California's governor on Wednesday signed a law moving up its presidential primaries from June to March to give the populous, economic powerhouse state a greater voice early in the campaign when Americans elect a new president. This means the huge haul of delegates in this Democratic stronghold will be assigned shortly after those of the first…
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the United States had "no better friend" than Germany as the two nations pledged a common front on Russia and China following a still raw row over the Nord Stream pipeline.
Meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel on his first visit to Berlin since taking office, Blinken hailed the "shared values and shared interests" between the United States and Europe's largest economic power.
"I think it's fair to say that the United States has no better partner, no better friend in the world than Germany," Blinken said with Merkel at his side.
Such flattering talk is common in diplomacy but Blinken's superlative language quickly set ablaze social media in other nations eager for US affection -- notably Britain, which earlier this month welcomed Joe Biden on his first overseas trip as president.
Biden has vowed to restore alliances frayed during Donald Trump's turbulent presidency and earlier welcomed to Washington the leaders of Japan and South Korea and met virtually with neighbouring Canada.
Blinken is due to head on to France and Italy, which like Germany are members of the exclusive Group of Seven club of industrial democracies but unlike Britain remain in the European Union.
In a dramatic reversal from her unapologetically frosty relationship with Trump, Merkel said she saw a "common basis not only for naming the geopolitical challenges in the world but also for agreeing on a common approach".
"This applies to Russia, to China but also to the question of which alliances we can forge, where our interests lie," she said.
- Moving past pipeline -
Trump had berated Germany over what he saw as unfair trading practices and insufficient contributions to common defence and -- in an extraordinary intervention against a friendly nation -- lashed Merkel's welcome to refugees.
A key source of tension has been the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline nearly completed from Russia to Germany, which the United States and eastern European nations fear will embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Blinken reiterated US criticism but said that Germany was willing to address the underlying concern -- that Russia will use gas as a "coercive tool" against smaller nations.
"Germany and the United States will keep standing together against any dangerous or provocative actions by Russia, whether that's encroaching on Ukraine's territory or imprisoning Alexei Navalny or spreading disinformation in our democracies," Blinken told reporters, referring to the jailed dissident.
Biden last month waived key sanctions on Nord Stream 2, drawing criticism even from some of his allies in Washington, after concluding that it was too late to stop the project and it was better to seek cooperation with Germany.
US officials have previously voiced hope that Germany will agree to outline automatic retaliatory steps that would be triggered if Russia steps up pressure on Ukraine.
Washington also wants the continuation of transit fee payments to Ukraine, which has been battling pro-Russian separatists, and sees Russian gas as a key source of leverage.
- Progress eyed within months -
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, speaking alongside Blinken before a conference on Libya's fragile peace process, said Berlin had a "range of possibilities" and would act soon.
"We know the expectations in Washington and it's extremely important to us to achieve results that Washington can work with too," Maas said.
Maas voiced hope for progress in time for Merkel's visit to the White House on July 15 but said the key goal was to make decisions by August, when the Biden administration is again required by Congress to submit a report on the pipeline and sanctions.
The Biden administration has identified China as its top challenge, seeking to unify the West as it encourages a harder stance over Beijing's growing assertiveness at home and abroad.
Blinken warned about the risks of doing business in the Xinjiang region, where Germany's biggest automaker Volkswagen operates despite the mass incarceration of the Uyghur minority -- a campaign that Washington describes as genocide.
© 2021 AFP
Televangelist Jim Bakker was smacked with a hefty penalty for promoting "silver solution" as a potential cure for the coronavirus.
The state of Missouri had sued Bakker last year for marketing the colloidal silver solution to treat coronavirus early in the pandemic, promising the unapproved substance could cure that illness and others, and Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced that his office had recovered $156,000 in restitution.
Schmitt's office also obtained a consent judgment against Bakker and his Morningside Church Productions prohibiting the televangelist from selling or advertise the product and repay customers who had bought "silver solution" from him.
Restitution checks will be mailed out to victims within 30 days of the judgment.
Bakker and self-styled "natural health expert" Sherrill Sellman peddled the solution early last year at a cost of $80 for four 4-ounce bottles.
The televangelist rose to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s with his heavily made-up wife Tammy Fae but fell from grace over a sex scandal, and later spent several years in prison for defrauding his flock for millions of dollars.
Spain's National Court said Wednesday it had approved the extradition of antivirus software pioneer John McAfee to the United States where he is wanted for tax evasion.
The court's decision to extradite the 75-year-old, who was arrested at Barcelona airport, can be appealed but must also be approved by the Spanish cabinet before it can take place.
"The court agrees to grant the extradition of John David McAfee as requested by the American judicial authorities for the crimes referred to in the tax offense indictments for years 2016 to 2018," said the 16-page ruling dated Monday.
McAfee is alleged to have deliberately failed to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018, despite earning millions from consulting work, crypto-currencies and selling the rights to his life story.
If convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison.
According to the US extradition request filed in November and quoted in the ruling, McAfee earned more than 10 million euros over that period but never filed a tax return.
"From 2014 to 2018, the defendant earned more than 10 million euros in income and therefore accumulated millions of dollars in tax liabilities. He did not file tax returns during any of those years," it said.
"To conceal his income and assets from the Internal Revenue Service... the defendant ordered part of his income to be paid to straw men and placed property in their names."
The Spanish court decision only referred to offenses that took place between 2016 and 2018.
When he was arrested in Barcelona on October 3, 2020, McAfee was about to board a flight to Istanbul.
His arrest came a day after the US indictment was made public, although it had been issued in June.
Since making a fortune with his eponymous antivirus software in the 1980s that still bears his name, McAfee has become a self-styled crypto-currency guru, claiming to make $2,000 a day.
He has more than one million followers on Twitter.
In a tweet on June 16, he said the US authorities believed he had "hidden crypto. I wish I did" he said.
"My remaining assets are all seized. My friends evaporated through fear of association. I have nothing. Yet, I regret nothing."
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