‘Star Wars’ writer confirms Lando Calrissian is pansexual in ‘Solo’ (Source usatoday.com) Here’s something Star Wars fans have long known about Lando Calrissian: He’s likely the most charismatic character in the galaxy. Here’s something they just learned, via Solo: A Star Wars Story writer Jonathan Kasdan: Lando (played by Donald Glover and, earlier, Billy Dee Williams) is pansexual. When explicitly asked about Lando’s gender identity by Huffington Post, Kasdan said, “There’s a fluidity to Donald and Billy Dee’s (portrayal of Lando’s) sexuality.” He continued, “I mean, I would have loved to have gotten a more explicitly LGBT character into this movie. I think it’s time, certainly, for that, and I love the fluidity ― sort of the spectrum of sexuality that Donald appeals to and that droids are a part of.”
HYPERSONIC GLIDER: US INTELLIGENCE IN PANIC MODE OVER RUSSIA GETTING INVINCIBLE WEAPON ‘BY 2020 (Source RT) Russia’s state-of-the-art hypersonic glide vehicle, which analysts say is capable of easily cutting through the existing US missile shield, will become operational by 2020, reports citing US intelligence have warned. Speaking to CNBC on the condition of anonymity, sources aware of US intelligence reports, said the Russian military successfully tested the weapon twice in 2016. The sources believe the device would be a significant breakthrough which could enable Russian military to surpass US counterparts. The intelligence sources claimed that the hypersonic gliders will get onboard countermeasures to enable them to defeat even the most advanced missile-defense systems. “These kinds of boost glide vehicles attack the gaps in our missile defense system,” Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC. The analyst noted there is no time “to modify our current missile defense posture,” adding it was “unfortunate that we have let Russia come this far.” Earlier, US commanders acknowledged there is little the military could do to counter Russia’s advanced hypersonic technologies. “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” General John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March.
“Both Russia and China are aggressively pursuing hypersonic capabilities,” he said. The General, who once referred to Russia as the “most significant threat” to the US, urged America to develop new strategic weapons to match Russian capabilities. In early March, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled some of the new sophisticated weapons during his state of the nation address. He showcased two versions of hypersonic weapons systems that have been in development in Russia. One was an aircraft-launched vehicle which travels at a speed of Mach 10 and has a range of 2,000km (1,240 miles). The weapon, called Kinzhal (“Dagger” in Russian) comes either as conventional or nuclear-capable weapon.
Trump Gives Merkel An Ultimatum: Drop Russian Gas Pipeline Or Trade War Begins (Source Zero Hedge)
The U.S. State Department warned European corporations that they will likely face penalties and sanctions if they participate in the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 on the grounds that “the project undermines energy security in Europe”, when in reality Russia has for decades been a quasi-monopolist on European energy supplies and thus has unprecedented leverage over European politics, at least behind the scenes. “As many people know, we oppose the Nord Stream 2 project, the US government does,” State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert said during a late March press briefing adding that “the Nord Stream 2 project would undermine Europe’s overall energy security and stability. It would provide Russia [with] another tool to pressure European countries, especially countries such as Ukraine.” And speaking of Ukraine, recall that in 2014, shortly after the US State Department facilitated the presidential coup in Ukraine, Joe Biden’s son Hunter joined the board of directors of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest oil and gas company. Surely that was merely a coincidence.
Nauert also said that Washington may introduce punitive measures against participants in the pipeline project – which could be implemented using a provision in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
Fast forward to today, when the dreadfully named CAATSA act just made a repeat appearance; around the time Europe made it clear it would openly defy Trump’s Iran sanctions, the WSJ reported that Trump told Merkel that if she wants to avoid a trans-Atlantic trade war, the price would be to pull the break on Nord Stream 2, according to German, U.S. and European sources. The officials said Mr. Trump told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in April that Germany should drop support for Nord Stream 2, an offshore pipeline that would bring gas directly from Russia via the Baltic Sea. This would be in exchange for the U.S. starting talks with the European Union on a new trade deal.
Putin says Russian frigates(warships) in Mediterranean on standby over Syria threat (Source Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russian military vessels with Kalibr cruise missiles would be on permanent standby in the Mediterranean to counter what he said was the terrorist threat in Syria. The deployment shows how Russia has increased its military presence in the Middle East since it launched an intervention in Syria in 2015, turning the tide of the civil war in favor of its close ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia has in the past fired Kalibr cruise missiles from frigates and submarines stationed in the Mediterranean Sea at militant targets to support Syrian army offensives. Putin said only warships armed with Kalibr missiles would be on permanent standby, and not submarines. Announcing the deployment while addressing the Russian high military command at a meeting in the Black Sea city of Sochi, Putin said it was “due to the remaining terrorist threat in Syria.” Moscow already has a permanent naval base at Tartus, on the Syrian coast, and an air base at Hmeimim in Syria. Last month Russia hinted it would also supply advanced S-300 ground-to-air missiles to Assad despite objections from Israel, which has lobbied Russia hard not to transfer the missiles. On Friday, however, in an apparent U-turn following a visit to Moscow by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russia said it was not in talks with Syria about supplying the missiles. It said it did not think they were needed. The Kremlin denied it had performed a U-turn on the missile question or that any decision was linked to Netanyahu’s visit.
Putin meets Assad, calls for ‘political process’ on Syria (Source AFP) Russian President Vladimir Putin held a rare meeting with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad on Thursday and said the “military success” in Syria allowed for a large-scale “political process” leading to the withdrawal of foreign forces and the reconstruction of the country. A day after UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura warned a regime assault on the rebel-held area of Idlib could affect 2.3 million people, Putin met Assad in the southern Russian city of Sochi. “After the success of the Syrian government army in the fight against the terrorists” the condition are in place for “the start of a political process on a major scale,” Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin following the meeting. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “there were detailed discussions” between the two leaders, who last met in December at a Russian military air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia. “With the start of the political process in its most active phase, foreign armed forces will withdraw from Syrian territory,” Putin said, without specifying which foreign forces.
Russia has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015. Its military support not only ensured the survival of Assad’s regime but also changed the course of the war.
Putin also congratulated Assad on the “successes of the Syrian government’s army in the fight against terrorist groups”. “The next task, of course, is the economic recovery and humanitarian aid for those people in a difficult situation,” Putin added.
EU to Switch from US Dollar to Euro on Oil Trades from Iran (Source truepublica.org.uk) Iran, under a renewed threat of U.S. sanctions returning, two months ago decided to switch using the greenback as a currency in its imports and banned all traders from using USD. China was now ready to start testing its new system and that regulators had asked a handful of financial institutions to prepare for pricing China’s crude imports in the yuan. Since the launch in May, the interest in the renminbi-backed oil contracts has steadily increased. Traded daily volumes hit a record 250,000 lots within two weeks and surprisingly the share of yuan contracts in global trading jumped to 12 percent from 8 percent just eight weeks earlier.
Then, an industry news source for the oil and gas industry reported on April 9th that Russia was considering replacing the U.S. dollar in crude oil payments on deals with Turkey and Iran, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said.
According to Novak, “There is a common understanding that we need to move towards the use of national currencies in our settlements. There is a need for this, as well as the wish of the parties. This concerns both Turkey and Iran – we are considering an option of payment in national currencies with them. This requires certain adjustments in the financial, economic and banking sectors.” Two weeks later Novak then announced that Russia had put together an oil-for-goods program with Iran and confirmed that the first shipments had been made. The deal aims for five years of trading and gets around the USD trade. So far, no reader should be surprised that Russia, Turkey and Iran have decided to ‘ditch the dollar.’ It may be news that China is preparing the way to follow through as well. However, a major turning point in relations between the US and EU is not far from an announcement. After infuriating the European Union over a series of deals like the Paris Climate Accord, TTIP and others, the final straw came when after twelve years of EU negotiators being the linchpin to the Iran nuclear deal, Donald Trump decided the best course of action – is to withdraw from the deal and impose even harsher sanctions.
With the USA giving the green-light under Obama in 2015 to allow Iranian trade, the EU struck lucrative deals worth tens of billions. In 2017, EU trade with Iran increased 45 percent from the previous year with the same growth expected by 2020. By contrast, the USA managed less than one-tenth of the trade available. The USA has dangerously caused an inflationary spike in oil prices, meaning the EU is hit with the double whammy of inflationary pressures and economic growth plans turning into unemployment statistics.
The EU has lost patience and all but declared it is now on an economic collision course with the United States of America.
Some EU banks have declared they are already in a position to provide trading services to European corporations wishing to do trade with Iran.
Hawaii volcano simmers ominously, experts warn it could blow again (Source Reuters) Hawaii residents drove through clouds of sulfur and over roads splitting open to make desperate and possibly last visits home before another eruption by Kilauea volcano, which has already destroyed 35 homes and other structures. The explosions from Kilauea, which began five days ago, paused on Tuesday long enough for many of the roughly 1,700 people ordered to flee their homes in the hardest-hit Leilani Estates area to rush back in for pets or cherished belongings they were forced to leave behind. “The way it looks now, I thought I’d try one more time to get my things out,” U.S. Army veteran Delance Weigel, 71, said while collecting some of his prized possessions shortly after 7 a.m. on Tuesday as steam and sulfur dioxide gas rose out of cracks in the street. “Whether we lose our home or not, we’ll see. But we’re definitely going to be cut off,” Weigel said. So far, no deaths or major injuries have been reported since Kilauea, which has been in a state of nearly constant eruption since 1983, began a series of major explosions on Thursday, spewing fountains of lava as high as 300 feet (90 meters) into the air and spewing deadly volcanic gas up through cracks in the earth. Kilauea predominantly pours basaltic lava flows into the ocean, but occasionally experiences more explosive events such as the one that began last week. Most of the 1,700 residents ordered to evacuate live in Leilani Estates, where lava has been bubbling out of some 2.5 miles of fissures in the ground emanating from Kilauea lava tunnels on the eastern side of the Big Island. Homeowners in another community, Lanipuna Gardens, were required to leave because of toxic volcanic gases.
‘US Embassy’ road signs appear in Jerusalem (Source Aljazeera.com) ‘US Embassy’ road signs went up in Jerusalem on Monday ahead of next week’s opening of the mission in the city. The signs, in English, Hebrew and Arabic, were installed by workmen close to the south Jerusalem location of a US consulate building that will be repurposed as the embassy when it is officially relocated from Tel Aviv on May 14, Reuters news agency reported. In December, US President Donald Trump called Jerusalem the capital of Israel and launched the process to transfer his country’s embassy to the city. The move prompted international condemnation and triggered a wave of protests in the occupied Palestinian territories. During his election campaign in 2016, Trump repeatedly promised to move the embassy and recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. In June 2017, however, like his predecessors, Trump signed a six-month waiver to delay the relocation, which would have complicated US efforts to resume the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
EU Fights to Keep Iran Nuclear Deal Alive After Trump’s Exit (Source Bloomberg.com) Donald Trump didn’t kill the Iran nuclear deal. He just shrank its membership by one. That was the line taken by the European Union immediately after the U.S. president announced his withdrawal from the 2015 accord. Germany, France and the U.K. all said they’ll stick to their commitments. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he wants to see them deliver.
“I don’t trust these three countries either,” Khamenei said on his website. “If you want to have a deal, we need practical guarantees otherwise they will do the same as the U.S. If they can’t give definitive guarantees, it won’t be possible to continue.” But it’s not clear whether the EU, China and Russia will be able to ensure Iran receives the promised economic benefits — including free access to international oil markets and accelerating flows of trade and investment — that persuaded the Islamic Republic’s leaders to sign up to an agreement capping its nuclear program. Before Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he’ll pull the U.S. out of the deal, Western businesses had already been reluctant to take the plunge into a country still subject to multiple curbs imposed by Washington. The exit throws billions of dollars of European investments that had been planned into disarray. President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will push to make the deal work but may step up uranium enrichment again if the efforts of the remaining parties don’t yield tangible results. “The international reach of U.S. sanctions makes the U.S. the economic policeman of the planet, and that is not acceptable,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday in an interview on France Culture radio. He branded Trump’s decision a “major mistake” and said he’ll lobby Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week to grant exemptions for European firms. French President Emmanuel Macron is due to speak to Rouhani later in the day.
Trump declares US leaving ‘horrible’ Iran nuclear accord (Source Associated Press)
President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark nuclear accord with Iran on Tuesday, abruptly restoring harsh sanctions in the most consequential foreign policy action of his presidency. He declared he was making the world safer, but he also deepened his isolation on the world stage and revived doubts about American credibility.
The 2015 agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration and included Germany, France and Britain, had lifted most U.S. and international economic sanctions against Iran. In exchange, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program, making it impossible to produce a bomb and establishing rigorous inspections.
But Trump, a severe critic of the deal dating back to his presidential campaign, said in a televised address from the White House that it was “defective at its core.”
U.S. allies in Europe had tried to keep him in and lamented his move to abandon it. Iran’s leader ominously warned his country might “start enriching uranium more than before.”
The sanctions seek to punish Iran for its nuclear program by limiting its ability to sell oil or do business overseas, affecting a wide range of Iranian economic sectors and individuals. Major companies in the U.S. and Europe could be hurt, too. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that licenses held by Boeing and its European competitor Airbus to sell billions of dollars in commercial jetliners to Iran will be revoked. Certain exemptions are to be negotiated, but Mnuchin refused to discuss what products might qualify.
He said the sanctions will sharply curtail sales of oil by Iran, which is currently the world’s fifth largest oil producer. Mnuchin said he didn’t expect oil prices to rise sharply, forecasting that other producers will step up production.
Iran’s government must now decide whether to follow the U.S. and withdraw or try to salvage what’s left with the Europeans. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he was sending his foreign minister to the remaining countries but warned there was only a short time to negotiate with them.