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Trump declares ’emergency’ to build wall, Democrats cry foul
15 February 2019, 8:16 PM

President Donald Trump, citing an “invasion” of drugs and criminals, declared a national emergency at the US-Mexico border on Friday to fund construction of his long-sought wall, a move slammed by Democrats as an unlawful “power grab.”

Trump’s extraordinary step will enable him to bypass congressional opposition and seek to redirect billions of dollars in federal funds to build the wall — delivering on a key election promise to his right-wing base.

“We are going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border and we are going to do it one way or the other,” Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden of the White House.

“I am going to be signing a national emergency,” said the US leader. “We are talking about an invasion of our country, with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.”

Trump’s decision to resort to emergency powers — after a bitter standoff with Democrats blocking his wall project culminated in a 35-day government shutdown — has alarmed lawmakers, including in his Republican Party, who warn it sets a dangerous precedent.

The declaration came after the president agreed to a massive bipartisan spending measure that averts the possibility of a second crippling shutdown.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders in Congress, immediately denounced a “power grab” by a president “who has gone outside the bounds of the law” to fund his 2016 campaign pledge to build the wall.

New York State’s attorney general, Letitia James, announced the first of what were expected to be a slew of legal challenges, warning a national emergency without legitimate cause could create a constitutional crisis, and vowing to “fight back with every legal tool at our disposal.”

Trump said he fully expected to be challenged in court — but voiced confidence he would prevail.

“Look, I expect to be sued,” he said bluntly. “Sadly it will go through a process and happily, we’ll win, I think.”

– No $5.7 billion –

Trump’s announcement, which opens a new confrontation with lawmakers and creates risky legal peril, comes after he reluctantly agreed to a measure keeping federal agencies operational through September 30 — but without the funding he sought for a border wall.

That deal caps a two-month battle over border money which Democrats are widely seen as having won.

Trump has long demanded $5.7 billion to build portions of a wall on the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) southern border. But Congress provided just $1.375 billion for border barriers, and not specifically a wall, in the bill.

Under the National Emergencies Act, the president can declare a national emergency, providing a specific reason for it.

That allows the activation of any of hundreds of dormant emergency powers under other laws, which can permit the White House to declare martial law, suspend civil liberties, expand the military, seize property and restrict trade, communications and financial transactions.

Recent presidents — and Trump too — have used emergency powers on such issues. But the prospect of Trump using the authority to raid government accounts for the funding of a wall sounded alarm bells on Capitol Hill.

“I’m just saying that the Republicans should have some dismay about the door that they are opening, the threshold they are crossing,” Pelosi said Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed the president over the emergency, but other Republicans voiced reservations including veteran Senator Chuck Grassley who warned of a worrying precedent.

Article 1 of the US Constitution states Congress gets to decide how money is appropriated. Many lawmakers have said they have no idea where Trump will draw the funding from.

Democrats have signaled the move would open the door to future presidents declaring emergencies on anything from gun violence to climate change to the opioid crisis.

Court challenges aside, the Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, expressed support for a congressional resolution of disapproval to “terminate” Trump’s emergency declaration.

Such a move has a chance of passing both chambers of Congress, but Trump would almost certainly veto it.

Moments before his announcement, Trump met with so-called “angel moms,” women whose children were victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and whose plight the White House has spotlighted in its push on border security.

Holding large photographs of their children, they joined Trump in the Rose Garden, where he asked some of them to stand as he highlighted their stories.

 

Trump says trade with Britain to increase ‘substantially’ post-Brexit
15 February 2019, 7:35 PM

US trade with Britain will increase “very substantially” post-Brexit,  President Donald Trump predicted on Friday as a deadline looms for that country to leave the European Union.

“You know all of the situation with respect to Brexit and the complexity and the problems but we have a very good trading relationship with UK,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“We’re continuing our trade and we are going to actually be increasing it very substantially as time goes by.”

With Britain due to exit the EU next month, London faces the prospect of losing the benefit of trade deals the EU struck with other economies, which could raise tariffs and other impediments to the country’s exports.

But the United States and Britain on Thursday announced two “mutual recognition agreements” to ensure the country will continue to be subject to the same criteria applied to the EU on rules for telecommunications and computing equipment, pharmaceuticals inspections and marine equipment.

In case Britain crashes out of the EU without an agreement on trade relations, London has won agreements with Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Switzerland to ensure mutual recognition of standards in goods trade, providing a bridge to new trading regimes for Britain outside the EU.

Official figures this week showed the British economy posted its slowest growth in six years, amid uncertainty over Brexit.

Counterfeit cigarettes
Illicit trade threatens legitimate industries
15 February 2019, 5:43 PM

The public debate that has been ensuing of whether the last nine years under Jacob Zuma were wasted is immaterial. It is unnecessary to engage in a debate that is based on evidence which is available for all to see.

While Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) believes that the decade was wasted by the former president, others hold a different view. What is important is to examine the facts.

The erosion of ethics, norms and standards under Zuma’s stewardship cannot be ignored. Therefore, based on facts, the 9 years were wasted. It was during this period where state-owned enterprises like Eskom, PRASA, SARS and Denel were brought to record lowest levels. As of now, Eskom sits on a debt in excess of R400 Billion.

Meanwhile, SARS’ reputation is muddied whereas PRASA has been financially derailed. However, this rot exceeds one’s imagination as revelations at the three simultaneous commissions of inquiry into impropriety and state capture divulge daily.

“Economic growth cannot be achieved when industries like tobacco lose R8 billion per annum”

Global Financial Integrity reports that illicit financial flows (IFFs) or illicit trade has cost South Africa almost R40 billion in the past year. The country is now regarded as one of the world’s biggest markets for illicit cigarette sales and is losing about R8 billion per annum.

For instance, last year, I wrote about the impending disaster looming over our country’s legal tobacco industry as crooks cynically took advantage of a broken SARS to stop paying excise duties and slash the price of cigarettes.

Since then, the Nugent Commission of Inquiry reported that illegal tobacco manufacturers and sellers were operating “with little constraint” and urged the rapid rehabilitation of SARS’ investigative and enforcement capabilities.

It is clear that the new SARS administration has taken on the mammoth task of essentially rebuild SARS from scratch – but this will not happen overnight. To understand the depth of this challenge faced by SARS, one would have to consider the malignant corruption within certain quarters of the South African Police (SAPS). It is because some divisions in SAPS was itself in disarray that SARS became complacent. All this criminality, results in a sabotaged economy. This then leads to lack of economic growth in the country. Economic growth cannot be achieved when industries like tobacco lose billions per annum.

Some statistics to ponder nevertheless. At least 10,000 jobs and 35,000 dependents in the legal tobacco industry, principally on tobacco farms, are at risk due to illicit cigarette trade.  Illegal cigarette producers in the country import their tobacco leaf and therefore do not support the local economy.

As a result, British American Tobacco (BAT), is facing ever deteriorating market conditions, even warning that it may need to consolidate its leaf procurement off shore.

This therefore calls for a SARS that is “firing on all cylinders” because a crippling one will not collect due revenues. Meaning, government will not have the much-needed financial resources to service the country. Illicit trade robs the poor of money that can be utilized to improve their lives.

However, the worst is for SARS to fail in tax revenue collection and SAPS to be absent where crimes are being committed. The days where corruption and crime were interrogated in words only are gone. Communities need to know the actual figures that have gone to waste.

Just imagine what government can do with R8 Billion that gets lost due to missed cigarette tax revenues per year.That amount could be used to build almost 52 000 RDP houses. R8 billion can also easily pay for the construction of 16 hightech300 Bed District Hospital with Ophthalmology Unit. Thereafter, they must also see those who have committed the crime and squandered the money facing legal consequences.

The BLSA has been consistent in its call for the rooting out of corruption and eradication of state capture which are the cancers that are eating away at our society. They must be rooted out, crushed and punished where we find them in the public or private sector.

Corruption erodes the values and worth of the Constitution, threatens our Sovereignty, and undermine inclusive growth and our economic development. The BLSA is concerned that the perpetrators, whether public officials or private parties, almost always require business counterparts.

Either way, corruption by both private and public sector threatens the economy.Therefore, among the broader business, are some of the facilitators of these activities. Business complicity in corruption, whether wittingly or unwittingly, betrays public trust and undermines democratic values.

The good thing though is that as BLSA we do not tolerate this. As business, we are determined to play our part in preventing and defeating corruption, to reaffirm honesty, respect for the rule of law, accountability, transparency and putting South Africa first.

BLSA’s track record in dealing with instances of corruption within its ranks is well recorded. It is such decisiveness as displayed by the BLSA in dealing with corruption which will position government at the center of victory and economic emancipation.

Bonang Mohale is CEO of BLSA

UK’s May suffers another damaging defeat in Brexit saga
14 February 2019, 10:21 PM

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday suffered another defeat in parliament over her Brexit strategy, just 43 days before Britain is due to leave the European Union.

The House of Commons rejected a government motion intended to express MPs’ support for May as she continues an 11th-hour bid to renegotiate her Brexit deal with the EU.

Hardline eurosceptics in her Conservative party abstained from voting on the government’s non-binding motion, which they believed raised the chances of avoiding a no-deal Brexit.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said the defeat “shows there is no majority for the PM (prime minister)’s course of action in dealing with Brexit.”

“She cannot keep on just running down the clock and hoping that something will turn up that will save her day and save her face,” he said of May, who was not in parliament for the defeat.

A Downing Street spokesman blamed the setback on “a concern from some Conservative colleagues about taking ‘no deal’ off the table at this stage”.

He added that the government would continue to seek changes to the withdrawal agreement May has struck with the EU but has so far failed to sell to MPs, “to ensure we leave on time on 29th March.”

Leading Brexiteer Liam Fox had earlier warned colleagues that defeat would raise doubts about whether a renegotiated deal could get through parliament, making the bloc less likely to make an offer.

“Our European partners will be watching our debate and listening today to see if they get the impression that if they were to make those concessions parliament would definitely deliver,” trade minister Fox told BBC Radio 4.

“There’s a danger that we send the wrong signals.”

– Talks at ‘crucial stage’ –

British MPs roundly rejected May’s initial deal last month, but later parliamentary votes suggested a slim majority for her deal if she could get rid of the so-called “backstop” clause intended to keep the border with Ireland free-flowing.

Some fear the measure could leave Britain trapped in EU trade rules indefinitely with no withdrawal mechanism.

British officials have since held a series of meetings with EU counterparts, who have ruled out reopening negotiations.

“The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this house requires and deliver Brexit on time,” May told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“Having secured an agreement with the EU for further talks, we now need some time to complete that process,” she said.

The announcement was seen by political commentators as an attempt to stave off the threat of parliamentary rebellion, with MPs now having to wait until February 27 for another series of votes on what to do if no agreement is reached.

Business leaders and economists have warned of shockwaves around the continent if no transition deal is in place when Britain leaves the EU.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer accused May of deliberately wasting time to ramp up pressure to pass her deal, and warned that MPs would not let her leave without a deal.

Ronan McCrea, professor of constitutional and European law at University College London, told AFP that Thursday’s defeat made May’s ongoing negotiations with Brussels “even more impossible”.

“They will rightly say ‘well, how do we know that any concessions we give won’t be followed by further concessions, because we don’t know that you can get anything through parliament’,” he added.

Cameroon charges 150 over anti-government protests: party
14 February 2019, 9:13 PM

More than 150 people have been charged with “hostility to the homeland” and “insurrection” for their role in anti-government protests in Cameroon, the vice-president of the country’s main opposition party said.

The president of the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) opposition party, Maurice Kamto, was among those charged on Wednesday in a crackdown criticised by human rights campaigners.

He and around 150 other people were arrested in late January and have been held for nearly three weeks by police in the capital Yaounde.

They have gone before a judge in groups, starting with Kamto overnight Tuesday to Wednesday. He was charged with “rebellion, insurrection” and “hostility to the country”.

Around twenty of those detained have been released on bail, MRC’s vice-president Emmanuel Simh told AFP.

“Hostility to the country” is punishable by the death penalty in theory, but the penalty has not been carried out in Cameroon for more than 30 years.

Maurice Kamto says he was cheated out of the presidency in last October’s elections, when Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, 86, was re-elected for a seventh term.

Around 200 people were arrested in subsequent protests, the MRC said.

Amnesty International said the wave of detentions “signals an escalating crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders and activists.”

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