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Pentagon Conducts Latest Successful Test of US-Japan Interceptor

The U.S. military on Tuesday successfully conducted a test of a new ballistic-missile interceptor system, which is being co-developed with Japan.

The launch marks the second successful test in less than two months for the SM-3 Block IIA missile and its associated technologies, which had previously experienced failures.

According to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), sailors at the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, tracked and intercepted an intermediate-range missile with an SM-3.

The target in Tuesday’s test was an air-launched missile, fired from an Air Force C-17 plane over the ocean thousands of kilometers southwest of the Aegis Ashore system.

“The engagement leveraged a ground, air and space-based sensor/command and control architecture,” the MDA said in a statement.

In October, the U.S. military successfully shot down a medium-range ballistic missile with an SM-3.

That successful operation came after two failed intercept tests, in June 2017 and January 2018.

A test firing in February 2017 had been successful.

The MDA said this year that America had so far spent about $2.2 billion on the system and Japan had contributed about $1 billion.

The SM-3 Block IIA missile – made by arms giant Raytheon – is a key piece of NATO’s missile defense system and is due to be deployed in Poland in 2020.

“This system is designed to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends from a real and growing ballistic missile threat,” MDA Director Lieutenant General Sam Greaves said.

 

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US Adds Pakistan to Blacklist for Religious Freedom Violations

The United States said Tuesday it has added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom, ramping up pressure over its treatment of minorities.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had designated Pakistan among “countries of particular concern” in a congressionally mandated annual report, meaning the U.S. government is obliged to exert pressure to end freedom violations.

Pompeo a year earlier had placed Pakistan on a special watch list – a step short of the designation – in what had been seen as a U.S. tactic to press Islamabad into reforms.

Human rights advocates have long voiced worry about the treatment of minorities in Pakistan, including Shiites, Ahmadis and Christians.

But the timing of the full designation may be jarring as it comes after Pakistan moved to resolve its most high-profile case, with the Supreme Court in October releasing Asia Bibi – a Christian woman on death row for eight years for blasphemy.

The government recently charged a hardline cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, with terrorism and sedition after he led violent protests against Bibi’s acquittal.

“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said in a statement.

“The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression,” he said.

Nine countries remained for another year on the list of Countries of Particular Concern – China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The United States removed one country from the list – Uzbekistan– but kept it on the watch list.

Pompeo also put on the watch list Russia, adding another item of contention to the relationship between the two powers.

Russia has increasingly drawn concern in the United States over its treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the heterodox Christian group known for proselytization.

Also on the watch list was the Comoros, the Indian Ocean archipelago that is almost exclusively Sunni Muslim.

 

 

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US Agency: Arctic Posts 2nd Warmest Year on Record in 2018

The Arctic had its second-hottest year on record in 2018, part of a warming trend that may be dramatically changing earth’s weather patterns, according to a report released on Tuesday by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Arctic air temperatures for the past five years have exceeded all previous records since 1900,” according to the annual NOAA study, the 2018 Arctic Report Card, which said the year was second only to 2016 in overall warmth in the region.

It marks the latest in a series of warnings about climate change from U.S. government bodies, even as President Donald Trump has voiced skepticism about the phenomenon and has pushed a pro-fossil fuels agenda.

The study said the Arctic warming continues at about double the rate of the rest of the planet, and that the trend appears to be altering the shape and strength of the jet stream air current that influences weather in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Growing atmospheric warmth in the Arctic results in a sluggish and unusually wavy jet-stream that coincided with abnormal weather events,” it said, noting that the changing patterns have often brought unusually frigid temperatures to areas south of the Arctic Circle.

Some examples are “a swarm of severe winter storms in the eastern United States in 2018, and the extreme cold outbreak in Europe in March 2018 known as ‘the Beast from the East.'”

Environmentalists have long warned of rapid warming in the Arctic, saying it threatens imperiled species like polar bears, and is a harbinger of the broader impacts of climate change on the planet.

Scientists have warned that the region could suffer trillions of dollars worth of climate change-related damage to infrastructure in the coming decades.

But the melting of Arctic ice has piqued the interests of polar nations like the United States, Canada and Russia by opening new shipping routes and expanding access to a region believed to be rich in petroleum and minerals.

The United States and Russia have both expressed an interest in boosting Arctic drilling, and Russia has bolstered its military presence in the north.

The NOAA report comes weeks after more than a dozen U.S. government agencies released a study concluding that climate change is driven by human consumption of fossil fuels and will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.

Trump, who has been rolling back Obama-era environmental and climate protections to maximize production of domestic fossil fuels, said of the update to the National Climate Assessment: “I don’t believe it.”

Trump last year announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Deal agreed by nearly 200 nations to combat climate change, arguing the accord would kill jobs and provide little tangible environmental benefit.

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US Presidential Hopefuls Pushed to Go Big on Climate Change

Environmental activists are ramping up a pressure campaign designed to drum up Democratic support for a sweeping agenda to fight climate change, with the 2020 presidential campaign in their sights.

Hundreds of young demonstrators turned out Monday on Capitol Hill to push Democrats on a package of ambitious environmental goals — including a nationwide transition to 100 percent power from renewable sources within as little as 10 years — that’s collectively dubbed the Green New Deal. Already embraced by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., an increasingly influential figure on the left, the Green New Deal is designed to nudge prospective Democratic presidential candidates to stake out aggressive positions on climate change. Some cast the goals as idealistic and politically risky.

Organizers with the Sunrise Movement activist group frame it as a make-or-break issue for Democratic voters, particularly young ones. But they’re fighting recent history on that point.

Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., jockeyed during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary over their plans to stave off the devastating effects that scientists have warned of as temperatures continue to rise. Ultimately, however, other issues dominated the debate, and climate change barely registered during the 2016 general election.

Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesman for the Sunrise Movement, said, “Any senators or any other politician who wants the votes of young people in 2020 needs to back a Green New Deal that would transform our economy and create millions of new jobs stopping climate change.”

As he weighs another White House run, Sanders has staked out an early claim on the issue, hosting Ocasio-Cortez for a climate change town hall last week and preparing a forthcoming proposal that an aide said is likely to align with the broad goals of the Green New Deal.

“Next Congress I will be working on legislation that addresses the scope of the crisis we face, creates tens of millions of jobs and saves American families money while holding fossil fuel companies accountable for the enormous damage they have done to our planet,” Sanders said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Our job is to be bold, to think very big and to go forward in a moral struggle to protect our planet and future generations.”

When Sanders introduced single-payer health care legislation last year, most Senate Democrats also considering presidential runs signed on at the outset. It’s not clear, however, whether other prominent Democrats eyeing the White House would back Sanders’ forthcoming climate change bill or seek to carve out their own territory.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said last week that “obviously, we have been doing a lot of work trying to find some bolder things we as a nation could be doing” on climate change. Booker spokeswoman Kristin Lynch that his staff has held dozens of meetings since the summer aimed at shaping a broad climate bill and that he welcomes the activists’ effort to spotlight the issue.

The staff of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has been in contact with the organizers behind the Green New Deal push, according to spokeswoman Lily Adams, who said the senator is broadly supportive of the sort of sweeping climate change agenda that the effort envisions. As legislation aimed at enacting the Green New Deal begins to take shape, Adams added, Harris plans to take a close look at it.

The Green New Deal deliberately omits details on how to reorient the United States toward the drastic carbon emissions reductions it calls for, instead calling for a select committee in the House to devise a plan by 2020. That timetable is designed to rally Democrats behind a climate change strategy as they’re picking a nominee to take on President Donald Trump, who has rolled back multiple environmental regulations and cast doubt on the scientific consensus that human activity is driving global warming.

Bill McKibben, a leading environmentalist whom Sanders tapped to help write the Democratic National Committee’s party platform in 2016, said that it would be “hard for me to imagine a serious Democratic candidate emerging” in the 2020 presidential race who doesn’t support a version of the Green New Deal, single-payer health care and a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

A Capitol Police spokeswoman said that 138 people were arrested during Monday’s demonstrations by Green New Deal supporters.

The plan, named for the New Deal that reshaped America under former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, envisions a costly and dramatically remodeled U.S. energy infrastructure as soon as 2030. It’s a shift from where Democrats laid down their symbolic markers on climate change as recently as last year. Sanders and Booker, as well as potential presidential hopeful Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced legislation then that aimed to shift the nation to 100 percent renewable and clean energy sources by 2050.

Fossil fuels, mostly natural gas and coal, generated 63 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017, compared with 17 percent for renewable sources such as wind and solar, according to the nonpartisan Energy Information Administration. Nuclear energy comprised the remaining 20 percent.

“Is it all that realistic? Probably not, in the environment where we work. Certainly not now,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the party”s senior member on the environment committee, said of the Green New Deal’s target. “But it’s a good aspirational goal.”

Sarah Dolan, communications director for the conservative opposition research group America Rising, warned that Democratic presidential hopefuls’ “race to the left” on climate change, as well as on health care, minimum wage and immigration, would backfire in 2020.

“Being the first to take the most progressive position of the day will only lead to a party that can’t compete in the general election as it becomes unrecognizable to independent voters,” she said.

 

 

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Incoming House Majority Leader Promises to Address ‘Immigration Challenges’ 

In a roomful of pro-immigrant advocates and activists Monday afternoon, one of the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress made big promises — ones lawmakers have not been able to uphold for years. 

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, who will become the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives when Democrats take control of the chamber in January, pledged to “bring legislation to the floor that addresses our immigration challenges.” 

Hundreds of attendees applauded. Those laws Hoyer went on to describe affect their work, and in some cases, their friends and families. 

He listed the main concerns for the crowd at the three-day National Immigrant Integration Conference, held in Arlington, Virginia this week. He promised Dreamers and DACA recipients “the relief they deserve” and a pathway to citizenship. He swore there would be a bill addressing Temporary Protected Status. And he promised Democrats would counteract the “dangerous, un-American, inhumane policy” of the Trump administration in separating families and detaining children. 

“This is not a partisan fight though I have put it, in some respects, in partisan terms. This is an American fight,” Hoyer said to “yeses” and nods from the crowd.   

But any reform to the immigration system has been a failure for both parties in Congress for years. With a divided Congress come January — the House led by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans — hope of passing any laws may remain out of reach. 

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has altered the immigration system on its own through a series of policy changes and executive orders. 

One of them — the so-called public charge rule — was most on the minds of conference attendees on Monday. The period for public comment on the proposed regulation change is set to end Monday night at 11:59 p.m. 

“Trump is trying to make an end-run around Congress,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said during a Monday news conference about the public charge issue. 

The modifications to the long-standing rule would expand the number of immigrants the government considers to be a potential “public charge” by counting their access to certain types of public benefits against them. 

“It’s hard to promise somebody that this won’t impact them,” Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner for the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said of the effect the rule change is having on immigrant communities before it even takes effect.

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US Sanctions Three N. Korean Officials for Suspected Rights Abuses

The United States on Monday sanctioned three North Korean officials, including a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, citing “ongoing and serious human rights abuses and censorship,” the U.S. Treasury Department said.

The sanctions “shine a spotlight on North Korea’s reprehensible treatment of those in North Korea, and serve as a reminder of North Korea’s brutal treatment of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier,” the department said in a statement.

Warmbier was an American student who died in June 2017 after 17 months of detention in North Korea, which contributed to already tense exchanges between Pyongyang and Washington, primarily over North Korea’s nuclear development program.

It was not clear whether the decision to sanction the three men was related to U.S.-North Korean nuclear diplomacy, which has made little obvious progress since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim met in Singapore in June.

The Treasury identified the three as Ryong Hae Choe, an aide close to Kim who heads the Workers’ Party of Korea Organization and Guidance Department; State Security Minister Kyong Thaek Jong; and the director of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, Kwang Ho Pak.

The sanctions freeze any assets the officials may have under U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibits them from engaging in any transactions with anyone in the United States.

In the lead up to the Trump-Kim summit, North Korea released three American prisoners, although talks between the two countries have since stalled. Last month, North Korea said it would deport another detained U.S. citizen.

Talks that had been planned for Nov. 8 between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol and that aimed to pave the way for a second summit were canceled with 24 hours’ notice.

At the time, the U.S. State Department said the meeting had been postponed, but gave no reason, raising concerns that talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear arms could break down. The State Department said the talks would be rescheduled “when our respective schedules permit.”

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US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait Have not Endorsed a Key Study on Global Warming

As the U.N. global climate conference in Katowice, Poland entered its second week Sunday, the non-governmental environmental organization Greenpeace demanded urgent action from world leaders to tackle climate change.

Greenpeace activists projected a message onto the roof of the “Spodek” arena where the COP24 is being held, saying “No Hope Without Climate Action: and “Politicians Talk, Leaders Act.”

Disappointing many of the scientists and delegates at the conference, the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait refused to endorse a landmark study on global warming which was to be the benchmark for future action in curbing the global warming.

The four nations wanted only to “note” but not “welcome” the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was released in October, in keeping with the views of the Trump administration. With no consensus on including the report, the idea was dropped.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has announced he is pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, tweeted Saturday that “people do not want to pay large sums of money … in order to maybe protect the environment.” 

The IPCC’ report said that drastic actions would be needed to achieve the Paris accord’s most ambitious target of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report warned that the world was far from that target and heading more towards an increase of 3 degrees Celsius.

On Monday, the environmental ministers arrive at COP24 and many delegates hope that they will make every effort to include the IPCC report in the conference agenda.

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Huge Winter Storm Hits US South

Crews in several southern U.S. states are working Monday to clear roads and restore electricity after a strong storm dumped snow, sleet and freezing rain.

Parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee received between 30 and 60 centimeters of snow Sunday.

The storm made roads treacherous, leading to numerous accidents and one reported death from a tree that fell on a car in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Charlotte’s normally busy airport had more than 1,000 canceled flights Sunday.

​Power companies reported the storm knocked out service to more than 300,000 people, the majority of them in North Carolina.

Big snow storms are much more common in northern U.S. states, which are also better equipped to respond to them.

The governors of both Virginia and North Carolina declared a state of emergency before the storm hit in order to help mobilize resources from the state governments to help with recovery efforts.

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