News In Focus: A Look At This Week’s Most Interesting Stories

US: Hands off, Uncle Joe. US Vice-President Biden’s “handsy moment” was again caught in candid camera, when the veep was seen “rubbing” Stephanie Carter’s shoulders and whispered close to her ear while her husband, Ashton Carter, was making a speech following his sworn-in ceremony as the latest defence secretary on 17 February 2015.

Biden’s rather imprudent public display of intimacy received heavy lashings from the US media, including the Time Magazine and the New York Times.  In an article in the Washington Post, political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson observes that Mrs Carter “certainly does not look happy. More like annoyed.”  The New York Magazine has cited nine occasions when the country’s second-in-command has whispered in the ears of prominent female public figures in front of the camera, including former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton,  former Irish President Mary McAleese, and the much troubled Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff.

The victims, of what the Daily Beast describes as the veep’s “creepy paws,” include Senator Chris Coons’ daughter Maggie, who Biden grasped and whispered to during the senator’s ceremonial swearing-in in January.

But Coons defended the Vice-President, saying that he was simply whispering words of encouragement to Maggie.

Still… what happens when you visit YouTube and enter the search term “Joe Biden creepy”? This…


Ukraine: Although German chancellor Angela Merkel calls it a “glimmer of hope,” the situation in Ukraine looks grim.

A cease-fire was brokered on Wednesday 11 February in Minsk, Belarus, with the concerted efforts of the German chancellor, French president François Hollande, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko and Russian president Vladimir Putin to end the military conflict in Ukraine.  The new cease-fire agreement was approved by the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, 17 February.

But this so-called second Minsk Agreement was fragile to start with.  President Putin pushed the truce to zero hours on Sunday, 15 February, apparently to buy time for the Russian-backed rebel forces to launch aggressive attacks to claim as much gain as possible before the cease-fire took effect.

And the rebels succeeded in driving Ukrainian forces from Debaltseve on Wednesday, 18 February.  Debaltseve is an important strategic rail hub that connects Ukraine to Russia. The rebels argued that the city is outside the scope of the cease-fire accord, and their aggression was not a breach of the agreement.

Suffering from the setback, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called, unsuccessfully, for the United Nations and European Union peacekeepers to monitor a ceasefire in east Ukraine.

There are concerns that the situation may drag western powers and Russia into open conflict in Ukraine.  US President Barack Obama has previously warned of arming Ukraine if diplomacy failed.  And according to the Financial Times, the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon has said that “NATO” was ready to counter Russia’s advance and he warned that the situation was not a new cold war with tensions between the alliance and Moscow were “warming up”.

As the situation unfolds, here are a couple of old-fashioned Cold War propaganda cartoons for your viewing pleasure:


Brazil: The week was particularly bad for Petrobras, Brazil’s once most prided, but probably most troubled, state-owned oil company, when more unwelcome incidents added to its protracted cases of corruption and money-laundering scandals.

On 11 February, one of Petrobras’ oil ships exploded off Brazil’s coast, leaving five dead and 10 injured according to the Oil Workers Union of the state of Espírito Santo.

A few days later, on 16 February, it was widely reported that Pedro Barusco, who the New York Times describes as a former “third-tier executive” at Petrobras, admitted, in a plea bargain for another of his corruption charges involving Petrobras,  to have received at least US$200,000 from Rolls-Royce, the British engineering group, in exchange for a US$100 million contract from the oil giant.

The company’s chains of administrative debacles have already cost the career of its chief executive, Maria das Graças Foster, and may backfire politically on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who had given Ms Foster her full backing.

For more about the Petrobas scandal, tune into this Financial Times report:


Business: It is said that to die and to pay taxes are the two unavoidable things in life.  But sometimes advisors have gone too far helping their clients evade the taxman.

This time, the integrity of Europe’s biggest bank, the UK-based HSBC, is called into question.

Dossiers obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists fromHervé Falciani, a former IT employee of HSBC’s Swiss private bank subsidiary, have shown that the bank has been helping rich clients dodge taxes.  What is worse, the papers also show certain dubious practices, which resulted in Swiss authorities carrying out an unprecedented search of bank’s Swiss branch office in Geneva on Wednesday, 18 February, in an investigation into possible money-laundering claims.

HSBC’s public embarrassment is far from over.  The UK Daily Telegraph veteran political commentator, Peter Oborne, resigned this week after the newspaper downplayed unfavourable reports against HSBC, a big advertiser.

Meanwhile, the bank may be facing another inquiry by the UK Serious Fraud Office, in addition to a number of on-going investigations of tax evasion allegations in other countries, including the U.S., France, Belgium and Argentina.


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