Reality Winner accused of classified leak

Before she was charged with leaking US government secrets to a reporter, Reality Leigh Winner shared sometimes scathing opinions on President Donald Trump and his policies for the whole world to see.

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The 25-year-old US government contractor has worked since February in Augusta, Georgia, for an unnamed federal agency where she had access to sensitive documents.

But the secretive nature of her job didn’t stop Winner from speaking freely on politics and other topics on social media accounts accessible to anyone.

She posted on Facebook three months ago that climate change is a more important issue than health care “since not poisoning an entire population seems to be more in line with ‘health’ care, and not the disease care system that people voted for a soulless ginger orangutan to ‘fix.’ “

Winner remains locked up on federal charges that she made copies of classified documents containing top-secret material and mailed them to an online news organisation. She is scheduled to appear before a federal judge on Thursday.

Winner’s mother Billie Winner-Davis said she was stunned when her daughter called over the weekend, saying the FBI had come to her home and she was being arrested. Winner asked if her mother and stepfather, who live in Texas, would travel to Georgia to help feed her cat.

“Mainly she was concerned about her cat,” Winner-Davis said.

Court documents accuse Winner of mailing a classified report written on or about May 5 to an unnamed news organisation. The website The Intercept reported on Monday it had obtained a classified National Security Agency report dated May 5 suggesting Russian hackers attacked at least one US voting software supplier days before last year’s presidential election.

Winner’s lawyer would not confirm whether she was being charged with leaking the NSA report cited by The Intercept.

Kmart, Target downplay threat from Amazon

Amazon’s arrival in Australia will not be the Armageddon for established retailers some are portraying, says the man in charge of Kmart and Target.

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The two discount retailers are owned by Wesfarmers, which on Wednesday defended the competitiveness of its department stores during a company strategy day for investors and analysts.

A recent Morgan Stanley report warned Wesfarmers could lose $400 million in annual earnings to Amazon by the 2026 financial year, due to the vulnerability of Kmart and Target to competition from the online retail giant.

Wesfarmers’ department store chief Guy Russo told investors on Wednesday he was confident in the current strategies for Kmart and Target, although he conceded turning around the performance of Target, which made a loss in 2015/16, remains a challenge.

“It feels like Amargeddon is coming the way we talk about Amazon,” he joked.

Outgoing Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder said the company was experienced in handling new competition, as seen with its Coles business growing its market share despite the expansion of Aldi since 2001.

“Sometimes it’s easy to look at new competition and say the world is coming to an end,” Mr Goyder said.

Kmart managing director Ian Bailey said Kmart will incrementally improve its online offering and click and collect service, but he does not expect to beat Amazon on what it does best: deliveries.

“Price will continue to be our lead strategy and in terms of Amazon, we want to be the same price or lower,” he said.

Mr Russo added that the group’s online click and collect customers often spend three times more than a typical in-store customer, as they pick up extra items when they come into the store to collect their item.

Britain braces for election in wake of terror attacks

Prime Minister, Theresa May was riding high when she called a snap election on April 18, having kicked off Brexit proceedings and boasting a double-digit lead over the rival Labour party.

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But in recent weeks, the Conservative leader has seen her popularity wane as the political debate shifted from EU membership to domestic policy and her own record on security.

“Give me your backing to lead Britain, give me the authority to speak for Britain, strengthen my hand as I fight for Britain,” May urged voters on Tuesday in Stoke-on-Trent, the city that registered the highest vote for leaving the European Union.

With formal Brexit talks due to start on June 19, May is hoping to sweep up supporters from the UK Independence Party as well as taking seats from Labour.

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The Conservatives have run a presidential-style campaign, promoting May as the “strong and stable” leader to fight Britain’s corner in Brussels and warning that Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is not up to the task.

Despite being seen as an unlikely leader – one who has faced off a rebellion by his own MPs – Corbyn has gained momentum during the election campaign and regularly attracts big crowds to his rallies.

Labour gained a boost following the May 18 release of the Conservatives’ manifesto, outlining elderly care costs which the tabloids dubbed the “dementia tax”.

The pledge hit the party’s core supporters and May was forced to backtrack on capping the costs, prompting further criticism that she was unreliable.

A “Liar, Liar GE2017” election protest song which targeted May and the Conservatives has made waves, reaching number four in the weekly charts on Friday.

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Terror attacks

But even though the prime minister has faced a tougher campaign than expected, the Conservatives are still ahead in the polls. According to a poll published Tuesday by the group Survation, May’s one-time 20-point lead over Labour has shrivelled to just over a single point — 41.6 percent to 40.4 percent.

Bookmakers, meanwhile, forecast May will win an increased majority.

Ladbrokes predict the Conservatives’ present majority will rise from 17 to 70 seats, while William Hill suggests a more modest increase to between 40 and 50.

Since failing to predict the outcome of the last general election and the Brexit referendum, pollsters have adjusted their methodologies and broadly show the Conservatives ahead despite their lead narrowing.

The final day of campaigning comes under the shadow of security concerns, following three terrorist attacks since March all involving assailants who were known to the authorities.

In the most recent attack, seven people were killed on Saturday when three men drove into pedestrians and went on a stabbing spree in central London before being shot by police.

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Attacker, Khuram Shazad Butt was known to British intelligence services, while an Italian prosecutor said Britain was notified that one of his accomplices, Youssef Zaghba, was a “possible suspect” back in March 2016.

Their rampage followed a similar attack next to British parliament in March, in which assailant Khalid Masood was shot after killing five people.

In the most deadly attack, Salman Abedi killed 22 people at a Manchester concert venue on May 22 when he detonated a suicide bomb.

The electorate usually favours the Conservatives on security issues, but May has come under fire for her record during the six years she served as interior minister.

The devastating terror attacks have also heightened public admiration for the emergency services, which have faced government cuts in recent years.

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Paris attacker ‘pledged allegiance to IS’

Counter-terrorism agents searching the home of the man who attacked a police officer in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral have found a video recording of the assailant pledging allegiance to Islamic State, France’s LCI television says.

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The video shows the suspect, identified as Algerian-born doctoral student Farid Ikken, claiming responsibility for his “future actions,” LCI reported, citing unnamed sources in the security services.

Ikken, who was renting a studio apartment in a student residence in the Parisian suburb of Cergy-Pontoise, had no criminal record, the sources told the news network.

The dozen agents who searched the apartment did not find any weapons or explosives.

Ikken, 40, used a hammer to attack the police officer, who suffered slight injuries, and was found to be carrying kitchen knives.

A second officer shot and wounded Ikken after the initial blow.

The university professor who was Ikken’s dissertation adviser, Arnaud Mercier, told LCI that he never noticed anything to indicate his student posed a threat.

“From what I know of his personality, though we haven’t been in contact for a while, this leaves me completely stupefied,” Mercier said of Ikken, who had worked as a journalist in Algeria and Sweden.

“He was someone very committed, who acknowledged the values of democracy, he believed very much in journalistic ideals,” the professor said. “He didn’t have a beard, or observe the Ramadan (fast). The only thing I noticed is that he didn’t drink alcohol, but there are many Muslims who don’t drink and they’re not dangerous jihadists.”

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said earlier that the attacker shouted “This is for Syria!” as he struck the police officer.

Around 1,000 visitors were kept inside Notre Dame for more than an hour until police determined the threat had passed.

MPs urged to provide energy certainty

Australia’s treasurer has urged MPs to put aside ideological differences and embrace an energy policy in the interests of giving investors certainty.

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Scott Morrison, who earlier in the year waved a lump of coal around during question time, said on Wednesday for far too long parliament has not come together to resolve energy issues.

Policy uncertainty had turned into a big risk for investors.

“There’s a very big national interest here and it’s for all parliamentarians I think to focus on that regardless of which party they’re in or what ideological perspective they have on this issue,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“Until we can get to that certain place on energy policy, then we really are putting a lot at risk.”

Renewables attracted record levels of investment in 2016 but that came off the back of several sluggish years while the Abbott government reviewed and cut the renewable energy target.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel will brief the prime minister and state leaders on his review of the national energy sector at a meeting in Hobart on Friday.

He’s widely expected to recommend a low emissions target – similar to the existing renewable energy target but taking a technology-neutral approach by mandating a percentage of power each year be generated from sources below a certain emissions level.

The approach is firming as the new focus of federal climate policy with the Nationals flagging support and Labor not ruling it out.

Energy experts say the LET would be a “third-best solution”.

“This mechanism is well behind an emissions intensity scheme and an economy-wide price on carbon, and won’t discriminate against really dirty coal over more efficient coal,” ANU Energy Change Institute director Ken Baldwin said.

However, his colleague Paul Burke said it was a smart alternative given the government had already ruled out any mechanisms that price carbon pollution.

“Solar and wind power are increasingly cheap, and an LET would help to ensure that the required investment takes place to replace retiring fossil-fuel generators,” he said.

Greens energy spokesman Adam Bandt said reports Dr Finkel could recommend rule changes to mandate new renewable projects have storage attached were troubling and could lock storage companies out of participating in the market in their own right.

It would be better to create a new energy storage target or have other non-market incentives to integrate storage, he said.

A Lowy Institute poll, released on Wednesday, found four in five Australians thought the government should focus on renewables, even if they needed more investment to make the system more reliable.

Nearly three in five ranked climate change as a “critical threat” to Australia over the next decade.