Edouard Manet Berthe Morisot with a bouquet of violets 1872
But of course. Let’s invite more chaos in.
• Incoming House Judiciary Chair Planning To End Probe Into FBI, DOJ (ZH)
During a break during former FBI Director James Comey’s heated closed-door testimony on Capitol Hill on Friday, incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler confirmed to reporters what many had already suspected: That Nadler (and probably his fellow Democratic leaders) would put the kibosh on the House’s investigation into alleged political bias at the highest levels of the FBI and DOJ as they launched an investigation into the Trump campaign – an investigation that eventually morphed into the Mueller probe. While Democrats prepare to ramp up investigations into everything from Trump’s “war on the media” to his involvement in his family business, Nadler told a group of reporters that he intends to end the House Judiciary Committee’s involvement in the Congressional probe as soon as he takes the reins next year.
Asked why he intends to end the committee’s involvement in the probe, Nadler responded that “it was a waste of time to begin with” and a “distraction” from the real-wrong doing here – that is, lawbreaking committed by Republicans, according to the Hill. “Yes, because it is a waste of time to start with,” Nadler said in response to a question about whether he would end the probe. Nadler characterized the Republican investigation as a political sideshow that aims to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. “The entire purpose of this investigation is to be a diversion of the real investigation, which is Mueller. There is no evidence of bias at the FBI and this other nonsense they are talking about,” he continued.
If the House investigation into suspected FBI malfeasance is just a “sideshow”, as Nadler claims, how would he explain the fact that the FBI knew the allegations contained in the Steele dossier – the linchpin of the FBI’s FISA warrant application that kicked off the Russia probe in earnest – were bogus before applying for surveillance? Or the many conflicts of interest between senior FBI officials involved with the probe (Andrew McCabe, Bruce Ohr, Peter Strzok, and, yes, Comey himself) – or the fact that McCabe was fired following after the DOJ’s inspector general confirmed that McCabe had lied under oath to try and conceal the fact that he told an FBI spokesman to leak a story about the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation just days before the election. McCabe could still face criminal charges from his lies. But Congress’s attempt to hold the FBI accountable is just a “distraction?”
Not unimportant when it comes to the yellow vests.
• France Is The New Tax Hell In Europe And Beyond (RT)
While the dust has not yet settled in the streets of Paris, after sweeping protests against fuel tax hikes, it just so happens that France has taken the crown from Denmark as the most taxed country in 2017, the OECD found. Among the 34 developed members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Emmanuel Macron leads the nation with the highest tax-to-GDP ratio, the organization reported. France leads with 46.2% of GDP against the average of 34.2% of other members, thus dropping the long-standing leader in the rating, Denmark.
The Scandinavian country’s numbers, meanwhile, shrank to 46%, down by 0.2 since last year. Sweden, Italy, and Greece round out the top five, while Mexico is the last on the list at 16.2%. Notably, tax revenues for OECD member states, on average, reached historically high levels in 2017, rising to 34.2% of GDP. It is up only slightly from 34%, the previous peak recorded by the organization in 2016.
Quite the series of demands. But hard to gauge how much support they have; there are not leaders or anything.
• Paris Under Siege As Gilets Jaunes Open ‘Act IV’ – 4th Weekend Of Protest (O.)
A charter of gilets jaunes’ “suggestions to end this crisis” has been circulating on Facebook. While far from “official” – the movement has no agreed representatives – it does illustrate the diverse, and sometimes contradictory, nature of their demands:
Economy/work A full review of taxation, with no citizen to be taxed at more than 25% of income; an immediate 40% increase in the minimum wage, pensions and benefits; “mass hirings” in the state sector to restore quality of services in hospitals, schools, etc; 5m new homes; make banks “smaller”.
Politics France’s constitution to be rewritten “by the people and for the interests of the people”; lobbying to be banned; France should leave the EU; recover €80bn lost to tax evasion each year; halt and/or reverse all privatisations; removal of “useless” speed cameras; reform of education system, removal of all “ideologies”; quadruple budget of judicial system, which must be simplified, free and accessible for all; break up media monopolies and end cosy relationship between media and the political class; open media up to the people.
Health/environment 10-year guarantee on products to end planned obsolescence; ban plastic bottles; limit power of pharmaceutical companies; ban GM foods, carcinogenic pesticides, monoculture; reindustrialise France to reduce imports and therefore pollution.
Geopolitics Pull France out of Nato and foreign wars; end the plunder of French-speaking Africa; prevent migration flows that cannot be welcomed or integrated given current “civilisational crisis”; scrupulous respect for international law and engagements.
Tuesday is the big vote in the Commons. May looks certain to lose big. So, chaos in France AND the UK. Where are Britain’s yellow vests anyway?
• No Hope Of Success And No Plan B – But Theresa May Won’t Blink (O.)
For several weeks Theresa May has been holding private meetings in Downing Street and the Commons with MPs [..] She has used all her powers of persuasion to try to win them around ahead of Tuesday’s historic “meaningful vote” on her deal. Tory whips have tried to cajole their wavering backbenchers day and night, arguing the case for the May deal and reminding the more ambitious among them where their best career interests lie. Two weeks ago May made the campaign a national one – writing directly to the people of Britain and asking them to put more pressure on their MPs to support her. A special Tory website called Back the Brexit Deal was launched by the party to rally grassroots Tories behind the cause, with limited success.
Constituency chairmen were lobbied heavily, too. Ominously for the prime minister, however, the ultra-hard sell has achieved almost nothing. Some Tories even think it has had the reverse effect to that intended – making people focus in more detail on her deal than they would have done, only for them to conclude they could never back it. One senior Conservative said the party machine had deployed every resource it could muster but had failed totally. “Whether it is our backbenchers, or the party faithful, or the public, it is the same. If anything, I think the whole ‘going to the country thing’ has made things worse.”
[..] By this weekend more than 100 backbench Tory MPs had declared themselves ready to vote against May’s deal. Surveys of Tory members show they are against, too, by a big majority. After a dreadful week in which May’s government was found to be in contempt of parliament for refusing to publish the full legal advice on Brexit, the chief whip, Julian Smith, has been telling No 10 that it is on course for a huge defeat. [..] More junior members of the government are rumoured to be ready to quit before Tuesday because they can’t live with the deal as it is. With two days to go, there is no sign May is ready to delay, change course or blink at all. One senior Tory said: “If she has a plan B, no one knows what it could be. It looks like a crisis with no solution. She seems ready to march on into the gunfire.”
Labour is keen to make out that Tuesday’s vote will be tighter than everyone expects. It is desperate to promote this view in case May limits a defeat to far less than 100. [..] But with all but a handful of the 257 Labour MPs, the entire block of 35 SNP members, all but one of the 11 Liberal Democrats, and the 10 DUP members set to vote against it – and more than 100 Tories on record as being opposed – the arithmetic points to a far worse outcome for the prime minister.
Divisions everywhere. And opportunism. If you’re in the Cabinet, and May loses real bad, what’s your political future?
• UK Cabinet Splits Over Second Referendum On Brexit Deal (G.)
A deep cabinet split has opened up over whether Theresa May should back a second referendum in a final attempt to end the political deadlock over Brexit, as senior Conservatives predicted on Saturday night that her blueprint for leaving the EU was heading for a crushing House of Commons defeat. Adding to a mounting sense of constitutional crisis ahead of Tuesday’s crucial parliamentary vote, No 10 is braced for more resignations of ministers and aides who want another referendum, or who believe May’s deal fails to deliver on Brexit. Will Quince, the Colchester MP and aide to the defence secretary Gavin Williamson, quit his post on Saturday night in protest at the Brexit deal.
Cabinet ministers have told the Observer that attempts to convince May to delay the vote to avoid one of the largest and most humiliating defeats in recent parliamentary history had not been heeded. This was despite what they saw as a clear danger that such a result could provoke a leadership challenge and split the party irrevocably. Some cabinet ministers now believe that May is so wedded to her Brexit deal that her only method of gaining approval will be through another referendum – and that the arguments for a second vote are emerging as stronger than those for a soft Brexit. The prime minister has so far refused to entertain any idea of a second public vote.
One cabinet source said it might prove to be the only way of saving May’s deal and her reputation. “She is so committed to her deal, and a second referendum could now be the only way of getting it. The polls have been remarkably stable for a while, but there does seem to be some kind of movement [to Remain], and that could well develop in the coming days and weeks.”
1,500 people is not a large enough poll.
• Majority Of UK Now Wants To Remain In The EU – Poll (Ind.)
A majority of the country now think Britain should remain inside the European Union, according to a new poll released days before the critical Brexit vote in parliament. The exclusive research for The Independent shows that, as of this month, 52% favour staying in the trading bloc. The data from pollsters BMG Research reveals support for remaining has grown month by month since the summer, and broke past 50% in December as the complex realities of Brexit were brought home to the country. The poll also revealed that almost half of people think the withdrawal agreement settled by Theresa May is a “bad deal” for Britain, with around as many saying MPs should reject the deal outright when they take the critical decision on Tuesday.
The BMG Research study lays waste to any hope that a concerted publicity drive, which has seen Ms May and her ministers tour the country to persuade people of its merits, has been a success. Instead it shines a light on the deep divisions that still exist, with none of the immediate alternative paths beyond Ms May’s plan – a second referendum, a Norway-style relationship or no deal – enjoying majority support. [..] In a further development ex-European Commission president Romano Prodi said Brussels could renegotiate the deal if MPs vote against it, creating the opportunity for Ms May to seek further concessions.
[..] When BMG asked some 1,500 respondents, “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union”, 52% said “remain”, 40% said “leave”, six% said they did not know and one% refused to say. The remain option has been in the high 40s most of this year, but from September to October it rose one point and then another point to 49% in November, meaning it rose three points in December to its current level. When respondents were asked whether they believed the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the future relations secured by Ms May are a “good deal” or a “bad deal”, 49% chose the latter. Just over one in ten, 13%, said it was a good deal,
As in something to fear. Whereas her party strangling the poorer is not.
• Theresa May Warns Of ‘Uncharted Waters’ Ahead Of Key Vote (BBC)
With two days to go until the crucial Brexit vote, the prime minister has warned MPs they face “uncharted waters” if they reject her deal. Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, the PM said a rejection of her proposals would mean “grave uncertainty” for the UK. She warned MPs their actions could lead to a general election, and there was a “very real risk of no Brexit”. Downing Street has also denied newspaper suggestions that Theresa May could postpone Tuesday’s vote. “The vote is going ahead,” a spokesman said. Last month, the UK agreed a Brexit deal with the EU – but it still needs to be approved by Parliament. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the DUP, and dozens of Conservative MPs have said they cannot support the deal, meaning it is unlikely to pass.
If the deal is rejected, it is unclear what happens next – with Mrs May insisting her deal was best for the country. “When I say if this deal does not pass we would truly be in uncharted waters, I hope people understand this is what I genuinely believe and fear could happen,” Mrs May said. “It would mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit or leaving the European Union with no deal. “We have a leader of the opposition who thinks of nothing but attempting to bring about a general election, no matter what the cost to the country. “As someone who cares passionately about my country and my party, I believe Jeremy Corbyn getting his hands on power is a risk we cannot afford to take.”
Who asked Prodi?
• EU Will Negotiate If May Loses Commons Brexit Vote – Prodi (G.)
The EU will come back to the negotiating table if parliament votes down Theresa May’s deal with Brussels, according to Romano Prodi, a former European commission president. Prodi, who twice served as Italian prime minister and had Jean-Claude Juncker’s job until 2004, said that the EU needed to do everything it could to avoid the “economic catastrophe” of a no-deal Brexit. On signing an agreement with the British prime minister last month, Juncker described the draft withdrawal treaty and accompanying political declaration on the future relationship as “the deal – the only deal possible”.
May has also said there is no scope for any further negotiation in Brussels if her deal is rejected when it comes to a vote in the Commons on Tuesday, and that the consequence of it being rejected would be “no deal or no Brexit”. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, described those who believed there could be a renegotiation as “delusional”. But in an interview with the Observer, Prodi suggested it would still be possible to find a negotiated settlement in the increasingly likely event May suffers a heavy defeat in the Commons.
Asked how he expected the commission to respond after the vote, Prodi said: “Negotiate. We must keep free trade between us because it is in the British interests and European interest. The UK has no alternative – the EU is a large part of its trade. Always the problem of Northern Ireland, but it is possible. Common sense helps.” On the EU’s insistence there could be no more negotiations, Prodi added: “Look, when the British parliament has still to vote you are obliged to be in this position. But then of course the day after you start dealing. This is politics.”
And Canada will seek to blame the US.
• China Threatens Canada With ‘Grave Consequences’ If Huawei CFO Not Freed (R.)
China has warned Canada there would be severe consequences if it did not immediately release Huawei’s chief financial officer, calling the case “extremely nasty”. Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on 1 December and faces extradition to the United States, which alleges that she covered up her company’s links to a firm that tried to sell equipment to Iran despite sanctions. The executive is the daughter of Huawei’s founder. If extradited to the US, Meng would face charges of conspiracy to defraud multiple financial institutions, a Canadian court heard on Friday, with a maximum sentence of 30 years for each charge. No decision was reached at the extradition hearing after nearly six hours of arguments and counter-arguments, and the hearing was adjourned until Monday.
In a statement on Saturday, China’s foreign ministry said the vice-foreign minister, Le Yucheng, had issued the warning to release Meng to Canada’s ambassador in Beijing, summoning him to lodge a “strong protest”. China’s official news agency Xinhua reported Le summoned the Canadian ambassador, John McCallum, in protest and urged Ottawa to release Meng immediately or face “grave consequences that the Canadian side should be held accountable for”. Adam Austen, a spokesman for the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said on Saturday there was “nothing to add beyond what the minister said yesterday”. Freeland told reporters on Friday the relationship with China was important and valued, and Canada’s ambassador in Beijing has assured the Chinese that Meng would receive consular access.
Greece wants to be everyone’s friend.
• Putin Doesn’t Rule Out Extending Turkish Stream Pipeline Into Greece (RT)
Russia is ready to cooperate with Athens in the energy sector, President Vladimir Putin has said, not ruling out the prospect of extending the Turkish Stream gas pipeline into Greece. “We are ready to carry out large infrastructural energy projects together with Greece. It includes the possibility to link Southern Europe through Greece to the Turkish Stream,” Putin said on Friday during a joint conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Moscow. “A pipeline from Greece to Italy has been nearly completed. The pipe is built, yet there’s no gas there. Yet we’ll think together on how to fill this line with some real product,” Putin added.
“It’s certainly possible, I don’t rule it out, moreover I believe it to be quite realistic.” Such a project increases the significance of Greece as the “regional energy hub,” Tsipras said on his part, complaining, however, over “double standards” the EU bureaucrats have been showing over the Turkish Stream and other projects involving Russia. Greece used to be one of the countries to host a section of the now-deprecated South Stream gas pipeline. The project, however, met stiff resistance in Brussels, which pressed participating countries – namely Bulgaria – to stop working on it. The project was scrapped late in 2014, ultimately giving way to the Turkish Stream
The Turkish Stream was agreed by Russia and Turkey in October 2016. The first branch will deliver gas to Turkish consumers, while the second one will bring it to countries in southern and south-eastern Europe. In November, Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, unveiled the offshore section of the pipeline, which is expected to be fully completed late in 2019. So far, there are plans to extend it into Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia.
Useless reports anyway. These conferences will not solve a thing. Our political systems don’t allow for that.
• COP24 Fails To Adopt Key Climated Change Report (BBC)
Attempts to incorporate a key scientific study into global climate talks in Poland have failed. The IPCC report on the impacts of a temperature rise of 1.5C, had a significant impact when it was launched last October. Scientists and many delegates in Poland were shocked as the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait objected to this meeting “welcoming” the report. It was the 2015 climate conference that had commissioned the landmark study. The report said that the world is now completely off track, heading more towards 3C this century rather than 1.5C. Keeping to the preferred target would need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. If warming was to be kept to 1.5C this century, then emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be reduced by 45% by 2030.
The report, launched in Incheon in South Korea, had an immediate impact winning praise from politicians all over the world. But negotiators here ran into serious trouble when Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and Kuwait objected to the conference “welcoming” the document. Instead they wanted to support a much more lukewarm phrase, that the conference would “take note” of the report. Saudi Arabia had fought until the last minute in Korea to limit the conclusions of the document. Eventually they gave in. But it now seems that they have brought their objections to Poland. The dispute dragged on as huddles of negotiators met in corners of the plenary session here, trying to agree a compromise wording. None was forthcoming. With no consensus, under UN rules the passage of text had to be dropped.