LONG-RANGE MISSILE THAT CAN FIT IN SHIPPING CONTAINER TEST-FIRED AT SEA

Scary precedent

RTJUNE 24, 2017

An Israeli defense contractor has successfully test-fired a missile with a 400-kilometer range that can fit into a standard shipping container.

Launched from a ship, it joins the trend of weaponizing civilian freighters.

The missile that was fired on Tuesday, dubbed LORA or Long-Range Artillery weapon system, is produced by state-owned defense giant Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). According to company specifications, the solid-propellant ground-to-ground 1,600-kilogram projectile has a range of 400 kilometers and can be fired at a target in just 10 minutes.

First revealed in 2006, the missiles were originally designed to be secretly deployed. To protect them from detection, the missiles are stored in dedicated sealed canisters that can fit inside a standard shipping container and have a shelf life of seven years without maintenance.

From the start, IAI saw LORA as both land-based and ship-based system. This week, a missile fired from a ground launcher placed on a freighter vessel out at sea successfully hit its intended target on land.

“This was one of the most complex trials we held over the past few years and a technological breakthrough for IAI’s missile development operations,” said Executive Vice President Boaz Levi, according to an IAI statement.

“The trial was held according to a full operational outline, including an assessment of the system’s maneuvering, assault, and precision capabilities. The impressive results attest to the system’s maturity and advanced capabilities,” he said.

In theory, a complete containerized version of LORA would not need a dedicated launcher system. Rather a standard container would house four missiles and everything needed to fire them. A command and fire control section inside another container would be enough to serve up to four launchers.

The new technology could potentially turn any civilian freighter ship into a naval missile platform, a consideration that raises concerns about potential sneak attacks. Standardization would also make deploying such missiles on dedicated warships more flexible.

Russia has a similar system, a version of its Kalibr cruise missiles called Club-K, which was unveiled in 2011. Artist concepts show the Russian Navy’s upcoming Arctic patrol boat with two containerized Kalibr launchers on its stern.

*(THANK YOU DEMOCRATS) – ILLINOIS CREDIT WATCH: ON TRACK TO BE 1ST ‘JUNK’ STATE…

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By Sara Burnett

(AP)Illinois is on track to become the first U.S. state to have its credit rating downgraded to “junk” status, which would deepen its multibillion-dollar deficit and cost taxpayers more for years to come.

S&P Global Ratings has warned the agency will likely lower Illinois‘ creditworthiness to below investment grade if feuding lawmakers fail to agree on a state budget for a third straight year, increasing the amount the state will have to pay to borrow money for things such as building roads or refinancing existing debt.

The outlook for a deal wasn’t good Saturday, as lawmakers meeting in Springfield for a special legislative session remained deadlocked with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year approaching.

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That should alarm everyone, not just those at the Capitol, said Brian Battle, director at Performance Trust Capital Partners, a Chicago-based investment firm.

“It isn’t a political show,” he said. “Everyone in Illinois has a stake in what’s happening here. One day everybody will wake up and say ‘What happened? Why are my taxes going up so much?'”

Here’s a look at what’s happening and what a junk rating could mean:

WHY NOW?

Ratings agencies have been downgrading Illinois’ credit rating for years, though they’ve accelerated the process as the stalemate has dragged on between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrats who control the General Assembly.

The agencies are concerned about Illinois’ massive pension debt, as well as a $15 billion backlog of unpaid bills and the drop in revenue that occurred when lawmakers in 2015 allowed a temporary income tax increase to expire.

“In our view, the unrelenting political brinkmanship now poses a threat to the timely payment of the state’s core priority payments,” S&P stated when it dropped Illinois’ rating to one level above junk, which was just after lawmakers adjourned their regular session on May 31 without a deal.

Moody’s did the same, stating: “As the regular legislative session elapsed, political barriers to progress appeared to harden, indicating both the severity of the state’s challenges and the political difficulty of advocating their solutions.”

WHAT IS A ‘JUNK’ RATING?

Think of it as a credit score, but for a state (or city or county) instead of a person.

When Illinois wants to borrow money, it issues bonds. Investors base their decision on whether to buy Illinois bonds on what level of risk they’re willing to take, informed greatly by the rating that agencies like Moody’s assign.

A junk rating means the state is at a higher risk of repaying its debt. At that point, many mutual funds and individual investors — who make up more than half the buyers in the bond market — won’t buy. Those willing to take a chance, such as distressed debt investors, will only do so if they are getting a higher interest rate.

While no other state has been placed at junk, counties and cities such as Chicago, Atlantic City and Detroit have. Detroit saw its rating increased back to investment grade in 2015 as it emerged from bankruptcy — an option that by law, states don’t have.

WHAT WILL IT COST?

Battle says the cost to taxpayers in additional interest the next time Illinois sells bonds, which it inevitably will need to do in the long-term, could be in the “tens of millions” of dollars or more.

The more money the state has to pay on interest, the less that’s available for things such as schools, state parks, social services and fixing roads.

“For the taxpayer, it will cost more to get a lower level of service,” Battle said.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who controls the state checkbook, agreed.

“It’s going to cost people more every day,” she said. “Our reputation really can’t get much worse, but our state finances can.”

OTHER IMPACTS?

Because the state has historically been a significant funding source to other entities, such as local government and universities, many of them are feeling the impact of Illinois’ worsening creditworthiness already.

S&P already moved bonds held by the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority — the entities that run Navy Pier, McCormick Place, and U.S. Cellular Field — to junk.

Five universities also have the rating: Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University.

CNN retracts story on investigation into Trump campaign adviser’s meeting with CEO of Russian fund

CNN has retracted a story claiming that an adviser to the Trump campaign is under Senate investigation for meeting with the head of a Russian state-backed investment fund at the Davos economic forum.

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The now-deleted report cited an anonymous congressional source as saying that the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating ties between several figures in the Trump camp, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and financier Anthony Scaramucci, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), a Russian sovereign fund that manages direct foreign investments into the Russian economy.

Scaramucci, who was part of Trump’s transition team, met with Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the RDIF, at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year. According to CNN, congressional investigators wanted to know if they had discussed lifting US sanctions against Russia. A spokesperson for the Russian fund said they hadn’t, while Scaramucci told CNN that there was “nothing there.”

The report implied that RDIF had been flagged by US investigators for its ties to Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned bank that ran the fund until June of 2016, when RDIF was restructured as an independent entity by the Russian government.

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The news channel redacted the Thursday story on Friday, saying that it “did not meet CNN’s editorial standards” and apologized to Scaramucci.

Breitbart News, a pro-Trump news outlet, claimed credit for making CNN withdraw the story, which it described as a “conspiracy theory hit piece.” Earlier, it had cited its own sources as saying that no investigation into the meeting was underway because it had already been looked at and deemed to be appropriate.

‘THAAD out, Peace in’: S. Koreans protest US missile deployment ahead of Trump talks

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Thousands of demonstrators formed a human chain around the American embassy in the South Korean capital, Seoul, to register their disapproval of the US-built THAAD missile defense system in their country.

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According to organizers, 3,000 people attended a march through the center of Seoul, holding signs that read ‘Koreans hate THAAD’ and ‘Yes to peace talks,’ as well as banners directed at US President Donald Trump.

“The deployment of THAAD, which is unnecessary for the defense of the Korean Peninsula, should be pulled back,” said one of the speakers at the rally, quoted by local news outlet Yonhap. “The South Korea-US summit to come next week should be a venue where the review of the THAAD deployment should be assured.”

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and Trump are due to meet for the first time in Washington next week, with THAAD expected to dominate the agenda.

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Moon, a center-left politician, who was sworn in last month after a corruption scandal brought down the previous right-wing administration, has been a fierce critic of the way in which the sophisticated defense system has been deployed and has ordered a full investigation.

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On Thursday, Moon told Reuters that according to the “original agreement,” only one missile battery, consisting of six missile launchers, was due to be deployed in 2017, with five others due to be imported and brought online thereafter.

Instead, two were brought online a week before last month’s election, and four were “covertly” brought into the country as the previous government realized that they were facing defeat, with the public not told until they were already in the country.

“For some reason that I do not know, this entire THAAD process was accelerated,” said Moon.

Washington said that all steps were agreed with the government and comply with NATO guidelines.

“The US trusts the South Korean official stance that the THAAD deployment was an Alliance decision. We have worked closely and have been fully transparent with the South Korean government throughout this process,” United States Forces Korea wrote to the Korea Herald on Friday, when asked to respond to Moon’s comments.

Trump has been angered by Moon’s insinuations of impropriety and the purported ingratitude of South Koreans, who would be receiving a state-of-the-art defense system against North Korea’s recently bolstered missile-launching capacities, and has charged that Seoul owes Washington $1 billion in THAAD expenses.

Moon’s office has been attempting to limit the stand-off between allies following the Reuters interview, saying his government is not fundamentally opposed to THAAD, but is merely trying to follow procedures.

“The president’s remark came as a part of his effort to explain that the South Korean government is not trying to postpone the deployment of THAAD. It was aimed to highlight the government’s effort to follow the legitimate process for the deployment,” it said in a statement.

The THAAD issue has become a nexus of several agendas and developments, meaning that backing down now will likely result in a loss of credibility for at least some of the involved actors.

North Korea’s frequent missile tests this year have demanded a response, but Moon has advocated charting a more diplomatic course with Pyongyang, and also wants a clean break with the messy practices of the previous government.

Trump has called for the total isolation of North Korea and has also threatened force. Trump further believes that NATO allies are not making sufficient contributions.

Pyongyang’s patron, China, has also condemned THAAD while engaging in a costly unofficial trade war with South Korea over its decision to install the missile defense system.

SENATE ANNOUNCES CRIMINAL PROBE OF LORETTA LYNCH

Senate Judiciary Committee looks into Lynch influence over FBI investigation

Infowars.com – JUNE 23, 2017

By Stephen Dinan

The Senate Judiciary Committee has opened a probe into former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s efforts to shape the FBI’s investigation into 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the committee’s chairman announced Friday.

In a letter to Ms. Lynch, the committee asks her to detail the depths of her involvement in the FBI’s investigation, including whether she ever assured Clinton confidantes that the probe wouldn’t “push too deeply into the matter.”

Fired FBI Director James B. Comey has said publicly that Ms. Lynch tried to shape the way he talked about the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s emails, and he also hinted at other behavior “which I cannot talk about yet” that made him worried about Ms. Lynch’s ability to make impartial decisions.

Mr. Comey said that was one reason why he took it upon himself to buck Justice Department tradition and reveal his findings about Mrs. Clinton last year.

The probe into Ms. Lynch comes as the Judiciary Committee is already looking at President Trump’s firing of Mr. Comey.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, chairman of the committee, said the investigation is bipartisan. The letter to Ms. Lynch is signed by ranking Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and also by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse, the chairman and ranking member of the key investigative subcommittee.

Letters also went to Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria and Leonard Benardo and Gail Scovell at the Open Society Foundations. Mr. Benardo was reportedly on an email chain from the then-head of the Democratic National Committee suggesting Ms. Lynch had given assurances to Ms. Renteria, the campaign staffer, that the Clinton probe wouldn’t “go too far.”

At a Senate hearing earlier this month, Mr. Comey told lawmakers that Ms. Lynch had attempted to change the way the FBI described its probe of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server. The change appeared to dovetail with how Mrs. Clinton’s supporters were characterizing the probe.

“At one point, [Ms. Lynch] directed me not to call it an ‘investigation’ but instead to call it a ‘matter,’ which confused me and concerned me,” Mr. Comey said during his June 8 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “That was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude I have to step away from the department if we are to close this case credibly.”

Acknowledging that he didn’t know whether it was intentional, Mr. Comey said Ms. Lynch’s request “gave the impression the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our investigation with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity.”

Mr. Comey said the language suggested by Ms. Lynch was troublesome because it closely mirrored what the Clinton campaign was using. Despite his discomfort, Mr. Comey said, he agreed to Ms. Lynch’s language.

Andrea Noble contributed to this story.