The circus will be coming to town a week later, but not to worry, the show will go on longer and there will be many added attractions, including a full troop of 800-pound gorillas and an entire herd of 8000-pound elephants in the room. And once the balancing acts, the clowns and the ferocious beasts pack up and move on, America might find itself without a Democratic Party, or at least one it would recognize.
The circus is the testimony of Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary (extended to 3 hours) and Intelligence Committees (2 hours). The Democrats will aim to use Mueller’s words to finally achieve their long desired impeachment of Donald Trump. But is there anyone who’s not a US Democrat who thinks that is realistic? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to think so.
In order for the Dems to get their wish, Mueller would have to say a lot of things that are not in his report. It all appears to hang on the interpretation of his assessment that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted, which the Dems take to mean that there actually was a crime that could -or should- be prosecuted.
It’s not clear why the hearing was delayed from July 17 to 24, but don’t be surprised if it has to do with US District Judge Dabney Friedrich’s decision that Mueller must stop talking in public about a case that is in front of her, because his words might prejudice a jury. That is the case that Mueller brought in February 2018 against Internet Research Agency, Concord Management, their owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin (aka Putin’s cook), and 12 of his employees.
Mueller thought he could get away with presenting a case against them because they would not show up, but Prigozhin did hire a major law firm. Ironically, Friedrich has reportedly also decided that the lawyers cannot talk about the case to their own client(s). She hasn’t thrown out the case or anything, she’s simply told everyone including Mueller to stop discussing it in public.
So it’s quite possible that once the House Democrats figured this out (the decision stems from May 28 but was unsealed only on July 1), they had to change strategy. Mueller has been barred from saying a single word about it, including in the House.
In his report, Mueller tried to establish a link between the Russian firms and the Kremlin, but never proved any such link. They are accused of meddling in the 2016 election through emails and social media posts, an accusation that looks shakier by the day.
With that part of his report out of the way, what is left for him to talk about? He himself already gave up on the whole collusion narrative, which would appear to leave only obstruction. Well, there’s the Steele dossier, but with John Solomon blowing another gaping hole in it yesterday, that may not be the wisest topic to discuss on the House floor. By now, only the very faithful still believe in the dossier.
The Republicans surely don’t, and they also happen to be House members, and get to ask questions of Mueller on the 24th. The spectacle last night where Nancy Pelosi insisted on calling Trump a racist was nutty (you don’t do that in the House), but the Mueller hearings promise to be much much more nuts still.
In the background a second investigation is playing out: DOJ IG Michael Horowitz has been probing if DOJ or FBI officials abused their powers to spy on the Trump campaign. His report has been delayed, if reports are correct, because Christopher Steele at the very last minute agreed to testify. Those talks apparently were long and detailed. Wonder what he had to say.
And there’s a third probe too: AG Barr has tasked John Durham, the US attorney for Connecticut, to follow up on the Horowitz report and look at whether officials at the CIA, the NSA, and/or foreign intelligence agencies (think MI6), violated protocols or statutes.
That case is about whether the FISA court was misled to secure a warrant to put Trump campaign aide Carter Page under surveillance. It can also take a new look at the text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, messages that Trump tweeted about on Saturday: “This is one of the most horrible abuses of all. Those texts between gaga lovers would have told the whole story. Illegal deletion by Mueller. They gave us “the insurance policy.”
The deletion reportedly may have been accidental. But it does set the tone. The door is wide open for the Republicans to go after Mueller. And he knows it, always has. He never wanted the hearings, he said it was all in his report. But the Dems wanted more, they want Mueller to say Trump is guilty of obstruction (of a probe that perhaps should never have taken place).
Personally, I wonder whether a Republican congressman/woman will have the guts to ask Mueller why he refused to talk to Julian Assange, the most obvious person for him to talk to in the whole wide world. But since the GOP hates Assange as much as the Dems, I don’t have high hopes of that happening.
What they certainly will ask is when he knew his probe wasn’t going anywhere. And if that was perhaps as much as a whole year before he presented his report. The Dems will tear into Mueller looking for obstruction. Like: if Trump were not the president, would you sue him? Problem with that is none of this would have happened if Trump were just a citizen.
But I lean towards Ray McGovern’s take, who says that the circus may not come to town on July 24 either. Because there’s no there there (something Peter Strzok himself said about the Steele dossier), and because the Dems know this is their last shot at glory. And the GOP doesn’t mind another week or so of preparation.
Since the Democrats, the media, and Mueller himself all have strong incentive to “make the worst case appear the better” (one of the twin charges against Socrates), they need time to regroup and circle the wagons. The more so, since Mueller’s other twin charge — Russian hacking of the DNC — also has been shown, in a separate Court case, to be bereft of credible evidence. No, the incomplete, redacted, second-hand “forensics” draft that former FBI Director James Comey decided to settle for from the Democratic National Committee-hired CrowdStrike firm does not qualify as credible evidence.
Both new developments are likely to pose a strong challenge to Mueller. On the forensics, Mueller decided to settle for what his former colleague Comey decided to settle for from CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC despite it’s deeply flawed reputation and well known bias against Russia. In fact, the new facts — emerging, oddly, from the U.S. District Court, pose such a fundamental challenge to Mueller’s findings that no one should be surprised if Mueller’s testimony is postponed again.
And I was serious when I said before that once the Mueller hearings are done, “America might find itself without a Democratic Party, or at least one it would recognize”. Because if and when the Mueller circus fails to provide the impeachment dream (try elections!), where are they going to go, what else is there to do?
They’ve been clamoring for impeachment for collusion (big fail), for obstruction (Mueller wouldn’t have it) and now racism, but that is merely based on interpretation of tweets. Nancy Pelosi wrote about ‘women of color’, not Donald Trump.
America needs a strong Democratic party, and it certainly doesn’t have one right now. The Dems should be calling for an end to regime change wars, that is a popular theme among their voters. But they don’t, because guess where their money comes from. They are in a very deep identity crisis, and Trump just has to pick them off one by one. They should look at themselves, not at him. Do these people ever do strategy?
What follows are items from sources not everyone may like, such as Fox and The Hill. But please bear with me, because if you want to understand what is about to happen in the US, you’re going to need this kind of info, and you’re not likely to get it from the mainstream media.
The overall term here is questions. There are too many to list. Some will merely be asked, some will be asked and answered, others will not be asked at all. It’s going to be a jousting match between lawyers and prosecutors, investigators and politicians. It’s safe to say it’s going be ugly.
First off, as Zero Hedge reports, Christopher Steele, after long refusing to, has agreed to talk to investigators from the US Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General.
Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele has finally agreed to meet with US officials to discuss his relationship with the FBI, and the now-infamous dossier of unfounded claims against Donald Trump which he assembled on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The 54-year-old Steele has agreed to meet with investigators from the US Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), according to The Times of London, after a former US official told Politico that the OIG report would “try to deeply undermine” Steele.
The news marks a 180-shift in Steele’s past refusals to engage with US authorities. In April, Politico reported that Steele would not meet with the OIG to assist them with their investigation, while just last week, Reuters reported that he wouldn’t meet with US attorney John Durham, who was handpicked by AG William Barr to review the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.
Steele, a MI6 Russia specialist for more than two-decades, has worked with the FBI as a confidential source since 2010. According to the report, he will retain the services of a top American attorney if the interview goes ahead, and is only willing to discuss the narrow scope of his dealings with US intelligence. Steele also wanted US officials to seek the approval of the British government.
Steele’s lawyers will try to limit the topics on the table as much as they can. But that may not be enough. There are very serious doubts and allegations surrounding the Steele Dossier, as well as the clients he prepared the report for. There’s Hillary Clinton, there’s the DNC, there’s their law firm Perkins Coie, there’s Fusion GPS, there’s its CEO Glenn Simpson, there’s the FBI, there’s the 2016 DOJ, and then there’s John Brennan and James Clapper. All these parties have played roles in making sure the dossier was ‘prepared’.
That is a lot of parties. How Steele is going to talk under oath without implicating one or more of them in shady dealings if not downright criminal activities is hard to imagine. If only because the dossier leads straight to the Mueller report, which would never have been written if the Steele dossier had not been used to -possibly illegally- get FISA warrants.
Moreover, Robert Mueller is now being accused of tampering with evidence he used in his report. I know I seem to be jumping from Steele to Mueller kind of suddenly, but these things are very closely connected, so I’ll allow myself that freedom.
It appears from files released on the order of judge Sullivan that Mueller has tampered with his own evidence. He omitted part of a phone conversation between lawyers for Trump and those for Michael Flynn, ostensibly to create the impression that the former sought confidential information.
Nunes, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, was reacting to the release of a voicemail message that John Dowd, a former lawyer for President Trump, had left for a lawyer representing former national security adviser Michael Flynn, in which Dowd asks for a “heads up” if Flynn planned to say anything damaging about Trump to Mueller’s team. Nunes retweeted a side-by-side comparison of the Dowd transcript text and the Mueller report text, suggesting that the Mueller report did not disclose the full Dowd message.
The Mueller report had redacted the part of the voicemail where Dowd said he wanted the heads up “not only for the president but for the country” and that he wasn’t asking for “any confidential information.” Alan Dershowitz claimed on “Hannity” Monday night that the quotation was “distorted.” “This is a very, very serious issue,” he said. “The distortion of the Dowd quote is very serious. Especially since, remember, that a report by a special counsel is always going to be one-sided. Therefore, you have to trust it.”
Totally separate from the above development, Democrat House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wants Mueller to talk to Congress no matter what. The Dems of course want to get dirt on Trump from Mueller, but given that development, added to many other questions GOP Congressmen already wanted to ask him, the Mueller testimony may well backfire in spectacular fashion. Do they realize this?
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that Democrats should insist on special counsel Robert Mueller’s appearance before Congress, even if it requires a subpoena. “I think he ought to testify. He may want a subpoena, for all I know,” Hoyer said during his weekly press briefing in his Capitol office. “He indicated that his report speaks for itself. Very frankly, … questioning is an important fact-finding pursuit.”
Mueller said last week during brief remarks at the Justice Department that he hoped those statements — combined with his 488-page report — would be his last word on the topic. It was a clear indication that the former FBI chief — who’s built a reputation for nonpartisanship over his long career in Washington — is hoping to avoid the political circus that would surely accompany his return to Capitol Hill.
But Democrats are fighting to secure his testimony, emphasizing the importance of hearing the author of the report elucidate its conclusions. Both Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, are in negotiations with Mueller’s team in an effort to secure the special counsel’s testimony. [..] Another Democratic lawmaker familiar with the talks said a major sticking point remains Mueller’s reluctance to testify publicly, as Democrats are insisting.
“We’re trying to do everything possible to get him out in the open,” said the lawmaker, who spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive negotiations. Democrats are also wary that Mueller will be unwilling to answer clarifying questions outside the literal text of his report, the lawmaker said. “The concern is that Mueller is just going to sit there like a parrot and parrot the report,” the lawmaker said. “And there’s not going to be anything meaningfully new coming out of the testimony.”
Here are a few questions Mueller may be called upon to answer, courtesy of Sharyl Attkisson at The Hill. Most if not all appear to me to be reasonable, and there seems to be little reason not to demand they are answered. The credibility of the entire American political system, as well as the intelligence community, is at stake.
The statement Mueller chose to give carries with it an implication that his team looked for evidence of President Trump’s innocence but simply could not find it. With that in mind, I thought of a short list of questions I’d like to ask Mueller, if ever permitted to do so:
1) What witnesses did you interview and what evidence did you collect in an attempt to exonerate Trump or prove him not guilty? (I believe the answer would be, “None. It’s not the job of a special counsel or prosecutor to do so.” Therefore, was Mueller’s comment appropriate?)
2) Does it concern you that the FBI claimed “collection tool failure” in stating that 19,000 text messages between former FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strozk had been deleted and were unavailable for review by the Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general? Is it worth investigating how the inspector general was able to recover the messages, when the FBI said it could not? Does the FBI lack the technical expertise, or the will? Isn’t it a serious issue that should be addressed, either way?
3) Along the same lines, do you think it strange or inappropriate that the DOJ wiped text messages between Strzok and Page from their special counsel cell phones? The deletions happened shortly after they were ejected from the team and before the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General could review them — at a time when all had been informed that their actions were under review. Did technicians attempt to recover the messages? Were the circumstances of the deletions thoroughly investigated?
4) When did you first learn that the FBI and DOJ signed off on and presented unverified, anti-Trump political opposition research to a court to get wiretaps on an innocent U.S. citizen? Doesn’t this violate the strict procedures enacted while you were FBI director, intended to ensure that only verified information is seen by the court? Who will be held accountable for any lapses in this arena?
5) Do these issues point to larger problems within our intelligence community, in terms of how officials operate? Does that put you in a position where there’s a conflict of interest since you were in charge of the FBI when prior surveillance abuses were identified by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court? Did you consider disclosing this potential conflict and stepping aside, or referring any issues that overlap with your interests?
6) What steps did you take after Strzok and Page were exposed, to try to learn if other investigators on your team likewise were conflicted? Did you take action to segregate the work of these agents and any potential biases they injected into your investigation and team? Wasn’t their behavior a beacon to call you to follow an investigative trail in another direction?
7) Did you become concerned about foreign influence beyond Russia when you learned that a foreign national, Christopher Steele, claimed to have obtained opposition research from Russian officials connected to Putin — and that the FBI and DOJ presented this material to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain wiretap approvals?
8) Were you aware that some Democratic Party officials acknowledged coordinating with Ukraine in 2016 to undermine Trump and his associates and to leak disparaging information to the news media?
9) Is it true that you applied for the job as FBI director but Trump rejected you, the day before then-Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed you as special counsel to investigate Trump? Does that put you in a potentially conflicted position?
10) Do you think Donald Trump is guilty of a crime? If so, then do you believe he is perhaps the most clever criminal of our time since he was able to conceal the evidence despite all the government wiretaps, investigations, informants, surveillance and hundreds of interviews spanning several years?
And then when the DOJ, as well as AG William Barr’s team, are done with Mueller, The Hill’s John Solomon has another set of questions, this time for Hillary Clinton. And again, the credibility of the entire American political system, as well as the intelligence community, is at stake. Is Hillary untouchable?
1) In January 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a formal investigative request for documents and written answers from your campaign. Do you plan to comply?
2) Please identify each person in your campaign who was involved with, or aware of, hiring Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson and Christopher Steele.
3) Please identify each person in your campaign, including Perkins Coie lawyers, who were aware that Steele provided information to the FBI or State Department, and when they learned it.
4) Describe any information you and your campaign staff received, or were briefed on, before Election Day that was derived from the work of Simpson, Steele, Fusion GPS, Nellie Ohr or Perkins Coie and that tried to connect Trump, his campaign or his business empire with Russia.
5) Please describe all contacts your campaign had before Election Day with or about the following individuals: Bruce Ohr, Nellie Ohr, Glenn Simpson, Christopher Steele, former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, former foreign policy scholar Stefan Halper and Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud.
6) Did you or any senior members of your campaign, including lawyers such as Michael Sussmann, have any contact with the CIA, its former Director John Brennan, current Director Gina Haspel, James Baker, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page or former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe?
7) Describe all contacts your campaign had with Cody Shearer and Sidney Blumenthal concerning Trump, Russia and Ukraine.
8) Describe all contacts you and your campaign had with DNC contractor Alexander Chalupa, the Ukraine government, the Ukraine Embassy in the United States or the U.S. Embassy in Kiev concerning Trump, Russia or former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
9) Why did your campaign and the Democratic Party make a concerted effort to portray Trump as a Russian asset?
10) Given that investigations by a House committee, a Senate committee and a special prosecutor all have concluded there isn’t evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, do you regret the actions by your campaign and by Steele, Simpson and Sussmann to inject these unfounded allegations into the FBI, the U.S. intelligence community and the news media?
The Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, had their day in the sun with the 2 years Mueller probe. Now ‘the other side’ has its turn. And it makes no difference what side you are on, or even whether you think that is fair, this is going to happen. How it can go down without people being indicted, I can’t see. Same as with some Trump allies. Paul Manafort was sent to Rikers Island today.
Still, in the same way that it’s impossible to predict which questions will eventually be asked, and which the legal experts on all sides decide should not be asked, it’s not possible at this point to foresee where the hammer will come down hardest. But it’s not going to be pretty.
Then again, we’re looking, down the line, at Brennan and Clapper and the entire intelligence community. Do Barr and IG Horowitz have the clout and the strength and determination to clean up that mess? Here’s hoping that they do. America needs a thorough cleansing, badly.
A Swedish court has rejected a request to postpone a hearing on the detention of the WikiLeaks founder. Julian Assange’s lawyers requested the court session be postponed due to their client’s ill health. Swedish prosecutors reopened a rape case against Assange earlier this month after Assange was hauled from London’s Ecuadorian embassy and jailed for skipping a bail hearing in 2012. The rape investigation was originally dropped in 2017, and Assange has maintained his innocence since the case was first opened. The prosecutors filed a request to have Assange detained in absence last week “on probable cause suspected of for rape.” Detention in absence would allow the Swedish government to issue an arrest warrant for Assange.
Swedish defense lawyer Per Samuelson told Reuters on Tuesday that he sought to have the hearing postponed following a visit to Assange in custody on Friday. “One of the reasons is that Assange’s health situation on Friday was such that it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him,” Samuelson said. The lawyer said that any hearing should be stalled until Assange could talk the case through with his legal team “in peace and quiet.” WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson has said that the rape case against Assange was reopened as a result of “considerable political pressure on Sweden.”
The latest indictments of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange are a blueprint for making journalists into felons, a test case for dismantling the First Amendment that will destroy journalism as we know it, Glenn Greenwald warned. “If Assange can be declared guilty of espionage for working with sources to obtain and publish information deemed ‘classified’ by the US government, then there’s nothing to stop the criminalization of every other media outlet that routinely does the same,” Greenwald wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Tuesday, highlighting what he considers “the greatest threat to press freedom in the Trump era, if not the last several decades.”
By redefining Assange’s actions as “espionage” rather than “journalism” or “publishing,” the Trump administration seeks to exempt him from legal protections governing speech that belong to everyone, from the Post itself to the lowliest blogger, the Intercept editor and former civil rights attorney explains. The public smearing of Assange – as a rapist, as a “foreign agent,” or any of the other epithets tossed his way over the last decade – is deliberate, designed to make the public cheer his persecution. Because once one act of journalism has been legally reclassified as espionage, a precedent has been set, and further cases become impossible to oppose.
Dismissing Assange as “not a journalist” – as government officials and Assange detractors in the press do on a regular basis – misses the point of the First Amendment entirely, Greenwald argued. Such a distinction puts unprecedented power in the hands of prosecutors to “restrict ‘freedom of the press’ to a small, cloistered priesthood of privileged citizens designated by the government” – something the First Amendment was designed to avoid.
Having been practically a recluse since since the ‘fake dossier’ alleging links between Donald Trump and Russia that he produced was published by BuzzFeed in January 2017, Christophe Steele has reportedly refused to cooperate with AG Barr’s probes. Reuters reports that, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Steele, a former Russia expert for the British spy agency MI6, will not answer questions from prosecutor John Durham, named by Barr to examine the origins of the investigations into Trump and his campaign team. However, buried deep in Reuters story is the same source claiming that Steele might cooperate with a parallel inquiry by the Justice Department’s Inspector General into how U.S. law enforcement agencies handled pre-election investigations into both Trump and Clinton.
In the past Steele has cooperated, willingly being interviewed twice in the special counsel’s investigation, and submitting answers in writing to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but apparently this time he is not willing. With Steele refusing to cooperate, Joe DiGenova, former U.S. Attorney warned Monday on WMAL radio’s Mornings on the Mall radio show, “this is full scale war,” adding that “we are heading toward a gigantic, gigantic fight… “The intelligence community, which includes the FBI, is in full resistance to disclosing what they did during the presidential campaign.” Sara Carter reports that DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz is expected to release his report on the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Trump within weeks.
These investigation will hold those in the intelligence and law enforcement community accountable, depending on what evidence is discovered. This reporter is hearing from sources that it will be scathing. Those who abused their power and weaponized the tools meant to target America’s enemies against a political opponents should be held accountable.
Time was that a stint, or even a career, in the military did not necessarily translate into any serious combat duty. That may seem hard to believe eighteen years after 9/11, but this middle-aged middling major is just old enough to remember such a bygone era. As a cadet at West Point (2001-05), having joined the army just months before the September 11 attacks, most of my professors and tactical officers had never been to war. The colonels had joined in the early 1980s and, at worst, saw limited combat in the petite (and absurd) conflicts in Panama and/or Grenada. The captains and majors commissioned in the early 1990s. As such, most just missed Persian Gulf War 1.0, a few deployed to Somalia or the Balkans, and most hadn’t seen the elephant at all.
Back then, soldiers trained for war but didn’t necessarily expect to fight in one. The Cold War, post-Vietnam army was built as much to contain America’s enemies, and to deter war, as it was to actually engage in combat. Those days seem charmingly quaint from the viewpoint of 2019. Indeed, when I entered the U.S. Military Academy on July 2, 2001, my expectation was to travel the world and maybe do some light peacekeeping in Bosnia or Kosovo, not to fight extended wars. How naive that seems now. Instead I spent a career training for and deploying to wars across the Greater Middle East. Hell, that’s been the story of my entire generation of soldiers. When I graduated in 2005, this still seemed unique and profound. More than a decade later it’s simply the mundane way of things. So it was, this past week, that Vice President Mike Pence addressed the graduating class at West Point, and reminded them to prepare for ever more war.
No other country in the Middle East is as important in countering America’s rush to provide Israel with another war than Iraq. Fortunately for Iran, the winds of change in Iraq and the many other local countries under similar threat, thus, make up an unbroken chain of border to border support. This support is only in part due to sympathy for Iran and its plight against the latest bluster by the Zio-American bully. In the politics of the Middle East, however, money is at the heart of all matters. As such, this ring of defensive nations is collectively and quickly shifting towards the new Russo/ Sino sphere of economic influence.
These countries now form a geo-political defensive perimeter that, with Iraq entering the fold, make a US ground war virtually impossible and an air war very restricted in opportunity. If Iraq holds, there will be no war in Iran. In the last two months, Iraq parliamentarians have been exceptionally vocal in their calls for all foreign military forces- particularly US forces- to leave immediately. Politicians from both blocs of Iraq’s divided parliament called for a vote to expel US troops and promised to schedule an extraordinary session to debate the matter. “Parliament must clearly and urgently express its view about the ongoing American violations of Iraqi sovereignty,” said Salam al-Shimiri, a lawmaker loyal to the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Iraq’s ambassador to Moscow, Haidar Mansour Hadi, went further saying that Iraq “does not want a new devastating war in the region.” He told a press conference in Moscow this past week, “Iraq is a sovereign nation. We will not let [the US] use our territory,” he said. Other comments by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi agreed. Other MPs called for a timetable for complete US troop withdrawal. Then a motion was introduced demanding war reparations from the US and Israel for using internationally banned weapons while destroying Iraq for seventeen years and somehow failing to find those “weapons of mass destruction.”
Chinese state media on Wednesday dangled the threat of cutting exports of rare earths to the United States as a counter-strike in the trade war, potentially depriving Washington of a key resource used to make everything from smartphones to military hardware. The warning is the latest salvo in a dispute that has intensified since President Donald Trump ramped up tariffs against China and moved to blacklist telecom giant Huawei earlier this month, while trade talks have apparently stalled. Huawei stepped up its legal battle on Wednesday, announcing it had filed a motion in US court for summary judgment in its bid to overturn US legislation that bars federal agencies from using its equipment over security concerns.
Beijing had already dropped a big hint that rare earths could be in the firing line by showing images last week of President Xi Jinping visiting a rare earths factory in Ganzhou, central China. An unnamed official from the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s state planner, issued a cryptic warning late Tuesday. “You asked whether rare earths will become China’s countermeasure against unwarranted suppression from the US. What I can tell you is that if anyone wants to use products made from our rare-earth exports to curb and suppress China’s development, I’m sure the people of Ganzhou and across China will not be happy with that,” the official said in answers to questions published by state media.
[..] “Waging a trade war against China, the United States risks losing the supply of materials that are vital to sustaining its technological strength,” the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary. The state-owned Global Times tabloid warned in an editorial posted online that the “US will rue forcing China’s hand on rare earths”. “It is believed that if the US increasingly suppresses the development of China, sooner or later, China will use rare earths as a weapon,” the nationalist tabloid said.
Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is set to back a second referendum on Brexit and it could be within days, the Mirror newspaper reported late on Tuesday, citing senior figures of the party. Corbyn, who has so far said the option of a second referendum should be kept on the table, is under pressure to endorse one without qualification. The prospect poses a dilemma as many of the party’s supporters backed Brexit. After being punished by voters in the European elections, which saw both pro-Brexit and pro-European Union parties surge at the expense of Labour and the governing Conservatives, Labour said a public vote was the way to reunite the country, but added this could also be a national election.
Corbyn himself on Monday had said that the British public should be asked again to give its verdict on Brexit, either through a general election or a second referendum. “With the Conservatives disintegrating and unable to govern, and parliament deadlocked, this issue will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote,” Corbyn had said, adding the party would have discussions on the way forward.
The UK is by far the world’s biggest enabler of corporate tax dodging, helping funnel hundreds of billions of dollars away from state coffers, according to an international investigation. Of the top 10 countries allowing multinationals to avoid paying billions in tax on their profits, four are British overseas territories. Chancellor Philip Hammond has pledged to crack down on multinationals like Google and Amazon that boost profits by shifting huge sums through low-tax jurisdictions. But an index published today by the Tax Justice Network found that the UK has “single-handedly” done the most to break down the global corporate tax system which loses an estimated $500bn (£395bn) to avoidance.
The amount dodged globally each year is more than three times the NHS budget or roughly equivalent to the entire GDP of Belgium. Tax haven territories linked to Britain are responsible for around a third of the world’s corporate tax avoidance risk – more than four times the next greatest contributor, the Netherlands. Topping the list was the British Virgin Islands, followed by Bermuda and the Cayman Islands – all British overseas territories. Jersey, a Crown dependency, was seventh while the UK itself comes in thirteenth. Alex Cobham, chief executive at the Tax Justice Network, described the hypocrisy of rich nations which enable tax avoidance as “sickening”.
“A handful of the richest countries have waged a world tax war so corrosive, they’ve broken down the global corporate tax system beyond repair,” Mr Cobham said. “The UK, Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg – the Axis of Avoidance – line their own pockets at the expense of a crucial funding stream for sustainable human progress. “The ability of governments across the world to tax multinational corporations in order to pay teachers’ wages, build hospitals and ensure a level playing field for local businesses has been deliberately and ruthlessly undermined.”
Amnesty International said on Tuesday (May 28) most of its top leaders would leave the rights group this year after an external audit, prompted by two staff suicides, found a “toxic” working culture. The organisation, headquartered in London, will shed five of its seven-strong senior management team after the review into “staff wellbeing” ordered last year by secretary-general Kumi Naidoo. It found working at Amnesty often put employees under “exceptional stress” and that its efforts to support staff had been “ad hoc, reactive and piecemeal”. “Amnesty as a working environment is often described as ‘toxic’,” the report, carried out by consultants The KonTerra Group, stated.
“Organisational culture and management failures are the root cause of most staff wellbeing issues,” it concluded. Amnesty initiated the probe last August after Gaetan Mootoo, a well-known researcher, and paid intern Roz McGregor took their own lives within three months of each other that year. Mootoo, who had been with the organisation for decades and was known across Africa for his tireless dedication to his work, killed himself in its Paris offices where he worked. The 65-year-old left a suicide note allegedly “outlining his previous request for help because of the heavy and additional workload; help which was never forthcoming”. McGregor, 28, a British intern working at Amnesty’s Geneva office, reportedly suffered from insomnia and anxiety, and committed suicide at her family’s home near London six weeks after Mootoo’s death.
Canadian lawmakers fumed on Tuesday when Facebook Inc founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg snubbed an invitation to Ottawa to testify on privacy and democracy before an international panel, slapping the billionaire with a standing summons. It was the second time in six months Zuckerberg and Facebook’s Chief Operating Office Sheryl Sandberg have failed to show up when invited to address a committee of international lawmakers investigating disinformation, privacy and how to protect democracy. Zuckerberg and Sandberg will be served with an formal summons should they “decide to come to Canada to go fishing,” said Canada’s Charlie Angus, a parliamentarian for the left-leaning New Democratic Party.
“It’s not good enough for them to blow us off.” If Zuckerberg and Sandberg do not comply, parliament could hold them in contempt, but it would be mainly a symbolic move. “It’s an expression by parliament that it’s unacceptable behavior,” Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a Canadian Liberal lawmaker, told Reuters after the hearing. Zuckerberg wrote an editorial published two months ago in which he said he was “looking forward” to discussing “with lawmakers around the world” the same issues being addressed by the committee. “If (Zuckerberg) was an honest individual in writing those words, he’d be sitting in that chair today,” Erskine-Smith said.
“I love you so, so, so much,” writes seven-year-old Sethumdi in a text message to her half-sister Keana. They have the same father and were born just three months apart. But they are now more than 12,000km away from each other, because Keana and her mother, Vanessa Mae Rodel, flew to Canada in March after being granted asylum. Sethumdi, who remains in Hong Kong with her parents and little brother – all asylum seekers – dreams about Keana’s life. In video chats, she admires Keana’s new bedroom and all the toys. She can see through the windows of her half-sister’s house a very different world. Keana, on the other side of the line, tells Sethumdi about her new school in Montreal and the French lessons she has been taking.
But Sethumdi still lives in a cramped flat in Hong Kong, where she has little space to study or sleep properly. She has to share one double bed with her parents and her three-year-old brother. And she is now raising more questions than ever. Nonis and her husband, Supun Thilina Kellapatha, both asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, have been in Hong Kong for over a decade. Their two children were already born in the city and they are stateless. They are all waiting for Canada to decide on refugee claims that were filed on their behalf in January 2017. Their story, already marked by persecution in their home country, took an unexpected turn in 2013, when their lawyer, Robert Tibbo, asked them to help someone at risk.
That person was American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who was on the run after leaking classified documents, which shone a light on the extent of electronic spying by the United States and other governments. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, was sheltered by this family as well as by Rodel, now in Montreal, and Ajith, another asylum seeker from Sri Lanka, who still remains in Hong Kong and is also waiting to receive an answer from the Canadian government.
There never was a rape case vs Assange. So it cannot be reopened. There were never any charges at all. They refused to talk to Assange for 6 years. The British told them not to close the acse. It is obvious what the intention is: get him to Sweden which will extradite him to the US. Who cares about laws?
Swedish prosecutors have announced they are reopening an investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange. Prosecutors dropped the investigation in 2017 because they were unable to proceed while Assange remained in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. They said at the time that the investigation could be reopened if the situation changed. Assange, 47, was removed from the embassy last month after seven years inside, after the Ecuadorian government abruptly withdrew his asylum. He was arrested for breach of bail. A lawyer for one of the women involved in the Swedish allegations subsequently asked for the investigation to be resumed. Assange had also faced investigation for a second sex-related allegation, which was dropped in 2015 because time had run out. He denied both allegations.
Ecuador’s Attorney General has informed a Julian Assange lawyer that the WikiLeaks co-founder’s files, computer, mobile phones and other electronic devices will be seized during a search at the London embassy and sent to the US. After an unsuccessful attempt by WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson to retrieve Assange’s personal belongings from Ecuador’s UK embassy, where Assange had been holed up for almost 7 years before his arrest and incarceration last month, the Ecuadorian government reportedly greenlighted the US request to provide it access to the documents and electronic devices left behind by the jailed WikiLeaks editor after he was hauled out of the embassy by the British police on April, 11.
The searches inside the embassy quarters formerly occupied by Assange are set to be conducted by police on May 20, El Pais reported, citing a notice sent to Assange’s Ecuadorian lawyer Carlos Poveda. Assange’s personal files, his computer, mobile phones, memory sticks, CDs and any other electronic devices uncovered during the searches will then be seized and sent to the US as a part of Ecuador’s response to the Department of Justice’s judicial request. The US is currently building a case to extradite on hacking charges. The files contain troves of sensitive information, include Assange’s communication with his lawyers and other legal documents – which, the lawyers argue, deprive him of the right to proper defense.
Having this data will potentially allow the US to “build and create new charges” to extradite Assange in violation of Ecuador’s own asylum policies. The news of the looming handover came as a bolt out of the blue for Assange’s defense team, Poveda told RT Spanish, adding that it’s impossible to be sure his things in the embassy haven’t been tampered with already. “Since Mr. Assange left the embassy, we cannot know for sure what has been happening inside these rooms.” The lawyers have requested CCTV records for the period since Assange’s arrest, Poveda said.
Former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning said Sunday she again plans to refuse to testify before a grand jury about her leak of classified documents to WikiLeaks – even if it means returning to jail. Manning, who served seven years in prison over her transfer of secret diplomatic and military documents, recently spent another two months in lock-up for contempt of court after refusing to answer the grand jury’s questions. Federal prosecutors have for years been investigating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and they apparently want Manning to testify about her dealings with him.
Her release last week came on a technicality – that grand jury’s term was expiring. But a new grand jury has been convened and called on her to appear this week. “They’ve already stipulated they want to ask the same questions,” Manning told CNN. “I am going to refuse,” she added. “I have nothing new to provide.” Manning admitted that while she and her legal team do not know if she will be jailed again, she believes she has a “much stronger case in terms of the legal objections.” “We’re certainly going to raise every single legal challenge that we have,” said Manning…
The State Department has largely avoided scrutiny from GOP-led investigations of the Steele dossier, but that changed this week with the release of notes that a State Department official took during an October 2016 meeting with dossier author Christopher Steele. In letters this week to Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pressed Pompeo for details about the Oct. 11, 2016 meeting, which was held at Foggy Bottom between Steele and Kathleen Kavalec, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Steele, a former British spy, was investigating President Donald Trump and his campaign on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC.
Kavalec’s notes from the meeting, which were released this week, show that Steele told her about contacts he had with the media, including The New York Times and Washington Post. They also showed that Steele said that his client for his anti-Trump research campaign (which he did not identify at the time) was “keen” to see information on Trump released prior to the Nov. 8, 2016 election. Steele also made dubious or inaccurate claims to Kavalec, including that Russia had planted a mole within the DNC and that the Russian government had a consulate in Miami. The trio of Republicans say that the notes contradict some of the claims that the FBI made in applications for surveillance warrants against Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser.
The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s unverified dossier to obtain the spy warrants. In a letter sent to Pompeo on Thursday, Grassley and Johnson, who chair the Senate Banking and Senate Homeland Security Committees, respectively, asserted that any contacts that Steele had with the media would contradict what the FBI claimed the Carter Page warrants. “If true, that would contradict the Carter Page FISA application where the FBI repeatedly represented to the court that Steele did not have unauthorized contacts with the press prior to October 2016,” they wrote. “Based on the publicly-released version of the typed notes of the meeting, it appears Steele’s intent of the meeting with the State Department was to maximize the impact of the unverified information that he had acquired in an effort to undermine the Trump campaign,” they added.
[..] In a letter sent Friday to Pompeo, Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sought communications between Steele and State Department employees, as well as between State employees and the Justice Department regarding Steele. He is also asking Pompeo to make Kavalec available for a transcribed interview. Victoria Nuland, who served as Kavalec’s boss at the bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, was the government official who approved an FBI agent in Rome meeting Steele in early July 2016.
Now in its third year, Russiagate is the worst, most corrosive, and most fraudulent political scandal in modern American history. It rests on two related core allegations: that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “attack on American democracy” during the 2016 presidential campaign in order to put Donald Trump in the White House, and that Trump and his associates willfully colluded, or conspired, in this Kremlin “attack.” As I have argued from the outset—see my regular commentaries posted at TheNation.com and my recent book War With Russia?—and as recently confirmed, explicitly and tacitly, by special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report, there is no factual evidence for either allegation.
Nonetheless, these Russiagate allegations, not “Putin’s Russia,” continue to inflict grave damage on fundamental institutions of American democracy. They impugn the integrity of the presidency and now the office of the attorney general. They degrade the many Democratic members of Congress who persist in clinging to the allegations and thus the Democratic Party and Congress. And they have enticed mainstream media into one of the worst episodes of journalistic malpractice in modern times. But equally alarming, Russiagate continues to endanger American national security by depriving a US president, for the first time in the nuclear age, of the diplomatic flexibility to deal with a Kremlin leader in times of crisis.
We were given a vivid example in July 2018, when Trump held a summit with the current Kremlin occupant, as every president had done since Dwight Eisenhower. For that conventional, even necessary, act of diplomacy, Trump was widely accused of treasonous behavior, a charge that persists. Now we have another alarming example of this reckless disregard for US national security on the part of Russiagate zealots. On May 3, Trump called Putin. They discussed various issues, including the Mueller report. (As before, Putin had to know if Trump was free to implement any acts of security cooperation they might agree on. Indeed, the Russian policy elite openly debates this question, many of its members having decided that Trump cannot cooperate with Russia no matter his intentions.)
A major subject of the conversation was unavoidably the growing conflict over Venezuela, where Washington and Moscow have long-standing economic and political interests. Trump administration spokespeople have warned Moscow against interfering in America’s neighborhood, ignoring, of course, Washington’s deep involvement for years in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia. Kremlin representatives, on the other hand, have warned Washington against violating Venezuela’s sovereignty. Increasingly, there is talk, at least in Moscow policy circles, of a Cuban Missile–like crisis, the closest the United States and Russia (then Soviet Russia) ever came to nuclear war.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on Sunday that Joe Biden’s Ukraine corruption scandal should be off limits as the 2020 US election approaches, and that President Trump shouldn’t be allowed to investigate – or encourage Ukraine to investigate. Biden has come under fire for a March, 2016 incident in Kiev in which he threatened to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees to Ukraine unless President Petro Poroshenko fired his head prosecutor, General Viktor Shokin, who was leading a wide-ranging corruption investigation into natural gas firm Burisma Holdings. As it so happens, Joe’s son Hunter Biden sat on Burisma’s board, and waas indirectly paid as much as $50,000 per month.
‘I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” bragged Biden, recalling the conversation with Poroshenko. “Well, son of a bitch, he got fired,” Biden gloated. Biden claims he didn’t know Hunter was on the Burisma board for an entire two years (Hunter reportedly joined in April 2014, two years before Biden’s threat), and that the effort to remove Shokin had nothing to do with [this]. “Shokin was fired because he attacked the reformers within the prosecutor general’s office,” And this should be completely off limits to Trump, according to Adam Schiff
Schiff told ‘This Week’ that Congress should take up legislation banning political campaigns from working with foreign governments in an effort to influence US elections, responding to news that Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had planned to travel to Ukraine to encourage them to further investigate the Biden matter. Giuliani has since canceled the trip. In March, The Hill’s John Solomon revealed that Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has launched an investigation into the head of the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly attempting to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump during the 2016 US election by releasing damaging information about a “black ledger” of illegal business dealings by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
[..] To recap; Biden didn’t know his son Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas firm for a full two years, before threatening to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees if the President of Ukraine didn’t fire the guy investigating the Biden-linked Burisma, and Adam Schiff thinks that should be off limits to investigate, or for voters to consider, going into the 2020 election.
China will never surrender to external pressure, the government said on Monday, though stopped short of announcing how Beijing will hit back after Washington renewed its threat to impose tariffs on all Chinese imports in an escalating trade dispute. The trade war between the world’s top two economies jumped up a gear on Friday, with the United States hiking tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods after President Donald Trump said Beijing “broke the deal” by reneging on earlier commitments made during months of negotiations. Trump also ordered U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to begin imposing tariffs on all remaining imports from China, a move that would affect about an additional $300 billion worth of goods.
Beijing has vowed to respond to the latest U.S. tariffs, but has announced no details yet. “As for the details, please continue to pay attention. Copying a U.S. expression – wait and see,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing. “We have said many times that adding tariffs won’t resolve any problem. China will never surrender to external pressure. We have the confidence and the ability to protect our lawful and legitimate rights,” Geng added, responding to a question on Trump’s threat of putting duties on all Chinese imports. [..] “At no time will China forfeit the country’s respect, and no one should expect China to swallow bitter fruit that harms its core interests,” China’s top newspaper, the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a commentary.
Rideshare unicorn Uber doesn’t do anything small. When it was in the game of raising money, it raised close to $25 billion. When it loses that money—and it does every single quarter—it loses it at astronomical burn rates. It finally debuted on the New York Stock Exchange today, in the middle of international trade uncertainty and following a massive, international strike by its own drivers, how’d it do? According to University of Florida professor Jay Ritter, Uber’s 7.62 percent decline since hitting the NYSE makes it “bigger than first day dollar losses of any prior IPO in the U.S.” In terms of percentage losses, Uber’s dip doesn’t even scratch the surface of the worst IPOs.
But the staggering valuation of the company makes it, in raw scale, “among the top 10 IPOs ever” including companies outside the U.S., Ritter told Gizmodo in a phone interview. That single digit decline resulted in an estimated $617 million paper losses. Consider also that Uber’s debut valuation of $76.5 billion was a considerable drop from the between $90 billion and $120 billion the company had been worth in some analysts estimation just a month earlier—one meant to stanch the forthcoming bleeding that had begun with competitor Lyft’s bellyflop IPO. This defensive position did little to keep Uber or its investors from taking on water within a single day of trading.
Pakistan has reached an accord with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year, $6 billion bailout package aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy, officials said on Sunday. The deal, which still needs approval by the IMF board in Washington, would be the 13th such bailout since the late 1980s Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh told PTV television he hoped it would be Pakistan’s last. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government came to power last year determined to avoid another bailout and initially sought billions of dollars in funding from friendly countries including China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
But with inflation climbing to over 8 percent, the rupee losing a third of its value over the past year, and foreign exchange reserves barely enough to cover two months of exports, it was forced to turn to the IMF. “Pakistan is facing a challenging economic environment, with lackluster growth, elevated inflation, high indebtedness, and a weak external position,” the IMF said in a statement outlining the framework deal. The IMF forecasts Pakistan’s economic growth slowing to 2.9% this fiscal year from 5.2% in 2018, while the central bank has cut its estimate to between 3.5-4%. As the bailout talks neared culmination, Khan shook up his top economic team, replacing Asad Umar with Hafeez Shaikh as finance minister and making IMF economist Reza Baqir central bank governor instead of Tariq Bajwa.
A Saudi ship, prevented by rights groups from loading an arms cargo at the French port of Le Havre on Friday, arrived at the Spanish port of Santander early on Monday. It was not clear what the Saudi ship was doing in Santander or how long it would stay docked there. Spain’s interior ministry said they had no information regarding the ship. The defense and foreign ministries were not immediately available for comment. French rights group ACAT argued in a legal challenge on Thursday that the arms consignment contravened a U.N. treaty because the weapons might be used against civilians in Yemen, though the case was thrown out by a French judge.
A classified report written by France’s DRM military intelligence agency and published by investigative website Disclose in April showed French arms were being used against civilians in the civil war in Yemen. The Saudi vessel Bahri-Yanbu set course for Santander shortly after the ruling but without the weapons it was charged with collecting. In Yemen, with fighting between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels backed by Iran, tens of thousands of people have been killed and fighting has spawned what the UN calls the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis. France’s President Emmanuel Macron defended the arms shipment to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, saying Riyadh had assured him the weapons would not be used against civilians.
Exhausted, emaciated gray whales are going belly up along the coast of San Francisco this year at a rate seen only once — during a two-year period 20 years ago — since whaling was banned and the leviathans were pulled from the brink of extinction. The death toll, part of a disturbing mass die-off from Mexico to Alaska, is happening largely because there is too little food in the ecosystem to sustain the behemoths on one of the world’s longest migrations, experts say. The hulking carcasses of nine gray whales, several of them starving, have been found since March in San Francisco Bay and along the coast from Pacifica to Point Reyes. That’s an unusually large number for the region.
“It’s definitely not normal,” said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which has for decades been monitoring the spectacular whale migrations along the San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma county coasts. The desperately hungry grays are taking dangerous detours into San Francisco Bay to look for food, a treat for whale watchers who have been seeing the gargantuan beasts in the estuary since February — but not such a good sign for those who care about their survival. “They are attempting to forage in the bay’s ‘dire straits’ with their ship-strike risk, unknown toxins in the bay mud, and other threats,” Schramm said. “Some cannot make it any farther and are simply giving up the ghost.”
The strandings are happening along the entire coast of California, where 31 dead gray whales have been found this year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. In all, 48 gray whales have been found dead along the coasts of California, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, fisheries service officials said. That’s not as bad as 1999, when 91 dead grays were recovered, or 2000, when 131 were found dead. But that die-off came in the wake of an unusually strong El Niño weather pattern that spread warm water along the entire West Coast and disrupted the food web. There is a mild El Niño this year, and water temperatures are higher than normal, but marine biologists say the balmy conditions locally do not fully explain the increased death toll, which also rose the previous two years.
View from Singapore. If the only way people can look at extinction is from a point of view of how man could have profited, forget about it. Nature has its own value, independent of us, independent of monetary value.
Human activities are putting a million species worldwide at risk of extinction, threatening ecosystems that people around the world depend on for survival, a United Nations (UN) assessment has found. [..] Global plant and animal species’ extinction is now “10 to hundreds of times” higher compared to that over the last 10 million years. Many of these extinctions will happen within decades, and that rate is set to climb, the report said. At least 680 vertebrate species have already been driven to extinction by human action in the last 500 years. The loss of habitats, overconsumption and pollution will result in countless more facing a similar fate. The extensive report illuminates the interconnectedness of nature with the economy, food security and health, said Nature Society Singapore’s president Shawn Lum.
[..] academic reports have revealed that Somali piracy has largely been driven by a lack of economic opportunities for local fishermen due to illegal fishing by foreign vessels depleting the fish population. Many organisms like fungi, maggots and houseflies also play an important role in the ecosystem to break down waste and dead creatures so that nutrients return to the system. While “hardly the face of conservation”, these species are crucial to every ecosystem. The loss of these species would have vast implications on plants and animals higher up the food chain, a group of environmental studies undergraduates at the National University of Singapore (NUS) explained. The UN report pointed out that 70 per cent of the world’s cancer drugs are natural and synthetic products inspired by nature.
An argument for conservation is that the loss of biodiversity could also result in undiscovered species which could potentially have served an important role in medicine. Member of Parliament for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency Louis Ng noted that the extinction of species on such a wide scale has severe implications on human beings. However, he believes that people should also consider the “intrinsic value” that these species play, and to conserve them simply to retain their existence. Said Mr Ng, who is also founder and chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society: “Human beings need animals for our survival, but the animals don’t need us.”
Hawksbill turtles, a critically endangered species, in the Indian Ocean coral reef, Maldives. Andrey Armyagov/Shutterstock.com
U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariff increase to 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods took effect on Friday, and Beijing said it would strike back, ratcheting up tensions as the two sides pursue last-ditch talks to try salvaging a trade deal. China’s Commerce Ministry said it “deeply regrets” the U.S. decision, adding that it would take necessary countermeasures, without elaborating. The hike comes in the midst of two days of talks between top U.S. and Chinese negotiators to try to rescue a faltering deal aimed at ending a 10-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talked for 90 minutes on Thursday and were expected to resume talks on Friday.
The Commerce Ministry said that negotiations were continuing, and that it “hopes the United States can meet China halfway, make joint efforts, and resolve the issue through cooperation and consultation”. With no action from the Trump administration to reverse the increase as negotiations moved into a second day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection imposed the new 25% duty on affected U.S.-bound cargoes leaving China after 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT) on Friday. Goods in the more than 5,700 affected product categories that left Chinese ports and airports before midnight will be subject to the original 10% duty rate, a CBP spokeswoman said.
Ask any banker (or analyst) what the difference is between a junk bond and a loan, and you’ll most likely get a blank start in response: starting with the size of the loan market, which is now virtually identical to that of the high yield bond market, continuing through the standardization of loan terms, the growth of secondary trading, and all the way through to “protections” granted to loan investors, which in an age of exclusively covenant-lite issuance, no longer exist, and one can argue that at least superficially, a loan is effectively the same as a junk bond. And yet, there is one critical difference between the two: junk bonds are securities, while loans aren’t. That difference, however, may not be true for much longer.
As Bloomberg reports, a group suing JPMorgan Chase and other banks over a loan that went sour four years ago is alleging the underwriters engaged in securities fraud. If successful, the article contends correctly, the lawsuit will “radically transform the $1.2 trillion leveraged lending market” because should the plaintiff ultimately prevail in arguing that loans are de facto securities, it would dramatically alter how American companies raise debt, according to two industry groups that filed a brief supporting the defendants’ argument last week. “There are absolutely enormous market consequences if a court determines that leveraged loans are securities,” J. Paul Forrester, a partner at Mayer Brown told Bloomberg. “Leveraged loans and lenders would be potentially subject to the same offering and disclosure requirements as securities and would face the same regulatory oversight and enforcement consequences.”
Robert Mueller is either a fool, or deeply corrupt. I do not think he is a fool. I did not comment instantly on the Mueller Report as I was so shocked by it, I have been waiting to see if any other facts come to light in justification. Nothing has. I limit myself here to that area of which I have personal knowledge – the leak of DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks. On the wider question of the corrupt Russian 1% having business dealings with the corrupt Western 1%, all I have to say is that if you believe that is limited in the USA by party political boundaries, you are a fool. On the DNC leak, Mueller started with the prejudice that it was “the Russians” and he deliberately and systematically excluded from evidence anything that contradicted that view.
Mueller, as a matter of determined policy, omitted key steps which any honest investigator would undertake. He did not commission any forensic examination of the DNC servers. He did not interview Bill Binney. He did not interview Julian Assange. His failure to do any of those obvious things renders his report worthless. There has never been, by any US law enforcement or security service body, a forensic examination of the DNC servers, despite the fact that the claim those servers were hacked is the very heart of the entire investigation. Instead, the security services simply accepted the “evidence” provided by the DNC’s own IT security consultants, Crowdstrike, a company which is politically aligned to the Clintons.
That is precisely the equivalent of the police receiving a phone call saying: “Hello? My husband has just been murdered. He had a knife in his back with the initials of the Russian man who lives next door engraved on it in Cyrillic script. I have employed a private detective who will send you photos of the body and the knife. No, you don’t need to see either of them.” There is no honest policeman in the world who would agree to that proposition, and neither would Mueller were he remotely an honest man.
[..] Mueller’s failure to examine the servers or take Binney’s evidence pales into insignificance compared to his attack on Julian Assange. Based on no conclusive evidence, Mueller accuses Assange of receiving the emails from Russia. Most crucially, he did not give Assange any opportunity to answer his accusations. For somebody with Mueller’s background in law enforcement, declaring somebody in effect guilty, without giving them any opportunity to tell their side of the story, is plain evidence of malice. Inexplicably, for example, the Mueller Report quotes a media report of Assange stating he had “physical proof” the material did not come from Russia, but Mueller simply dismisses this without having made any attempt at all to ask Assange himself.
One of the things Russiagate skeptics found unsettling about the frenzy over supposed “collusion” was that it made war more likely. Not only did the now-debunked conspiracy theories and resulting political climate push officials into a more aggressive posture toward Russia, but once the Kremlin was returned to its status as the foreign policy elite’s Big Bad, it was easy to imagine a situation where the threat of a Russian bogeyman could be used to justify any number of unrelated foreign adventures. This appears to be exactly what’s happening with Venezuela right now. First there was Fareed Zakaria, who two months ago tried to goad Trump into attacking Venezuela by pointing to Russia’s support for Maduro.
“Putin’s efforts seem designed to taunt the United States,” he said (it might also have something to do with the billions of dollars Russia sank into the country), making reference to the Monroe Doctrine. He asked if Washington would “allow Moscow to make a mockery of another American red line,” warning that “if Washington does not back its words with deeds” the country could become another Syria. Zakaria concluded: “will Venezuela finally be the moment when Trump finally ends his appeasement?” More recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged that Russia had “invaded” Venezuela before claiming the Kremlin had dissuaded Maduro from fleeing the country at the last moment, something Pompeo has provided no evidence for but much of the media has treated as fact since.
National Security Advisor John Bolton has said that “this is our hemisphere” and “not where the Russians ought to be interfering.” Democratic Sen. Doug Jones echoed this sentiment on CNN, praising the Trump administration for saying “all options are on the table” to deal with Venezuela, something he suggested may have to be acted on “if there is some more intervention [by] Russia.” The national press, taking a break from warning about Trump being a dangerous authoritarian, has been demanding to know why he hasn’t been more aggressive toward the country over this. Particularly shameless was Florida Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, who went on Tucker Carlson’s show to peddle half-baked innuendo as brazen as anything claimed in the lead up to the Iraq War. If Maduro’s government survived, he claimed, it would be “a green light, an open door for the Russians and for the Chinese and for others to increase their activity against our national security interest right here in our hemisphere.”
John Solomon digs on. “She quoted Steele as saying, “Payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami..” [..] “It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”
The FBI’s sworn story to a federal court about its asset, Christopher Steele, is fraying faster than a $5 souvenir T-shirt bought at a tourist trap. Newly unearthed memos show a high-ranking government official who met with Steele in October 2016 determined some of the Donald Trump dirt that Steele was simultaneously digging up for the FBI and for Hillary Clinton’s campaign was inaccurate, and likely leaked to the media. The concerns were flagged in a typed memo and in handwritten notes taken by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec on Oct. 11, 2016. Her observations were recorded exactly 10 days before the FBI used Steele and his infamous dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the campaign’s contacts with Russia in search of a now debunked collusion theory.
It is important to note that the FBI swore on Oct. 21, 2016, to the FISA judges that Steele’s “reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings” and the FBI has determined him to be “reliable” and was “unaware of any derogatory information pertaining” to their informant, who simultaneously worked for Fusion GPS, the firm paid by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign to find Russian dirt on Trump. That’s a pretty remarkable declaration in Footnote 5 on Page 15 of the FISA application, since Kavalec apparently needed just a single encounter with Steele at State to find one of his key claims about Trump-Russia collusion was blatantly false.
In her typed summary, Kavalec wrote that Steele told her the Russians had constructed a “technical/human operation run out of Moscow targeting the election” that recruited emigres in the United States to “do hacking and recruiting.” She quoted Steele as saying, “Payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami,” according to a copy of her summary memo obtained under open records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. Kavalec bluntly debunked that assertion in a bracketed comment: “It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”
A federal judge in Washington ordered the Department of Justice to turn over any unredacted sections of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian activities during the 2016 presidential campaign that relate to Roger Stone. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave the prosecutors until Monday to “submit unredacted versions of those portions of the report that relate to defendant Stone and/or ‘the dissemination of hacked materials.” Judge Jackson would review the material in private to see if it is relevant to the case and to decide whether Stone and his defense team will have access to the material.
Whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been released from a Virginia prison where she spent the last 62 days for refusing to testify on her 2010 leak of classified military files before a grand jury. Manning was released from William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia, on Thursday after the term of the grand jury before which she was supposed to testify expired, her legal team said in a statement reported by the Sparrow Project. However, the WikiLeaks whistleblower and activist might soon be locked up again and has already been served with another subpoena, requesting that she testifies before a different set of jurors. “Unfortunately, even prior to her release, Chelsea was served with another subpoena.
This means she is expected to appear before a different grand jury, on Thursday, May 16, 2019, just one week from her release today,” her lawyers said. Despite having spent over two months behind bars, Manning has no intention to cave in to the demand and make herself available to a secret grand jury’s questioning, according to the statement. “Chelsea will continue to refuse to answer questions, and will use every available legal defense to prove to District Judge Trenga that she has just cause for her refusal to give testimony.” Manning insists that she already gave an “exhaustive testimony” on all the matters concerning her disclosure of military documents at a 2013 court martial. In an 8-page declaration filed to the Virginia court on May 6, Manning accused the US government of using the “corrupt and abusive tool” of grand jury to “harass and disrupt political opponents and activists.”
[..] the UK courts will evaluate the US’s request to send Assange to Virginia to stand trial in federal court for a single felony charge of conspiracy to commit unauthorized access to a government computer, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). After Assange’s arrest, many reached out to ask me about the CFAA. For years, I’ve represented hackers in federal criminal cases nationally involving the CFAA, including Lauri Love, whom the US unsuccessfully tried to extradite from the UK. The US indicted Love in three separate federal courts in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia, for hacking of a number of government sites including NASA, the FBI, the United States Sentencing Commission, and the Bureau of Prisons.
This was part of #OpLastResort, in protest of the CFAA prosecution and death of computer science pioneer Aaron Swartz, whose suicide in 2013 was widely viewed as resulting from a draconian CFAA prosecution. Whether intended or not, the CFAA makes it easy for a prosecutor to bring felony computer crime charges even when there’s little or no harm. [..] The core problem with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is that it doesn’t clearly define one of the central things it prohibits: unauthorized access to a computer. The courts across the country aren’t any help on this front, issuing conflicting decisions both with other jurisdictions and often within their own. Under the CFAA, what is a felony in one jurisdiction is legal in another.
This lack of definitional clarity allows prosecutors to charge felonies even when the harms are minimal, questionable, or just political views that DOJ doesn’t like. This is a serious problem, given that much political speech and protest these days is done with computers. And DOJ has previously used the CFAA in a politically charged prosecution. In 2011, DOJ charged the politically outspoken Aaron Swartz under the CFAA for going into an open server closet at MIT, a mecca of modern American hacking, and downloading academic articles—many of which were publicly funded—for public distribution. Even though the extent of any harm was questionable—this was a mere copying of articles—DOJ charged him with felony unauthorized access to a computer, unauthorized damage to a protected computer, felony aiding and abetting of both, and wire fraud.
Sweden’s state prosecutor will announce on Monday whether she will reopen a preliminary investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder is in prison in Britain after he was arrested last month after seven years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The US wants to extradite him in a case relating to WikiLeaks’ massive release of sensitive military and diplomatic documents. Sweden’s legal tussle with the Australian Assange has dragged on for nearly a decade after he was accused by two Swedish women of sexual assault and rape in 2010.
The statute of limitations ran out on the sexual assault allegations in 2015 and the prosecutor dropped the investigation into the rape allegation in 2017 because Assange was in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had taken refuge to avoid extradition. The prosecutor said at the time the investigation could be reopened if the situation changed. After Assange’s arrest last month, the lawyer representing the woman who accused Assange of rape asked for the investigation to be reopened. “At [a] press conference, the prosecutor will announce her decision, which will formally be made immediately before the press conference,” the Swedish prosecution authority said in a statement.
Three months after it published the “Collateral Murder” video, WikiLeaks on July 25, 2010 released a cache of secret U.S. documents on the war in Afghanistan. It revealed the suppression of civilian casualty figures, the existence of an elite U.S.-led death squad and the covert role of Pakistan in the conflict, among other revelations. The publication of the Afghan War Diaries helped set the U.S. government on a collision course with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that ultimately led to his arrest last month. The war diaries were leaked by then-Army-intelligence-analyst Chelsea Manning, who had legal access to the logs via her Top Secret clearance.
Manning only approached WikiLeaks, after studying the organization, following unsuccessful attempts to leak the files to The New York Times and The Washington Post. A major controversy surrounding the Diaries’ release were allegations that operational details were made public to the Taliban’s battlefield advantage and that U.S. coalition informants’ lives were put at risk by publishing their names. Despite a widely-held belief that WikiLeaks carelessly publishes un-redacted documents, only 75,000 from a total of more than 92,201 internal U.S. military files related to the Afghan War (between 2004 and 2010) were ultimately published.
WikiLeaks explained that it held back so many documents because Manning had insisted on it: “We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from the total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source.” Manning testified at her 2013 court-martial that the files were not “very sensitive” and did not report active military operations.
Facebook: We’re Not A Monopoly, We’re “A Successful American Company”
Chris Hughes, Zuck’s former roommate, said in a NYT op-ed that Facebook should be split up. The reaction: no, we’re just successful, but we do need new laws, and Zuck himself has some great ideas for that.
[..] would-be rivals can’t raise the money to take on Facebook. Nobody would finance them knowing that if they get too powerful, Facebook will run them out of business. Hughes doesn’t blame Zuckerberg for this; after all, he’s simply demonstrating the “virtuous hustle of a talented entrepreneur.” But this is exactly why the government should feel obligated to step in and “break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.” Specifically, Hughes believes the FTC should work with the DoJ to undo the Instagram and Whatsapp acquisitions. There is some precedent for this, he says.
How would a breakup work? Facebook would have a brief period to spin off the Instagram and WhatsApp businesses, and the three would become distinct companies, most likely publicly traded. Facebook shareholders would initially hold stock in the new companies, although Mark and other executives would probably be required to divest their management shares. Until recently, WhatsApp and Instagram were administered as independent platforms inside the parent company, so that should make the process easier. But time is of the essence: Facebook is working quickly to integrate the three, which would make it harder for the F.T.C. to split them up. For what it’s worth, Hughes acknowledges his complicity in creating Facebook, and the fact that he didn’t speak out – or even question the company’s monopoly power – until after Cambridge Analytica.
But that’s the past: Already, support for breaking up big-tech monopolies is gaining traction among Democrats and Republicans alike. The fact that Hughes has decided to criticized his former co-founder (and one-time college buddy) in such a public forum might seem galling to some: After all, Hughes was transformed into a millionaire 500 times over largely because he had the good fortune of being assigned to the same dorm room as Zuckerberg at Harvard. But regardless, now that Hughes has broken the seal, will he inspire more of Facebook’s co-founders and former top employees speak out. It’s worth noting that in March, Chris Cox, one of Zuckerberg’s top deputies and a longtime FB executive, left the company. Cox’s decision to leave was reportedly due to ‘disagreement’s’ that were alluded to in a blog post.
Conservative officials fear the party could come sixth in the European elections, with their support plummeting to single digits. Candidates running in the election said the party was “almost in denial” that the poll was happening and continued to insist they would not need to take up their seats in the European parliament, despite fading prospects for a cross-party deal with Labour that would enable Brexit to happen before 2 July. The fears of a dismal performance have been stoked by the fact that the party plans to spend no money on candidate campaigning, will not publish a manifesto and is refusing to hold a launch.
One MEP said candidates were funding their campaigns out of their own pockets, unlike previous years when there was a central pot of funding available. They have been told they are allowed to have their own regional manifestos, but many are not bothering, and there will be no central party manifesto. “The thinking is that if we make no effort then we will have an excuse for having done so badly. But it is seriously embarrassing,” said one MEP. Another Conservative source said internal data showed the party could do worse than the Brexit party, Labour, the Lib Dems, Change UK and even potentially the Greens, with support at less than 10%. That would translate to only a handful of seats, down from the current 22.
Some ironies are just too precious to pass by. The 2016 US presidential elections gave us Donald Trump, a reality TV star whose famous tag line from his show “The Apprentice” was “You are fired!” Focus on this tag line; it is all that is important to this story. Some Trump Derangement Disorder sufferers might disagree. This is because they are laboring under certain misapprehensions: that the US is a democracy; or that it matters who is president. It isn’t and it doesn’t. By this point, the choice of president matters as much as the choice of conductor for the band that plays aboard a ship as it vanishes beneath the waves. I have made these points continuously since before Trump got into office. Whether or not you think that Trump was actually elected, he did get in somehow, and there are reasons to believe that this had something to do with his wonderfully refreshing “You are fired!” tag line.
[..] Financially ruinous and generally nonsensical schemes such as tar sands, shale oil and industrial-scale photovoltaics, wind generation and electric cars will only accelerate the process of sorting nations into energy haves and energy have-nots, with the have-nots wiping themselves out sooner rather than later. Leaving aside various fictional and notional schemes (nuclear fusion, space mirrors, etc.) and focusing just on the technologies that already exist, there is only one way to maintain industrial civilization, and that is nuclear, based on Uranium 235 (which is scarce) and Plutonium 239 produced from Uranium 238 (of which there is enough to last for thousands of years) using fast neutron reactors. If you don’t like this choice, then your other choice is to go completely agrarian, with significantly reduced population densities and no urban centers of any size.
And if you do like this choice, then you have few alternatives other than to go with the world’s main purveyor of nuclear technology (VVER-series light water reactors, BN-series fast neutron breeder reactors and closed nuclear fuel cycle technology) which happens to be Russia’s state-owned conglomerate Rosatom. It owns over a third of the world nuclear energy market and has a portfolio of international projects stretching far into the future that includes as much as 80% of the reactors that are going to be built. The US hasn’t been able to complete a nuclear reactor in decades, the Europeans managed to get just one new reactor on line (in China) while Japan’s nuclear program has been in disarray ever since Fukushima and Toshiba’s financially disastrous acquisition of Westinghouse. The only other contenders are South Korea and China. Again, if you don’t like nuclear—for whatever reason—then you can always just buy yourself some pasture and some hayfields and start breeding donkeys.
About 30 researchers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Belgium, Norway, Spain and Ukraine presented the latest results of our work. These studies included work on big mammals, nesting birds, amphibians, fish, bumblebees, earthworms, bacteria and leaf litter decomposition. These studies showed that at present the area hosts great biodiversity. In addition, they confirmed the general lack of big negative effects of current radiation levels on the animal and plant populations living in Chernobyl. All the studied groups maintain stable and viable populations inside the exclusion zone. These studies showed that at present the area hosts great biodiversity.
In addition, they confirmed the general lack of big negative effects of current radiation levels on the animal and plant populations living in Chernobyl. All the studied groups maintain stable and viable populations inside the exclusion zone. A clear example of the diversity of wildlife in the area is given by the TREE project (TRansfer-Exposure-Effects, led by Nick Beresford of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). As part of this project, motion detection cameras were installed for several years in different areas of the exclusion zone. The photos recorded by these cameras reveal the presence of abundant fauna at all levels of radiation. These cameras recorded the first observation of brown bears and European bison inside the Ukrainian side of the zone, as well as the increase in the number of wolves and Przewalski horses.
Our own work with the amphibians of Chernobyl has also detected abundant populations across the exclusion zone, even on the more contaminated areas. Furthermore, we have also found signs that could represent adaptive responses to life with radiation. For instance, frogs within the exclusion zone are darker than frogs living outside it, which is a possible defence against radiation. Studies have also detected some negative effects of radiation at an individual level. For example, some insects seem to have a shorter lifespan and are more affected by parasites in areas of high radiation. Some birds also have higher levels of albinism, as well as physiological and genetic alterations when living in highly contaminated localities. But these effects don’t seem to affect the maintenance of wildlife population in the area.
European bison (Bison bonasus), boreal lynx (Lynx lynx), moose (Alces alces) and brown bear (Ursus arctos) in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine). Proyecto TREE/Sergey Gaschack
Ireland has become only the second country in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency. The development came after a Fianna Fáil amendment to the Oireachtas report on Climate Action was accepted by both the Government and Opposition parties without a vote. Chair of the Climate Action Committee, Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton, welcomed the outcome as “an important statement” but added “now we need action.” She said Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton would speedily return to the Dáil with new proposals, and she looked forward to working “with all parties and none” to scrutinise them.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also welcomed the development, but warned that “declaring an emergency means absolutely nothing unless there is action to back it up. That means the Government having to do things they don’t want to do”. Deputy Bríd Smith, of Solidarity/People Before Profit, said she was “delighted” with the declaration, but added it will be “interesting to see” if the Government will support her Climate Emergency Measures Bill next month, which seeks to to limit oil and gas exploration.
For me it has been really shocking to witness how Julian Assange has declined in the last nine years. I have been able to see changes in Julian’s health and psychology. It was so sad, and no one could do anything. I could report on it and expose it but the other media and public opinion did absolutely nothing to make the government understand how terrible his treatment was. And all this is happening not in Russia, not in North Korea, this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe. I now realize how little we can do in our democracy.
If you look at what has happened to high-profile whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and an important publisher like Assange, who had the courage to publish these important revelations, what did your democracy do to save them, to treat them in a human way? Chelsea Manning was put in prison for seven years, where she tried to commit suicide twice. Now she is back in prison. Edward Snowden was forced to leave the U.S. Julian Assange has spent nine years in detainment and no one did anything. We were reporting, we were denouncing, we were exposing how seriously his health was declining. Nothing happened.
A great example of how it’s done. I stumbled upon this in the Guardian, “Ask Hadley” by one Hadley Freemen. Yes the kind of thing men won’t read, it’s directed at women. Who in this way get told what to think of Assange. The rape smear against him from MI6 et al has been more successful than anything else in turning especially women against him. This is how. It’s vile and it’s very dirty. And this Hadley person has no qualms about throwing another woman, Pamela Anderson, under the bus to do it. Because, you know, of her reputation.
Anderson made a long comment to the handily assembled press ranks outside the jail after her visit. She talked about how horrifically unjust it was that Assange was “really cut off from everybody”, to which you can only answer: “Well then, he should be delighted, given he chose to do exactly that for the past seven years when he holed himself up in the Ecuadorean embassy.” Anderson continued: “He does not deserve to be in a supermax prison. He has never committed a violent act. He is an innocent person.”
‘Nothing makes a woman look more credible than writing “Cromwell” on a blanket and then standing outside a prison.’ Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
And again, Ms Anderson, one must beg to remind you that, while that may all be true, no one knows that for certain because – and apologies for bringing up this inconvenient truth yet again – he avoided extradition to Sweden to answer to crimes he is accused of by hiding out in an embassy in Knightsbridge for seven flipping years. You remember that, right? You visited him there. That place where your warrior for truth would – according to Ecuador’s UK ambassador, Jaime Marchán – leave half-eaten meals in the sink. As Andrew O’Hagan explained way back in 2014 when describing what it was like spending time with Assange: “If you asked him to do the dishes, he would say he was trying to free economic slaves in China and had no time to wash up.”
Anderson added: “He is a good man, he is an incredible person. I love him.” She clearly rather fancies herself and Assange as the 21st century’s Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller (as opposed to what they actually are, which is a real-life Harley Quinn and Joker from Batman: The Animated Series). Still, good for you, Pamela! Love is a wondrous thing. This column sincerely hopes you have many happy years of washing his dishes ahead of you. Anyway, just in case Anderson’s word salad was not sufficiently persuasive, she also wore a blanket emblazoned with writing that included the words “free speech”, “gagged” and “Cromwell”. Because, honestly, nothing makes a woman look more credible than writing “Cromwell” on a blanket and then standing outside a prison. Anderson is just the latest in a long and not especially noble line of people who have decided that the best way to express themselves is by writing words on their clothing.
Pamela Anderson admits to feeling 'sick, nauseous' after visiting Julian Assange at HM Prison Belmarsh. pic.twitter.com/91W8F3SPTx
The diplomatic cable from Beijing arrived in Washington late on Friday night, with systematic edits to a nearly 150-page draft trade agreement that would blow up months of negotiations between the world’s two largest economies, according to three U.S. government sources and three private sector sources briefed on the talks. The document was riddled with reversals by China that undermined core U.S. demands, the sources told Reuters. In each of the seven chapters of the draft trade deal, China had deleted its commitments to change laws to resolve core complaints that caused the United States to launch a trade war: theft of U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets; forced technology transfers; competition policy; access to financial services; and currency manipulation.
U.S. President Donald Trump responded in a tweet on Sunday vowing to raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 to 25 percent on Friday – timed to land in the middle of a scheduled visit by China’s Vice Premier Liu He to Washington to continue trade talks. The stripping of binding legal language from the draft struck directly at the highest priority of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer – who views changes to Chinese laws as essential to verifying compliance after years of what U.S. officials have called empty reform promises. Lighthizer has pushed hard for an enforcement regime more like those used for punitive economic sanctions – such as those imposed on North Korea or Iran – than a typical trade deal.
“This undermines the core architecture of the deal,” said a Washington-based source with knowledge of the talks. [..] Liu last week told Lighthizer and Mnuchin that they needed to trust China to fulfil its pledges through administrative and regulatory changes, two of the sources said. Both Mnuchin and Lighthizer considered that unacceptable, given China’s history of failing to fulfil reform pledges. One private-sector source briefed on the talks said the last round of negotiations had gone very poorly because “China got greedy”. “China reneged on a dozen things, if not more … The talks were so bad that the real surprise is that it took Trump until Sunday to blow up,” the source said.
President Trump is having second thoughts about “his administration’s aggressive strategy in Venezuela,” complaining to aides and advisers that “he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman,” President Nicolas Maduro, with opposition leader Juan Guadió, The Washington Post reports. “The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around National Security Adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.”
Officially, U.S. policy in Venezuela is the same, and last week’s failed effort to oust Maduro has “effectively shelved serious discussion of a heavy U.S. military response,” and “Trump is now not inclined to order any sort of military intervention in Venezuela,” the Post reports, citing current and former officials and outside advisers. Instead, the U.S. is settling in to wait out Maduro on the expectation he will fall on his own, with the help of U.S. sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela,” Trump said last week, after a 90-minute phone call with Putin. “And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid.” U.S. officials say Russia is deeply involved in backing Maduro.
President Trump, speaking at a rally hours after the White House invoked executive privilege to block the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report, predicted congressional Democrats’ investigations would propel him to a reelection victory in 2020. Trump did not directly address his administration’s decision to defy a subpoena from House Democrats, a move that raised the specter of a constitutional crisis, but he said the party’s desire to probe his administration, campaign and businesses would backfire politically. “They want to do investigations instead of investments,” the president told a crowd of supporters at an outdoor amphitheater just steps from the Gulf of Mexico. “I think it drives us on to victory in 2020.”
Trump said Democrats’ focus on investigations is a “disgrace” and that they should instead work with him on infrastructure, lowering drug prices and improving veterans’ health care. [..] Trump mentioned Barr only in passing during the Wednesday rally but did not address the proceedings. “Now the Democrats — we have a great attorney general — now the Democrats are saying, ‘We want more.’ You know, it was going to be like, ‘We want the Mueller report.’ Now they say, ‘Mueller report? No, we want to start all over again.’”
If ever there were an admission that taints the FBI’s secret warrant to surveil Donald Trump’s campaign, it sat buried for more than 2 1/2 years in the files of a high-ranking State Department official. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec’s written account of her Oct. 11, 2016, meeting with FBI informant Christopher Steele shows the Hillary Clinton campaign-funded British intelligence operative admitted that his research was political and facing an Election Day deadline. And that confession occurred 10 days before the FBI used Steele’s now-discredited dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the campaign’s ties to Russia.
Steele’s client “is keen to see this information come to light prior to November 8,” the date of the 2016 election, Kavalec wrote in a typed summary of her meeting with Steele and Tatyana Duran, a colleague from Steele’s Orbis Security firm. The memos were unearthed a few days ago through open-records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. Kavalec’s notes do not appear to have been provided to the House Intelligence Committee during its Russia probe, according to former Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). “They tried to hide a lot of documents from us during our investigation, and it usually turns out there’s a reason for it,” Nunes told me. Senate and House Judiciary investigators told me they did not know about them, even though they investigated Steele’s behavior in 2017-18.
One member of Congress transmitted the memos this week to the Department of Justice’s inspector general, fearing its investigation of FISA abuses may not have had access to them. Nonetheless, the FBI is doing its best to keep much of Kavalec’s information secret by retroactively claiming it is classified, even though it was originally marked unclassified in 2016. The apparent effort to hide Kavalec’s notes from her contact with Steele has persisted for some time. State officials acknowledged a year ago they received a copy of the Steele dossier in July 2016, and got a more detailed briefing in October 2016 and referred the information to the FBI.
House Democrats voted on Wednesday to hold the US attorney general, William Barr, in contempt of Congress, citing his failure to hand over the full, unredacted version of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The decision came on a day of escalating tensions between Congress and the White House. Earlier on Wednesday, the White House invoked executive privilege to block the House judiciary committee’s request for the full Mueller report and underlying evidence. Later in the day, the House intelligence committee chair, Adam Schiff, subpoenaed Barr for “documents and materials related Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including all counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials produced during the Special Counsel’s investigation, the full unredacted report, and the underlying evidence”.
According to a statement from Schiff’s office, the justice department must produce the documents by 15 May. The Senate intelligence committee, meanwhile, has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr, two people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. The panel is calling in the president’s son to answer questions about his 2017 testimony to the panel as part of its investigation into Russian election interference. It is the first known subpoena of a member of Donald Trump‘s immediate family, and a new sign that the Senate panel is continuing with its own Russia investigation even after the release of Mueller’s report on the same subject.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and represented the House of Representatives in its successful challenge to executive actions under the Affordable Care Act..
The House Judiciary Committee is voting to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress and to secure a vote of the entire House of Representatives in order to send the matter to federal court. The problem is that the contempt action against Barr is long on action and short on contempt. Indeed, with a superficial charge, the House could seriously undermine its credibility in the ongoing conflicts with the White House. Congress is right on a number of complaints against the White House, including possible cases of contempt, but this is not one of them. As someone who has represented the House of Representatives, my concern is that this one violates a legal version of the Hippocratic oath to “first do no harm.”
This could do great harm, not to Barr, but to the House. It is the weakest possible case to bring against the administration, and likely to be an example of a bad case making bad law for the House. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler laid out the case for contempt. He raised three often repeated complaints against Barr in that he failed to release an unredacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller, allegedly lied twice to Congress, and refused to appear before the committee. Yet, notably, the only claim the committee seeks to put before a federal court is the redaction of the report. That seems rather curious since, if Barr lied or refused a subpoena as House leaders claim, it normally would be an easy case of contempt. The reason for this move is that House Democrats know both claims would not withstand even a cursory judicial review.
When Mueller accepted his appointment as special counsel, he did so fully aware of the federal regulations governing his office. The regulations make it absolutely clear that the special counsel is prohibited from discussing his report publicly. Leading members of Congress now demanding that Mueller testify know he is barred from doing so. The current special counsel regulations were passed while they were members of Congress. In 1978, Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act. It created a process for appointing special prosecutors. This is a different position from special counsels like Mueller. Under the 1978 law, Congress could mandate the appointment of a special prosecutor. Congress could remove the special prosecutor, and the special prosecutor was required to report to Congress. The executive and legislative branches were both a direct part of the process.
However, the law on special prosecutors expired and it was not renewed. In 1999, the special counsel regulations under which Mueller was appointed became law and remain in effect today. These regulations were written and heavily promoted by President Bill Clinton’s administration. They changed the 1978 law in several important ways. Under the current regulations, the special counsel does not report to Congress. Congress cannot require the appointment or removal of a special counsel. These powers and duties lie exclusively with the attorney general. Section 600.9 of the special counsel regulations backed by the Clinton administration places very limited requirements on the attorney general in regard to what he needs to provide to Congress, and he has already exceeded these requirements.
James Comey’s planet is getting noticeably warmer. Attorney General William Barr’s emissions are the suspected cause. Barr has made plain that he intends to examine carefully how and why Comey, as FBI director, decided that the bureau should investigate two presidential campaigns and if, in so doing, any rules or laws were broken. In light of this, the fired former FBI director apparently has decided that photos of him on Twitter standing amid tall trees and in the middle of empty country roads, acting all metaphysical, is no longer a sufficient strategy. No, Comey has realized, probably too late, that he has to try to counter, more directly, the narrative being set by the unsparing attorney general whose words in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week landed in the Trump-opposition world like holy water on Linda Blair. Shrieking heads haven’t stopped spinning since.
And so we’ve seen Comey get real busy lately. First he penned a curious op-ed in The New York Times. Then a Times reporter, with whom Comey has cooperated in the past, wrote a news article exposing an early, controversial investigative technique against the Trump campaign in an attempt to get out front and excuse it. Next, Comey is scheduled to be encouraged on a friendly cable news “town hall.” In the op-ed, Comey trotted out his now-familiar St. James schtick, freely pronouncing on the morality of others. He sees himself as a kind of Pontiff-of-the-Potomac working his beads, but comes across more like an unraveling Captain Queeg working his ball bearings. Comey adjudged the president as “amoral.” He declared the attorney general to be “formidable” but “lacking inner strength” unlike — the inference is clear — Comey himself. A strategy of insulting the executioner right before he swings his ax is an odd one but, then, Comey has a long record of odd decisions and questionable judgment.
By 2016, emerging market corporations were issuing ten times more money ($711 billion) than before, much of it in hard foreign currencies (mainly euros, dollars and yen) that will prove much harder to pay back if their local currency slides, as is happening in Turkey and Argentina right now. Although bond issuance by emerging market companies declined by 29% in 2017 and remained around the same level in 2018, it is still approximately 7.5 times higher than the pre-crisis level. Much of the increase has been driven by China as it transitioned from a negligible level of issuance of corporate debt prior to the 2008 crisis to a record issuance amount of $590 billion in 2016.
During that time the number of Chinese companies issuing bonds soared from just 68 to a peak of 1,451 and the total amount of corporate debt in China exploded from $4 trillion to almost $17 trillion, according to BIS data. By late 2018 it had reached $19.7 trillion. “There has been a persistent buildup of private debt to record levels in China,” Cunliffe said. Much of this increase took place in the direct aftermath of the financial crisis. The largest increases have been in the corporate sector, mainly in state-owned enterprises. At last count, China’s corporate debt-to-GDP ratio was 153%, enough to earn it seventh place on WOLF STREET’s leaderboard of countries with the most monstrous corporate debt pileups (as a proportion of GDP), 18 places above the US. This chart compares the rise of non-financial corporate debt in China and the US:
Yields on five-year Greek government bonds are lower than those of U.S. Treasurys — and have been this way for the past month. Yes, on 3- and 5-year bonds, Greece, with its rating deep in junk territory, pays investors less than the double-A-plus-rated U.S. government does. Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French government bonds — also lower-rated than the U.S. — offer lower, indeed considerably lower, yields than the U.S. government does, even for 10-year maturities. Even if we stipulate that Greece’s government is, in fact, as creditworthy as the U.S. government, why would investors accept a lower yield on the Greek bond? And why are they willing to accept the even lower yields on the bonds of other eurozone governments?
One possible reason is that they expect the euro to appreciate. Despite the low eurozone bond yields, investors may expect eventually to boost their returns by selling the expensive euros and buying cheaper dollars and other currencies. Indeed, there is some basis for such a strategy. As of late April, the consensus among analysts was that the euro will appreciate significantly over the next couple of years, and more modestly thereafter; forward markets (where buyers and sellers settle the price of a future transaction in advance) support this consensus view.
But if expectations of an appreciating euro solve the low-bond-yield puzzle, they raise another, deeper puzzle. Why would investors expect the euro to appreciate? [..] such a scenario is highly implausible. Current growth forecasts point worryingly in the opposite direction. The IMF projects world economic growth to slow more markedly than it already did a year ago. Crucially, of all major economies, those in the eurozone appear to be decelerating particularly quickly.
In salmon’s case, we have interrupted one of the most dramatic cycles of nature, the wild fish’s journey from the rivers where they spawn to the oceans where they grow and back again. The result is that fish have died, species that eat them have died, communities that depend on them have faded, the food supply has been polluted and a lot of tax dollars have been wasted. [..] In an inspired gambit, Artifishal takes a swerve into the metaphyscial, framing the salmon emergency as a question about the human soul, about what it needs – about what we need – to survive.
The contention of the film-makers is that while it may be human nature to seek dominion and control over the rest of nature, the very thing we need to survive is precisely that which defies our control, that thing which, when we seek to subjugate it, instead either slips through our nets, or is caught and dies. If we drive the wild to extinction, the film suggests, we will bring our own that much closer. “I really hope the film leaves the viewer with this disquieting question, which is, have we reached the end of wild?” said Murphy in a phone conversation near the end of a tour to promote the movie, which debuted at the Tribeca film festival after a tour of screenings in Patagonia stores. “At the outset we kept wondering if we would find a bad guy. And we didn’t. In fact, I kept feeling that the force of antagonism was us – we’re the bad guy. Because humans just are always looking out for themselves.”
Only a third of the world’s great rivers remain free flowing, due to the impact of dams that are drastically reducing the benefits healthy rivers provide people and nature, according to a global analysis. Billions of people rely on rivers for water, food and irrigation, but from the Danube to the Yangtze most large rivers are fragmented and degraded. Untouched rivers are largely confined to remote places such as the Arctic and Amazonia. The assessment, the first to tackle the subject on a worldwide level, examined 12m kilometres of rivers and found that just 90 of the 246 rivers more than 1,000km (621 miles) long flowed without interruption.
The scientists, whose research, published in the journal Nature, was led by Günther Grill, at McGill University in Canada, were particularly concerned to discover that only a quarter of long rivers that once flowed freely to the sea, rather than to an inland lake or other river, still had such a course. Separate research in Britain, which included the effects of smaller infrastructure such as weirs, fords and culverts, suggests that 97% of the nation’s river network has been interrupted by human-built structures. Thriving wildlife in rivers is crucial to keeping water clean but freshwater habitats were found to be the hardest hit of all the ecosystems, with wildlife populations having plunged by an average of 83% since 1970 due to dams, overuse of water and pollution.
Great rivers that flow freely are now rare in populated areas. Heavily fragmented rivers include the Danube, Nile, and Euphrates, the Paraná and Missouri in the Americas, the Yangtze and Brahmaputra in Asia, and the Darling in Australia. The Congo and Amazon were found to be among the least affected. The biggest impact comes from physical barriers created by dams, but reservoirs also seriously affect the natural seasonal flow of rivers. “It can be really freaky sometimes, when the electricity is produced one hour on, one hour off, and the river goes up and down by a metre, which is very stressful to the ecosystems downstream,” said Grill. The study estimates that there are about 60,000 large dams worldwide and 3,700 in planning or construction, in addition to millions of smaller dams.
Eight European countries have called for an ambitious strategy to tackle climate change – and to spend a quarter of the entire EU budget on fighting it. The joint statement says the EU should have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 “at the latest”. It was signed by France, Belgium, Denmark, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. The group says their plan can “go hand in hand with prosperity” and “set an example for other countries to follow.” The position paper comes ahead of a major summit of European leaders in the Romanian city of Sibiu, beginning on Thursday, which will discuss the future of Europe and the EU’s strategy for the next five years. But not everyone is on board – there are 28 countries in the EU, and several of those absent from the joint position statement are significant players – including Germany.
The position of the eight countries is that climate change has “profound implications for the future of humanity” and that its impacts are already apparent – citing “the heat waves and scorching fires of last summer”. [..] “The EU budget currently under negotiation will be an important tool in this respect: at least 25% of the spending should go to projects aimed at fighting against climate change,” the paper said. Annual EU budgets have spending limits set by what is known as the multiannual financial framework (MFF). The current one allowed the EU to spend more than €900bn between 2014-2020. The eight-nation group is eyeing the next framework, which is set to cover 2021-2027. [..] At the moment, EU countries are required to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from their 1990 levels by 2020, with the aim of raising that to a 40% reduction by 2030. But many are set to miss these targets – some by a wide margin.
Robert Mueller’s 448-page “Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” contains at least two major omissions which suggest that the special counsel and his entire team of world-class Democrat attorneys are either utterly incompetent, or purposefully concealing major crimes committed against the Trump campaign and the American people.
First, according to The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland (a former law clerk of nearly 25 years and instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame) – the Mueller report fails to consider whether the dossier authored by former MI6 spy Christopher Steele was Russian disinformation, and Steele was not charged with lying to the FBI.
“The Steele dossier, which consisted of a series of memorandum authored by the former MI6 spy, detailed intel purportedly provided by a variety of Vladimir Putin-connected sources. For instance, Steele identified Source A as “a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure” who “confided that the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”
Other supposed sources identified in the dossier included: Source B, identified as “a former top-level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin”; Source C, a “Senior Russian Financial Officer”; and Source G, “a Senior Kremlin Official.” -The Federalist
As Cleveland posits: “Given Mueller’s conclusion that no one connected to the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the election, one of those two scenarios must be true—either Russia fed Steele disinformation or Steele lied to the FBI about his Russian sources.”
Mueller identified only two principal ways Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election: “First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents.”
Surely, a plot by Kremlin-connected individuals to feed a known FBI source—Steele had helped the FBI uncover an international soccer bribery scandal—false claims that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia would qualify as a “principal way” in which Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
[..] the only lawmaker to even mention this possibility has been Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who raised the issue with Attorney General William Barr last week: “My question,” said Grassley, “Mueller spent over two years and 30 million dollars investigating Russia interference in the election. In order for a full accounting of Russia interference attempts, shouldn’t the special counsel have considered whether the Steele dossier was part of a Russian disinformation and interfere campaign?” [..] Barr said that he has assembled a DOJ team to examine Mueller’s investigation, findings, and whether the spying conducted by the FBI against the Trump campaign in 2016 was improper.
Mueller’s second major oversight – which we have touched on repeatedly – is the special counsel’s portrayal of Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud as a Russian agent – when available evidence suggests he may have been a Western agent.
Weeks after returning from Moscow, Mifsud – a self-described Clinton Foundation member – ‘seeded’ the rumor that Russia had ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos on April 26, 2016, according to the Mueller report.
As Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) noted on Fox News on Sunday, “how is it that we spend 30-plus-million dollars on this, as taxpayers and they can’t even tell us who Joseph Mifsud is?” “…this is important, because, in the Mueller dossier, they use a fake news story to describe Mifsud. In one of those stories, they cherry- pick it,” Nunes added.
[..] As conservative commentator and former US Secret Service agent Dan Bongino notes of Mifsud, “either we have a Russian asset who’s infiltrated the highest echelons of friendly Intelligence Services, or we have a friendly who was setting up George Papadopoulos.”
This poses questions about Mueller, Mifsud and Steele and many other people and organizations involved, but the central question remains unaddressed: did Russia truly meddle and interfere in the 2016 election?
We don’t know, we have only Mueller’s word for that, and he’s ostensibly based it on reports from US intelligence, which has very obvious reasons to smear Russia. That Mifsud is presented as a Russian agent, with all the doubts about that which we have seen presented, doesn’t help this point.
That Steele hadn’t visited Russia since 1993 when he complied his dossier is not helpful either. His information could have originated with “the Russians”, or with US intelligence, and he would never have been the wiser. That is, even IF he was a straight shooter. What are the odss of that?
And of course the strongest doubts about Russian meddling and interference, along with offers of evidence to underline and reinforce these doubts, have been offered by Julian Assange and the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) group.
But as I’ve repeatedly said before, after Mueller had to let go of the “Russia collusion with the Trump campaign” accusation, he was free to let the “Russian meddling aided and abetted by Julian Assange” narrative stand, beacuse he didn’t have to provide proof for that, as long as he didn’t communicate with either the Russians (easy), the VIPS (whom he stonewalled) or Assange (who’s been completely silenced).
So we have -at least- 4 major omissions in the Mueller investigation and report:
1) the Mueller report failed to consider whether the dossier authored by former MI6 spy Christopher Steele was Russian disinformation (and Steele was not charged with lying to the FBI).
2) Mueller’s portrayal of Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud as a Russian agent – when available evidence suggests he may have been a Western agent.
3) Mueller declined to talk to the VIPS, who offered evidence that the DNC servers were not hacked but content was copied onto a disk at the server’s location
4) Mueller refused to hear Julian Assange, who offered evidence that it was not the Russians that had provided WikiLeaks with the emails.
Mueller was supposedly trying to find the truth about Trump’s ties to Russia/Putin, and he refused to see and hear evidence from two organizations, WikiLeaks and the VIPS, which he absolutely certainly knew could potentially have provided things he did not know. Why did he do that? There’s only one possible answer: he didn’t want to know.
Why not? Because he feared he would have had to abandon the “Russian meddling and interference” narrative as well. If, as both WikiLeaks and the VIPS insisted, the emails didn’t come from “the Russians”, all that would have been left is an opaque story about “Russians” buying $100,000 in Facebook ads. And that, too, is awfully shaky.
That’s an amount Jared Kushner acknowledged he spent every few hours on such ads during the – multi-billion-dollar – campaign. Moreover, many of these ads were allegedly posted AFTER the elections. And we don’t even know it was Russians who purchased the ads, that’s just another story coming from US intelligence.
It is not so hard, guys. “Omissions” or “oversight” is one way to put it, but there are others. Assange could have cleared himself of any claims of involvement in meddling and perhaps proven Guccifer 2.0 was not “Russian”. His discussions with the DOJ, preparations for which were in an advanced stage of development, were killed in 2017 by then-FBI head James Comey and Rep. Mark Warner.
Mueller never wanted the truth, he wanted to preserve a narrative. The VIPS, too, threatened that narrative by offering physical evidence that nobody hacked the emails. Mueller never reached out. Mueller, the former FBI chief, who must know who these men and women are. Here’s a list, in case you were wondering:
Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
• William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
• Bogdan Dzakovic, former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security (ret.) (associate VIPS)
• Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
• Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator
• James George Jatras, former U.S. diplomat and former foreign policy adviser to Senate leadership (Associate VIPS)
• Larry Johnson, former CIA Intelligence Officer & former State Department Counter-Terrorism Official, (ret.)
• Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)
• John Kiriakou, former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former Senior Investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
• Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003
• Clement J. Laniewski, LTC, U.S. Army (ret.)
• Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.)
• Edward Loomis, NSA Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)
• David MacMichael, former Senior Estimates Officer, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
• Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA presidential briefer (ret.)
• Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East & CIA political analyst (ret.)
• Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
• Peter Van Buren,U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)
• Robert Wing, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (former) (associate VIPS)
• Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War
And then you lead a Special Counsel investigation, you spend 2 years and $30 million, you get offered evidence in what you’re investigating, and you just ignore these people?
And there are still people who want to believe that Robert Swan Mueller III is a straight shooter? They must not want to know the truth, either, then.
Here’s wondering if Bill Barr does, who’s going to investigate the Mueller investigation. Does he want the truth, or is he just the next in line to push the narrative?
Is there anyone in power left in America who has any courage at all to expose this B-rated theater?
Tulsi Gabbard has been reviled for talking to Assad. Why not talk to Assange as well, Tulsi? How about Rand Paul? We know he wanted to talk to Assange last year. Anyone?
Downing Street has described the Brexit talks in Brussels as “deadlocked” after negotiations over the weekend failed to find a breakthrough on the Irish backstop. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, spoke on the telephone on Sunday evening, but plans for the prime minister to visit the Belgian capital to sign off on any compromise are on hold. The EU refuses to budge on the British proposal for what it believes is an attempt to build a unilateral exit mechanism into the Irish backstop, the arrangement that would keep the UK in a customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, is unlikely without such a concession to revise his legal opinion, given before the last vote on May’s deal, that the backstop could be in force “indefinitely”. The prime minister pledged in parliament to put her deal to the Commons on Tuesday but she is being urged by senior Conservative MPs to pull the vote if she fails to secure significant concessions from Brussels. Leading Tories have warned Downing Street it could face a second huge defeat similar to the historic 230-vote loss in January if the government goes ahead. They have advised May instead to replace the vote with a motion setting out the sort of Brexit deal that would be acceptable to Tory MPs, in the hope that this would trigger concessions from the EU.
More than 275 financial firms are moving a combined $1.2 trillion in assets and funds and thousands of staff from Britain to the European Union in readiness for Brexit at a cost of up to $4 billion, a report from a think tank said on Monday. UK lawmakers are due to vote on Tuesday on an EU divorce settlement. But with less than three weeks to go before Brexit day on March 29, it is still unclear whether the deal will be approved, whether departure from the EU will be delayed, or whether it will happen without agreement. The report by the New Financial think tank, one of the most detailed yet on the impact of Brexit on financial services, said Dublin alone accounted for 100 relocations, ahead of Luxembourg with 60, Paris 41, Frankfurt 40, and Amsterdam 32.
The independent think tank said half of the affected asset management firms, such as Goldman Sachs Investment Management, Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Vanguard, had chosen Dublin, with Luxembourg the next port of call, attracting firms like Schroders, JP Morgan Wealth Management and Aviva Investors. Nearly 90 percent of all firms moving to Frankfurt are banks, while two-thirds of those going to Amsterdam are trading platforms or brokers. Paris is carving out a niche for markets and trading operations of banks and attracting a broad spread of firms.
We humans are a social lot. We just love being part of a pack, a member of a team. We crave acceptance, to the point where isolation or banishment ranks among the worst forms of punishment. Even when it comes to the dodgy art of forecasting, everyone seems to cluster around a central position, which kind of defeats the point of forecasting. And so, in July two years ago, when the groundswell of opinion began to shift — that the Reserve Bank would be raising interest rates — arguing otherwise was a fairly lonely position. As time went on, almost everyone shifted position as we dug in here, here and here.
To be fair, most of the highly paid, well-heeled professional market economists were being egged on by the authorities, and particularly the Reserve Bank, which was spinning the line that the next rate move was up. In the past fortnight, however, the pack suddenly has turned on its tail as fears about the global economy and a sudden slowdown in our own growth forced a rethink. The switch to a rate cut has turned into a stampede. Put aside all the complex formula. Forget the high-level macro-economic analysis. There’s a very simple reason the Reserve Bank couldn’t and can’t raise interest rates. There’s too much debt. Australian households are among the world’s most indebted when compared with their income.
And we’ve spent most of it on real estate. What these two graphs show is how the Reserve Bank, effectively, snookered itself. Back in 2012, when debt and housing prices already were elevated, it fired up the east coast housing market, and construction, to take up the employment slack as the mining boom unwound. But it created a monster. As housing went on a tear, the short-term sugar hit turned toxic. Employment took off. But housing became unaffordable to almost everyone under 35. And our household debt levels reached for the stars. The end result? It couldn’t cut rates if it needed. That would add heat to a dangerously inflated housing bubble. And it could never raise rates, because that would kill household spending.
A decade after Ben Bernanke appeared on “60 Minutes”, vowing that the Fed could easily crush inflation, as it could “raise interest rates in 15 minutes”, of course with the occasional “pause” along the way should the S&P dip by 20% or so, current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will follow in his footsteps on Sunday night, when surrounded by former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen, he will try to reach beyond the Fed’s traditional audience of markets, journalists and lawmakers to counter the attacks from President Trump, even after the Fed’s paused on raising interest rates, said Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University, quoted by MarketWatch.
“He wants to counter the president’s message that policy is all wrong,” Binder said. Binder said she was struck by the still photo of the “60 Minutes” interview that shows Powell alongside his two predecessors Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke. “This puts a human face on the central bank. It says, ‘we’re the Fed and we’re here to help,’” Binder said. Bernanke also faced criticism when he went on “60 Minutes” in March 2009. The Fed was facing concerted attacks by lawmakers and populist “End the Fed” groups, who considering the record wealth divide in the US created by the central bank, were spot on.
If China’s bad debts were written down, its economic growth rate would be half the recorded number, a US economist at a prominent Chinese university has warned. In a speech in Shanghai this week, Michael Pettis, professor of finance at Peking University, warned that China’s debt is closely linked to the government’s perceived overstatement of its GDP. The government is accused of perpetuating the existence of “zombie companies”, by granting loss-making companies loans. Banks in turn treat these companies as creditworthy, whereas in reality they should be written off as bad debt, Pettis said. “If you believe there is bad debt that has not been sufficiently written down, you must believe that China’s GDP is overstated, relative to what it would be in any other country. That must be true,” Pettis said.
“If we are able to calculate GDP correctly, it would probably be half of the recorded number.” Pettis is not alone seeing troubles with China’s official growth number. In December, Xiang Songzuo, an outspoken professor from the Renmin University of China, who previously served as chief economist for Agricultural Bank of China, cited unidentified internal reports as saying that said China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative, a far cry from the official figures. Furthermore, a group of four economists published a paper this week arguing that China might have overstated its annual growth rate by 2 percentage points on average from 2008 to 2016. China’s official statistics agency said the country’s economic growth rate was 6.6 per cent in 2018.
The Chinese government said it would try to achieve an economic growth rate between 6.0 to 6.5 per cent in 2019, a moderate slowdown from previous years, but nevertheless a much faster rate compared with other major economies. Pettis is a renowned expert on China’s economy. For decades, he has been commenting on financial affairs in China and was among the early observers of the imbalances in the Chinese economy. He said in his speech on Wednesday that China’s growth will significantly decelerate as the country’s debt level rises.
Since China managed to weather the fallout from the financial crisis without registering much of a slowdown in its “official” GDP figures, playing “guess the real growth rate” has become one of the most popular parlor games among the professional economist set. Whereas the stakes are much higher for academics on the mainland (one of whom was censored and threatened by government thugs after speculating that GDP growth on the mainland might be closer to 2%), researchers at American think tanks have freely offered estimates ranging from 2% to 4% (which, admittedly, would still put China well ahead of the US).
But as investors and economists once again cast a wary eye toward China as signs of flagging growth are once again threatening to sink the whole world into a recession, a team of researchers from the Brookings Institute has published a carefully researched paper detailing the exact mechanism by which authorities in Beijing inflate the country’s GDP figures, while estimating that China’s economy is roughly 12% smaller than the official figures would suggest. Brookings published the paper on Thursday, just two days after Party leaders at the annual National Party Congress lowered their economic growth forecast to between 6% and 6.5% of GDP.
Though the paper focused on the period between 2008 and 2016, it’s the latest evidence that China’s economic slowdown has been more severe than believed, and that the growth rate from last year – China’s worst since the early 1990s – might, in reality, be just under 6% (compared with 6.6%). According to Brookings, much of the manipulation in Chinese official government statistics takes place at the local level. In what the FT described as “a legacy of Maoist state planning”, authorities in Beijing hand down growth targets to local officials, who use it to goalseek the official statistics they hand back. “China’s national accounts are based on data collected by local governments. However, since local governments are rewarded for meeting growth and investment targets, they have an incentive to skew local statistics. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) adjusts the data provided by local governments to calculate GDP at the national level,” the study’s authors said.
Deutsche Bank has begun tentative merger talks with rival Commerzbank, which would create Europe’s second biggest bank behind HSBC and fend off unwanted potential bidders such as French giant BNP Paribas. Reports in Germany’s Welt am Sonntag suggest that the banks have come under political pressure to consider a merger and avert a foreign takeover of Commerzbank, much the smaller partner in any deal. Deutsche is regarded as a bank of global importance, but has been plagued by three years of losses, boardroom battles, money laundering issues and its role as the biggest lender to the Trump business empire.
Despite Germany’s industrial dominance in Europe, it has only one bank in the continent’s top 20, and Berlin is understood to be keen to create a larger national champion. The combination of the two banks mean that Deutsche, currently fifth biggest, and Commerzbank, currently 23rd, will become Europe’s second biggest bank and only marginally behind HSBC. Deutsche Bank’s chief executive Christian Sewing was seen to be the main opponent of a merger, but investor pressure – Deutsche’ shares are trading at around €7.68 compared with €32 five years ago – is understood to have forced his hand. The talks are believed to be at a very early stage – “unofficial contacts in a very small group” according to Welt am Sonntag – but are likely to be welcomed by major shareholders.
Steele was cut off by the FBI for revealing his relationship with the Bureau to the media – but Ohr continued to pass information from Steele to his colleagues, regularly spoke to him via email and phone, and met up with him face-to-face on several occasions. Information watchdog Judicial Watch has released 339-pages of US Department of Justice records, revealing former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr remained in regular contact with ex-MI6 operative Christopher Steele after Steele’s status as a paid confidential informant was terminated by the FBI in November 2016.
“These smoking gun documents show Christopher Steele, a Hillary Clinton operative and anti-Trump foreign national, secretly worked hand-in-glove with the Justice Department on its illicit targeting of President Trump. These documents leave no doubt that for more than a year after the FBI fired Christopher Steele for leaking, and for some 10 months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Bruce Ohr continued to act as a go-between for Steele with the FBI and Justice Department. The anti-Trump Russia investigation, now run by Robert Mueller, has been thoroughly compromised by this insider corruption,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
Whether an accurate appraisal or not, it’s clear from the assorted communications Ohr was determined to ensure Steele retained access to the Bureau, and this contact remained hidden from public view – for instance, when acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Trump January 2017, Steele feared Ohr would be fired too, and texted him to express his “sympathy and support”. “If you end up out, I really need another contact point/number who is briefed. We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position right now looks stable. A million thanks,” Steele wrote. In response, Ohr assured the Orbis chief he could “certainly” give him an FBI contact “if it becomes necessary”.
On 6 March that year, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to then-FBI Director James Comey, seeking clarity on the nature of Steele’s relationship with the FBI. The next day, Steele texted Ohr to say he was “very concerned” by the letter, and its “possible implications for our operations and sources…We need some reassurance…Really fundamental issues at stake here”. Days later, with Comey scheduled to testify before Congress, Steele told Ohr he was “a bit apprehensive” and hoped “important firewalls will hold”. On 24 March, Ohr and Steele discussed their “response” to the testimony, as he understood “an approach from the Senate Intelligence Committee” to Orbis was imminent.
On 26 October, Steele said he’s “very concerned” about documents the FBI intended to turn over to Congress about his work and “relationship with them”. “Can we have a word tomorrow please? Just seen a story in the media about the Bureau handing over docs to Congress…Peoples live may be engangered [sic],” he despaired.
[..] on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces. [..] on Saturday night, the New York Times published a detailed video and accompanying article proving that this entire story was a lie.
The humanitarian trucks were not set on fire by Maduro’s forces. They were set on fire by anti-Maduro protesters who threw a molotov cocktail that hit one of the trucks. And the NYT’s video traces how the lie spread: from U.S. officials who baselessly announced that Maduro burned them to media outlets that mindlessly repeated the lie. [..] While the NYT’s article and video are perfectly good and necessary journalism, the credit they are implicitly claiming for themselves for exposing this lie is totally undeserved. That’s because independent journalists – the kind who question rather than mindlessly repeat government claims and are therefore mocked and marginalized and kept off mainstream television – used exactly this same evidence on the day of the incident to debunk the lies being told by Rubio, Pompeo, Bolton and CNN.
On February 24, the day the lie spread, Max Blumenthal wrote from Venezuela, on the independent reporting Grayzone site, that “the claim was absurd on its face,” noting that he “personally witnessed tear gas canisters hit every kind of vehicle imaginable in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, and I have never seen a fire like the one that erupted on the Santander bridge.” He compiled substantial evidence strongly suggesting that the trucks were set ablaze by anti-Maduro protesters, including Bloomberg video showing them using Molotov cocktails, to express serious doubts about the mainstream narrative. On Twitter, in response to Marco Rubio’s lie, he wrote: “I did not see any Venezuelan government forces set fire to US aid trucks on the Colombian side of the border. And neither did you. Actually, the evidence so far is pointing in the other direction.”
In simulated World War III scenarios, the U.S. continues to lose against Russia and China, two top war planners warned last week. “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, blue gets its ass handed to it” RAND analyst David Ochmanek said Thursday. RAND’s wargames show how US Armed Forces – colored blue on wargame maps – experience the most substantial losses in one scenario after another and still can’t thwart Russia or China – which predictably is red – from accomplishing their objectives: annihilating Western forces. “We lose a lot of people. We lose a lot of equipment. We usually fail to achieve our objective of preventing aggression by the adversary,” he warned.
In the next military conflict, which some believe may come as soon as the mid-2020s, all five battlefield domains: land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, will be heavily contested, suggesting the U.S. could have a difficult time in achieving superiority as it has in prior conflicts. The simulated war games showed, the “red” aggressor force often destroys U.S. F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters on the runway, sends several Naval fleets to the depths, destroys US military bases, and through electronic warfare, takes control of critical military communication systems. In short, a gruesome, if simulated, annihilation of some of the most modern of US forces. “In every case I know of,” said Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense with years of wargaming experience, “the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”
So, as Russia and China develop fifth-generation fighters and hypersonic missiles, “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructures like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said. “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.” “That’s why the 2020 budget coming out next week retires the carrier USS Truman decades early and cuts two amphibious landing ships, as we’ve reported. It’s also why the Marine Corps is buying the jump-jet version of the F-35, which can take off and land from tiny, ad hoc airstrips, but how well they can maintain a high-tech aircraft in low-tech surroundings is an open question,” said Breaking Defense.
Many people are unaware about California’s importance in the U.S. oil industry. In fact, 100 years ago California was the top oil producer in the U.S., responsible at one point for nearly 40% of U.S. oil production. California oil production rose throughout most of the 20th century, briefly eclipsing one million barrels per day in the early 1980s. Oil production began to decline there after peaking in 1985. The same pattern took place in many other states, and in fact was the case for the entire U.S., where oil production peaked in 1970, and then declined over the next 35 years. But the shale boom changed the trajectory of U.S. oil production.
Oil production that had fallen for decades reversed direction and began to surge about a decade ago. Almost every state with shale oil resources saw a similar surge in production. Since 2010, U.S. oil production has increased by 131%, with huge gains in oil production in the following states (among others): • North Dakota – up 634% • Colorado – up 508% • New Mexico – up 377% •Texas – up 330% • Oklahoma – up 238%. In fact, only three major oil-producing states have seen a decline in oil production since 2010: California, Louisiana, and Alaska. One of the graphics I created for my presentation shows the stark contrast between oil production in Texas and California as the shale boom unfolded.
During the 1980s and 1990s, oil production in Texas was declining faster than it was in California. Had that trajectory been maintained, Texas oil production may have fallen below California’s in about 2010. Instead, the shale boom has added nearly four million BPD of oil production in Texas. Millions of barrels were added in other states as well, and California began to slide down the ranks of leading oil producers. Just a few years ago California was still in 2nd place, but now it has slipped to 6th, behind Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Alaska.
As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is reportedly coming to an end, elderly and sick Americans are trying to hold on to their lives so they can read the highly-anticipated report that has been nearly two years in the making. World War II veteran Mitchell Tendler—a man who survived numerous historic milestones, including the Korean War, Vietnam, Watergate and President BIll Clinton’s impeachment—fell sick on Dec. 29, at 93 years old, reported NPR. “I got a call at 11 o’clock. My mom said, ‘Well, Dad’s not feeling well—he really can’t stand,'” Tendler’s son, Walter, recalled. “Within a couple of hours they called 911 and got him into the ER because it wasn’t getting any better.”
Tendler survived two implantable defibrillators throughout his life. But while on his third, he started to fade. After he was provided painkillers by doctors, Tendler voiced his final thoughts. “It just was quiet for a little while,” Walter Tendler told the news outlet, “and then he just sits up in bed halfway and looks at me and he goes, ‘S***, I’m not going to see the Mueller report, am I?’ And that was really the last coherent thing that he said.” Richard Armstrong, a 94-year-old currently in hospice care in New Jersey, related to Tendler’s sentiments. “I know exactly how he feels. I feel the same way. I’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Armstrong told NPR.
“I was hoping to live to see the outcome of what I think it should be—justice. I’ll be surprised and disappointed if it isn’t.” After seeing Tendler’s words—shared on Twitter by Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution—Kristina Makansi, who lives in Arizona, thought about her mother who passed away at the age of 94 in January. “When I saw that tweet about the Mueller report and the old man on his deathbed, I thought, Oh my gosh, that’s the kind of thing that my mother would say,” she said. “I think she really wanted to see that justice was done… and that the investigation was allowed to proceed without any shenanigans and obstruction.”
Ron Paul is warning this year’s corrections could be a precursor to an epic market collapse that may come sooner than investors think. According to the former Republican presidential candidate, Wall Street is becoming more vulnerable to near-depression conditions within the next 12 months. “Once this volatility shows that we’re not going to resume the bull market, then people are going to rush for the exits,” Paul said Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” The relentlessly bearish former congressman added that “It could be worse than 1929.” During that year, the stock market began hemorrhaging, falling almost 90 percent and sending the U.S. economy into a tailspin.
Paul, a well-known Libertarian, has been warning Wall Street a massive market plunge is inevitable for years. He’s currently projecting a 50 percent decline from current levels as his base case, citing the ongoing U.S.-China trade war as a growing risk factor. “I’m not optimistic that all of the sudden, you’re going to eliminate the tariff problem. I think that’s here to stay,” he said. “Tariffs are taxes.” The scenario is exacerbating Paul’s chief reason behind his bearish call: 2008 financial crisis easy money policies. He contended the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing has caused the “biggest bubble in the history of mankind.” “It’s so important to understand the original cause of the problem, and that is the Federal Reserve running up debt and letting politicians spend money,” he added.
Late last week, we reported that in the aftermath of a dramatic drop in loan prices, a record outflow from loan funds, and a general collapse in investor sentiment that was euphoric as recently as the start of October, the wheels had come off the loan market which was on the verge of freezing after we got the first hung bridge loan in years, after Wells Fargo and Barclays took the rare step of keeping a $415 million leveraged loan on their books after failing to sell it to investors. The two banks now “plan” to wait until January – i.e., hope that yield chasing desperation returns – to offload the loan they made to help finance Blackstone’s buyout of Ulterra Drilling Technologies, a company that makes bits for oil and gas drilling.
The reason the banks were stuck with hundreds of millions in unwanted paper is because they had agreed to finance the bridge loan whether or not there was enough demand from investors, as the acquisition needed to close by the end of the year. The delayed transaction means the banks will have to bear the risk of the price of the loans falling further, as well as costs associated with holding loans on their books. The pulled Ulterra deal wasn’t alone. As we reported previously, in Europe the market appears to have already locked up, as three loans were scrapped over the last two weeks. To wit, movie theater chain Vue International withdrew a 833 million pound-equivalent ($1.07 billion) loan sale.
While the deal was meant to mostly refinance existing debt, around 100 million pounds was underwritten to finance the company’s acquisition of German group CineStar. More deals were pulled the prior week when diversified manufacturer Jason Inc. became at least the fourth issuer to scrap a U.S. leveraged loan. Additionally, Perimeter Solutions also pulled its repricing attempt, Ta Chen International scrapped a $250MM term loan set to finance the company’s purchase of a rolling mill, and Algoma Steel withdrew its $300m exit financing. Global University System in November also dropped its dollar repricing.
[..] the FT picks up on the fact that the junk bond market – whether in loans or bonds – has frozen up, and reported that US credit markets have “ground to a halt” with fund managers refusing to fund buyouts and investors shunning high-yield bond sales as rising interest rates and market volatility weigh on sentiment (ironically it is the rising rates that assure lower rates as financial conditions tighten and the Fed is forced to resume easing in the coming year, that has been a major hurdle to floating-rate loan demand as the same higher rates that pushed demand for paper to all time highs are set to reverse). Meanwhile, things are even worse in the bond market, where not a single company has borrowed money through the $1.2tn US high-yield corporate bond market this month according to the FT. If that freeze continues until the end of the month, it would be the first month since November 2008 that not a single high-yield bond priced in the market
I watched the ultimate damp squib -my friend’s mum says squid but I m pretty sure it’s squib- as it unfolded on Wednesday night. Theresa May had it confirmed that only 117 of her own MPs hate her. So, on she limps. She said she was going anyway but won’t say when -maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of our lives. In the process she revealed what this is really all about. Brexit must be delivered at all costs and it must be HER that does it. If not, she slinks off into the night with a legacy that adds up to nothing.
I watched it in one of the House of Commons bars with a friend of mine from Scotland. Good bloke. Hibs fan.And as we watched the ‘drama’ unfold we were talking about the real problems in the country. His mate helps direct people to foodbanks in Scotland. In one afternoon they saw five families, hungry and without food, seek help. Five different families. A mixture of out-of-work and in-work poverty. And across these five families there were 27 children. That is, in 2018, in Britain, 27 children going to bed hungry each night. It gets, as you can imagine, worse. One of the kids couldn’t go to school. Not through illness, mercifully, but because he didn’t have any shoes. One of the mums hadn’t eaten for three days. Three days without food. Starving so she could feed her kids.
There are lots more stories like this, about 4.1 million, in fact. About a third of all kids are in “Dickensian” poverty. In Britain, in the winter, in 2018. About 1.9 million pensioners live the same way. Last winter 94 people died on Scotland’s streets. Universal Credit has hit so hard some are turning to prostitution, others are eating out of bins. What happened this week is not going to make any of that better. Look at Scotland. Everything is viewed through the prism of independence and talk of a “second independence referendum”. That is the central aim of the Scottish National Party, so you can’t blame them for concentrating on it. But what it means is that, in the real world, people suffer. [..] here’s the thing about parliamentary sovereignty, and backstops, and Brexit, and independence, and the future of the Union: You can’t eat them.
Asking prices for homes coming on to the market in the UK are nearly £10,000 lower than they were in October, as the property market headed for its worst annual performance in almost a decade. The average asking price of a UK home dipped by 3.2%, or £9,719, between October and December to £297,527, according to the property website Rightmove, with prices dipping 1.7% and 1.5% in November and December respectively. A softening of prices at the end of 2018 meant that asking prices rose by just 0.7% over the year as a whole, the weakest rate of growth since 2010. The traditional hotspots of London and south-east England became the weakest spots this year, recording the biggest annual falls in asking prices.
This followed a 1% rise in UK asking prices in 2017. Rightmove is predicting zero growth in UK prices in 2019, against a backdrop of stretched affordability and Brexit uncertainty. The property market is a cornerstone of the British economy and drives a large proportion of consumer spending, from DIY to carpets and furniture. But with buyers and sellers reluctant to pay the current market prices, especially in the east and south of England where prices have rocketed in recent years, analysts expect the difficult conditions to radiate out from the property market to other areas of spending. And while a slowdown in prices will be welcomed by younger buyers and those on lower incomes, any falls in values are expected to add the pressure on MPs to agree a Brexit deal.
Theresa May will summon EU27 ambassadors to No 10 this week as she continues to seek reassurances over the Irish backstop, with Downing Street vehemently denying drawing up contingency plans for a second referendum. The education secretary, Damian Hinds, said on Sunday: “Government policy couldn’t be clearer. We are here to act on the will of the people clearly expressed in the referendum.” He added: “A second referendum would be divisive. We had the people’s vote, we had the referendum, and now we’ve got to get on with implementing it. Any idea that having a second referendum now would break through an impasse is wrong. It might postpone the impasse, but then it would extend it.”
May attacked the former Labour prime minister Tony Blair this weekend for advocating a second vote, saying: “There are too many people who want to subvert the process for their own political interests rather than acting in the national interest. “For Tony Blair to go to Brussels and seek to undermine our negotiations by advocating for a second referendum is an insult to the office he once held and the people he once served.” The prime minister appears determined to pursue her strategy of seeking legal guarantees on the backstop and then putting her deal to MPs after Christmas. She is sending the government’s most senior legal officer, Jonathan Jones, to Brussels this week.
Theresa May will urge MPs on Monday not to “break faith with the British people” by demanding a second referendum, as she faces intense pressure to give parliament a say on Brexit before Christmas. The prime minister will make a statement to MPs on last week’s European council summit in Brussels, from which she returned with little evidence of progress in securing legal reassurances on the Irish backstop. Jeremy Corbyn will take the opportunity to call on her to hold a vote on her Brexit deal this week, and senior Labour figures refuse to rule out an imminent no-confidence motion if she fails to do so. May, however, will use her appearance at the dispatch box to strongly reject the idea of a second referendum after Downing Street was forced to deny reports on Sunday that some of her key aides were secretly considering the idea.
“Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum,” the prime minister will tell MPs. “Another vote which would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy, that our democracy does not deliver. Another vote which would likely leave us no further forward than the last.” Her message is aimed partly at Conservative MPs, and some ministers, who have become increasingly convinced that a referendum is the only way out of the impasse at Westminster after the prime minister abruptly pulled plans for a vote on her deal last week. She also faces growing demands from within cabinet to present MPs with alternatives in non-binding indicative votes that might help to find options that could command a majority.
[..] May’s reluctance to hold a second referendum put her in rare agreement with her former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. In his column in Monday’s Telegraph, he said the public would be “utterly infuriated” if Britain were to be put through the “misery and expense” of another referendum. However, the former Labour foreign secretary Margaret Beckett said: “It is highly significant that Downing Street felt it had to issue these advance extracts of Theresa May’s statement to the House of Commons on Sunday night, because officials know the prospect of a people’s vote is being discussed, not just in Westminster, but in the corridors of Whitehall, too. “The case for the public being given the final say is becoming so overwhelming that people from all parties, and of none, now recognise that this is the best way forward for our country.”
Saudi Arabia has rejected as “interference” a US Senate resolution to end American military support for a Riyadh-led war in Yemen, and another holding its crown prince responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia rejects the position expressed recently by the United States Senate, which was based upon unsubstantiated claims and allegations, and contained blatant interferences in the Kingdom’s internal affairs, undermining the Kingdom’s regional and international role,” the statement carried by Saudi Press Agency on Sunday said.
“The Kingdom hopes that it is not drawn into domestic political debates in the United States of America, to avoid any ramifications on the ties between the two countries that could have significant negative impacts on this important strategic relationship.” On Thursday, the US Senate passed a resolution calling for an end to American military support to the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen war, and asserted Congress’s right to decide on matters of war and peace. The measure, which passed by 56 votes to 41, marked the first time the Senate had invoked the 1973 War Powers Resolution to seek to curb the power of the president to take the US into an armed conflict. It marked a significant bipartisan rebuke to the Trump administration, which lobbied intensively against it.
Turkey still hasn’t received actionable information on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, its foreign minster Mevlut Cavusoglu told CNBC Sunday. “So far we haven’t been provided any information from the ongoing investigation in Saudi Arabia. Their chief prosecutor got everything from us, he didn’t share anything with us. We want a transparent, credible, swift investigation on Saudi side as well,” Cavusoglu told the network’s Hadley Gamble at the annual Doha Forum in Qatar. The minister has previously vowed to get to the bottom of the case and hold those responsible to account. [..] Among the many questions remaining unanswered is that of the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains.
“We don’t know where the body is,” the minister said. “This is the main question – we need to find out. They said they had local collaborators; they haven’t provided the names of collaborators.” [..] Meanwhile, Cavusoglu said Saudi officials have listened to tapes of Khashoggi’s murder, contradicting earlier statements by Saudi foreign minister Adel al Jubeir that the Saudis had not heard them. [..] “You can hear very clearly that they planned in advance to kill him,” Cavusoglu said, reminding the audience that a forensic expert had been brought into the consulate to cut Khashoggi’s body apart. “From the beginning we’ve been willing to cooperate with Saudi Arabia as well, since all these perpetrators came from Saudi Arabia and now they are arrested there and we accepted immediately the proposal coming from them for cooperation with our prosecutors.”
Ankara and Washington have discussed the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen from the United States, Turkey’s foreign minister told CNBC Sunday. Turkey’s government has demanded Gulen’s return since the failed Turkish coup of 2016, which it accuses the cleric of orchestrating. “Last time when they met in Buenos Aires, Trump told Erdogan that they have been working on that, but we need to see concrete steps because it’s been already two years, almost three years,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Doha Forum on Sunday. A former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for nearly 20 years.
He denies any involvement in the coup attempt, which saw rogue Turkish military personnel commandeer helicopters, jets and tanks, attack parliament and seize television stations. Political analysts suspected Trump might use Gulen as a bargaining chip in exchange for Turkish compliance in the scandal of Jamal Khashoggi. [..] But Trump told press last month that he was not considering extraditing the preacher to meet those ends.
GS: Well, of course Ukraine can ask for anything it likes. There’s no way in the world Turkey would try to stop Russian ships going through the Bosporus Strait. That would be a violation of the 1936 Montreux Convention and an act of war on the part of Turkey. It isn’t going to happen. As for the Kerch Strait, it is Russian territorial water. Ukraine is free to use it and has been doing so without incident since 2014. The only thing the Russians insist on is that any ship going through the strait use a Russian pilot. During the recent incident, the Ukrainian tug refused to use a Russian pilot. The Russians became suspicious, fearing that the Ukrainians were engaged in a sabotage mission to blow up the newly constructed bridge across the strait. You’ll remember that an American columnist not so long ago urged the Ukrainian authorities to blow up the bridge. That’s why the Russians accuse Kiev of staging a provocation.
AG: There’s a longstanding back channel between the White House and the Kremlin, as satirized in Dr. Strangelove. Anti-Trump fanatics keep claiming this is new and traitorous, but it’s long established. Obama and Putin used it to keep Russian and US soldiers from firing on one another instead of the jihadists both claimed to be fighting in Syria. Kennedy and Khrushchev used it to keep the Bay of Pigs crisis from escalating into a nuclear war. Shouldn’t Trump and Putin be talking on that back channel now, no matter how much it upsets CNN and MSNBC?
GS: Well, of course, they should. The danger is that in this atmosphere of anti-Russian hysteria such channels for dialogue may not be kept open. As a result, crises could escalate beyond the point at which either side could back down without losing face. What’s terrifying is that so many US politicians and press now describe any kind of negotiation, dialogue, or threat-management as treasonous collusion by Donald Trump.
Remember Trump’s first bombing in Syria in April 2017. Before he launched that attack, Trump administration officials gave advance warning to the Russians to enable them to get any Russian aircraft out of harm’s way. This perfectly sensible action on the part of the administration—leave aside the illegality and stupidity of the attack—was greeted by Hillary Clinton and the MSNBC crowd as evidence that the whole operation was cooked up by Trump and Putin to take attention off Russia-gate. It’s nuts.
Donald Trump will sit and talk to special counsel Robert Mueller “over my dead body”, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said, in the latest pushback against the investigation into possible collusion between the president’s election campaign and Moscow. As Mr Trump called his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen “a rat” for cooperating with the FBI, Mr Giuliani made clear Mr Mueller would not be offered an interview with the president. Mr Trump recently provided Mr Mueller’s team written answers to a series of questions, but on Friday CNN said the special prosecutor was still interested in an in-person interview. “Nothing has changed in that sense from the first day,” said a source.
Mr Giuliani, the former New York mayor who now serves as the president’s personal lawyer, on Sunday again firmly pushed back at such a notion. Asked on Fox News whether Mr Trump would take part in an interview, Mr Giuliani said: “Yeah, good luck, good luck – after what they did to [Michael] Flynn, the way they trapped him into perjury, and no sentence for him.” He added: “Over my dead body. But you know, I could be dead.” Mr Giuliani also attacked Mr Mueller’s investigation, saying the probe was a “joke”. “I am disgusted with the tactics they have used in this case,” he said. “What they did to Gen Flynn should result in discipline. They’re the ones who violated the law. They’re looking at a non-crime, collusion.”
FBI and CIA sources told a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter that they didn’t believe a key claim contained in the “Steele Dossier,” the document the Obama FBI relied on to obtain a surveillance warrant on a member of the Trump campaign. The Post’s Greg Miller told an audience at an October event that the FBI and CIA did not believe that former longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen visited Prague during the 2016 election to pay off Russia-linked hackers who stole emails from key Democrats, reports the Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross. “We’ve talked to sources at the FBI and the CIA and elsewhere — they don’t believe that ever happened,” said Miller during the October event which aired Saturday on C-SPAN.
“We literally spent weeks and months trying to run down… there’s an assertion in there that Michael Cohen went to Prague to settle payments that were needed at the end of the campaign. We sent reporters to every hotel in Prague, to all over the place trying to – just to try to figure out if he was ever there, and came away empty.” -Greg Miller. Ross notes that WaPo somehow failed to report this information, nor did Miller include this tidbit of narrative-killing information in his recent book, “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia, and the Subversion of American Democracy.”
The Guardian is the most trusted newspaper in Britain as well as being the most read quality news outlet, and the most popular quality news outlet among younger readers, according to industry figures released on Monday. The Guardian is now reaching more than 23 million British adults every month, with the organisation’s articles being read by 12 million Britons in a typical week and 4.1 million on the average day, aided by the decision to keep the website free for all readers. In addition, more than 97% of online readers think that reading the Guardian is time well spent, which is the highest score among all national publishers in the country. The figure rises to 99% among Guardian print readers.
Readers of the Guardian website were also substantially more likely to say that they felt a close connection to the outlet, that it offered them something they could not get elsewhere, and that they trusted its reporting. The Observer topped the equivalent rankings for Sunday newspapers. “This fantastic set of results demonstrates the Guardian’s unique position in the media,” said the editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner. “We see consistently high scores for trust and engagement from both our digital and print readers, and it is excellent news that the Guardian resonates so strongly with younger audiences, too.”
I’ve been saying for a long time that the BRI (Belt and Road) is China’s attempt at exporting its overcapacity. They make poor countries borrow billions, which these can’t pay back. And then… Only now do other parties wake up to that. And Xi is trying to do some damage control.
China’s massive and expanding “Belt and Road” trade infrastructure project is running into speed bumps as some countries begin to grumble about being buried under Chinese debt. First announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the initiative also known as the “new Silk Road” envisions the construction of railways, roads and ports across the globe, with Beijing providing billions of dollars in loans to many countries. Five years on, Xi has found himself defending his treasured idea as concerns grow that China is setting up debt traps in countries which may lack the means to pay back the Asian giant. “It is not a China club,” Xi said in a speech on Monday to mark the project’s anniversary, describing Belt and Road as an “open and inclusive” project.
Xi said China’s trade with Belt and Road countries had exceeded $5 trillion, with outward direct investment surpassing $60 billion. But some are starting to wonder if it is worth the cost. During a visit to Beijing in August, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said his country would shelve three China-backed projects, including a $20 billion railway. The party of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, has vowed more transparency amid fears about the country’s ability to repay Chinese loans related to the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Meanwhile the exiled leader of the opposition in the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, has said China’s actions in the Indian Ocean archipelago amounted to a “land grab” and “colonialism”, with 80 percent of its debt held by Beijing.
Sri Lanka has already paid a heavy price for being highly indebted to China. Last year, the island nation had to grant a 99-year lease on a strategic port to Beijing over its inability to repay loans for the $1.4-billion project.
African countries have shown a healthy appetite for Chinese loans but some experts now worry that the continent is gorging on debt, and could soon choke. The Entebbe-Kampala Expressway is still something of a tourist attraction for Ugandans, nearly three months after it opened. The 51km (31 mile), four-lane highway that connects the country’s capital to the Entebbe International Airport was built by a Chinese company using a $476m (£366m) loan from the China Exim Bank. It has cut what was a torturous two-hour journey through some of Africa’s worst traffic into a scenic 45-minute drive into the East Africa nation’s capital. Uganda has taken $3bn of Chinese loans as part of a wider trend that Kampala-based economist Ramathan Ggoobi calls its “unrivalled willingness to avail unconditional capital to Africa”.
“This debt acquired from China comes with huge business for Chinese companies, particularly construction companies that have turned the whole of Africa into a construction site for rails, roads, electricity dams, stadia, commercial buildings and so on,” the Makerere University Business School lecturer told the BBC. The Chinese loans come as many African countries are once again in danger of defaulting on their debts more than a decade after many had their outstanding borrowing written off. At least 40% of low-income countries in the region are either in debt distress or at high risk, the International Monetary Fund warned in April.
Chad, Eritrea, Mozambique, Congo Republic, South Sudan and Zimbabwe were considered to be in debt distress at the end of 2017 while Zambia and Ethiopia were downgraded to “high risk of debt distress”. “In 2017 alone, the newly signed value of Chinese contracted projects in Africa registered $76.5bn,” Standard Bank’s China Economist Jeremy Stevens wrote in a note. “However, despite a sizeable remaining infrastructure deficit on the continent, there is a concern that African countries’ debt-service ability will soon dissolve,” he says.
Xi said at a business forum before the start of a triennial China Africa summit their friendship was time-honoured and that China’s investment in Africa came with no political strings attached. “China does not interfere in Africa’s internal affairs and does not impose its own will on Africa. What we value is the sharing of development experience and the support we can offer to Africa’s national rejuvenation and prosperity,” Xi said. “China’s cooperation with Africa is clearly targeted at the major bottlenecks to development. Resources for our cooperation are not to be spent on any vanity projects but in places where they count the most,” he said.
China has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy but Xi is likely to use the gathering of African leaders to offer a new round of financing, following a pledge of $60 billion at the previous summit in South Africa three years ago. Chinese officials have vowed to be more cautious to ensure projects are sustainable. China defends continued lending to Africa on the grounds that the continent still needs debt-funded infrastructure development. Beijing has also fended off criticism it is only interested in resource extraction to feed its own booming economy, that the projects it funds have poor environmental safeguards, and that too many of the workers for them are flown in from China rather than using African labour.
A partner at Foley & Lardner, Ms. Mitchell was astonished to find herself dragged into the Russia investigation on March 13 when Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee issued an interim report. They wrote that they still wanted to interview “key witnesses,” including Ms. Mitchell, who they claimed was “involved in or may have knowledge of third-party political outreach from the Kremlin to the Trump campaign, including persons linked to the National Rifle Association (NRA).” Two days later the McClatchy news service published a story with the headline “NRA lawyer expressed concerns about group’s Russia ties, investigators told.” The story cited two anonymous sources claiming Congress was investigating Ms. Mitchell’s worries that the NRA had been “channeling Russia funds into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.”
Ms. Mitchell says none of this is true. She hadn’t done legal work for the NRA in at least a decade, had zero contact with it in 2016, and had spoken to no one about its actions. She says she told this to McClatchy, which published the story anyway. Now we’re learning how this misinformation got around, and the evidence points to Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, the outfit that financed the infamous Steele dossier. New documents provided to Congress show that Mr. Simpson, a Fusion co-founder, was feeding information to Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. In an interview with House investigators this week, Mr. Ohr confirmed he had known Mr. Simpson for some time, and passed at least some of his information along to the FBI.
In handwritten notes dated Dec. 10, 2016 that the Department of Justice provided to Congress and were transcribed for us by a source, Mr. Ohr discusses allegations that Mr. Simpson made to him in a conversation. The notes read: “A Russian senator (& mobster) . . . [our ellipsis] may have been involved in funneling Russian money to the NRA to use in the campaign. An NRA lawyer named Cleta Mitchell found out about the money pipeline and was very upset, but the election was over.”
The short-term impact of a no-deal Brexit on Britain’s economy would be “chaotic and severe”, jeopardising jobs and disrupting trade links, warn experts from the thinktank UK in a Changing Europe. The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, has said he believes 80% of the work on completing an exit deal with the EU27 is already done, as negotiations enter their final phase. But his cabinet colleague Liam Fox recently suggested a no-deal scenario – which would occur if negotiations broke down, or both sides agreed to disagree – was the most likely outcome. In a 30-page updated assessment of the impact of no deal, the thinktank said on Monday it would mean “the disappearance without replacement of many of the rules underpinning the UK’s economic and regulatory structure”.
Its analysis claimed that in the short term: • Food supplies could be temporarily disrupted – the beef trade could collapse, for example, as Britain is heavily reliant on EU imports, and would be forced to apply tariffs, in accordance with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. • European health insurance cards, which allow British tourists free healthcare in the EU, would be invalid from Brexit day. • There would almost certainly have to be a “hardening of the border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, including some “physical manifestation”. • The status of legal contracts and commercial arrangements with EU companies would be unclear, as the UK would become a “third country” overnight. • Increased and uncertain processing times for goods at the border would be “nearly certain”, risking queues at Dover and forcing firms to rethink their supply chains.
In the longer term, UK in a Changing Europe’s experts say, the UK would have time to normalise its trading status, and agreements could be struck with the EU27 to tackle many other practical challenges. “It should not be assumed that the damage, while real, will necessarily be long-lasting,” the report says.
Boris Johnson has used his first newspaper column of the new parliamentary term to attack Theresa May’s Chequers plan, saying it means the UK enters Brexit negotiations with a “white flag fluttering”. The declaration amounts to a significant escalation the former foreign secretary’s guerrilla campaign against the prime minister and her Chequers plan a day before the Commons returns and at a time when party disquiet over the direction of the divorce talks is mounting. Johnson wrote that “the reality is that in this negotiation the EU has so far taken every important trick. The UK has agreed to hand over £40 billion of taxpayers’ money for two thirds of diddly squat”.
Johnson added that by adopting the Chequers plan, which will see the UK adopt a common rule book for food and goods, “we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank”. It will be “impossible for the UK to be more competitive, to innovate, to deviate, to initiate, and we are ruling out major free trade deals,” he added. The intervention comes after a summer in which the former minister, who resigned over the Chequers deal, had avoided touching on Brexit in his Daily Telegraph column – although he did unleash a storm of complaint by describing fully veiled Muslim women as looking like letter boxes and bank robbers. It will be seen as preparing the ground for a leadership challenge to May just as the Brexit negotiations reach their critical phase in the autumn, which is to culminate in any final deal agreed by the UK government being put to parliament for a vote.
The number of officials who have left the Whitehall department trying to deliver Brexit is equivalent to more than half of its total staff, shock new figures reveal. Data seen by The Independent shows hundreds of civil servants went elsewhere as the department tried to get on its feet and cobble together a negotiating stance for the UK over the last two years. The exodus means the average age of workers left in the department is 32, though they are tasked with winning a complex deal that could change Britain for a generation.
The information obtained by the Liberal Democrats appears to corroborate previous reports about an extraordinarily high turnover at the Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu), with critics now claiming it points to “deep instability” at the heart of the government’s Brexit operation. According to the turnover data obtained under freedom of information, a staggering 357 staff have left the Dexeu in just two years. Yet the total number of those employed at the Whitehall department amounts to only 665, indicating a turnover rate of more than 50 per cent in that period.
Britain’s leading role in evaluating new medicines for sale to patients across the EU has collapsed with no more work coming from Europe because of Brexit, it has emerged. The decision by the European Medicines Agency to cut Britain out of its contracts seven months ahead of Brexit is a devastating blow to British pharmaceutical companies already reeling from the loss of the EMA’s HQ in London and with it 900 jobs. All drugs sold in Europe have to go through a lengthy EMA authorisation process before use by health services, and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in Britain has built up a leading role in this work, with 20-30% of all assessments in the EU.
The MHRA won just two contracts this year and the EMA said that that work was now off limits. “We couldn’t even allocate the work now for new drugs because the expert has to be available throughout the evaluation period and sometimes that can take a year,” said a spokeswoman. In a devastating second blow, existing contracts with the MHRA are also being reallocated to bloc members. Martin McKee, the professor of European health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has given evidence to select committees about Brexit, said it was a disaster for the MHRA, which had about £14m a year from the EMA. The head of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry said it was akin to watching a “British success story” being broken up.
Almost exactly six years ago, the Spanish government requested a €100 billion bailout from the Troika (ECB, European Commission and IMF) to rescue its bankrupt savings banks, which were then merged with much larger commercial banks. Over €40 billion of the credit line was used; much of it is still unpaid. Yet Spain’s banking system could soon face a brand new crisis, this time not involving small or mid-sized savings banks but instead its alpha lenders, which are heavily exposed to emerging economies, from Argentina to Turkey and beyond. In the case of Turkey’s financial system, Spanish banks had total exposure of $82.3 billion in the first quarter of 2018, according to the Bank for International Settlements.
That’s more than the combined exposure of lenders from the next three most exposed economies, France, the USA, and the UK, which reached $75 billion in the same period. According to BIS statistics, Spanish banks’ exposure to Turkey’s economy almost quadrupled between 2015 and 2018, largely on the back of Spain’s second largest bank BBVA’s madcap purchase of roughly half of Turkey’s third largest lender, Turkiye Garanti Bankasi. Since buying its first chunk of the bank from the Turkish group Dogus and General Electric in 2010, BBVA has lost over 75% of its investment under the combined influence of Garanti’s plummeting shares and Turkey’s plunging currency.
But the biggest fear, as expressed by the ECB on August 10, is that Turkish borrowers might not be hedged against the lira’s weakness and begin to default en masse on foreign currency loans, which account for a staggering 40% of the Turkish banking sector’s assets. If that happens, the banks most exposed to Turkish debt will be hit pretty hard. And no bank is as exposed as BBVA, though the lender insists its investments are well-hedged and its Turkish business is siloed from the rest of the company. In Argentina, whose currency continues to collapse and whose economy is now spiraling down despite an IMF bailout, Spanish banks’ total combined investments amounted to $28 billion in the first quarter of 2018. That represented almost exactly half of the $58.9 billion that foreign banks are on the hook for in the country. The next most at-risk banking sector, the US, has some $10 billion invested.
Real wage growth has been nonexistent in the United States for more than 30 years. But as America enters the 10th year of the recovery—and the longest bull market in modern history—there are nervous murmurs, even among capitalism’s most reliable defenders, that some of its most basic mechanisms might be broken. The gains of the recovery have accrued absurdly, extravagantly to a tiny sliver of the world’s superrich. A small portion of that has trickled down to the professional classes—the lawyers and money managers, art buyers and decorators, consultants and “starchitects”—who work for them. For the declining middle and the growing bottom: nothing.
This is not how the economists told us it was supposed to work. Productivity is at record highs; profits are good; the unemployment rate is nearing a meager 4 percent. There are widely reported labor shortages in key industries. Recent tax cuts infused even more cash into corporate coffers. Individually and collectively, these factors are supposed to exert upward pressure on wages. It should be a workers’ market. But wages remain flat, and companies have used their latest bounty for stock buybacks, a transparent form of market manipulation that was illegal until the Reagan-era SEC began to chip away at the edifice of New Deal market reforms.
The power of labor continues to wane; the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, while ostensibly limited to public sector unions, signaled in certain terms the willingness of the court’s conservative majority—five guys who have never held a real job—to effectively overturn the entire National Labor Relations Act if given the opportunity. The justices, who imagine working at Wendy’s is like getting hired as an associate at Hogan & Hartson after a couple of federal clerkships, reason that every employee can simply negotiate for the best possible deal with every employer.