Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Macro View – Health, Financial And Political News Relevant To E-Health And The Health Sector In General.

August 10, 2017 Edition.
On the overseas front we now see President Trump going on leave for a couple of weeks and hopefully leaving Gen. Kelly in charge to sort it all out!
If he fails we are in deep do-do!

Thursday Update

Sadly Trump seems to want to poke the North Korean Regime with a large stick and the threat of Nuclear War. Sabre rattling +++ and the world's nerves are a bit on edge. NK missiles are apparently going to be launched at Guam in the next day or two. I hope they don't bit if they do all bets are off with that nutter in the White House!
In Australia Labor continues to lead in the polls and letting same sex couples marry is causing havoc in the Coalition. Parliament comes back next week so it has been lively! Energy policy and the CBA scandal also gather air-time! Last, it seems we are now to have a postal vote with Tone opposing and Bill pro things. What a hopeless mess. We are almost as bad as The Donald!
Here are a few other things I have noticed.

National Budget Issues.

Shorten's bold trusts crackdown will help Labor win the battle over fairness

James Massola
Published: July 30 2017 - 12:00AM
Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen's $17 billion crackdown on tax avoidance through the use of discretionary trusts is a bold political move from a federal opposition on top of its political game.
For 16 consecutive Newspolls, Labor has led the federal Coalition government.
And while the carefully put together 2017 budget was a smart document that moved to close the gap between government and opposition on the "fairness" question – while initiating important reforms such as needs-based funding for schools – the best that can be said for it politically (so far) is that it arrested the government's poll slump and put in place the building blocks for a Coalition revival.

Government subsidises miracle cancer drug

Miracle drug Opdivo, which has an exorbitant price tag, will now be within the reach of all Australian renal and cancer patients when it is listed on the PBS.
Source: AAP
30 July, 2017
Thousands of Australians fighting late-stage renal and lung cancer will soon get easier access to a new miracle drug.
From Tuesday, the federal government will subsidise Opdivo so that patients will pay just $38.80 per treatment, or $6.30 for those with a concession card.
Up to now, patients have had to fork out about $5000 a course - adding up to more than $130,000 per year.
  • Updated Jul 30 2017 at 11:30 PM

Labor plays down small business impact of $4.1bn trust tax

Labor's plan to impose a 30 per cent tax on distributions from family trusts will hit 198,000 supposed small businesses but many of these are self-classified by high-earning individuals and not actual active businesses, the opposition says.
The other 120,000 trusts to be hit are "pure income-splitters".
Labor released the breakdown of the 318,000 discretionary trusts to be affected to fend off what looms as a full-blown campaign by the federal government that the proposed tax is an attack on small business that will sap economic growth and job creation.

Shorten's family trust tax plan a 'direct assault' on small business: Morrison

Adam Gartrell
Published: July 30 2017 - 5:30PM
Treasurer Scott Morrison has described Labor's $17 billion plan to close family trust tax loopholes as a "direct assault" on small business and has challenged Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to release the full details of his policy.
Describing Mr Shorten as a "till raider", Mr Morrison said the Labor plan was yet another negative policy "dripping with envy and higher taxes" that would do nothing to get Australians into jobs.
"This is another direct assault on small businesses by Labor. Bill Shorten is whacking small business families with a double tax," Mr Morrison told Fairfax Media. "He is using small businesses as an ATM, putting his hand in their till. If your family runs a small business and you have a family trust, Bill Shorten thinks you're the problem, that you're dodgy."

Australia's interest rates aren't as stimulatory as RBA thinks

Michael Heath
Published: July 31 2017 - 7:36AM
For Australian central bank watchers, it seems no one is neutral on where neutral actually is.
Economists and money markets are betting the point at which interest rates are neither stimulative or restraining is lower than the central bank's estimate of about 3.5 per cent.
And if markets and analysts are right, that means there's less stimulus in the economy than the Reserve Bank of Australia thinks, even before factoring in the tightening effect of a rampaging currency.

Shorten channels Howard, Costello and Hockey

Peter Martin
Published: July 31 2017 - 12:55AM
John Howard, Peter Costello, Joe Hockey ... Every living Liberal treasurer but the latest has wanted to tighten the tax treatment of trusts.
Howard did. As more and more high earners used discretionary trusts to divert income to children, some very young with tax rates of zero, he amended the law in 1980 to tax payments to them at the top marginal rate, just as if they had been made to the people actually making the investments.
As prime minister he commissioned business figure John Ralph to conduct an inquiry that recommended he close the same loophole for adults by taxing payments to them at the company tax rate, even if (especially if) those adults were stay-at-home spouses on tax rates of zero. His treasurer Peter Costello took up the idea and then shelved it under pressure from other members of Parliament.

The real story of inequality in Australia

Jessica Irvine
Published: July 31 2017 - 12:05AM
Lies, damn lies and inequality statistics.
There's a simple answer to the question of whether inequality is rising in Australia. Basically, it depends on which measure you use and over what time period.
Thomas Piketty, the French economist who shot to fame with his 700-page book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is fond of using a measure of the share of income going to the top 1 per cent in society.

Family trusts run deep

  • The Australian
  • 6:32AM July 31, 2017

Alan Kohler

The fact that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s crackdown on family trust income splitting was being described as “courageous” yesterday is a pretty good indicator of the special place that trusts have in the hearts of Australian business people.
It is, or at least should be, a no-brainer: income splitting is a device that should have been removed long ago, but ever since the failure of John Ralph’s effort to clean up trusts in his Review of Business Taxation in 1999, which was buried by the National Party, trusts have come to be the structure of choice for Australian small businesses, and splitting the income an annual accounting ritual.
These days the majority of business activity now goes through trusts; The Australia Institute reckons a fifth of national GDP sits in them.

Labor's 'war on the rich' is firing blanks

Michael Pascoe
Published: July 31 2017 - 11:43AM
Last week, I may have sounded a little sceptical about the idea that Labor was going to crack down on the use of discretionary trusts for tax avoidance.
To indulgently quote myself: "I'll believe Labor is prepared to get really serious about family trusts when I see it."
I need not have worried. It turns out Labor's policy in effect entrenches discretionary trusts as the vehicle of choice for the fortunate wealthy to income split and thus legally minimise their tax bills.

HIA says new homes sales fall sharply in June

Published: July 31 2017 - 11:14AM
Sales of new homes fell sharply in June to the lowest since 2013, though conditions were markedly different across states, an industry survey showed on Monday.
The Housing Industry Association (HIA) said its survey of large-volume builders showed new home sales fell a seasonally adjusted 6.9 percent in June, from May, reversing two months of gains.
Sales of detached houses fell 5.7 per cent, while apartment sales dropped 10.7 per cent.

Adani loan too much of a risk for taxpayers according to independent study

Mark Kenny
Published: July 31 2017 - 11:55PM
A $1 billion concessional loan to the controversial Adani Carmichael mine project in Queensland's Galilee Basin could expose taxpayers to a high risk of losing their money, according to an independent business analysis.
The economic assessment of the troubled project's outlook found the collapsing coal price, the uncertain global picture for thermal coal, and the $21.7 billion project's heavy reliance on external financing contributed to a high risk for taxpayers.
Among the problems was Adani's hope of using the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to fund a key part of the project - a rail link to Abbot Point - while relying extensively for security on the availability of other, as yet unsecured, debt and equity financing.

Private health insurance tipped to be ‘a luxury’ for one in five

  • The Australian
  • 8:58AM August 1, 2017

Sarah-Jane Tasker

Private health insurance is on track to become unaffordable for one in five policyholders, the peak industry body warns, as its ­research identifies a system under stress.
Private Healthcare Australia chief executive Rachel David, in her response to a Senate inquiry on the industry, said consumers were feeling “real pain” from rising health costs, including premium increases and gaps for medical and allied health.
“Premium increases above CPI are hurting consumers in a low wage growth environment,” Ms David said. “In five to six years, price sensitivity modelling shows that premiums will potentially ­become unaffordable for at least one-fifth of people with private health insurance.”

Interest rate risk for under-40s as debt burden balloons

Matt Wade
Published: August 2 2017 - 7:07AM
The average mortgage burden on home owners aged under 40 doubled between 2002 and 2014 leaving them especially vulnerable to rising interest rates, a leading household survey shows.
The latest instalment of the respected Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, released on Wednesday, demonstrates how high house prices are affecting the lives of young people in Australia's big cities.
After taking account of inflation the average mortgage among 18 to 39-year-olds ballooned from $169,201 in 2002 to $336,586 in 2014, a real increase of 99 per cent.

RBA holds cash rate at record low 1.5% in August

Peter Martin
Published: August 1 2017 - 4:23PM
The Reserve Bank has kept its cash rate on hold at a record low of 1.5 per cent for the eleventh consecutive month, providing little indication of when it will allow rates to rise.
The decision at Tuesday's board meeting comes ahead of the release of the bank's Quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy on Friday which is expected to explain more of the board's thinking.
It came as the Australian dollar climbed back above US80¢, the second time in two weeks it has broken the threshold to trade at a two-year high.

Labor's trust tax crackdown to hit 200,000 small businesses, Bill Shorten reveals

Mark Kenny, Michael Koziol
Published: July 31 2017 - 5:49PM
Small business groups have rounded on the federal opposition for its proposal to tax discretionary trusts at a flat 30 per cent rate, saying it is vote-buying that will sweep up many legitimate small businesses using the facility for asset protection and income security.
Council of Small Business Australia head, Peter Strong, said the policy was a blunt instrument, and while it was appropriate for the tax office to "go get" wealthy individuals using the trust loopholes to avoid tax, it was wrong to hit everyone.
"What Labor's got to look at is stopping people rorting the system, not looking for votes by pretending that they dislike and hate rich people ... the trouble is this picking everybody up," he said.

Labor rightly puts trusts under spotlight but should go further

Royce Millar
Published: August 1 2017 - 11:45PM
The best and most remarkable thing about Bill Shorten's weekend announcement of a 30 per cent tax floor on discretionary trusts is that it puts trusts back on the political agenda where they belong.
Trust reform appeared to have been expunged from Australian political debate after then treasurer Peter Costello's Coalition colleagues quashed his push for reform in the early 2000s.
Six years ago, then assistant treasurer Bill Shorten ruled out action on trusts, insisting they were "legitimate business vehicles for farmers the like".

Online credit card fraud on the rise, accounting for 78 per cent of total card fraud in Australia

Lucy Cormack, Carol Saffer
Published: August 3 2017 - 12:15AM
There has been a massive increase in online credit card fraud, with transactions made using stolen card details hitting $417.6 million in 2016 more than doubling since 2011.
Industry body Australian Payments Network has revealed that transactions made using stolen credit card details accounted for 78 per cent of more than $530 million in total netted by fraudsters last year.
The 2016 Australian Payments Fraud Data Report also found a 13 per cent increase in card skimming fraud, executed through "ghost terminals," false terminals made to look like real card readers that are not connected to the payments network.

Mortgage warning: 8 per cent is the new 17 per cent

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon
Published: August 2 2017 - 12:15AM
Ask anyone who had a mortgage how they felt when variable rates hit 17 per cent and you'll still see the pain etched on their face.
But the "achy '80s" (and very early '90s) were nothing on the hurt rate rises would inflict today. And there's been pundit talk of an imminent eight of them, while the Reserve Bank has confirmed a "neutral" setting would be that same 200 basis points higher.
My calculations show that from our historically low official levels – the average variable rate is way down at 5.25 per cent – each rate rise would eat up 43 per cent more of income than it did at the mortgage-interest peak last century.

Treasurer Scott Morrison claims his ‘hands tied’ on WA’s GST population pain

Dylan Caporn and Shane Wright
Wednesday, 2 August 2017 7:20AM
The Federal Government has revealed it can not intervene to fix a $2 billion hole in the State’s finances, delivering WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt a big fiscal headache ahead of his first Budget next month.
In a development that is likely to force up State debt, Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said that, legally, his hands were tied when it came to changing the way the Commonwealth Grants Commission used population figures to distribute GST revenue to the States and Territories.
The West Australian revealed this week that population estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics had reduced the number of WA residents by 60,000.

HILDA. Why we're suddenly concerned about inequality. Things have stopped getting better

Peter Martin
Published: August 2 2017 - 11:45PM
Bill Shorten's on to something. Not the pointless debate over inequality – whether it's rising or not depends on what you measure – but the truth that lies beneath the debate.
It's that, unusually, life is getting harder.
In every year since the turn of the century the Melbourne Institute's Household Income and Labour Dynamics survey has asked the same 7000 households a raft of questions designed to establish whether things are getting better or worse. HILDA is a statistical version of Seven Up.

Fake names, drug lords, suspicious trading and CBA

Adele Ferguson
Published: August 3 2017 - 6:21PM
After spending a fortune on a campaign designed to improve its tarnished image and ward off a royal commission, the banking sector must have done a collective face palm as news swirled that Commonwealth Bank was at the centre of shocking allegations of "serious and systemic non compliance" under the Anti Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Act.
If it sounds ominous it is. Banks trade on trust and robust systems. When this breaks down, heads must roll.
In the words of Austrac: "It is essential to the integrity of the financial system that a major bank such as CommBank has compliant and appropriate risk based systems and controls in place to deter money laundering and terrorism finance."

Feel the power: Malcolm Turnbull summons electricity retailers to Canberra for summit

Mark Kenny
Published: August 3 2017 - 10:00PM
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has thrown the switch to brow-beating, calling in the nation's biggest electricity retailers for face-to-face talks next Wednesday in a bid to curb galloping household and business electricity bills, and improve their market sensitivity.
In comments that go some way to vindicating claims from one of his backbenchers that people would die this winter from not being able to afford heating, Mr Turnbull says the cost pressures from sky-rocketing energy prices are leading families to avoid turning on heating and lights, and that businesses are doing the same with plants.
Among the complaints he will level are the tendency of electricity retailers to switch consumers from off-peak rates to higher peak electricity costs without their knowledge, relying on the fact that consumers are reluctant to switch retailers.

War on wages: Australians are working harder and going backwards

Anna Patty
Published: August 5 2017 - 5:58AM
 When Sahar Khalili started work as a casual pharmacist eight years ago, she was paid $35 an hour. Over the years that has fallen to as low as $30 while her rent has more than doubled.
The 30-year-old tried short bursts of locum work to try to balance the equation, but eight years after graduating her pay had not kept pace with inflation.
"At the end of the day it also makes you feel that you are not valued by the pharmacy owner," she says.

Health Budget Issues.

Medibank targets home care shortfalls with HealthStrong buy

  • The Australian
  • 12:00AM July 31, 2017

Sarah-Jane Tasker

Australia lags behind the US and Europe in delivering healthcare in the home, Medibank executive Andrew Wilson has warned, while flagging that the health insurance giant is expanding in that area.
Mr Wilson, Medibank’s group executive of healthcare and strategy, said the insurer’s recent acquisition of HealthStrong, Australia’s largest provider of allied health services to residents of aged-care facilities and in the home, strengthened its ability to provide care to its members at a time and location that was convenient to them.
He said that in Europe and the US, insurance companies had gone into the provision of healthcare, and vice versa.

States scurry to reform retirement villages and ward off federal intervention

Adele Ferguson
Published: August 2 2017 - 12:15AM
In Western Australia the state's watchdog, Consumer Protection, has set up a special investigation unit to examine contracts and exit fees in the scandal-ridden retirement village sector to see if they breach the Australian Consumer Law.
It is the latest in a long line of state regulatory bodies and governments scrambling to clean up a sector that has been crying out for reform for decades.
The heightened activity ahead of a meeting scheduled by the federal and state consumer affairs ministers to discuss the effectiveness of legislation and enforcement arrangements that cover the retirement village industry.

Turnbull shakes up mental health reform

Wednesday, 2 August 2017 12:01PM
Malcolm Turnbull says the National Mental Health Commission will report to Health Minister Greg Hunt
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stepped up the government's response to mental health by demanding regular updates from its peak mental health body.
Mr Turnbull says the National Mental Health Commission will provide him with six-monthly updates and will now report directly to Health Minister Greg Hunt in a bid to strengthen accountability.

Doctors advised to stop ordering 'unreliable, potentially harmful' tests for women and children

Esther Han
Published: August 2 2017 - 3:45PM
Doctors are being urged to stop ordering tests and treatments that are "incredibly unreliable" in the most benign of cases and downright harmful in the worst.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has published lists of tests and treatments for doctors treating pregnant women and abnormally short children that it believes are unnecessary, a waste of taxpayer money, and in some cases, harmful.
One such practice is a common blood test for patients with symptoms of a clot. The Society of Obstetric Medicine of Australia and New Zealand (SOMANZ) said doctors should stop ordering the D-dimer test for pregnant women, because pregnancy can elevate D-dimer levels.

NIB’s Mark Fitzgibbon calls for ‘single payer’ in healthcare

  • The Australian
  • 12:00AM August 3, 2017

Sarah-Jane Tasker

Health insurer NIB has called on the Turnbull government to trial a “single payer” model for healthcare services, as it argues political courage is needed to address spiralling costs in the system.
NIB chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon, in his submission to a senate inquiry on private health insurance, said with cost pressure on government and private healthcare payers continuing to mount, it was timely to revisit the “Medicare Select” concept.
Medicare Select was outlined in the Rudd government’s National Health and Hospital Reform Commission’s report of 2010 and proposed a reorganisation of the relationship between purchaser, provider and con­sumer.

States fear hospital funding clawback

  • The Australian
  • 12:00AM August 4, 2017

Sean Parnell

State health ministers fear they could be forced to repay hundreds of millions of dollars in public hospital funding under a commonwealth proposal to recalculate previous budgetary decisions before governments negotiate the next agreement.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt wants the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority to review at least two years of state hospital activity and funding, including apparently unanticipated increases in out-of-hospital care such as home ventilation.
In a controversial move, Mr Hunt has proposed the IHPA then “backcast” certain changes to “negate any unintended impact” on the calculation of hospital funding. That will put the commonwealth in a better position to negotiate the next multi-year agreement.

Call to strip government subsidies from 'junk' health insurance

Kate Aubusson
Published: August 4 2017 - 5:44AM
Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has called on the federal government to stop providing tax breaks and rebates for "junk" health insurance policies.
Junk insurance – policies that don't cover treatment for almost all illnesses, including heart attack, stroke and cancer, or that only allow the policyholder to be treated as a private patient in a public hospital – attracts billions in government subsidies.
But these policies, often marketed to young people as the "no-frills" option, were barely worth the paper they were written on, CHOICE told the Senate inquiry into the value and affordability of private health insurance and out-of-pocket costs.


Bid to cushion public hospital’s $1bn blow to private health

  • The Australian
  • 12:00AM August 5, 2017

Sean Parnell

A plan to restrict the use of health insurance in public hospitals has been privately debated by the ­nation’s health ministers, broadening a funding dispute between the commonwealth and the states.
Ahead of formal negotiations for the next hospital funding agreement, Queensland and Victoria were leading the fight against a move by federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to recalculate previous budgetary decisions, fearing it will cost their public ­hospitals hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr Hunt stood firm on the issue yesterday at a Council of Australian Governments Health Council meeting and also took aim at the states over the $1 billion-plus practice of billing the treatment of public hospital ­patients to health insurers.

International Issues.

The White House is imploding

Columnist July 28
The Trump White House is imploding. The only real thing to debate in that sentence is the tense. “Has imploded” is certainly arguable. Still, as the events of the past few days have shown, implosion, in politics as in physics, is not a moment but a process. The damage continues. It builds on itself as the edifice collapses.
The temptation, of course, is to begin with Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci and his profane rant against soon-to-be-former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
But the more powerful, more ominous evidence of implosion and its consequences is found in the collapse of congressional efforts to repeal/replace/do something, anything, with the Republican Party’s chief nemesis over the past seven years: the Affordable Care Act.
  • Updated Jul 30 2017 at 3:00 PM

Donald Trump: a White House disaster I underestimated

Four days before Donald Trump was sworn in as President in January, I sent an internal email to editors suggesting that we must be "open-minded", "giving him a chance to govern" and not fall into the trap of most media by defaulting to "anti-Trump" coverage.
After all, 63 million Americans had voted for Trump to be the leader of the free world and he had nominated serious people to his cabinet.
A paralysed Washington certainly needed a shake-up. Just maybe, I thought, it was possible a rampaging Trump, the non-ideological quasi-independent, might be the man to smash through.
  • Updated Jul 30 2017 at 2:27 PM

The Kremlin is tired of Donald Trump and wants to hit back against US sanctions

by Andrew Roth
Your geopolitical nemesis is suffering a political meltdown and says you're partly to blame. Angry legislators have slapped you with new sanctions, which their president says he will sign. What's a resurgent autocracy to do?
In Moscow, it's time for some game theory.
Regardless of whether the Kremlin believes its own denials of interfering in the 2016 elections, there is one undeniable truth: Russia is now Washington's greatest political foe. Understanding that President Donald Trump is "tied hand and foot", as one foreign policy hawk here put it, Moscow is weighing options for retaliation.

Rein in White House chaos, Republicans tell Donald Trump

Roberta Rampton
Published: July 31 2017 - 5:41AM
Washington, DC: Republicans are urging President Donald Trump's new chief of staff John Kelly to rein in the chaos within the White House but say the retired Marine Corps general will be challenged to assert control.
In his first six months in office, Trump has upended White House convention with a loose decision-making style and an open-door policy to his Oval Office for advisers, both internal and external. Infighting among his senior staff has become bitter and public.
"He's going to have to reduce the drama, reduce both the sniping within and reduce the leaks, and bring some discipline to the relationships," Karl Rove, a Republican strategist and former White House adviser to George W. Bush, said on Fox News Sunday.

Trump removes Anthony Scaramucci as communications director just days after hiring him

Abby Phillip and Damian Paletta
Published: August 1 2017 - 6:10AM
Washington: Anthony Scaramucci has been removed as White House communications director at the request of White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, just days after being appointed to the job, according to two people with knowledge of the decision.
Scaramucci's brief tenure in the role had been marked by turmoil as he feuded publicly with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Scaramucci's arrival at the White House prompted former press secretary Sean Spicer to resign in protest.
The abrupt decision signals that Kelly is moving quickly to assert control over the West Wing, which has been characterised by interpersonal disputes and power struggles during Trump's six months in office.

'Wait until the Donald Trump faces a real crisis': Here's the problem with that.

David Rothkopf
Published: August 2 2017 - 3:33AM
Washington: "You think this is bad? Wait until the Trump White House faces a real international crisis!" You've no doubt heard this warning.
Here's the problem with that – an extraordinary constellation of complex global crises is boiling over right now in real time – and they are being exacerbated by US President Donald Trump and his team.
The global situation may be more dangerous than it has been at any time since the height of the Cold War.

Trump's 'greatest speech ever' claim disputed by Boy Scouts as White House goes into damage control

Aaron Blake, John Wagner
Published: August 3 2017 - 8:42AM
Washington DC: President Donald Trump looks to have made another fantastic statement about one of his speeches.
In a previously unpublished interview with The Wall Street Journal on July 25, Trump makes a bold claim about his controversial Boy Scouts speech the day before.
After someone from the Journal suggested Trump got a "mixed" reaction for his speech, Trump - as he often does - seemed to overcompensate.

Australia should take Trump's trade threats against China 'very seriously': Lowy Institute

Eryk Bagshaw
Published: August 2 2017 - 5:54PM
The Turnbull government could be forced to choose between the military security of the US and the economic opportunity of China, experts warn, as President Donald Trump considers launching the first strike in a superpower trade war that could cause widespread damage to the Australian economy.
On Tuesday, a senior administration official told Reuters that Mr Trump was close to an announcement on China's "unfair trade practices," amid reports of a looming crackdown on intellectual property trade, sparking fears of a tit-for-tat raising of tariff barriers.
The confirmation followed a series of tweets from Mr Trump accusing the Asian power of earning billions of dollars a year from the US in trade while doing nothing to prevent the military threat from North Korea.

Trump-Russia: Robert Mueller empanels Washington grand jury in Russia probe: WSJ

Published: August 4 2017 - 6:27AM
New York: Special counsel Robert Mueller has empaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate allegations of Russia's interference in the 2016 elections, the Wall Street Journal said on Thursday, citing two unnamed people familiar with the matter.
The grand jury began its work in recent weeks and is a sign that Mueller's inquiry into Russia's efforts to influence the election and whether it colluded with President Donald Trump's campaign is ramping up, the Journal said.
Russia has loomed large over the first six months of the Trump presidency, with US congressional panels also investigating the Russian election interference that US intelligence agencies believe was meant to tilt the vote in Trump's favour.

Sky-high risks tempt North Korea endgame

  • The Australian
  • 12:00AM August 5, 2017

David Kilcullen

During the surge in Iraq, I worked closely with the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) of the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division (4/25 IBCT) in a hot and dangerous triangle on Baghdad’s southern outskirts.
Tough and competent, the brigade’s paratroopers were far from home. Based in Anchorage, Alaska, 600km from the Arctic Circle, 4/25 is the US’s only airborne formation in the Pacific theatre. It specialises in rapid deployment for extreme cold-weather and mountain warfare in North Asia and the Arctic.
Naturally enough, Washington politicians periodically question the need for a parachute brigade in Alaska, and move to cut it.
I look forward to comments on all this!

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