December 13, 2018

USA: Five People Convicted In Minnesota For Their Connection With Brutally Efficient International Sex Trafficking Ring.

The Washington Examiner
by Diana Stancy Correll
Thursday December 13, 2018

Five people have been convicted by a federal jury in St. Paul, Minn., for involvement in an international sex trafficking ring, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

“The defendants convicted yesterday participated in a massive yet brutally efficient criminal enterprise that trafficked hundreds of vulnerable Thai women for sexual exploitation and used sophisticated money laundering techniques to conceal and sustain itself,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s criminal division said in a statement.

According to information proven at a six-week trial, the sex trafficking organization brought women from Bangkok, Thailand — who were often from devastatingly poor backgrounds and deceived into thinking they would have a better life in the U.S. — to cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, and Houston.

Once at the prostitution houses, the women were not permitted to leave unless a member of the organization was with them. The women were ordered to have sex with strangers for up to 12 hours per day, with as many as 10 different men. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Traffickers also participated in money laundering and visa fraud to hide their profits, and to help victims obtain counterfeit visas. The information traffickers received about the victims and their families was then used to intimidate victims from leaving the organization.

Those convicted Wednesday were Michael Morris, 65, of Seal Beach, Calif.; Pawinee Unpradit, 46, of Dallas, Texas; Saowapha Thinram, 44, of Hutto, Texas; Thoucharin Ruttanamongkongul, 35, of Chicago, Ill.; and Waralee Wanless, 39, of The Colony, Texas.

They were convicted on charges including conspiracy to commit sex trafficking; sex trafficking by use of force, fraud, and coercion; and conspiracy to engage in money laundering, among others.

The five individuals were not the first to be convicted in connection with the sex trafficking organization. Thirty-one individuals were also convicted in relation to the sex trafficking group.

“The cruel and illegal actions of the defendants tear at the fabric of our community, causing trauma, fear and anguish both seen and unseen,” said St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell. “Thankfully, due to the exceptional work of many law enforcement agencies and their representatives, the guilty will be held accountable for their actions and survivors will get help, support and justice.”

USA: Inspector General Reported That Mueller's Investigative Team Totally Erased Text Message Evidence From FBI Employees Being Investigated For Collusion To Undermine THE ELECTION!

Washington Times
written by Jeff Mordock and Stephen Dinan
Thursday December 13, 2018

Investigators weren’t able to find any text messages between fired agent Peter Strzok and former bureau lawyer Lisa Page from their time on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe because by the time their phones were recovered, they’d been reset for others’ use, an inspector general said Thursday.

The report also said the FBI still isn’t reliably collecting text messages of all of its employees — despite the black eye the bureau has suffered from Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page.

In fact, the FBI’s data collection tool misses about 10 percent of text messages sent on Samsung Galaxy S7 devices — the same phones issued to Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page. That rate doubles to about 20 percent for an earlier model of the phone also used by the two FBI officials.

The revelations came in a report Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released to detail the efforts his team made to try to recover the texts between the two, who traded anti-Trump messages during the course of an adulterous affair they were having.

Investigators have already released many of the controversial messages, including one in which Mr. Strzok promised they would “stop” Mr. Trump from winning the White House.

But there was a gap in the text messages, or what the inspector general dubbed a “collection tool failure,” and the new report detailed investigators’ efforts to try to recover those messages directly from the Samsung Galaxy phones issued to both Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page.

All told about 19,000 messages were recovered according to the report.

The inspector general said there was “no discernible patterns” regarding the content of the text messages that were missed by the FBI’s collection tool, but later recovered by investigators.

“The messages included some political content, some work-related content, and some personal content,” the report said.

While messages were recovered from some phones, the inspector general said that wasn’t the case for the phones assigned to the two during their time on the special counsel’s probe.

Ms. Page joined that office on May 28, 2017, and left on July 15, 2017. Mr. Strzok joined in early June and was ousted from that team in late July, with his final clearance from the team coming Aug. 11, 2017.

They returned the phones issued to them, and they were both reset to factory settings and therefore had no content from their use.

The FBI employee who received Mr. Strzok’s phone says she didn’t remember it containing any substantive messages. Ms. Page’s phone couldn’t be located for several months, but when it was finally found this September, it had also been reset and had no messages.

Mr. Strzok had turned his device over to the Justice Department once he was removed from the special counsel’s team. A records officer for the special counsel’s office told the inspector general the phone had been reviewed for texts, but it contained “no substantive text messages.”

Ms. Page’s phone was not reviewed by the special counsel’s office for records that needed to retained, the report said.

The deputy attorney general told the inspector general that such resets are standard procedure when a user returns a device and it is to be reissued to another user.

In a response to the report, the FBI said it is reviewing its current collection method.

The FBI “appreciates and agrees with the OIG’s conclusion and explanation that the content of the text messages exchanged between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page did not appear to be a factor in their collection or lack thereof,” the FBI response said. “Further, the OIG did not find that gaps in the collection were intentional on the part of the FBI or any FBI personnel.”
The Federalist
written by Bre Payton
Thursday December 13, 2018

The DOJ wiped text messages between former FBI employees, Lisa Page and Peter Strozk, before the Office of the Inspector General could review them.

The Department of Justice wiped text messages between former FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strozk from their cell phones before the Office of the Inspector General could review them, a new report from the DOJ watchdog reveals.

Page and Strozk’s involvement with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has been heavily scrutinized after it was revealed they had sent numerous anti-Trump text messages back and forth to one another. Mueller has been tasked with looking into whether or not Donald Trump and his campaign associates coordinated with Russian officials to steal the 2016 election away from Hillary Clinton.

The 11-page report reveals that almost a month after Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team, his government-issued iPhone was wiped clean and restored to factory settings by another individual working in Mueller’s office. The special counsel’s Record’s Officer told investigators that “she determined it did not contain records that needed to be retained.”

“She noted in her records log about Strzok’s phone: ‘No substantive texts, notes or reminders,'” the report states.

When the OIG obtained his old cell phone in January, it had been issued to another individual within the agency and investigators were unable to recover any text messages sent or received by Strozk on that device.

Two weeks after Page departed Mueller’s team on July 15, 2017, her government-issued iPhone was also wiped and restored to factory settings and had not been reissued to another person within the agency. No one within the special counsel’s office or the Justice Management Divisions of the agency had any records as to who cleared all the data from the iPhone.

The OIG was able to recover more than 19,000 texts between Strozk and Page on their old government-issued Samsung Galaxy S5 devices that had been lost due to the agency’s “collection tool failure.” The OIG did not include the content of these texts in the report.

USA: Obama Ordered Anwar al-Awlaki Killed By U.S. Drone Strike IN YEMEN. Anwar Was An American Citizen Who Chose To Advocate Terrorism. Anwar Son Wasn't Accused Was With Him And Killed Too.

So, basically the U.S. Senate today unanimously decided to hand Yemen over to Iran who originally overthrew the Yemen government that was allied with Saudi Arabia. Iran sent their funded Islamic militant group named the Houthis to overthrow the Yemen government. Did everybody somehow forget how the Yemen nightmare began? Saudi Arabia doesn't want Iran, their adversary, at their border. The Houthis are identical to Hezbollah Islamic militant group that strategically TOOK OVER Lebanon. Both the Houthis and Hezbollah are FINANCED and armed with weapons by the Iranian government and Muslim Brotherhood. (emphasis mine)
American Thinker
written by Mark Christian and Joe Herring
Thursday November 13, 2018

Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen who chose to advocate terrorism and built a career on orchestrating activities intended to weaken, injure, and ultimately overthrow the government of the United States. He was a member of numerous subversive groups, dating back to his college days. He was an avowed Islamist, who pledged to do all in his power to subjugate the world, and everyone in it, under Islam, by any means necessary.

As an able propagandist, Awlaki became a valuable recruiter for terror groups. By any objective measure, the man was an enemy of his own nation. Awlaki was a fiery Islamic preacher. His words were unreservedly anti-American. They inflamed Islamic passions. Awlaki wielded words as weapons.

He met his demise in 2011, on the receiving end of an American drone strike in Yemen ordered by then-president Barack Obama. That strike also killed Awlaki's American-born 16-year-old son.

While there were a few bleats and squawks from various civil libertarians on the left and right over the assassination of not one, but two American citizens without due process of law, the issue grew stale quickly as the media sensed that their favorite son (Obama) might be harmed politically with further reporting.

Fast-forward to the present day, and while keeping the circumstances of Awlaki's death in the forefront of your mind, ask yourself why so many on both sides of the aisle are now exercised over Saudi Arabia allegedly doing the exact same thing to a Saudi national, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national guilty of every crime (and a few more!) for which Awlaki paid with his life.

There is little reason to mourn the deaths of Khashoggi and Awlaki, as both surely understood the risk inherent in attempting to bring down the governments of their respective nations. The two scenarios are, in nearly all aspects, identical.

Khashoggi was Muslim Brotherhood. Not only did he belong to groups committed to overthrowing the House of Saud, but he founded two of them himself. He was a proud friend of Osama bin Laden, even taking up arms and fighting alongside bin Laden in his younger days. He was as committed an Islamic supremacist as Awlaki. Khashoggi's diatribes were instrumental in sparking and sustaining the Muslim Brotherhood-led uprisings collectively known as the "Arab Spring," which was not the grassroots demand for democracy the Obama administration and the media claimed, but rather a series of coups to replace secular-minded leaders with Islamist theocrats who shared the ideology of the Brotherhood.

In Khashoggi's posthumously published final article in the Washington Post, he wrote: "The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011," echoing verbatim the tape-recorded words of al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden, praising the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and speaking of a "rare historic opportunity" for Muslims to rise up. Throughout Khashoggi's career, his words and those of bin Laden were largely indistinguishable in sentiment, purpose, and vitriol toward the West.

More recently, Khashoggi became incensed over the progressive direction taken by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince bin Salman regarding the social strictures of Islam and the role of Islam in government. For the first time since the founding of the kingdom one hundred years ago, Islam in Saudi Arabia has been removed from its favored perch in the affairs of government. No longer willing to accept a Middle East where the only exports are oil and terrorism, MBS has taken concrete steps to enforce a growing separation of church and state in his nation, has arrested and prosecuted those wealthy patrons of terrorism among Saudi society, and has initiated diplomatic overtures to Israel and the West.

MBS is the embodiment of everything the Muslim Brotherhood despises, and his continued rule in Saudi Arabia means the continued decline of the Brotherhood and its influence. Khashoggi knew it. The Muslim Brotherhood knew it. Most of all, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia knew it.

Did bin Salman consider Khashoggi a threat to the throne, as the media and political pundits claim? There is little evidence for this. There are no elections in Saudi Arabia, so MBS couldn't have worried about Khashoggi mounting a political campaign to win control. Khashoggi's influence in the Middle East had been greatly diminished with the failure of the Arab Spring, reducing his readership to boutique status, no longer capable of fomenting major shifts of opinion.

If the crown prince did indeed order his death, it likely wasn't for the reasons Western media are reporting, but more likely due to his backdoor facilitation of continued terror funding of Saudi origin through his so-called democracy-building organizations. Khasoggi was a dangerous Islamic ideologue whose employment as a "journalist" with the Washington Post gave him a hyper-magnified platform for his radical Islamic thoughts and the perfect patina of legitimacy to conceal his more nefarious activities.

Due almost exclusively to the efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood in America, Islamic ideology here in the U.S. is alive, well, and thriving. A federal judge recently ruled that it is unconstitutional to prevent female genital mutilation of girls as young as five, ruling that authorities have no constitutional basis for interfering in that Islamic rite.

The elevation of Islam above all other religions by criminalizing criticism of it remains a shining beacon for Muslim activists and the groups to which they belong. The international Muslim Brotherhood is not a fantastical concoction of Arab-phobic morons, but is an active and powerful organization that has been committed to civilizational jihad for the better part of a century.

They operate through front groups masquerading as civil rights organizations, and the unwillingness of responsible authorities to investigate and dismantle these Islamic Trojan horses does not constitute evidence of their innocence, but is indicative of their mastery of propaganda and "lawfare," using our open system against us. This is the arena where Khashoggi operated in plain sight.

We are in a war with Islamic extremism and the ideology that gave birth to groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. President Trump knows that a good relationship with a progressive Muslim ruler in the Middle East like bin Salman is key to winning that war. He was wise to make a measured response to the murder of Khashoggi, eschewing the overreach demanded by his detractors.

Apparently, either the Post didn't check into the background of this man it publicly mourns or it wasn't bothered by his lifelong commitment to facilitating Islam's goal of global dominance.

A question remains unanswered by those calling for harsh sanction of the young Saudi ruler: "Why is the U.S. permitted to defend itself by assassinating a citizen who was a clear and active threat, but the Saudis are not?"

If we ought to sanction the Saudi crown prince for an order we have no firm evidence was given, then we certainly ought to revisit Obama's well documented order and apply the same standard.
The Left are such a piece of work. I have more choice words I'd like to say, but I will just leave it at that. (emphasis mine)

December 12, 2018

NATURE: Luxury French Fashion Brand Chanel Becomes the Latest in Luxury Fashion to Ban Fur and First To Ban Exotic Animal Skins

Fortune Magazine
written by Grace Dobush
Wednesday December 5, 2018

Famed fashion house Chanel is no longer using “exotic skins” in it’s “future creations”. The list includes crocodile, lizard, snake, and stingray as well as fur.

“The future of high-end products will come from the know-how of what our atelier is able to do,” Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel SAS, told WWD. Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld said he couldn’t remember the last time he used fur at Chanel.

Pavlovsky said the decision was made because it was becoming increasingly difficult for Chanel to source skins that met the house’s quality and ethical standards. From now on it will focus its research and development on textiles and leathers generated by agri-food industries.

Burberry, Gucci, Armani, and Versace have also previously pledged to go fur-free, but Chanel is the largest luxury fashion house to ban exotic skins as well, according to animal rights organization PETA.

Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement: “The champagne corks are popping at PETA, thanks to Chanel’s announcement that it’s kicking fur and exotic skins — including crocodile, lizard, and snakeskin — to the curb. For decades, PETA has called on the brand to opt for luxury, cruelty-free fashion that no animal had to suffer and die for, and now it’s time for other companies, like Louis Vuitton, to follow the lead of the iconic double Cs and do the same.”

Diane von Furstenberg stopped using exotic skins this fall as well, but it’s been a difficult habit to quit. Handbags and accessories made from exotic skins are big sources of income for luxury fashion brands, with limited edition Hermes bags selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Rather than cutting out exotic skins, many fashion houses focused on ethical sourcing, and some even run their own farms, BOF reports.

Fashion houses’ changes of heart might be partly attributed to activists’ persistence, but consumers’ tastes have also changed. Young fashionistas care more about supply chain ethics than previous generations and are more likely to shell out for an exclusive pair of sneakers than a handbag their grandmother might have carried. The Wall Street Journal reported French imports of reptile skins sank more than 30% between 2015 and 2018.
Yahoo News
written by Suyin Haynes, Time
Tuesday December 4, 2018

Luxury French fashion brand Chanel has announced that fur and exotic skins will no longer be used in their collections, making it the latest high-end label to shun animal pelts in its designs.

Joining other fashion houses such as Gucci, Versace and Michael Kors, Chanel will no longer use animal fur or skins such as crocodile, lizard, snake and stingray in the production of their garments and accessories. The announcement was made on the eve of Chanel’s pre-fall Metiers d’Art fashion show on Tuesday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

A spokeswoman for the brand told CNN that the decision was taken partly because “it is becoming increasingly difficult to source exotic skins that match our ethical standards,” adding that the ban will provide “an opportunity to create a new generation of high-end products.”

Longtime creative director Karl Lagerfeld told WWD that “We did it because it’s in the air, but it’s not an air people imposed to us. It’s a free choice.” The move marks a wider shift in the fashion industry away from fur in particular and towards synthetic versions. Some analysts pointed to changing trends among consumers with a greater awareness of ethical and environmental factors as a potential reason for the ban.

The announcement has been welcomed by animal rights groups as a campaign victory. A statement from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said that “now it’s time for other companies, like Louis Vuitton, to follow the lead of the iconic double C’s and do the same.”

USA: Hulu Inks Anime Deal with Sony's Funimation Ink. Will Now Have Exclusive U.S. Streaming Rights To Hit Japanese Anime Series.

The Hollywood Reporter
Hulu Inks Anime Deal with Sony's Funimation Ink
written by Patrick Brzeski
Wednesday December 5, 2018

The partnership will give Hulu exclusive U.S. streaming rights to hit Japanese anime series like 'Tokyo Ghoul,' 'Attack on Titan' and 'My Hero Academia.'

U.S.-based fans of Japanese anime will soon find a trove of their favorite content popping up on Hulu.

The streaming service has inked a multi-year partnership and output deal with anime specialist Funimation, the subsidiary of Sony Pictures Television.

Hulu described the pact as its "largest agreement for anime programming to date," significantly expanding its collection of subtitled and dubbed titles, including exclusive digital rights to international hits like My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan and Tokyo Ghoul.

The deal also grants Hulu a first look at on-demand U.S. streaming rights to future anime series released by Funimation beginning in 2019. These future titles will premiere day-and-date on Hulu and Funimation with the worldwide premieres in Japan.

"With this new deal, we are doubling-down on our investment to continue growing our world-class anime offering with even more shows that we know our viewers love to watch," said Lisa Holme, Hulu's vp content acquisition.

Added Gen Fukunaga, president and CEO at Funimation: "It will fuel the acquisition of new titles and provide both Funimation and Hulu subscribers with access to the very best in anime that Japan has to offer."

Funimation, which specializes in releasing Japanese anime in the U.S. theatrically and online, already boasts an expansive catalog of titles in the genre, including more than 600 shows. The company has released hit anime films like Your Name (2017) in U.S. cinemas, and also operates the subscription streaming service FunimationNOW, which is available via Sony's PlayStation Store, iTunes Store, Google Play, Amazon Apps, Xbox Game Store and mobile devices. Funimation also sells merchandise and DVDs online.

In 2017, Sony Pictures Television Networks unveiled a deal to buy a 95 percent stake in Funimation for $143 million, valuing the company at approximately $150 million.

Hulu has made anime an area of focus for its library, and already offers well-known favorites in the genre, including Naruto Shippuden, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, One-Punch Man, Sailor Moon and Sword Art Online, as well as various exclusive simulcasts and dubbed episodes.

UAE: UAE Seeks Rich, Educated Foreigners With Long-Term Visa Scheme.

The Daily Star, Lebanon
written by Reuters staff
Sunday November 25, 2018

DUBAI - The United Arab Emirates will offer long-term visas to rich property investors, senior scientists and entrepreneurs in an effort to support its economy and real estate market, which have been hurt by low oil prices.

Until now, visas for foreigners to live in the Arab world's second biggest economy have generally been valid for only a few years, and have depended on the main visa holder in each family remaining employed. The government said in May it planned to ease that policy.

Detailed rules approved by the cabinet Saturday offer five-year residency to owners of UAE real estate worth at least 5 million dirhams ($1.4 million), as long as ownership is not based on loans, state news agency WAM reported.

Renewable 10-year visas will be provided to foreigners with investments in the UAE of at least 10 million dirhams, if non-real estate assets account for at least 60 percent of the total. Investors can bring spouses and children into the country.

Other rules offer five-year visas to entrepreneurs and 10-year visas for scientists and researchers with top qualifications. Outstanding students can stay for five years.

The UAE is currently locked in a diplomatic dispute with Britain after a U.K. academic was jailed for life on spying charges.

Share prices of UAE property firms, beaten down by slumping real estate prices, moved little Sunday in response to the new visa rules. Analysts said they were probably not enough on their own to change investment or employment trends.

Some parts of the economy that rely on white-collar professionals – a class of people who might buy homes in the UAE – are seeing stagnant or even falling employment.

Jean-Paul Pigat, head of research at Lighthouse Research in Dubai, said the new visas were a step in the right direction but: "In order to have a large impact on domestic demand and sectors such as real estate, the policies might need to be broadened so that larger numbers of residents can qualify."

Also, the visas do not provide a path to UAE citizenship, which would be a sensitive political issue in a country where well over two-thirds of the roughly 9.4 million residents are believed to be foreign.

Nishit Lakhotia, head of research at financial company SICO in Bahrain, said the new visa system was positive but unlikely to have any immediate material impact.

"There are much less stringent investment requirements in some of Eastern European countries or even Turkey to get citizenship, not just residency permits," he said.

In another step to aid the real estate market, the UAE government approved in September a law allowing expatriates to stay in the country after retirement if they own a property valued at about $545,000.

USA: General Motors (GM) Will Kill Off These 6 Chevy, Buick, And Cadillac Sedans When It Closes Select Factories In 2019. GM Closing All Operations In Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.

Business Insider
written by Benjamin Zhang
Tuesday November 27, 2018

General Motors announced a major shift in its business strategy on Monday that will see the automaker shift its focus toward trucks, SUVs, and electric vehicles.

The announcement also signals a shift away from the traditional sedan, which has been losing sales to crossovers and SUVs for much of the past decade.

As a result, the company said it would "unallocate" production at three assembly plants that build sedans: Oshawa Assembly in Canada, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Michigan, and Lordstown Assembly in Ohio.

To unallocate production simply means GM won't assign any models to be produced at these facilities beyond 2019. According to Matthew DeBord, Business Insider's senior transportation correspondent, GM can't officially close these plants under its current UAW contract, set to be renegotiated in 2019.

GM said it would also idle two factories in Maryland and Michigan that supply transmissions to those three assembly plants.

The company also announced it would reduce its salaried and salaried contract employees by 15%, including a 25% reduction in the number of executives. That equates to more than 14,000 jobs.

GM says the new strategy will save the company $6 billion.

As for the cars made at the soon-to-be-idled plants, GM has confirmed that they too will get the ax.

Based on the numbers, the automaker's move away from sedans makes sense. Through the first three quarters of this year, GM's US sales were down 1.2%, though its sedans performed, on the whole, substantially worse.

For example, US sales of the Lordstown-produced Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan were down 26.5% from the same period last year. The Hamtramck-made Chevrolet Volt range-extended EV saw sales fall by 13.7%, while sales of the full-size Chevy Impala, made at Oshawa and Hamtramck, were down 13.4%.

Hamtramck's Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac CT6 saw sales fall by 14.2% and 10.6%. The only model set to get the ax with positive sales growth is Oshawa's Cadillac XTS, which was up 15.9%.

While sales have slipped, many of GM's sedans have earned critical acclaim. For example, the current-generation full-size Impala has long been praised for its comfort and refinement and has frequently appeared on Consumer Reports' "Top Picks" list.

"The Impala continues to be a gem among large cars, providing a driving experience that's more akin to a luxury car," the publication said of the Chevy earlier this year.

The Cadillac CT6 represents a high point of American luxury-car making.

"The Cadillac's superb amalgamation of luxury and performance makes the CT6 a true standout in the luxury market," Business Insider said in a 2017 comparison with the Lincoln Continental.

And then there's the Chevrolet Volt. The range-extended EV helped push GM toward the forefront of production electric-propulsion technology when it debuted in 2011. The current-generation Volt debuted in 2016 with expanded capabilities.

Here's a closer look at the six sedans GM is set to discontinue:

1. Chevrolet Cruze: Production ends March 1. The company sold 109,662 in the US through September.

2. Chevrolet Volt: Production ends March 1. The company sold 13,243 in the US through September.

3. Buick LaCrosse: Production ends March 1. The company sold 13,409 through September.

4. Chevrolet Impala: Production ends June 1. The company sold 43,952 through September.

5. Cadillac CT6: Production ends June 1. The company sold 7,270 through September.

6. Cadillac XTS: Production ends Q4 2019. The company sold 12,664 through September.
CTV News, Canada
written by Staff
Sunday November 25, 2018

Numerous sources have told CTV Toronto that General Motors is planning to close all operations in Oshawa, Ont., affecting thousands of high-paying jobs.

The announcement is expected to be made on Monday, in the city of about 159,000 people located roughly 60 kilometres east of Toronto.

Sources say the Oshawa closures are part of a global restructuring aimed at moving toward lower-emission vehicles. Plants in the United States are also expected to close, although other GM operations in Ontario appear to be safe.

In an emailed statement to CTV Toronto, GM spokesperson David Paterson said the company “won’t be commenting ... on speculation.”

There are currently about 2,500 union positions and roughly 300 salaried employees in the Oshawa area. GM employs thousands more in Ingersoll, Markham and St. Catharines.

Unifor, which represents the hourly workers, said Sunday that it “does not have complete details” of the announcement but has “been informed that, as of now, there is no product allocated to the Oshawa Assembly Plant past December 2019.”

“Based on commitments made during 2016 contract negotiations, Unifor does not accept this announcement and is immediately calling on GM to live up to the spirit of that agreement,” the union’s statement said.

“Unifor is scheduled to hold a discussion with General Motors tomorrow and will provide further comment following the meeting,” the union added.

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer tweeted that his “heart goes out to all those affected by this devastating decision.”

A source with the federal government confirmed to CTV News that they are aware of the situation and concerned about Monday's announcement.

Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, who represents the riding of Durham, said on Twitter that, “from the calls I have been making tonight, it appears these reports about an end to vehicle assembly in Oshawa are true.”

“This is devastating news to families in Oshawa, the Durham region and all of Ontario,” O’Toole added. “Growing up, my father worked at GM much like the parents of many of my friends. I think of these families tonight and pledge to get to the bottom of why this is happening and whether the decision can be reversed.”

Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, a New Democrat, told CP24 that “if the news is true,” then Oshawa is “bracing ourselves for a fight.”

“Let’s be real here,” French said. “GM didn’t build Oshawa, Oshawa built GM.”

More than 100 years of history

GM’s history in Canada dates back more than 100 years. GM merged with McLaughlin Buicks in 1918. The Oshawa Assembly Plant opened in 1953.

By the early 1980s, more than 23,000 workers were employed at GM in Oshawa.

The Oshawa Assembly plant recently became the only factory in North America capable of building both cars and trucks.

Outgoing Oshawa Mayor John Henry told CTV Toronto’s Miranda Anthistle that he’s hoping the plant closure is “just a rumour” because GM is a “huge economic engine to the community.”

“My entire family has worked at General Motors,” said Henry. “My dad was a foreman in the plant. I have two brothers in the plant. My sister worked there in university. I worked there as a contractor.”

At the same time, Henry said that Oshawa’s economy has diversified so that it is no longer dependent on the auto industry.

“It’s very different now than when I was growing up, when everyone you knew was working in the plant,” he said.

“We’ve diversified and we have a lot of other things going on,” he added. “But the car industry is still a big part of our community.”

December 11, 2018

CHINA: China's Unipec To Buy U.S. Oil After Xi-Trump Tariff Truce. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ‘

Reuters News
written by Meng Meng, and Florence Tang
Tuesday December 4, 2018

BEIJING/SINGAPORE - Chinese oil trader Unipec plans to resume U.S. crude shipments to China by March after the Xi-Trump deal at the G20 meeting reduced the risk of tariffs being imposed on these imports, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The sources told Reuters that Unipec - trading arm of state refiner Sinopec (600028.SS) - is looking to import U.S. oil by March 1, which marks the end of a 90-day negotiating period agreed by the leaders of the world’s two biggest economies.

China’s crude oil imports from the United States ground to a halt in October as this year’s trade war between the two countries escalated.

“Chinese buyers who want to buy U.S. crude will rush to import the oil during this window,” a senior executive from Asia’s largest refiner Sinopec said, adding that the oil has to arrive in China before March 1.

“Oil prices are low, so it makes economic sense to store some crude as commercial inventories,” said the executive, who asked not to be named.

Sinopec said it has a policy not to comment on specific trade deals. Unipec did not respond to an email.

Oil prices have slumped by around a third since early October amid an emerging glut, triggering expectations that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will agree to supply cuts at a meeting this week. [O/R]

It was unclear how much oil Unipec - China’s largest crude oil importer - would order from the United States, but one of the sources said the company could lift a record volume of oil in January.

China’s previous record for a month came in January 2018, when it imported about 472,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the United States, according to Chinese customs data.

Before the trade dispute erupted in mid-2018, China had become the largest importer of U.S. crude. China imported on average 325,000 bpd of U.S. crude in the first nine months of 2018 before imports fell to zero in October, customs data shows.

Although crude oil was not included on Beijing’s import tariff list, Chinese buyers started avoiding U.S. oil from mid-2018.

U.S.-based trade and shipping sources said Unipec is back in the market, looking to buy U.S. crude and book ships for China.

Unipec may have chartered VLCC Manifa to load U.S. oil this month, one of the sources said. Another said the company has provisionally booked a VLCC to load U.S. oil in January and make the 45-50-day voyage to China for $8.4 million.

While China is expected to maximize U.S. oil imports during the 90-day window, the overall outlook for this trade flow in 2019 remained murky.

“Tensions have eased between the two countries but we can’t forecast what will happen after March,” the Sinopec executive said.

“There is a lot of pressure on both sides to reach a mutual agreement in 90 days.”

CHINA: A Female Chinese Novelist Has Been Sentenced To 10 Years In Jail For Writing And Distributing Books Containing Explicit Descriptions Of Gay Male Sex. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

France24 News
written by AFP staff
Monday November 19, 2018

Beijing - A female Chinese novelist has been sentenced to 10 years in jail for writing and distributing books containing explicit descriptions of gay male sex, state-run media said Monday, a punishment that drew criticism for its severity.

The author, who goes by the pen name "Tianyi", attracted the scrutiny of authorities after one of her homoerotic novels, "Gongzhan", went viral last year, according to the Global Times tabloid.

The book detailed the sexual relationship between a teacher and his male student.

Tianyi also distributed 7,000 "pornographic" books, most related to homosexuality, which garnered "illegal profits" of 150,000 yuan ($21,600), according to Wuhu city police cited by The Global Times.

She has filed an appeal, according to local media.

Tianyi's sentencing in eastern Anhui province on October 31 has drawn a wave of criticism on Twitter-like Weibo, where many people noted that the punishment was treated like other crimes such as rape.

According to Chinese criminal law, rapists are charged with three to 10 year prison sentences.

"We don't deny her crime -- it's just that we don't accept this kind of unreasonable judgement," wrote one Weibo user, whose post garnered more than 5,000 likes and 1,000 reposts.

Homoerotic novels are not uncommon in China and are easily accessible via different websites, but those who earn 50,000 yuan ($7,200) or more in producing or disseminating "obscene" material are subject to Chinese criminal law.

Gay romance stories are popular in China too -- in fact, there is a term in Chinese for women who are fans of gay love stories, or "funu".

But in recent weeks, Beijing has cracked down on "illegal" publications, a broadly defined category that includes pornography, as well as work that "endangers national unity" and "disturbs social order".

Last week, government regulators increased the amount of cash rewards Chinese citizens can earn for reporting "illegal" publications to authorities -- an upper limit of 600,000 yuan ($86,000).

The Cyberspace Administration of China said last Monday it had "cleaned up" 9,800 accounts on Chinese social media platforms which it accused of spreading "politically harmful" information and rumours.

Gay-themed films struggle to make it into movie theatres, same-sex relationships are banned from television screens and gay content is forbidden on online streaming platforms.

China classified homosexuality as a crime until 1997 and a mental illness until 2001, but conservative attitudes and discrimination remain widespread.

JAPAN: Intends To Expand Its Military Base In Djibouti A Decade After It Set Up The Facility In The Tiny But Strategically-Located Horn Of Africa Country To Combat Rising Incidents Of Piracy

written by Julian Ryall (Tokyo)
November 19, 2018

In 2009, Japan set up a military facility in Djibouti to combat rising incidents of piracy off Northeast Africa. A decade later, the pirates have been largely defeated, but Tokyo intends to expand its Djibouti base.

When Japan set up a facility in Djibouti in 2009 with docks for warships, an airfield and the other infrastructure that an overseas military base requires to support troops on the ground, it had the very clearly defined task of supporting the international campaign against pirates operating out of Somalia.

In 2011, there were no fewer than 237 incidents involving suspected pirates. Thanks in large part to the international response, that figure fell to zero incidents in 2015 and a mere nine cases were reported in the whole of 2017.

Yet instead of declaring the Self-Defense Forces' (SDF) mission accomplished, closing the Djibouti base and bringing the two Kawasaki P-1 patrol aircraft, a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer and at least 180 ground troops back to Japan, Tokyo is expected to include in its new National Defense Program Guidelines plans to upgrade the facility.

The details of the enhanced base have yet to be released, the Asahi newspaper reported, but the original 12-hectare plot alongside the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport was last year expanded to 15 hectares.

The aim, analysts suggest, is to give Japan more of a say in international security and peacekeeping operations, but also, acting in concert with like-minded nations, serve as a check on China's increasingly expansionist agenda.

Emerging markets

Beijing opened its own military base in Djibouti in 2017 and is pushing its One Belt One Road economic initiative for Asia, the Middle East and into the emerging markets of Africa.

"I see these efforts as not just a question of expanding Japan's presence, but also an attempt to build on the broader, more multilateral quasi-alliances involving the US and Australia, as well as countries such as India that will be acting in their own national interests when it comes to China," said Jun Okumura, a political analyst at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs.

"This is part of a broader effort among the international community to maintain the balance at a time when there are concerns over changes in the existing security balance in the Asia-Pacific region and now beyond, into the Indian Ocean," he told DW.

Japan learns from allies

The Japanese government has studied how other nations with a more global security presence – notably the US, France and the UK – operate military bases in other parts of the world. Britain, for example, took advantage of the location of its facility in Oman to expand emergency and humanitarian assistance to the people of the Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan struck in November 2013.

"No, Japan does not need a facility in Djibouti, but there are a number of advantages if they do remain there," said Garren Mulloy, an associate professor of international relations at Daito Bunkyo University and an expert on security issues.

"Firstly, if the international force deployed to put a stop to the piracy all left then the problem could very quickly come back again, so there is a need to maintain that deterrent," he told DW.

"But also, Japan's SDF has such a low profile internationally that the only place it is presently operationally engaged abroad is Djibouti and it wants to be seen to be engaged in international operations, which it has been with the anti-piracy campaign," he said.

"And the military and politicians will argue that it is always better to have a base like this and not to have to set one up – at a high cost in terms of price and political capital – when one is needed," he added. "So when any military has a base such as Djibouti, they will try to keep it to serve as a facility for future operations."

Regional hub

The base has proved important in the past, serving as a hub for transportation, logistical supply and medical aid in a time of crisis, such as when terrorists attacked a natural gas plant in Algeria in 2013, killing 10 Japanese nationals. It was also utilized when the SDF had ground forces in South Sudan as a peacekeeping force between 2012 and 2017.

And while the Japanese government has stated that it intends to have one member of the SDF in Djibouti for every 10 Chinese military personnel, Mulloy does not believe that Tokyo's decision to retain a force in the region is the start of a modern-day "Great Game" as the two countries jostle for influence – through fair means or foul – across Africa.

"African nations will be happy at international investment, whether that comes through China's One Belt One Road or Japanese trade missions and government programs. So it will be a civilian competition rather than a military one," he said.
The Diplomat
written by Tyler Headley
Tuesday December 4, 2018

China’s first overseas military base provides an interesting test case for its global ambitions.

Since its construction, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Support Base in Djibouti has become an increasingly important outpost in the Horn of Africa. The base’s geostrategic location yields insights into China’s machinations for the region.

Roughly two years ago, China’s negotiations with Djibouti for the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) first overseas military base successfully concluded. On July 11, 2017, the PLAN deployed ships from the South Sea Fleet to officially open the base. The opening ceremony on August 1, 2017 was followed a month and a half later with live fire exercises.

China has avoided using overt military terminology to describe the base, as Mordechai Chaziza notes, “preferring instead to use the terms ‘support facilities’ or ‘logistical facilities.’” China still maintains that the base is primarily for nonmilitary activities; last year, the state-run news agency Xinhua wrote that “the Djibouti base has nothing to do with an arms race or military expansion, and China has no intention of turning the logistics center into a military foothold.” Analysis from Stratfor cast doubt on China’s claim, showing the military base has become heavily fortified with an underground space of 23,000 square meters.

Also, in the year since the base officially opened, it has been party to controversy including the United States. Washington alleged that China was directing powerful lasers from its base at nearby U.S. planes, a nuisance and provocation that injured two airmen. China has denied the allegations.

Much of the tension is attributable to a plethora of countries establishing bases in the Horn of Africa for its geostrategic location. Djibouti offers a prime opportunity for third party state actors to observe and defend international commerce passing through the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a shipping passage renowned as the fourth most important world chokepoint for oil exports and imports. Because of the strait’s close proximity to Somalia and piracy originating from its shores, state powers have strong incentives to conduct frequent anti-piracy operations.

Because of the opportunity to run anti-piracy missions in addition to counterterrorism and myriad other activities, the United States, France, Japan, and Italy all maintain bases in Djibouti. The United States’ military base in Djibouti – Camp Lemmonier – is its only permanent base on the African continent, with more than 4,000 troops deployed.

China’s military involvement in the Horn of Africa, primarily consisting of anti-piracy missions, began a decade ago. Today, in addition to anti-piracy operations, declassified analysis from CNA posits that China’s naval facility in Djibouti will support four other key missions: intelligence collection, non-combat evacuation operations, peacekeeping operation support, and counterterrorism.

All of these objectives are in line with a nascent but escalating policy of global military engagement stretching from the South China Sea to East Africa. One of the primary mechanisms for achieving this stated goal is a strong navy, allowing China to project its power across the globe. Naval bases like the one in Djibouti will be integral to achieving this ambition. A Pentagon report from last year noted that the Djibouti base, “along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces.” China refuted this claim, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying argued the Pentagon was making “irresponsible remarks about China’s national defense development in disregard of the facts.”

The Djibouti base was constructed within the context of growing China-Djibouti economic relations, which allowed China to create their base over the United States’ objections. The Import-Export Bank of China has loaned Djibouti nearly $1 billion dollars, and sources indicate that China provides nearly 40 percent of funding for Djibouti’s large-scale infrastructure and investment projects. Some of the most notable among these are the Doraleh Multipurpose Port, the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway, and the Ethiopia-Djibouti Water Pipeline.

China’s base in Djibouti may be a harbinger of more to come in the region. As China continues its policy of Belt and Road investments in Africa, which appear to include provisions for more ports in East Africa, ensuring the security and stability of those investments will of critical importance. Counterpiracy and counterterrorism will become increasingly imperative in the years to come, especially in places like the Horn of Africa where instability meets economic opportunity. Thus, China’s base in Djibouti may not be just a military outpost but also a learning experiment for future bases on the continent.

Asia Times
written by Bertil Lintner
Wednesday November 28, 2018

Nowhere in the world are there so many military bases run by rival nations in such close proximity than in East Africa's Djibouti, where intrigue is rife and espionage is de rigueur.

Small countries with limited resources have been known to turn themselves into financial centers where dodgy banks and companies find a haven from international regulators as a means to reverse their national fortunes.

Djibouti, the third smallest country on the African mainland, has found another way to thrive: hosting military bases.

The tiny nation formerly known as French Somaliland has leveraged its strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea and some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes running through the Suez Canal to lease its otherwise barren, rocky land to foreign powers.

Djibouti also has the seaside advantage of being comparatively serene in a region plagued by instability. Djibouti’s old colonial power France maintains a base here, as do the Americans, Italians and Japanese. Germany and Spain maintain troops at the base hosted by the French.

Then came the Chinese.

When Beijing inaugurated its first overseas military base here on August 1, 2017, Djibouti was turned fully into a modern day Casablanca, where everyone seems to be spying on one another. It may be a Francophone port city with an interior as rugged as Morocco’s, but there is no Rick’s Cafรฉ here, as famously portrayed in the 1942 movie with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

But, at a more modern luxury hotel overlooking the beach in the north of Djibouti City, Western military officers and soldiers in uniform can be seen alongside Chinese businessmen and technicians as well as assorted dignitaries from Africa and Arab countries.

The Chinese base, maintained by the People’s Liberation Army Navy, is located at Doraleh west of the capital while all the other nations’ bases are situated near the international airport to the south less than ten kilometers away.

Geopolitics is a lucrative business for Djibouti. The US pays US$63 million annually in rent for its base, the French US$36 million, China US$20 million and Italy US$2.6 million. The amount Japan pays is not publicly disclosed.

There are an estimated 4,000 soldiers and Filipino workers at the American base, 180 troops at the Japanese camp and 1,450 at France’s two bases — one near the airport and a naval facility on the coast where the Germans and Spaniards are also stationed. Around 80 Italians are situated in a base near the US camp.

China’s Doraleh base is close to a new seaport and the end station of a new Chinese-built 759-kilometer railroad extending from Djibouti’s coast to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The standard gauge railroad was opened for commercial traffic on January 1 this year, replacing a a meter-gauge railway built during the French colonial era that is no longer used.

Passengers can use a station close to the airport while freight trains carrying containers go all the way to and from Doraleh. Nearby is the largest free trade zone in Africa, known as the Djibouti International Free Trade Zone (DIFTZ), where hundreds of trucks can be seen waiting to pick up goods destined for Ethiopia and other countries beyond Djibouti.

The Chinese-financed, UD$3.5 billion DIFTZ opened earlier this year, covering an area of 4,800 hectares. According to an official announcement, it will focus on logistics, export processing, financial support services, manufacturing and duty-free merchandise trade.

This small and largely peaceful republic on the Horn of Africa is fast becoming China’s economic gateway to Africa. But it is the naval base that has sent jitters through the Western military community in Djibouti.

The official China Daily, which covered the opening of the base in August last year, stated at the time it could “support some 10,000 people” with the caveat that “official figures for the number of personnel to be stationed there have not been released.” The paper said the official reason for the establishment of the base was “to support the Chinese military’s escort and peacekeeping missions in Africa and West Asia.”

The Western powers that have bases there usually refer to the same reason for their presence in Djibouti, as well as to fight pirates famously active off the coast of Somalia.

But The China Daily was probably more frank than Western spokespersons as it also quoted Liu Hongwu, a professor at Zhejiang University, as saying that Djibouti “is situated at the juncture of Europe, Asia and Africa; in a sense, it is at the crossroads of the world.”

That’s more likely why China is there, to protect its economic and strategic interests in the region — and hence also better position itself for any potential conflicts between China and the West, primarily the US.

Djibouti is not America’s only base in the region. It also has an important facility in Qatar, as well as the highly secretive, multi-purpose base at Diego Garcia, a leased atoll in the British Indian Ocean Territory that is the only possession the United Kingdom keeps in the region after it withdraw from east of Suez in the 1960s.

In that sense, China’s new base in Djibouti is the first serious challenge to US military supremacy in the Indian Ocean region. And China is making incipient moves in that direction.

In July 2017, just before the official opening of the base, the Chinese warships CNS Jinggangshan and CNS Donghaidao brought in personnel and materiel to the base. The CNS Jinggangshan carried marines, engineers and military vehicles to the base while the CNS Donghaidao transported some unspecified heavy equipment.

Then, in September last year, troops stationed at the base carried out their first live-fire drills. The exercise, which involved dozens of soldiers, took place at Djibouti’s national gendarmerie training range and was meant to test their combat readiness when faced with extreme heat, humidity and salinity — all omnipresent in Djibouti as well as other parts of Africa.

To keep up the pretense that nothing untoward is underway, the combined European Union counter-piracy task force in Djibouti and China’s PLA Navy carried out a joint exercise in October.

But there is no hiding the fact that Western powers are peeved by China’s newly established presence. In March this year, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, the top US general for Africa, told a US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing that “the consequences would be significant” if China took over the port at Doraleh.

That is now happening as the Djibouti government took over the port from Dubai’s DP World in February without any official explanation and appears now to be negotiating an agreement with the state-run China Merchants Group to take its place.

DP World appealed against the decision and in August won a legal battle against Djibouti at the London Court of International Arbitration. But that is no guarantee that Chinese interests will not soon win control of the port.

CMPort, a subsidiary of the China Merchants Group which runs Djibouti’s free trade zone, said in a statement in July that “Djibouti, one of the developing countries along the Belt and Road, has similar infrastructure with Shenzhen (opposite Hong Kong) and Shekou (on the northern tip of Shenzhen), when it became the pioneer of China’s historic journey of reform and opening up.”

That effusive language shows Djibouti is a vital part of China’s desire to fortify its role as a rising world power — and Djibouti is so far serving as a willing and open client. There is even a new Confucious Center in Djibouti City which China leverages to cultivate ”people-to-people” ties.

US Waldhauser also said during the hearing in Washington that “there are some indications of (China) looking for additional facilities, specifically on the eastern coast (of Africa)…so Djibouti happens to be the first — there will be more.”

The strategically situated Horn of Africa and the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula on the other side of the Red Sea have long been coveted by competing great powers.

The French seized Djibouti in stages after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, partly to counter Britain’s presence at Aden, now in Yemen, across the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the entrance to the Red Sea.

The colony became French Somaliland and, in 1967, the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas, before finally achieving independence in 1977 — the last of the directly ruled European colonies in Africa to do so.

For decades, the French Foreign Legion had a base in Djibouti known as Camp Lemonnier, which was taken over by the Americans following the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington and became the only permanent US base in Africa.

It was initially meant to combat terrorist activities in the region and US drone-operations in the Middle East are known to be carried out from the base.

But Camp Lemonnier, particularly after the arrival of the Chinese at Doraleh, now has other duties to watch the Chinese. Alarm bells jangled when, in May this year, two pilots on a US cargo plane experienced eye injuries after being exposed to a laser beam.

At the time, US military officials officially accused China of using military grade lasers to distract their pilots. Although ten kilometers separate their two bases, they are watching each other closely — and suspiciously.

The laser beam incident has not been the only friction point between the various base operators. The Italians established their base here in 2009 ostensibly to fight piracy, as did the Japanese.

But when a Chinese warship docked at Djibouti last year, the website of China’s Procuatorial Daily, the official organ of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s highest agency for prosecution and investigation, reported that a Japanese naval ship sent scuba gear-equipped frogmen to investigate. The Japanese did not comment on the accusation.

The nations maintaining bases in Djibouti are also widely believed to be engaged in electronic eavesdropping on one another, including surveillance of the activities of persons of interest in the country and capital city.

Indeed, the intrigues at Casablanca in the 1940s likely pale in insignificance when compared to what is happening now on this tiny speck of land on the Horn of Africa, an increasingly perilous pinnacle where spy versus spy intrigue often leaks into the public domain.

Nowhere on the planet are there so many military bases run by rival nations in such close proximity to each other. That proximity means anything can and likely will happen as the US and its allies confront a rising China in what some see as the early phases of a new Cold War.