US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis Visits Djibouti

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis arrived today for a short visit to Djibouti, a strategically important country on the Horn of Africa which hosts the United States'' only permanent military base on the African continent.

Camp Lemonnier, home to some 4,000 US soldiers and contractors, is vital to US military operations in Somalia against terrorists groups like Al-Shabaab, and also provides support for US operations in Yemen, where special forces regularly carry out drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Mattis is scheduled to meet with Djibouti's president, Ismael Omar Guelleh, during his trip as well as with General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of US troops in Africa.

  • Published in World

Problems to Cover Credit Increase Stress Among US Citizens

U.S. citizens have higher levels of stress today than they did 10 years ago, and most of them point to problems to cover their credits as responsible for that situation.

According to a study by CreditCards.com, a site dedicated to providing services and information on the use of credit cards, 65 percent of U.S. citizens lose sleep over monetary issues.

A decade ago, according to the study quoted by the press, that problem was nine percent less than the current record of affected.

The most common stressing factors are health care and payment of bills related to that topic, followed by retirement savings.

For a long time medical care has been a hot topic, and whether it is around the choice or simply the cost of maintaining your own care, we have seen a big leap in that area, said analyst Matt Schulz.

In addition to the above issues, U.S. citizens are very concerned about education expenses, mortgage bills and credit card debt.

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Cuban and US Nautical Authorities To Exchange Experiences

Cuban Authorities for recreational nautical activity and directors of Cruising World Magazine exchanged insights for a growing US interest in sailing across this archipelago.

The editor-in-chief of Cruising World magazine, Mark Pillsbury and its publication specialist David Gillespie, debated with some executives of Cuban enterprises for recreational nautical activity like Marlin Marinas and Nauticas.

During this meeting, both parties had the possibility to deal with the increasing desire of US tourism boat owners (thousands upon thousands) to dock in Cuban ports and be aware of Cuba’s reality.

The meeting -with the attendance of 3,500 people from 73 nations, 46 percent from the United States (1987 yachties)- was held at Ernest Hemingway International Club in Cuba, which will be celebrating its 25 anniversary on next May 21. The Club President, Jose Miguel Diaz, held the meeting with the magazine editors, and also the fruitful debate on the possibilities for Cuban yatchmen.

Both parties agreed that USA's economic, trade and financial measures against Havana still unchangeably remain, requiring only 12 special categories approved by the US Treasury Department to visit Cuba.

Precisely, the dialogue with the US representatives concludes with a trip or Cruising World Rally, in which 60 boats were present, with 267 people from 22 states of the American union, with presence of representatives from four countries.

  • Published in Cuba

End the Cuba trade embargo and support US exports

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join a “people-to-people” trip to Cuba, visiting not only Havana but smaller towns, such as Ceinfuegos and Trinidad. We met with Cubans from many walks of life, in their businesses, on their farms and in their homes.

The Cuban government has slowly opened their economy to private enterprise, especially in the visitor sector, and has lifted restrictions on technology and access to a world of information. The new influx of American visitors, eating at private restaurants, staying in bed-and-breakfasts booked on Airbnb and supporting artists and musicians is slowly changing the Cuban economy.

But as relations between the U.S. and Cuba are starting to thaw, the trade embargo remains, leaving U.S. companies on the outside as our competitors from abroad gain a foothold.

While the 1962 trade embargo appears to have trapped Cuba in the 1950s, it is a superficial view supported by the sight of old American cars and the few signs of post-1960 construction in city centers. Behind that old facade are modern products from countries from across the globe — Samsung refrigerators, LG flat-screen TVs, French and South Korean cars and smartphones. While Cuba trades with China, Canada, Europe and Brazil, there are no American cars on the road manufactured after 1961, no GE appliances, no parts for their fishing boats or construction materials. Our minor footprint is in the form of food products, like Tabasco sauce and Coke — though the Coke comes from Mexico, not Atlanta.

Meanwhile, there is an underground economy that imports products into the country on every flight from Miami. Mountains of shrink-wrapped products are included as “luggage” by Cubans traveling with U.S. visas. Ask a restaurant owner how he has Costco salt and pepper grinders on each table, and he will tell you it is the same way he has umbrellas from Home Depot: He pays a big surcharge to bring the items back from his regular visit to Florida.

While I am old enough to remember the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, most Cubans, like most Americans, are not. It is hard to explain how an island of 11 million people can still be seen as a threat to peace and stability in the region. In fact, we know it isn’t.

A Gallup poll in 2015 found that almost 60 percent of Americans support ending the trade embargo. As far back as 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — not exactly a bastion of liberalism — testified before Congress that “The U.S. embargo on Cuba is one of the biggest foreign policy failures of the past half century and should come to an end.”

The world economy has changed since the early 1960s, so we can never account for 70 percent of Cuban imports like we did before the embargo. However, we should see some new American cars on the streets of Havana amongst those from Europe and Asia, more agricultural goods and technology products.

Change is coming to Cuba, and America should recognize what’s good for business and be a trading partner in that process.

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Lavrov: US antimissile deployment in Asia-Pacific ‘disproportionate’ to Pyongyang threat

South Korea’s decision to deploy the THAAD antimissile system from the US is disproportionate to the threat posed by North Korea, which was voiced as justification by both Seoul and Washington, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

“We have drawn attention to the serious risks posed by the deployment of the US global antiballistic missile system in Asia-Pacific,” Lavrov said after meeting his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in Moscow. The two ministers met alongside their respective military colleagues, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada.

 
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors arrive at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea © USFK

“We have voiced our assessments, according to which, if one wants to deal with threats posed by DPRK, the creation of such ABM system as well as pumping weapons into the region are a response far from proportionate,” Lavrov said.

He added that both Moscow and Tokyo condemn Pyongyang’s violation of resolutions of the UN Security Council restricting its missile and nuclear development. Russia believes that international sanctions imposed against North Korea for defying the council “should not be perceived as an instrument of punishment, but rather a stimulus for steering the situation back into political and negotiations track.”

South Korea decided to deploy the THAAD system, due to be fully operational by August, saying it was necessary to protect from a possible missile attack by North Korea. The deployment angered China, which believes that the American system compromises its national security. Beijing is reportedly retaliating against Seoul with a round of economic measures, hitting Korean tourism and export to China.

Russia has similar concerns over the US deployment of ABM shield in Eastern Europe. Washington claims the system is needed to protect European NATO members from an attack by Iran and has brushed aside criticism from Moscow.

 

  • Published in World

Trump's Historically Brutal Budget Guts EPA, Boosts Military

"You see reductions in many agencies as he tries to shrink the role of government," said White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Ahead of its formal release Thursday, the White House unveiled key details about U.S. President Donald Trump's first budget proposal which would gut key departments, going as far to entirely eliminate 19 federal agencies, all in the name of boosting military spending and increasing "border security".

RELATED: Bolivia’s Evo Bashes Trump’s ‘Inhumane’ Defense Budget

While nothing in the budget is a surprise — even before taking the oath of office Trump and his surrogates hinted at many of the proposed cuts — the sheer breadth and depth of the proposed cuts are unprecedented.

With this initial budget — which only deals with discretionary spending for fiscal year 2018 and will be followed up by a more detailed budget later this spring — Trump is closer than any previous U.S. president to fulfilling the infamous goal of notorious far-right Republican anti-tax guru and Honduran coup supporter Grover Norquist of cutting government "down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub."

"You see reductions in many agencies as he tries to shrink the role of government, drive efficiencies, go after waste, duplicative programs," White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters. "If he said it in the campaign, it's in the budget."

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The biggest cuts would see the Environmental Protection Agency funding reduced by almost 30 percent, the State Department and Department of Agriculture cut by 29 percent each, the Department of Health and Human Services — which oversees Medicare and Medicaid — slashed by 23 percent and the Department of Labour funding diminished by 21 percent.

Funding for the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development would be cut by 14 and 16 percent respectively.

Trump would also entirely eliminate funding to 19 federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance to low-income citizens.

These cuts will mean thousands of federal workers will be fired, with some estimating that the cuts could mean up to 20 percent of the 2.79 million federal employees could lose their jobs.

RELATED: Trump's Defense Budget Loves Gitmo and Israel, Hates Renewables

"You can't drain the swamp and leave all the people in it," Mulvaney told reporters.

At the same time, Trump plans to boost the Department of Homeland Security budget by 7 percent — largely focused on fulfilling his promise to deport millions of undocumented workers — and increase military spending by 10 percent, meaning US$52.3 billion more in 2018 for U.S. wars around the world.

Also included is a request that Congress immediately approve US$1.5 billion to begin construction of his notorious border wall, with an additional US$2.6 billion when the rest of the 2018 budget is presented in mid-May.

The largest single increase in spending would go to the Department of Transportation, which would see funding boosted by over 13 percent.

Some of the spending increases would actually be directed at moving towards the privatization of key government functions.

The Department of Education, while cut overall, would receive US$1.4 billion in new monies for new "school choice programs," while the Department of Veterans Affairs could see an overall boost of more than 10 percent, much of that new funding which would go toward expanding a program allowing eligible veterans to seek private health care.

Most dramatically, perhaps, Trump is proposing to entirely privatize the national air traffic control system.

Trump will formally present this first phase of the 2018 budget process to Congress on Thursday where it is expected to undergo intense and lengthy scrutiny by both Republicans and Democrats.

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Protests Break out as New Michael Brown Footage Released

“They destroyed Michael’s character with the tape, and they didn’t show us what actually happened,” filmmaker Pollock told the New York Times.

Fresh protests in memory of Michael Brown broke out Sunday evening after new surveillance video featuring the slain Black teen hours before his killing was released, brought to light by a documentary called "Stranger Fruit" which debuted at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Saturday evening.

RELATED: How Racial Justice Movements Are Redefining Black Masculinity

Nearly 100 people gathered outside the Ferguson Market and Liquor Store where Brown was shot dead on Aug. 9, 2014 to demand justice, angered by new revelations uncovered in the documentary, which suggested Brown had not robbed the store — a fact that had been peddled by police to justify Brown’s fatal encounter with then-Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson.

The previously-unreleased surveillance video shows Brown inside the store eleven hours before he was accused of robbing it. Filmmaker Jason Pollock argues that Brown was not involved in robbing the store, but instead had conducted a drug deal with store clerks.

The video shows Brown handing them a small bag. The clerks then give Brown a bag with cigarillos. He takes it, but gives it back just before leaving. The film suggests the young teen did not return later that day to rob the store, but to get the bag back.

While the St. Louis County Police Department told CNN that they "cannot confirm its authenticity at this time," Attorney Jay Kanzler, who represents the Ferguson Market and Liquor store and its employees, says the version of events in the film is incorrect.

RELATED: Protests Mark 1 Year Since Mike Brown Murder, Ferguson Uprising

"My clients did nothing wrong," Kanzler told CNN. "They love the people of Ferguson and truly want to get on with their lives."

He said that the full surveillance video, which has still not been released since 2014, is set to be released Monday. He claimed that it will refute the filmmaker's "edited version of events."

The video footage released by police in the days after Brown was killed showed only the part where Brown strongarms his way out of the store with the cigarillos, after grabbing and shoving a clerk. It was recorded just minutes before Brown was shot by Wilson on the street outside.

“They destroyed Michael’s character with the tape, and they didn’t show us what actually happened,” Pollock told the New York Times.

As people chanted into the night, Ferguson and St. Louis County police both arrived on the scene. Near midnight, seven or eight shots were fired at the protest site, but no one was injured.

While the surveillance video has sparked outrage over police not releasing all available information about Brown's death and painting him as an aggressive criminal, many have been quick to point out that the new footage has no impact on the crux of what happened — that Wilson fatally shot Brown in cold blood and was not indicted.

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US Congressmen Interested in Agricultural Exchange with Cuba

US Congressmen visiting Cuba reportedly voiced their interest on knowing about the potential of the island''s agriculture with view to launching bilateral negotiations on this key sector.

On its website, the Cuban Foreign Relations Ministry informs the delegation held a working meeting at the Agriculture Ministry, a gathering seen as a further contribution to the normalization of bilateral relations.

The visiting Congressmen spoke in favor of lifting the economic blockade and maintaining mutually beneficial relations according to the laws governing international trade.

They added they are working to introduce in the US Congress bills to achieve such goals.

The two sides looked into Cuba's strategies to bring young people closer to the agriculture and the likelihood to exchange experiences and know-how on this sector, as well as promote joint research.

The legislative delegation also learnt about the agricultural projects and other business projects approved by the Cuban Government, as well as the damage the US blockade is causing the national economy.

The visiting representatives were Republican John W. Bergman and Tom Emmer, both from Michigan; Jason Lewis (Minnesota); Roger Marshall (Kansas), and James Comer (Kentucky). Four Government officials also made up the delegation.

  • Published in Cuba
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