Jury in Manafort fraud trial sends note to judge
By MATTHEW BARAKAT, CHAD DAY and ERIC TUCKER
Tuesday, August 21
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — The jury in the financial fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has sent a note to the judge on the fourth day of deliberations.
Jurors resumed deliberating Tuesday morning and sent a note to the judge about 90 minutes later. The content of the message wasn’t immediately known.
The trial of Manafort is now in its fourth week. Prosecutors say Manafort hid tens of millions of dollars in foreign income from Ukraine. They also say he lied on loan applications to obtain millions more to maintain a lavish lifestyle.
Manafort’s attorneys called no witnesses, arguing prosecutors failed to meet their burden of proof.
The trial is the first courtroom test of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, though the case doesn’t involve allegations of Russian election interference.
BC-US—Pratt & Whitney-Whistleblower,1st Ld-Writethru
Ex-employee sues Pratt & Whitney over jet engines
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former engineer for jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney has filed a federal false claims lawsuit alleging the company knowingly sold “flawed” engines to the U.S. Air Force, which resulted in the likelihood of premature wear or even “catastrophic failure.”
The Journal Inquirer reports that Peter Bonzani Jr., of Bolton, filed the suit in 2016, but unsealed last week.
The suit also alleges Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corp., fired Bonzani after he brought his concerns to company officials.
The engine in question was used in the F-22 Raptor fighter.
The suit seeks triple damages for the Defense Department and back pay and unspecified damages for Bonzani.
Pratt & Whitey in a statement said “There is absolutely no merit to these claims.”
Franklin C. Turner, a lawyer who specializes in complex government contract cases, tells The Hartford Courant that the government has not intervened in the lawsuit, which is “a pretty strong indication that there is some sort of fatal deficiency in the case.”
Information from: Journal Inquirer, http://www.journalinquirer.com
The too hard basket: a short history of Australia’s aborted climate policies
August 20, 2018
PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester
Marc Hudson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Manchester provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
Less than three years ago, after Malcolm Turnbull had wrested the prime ministership from Tony Abbott, I wrote an article entitled “Carbon coups: from Hawke to Abbott, climate policy is never far away when leaders come a cropper”.
Less than two weeks ago I wrote again about climate policy’s unique knack of causing leaders to falter, with terminal results for the policies and, often, the leaders themselves.
Now Turnbull has added a new chapter to this saga. He has abandoned the emissions component of his beleaguered National Energy Guarantee, in what has been characterised as a capitulation to a vocal group of backbench colleagues. The climbdown may still not be enough to save his leadership.
Read more: Emissions policy is under attack from all sides. We’ve been here before, and it rarely ends well
A workable, credible climate policy has been the impossible object that has brought down every prime minister we’ve had for a more than a decade – all the way back to (and including) John Howard.
Howard had spent the first ten years of his prime ministership denying either the existence of climate change or the need to do anything about it. In 2003, virtually all of his cabinet supported an emissions trading scheme. But, after meeting with industry leaders, he dumped the idea.
The following year Howard called a meeting of large fossil fuel companies, seeking their help in destroying the renewable energy target that he had been forced to accept in the runup to the 1997 Kyoto climate summit.
However, in 2006, the political pressure to act on climate became too great. The Millennium Drought seemed endless, the European Union had launched its own emissions trading scheme, and Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth cut through with the Australian public. Late in the year, Treasury came back for another bite at an emissions trading cherry.
In his book Triumph and Demise, journalist Paul Kelly describes how Treasury secretary Ken Henry convinced Howard to adopt an emissions trading policy, telling him:
Prime Minister, I’m taking as my starting point that during your prime ministership you will want to commit us to a cap on national emissions. If my view on that is wrong, there is really nothing more I can say… If you want a cap on emissions then it stands to reason that you want the most cost-effective way of doing that. That brings us to emissions trading, unless you want a tax on carbon.
The moral challenge
Howard’s problem was that voters were not convinced by his backflip. In November 2007, Kevin Rudd – who had proclaimed climate change “the great moral challenge of our generation” – became prime minister. A tortuous policy-making process ensued, with ever greater concessions to big polluters.
In late 2009, according to Kelly’s account, Rudd refused to meet with the then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull to resolve the outstanding issues around Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Then, in December of that year, Turnbull was toppled by Abbott and the legislation was doomed.
Meanwhile, the Copenhagen climate conference ended in disaster, and although advised to go for a double-dissolution election, Rudd baulked. In April 2010, he kicked emissions trading into the long grass for at least three years, and his approval ratings plummeted.
In July 2010 Julia Gillard toppled Rudd, and the prime ministership has never been safe from internal dissent since. Not since 2004 has a federal leader won a general election from which they would survive to contest the next.
In the final days of the 2010 election campaign, Gillard made the fateful statement that “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead”.
That election resulted in a hung parliament, and after meeting climate policy advocates Ross Garnaut and Nick Stern, two crucial independents – Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott – made a carbon price their price for supporting Gillard.
The carbon tax war
Gillard steered the legislation through parliament in the face of ferocious opposition from Abbott, who declared a “blood oath” that he would repeal her legislation. After winning the 2013 election, he delivered on his pledge in July 2014. Gillard, for her part, said she regretted not taking issue with Abbott’s characterisation of her carbon pricing scheme as a tax.
Abbott also reduced the Renewable Energy Target, and tried but failed to rid himself of the Australian Renewable Energy Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
Abbott’s demise as prime minister was not as directly tied to climate policy as Howard’s, Rudd’s or Gillard’s. Far more instrumental were gaffes such as giving the Duke of Edinburgh a knighthood.
But as Abbott’s government was descending into chaos, Turnbull seemed to many middle-of-the-road voters like the perfect solution: Liberal economic policy but with added climate concern. On today’s evidence, he seems to have been willing to trade that concern away to stay in the top job.
As of the time of writing – Monday 20 August (it pays to be specific when the situation is in such flux) – it is clear that the NEG is dead, at least in its original incarnation as a means of tackling the climate issue. No legislation or regulation will aim to reduce greenhouse emissions, with the policy now addressing itself solely at power prices.
It is not clear how long Turnbull will remain in office, and one could make a case that he is no longer truly in power. Thoughts now inevitably also turn to what a Shorten Labor government would do in this area if the opposition claims victory at the next election.
Read more: It’s ten years since Rudd’s ‘great moral challenge’, and we have failed it
The first question in that regard is whether Mark Butler – an able opposition spokesman on climate change – would become the minister for a single portfolio covering energy and environment. The next is the degree of opposition that Labor would face – both from members of the union movement looking out for the interests of coal workers, and from business and industry. If Australia’s environment groups win the battle over Adani’s planned Carmichael coalmine, will they have the heart to win the wider climate policy struggle?
As ever, it will come down to stamina and stomach. Would Shorten and Butler have the wherewithal to face down the various competing interests and push through a credible, lasting policy, in an area where all their predecessors have ultimately failed?
Will the Coalition government formulate a new emissions policy – one that can withstand the feet-to-the-fire approach that has killed off every other similar effort so far?
How new Silk Road will cement China as major trading partner for Africa
August 20, 2018
Asit K. Biswas
Distinguished Visiting Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
Senior Research Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
In 138 BC China took its first step towards global connectivity with the establishment of the historical Silk Road. Zhang Qian was sent by Emperor Wudi to Central Asia to establish trade relationships. His historic missions enabled China to make contact with the outposts of Hellenic civilisation established by Alexander the Great.
These efforts enabled Emperor’s Han dynasty to develop political and trade relationships with Central Asian countries. New ideas came to China, along with new plants like grapes and alfalfa and superior breeds of horses.
Centuries later, China is building a very different, very modern version of that route. The Belt and Road Initiative consists of two complementary, concurrent plans. One is an overland route connecting Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia to China. The second is the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which aims to connect China, South East and South Asia with Africa.
The Belt and Road Initiative will connect at least 65 countries, most of them developing economies. The routes will cover 63% of the world’s population and 29% of global GDP.
Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated his commitment to the project during the 10th BRICS Summit held in South Africa in late July 2018. He said it would “create new opportunities of social and economic development for participating countries.”
On the face of it, the Belt and Road Initiative looks set to change a number of economic, social and strategic landscapes. But it’s essential that whatever the project produces is perceived as benefiting everyone involved – China as well as the country’s affected.
Some projects which are already underway, particularly in Africa, offer insights into how the initiative might unfold and what its benefits and pitfalls could be. These projects also suggest that China has learned from previous infrastructure investments on the continent some decades ago.
Already connecting Africa
The African leg of the Belt and Road Initiative is work in progress. China says it will hold ongoing discussions with various countries and make decisions based on consensus as well as the economic, social and political feasibility of individual projects. Some of the countries poised to benefit most include Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Egypt.
This will cement China’s role as Africa’s main trading partner, a space it’s occupied since overtaking the US in 2009. Between 2010 and 2015, China’s foreign direct investment on the continent grew by 21.7% – and it’s still rising.
It’s important to point out that the Belt and Road Initiative will not be starting entirely from scratch. China has already provided significant help in improving connectivity and developing infrastructure in countries set to benefit from the initiative.
For example, China supported the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway. It’s the first transboundary and longest electrified railway line in Africa. The Export-Import Bank of China provided commercial loans that funded 85% of Ethiopia’s and 70% of Djibouti’s contributions. And the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation also owns 10% of Djibouti’s portion.
The 759 kilometre long railway, which connects landlocked Ethiopia to the maritime trade routes of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, started carrying passengers in late 2016.
China is also responsible for constructing the Madaraka Express which connects the Kenyan port of Mombasa to the capital city Nairobi, a distance of 489 km. This railway is being extended to Naivasha in Kenya’s northwest. There are plans to extend it even further so that it eventually interconnects Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and, much later, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
The new railway has already reduced transportation time between Kenya’s two most important cities and, crucially for trade, reduced the cost of transporting a container between the two cities by half.
Next steps for the initiative
The success and effectiveness of the Belt and Road Initiative will depend on many factors. These include national and regional geopolitics and the long-term economic benefits of various projects in beneficiary countries.
It will also be important that non-Chinese companies, both public and private, are able to compete successfully for a significant portion of the construction pie. And China’s economic rivals should not be excluded from bidding for and winning work.
But tension is inevitable, as has already been seen in South Asia.
China is working to complete a 6 kilometre bridge over the river Padma in Bangladesh for which it is providing over USD$3 billion loan. China is investing some USD$31 billion in other projects in Bangladesh. It also plans to spend some USD$60 billion on construction of ports, railways, roads and power plants in Pakistan.
These activities and similar infrastructure developments in other countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have unsettled India, which is questioning China’s real intentions in the region.
The world will be watching as the Belt and Road Initiative unfolds – and all the players will hope the benefits outweigh the costs and are sustainable in the long term.
Saving the brain with a new nerve agent antidote
August 21, 2018
Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine; Director, Center for Environmental Health Sciences, Mississippi State University
Janice Chambers is an author of a US patent owned by Mississippi State University on these oxime antidotes, and the oxime platform is licensed by Defender Pharmaceuticals. She has received funding on this oxime antidote research from the DoD’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency and currently has funding from the National Institutes of Health’s CounterACT program.
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Terror on a Tokyo subway, 1995; attacks on Syrian civilians, 2013 and 2017; assassinations in an airport in Kuala Lumpur, 2017; attempted assassination in London, 2018. Tremors, foaming at the mouth, seizures, respiratory shutdown, sometimes death. What do these events have in common? Poisoning via a nerve agent – a chemical warfare substance that disrupts communication between the nervous system and muscles and organs.
A major concern for survivors of nerve agent poisoning is the potential for permanent brain damage caused by seizures. Because the brain cannot easily repair such damage, there is a critical need for an antidote that can enter the brain and reverse the early biochemicial effects before harm occurs. Current antidotes, such as 2-PAM, the only FDA-approved reactivator drug in the U.S., cannot do this because it is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier, a layer of cells between the blood and the brain which prevents many chemicals, such as some drugs, from moving from the blood into the brain.
I am a toxicologist in the Center for Environmental Health Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University (MSU) where I initially worked on toxic responses in laboratory animals to organophosphate insecticides, a widely used class of crop protection chemicals. Organophosphate insecticides have a similar mechanism of action to nerve agents, but are much less toxic and are only approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for uses that are not going to be harmful to humans or the ecosystem.
For the past eight years, my team has been developing antidotes that improve survival rates after nerve agent exposure, and we’ve shown the potential of our new molecules to enter the brain in tests with animals. If approved, these antidotes would give more confidence to both warfighters and civilians that not only could their lives be saved but also their brain function could be preserved.
From insecticides to chemical warfare
Salisbury, UK – July 6, 2018: An army officer searches a hostel in the city center, as investigations continue after local residents Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess fall ill from a nerve agent poisoning. By 1000 Words / shutterstock.com
Because pesticides are so important to successful agriculture, my group was initially interested in toxic responses to organophosphate insecticides (OPs). My lab focused on the more biological effects, while my husband, Howard Chambers, synthesized chemicals useful to study the toxic effects of these insecticides.
OPs were originally developed as insecticides in Germany prior to World War II. This agricultural effort was co-opted by the Nazis to create the first nerve agents: tabun and sarin. Although these agents were not used during World War II and were banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997, they have been used occasionally in conflicts such as in the Iran-Iraq war.
However, scientists in some countries have continued to design even more dangerous OP compounds. The Novichok agents, suspected of being used in the attempted poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, for example, are estimated to be between eight and 10 times more potent than VX, one of the most toxic of the traditional nerve agents. These highly toxic chemicals are a danger not only to the military but also to civilians who may be exposed during terrorist attacks, by assassins or rogue governments.
In 2010, the direction of my research changed course when one of my former Ph.D. students, who then worked in the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), returned to MSU for a visit and mentioned that one of the military’s most pressing needs in warfighter defense was a brain-penetrating AChE reactivator. During that conversation in a local sandwich shop, Howard pulled out his ever-present mechanical pencil and sketched out an oxime – a molecule that could “grab” the nerve agent and remove it from its target – that he thought would be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is an almost impenetrable layer of cells that make up the brain capillaries that prevent many foreign chemicals from entering the brain, particularly if they are electrically charged.
The former student was impressed and encouraged us to apply for funding from DTRA for synthesizing and testing a platform of novel oximes, based on the structure on that napkin. The oximes that we have invented in our lab are positively charged, like 2-PAM, but are less water soluble, which may prevent the brain’s transporters from exporting them out of the brain once they enter. After initial successes, we are now supported by the National Institutes of Health’s CounterACT program, whose goal is protecting civilians from terrorist attacks or chemical accidents.
Nerve agent effects
Nerve agents like sarin, VX and Novichok are organophosphate chemicals, and they wreak havoc by inhibiting a critical enzyme in the nervous system called acetylcholinesterase (AChE). What AChE does for a living, so to speak, is to rapidly degrade acetylcholine (ACh), an important chemical that mediates precise and rapid information flow within the brain and to muscles and glands. When AChE is inhibited, acetylcholine builds up and leads to inappropriate and massive stimulation within the nervous system, resulting in life-threatening symptoms: paralysis of the respiratory muscles, narrowing of the trachea and excessive mucus production throughout the respiratory tract so that air cannot pass through. This causes the foaming at the mouth that we see in news coverage of chemical attacks. Death usually results from respiratory failure. The incredible potency of the nerve agents makes them among the most poisonous synthetic chemicals ever produced.
In survivors, prolonged and repeated seizures caused by high quantities of ACh in the brain can cause permanent brain damage.
The antidote for OP poisoning has traditionally included artificial respiration and injections of the drug atropine, which helps the victim to keep breathing. In the U.S., medics also use an oxime reactivator – called 2-PAM – which restores AChE activity by removing the nerve agent; and benzodiazepine is used to suppress seizures.
The most effective oxime reactivators have a positive charge. But the blood-brain barrier which exists between brain cells and blood capillaries does a good job of blocking these charged chemicals from infiltrating the brain, either by preventing entry or escorting them out once they enter. Therefore, 2-PAM and other approved oximes do not reach high enough levels in the brain to reverse the deadly grasp of OP nerve agent.
A promising new antidote
To protect people from nerve agent poisoning, we need a brain-penetrating molecule to reverse the AChE inhibition. Our lab group and several others worldwide are attempting to create such an antidote that restores AChE activity in the brain following severe OP poisoning.
To date, several of our oxime drugs have been as good as or more effective than 2-PAM for increasing 24-hour survival for animals exposed to lethal doses of OPs, using highly relevant mimics of two nerve agents sarin and VX, as well as an insecticidal chemical in a laboratory animal model.
We have convincing evidence that our oximes can get through the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain after OP exposure, and that our laboratory animals show more normal activity of AChE with our novel oximes but not with 2-PAM. Our animals also recovered more quickly from seizure-like behavior with our oxime antidote compared to 2-PAM. Our lead oxime seems likely to remain in the brain, and it has prevented some damage to brain structures, while 2-PAM did not – a finding we describe in an upcoming publication.
Normal action: A neuron releases ACh which activates its receptor (orange) on receiving cell – a neuron, muscle or gland – triggering the movement of a muscle, the release of a hormone or some type of behavior (yellow arrow). The ACh is then split into its two components by AChE (green) to prevent it from overstimulating the system. OP poisoning: The OP nerve agent (red) binds to AChE and prevents AChE from breaking down ACh, which then builds up, activating more of its receptors which leads to seizures, breathing trouble and brain damage. Oxime antidote: Oxime (light blue) binds to OP, pulling it off AChE, and restores AChE’s action, allowing the receiving cell to return to normal level of activity. Janice Chambers, CC BY-ND
This oxime platform has been patented by MSU and licensed by Defender Pharmaceuticals. Sadly, my long-term collaborator, Howard, passed away in December 2016; my team continues to pursue the research needed to develop his novel oximes into antidotes.
What value could these novel oximes bring to the arsenal of chemical weapon antidotes? Either alone, or in combination with 2-PAM, they could contribute to survival and, uniquely, they could reduce or prevent the brain damage caused by the prolonged seizures induced by OPs.
In other words, with our novel antidotes we could save lives and save brains.