Obese is the new black: Florida fraudster tries to use weight to shorten sentence

By ethan / October 18, 2017

A Florida man convicted for his part in an offshore tax shelter scheme has protested the length of his sentence on the grounds that, as an obese man, his life expectancy is shorter than average.

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© Bernard Jaubert / Global Look Press

Stephen Donaldson Snr’s attorney, Curtis Fallgatter, filed a motion Monday claiming it isn’t right for the 273 pound, 5 foot 9 man to serve six years and four months because the 72-year-old has a shorter life expectancy than average, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

The attorney said the sentence could equal 61 percent of Donaldson’s remaining lifespan.

Donaldson’s partner in crime, Duane Crithfield, 70, received the same sentence but hasn’t filed a similar motion. The two men are appealing and are still free.

The pair created a fraudulent offshore tax plan and marketed it to doctors and others.

Clients would pay a Business Protection Plan premium, claiming it as a business expense, and would later be able to get back about 86 percent, allowing them to avoid paying a higher rate of tax on that money. 

The scheme set the IRS back $ 10 million.

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Iran nuclear deal 'spectacular,' would be sad to see it fall – Former Russian Ambassador Kislyak

By ethan / October 18, 2017

It was spectacular to see so many countries come together to sign the Iran nuclear deal after many years’ work, and it would be disappointing should it fall apart, the former Russian ambassador to the US has said.

US President Donald Trump should keep in mind that the Iranian deal is a result of many years of work and the efforts of many countries, not just the US, Russia’s former envoy to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, told reporters on the sidelines of the Valdai Forum in Sochi on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Trump: Total termination of Iran nuclear deal is a ‘very real possibility’

“When it comes to Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal, I think that’s something we’ve invested many, many years into,” Kislyak said, adding that he personally spent four years taking part in negotiating the agreement.

“I know how difficult it was. … And I think the ability of all the countries to come to the closure of this agreement was spectacular. And it would be very disappointing if it falls apart.”

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© Morteza Nikoubazl

The deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was originally signed in 2015 by the “P5+1” group of the UN Security Council (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the US) and the European Union.

Last week, President Trump decided not to recertify the nuclear deal, but stopped short of quitting the US part of the deal altogether. Instead, he expressed the need to fix what he described as flaws in the agreement.

The president’s actions and the stance of Congress, “which is not very favorable toward any deals with Iran” might jeopardize the landmark agreement, which would be a “very negative development,” Kislyak warned. Russia hopes that the situation will not get to the point when Washington leaves the deal altogether, but such a scenario cannot be ruled out, the diplomat added.

“What President Trump said on their new policy toward Iran might jeopardize the implementation of the deal and it would threaten strategic stability,” Kislyak said.

READ MORE: US broke the spirit & letter of Iran deal, Tehran ‘completely compliant’ – Russian Deputy FM

Veteran diplomat Sergey Kislyak headed the Russian embassy in the US for nine years from 2008 onward. He recently became the target of a barrage of accusations, alleging that he was Moscow’s “shadowy spymaster” after his meetings with advisers to Donald Trump when he was president-elect.

The ongoing row between Moscow and Washington and the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the US show “another face of the United States, which we need to take into account now,” the diplomat said.

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© Ruptly

“It’s unacceptable and certainly it’s shameful, another shameful action by the United States. Because it’s our property, our diplomatic property. By seizing our property, the United States has violated its own obligation. It’s unheard of for relations between civilized countries,” Kislyak said.

The diplomatic row between Moscow and Washington started with the expulsion of 35 Russian embassy staff by outgoing President Barack Obama in late December 2016, as well as the closure of two diplomatic compounds in Washington DC and Maryland. The spat went continued with Donald Trump assuming office, as this summer the US administration slapped a fresh round of sanctions on Russia.

The move prompted Moscow to force Washington to reduce its personnel in Russia by 755 staff, to make it equal to the number of Russian diplomatic staff in the US. More hostile actions followed in September, when the US shut down the Russian Consulate-General in San Francisco, as well as the trade missions in Washington and New York. The most recent flashpoint came earlier this month, when the US removed Russian flags from the seized compounds.

The move prompted an angry reaction in Moscow, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov calling it “unacceptable.” The US charge d’affaires in Russia was summoned to the Foreign Ministry over the flag issue and handed a note of protest.

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Iraq plans to build new refinery in seized Kirkuk – oil ministry

By ethan / October 18, 2017

Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi has announced plans to construct a new refinery in the oil-producing region of Kirkuk, which has become the scene of open conflict between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

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Iraqi army members advance in military vehicles in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017 © Reuters

The Iraqi government also plans to increase oil production from the region to more than a million barrels per day with a foreign oil company to be contracted to implement the plan, according to the minister.

Al-Luaibi said all the oil fields in the province are back under government control.

The minister warned Kurdish authorities against blocking the Kirkuk oil export pipeline, saying they would face legal action.

On Monday, Iraqi troops forced their way into the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk with many locals fleeing the battle zone.

The economically important region drove a wedge between Baghdad and the KRG after an independence referendum held by Iraqi Kurds on September 25. Kirkuk was included in the vote, despite competing claims to the disputed area.

Rising tension in the region has kept global crude prices moving upward. West Texas Intermediate crude for November delivery was up 0.06 percent to $ 51.93 per barrel at 1:00pm GMT on Tuesday. Brent crude for December gained 0.5 percent to $ 58.09.

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Foreign takeovers: Does Britain think Chinese companies threaten its national security?

By ethan / October 17, 2017

British companies could receive added protection from foreign takeovers under new government proposals – just months after Theresa May cast doubt on a nuclear-power-station deal with China. The proposals have been presented as being “in the interests of national security.”

May suspended progress on a nuclear-power plant being built in Somerset, in which the Chinese had a central role. China General Nuclear (CGN) agreed to take a 33-percent stake in £18-billion ($ 23.8-billion) Hinkley Point C project, alongside French firm EDF.

However, progress on the project was paused by May in one of her early acts as Prime Minister in order to allow closer examination of the details.

CGN was “delighted” that Theresa May eventually agreed to the partnership, but the new proposals seem to indicate that something got her spooked.

Now, any “key” company facing a foreign takeover will be able to seek government protection.

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Chinese and British flags © Suzanne Plunkett

Business Secretary Greg Clark said the new rules will allow state intervention in the case of businesses that involve “the advanced technology sector,” and companies that “design or manufacture military and dual-use products.”

Although Clark did not mention China by name, the country’s growing pre-eminence in those sectors is widely recognized.

“It is right that every so often the Government reviews its mergers regime to close loopholes where they arise and this is what these proposals do in the area of national security,” Clark said, ahead of a consultation on the plans.

“No part of the economy is off-limits to foreign investment and the UK will continue to be a vociferous advocate for free trade and a magnet for global talent.”

Present rules mean intervention at government level can only take place with mergers involving companies with a UK turnover of more than £70 million ($ 92 million), or where the share of UK supply increases to 25 percent or more.

This rule would be removed under new plans.

The Government has claimed that plans would “close loopholes” and allow for “greater scrutiny of foreign investment in a changing market.”

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© Aly Song

The changes unveiled by Clark on Tuesday would allow ministers to scrutinize investment in businesses with a UK turnover of more than £1 million ($ 1.3 million).

Other proposals in the pipeline would allow ministers to examine transactions that could raise national security concerns. These would include business deals that could potentially increase the risk of espionage.

Stealing secrets for the Chinese is a major worry in the US after a number of high-profile cases.

Recently, a US Navy officer was charged with espionage. Lt. Commander Edward Lin, a US-naturalized man of Taiwanese origin, was originally suspected of leaking secrets involving the US’ secretive, Hawaii-based Special Projects Patrol Squadron to the Chinese or Taiwanese.

The officer allegedly leaked information to an FBI informant over the P-8A program.

Questions have been raised over his contact with Poseidon spy planes and its top-secret technology. This technology could soon be guarding Britain’s northern flank and nuclear-submarine fleet from foreign incursion after a £2 billion ($ 2.6 billion) order from the US.

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Hawaii ruling of travel ban ‘dangerously flawed’ – White House

By ethan / October 17, 2017

The White House released a statement calling the Tuesday ruling by a Hawaiian judge blocking the travel ban “dangerously flawed,” adding that it “undercuts the President’s efforts to keep the American people safe.”

The US Department of Justice said that they will appeal the ruling.

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© James Lawler Duggan

“Today’s ruling is incorrect, fails to properly respect the separation of powers, and has the potential to cause serious negative consequences for our national security,” the DOJ said in a statement.

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin called the ruling “another victory for the rule of law” and said that he stands “ready to defend it.”

The White House statement added that the ruling hindered President Donald Trump’s ability to “enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States.”

“The entry restrictions in the proclamation apply to countries based on their inability or unwillingness to share critical information necessary to safely vet applications,” the statement continued, adding, “as well as a threat assessment related to terrorism, instability, and other grave national security concerns.”

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Google enhances security for govt officials, political activists & journalists

By ethan / October 17, 2017

The giant search engine has introduced a set of its “strongest defense” features, designed to protect the Google accounts of users most vulnerable to hacking attacks, such as journalists, business leaders and political campaign teams.

On Tuesday, Google Inc. announced the launch of the “Advanced Protection Program,” tailored specifically for users “at particularly high risk of targeted online attacks,” who are “willing to trade a bit of convenience for more protection.”

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© Pawel Kopczynski

These include political campaign staffers, journalists seeking anonymity for their sources, or people in abusive relationships seeking safety.

Those who opt for the advanced protection will have to use not only a password to sign in, but also a physical “security key.” Said to be “the best protection against phishing,” a small USB device for a computer or a Bluetooth dongle for a mobile device will replace SMS codes or the Google Authenticator app.

In addition, the new program limits third-party apps from accessing Google data on Gmail or Drive. Another tool sees additional verification steps, which will take days to recover access to a user’s account, to prevent hackers pretending they’ve been locked out.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post claimed that “Russian operatives” had exploited the tech giant’s platforms to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election. The claim has not been confirmed by the tech firm, which has said it’s looking into the issue.

While the US probe into the Kremlin’s suspected meddling in the presidential election has dragged on for almost a year, Moscow has repeatedly denied allegations it hacked and leaked emails of Democratic Party staff, including the Gmail account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once again said on Tuesday that not a single piece of factual evidence has been leaked to the media during this period, and he described the claims as part of US political infighting.

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Russian Olympic Committee spends 1bln rubles on team’s preparations for Pyeongchang Games

By ethan / October 17, 2017

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) has spent over one billion rubles ($ 17.5 million) to prepare the national team for the upcoming Winter Olympics, which will be staged in South Korea in February.

The Committee’s First Deputy President Stanislav Pozdnyakov said on Tuesday that the team’s preparation for the Winter Olympics is in full swing, although the ROC is facing difficulties that traditionally accompany the warm up for the world’s biggest sporting events.

“We have spent about one billion rubles during a four-year course to prepare the national squads for the Winter Olympics. The ROC has complied with all the undertaken commitments, we will help our national federations to deliver decent performance in Pyeongchang next winter,” Pozdnyakov said, TASS reported.

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 Grigory Rodchenkov © Viktor Chernov / Global Look Press

The Russian delegation is expected to visit the host city of the Winter Games, Pyeongchang, to make organizational arrangements at the end of December.

Russia’s participation in this winter’s global sports spectacle is still threatened by an ongoing doping investigation, headed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has yet to conclude.

Two weeks ago, the IOC re-analyzed 254 samples taken from Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as part of the investigation into the country’s alleged doping violations.

The IOC Disciplinary Commission, which is leading the inquiry into an alleged cover-up of positive doping results in Sochi, has yet to publish the results of the re-tested probes, but is expected to finish its work by the end of the year.

In July 2016, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren published his report on Russia’s allegedly state-coordinated doping.

The findings contained in the report were instrumental in imposing a ban on Russia’s Olympic athletes and its entire Paralympics team ahead of the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

Last week, the head of the US Olympic Committee (USOC), Scott Blackmun, urged his international counterparts to take immediate action on Russian doping allegations in advance of the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.

In his speech, addressed to the USOC Assembly, Blackmun regretted that no punishment had been incurred so far in respect of multiple doping violations at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which were mentioned in the McLaren Report.

READ MORE: NFL to meet in New York in attempt to solve anthem controversy

“I believe the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is pursuing the findings of the McLaren Report, both in earnest and in good faith, and I believe the IOC when they say there will be consequences for the bad actors,” Blackmun said.

“But at some point, justice delayed is justice denied, and we are fast approaching that point,” he added.

This is not the first bid to discipline Russia for alleged doping breaches. A month ago, the leading international anti-doping agencies issued a joint statement, in which they called on the IOC to ban Russia from participating in the 2018 Winter Games.

READ MORE: 100kg transgender Australian footballer blocked from playing in women’s league

“We have serious doubts that the 2018 Games will be clean due to the incomplete investigation of massive evidence of individual doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and given the inadequate testing evidence of Russian athletes over the past four years,” they said.

“A country’s sport leaders and organizations should not be given credentials to the Olympics when they intentionally violate the rules and rob clean athletes.”

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France considers massive tax hike on hard liquor

By ethan / October 17, 2017

The price of cognac and calvados could increase significantly in France as the government plans a tax increase on strong alcoholic drinks. The measure will be part of a crackdown on beverages that negatively affect health.

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Workers and wine growers light heaters early in the morning, to protect vineyards from frost damage outside Chablis, France © Christian Hartmann

The proposal is part of the government’s new social security budget, which is expected to be presented on Wednesday.

According to French daily Les Echos, the tax increase would affect brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskeys, as well as other spirits, containing more than 15 percent alcohol.

French wine and beer will be exempt from the tax rise as they contain less alcohol. However, some wines like Muscat may fall under the new regime.

If imposed, the measure will pay big dividends for the government. Some estimates suggest it could bring in €150 million.

The tax hike could also be applied to fizzy drinks to fight obesity and diabetes.

The measure was recommended by the UN to reduce the world’s consumption of sugar.

Some call the “soda tax” controversial, with the French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn saying increasing the price of sugary drinks would simply be a “tax on the poor.”

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Boris says Labour MPs speaking to RT is a ‘scandal’ … despite his dad appearing only last month

By ethan / October 17, 2017

While Boris Johnson claims it is a “scandal” that Labour MPs are willing to appear on RT, the Tory foreign secretary seems unaware his own father came on the channel just last month. In fact, a lot of Johnson’s Tory colleagues have.

Addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Johnson claimed RT’s news output is “propaganda” and admonished those who have appeared.

“If you study the output of Russia Today, and if you consider the state of the press in Russia at present, it is a scandal that members of the party opposite are continuing to validate and legitimate that kind of propaganda by going on those programs,” Johnson said.

“I’m assured by my ministerial team none of them do so.”

His own father did, though.

Last month, Johnson’s father Stanley Johnson spoke to RT’s Going Underground about his anti-Brexit book, Kompromat, and discussed whether any of the characters were based on his son.

Host Afshin Rattansi and Johnson senior joked about the similarities between a character in his book, Harry Stokes – a bubbly blonde-haired former mayor of London who was “wowing the crowds wherever he went” who becomes foreign secretary – and his son.

Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, responded to Johnson’s remarks.

“It would have been astonishing, had it not been so banal: Boris Johnson is exercising his freedom of speech by bullying his fellow politicians for exercising theirs by speaking on RT,” she said.

The controversy was fired up by right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes, who said last week that over the past two years, Labour MPs have appeared on RT forty times.

But notably, in the same timeframe a number of prominent Conservative parliamentarians, including Mike Freer, now an assistant government whip, Welsh MP David Davies, who chairs the Welsh affairs select committee, and Nigel Evans, MP for the Ribble Valley, have also been guests of the channel.

Backbenchers Crispin Blunt, Sir David Amess, Daniel Kawczynski, and Philip Davies have also appeared.

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Hawaii judge blocks Trump’s travel ban

By ethan / October 17, 2017

A federal judge in Hawaii has granted a temporary restraining order against President Donald Trump’s latest travel ban, saying it was violating immigration law.

Trump’s executive order, issued on September 24, indefinitely restricted travel to the US for citizens from eight countries: Somalia, Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela and Chad.

The order “likely” violated a US law which prohibits nationality-based discrimination with respect to the issuance of immigrant visas, said US District Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii.

The same judge also challenged Trump’s first two travel bans, which targeted six Muslim-majority countries. Watson previously ruled that the orders discriminated against Muslims in light of Trump’s campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

However, Trump’s September order includes two countries – North Korea and Venezuela – that are not majority Muslim, weakening the plaintiffs’ argument that the ban is discriminatory.

Watson nonetheless cited discrimination in the new order as well. The judge also challenged the “national security” reasoning behind Trump’s travel restrictions, pointing to its “internal incoherencies” which “markedly undermine” the rationale.

“For example, the President finds that Iraq fails the “baseline” security assessment but then omits Iraq from the ban for policy reasons,” Watson wrote.

“Similarly, after failing to meet the information-sharing baseline, Venezuela also received a pass, other than with respect to certain Venezuelan government officials. On the other end, despite meeting the information-sharing baseline that Venezuela failed, Somalia and its nationals were rewarded by being included in the ban,” the judge continued.

“National security is not a ‘talismanic incantation’ that, once invoked, can Case support any and all exercise of executive power,” Watson’s restraining order read.

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