CARDINAL IN THE DOCK
Vatican in damage control as George Pell has his ‘day in court’
George Pell, the third most senior Vatican official, was charged with historical sex offences last month. His charges include at least one count of rape. Pell has voluntarily returned home to face a Melbourne court today.
Pell has denied any wrongdoing. But these charges—along with his prior attempts to absolve the Vatican of responsibility for its dark history of sexual abuse—have further tainted the Church’s reputation.
Having a high-ranking official tried for the very crimes that have plagued it for decades will place the Vatican into reputational damage control. The handling of a controversy is often more important than the controversy itself. Pope Francis must tread carefully when responding to the verdict to be issued. If found guilty, showing leniency toward such a high-ranking official will imply complacency in this sensitive and ongoing issue.
TESTIFYING ON TRUMP
Manafort to appear before Senate Judiciary Committee
Today former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the now infamous meeting between senior Trump campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which Manafort also attended.
Manafort initially attempted to avoid public testimony by voluntarily handing over meeting transcripts and meeting with the committee privately. However, in a joint statement, Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein stated that they “were unable to reach an agreement” that would avoid public testimony.
Multiple attendees of the meeting have insisted that it was a failure with no future impact on the campaign. Veselnitskaya denies any ties to the Russian government, even though an email from Rob Goldstone (who brokered the meeting) to Donald Trump Jr. claimed the meeting was part of Russia’s efforts to assist in electing Mr Trump.
Manafort’s testimony at the hearing could map out details (or lack thereof) of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, providing leads and avenues for investigation.
PROFITS FOR POPULISM
Facebook reports second quarter profits
Facebook releases its second quarter results today. Wall Street analysts estimate 2017 profits to be 11% lower than their predictions before the first quarter.
One reason for the lower estimates is the firm’s large investment in data centres needed for the growing demand for Facebook’s online video services, including Facebook Live.
There’s method to the massive outlay; almost two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media. Social networks have taken away a large share of the market from traditional media players by delivering tailor-made newsfeeds that align with individual’s preferences, producing an echo chamber of political and social views.
Traditional media outlets—especially newspapers—have been strongly affected by this development, as ad revenue and audience numbers decline. The role of fake news in the 2016 presidential election, as well as the rise of clickbait journalism, has further contributed to public trust in media outlets falling to an all-time low.
While Facebook’s profits are expected to see a short-term hit to make strategic investments, expect long-term gains as ad revenue and the number of active users are set to increase.
Venezuela’s opposition will begin a two-day nationwide strike ahead of a crucial vote on Sunday, in which President Nicolas Maduro is seeking a mandate to rewrite the constitution. The opposition has called for a boycott of the vote as long-running tensions reach fever pitch. The socialist government plans to deploy 230,000 troops to protect supporters who turn out on Sunday; Maduro says he is “ready for any scenario”.
The European Commission is expected to discuss Poland’s controversial judicial reforms. The right-wing PiS government has passed three key reforms—one requiring Supreme Court judges to be approved by the justice minister, another that hands politicians control over the body that nominates Supreme Court judges and a third that gives the justice minister the ability to select and dismiss lower court judges. While Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed the measures, the government has vowed to press on. Critics, including many in the EU, say the moves reek of authoritarianism and have threatened to sanction Poland by stripping it of its voting rights.
US central bankers will meet for two days of deliberations on the country’s monetary policy. No change in rates or posture is expected to be announced on Thursday. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve is moving towards tightening monetary policy and is expected to announce it will begin reducing its asset holdings—currently valued at $4.5 trillion—by the end of the year. If done too quickly, this could increase market volatility.