Sunday, 31 December 2017

China`s Xi Jinping vows to support UN, boost living standards

China will play its part in defending the international order and combating climate change while working to raise living standards for its own people, President Xi Jinping pledged on Sunday in a New Year speech.

Xi said the nation was committed to economic reforms in 2018, the 40th anniversary of the transformation led by Deng Xiaoping, "as reform and opening-up is the path we must take to make progress in contemporary China and to realise the Chinese dream".

In a speech quoted by the state Xinhua news agency, Xi said that by 2020 all rural residents living below the current poverty line should have been lifted out of poverty.

It would be the first time in thousands of years of Chinese history that extreme poverty had been eliminated, he said.

"It is our solemn promise," Xi said.

The president also acknowledged shortfalls in the government`s work.

"That is why we should strengthen our sense of responsibility and do a good job of ensuring the people`s well-being," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

"The well-being of our people is the Party and the government`s greatest political achievement."

On international affairs, Xi said China "will resolutely uphold the authority of the United Nations", actively fulfil the nation`s international obligations and remain firmly committed to its pledges to tackle climate change.

His stance puts him at odds with US President Donald Trump, who has sharply criticised the UN and vowed to quit the 2015 Paris accord on combating climate change.

Ten Americans killed when plane crashes and burns in Costa Rica

Ten Americans flying from a vacation hotspot on Costa Rica`s tropical Pacific coast died Sunday when the small plane they had just boarded crashed and burst into flames shortly after take-off, officials in the country said.

Ten Americans flying from a vacation hotspot on Costa Rica`s tropical Pacific coast died Sunday when the small plane they had just boarded crashed and burst into flames shortly after take-off, officials in the country said.
A list of the passengers given by local media showed five shared the same last name, suggesting they were related.
"The government of Costa Rica profoundly regrets the deaths of 10 US passengers and two Costa Rican pilots in the air accident," which occurred in the country`s northwestern Guanacaste region, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis said in a statement posted to social media.
A US State Department official said: "We confirm the deaths of multiple US citizens in an airplane crash in Costa Rica."
The official said "we express condolences to all those affected by this tragedy," as well as assistance to "affected US citizens, but that "out of respect for the families, we are not sharing additional information at this time."Costa Rican officials said the plane that came down belonged to Nature Air, a domestic airline that services routes across the country and which also provides aircraft for charter.
Guanacaste is a popular vacation destination, especially this time of year, when its pristine beaches and jungle provide a respite for tourists fleeing the northern hemisphere`s winter.
Americans are by far the biggest group of tourists visiting Costa Rica.
The plane that crashed was a single-engine turboprop Cessna 208 Caravan. Its debris was scattered across a wooded mountain close to the beach town of Punta Islita.
Images posted by the country`s public security ministry showed blackened wreckage, some in flames, with only part of the tail recognizable.
The cause of the crash was not known.
Solis said in his statement that his government "gives its commitment to do everything necessary to work with the relatives of the victims to give them what they need in this difficult moment."
He said emergency services launched into action when the alarm over the crash was given at 12:13 pm (1813 GMT). The process of recovering the bodies continued into the night in Costa Rica.
Early Monday "the investigations into the causes of the accident will begin," Solis said.The Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion gave the names of the 10 passengers as: Thibault Astruc, Amanda Geissler, Charles Palmer, Bruce Steinberg, Irene Steinberg, Matthew Steinberg, William Steinberg, Zachary Steinberg, Leslie Weiss and Sherry Wuu.
No ages were given.
The newspaper reported the plane had taken off from the capital San Jose at 11:37 am (1737 GMT) for the small sealed airstrip in Punta Islita, where the tourists boarded.
The passengers had paid $2,300 for their flight, it said.
The two pilots were identified as Juan Manuel Retana Chinchilla and Emma Ramos.
Former Costa Rican president Laura Chincilla -- Solis` predecessor -- said on Twitter that Retana, 52, was her cousin. 
"You will remain in our hearts, dear Juan Manuel Retana," she wrote.
This time of year is particularly busy in Costa Rica`s coastal resort areas as tourists and locals alike spend end-of-year holidays in the sun.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel declares Europe top priority for new government

Chancellor Angela Merkel will tell Germans that European co-operation is "the decisive question of the coming years" in a New Year's Eve broadcast on Sunday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will tell Germans that European co-operation is "the decisive question of the coming years" in a New Year's Eve broadcast on Sunday, as her conservatives eye tricky coalition talks.

Merkel will say that "27 states in Europe must be persuaded more strongly than ever to hold together as a community," according to a scb ript of the annual televised address released by her office.

Britain is on course to leave the bloc in March 2019 after last year's referendum vote for Brexit -- leaving the European Union with 27 members.

As for Germany, its "future is bound indivisibly with the future of Europe," the chancellor will declare, recalling that Berlin hopes to work with France's pro-European President Emmanuel Macron to future-proof the EU.

"The question will be whether we Europeans can represent our values inwardly and outwardly, with self-confidence and with solidarity," she will add.

Brexit and fights over upholding democratic norms and sharing responsibility for refugees are weighing on continental cooperation.

Europe must be economically strong and fair, as well as able to "protect our external borders and the security of our citizens," according to the text.

Merkel and Macron vowed in mid-December to deliver a plan to reform the 19-nation euro single currency area.

Divisions persist among eurozone members, with wealthy northern countries such as Germany, Finland and the Netherlands loath to accept risk-sharing with states they see as less fiscally disciplined like France, Spain or Italy.

At home, Merkel is exploring a possible coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats in order to form a government after a tricky election in September.

She will promise in Sunday's speech "to form a stable new government for Germany quickly in the new year", backed by a majority of parliamentarians.

"The world is not waiting for us," the chancellor will say.

"We have to create the conditions now for Germany to do well in the coming 10 or 15 years."

One round of talks with the ecologist Greens and pro- business Free Democrats failed in November. That left Merkel the unappetising option of renewing a "grand coalition" between her centre-right CDU and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

Politicians and commentators expect it could be March before a new government is in place.

NASA's agenda for 2018: Celebrate 60th year and 'touch' the Sun

The Parker Solar Probe will perform its scientific investigations in a hazardous region of intense heat and solar radiation.

2018 will be a special year for American space agency NASA, owing to the fact that it will be turning 60-years-old.

While the space agency is certainly looking forward to the celebrations, it is also gearing up for the launch of a slew of important missions in the new year.

One of those missions is the Parker Solar Probe, which is scheduled for launch in 2018 to explore the Sun's outer atmosphere.

The probe will 'touch' the Sun by using Venus' gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the Sun, according to a NASA statement.

The spacecraft will fly through the Sun's atmosphere as close as 6.2 million kilometers to our star's surface, well within the orbit of Mercury and closer than any spacecraft has gone before.

The Parker Solar Probe will perform its scientific investigations in a hazardous region of intense heat and solar radiation.

The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.

In 2018, NASA will also add to its existing robotic fleet at the Red Planet with the InSight Mars lander designed to study the interior and subsurface of the planet .

The US space agency's first asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx, is scheduled to arrive at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in August 2018, and will return a sample for study in 2023.

Launching no later than June 2018, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will search for planets outside our solar system by monitoring 200,000 bright, nearby stars.

To continue the long-term record of how Earth's ice sheets, sea level, and underground water reserves are changing, NASA will also launch the next generation of two missions – ICESat-2 and GRACE Follow-On – in 2018.

After Losing Mother To Brain Cancer, Artist Finds Peace In Surreal Photography

Kirsty Mitchell, a talented photographer based in the UK, creates mystical and dream-like surreal photographs that clearly communicate her intense, deep and personal connection to her artwork. When her mother died of brain cancer in 2008, photography became Mitchell’s only shelter from the pain of her loss.

“Photography became my only escape when I could no longer talk about how I felt. It became an utter fantasy that blocked out the real world, and a place where I could return to my memories of her, far away from those hospitals walls,” she writes on her website.

Rare Photos Of Titanic (20 Pics)

Photos of Titanic that you probably have never seen before.

The last image taken of The Titanic, 1912

Propellers of The Titanic c. 1912 

Gym aboard the Titanic, c. 1912
Titanic Prepares to Leave Port. 1912
The iceberg that sank the Titanic, 1912
Priest praying over Titanic victims before they are buried at sea
Olympic (left) and Titanic (right) at Belfast on March 6th, 1912
Surviving crew members of the Titanic, New York, 1912
Titanic ready for launch, 1911
One of Titanic’s Lifeboats Paddling Toward Rescue, the RMS Carpathia. April 15, 1912
The dining room on the Titanic, 1912
The Titanic in dry dock. Here you can see the scale of the person standing next to one of the propellers, 1912
Body of RMS Titanic victim aboard rescue vessel CS Minia being made ready for makhift coffin. 1912
Titanic lifeboat next to the Carpathia. April 15, 1912
Olympic and Titanic, under construction, side by side. Belfast 1910
People in Southampton checking the Titanic survivor list posted outside the White Star Line office. April, 1912
RMS Titanic as she leaves Southampton on her maiden voyage (April 10, 1912)
Body of RMS Titanic victim aboard rescue vessel CS Minia being made ready for makhift coffin. 1912

Titanic lifeboat D, awaiting rescue by the RMS Carpathia
Titanic 1912

Saturday, 30 December 2017

10 Foods that Help Control Blood Sugar

Keeping your blood sugar levels in check may not sound super exciting, but even if you’re not diabetic or prediabetic, blood sugar levels matter. These are some foods that control blood sugar.
One evening when I was a kid, my family was waiting for a table at a Japanese restaurant. My mom was being pretty quiet, and the next thing we knew, she was on the floor. Her blood sugar had crashed, and she fainted. My mom isn’t diabetic or prediabetic, but low blood sugar does run in our family, and she waited too long to eat. On the upside, they seated us right away when she bounced back.
I was lucky enough to inherit this trait from my mom. If I put off eating or eat too many sweets, I get a case of the dizzies, just like she does. Eating foods that help control blood sugar, like the ones below, and practicing habits that support good blood sugar levelshave done wonders for me.
Of course, you can’t just do a vinegar shot once a day and check healthy blood sugar levels off of your list. But you can use these foods that control blood sugar to help balance you out, if you’re splurging on the occasional sweet treat.


If you think you have a chronic condition, please talk to a doctor. The list below are foods that help control blood sugar. They aren’t a cure for diabetes, prediabetes or hypoglycemia, and they don’t cancel out an overall terrible diet. What they can do is help offset that rotten sugar-crash feeling you get from the occasional over-indulgence in sugar or refined carbs.

1. Vinegar

A tablespoon of vinegar seems to help reduce the impact on blood sugar and the spike in insulin that usually comes with eating something like a bagel or a sugary treat. It looks like taking a daily shot of vinegar can also help improve your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers.

2. Strawberries

Strawberries are low in sugar, high in fiber and packed with deliciousness. And they may just help control blood sugar levels. A study found that pairing strawberries with starchy foods helps prevent a spike in blood sugar. Strawberries contain antioxidants that support healthy blood sugar levels, and their low-sugar, high-fiber content is a real one-two punch when it comes to healthy blood sugar, as well.

3. Healthy Fats

Plant-based, high-fat foods like avocado, nuts and seeds are my go-to when it comes to controlling my blood sugar levels. There’s research supporting the idea that adding healthy fats to your diet can make a difference, so pass the cashews, please!

4. Cruciferous Vegetables

A diet rich in vegetables in general is good for your blood sugar levels, and cruciferous vegetables specifically contain a compound that supports healthy blood sugar levels. A preliminary study looked at very concentrated amounts of this compound to treat diabetes—the equivalent of eating 11 pounds of broccoli per day. More research is needed to see how lower doses impact blood sugar levels in prediabetic patients.
That’s a lot of broccoli, but the good news is, cruciferous veggies also deliver plenty of fiber, which slows sugar absorption, so eating your cruciferous veggies helps control blood sugar any way you slice it.

5. Ceylon Cinnamon

There’s evidence that one to two teaspoons of ceylon cinnamon can help control the blood sugar spike that you get when you’re taking a blood sugar test (the one where you drink that awful sweet syrup-water, then the doctor tests your blood sugar levels). What’s important, though, is to note that there are different types of cinnamon.
Ceylon cinnamon seems to be helpful in safely controlling blood sugar, but its cousin—cassia cinnamon—can harm your liver at high doses. Unfortunately, if your jar of cinnamon doesn’t specify that it’s ceylon, chances are it’s cassia cinnamon. Some stores do stock ceylon cinnamon, though, and you can find it online.

6. Dates

This one surprised me! Dates are delicious, but they’re also very high in sugar. A study found that dates are actually a low-glycemic food that benefitted participants with diabetes. Pairing dates with yogurt seemed to be even more beneficial. 

7. Vanadium-Rich Foods

There is only a little bit of research right now into this mineral—there isn’t even a Recommended Daily Allowance for it yet—but it looks like it may help regulate blood sugar levels. Foods rich in vanadium include: parsley, soy, corn, olive and olive oil, black pepper, dill, radishes and legumes.

8. Plant-Based Protein

Plant-based protein—like beans and nuts—help regulate blood sugar in two ways. Protein helps slow sugar absorption, which can prevent a crash. And unlike animal foods, plant proteins come with a side of fiber, which also supports healthy blood sugar levels. So have another helping of the musical fruit!

9. Ginger

There is some evidence that ginger and ginger extracts can help control blood sugar levels. More research is definitely needed in this area, but ginger just plain tastes good and comes with so many other potential health benefits, that it can’t hurt to add it to your day.

10. Turmeric

Add controlling glucose levels to turmeric’s many health benefits. Both turmeric and turmeric extract seem to be beneficial. If you want to combine the benefits of ginger and turmeric, fix yourself a turmeric latte! If coffee isn’t your thing, you can omit it, and you’re left with delicious golden milk.

Natural Cures for These 5 Common Winter Maladies

Winter can be a harsh time for the body. All parts of the body can get stiffer, smellier and drier. But not to fear! Here are some simple natural cures for 5 of the most common winter maladies:


With all the sugary, rich foods we consume in winter, it’s no surprise that many of us are forced to deal with bad breath. Halitosis is no fun, but it’s not a lost cause. Bad breath is caused by a buildup of bad bacteria in the mouth—on the back of the tongue, the cheeks, the roof of your mouth. Brushing these areas thoroughly can go a long way towards reducing bacterial buildup. While chewing sugar-free gum can help increase saliva production to regularly rinse out bacteria, I prefer chewing tea tree toothpicks, which do a great job at freshening breath as well. Also be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.


There’s nothing worse than taking off your thick wool sweater and getting hit with a wall of nasty B.O. If your body odor is worse than usual, your diet may be to blame. Diets excessively heavy in sugar, dairy, meats or other potential problem foods can manifest as a real stink in the pits. Focus on consuming more detoxifying greens, like broccoli, spirulina and kale. Limit alcohol consumption and steer your diet away from foods you may be intolerant of.


The constant shifts in temperature, from frigid to warm to frigid to warm, can cause joints to stiffen up and hurt. Rather than popping Aleve all day every day, try eating more healthy fats and anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric (always pair turmeric with black pepper for optimal absorption). It can also help to take hot epsom salt baths and do gentle, joint-lubricating movements like yoga every day.


Winter air is dry and literally sucks the moisture right out of our skin. In order to avoid dry, flaky or cracked skin, you need to be proactive. On a weekly basis, it can be helpful to take a bath and gently exfoliate the dead skin. Post-bath, towel yourself off and slather coconut or jojoba oil onto the dry areas. Oil not only hydrates the skin, but also works to lock in the moisture accumulated from the bath. For your face, I recommend using jojoba or rosehip oil, which are safer for those prone to clogged pores. If you regularly get chapped lips, really focus on upping your water intake and try to avoid licking your lips too much, which can make them even worse.


If you’re in the habit of going outside into cold weather after you shower, stop. The freezing and thawing of your wet hair day in and day out makes it dry and brittle. Unless you want to spend a fortune on deep conditioner, make sure your hair is dry before venturing outside on cold days. It can be helpful to apply an oil mask (coconut perhaps?) once a week before you shower and limit shampooing in order to preserve your hair’s protective natural oils.
Winter health can take a little extra effort, but it pays off in a big way. Keep your body happy and healthy throughout the chilliest season. Spring will be upon us in no time!

What’s the Optimal Daily Vinegar Dose?

Consuming vinegar with a meal reduces the spike in blood sugar, insulin, and triglycerides, and it appears to work particularly well in those who are insulin resistant and on their way to type 2 diabetes. No wonder the consumption of vinegar with meals was used as a folk medicine for the treatment of diabetes before diabetes drugs were invented.
Many cultures have taken advantage of this fact by mixing vinegar with high glycemic foods. For example, in Japan, they use vinegar in rice to make sushi, and, in the Mediterranean, they dip bread into balsamic vinegar. Throughout Europe, a variety of sourdough breads can lower both blood sugar and insulin spikes.
You can get the same effect by adding vinegar to boiled white potatoes then cooling them to make potato salad. Adding vinegar to white bread doesn’t just lower blood sugar and insulin responses, it increases satiety, or the feeling of being full after a meal. A study found that if you eat three slices of white bread, it may fill you up a little, but in less than two hours, you’re hungrier than when you began eating. If you eat that same amount of bread with some vinegar, though, you feel twice as full and, even two hours later, still feel nearly just as full as if you had just eaten the three pieces of bread plain. 
But this remarkable increase and prolongation of satiety took nearly two tablespoons of vinegar. That’s a lot of vinegar. What’s the right amount? It turns out that even just two teaspoons of vinegar with a meal can significantly decrease the blood sugar spike of a refined carb meal, a bagel and juice, for instance. You could easily add two teaspoons of vinaigrette to a little side salad or two teaspoons of vinegar to some tea with lemon. Or you could scrap the bagel with juice and just have some oatmeal with berries instead.
What if you consume vinegar every day for months? Researchers at Arizona State University randomized pre-diabetics to take daily either a bottle of an apple cider vinegar drink, a half bottle at lunch, and the remaining half at dinner, or an apple cider vinegar tablet, which was pretty much considered to be a placebo control. While the bottled drink contained two tablespoons of vinegar, the two tablets only contained about one third of a teaspoon. So in effect, the study was comparing about 40 spoonfuls of vinegar a week to 2 spoonfuls for 12 weeks. What happened? On the vinegar drink, fasting blood sugars dropped by 16 points within one week. How significant is a drop of 16 points?
Well, this simple dietary tweak of a tablespoon of vinegar twice a day worked better than the leading drugs like Glucophage and Avandia. This effect of vinegar is particularly noteworthy when comparing the cost, access, and toxicities associated with pharmaceutical medications. So the vinegar is safer, cheaper, and more effective. This could explain why it’s been used medicinally since antiquity. Interestingly, even the tiny amount of vinegar in pill form seemed to help a bit. That’s astonishing. And, no: The study was not funded by a vinegar company.
What about long-term vinegar use in diabetics? To investigate this, researchers randomized subjects into one of three groups. One group took two tablespoons of vinegar twice a day, with lunch and supper. Another group ate two dill pickles a day, which each contained about a half tablespoon’s worth of vinegar. A third group took one vinegar pill twice a day, each containing only one sixteenth of a teaspoon’s worth of vinegar. I wasn’t surprised that the small dose in the pill didn’t work, but neither did the pickles. Maybe one tablespoon a day isn’t enough for diabetics? Regardless, the vinegar did work. This was all the more impressive because the diabetics were mostly well controlled on medication and still saw an additional benefit from the vinegar.  

4 Easy Ways to Improve Digestion

’Tis the season of delicious feasting. That also means that it may be the most trying season for your overloaded digestive system. If your digestion is imbalanced, you may be experiencing increased indigestion, heart burn, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, flatulence and more. Luckily, there are a few easy things you can do at home to support and enhance your digestion this winter.


Apparently, as many as 90 percent of Americans produce too little stomach acid. This acid, known as hydrochloric acid, is responsible for unlocking digestive enzymes, promoting digestion and improving nutrient absorption. Low acid means the body isn’t properly absorbing nutrients from food, so you may be more prone to deficiencies even if you have a balanced diet. Even syndromes such as acid reflux are the result of producing too little stomach acid. By consuming 1 to 3 teaspoons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar (with the mother) diluted in water about 20 minutes before eating, ACV can help to increase stomach acid and increase nutrient absorption. Just be sure to swish water in your mouth after drinking the tonic in order to protect your tooth enamel from erosion. 


Taking supplemental digestive enzymes at mealtimes can significantly improve your digestion. These enzymes assist the body by breaking down hard-to-digest foods and freeing up the immune system to do more important housekeeping functions. High quality, store-bought digestive enzymes are derived from powerful plant foods (like papaya and its powerful digestive enzyme, papain). Look for one with a balanced pH and a diverse range of enzymes. In conjunction, probiotics are also a good addition to your digestive arsenal to keep those ever-important gut bacteria in check. 


Proper posture is so important, especially for digestion. Keeping your organs in alignment makes the task of processing food a lot easier for your body. But having the strength to maintain proper posture is also important. Strength of abdominal muscles, including the important diaphragm, becomes compromised when we slouch at desks all day. This can compress the stomach and intestines and encourage discomfort and bloating after meals. Practice yoga postures like spinal twists to enhance digestion, stretch ab muscles, encourage deep relaxation and realign the organs. And, of course, sit up straight at your desk and take walking breaks often.


Herbals teas like fennel, ginger, peppermint, dandelion and cinnamon can help to improve digestion after a heavy meal. Try an herbal chai or a moroccan mint daily to reap the rewards of these beneficial herbs. And if you fancy the zesty flavor, kombucha can combine the probiotic benefits of fermentation along with the digestive benefits of tea.
Aside from the aforementioned tips, increasing your mindfulness around food can make a huge difference in your digestion. Eat slowly, chew thoroughly and do not sit down to a meal when you are stressed. By priming your mind and body, you can promote digestive health throughout the season with relatively little active effort. Stomachaches be gone—all it takes is a little mindfulness.

NASA's Mars 2020 mission: Here's how Martian samples will be brought back

With 2020 just 2 years away, the space circuit is buzzing in anticipation of NASA's Mars 2020 mission.

With the American space agency unveiling information at every stage and giving us a glimpse into the preparations of the mission, it just gets more intriguing by the minute.

After revealing the features of the unmanned rover, NASA has revealed how it plans to bring back Martian samples to Earth for the first time with the help of its next rover mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020.

After landing on Mars, a drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they will be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission, NASA said.

"Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer," said Ken Farley of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we're alone in the universe," Farley said.

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012.

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals - it will seek signs of ancient life by studying the terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments.

It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale.

An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the "glow" from excited rings of carbon atoms.

A ground-penetrating radar will look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 10 metres deep, depending on the material.

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including colour cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporise rocks and soil to analyse their chemistry, NASA said.

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt.

The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth, NASA said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbour signs of past microbial life. But a final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

"In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites," Farley said.

"It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us," Farley said.

The mission is set to launch in July/August 2020.

US may withhold $255 million Pakistan aid over handling of terror groups

The Trump administration may withhold $225 million in government aid to Pakistan over frustration with the country's handling of terror groups within its borders.

As per a The New York Times report,  US was strongly considering whether to withhold the aid according to American officials. This is apparently in a show of dissatisfaction over Pakistan’s attitude in confronting the terrorist networks that operate on their soil.

A final decision is expected to come in the next few weeks, officials said. They did not detail what conditions Pakistan would have to meet to receive the aid.

Senior administration officials met in December 2017, to decide what to do about the money, the report further said.

Raising pressure on Pakistan, US President Donald Trump in August 2017, unveiled a new US strategy for the war in Afghanistan aimed at defeating the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, an affiliated group that operates in Pakistan.

Trump at the time had said Pakistan "gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror" and vowed the administration would be tougher on the country.

The US President again singled out Pakistan for criticism when he announced his national security strategy in December 2017. "We make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help," he had said.

Vice President Mike Pence had also reinforced that message in a visit to Afghanistan just before Christmas, telling cheering American troops that "President Trump has put Pakistan on notice".

In July 2017, Defence Secretary James Mattis had previously stalled a $50 million aid package to Pakistan by withholding a certification that Pakistan had done enough to fight the Haqqani Network.

The certification is required by Congress for the yearly military grant made to Pakistan, a nation classified as a major non-NATO US ally.

Pakistan "did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban or (the Haqqani Network) or substantially limit their ability to threaten US interests in Afghanistan," an annual State Department report on terrorism had stated.

A State Department official said Pakistan's actions will ultimately determine the course of "security assistance in the future". 

Donald Trump's tweets 'do not accord with facts': China on allegations of illegal oil sale to North Korea

China on Friday hit back at allegations that it is illegally selling oil to North Korea, claiming there was no basis to the accusations. While the Chinese Foreign Ministry took a more circumspect tone in its response, media houses run by the government took direct aim at US President Donald Trump for his tweet on the issue.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters that Beijing had immediately investigated the tanker that had in October allegedly made a ship-to-ship sale of oil to North Korea, after the reports emerged.

She claimed that the ship, though of Chinese origin, had not docked at a Chinese port since August. "The relevant reports do not accord with facts… China has always comprehensively and strictly implemented the UN Security Council's resolutions and carried out its due international obligations," Hua said.

 "If there is solid evidence proving that there is on the Chinese side any violation of the Security Council resolutions, China will surely deal with it in accordance with laws and regulations," she added.

The issue had blown up, especially after a tweet from Trump, that read, "Caught RED HANDED - very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!"

However, Chinese state-run media had no diplomatic balancing acts to perform. They were more direct in taking on the issue.

"This is not how a US president should behave," declared Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times, in an editorial.

"Some radicals from the US and South Korea do not speak in a responsible manner, but we hope President Trump has a broader vision... It is hoped Trump and his team will not be hijacked by irrational opinions and add fuel to the flames," it added.

Both Hua and the Global Times editorial attempted to paint China as a country that dutifully implements resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council, and carries out its international obligations.

However, China has a patchy record when it comes to compliance with a rules-based international order, as it showed with its refusal to respect an international tribunal ruling against its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Germany has ordered Amazon to stop taking advantage of people who can’t spell “Birkenstock”

Germany is saving consumers from their own poor spelling.
A German court has barred Amazon from drawing in online shoppers who misspell iconic German sandal maker Birkenstock in their Google searches, Reuters reports. Amazon reportedly won business for common Birkenstock misspellings by booking variants like “Brikenstock,” “Bierkenstock,” and “Birkenstok” in Google AdWords, so that they produced search results for shoes sold on
According to Reuters, Birkenstock turned to the court because it feared shoppers might unwittingly buy shoddy counterfeits, which could damage its brand reputation. “For us, Amazon is complicit,” Birkenstock chief Oliver Reichert told German magazine Der Spiegel, according to Reuters.
Birkenstock first walked away from in July 2016. Besieged by counterfeits and rogue merchants, the company said it would no longer supply products to Amazon for US customers starting Jan. 1, 2017. “The Amazon marketplace, which operates as an ‘open market,’ creates an environment where we experience unacceptable business practices which we believe jeopardize our brand,” David Kahan, Birkenstock’s CEO for the Americas, wrote in a memo at the time.
A year later, Kahan denounced Amazon in a lengthy memo for attempting to get Birkenstock retailers to sell it their inventory, even though the company had explicitly removed its sandals from in the US. “I share in no uncertain terms that this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Kahan wrote. “[A]ny Authorized retailer who may do this for even a single pair will be closed FOREVER.”
Amazon is a tough internet giant to foil. Its Zappos subsidiary sells a wide array of its offerings, and a search for “Birkenstock” from the US still returns plenty of results on its website, though many of the shoes are also out of stock. Earlier this month, Birkenstock also pulled its merchandise from Amazon in Europe over the online shopping company’s alleged failure to stamp out counterfeits.