- The bill is expected to pass the House on Monday. | Photo: Reuters
Published 4 March 2017 (8 hours 23 minutes ago)
The news comes as China announced Saturday its military budget this year would grow about seven percent, its slowest pace since 2010.
The U.S. House is expected to pass the defense budget next week, drafted under former president Barack Obama’s tenure but featuring pet issues of Donald Trump, from precluding any spending on the closure of Guantanamo Bay to blocking any funds going into making the army a greener force.
The US$578 billion Department of Defense Appropriations Act, to be passed later than usual and valid until September, is US$5.2 billion more than last years but only US$1.6 billion more than Obama had requested. Increases in defense spending have been frozen until the bill is passed.
Trump also suggested personally adding US$54 billion — over 10 percent of the budget — to the Defense Department, but his plan has not yet been drafted. Some of his portion may be used to pay for the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, reported Federal News Radio.
The news comes as China announced Saturday its military budget this year would grow by about seven percent, its slowest pace since 2010, despite signs it would raise it in reaction to aggression from Trump.
Last year, with China’s economy slowing, the defense budget recorded its lowest increase in six years, 7.6 percent, the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit increases.
The U.S. defense bill includes funding for the armed forces, humanitarian and disaster aid, intelligence, retirement for Defense Department personnel and cooperation with other nations.
Among its long list of restrictions, the funding cannot be used “for specified statutory and executive order requirements for the use of renewable energy,” “obligating or expending funds on certain green energy mandates” or enforcement of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
Vegetarian options are also shunned — no funds can “revise the DOD Food Service Program Manual to exclude meat” — and several restrictions are outlined on buying non-U.S.-made equipment.
It also “contains provisions that prohibit or restrict funds from being used to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility; transfer the detainees to other countries; or construct or modify facilities for the purpose of housing the detainees.”
In other respects, though, the bill is generous. Funds for cooperation with Israel, mostly in missile defense systems, amount to over US$600.7 million — an increase in US$35 million. Funds for cooperating with Afghanistan total US$3.4 billion, Ukraine funds come to US$150 million and US$900 million will go to cooperation with Pakistan. Counter-drug activities, often conducted in conjunction with governments like Colombia and Honduras, amount to US$908.8 million.
Operations against the Islamic State group “and their affiliated or associated groups” are devoted a big chunk of the text and US$880 million to “reimburse key cooperating nations for logistical, military, and other support, including access.” Any forces associated with the Iraqi government will be considered and vetted, but no money will go to “associations with terrorist groups or groups associated with the Government of Iran.” Total funding for so-called Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism, designated by Congress, is set at US$61.8 billion, a US$3.2 billion rise from last year.
Proposed amendments to add checks to the use of funds in operations in Syria and Iraq continuously failed by large margins. Proposals to prohibit spending money on operations in Libya “in contravention of the War Powers Resolution” and on “the transfer of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia” also failed, as did an amendment “to prohibit warrantless searches of government databases for the communications of U.S. persons and to prohibit government agencies from mandating data security vulnerabilities in products or services for surveillance purposes.”
The bill was sponsored by Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Trump endorser and supporter of the Iraq War, and the House subcommittee overseeing it was led by Ken Calvert, who authored the infamous E-Verify law that allows employers to check the immigration status of employees.
Defense News-Federal News Radio-Reuters
by teleSUR / nrc-DB
Bashing US Sanctions, Venezuela VP Slams ‘Decaying Empire’
Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami on Friday criticized U.S. sanctions launched against him, calling them a “desperate” attempt by a “decaying empire” to attack the Bolivarian Revolution.
“It is not about aggressions and infamies pronounced against an individual, it is the desperate attempts of a decaying empire to crush a heroic people,” El Aissami told Supreme Tribunal of Justice members during a speech, HispanTV reports.
“It is an attack against an entire nation.”
El Aissami, who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury on Feb. 13 for supposed links to drug trafficking, called on Venezuelans to avoid being demoralized. He said it’s a good thing that “the empire poses its eyes on the children of Simon Bolivar” because it means the U.S. feels threatened by the Bolivarian Revolution.
The Venezuelan politician, who was born to Lebanese and Syrian parents, has also been accused by the U.S. of allegedly aiding “Middle Eastern terrorists.” To make things worse, he was placed on the Kingpin Act Designation, making him the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to be sanctioned by the U.S.
El Aissami has consistently denied all allegations and has accused the U.S. of slander, pointing out that there is no legitimate evidence proving his complicity.
By punishing him, the U.S. is acting “as an extraterritorial police and without having powers to do so,” El Aissami wrote in a recent New York Times column. Criticizing the U.S. war on drugs, he said the North American country “owes the world and their own people a reflection on the resounding failure of their fight against drugs.”
But El Aissami isn’t the only Venezuelan politician denouncing the U.S. government’s attacks against the Bolivarian Revolution.
Earlier this week, President Nicolas Maduro slammed a U.S. Senate resolution calling on President Donald Trump to heighten sanctions on Venezuela for alleged “human rights abuses.” Maduro warned against rising “fascism” in the White House.
“In spite of U.S. aggressions, our people are united in saying ‘you must respect Venezuela,’” Maduro said Wednesday during a government summit in Cumana.
“We will never be anyone’s colony ever again.”
The resolution, which calls on the Organization of American States, OAS, to suspend Venezuela, was unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. The House of Representatives is expected to review the bill in the coming weeks.
The official Facebook page of the Palestinian ruling party Fatah has been shut down by the social media website Monday after the page posted an old photo showing late Palestinian President and founder of the party Yasser Arafat holding a rifle alongside another leader, the party said in a statement.
“Facebook administration shut down the Fatah movement page because of this photo. We will always continue to be proud of the heritage of our nation and struggle,” the resistance movement and political party said in a tweet Monday along with a photo of Arafat handing a rifle to the current deputy chairman of the movement Mahmoud Aloul.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that Munir Jaghoub, a Fatah official and the “administrator” of the Facebook page, said in a statement that Facebook closed the Fatah’s official page after the photo was posted. The page remained down as of Monday afternoon.
Jaghoub said the rifle belonged to Israeli soldiers and was captured by Fatah militants in southern Lebanon during the 1982 war. This is the second time that Facebook has shut down the Fatah facebook page, which has almost 70,000 followers.
The news comes just a few months after Facebook and the right-wing Israeli government set up joint teams in order to fight what they call “incitement” posts on the social media website, a move seen as targeting Palestinians and Arab-Israelis.
Israel has repeatedly blamed social media and “incitement” for the October 2015 unrest that saw protests against the Israeli occupation, which Israeli troops suppressed, and stabbing attacks by Palestinians against soldiers at occupation checkpoints in the West Bank.
However, the United Nations, the Palestinian leadership and other rights groups have repeatedly argued that the unrest was, in fact, the result of Palestinian frustration, especially among youth, with the continuing occupation, the illegal settlement building as well as high unemployment.
In January, more than 100 Facebook pages connected to Hamas, the other major Palestinian movement and political party, were shut down on the basis of supporting terrorism and “inciting” violence.
Such tactics by Facebook do not seem to apply to Israeli incitement pages or groups who have in the past promoted the mass killing of Palestinians — like during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza — and supported soldiers who carried out extrajudicial killings against Palestinians.