November 2018

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.

The Daily Visionary: Thursday, November 29, 2018

Photo Credit: The Canadian Press

Photo Credit: The Canadian Press

Calgarians protest the federal government twice in a week over lack of energy support


Following the federal government’s fiscal update given in the House of Commons last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau made two separate visits to Calgary, Alberta and were met with angry protestors. Chanting "Build that pipe!", over two thousand Calgarians protested outside the hotel where PM Trudeau gave a lunch address to a subdued business community, and Minister Morneau attracted hundreds of protestors to his own address. There are currently over 100,000 unemployed Calgarians, in a city of over one million, as a direct result of the debilitated energy sector and its broader impact on the economy, as people lose homes and businesses and an increase in suicide rates.


Speaking at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon, PM Trudeau blamed the current low price of Canadian oil, calling it a "crisis" for Alberta, for the prolonged economic hardship though he offered nothing in the way of new help. The provincial government and critics say the federal government isn’t doing enough to help Albertans and the energy sector, pointing to the federal government’s immediate reaction to the announcement GM is closing its Oshawa plant and the lack of a specific line-item in the fiscal update for the sector.


Alberta Premier Rachel Notley responded to say the oil price gap between West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select, which averaged around USD $45 per barrel last month, is costing the Canadian economy CAD $80 million a day. Alberta’s oil sells for a lower price in the United States (U.S.) partially due to the lack of pipeline capacity to move Canadian crude to market. Leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party Jason Kenney, who is expected to win the spring 2019 provincial election, called Trudeau's visit to the province "an insult" and blamed the prime minister for policies that hurt the energy industry, saying, “It is no longer adequate to come out here, pat us on the head and tell us he feels our pain. It's time for action."


PM Trudeau reiterated the federal government was doing what it could to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built, which would triple its capacity to carry oil to tankers on the west coast. The federal government bought Trans Mountain and its expansion project for CAD $4.5 billion last summer, but the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal struck down its approval, citing inadequate Indigenous consultation and failure to consider impacts on marine ecosystems.


The PM pointed to his government’s fiscal update, which included a measure that lets companies write off capital expenditures more quickly, and a tax benefit related to asset depreciation, which he claimed will help businesses. Energy industry leaders, Albertans, and provincial Finance Minister Joe Ceci criticized the Liberal government's fiscal update, saying it failed to include any direct line items that would bolster Alberta's ailing energy sector and help close the price gap between benchmark oil prices and Alberta's oil.


Joining the crowd of protestors, MEG Energy CEO Derek Evans said, "We're already shutting down rigs. We're already pulling back on capital. Until we've got good visibility that we're gonna be able to move this production, either by rail or by future pipelines, capital activity — the investment into the economy — is going to drop dramatically in western Canada."


After his speech to the Chamber, PM Trudeau met with executives from a number of oil and gas companies behind closed doors to discuss the importance of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and concerns over Bill C-69, which includes Ottawa's plans to revamp the assessment process for major energy projects. Executive Vice Chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Steve Laut said, “The accelerated capital cost allowance doesn't matter if the differentials are where they are because no one is going to spend any money."

At Minister Morneau’s speech, he refused to commit to a date when the Trans Mountain pipeline project would be built, saying, "I can't give you an exact timelines because that would not be consistent with the goals that we are trying to achieve.


Senate passes legislation to end Canada Post strike


Canada Post’s mail service resumed across the country this week after the Senate passed legislation, Bill C-89, ordering an end to five weeks of rotating strikes by the postal workers union. The government rushed Bill C-89 through the House of Commons last week, saying passage of the bill was urgent due to the economic impact of continued mail disruptions during the busy holiday season. In response, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers issue a statement declaring that it is "exploring all options to fight the back-to-work legislation."


Canada’s Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) national President Mike Palecek responded to say, "Postal workers are rightly dismayed and outraged. This law violates our right to free collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms." Some senators agreed with that assessment and voted against the bill, however, the majority either disagreed or concluded that it's up to the courts, not Senators, to rule on constitutionality.


Negotiations have been underway for nearly a year, but the dispute escalated more recently when CUPW members launched rotating strikes October 22. Early this week, Labour Minister Patti Hajdu said the special mediator had concluded his work and the two sides were no longer negotiating. Post worker walkouts have resulted in a backlog of mail and parcel deliveries at the Crown corporation's main sorting plants in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.


During debate, Senator Peter Harder told his fellow Senators that failure to quickly pass Bill C-89 would have severe consequences for those who rely on stable mail delivery service, including the elderly, residents in rural and remote areas and, most especially, retailers who use Canada Post to deliver online purchases. He said, “It is the government's strong view that if it does not act now to protect the public interest, it will have acted too late," and argued that postal disruptions are "not merely inconvenient," as “The strikes come at a critical period for retailers. Unlike other kinds of e-commerce transactions ... lost holiday sales are unlikely to be deferred to a later date. They represent real and actual lost business for these companies."


Canada Post said Monday that the backlog of mail and parcels is "severe" and expected to "worsen significantly" once online orders from Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are processed. Canada Post said it expects this backlog will be cleared by March 2019, including international mail; the union has disallowed overtime for postal workers.


Republicans win the Mississippi Senate seat in a runoff vote from midterm elections


Three weeks after American midterm elections, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith has won Mississippi’s Senate seat in an election runoff, defeating former Clinton administration’s Secretary of Agriculture, Democrat Mike Espy, by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. Ms. Hyde-Smith was appointed to the Senate seat in April 2018 by Governor Phil Bryant when Senator Thad Cochran resigned for health reasons. She is the first woman elected to represent Mississippi on Capitol Hill and will serve the remaining two years of former Senator Cochran’s term and be up for re-election in 2020.


In the earlier election, Ms. Hyde-Smith won 41 percent of the vote, Mr. Espy won 40 percent, and conservative Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel won 16 percent. Ms. Hyde-Smith and Mr. Espy qualified for the runoff election as the top two finishers in the November 6 election, in which neither candidate received 50 percent of the vote.


The final party breakdown of the United States Senate in the 116th session of Congress that will convene in Washington in January 2019 is 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats or Independents who caucus with Democrats.


Nigeria’s President doubles down on anti-terrorism after renewed Boko Haram attacks


Shocked by a deadly new series of extremist attacks on soldiers, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari addressed security leaders in Maiduguri city, the birthplace of Boko Haram, by backing off previous declarations that Boko Haram had been defeated and urged the military to “rise to the challenge” and wipe its fighters “from the surface of the earth.” Opposition lawmakers said a November 18 assault on a military base killed forty-four soldiers. The Islamic State West Africa Province, the largest IS-linked extremist group in Africa and a recent Boko Haram offshoot, claimed responsibility. Boko Haram has killed or kidnapped thousands over the years, including the mass abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, and forced scores of children into carrying out suicide bombings.


President Buhari is a former military dictator from the north seeking re-election after making the defeat of the nearly decade-old Islamic insurgency a central goal of his presidency. President Buhari faces growing criticism ahead of next year’s federal election over the government’s failure to end what he called a “must-win war.” He told military chiefs that “I will do everything within my powers to continue empowering you” and vowed to improve soldiers’ welfare, to applause. Soldiers weary of the dangerous operation have at times protested, amid concerns that the global drop in oil prices has hurt funding for military efforts in Nigeria, one of Africa’s top producers of crude.


Even as he acknowledged that the fight against Boko Haram and the IS-linked offshoot was not over, President Buhari told Nigeria’s security chiefs that “there has been remarkable improvement” since he took office in 2015, saying, “We remain committed to ending the crisis in the northeast and making the entire area safe for all,” and urged troops to remain nonpartisan and vigilant as the elections approach.


The president also announced he was convening a meeting on Thursday in Chad of the heads of state of several nations in the vast Lake Chad region. The meeting will review the security situation and “enhance the capacity” of the regional multinational force combating Boko Haram, his office said. The military will put in place a “new proactive strategy” to counter the recent losses, the State House cited the army’s Chief of Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, as saying.


European Union wants member states to be climate neutral by 2050


The European Union’s (E.U.) executive branch has proposed the bloc should cut its emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, a measure some scientists say needs to be adopted worldwide in order to avoid catastrophic global warming. The European Commission is the first major economy to set its sights on achieving climate neutrality in the next three decades. However, its plan, announced days before a global climate summit being held in Poland, is far more ambitious than the national targets set or even closely achieved to date by many of the E.U.’s twenty-eight-member nations.

The Commission cites scientists who say ending the use of fossil fuels, a process known as decarbonization, is one of the most important measures needed to achieve the 2015 Paris climate accord’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. Net zero emissions mean that any greenhouse gases emitted need to be soaked up by forest growth or new technologies that can remove carbon from the atmosphere.


The Commission’s proposal, which was welcomed by environmental groups, isn’t binding, and adds pressure on E.U. nations that have resisted setting tighter goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is expected to miss its goals for 2020 and Chancellor Angela Merkel has objected to raising the nation’s emissions reduction target for 2030 from 40 percent to 45 percent.


Symbolically, the 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24, is being held on the site of a Katowice mine in Poland that was closed in 1999 after 176 years of coal production. World leaders are gathering to agree on the fine print at the climate summit, held between December 2 and 14, three years after the global climate deal in Paris. “Looking from the outside perspective, it’s an impossible task,” said Poland’s deputy Environment Minister, Michal Kurtyka.


Top of the agenda will be finalizing the so-called Paris rulebook, which determines how countries have to count their greenhouse gas emissions, transparently report them to the rest of the world, and reveal what they are doing to reduce them. Many participants believe the Paris goals can only be met by cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050. However, the Paris agreement let countries set their own emissions targets, and most nations are far off the mark from their targets.


Convincing countries to set new, tougher targets for emissions reduction by 2020 will entail a transformation of all sectors of each nation’s economies, including a complete end to burning fossil fuel. Poor nations want rich countries to pledge the biggest cuts, claiming they are responsible for most of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which is factually inaccurate, as developing nations are the greatest polluters without rigorous environmental regulations. Rich countries say they are willing to lead the way, but only if poor nations play their part as well.


The United States (U.S.) under President Donald Trump recently withdrew from the Paris agreement, signed up former President Barack Obama. Brazil and Australia appear to be heading in the same direction.

The Daily Visionary: Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

France protests continue against President Macron’s fuel tax, supported by citizens instead of unions


French President Emmanuel Macron refused to drop the fuel hikes that sparked nationwide protests but promised to make them fairer. Citizens are angry over planned hikes in “green taxes” on diesel and petrol which has morphed into a wider revolt against basic living costs, high taxes, and a sense of state abandonment in suburban and provincial France. The federal government will increase fuel taxes in January, which protesters say penalises rich and poor alike. Almost eight in ten French citizens support the "Yellow Jacket" protests, according to a poll published last week.


The fuel tax has become an outlet for people to express their discontent with the high cost of living in France and with Macron's presidency generally. A poll published last Friday found that only 26 percent of French citizens have a favorable opinion of Macron. On January 1, the tax on gasoline will go up by 12 cents per gallon and on diesel by 28 cents per gallon, according to French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne. Gas taxes will go up by another 5 cents per gallon by 2020, with diesel jumping an additional 2 cents. As of this week, gasoline cost around USD $6.26 per gallon in Paris, while diesel was around USD $6.28 a gallon.


During the two weeks of protests by protesters dubbed “yellow vests” due to the high-visibility jackets they wear, two people have been killed and more than six hundred injured across France. President Macron said he understood the anger but criticized riots this past weekend on Paris’ Champs-Elysées as “war scenes” that risked tarnishing France’s image abroad. In one minor concession, President Macron proposed to review fuel tax rates quarterly to consider global oil prices. “The end of the world and the end of the month: we will and must manage both,” he said. He invited “yellow vest” representatives to take part in three months of grassroots discussions on how to create a "popular energy transition" that doesn't penalise the poor. Protesters were unimpressed and reiterated their anger and sentiment that the President is not genuinely listening to their concerns.


Despite showing sympathy for provincial voters affected by the rising fuel prices, President Macron said there's a "paradox" in the country where people wanted to cut taxes but keep a generous welfare state. He said his government had to “change method” to ensure there was no "two-speed France" where workers living outside cities felt forgotten by an urban elite. The President also announced plans to shut down fourteen of the country's fifty-eight nuclear reactors currently in operation by 2035, with between four and six closed by 2030. The government is also encouraging more people to car share and take public transportation instead of driving. Macron said he will also encourage the manufacturing of electronic cars and a better insulation of existing buildings. President Macron reiterated his support for reducing nuclear energy to 50 percent in 2035.


Joseph Downing, an expert in French politics at the London School of Economics, agreed that the protests were about "much more" than taxes on gas. "It's this entire idea of the squeezed middle or the squeezed upper working-class person who feels an entitlement to an ever-increasing standard of living but is something that no politician can deliver," he said. "This is where we've seen disenfranchisement with Sarkozy, with Hollande and now with Macron."


Emmanuel Macron is a 40-year-old former investment banker who swept to power last year under a new political party brand promising to end decades of high unemployment and to reform the European Union by aiming to loosen French labour laws and reform the social security system. Protests in France are typically organized and led by the country’s powerful unions, who President Macron has positioned himself against the unions with his labour market reforms, which made it easier for companies to hire and fire employees. Since President Macron’s election, French unions have failed to attract large crowds to demonstrate against the reforms. This "Yellow Jacket" movement has been organized for the most part over social media with Facebook groups and trending hashtags resulting in supporters descending into the streets. Mr. Downing said this self-organized approach was a relatively new phenomenon in France which has historically relied on unions to organize dissent. "I think there is a lot of disillusionment with the unions as well," he said. Mr. Krumbmüller said the fact that this protest was not organized by unions suggests it represents a "broader population" of people.


International lawmakers investigate Facebook's effect on politics


Twenty-four official representatives from nine countries form an international committee on disinformation and 'fake news', which is questioning Facebook in the British parliament. Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Zuckerberg, left his seat vacant next to the company’s Vice President of policy solutions, Richard Allan, who is fielding questions from the committee. Facebook is being investigated by lawmakers in Britain after consultancy Cambridge Analytica obtained the personal data of eighty-seven million Facebook users from a researcher, drawing attention to the use of data analytics in politics.


Concerns over the social media giant’s practices, the role of political advertisements, and possible foreign interference in the 2016 Brexit vote and United States (U.S.) elections are among the topics being investigated by British and European regulators. Mr. Zuckerburg appeared in front of the American Senate judiciary committee earlier this year.


At the special international hearing at Britain’s parliament, Canadian lawmaker Charlie Angus said, "We've never seen anything quite like Facebook, where, while we were playing on our phones and apps, our democratic institutions ... seem to have been upended by frat-boy billionaires from California … So, Mr. Zuckerburg's decision not to appear here in Westminster to me speaks volumes".


Mr. Allen said Facebook complies with European Union (E.U.) data protection laws but admitted the company has made mistakes, “I’m not going to disagree with you that we’ve damaged public trust through some of the actions we’ve taken.


Dairy remains a sticking point between the U.S. and Canada in a new North American trade pact


During negotiation talks for the new U.S. – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA) American negotiators objected to Canada’s protected internal market for dairy products, which remains a problem ahead of the trade agreement signing at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina this weekend.


During negotiations, United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump repeatedly demanded concessions on dairy and accused Canada of hurting U.S. farmers with high tariffs. Canada agreed to scrap a class of milk that U.S. producers said was tantamount to circumventing anti-dumping rules and offered 3.5 percent of the domestic market. In exchange, the U.S. backed off efforts to force Canada to scrap supply management, a complex arrangement of production quotas and import tariffs designed to protect the domestic industry.


There’s been good progress but it’s true that not everything is done. There is some concern on dairy; there are transparency issues with Canada’s pricing scheme,” said one U.S. source. Michael Dykes, President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Dairy Foods Association, said Washington has sought to ensure any loopholes that would prevent access on dairy are closed. “The U.S. wanted greater transparency to avoid any trickery ... (it) has a long history of challenges trying to determine what exactly the dairy policy is in Canada,” he said in an interview.


Google faces major fines from the E.U. for the "deceptive" way it track users’ locations


Consumer agencies in seven European Union (E.U.) countries have asked privacy regulators to take action against Google for allegedly breaching the bloc's new privacy law, claiming Google has failed to give users "straightforward information" about how their data is being used through location data tracked by Google, which they argue could reveal someone’s religious beliefs, political activity, health and sexual orientation. The allegations come in the wake of the discovery that tracking by Google continues even if users turn off "Location History"; a separate function, Web & App Activity, must be turned off to fully prevent GPS tracking.


Director General of E.U. Consumer Organisation, BEUC Monique Goyens said, “Google’s data hunger is notorious but the scale with which it deceives its users to track and monetise their every move is breathtaking. [Google] is not respecting fundamental GDPR principles, such as the obligation to use data in a lawful, fair and transparent manner… The situation is more than alarming. Smartphones are being used for spying on our every move.”


The E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, came into force on May 25, 2018. Under the rules, companies must provide details about how data is collected and retained. They must also give users the “right to be forgotten” and notify the E.U.’s Information Commissioner’s Office of breaches within 72 hours.

Failure to do so could result in a 4 percent fine of the previous year’s annual global turnover, or €20 million, whichever is higher.


A Google spokesman said, "Location History is turned off by default, and you can edit, delete, or pause it at any time. If it’s on, it helps improve services like predicted traffic on your commute. If you pause it, we make clear that – depending on your individual phone and app settings – we might still collect and use location data to improve your Google experience. We’re constantly working to improve our controls, and we'll be reading this report closely to see if there are things we can take on board."


Google is already facing a lawsuit in the United States (U.S.) for tracking the location of users using their searches and web activity. San Diego resident Napoleon Patacsil issued the legal challenge in California, U.S., stating Google's "principal goal was to surreptitiously monitor [the claimant] and to allow third-parties to do the same."


Alternative bible seeks to 'end submission” and empower women in holy text


Two female professors from Geneva University in Switzerland have joined theologians from around the world in creating a new take on the bible, which seeks to show women mentioned in the holy text in a new light. Twenty Protestant and Catholic women theologians across four generations ranging from thirty years old to over seventy years old, from Quebec, Switzerland, France, Africa, Belgium, and Germany came together to produce the alternative book of women.


Professor at Geneva University's Faculty of Theology Elisabeth Parmentier said they were inspired to take the action because they were tired of seeing the bible "legitimise" a “submission of women,” and "this is a book not just for women but for men, too." Ms. Parmentier said, “Our older women are the most powerful of feminists and are the strongest women in feminism. The younger people are also strong feminists, and this is interesting because it shows we have to again take-up women’s liberation today. We have come back to those old stereotypes which makes our looks more important than wisdom and also the liberation of sexual harassment. So, we really have to fight again. It’s a difficulty.”


Ms. Parmentier said the book isn’t really a bible, adding, “It’s more a series of commentaries on biblical texts used in the past for the domestication of women. We wanted to show that bible text was very empowering for women, even those (texts) which were considered to silence women or domesticate women. For example, in Gospel of Luke, there’s the famous story of Martha and Maria, the two sisters. Jesus visits them, and Martha was serving the meal and Maria was sitting at the feet of Jesus and listened to his words and this text was used to show that women one side are to serve and the other to be silent and listen to words of the church. Actually, if you read the text in Greek, the verb is not serving, the word is holding a service which can also be doing the ministry, like a deacon. In the Greek original, Martha is not serving a meal and that she could be serving communion. That she’s not just a housewife but could be a disciple who has a responsibility to serve in the church.”


When asked why men translated the bible to make women subservient, Ms. Partmentier said it was too dangerous at the time to allow women a voice as it was not acceptable in the culture and would have changed the models of behaviour. She said, “It's nothing new, but now we think that women must know this. The bible is no longer an instrument to help dominate them. It’s not right and we want the bible to be known in another way as it’s empowering for women. We want to share it with people who do not know the bible. It’s not for specialists. It’s for people who don’t know the bible to let them know that we must look at it in another way.”

The Daily Visionary: Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Photo Credit: iNews

Photo Credit: iNews

Ukraine imposes martial law after Russia allegedly seizes three of their ships


One day after Russia allegedly fired at three Ukrainian naval vessels near Russia-occupied Crimea, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko made a motion to impose martial law, which was supported by a vote in Ukraine's parliament. "We consider it as an act of aggression against our state and a very serious threat," President Petro Poroshenko said Monday, "Unfortunately, there are no 'red lines' for the Russian Federation." President Poroshenko demanded Russia immediately release the sailors and ship seized, then signed a decree to introduce martial law across the country, which will include partial mobilization and strengthening of the country's air defense, saying, “The introduction of martial law does not involve measures related to limiting the rights and freedoms of citizens or the introduction of censorship”.


Three Ukrainian ships and crews were seized by Russian coast guard ships after the Russian vessel rammed a Ukrainian tugboat transporting artillery boats from Odessa on the Black Bea to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov, via the Kerch Strait. The Kerch Strait is Ukraine’s only access between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which is spanned by a twenty-kilometer bridge completed by Russia this year.


The two countries have been locked in a stalemate since Russia militarily annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014. The capture of the three Ukrainian vessels comes after months of incidents in the Sea of Azov that has involved inspections and seizures of ships. Despite a 2003 treaty designating the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters, Russia has continued to assert greater control over the passage since its annexation of Crimea.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Ukraine violated international law and provoked Russia by sending its navy vessels through the Kerch Strait without permission, a claim Ukraine's Ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.) Volodymyr Yelchenko called an "outright lie". The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, “It’s obvious that this painstakingly thought-through and planned provocation was aimed at igniting another source of tension in the region in order to create a pretext to ramp up sanctions against Russia,” and  “We’d like to warn the Ukrainian side that the policy of provoking a conflict with Russia in the area of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, which has been pursued by Kiev in coordination with the United States and the European Union, is fraught with serious consequences.”


The European Union and NATO called for restraint from both sides. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expressed the military alliance’s “full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including its full navigational rights in its territorial waters under international law.


NASA predicts a long cold space winter due to decreased solar activity


NASA said sunspot activity on the surface of our galaxy’s sun has diminished so much that record low temperatures could soon hit space. The result is cooler space weather which does not affect the Earth's climate. Martin Mlynczak at NASA’s Langley Research Center clarified that there was no relationship between temperatures in space and that on Earth, saying "There is no relationship between the natural cycle of cooling and warming in the thermosphere and the weather/climate at Earth’s surface.


We see a cooling trend,” said Mr. Mlynczak, “High above Earth’s surface, near the edge of space, our atmosphere is losing heat energy … If current trends continue, it could soon set a Space Age record for cold.” He went on to describe how solar minimum can enhance the effects of space weather, disrupt communications and navigation, and even cause space junk to "hang around".


Mr. Mlynczak and his colleagues recently introduced the "Thermosphere Climate Index" (TCI), which measures how much heat nitric oxide (NO) molecules are dumping into space. The results come from the SABER instrument onboard NASA’s TIMED satellite, that monitor infrared emissions from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO). By measuring the infrared glow of these molecules, SABER can assess the thermal state of gas at the very top of the atmosphere, a layer researchers call “the thermosphere”. When the thermosphere cools, it shrinks, making the radius of the Earth's atmosphere smaller. This means it can delay the natural decay of space junk, resulting in a more cluttered environment around Earth.


Mr. Mlynczak said, “SABER is currently measuring 33 billion Watts of infrared power from NO. That’s 10 times smaller than we see during more active phases of the solar cycle,” and “The thermosphere always cools off during Solar Minimum. It’s one of the most important ways the solar cycle affects our planet.”


Mexicans approve the President-elect's proposals in referendum


President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office on December 1, put forth ten projects that were all approved in a referendum vote Monday, Critics questioned the referendum results, with voter turnout at approximately one for every ninety registered voters. A total of 946,000 people participated in the weekend referendum, which was the second that has been held since President-elect Lopez Obrador was elected in a landslide.


"Look at what the petition-signers don't know, I say it with all respect and I recognize the majority are very smart people, but as amazing it sounds, they need to make contact with the people in the countryside," President-elect Lopez Obrador wrote of his critics, including environmentalists who question his most controversial plan, a train to connect main tourist attractions across the Yucatan Peninsula, from Merida to resorts including Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum before it continues through sparsely populated areas such as Bacalar, Calakmul, and Palenque. Experts say the northern leg of the route makes economic sense, however the southern part does not as it runs through a jungle.


A native of the southern state of Tabasco, President-elect Lopez Obrador has vowed to champion projects in the country's often poor and underdeveloped southeast. The referendum also approved plans to construct an oil refinery, build a rail link between the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, raise supplementary payments for the elderly, implement a massive reforestation program, and offer free internet and better health care. Each ballot measure, including those concerning youth scholarships and work-training programs, received between 90 and 95 percent approval. In particular, President-elect Lopez Obrador is irritated by the fact that Mexico imports much of its refined gasoline from the United States (U.S.) because its own refineries aren't up to the task.


Investigation is launched into 'monstrous' claims a Chinese scientist genetically edited humans


In a YouTube video posted Monday, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China said his goal was to give the babies a natural ability to resist HIV when he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatment, which had led to the birth of twins earlier this month. The Chinese university has launched an investigation into He’s claims, saying that He has been on unpaid leave since February and warned the research was a “serious violation of academic ethics and norms.” A joint statement from a group of 100 scientists in China criticized the project, calling it “a great blow” to the country’s reputation.


He posted five videos altogether Monday, saying he used the gene editing technology known as Crispr to rewrite the DNA of twin girls and claimed the experiment had "worked safely as intended" and that the girls were "as healthy as any other babies.” In the videos, the scientist defended his work, saying in one, "I understand my work will be controversial, but I believe families need this technology. And I’m willing to take the criticism for them." Despite providing no evidence or documentation to back up the claims, He said he plans to share data about the trial at a scientific forum this week in Hong Kong and promised his results would be submitted for peer review and published.


Feng Zhang, one of the inventors of gene editing technology Crisp called for a global moratorium, saying he was “deeply concerned” by the lack of transparency. The issue of genetic editing is deeply controversial, and though scientists in Britain and the United States (U.S.) have experimented with genetic editing in human embryos, but it is currently illegal to implant them. Last September, scientists at Sun Yat-sen University, China used an adapted version of gene-editing to correct a disease-causing mutation in human embryos, but they were destroyed after a few weeks of fertilisation.


Director of Human Genetics Alert Dr. David King said, “If these claims are true, the world has changed – it’s a day that I and many others have dreaded. But it underscores the need for an immediate global ban on the cloning and genetic engineering of human beings.


Professor Julian Salulescu, an expert in medical ethics from Oxford University said that in most other countries he would be facing jail. “If true, this experiment is monstrous,” he said. “These healthy babies are being used as genetic guinea pigs. This is genetic Russian Roulette. It exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit and contravenes decades on ethical consensus and guidelines on the protection of human participants in research. In many other places in the world, this would be illegal punishable by imprisonment.”


General Motors announces the closing of eight manufacturing plants globally


General Motors has announced its intention to close eight manufacturing facilities and cut 15 percent of its workforce next year as part of its global restructuring and an effort to free up USD $6 billion per year in cash by 2020. Five of the factories are located in North America, including Oshawa, Canada, Detroit and Warren in Michigan, Warren, Ohio, a site near Baltimore in Maryland, plus one in South Korea, and two additional undisclosed international locations.


GM’s rationale follows rising costs, including from new tariffs on materials such as steel, and slower car sales as buyers in North America have turned away from smaller cars to bigger vehicles such as SUVs and trucks, which now make up nearly 70 percent of total car purchases in the United States (U.S.), and investment in electric and autonomous vehicles, which are expected to drive future industry growth.


Ohio’s Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown called the decision "corporate greed at its worst" while the state’s Republican Senator Rob Portman said he was "deeply frustrated". U.S. President Trump said he thought pressure on GM would lead it to direct new work to the plants, at least in Ohio. Labour unions in Canada and the U.S. also said they would press the company to allocate more work to the factories, instead of closing them.


During the 2009 global financial crisis, the Canadian federal government offered automakers a CAD $10.8 billion bailout in loans, share purchases, and subsidies. Some of that money was paid back, however the net loss is between CAD $4 billion to $5 billion, including a CAD $1 billion loan write-off. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he expressed his "deep disappointment" in the closure of the Oshawa GM plant, which is sixty-five years old and currently employs 2,522 works, compared to nearly 23,000 thirty-five years ago. The plant accounts for 6 percent of total vehicle production in Canada, according to Scotiabank economist Juan Manuel Herrera, who publishes the bank's monthly Global Auto Report, and said production in Oshawa was set to decline next year by 40 percent from current levels because the vehicle models made there aren't big sellers.

The Daily Visionary: Monday, November 26, 2018

Photo Credit: National Post

Photo Credit: National Post

Canadian PM Trudeau Gives CAD $595 Million Tax Relief to ‘Eligible’ News Media


Less than a year ahead of Canada’s next national election, and as part of the federal government’s economic update last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government will give CAD $595 million over the next five years in a fifteen percent non-refundable tax credit to “eligible” news outlets. Eligibility is to be determined by the government and government-established panels, which critics argue will erode journalistic independence, and political and news media figures described as corrupt.


The tax credit will take effect January 1, 2019 and apply to the labour costs associated with producing original content and will be open to both non-profit and for-profit news organizations. It includes tax breaks for consumers who purchase subscriptions from news media outlets, refundable tax credits for news media outlets’ operational costs, and the extension of charitable status to non-profit news media organizations. Registered charities with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can issue charitable receipts to donors and benefactors for donations.




·         A temporary, non-refundable 15 percent tax credit for qualifying subscribers of “eligible” digital news media to help support digital news organizations achieve a “more financially sustainable business model”;

·         A new tax category of “qualified donee” for non-profit journalism organizations allowing them to issue receipts for donations from both individuals and corporations and foundations to provide financial support;

·         A refundable tax credit for qualifying news organizations that “produce a wide variety of news and information of interest to Canadians.”


There was nearly unanimous positive response from mainstream media, who praised the announcement. Chair of Torstar, which owns the Toronto Star, John Honderich said, “I am very encouraged by these positive steps. They should significantly help the media sector as it transforms to a sustainable digital future.” John Hinds, president and CEO of News Media Canada, which represents 800 daily, weekly, and community newspapers, called the measures “substantive” and said, “They listened to us in terms of the types of investments, they focused it on journalism. There’s lots of details to be worked out and we will continue to do that. The biggest issue was recognizing the challenge.” Hinds praised the government for not “picking out business models.


The Conservative Official Opposition were critical saying government aid would taint journalistic independence. Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Kent, a retired journalist, said, “It certainly gives the impression of potentially affecting, not necessarily individual journalists, but the organizations, the companies, the employers that they work for. When the media, or media organizations, or in fact, individual journalist jobs are dependent on government subsidies that is the antithesis of a free and independent press." MP Pierre Poilievre said taxpayers’ money should not be used to support media organizations, especially in an election year. “We think that media should be independent from the government, we should not have a situation where the government picks a panel that then decides who gets to report the news,” he said on Parliament Hill, and “The media should be free and independent from the government.”


China’s President Jinping aims to expand China’s influence in Central America and the G20 meeting


 Next week, China’s President and Leader of the Communist Party Xi Jinping will visit Panama to expand his regime’s growing influence over the Americas, China’s foreign ministry announced Friday. From November 30 to December 1, President Xi and United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump will meet at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires and are expected to discuss their ongoing trade war as each of the world’s two largest economies assert their dominance for geopolitical influence of the region.


On December 3, President Xi will meet with Panama’s President Juan Carlos to sign over two dozen agreements on sectors including science, technology, commerce, and infrastructure. China’s decision to strengthen diplomatic ties comes after Panama’s government announced last year that it would abandon its allegiance to Taiwan and support the one-China principle, which does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. China recently hosted leaders from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, promising increased investment and generous aid packages after both countries also announced they would cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of supporting the one-China principle.


The number of university students studying Spanish and Portuguese in China has increased dramatically, indicating the nation’s growing strategic interest in the region. Panama, for example, is widely considered an area of strategic importance to U.S. influence the western hemisphere, with the eighty-two kilometer/fifty-one-mile Panama Canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. China’s government has long considered the continent full of opportunities to expand its own influence, mainly by using its economic and financial power to forge predatory relationships with some of the continent’s most impoverished nations and ideologically sympathetic governments.


Last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned smaller countries not to be seduced by China’s promises of economic security, arguing that such packages lead to countries experiencing “serious debt problems from accepting loans that are not transparent.”


Latin America studies expert at Taiwan’s Tamkang University Francisco Luis Perez told the South China Morning Post that Panama may be less willing to bow down to China because of fears of damaging their relationship with the U.S. Perez said, “Following the stern warnings from the United States, Xi’s trip keeps on being a potential bargaining chip to get things from the US, but it also constitutes a serious risk of creating tensions with a geographically close power. “I do not expect Panama to risk and make strategic or political pacts with China during the trip, but instead to focus on economic issues without much military or strategic impact.”


Tijuana Mayor declares a humanitarian crisis and criticizes the federal government’s response


Tijuana, Mexico Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum Buenrostro declared a humanitarian crisis in response to more than five thousand migrants who are part of the caravan attempting to seek asylum in the United States. Mayor Buenrostro said the federal government has failed to provide adequate aid for the migrant caravan that flooded into the city, and additional migrants are expected to arrive daily.


I am not going to compromise Tijuana’s public services,” said Mayor Buenrostro, who vowed not to bankrupt his city to care for the thousands of migrants. The mayor called on international groups including the United Nations to assist with the migrant crisis in the absence of a response from the federal government of Mexico.


Mayor Buenrostro has been praised by Tijuana citizens for his hardline approach in handling the migrant crisis. According to local media reports, the mayor was observed wearing a red hat that read, “Make Tijuana Great Again”, a reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign slogan. Tijuanans recently took to the streets to protest the growing influx of Central American migrants.


Additional caravans are about to arrive. Government authorities in nearby Mexicali announced fifteen buses escorted by federal police arrived late last week, with seven hundred and fifty migrants primarily from Honduras, plus an additional four hundred migrants. Local media reports indicate that three hundred of these migrants decided to leave Mexicali on foot and head towards Tijuana.


Facebook increasingly used for human trafficking and illegal animal trading


In yet another scandal for Facebook, a seventeen-year-old child bride from South Sudan was just sold through Facebook to become a man’s ninth wife, and Facebook only took the post down two weeks after the auction had taken place. The girl was sold by her family to a man three times her age following a bidding war with “at least four other men” including “the state’s deputy governor” in exchange for “Five hundred cows, two luxury cars, $10,000, two bikes, a boat and a few cell phones.”


When Facebook finally responded two weeks after the auction had taken place, they claimed it had permanently suspended the account that made the auction post. “Any form of human trafficking — whether posts, pages, ads or groups is not allowed on Facebook. We removed the post and permanently disabled the account belonging to the person who posted this to Facebook,” stated a Facebook spokesman, “We’re always improving the methods we use to identify content that breaks our policies, including doubling our safety and security team to more than 30,000 and investing in technology.” Plan International’s South Sudan Country Director George Otim declared, “This barbaric use of technology is reminiscent of latter-day slave markets. That a girl could be sold for marriage on the world’s biggest social networking site in this day and age is beyond belief.”


This is not the first time Facebook has had problems with human trafficking on its platforms. In October, four Indonesians were arrested after they allegedly sold babies on Facebook-owned Instagram, on an account that gained over seven hundred followers. The Vice-Chairman of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, Rita Pranawati, claimed that some people attempt to buy babies when they want to adopt, but do not meet the adoption criteria and that children have also previously been bought for “underage sex work.”


Facebook’s policies clearly prohibit the sale of live animals, pets, livestock, and pelts on their platform, however, the website’s Marketplace has been used to trade drugs, weapons, sex, and humans before the social network eventually discovered such listings and shut them down. Both Facebook and Instagram have also been used by the black market for illegal animal trading, including endangered animals which are banned from sale internationally. Over 1,500 illegal animal listings were discovered on twelve Facebook groups in one month, including animals such as the Eurasian otter, the black spotted turtle, the helmeted hornbill, the Siamese crocodile, the Asiatic black bear, the palm civet, and the slow loris — the most common listing. “Facebook does not allow the sale or trade of endangered species or their parts, and we remove this material as soon as we are aware of it,” said a Facebook spokesman.


Hungary votes No to the U.N.'s Migration Compact for attempting to ‘legalise illegal immigration’


Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó confirmed Hungary will be voting “No” to the United Nations’ (U.N.) Global Compact for Safe and Orderly Migration in Marrakesh, Morocco, next month, saying the government’s main issue with the Compact is “whether or not it is mandatory, and in view of the fact that the document contains the word ‘obligation’ on eighty occasions, the claim that it only includes recommendations is a false one. A legally not binding document would not prescribe the establishment of national action plans, and accordingly it is ‘clearer than day’ that, just like the originally voluntary mandatory quota, the Global Compact for Migration will become a point of reference, mandatory, and the basis for international judicial decisions.


Minister Szijjártó said the UN Migration Pact for attempting to “legalise illegal immigration. The goal of the UN Global Compact for Migration is to legalise illegal immigration, which is totally unacceptable and violates the sovereignty of member states, including that of Hungary. The UN is making the same mistake as the European Union, which wants to base its own migration policy on mandatory resettlement quotas.” He continued, “The UN Compact is more dangerous, however, because it is a global initiative, meaning it will have a greater effect than [European] policy, and represents a risk to the whole world.


Several other countries, including the United States, Australia, and Israel have said that they will not sign the document. Dutch Member of European Parliament (MEP) and Co-President of the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group Marcel de Graaff said, “it is still the legal framework on which the participating countries commit themselves to build new legislation.” Calling it “a legalisation of mass migration” and “It’s declaring migration a human right.”


Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is responsible for the European migrant crisis that started in 2014, made an impassioned defence of the U.N. Migration Compact, saying there should be “no compromise” on global mass migration and condemned opposition as “nationalism in its purest form.”


Belgian law professor Pierre d’Argent warned that the migration document, like other U.N. agreements, could be used by lawyers in interpreting laws and as a basis for making criticism of mass migration illegal, saying, “One basic element of this new agreement is the extension of the definition of hate speech … Criticism of migration will become a criminal offence. Media outlets that give room to criticism of migration can be shut down.” de Graaff added, “In fact, it will become impossible to criticize Merkel’s ‘welcome migrants’ politics without being at risk to be jailed for hate speech.” German law professor Matthias Herdegen noted the U.N. compact occupied a “legal grey area” which “gives the impression of [state] liability.”

The Daily Visionary: Friday, November 23, 2018

Photo Credit: Yahoo

Photo Credit: Yahoo

Poland amends Supreme Court changes, ignoring E.U. condemnation


Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) passed a legislative amendment through Parliament on Wednesday reversing changes it had made at the Supreme Court that the European Union (E.U.) condemned as undemocratic. The European Union's top court has ordered Poland to "immediately suspend" its decision to lower the retirement age of its Supreme Court judges, which it said threatens judicial independence. The E.U. had led unprecedented proceedings against Poland over "systemic threats" to the rule of law that could see its EU voting rights suspended. The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, also took Poland's government to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for lowering the age at which Supreme Court judges must retire from 70 to 65.


The PiS formed government in 2015 and enjoys strong public support, benefiting from strong economic growth, generous welfare spending, and nationalist rhetoric. The government defended the April 3 retirement law as part of reforms needed to tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by the communist era. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, "We will see what these (EU) institutions are proposing. When we take them into consideration, several possibilities will be analysed." Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told Parliament, “We are fulfilling our obligations. At the same time, we are pushing forwards with our changes in the justice system.


In October, the European Court of Justice ordered Poland to suspend the judicial overhaul which had forced many judges to retire, effectively enabling PiS to select their replacements, one of several steps the E.U. said weakened the country’s rule of law. Since its implementation, more than twenty Supreme Court judges, or one-third of the total, have been forced to quit. Under Wednesday’s amendment, judges who were retired can return to work.


U.S. President Trump warns of government shutdown next month over border security


United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump warned there could be a government shutdown next month over security on the border with Mexico, suggesting he could hold up a funding deal if no more money is provided for a wall between the two countries. The U.S. Congress faces a deadline next month to fund parts of the federal government and a possible showdown over money for Trump’s proposed border wall. Democrats, who gained control of the House in this month’s midterm elections said they will be even less motivated than before to meet Trump’s wall demands. If the Republicans and Democrats cannot reach a funding deal, there would be a partial government shutdown, with so-called “essential services,” including some at the Department of Homeland Security, remaining in operation.


President Trump said he has given the military the authorization to use lethal force if necessary, on the border with Mexico, and warned that the United States could close the whole border with Mexico for a period of time “if we find that it gets to a level where we are going to lose control, or our people are going to start getting hurt.” This would mean “Mexico will not be able to sell their cars into the United States,” he added. Vehicle exports from Mexico to the United States in 2017 totaled 2.3 million units.


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that he had been granted authority to allow troops on the Mexican border greater powers to help protect border officials and would await direction from the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Mattis said troops could help protect the border agents with shields and batons but would be unarmed.


China builds on a new reef in the South China Sea, escalating regional tension and risk of war


China, which has been aggressively claiming strategic waterway, the South China Sea, by building of military and other installations on artificial islands and reefs has raised concerns over the possibility of military conflict or war for areas surrounding the country China. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Brunei have competing claims in the South China Sea. Earlier this month, the United States (U.S.) once again urged China to halt militarization of the South China Sea, but China said it had the right to build “necessary defense facilities” on what it considers its own territory and urged Washington to stop sending warships and military planes close to the islands that Beijing claims. China has frequently lambasted the U.S. and its allies for freedom of navigation naval operations near to Chinese-occupied islands.


The islands China occupies are off-limits to foreigners, with access under the effective control of the People’s Liberation Army though they are technically administratively part of China’s southern Hainan province. China has said some civilian facilities on the islands are intended for use by others in the region, but the government has given few details about how that may work in practice.


Now, China has installed a new platform on a remote part of the Paracel Islands, which could be used for military purposes, according to recent satellite images reviewed by a U.S. think tank. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said the images showed a “modest new structure” on Bombay Reef, topped by a radome and solar panels, saying the purpose of the platform and radome was unclear, but it could be for military use. “The development is interesting given Bombay Reef’s strategic location, and the possibility that the structure’s rapid deployment could be repeated in other parts of the South China Sea,” ASTI said, “The reef is directly adjacent to the major shipping lanes that run between the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south, making it an attractive location for a sensor array to extend Chinese radar or signals intelligence collection over that important sea lane.


China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Chinese sovereignty over the Paracel Islands was not in dispute, and there is nothing wrong with China carrying out construction work on its own territory. However, Vietnam also claims the Paracel Islands.


In their paper published by the Central Party School, which trains future and rising officials, China’s Study Times wrote, “Unprecedented outside military interference is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea. Without the strong deterrence power of our military in the South China Sea, then protecting regional peace and stability is merely idle theorizing and falls short of what we would wish.” The paper’s authors go on to say there must be a greater role for non-military actors in the South China Sea, and “facilities on the reefs and islands of the South China Sea should be more civilian and less military,” meaning more focus on building lighthouses, civilian airports, maritime search and rescue, scientific research and weather forecasting. “Just as the Chinese government has repeatedly stressed, after the completion of the island facilities, they will actively provide relevant public security products and services to regional countries,” the paper said, to help the international community with counter-terror and anti-piracy operations, to jointly safeguard peace and security in the South China Sea.


An influential Chinese state-run newspaper said China should put more focus on building civilian facilities on islands in the South China Sea and less emphasis on the military to soothe regional fears about China’s intentions.


Swiss vote in a referendum Sunday on whether their iconic cows should be with or without horns


Switzerland votes this Sunday in a referendum on preserving the “dignity of livestock”, initiated by farmer Armin Capaul and whether to subsidize farmers who let their cows’ and goats’ horns grow naturally. The latest poll says the vote is too close to call. “We must respect cows as they are. Leave them their horns. When you look at them they always hold their head high and are proud. When you remove the horns, they are sad,” he told Reuters on his small farm in northwestern Switzerland. Swiss cows are a national symbol and tourist attraction, and three-quarters of them are dehorned or genetically hornless.


Capaul, who says horns help cows communicate and regulate their body temperature, wants a CHF 190 annual subsidy per horned animal for farmers. He says that “listening” to his cows inspired his nine-year campaign for cash to fund extra grazing space horned animals need and which he hopes will reduce dehorning. When political lobbying failed, he collected over 100,000 signatures to trigger a national vote.


The government opposes his campaign saying it would drain up to CHF 30 million from its CHF 3 billion annual agricultural budget and is a burden on the constitution. “In Switzerland it’s usual for issues to be brought to the people for a vote - every important question or less important question,” Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said.


Critics of dehorning say the procedure is painful and unnatural, whereas supporters compare it to castrating cats or dogs and argue it is a safety issue. Stefan Gilgen, whose 48 cows provide 1,000 liters of milk daily to Swiss dairy Emmi AG, said, “Our current system in the stable has advantages, the cows get along better with each other. If cows have horns, the danger of injuries to the animals and humans is greater,” and “Each farm should decide for itself. We have other problems in agriculture.


When veterinarian Jean-Marie Surer dehorns calves, he anaesthetises each one before the procedure that causes smoke and a burning odor, saying “Using a very hot iron for seven seconds, I burned the skin and blood vessels which irrigate the horn bud, so it won’t grow, it is painless, they didn’t move even an ear.”


Google reveals new policy for election ads ahead of EU vote


Alphabet Inc’s Google said it will roll out new policies in Europe to provide more transparency around political ads, ahead of European Union elections in the spring. According to a blog post, Google said it would require advertisers to submit an application and receive verification before they can pay for political ads.


In September, the European Commission said Facebook, Google, and other tech firms had agreed to a code of conduct to do more to tackle the spread of fake news over concerns it can influence elections. Google also said it would publish an E.U. transparency report, along with a searchable ad library, to provide more information about who is purchasing election ads, for how much, and to whom they are targeted.


The Daily Visionary: Thursday, November 22, 2018

Photo Credit: Business Insider

Photo Credit: Business Insider

Australian drought and sportswear push up prices of wool clothing


A surge in demand for natural and sustainable fabrics, particularly from younger consumers, alongside increased popularity in sportswear due to its temperature regulating properties, has coincided with a prolonged severe drought in eastern Australia, resulting in a wool shortage. The consequent jump in the price of wool is impacting the global clothing supply chain, with some mills passing along costs and retailers either cutting down on wool or raising prices.


Australia supplies over 90 percent of the world’s exported high-quality wool and fleece used in clothing, and a lack of rain has turned pastures barren forcing farmers to buy expensive feed. Many farmers have therefore had to send their livestock to slaughterhouses, prompting Australia’s chief commodity forecaster ABARES to cut wool production forecasts by 4 percent this year. Benchmark prices for high-quality Australian wool were trading at more than A$21 per kilogram in August, up from A$16 a year earlier.


Italian clothmaker Botto Giuseppe, which supplies luxury brands Giorgio Armani and Max Mara, says it has increased prices on average by 7 to 8 percent in the last year on wool fabric, while high-end Swiss sportswear label Mover has put up the retail price of its merino wool t-shirts by 15 percent. “The wool price has increased consistently over the past three years,” said Silvio Botto Poala, Chief Executive Officer of Botto Giuseppe, a 142-year-old company, “But the big jump has been in the past year.” Botto Giuseppe has increased the price of wool flannel fabric used for suits to €19.50 per meter compared to €18 a year ago, CEO Botto Poala said. Pure merino wool t-shirts from Swiss skiwear label Mover retail for €75 compared to €65 last year, CEO Nicolas Rochat said. Swedish fast fashion company H&M has cut down on the amount of wool it uses in production, avoiding price rises on items like wool-blend sweaters and coats.


Italy stands by its budget in the face of potential E.U. sanctions


The European Commission took the first step toward disciplining Italy over its 2019 budget after Rome refused to change it, raising the stakes in a dispute that has alarmed the European Union (E.U.) and could lead to fines. The Commission said the Italian draft budget increased the 2019 structural deficit, which excludes one-offs and business cycle swings, by 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) rather than cut it by 0.6 percent as required by EU laws. Italy refused to trim its debt in “a particularly serious case of non-compliance” with the rules, the Commission said, warranting the launch of an excessive deficit procedure.


Italy’s debt is at 131 percent of GDP and proportionally the second highest in the euro zone after Greece’s. Under EU rules it should be falling every year towards 60 percent, but the Commission said it would be stable for the next two years.


Italy’s coalition government remained defiant against the Commission. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said, “We are convinced about the numbers in our budget. We will talk about it in a year’s time,” adding fines against Italy would be “disrespectful”. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is scheduled to meet Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Saturday and said the government is convinced the budget is excellent and in the interest of Italy and Europe.


The government believes its policy of borrow and spend, which the Commission regards as profligate, will boost economic growth, helping reduce the country’s debt ratio, while reducing unemployment, which was at 10 percent in September. Italy’s borrow and spend plans have boosted its borrowing costs to 3.5 percent for the benchmark 10-year bond.


Before any financial sanctions can be levied, the Commission must have backing for its view from the E.U.’s deputy finance ministers in the next two weeks, and then from the finance ministers, which will most likely be at their next meeting in January. A joint statement of all euro zone finance ministers in early November supported the Commission against Italy. In December, the Commission will prepare recommendations for Italy to cut the debt and a deadline to take action within three to six months to be endorsed by ministers in January. If, at that time, Italy fails to comply financial sanctions will kick in.


Israeli minister urges Airbnb boycott, talks up rival service


Global home-rental company Airbnb says it will remove approximately two hundred settlement listings after hearing criticism from people who “believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced”. The delisting applies only to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self rule under Israeli military occupation; the delisting does not apply to Israel itself, or East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. In a statement on their website, Airbnb said, “When we applied our decision-making framework, we concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”


Human Rights Watch, who advocated for the move over the course of two years during private talks with the company, said that Airbnb’s discrimination against national origin was actually practiced against Palestinians, as they are unable to rent properties on the website on lands they own.


In response, Gilad Erdan, Israel's Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Minister of Information, called for a boycott of Airbnb and promoted one of its rivals. Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked backed Minister Erdan’s call to boycott Airbnb and suggested Israel also deploy its own anti-discrimination laws.


Israel has said it would turn to the United States government and could back lawsuits against Airbnb within American states that have legislated against anti-Israel boycotts. In Israel, one 2017 law empowers courts to award cash compensation to claimants who prove they have been denied goods or services because of where they live.


The office of Ohio Senator Rob Portman, an author of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, is looking into the issue, stating, “Senator Portman has long fought highly selective and discriminatory efforts to isolate Israel.” The Illinois state legislature, which passed the nation’s first local anti-BDS law in 2015, will meet in mid-December and is expected to debate whether Airbnb had violated its statute. The law defines boycotting Israel as “engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel” – an explicit reference to those boycotting the Jewish State’s policy in the West Bank.


Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who was involved in the drafting of the Illinois law, said, “If state regulators and boards of investment determine Airbnb’s action was politically motivated, Airbnb will become the most high-profile company blacklisted for boycotting Israel.


Read Airbnb’s full statement.


British Prime Minister Theresa May meets in Brussels to cut Brexit deal with the European Union


Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday to finalize an outline of future relations between the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the European Union (E.U.) come March 2019. Both British and European parliaments must ratify the tentative deal to end more than 40 years of partnership before Brexit day, or Britain could leave the EU with no treaty. In keeping with the E.U.’s inflexible position during negotiations over the past two years, E.U. diplomats announced German Chancellor Angela Merkel was not willing to come on Sunday for any negotiations, meaning a final written plan must be ready in advance.


E.U. diplomats will meet Thursday morning to discuss PM May’s draft plan. Negotiators will then look at it again at a meeting set for Friday before Sunday’s summit of E.U. leaders. The E.U. continues to discourage Britain from any renegotiation of the draft plan put forth by PM May, despite strong opposition to her plan in the U.K. Two Cabinet Ministers quit and dozens of Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) called for PM May to step down, accusing her of making too many concessions to the E.U., and setting in motion a potential forthcoming no-confidence vote.


PM May hopes her draft blueprint, a twenty-page political document meant to be agreed side-by-side with the legally binding six-hundred-page exit treaty, will help her win back enough support at home to pass in Parliament. The draft treaty envisages Britain staying in a customs union with the E.U., which many Brexit supporters see as a compromise too far.


The worst-case scenario presented is the U.K. leaving the E.U. without an agreement, though many Brexiteers view this as an improved situation over accepting PM May’s draft plan, due to concessions heavily in the E.U.’s favour with little gained for Britain.


France could shut down nuclear plants in its energy plan, due next week


France could shut down up to six nuclear reactors by 2028 among other options, French media reported, as part of its medium-term energy policy to be presented next week. “I can confirm that there are three scenarios on the table that we are looking at, we are making final adjustments, and all will be presented next week,” French Environment Minister Francois de Rugy said. France’s multi-year energy program, Plan de programmation pluriannuelle de l'Energie (PPE), lays out the nation’s energy goals over the next ten years with the aim of reducing the share of nuclear power in its energy mix to 50 percent from 75 percent by 2035, curb carbon emissions, and boost renewables.


French news agency AFP reported on Tuesday, citing government working documents, that the government could shut down up to six nuclear reactors by 2028, including the planned closure of France’s oldest Fessenheim nuclear plant which is scheduled to stop production in 2021, according to one scenario.

It said another six reactors could close by 2035, which could set France on the path to curb nuclear generation by 50 percent.


The second intermediate scenario does not foresee any additional closures beside Fessenheim until 2028, and then twelve reactors would be shutdown between 2028 and 2035, AFP quoted the document saying.

The final option would also see no additional closures until 2028 after which only nine reactors would be halted by 2035, which could miss the 50 percent nuclear target.

The Daily Visionary: Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Photo Credit: Economist

Photo Credit: Economist

Critics call Beijing’s new social credit system 'Orwellian'


Chinese state media has reported Beijing’s municipal government will assign citizens and firms “personal trustworthiness points” by 2021, implementing China’s controversial plan for a “social credit” system for the first time to monitor citizens and businesses. The social credit system, which is being built on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted” will encourage government bodies to share more information about individual and business misdeeds in order to coordinate punishments and rewards.


Critics say it could massively heighten the Chinese Communist Party’s already strict control over society and made comparisons to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Human rights groups are concerned that as the system is fully implemented it may widen its use of apps and citizens’ social media behaviour to rate them, including using information about political allegiances.


In a roadmap plan released by Beijing’s municipal government in 2014, China said it would create a “social credit system” to reward or punish individuals and corporations using technology to record various measures of financial credit, personal behavior, and corporate misdeeds. Lists of data, actions, and measures would be used to create a trial system of “personal trustworthiness points” for residents and companies in the Chinese capital; the term used can also be translated as “creditworthiness” or “integrity”. People in certain professions will face particular scrutiny, including teachers, accountants, journalists, medical doctors, veterinarians, and tour guides.


However, in a new plan released on Monday to improve the city’s business environment, there was no mention of using points, nor detail of how the point system would work. Rather, it said information from the system could impact market access, public services, travel, employment, and the ability to start businesses, with trustworthy individuals being provided a “green channel” and those who are blacklisted being “unable to move a step”.


China’s Xinhua news agency said the plan should serve as an example to the rest of the nation for how to improve the behavior of individuals and businesses. According to an unnamed municipal state planner, “This is an important novel approach by Beijing to assess individuals’ credit and tie it to their whole life.” A second system will also be set up to assess the trustworthiness of government officials and departments by measuring whether contracts and promises are honored, the results of which will be included in performance assessments.


Wen Quan, a Chinese blogger who writes about technology and finance, said the following when the plan was first announced: “Many people don't own houses, cars or credit cards in China, so that kind of information isn't available to measure. "The central bank has the financial data from 800 million people, but only 320 million have a traditional credit history. Without a system, a conman can commit a crime in one place and then do the same thing again in another place. But a credit system puts people's past history on the record. It'll build a better and fairer society.


The Chinese government is watching the progress of Sesame Credit, a private credit system run by Ant Financial, which is owned by the world's biggest online shopping platform, Alibaba, with its 400 million users. Its unique database of consumer information compiles individual "social credit" scores, where users are encouraged to flaunt their good credit scores to friends, and even potential mates. China's biggest matchmaking service, Baihe, has teamed up with Sesame to promote clients with good credit scores, giving them prominent spots on the company's website.

Johan Lagerkvist, Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, told Wired: "It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people are reading. It's Amazon's consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist.”


France and Germany want an EU Army to rival NATO


On November 6, French President Emanuel Macron called for the creation of a European army to protect the continent from growing military threats, saying China and Russia were becoming increasingly powerful, and claiming the United States (U.S.) could not be relied upon for defence claiming some of the actions taken by President Donald Trump could have negative consequences for security in Europe. A week later, on November 13, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the creation of a 'real, true' European army during a speech to European Union (E.U.) ministers.


Chancellor Merkel has called for a European Security Council that would be responsible for coordinating defence policy across the continent. In October 2018, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said a legal framework exists for a European Defence Union, declaring, “The structures that have been ‘sleeping’ for a long time inside the Treaty of Lisbon - now we have activated them.”


A European army is not a new idea. In the 1990s, French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl proposed a similar concept. The 1999 The Common Security and Defence Policy was strengthened with the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon, under the rarely used mutual defense clause Article 42.7.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, has helped to maintain peace in the West since the end of the Second World War. It is an intergovernmental military alliance that has existed since April 4, 1949 between twenty-nine North American and European countries, committed to the principle of collective defense, where an attack against one or several of its members is considered an attack against all.


American President Donald Trump has criticized the idea of a European army, saying European countries should continue to support NATO instead. The United States pays the most to fund NATO at 22 percent, followed by France and the United Kingdom (U.K.) at 11 percent and Germany at 10 percent. European countries are obligated to meet a threshold of 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) spending on military expenditures, though nearly none of them do. The U.K. will be leaving the E.U. in March 2019 and is a strong opponent of military integration and a long-term advocate of NATO. Nearly 25 percent of the E.U.’s current military expenditure comes from the U.K., which has blocked moves towards an integrated defence force.


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces immigration cuts


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had stated he will cut the number of migrants coming to Australia. As Cabinet determines a new population policy, PM Morrison predicted the impending changes would lower the annual immigration target from its cap of 190,000, saying, “Population growth has played a key role in our economic success. But I also know Australians in our biggest cities are concerned about population.” 162,000 permanent visas were approved in the twelve months ending June 30.


A Fairfax – Ipsos poll in October 2018 found 45 percent of voters supported a reduction in the annual intake as the population climbs past 25 million, and 52 percent backed the idea of keeping or increasing the number of immigrants coming to Australia. The survey showed a narrow majority of Coalition supporters wanted fewer migrants, with 54 percent saying they wanted “a little or a lot” cut from the annual intake compared toy 44 percent of Labour voters who said the same.


"The roads are clogged; the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments. I hear what you are saying. I hear you loud and clear," PM Morrison said, noting "community sentiment" towards migration must be considered in addition to the economic impacts. He has requested state premiers create their own population plans to be discussed at the next Council of Australian Governments meeting, scheduled for December 12.


At the annual Bradfield Lecture, PM Morrison said the following: "The old model of a single, national number determined by Canberra is no longer fit for purpose … My approach will be to move away from top-down discussions about population to set our migration intake caps. I anticipate that this will lead to a reduction in our current migration settings … It is the states who build hospitals, approve housing developments, plan roads and know how many kids will be going into their schools in the future … The states and territories know better than any what the population carrying capacity is for their existing and planned infrastructure and services. So, I plan to ask them, before we set our annual caps."


Reasserting the economic benefits of migration to Australia, PM Morrison conceded population growth also had its costs, and Sydney and Melbourne had become "a victim of our success", saying, "Here in Sydney migrants accounted for around 70 percent of population growth last year. This has created its own pressure points – and pressure points in population always manifest themselves in housing and infrastructure." New figures show Melbourne is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants to halve the state's migration intake.


The center-right Coalition government believes it can revamp the current migration settings to better disperse new arrivals in regional areas. While the annual intake will be lowered, the changes may see the government increase the proportion of skilled migrants coming to Australia at the expense of others. Citing the mining boom, PM Morrison said the ability for migrants to move to areas where they had a good chance of finding a job was essential.


President Trump opens oil exploration in Alaska previously blocked by former President Obama


In 2017, United States’ Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered officials to re-write the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A) management plan written under former President Barack Obama’s administration, which had blocked nearly half of the 22 million-acre NPR-A from energy exploration.


The Interior Department is determining which areas can be open to oil and gas exploration and for conservation purposes. The new management plan aims to boost Alaska’s oil and gas industry, which has experienced declining production. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the NPR-A is estimated to hold 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The NPR-A is the largest block of land owned by the federal government, which was set aside by Congress decades ago for oil and gas production for the U.S. Navy. The Trump administration held the largest NPR-A lease sale ever in 2017, offering nine hundred tracts of land totaling around 10 million acres.


In 2013, the Obama administration declared 11.8 million acres of NPR-A off-limits to drilling, siding with environmental activists who argued enough land is already being developed, opening more land could harm the NPR-A’s ecosystem, and claiming there’s little industry interest in developing more. Energy companies and Republicans argued otherwise, saying the Obama administration’s plan hampered operations in the region and put potentially productive areas out of reach.


The Trump administration is also moving forward with opening the coastal “1002” area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Drilling is supported by the tribe that lives on the coastal plain but opposed by those living in ANWR’s interior where there will be no drilling.


Interior Secretary Zinke says California fires partly due to environmentalists


After visiting the California wildfire zone this past weekend, United States (U.S.) Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke has said that lawsuits by environmentalists who have attempted to stop forest management practices, such as forest thinning, are partially responsible for the deadly California wildfires. He said “radical environmentalists” have filed lawsuits insisting “nature take its course” and that the wildfires are the consequence of allowing nature to do so.


I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years and, you know what, this is on themRadical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forest,” Secretary Zinke said. He went on to say, “Forests need active management,” mentioning beetle kills and drought, and that “The amount of fuel in the forest is at historic highs.


Secretary Zinke said Germany was a model of forest management, and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto also recently told U.S. President Trump that their country rarely has wildfires because their forest management practices include clearing of the forest floor. Both Germany and Finland use prescribed burns late in the season to remove dead and dying timber.


U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said forest management practices need to be sped up and hoped federal agencies could get more authority under legislation. However, he said, years of neglect means it could take years for authorities to catch up to forest management, such as thinning out the fuel of dead trees and dry underbrush and improving emergency roads.

The Daily Visionary: Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Photo Credit: Pro L'argus

Photo Credit: Pro L'argus

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn arrested on suspicion of financial misconduct


President and Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn of automaker Nissan has been accused of "significant acts of misconduct" including underreporting his salary and said it would move to fire him. Ghosn has reportedly been arrested in Tokyo, Japan. Nissan released a statement stating it had been conducting a probe into Ghosn for several months after receiving a whistleblower report and had uncovered misconduct going back several years.  "The investigation showed that over many years both Ghosn and [Representative Director Greg] Kelly have been reporting compensation amounts in the Tokyo Stock Exchange securities report that were less than the actual amount, in order to reduce the disclosed amount of Carlos Ghosn's compensation," Nissan’s statement said.


The statement continued to say "Also, in regards to Ghosn, numerous other significant acts of misconduct have been uncovered, such as personal use of company assets, and Kelly's deep involvement has also been confirmed." Nissan said it had provided information to Japanese prosecutors and would propose to the board of directors that it "promptly remove Ghosn from his positions" along with Kelly.


Carlos Ghosn is a Brazilian-Lebanese businessman with a net worth of USD $50 million as current Chairman and CEO of Yokohama and Nissan in Japan and Chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance in France.

In the late 1990s, Ghosn orchestrated one of the decade's most aggressive downsizing campaigns and spearheading the turnaround of Nissan from near bankruptcy, earning the nicknames "le cost killer" and "Mr. Fix It." After the Nissan financial turnaround, he achieved celebrity status and ranks as one of the 50 most famous men in global business and politics. He has been recruited to run at least two other automakers, General Motors and Ford Motor Co. His daughter Caroline Ghosn is the founder and CEO of Levo League, a professional network dedicated to helping Millennial women navigate the workplace by building connections to elevate their careers.


Saudi royals turn against Prince bin Salman after Khashoggi murder


Three sources close to the royal court said dozens of princes and cousins from powerful branches of the Al Saud family want to see a change in the line of succession to prevent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from becoming king following international uproar over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a columnist for The Washington Post critical of Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman, who was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve documents necessary to marry his Turkish fiancée.


The House of Saud is made up of hundreds of princes. Unlike typical European monarchies, there is no automatic succession from father to eldest son. Instead the kingdom’s tribal traditions dictate that the king and senior family members from each branch select the heir they consider fittest to lead. The family members will not act against the crown prince while his 82-year-old father is still alive, recognizing the king is unlikely to turn against his favorite son, known in the West as MbS.

They are discussing the possibility with other family members that after the king’s death, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, 76, a younger full brother of King Salman and uncle of the crown prince, could take the throne, according to the royal court sources. Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, would have the support of family members, the security apparatus and some Western powers, one of the Saudi sources said. Prince Ahmed returned to Riyadh in October after two and a half months abroad. During the trip, he seemingly criticized Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty. He was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling family’s senior members, who opposed MbS becoming crown prince in 2017, two Saudi sources said at the time.


Germany announced it will bar eighteen Saudis from entering the country and Europe's Schengen passport-free zone over their alleged links to Khashoggi’s murder, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, and that the move was "coordinated very closely with" France, the United Kingdom, and the broader European Union (EU) as they seek more information in Khashoggi's death last month in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.


South Korean shipbuilder orders ensure dominance in the LNG tanker market


Three South Korean shipyards, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, Hyundai Heavy Industries, and Samsung Heavy Industries have won all of the more than fifty orders placed for new large-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers for delivery in the next three years. The shipyards beat out Japanese rivals for the orders, which are worth more than USD $9 billion. The new ships will increase the global LNG fleet by around 10 percent. Dominating this segment is key for shipyards, as gas consumption outgrows that of other fuels such as oil or coal.


Global LNG demand is surging from new users in emerging markets and because of a huge gasification program in China. The fuel is set to become important for marine transport as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will require shippers to use cleaner fuels from 2020. The rising thirst is being met by new production projects, especially in North America and Australia, which will require more ships to transport LNG to its customers.


South Korea has expanded their shipyard dominance following a rebound from a sector-wide slump two years ago and are positioned to command the sector in the future, outperforming Japanese competitors this year with the equities for all three Korean firms rising while the Japanese builders are either flat or down. “The demand for LNG carriers surged followed by increased global demand of LNG,” said Park Hyung-gun, vice president of DSME. “There is a bright outlook ahead for LNG demand and South Korean shipbuilders will be able to excel in the LNG market.”


Ship brokerage Braemar estimates South Korean yards have bagged 78 percent of all LNG-related orders this year, with just 14 percent and 8 percent going to Japan and China, respectively, including floating LNG storage and support vessels. According to Braemar, two-thirds of the global LNG vessels in service today were built in South Korea versus 22 percent from Japan, 7 percent from China, and the remaining made in France, Spain, and the United States. Virtually all the LNG from new projects in the Russian Arctic, Papua New Guinea, Australia, the United States, East Africa or Qatar will be delivered on South Korean ships made near the cities of Busan and Ulsan on the country’s southern coast.


South Korea’s edge comes from its technological and service standards as well as investment into research and development. DSME developed the world’s first ice-breaking LNG tankers and the company will deliver the eighth such ship, the Georgiy Brusilov, to Russia’s Arctic LNG producer Novatek this month. Another six are under construction. Price is a factor in South Korea’s success, as well as the LNG industry shifting away from the Moss tanker design to a Membrane-type vessels that leave less dead space within the ship’s hull. Braemar estimates 71 percent of the global LNG tanker fleet is made up of Membrane carriers, versus 22 percent Moss tankers, and 7 percent using other systems.


China expands its ban on waste and recycling imports from first-world countries


China is extending its ban on imports of solid waste a year after introducing its first restrictions against first-world countries that send their garbage and recycling there. The regulatory action expands its prohibition to thirty-two categories of solid waste, up from the twenty-four banned last year. The ban will go into effect on December 31, according to official news agency Xinhua, citing four Chinese government agencies.


China says the policy changes are in line with a new push to protect the environment, suggesting Beijing no longer wants to be the world's trash can or recycle bin. Since 1992, 72 percent of global plastic waste has ended up in China and Hong Kong, according to a study in the journal Science Advances. China bought more than half of the scrap materials exported by the United States last year, but that proportion has been falling with Beijing's regulatory moves cutting down the types of waste Chinese companies could buy.


Newly banned product types include hardware, ships, auto parts, stainless steel waste and scrap, titanium and wood. For products such as cardboard and metal, China set a contamination level of 0.5 per cent last year, an extremely low threshold that required the U.S. and other recyclers to change technology and sorting techniques to meet the new standards. Global plastic exports to China were forecast to fall from 7.4 million tonnes in 2016 to 1.5 million tonnes in 2018, while paper exports might tumble nearly a quarter.


Dying star could unleash a powerful gamma-ray burst in our galaxy


Published in the academic journal Nature Astronomy, an international team of researchers reveals their findings on a star system 8,000 light-years from Earth, called Apep. They believe Apep contains a start that will one day produce one of the most powerful explosions in the universe, known as a gamma-ray burst.


Gamma-ray bursts have been observed in other galaxies, but never in our own. These powerful explosions come in two types: long-duration and short-duration. They can give off more energy in a few seconds than our sun will in its entire lifetime. They are so powerful, that it's believed a gamma-ray burst could be behind an extinction event on Earth about 450 million years ago.


In 2012, astronomer Joe Callingham, then working on his Ph.D at the University of Sydney, booked time on the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile where he discovered a beautiful pinwheel. It's believed that the curved tails of Apep form as the two stars orbiting at the centre throw dust into the expanding winds, almost like a rotating lawn sprinkler.


The researchers suggest at the heart of the pinwheel are two massive Wolf-Rayet stars with winds that collide in the centre and produce dust. They calculate the winds are travelling at almost 12 million kilometres an hour, or one per cent of the speed of light. One of the stars is at the end of its life, and will undoubtedly die in a powerful explosion, called a supernova. Wolf-Rayet titan stars are the size of more than 20 times that of Earth’s sun but live only a few million years, compared to stars like our solar system’s, which live for 10 billion years.

The Daily Visionary: Monday, November 19, 2018

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Facebook pays USD $69 million to dismiss investor lawsuit over Zuckerberg control


Facebook settled a lawsuit last month for USD $69 million to investors who sued the company for legal fees incurred fighting CEO Mark Zuckerberg's controversial proposal to increase his control of the company. Mr. Zuckerberg has planned to create a new class of non-voting share, which would have allowed him to sell down his stake to fund his charitable endeavours while retaining his 60 percent share of voting rights. After the investors launched their original lawsuit last September, Mr. Zuckerberg abandoned his plan and then filed a new lawsuit against Facebook for their legal costs. The investors sought USD $129 million from the court, whereas Facebook argued they only deserved USD $20 million.


Mr. Zuckerberg already controlled a majority of Facebook's voting rights through its special class B shares but proposed to further dilute the company's voting stock so that he could sell off his stake while retaining control. In 2015, Mr. Zuckerberg pledged to sell or give away 99 percent of his Facebook stock during his lifetime in order to found the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a charitable foundation he created with his wife Priscilla Chan. Investors objected, and Mr. Zuckerberg abandoned the plan just four days before he was due to testify in that lawsuit, claiming that it was no longer necessary because Facebook's stock had grown so valuable that he could sell enough to "fully fund" his philanthropy without losing control.


The settlement means Zuckerberg will avoid having to testify in a court in Delaware, where he had been scheduled to appear on Monday to explain to a judge precisely why Facebook changed its mind on the share reclassification. "Following extensive, arms-length negotiations, the company has agreed, in the exercise of business judgement, to resolve the fees and expenses motion," Judge J. Travis Laster wrote. "Defendants continue to deny any and all allegations that they engaged in wrongdoing in any way, and the company has agreed to resolve the motion due to the costs of defense of that application and litigation risk." Facebook declined to comment on the outcome of the case.


Last week, revelations surfaced that Facebook had used a "dark arts" PR firm, Definers, with its own "in-house fake news shop" to spread negative information about its critics. On Friday, investors called for Mr. Zuckerberg to step down as chairman of Facebook's board, warning that his dual role had created a "concentration of power" that led it to hide from its problems. Facebook claimed it had never asked Definers to publish any "misinformation" and Mr. Zuckerberg said he had terminated Facebook's relationship with the firm as soon as he found out about it.


No end in sight for Canada Post strikes after the postal workers' union rejected the corporation’s latest offer


Canada Post workers have now been on strike since October 22, and the growing backlog of deliveries are now anticipated to not guarantee delivery before Christmas. Late last week, Canada Post asked 190 partner countries to suspend mail shipments to Canada because of a backlog of deliveries resulting from the labour dispute. Both sides say they are committed to reaching a resolution and continuing negotiations to reach a settlement for about 42,000 urban employees and 8,000 rural and suburban carriers. The strikes are now into their fourth week and have touched virtually every Canada Post facility and every Canadian address so far.


On Friday, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) said the latest proposals from Canada Post were positive steps but not enough to end the rotating strikes that have shut down postal operations in more than 200 communities. It said it would not bring the offers to a vote of its members, although both sides remained at the bargaining table.


Canada Post presented its latest offer on November 14, and set to expire Sunday, November 18, with the following terms:

  • A two-per-cent annual wage increase;

  • Overtime pay for working more than 40 hours; and

  • The creation of 500 full-time positions over three years.


Saturday saw several developments. The CUPW issued a request for the federal government to appoint a mediator in its contract talks with Canada Post, rejecting the Crown corporation’s latest offers.  The CUPW then released a list of demands in response to the company's offer, including:

  • 2.9 percent annual wage increase;

  • Double time pay for working a sixth or seventh day; and

  • New wage advancements for temporary workers, based on working 1,000 hours in a fiscal year.


The Retail Council of Canada urged Ottawa to “bring an immediate end” to the rotating strikes through back-to-work legislation. Council president Diane Brisebois wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, stating, “Just as retail merchants, our workforce of two million and our customers enter the busiest time of year, the postal system is grinding to a near-halt.


Last week, eBay called on the government to legislate an end to the dispute in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events tied to the American Thanksgiving. PM Trudeau responded saying “all options” would be on the table to end postal disruptions if there was no progress in bargaining. A government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said decisions on how to end the job action by postal workers could come as early as Sunday, adding that “‘all the options’ does include legislating.” After the deadline passed on Sunday for the CUPW to accept its proposals, Canada Post said it was “determining next steps.”


Anti-fuel tax protests in France results in one person killed and hundreds injured


French President Emmanuel Macron has been accused by the public of being out of touch with the problems of ordinary people. Although the protests were sparked by higher fuel prices, they are a symptom of a wider crisis of confidence in President Macron’s centrist government.  A nationwide wave of peaceful protests aimed at French president Emmanuel Macron began when demonstrators from the gilets jaunes – yellow vests – movement called for people to turn out and gridlock France’s road network to show their anger at increases in fuel taxes.


As early-morning demonstrators gathered around the country, one person was killed at Pont-de-Beauvoisin in the south-east Savoie region. The local prefect, Louis Laugier, said a motorist taking one of her children to the doctor had been stopped by protesters at a roundabout, but ran over a 63-year-old woman after demonstrators began banging on the roof of her car. “It appears the woman panicked, accelerated and ran over a person who died,” Laugier said. The driver was arrested. Across France, 106 people were injured, five seriously. In Arras in the north a 71-year-old demonstrator struck by a car suffered serious injuries. Police said most of the accidents were caused by drivers colliding with crowds of protesters as they tried to force their way through roadblocks.


The gilets jaunes movement had called on supporters to force a go-slow outside city centres, airports, motorways and major roads, in protest at government increases in taxes on petrol and diesel. By mid-Saturday, police said around 244,000 people had turned out at two thousand demonstrations across the country, including French overseas territories such as Corsica.

Police used teargas in clashes with protesters, slowing vehicles entering the Mont Blanc tunnel linking France and Italy, and demonstrators completely blocked the Pontde Normandie across the Seine that links Le Havre to Honfleur. As night fell, dozens of police reinforcements were deployed in central Paris to prevent demonstrators reaching the Élysée Palace. The gilets jaunes had said it wanted to have a show of numbers, not of force, but the authorities feared the peaceful protest could degenerate. Fifty-two people were arrested, police said.


Ministers and government officials justify the latest tax increases as a necessary measure to wean France from its dependence on fossil fuels. This is rejected by the protestors; “We need reform, but not to the detriment of people’s pockets. We all bought diesel vehicles because we were told they were good, now they are punishing us because they say diesel is bad,” said Roger Ordonez, owner of a building company. “They are killing us off. We open our mouths they tax us, we shut them, they tax us. What is happening is totally unfair and we are totally fed up with this government.” The French government has offered financial aid for motorists who want to exchange older vehicles for newer cleaner models, but critics say it is not enough. A survey by pollster Elabe for Le Figaro newspaper found 73 percent of people supported the gilets jaunes action and 70 percent wanted the government to abandon its fuel tax increases.


Irish economy is in danger of overheating, say bailout officials


In recent weeks both the Irish central bank Governor, Philip Lane, and the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, have said that the Irish economy may be overheating, adding to fears about how a Brexit-related shock could shake the country’s fragile banking system. The United Kingdom is the destination for 15 percent of Irish exports and 25 percent of its imports. A team of officials from the European Commission tasked with overseeing the state’s ability to repay loans have reported that “signs of overheating” are building, amid “significant risks” which are “overshadowing the economic outlook”.


In the aftermath of the last global financial crisis, which started in 2007, Ireland sought a bailout of €85 billion in a joint programme from the EU and the International Monetary Fund to fund both its state and banking system, along with other bilateral loans from Denmark, Sweden and the UK. Ireland continues to recover from the severe effects of the crisis that caused Irish GDP to fall by 11 percent from its 2007 peak and cost 300,000 jobs.


Approximately 10 percent of Irish mortgages are still in negative equity, and banks’ balance sheets still hold a high level of bad loans. Repossession rules in the country make it very difficult to remove these. Overall, bad loans total 9.2 percent of Irish banks’ exposure, more than double the 4 percent eurozone average, according to the ratings agency Moody’s.


Inflated figures for Irish growth are also potentially flattering the overall rates of GDP growth reported for the eurozone. Martin Beck of Oxford Economics said, “While Ireland has posted the fastest growth in the eurozone for the past three years, official statistics overstate the underlying pace of growth.


Andrew Gillum Concedes Florida Governor Race to Republican Ron DeSantis


Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum conceded Florida’s gubernatorial race Saturday to Republican Ron DeSantis, a former Florida representative. Gillum had initially conceded on election night on November 6th but backtracked as more votes were counted and the race appeared closer than originally thought. Ultimately, DeSantis was approximately 30,000 votes ahead after a machine recount. Earlier in the week, President Donald Trump appeared to anticipate Gillum’s loss, posting on Twitter that the candidate is a “strong Democrat warrior” and will be a “force to reckon with.”


The Daily Visionary: Friday, November 16, 2018

Photo Credit: Evening Standard

Photo Credit: Evening Standard

Four U.K. Cabinet Ministers resign, and PM May faces letters of no confidence


Read the full Brexit Update

Despite winning Cabinet support Wednesday to accept her Brexit deal, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May faced the resignations of four Ministers and several high-level party members on Thursday following a three-hour debate in the House of Commons. Many Conservative MPs openly called for PM May’s resignation and publicly confirmed that they had submitted letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the Conservative’s backbench 1922 Committee.


MP Jacob Rees-Mogg spoke out against PM May’s deal, saying he believed she should "stand aside". In his no confidence letter submitted to Sir Brady, Rees-Mogg stated PM May’s Brexit deal "has turned out to be worse than anticipated” and it “fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the Prime Minister, either on her own account or on behalf of us all in the Conservative Party manifesto".


MP Rees-Mogg is Chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), which represents about sixty pro-Brexit Conservative MPs. Following debate in the House, two meetings took place within three hours. ERG sources say they expect the threshold of forty-eight letters of no confidence to be passed as early as Friday, triggering a vote on PM May's future as early as Monday.


Resigned: Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab; Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey; Northern Ireland Minister Shailesh Vara; Education ministerial aide Anne-Marie Trevelyan; Justice ministerial aide Ranil Jayawardena; Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party Rehman Chishti; and Director of Legislative Affairs Nikki da Costa. Environment Secretary Michael Gove was offered the now-vacant position of Brexit Secretary, but will only accept if he can renegotiate the deal and is expected to resign tonight.


Resignations from the following individuals are also anticipated: International Aid Secretary Penny Mordaunt; Transport Secretary Chris Grayling; Home Secretary Sajid Javid; Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom; Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss; Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC; and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.


Chancellor Merkel opens Germany to U.S. LNG imports following President Trump push


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered government support to open Germany to American natural gas, a key concession to U.S. President Donald Trump as he aims to loosen Russia's grip on Europe's largest energy market. In October, Chancellor Merkel announced to a small meeting of lawmakers that the German government will co-finance a €500 million liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipping terminal in northern Germany, a project that has been stalled for years. Chancellor Merkel said she didn't think an LNG terminal would break even for at least a decade and would require long-term government support. Less than a week after the meeting an international consortium filed its first official bid for state support for a terminal in the northern town of Stade, near Hamburg. The German government is fast-tracking application reviews and expected to make a decision by the end of the year.


Germany gets most of its natural gas cheaply from Russia and has been under increasing pressure to pull the plug on Nord Stream 2, a planned natural gas pipeline that would link Russia and Germany that would double Russia’s existing gas export capacity to Germany. The Trump administration has threated to sanction Nord Stream 2 and has intensively lobbied Europe to buy significant amounts of American LNG in an effort to renegotiate terms of trade relations. Accepting LNG from the U.S. will open Germany’s energy market providing a long-term economic benefit and diversification for the country. Critics have accused the German government of ignoring the interests of its allies by filling Russia's coffers at the time of a diplomatic conflict. In July 2018, President Trump said Germany was "captive to Russia" due to its energy policy, and "Pipeline dollars to Russia are not acceptable!" he tweeted.


A ceremony marking the formal announcement took place on a terrace overlooking Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate in the presence of senior politicians and U.S. Ambassador Richard A. Grenell, a confidant of Mr. Trump and the president's main conduit in his lobbying effort. “We're creating jobs and we're also deepening the trans-Atlantic relationship. The U.S. is totally committed to bringing U.S. LNG to Europe and to Germany," Mr. Grenell said.


U.S. LNG is mostly mined from underground rock formations, turned into liquid and shipped in 300-meter-long tankers. It requires special terminals for unloading, storing and converting it back into gas. The complex process means it remains around 20 percent more expensive than Russian gas, which is delivered straight to Germany mainly via the Nord Stream pipeline.


U.S. President Trump backs historic prison reform


President Donald Trump is calling on Congress to support the bipartisan prison reform legislation, the FIRST STEP Act. Many of the reforms included in the legislation passed the House in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 360 – 59 in May 2018. Afterward, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate worked with the White House to craft a bipartisan sentencing reform compromise, which has since been added to the legislation.


Since 1980, the American federal prison population has increased by more than 850 percent, from 25,000 to a peak of more than 208,000. Federal prison spending has increased from USD $330 million to more than USD $7 billion per year, consuming approximately one-quarter of the Justice Department’s entire budget. One-in-three American adults today has some type of criminal record, and more than 2 million Americans are in prison, including 181,000 in Federal penitentiaries. More than 95 percent of these inmates will eventually leave prison and face the challenge of restarting their lives. Roughly 77 percent of State inmates and 38 percent of Federal inmates are rearrested within five years of release.


In 2011, the House Appropriations Committee reported that, despite skyrocketing spending, “reincarceration rates for people released from prison are largely unchanged. This trend is both financially and socially unsustainable,” however, “[C]ase studies of innovative, evidence-based practices provide a strong indication that [the trend] can be reversed.


Our whole Nation benefits if former inmates are able to re-enter society as productive, law-abiding citizens,” President Trump said in an announcement at the White House. The FIRST STEP Act aims to make communities safer by making our justice system work better in three key ways: provide incentives for low-risk inmates to receive crucial support services, including vocational training and faith-based programs to ease re-entry; house more prisoners in facilities closer to their own communities, allowing for family visitation and greater local support; and roll back certain provisions of former President Clinton’s infamous crime law, reforming mandatory minimums that have led to racially discriminatory outcomes and increased prison overcrowding and costs.


Under the FIRST STEP Act, prisoners will be able to gain job skills, drug treatment, and education, and earn credits that reduce the amount of time spent in prison (though not reducing the sentence) that they could cash in toward the end of their sentence. This may allow them to be released from prison to a lower-cost alternative of community supervision, such as home confinement or a half-way house, to serve out the remainder of their sentence. The legislation also seeks to place Federal inmates closer to their communities in order to facilitate family visitation.


Tesla to deliver new Model 3 orders by year end


Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk announced that Model 3s ordered in the United States by the end of November will be delivered by December 31, having previously said orders placed by October 15 will be delivered by the end of the year.


"Tesla just acquired trucking capacity to ensure Model 3 can be delivered in U.S. by Dec 31 if ordered by Nov 30," Musk tweeted on Thursday, “Skipping rail saves over a month for East Coast deliveries. All things considered, it’s better to use trucks. Single load/unload & direct to owner location.”


The electric carmaker has until the end of the year to hand out tax credits of USD $7,500 to customers. The credits are available for six months after an automaker hits the 200,000-delivery mark, which Tesla did in July. The incentives then reduce by 50 percent every six months until it phases out.


Tesla anticipates a profit for its fourth quarter, saying the company booked USD $189.5 million in automotive regulatory credits in its third quarter, which contributed to nearly half of the profit.


Ontario Government cuts spending to tackle CAD $14.5 billion deficit


Ontario is the world’s most indebted sub-sovereign borrower, with three major credit rating agencies moving their outlooks to negative earlier this year. Canada’s most populous province has a net debt at about CAD $347 billion, the highest of any sub-sovereign borrower rated by Moody’s Investors Service.


Premier Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party won the election in June 2018 and formed a majority government, pledging to bring finances into balance over time. On Thursday, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli announced the new Progressive Conservative’s plan to cut government spending by CAD $3.2 billion in an effort to bring down the province’s CAD $14.5 billion projected deficit for the fiscal year ending March 31, which is more than double what the previous Liberal government’s forecast.


Ontario will cut spending, reduce taxes for low-income workers, launch a program to boost housing supply, cancel a development-charges rebate program (saving CAD $100 million over four years), and exempt new housing units from rent controls to bring its finances in order. Revenue will drop by CAD $2.7 billion from previous projections as the government scraps a carbon trading plan and offers relief to families and businesses. “We will restore fiscal balance on a timetable that is reasonable, modest and pragmatic,” Minister Fedeli said in the provincial legislature, “We will put in place a meaningful debt reduction strategy.


The economy is projected to grow 1.8 percent in 2019 and 1.7 percent in 2020, down from 2 percent in 2018. Canceling the Liberals’ cap-and-trade system will cost CAD $1.5 billion this year. A tax break for 1.1 million low-income workers will cost about CAD $495 million in the 2019 tax year. The minimum wage will be kept at CAD $14 an hour until 2020 and tied to inflation thereafter.

The Daily Visionary: Thursday, November 15, 2018

Photo Credit: Evening Standard

Photo Credit: Evening Standard

UK Cabinet supports Brexit plan and the pound drops


After a five-hour Cabinet meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa announced she had full backing to move ahead with her Brexit plan, causing a 1 percent drop in the value of the pound on currency markets. "The collective decision of cabinet was that the government should agree the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration,” PM May said outside her Downing Street office. Angry Brexit supporters and critics protested on Downing Street. “It sells out the country completely. We will be a vassal state of the EU,” said Lucy Harris, who founded the Leavers of London group.


The draft agreement still faces a vote in parliament next month, which appears likely to fail as it does not have support from government or opposition MPs. Conservative MP and euroskeptic Peter Bone, a leading accused PM May of “not delivering the Brexit people voted for” and warning her, “Today you will lose the support of many Conservative MPs and millions of voters.”


Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party who is seeking early elections, called the entire negotiations process “shambolic”, saying, “This government spent two years negotiating a bad deal that will leave the country in an indefinite half-way house.


A European Union official told news media that the final deal includes a so-called “backstop” in which the whole United Kingdom will remain in a customs arrangement with the EU. Northern Ireland would have special status under the proposals, meaning that some checks may be required between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country. The Northern Irish Party propping up PM May’s government threatened to break their alliance over leaks about a special arrangement for Northern Ireland. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster said she expected to be briefed about the deal by PM May late Wednesday, warning that “there will be consequences” if the leaks were true.


The reported arrangement did not go down well in Scotland, where the pro-independence and europhile government also questioned the deal. Its nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon asked why Northern Ireland should have a special status that would effectively keep it in the European single market while Scotland should not.


South Africa's Home Affairs Minister resigns after personal scandals and lying under oath


Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba resigned from government this week, a month after his sex tape was leaked online and six days after a court decision that he lied under oath. This was his second term as Home Affairs Minister, having previously served as Minister of Public Enterprises and Minister of Finance. Gigaba has long been seen as one of the rising stars within the governing African National Congress (ANC) and representative of the future of the party. President Ramaphosa has since instructed Transport Minister Blade Nzimande to act as Home Affairs Minister until a permanent appointment is made.


Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane made a recommendation last week that Cyril Ramaphosa must “take disciplinary action” against Gigaba for lying under oath. Gigaba had backed out of a deal to give Fireblade Aviation a private terminal at OR Tambo, resulting in a court case being levelled against him. Gigaba claimed no deal was ever in place, but the courts and Public Protector Mkhwebane, disagreed. Afterward, Gigaba faced a Parliamentary inquiry into the Fireblade deal and last Wednesday, Mkhwebane and ConCourt both upheld the decision that Gigaba lied in court.


Five-minute neck scan could predict the onset of dementia 10 years before symptoms


A study conducted by scientists at University College London (UCL) sought to determine whether they could predict the potential onset of dementia. Dr. Scott Chiesa, post-doctoral researcher at UCL, said of their findings that they "demonstrate the first direct link between the intensity of the pulse transmitted towards the brain with every heartbeat and future impairments in cognitive function.


The scientists hope the neck scan could become part of routine screening for those in middle-age at risk of developing the disease. Those with the highest intensity pulse at the beginning of the study were around 50 percent more likely to exhibit accelerated cognitive decline over the following decade compared to the others. This difference was present even after adjustments for possible confounding factors, such as age, body mass index, blood pressure, diabetes, and any other heart conditions.


The study monitored the strength of the pulse travelling towards the brain of almost 3,200 middle-aged volunteers over fifteen years. Participants were given an ultrasound in 2002, which measured the intensity of the pulse travelling towards the brain, and their memory and problem-solving abilities were then regularly monitored. This difference was present even after adjustments for possible confounding factors, such as age, body mass index, blood pressure, diabetes and any other heart conditions.


As the heart beats, the physical pulse it generates reaches different parts of the body at different levels of intensity. The researchers said that healthy, elastic vessels near the heart usually cushion each heartbeat, diminishing its energy and therefore preventing it from reaching delicate blood vessels elsewhere in the body. However, factors such as ageing and high blood pressure can cause the stiffening of these vessels and may diminish their protective effect. As a result, a progressively stronger pulse can travel deep into the fragile vessels which supply the brain. Over time, this can cause damage to the small vessels of the brain, structural changes in the brain's blood vessel network and minor bleeds known as mini strokes, which could all contribute to the development of dementia.


Start-up Cora Ball aims to reduce plastic pollution from laundry synthetic microfibres


Rachael Miller, who studied marine archaeology and has devoted herself to keeping plastics from reaching the ocean, believes her invention, called the Cora Ball, could reduce a significant amount of microfibre pollution. Miller claims if just 10 percent of American households used Cora Ball it would keep the equivalent of 30 million water bottles from washing into public waterways a year.


Four inches (ten centimeters) in diameter and made from recycled and recyclable plastic, the Cora Ball imitates the structure of coral in the ocean. While it doesn't catch everything, the company says it captures between a quarter and a third of microfibres in every wash. Customers on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter have pre-ordered 15,500 of Miller’s Cora Balls, which capture tiny bits of synthetic microfibres that come off our clothes in the wash. Up to 700,000 microfibres can shed from a typical thirteen pounds (six kilograms) household load, says Imogen Napper, a postdoctoral marine science researcher at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom. Many of these fibres, which can be as small as three microns, a thirteenth the width of a human hair, are too small for water treatment plants to remove. Despite being so small, organic pollutants in the oceans, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT), can stick to them, creating an amalgam.


There can be as many as 100,000 microplastics in a cubic metre of ocean, researchers say, which are then eaten by marine creatures. Ghent University's Lisbeth Van Cauwenberghe says we could be ingesting eleven thousand pieces of plastic a year just through eating shellfish. More than two thirds of fish species in California markets have microfibres in them, says Chelsea Rochman, an aquatic ecology professor at the University of Toronto.


In Denmark, 60 percent of all sewage sludge is "getting used in agriculture," says Lars Monster from the KD Group, a wastewater tech company in the southern Danish town of Vejle. These solid remnants from waste water treatment are distributed on farmland as fertiliser, but microplastics in the sludge then enter the food chain.


Most wastewater treatment plants don't aim to remove microfibres, largely because regulations don't require them to. Mr. Monster's company has developed a new filtration technology that can remove 90 percent of microplastics, he claims, and hopes to get the figure up to 96 percent. The ultimate aim is to recycle all the removed plastics, says Mr. Monster, to "get to the point where microplastics are a resource".


S&P 500 falls for fifth day as financials drag


Wall Street stocks fell on Wednesday, with the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500) notching a fifth straight day of losses as financial stocks were hit by fears that regulations on the banking industry would tighten once the Democratic Party takes control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2019.


Financial stocks fell after Democrat Maxine Waters, who is expected to become chair of the House Financial Services Committee, made clear that she intends to push for stricter rules on the sector. Waters said she was concerned by the Federal Reserve’s efforts to reduce capital and liquidity requirements for banks and wants the central bank to vigorously supervise large banks.


The financial sector .SPSY dropped 1.4 percent and was the biggest percentage decliner on the S&P 500. The S&P 500 Banks index .SPXBK fell 1.7 percent. U.S. stock also dropped after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May won the backing of her senior Cabinet Ministers on a draft Brexit agreement from the European Union.


Market speculators also cite uncertainty regarding the slowdown in global economic growth prospects and trade-related issues for their caution.