‘Totally unheard of & perhaps illegal’: Trump responds to secret lawyer tapes

By ethan / July 21, 2018

US President Donald Trump has responded to reports that his former attorney Michael Cohen secretly recorded their conversions, calling the move “totally unheard of and probably illegal.”

Taking to his favorite method of communicating with the masses, Trump’s tweet Saturday was the president’s first response to Friday’s report in the New York Times that claimed tapes seized by the FBI in April contained secret conversations between him Cohen discussing a proposed hush payment to a Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with the billionaire in 2006.

Calling it “inconceivable” and “almost unheard of” that federal agents would “break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning),” Trump then hit out at his former lawyer and special consul calling Cohen’s actions “totally unheard of & perhaps illegal.”

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Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen © Brendan McDermid

The search warrant needed for the raid had been issued thanks to a referral from the head of ‘Russiagate’ probe, Robert S. Mueller, and has already been decried by Cohen’s lawyer as “inappropriate and unnecessary.”

Trump’s current legal representative, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, confirmed the existence of the tapes on Friday. Speaking to the NYT, he said that the recording, less than two minutes long, would show that while the discussion of payments did occur, no payment was ever made and would prove that the current president did nothing wrong.

Trump insisted on his innocence in Saturday’s tweet, assuring his followers that “the good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!”

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Iran supreme leader threatens to block all Gulf oil exports if its own are stopped

By ethan / July 21, 2018

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that no country in the region will export oil if Iran’s exports are stopped. The same threat was earlier voiced by President Hassan Rouhani.

Speaking to Iranian ambassadors and senior diplomats on Saturday, Khamenei backed Rouhani’s earlier warning to close the Strait of Hormuz, thus blocking all oil shipments from the Persian Gulf. 

“[These] were important remarks that reflect Islamic Republic’s approach,” the Ayatollah said, according to his official website. He added that Iran’s Foreign Ministry must closely follow the approach. 

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© Christian Hartmann

The statement comes in response to anti-Iran rhetoric by the US, which is currently pressing allies to cut off Iranian crude exports. During a recent tour, a senior State Department official warned that those failing to reduce Iranian oil imports to “zero” by early November would face US sanctions.

Tehran and Washington have been exchanging threats since the latter sought to rip apart the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. However, while the US pulled out of the agreement, other countries did not follow suit and condemned the move, vowing to keep the agreement without support from Washington.

While Tehran still wants to go further in negotiations with Europe, Khamenei said that sitting down with Washington would be useless. “The word and even the signature of the Americans cannot be relied upon, so negotiations with America are of no avail,” he told Foreign Ministry officials.

Earlier, the Trump administration requested a meeting with Rouhani eight times, but the Iranian side refused to participate. 

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'Forgive us, we couldn't save you': Mourners pay tribute to Denis Ten at slain skater's funeral

By ethan / July 21, 2018

Thousands of mourners have paid their respects to slain figure skater Denis Ten, who was laid to rest in his native Kazakhstan on Saturday, two days after being knifed to death on the streets of Almaty.

The Sochi 2014 Olympic bronze medalist was fatally stabbed in broad daylight on Thursday during a struggle with two men who were attempting to steal the rear-view mirrors from the skater’s Lexus vehicle, worth around $ 86.

READ MORE: Suspect in stabbing death of Olympic figure skater Denis Ten detained, admits guilt – prosecutor

Hordes of fans at the memorial carried flowers and held banners reading: “Forgive us, we couldn’t save you”, Reuters reported, during the memorial service to the 25-year-old in the city’s Palace of Sport. They also listened to a recording of a song Ten wrote soon before his death, called “She Won’t Be Mine”.

Kazakh world champion boxer Gennady Golovkin flew from Los Angeles to attend the funeral and seldom left the side of the skater’s bereft parents during the service. He later posted a black and white picture of himself and Ten with the caption: “You will always remain in our thoughts.”

Ten was a sporting hero in the Central Asian country, having become the nation’s first ever Olympic medalist in Sochi. “He was an outstanding personality, the real patriot of Kazakhstan,” Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in a message read out at the event.

READ MORE: ‘I will never forget him’: Evgenia Medvedeva on tragic death of Kazakh skater Ten

Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that it had identified the two suspects in the murder and detained one of them, who was taken by police to the scene of the cirme. It was later announced police had arrested a second suspect.

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Mattis slams ‘authoritarian’ Turkey but still wants it to buy F-35 jets – report

By ethan / July 21, 2018

US Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly lambasted Turkey’s authoritarianism and human rights record, but warned that removing Ankara from F-35 program would result in the aircraft’s production break and delivery delays.

“I understand and agree with Congressional concerns about the authoritarian drift in Turkey and its impact on human rights and rule of law including the detainment of American citizens such as Pastor [Andrew] Brunson,” James Mattis reportedly said in a letter to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), dated July and seen by CNN.

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Brunson, an American Christian preacher, has been detained in Turkey on terrorism and espionage charges since May. His case, as well as the purchase of Russian-built S-400 air defense systems by Ankara, has contributed to spiraling tension between US and Turkey. 

The latter prompted US lawmakers to threaten Turkey with sanctions and ban the sale of F-35’s by passing an amendment to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act in June. Submitting the bill, the Senate cited two reasons, namely Turkey’s plans to purchase S-400s from Russia and the detention of Pastor Brunson. 

But for Mattis, it wasn’t an argument strong enough to halt F-35 delivery to Washington’s NATO ally. Noting the administration “is pressing Turkey on these issues,” he argued: “At this time, I oppose removal of Turkey from the F-35 program.”

The move could spell “a supply chain disruption for the US military and our partners, as well as increase other program costs.” The Pentagon chief added that Turkey that has been in the F-35 development program since 2002, had poured $ 1.25 billion in the controversial project.

If the Turkish supply chain was disrupted immediately, it would result in an aircraft production break and delay delivery of 50 to 75 F-35s, he stressed. In the meantime, it would take approximately 18 to 24 months for the program to “re-source and recover,” the Mattis’ letter said.

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 F-35 Lightning II at Edwards Air Force Base, California. June 11, 2014. © Stocktrek Images.

Turkey, which eventually plans to acquire 100 F-35s, had already promised it will go elsewhere if the US fails to deliver on its sale of the jets. Issuing the warning, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu explained that the F-35 deal was a “substantial legal agreement,” noting that Turkey has made all of its regular payments. Procurement of F-35s “has nothing to do with our procurement of the S-400s,” Cavusoglu said.

Twelve countries participate in the F-35 program. The nine nations that participated in the jet’s development are the US, Turkey, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands Italy, Australia, Denmark and Norway. Israel, Japan and South Korea have already took delivery of the aircraft through Pentagon’s foreign military sales.

Meanwhile, the F-35 program isn’t free of setbacks. Aside from staggering costs, the jet’s shortcomings include an ejector seat that can cause neck injuries, an unusable helmet-mounted display system, failing oxygen-supply systems and a mid-air refuelling probe that can break off during use.

In total, the F-35 had 996 unresolved flaws as of January 2018, according to a Pentagon audit. Of these, 111 were considered ‘Category 1’ deficiencies, namely faults and flaws that could seriously jeopardize pilot safety or security. 

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Gold to prove crucial hedge against next financial crisis – analyst

By ethan / July 21, 2018

While unsteady financial markets are bouncing up and down due to trade and geopolitical conflicts as well as political uncertainty, some investors turn to less risky assets, principally to gold.

According to the recent report by the London-based consultancy Rosa & Roubini Associates, the latest developments in Italy could easily trigger another global financial crisis. Brunello Rosa, economics expert and CEO of the firm, says that escalation of political risks is likely to force investors to adopt a “moderate risk-taking stance, within a defensive positioning.”

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© Jewel Samad

“Gold will remain a crucial component of diversified portfolios, as a hedge against potential corrections across asset classes,” the analyst said, as quoted by Kitco News. He stressed that the precious metal could become a useful asset to hold in a volatile environment. If Italy drops the euro, financial markets will inevitably face falling equity prices, spikes in short-and long-term rates, and a rise in credit default spread premia, according to Rosa.

“Political developments in Italy have catalyzed investors’ attention over the last few weeks, as the possibility emerged that the country might leave the Eurozone, or that its new ‘populist’ government might adopt a much more confrontational stance on key EU matters, such as fiscal discipline and migrants,” he said.

Gold is being widely advocated by financial analysts as one of the major safe harbors for worried investors as the world has to move from an international monetary system dominated by the US dollar to a multi-polar currency system.

“The inherent weakness of this ‘non-system’ is clear, however, which may explain why many emerging market central banks are increasing their allocation to gold,” Dr Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Global Institute, told US numismatic weekly Coin World.

“It is liquid and has neither credit nor default risk. The inescapable conclusion is that the only viable alternative asset for official reserves is physical gold, as it alone has the requisite liquidity, correlation characteristics, and trust,” he added. “Central banks seeking true risk diversification or insurance, therefore, should increase their gold holdings.”

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Poster encouraging parents to shoot rabid children gets feature in UK govt. magazine

By ethan / July 21, 2018

The readers of Civil Service Quarterly were likely puzzled when they saw an article illustrated by a hoax poster advising parents to kill children who contract rabies. The poster creators meanwhile reported a copyright breach.

The latest edition of the Civil Service Quarterly, published by the UK government, has some unsettling illustrations in it. One of the many posters, accompanying an article telling about “A Century of Government Communications” has “If you suspect your child has rabies, don’t hesitate. Shoot” plastered all over it.

The poster depicts a gun and a visibly scared child at the background. However, neither its written message, nor the troubling imagery apparently prompted the designers of the magazine to reconsider their choice before the issue came out and was sent to government offices across the country.

Those who first spotted the mistake must have been familiar with the phenomenon of Scarfolk Council. In small print on the poster’s bottom one can read “a Scarfolk public information message” which is followed by a tag-line: “for more information please reread this poster.”

Scarfolk is a fictional northern English dystopian town, that is forever stuck in the 1970s.

“Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever,” or as town’s creator, writer and designer Richard Litter, touts it.

After getting in the news, Litter, who also “serves” as the town’s mayor issued a mock copyright cease and desist notice, scolding the UK government for appropriating its policies without being given any permission.

“Permission was neither asked nor granted to reproduce our policy and your publication therefore constitutes an infringement of our rights,” the notice reads, demanding the UK government “immediately removes all infringing content regards exterminating children (for political, entertainment or culinary reasons.)”

The government, meanwhile, has given in to the Scarfolk’s request and the poster can no longer be seen in the Quarterly’s online version, where it has been replaced by an army poster, calling on Britons to “join your country’s army” in name of the King.

The government-run publication has admitted their mistake, but provided no explanation for the blunder.

Litter has told Sky News he has “no idea” how the poster ended up in the magazine but hopes it was an inside job by a Scarfolk devotee.

“I’d like to think a Scarfolk fan and/or cult member infiltrated the civil service – as my book predicts!” he said.

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Trade war to accelerate decline of US empire as China & India dominance grows – Dr. Doom Marc Faber

By ethan / July 21, 2018

US influence on the global economy has been gradually falling, and emerging economies like China and India can overtake the US as global leaders, according to Marc Faber, editor and publisher of The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report.

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© Guang Niu

“The US as an empire against the rest of the world peaked in 1950s or 1960s. Then, there have been other countries that have become more powerful, in particular China and now increasingly India. The US empire and its influence on the world is diminishing and has been diminishing for quite some time,” he told RT. The trade war may accelerate this “mutation” in the global economic balance “with other countries becoming more important and the US less important,” Faber said.

According to Faber, the US is likely to be the biggest loser from the trade war it started. “The winners in a real trade war would be everyone except the US. The Europeans would trade more with Asia, and the Asians would trade more with Europe than the US. There would be more trade between the emerging economies and China and vice versa,” Faber said.

Another winner from the trade would be Russia since China would buy more resources from the country, while Moscow would buy more from Beijing, he said.

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Taj Mahal, India © Kamal Kishore

The US stock market has thus far ignored the news about the global trade war, Faber notes. “But if there is trade war, it is not good for the global economic growth. The global economy is slowing down already. I think it would be a big mistake to go ahead with the trade war.”

The countries most exposed to the trade war in emerging markets are Brazil, Turkey, and Argentina, due to their fiscal problems, growing deficits, and weak currencies amid large amounts of foreign debt, Faber said.

With the global economy financed by soaring debt since the last global crisis of 2008-2009 another recession is likely to come, but its shape is not yet known, according to the investor.

Despite the recent strength of the US dollar, especially against the currencies of emerging economies, Faber says the trend will not continue in the long run. He says the best way to protect individual investments in times of turmoil is to diversify the portfolio with cash, bonds, precious metals, and real estate.

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Yummy mummy: Over 4,000 people want to drink ‘skeleton juice’ from Egyptian sarcophagus

By ethan / July 21, 2018

The much-feared black sarcophagus recently opened in Egypt may not have released any curses (that we noticed, at least) – but it certainly seems to have awakened strange desires in some people.

It would seem the story of the mysterious black sarcophagus has had its happy ending: all of the historic discovery with none of the bad mojo. But no, the weirdness is not over just yet. Now, over 4,000 people say they want to drink of the murky liquid that was discovered in the sarcophagus along with ancient bones.

Someone launched a petition on change.org to “let people drink the red liquid from the dark sarcophagus.” The author, who goes under the name of “innes mck,” believes the “skeleton juice” (eww) should be made into “some sort of carbonated energy drink,” so anyone wishing to drink it “can assume its powers and finally die.”

The idea, as gross as it is, appealed to thousands of people who signed the petition. A perplexing look at the comments section for answers as to why anyone would want to drink sewage mixed with human decomposition products reveals that some are just thirsty. Others are in it for the taste or the sheer expression of free will.

Others delivered the written equivalent of a chanted prayer to some dark gods or descended into downright Lovecraftian Cthulhu-speak.

While the whole thing is obviously a joke (please let it be a joke), we really hope the King of Skeletons (who the petition is addressed to) doesn’t have Internet access in whatever ominous crypt he resides, just in case he decides to fulfill the petitioners’ request. Who knows what might happen.

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CNN host Cuomo says Trump's aversion to 'fake news media' means he hates America

By ethan / July 21, 2018

CNN has always been at daggers’ points with Donald Trump, however, Chris Cuomo took the antagonism to a new level when he implied that the mainstream media is the true embodiment of America and hating it means hating the country.

In CNN World, criticizing mainstream media apparently equals betraying the very principles the nation stands on. At least, that was the message delivered by CNN’s ‘Cuomo Prime Time’ host Chris Cuomo when he attacked Trump for his fresh Twitter rant against “fake news” in the wake of the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The post-meeting press conference of the two leaders saw mainstream media explode with condemnation and allegations of treason against Trump after he appeared to cast doubt on Russia’s meddling in the US elections.

Trump’s shaky attempts at appeasing the home crowd, like clarifying that he meant to say he did not see “any reason why it wouldn’t (instead of would) be Russia,” made it worse, if anything: scathing cover stories continued to portray Trump as Putin’s minion with Time magazine even morphing them in one person.

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Making a new move in his bitter war with “fake news” and “failing” publications after facing the media backlash, Trump on Thursday declared the Helsinki summit a “great success” and those who fail to acknowledge this, “the Fake News Media,” the “enemy of the people.”

Although the US president did not call out any particular broadcasters, Cuomo has taken the offence, calling the tweet “ugly and unoriginal.”

“But most importantly, it is an admission that you hate your country,” the CNN host said in his closing remark. He argued that the term “enemy of the people” invokes parallels with French monarchists who used it to justify the killing of revolutionaries, as well as with Khrushchev, Mao and Stalin’s respective crackdowns on dissent.

Continuing his tirade in the defense of the mainstream media, Cuomo argued that there was “a reason” for the delay before Trump ordered flags lowered after a deadly shooting at the Capital Gazette in June.

Cuomo then accused Trump of only caring about his own interests, warning that his disrespect of the establishment media will eventually backfire.

“So right now, you want people to hate us. But as the old expression goes, you point a finger at someone else, and there are three pointing back at you and a thumb that’s kind of nowhere defending where you put it, but that’s not the point,” he said.

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Protesters gather on the Senate Square at the end of the so-called

The CNN host then took his point one step further and equated the anti-Trump media with America itself, as if to imply the people unilaterally share its liberal and left-leaning narrative.

“The real worry should be for you. Do you really think people will keep a president who hates what their country is all about?” he said.

Trump’s war on the press has seen many skirmishes, and Trump’s tactics are simple. He has repeatedly unloaded on mainstream outlets in tweets, referring to the New York Times as “failing,” or slamming BuzzFeed as “a failing pile of garbage.”

CNN has been the most frequent target of his attacks, with Trump famously denying its correspondent an opportunity to ask him a question during a press conference, while calling the broadcaster “fake news” and a “terrible” organization.

It’s also not the first time Trump brands establishment media “the enemy of the people”

“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” he tweeted at the beginning of his tenure in February last year.

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Accused fraudster Browder claims GOP Congressman Rohrabacher 'on Russia's payroll'

By ethan / July 21, 2018

Financier Bill Browder, wanted in Russia on tax evasion charges, has accused Republican Senator Dana Rohrabacher of being a Moscow stooge, alleging that he was paid by the Kremlin to lobby for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act.

Browder made his bold statement about Rohrabacher, who is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats in the US Congress, as he was speaking at a panel at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday.

The self-styled “largest Putin’s critic” was accusing Moscow of bribing foreign officials to promote its interests abroad, when he went on a personal offensive against Rohrabacher.

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US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin after the meeting in Helsinki, Finland © Kevin Lamarque

“There is one member of the US Congress, who, I believe, is on the payroll of Russia. He is a Republican congressman from Orange County, Dana Rohrabacher, who is running around trying to overturn the Magnitsky Act on behalf of [Russian lawyer] Natalia Veselnitskaya, who is the person who went to Trump Tower,” Browder said.

Pressed by a bewildered moderator to back up his claims that Rohrabacher is effectively an agent of the Kremlin with some facts, he toned down his initial remark.

“I did not say he’s an agent of the Russian government, I believe he is under some type of the influence by the Russian government,” Browder said.

Asked if he had any evidence of that supposed nefarious collusion, Browder said that while he did not have “bank transfers to prove it,” he still believes he is right in his suspicions.

According to Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital, Rohrabacher’s actions speak for themselves.

Those actions include taking documents referring to Browder’s tax evasion probe from Russian deputy prosecutor general Viktor Grin when Rohrabacher went to Moscow as part of a congressional delegation in 2016.

Browder also alleged that the congressman “was also entertaining Natalia Veselnitskaya on various occasions,” without giving any details.

Back in 2017, Browder filed a complaint with the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control against Rohrabacher, alleging that, by listening to the Russia prosecution’s side and taking relevant documents to Washington, he had violated the Russia sanctions.

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Michael McFaul with Hillary Clinton in Stanford, California, March 23, 2016 © Beck Diefenbach

Rebuking the argument, Rohrabacher stated that Browder’s complaint may indicate that he does not want potentially damning facts to come to light, noting that “attempts to intimidate a member of Congress not to look at both sides is suspicious in and of itself.”

Browder’s attack on Rohrabacher comes days after the lawmaker admitted that he was once a part of the Russian-US meeting, which was also attended by Maria Butina, a Russian gun activist who was arrested in the US on charges of acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. Her trial in the US is scheduled to commence next Wednesday.

Rohrabacher told Politico that the meeting was of “no consequence,” while calling accusations against Butina “ridiculous” and “an attempt to undermine the president’s ability to have better relationships with Russia.”

Browder’s own name resurfaced this week following the summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday. During the press conference, Putin proposed that the US give Russian prosecutors access to interview people believed to be involved in the tax evasion scheme in Russia, – including the fugitive from justice Browder and former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who might have facilitated his dealings.

In return, Moscow would have provided FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team with an opportunity to question the indicted Russians accused of meddling on the 2016 US election. Washington has turned down the proposal.

Speaking about the feud between Browder and the Russian authorities, Daniel McAdams, the executive director of the Ron Paul Institute, points out that it was not always the case, as Browder held the Moscow government in quite a high regard until the Russian authorities delved deeper into his shady financial dealings.

“He was a big hedge fund operator in the 90s in Russia when billions of dollars were taken by corrupt individuals. Fortunes were made, in fact Browder himself made over a billion dollars with his hedge fund,” McAdams said, noting that “his very positive attitude toward Russia continued through the Putin era despite what you may hear on television.”

“Everything was fun and dandy until it seems that some of his past caught up with him, at least, according to the accusations, that he was dodging taxes.”

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