoming (Jan. 8): Validity of 1868 treaty giving Crow Tribe of Indians the right to hunt on the “unoccupied lands of the United States”
Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.Com LLC (Jan. 8): Requirements for making “registration of [a] copyright claim”
Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt (Jan. 9): Whether the Supreme Court should overrule its earlier case allowing one state to be sued in another state’s courts without its consent
Thacker v. Tennessee Valley Authority (Jan. 14): Proper test to determine whether a governmental entity is immune from lawsuits
Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc. (Jan. 14): Meaning of “full costs” for prevailing party under the Copyright Act
Home Depot USA v. Jackson (Jan. 15): Whether third-party counterclaim defendants can remove claims against them to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act
Azar v. Allina Health Services (Jan. 15): Whether the Department of Health and Human Services must conduct notice-and-comment rulemaking before providing instructions to a Medicare administrative contractor making initial determinations of payments due under Medicare
Knick v. Township of Scott, Pa. (Jan. 16): Whether the court should reconsider the requirement that, before a property owner can file a lawsuit in federal court seeking compensation for the government’s unconstitutional “taking” of property, the owner must pursue all available state-court remedies
Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair (Jan. 16): Whether the Constitution’s 21st Amendment gives states the authority to regulate liquor sales by giving liquor licenses only to individuals or companies that have resided in the state for a particular amount of time
This post was originally published at Howe on the Court.
An update on US economic activity. New figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago are expected to show a rise in economic activity in the midwest last month, suggesting risk of an imminent US recession remains low, based on the data published to date. The near-term outlook offers a similar profile. In short, the deceleration in the macro trend for the US doesn’t appear destined to deteriorate into a contraction in the immediate future, at least not yet.
The macro calculus could change, of course, depending on the incoming data. But using the results available today strongly suggests that there’s still a healthy tailwind, albeit a tailwind that’s lost momentum lately.
Surprising? Not really. The Capital Spectator’s read on the numbers has been noting for several months that US growth has peaked (see here and here, for instance). The latest run of data continues to support this view. The same can be said for projecting slower but still-moderate growth for early 2019. Leaving aside the dubious game of speculating on what might happen deep into next year, it’s fair to say that the numbers available right now (along with cautious near-term projections of the macro trend) continue to anticipate that a moderate expansion will prevail.
The US stock markets will close early today to mark Christmas Eve, and will be closed all day tomorrow.
The following is a schedule of all stock market and bond market holidays for 2018. Please note that regular trading hours for the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and Nasdaq Stock Market are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern on weekdays. The stock markets close at 1 p.m. on early-closure days; bond markets close early at 2 p.m.
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OVER THE WEEKEND
The death toll from Indonesia’s tsunami rose past 280. With little warning, a giant wave triggered by a volcanic eruption hit the coasts of Sumatra and Java on Saturday night, injuring more than 1,000. Thousands of coastal residents have been forced to evacuate, with a high-tide warning in place until tomorrow.
Thousands of soldiers, police and government personnel as well as volunteers are working to find victims of an Indonesian tsunami. At least 281 people died and more than 1,000 were injured when the waves washed ashore along western Java and southern Sumatra islands Saturday night following a volcanic eruption.
The tsunami was not huge and did not surge far inland, but its force was destructive. Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said more than 600 homes, many hotels and vendor stalls, and more than 400 boats and ships were damaged. The number of casualties may still rise. Nugroho said Monday, “It is suspected that some victims are still trapped under wreckage and materials washed away by the tsunami.”
The death toll from an Indonesian tsunami has risen past 280 with more than 1,000 people injured.
The tsunami struck Sunda Strait coastal areas along western Java and southern Sumatra islands without warning in the darkness Saturday night.
Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the latest tolls Monday morning were 281 dead and 1,016 injured. The tally of missing is 57 but the numbers are expected to rise.
The waves that swept terrified people into the sea followed an eruption and possible landslide on Anak Krakatau, one of the world’s most infamous volcanic islands.
Doctors are working to help survivors and rescuers are looking for more victims from a deadly tsunami that smashed into beachside buildings without warning in the darkness along an Indonesian strait.
The waves that swept terrified people into the sea Saturday night followed an eruption and possible landslide on Anak Krakatau, one of the world’s most infamous volcanic islands.
At least 222 people were killed, more than 800 were injured, and dozens have been reported missing after the tsunami hit coastal areas along western Java and southern Sumatra islands. The death toll could increase once authorities hear from all stricken areas.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo expressed his sympathy and ordered government agencies to respond quickly to the disaster.
A partial government shutdown began in the US. Various federal agencies employing some 850,000 people shut down after the clock struck midnight on Friday, after the Senate failed to pass a spending bill with funding for Trump’s border wall. It’s possible the shutdown will drag past Christmas (subscription) and into the new congressional session in January.As a result, several federal agencies shut down at midnight. Employees gearing up for some holiday time off will now do so without pay, according to rules from the Offices of Management and Budget and Personnel Management.
It’s unclear when the affected agencies will get funding again—they include the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Justice. (The rest of the government is covered by spending bills that have already been approved.)
The unfunded departments employ some 850,000 people. About 40% are subject to being furloughed, trade publication Government Executive reports, based on the agencies’ shutdown plans. The rest will be asked to work without pay, though those who already have scheduled time off will be temporarily furloughed during those days.
Donald Trump has said he won’t sign anything that does not include funding for the border wall he wants to build between the US and Mexico—or as he’s called it more recently, a “steel slat barrier.” “We’re going to have a shutdown,” he said in a video message Friday night after he failed to reach a deal with lawmakers. “There’s nothing we can do about that because we need the Democrats to give us their votes.”But he doesn’t have enough support in the Senate for the bill he wants. As long as the showdown lasts, affected federal workers won’t get their checks.
The shutdown’s timing is particularly tricky, because many federal workers take days off around the Christmas holiday. Some have already left on their vacation. Even the simple task of notifying employees that they’ve been furloughed could turn into a headache.
“Many employees will be away from the office on an extended basis, complicating efforts to provide furlough notices,” the management offices wrote in their memo. “Agencies should do their best to provide notices as soon as possible given individual circumstances.”
Trump booted out Jim Mattis. The president moved his defense secretary’s last day to Jan. 1, two months earlier than planned, reportedly in response to the negative news coverage following Mattis’s Dec. 20 resignation letter. Mattis’s deputy Patrick Shanahan will become acting defense secretary until a permanent successor is named.According to aides who spoke with the New York Times (paywall), the abrupt change of sentiment resulted from the days of negative news coverage that Mattis’s resignation letter prompted.
In his two years as defense secretary, Mattis had disagreements with the president at moments, but it seemed to be Trump’s decision to pull US troops from Syria (paywall) that finally prompted Mattis to step down. Mattis’s letter offered a subtle but pointed rebuke of the president’s foreign policy, stating for example:
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.
The Times reports that, according to one aide, Trump had read the letter before he praised Mattis on Twitter, but he “did not understand just how forceful a rejection of his strategy Mr. Mattis had issued.” Over the past few days he had become more irate, until deciding that he would replace Mattis well before the former four-star general had originally planned to leave.
Turkey increased military activity. Following a Sunday call between Trump and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Turkey began bolstering its defenses on either side of the Syrian border. The withdrawal decision prompted the US’s top envoy for fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, to resign on Saturday. The heightened military activity comes two days after President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would postpone a planned military operation on Kurdish YPG militia east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria following the U.S. decision to pull out.
The Turkish presidency said Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump in a phone call on Sunday agreed to establish military and diplomatic coordination to prevent an authority vacuum from developing as the United States withdraws.
Earlier in the day, footage from broadcaster TRT World showed some Turkish convoys entering Syria via the Turkish border town of Karkamis, which is located some 35 km (22 miles) north of the northern Syrian town of Manbij.
The convoys are crossing into an area controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a Turkish ally, and are heading to the frontlines of Manbij, TRT World said.
A Reuters witness saw hundreds of vehicles head to the southern border province of Kilis after leaving Hatay, another border province, around 0030 GMT on Sunday, as citizens sounded their horns to celebrate. The convoy included tanks, howitzers, machine guns and buses carrying commandos, the witness said.
Part of the military equipment and personnel are to be positioned in posts along the border while some had crossed into Syria via the district of Elbeyli situated some 45 km (28 miles) northwest of Manbij, Demiroren News Agency (DHA) reported.
Japan and South Korea talked amid flaring tensions. The meeting in Seoul between the country’s senior diplomats touched on bilateral relations, defense disagreements, and North Korea, and followed a divisive ruling by South Korea’s Supreme Court that Japanese firms should compensate forced Korean laborers.
On Friday, Japan’s defence minister said a South Korean destroyer had locked its targeting radar on a Japanese patrol plane, calling the action extremely dangerous.”
South Korea’s defence ministry, which said last week the destroyer was performing routine operations, on Monday provided more details of the vessel’s actions.
While rescuing a distressed North Korean fishing boat, the destroyer had used an optical camera that detected a low-flying Japanese patrol plane, an official from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters.
“During the process, there was no emission of radio waves at all,” the official said, denying that the warship had locked its tracking radar on the Japanese aircraft.
South Korean diplomats explained the situation “in detail” to their Japanese counterparts on Monday, and “the two sides agreed to continue to communicate as needed about this issue,” news agency News1 reported, citing an unnamed South Korean foreign ministry official.
The diplomats also discussed the North Korean nuclear issue and how Seoul and Tokyo could help restart talks between the United States and North Korea, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
SpaceX launched its first US national-security space mission.Elon Musk’s space company had been trying for years to break into the lucrative market for military space launches dominated by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Sunday’s launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida carried a roughly $500 million GPS satellitebuilt by Lockheed.The successful launch is a significant victory for Elon Musk’s privately held rocket company, which has spent years trying to break into the lucrative market for military space launches dominated by Lockheed and Boeing Co.
Petrified horses were discovered at the site of Pompeii. Archaeologists also found a bronze-trimmed saddle in what is believed to have been the villa of a Roman general.Massimo Osanna told the Italian news agency ANSA that the horses were likely suffocated by volcanic ash or killed by boiling water vapors in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The eruption destroyed the bustling city of Pompeii and its sister city of Herculaneum, burying hundreds of people and animals in ash which preserved their remains.
Osanna said the remains of three or four horses were discovered. One of the animals was harnessed and workers also found a saddle richly decorated with bronze trimmings. According to Osanna, the villa belonged to a high-ranking Roman military officer, possibly a general. He hopes the villa will eventually be opened for public tours.The villa’s terraces had views of the Bay of Naples and Capri island. The area was previously excavated, during the early 1900s, but later re-buried.
Italian violin makers are harvesting downed trees. Artisans are rushing to save the wood of red spruces toppled by powerful storms before it rots. An unprecedented wave of storms has knocked trees down in Italy’s forests and artisans are racing to salvage the valuable wood before it rots. More than 2,500,000 red spruce trees were felled in violent storms. Red spruce is a wood prized by violin-makers – and they are concerned that supplies of it are running out, which makes destructive weather like this even more devastating.
A letter sent to Santa via balloon from Mexico reached one of his helpers. An Arizona man who found the letter tracked down the girl to deliver the gifts (subscription) she asked for.The spot of red was what first caught Randy Heiss’s attention last Sunday as he hiked the remote expanse of land behind his ranch in Patagonia, Ariz., a town near the U.S.-Mexico border.
A stolen tiny house was found. A towing company offered to lug the home about 100 miles to its owner in St. Louis free of charge as an early Christmas gift.
On Wednesday, detectives found the house 30 miles down the Mississippi River in House Springs, Mo., Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak announced on Twitter. The Associated Press reported that an anonymous tip had led them to the purloined residence. According to the Post-Dispatch, there was no word on suspects.
It didn’t take authorities long to reach Panu, who received more good news. A towing company said it would return the home free of charge — “an early Christmas Present,” Marshak said. “TINY HOUSE FOUND,” Panu wrote on Facebook, adding a lighting bolt emoji. She plans to finish the interior before moving in next year.
When Panu takes up residence in her tiny home, she will join a movement that traces its roots to Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in “Walden,” published in 1854, of his desire “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” The writer and abolitionist built his own abode at Walden Pond, in Massachusetts.
Today’s tiny house movement similarly seeks distance from the consumer economy, but its expansion in the U.S. has also been born of necessity. According to EcoWatch, tiny homes emerged as an “architectural and cultural phenomenon” following the collapse of the housing market between 2007 and 2009. Now, from San Jose to Philadelphia, communities of tiny houses are emerging as a possible answer to intractable homelessness.
A jazz musician played guitar during brain surgery. He made good use of his six-hour “awake craniotomy.” A musician had an operation in South Africa to remove most of a brain tumor—and played the guitar while it was happening. Musa Manzini, a jazz musician, was able to do so because he was given a local anesthetic during the six-hour “awake craniotomy” at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospital in Durban. ”There you are, do your thing,” one of the medical staff told him as he began playing.
The doctor in charge, Rohen Harrichandparsad, said that having Manzini awake and playing allowed him to test his “ability to produce music” and make sure they weren’t damaging him in any way. The staff removed 90% of the tumor.
It’s not the first time such an event has happened. In 2017, another musician played the saxophone during brain surgery and an opera singer performed through his surgery in 2015 (paywall).