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Justice Department Distances Itself From Giuliani

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 21, 2019 - 6:05am

The Justice Department distanced itself Sunday from Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, declaring that department officials would not have met with Giuliani to discuss one of his clients had they known that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating two of his associates.Several weeks ago, Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, and lawyers from the division's Fraud Section met with Giuliani to discuss a bribery case in which he and other attorneys were representing the defendants.That meeting took place before the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan publicly charged the two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, with breaking campaign finance laws and trying to unlawfully influence politicians, including former Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas. Parnas and Fruman were part of Giuliani's effort to push Ukraine for an inquiry into Democrats."When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani's associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known," said Peter Carr, a department spokesman.The Justice Department's public statement Sunday illustrates the unusual and broad set of roles that the president's personal lawyer has played in the scandal that has engulfed the White House and imperiled Trump's presidency.Even as Giuliani ran a shadow foreign policy campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president's political enemies -- which is now at the heart of an impeachment inquiry against Trump -- he and his business associates were under criminal investigation for unlawfully wielding political influence. And while all of this was happening, Giuliani still served as a lawyer to clients with cases to plead before the Justice Department.In distancing itself from Giuliani and trying to draw bright lines around how the Justice Department will and will not engage with him, the department has also undercut the perception that Giuliani can influence some of Washington's most important lawyers and decision-makers. That could make it harder for Giuliani to represent clients who are under Justice Department scrutiny in the future."This is an incredibly unusual statement from the Justice Department, which does not comment on ongoing investigations or even acknowledge them, and it's the kind of statement that would give clients pause about who is representing them," said Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor.Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment.While the Southern District of New York has been investigating Giuliani's associates -- an inquiry that may be tied to a broader investigation of Giuliani himself -- prosecutors there had not told Benczkowski of the Criminal Division of the case, as he does not oversee or supervise their work. The U.S. attorney's offices report to the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen.Prosecutors in Manhattan informed Attorney General William Barr about the investigation of Parnas and Fruman soon after he was confirmed in February, according to a Justice Department official. They were required to do so under the department's rule that requires prosecutors to notify the attorney general of any cases that could generate national news media or congressional attention.When Giuliani and other lawyers requested the meeting with the Justice Department to discuss a foreign bribery case, Benczkowski and the lawyers in the Fraud Section had not been informed of the Manhattan case and agreed to meet.Last week, Giuliani told The New York Times that he was being unfairly attacked by reporters and lawmakers and that questions about his behavior would "destroy" his business."I can't publicly defend everything I do because I'm presumed guilty," Giuliani said in a text message. "If I did, my business and firm would be unable to have any clients."Foreign business leaders and politicians have long hired those with ties to the White House as consultants, paid back channels to the administration who could plead their cases and present their interests to U.S. decision-makers.Trump, however, was not connected to the usual array of Washington power brokers who had built lucrative businesses off their ties to U.S. leaders, and Giuliani was perceived as the rare figure who could provide a direct line to the president.Now that tie to the Justice Department seems to be gone, and Giuliani himself is a person of interest in at least two federal investigations.While The Times and other publications have reported that Giuliani is being investigated by prosecutors in Manhattan, the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York have declined to confirm or deny an investigation into him. But any such inquiry would make it difficult for the department to work with him on any of his clients' cases."Giuliani can continue to represent clients before the department because people are innocent until proven guilty, but it's unclear whether a client would want to have a lawyer who is being scrutinized in so many investigations," Vance said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company


Trump Cheated (Shocker!) on Property Tax; But Will Anyone Go to Jail?

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 21, 2019 - 5:00am

Chip SomodevillaProPublica published a piece Wednesday that put the spotlight once again on some questionable financial practices of the Trump Organization, which showed one set of books to banks (inflating value) and another to New York City tax authorities (deflating value).Is this just the usual Trump mendacity, or can prosecutors see this as part of a pattern? And if so, could it be prosecuted? Who would be tagged as the defendant(s)? If not, what more is needed to bring the guilty parties to justice?Before we explore these questions, let’s look at the facts. Both versions of them.ProPublica obtained property tax docs for four Trump properties. These docs became public when Trump appealed the tax bills, and the loan records became public when Trump’s lenders sold the debt on the properties. Significant discrepancies were unearthed between the tax records and loan records for two of the properties: Trump International Hotel & Tower, on Central Park West, and 40 Wall St.Tax and loan documents for 40 Wall St. showed significant discrepancies in how certain costs such as insurance were reported. Further, Trump representatives reported different occupancy rates to lenders and tax officials: 81 percent to lenders (rising later to 95 percent), and just 59 percent to tax authorities. Rising occupancy rates are valued by lenders because they are indicative of rising income level which is material to securing refinancing, while lower rates, of course, mean lower taxes.Meanwhile, documents for the Trump International Hotel & Tower showed that city tax officials were advised that this property made about $822,000 in 2017 from renting space in the building to other businesses, while loan officials were told that the building made about $1.67 million. ProPublica further notes that Trump appeared not to report income from leasing space for television antennas on tax documents but did report the income on loan docs.Each of the above-noted discrepancies is indicative of potential fraud. But do they represent instances of a prosecutable case?The short answer is: not yet. The discrepancies do reflect a situational ethics approach toward financial obligations and responsibilities. But more evidence will be needed to prosecute anyone should criminal prosecution be considered by the authorities.Who might be prosecuted here? It is unclear just who is responsible for submitting the doctored financial statements to the lending authorities and tax officials. Were the folks who submitted the documents the same folks who prepared them? If so, what were their marching orders? Who directed the Trump Organization officials to tailor the financial statements to minimize property taxes or maximize occupancy rates to obtain loans?Investigators need to home in on the work papers prepared to support the finagled financial statements in order to determine “willful intent,” or “mens rea” that James Comey so infamously referenced. Such evidence may well be found at Mazars USA—the Trump Organization accounting firm that is the subject of intensive litigation with regard to subpoenas served by both the U.S. Congress and the Manhattan DA’s office.Accountant work papers have been found to be beneficial when uncovering evidence of intent to defraud in case after case of white-collar fraud, specifically tax fraud. In fact, accountant work files and testimony provided critical evidence leading to the conviction of Paul Manafort in the Mueller investigations and prosecutions. It should be noted that tax fraud, bank fraud, and the falsification of business records may result in felony charges that could be contemplated by the Manhattan DA and provide for prison sentences that could lead the convicted defendants to land in Rikers Island for a stretch with the aforementioned Manafort. Evidence of corrupt intent to defraud either a financial institution or a public tax authority is critical to a successful criminal prosecution. The use of a double or triple set of books and records by company officials for fraudulent purposes is a terrific example of overt acts of corrupt intent. But further evidence will be needed here to link all those involved in each of the instances denoted above. Email, texts, voice mail, notes to the file and other evidence of directions to finagle the financial docs are needed. Further forensic analysis of the documents, for example fingerprint analysis, ink chemistry analysis and handwriting analysis are investigative tools available to the prosecutors to tighten the vise and provide the links in the chain of potential targets.Cohen was reportedly debriefed in detail recently by the Manhattan DA’s office. His testimony will be needed to outline just who in the Trump Organization was responsible for the preparation of the questionable documents referenced above. Cohen’s credibility will clearly be attacked in court by the defendant(s) and will become a question for the jury to grapple with. Cohen provided the Southern District of New York with a prosecutive path for those responsible for cooking the books at the Trump Organization with regard to the reimbursement of “hush money” payments to Cohen. That path is now available to the Manhattan DA. Add Cohen’s now corroborated congressional testimony outlining the transactional financial ethics referenced above, used by the Trump team in their shady business dealings and the jury will likely be sitting on the edge of their seats. All the DA needs to do now is fill in some blanks in combination with demonstrating a pattern of fraud over time—the closing argument is shaping up to be very persuasive.The allegation that the Trump Organization appeared not to report income from leasing space for television antennas to tax authorities but did report the income on loan docs revives memories of the landmark New York Times tax fraud series on Fred Trump and Donald Trump’s financial shenanigans in the ’90s wherein the Times detailed multiple instances of unreported income streams tailored by Fred Trump for the Donald. While the statute of limitations has long expired with regard to the multi-million dollar gift tax evasion schemes entered into by Donald Trump, prosecutors can use evidence of historical frauds to depict a pattern of fraudulent conduct on the part of a defendant no matter how long ago the fraud occurred. It goes to willfulness or corrupt intent exhibited by Individual-1.The Manhattan DA’s case against the Trump Organization may appear to be on its surface just a mundane business fraud type of case. But fraudulent documents don’t change stories, particularly when there are witnesses available to tie the documents and the corrupt intent together. Add the historical pattern of fraud engaged in by Individual-1 and the Manhattan DA’s case appears to be silently moving along like a stealth nuclear submarine under the radar and there are no available defenses available like an Office of Legal Counsel opinion to protect the prospective defendants from a potentially lethal prosecutorial attack.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.


The U.S. Army Has Big Plans to Smash Enemy Drones in a War

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 21, 2019 - 4:56am

The U.S. Army is fast-tracking what could be called an entire sphere of counter-drone weapons


This Is the Robot Tank Russia Used in Syria

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 21, 2019 - 4:15am

(But it didn't fight well.)


Why more Mexicans wrap themselves in the flag

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 21, 2019 - 4:09am

500 years after conquistadors first set foot on Mexican soil, a renewed sense of nationalism is taking root.


Spain will exhume dictator Francisco Franco's remains on Thursday

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 21, 2019 - 3:24am

Spain will on Thursday remove the 1.5-tonne slab which has covered the tomb of dictator Francisco Franco for the past 44 years and fly his remains by helicopter away from a state mausoleum, government sources told reporters on Monday. The ruling Socialists have long sought to exhume Franco's remains and turn the Valley of the Fallen complex near the capital Madrid into a memorial to the 500,000 people who were killed during the 1936-39 civil war he unleashed. A crane will lift the slab and, if the original zinc-lined wood coffin is too degraded, the dictator's remains will be transferred into a new coffin, the sources said.


Gun control advocate: Pushing mandatory buybacks will hand victory to the NRA, again

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 21, 2019 - 3:00am

We can pass significant gun safety laws but not if the 2020 campaign is about confiscating assault weapons. This is not timidity, it's reality.


Mueller didn't make Donald Trump Jr. or Don McGahn testify, and a judge is curious to know why

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 21, 2019 - 2:24am

The Justice Department revealed in a court filing Sunday that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not make either Donald Trump Jr. or former White House Counsel Don McGahn testify before a grand jury he used for his Russia investigation. The filing was in response to U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell's ruling Thursday that the Justice Department was withholding too much information from the House Judiciary Committee in its ongoing wrangling with Attorney General William Barr over Mueller's evidence.> DOJ reveals in court doc now, per court order: Donald McGahn and Donald Trump Jr. did not testify before Mueller grand jury https://t.co/CKMRoGGRXw pic.twitter.com/eycZv5ROHA> > -- Mike Scarcella (@MikeScarcella) October 20, 2019Howell appeared perplexed by Mueller's decision. "The Special Counsel's reasons remain unknown," she wrote in her opinion. "The reason is not that the individuals were insignificant to the investigation. To the contrary, both of the non-testifying individuals named in paragraph four figured in key events examined in the Mueller Report."McGahn's lawyer offered one explanation, telling Politico that because McGahn "voluntarily agreed to be interviewed" for about 30 hours at Mueller's office, "there was no need for a grand jury subpoena." Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti found that explanation plausible. "If a witness agrees to be interviewed by FBI agents, as McGahn did, typically prosecutors won't put him in the grand jury to testify unless there's a concern that he will later change his story," he tweeted. "As for Trump Jr., this suggests to me that his lawyers said he would take the Fifth."Lawyers for some of Mueller's other witnesses have said they believe Trump Jr. told Mueller's prosecutors he would assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before the grand jury, and Mueller's team decided not to compel his testimony with a promise of immunity, Politico reports. Howell also noted in her ruling last week that Mueller declined to subpoena President Trump for an interview or grand jury testimony despite being dissatisfied with the president's written responses to his prosecutors' questions.The upshot of Sunday's filing is that is strengthens the House Judiciary Committee's case "that Barr redacted the Mueller [Report] itself improperly," journalist Marcy Wheeler argues, because it hides the "non-testimony" of Trump and his son "behind frivolous redactions."


Michael Bloomberg ‘still looking at’ a presidential run ... but only if Biden is out

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The former New York mayor’s attitude towards wealth is staunchly opposite to Elizabeth Warren’s, with whom he’s repeatedly clashedMichael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, is teasing a presidential run if former vice-president Joe Biden were to fall back. Photograph: Ritzau Scanpix/ReutersFormer New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is at it again – teasing a presidential run. At 77, he won’t even be the oldest in the field, and the billionaire is certainly not short of funding to be able to throw his hat in the ring.Over the past several weeks, he’s signaled renewed interest in the democratic nomination, telling friends and associates he’s “still looking at” running for president. But he has cautioned he’d only join the race if former vice-president Joe Biden’s faltering centrist campaign takes a decisive hit or pulls out early in primary season, according to a report by CNBC.Biden’s collapse would likely leave Elizabeth Warren as frontrunner, a liberal candidate with whom he has repeatedly clashed over her anti-corporate policies and fears she will push the party too far to the left and eliminate the chance of a Democratic candidate unseating Donald Trump next year.Bloomberg’s disagreements with Warren are stark. In January, when he was considering a run for president, he described Warren’s wealth tax proposals in extreme terms .“We shouldn’t be embarrassed about our system,” he said. “You want to look at a system that’s not capitalistic, just take a look at what was perhaps the wealthiest country in the world and now people are starving to death. It’s called Venezuela.”More recently, at an anti-gun event in Iowa hosted by the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, a group Bloomberg founded and supports, he was again asked about Warren’s wealth tax proposals.“I just said to Senator Warren on the way out, ‘Senator, congratulations, it’s a nice talk. But let me just remind you if my company hadn’t been successful, we wouldn’t be here today, so enough with this stuff’,” he said.Bloomberg’s attitude to wealth is diametrically opposed to Warren, whose criticisms of the financial sector’s excesses are legion. Before he ever ran for New York mayor, his company threw a party in London complete with entertainers – representing avarice – instructed to wave bundles of cash and shout: ‘Money, ain’t it gorgeous?’Forbes recently put his wealth at $51bn.Bloomberg has previously flirted with presidential ambitions, but he decided not to run in 2016 after concluding he might split the Democratic vote. It is not clear that dynamic has changed, nor whether Democratic primary voters really have the taste for a billionaire candidate. But others see a possible centrist path to the White House.“The reality is both parties, Republican and Democrat, are in serious trouble, they are not functioning, and they’ve gone to extremes,” says veteran strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “Could Mike Bloomberg unite the centre of the party and bring people to the center if he can prove he can win? The answer is yes.”“Bloomberg has up-top professionals ready if he needs them, and he could assemble an operation in days and go to work. Whether the Democrats like him as centrist or not, they want to win the White House. He provides an extraordinary alternative to losing.”People familiar with Bloomberg’s thinking says his aims are clear – and they’re grouped neatly as gun control, climate change, coal, education and health.“He doesn’t understand why people don’t talk about his five points more. If he happens to mention something about the presidency at a cocktail party and they get talked about more, that’s a good thing for him,” one source said.Strengthening the rumor mill is Bloomberg’s appointment of his former deputy Patti Harris to his company’s management committee. Harris has been at the company since 1994. As Bloomberg’s deputy during his three terms as New York mayor, Harris was regarded, in personal and political terms, as the keeper of the Bloomberg brand, his personal gate keeper and point person on all strategic and staffing decisions.“She’s the most important person in his life and director of all his political aspiration,” says the source. “If you believe in this line of gossip, putting Harris in to run the company frees him up to run for president. You can argue that he’s setting himself up to do something.”When Bloomberg was last considering a run, almost exactly a year ago, a Quinnipiac University poll found he had an overall unfavorable rating of 32%, and 19% of Democrats viewed him negatively. Howard Wolfson, a top political advisor, hinted at how much Bloomberg would look to invest in a campaign for president.“Mike spent more than $100m in his last mayor’s race. Last time I looked, NYC is a fraction of the size of the country as a whole,” Wolfson explained, pointing out that he spent at least more than $110m backing Democrats during the 2018 congressional midterm elections.Asked what Bloomberg would spend on his own campaign, Wolfson replied, “Whatever is required.”With Biden appearing to be running low on funds, and a Warren or possibly Bernie Sanders candidacy looming, it’s not surprising that Bloomberg’s interest is again stirring. Last month, Fox Business reported that he still has a team of political advisors on the payroll.“I think it’s something he wants. He has not been shy about that,” a Bloomberg ally told CNBC. “Bloomberg is in if Biden is out,” a billionaire friend added.


Haiti's dicey prison conditions made worse by crisis

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 8:15pm

Port-au-Prince (AFP) - With protests rocking the streets, some prison authorities in Haiti have confined inmates to cells that lack showers or toilets, in a country where most detainees are stuck awaiting trial for months or even years. The move is meant to stop protests from breaking out in Haiti's badly overcrowded prisons, but violates the law and risks the health of prisoners, human rights advocates say. "To prevent any kind of riot from the general tension in the country, prison officials decided to keep detainees in their cells without being allowed at least an hour of outdoor time," Marie Rosy Auguste Ducena of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) told AFP.


Trump accidentally refers to defense secretary Esper as 'Mark Esperanto' in tweet defending Syria withdrawal

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 9:50am

President Trump quoted "Mark Esperanto, Secretary of Defense" on Sunday. But the man in charge of the Pentagon is named Mark Esper, not Esperanto.


Worst Baku Clashes in Years Followed by Claims of Critic's Abuse

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 7:26am

(Bloomberg) -- The political fallout of rare anti-government demonstrations is spreading in Azerbaijan, with the European Union issuing a warning and an opposition leader saying he was beaten up by riot police following his arrest on Saturday.An unathorized rally by hundreds of protesters demanding freedom of assembly, which has effectively been denied since the start of 2019, ended in the worst violence the Azeri capital has seen in years. Ali Karimli, leader of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party, was detained with scores of his supporters as they defied a ban to demonstrate in central Baku.“Six to seven police officers handcuffed me, throwing me onto the floor and kicking me,” Karimli said in a video statement on his Facebook page. With bruises visible on his head, face and neck, Karimli said he was beaten so severely that at some point he lost consciousness.While Azerbaijan ranks among the world’s most corrupt and repressive governments, arrests or torture of leaders of opposition parties are rare in the energy-rich former Soviet republic.With parliamentary elections looming next year, demonstrators gathered on Saturday despite a heavy security presence, demanding the resignation of the country’s longtime President Ilham Aliyev. Karimli and other leaders of the secular opposition are using social media to galvanize public support for a peaceful shift to democracy.Authorities had offered demonstrators a remote location on the outskirts of the city to conduct the rally.Europe’s WarningThe EU’s executive arm called for an investigation into reports of excessive and unprovoked force, urging the Azeri government to release the detained opposition protesters.“Freedom of assembly is a fundamental human right and we expect Azerbaijan to ensure that it can be fully exercised, in line with the country’s international obligations,” European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in a statement.After being detained and dragged into a police car, Karimli was eventually taken to hospital where he received stitches to his forehead and his body was screened for injuries. He was later released home.The Interior Ministry’s press service didn’t answer calls for comment. Sahlab Bagirov, commander of the riot police, on Saturday rejected claims police used excessive force.In a statement late Saturday, the Interior Ministry said 60 people were detained for attending the demonstration. Of those, 42 were “warned” and released. The remaining 18 will stand trial.To contact the editors responsible for this story: Torrey Clark at tclark8@bloomberg.net, Paul Abelsky, Angela CullenFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.


UPDATE 1-Bangladesh to move Rohingya to flood-prone island next month

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 7:08am

Bangladesh will start relocating Rohingya Muslims to a flood-prone island off its coast next month as several thousand refugees have agreed to move, a government official said on Sunday. Dhaka wants to move 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char – a Bay of Bengal island hours by boat from the mainland – to ease overcrowding in its camps at Cox’s Bazar, home to more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims who have fled neighbouring Myanmar. "We want to start relocation by early next month," Mahbub Alam Talukder, the Relief and Repatriation Commission chief based in Cox’s Bazar, told Reuters, adding that "the refugees will be shifted in phases".


China Urged to Curb Risky Lending to Vulnerable Pacific Nations

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 7:01am

(Bloomberg) -- China should put the brakes on its lending in the South Pacific to avoid lumping economically vulnerable nations with unsustainable debt, according to a report released by an Australian think tank.“The sheer scale of China’s lending and its lack of strong institutional mechanisms to protect the debt sustainability of borrowing countries poses clear risks,” the Lowy Institute said in a report released Monday. “China cannot remain a major lender in the Pacific at the same scale as in the past without fueling significant” dangers, it said.According to Lowy, six South Pacific governments are debtors to China: Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Between 2011 and 2018, China made official loan commitments to the region totaling about $6 billion, or about 21% of regional GDP.As China spreads its influence beyond the South China Sea to the South Pacific -- a region comprised of island nations traditionally under U.S. hegemony and on Australia’s doorstep -- officials in Washington and Canberra are increasingly concerned Beijing may use debt through infrastructure loans as leverage to establish military bases in the region.Opaque LendingLast November, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence criticized President Xi Jinping’s Belt-and-Road Initiative, which Morgan Stanley has said may total $1.3 trillion by 2027 -- dwarfing the funds the U.S. and allies have mobilized. Pence said the U.S. doesn’t “drown our partners in a sea of debt” or “offer a constricting belt or a one-way road.”While the Lowy report said there was no evidence to suggest China was engaging in deliberate “debt-trap diplomacy” in the South Pacific, it urged Beijing to adjust “the scale, nature, and opacity of China’s lending activities” in the region.“If China wants to remain a major development financier in the Pacific without fulfilling the debt-trap accusations of its critics, it will need to substantially restructure its approach, including adopting formal lending rules similar to those of the multilateral development banks,” it said.China has increased its economic and diplomatic footprint in the region by funding and building much-desired transport and utility infrastructure, compared with the traditional focus by U.S. and Australia on bolstering governance, health and education services.Increasing AidAccording to Lowy, between 2011–2017 China was responsible for 37% of all official sector loans to the region, with traditional creditors including Asian Development Bank and World Bank responsible for the bulk of the balance. China is the single largest creditor in Samoa and Vanuatu, and accounts for more than half of Tonga’s total outstanding debt, it said.In response to China’s rising power in the region, the U.S. recently established a Directorate of Pacific Affairs within the White House National Security Council, which provides a hub for coordinating U.S. policy in the region with other like-minded countries, including Australia.Australia unveiled a A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) infrastructure fund for the region last last year, while the U.S. joined a group that includes Japan, the European Union and the ADB to fund projects.“There is scope for Australia’s more modest infrastructure lending plans to be sustainable,” the Lowy report said. “If Australia wants to do more in the Pacific though, it should reverse the current stagnation in its overall aid budget.”To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Scott in Canberra at jscott14@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Muneeza NaqviFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.


'A threat to democracy': William Barr's speech on religious freedom alarms liberal Catholics

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 6:53am

Attorney general’s recent address at Notre Dame is a ‘dog whistle’ to conservatives who have aligned themselves with TrumpWilliam Barr, US attorney general, speaks to students at the University of Notre Dame law school on 11 October. Photograph: Robert Franklin/Associated PressProminent liberal Catholics have warned the US attorney general’s devout Catholic faith poses a threat to the separation of church and state, after William Barr delivered a fiery speech on religious freedom in which he warned that “militant secularists” were behind a “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order”.The speech last Friday at the University of Notre Dame law school, in which Barr discussed his conservative faith and revealed how it affects his decision-making as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer, has set off a fierce debate among Catholic intellectuals from across the political spectrum, as well as among Catholics inside the justice department.C Colt Anderson, a Roman Catholic theologian and professor of religion at Jesuit-run Fordham University, said in an interview that he was unaware until this week that Barr was a fellow Catholic. Now, after reading the speech, Anderson believes the attorney general, in revealing his devotion to an especially conservative branch of Catholicism, is a “threat to American democracy”.He described the speech as a “dog whistle” to ultra-conservative Catholics who, he says, have aligned themselves to Donald Trump in a campaign to limit the rights of LGBTQ Americans, immigrants and non-Christians, especially Muslims, and to criminalize almost all abortions. “The attorney general is taking positions that are essentially un-Democratic” because they demolish the wall between church and state, Anderson said.In the hallways of the justice department in Washington, there has been a similar furor among some Catholics employees who answer to Barr. “I was shocked by the speech and all this fire and brimstone,” said a senior department career official who considers himself a devout Catholic, speaking on condition that he not be identified for fear of losing his job.“At least it helps me understand why Barr has been so willing to put his own reputation on the line to defend Trump so fiercely in every battle,” beginning with the congressional investigation that is likely to end in the president’s impeachment, he said. “Trump is Barr’s imperfect vessel in serving a much higher cause: the gospel.”In the speech, delivered to an invitation-only crowd at Notre Dame, one of the nation’s largest and best known Catholic universities, the attorney general described threats to religious freedom.He warned that Catholicism and other mainstream religions were the target of “organized destruction” by “secularists and their allies among progressives who have marshalled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia”.He insisted that “the traditional Judeo-Christian moral system” of the United States was under siege by “modern secularists” who were responsible for every sort of “social pathology”, including drug abuse, rising suicide rates and illegitimacy.Barr did not address the fact that many of the policies of the Trump administration are strongly opposed by the Vatican. Pope Francis has repeatedly pleaded for the United States to open its doors to more refugees, even as Barr has defended policies that turn away or imprison immigrants seeking refugee status at the US-Mexico border, even separating parents from their children.The reaction to Barr’s address came as another Trump cabinet member, secretary of state Mike Pompeo, was drawing fire from civil liberties groups over the state department’s decision this week to promote his recent speech titled Being a Christian Leader on the department’s online homepage.The speech by Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, was delivered on Friday, the same day as Barr’s speech, to a meeting of the American Association of Christian Counselors in Nashville.“It’s perfectly fine for secretary Pompeo to be a leader who is a Christian,” the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State said in a statement. But the decision to promote Pompeo’s speech on the department’s official website sends “the clear message that US public policy will be guided by his personal religious beliefs”.Barr’s speech at Notre Dame was a reminder of a fact often overlooked in analysis of Trump’s political base – that while the president enjoys the support of many high-profile right-wing Christian evangelical leaders, he has also surrounded himself with conservative Roman Catholics associated with organizations that some others in the faith consider extreme.One example: Barr and Patrick Cipollone, Trump’s White House counsel, have both served on the board of directors of a Washington-based organization staffed by priests from the secretive, ultra-orthodox Catholic sect Opus Dei.William Barr departs the annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle in Washington DC. Photograph: Sarah Silbiger/ReutersBarr’s speech last week was hailed by many conservative religious commentators. “Barr took the gloves off, saying that religion is not jumping to its death; it’s being pushed,” wrote Ron Dreher at the American Conservative magazine.“As we religious conservatives think about how to vote in the election next fall, we should ponder the fact that under Donald Trump, as awful as he is in so many ways, a man of William Barr’s convictions is heading up the Department of Justice,” Dreher continued. “Thank God Bill Barr is there.”Liberal Catholics, on the other hand, said they were dumbfounded at Barr’s willingness to so publicly link his Catholicism to his work at the justice department.“This should put the fear of God into anybody who cares about freedom, democracy and the separation of religion and politics,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, a group that advocates for Catholics who support a woman’s right to abortion and other reproductive freedoms.Barr’s speech, he said, shows that “Christmas is coming very early” for conservative Catholics and other Christians who want to see an end to abortion rights.In his Notre Dame speech, Barr spoke of the need for the United States to recognize “natural law”, a concept in Catholic theology that has been cited by the Vatican in recent decades to try to outlaw artificial contraception and medical procedures such as in vitro fertilization.O’Brien said he worried that under Barr, who was sworn in last February, that the justice department could impose a de facto litmus test on federal judicial candidates, requiring them to commit themselves to “natural law”.Anderson, the Fordham theologian, said he was so alarmed by the tone of Barr’s speech that he was now concerned the attorney general intends to use his authority to put the United States on the path of increasingly authoritarian European nations like Poland, where democratically government leaders have cited their devout Catholicism to justify a crackdown on free speech and the purging of judges.That Barr is a devout, conservative Catholic is no surprise to anyone who has studied his writings and speeches. In a 1995 article in Catholic Lawyer magazine, Barr, who had previously served as attorney general under George H W Bush, warned that “we are living in an increasingly militant secular age” and that Catholic lawyers should “take the battlefield and enter the struggle” in support of laws “designed to restrain sexual immorality, obscenity or euthanasia”.The article denounced the “evil” of abortion and bemoaned the rise of the gay rights movement. “How can it be that the homosexual movement, at one or two percent of the population, gets treated with such solicitude while the Catholic population, which is over a quarter of the country, is given the back of the hand?” he wrote.But in his Senate confirmation hearings in January, Barr was asked few questions about his faith and how it might bear on his actions on the Justice Department.Barr was not questioned in any detail, for example, about his membership on the board of directors of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, the Opus Dei-linked group that offers as a meeting place for prominent Catholics in the capital.The center’s board has also included Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, the right-wing legal group tasked by Trump to help him pick federal judges, including members of the supreme court. Leo led campaigns to support of the supreme court nominations of John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, all of them Catholics, who now serve on the court.A week later, Barr’s speech at Notre Dame remains the subject of “a lot of chatter” on campus, said professor David Campbell, chairman of the university’s political science department.Campbell said in an interview that he was reluctant to be drawn into the debate about Barr’s religious views, although he suggested that the attorney general was wrong in one of his central arguments: that so-called secularists, a term generally applied to people who want a strict separation between church and state, were a threat to the freedom of Catholics or others to worship as they please.In fact, Campbell, who is just about to publish a book on the subject, said that opinion polls and other reliable scientific research showed that Americans who describe themselves as secularists are “quite supportive of the free exercise of religion, particularly when it comes to minority religions”. The attorney general and other conservative Catholics might believe that secularists are some sort of threat to their religious freedom, Campbell said, “But, the truth is, it’s a myth.”


Let jihadists return home, French anti-terror magistrate urges

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 5:39am

The refusal of the French government to take back Islamic State fighters from Syria could fuel a new jihadist recruitment drive in France, threatening public safety, a leading anti-terrorism investigator has told AFP. David De Pas, coordinator of France's 12 anti-terrorism examining magistrates, said that it would be "better to know that these people are in the care of the judiciary" in France "than let them roam free". Turkey's offensive against Kurdish militia in northeast Syria has sparked fears that some of the 12,000 jihadists, including thousands of foreigners, being held in Syrian Kurdish prisons could escape.


US forces withdraw from key base in northern Syria

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 4:37am

US forces withdrew from a key base in northern Syria Sunday, a monitor said, two days before the end of a US-brokered truce to stem a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces in the region. An AFP correspondent saw more than 70 US armoured vehicles escorted by helicopters drive past the town of Tal Tamr carrying military equipment. The Syrian Observatory for the Human Rights said the convoy was evacuating the military base of Sarrin.


China, Australia complete joint army training exercise in Hainan: Xinhua

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 2:33am

The Chinese and Australian armies have concluded a joint military training exercise in China's southern island province of Hainan, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday. The joint exercise comes amid a downturn in Sino-Australia relations, with China in August formally arresting Chinese-born Australian writer Yang Hengjun on suspicion of espionage and Canberra expressing concern over China's actions in disputed South China Sea waters.


Hong Kong police and protesters exchange tear gas and petrol bombs

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 2:07am

Hong Kong police fired tear gas at protesters throwing petrol bombs on Sunday as thousands staged an illegal march through the Kowloon district that will test the strength of the pro-democracy campaign after four months of unrest. Police inside the Tsim Sha Tsui police station fired volleys of tear gas and used a loudspeaker to called on protesters in the street below to disperse. Hardcore black-clad protesters threw petrol bombs at the station's iron gate and inside the compound.


Indian soldiers, Pakistani civilians among dead in Kashmir clash

Yahoo Top Stories Feed - October 20, 2019 - 12:20am

India said on Sunday two soldiers and a civilian were killed in cross-border shelling with Pakistan in the disputed Kashmir region, while Islamabad said six died on its side, making it one of the deadliest days since New Delhi revoked Kashmir's special status in August. Three Indian civilians were injured and some buildings and vehicles destroyed because of several hours of heavy shelling by both sides in the Tanghdar region in northern Kashmir late on Saturday night, a senior police official said. Pakistan said 6 of its civilians were killed and 8 wounded in the clash.


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