Judge rules Donald Trump defrauded banks, insurers while building real estate empire
By Michael R. Sisak – September 26, 2023
NEW YORK (AP) — A judge ruled Tuesday that Donald Trump committed fraud for years while building the real estate empire that catapulted him to fame and the White House.
Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York’s attorney general, found that the former president and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing financing.
Engoron ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment, making it difficult or impossible for them to do business in New York, and said he would continue to have an independent monitor oversee the Trump Organization’s operations.
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. Trump has long insisted he did nothing wrong.
The decision, days before the start of a non-jury trial in Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit, is the strongest repudiation yet of Trump’s carefully coiffed image as a wealthy and shrewd real estate mogul turned political powerhouse.
Beyond mere bragging about his riches, Trump, his company and key executives repeatedly lied about them on his annual financial statements, reaping rewards such as favorable loan terms and lower insurance premiums, Engoron found.
Those tactics crossed a line and violated the law, the judge said, rejecting Trump’s contention that a disclaimer on the financial statements absolved him of any wrongdoing.
“In defendants’ world: rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in his 35-page ruling. “That is a is a fantasy world, not the real world.”
Manhattan prosecutors had looked into bringing a criminal case over the same conduct but declined to do so, leaving James to sue Trump and seek penalties that could disrupt his and his family’s ability to do business in the state.
Engoron’s ruling, in a phase of the case known as summary judgment, resolves the key claim in James’ lawsuit, but six others remain.
Engoron is slated to hold a non-jury trial starting Oct. 2 before deciding on those claims and any punishments he may impose. James is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York, his home state. The trial could last into December, Engoron has said.
Trump’s lawyers had asked the judge to throw out the case, which he denied. They contend that James wasn’t legally allowed to file the lawsuit because there isn’t any evidence that the public was harmed by Trump’s actions. They also argued that many of the allegations in the lawsuit were barred by the statute of limitations.
Engoron, noting that he had “emphatically rejected” those arguments earlier in the case, equated them to the “time-loop in the film ‘Groundhog Day.’”
James, a Democrat, sued Trump and the Trump Organization a year ago, alleging a pattern of duplicity that she dubbed “the art of the steal,” a twist on the title of Trump’s 1987 business memoir “The Art of the Deal.”
The lawsuit accused Trump and his company of routinely inflating the value of assets like skyscrapers, golf courses and his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, padding his bottom line by billions.
Among the allegations were that Trump claimed his Trump Tower apartment in Manhattan — a three-story penthouse replete with gold-plated fixtures — was nearly three times its actual size and valued the property at $327 million. No apartment in New York City has ever sold for close to that amount, James said.
Trump valued Mar-a-Lago as high as $739 million — more than 10 times a more reasonable estimate of its worth. Trump’s figure for the private club and residence was based on the idea that the property could be developed for residential use, but deed terms prohibit that, James said.
Trump has denied wrongdoing, arguing in sworn testimony for the case that it didn’t matter what he put on his financial statements because they have a disclaimer that says they shouldn’t be trusted. He told James at the April deposition, “You don’t have a case and you should drop this case.”
“Do you know the banks were fully paid? Do you know the banks made a lot of money?” Trump testified. “Do you know I don’t believe I ever got even a default notice, and even during COVID, the banks were all paid? And yet you’re suing on behalf of banks, I guess. It’s crazy. The whole case is crazy.”
Engoron rejected that argument when the defense previously sought to have the case thrown out.
The judge said the disclaimer on the financial statements “makes abundantly clear that Mr. Trump was fully responsible for the information contained within” them and that “allowing blanket disclaimers to insulate liars from liability would completely undercut” the “important function” that such statements serve “in the real world.”
James’ lawsuit is one of several legal headaches for Trump as he campaigns for a return to the White House in 2024. He has been indicted four times in the last six months — accused in Georgia and Washington, D.C., of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss, in Florida of hoarding classified documents, and in Manhattan of falsifying business records related to hush money paid on his behalf.
The Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud last year in an unrelated criminal case for helping executives dodge taxes on extravagant perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars. The company was fined $1.6 million. One of the executives, Trump’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty and served five months in jail. He is a defendant in James’ lawsuit and gave sworn deposition testimony for the case in May.
James’ lawsuit does not carry the potential of prison time, but could complicate his ability to transact real estate deals. It could also stain his legacy as a developer.
James has asked Engoron to ban Trump and his three eldest children from ever again running a company based New York. She also wants Trump and the Trump Organization barred from entering into commercial real estate acquisitions for five years, among other sanctions. The $250 million in penalties she is seeking is the estimated worth of benefits derived from the alleged fraud, she said.
James, who campaigned for office as a Trump critic and watchdog, started scrutinizing his business practices in March 2019 after his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that Trump exaggerated his wealth on financial statements provided to Deutsche Bank while trying to obtain financing to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
James’ office previously sued Trump for misusing his own charitable foundation to further his political and business interests. Trump was ordered to pay $2 million to an array of charities as a fine and the charity, the Trump Foundation, was shut down.
Mobility, a novel by Lydia Kiesling, looks at the way fossil fuels defines life in public and private, shaping the very way we tell stories.
Jess Bergman – September 26, 2023 (October 2nd-9th, 2023 issue)
Elizabeth “Bunny” Glenn, the protagonist of Lydia Kiesling’s new novel Mobility, may work for the Turnbridge Oil Company, but that doesn’t mean she’s in oil. As she’s quick to remind anyone who asks, “I work for the non-oil part of it, the part that is moving away from oil; we are targeting batteries and energy storage, not oil.” And as she rationalizes to herself, all she does in her capacity as a marketer and administrator is “relay information, tell stories, shape narratives, soft things, things that didn’t really matter.”
Despite these disavowals, the fact is that Bunny has spent years trying to better understand the oil industry. It turns out to be a Sisyphean task: The basic schema of the industry—where many companies are vertically and horizontally integrated, mergers are a constant, and financialization has spawned its own sprawling sub-industry—intentionally obscures the full picture. The oil landscape is a quicksand of “names and names and names.” Every time Bunny learned a new one, “the map she had constructed in her mind shifted.” Meanwhile, her brother John, a do-gooder Peace Corps veteran who teaches English in Ukraine, teases Bunny that she’ll wind up like their uncle Warren, a garden-variety reactionary with a desk job at Motiva that earns him “a seemingly huge amount of money.”
More than halfway through the novel, John’s partner, Sofie—a Swedish journalist who covers fossil fuels—provides Bunny with a term that describes the oil industry’s elusiveness: “hyperobject.” Coined by the philosopher Timothy Morton in 2010, a hyperobject is something so large and complex, so distributed across both space and time, that it evades our comprehensive understanding, even as we cannot escape its presence in our life. “The more data we have about hyperobjects, the less we know about them—the more we realize we can never truly know them,” Morton argues. Oil is a hyperobject par excellence: Not only is it the result of a geologic process that is millions of years old, but there are reserves of crude oil all over the world, and its byproducts are found in innumerable consumer items: artificial limbs and toilet seats, lipstick and trash bags, refrigerators and contact lenses. As Bunny herself puts it, “It does touch everything. Absolutely everything.”
Even before Bunny started working at Turnbridge, her life had been touched by oil more directly than others’. As a Foreign Service brat in Azerbaijan in the late 1990s, her adolescence unfolded alongside the development of a new international order, and commodities like oil played a starring role in this transition. Four years before her family’s arrival in Baku, and three years after the country restored its independence from the Soviet Union, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic and a consortium of 11 foreign oil companies signed what was called the “contract of the century”: an agreement to jointly develop—and share the profits from—oil fields in the Azeri sectors of the Caspian Sea. Several of those foreign companies, of course, were American. Bunny’s father is sent to Azerbaijan in part to protect his country’s investment.
In Baku, some of the consequences of the newly privatized oil economy are obvious even to a self-absorbed 15-year-old like Bunny: a sulfuric smell on the beach, or the “mansions with no context” piled up on cliffsides outside of the capital. But most of what she learns about the industry comes via a more sentimental education—namely, crushes on the young men who have flocked to Azerbaijan to witness the so-called end of history. There is Eddie, a mild-mannered Brit making a documentary about the Nagorno-Karabakh War, who rents a room in the apartment above the Glenns’; and then there is Charlie, a hedonistic, hirsute American who publishes a guerrilla newspaper called The Intercock (short for Inter-Caucasian Times) covering “foreign activity in the former Soviet Union.”
At one point, while attending a party at an oil prospector’s mansion in Baku’s ancient inner city, Bunny bumps into her crushes smoking cigars with a gray-haired Amoco bureaucrat. After frightening the oilman off with a veiled reference to his taste for sex workers, Charlie turns to Bunny. “Do you want to hear the story of oil in the former Soviet Union?” he asks. Following her noncommital “I guess,” Charlie proceeds to unspool a profane monologue about the scramble for the Caspian’s riches amid the breakup of the USSR, featuring cameos by Mikhail Gorbachev, Ilham Aliyev, “Condoleezza fucking Rice,” BP, Chevron, Exxon, and more.
This speech, which unfolds across four pages, is for Bunny’s benefit, but also our own. By embedding crucial context in naturalistic dialogue, Kiesling is able to establish the historical conjuncture in which her book is set without resorting to dull exposition. But this formal choice is more than just a canny bit of craft; it also hints at the novel’s true subject. Recognizing the epistemological impasse that Bunny runs up against in her quest to master the industry’s inner workings, Mobility is not really about oil qua oil, but the way it is narrativized—both for good and for ill.
Mobility teems with storytellers, from investigative reporters, podcasters, and filmmakers to spin doctors, government public information officers, and oil CEOs, dictating their memoirs to underpaid female assistants. When Bunny eventually joins their ranks, it’s due less to any conscious choice than to circumstance. Personally and professionally adrift after graduating from college in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, she moves in with her recently divorced mother in Texas and finds a job through a temp agency at Miles Engineering Consultants, a firm that provides “client satisfaction in the diverse fields of geophysics and seismology, hydrology, hydrogeology, and construction support.” Bunny is assigned to the admin pool, where she puts her English degree to work copy-editing inscrutable reports about prospective megaprojects, such as a nuclear power plant in the Persian Gulf. However tedious, it’s a task at which she excels.
Not long after Bunny is hired, she meets Frank Miles—son of the company’s founder, and son-in-law to oil magnate Frank Turnbridge—who recognizes in Bunny a potential asset to his own ambition. Before long, Frank convinces her to jump ship to Turnbridge, where he’ll be heading up a new arm of the business: one that “over time,” he promises, will begin investing in “renewables, batteries, clean energy.” As she’ll learn, it’s a future that’s always just on the verge of arriving.
Whatever “unease” Bunny feels as a reflexive liberal who believes in global warming but who is now working for an oil company is allayed in short order by the material comforts that the job enables her to obtain: a well-appointed apartment in Houston, Ted Baker dresses, Bare Minerals makeup, Jo Malone perfume (the novel is littered with brand names that increase in value in tandem with Bunny’s professional advancement). It’s a state of affairs that Sofie mocks during a visit to Texas: “I’m sorry, but this is such an American tragedy! You work for the oil complex so you can have health insurance and a place to live!” However much Bunny clings to these justifications, the truth is that she starts to find something magnetic about the industry after immersing herself in its literature.
While attempting to better understand her new workplace, Bunny spends many Saturdays at the Turnbridge Petroleum Library, donated by Frank to a local college, where she reads introductory textbooks (“useful but boring”) as well as “narrative histories, which she infinitely preferred.” The latter are seductive in both the cinematic quality of their imagery and in the sheer enormity of the feats of engineering and labor they describe—so monumental that they reduce the “dead people and filth strewn all over the pages of these books” to mere footnotes. “These tragedies were made small against the inexorability of a steel tube drilling down thousands of feet, drilling sideways a thousand feet more, seeming to subvert the laws of geology or physics,” Bunny thinks. “Literal pipelines laid under the ground and spanning two continents, traveling under the ocean itself, to bring them their standard of living.”
Her encounter with these texts is formative in more ways than one: Bunny will eventually stake her career on building a Lean In version of this emphatically masculine mythos. In 2016, she attends a women-in-energy luncheon in a frigid Texas conference room where the keynote speaker is “one of the first Black women special agents in the FBI.” Bunny, then unmarried and childless, is seated with a number of colleagues discussing the challenges of being a working mother in the oil industry. A geologist with twins who’s recently been let go from Exxon jokes—if you can call it that—that “they always lay the moms off first.” Then one of the only men present at the lunch drops by their table. “What are we talking about here?” he asks. “Shoes?” A less keen novel might leverage this interaction into an epiphany for Bunny, but Kiesling is working in an ultimately ironic register here. At the end of the scene, Bunny lifts a foot out of her “Tory Burch square-heeled croc pumps that didn’t have quite enough room in the toe box…before turning her attention back to the podium.” She, at least, had been thinking about shoes after all.
Over the course of Mobility, Kiesling develops a critique of the fossil fuel industry’s use of women as both a shield and a source of legitimacy. This applies to women on the outside: A recurring motif is the line, supplied by industry flacks like Bunny, that it’s thanks to oil and gas that mothers can give birth in brightly lit, temperature-regulated hospitals, full of high-tech devices made from petrochemical byproducts, rather than in unsanitary sheds, the United States’ high rate of maternal mortality be damned. But it’s women working on the inside who prove to be most useful to the industry. Of course, the benefits flow both ways: On the one hand, the industry’s embrace of corporate feminism allows individual women to recast their environmentally destructive and highly remunerative work as a radical riposte to the old boys’ club. More significantly, this PR strategy plays into the narrative that a lack of diversity, not a profit motive antithetical to life, is responsible for oil’s gravest ills. In this way, reforming the energy industry’s relationship to women and other minorities becomes a metonym for reforming the industry itself. At yet another conference, Bunny listens to a chipper blonde introduce a new professional network for women backed by companies like Shell and Halliburton. Her ambitions for the project are grand: It’s “something that will benefit not only us, but our entire oil and gas industry.” Notably, the woman is a special guest at an event titled “Storytelling Oil and Gas.”
By focusing primarily on the recent past and covering mostly real disasters, natural and otherwise—the Deepwater Horizon spill; Hurricane Harvey—Mobility sets itself apart from most so-called climate change novels, which tend to take place in an alternative present or near future menaced by mysterious adverse weather events. So when the book flashes forward to 2051 in a brief coda knowingly titled “Downstream”—referring to the refining of crude oil and all of its byproducts, as well as their marketing and sale—it comes as a somewhat deflating capitulation to the conventions of the genre. Kiesling depicts this future bluntly; its crises are represented in broad strokes, with minimal stylistic flourishes: “On the first 120-degree-Fahrenheit day [Bunny] ever felt, nearly everything shriveled and died and the crows fell out of the trees.”
Given the destructiveness of Mobility’s final act, it’s tempting to read it as an environmentalist parable, or even an intervention. But the novel is fundamentally ambivalent about the usefulness of stories in fighting climate change. Through Bunny’s occasional insecurities about the meaning of her work for Turnbridge, Kiesling breaks the fourth wall. “Sometimes Elizabeth marveled at how simultaneously irrelevant and critical the shaping of narrative was to reality,” she writes.
Decarbonization was more important than ever. The majors were pulling out of the Permian and Bakken right and left…. And yet Europe was preparing to freeze without Russian gas. The EU had signed a deal to double its supply of LNG from Azerbaijan, great news for Azerbaijan and BP.
In Mobility, the primary function of the stories told by fossil fuel companies is to approximate the feeling of change without actually changing anything—except, perhaps, their names.
For the industry, this proves to be a winning strategy: “Many of the people who got rich from oil put themselves directly atop the next generation of energy just in the nick of time.” For its opponents, the value of narrative is less clear. We learn little about the impact of Sofie’s journalism, other than that her career goes “gangbusters” after she becomes a household name during the Standing Rock protests. And when Bunny bumps into Charlie many years after their initial meeting in Baku, he’s traded in harassing fossil fuel executives for reporting on drone war, because, he explains, “There’s more people with a deep state paranoia who will subscribe to your podcast than there are people who want to hear about oil companies.” Stories, Kiesling suggests, can make us feel better about the path of least resistance, or they can prompt us to consider the cost of our familiar comforts. But given that they tend toward tidy resolution, stories are more likely to produce inertia than action on a mass scale. This makes them no match for the resources of an industry that scaffolds our geopolitical order and produces trillions of dollars in profits a year.
Rather than styling itself as a rallying cry, the closest thing that Mobility offers to a concrete solution is smuggled into a joke in a scene some years before the apocalyptic flash-forward. During a visit to the United States in 2014 from his posting in Tajikistan, Bunny’s diplomat father tells his grown children that the long-defunct oil field their grandparents owned a small interest in might soon become active again, thanks to a tertiary form of oil recovery in which pressurized carbon dioxide is blasted into old wells to loosen whatever remains. Any money it yields, he says, will be passed on to them. Bunny’s brother John is horrified by the prospect of profiting from oil. “Can you do something to shut down production?” he asks.
Bunny laughs. “He owns one-seventy-somethingth of it,” she tells her brother. “Is he supposed to throw a grenade down the well?
Jess Bergman is a senior editor at The Baffler and a contributing writer at Jewish Currents.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander among 34 killed in a missile strike in Crimea, Ukraine claims
Illia Novikov – September 25, 2023
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The missile strike that blasted the Crimean headquarters of Russia’s navy last week killed 34 officers, including the fleet commander, Ukraine said Monday, though it provided no evidence to support its claim.
Ukraine’s Special Operation Forces said on the Telegram messaging app that its strike on the main building of the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the port city of Sevastopol had wounded 105 people. The claims could not independently be verified and are vastly different from what Russia has reported.
Russia’s military announced the attack on the building and initially said one serviceman was killed but later said the person was not killed but missing. Moscow has provided no further updates.
On Monday evening, Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said Russian air defenses shot down a missile in the vicinity of the military airfield in Belbek, a village near the port city. He didn’t offer any details about possible damage or casualties.
Ukraine has increasingly targeted naval facilities in Crimea in recent weeks while the brunt of its summer counteroffensive makes slow gains in the east and south of Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War said. It followed Friday’s attack with another barrage on Saturday.
The new death and casualty figures are a steep increase from what Ukraine’s intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, told Voice of America on Saturday when he said at least nine people were killed and 16 others wounded in the attack that left the building smoldering. He also said Alexander Romanchuk, a Russian general commanding forces along the key southeastern front line, was “in a very serious condition.”
The new report indicates that the fleet’s chief, Adm. Viktor Sokolov, was also killed, though no supporting evidence was offered. He was not named in the statement by the Special Operation Forces, but Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the minister of internal affairs of Ukraine posted his name and a photo on social media.
Ukraine’s military also offered more details about Friday’s attack. It said the air force conducted 12 strikes on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters, targeting areas where personnel, military equipment and weapons were concentrated. It said that two anti-aircraft missile systems and four Russian artillery units were hit.
The casualty figures were announced as Russian drone and missile strikes near Odesa damaged an abandoned hotel, a grain silo and killed two people who were buried in the rubble of a grain warehouse in the Black Sea port city, Ukrainian officials said. Russian attacks elsewhere were blamed for killing six other civilians in the past day in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s air force reported downing all Russian drones launched overnight, but one of 12 Kalibr missiles and two P-800 Oniks cruise missiles apparently made it past air defenses.
Russia has continuously targeted port and grain storage facilities in Odesa since pulling out of a wartime deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports to countries facing the threat of hunger. The attacks have destroyed silos, warehouses, oil terminals and other infrastructure critical for storage and shipping.
The Russian Defense Ministry said long-range missiles and drones were used to strike facilities that it alleged had housed foreign mercenaries and trained saboteurs. The ministry didn’t name locations or provide other specifics to support its claim. It also said it downed several Ukrainian drones.
The attacks came as independent U.N.-backed human rights experts said they found new evidence of war crimes committed by Russian forces and as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the arrival of the first Abrams tanks sent by the U.S. that could figure in their slow-moving summer counteroffensive
The U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine said it found evidence of crimes committed by both sides in the war, but far more by Russians, including instances of torture, some of it fatal, and rape of women as old as 83. It said it was also looking into allegations that Russian forces committed genocide.
Zelenskyy thanked allies on Telegram for their support in announcing the anticipated arrival of the tanks. He didn’t say how many tanks had arrived, but the U.S. has said it was sending 31 tanks.
In other fighting, Russian forces also dropped bombs and launched six heavy artillery strikes on southern Ukraine’s Kherson region, destroying a school and factory and damaging residential buildings. Three of the deaths reported by the Ukrainian president’s office were in the region: three people were killed and two others were injured by bombs that hit the city of Beryslav. A man was killed in the neighboring village of Lvove.
In eastern Ukraine, Russians attacked residential areas of 10 cities and villages in the Donetsk region, killing two people in the village of Zarichne, according to the presidential office.
During fighting in southeast Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, the Russian army carried out five airstrikes on Orikhiv, a small city, and its surrounding area.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its air defenses downed three Ukrainian drones over the Kursk region of Russia and three others over the Bryansk region early Monday. It also reported that three drones were shot down over the Belgorod region.
Kursk Gov. Roman Starovoit said a downed drone over the center of the city of Kursk damaged the roof of an administrative building and several private houses and shattered windows in an apartment building. Starovoit said there were no injuries.
A day earlier, a Ukrainian drone damaged the roof of an administrative building in Kursk that some Ukrainian and Russian media reported housed the offices of the Federal Security Service, Russia’s main domestic security agency.
Bryansk Gov. Alexander Bogomaz said the drones caused no casualties, but Ukrainian rockets damaged a farm building and killed cattle.
During the drone attack, Russian authorities delayed or diverted several flights at Moscow’s airports.
The Defense Ministry said five other Ukrainian drones were also shot down over Crimea and the Black Sea.
Associated Press journalists Samya Kullab in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia and Brian Melley in London contributed to this report.
Russian Naval Commander and 33 Officers Obliterated in Biggest Blow Yet, Says Ukraine
Nico Hines – September 25, 2023
In one of the most devastating blows of the war so far, Ukraine says it took out a whole chunk of Russia’s naval leadership in a single missile attack, which killed the commander of the notorious Black Sea Fleet.
Sokolov, who was drafted in to beef up the faltering navy last year, was attending a meeting of top naval and military figures when the missile crashed into the building in Sevastopol, according to the Special Operations Forces of Ukraine. The Spetsnaz unit claims that 34 officers in total were killed in the explosion.
A huge plume of black smoke was seen billowing from the building last Friday in one of Ukraine’s most stunning missile assaults of the war. The direct hit on the naval command center was a symbolic blow for Russia as the Black Sea Fleet has been a source of national pride since it was established by Catherine the Great in 1783.
President Vladimir Putin fired the commander of the fleet last year after it suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks including the sinking of its lead warship, the Moskva, and an attack on its air base in Crimea that saw eight warplanes destroyed.
Sokolov, who previously held a prestigious role as the head of a military academy, was brought back into active service to reinstate pride in the Black Sea Fleet.
His death—compounded by those of so many of his colleagues—in the heart of the fleet’s operation would represent a severe blow to that pride.
Over the weekend, rumors on social media began to suggest that Sokolov had been caught up in the explosion. The Special Operations Forces posted its confirmation on Telegram on Monday.
“After the attack on the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters, 34 officers, including the Commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, lost their lives, with an additional 105 occupants sustaining injuries. The headquarters building is beyond repair,” the Telegram statement read.
The special forces unit did not name any of the other victims of the attack by one of the Storm Shadow air-launched missiles donated by Britain and France earlier this year.
Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, previously said Col. Gen. Alexander Romanchuk, the commander of Russian forces on the southern front, and Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsekov were seriously wounded in the attack.
Ukraine has been desperate to prove that it can make serious gains in the remainder of the fighting season before winter sets in and, in particular, Kyiv wants to show the skeptical West that it is capable of retaking Crimea.
Russian soldiers who ran out of ammunition say they are being sent to ‘certain death’ in a video shared by a Ukrainian official
Rebecca Cohen – September 21, 2023
Russian soldiers say they are being sent to “certain death” in a video shared by Ukraine.
They say Russia asked a group of Russian artillerymen, who ran out of ammo, to fight on the front line.
They said they fled and left all of their weapons behind because they were not trained as infantry.
A group of Russian artillerymen said they were being forced to move to the front lines after running out of ammunition — despite lacking any training on how to fight at the front, according to a video shared by a Ukrainian official on Wednesday.
Artillerymen typically position themselves away from the front line, where they fire ranged weapons to support troops in front of them. Infantrymen are typically ground forces who engage in close-range combat using different types of weapons.
Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor in Ukraine’s internal affairs ministry, posted a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, in which the group of men claiming to be Russian soldiers say they are “servicemen in regiment number 1442” and are fighting in “the area of Klishchiivka.”
In the video, which includes subtitles written by Gerashchenko, the men say their infantry had been killed in battle, prompting Russia to try and reinforce the front line.
“We ran out of ammunition, so we got reassigned to infantry. We weren’t trained to be infantry. We were trained to be artillerymen. That’s it,” one of the men says in the video.
They said some soldiers were refusing the assignment and fleeing instead.
The men said that Russia was sending them to “certain death” by asking them to leave their positions as artillerymen to fight on the front lines. They added that others are fleeing, and some are “hanging themselves already” to get out of the new assignment.
“We’re not abandoning our duties, and we never have,” one man says in the video. “We’re just being sent to certain death. All of us. The unprepared.”
Water-starved Saudi confronts desalination’s heavy toll
Robbie Corey-Boulet – September 16, 2023
Solar panels soak up blinding noontime rays that help power a water desalination facility in eastern Saudi Arabia, a step towards making the notoriously emissions-heavy process less environmentally taxing.
The Jazlah plant in Jubail city applies the latest technological advances in a country that first turned to desalination more than a century ago, when Ottoman-era administrators enlisted filtration machines for hajj pilgrims menaced by drought and cholera.
Lacking lakes, rivers and regular rainfall, Saudi Arabia today relies instead on dozens of facilities that transform water from the Gulf and Red Sea into something potable, supplying cities and towns that otherwise would not survive.
But the kingdom’s growing desalination needs –- fuelled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s dreams of presiding over a global business and tourism hub –- risk clashing with its sustainability goals, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2060.
Projects like Jazlah, the first plant to integrate desalination with solar power on a large scale, are meant to ease that conflict: officials say the panels will help save around 60,000 tons of carbon emissions annually.
It is the type of innovation that must be scaled up fast, with Prince Mohammed targeting a population of 100 million people by 2040, up from 32.2 million today.
“Typically, the population grows, and then the quality of life of the population grows,” necessitating more and more water, said CEO Marco Arcelli of ACWA Power, which runs Jazlah.
Using desalination to keep pace is a “do or die” challenge, said historian Michael Christopher Low at the University of Utah, who has studied the kingdom’s struggle with water scarcity.
“This is existential for the Gulf states. So when anyone is sort of critical about what they’re doing in terms of ecological consequences, I shake my head a bit,” he said.
At the same time, he added, “there are limits” as to how green desalination can be.
– Drinking the sea –
The search for potable water bedevilled Saudi Arabia in the first decades after its founding in 1932, spurring geological surveys that contributed to the mapping of its massive oil reserves.
Prince Mohammed al-Faisal, a son of King Faisal whom Low has dubbed the “Water Prince”, at one point even explored the possibility of towing icebergs from Antarctica to quench the kingdom’s growing thirst, drawing widespread ridicule.
But Prince Mohammed also oversaw the birth of the kingdom’s modern desalination infrastructure beginning in 1970.
The national Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) now reports production capacity of 11.5 million cubic metres per day at 30 facilities.
That growth has come at a cost, especially at thermal plants running on fossil fuels.
By 2010, Saudi desalination facilities were consuming 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, more than 15 percent of today’s production.
The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on current energy consumption at desalination plants.
Going forward, there is little doubt Saudi Arabia will be able to build the infrastructure required to produce the water it needs.
“They have already done it in some of the most challenging settings, like massively desalinating on the Red Sea and providing desalinated water up to the highlands of the holy cities in Mecca and Medina,” said Laurent Lambert of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.
– Going green? –
The question is how much the environmental toll will continue to climb.
The SWCC says it wants to cut 37 million metric tonnes of carbon emissions by 2025.
This will be achieved largely by transitioning away from thermal plants to plants like Jazlah that use electricity-powered reverse osmosis.
Solar power, meanwhile, will expand to 770 megawatts from 120 megawatts today, according to the SWCC’s latest sustainability report, although the timeline is unclear.
“It’s still going to be energy-intensive, unfortunately, but energy-intensive compared to what?” Lambert said.
“Compared to countries which have naturally flowing water from major rivers or falling from the sky for free? Yeah, sure, it’s always going to be more.”
At desalination plants across the kingdom, Saudi employees understand just how crucial their work is to the population’s survival.
The Ras al-Khair plant produces 1.1 million cubic metres of water per day –- 740,000 from thermal technology, the rest from reverse osmosis –- and struggles to keep reserve tanks full because of high demand.
Much of the water goes to Riyadh, which requires 1.6 million cubic metres per day and could require as much as six million by the end of the decade, said an employee who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief the media.
Looking out over pipes that draw seawater from the Gulf into the plant, he described the work as high-stakes, with clear national security implications.
If the plant did not exist, he said, “Riyadh would die”.
Entire villages higher up the mountains were leveled. In many, at least half of the population appears to have died.
Photos of the disaster show how fathers, mothers, children and their animals remain trapped under bricks, appliances and fallen ceilings. Going without power for days, residents see at night by the light of their phones.
“It felt like a bomb went off,” 34-year-old Mohamed Messi of Ouirgane said.
When mud and clay brick — traditional materials used for construction in the region — turn to rubble, they leave less space for oxygen than collapsed construction materials in countries like Turkey and Syria, which were also hit by quakes this year.
The day after the quake, hundreds of residents of the mountain town of Moulay Brahim gathered to perform funeral rites, praying on rugs arranged neatly in the street before carrying blanket-covered bodies from the town’s health center to its cemetery.
“People are suffering here very much. We are in dire need of ambulances. Please send us ambulances to Moulay Brahim. The matter is urgent. This appeal must reach everyone, and on a large scale. Please save us,” said Ayoub Toudite, the head of a community group in Moulay Brahim. “We hope for urgent intervention from the authorities. There is no network. We are trying to call, but to no avail.”
The United Nations reported that roughly 300,000 people were likely affected by the earthquake. UNICEF said that likely included 100,000 children.
As the Moroccan government approved only limited assistance from four countries and certain NGOs, Salah Ancheu, a 28-year-old from Amizmiz, told The Associated Press that nearby villages desperately needed more assistance. Residents of his town swept all the rubble off the main road so that cars, motorycles and aid crews can reach villages further along the mountain roads. A giant pile of steel rods, baskets and broken cinderblocks lay just off the center of the road.
“It’s a catastrophe,” he said. ‘’There aren’t ambulances, there aren’t police, at least for right now. We don’t know what’s next.’’
In parts of Amizmiz that weren’t leveled by the temblor, families began to return on Sunday to sort through the wreckage and retrieve valuables from homes where at least one floor remained standing. People cheered the trucks full of soldiers speeding through the road bisecting the town, as women and children sat under tents eating bread, cheese and vegetable stew.
Hafida Fairouje, who came from Marrakech to help her sister’s family in Amizmiz, said smaller nearby villages had nothing left, expressing shock that it took authorities about 20 hours after the earthquake to reach some of the nearby villages.
Morocco on Monday created a special government fund for earthquake-related efforts, to which King Mohammed VI later donated the equivalent of $97 million (91 million euros). Enaam Mayara, the president of the parliament’s House of Councilors, said it would likely take five or six years to rebuild some affected areas.
A foul stench permeated the air through the beginning of the week as rescuers worked to dig out bodies and sort through wreckage in smaller villages.
Moroccan military forces and international teams from four approved countries — Qatar, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom — erected tents near Amizmiz while their teams wound through mountain roads to contribute to ongoing rescue efforts in villages such as Imi N’Tala, where a slice of mountain fell and destroyed the vast majority of homes and killed many residents.
Young boys sang “Hayya Hayya” — the theme song of the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar — as the country’s trucks drove through the mountains.
“The mountain was split in half and started falling. Houses were fully destroyed,” a local man, Ait Ougadir Al Houcine, said Tuesday as crews worked to recover bodies, including his sister’s. “Some people lost all their cattle. We have nothing but the clothes we’re wearing. Everything is gone.”
Families and children relocated to yellow tents provided by Moroccan authorities as fears set in about the time it would likely take to rebuild their homes.
“We just started the new school year but the earthquake came and ruined everything,” Naima Ait Brahim Ouali said, standing under an umbrella outside of a yellow tent as children play inside. “We just want somewhere to hide from the rain.”
After King Mohammed VI donated blood in Marrakech and later presided over an emergency response meeting, Moroccan officials said the government would fund both emergency relief and future rebuilding for residents of roughly 50,000 homes that were damaged or destroyed by allocating cash, depending on the level of destruction.
Scientists are sounding the alarm about a dangerous problem that will soon affect 2 billion people — here’s what to know
Laurelle Stelle – September 15, 2023
As the world has gotten hotter, more people are exposed to dangerously high temperatures each year. Recent findings published in Nature Sustainability show that without policy changes, the world will heat up enough by the end of the century that more than 2 billion people will live in life-threatening hot climates, as Science Hub reported.
So far, the world’s average temperature has risen by just under 1.2 degrees Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial level due to human activity, according to Science Hub. The Paris Agreement — an international treaty to limit heat-trapping gases produced by each country and stop the world from getting hotter — proposed to cap the increase at 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, the new study found that with the current laws, population growth, and environmental conditions, the world will likely reach about 4.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial benchmark, per Science Hub.
The researchers then looked at which areas would be most affected if the temperature increased to that level. They defined “unprecedented heat” zones as areas where the average temperature throughout the year, counting all seasons, is 84.2 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Science Hub reported that 40 years ago, only 12 million people worldwide lived in regions with temperatures surpassing that heat. Today, thanks to the warming we’ve already experienced, about 60 million people are affected.
The study found that by 2100, 2 billion out of the world’s projected population of 9.5 billion will live in areas with an average temperature higher than 84.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The most affected areas will be countries around the equator, noted Science Hub: India, Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Pakistan.
Why is this heating worrisome?
The hotter the world gets, the more heat waves, droughts, and wildfires we experience. As Science Hub reported, studies have also linked the rising heat to everything from more contagious diseases to lower labor efficiency and more conflict between people.
“That’s a profound reshaping of the habitability of the surface of the planet, and could lead potentially to the large-scale reorganization of where people live,” study author Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, told ScienceAlert.
What’s being done?
Science Hub reported that if the global community reaches the goal set by the Paris Agreement, the affected population would be limited to half a billion people instead of 2 billion.
In the meantime, individuals can protect themselves from heat waves with these tips for cooling off.
China’s mounting economic woes prompted US President Joe Biden to call the Asian economy a “ticking time bomb”.
And now, a lesser-known, but no less ominous, economic threat is rearing its head: China’s colossal hidden-debt problem.
This mainly refers to a mountain of liabilities accumulated by the country’s local governments, mostly to fund regional infrastructure projects such as building roads and bridges. An analysis by the Chinese media outlet Caixin Global estimated the outstanding obligations of the so-called local government financing vehicles, or LGFVs, at close to a staggering $10 trillion.
The Chinese government deems such debt a form of off-the-books lending and as such, the market is opaque. Here, Insider demystifies the shadow sector and explains the significance of LGFVs to the wider Chinese economy.
What are China’s LGFVs?
These funding bodies were set up by China to facilitate financing for regional infrastructure projects. Originally established to support infrastructure projects such as highways, airports, and energy installations, the LGFVs were designed to provide funding outside of the official government constraints.
The notion of “hidden debt” was defined by China’s State Council in 2018 as any borrowing that does not form a part of on-budget government spending – in essence, off-the-books financing.
The LGFV sector has grown exponentially since the 2008 global financial crisis, when the Chinese government made efforts to ensure that the nation’s infrastructure and public services segments expand fast enough to sustain its remarkable economic growth, according to Bloomberg.
Figures from Bloomberg and the International Monetary Fund estimate the total value of LGFV debt as more than $9 trillion – not far from the Caixin assessment. The local governments’ bonds alone total at about $2 trillion, and any defaults would rock the Asian nation’s $60 trillion financial system, according to Bloomberg.
In 2023, the LGFVs’ hidden debt climbed above 50% of China’s GDP for the first time, IMF data show.
Why does this matter?
For months, China’s local administrations have struggled to turn their financing vehicles profitable – increasing pressure on the national government to prop up the ailing sector via costly interventions.
As risks tied to the sector mount, banks are unwilling to lend more, investors are turning their backs on bonds, and viable projects are harder to come by, according to several anonymous employees interviewed by Bloomberg.
As a result, the local governments have been struggling to generate enough income or raise funding to meet the costs of servicing their debt.
“The most important variable impacting China’s economic growth over the next two years will be the success or failure of local government debt restructuring,” Logan Wright, head of China markets research at Rhodium Group, told Bloomberg.
But Beijing has so far refrained from intervening in the sector, in a bid to encourage self-sufficiency.
“A collapse in local government investment would be comparable to the economic impact of the crisis in the property market,” Wright told Bloomberg.
China’s enormous property sector accounts for about 30% of the country’s overall output. Headwinds faced by the sector include heavy debt burdens and sluggish demand for new properties. This was a contributing factor in stunting the nation’s second-quarter GDP growth, which came in at 6.3%, below forecasts of up to 7.1%.
Indeed, any turmoil originating from China’s mountainous hidden debt would send shockwaves across the global economy.
The ‘curse of 35’: In China, millennials are already too old for some employers
Berry Wang and Jessie Yeung – August 26, 2023
When Han lost her job as an interface designer in Beijing in February, she figured her 10 years of experience meant she wouldn’t need to look long for alternative work.
But with the job hunt dragging on, she’s beginning to worry. She’s sent off hundreds of job applications – and been invited to only four interviews.
Out of options in her chosen profession, she has turned to part-time jobs to make ends meet, working as a food delivery driver – where she was “lucky to earn 20 yuan ($2.8)” a day – and as a shopping guide, which she gave up after developing acute appendicitis, she says from standing too long.
“I tried every possible job, but they were either too energy-consuming or paid too little,” she said. “It’s difficult to maintain basic life every day, it seems.”
The root of Han’s problem, she believes, is that she has simply become too old in the eyes of many would-be employers. She is 34 years old.
Han, who CNN is identifying by only her last name due to privacy concerns, is among the many millennial workers in China who fear they have succumbed to the “curse of 35.”
The term was originally coined on social media to describe rumored lay-offs of older workers by major tech companies, but it has since become so widespread it is referenced even by advisers to China’s ruling Communist Party.
Anyone who doubts the curse’s potency need only look at the countless online job listings and recruitment sites that state explicitly that candidates should be no older than that age, which many experts don’t even consider middle-aged.
Or look on social media; in June, a traveler’s complaint that hostels in Beijing commonly turn away customers older than 35 sparked heated debate, as did a recruitment drive by a Taoist temple in June when it said new monks must be “under 35 years old.”
Indeed, even the Chinese government rules out candidates above 35 for many of its civil servant positions – a policy challenged by a lawmaker at last year’s annual gathering of China’s parliament and top political advisory body.
“Invisible age discrimination for 35-year-olds has always existed in the workplace,” lawmaker Jiang Shengnan told the gathering, reported state-run China Youth Daily. “It’s a huge waste of talent to reject candidates for their age.”
Even top academics and officials have acknowledged the issue. In a 2022 report by the state-run paper People’s Daily, a professor at the government-run Central Party School – which educates Chinese Communist Party cadres – referred to the curse as a “common phenomenon in the mass labor market” and blamed it for causing widespread public anxiety.
This year, the state-run news agency Xinhua proposed what it saw as a possible solution – special policies favoring workers above 35, along with financial assistance and regulations against ageism.
For many among China’s hundreds of millions of millennials, solutions can’t come fast enough. With China still struggling to recover from the economic damage of the pandemic and signs its growth is slowing, unemployment has become a pressing concern for many. Nationally, the official jobless rate surged to a near-record high of 6.1% last year, and while the end of lockdown brought some relief, it remains at 5.2%.
Leaders or bust
The issue has been brought to the fore in part by the rise of China’s tech industry and its notorious “996 culture” – working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.
It’s an uncompromising schedule that’s even harder for older employees with families to attend to, but it’s a common expectation in the country’s highly competitive – and relatively young – tech sector.
Experts also point out that young workers hired straight from school tend to be cheaper, though others suggest the preference is not only about keeping expenditure low.
A 2021 Xinhua report reasoned that employees who hadn’t been promoted to management levels by 35 may be perceived as less successful, thus more susceptible to layoffs.
The Central Party School professor made this point in his report last year, saying: “Generally speaking, most employees with 10 years of experience will become leaders or team managers if their abilities are really good. In other words, the ’35-year-old threshold’ is not about age itself, but a measure of work ability for employers.”
But these limits mean many people find themselves like Han, the Beijing resident: overqualified, educated, experienced, and struggling to keep themselves afloat with gig work.
This is especially true as more and more people pursue masters’ and PhD degrees in the hopes of gaining an edge in the crowded job market – thus ironically delaying their entry into the old job market.
One content creator, Tao Chen, gained nationwide attention in March after posting about his experience online. After graduating from the prestigious Sichuan University with a master’s degree in philosophy, he was laid off from a journalism job, then embarked on a string of failed business projects. At 38 years old, with few other prospects, he became a food delivery driver – eventually giving up that job too because the income wasn’t enough to make ends meet.
“Although I had really good work experience and a master’s degree, I’m really uncompetitive after 35 years old,” Tao Chen said in his Douyin video. More than 98% of his job applications were unanswered, while the rest found he was “unfit” for the role.
“I almost had a mental breakdown,” he said.
New twist on an old story
For many Chinese women, the “curse” builds upon and further compounds the entrenched gender discrimination that has long plagued the workplace.
Female workers in this age range often say they face pressures from employers reluctant to pay maternity leave. They report missing out on promotions because their employer fears they will take a long stint off, or worse – they might not get employed in the first place.
“Seeing this age, many companies aren’t willing to recruit you,” said Han, the Beijing resident. “They prefer the young ones. After all, I might get married and have kids in their eyes. Even though I tell them I do not intend to get married, they wouldn’t believe it.”
When 35-year-old Shenzhen resident Liu returned to her job at a bioengineering firm after a six-month maternity leave, she was expecting to join a new project. Instead, she said, she was abruptly laid off and her position given to a fresh graduate.
Months later, she has yet to find another job. Liu, who requested a pseudonym for privacy reasons, believes it was her maternity leave that prompted her dismissal.
“They are very realistic. When I don’t need you, I replace you with cheaper labor,” she said.
Men can be affected, too. Liu remembers witnessing a male colleague who had just become a father being given what she called inappropriate assignments, like being sent on a business trip immediately after the birth.
She said she had also seen millennial and middle-aged employees being singled out for embarrassment by being asked to raise their hands in meetings if they were over 30 or by not being invited to company parties.
Liu suspects the biggest motivation for employers is simply their bottom line. “Many companies consider cost efficiency,” Liu said. “They think my salary is higher than new graduates, so they’d rather choose the graduates.”
‘I can see through their tricks’
Experts say the best way to guard against both ageism and gender inequality is through legal reform.
Yiran Zhang, assistant professor at Cornell Law School, said that while China’s labor law prohibited discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, gender, and religious belief, it does not do so on the grounds of age.
And even in areas where some protection was offered – such as for mothers taking maternity leave – enforcement of the law is weak, and gender discrimination remains common, she said.
Employees who do successfully sue their employer may only receive low damages, disincentivizing some from pursuing legal action, Zhang added.
“A large amount of age discrimination is intersectionality – discrimination of age, gender, pregnancy, and caregiving duties,” said the assistant professor.
Zhang and other experts noted there had been attempts in the past to legislate against age discrimination, with some politicians seeing it as a priority to lift the falling birth rate, but so far these have failed to pass in parliament.
Some small progress came earlier this year, when several provinces and regions relaxed age restrictions for civil servant jobs, raising the limit from 35 to 40, state media reported.
Meanwhile, Liu – the former project manager in Shenzhen – now hopes to make a living as a content creator so she doesn’t have to return to a traditional workplace riddled with ageism and discrimination.
“I have been in both big companies and small companies, I can see through their tricks,” she said. “I just want to run away from there.”