Sunday, 21 January 2018
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Confronting China and Russia, not tackling terrorism, is now America's top security priority

Added: 21.01.2018 3:44 | 0 views | 0 comments


Countering China and Russia is a bigger focus for US national security than defeating terrorism, the American administration announced yesterday.  Donald Trump’s new national defence strategy named “inter-state strategic competition” as its primary concern rather than jihadist attacks.  It marks a tipping point after almost two decades when the US has focussed on countering terrorism following the September 11 attacks.  China, Russia, North Korea and Iran were all mentioned as powers that were threatening the international order.  The strategy signals a return of a Cold War-style mentality in American foreign policy that will focus on countering rival great powers.  James Mattis,  US Secretary of Defense Credit: EPA/WALLACE WOON James Mattis, the US defence secretary, explained the rationale behind the 11-page national defence strategy in a speech on Friday.  “We will to continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we’re engaged in today, but great-power competition - not terrorism - is now the primary focus of US national security,” he said.  Mr Mattis added: "To those who would threaten America's experiment in democracy: they must know if you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day." The document itself included a similar message: “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.” It called out threats posed by rival nations. “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbours while militarising features in the South China Sea,” it read.  US President Donald Trump, right, and Russia's President Vladimir  Credit: APEC-SUMMIT “Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbours. “As well, North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions. "Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability.” John McCain, the Republican senator of Arizona, welcomed the strategy, saying: “It gets the big decisions right, prioritises the threats we face, and offers clear guidance for making tough choices.” Mr Mattis also called on Democrats to agree new funding ahead of a midnight Friday deadline, warning that the military would suffer if they blocked budget proposals.  Appealing to Congress, he said: "No strategy can survive without predictable funding. As hard as the last 16 years have been, no enemy has harmed the US military more than defence spending caps and sequestration." Mr Trump cancelled his trip to Florida on Friday in an attempt to help avoid a government shutdown as Republicans piled pressure on their political opponents.   The US president was due to fly to his Mar-a-Lago resort but stayed in Washington as scrambled negotiations played out behind the scenes.  A fierce blame game erupted in the American capital as political rivals pointed the finger at each other over who was at fault.  Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, accused Democrats of being unpatriotic by threatening to block a funding extension.   “The American people, the citizens who actually elected us, will be watching," he said.  "They will see which senators make the patriotic decision, stand up for the American people and vote to continue government funding." Chuck Schumer, the most senior Democrat in the Senate, noted that Mr Trump once said that America could use “a good shutdown”.

Chinese, Russians shore up Middle East tourism

Added: 21.01.2018 3:34 | 0 views | 0 comments

January 21, 2018 11:34 AM
MADRID (AFP) - Chinese and Russian visitors boosted Middle Eastern tourism last year following a 2016 slump as Europeans gave the area a wide berth on security fears, according to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).

From: www.straitstimes.com

Trump may not be able to keep Steve Bannon from telling all to Robert Mueller

Added: 21.01.2018 3:04 | 0 views | 0 comments


Steve Bannon may have frustrated Congress by offering few answers about the Trump campaign and Russia, but attorneys say he will not be able to avoid questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Representatives fumed after the former White House strategist’s interview with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, where Mr Bannon refused to answer questions on a wide variety of topics. White House attorneys instructed Mr Bannon during the hearing on what he could and could not say, the Associated Press reported.

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What happens now the US government has shut down?

Added: 21.01.2018 3:04 | 0 views | 0 comments


Congress failed to pass a spending bill by Friday at midnight, triggering a shutdown of the federal government. The move has big repercussions for America. US troops will continue their duties, and post will get delivered, but almost half of the two million civilian federal workers would be barred from doing their jobs. Here's a look at what it means to shut down the government. Intelligence work will be scaled down The workforce at the 17 US intelligence agencies will be pared down significantly. An official said employees who are considered essential and have to work will do so with no expectation of a regular pay cheque. While they can be ordered to stay on the job, federal workers can't be paid for days worked during a shutdown. In the past, however, they have been paid retroactively even if they were told to stay at home. National Parks and museums The Smithsonian museums in Washington, and the National Zoo, which are huge tourist attractions, will close from Monday if the shutdown continues. First Lady Melania Trump at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History  Credit: AFP Staff will continue to feed animals at the zoo but the well-known Panda Cam will cease broadcasting. The Interior Department said that in the event of a government shutdown, national parks and other public lands will remain as "accessible as possible".  That position is a change from previous shutdowns when most parks were closed and became high-profile symbols of dysfunction. Heather Swift, a spokeswoman, said the American public - especially veterans who come to the nation's capital - should find war memorials and open-air parks available to visitors. Ms Swift said many national parks and wildlife refuges nationwide will also be open with limited access when possible. She said public roads that were already open are likely to remain open, although services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds, full-service restrooms and concessions won't be operating. Backcountry lands and culturally sensitive sites are likely to be restricted or closed, she said. Panda Cam would stop broadcasting Credit: Reuters Health research disrupted Dr Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, said a government shutdown will disrupt research and morale but will not adversely affect patients already in medical studies. "We still take care of them," he said of current NIH patients. But other types of research would be seriously harmed. A shutdown could mean interrupting research that's been going on for years, he said. The NIH is the government's primary agency responsible for biomedical and public health research, ranging from cancer studies to the testing and creation of vaccines. "You can't push the pause button on an experiment," he said. Law enforcement training to be cancelled Many of the nearly 115,000 US Justice Department employees have national security and public safety responsibilities that allow them to keep working during a shutdown. So will special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the presidential election. His office is paid for indefinitely. Criminal cases will continue, but civil lawsuits will be postponed as long as doing so doesn't compromise public safety. Most law enforcement training will be cancelled, according to the department's contingency plan. Visas could be disrupted Grounded? Rex Tillerson Credit: Reuters Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswoman. said security for American diplomats overseas wouldn't be affected. But no decision had yet been made about what services, such as visa processing and passports, the State Department would be able to provide. Nor had there been a decision about whether Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, could go ahead with a planned trip to Europe next week if the government closed.

Russia exhorts Trump to counter 'Russo-phobic' intrigues

Added: 21.01.2018 3:04 | 0 views | 0 comments


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia's top diplomat on Friday exhorted President Donald Trump to counter "Russo-phobic" intrigues against him in the United States to improve ties between Washington and Moscow.

Mattis warns of 'growing threats' from Russia, China

Added: 21.01.2018 3:04 | 0 views | 0 comments


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that America is facing "growing threats" from China and Russia, and warned that the US military's advantages have eroded in recent years. Mattis's assessment came as he unveiled the Pentagon's vision for the future detailed in a document called the national defense strategy. "We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models," Mattis said.

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Assad regime promotes Syria as a 'tourist' destination

Added: 21.01.2018 2:05 | 0 views | 0 comments


It is over a year since Bashar al-Assad's regime, with the help of Russian air strikes and barrel bombs, pounded the rebel-held east of Aleppo into submission. Now, having largely destroyed the city it sought to control, the Assad regime wants the world to visit what remains: as a tourist destination. This week the Syrian government is advertising Aleppo, along with other destinations in Syria, at the Fitur International Tourism Trade Fair in Madrid, "promoting" the country's attractions to the world.

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What has happened to each of Donald Trump's campaign pledges?

Added: 21.01.2018 2:05 | 1 views | 0 comments


Donald Trump was elected on a pledge to "make America great again"  - a feat, he said, he would achieve by boosting the economy; taking a tough stance against foreign allies and cutting immigration.  On his first anniversary of entering into office, what has happened to each of President Trump's campaign promises? Build a border wall  Mr Trump insists his border wall with Mexico is still happening, but has accepted it will not all be made up of a physical barrier. While illegal border crossing arrests are at a 47-year low, Mr Trump has yet to get any money for the wall's construction signed off from Congress. We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs pouring into our country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2018 Earlier this month it was reported that the administration had asked Congress for nearly $18 billion to fund the project.  'Massive' tax cuts Mr Trump has delivered America's biggest tax cut in 30 years, his most significant legislative win during his time in office so far.  I promised that my policies would allow companies like Apple to bring massive amounts of money back to the United States. Great to see Apple follow through as a result of TAX CUTS. Huge win for American workers and the USA! https://t.co/OwXVUyLOb1— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 17, 2018 However, claims it is the "biggest ever" have been proved wrong, according to analysis. Despite being sold as a boon for the average American, it is estimated that big corporations (whose tax rate has dropped from 35 to 21 per cent) and high earners will see the most benefit. Muslim ban  Mr Trump's promise to stop all Muslim immigration into the US was watered down even before the election. During the campaign Mr Trump called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States", but conceded the next day that the policy would not apply to all Muslims. Within their first week in office, the Trump administration suspended immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. After repeated legal challenges and three re-writings of the directive, a version of the ban is in place - for now. Paris climate agreement The US president kept his vow to pull out of the Paris accord, which aims to prevent global temperatures from rising by 2C above pre-industrial levels, but has hinted he may return.  France's president Emmanuel Macron (L) and US President Donald Trump shake hands before a meeting  Credit: AFP During the election campaign, Mr Trump said he would "cancel" the agreement and "stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN global warming programs". Instead, he promised to boost America's coal, oil and shale industries by lifting restrictions on drilling. But in a news conference with French president Emmanuel Macron last week, he said: "Frankly, it's an agreement that I have no problem with, but I had a problem with the agreement that they signed, because, as usual, they made a bad deal." Repeal Obamacare In 2016, Mr Trump said: "My first day in office, I'm going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk getting rid of this disastrous law... You're going to have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost. It's going to be so easy." He failed spectacularly to live up to the pledge in his first six months after Republican senators voted down the repeal bill.  However, at the end of last year Mr Trump succeeded in recalling a key part of it - individual mandate, which effectively forces people to get health insurance - and has set in place a series of measures to undermine Obamacare.  $1 trillion in infrastructure  The Trump campaign's $1 trillion infrastructure plan fell by the wayside in 2017 but is thought to be next on the legislative agenda for 2018. A train derailment in Washington state which killed 3 and injured 62 last month shone a light on the issue, something Mr Trump recognised, tweeting that it showed the need for his “soon to be submitted infrastructure plan”. The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly. Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2017 The president has indicated he wants bipartisan support for any measures, which could prove successful given that Democrats tend to be in favour of more funding, but it is unlikely to happen before the midterm elections. Bring back waterboarding  Mr Trump campaigned on a promise to bring back the banned intelligence service practice of waterboarding on suspects, saying "I would bring back waterboarding, and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”.  He appears to have abandoned the idea, and has since commented that he had heard arguments that torture was not effective. Moving US embassy to Jerusalem Last year Mr Trump followed through on his campaign promise to to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli-capital, upending 70 years of US policy and triggering international outrage.  However the move, which outraged Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries, means his ambition to bring peace to the region seem as far away as it ever was. Tear up 'bad' trade deals Mr Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement within days of taking office. He has yet to formally pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but is aggressively renegotiating its terms, prompting others to predict the US will withdraw soon. However, despite his oft-repeated campaign threat to brand China a currency manipulator, he has yet to impose penalties on Chinese imports or take steps towards realigning their trade relationship.  Instead Mr Trump has used the threat of punishing trade relationships as leverage to get Beijing to put political pressure on North Korea. Mr Trump also promised to impose a 35 percent tariff on goods from US companies that ship production abroad - which he has not followed through with.  Destroying Isil The American-led coalition has had a string of victories against the Islamic State (Isil) including retaking vast swathes of territory. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria Credit: AP Mr Trump has lauded the victories although critics say Barack Obama's administration laid the groundwork for the success with its strategy of working with local forces.  However the terrorist group still remains a potent force, successfully recruiting jihadists abroad, and Mr Trump has pledged to keep US troops in the region until Syria's civil war reaches a political settlement. Leave Afghanistan  During the campaign Mr Trump made a play of attacking former president George Bush's foreign wars and questioning why US troops were in the country. However, he appeared to cave to establishment pressure in August and agreed to send around 3,500 more troops to the country. “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like to follow my instincts,” Mr Trump said of his policy U-turn. “I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk of the Oval Office.” Iran nuclear deal Mr Trump has failed to scrap the Iran nuclear deal despite calling it the "worst deal ever". However he has started a collision course which could still bring it down. Better relations with Russia  During the campaign Mr Trump praised Vladimir Putin's leadership, suggested they could work together to end the Syrian civil war and urged warmer relations between their two nations.  Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin  Credit: AP But the cloud of the investigation into Russian meddling in the US election and the influence of senior generals has led to a more traditional stance on Russia. Moreover, Russia still remains at logger heads with the US-led allied coalition over Syria. Mr Trump has also hardened his stance on Nato, putting pressure on allies to increase their military spending.    Slap tariffs on China and Mexico Mexico was a focal point of Mr Trump's campaign and he threatened to put a 35 per cent tariff on goods made in Mexico but sold in the US. Mr Trump made similar trade threats to China but has held off a trade war with the nation in the hope that they can work on North Korea together. Stop North Korea's nuclear programme Kim Jong-Un has engaged in a war of words with Donald Trump Mr Trump has dramatically increased pressure on the regime in Pyongyang, forcing through tighter economic sanctions, particularly through the UN, and engaging in a heated war of words with its leader.  However, North Korea insists it will continue to test nuclear weapons and recently claimed it will soon have missiles capable of reaching the US mainland. It is unclear where the talks between Mr Trump and Kim Jong-Un will lead, but global watchers fear a nuclear war cannot be definitively ruled out. Cut red tape Mr Trump followed through with his promise to cut red tape, making one of his first executive orders a requirement for agencies to scrap two regulations for every new one they put in place. In December Mr Trump renewed his pledge to cut regulation, saying: "In 1960, there were approximately 20,000 pages in the Code of Federal Regulations. Today, there are over 185,000 page". To date, however, the administration says it has only cancelled or delayed 1,500 rules. Bring back jobs and boost the economy  Mr Trump centered his presidential campaign on how his business credentials would help him boost the economy.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average has increased by more than 28 per cent since Mr Trump's election, the highest since 1945 and unemployment is at its lowest level since 1973.     But critics claim the economic recovery is simply following a trend that began under the last months of the Obama administration for which Mr Trump is simply reaping the reward.  

Apostrophes trip up Kazakhstan's move away from Russian alphabet

Added: 21.01.2018 1:03 | 0 views | 0 comments


Kazakhstan's quarter-century struggle to assert its autonomy from former overlord Russia has hit an unlikely snag: the lowly apostrophe.  A vast but sparsely populated country wedged between Russia and China, Kazakhstan came under the rule of its northern neighbour as Russia and Britain jostled for control of Central Asia in the Great Game. It also came under its linguistic influence, and to this day, many Kazakhs speak more Russian than their Turkic native tongue.  This became especially concerning after Russian state media, which remain popular in Kazakhstan, helped whip up Russian-speaking separatists to fight government forces in Ukraine in 2014. In April, Kazakhstan's president of 27 years, Nursultan Nazarbayev, ordered the government to prepare a new Kazakh alphabet based on Latin characters and ditch the one based on Russia's Cyrillic script, which the Soviets implemented in 1940. He has said this will give Kazakhstan “real independence” and help it join the “information world”. But a cumbersome version of the new alphabet chosen by Mr Nazarbayev last autumn has sparked rare dissent in this authoritarian country due to its ample apostrophes. Of 32 letters in the alphabet, nine are written with an apostrophe. Mr Nazarbayev meets with Vladimir Putin in December. He has tried to gently assert Kazakhstan's independence from its former overlord Credit: Alexander Nemenov/Pool Photo via AP An “against apostrophes” hashtag soon appeared on social media. So did a “No to Kazakh Latinisation with apostrophes!” Change.org petition in October, which was briefly blocked. Film director Saken Zholdas made a video explaining how inconvenient the apostrophes were.  “With this decision, we are unintentionally, or maybe intentionally, killing the brand of Kazakh language once and for all,” he said. The problem lies in the need to differentiate related but distinct Kazakh sounds, such as a long and short “a,” or consonants similar to “s” and “sh”.  Setting them apart with an apostrophe allows the alphabet to be typed on a standard Latin keyboard, but also produces odd flurries of punctuation and many eyesore words. For instance, the word for “bottle,” pronounced “shisha,” is written “s'i's'a”, while “east,” pronounced “shyghys,” becomes “s'yg'ys”. Those are hardly the worst: The word for “skier” will be “s'an'g'ys'y” and that for “crucial” will be “s'es'u's'i”. The Republic of Kazakhstan will be written “Qazaqstan Respy’bli’kasy”. The palace of peace and reconciliation designed by Norman Foster in Astana, Kazakhstan Credit: Sergei Bobylev/\TASS via Getty Images Some have speculated that Mr Nazarbayev picked the apostrophes to keep Kazakh distinct from the Latinised alphabets of other Turkic languages and placate Russia, which since Soviet times has feared pan-Turkic movements along its southern border.  “The guy just liked it, and since our country is this way, no one in government can tell the president no,” Aidos Sarym, a political analyst who previously served on a state working group on Latinisation, told The Telegraph.  Last month, Mr Nazarbayev said while the new apostrophes had caused “much discussion,” this version was the right one because it suited computer keyboards.  But at the same time it complicates web searches and social media hashtags, where an apostrophe between letters splits them into separate words.  “From a technical point of view, apostrophes create more problems than they solve,” said political analyst Dosym Satpayev. Mr Nazarbayev appears with Donald Trump in the White House on Tuesday. He has tried to balance relations with the United States, Russia and China Credit: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg In his video, Mr Zholdas suggested replacing the apostrophes with accent marks over the nine letters in question, a move he said could be supported by 70 per cent of computer fonts. Despite the defence of his version in December, Mr Nazarbayev also said there was still time to “work with the new alphabet” before the country switches over fully in 2025, giving hope that he could eventually relax his stance. “He wants to go into history … as the father of the new Latin Kazakh alphabet,” Mr Sarym said. “You can choose any version and let it be called the Nazarbayev version, but do it right so there aren't problems now, and so that tomorrow we won't have to do an upgrade.”

Twitter Concedes Russian Influence Before U.S. Election Was Greater Than Initially Thought

Added: 21.01.2018 1:03 | 0 views | 0 comments


At least 677,774 people in the United States followed, retweeted or liked content distributed by Russian government-linked Twitter accounts in a 10-week span prior to the 2016 U.S. election, Twitter announced Friday.

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