White House Says Despite Stock Market Volatility, Economy Is Doing Well

The stock market swung dramatically Wednesday, ending about where it started the day — after record losses earlier in the week.

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Richard Drew/AP

The stock market swung dramatically up and down on Wednesday, ending about where it started the day — after record losses earlier in the week. President Trump’s top economic adviser says it’s important to keep the volatility in context.

“The fact is that the fundamentals for the economy are very sound,” Kevin Hassett says in an interview with NPR. “Wages are going up a lot. Even in the employment report that came out last week, we saw the highest rate of wage growth in about a decade.”

He says the recent volatility is “not related to the fundamentals, which as the president notes, are very strong.”


Interview Highlights

On whether the stock market turmoil was predictable

There have been times when we’re pretty close to a recent recession where when we get positive job news, it’s a real positive. There have been other times where we’re as advanced as we are now into a recovery and when we get lots of positive news, like we’re seeing, it’s viewed by markets’ good news as well, because the market has a lot of clarity about the future of interest rates and Federal Reserve policy.

On whether the tax law is playing a role in the market activity

A lot of the equity market movement from last year, clearly, was related to the fact that equity markets started out with some probability in their heads about whether the tax bill would pass. And along the way, as that was going on, equity markets were clearly heading up. Now that the tax bill has passed, then the market has factored in that change in the tax rate into prices and really what happens next is that the evolution of the economy, of earnings and interest rates will continue — as they always do — to affect valuations.

On whether, after taking credit for rising stock markets, President Trump should take blame for the recent losses

I think you’re focusing right now, as one shouldn’t, on day-to-day fluctuations. The fact is now that if we go back to the day he was elected. I’m guessing … the medium-term trend of the market being up 35 percent. It’s not up 35 percent because of mysterious factors. It’s up 35 percent because of substantive policy changes.

There are going to be day-to-day fluctuations. Markets do that. But the fact is that there’s been a very, very large trend upward since he was elected, that any economist who runs the math would tell you is what you would expect given the policy changes that we’ve seen.

On the low African-American unemployment rate Trump touted, which was then revised upward

(In his State of the Union address, Trump said he was very proud that African-American unemployment was at it’s lowest rate ever recorded. Three days later, the jobs report showed that black unemployment jumped from December’s 6.8 percent to 7.7 percent in January.)

Last year was still the best year on record. You have to understand that the jobs report is based on a sample that has sampling variation that goes up and down every month. And there’s a very positive trend for employment for people of all races and that blip really looked quite a bit different from the rest of the report and it’s something that our statisticians think is related to the sampling properties of the jobs report and it’ll be reversed in the next month or two.

The audio version of this story was produced by NPR’s Christina Cala and edited by NPR’s Selena Simmons-Duffin. NPR’s Wynne Davis adapted it for Web.

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Rescuers In Taiwan Brave The Big Quake's Trembling Aftermath

A residential building leans on its collapsed first floor Wednesday, just a day after an earthquake in Hualien, Taiwan.

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It had been just about 24 hours since a magnitude 6.4 earthquake rattled Taiwan’s east coast, crumbling walls and knocking tall buildings askew, when rescue workers felt another big rumble late Wednesday. A temblor — this time magnitude 5.7 — had just struck again near the city of Hualien.

Still, even amid dust and heavy rain and shattered glass, the scale of the devastation was becoming clear as night settled in: At least eight people have died, more than 250 are injured and more than 60 remain missing, according to Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency.

“This is the worst earthquake in the history of Hualien, or at least over the past 40 years that I’ve been alive,” volunteer rescue worker Yang Hsi Hua told Reuters outside the Marshal Hotel, one of the buildings worst hit by the quake.

“We’ve never had anything like this, we’ve never had a building topple over. Also, it was constantly shaking, so everyone was really scared, we ran to empty open spaces to avoid it.”

Another center of rescuers’ focus Wednesday was a residential building where certain parts of the lower floors collapsed, causing the 12-story structure to lean at an unsettling 40-degree angle.

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The Associated Press reports scores of rescue workers had gathered around the building, using cranes, excavators, ladders and their bare hands to scrape away the concrete for presumed trapped survivors.

Rescue workers search for survivors in a damaged building on Wednesday, bracing themselves for the aftershocks that continued to rattle Taiwan after the deadly earthquake.

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“I saw the first floor sink into the ground. Then it sunk and tilted further and the fourth floor became the first floor,” one local resident, who was nearby when the main earthquake struck overnight Tuesday, told Agence France-Presse.

“My family were unhurt, but a neighbour was injured in their head and is bleeding. We dare not go back home now. There are many aftershocks and we are worried the home is damaged.”

An octogenarian resident was inside his apartment at the time of the quake.

“Everything fell down,” he told AFP. “My bed was completely vertical, I was sleeping and suddenly I was standing.”

He was rescued from the building, as were many others. At the start of the day, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted that 145 people were unaccounted for; by nightfall, CNA reported that number had fallen to 66.

Taiwan is “grateful to the many offers of assistance & support coming from around the world,” Tsai, who was in the city Wednesday to view the damage, said toward the end of the day on Twitter. “Although relief efforts in #Hualien are sufficient, your warmth & kindness have been felt by people of Taiwan.”

At the same time, concern remains that further danger awaits the city of 100,000 in the days to come. In fact, a 6.1 magnitude quake hit roughly the same region just northeast of the island on Sunday, and more than a dozen tremors cresting a magnitude of 4.5 have shaken the city since Tuesday’s earthquake.

A rescue worker stands beside a wrecked, leaning building in Hualien, Taiwan, where a strong overnight earthquake leveled structures and left many survivors trapped in precarious positions.

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The government is expecting more aftershocks in the next two weeks.

“Since the aftershocks are frequent, we urge all our compatriots … to remain vigilant and always pay attention to the correct message from the government,” President Tsai said in a Facebook post. “This is when the Taiwanese people show their calmness, resilience and love. The government will work with everyone to guard their homeland.”

“Keep hope,” she added in another post, “never give up, cheer for Hualien.”

NPR’s Wanyu Zhang contributed to this report.

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Why Civilians Are Being Targeted In Syria Airstrikes

A volunteer rescue team attempts to put out a fire in the Syrian city of Maaret al-Numan, in the rebel-held province of Idlib, on Wednesday, following airstrikes reported by a U.K.-based monitoring group.

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Residents in parts of Syria have been experiencing some of the most terrifying days of their seven-year-long war.

This week, the Syrian government and its Russian ally pummeled towns and villages in the opposition-held northern Syrian province of Idlib with air attacks. A relentless series of payloads were dropped in the space of just a few hours in the darkness of Sunday night.

The dead are still being counted. Local residents say dozens of people are missing under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Airstrikes on Eastern Ghouta, the besieged rebel-held suburbs outside Damascus, are ongoing. More than 100 people have been killed in the last 48 hours alone, according to residents and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

This is not just the unfortunate collateral damage of war, say analysts — but a sign that civilians themselves are the targets.

“It’s clear these attacks are part of a systematic strategy in order to basically punish civilians,” said Haid Haid, an analyst with the British think tank Chatham House.

Hassan Hassan, a Syria analyst and author, agreed that civilians are the focus of these attacks. “Most of the airstrikes have not hit front lines,” he said.

Instead, the air campaign appears focused on residential buildings and hospitals.

On Monday, Raed Fares, an activist in Kafranbel, an opposition-held town about 8 miles from the nearest front line in Idlib province, said he woke up to bombing raids on the local hospital.

“In the early morning, they attacked the hospital here four times. It’s very close to my house and it was so horrible to wake up to this sound,” he says. “Everything was shaking.”

Fares shared photographs on his Facebook page of the hospital building, with its roof caved in, and of an ambulance destroyed by shrapnel.

Raed Fares, an activist in Kafranbel, Syria, posted these images to Facebook of scenes he said he woke to Monday after airstrikes hit a local hospital.


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This was the second hospital reported hit in 48 hours. Residents of Maaret al-Numan, another town in Idlib province, shared videos of premature babies struggling for breath after they had to be ripped out of incubators to be rescued from a hospital damaged by a plane’s payload.

Russian warplane down

There have also been reports of chlorine gas attacks. Doctors in the town of Saraqeb, in Idlib, reported treating 11 patients who suffered from the suffocating symptoms of the chemical weapon.

These attacks have been interpreted partly as a response to the rebel downing of a Russian Su-25 plane Saturday near Saraqeb. The Russian pilot ejected from the plane and was shot dead by militants, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the attacks “precision strikes,” according to Russia’s TASS news agency, and said they were “provoked by the tragic event when terrorists shot down our plane.”

But analysts also see these attacks as an attempt to punish opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, by targeting towns and villages in Syria that are sympathetic to the opposition.

Last month, the Syrian opposition decided to boycott peace talks hosted by Russia in the Black Sea city of Sochi.

Hassan, the Syrian analyst, said the boycott was a major blow for the Russians.

“Sochi was envisioned by Russia to be a milestone, at least as a public relations stunt, to say, ‘Not only did we defeat ISIS,’ as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin announced inside Syria at the Hmeimim air base, but also, ‘we have managed to steer the politics in Syria as well,'” he said.

With these air attacks, Hassan added, Russia may be “trying to show [the opposition] that ‘this is the result of not bowing to our demands.'”

The Syrian regime and its Russian ally have repeatedly said they are targeting Islamist extremists and al-Qaida. But, Hassan said, this spate of bombardments has focused on towns in Idlib whose populations have rejected the more militant groups and have shown allegiance to the moderate anti-government opposition.

Take Kafranbel, the home town of the activist Fares. It has repeatedly rejected al-Qaida’s rule.

“Kafranbal is the civil face of the revolution and it’s democratic,” Fares said. “Russia and the Syrian regime want to paint all of Idlib as being the black of extremists,” he added, referring to the black flags used by groups like Islamic State. “But Kafranbel is green and civil,” he said, referring to a color on the Syrian opposition flag.

Hassan emphasized the potential for symbolism in recent airstrikes: “If Russia wants to strike against the Syrian opposition and show them the costs of not playing along,” he said, “it makes sense because in striking these areas, they strike the symbols of the Syrian revolution.”

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Coffee Or Tea: In Dickens' World, It Might Be A Choice Between Good And Evil

At Mr. John Chivery’s Tea-table. An illustration from Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, originally published in serial form between 1855 and 1857.

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The eccentric, angelic, villainous and beguiling characters populating the teeming novels of Charles Dickens — whose birthday is today — are constantly inviting one another to tea. Not all of them, however, drink tea. Some prefer coffee.

A harmless preference, you might say.

Not so fast, says British food historian Pen Vogler, who has a whimsical but rather wonderful theory to offer about the Victorian author’s various characters’ moral fiber based on who drinks what beverage. According to her, the good guys prefer tea while the dodgier ones plot and scheme over coffee.

In Dinner with Dickens, her elegantly produced new book, Vogler combines her twin passions for English food and Charles Dickens to recreate 60 Victorian dishes that feature either in his novels or his life. The recipes — updated for the modern cook — cover everything from the pork pie Pip stole for the convict Magwitch in Great Expectations to the roast goose and plum pudding from A Christmas Carol to the fragrant bowl of punch that helped dissolve Mr. Micawber’s insolvency blues in David Copperfield.

The recipes are accompanied by literary essays on how Dickens — who experienced hunger and poverty when he was sent to work in at a shoe-blacking factory at the age of 12 — used food not just for sensory and dramatic effect, but to provide crucial insights into individual character and expose social hypocrisy. One scathing example of the latter can be found in Bleak House, where Jo, the wretched orphan boy who sweeps London’s streets, munches on a “dirty bit of bread” while sitting on the doorstep of the grandiosely named Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

While investigating this fascinating Dickensian nexus between food and morality, Vogler come up with her tea-good-coffee-bad theory.

“This is an observation rather than a rule,” she laughs, “and there are lots of counter examples. And, as with anything in Dickens, it is the circumstance rather than the comestible that is most telling. Tea is often (though not always) part of a comfortable and feminine ritual; coffee-drinking was seen as more vigorous and powerful, thanks perhaps to its caffeine boost, but also to its association with the [19th-century] coffee houses where men gathered to talk politics.”

In Dinner with Dickens, British food historian Pen Vogler combines her twin passions for English food and Charles Dickens to recreate 60 Victorian dishes that feature either in his novels or his life.

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Courtesy of CICO Books

Perhaps the most notorious coffee-drinker Dickens created is the fraudulent “telescopic philanthropist” Mrs. Jellyby from Bleak House. Utterly immune to the plight of her own children (who are constantly falling down the stairs) or to the travails of sweepers like Jo, she spends all her time drinking strong coffee and supposedly promoting the welfare of Africans in a fictitious realm called Borrioboola-Gha. “She neglects her feminine role as mother and wife, whilst she writes coffee-fueled letters long into the night, to promote her coffee-growing charity,” says Vogler. “It is funny, but, as with all Dickens’ bad mothers, it has a chilling ring of his own unhappy experience. He could never forgive his mother for wanting him to continue to work at the blacking factory, rather than go to school, even after his father was released from debtors’ prison.”

Coffee also brings to mind the cloying and sinister passage from David Copperfield featuring the smarmy Uriah Heep. “It’s a brilliantly excruciating scene,” says Vogler. “David invites Uriah Heep for coffee, intending a rather manly encounter, which Uriah Heep infuriatingly and skillfully subverts at every turn. His boastful glee that David is serving him turns David’s hospitable gesture into something servile and emasculating. Heep keeps nursing his coffee cup in his fingers, which repels David, and then asks ‘ever so umbly’ for further servitude with another cup of coffee.”

In A Tale of Two Cities, set amidst the bloodletting of the French Revolution, Vogler points to the “chilling scene in which the Marquis genteelly sips coffee whilst he is having a conversation, toxic with veiled threats, with his nephew.” With his “face of a transparent paleness” and “very slightly pinched” nostrils, the Marquis is a study in sadistic cruelty.

Lower down in the caffeinated rogues’ gallery is the shameless sponge and layabout Harold Skimpole, also from Bleak House, who is perfectly content with the best things in life as long as someone else is paying for them. As he airily declares, “Give me my peach, my cup of coffee, and my claret; I am content.”

As for the warmhearted and virtuous tea drinkers, what more affecting example than the scene from The Old Curiosity Shop, where the starved and ill-treated little maidservant called the Marchioness — one of Dickens’ most sentimental portraitsnurses the good-natured Dick Swiveller back from the brink. “She kisses his hands and administers tea and toast to him for breakfast; a mirror of the scene in which Dick first takes pity on the girl and buys her beef and beer,” says Vogler. “They are an odd couple, who somehow offer one another nourishment and love which draws on maternal, paternal and romantic love but doesn’t fit into any category.”

Equally beloved is Pip’s rustic blacksmith uncle, Joe Gargery, from Great Expectations. “As truly humble and good as Uriah Heep is not, Joe is a natural tea-drinker,” says Vogler. “Great Expectations is the Dickens’ novel most concerned with social class and its non-alignment with natural goodness; and the two come together uncomfortably in a scene when Joe is visiting the upwardly mobile Pip in London, who is — disgracefully — somewhat ashamed of Joe. When Pip’s friend, Herbert, asks him whether he will take tea or coffee, he’s too embarrassed to choose but gives himself away when Herbert chooses the more sophisticated coffee for him:

“Since you are so kind as make chice of coffee, I will not run contrairy to your own opinions. But don’t you never find it a little ‘eating?

‘Say tea then,’ said Herbert, pouring it out.”

Vogler cautions that her observation is hardly a cast-iron one. “You will surely find many counter-examples! I’m not pretending tea is a universal signal of virtue,” she says. “For instance, in The Old Curiosity Shop, the villainous dwarf Quilp deliberately swigs his tea boiling hot to terrify his wife and mother-in-law.” Even more revolting is his habit of eating hard-boiled eggs with their shells on — a detail that evokes the depths of his hideosity like no other.

On balance, most of Dickens’ characters drink tea. “It is a regular and welcome punctuation for their daily lives, which suggests that it was in his, too,” says Vogler. “After tea taxation was slashed in 1784, tea consumption soared and it rapidly became a prop for all classes. For Dickens’ working-class characters, tea is a ‘warm and greasy’ and comfortable meal, whereas coffee had suggestions of refinement and cruelty.”

Or maybe the word coffee triggered a discomfiting memory for Dickens from that miserable year at the blacking factory. He described to his friend and first biographer, John Forster, how, while at a local coffee shop to have “half a pint of coffee, and a slice of bread-and-butter,” he experienced something that shook him deeply:

In the door there was an oval glass plate, with COFFEE-ROOM painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is such an inscription on glass, and read it backward on the wrong side MOOR-EEFFOC (as I often used to do then, in a dismal reverie,) a shock goes through my blood.

The shock of reading COFFEE-ROOM backwards left the already vulnerable boy feeling even more lonely, making the otherwise familiar surroundings of the London street seem strange and nonsensical. Perhaps Dicken’s subconscious hostility to coffee — if indeed he had one — was rooted in the shudder evoked by that one weird and meaningless word, MOOR-EEFFOC. A word almost as mysterious as “covfefe.

Nina Martyrisis a journalist based in Knoxville, Tenn.

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From The Archives: The Clash Talks 'Sandinista!'

The Clash’s 1980 album Sandinista! is perhaps the most politically charged in the band’s discography.

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Feb. 7, 2018 marks the fifth anniversary of International Clash Day. What started off as a tribute to The Clash‘s catalog for a few hours in 2013 by KEXP‘s John Richards has grown into something of an international affair. San Francisco, Austin, Texas and Washington D.C. recognize the day and beyond the U.S., radio stations in Ireland, Serbia, Australia, Poland, China and more celebrate with hours of programming dedicated to the punk forebears. There are even official proclamations.

At NPR, we figured we should join in the celebration of The Clash’s revolutionary verve by digging up this 1981 interview with band members Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon on All Things Considered. NPR’s Bob Wisdom sat down with Strummer and Simonon following the release of the 1980 album, Sandinista!, arguably the most politically incandescent statement in the band’s discography.

On Sandinista!, the rights The Clash demanded for working-class Londoners on 1979’s London Calling foment into global unrest. The narratives that unfolded in London Calling capture the urban discontent of the city’s citizenry. But on Sandinista!, it seems The Clash did not want to take over the world beyond London, but rather serve as the spokespeople for a global body politic connected through various axes of oppression. Sandinista!’s namesake is, after all, the controversial left-wing party in Nicaragua that led the revolution to overthrow a decades-old regime months after London Calling was released.

It’s only fitting that on this International Clash Day Strummer and Simonon themselves tell the tale of why the band’s punk politics are so essential.

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Watch Mt. Joy's In-Studio Performance of 'Silver Lining'

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The Los Angeles-via-Philadelphia rockers and NPR Slingshot artists Mt. Joy recently packed into the World Cafe Studios for an upcoming session. Formed by just-outside-of-Philly natives Matt Quinn and Sam Cooper, the band signed with Dualtone Music Group and are set to release their self-titled debut LP on March 2.

Last month, we premiered “Jenny Jenkins” and now we give a sneak preview of their session with an in-studio performance of “Silver Lining,” recorded in the Cafe Studios at WXPN.

“Silver Lining” is a ridiculously catchy song about a very serious topic: the drug epidemic in America, particularly how drugs took a toll on people that Matt knew. Quinn calls it a deeply personal song with an important universal message. Despite it’s subject matter, “Silver Lining” has undeniably uplifting emotional pull. Watch the in-studio performance above.

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Pence Starts Asia Trip Amid Signs Of Strain With South Korea

Vice President Mike Pence is greeted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Wednesday.

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As Vice President Pence began his two-stop Asia trip on Wednesday, he highlighted America’s ties with longtime U.S. allies in the region, Japan and South Korea.

“I look forward to reinforcing the important priority that President Trump and the United States places on the relationships with these two nations,” Pence said during a refueling stop on his way to Japan.

Both Japan and South Korea are considered cornerstones of U.S. security and economic relationships in Asia. But the relationship with one is going more smoothly than the other.

The U.S. and Japan both favor hard-line policies toward the North Korean regime in Pyongyang. On Wednesday, Pence announced the U.S. would again ramp up economic sanctions aimed at starving the regime of resources. On this approach, the U.S. and Japan have stayed in lockstep.

“It’s all about pressure, it’s all about military might. Strong posture, and very negative about dialogue,” says Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Tokyo’s Sophia University.

But South Korea, the other longtime U.S. partner, favors dialogue. It has engaged with North Korea frequently this year in an effort to reach peaceful resolution of the nuclear and missile problems on the Korean Peninsula.

“South Koreans are feeling increasingly that U.S. and Japan are being unrealistic in just sort of choosing the hard line vis-a-vis North Korea,” Nakano says.

Significant differences are emerging between Washington and Seoul, according to David Straub, a Northeast Asia specialist and 30-year veteran of the State Department. And that will have consequences, he says.

“Under the best of circumstances, it’s going to be incredibly hard to get North Korea to get rid of nuclear weapons, short of the use of military force. So we need everybody working together. And currently the U.S. and South Korea are not working together,” Straub says.

Signs of strain are particularly evident as South Korea pushes ahead with the 2018 Winter Games — it wants to call them the “Peace Olympics” — which start Friday. Even as the two Koreas make shows of unity, the U.S. vice president is sharpening his rhetoric against the North.

“We’ll be there to cheer on our American athletes, but we’ll also be there to stand with our allies and remind the world that North Korea is the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet,” Pence said.

Nakano says this kind of tension among U.S. allies accrues to Pyongyang’s benefit.

“North Korea has always been good at dividing and conquering and making advances. What North Korea would not want to have is a united front against it,” he says.

Pence said in Tokyo that the three allies still stand shoulder to shoulder. But in practice, there’s distance. South Korea and Japan are still working on unresolved issues dating back to the beginning of the last century. All the while, the three countries must together confront a North Korea problem that Straub says really hasn’t changed.

“The two Koreas have not made any real progress yet,” Straub says. “This is simply a matter of allowing the North Koreans to participate in an Olympics in which they’ve basically not qualified.”

He says the real test will come later, after the Olympic Games are over. That’s when the U.S. and South Korea are expected to start up joint military exercises again. North Korea calls these war games “provocations.”

South Korea concedes that its relationship with the North so far is fragile. So keeping the peace after the Olympics will require careful coordination.

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