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Friday, Jul 01, 2022

Today's headlines

Today's headlines

The European Union has frozen roughly €23 billion, $24.5 billion, worth of assets of the Russian Central Bank, Reuters reported, citing EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, who revealed the figure at a news conference on Wednesday.

The amount is much smaller than expected out of the reported $300 billion frozen by the US and its allies as part of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.

According to Reynders, some €10 billion, $10.68 billion, worth of physical assets linked to Russian businessmen and officials, their yachts and villas, for instance, were also arrested.

The official did not mention whether all 27 EU member-states had reported the seizure of Russian assets and their amount.

This is the first time the EU has revealed the amount it froze in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.

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George Soros told the World Economic Forum that a quick victory over Russia is needed to save open society and civilization itself.

Unless Russia is quickly defeated in Ukraine, the collective West won’t be able to address climate change in time to save civilization, billionaire financier George Soros told the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday. He also called Russia and China the greatest threats to his concept of open society.

Russia sending troops into Ukraine “may have been the beginning of the Third World War and our civilization may not survive it,” Soros told the WEF, and even when the fighting there stops, “the situation will never revert to what it was before.”

Soros, 91, reminisced about the “exciting days” of the Soviet Union’s disintegration, when his wealth increased to the point where he could spend $300 million a year in 1987, and his foundations in Eastern Europe “turned out to be more successful than I expected.”

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China has recently conducted a series of military drills near Taiwan to demonstrate to the US its determination regarding the self-governing island, a military spokesman said on Wednesday.

The Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army held combat readiness exercises and other training operations in the sea and airspace around Taiwan, Colonel Shi Yi, a spokesman for the military command, reported.

He said the drills were a “solemn warning” directed at the US regarding the issue of Taiwan’s proposed independence. Chinese troops are “determined and capable of thwarting any interference by external forces and attempted separatism” in Taiwan, the official added.

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Global food insecurity has reached levels not seen since the financial crisis of 2008, according to Sara Menker, CEO of Gro Intelligence, a global company that uses artificial intelligence and public and private data to predict food supply trends. She told the UN that the world has about 10 weeks’ worth of wheat on hand.

While addressing a special meeting of the Security Council on Saturday, she said that the Russia-Ukraine conflict was not the cause of the food security crisis but “simply added fuel to a fire that was long burning.”

The expert pointed to widespread fertilizer shortages, supply-chain issues and record droughts as the major reasons behind the crisis.

“This isn’t cyclical. This is seismic,” Menker said, noting that “even if the war were to end tomorrow, our food security problem isn’t going away anytime soon without concerted action.”

She stressed that “without aggressive global actions, we stand the risk of an extraordinary amount of human suffering and economic damage.”

The executive director for the UN's World Food Programme, David Beasley, had earlier said that 49 million people in 43 countries are already “knocking on famine’s door.”

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The US is seeking to reshape Taiwan’s defense systems in light of the experience gained from sending military aid to Ukraine, which is currently locked in a conflict with Russia, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed American officials.

Washington’s new strategy focuses on providing Taiwan with asymmetric defense capabilities that would help it stave off a much more powerful force, the paper said.

The latest arms purchases Taiwan made from the US reflect this changing approach, the NYT said, adding that mobile rocket platforms, F-16 fighter jets, and anti-ship missiles “are better suited for repelling an invading force.” At the same time, Washington has reportedly discouraged Taipei from buying MH-60R Seahawk helicopters and M1A2 Abrams tanks

Analysts told the NYT what future purchases could consist of: “That would include smart mines, anti-ship cruise missiles, cybersecurity capability and special forces who can neutralize Chinese advance teams, and air defense systems,” James Stavridis, a retired four-star admiral and ex-dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, explained.

US officials also consider mobile land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Stinger anti-air missiles to be critical for the island nation’s defense. According to the paper, the US might also share intelligence with the Taiwanese military to make its actions more effective in case of a conflict, as it currently does in Ukraine.

“The aim is to turn Taiwan into what some officials call a ‘porcupine’ – a territory bristling with armaments and other forms of U.S.-led support that appears too painful to attack,” the NYT said.

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Was Biden’s Taiwan defense comment a gaffe, an attempt to look strong, or the quiet part said out loud?

All geopolitical considerations are being thrown out the window as US President Joe Biden’s gaffes and off-the-cuff comments at press conferences threaten to imperil geopolitical stability.

Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, Biden’s failure to keep his words in check prompted outrage from China. While fielding questions from the press gallery, he was asked if he would involve the US military in a potential conflict with China in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

“Yes,” Biden said, “That’s the commitment we made.”

His remarks fly in the face of America’s longstanding policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ on Taiwan, which has allowed the US relationship with China to remain neutral, without any requirement for to come to Taiwan’s aid against China – militarily, at least.

The policy only provides Taiwan with a modicum of resources to defend itself, and was put in place through the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to prevent any change in status of the island by China.

Officially, the US does not recognize Taiwan’s bid for sovereignty and recognizes the Chinese government in Beijing as Taiwan’s official rulers, per China’s One-China policy.

Even as the American economy faces the risk of stagflation, the US under Biden has shown a willingness to blow fiscal budgets and pass massive spending bills in support of foreign interests. As detailed by the New York Times, the Biden administration has spent $54 billion in its support of Ukraine amid the conflict with Russia.

What was once a rallying cry for liberals against Trump, who warned at every turn that the former president’s careless rhetoric risked starting World War III, has now become an almost-weekly occurrence with the present commander-in-chief.

Biden’s failure to keep his words in check has enraged China, which issued a prompt response, stating its “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to his remarks, adding that “China has no room for compromise or concessions on issues involving China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In an official statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned that the country intends to take “firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests, and we will do what we say.”

When China says it will do what it says, you better believe it.

Biden’s remarks risk undoing years of America’s official policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ for the sake of cheap talking points to appear tough in the face of numerous setbacks against Russia – especially as problems at home go unaddressed.

With the unending supply chain crisis, fallout from pandemic-era restrictions, and several new crises of his administration’s own making, such as the baby formula shortage, the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal, mass illegal immigration at the southern border, and skyrocketing inflation, Biden has been reluctant to address any of the problems facing everyday Americans, preferring instead to turn his gaze outwards.

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Israel will not permit Germany to sell Spike anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, according to a report by US outlet Axios on Wednesday. The missile is produced in Germany under an Israeli license, and Tel Aviv has to approve its export. The Pentagon asked the top Israeli Defense Ministry official for approval during his visit to Washington earlier this month, but was denied.

Israel is concerned that Russian soldiers could be killed by Israeli-made weapons, which would then lead to Moscow harming Tel Aviv’s security interests in Syria, an anonymous senior Israeli official told Axios.

The issue came up two weeks ago, when the director general of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Amir Eshel, visited the US. The Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy, Colin Kahl, had asked permission for Germany to export Spikes to Ukraine, according to the officials who spoke with Axios. Eshel said no, telling Kahl that Israel will only supply Kiev with non-lethal military equipment.

When Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz went to Washington last Wednesday, the question of missiles reportedly did not come up at his meetings with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. On the day of his visit, Israel announced it was sending 2,000 helmets and 500 protective vests to Ukraine.

The Pentagon did not officially comment on the report.

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British lawmakers could soon relax restrictions on genetically altered foods, with new legislation proposing more gene editing be allowed on certain crops, while insisting they will not constitute “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs), which are subject to heavy regulation.

The new ‘Genetic Technology’ bill that was introduced in Parliament on Wednesday, is described by the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a way to “cut red tape and support the development of innovative tech to grow more resistant, more nutritious, and more productive crops.”

“These precision technologies allow us to speed up the breeding of plants that have natural resistance to diseases and better use of soil nutrients so we can have higher yields with fewer pesticides and fertilisers,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said in a statement, adding that “Outside the EU we are free to follow the science.”

The EU currently defines gene-edited foods as a form of GMO and regulates them accordingly, in contrast with the US Department of Agriculture, which distinguishes between the two for regulatory purposes.

The new bill is more in line with the American stance, as it considers gene-editing to be fundamentally different from genetic modification, which involves the introduction of DNA from one species into another. Though a number of gene-edited crops can also be produced through more traditional cross-breeding methods, genetic editing can achieve the same results much faster and with more precision.

Some environmental activists have insisted there is no meaningful difference between the two, with a spokesperson for the Friends of the Earth organization arguing that “Gene editing is genetic modification by a different name.”

“It still focuses on altering the genetic code of plants and animals to deal with the problems caused by poor soils, the over-use of pesticides and intensive farming,” the organization said.

The government has nonetheless argued that cutting regulations for the practice could dramatically speed up the creation of new and enhanced crops and ultimately improve the country’s food security.

“We anticipate [the bill] will enable precision-bred crops to navigate the regulatory system much more quickly, in something like one year compared with approximately 10 years under the present regime,” Gideon Henderson, a scientific adviser for the government, said.

In its present form, the measure will apply only to England, potentially setting up disputes with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which have their own regulations for the production and sale of GMOs and genetically edited foods.

The Scottish government recently warned that it would resist efforts by ministers in London to impose the rule in its territory, though the UK's environment secretary has argued neither Scotland nor Wales could prohibit the sale of such crops.

Though the legislation, if passed, will initially scale back restrictions on crops, it also contains provisions for livestock, as gene-editing can be used to breed animals more resilient to disease and other ailments. The practice has been more controversial for animals due to fears it could result in suffering; however, the new bill will allow lawmakers to similarly reduce red tape if they are satisfied it contains sufficient safeguards.

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Following talks in Ankara on Wednesday, Turkish government spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters that his government would not allow Finland and Sweden into the NATO alliance until Turkey’s “concrete” security concerns regarding terrorism and sanctions are met. Kalin added that Ankara will not rush to an agreement before NATO’s next meeting.

Delegations from Sweden and Finland met with their Turkish counterparts in Ankara for five hours of talks following their joint applications to join the NATO military alliance last week. Their accession requires the unanimous consent of all 30 member states, and Turkey has threatened to block the process unless the two countries crack down on groups it considers terrorists.

“Without meeting the security concerns of Turkey, any process about NATO’s expansion cannot continue,” Kalin told a press conference after the talks. “Nato is a security organization,” he declared, adding that this means that the alliance should ensure that “the security concerns of member states are equally and fairly met.”

Turkey has demanded that Sweden and Finland lift arms export restrictions on Turkey, and that they extradite people linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Gulen movement (FETO). While Sweden and Finland both consider the PKK a terrorist organization, Turkey has also demanded that they apply the same designation to the YPG and PYD, the Kurdish military and political groups in Syria, respectively.

Kalin said that the Turkish side was pressing Sweden to crack down on its domestic PKK sympathizers and their financing and media operations. Sweden in particular has been singled out by Turkey, with Ankara accusing Stockholm of arming the Kurds with anti-tank weapons, which are used in the Kurds’ ongoing border conflict with Turkey.

Swedish and Finnish officials will now return to their capitals to discuss Turkey’s demands, which Kalin described as “concrete.” The membership process for the two Nordic states can only continue “in a way that will address the security concerns of Turkey,” he said.

NATO leaders are set to meet in Madrid, Spain, at the end of next month, but Kalin stated that Turkey is “not under time pressure” to reach an agreement with Sweden and Finland by then.

Sweden and Finland both invoked Russia’s military operation in Ukraine as motivating them to join the US-led NATO alliance. Their membership bids have been warmly received in Washington and by NATO’s European leaders, save for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, who has threatened to obstruct their applications unless the alliance addresses the alleged legal persecution of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Moscow has called the two countries’ NATO applications a “serious mistake with long-lasting ramifications.” Still, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated last week that Russia views the two countries’ NATO aspirations as less concerning than those of Ukraine, where potential territorial disputes “would have carried huge risks for the entire continent.”

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into 11 of the 26 organizations backing an effort to prevent fellow billionaire Elon Musk from taking over social media platform Twitter, according to data shared with Breitbart by the Foundation for Freedom Online (FFO).

Among the 11 Gates-backed organizations reportedly spearheading the effort to sandbag Musk’s Twitter acquisition by pressuring advertisers to boycott the platform is the New Venture Fund, a ‘dark money’ organization that in 2020 received the largest one-year commitment the Foundation has made in over five years. The group funds the Center for Media Justice, the Media Democracy Fund, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and Accountable Tech, all of which signed the open letter backing the advertiser boycott, and has received some 102 separate cash grants from Gates’ foundation since 2008, amounting to $457 million in all, according to the Foundation’s own financial disclosures. Other signatories, like the Sixteen Thirty Fund, are subsidiaries of the New Venture Fund.

The Tides Foundation, another dark money group heavily backed by Gates Foundation cash, funds another five signatories: Free Press, Indivisible, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Media Matters, and Black Lives Matter Global Network, while the Gates-backed Community Partners funds signatory Empowering Pacific Islanders Community and Gates-backed NEO Philanthropy is linked to signatory Reproaction.

Gates and Musk have publicly feuded recently, with the Microsoft founder revealing he still held a $500 million short position against Musk’s electric car company Tesla even as Gates called on Musk to get involved in his climate philanthropy. The SpaceX founder characteristically took to Twitter to air his grievances, likening a photo of Gates to the “pregnant man” emoji and calling the images a “boner killer.”

The software tycoon turned self-styled pandemic expert has also been a major proponent of censorship during the 1Covid1-19 epidemic, insisting that allowing vaccine skeptics to freely exchange their ideas on social media platforms should be prohibited, and Musk’s talk of rolling back some of Twitter’s more stringent censorship policies have rubbed him the wrong way.

The 26 organizations signed an open letter last month demanding advertisers boycott Twitter if Musk made any efforts to tone down the strict speech controls the platform has adopted in the past few years. “Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter will further toxify our information ecosystem and be a direct threat to public safety, especially among those already most vulnerable and marginalized,” it claimed. Advertisers who continued to work with the platform risked “association with a platform amplifying hate, extremism, health misinformation, and conspiracy theorists,” the letter stated.

Musk subsequently tweeted a call to “investigate” who was funding the boycott demand, declaring “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Many of the groups, such as Media Matters, the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, and Indivisible Northern Nevada, are openly associated with the US Democratic Party, while others are linked to liberal causes like abortion rights and LGBT advocacy, and ubiquitous pro-Democrat financial figures like currency speculator George Soros loom large behind the signatory list.

While the Tesla CEO has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and initially pledged to return Twitter to its halcyon days as the “free speech wing of the free speech party,” he more recently qualified those statements by reassuring government regulators that he would respect the strict speech codes muzzling outspoken social media users in Europe and the US.

Musk’s $44 billion offer to purchase Twitter was accepted by the board of directors earlier this month, but the acquisition has been delayed as the billionaire has called for Twitter to prove that “spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users.”

The platform made that claim last month in a quarterly financial report based on a review of sample accounts, but acknowledged that the calculation had not been independently verified and the real numbers could be higher. Meanwhile, a handful of high-ranking Twitter executives have been pushed out or jumped ship pending the Musk acquisition, and a hiring freeze was imposed ahead of the takeover.
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