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Elon Musk: smasher of elites or self-serving pragmatist?

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Elon Musk, pictured at SpaceX's Starbase facility in Texas in February 2022, is often seen as a libertarian
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He has scorned organized labor, mocked political correctness and espoused small government — so conservatives may be disappointed that he wants to pull out of his deal to buy Twitter.

Yet smoking marijuana during interviews, courting Hollywood with movie cameos and musing about nuking Mars make him an improbable talisman for political traditionalists.

In polarized America, the 51-year-old triple divorcee’s opposition to Covid-19 restrictions is often taken to demonstrate Republican sympathies, although his disdain for draconian immigration control suggests the opposite.

The world’s richest man has berated President Joe Biden for proposing a tax credit for electric cars produced by unionized workers. He has even called for an end to all US federal subsidies.

Yet he has aggressively pursued government support himself, taking billions in handouts for his own companies.

James Hickman, founder of the libertarian-leaning Sovereign Man newsletter, sees Musk as a check on the “tyranny of the minority” — a supposed cabal of elites in tech, media and academia who make decisions for the rest of us and “consistently get it wrong.”

“What makes someone a true libertarian is an outright rejection of labels and being completely independent in one’s thinking,” Hickman told AFP.

“Musk clearly qualifies in this regard.”

Other analysts have suggested that, as inconsistent as his political philosophy appears, Musk rarely diverges from his business interests.

Meanwhile his political donations don’t cleave to one party or point of view either.

A self-styled “moderate” independent — although he has described himself as a “socialist” too — Musk ostentatiously moved to deeply conservative Texas from ultra-liberal California in 2020.

He has given donations to the governors of both states, despite criticizing Texas anti-abortion laws and a “complacent” business environment in California.

– Free speech, or not? –

Other donations have gone to Democratic grandees Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, right-wing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Republican Party itself. 

He is also not averse to lashing out on social media at Washington establishment figures, from one-time presidential nominee Elizabeth Warren (“Senator Karen”) to Biden himself.

And then there’s the issue of free speech, which he has called “the bedrock of a functioning democracy.”

Musk has complained that Twitter is too censorious, simultaneously illustrating and undermining his point in a tweet depicting the company’s CEO Parag Agrawal as brutal Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Critics say his passion for unfettered conversation has often appeared less profound when his own interests are at stake.  

Some media outlets have raised questions over Musk’s reaction to journalists writing stories critical of Tesla.

Accused of unleashing his army of supporters on individual reporters, he once mulled creating a website for the profession as a whole called Pravda — presumably a tribute to the Soviet propaganda outlet.

“Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication,” he tweeted in 2018. Nothing came of it.

– ‘Pragmatic’ and ‘self-interested’ –

Former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer Judd Legum has pointed to a tweet — also 2018 — in which Musk appeared to threaten to rescind employee stock options at Tesla if workers decided to join a union.

Critics say there is a pattern of suppressing less powerful voices that has also included forcing workers to sign restrictive non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

A Tesla NDA reportedly warned employees that “they were not allowed to speak with media without explicit written permission” — but the company neglected to add that labor laws protected them from reprisals when discussing work conditions.

Baruch Labunski, an internet marketing expert and web consultancy CEO, says that, amid much “contradictory evidence,” it’s safest to describe Musk’s politics as “pragmatic.”

“He is frequently characterized as a libertarian but that designation doesn’t accurately describe the man whose businesses have benefited from government tax breaks and business subsidies,” Labunski told AFP.

Musk is a “fundamentally self-interested” celebrity, says Labunski.

“Musk gets to play in and around politics because he’s rich and he’s outspoken.”

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US regulators clear Boeing to resume 787 deliveries

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The FAA has approved changes Boeing made to production of its 787 Dreamliner which will allow deliveries to resume
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After more than a year, aviation giant Boeing will be allowed to resume deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner aircraft “in the coming days,” after the company made changes to its manufacturing process, US air safety regulators announced Monday.

Deliveries of the top-selling widebody plane have been halted since spring 2021, so the news will be welcomed by US airlines and travelers who have suffered from massive delays and canceled flights in recent weeks, partly due to the shortage of aircraft.

“Boeing has made the necessary changes to ensure that the 787 Dreamliner meets all certification standards,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

The plane’s travails date to late summer 2020, when the company uncovered manufacturing flaws with some jets. Boeing subsequently identified additional issues, including with the horizontal stabilizer.

The difficulties curtailed deliveries between November 2020 and March 2021. Boeing suspended deliveries later in spring 2021 after more problems surfaced.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen met with safety inspectors in South Carolina last week to confirm they were satisfied with the company’s improvements, which were made to ensure they comply with standards and to identify potential risks after defects were uncovered on the plane.

“The FAA will inspect each aircraft before an airworthiness certificate is issued and cleared for delivery,” the statement said. “We expect deliveries to resume in the coming days.”

– Cleared for takeoff –

A company spokesman told AFP that Boeing will “continue to work transparently with the FAA and our customers toward resuming 787 deliveries,” but did not confirm the firm had received final FAA approval.

During a July 27 earnings conference call, Chief Executive Dave Calhoun described the company was “on the verge” of garnering approval, though he declined to give a precise target date.

At the end of June, Boeing had 120 Dreamliner planes in inventory and was producing the jet “at very low rates,” the company said in a filing.

The company’s stock price gained ground on the news, closing 0.5 percent higher.

Inability to deliver the Dreamliner has dragged down Boeing’s profits, which plunged 67 percent in the second quarter. And the manufacturing changes have led to billions in additional costs for the company.

The firm has delivered just over 1,000 of the planes since it was first introduced in 2004.

The enhanced regulatory scrutiny of the 787 and other Boeing planes comes on the heels of a pair of crashes in 2018 and 2019 on the 737 MAX, which led to aircraft being banned from the skies globally for more than a year.

But the MAX has since returned to service, enabling Boeing to ramp up production of the planes, collect meaningful revenues and announce significant new orders at the Farnborough Airshow earlier this month.

Even so, Boeing’s backlog of orders in the pipeline lags behind that of archrival Airbus.

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No recession in Switzerland this year: chief economist

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The Swiss economy is 'doing well' despite the impact of the war in Ukraine on energy prices, the country's chief economist said
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Switzerland does not expect to dip into recession this year despite the threat of an energy supply squeeze, the government’s chief economist said Sunday.

The Swiss economy is “doing well” despite the impact of the war in Ukraine on energy prices, Eric Scheidegger told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

He said it was down to companies to steel themselves for the possibility of power shortages in the winter months.

“We may have to revise our economic forecast downwards for next year. The revised forecast will be published on September 20. However, we do not expect a recession for this year,” Scheidegger said.

“We run the risk of an energy supply bottleneck in winter. If there are persistent production interruptions in the EU and we ourselves have a gas shortage, it becomes problematic.

“In our negative scenario, we expect zero growth for 2023 instead of growth of almost two percent.”

Despite the threat of power shortages and the effects of the war in Ukraine, Scheidegger does not see a serious economic crisis heading towards Switzerland.

“At present, the economy is still doing well. Current indicators show that the economy in this country also developed well in the second quarter — after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine,” he said.

“Economic support measures such as general perks or tax relief are currently therefore neither necessary nor helpful,” he added.

– ‘Foreseeable events’ –

Scheidegger said the Swiss economy was less susceptible to high energy prices than other European countries as gas accounted for only five percent of its total energy consumption.

He said the government would discuss possible measures to curb high energy prices in the coming weeks, which could involve reducing health insurance premiums for low-income households.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs official said the help for businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic could not become the norm during economic downturns.

“It’s been known since spring that there can be a power shortage in winter. Companies have time to prepare for this,” he said.

“Companies can, and must, take this operational risk into account… it is up to companies to prepare for foreseeable events.”

As for inflation, he said Switzerland was “an island of bliss” compared to the United States, and inflation was likely to fall before the end of the year.

“At 3.4 percent, inflation is much lower here than in other countries.  Core inflation — inflation excluding fresh food, energy and fuel — is at two percent,” he said.

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Markets struggle as strong US jobs boost Fed rate hike bets

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Attention turns to US inflation data this week after a forecast-beating jobs report put fresh pressure on the Federal Reserve to continue with its aggressive pace of interest rate hikes
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Asian markets struggled Monday and the dollar held big gains as a blockbuster US jobs report ramped up bets that the Federal Reserve will announce more sharp interest rate hikes as it tries to tame runaway inflation.

While the employment reading — which was more than twice as high as expected — indicated the world’s top economy remained resilient despite rising prices and borrowing costs, it will complicate the bank’s plans to tighten monetary policy.

Traders have hoped that with several indicators pointing to a slowdown, including GDP figures showing a technical recession, policymakers could begin to ease back on their pace of rate hikes.

Now, speculation is growing that the Fed will have to announce a third successive 75 basis-point increase next month, particularly as officials have said their decisions will be data-dependent.

“Friday’s payroll report indicates an overheated labour market that continues to tighten further,” said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes.

“Hence at minimum, the markets expect another 100 basis points of Fed funds rate increases over the next three meetings… with risks skewed towards significant increases.”

All eyes are now on the release this week of US July inflation data, which is expected to show a slight slowdown from June but still at four-decade highs.

The “report seems very unlikely to offer ‘compelling evidence’ of a slowdown needed for the Fed to pull away from its aggressive inflation-fighting mode.” Innes added.

The jobs figures left Wall Street’s main indexes mixed Friday, and Asia followed suit with markets fluctuating in early trade.

However, there was some relief that tensions had calmed since Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week sparked a furious reaction from China that saw it conduct days of live-fire military drills around the island.

Hong Kong dipped along with Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Manila, Jakarta and Wellington.

Tokyo edged up and Shanghai was flat, with better-than-expected Chinese trade data offset by fresh worries about Covid lockdowns in the country that threaten the economic recovery.

The prospect of higher interest rates sent the dollar surging, and it held on to those gains in Asia.

Bets on a recession across leading economies continued to weigh on oil prices as investors worry about the impact on demand — figures last week indicated Americans were driving less now than in summer 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

A rise in US stockpiles was partly responsible for a 10 percent drop in the commodity last week, pushing WTI below $90 for the first time since February.

Both main contracts have lost all the gains seen in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which led the United States and Europe to ban imports of Russian crude, hammering already thin supplies.

– Key figures at around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.2 percent at 28,241.09 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.6 percent at 20,072.68

Shanghai – Composite: FLAT at 3,227.00

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0181 from $1.0184 Friday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2071 from $1.2075

Euro/pound: UP at 84.35 pence from 84.32 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 135.32 yen from 135.00 yen

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.2 percent at $88.87 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.3 percent at $94.68 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.2 percent at 32,803.47 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 percent at 7,439.74 (close)

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