China’s Ambitions. Jumping the (Trump) Shark. Russian Stonewalling.


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Chinese President Xi Is Elevated to Mao Status: The Communist Party National Conference, held every five years, ended Tuesday. More than 2,000 delegates unanimously re-elected Xi Jinping president for another five years, and voted to include his philosophy on Chinese socialism in the party’s constitution, alongside the words of Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China. While ideologies of other Chinese leaders are in the constitution, only three have their names attached: Mao (leader from 1949-1976), Deng Xiaoping (leader from 1978-1989), and now Xi.

In power since 2012, Xi has a clear vision of China’s superpower role, and a political philosophy that explicitly rejects Western ideas about democracy and free speech. “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era” will be enshrined in the constitution, and will become required curriculum for students from grade school through university. China now has the world’s second largest economy, elevating the nation on the world stage. Xi clearly wishes to challenge the US’s preeminent role in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. China’s goal is for objects not just to be “Made in China” but to be “Owned by China.”

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Vows A Return To “A More Moderate Islam”:Speaking at a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to destroy “extremist ideologies” and return to “a more moderate Islam” in hopes that the kingdom catches up to developed nations and transforms its economy in the coming decades. This will rile ultraconservative clerics who have dominated the kingdom for years, but the declaration will be welcomed by the youthful population (70 percent of Saudis are under age 30) and the outside world. Since 1979, the Saudi monarchy has embraced Wahhabism, a form of Islam that bans the mixing of sexes in public and puts myriad restrictions on women. Wahhabism has affected all parts of Saudi life, influencing courts, politics, and foreign policy. But in 2015, when King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and his son bin Salman took over, a new era of Saudi politics arrived. Under their leadership, the authority of religious police has been greatly limited, music concerts took place for the first time in decades, and women were granted a growing list of rights, including the right to drive, which will go into effect next year.


Russia Uses Security Council Veto Power To Protect Syria…Again: Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution that would have extended by one year an investigation into who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. It was the ninth time Russia has wielded its veto power at the UN Security Council to protect Syria. Russia opposed renewing the mandate of the joint UN organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons panel before the Thursday release of a report on the April 4 sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun. Britain, France, and the United States have accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of carrying out the attack. China and Kazakhstan abstained from the vote, Bolivia joined Russia in voting against the resolution, and 11 other countries backed extending the mandate. The panel, known as the joint investigative mechanism (JIM), was set up by Russia and the United States in 2015 to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks in the Syrian Civil War. The Russian ambassador to the UN said the veto did not mean that the investigation was ending.

Some Republicans Are Jumping From the Trump Ship: US Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), announced he was retiring at the end of his term in 2018 because there was no room for him in the party under Trump’s leadership. In an emotional speech from the Senate floor, he said: “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation for the unacceptable to end. We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal…When we remain silent and fail to act because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations.” Flake joins a growing number of high-profile Republicans in both the Senate and the House of Representatives who are leaving the party because of ongoing turmoil in the Trump administration. Bob Corker, Senator from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced his retirement last month and has been locked in a war of words with Trump that reached new heights on Tuesday.


Singapore Has A Solution For Traffic Jams: Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced the growth cap for passenger cars and motorcycles will be cut from 0.25% a year to zero starting February 2018. Buses and goods vehicles are unaffected. The city of 5.6 million people has avoided massive traffic jams by limiting the number of cars sold and the number on the roads. Financial constraints of car ownership also create barriers to additional traffic. A car buyer must first obtain a “certificate of entitlement,” valid for 10 years at a cost of Sg$50,000 (US$36,500). Then there’s the cost of the car itself. A compact like a Toyota Corolla can cost around Sg$61,000 in Singapore. That’s US$44,500 for a car costing around US$16,000 elsewhere.

To Some Puerto Ricans, It’s Junk Food. To FEMA, It’s Non-Perishable Shelf-Stable Disaster Rations (Emergency Comfort Food): San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz isn’t having it. Friday in a public appearance the mayor dug through a federal shipment of munchies and snack pack puddings before throwing the box aside in disgust. What the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been sending hurricane-ravaged Puerto Ricans to eat has been the subject of frequent criticism and social media rage since September. Vienna sausages, beef jerky, Cheez-It crackers and Skittles are just some of what thousands of islanders have been living on for the past month.

Experts say that critics don’t understand how emergency food works. Local leaders say it’s unclear which items came from FEMA and which came from the nearly 80 other relief organizations operating on the island. Consulting firm contractors say familiar foods are more palatable to recipients, easier to source and can be comforting. FEMA will only say the agency and its partners are distributing more than 2 million meals per week on the island of 3.4 million people. What exactly FEMA has shipped to Puerto Rico remains a matter of some confusion.


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