Morning Briefing

Big Oil in the White House

Donald Trump is rounding out his White House cabinet of the rich and famous: The latest addition, next to Big Money, will likely be Big Oil. It’s expected Trump will soon name Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, as U.S. secretary of state. The oil executive is well-traveled and has extensive experience cutting deals with authoritarian rulers in places like Russia and Saudi Arabia. Trump evidently thinks that can’t be all bad, and has given the 64-year-old industrialist a new career just before he hit Exxon Mobil’s mandatory retirement age.

Trump revisited: The president-elect only wants to read secret U.S. intelligence briefings once a week, not each day like his predecessors. Why? He says his own intelligence is better. He seems to subscribe to Mark Twain’s dictum: “The only thing one needs in life is ignorance and self-confidence.’’ In an interview Sunday in The Washington Post, Trump called “ridiculous’’ a new U.S. intelligence finding that Russian spies had hacked into Democratic and Republican emails but only leaked damaging information about Hillary Clinton to help swing the election to Trump.

Changes of government are as much a part of Italy as the leaning tower of Pisa. But the blitz-appointment of former foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni as successor to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi beat all records. The reason for the hurry is Italy has to save the oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, with a €5 billion capital increase by year’s end or risk chaos. Under euro-zone rules, the bank’s shareholders and debt holders are supposed to participate in the emergency sale of new shares, to help shoulder the load. But that remains to be seen, as our cover story today reveals.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan will soon be able to draw on even more executive powers, solidifying his choke-hold on Turkey. As if the failed putsch a few months ago wasn’t reason enough, this weekend’s terror attack by an offshoot of the Kurdish PKK workers’ party that killed 38 people in Istanbul gave him new reason to put the hammer down. Erdogan’s government has been brutally cracking down in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, where he’s replaced democratically elected mayors with his own lackeys. Violence breeds violence, which breeds more violence.

As head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde is one of the most powerful women in Europe. But today, she will appear in a Paris court like any other French citizen. In 2007, as France’s economics minister, she is accused of using her influence to help investor Bernard Tapie obtain €400 million in state funds stemming from his sale of a stake in Adidas to Credit Lyonnais. The case is old and devilishly complex – and yet poses a real danger to Lagarde, who denies helping Tapie.

The head of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, Horst Seehofer, expects Germany’s left-wing labor minister to be the Social Democratic Party’s chancellor candidate in 2021. Andrea Nahles is doing a good job and hasn’t peaked yet, Seehofer cooed. Nahles, no political lightweight herself, showed she’s ready for a fight. Over the weekend, she said of Angela Merkel: “I smell her vulnerability.’’

Germany’s film industry is getting Oscar fever. “Toni Erdmann,’’ a comedy about a corporate business consultant (Sandra Hüller) who locks horns in Bucharest with her aging hippy father, cleaned up this weekend at the European Film Prize competition, taking top picture and four other honors. If it does get a Best Foreign Picture Oscar nomination and ends up taking the big prize, it would be the first German production to do so since 2006’s “The Lives of Others.’’


Picture of the Week

Sculpture made by participants of the International Festival of Ice Sculpture in the Old Town Square in Poznan, Poland. Source: EPA
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