Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess

Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has temporarily taken the helm of the Department of Agriculture due to a looming food crisis and skyrocketing commodity prices. (AP)
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Updated 11 August 2022

Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess

Philippine leader threatens to fire officials in sugar mess
  • Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has temporarily taken the helm of the Department of Agriculture due to a looming food crisis
  • The president never approved or was aware of the resolution to import sugar, which was signed by an agriculture undersecretary and other officials

MANILA: The Philippine president has threatened to fire top agricultural officials if an investigation shows they improperly announced a decision to import sugar amid a shortage without his approval, his press secretary said Thursday.
It’s the stiffest punitive step newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could take against officials over an apparent irregularity early in his six-year term. He took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory and inherited daunting problems.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said a resolution authorizing the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar by the Sugar Regulatory Board, which Marcos Jr. heads, was posted on the website of the Sugar Regulatory Administration under the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday.
Marcos Jr. has temporarily taken the helm of the Department of Agriculture due to a looming food crisis and skyrocketing commodity prices sparked in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Cruz-Angeles said the president never approved or was aware of the resolution to import sugar, which was signed by an agriculture undersecretary and other officials. The document was taken down from the website by Thursday.
“This resolution is illegal,” she told a news conference. “An investigation is ongoing to determine whether any acts that will cause the president to lose trust and confidence in his officials can be found or if there is malice or negligence involved.”
“If such findings are made, then the only determination left will be how many heads are going to roll,” she said.
Officials dealing with sugar shortages and fast-rising prices, caused largely by the devastation of sugarcane fields, milling factories and refineries by a powerful typhoon in December, have opted to secure additional sugar imports to ease the crisis.
But Marcos Jr. rejected the proposal, saying it needed to be studied to protect consumers from rising prices while making sure “that we do not destroy the local industry,” Cruz-Angeles said.
Marcos Jr. also inherited a pandemic-battered economy, lingering coronavirus threats, deep poverty, decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies, law and order problems and political divisions inflamed by the recent elections.


UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences
Updated 50 min 54 sec ago

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences
  • Military-installed government using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition
  • At least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military-installed government has sentenced more critics to death, bringing the total to 139, and is using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition, the UN high commissioner for human rights said Friday.
High Commissioner Volker Turk said at least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday, and there are reports that as many as four more youth activists were sentenced on Thursday.
“The military continues to hold proceedings in secretive courts in violation of basic principles of fair trial and contrary to core judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality,” Turk said in a statement. “Military courts have consistently failed to uphold any degree of transparency contrary to the most basic due process or fair trial guarantees.”
The military seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The army’s action was met with widespread peaceful protests that were quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some UN experts have characterized as civil war.
Turk said the military-installed government has arrested nearly 16,500 people for opposing the army takeover, including about 1,700 who have been convicted in secret courts without access to lawyers.
The Students’ Union of Dagon University in Yangon, the country’s largest city, announced Thursday on its Facebook page that seven university students between the ages of 18 and 24 who were arrested on April 21 had been sentenced to death Wednesday by a military court in Yangon’s Insein Prison.
An executive member of the Dagon University Students’ Union told The Associated Press that the seven were accused of links to an urban guerrilla group opposed to military rule and convicted of murder for allegedly taking part in shooting a bank branch manager in April.
In late July, the government hanged four political activists, in the country’s first executions in at least three decades.
The hangings prompted condemnations from Western nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has sought to defuse the crisis with a five-point plan that the military government has failed to implement.
“By resorting to use death sentences as a political tool to crush opposition, the military confirms its disdain for the efforts by ASEAN and the international community at large to end violence and create the conditions for a political dialogue to lead Myanmar out of a human rights crisis created by the military,” Turk said.


Pentagon debuts its new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider

Pentagon debuts its new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider
Updated 03 December 2022

Pentagon debuts its new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider

Pentagon debuts its new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider
  • “The way it operates internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2, because the technology has evolved so much in terms of the computing capability that we can now embed in the software of the B-21,” Warden said

PALMDALE , California: America’s newest nuclear stealth bomber made its debut Friday after years of secret development and as part of the Pentagon’s answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China.
The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years. Almost every aspect of the program is classified.
As evening fell over the Air Force’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, the public got its first glimpse of the Raider in a tightly-controlled ceremony. It started with a flyover of the three bombers still in service: the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit. Then the hangar doors slowly opened and the B-21 was towed partially out of the building, its wheels inching close to the outer pavement.
“This isn’t just another airplane,” Austin said. “It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love.”
The B-21 is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads, as it shifts from the counterterrorism campaigns of recent decades to meet China’s rapid military modernization.
China is on track to have 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035, and its gains in hypersonics, cyber warfare and space capabilities present “the most consequential and systemic challenge to US national security and the free and open international system,” the Pentagon said this week in its annual China report.
”We needed a new bomber for the 21st Century that would allow us to take on much more complicated threats, like the threats that we fear we would one day face from China, Russia, ” said Deborah Lee James, the Air Force secretary when the Raider contract was announced in 2015.
While the Raider may resemble the B-2, once you get inside, the similarities stop, said Kathy Warden, chief executive of Northrop Grumman Corp., which is building the bomber.
“The way it operates internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2, because the technology has evolved so much in terms of the computing capability that we can now embed in the software of the B-21,” Warden said.
Other changes include advanced materials used in coatings to make the bomber harder to detect, Austin said.
“Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft,” Austin said. “Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky.”
Other advances likely include new ways to control electronic emissions, so the bomber could spoof adversary radars and disguise itself as another object, and use of new propulsion technologies, several defense analysts said.
“It is incredibly low observability,” Warden said. “You’ll hear it, but you really won’t see it.”
Six Raiders are in production. The Air Force plans to build 100 that can deploy either nuclear weapons or conventional bombs and can be used with or without a human crew. Both the Air Force and Northrop also point to the Raider’s relatively quick development: The bomber went from contract award to debut in seven years. Other new fighter and ship programs have taken decades.
The cost of the bombers is unknown. The Air Force previously put the price at an average cost of $550 million each in 2010 dollars — roughly $753 million today — but it’s unclear how much is actually being spent. The total will depend on how many bombers the Pentagon buys.
“We will soon fly this aircraft, test it, and then move it into production. And we will build the bomber force in numbers suited to the strategic environment ahead,” Austin said.
The undisclosed cost troubles government watchdogs.
“It might be a big challenge for us to do our normal analysis of a major program like this,” said Dan Grazier, a senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight. “It’s easy to say that the B-21 is still on schedule before it actually flies. Because it’s only when one of these programs goes into the actual testing phase when real problems are discovered.” That, he said, is when schedules start to slip and costs rise.
The B-2 was also envisioned to be a fleet of more than 100 aircraft, but the Air Force built only 21, due to cost overruns and a changed security environment after the Soviet Union fell.
Fewer than that are ready to fly on any given day due to the significant maintenance needs of the aging bomber, said
The B-21 Raider, which takes its name from the 1942 Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, will be slightly smaller than the B-2 to increase its range, Warden said. It won’t make its first flight until 2023. However, Warden said Northrop Grumman has used advanced computing to test the bomber’s performance using a digital twin, a virtual replica of the one being unveiled.
Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota will house the bomber’s first training program and squadron, though the bombers are also expected to be stationed at bases in Texas and Missouri.
US Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican of South Dakota, led the state’s bid to host the bomber program. In a statement, he called it “the most advanced weapon system ever developed by our country to defend ourselves and our allies.”
Northrop Grumman has also incorporated maintenance lessons learned from the B-2, Warden said.
In October 2001, B-2 pilots set a record when they flew 44 hours straight to drop the first bombs in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. The B-2 often does long round-trip missions because there are few hangars globally that can accommodate its wingspan, which limits where they can land for maintenance. The hangars also must be air-conditioned because the Spirit’s windows don’t open and hot climates can cook cockpit electronics.
The new Raider will also get new hangars to accommodate the size and complexity of the bomber, Warden said.
However with the Raider’s extended range, ‘it won’t need to be based in-theater,” Austin said. “It won’t need logistical support to hold any target at risk.”
A final noticeable difference was in the debut itself. While both went public in Palmdale, the B-2 was rolled outdoors in 1988 amid much public fanfare. Given advances in surveillance satellites and cameras, the Raider was just partially exposed, keeping its sensitive propulsion systems and sensors under the hangar and protected from overhead eyes.
“The magic of the platform,” Warden said, “is what you don’t see.”

 


US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS
Updated 03 December 2022

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS

MOSCOW: Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the scale of secret surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), has sworn an oath of allegiance to Russia and received a Russian passport, TASS reported on Friday.
“Yes, he got [a passport], he took the oath,” Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, told the state news agency TASS.
“This is still a criminal investigative matter,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday, referring any questions about the report on Snowden to the US Department of Justice, which declined to comment.
US authorities have for years wanted Snowden returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.
President Vladimir Putin in September granted Russian citizenship to Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking secret files that revealed the extensive eavesdropping activities of the United States and its allies.
“I’m in Russia because the White House intentionally canceled my passport to trap me here. They downed the President of Bolivia’s diplomatic aircraft to prevent me from leaving, and continue to interfere with my freedom of movement to this day,” Snowden, 39, said on Twitter on Friday, referring to events from 2013.
Snowden was referring an incident in July 2013, when Bolivia complained that its presidential jet carrying Evo Morales from Russia to Bolivia had been rerouted and forced to land in Austria over suspicion that Snowden was on board.
Defenders of Snowden hail him as a modern-day dissident for exposing the extent of US spying and alleged violation of privacy. Opponents say he is a traitor who endangered lives by exposing the secret methods that Western spies use to listen in on hostile states and militants.


Labour beats Tories in by-election

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid
Updated 03 December 2022

Labour beats Tories in by-election

Sajid Javid
  • Polling experts said the scale of the Conservative defeat in the Chester by-election was in line with national polls giving Labour a 20-point lead

LONDON: Britain’s opposition Labour Party has secured a resounding victory in a vote for a parliament seat in northwest England, showing the scale of the challenge facing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to win a general election in the next two years.
Adding to the gloom for the Conservatives, who are trailing in nationwide polls and seemingly heading for defeat in a national election expected in 2024, one of the governing party’s most experienced frontline politicians, Sajid Javid, said he planned to stand down.
Javid joins a growing group of Conservative lawmakers who will quit Westminster at the next national election, as the party faces the possibility of being out of power for the first time since 2010.
Polling experts said the scale of the Conservative defeat in the Chester by-election was in line with national polls giving Labour a 20-point lead.
It offered the first electoral judgment since the party embarked on a chaotic bout of infighting, ousting Boris Johnson and Liz Truss as prime minister, the latter after markets took fright at her unfunded fiscal plans.
Sunak became prime minister on Oct. 25, inheriting a divided and fractious party at a time of economic crisis, tasked with tackling soaring inflation and restoring the confidence of financial markets.
Governing parties rarely do well in so-called by-elections, which take place outside the schedule of national elections when a lawmaker leaves their position.
In Chester, Labour candidate Samantha Dixon secured 61 percent of the vote, compared to 22 percent for the candidate from the Conservatives. Labour’s outright majority rose to 10,974 from 6,194.
Labour have held the Chester seat since the 2015 national election, when the party scraped through with a majority of just 93 there, the smallest in the country.
Chester was held by the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015.
Charles Walker, one of those Conservative lawmakers who will stand down at the next election, said Sunak was doing the right things against a difficult backdrop, but defeat at the next national election was likely unavoidable.
“It’s almost impossible to see us coming back from this,” Walker told Times Radio. “I hope what Rishi Sunak does is make sure Labour doesn’t wipe the floor with us, so that ... we form a viable opposition.”
Javid said that the Conservatives had asked lawmakers to confirm their intentions for the next election, to allow the party to prepare.
He played his own role in the year’s drama - resigning as Health Secretary in July, minutes before Sunak quit as finance minister, triggering the unprecedented ministerial rebellion that brought down Johnson.
Javid, who had also served as chancellor of exchequer under Johnson, then said he would stand to replace him, but withdrew before the contest began. He also stood to replace Theresa May as leader in 2019, and was eliminated midway through the race.
“After much reflection I have decided that I will not be standing again at the next general election,” Javid said.
British polling expert John Curtice said the 13 percent swing from Conservative to Labour in Chester suggested that Labour would win an outright majority in parliament at the next national election, but noted that local votes were rarely a good guide.
“Rishi Sunak is being reminded by the voters of Chester that he’s got quite a lot of work to do to get his party back in a position where we might consider the prospect of the Conservatives winning the next general election,” he said.
The vote was triggered after Labour lawmaker Christian Matheson resigned.
An independent panel said he had breached parliament’s sexual misconduct policy for making “unwanted and unwelcome” advances towards a junior staff member.

 


China relaxes COVID-19 rules after protests

A child wearing a mask is pushed across a road in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
A child wearing a mask is pushed across a road in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
Updated 03 December 2022

China relaxes COVID-19 rules after protests

A child wearing a mask is pushed across a road in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP)
  • Social media footage posted on Thursday night and geolocated by AFP showed dozens of people clashing with health workers in hazmat suits outside a school in Yicheng, in central China’s Hubei province

BEIJING: Cities across China further unwound Covid restrictions on Friday, loosening testing and quarantine rules in the wake of nationwide protests calling for an end to lockdowns and greater political freedoms.
Anger and frustration with China’s hardline pandemic response spilled onto the streets last weekend in widespread demonstrations not seen in decades.
China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother the rallies, deploying a heavy police presence while boosting online censorship and surveillance of the population.
A number of cities have now begun loosening COVID-19 restrictions, such as moving away from daily mass testing — a tedious mainstay of life under Beijing’s stringent zero-Covid policy.
But sporadic localized clashes have continued to flare up.
Social media footage posted on Thursday night and geolocated by AFP showed dozens of people clashing with health workers in hazmat suits outside a school in Yicheng, in central China’s Hubei province.
The author of the post said people in the video were parents of students who had tested positive for the virus and been taken to quarantine facilities.
Parents are seen kneeling in front of the school gate, pleading to take their children home. Another video showed at least a dozen police officers at the scene.
Signs have emerged of a possible shift in the policy of sending positive cases to central quarantine facilities.
An analysis by state-run newspaper People’s Daily on Friday quoted a number of health experts supporting local government moves to allow patients to quarantine at home, which would be a marked departure from current rules.
When called on Friday, some officials in the Chaoyang district of Beijing said people who tested positive there would no longer have to go to central quarantine.
Authorities in the southern factory hub of Dongguan on Thursday also said those who meet “specific conditions” should be allowed to quarantine at home. They did not specify what those conditions would be.
The southern tech hub of Shenzhen on Wednesday rolled out a similar policy.
Central government officials have signaled that a broader relaxation of the zero-COVID-19 policy could be in the works.
Speaking at the National Health Commission Wednesday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said the Omicron variant was weakening and vaccination rates were improving, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
A central figure behind Beijing’s pandemic response, Sun said this “new situation” required “new tasks.”
She made no mention of zero-COVID-19 in those remarks or in another meeting on Thursday, suggesting the approach, which has disrupted the economy and daily life, might soon be relaxed.
The southwestern metropolis of Chengdu from Friday no longer required a recent negative test result to enter public places or ride the metro, instead only demanding a green health code on an app confirming people have not travelled to a “high-risk” area.
Beijing also announced on Friday that using public transport in the city would no longer require a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours.
The day before, the capital’s health authorities called on hospitals not to deny treatment to people without a 48-hour test.
In January, a pregnant woman in the city of Xi’an miscarried after being refused hospital entry for not having a PCR result.
China has seen a string of deaths after treatment was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, including the recent death of a four-month-old baby who was stuck in quarantine with her father.
Those cases became a rallying cry during the protests, with a viral post listing the names of those who died because of alleged negligence linked to the pandemic response.
Many other cities with virus outbreaks are allowing restaurants, shopping malls and even schools to reopen, in a clear departure from previous tough lockdown rules.
In the northwestern city of Urumqi, where a fire that killed 10 people spurred anti-lockdown protests, authorities announced Friday that supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts would gradually be reopened.
The city of more than four million in the far-western Xinjiang region endured one of China’s longest lockdowns, with some areas shut from early August.