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17 Oct
2018

OPEC oil sale embargo 45 years ago had unintended consequences?

AUSTRIA (WNF) - In 1973 OPEC implemented what it called “oil diplomacy” and embargoed oil sales to Israel’s allies. It could be argued, 45 years on, that the embargo led to the recent oil glut that complicated the organization’s attempt to control supplies.
OPEC’s aim was to punish countries that had supported Israel in its so-called Yom Kippur War against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, by preventing them from buying any of the oil it sold. The ensuing energy crisis marked the end of the era of cheap gasoline, made gas-sipping vehicles popular and made oil production in the countries hardest hit by the embargo a sound commercial proposition.

The embargo crippled the United States, which supported Israel and was then importing some 27 per cent of the crude petroleum it needed every year. At that time it hadn’t developed its own oil resources because of the abundant and cheap source from the Middle East. Fuel costs skyrocketed almost everywhere because of the embargo. In the United States and many other countries, domestic production made ever-increasing economic sense because of rising gasoline prices.

In the 21st Century, many countries produce oil and OPEC no longer has a cartel’s clout to exact political punishment or control prices. It reached out to rivals in 2016 to help it contain the glut and prop up prices. The 13 OPEC members and some 12 rival oil producing nations agreed to cut output by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd), but compliance is voluntary. Many countries, including the United States, are now self-sufficient in oil and sell unhindered on the world market, potentially dooming the impact of the cuts. #22367 Published: 11/27/2017

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17 Oct
2018

Canada due to legalize recreational marijuana

CANADA (WNF) - The Canadian government had planned to legalize recreational marijuana by July, but the provinces have failed to resolve questions about regulating and taxing the drug, and the change is now confirmed for Oct 17.
Canada is the second country, after Uruguay, to legalize the drug at the national level.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who announced plans to legalize the drug in Apr 2017, rebuffed provincial leaders who said they need more time. “We gave everybody lots of time,” he said in Ottawa in an interview reported by CBC. “We’ve been working for a long time with all the provinces, with the municipalities. . . . It’s time for us to move forward on this.”

Some debate centered on how best to tax the legal pot industry. CBC reports that there was preliminary agreement that the tax should stay low to ensure the regulated market squeezes out the illegal activity. The challenge was identifying the sweet spot, according to the Canadian broadcaster, where pot prices are high enough to cover government costs but cheap enough to beat out the black market.

Other hurdles included deciding how tax revenues would be shared between provinces and the federal government. #22390 Published: 07/14/2018

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18 Oct
2018

First summit of Austria EU presidency all about immigration?

EUROPEAN UNION (WNF) - Europe’s swerve to the right on immigration promises to steer the October and December EU summits in Brussels, which also will be grappling with the final Brexit deal.
Populism is blamed for anti-immigration sentiment and for Brexit, Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the bloc. USA Today explains the recent victory of populist leaders in several elections as a response to “voters’ nativist instincts on immigration, Islam, trade, jobs and law and order.”

In Austria, the summit host as EU president from July through December, recent elections suggest the country is in the vanguard of the populist movement and the growing crusade against immigration. Sebastian Kurz, the 32-year-old leader of the People’s Party that won power in 2017, and now prime minister, has announced new restrictions on immigration, a stricter stance on crime and terrorism, and limits on social benefits to immigrants. As foreign minister, he closed off the Austrian border to refugees in 2016 and passed the Integration Act of 2017 that banned the full face veil.

Britain’s Independent newspaper notes that the EU plan to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece by Sep 2017 failed “amid waning political will to help those risking their lives to reach Europe.” There is no sign that the countries that have taken the hardest line on participating in the relocation agreement, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, will relent at the summits. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland have called for the relocation policy to be scrapped, and can expect support at the summits from a growing number of leaders because far-right influence in governments has grown on the back of the immigration crisis.

The Austria-hosted summits will answer the question of whether there will be any sign of the populist element in the final Brexit agreement. A hard-headed decision that favors EU coffers above all might be anticipated. #22399 Updated: 12/03/2017 UPDATED SEP 11 TO SHOW IT WILL BE 1 DAY SUMMIT

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18 Oct
2018

Due date arrives for Brexit deal outline at precarious time

UNITED KINGDOM (WNF) - By the October date Britain and the European Union hope to have an outline of a Brexit deal that they can take to parliament for ratification. The impact of the recent resignation of several key figures in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government should be apparent by then.
The sides have agreed provisionally on the three key Brexit issues of how much Britain owes the bloc and what happens to the Northern Ireland border, according to the BBC assessment in July. There is also a provisional agreement on what happens to EU citizens in Britain after the exit, and to British citizens in Europe. The negotiations are now down to the details of what needs to be done before Britain's exit on Mar 29, 2019, and in the 21-month transition period that follows.

On Jul 8 David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, a specially created post, quit his job. He criticised May’s so-called soft Brexit plan as making too many concessions to the Europeans. Two junior members of the government followed Davis out of the door; then on Jul 9 Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit. Other hardliners might follow.

If the disarray that followed their resignations continues, May might be ousted. There has been speculation that Johnson’s resignation presaged a challenge to May’s leadership of the Conservative Party.

If May’s government doesn’t collapse, she will have more time to argue with the Europeans about the details in the deal instead of fighting off hardliner challenges in her cabinet. #22685 Published: 07/12/2018

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19 Oct
2018

European and Japanese space agencies launch joint mission to Mercury

FRENCH GUIANA (WNF) - The BepiColombo mission finally begins its journey to Mercury from the European Space Agency (ESA) spaceport in Kourou aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. The joint ESA and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission will take a close look at Mercury, the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in the Solar System.
The rocket carries a spacecraft called the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) — which supplies electrical power during interplanetary cruising – and two separate orbiters: Europe's Mercury Planet Orbiter and Japan's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. They will study the planet’s interior structure, geology, composition and magnetic field, and search for more signs of possible water ice in some of Mercury’s shadowed craters. The overall goal is to compile a map of Mercury that fills in the many blanks left by NASA’s Mariner 10 satellite in the 1970s and the Messenger satellite launched in 2004, which arrived at Mercury in 2011 and has since completed its primary mission.

The spacecraft will take about seven years to get into orbit around Mercury, using several gravity assists from Earth and Venus.

The mission has been years in the planning, but has been delayed several times from its original launch date of 2013. It is named after Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo (1920-1984), a scientist, mathematician and engineer at the University of Padua, Italy. He was the first to see that an unsuspected resonance is responsible for Mercury’s habit of rotating on its axis three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun. #22468 Published: 01/11/2018

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20 Oct
2018

Afghanistan due to hold overdue parliamentary election amid security worries

AFGHANISTAN (WNF) - An overdue parliamentary election has been set for October, but continuing disagreements on how to ensure a fair vote and worries about security threaten the plan.
The Taliban insurgency multiplies the challenge of organizing the vote, as it demands a budget big enough for the security of candidates, election personnel, ballot boxes and voters.

Reuters reports that parliament’s five-year term expired in Jun 2015, but elections were postponed because of security fears and disagreements after a bitterly disputed presidential election in 2014. President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah both claimed victory amid accusations of fraud. According to the news service, the two men agreed on electoral reform as a condition for any future elections, but little progress has been made because of disagreements over the makeup of supervisory bodies.

Ghani extended parliament’s mandate until a vote could be held.

The bicameral National Assembly consists of the Meshrano Jirga or House of Elders and the Wolesi Jirga or House of People. The last election was held on Sep 18, 2010. Ethnicity is the main factor influencing political alliances. The Pashtun bloc holds the most seats, followed by Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek blocs. #21821 Updated: 04/05/2018 UPDATED APR 5 TO SHOW DATE CHANGE TO OCT 20 FROM FROM OCT 15

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20 Oct
2018

Wounded veterans compete at 4th Invictus Games

AUSTRALIA (WNF) - Some 500 competitors and thousands of spectators descend on Sydney for the Invictus Games, the Paralympics-style event for wounded military personnel spearheaded by Prince Harry. His new bride, the former Meghan Markle, will join him at the event, a certain boost for the viewership numbers.
The BBC estimates that the wedding in May of the now Duke and Duchess of Sussex was watched by an estimated 1.9 billion people. Their romance first came to the attention of the world at the Invictus Games in Toronto in 2017.

The prince, who served in Afghanistan, founded the Games in 2014. The 11 sports for the competitors, from 18 nations this year, include wheelchair tennis and indoor rowing. The so-called adaptive sports are similar to their traditional counterparts, but the rules and equipment have been modified to accommodate physical impairment.

The first Invictus Games was held in London in 2014, the second in 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The fifth will be held at The Hague in 2020.

The visit to Australia is part of a Pacific tour for the royal couple. It will take in Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand. #22679 Published: 07/09/2018

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22 Oct
2018

Pivotal gun control law turns 50 in the spotlight after spate of firearms tragedies

UNITED STATES (WNF) - The Gun Control Act (GCA), the first amendment to the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA), turns 50. The evolution of the GCA over five decades parallels America’s unequal tugs-o-war over the regulation of firearms.
For some Americans, guns are over-regulated. For others, they are under-regulated.

Recent mass shootings, which include two that set U.S. records, have fired up gun control advocates. A climate of outrage at the country’s disproportionate number of killings by firearms, and at school shootings in particular, raises some possibility that activism – the March For Our Lives movement and others – might halt the overall erosion of gun control. The erosion is exemplified by the 1986 amendment passed by Congress, which is titled The Firearm Owners Protection Act.

For gun safety advocates, tightening and closing loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the GCA and state firearms laws will be a priority. Stephen Paddock, the record-holder for the worst mass shooting, and Adam Lanza, the record-holder for the worst school shooting, both killed with weapons legally purchased through the NICS. The New York Times pointed out in Feb 2018 that a vast majority of guns used in 19 recent mass shootings were bought legally and with a federal background check, as required by law.

A Time Magazine timeline of major gun control laws traces the tugs-o-war. It details each instance where a control was introduced in Congress and subsequently neutralized.

Whether the outrage that followed the recent mass shootings can even-up the contest will depend on whether it can outlast and outmaneuver the intense lobbying of Congress by the National Rifle Association for the firearms industry. A Denver Post headline after the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 observed that the “Massacre energizes gun debate – but not lawmakers.” #22564 Published: 03/29/2018

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22 Oct
2018

New Ontario premier flexes political muscle ahead of Toronto municipal election

CANADA (WNF) - The new premier of the province of Ontario, Doug Ford, plans to cut Toronto city council seats from 44 to 25 members, a change for Canada’s largest city that his critics see as his attempt to weaken political rivals ahead of municipal elections on Oct 22.
“We’re going to reduce the size and cost of Toronto’s city hall so that decisions can be made quicker while services can be delivered more efficiently and effectively,” according to an internal email reported by Canada’s Global News. A higher number of councilors makes it difficult to “get things done,” the email explains.

The proposed changes would eliminate elected chair positions in the regions of Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka. Chairs in Durham, Halton and Waterloo would continue to be selected as normal.

The Ontario provincial election in June pitted Ford’s Progressive Conservatives against Kathleen Wynne’s long-governing Liberals and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats.

Horwath reacted to Ford’s changes in a written statement, saying the proposed legislation would mean less accountability and transparency. “This is obviously a move to make it easier for the premier to control Toronto city hall,” Horwath wrote. “And reports that Mr. Ford is cancelling elections in which his political enemies are running — elections for the chairs of the York and Peel regions — are deeply chilling,” she added.

Writing in Canada’s Globe & Mail, lawyer David Butt acknowledged that the cuts might make the council more efficient, but that it should be challenged in court. It was sprung on that city without consultation, he said, and is a troubling departure from democratic norms. “So much so that it violates constitutional principles of democratic engagement.” #22708 Published: 08/02/2018

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