The Daily Visionary: Friday, November 30, 2018

Photo Credit: UPI

Photo Credit: UPI

President Trump's former lawyer Cohen pleads guilty to misleading Congress


American President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to Congress about a Trump Organization real estate project in Russia, in the latest development in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates during the 2016 American presidential election. Mr. Cohen entered the plea in a surprise thirty-minute federal court appearance in New York City, pleading guilty to making false statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017 about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.


The maximum sentence Cohen faces is five years in prison and a fine of up USD $250,000. The plea agreement makes clear that as part of the deal, Mr. Cohen is cooperating with Mr. Mueller's team on "any and all matters" deemed relevant. Mr. Mueller’s team wrote that Mr. Cohen “will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office for the conduct” or “for any other false statements” or “for aiding or abetting in the obstruction of, or conspiring to obstruct or commit perjury before congressional or grand jury investigations.”


President Trump responded saying, "He is a weak person and not a very smart person. It's very simple. He's got himself a big prison sentence and he's trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story. And here's the thing, even if he's right, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign." President Trump said the "primary reason" he decided not to go forth with the Moscow Project was because of his presidential run, adding, "Everybody knew about it. It was written about in newspapers. It was a well-known project. If I did do it, there would have been nothing wrong."


President Trump also said Mr. Cohen has been implicated in crimes "totally unrelated to the Trump Organization, having to do with mortgages, and having to do with cheating the IRS." Mr. Cohen has been under criminal investigation as part of a grand jury probe into his personal business dealings, including his taxi business and bank fraud, since April, when the FBI raided his home, office, and hotel room to seize a collection of documents as part of the United States (U.S.) Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York’s criminal probe. In August, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making false statements to a financial institution, one count of willfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution.


The excessive campaign contribution was regarding the USD $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election in exchange for her silence about an alleged one-time sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. President Trump denied in April that he knew anything about Mr. Cohen’s payments to Ms. Daniels, though the explanations from the president and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have shifted several times. Mr. Cohen could have received up to sixty-five years in prison if convicted of all charges. However, as part of his plea deal, Mr. Cohen agreed not to challenge any sentence between forty-six and sixty-three months. The deal made in August did not involve a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors. Mr. Cohen, as part of that criminal investigation, is slated to be sentenced in New York City federal court on December 12.


President Trump cancels meeting at G20 with President Putin over Ukraine tensions


American President Donald Trump announced he has canceled a Saturday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Argentina as a result of Russia’s supposed seizure of Ukrainian ships and crews in the Black Sea earlier this week. "Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin,” President Trump tweeted, adding “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!


On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said President Trump is receiving "regular briefings on the Russia/Ukraine situation from his national security team." President Trump told media, “I am getting a report on that tonight and that will determine what happens at the meeting. I’m getting a full report on that tonight. That will be very determinative. Maybe I won’t have the meeting. Maybe I won’t even have the meeting. We’re going to see, depending on what comes out tonight,” and told the Washington Post that “I don’t like that aggression.


However, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state media they are planning on the meeting taking place, saying, “Preparations are continuing. The meeting has been agreed. We have no other information from our U.S. counterparts.”


Massive Impact Crater Found Under Greenland’s Ice


Radar scans and sediment samples indicate a large meteorite blasted through the ice sheet in Greenland between 3 million and 12,000 years ago. Meteorite hits are difficult to find on Earth because the atmosphere limits the size of space rocks that actually crash, and erosion and rainfall often erase traces of ancient impacts. However, some depressions survive, and researchers have now found one of the largest ever impacts discovered trapped beneath the ice of Greenland’s Hiawatha glacier.


Signs of the crater were first detected by NASA’s Operation Icebridge, an airborne mission that has spent three years using radar to track changes in ice on Greenland’s ice sheet. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen who examined the publicly available data noticed an anomaly underneath the ice of Hiawatha that appeared to be a 19-mile-wide, 1,000-foot-deep crater. If confirmed, it will be one of the top twenty-five largest craters known on Earth and the first to be found under the ice. The researchers also collected sediment samples from channels washing out of the crater, which included bits of shocked quartz that can only be formed during a high-energy impact. They conclude that there is a crater locked beneath the ice, as they reported in their study published in the journal Science Advances.


In a press release at the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, lead research author Kurt H. Kjær said, “The crater is exceptionally well-preserved, and that is surprising, because glacier ice is an incredibly efficient erosive agent that would have quickly removed traces of the impactBut that means the crater must be rather young from a geological perspective. So far, it has not been possible to date the crater directly, but its condition strongly suggests that it formed after ice began to cover Greenland, so younger than 3 million years old and possibly as recently as 12,000 years ago—toward the end of the last ice age.”


It’s believed to have been a massive global event, that to create the crater, the iron meteor that struck Greenland would have to be half a mile to a mile across and would have had the force of a 700-megaton warhead. Such an impact would have been felt hundreds of miles away, would have warmed up that area of Greenland and may have rained rocky debris down on North America and Europe.


Some researchers believe it could have had an even more significant impact. About 12,800 years ago toward the end of the last ice age, the world was steadily warming up. Then, abruptly, the paleoclimate record shows that temperatures plummeted back to ice age norms for about 1,000 years, a cooling period called the Younger Dryas that has no definite explanation. According to one theory, a comet impact in Greenland would have melted ice and diluted the ocean current that transports warm water through the Atlantic, causing a re-freeze. Some have even suggested such an event could have led to massive forest fires in Europe and North America, leading to the end of megafauna like the mastodon and the human communities that hunted them, which also disappear from the record around this time. “It’s a very speculative idea, but if this does turn out to be [the link], it would have had an outsize impact on human history,” Joseph MacGregor, a glaciologist with NASA, told Brian Clark Howard at National Geographic.


European Union plans early warning system for fake news ahead of spring elections


Ahead of European Parliament elections in May 2019, the European Union (E.U.) is developing a plan in response to their fears over the spread of ‘fake news’ disseminated by Russia and other hostile powers. The plan, which has been developed by the European Commission over the past six months, will be presented to E.U. leaders a December’s summit, which anticipates a combination of poor turnout, low candidate recognition, and protest voting.


However, the idea faces questions from E.U. member countries over its feasibility and potential impact on media freedom. According to one E.U. diplomat, “Member states who were not particularly engaged on this issue have become more engaged, but there are a number of sensitivities.” Vice-President of the Commission Andrus Ansip, said, “We need a united front to address the threat posed by Russia’s disinformation campaigns. We are talking about state-led disinformation activities, on an industrial scale, meant to undermine our democracy and interfere in our elections.”


Reports would likely be funnelled to the EU diplomatic service’s existing strategic communications regional task forces, where work would dovetail with a proposal for extra funding for one of those regional units, East StratCom, whose activities include a website called EUvsDisinfo, set up to debunk pro-Kremlin propaganda. Another E.U. diplomat said, “It is highly likely that Russian, Syrian and Iranian media channels amplify one another. But Russia’s disinformation constitutes part of a wider hybrid threat that uses a number of tools, levers and non-state actors.


Millions in aid funding misspent on Africa's biggest refugee crisis


An internal inquiry has determined the United Nations (U.N.) refugee agency misspent millions of dollars on Africa's largest refugee crisis, including paying USD $320,000 for what became a parking lot at the Ugandan Prime Minister's office. The inquiry also found the U.N. refugee agency gave a budget of USD $7.9 million to a logistics partner to build more than 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of roads even though "it did not have experience in road construction."


The new report says about USD $11 million alone is now being spent on a recount of South Sudanese who poured into Uganda, to weed out potentially hundreds of thousands of "ghost refugees," whereas over-counting refugees to bring in more funding carries the risk of officials quietly pocketing the difference.


More than a million South Sudanese fled to neighboring Uganda after renewed conflict in the five-year civil war broke out in July 2016, and the U.N. and other humanitarian organizations helped them find food and shelter. Uganda has been praised internationally for welcoming refugees but has faced scrutiny over corruption in the process.


Unresolved from a new peace deal signed in September between the warring sides in South Sudan are concerns that the refugees who fled to Uganda and elsewhere eventually will come under pressure to return home. Previous peace deals have regressed to renewed conflict.