Sep 042019
 


Salvador Dali Neo-Cubist Academy (Composition with Three Figures) 1926

 

No, I’m still not taking sides in the Brexit proceedings. I have no horse in that fight. As I’ve said 1000 times, I can fully imagine that a country might want to leave the trappings of the EU. But just as often I’ve said that the way the Tories have gone about leaving appears deeply flawed. They have never seemed to take serious the amount of effort required for a smooth exit.

And after being an EU member for 40+ years, that effort could only be gigantic. But not one moment during Theresa May’s ‘reign’, let alone under Boris, have I gotten the impression that the UK is ready. They’ve spent their time fighting amongst each other about the shape and form Brexit should take, but neglected the practical implications of changing 1000s of rules and regulations and treaties and laws.

And sure, maybe a lot of work was done in secret, can’t very well do nothing at all, but none of that would matter very much; you need to show that you’re ready, not merely suggest it. And from what I can gather from the latest numbers I’ve seen, expectations are still that 50-60% of trucks (lorries) will not have the required paperwork once the UK leaves.

This may yet be brought down to 40% or even 30%, but that would still be highly disruptive. And it appears unnecessary. Three years should have been sufficient to accomplish much more and much better. Predictions of 48-hour waiting times for trucks are all over, and for an economy built on just-in-time delivery that won’t do.

But oh well, it may already be water under the bridge. Boris Johnson lost bigly yesterday in a vote over control of the Commons and chances are he’ll lose biglier in today’s vote over a no-deal Brexit bill. Unless he (or actually Dominic Cummings) plays 4-D chess and has seen it all coming from miles away.

I can see Johnson setting things up to get the election he wanted, but I have a harder time seeing why he would want Jeremy Corbyn to have the power to halt that election unless the Commons today vote down any and all odds of a no-deal. But then I’ll be the first to admit I’m not yet a grandmaster in 4-D chess.

Dominic Cummings would have to be, though, to pull this one off. Did he expect 21 Tories to side against ‘their own’ Boris? If they had voted with him, the result would have been 322-307 in favor of Boris. Did they know they wouldn’t get it? Do they know they won’t get it today either? An additional extension to January 31 2020 is also part of the whole package. Will Cummings still be around by then?

 

 

Sterling is surging as I write this, And I really must wonder why. Don’t think that’s due to my 4-D skills either. Jeremy Corbyn made it very clear last night that Labour won’t support snap elections (and without them Boris won’t have the 2/3 majority he needs) unless no-deal is off the table for real. Is the pound surging because Boris is plummeting, and Corbyn now calls the shots? Does that make sense? Man, it already hurts in 3-D…

Still, I started writing this, really, because of the title. Couldn’t let that one get away. It’s something used to describe Boris Johnson in a court case in Scotland yesterday by lawyer Aidan O’Neill QC, speaking for a group of 75 MPs and peers who brought the case (against prorogation of Parliament). Love the details here: Aidan O’Neill is a “double silk”, being Queen’s Counsel at both the Scottish and English Bars.

And love the term, obviously, especially since it’s not used in a tabloid, but in a courtroom. By a double silk, no less. In the end, it’s all about the theater. Still, what came to light was not merely a little detail.

Johnson Decided To Suspend Parliament ‘Two Weeks Before Asking Queen’

Boris Johnson had secretly decided to suspend parliament nearly two weeks before asking the Queen, according to memos from Downing Street read out in court. The court in Edinburgh heard the first memo was written by Nikki da Costa, the prime minister’s senior legal adviser, on 15 August and spelled out the plan to suspend parliament in the week beginning 9 September. Her memo was circulated to a very small circle of key figures in Downing Street, including Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, Ed Lister, the prime minister’s chief of staff, and Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s controversial chief adviser.


In public Johnson was then refusing to confirm he planned to do so but he ticked the secret memo and said “yes”, before sending Da Costa a handwritten note the following day, where he criticised the convention where MPs return for several weeks of Commons business after the summer holidays before breaking again for conference season. He told Da Costa the “whole September session [at Westminster] is a rigmarole introduced to show the public that MPs are earning their crust. I don’t see anything especially shocking about this prorogation.”.

 

It appears very clear what was ‘shocking‘, and if it had not been shocking there would have been no reason to keep it secret. C’mon, at least try.

 

[..] The documents, revealed in heavily redacted form for the first time at 10.55pm on Monday, were sent to the legal team acting for 75 MPs and peers who are challenging prorogation in the court of session in Edinburgh. Aidan O’Neill QC, acting for the MPs and peers, said he only received an unredacted version of the documents on Tuesday morning.


He told Lord Doherty, the judge hearing the case, this proved Johnson was plotting to suspend parliament at the same time that his government’s lawyers had told the court in Edinburgh the question of prorogation was “hypothetical and academic” because no such decision had been taken. The UK government had also refused to give the court any sworn affidavits setting out why prorogation was necessary and the prime minister had ignored O’Neill’s suggestion last week that he should provide one to the court.

 

Yeah, well, that’s the ‘shocking’ thing: doing one thing in secret and saying the opposite in public.

Accusing Johnson of “incontinent mendacity, O’Neill said the prime minister had shown an unwillingness to acknowledge and speak the truth. He said: “He has chosen not to be accountable to this court and seeks not to be accountable to parliament.” David Johnston QC, acting for the UK government, apologised to the court for failing to produce the papers until the night before the hearing and admitted the government had breached the deadline for submitting them.


He said they were being produced in the spirit of transparency, to allow the court to understand the process behind the decision to seek prorogation. Reading from a brief prepared by the government, Johnston insisted the legal action was academic because MPs were still being given time to sit and vote before exit day on 31 October, and set their own agenda. “We are not dealing with an executive which is out of control,” he said.

It is very obvious what Boris et al were trying to do and they can call it the Will of the People all they want, but the Will of the People is not, and should not be, secret. Here’s a bit more of what Mr. Double Silk had to say about Boris in Edinburgh, via the Press Association:

 

Mr O’Neill described Mr Johnson as having a record that was “characterised by incontinent mendacity, an unwillingness or inability to speak the truth”. He pointed to the documents as showing the suspension of parliament policy was being considered much earlier than announced and argued the court had been misled. Mr O’Neill said: “This court was told nothing of that and was told in fact that this judicial review is academic, hypothetical and premature.


“That is not true. This court and these petitioners were being actively misled.” He argued the real reason to suspend parliament was to allow a no-deal Brexit to take place by removing proper scrutiny. Mr O’Neill also said Mr Johnson was trying to govern as an “autocracy” using “one-man rule” by these attempts. He added: “Why were these specific dates chosen? It’s because they think they’re gaming the system.”

 

Meanwhile, the Edinburgh court has rejected the case against prorogation, which was probably expected. British law, especially because the country has no constitution, is pretty opaque.

 

The court of session in Edinburgh has rejected an attempt to prevent Boris Johnson’s prorogation of the House of Commons. Lord Doherty, the judge who heard the case, said the decision could not be measured against legal standards as it was matter of high policy and political judgment, and was therefore for politicians to settle. “In my opinion, there has been no contravention of the rule of law. Parliament is the master of its own proceedings. It is for parliament to decide when it sits. Parliament can sit before and after prorogation,” he said.

He told the court it was for parliament, and ultimately the electorate, to hold the government accountable for such political decisions. The case was initiated by the campaigning barrister Jolyon Maugham QC alongside a cross-party group of 75 MPs and peers, including the SNP’s Joanna Cherry. After the ruling Maugham tweeted: “The idea that if the PM suspends parliament the court can’t get involved looses some ugly demons. If he can do it for 34 days, why not 34 weeks, or 34 months? Where does this political power end?

“It’s not the law as I understand it. Yesterday’s hearing was always going to be a bit of a pre-season friendly. We’re now focused on the inner house, hopefully later this week, and then the supreme court on 17 September.”

“Parliament is the master of its own proceedings. It is for parliament to decide when it sits. Parliament can sit before and after prorogation..” There appears to be a contradiction in terms here, which is exactly why the case was brought. On the one hand, the judge says Parliament decides to sit when it wants, on the other he acknowledges it can’t sit when a PM decides to pro-rogue it.

That’s the entire case right there. The PM decides when Parliament sits, not Parliament itself. It’s obvious why a judge wouldn’t want to interfere -hot potato-, just like -and because- it’s far from obvious that (s)he can. Ergo: the PM rules the UK. Not Parliament. Parliament is decoration. Amusing at times, but then decoration might as well be, since it’s the only function it has.

I’m done, One last thing. I was reading back some things from last week and happenstanced on this Boris quote: “We asked the people to vote on whether they wanted to stay in or leave the EU; they voted to leave by a big majority.”.

The vote was 51.89%. Makes you wonder how he would define a small majority. But you know, I’m good. To see Boris accused of incontinent mendacity made my day. And I don’t even have anything against him. It’s all just theater. The entire British political system is (and do throw in the Queen, as hard as you can). Just theater, that much is obvious now, if it wasn’t already.

And all these MPs are pretending they didn’t already know. Hello! You’re on the Truman Show!

 

 

 

 

Aug 272019
 


Pablo Picasso Female bust (Dora Maar) 1938

 

Brexit: Shutting Down Parliament ‘Gravest Abuse Of Power In Living Memory’ (G.)
Iran’s Rouhani Says No Talks With US Until Sanctions Lifted (R.)
Brazil To Reject $20m Pledged By G7 To Fight Amazon Fires (G.)
The Geo-Politics of Looming Recession (Crooke)
Bernie Sanders Media Plan Decrying Corporate Control Of The Press (Hill)
German Economy Contracted On Weaker Exports In Q2 (R.)
Lifting Of Greek Capital Controls Signals Return To Normalcy (K.)
Johnson & Johnson Gets $572mn Slap On Wrist For Opioid Crisis In Oklahoma (RT)
How Did the 737 Max Get Approved in the First Place? (Spiegel)
Pluto Is A Planet, NASA Chief Says (Ind.)

 

 

Don’t know why they’re not in court already.

Brexit: Shutting Down Parliament ‘Gravest Abuse Of Power In Living Memory’ (G.)

Boris Johnson would be committing the “gravest abuse of power and attack on UK constitutional principle in living memory” if he shuts down parliament to help force through a no-deal Brexit, according to legal advice obtained by Labour. In a six-page document prepared for Jeremy Corbyn, the shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, laid out how any such move by the prime minister would be open to immediate legal challenge in the courts. She said it could be subject to judicial review and the courts “might well even grant interim injunctive relief in order to allow both houses of parliament to continue to sit and discharge their primary and sovereign constitutional role in this current moment of national crisis”.

The advice from Chakrabarti, a barrister, was commissioned by Labour after leaked emails showed No 10 had sought the counsel of Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, on whether a five-week prorogation from 9 September might be possible to avoid a confidence vote and help enable a no-deal Brexit. The initial legal guidance for No 10 was that shutting parliament may be possible, unless action being taken in the courts by anti-Brexit campaigners succeeds in the meantime. Johnson was pressed repeatedly on Monday on what he would do if MPs tried to thwart his Brexit policy – at a press conference at the close of the G7 summit in Biarritz. He declined to rule out temporarily shutting down parliament.

“I think that this [is] really a matter for parliamentarians to get right ourselves,” he said. “We asked the people to vote on whether they wanted to stay in or leave the EU; they voted to leave by a big majority. [..] Parliament could be shut from 9 September until 14 October – two weeks before Johnson has promised to implement Brexit with or without a deal – under the plan being considered by No 10. The official reason would be a break before a Queen’s speech setting out Johnson’s legislative programme, but it would have the effect of stopping MPs legislating against a no-deal Brexit or ousting the prime minister.

Read more …

“Tehran has never wanted nuclear weapons.”

Iran’s Rouhani Says No Talks With US Until Sanctions Lifted (R.)

Iran will not talk to the United States until all sanctions imposed on Tehran are lifted, President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday, a day after President Donald Trump said he would meet his Iranian counterpart to try to end a nuclear standoff. Trump said on Monday he would meet Iran’s president under the right circumstances to end a confrontation over Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and that talks were underway to see how countries could open credit lines to keep Iran’s economy afloat. Rouhani said Iran was always ready to hold talks. “But first the U.S. should act by lifting all illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Iran.”


Speaking at a G7 summit in the French resort of Biarritz, Trump ruled out lifting economic sanctions to compensate for losses suffered by Iran. European parties to the deal have struggled to calm the deepening confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy. Iran has scaled back its commitments under the pact in retaliation to U.S. sanctions. “We will continue to scale back our commitments under the 2015 deal if our interests are not guaranteed,” said Rouhani in a speech broadcast live. “Tehran has never wanted nuclear weapons.”

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Money pledged by the west to fight Amazon fires: $20 million.
Money pledged by billionaires to rebuild Notre-Dame: $835 million.

Brazil To Reject $20m Pledged By G7 To Fight Amazon Fires (G.)

Brazil will reject the offer from G7 countries of $20m to help fight fires in the Amazon, government sources have said, with a senior official telling French president Emmanuel Macron to take care of “his home and his colonies.” “We appreciate [the offer], but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe,” Onyx Lorenzoni, chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the G1 news website. Lorenzoni was referring to a US$20m pledge made at the G7 summit in France to fight the rainforest blaze, which environmental campaigners dismissed as “chump change” in the efforts to fight the fires that have ravaged the Amazon. “Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site. What does he intend to teach our country?” he continued, referring to the fire in April that devastated the Notre-Dame cathedral.


AFP later confirmed the comments. Brazilian environment minister Ricardo Salles had earlier told reporters they had welcomed the G7 funding to fight the fires that have swept across 950,000 hectares (2.3m acres) and prompted the deployment of the army. But after a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers, the Brazilian government changed course. “Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron,” Lorenzoni said. The announcement of the $20m assistance package was the most concrete outcome of the three-day summit of major industrialised democracies in Biarritz and aimed to give money to Amazonian nations such as Brazil and Bolivia, primarily for more firefighting planes.

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History lessons always useful. But beware of causation and correlation.

The Geo-Politics of Looming Recession (Crooke)

[..] the ‘pattern’ starts with Woodrow Wilson’s observation in 1916, that “Britain has the earth, and Germany wants it”. Well, actually it was also about British élite fear of rivals (i.e. Germany arising), and the fear of Britain’s élites of appearing weak. Today, it is about the American élite fearing similarly, about China, and fearing a putative Eurasian ‘empire’. The old European empires effectively ‘died’ in 1916, Tooze states: As WWI entered its third year, the balance of power was visibly tilting from Europe to America. The belligerents simply could no longer sustain the costs of offensive war. The Western allies, and especially Britain, outfitted their forces by placing larger and larger war orders with the United States.

By the end of 1916, American investors had wagered two billion dollars on an Entente victory (equivalent to $560 billion in today’s money). It was also the year in which US output overtook that of the entire British Empire. The other side to the coin was that staggering quantity of Allied purchases called forth something like a war mobilization in the United States. American factories switched from civilian to military production. And the same occurred again in 1940-41. Huge profits resulted. Oligarchies were founded; and America’s lasting interest in its outsize military-security complex was founded. Wilson was the first American statesman to perceive that the United States had grown, in Tooze’s words, into “a power unlike any other.

It had emerged, quite suddenly, as a novel kind of ‘super-state,’ exercising a veto over the financial and security concerns of the other major states of the world.” Of course, after the war – there was the debt. A lot of it. France “was deeply in debt, owing billions to the United States and billions more to Britain. France had been a lender during the conflict too, but most of its credits had been extended to Russia, which repudiated all its foreign debts after the Revolution of 1917. The French solution was to exact reparations from Germany”. “Britain was willing to relax its demands on France. But it owed the United States even more than France did. Unless it collected from France—and from Italy and all the other smaller combatants as well—it could not hope to pay its American debts.”

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Can the press in the US still be saved?

Bernie Sanders Media Plan Decrying Corporate Control Of The Press (Hill)

Presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday released a plan to protect independent news outlets and journalists from the effects of widespread media consolidation. Sanders, decrying the mega-mergers he says have led to a handful of large corporations acting as gatekeepers for the information most Americans receive, calls for concrete steps “to rebuild and protect a diverse and truly independent press so that real journalists can do the critical jobs that they love” in an editorial for the Columbia Journalism Review. “Today, after decades of consolidation and deregulation, just a small handful of companies control almost everything you watch, read, and download, Sanders writes.


“Given that reality, we should not want even more of the free press to be put under the control of a handful of corporations and ‘benevolent’ billionaires who can use their media empires to punish their critics and shield themselves from scrutiny.” Sanders proposes policies to better protect both local and national independent journalism. The plan includes undoing moves by the Trump administration that have made corporate media mergers easier to complete and an immediate freeze on major media mergers until their effects on the free press can be studied. “In the spirit of existing federal laws, we will start requiring major media corporations to disclose whether or not their corporate transactions and merger proposals will involve significant journalism layoffs,” Sanders writes.

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Will Germany start applying stimulus, even at the risk of rising debt?

German Economy Contracted On Weaker Exports In Q2 (R.)

Germany’s economy contracted on weaker exports in the second quarter, detailed data showed on Tuesday, highlighting the Achilles heel of Europe’s largest economy due to escalating trade disputes and waning foreign demand. The Federal Statistics Office confirmed a preliminary gross domestic product contraction of 0.1% quarter-on-quarter from April to June after a 0.4% expansion in the first three months of the year. The outlook for the German economy is uncertain as sentiment indicators point to a bumpy road ahead and most economists expect another quarter of contraction which would be a technical recession. Exports fell more strongly than imports in the second quarter which meant that net trade deducted 0.5 percentage points from overall economic expansion.


Construction investment was also a drag, falling 1.0% on the quarter. Household spending, state expenditure and private-sector investment in machinery and equipment all increased, but they were not strong enough to counter the massive drag of net trade. “The details of the growth components show that the contraction was almost exclusively driven by weak exports,” Carsten Brzeski from ING said, adding that the GDP figures showed that not everything was bad. “Some relief from trade could easily lead to a rebound toward the end of the year. Fiscal stimulus could boost confidence and improve structural growth in the years ahead.” Senior government officials have hinted that Berlin is mulling more fiscal stimulus linked to a comprehensive package of climate protection measures. Some suggested the government could even take on new debt to finance those steps.

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The new government wants all the applause, but given they’ve been in power mere weeks, that doesn’t fly.

More worrying is that police have started evicting migrants and refugees from Exarchia, known as an anarchist neighborhood, where 1000s are living in squats. Where will they go now?

Tsipras was a big disappointment, but Greece in no country for a right wing government right now. It can only lead to violence.

Lifting Of Greek Capital Controls Signals Return To Normalcy (K.)

In what is seen as a move symbolizing Greece’s return to normalcy, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Monday announced the full lifting of capital controls, earlier than the government had initially envisaged. “Capital controls are as of today a thing of the past,” Mitsotakis declared in Parliament, adding that the restrictions had been imposed in June 2015 as a result of SYRIZA-led government policies that resulted in the flight of millions of euros from bank deposits. Stressing that “a four-year cycle of insecurity” has come to an end, he said a “new cycle of optimism has begun for the economy and the banking system” and added that since his center-right New Democracy party was elected in July “faith has been restored in the Greek economy and banking system.”

For his part, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras lamented the capital controls as “a destabilizing factor, an instability factor for the banking system.” He added that the complete abolition of restrictions will be effective as of September 1. The prime minister’s announcement came after officials of the Finance Ministry met with members of the country’s banks and the Capital Markets Commission earlier in the day. Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras had recommended in July that the final restrictions be lifted after observing a continuing increase in bank deposits. One of the key aims of the abolition of all restrictions is Greece’s upgrading by credit agencies, a move that will bolster investor interest.

Meanwhile, hours after the premier’s announcement, former finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos accused the government of piggybacking on his administration’s efforts to lift restrictions. “The only reason that capital controls had not been fully lifted was the banks’ reluctance due to political uncertainty [caused by] the elections. In any case, this is a positive step, which was fully prepared by SYRIZA,” Tsakalotos said. He said that the New Democracy government was benefiting from the SYRIZA administration’s economic legacy, adding that “we are still far from seeing a clear [ND] initiative.” “Of course, in the case of New Democracy, not having its own economic policy is probably better than having one,” he added.

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The state demanded $17 billion.

Johnson & Johnson Gets $572mn Slap On Wrist For Opioid Crisis In Oklahoma (RT)

Johnson & Johnson caused Oklahoma’s opioid crisis by pushing pain pills on the state and lying about their safety, a judge has declared in a landmark ruling, imposing a penalty on the pharma giant that amounts to pocket change. The company “caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome, in Oklahoma,” Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court ruled on Monday, declaring the “misleading marketing and promotion” of its products had “compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans.”

Johnson & Johnson’s drugs division, Janssen, supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients used to manufacture the deadly painkillers and lied about the safety and effectiveness of its products, state prosecutors charged. Using misleading promotional tactics to convince doctors to overlook the addiction risk, Janssen pushed opioids – including its own drugs, Duragesic and Nucynta – on medical professionals by colluding with pain patient advocacy organizations to enshrine pain as the “fifth vital sign” and opioids as the obvious remedy. The Johnson & Johnson suit is the first public-nuisance lawsuit against a drug company to go to trial, and Oklahoma’s victory means that the case will likely pave the way for future legal action against drug companies.

The state had sought $17 billion from Johnson & Johnson to remediate the crisis – a process Oklahoma officials claimed would end up costing between $12.7 and $17.5 billion. It was awarded just $572 million, a sum Balkman said was the maximum allowed under the public nuisance law and which pales in comparison to the company’s annual revenues, which totaled $82 billion last year. However, he left the door open to “additional programs and funding” that could be required “over an extended period of time.”

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Germany’s Der Spiegel sent entire teams of reporters all over the globe for comprehensive coverage. 3 long articles.

How Did the 737 Max Get Approved in the First Place? (Spiegel)

As has always been the case with large scandals, it is difficult to pinpoint the beginning. But there are plenty of reasons for identifying the year 2008 as the start of the 737 Max crisis, when Lufthansa made an announcement at the Farnborough Airshow that it planned to buy 30 Bombardier CS100s for its subsidiary Swiss. The jets, which are a bit smaller than the A320 and the Boeing 737, were a completely new model and, according to a former senior Lufthansa executive, that model was “the best on the market at the time.” The deal came as a provocation to the management of Airbus and Boeing, spoiled as they had been by success, and they reacted. But Airbus reacted more quickly and rapidly developed the A320neo.

The Dec. 1, 2010 announcement by the Europeans that the entire A320 family would be re-engineered and outfitted with new, unusually fuel-efficient and quiet engines must have hit Boeing’s Chicago headquarters like a bolt of lightning. Airbus promised to sink kerosene consumption by an entire 15 percent. And the year after the announcement, Airbus promptly sold more than 1,000 A320neo planes — with many longtime Boeing customers among the purchasers. At the time, Boeing had no fully developed plan for a new model or an acceptable new version of the 737. Most importantly, the company was not in a position to be able to install the new generation of jet engines on its planes. So, the industry was quite surprised when Boeing, just nine months later, appeared to catch up to Airbus.

In late August 2011, the construction of the 737 Max was announced, and the company even promised that the plane could be operated 7 percent more cheaply than the A320neo. It seems safe to assume that it was a difficult period for Boeing engineers. Even the smaller CFM56 turbines could only be crammed under the wings of the old 737 by resorting to a handful of tricks. But the CFM LEAP, which Airbus intended to use, has an air intake that is almost two meters in diameter — and the Boeing engineers had to fit them onto a plane where they didn’t fit at all. Once again, they tried to compress the engine shape. And once again, they commissioned a customized, smaller version of the engine. They tried pretty much everything to create more space under the plane, even lengthening the landing gear by 20 centimeters. The most important change, though, was installing the turbines a bit higher on the wings and quite a bit further forward.

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Some people have weird hobbies.

Pluto Is A Planet, NASA Chief Says (Ind.)

Pluto’s status as a planet has once again been called into question after the head of Nasa said he believed the celestial body to be a planet. Speaking at the FIRST Robotics event in Oklahoma, Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine went against convention by placing himself firmly on one side of the Pluto debate. “Just so you know, in my view Pluto is a planet,” he said. “You can write that the Nasa administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learned it and I’m committed to it.” Pluto was first declared a planet in 1930 after it was discovered by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh.


At the time it was believed to be the ninth planet from the Sun, existing on the outer edges of the solar system in the Kuiper belt. Its status as a planet was called into question 62 years later after other similarly-sized objects were discovered in the same region of space. In 2005, astronomers discovered a dwarf planet called Eris that was 27 per cent larger than Pluto. A year later, the International Astronomical Union laid out its official definition for what constituted a planet. Pluto was not included. Since then it has been classified as a dwarf planet, though the icy object has attracted a dedicated following of people who claim Pluto should be considered a planet.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 252019
 


Man Ray Departure of summer 1914

 

Boris Johnson Seeks Legal Advice On 5-Week Parliament Closure Pre-Brexit (O.)
Trump Says Boris Johnson Is ‘Right Man’ To Deliver Brexit (G.)
Boris Johnson Warns Trump US Must Compromise To Get UK Trade Deal (BBC)
Boris Johnson: UK Won’t Owe EU £39 Billion Under No Deal (Sky)
Boris Johnson: Macron Uses Amazon Fires To Halt Free Trade Negotiations (Ind.)
Tusk Says ‘Hard To Imagine’ EU-Mercosur Trade Deal While Amazon Burns (AFP)
Brazilian Farmers Believe They Have the Right to Burn the Amazon (RS)
Hundreds Of New Fires In Brazil As Amazon Outrage Grows (AFP)
Brazil Fines For Environment Crimes Plummet (BBC)
DNC Bans 2020 Candidates From Participating In Climate Change Debate (CNN)
Gabbard Campaign Voices Concerns Over DNC Debate-Qualifying Criteria (RT)

 

 

But if you close Parliament right ahead of the biggest political decision in ages, what reason could there be to re-open it again?

Boris Johnson Seeks Legal Advice On 5-Week Parliament Closure Pre-Brexit (O.)

Boris Johnson has asked the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, whether parliament can be shut down for five weeks from 9 September in what appears to be a concerted plan to stop MPs forcing a further extension to Brexit, according to leaked government correspondence. An email from senior government advisers to an adviser in No 10 – written within the last 10 days and seen by the Observer – makes clear that the prime minister has recently requested guidance on the legality of such a move, known as prorogation. The initial legal guidance given in the email is that shutting parliament may well be possible, unless action being taken in the courts to block such a move by anti-Brexit campaigners succeeds in the meantime.


On Saturday Labour and pro-Remain Tory MPs reacted furiously, saying that the closure of parliament, as a method for stopping MPs preventing a potentially disastrous no-deal Brexit, would be an affront to democracy and deeply irresponsible, particularly given the government’s own acceptance of the economic turmoil no-deal could cause. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said: “Any plan to suspend parliament at this stage would be outrageous. MPs must take the earliest opportunity to thwart this plan and to stop a no-deal Brexit.” The prominent Tory remainer and former attorney general Dominic Grieve added: “This memo, if correct, shows Boris Johnson’s contempt for the House of Commons. It may be possible to circumvent the clear intention of the House of Commons in this way but it shows total bad faith. Excluding the house from a national crisis that threatens the future of our country is entirely wrong.”

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They don’t agree as much as they say here.

Trump Says Boris Johnson Is ‘Right Man’ To Deliver Brexit (G.)

Donald Trump has described Boris Johnson as “the right man” to deliver Brexit, as the pair met for a breakfast meeting at the G7 summit in Biarritz. Asked what his advice was for Brexit, the US president said: “He [Johnson] needs no advice, he is the right man for the job.” Johnson said Trump was “on message there”. Trump also talked up the prospects for a US-UK trade agreement after Brexit, saying it would be a “very big trade deal, bigger than we’ve ever had”. The pair were speaking to reporters after a working breakfast, accompanied by advisers and officials. Johnson confirmed he had reiterated his opposition to the NHS being opened up to US firms as part of any trade deal – and to the UK lowering animal welfare standards to US levels to get a deal.


“Not only have I made clear of that, the president has made that very, very clear. There is complete unanimity on that point,” he said. He suggested there would be “tough talks ahead”. Before their meeting, Johnson had said he would raise with Trump the issue of the increasingly bitter trade spat between the US and China; and press him to throw open the US market to British goods after Brexit. When Trump was asked by reporters if allies were pressuring him to give up his trade war with China he said: “Not at all.” He said his predecessors had allowed Beijing “to get away with taking hundreds of billions of dollars out every year, putting it into China”. Asked if he had second thoughts on escalating the dispute he said: “Sure … why not.” But then he added: “I have second thoughts about everything.”


Boris and Donald in Biarritz

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Not much there to gain.

Boris Johnson Warns Trump US Must Compromise To Get UK Trade Deal (BBC)

The US must lift restrictions on UK businesses if it wants a trade deal with the UK, Boris Johnson has said. Travelling to the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, the PM said there were “very considerable barriers in the US to British businesses”. Mr Johnson said he had already spoken to President Donald Trump about his concerns, adding he would do so again when they meet on Sunday morning. The prime minister will also hold talks with EU Council President Donald Tusk. “There are massive opportunities for UK companies to open up, to prise open the American market,” Mr Johnson said.


“We intend to seize those opportunities but they are going to require our American friends to compromise and to open up their approach, because currently there are too many restrictions.” Offering an example of a restriction, Mr Johnson said: “Melton Mowbray pork pies, which are sold in Thailand and in Iceland, are currently unable to enter the US market because of, I don’t know, some sort of food and drug administration restriction.” He continued: “UK bell peppers cannot get into the US market at all. “Wine shipments are heavily restricted. If you want to export wine made in England to the US you have to go through a US distributor. “There is a tax on British micro-breweries in the US that doesn’t apply to US micro-breweries in the UK.”

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“When Boris says the EU isn’t going to get the £30Bn the UK owes them he’s talking about:
Pensions for British civil servants
Subsidies for British farms
Funds for British regional development

Most of that “EU money” is spent in the UK.”

Boris Johnson: UK Won’t Owe EU £39 Billion Under No Deal (Sky)

Boris Johnson is expected to tell EU boss Donald Tusk that Britain will only pay a quarter of its so-called Brexit divorce bill if the country leaves without a deal on 31 October. The prime minister is due to meet the European Council president at the G7 summit in France later today. It is understood he will tell Mr Tusk that under no deal, the UK would only owe about £9bn of the £39bn liability agreed by former prime minister Theresa May. The approach is likely to stoke tension with other EU leaders at the meeting in Biarritz. In June, a source close to French President Emmanuel Macron, who is hosting the G7 summit, said refusing to pay was the “equivalent to a sovereign debt default”.


Others argue the UK is legally bound to pay the £39bn sum and warn that reneging on the obligation will prevent a future trade deal being struck and could even lead to the EU pursuing the funds through the courts. It follows a war of words between Mr Johnson and Mr Tusk on Saturday over who would be to blame if the UK left the EU without an agreement. The government has also ramped up its preparations for Brexit, announcing that an online “60-second checker” will be brought in so businesses and the public can “work out what, if anything, they need to do before 31 October”. Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said the government would shortly begin an “engagement campaign to get the country and business ready for Brexit”.

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Someone will veto it.

Boris Johnson: Macron Uses Amazon Fires To Halt Free Trade Negotiations (Ind.)

Boris Johnson has issued a slapdown to Emmanuel Macron over the French president’s threat to veto a EU trade deal with South American states including Brazil, claiming that concern over the Amazon fires was being used as an “excuse” to interfere with free trade. Mr Macron has warned that he will block the EU-Mercosur deal – on the brink of completion after 20 years of talks – unless Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro shows he is taking seriously his duty to protect his country’s environment as part of the global fight against climate change. Arriving at the G7 summit hosted by Mr Macron in the French coastal resort town of Biarritz, Mr Johnson restated his horror at the thousands of wildfires currently wreaking devastation across swathes of the Brazilian Amazon.


But he stopped well short of supporting the president’s proposal, also backed by Irish Taioseach Leo Varadkar, to withhold final EU approval for the free trade agreement until Mr Bolsonaro meets environmental commitments. The Mercosur deal, also covering Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, is opposed by many in France because it would expose the country’s farmers to competition from large quantities of cheap beef from South America. Mr Johnson said that he would do “everything we possibly can” to help Brazil tackle the “tragedy” of rainforest destruction But asked whether he would join other leaders in refusing to ratify the Mercosur deal, he said: “People will take any excuse at all to interfere with free trade and to frustrate trade deals, and I don’t want to see that.

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Merkel wants that deal.

Tusk Says ‘Hard To Imagine’ EU-Mercosur Trade Deal While Amazon Burns (AFP)

EU Council president Donald Tusk said it was hard to imagine the bloc ratifying its trade pact with South America’s Mercosur grouping as long as Brazil fails to curb the fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest. The European Union “stands by the EU-Mercosur agreement”, Tusk told reporters at a G7 meeting in Biarritz in southern France on Saturday. “It is hard to imagine a harmonious process of ratification by the European countries as long as the Brazilian government allows for the destruction of the green lungs of planet earth,” he said. French President Emmanuel Macron has said the G7 should hold emergency talks on the Amazon fires, taking the lead in piling pressure on Brazil’s far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.


He and Irish leader Leo Varadkar have both pledged to block a new trade deal between the EU and Latin American trading bloc Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. But Spain, which has close ties to South America, does not support the moves to block the massive trade, the government in Madrid said Saturday. Spain “does not share the position of blocking the deal,” and “has been at the forefront of the last effort to sign the EU-Mercosur agreement that will open huge opportunities for the two regional blocs,” Madrid said in an online message to media. On Friday Germany said that opposing the trade pact was “not the right response” to tackling the Amazon fires in Brazil.

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Corporatism rules.

Brazilian Farmers Believe They Have the Right to Burn the Amazon (RS)

From the time he campaigned for president, Bolsonaro vowed to open the Amazon to development, finishing hydroelectric dams and paving roads that cut through the forest. I traveled to the region in June for Rolling Stone on a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting to witness firsthand the battle over the forest’s future. Emboldened by the election of Bolsonaro, farmers were already burning forest to clear more land for soy farms and cattle ranches. Bolsonaro owes his election largely to a relatively new coalition in Brazil known as the Beef, Bible and Bullets caucus, which pressured his predecessor, Michel Temer, to open the Amazon for development to stave off a scandal that threatened to engulf his presidency.

According to documents leaked earlier this week, Bolsonaro has been implementing a strategy to “occupy” the Amazon with development projects — including the Trombetas River hydroelectric plant and the Obidos bridge over the Amazon River — and to prevent conservation. FUNAI, the government agency charged with protecting indigenous land, has had its budget cut in half, and IBAMA, the agency that cracks down on those destroying the forest, has had dozens of its bases shut down. Bolsonaro installed a climate-change denier as environmental minister and tried to put FUNAI under the agriculture department, which would have opened indigenous land to development had it not been blocked by congress.

The tragedy of all of this is that for over a decade, Brazil was the world’s leader in stopping deforestation. Under the leftist Worker’s Party, deforestation in Brazil dropped by 85 percent between 2004 and 2015 due to a series of aggressive reforms and the demarcation of national forest, conservation units, and indigenous reserves. IBAMA functioned as a sort of elite environmental commando unit, choppering into cleared land where, by law, they were empowered to seize tractors and bulldozers, or torch them so they couldn’t be used again.

Now, the agencies are stripped of power and resources and barely able to function in some places. “Our operations have nearly ground to a halt,” an IBAMA agent tells me. “There’s a sense of impunity that nothing will happen if the forest is cleared. It’s open season.”

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“..1,663 new fires were ignited between Thursday and Friday..”

Hundreds Of New Fires In Brazil As Amazon Outrage Grows (AFP)

Hundreds of new fires are raging in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil, official data showed Saturday, amid growing international pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro to put out the worst blazes in years. The fires in the world’s largest rainforest have triggered a global outcry and are dominating the G7 meeting in Biarritz in southern France. Official figures show 78,383 forest fires were recorded in Brazil so far this year, the highest number of any year since 2013, and experts say the clearing of land during the months-long dry season to make way for crops or grazing has accelerated the deforestation. More than half of the fires are in the Amazon, and some 1,663 new fires were ignited between Thursday and Friday, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).


The new data came a day after Bolsonaro authorized the deployment of the military to fight the fires and crack down on criminal activities in the region. The blazes have stirred outrage globally, with thousands protesting in Brazil and Europe on Friday. Earlier this week, Bolsonaro blamed the fires on non-government organizations, suggesting they deliberately started them after their funding was cut. The growing crisis threatens to torpedo a blockbuster trade deal between the European Union and South American countries, including Brazil, that took 20 years to negotiate.

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Where it all started.

Brazil Fines For Environment Crimes Plummet (BBC)

The record number of fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has coincided with a sharp drop in fines for environmental violations, BBC analysis has found. Official data from Brazil’s environment agency shows fines from January to 23 August dropped almost a third compared with the same period last year. At the same time, the number of fires burning in Brazil has increased by 84%. It is not known how many of these fires have been set deliberately, but critics have accused President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration of “green lighting” the destruction of the rainforest through a culture of impunity. Mr Bolsonaro has sent in the military to help put out the fires after coming under pressure from the international community, saying he wanted to “help protect” the Amazon.


[..] Analysis by BBC Brasil shows the number of fines handed out by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) for environmental violations has dropped significantly since Mr Bolsonaro took office on 1 January. This year saw the lowest number of fines handed out by the agency in a decade (in the period between January and August). Between 1 January and 23 August 2019, the total number of fines handed out was 6,895. Ibama handed out 9,771 fines during the same period in 2018: a drop of 29.4%. The total number of fines relating to “flora” – which includes deforestation and burning – dropped from 4,138 to 2,535 over the same period. And in the nine states that make up the Brazilian Amazon, the drop in fines relating to flora dropped from 2,817 to 1,627.

[..] During last year’s presidential race, Mr Bolsonaro vowed to open up the Amazon for commercial activity. When he was sworn in, he stayed true to his word. Many of his critics say that Mr Bolsonaro operates a double standard when it comes to addressing environmental crimes, most of which remain unpunished. After all, the president promised a tough stance on criminal activity. Now, in face of national and international pressure, Mr Bolsonaro appears to have changed his tone and finally adopted measures to battle the fires. But he still hasn’t acknowledged the link between the fires and the increase in deforestation in Brazil this year. And in a televised address on Friday he reinforced his plans to bring “economic dynamism” to the Amazon.


Satellite data published by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) has shown an increase of 85% this year in fires across Brazil, most of them in the Amazon region.

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Only speak when we tell you to.

DNC Bans 2020 Candidates From Participating In Climate Change Debate (CNN)

Democratic National Committee members on Saturday voted down a resolution that would have resulted in single-issue debates among candidates — including on the issue of the climate crisis. The language that was rejected — inserted at the behest of climate change activists during a contentious Resolutions Committee meeting on Thursday — said the DNC, “will continue to encourage candidates to participate in multi-candidate issue-specific forums with the candidates appearing on the same stage, engaging one another in discussion.” Democratic presidential candidates are barred from appearing together on stage outside of DNC-sanctioned debates.


The committee’s approved language from Thursday “essentially lifted the ban on candidates being unable to appear together on a stage at a forum or a candidate gathering,” Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski, a leader in the effort, told CNN. DNC members defeated the move to lift such a ban Saturday in a 222-137 vote. There were multiple observers from both sides who monitored the vote count. Prior to the voting, DNC Chairman Tom Perez set up a system for members on both sides to speak about their reasoning. The text approved in committee also conflicted with the resolution itself because it stated, “the DNC concluded that it should not hold debates devoted to one specific topics, nor can it agree to requests for such debates by individual presidential candidates.”

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Tulsi’s on active duty in Indonesia. When she gets back she will be out.

Gabbard Campaign Voices Concerns Over DNC Debate-Qualifying Criteria (RT)

Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign has called on the DNC to ensure fairness by updating its approved debate-qualifying polls, raising concerns about a lack of transparency and the consistency of the required criteria. In order to qualify for the next round of Democratic presidential debates in September, the Democratic National Committee’s rules require all candidates to have 130,000 unique donors and to have reached 2 percent in four approved polls. Representative Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has surpassed 2 percent in 26 national and state polls – including two polls by the biggest newspapers in the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina – but only two of these are DNC-certified.

Strangely, the DNC has not released the criteria it used to select the sixteen polling organizations they have certified. “Without these exclusions, Gabbard would have already qualified,” her campaign says. Gabbard’s team also point out that there have only been four certified polls released since the second round of Democratic debates, whereas there were 14 released after the first debate. Gabbard was the most googled candidate after her second debate and had a standout moment when she confronted Kamala Harris’s record of incarcerating people for marijuana use when she was attorney general. She was also the most googled candidate during the first debate.

The DNC had said that it would “continually assess” the race and make adjustments when necessary, given the fluid nature of the race, when it released a memo explaining its process in 2018, and the Gabbard campaign is calling on it to do so now to ensure fairness before the August 28 cut-off date. “Crucial decisions on debate qualifications that impact the right of the American people to have the opportunity to participate fully in the Democratic process should not be made in secret by party bosses,” the Gabbard campaign cautioned.

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