US Senate passes $700 bn defense spending bill

In this Sept. 5, 2017 photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., walks from his Senate office as Congress returns from the August recess in Washington. (AP)
Updated 19 September 2017

US Senate passes $700 bn defense spending bill

WASHINGTON: The US Senate overwhelmingly authorized $700 billion in defense spending Monday, a substantial increase over 2017 funding and nearly five percent more than President Donald Trump had requested.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 allows for increased spending on new F-35 fighter jets, ships and M1 Abrams tanks, raises military pay by 2.1 percent and authorizes nearly $5 billion for Afghanistan security forces, including a program integrating women into the country’s national defense.
It also authorizes $8.5 billion to boost US missile defense — a full $630 million above Trump’s baseline request — at a time of heightened tensions with North Korea over its testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.
The bill provides for $60 billion in war funding known as Overseas Contingency Operations, and boosted military enlistment figures by 7,000.
The legislation, one of the cornerstones of congressional bipartisanship over the decades, passed 89 to 8.
The House of Representatives passed its version in July, and the two chambers will now need to thrash out a compromise bill.
“It keeps faith with our men and women in uniform,” Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of the bill he shepherded through the chamber.
McCain was quick to point to the increasing number of training accidents within the military, saying the lack of force readiness was a result of ever-tightening budgets that left the army, navy and other branches depleted.
“My friends, more of our men and women in uniform are now being killed in totally avoidable training accidents and routine operations than by our enemies in combat,” McCain told his colleagues.
“Where is the outrage about this? Where is our sense of urgency to deal with this problem?“
The $700 billion is $91 billion beyond the spending caps outlined in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which demanded a “sequestration” of military spending in order to rein in federal costs.
McCain said it was imperative that Congress lift the spending caps on a bipartisan basis in order to fully fund military operations.
The legislation also funds European security programs with US allies, arguing that deterring “malign” Russian activities and aggression there “is an enduring function.”


Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

Updated 20 February 2020

Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was ‘shocked, saddened and devastated’ by the tragedy
  • A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns

SYDNEY: An ex-rugby league player is suspected of murdering his three children and estranged wife in Australia by burning them alive inside their car, in what police described as one of the most horrific incidents they have encountered.

Officers said 31-year-old Hannah Clarke died in a Brisbane hospital on Wednesday just hours after her three children aged three, four and six were found dead in the car on a suburban street.

Her husband, Rowan Baxter, who also died, allegedly approached the vehicle and doused it with petrol before setting it alight, The Australian newspaper reported.

The paper said Clarke jumped from the burning car and rolled on the ground, saying “he’s poured petrol on me.”

Officials said she was rushed to hospital with severe burns following the “horrific” incident but later succumbed to her injuries.

Baxter, a 42-year-old former rugby league player for the New Zealand Warriors, was believed to be in the burning vehicle but got out and died on a footpath.

Queensland Police detective inspector Mark Thompson said Thursday that Baxter died as a result of burns and a self-inflicted wound.

“Information that’s to hand has led us to believe that the Baxter children and Hannah Clarke were killed and I don’t believe there’s any suspicious circumstances around the death of Rowan Baxter,” he said.

Clarke’s sister-in-law, Stacey Roberts, set up a fundraiser to pay for funeral costs and support Hannah’s parents, who she said had “exhausted themselves to try and help Hannah escape this monster.”

“All those who knew Hannah or had even just met her once would know how much of a beautiful soul she was. Her children (were) her life,” Roberts posted on Facebook.

The page has so far raised almost Aus$100,000 ($67,000).

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was “shocked, saddened and devastated” by the tragedy, which has led to an outpouring of grief on social media.

“Hannah and her three children were so senselessly and maddeningly murdered in what has occurred in a terrible act of violence and it just grieves our hearts terribly today,” he said.

Natasha Stott Despoja, a former senator and chair of anti-violence group Our Watch, called for stronger action to address violence against women in Australia, which she described as a “national emergency.”

“I know people want change, people are angry & sad today,” she tweeted. “How long before we stop this slaughter in our suburbs?“

A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns, a Queensland Ambulance Service spokesperson said.

The emergency responders who attended the scene have been stood down from their duties and will receive support, he added.