The U.S. has broken its own record for new daily coronavirus cases five times in the last nine days. Other places like Tokyo are also seeing record case counts, but here’s the thing: overcrowded Tokyo reported 224 new cases on its peak day yesterday (2 per 100,000 residents), while the U.S.’s 59,460 new cases yesterday work out to 18 per 100,000 residents.
The WHO formally acknowledged the possibility of airborne transmission of SARS CoV-2—meaning the virus may be transmitted on tiny aerosolized droplets that can linger in the air (and circulate around indoors) far longer than the larger droplets expelled when we cough or talk loudly.
The Supreme Court ruled that Pres. Trump can’t block prosecutors from demanding his financial records, although it’s unlikely those records could be released to the public before the election in November.
U.S. Border Patrol detentions on the southern border rose 40% last month, after a COVID / lockdown-induced lull from March through May.
Reuters thinks the Trump administration will soon impose new rules prohibiting USG entities from doing business (without a waiver) with companies that use products made by five Chinese firms including Huawei.
The U.S. sanctioned four Chinese officials for their role in human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. However, as the WSJ points out: “The sanctions detailed Thursday are likely largely symbolic because the officials are unlikely to travel to the U.S. and probably don’t hold significant assets in financial institutions outside China.” China vowed to reciprocate.
The U.S. also approved a potential $620 million package for Taiwan to upgrade Patriot surface-to-air missiles. While the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it’s legally bound to provide Taiwan with defenses—which greatly irks China.
TikTok’s parent, Byte Dance Ltd. is reportedly considering moving its headquarters outside of China to distance itself from accusations that it’s a Chinese government tool for collecting users’ personal data.
China’s embassy in Kazakhstan reported a mysterious new virus it called “much deadlier” than COVID-19 spreading in Kazakhstan, but Kazakhstan’s government insists China is just misinterpreting its COVID-19 statistics and there is no “unknown pneumonia.”
The Russian Ambassador to the U.S. patently denied allegations that Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. and coalition soldiers in Afghanistan, and said the charges are “poisoning the atmosphere of cooperation” between the U.S. and Russia on Afghanistan…as if there ever was such an atmosphere.
Separately, U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told Congress the U.S. was not doing “as much as we could or should” to deter Russian instigation in Afghanistan.
There was a loud explosion in western Tehran earlier today, but the government denied anything was amiss. This was at least the third reported explosion this week, and the fact that the others (and perhaps this one too) took place around Iranian military and nuclear facilities makes it hard to keep believing official denials of sabotage.
Libya’s NOC lifted force majeure on oil exports and loaded a tanker at Es Sider for the first time in a year and a half (Es Sider had been blockaded by Khalifa Haftar’s forces). However, the NOC signaled that exports would restart slowly due to technical problems constraining output.
According to a WSJ report pasted below, the U.S. and Libya’s GNA are investigating Khalifa Haftar’s cash-for-gold trades with Pres. Maduro’s government in Venezuela. That could lead to U.S. sanctions.
Guyana’s political stalemate continued, with the opposition celebrating a Caribbean Court of Justice decision that threw out a Guyanese Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Pres. Granger. I’m not clear on the detailed implications of this latest decision, but it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s the final conclusion the opposition PPP/C makes it out to be.
Protests against DRC’s newly appointed (but still not presidentially confirmed) election chief turned violent, and two demonstrators and one police officer were killed. The protesters, who largely support Pres. Tshisekedi, are angry that the nominee helped Pres. Kabila steal prior elections and would probably steer the next election back to Kabila’s FCC party.
The mayor of Seoul was found dead after being reported missing, in a suspected suicide. Mayor Park Won-soon had recently been accused of sexually harassing a secretary who worked for him, and media outlets were preparing to break the story.
Libya, U.S. Probe Alleged Gold Trade Between Venezuela and Warlord (WSJ)
Nicolás Maduro’s government continues to forge ties with U.S. adversaries, officials say
Libya and the U.S. are investigating suspected gold-for-cash trades between Venezuela and Libyan militia leader Khalifa Haftar, security officials said.
The Libyan government, with the help of the United Nations and the U.S., has been tracking Mr. Haftar’s private jet, which is suspected of carrying gold from Venezuela to West Africa, and from there to Europe and the Middle East, U.S., European and Libyan security officials said.
Libya’s attorney general has opened an investigation into information that suggests Mr. Haftar’s eastern Libya-based faction has been bartering U.S. dollars for Venezuelan gold. The country’s interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, said Thursday that the inquiry was initiated at his request.
“Venezuela is under U.S. sanctions so we have to open an investigation,” Mr. Bashagha said.
The U.S. State Department has said publicly that it has been looking at flight-tracking suggesting Mr. Haftar’s jet traveled to Caracas. “We’ve been tracking those reports on Haftar’s trip—alleged trip to Venezuela,” said David Schenker, the department’s assistant secretary for near eastern bureau said at a June 11 press call. “The allegations are concerning.”
The State Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Representatives for Mr. Haftar’s faction, the Libyan National Army, and the office of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Maduro’s government is mired in an economic crisis marked by widespread malnutrition and runaway inflation. The U.S. is seeking to replace Mr. Maduro with Juan Guaidó, a U.S. ally. But the Maduro regime has endured, even as the coronavirus pandemic and a crash in oil prices have compounded the impact of a U.S. oil embargo on its chief export.
Mr. Maduro has reached out across the world for help, where he has sometimes sought assistance from U.S. foes such as Iran and Russia. Last week, U.S. federal prosecutors filed suit to seize four tankers-worth of Iranian gasoline heading to Venezuela.
Intelligence reports suggest associates of the militia leader airlifted U.S. dollars to Caracas, said Mr. Bashagha and Western security officials.
“Haftar has been concerned his accounts could be frozen if he comes under sanctions” and would prefer to have gold, which is more difficult to track, a European security official said.
Mr. Haftar was a high-ranking military officer under the leadership of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, whose rule ended in 2011. Since 2014, he has waged civil war on the internationally recognized Libyan government, seeking to restore authoritarian rule. Mr. Haftar has become notorious amid allegations of human rights violations and attempts to export oil in violation of sanctions.
Initial reports suggest Mr. Haftar’s associates have traveled repeatedly to Caracas, where they are suspected to have loaded gold, said Libya’s Mr. Bashagha and the Western security officials. Officials say the precious metal appeared to have been shipped to vaults in Switzerland and in the United Arab Emirates.
In one instance, Mr. Haftar’s private jet traveled on April 24 to Caracas before flying to Switzerland three days later, before landing in the United Arab Emirates in early May, according to flight tracking from C4ADS, a nonprofit organization providing data-driven analysis on transnational security issues.
The connection between the Venezuelan regime and Mr. Haftar was allegedly fostered by Mustafa Zaidi, a former health minister under Gadhafi, the security officials said.
Mr. Zaidi told The Wall Street Journal that he had developed relationships with the Venezuelan government during the Libya revolution in 2011 but he was no longer in contact with any of its members.
After the revolution, Mr. Zaidi assembled a group of Gadhafi loyalists in a faction called the Libyan Popular National Movement that now backs Mr. Haftar. According to letters posted on his Facebook page, he also nurtured relationships with Cuba and Venezuela.
In a posting on his Movement’s Facebook account in March, Mr. Zaidi left a message of support for Diosdado Cabello, the president of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly, who is wanted by the U.S. for alleged involvement in drug trafficking. In a subsequent Facebook post, Mr. Zaidi said Mr. Cabello had thanked him for his support.
Mr. Zaidi said he couldn’t remember the recent social media postings about Mr. Cabello. “I write to a lot of people,” he said.