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Iceland’s Tourism Boom Offers Lessons to Arctic Nations

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 23:42

PEOPLE IN ICELAND have lived off fishing for many centuries, and in the past decade aluminum production has carved out almost an equal stake in the economy. But both have recently been outpaced by tourism.

Two million tourists are expected to have poured into the island nation in 2016 – more than four times the country’s population – says Guðrún Þóra Gunnarsdóttir, director of the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre.

That’s the result of dizzying, double-digit growth in annual tourist visits in recent years. In 2013, Iceland welcomed 781,000 visitors who spent in 275 billion Icelandic króna ($2.4 billion) – outpacing for the first time the economic mainstays of fish and aluminum exportation. And the tourism industry expects strong growth to continue: by 2017 the year-on-year increase in tourists is predicted to reach more than 30 percent.


Iceland’s booming tourism industry may be the envy of Arctic nations, but it has had its costs. The country’s rising cost of living, deteriorating infrastructure and lack of government services have left some residents unhappy. While much can be learned from the success of tourism in Iceland, there is also a lot to be gleaned from the challenges it has posed.

The Crisis and the Fix

Change in the economy was already afoot after the 2008 recession led to the collapse of Iceland’s three major private banks. Bankruptcy rippled across the island. Along with it all came the collapse of the Icelandic króna.

While the recession rocked the stability of most Western countries, Iceland had a more literal shake-up just two years later. In April 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, showering ash and preventing air travel both in Iceland and some other parts of Europe. Not only was it the largest interruption to flights since World War II, but it also singed Iceland’s appeal as a tourist destination – despite the still-recovering króna making it a cheap place to visit. Tourism was projected to decline by 20 percentfrom earlier predictions for the summer of 2010.

The government and the tourism industry responded by creating a marketing organization, called Inspired by Iceland, to reassure travelers that Iceland was safe. The effort is believed to have helped turn-around a modest decline in tourism visits following the recession.

While other Arctic nations vie for tourists, there are a few factors working in Iceland’s favor. For one, its location: Iceland is conveniently located between Europe and North America, the two continents from which the vast majority of its visitors come.

Iceland’s airlines are capitalizing on this factor, offering stopovers of up to a week in Iceland at no additional cost for travelers en route to either side of the pond. Icelandair, the largest airline and biggest publicly tradable company in the country, even has a promotion to lend out one of its staff members as a local tour guide for a day.

And if Iceland is the final destination, a flight from New York City in March on Wow Air (another Icelandic airline seeing major growth) can come in at under $400 for a round-trip. By comparison, a flight from New York to Iqaluit, Nunavut, at the same time is around $2,300 and to Nuuk, Greenland, about $1,700.

Iceland also has more than its share of items on a northern bucket list. With images of aurora, wildlife, landscapes and lagoons, Iceland has become so good at marketing itself as a tourism product that tourists are now selling it themselves.

This year, Icelandair asked visitors to share their own images and stories of Iceland on social media using the hashtag #MyStopover. So far on Instagram the hashtag has been used 187,500 times, the photographs encouraging other travelers to follow in the same footsteps.

Playing Catch-Up

For northern nations, tourism is a hard sell for nearly half the year. While summer remains the more popular season for travel to Iceland, an Inspired by Iceland campaign to sell the idea of winter visits has been successful at balancing the scales.

“In terms of making Iceland a whole year-round destination, that has been successful,” says Gunnarsdóttir. “There’s a huge increase in winter tourism – growth in the winter months is much higher than the summer months.”

However, some of the challenges of winter visits exacerbate the issue of deteriorating infrastructure and broadening travel outside the capital region. One reason for this is that winter visits tends to be shorter than summer, no more than about four days, says Gunnarsdóttir. With the vast majority of tourists flying in through Keflavik International Airport in Reykjavik in the southwest, it’s unlikely that these travelers will venture far with such limited time.

An added challenge of travel outside of the capital is road conditions. It isn’t uncommon for routes to be closed for a day or two, says Gunnarsdóttir, or for road clearance to be granted only every other day. A good portion of Iceland’s road system outside of major centers is gravel – including more than 30km (19 miles) of ring road that circumnavigates the country.

The tourism boom has also raised worries about the lack of infrastructure and government services needed to support the industry. “Due to the economic crisis, there was a lot of cut-down in terms of funding for infrastructure development, like roads, and the healthcare sector related to health centers. There’s less services than there used to be,” says Gunnarsdóttir. “The same applies to if we look at the number of police working around the countryside and in Iceland in general. There’s fewer police working now than before the crisis but the number of tourists have gone up and up.”

As well as basic infrastructure, there’s the services that contribute to tourism growth, which are largely managed by local municipalities that – as many have complained – do not receive an equal share of the funds from tourism. Community pools, for example, are a major draw for tourists and some municipalities have recognized the need to extend hours. But the additional costs for staffing and maintenance aren’t necessarily covered by entrance fees.

The pressure on local governments, Gunnarsdóttir says, has come under discussion this past year in particular. “Tourist attractions like waterfalls, natural wonders within the municipality – you need a toilet, car parks, there’s a demand for information signs and things like that,” she says. “The increased number of people going to places often increases demands on municipal governments that don’t have big budgets.”

Growing Pains and Potential

Icelanders are already experiencing some challenges from the boom: The younger generation can no longer afford to live in downtown Reykjavik, as entire buildings are bought up for temporary housing such as AirBnB, says Gunnarsdóttir.

Criticism of tourism within Iceland, Gunnarsdóttir says, has largely been directed at government and industry representatives, as the tourism industry at times seems to grow faster than the country is able to prepare for it.

“People in general, Icelanders, are very positive toward tourists, even in the communities where they have a lot of tourists, they are positive toward tourists,” she says. “But they are less positive toward the way tourism development has happened.”

Iceland is well on its way to paying back a loan of $4.5 billion borrowed from the International Monetary Fund and neighboring countries following the recession. Unemployment is back down to pre-recession levels of just over 3 percent and the GDP has increased every year since 2013. The opportunity for tourism is clear, but so are the growing concerns. At the Arctic Circle assembly in Reykjavik in October, Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, a senior vice president with Icelandair Group, spoke to delegates about tourism in Iceland and the importance of cooperation between government, industry and communities.

One takeaway, he says, is that governments should not hesitate to protect certain areas with restricted visitorship and impose fees on tourism – Iceland has no entry fee and the hotel tax is less than a dollar. But if done right, he says, there is certainly potential for growing tourism across the Arctic.

“Responsible Arctic tourism allows visitors both to appreciate and respect Arctic nature and cultures and provide additional income to local communities while allowing them to preserve traditional lifestyles,” says Þorbergsson. “Tourism acts as a catalyst to preserve the way of life of the Indigenous people of the Arctic region and in tourism there’s a premium being paid for authenticity.”

With preservation and sustainability a focus of tourism, it can be the balance between other drivers of the economy, he says. “I believe tourism in the Arctic can offer a creative alternative to the industrial activity that is so often the backdrop of Arctic discussions.”

This article originally appeared on Arctic Deeply. For weekly updates about Arctic geopolitics, economy, and ecology, you can sign up to the Arctic Deeply email list.

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Categories: News Monitor

Trump Accuses CIA Director Of Leaking 'Fake News' About Russian Dossier

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 23:15

In an extraordinary escalation of tensions between the president-elect and his intelligence agencies, Donald Trump suggested in a tweet Sunday that outgoing CIA Director John Brennan may have leaked information about the existence of an unsubstantiated report that Russia allegedly has compromising information on Trump.

“Was this the leaker of fake news?” Trump asked following a Fox News interview with Brennan.

.@FoxNews "Outgoing CIA Chief, John Brennan, blasts Pres-Elect Trump on Russia threat. Does not fully understand." Oh really, couldn't do...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2017

much worse - just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2017

Trump attacked Brennan after the outgoing CIA boss sharply criticized the president-elect for not respecting the findings of the intelligence community, and described the threats to national security that Trump’s off-the-cuff comments could trigger.

He’s got to realize this is “more than being about him ― it’s about the United States and national security,” Brennan said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Now he’s going to have an opportunity to do something for our national security as opposed to talking and tweeting,” added Brennan, who warned that the president-elect’s impulsiveness could be dangerous. “He’s going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that U.S. and national security interests are protected.”

“Spontaneity is not something that protects national security interests,” he said. “When he speaks, when he reacts, [he has] to make sure he understands that the implications and impact on the United States could be profound.”

He also warned: “I think Mr. Trump has to be very disciplined in terms of what it is that he says publicly. He is going to be, in a few days’ time, the most powerful person in the world in terms of sitting on top of the United States government, and I think he has to recognize that his words do have impact.”

Brennan accused Trump of being naive about the threat Russia poses to the U.S., and said that the president-elect’s apparent lack of confidence in his own intelligence community could embolden the nation’s enemies.

“If he doesn’t have confidence in the intelligence community, what signal does that send to our partners and allies, as well as our adversaries?” Brennan asked.

Trump’s tweets on Sunday marked the first time he’s called out a member of the intelligence community by name.

Trump had earlier accused “intelligence agencies” of leaking the 35-page dossier on alleged Trump-Russia relations, and compared their actions to those of Nazi Germany.

Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to "leak" into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017

“What I do find outrageous is equating the intelligence community with Nazi Germany,” Brennan said Sunday. “I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly.”

The unsubstantiated report concerning Russia and Trump, prepared by a former British spy, contains unverified embarrassing allegations about the president-elect. Trump learned of the report from intelligence leaders last week when he and President Barack Obama were presented with information on Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign. The report on Trump’s alleged activities in Russia had already been circulated among politicians and members of the media.

Trump also took the opportunity on Sunday to again blast one of his favorite targets: NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Alec Baldwin reprised his Trump impersonation Saturday in a spoof “recreation” of the president-elect’s press conference last week. The bit included several jokes about the “pee pee party,” a reference to a particularly salacious allegation that appears in the unverified report.

.@NBCNews is bad but Saturday Night Live is the worst of NBC. Not funny, cast is terrible, always a complete hit job. Really bad television!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2017

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Categories: News Monitor

Women Reclaim The Streets Of Cairo Through Stunning Ballet Photos

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 23:06

In his series “Ballerinas of Cairo,” photographer Mohamed Taher documents Egyptian dancers making the city streets their stage ― pirouetting, leaping and posing their way through their country’s sprawling capital. 

The photos are, at first glance, stunning snapshots of a city’s vibrant culture in motion. But considering the dangers Egyptian women face for roaming these same streets on a daily basis, their impact is far deeper.

“There’s a huge problem for women in [Egypt’s] streets,” Taher recently told Upworthy. “There’s a lot of sexual harassment ... so now this was a layer of the project.”

Sexual harassment continues to present not just a possibility but a terrifying reality in present-day Egypt. A 2013 United Nations report calculated that 99.3 percent of women in the country have experienced sexual harassment on the streets, a problem that’s sparked initiatives giving women a way to fight back. The violence is rooted in an extreme conservative perspective encouraging women to stay in the home.

Taher’s project offers Egyptian dancers the opportunity to reclaim their native streets, performing publicly and inviting the city to take note.

“We got a lot of comments from girls saying they want to do this, and they were very enthused about it,” Taher said. “They want to dance on the street. They want to feel free. They want to have this feeling of being on the streets again, just walking the street.”

They want to dance on the street. They want to feel free.

In early January, the Egyptian Parliament approved tougher penalties for perpetrators of sexual harassment in an attempt to reroute a system that previously blamed and humiliated victims.

Now, the minimum prison sentence for sexual abusers is one year ― double its previous length. The fine for such a crime has been increased, as well, to a minimum of 5,000 and a maximum of 10,000 Egyptian pounds. Yet, as one activist told an Egyptian news source, true change won’t happen until Egyptians change their minds about harassment.

“Egypt does not lack laws, nor does it need harsher punishments,” Hala Mostafa, a founder of the initiative “I Saw Harrassment,” told Al-Monitor. “Egypt lacks political and social will.”

With luck, projects like Taher’s will help remold the minds of Egypt’s public through photographs whose message far exceeds their beauty. 

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Categories: News Monitor

Japanese Vessel Caught With Dead Whale Onboard, Activist Group Says

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 23:05

A Japanese whaling vessel has been photographed with what appears to be a dead minke whale onboard, a violation of a 2014 international court ruling that banned hunting of the animals.

The activist group Sea Shepherd published photos Sunday that show the Nisshin Maru whaling ship allegedly hunting in the Australian Whale Sanctuary. A dead cetacean can be seen prominently on the vessel’s deck, and the group said crew quickly “scrambled to hide the slaughtered whale with a tarp” when they were spotted by a helicopter.

“The whale killers from the Nisshin Maru were caught red-handed slaughtering whales in the Australian Whale sanctuary,” Adam Meyerson, the captain of Sea Shepherd’s Ocean Warrior patrol ship, said in a statement. “The Steve Irwin has shut down their illegal operations and caught them trying to hide the evidence.”

Japan has a long and defiant history around whaling, which it claims is conducted for research. But the United Nations’ international court of justice ordered a temporary halt to the practice in 2014, saying the country was hunting animals off Antarctica “not for purposes of scientific research.” More than 10,000 whales have been killed in the region since 1988.

But Japan announced plans to defy those orders, and relaunched its whaling vessels after a year hiatus last November.

Sea Shepherd’s release of the photographs came just hours after Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull. The pair are said to have discussed the issue, and Australia’s environment minister condemned the images.

“The Australian government is deeply disappointed that Japan has decided to return to the Southern Ocean this summer to undertake so-called ‘scientific’ whaling,” environment minister Josh Frydenberg said. “It is not necessary to kill whales in order to study them.

“We will continue our efforts in the International Whaling Commission to strongly oppose commercial whaling and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, uphold the moratorium on commercial whaling, and to promote whale conservation.”

Sea Shepherd said the images released Sunday are the first to show Japan flouting the 2014 ruling.

“The fact that the Japanese crew went to cover up their harpoons and the dead minke whale on deck just shows that they know what they’re doing is wrong,” Wyanda Lublink, captain of the group’s MY Steve Irwin, said in a statement. “They know they are in contempt of the ruling of the International Court of Justice and the Australian Federal Court.”

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Categories: News Monitor

Land Grabs Are Partly To Blame For Skyrocketing Violence In Central America

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 21:43

In 2013, San Pedro Sula in Honduras was the world’s murder capital, with a murder rate of 187 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, driven by a surge in gang and drug trafficking violence. Nationwide, the year before, Honduras’s murder rate was 90 murders per 100,000 people ― the highest in the world.

What’s behind this ongoing surge in gang and drug trafficking violence? The answer is multi-faceted but a key element has been overlooked again and again: Local elites and foreign corporations gained control over much of the land that could grow crops, forcing smallholder farmers off their land. 

After a land grab, large cities are often the only places farmers and others from rural parts of the country can go. But the cities offer few economic options for the migrants, and in response, they too often are targeted by gangs that make up a murderous urban sub-culture. Thus, many Central American refugees showing up at America’s door are both refugees of urban violence and, before that, of land grabs. 

Many Central American refugees showing up at America’s door are both refugees of urban violence and, before that, of land grabs.

Honduras is a prominent example. Land grabs accelerated there in the 1990s after the government passed the Agricultural Modernization Law, which privatized collective landholdings. This favored large landholders and destroyed the claims of smallholders, who typically do not have modern-style contracts affirming their land ownership. According to Tanya Kersson, author of Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras, a few powerful landowners grabbed more than 21,000 hectares in a short period between 1990 and 1994. This accounted for 70 percent of peasant lands in the Lower Aguan Valley, one the most fertile areas in the country and the site for much of the land conflict in Honduras.

Land grabs and violence against rural Hondurans have gotten worse since the 1990s. The 2009 military coup gave the large landholders even more flexibility in expelling small landholders from their land. The incentives for doing so also grew with the entry of rich foreign corporations and strong World Bank support. A prominent company called Dinant Corporation, which is owned by one of Honduras’s most powerful men, has been accused of killing over 100 peasants in recent years. Dinant is financed by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, supported by the U.N. Clean Development Mechanism and has links with global corporations like Mazola Oils.

Honduras is not the only country where this is happening. Large corporations have been taking control of rural land in many parts of the world over the last decade. That access is sometimes lawful but other times shadowy, and it is sometimes accompanied by brutal armed conflict against unarmed peasants. Globally, land grabs accelerated in the mid-2000s, putting a large number of smallholders in crisis. Large foreign corporations joined in, and there have been killings and terrorizing of smallholders who fight back.

Much of what gets registered as “modernization and development” by governments and institutions like the World Bank looks very different to local peasants and local activists, journalists and scholars. They see environmental destruction and criminal activity. The companies do create some rural jobs but those workers are underpaid and overworked. The costs associated with some development projects have been known for years, especially in Honduras, where dozens of legal practitioners and human rights defenders, not to mention farmers and environmentalists, have been killed over the past few years. Many of these crimes remain unsolved.

The consequences of these rural expulsions are varied, and the connections with land grabs are rarely made. For instance, the U.S. Border Patrol was taken by surprise when 63,000 unaccompanied minors, most from Central America, crossed the southern border of the U.S. between Oct 1, 2013 and July 31, 2014. This was nearly twice the number of previous years. The explanation given by the children was “La Violencia,” referring to the violence in the cities. Fear led them to cross the whole of Mexico to get to the U.S. For most, their parents were dead or in prison. Neither the border patrol nor most analysts of this surge in unaccompanied migrant children connect La Violencia with the fact that many of their parents were forced from their land and fled to the cities. 

Much of what gets registered as 'modernization and development' looks very different to local peasants.

Toward the end of 2014, the U.S. Border Patrol predicted up to 90,000 unaccompanied children would cross into the U.S. that year. The U.S. government asked Mexico to control its southern border to stem the flow of migrants from Central America. Between October 2014 and April 2015, Mexico detained almost 93,000 Central American migrants. Detention by Mexico’s guards at its southern frontier was brutal and put the U.S. in a dubious position. Washington eventually loosened the pressure on Mexico’s southern border detentions. So once again, the flow of Central Americans to the U.S. border, if they could make it that far, jumped sharply.

Countless individuals and families making this long trip have died, given up, stayed somewhere in Mexico or been kidnapped to work in plantations, mines or the sex economy. And these migrations are not likely to end. In addition to the violence, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the poorest nations in Latin America with 21 percent, 11 percent and 4 percent, respectively, of their people living on less than $2 a day.

Little will be learned from all this as long as the explanation from entities, such as the World Bank, and other experts is focused on gang violence in poor areas of cities. La Violencia is out of control. But these cities were not always this way. Violence does not fall from the sky. It is made. In this case, it is made partly by large modern corporations that expel small farmers.  

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Categories: News Monitor

At Least Five Dead In Shooting At Mexico Music Festival

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 20:54

By Gabriel Stargardter

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - At least five people, including four foreigners, were killed and 15 were wounded early on Monday when a shooter opened fire at a nightclub in Mexico’s Playa del Carmen resort during the BPM electronic music festival, state officials said.

Quintana Roo State Attorney General Miguel Angel Pech told a press conference that two Canadians, an Italian and a Colombian were killed. A woman died in the stampede to exit the club.

Pech said the incident began when a person entered the Blue Parrot nightclub armed around 3.00 a.m. on Monday morning, during the closing of the festival. Another person tried to stop the person, sparking a gunfight that drew in security staff.

The shooting represents a major blow to Mexico’s tourism industry, which has been one of the few bright spots in the economy thanks to a weak peso exchange rate.

Pech added that 15 people were injured, of whom 10 are still in hospital. The state government said in a statement that one person was in grave condition. Four people were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the incident.

Pech said two of the dead were BPM security workers but the festival said in a statement that three members of their security team were killed. BPM said the shooting was carried out by a lone shooter.

Quintana Roo and the surrounding Yucatan peninsula have traditionally been less violent than other parts of Mexico, with relatively low murder rates. However, with many foreign tourists and a vibrant night life scene, there has long been an important local drug market in and around Playa Del Carmen.

Videos purportedly shot at the scene shown on television and social media appear to show dancers ducking for cover and running out on the streets to safety.

“This is a very, very sad situation. Tryna get my head around it still. Thoughts and condolences to all affected,” Scottish DJ Jackmaster, who was performing at BPM, said on Twitter.

The BPM festival, which was entering its 10th year, has grown to be one of the biggest electronic music events in the world, with top DJs flying in every January to play the clubs of Playa del Carmen along Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

In recent years, Mexico’s Caribbean coast has drawn a growing number of DJs and fans of electronic music to the beautiful, balmy region, looking to escape the frigid European and North American winters.


(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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Categories: News Monitor

Duterte Says He May Impose Martial Law If Drug Problem Worsens

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 20:01

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he would impose martial law if the drug problem became “very virulent”, just a month after dismissing as “nonsense” any suggestion he might do so.

Duterte has made a brutal war on drugs a central pillar of his administration since he took office in the middle of last year.

Since July, more than 6,000 people have been killed in the anti-drug campaign, in both police operations and unexplained killings by suspected “vigilantes”. More than 1 million drug peddlers and users have been arrested or have surrendered to authorities.

Duterte, speaking to members of a chamber of commerce in the southern city of Davao late on Saturday, said he has sworn to protect the country against all threats, including drugs, which he said has affected about 4 million people.

“If I wanted to, and it will deteriorate into something really very virulent, I will declare martial law,” he said.

“No one can stop me,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court and Congress.

“My country transcends everything else, even the limitations.”

The Philippines endured a decade of martial law from the early 1970s and memories of campaigns to restore democracy and protect human rights are fresh in the minds of many people.

Last month, Duterte appeared to rule out any possibility he might declare martial law.

“That’s nonsense. We had martial law before, what happened? Did it improve our lives now? Not at all,” he said.

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Categories: News Monitor

Speak Loudly And Carry A Big Aluminum Bat

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 19:57

During this very month last year, aluminum smelters across the United States were closing, one after another. It was as if they produced something useless, not a commodity crucial to everything from beverage cans to fighter jets.

In January of 2016, Alcoa closed its Wenatchee Works in Washington State, costing 428 workers their jobs, sending 428 families into panic, slashing tax revenue counted on by the town of Wenatchee and the school district and devastating local businesses that no longer saw customers from the region’s highest-paying manufacturer.

That same month, Alcoa announced it would permanently close its Warrick Operations in Evansville, Ind., then the largest smelter in the country, employing 600 workers, within three months.

Worker at Alcoa's Warrick smelter in Evansville, Ind., before it closed in 2016. Photo by Steven Dietz, Sharp Image Studios, Pittsburgh.

Then, Noranda Aluminum fell. It laid off more than half of the 850 workers at its New Madrid, Mo., smelter in January, filed for bankruptcy in February and closed in March. The smelter was a family-supporting employer in a low-income region, and when it stopped operating, the New Madrid County School District didn’t get tax payments it was expecting.

This devastation to workers, families, communities and corporations occurred even after Ormet had shuttered a smelter in Ohio in 2013, destroying 700 jobs and Century closed its Hawesville, Ky., smelter, killing 600 jobs, in August of 2015.

It all happened as demand for aluminum in the United States increased.

That doesn’t make sense until China’s role in this disaster is explained.

That role is the reason the Obama administration filed a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week. In this case, the president must ignore the old adage about speaking softly. To preserve a vital American manufacturing capability against predatory conduct by a foreign power, the administration must speak loudly and carry a big aluminum bat. 

The bottom line is this: American corporations and American workers can compete with any counterpart in the world and win. But when the contest is with a country itself, defeat is virtually assured.

In the case of aluminum, U.S. companies and workers are up against the entire country of China. That is because China is providing its aluminum industry with cheap loans from state-controlled banks and artificially low prices for critical manufacturing components and materials such as electricity, coal and alumina.

By doing that, China is subsidizing its aluminum industry. And that is fine if China wants to use its revenues to support its aluminum manufacturing or sustain employment – as long as all of the aluminum is sold within China. When state-subsidized products are sold overseas, they distort free market pricing. And that’s why they’re banned.

China agreed not to subsidize exports in order to get access to the WTO. But it has routinely and unabashedly flouted the rules on products ranging from tires to paper to steel to aluminum that it dumps on the American market, resulting in closed U.S. factories, killed U.S. jobs and bleak U.S. communities.

Worker at Alcoa's Warrick Operations in Evansville, Ind., before the smelter closed in 2016. Photo by Steven Dietz, Sharp Image Studios, Pittsburgh.

In 2000, China produced about 11 percent of the aluminum on the global market. That figure is now 50 percent. A big part of the reason is that China quadrupled its capacity to produce aluminum from 2007 to 2015, and increased its production by 154 percent.

When China threw all of that extra, cheap, state-subsidized aluminum on the global market, it depressed prices. In that eight-year period, the price sank approximately 46 percent.

To compete, American smelters tried cutting costs and getting better deals on electricity. But even as U.S. demand increased, U.S. production declined 37 percent. And capacity decreased 46 percent.

What capacity decrease means is closed plants. The number of smelters dropped from 14 in 2011 to five last year, with only one operating at full volume.

Many of these manufacturing workers, thrown out of their jobs by what is clearly unfair trade, saw President-elect Donald Trump as a champion. Donald Trump said he would hold China to account on trade. He promised he would impose massive tariffs on goods imported from China. He said he would confront Beijing on currency manipulation, a practice that makes Chinese goods artificially cheap.

Many of those manufacturing workers voted for Donald Trump. Monroe County, Ohio, is a good example. That was the home of the Ormet smelter. The workers, who belonged to my union, the United Steelworkers, and the company asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2012 and 2013 to intervene with the utility to get lower rates to help Ormet survive.

Kasich refused. The smelter closed. Monroe County’s unemployment rate now is the highest in Ohio at 9 percent, nearly twice the national rate.  

Monroe County voters didn’t forget. Theirs was among the counties in Ohio that went for Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Though Trump didn’t win the Ohio primary, he got 35.9 percent in the crowded GOP field, and he took virtually all of the places in Ohio that, like Monroe, would say Kasich and other politicians turned their backs on them.

President-elect Trump carried 29 of Ohio’s Appalachian counties in the primary, those described as “geographically isolated and economically depressed.” These are counties that, like Monroe, lost family-supporting jobs in steel, manufacturing or mining. For the workers who haven’t left, the jobs that remain, in retail and fast food, don’t pay much, don’t provide benefits and aren’t secure.

When Donald Trump came to town talking tough about China, that sounded a hell of a lot better to those workers than their governor telling them he wouldn’t help with electrical rates – especially after they watched the governor in New York work a deal to save an Alcoa smelter and 600 jobs for 3 years in Massena.

And, of course, Donald Trump won Ohio in the General Election.

Workers across America, from Sebree, Ky., and Mt. Holly, S.C., where Century smelters are threatened to Wenatchee, Wash., where Alcoa has held out the possibility that the smelter could be restarted, were galvanized to support Donald Trump by his promises to confront China on its predatory trade practices.  If he fulfills those pledges, he will have the back of the blue-collar workers who had his. 

Worker at Alcoa's Warrick smelter in Evansville, Ind., before it closed last year. Photo by Steven Dietz, Sharp Image Studios, Pittsburgh.

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Dozens Reported Dead As Syrian Army Fights Islamic State

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 19:54

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Fighting between Islamic State and the Syrian army has killed dozens since Saturday in Deir al-Zor, where the militant group has launched an assault to capture a government enclave in the city, a monitoring group reported.

At least 82 people have been killed in the fighting, which is the heaviest in the city for a year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.

The dead comprised 28 from the army and allied militia, at least 40 Islamic State fighters, and 14 civilians, the British-based monitoring group said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the army had killed dozens of Islamic State fighters in attacks on the group’s positions around Deir al-Zor.

Islamic State has held most of Deir al-Zor and the surrounding area since 2015, but the government has retained control of the airport and neighboring districts in the city, located in eastern Syria on the Euphrates river.

A U.S.-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias and rival Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups have pushed Islamic State from much of its territory in northern Syria, but it remains embedded in the country’s eastern desert and Euphrates basin.

Last month it recaptured the city of Palmyra, 185km (115 miles) southwest of Deir al-Zor, from the government in an unexpected advance that demonstrated its continuing military threat.

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South Korea Prosecutor To Seek Arrest Warrant For Samsung Group Chief Jay Y. Lee

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 12:15

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s special prosecutor on Monday sought a warrant to arrest the head of Samsung Group [SAGR.UL], the country’s largest conglomerate, accusing him of paying multi-million dollar bribes to a friend of President Park Geun-hye.

Investigators had grilled Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee for 22 straight hours last week as a suspect in a corruption scandal, which last month led to parliament impeaching Park.

The special prosecutor’s office accused Lee of paying bribes total 43 billion won ($36.42 million) to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, a friend of the president who is at the center of the scandal, in order to secure the 2015 merger of two affiliates and cement his control of the family business.

The 48-year-old Lee, who became the de facto head of the Samsung Group after his father, Lee Kun-hee, was incapacitated by a heart attack in 2014, was also accused of embezzlement and perjury, according to the prosecution’s application for an arrest warrant.

“The special prosecutors’ office, in making this decision to seek an arrest warrant, determined that while the country’s economic conditions are important, upholding justice takes precedence,” special prosecution spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told a media briefing.

Prosecutors have evidence showing that Park and Choi shared profits made through bribery payments, he said, without elaborating.

Lee is due to appear on Wednesday morning at the Seoul central district court, which will decide whether to grant the arrest warrant.

Samsung, whose companies generate $230 billion in revenue, equivalent to about 17 percent of South Korea’s economy, rejected the accusation that Lee paid bribes.

“It is difficult to understand the special prosecutors’ decision,” it said in an emailed statement.

Prosecutors have been looking into whether Samsung’s support for foundations and a company backed by Choi was linked to the National Pension Service’s 2015 decision to support a controversial $8 billion merger of Samsung C&T Corp and Cheil Industries Inc.

Samsung has acknowledged providing funds to the institutions but has repeatedly denied accusations of lobbying to push through the merger.

“It is especially hard to accept the special prosecutor’s assertion that there was improper request for a favor related to the merger or succession of control,” it said on Monday.

NPS chairman Moon Hyung-pyo was indicted on Monday on charges of abuse of power and giving false testimony. Last month he acknowledged ordering the world’s third-largest pension fund to support the merger of Samsung C&T Corp and Cheil Industries in 2015 while heading the health ministry, which oversees the NPS.

The special prosecutor’s office said in its indictment of Moon that Park, through her aides, ordered Moon to ensure the merger of the two Samsung companies succeeded.

Park, 64, remains in office but has been stripped of her powers while the Constitutional Court decides whether to make her the country’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office.

Park has denied wrongdoing but admitted to carelessness in her relationship with Choi, a friend for four decades. Choi, in jail as she undergoes criminal trial and also denies wrongdoing.

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Prosecutors opted not to seek the arrest of three other Samsung executives they had questioned, including Vice Chairman Choi Gee-sung, a group veteran who is seen as Jay Y. Lee’s mentor and a likely caretaker head of the conglomerate in the event Lee is arrested.

Shares in flagship Samsung Electronics, the world’s biggest maker of smartphones, flat-screen TVs and memory chips, ended 2.14 percent lower, underperforming the 0.61 percent drop in the broader market.

Investors say that while key Samsung businesses are run by professional CEOs and would not be hurt on an operational basis if Lee is arrested, his absence would slow bigger-picture decision-making.

The Korea Employers Federation, a business lobby, said arresting Lee would undermine confidence both in Samsung and the country’s economy, Asia’s fourth-largest, and called the special prosecutor’s probe “very regrettable.”

South Korea has seen numerous corporate scandals over the years. Jay Y. Lee’s father Lee Kun-hee was himself handed a three-year suspended jail sentence in 2009 for tax evasion. He was later pardoned.

Public opinion has in recent years grown less tolerant of leniency extended to the heads of conglomerates, or chaebols, for the sake of the economy.


South Korea has been gripped by political crisis for months, with Park impeached in December.

If the impeachment is upheld by the Constitutional Court, an election would be held in two months, with former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expected to be a candidate.

Choi, in detention and on trial on charges of abuse of power and attempted fraud, again denied wrongdoing on Monday in an appearance at the Constitutional Court’s impeachment trial.

She also denied having any prior knowledge of the Samsung Group’s controversial 2015 merger of two affiliates.

“Even if I knew, I could not have passed on any information because I have no knowledge about mergers or hedge funds, anything like that, in the first place,” Choi told the court.

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Turkish Cargo Jet Crashes In Kyrgyzstan Village, Killing At Least 37

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 12:02

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BISHKEK, Jan 16 (Reuters) - A Turkish cargo jet crashed near Kyrgyzstan’s Manas airport on Monday, killing at least 37 people, most of them residents of a village struck by the Boeing 747 as it tried to land in dense fog, Kyrgyz officials said.

According to the airport administration, the plane was supposed to make a stopover at Manas, near the capital city Bishkek, on its way from Hong Kong to Istanbul. It crashed when trying to land in poor visibility at 7:31 a.m. (0131 GMT).

The doomed plane plowed on for a few hundred meters (yards) through the Dachi Suu village, home to hundreds of families, shattering into pieces and damaging dozens of buildings.

Plumes of smoke rose above the crash site, with some mudbrick buildings razed to the ground and others pierced by parts of the plane.

The torn-off tail assembly, rotated upside down, towered above a one-story house. A football pitch-sized area nearby was completely leveled and covered with twisted pieces of metal.

Locals said they had initially thought the area was struck by an earthquake.

“Around seven o’clock in the morning I heard a strong swat (noise) and after that all the nearest houses were shaken,” said local resident Andrei Andreyev.

“Of course, everyone got frightened and started to run out of the houses to the street. Nobody understood what was going on because there was a fog, the weather was not good.”

Initial estimates put the death toll from the crash at 37, said Kyrgyzstan’s emergencies ministry. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev announced Tuesday would be a national day of mourning.

Turkish Airlines said in a statement that the cargo flight was operated by ACT Airlines and neither the Boeing 747-400 aircraft nor the crew belonged to Turkish Airlines.

Turkish cargo operator ACT Airlines also said the jet was theirs.

“Our TC-MCL signed plane, flying on Jan. 16 from Hong Kong to Bishkek, crashed on landing at Bishkek at the end of the runway for an unknown reason,” ACT Airlines said in an emailed statement.

Our condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in the tragic incident involving an ACT Airlines aircraft in Kyrgyzstan.

— Turkish Airlines (@TurkishAirlines) January 16, 2017

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Insights on Sri Lanka's Transitional Justice Process

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 11:19
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a think tank based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He recently served as the Secretary of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF).

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

CTF's big report is finally out. What are some of the key takeaways?

CTF recommendations are grouped into general, cross-cutting and specific recommendations on the four mechanisms [a truth commission, a judicial mechanism and offices to handle both reparations and disappearances]. What we found at the outset was that people were both frustrated and angry by their past experiences of providing testimony to commissions without any results. Once they realized that this was the first time the government was seeking their views before the enactment of policy they expressed the hope that it would be different.

People wanted to be part of the mechanisms, have them located outside Colombo and operate in the languages they speak. Across the board, there was a demand for the truth and acknowledgement of it by the state. People also spoke to a number of confidence-building measures they wanted to see ranging from a new constitution with a political settlement to the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act to the return of land. Regarding accountability [for wartime abuses] they were clear that this should apply towards those who gave orders.

They also spoke about reparations in cash and in kind as well as symbolic reparations. The CTF in response to all of this did recommend that the government engage in outreach on transitional justice, come up with the legislation for the mechanisms without delay as well as a roadmap clearly indicating the relationship between the mechanisms.

What has attracted the most attention and criticism is the recommendation of a hybrid court in respect of accountability, the presence of internationals on the court and in the special counsel or prosecutor's office. This is in response to the demands on the one hand, predominantly in the north, that any mechanism that was entirely national would not be credible and on the other hand in the rest of the country, that international judges would be a violation of Sri Lanka's sovereignty and be biased. The CTF has recommended international participation as judges and in the prosecutor's office as reflected in the resolution at the UN Human Rights Council co-sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka and also recommended in the report on Sri Lanka prepared under the aegis of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

What, if anything, about the consultative process surprised you?

The depth of feeling and conviction of the importance of transitional justice and reconciliation, the lack of trust in the state and, as mentioned above, the anger and frustration with regard to going before so many commissions without result. It was suggested that there would be no interest in the consultations outside the north and east and that there would not be anything said about [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] LTTE atrocities and violations. This was not the case at all. In total, we received 7,300-odd submissions through public meetings, focus group discussions, national-level consultations, through e-mail and by post.

Do you expect any transitional justice mechanisms to be operational in the next few months? What sort of timeline should we expect?

Legislation on the Office of Missing Persons was passed in August, probably to meet the deadline of the September session of the Human Rights Council. Yet the office has not been appointed. I suspect that there may be legislation on a Truth Commission and [an office for] Reparations but not on accountability. Seems unlikely that all of these will be set up and running in the very near future. Partisan political considerations between and within the two main parties in government intrude to stymie quicker progress on transitional justice. The challenge to civil society is to ensure that transitional justice does not get indefinitely stuck. Continued attention at the Human Rights Council is therefore critical.

What's the best way for the international community to help Sri Lanka at this critical juncture?

As indicated above, critical and constructive engagement regarding commitments already made. Continued focus at the Human Rights Council is very important.

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Beijing Pledges To 'Take Off The Gloves' If Trump Keeps Pressing On Taiwan

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 08:05

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China has shown restraint in the face of provocations by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump over Taiwan, but if he continues after assuming office Beijing will “take off the gloves”, an official Chinese state-run newspaper said on Monday.

Trump broke with decades of precedent last month by taking a congratulatory telephone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and has since cast doubt on America’s commitment to a “One China” policy that recognizes the island as a part of China.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published late on Friday, Trump said the “One China” policy was up for negotiation. China’s foreign ministry said “One China” was the foundation of China-U.S. ties and was non-negotiable.

“If Trump is determined to use this gambit in taking office, a period of fierce, damaging interactions will be unavoidable, as Beijing will have no choice but to take off the gloves,” the English-language China Daily said.

The United States, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, has acknowledged the Chinese position that there is only “one China” and that Taiwan is part of it.

The China Daily said Beijing’s relatively measured response to Trump’s comments in the Wall Street Journal “can only come from a genuine, sincere wish that the less-than-desirable, yet by-and-large manageable, big picture of China-U.S. relations will not be derailed before Trump even enters office”.

But China should not count on the assumption that Trump’s Taiwan moves are “a pre-inauguration bluff, and instead be prepared for him to continue backing his bet”.

“It may be costly. But it will prove a worthy price to pay to make the next U.S. president aware of the special sensitivity, and serious consequences of his Taiwan game,” said the national daily.

Trump will be sworn in on Jan. 20.


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Millennials Are Worried About Life After Retirement

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 07:51
By AsiaToday reporter Kim Eun-young - Millennials are increasingly preparing for life after retirement.

According to a report by Wealthmanagement.com last month, Millennials started saving at a median age of 22. That compares to 35 for Baby Boomers. This may be reflecting Millennials' growing concerns about the future viability of social security and their intention to avoid working further into their retirement years or having to rely on their children for support as life expectancy has increased. An increased student debt burden associated with higher education and the cost of financial support for their families are among factors that may have encouraged early saving.

Singapore's Channel NewsAsia reported that 84% of young Singaporeans aged 25-35 years olds are concerned about their financial preparations for retirement, and 55% have started saving and planning actively for their future. In addition, 86% are willing to save S$300 (approx. KRW 250,000 ) a month to achieve S$1 million (approx. KRW 800 million won) by retirement.

Mr Edwin Ooi, a 27 year-old financial adviser in Singapore, is also planning ahead. Having dreamed of early retirement from his youth, he intends to stop working full-time by the age of 45 to spend his time more freely. He said, "I'm saving about 30% of my income on a monthly basis and that goes into various portfolios of investments." He added, "Retiring early would mean that I would have more time to spend with family and to do things that really matter in life."

Some Millennials are working two jobs to help prepare for their future. A recent data by Merrill Edge, an American online wealth management service provider, showed that nearly half of Millennials aged 18-24 years olds believe they need to take on a side job to reach their retirement goals, compared to 25% of all respondents.

The Straits Times (ST) said that Millennials are increasingly moonlighting as online personal shoppers or drivers for car-hailing firms like Didi Chuxing in China by means of internet economy. Ms Zhao Xu, 27, has a full-time job as a property agent. To supplement her income, she sells cosmetics and medicines procured from Japan. In a good month, she can make up to 5,000 yuan, which is one third of her income from her full-time job. She explains that it's possible with a smartphone and WeChat, a mobile messaging platform. She said, "My company is aware of this, but I will make sure my bosses don't see the ads that I spend out during office hours. I still value my full-time job as an agent." Economist Hu Xingdou, said, "These new opportunites allow people to have something to fall back on, reducing the risk of not being able to eke out a living amid a slowing economy."

Bloomberg recently said that Japanese Millennials are worried about their life after retirement at their early ages and they are tightening their belts to save money for their future. According to Swiss financial company UBS, those 25-34 years old save a larger share of their earnings than any other age group in Japan in 2015. Besides, there are also those young Japanese who consider living abroad to improve the quality of life after retirement. Kohei Ito, 24, works in a fitness center after graduating from college. He is planning to move overseas to teach sports to children in developing countries. "I don't believe the government will fix problems such as unsustainable pension system," he said. "I don't think Japanese politics is going to get better, and I don't think the economy will get better either," he added.

With increased focus on professional financial guidance following the trend, those applications that help Millennials' asset management are emerging. Hong Kong startup 8 Securities recently launched a robo-investment advisor app called "Chloe." Powered by artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies, the app effectively learns day by day as a system's user base and database grows. Once the savings goals and target date are set, the customer will be presented a selected exchange traded funds (ETFs) portfolio. In Singapore, there is a new application called FinGo, which enables you to view multiple bank accounts on a single screen. It was created based on the fact that many Millennials have two or three bank accounts each, and that multiple bank accounts could not always be viewed on a single portal at a glance. In addition, there's an American app Qapital, which allows you set up a number of triggers that helps you save automatically.

Financial industry experts say that the attitude toward retirement is changing among Millennials. "(Retirement) used to be working for a company for 20 to 30 years and then stopping, and that was it - you didn't work again," said Mr Mark Surgenor, Head of Wealth Sales at HSBC Singapore's Retail Banking and Wealth Management. "Now people are thinking in a much more active way about retirement." He added, "They are thinking about moving into retirement, by perhaps doing a bit less of their day job, and picking up some other work that's close to what they do, or something that's close to what they really enjoy. They might plan to do that for five to 15 years. Ultimately, they may eventually want to completely stop but it's much more of a phased approach now."

On the other hand, there is also a tendency among Millennials to concentrate on the present instead of preparing for their vague future as 'Yolo' (you only live once) has become a catch-all phrase for the generation. The UK daily Telegraph reported that Chinese Millennials rank travel more important than any other priorities listed, including buying a car or home, paying off debt, and savings, citing the recent study by market research agency GFK. The survey found that 93% of Chinese respondents considered travel an important part of their identity.

However, many experts recommend that you should begin your retirement preparations at an early age even if it's small amount. Zina Kumok, a writer specializing in personal finance, wrote a column entitled "Even Broke College Students Should Be Saving for Retirement" for the Time, where she stressed the importance of maximizing compound interest, "If John contributes $25 each month to a retirement account that earns 7% interest, he'll have $59,890.53 after 40 years. If he waits 10 years to start contributing, he'll have to save $52.50 each month to reach the same result after 30 years." For Millennials, the time to come is the greatest weapon.

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Donald Trump Says Refugee Crisis And Threats To UK Identity Drove Brexit

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 07:31

In a wide-ranging interview with the Times of London on Sunday, President-elect Donald Trump said he believes the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union “is going to end up being a great thing” and argued that threats to British identity were a main reason the UK voted to leave the union.

“People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity,” Trump told the paper. 

Trump also cited the migration crisis as a primary cause for Britain backing Leave in the June referendum.

“I believe others will leave,” he added. “People don’t want to have other people coming in and destroying their country.”

Some pro-Brexit politicians, such as Trump ally and former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, played to nationalist sentiment and fears over the refugee crisis in their campaign to leave the EU. In the lead-up to the vote, Farage drew widespread condemnation across party lines for unveiling a poster showing a long line of migrants and refugees, with the implication that the UK couldn’t control its borders.

The UK actually resettled a very small number of refugees in the migrant crisis compared with other European nations. Even before voting for Brexit, the UK also had the power to opt out of EU asylum policy and refugee resettlement plans.

On Friday, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the EU Anthony Gardner said that he believed Farage had misled Trump and his transition team on EU politics. Gardner said encouraging Brexit and the breakup of the EU would be “folly” and hurt American interests.

The interview with the Times of London took place at Trump Tower, where Trump spoke with UK Conservative Party politician Michael Gove ― who himself campaigned for Brexit and made a failed bid to become British prime minister following the referendum. In other parts of the interview, Trump criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s asylum policy, claimed he was open to negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin to reduce nuclear arms and described Russia’s intervention into Syria as “a very bad thing.”

Trump also promised to pursue a trade deal with the UK once in office, according to the Times of London. In footage from the interview, however, Trump appears to dodge a question from Gove asking if Britain is “at the front of the queue” in terms of trade talks. Trump responds by saying, “I think you are doing great,” in an apparent reference to the UK.

Trump initially came out in support for Britain leaving the EU in May, when polls indicated that Britons would vote to stay in the economic bloc. During his campaign, Trump said people would call him “Mr. Brexit” for his ability to defy polling that indicated he would handily lose the U.S. election. 

The UK has been mired in a period of political and economic instability after the Brexit referendum, as its government attempts to formulate a plan for how to exit the EU. The British Pound has plummeted since the vote, losing almost 20 percent of its pre-Brexit value against the U.S. dollar. 

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Five Reasons the Paris Conference Failed

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 06:31
As we said repeatedly in the build-up to Sunday's gathering in Paris of representatives of 70 countries to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue, AJC has long supported the search for an enduring peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state accord.

It is precisely in that spirit that we voiced our concerns about this conference, believing it would be irrelevant at best, harmful at worst, to the pursuit of a deal.

Our concerns, following the conference's conclusions, can be summed up in five points.

First, as should have been crystal-clear by now, the Palestinians have avoided the only place where an agreement can be reached - the bargaining table with the Israelis. Therefore, every such diplomatic end-run only emboldens the Palestinians to believe, mistakenly of course, that they can achieve their goals without the tough negotiating required of face-to-face talks.

Second, Israel rightly felt that its own concerns were ignored in convening the conference, which the Israeli prime minister called "futile" and "rigged." Antagonizing and isolating one of the two principal parties to the conflict from the get-go is not a strategy for success.

Third, it was not lost on the incoming U.S. Administration that this conference took place exactly five days before the transfer of power in Washington. President-elect Trump and his team didn't hide their objections to the gathering. It is very possible that there will be some form of "payback" after January 20th, when the international community has to come to grips with the fact that the U.S. is the one indispensable player in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and may have a long memory about what occurred on January 15th.

Fourth, France didn't help its own quest to be an "honest broker" in the conflict. Indeed, one nation, the United Kingdom, laudably demonstrated why. To the credit of London, it adopted a hands-off approach, saying in an official statement: "We have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them - indeed which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis - and which is taking place just days before the transition to a new American President when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement. There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace. That's why we have attended in an observer status and have not signed up to the communique."

And last but by no means least, this conference sought to mobilize the globe, and not for the first time, on this one issue, and only days after the UN Security Council did the same thing. Meanwhile, other, pressing issues cry out for attention and resolution, but to no avail. Syria, above all, represents by far the greatest human tragedy of the 21st century, shattering the country, killing hundreds of thousands, and driving millions into exile, with profound ramifications for both neighboring countries and all of Europe as well.

Yet all the time, effort, and investment of the Paris gathering went into the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and not to Syria (a topic, by the way, on which France claims special historical understanding and political savoir-faire) - or, for that matter, to the other failing and disintegrating states in North Africa and the Middle East, or to the brazen Russian attempt to divide Europe against itself while continuing its occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, or to the profound threats to Europe deriving from terrorism, failed integration models, and the surge of populist, xenophobic political parties.

This conference is now behind us and, thankfully, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has offered assurances that it will not be followed by still more UN Security Council action in the coming days.

But what lies ahead remains the empty Palestinian seat at the negotiating table. When it will be filled, then, perhaps, we can look forward to the proper framework for seeking the ultimate goal - two states for two peoples living side-by-side in peace.

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Ecuador Has ‘Hope’ For Good Relationship With Trump Despite ‘Concerns’

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 06:13

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WASHINGTON ― The election of Donald Trump sent shock waves throughout the world, most notably in countries like Mexico and China that the president-elect made whipping posts during his campaign.

But scores of other countries are also closely watching the new administration, including nations like Ecuador that have a sizable number of citizens living in the United States.

“Concerns, of course we have, because we’re not deaf and we listened to the campaign and we heard a lot of things that are troublesome, particularly when those things affect our Ecuadorian citizens in the United States,” Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s minister of foreign affairs and human mobility, told The Huffington Post in an interview last Thursday.

Long emphasized, however, that Ecuador respects the results of the U.S.’s democratic elections.

“We’re gonna have the best of attitudes. After the 20th of January, we’re going to have the best predisposition to work with the new administration,” he said.

Long was visiting the United States to promote Ecuador’s plans to crack down on tax shelters and mark the start of Ecuador’s term as leader of the G-77 bloc of developing nations at the United Nations. On Friday, Long traveled to Connecticut to meet with members of the Ecuadorian-American community.

Some 1 million of the 3 million Ecuadorians living abroad live in the U.S., Long said. And between 20 and 25 percent of these Ecuadorians are undocumented immigrants, he estimated.

Ecuador not only grants its citizens living in foreign countries the right to vote in elections, it also sets aside six seats in its national assembly for these emigrants.

In addition, remittances from these Ecuadorians are a significant source of cash for the country’s economy. In 2015, Ecuadorians living abroad sent $2.4 billion back to Ecuador ― and more than $1 billion from the United States alone.

That makes Trump’s promise to ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants both a political and economic worry for the Ecuadorian government. 

As a result, the Trump administration’s immigration policy is among the biggest of the Ecuadorian government’s “concerns.”

Long alluded to Trump’s plans to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out immigrants.

“I think a lot of people in the world have concerns ― a lot of people in Latin America, a lot of my colleagues, are nervous about it,” he said. “We’ve been talking about less walls and more bridges.”

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Trump Wants To Cut Russia Sanctions In Return For Nuclear Arms Deal

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 05:43

LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will propose offering to end sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he told The Times of London.

Trump, in an interview with the newspaper published online on Sunday, was deeply critical of previous U.S. foreign policy, describing the invasion of Iraq as possibly the gravest error in the history of the United States and akin to “throwing rocks into a beehive.”

But ahead of his inauguration on Friday as the 45th U.S. president, Trump raised the prospect of the first major step towards nuclear arms control since President Barack Obama struck a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia in 2010.

“They have sanctions on Russia - let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” the Republican president-elect was quoted as saying by The Times.

“For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.”

The United States and Russia are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers. The United States has 1,367 nuclear warheads on deployed strategic missiles and bombers, while Russia has 1,796 such deployed warheads, according to the latest published assessment by the U.S. State Department.

Trump has vowed to improve relations with Moscow even as he faces criticism he is too eager to make an ally of Putin, a former KGB spy who rose to the top of the Kremlin in 1999.

The issue has faced renewed scrutiny after an unsubstantiated report that Russia had collected compromising information about Trump.

The unverified dossier was summarized in a U.S. intelligence report presented to him and Obama this month that concluded Russia tried to sway the outcome of the Nov. 8 election in Trump’s favor by hacking and other means. The report did not make an assessment on whether Russia’s attempts affected the election’s outcome.

Trump accused U.S. intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier information, which he called “fake news” and phony stuff.” Intelligence leaders denied the charge.


In the interview with The Times, Trump was also critical of Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, which along with the help of Iran, has tilted the conflict in President Bashar al-Assad’s favor.

Trump said Putin’s intervention in Syria was “a very bad thing” that had led to a “terrible humanitarian situation.”

The war has killed more than 300,000 people, created the world’s worst refugee crisis and aided the rise of the Islamic State militant group.

On NATO, Trump repeated his view that the military alliance was obsolete but added it was still very important for him.

“I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete,” Trump told The Times, speaking of comments during his presidential campaign. “It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right.”

Trump added that many NATO members were not paying their fair share for U.S. protection.

“A lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States,” Trump said. “With that being said, NATO is very important to me. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much.”

Trump also said he would appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to broker a Middle East peace deal, urged Britain to veto any new U.N. Security Council resolution critical of Israel and criticized Obama’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal.

On Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Trump said: “Brexit is going to end up being a great thing” and said he was eager to get a trade deal done with the United Kingdom.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Scottish Newspaper Nails Trump Inauguration-Induced Anxiety

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 05:23

The Scottish Sunday Herald injected a major dose of macabre humor into its television listings for the upcoming week ― by adding a fictional review of President-elect Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration to the list.

Reviewer Damien Love compared the upcoming event to a new episode of “The Twilight Zone” in his Sunday TV writeup, saying it’s looking to be “one of the most ambitious, expensive and controversial productions in broadcast history.”

This figurative episode, he continued, “sets out to build an ongoing alternative present” that begins “in a nightmarish version of 2017 in which huge sections of the US electorate have somehow been duped into voting to make Donald Trump president.”

As what began as a farfetched concept “goes on it becomes more and more chillingly plausible,” he added.

He ends on a chillingly ominous tone, calling it “a flawed piece, but a disturbing glimpse of the horrors we could stumble into, if we’re not careful.”

Many on Twitter had a field day:

The Sunday Herald TV Section wins today. pic.twitter.com/OanCZdznGJ

— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) January 15, 2017

Quite the perfect preview by the Sunday Herald. If only it were really apotropaic fiction. #Trump https://t.co/dT9dqDs5Ow

— James Reynolds (@JimbobR01) January 15, 2017

I don't think the TV editor at the Sunday Herald is a Donald Trump fan pic.twitter.com/pfie9vJVm6

— Andrew Bloch (@AndrewBloch) January 15, 2017

The Sunday Herald has a terrifying sense of humor https://t.co/d1xHmHS1ZC

— Naheed Phiroze Patel (@naheedppatel) January 15, 2017

Trump himself didn’t respond to the writeup but he did tweet an elusive message about unity and change on Sunday, following a tweet Saturday about the inauguration shaping up to be “bigger than expected.”

For many years our country has been divided, angry and untrusting. Many say it will never change, the hatred is too deep. IT WILL CHANGE!!!!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2017

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Trump Says Merkel Made A 'Catastrophic Mistake' With Refugee Policy

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 04:59

LONDON/BERLIN, Jan 15 (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made a “catastrophic mistake” with a policy that let a wave of more than one million migrants into her country.

In a joint interview with the Times of London and the German newspaper Bild, Trump also said the European Union had become “a vehicle for Germany” and predicted that more EU member states would vote to leave the bloc as Britain did last June.

“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake, and that was taking all of these illegals,” Trump said of Merkel, who in August 2015 decided to keep Germany’s borders open for refugees, mostly Muslims, fleeing war zones in the Middle East.

“And nobody even knows where they come from. So I think she made a catastrophic mistake, very bad mistake,” Trump said, adding that he always had “great respect” for Merkel and that he still viewed her as one of the most important world leaders.

Merkel faces a tough re-election battle in September.

Trump, who takes office on Friday, campaigned for president on promises of banning Muslims from entering the United States or imposing more severe restrictions on migrants from countries or regions with high levels of militant Islamist activity.

Trump said Germany had only recently gotten a clear impression of the consequences of Merkel’s migration policy, without elaborating.

Last month, a 24-year-old Tunisian failed asylum-seeker drove a truck into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people, before fleeing to Italy, where he was shot dead by police.

The attacker, Anis Amri, came to Germany in July 2015 after having spent four years in jail in Italy. That means he entered Europe before Merkel’s August 2015 border decision.

In the interview, Trump said British voters would not have approved leaving the European Union had Europe not been engulfed in a migrant crisis.

“I do believe this, if they (the EU countries) hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many ... I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit,” Trump said.

“It probably could have worked out but this was the final straw, this was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Turning to his family’s German roots, Trump said he was proud to have had ancestors from Germany and that he loved Germany. Asked about character traits he would link to his German roots, Trump said he liked order and strength.

The United States is Germany’s most important trading partner, and Trump’s protectionist talk has unnerved business leaders and exporters in Europe’s biggest economy.

In the interview, Trump said the United States will impose a border tax of 35 percent on cars that German carmaker BMW plans to build at a new plant in Mexico and export to the U.S. market.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Will Dunham)

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