Good evening, let’s start with today’s top stories:
Texas gunman posted on social media about attacking a school minutes before shooting, governor says
Just 30 minutes before opening fire in a Texas elementary school, gunman Salvador Ramos, 18, had made three separate posts on social media: The first said he was going to shoot his grandmother, a second that he had done so and a third that he was about to shoot up a school, the state’s governor said today.
Ramos had legally purchased the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle shortly after his 18th birthday and just days before he stormed a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, killing 19 children and two teachers, according to authorities.
As details of the latest mass killing to rock the U.S. emerged, grief engulfed the small town of Uvalde, population 16,000.
The dead included an outgoing 10-year-old, Eliahna Garcia, who loved to sing, dance and play basketball; a fellow fourth grader, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming; and a teacher, Eva Mireles, with 17 years’ experience whose husband is an officer with the school district’s police department. Here are more details about the victims of the massacre.
In Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, terrorized civilians recount war crimes and ‘chaos’
Officers at a police station in Beryslav district – a small corner of Ukrainian-controlled territory at the northern tip of Kherson Oblast in the country’s south – have been on the front lines of Russian occupation. Thousands of people fled the area; some have stopped at the police station to recount what they’d endured. Officers have opened hundreds of war crime cases at the station.
For those living under occupation, there is “an absence of any basic rights,” said Captain Mykola Marinik, who is deputy head of investigations in the district. “Rights belong to the person holding a gun. People have no ability to protect their freedoms, their property or their own lives.” Read the full story by The Globe’s Nathan Vanderklippe.
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin issued an order today to fast track Russian citizenship for residents in parts of southern Ukraine, while lawmakers in Moscow passed a bill to strengthen the Russian army. The order, applying to the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, could allow Russia to strengthen its hold on territory that lies between eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014.
The Russian army is engaged in an intense battle for Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Lawmakers have agreed to scrap the age limit of 40 for individuals signing their first voluntary military contracts, in sign that Moscow is attempting to strengthen its military.
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ALSO ON OUR RADAR
U.S. Fed embraces 50-basis-point rate hikes in June, July to curb ‘very high’ inflation: All participants at the Federal Reserve’s May 3-4 policy meeting backed a half-percentage-point increase in its benchmark lending rate to combat inflation they agreed had become a key threat to the economy’s performance and was at risk of racing higher without action by the U.S. central bank, minutes of the session showed on Wednesday.
Federal government isn’t ruling out court challenge to Quebec’s Bill 96: Federal Justice Minister David Lametti says he first wants to see how it’s implemented, adding that the law could be enforced in a way that doesn’t violate constitutionally protected rights.
British PM Boris Johnson says he takes ‘full responsibility’ after damning final report into ‘partygate’ scandal: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a renewed apology for the conduct of his staff after an internal investigation found widespread drinking, violations of COVID-19 restrictions and abuse of cleaning staff at Downing Street.
Victims’ families tell lawyers to boycott N.S. mass shooting inquiry over questioning of Mounties: The relatives of victims of the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting have told their lawyers to boycott the public inquiry investigating the tragedy, after its commissioners decided to prevent cross-examination of key Mountie witnesses.
Shortage of family doctors puts B.C. government on defensive: At a time when thousands of British Columbians are struggling to access a family doctor, and while family physicians who remain in practice are battling rising costs, physicians are feeling undervalued in the province.
Wall Street closed higher Wednesday, boosted after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest monetary policy meeting showed policymakers unanimously felt the U.S. economy was very strong as they grappled with reining in inflation without triggering a recession. Canada’s main stock index also rose, reaching its highest level in more than a week, as higher oil prices boosted energy shares and stronger-than-expected bank earnings bolstered financials.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 191.66 points, or 0.6%, to 32,120.28, the S&P 500 gained 37.25 points, or 0.95%, to 3,978.73 and the Nasdaq Composite added 170.29 points, or 1.51%, to 11,434.74.
The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX Composite Index ended up 97.55 points, or 0.5%, at 20,383.75, its highest closing level since May 17.
The Canadian dollar traded for 77.90 cents US compared with 77.97 cents US on Tuesday.
With Bill 96, François Legault is trying to tiptoe out of Canada’s constitutional order
“But the overall response to Bill 96 in the rest of Canada has been one of overwhelming uninterest. While language has long been the hottest political issue in Quebec, and its protection is seen as sacrosanct, it hardly registers outside it.” – The Editorial Board
Hong Kong’s ‘autonomy’ era is all but over, only halfway through
“What is important to bear in mind is that what has happened in Hong Kong is only a symptom showing where China is heading.” – Dennis Kwok
The history of Cantopop is the history of Hong Kong – and perhaps its grim future
“If, as John Lennon once said, “music reflects the state that the society is in,” its fade and absence should surely refract as sharply. And so Ms. [Denise] Ho’s arrest signals something deeper: the loss of a unique culture, in a place undergoing a forced identity crisis.” – Adrian Lee
Biden’s visit to Asia highlights the continent’s ‘Finlandization’ – a desire to steer clear of conflict between Russia and the West
“The term “Finlandization” describes a commitment to strategic neutrality that a small country might make, in order to avoid provoking a much larger and more powerful neighbour … Even as Finland abandons Finlandization though, many Asian countries may well be set to adopt it.” –Takatoshi Ito
Avoid crowded airports and security delays with these three cross-border trips
If news of chaos and long wait-times at airports has you rethinking your summer travel plans, you may want to consider a road trip, instead. One way to fulfill your wanderlust without emptying your wallet (entirely) would be to visit a U.S. border town, many of which have exciting new developments happening. Less than 90 minutes from Vancouver, Bellingham, Wash., has a new waterpark, beaches and walking trails to enjoy. There’s also plenty to explore in Buffalo, like the recently-restored Buffalo Heritage Carousel, now operated by solar power at the newly revitalized waterfront venue Canalside.
TODAY’S LONG READ
Telesat is in race to deliver high-speed satellite internet, but it’s going up against two of the world’s richest men
Every spring and fall, over the course of several days, Nunavut’s government employees lose telecommunications abilities for up to 12 minutes at a time. Most of the territory’s internet connectivity is beamed via a single satellite locked in place 36,000 kilometres above the Earth. A couple times a year, the sun’s angle overpowers the satellite’s signal, shutting down communications.
That satellite, Telstar 19 Vantage, launched by Ottawa-based Telesat in 2018, brought slightly faster internet speeds than an earlier one did, but it suffers from lag time, and its limited capacity means the government’s connectivity needs far outweigh what the satellite can provide, which means users need to ration internet.
Dan Goldberg, chief executive officer of Telesat, has been working toward a solution. A few years ago, Goldberg announced plans to launch low-Earth-orbit (LEO) communications satellites, which whiz around the planet multiple times a day but at lower altitudes, allowing them to offer speedy and reliable internet. Telesat called the endeavour Lightspeed: It’s a $6.5-billion network of 298 initial satellites aimed at serving enterprise customers such as governments, telecoms, and companies in the marine and airline industries. Despite many opportunities, the project has encountered various barriers. As the program moves forward, nothing less than the future of the company is tethered to Goldberg getting the Lightspeed rollout right. Read the full story by Jason Kirby.
Trump media company subpoenaed in federal criminal probe of SPAC deal – CNBC
Donald Trump’s media company was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in connection with a criminal probe, according to the company with which the former president’s firm plans to merge.
Digital World Acquisition Corp. said in a filing Friday that Trump Media and Technology Group received a subpoena from the grand jury in Manhattan on Thursday. The Trump company also received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding a civil probe on Monday, DWAC said.
DWAC also said some current and former TMTG employees have also recently received grand jury subpoenas. Later Friday, TMTG said it would comply with the subpoenas, and that none of them were directed at its chairman, Trump, or CEO, former U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes.
The filing came days after DWAC said the government investigations could delay or even prevent its merger with Trump’s newly formed company, which includes Truth Social, a social media app intended to be an alternative to Twitter.
Neither TMTG nor a spokeswoman for Trump immediately responded to CNBC’s requests for comment.
The Justice Department and the SEC, which regulates the stock market, are investigating the deal between DWAC and Trump Media. By merging with DWAC, which is a kind of shell company called a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, Trump’s firm would gain access to potentially billions of dollars on public equities markets.
Trump established Truth Social months after Twitter banned him for his tweets on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Parent company Trump Media was incorporated in February 2021, weeks after Trump left office. The company’s CEO, Nunes, is one of the former president’s most ardent loyalists in the Republican Party. Trump is also considering whether to run for president in the 2024 election.
Trump has continued to spread the lie that the election was stolen from him. His alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection is being probed by a House select committee that has accused the former president of being at the center of a multipronged conspiracy to block the peaceful transfer of power to Biden.
Early criticism of the Trump-DWAC deal came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. In calling for an investigation, she wrote to SEC Chair Gary Gensler in November, telling him that DWAC “may have committed securities violations by holding private and undisclosed discussions about the merger as early as May 2021, while omitting this information in [SEC] filing and other public statements.” The lawmaker’s request came shortly after The New York Times published a report that said the deal might have violated securities laws and regulations.
DWAC shares are far off their highs, closing Friday at $24.20. The stock had surged above $90 in October, after the deal with Trump’s group was announced.
DWAC on Monday revealed in a securities filing that it learned June 16 that each member of its board of directors received subpoenas from the same federal grand jury.
The grand jury sought documents similar to those the SEC already requested as part of its civil probe, DWAC said. The company itself was served with a subpoena a week ago with similar requests, along with other requests relating to communications, individuals and information involving Rocket One Capital.
DWAC also revealed Monday that a board member, Bruce J. Garelick, had told management that he would quit the board during the previous week. Garelick said his resignation “was not the result of any disagreement with Digital World’s operations, policies or practices,” according to the company filing.
— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger and Thomas Franck contributed to this story.
State media say a man has been rescued two days after ship sank south of Hong Kong, rescue chance 'slim' for 26 others – ABC News
Putin's Media Blitz on Africa Food Crisis Sparks Alarm in Europe – BNN
(Bloomberg) — European governments have been alarmed by a Russian disinformation campaign that seeks to deflect criticism that President Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine risks leaving millions of people in Africa facing famine.
Russian diplomats have gone on a media offensive in recent months to push the narrative that sanctions, rather than Russian blockades, are causing shortages of grains and fertilizer in Africa. The public-relations onslaught shows how the months-long war in Ukraine is becoming a global propaganda battle as food, fuel and crop-nutrient prices surge.EU and UK officials who’ve recently met their African counterparts at meetings in New York and Rwanda expressed concern that the Russian message is gaining traction, said senior European diplomats who asked not to be identified. In response, European governments are increasing their engagement with leaders on the continent and boosting their own information campaigns to counter the Russian narrative, the diplomats said.
A senior European intelligence officer said the Kremlin had manufactured the debate as a means to get sanctions lifted and was intent on using the threat of global hunger as a bargaining tool in any future peace talks. Moscow has focused much of its influence operations on Africa and the Middle East, the official said.
The US and EU haven’t sanctioned any Russian agricultural products and say there’s no link between penalties on Moscow and grain or fertilizer exports from Russia or Ukraine.
That’s not stopped Russian embassy officials across Africa from placing the blame for the crisis on the west. Recent examples include Russia’s ambassador to Djibouti posting a graphic on Twitter accusing the EU of lying about gas and food shortages, while a Russian diplomat in South Africa wrote an editorial in the Mail & Guardian newspaper entitled “The Russian embassy rejects accusation of ‘provoking global famine’ spread by Western propaganda.”
Social media campaigns have amplified their messages, with Facebook pages parroting Kremlin talking points in French, targeting West African nations including Mali and Ivory Coast, according to Moustafa Ayad, executive director for Africa, the Middle East and Asia at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank that analyzes online disinformation. Online conspiracy communities in South Africa have also been targeted, he said.
The head of the United Nations World Food Program, David Beasley, said Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports was a “declaration of war” on global food security, with 49 million people in 43 countries facing famine.
“Since the Ukraine war began, the price of food and fuel has risen dramatically in countries around the world,” he said June 24. “Now, millions may starve.”
Global food prices surged to a record after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion disrupted exports of grain and vegetable oil through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, adding to cost pressures from logistics snarl-ups and a rebound in consumer demand after the coronavirus pandemic. That’s exacerbated a hunger crisis affecting countries including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
While Ukraine and its US and European allies blame Russia for blocking exports and Moscow points the finger at Kyiv, UN-sponsored talks have so far failed to yield a compromise to resume deliveries.
Read: Putin Has Reason to Slow-Walk a Ukraine Grain Deal
Before the war, Russia and Ukraine accounted for three-quarters of global sunflower-oil exports, about 30% of wheat and 15% of corn, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Shortages of grains have driven up prices, with global benchmarks for wheat and corn rising 22% and 12% respectively this year.
“The crisis is caused by Russia. Without that invasion we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in,” said Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa. “The price shock is inescapable and that is directly related to the war.”
Food costs account for 40% of consumer spending in sub-Saharan Africa, compared with 17% in advanced economies.
In 2020, Africa imported $4 billion of agricultural products from Russia, with 90% of that being wheat, while $2.9 billion of wheat, corn, sunflower oil, barley and soy came from Ukraine, according to Sihlobo. FAO data shows that Eritrea and Somalia were almost entirely dependent on Russia and Ukraine for their wheat supplies last year, while Tanzania, Namibia and Madagascar relied on them for more than 60% of supplies.
Russian and Ukrainian harvests and exports have surged in the past decade and farmers in the region typically produce at lower costs than more traditional suppliers like Canada and the US, which has helped to keep wheat prices lower. Their proximity to North Africa also reduces shipping costs versus suppliers further afield.
Part of Russia’s propaganda effort has been to amplify statements by African officials that can be seen as supportive of Russia’s argument. After African Union President Macky Sall met Putin for talks June 3 in the resort town of Sochi, Sall said sanctions had exacerbated the food crisis.
“Anti-Russia sanctions have made this situation worse and now we do not have access to grain from Russia, primarily to wheat,” Sall said . “And, most importantly, we do not have access to fertilizer. The situation was bad and now it has become worse, creating a threat to food security in Africa.”
Russia can draw on its historical role of having supported liberation movements in parts of Africa during the wars and struggles against colonial and Whites-only rule — backing that helped the former Soviet Union undermine the US and Europe as part of its Cold War strategy to gain influence in Africa. By contrast the UK and France, as former colonial powers, still attract suspicion.
“What we have seen are narratives focused very precisely on how the US is orchestrating this conflict along with NATO in order to starve the globe,” Ayad said. “Colonialism has to be taken into account with African disinformation. That’s what the Kremlin is counting on: calling out Western states rather than the Kremlin as an imperial force.”
The danger is “very big” that Putin will attempt to establish a narrative that the West is responsible for the famine threatening Africa, German foreign ministry spokeswoman Andrea Strasse said June 3. “This is a narrative that we want to strongly resist,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said last week at the Group of Seven leaders summit in the Bavarian Alps that he will announce measures in September to intensify the “fight against disinformation.” At a press conference, he referred to Russia’s efforts to link the food crisis to sanctions as “fake news.”
The Russian propaganda campaign is also getting under the skin of the Americans.
“The Russian government’s attempts to deflect responsibility for its actions by blaming others for the worsening crisis in the global food system are reprehensible,” the US State Department said in a June 22 statement entitled ‘Lying to the World About Global Food Security.’ “The Russian government should stop weaponizing food and allow Ukraine to safely ship out its grain so that millions of hungry people in the Middle East and Africa can be fed.”
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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