Sources: Hunter Biden leaves Navy after drug test 22 minutes agoWASHINGTON (AP) — Hunter Biden, the youngest son of Vice President Joe Biden, has been kicked out of the military after testing positive for cocaine, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.The Navy said that Biden, a former lobbyist who works at a private equity firm, was discharged in February — barely a year after he was selected for the part-time position as a public affairs officer in the Navy Reserve. Citing privacy laws, the Navy did not give a reason for the discharge, which was not disclosed until it emerged in the media on Thursday.In a statement released by his attorney, Biden said he respected the Navy’s decision and was moving forward with his family’s love and support. He did not give a reason for his discharge.”It was the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy,” Biden said. „I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge.”The vice president’s office declined to comment. Hunter Biden’s attorney didn’t respond to inquiries about whether Biden had used cocaine.Two people familiar with the situation said Biden, 44, was discharged because he failed a drug test last year. They weren’t authorized to discuss the incident by name and requested anonymity. The Wall Street Journal first reported Biden’s discharge and failed drug test.In this Oct. 11, 2012, file photo Hunter Biden waits for the start of the his father’s, Vice Pre …An attorney by training, Biden applied to join the Navy Reserve as a public affairs officer and was selected in 2012 — one of seven candidates recommended for a direct commission for public affairs. A board of senior Navy officers interviewed Biden before making the recommendation.Because he was 42 at the time, he needed a special waiver to be accepted. Cmdr. Ryan Perry, a spokesman for the Navy, said Biden had been assigned to the Navy Public Affairs Support Element East, based in Norfolk, Virginia.The terms of Biden’s separation from the Navy were unclear. Typically, military members discharged for failing drug tests don’t receive an honorable discharge.The vice president speaks about his children frequently during public appearances. In December, Hunter Biden and one of his daughters accompanied the elder Biden on a trip to Asia, where the vice president praised his son’s work around the world as the chairman of the World Food Program USA.”I’m so incredibly proud of him,” Vice President Biden said.Earlier this year, Hunter Biden raised eyebrows when he joined the board of a private Ukrainian gas company, just as his father and the Obama administration were working to wean Ukraine off Russian energy. At the time, the vice president’s office brushed aside questions about the arrangement by saying that the younger Biden was a „private citizen.”Biden, a managing partner at investment firm Rosemont Seneca Partners, has three children. His older brother, Beau Biden, is Delaware’s attorney general and an Army National Guard member who served a yearlong deployment in Iraq.
Milan summit offers Putin and Poroshenko time to talkBy By Andreas Rinke and Crispian Balmer | Reuters – 3 hours agoReuters/Reuters – Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko, as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (C) stands nearby, in Minsk August 26, 2014. REUTERS/Sergei …more
More Science news »By Andreas Rinke and Crispian Balmer MILAN (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko are looking to patch up a faltering ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and resolve a dispute over natural gas supplies when they meet in Milan on Friday. The pair are expected to talk one-on-one on the sidelines of a Europe-Asia summit, and hold broader discussions with EU leaders alarmed at the potential for their dispute to trigger wider international unrest.The West has imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea earlier this year and its support of pro-Russian separatists fighting in the east of Ukraine, reviving memories of the Cold War hostilities of the 20th century.European leaders arriving in Milan on Thursday appeared to put the blame on Moscow for dozens of deaths in constant violations of a ceasefire agreed by Putin and Poroshenko last month in Minsk.”It is obviously above all Russia’s task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. „Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here.”Europe fears Russia’s decision to cut gas supplies to Ukraine because of unpaid bills could threaten disruptions in the gas flow to the rest of the continent this winter and is working hard to broker a deal.Russia is Europe’s biggest gas supplier, meeting around a third of demand, and the European Union gets about half of the Russian gas it uses via Ukraine.The stand-off over pricing is the third in a decade between Moscow and Kiev, though this time tensions are higher because of the fighting in eastern Ukraine.„HOPEFUL” Kiev and its Western backers accuse Moscow of aiding a pro-Russian separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine by providing troops and arms. Russia denies the charges but says it has a right to defend the interests of the region’s Russian-speaking majority.Launching the Milan diplomacy, Merkel saw Poroshenko on Thursday evening. „The meeting went very well and we have seen a great demonstration of support for Ukraine,” the Ukrainian president told reporters afterwards.Putin warned on Thursday that Russia will reduce gas supplies to Europe if Ukraine steals from the transit pipeline to cover its own needs, although he added that he was „hopeful” it would not come to that.”I can reassure you that there will be no crisis that could be blamed on Russian participants in energy cooperation,” Putin told reporters during a visit to Serbia. But, he said, „there are big transit risks.”Germany is Europe’s biggest buyer of Russian gas, paying Russian exporter Gazprom around $15 billion a year. EU members such as Bulgaria and Slovakia are almost entirely reliant on Russian gas imported via Ukraine.Vygaudas Usackas, the EU’s ambassador to Russia, said earlier this week there were „positive signs” that a deal might be within reach.”It seems like we are entering a more promising and positive chapter of the whole puzzle about the crisis in and around Ukraine,” he told Reuters.However, it was not clear how much progress might be made in finding a lasting answer to the eastern Ukraine conflict.More than 3,600 people have died in the area since fighting broke out in mid-April when armed separatists declared they were setting up their own state.Although Putin announced this week that Russian troops near the border with Ukraine would be pulled back, Western officials want to see clear evidence that Moscow is acting on this.Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will host Friday’s meeting, which will also be attended by Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron as well as Herman Van Rompuy, the chairman of European Union leaders, and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and James Mackenzie in Milan, Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)
Putin keeps Merkel waiting in Milan By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and COLLEEN BARRY4 hours ago MILAN (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic blitz on Ukraine got off to a rocky start Thursday when he kept German Chancellor Angela Merkel waiting for a meeting then showed up in the middle of a dinner with European and Asian leaders.Putin is looking to get relief from Western economic sanctions imposed since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its support for a pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine.To that end, he has scheduled a series of meetings on the sidelines of a two-day ASEM summit of European and Asian leaders, including a breakfast meeting Friday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and key European leaders.The warm-up bilateral with Merkel was scheduled before the leaders’ dinner, but Putin arrived late from Belgrade after the Serbs put on a long parade in his honor.Not only did he keep Merkel waiting, but he missed a welcome toast at a dinner for the more than 50 leaders attending the summit and was caught on TV camera walking in as the European Council president made welcoming remarks.The Merkel meeting went ahead after dinner, four hours later than initially scheduled, according to the Interfax news agency. She met earlier with the Ukrainian president.Police officers preside a demonstration against Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, in Milan …Merkel said going into the summit that she expects to discuss a Ukraine cease-fire deal signed last month, which has reduced hostilities but failed to stop all fighting.”It is above all Russia’s task to say clearly that the Minsk plan is really respected,” Merkel said as she arrived for the summit. „Unfortunately, there are still very, very big shortcomings. But it is important to seek dialogue here.”Putin on Friday may also meet privately with Poroshenko and has a bilateral planned with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, who is hosting the 10th ASEM summit.Poroshenko said he expected „peace and stability in Ukraine” to be the result of Friday’s discussion as he headed into a meeting with Renzi.Merkel wasn’t the only one waiting for Putin. The news agency ANSA said Silvio Berlusconi was waiting to receive his old friend — but noted that the former premier, who is under house arrest on a tax fraud conviction, received court permission to spend the night away from his villa.Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, left, welcomes Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, at the 10th Asia-Eur …In Belgrade, Putin voiced hope that talks in Italy would help resolve a gas pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine.Much of the Russian gas supplied to the EU passes through pipelines crossing Ukraine, and Putin warned that Russia would cut supplies intended for Europe if Ukraine siphons off gas intended for Europe, as it did in 2008.”Russia always has been a reliable supplier. But there are big transit risks,” Putin said.Two members of the feminist group Femen protested Putin’s inclusion in the summit, baring their breasts and covering themselves in red paint as they demanded an end to bloodshed in Ukraine.The two-day ASEM summit, which aims to forge closer economic and cultural ties and confront common threats, opened against the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine, student protests in Hong Kong and escalating concerns about the Ebola outbreak.The biannual gathering also touches on natural disaster response, international crime, terrorism and climate change.___Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Belgrade, Serbia.
Obama: Ebola point person ‘may be appropriate’ By JIM KUHNHENN27 minutes ago Reuters Videos Obama: „I don’t have a philosophical objection, necessarily, to a travel ban”Reuters Obama: „I don’t have a philosophical objection, necessarily, to a travel ban” WASHINGTON (AP) — Under pressure to select an Ebola „czar” to lead the U.S. response against the disease, President Barack Obama conceded Thursday it „may be appropriate” to designate a single individual to head the administration effort.Related Stories
Obama also said he is „not philosophically opposed” to a travel ban from the Ebola-afflicted region of West Africa „if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe.” But he said such a measure could be counterproductive.He said his team of Ebola advisers is doing „an outstanding job.” But he said several of them, including Centers for Disease Control director Thomas Frieden and Lisa Monaco, his top counterterrorism adviser, are also confronting other priorities. He noted that Frieden is also dealing with flu season and Monaco and national security adviser Susan Rice, with the Islamic State extremists in the Middle East.”It may make sense for us to have one person … so that after this initial surge of activity we can have a more regular process just to make sure we are crossing all the Ts and dotting all the Is,” he said.Calls for Obama to institute a temporary travel ban grew Thursday, mainly from Republicans who said the growing outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia is creating a greater traveling threat.But Obama said a ban could increase the instance of travelers avoiding detection.White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefin …”They are less likely to get screened and we may have more cases of Ebola rather than less,” he said.Obama spoke at the end of a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, White House chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Frieden, Monaco, and Rice.Obama on Thursday also authorized the Pentagon to call up reserve and National Guard troops if they are needed to assist in the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Obama signed an executive order that allows the government to call up more forces and for longer periods of time than currently authorized. There is no actual call-up at this point.The U.S. has committed to send up to 4,000 military personnel to West Africa to provide logistics and humanitarian assistance and help build treatment units to confront the rapidly spreading and deadly virus.Separately, Obama placed phone calls to House Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to discuss the administration’s response to the disease.He also called Ohio Gov. John Kasich to discuss steps the administration took after a Dallas nurse traveled to the state over the weekend before being diagnosed with Ebola. The nurse was one of two health care workers who became ill after treating a Liberian man with Ebola at a Dallas hospital. Obama said he also spoke with Texas Gov. Rick Perry to make sure Dallas and the state had the resources to respond if more health workers were exposed and contracted Ebola.The White House said Obama also placed calls to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. The White House said Obama and the two leaders discussed the need for an urgent international response to the epidemic in Africa.Obama canceled a Thursday campaign trip to stay at the White House and focus on Ebola. It was the second day in a row he nixed a planned trip because of the outbreak.
Turkey fails in bid to join UN Security Council By CARA ANNA7 hours ago UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Turkey failed in its effort to join the U.N.’s most powerful body on Thursday, while Venezuela, New Zealand, Spain, Angola and Malaysia were elected to coveted Security Council seats.Special attention had been on Turkey as it is under growing pressure to do more about the war in Syria pushing up against its border. Turkey lobbied heavily among the General Assembly’s 193 member states for their votes, with its foreign minister hosting a party at the iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel the night before the vote.In competition with New Zealand and Spain for two seats representing the western group of nations, Turkey fell behind as New Zealand easily gained a seat on the first ballot and Spain made it on the third.”We could not abandon our principles for the sake of getting more votes,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in comments carried by the state-run Anadolu Agency.The five winners will join the Security Council on Jan. 1 and serve through 2016 as non-veto-wielding members. They will replace Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, South Korea and Rwanda.Venezuela’s socialist government was unopposed for the single seat allocated to Latin America and the Caribbean. Angola was the only candidate for an African seat, and Malaysia had no opposition for an Asian seat.In this photo provided by the United Nations, Jim McLay, left, New Zealand’s U.N. ambassador, ta …With Venezuela’s victory, Russia and China will likely gain an ally on key international issues that have put them at odds with the three Western permanent council members — the U.S., Britain and France. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has close ties with Syria’s President Bashar Assad and Iran and has strongly supported Russia in the Ukraine crisis.In Caracas, a jubilant Maduro appeared on television shortly after the vote and led his cabinet in an extended round of applause. He said the win showed the support the „entire world” has for the late President Hugo Chavez’s vision.The victory comes on the heels of a report from a U.N. body condemning Venezuela for taking political prisoners during a crackdown on anti-government street protests this spring.The United States, which publicly opposed Venezuela’s last attempt to join the council in 2006, did not do so this time and would not discuss how it voted Thursday. Ten countries abstained in that vote.”Unfortunately, Venezuela’s conduct at the U.N. has run counter to the spirit of the U.N. Charter, and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said in a statement shortly after the vote.In this photo provided by the United Nations, José Manuel García-Margallo, right, Foreign Minister o …Venezuela’s two-year term will give the country a high-profile arena for fiery rhetoric — much of it likely from Chavez’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez, who was recently named deputy ambassador to the U.N.Some diplomats didn’t mention Venezuela in their traditional well-wishes. „Warm congrats #Angola, #Malaysia, #New Zealand on election to #UNSecurityCouncil! @NZUN. Looking forward to working together,” Lithuania’s ambassador, Raimonda Murmokaite, tweeted. She congratulated Spain once it made it in.Rights observers expressed concern at some of the newly elected council members.”The Security Council’s new membership could prove more problematic on human rights issues, with several generally rights-friendly countries leaving and others coming on board with poor voting records,” Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. „This is particularly true of Venezuela, which has consistently challenged protection efforts at the (U.N.) Human Rights Council, but also of Angola and Malaysia, which need to demonstrate a more human rights-oriented approach in New York than they did in Geneva.”Thursday’s ballots were secret, and to win, each country had to obtain support of two-thirds of all General Assembly members present, or a minimum of 129 votes if all 193 members participate.___Associated Press writer Hannah Dreier in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this story.
Muzzled opposition reduced to song in post-coup Thailand By Delphine Thouvenot, Thanaporn Promyamyai20 hours ago Bangkok (AFP) – His trademark televised diatribes have given way to misty-eyed songs, but in Thailand’s stifling post-coup climate, the firebrand leader of the once mighty „Red Shirts” welcomes any chance to reach his supporters.Jatuporn Prompan, chairman of the Red Shirt street movement which backed the toppled government of Yingluck Shinawatra, is back on the small screen after the ruling junta lifted a ban on Thailand’s sharply polarised political channels.For years his rabble-rousing rhetoric on television was staple viewing in the Red heartlands of northern Thailand where Yingluck — and her billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra — are adored for their pro-poor policies.Rebranded as ‘Peace TV’, Jatuporn now espouses the virtues of love and Buddhism in melancholic verses, a far cry from the tirades against the ‘ammart’ — or Bangkok-based elite — and its supporters who loathe the Shinawatra clan.”The road is not strewn with roses,” 49-year-old Jatuporn croons in a pre-recorded song between programmes. „But we must continue to dream, no matter how difficult it is.”Tucked inside a multi-storey shopping centre in north Bangkok, the channel is one of the few public outlets available to opponents of the coup.Anti-coup voices, including lawmakers from the former ruling Puea Thai party, academics and students’ groups, have been silenced after the army summoned dissenters, outlawed political gatherings and censored the media.Chairman of the Red Shirts Jatuporn Prompan pictured ahead of his live show on Peace TV, back on the …For those attuned to the political realities of a kingdom under military rule, Jatuporn’s return to television is symbolic — suggesting anti-coup forces are dormant but not dead.But even Jatuporn concedes these days he can only meet fellow Red leaders at „funerals or weddings”.- ‘Moving cautiously’ -Since grabbing power in May, coup leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha has vowed to heal Thailand’s caustic divide and has muted all political discussions.Prayut retired as army chief last month, but remains head of the junta and is also prime minister heading a hand-picked military dominated government.The Red Shirts, known officially as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), have seen their leaders either renounce the cause, flee into self-exile or — like Jatuporn — agree to abandon politics.Red Shirts leader Jatuporn Prompan on a cameraman’s screen during his live show on Peace TV, rei …Even Red Shirt funerals, including one taking place this week of core leader Apiwan Wiriyachai, are tightly monitored in case they morph into a political meeting — banned under strict martial laws.Red Shirt leaders fear a repeat of 2010 when an army crackdown on rallies in the heart of Bangkok left more than 90 people dead and hundreds wounded.”We are moving cautiously,” said Jatuporn, who is permitted to broadcast despite facing a terrorism charge linked to those protests.Even ex-premier Yingluck has mostly stayed out of the public eye — surfacing recently to sign a book of get-well wishes for the hospitalised king.Yet discontent with the coup lingers.While any hint of dissent is swiftly stamped down — including raids on university seminars on democracy — an overseas collection of Red Shirts, ex-Puea Thai officials and academics have formed the ‘Free Thai’ exile group.Pro-government ‘Red shirts’ sit next to portraits of ousted Thai prime ministers Yingluck an …Some analysts predict an eventual revival of the Red cause in a nation where parties led-by or aligned-to the Shinawatras have won every poll since 2001.A „greater opposition will emerge that combines Red Shirts, student groups, independent academic groups, and other pro-democracy” activists, according to analyst David Streckfuss.- Remoulding Thailand -The junta has other ideas.To his enemies Thaksin, who was toppled as premier in another coup in 2006, has warped Thai society with massive corruption and populist policies.A junta-appointed reform council bulging with anti-Thaksin members is due to begin work next week on remoulding Thai politics.”The 2006 coup was an attempt by a royalist-led military to quickly replace Thaksin, return to democracy and continue business as usual,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai.”The 2014 coup is different because the military is fully in charge of everything… (and) is likely to stay for a long time.”The military’s reach into Thai politics is being driven by anxiety over what happens once the six-decade reign of the revered 86-year-old king Bhumibol Adulyadej ends, say observers.The king remains in a Bangkok hospital after being admitted on October 4 for a gall bladder operation. Discussion of succession matters is restricted under a royal defamation law.Prayut is on an extensive public relations campaign to extol the junta’s work and prep the nation for major reforms ahead.Every Friday he delivers a televised address to the nation that opens with a „returning happiness to Thailand” song, penned by the leader.In contrast, even after his Peace TV broadcasts, Jatuporn remains coy over the Red Shirts’ future.”We accepted these restrictions,” he said.”It was the only way to communicate with our supporters.”
Turkey Loses U.N. Security Council Seat in Huge Upset By Benny Avni | 10/16/14 at 7:58 PM EFiled Under: World, United Nations, Security Council In a tremendous upset, Turkey lost a contest in the United Nations General Assembly, exposing increasingly contentious frictions with some of its neighbors and world powers.Trying to become a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, Turkey lost out to Spain and New Zealand in a contest for two available seats reserved for a voting bloc called the Western European and Others Group, which includes the United States.In the past few days, according to several diplomatic sources, there was an intense campaign, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, against Turkey’s membership in the council. The two countries are angered by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which both are fighting at home.Newsweek Magazine is Back In Print On Wednesday night, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, hosted a posh party for diplomats at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, where many of the guests predicted an easy victory for Turkey. But some diplomats said after the Thursday vote they had detected an unmistakable movement away from the Turkish camp to the Spain.Syria, as well as its ally Iran and several others, are also peeved by Erdoğan’s frequent calls to unseat Syrian President Bashar Assad. Several Western countries are alarmed by recent reports of Turkish attacks on Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria. And Turkey’s traditional opponent, its neighbor Greece, is also said to have lobbied against its election to the U.N.’s most prestigious body.“It’s surprising, because I was told just days ago that Turkey received letters of support from 160 countries,” said one diplomat after the secret ballot ended in Turkey’s failure to edge out Spain. The diplomat noted, however, that Spain received 154 letters of support from the 193 General Assembly members. “This isn’t the way this should be done,” said the diplomat, referring to the habit among member states of expressing support publicly while opposing membership in secret balloting.After several rounds of voting, Turkey ended up receiving the support of only 60 General Assembly members, while Spain got 132 votes, more than enough to satisfy the necessary threshold of 128 supporters.New Zealand got elected in an earlier round. Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela ran unopposed in their regional voting blocs.The American U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, homed in on Venezuela after the vote, saying in a statement, “Venezuela’s conduct at the U.N. has run counter to the spirit of the U.N. Charter, and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter. The United States will continue to call upon the government of Venezuela to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of its people.”The five newly elected members will replace Australia, Argentina, Luxembourg, South Korea and Rwanda on January 1 and will serve on the council for two years. Powers’s statement promises to create new tensions among council members, but perhaps not as tense had Turkey become a member.
China’s Banks Are Getting Ready For A Debt Implosion By Linette Lopez11 hours agoReuters People watch a daytime color-smoke explosive show over the Huangpu River at the Bund, in Shanghai. Chinese banks are seeing the writing on the wall in terms of the debt they’ve accumulated, and they are taking measures to protect themselves.The Bank of China is planning the biggest sale of shares ever — $6.5 billion to offshore investors,Bloomberg says. It’s all in an effort to create a capital cushion.China’s banking system has piled up the most bad loans of any time since the financial crisis, and the banks are preparing for the moment those debts collapse.Especially in corporate and property sectors, things are looking dire.Let’s tackle the corporate sector first. Last month, Morgan Stanley released a report saying China’s corporates took on 5.4 times more leverage than ever before in the first half of 2014, bringing leverage up to levels unseen since 2006.And it hasn’t stopped. Short-term lending to corporates rose to $26.8 billion in September from $11.2 billion in August. Long-term lending hit a four-month high of $45.9 billion in September, up from $39.3 billion in August.
However their motivation has been stirred by New Zealand’s last-minute, 27-25 loss to South Africa two weeks ago — the first defeat in 23 tests for the No. 1-ranked All Blacks.What are the chances of back-to-back defeats? Almost unheard of: only three times has it happened in the last decade.Yet it’s given Hooper a smidgeon of hope for Saturday’s game in Brisbane, scene of the last time it occurred. The All Blacks lost in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and Brisbane in consecutive weeks in August 2011 to surrender the then Tri-Nations title to Australia, but shrugged that off quickly to win the World Cup at home a couple of months later.Hooper — the 22-year-old flanker thrust in as skipper after a succession of injuries that the Wallabies refer to as the „captain’s curse” — has never beaten the All Blacks. He has lost five and drawn two of his seven Bledisloe Cup tests and has never played them coming off a loss.But he has played them coming off a draw, and the memories of the backlash still hurt him. Australia held the All Blacks 12-12 in Sydney to open the 2014 Bledisloe Cup, but were smashed 51-20 at Eden Park in Auckland the following week. The Wallabies had narrow home wins over the Springboks and Pumas to stay in touch in the Rugby Championship, but then lost in South Africa and Argentina to slip down to No. 4 in the world rankingsIn this Aug. 5, 2013 file photo Australia’s national rugby coach Ewan McKenzie attends a press c …On a flight between those away losses, an off-field saga unraveled after utility back Kurtley Beale got into a heated argument with the team’s business manager, Di Patston. She quit, and Beale was suspended, pending an investigation. It was later revealed that he’d sent offensive text messages around in June, including to Patston, and the fallout from that is lingering.There’s been reports of a split in the team — something Hooper adamantly denies — and of conflict between the players and coach Ewen McKenzie — also denied by coach and players. Two things are almost certain: Beale is likely to be cast aside permanently, and McKenzie could go, too, if the Wallabies don’t start winning.”With distractions going on, I’ve been impressed with how the guys have reacted this week,” Hooper said Friday. „Big point to prove. It could be a galvanizing moment for us.”In the team room, there’s positivity. Yes, there’ve been a few backward steps in the past couple of weeks, but we’re learning … staff and players.”New Zealand may have wrapped up the Bledisloe Cup for the 12th year with the comprehensive win in Auckland, but there’s always something on the line when the Tasman rivals meet. The Australians have said this week they’re desperate to win in Adam Ashley-Cooper’s 100th test, and to ease some pressure on McKenzie.”This is a chance for us to draw the series — it’s something that some of the guys are starting to lick their lips to think that you could be sitting in the change room on the weekend of one of Australia’s greatest players playing 100 games with a win and drawing the series,” Hooper said. „They’re the pinnacle. We’re chasing them.”Australia drafted in Christian Leali’ifano to offer a calming influence in midfield, giving him the spot that would have been earmarked for Beale. Quade Cooper recovered from shoulder surgery to take a spot on the bench for his first test of the season, and offer something unique from the bench.When announcing the five changes to his All Blacks team, including the retention of Beauden Barrett ahead of Aaron Cruden at No. 10, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen noted the presence of Cooper, who was instrumental in Australia two most recent Bledisloe test wins in 2010 and ’11.”Coming off the bench he’ll be really energetic and when he’s on he’s a super player — he’s magical,” Hansen said. „What he’ll bring is a lot of enthusiasm.”Hansen said the All Blacks were agitated by the last-minute loss in South Africa, and desperate to rebound. But didn’t expect the under-fire Wallabies to be easy pickings.”I don’t see them crumbling,” he said. „I see them being a very dangerous beast this week.”