Blatter re-elected as Fifa boss after Prince Ali withdraws

UPDATE: 1.30PM ET, FRI MAY 29 – Sepp Blatter was re-elected as Fifa President after his sole challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, withdrew rather than force a second round of voting.

In his speech before the first vote, the 79-year-old Blatter promised that reform of the beleaguered organization would begin “tomorrow.”

What now?

 

UPDATE: 1PM ET, FRI MAY 29 – There will be a second round of voting, after the first round did not produce the two-thirds majority required. Prince Ali received 73 votes, Sepp Blatter received 133.

In the second round, a simple majority will be sufficient.

 

UPDATE: 11AM ET, FRI MAY 29 – Voting is under way. Both candidates addressed the Congress before the 209 member countries began casting their votes.

 

UPDATE: 9AM ET, FRI MAY 29 – As the latest allegations of corruption against World football’s governing body continue to swirl, voting is expected to start within the next hour in the election for Fifa President.

Incumbent Sepp Blatter, who has led Fifa for 17 years, is seeking a fifth term in office. He has only one challenger, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan. Uefa has signaled it will vote for the Prince, while other influential figures have supported Blatter, making it likely that neither candidate will secure a two-thirds majority. In that event there will be a run-off, with a simple majority of the 209 members sufficient.

Here’s how the voting process works.

You can watch proceedings live on YouTube via FifaTV here:

On Friday morning Blatter called for “unity” ahead of the voting, saying that Fifa was “at a turning point” in the wake of this week’s arrests of several top officials.

His address was briefly interrupted by Palestinian protesters, with the Congress due to discuss a motion to expel Israel.

 

MIDNIGHT ET, THURS 28

indy(The Independent/Tomorrow’s Papers Today)

Fifa President Sepp Blatter continues to resist calls to step aside in light of the latest corruption allegations swamping the organization, and appears poised to win re-election to a fifth term on Friday in Zurich.

Uefa chief Michel Platini on Thursday urged Blatter to resign, but in a speech formally opening Fifa’s Congress, Blatter vowed to “fix” the organization, saying he could not be held responsible for others’ actions and that “It must fall to me to uphold responsibility for the well-being of the organisation.”

(Sky News)

World Football Insider reported that Platini had later been in discussions with officials from other associations ahead of Friday’s vote. Meanwhile, the head of US Soccer Sunil Gulati said that he will be among those supporting Blatter’s only challenger, Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein, and that the election could be “closer than people were projecting some weeks ago.”

WFI reports:

UEFA decided against boycotting the congress with Platini saying today [Thursday] the Jordanian would get a minimum 45 or 46 votes from UEFA member federations. The Jordanian’s problem lies in bagging votes from the rest of the 209 FIFA delegates, with many of those in AFrica, Asia and Oceania self-confessed Blatter disciples.

A total of 105 votes is needed to win the election.

Despite protests on the streets of Zurich, Blatter received public backing from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who denounced the arrests of Fifa officials as US overreach and said it was all a plot to ruin Russia’s hosting of the World Cup in 2018. Joshua Keating writes at Slate:

Putin does have reason to worry: After yesterday’s arrests, Swiss officials announced that they are opening an investigation into allegations of corruption in the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The Russian bid has faced allegations of bribery since the decision was made in 2010, including reports in the British press that a senior European soccer official was given a Picasso in exchange for his support.  A controversial FIFA-commissioned investigation—that was subsequently disowned by its own investigator—cleared Russia along with Qatar of any wrongdoing last year, though it also noted that the Russian bid team had made “only a limited amount of documents available for review.”

As is often the case, though, regardless of what happens both with Friday’s leadership election and how the corruption allegations play out, it will be the World Cup sponsors who likely have the biggest stick to bring about change within Fifa. And, so far, they’re keeping their cards close to their chests.

The FT looks at how the “moneymaking machine still spins.”

***

* POLITICS * In a development that appeared to take Washington genuinely by surprise, BuzzFeed reported that former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was indicted on “reporting evasion charges and lying to the FBI as part of an effort to conceal paying off the victim of “prior bad acts.”

The indictment appeared to raise more questions than it answered.

In an editorial, the Chicago Tribune writes:

This isn’t just yet another Illinois politician winding up in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors. The underlying narrative leaves much to the imagination. The bottom line is that Hastert allegedly agreed in 2010 to pay $3.5 million to an unnamed person to “compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.”

Details of the “prior misconduct” aren’t spelled out in the indictment. The criminal wrongdoing charged by prosecutors is limited to Hastert’s alleged attempts to conceal the payments.

 

The officially-declared GOP Presidential field grew to eight when former New York Gov George Pataki announced he was seeking the nomination, despite briefly forgetting where he was.

 

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza explains why.

Why this race for Pataki though, as opposed to the one in 2012, which he also considered entering? For the same reason that the other 15 or 16 or 20 Republicans are going to run: It’s the most wide-open fight for a presidential nomination in modern history. This is the “why not me” race of a lifetime for Republican pols; just look at the new Quinnipiac University national poll that shows five(!) candidates tied for the lead — each with 10 percent! Sure, Pataki thinks, I’m a long shot. But if ever a long shot was going  to come through, this is the race where it would happen.

Then there is the x-factor that running for president has proven to be a very lucrative career move for plenty of candidates, like Pataki, who were considered long shots at the start of a campaign. Mike Huckabee went from obscurity in 2008 to a book deal, TV show, celebrity and wealth today. (And yes, he, like every other Republican, is running for president in 2016.) Rick Santorum benefited greatly from losing the 2012 presidential race. Herman Cain, too.

***

* WORLD *  A conference is being held in Bangkok to address South East Asia’s growing migrant crisis. The BBC reports that representatives of 17 countries and the UN are taking part but “many of those attending are not ministerial-level and the talks are unlikely to produce a binding agreement or even a plan of action.”

Spectacular TV footage captured the moment a volcano erupted on a small Japanese island early on Friday.

 

 

 

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Fifa waits for the other muddy boot to drop

World football’s governing body Fifa is in turmoil after several leading current and former officials were accused by US investigators of offenses including racketeering, fraud and money laundering, involving millions of dollars and stretching back several years.

The subjects of the US indictments – nine with Fifa connections and five corporate executives – who now face extradition, did not include Fifa President Sepp Blatter, who is – at least for now – up for re-election to a fifth term on Friday; yet Wednesday’s developments have again raised questions about his reign at the head of the organization.

Announcing the 47-count charges, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that instances of corruption at Fifa covered in the allegations date back to 1991. Since then, she said, officials had “used their positions of trust within their respective organizations to solicit bribes from sports marketers in exchange for the commercial rights to their soccer tournaments.”

“They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”

The Associated Press outlines the 12 “schemes” alleged by prosecutors.

Dan Roberts at The Guardian explains that before her recent appointment as AG, Lynch had spent years working on the case, and how a “well-placed insider” had helped bring events to today’s – at least for now – conclusion. He writes:

The long arm of American law enforcement first caught up with what US attorney general Loretta Lynch calls international football’s “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption racket while chasing a mobility scooter down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Inside the scooter was Chuck Blazer, a suburban soccer dad who had risen near to the top of the sport’s governing body, Fifa, and by 2011 was living the high life in two apartments above Fifa’s regional office in nearby Trump Tower: one for him and one, reputedly, for his cats.

In a dramatic day that began with early morning arrests in a luxury hotel in Zurich, a story first reported by the New York Times snowballed as more details emerged. After Fifa’s spokesman somehow described the developments as being “good” for Fifa, corporate sponsors weighed in; Visa, for example, saying its “disappointment and concern…is profound.”

Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post looks at the “human toll of Fifa’s corruption” in the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar, during that country’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup. Swiss authorities are currently pursuing a separate investigation into the award of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, with which Fifa says it is “fully cooperating as the injured party”.

Carl Bialik at FiveThirtyEight writes on how Fifa’s structure “lends itself to corruption” while the NYT‘s Matt Apuzzo and Jeremy Schaap of ESPN tell Gwen Ifill on PBS Newshour why it took so long to crack down on the organization. According to Schaap:

A lot of it is about the fact that FIFA operates under Swiss law as essentially nothing more than a nonprofit, like a yodeling association. That’s often the analogy that is thrown out there.

[…]

So the fact that the Swiss cooperated and worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Department of Justice and are conducting their own investigation, I think the importance of that cannot be overstated. And once the Swiss determine that they are going to oversee organizations such FIFA and the IOC in a different way, that might force them to be more accountable.

Owen Gibson at The Guardian wonders if today’s events represent the beginning of the end for Blatter’s Fifa.

For many in Switzerland, Fifa has gone from a source of pride to an embarrassment. The mood has changed and for Blatter, whatever the outcome of the vote on Friday, this is unlikely to be the end of the story. Following his grandstanding speeches at Fifa gatherings, Blatter likes to end with a flourish and the catchphrase: “For the game, for the world”.

Finally, It’s worth re-watching John Oliver’s takedown from last year at the beginning of the World Cup.

(HBO)

***

* WORLD * On what turned out to be a good day to bury news, Tony Blair announced that he would step down from his role as Middle East representative on behalf of the so-called Quartet – the US, Russia, the UN and the EU.

Nebraska became the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty in more than 40 years, with a vote which overrides a veto by the state’s Governor, Pete Ricketts.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is visiting European capitals as the first legislative step was taken towards a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

As G7 finance chiefs gather in Dresden, pressure is again growing on Greece to strike a deal with creditors as its next debt deadline, on June 5th, nears. Bloomberg reports:

While Greece isn’t on the G-7’s official agenda and the group has no mandate to make a decision, the topic looks set to dominate discussions on the sidelines. The meeting, in a former palace of Saxon princes and kings, brings together officials from the euro area’s three biggest economies, as well as Greece’s three creditor institutions.

***

* POLITICS * Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum launched his second bid for the Presidency, supported again by billionaire Foster Friess, the largest single contributor to Santorum’s second-place finish in the 2012 GOP primary.

And his campaign is joining in what seems to be the current trend of “witty” error page messages.

Elsewhere, Rand Paul sought to distance himself from other Republicans by blaming “GOP hawks” for the rise of ISIS.

“ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS,” the GOP presidential candidate said Wednesday on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. “These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS’s job even easier. They’ve created these people.”

His comments drew a predictably high-profile reaction from one of his as-yet potential competitors.

But even that wasn’t without problems, as Jindal was then accused of using state funds for campaign purposes, given than his statement was issued from the Governor’s office rather than through his exploratory committee.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was in South Carolina for the first time since losing the state’s primary in 2008. Politico writes:

Clinton — defeated by Obama and hobbled politically by her husband’s red-faced defense of his family’s civil rights legacy here seven years ago — returned to the site of her most scarring defeat to embrace her core message of women’s equality and to triangulate between two titans who decided her fate in 2008.

And a few days after Clinton claimed she wasn’t seeking a third Obama term, she went out of her way to make it clear to the predominantly African-American audience that she did view herself as Obama’s liberal successor.

Texas floods

More heavy rain was expected on Tuesday night with Texas and Oklahoma already dealing with the effects of near-historic severe weather, after a day that saw the worst-ever flooding in and around Houston. Authorities said storms have so far left at least 17 people dead and several missing while thousands of properties are thought to have been destroyed in Houston alone. Fox News reported that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said disaster declarations in the state stretch from “literally the Red River to the Rio Grande.”

Dramatic drone footage from the Washington Post shows the extent of the flooding.

Residents in Wimberley, Texas, about three hours west of Houston, spoke of a “wall of water” that destroyed everything in its path after the Blanco River rose a staggering 26 feet in one hour.

* Full coverage from The Houston Chronicle is here.

Thirteen people were killed when a tornado touched down in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Acuna. The twister – the worst in a century – was thought to be on the ground for just a few seconds.

The Huffington Post reports on why this sort of weather could be the new normal for the country’s most vulnerable regions.

In its latest report, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that heavy precipitation events in North America and Europe appear to have been growing more frequent and more severe. Furthermore, the panel said, it’s “very likely” that these precipitation events will get worse and surface air temperatures will continue to rise in the coming century.

Finally, as if it means anything at a time of such despair and loss, but maybe a certain NFL quarterback learned a lesson about when not to tweet today.

***

* SPORTS * Swiss law enforcement authorities are understood to have moved early on Wednesday to arrest a number of top officials of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, ahead of expected indictments in the US alleging wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, the New York Times reports. Fifa President Sepp Blatter was not among those arrested. Blatter is up for re-election on Friday.

The New York Times’ Michael Schmidt has been tweeting from the lobby of the hotel in Zurich where the arrests took place.

***

* WORLD * Britain’s new Conservative government will spell out its legislative program on Wednesday through the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament. The BBC reports that the first all-Conservative agenda since 1996 will feature an EU referendum, tax cuts for low-earners and an extension of Right to Buy provisions.

The Guardian has a bill-by-bill guide to what to expect and you can watch proceedings live here.

The City of Cleveland agreed to sweeping police reforms, including new rule son the use of force by its officers, as part of a settlement with the Department of Justice following an investigation of civil rights violations. The Cleveland Plain Dealer – whose headline says the report requires police to “stop hitting people on heads with guns,” reports that

The consent decree, which comes after five months of negotiations and dozens of meetings with police, community groups, church leaders and advocates, addresses a December report that noted offers were inadequately trained to deescalate tense situations. Not all squad cars had computers, and those that did often lacked technology to give officers vital information.

***

* POLITICS *  A panel of appeal judges on Tuesday dealt a blow to President Obama’s executive action on immigration by denying the administration’s request to proceed. Politico reports that “If the administration can’t get the Supreme Court to act promptly to lift the injunction or chooses not to try, the White House could find Obama’s long-promised immigration actions on hold until the Supreme Court rules definitively on the legal questions at stake — a ruling that likely wouldn’t come until next June.”

But the ruling may not be all good news for the President’s political opponents.

Senator Bernie Sanders launched his bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination on Tuesday in Burlington, VT, taking aim at Wall Street and pledging to keep the issue of wealth inequality in the spotlight. You can watch the full event here at the candidate’s site (Sanders’ speech begins at 40:00)

Sen Sanders’ only opponent thus far, Hillary Clinton, continues to have her campaign mired in the “complexity” of the family’s finances. The Associated Press reported that “newly released financial files on Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s growing fortune omit a company with no apparent employees or assets that the former president has legally used to provide consulting and other services, but which demonstrates the complexity of the family’s finances.”

Meanwhile, the International Business Times reported that governments that donated to the Clinton Foundation “got weapons deals” from the State Department.

IBT writes:

The Clinton Foundation has not released an exact timetable of its donations, making it impossible to know whether money from foreign governments and defense contractors came into the organization before or after Hillary Clinton approved weapons deals that involved their interests. But news reportsdocument that at least seven foreign governments that received State Department clearance for American arms did donate to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary: Algeria, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Thailand, Norway and Australia.

Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post looks at the Obama administration’s Office of Digital Engagement, which already has a bigger staff than George W Bush’s  entire White House Press Office.

Barack Obama rose to prominence as a politician who could deliver broad, sweeping speeches with universal themes, and he has leveraged the opportunities of the digital age to maximum political advantage. But often, this now means speaking narrowly to his base voters or to groups disconnected from the mainstream political process.

[…]

Critics worry that governance by social media will cheapen the power of the presidency by substituting hashtag activism for serious policymaking. And in these exceptionally partisan times, some see the president’s prodigious use of social media as just another example of the cozy political relationship between the political left and Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

 ***

* BUSINESS * Some 100,000 taxpayers’ data is thought to have been compromised following a security breach at the Internal Revenue Service, between February and the middle of this month, Wired reports.

Mary Meeker’s annual review of Internet Trends is released on Wednesday morning – 11am ET.

***

* MEDIA * Vox Media is buying the parent company of Re/code, the tech news site launched in January 2014 by a number of key writers formerly with the Wall Street Journal.

Iran is understood to have begun the closed-doors trial of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. The Post reports that the case was adjourned after the reading of a four-count indictment in a two-hour session in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. Rezaian’s brother spoke to the AP about what’s known and what isn’t.

(Associated Press)

***

* CULTURE * Finally, the New York Times has a heartwarming post-Memorial Day story about how Jon Stewart has been running an informal training program giving returning veterans skills in television production.

“The Daily Show” developed the program over the last three years without publicizing it, but now, because Mr. Stewart is preparing to leave the show, he has taken it into the open, urging other shows to develop their own programs to bring more veterans into the industry.

“This is ready to franchise. Please steal our idea,” Mr. Stewart said in an interview at his Manhattan studio recently. “It isn’t charity. To be good in this business you have to bring in different voices from different places, and we have this wealth of experience that just wasn’t being tapped.”

A landslide vote for love

As the votes are counted across Ireland, the country looks set to be the first in the world to legalize gay marriage via a nationwide referendum. There appears to have been a high turnout across all demographics, with early indications of a strong ‘yes’ vote – even by a 2:1 majority by some estimates. ‘No’ campaigners are understood to have already conceded defeat.

* A live update on the count from the Irish Times is here.

* There’s online updates from RTE here.

* Follow results and reaction via The Guardian here.

Counting is expected to be completed later on Saturday, in time for the Eurovision Song Contest. The result would leave Northern Ireland as the only part of the British Isles where gay marriage would remain illegal.

 

‘Fast-track’ trade bill passes Senate

The Senate on Friday voted to give President Obama “fast-track” negotiating powers to conclude a controversial 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal, that has prompted heated opposition from within his own party. Reuters reports:

Obama needs trade promotion authority (TPA) to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement this year, an economic alliance that would encompass 40 percent of the world’s economies in countries ranging from Japan to Chile.

“Today’s bipartisan Senate vote is an important step toward ensuring the United States can negotiate and enforce strong, high-standards trade agreements,” Obama said in a statement issued immediately after the Senate passage.

But according to the Huffington Post, the final version of the bill “threw a wrench into the President’s plans.”

The measure now moves to the House of Representatives.

Bhaskar Chakravorti, senior associate dean of international business and finance at Tufts University writes at CNBC why the congressional fuss “won’t scare off the partners.”

“…the TPP matters much more to them than it does to the U.S., particularly from an economic standpoint. The gain of 0.3 to 0.4 percent in U.S. GDP is modest when compared to Vietnam’s 10-percent GDP boost and even to Japan’s 2-percent benefit, a giant leap for a country stuck in over two decades of a recession. The partner countries would likely hang on for the long ride, keen to see the partnership through. The stop-and-start process is also surprisingly helpful for the U.S. because it serves the purpose of sending a signal to these partners: American voters have concerns and they need to be addressed.”

Paul Krugman writes at the New York Times:

I don’t know why the president has chosen to make the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership such a policy priority. Still, there is an argument to be made for such a deal, and some reasonable, well-intentioned people are supporting the initiative.

But other reasonable, well-intentioned people have serious questions about what’s going on. And I would have expected a good-faith effort to answer those questions. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what has been happening.

***

* WORLD * Reuters reports that government prosecutors are investigating the company at the center of the California pipeline leak this week that caused thousands of gallons of oil to leak onto the coastline near Santa Barbara.

***

* POLITICS *  The GOP Presidential field may have just shrunk by one.

Katie Glueck and Nick Gass at Politico write on “why Huckabee went all-in for the Duggars”.

Bob Cesca writes at Salon on why Huckabee’s move “kind of makes sense.”

Huckabee’s candidacy isn’t about helping his supporters who, by the way, are donating their hard-earned cash and limited spare time to his campaign; Huckabee’s candidacy is all about increasing his media cache, it’s about boosting his speaking fees and strengthening his hand in preparation for his next Fox News Channel contract. Former George W. Bush speechwriter, David Frum saliently refers to Fox News and AM talk radio as the “conservative entertainment complex” and Huckabee is one of the main stage players. This can’t be emphasized enough: Huckabee is taking money from ordinary Americans who think he’s in the race to win and to change things, when in reality he has no hope of winning and he knows it.

Meanwhile, Conservative pundits are already turning away.

And somewhere, Rick Santorum is thinking “phew…”

***

* CULTURE * The Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Vienna on Saturday. The BBC reports that around 200 million people are expected to watch live in what’s expected to be the biggest-ever version of the annual competition.

If you’ve never seen it before, here’s “ten of the best” numbers that “lived on after the voting” from The Guardian.

Oh, and, don’t let the name fool you – Australia are taking part this year for the first time. It’s also the first time the contest will have sign language translation.

Whatever happens in real life, though, it’s probably unlikely to top this:

(YouTube/OLHOSECOHC)

 

‘…and yes I said yes I will Yes’

UPDATE: 7PM ET, FRI 22 – Marriage equality campaigner are confident that a high turnout of voters will be enough to carry the referendum in their favor. The Irish Times reports “high turnouts in urban areas and massive engagement by younger voters.”

The votes will be counted on Saturday.

 

MIDNIGHT, THURS 21: Ireland looks poised to become the first country to adopt marriage equality in a national referendum when its people vote on Friday. The Irish Times surveyed every legislator in Ireland’s upper and lower houses, and if their intentions are representative of the wider nation, the proposed constitutional amendment would clearly pass.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny has backed a ‘Yes’ vote, saying:

“The Yes will obliterate, publicly, the remaining barriers of prejudice or the irrational fear of ‘them’ and ‘us’ in this regard. Equally, a very public Yes will create a very private and very personal hope.”

Opinion polls had shown the ‘Yes’ campaign with a commanding lead – the Irish Times reported that the ‘No’ side would need a seismic shift to carry the day – although that has narrowed recently and Alberto Nardelli at The Guardian writes that “there are several factors of uncertainty to consider, and that could mean the result ends up closer than these figures imply.”

Emily Dugan reports from Donegal for The Independent and wonders whether the opinion polls may have “overestimated support for the bill.”

The possibility of a “shy” No vote is one that is being much discussed in political circles in Dublin. After the unreliability of polling in Britain’s General Election, pundits in Ireland are worried that the same could happen in this referendum, with embarrassed No voters not being frank about their intentions to pollsters.

The social pressure to at least appear to be sympathetic to the Yes vote is felt across the country following endorsements not just from all major political parties but state bodies too. Even Ireland’s police association, the Garda Representative Association, has come out for Yes, the first time it has taken a partisan position on a referendum.

A broadcast moratorium on reporting is currently in place, until the polls close at 10pm (5pm ET) on Friday.

ballot

More than three million people are entitled to vote. With no postal voting for expats, there also appears to have been a significant number of people making the trek #HomeToVote.

The BBC gathered some quotes from celebrities on both sides of the debate – from former Irish President Mary McAleese, who is voting ‘Yes’; to the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid  Martin who is in the ‘No’ camp.

The Irish Independent reports on a survey that says the country’s newspapers “printed three times more ‘yes’ articles’ between May 1st and May 20th. There have also been claims and counter-claims about the role of foreign money – particularly from the US – in financing the two campaigns.

* Full coverage from the Irish Times is here.

* Full coverage from the Irish Independent is here.

* Follow #MarRef on Twitter

* Follow #HomeToVote on Twitter

The vote takes place, appropriately enough, on Harvey Milk Day.

***

* WORLD * A grand jury in Baltimore indicted all six police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray.

* Full coverage from The Baltimore Sun is here.

Islamic State is reportedly tightening its control on the Syrian city of Palmyra. Reuters reports:

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the al Qaeda offshoot now controlled more than half of all Syrian territory after more than four years of conflict that grew out of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The monitoring group added that Islamic State had seized the last border crossing between Syria and Iraq controlled by the Damascus government. The crossing is in Syria’s Homs province, where Palmyra is located.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the latest incident in the ongoing sparring between the US and China over the South China Sea, including video of an exchange between a US military aircraft and the Chinese navy.

When the U.S. crew responded that it was flying in international airspace, the Chinese dispatcher answered, “This is the Chinese navy…. You go!” The U.S. plane, which was operating from an air base in the Philippines, received eight warnings from the Chinese during the mission.

Britain’s newly-re-elected Prime Minister David Cameron will use an EU summit in Latvia to begin discussions on his plan to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union. His trip comes as the latest data on net migration to Britain showed numbers spike to near record levels.

indy

 

Fareed Zakaria writes at the Washington Post how Britain has “resigned as a world power.”

The country is suspicious of a robust foreign policy of any kind — including serious sanctions against Russia, getting tough in trade talks with China, the use of force in the Middle East and an engaged relationship with the rest of Europe. During the recent election, as The Post reported, foreign policy barely surfaced..

…It is a paradox, readily apparent to visitors to Britain, that London continues to thrive as a global hub, increasingly cosmopolitan and worldly. More than a third of Londoners were born outside the United Kingdom. And this government has been more than willing to travel around the world petitioning for investment, whether it be Chinese, Russian or Arab. That is fine as a strategy for an aspiring entrepôt or financial haven, but Britain is not Luxembourg.

***

* POLITICS *  The first tranche of emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server were published by the New York Times, including correspondence on Libya with former adviser Sidney Blumenthal, who has been subpoenaed by the House Committee investigating the attack on Benghazi. The Washington Post reports that Blumenthal said he would co-operate with the Committee.

The Hill reports that the Committee is also planning to interview another Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, after Blumenthal testifies.

Meanwhile, more details emerged of various speaking fees received by Hillary, Bill and Chelsea Clinton on behalf of their family Foundation. Politico reports that

Over time, the Clintons have disclosed more than $130 million in speech income since 2001. The foundation’s haul is at least $12 million and could be more than double that since the payments were disclosed only in broad ranges.

On the GOP side, Louisiana Gov Bobby Jindal continues to come under fire over his executive order protecting anyone who objects to same-sex marriage. The AP reports that Jindal, “courting Christian conservatives for a likely presidential bid” made the order after a similar measure failed in the state legislature.

Similar measures have been pushed by social and political conservatives around the country as same-sex marriage is increasingly being approved by federal courts and state governments. The defeated bill in Louisiana would have gone further, sharply curtailing the state’s ability to punish those who discriminate against same-sex couples, critics say.

Jindal’s order forbids state agencies from denying individuals, businesses and nonprofits any licenses, benefits, jobs or tax deductions because of action taken due to religious belief that marriage should be between a man and woman.

New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu was among those pushing back, saying Jindal’s order “could adversely affect the state’s and city’s ability to attract jobs, large conventions and major special events, such as the Super Bowl.”

***

* MEDIA * 

Finally, Jim Romenesko looks at the brilliance that is John Oliver’s ongoing homage to ‘The Most Patient Man on Television’.

(C-SPAN/BeatPenguin)

California acts to counter coastal oil spill

California Gov Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Wednesday night to speed up relief efforts as officials in in Santa Barbara County continue to wrestle with the effects of a fast-spreading oil spill. With more than 100,000 gallons spilled, 20,000 gallons are thought to have reached the sea, covering up to nine miles of coastline, after leaking from an onshore pipeline near Refugio State Beach.

Reuters reports that the incident “may be the biggest oil spill to hit the pristine but energy-rich Santa Barbara coastline in 46 years.” But it is much smaller than the 3 million-gallon spill in 1969 which sparked the popularization of the environmental movement in the US.

The EPA is investigating the cause of the pipeline rupture, while the Los Angeles Times reported that “the spill happened after a series of mechanical problems caused the line to be shut down.” The CEO of Houston-based operator Plains All-American Pipeline said “We deeply regret that this incident has occurred at all. We apologize for the damage it has done to the environment.”

(CNN)

Separately, as lawyers in New Orleans reached a series of settlements totaling over $200m related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a new report linked that incident to the deaths of Dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

***

* WORLD * Diplomats from the US and Cuba meet for a fourth time on Thursday morning in Washington, where talks will focus on next steps towards re-opening embassies in their respective capitals.

A “treasure trove” of artifacts from Osama Bin Laden’s final hiding place in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were declassified on Wednesday, revealing that his reading material included work by Noam Chomsky and Bob Woodward, as well as books about the Illuminati. Among the documents was also what appeared to be an Al-Qaeda job application form.

jobapp(Gawker)

Florida postal worker Doug Hughes, who landed a Gyrocopter on the lawn of the US Capitol last month faces up to 9 1/2 years in prison after being charged with two felonies and four misdemeanors (including misuse of the US Postal Service logo). The 61-year-old Hughes told USA Today the stunt was “absolutely worth it” and that he is still committed to his cause of ending abuse of the campaign finance system.

“I don’t believe a jury of 12 people is going to convict me of a felony when my intention was not do anything except to get Congress to work for the people.”

We’ll see.

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* POLITICS * Rand Paul made a ten-and-a-half hour speech – there was some debate over whether it was technically a ‘filibuster’ – on the Senate floor attacking government surveillance programs and opposing renewal of the PATRIOT Act, which is due to expire at the end of the month.

While the legislative gamble on the Act by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears poised to proceed, Presidential candidate Paul’s team skillfully used the event to connect with potential supporters.

On the subject of GOP Presidential politics, Fox News, which will run the first primary debate in August, appears to have decided how it will solve the issue of how many – and which – candidates among the growing field get to take part. The Washington Post reports:

The network will require contenders to place in the top 10 in an average of the five most recent national polls in the run-up to the event, narrowing what is expected to be a field of 16 or more by the Aug. 6 event in Cleveland.

The rule could trigger an early rush of spending by lower-tier candidates seeking to boost their standing in national surveys before the pivotal first forum.

CNN, which hosts the second GOP debate the following month, later said it would take a slightly different approach, dividing the debate into two parts, with “two different sets of candidates: those who rank in the top 10 according to public polling, and the remaining candidates who meet a minimum threshold of 1 percent in public polling,” according to Dylan Byers at Politico.

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* CULTURE * Apparently a local NBC affiliate was a little unsure who won The Voice. It’s ok – it can be hard to tell these folks apart.

And finally, of course, Wednesday night was David Letterman’s final Late Show.

James Poniewozik writes at Time how he left us, laughing:

Letterman’s last Late Show was nostalgic but not maudlin, gracious but not mournful, valedictory but not a eulogy. Letterman’s last minutes behind the desk were as heavy on the laughs as on the thank-yous, an hour-plus of an entertainer being an entertainer and enjoying it. It was true to Dave, it was fun and it was terrific.

The show finished, brilliantly, with Dave’s favorite band playing Dave’s favorite song over what was simply a perfect montage – years in minutes. Everlong.

#ThanksDave

nyam