Geologists Say Fracking Won’t Solve England’s Energy Problems

Fracking, at least in the U.S., has changed the country’s energy outlook. It has cut the cost of fossil fuels and turned the U.S. into a net exporter of fuel. But fracking hasn’t had the same effect in Britain, and geologists say the island nation’s unique geology means fracking will never solve their energy problems. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Palestinians to US: Don’t Recognize Jerusalem as Israeli Capital

The Palestinians are warning the United States against recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Mahmoud Habash, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Saturday that if President Donald Trump were to do so, it would amount to a “complete destruction of the peace process.”

Speaking in Abbas’ presence, Habash said “the world will pay the price” for any change in Jerusalem’s status.

Officials in Washington say Trump is considering recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a way to offset his likely decision to delay his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy there. 

Israel regards Jerusalem as its capital, a position nearly the entire world rejects, saying its status should be determined in peace talks with the Palestinians. The Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as their future capital.

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Greece, Creditors Agree on New Package of Reforms

Greece’s finance minister said Saturday that an agreement had been reached between the heavily indebted country and its creditors on its progress in implementing reforms.

The agreement on the so-called Third Assessment of Greece’s latest bailout program will allow Greece to receive fresh funds next year, after implementing workplace reforms, speeding up the settlement of bad loans, tightening up rules for family subsidies and selling off state-owned power plants.

European monetary affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici also announced that a “staff-level agreement” had been reached, meaning that although creditor representatives were involved, the European Union’s finance ministers must approve the agreement, which they are expected to do Monday.

Finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos said Greece would have to vote on at least two major bills by January 22 to implement the agreement.

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Trump Applauds Senate Passage of Republican Tax Overhaul Bill

U.S. President Donald Trump praised the Senate’s early Saturday morning passage of an immense Republican tax overhaul bill, telling reporters outside the White House the measure calls for “the biggest tax cuts in the history of our country.”

Later Saturday at a Republican fundraiser in New York, Trump attributed passage of the bill to semantics.

“For years I said I wonder why they (lawmakers) use the word reform. Because nobody knows what reform means. Reform could mean your taxes are going up. And I said to my guys, I called everybody and we had a meeting — senators, Congress, everybody. I said we have to use the word, ‘tax cuts.’”

Earlier Saturday, Trump praised two top Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, for securing enough votes for passage.

“We are one step closer to delivering MASSIVE tax cuts for working families across America. Special thanks to @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell and Chairman @SenOrrinHatch for shepherding our bill through the Senate. Look forward to signing a final bill before Christmas!,” Trump said on Twitter.

The Senate passed the legislation by a 51 to 49 margin without a single Democratic vote, a development Trump said was a political mistake that will haunt Democrats in the 2018 midterm election.

“We got no Democratic help and I think that’s going to cost them very big in the election because basically they voted against tax cuts. And I don’t think politically it’s good to vote against tax cuts.”

The Senate passed the legislation without Democratic support and congressional reaction was also divided along party lines.

House Speaker Paul Ryan commended the Senate and urged congress to act quickly to get a final bill signed into law.

“I look forward to a conference committee so we can get a final bill to the president’s desk,” the Republican lawmaker tweeted.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted that the bill is a “scam” and would result in “Tens of millions of middle class families” being “slapped with a tax hike.”

“In passing the #GOPTaxScam, @SenateGOP has sealed its betrayal of the American middle class. https://goo.gl/fBvQrH.”

Many Democrats, including Senator John Tester, were angry over the way Republicans approved the hastily-written bill in the wee hours of the morning without any public debate.

“I was just handed a 479-page tax bill a few hours before the vote. One page literally has hand scribbled policy changes on it that can’t be read. This is Washington, D.C. at its worst.  Montanans deserve so much better,” Tester wrote on Twitter.

A few more hurdles must be overcome before a final tax package can become law. The Senate bill and a version passed earlier by the House of Representatives must now be reconciled. The reconciled measure must then be approved by both chambers of Congress before it is submitted to the president for him to sign into law.  

Negotiations over the tax measures will take place as Congress simultaneously tries to meet a December 8 deadline for government funding to expire, putting additional pressure on Republicans to get a new tax law on the books before Christmas as requested by Trump.

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Trump Says Fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s Actions During Transition ‘Were Lawful’

U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday the actions of former national security adviser Michael Flynn during Trump’s transition to the White House “were lawful.”

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” Trump tweeted between Republican fundraising events in New York.

Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to federal agents, and he has agreed to cooperate with investigators examining allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Earlier Saturday, in his first remarks since Flynn entered the guilty plea, Trump said there was “absolutely no collusion” between his presidential campaign and Russia.

“What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for New York.

Appearing before a federal judge in a packed courtroom in Washington, Flynn, a 59-year-old retired army general, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a series of private conversations he had in December 2016 with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak.

 

The charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, but under U.S. sentencing guidelines the average sentence for the offense ranges from zero to six months.

The guidelines are advisory, but prosecutors agreed to seek a reduced sentence if Flynn provides “substantial assistance” with the investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller. No sentencing date was announced.

Guilty plea

As part of his guilty plea, Flynn agreed to “cooperate fully” with  Mueller’s team of investigators, answering questions, providing written statements, taking polygraph exams, and “participating in covert law enforcement activities.” In return, Mueller’s office agreed that Flynn “will not be further prosecuted criminally.”

Flynn is the fourth member of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to be charged by Mueller’s team and the first former White House to plead guilty in connection with the Russia investigation.

On Oct. 30, Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, another senior campaign official, were charged in a 12-count indictment unrelated to the Russia investigation.

 

Another Trump campaign surrogate, George Papadopoulos, secretly pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government and is cooperating with the special counsel as well.

Flynn’s decision to cooperate with a probe that could implicate others close to Trump marks a dramatic turnaround for a man who staunchly campaigned for the real estate mogul and promised a hard edge in U.S. foreign policy before being fired for lying about his Kislyak interactions to Vice President Mike Pence.

 

Flynn didn’t know at the time but his phone conversations with Kislyak were all recorded by the FBI as part of its probe into Russian interference.

White House reaction

The White House sought to play down the significance of Flynn’s guilty plea.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb said Flynn’s plea does not implicate “anyone other than Mr. Flynn” and added Flynn was a “former Obama administration official” who served in the Trump White House for only 25 days.

But the plea agreement provided an indication that Mueller sees Flynn’s cooperation as critical to his investigation.

“The trick is we won’t know perhaps for some time how significant it is,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas who closely follows the Russia investigation. “But it’s a strong sign that more is coming. And what’s coming down the pipe probably involves more senior officials and individuals closer to President Trump himself.”

In a statement released after his court appearance Friday, Flynn said, “The actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.”

Flynn was swept up in the Russia probe as the FBI began examining contacts between Russia and Trump campaign officials.

Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI about the conversations he had with the Russian ambassador at the behest of senior Trump transition officials shortly after the election.  

The conversations focused on two foreign policy issues the Trump transition team sought to influence before coming into office: a pending U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its settlement activities in Palestinian territories and a possible Russian retaliation to sanctions imposed by then-President Barack Obama.  

In two separate conversations — Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, 2016 — Flynn, directed by a “very senior” member of the Trump transition team, called Kislyak to urge him that Russia “vote against or delay” the Security Council resolution. Kisliyak later called back to say Russia would not vote against the resolution.

‘Very senior’ member of transition team

Several U.S. news outlets have identified as the “very senior” member of the transition team as Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser who is leading the White House’s Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Five days later, on Dec. 28, after Obama announced punitive sanctions against Russia over its interference in the election, Kislyak called Flynn, according to prosecutors.

The next day, Dec. 29, Flynn contacted an unnamed senior transition official who was at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort to discuss what to tell Kislyak about the sanctions.

The two discussed the impact of sanctions on Trump’s foreign policy. Immediately after the conversation, Flynn called Kislyak and urged him to “refrain from escalating the situation.”

On Dec. 31, the day after Putin announced that Russia would not retaliate to the U.S. sanctions, Kislyak called Flynn to say that “Russia had chosen not to retaliate” in response to Flynn’s request.  

When confronted by the FBI four days after Trump’s inauguration, Flynn, then the president’s national security adviser, denied everything, according to court documents filed on Friday.

The filing also says Flynn falsely stated he did not remember Kislyak informing him the Kremlin had decided to “moderate its response to those sanctions” in response to Flynn’s request.

The court document says Flynn also falsely claimed the Russian ambassador never described Moscow’s response to that request.

Kusher is scheduled to make public comments about the administration’s Middle East strategy on Monday in Washington, his first expected public remarks since Flynn pleaded guilty, according to VOA’s  Nike Ching.

“Jared Kushner will speak publicly for the first time about the #Trump administration’s approach to the #MiddleEast on Sunday at the Saban Forum in Washington, an annual conference organized by the Center for Middle East Policy at  @BrookingsInst focused on U.S.- #Israel relations.”

 

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UK Warns Government Agencies not to use Kaspersky Software

Britain’s cybersecurity agency has told government departments not to use antivirus software from Moscow-based firm Kaspersky Lab amid concerns about Russian snooping.

Ciaran Martin, head of the National Cyber Security Centre, said “Russia is acting against the U.K.’s national interest in cyberspace.”

In a letter dated Friday to civil service chiefs, he said Russia seeks “to target U.K. central government and the U.K.’s critical national infrastructure.” He advised that “a Russia-based provider should never be used” for systems that deal with issues related to national security.

The agency said it’s not advising the public at large against using Kaspersky’s popular antivirus products.

Martin says British authorities are holding talks with Kaspersky about developing checks to prevent the “transfer of U.K. data to the Russian state.”

Kaspersky has denied wrongdoing and says it doesn’t assist Russian cyberespionage efforts.

In September, the U.S. government barred federal agencies from using Kaspersky products because of concerns about the company’s ties to the Kremlin and Russian spy operations.

News reports have since linked Kaspersky software to an alleged theft of cybersecurity information from the U.S. National Security Agency.

Britain has issued increasingly strong warnings about Russia’s online activity. Martin said last month that Russian hackers had targeted the U.K.’s media, telecommunications and energy sectors in the past year.

U.S. authorities are investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and some British lawmakers have called for a similar probe into the U.K.’s European Union membership referendum.

Prime Minister Theresa May said last month that Russia was “weaponizing information” and meddling in elections to undermine the international order.

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World’s Largest Lithium Ion Battery Switched on in South Australia

The world’s largest lithium ion battery has begun providing electricity into the power grid in South Australia.  The project is a collaboration between the state government, American firm Tesla, and Neoen, a French energy company. 

Tesla boss Elon Musk, who was not in attendance at the switch-on, had boldly promised to build the battery in South Australia within 100 days – a pledge that has been fulfilled.  The 100-megawatt battery was officially activated Friday.  Musk has said it was three times more powerful than the world’s next biggest battery, and promised to deliver it for free had it not been built on schedule.

The South Australian state government hopes the project can prevent power outages because it can rapidly deploy electricity when it is most needed and reduce prices.

Last September, South Australia suffered a state-wide power outage when storms damaged the electricity network.

State premier Jay Weatherill believes the new battery will guarantee energy supplies.

“People were making fun of South Australia for its leadership in renewable energy and blaming it for the black-out,” said Weatherill. “That, of course, has now been debunked as a myth.  We now know that our leadership in renewable energy is not only leading the nation but leading the world, and we are more than happy to supply our beautiful renewable energy stored in a battery to help out the national electricity market.”

Located near Jamestown, about 200 kilometers north of Adelaide, the Tesla-built 100 megawatt lithium ion battery is connected to a wind farm run by French energy company Neoen.

The farm has 99 wind turbines and generates electricity that can be stored in the battery to serve 30,000 people for about an hour.  In a statement, the California-based firm said the project in South Australia showed “that a sustainable, effective energy solution is possible”.

Critics of the battery have said the technology’s potential has been exaggerated.

The bulk of Australia’s electricity is still generated by coal, and the nation is one of the world’s worst per capita emitters of greenhouses gases.

 

 

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Risk of Volcanic Ash Cancels Some Bali Flights

Airlines canceled more flights leaving the Indonesian island of Bali on Saturday, citing forecasts of deteriorating flying conditions because of a risk of volcanic ash from the erupting Mount Agung volcano.

A Bali airport spokesman said the airport was operating normally, but airlines such as Jetstar and Virgin Australia had opted to cancel some flights.

“Bali flying conditions expected to be clear throughout the day, but forecast for tonight has deteriorated so several flights have been canceled,” Australian budget airline Jetstar said on its Twitter account Saturday.

Thousands stranded

The erupting volcano had closed the airport for much of this week, stranding thousands of visitors from Australia, China and other countries, before the winds changed and flights resumed. 

Twenty flights were canceled Friday evening because of concerns over ash. Some airlines, including Malaysia’s AirAsia, have said they would only operate out of Bali during the day, because the ash could impair visibility at night and wind conditions in the area were unpredictable.

Airlines avoid flying through volcanic ash because it can damage aircraft engines, clogging fuel and cooling systems, hampering pilot visibility and even causing engine failure.

There are also concerns over changing weather conditions with a tropical cyclone south of Java island affecting weather and wind in the area, including for Bali, the Indonesian Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics agency said.

Consulates offer aid

Several foreign consulates have set up booths in the international departures area to assist stranded passengers.

Subrata Sarkar, India’s vice consul in Bali, told Reuters at the airport’s international departure area that they had helped around 500 passengers so far this week.

“We have advised citizens the volcano may erupt. We never say ‘please don’t come.’ But we have issued travel advisories. If it’s urgent business, then OK, but if it’s only tourism, then plans should be reconsidered,” Sarkar said.

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