Marc Chagall The soldier drinks 1912
The echo chamber continues unabated. It answers only to itself. James Comey even demands apologies after leaking internal FBI info to get Mueller started.
“It’s hard to see the bar anymore since it’s been pushed so far down the last few years, but President Trump’s behavior over the weekend was a new low.” That was the assessment an FBI agent who works in counterintelligence gave Insider of President Donald Trump’s performance at this year’s G7 summit in Biarritz, France. The agent requested anonymity because they feared that speaking publicly on the matter would jeopardize their job. Trump’s attendance at the G7 summit was peppered with controversy, but none was more notable than his fervent defense of Russia’s military and cyber aggression around the world, and its violation of international law in Ukraine.
Trump repeatedly refused to hold Russia accountable for annexing Crimea in 2014, blamed former President Barack Obama for Russia’s move to annex it, expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and castigated other G7 members for not giving the country a seat at the table. Since being booted from the G8 after annexing Crimea, Russia’s done little to make up for its actions. In fact, by many accounts, it’s stepped up its aggression. In addition to continuing to encroach on Ukraine, the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US election and was behind the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in the UK. US officials also warn that as the 2020 election looms, the Russians are stepping up their cyberactivities against the US and have repeatedly tried to attack US power grids.
“What in God’s name made Trump think it would be a good idea to ask to bring Russia back to the table?” the FBI agent told Insider. “How does this serve US national-security interests?” Trump’s advocacy for Russia is renewing concerns among intelligence veterans that Trump may be a Russian “asset” who can be manipulated or influenced to serve Russian interests, although some also speculate that Trump could just be currying favor for future business deals. A former senior Justice Department official, who worked closely with the former special counsel Robert Mueller when he was FBI director, didn’t mince words when reacting to Trump’s performance at the G7 summit: “We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office.”
Lots of Hong Kong today. Let’s start here.
Earlier this summer, Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, submitted a report to Beijing that assessed protesters’ five key demands and found that withdrawing a contentious extradition bill could help defuse the mounting political crisis in the territory. The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. China’s role in directing how Hong Kong handles the protests has been widely assumed, supported by stern statements in state media about the country’s sovereignty and protesters’ “radical” goals.
Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest. The Chinese central government has condemned the protests and accused foreign powers of fuelling unrest. The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly warned other nations against interfering in Hong Kong, reiterating that the situation there is an “internal affair.” Lam’s report on the tumult, made before an Aug. 7 meeting in Shenzhen about Hong Kong led by senior Chinese officials that examined the feasibility of the five demands of the protesters, analyzing how conceding to some of these might quiet things down, the individuals with direct knowledge said.
In addition to the withdrawal of the extradition bill, the other demands analyzed in the report were: an independent inquiry into the protests; fully democratic elections; dropping of the term “riot” in describing protests; and dropping charges against those arrested so far. The withdrawal of the bill and an independent inquiry were seen to be the most feasible politically, according to a senior government official in the Hong Kong administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said the move was envisioned as helping pacify some of the more moderate protesters who have been angered by Lam’s silence.
[..] The extradition bill is one of the key issues that has helped drive the protests, which have drawn millions of people into the streets of Hong Kong. Lam has said the bill is “dead,” but has refused to say explicitly that it has been “withdrawn.” Beijing told Lam not to withdraw the bill, or to launch an inquiry into the tumult, including allegations of excessive police force, according to the senior government official. Another of the three individuals, who has close ties with senior officials in Hong Kong and also declined to be identified, confirmed the Hong Kong government had submitted the report. “They said no” to all five demands, said the source. “The situation is far more complicated than most people realize.”
Question is: how many people will come out? Some rallies saw 1.5 million of the city’s 7.5 million on the streets.
Hong Kong police have banned both a rally and a march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front planned for Saturday, according to the group’s convener Jimmy Sham. It marked the first time that an entire event organised by the pro-democracy coalition has been prohibited owing to concerns over public order. Sham said police had cited previous confrontations between protesters and police as the reason for the ban. The event was themed around reiterating the five core demands of anti-extradition law protesters on the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s decision to impose restrictive measures on Hong Kong elections. The original plan was to rally at Chater Garden at 2:30pm then march to the China Liaison Office in Sai Wan at 3pm.
Sham said the Front will appeal the decision after speaking with lawyers: “We did not see a very clear reason [to ban the protest] in the objection letter,” he said. “We will discuss ways for residents to exercise their right to protest in a safe and legal way,” he added. “[Chief Executive] Carrie Lam has not allowed Hong Kong to return to calm, but she has used different means to make Hong Kong people even angrier.” The police previously banned the Front’s march on August 18, citing public security concerns, but approved a static rally at Victoria Park. However, protesters marched peacefully to Central nonetheless, without facing any police interference.
China understands only fear, it would seem.
Summary: Saturday’s planned protest in Hong Kong has been canceled after the arrest of three of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest leaders on Friday; Joshua Wong, Andy Chan, and Agnes Chow. CNBC’s Eunice Yoon notes that the arrests are being described on Chinese media as a crackdown on “the activists who create chaos in Hong Kong.”
Update (0105ET): Saturday’s planned protest marking the fifth anniversary of the 2014 event which sparked the Umbrella Movement has been canceled, according to The Guardian. Bonnie Leung from the Civil Human Rights Front said: “The appeal board has just rejected our appeal. Our first principle is always to protect all the participants and make sure that no one could bear legal consequences because of participating in the protest that we organised. However, because of the appeal board’s decision, we can see no way that we can keep this principle and also continue our march and protest. Therefore the civil human rights front has no option but to cancel the march tomorrow.”
The Civil Human Rights Front would like to sincerely apologise to the public and hope you can understand what we explained and the difficulty we are facing. At the same time, we understand that the right to march and the right to protest is a human right and is very important to Hong Kong people. The CHRF will continue to apply for marches and apply for rallies. “I think the police are using all kinds of excuses to arrest all kinds of people including us. They arrested Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow this morning so there is a real danger we could face the same consequences as well. We will try our best to preserve CHRF as a legal organiser. If we do otherwise, the police may use that as an excuse to give us even more trouble in the future,” she added.
He’s like the guy in front of the tank in Tiananmen.
Wong, the icon of pro-democracy demonstrations five years ago that foreshadowed the latest turbulence, is the highest-profile arrest since protests escalated in mid-June over fears Beijing was exerting greater control over the city. Two other prominent activists, Andy Chan and Agnes Chow, have also been detained. The bespectacled Wong, who was 17 when he became the face of the student-led Umbrella Movement, has not been a prominent figure in current protests which have no identifiable leaders. He was released from jail in June after serving a five-week term for contempt of court. “He was suddenly pushed into a private car on the street,” Wong’s political party Demosisto, which advocates for greater democracy in Hong Kong, said on its official Twitter account.
“He has now been escorted to the police headquarters in Wan Chai,” it said. Demosisto’s lawyers were working on the case, it said. Police said Wong and Chow, both 22, were arrested on Friday on suspicion of “organizing unorganized assembly” and “knowingly participating in unauthorized assembly”. Chan, a founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party that was banned last September, was arrested at Hong Kong’s international airport on Thursday on suspicion of “participating in riots” and “attacking police” during a protest on July 13, police said. Police have refused permission for a pro-democracy march on Saturday and an appeal by organizers to allow the demonstration to proceed was turned down on Friday.
If they don’t respond to the protesters’ demands, they will have no choice.
Hong Kong is a long way from having to declare emergency powers or to ask the Chinese military to intervene, a senior official with China’s parliament and pro-Beijing Hong Kong politician told Reuters, as months of protests show no sign of abating. Hong Kong has been engulfed in angry and sometimes violent protests against the government since mid-June, sparked by a now-suspended extradition bill and concerns that Beijing was trying to bring the territory under greater mainland control. Police fired water cannon and tear gas at anti-government demonstrators on Sunday, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warned later that authorities would be forced to stamp down on the escalating violence.
Maria Tam, deputy director of the Chinese parliament’s Basic Law Committee, told Reuters in Beijing late on Thursday emergency legislation was not something for which Hong Kong’s government would have to ask Beijing’s permission. “The emergency legislation is something that is left behind by the colonial British government. It’s nothing to do with the Basic Law. It’s entirely in the power of the highly autonomous region,” Tam said, referring to the mini-constitution under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 return to China.
“At the moment there are still plenty of tools. We have different articles in the police force ordinance and articles in the public order ordinance which we can still invoke to control the situation. We haven’t got to the stage when we really have to engage in enacted laws by the chief executive with the executive council to, for example, enact anti-mask or interception of internet messages. We’re quite a distance from that,” she said. However, there may come a stage when Hong Kong has to do this, Tam said. “I think if its come to the stage when all the other ordinances I have mentioned have failed to work, then I suppose the chief executive may have to consider it,” she said.
China needs Hong Kong as a trade center.
The use of any emergency powers at the government’s disposal to end Hong Kong’s escalating protest crisis would have to come in a measured way rather than a blanket crackdown, to protect the city’s status as an international financial centre, a top adviser to the city’s embattled leader said on Wednesday. However, Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan said that while Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration had the option of using the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, the city was nowhere near requiring such a move, which would grant the power to seize property or shut down the internet.
Chan was speaking at the latest China Conference organised by the South China Morning Post, this time focusing on Beijing’s ambitious Greater Bay Area (GBA) plan in the context of Hong Kong’s advantages and challenges. The GBA national plan is to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine other Guangdong cities into a financial and technological powerhouse to rival Silicon Valley by 2035, with the two special administrative regions playing a leading role on the strength of the unique “one country, two systems” policy under which they are governed.
[..] he cautioned that speculative news reports were unnecessarily inciting fear, and suggested the government would not turn the city upside down overnight. “I know in some countries they decide to shut down the whole internet, that’s crazy, that would be so unhelpful for all the businesspeople in Hong Kong,” Chan said. “I think whatever decision we make, it has to be very measured, and equitable, and lawful.”
One of many court cases. They appear to be too many in too many different courts for now. Focus!
My legal team and I have been in communication with Johnson’s legal advisers since early July. They repeatedly and comprehensively reassured me that prorogation was not an option for him, and that the whole issue was of no more than “academic” interest. I was therefore stunned by the announcement on Tuesday, not least because their last reply to us was on Monday evening. Lies are being told, professional rules broken, and a ruthless prime minister is subjecting our unwritten constitution to stresses that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
As a country we have more of a political constitution than a legal one, and as such it operates via conventions and precedents. I believe those conventions and precedents mean that prorogation is not to be used in the manner Johnson has announced, and disagree with the views of the eminent former supreme court justice Jonathan Sumption when he says this is not a matter for the courts. The effect of a prorogation of this length will be to prevent parliament from fulfilling its statutory duty to scrutinise any agreement between the UK and the EU. When you add to this the fact that the government must exercise its prerogative powers in good faith, I believe there is a legal principle at stake that qualifies for judicial review. I also think that Sumption has failed to take account of the evolutionary nature of the UK constitution, and that in these unprecedented constitutional times, the legal arguments involved can also be expected to be unprecedented.
The charge the Johnson government is making against me is that I am using the courts to subvert the will of the people. But a no-deal Brexit was never the will of the people, and at no point during the EU referendum campaign did the people authorise any government to abandon not just parliamentary democracy, but the laws of the land. Our laws are ultimately all that protect us from tyranny, and before them we are all equal – prime ministers and private citizens alike. Even against the desperate time constraints imposed upon us, I am hopeful that the courts will be able to check the omnipotent power Johnson wants for himself.
• Gina Miller is a businesswoman and transparency activist, and is taking legal action to prevent Boris Johnson proroguing parliament.
For how many pennies on the dollar?
French lender BNP Paribas plans to bid for Deutsche Bank’s equity derivatives book and is hopeful it can beat off rival bidders to secure a deal in the next few weeks, according to sources familiar with the matter. Deutsche Bank is selling the portfolio as part of a restructuring that will see it exit equities trading and other unwanted businesses and shed 18,000 staff globally. CEO Christian Sewing is hoping the plan will turn around the bank, whose shares hit a record low this month. Deutsche Bank plans to auction its equity derivatives portfolio next month having received significant expressions of interest from banks, private equity firms and hedge funds, the sources told Reuters. It may sell the book in separate tranches rather than in its entirety, they said.
BNP is already close to taking control of Deutsche Bank’s prime brokerage business, which serves hedge fund clients. A preliminary deal was struck in July which is expected to be formalized early next month. Any equity derivatives deal would be separate from that transaction, the sources said. Reuters reported last month that Deutsche Bank’s derivatives exposure is tying up capital that could have generated income of 500 million euros a year. Reuters also reported the bank has set aside over 1 billion euros to cover the cost of offloading derivatives moved to its so-called “bad bank,” or capital restructuring unit to be wound down or sold.
The restructuring has seen the bank hive off 288 billion euros of assets into the bad bank. Equities, including equity derivatives, accounted for around 170 billion euros of those assets. Fixed-income assets, including long-dated interest rate and credit derivatives, accounted for 79 billion euros. The equity derivatives are short-dated and expected to attract a lot of interest from buyers, meaning Deutsche Bank may not have to take a discount to offload them. The bank’s longer-dated interest rate and credit derivatives are expected to be much harder to sell, as they require high levels of capital to be held against them, and could require deep writedowns [..]
Forgive me if this is burying the lede, but I also want to talk about how Maria Butina got into this predicament in the first place. We know that she was very active in the gun rights movement in both Russia and the U.S. and that she sought to improve contact between gun groups in both countries. We also know that she met and began dating Patrick Byrne, the founder and CEO of Overstock.com. We learned recently, thanks to Byrne himself, that he was a longtime FBI source and that the FBI directed him to begin dating Butina. He did so. And he reported back to the FBI that she was simply a graduate student. That wasn’t good enough for the FBI, though and, according to Byrne, he was instructed to go back to Butina, to begin a sexual relationship with her, and to again report back to the FBI. He did that, too.
In the end, the Justice Department accused her publicly of “trading sexual favors” for access, an accusation that prosecutors had to withdraw. It was patently untrue. But that didn’t stop them from accusing her in the press of being a Russian spy, which she was not. And it didn’t stop the judge from giving her three times the maximum sentence called for by the sentencing guidelines. I will ask your forgiveness again if I sound like a broken record. But this is how the FBI makes their cases. They entrap people. I’ve written extensively about how the FBI brazenly carried out a sting operation against me (unsuccessfully) that could have resulted in an espionage conviction and as much as 30 years in prison. They did the same thing to Butina.
Butina wasn’t committing a crime, so they just made something up, leaked it to the press, allowed it to influence the public and the judge, and hoped she would cave and take a plea. She did. Byrne went on CNN last week to say that two of the three people who instructed him to do all of this were James Comey, Peter Strzok, and another as-yet-unnamed individual. The operation was hatched at the top. The whole story sickens me.
EU countries with high household debt are out of luck. They don’t make their own decisions.
High household debt in Australia could make the economy less resilient to shocks and complicate future interest rate decisions, the country’s central bank said on Friday. A long boom in Australia’s housing market that ended in 2017 had sent the household debt to income ratio to all-time highs, prompting regulators to tighten bank lending standards which in-turn led to home prices crumbling. The recent property downturn together with miserly wage growth have squeezed household balance sheets and hurt consumer spending, a major reason why the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cut interest rates twice since June to a record low of 1%.
“Movements in asset values and leverage may be more important for economic developments than in the past given the already high levels of debt on household balance sheets,” the RBA said in its 2019/20 corporate plan. The household debt to income ratio is above 190%, among the highest in the developed world. “Especially in the context of weak growth in household income, high debt levels could complicate future monetary policy decisions by making the economy less resilient to shocks,” it added.
First you destroy, then you downgrade.
The long-term outlook for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was downgraded to “very poor” for the first time Friday by the official agency charged with managing the world heritage site. In its latest five-yearly report on the health of the world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority singled out rising sea temperatures due to climate change as the biggest threat to the giant organism. “The significant and large-scale impacts from record-breaking sea surface temperatures have resulted in coral reef habitat transitioning from poor to very poor condition,” the government agency said. It said “strong and effective management actions are urgent at global, regional and local scales” to rescue the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
“The Reef is core to Australia’s identity and improving its outlook is critical,” it said, adding that in addition to countering climate change, further action was needed to halt the run-off of agricultural pollutants into reef areas. “The window of opportunity to improve the reef’s long-term future is now,” it said. The conservative Australian government has faced criticism from environmentalists for favouring an expansion of its massive coal mining and export industry over action to curb climate change. Friday’s reef report coincided with the release of new government data showing that Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change continued a four-year rising trend during the first half of 2019.
As tongues of flame lapped the planet’s largest tract of rain forest over the past few weeks, it has rightfully inspired the world’s horror. The entire Amazon could be nearing the edge of a desiccating feedback loop, one that could end in catastrophic collapse. This collapse would threaten millions of species, from every branch of the tree of life, each of them—its idiosyncratic splendor, its subjective animal perception of the world—irretrievable once it’s gone. This arson has been tacitly encouraged by a Brazilian administration that is determined to develop the rain forest, over the objections of its indigenous inhabitants and the world at large. Losing the Amazon, beyond representing a planetary historic tragedy beyond measure, would also make meeting the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement all but impossible.
World leaders need to marshal all their political and diplomatic might to save it. The Amazon is a vast, ineffable, vital, living wonder. It does not, however, supply the planet with 20 percent of its oxygen. As the biochemist Nick Lane wrote in his 2003 book Oxygen, “Even the most foolhardy destruction of world forests could hardly dint our oxygen supply, though in other respects such short-sighted idiocy is an unspeakable tragedy.” The Amazon produces about 6 percent of the oxygen currently being made by photosynthetic organisms alive on the planet today. But surprisingly, this is not where most of our oxygen comes from.
In fact, from a broader Earth-system perspective, in which the biosphere not only creates but also consumes free oxygen, the Amazon’s contribution to our planet’s unusual abundance of the stuff is more or less zero. This is not a pedantic detail. Geology provides a strange picture of how the world works that helps illuminate just how bizarre and unprecedented the ongoing human experiment on the planet really is. Contrary to almost every popular account, Earth maintains an unusual surfeit of free oxygen—an incredibly reactive gas that does not want to be in the atmosphere—largely due not to living, breathing trees, but to the existence, underground, of fossil fuels.