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  • The Other Quid Pro Quo Scandal in Ukraine
    Bloomberg

    The Other Quid Pro Quo Scandal in Ukraine

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Since the Ukraine scandal broke open in September, a narrative has set in: President Donald Trump was using Ukraine’s president to influence American politics. Last week, a new narrative came into focus: A Ukrainian prosecutor was trying to use Trump to influence Ukrainian politics.In the first story, Trump is the instigator of a corrupt bargain, attempting to enlist Ukraine’s new president in a plot to influence the 2020 election. A cascade of witnesses from Trump’s own government has supported this version of events, saying Trump wanted to withhold military aid to Ukraine until it agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.The other story has received less attention but is just as scandalous. A corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor was trying to enlist a close adviser to Trump to fire an ambassador who threatened his position and standing. This story revolves around Trump’s decision to prematurely end the term of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was sent to Kiev in 2016 and left her post in May. Testimony released last week suggests that Yovanovitch was smeared and fired because Ukrainian general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, who left his own post in August, had a vendetta against her.In his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, George Kent, the State Department’s Ukraine expert, said Lutsenko enlisted former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in his campaign against Yovanovitch. According to Kent, Lutsenko provided Giuliani with information on Yovanovitch “in hopes that he would spread it and lead to her removal.”Giuliani told the New York Times that when he met with Lutsenko last spring in New York, “He didn’t say to me, ‘I came here to get Yovanovitch fired.’” But he nevertheless surmised that’s what Lutsenko wanted.The question is why. According to Giuliani, Lutsenko had been blocked from getting his information — such as his claim that Yovanovitch had given him a “do not prosecute” list of individuals — to proper U.S. officials. Yovanovitch and other witnesses have denied this claim, and she has also said she encouraged Lutsenko to seek meetings with the FBI and Justice Department through the bureau’s legal attaché in Kiev.The ambassador has an alternative theory for why Lutsenko wanted her fired. “I think that he felt that I and the embassy were effective at helping Ukrainians who wanted to reform,” she testified. Yovanovitch said Lutsenko initially promised to clean up the powerful office of the general prosecutor, saying he would prosecute the people who fired on protesters who forced former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych out of office in 2014. Lutsenko also promised to try and recover more than $40 billion stolen by Yanukovych and his cronies.Yet over time, Yovanovitch said, Lutsenko proved unwilling or unable to pursue those goals even as she pressed him to do so. “We continued to encourage him,” she said. “And I don’t think he really appreciated it.”All of this gets more intriguing in light of last month’s indictment of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Ukrainian Americans, for illegal campaign contributions to Republican candidates through front companies. Parnas enlisted Giuliani in a consulting firm with the unfortunate name of “Fraud Guarantee.” This week it was reported that Giuliani was paid $500,000 for his role in the venture by a Republican donor based in Long Island.The indictment of Parnas and Fruman says they sought to use their political influence to further the interests of a foreign official, reported to be Lutsenko. One of the beneficiaries of their political donations, former Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, was an early advocate for firing Yovanovitch.So there appear to be at least two quid pro quos in the Ukraine scandal. The first is Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The second is Lutsenko’s effort to get Trump to fire Yovanovitch. Giuliani is in the middle of both. Says Alina Polyakova, a Ukraine expert at the Brookings Institution: “He was using his influence with the president to try to get his clients what they wanted, while at the same time getting the president what he wanted.”Some of this is attributable to weaknesses in American law and politics. The law Congress created to force Americans to register as foreign agents when they represent a foreign country or business went largely unenforced for 50 years before Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. And Trump distrusts the experts in his own government, instead relying on the counsel of foreign policy amateurs like Giuliani.Whatever the outcome of the Ukraine scandal, it has already laid bare a bitter irony: Official U.S. efforts to make Ukrainian politics less corrupt were stymied by a campaign to make American politics more like Ukraine’s.To contact the author of this story: Eli Lake at elake1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Newman at mnewman43@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Do 125,000 Farmers Deserve $14.3 Billion?

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy — also known as CAP — is a 58-billion-euro ($64 billion) system of farm aid that accounts for the bloc’s biggest single budget expense. And it has long been a punching bag for euroskeptics.The U.K. press for years excoriated the “wine lakes” and “butter mountains” supported by EU money. Even after the production quotas went away, critics accused the EU of trade protectionism meant to squeeze rivals. The EU’s defense is that the system is more market-oriented and eco-friendly than it used to be.Today it’s no longer just the Brits grumbling. In fact, the U.K.’s looming departure from the EU may leave a 98 billion-euro hole in the next EU budget and that shortfall has exposed deep discontent on the continent. Germany is loath to fill the gap and wants individual member states to contribute more for farm subsidies, something France —  still the biggest overall recipient of CAP funds —  is resisting. Unlike some of its thrifty neighbors who want to keep a lid on costs, France wants a more ambitious system. French President Emmanuel Macron is fighting the view popularized by author Michel Houellebecq and others that Brussels is too weak and beholden to free trade to defend France’s local terroirs from competition.It would be easier to build popular support for a bold new CAP if its hypocrisies weren’t so apparent to voters. The system only costs around 0.4% of the EU’s gross domestic product, but it's distributed in wildly unequal ways. Europe’s capitals are frequently awash in tales of well-heeled landowners receiving millions in EU aid — including the wealthy, Brexit-loving entrepreneur James Dyson — which should ideally go to those who actually need a financial boost.  One well-known statistic is that about 80% of EU agricultural aid goes to the top 20% of farmers; in absolute terms, according to 2017 data, some 125,000 beneficiaries get around 12.9 billion euros ($14.3 billion) in aid. That’s about 103,000 euros ($113,500) per farmer.Given the EU is advertising itself as a “geopolitical” defender of the Western liberal order and protector of citizens’ way of life, another awkward problem with the CAP is the corruption and cronyism it fosters within. A New York Times investigation this week revealed how the CAP has propped up the likes of Hungary’s Viktor Orban via farmland sold to his allies, and sent tens of millions of dollars to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s company Agrofert. With EU aid now doled out directly by the hectare, the wine lake and the butter mountain have been replaced by land-grabs based on patronage and directed at insiders , according to one 2015 study.More accountability and transparency would help, as would the centralized ability to link EU aid to recipients who have a healthy respect for the rule of law and democracy. But member states would have to agree to give up the power they enjoy when it comes to allocating aid. They have a bothersome habit of watering down sensible proposals such as putting a cap on the size of farm handouts or conditioning them on certain goals. Brussels does audit the money trail to fight fraud and error, which it estimates represents about 2.4% of farm aid, but its resources aren’t limitless.One idea raised by Alan Matthews, professor emeritus of European agricultural policy at Trinity College, is to tie aid to something that’s popular and a top priority for the new European Commission — the environment. Rather than just call for a hard cap of, say, 50,000 euros per beneficiary (which countries would fight), he suggests a soft cap above which aid would be tied to climate-friendly, sustainable farming initiatives. Big farms, however politically-connected, would have to show they can offer a public good in exchange for public funds.This is superficially the same message being sent by the U.K. government to its own farmers as a way to replace EU subsidies after Brexit: Aid should be earned by eco-friendly initiatives, not paid by the hectare. It’s easier said than done, and the state of U.K. agriculture without membership in the EU’s single market is hard to predict. But considering it will take time, money and political trade-offs to improve the EU’s flawed system, a small step like this — particularly if it proves to the naysayers that Europe can be reformed — is surely worth it.To contact the author of this story: Lionel Laurent at llaurent2@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Timothy L. O'Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Brussels. He previously worked at Reuters and Forbes.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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  • Delta (DAL) Up 8.4% Since Last Earnings Report: Can It Continue?
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  • Bloomberg

    There’s No Such Thing as Millennials or Boomers

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Most of the stereotypes tied to so-called generations are ugly and insulting — whether it’s the greed and materialism associated with “boomers,” the narcissism and entitlement associated with “millennials,” or the aimlessness associated with “Gen X.”Such unpleasantness is not only mean-spirited but also scientifically wrongheaded. The closer researchers look, the more arbitrary they find the boundaries between so-called generations. There’s no evidence that any sorts of personality traits or character flaws go along with so-called boomers, Gen X-ers, millennials or members of Gen Z.You’d think from the seriousness with which people take these things that, rather than continuously producing babies, humans collectively spawn just once every 20 years. Generational labels cropped up just a few days ago in a medical report claiming that millennials are in worse health than were so-called Gen X people at the same age.Around the same time, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd  generated chatter by writing about her own self-perceived boomer status, using the recent exit of Representative Katie Hill to preach to so-called millennials about the hazards of letting people take nude photos of you. It’s good advice, but it didn’t have to be about generations at all. It could instead be about experience, and hard-won lessons about the ways love sometimes goes rotten.But it’s so much more exciting to invoke generational warfare. People love generation labels in the way they love astrological sign categories — maybe Ms. Hill would still be in office if she’d known not to trust a Scorpio. Some people get deep meaning out of astrology despite a total lack of evidence. Both kinds of labels are social constructs — they affect us only because so many people believe in them.“When you dig into research into differences in discrete generations, there’s no evidence they exist,” says Cort Rudolph, a psychologist at Saint Louis University who has studied age and work-related behavior. “All this generation stuff is total nonsense.”There are two real things that are going on, however. One is that as people age, they go through different stages in life — not quite in lock step, since people reach various maturity levels and adulthood milestones at different times (or not at all). But there’s a progression.And there are events (wars, recessions) and new technologies which may affect those in college or seeking their first jobs differently from those who are older and more established.But those things don’t create generational boundaries. Different studies use different boundaries between the major generations, says Rudolph, making the whole notion of generations into a moving target and therefore not conducive to scientific probing. People roughly classify “boomers” as those between their late 50s and early 70s, Gen X as those in their late 30s to early 50s, and millennials as those in their 20s to late 30s, but this is always shifting, leaving many of us unsure what generation we’re supposed to be in.A few years ago, the U.S. Army funded research into generations to learn how to convince young people to stay in the military. George Washington University psychologist David Costanza, who was involved in that effort, says there was a theory floating around that historical events — such as wars and economic shifts — shaped whole cohorts of people, giving them distinct traits.It’s not that wars, depressions and disease outbreaks such as AIDS don’t shape people — they do. But not, it would seem, in any uniform or predictable way across artificially drawn generational categories. There’s a stereotype that so-called millennials are narcissistic job-hoppers because they have helicopter parents, he says, and that something about the Vietnam War made baby Boomers materialistic.His research suggests that’s all wrong. Millennials are no more narcissistic than anyone else, he says, and not unusually fickle about jobs. A bad economy may force young people to take undesirable first jobs — from which many will hop to something more rewarding when the economy improves. The big misconception, he says, is that merely being in a particular “generation” will endow you with certain traits.Last month, psychologists at UC Santa Barbara published a paper in Science Advances called “Kids These Days: Why Youth of Today Seem Lacking.” They found there’s nothing wrong with kids these days, even though many older people wrongly think younger people have less respect for elders and less love for reading than they themselves had when young.The authors looked into ways to cure these bad assumptions. What they found was that, in the case of reading, if they wrongly told good readers they scored poorly in a test of literary achievement, then suddenly those people got over themselves and they cut younger people more slack.Perhaps younger people, too, might not be so quick to judge so-called boomers if they were not so confident in their own technological proficiency and small carbon footprints. The good news is that with the rise of Gen Z, those who make up these trendy labels will very soon run out of letters. If we’re lucky, that will help put an end to them.To contact the author of this story: Faye Flam at fflam1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Sarah Green Carmichael at sgreencarmic@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Faye Flam is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. She has written for the Economist, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Psychology Today, Science and other publications. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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  • Instagram Will Remove ‘Likes’ From Posts for Some U.S. Users
    Bloomberg

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    (Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc.’s Instagram plans to remove the number of “likes” visible on posts for some users in the U.S. to decrease competitive pressure among people on the photo-sharing service.Instagram has been hiding like counts in some markets since April, beginning in Canada, and later expanding to Japan and Brazil. The U.S. is one of Instagram’s largest markets with more than 106 million users, according to data analyst EMarketer.“What we’re hoping to do is depressurize Instagram a little bit, and make it a bit less of a competition,” Instagram boss Adam Mosseri told Bloomberg after announcing the new test at a conference in San Francisco sponsored by Wired magazine. “The idea is to try and reduce anxiety and social comparisons, specifically with an eye towards young people.”Users will still be able to see the likes they receive on their posts if they want, but those metrics won’t be visible to others on Instagram, the company said. Mosseri said the test will begin next week, and will impact just a portion of Instagram’s U.S. user base.Instagram’s follower counts and likes have made it one of the top places online to compare one’s popularity with others, especially among teens and young adults. The company has tried for years to combat the competitive trend by promoting good role models via posts on its @instagram account, hoping to reflect the parts of the app that are about creativity and art as opposed to self-promotion. Still, striving for the metrics was irresistible for its users, contributing to mental health issues and other ills, like users paying for fake likes and followers from bots.Even some of the app’s most prolific celebrities have said a service without likes may be healthier for its users.“It would be really beneficial,” said Kim Kardashian, speaking at the New York Times DealBook conference on Wednesday. Kardashian, who has 151 million Instagram followers and regularly receives more than 1 million likes on her posts, said the Instagram team has been discussing the changes with select users to get feedback, “and that makes me happy.”Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have been at the center of debate around issues like smartphone addiction and online health in recent years. As a result, product “health” has become a priority at the social-media companies, which are trying to balance the need to drive user growth and engagement with the outside perception that they are contributing to problems such as online bullying.Instagram, for example, has also announced a feature where users can limit the amount of time they spend on the app in a given day. Apple Inc. built a similar “time spent” feature into its iPhone software, and Google offers tools like this for Android phones. Twitter has a beta version of its main product that hides engagement metrics, including likes and retweets, from user replies and interactions.(Updates with quote from Mosseri.)\--With assistance from Sarah Frier and Candy Cheng.To contact the reporter on this story: Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at kwagner71@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Andrew Pollack, Alistair BarrFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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