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Fri, 23 Apr 2021
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Puppet Masters


Hong Kong billionaire and newspaper tycoon Jimmy Lai gets 12 months in prison for role in anti-Beijing protests

Jimmy Lai
Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying (FILE PHOTO)
A prominent businessman and media tycoon has been jailed for one year by Chinese authorities for organizing and taking part in the unauthorized demonstrations which swept across Hong Kong in 2019 and 2020.

On Friday, Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong billionaire and media tycoon was sentenced to one year in prison. The 73-year-old was one of nine in court on Friday who received sentences for their roles in an anti-Beijing protest which took place on August 18, 2019. Three of the nine also faced charges relating to a demonstration on August 31.

The August 18 protest was one of the largest to rock the former British colony, with an estimated 1.7 million people marching in opposition to a bill which would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

Comment: Foreign meddling in Hong Kong is well documented:


Russia BANS FBI & DNI directors in new tit-for-tat sanctions blacklist, US 'laments' escalation - despite Biden starting it

rice bolton
© Reuters / Evgenina Novozhenina / Jonathan Drake / Gary Cameron
Russia is hitting back against US sanctions, banning the entry of a slew of high-ranking officials after Washington banned a list of bigwigs from Moscow - a move that set the tone in relations with the newly elected US president.

Among the list of US figures blocked from entering Russia from Friday are FBI Director Christopher Wray, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Nicholas Mayorkas, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

Others blocked from the country include Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons Michael Carvajal, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and former CIA Director James Woolsey.

Comment: See also:


Google used 'Double Irish' loophole to dodge tens of billions in 2019 taxes

© REUTERS / Clay Mclachlan
Under the now-outlawed "double Irish" tax dodge, corporations transferred their intellectual property to holding companies registered in Ireland but run from tax havens like Bermuda, which siphoned off profits through royalty fees.

Google's European division used the "double Irish" tax haven loophole to dodge tens of billions in tax there and in the US in 2019, newly-filed accounts reveal.

The Big Tech giant took advantage of the sunset clause on the now-defunct corporate tax scheme to avoid tax on profits of $75.4 billion (€63 billion) in payments in both its home country and Ireland.


Suu Kyi's allies challenge Myanmar junta with unity government escalating chances of prolonged conflict

© AFP/Handout
Protesters are seen in Myanmar.
Close allies of Myanmar's detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi who were ousted in a military coup have joined with ethnic groups to form a new unity government, escalating the chances of a prolonged conflict with the junta.

Detained former President Win Myint and Suu Kyi will retain their positions in the parallel government, which will operate under the terms of a new charter after opponents of the military abolished the country's 2008 constitution.

"For the first time in our history, Myanmar has a unity government that will reflect one of our nation's greatest strengths -- the diversity of our people," Sasa, the unity government's spokesperson who goes by one name, said in a statement released Friday.

Comment: See also: Myanmar's post-coup civilian death toll climbs past 700 as protests, gunfire, and bomb blasts rock the country

Bad Guys

Czechs announce expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats, as Prague claims 'intel officers' involved in 2014 munitions depot explosion

Russian embassy
© Reuters / David W Cerny
A national flag of Russia flies on the Russian embassy in Prague.
The Czech Republic says it will expel 18 Russian diplomats, alleging that Russian intelligence officers were involved in a local munitions depot blast in 2014. It comes a day after Moscow said it would expel 10 US diplomats.

Comment: One wonders whether Czech citizens would support their government jeopardizing relations with Russia simply to appease the US?

The move by Prague came amid a diplomatic standoff between Moscow and Washington that began midweek, after US President Joe Biden ordered 10 Russian diplomats out of the country over the Kremlin's alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election and its claimed involvement in last year's SolarWinds cyber-espionage case. More than 30 Russian individuals and organizations were also sanctioned, while American companies were banned from directly buying shares in Russia's national debt.

Moscow delivered a tit-for-tat response on Friday, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stating that 10 American diplomats would be expelled from Russia, and promising measures that would bar US funds and NGOs from interfering in its internal affairs.

Comment: See also:


Iranian TV: Man behind recent Natanz nuclear facility incident identified

Natanz nuclear site
© CCBY2.0/Hamed Saberbf
Natanz nuclear site
On Sunday, the Natanz nuclear site was hit by an attack, which was slammed by Tehran as an act of "nuclear terrorism". Just days after the incident, Iran announced it had managed to reach 60 percent uranium enrichment, in line with its previously announced plans.

Tehran has learned the identity of a man who is believed to have carried out Sunday's attack at the Natanz nuclear facility, an Iranian state broadcaster reported on Saturday.

The state TV identified the suspect as Reza Karimi, who they say planted an explosive device inside the facility. The subsequent explosion partially damaged the electric grid of the plant's centrifuges, the report added.

According to broadcaster, the perpetrator fled the country prior to the blast. "Necessary and legal steps for his arrest and return to the country are underway", the network added.

The footage aired on the TV channel showed a picture of the alleged culprit and an Interpol "red notice" issued for him. The man's name, however, cannot be found in the red notice database on Interpol's official website.

Comment: Israel appears to be on top of this incident:
[Israeli] State television named the suspect as 43-year-old Reza Karimi. It showed a passport-style photograph of a man it identified as Karimi, saying he was born in the nearby city of Kashan, Iran. The supposed Interpol "red notice" listed his travel history as including Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Ethiopia, Qatar, Turkey, Uganda, Romania and another country that was illegible.

The arrest notice was not immediately accessible on Interpol's public-facing database. Interpol, based in Lyon, France, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Interpol alert notice
Natanz facility overhead view
© AP
Natanz uranium enrichment facility
Israel's security cabinet was set to meet Sunday for the first time in some two and a half months to discuss recent developments. IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi and Mossad head Yossi Cohen will be at Sunday's meeting, and that ministers will discuss whether to carry out more attacks targeting Iran's nuclear program or seek calm. The report said Gantz favors an "active approach" on Iran, but that he also fears the chatter on the issue is causing "real damage to the security of the state" — both embarrassing the Americans and making it harder for Iran to restrain itself from retaliating.
See also:

Star of David

Israel/OPT: UN experts warn of rising levels of Israeli settler violence in a climate of impunity

Palestinian kids and flags
© OCHA/palinfo.com
Occupied Jerusalem, Israel displaced 42 Palestinians in two weeks.
Violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank has risen markedly in recent months, with assaults and property destruction occurring in an atmosphere of impunity, UN human rights experts* said today.
"We note that, in 2020, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented 771 incidents of settler violence causing injury to 133 Palestinians and damaging 9,646 trees and 184 vehicles mostly in the areas of Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablus and Ramallah.

"Already, during the first three months of 2021, more than 210 settler violent incidents were recorded, with one Palestinian fatality. We call upon the Israeli military and police to investigate and prosecute these violent acts with vigor and resolve."
The experts said settler violence was predominantly ideologically motivated and primarily designed to take over land but also to intimidate and terrorize Palestinians. The violence and intimidation often prevents Palestinians from accessing and cultivating their land, and creates a coercive environment pressuring Palestinians to stay away from certain areas or even move.

Cell Phone

Google 'partially' misled consumers over collecting location data, Australian court finds

Cellphone Google
© Andre M Chang/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock
Cellphone Google Earth
Google has been found to have "partially" misled Australian consumers about collecting their location data, according to a federal court ruling handed down on Friday. The court found that Google continued to collect "Location History" on some Android and Pixel phones, even for customers who ticked "No" or "Do not collect" on their settings.

The action was brought by the consumer rights watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which alleged that Google breached the consumer law and misled consumers.

If a customer said no to "Location History", but left "Web & App Activity" switched on, Google continued to collect location data, the ACCC said. In a judgment published on Friday, Justice Thomas Thawley said this was "partially" misleading - that consumers would have been misled and reasonably believed this data would not be collected, and others would not have.

The chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims, said it was a "world-first" ruling on location data issues and big tech.
"It is also the first result we have had of a series of cases in relation to digital platforms, and so we are very happy to have come out with a very positive court result."
The multinational tech company was found to have breached sections 18, 29(1)(g) and 34 of the consumer law.

Comment: Permission by default should never be permission: 'You never said I couldn't shoot you!'

Mr. Potato

"Biden's" sanctions binge represents the high-water mark of the 'Putin whisperers'

biden white house
© REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 15, 2021
Joe Biden has announced a new wave of sanctions against Russia and signalled the potential for more. Biden's mouth is writing checks the US can't cash, and his latest tantrum is likely the last gasp of failed anti-Russia strategy.

Back in the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union wore "big-boy pants" - they understood the realities of the world they lived in and accepted the consequences of their respective actions like adults. Espionage was a given; when you succeeded, you kept your mouth shut, and when you were caught, you took your lumps in silence. What underpinned this approach was the kind of begrudging respect that professionals of equal stature afford to one another - each side had a job to do, and they got on with it.

Both sides were engaged in active propaganda, some overt, much of it covert. This ideological combat was waged in the battlefield of the minds of intellectuals and activists, who were entrusted to decide for themselves which brand of idealism they would embrace. The CIA underwrote such notable literary journals such as The Paris Review and Encounter, while Soviet efforts to infiltrate the Black Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement of the 1960's are well documented. And yet, throughout this war of words, Kennedy somehow met with Khrushchev, Nixon and Carter with Brezhnev, and Reagan with Gorbachev. We opposed the Soviets, but we also respected them as worthy opponents.

Comment: The bungling of successive US administrations has been a back-handed gift to Russia, due in no small part to the political savvy of Vladimir Putin.

From 2017:

Evil Rays

FM spokeswoman Zakharova: US state-run RFERL 'knowingly violated' Russia's laws, now trying to block fines in European court

rfe/rl radio free europe radio liberty logo headquarters
© Sputnik / Alexey Vitvitskiy
The US state-funded outlet RFERL deliberately ignored Russia "foreign agents" law, turning its own violations into a political campaign after it was subjected to fines, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told RT.

The US state-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) earlier this week, asking it to block Russia from enforcing fines on the outlet. RFERL has accumulated dozens of unpaid fines, stemming from its refusal to be properly labeled as a "foreign agent" under Russian law.

The outlet alleges that the actions of the Russian authorities are violating "freedom of speech" principles. It also claims that if the fines are enforced, the outlet may suffer "irreversible harms" and, ultimately, other "independent media" in Russia may face the same fate.