The Daily Visionary: Friday, December 21, 2018

Dean Martin’s ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ hits Top 10 in digital sales for the first time

 

Attempts to banish Dean Martin’s classic Christmas song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” have spectacularly backfired, as the song reached the top 10 digital sales chart for the first time ever, despite recent controversy over whether the lyrics promote sexual harassment.

 

Online streams of Martin’s version have also surged by 35 percent to 11.1 million in the past week. According to Billboard, sales of Dean Martin’s versions of song were up 70 percent to 11,000 downloads in the week ending December 13th, while versions by Michael Bublé and Idina Menzel, as well as Brett Eldredge and Meghan Trainor, have both reached the holiday 100 with a sharp increase in sales.

 

First written in 1944 for the romantic comedy film Neptune’s Daughter, Martin’s lyrics and the video involves a man asking a woman to spend the night with him by arguing that it is too cold for her to go outside and walk home. The song’s newfound success comes after the widely reported controversy where various local radio stations denounced and attempted to censor the song, citing claims it promotes forms of data rape and sexual harassment.

 

Several celebrities, including William Shatner, Dennis Quaid, and Martin’s daughter Deana have all come out in defense of the song, with the latter pledging to continue performing it every Christmas season.

 

Many people have pledged to play the song in protest of the excesses of political correctness. Joe Fredele, Director of Programming for Kentucky’s WLKY station, which played the song for two hours to annoy critics, said, “I’m not sure why it’s controversial. We’ve played this song for years, you know, this song is older than WAKY is. It’s almost 70 years old.

 

‘Alta-exit': Economist thinks Alberta could separate from Canada

 

Jack Mintz, a President's Fellow at the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy, wrote in the Financial Post Wednesday that an "Albexit could be the next big shock." His column was published one day after the federal government pledged more than CAD $1.6 billion in loans to support Alberta's ailing energy sector, a move most in the industry say is ineffective.

 

For the third time in three weeks, thousands of Calgarians and Albertans have protested, demanding better support for the struggling oil and gas sector, blaming all levels of government for policies that have directly led to the economic depression the province has been experiencing since 2015. Of the province known for its independent, pioneering, and entrepreneurial attitudes, Mr. Mintz said Alberta could go the way of the British with Brexit; “If it's really put to the wall, I think it could end up being an independent country,” he said.

 

Mr. Mintz calls ‘Alta-exit’ the province’s "nuclear option" and separating from Canada would enable Alberta to develop its own trading relations. Despite being landlocked, the United States (U.S.) remains the province’s largest customer for oil. “They have their own shale oil. They have their own resources. Why would they need to help Alberta get its oil to market? Right now, there's a lot of heavy oil that's in demand. In fact, markets are quite tight for heavy oil. So, actually, there would be a real desire to have oil from Alberta. And, in fact, right now the one major competitor is Venezuela, and we know what's happening to that country.

 

With increased taxation and more onerous regulations introduced by the provincial and federal governments in recent years, foreign investment has deserted Alberta because investors have determined it to be too risky and volatile a jurisdiction to reliably do business.

 

Mr. Mintz continued: “When you're a country you have more control over things, and so you can also bargain differently as well. Don't forget British Colombia, for example, has pipelines going from B.C. gas fields through Alberta going to the rest of North America. B.C. might be willing to make a deal under very different circumstances.

 

American Veteran raises over USD $4 million in 3 days for the border wall with Mexico

 

In thirty-six hours, funding expires for agencies responsible for federal law enforcement activities, airport security screenings, space exploration and farm programs. President Donald Trump raised the chances of a government shutdown Saturday when he told Republican congressional leaders he will not sign a government funding bill for the border wall with Mexico because it fails to include enough funding for border security. Lawmakers are also wrapping up work ahead of the Christmas break, during which time President Trump is expected to enjoy a two-week vacation in Florida.

 

With Congress unlikely to fund the USD $5 billion, Brian Kolfage, a triple amputee veteran and Purple Heart recipient has raised more than $4 million within the last three days toward his $1 billion goal on a Go Fund Me campaign to pay for the wall on the United States (U.S.) border with Mexico. He said, “If the 63 million people who voted for Trump each pledge $80, we can build the wall. That equates to roughly 5 Billion Dollars, even if we get half, that’s half the wall. We can do this.”

 

Mr. Kolfage wrote the following on his Go Fund Me page: 

Like a majority of those American citizens who voted to elect President Donald J Trump, we voted for him to Make America Great Again. President Trump’s main campaign promise was to BUILD THE WALL. And as he’s followed through on just about every promise so far, this wall project needs to be completed still.

 

“As a veteran who has given so much, 3 limbs, I feel deeply invested to this nation to ensure future generations have everything we have today. Too many Americans have been murdered by illegal aliens and too many illegals are taking advantage of the United States taxpayers with no means of ever contributing to our society.

 

“I have grandparents who immigrated to America legally, they did it the correct way and it’s time we uphold our laws, and get this wall BUILT! It’s up to Americans to help out and pitch in to get this project rolling.

 

“If the 63 million people who voted for Trump each pledge $80, we can build the wall. That equates to roughly 5 Billion Dollars, even if we get half, that’s half the wall. We can do this.

 

“We have contacted the Trump Administration to secure a point of contact where all funds will go upon completion. When [we] get this information secured we will update. We have many very high-level contacts already helping.

Is not easy to give money to the federal government that is dedicated for a specific purpose, therefore House Representative Steven Palazzo introduced legislation earlier this week that would direct the Treasury Department to issue government savings bonds that could be used to fund the wall. Mr. Palazzo, also Vice-Chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, introduced the Border Bonds for America Act of 2018 on Monday. The Bill “allows American citizens the opportunity to purchase revenue bonds to help finance the construction of a southern border wall,” the press release announcing the legislation said.

 

This bill is a safe investment into the infrastructure and security of our country,” Mr. Palazzo said, adding that there is a precedent for Americans paying to ensure the nation’s security. “During World War II, 85 million Americans purchased $185 billion in war bonds and financially supported our troops while they were defending our country,” Mr. Palazzo said, “This legislation would allow for the patriots of today’s era to help support American security in the same way as previous generations.” This Bill, if it becomes law, would also establish the ‘Border Bonds Trust Fund’ in the U.S. Treasury.

 

Congressional Democrats have refused to add more border security to the Bill, describing the President’s demands as a “Trump tantrum” that will not sway them. In response, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the following in a statement to reporters, “We protect nations all over the world, but Democrats are unwilling to protect our nation. We urgently need funding for border security and that includes a wall.”

 

President Trump tweeted, “When I begrudgingly signed the Omnibus Bill, I was promised the Wall and Border Security by leadership. Would be done by end of year (NOW). It didn’t happen! We foolishly fight for Border Security for other countries – but not for our beloved U.S.A. Not good!”

 

U.S. likely to end air war against Islamic State in Syria

 

In a reversal of a long-standing pillar of American foreign policy in the Middle East, the United States (U.S.) will pull its troops out of Syria and likely end its air campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS). The U.S. told the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council remains committed to the “permanent destruction” of Islamic State in Syria and would keep pushing for the withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces in the country.

 

 President Donald Trump tweeted he is fulfilling a promise from his 2016 presidential campaign to leave Syria, saying the U.S. is doing the work of other countries with little in return and it was “time for others to finally fight.” A senior U.S. official last week said the group was down to its last one percent of the territory it once held. It has no remaining territory in Iraq, although militants have resumed insurgent attacks since the group’s defeat there last year.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he largely agreed with President Trump that ISIS had been defeated in Syria but added there was a risk it could recover. He questioned what the announcement would mean in practical terms, saying there was no sign yet of a withdrawal of U.S. forces, whose presence in Syria Moscow says is illegitimate.

 

Roughly 2,000 U.S. troops are in Syria, many of them special forces. They have been helping to combat Islamic State but were also seen as a possible bulwark against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has retaken much of the country from his foes in the civil war, with military help from Iran and Russia.

 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have been fighting Islamic State with American support for three years, said the withdrawal of troops would grant the militants breathing space to regroup at a critical stage in the conflict and leave Syrians stuck between “the claws of hostile parties” fighting for territory in the seven-year-old war. They said the battle against Islamic State had reached a decisive phase that required more support, not a precipitate U.S. withdrawal.

 

The SDF are in the final stages of a campaign to recapture areas seized by the militants. They face the threat of a military incursion by Turkey, which considers the Kurdish YPG fighters who spearhead the force to be a terrorist group, and Syrian forces committed to restoring Assad’s control over the whole country.  Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Kurdish militants east of the Euphrates in Syria “will be buried in their ditches when the time comes,” according to the state-owned Anadolu news agency. Turkey has intervened to sweep YPG and ISIS fighters from parts of northern Syria that lie west of the Euphrates over the past two years. It has not gone east of the river, partly to avoid direct confrontation with U.S. forces.

 

NASA scientists believe Saturn’s rings could disappear sooner than expected

 

Saturn’s icy rings are among the most iconic features in the solar system, but they are raining so much water onto the planet that in 300 million years they could rain themselves nearly out of existence, leaving Saturn ringless. “What we’re seeing is something on the order of about a ton and a half per second,” said James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, who reported the conclusions this week in the academic journal Icarus. “The rings of Saturn haven’t been around forever. And they’re going to disappear someday,” he continued.

 

Mr. O’Donoghue and his colleagues suggest the rings could wither away in the near future, on the relative scale of solar system time. Scientists have long debated the age and expected life span of the rings and last year some published findings suggesting they are not ancient relics from the birth of the solar system, which occurred 4.5 billion years ago. Instead, they were fastened onto Saturn within the last few hundred million years, during the time of the dinosaurs.

 

Saturn’s rings appear to be young. Maybe we’re just in that interesting, lucky period where we get to see Saturn’s rings to the level that we see them,” said Linda Spilker, project scientist for the Cassini mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

 

Earlier this year, the team took a close look at measurements of a charged molecule found in the upper reaches of Saturn’s yellowish atmosphere, using the Keck II Telescope in Hawaii in 2011. The molecule, H3+, is made up of three hydrogen atoms (minus an electron). It is created in abundance when minuscule, charged particles escape Saturn’s C-ring, spiral into the planet along magnetic field lines and collide with atmospheric atoms in what is called ring rain. After measuring the amount of H3+ in Saturn’s upper atmosphere, Mr. O’Donoghue and his team concluded as much as 4,400 pounds of water are falling onto Saturn each second.


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The Daily Visionary: Thursday, December 20, 2018

Black Swan author Taleb says "Saudi Arabia is going to go bankrupt" after seeing the kingdom's latest budget

 

Author of The Black Swan Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who foresaw the 2008 financial crash, said “Saudi Arabia is going to go bankrupt” in response to Saudi Arabia releasing its 2019 budget this week, which at 1.106 trillion riyals, or USD $295 billion, is the largest in the kingdom's on record. "We are determined to go ahead with economic reform, achieving fiscal discipline, improving transparency and empowering private sector," Saudi King Salman said.

 

For Saudi Arabia to be able to meet its projected revenue and fund these generous payments it will need oil prices to rise much higher. Saudi Arabia is not projected to close its deficit as the kingdom forecasts a sixth consecutive budget deficit in a row, estimated to hit USD $35 billion in 2019. The 2019 budget represents a 7 percent increase from 1.030 trillion in 2018.

 

Concerning details of the budget include a revenue forecast of 975 billion riyals, while total spending will rise 7 percent to 1.106 trillion riyals. The budget deficit will be 4.2 percent of the GDP, which is expected to grow from 2.3 percent in 2018 to 2.6 percent in 2019. To put this in perspective, this is nearly double the size of Italy's projected deficit though still quite smaller than the deficit of the United States (U.S.).

 

The Saudi government expects non-oil revenue to increase from 287 billion riyals in 2018 to 313 billion in 2019. According to the budget, Saudi Arabia expects oil revenues to grow nearly 10 percent from 607 billion riyals in 2018 to 662 billion in 2019. To hit 662 billion riyals in oil revenue, or USD $177 billion, up from USD $162 billion in 2018, Saudi Arabia expects near record oil output of 10.2 mmb/d sold at a price of USD $80/barrel, while Saudi Aramco won’t increase its allocations to the government.

 

As oil fell below the USD $50 mark this week, the price of oil would need to rise at least 40 percent for the Saudi budget revenue assumption to be hit. Brent would have to rise an additional USD $15 to $95 a barrel for the kingdom to balance its budget deficit, according to Bloomberg chief Middle East economist Ziad Daoud.

 

Last year, Saudi Arabia based its 2018 budget on crude averaging USD $63 a barrel, $17 below the latest forecast even as its OPEC-defecting neighbor, Qatar, assumed $55 per barrel in its budget forecast released last week. This is the latest sign that the Saudi kingdom expects its efforts to corral OPEC members and its allies to cut production next year to support the assumed prices. In the face of more Qatar-style defections, Saudi Arabia will take on much more debt and putting it at the mercy of global creditors.

 

If Saudi Arabia's traditional bankers decide to boycott the Kingdom, preventing it from gaining access to global capital markets, Mr. Taleb's assessment may prove accurate.

 

Fake news in Germany: Der Spiegel’s award-winning reporter admits to fabricated content and interviews

 

Der Spiegel, one of Germany's leading news magazines, has relieved one of its award-winning journalists of his employment after evidence emerged that he committed journalistic fraud "on a grand scale" over a number of years, the publication said Wednesday. The case, which is still being investigated, "marks a low point in the 70-year history of Der Spiegel," the magazine said.

 

Der Spiegel published a lengthy report on its website after conducting an initial internal probe of the work of Claas Relotius, a 33-year-old staff writer known for vivid investigative stories. "The management of Der Spiegel will appoint a committee of internal and external experts," Der Spiegel said, adding that the results will be published.

 

The magazine said Mr. Relotius resigned Monday after admitting some of his articles included made-up material from interviews that never happened. Mr. Relotius acknowledged fabricating parts of at least 14 stories, including a piece about an American woman who he said volunteered to witness the executions of death row inmates, such as one in Texas at the beginning of the year. Mr. Relotius contributed almost to sixty articles published in print or online since 2011, first as a freelance writer before being hired full-time last year. The reporter previously worked for other German and Swiss publications and won numerous awards, including CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014.

 

Der Spiegel said concerns about Mr. Relotius' work first were raised in November by a fellow reporter who worked with him on a story about a border militia in Arizona and discovered that supposed interviews had never taken place. Further fabrications by Relotius included a phone interview with the parents of American football player Colin Kaepernick, who protested police brutality by kneeling during the pre-game singing of the national anthem, Spiegel said. Another was reporting that a sign on the edge of a Minnesota town read "Mexicans Keep Out," Spiegel said.

 

The German Journalists' Union DJU called the case "the biggest fraud scandal in journalism since the Hitler diaries" that Germany's Stern magazine published in 1983 and were later found to be forgeries.

 

President Trump’s new strategy to improve U.S. - Africa relations

 

United States (U.S.) National Security Adviser John Bolton presented the Trump administration’s new Africa strategy last week at The Heritage Foundation. The strategy focused on three priorities:

 

  1. Enhancing U.S. trade and commercial ties with African nations through arrangements that benefit both the United States and Africa. According to Mr. Bolton, “We want our economic partners in the region to thrive, prosper, and control their own destinies. In America’s economic dealings, we ask only for reciprocity, never for subservience.”

     

  2. Countering the threat of Islamic terrorism. Specifically, Mr. Bolton announced, “ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates all operate and recruit on the African continent, plotting attacks against American citizens and targets. Any sound U.S. strategy toward Africa must address this serious threat in a comprehensive way.”

     

  3. Ensuring that the U.S. allocates its foreign assistance efficiently and effectively to advance U.S. interests. In particular, Mr. Bolton emphasized, “The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent, without focus or prioritization. And, we will no longer support unproductive, unsuccessful, and unaccountable U.N. peacekeeping missions.”

 

With the strategy announcement, the Trump administration demonstrates its recognition that development is far less dependent on foreign assistance than it is on the willingness of African governments to adopt market and investment – friendly policies. The Trump administration wishes to “pursue modern, comprehensive trade agreements on the continent that ensure fair and reciprocal exchange between the United States and the nations of Africa.”

 

Analysts at the Heritage Foundation have strongly urged the U.S. to focus on and counter Islamic extremism in Algeria, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, and other countries in the region, which the administration focuses on as part of its strategy for the region. Mr. Bolton also said, “The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa; threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment; interfere with U.S. military operations; and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”

 

The Trump administration’s new foreign assistance strategy will improve the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid, which requires an overhaul of America’s foreign assistance programs that are, in the words of Mr. Bolton, “designed to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War” and “fight terrorism after 9/11” rather than on today’s priorities. In particular, U.S. foreign assistance will “move recipient states toward self-reliance, and prevent long-term dependency” with less needy recipients graduated from foreign assistance and reductions in aid to countries “making poor policy decisions.” U.S. aid will “target resources toward areas where we have the most impact to ensure efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

 

In line with the strategy’s emphasis on the responsible use of taxpayer money, Mr. Bolton criticized the kleptocratic and violent South Sudanese regime that has misused American aid and expressed skepticism that the same leaders who led that country into war can lead it to peace. “Countries that repeatedly vote against the United States in international forums, or take action counter to U.S. interests, should not receive generous American foreign aid,” said Mr. Bolton. He also underscored the important effort to review all United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping operations to ensure they are fit for purpose and focused on resolving conflicts.

 

Though recent administrations have talked a big game about shifting the U.S. and Africa away from a benefactor-supplicant relationship toward a true partnership, the Trump administration’s strategy outlines a path to realize that goal.

 

Khmer Rouge leaders found guilty of genocide in landmark ruling 40 years after fall of brutal Cambodian regime

 

The two surviving leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge have been convicted of genocide in a historic ruling, four decades after the fall of the regime which wiped out up to a third of the population. In November, Nuon Chea, 92, and Khieu Samphan, 87, were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison by the country's long-running international tribunal, the first genocide conviction handed down by the United Nations (UN) – backed court. "The verdict is essentially the Nuremberg judgement for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia," said David Scheffer, who served as the U.N. Secretary General's special expert on the Khmer Rouge trials from 2012 until the trial.

 

The two are already serving life sentences over the forced urban exodus and disappearances of millions of Cambodians by Pol Pot's regime during its terrifying four-year reign in the late 1970s. Nuon Chea was the Khmer Rouge ideologist and and deputy leader considered Leader Pol Pot's right-hand man, while Khieu Samphan was the head of state who served as the regime's public face. These latest genocide verdicts relate to killings of the Cham and Vietnamese ethnic groups. The two leaders were also convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to the Khmer Rouge's brutal work camps, including murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, enforced disappearances, forced transfers, forced marriages, and rape.

 

An estimated 1.7 million people, nearly a third of the country’s population, were executed or died of starvation and overwork under the Khmer Rouge, the radical communist group which tried to create an agrarian utopia by forcing urban-dwellers into rural labour camps, between 1959 and 1979, immediately following the Cambodian civil war. The more than 20,000 mass grave sites around the country became known as The Killing Fields. Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea in 1979, ending the Khmer Rouge regime.

 

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal, composed of Cambodian and United Nations-nominated judges, finally began its work in 2006 after decades of political and technical setbacks. The court handed down its first conviction four years later to Kang Kek lew, known as Comrade Duch, who was head of the internal security branch, the Santebal, and director of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, S-21, in Phnom Penh.

 

Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, and Kang Kek lew are the only three Khmer Rouge leaders ever to have been prosecuted. Pol Pot died of a heart attack while under house arrest in 1998, while two others indicted by the court have since died. Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen is a former Khmer Rouge commander turned defector who has been in power since 1985. He had vowed to halt any further prosecutions, saying they will cause political instability.

 

Bipartisan win for Americans and President Trump as U.S. Senate passes a landmark Prison Reform Bill

 

This week, the United States (U.S.) Senate approved the most sweeping prison reform bill in decades, voting to cut sentences of tens of thousands of inmates while also boosting access to programs designed to keep them from ending up back behind bars again. The measure cleared with an 87 – 12 vote and marks a major bipartisan victory for President Trump, who had pressured Republican leaders to pass it this year, before lawmakers closed down Congress. The bill still needs approval in the House, where a vote is expected before the end of this week.

 

Called the First Step Act, the legislation will expand prison programs designed to reduce recidivism and allow some prisoners to earn credits toward early release by taking part in those programs. The bill also reduces some maximum mandatory sentences, such as ending the three-strikes life-in-prison penalty and replacing it with a 25-year maximum. Backers said the credits would earn inmates a faster opportunity to enter a halfway house or be put on home detention.

 

Senator Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican who had made a crusade out of reforming sentencing, said “This prison and sentencing reform bill is a much-needed first step toward shifting our focus to rehabilitation and re-entry of offenders, rather than taking every person who ever made a mistake with drugs, locking them up, and throwing away the key.

 

The core of the deal was written by Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Richard Durbin, a senior Democrat. The bill applies only to federal prisons, which hold far fewer people than state prisons. It includes new rules on keeping inmates in facilities close to their homes where possible and pushes for them to be put in home confinement for the maximum time allowed.

An early version of the bill would have released an average of 53,000 federal inmates a year over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which is more than a quarter of the current inmate population.


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The Daily Visionary: Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Belgium’s PM Michel resigns after government collapses in dispute over UN migration pact

 

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel resigned on Tuesday night after his government collapsed following opposition from the government’s largest coalition partner, Flemish nationalist N-VA, to his signing of the United (U.N.) Migration Compact last week.

 

With a general election slated for May 2019, an early election is now anticipated to occur as early as next month after Mr. Michel offered the king his resignation amid demands for a motion of no confidence in his now minority government. Mr. Michel refused to submit to such a vote or the calls from some in the assembly for an early election, which he said would only lead to "stagnation for the whole of 2019". King Philippe of Belgium is now expected to hold consultations between the political parties before calling elections in January.

 

The U.N.'s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration has become deeply divisive in Europe since the peak of the migrant crisis in 2015. Several European Union (E.U.) countries pulled out of the pact before it was signed, including Austria, which holds the EU presidency, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, and Slovakia. Opponents and European politicians say the Compact could increase immigration to the E.U., which tightened restrictions on refugees and migrants in recent months. Supporters of the deal have said claims that the pact will encourage uncontrolled flows and embed migration as a human right are entirely false and aimed at fearmongering.

 

On Sunday, approximately 5,500 people marched in the Brussels district that is home to E.U. institutions, eclipsing a smaller demonstration of about 1,000 people in support of the deal. Police deployed teargas and water cannon after scuffles broke out, where some people held banners bearing slogans including "Our people first" and "We have had enough, close the borders."

 

Canadian government announces CAD $1.6 billion in loans to the energy sector

 

Following the third large-scale protest in as many weeks, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi announced CAD $1.6 billion to help Alberta’s struggling energy industry. He said the money, largely in the form of commercial loans, is available immediately. “We understand that for the long-term success and growth of the oil sector, nothing is more important than building the pipeline capacity to expand our non-U.S. global markets,” Minister Sohi said in Edmonton as he and Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr announced the funding package designed to boost the oil and gas sector as it struggles through a period of low commodity prices and lack of new export pipelines.

 

CAD $1 billion will be set aside through Export Development Canada for oil and gas companies to make capital investments and purchase new technology. CAD $500 million will be made available through the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) over the next three years to help smaller oil and gas companies navigate the downturn. A further CAD $150 million will be used for clean growth and infrastructure projects, with CAD $100 million for energy and economic diversification projects, and CAD $50 million for an unnamed oil and gas project. Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley plans to buy as many as 80 locomotives and 7,000 rail tankers, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The package does not include money for the rail cars to help move a glut of oil behind the low price of Canadian oil.

 

Energy executives said the funding won’t solve the problem. Frustrated, said they appreciated the offer of support, but the loans would likely not be used until new pipelines were built. Whitecap Resources Inc. President and CEO Grant Fagerheim said, “Don’t frustrate all of Canada by putting this financial burden on them with a handout without addressing the root cause. It isn’t overly helpful to the Canadian oil and gas space.

 

Both Mr. Fagerheim and Advantage Oil and Gas Ltd. President and CEO Andy Mah think companies wouldn’t want to take out new loans, even if they’re offered at lower interest rates, until they know the loans can be repaid. “We’ve got a revenue problem. We need to have more revenue coming in the door. They’re not listening. There’s a disconnect. It just seems to be like, ‘here’s a Band Aid’,” Mah said of the loan announcements,” Mr. Mah said, adding that Canada needs “many” new pipelines built and a better, faster process for pipeline approvals. Mr. Fagerheim and Mr. Mah both said there will likely be some small and micro-cap oil and gas producers, distressed companies, and potentially some oilfield services providers that may apply for the loans and financial supports.

 

President of Explorers and Producers Association of Canada Tristan Goodman said, “I do think there’ll be some uptake, but I’m not sure it’ll be as broad or as helpful as the federal government is hoping.” GMP FirstEnergy analyst Bob Fitzmartyn called the package “the worst possible message they could send,” adding that the loans would be interpreted as a subsidy. “I don’t know who’s going to take advantage of borrowing money. Maybe people getting their (credit) lines cut?” Mr. Fitzmartyn said, and that companies are not currently replacing their equipment or investing in new equipment given the outlook for oil and gas prices.

 

While the world sells its oil at about USD $50 a barrel, Alberta’s oil at one point fetched only USD $11 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate oil prices slid 7 percent at one point on Tuesday to USD $46.19 per barrel, its lowest point this year.

 

Venezuela creditors demand payment on $1.5 billion defaulted bond

 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government and state-owned companies owe nearly $8 billion in unpaid interest and principal following this year’s default on bonds amid a hyperinflationary collapse of the country’s once-wealthy but now socialist economy. Aid groups estimate that 1.6 million to 2 million Venezuelans will leave the country by the end of this year to escape hyperinflation and the extreme scarcity of food and medicine.

 

A group of creditors comprised of five investment funds has demanded payment on $1.5 billion in defaulted Venezuelan bond, kicking off a long-awaited showdown between creditors and the crisis-wracked OPEC nation. This is the first step in a potential legal campaign by creditors to recover their investments. The decision could trigger similar efforts by investors holding $60 billion in outstanding bonds issued by Venezuela and state oil company PDVSA. That could pave the way for a creditor dispute similar to the one that roiled Argentina for a decade.

 

The move, known as “acceleration,” means the bond in question must be paid immediately, but in practice it is unlikely that Venezuela would do so and could require years of litigation before investors recoup their money. The investors have not yet taken their claim to courts in New York, which govern the terms of the dispute related the bond in question, according to the group’s lawyer Mark Stancil of the Washington-based law firm Robbins Russell. Mr. Stancil said the group filed the acceleration request to Bank of New York Mellon Corp, the fiscal agent for the bond, on December 6, and also notified David Syed of the law firm Dentons, which is representing Venezuela.

 

Creditors do not believe Maduro is willing or capable of carrying out a restructuring process even though he has said he wants to do so. The acceleration move coincides with a recent flurry of activity among other Venezuelan creditors, including one group which last week said it had hired law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP to advise on strategic alternatives.

 

Venezuela and PDVSA bonds provided juicy yields due to high oil prices for years, making them a mainstay of emerging market bond funds that wanted to outperform the market. After most of them defaulted, the bonds now trade at a discount of more than 70 percent, while almost all of PDVSA’s bonds are marked down by more than 80 percent. President Maduro has said American financial sanctions have prevented Venezuela and PDVSA from making timely payments. Investors have noted that PDVSA has made interest payments on several bonds, including the 2020 issue that is backed by shares in its U.S. refining subsidiary Citgo.

 

Russia to move troops into new barracks on disputed islands near Japan

 

Russia announced it has built new barracks for troops on a disputed chain of islands near Japan and will build more facilities for armored vehicles, a move likely to anger Tokyo after it previously urged Moscow to reduce its military activity there, a plea Moscow dismissed as unhelpful megaphone diplomacy at the time. The announcement, from the Russian Ministry of Defence, said Moscow plans to shift troops into four housing complexes on two of the four disputed islands, known as the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, next week.

 

This comes after the Kremlin said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might visit Russia on January 21 as the two countries increase their efforts to defuse the territorial dispute and sign a World War Two peace treaty, something the disagreement over the Pacific islands has long prevented. Soviet forces seized the four islands at the end of World War Two and Russia and Japan both claim sovereignty over them. Diplomats on both sides have spoken of the possibility of reviving a Soviet-era draft agreement that envisaged returning two of the four islands as part of a peace deal.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese President Abe have held numerous face-to-face meetings in attempts to make progress, but tensions have remained high. Tokyo says it is concerned by what it regards as an unhelpful Russian military build-up on the islands, which has included warplane, missile defense, and other deployments. Moscow, meanwhile, says it is perturbed by Japan’s roll-out of the Aegis Ashore United States (U.S.) missile system.

 

Russian politicians say they fear Japan might agree to deploy U.S. missile facilities on the islands if it ever got any of them back and that Moscow could only countenance a deal if it received a cast-iron guarantee that ruled out such a scenario. In the meantime, Moscow is fortifying the islands.

 

Malaysia charges Goldman Sachs and ex-bankers in USD $2.7 billion probe

 

Malaysia will seek jail terms and billions of dollars in fines from Goldman Sachs and four other individuals who allegedly diverted about USD $2.7 billion from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), the country’s Attorney General Tommy Thomas said in a statement. The 1MDB scandal was a major reason for former Premier Najib Razak’s election defeat in May 2018, who has been charged with corruption over the scandal and pleaded not guilty.

 

Mr. Thomas said criminal charges under securities laws were filed on Monday against Goldman Sachs, its former bankers Tim Leissner and Roger Ng, former 1MDB employee Jasmine Loo, and financier Jho Low in connection with the bond offerings. “The charges arise from the commission and abetment of false or misleading statements by all the accused in order to dishonestly misappropriate $2.7 billion from the proceeds of three bonds issued by the subsidiaries of 1MDB, which were arranged and underwritten by Goldman Sachs,” Mr. Thomas said in a statement. He said the offering circulars filed with the regulators contained statements that were false, misleading, or with material omissions, and “Having held themselves out as the pre-eminent global adviser/arranger for bonds, the highest standards are expected of Goldman Sachs. They have fallen short of any standard.

 

Prosecutors would seek fines against the accused “well in excess” of the allegedly misappropriated $2.7 billion bond proceeds plus $600 million in fees received by Goldman Sachs. Malaysia will seek jail terms of up to 10 years for each of the individuals accused, Mr. Thomas said, and that the four individuals are charged of conspiring to “bribe Malaysian public officials in order to procure the selection, involvement and participation of Goldman Sachs in the bond issuances.

 

This is the first time Goldman Sachs, which has consistently denied wrongdoing, has faced criminal charges in the 1MDB scandal. Goldman Sachs has been under scrutiny for its role in helping raise $6.5 billion through three bond offerings for 1MDB, which is the subject of investigations in at least six countries. The United States (U.S.) Department of Justice has said about $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB, including some money that Goldman Sachs helped raise, by high-level officials of the fund and their associates from 2009 through 2014.

 

A Goldman Sachs spokesman said the charges were “misdirected” and the bank would vigorously defend them and continue to cooperate with all authorities in their investigations. U.S. prosecutors filed criminal charges against the former Goldman Sachs bankers, Mr. Leissner and Mr. Ng, last month. Mr. Leissner pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Mr. Ng is detained in Malaysia and facing extradition to the U.S. 

 


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The Daily Visionary: Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Thousands of Calgarians protest government inaction for the energy industry

 

Police estimate nearly 3,000 Calgarians protested at City Hall Monday, the third major protest within the last month. Calgarians previously protested Prime Minister Trudeau and Finance Minister Morneau when they visited the city last month, citing their lack of attention to the critical state of Alberta’s energy industry.

 

In the province where the health of the energy industry is directly reflected in the overall economy, Calgarians and Albertans are unable to find work. Despite the Alberta provincial and Canadian federal governments repeatedly projecting job growth, which is often only reflected in newly created public service jobs, at least 100,000 Calgarians, over ten percent of the city’s population, are known to be unemployed due to the recession, though the actual number is likely much higher. Suicide rates have risen sharply, home resale prices have dropped significantly, yet inventory isn’t moving, new homes are still overpriced as homebuilders and developers are walking away from land leases, foreclosures on homes have risen, office and commercial vacancy is the highest in Canada at around 30 percent, and City Hall have hiked business taxes again resulting in people losing and walking away from their businesses.

 

Over the weekend, almost 4,000 people protested, including a 600-vehicle convoy, in Grande Prairie, Alberta, the hub for oil production in northwestern Alberta. Their message reflects that of Calgary’s protestors: industry solidarity and telling politicians that the oil and gas industry needs support. That event was organized by pro-oilsands groups Oilfield Dads and Rally4Resources, which say government regulations are suffocating the Canadian oil and gas industry.

 

Head of the Grande Prairie Oilmen's Association Rob Petrone said the convoy was three times the size that was expected, showing how deeply the worries run. Mr. Petrone said young Albertans shouldn't be faced with a future that has no jobs and high debt. Spokesman Bernard Hancock, known as Bernard the Roughneck, said the rest of Canada needs to be thankful for the prosperity Alberta provides. "We aren't just a monumental cash cow for the government. We provide opportunities for families across the country," Mr. Hancock told the crowd, "It puts chicken in the pot in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. It puts a roast in the oven in Miramichi, New Brunswick. It puts tortiere on the fork in Granby, Quebec. And it puts tofu on the table in Toronto and Vancouver!"

 

At both events, protestors are concerned about the political agenda of the provincial and federal governments that are harming the energy industry, specifically the federal Bill C-69, which would overhaul the environmental assessment process for major resource projects. Bill C-69, which is currently making its way through the Senate, has been widely criticized by opponents who say it could slow down many important projects and drive away investment in the energy sector – a reaction that has been accelerating since the 2015 Alberta provincial election of the NDP party and federal election of the Liberal party under Justin Trudeau.

 

To begin on January 1, 2019, the Alberta government has introduced a temporary 8.7 percent oil production cut, which is a decrease of 325,000 barrels a day, in the production of raw crude oil and bitumen.

 

Texas Judge rules Obamacare unconstitutional

 

Judge Reed O’Connor, a United States (U.S.) District Judge for the Northern District of Texas appointed by former President George W. Bush, ruled that Obamacare, officially called the Affordable Care Act (ACA), violated the Constitution. Judge O’Connor agreed with a coalition of twenty states that a change in tax law last year eliminating a penalty for not having health insurance invalidated the entire Obamacare law. The law, however, will remain in place to allow appeals process to play out, and the Supreme Court might eventually rule on the case. Shares of U.S. health insurers, hospitals, and healthcare companies fell on Monday, following the ruling.

 

 Obamacare mandates that all individuals have health insurance or pay a tax and also includes payments worth billions of dollars to health insurers to subsidize for low-income Americans. Twenty Republican state Attorneys General brought the lawsuit, Texas v. Azar, asking the court to rule that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) violates the Constitution after Republicans managed to zero out Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act last year. The judge ruled that the law’s individual mandate violates the Constitution and therefore the entire ACA violates the Constitution.

 

Judge O’Connor acknowledged that healthcare is a “politically charged affair — inflaming emotions and testing civility,” adding that the courts “are not tasked with, nor are they suited to, policymaking.” Judge O’Connor said that because the individual mandate is “essential” to the rest of the ACA, all of Obamacare is invalid. He wrote, “Congress stated many times unequivocally — through enacted text signed by the president — that the individual mandate is ‘essential’ to the ACA. And this essentiality, the ACA’s text makes clear, means the mandate must work ‘together with the other provisions’ for the Act to function as intended.”

 

The ruling comes one day ahead of when Obamacare’s marketplaces will close for most of the country’s open enrollment period. Approximately 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare plans and the newest enrollment numbers are down 20 percent.

 

UK’s Labour opposition tables a no confidence motion in PM Theresa May

 

Britain’s leader of the opposition Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, tabled a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May Monday, claiming she had forced the United Kingdom (U.K.) to face two unacceptable choices: leaving the EU with her flawed deal or with no deal it all. He accused the Prime Minister of "cynically running down the clock" towards the Brexit deadline. The no confidence vote is expected to be held Tuesday evening, if PM May fails to name the date of the government’s vote on her Brexit deal.

 

PM May said Monday she would bring her Brexit deal back to Parliament for a vote in mid-January, pledging to get assurances from the European Union (E.U.) that the Irish backstop clause would be temporary. The Prime Minister is also expected to unveil the Government's latest steps to prepare for a 'no deal' scenario.

 

Mr. Corbyn said, Corbyn said May was the architect of a constitutional crisis, “leading the most shambolic and chaotic government in modern British history.” Labour lawmaker Liz Kendall said, “What is irresponsible is delaying a vote on her agreement, not because she is going to get any changes to it but because she wants to run down the clock and try and intimidate MPs into supporting it to avoid no deal.”

 

The price of oil drops in the face of oversupply and concerns about economic growth

 

Oil prices fell about 1 percent, to under USD $50 per barrel, on Monday due to oversupply in the United States (U.S.) and concerned investor sentiment over global economic growth and fuel demand. Both U.S. crude and Brent crude benchmarks fell more than 30 percent from early October through the end of November as a supply glut inflated global inventories. They have stabilized over the last three weeks, trading within fairly narrow ranges as oil producers have promised to cut production.

 

U.S. crude oil inventories were forecast to have fallen for the third consecutive week, while analysts expected a build in refined products last week. Six analysts polled ahead of reports from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated, on average, that crude stocks fell 2.5 million barrels in the week to December 14.

 

Some investors doubt planned supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers such as Russia would be enough to rebalance markets. OPEC and its allies have agreed to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from January, in a move to be reviewed at a meeting in April.

 

United Arab Emirates energy minister Suhail al-Mazrouei told reporters in Dubai on Monday that the global oil market was correcting, and he expected everyone to cut oil supply under the agreement reached earlier this month in Vienna. U.S. shale output is growing steadily, taking market share from the big Middle East oil producers in OPEC and making it harder for them to balance their budgets. Russian oil output has been at a record high of 11.42 million barrels per day (bpd) in December so far.

 

Increasing concerns about weakening growth in major markets such as China and Europe have also dampened the mood in oil and other asset classes. Broad stock declines in Europe and the U.S. on Monday dragged equity markets lower around the world, adding to a sell-off that has sent global shares near 17-month lows. Chinese oil refinery throughput in November fell from October, suggesting an easing in oil demand, while the country’s industrial output rose the least in nearly three years as the economy continued to lose momentum.

 

Top EU civil servants are now pocketing salaries over €20,000 a month

 

As Yellow Vest protests spread across Europe in protest of high taxes and decreased quality of living, the European Union’s (E.U.) highest grade of civil servants will be paid more than €20,000 euros a month for the first time, after EU salaries and pensions were increased retroactively from July 1 this year. The increase means that President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the European Council Donald Tusk will earn about €32,700 euros a month, about €550 more than previously. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and Martin Selmayr, Secretary General of the Commission who is responsible for no-deal Brexit planning, will also get pay increases.

 

Salaries for EU officials in the commission are divided into sixteen grades. After each two years served in post, the salary steps up a grade for an increased base wage, not including allowances. The salary of EU commissioners will earn about €26,600 euros, about €400 more, including allowances. Directors-general of Commission departments on their third step will be paid a monthly basic income of more than €20,000 euros for the first time.

 

EU officials pay a lower European tax on their earnings than the higher rates of income tax in Belgium and Luxembourg.

 

The “Gilets Jaunes”, or “Yellow Vests”, began as an anti-tax protest in France but has evolved and coalesced people across the political left-right spectrum into a broader anti-government movement. The movement, which has spread beyond France to Belgium, Sweden, and the Netherlands has become so large that political experts are now calling it a “new revolution.” Unlike traditional protest movements, the Yellow Vests began online through petitions and was organised by ordinary working people posting videos on social media, without a leader, trade union, or political party behind it.


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The Daily Visionary: Monday, December 17, 2018

Europe is dropping Huawei amid growing security concerns

 

For months, the United States (U.S.) has been pushing governments to block Huawei Technologies Co. from telecom networks with the concern that China’s government could use Huawei’s equipment for spying. Espionage concerns with Huawei, run by a former military engineer, are not new but the company has always maintained that it’s independent and doesn’t give the government access to its equipment. European officials and companies were initially slow to act on the U.S. warnings but are now increasingly distancing themselves publicly from Huawei.

 

CEO of telecom consultant Northstream Bengt Nordstrom said the continent’s biggest carriers will now be “extra cautious” of buying equipment from Huawei and “It’s been a week of negative announcements and indications from the biggest markets in Europe -- the U.K., Germany and France.” Telecom, media, and technology analyst at Mirabaud Securities Ltd. Neil Campling said, “Reputational damage for Huawei will be significant whatever the outcome. It seems likely that Huawei will lose significant share in the next three years.”

 

The development of 5G, which will boost speeds and reduce the latency of connections to bring online a wave of new gadgets, from devices in cars to manufacturing facilities, has security and government officials worried that networks carrying sensitive data will be at greater risk of hacking.

 

We recognize the concerns about security with the introduction of new 5G networks, and those are concerns we share,” said Vincent Pang, the president of Huawei Western Europe, in a statement. “We think the answer lies in global cooperation and collaboration to ensure that networks are as secure as possible.”

 

As a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, the United Kingdom (U.K.) was the first major market in Europe to publicly raise doubts about the security of Huawei’s equipment in the run-up to 5G. The head of Britain’s spy agency MI6 said last week that the government needs to decide whether to allow Huawei as a 5G supplier. BT Group Plc pledged to rip out some of the company’s equipment.

 

France is pushing for significantly tighter regulation and has safeguards in place for critical parts of its telecom networks. The country is now considering adding items to its ‘high-alert’ list that tacitly targets Huawei and France’s National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (Anssi) is demanding full access to potential suppliers’ technology. Huawei hasn’t submitted its equipment for vetting to become certified for critical components, and Orange SA said it won’t use Huawei gear to build fifth-generation wireless networks.

 

In Germany, officials have become uncomfortable with Huawei’s participation in 5G and have been reviewing the issue. Last week Deutsche Telekom AG raised the prospect of dropping Huawei, followed by the Norwegian government saying they are weighing concerns with using suppliers from countries with which there’s no security policy cooperation, an explicit reference to China.

 

The developments in Europe come after bans of Huawei equipment in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. and follow the arrest of its Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Meng Wanzhou, the 46-year-old daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei.  Ms. Meng is accused by the U.S. of defrauding banks to mask violations of sanctions on sales to Iran, and after being arrest in Vancouver last week was granted bail by a Canadian court and she now awaits a possible extradition to the U.S.

 

Neuroscience shows gratitude makes us healthier and happier

 

Recent studies have concluded that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health and moods. As Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice reported for the University of Texas Health Science Center, "a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits."

 

In one study on gratitude, conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group briefly described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another five recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.

 

In a later study by Dr. Emmons, people were asked to write every day about things for which they were grateful. This daily practice led to greater increases in gratitude than did the weekly journaling in the first study. The results also showed another benefit, where the participants in the gratitude group reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more technically, their "pro-social" motivation.

 

Several studies have shown depression to be inversely correlated to gratitude. It seems that the more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are. Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls.

 

Another study on gratitude was conducted with adults having congenital and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders (NMDs), with the majority having post-polio syndrome (PPS). Compared to those who were not jotting down their gratitude nightly, participants in the gratitude group reported more hours of sleep each night and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. The gratitude group also reported more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt considerably more connected with others than did participants in the control group.

 

The positive changes were markedly noticeable to others; according to the researchers, "Spouses of the participants in the gratitude (group) reported that the participants appeared to have higher subjective well-being than did the spouses of the participants in the control (group)." Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has been researching marriages for two decades, and states that the conclusion of the research is that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it is likely the marriage will end. With 90 percent accuracy, Gottman says he can predict, often after only three minutes of observation, which marriages are likely to flourish, and which are likely to end, based on a formula that for every negative expression (a complaint, frown, put-down, expression of anger) there needs to be about five positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude).

 

Photo Credit: Francois Lenoir, Reuters

Photo Credit: Francois Lenoir, Reuters

Thousands march in Brussels to protest the U.N. global migration compact

 

Police estimate more than 5,500 people marched in Brussels this Sunday against the United Nations (U.N.) Global Migration Compact, which the Belgian government signed, leading to its defeat last week. Demonstrators held banners declaring "Our people first" and "We have had enough, close the borders" outside the European Union headquarters in Brussels.

 

The protest was organised by Flemish right-wing parties and had initially been banned, but the ban was overturned this weekend by Belgium's high court, which cited the right to protest.

 

The N-VA, the biggest party in Belgian parliament, pulled their ministers from the ruling coalition last week after Prime Minister Charles Michel refused its demand that he not sign the migration compact in Morocco. PM Michel had secured a large parliamentary majority in favour of maintaining Belgium’s support of the pact, with support from the opposition socialists and greens. Belgium will hold federal elections in May, leaving PM Michel with a minority government until then.

 

Canada unearths the largest diamond ever found in North America

 

A 552-carat yellow diamond was found at the Diavik mine in the Northwest Territories, Canada and is nearly three times the size of the next largest stone ever found in Canada. Diavik and the neighbouring Ekati mine are known to produce some very high-quality diamonds, though not normally the size of those found in southern African mines.

 

The discovery is the seventh-biggest this century and among the thirty largest stones ever unearthed. The biggest was the 3,106-carat Cullinan, found near Pretoria in South Africa in 1905. It was cut into several polished gems, the two largest of which (the Great Star of Africa and the Lesser Star of Africa) are set in the Crown Jewels of Britain.

 

Yellow diamonds typically sell at a discount to Type IIa top white diamonds, often found in the best African mines, but can still sell for a premium. Dominion Chief Executive Officer Shane Durgin said the diamond is gem quality, meaning it’s suitable for jewelry, but regarding its could not determine an estimate. Mr. Durgin said it was somewhat of a “miracle” that the stone survived the mining process, as “It’s very unusual for a diamond of this size in this part of the world. So, it’s a very unique discovery.

 

Diamond mining in this area of Canada’s sub-arctic is incredibly difficult because there are no permanent roads, meaning the only access is by air or, for a few months a year, ice roads that have to be rebuilt each winter. The diamond market has also been under pressure, especially for smaller and lower quality stones and there’s currently an oversupply of such diamonds. A weaker Indian rupee has put pressure on manufacturers in the country, where 90 percent of gems are cut and polished. Major cutting centres have also been squeezed by low margins and a drop in trade finance.

 

Photo Credit: Agenda.de

Photo Credit: Agenda.de

Georgia's new pro-Western president seeks unity after vote protests

 

Salome Zurabishvili, the French-born daughter of Georgian émigrés, has become Georgia’s first female President and fifth President. At her inauguration on Sunday at an 18th century palace in the eastern town of Telavi, President Zurabishvili vowed to reconcile political divisions and deepen ties with NATO and Europe. President Zurabishvili was backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party and won 60 percent of votes in last month’s runoff election, which the opposition called rigged and international observers said was marred by unfair use of state resources. The Georgian Dream party was founded by billionaire banker Bidzina Ivanishvili whom critics say rules the nation from behind the scenes.

 

The Prime Minister and government wield most executive power, so the Presidency is largely ceremonial but remains the international face of the country. “I know different parties have different opinions about recognizing me as President, but I take responsibility to be President for all Georgians,” she said in her speech, as Georgia seeks better relations with the West to counter Russia’s influence, “The new constitution of Georgia reflects the will of the Georgian people regarding Georgia’s unhindered movement towards the European Union and NATO. With the assistance of our strategic partner the United States and European friends, I will contribute to this process.

 

Having worked in France’s diplomatic service before becoming Georgia’s foreign minister from 2004-2005, President Zurabishvili said she would use that experience to promote her nation’s aspirations to join the EU bloc and NATO transatlantic military alliance. She criticized Russia’s occupation of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying, “Russia, as a neighbor in the Caucasus, must realize that if it wants to be a full-fledged member of the international community, and intends to restore normal relations in this region, it must prove, both in words and fact, that it recognizes all norms of international law.”


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The Daily Visionary: Friday, December 14, 2018

Photo Credit: University of California

Photo Credit: University of California

Climate scientists retract the results of a major ocean warming study due to false measurements

 

Scientists with San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Princeton University have withdrawn their findings published in the academic journal Nature that showed oceans have been heating up dramatically faster than previously thought as a result of climate change. According to the paper by Laure Resplandy et al, published October 31, the researchers claimed ocean temperatures had warmed 60 percent more than outlined by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

 

However, the conclusion came under scrutiny after mathematician Nic Lewis, who has authored several peer-reviewed papers on the question of climate sensitivity and has worked with some of the world’s leading climate scientists, found that the warming trend in the Resplandy paper differs from that calculated from the underlying data included with the paper. “If you calculate the trend correctly, the warming rate is not worse than we thought – it’s very much in line with previous estimates,” says Lewis. He added, “Their claims about the effect of faster ocean warming on estimates of climate sensitivity (and hence future global warming) and carbon budgets are just incorrect anyway, but that’s a moot point now we know that about their calculation error”.

 

As the Global Warming Policy Forum reported, “Independent climate scientist Nicholas Lewis has uncovered a major error in a recent scientific paper that was given blanket coverage in the English-speaking media. The paper, written by a team led by Princeton oceanographer Laure Resplandy, claimed that the oceans have been warming faster than previously thought. It was announced, in news outlets including the BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Scientific American that this meant that the Earth may warm even faster than currently estimated.

 

Co-author and climate scientist Ralph Keeling took full blame and thanked Mr. Lewis for alerting him to the mistake, saying, “When we were confronted with his insight it became immediately clear there was an issue there. We’re grateful to have it be pointed out quickly so that we could correct it quickly.”

 

Mr. Keeling said they have redone the calculations and submitted the correction to Nature, finding the ocean is still likely warmer than the estimate used by the IPCC. However, that increase in heat has a larger range of probability than initially thought, between 10 percent and 70 percent, as other studies have already found. “We really muffed the error margins … Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean,” Mr. Keeling said. The central problem, according to Mr. Keeling, was in how the researchers dealt with the uncertainty in their measurements. As a result, the findings suffer from too much doubt to definitively support the paper’s conclusion about just how much heat the oceans have absorbed over time.

 

Increasingly, the peer-review system for scientific papers has become an arrangement whereby colleagues approve each other’s work for publication, increasing their chances for ongoing funding, in a climate where the more doomsday the result the more likely it is to get published and reported on by the mainstream media reliant on fear-driven news stories to gain revenue.

 

Five Rwandans will stand trial at the International Court of Justice for the 1994 genocide

 

According to federal prosecutors, five Rwandans will go on trial at the Hague in Belgium over their alleged role in war crimes and genocide in Rwanda in 1994, where pre-trial authorities last week ruled that the five appear in the criminal court "for acts committed in 1994 in Rwanda in connection with the genocide of Tutsis and the massacre of moderate Hutus." United Nations (U.N.) figures said 800,000 people were killed during the Rwandan genocide, most of them from the Tutsi minority.

 

The five accused were divided into two cases. In the first, one defendant is referred to the court for murders and rapes; another for murders, attempted murders and rape; and a third for murders and attempted murders. In the second case, one individual is referred for murders, and another for murders and attempted murders.

 

"This is the first time that a Belgian (criminal court) will have to deal with facts qualified as genocide crimes," the prosecutor's office said. Four trials linked to the massacres in Rwanda were held in Belgium between 2001 and 2009, although the defendants faced only charges of war crimes. However, the prosecutor's office said the criminal court in Brussels will "also have to rule on the crime of genocide" in the new cases.

 

In 1993, a law was adopted that allows courts in Belgium, the former colonial power in Rwanda, to try Belgian residents, whatever their nationality, for crimes allegedly committed abroad. In 2001, four Rwandans, including two nuns, were convicted by a Brussels court. In 2005, a Brussels court sentenced two Rwandan businessmen to ten-to-twelve years in prison after they were found guilty of war crimes and murder linked to the genocide. In 2007, a former Rwandan army commander, ex-major, Bernard Ntuyahaga, was also convicted. In 2009, a Brussels court sentenced Rwandan Ephrem Nkezabera, dubbed the "genocide banker", to thirty years in prison for war crimes including murders and rapes during the bloodbath.

 

Trials have also been held in other European countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Canada, and Rwanda itself. Cases have also been heard in Tanzania, whose northern city of Arusha hosts the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

 

Migrant murder suspect allowed to remain in Austria due to criminal charges in Afghanistan

 

Austria does not deport people facing a death sentence in another country, which has put its law at odds with the consequences of the European migrant crisis. The rising European crime rate is increasingly linked to the drastic influx of migrants, particularly in Germany, France, Belgium, and Austria, and now a 17-year-old migrant from Afghanistan is accused of murdering his 16-year-old Austrian girlfriend.

 

Saber Akhondzad was brought into Austria in the spring of 2016 by human traffickers and subsequently denied asylum. However, despite admitting to stabbing his girlfriend to death he has been allowed to stay in the country because he is wanted on murder charges in his home country Afghanistan.

 

Thomas Stelzer, of the governing Austrian People's Party, stressed in a statement that the country is witnessing “rising crime amongst young asylum seekers", especially among Afghans. According to the Crime and Safety report by the United States Department of State, Austria is targeted by largely foreign criminals, with 64 percent of drug-related offences being carried out by criminals who are born abroad.

Photo Credit: Gavi

Photo Credit: Gavi

 

Gavi the Vaccine Alliance succeeds with immunizations despite conflict, instability, and epidemics

 

Since its launch in 2000, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance has helped save the lives of 10 million children and immunized 700 million children with new and generic vaccines against everything from measles to diarrhea to cervical cancer. More children worldwide are now immunized against killer diseases, but the task has become harder due to conflicts, epidemics, urbanization and migration, the head of a global vaccine group said. Gavi is funded by private philanthropies and government donors to negotiate down vaccine prices for poorer nations, buying them in bulk to supply countries most in need.

 

Chief Executive of Gavi Seth Berkley said the agency is now focusing on how to get vaccines to people in rural areas, those isolated by war and refugees. “Ninety percent of children in the world are now reached by routine immunizations, but there are 10 percent that aren’t. And there are more and more (disease) outbreaks around the world - partly because of climate change, partly because of instability - and we have the largest number of refugees in history,” he said, citing United Nations (U.N.) data showing there were now almost 70 million displaced people worldwide.

 

Gavi has traditionally worked with governments to raise routine vaccine coverage rates in poor countries and more recently has also worked on emergency projects, including getting oral cholera shots to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, stockpiling an experimental Ebola vaccine for use in an epidemic in Democratic Republic of Congo, and trying to help prevent infectious disease flare-ups in Syria. In Uganda, it is working with the delivery firms UPS and Freight in Time Ltd, and with Parsyl, a data start-up, to use customized apps, data and wireless temperature monitoring to overcome vaccine supply chain issues.

 

Central American caravan migrants demand USD $50k each to go home

 

Migrants in the caravan from Honduras are reportedly demanding entry to the United States (U.S.) or USD $50,000 each to return home and the removal of American military bases in Honduras.

 

Two hundred members of the caravan departed El Barretal camp in southeast Tijuana, Mexico headed to the offices of the National Institute of Migration (INM), and later the U.S. Consulate General, to hand deliver a letter outlining their demands. The letter reportedly states that the migrants' demands be met within the next 72 hours and blames U.S. economic and military interests in Honduras for the nation's current poor conditions.

 

The migrants, who also carried signs printed on bed sheets, some of which appeared to admit that they were not asylum seekers but rather were economic migrants, additionally demanded that U.S. immigration officials speed up the number of asylum seekers allowed in the U.S. each day to 300.

 


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The Daily Visionary: Thursday, December 13, 2018

Photo Credit: Lax Kw'alaams Allied Tribes

Dozens of Indigenous communities angry at PM Trudeau’s proposed oil tanker ban

 

On Parliament Hill, leaders from the Eagle Spirit Chiefs Council, the Indian Resource Council, the National Coalition of Chiefs, and Canada’s Four Pipeline Craft unions voiced their opposition to Bill C-48, which would ban large oil tanker traffic off British Columbia’s north coast. The chiefs argue the ban will harm economic development in Indigenous communities and kill the proposed Eagle Spirit Energy pipeline, a CAD $16-billion project with significant Indigenous ownership. The bill was passed in the House of Commons on May 8, 2018 and is currently at second reading in the Senate.

The National Chiefs Coalition said on Tuesday it would file a complaint in “coming days” under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) against the federal government. The Chiefs say the ban unfairly restricts oil exports by the First Nations group, while allowing multinational corporations to ship their products from the southern portion of the B.C. coast. “All we’re trying to do is take advantage of the resources available to us,” said former chief Wallace Fox, chairman of the Indian Resource Council, a part of the coalition.

 

CEO of Eagle Spirit Calvin Helin said much of the First Nations opposition to pipelines comes from Indigenous people backed by activist organizations, who claim to speak for whole communities but do not. “They’re just puppets and props for American environmental groups,” he said.

Giving in to foreign-funded radical and leftist environmentalists, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government passed Bill C-48 earlier this year, which bans oil tankers from the northern part of Vancouver island to the B.C. – Alaska border. It will further cripple Canada’s distressed energy industry, since tens of billions of dollars in investment have left the country in response to unfriendly government policy toward the energy industry specifically.

 

More than thirty First Nations are fighting back against Bill C-48. According to a recent report, “Indigenous-owned company called Eagle Spirit — which hopes to build a 1,500-km pipeline that would carry up to two million barrels of crude per day from near Fort McMurray to tidewater — has already launched legal action in a B.C. court to stop Bill C-48.

 

On a GoFundMe page, the Chiefs Council Against Bill C-48 states, “We support the First Nations-led Eagle Spirit Energy energy corridor because it would provide real-world sustainable benefits and own-source revenue and meaningful participation for the poorest communities in Canada through a project whose outcomes cannot be duplicated by government.

 

The impact of bill C-48 will devastate the Canadian energy sector. Conservative MP Randy Hoback said, “Let us not fool ourselves. This is not a tanker ban. This is to stop development in the resource sector and to stop shipping products to the West Coast. It is what the Liberals really planned to do from day one, and this bill is how they are going to achieve it. That is very disappointing. People in Western Canada just cannot understand the government … it keeps chopping off the hand that feeds it. It is so sad.”

 

British PM Theresa May survives a no-confidence vote within the Conservative Party

 

The United Kingdom (U.K.) government remains in turmoil despite Prime Minister Theresa May surviving a party vote of no-confidence. On Wednesday morning, Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, confirmed that he had received the 48 letters required to called to hold a vote of non-confidence against the Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative party, and the vote would be held that same evening. Party rules dictate that Ms. May only needed to win a simple majority of MPs, which would be 158; she won by a margin of 200 to 117.

 

However, this latest development does not put an end to the revolt. PM May’s Brexit bill is still unlikely to pass a vote in Parliament, which she postponed indefinitely on Tuesday. The Northern Irish party propping up PM May’s minority government is against the so-called ‘Irish backstop’ outlined in her Brexit deal, which the European Union (E.U.) has agreed to, additionally stating they will not allow any revisions going forward. The opposition parties are also against the Brexit deal and have threatened to introduce their own motion for a vote of no-confidence, which can trigger an immediate general election.

 

In the event of an early election, the decision by Conservative MPs on Wednesday to support Ms. May as party Leader will come back to haunt them, as they will have lost the ability to determine the timing of a leadership race, allowing them to continue to govern until the next general election in 2022. The Conservatives and opposition Labour parties are tied in the polls due to citizen’s frustration with the erratic governance by PM May and her Cabinet, specifically on the Brexit file.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

 

Gunman kills 3 and wounds 13 at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France

 

A gunman opened fire near the landmark Christmas market in Strasbourg, France on Tuesday, killing three and injuring thirteen others. The shooter, who is still on the run, was identified as 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt, reportedly a native resident of the city. Police said Mr. Chekatt, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the attack, had previously committed more than twenty-five offences in Germany and France and is known to hold radical Islamist views.

 

Mr. Chekatt’s apartment had been searched by police on Tuesday morning, hours before the shooting, as a suspect for an attempted murder and armed robbery, but he was not at home at the time. A Paris prosecutor stated that, according to the driver of a taxi used by the suspect to flee the scene, Mr. Chekatt was also injured. Police have detained at least four people and raised the security level to “emergency attack” and strengthened border controls, as well as reinforced surveillance at all Christmas markets “to avoid the risk of copycat attacks”.

 

French Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez noted that the gunman could have left the country. "This cannot be excluded, but I want to say that border controls were immediately strengthened and the area around Strasbourg was cordoned off. I cannot say anything more, because, as you understand, searches are still underway," Minister Nunez said.

 

German police implemented strengthened security measures along the French border. A spokeswoman for Germany’s criminal police stated that the recent shooting was committed by a man who was known to French authorities as a radical Islamist and was imprisoned in Germany in 2016 and 2017 on theft charges before later being deported to France.

 

Belgian Member of Parliament for the People's Party (PP) Aldo Carcaci noted that Mr. Chekatt could already be in Molenbeek, “the ‘hell hole’ of Brussels, to use the expression of Donald Trump,” where multiple Islamists have taken refuge in the largely Muslim population. He remarked Molenbeek is only 3 hours and 30 minutes from Strasbourg by road.

 

Italy's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said anyone found celebrating the Strasbourg shooting will be immediately sent to prison. "Our postal police [service] is at the cutting edge and it is sifting the Web to find the heinous people who are celebrating someone else's death," Minister Salvini said, promising "immediate arrest for anyone who has been rejoicing online over the last few hours."

 

EU – Japan free trade deal cleared for early 2019 start

 

The European Union (E.U.) and Japan will launch the world’s largest free trade zone early next year after their economic partnership cleared a final hurdle on Wednesday. Approximately 70 percent of European Parliament lawmakers backed the agreement which will account for nearly a third of global gross domestic product (GDP). Japan’s parliament approved the deal on Saturday. The trade deal follows widespread anti-globalization protests. Critics say the agreement will give too much power to multinationals and could undermine environmental and labour standards.

 

The agreement will remove E.U. tariffs of 10 percent on Japanese cars and 3 percent for most car parts. It will scrap Japanese duties of some 30 percent on E.U. cheese and 15 percent on wines, as well as open access to public tenders in Japan. It will also open up services markets, such as financial services, telecoms, e-commerce, and transport.

 

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom claimed the deal would bring clear benefits to EU companies and farmers, saying, “If all goes well, it should be able to enter force on February 1. The agreement is not only sending a signal to the world. It is also extremely advanced when it comes to opening markets.”

 

Japan had been part of the multi-lateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), comprised of twelve nations, which American President Donald Trump stated he would not participate in when he took office as it did not offer advantageous terms to the United States (U.S.). Without the economic capital of the U.S., there was little advantage to the TPP trade pact, therefore Japan and the other nations involved sought new bi-lateral trade deals with potential partners. A similar scenario played out between the U.S. and the E.U. when negotiations stalled in 2016 regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

 

Both the E.U. and Japan want the new trade deal in place before Britain leaves the E.U. at the end of March 2019. Japan, whose many car makers serve the E.U. market from British bases, had wanted it to then apply to a Brexit transition period until the end of 2020, although that period is uncertain due to political turmoil in Britain.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

 

Judge rules Stormy Daniels must pay Trump USD $293,000 for legal fees in defamation case

 

U.S. District Judge James Otero has ruled that Stormy Daniels must pay American President Donald Trump USD $293,052.33 in “attorneys’ fees, costs and sanctions,” in her failed defamation lawsuit, which is 75 percent of the amount President Trump had been seeking. Ms. Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, has appealed Judge Otero’s ruling.

 

Judge Otero wrote Tuesday that he did not award the President the full amount he was seeking because the hours charged by his attorneys were “excessive” and cited one example of the “extraneous evidence” submitted by Trump’s attorneys “a detailed list of Plaintiff’s movie history and filmography, which was unnecessary to this Court’s decision-making.”

 

In the lawsuit, Ms. Daniels claimed President Trump defamed her when he suggested that she had lied about being threatened to keep quiet about their alleged past relationship. Judge Otero dismissed the lawsuit in October, ruling that President Trump’s “rhetorical hyperbole” was political in nature and ordered Ms. Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, to pay the President’s legal fees.

 

The lawsuit is one of two that Ms. Daniels has filed against President Trump. The second seeks to invalidate a 2016 nondisclosure agreement aimed at preventing Ms. Daniels from speaking about an affair she claims she had with him a decade ago. President Trump denies that the alleged affair took place.


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The Daily Visionary: Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Australia will recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital

 

The Australian government is following the United States (U.S.) by preparing to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of the State of Israel but is reportedly not planning on relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv in the near future. The embassy will not be relocated in the immediate future, due to the AUS $200 million estimated cost of moving the facility. Instead, Australia is reportedly planning to open a consular facility in the Israeli capital in lieu of an embassy move.

 

Shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison entered office it was reported that he was weighing the possibility of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as the relocation of the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital and most countries believe that the status of the city should be determined as part of a peace deal.

 

Australia’s recognition of Israel’s capital joins a small but growing number of countries, including the U.S., Guatemala, the Czech Republic, and Honduras. In 2017, Russia announced that it recognized the western part of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel while also recognizing the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

 

Hong Kong and Singapore lead the world in economic freedom: report

 

Hong Kong and Singapore have again been ranked as the most economically free jurisdictions in the world, with the United States (U.S.) back in the top ten, according to the Fraser Institute’s annual Economic Freedom of the World report for 2018. The Fraser Institute produces the annual Economic Freedom of the World report in cooperation with the Economic Freedom Network, a group of independent research and educational institutes in nearly one hundred countries and territories. It’s the world’s premier measurement of economic freedom.

 

While Hong Kong is still the most economically free, there is a valid concern that interference from mainland China—which ranks 108th in economic freedom—will ultimately lead to deterioration in Hong Kong’s top position, particularly in rule of law, which helps ensure equal freedom for all,” said Fred McMahon, Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom with the Fraser Institute.

 

Rounding out the top ten are New Zealand, Switzerland, Ireland, the United States, Georgia, Mauritius, the United Kingdom, and Australia and Canada tied at tenth place. The United States is ranked at sixth, entering the top ten most-economically free countries for the first time since 2009.

 

The report measures the economic freedom—the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions—by analyzing the policies and institutions of 162 countries and territories. These include regulation, freedom to trade internationally, size of government, sound legal system and property rights, and government spending and taxation. The 2018 report is based on data from 2016, the last year of available comparable statistics.

 

Where people are free to pursue their own opportunities and make their own choices, they lead more prosperous, happier and healthier lives,” Mr. McMahon said.

 

Read the full report

Photo Credit: ICRAF

Photo Credit: ICRAF

 

Satellites warn African farmers of pest infestations

 

Researchers from the United Kingdom (U.K.) have developed an early warning system to prevent the crops of African farmers from being devastated. The Pest Risk Information Service (Prise) combines temperature data and weather forecasts with computer models and then sends farmers a mobile phone alert so that they can take precautions. It is hoped that the system will boost yields and increase farm incomes by up to 20 percent.

 

Prise is being used in Kenya, Ghana, and Zambia and will be rolled out soon in other parts of the world. Prise is an upgrade of a highly successful U.K. Aid scheme run by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International development charity (CABI). It uses a network of so called "plant doctors" and clinics to advise farmers when pests or diseases destroy their crops.

 

Satellites can provide accurate land temperature information, which is one of the most important drivers of pest infestations. This, combined with weather data and computer models, can be used to give farmers enough time to spray pesticide and take other precautions. The ‘doctors’ draw on a database using an app to help them to diagnose the issue and then prescribe the right pesticide and other measures. So far, the scheme has helped 18.3 million farmers, in thirty-four countries across Africa, Asia, and the Americas. On average, farm incomes and yields are 13 percent higher for those using the service.

 

Professor Charlotte Watts, chief scientific adviser for the U.K.'s Department for International Development, which funds the plant doctor scheme, says a new initiative with CABI and the U.K. Space Agency (UKSA) will use the network to prevent, rather than just mitigate infestations. She says the idea is to use satellite data collected by the UKSA to develop a system that is able to predict when pest infestations will strike a week or more in advance. Early indications are that the system is working, says Professor Watts, "Farmers are completely dependent on crops and the predictability of having a good yield to survive and also to send their kids to school. So, if we can reduce the impact of pests, if we can enable them to get better yields - which we are already seeing - it will mean that we can help them move out of poverty."

 

The rise of lab-grown meat, as McDonald's limits antibiotic use in their beef supply chain

 

The first lab-grown or cell-cultured meat was a beef burger created by scientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands in 2013. Since then, investment has soared and dozens of American food companies, many in Silicon Valley, are working on alternatives to traditionally reared meat.

 

Today, global meat consumption stands at over 300 million tonnes each year. Sales of plant-based meat alternatives increased by 24 percent in the United States (U.S.) in the last year, according to Nielsen. Non-dairy alternatives for cheese, butter, yogurt and ice cream have grown 50 percent in the past year and plant-based milk accounts for 15 percent of the total market. These companies say they are deliberately targeting consumers who eat meat, since vegetarians and vegans represent less than 5 percent of the American population.

 

Just is a start-up led by a group of scientists in San Francisco who recently announced they created chicken nuggets grown from stem cells found in a chicken’s feather. They aim to sign a commercial agreement to sell its chicken by the end of the year and predict that within twenty years its lab grown products will be more popular, cheaper, and healthier than meat derived from livestock. The chicken produced by Just tastes similar to real chicken yet has a spongy texture.

 

Beyond Meat, whose investors include Bill Gates, which makes plant-enriched burgers designed to replicate beef patties, claims to be one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. One of the world’s largest food companies, Tyson Foods, is bankrolling both lab-made plant and lab-made meat products.

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration recently announced they are creating a joint regulatory framework to oversee the production of cell-cultured food products. “It’s still much, much more expensive than conventional meat production,” says Joshua Tetrick, Just’s boss.

 

McDonald's is one of the biggest buyers of beef in the world, and just released guidelines for beef suppliers in its top ten sourcing countries to curb the use of antibiotics as the fast-food giant joins a broad effort to battle dangerous superbugs. Suppliers will be required to begin phasing out the use of antibiotics defined by the World Health Organization as “highest priority critically important antimicrobials” (HPCIA) to human medicine, which urges suppliers to adopt a tiered approach to the use of antibiotics, encouraging them to use HPCIA drugs as the last resort.

 

Daimler will buy USD $23 billion of battery cells for electric car push

 

Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz, will buy battery cells worth more than USD $23 billion by 2030 as it readies mass production of hybrid and electric vehicles in response to European regulators restricting diesel emissions. “With extensive orders for battery cells until the year 2030, we set another important milestone for the electrification of our future electric vehicles,” said Wilko Stark, who oversees procurement and supplier quality for Mercedes-Benz Cars.

 

Daimler said it is expanding its competence in battery cell research and working on next generation batteries to cut its dependence on costly rare earth minerals including cobalt, which is mainly sourced from war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. The Mercedes-Benz EQ electric car, set for a 2019 launch, will use battery cells containing 60 percent nickel, 20 percent manganese and 20 percent cobalt, the company said.

 

Future Mercedes-Benz electric cars will contain batteries using 80 percent nickel and only 10 percent manganese and 10 percent cobalt, it added. “Our engineers are also working on a ratio with 90 percent nickel, 5 percent manganese 5 percent cobalt in order to reduce the amount of rare earth metals even further,” Daimler said, adding it was also working on solid state batteries, which don’t require any cobalt, for future products.


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The Daily Visionary: Tuesday, December 11, 2018

British PM Theresa May delays Parliament’s Brexit vote citing ‘significant’ rejection

 

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (U.K.) Theresa May postponed a parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal, delayed as late as January 21, 2019, telling the House of Commons, “If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow the deal would be rejected by a significant margin … We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the House at this time,” and adding that she was confident it was the right deal. The government will now advance contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit when it is due to leave on March 29, 2019.

 

PM May insisted "it is not possible to give a date" for when the delayed vote would happen, suggesting she is obliged under current British legislation to hold it by January 21st. However, House of Commons officials argue that that obligation no longer applies, meaning she could hold the vote as late as March 28, 2019.

 

PM May’s decision to halt the vote came hours after the European Court of Justice stated in an emergency judgment that the U.K. could revoke its Article 50 formal divorce notice with no penalty. She said she would now go back to the European Union (E.U.) and seek reassurances over the so-called Irish backstop, which is meant to ensure no return to a hard border with Ireland as a result of Brexit but is seen by many on all sides in Parliament as leaving Britain’s Northern Ireland province within the E.U.’s economic and regulatory orbit.

 

After a meeting with counterparts in Brussels, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said there were no possibilities to amend Britain’s 585-page withdrawal deal, saying “I cannot see at the moment what could be changed ... We have an agreement ... supported by both sides. We want an orderly Brexit.” European Council President Donald Tusk said the backstop would not be renegotiated and that time is running out for a negotiated settlement, as he announced he would convene a Council meeting this Thursday.

 

PM May claimed other E.U. leaders were open to a discussion about the backstop, but few in Parliament were convinced. Deputy leader Nigel Dodds of the Northern Irish party, which props up May’s minority government, said, “Please, prime minister, really do start listening and come back with changes to the withdrawal agreement or it will be voted down.

 

Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said, "We cannot continue like this. The Prime Minister must either govern or quit." The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said Britain no longer had “a functioning government” and called on PM May to “make way” for a Labour government. The Scottish nationalists and the Liberal Democrats both said they would support a vote of no confidence in PM May’s government.

 

China launches a lunar probe to explore the dark side of the moon

 

Chang’e-4, which includes a lander and rover, lifted off early Saturday morning from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province to explore the moon that always faces away from Earth, known as the ‘dark side of the moon’. After a journey of almost four weeks, Chang’e-4 is set to land on the Aitken Basin of the south pole region, one of the largest and deepest impact craters in the Solar System at around 2,500 kilometers in diameter and 12 kilometers deep.

 

Executive Director of the Chang’e-4 project, Zhang He, said, “The soft landing and exploration of the far side, which has never been done before, will result in first-hand information about the terrain and lunar soil components and other scientific data. It will help enrich our understanding of the moon and the universe.

 

The dark side of the moon has a clean electromagnetic environment, according to Zou Yongliao, head of the moon and deep-space exploration department under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which makes it an ideal place for the study of low-frequency radio. According to the China National Space Administration, the probe includes the first lunar low-frequency radio astronomy experiment.

 

Astronomers believe the research will lead to new discoveries about solar eruptions, star formation and how galaxies evolve. The probe will also study the environment of the moon’s dark side, including landforms, mineral composition, surface structure, and radiation conditions.

 

The country’s first lunar probe, Chang’e-1, was launched in 2007, making China the fifth country to develop and launch a lunar probe on its own. Chang’e-2, launched in 2010, created a full lunar map with a resolution of 7 meters, as well as images of the Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, with a resolution of 1.5 meters, showing the details of the proposed landing site of Chang’e-3. Chang’e-3, launched in 2013, was the first Chinese spacecraft to soft-land on and explore an extraterrestrial object.

Photo Credit: Nathan Denette, Candian Press

Photo Credit: Nathan Denette, Candian Press

 

Ontario denied an equalization payment after losing its have-not status for the first time in a decade

 

For the first time in a decade Ontario will not receive an equalization transfer from Ottawa, according to Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, who said the province contributed CDN $8 billion into equalization and urged the federal government to review the equalization program.

 

Canada’s provincial finance ministers are currently meeting in Ottawa for the second of the bi-annual meetings, where federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau released the money Ottawa will transfer to the provinces and territories in 2019 – 2020, including nearly CAD $20 billion in equalization transfer payments.

 

These equalization payments are up CAD $880 million from the current year, split among five “have-not” provinces: Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. Since the 2008 recession, Ontario was on the “have-not province” list. Quebec will be getting more than CAD $13 billion, an increase of nearly CAD $1.4 billion.

 

Ontario’s government was aware it would not be qualifying this year for equalization and Minister Fedeli said it’s further proof of why the equalization program needs an overhaul, when Ontario will contribute CAD $8 billion into equalization and give Ottawa CAD $12.9 billion more in taxes than it will receive from federal spending, he said. Other “have provinces” Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland have also called for changes to the formula. Minister Morneau said the formula was renewed earlier this year for a five-year period after extensive discussions from his department but he knows the formula will be raised at the table.

 

Hybrids of the deadly Japanese delicacy pufferfish linked to climate change

 

Pufferfish, or fugu, are a Japanese delicacy that can kill a person who ingests it within hours if it is not prepared properly. The Japanese have eaten fugu for thousands of years, and after it was outlawed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the samurai general who unified Japan in the 16th century, peasants continued to eat it in secret and died in multitudes. The ban on fugu was lifted after World War II following years of petitioning by fugu fans. Despite its deadly nature, the fish has an almost comical face and, with its puffed cheeks and open mouth, looks as though it’s perpetually surprised to be so sought after for special occasions.

A kilogram fetches as much as 30,000 yen at Japanese fish markets, and in the December holiday season a luxury fishmonger in Tokyo can sell up to USD $88,000 worth of the fugu on any given day. Earlier this year, a supermarket in western Japan accidentally sold five packets of fugu without its poisonous liver removed the town used its missile alert system to warn residents. Now, fishermen are discovering an unprecedented number of hybrid species in their catch as seas surrounding the archipelago, particularly off the northeastern coast, are experiencing some of the fastest rates of ocean warming in the world. With pufferfish heading north to seek cooler waters, sibling species of the fish have begun to inter-breed, triggering a sudden increase in the number of hybrid fish.

 

Of approximately fifty species of fugu around Japan, twenty-two of them are approved as edible by the government. Chefs and fish butchers handling pufferfish are specially trained and licensed to remove its liver and reproductive organs, which contain tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin. Confusingly, the location of the deadly neurotoxin differs in certain types of pufferfish; it can sometimes be found in its skin or muscle, as well as its reproductive organs. Hybrids are as dangerous than regular fugu and difficult to distinguish from established species. To avoid accidental poisonings, Japan prohibits their sale and distribution, but with the rise of these unclassifiable hybrids, fishermen and fish traders are discarding a sizable share of their catch.

 

Associate professor at the National Fisheries University Hiroshi Takahashi first noticed the increase in hybrid pufferfish six years ago when he started receiving calls from a scientific facility on the northeastern coast of Japan’s main island that had buckets of fugu it couldn’t identify. In the fall of 2012, nearly 40 percent of fugu caught in the area were unidentifiable, compared to less than 1 percent studied previously. “It wasn’t one out of a thousand as it had been in the past; this was on a completely different scale,” he says. To an untrained eye, hybrids are barely discernible. Even veterans in the industry say it’s nearly impossible to tell apart “quarters,” or second-generation offspring of hybrid fish. At the end of June, more than 20 percent of pufferfish caught in a single day off the Pacific coast of Miyagi prefecture, 460 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, were hybrids.

 

Scientists identify vast underground ecosystem containing billions of micro-organisms

 

Researchers at the Deep Carbon Observatory say the diversity of the ecosystem below the Earth’s surface is twice the size of world’s oceans and bears comparison to the Amazon or the Galápagos Islands. Unlike those places, the underground environment is still largely pristine because people have yet to probe most of the subsurface. Despite extreme heat, no light, minuscule nutrition and intense pressure, scientists estimate this subterranean biosphere is teeming with between 15 billion and 23 billion tonnes of micro-organisms, hundreds of times the combined weight of every human on the planet.

 

The researchers said their discoveries were made possible by two technical advances: drills that can penetrate far deeper below the Earth’s crust, and improvements in microscopes that allow life to be detected at increasingly minute levels. The scientists have been trying to find a lower limit beyond which life cannot exist, but the deeper they dig the more life they find. There is a temperature maximum – currently 122 degrees Celsius – but the researchers believe this record will be broken if they keep exploring and developing more sophisticated instruments.

 

Associate professor at the University of Tennessee Karen Lloyd said, “It’s like finding a whole new reservoir of life on Earth. We are discovering new types of life all the time. So much of life is within the Earth rather than on top of it.” The team combines 1,200 scientists from 52 countries in disciplines ranging from geology and microbiology to chemistry and physics and a year prior to the conclusion of their ten-year study, they will present an amalgamation of findings to date before the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting opens this week.

 

Ms. Lloyd added, “The strangest thing for me is that some organisms can exist for millennia. They are metabolically active but in stasis, with less energy than we thought possible of supporting life.” Samples were taken from boreholes more than 5 kilometres deep and undersea drilling sites to construct models of the ecosystem and estimate how much living carbon it might contain. The results suggest 70 percent of Earth’s bacteria and archaea exist in the subsurface. One organism found 2.5 kilometers below the surface has been buried for millions of years and may not rely at all on energy from the sun. Instead, the methanogen has found a way to create methane in this low energy environment, which it may not use to reproduce or divide, but to replace or repair broken parts.

 

Rick Colwell, a microbial ecologist at Oregon State University, said the timescales of subterranean life were completely different, where some microorganisms have been alive for thousands of years, barely moving except with shifts in the tectonic plates, earthquakes, or eruptions. “We humans orientate towards relatively rapid processes – diurnal cycles based on the sun, or lunar cycles based on the moon – but these organisms are part of slow, persistent cycles on geological timescales,” he said.

 

Underworld biospheres vary depending on geology and geography. Their combined size is estimated to be more than 2 billion cubic kilometres, but this could be expanded further in the future.


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The Daily Visionary: Monday, December 10, 2018

Photo Credit: Eric Lalmand, AFP

Photo Credit: Eric Lalmand, AFP

Yellow Vest protests spread to Brussels

 

For the second time in a week, approximately one thousand Yellow Vest protestors faced police riot squads who used water cannon and tear gas to keep people away from the European Union (E.U.) headquarters and the nearby Belgian government quarter. Belgian police detained more than four hundred protestors on Saturday who threw rocks and firecrackers and damaged shops and cars on their path to E.U. government buildings. The movement in Belgium demands the removal of Belgium’s center-right coalition government, six months before a national election is due in May, and complaints on the cost of living.

 

For the fourth weekend in a row, French police said more than 30,000 people demonstrated and more than 30 people were injured. Anti-government protesters threw stones, torched cars, and vandalized shops and restaurants. The Eiffel Tower and several museums closed their doors for security reasons, as well as high-end Paris department stores, despite it being two weeks from Christmas. A banner hung from the statue of Marianne, the symbol of the French republic, that read, “Give back the money”. Across the city, bank branch offices, toy shops, opticians, and other retail outlets had boarded up storefronts smashed by protesters, and walls were covered in anti-Macron slogans.

 

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said French President Emmanuel Macron would make “important announcements” early in the coming week. The government has warned of slower economic growth that will have “a severe impact” on the French economy, according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire as he toured an upmarket central Paris neighborhood that had seen heavy looting Saturday night. “We must expect a new slowdown of economic growth at year-end due to the “yellow vest” protests,” Minister Le Maire said.

 

Yellow Vest protesters are specifically demanding lower taxes, with some arguing for higher minimum wages and better pension benefits, though protestors range across the political spectrum.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

 

Germany's CDU chooses status quo with Angela Merkel's replacement

 

With a narrow margin of victory, Germany’s governing Christian Democrats (CDU) elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to replace Angela Merkel as party leader, over Friedrich Merz. Often, internal party elections, voted on by delegate members, result in an outcome favorable to delegate’s interests as they jockey for power inside the party and would not necessarily be reflected in a vote available to a broader base of members.

 

One of the deepest divisions among CDU supporters is over migrant policy, and Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer must now close the internal division prior to European Parliament and four state elections in 2019. On Sunday, Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer vowed to change the party’s migrant policies before next year’s European election in May, saying, “I want to convene a ‘workshop discussion’ on migration and security with experts and critics of migrant and refugee policies to work on concrete improvements. Our program for the European election will build on these results.

 

Former Social Democrats (SDP) Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told German media the CDU had made a mistake with its choice, saying, “[Mr.] Merz would have been the chance to set the two main parties further apart from each other so the fringes on the left and right would get weaker. That is not just important for the CDU and SPD but for all Germany.”

 

Many CDU voters turned to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has campaigned on an anti-migrant stance. The AfD are now the main opposition in Parliament to Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’ of the CDU, with its conservative Bavarian allies and the Social Democrats (SPD), as they are represented in all sixteen federal states and polling around 15 percent. An Emnid poll conducted on Sunday gave the CDU’s coalition 29 percent support, unchanged from before the leadership vote, and down from 33 percent in 2017’s federal election. This is the lowest result for the CDU since 1949. The SPD has also dropped to 15 percent from 20.5 percent in the election.

 

Chancellor Merkel’s open-door approach to migrants since 2015 has significantly eroded her popularity and led to losses in regional elections, culminating in her October decision to stand down as party leader. However, Ms. Merkel said she intends to stay on as Chancellor until the next federal vote in 2021, which is more likely with the election of her protégé Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who said, “You stand on the shoulders of your predecessor. What is good is continued and where there is room to change things, we will make changes.”

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

 

President Trump to appoint a new Chief of Staff this week

 

American White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will leave his job at the end of the year. He led the Department of Homeland Security before serving as President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff. “He’s a great guy, I appreciate his service very much,” the President said. Speaking to reporters as he left the White House to attend the annual football game between the Army and Navy military academies in Philadelphia, President Trump said he would name a successor for Mr. Kelly, possibly on an interim basis, in the next day or two.

 

The top choice is Nick Ayers, who currently serves as Chief of Staff to Vice President Mike Pence. A White House official said the President and Mr. Ayers are still working on terms, where President Trump wants Mr. Ayers in the role for two years, until the next presidential election, however Mr. Ayers is unable to make that time commitment because of his young family. Mr. Ayers had already intended to leave his current role at the White House this month.

 

Mr. Ayers has advised a number of high-profile Republican governors and would bring a political edge to the President’s inner circle that was not integral to Kelly’s background.  He secured his first political win at age nineteen, when he left college to join Sonny Perdue’s successful gubernatorial campaign in Georgia; Perdue is now Agriculture Secretary and a key link to President Trump’s rural supporters. Mr. Ayers has worked with many Republican governors and overhauled the Republican Governors Association (RGA) when he ran it from 2007 to 2010, boosting the group’s coffers and making it more politically powerful.

 

Bill Palatucci, a national committee official of the Republican Party and senior advisor to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, credits Mr. Ayers’ work at the RGA with helping Mr. Christie get elected in an overwhelmingly liberal state. “His strategic skills are unsurpassed. He understands both the policy and politics of the big issues,” Mr. Palatucci said. Mike Pence then chose Mr. Ayers to help him with his 2016 Indiana gubernatorial re-election and kept him on as adviser when he became Mr. Trump’s vice-presidential running mate. After the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Ayers helped found America First Policies, a political group that advocates for President Trump’s policies.

 

President Trump also made announcements on Friday regarding his government. William Barr will head the Justice Department, returning to the same role Mr. Barr held, as Attorney General, under former President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s. President Trump selected Heather Nauert, currently a spokeswoman at the State Department, to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, replacing outgoing Nikki Haley.

 

Report finds over-prescription and use of statins cause greater health issues from side effects

 

Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world. A study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, provides evidence to suggest that statins may have been significantly overprescribed since the mid-1990s, and for many, the risks of taking them as a preventative measure could outweigh their benefits. The study examined the four most commonly prescribed statins using data from forty previously published randomised clinical trials. Researchers found that statins were likely to provide benefits at a substantially higher health risk than expected, suggesting that the 10-year risk thresholds used in the current guidelines are set at a level that could be doing more harm than good.

 

Since the mid-1990s, statins have been regarded by many as miracle drugs, which lower cholesterol and combat heart disease in people with a cardiovascular condition. They are seen as a turning point in medicine from cure to prevention, and until now, have been presumed to have an overwhelming ability to potentially save millions of lives. Now, prominent voices are questioning the current widespread use of statins, including Sir Richard Thompson, the Queen’s former personal physician and past president of the Royal College of Physicians. Additionally, the British Medical Journal has in recent years increasingly taken a position against the widespread use of statins.

 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and health authorities have allocated huge resources over the last few decades to fight it. Much of this effort has been based on the idea that one of the main causes of heart disease is cholesterol. As a result, cholesterol-lowering medications, statins in particular, have become, by far, the most widely used intervention for the prevention of heart attacks.

 

Studies show that statins can cause a range of health problems including muscle damage and weakness, memory issues, Type II diabetes, and erectile dysfunction. A study published in the journal Nature earlier this year also found that they inhibit the growth of some potentially useful bacteria in the gut, allowing other bacteria to flourish and become superbugs resistant to antibiotics. There are also a number of studies suggesting that statins, paradoxically, could be bad for the heart. It is already known that they block the production of a substance called coenzyme Q10, which is a critical component in the production of cellular energy and something that the heart, in particular, has high requirements for.

 

China demands that Canada releases Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou

 

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canadian Ambassador John McCallum on Saturday to protest the detention of Chinese tech giant Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is reportedly suspected of trying to evade American trade sanctions on Iran.

 

In a statement, Mr. Le told Mr. McCallum that Ms. Meng's detention at the request of the United States (U.S.) while changing flights in Vancouver was a "severe violation" of her "legitimate rights and interests" and "Such a move ignores the law and is unreasonable, unconscionable, and vile in nature … China strongly urges the Canadian side to immediately release the detained Huawei executive ... or face grave consequences that the Canadian side should be held accountable for."

 

A Canadian prosecutor urged a Vancouver court to deny bail to Ms. Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei's founder.  Ms. Men was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport on December 1, the same day that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China agreed over dinner to a 90-day ceasefire in a trade dispute that threatens to disrupt global commerce.

 

The U.S. alleges that Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, and that Ms. Meng and Huawei misled American banks about its business dealings in Iran. Canadian prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley said in a court hearing on Friday that a warrant had been issued for Ms. Meng's arrest in New York on August 22, 2018. He said Ms. Meng, who was arrested en route to Mexico from Hong Kong, was aware of the investigation and had been avoiding the United States for months, even though her teenage son goes to school in Boston. Mr. Gibb-Carsley alleged that Huawei had done business in Iran through a Hong Kong company called Skycom. Ms. Meng, he said, had misled U.S. banks into thinking that Huawei and Skycom were separate when, in fact, "Skycom was Huawei." Ms. Meng has contended that Huawei sold Skycom in 2009. In urging the court to reject the bail request, Mr. Gibb-Carsley said the Huawei executive had vast resources and a strong incentive to bolt, as she also faces fraud charges in the U.S. that could put her in prison for thirty years. The hearing will resume on Monday.

 

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies and has been the target of deepening US security concerns over its ties to the Chinese government. The US has pressured European countries and other allies to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information. In a brief statement, Huawei said that "we have every confidence that the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will reach the right conclusion."


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The Daily Visionary: Friday, December 7, 2018

Photo Credit: DPA

Photo Credit: DPA

Germany's CDU Party votes for Chancellor Merkel's leadership successor

 

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) members will meet for a national party convention on December 7 and 8 in Hamburg, Germany where one thousand delegates will vote for leader Angela Merkel’s replacement. In October, Chancellor Merkel announced she would be stepping down as party leader but continue as Chancellor for the remainder of her term, to 2021. It is doubtful she will actually complete her term once a new leader is elected since this would cause friction between competing leaders of the governing party and government.

 

Chancellor Merkel has led the CDU for eighteen years, since 2000, and been Chancellor since 2005. She is considered the European Union’s (E.U.) most powerful leader as Germany is the most powerful country in the organization. She moved the CDU politically to the center by dropping military conscription, accelerating Germany's exit from nuclear energy, introducing benefits encouraging fathers to look after their young children, and allowing the introduction of gay marriage. Controversially, however, was her unilateral decision to accept more than one million asylum seekers since 2014, which has increasingly been publicly unpopular over time.

 

CDU is Germany’s largest political party and at its peak in 2013 had over 40 percent of the country’s support. Now, the party hovers around 28 percent popularity after two state elections where the CDU lost seats in their regional stronghold. In the September 2017 general election, the center-right CDU was forced to create a coalition government with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who fare even worse in the polls. Many within the CDU cite the migrant crisis among Chancellor Merkel’s decisions that have turned the public away from the party and believe a return to some more conservative elements will reverse their electoral losses.

 

The three frontrunners to replace Ms. Merkel as leader:

 

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56

 

As the CDU's General Secretary since February, Kramp-Karrenbauer is a centrist and considered to be a Merkel loyalist who will replicate much of the Chancellor's style and policy. Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer was previously interior minister and governor of the western Saarland state. She uses more conservative rhetoric than Ms. Merkel and vocally opposed gay marriage. She has talked tough on immigration issues and proposed a lifelong entry ban to Europe for asylum-seekers convicted of serious crimes. Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer has an unpretentious style and a reputation for calm analysis as well as political acumen. While she is popular in Saarland and Berlin, the CDU’s strength has always been in the southwest region of Bavaria.

 

Friedrich Merz, 63

 

Mr. Merz is a successful businessman and corporate lawyer who was leader of the CDU prior to Ms. Merkel and a former Member of the European Parliament and Member of the German Bundestag. He left politics in 2009 when Ms. Merkel pushed her potential rival out. Mr. Merz appeals to the more conservative and business-minded wing of the party and has the official backing of ex-finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. In the private sector, he was recently head of the supervisory board in the German branch of investment manager BlackRock. Mr. Merz is well-connected in the party and has presented his time away from politics as a virtue, saying that he has "had the opportunity ... to look from outside at politics and its decisions." He has previously advocated for tax reform and argued that foreigners should learn German ‘Leitkultur,’ translated as "majority culture". He has criticized the "unregulated influx" of migrants and blamed the CDU for accepting the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany, which entered the national parliament last year, "with a shrug of the shoulders."

 

Jens Spahn, 38

 

Health Minister Mr. Spahn is a former banker and a Merkel critic, who was formerly Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance under Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. He is Catholic, gay, and popular in the party. Mr. Spahn has focused on migration, calling it the "elephant in the room”. He said security is a key issue, arguing that "not everything is good again" despite the slowing influx of migrants. Mr. Spahn said the CDU doesn't need to "shift to the right," but it does need to start "a real change of generations."

 

Venezuela signs oil and gold investment deals with Russia amid OPEC production cut

 

As OPEC tentatively agreed to an oil output cut, waiting for a commitment from non-OPEC Russia before determining exact volumes for a production reduction, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro flew to Moscow this week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where the two signed deals securing investment from Russia in the South American country’s oil and gold sectors. Venezuela’s oil output has collapsed with a fifth year of economic contraction and hyperinflation.

 

We have signed contracts to guarantee investments of more than $5 billion with our Russian partners in joint ventures to raise oil production,” Maduro said in a video posted on his Twitter account, “We are also guaranteeing an investment of $1 billion for mining, mostly in gold.”

 

The United States (U.S.) has sought to restrict Venezuela’s gold trade through sanctions.  Russia has become a key lender of last resort for cash-strapped Venezuela in recent years, as President Maduro’s government struggles to pay its debts. President Maduro has sought to boost the country’s gold output as an alternative source of hard currency as revenue from oil, which makes up over 90 percent of exports, dries up.

 

The U.S. is not part of any output-limiting initiative due to its anti-trust legislation and fragmented oil industry. Hopefully OPEC will be keeping oil flows as is, not restricted. The world does not want to see, or need, higher oil prices!” U.S. President Donald Trump wrote in a tweet on Wednesday. OPEC delegates have said the group and its allies could cut production by 1 million bpd if Russia contributed 150,000 bpd of that reduction. If Russia contributed around 250,000 bpd, the overall cut could exceed 1.3 million bpd. However, Russia will find it harder to cut oil output in winter than other producers due to their cold weather.

 

Oil prices have crashed as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates raised output since June after Trump called for higher production to offset lower exports from Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer. Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. have been vying for the position of top crude producer in recent years. Iranian oil exports plummeted after the United States imposed fresh sanctions on Tehran in November., however, Washington gave sanctions waivers to some buyers of Iranian crude, further raising fears of an oil glut next year.

Photo Credit: Netflix

Photo Credit: Netflix

 

Netflix will increase productions in Europe by a third in 2019

 

Netflix, which currently has 130 million subscribers worldwide, announced plans to significantly increase the number of films, series, and documentaries produced across Europe. Having made 141 projects in Europe this year – 81 originals and 60 co-productions or programmes licensed from other producers – Netflix will make 221 projects, including 153 originals, in 2019.

 

Netflix will spend close to USD $1 billion on original European productions for its increased content investment. Naturally, this has alarmed publicly funded European broadcasters, which are struggling to remain competitive and adapt to the loss of audiences as they migrate to on-demand subscriptions such as Netflix.

 

Vice President of International Originals Erik Barmack announced at the C21 conference in London that, "We are delighted to continue our investment in great European creators and talent, bringing fresh perspectives and untold stories to Netflix members across the world." He added, “We’re seeing a need in our biggest European markets for more local series and regional programming,” and these shows are crossing borders and attracting large international audiences among Netflix subscribers.

 

Together, Netflix and Amazon spent £150 million last year on British-made television shows, such as The Crown. Netflix continues to invest in licensing British programmes for international markets, including Peaky Blinders and Shetland. This offers British-made content a much wider audience but the broadcasters who initially acquired or created the projects lose the global earnings. For example, Netflix was a co-partner and funder for the BBC series Bodyguard, featuring Game of Thrones star Richard Madden, in exchange for global distribution rights. Bodyguard became the BBC’s most viewed drama since 2008, with audiences now around the world watching it repackaged as a Netflix Original. Netflix is increasingly attracting A-list talent for their productions, of big-name directors and actors.

 

Photo Credit: Prime Minister’s Office

Photo Credit: Prime Minister’s Office

Australia passes an anti-terrorism law forcing tech firms to hand over encrypted data

 

Australia's Parliament passed a controversial bill that will force technology firms to give police access to the encrypted communications of suspected terrorists and criminals. The bill caused heated debate over national security and privacy at a time when governments across the globe are grappling with how to access encrypted information to monitor illegal activities. The law is opposed by tech giants, where Australian security services are given authority under the law to obtain a warrant for international communications companies including Google, Facebook, and WhatsApp to remove encryption, help conceal government snooping, and hand over data linked to suspected illegal activities.

 

Critics say the law may unleash unintended consequences, with global implications for encrypted communications. Global communications firms have warned the law would force them to create vulnerabilities in their products that could then be used by other bad actors to gain a back door to users' data. They are also concerned about how the law's secrecy provisions will impact their business models and consumer privacy.

 

The law has raised questions about policy laundering through Australia, a member of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing group that also includes the United States, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand. "There is an extraterritorial dimension to it, where for example the U.S. would be able to make ... a request directly to Australia to get information from Facebook or a tech company," said Queensland University of Technology's technology regulation researcher Monique Mann.

crenn.jpg

 

Michelin awards the first American female chef with three stars

 

French-born chef Dominique Crenn is the first woman in the United States (U.S.) to receive Michelin’s highest distinction of three stars in its annual ranking of top restaurants in the San Francisco area for her restaurant, Atelier Crenn, which opened in 2011. The elevation tops her award of two-star status last year amd was unanimous among Michelin reviewers for its “consistently top-quality experience,” said Michelin Guide’s international director Gwendal Poullennec.

 

The Michelin Guide are a series of books published by tire company Michelin, originally published for French motorists and tourists. In 1931, the hierarchy of zero, one, two, and three stars was introduced and in 1936 the criteria for the starred rankings were published: 1 star, "A very good restaurant in its category"; 2 stars, "Excellent cooking, worth a detour"; and 3 stars, "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey". Michelin stars are exceedingly coveted by chefs around the world and can make or break their careers.

 

Mr. Poullennec said Ms. Crenn’s cuisine “displays a wonderful balance of grace, artistry, technical ability and taste,” at her eight-table restaurant, which offers a tasting menu for USD $335. Ms. Crenn is the fifth female chef currently in the world with a Michelin three-star establishment. Bar Crenn, a wine bar that serves classic French dishes next door to Atelier Crenn, also earned one star. Ms. Crenn is featured in Season 2 of Netflix's Chef's Table.


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The Daily Visionary: Thursday, December 6, 2018

#MeToo leads to a men’s mentorship blackout with young women in the workplace

 

Senior executives on Wall Street are icing out younger female colleagues to protect themselves against potential false, career-ending sexual harassment claims. Bloomberg interviewed nearly three dozen senior executives who work for hedge funds, law firms, banks, private equity firms, and investment-management firms about how their interactions with younger female staff have changed a year after the #MeToo movement brought to light workplace sexual harassment in Hollywood, media, and other industries.

 

According to a new Bloomberg report, men on Wall Street have adopted defensive strategies intended to head off potential career-ending allegations including: avoid one-on-one meetings with female employees or meetings in rooms without windows; no more dinners with female colleagues; avoid work travel with female colleagues; avoid sitting beside female colleagues on flights; book hotel rooms on different floors; keep distance from female workers in elevators; and eliminate social functions like after parties. Even hiring women now carries fear and risk.

 

Employment attorney Stephen Zweig warns men against taking such precautions, noting, “If men avoid working or traveling with women alone, or stop mentoring women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment, those men are going to back out of a sexual harassment complaint and right into a sex discrimination complaint.”

 

The Wall Street report is only one example of widespread sentiment across industries. The #MeToo backlash against women in the workplace has created an anxious work environment and reduced opportunities for young women in particular to move ahead in their careers by limiting professional development and networking opportunities. It doesn’t help the situation when individual Millennials fail to handle constructive feedback and criticism in a professional manner, which has been discussed at length over the years as poorly reflecting on the generation as a whole and paints all Millennial women as overly sensitive and fragile.

 

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson Announces the Peterson Fellowship at the Acton School of Business

 

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a public intellectual, clinical psychologist, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto has announced the establishment of a partnership with the Acton School of Business in Austin, Texas under the stewardship of Acton Co-Founder and Master Teacher Jeff Sandefer for its MBA program in entrepreneurship.

 

The Acton curriculum provides an institutional analog to the psychological content I have been sharing in my online videos, podcasts, and books. The MBA’s emphasis on individual responsibility and adventure parallels my work’s focus on maturity, simultaneous service to the individual, family and broader community, and the relationship between meaning, discipline, and vision,” said Dr. Peterson.

 

Dr. Peterson is currently on tour for his bestselling book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, which has sold over two million copies since its release less than a year ago. His sold-out discussions and speeches to diverse crowds resonate with a significant number of Millennials, in particular, who are searching for meaning in their lives. Dr. Peterson’s goal is to strengthen the individual because life contains tragedy and evil, and our personal journeys justify the burden of Being by pursuing truth, making order out of chaos. The alternative, he says, is to deceive yourself with ideology and nihilism, which had led to many destructive authoritarian movements around the world, so better to take yourself seriously, know the monster within you, and become a responsible person with an integrated character; begin by cleaning up your bedroom.

 

The Acton curriculum is grounded in the Socratic method, and its teachers spur learning by asking questions, not by answering them. Acton’s enrollees are rarely interested in working for a large corporation or similar institution. Instead, the school selects those interested in founding their own personal ventures, and encourages them to engage in the difficult production, marketing, sales, and customer service work associated with start-up entrepreneurial activity. The goal is to identify fifty Peterson Fellows, who will work to prototype innovative educational programs, as well as work alongside successful entrepreneurs in real-world, hands-on challenges. Candidates are brilliant, competitive, cooperative individuals pursuing innovative ideas of significant social importance, and will be selected through an online application process that assesses intellectual ability, academic background, personality, and strategic philosophy.

 

Fashion labels fail to adequately combat forced labour in the global supply chain

 

Today, an estimated 24.9 million people around the world are victims of forced labour, generating USD $150 billion in illegal profits in the private economy. In the wake of forced labour abuse revelations in global supply chains, companies are increasingly expected by consumers, investors, media, and governments to maintain transparent and responsible supply chains. Although more fashion companies are implementing changes to support vulnerable workers, a new report argues that there is still significant room for improvement.

 

In KnowTheChain’s 2018 Apparel and Footwear Benchmark Findings Report, luxury companies Hermès, LVMH (Louis Vuitton), Salvatore Ferragamo, and Prada were among the firms the scored the lowest for fighting forced labor. Fashion companies are operating increasingly widespread and complex supply chains, which has made overseeing the rights of the labour force more complicated, opening the door for more risk of exploitation. Out of a possible score of one hundred, the forty-three brands benchmarked by KnowTheChain received a fifty-six. This was up from the previous report from 2016, in which the average was forty-nine. Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, and Kering all improved their scores by more than ten points. Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, and Burberry all scored above fifty points.

 

"Many luxury good companies have taken meaningful action on environmental issues and animal rights," KnowTheChain Project Director Kilian Moote said, "However, currently there is a lack of acknowledgement and acceptance that forced labor, and labor conditions more broadly, are something that impact the luxury industry.”

 

According to the United States (U.S.) Department of Labor, labour exploitation occurs in everything from raw material harvesting for cotton and rubber to production of apparel and footwear. About two-thirds of the international fashion workforce is female, and much of the industry is also made of migrant workers. This adds to the risks surrounding labour violations, as workers face gender or socioeconomic discrimination, making them more vulnerable to mistreatment and less apt to know about their rights or take action.

 

The score for engaging with workers within the supply chains is also lower, at an average of 26. This includes educating laborers, allowing them to organize and unionize and providing outlets for those working in the supply chain to communicate grievances. In China, Burberry works with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to provide a confidential hotline for workers. "The mistreatment of workers is obviously a brand business risk, but it’s also a moral imperative," Mr. Moote said, "Luxury brands are falling short in some of the areas that most of the other companies we evaluated are, which unfortunately impact workers’ lives the most. Most notably, on ethical recruitment practices.”

 

Country of origin is a key positioning tactic for luxury products, but growing globalization in the fashion industry is making it more difficult to differentiate the geographic source of goods. Fashionbi's "Mystery of 'Made-in' in Fashion" report notes that rather than accepting what is told to them by brands, consumers today conduct their own research into brands’ production processes. Consumers are also becoming more aware of the social and environmental impact of their clothing.

Photo Credit: Joel Carillet, Getty Images

Photo Credit: Joel Carillet, Getty Images

 

Geologists repair bullet damage to ancient Middle Eastern heritage sites

 

An oasis in the desert, Palmyra, Syria had once been a cultural meeting place in the first and second centuries AD and a touchpoint of many civilizations. The Islamist terrorist group ISIS damaged the ancient Syrian city with explosives and bulldozers, and now geologists seek to repair the damage and conserve sites like these.

 

Seeing that deliberate destruction pushed me into taking action. I am not a lawyer, I cannot do anything medical, but I do know rocks. I saw something that needed doing and built up a team,” says Lisa Mol, a geomorphologist at the University of the West of England in Bristol who specializes in rock art and rock deterioration. She is spearheading an initiative that is the first of its kind to quantify and catalogue the impacts of bullets in rock at a heritage site in the Middle East. Satellite imagery has been used extensively to identify damage in conflict areas, for example in Syria and Libya, however, there is a dearth of information about how stone structures weather after ballistic damage, despite the fact that ancient sites are often casualties of conflict and have been for centuries.

 

Mol’s five-woman team, comprised of a palaeontologist, two geomorphologists, a heritage specialist, and an archaeologist, returned in September from an expedition to Wadi Rum, a cultural heritage site in southern Jordan. Wadi Rum is home to rock paintings, engravings and archaeological remains that document millennia of human habitation, and the scars of both historical and recent conflict. The bullet damage at Wadi Rum spans decades, from guerilla conflict in the early twentieth century to damage from AK-47 machine guns in the past few months thought to have been caused by people using rocks for target practice. The rocks’ physical characteristics, or lithology, are also similar to those in areas such as Syria, where safety issues are too great for researchers to make expeditions.

 

The team aims to develop step-by-step guidelines for locals to identify and catalogue ballistic damage to heritage sites for use in Jordan and beyond. Residents could record and communicate their findings using an information sheet, or send images to researchers by e-mail or through an app, says Ms. Mol. The researchers must first determine which stone properties are most crucial for tracking ballistic damage and environmental degradation. She says, “We can’t simplify to that level without the high-level scientific understanding.”

 

There is more to heritage conservation than scientific understanding; conservation efforts need the buy-in of local residents and should take their wishes into account, Ms. Mol’s team says. Some residents think that certain bullet damage should not be repaired and should stand as a warning against vandalism or as a reminder of the conflict that caused it. “You can’t understand something as complex as the physical damage to heritage—in a very different social context and the conservation attached to it—without social outreach, ethnography and geology,” the team’s geographer, Kaelin Groom, says.

 

Photo Credit: AFP

Photo Credit: AFP

CSIS report says modern Salafi-jihadists are increasingly decentralized as terror attacks use simple tactics

 

A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says modern Salafi-jihadists are increasingly decentralized among four broad categories: the Islamic State and its provinces; Al-Qaeda and its affiliates; other Salafi-jihadist and allied groups; and inspired networks and individuals. Today, there are nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants today as there were on September 11, 2001.

 

Based on CSIS data, the regions with the largest number of fighters are Syria (between 43,650 and 70,550 fighters), Afghanistan (between 27,000 and 64,060), Pakistan (between 17,900 and 39,540), Iraq (between 10,000 and 15,000), Nigeria (between 3,450 and 6,900), and Somalia (between 3,095 and 7,240). Attack data indicates that there are still high levels of violence in Syria and Iraq from Salafi-jihadist groups, along with significant violence in such countries and regions as Yemen, the Sahel, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

 

These findings suggest that there is still a large pool of Salafi-jihadist and allied fighters willing and able to use violence to achieve their goals. While the number of attacks recently in the United States has been relatively low, the terrorism threat has been higher in Europe. Examples include the November 2015 Paris attack (which killed 130 and wounded 368 people), the July 2016 Nice attack (which killed 86 and wounded 434), the May 2017 Manchester bombing (which killed 22 and injured 139), the June 2017 London Bridge attack (which killed 8 and wounded 48), the August 2017 Barcelona attack (which killed 24 and wounded over 150), and the March 2018 Carcassonne and Trèbes, France attacks (which killed 4 and wounded 15). European officials have also disrupted major terrorist plots. In September 2018, for example, the Netherlands foiled “very advanced” plans for a largemulti-site terrorist attack and arrested seven suspects inspired by the Islamic State. Terrorist attacks in the West have increasingly involved simple tactics, such as vehicles used to kill pedestrians, rudimentary improvised explosive devices, knives, swords, small arms, and blunt objects like hammers.


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The Daily Visionary: Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Resistance for the U.N. global migration pact grows as international law attempts to undermine national law

 

Does international law trump national law? The United Nations (U.N.) believes it does, as it hosts member countries in Morocco on December 10 to sign the Global Migration Compact, which holds the potential to create a borderless world that allows any person from anywhere to enter any country and making immigration law obsolete. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was agreed to in July 2018 by all U.N. member nations, except the United States, when President Donald Trump declared, “We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country… The global approach in the [compact] is simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty.

 

Despite European Union (E.U.) Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urging member states to back the U.N.’s migration pact, and calling opponents “stupid populists”, at least six E.U. states have already shunned the accord to regulate the treatment of migrants worldwide.

 

Human rights are not respected internally in the majority of countries across the globe, and the ability for international entities to enforce their human rights standards nationally does not have a track record of accomplishment. Europeans across the region increasingly disapprove of accepting refugees and migrants following the greatest uncontrolled influx of people into Europe since World War Two beginning in late 2014, which continues to turn public opinion negatively.

 

Globalist policy continues to create resistance toward legitimate refugees in otherwise tolerant and open western societies, with political ramifications. There are great misgivings from opposing countries, who question the implications of the thirty-four-page document, which outlines a foreign national’s right to access to work, education, and healthcare, as well as their families, regardless of skill. Will a country’s native citizens be financially required to pay for the services migrants benefit from? In accordance with the compact, if international law takes precedence for migrants then they are essentially an elite group above national law, putting them in opposition to a country’s native citizens by holding them to different legal standards, whereas a country's native citizens would not have the same level of legal representation as they continue to abide by national law.

 

National responses to the Compact:

 

·         An official petition urging the British government to reject the compact has over 90,000 signatures, which becomes an issue for debate in Parliament at 100,000.

·         The issue has led to a government crisis in Belgium where the left-wing Premier wants to sign but the right-wing N-VA party threatens to bring down the government’s ruling coalition if he does.

·         Austria has said it will not sign, in addition to Italy.

·         In the Netherlands, a recent opinion poll showed 41 percent of people are against signing the pact versus 34 percent in favor.

·         In the German Parliament, Alternative for Germany (AfD) Leader Alexander Gauland said, "Millions of people from crisis-stricken regions around the world are being encouraged to get on the road. Leftist dreamers and globalist elites want to secretly turn our country from a nation state into a settlement area." The German government is under no obligation to ask for the parliament's approval to ratify the non-legally binding compact.

·         Eastern European countries including the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have renounced the compact.

·         Australia has also quit.

·         Canada appears ready to sign the compact, as they are sending a representative to the December 10 meeting.

 

On creating two tiers of citizenry, of native nationals versus foreign nationals:

 

"Facilitate access to procedures for family reunification for migrants at all skills levels through appropriate measures that promote the realization of the right to family life and the best interests of the child, including by reviewing and revising applicable requirements, such as on income, language proficiency, length of stay, work authorization, and access to social security and services."

 

On shaping and controlling public discourse, dialogue, criticism, and opinion by using language to define specific meaning:

 

"Promote independent, objective and quality reporting of media outlets, including internet-based information, including by sensitizing and educating media professionals on migration-related issues and terminology, investing in ethical reporting standards and advertising, and stopping allocation of public funding or material support to media outlets that systematically promote intolerance, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination towards migrants, in full respect for the freedom of the media.”

Read the full Global Migration Compact document

Photo Credit: Israeli Government Press Office

Photo Credit: Israeli Government Press Office

Hezbollah digs attack tunnels from Lebanon into Israel

 

Israel has launched an operation to “expose and thwart” cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon dug by the Iran-backed Lebanese movement Hezbollah. The army said the operation was for now confined to Israel and did not extend into Lebanon, where the tunnels originated. Israel’s vulnerability to tunnels was laid bare during its war with Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza in 2014 when Palestinian militants used dozens of secret passages dug from Gaza into Israel to carry out ambushes.

 

Israel released video footage of digging and pile-driving equipment at work in unidentified locations, carrying out what it said were “tactical preparations to expose Hezbollah’s offensive cross-border tunnel project”.  It later published a photograph of a tunnel that it said it had uncovered. Israel said the tunnel originated under a house around the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila and crossed the border near Israel’s northernmost town, Metula. The Israeli military said the tunnels were not yet operational but posed “an imminent threat” to civilians and constituted “a flagrant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty”. It said the army had boosted its presence and readiness and was prepared for “various scenarios” with an operation that could take weeks.

 

In September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu identified three locations in Lebanon where, he said, Hezbollah was converting “inaccurate projectiles” into precision-guided missiles, something Lebanon’s government has denied. Last month, P.M. Netanyahu also hinted at an upcoming Israeli offensive during a televised address but did not give details. Today, P.M. Netanyahu the Iran-backed Shi’ite militia Hezbollah had dug cross-border tunnels from Lebanon to insert militants into northern Israel.

 

P.M. Netanyahu met with United States (U.S.) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday in Brussels to update him on the imminent tunnel operation. “Whoever tries to harm Israel will pay a heavy price,” Netanyahu said in a statement after returning to Israel early in the morning.

 

The Lebanese army said it was carrying out normal operations along the border in coordination with UNIFIL peacekeeping forces. It said the military was “fully prepared to face any emergency.” Its Arabic media spokesman posted a message on Twitter warning the Lebanese army and Hezbollah to stay away, saying, “Your lives are in danger, you have been warned.”

 

Photo Credit: Canadian Press

Photo Credit: Canadian Press

Canadian Premiers demand oil 'crisis' be on the agenda at the first ministers' meeting agenda

 

On Friday’s agenda for the First Ministers’ Meeting among Canadian Premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are economic topics of job creation, trade diversification, and competitiveness. When the initial draft of the agenda did not include discussion for the energy industry, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister, stating, “Our country is losing $80 million dollars a day because we cannot get tide water access and world prices for Alberta's oil and gas. As proposed, the meeting agenda does not include any discussion on the crisis facing the energy industry and the price differential that is crippling the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Canadian economies. We request that Energy Market Access and the Economic Impacts of the Price Differential be added as an agenda item for discussion this week.”

 

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that there will be discussion about the price differential within the context of other planned topics, however, they did not commit to discussing the oil price plunge outside of those contexts. Other expected topics at the meeting, which also includes Indigenous leaders, are the new version of NAFTA, trade between provinces and territories, and a push for increased interconnectedness in the Canadian economy.

 

After Canadian crude dropped as low as USD $14 a barrel in November, Premier Notley announced Alberta will cut back oil production by 8.7 percent starting in January and plans to purchase rail cars despite the federal government being unresponsive to requests to help fund the purchase.

 

Tensions are boiling over in Alberta, which has been feeling the economic and social strain of the prolonged recession since 2014 due to low prices and lack of access to tidewater. Prime Minister Trudeau and several federal ministers that recently visited the province have been greeted by thousands of pro-energy demonstrations.

 

Premier Moe said any cut in Saskatchewan’s production will hurt conventional oil production and would have little impact on the price of oil and demanded Ottawa get serious about stalled and cancelled pipeline projects. “A clear failure of the federal government to build pipelines and ensure market access for our energy products has had a great cost on the economy and the people of Saskatchewan," he said.

 

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

President Macron backs off fuel-tax increases in face of 'yellow vest' protests

 

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has suspended planned increases to fuel taxes, set for January, for at least six months in response to weeks of protests with the time being used to discuss other measures to help the working poor and squeezed middle-class who rely on vehicles to get to work and go shopping. In his announcement, P.M. Philippe said anyone would have “to be deaf or blind” not to see or hear the roiling anger on the streets over a policy that Macron has defended as critical to combating climate change.

 

The French who have donned yellow vests want taxes to drop, and work to pay. That’s also what we want. If I didn’t manage to explain it, if the ruling majority didn’t manage to convince the French, then something must change,” said P.M. Philippe, “No tax is worth jeopardizing the unity of the nation.”

 

The “yellow vest” movement, which started on November 17 as a social-media protest group named for the high-visibility jackets all motorists in France carry in their cars, began with the aim of highlighting the squeeze on household spending brought about by President Macron’s taxes on fuel. It has developed over the past three weeks into a broader anti-Macron backlash, with many criticizing the president for pursuing policies they say favor the rich and do nothing to help the poor. Over the past two days, ambulance drivers and students have joined in and launched their own protests.

 

President Macron is a 40-year-old former investment banker and economy minister who won the federal election eighteen months ago promising to overhaul the French economy, revitalize growth, and draw foreign investment by making the nation a more attractive place to do business. He has since been called the “president of the rich” by some for seeming to do more to court big business and ease the tax burden on the wealthy and discontent has steadily risen among blue-collar workers and others who feel he represents an urban ‘elite’.

 

Ahead of European Parliament elections next May, support for the far-right under Marine Le Pen and the far-left of Jean-Luc Melenchon has been rising. Macron has cast those elections as a battle between his “progressive” ideas and what he sees as their promotion of nationalist or anti-EU agendas. The protests have highlighted wider international sentiment that governments are tackling climate change by making people poorer, by cutting carbon emissions through average citizens while offering subsidies for green energy.

 

Photo Credit: Parliament Live TV

Photo Credit: Parliament Live TV

British P.M. May's government loses contempt vote over Brexit legal advice

 

The British government was found in contempt of Parliament for refusing to release its full legal advice on Brexit, ahead of five days of debate on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal leading to a vote by Members of Parliament (MPs) on December 11 on whether to accept or deny the deal. The motion was backed by 311-293 in a vote on Tuesday and found ministers in contempt of Parliament, ordering the immediate publication of the advice. The government will now publish the full legal advice on Britain’s exit from the European Union (E.U.).

 

The Government's defeat is a landmark moment which effectively sees Parliament claw back more power over the executive and ends the longstanding principle of confidentiality and legal privilege. The contempt vote centres on the refusal by ministers to release the legal advice given by the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to the Prime Minister, despite Parliament passing a motion demanding that it be made available. Whilst MPs argued that the gravity of the vote due to take place next week warranted the publication of the advice, the Government has insisted that doing so would run contrary to the public interest and would harm its negotiating position.

 

Instead, P.M. May dispatched Mr. Cox to the House of Commons Monday afternoon to answer hours of enquiries from backbench MPs. This was the first time in nearly forty years that an Attorney General has taken questions on legal advice, which is normally treated as privileged information between lawyer and client and which cannot be disclosed.

 

Mr. Cox’s efforts did not satisfy the four opposition parties, or the Democratic Unionist Party, who submitted a joint letter to the Speaker, John Bercow, asking that he trigger contempt proceedings. He obliged, meaning that the Government now finds itself in an unprecedented situation in which ministers, for the first time, could be found in contempt and facing sanctions which, in their most extreme form, could result in suspension or permanent expulsion from Parliament.

 

Senior fellow at the Institute for Government Catherine Haddon said the opposition wanted to use “every opportunity they have to show the instability of the government” and that the contempt motion was a “show of force” which could foreshadow both the final vote on the deal and the various amendments MPs are trying to attach to it.

 

Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, said this had been a “full and frank exposition” and that releasing the full advice would set a dangerous precedent. Ms. Leadsom said the government, which had sought to slow down the process by referring the issue to Parliament’s Committee of Privileges, had fulfilled the spirit of the order to publish. "We've listened carefully and in light of the expressed will of the House we will publish the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to Cabinet but, recognising the very serious constitutional issues this raises, I have referred the matter to the privileges committee to consider the implications of the humble address," she said.


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The Daily Visionary: Tuesday, December 4, 2018

President Macron bails on the upcoming climate summit as protests against high fuel taxes continue

 

French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe canceled plans to attend a climate change summit in Poland, the follow-up to the Paris Accord of 2015.

 

France gets 75 percent of its energy from oil and gas. Since President Macron enacted the fuel tax in January 2018, the price of gas has risen by 7.6 cents per litre and by 3.84 cents per litre for diesel. The average price for gas in November was €1.50 per litre, which converts to approximately USD $1.70 per litre. The next fuel tax increase is set for January 2019.

 

Though many of the demonstrations until now have largely been peaceful protests, groups such as Antifa are now using the crowds to create riots and cause destruction. The “yellow vest” movement, whose supporters cut across age, job profile, and geographical region, began online as an impromptu rebellion against higher fuel prices but has morphed into a broader outpouring of anger over the squeeze that living costs are putting on middle-class household budgets. The movement’s members come principally from the hard-pressed middle class and blue-collar workers living outside the big cities.

 

Public support for the “yellow vests” remains high, with the support of seven in ten people a Harris Interactive opinion poll conducted after Saturday’s unrest suggested. The protestor’s core demand is a freeze on further planned fuel tax increases and measures to bolster spending power. Many have also called for President Macron to resign.

 

Saturday and Sunday’s protests drew roughly 136,000 people, slightly down from the 166,000 who gathered in late November, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. Riot police were overrun on Saturday as protesters wrought havoc in Paris’s fanciest neighborhoods, torching dozens of cars, looting boutiques, and smashing up luxury private homes and cafes in the capitol’s worst riots since a student uprising in 1968. The Arc de Triomphe, a unifying national monument that houses the tomb of the unknown soldier, was defaced, and a bust of national symbol Marianne was smashed. Economically, hotel reservations are down, retailers are suffering, and investors are nervous.

 

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the government would not rule out the President’s declaring a state of emergency. President Macron has emergency powers that were expanded after the 2015 terrorist attacks across the country.

 

Photo Credit: S. Borisov

Photo Credit: S. Borisov

Hatchet-wielding man arrested after shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in a German Christmas Market

 

A 38-year-old foreign-born man was arrested Saturday after wielding a hatchet and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) several times at a Christmas market in Witzenhausen, Germany. Police say the man was a heavily intoxicated foreign-born citizen from the German town of Bornhagen. He allegedly waved the hatchet around and “addressed women inappropriately,” according to HNA. The man eventually left the Christmas market on a bicycle and was later apprehended by police. No one was injured in the incident.

 

Germany is known for its traditional Christmas markets held in cities across the country, which have recently become targets for terrorists. On December 19, 2016, a truck was deliberately driven into the Christmas market next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin, killing twelve people and injuring more than seventy. The perpetrator was Anis Amri, a failed asylum seeker from Tunisia, who was killed in a shootout with police near Milan in Italy four days after the attack. The event was designated as a terrorist attack, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a video of Mr. Amri pledging allegiance to the terror group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claiming they had given Mr. Amri his instructions for the attack.

 

Now, the whole of the square in front of the landmark Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church has been cordoned off with heavy steel barriers. Pedestrian passages and other access points have been blocked to vehicles with bollards and concrete plinths. The barriers are intended to provide protection against trucks weighing up to 40 tons.

 

Dresden's Striezelmarkt, which claims to be Germany's oldest, opened last week for the 584th time. Though traditional Christmas markets are once again drawing the crowds with gingerbread, mulled wine and arts and crafts, security has increased drastically since the Berlin attack two years ago. At the Striezelmarkt, police have set up a mobile police station on the market, and security officials from the city authorities and a private company will also be on hand. New measures include two mobile barriers at entrances to the market and large foldable containers with water, as well as mobile vehicle barriers. As in previous years, there will be concrete obstacles in place.

 

At Nuremberg's famous Christkindlesmarkt, by contrast, the solution is trees not bollards. The northern Bavarian city is putting up mobile Christmas trees to block the smaller access routes. "In our case, erecting concrete bollards would only be possible with a lot of effort. The entire old town center would have to be shut down for the work," Christine Schuessler from the mayor's press office said. The streets of Nuremberg's old town are predominately twisty, making it difficult to get close to the market at any speed. Where necessary, police will position large vehicles to block the way.

 

Frankfurt additionally relies on modern technologies, including the spreading of information via apps and camera surveillance to secure the Christmas market. "In recent years, we have improved our equipment and measures to such an extent that nothing more is possible," says organizer Kurt Stroscher, adding that further security improvements could simply mean cancelling the whole thing or relocating the market to a military compound.

 

Mysterious sound illness that affected diplomats in Cuba and China has returned

 

Over the past two years, more than four dozen Canadian and American diplomats and their family members have been affected by a mysterious “Havana syndrome” illness in their homes, hotels, and temporary residences. Symptoms including ringing and pulsing in the ears, headaches, and difficulty concentrating and recalling basic words. Now, the illness has afflicted another Canadian government employee, and experts who initially attributed the buzzing and ringing symptoms to a possible sonic attack are now considering microwaves as the potential source of the affliction.

 

Dr. Douglas Smith was the lead author of a March JAMA journal report on twenty-of of the affected diplomats from Cuba, saying, “Everybody was relatively skeptical at first. [But] everyone now agrees there’s something there.” He believes the diplomats may have sustained brain injuries.

 

Anti-Fidel Castro dissidents Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez and Luis Zuniga endured ‘ultra-sonic’ torture for more than twenty years while confined in regime prisons, the former prisoners recounted in a November 2016 hearing organized by Freedom House and the Justice Cuba International Commission. “The sounds oscillated from high-pitch to very high-pitch that almost pieced the eardrums,” Zuniga recalled, describing the torture he endured in 1979. Thinking clearly became difficult, according to Zuniga, and he grew increasingly uneasy. He said a prisoner committed suicide after enduring the torture. Diplomatic personnel plagued by the “Havana syndrome” describe many of the physical and mental effects that afflicted Zuniga and his cohorts, causing experts and government officials to wonder if the same Cold War tactics are currently in play.

 

The Canadian government will allow all its employees residing at Cuba’s embassy to return home if they choose. Government officials residing in China have also been affected by the illness. Doctors sent fifteen American officials in Guangzhou home for testing after displaying symptoms of the illness. Foreign Service officer Mark Lenzi described the noise as “rolling marbles with static” and said he and his wife began hearing the sounds in April 2017. He later began suffering terrible headaches.

 

There is speculation that China and Russia may be perpetrating the attacks, but currently no evidence backs the theory. Cuba’s government has continually denied involvement with the attacks.

Photo Credit: Paolo Viela

Photo Credit: Paolo Viela

 

Brazilian sugar companies bet on ethanol in increased demand for biofuel

 

Brazilian sugar companies are increasing their capacity to produce ethanol in the face of depressed global sugar prices and government policies expected to boost demand for the biofuel.  A shift to ethanol in the 2018-19 season slashed Brazil’s sugar output by 9 million tonnes to a twelve-year low and more switching to the biofuel next season could help to wipe out a global surplus weighing on sugar prices.

 

Brazil could also lose its crown as the world’s biggest sugar producer to India for the first time in sixteen years, according to the United States (U.S.) Department of Agriculture. For Brazilian sugar cane processors, switching to ethanol has proved an attractive trade-off as the increased focus on the biofuel partly shielded mills from a plunge in global sugar prices in September to their lowest since 2008.

 

Executives at major Brazilian sugar firms Biosev and Usina Coruripe, as well as smaller producers such as Usina Batatais and Usina Cerradao, said they were now investing in more ethanol capacity ahead of next season. Biosev, for example, Brazil’s second largest cane processor, said it was installing distillation columns at two plants in the Mato Grosso do Sul cluster to give the mills the option of using 90 percent of their cane for ethanol, up from 50 percent now.

 

Brazil first rolled out policies to use more biofuels in 1975 after OPEC’s supply embargo drove up oil prices. So-called flex-fuel cars that run on pure ethanol or a gasoline-ethanol blend now make up 80 percent of Brazil’s light vehicle fleet.

 

In a new push, the government this year approved a program called RenovaBio that mandates fuel distributors to gradually increase the amount of biofuels they sell from 2020. Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy expects RenovaBio to push demand to 47.1 billion liters in 2028 from 26.7 billion in 2018, helping Brazil’s ethanol industry recover from years of competition with subsidized gasoline prices.

 

The global market could also offer opportunities for Brazilian ethanol producers as countries look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, including China, which is rolling out the use of ethanol in fuel nationwide by 2020. Outside Brazil, the ethanol market looks set to expand as well thanks to policies designed to lower emissions. Ethanol and sugar consultancy F.O. Licht expects global demand to rise at least 2 percent a year over the next decade.

 

Qatar will exit OPEC to focus on gas, and a swipe at Saudi influence

 

Qatar, one of the smallest oil producers but the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter will quit the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after fifty-seven years of membership to focus on petroleum gas. There are fifteen members of OPEC, with Saudi Arabia as de facto leader of the oil exporting group.

 

Qatar is at odds with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and said its decision to leave OPEC in January was not driven by politics and though they did not name Saudi Arabia, the Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi said, “We are not saying we are going to get out of the oil business, but it is controlled by an organization managed by a country.”

 

Qatar will attend an OPEC meeting scheduled for Thursday and Friday this week in Vienna and will abide by its commitments, as the country focuses on its gas potential, Minister al-Kaabi said. This was because it was not practical “to put efforts and resources and time in an organization that we are a very small player in and I don’t have a say in what happens,” he added.

 

Qatar’s former prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, said on Twitter that OPEC “is only used for purposes that hurt our national interests”. Once close partners with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. on trade and security, Qatar has struck many new trade deals with other countries while investing heavily to scale up local food production and ramp up military power.

 

OPEC’s loss of a long-standing member undermines a bid to show a united front before the Vienna meeting, which is expected to back a supply cut to shore up prices. “They are not a big producer but have played a big part in (OPEC’s) history,” one OPEC source said of Qatar.

 

The exit highlights the growing dominance over policy making in the oil market of Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States, the world’s top three oil producers which together account for more than a third of global output. Riyadh and Moscow have been increasingly deciding output policies together, under pressure from American President Donald Trump on OPEC to bring down prices.

 

“It could signal a historic turning point of the organization towards Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States,” said Algeria’s former energy minister and OPEC Chairman, Chakib Khelil, commenting on Qatar’s decision.  He said Qatar’s exit would have a “psychological impact” because of the discord with Saudi Arabia and could prove “an example to be followed by other members in the wake of unilateral decisions of Saudi Arabia in the recent past.”


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The Daily Visionary: Monday, December 3, 2018

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

U.S. and China reach a 90-day trade ceasefire at the G20 meeting

 

In a bilateral meeting at the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Argentina, the United States (U.S.) and China reached a ninety-day ceasefire in their trade dispute, initiated by President Donald Trump to reduce America’s vast trade deficit with China.

 

The White House said President Trump agreed to hold off on plans to raise tariffs January 1 on USD $200 billion in Chinese goods and the Chinese agreed to buy a “not yet agreed upon, but very substantial amount of agricultural, energy, industrial” and other products from the U.S. President Trump has already imposed import taxes on USD $250 billion in Chinese products — 25 percent on USD $50 billion worth and 10 percent on the other USD $200 billion. China has imposed tariffs on USD $110 billion for American goods. President Trump will raise the tariffs on the USD $200 billion to 25 percent unless an agreement is reached.

 

“It’s an incredible deal. What I’ll be doing is holding back on tariffs. China will be opening up, China will be getting rid of tariffs. China will be buying massive amounts of products from us.” President Trump said aboard Air Force One.

 

China agreed to label fentanyl, the deadly synthetic opioid responsible for tens of thousands of American drug deaths annually, as a controlled substance as a long-sought concession to the U.S. The American government has been pressing the Chinese government to take a tougher stance against fentanyl, of which most U.S. supply is manufactured in China. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said China’s decision to label the drug as a controlled substance means that “people selling Fentanyl to the United States will be subject to China’s maximum penalty under the law.”

 

In addition to the trade deficit, the U.S. government accuses China of deploying predatory tactics in its tech drive, including stealing trade secrets and forcing American firms to hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market. China also agreed to reconsider a takeover by U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm that it had previously blocked, citing antitrust concerns, after U.S. and European regulators approved the deal.

 

Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush has died

 

George H.W. Bush, the longest-living president in United States’ (U.S.) history, died at his home in Houston late Friday night, aged 94. The late president will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol beginning Monday and a funeral will be held at the Washington National Cathedral. He was the 41st President from 1989 to 1993 and served as the 43rd Vice President 1981 to 1989. The one term president presided during the Soviet Union’s collapse and assembled the multinational coalition that liberated Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion.

 

State funerals are multi-day events consisting of three stages, starting with ceremonies within the state in which the honoree resided, continuing in the nation’s capital, and ending where the individual has chosen to be interred. An official schedule was released on Saturday.

 

Mr. Bush’s remains will be transported on Monday from Ellington Field in Houston to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Air Force One. There will be a bicameral arrival ceremony at the U.S. Capitol at 5 p.m. on Monday, and he will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, with the public invited to pay respects from Monday evening until Wednesday morning.

 

Mr. Bush’s funeral at the National Cathedral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, and afterward his remains will make the return trip from Andrews back to Houston. The former president will lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, where a second service will be held on Thursday. He will be interred later on Thursday at the George Bush Presidential Library & Museum on the grounds of Texas A&M University in College Station, after making the final leg, from Spring, Texas, by train.

 

The President will designate Wednesday, December 5th as a National Day Of Mourning. He and the First Lady will attend the funeral at the National Cathedral,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. By tradition, U.S. financial markets close on the national day of mourning. The New York Stock Exchange will observe a minute of silence on Monday to honor Mr. Bush and plans to be closed on the official day of mourning designated by Trump. Other markets are expected to do the same.

U.K. PM Theresa May threatened with a vote to bring down the government if Parliament rejects her Brexit deal

 

British lawmakers begin debating Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit package this week, before a final vote on December 11. Over one hundred members of her own Conservative Party, government coalition allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, and all opposition parties say they’ll reject the plan. Science Minister Sam Gyimah also quit on Friday, as the 22nd ministerial resignation from PM May’s government since last year’s election.

 

Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said that it was “inevitable” that the opposition party would propose a no confidence motion if, as is widely expected, the Prime Minister’s deal is rejected. In that event, an early general election is anticipated. Labour have long expressed a preference for an election if PM May can’t get her deal through Parliament. Mr. Starmer said Sunday that “If she’s lost a vote of this significance after two years of negotiation, then it is right that there should be a general election.”

 

The U.K.’s Fixed Term Parliaments Act stipulates that, after losing a confidence vote, parties would have two weeks to form another administration that can command a majority in the House of Commons. If nobody can, an election automatically is called. On Sunday, Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis said, “the best way to prevent” such a vote is “get this deal through Parliament on December 11.” The motion would be separate from a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister herself, which would be triggered if 48 members of her own party submit letters to Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of rank-and-file Conservatives.

 

Conservative lawmaker Nick Boles, who is advocating a plan to join the European Free Trade Association and keep Britain inside the EU’s single market, said he’s had conversations with six to eight members of the cabinet about his proposal. Mr. Boles said he intends to vote for PM May’s deal, but he thinks she should step down before the next election.

 

Photo Credit: Julien Harneis

Photo Credit: Julien Harneis

Water supplies in Yemen sterilized as world’s worst cholera outbreak surges

 

Nearly four years of war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iranian-aligned Houthi group have crippled health care and sanitation systems in Yemen, where 1.2 million suspected cholera cases have been reported since 2017 with 2,515 deaths. Authorities in the Houthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa are now sterilizing water supplies at wells, distribution networks, and houses to help stem the world’s worst outbreak of cholera.

 

Cholera, which is spread by consuming contaminated food or water, is a diarrhea disease and can kill within hours. While previous outbreaks may have helped build immunity in the population, other diseases and widespread malnutrition can weaken resilience.

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in October that the outbreak is accelerating again with roughly 10,000 suspected cases now reported per week, double the average rate for the first eight months of 2018. Most cases have been reported in areas held by the Houthi movement, which controls most population centers after ousting the internationally recognized government from Sanaa in 2014.

 

The United Nations (U.N.) says about 14 million people, or half of Yemen’s population, could soon face famine, and according to UNICFEF, 1.8 million children are malnourished, who account for 30 percent of cholera infections. More than 250,000 cases of cholera have been recorded in Yemen since the beginning of 2018, with 358 associated deaths. UNICEF representative Meritxell Relano said, “We have prevented an outbreak at the scale of 2017, but the risk is still there.

 

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

Paris cleans up after the worst riots since 1968

 

Authorities were caught off-guard by the escalation in violence after two weeks of nationwide unrest against fuel taxes and high living costs, known as the “yellow vest” movement after the fluorescent jackets worn by the protesters. Several thousand riot police were overwhelmed on Saturday as they fought running battles with protesters, who have been infiltrated by Antifa causing many peaceful demonstrations to become violent and destructive.

 

The government said it would consider a state of emergency in the face of unrest across the country. The violence in Paris was the worst in the elegant center of the capital since the May 1968 student uprising that brought France to its knees.

 

Among Paris’ famous landmarks and fanciest shopping districts, more than four hundred people were arrested and more than one hundred injured, shocking Parisians and tourists alike. On Sunday, workmen cleared away burned hulks of cars, scrubbed the defaced Arc de Triomphe monument, and replaced the shattered windows of luxury boutiques. At the base of the 19th-century Arc de Triomphe, police kept the public back as cleanup crews set about erasing graffiti, much of it targeting President Emmanuel Macron and some exuding anarchist sentiment such as, “Overthrow the bourgeoisie!”

 

I’ve worked on monuments around Paris for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this at the Arc de Triomphe. It was carnage,” a Paris City Hall official overseeing the cleanup said as his team worked on a graffito reading “Macron resign”. Lasting damage might be caused if crews are forced to erode the arch’s stonework to render it clean, he said.

 

On the Rue Royale in the heart of Paris, half a dozen laborers gingerly replaced glass panes on the front of a Dior store. Next door, a Chanel employee vacuumed shards of glass from the floor, while carpenters removed the plywood panels that had been protecting a Gucci shop.


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