Trump Tweets, Golfs Amid Hurricane Preparations

After canceling a trip to Poland to stay stateside to oversee the federal government’s response to an approaching hurricane, President Donald Trump took time out to golf and to send a thinly veiled warning to his ousted Oval Office gatekeeper.

The president, on Saturday morning, was flown on Marine One from Camp David in Maryland to his Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.
 
Camp David has a driving range and a single golf hole with multiple tees, but the president, keeping to his weekend routine when the weather is fair, chose to head to the nearest of his private 18-hole courses.

Before departing the presidential retreat, which he rarely has used, Trump dispatched a blizzard of tweets – at a rate of nearly one per minute over an hour – on his personal @realDonaldTrump account.

Some of his tweets referenced Hurricane Dorian, a Category 4 storm poised to damage the southeastern U.S. coast, with Trump noting it could pose more of a threat to South Carolina and Georgia than the original forecast of landfall in Florida.

Looking like our great South Carolina could get hit MUCH harder than first thought. Georgia and North Carolina also. It’s moving around and very hard to predict, except that it is one of the biggest and strongest (and really wide) that we have seen in decades. Be safe!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

“He’s being briefed every hour” about the hurricane, according to White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

Amid continuing questions about why Trump postponed his trip to Poland for a hurricane that is not expected to hit any of the United States until after the time the president would have returned from Europe, Grisham said, “Obviously, being here domestically is better. … We’re more nimble and all his agencies are here.” 

After time at his golf course, Trump was to receive another briefing, back at Camp David, about the hurricane.

On Sunday, Trump is scheduled to return to the White House and then visit the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in downtown Washington.

FILE – President Donald Trump’s personal secretary Madeleine Westerhout stands outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 2, 2018.

A pair of Saturday tweets by Trump focused on the abrupt departure of Oval Office gatekeeper Madeleine Westerhout, who had dished gossip to a group of reporters during an off-the-record dinner and drinking session about the president’s eating habits. She also disparaged daughter Tiffany Trump, claiming the president does not like being photographed with her because he thinks she is overweight.

Book publishers reportedly have been seeking to contact Westerhout after she was not permitted to return on Friday to her job as a personal assistant to the president.

Trump, on Twitter, said Westerhout had signed a confidentially agreement, but “I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her! I love Tiffany, doing great!”

While Madeleine Westerhout has a fully enforceable confidentiality agreement, she is a very good person and I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her! I love Tiffany, doing great!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

In a subsequent tweet, the president claimed he is “currently suing several people for violating their confidentiality agreements,” including former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who was fired after one year as the communications director in the White House Office of Public Liaison.

…Yes, I am currently suing various people for violating their confidentiality agreements. Disgusting and foul mouthed Omarosa is one. I gave her every break, despite the fact that she was despised by everyone, and she went for some cheap money from a book. Numerous others also!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

A number of former federal lawyers and private attorneys rebutted Trump on Twitter, asserting that the non-disclosure agreements are not legally enforceable unless classified information is revealed.

Trump himself is facing some criticism about revealing sensitive U.S. government information after he tweeted on Friday a detailed photograph of a launchpad explosion of an Iranian rocket that was set to put a satellite into space.  

Analysts say the public release of an image with such resolution is unprecedented and was probably taken by a KH-11 American spy satellite known as USA-224.

“We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump told reporters on Friday.

U.S. presidents are able to declassify information at their discretion – the most prominent example being John Kennedy’s decision in 1962 to make public pictures taken by a U-2 spy plane that revealed Soviets troops were placing missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States.

 

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9 FARC Rebels Killed in Raid by Colombian Military

The Colombian military has killed nine rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces in Colombia (FARC), President Ivan Duque said.

A FARC commander and eight other guerrillas were killed in a bombing raid in southern Colombia on Friday, just days after the group announced it was taking up arms again to ensure their political rights under an historic peace agreement.

Duque said the attack occurred in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguan, located in the province of Caqueta, after he authorized a military operation in rural areas in the southern part of the country.

Duque said Friday’s bombing sends “a clear message” to FARC members to lay down their weapons.

Among those killed was a rebel known by his alias, Gildardo Cucho, a member of a group led by former FARC chief negotiator Luciano Marin, who was trying to recruit potential rebels for a new guerrilla movement.

On Thursday, former FARC commander Ivan Marquez announced in a video that a new offensive would be launched, three years after FARC signed a peace deal with the government, ending five decades of armed conflict in the South American country.

“This is the continuation of the rebel fight in answer to the betrayal of the state,” Marquez, in a 32-minute YouTube video. “We were never beaten or defeated ideologically, so the struggle continues.”

Marquez, a former chief rebel negotiator, appeared alongside some 20 heavily armed guerrillas when he made the announcement, which comes amid severe challenges to the complex peace agreement.

In response to the FARC announcement, Duque said “Colombia takes no threats. Not of any nature.”

Colombia’s peace tribunal also has issued arrest warrants for Marquez and the others who have pledged to take up the insurgency again.

President Duque is offering an $863,000 reward for information leading to the capture of anyone who appeared in the YouTube video, according to Reuters.

Hundreds of former rebels and human rights activists have been murdered since the accord was signed.  That, coupled with delays in funding for economic efforts by former rebels — has exacerbated deep political divisions within the country.

Marquez said the group’s objective is to ensure the installation of a government that will promote peace. Marquez said the group will fight corruption and fracking (the hydraulic fracturing crude oil extraction process) and demand payments from participants in illicit economies and from multinational corporations.

About 7,000 rebels surrendered their weapons to United Nations observers as part of the agreement that was negotiated with the support of the United States, Cuba and Norway. But smaller rebel groups and drug traffickers have filled the void, leaving many citizens frustrated with the slow pace of implementing the agreement.

Security sources estimate the force commanded by Marquez could number 2,200 fighters.

 

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Thousands March in Moscow Protest Defying Authorities

Current Time TV is a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

MOSCOW — Thousands of Russians defied authorities and marched in central Moscow, ignoring officials’ warnings and pressing demands to let independent candidates run in upcoming city council elections.

Police did not interfere with the August 31 protest, which was markedly smaller than previous ones.

However, camouflaged officers linked arms to keep marchers out of the road when demonstrators arrived at Pushkin Square — a symbolically important public park closer to the Kremlin. A heavy presence of detention buses and water-cannon trucks were visible on nearby side streets.

Neither police nor independent watchdogs reported any arrests or detentions from the action — in contrast to other recent protests in which thousands were detained, sometimes violently.

The August 31 action was the latest in a series of confrontations between liberal activists, and Moscow city authorities — and the Kremlin.

Demonstrators clapped and chanted “Russia Will Be Free!” and “Down With The Tsar!” (in a reference to President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power in Russia for two decades), as they walked along a leafy boulevard just a few kilometers north of the Kremlin.

A leading opposition figure and one of the organizers of the march, Lyubov Sobol, led people chanting “Freedom For Political Prisoners.”

“People of different ages have come out because everyone wants justice. They want Russia to be free and happy and to not drown in lawlessness and mayhem. We demand this and we will not back down,” she told reporters.

At Pushkin Square, the ending point for the march, participants milled around, occasionally yelling political chants. One group entered the crowd carrying a large banner citing the clause in the constitution that gives Russians the right to gather peacefully, and yelled “We Need Another Russia!”

Unofficial estimates put the crowd size in the low thousands.

Protesters also yelled “Let Them Through!” as they marched — a reference to the City Duma elections scheduled for Sept. 8.

The refusal by election officials to register some independent candidates has been the impetus for the protests that have been held weekly since mid-July.

However, they’ve also turned into a major challenge for the Kremlin and a reflection of growing impatience among Russians with President Vladimir Putin.

The weekly protests first erupted in July as election authorities blocked some independent candidates from registering to run on September 8.

The initial rallies drew tens of thousands of people in some of the largest political demonstrations seen in the country since 2012. Some, though not all, were authorized by officials ahead of time.

Police have violently dispersed several of the earlier demonstrations, some of which authorities described as “illegal mass gatherings.” More than 2,000 people have been detained, some preemptively, drawing international condemnation.

 

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Taiwan’s Tsai Expresses Thanks over Approval of F-16V Sale

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen thanked the United States on Tuesdsay for approving the sale of 66 advanced F-16V fighter jets and urged rival China to respect Taiwan’s right to defend itself.
 
President Donald Trump announced approval of the $8 billion deal on Sunday. The sale is expected to further inflame U.S. relations with China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.

Tsai on Tuesday also applauded previous arm sales already announced by Trump’s administration, saying those reaffirmed the United States’ “long-standing commitment to helping maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

Trump’s announcement begins a period of consultation with Congress, and a formal announcement of the sale could be made as early as next month unless lawmakers object. The State Department, which would ultimately authorize the sale, declined to comment, but members of Congress from both parties welcomed the proposal.

China fiercely opposes all arms sales to Taiwan but has specifically objected to advanced fighter jets such as the F-16V, whose Active Electronically Scanned Array, or AESA, radar is compatible with the F-35 stealth fighters operated by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines. The U.S. is also installing upgraded electronics, including AESA radars, on Taiwan’s existing fleet of 144 older F-16s.
 
While the U.S. cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 in order to recognize Beijing, U.S. law requires Washington to ensure Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

Since 2008, U.S. administrations have notified Congress of more than $24 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan, including in the past two months the sale of 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, valued at $2.2 billion. The Trump administration alone has notified Congress of $4.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan.

Tsai has rejected Chinese pressure to unite Taiwan and China under a “one-country, two-systems” framework and soon after her 2016 inauguration, Beijing cut contacts with her government over her refusal to endorse its claim that Taiwan is part of China.
 
Beijing has sought to increase Taiwan’s international isolation by reducing its diplomatic allies to just 17 and stepped up military intimidation, including by holding military exercises across the Taiwan Strait and circling the island with bombers and fighters in what are officially termed training missions.

On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing had made solemn complaints'' to the U.S. over the planned F-16V sale. Geng called on Washington tofully recognize the serious dangers of the arms sale to Taiwan” and cancel it immediately or bear the consequences.

 “China will take necessary measures to safeguard its own interests according to the development of the situation,” Geng said.

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Lufthansa Boss Sees Only ‘Dozen’ Long-Haul Airlines in Future

Only a dozen airlines will eventually share the aviation market for major international routes, predicts Lufthansa’s CEO, while a possible future economic crisis could “accelerate” a consolidation in air travel.

“The sector is evolving towards a dozen companies operating worldwide” on major international routes, in addition to smaller national or regional airlines, Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr told reporters late Monday.

Without naming them, Spohr forecast there would be “three in the United States, three in China, three in the Gulf and three in Europe”.

The Lufthansa chief executive warned that any future economic crisis could hit European airlines particularly hard, but predicted a downturn could “accelerate” mergers and acquisitions.

“If there is one positive aspect to the flattening of the global economy, and certainly also the worsening figures for all airlines — unfortunately also for us — it is that the consolidation process will tend to accelerate,” Spohr added.

The recent bankruptcies of German low-cost airlines Air Berlin and Germania have enabled Lufthansa to buy back flight routes and aircraft.

The airline industry is “much more cyclical” and at the mercy of economic developments than others, Spohr said, with the sector suffering from international trade tensions.

Lufthansa wants to “and will play an active role” in any future consolidation in the sector, said the airline boss, whose company’s net profit dropped by 70 percent in the second quarter.

Spohr said Lufthansa faced strong competition from low-cost airlines in a “unique price war”, however “we will not be driven out of our domestic market” by low-cost companies like Ryanair, because the German airline “has the financial strength to resist” competition.

 

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Unmanned Indian Probe Enters Lunar Orbit

An unmanned Indian space probe successfully entered lunar orbit Tuesday, passing a crucial step towards a historic milestone for the country’s fledgling space program.

The arrival of the $141 million Chandrayaan-2 probe comes nearly a month after it was launched into space aboard India’s powerful Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark Three rocket.  The probe will orbit the moon for two weeks before its Vikram lander — named after Vikram Sarabhai, the scientist regarded as the “father” of India’s space program — will undock from the mothership and land on the moon’s South Pole.  It will then release a small rover dubbed Pragyan that will roam for 14 days, mapping the moon’s surface, conducting experiments to search for signs of water and assessing its topography and geology.

If the planned September 7 landing is successful, India will join the United States, Russia and China as the only nations to achieve a soft landing of a spacecraft on the moon.  It will also become the first nation to attempt a controlled landing on the moon’s South Pole.

Although India was a relative latecomer to the space race, it has developed a reputation for conducting its space explorations at a fraction of the cost spent by countries like the United States.  It first placed an unmanned spacecraft in lunar orbit in 2008, which helped confirm the presence of water on the lunar surface.   

Among other goalposts India has set in the coming years is to put a space station in orbit, an astronaut in space by 2022, a robotic mission to Mars and a mission to explore the sun.

 

 

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