Saturday, the 2nd of December
Many people assume that court-reporters have tedious jobs. And much of the time reporters themselves might even agree with that assessment. But not this week. In the last seven days we've seen courtrooms dealing with international conspiracies to bust sanctions, terror convictions, humiliating admissions of guilt, and even a courtroom suicide. And every single one of these cases has challenged our precepts about transnational justice and the rule of law.
Reza Zarrab is a walking diplomatic incident.
We tend to view the International Criminal Court and Interpol not only as cogs in a judicial machine, but also as the custodians of a higher ideal: that justice transcends borders. Unfortunately, as we shall see, the pursuit of criminals and cases across jurisdictions is often much messier than we would like to believe.

We start with the case of Reza Zarrab; socialite, mogul and sanctions-buster. Audiences in New York, Ankara and Tehran were left scandalised this week by Zarrab's candid admissions and weighty accusations. The Turkish-Iranian businessman pleaded guilty to having orchestrated gold-for-oil trades with Iran that skirted US economic sanctions. On Tuesday he laid bare a complex scheme for international money-laundering that had been facilitated by Turkey's then-PM, and now President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Having spent a year attempting to extricate himself from the trial, it became clear this week that Zarrab is assisting the prosecution in order to secure a deal for himself. Meanwhile, Erdoğan's repeated attempts to have Zarrab repatriated have failed. Now, as more explosive details have surfaced, Ankara's officials have been forced to switched gears from trashing the trial to trying to limit its damage. US prosecutors are also continuing to pursue charges against Zafer Caglayan (a one-time Minister for the Economy) and Mehmet Hakan Atilla (an official of the state-owned Halkbank). It seems inconceivable that convictions and sentences will not result from the current proceedings. But what of Turkey's head of state? At least so far it seems like Erdoğan's complicity in these affairs is a question that many people seem keen to avoid.

This same lack of accountability was also seen in another case in New York this week. This one involved a vast conduit of sports-related criminal behaviour. A long-running US investigation into FIFA confirmed this week that corruption and bribery are not mere aberrations for the organisation,  they are in fact key facets of its business model.

40 people were charged for accepting $150m in bribes over two decades. So far, so good. But then the story took a sudden turn. Disgraced South American football chief Luis Bedoya gave evidence that he and several other high-ranking FIFA heads had been party to a bribery attempt by an unnamed Qatari official. The jury heard that multiple FIFA officials with World Cup voting rights had backed Qatar - a place that is uniquely unsuitable to host a soccer tournament - in exchange for millions of dollars. Despite the scalps that this investigation has claimed, it's clear that there is only so much New York prosecutors will be able to do. FIFA has proven itself incapable of self-regulation. And it deals with cash, favours and contracts in jurisdictions of such varying legal rigidity that robust oversight is all but impossible..

The problem of competing jurisdictions also came up this week in the trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged mastermind of the 2012 Benghazi attack. The assault had left US ambassador Chris Stevens and three others dead, and prompted much soul-searching (and finger-pointing) in America. But in its aftermath, Khattala was abducted from Libya by the US military and then interrogated for two weeks aboard a naval vessel. And that, his defence argued, was illegal.

The tension between a military might that is prosecuting simultaneous campaigns across the globe and a civilian justice department that is attempting to apply the rule of law are difficult to reconcile. In Khattala's case, although he was only convicted on four weak charges (from a total of 18), he'll still die in prison.

One other case caught our eye this week, although this one didn't involve competing jurisdictions, foreign influence, global conspiracies or moral relativism. At The Hague, a Bosnian Croat general was found guilty of war crimes committed during the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. The 72-year-old Slobodan Praljak heard the sentence, protested his innocence and proceeded to drink a vial of poison. He died later that day in hospital. While suicide in prison is not uncommon, this was an incredible occasion of justice finally being done, and then denied, in the space of a few short minutes. 
The Pakistani army and government bowed to consistent pressure.
Blasphemous oaths - The crescendo of a month-long protest in Pakistan reached a violent climax and then eased this week. A relatively small but hardline Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik (TeL) burst into the national spotlight when it accused the Law Minister Zahid Hamid of blasphemy. A spat over an innocuous change to the electoral oath devolved rapidly; the capital ground to a halt when the main freeway was blocked by protesters.

Clashes between the islamists and police left 6 dead and dozens wounded, including two policemen who were abducted and tortured. In what is becoming an alarming habit, the government capitulated to emboldened right-wing islamist agitators; TeL got Hamid's resignation. Moderate Pakistanis were outraged by footage showing the army bribing protestors to move on.

And historical revisionism - Over the border, a furore over the impending release of the film Padmavati has India fixated. It depicts a Rajput queen who self-immolates rather than being forced to marry a Muslim sultan. While there is no consensus that Queen Padmini actually existed, her story has become part of the foundation myth of the Rajput caste. So when rumours emerged that director Sanjay Leela Bhansali included a dream sequence in which Padmini lusts for the sultan, anger exploded onto the streets.

Hindu extremists have staged violent protests and threatened to burn down cinemas. A man was lynched in Jaipur with a sign nearby stating, "We don't just hang effigies! Padmavati." For now, the company with the distribution rights has indefinitely delayed the film's release.
Bitcoin's meteoric rise.
Bitcoin soars - It's unlikely that even the most ardent cryptocurrency evangelist would have predicted Bitcoin was capable of this kind of growth in 2017. Up 800% on the beginning of the year, it soared past the $10,000 mark this week, reaching a height of $11,000. The cracking pace sent exchanges into such a frenzy that several shut down. A brief moment of panic then saw the cryptocurrency collapse 20% in value over night before finally settling back around the $9,000 mark.

So what's fuelling this growth? Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin were designed to function in parallel with (and to eventually replace) fiat currencies like the US dollar. But many investors are instead treating them like assets to invest in. The limited pool of Bitcoins available and the dearth of individuals actually using it to buy things supports that view. Perhaps understandably the biggest critics are central bankers, regulators and governments who comprise the current centralised model of currencies. For them the idea of a decentralised currency is ideological anathema, and also highly disruptive.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission are pushing for a highly-regulated market in which cryptocurrencies are traded as securities. Some central bankers are eager to bring Bitcoin into the fold, others are more wary, but all are certain that regulation will come. The famed Nobel laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz compared the current frenzy to the American stock market just before the Great Depression. 
An unshakeable obsession with conspiracy theories has led people to express concerns for the presidents mental health.
  1. McCain's support edged the GOP to a win on the tax bill
  2. The Dow Jones soared past 24,000 points for the first time
  3. The US Court allowed Trump's CFPB pick to begin work
  4. Trump reportedly plans to oust Sec. State Tillerson
  5. He retweeted racist videos and shrugged off criticism
  6. Trump considered naming Jerusalem Israel's capital
  7. He used 'pocahontas' as a racial slur at a Navajo celebration
  8. He also appeared to mock asian gestures during a speech
  9. He backtracked and lied about the Access Hollywood tape
  10. And he upbraided China after NK's successful ICBM test
This is absolutely incredible.
Life on Earth - It's worth stepping back every now and then to reflect on human progress. While most of us are worried about what's for dinner, a group of scientists have taken another leap closer to creating artificial life. Having designed a strain of E. coli that contains two new genetic letters, Californian researchers prompted it to produce proteins. In short, that's hybrid natural/artificial DNA working in tandem.

Learning to fly - In other cool (and terrifying) news, it's been confirmed this week that humans are capable of jumping off the side of a mountain, flying, and then landing in the open door of a moving plane. There's no punchline here, just read this article and watch the video of two daredevils in wingsuits giving their parents the fright of their lives.  
Modern slavery in Libya.
Libyan slavery crisis - The unprecedented flow of sub-Saharan Africans towards the Mediterranean has created a horrific black market in human lives. Recent reports have revealed that penniless and destitute people are being sold at slave markets in Libya. One report claims that some slaves are being mutilated and burnt alive for sport.

Condoms in Caracas - Venezuela's moribund economy continues to throw up new challenges to daily life. Despite medicine and food being scarce, the pregnancy rate is climbing because there are no contraceptives left. It's a unique and deeply challenging crisis for a country that can't afford any more hungry mouths.
Your weekend long read... With the likelihood of the Republican tax plan's success rising with each day, it's important to hear from the people who will be negatively affected by it. This is an incredible piece of journalism that poses the questions; why are we turning back to trickle-down economics?

Enjoy your weekend. And please share this issue of The Wrap with friends and family if you found it interesting.

Thank you.