Another Summer of the Shark

N.C. monitors the beachfront after surprising jump in shark attacks

Notable shark attacks: They’re not all where you’d think

By Juliet Eilperin and Robert Gebelhoff July 3 Washington Post

This is becoming another Summer of the Shark. The last one was in 2001, when a series of shark attacks on the East Coast combined with a period of generally slow news to whip up a spasm of shark mania.

This time, the fears are most acute in North Carolina, where there have been seven recent shark attacks — including one Wednesday on a former Boston Herald editor-in-chief — that caught the attention of government officials and raised the question of what might be luring the usually shy sharks so close to shore and among the swimmers they usually avoid.

There’s no obvious explanation for the uptick in attacks. The sharks have ranged from five to eight feet, according to victims’ estimates. That suggests that different sharks — possibly from different species — were responsible, scientists say.

There is also no evidence that people are staying out of the water during this long holiday weekend. Tim Holloman, town manager for Oak Island, N.C., where two teenagers lost limbs in separate attacks June 14, said that hotels and restaurants are full and that there are no plans to close the beach.

But the town is handing out pamphlets to raise awareness of sharks in the water. And the sheriff’s office is flying a helicopter along the shore throughout the weekend. The National Park Service, which oversees beaches in the Outer Banks, has asked swimmers to be aware that there have been attacks, and two ambulances with paramedics are standing ready.

“We can never guarantee anyone’s safety when they enter the water,” David Hallac, NPS’s superintendent of parks on the Outer Banks, said in a statement. “The only way to be sure you do not encounter sharks or other marine wildlife that may be harmful to humans is to stay out of the water.”

North Carolina’s seven shark attacks is an unusual number for a state that recorded 25 attacks between 2005 and 2014, according to the International Shark Attack File. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said Thursday that state officials are looking for patterns.

“It’s an all-time record for North Carolina,” said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History. He said that the bites clearly came from bigger sharks — possibly bull or tiger sharks — and that three encounters involved teenagers or a child.“This is the real deal,” he said.

Burgess said it would be a mistake to start rounding up sharks. A better solution, he said, would be for beachgoers to stay on dry land or for the government to close any beach where there has been multiple shark attacks — at least for a few days.

“It would be my recommendation that closing a beach for a day or two is a good way to stop a snowball that’s rolling downhill,” Burgess said.

Even with the recent incidents, researchers emphasize that sharks are a very low-level threat to humans, compared with other forms of wildlife. Bees, for example, are much more dangerous. And swimming itself is hazardous even without sharks around.

“Any injury or death is a tragedy, but the chances of being bitten by a shark is still a rare occurrence,” said David Shiffman, a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami’s R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program. “Thousands of Americans drown when they’re vacationing by the beach. Only one dies a year due to a shark.”

Indeed, the scientific consensus is that there are too few sharks these days. Many large species off the East Coast have been devastated by decades of overfishing, with populations falling by as much as 90 percent. Sharks are targeted directly — their fins are used in soup — and are collateral casualties from efforts to harvest tuna and swordfish.

Although stricter federal and state management has led to population gains among some faster-reproducing species, such as blacktip and sharpnose sharks, Burgess and Shiffman said it will take many decades for sharks to fully recover. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 24 percent of shark species worldwide are threatened or endangered.

“Any idea that sharks have come back in large numbers in a few years is patently false,” Burgess said, adding: “We are better off with healthy shark populations off our coasts than without them.”

[Co are split on whether TV’s “Shark Week” helps or hurts this top predator]

But the science collides with the social reality: People who like to swim in the ocean do not want to become food. A shark attack is a low probability but potentially high-consequence event. It’s a scary thought, and swimmers in America still hear the spooky music from Steven Spielberg’s movie “Jaws.”

The most recent attack was Wednesday at Ocracoke Island, where newsman Andrew Costello, 68, was pulled underwater by a seven-foot shark and bitten several times on his ribcage, hip, lower leg and hands, according to Hyde County officials. Costello managed to swim out of the water and was airlifted to a hospital in Greenville, N.C.

Last Friday, 47-year-old Patrick Thornton was able to fight off a shark that attacked him in Avon, N.C., and on Saturday, an 18-year-old boy was similarly attacked a few miles north, suffering injuries to his right calf, buttocks and hands. The events coincided with two attacks in South Carolina last week. None has been fatal.

Charles “Pete” Peterson, a joint distinguished professor at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he and other biologists who have long monitored the abundance of large sharks off the Carolina coast have not discerned a major shift recently.

Peterson and four colleagues published a study in 2007 showing that 11 large shark species off North Carolina’s coast “exhibited dramatic declines” between 1972 and 2003. Between 2003 and 2014, Peterson wrote in an e-mail, “there is no evidence of increasing numbers of any of the 11 species” that the team monitored.

Burgess speculated that several environmental factors could have pushed sharks to congregate in the Outer Banks. It is a warm year, and the water has a higher level of salinity because of a low-level drought in the area, he said. Also, a common species of forage fish — menhaden — has been abundant this year and might have attracted more sharks to the area. Burgess also said some fishermen put bait in the water near piers, which could lure the predators closer to shore; two of the encounters took place within 100 yards of a pier.

“That’s a formula for shark attacks,” Burgess said of these conditions, taken together. “Now, does that explain seven attacks in three weeks? No, it doesn’t.”

Joel Achenbach contributed to this report.

What You Need To Know as the Puerto Rican Economy Falters

While the rest of the country has been recovering from the financial crisis, things in Puerto Rico keep getting worse.

Puerto Rico has been doing worse than the rest of the country for the past 15 years. The economy began to contract in 2007, a couple of years before the economy collapsed on the mainland.

It’s no surprise that people have been leaving Puerto Rico if they can. The population is declining at an alarming rate of 1 percent per year.

Puerto Rico’s problems aren’t just a result of the financial crisis.

For decades, Puerto Rico’s economy was powered by U.S. firms, particularly shoe factories and pharmaceutical firms. These companies set up factories that hired relatively low-cost workers and book profits under favorable tax laws.

A report says that the island’s recent troubles began when a lucrative tax credit for manufacturers that was helping to prop up the economy was phased out in 2006.

Another problem is that just 40 percent of the population has a job—or is even looking for one. That figure has plummeted in recent years. In the United States as a whole, it is 62.9 percent.

Why are so few people working or looking for work?

The report cites one surprising problem: the federal minimum wage, which is at the same level in Puerto Rico as in the rest of the country, even though the economy there is so much weaker. There are probably some people who would like to work, but because of the sickly economy, businesses can’t afford to pay them the minimum wage.

Someone working full time for the minimum wage earns $15,080 a year, which isn’t that much less than the median income in Puerto Rico of $19,624.

The report also cites regulations and restrictions that make it difficult to set up new businesses and hire workers, although it’s difficult to know just how large an effect these rules might or might not have on the labor market.

A report by the New York Fed also suggests that Puerto Rico has a relatively large underground economy employing a big part of the population. These workers aren’t taxed or counted in formal employment numbers.

In any case, it’s relatively expensive to hire and pay workers in Puerto Rico, which along with the high cost of transportation, energy and other goods, means that fewer tourists are planning trips to Puerto Rico than they were a decade ago and the number of hotel beds is the same as it was four decades ago, according to Krueger and her colleagues.

What has the government tried to do about it?

The economists have some harsh words for the government on this point. They write that if anything, the government has made things worse by regularly spending more than it gets in tax revenues.

For 15 years, the government has consistently made unrealistic assumptions about how much it will collect in taxes, given the weak economy, the economists write. In the middle of each year, government agencies are ordered to make do with less, but they rarely comply. Instead, they carry on with business as usual, and the government is forced to borrow more.

Already, the government often doesn’t pay its bill immediately, according to the report.

Given its desperate need for cash, the government has gotten into some bad habits, Krueger and her colleagues write — like negotiating with citizens who evade taxes to get them to pay and granting businesses fat subsidies to locate on the island, The result is that fewer taxpayers and investors seriously believe the government will make them pay all of what they owe.

The result is some $72 billion in debt, which Governor García Padilla said he doesn’t think the commonwealth will be able to pay. The uncertainty around that debt is just another reason for businesses and investors to keep their money out of Puerto Rico, and for people who think they can get a job on the mainland to leave.

Puerto Rico urges U.S. bankruptcy deal(1:11)
Gov. Alejandro García Padilla wants to restructure Puerto Rico’s $73-billion debt under the U.S. bankruptcy code. (Reuters)
What happens now?

It isn’t clear. The laws determining who would get paid first if the island goes bankrupt are ambiguous. That $72 billion includes debts owed to retirees with public pensions as well as to firms on Wall Street that have loaned their client’s money to the commonwealth.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power authority had a $400 million bill coming due July 1. Other public agencies could run out of cash this summer as well, in which case the government would shut down.

Should Americans on the mainland worry?

For one thing, Wall Street might hesitate to lend to money cities around the country. A huge mess in Puerto Rico after smaller bankruptcies in Detroit and other cities might suggest to some investors that loaning money to local governments in this country isn’t always a safe bet — and that would make new roads, new schools and other projects more expensive.

Ordinary investors could also lose money, since Puerto Rico’s bonds are widely held. By one recent estimate, three out of four municipal bond funds held island debt. Those funds won’t be worth as much if the debt isn’t paid.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Washington Post Financial desk.

Both Sides Predicting Disaster If Greeks Make Wrong Referendum Choice

ATHENS — The ads come close to suggesting that the apocalypse could be just around the corner if Greeks make the wrong choice in a referendum on Sunday.

Against a blue background, a cheery cartoon rendering of an A.T.M. appears and an announcer asks: Will there be cash on Monday?

A big red “X” crosses it out. Will there be gasoline? Will there be medicine? Will pensions be paid? As the ad continues, a dozen such questions are answered with a resounding “no,” before the tagline appears urging voters to say yes in Sunday’s referendum.

“Now that we know how many nos a no can bring,” the voice-over says, “On Sunday, we say yes.”

In the referendum, Greeks will be asked to decide whether to vote yes to accepting a bailout package that would keep Greece solvent and in the eurozone — but impose more taxes and pension cutbacks — or to vote no and demand a better deal or, possibly, be kicked out of the eurozone.

Whatever their ultimate impact on the vote, the hothouse news media atmosphere and, critics say, scaremongering have helped perpetuate the chaos and confusion that has been rampant since the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, called for the referendum a week ago.

“There is no discussion of the real issues,” said Nikos Leandros, a news media expert at the Panteion University in Athens. “They are exaggerating the feelings of fear and agony and creating an atmosphere that makes it impossible for anyone to think clearly.”

Voters are being subjected to a heavy barrage of ads, many of them suggesting that to follow the call of Mr. Tsipras for a no vote would unleash forces that would see Greece cast out of the European Union altogether, with disastrous results.

Mr. Tsipras himself has been campaigning for a no vote, most likely in the hope that it would give him new leverage in dealing with creditors who he says are offering harsh terms that would only drive Greece deeper into the economic abyss.

A visitor at parliament in Athens this week. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks work in tourism, and many worry the country’s instability will affect their livelihoods.As Referendum Looms, Greece’s Tourism Industry Holds Its Breath JULY 3, 2015

The European Central Bank said it would not expand an emergency loan program that has been propping up Greek banks in recent weeks while the government was trying to reach a new debt deal with international creditors.Cash Withdrawals and Hoarding as Default Looms Over Greece JUNE 28, 2015

Mr. Tsipras, whose political career is on the line in the vote, took time out Thursday evening to criticize the news media. During a televised interview, he complained of unbalanced coverage. When challenged by a reporter, he offered official figures showing that the six main stations in Greece had given about eight minutes to a no rally and 46 minutes to a yes rally.

Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained
The weak link in the 19-nation eurozone is struggling to tame its debt. On Tuesday, Greece missed an important payment to the International Monetary Fund.

The bulk of the coverage of the no rally came from one station, ERT, he said, which had been shut down by the previous government and which gave both sides about equal time.

He said that one station, Skai, gave zero minutes to the no rally, which drew thousands to a square in front of the Parliament building and more than seven minutes to the equally well-attended yes rally the next day.

On Friday, Mr. Tsipras renewed his call for Greeks to reject the terms of the bailout offer from the country’s European creditors, warning voters against caving in to “blackmail.”

“I ask you to say no to ultimatums, blackmail and fearmongering,” he said in a televised address. “No to divisions, no to those who want to spread panic.”

Calling for national unity, he reiterated his insistence that the referendum set for Sunday would be a vote on a bad deal for Greece rather than a referendum on its continued membership in the single-currency eurozone.

As Referendum Nears, Allies Disagree on Its Meaning
Just who is financing the frightening yes ads is unclear, according to Christos Xanthakis, the media editor for, a right-leaning news site, who said the major opposition parties, who all favor a yes vote, have no money.

But, he says, beyond the ads, major news outlets that in the past have largely ignored the troubles of average Greeks are now offering story after story on their troubles, heightening a sense of fear before the vote.

“They are covering people’s misfortunes 24/7 right now,” Mr. Xanthakis said. “If they had shown this kind of sensitivity over the last five years, Greece would be a better country.”

Mr. Leandros said that there are rules about giving equal time to political campaigns, but that they have often been ignored and are particularly hard to enforce in such a brief campaign.

And, he said, the owners of the major television news outlets are particularly unhappy with Mr. Tsipras because he has said that he wants them to pay for their licenses and to open the market to new competitors.

Mr. Tsipras’s no ads are more an extension of his original campaign, which rallied people’s sense of pride and resistance. One pictures a series of energetic young people giving their reasons for saying no. One says, “I vote no because democracy cannot be blackmailed.” Another, “I vote no because austerity policies exhaust Europe.”

Mr. Tsipras has countered the yes ads with frequent use of his office, addressing the country several times, including Friday, when he took advantage of a new report from the International Monetary Fund that maintained, as the prime minister himself has for months, that Greece will need debt relief to get back on its feet.

Leaders from the major center-left and center-right parties, including the former prime minister, Antonis Samaras, have had no trouble finding news media exposure to make their case that Mr. Tsipras has brought the country to ruin.

Both sides have had celebrities make guest appearances in the campaign, including a son of the deposed Greek king who urged citizens to vote yes, and the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, who urged them to vote no.

When Mr. Tsipras ran for office in January, Greeks were also subjected to ads and newspaper coverage suggesting a vote for his Syriza party would be the undoing of Greece. One official even suggested that Greeks stock up on toilet paper. Nonetheless, Greeks voted for him.

This time, however, with the banks closed and European Union officials themselves campaigning against him, polls suggest it is too close to call.

Both the yes vote and the no vote held competing rallies Friday night, each drawing thousands of spectators. Speakers at the yes rally talked of wanting to remain part of Europe. Mr. Tsipras also said he wanted to stay in Europe, but he urged his supporters to stand up for themselves and not be afraid.

Dan Bilefsky contributed reporting from London, and Dimitris Bounias from Athens.

BP to Pay 18.7 Billion for Gulf Oil Spill

BP to Pay $18.7 Billion for Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

NEW ORLEANS — An $18.7 billion settlement announced Thursday of all federal, state and local claims against the oil giant BP arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill would be the largest environmental settlement — and the largest civil settlement with any single entity — in the nation’s history, officials said Thursday.

The settlement, if approved by a federal judge, could bring to a close the largest unresolved legal dispute arising from the April 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which left 11 dead and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The deal would include, in addition to the federal government, the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, as well as more than 400 local government entities along the coast, which had argued that the spill had ruined tourist seasons, crippled the seafood industry and dried up sales tax revenue.

Why BP Is Paying $18.7 Billion
Background on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the largest environmental settlement in American history.

A further $5 billion of the settlement — in addition to $1 billion for local government claims — would arise from economic damage claims made by the states. But those claims are only a part of what the states would be getting.

The settlement still must be approved by United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier in New Orleans, who oversaw a tremendously complex two-year civil trial concerning the spill.

BP already agreed, in 2012, to pay $4 billion in criminal fines. And claims from shareholders or individuals are not affected.

In announcing the federal government’s part of the deal in Washington, Loretta E. Lynch, the attorney general, said that the recent round of negotiations, over several weeks, had produced an agreement in principle that would “justly and comprehensively address outstanding federal and state claims” and “bring lasting benefits to the Gulf region for generations to come.”

Robert W. Dudley, BP’s group chief executive, called the agreement “a realistic outcome which provides clarity and certainty for all parties.”

In separate news conferences across the gulf, governors and attorneys general highlighted the portions of the settlement that their states were likely to receive. They vary from state to state, with Texas estimating a final total of about $800 million, and Louisiana, which was most heavily damaged by the spill, projecting more than $6.8 billion.


BP has spent billions to settle claims and cover costs in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Among the payments are:

$14 billionto contain and clean up the spill.
$5.4 billionto settle 60,800 claims to date with individuals and business affected by the spill.
$4 billionfor criminal penalties and fines, including payments to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
$525 millionto settle civil charges with the S.E.C. that it misled investors about the flow rate of oil from the well during the spill.
$236 millionto revitalize tourism in Gulf Coast states.
In 2012, Congress passed the Restore Act, which redirects 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties — previously deposited into the federal Treasury — to the affected states. With this money and the natural resources damage payments, which also go to the gulf, the settlement is a windfall for the states, even if it is paid out piecemeal.

Negotiators tried without success in the past to reach a settlement, though they came close more than once. One failed round of negotiations, on the eve of the trial in 2013, would have produced a total amount not much less than what was announced on Tuesday, said David M. Uhlmann, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a former federal prosecutor of environmental crimes. But the exact mix of money within that deal was different; for instance, state and local economic damages were not a part of it.

“The problem then was that Louisiana and to a lesser extent Alabama had unrealistic expectations for how much they should receive,” he said, adding that in the years since “the states became much more realistic.”

The findings at trial put pressure on BP, as did the downturn in global oil prices. But the oil price drop also brought pressure on Louisiana, which, like Alabama, had been already facing severe budget crunches.

Garret Graves, a member of Congress from Louisiana who served as the state’s top coastal restoration official and represented the state in prior negotiations with BP, said he could not comment in detail on the negotiations. But he insisted that much had changed since the initial talks.

“Some of the earlier discussions with BP reminded me of the circuslike, disconnected response to the spill itself,” he said. The intervening years brought “significant changes within BP’s command and control,” allowing for the new agreement.

With this deal, BP gets valuable certainty, especially as it does not include any clause that could reopen litigation. The extended payment schedule also allows it to absorb the pain in manageable doses.

And because they will receive billions in economic damage claims, money coming through the Restore Act and the natural resources damages process — far more than they would have obtained in litigation — the states, Professor Uhlmann said, “made out like bandits.”

Environmental groups had a mixed reaction to the announcement, with some welcoming it as overdue, others condemning it as too little and still others expressing a cautious optimism.

Bethany Kraft, director of the Gulf Restoration Program at the Ocean Conservancy, welcomed news of the settlement, but emphasized that this was only the beginning of the work. She highlighted $232 million set aside under the settlement that, combined with interest from other payments, is meant to address any natural resources damages that are discovered after the settlement is in effect. Such money she described as critical but possibly insufficient, as some environmental damage from the spill may not be understood for decades.


BP’s settlement is pocket change for the cost of doing business, most of which will be deducted and written off, and we the middle class…
BP the owners and operator of Deep Water Horizon Oil/ Gas extraction project is no doubt responsible for the disaster, the greed creed…
Jim in Tucson
The frightening thought about this settlement is that this blowout occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, in good weather, shallow seas and less…

“Let’s put it this way: I’m still going to come in to work tomorrow,” Ms. Kraft said. “I think it’s still critically important for all of us to pay attention to how this money is spent.”

On the state level, the different sources of money come with different strings attached. Money paid in economic damages would primarily go into state coffers, while the natural resources damages payments must be spent on environmental restoration. The Clean Water Act penalties would mostly be divided up among the states and a Gulfwide council under a formula laid out in the Restore Act, which directs that the funds be spent on the “ecological and economic restoration” of the gulf.

BP already made a $1 billion down payment to states for early restoration projects, some of which was directed toward controversial projects like a hotel in Alabama. But for the most part, the money has been seen as critical to addressing longstanding environmental problems.

Much of the settlement money in Louisiana will go to environmental protection and restoration along the state’s ravaged and rapidly disappearing coast. The state has spent years developing a master plan for addressing environmental damage and the wetlands loss that long preceded the BP spill. The $50 billion plan, with some projects already underway or completed, calls for extensive levee construction and for beefing up barrier islands and restoring portions of the state’s vanishing wetlands in order to provide a greater degree of natural protection from hurricanes.

This proposed agreement would end federal and state involvement in a three-phase trial that began more than two years ago in one of the most complex and closely watched civil cases in United States history. Over the course of the trial, which took place in New Orleans, the Justice Department argued that the company should pay the maximum federal penalty of $13.7 billion, or $4,300 for every barrel spilled, under the Clean Water Act in cases of gross negligence.

On Thursday, BP set the ultimate cost associated with the spill at nearly $54 billion, though there are still some unknowable expenses to come. While the settlement clears away most of the liability exposure that BP faces, it does not eliminate some shareholder claims or private claims from thousands of individuals and businesses whose efforts in court will continue. BP has settled hundreds of thousands of such claims since the spill.

Testimony in the two-year civil trial ended in February, and on Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of Judge Barbier’s liability determination of BP and Anadarko, the co-owners of the Deepwater Horizon well.

And the settlement, as some pointed out, is not yet set in stone.

“I knew nothing about it,” said Tony Kennon, the mayor of Orange Beach, Ala., a tourist town that was devastated during the summer of the spill, and which has sued BP for $50 million. Mr. Kennon insisted that the lawsuit was not over as far his town was concerned and that he now expected to seek more in damages.

However, he also expected a nice Fourth of July weekend.

“If the weather’s pretty,” he said, “we will break all records.”

Campbell Robertson reported from New Orleans, and Richard Pérez-Peña and John Schwartz from New York. Clifford Krauss contributed reporting from Houston, and Coral Davenport from Washington.

Enemies of Greek PM See Chance in Sunday’s Vote

Alexis Tsipras’s Enemies in Europe See Their Chance in Vote on Greece’s Bailout Terms
By SUZANNE DALEY JULY 2, 2015 New York Times

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has complained about European interference in a referendum on a deal with Greece’s creditors.

ATHENS — Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the referendum in Greece on Sunday is simply about whether to agree to what he sees as a bad deal from the country’s creditors. Many of his opponents say it is actually about whether Greece wants to stay with the euro.

What neither side typically acknowledges is that the vote amounts to a referendum on Mr. Tsipras and whether he should continue to lead his country. And what is playing out now is a largely unacknowledged campaign to oust him, led as much by his critics among other European leaders and top officials as it is by his rivals in Greece.

By long-established diplomatic tradition, leaders and international institutions do not meddle in the domestic politics of other countries. But under cover of a referendum in which the rest of Europe has a clear stake, European leaders who have found Mr. Tsipras difficult to deal with have been clear about the outcome they prefer.

Supporters of a Greek Referendum on Offer That Is Off the Table Baffles Voters JULY 2, 2015
Prime Minister Alexis Tsirpas of Greece discussing on a live TV broadcast his plans for a referendum on the latest set of austerity measures proposed by the country’s creditors.Hopeful Start to Greek Debt Negotiations Quickly SouredJULY 2, 2015
Pensioners at a bank on Wednesday on the Greek island of Crete. The I.M.F. issued a report criticizing the Greek government.I.M.F. Agrees With Athens That Greece Needs Debt Relief JULY 2, 2015
Greek citizens will decide whether to accept the terms of a bailout deal proposed by the country’s creditors.I.M.F. Says Greece Needs Debt Relief, but Blames
The European Central Bank said it would not expand an emergency loan program that has been propping up Greek banks in recent weeks while the government was trying to reach a new debt deal with international creditors.Cash Withdrawals and Hoarding as Default Looms Over GreeceJUNE 28, 2015
Many are openly opposing him on the referendum, which could very possibly make way for a new government and a new approach to finding a compromise. The situation in Greece, analysts said, is not the first time that European politics have crossed borders, but it is the most open instance and the one with the greatest potential effect so far on European unity.

As Referendum Nears, Allies Disagree on Its Meaning
International responses to the latest Greek proposal to resolve its financial crisis ranged from cautious to dismissive.

“People are realizing they have more and more of a stake in each other’s domestic policies,” said Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, “and so you see more interference.”

Martin Schulz, a German who is president of the European Parliament, offered at one point to travel to Greece to campaign for the “yes” forces, those in favor of taking a deal along the lines offered by the creditors.

On Thursday, Mr. Schulz was on television making clear that he had little regard for Mr. Tsipras and his government. “We will help the Greek people but most certainly not the government,” he said.

Even as it backed Greece’s call for a new bailout plan to include debt relief, the International Monetary Fund essentially scolded the Tsipras government on Thursday, suggesting that it had mismanaged the economy in its brief tenure in office this year.

Mr. Tsipras had all but promised to step down if Greeks voted yes. But with three days to go before the vote, he went on television on Thursday and left the issue unclear. He said that in the event of a yes vote, he would remain in his “institutional role” and see that the procedures provided for by the Constitution were followed. He complained bitterly about European interference in the vote.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Tsipras’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said unequivocally that he would resign Monday if the country voted yes.

Hopes that a yes vote will undercut Mr. Tsipras or force his resignation have been behind calls by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and most of the top European officials in Brussels to let the referendum play out before engaging in any further talks, analysts say, even though the European officials were at first furious when Mr. Tsipras asked for a vote on the issue.

Nearly the entire top European leadership in Brussels is backing a yes vote.

Earlier this week, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, suggested that Mr. Tsipras had not been honest with the Greek people about what had been offered. In an emotional news conference, he urged the Greeks not to follow Mr. Tsipras’s call for a “no” vote.

“You have to vote yes, whatever the question,” he said, “because responsible, honorable Greek citizens, who are justly proud of themselves and their country, must say yes to Europe.”

Some experts distinguish between the words of elected officials, such as Ms. Merkel, and those of officials who work for the European Central Bank or the European Commission, saying that while it may be appropriate for elected officials to speak out, European officials should not.

The weak link in the 19-nation eurozone is struggling to tame its debt. On Tuesday, Greece missed an important payment to the International Monetary Fund.

“There has been a troubling lack of impartiality by European Union officials,” said Simon Tilford, the deputy director of the Center for European Reform, in London. “We have seen a steady stream of very inappropriate remarks.”

Others point out that in recent years, European leaders have been meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries more frequently. They quietly had a hand in the departures of a previous Greek prime minister, George A. Papandreou, and of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, both in 2011.

Mr. Tsipras faces plenty of opposition at home as well. Huge “yes” crowds turned out this week for a demonstration in Athens, and opposition political leaders in Greece have been pondering the possibility of a unity government as soon as next week should Mr. Tsipras step aside.

Stavros Theodorakis, the leader of To Potami, a new centrist party that won 6 percent of the vote in the last election, called Thursday for a new unity government, saying that any pro-Europe members of Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party could break off to be partners with other parties, including his own, and avoid a new round of disruptive elections.

“The country, come Sunday night, needs serenity,” he said. Mr. Theodorakis said the new party would offer a balanced approach that could quickly make a deal with Greece’s creditors and reopen the banks, which have been closed all week to prevent a run on them.

Some opposition leaders have traveled to Brussels in recent weeks to meet with officials there, prompting some Syriza supporters to complain that Mr. Tsipras never had a shot at governing. “This has been a silent coup d’état,” said Stelios Kouloglou, a European Parliament member with Syriza. “The idea from the very beginning was to overthrow Tsipras and get someone in there who would do what they were told.”

Mr. Kouloglou said that Mr. Tsipras would have to go if the vote was yes, and he worried that if Mr. Tsipras prevailed on the no vote, unhappy European officials would simply increase pressure on Greek banks until Mr. Tsipras left.

Some experts say the timing of the European Central Bank action in capping emergency funding to Greek banks this week appeared to be part of a campaign to influence voters.

“I don’t see how anybody can believe that the timing of this was coincidence,” said Mark Weisbrot, an economist and a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “When you restrict the flow of cash enough to close the banks during the week of a referendum, this is a very deliberate move to scare people.”

Whether or not it was intended, it had that effect. Polls indicate that support for Mr. Tsipras fell sharply as Greeks confronted long lines and limits on their withdrawals.

Mr. Weisbrot also said the Europeans were having a powerful impact on the elections by saying over and over that the vote was a decision about staying in the eurozone.

On television Thursday night, Mr. Tsipras made it clear that he thought the European Central Bank’s action was meant to influence the referendum. “This was a vengeful tactic,” he said. “The Eurogroup finance ministers didn’t want to allow the Greek government, the Greek democracy and the Greek people to exercise their right to democratic procedures without interventions.

“What we’re seeing happening since Saturday,” he said, “is an orgy of interventions and scaremongering of the Greek people so that the lenders’ preferable outcome materializes.”

Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.

Greek Voters Left Perplexed with PM’s Referendum

Alexis Tsipras’s Referendum Leaves Greek Voters Perplexed

Supporters of a “no” vote burned a European Union flag during a rally in Athens on Thursday. Greece will hold a vote that could redefine its place in Europe on Sunday.
ATHENS — Imagine the fate of your country hangs on a yes-or-no question. The question is drafted in cryptic, bureaucratic language and asks you to decide on an economic program that no longer exists. Leaders in neighboring countries are begging you to vote yes. Your government is begging you to vote no.

Now you can understand what it feels like to live in Greece, land of debt, sunshine and, these days, profound political weirdness. The country is approaching one of the most important votes in its modern history on Sunday — one that could redefine its place in Europe — yet many people acknowledge they barely have a clue as to what, exactly, they are voting on.

“No one is really telling us what it means,” said Erika Papamichalopoulou, 27, a resident of Athens. “No one is saying what will happen to us if we say yes, or what will happen to us if we say no.”

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis of Greece said that he would “rather cut off” his arm than sign a new deal with creditors that does not restructure Greece’s debt.Varoufakis Says He’ll Resign as Greece Finance Minister if Referendum Endorses Bailout JULY 2, 2015
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece gave an interview on Monday night in Athens.Alexis Tsipras Budges on Greece’s Debt, but Meets a Cool Response JULY 1, 2015
A woman being squeezed outside a National Bank branch in Athens on Wednesday while waiting to receive part of her pension.In Greek Debt Crisis, Mixed Messages and No Progress JULY 1, 2015
People waited to receive part of their pensions in Athens on Wednesday.Worried Greek Retirees Line Up to Claim Just a Part of Pensions JULY 1, 2015
Greece is deep into unknown territory. Its banks have been shut down. It missed a debt payment to the International Monetary Fund, and without new financial aid it is likely to default on other debts this month. Most European nations are in no rush to help, and in fact seem content to watch the Greeks dangle for a bit.

NEWS CLIPS By Reuters 1:02
Tsipras Assures No Defense Cuts Expected
Continue reading the main storyVideo
Tsipras Assures No Defense Cuts Expected
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece said on Thursday there will not be cuts in defense spending despite current financial trouble and urged citizens to “maintain a core of national sovereignty.” By Reuters on Publish Date July 2, 2015. Photo by ERT Pool, via Reuters.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who called for the referendum, has veered between bitter confrontation with the country’s creditors and conciliatory outreach. Even as he signaled on Wednesday that he would accept many of the demands made by the creditors, he pressed ahead with the referendum and again urged Greeks to reject the proposal containing those demands.

In any case, as a parade of European leaders has pointed out, the proposal that Greeks are voting on is no longer on the table, having been built around the framework of a bailout package that expired at midnight on Tuesday.

Confused? Welcome to Greece.

Mr. Tsipras’s unexpected decision to call the referendum was the equivalent of a frustrated chess player trying to break open a stalemated match with a daring last-minute move that his opponent considered to be against the rules.

Greece’s Debt Crisis Explained
The weak link in the 19-nation eurozone is struggling to tame its debt. On Tuesday, Greece missed an important payment to the International Monetary Fund.

The Greeks and their creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the other 18 eurozone countries — had spent months making moves and countermoves in largely fruitless negotiations over a deal that would unlock frozen funds for Greece in exchange for pension cuts, fiscal reforms and other measures demanded by creditors.

Mr. Tsipras then appeared on television early Saturday morning and announced that he would hold a national referendum five days after the Tuesday deadline for the debt payment to the I.M.F. and the extension of its existing bailout. He said creditors were demanding more of the same austerity policies he and his party blame for wrecking the Greek economy since 2010. He said that his government had no mandate to approve such a deal but that he would let voters decide.

His allies framed the move as a hard-nosed negotiating tactic, as well as democracy in action.

“The whole question has moved now from the field of economics to the field of democracy,” said George Katrougalos, deputy minister for administrative reforms. “Now it is tantamount to whether we can decide our own national issues.”

Others see things differently. In one analysis, Mr. Tsipras could not convince factions in his Syriza party to support the deal and thus called the referendum as a way out of a political dead end. “It is a political tactic to make up for the government’s failure to reach an agreement that it could pass through Parliament,” said Nick Malkoutzis, a political analyst in Athens.

Other critics say Mr. Tsipras and his party never wanted to sign a deal because they instead want Greece to renounce using the euro and reinstate the old currency, the drachma – something the government has flatly denied.

The chess match continued after Mr. Tsipras’s announcement. He had asked European creditors to extend the bailout program for another week so that the Sunday vote could be held under “normal” conditions. Incensed, European negotiators initially declared that the talks were over. More significantly, the European Central Bank capped the emergency loans it had been providing to the Greek banking system to compensate for the billions of euros that had been withdrawn by panicked account holders.

Fearing a bank collapse, Mr. Tsipras returned to national television on Sunday night, announcing capital controls and the closing of the banking system. Citizens could withdraw only 60 euros a day from ATMs. People started hoarding gasoline and groceries. Businesses dependent on using lines of bank credit to import materials were suddenly in trouble.

“Once the banks closed, the whole game, or point of the referendum, changed completely,” said Aristos Doxiadis, an economist and adviser to To Potami, an opposition, pro-Europe party that has favored signing a deal. “How on earth are we going to have functioning banks again? The referendum was never going to be about the specific agreements.”

“It is about whether we stay in the eurozone or not,” he added.

And that is the argument of opposition parties now pushing people to vote “yes.” They believe Syriza wants a “no” vote as a mandate to abandon the euro. The government says it wants a “no” vote to strengthen its negotiating position.

“No does not mean a rift with Europe,” Mr. Tsipras said Wednesday, “but a return to a Europe with principles.”

Supporters of a “yes” vote outside Parliament in Athens on Tuesday. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has urged Greeks to reject the demands of the country’s creditors. Credit Alexandros Vlachos/European Pressphoto Agency
In a literal sense, the question does not even mention the euro or Greece’s future in Europe. It asks voters if they approve the terms of a June 25 proposal made by creditors — even though that proposal was invalidated with the passage of Tuesday’s deadline and amounts to a dense bureaucratic maze of verbiage about pension rules and tax changes on several pages of single-spaced type.

The entire proposal is not on the ballot. This is:

Should the deal draft that was put forward by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the Eurogroup of June 25, 2015, and consists of two parts, that together form a unified proposal, be accepted? The first document is titled “Reforms for the Completion of the Current Program and Beyond” and the second “Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis.”

Continue reading the main story
Greece last held a referendum in December 1974, after the collapse of the ruling military junta. Then, the question asked what type of government Greeks would prefer, and the choices were pretty clear — king or republic. Voters picked republic.

What Key Players Are Saying About the Greek Crisis
International responses to the latest Greek proposal to resolve its financial crisis ranged from cautious to dismissive.

In 2011, then-Prime Minister George Papandreou tried to call a referendum on austerity measures sought by creditors but ultimately resigned under European pressure.

Today, critics argue that Mr. Tsipras is distorting democracy, not strengthening it, by holding a rapid-fire vote in which people lack the time to understand what they are voting for.

Moreover, critics say, Mr. Tsipras is trying to frame the decision on purely visceral terms, since Greeks have equated “oxi,” or “no,” with resistance to outside powers. Every Oct. 28, Greece celebrates “Oxi” day to commemorate the 1940 refusal by Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas to allow Benito Mussolini to hand over Greece to the Axis powers without resistance.

“The ‘no’ in Greece has a very high symbolic resonance,” said Stathis Kalyvas, author of “Modern Greece: What Everyone Needs to Know” and a professor of political science at Yale. “The ‘no’ is often identified with patriotism and defiance and national pride.”

On Monday, after expressing their frustration with Mr. Tsipras, a few European leaders decided to do some politicking. The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, while saying he felt “betrayed” by the Greek prime minister, nonetheless called on Greeks to vote “yes.” So did several German leaders, and others.

Analysts agree that a “yes” vote would mean the end for Mr. Tsipras. His government would likely step down next week, and the Greek president — a largely ceremonial figure, though not in moments of collapsing governments — would need to assemble a “unity” government from different parties.

Unless, of course, Mr. Tsipras can reach a deal and then changes his mind and starts telling people to vote “yes,” which is another scenario being speculated upon.

Simple as that.

Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.

Healthy Job Growth, but Signs of Weakness

Data Show Healthy Job Growth but Also Signs of Weakness
By NELSON D. SCHWARTZ JULY 2, 2015 New York Times

The economy added a healthy 223,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department reported Thursday, but other indicators, showing wages growing slowly and jobless Americans remaining on the sidelines, painted a grayer picture.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent, the lowest in seven years, but that was driven largely by an exodus of people from the work force, rather than more Americans finding work. Moreover, the strong job gains for April and May, which had led many analysts to predict that the economy was picking up steam, were revised downward by 60,000 jobs.

“This was an O.K. report, but the unemployment rate didn’t go down for the right reasons,” said Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab.

Indeed, despite the drop in the unemployment rate, from 5.5 percent in May, average hourly earnings stayed flat, disappointing hopes that wages were finally increasing for many workers and suggesting that the labor market still has plenty of slack.

Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s chairwoman, said that economic and labor market conditions were improving, but the central bank was not yet ready to pull back.Fed, in Shift, Expects Slower Increase in Interest RatesJUNE 17, 2015
A custodian in the observatory at One World Trade Center. For months, analysts have said wages are poised to rise as the unemployment rate has fallen.Strong Job Growth Data Eases Concerns After Winter Dip in EconomyJUNE 5, 2015
U.S. Economy Added 223,000 Jobs in April; Unemployment Rate at 5.4%MAY 8, 2015
The share of American adults either working or looking for a job, which in many ways is a better gauge of economic robustness than the oft-cited jobless rate, fell 0.3 percentage point in June. With June’s drop, the so-called labor participation rate is now at its lowest level since 1977.

The Federal Reserve has signaled it plans to raise short-term interest rates from near zero for the first time since the recession.
The latest jobs report is likely to sharpen debate among Federal Reserve officials about when to start raising the Fed’s benchmark interest rate. Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s chairwoman, and other officials, have pointed to the strong pace of job growth, which continued in June, as a reason to raise rates later this year. They say a stronger labor market will inevitably result in faster inflation, and the Fed needs to start moving in anticipation of that trend.

Some officials, however, point to the weak pace of wage growth, which also continued in June, as evidence that concerns about inflation are premature.

The Fed already has indicated that it does not plan to raise rates before September, and some analysts said that remained the most likely situation.

”Altogether, we do not view this report as significantly shifting opinions within the Fed about the timing of the first rate hike,” Michael Gapen, chief United States economist at Barclays Capital, wrote Thursday. “We continue to look for the first rate hike in September.”

Investors, however, responded to the jobs report on Thursday by increasing their bets the Fed would not move until December, and perhaps not until next year. In New York, stocks rose modestly in morning trading and turned slightly negative at midday.

The Fed and private economists have been watching participation in the labor market closely for any sign that large numbers of those who dropped out of the work force after the recession are looking for jobs again.

Clearly, that didn’t happen last month. Although seasonal factors and the timing of the survey of households by government pollsters in June may have exacerbated the drop in the size of the labor force, “we’re not running out of slack,” said Guy Berger, United States economist at RBS.

The fall in the participation rate and the failure of hourly earnings to grow at all last month suggested the Fed still has plenty of room to maneuver as it waits for the right moment to move on rates.

“The good news is that we are not on the verge of an inflation spiral and we can put people back to work for some quite some time without the danger of inflation,” Mr. Berger said.

After bottoming out in March as the overall economy stalled, hiring has been reasonably strong in recent months, along with other indicators like home sales and consumer spending. In the first half of the year, employers added workers at an average rate of 208,000 a month, compared with a monthly gain of nearly 260,000 jobs in 2014.

While the American economy is not delivering as many gains to workers as expected six years into the recovery, conditions here stands in sharp contrast to the situation overseas. Europe has been rocked by the continuing drama over whether Greece will exit the eurozone, and concerns are rising about the fallout from the slowdown in China’s once white-hot economy.

Exporters have had to contend with the headwinds from Europe, China and a stronger dollar, leaving domestically focused sectors like construction, health care and education to supply much of the labor market’s overall momentum.

What’s more, white-collar workers in fields like finance, insurance, software and marketing have been in high demand lately, a turnaround from the early days of the recovery when many new jobs tended to be in low-wage sectors like retailing and restaurants.

Since last summer, for example, the financial sector has added more than 100,000 new positions, bringing total employment in finance to just over eight million, the highest level since the fall of 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed. In June alone, insurers, investment companies and other financial institutions added 20,000 workers.

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“We’re seeing companies put money into the back office,” said Tom Gimbel, chief executive of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing firm. “They want to hire for permanent positions in areas like marketing, human resources and accounting.”

Despite these signs of health, the American economy still has a feast-or-famine quality in many corners.

For example, wage growth has picked up slightly this year but gains remain relatively restrained. Over the last 12 months, earnings are up 2 percent, only modestly ahead of inflation, which is running at around 1.5 percent, according to the latest data.

Even as those back office, white-collar jobs are filled with workers who nearly always have a bachelor’s degree, Mr. Gimbel noted, employers also want college graduates for positions where a high school diploma used to suffice, like call center operators.

As the pool of college graduates has grown larger, younger workers have found themselves forced to take jobs they once would have turned down cold.

“More kids are going to college and some of them don’t have any choice,” Mr. Gimbel said. “It’s not just the Big 10, Notre Dame and the Ivies anymore.” Students from less prestigious colleges or candidates with lower grade point averages are taking jobs at call centers earning $25,000 to $30,000 a year, he said.

Preferred sectors for new college graduates entering the work force this summer, like sales, marketing and administration, pay in the range of $30,000 to $35,000 annually, Mr. Gimbel said. One major exception to the pattern of stubbornly slow raises is the technology sector, especially for workers fluent in coding, programming and software development.

“Depending on their level of experience, a good coder can earn $100,000 to $175,000,” he said. “We never have enough candidates.”

Binyamin Appelbaum contributed reporting from Washington.

Look What Congress is up to, now!

It’s just beyond belief what our Congress won’t do for the American people
when so-called re-election money is handed out from large corporations here and
abroad. The United States, which buys just about everything overseas now has remained, until recently as a bread basket for many other countries. But that reputation is rapidly eroding in favor of more overseas money. Smithfield, once the largest pork producer in the nation was a big supplier to many countries other
than the United States. The Virginia meatpacker was bought 2 years ago by China’s largest, for 4.7 Billion with the promise that Shuanghul would never sell its ham back to the United States. Americans needed that assurance after
bird flu was transmitted to humans in China, and the death of over a thousand Chinese dogs. For the United States, Petco
shutdown Chinese “Dog Treats” in avoiding a similar disaster for American dogs and cats. It’s generally accepted that Chinese restaurants here in the U.S. serve what’s called “orange chicken,” passed over as lamb as well as chicken. The Chinese argue that this rat meat doesn’t come from filthy sewers, but have lived clean lives since birth. And unlike Americans, the Chinese believe protein is protein from whatever animal it comes. That may be true, but I’d rather keep the rats in the sewer, than eat them. The Chinese government acknowledges 110 people died last year because of food poisoning. Melamine and Aminoplein forbidden in U.S. food is used routinely in Chinese foods and a good reason not to eat them. We have food safety labeling laws since a hard-fought legislative battle in the 1920s. Because of a win over lobbyists of the day, we can enjoy knowing what’s in the product and know where it came from. But now the Republican-controlled Capitol Hill outfit, has quietly approved a bill that would free a food processor from having to tell you the ingredients or the origin of a product. What the 435-member House of Representatives did will become law. Only a Senate vote stands in the way. If you care knowing what’s in your food, you can have input by writing to your 2 Senators. Hidden behind all this is the leviathan, the GMO king, Monsanto, which wouldn’t have to label products as GMO or non-GMO. Our e-mails, votes and telephone calls are all we have, but depending on our numbers, the senators will either decide for the people or, if we are quiet, they will get away with more dollars from K-Street. It’a up to us. Seems most want re-election as “that’s where the money is.”

This blog is dedicated to bringing back the commitment of professional journalism. As a former network news editor, major market news director and anchor, BILL DEANE gives you the inside story often missed by media more interested in Hollywood gossip. OUR MISSING NEWS gets into the WHY of the day's significant events.