The investigation into the crash of the MH17 Malaysia Airlines plane in East Ukraine was always compromised, right from the start. The crash on July 17 2014 came shortly after the “Euromaidan revolution” in Kiev – which first began in November 2013 and culminated in the ousting of elected president Yanukovich on 23 February 2014, happily helped along by John McCain, Victoria Nuland and then-US ambassador to Ukraine (now ambassador to Greece) Geoffrey Pyatt for the USA, as well as various EU actors.
Russia reacted by “annexing” Crimea – a large majority of whose people had voted for Yanukovich, thereby safeguarding its access to its only warm water port. Not a shot was fired there, but it was very different in East Ukraine (Donbass), where people -of Russian origin- also didn’t want to be subjected to a new regime under Nuland’s puppet Yatsenyuk -and later Poroshenko. They started a civil war which continues to this day.
It was in that heated political climate that the MH17 came down, killing all its 298 passengers, 196 of whom had the Dutch nationality. 3 weeks later, on August 8, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed, which was to be led by Holland, and to also include representatives from Australia, Belgium and Ukraine. Which is odd, since at that time, Ukraine certainly was a potential perpetrator of the downing.
Malaysia joined only in December, allegedly because only then did it finally agree to allow Ukraine, a nation that was a suspect, a veto over any conclusions that the team would publish. Malaysia had already been handed the black boxes by pro-Russian rebels in the area, and passed them on to the team in August. Summarized, the way the JIT was formed was highly curious. The countries even signed a secret agreement.
Immediately after the crash, people like then-US VP Joe Biden, as well as Frans Timmermans, then-Dutch Foreign Minister and today candidate for the EU top job, pointed the finger at Russia as the party responsible for shooting down the plane. Also curious, since there had been no investigation and the plane crashed in a civil war zone where access was almost impossible. There was talk at the time of the US having satellite images, but none have ever been produced.
In that atmosphere, the JIT yesterday, June 19 2019, held another press conference, in which it accused four men, three from Russia and one from Ukraine, of being “involved” in shooting down the plane. But again, almost 5 years after the incident, the team produced no evidence for its accusations, saying it will only be presented 9 months from now when a trial will start in the Netherlands.
It also again accused Russia of refusing to cooperate, though Russia has offered its help ever since the MH17 came down. It’s just not the help the people want who have accused the Russians since before there was any hint of evidence it was involved. And there still is no evidence. Russia has filed long and detailed reports on the incident despite being ignored, but these reports have been … ignored.
The trial will take place starting March 9 2020 without the accused, since Russia doesn’t extradite its citizens, and neither does Ukraine. Moreover, the one Ukrainian who is accused is thought to be in the Donbass, where the government has no access.
So this will be a show trial. And one must wonder why it is staged. What’s the use of a trial where defendants don’t defend themselves? Sure, the official line is they would love to have the men provide a defense, but that smells a bit too much like what has happened to Julian Assange. What are the odds of a fair trial when so many conclusions have been drawn at such early times?
There is not a soul in Europe west of the Russian border who doesn’t believe the Russians did it. The media take care of that. Nor is there in the US. But the Malaysian PM himself yesterday, again, said the team has proven nothing, and only provided hearsay. I kid you not, I read a piece on the BBC today that asked if the 93-year-old who lost 43 of his countrymen only said that because he wanted to sell palm oil to Russia.
And in the meantime, the evidence is not there, and won’t be for another 9 months, if ever, and the EU today added another year to its Russia sanctions over Crimea, and 4 men can deny their involvement all they want, but they can make their case only in March 2020, and only at a show trial, with international search warrants hanging over their heads.
The four men in question, by the way, are not accused of firing the BUK missile that supposedly downed the MH17. They are only accused of facilitating the transport of the missile and launcher from Russia to Ukraine -and back. The JIT Ukrainian team bases the entire story of that transport on serial numbers it says it has found.
On September 17 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defense in a YouTube response to a May 24 2018 JIT exhibition, said it had tracked down those serial numbers, 8868720, and 1318869032, and 9M38, and said both the launcher and missile corresponding to the numbers were purchased by Ukraine from Russia as far back as 1986, transferred there, and had never left the country since.
I get that information from a lengthy, deep-digging and highly recommended essay by Eric Zuesse, from December 2018, MH17 Turnabout: Ukraine’s Guilt Now Proven, which I’ve been reading the past few days, in which Eric says: “…if the JIT’s supplied evidence is authentic — which the Ukrainian team asserts it to be — then it outright convicts Ukraine. This is an evidentiary checkmate, against the Ukrainian side.”
Zuesse also details, in that article, contentions from multiple sources that, while the MH17 may have been hit with a BUK missile, it certainly wasn’t the only thing that hit it. There was at least one fighter jet seen close to the plane before it came down, as multiple eye-witness reports claim, and it is alleged that they fired on the cockpit for sure and perhaps other parts of the plane. It is an excellent article that is very well researched and chock-full of links to prove its points.
There are many things wrong with the MH17 investigation. Having the PM of one of your member investigative countries complain that after 5 years you produce only hearsay and no evidence may be the least of the worries. The Netherlands, as main victim, leading the investigation, is strange. How neutral could they be? Their Foreign Minister blamed Russia way before any investigating was done. And Holland was a main sponsor in the “Euromaidan revolution”, i.e. the ousting of an elected president.
Still, Ukraine’s position in all this must be the biggest warning sign. They stood a lot to gain from committing atrocities and then blaming Russia for them. Plus, Yatsenyuk and Nuland and the US and the EU were mightily angry that Russia had outsmarted them all over Crimea.
But instead of keeping Ukraine out of the investigation, they became a major contributor, and were even given veto rights on anything that came out of it, as far as we know the only party with such rights. If you present a crime novel or movie with ingredients like that, nobody would believe you. Such things don’t happen in real life.
President Donald Trump took aim at the military industrial complex in an interview with Fox News, saying that while he wants to bring troops home, “they never want to leave, they always want to fight.” The president was discussing Iran and how he prefers to solve tensions economically, but is up against people that would send “thousands of soldiers” into Syria if it was up to them. Hilton had asked the president if he could “reassure people you’re not looking for some kind of conflict in Iran?” His response was far different than his tough tweet about Iran on Sunday. “Well, I’m the one that talks about these wars that are 19 years (long), and people are just there. And don’t kid yourself, you do have a military industrial complex. They do like war,” Trump said in his interview with Fox News’s Steve Hilton.
“You know, In Syria with the caliphate, so I wipe out 100% of the caliphate that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have these crazy people going around, blowing up stores and blowing up things, these are seriously ill people…But I wiped out 100 percent of the caliphate,” Trump continued. “I said, I want to bring our troops back home — the place went crazy. They want to keep– you have people here in Washington, they never want to leave. I said, you know what I’ll do, I’ll leave a couple hundred soldiers behind, but if it was up to them they’d bring thousands of soldiers in.” Trump added, “someday people will explain it, but you do have a group, and they call it the military-industrial complex.” “They never want to leave, they always want to fight. No. I don’t want to fight, but you do have situations like Iran. You can’t let them have nuclear weapons. You just can’t let that happen,” Trump said.
Back in April of 2018, when the trade war with China was still in its early stages, we explained that among the five “nuclear” options Beijing has to retaliate against the US, one was the block of rare-earth exports to the US, potentially crippling countless US supply chains that rely on these rare commodities, and forcing painful and costly delays in US production as alternative supply pathways had to be implemented. As a result, for many months China watchers expected Beijing to respond to Trump’s tariff hikes by blocking the exports of one or more rare-earths, although fast forwarding one year later this still hasn’t happened. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, and overnight President Xi Jinping’s visit to a rare earths facility fueled speculation that the strategic materials will soon be weaponized in China’s tit-for-tat war [with] the US.
As Bloomberg reported overnight, shares in JL MAG Rare-Earth surged by the daily limit on Monday after Xinhua said the Chinese president had stopped by the company in Jiangxi, a scripted move designed to telegraph what China could do next. The reason for the dramatic market response is that the presidential visit flags policy priorities, and “rare earths have featured in the escalating trade spat between the U.S. and China.” Specifically, as Bloomberg notes, China raised tariffs to 25% from 10% on American imports, while the U.S. excluded rare earths from its own list of prospective tariffs on roughly $300 billion worth of Chinese goods to be targeted in the next wave of measures. And just in case the White House missed the message, Xi was accompanied on the trip to JL MAG by Liu He, the vice premier who has led the Chinese side in the trade negotiations.
A US federal judge on Monday denied President Donald Trump’s efforts to quash a subpoena from Democratic lawmakers to release years of financial documents dating from before his time in the White House. The decision marked the first time that US courts have waded into the conflict pitting the president against the Democrats who, riding on their newfound majority in the House of Representatives, have opened a raft of probes into Trump. Trump, who says he is the victim of “harassment,” has refused to cooperate in the investigations focused on his tax returns, his finances or matters related to Russian efforts to tip the 2016 election in his favor. US District Judge Amit Mehta refused to block the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpoena for accounting firm Mazars USA pending litigation.
The lawmakers’ April 15 request for records dating back to 2011 followed testimony by Trump’s one-time lawyer Michael Cohen that his boss would often change the estimated value of his assets and liabilities on financial statements as he felt was needed for various purposes. On April 22, Trump and affiliated organizations and entities filed suit, requesting that the court declare the subpoena “invalid and unenforceable” as it questioned the legislative validity of the Democrats’ demands.] “So long as Congress investigates on a subject matter on which ‘legislation could be had,’ Congress acts as contemplated by Article I of the Constitution,” which guarantees the body its legislative powers, Mehta said. “Applying those principles here compels the conclusion that President Trump cannot block the subpoena to Mazars.”
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Monday dismissed comparisons between the rise of business debt to record levels in recent years and the conditions in U.S. mortgage markets that preceded the 2007-to-2009 economic crisis, but even so said caution was warranted. Comparisons to the years before the financial crisis are “not fully convincing” Powell said at an Atlanta Federal Reserve bank conference on financial markets, since the growth of debt seems in line with economic growth, debt service costs remain low, and the financial system is better positioned to absorb losses.
Despite that, he pointed to the lack of transparency about the funding sources and ultimate holders of corporate debt, and to risks that any economic downturn could worsen if indebted borrowers begin to fail as reasons for caution. “Business debt has clearly reached a level that should give businesses and investors reason to pause and reflect,” Powell said, with corporate borrowing at a record level of around 35 percent of corporate assets. Though growth in corporate debt has slowed lately, “another sharp increase…could increase vulnerabilities appreciably,” Powell said. That concern is another reason the Fed may be reluctant to cut interest rates, since lower borrowing costs could prompt firms to take on more debt.
The amazing thing with Deutsche Bank shares is this: Since 2007, so for 12 years, bottom fishers have been routinely taken out the back and shot, every time, with relentless regularity – as have big institutional investors, from Chinese conglomerates to state-owned wealth funds, that thought they were picking the bottom. A similar concept applies to European banks in general. May 2007 was the high point. And it has been brutal ever since – 12 years of misery. Deutsche Bank shares dropped another 2.9% on Monday in Frankfurt, and closed at a new historic low of €6.64 after hitting €6.61 intraday. This time, the blame was put on UBS analysts that finally stamped “sell” on the stock, replacing their “neutral” rating. Deutsche Bank’s market cap is now down to just €13.8 billion. Shares have plunged 39% over the past 12 months and 60% since January 2018 (data via Investing.com):
The bank has been subject to years of revelations of shenanigans that span the palette. Once a conservative bank that primarily served its German business clientele in Germany and overseas, it decided to turn itself into a Wall Street high-flyer that caused its shares to skyrocket until May 2007, when it got tangled up in the Financial Crisis that then led to a slew of apparently never-ending hair-raising revelations, settlements with regulators, and huge fines. Since their death-spiral began in May 2007, Deutsche Bank shares have lost over 94% of their value. The UBS downgrade to sell came just in the nick of time:
[..] the stocks of European banks, as depicted by the Stoxx 600 Banks index – which tracks 44 representative banks – dropped 1.6% on Monday to the lowest level since January 9, 2019, and has plunged 30% since the end of January 2018. But going back 12 years, the plunge takes on different dimensions and parallels that of Deutsche Bank, with the index down 74% since May 2007, just bumping along the bottom, from hopeless to hope and back to hopeless:
In Sweden, prosecutors have applied to the Swedish courts to issue a warrant for Julian’s arrest. There is a tremendous back story to that simple statement. The European Arrest Warrant must be issued from one country to another by a judicial authority. The original Swedish request for Assange’s extradition was not issued by any court, but simply by the prosecutor. This was particularly strange, as the Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm had initially closed the case after deciding there was no case to answer, and then another, highly politically motivated, prosecutor had reopened the case and issued a European Arrest Warrant, without going to any judge for confirmation. [..] immediately after Assange lost his case against the warrant in the Supreme Court, the British government changed the law to specify that future warrants must be from a judge and not a prosecutor.
[..] The judgement against Assange in the UK Supreme Court on the point of whether the Swedish Prosecutor constituted a “judicial authority” hinged on a completely unprecedented and frankly incredible piece of reasoning. Lord Phillips concluded that in the English text of the EWA treaty “judicial authority” could not include the Swedish prosecutor, but that in the French version “autorite judiciaire” could include the Swedish prosecutor. The two texts having equal validity, Lord Phillips decided to prefer the French language text over the English language text, an absolutely stunning decision as the UK negotiators could be presumed to have been working from the English text, as could UK ministers and parliament when they ratified the decision.
[..] Sweden has not filed a request for arrest. Sweden is going through its judicial processes – which it skipped the first time – in order to decide whether or not to file a request for arrest. This gives Assange the opportunity to start the process of fighting the allegations, which he strenuously denies, in the Swedish courts. However at present his Swedish lawyer cannot access him in Belmarsh high security jail, which is typical of the abuses of process to which he is subject.
[..] Julian Assange revolutionised publishing by bringing the public direct access to massive amounts of raw material showing secrets the government wished to hide. By giving the public this direct access he cut out the filtering and mediating role of the journalistic and political classes. Contrast, for example, the Panama Papers which, contrary to promises, only ever saw less than 2% of the raw material published and where major western companies and individuals were completely protected from revelation because of the use of MSM intermediaries. Or compare Wikileaks to the Snowden files, the vast majority of which have now been buried and will never be revealed, after foolishly being entrusted to the Guardian and the Intercept. Assange cut out the intermediary role of the mediating journalist and, by allowing the people to see the truth about how they are governed, played a major role in undercutting public confidence in the political establishment that exploits them.
“If anything surfaces, I can assure you it would’ve been planted,” he said. “Julian isn’t a novice when it comes to security and securing his information. We expected this to happen and protections have been in place for a very long time.”
On Monday, judicial authorities from Ecuador carried out an inventory of all the belongings and digital devices left behind at the London embassy following his expulsion last month from the diplomatic compound that had been his home the past seven years. It came as Sweden announced it was seeking Assange’s arrest on suspicion of rape, setting up a possible future tug-of-war with the United States over any extradition of Assange from Britain.
It’s not known what devices authorities removed from the embassy or what information they contained. But authorities said they were acting on a request by the U.S. prosecutors, leading Assange’s defenders to claim that Ecuador has undermined the most basic principles of asylum while denying the secret-spiller’s right to prepare his defense. “It’s disgraceful,” WikiLeaks’ editor in chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Ecuador granted him asylum because of the threat of extradition to the U.S. and now the same country, under new leadership, is actively collaborating with a criminal investigation against him.”
[..] Hrafnsson, who has visited the Australian activist in jail, said Assange saw his eviction coming for weeks as relations with President Lenin Moreno’s government deteriorated, so he took great care to scrub computers and hard drives of any compromising material, including future planned leaks or internal communications with WikiLeaks collaborators. Still, Hrafnsson said he fully expects Moreno or the Americans to claim revelations that don’t exist. He called Monday’s proceedings a “horse show” because no legal authority can guarantee Assange’s devices haven’t been tampered with, or the chain of custody unbroken, in the six weeks since his arrest. “If anything surfaces, I can assure you it would’ve been planted,” he said. “Julian isn’t a novice when it comes to security and securing his information. We expected this to happen and protections have been in place for a very long time.”
[..] According to the request for a detention order obtained by The Associated Press, Assange is wanted for “intentionally having carried out an intercourse” with an unnamed woman “by unduly exploiting that she was in a helpless state because of sleep.”
I call Mr. Trump the Golden Golem of Greatness for a reason (several really) but mainly for his seemingly implacable demeanor. He’s exactly like that folkloric figure from the mists beyond the Pale of Settlement, an animate hunk of impassive clay communing with spirits of the dead, blundering blindly about the land, scaring little children and turning the peasants’ blood to ice-water. You might even say he was conjured up by the very deacons of Wokesterism who now tremble at his every thundering footstep.
Uncle Joe Biden is surely the antidote to all that. He served four years under the Wokester Deacon-in-Chief, Mr. Obama, and cheerfully endured his ritual castration, rendering him harmless to all who must-be-believed, and other sub-categories of the aggrieved and oppressed. At 76, he is way older than anyone (anyone serious, that is) who ever ran for President before, perhaps bordering even on feeble, and that’s another plus: he couldn’t hurt a fly. At least not here in the States. He has no plans, apparently, to try to make America great again — but he still has a hearty appetite for international adventuring that might redound to the benefit of the US War industry and its handmaidens on K Street and Capitol Hill.
And, of course, Uncle Joe goes through these palliative motions of bringing tranquility to the Democratic scramble, his smile fixed, teeth gleaming, hair perfect, hand a’pumping, as ever more information emerges about the spectacular effrontery of his international money-grubbing while vice-president. He did what in Ukraine in 2014. And Uncle Joe’s son, Hunter, walked away with how many millions of dollars after being appointed to the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings? Uncle Joe even bragged to the Council on Foreign Relations about how he browbeat Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko into firing their equivalent of Attorney General, who was about to look into this fishy Burisma deal. And then there was the even bigger windful after Uncle Joe paid a call on China and Hunter’s shadowy company, Rosemont Seneca, landed a billion dollar private equity deal (whatever that means) from an equally shadowy company fronting for the Chinese government.
One day in January 2015, Nigel Farage gave his senior adviser, Raheem Kassam, an unusual bit of news. “On Monday, we’re going to Milano,” he said. (Farage always pronounced it “Mil-ar-no”, much to Kassam’s amusement.) “I was like: ‘What? Why?’” Kassam said. Farage, who was then the leader of the anti-European Union party Ukip, explained that they were going to sit down with Gianroberto Casaleggio. Kassam whipped out his phone and quickly Googled “Casaleggio” – he had never heard of him. Farage described Casaleggio to Kassam as the “genius behind Five Star”, the Italian political party that won a 25% vote share in 2013, the first national elections it had ever contested.
Nothing like this had happened before in modern Italian politics. Casaleggio and the comedian Beppe Grillo, who was famous in Italy for his rabble-rousing live shows, had founded the movement just four years earlier. They had largely built the Five Star Movement online, with remarkably little money or mainstream media attention. Five Star was only one step toward Casaleggio’s long-term ambition: to supplant parliament with an online democracy where citizens, highly informed through the internet, could fashion policy directly. Farage had “always been interested” in direct democracy, Kassam said, and in “turning everything over to the internet”. But Farage was more impressed by the fact that, after just a few years, Casaleggio’s largely online movement was on the verge of becoming Italy’s biggest political party.
He wanted to know how Casaleggio had done it – and then to replicate its success. In Milan, Farage was struck by how Casaleggio was using social media and the internet to create a new model for political communications. Five Star members were discussing and voting on policy and nominating and electing each other to run for office while being steeped in party propaganda, all on a single online platform. This made supporters feel as if the movement’s identity was emerging organically from their online interactions, while Casaleggio and Grillo could guide those interactions with messaging from above. What’s more, the “movement” was dominated by a private company owned by Casaleggio.
Five Star was in many ways less like a political party than a publicly traded company in which members were voting shareholders, but Casaleggio had the controlling stake. Farage left Milan “very excited” about bringing Five Star’s style of digital democracy to the UK, Kassam said. So did Farage’s ally Liz Bilney, who was also present at the Milan meeting and went on to found the pro-Brexit group Leave.EU. “If I was starting Ukip today,” Farage told the political scientists Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo around that time, “would I spend 20 years speaking to people in village halls or would I base it on the Grillo model? I know exactly what I would do.”
Italian unions have refused to load cargo onto a Saudi ship carrying weapons, in protest against Riyadh’s war on Yemen. The dock workers have gone on strike, refusing to work until the ship leaves port in Genoa. While the Saudi Arabian ship, the Bahri-Yanbu, was expected to leave for Jeddah by the end end of the day, it seems the delivery might end up being rather late. After unsuccessful attempts to have the ship barred from docking in Italy altogether, it was greeted by banners and a protests as it arrived in port Monday. Workers were joined by human rights campaigners who oppose stocking the ship over fears the supplies will be used against the civilian population in Yemen.
The demonstrators held signs opposing the war and arms trafficking. “We will not be complicit in what is happening in Yemen,” union leaders said in a statement. Port officials have acknowledged that the generators that protesters fear may be used for military purposes have been blocked from being brought on board, but say some non-critical goods will still be loaded. Union leaders are scheduled to meet with the port’s prefects to discuss the impasse. The ship was loaded with weapons in Belgium, but successfully blocked from picking up additional arms at a French port as a result of a similar protest.
There’s fresh hope that unrest in Donbass raging since 2014 could find resolution as Ukraine’s new president, comedian and presidential impersonator turned overnight real political leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was just sworn in on Monday, and immediately he is dissolving parliament and urging peaceful settlement in the country’s east. The 41-year old Zelenskiy said in translated comments via The Moscow Times: “Our first task is to end the conflict in the Donbass.” With a clear mandate from Ukrainian voters who overwhelmingly want to see an easing of tensions with Russia, and the exit of oligarchs from power to halt mass political corruption, he announced during the inauguration ceremony from Kiev he wants to achieve a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, even if it means losing his post.
In his much anticipated inauguration speech, Zelenskiy switched from Ukrainian to Russian to say: “I believe that the first step to begin this dialogue will be the return of all Ukrainian prisoners [held by Russia].” He further emphasized he would pursue peace at a cost to his reputation — “and, if need be, even this job” — according to The Moscow Times. Zelenkiy’s upset victory over Petro Poroshenko by a double-digit margin has led some to dub him the “Donald Trump of Ukrainian politics” given his outside the system status and willingness to break from the establishment on the question of dialogue with Russia. He promised Ukrainians that he would seek to do this “without losing our territory, never.”
The five-year long conflict in the east involving Russian-backed separatists who’ve severed ties from Kiev in a move for de facto independence has killed an estimated 13,000 people and has at times threatened to escalate to the level of western intervention. The billionaire chocolate magnate Poroshenko, who came to power as a result of the West-backed so-called Euromaidan revolution gave one parting shot during his concession speech: in the Kremlin, he said, “they believe that with a new inexperienced Ukrainian president, Ukraine could be quickly returned to Russia’s orbit of influence,” according to a translation by the LA Times.
Finally, 130 years after it was established, the kilogram as we know it is about to be retired. But it’s not the end: tomorrow, 20 May 2019, a new definition will be put in place – one that’s far more accurate than anything we’ve had until now. After the shift was unanimously voted in at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles at the end of last year, the change is now finally about to become official. Le kilogramme est mort, vive le kilogramme. Most people don’t think about metrology – the science of measurement – as we go about our day. But it’s vastly important. It’s not just the system by which we measure the world; it’s also the system by which scientists conduct their observations. It needs to be precise, and it needs to be constant, preferably based on the laws of our Universe as we know it.
But of the seven base units of the International System of Units (SI), four are not currently based on the constants of physics: the ampere (current), kelvin (temperature), mole (amount of substance) and kilogram (mass). “The idea,” explained Emeritus Director of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) Terry Quinn to ScienceAlert, “is that by having all the units based on the constants of physics, they are by definition stable and unaltering in the future, and universally accessible everywhere.” For example, a metre is determined by the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1/299792458 of a second. A second is determined by the time it takes for a caesium atom to oscillate 9,192,631,770 times.
A kilogram is defined by… a kilogram. No, literally. It’s a kilogram weight called the International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK), made in 1889 from 90 percent platinum and 10 percent iridium, and kept in a special vault in the BIPM headquarters. [..] For the last few years, metrologists have been talking about the need for a new standard. Now, they’re finally ready to redefine the kilogram based on the Planck constant, the ratio of energy to frequency of a photon, measured to its most precise value yet only last year. “It is only now that we can define the kilogram in terms of a constant of physics – the Planck constant, the speed of light and the resonant frequency of the caesium atom,” Quinn explained.
One of the IPK copies in its double bell jars. (NIST)
There never was a rape case vs Assange. So it cannot be reopened. There were never any charges at all. They refused to talk to Assange for 6 years. The British told them not to close the acse. It is obvious what the intention is: get him to Sweden which will extradite him to the US. Who cares about laws?
Swedish prosecutors have announced they are reopening an investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange. Prosecutors dropped the investigation in 2017 because they were unable to proceed while Assange remained in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. They said at the time that the investigation could be reopened if the situation changed. Assange, 47, was removed from the embassy last month after seven years inside, after the Ecuadorian government abruptly withdrew his asylum. He was arrested for breach of bail. A lawyer for one of the women involved in the Swedish allegations subsequently asked for the investigation to be resumed. Assange had also faced investigation for a second sex-related allegation, which was dropped in 2015 because time had run out. He denied both allegations.
Ecuador’s Attorney General has informed a Julian Assange lawyer that the WikiLeaks co-founder’s files, computer, mobile phones and other electronic devices will be seized during a search at the London embassy and sent to the US. After an unsuccessful attempt by WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson to retrieve Assange’s personal belongings from Ecuador’s UK embassy, where Assange had been holed up for almost 7 years before his arrest and incarceration last month, the Ecuadorian government reportedly greenlighted the US request to provide it access to the documents and electronic devices left behind by the jailed WikiLeaks editor after he was hauled out of the embassy by the British police on April, 11.
The searches inside the embassy quarters formerly occupied by Assange are set to be conducted by police on May 20, El Pais reported, citing a notice sent to Assange’s Ecuadorian lawyer Carlos Poveda. Assange’s personal files, his computer, mobile phones, memory sticks, CDs and any other electronic devices uncovered during the searches will then be seized and sent to the US as a part of Ecuador’s response to the Department of Justice’s judicial request. The US is currently building a case to extradite on hacking charges. The files contain troves of sensitive information, include Assange’s communication with his lawyers and other legal documents – which, the lawyers argue, deprive him of the right to proper defense.
Having this data will potentially allow the US to “build and create new charges” to extradite Assange in violation of Ecuador’s own asylum policies. The news of the looming handover came as a bolt out of the blue for Assange’s defense team, Poveda told RT Spanish, adding that it’s impossible to be sure his things in the embassy haven’t been tampered with already. “Since Mr. Assange left the embassy, we cannot know for sure what has been happening inside these rooms.” The lawyers have requested CCTV records for the period since Assange’s arrest, Poveda said.
Former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning said Sunday she again plans to refuse to testify before a grand jury about her leak of classified documents to WikiLeaks – even if it means returning to jail. Manning, who served seven years in prison over her transfer of secret diplomatic and military documents, recently spent another two months in lock-up for contempt of court after refusing to answer the grand jury’s questions. Federal prosecutors have for years been investigating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and they apparently want Manning to testify about her dealings with him.
Her release last week came on a technicality – that grand jury’s term was expiring. But a new grand jury has been convened and called on her to appear this week. “They’ve already stipulated they want to ask the same questions,” Manning told CNN. “I am going to refuse,” she added. “I have nothing new to provide.” Manning admitted that while she and her legal team do not know if she will be jailed again, she believes she has a “much stronger case in terms of the legal objections.” “We’re certainly going to raise every single legal challenge that we have,” said Manning…
The State Department has largely avoided scrutiny from GOP-led investigations of the Steele dossier, but that changed this week with the release of notes that a State Department official took during an October 2016 meeting with dossier author Christopher Steele. In letters this week to Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pressed Pompeo for details about the Oct. 11, 2016 meeting, which was held at Foggy Bottom between Steele and Kathleen Kavalec, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Steele, a former British spy, was investigating President Donald Trump and his campaign on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC.
Kavalec’s notes from the meeting, which were released this week, show that Steele told her about contacts he had with the media, including The New York Times and Washington Post. They also showed that Steele said that his client for his anti-Trump research campaign (which he did not identify at the time) was “keen” to see information on Trump released prior to the Nov. 8, 2016 election. Steele also made dubious or inaccurate claims to Kavalec, including that Russia had planted a mole within the DNC and that the Russian government had a consulate in Miami. The trio of Republicans say that the notes contradict some of the claims that the FBI made in applications for surveillance warrants against Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser.
The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s unverified dossier to obtain the spy warrants. In a letter sent to Pompeo on Thursday, Grassley and Johnson, who chair the Senate Banking and Senate Homeland Security Committees, respectively, asserted that any contacts that Steele had with the media would contradict what the FBI claimed the Carter Page warrants. “If true, that would contradict the Carter Page FISA application where the FBI repeatedly represented to the court that Steele did not have unauthorized contacts with the press prior to October 2016,” they wrote. “Based on the publicly-released version of the typed notes of the meeting, it appears Steele’s intent of the meeting with the State Department was to maximize the impact of the unverified information that he had acquired in an effort to undermine the Trump campaign,” they added.
[..] In a letter sent Friday to Pompeo, Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sought communications between Steele and State Department employees, as well as between State employees and the Justice Department regarding Steele. He is also asking Pompeo to make Kavalec available for a transcribed interview. Victoria Nuland, who served as Kavalec’s boss at the bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, was the government official who approved an FBI agent in Rome meeting Steele in early July 2016.
Now in its third year, Russiagate is the worst, most corrosive, and most fraudulent political scandal in modern American history. It rests on two related core allegations: that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “attack on American democracy” during the 2016 presidential campaign in order to put Donald Trump in the White House, and that Trump and his associates willfully colluded, or conspired, in this Kremlin “attack.” As I have argued from the outset—see my regular commentaries posted at TheNation.com and my recent book War With Russia?—and as recently confirmed, explicitly and tacitly, by special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report, there is no factual evidence for either allegation.
Nonetheless, these Russiagate allegations, not “Putin’s Russia,” continue to inflict grave damage on fundamental institutions of American democracy. They impugn the integrity of the presidency and now the office of the attorney general. They degrade the many Democratic members of Congress who persist in clinging to the allegations and thus the Democratic Party and Congress. And they have enticed mainstream media into one of the worst episodes of journalistic malpractice in modern times. But equally alarming, Russiagate continues to endanger American national security by depriving a US president, for the first time in the nuclear age, of the diplomatic flexibility to deal with a Kremlin leader in times of crisis.
We were given a vivid example in July 2018, when Trump held a summit with the current Kremlin occupant, as every president had done since Dwight Eisenhower. For that conventional, even necessary, act of diplomacy, Trump was widely accused of treasonous behavior, a charge that persists. Now we have another alarming example of this reckless disregard for US national security on the part of Russiagate zealots. On May 3, Trump called Putin. They discussed various issues, including the Mueller report. (As before, Putin had to know if Trump was free to implement any acts of security cooperation they might agree on. Indeed, the Russian policy elite openly debates this question, many of its members having decided that Trump cannot cooperate with Russia no matter his intentions.)
A major subject of the conversation was unavoidably the growing conflict over Venezuela, where Washington and Moscow have long-standing economic and political interests. Trump administration spokespeople have warned Moscow against interfering in America’s neighborhood, ignoring, of course, Washington’s deep involvement for years in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia. Kremlin representatives, on the other hand, have warned Washington against violating Venezuela’s sovereignty. Increasingly, there is talk, at least in Moscow policy circles, of a Cuban Missile–like crisis, the closest the United States and Russia (then Soviet Russia) ever came to nuclear war.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on Sunday that Joe Biden’s Ukraine corruption scandal should be off limits as the 2020 US election approaches, and that President Trump shouldn’t be allowed to investigate – or encourage Ukraine to investigate. Biden has come under fire for a March, 2016 incident in Kiev in which he threatened to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees to Ukraine unless President Petro Poroshenko fired his head prosecutor, General Viktor Shokin, who was leading a wide-ranging corruption investigation into natural gas firm Burisma Holdings. As it so happens, Joe’s son Hunter Biden sat on Burisma’s board, and waas indirectly paid as much as $50,000 per month.
‘I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” bragged Biden, recalling the conversation with Poroshenko. “Well, son of a bitch, he got fired,” Biden gloated. Biden claims he didn’t know Hunter was on the Burisma board for an entire two years (Hunter reportedly joined in April 2014, two years before Biden’s threat), and that the effort to remove Shokin had nothing to do with [this]. “Shokin was fired because he attacked the reformers within the prosecutor general’s office,” And this should be completely off limits to Trump, according to Adam Schiff
Schiff told ‘This Week’ that Congress should take up legislation banning political campaigns from working with foreign governments in an effort to influence US elections, responding to news that Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had planned to travel to Ukraine to encourage them to further investigate the Biden matter. Giuliani has since canceled the trip. In March, The Hill’s John Solomon revealed that Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has launched an investigation into the head of the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly attempting to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump during the 2016 US election by releasing damaging information about a “black ledger” of illegal business dealings by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
[..] To recap; Biden didn’t know his son Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas firm for a full two years, before threatening to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees if the President of Ukraine didn’t fire the guy investigating the Biden-linked Burisma, and Adam Schiff thinks that should be off limits to investigate, or for voters to consider, going into the 2020 election.
China will never surrender to external pressure, the government said on Monday, though stopped short of announcing how Beijing will hit back after Washington renewed its threat to impose tariffs on all Chinese imports in an escalating trade dispute. The trade war between the world’s top two economies jumped up a gear on Friday, with the United States hiking tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods after President Donald Trump said Beijing “broke the deal” by reneging on earlier commitments made during months of negotiations. Trump also ordered U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to begin imposing tariffs on all remaining imports from China, a move that would affect about an additional $300 billion worth of goods.
Beijing has vowed to respond to the latest U.S. tariffs, but has announced no details yet. “As for the details, please continue to pay attention. Copying a U.S. expression – wait and see,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing. “We have said many times that adding tariffs won’t resolve any problem. China will never surrender to external pressure. We have the confidence and the ability to protect our lawful and legitimate rights,” Geng added, responding to a question on Trump’s threat of putting duties on all Chinese imports. [..] “At no time will China forfeit the country’s respect, and no one should expect China to swallow bitter fruit that harms its core interests,” China’s top newspaper, the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a commentary.
Rideshare unicorn Uber doesn’t do anything small. When it was in the game of raising money, it raised close to $25 billion. When it loses that money—and it does every single quarter—it loses it at astronomical burn rates. It finally debuted on the New York Stock Exchange today, in the middle of international trade uncertainty and following a massive, international strike by its own drivers, how’d it do? According to University of Florida professor Jay Ritter, Uber’s 7.62 percent decline since hitting the NYSE makes it “bigger than first day dollar losses of any prior IPO in the U.S.” In terms of percentage losses, Uber’s dip doesn’t even scratch the surface of the worst IPOs.
But the staggering valuation of the company makes it, in raw scale, “among the top 10 IPOs ever” including companies outside the U.S., Ritter told Gizmodo in a phone interview. That single digit decline resulted in an estimated $617 million paper losses. Consider also that Uber’s debut valuation of $76.5 billion was a considerable drop from the between $90 billion and $120 billion the company had been worth in some analysts estimation just a month earlier—one meant to stanch the forthcoming bleeding that had begun with competitor Lyft’s bellyflop IPO. This defensive position did little to keep Uber or its investors from taking on water within a single day of trading.
Pakistan has reached an accord with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year, $6 billion bailout package aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy, officials said on Sunday. The deal, which still needs approval by the IMF board in Washington, would be the 13th such bailout since the late 1980s Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh told PTV television he hoped it would be Pakistan’s last. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government came to power last year determined to avoid another bailout and initially sought billions of dollars in funding from friendly countries including China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
But with inflation climbing to over 8 percent, the rupee losing a third of its value over the past year, and foreign exchange reserves barely enough to cover two months of exports, it was forced to turn to the IMF. “Pakistan is facing a challenging economic environment, with lackluster growth, elevated inflation, high indebtedness, and a weak external position,” the IMF said in a statement outlining the framework deal. The IMF forecasts Pakistan’s economic growth slowing to 2.9% this fiscal year from 5.2% in 2018, while the central bank has cut its estimate to between 3.5-4%. As the bailout talks neared culmination, Khan shook up his top economic team, replacing Asad Umar with Hafeez Shaikh as finance minister and making IMF economist Reza Baqir central bank governor instead of Tariq Bajwa.
A Saudi ship, prevented by rights groups from loading an arms cargo at the French port of Le Havre on Friday, arrived at the Spanish port of Santander early on Monday. It was not clear what the Saudi ship was doing in Santander or how long it would stay docked there. Spain’s interior ministry said they had no information regarding the ship. The defense and foreign ministries were not immediately available for comment. French rights group ACAT argued in a legal challenge on Thursday that the arms consignment contravened a U.N. treaty because the weapons might be used against civilians in Yemen, though the case was thrown out by a French judge.
A classified report written by France’s DRM military intelligence agency and published by investigative website Disclose in April showed French arms were being used against civilians in the civil war in Yemen. The Saudi vessel Bahri-Yanbu set course for Santander shortly after the ruling but without the weapons it was charged with collecting. In Yemen, with fighting between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels backed by Iran, tens of thousands of people have been killed and fighting has spawned what the UN calls the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis. France’s President Emmanuel Macron defended the arms shipment to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, saying Riyadh had assured him the weapons would not be used against civilians.
Exhausted, emaciated gray whales are going belly up along the coast of San Francisco this year at a rate seen only once — during a two-year period 20 years ago — since whaling was banned and the leviathans were pulled from the brink of extinction. The death toll, part of a disturbing mass die-off from Mexico to Alaska, is happening largely because there is too little food in the ecosystem to sustain the behemoths on one of the world’s longest migrations, experts say. The hulking carcasses of nine gray whales, several of them starving, have been found since March in San Francisco Bay and along the coast from Pacifica to Point Reyes. That’s an unusually large number for the region.
“It’s definitely not normal,” said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which has for decades been monitoring the spectacular whale migrations along the San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma county coasts. The desperately hungry grays are taking dangerous detours into San Francisco Bay to look for food, a treat for whale watchers who have been seeing the gargantuan beasts in the estuary since February — but not such a good sign for those who care about their survival. “They are attempting to forage in the bay’s ‘dire straits’ with their ship-strike risk, unknown toxins in the bay mud, and other threats,” Schramm said. “Some cannot make it any farther and are simply giving up the ghost.”
The strandings are happening along the entire coast of California, where 31 dead gray whales have been found this year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. In all, 48 gray whales have been found dead along the coasts of California, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, fisheries service officials said. That’s not as bad as 1999, when 91 dead grays were recovered, or 2000, when 131 were found dead. But that die-off came in the wake of an unusually strong El Niño weather pattern that spread warm water along the entire West Coast and disrupted the food web. There is a mild El Niño this year, and water temperatures are higher than normal, but marine biologists say the balmy conditions locally do not fully explain the increased death toll, which also rose the previous two years.
View from Singapore. If the only way people can look at extinction is from a point of view of how man could have profited, forget about it. Nature has its own value, independent of us, independent of monetary value.
Human activities are putting a million species worldwide at risk of extinction, threatening ecosystems that people around the world depend on for survival, a United Nations (UN) assessment has found. [..] Global plant and animal species’ extinction is now “10 to hundreds of times” higher compared to that over the last 10 million years. Many of these extinctions will happen within decades, and that rate is set to climb, the report said. At least 680 vertebrate species have already been driven to extinction by human action in the last 500 years. The loss of habitats, overconsumption and pollution will result in countless more facing a similar fate. The extensive report illuminates the interconnectedness of nature with the economy, food security and health, said Nature Society Singapore’s president Shawn Lum.
[..] academic reports have revealed that Somali piracy has largely been driven by a lack of economic opportunities for local fishermen due to illegal fishing by foreign vessels depleting the fish population. Many organisms like fungi, maggots and houseflies also play an important role in the ecosystem to break down waste and dead creatures so that nutrients return to the system. While “hardly the face of conservation”, these species are crucial to every ecosystem. The loss of these species would have vast implications on plants and animals higher up the food chain, a group of environmental studies undergraduates at the National University of Singapore (NUS) explained. The UN report pointed out that 70 per cent of the world’s cancer drugs are natural and synthetic products inspired by nature.
An argument for conservation is that the loss of biodiversity could also result in undiscovered species which could potentially have served an important role in medicine. Member of Parliament for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency Louis Ng noted that the extinction of species on such a wide scale has severe implications on human beings. However, he believes that people should also consider the “intrinsic value” that these species play, and to conserve them simply to retain their existence. Said Mr Ng, who is also founder and chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society: “Human beings need animals for our survival, but the animals don’t need us.”
Hawksbill turtles, a critically endangered species, in the Indian Ocean coral reef, Maldives. Andrey Armyagov/Shutterstock.com
The Democrats, as personified by Pelosi, Schumer, Hillary, Biden etc., have no identity other than being against everything Trump. There are people in the party who do have ideas and an identity, like Tulsi Gabbard, AOC, and I’m not saying they’re all great ideas, but at least they have some. But they’re being sidelined.
And it’s of course funny to see Pelosi “pre-accusing” Trump of doing what she has done for 2+ years now. Accuse your opponent of what you yourself have done. Classic.
In a New York Times interview on Saturday, Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal), shared her concerned that President Trump would not voluntarily step down unless Democrats win by a “big” enough margin in 2020. The Democratic Speaker of the House of Representative, expressed her concern over a possible scenario where Trump would not accept the election results if he were to lose re-election by a slim margin, the NY Times reported. “We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” Pelosi told the newspaper Wednesday.
“If we win by four seats, by a thousand votes each, he’s not going to respect the election,” said Ms. Pelosi, recalling her thinking in the run-up to the 2018 elections. “He would poison the public mind. He would challenge each of the races; he would say you can’t seat these people,” she added. “We had to win. Imagine if we hadn’t won — oh, don’t even imagine. So, as we go forward, we have to have the same approach.” In recent weeks Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat.
As Joe Biden storms through Iowa and prepares for his first visit as a presidential candidate in South Carolina, the Democratic front-runner has said he doesn’t “have the time” to lay out the details of his healthcare plan. “I don’t have time; I don’t want to keep you standing any longer,” Mr Biden said recently in Iowa City, declining to lay out his vision for America’s healthcare future to the assembled crowd, according to POLITICO. Likewise Mr Biden has been less than exhaustive when it comes to his other plans, be it foreign policy, or how to tackle climate change. The approach — one in which the former vice president has focused on the values needed in an American president, instead of on specifics of policy — stands in contrast to some of his stiffest competition from fellow Democrats hoping to shake up Democratic politics as we know it.
For months now, his closest competitor in the polls, Bernie Sanders, has been plugging his universal healthcare plan on the campaign trail, which he has dubbed Medicare for All. It’s a policy the Vermont senator has introduced repeatedly in Congress, and ran on in 2016, too. But Mr Sanders isn’t alone in pushing policy in the race. Elizabeth Warren has become known for doing so, offering up plans on issues ranging from healthcare – increase consumer subsidies, force insurers to accept tougher rules, and make insurance cheaper in the US — to improving accountability for private companies in charge of military housing.
Two different takes on the same topic. First, the Press Association, which labels Paul Joseph Watson and James Woods as “Right-Wing Extremists”. A bit much, perhaps? Other labels I see flash by are far-right, alt-right, extremist conservatives. Isn’t it the labeling itself that is extremist?
US president Donald Trump has criticised social media companies after Facebook banned a number of extremist figures and has declared he was “monitoring and watching, closely!!” Mr Trump, who tweeted and retweeted complaints on Friday and Saturday, said he would “monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms”. He has previously claimed social media companies are biased against conservatives, something the companies have rejected as untrue. His comments came after Facebook this week banned Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones and other extremists, saying they violated its ban on “dangerous individuals”.
The company also removed right-wing personalities Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer, along with Mr Jones’s site, Infowars, which often posts conspiracy theories. The latest bans apply to Facebook’s main service and to Instagram, and extend to fan pages and other related accounts. Facebook’s move signalled new effort by the social media giant to remove people and groups promoting objectionable material such as hate, racism and anti-Semitism. The company said it has “always banned” people or groups that proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence, regardless of political ideology. On Twitter, Mr Trump cited a number of individuals he said were being unfairly treated by social media companies, including Mr Watson and actor James Woods. He insisted it was “getting worse and worse for Conservatives on social media!”
But here’s how Cristina Laila at Gateway Pundit, the site known for Cassandra Fairbanks’ reporting on Julian Assange, phrases the issue. Whole different vocabulary.
Still, there’s a much bigger issue here. As I wrote in the comments the other day: What Facebook and Google are doing is very dangerous for the fabric of society. They’re turning us into China. It’s equal to saying: you cannot have a car, or gas, or a phone, a home. Because you grow a beard, or you have a crappy old car, or whatever.
Or it’s like saying you cannot drive on a certain road, maybe that’s a better example. At some point infrastructure must be available to everyone. You can’t say: this is private, go build your own road, or put up your own telephone poles, because your skin is black and we don’t like that around here.
“Facebook is a private company” is dead before you hit the water (for the same reason as AT&T). Problem is, no politician wants to burn their hands on the issue, which they don’t understand to begin with, until it’s too late. It’s much easier to say: look over there, those guys don’t do anything either.”
So, should Facebook be able to throw people out that haven’t been accused of anything criminal?
The tech tyrants at Facebook went into overdrive this week and banned Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson and Alex Jones — without any explanation, the conservative journalists were labeled “dangerous” by Facebook. President Trump fired off a tweetstorm Friday evening on the social media censorship of conservatives and named James Woods and Paul Joseph Watson. “I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America — and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!” Trump tweeted. “We’re looking into it,” Trump said as he defended his friends Diamond and Silk.
“So surprised to see Conservative thinkers like James Woods banned from Twitter, and Paul Watson banned from Facebook!” Trump said linking to a Breitbart article on Twitter’s silencing of James Woods. Paul Joseph Watson works for Infowars and has been employed by Alex Jones for several years. On Thursday Paul Joseph Watson was banned from Facebook for being associated with Infowars and Alex Jones. Paul Joseph Watson has NEVER broken Facebook rules… But he associates with Alex Jones. Facebook is now banning anyone who is linked to Infowars or has shared too many stories from the conservative Infowars page. But it’s even worse… It is now a violation of Facebook policy to speak positively ANYWHERE about people they don’t like.
Twitter also banned conservative actor James Woods last weekend for paraphrasing American essayist, poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, for “abusive behavior.” James Woods tweeted, “If you try to kill the King, you better not miss.” #HangThemAll – similar to a quote from an essay Emerson wrote on Plato:“When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”
If Americans were interested in the truth, they’d insist on their politicians and media and intelligence talking to the VIPS and Julian Assange. The fact that they haven’t, tells you all you need to know.
George Orwell would have been in stitches Wednesday watching Attorney General William Barr and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spar on Russia-gate. The hearing had the hallmarks of the intentionally or naively blind leading the blind with political shamelessness. From time to time the discussion turned to the absence of a legal “predicate” to investigate President Donald Trump for colluding with Russia. That is, of course, important; and we can expect to hear a lot more about that in coming months. More important: what remains unacknowledged is the absence of an evidence-based major premise that should have been in place to anchor the rhetoric and accusations about Russia-gate over the past three years. With a lack of evidence sufficient to support a major premise, any syllogism falls of its own weight.
The major premise that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee and gave WikiLeaks highly embarrassing emails cannot bear close scrutiny. Yes, former CIA Director John Brennan has told Congress he does not “do evidence.” In the same odd vein, Brennan’s former FBI counterpart James Comey chose not to “do evidence” when he failed to seize and inspect the DNC computers that a contractor-of-ill-repute working for the DNC claimed were hacked by Russia. Call us old fashioned, but we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) still “do evidence” — and, in the case at hand, forensic investigation. For those who “can handle the truth,” the two former NSA technical directors in VIPS can readily explain how the DNC emails were not hacked — by Russia or anyone else — but rather were copied and leaked by someone with physical access to the DNC computers.
Before 2009, the Fed did not pay interest on banks’ excess reserves held at the Fed. This practice was introduced as a taxpayer-funded subsidy to the banks during the crisis (taxpayer-funded because the Fed turns over any profit at the end of the year to the Treasury). After beginning this practice, the Fed’s chief trader, Simon Potter, realized it could be used to raise interest rates without expelling excess reserves from the Fed, by sucking liquidity out of the short-term markets. In fall 2015, it began raising the interest rate on excess reserves, with the anticipated effect. At a current rate of about $36 billion a year, this is a cost to the Treasury that is indefensible. This amount is about half the budget for food stamps, for example, which politicians want to cut. There is no provision for these funds ever to be paid back. It is welfare for the bankers.
If the banks had been required to take excess reserves back onto their books it would have required financial disclosure of their quality, which is probably toxic for many. However, with the Financial Accounting Standards Board recently promulgating Financial Accounting Statements 56 and, previously, 157, the “extend and pretend” statement, it would seem they feel less and less need for financial disclosure of any kind. FAS 56 states that the government does not have to disclose what it spends taxpayers’ money on because of national security concerns.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has stepped up calls on Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to agree a cross-party deal to leave the European Union, following poor results for both parties in local elections on Thursday. May’s Conservatives lost more than a thousand seats on English local councils that were up for re-election, and Labour – which would typically aim to gain hundreds of seats in a mid-term vote – instead lost 81. Both parties have been locked in talks for the past few weeks to try to broker a Brexit deal that can get a majority in Parliament, after May’s minority government suffered three heavy defeats on her preferred deal earlier this year.
Senior Conservatives said on Saturday there was an increased need for compromise after the local election results, and the leader of the Scottish branch of the Conservative Party said a deal with Labour could be done within days. May added her voice to these calls in an essay published in a Sunday newspaper. “To the Leader of the Opposition I say this: Let’s listen to what the voters said in the local elections and put our differences aside for a moment. Let’s do a deal,” she wrote in the Mail on Sunday. The Sunday Times reported that the Conservatives would offer new concessions to Labour when talks restart on Tuesday, including a temporary customs union with the European Union, which would last until a national election due in June 2022.
“At that point Labour could use their manifesto to argue for a softer Brexit if they wanted to and a new Conservative prime minister could argue for a harder Brexit,” a source cited by the Sunday Times said.
Last-ditch efforts by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to strike a compromise on Brexit looked doomed on Saturday as the party leaders faced mounting revolts from their own MPs and activists. Following Thursday’s local elections, in which both the Conservatives and Labour were punished severely by voters for failing to break the political deadlock, May and Corbyn have insisted their parties must now urgently agree a way forward in cross-party talks which will resume on Tuesday. On Saturday the prime minister reiterated her appeal, saying: “We have to find a way to break the deadlock. I believe the results of the local elections give fresh urgency to this.”
But opposition MPs and Tory Brexiters warned any deal the leadership teams stitch up behind the scenes would face inevitable defeat in parliament and cause more acrimony in the parties. The Observer can reveal that 104 opposition MPs, mainly from Labour but also SNP, Change UK, Green and Plaid Cymru, have written to May and Corbyn insisting they will not back a “Westminster stitch-up” unless there is a firm guarantee that any deal is then put to a confirmatory referendum. The MPs say: “The very worst thing we could do at this time is a Westminster stitch-up whether over the PM’s deal or another deal. This risks alienating both those who voted leave in 2016 and those who voted remain.”
They say that, “whatever the deal” is, it must be the subject of another referendum so voters can have the “final say”. Separately, senior Tory MPs insisted that any deal struck with Labour that involved anything close to a customs union – Corbyn’s central demand in the talks – would be rejected by more than 100 of the party’s MPs, who would see it as a betrayal of May’s promises on Brexit.
In my book Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment (2015), I pointed out that the “age of austerity” experienced during the post-1945 Attlee government was unavoidable as a debilitated UK adapted from a wartime economy to peacetime. Resources were strictly limited, and production had to be channelled away from armaments towards the normal needs of the population. Spending power was restricted because goods and food were in short supply. The austerity policy imposed by the Cameron-Osborne administration in 2010-15 – in coalition, let us not forget, with the Lib Dems – was a policy choice. George Osborne, in particular, seized the opportunity of the financial crisis of 2007-09 to cut back on public spending, or at least restrain its rate of growth.
The most obvious victims were local authorities and the electors they serve. Cuts varying between 30% and 40% were imposed on central government grants to local authorities, and the consequences were cumulative. Hardly a day goes by without sad reports of the impact the cuts are having on public services, one of the most recent being the way teachers in overstretched state schools are having to dip into their own pockets to provide textbooks. There are countless other examples. We were told by Theresa May and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, that austerity was coming to an end. But there is precious little sign of it. Which brings us back – I know you have been waiting for it – to the way that Brexit would compound the deleterious effects of austerity, a conclusion reached by every forecast I have examined.
The collapse of multi-generational family farms has sent bankruptcies in the Midwest to ten-year highs. “Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008. In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier,” reported WSJ. Steffes Group, a top auction firm in the upper Midwest, has seen auction activity rise 40% in 2019. “Up until now, there wasn’t a lot of motivation to exit farming,” said auctioneer Scott Steffes. “Now, what I’m hearing from folks is, ‘It’s no longer fun to farm.’”
Orders for Class-8 trucks – the heavy trucks that haul consumer goods, equipment, commodities, and supplies across the US to feed the goods-based economy – plunged 52% in April compared to April last year, to 16,400 orders, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence on Friday. It was the lowest April since 2016 when the industry cycled through its last transportation recession. This comes after orders had already plunged 67% year-over-year in March, 58% in February and January, and 43% in December. The collapse in orders is on the scale of the last transportation recession in 2015 and 2016. The chart shows the percent change of orders for each month compared to a year earlier:
The industry is very cyclical with big swings in both directions. Trucking companies get exuberant when capacity tightens and freight rates shoot up as they did in late 2017 and 2018, and they’re inclined to order when business is booming, but it takes a while to get these trucks built, and order backlogs at truck manufacturers piled up to reach close a year at the peak in 2018. Fear of not getting the equipment when they need it can cause industry-wide bouts of over-ordering at the peak of the cycle, which was summer 2018. But as capacity rises, and the cyclical freight business backs off from its blistering growth phase and ticks down a little as it has been since late 2018, trucking companies adjust by reducing their orders, and when push comes to shove, if they can still do it, by cancelling their orders. And that’s what is happening here.
The current climate and ecological crisis demands a radical redesign of how we live and organise our societies. Yet these urgent changes, though complex, are far from impossible. Some of them are simple, beautiful, and beneficial to all. By greening our cities with street trees, urban parks, and community and rooftop gardens, we can keep ourselves cool amid rising temperatures, reverse the steady erosion of the rich tapestry of life on Earth, and foster happiness and social connection in the process. It is widely known that greenery in urban spaces helps improve city microclimates.
Thanks to heat generated by traffic and industrial activity, as well as the spread of heat-trapping concrete buildings that have steadily replaced plant life, urban air temperature is often higher than in rural environments. Hotter cities compel urban denizens to opt for air conditioners in order to stay cool, which further strains energy demands and worsens the urban heat island effect. Plants can help cool cities through the water that evaporates from their leaves when exposed to the sun’s rays, and by shading surfaces that otherwise might have absorbed heat. Research has found that on a sunny day, a single healthy tree can have the cooling power of more than ten air-conditioning units.
Plants also help keep harmful pollutants such as microscopic particulate matter at bay through a complex process known as dry deposition, whereby particles penetrate and become trapped in the wax or cuticles of leaves. Although banning or at least restricting vehicle use in city centres is crucial, mass greening can further reduce pollution and keep cities cool in the increasingly scorching summers that lie ahead.
If the Swedish allegations against Julian Assange were genuine and not simply a ruse to arrest him for extradition to the United States, where is the arrest warrant now from Sweden and what are the charges? Only the more minor allegation has passed the statute of limitations deadline. The major allegation, equivalent to rape, is still well within limits. Sweden has had seven years to complete the investigation and prepare the case. It is over two years since they interviewed Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy. They have had years and years to collect all the evidence and prepare the charges. So where, Swedish prosecutors, are your charges? Where is your arrest warrant?
Julian Assange has never been charged with anything in Sweden. He was merely “wanted for questioning”, a fact the MSM repeatedly failed to make clear. It is now undeniably plain that there was never the slightest intention of charging him with anything in Sweden. All those Blairite MPs who seek to dodge the glaring issue of freedom of the media to publish whistleblower material revealing government crimes, by hiding behind trumped-up sexual allegations, are left looking pretty stupid. What is the point of demanding Assange be extradited to Sweden when there is no extradition request from Sweden? What is the point in demanding he face justice in Sweden when there are no charges? Where are the charges from Sweden?
The answer to that is silence. Sweden was always a fit-up designed to get Assange to the USA. And now they don’t need it, so Sweden has quietly gone away. All the false left who were taken in by the security services playing upon a feminist mantra should take a very hard look at themselves.
Assange had been residing at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for nearly seven years before his asylum was revoked on 11 April, followed by his arrest and further extradition to the Westminster Magistrate’s Court. Julian Assange’s lawyers have filed a lawsuit against a group of Spaniards, members of staff at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, as well as Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry over extortion, AFP reported, citing Assange’s defence team. Earlier, Spanish media reported that the group of Spaniards had got hold of Assange’s videos and personal documents, which they threatened to publish unless paid $3.3 million by the WikiLeaks team. The lawsuit was reportedly brought forward in Spain. The source also noted that an investigation into the matter was ongoing, adding that Assange was allegedly spied on in the embassy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has hit out at a US court’s sentencing of agent Maria Butina, dubbing it “an outrage” and a “travesty of justice”. Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday after trying to infiltrate US political groups in an effort to sway American policies in favour of Moscow. The 30-year-old had pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent. But the Russian president said the sentence was an attempt to save face. In his first public remarks since the sentencing, Mr Putin on Saturday said it was “not clear what she was convicted of or what crime she committed”. “I think it’s a prime example of ‘saving face.’ They arrested her and put the girl in jail. But there was nothing on her, so in order not to look totally stupid they… fixed her up with an 18-month sentence to show that she was guilty of something,” he told reporters in Beijing.
Speaking to the court on Friday, Butina said: “I destroyed my own life.” The Russian gun rights activist had been in custody since her arrest in July. While initially pleading not guilty, she reversed her position after reaching a deal with prosecutors and admitted to a single count of conspiracy in December. The judge noted on Friday that Butina had provided “substantial assistance” to law enforcement. But despite Butina’s plea for leniency, the sentencing fully complied with the government’s recommendation. “This was no simple misunderstanding by a overeager foreign student,” Judge Chutkan said. The 18-month sentence includes the nine months Butina has already served. She will face immediate deportation after her sentence is complete. At the end of the sentencing, Judge Chutkan said she wished Butina “the best of luck.”
As Donald Trump began his meteoric rise to the presidency, the Obama White House summoned Ukrainian authorities to Washington to coordinate ongoing anti-corruption efforts inside Russia’s most critical neighbor. The January 2016 gathering, confirmed by multiple participants and contemporaneous memos, brought some of Ukraine’s top corruption prosecutors and investigators face to face with members of former President Obama’s National Security Council (NSC), FBI, State Department and Department of Justice (DOJ). The agenda suggested the purpose was training and coordination. But Ukrainian participants said it didn’t take long — during the meetings and afterward — to realize the Americans’ objectives included two politically hot investigations: one that touched Vice President Joe Biden’s family and one that involved a lobbying firm linked closely to then-candidate Trump.
[..] The other case raised at the January 2016 meeting, Telizhenko said, involved Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company under investigation in Ukraine for improper foreign transfers of money. At the time, Burisma allegedly was paying then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter as both a board member and a consultant. More than $3 million flowed from Ukraine to an American firm tied to Hunter Biden in 2014-15, bank records show. According to Telizhenko, U.S. officials told the Ukrainians they would prefer that Kiev drop the Burisma probe and allow the FBI to take it over. The Ukrainians did not agree. But then Joe Biden pressured Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire Ukraine’s chief prosecutor in March 2016, as I previously reported. The Burisma case was transferred to NABU, then shut down. [..] Ukraine is riddled with corruption, Russian meddling and intense political conflicts, so one must carefully consider any Ukrainian accounts.
But Telizhenko’s claim that the DOJ reopened its Manafort probe as the 2016 election ramped up is supported by the DOJ’s own documents, including communications involving Associate Attorney General Bruce Ohr, his wife, Nellie, and ex-British spy Christopher Steele. [..] Previously, Politico reported that the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington assisted Clinton’s campaign through a DNC contractor. The Ukrainian Embassy acknowledges it got requests for assistance from the DNC staffer to find dirt on Manafort but denies it provided any improper assistance. Now we have more concrete evidence that the larger Ukrainian government also was being pressed by the Obama administration to help build the Russia collusion narrative. And that onion is only beginning to be peeled. But what is already confirmed by Ukrainians looks a lot more like assertive collusion with a foreign power than anything detailed in the Mueller report.
More than half the public – 55% – now think it would have been better never to have held the EU referendum given the difficulties of reaching an agreement on Brexit, according to the latest Opinium/Observer poll. Strikingly, more Conservative voters (49%) now think the referendum was a bad idea than believe it was the right thing to have done (43%). Among Labour supporters, 72% believe it would have been better never to have staged the vote, while 18% say it was worthwhile. The Conservatives are down 3 percentage points on 26% compared with a fortnight ago and continue to trail Labour (also down 3pts on 33%) by seven percentage points. Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit party, meanwhile, has established itself in a clear third place on 17%, having been included in the national poll for the first time.
The Liberal Democrats are down 2 points on 6%, the SNP unchanged on 5%, Ukip down 7 on 4%, the Greens unchanged on 4%, Change.UK (also included for the first time) is on 4% and Plaid Cymru is unchanged on 1%. When voters were asked how they intended to vote in the European elections, the news was even better for the Brexit party. Support for Nigel Farage’s new party and Labour stands level at 28% – double that for the Conservatives, on 14%. The pro-remain Liberal Democrats and ChangeUK parties both stand on 7%, while the Greens are on 6%, the SNP 5%, Ukip 3% and Plaid Cymru 1%. If a second referendum were held between the options of leaving the EU on the prime minister’s deal or remaining in the EU, 46% say they would vote to remain (unchanged on a fortnight ago) while 34% would vote to leave (down 4%).
Labour’s ruling body will decide on Tuesday whether the party will campaign for a public vote on any Brexit deal, Jeremy Corbyn has said on the campaign trail in leave-voting Peterborough. Almost 90 Labour MPs and MEPs, including a number of frontbenchers, wrote to the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to demand that its European election manifesto include a “clear commitment to a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal”. However, Corbyn declined to guarantee the commitment. He stressed that he was not a dictator and that the matter would be for the NEC to decide.
“The national executive will decide on Tuesday what will be in the European election manifesto, and we will reflect the decisions made [at] last year’s Labour party conference, which were for a customs union, market access and rights protection within – with – the European Union,” he said. “We would prefer to have a general election, but failing that, if we get that agreement, we are prepared to consider putting it to a confirmatory vote. That is a decision the national executive of the party will make. “It’s important that the party, which is a democratic party structure, makes those decisions. Sadly – or perhaps it’s a good thing – I’m not a dictator of the Labour party.”
Labour will this week force a vote in parliament to declare a national environmental and climate change emergency as confidential documents show the government has spent only a fraction of a £100m fund allocated in 2015 to support clean air projects. Jeremy Corbyn’s party will demand on Wednesday that the country wakes up to the threat and acts with urgency to avoid more than 1.5°C of warming, which will require global emissions to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching “net zero” before 2050. The move will place Conservative MPs under pressure to back the plan, or explain why they refuse to do so, now fears over the combined problems of air pollution and climate change have risen to the top of the political agenda.
On Saturday night Corbyn said the recent wave of protests were “a massive and necessary wake-up call” that demanded “rapid and dramatic action, which only concerted government action and a green industrial revolution can deliver.” He said that if parliament backed the move and became the first national legislature to declare a climate emergency it would “trigger a wave of action from governments around the world”. [..] The motion will call for new targets on the mass rollout of renewable and low carbon energy and transport, proper funding of environmental protection, reversing species decline and developing plans to move towards a zero waste economy.
The plan comes as confidential minutes of a government advisory group obtained by the Observer show how all but a small proportion of a £100m pot allocated to Highways England to combat air pollution “on and near our roads” in 2015 has not been spent, despite a 2020 deadline. Minutes of a meeting of the Highways England designated funds advisory group from last December and marked “Sensitivity – Official”, reveal concerns at the highest level that the money may not be spent within the defined timetable. Highways England is the government company charged with operating, maintaining and improving England’s motorways and major A roads. The minutes state that a “key risk remains of fully investing all remaining air quality designated funding by the end of March 2020. By the end of October 2018 just £2.82m had been invested.”
The government’s fracking tsar has quit the post after just six months, claiming policy relating to the controversial process means there is “no purpose” to her job. Natascha Engel told the business secretary, Greg Clark, that developing the industry would be “an impossible task” despite its “enormous potential”. In her resignation letter, she said environmental activists had been “highly successful” in encouraging the government to curb fracking. Engel, a former Labour MP, wrote the letter following two weeks of protests by the Extinction Rebellion group, which brought parts of London to a standstill with demands to cut emissions to zero by 2025.
She wrote: “A perfectly viable and exciting new industry that could help meet our carbon reduction targets, make us energy secure and provide jobs in parts of the country that really need them is in danger of withering on the vine – not for any technical or safety reasons, but because of a political decision.” Engel complained that a traffic light system that halts fracking when a tremor with a magnitude of 0.5 is recorded “amounts to a de facto ban”. “The UK could be on the cusp of an energy revolution the like of which we have not seen since the discovery of North Sea oil and gas,” she wrote.
The Ecuadoran government announced Saturday it will appeal a ruling won by the country’s Waorani indigenous tribe that blocks oil companies’ entry onto ancestral Amazonian lands for exploration activities. The Ministry of Energy and Non-renewable Natural Resources said in a statement it “will appeal the decision, given that although documents and videos were presented and compliance with all standards was demonstrated, these were not taken into account.” After two weeks of deliberations, a criminal court in Puyo, central Ecuador, on Friday accepted a Waorani bid for court protection in Pastaza province to stop an oil bidding process after the government moved to open up around 180,000 hectares for exploration.
The lands are protected under Ecuador’s constitution that establishes the “inalienable, unseizable and indivisible” rights of indigenous people “to maintain possession of their ancestral lands and obtain their free adjudication.” Crucially, however, the wealth in the subsoil is owned by the state. The constitution also enshrines the need for prior consultation on any plans to exploit the underground resources, given the probable environmental and cultural impacts on tribal communities. The state reached an agreement with the Waorani over oil exploration in 2012, but the tribe’s leaders said they were duped. The judges ordered the government to conduct a new consultation, applying standards set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights..
Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido used his latest mass rally on Saturday to reiterate an appeal to the army to end its support for Nicolas Maduro’s regime, and announced massive Mayday protests to oust the embattled president. Guaido told supporters at the rally in Caracas that the support of the army was “fundamental” to oust Maduro, “but time is passing and the wait cannot be eternal.” He reminded military leaders they have “a historic opportunity resting on their shoulders.” Despite support from more than 50 states who recognize him as interim president, US-backed Guaido has been unable to affect Maduro’s grip on the military, which continues to keep him in power, along with allies China and Russia.
Guaido will aim to keep up the street pressure on the regime with a huge Mayday protest on Wednesday that he said would be “the largest in the country’s history.” At his rally on Saturday, he held a swearing-in ceremony for “freedom commandos” — volunteers he has put in charge of organizing ongoing protests against the government. The government has also called for mass pro-Maduro demonstrations to be held as part of its annual Mayday parade. [..] Leftist firebrand Maduro has presided over a crumbling economy in which inflation is projected to soar to a mind-boggling 10 million percent this year, with millions of Venezuelans having fled in the face of a shortage of basic goods. Washington has hit Venezuela with a raft of sanctions aimed at cutting off financial support for Maduro and his top officials. An oil embargo comes into effect on Sunday.
The idea of a Green New Deal first sprouted in the U.S. — which is only fair, since we did the first New Deal, after all. Depending on the results of this weekend’s elections, though, Spain might be the first country to actually put one into place. The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, or PSOE, took over at the national level last summer following a corruption scandal that hobbled longtime Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his right-wing Popular Party, the PP. PSOE struck a tenuous bargain with the country’s regional nationalist parties, allowing party leader Pedro Sánchez to become prime minister. That agreement fell apart over budget negotiations earlier this spring, forcing Sánchez to call for a snap election that will take place on Sunday. PSOE is ahead in the polls and could potentially form a government with the left populist party Podemos, formed in 2014 out of Spain’s Occupy Wall Street-esque 15-M movement.
Should PSOE remain in power, Spain — Europe’s fifth-largest economy — could become a testing ground for rolling out a Green New Deal nationwide. Sánchez came out in support of the U.S. Green New Deal — sometimes translated as “El New Deal Verde” or “El Green New Deal de España” — in January and has campaigned on it throughout the election. Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister for ecological transition, told me by phone earlier this month that a Green New Deal “accepts that we are in an emergency moment where we need to transform,” calling it an “opportunity to update our economy and our industry.” She sees it, too, as an opportunity to draw vital connections between income and wealth inequality and the degradation of the environment, “transforming that into a positive agenda.”
Thousands of trade unionists and activists from leftwing parties marched with gilet jaune (yellow vest) protesters through Paris on Saturday to present a united front against French President Emmanuel Macron’s latest reforms package. The demonstration, which passed off peacefully, came before the main gilets jaunes march in the eastern city of Strasbourg, where protesters clashed with police trying to enforce a ban in parts of the city centre. Veterans of the protests, which have been running for six months, led off the Paris march, which was organised by the militant CGT union. Many senior figures from the radical left marched with them, including Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of France Unbowed and one of Macron’s most vocal critics.
Welcoming this show of unity, Melenchon told BFM TV: “It’s the first time that there has been a call of this kind, that’s to say union organisations, associations and political movements.” It was a government plan to increase diesel prices and raise taxes on pensions last November that initially sparked the protests in rural France, which quickly ballooned into a full-scale anti-government rebellion. But in the early months of the movement, its leading figures resisted attempts by parties on the far left and the far right to hijack their cause for their own ends, as they saw it. [..] Organisers see the Paris demonstration as a dry run for Wednesday’s May Day rally, which will bring together several unions from different sectors.
The story is basic: Lenin Moreno gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar (as revealed in the INA papers) , and seeks to use Assange as a way to deflect attention from that. Photos of his family life years ago in Europe surfaced online, and he blames Assange and WikiLeaks for that. Summary: stupid story.
But what is even worse, though nobody seems to have noticed, is that the Guardian have the story written up be none other than Dan Collyns (in Lima, Peru), who in November with Luke Harding wrote the soon fully discredited (by Robert Mueller, no less) article: Manafort Held Secret Talks With Assange In Ecuadorian Embassy.
The Guardian is officially entirely shameless. Collyns and Luke Harding still work there, as does Kathy Viner, their editor. Not one word of apology was ever uttered for making things up out of thin air just to smear people. Trump should have his people look into this.
Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, has said the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had “repeatedly violated” the conditions of his asylum in the country’s London embassy, where he has lived for close to seven years. Speaking to the Ecuadorean radio broadcasters association on Tuesday, Moreno said under the terms of his asylum “Assange cannot lie or, much less, hack into private accounts or private phones” and he could not “intervene in the politics of countries, or worse friendly countries”. Moreno fulminated that “photos of my bedroom, what I eat and how my wife and daughters and friends dance” had been circulated on social media but stopped short of directly accusing WikiLeaks of circulating hacked photos of his family and wiretapping his phone calls and private conversations.
The Ecuadorean government, however, has said it believes the whistleblowing organization shared the photos, which date back several years to when Moreno and his family lived in Geneva. Moreno’s outburst was yet another sign of the Ecuadorean president’s waning tolerance for Assange’s prolonged occupancy of the country’s London embassy since mid-2012. “We should ensure Mr Assange’s life is not at risk but he’s violated the agreement we have with him so many times,” Moreno said of the WiklLeaks founder. The Ecuadorean government directly referred to WikiLeaks in a formal complaint to the special rapporteur for the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci, at the UN’s human rights council on Monday.
It accused the organization of using social media to spread hacked private photos and personal information from Moreno’s personal computers, tablets and other devices. WikiLeaks tweeted on Tuesday that Moreno had said he would take a decision about Assange’s fate “in the short term” after it had reported on an “offshore corruption scandal wracking his government”. Known in Ecuador as the Ina Papers, the scandal alleges Moreno corruptly benefitted from an offshore account in Panama. Moreno denies any wrongdoing.
In March, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rejected a lawsuit filed by Assange which argued that stringent house rules applied since October 2018 in the embassy violated “his fundamental rights and freedoms”. The legal move was also rejected by an Ecuadorean judge last year. Ecuador’s foreign minister, José Valencia, told the Guardian Assange’s conditions were in line with international law and a failure to follow them would breach the terms of his asylum. Moreno has also accused his predecessor turned arch enemy Rafael Correa of spying on him. In September 2017, months after taking office, he accused the former Ecuadorean president of planting a hidden camera in the wall of his presidential office. Correa denies any wrongdoing.
Maduro’s stay in power has Washington as well as various regional neighbor countries worried about the situation. It seems that Venezuela’s neighbors followed a false promise to get rid off the Venezuelan President rather quickly. According to the report, allies of the U.S. are disappointed with the result and are now questioning their decision to recognize Juan Guaido as interim president. A military invasion seems to be the only method available to accomplish their goal, and such a scenario doesn’t sit all too well with countries like Colombia and Brazil, according to the report. Self-proclaimed President Juan Guaido has also upped his rhetoric on a foreign military intervention as people start to question his own intentions.
During a rally in Los Teques, near Caracas, Guaido spoke to a crowd of people expressing his will to have a foreign power bomb his own country. “Of course, we will refer to 187. We did not speak here between the lines, here we spoke very clearly.” Referring to article 187.11 of the Venezuelan constitution, which regulates the authorization of a foreign military mission in the country. The U.S. has been shown to be growingly desperate over the situation in Venezuela. Trump’s Special Envoy to Venezuela and convicted war-criminal, Elliot Abrams, has even resorted to threats against Venezuela’s ally Russia, saying they would “pay a high price” for their support of the country.
Venezuelan lawmakers loyal to President Nicolas Maduro stripped opposition leader Juan Guaido’s immunity Tuesday – and authorized the high court to criminally prosecute him for proclaiming himself the crisis-hit country’s ruler. Guaido – whose claim is recognized by over 50 countries – had earlier expressed fears of being abducted by government agents following a request by the Supreme Court to the Constituent Assembly to lift his parliamentary immunity. Critics of the controversial two-year-old body say it was created to rubber-stamp Maduro’s decisions and sideline the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
The Constituent Assembly’s president, Diosdado Cabello, announced pro-Maduro lawmakers had unanimously authorized the Supreme Court to prosecute Guaido, leaving him also liable to be charged for breaching a January 29 government ban on leaving the country. The court had been investigating Guaido for usurping Maduro’s powers by declaring himself interim president on January 23 – a move which rapidly gained international support. “The people are determined and nothing is going to stop us,” said a defiant Guaido in response. “There is no turning back in this process.” Guaido recognizes neither the court nor the Constituent Assembly and insisted the decision was invalid.
Debt repayments by the world’s poorest countries have doubled since 2010 to reach their highest level since just before the internationally organised write-off in 2005, campaigners have warned. The Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC) said a borrowing spree when global interest rates were low had left many developing nations facing repayments bills that were forcing them into public spending cuts. Plunging commodity prices, a stronger dollar and rising US interest rates had combined to increase debt repayments by 85% between 2010 and 2018, the JDC said. The bid to reduce the unaffordable debts of the world’s poorest countries was prompted by grassroots activism in the late 1990s and early 2000s, first with the Jubilee 2000 campaign and then with Make Poverty History.
But the financial position of many developing nations has again deteriorated in recent years. Repayments account for more than 12% of government revenue on average, the highest level since 2004, the year before the G8 summit held at Gleneagles agreed a comprehensive package of financial assistance involving aid and debt relief. The International Monetary Fund has become increasingly concerned at the financial vulnerability of poor countries and will discuss the issue at its spring meeting in Washington DC next week. Two-fifths of low-income countries are assessed by the IMF to be at “elevated risk of debt distress”, a doubling since 2013.
Theresa May is expected to meet Jeremy Corbyn later after she said she wanted to work with the Labour leader to break the Brexit deadlock. The prime minister hopes the two of them can come up with a modified version of her deal with the EU that can secure the backing of MPs. Mr Corbyn says he wants a customs union and workers’ rights to be priorities. But Tory Brexiteer Boris Johnson has accused Mrs May of “entrusting the final handling of Brexit to Labour”. Jacob Rees-Mogg, another prominent Brexiteer, described the offer as “deeply unsatisfactory” and accused Mrs May of planning to collaborate with “a known Marxist”.
Mrs May announced her plan to meet Mr Corbyn – as well as her intention to ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit deadline – after more than seven hours of talks with her cabinet on Tuesday. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg says the latest move means the prime minister is likely to adopt a closer relationship with the EU – a softer Brexit – than she has agreed so far. Mr Corbyn said he was “very happy” to meet Mrs May an recognised his own “responsibility” to try to break the deadlock. But the meeting is not expected to take place before this afternoon, at the earliest, says our political editor, who was told by Mr Corbyn’s team that he was not available on Wednesday morning for talks with the PM.
The closer the Brexit doomsday clock ticks to midnight, the more of a certain type of machismo we get. I find it extremely encouraging. It suggests that if and when all else fails, the Brexit ultras can either fight or fuck their way out of this. Happily, not one of them feels miscast in this hypersexualised action hero role. “How are you feeling tonight?” Sky News inquired of Steve Baker, who last week was wishing he could tear down parliament and bulldoze it into the Thames. “Well, everyone knows I’m Brexit hardman Steve Baker,” came the reply from the man everyone knows needed a cuddle off Jacob Rees-Mogg after the aforementioned ’dozer speech. To me, Steve reads like a come-and-get-me plea to Game of Thrones’ Arya Stark, but we will deal with the rest of his posturing a bit later.
For now, onwards to his equally virile ERG colleague Mark Francois, who you may know serves as Second Lieutenant in the Brexit Catering Corps (Territorial). “My message to the chancellor is simple,” honked Mark, of Philip Hammond’s suggestion that Brexiters such as him not voting for Brexit was making a customs unions more likely. “Up yours!” Oh dear. I would like to say that Mark was last seen boasting about his penis size to readers of his local newspaper, but in reality that was at least 287 of his media appearances ago. Indeed, my message to the voters in Mark’s Rayleigh and Wickford constituency would be: thank you for your service. You guys basically elected a forehead vein. Mark is currently to be found bulging on TV three times an hour.
The carefully crafted illusions the May administration were founded on have crumbled into dust. After three years of civil service expertise wasted, billions of pounds of growth lost and two years’ worth of legislative time squandered, Theresa May stopped trying to get Brexit through with Tory votes and turned to Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn will be asked to co-author a new version of the political declaration acceptable to Labour or, failing that, to help engineer a majority in the Commons, either for a Norway-style deal or a customs union. In effect, May has bottled out of a fourth “meaningful vote”, ditched the threat of no deal completely and, in a desperate attempt to avoid an election, has thrown herself on the mercy of parliament. It should show no mercy.
Labour’s proposed Brexit deal would sign Britain up to the customs union and enter a state of “dynamic alignment” with the rules of the single market. This is not the equivalent of a Norway-style deal, because it allows Britain to participate fully in the single market – with the obligation to accept freedom of movement – but to diverge over time by paying a price in lost market access. If May can accept this to the letter, and is prepared to whip her MPs for it, splitting the Tory party for a generation, Corbyn should consider the offer. But I doubt she will do so. Indeed, I doubt she will retain a shred of authority once the Tory grassroots and backbenches understand the scale of the climbdown she has made.
Echoes of the trenches … Kapoor’s work, titled A Brexit, A Broxit, We All Fall Down. Photograph: Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor has exposed a bottomless void at the heart of Britain. You could topple in there and never stop falling. In fact, that is exactly what we have done – and solid ground still seems to be nowhere in sight. This artwork, which Kapoor has created for the Guardian, is his response to our current predicament and the new Britain that appeared after the leave vote. Although the Mumbai-born artist has given it a title – A Brexit, A Broxit, We All Fall Down – he does not wish to make any further comment about the piece, preferring to let it speak for itself. The use of colour to suggest infinite voids is one of Kapoor’s most mind-bending abilities as an artist – as a visitor to an exhibition in Portugal recently discovered.
The man actually fell into one work, a black hole in the floor of the gallery. The artist’s use of the world’s blackest paint, which is actually called Kapoor Black, made it impossible to gauge the hole’s depth. When the man fell in, it turned out to be a lot shallower than it looked, luckily for him. This wound, however, is anything but shallow. Britain has inflicted a dreadful injury on itself: a gory rip stretching from Glasgow to the south coast. Our fellow Europeans are watching aghast from across the water as we near the abyss of a no-deal Brexit. Kapoor suggests the damage is even visible from space. His artwork might serve as a warning to any passing flying saucers: avoid this riven nightmare of a nation.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday sought to quell a crisis that threatens his chances of re-election, expelling from party ranks two former Cabinet members he said had undermined the ruling Liberals. Trudeau said former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board chief Jane Philpott would no longer be allowed to sit as Liberal legislators. They were also barred from running for the party in the federal election this October. The Liberals have been in turmoil since Wilson-Raybould said in February that officials had inappropriately pressured her last year while she was justice minister to ensure that construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc escape a corruption trial.
“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau told an emergency meeting of caucus. “Civil wars within parties are incredibly damaging because they signal to Canadians that we care more about ourselves than we do about them,” said Trudeau, 47, who took office in November 2015 and faces a tough re-election battle this autumn. Wilson-Raybould, who tweeted news of her ouster before Trudeau’s announcement, was demoted in January and resigned the next month. Philpott quit shortly afterward, saying she had lost confidence in how Trudeau was handling the matter.
“I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Biden recalled telling Poroshenko.”
Two years after leaving office, Joe Biden couldn’t resist the temptation last year to brag to an audience of foreign policy specialists about the time as vice president that he strong-armed Ukraine into firing its top prosecutor. In his own words, with video cameras rolling, Biden described how he threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in March 2016 that the Obama administration would pull $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees, sending the former Soviet republic toward insolvency, if it didn’t immediately fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. “I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Biden recalled telling Poroshenko.
“Well, son of a bitch, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time,” Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations event, insisting that President Obama was in on the threat. Interviews with a half-dozen senior Ukrainian officials confirm Biden’s account, though they claim the pressure was applied over several months in late 2015 and early 2016, not just six hours of one dramatic day. Whatever the case, Poroshenko and Ukraine’s parliament obliged by ending Shokin’s tenure as prosecutor. Shokin was facing steep criticism in Ukraine, and among some U.S. officials, for not bringing enough corruption prosecutions when he was fired. But Ukrainian officials tell me there was one crucial piece of information that Biden must have known but didn’t mention to his audience: The prosecutor he got fired was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member.
[..] U.S. banking records show Hunter Biden’s American-based firm, Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC, received regular transfers into one of its accounts — usually more than $166,000 a month — from Burisma from spring 2014 through fall 2015, during a period when Vice President Biden was the main U.S. official dealing with Ukraine and its tense relations with Russia. The general prosecutor’s official file for the Burisma probe — shared with me by senior Ukrainian officials — shows prosecutors identified Hunter Biden, business partner Devon Archer and their firm, Rosemont Seneca, as potential recipients of money. Shokin told me in written answers to questions that, before he was fired as general prosecutor, he had made “specific plans” for the investigation that “included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”
The Senate Commerce Committee is launching a probe into whistleblower complaints accusing the Federal Aviation Administration of improperly training its safety inspectors to review the Boeing 737 Max jets. “In light of recent 737 crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, the committee is investigating any potential connection between inadequate training and certification of Aviation Safety Inspectors who may have participated in the FSB evaluation of the 737 MAX,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the committee, wrote to FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell on Tuesday. “Allegations from these whistleblowers include information that numerous FAA employees … had not received proper training and valid certifications.” Wicker said that the FAA may have been notified about these deficiencies as early as August 2018 and that an agency investigation into the allegations may have already been completed.
Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, a landmark government report has found, warning that drastic action is the only way to avoid catastrophic outcomes. “The science is clear – Canada’s climate is warming more rapidly than the global average, and this level of warming effectively cannot be changed,” Nancy Hamzawi, assistant deputy minister for science and technology at Environment and Climate Change Canada, told reporters on Monday. The report, released late on Monday by Environment and Climate Change Canada, paints a grim picture of Canada’s future, in which deadly heatwaves and heavy rainstorms become a common occurrence. Forty-three government scientists and academics authored the peer-reviewed report.
While global temperatures have increased 0.8C since 1948, Canada has seen an increase of 1.7C – more than double the global average. And in the Arctic, the warming is happening at a much faster rate of 2.3C, the report says. While the increased warming in the Arctic is not yet fully understood, snow and ice play a critical role in reflecting the sun’s radiation and heat. But scientists say the retreat of glaciers and disappearing sea ice both contribute to a feedback loop of warming, which is one of the factors contributing to Canada’s disproportionate temperature increase. The report suggests the majority of warming felt in Canada and around the globe is the result of burning fossil fuels.
Canada has already pledged to cut emissions by 200m tonnes by 2030 – a cornerstone of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national climate strategy – largely through a federally mandated carbon tax and shuttering coal-fired plants. [..] The report makes clear that Canada faces markedly different outcomes, depending on the policies it chooses to reduce emissions. Under a scenario in which global emissions are dramatically reduced, average temperatures will rise only 3C across the country by 2100, including the Arctic region. But if countries – including Canada – fail to act aggressively, increases of 7-9 degrees are likely, and the Arctic faces the prospect of 11 degrees of warming. Under the report’s worst-case scenario, the risk of deadly heatwaves increases tenfold bring with it droughts and forest fires.
The life expectancy of children born today will be shortened by 20 months on average by breathing the toxic air that is widespread across the globe, with the greatest toll in south Asia, according to a major study. Air pollution contributed to nearly one in every 10 deaths in 2017, making it a bigger killer than malaria and road accidents and comparable to smoking, according to the State of Global Air (SOGA) 2019 study published on Wednesday. In south Asia, children can expect to have their lives cut short by 30 months, and in sub-Saharan Africa by 24 months, because of a combination of outdoor air pollution caused by traffic and industry, and dirty air indoors, largely from cooking fires.
In east Asia, air pollution will shorten children’s lives by an estimated 23 months. However, the life expectancy burden is forecast to be less than five months for children in the developed world. “That the life of children is being shortened so much came as really quite a shock,” said Robert O’Keefe, the vice-president of the Health Effects Institute, which produced the report. “There is no magic bullet but governments should be taking action.”
Trying to patch together an idea of what was decided. It all appears vacuous. May assures Britain that the EU can’t make the backstop permanent, but 1) it can, and 2) it never wanted to, provided Ireland is taken care of properly. I can’t get rid of the notion that the UK can’t get rid of the notion that Ireland is a second-class country.
Biggest ‘gain’ for May: the UK can unilaterally declare that it believes it can unilaterally halt the backstop.
Today will be all lawyers trying to translate the hollow terms into legalese, but I haven’t found anything that could convince anyone anything has changed since two days ago. Maybe she’ll swing a handful votes, but she lost by 203 last time around.
WSJ: “The EU offered a new legal instrument that would allow the U.K. to seek independent arbitration if it believed the EU was not negotiating a new trade agreement in good faith. If the U.K. claim were upheld and the EU continued to drag its feet, the U.K. could be freed from the customs arrangement. The EU also offered a legally binding pledge to work quickly on a future trade agreement to ensure that the backstop is temporary. The two sides also agreed that the U.K. would set out its own interpretation of the deal, which would state that the U.K. believes it has the option to bring the customs union arrangement to an end.”
Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter: “The Prime Minister’s negotiations have failed. Last night’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised Parliament, and whipped her MPs to vote for.”
Green Party’s Molly Scott Cato on Twitter: “I’ve never before seen a prime minister deliberately try to mislead her own Parliament. There have been no legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement. This is action worthy of an autocratic leader from a banana republic not the leader of a democratic country.”
Theresa May claims to have secured significant changes to her Brexit deal in a last-minute dash to Europe just hours before she must put her plan to a critical vote in parliament. In a late night statement on Monday in Strasbourg she argued the new-look deal meant Britain could not be trapped in the “Irish backstop” so hated by Eurosceptic Tories and her DUP allies, but major doubts remain over whether it is enough to win their backing on Tuesday. The prime minister’s deputy David Lidington warned that if her deal is rejected for a second time by MPs it will “plunge the country into a political crisis”. European leaders warned there would be no “third chance”, but Conservative Brexiteers insisted there are still “very worrying features” to the agreement, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “MPs must reject this deal tomorrow”.
The announcement came after another dramatic day in Westminster on Monday, which began with talk of Ms May potentially delaying Tuesday’s vote on her deal after a seemingly fruitless weekend of talks. But speaking an hour before midnight, she said: “MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop. Today we have secured legal changes. “Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.” The backstop is an arrangement in the existing withdrawal agreement that comes into play if the EU and UK fail to agree future trading arrangements by the end of 2020, thus keeping the Irish border open, but also locking the UK into a customs union with the EU on a potentially indefinite basis.
[..] In a commons statement Mr Lidington revealed that the UK had secured two new documents, a “joint legally binding instrument on the withdrawal agreement” and a “joint statement to supplement the political declaration” on future relations. There is also a third element – a unilateral declaration from the UK setting out what actions it would take if it felt the backstop is being abused by the EU. Mr Lidington said the new legal “instrument” confirmed that the EU could not try to trap the UK in the backstop indefinitely, because commitments they had made to not do so were now legally binding.
Uncertainty continued to hang over Tuesday night’s (12 March) big vote on Brexit in the UK parliament, as British MPs tried to make sense of last-minute tweaks to the exit deal. The opposition Labour party indicated it would vote against the accord. “This evening’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes [British prime minister] Theresa May promised parliament and whipped her MPs to vote for,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday. “It sounds again that nothing has changed,” his shadow Brexit minister, Keir Starmer said. Two MPs from May’s ruling Conservative party said the same. “Seems UK is still permanently locked into the EU, but can ‘argue’ it can leave. The catch? EU decides if we can leave,” Adam Afriyie said.
“We’re being played,” Sam Gyimah, a former Tory minister said. Nigel Farage, the EU-phobic British MEP for the UK Independence Party, was the most outspoken. “Nothing has changed. Reject. Reject. Reject,” he said. Meanwhile, the so-called Independent Group of ex-Labour and ex-Tory MPs said Brexit ought to be delayed in order to hold a second referendum. Dominic Grieve, Britain’s former attorney general, echoed their position. “The proper thing to do is to put it back to the public in a people’s vote, in a second referendum,” he said on Monday. Afriyie’s comment on being “locked into the EU” referred to the so-called ‘backstop’ – the previous deal that the UK would remain in the EU customs union until it found a mutually acceptable way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The backstop prompted a historic majority of 230 MPs to reject the withdrawal deal in January, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March. But EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and British prime minister Theresa May agreed three new documents at a meeting in Strasbourg, France, late on Monday designed to assuage those fears. The first one said the UK could start a dispute in an arbitration court to quit the backstop if the EU did not want to let it out. The second one said the EU and UK would try to find alternative arrangements to the backstop by the end of 2020. The third one was a unilateral British declaration in which the UK said it could quit the backstop if the talks on alternative arrangements broke down.
Both May and Juncker were emphatic in saying that the tweaks gave the UK the “legally binding” guarantees it needed to avoid being locked in to EU customs rules. “It [the backstop] would never be a trap, if either side were to act in bad faith, there is a legal way for either side to exit,” Juncker said.
Think of what the ERG and the Democratic Unionists object to about the key stumbling block: the Northern Irish backstop, the insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. They don’t like the fact that it has no time limit, that it could, theoretically, go on forever. And yet the best that May’s new motion laid before parliament could say is that the new legally binding joint instrument “reduces the risk that the UK could be held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely”. “Reduces the risk” is not the same as “eliminates the risk” – and it’s that that many of those Brexiters wanted to hear. (Put aside the fact that it was always an unrealistic demand: you could say the same about the entire case for Brexit.)
A second demand of the Brexiters, one bizarrely endorsed in January by May herself and a majority of the Commons, was that the backstop be replaced by “alternative arrangements.” Gamely, May tried to pretend that she’d won an EU concession on that too, and that those alternative arrangements will be in place by December 2020. As indeed they will – if they exist by then. But for now, the technological wizardry so great that it would render the backstop redundant does not exist. And so this was another hollow victory.
Finally, the Brexit crowd wanted the UK to have the unilateral right to exit the backstop whenever it liked. May did indeed get something unilateral – the right to issue her own unilateral declaration, in which she could freely state that “it is the position of the United Kingdom that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop.” This is rather like my son winning the right to declare that it is his position that he should get more pocket money. It doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to give him more pocket money. The clue is in the word “unilateral.” The EU is not bound by this UK declaration and has, in fact, conceded nothing.
Britain must leave the European Union by the time EU voters elect a new European Parliament on May 23-26 or will have to elect its own EU lawmakers, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Monday. Writing to EU summit chair Donald Tusk after agreeing a deal to break Brexit deadlock with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Juncker wrote: “The United Kingdom’s withdrawal should be complete before the European elections that will take place between May 23-26 this year.” “If the United Kingdom has not left the European Union by then, it will be legally required to hold these elections.”
The claims that British trade with the Commonwealth can make up for leaving the EU is “the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments” advanced by Brexit supporters and “utter bollocks”, the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has said. In a lacerating piece for the Guardian, Rudd dismissed the claims by some Brexit supporters that the UK could strike deals with his country, New Zealand, Canada and India to soften the blow and said the UK risked undermining western values by leaving the EU in a weaker position when it left.
“I’m struck, as the British parliament moves towards the endgame on Brexit, with the number of times Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India have been advanced by the Brexiteers in the public debate as magical alternatives to Britain’s current trade and investment relationship with the European Union,” he wrote. “This is the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments that have emerged from the Land of Hope and Glory set now masquerading as the authentic standard-bearers of British patriotism. It’s utter bollocks.” Of the prospect of a free trade deal with Delhi, he writes: “As for India, good luck!”
[..] he cast serious doubt on suggestions the UK could quickly come to a free trade agreement (FTA) with India, pointing out that talks he began with the nation on behalf of Australia a decade ago are still going on. “A substantive India-UK FTA is the ultimate mirage constructed by the Brexiteers. It’s as credible as the ad they plastered on the side of that big red bus about the £350m Britain was allegedly paying to Brussels each week. Not.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the team he assembled to investigate U.S. President Donald Trump and his associates have been funded through the end of September 2019, three U.S. officials said on Monday, an indication that the probe has funding to keep it going for months if need be. The operations and funding of Mueller’s office were not addressed in the budget requests for the next government fiscal year issued by the White House and Justice Department on Monday because Mueller’s office is financed by the U.S. Treasury under special regulations issued by the Justice Department, the officials said. “The Special Counsel is funded by the Independent Counsel appropriation, a permanent indefinite appropriation established in the Department’s 1988 Appropriations Act,” a Justice Department spokesman said.
There has been increased speculation in recent weeks that Mueller’s team is close to winding up its work and is likely to deliver a report summarizing its findings to Attorney General William Barr any day or week now. Mueller’s office has not commented on the news reports suggesting an imminent release. Representatives of key congressional committees involved in Trump-related investigations say they have received no guidance from Mueller’s office regarding his investigation’s progress or future plans. The probe, which began in May 2017, is examining whether there were any links or coordination between the Russian government led by Vladimir Putin and the 2016 presidential campaign of Trump, according to an order signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Senator Marco Rubio, the most outspoken cheerleader of US regime change in Venezuela, lashed out at several major outlets for not using his preferred terminology, going so far as to accuse CNN of ‘Russian collusion.’ “In order to undermine the constitutional basis for [Juan Guaido’s] interim Presidency [sic], Putin’s Russia repeatedly describes him as the ‘self-proclaimed’ president of Venezuela. And so does CNN,” Rubio (R-Florida) tweeted on Wednesday, adding, “Russian collusion?” It was the latest in a string of tweets by the senator whom President Donald Trump is, for some unknown reason, allowing to drive US foreign policy on Latin America.
On Tuesday, Rubio targeted the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal for their coverage of Guaido, this time objecting to their use of the term “opposition leader.” Rubio’s badgering of the media came shortly after State Department spokesman Robert Palladino tried to do the same thing with diplomatic correspondents in Foggy Bottom. Referring to Guaido as anything other than “interim president” was feeding “the narrative of a dictator who has usurped the position of the presidency and led Venezuela into the humanitarian, political, and economic crisis that exists today,” Palladino argued.
Former Trump campaign official Paul Manafort has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison for acting as an unregistered agent for Ukraine. But looking at the media coverage of the case one would never know that “taking down” Manafort was not all about Russia collusion. Reporting…or propaganda?
The Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp called for an enforced break-up of Alphabet Inc’s Google, acknowledging the measure would involve global coordination but calling it necessary to preserve advertising and the news media. The demand, published on Tuesday as part of a government inquiry, goes beyond the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which crossed swords with Google by requesting a new regulatory body to oversee global tech operators. In an 80-page submission largely centered on Google, News Corp Australia said the U.S. company had created an “ecosystem” where it could control the results of people’s internet searches and then charge advertisers based on how many people viewed their advertisements.
Efforts to curtail Google’s market dominance around the world had failed because of the search engine operator’s record of “avoiding and undermining regulatory initiatives and ignoring private contractual arrangements”. When Google had agreed to change its methods in response to investigation or new regulations in other countries, it often soon replaced the conduct with new methods which had the same effect: directing traffic and sales to its own sites and hurting competition. Calling Google’s behavior “anti-competitive”, News Corp accused the Mountain View, California-based internet company of damaging publishers’ ability to generate revenue and ultimately the sustainability of the news industry.
Facebook removed several ads placed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign that called for the breakup of Facebook and other tech giants. But the social network later reversed course after POLITICO reported on the takedown, with the company saying it wanted to allow for “robust debate.” The ads, which had identical images and text, touted Warren’s recently announced plan to unwind “anti-competitive” tech mergers, including Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram. “Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy. Facebook, Amazon, and Google,” read the ads, which Warren’s campaign had placed Friday. “We all use them. But in their rise to power, they’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field in their favor.”
A message on the three ads said: “This ad was taken down because it goes against Facebook’s advertising policies.” A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the ads had been taken down but said the company is in the process of restoring them. “We removed the ads because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo,” the spokesperson said. “In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads.” Warren swiped at Facebook over the removal, citing it as evidence the company has grown too powerful. “Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power,” she tweeted. “Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor.”
Over the weekend, we were surprised to learn that some readers were prevented by Facebook when attempting to share Zero Hedge articles. Subsequently it emerged that virtually every attempt to share or merely mention an article, including in private messages, would be actively blocked by the world’s largest social network, with the explanation that “the link you tried to visit goes against our community standards.” We were especially surprised by this action as neither prior to this seemingly arbitrary act of censorship, nor since, were we contacted by Facebook with an explanation of what “community standard” had been violated or what particular filter or article had triggered the blanket rejection of all Zero Hedge content.
To be sure, as a for-profit enterprise with its own unique set of corporate “ethics”, Facebook has every right to impose whatever filters it desires on the media shared on its platform. It is entirely possible that one or more posts was flagged by Facebook’s “triggered” readers who merely alerted a censorship algo which blocked all content. Alternatively, it is just as possible that Facebook simply decided to no longer allow its users to share our content in retaliation for our extensive coverage of what some have dubbed the platform’s “many problems”, including chronic privacy violations, mass abandonment by younger users, its gross and ongoing misrepresentation of fake users, ironically – in retrospect – its systematic censorship and back door government cooperation (those are just links from the past few weeks).
When the New York Times front-paged its latest anti-left polemic masquerading as a news article, the March 9 piece declared: “Should former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. enter the race, as his top advisers vow he soon will, he would have the best immediate shot at the moderate mantle.” On the verge of relaunching, Joe Biden is poised to come to the rescue of the corporate political establishment — at a time when, in the words of the Times, “the sharp left turn in the Democratic Party and the rise of progressive presidential candidates are unnerving moderate Democrats.” After 36 years in the Senate and eight as vice president, Biden is by far the most seasoned servant of corporate power with a prayer of becoming the next president.
When Biden read this paragraph in a recent Politico article, his ears must have been burning: “Early support from deep-pocketed financial executives could give Democrats seeking to break out of the pack an important fundraising boost. But any association with bankers also opens presidential hopefuls to sharp attacks from an ascendant left.” The direct prey of Biden’s five-decade “association with bankers” include millions of current and former college students now struggling under avalanches of debt; they can thank Biden for his prodigious services to the lending industry. Andrew Cockburn identifies an array of victims in his devastating profile of Biden in the March issue of Harper’s magazine. For instance:
• “Biden was long a willing foot soldier in the campaign to emasculate laws allowing debtors relief from loans they cannot repay. As far back as 1978, he helped negotiate a deal rolling back bankruptcy protections for graduates with federal student loans, and in 1984 worked to do the same for borrowers with loans for vocational schools.” • “Even when the ostensible objective lay elsewhere, such as drug-related crime, Biden did not forget his banker friends. Thus the 1990 Crime Control Act, with Biden as chief sponsor, further limited debtors’ ability to take advantage of bankruptcy protections.” • Biden worked diligently to strengthen the hand of credit-card firms against consumers. At the same time, “the credit card giant MBNA was Biden’s largest contributor for much of his Senate career, while also employing his son Hunter as an executive and, later, as a well-remunerated consultant.”
“..you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse..”
What you really had to love was Mr. Powell’s explanation for the record number of car owners in default on their monthly payments: “…not everybody is sharing in this widespread prosperity we have.” Errrgghh Errrgghh Errrgghh. Sound of klaxon wailing. What he meant to say was, hedge-funders, private equity hustlers, and C-suite personnel are making out just fine as the asset-stripping of flyover America proceeds, and you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse (where, by the way, you are probably stealing half the oven-ready chicken nuggets in inventory).
Interlocutor Scott Pelley asked the oracle about “those half-a-million people who have given up looking for jobs.” Did he pull that number out of his shorts? The total number out of the workforce is more like 95 million, and when you subtract retirees, people still in school, and the disabled, the figure is more like 7.5 million. There was some blather over the “opioid epidemic,” the upshot of which was learn to code, young man. Personally, I was about as impressed as I was ten years ago when past oracle Ben Bernanke confidently explained to congress that the disturbances in Mortgage-land were “contained.”
David Leonhardt of The New York Times had a real howler in his Monday column on the state of the economy: “Americans are saving more and spending less partly because the rich now take home so much of the economy’s income — and the rich don’t spend as large a share of their income as the poor and middle class.” Suggestion to Mr. Leonhardt: Learn to code.
Sales of synthetic chemicals will double over the next 12 years with alarming implications for health and the environment, according to a global study that highlights government failures to rein in the industry behind plastics, pesticides and cosmetics. The second Global Chemicals Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Monday, said the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020. In fact, the study by the United Nations Environment Programme found that the industry has never been more dominant nor has humanity’s dependence on chemicals ever been as great.
“When you consider existing pollution, plus the projected growth of the industry, the trends are a cause for significant concern,” said Achim Halpaap, who led the 400 scientists involved in the study. He said the fastest growth was in construction materials, electronics, textiles and lead batteries. More and more additives are also being used to make plastics smoother or more durable. Depending on the chemical and degree of exposure, the risks can include cancer, chronic kidney disease and congenital anomalies. The World Health Organization estimated that the burden of disease was 1.6 million lives in 2016. Halpaap said this was likely to be an underestimate.
In addition to the human health dangers, he said chemicals also affect pollinators and coral reefs. Global chemical production has almost doubled since 2000 and is now – if the pharmaceutical business is taken into account – the world’s second largest industry, the report noted. This is expected to continue for at least the next decade owing to massive increases in the expanding economies of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. By 2030, the industry is projected to almost double again from 2017 levels to hit $6.6tn (£5tn) in sales; China is forecast to account for 49.9% of the world market.
1. Glenn Simpson suggests in his testimony to the Senate that he never spoke to anyone at the FBI about Christopher Steele, the former British spy he hired to investigate the Trump campaign during the election. However, Ohr suggest otherwise telling former Rep.Trey Gowdy under questioning “As I recall, and this is after checking with my notes, Mr. Simpson and I spoke in August of 2016. I met with him, and he provided some information on possible intermediaries between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.”
2. In another instance, Simpson’s testimony also contradicts notes taken by Ohr after a meeting they had in December, 2016. Unverified allegations were decimated among the media that the Trump campaign had a computer server that was linked to a Russian bank in Moscow: Alpha Bank. Simpson suggested to the Senate that he knew very little about the Trump -Alpha Bank server story and couldn’t provide information. But Bruce Ohr’s own handwritten notes state that when he met with Simpson in December 2016, Simpson was concerned over the Alpha Bank story in the New York Times. “The New York Times story on Oct. 31 downplaying the connection between Alfa servers and the Trump campaign was incorrect. There was communication and it wasn’t spam,” stated Ohr’s notes. This suggests that Simpson was well aware of the story, which was believed by congressional investigators to have started from his research firm.
3. Ohr testified to lawmakers that Simpson provided information to federal officials that was false regarding Cleta Mitchell, a well-known Republican campaign finance lawyer, and information regarding the National Rifle Association. Sean Davis, with the Federalist pointed this out in a tweet today.
4. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would not answer questions to lawmakers during testimony about when he learned that Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, was working for Fusion GPS. Just check this out from Rep. Matt Gaetz’s interview with Judge Jeanine on Fox News. “Rod Rosenstein won’t tell us when he first learned that Nellie Ohr was working for Fusion GPS,” said Gaetz, in August, 2018. “So I want to know from Bruce Ohr, when did he tell his colleagues at the Department of Justice that in violation of law that required him to disclose his wife’s occupation his sources of income. He did not do that. So when did all of the other people at the Department of Justice find this out because Rod Rosenstein, I’ve asked him twice in open hearing and he will not give an answer. I think there’s a real smoking gun there.”
However, in Ohr’s testimony he says he told the FBI about his wife’s role at Fusion GPS but only divulged his role to one person at the DOJ: Rosenstein. At the time, Rosenstein was overseeing the Trump-Russia probe, and had taken the information from Ohr and gave it to the FBI. Just read The Hill’s John Solomon full story here for the full background on Ohr’s testimony. I highlighted an important date below: remember Rosenstein wouldn’t answer lawmakers questions as to when he knew about Nellie Ohr. It also appears he failed to tell lawmakers about the information he delivered to the FBI.
Some 87% of people who were too young to cast a ballot in the 2016 Brexit referendum but have since reached voting age would “definitely” take part if a second public vote were called, according to a new poll. And of the estimated 2 million new young voters, 74% would back remain. The survey, carried out by BMG on behalf of the anti-Brexit youth groups Our Future, Our Choice and For Our Future’s Sake, suggests the youth vote would be crucial in any second remain campaign and could significantly boost its chances of overturning the 2016 leave result.
The survey polled two groups: those who were too young to vote in 2016 and those who were eligible to vote but chose not to. Some 72% of those too young to vote in the original referendum feel it would be unfair if Britain left the EU without them having been able to vote on the issue. Only 3% of this demographic believe Britain’s standing in the world has increased since the referendum in June 2016. Further figures from the survey reveal that only 4% of this age group have had contact with their local MPs regarding Brexit. The proportion of young voters who would be angry if Britain left the EU without a public vote significantly outweighs those who would be happy – 55% to 9%.
I was just watching Brexiteer David Davis saying the UK must be able to cut the Irish backstop when it wants, not wait for the other side to agree. But that would mean Ireland having no say at all in the matter.
Last-ditch negotiations in the Brexit process have descended into open hostility as one senior minister accused the EU of playing “games” with just three days to go until MPs vote on Theresa May‘s plans. After an extraordinary exchange between the Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, and the EU’s chief negotiator on social media, the Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said she was was “deeply disappointed with what we’re hearing coming out of the EU”. “I do have to ask myself what games they are playing here,” the cabinet minister told Reuters after Mr Barclay accused Michel Barnier of trying to “rerun old arguments” as hopes of a Brexit breakthrough began to fade before Tuesday.
It comes as Westminster prepares for another week of political turmoil, with MPs gearing up to vote on the prime minister’s deal for a second time. Unless Ms May manages to secure last-minute concessions from Brussels over the weekend and into Monday, it appears she will suffer yet another heavy defeat in the House of Commons, throwing the Brexit process into further uncertainty. Ms Leadsom said she was still hopeful of a breakthrough, but added it would depend on the EU “coming to the table and taking seriously the [UK’s proposals]”. During a speech on Friday, Ms May pleaded with EU leaders to give ground in the negotiations as she told them: “Let’s get it done”. But hours later Mr Barnier indicated on his Twitter account that if the UK did not like the deal on the table, it could accept an alternative already rejected outright by the prime minister in the negotiating process.
Theresa May has been warned another brutal Commons defeat over her Brexit deal is “inevitable” without late changes to the Northern Ireland backstop. The prime minister is preparing for a huge week in Westminster, with the withdrawal agreement she struck with Brussels set to go before parliament yet again. She has been trying to secure legally binding changes to the unpopular backstop to convince MPs that the UK cannot be tied indefinitely to EU rules against its wishes, which she hopes would be enough to get the deal through. But the likelihood of that happening appears remote as the clock continues to tick down, and further doubt has been cast over her chances by sceptical Brexiteers who she has been trying to win over.
Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group, and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds have described the situation as “grim”. In a joint article for The Sunday Telegraph, the pair said: “An unchanged withdrawal agreement will be defeated firmly by a sizeable proportion of Conservatives and the DUP if it is again presented to the Commons.” They predict that a “three-figure majority” will reject the deal in its current state, with it having already been voted down by 230 MPs back in January. It had been speculated that Mrs May could try to secure a third meaningful vote if she loses by less than 50 on Tuesday, but a loss as predicted by Mr Baker and Mr Dodds would make that prospect unlikely.
Whether her Brexit deal passes parliament or not this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s days are numbered, experts have said. The Conservative leader has in the past won praise for her determination and ability to survive what has often felt like one long political crisis since the 2016 EU referendum. But her approach to the Brexit endgame, seeking changes to the deal she herself negotiated with under three weeks to go until exit day, has prompted frustration and anger on all sides. Pro-European ministers are in revolt over the risk of a “no deal” exit, while Brexit hardliners are livid that her promise of a decisive divorce appears to be receding.
At the same time, criticism of May’s legacy from six years as interior minister is growing following a surge in knife crime and an ongoing row over the treatment of migrants. “At first she appeared to be a unifier, but she turned out to have too little courage, imagination or skill to lead the Brexit negotiations,” said an editorial in the Conservative-backing Spectator magazine. It reluctantly urged MPs to back May’s divorce deal on Tuesday, but only so that Britain could “turn the page on this unhappy chapter of our political history”.
[..] in the last election, she struggled to engage with voters and was dubbed the “Maybot” after churning out the same answers and speeches over and over again. Critics complain of similar difficulties in communicating during the Brexit talks, and even her own ministers are reportedly unsure what she will do if her deal is voted down. Matthew Parris, an anti-Brexit former Conservative MP who now writes for The Times, said he once thought May was a merely an “unremarkable” politician dealing with a tough situation. But he said her inability to engage with colleagues had exacerbated divisions over Brexit, describing her as “the living embodiment of the closed door”.
Belgium’s customs authority is advising companies that export to the UK to halt shipments after Brexit day to avoid customs chaos in the event of a no-deal scenario. Kristian Vanderwaeren, chief executive of Belgian customs, called for a “Brexitpauze” after 29 March and said firms should do as much of their exporting as they can before new controls have to come in. “Who are we as customs to give the business world instructions? But we are still asking the SMEs and all other parties to wait. Do the necessary export to your customers before 29 March,” he told Belgian business newspaper De Tijd. Mr Vanderwaeren said larger industries “such as pharmaceutical companies and car manufacturers” had been “storing stock in the UK for months” to avoid having to get parts through after Brexit but that the vast majority of businesses were not well prepared with just weeks to go.
Belgium’s main port of Zeebrugge is expected to have to deal with around a million additional import declarations and 4.5 million extra export declarations once the UK leaves the single market and customs union. The warning follows chaos and hours of delays at Calais and the Eurostar terminal in Paris after French customs officers carried out a trial of the sort of checks they would have to impose under a no-deal Brexit. The customs chief also warned that many small businesses that dealt with the UK were simply not prepared to export and that it would be better for them to pause operations. “Our customs authority has written letters to some 20,000 companies that trade with the UK telling them they have to apply for an EORI number, which is necessary to be able to import and export,” Mr Vanderwaeren told the newspaper.
Shout out to Michael Tracey on Twitter: “Biden running could be useful in the sense that it’ll keep the 2020 debate grounded in some semblance of historical perspective. Re-examining his decades-long record will necessitate this. Otherwise, the candidates would all pretend that the USA’s problems began on Jan. 20, 2017.”
The former US vice-president Joe Biden has topped a poll of Iowa voters on Saturday that also showed Senator Bernie Sanders gaining momentum against him in the number two spot. Biden, who has not announced whether he is running in the 2020 election, is the first choice for president of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers with 27% in the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll. Sanders, 77, got 25%. “If I’m Joe Biden sitting on the fence and I see this poll, this might make me want to jump in,” J Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co, which conducted the poll, told the Des Moines Register. The newspaper’s Iowa poll has a long track record of relative accuracy in the state that kicks off the presidential nominating process. In this cycle, Iowa will hold the first contest in the Democratic race in February 2020.
[..] It was the Register’s first Iowa poll since candidates began jumping into the race at the beginning of the year. The poll also surveyed support of likely Iowa caucus-goers on issues that have dominated the early discussion and drawn support from most of the Democratic presidential contenders. The Green New Deal, a proposal by Democrats in Congress to tackle climate change, was supported in full by 65% of the Democratic voters, partially by 26%, with 4% against. The deal would fund government programs on clean energy and make buildings energy efficient while helping to address poverty.
Support was also measured for Medicare-for-all, a plan first proposed by Sanders in 2017, to replace the current mix of private and government-financed healthcare coverage with a universal coverage plan funded solely by the government. It was supported by 49% of the likely caucus-goers, partially by 35%, with 11% against.
Gabbard isn’t even in that poll at all. Nice she speaks out, and nice the right wing is with her, but this is not about WikiLeaks going from a news organization (Obama Admin’s designation) to a hostile intelligence agency (Trump Admin’s designation). Because Assange has been locked up since 2012, no matter designation Obama gave him. That’s what counts.
Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who has already taken a lot of heat from her party for being outspoken against senseless war and regime change, has released a strong statement in support of WikiLeaks. Gabbard, who is also a veteran, took to Twitter to talk about the dangers of designating the award-winning news organization a “hostile intelligence agency.” “If the government can change the designation Wikileaks from being a news organization (Obama Admin’s designation of Wikileaks) to a hostile intelligence agency (Trump Admin’s designation), then any entity – online and offline – is in danger of being designated a ‘hostile intelligence service’ if they carry out investigative reporting that the US government or a particular administration considers to be hostile to itself,” Gabbard wrote in a series of tweets on Saturday.
“This will have a chilling effect on investigative reporting of powerful government agencies or officials, including the president, intel agencies, etc. This is a serious breach of our constitutional freedoms and every American – Democrat, Republican or Independent – must stand up against it.” During his presidential campaign, President Donald Trump repeatedly expressed support for WikiLeaks, even saying that he “loves” the publisher, yet his administration has dramatically ramped up efforts to extradite the website’s founder Julian Assange to face charges in the US.
Whistleblower and WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning is currently sitting in jail after refusing to testify before a secret grand jury regarding WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of the war logs. Manning was granted immunity for the testimony, but refused to participate in the political persecution of the news organization as she has a deeply held opposition to secret grand juries. Gabbard is famous for taking a stand when others won’t, even resigning from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election — as she supported Senator Bernie Sanders and was no longer impartial. She has faced backlash from both the right and the left for her principled belief in avoiding war whenever possible.
“Today, we have companies like Amazon: they have a platform. I buy a coffee maker and use it all the time, but Amazon also sucks out an incredible amount of info about every buyer and every seller. Then, Amazon makes the decision to have a competing coffee machine and drive out the business in that space,” she explained. “They have this incredible advantage from the information they get from their platform and the fact they can also manipulate the platform, putting themselves on page 1 and put the competitor on page 16 where no one ever goes… My view is break those things apart, and we’ll have a more robust market in America.”
Warren touched on many topics over the course of her hour-long conversation with Giridharadas, but her support of free markets and capitalism—in particular how those ideas need to be instituted fairly within industries like tech—came up again and again. The senator had multiple, varied analogies at the ready to help. If baseball is your language, Warren likened Big Tech’s current situation to the conflict of interest that might exist if one individual was, say, both umpire and team owner. If you prefer American history, she sees the power and influence of Google, Amazon, et al. as analogous to the railroads of the 1800s.
“The railroads of the Teddy Roosevelt era were the big monopoly of the 1800s—the railroads were where you had to be if you had a steel mill, wheat, or corn, you had to get your goods to the railroad,” Warren said. “What happened? Railroads figured out they could price differently depending on your desperation or whether they had a competitor in the field. They’d start their own steel company and then give discount rates to move that along and sell at a cheaper price, but they’d raise prices for competitors. “In that sense, what’s new is old,” she continued. “When someone gets market dominance, they destroy competition. The world that gave them birth, to get the opportunity to go and grow and do something, [the company] has grown big enough to destroy everything around it.”
The growth of the internet and user-generated content in the past 15 years has been underpinned by speed and ease of use. The foundations for this are commonly referred to as “safe harbour” provisions in copyright law. This means that organisations that allow users to upload content to their websites – Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook et al – are not liable for copyright infringement of their users, but are required to speedily remove content after the fact, if a copyright makes a complaint. Now, through article 13 of its new copyright directive, the EU is curtailing these safe harbour provisions, and thereby challenging the very basis of a free and open internet.
Imagine that you upload content to a video-sharing website and then have to wait for days for it to appear after it is vetted. That could be the future of the internet in the EU. The EU’s actions appear to be targeted at reducing the immense power of the likes of Facebook and Google. There is no question that their power needs to be reduced – but copyright law is not the correct approach. Blindly removing copyrighted content uploaded by users will snag legitimate fair-uses and inevitably result in a chilling effect on criticism, debate and commentary – so ultimately this threatens democracy and society at a time when it is especially vulnerable.
[..] the EU’s proposed copyright law amendments are ill-advised. It creates barriers to entry for newcomers to challenge incumbents, and only serves to strengthen the already powerful. Google and Facebook have the economic wherewithal to oversee all the content uploaded to their platforms. While it might increase costs for them, the vastly greater effect is on financially weaker competitors and any new, disruptive entrants on the horizon. New businesses will be hindered, forced to exist without the freedom that Google and Facebook once enjoyed to become the giants they are today. Instead of tackling the power of the internet giants, the new law will further secure their dominance. Two aspects of the EU law stand out. First, the notable exception from this law is for “non-profit encyclopedias” – which is essentially code for “Wikipedia”. Wikipedia should recognise the exception for what it is – a clever way to buy its silence.
And Wikipedia should rise above it and simply not accept it. Today, the site is a manifestation of a free and open internet. Wikipedia, if true to its ideals, should go dark in protest. Second, the EU seems to have recognised that innovation can be hindered and competition thwarted with article 13. As a result, there seems to be exceptions designed for small and young companies. To avail of this exception, companies must be less than three years old. But what about companies that take longer to grow? If the EU really wants to curtail the tech giants, they should go by market capitalisation, revenue and funds raised: say for example, a company that is valued at $1bn, has $50m in revenue, or has raised cumulatively at least $200m. These numbers could be anything, but at least a calibrated and targeted approach should be used – not arbitrary timings.
The multibillion-euro TAV link (Treno Alta Velocita) is backed by Matteo Salvini’s League party but strongly opposed by its coalition partner, 5-Star Movement, which argues that Italy’s share of the funding would be better spent upgrading existing roads and bridges. Tensions between the two sides had escalated ahead of a Monday deadline for the company overseeing the project, TELT, to launch tenders to carry out works on it, threatening to bring down the government. But Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a post on Facebook he had asked TELT to halt the finalization of tenders for the rail link because his government had committed to “totally re-discussing” the project.
Conte published a response from TELT, which said it would call for expressions of interest from potential contractors for the French portion of the rail link on Monday, effectively launching the tender process, in order to avoid losing European Union funding. However, it said it would not proceed with the definition of contracts without the consent of both the Italian and French governments. Sources close to the matter said it normally takes six months between the launch of tenders and the next phase, when contract specifications are detailed.
The TAV is a joint venture between the Italian and French states to link the cities of Turin and Lyon with a 58-km (36-mile) tunnel through the Alps on which work has already begun. The EU has pledged to fund up to 40 percent of the costs of the TAV, Italy up to 35 percent and France up to 25 percent. Italy’s transport minister, a 5-Star official, puts the total price tag at more than 20 billion euros ($22.6 billion). His French counterpart, Elisabeth Borne, said on Friday the European Commission had let it be known it was willing to increase its share to 50 percent, leaving France and Italy to finance 25 percent each.
The US is already a socialist country, it’s just that their version is socialism for the rich. Huge amounts of subsidies are paid out to kill off small business. It’s exactly what the Soviet Union and China did.
Tim Gibbons of Missouri Rural Crisis Center, a support group for family farmers set up during the 1980s farm crisis, says the cycle of economic shocks has blended with government policies to create a “monopolisation of the livestock industry, where a few multinational corporations control a vast majority of the livestock”. Gibbons explains: “They are vertically integrated, from animal genetics to grocery store. What they charge isn’t based upon what it costs to produce, and it’s not based on supply and demand, because they know what they need to make a profit. What they have done, through government support and taxpayer support, is to intentionally overproduce so that the price stays low, sometimes below the cost of production. That kicks their competition out of the market. Then they become the only player in town.
“Over time, it has extracted wealth and power from communities. We can see how that has impacted rural main streets. You can see the boarded-up storefronts. You can see the lack of economic opportunity.” Gibbons says that corporations game the system by obtaining low-interest, federally guaranteed loans to build Cafos that then overproduce. But they know the government will buy up the surplus to stabilise prices. “The system has been set up for the benefit of the factory farm corporations and their shareholders at the expense of family farmers, the real people, our environment, our food system,” he adds.
“The thing that is really pervasive about it is that they control the rules of the game because they control the democratic process. It’s a blueprint. We’re paying for our own demise. “It would be a different argument if it was just based upon inevitability or based on competition. But it’s not based upon competition: it’s based upon squelching competition.”
Monsanto has succeeded in putting science upside down. If you can’t prove 100% that Roundup causes cancer, they argue they should be able to spray 6.1 billion kilos of it over your food. That is of course utter insanity. They must prove it is NOT carcinogenic, and until then it should not be allowed in the open.
An estimated 6.1 billion kilos of glyphosate-based weedkillers were sprayed across gardens and fields worldwide between 2005 and 2014 (the most recent point at which data has been collected). That is more than any other herbicide, so understanding the true impact on human health is vital. [..] There is no question that the glyphosate debate has become highly politicised in recent years. Despite the limited evidence linking glyphosate to health risks, a European Citizens Initiative petition against its use in agriculture still garnered 1.3 million signatures, with the European Union’s 2017 decision to license it for another five years sparking mass protests across the continent.
In addition to cancer, environmental activists have claimed links between herbicide exposure and everything from coeliac disease to autism, while on the other side of the fence, regulatory agencies blame an ongoing anti-GM agenda for driving public sentiment against this small molecule. If glyphosate is banned, campaigners will have struck another severe blow against GM crop production. “My personal perception is that glyphosate has become a symbol for the use of chemicals in agriculture and the way we produce food in Europe,” says Dr Bernhard Url, executive director of Efsa. “When science meets values, things become complicated. So when politicians are confronted with the opinion of Efsa that glyphosate is safe, they say, ‘No, I don’t want to hear that glyphosate is not carcinogenic because it doesn’t fit into my world view.
“I want a world without agrochemicals and if you, Efsa, tell us that glyphosate is safe to be used, you must be corrupt.’” A 2016 study which found a 1,000% rise in the levels of glyphosate in our urine in the past two decades – suggesting that increasing amounts of glyphosate is passing through our diet – provoked further outrage. Except it isn’t really clear whether that has any consequences at all for our health. An Efsa letter, published in the journal Nature, pointed out that glyphosate residues found in Italian pasta or German beer would only exceed known risk thresholds if someone were to consume their entire body weight’s worth of those products in a single day.
Frank Larson Chrysler reflection, 42nd Street near 5th Ave, New York 1950s
Update: Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned at 5pm local time, before the parliamentary debate could take place. But that still leaves Rutte in place with his own version of “when it gets serious, you have to lie”.
There will be a parliamentary debate in Holland (the Netherlands) today about abject lies about Russia and Vladimir Putin that its Foreign Minister, Halbe Zijlstra, has been telling the country for a few years now. Zijlstra is supposed to fly to Russia tomorrow to meet with his Russian peer, Sergey Lavrov. One would suppose Zijlstra will be fired later today, if only to prevent such a meeting from taking place, but that is by no means a given.
Here’s what happened: in 2006, there was a ‘conference’ in Putin’s dacha outside of Moscow. Zijlstra worked for Shell at the time at a lower level. Later, he has pretended he way present at a meeting with Putin in which the latter supposedly talked about his dreams for a ‘Greater Russia’.
Now, Zijlstra has revealed he was not at that meeting. He claimed ‘a source’ was there and told him about it, and he had wanted to protect the source and therefore pretended he himself was present. That source, then-Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, not only never asked for any such protection, he also sent an email to paper De Volkskrant saying that Zijlstra had ‘misinterpreted’ the story Van der Veer had told him (a diplomatic word for he lied).
Putin never talked about ambitions for a Greater Russia, and never said Kazachstan was ‘nice to have’. Zijlstra made that all up. There had been mention of Greater Russia, but in a nostalgic, historical manner. And now Van der Veer, undoubtedly much to his chagrin, gets dragged into this entire false tale.
Because the entire Dutch government, longtime Prime Minister Mark Rutte first and most of all, has said Zijlstra’s lies were somehow acceptable because the ‘inhoud’ (tenor, content, narrative) of his story was true. That is to say, Rutte claims that Putin does indeed dream of land-grabbing, of invading Ukraine, the Baltic States etc.
It doesn’t matter if you have no proof of something (see the painfully botched MH17 investigation), and neither does it matter if you just make the whole thing up. The only thing that matters in Holland is that you stick to the narrative. Which, there is no other way to look at it, is fully unproven and entirely made up.
This makes the government of Holland (a NATO member), and certainly Rutte, a danger to world peace. Therefore, Rutte has to go along with Zijlstra. Because he not only condones the latter’s lies and fantasies, maintained in his days as Foreign Minister, Rutte himself also makes claim after claim based on no proof at all. Or at least nothing he has ever revealed.
Holland should never have chaired the MH17 investigation, because it was its main victim (2/3 of the near 300 who died in the plane crash had Dutch passports). In the 3,5 years since the tragedy, not an ounce of evidence has ever been published by the investigators that proves Russia was the culprit. But claims to that end have been freely made over the entire period.
Fro his Putin-bashing, then-Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans got himself a cushy job as second to EU head Jean-Claude Juncker (and yes, Juncker’s “when it gets serious, you have to lie” comes to mind in the Zijlstra thing). Timmermans, like then-US Secretary of State Joe Biden, wasted no time in fingering Russia as the perpetrator. They both made this claim within minutes. Again, without any proof.
None of this is a specific Dutch issue. The western world, led by the US, has created an atmosphere and a narrative in which it’s deemed acceptable to lie about Russia, about Vladimir Putin, about Russian hackers, and about connections Americans and western Europeans who don’t abide by the narrative, have to Russia and everything connected with it.
And well, they are right in one sense: there is a pattern here. The Russiagate investigations in the US into ties of Trump associates with Russians, like the Dutch investigation into MH17, continue ad infinitum without producing a sliver of proof.
Various and multiple claims pertaining to alleged Russian actions in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria etc. have come up hollow. Indeed, what actions Russia has undertaken are largely in response to American and EU ‘provocation’.
And yes, all this plays out against the backdrop of the military-industrial complex that hides behind the identity of NATO, an organization without a reason to exist even since the Berlin wall came down (the wall has now been gone longer than it ever existed). NATO is a convenient entity for the entirety of the western arms industry, and the neocons that still hold sway in various of its member-nations, to publicize its fear-mongering anti-Russia messages from.
Those messages keep being duly publicized by mainstream media. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement today in which it said “bilateral relations with Holland are being overshadowed by an unparalleled anti-Russia campaign in Dutch media.”
“Holland accuses Russia of spreading disinformation (fake news). People in the Dutch government keep on making such unfunded claims.” Dutch media readily and uncritically disperse the idea that Russian authorities are obsessed with the creation of a Great Russia. How is that not an example of fake news?”
Holland would be crazy to let Zijlstra go to Moscow tomorrow to talk to Lavrov. But, given what has already been said, one can only conclude that the country is indeed crazy. Or at the very least its government is. Still, even if parliament today decides that Zijlstra must leave his post, chances that they’ll send Rutte packing as well are zero.
Even though as prime minster he’s publicly stated that his Foreign Minister telling outright lies about another country is no problem as long as he stays with the narrative that said country is a threat, a narrative for which apparently no evidence must ever be presented.
At the next EU meeting Rutte is more likely to be hailed for his stance, because the narrative is that of the entire EU, of Brussels, Berlin and Paris. And NATO.
Will this episode wake up the Dutch people? Fat chance. They will focus on Zijlstra, and probably clamor for him to leave, and then go about their daily job of feeding their readers and watchers their, as Moscow puts it, “unparralleled anti-Russia campaign.”
People like Rutte and Merkel do a very good job of showing us that Europeans have more to fear from their own governments than they do of Putin. But nobody is listening. Because their media have become as much of an echo chamber as the US MSM.
Still, make no mistake: what Rutte tells his people is that he cannot be trusted. That there are things more important than the truth: the narrative. This means they will never again be able to trust him to tell them the truth. He just said so himself.
The governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE are all wary of the Muslim Brotherhood because it enjoys support as an Islamist party among a broad base, Sluglett said. In the case of Iran, he added, a key factor is the Trump administration’s threat to review a landmark deal that lifted most economic sanctions against Iran in return for curbing its nuclear and missile programs. “The Americans cannot unilaterally back out of the deal as it is the P5+1 [permanent five members of the U.N. security council and Germany], so they are using the GCC and Egypt to put pressure on any countries supporting Iran,” Sluglett said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council, which counts Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman as members.
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, responded on Twitter to the news by pointing out that Qatar “is very heavily reliant on food supplies accessed” through Saudi Arabia, so a closing of the borders poses a “very” serious challenge to Doha. For its part, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups and spreading their violent ideology, in an apparent reference to its influential state-owned satellite channel al Jazeera. “(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,” state news agency SPA said. The statement went on to accuse Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi’ite Muslim-populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.
Qatar said in May that hackers had faked remarks by its emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, criticizing some leaders of fellow Gulf Arab states and calling for an easing of tensions with Iran, a regional adversary. But several Gulf Cooperation Council states rejected Qatar’s explanation, leaving local media to unleash a barrage of attacks accusing the emir of cozying up to Tehran. Qatar shares the world’s largest gas field, South Pars, with Iran. The commercial and business ties have irritated Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries at odds with Iran over Tehran’s support for Shia-linked militants. Sluglett noted that Qatar’s dealings with Iran center on the gas field and that Doha is uncomfortable at times with a hard push against Tehran: “They find it quite ridiculous to blindly follow U.S. views on Iran.”
Just days after president Trump left the region, a geopolitical earthquake is taking place in the Middle East tonight as the rift between Qatar and other members of the (likely extinct) Gulf Cooperation Council explodes with Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt cutting all diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing it of “speading chaos,” by funding terrorism and supporting Iran. The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since, and appears to be climaxing now… just days after President Trump left the region. As Al Arabiya reports, Bahrain has announced it is cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, according to a statement carried on Bahrain News Agency.
The statement on Monday morning said Bahrain decided to sever ties with its neighbor “on the insistence of the State of Qatar to continue destabilizing the security and stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain and to intervene in its affairs”. The statement also said Qatar’s incitement of the media and supporting of terrorist activities and financing groups linked to Iran were reasons behind the decision. “(Qatar has) spread chaos in Bahrain in flagrant violation of all agreements and covenants and principles of international law Without regard to values, law or morals or consideration of the principles of good neighborliness or commitment to the constants of Gulf relations and the denial of all previous commitments,” the statement read. Qatari citizens have 14 days to leave Bahraini territories while Qatari diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the country after being expelled.
Meanwhile, Bahrain has also banned all of its citizens from visiting or residing in Qatar after the severance of ties. Additionally, Bahrain has has closed both air and sea borders with Qatar. Saudi Arabia then confirmed the same – cutting ties and shutting down all sea, airspace, and land crossings with Qatar as well as dissolving Qatar’s role in the Saudi-led coalition fighting against Yemen. Emirates, Etihad, Saudia, Gulf Air, and Egypt Air are no longer allowed to fly to Qatar and Saudi Arabia is providing facilities, services to Qatari pilgrims. Egypt then followed, confirming it was cutting diplomatic ties. Then UAE confirmed it would cut ties, shut down all sky, water, and land crossings, and expel all Qataris within 48 hours. The Maldives also just cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.
All of this happens within 24 hours of Iran calling out ‘The West’ for ignoring the real sponsors of terrorism around the world and UK’s Labor party leader outright name-shaming Saudi Arabia’s funding of terrorism. As a reminder, documents obtained by Middle East Eye show strategic alliance includes pledge by Ankara to protect Gulf state from external threats… “In December 2015, Turkey announced, to the surprise of many, that it planned to establish a military base in Qatar. Behind the scenes, the agreement was about forming a major strategic alliance. After a 100-year hiatus, Turkey is militarily back in the Gulf and ramping up its presence overseas. In January, Ankara announced that it would also establish a military base in Somalia. Specific details about the Qatar agreement, which Turkey described as an alliance in the face of “common enemies”, remain scant, but Middle East Eye has acquired copies of the agreements, as well as further details, which include a secret pledge by Ankara to protect Qatar from external threats.
Did Qatar just get scapegoated in the ‘war on terror’? One thing seems clear, support for a Syrian gas pipeline will be dwindling and with it the need for a Syrian war. Notably, this raises further doubts about OPEC’s stability. As Bloomberg notes, while Middle East ructions have historically added risk premia to oil prices, discord here could theoretically put downward pressure on prices as OPEC members struggle to maintain unity and compliance on production cuts.
Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron have challenged Theresa May over a long-delayed inquiry into foreign funding and support of jihadi groups in the UK, after the Home Office suggested the investigation may not be published. The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups was commissioned by David Cameron when he was prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia. But the Guardian revealed last week that the report was still incomplete and its contents may not be published. The Labour leader used a speech in Carlisle on Sunday evening to challenge the prime minister over the delayed report. Corbyn referenced May’s speech after the London Bridge attack on Saturday, in which she said challenging terrorism would “require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations”.
In a speech that also criticised May for ignoring warnings about the impact of police cuts, he said: “Yes, we do need to have some difficult conversations, starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fuelled extremist ideology. “It is no good Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of extremist groups. We have to get serious about cutting off the funding to these terror networks, including Isis here and in the Middle East.” The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Tom Brake, wrote to May last week asking her to commit to not shelving the report. Writing in the Guardian on Monday, the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said it was essential the report was not suppressed. “Theresa May now has a choice. Does she publish that report or keep it hidden?” Farron said.
“Theresa May talks of the need to have some difficult and sometimes embarrassing conversations. That should include exposing and rooting out the source funding of terror, even it means difficult and embarrassing conversations with those like Saudi Arabia that the government claims are our allies.” The Conservatives were criticised last year for selling billions of pounds of arms to the Saudis. Cameron ordered the investigation as part of a deal with the Lib Dems in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria in December 2015. The Home Office’s extremism analysis unit was directed by Downing Street in January 2016 to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK, with findings to be shown to the then home secretary May and Cameron. Eighteen months on, the Home Office said the report, originally due to be published in spring 2016, had not yet been completed and publication was not guaranteed, given the sensitive nature of the content. .
The Prime Minister should resign over her alleged failure to prevent the London Bridge terror attack, a former senior aide to the last Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has said. Former Downing Street director of Strategy, Steve Hilton, on Monday claimed the Theresa May was “responsible” for the attack that left seven people dead and many more injured, and called for her to resign rather than seek re-election. “Theresa May responsible for security failures of London Bridge, Manchester, Westminster Bridge,” he tweeted. “Should be resigning not seeking re-election.” Hilton posted an excerpt from a Daily Mail report, suggesting that security services had been warned about at least one of the terrorists behind the attack on Saturday.
The Mail reported that one of the attackers had featured in a documentary about extremists and been reported to the security services by friends concerned that he had been radicalised. The paper also reported evidence that the suspect had been quizzed by police last year. Previous reports have indicated that the terrorists behind the Manchester and Westminster attacks earlier this year were also known to security services. May is also under pressure to release a suppressed report Home Office report into the international funding of terror groups in the UK. The report was commissioned by the last coalition government in 2015 and due to be published last year but has never been emerged. The Home Office admitted last week that it may never be published due to the “very sensitive” nature of the report.
The report is expected to reveal links between Saudi Arabia and extremist groups in the UK. Critics of the government believe it has been suppressed due to the UK government’s ongoing trade relationships with the country. The UK recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia, despite criticisms over its involvement in the bombing campaign in Yemen.
Cultures live by myths. These create their own reality. Britons may not know much history, but they all know about the spirit of the Blitz, and many lived through the bombing campaigns of the Irish Republican Army of the 1970s and ’80s. Many will remember that, in 1984, on the day Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and half her cabinet team were blown out of their beds in the early morning by the Brighton bomb, in which five people died, she insisted that the Conservative Party conference should still start as scheduled at 9.30 a.m. Terrorism, she said, would never cripple democracy. The country is proud of that stoicism, and on the whole, wishes to live up to it. And yet. Today, there is a ripple of unease spreading through Britain, after the third brutal and unexpected attack in three months. It is the chilling realization that whatever the antiterror strategy has been so far, it clearly hasn’t worked.
However many plots are being foiled, now that anyone with the access to a car or van, a kitchen knife or the internet can choose to kill, some will succeed. This is a bleak and, frankly, unbearable prospect, and it’s concentrating minds. My 25-year-old son says that what terrifies him and his friends is their impotence. If this were indeed the Blitz, they could join up. If it was the ’70s they could either fight the I.R.A. or lobby for peace talks. But here, they have no idea how to combat this, whom to talk to, how to do anything other than wait for the next atrocity to happen, and then send sympathy and hashtags in the aftermath. Others, seeing that good will and candlelit vigils have their limits, are demanding radical action. On social media and phone-ins, and in private conversations, some people are calling for the immediate internment of the 3,000 suspected radicals on the terrorist watch lists, or their deportation, or for mass aerial bombing of the Islamic States abroad.
None of these will be solutions, but everyone is beginning to understand that savagery may become a regular occurrence, rather than an exceptional one — unless whoever is in government can offer a different and more successful approach. That is why Prime Minister Theresa May, only days away from a general election where she is fighting to keep her parliamentary majority, announced this morning that “enough is enough” in the war against terrorism, and that “things need to change.” There had been too much tolerance of extremism in Britain. The police and security services should have all the powers they needed. The internet giants, Facebook and Google, must be held responsible for radicalizing material that appeared on their sites.
Mrs. May knows just how vulnerable she is on these issues. She is already performing unexpectedly badly in the election campaign, appearing wooden and uneasy in comparison to her Labour challenger. Normally, she and the Tories could count on scoring high for law and order, but Mrs. May is in the uncomfortable position of denouncing counterterror policies for which she herself has been responsible over the past six years (in five years as home secretary and one as prime minister).
Up to 10 million Britons or nearly a third of the UK workforce do not have secure employment, according to the GMB union, which has warned of a heavy impact on health and family life. The union’s research, unveiled at its 100th annual congress in Plymouth on Monday, attempts to quantify people in what it calls precarious employment – those in the gig economy, on zero- or short-hours contracts, temporary workers, the underemployed and those at risk of false self-employment. The data, based on a survey of nearly 3,500 people of working age, emerged before the publication this month of recommendations from Matthew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair who was appointed by the current prime minister to lead a review into the gig economy. He is expected to recommend changes to the rights of self-employed workers.
Tim Roache, the GMB’s general secretary, said: “This paints a shocking picture of the modern world of work. Up to 10 million people go to work either not knowing what their hours are, if they’ll be able to pay the bills, or what their long-term prospects are. That’s a sorry state of affairs in the 21st century and a product of government’s failure to tackle bogus self-employment, the use of agency contracts as a business model and point-blank refusal to ban zero-hours contracts.” Further interviews of those who identified themselves as insecure workers found that 61% had suffered stress or anxiety as a result of their current job and the same proportion said they had been to work while unwell for fear of not being paid, losing their job or missing out on future hours. The rapid change in employment practices was highlighted by more than three-quarters of those interviewed who said they had previously been in permanent employment.
Banksy has offered fans an exclusive free print if they vote against the Conservatives in the general election. The artist posted on his website asking voters in six Bristol-area constituencies to send him a photo of their ballot paper showing that they voted against the Tories to receive a limited-edition work. He wrote: “Simply send in a photo of your ballot paper from polling day showing you voted against the Conservative candidate and this complimentary gift will be mailed to you.” The artwork is taken from his iconic “girl with a balloon” motif but now features a Union Jack flag in the balloon. Banksy said that it will be released on 9 June. However, critics have pointed out that this would contravene laws designed to ensure votes remain secret, and could also break rules against bribery.
In a “lawyer’s note” disclaimer, Banksy’s post added: “This print is a souvenir piece of campaign material, it is in no way meant to influence the choices of the electorate, has no monetary value, is for amusement purposes only and is strictly not for resale. “Terms and conditions to follow, postage not included.” Under Section 66 of the Representation of the People’s Act, it is a criminal offence to “induce a voter to display his ballot paper after he has marked it so as to make known to any person the name of the candidate for whom he has or has not voted”. It is also illegal to show the paper’s unique identification number. An Electoral Commission spokesman told the BBC: “Given the risk that someone taking a photo inside a polling station may be in breach of the law, whether intentionally or not, the commission’s advice is against taking any photos inside polling stations.”
The World Bank is keeping its forecast for global growth in 2017 unchanged, because for the first time in years, no new risks have arisen to threaten the outlook. “Over the past four years this is the first time we didn’t have a downgrade and I think that’s very good sign. Growth is firming,” World Bank economist Ayhan Kose told AFP. The World Bank expects the global economy to grow by 2.7% this year, and 2.9% in 2018 and 2019, the same as the January forecast. And after 10 years of crisis and tepid recovery, keeping a stable growth forecast is news. Kose, who heads the World Bank’s Development Prospects Group, which twice a year prepares the global economic forecasts, attributes the good news to the fact the risks, while still present, have receded.
The issues that had the potential to derail the incipient recovery included stress in financial markets as they adapt to rising US interest rates, uncertainty over the stability of oil prices, and concerns about election outcomes in Europe. But after the Federal Reserve’s two rate increases in recent months, markets have reacted “very well,” European political uncertainty “has receded quite a bit” – French voters rejected the anti-EU candidate – and oil prices while still low, have stabilized after OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers extended the agreement to limit output. “All in all, we still think that risks are tilted to the downside but the risk profile is a little bit more improved today versus six months ago,” Kose said.
However, uncertainty over policies, especially US trade protectionism and immigration restrictions under the Trump administration, is having immediate, real impacts on conditions that could dampen growth, Kose cautioned. Companies may delay business decisions and postpone investments in the absence of “well-defined policies,” for example in a case where companies have cross-border operations impacted by the North American Free Trade Agreement which President Donald Trump has opened to renegotiation. Kose noted the “serious slowdown” in investment in emerging markets and developing economy already seen over the past six years. “We are of course worried about how policy uncertainty impacts investment growth and then ultimately impacts growth in the real economy,” he said.
Italy faces a “horror” scenario when the ECB winds down its bond buying programme in a move that risks sparking a surge in the country’s borrowing costs, according to one of the world’s largest bond managers. The Pacific Investment Management Company (Pimco) said the ECB’s €60bn-a-month QE programme was “very supportive” for countries such as Italy and Portugal and had helped to limit volatility in these countries. Andrew Balls, chief investment officer for global fixed income, said removing that support was likely to push up bond yields in a country that has struggled to implement reforms and reduce its massive debt pile amid weak growth. Italian 10-year benchmark borrowing costs currently stand at around 2.2pc, compared with 0.2pc in Germany and close to 3pc in Portugal.
Mr Balls said funding Italy at these rates “doesn’t look particularly attractive” considering the risks facing the eurozone’s third largest economy. He said removal of ECB support raised the risk that Italy could be forced into a bail-out programme if its borrowing costs rose to unsustainable levels, even though the country has long lived within its means excluding debt interest costs. “The thing which fills me with horror is an environment where the ECB has finished QE, Italy does need support, and the message is you need to go to the European Stability Mechanism [the eurozone’s bail-out fund],” said Mr Balls. “Replaying the events of a few years ago with Portugal, Greece and others in the case of Italy would be an event that would raise an awful lot of risk – and you’d want to get paid a lot more than a 2pc return over 10 years to take that risk.”
While Pimco believes an Italian exit from the eurozone is “not our baseline”, Mr Balls added: “It doesn’t seem terribly unlikely either”. “Italy can’t grow,” he said. “You have limited political will to implement reform …In contrast to Portugal it’s big and systemic, but its not clear how Italy improves the situation. “In the event of a recession or shock it’s not clear how the policy apparatus deals with something as large as Italy.”
President Obama and I were engaged with all parties in the Greek financial crisis, because we wanted to prevent Greece from experiencing financial collapse. Grexit would have had very serious long-term consequences for Greece and Europe – and could potentially have triggered a wider crisis of confidence in the global economy. We were concerned that in the high-stakes negotiation between Greece and its creditors, failure to reach a sensible agreement would have made all parties much worse off in the end. But because of each side’s desire to secure the best possible terms, this worst-case scenario was a real possibility.
While the ultimate decision was up to the leaders of Greece, the IMF, and the eurozone countries, I think we helped steer the conversation in a more pragmatic direction because of the credibility we had in Athens, Brussels and Berlin. We argued with the creditor countries that Greece had been saddled with an unsustainably high debt burden and that reform would only go so far with such a large debt overhang. At the same time, we encouraged the Greek leadership to think about how to demonstrate to its creditors that it had a credible roadmap for systemic economic reform, which was necessary. While a deal was reached and the worst of the crisis is behind us, we are not yet completely out of the woods. I believe the United States continues to have a role to play in supporting the parties as they move forward with discussions on Greece’s economic future.