Author: Worldcrew

Tariffs Help Domestic Producers but Can Hurt Consumers

President Donald Trump has threatened to impose taxes, called tariffs, on goods imported to the United States from Mexico and China.

Governments impose tariffs on imported goods and services to make them more expensive to consumers. Tariffs provide revenue to the government and give a price advantage to domestic producers.

A tariff could mean a foreign-made car or bottle of beer will cost more, so domestic autos or beverages sell better or can command higher prices. This makes domestic companies more competitive with foreign firms and helps them keep or even expand their workforces.

While tariffs protect domestic industries, they do so at the expense of consumers, and at the risk of increasing inflation. Tariffs also hurt foreign producers, who may press their own government to retaliate by imposing tariffs on U.S. goods headed for their home nation.

This kind of tit for tat slows trade by making it more expensive. Reduced trade can also hurt economic growth and employment by lowering demand for goods and services.

Economists say a vicious circle of rising protectionist tariffs and countertariffs slashed international trade by two-thirds during the 1930s, contributing to the Great Depression.

UN: Extremism, Hatred Could Trigger Another Holocaust

As the world honored the memory of the millions of people exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust, the United Nations warned Friday that the rise of extremism and hatred could trigger another monstrous act of genocide.

U.N. officials used International Holocaust Remembrance Day to urge nations to be vigilant and to take preventive action against anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

There is anecdotal evidence of an upsurge in those kinds of crimes following the divisive Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom and the presidential campaign in the United States, according to Rupert Colville, spokesman for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The kind of social restraints, the cultural restraints, appear to be slipping quite fast, certainly in Europe and possibly the U.S. as well, but also in other parts of the world,” Colville told VOA. “You know you have ethnic-based attacks and religious-based attacks in quite a few countries that are actually leading to deaths and destruction, and so on. So, yeah, it is always a worrying phenomenon and it does appear to be getting worse, at least in some countries.” 

In Washington, President Donald Trump marked the day by issuing a statement saying it is with “a heavy heart and somber mind” that Americans remember the survivors and victims of the Holocaust.

Trump pledged to do everything in his power to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. In a departure from some of his campaign rhetoric that singled out various ethnic groups for criticism, Trump said his administration, together with others, will work to make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.

Europeans Push Back Against Trump’s Torture Remarks

President Donald Trump’s tough talk on countering terrorism and U.S. media reports that his administration may be considering reviving a counterterror program that earned worldwide condemnation are increasing European alarm about America’s new leadership.

In London, the pushback has been fierce, complicating British Prime Minister Theresa May’s trip to Washington, where she hopes to begin forging closer ties between post-Brexit Britain and the United States.

Senior members of May’s ruling Conservatives and opposition leaders, as well as influential celebrities, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, have criticized Trump’s midweek remarks to CNN that “torture works” in the interrogation of terrorism suspects.

And they have expressed dismay at U.S. media reports suggesting the new administration may be considering reopening secret CIA-run prisons outside the U.S. to handle suspected terrorists. The reports on the possible revival of “black sites” are based on a purported draft executive order suggesting Trump may order a review of how America interrogates suspected terrorists.

The New York Times and Associated Press both reported at midweek that they had copies of the document, which they said was circulating among top administration officials. But White House spokesman Sean Spicer insisted the draft “is not a White House document.'”

He provided no further explanation as to the draft’s provenance or any theory about its authorship. “I have a no idea where it came from,” Spicer told reporters.

The Times, however, reported late Wednesday that it had been told by three unnamed administration officials that the White House circulated the document among National Security Council staff members for review Tuesday morning. Spicer had come under criticism earlier this week for making misleading or transparently false statements from the White House podium.

Heat on May

Andrew Tyrie, a senior Conservative lawmaker in Parliament, has urged May to make it clear when she meets Trump that Britain will not facilitate torture or provide assistance in operating black sites. “When she sees him on Friday, will the prime minister make clear that under no circumstances will she permit Britain to be dragged into facilitating that torture, as we were after September the 11th?” he asked the British leader Wednesday in the House of Commons.

In response, May said, “I can assure my honorable friend that we have a very clear position on torture. We do not sanction torture, we do not get involved with that, and that will continue to be our position.”

“You cannot lead on a global stage by advocating torture,” tweeted Conservative lawmaker Sarah Wollaston.

The leader of Britain’s opposition Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has urged May to “stand up for our country’s values when she meets Donald Trump and oppose his support for torture, which is inhumane, illegal and delivers false intelligence.”

As May left the British capital for the U.S., she insisted she wouldn’t be afraid to speak candidly to Trump on matters where they disagree, pointing out she had criticized remarks he made about women and Muslims.

European leaders have also been quick to stress their opposition to the use of torture techniques or black sites. They have warned any return to the counterterror program run by the administration of Trump’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, could disrupt European-American cooperation in the war against terror — including current agreements on data and intelligence sharing.


Legal hurdles

Even if European governments wanted to assist with black sites, analysts say, it would be legally difficult for them to do so.

The European Court of Human Rights has issued several rulings in recent years in cases brought before the court arising from Bush-era European cooperation and cases concerning Guantanamo detainees.

Poland, Italy and Macedonia all have faced legal challenges for participating in the Bush-era High Value Detainee Program run by the CIA, including a European Court of Human Rights ruling that required Poland to pay $262,000 in reparations to two Guantanamo inmates who had been tortured in Poland.

The ECHR rulings, analysts say, would largely prohibit European states from collaborating with a U.S. counterterrorism policy that uses enhanced interrogation techniques or degrading treatment, which the court has labeled torture, or extraordinary rendition, the practice of sending a foreign terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated in a country with less rigorous regulations for the humane treatment of prisoners.

“While there is a varying degree of compliance with ECHR obligations across the 47 states of the Council of Europe, press and political pressures will mean that states that value and take pride in their respect for human rights will find it difficult politically to cooperate with the Trump administration, should it gain notoriety for torture, or inhumane or degrading treatment,” said Brian Chang, analyst with the University of Oxford’s Parliaments, the Rule of Law and Human Rights Project.

Black sites and extraordinary rendition remain explosive issues for European governments, which were burned in a political backlash when their cooperation with the High Value Detainee Program became known publicly. Ministers in the government of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, including Jack Straw, who as home secretary signed off on several renditions, are still being sued in British courts for their participation in the CIA’s past detention and interrogation programs.


French, Spanish cases

French and Spanish courts are also pursuing cases. Earlier this year, General Geoffrey Miller, former commander of U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay, ignored a subpoena from a French court that is hearing a case brought by Guantanamo detainee and French citizen Mourad Benchellali.

The Bush administration sanctioned the use of torture in the aftermath of 9/11. While it stopped soon after that, it was only when Barack Obama became president in 2009 that a formal ban on enhanced interrogation was announced.

Starting in 2006, the Council of Europe launched a series of inquiries to determine what secret detention facilities the CIA operated in Europe. A European Parliament committee also investigated that issue but was unable to get far, prompting the European Parliament last year to condemn obstacles member governments placed in the path of investigators.

The European Parliament named Lithuania, Poland, Italy and the United Kingdom as countries complicit in the CIA’s Bush-era operations. A U.S. Senate report on torture made public in 2014 said that Poland’s former president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, signed off on a CIA black site in his country.

Trump Draft Order Would Ban Syrians, Trim Refugee Program

As President Donald Trump rolled out a series of executive orders this week aimed at stepping up enforcement of immigration laws, a draft of another anticipated set of changes targeting foreigners began circulating in the media.

If signed as is, the presidential edict would gut the U.S. refugee program and halt entry to the U.S. for nationals from seven countries.

Several media outlets, including The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times, have reported details of the changes obtained by their reporters. It was unclear how the reported changes would compare with the final executive order, but most of the policy points contained in the draft hew closely to Trump’s campaign rhetoric and stated positions.

They would affect immigrants, visitors and refugees from majority-Muslim countries, with the aim — as the title of the executive order describes — of “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.”

Albright alleges bias

In a call with reporters and members of the refugee resettlement community Thursday afternoon, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the order would be “one of the worst things that has happened in a very long time as far as United States values are concerned,” adding that there is “no question this order is biased against Muslims.”

A version of the draft published online by the Times indicates the executive order, which the White House indicated might be signed this week, intends to:

— Suspend immigration and travel to the U.S. for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen for 30 days.

— Institute a 120-day ban on refugee admissions, but allow certain exemptions for refugees of minority religions in their home countries.

— Cut the refugee ceiling for the current fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000.

— Ban Syrian refugees indefinitely.

— Create “safe zones” in Syria and the “surrounding region” for displaced persons and refugees.

— Implement a biometric entry-exit system for travelers to the U.S.

— Suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and require in-person interviews for all nonimmigrant visas.

— Require the Department of Homeland Security to publish a report every six months on “foreign-born individuals” who have been “radicalized,” commit acts of gender-based violence, or are charged with or convicted of terror-related offenses.

Timing unclear

How and when such policies would be implemented remained unclear. Refugee resettlement agencies in the U.S. had ramped up personnel in expectation of the ceiling established by the administration of President Barack Obama in September; those who work with refugees who have already arrived in the U.S. say their clients are concerned that family members will now be denied.

About 32,000 refugees have arrived since the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1.

Lavinia Limon, who heads the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said that in decades of working on refugee issues, “we’ve seen a lot of nonsense come and go.”

“We presume we will see this go at some point,” Limon added. “In the meantime, it’s demoralizing.”

New York Man Sentenced to 20 Years for Terrorism Plot

The U.S. Justice Department says a federal district court in New York has sentenced a man convicted of terrorism charges to 20 years in prison and 50 years of supervised release.

The Justice Department said Thursday that Emanuel Lutchman, 26, received his sentence for conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State. The group is a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Mary McCord, acting assistant attorney general for National Security, said Lutchman “conspired with an ISIL [Islamic State] member located overseas and planned to kill innocent civilians on U.S. soil in the name of the terrorist organization.”

The defendant “was in direct personal communication with an individual who was an external attack planner and influential recruiter for ISIL in Syria,” acting U.S. Attorney James Kennedy said.

Court documents name the Syrian contact as Abu Issa Al-Amriki, a known IS leader who is now deceased but was communicating with Lutchman in 2015, according to Lutchman.

Lutchman has admitted to conspiring with Al-Amriki in 2015 to conduct an attack against civilians using knives and a machete on January 31 of that year.

Lutchman said he planned to conduct an attack that could be claimed by the terrorist group in order to gain membership in the organization.

Court documents say Lutchman posted support for the group on social media, including images, videos and documents related to Islamic State and violent jihad, or holy war.

Documents also said Lutchman downloaded and watched terrorism videos and maintained a digital collection of terrorism-related documents, including those meant to provide guidance to would-be terrorists plotting so-called “lone wolf” attacks in the United States or elsewhere.

Documents say Lutchman initiated contact with Al-Amriki on Dec. 25, 2015, and agreed in subsequent communications to attack and kill as many people as possible in a U.S.-based attack.

Lutchman then made contact with three other individuals affiliated with the FBI who were posing as fellow would-be terrorists, to whom Lutchman admitted his intentions and from whom he solicited support.

Lutchman has admitted that with his contacts, he identified a location in Rochester, New York, as a target; obtained weapons and supplies, and discussed making a video that Islamic State could use after the attack to prove his allegiance.

After Lutchman made the video, he was arrested by law enforcement officials and the weapons and supplies were confiscated. He has been in federal custody since Dec. 30, 2015.

Bulgaria’s New Interim PM Promises Stability Ahead of Elections

Bulgaria’s newly appointed interim prime minister has pledged to maintain political stability and continuity as he leads the Balkan country towards a parliamentary election on March 26, its third since 2013.

On Tuesday, President Rumen Radev named Ognyan Gerdzhikov, a law professor and former speaker of parliament, to head an interim cabinet following the resignation of Bulgaria’s center-right government late last year.

Under Bulgaria’s constitution, the tasks of an interim cabinet are largely limited to preparing the country for elections and ensuring the smooth functioning of the state.

Prepare for elections

“An interim government at first glance does not have a lot of tasks — its key task is to organize fair elections,” Gerdzhikov, 70, told BNT state television on Tuesday.

“Of course, the state must be run in such a way as to ensure calm. What has been done by those before us must be built on and shortcomings must be tackled,” he added.

Gerdzhikov, a respected centrist whose appointment has been welcomed across Bulgaria’s political spectrum, officially takes up his post on Friday, when the president dissolves parliament.

Back in the black

The outgoing center-right government of Boiko Borisov had succeeded in reviving Bulgaria’s economy, the poorest in the 28-nation European Union, cutting unemployment to an eight-year low and bringing state finances back into the black.

Data released on Wednesday showed Bulgaria ended 2016 with a fiscal surplus of 1.6 percent of national output, its first such windfall since 2008 when the global financial crisis struck.

Borisov’s center-right GERB party is just ahead of the main opposition Socialists in opinion polls but is again unlikely to secure a stable parliamentary majority, raising the prospect of further political uncertainty that could harm the economy and hamper reforms that Bulgaria sorely needs.

Corruption still a problem

Corruption remains a key obstacle to greater prosperity.


In its annual monitoring report published on Wednesday, the European Commission again criticized Bulgaria’s failure to clamp down on graft and organized crime over the past decade and urged the new government to start delivering tangible results.

12 Haitians Drown Near Turks and Caicos; Search Ongoing

At least 12 Haitian migrants drowned in the Turks and Caicos Islands after their small and crowded boat capsized near the British Caribbean territory, officials said Wednesday.

The majority of victims were female and were found near the northwest point of Providenciales island, police spokesman Keith Clarke told The Associated Press.

The boat was carrying 69 people, and officials said the U.S. Coast Guard is helping with an ongoing search for possible survivors.

“This is a tragic incident with significant loss of life,” said Police Commissioner James Smith, who extended condolences to the victim’s families.

Police said in a statement that they arrested a 23-year-old Haitian man who told them the single-engine boat left Haiti’s north coast Sunday and was carrying 50 men and 19 women. He said he swam to land after the boat struck a rock near the Turks and Caicos Islands early Tuesday and began to sink, police said.

Authorities said an unknown number of migrants made it to land.

The Turks & Caicos Islands are located between Haiti and the Bahamas and have long been a destination and smuggling route for Haitian migrants. Newly elected Turks and Caicos Premier Sharlene Cartwright Robinson pledged to crack down on the practice.

“Whilst we are saddened at this great loss of human life, measures must be put in place to protect persons from themselves, potential victims from human traffickers and our borders from breaches by illegal entrants,” she said. “Firm policy positions will be taken and strict enforcement of the laws of these lands will follow.”

Cuban Trade Group Visits US as Trump Ponders Detente

A Cuban trade delegation arrived in the United States this week to visit four states and six ports, even as the Trump administration pondered what to do with a fragile detente initiated by its predecessor.

President Donald Trump has threatened to scrap the move to normalize relations between Washington and Havana, one of former President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy initiatives, if he doesn’t get “a better deal.”

Port authorities along the U.S. southern coast are strong proponents of increased trade and travel with Cuba, and some have expressed interest in using Mariel, on the northwest coast of the Caribbean island, as a transshipment hub.

“We’re hopeful that when the Trump administration conducts a thorough review of U.S.-Cuba policy, they will see how enhanced cooperation between our port terminals and the Port of Mariel would be very beneficial to U.S. export industries [and] U.S. ports with access to Mariel’s shipping lanes, and could create jobs across the country,” said James Williams, president of the Engage Cuba coalition, which helped facilitate the trip.

Delegations from the ports of Houston; New Orleans; Norfolk, Virginia; and Port Everglades, Palm Beach and Tampa in Florida have already visited Mariel, often with top local and state executives.

“For states with port facilities, there is substantial political and commercial interest,” said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which has followed business ties between the two countries for two decades.

“Ports are under the authorities of states, counties and cities, which means governors and mayors seeking value for their respective constituencies and seeking votes,” Kavulich said.

Seeking to reverse more than 50 years of U.S. efforts to force communist Cuba to change by isolating it, Obama agreed with Cuban President Raul Castro in December 2014 to work to normalize relations. Since then, the two countries have restored diplomatic ties and signed various cooperation agreements.

Obama, a Democrat, used executive orders to circumvent the long-standing U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and ease some restrictions on travel and business. The embargo can be lifted only by the U.S. Congress, which is controlled by Republicans.

Trump, who can reverse Obama’s executive orders, has threatened to end the detente if Cuba does not make further political and other concessions, although the Republican businessman-turned-politician has not specified what these should be.

The Cuban delegation, which includes top executives from the new container terminal and special development zone at Mariel and officials involved with cruise ships and investment and trade, is expected to sign nonbinding cooperation agreements with some of the ports, meet with local businesses and visit Washington on January 31.

The Cubans were in New Orleans on Wednesday, after visiting Texas earlier in the week, and will travel next to Port Everglades for a meeting with cruise line executives.

Cuba has avoided criticizing Trump since he took office Friday, and state-run media downplayed Saturday’s protests against him in Washington and around the world.

Havana hotels and restaurants are full of U.S. travelers, and cruise ships now crisscross Havana Bay almost daily.

“We are all waiting. We don’t know what to expect from Trump — a hit on the head or a shake of the hand,” said tour guide Paulo Perez, waiting for a group of Americans at the famed Hotel Nacional in Havana.

Trump Said to Be Preparing Possible Cuts in UN Funding

The United Nations could face severe financial cuts if the Trump administration follows through with action envisioned by the White House, according to media reports late Wednesday.

The New York Times on Wednesday said it had obtained two draft orders relating to potential action by President Donald Trump. One of the drafts would terminate U.S. funding of any U.N.-affiliated agency that allows full membership for the Palestinian Authority, funds abortions, or circumvents economic sanctions against Iran or North Korea.

The newspaper reported the draft also calls for “at least a 40 percent overall decrease” in remaining U.S. funding toward international organizations.

A second draft order calls for a review of multilateral treaties, which could include the multinational agreement with Iran to end its nuclear-weapons development activities, which Trump has denounced in the past as a “terrible” arrangement. The second draft presidential order also could refer to the Paris accord on measures to control climate change, which the president also has criticized.

Nikki Haley, the newly confirmed American ambassador to the United Nations, said during her confirmation hearings that she believes the United States has been making “disproportionate” — or excessive — contributions to support U.N. activities and programs. Haley asked whether the U.S. is “getting what we pay for.”

The Fox Business news website also reported Wednesday that the U.N. might be the Trump administration’s next target. Six Republican congressmen in early January sponsored a bill that would end U.S. membership in the United Nations altogether, the website reported, but that bill is not expected to win approval.

The United States pays 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget and an additional 28 percent toward peacekeeping missions. The U.N. general budget for 2016-2017 is roughly $5.5 billion; for peacekeeping missions, about $8 billion.

Other presidential orders

White House officials announced several new presidential orders Wednesday, including a directive to federal agencies to prepare to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and another strengthening restrictions against illegal immigration. There also are expectations that the president will soon announce a temporary ban on allowing refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen to enter the United States.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it was aware of the U.S.-Mexican border issue and would “closely follow the impact” of any wall-building program on people seeking refuge in the United States.

“At a time of enormous needs for the protection of refugees,” a UNHCR statement said, “we hope that the U.S. will continue its strong leadership role and long tradition of protecting those who are fleeing conflict and persecution.”

Trump signed an order Tuesday prohibiting the U.S. government from providing funds to any American groups that provide abortions abroad or distribute information about abortions to foreign audiences.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) provides access to reproductive health care in developing countries and could be affected by this order.

Dujarric said UNFPA did not currently think it would be directly affected by the order. It could impact some work done by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Dujarric added, “But obviously they are still going through the possible impact.”

Margaret Besheer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Italian Court Ruling Paves Way for Possible 2017 Election

Italy’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday approved a new voting system based on proportional representation that raises the chance of an early election this summer, as demanded by the two biggest parliamentary parties.

The Constitutional Court ruled that any party winning 40 percent of the vote would be awarded a clear parliamentary majority and that the election should be held in just one round.

No opinion polls put any of Italy’s plethora of parties anywhere near 40 percent, which means the new system, which only applies to the lower house, will probably lead to a coalition government.

That may benefit traditional parties, including the ruling Democratic Party (PD), and penalize the main opposition 5-Star Movement, which has always refused to form alliances.

The court said the amended law could be used immediately if elections were called, even though following its ruling the two houses of parliament now have two different voting systems.

However, President Sergio Mattarella is the only one with the power to dissolve parliament, and he has said a vote should not be held until the systems are harmonized, in order to try to ensure political stability.

A vote is not scheduled until 2018 but former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who heads the PD, has said he wants one in June.

Renzi quit office in December after losing a referendum on a planned overhaul of the constitution. Wednesday’s ruling was another blow to his legacy, with the court scrubbing sections of the electoral law that he had presented as a landmark reform.

Within minutes of the court’s verdict being released, 5-Star also called for an immediate election, saying its objective would be to win 40-percent backing nationally.

“We will present ourselves at the next election without making any alliances,” founder Beppe Grillo wrote in his blog.

He said parliament could swiftly revise the Senate law in line with the court ruling, rather than keeping a system geared toward parties forming coalitions ahead of elections.

The lower house leader of Renzi’s PD told Reuters it was willing to strike a deal with other parties to make the two voting systems compatible, but said that if no consensus was found, then elections should still be held without delay.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party, which is trailing in the polls, struck a more cautious note, stressing parliament needed to work out a deal.

“Since they are totally divergent [voting systems], there needs to be a great deal of work in parliament to harmonize them and guarantee governability,” parliamentary party leader Renato Brunetta said.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who is close to Renzi, said over the weekend that he was confident a new election law could be in place in time for a vote in the summer or autumn.

Ukraine Demands Say in Any Russia-US Talks to End Conflict on Its Territory

Ukraine must have a say in any deal struck between Russia and the United States aimed at ending violence in eastern Ukraine, its deputy foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Ukraine, which has been battling pro-Russian separatists in its eastern Donbas region for nearly three years, is worried that U.S. President Donald Trump will cut Kyiv out of any peace negotiations as he attempts to improve ties with Moscow.

“Because we are talking about the future of our country, we don’t want to be excluded from the negotiations,” Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal told Reuters. “We don’t want to be a card [to be played]. We want to be an actor.”

“I don’t believe in gentleman’s agreements anymore,” Zerkal said, noting Russia had violated an earlier deal – the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, under which Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan gave up nuclear weapons in exchange for assurances of territorial integrity – when it annexed Crimea.

Zerkal reiterated Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s call for the West to maintain sanctions imposed against Russia over the 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for the separatists in the Donbas.

“This is the only tool we all have in order to prevent [Russian President Vladimir] Putin from a further spree of aggression,” she said.

Trump, who took office on January 20, has suggested he might do away with some sanctions if Russia helps in battling terrorists and achieving other goals important to Washington.

In another setback for Ukraine, the frontrunner in France’s presidential election, Francois Fillon, said during a visit to Berlin on Monday that sanctions against Russia were “totally ineffective” and suggested they could be lifted.

Zerkal, in Berlin for talks with German government officials, said she hoped Chancellor Angela Merkel would continue to press for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“She is the only person in the world who can communicate and persuade Putin to make something work, or not to do something,” she said.

Britain’s May to Put Differences Aside in Trump Meeting

On Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May becomes the first world leader to visit new U.S. President Donald Trump, a symbolic reaffirmation of what the two countries view as an unshakable alliance.

The U.S. leader has promised an “even closer” relationship between the historic allies and has been eager to show his willingness to renew and reinforce ties in the wake of Brexit.

May shares the willingness to strengthen an already robust relationship, especially as the British leader works to forge new trade relationships following Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Observers predict what could be an awkward moment when May and Trump meet.

Mary Evans, professor of gender studies at the London School of Economics, recently said she thought that for someone of May’s background, “the way she comports herself, the way that she’s lived her life, to confront Donald Trump is going to be moving into meeting somebody from a very different world — not quite a different planet, but certainly a different world,”

The biggest rallies against Trump’s inauguration outside the United States have been led by feminists in Britain, still angry about campaign revelations of controversial remarks about women.

May has called Trump’s past remarks about women “unacceptable.”

But it is the future of trade in the post-Brexit era, terrorism and the conflict with Syria that top May’s agenda with Trump.

“I will be talking to Donald Trump about the issues that we share about how we can build on this special relationship. It’s the special relationship that also enables us to say when we do find things unacceptable,” May said in an appearance this week on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

The British leader said she “won’t be afraid” to challenge Trump. “I think the biggest statement that will be made about the role of women is the fact that I will be there as a female prime minister, prime minister of the United Kingdom, talking to him [Trump], directly to him, about the interests we share,” she said.

But for both Trump and May, the common interests and the special relationship between the two nations are much more significant than any potential personality and gender issues that the media in both countries have raised.

May recently presented her 12-point plan for Britain’s departure from the European Union, an exit Trump supports.

Scoring the first sit-down with the new U.S. leader bolsters May’s position at home at a time when her government is still fighting challenges to Brexit.

On Tuesday, the British Supreme Court dealt her a setback by ruling that her government needed Parliament’s approval to trigger the Brexit process.

Government sources here say what she wants now is a free-trade deal that cuts tariffs and facilitates exchanges of skilled workers between the United States and Britain.

After Germany, the U.S. is Britain’s top trading partner, and officials on both sides of the Atlantic have expressed hopes that enhanced trade with the United States could help fill trade gaps that may result from Brexit.

U.S. leaders are preparing to give May a grand welcome of the type reserved for few foreign leaders. British officials say May has received an invitation to address congressional Republicans at their annual retreat, becoming the first serving foreign head of government to do so.

‘Halve Food Waste by 2030,’ EU Lawmakers Urge Member States

European Union countries were urged Tuesday to halve food waste by 2030, but lawmakers stopped short of making the target binding — to the disappointment of environmental activists.

The European Parliament’s environment committee in Brussels voted in favor of new regulations calling on EU nations to aim to reduce food produced and never eaten to 30 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030.

“[The vote] fulfilled a moral obligation,” MEP Simona Bonafe, the committee member charged with drafting the text, told Reuters by telephone.

About one-third of all food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted every year, either spoiled after harvest and during transportation, or thrown away by shops and consumers.

Yet almost 800 million people worldwide go to bed hungry every night, according to United Nations figures.

Reducing food waste would also help curb planet-warming gases linked to agriculture, which accounts for about 20 percent of overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Bonafe said that, although some countries, including France and Italy, already have in place measures to fight food waste, there was no common EU norm on the subject to date.

“We have filled the gap,” she said.

The 50 percent target was introduced as an amendment to the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package, a new legal framework to foster sustainable growth due to be enforced later this year.

To become law, it has to receive the final go-ahead by the EU Parliament in plenary session and European environment ministers.

Environmental activists said the amendment was a step in the right direction but didn’t go far enough.

“It is disappointing that MEPs did not back a binding target,” said Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

“This means that the target may not be taken seriously by some member states,” added Martin Bowman of British campaigning group This is Rubbish.

An estimated 88 million tons of food is wasted in EU countries every year, costing about 143 billion euros ($153.61 billion), which activists say could feed the 55 million people living in food poverty in Europe more than nine times over.

Court Allows Polish Government Takeover of WWII Museum

A Polish court ruled Tuesday in favor of the government in its standoff with a major new World War II museum fighting for its survival.

The conflict revolves around the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, which has been under development since 2008 and was scheduled to open within weeks.

The Supreme Administrative Court’s decision is a victory for the populist and nationalistic Law and Justice ruling party, allowing it to take control of one of the last public institutions that had remained independent following the party’s rise to power in 2015.

“This is very bad,” museum director Pawel Machcewicz said. “This ruling means that the Museum of the Second World War will be liquidated on the last day of January. It means that I will be gone and that the new director can try to change the exhibition or delay the opening.”

The ruling party opposed the museum because it takes an international approach to telling the story of the war, focusing on the civilian suffering of the many nations caught up in the global conflict. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski had for years vowed that if he ever had power he would change the institution to focus it exclusively on Polish suffering and military heroism.

The move is in line with what the ruling party calls its “historical policy” of harnessing the state’s power to create a stronger sense of national identity and pride.

After assuming power in late 2015, Culture Minister Piotr Glinski moved to try to take control of the museum by merging it with another museum that exists only on paper, the Museum of Westerplatte and the War of 1939 — a legal maneuver aimed at pushing Machcewicz out.

That sparked months of legal wrangling as Machcewicz resisted the merger.

After the court’s decision Tuesday, the Culture Ministry issued a statement saying that it would move ahead with its merger and that on February 1 “a new cultural institution will be created — the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk. The combination of both Gdansk institutions with a similar business profile will optimize costs … and strengthen their positions on the museum map of Poland and the world.”

Machcewicz said that even though he was losing his job, he still planned to keep fighting for the survival of the exhibition, one created with the help of some of the world’s most renowned war historians.

“The culture minister can come with heavy equipment and destroy an exhibition that cost 50 million zlotys ($12 million). But he can’t just change some elements, because the exhibition is like a book that is protected by copyright laws,” Machcewicz said. “And I am ready to sue the minister if he tries to change the exhibition.”

Senate Approves Haley as US Ambassador to UN

The Senate has voted decisively to approve President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.


Senators easily confirmed South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for the post, 96-4, despite her lack of foreign policy experience.


Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, calls Haley a proven leader who will be a “fierce advocate” at the U.N. for American interests.


The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, says he’s encouraged by Haley’s commitment not to hastily cut back on the money the U.S. contributes to the U.N. The United States pays 22 percent of the body’s regular operating budget.


Sen. Chris Coons opposed Haley. The Delaware Democrat says she didn’t convince him that she’ll serve effectively in the job.

Trump Administration Orders EPA Contract Freeze, Media Blackout

The Trump administration has instituted what it described as a temporary media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants, part of a broader communications clampdown within the executive branch.

Emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday and reviewed by The Associated Press detailed specific prohibitions banning press releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts.

The Trump administration has also ordered what it called a temporary suspension of all new business activities at the department, including issuing task orders or work assignments to EPA contractors. The orders were expected to have a significant and immediate impact on EPA activities nationwide.

Similar orders barring external communications have been issued in recent days by the Trump administration at other federal agencies, including the Agriculture and Interior departments.

Staffers in EPA’s public affairs office are instructed to forward all inquiries from reporters to the Office of Administration and Resources Management.

Screening of media requests

“Incoming media requests will be carefully screened,” one directive said. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.”

A review of EPA websites and social media accounts, which typically include numerous new posts each day, showed no new activity since Friday.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that he had no information on the blackout. He said aides were looking into the circumstances.

Doug Ericksen, the communications director for Trump’s transition team at EPA, said he expected the communications ban to be lifted by the end of this week.

“We’re just trying to get a handle on everything and make sure what goes out reflects the priorities of the new administration,” Ericksen said.

Beyond what was stated in the internal email, Ericksen clarified that the freeze on EPA contracts and grants wouldn’t apply to pollution cleanup efforts or infrastructure construction.

Officials at state and local agencies that rely on EPA for funding said they had received no information from EPA about the freeze.

“We are actively seeking additional information so we can understand the impact of this action on our ability to administer critical programs,” said Alan Matheson, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

The executive director for the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Jeff Ruch, said the orders go beyond what has occurred in prior presidential transitions.

‘Dark cloud of Mordor’

“We’re watching the dark cloud of Mordor extend over federal service,” Ruch said Tuesday, referring to the evil kingdom in the epic fantasy “The Lord of the Rings.”

Ruch noted that key posts at EPA had not yet been filled with Republican appointees, including Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. That means the new senior personnel are not yet in place to make key decisions.

Environmentalists said the orders were having a chilling effect on EPA staff, many of whom were suffering from low morale. Trump and Pruitt have both been frequent critics of the agency and have questioned the validity of climate science showing that the Earth is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame.

Liz Perera, climate policy director for the Sierra Club, said Trump’s move to freeze all EPA communications and contracts should be “a major red flag for all Americans.”

“EPA was created to ensure that all Americans can enjoy clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and have their health protected from environmental and climate threats,” Perera said.

Some staff at the Agriculture Department also received orders not to release any documents to the public.

“This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content,” read an email to staff at the agency’s Agricultural Research Service, which was obtained by the AP.

ARS spokesman Christopher Bentley said the ban would not include scientific publications released through peer-reviewed professional journals.

“As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America,” Bentley said, according to a statement.

It was not immediately clear whether similar instructions were given to others within the department.

Park Service retweets

The AP reported over the weekend that staff at the Interior Department were temporarily ordered to stop making posts to its Twitter account. The prohibition came after the official account of the National Park Service, a bureau of the department, retweeted a pair of posts to its 315,000 followers that seemed to be a swipe at Trump on his initial day in office. The first was a photo that compared the crowd gathered on the National Mall for Trump with the much larger gathering that stood in the same spot eight years earlier for President Barack Obama’s swearing-in.

Trump later falsely claimed that more than 1 million people attended his inauguration, which Spicer insisted was the most watched in history.

Moody’s Urges Washington to Manage Entitlement Spending

Moody’s Investors Service said Tuesday that U.S. decisions on taxing and spending would have a larger than usual impact on the nation’s credit profile in the near future.

The analysis said President Donald Trump’s plans to cut taxes and spend more on infrastructure might increase the deficit. The combination of deficits over years is what makes up the national debt. Moody’s says federal debt is equal to about 77 percent of gross domestic product, which is the sum of all goods and services a nation produces.

In a report published Tuesday, Moody’s said unresolved problems with the cost of Social Security and other entitlement spending could push debt upward significantly and leave officials with less room to maneuver than in the past.

Rating agencies examine the financial health of companies and countries that issue bonds, so that lenders can assess the risk that they will not be repaid. Another rating agency, Standard and Poor’s, cut the U.S. credit rating in 2011 when political bickering pushed the nation to the brink of default.  

Moody’s said the high level of debt comes at a time when interest rates are expected to rise, which will boost interest costs and make it more difficult for the government to cope with the next financial downturn. The report said Trump inherited 2 percent annual economic growth, a “healthy” economy and a “modest” budget deficit from his predecessor, Barack Obama.  

In the November election, slow wage growth was one of the voters’ major concerns. A blog post from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta said U.S. wages grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate last year, about double the rate during the worst of the financial crisis a few years ago.

A Fed expert said wages would probably grow at a slightly higher pace this year, but would grow faster if companies and officials could find a way to boost worker productivity, which has been lagging.

White House: Trump Would Not Stop Investigations into Russian Contacts

At his first White House briefing Monday, new Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about U.S. intelligence agencies investigating contacts between people close to President Donald Trump and members of the Russian government.  

Asked if Trump would stop those investigations now that he is in charge of the federal government, Spicer told reporters, “[Trump] He has not made any indication that he will stop any investigation of any sort.”

The Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Treasury Department have assembled a task force to investigate alleged increased Russian espionage and other activities, including Kremlin-ordered cyber attacks to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. During the campaign, investigators collected communications between people close to then-Republican nominee Trump and surrogates of the Russian government.

Two calls between Flynn, Kislyak

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that U.S. intelligence agents were also looking into the content of calls between Trump’s newly sworn-in National Security Advisor, retired General Michael Flynn, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.  Reports say Flynn called Kislyak in late December, around the same time the Obama administration announced sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its alleged use of cyber attacks to interfere in the elections.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the cyber attacks into Democratic National Committee emails to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Spicer told reporters Monday there had only been two calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador, and they focused on four subjects: setting up a phone call between Trump and Russian President Putin, exchanging holiday pleasantries, Flynn expressing his condolences for those killed in a Russian plane crash, and the possibilities of Russia and the U.S. working together to combat Islamic State.

Former counterterrorism official Malcom Nance told VOA that Trump needs to answer questions about his relationship with Russia raised by U.S. intelligence reports and by Trump’s strong public support for Putin and many of his foreign policy views.

Question about airstrikes

In Monday’s briefing, Spicer answered questions on a wide range of topics. Asked about a Russian report that the U.S. and Russia are conducting joint airstrikes in Syria, Spicer referred the reporter to the Pentagon for an answer.

But he added, “I think if there’s a way we can combat ISIS with any country, whether it’s Russia or anyone else, and we have a shared national interest in that, sure, we’ll take it.”

A Pentagon spokesman denied the Russian reports, saying: “The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria.”