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Trump to move forward with SOTU despite Democrats’ pushback

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday attempted to move ahead with planning for a State of the Union speech to the US Congress on January 29 despite pressure from Democrats to delay it due to the partial government shutdown. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would bring up Trump’s proposal for ending the shutdown…

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Trump to move forward with SOTU despite Democrats’ pushback

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday attempted to move ahead with planning for a State of the Union speech to the US Congress on January 29 despite pressure from Democrats to delay it due to the partial government shutdown.

Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would bring up Trump’s proposal for ending the shutdown – and getting funding for the president’s promised border wall – for a vote on Thursday.

The plan was unlikely to pass in the Senate and had even less chance in the Democratic-dominated House of Representatives.

Trump’s cause was hurt on Tuesday by a US Supreme Court ruling regarding “Dreamers”, people brought irregularly to the United States as children and who had been a key bargaining chip for the Republican president in his wall-funding battle.

No clear way was evident to end the shutdown, which began on December 22, increasing the anxiety level of 800,000 federal workers who are furloughed or required to work without pay, with some struggling to make ends meet. 

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, who are expected to work without pay, are refusing to show up in increasing numbers as the shutdown drags on.

As sickouts increase, around 10 percent of TSA employees aren’t showing up for work across the country. 

As the fight over the border wall and government funding raged, a sideshow over Trump’s upcoming State of the Union speech also boiled over.

A Trump administration official said the president still intends to deliver that speech on January 29, even though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top US Democrat, had recommended he delay it, citing concerns about security for the event with some personnel furloughed during a month-long shutdown.

An administration official said the White House sought to have pre-speech preparations completed on Capitol Hill.

The request seemed likely to set up another clash between Trump and Pelosi, days after Trump abruptly refused to let her use a US military plane to go on an overseas trip hours before she was to depart.

Aides to Pelosi did not respond to requests for comment on whether Trump’s invitation to speak would stand.

On Saturday, Trump proposed ending the government shutdown by fully funding the one-quarter of US agencies that are affected. In return, he would get $5.7bn toward building a southwestern border wall that Democrats oppose. Trump also is offering to restore temporary protections for the “Dreamer” immigrants.

In 2017, Trump moved to end the Dreamers’ protections, triggering a court battle.

Democrats promptly rejected Trump’s plan as insufficient, saying they would not trade a temporary restoration of the immigrants’ protections in return for a permanent border wall that they view as ineffective.

Bargaining chip 

Trump may have lost the Dreamer issue as his main negotiating point on Tuesday when the Supreme Court refused, at least for now, to consider an administration appeal of lower court rulings allowing continued temporary protections for the immigrant youths.

Instead, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme established by then-President Barack Obama in 2012 lives on with or without approval by Congress.

As the Senate debates Trump’s proposal, House Democrats this week are pushing legislation that would end the partial shutdown of agencies including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor and Interior.

While their legislation would contain new border security money, there would be nothing for a wall, ensuring Trump’s opposition.

Once the government reopens, Democrats said, they would negotiate with Trump on further border security ideas.

“We were optimistic that he might be open up government so we could have this discussion,” Pelosi told reporters in comments carried by CNN. “But then we heard what the particulars were in it and it was a non-starter, unfortunately.”

Representative Jim Clyburn, the No 3 House Democrat, welcomed any effort by the Republican-led Senate to debate and vote on legislation to reopen the government following that chamber’s monthlong abstention.

“This gets us started,” Clyburn told MSNBC in an interview.

There were no guarantees that votes by Congress this week actually would break the impasse, as Trump held firm on his $5.7bn demand and Democrats said they would not talk about that until the government reopens.

The shutdown’s impact was being felt at the Federal Bureau of Investigations with the FBI Agents Association saying some investigations were being hindered by a lack of funds.

Many federal employees and contractors were turning to unemployment assistance, food banks and other support as the shutdown entered its second month. Others began seeking new jobs.

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’ into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years. Richard Moore, who…

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’
into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years.
Richard Moore, who heads the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, is due to make his first public speech since becoming chief of the organisation on Tuesday.
In extracts of the speech released in advance by the British government he will say quantum engineering, engineered biology, vast troves of data and advances in computer power pose a threat that needs to be addressed by democratic powers.
“Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” Moore, who rarely makes public speeches, will say when he sets out his view of current threats.
The world’s spies are trying to grapple with seismic advances in technology that are challenging traditional human-led spying operations, which have dominated espionage for thousands of years.
Moore, a former diplomat, became MI6 chief in October 2020.
Speaking at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies think tank, he will stress that technological progress over the next decade could outstrip all the tech advances made over the past century.
“As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6,” he will say.
Of particular concern to the spies in the world’s liberal democracies are Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies, which have rushed to harness the power of a range of sophisticated technologies, sometimes at a faster pace than in the West.
Western intelligence agencies fear Beijing could dominate all key emerging technologies within decades, particularly artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics.
China’s economic and military rise over the past 40 years is considered one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, which ended the Cold War.
MI6, depicted by novelists as the employer of some of the most memorable fictional spies from John le Carré’s George Smiley to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, operates overseas and is tasked with defending the UK and its interests.
Moore says the service will have to give up some of its deep-rooted secrecy and work with technology firms to combat the rapidly developing threats.
MI6 and western intelligence agencies will have to “become more open to stay secret” in a world of destabilising technological change, he will say.
“We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it.”
The agency has become more open in recent years, even allowing publication of an authorised history although it only covers the period up until 1949.
MI6 began publicly naming its chief, who uses the code name C and is the only publicly identifiable member of the organisation, in the 1990s.

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final…

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final stronghold of ISIL (ISIS).
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced the probe on Monday, saying it would be led by General Michael Garrett, the head of US Army Forces Command.
Earlier this month, the US military acknowledged that civilians may have been killed in the bombings in Baghouz, near the Iraqi border in 2019. At the time, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were leading the fight on the ground with American air support.
“Likely a majority of those killed were also combatants at the time of the strike. However, it is also highly likely that there were additional civilian casualties,” Bill Urban, a US military spokesman, said in a statement on November 14.
He added that “investigations were unable to conclusively characterize the status of more than 60 other casualties that resulted from these strikes”.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the review into the 2019 US military bombings, the Pentagon spokesman announced [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]Urban’s statement came a day after the New York Times, citing anonymous sources and classified documents,  published a report that accused the US military of concealing the bombings.
The newspaper reported that the bombing struck a “crowd of women and children”, killing 64 people.
“Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors,” the Times wrote.
On Monday, Kirby said the review would look into “record keeping and reporting procedures” and “whether mitigation measures identified in previous investigations into the incident were in fact implemented effectively”.
The probe, which is due in 90 days, will also assess whether “accountability measures” will be appropriate, Kirby added.
The US-led coalition started a bombing campaign against the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria and Iraq in 2014, and the American military maintains troops in both countries with the stated goal of preventing the group’s resurgence.

Former US President Donald Trump touted the territorial defeat of ISIL (ISIS) as a major policy achievement in his failed 2020 re-election bid.
Rights groups previously accused the US-led coalition of killing civilians during their bombing campaign. A 2019 investigation by Amnesty International, for instance, found that the coalition had killed 1,600 civilians in Raqqa, the ISIL (ISIS) group’s former de-facto capital.
The Associated Press news agency reported on Monday that after the New York Times story was published, Austin received a briefing on the Syria bombings from General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command.
AP reported that McKenzie’s command said “an initial investigation concluded that the strike constituted legitimate self-defence in support of Syrian partner forces under fire from ISIL”.
The probe into the Syria bombings comes after the Pentagon admitted in September that a US drone attack previously described as “righteous” by a top general had killed 10 civilians, including children, in Kabul during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But a subsequent internal review by the Pentagon concluded that the bombing did not violate the laws of war or amount to criminal conduct or negligence, prompting outrage.

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians. The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with…

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians.

The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People 2021.

In a statement, the IPHRC pointed out that the solidarity day highlighted the urgent need for the global community to recognize the inalienable right to self-determination of Palestinian people.

“Today is not only an opportunity for the international community to remember that the question of Palestine remains unresolved, but it is also an opportunity to focus attention on the increasing suffering of the Palestinian people, under the Israeli occupation, and to unify all efforts for assisting them to attain their fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination and the right to return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and property, from which they have been displaced,” the commission said.

It also expressed grave concerns over the increasing, “range of violations committed by Israel … particularly the recent draconian measures against Palestinian prisoners and detainees as well as the harassment of Sheikh Jarrah (neighborhood of East Jerusalem) families who remain under the threat of eviction from their houses under baseless and illegal arguments.”

The IPHRC statement urged all human rights groups to raise awareness of what it described as “egregious human rights violations” aimed at “separating Al-Quds (Jerusalem) from its original inhabitants, which is yet another vicious attack on the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

In addition, commission members condemned the recent Israeli designation of six Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations, a move the IPHRC claimed represented Israel’s misuse of counterterrorism and security legislation to silence opponents and innocent Palestinians.

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and forced evictions of residents in Jerusalem and other areas was also slammed by the commission.

It added that there was a “need to investigate these abuses by relevant international mechanisms with a view to holding Israel, the occupying power, accountable for violating international human rights and humanitarian laws.”

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