American farmers worry they’ll pay the price of Trump’s trade war

The US agriculture industry, often the first to feel the hit of trade disputes, is bracing itself as nations threaten to retaliate

America’s farmers are about to start harvesting the wheat crop. Close to 60m tonnes are gathered annually and almost half is usually exported. Where this crop will be sold, though, remains an open question.

As Donald Trump’s trade war escalates, a lot of farmers are worried. Trump was elected, in part, on a promise to put America’s interests first and crack down on what he characterises as a world trade system rigged against the US. But until recently the president has acted like many of his predecessors – talking tough on the campaign trail but backtracking in the White House.

Related: Tariffs reveal Canada’s maple syrup now comes from … the US

It is just increasing tensions. Uncertainty is a huge factor

Related: Martin Rowson on Donald Trump, trade wars and steel tariffs – cartoon

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Hawaii Volcano Update: Scientists Baffled Over Mysterious Cracks In Kilauea Crater

Four weeks into its eruption, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano continues to spew molten lava across The Big Island’s East side – cutting off access to more neighborhoods and destroying 87 homes, ten of which happened in the last two days. 

Scientists are also baffled after aerial drone footage showed concerning changes within Kilauea’s main summit crater – including unexplained cracks at the bottom which are spewing hot steam. Concerns have been raised that an “expanding collapsed crater” and debris blocking the vent could trigger a massive new explosion

The Halema‘uma‘u crater has undergone a sudden transformation since the eruptions began in early May, including the surprising disappearance of a lava lake.

The drone footage from the US Geological Survey (USGS) shows “yellow sulfur substance on the rubble-covered floor and a scattering of large ballistic blocks around the crater rim”.

USGS officials revealed that the empty vent once housed a 12-acre lava lake up until a few weeks ago. –Express.co.uk

What happens next is unknown:

It’s possible that new explosions will blast through the rubble at the bottom of the vent, and these may or may not be larger than previous explosions,” said USGS geophysicist Kyle Anderson. “It’s also possible that the vent could become permanently blocked, ending the explosions entirely.”

The steady collapse of the crater’s internal walls due to draining magma has also enlarged the mouth of the vent considerably – which has grown from 12 acres to 120 acres. The summit itself has also sunken at least five feet in elevation while magma levels continue to drop. 

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s Highway 137 has been blocked by lava, cutting off access to Kapoho, Vacationland, Hwy 132 and possibly the Puna Geothermal power plant

(via @MalikaDudley, HawaiiNewsNow)

Officials at the Puna Geothermal Ventrue (PVG) have confirmed that lava is covering the plant’s monitoring station, however the Department of Health is monitoring for unsafe levels of hydrogen sulfide with none detected thus far.

That said, plant employees may have just lost their access in and out of the facility, as a Friday Instagram update from PVG reads “if lava crosses Highway 137 then they could lose their only way in and out of the plant.

Puna Geothermal Venture officials confirm lava from the fountaining fissure 8 in Leilani Estates continues to flow across the property — cutting across the main driveway to the plant facility. Mike Kaleikini, the company spokesperson, confirms a substation and a warehouse that stored a drilling rig have burned. He also says two wells have been covered on Well Pad E and a lava made contact with another, Well Pad A, but never passed across it. He says all 9 quenched wells and the two plugged wells are “holding up without any issues” — and confirms there has been no detected release of hydrogen sulfide.

According to Kaleikini, the monitoring station at PGV was covered by lava — so they are depending on the handheld machines their employees are using to check for hydrogen sulfide levels along with the monitors the Department of Health have installed around the area. Kaleikini says the plant is no longer being staffed 24/7, but personnel is on site every day. According to Kaleikini, even though the main driveway to the plant is blocked, there is still an alternate route available. However, if lava crosses Highway 137 (Government Beach Road) then they could lose their only way in and out of the plant. According to Ormat, which owns Puna Geothermal Venture, the company has insurance of up to $100 million in the case of eruptions and earthquakes — but it’s not clear if that will cover everything. Ormat says significant damage or an extended shut-down could have an adverse impact on business. Last year, Puna Geothermal brought in about $11 million in net income. –Instagram

A Hawaii National Guard sergeant monitors air quality as lava crosses Pohiki Road on Thursday. (Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat)

What’s it like to monitor the ongoing events surrounding the Kilauea eruption? USGS Geologist Matt Patrick explains in this video worth watching fullscreen. 

Meanwhile, video has emerged of Hawaiian hothead John Hubard, 61, pulling a gun at 32-year-old neighbor Ethan Edwards on Tuesday, firing a shot at the sky on before aiming his gun at the man. Hubbard has been arrested. 

When the shot goes off, people can be heard yelling out and Edwards can be seen crouching and covering his head with his arms as Edwards aims the gun at him.

“Are you kidding me? Stop!” people can be heard yelling in the background.

Hubbard tells his neighbor to “Get the f–k out of here” as Edwards, who is walking away with his hands up, screams back “I live here!” repeatedly.

“Happy to be alive,” Edwards wrote in the video’s caption. “Be careful out there folks. This situation is really beginning to take its toll psychologically and the bad weather is contributing to emotional tensions. Folks are breaking down.” –NY Post

Many evacuees are now living in emergency tents as local residents provide food and supplies.

“Real” Assassin Arrested In Staged Kiev Hit Linked To Ukrainian Intelligence As Official Story Unravels

The Ukrainian government’s staged assassination of anti-Putin journalist Arkady Babachenko has taken an even stranger turn, as evidence has emerged that his would-be “Russia-ordered” assassin and the man who supposedly hired him, both say they worked for Ukrainian counterintelligence, casting serious doubt on the official story.

To review, Ukrainian authorities announced last Tuesday that Babachenko had been assassinated after returning home from the store. On Wednesday, Babachenko appeared at a press conference with Ukrainian authorities who said that the faked assassination was an elaborate sting to bust an actual hit planned by Russia

Only now we find that the hitman, Oleksiy Tsimbalyuk, is an outspoken critic of Russia who says he worked for Ukrainian counterintelligence – a claim Ukraine initially denied but later admitted to be true. Meanwhile the guy who supposedly hired Tsimbalyuk, Boris L. German, 50, also says he worked for Ukrainian counter-intelligence, a claim Ukraine denies as its immediately destroys the carefully scripted, if rapidly imploding, Ukrainian narrative meant to scapegoat Russia for what has been a “fake news” story of epic proportions, emerging from the one nation that not only was the biggest foreign donor to the Clinton foundation, but has made fake news propaganda into an art form.

Supposed “hitman” Oleksiy Tsimbalyuk

 

Boris German, suspected of organizing an attempted hit on anti-Putin Russian journalist Arkady Babachenko sits in a cage during trial in Kiev, Ukraine

The New York Times reports that Tsimbalyuk – a former Russia-hating priest was featured in a 10-minute documentary in January 2017 in which “he called killing members of the Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine “an act of mercy”, further calling into question why Russia would hire him for the supposed assassination in the first place. 

Facebook pictures also reveal Tsimbalyuk wearing a Ukrainian ultranationalist uniform from “Right Sector,” a group deemed to be neo-Nazis.

As even the Russophobic NY Times puts it: 

Given such strong and publicly avowed enmity toward Russia, it is odd to say the least that Mr. Tsimbalyuk would be selected to carry out the contract killing of a prominent Kremlin critic.

German claims he took orders from Moscow businessman Vyacheslav Pivovarnik – who he says works for one of Putin’s personal foundations. 

Ukrainian officials also claim that German has a list of another 30 targets which Moscow wants to wipe out – something he claims he has since passed onto Kyiv.

Prosecutors claimed German had been given a down payment of $15,000, half what he was promised for carrying out the hit.

German said: ‘I got a call from a longtime acquaintance who lives in Moscow, and in the process of communicating with him it turned out that he works for a Putin foundation precisely to orchestrate destabilization in Ukraine.’ –Daily Mail

Six months ago, my old acquaintance contacted me, an ex-citizen of Ukraine, now living in Moscow,” German told a Ukrainian court, adding “He works in a personal foundation of Putin’s – and is in charge of organizing riots in Ukraine and planned acts of terror at the next presidential elections. He is called Vyacheslav Pivovarnik. This is not a fairy tale, there’s nothing mystical here, everything has been proved.”

German’s lawyer Eugene Solodko wrote on Facebook that his client was an executive director of Ukrainian-German firm Schmeisser – the only non-state owned arms producer in the country. 

Russia has denied German’s claim, with a Putin spokesman saying “No such foundation exists in Russia. Any allegations about Russia’s possible complicity in this staging is just mudslinging. They do not correspond to reality.”

Meanwhile, senior Ukraine officials have been on the defensive since Wednesday, when the head of security services announced they had staged the death of Babchenko so they could track his would-be killers to Russian intelligence, a story the International Federation of Journalists slammed as idiotic, nonsensical and completely undermining Ukraine’s credibility.

Kim Jong-Un Can’t Afford To Pay For His “Singapore Summit” Hotel Room

Trump managed to do what no other US president has ever achieve, in getting North Korea’s president Kim Jong Un to sit down and negotiate the country’s denuclearization. And now comes the hard part: paying for Kim Jong Un’s hotel in Singapore, the location of the historic June 12 summit.

Because while US event planners are working day and night with their North Korean counterparts to set up a summit designed to bring an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program at an island resort off the coast of Singapore, a rather “awkward” logistical issue has emerged: who’s going to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel stay?

As the Washington Post reports, the “prideful but cash-poor pariah state” has demanded that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: the Fullerton, “a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River, where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night.”

While it’s not just the bill… 

The mundane but diplomatically fraught billing issue is just one of numerous logistical concerns being hammered out between two teams led by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin and Kim’s de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, as they strive toward a June 12 meeting.

… who pays the room and board has emerged as the biggest point of contention ahead of the June 12 summit.

In other words, North Korean dictators beggars can be choosers, and the one who is set to quietly foot the North Korean’s hotel bill is none other than the real estate mogul himself: Donald Trump.

But it may not be so simple, as potential diplomatic complications have emerged associated with paying for Kim’s hotel room, and as the WaPo adds when it comes to paying for lodging at North Korea’s preferred five-star luxury hotel, the United States is open to covering the costs, but it’s mindful that Pyongyang may view a U.S. payment as insulting.

So, in order to avoid offending the rotund dictator, U.S. organizers are considering asking Singapore, the host country, to pay for the North Korean delegation’s bill.

“It is an ironic and telling deviation from North Korea’s insistence on being treated on an ‘equal footing,’ ” said Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“These norms were laid in the early 2000s, when Seoul’s so-called sunshine policy took off,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, an expert on Korea at Tufts University, referring to a policy of rapprochement associated with former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung. “North Korea can build nukes and ICBMs, but claim they are too poor to pay for foreign travel costs.”

This is not the first time the poor communist nation has made bold monetary demands: In 2014, when then-U. S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. visited North Korea to retrieve two prisoners, his North Korean hosts served him an “elaborate 12-course Korean meal,” the veteran intelligence official said, but then insisted that he pay for it.

Meanwhile, if the US ends up paying the bill it will only add to Trump’s already long list of questionably fund flows as any payment for North Korean’s accommodations would run afoul of Treasury Department sanctions, accoridng to Elizabeth Rosenberg, a former Treasury official. The transaction would require the Office of Foreign Assets Control to “temporarily suspend the applicability of sanctions” through a waiver, she told the WaPo.

“There are legitimate mechanisms built in for exemptions depending on the circumstance, but this could run into public and political criticism and send the wrong message to North Korea,” said Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum, a nonpartisan think tank in Seoul.

In the worst case, there is always reimbursement by bitcoin: after all this is precisely the contingency for which the cryptocurrency was created.

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But wait, there’s more. It turns out that figuring out how to pay Pyongyang’s hotel tab could be just the beginning in dealing with the poor country’s logistical problems. Another problem is that the country’s outdated and underused Soviet-era aircraft could require a landing in China because of concerns it won’t make the 3,000-mile trip, “a visit that would probably require a plausible cover story to avoid embarrassment.”

As for Trump’s own plans, he is expected to stay at the Shangri-La, a 747-room hotel that is accustomed to high-security events, and which hosts the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, a security conference that attracts dozens of ministers of defense and state.

Finally, there is the question of what will actually be said at the summit itself.

What we do know, is that the two sides have settled on the venue for the June 12 meeting: the Capella hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, is situated off Singapore’s southeast coast; it boasts a mix of colonial-style buildings and curvy modern edifices.

What is less known is what will actually take place at said summit: White House and State Department officials repeatedly declined to comment on the advance team planning, keeping those discussions more opaque than the substance of the negotiations.

Rexon Ryu, a former White House official who dealt with the North Korea nuclear issue, said the North Korean side in particular has an interest in keeping those discussions quiet.

“These talks go to the question of security, and if anything, that’s probably most immediately paramount to Kim,” he said. “I think for many folks on the North Korean side, this is more important than the content of the negotiations.”

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PS: it was inevitable.