Long stories short
- Russia said it was pulling back some of its troops from the Ukrainian border, as supporters of the anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny said he faced a possible ten-year jail sentence on bogus corruption charges.
- A speech at the weekend by the conservative French presidential candidate Valérie Pecresse was described by a member of her own party as a Titanic flop.
- Novak Djokovic said he would continue to refuse to be vaccinated against Covid even if it meant missing more grand slams.
Dump Trump bump
They got Al Capone on tax evasion. It’s conceivable that US law enforcement could get Donald Trump on something similar. He’s been doggedly pursued by the New York State attorney general for allegedly inflating the value of his properties for loans, and now he’s been abandoned by his accountants (more below). There are even signs that his grip on the Republican Party could be weakening. So the question arises…
Is America getting over Trump? That would be hasty. He remains by far the most powerful figure on the Right. His endorsement is sought by state and national political candidates beating a path to Mar-a-Lago every weekend and the Republican presidential nomination for 2024 is his to lose even though he’s 75.
- Recent polls show the share of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who want him as their next White House candidate falling from about 60 per cent to about 50 since last November.
- The old party establishment is regrouping to urge moderates to run against Trump-backed candidates on the basis that the latter might win primaries but could lose against strong Democrats in swing states. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has joined forces with ex-President Bush to back centrists as Senate candidates in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire. They need a net gain of at least one to win back the Senate in November.
- It’s not a good look when your accountants fire you, as Trump’s have. Mazars USA, the New York firm that has looked after the Trump Organization’s books since 2002, wrote to its chief legal officer last month saying it could no longer stand by ten years’ worth of records because of findings by its own and the state attorney general’s investigations – including that Trump overvalued his own Manhattan penthouse by $200 million to get a loan.
Trump has tried to dismiss the attorney general’s investigation as a political witch hunt, and it’s true Letitia James is an elected Democrat. But the Mazars move won’t hurt her efforts to force Trump, his son Don Jr and daughter Ivanka to be questioned under oath. And even though James’ investigation is civil she has found ways to channel evidence to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is pursuing a criminal one.
Red states will tune out what happens in New York law offices. Swing states might not. The acid test of Trump’s power over the party will come in Arizona, where Republican Governor Doug Ducey, a popular former ice cream salesman, refused to overturn Joe Biden’s victory despite Trump’s claims of fraud last year. McConnell, Bush and others want him to run for the Senate. Ducey’s flattered by the attention – but firmly on the fence.
Every day this week at 1.45pm GMT on Radio 4 you can listen to the series Tortoise produced for the BBC on the tank debt that has stood in the way of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. In Episode 2, Tortoise Editor Ceri Thomas looks into how International Military Services, the company behind the UK’s cancelled sale of tanks to Iran, could still hold the key to Nazanin’s release.
Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity
Guru in the money
As this week’s Slow Newscast shows, yoga in India is about much more than breathing exercises and stretching. Prime minister Narendra Modi is increasingly using it as a tool to further his nationalist Hindu agenda. But what if it was the other way round? A three-year investigation by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) found that the CEO of the National Stock Exchange from 2013–2016, Chitra Ramkrishna, was “merely a puppet” in the hands of a yogi she met on the banks of the Ganges. Ramkrishna reportedly went to the guru for advice on major decisions and shared confidential information from financial projections to the board’s agenda. Seeking advice from a guru isn’t new, but the regulator has described the extent information was shared as a “glaring, if not unimaginable, act that could shake the very foundations of the stock exchange”. Ramkrishna has been handed a 30 million rupee (over £290,000) fine and a three year ban from any bourse or firm registered with the regulator. The guru is meanwhile said to be somewhere in the Himalayas.
Ramkrishna would have done better to get a job in private equity. The FT says Blackstone, KKR and the Carlyle Group each put aside $2 million per employee for pay and benefits last year.
belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries
Nord Stream watch
Moscow says some of the Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border are pulling back. It’s not immediately clear how many or where from, but cue wary relief from Kiev to Washington anyway. Note that big contingents of soldiers and hardware remain close to Kiev just inside the Belorusian border, where exercises aren’t due to finish till tomorrow. But note also that Germany’s new Social Democrat chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is due in Moscow today and from the moment he took office in December he’s had the last word on the single most important factor in the whole manufactured Russia-Ukraine showdown – when and whether Russian gas starts to flow through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The US has asserted a say on this but Scholz bit his lip when Biden brought it up last week in the White House. In the end what happens to the pipeline is up to Germany, and the last SDP chancellor, the still-influential Gerhard Schröder, now works for Gazprom. If the invasion’s off, expect the gas to be on soon.
New things technology, science, engineering
An app for Mandarin
Four years ago iPhones with language apps demolished the language barrier between hoards of football fans and their hosts at the Russian World Cup. The same sort of thing is happening in Beijing, with variations. The standard procedure for ordering food at a restaurant in the Covid bubble to which competitors and media are confined is apparently to underline a dish with a marker pen on a laminated plastic menu. But for further discussion – often with wait-staff in full-body PPE – there’s the AI-enabled iFlytek Jarvisen translator. It turns Mandarin into any other Olympic language and vice versa, always in what Reuters calls a “soft female voice”. It does jokes too. Mushrooms are rendered in English as fungus.
The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY
Cook Islands Covid
The Cook Islands, some of the remotest on Earth, are preparing for their first Covid cases after a visitor spent eight days there and then tested positive for Omicron on returning to New Zealand. The islands shut themselves off from the rest of the world at the start of the pandemic and embraced vaccines when they became available, to the point that 99.6 per cent of over 12s who live there have been double vaccinated and 70 per cent have had a booster. But prime minister Mark Brown assumes Omicron will find a way, even if the infections are very mild. The islands’ experience is a lesson for any territory, big or small, aiming for zero Covid. It’s practically impossible.
covid by numbers
55 million – Covid vaccines that the EU will have to throw away by the end of February, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance – compared with the 30 million doses it has donated to Africa so far this year.
Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics
A UK company is hoping to plant 100,000 giant sequoias in Hampshire, Buckinghamshire and the Brecon Beacons by 2030. One Life One Tree doesn’t do it for free. According to the Sunday Telegraph it’s charging £395 per sequoia sapling, and holding out the prospect that each one could sequester 6,000 tonnes of CO2 over the next century. There’s a missionary element to this: sequoias are among the biggest, most magnificent living things on the planet, but they’re burning at an unsustainable rate in California, where they have hitherto been most abundant and the wildfire season is getting longer and more intense each year. By one estimate the Castle Fire of 2020 destroyed 14 per cent of America’s native sequoia stock. They are not strangers to the British Isles, first introduced in the mid-19th Century as Wellingtonia, after the Duke of Wellington. Experts say they like the rain.
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Additional reporting by Phoebe Davis
Photographs Getty Images
in the tortoise app today
Insulating Britain from rising bills
More Insulate Britain activists were jailed last week. Since their protests began in September global energy prices have risen dramatically and British households face a 54 per cent increase in their fuel bills. It might strengthen their case.