The Daily Visionary: Friday, January 11, 2019

Former head of MI6 says the Brexit deal threatens national security


Sir Richard Dearlove and the United Kingdom’s (UK) former Chief of Defence and head of MI6 Lord Guthrie together took the unprecedented step of writing to Conservative Association chairmen, describing Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal as a “bad agreement” and accused the European Union (EU) of demanding a £39billion “ransom”. Lord Guthrie called on Members of Parliament (MPs) to block the Prime Minister’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, warning it “threatens national security”.


Their letter states: “Your MP will shortly be called upon to support the Prime Minister's withdrawal agreement. As a former chief of the secret intelligence service, with my colleague Lord Guthrie, who served as chief of the defence staff shortly before I was in charge of MI6, we are taking the unprecedented step of writing to all Conservative Party Chairmen to advise and to warn you that this withdrawal agreement, if not defeated, will threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways. Please ensure that your MP does not vote for this bad agreement.


Citing a letter Sir Richard and Falklands War veteran Major General Julian Thompson wrote to PM May on November 29, the former defence chiefs claim the withdrawal agreement “threatens to change our national security policy by binding us into new sets of EU-controlled relationships”. They add: “Buried in the agreement is the offer of a 'new, deep and special relationship' with the EU in defence, security and intelligence which cuts across the three fundamentals of our national security policy: membership of NATO, our close bilateral defence and intelligence relationship with the USA, and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. “The first duty of the state, above trade, is the security of its citizens. The Withdrawal Agreement abrogates this fundamental contract and would place control of aspects of our national security in foreign hands. Please ensure that your MP votes against this bad agreement and supports a sovereign Brexit on WTO rules, without payment of ransom.


In their joint letter of November 29, Sir Richard and Major General Thompson argued that PM May’s deal was the “exact opposite of the people's instruction to take back control”, claiming it surrenders British national security by subordinating UK defence forces to military EU control and compromising UK intelligence capabilities. Arguing it places the vital Five Eye Alliance “at risk”, the letter, which was published in a national newspaper, dubbed the European Commission an “undemocratic organisation” that had “demonstrated how untrustworthy and hostile towards the UK” it is by “using the Irish border as a weapon”.


Urging PM May to leave the EU on WTO terms, it warned the British public to “ignore the hysterical demonisation of this course of action by the current Project Fear”, insisting “no risks are greater than the withdrawal agreement's terms of surrender”. Number 10 issued a swift rebuttal of the letter, insisting there would be “no subordination” and that “every sector, nation and region would be better off with this deal than in a no-deal scenario”. It denied the £39billion was a ransom, saying it was a “fair settlement of our obligations as a departing member of the EU”.


In the latest letter to Conservative chairman, Sir Richard insisted he and Major General Thompson had repudiated Number 10’s “worryingly poor understanding of the issues”, adding: “Number 10's immediate response to our letter showed we had touched a raw nerve."


U.S. Secretary Pompeo rebukes Obama’s Middle East policy, saying the ‘age of self-inflicted American shame is over'


American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, declaring that “the age of self-inflicted American shame is over.” While not mentioning Obama by name, Secretary Pompeo said that “it was here, in this city, another American stood before you” and “told you that radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from ideology.” He delivered his remarks in Cairo, where Obama famously spoke in 2009 and promised a new beginning with Muslim and Arab countries, criticized by conservatives for placing too much blame on the U.S. for strife in the region. Secretary Pompeo’s speech comes as part of a tour of the region, including Jordan and other Gulf nations, as he seeks to coordinate an anti-Iran strategy. It follows President Trump’s decision last month to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, leading to concern from some allies in the region about U.S. commitments.


Secretary Pompeo the American University in Cairo, “He told you that 9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals, particularly in the Middle East. He told you that the United States and the Muslim world needed ‘a new beginning.’ The results of these misjudgments have been dire.”  Secretary Pompeo said that under Obama, the U.S. abandoned its allies and was “timid” about asserting itself, that the U.S. “grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism,” and kept silent as Iranians tried to rise up against the regime in Tehran. He also criticized Obama-era policy for “wishful thinking [that] led us to look the other way” as Hezbollah built up its weaponry in Lebanon, and for doing nothing as Syrian President Bashar Assad gassed his own people.


Secretary Pompeo then took another swipe at the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which the U.S. withdrew last year. The U.S. has since re-imposed economic sanctions on the country, including on oil exports. “Our eagerness to address only Muslims, not nations, ignored the rich diversity of the Middle East, and frayed old bonds. It undermined the concept of the nation-state, the building block of international stability,” he said, “And our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy.”


The speech emphasized America as a force for good in the region, and Secretary Pompeo cited accomplishments under President Trump’s leadership, including the pushback of Islamic State, the withdrawal of more troops and personnel from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and building a coalition to push back against Iranian influence. He said, “We have rediscovered our voice. We have rebuilt our relationships. We have rejected false overtures from enemies. And look at what we have accomplished together.


He promised his audience that the Trump administration was ushering in a new era of U.S. foreign policy, saying, “The good news is this: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real ‘new beginning.’ Our aim is to partner with our friends and vigorously oppose our enemies, because a strong, secure, and economically viable Middle East is in our national interest – and yours,” he said. “Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over.


Something very strange is happening to Earth's magnetic North Pole and no one knows why


According to the science journal Nature, something strange is going on deep down below the Earth’s surface that is causing the magnetic North Pole to ‘skitter’ away from Canada, towards Siberia, reporting, “The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.


The World Magnetic Model, which governs modern navigation systems, is due to undergo an urgent update on January 30. This model is a vital component of systems ranging from geopositioning systems used to navigate ships through to smartphone trackers and maps. The current model was expected to be valid until 2020, but the magnetic pole began to shift so quickly that the model need the update immediately. “They realized that it was so inaccurate that it was about to exceed the acceptable (safe) limit for navigational errors,” Nature reports.


Every year, geophysicists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the British Geological Survey do a check on how the Earth’s magnetic field is varying, which is necessary as the liquid iron churning in the Earth’s core does not move in a consistent manner. “In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean,” Nature reports, as this shift was captured by satellites.


The movement of the north magnetic pole has been the object of study since 1831. Initially, it was tracked moving into the Arctic Ocean at a rate of about 15km each year. Since the mid 1990s, it has picked up speed and is now shifting at a rate of about 55km a year. Another recent study has revealed the Earth’s magnetic field has been acting up now for some 1,000 years.


Nature reports, “Geomagnetic pulses, like the one that happened in 2016, might be traced back to ‘hydromagnetic’ waves arising from deep in the core. And the fast motion of the north magnetic pole could be linked to a high-speed jet of liquid iron beneath Canada”. This fast-flowing molten river appears to be weakening the magnetic influence of the iron core beneath North America. “The location of the north magnetic pole appears to be governed by two large-scale patches of magnetic field, one beneath Canada and one beneath Siberia,” Phil Livermore of the University of Leeds told an American Geophysical Union meeting. “The Siberian patch is winning the competition.”


In the world's 'happiest countries,' an increasing number of young people suffer from mental health issues


In international rankings, Australia, New Zealand, Finland and other Nordic nations often come out on top in terms of quality of life, education, or healthcare. When the United Nations released its annual World Happiness Report last year, these countries made it to the Top 10 once again. Surprisingly, however, is that they also led in another, less favourable recent statistic on the ratio of citizens affected by mental health disorders. A separate 2017 study by the World Health Organization concluded that citizens of Australia, Americans, Ukrainians, and Estonians, were more likely to develop depression than people living anywhere else in the world. Other strongly affected nations included New Zealand and Nordic states such as Finland and Denmark.


Studies with a slightly different research focus or methodology have observed similarly severe or even worse mental health issues among children growing up in poorer countries such as India, and it is likely that mental health issues are substantially underreported in many developing nations.


The mental health crisis that increasingly appears to affect young people from wealthier countries has baffled scientists more than other findings that could be explained by inequality or poverty. Australia became the latest country to announce new efforts to combat the growing problem this week, promising Wednesday to fund mental health programs for young people with an additional AUD $34 million. “I want our young people to know they are not alone on their journey,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said, according to a government news release.


Researchers acknowledge that the reasons young people are increasingly anxious or depressed are still not fully understood, but recent studies have cited the use of social media and perceptions of not being able to fulfill expectations of employers, friends, or partners. Numbers collected by the Mission Australia charity from two years ago already showed a sharp increase in the number of young Australians suffering from mental illness, with about 23 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds impacted. More recently, a government study similarly concluded that about 25 percent of all 16- to 24-year-old Australians are believed to struggle with mental illnesses every year. “We are talking about an alarming number of young people facing serious mental illness, often in silence and without accessing the help they need,” said Catherine Yeomans, Mission Australia’s then-CEO.


The same trend was reported in Sweden, where young citizens were 20 percent more likely to be prescribed anxiety medications in 2013 than they were in 2006. Meanwhile, Finnish researchers have observed an even more severe jump in the years since then. In Helsinki alone, the number of children being treated for mental health issues more than doubled within a decade. In Sweden and in some of the other Nordic countries, researchers concluded that mounting mental health problems among younger people are resulting in a widening life satisfaction gap between generations.


People in the Nordic region are generally happier than people in other regions of the world, but despite this there are in fact also people in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden who report to be struggling or even suffering,” wrote the authors of the report ‘In the Shadow of Happiness’, which was released by the Nordic Council of Ministers last year. While 12.3 percent of all Nordic region residents said they were struggling or suffering, that ratio was more than one percentage point higher among 18 to 23-year-olds.


Other researchers caution that growing mental health issues among young people might not be necessarily limited to residents of the nations that perform the best in global statistics, such as Australia and Finland. They say that respondents in countries such as Australia, Sweden, and Finland, where access to health care is relatively easy, may be simply more likely to self-report signs of mental illness, skewing the comparability of those rankings and perhaps hiding a more global trend.


U.S. weekly jobless claims showcase economy's strength


A new report from the United States (U.S.) Labor Department showed that in December 2018, employers hired the most workers within the last ten months and increased wages. The number of Americans filing applications for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength that could further assuage concerns about the economy’s health. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 216,000 for the week ended January 5. Data for the prior week was revised up to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.


The economy created 312,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.9 percent as some unemployed Americans piled into the labor market, confident of their job prospects. Claims were boosted in the week ending December 29 as workers furloughed because of a partial shutdown of the U.S. government applied for benefits. The federal government partially closed on December 22 as President Donald Trump demanded that the U.S. Congress give him USD $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.


The shutdown, which has affected a quarter of the government, including the Commerce Department, has left 800,000 employees furloughed or working without pay. Private contractors working for many government agencies are also not getting paid. Claims by federal workers are reported separately and with a one-week lag. The number of federal employees filing for jobless benefits increased by 3,831 to 4,760 in the week ending December 29. Furloughed federal government workers can submit claims for unemployment benefits, but payment would depend on whether Congress decides to pay their salaries retroactively.


Steep declines in consumer and manufacturing activity in December had stoked fears that the economy was rapidly losing momentum against the backdrop of tightening financial market conditions and slowing global growth. While labor market strength suggests the economy remains on a solid path of expansion, tighter financial market conditions and cooling global growth could make the Federal Reserve cautious about raising interest rates this year. Minutes of the U.S. central bank’s December 18-19 policy meeting published on Wednesday showed “many” officials were of the view that the Fed “could afford to be patient about further policy firming.” The Fed has forecast two rate hikes this year. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and several policymakers have said they would be patient and flexible in policy decisions this year.

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