Republican Moderates Hint Government Shutdown May be Short-Lived

Two moderate Senate Republican voices in Washington’s budget battle may offer hope the the U.S. government shutdown might be moving toward resolution.

Maine’s Susan Collins told reporters a group of 22 of her colleagues are determined to find a way out.

“A substantial number of senators are eager to find that path,” she said, while adding that details of their negotiations are still “in flux.”

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham said he believes there could be a “breakthrough” before the Senate’s scheduled vote on funding the government for at least another three weeks.

Graham told reporters there needs to be what he calls an “understanding” from Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that after a temporary funding bill is passed,  the Senate would then tackle immigration — the issue that led to the impasse — as part of a longterm spending bill.

The House passed a budget to fund the federal government late last week.

But Senate Democrats have so far refused, demanding protection from deportation for the so-called “dreamers,” young immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children.

Republicans say they will not discuss immigration until the government reopens.

Each side blames the other for the government shutdown that has suspended all but essential services because there is no authority to spend any funds.

 

McConnell calls the Democrats’ demand for the dreamers “a political miscalculation of gargantuan proportions.” He said he considers it a “non-emergency” since President Donald Trump gave Congress a March 5 deadline to find a solution to the matter.

McConnell echoed Trump by calling the standoff the “Schumer Shutdown, for Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.

Democrat Schumer calls it the “Trump Shutdown.”

He blamed the president for agreeing to sign an immigration deal last week, then changing his mind hours later.Schumer said during at a Friday White House meeting he offered Trump a deal to fund his top immigration priority – a wall along the border with Mexico –  in exchange for protection for the dreamers.

“I essentially agreed to give the president something he wanted (the wall) for something we both wanted (protection of the immigrants against deportation)” Schumer said. “He can’t take yes for an answer.”

Senator Graham appeared Sunday to blame the White House for the immigration standoff, specifically hardline Trump advisor Stephen Miller.

“Every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members,” Graham said Sunday. “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiation on immigration, we are going nowhere.”

Graham said Miller is out of the “mainstream” with his immigration views. There has been no response so far from the White House on Graham’s comments.

Trump tweeted Sunday, “Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border” with Mexico. “The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked.”

Federal agencies, meanwhile, prepared to idle employees and halt major portions of their operations if no agreement was reached Sunday or in the early hours of Monday.

The U.S. government partially shut down on several occasions over lawmaking and funding disputes. The most recent was a 16 day shutdown in 2013 in a partisan deadlock over health care policy.  About 850,000 federal workers were furloughed.

Services that stop or continue during a federal shutdown varies. But federal research projects could be stalled, national parks and museums closed, tax refunds delayed, processing of veterans’ disability applications delayed, and federal nutrition programs suspended, as was the case in 2013.

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Republican Moderates Hint Government Shutdown May be Short-Lived

Two moderate Senate Republican voices in Washington’s budget battle may offer hope the the U.S. government shutdown might be moving toward resolution.

Maine’s Susan Collins told reporters a group of 22 of her colleagues are determined to find a way out.

“A substantial number of senators are eager to find that path,” she said, while adding that details of their negotiations are still “in flux.”

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham said he believes there could be a “breakthrough” before the Senate’s scheduled vote on funding the government for at least another three weeks.

Graham told reporters there needs to be what he calls an “understanding” from Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that after a temporary funding bill is passed,  the Senate would then tackle immigration — the issue that led to the impasse — as part of a longterm spending bill.

The House passed a budget to fund the federal government late last week.

But Senate Democrats have so far refused, demanding protection from deportation for the so-called “dreamers,” young immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children.

Republicans say they will not discuss immigration until the government reopens.

Each side blames the other for the government shutdown that has suspended all but essential services because there is no authority to spend any funds.

 

McConnell calls the Democrats’ demand for the dreamers “a political miscalculation of gargantuan proportions.” He said he considers it a “non-emergency” since President Donald Trump gave Congress a March 5 deadline to find a solution to the matter.

McConnell echoed Trump by calling the standoff the “Schumer Shutdown, for Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.

Democrat Schumer calls it the “Trump Shutdown.”

He blamed the president for agreeing to sign an immigration deal last week, then changing his mind hours later.Schumer said during at a Friday White House meeting he offered Trump a deal to fund his top immigration priority – a wall along the border with Mexico –  in exchange for protection for the dreamers.

“I essentially agreed to give the president something he wanted (the wall) for something we both wanted (protection of the immigrants against deportation)” Schumer said. “He can’t take yes for an answer.”

Senator Graham appeared Sunday to blame the White House for the immigration standoff, specifically hardline Trump advisor Stephen Miller.

“Every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members,” Graham said Sunday. “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiation on immigration, we are going nowhere.”

Graham said Miller is out of the “mainstream” with his immigration views. There has been no response so far from the White House on Graham’s comments.

Trump tweeted Sunday, “Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border” with Mexico. “The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked.”

Federal agencies, meanwhile, prepared to idle employees and halt major portions of their operations if no agreement was reached Sunday or in the early hours of Monday.

The U.S. government partially shut down on several occasions over lawmaking and funding disputes. The most recent was a 16 day shutdown in 2013 in a partisan deadlock over health care policy.  About 850,000 federal workers were furloughed.

Services that stop or continue during a federal shutdown varies. But federal research projects could be stalled, national parks and museums closed, tax refunds delayed, processing of veterans’ disability applications delayed, and federal nutrition programs suspended, as was the case in 2013.

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Australia, Canada Trade Blows over Wine

Australia has filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization that accuses Canada of placing “discriminatory” rules on the sales of imported wine.

Canada is Australia’s fourth-biggest wine market. Officials in Canberra say rules in Canada unfairly discriminate against overseas wine.

An official protest has been lodged with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against regulations in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where wine produced locally can be sold in grocery stores but imports must be sold in a “store within a store” with a separate cash register.

Canberra’s objection also targets policies in other provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, as well as federal practices in Canada, which could breach a WTO agreement. They mean higher prices for foreign wines, as well as other barriers to sale, according to the Australian complaint.

“Australia is seeing its market share and that market erode. That concerns me, it concerns wine exporters,” said Australian trade minister Steve Ciobo. “Potentially this could cost Australian jobs, so I want to make sure we are on the front foot about protecting Australia’s interests.”

Australia’s complaint to the WTO is similar to one made by the United States, which has accused Canada of placing unfair limits on the sale of imported wine.

In October, the U.S. said British Columbia was favoring local vineyards by giving their wine an exclusive retail outlet in grocery store shelves and cutting out U.S. competition.

A spokesman for Canada’s international trade minister said the federal government works to ensure its liquor policies “are consistent with our international trade commitments”.

Under WTO rules, Canada has 60 days to settle the dispute with Australia.

After that, Canberra could ask the WTO to adjudicate, which could result in Canada being forced to change its laws or risk trade sanctions.

 

 

 

 

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Australia, Canada Trade Blows over Wine

Australia has filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization that accuses Canada of placing “discriminatory” rules on the sales of imported wine.

Canada is Australia’s fourth-biggest wine market. Officials in Canberra say rules in Canada unfairly discriminate against overseas wine.

An official protest has been lodged with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against regulations in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where wine produced locally can be sold in grocery stores but imports must be sold in a “store within a store” with a separate cash register.

Canberra’s objection also targets policies in other provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, as well as federal practices in Canada, which could breach a WTO agreement. They mean higher prices for foreign wines, as well as other barriers to sale, according to the Australian complaint.

“Australia is seeing its market share and that market erode. That concerns me, it concerns wine exporters,” said Australian trade minister Steve Ciobo. “Potentially this could cost Australian jobs, so I want to make sure we are on the front foot about protecting Australia’s interests.”

Australia’s complaint to the WTO is similar to one made by the United States, which has accused Canada of placing unfair limits on the sale of imported wine.

In October, the U.S. said British Columbia was favoring local vineyards by giving their wine an exclusive retail outlet in grocery store shelves and cutting out U.S. competition.

A spokesman for Canada’s international trade minister said the federal government works to ensure its liquor policies “are consistent with our international trade commitments”.

Under WTO rules, Canada has 60 days to settle the dispute with Australia.

After that, Canberra could ask the WTO to adjudicate, which could result in Canada being forced to change its laws or risk trade sanctions.

 

 

 

 

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Iran May Try to Loosen Revolutionary Guard’s Grip on Economy

Iran’s supreme leader has ordered the Revolutionary Guard to loosen its hold on the economy, the country’s defense minister says, raising the possibility that the paramilitary organization might privatize some of its vast holdings.

The comments this weekend by Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami appear to be a trial balloon to test the reaction of the idea, long pushed by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. Protests over the country’s poor economy last month escalated into demonstrations directly challenging the government.

 

But whether the Guard would agree remains unclear, as the organization is estimated to hold around a third of the country’s entire economy.

 

Hatami, the first non-Guard-affiliated military officer to be made defense minister in nearly 25 years, made the comments in an interview published Saturday by the state-run IRAN newspaper. He said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered both the country’s regular military and the Guard to get out of businesses not directly affiliated to their work.

 

“Our success depends on market conditions,” the newspaper quoted Hatami as saying.

 

He did not name the companies that would be privatized. The Guard did not immediately acknowledge the supreme leader’s orders in their own publications, nor did Khamenei’s office.

 

The Guard formed out of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution as a force meant to protect its political system, which is overseen by Shiite clerics. It operated parallel to the country’s regular armed forces, growing in prominence and power during the country’s long and ruinous war with Iraq in the 1980s. It runs Iran’s ballistic missile program, as well its own intelligence operations and expeditionary force.

 

In the aftermath of the 1980s war, authorities allowed the Guard to expand into private enterprise.

 

Today, it runs a massive construction company called Khatam al-Anbia, with 135,000 employees handling civil development, the oil industry and defense issues. Guard firms build roads, man ports, run telecommunication networks and even conduct laser eye surgery.

 

The exact scope of all its business holdings remains unclear, though analysts say they are sizeable. The Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which long has been critical of Iran and the nuclear deal it struck with world powers, suggests the Guard controls “between 20 and 40 percent of the economy” of Iran through significant influence in at least 229 companies.

 

In his comments, Hatami specifically mentioned Khatam al-Anbia, but didn’t say whether that too would be considered by the supreme leader as necessary to privatize. The Guard and its supporters have criticized other business deals attempting to cut into their piece of the economy since the nuclear deal.

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Saudis Urge Oil Production Cooperation Beyond 2018

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister urged global oil producing nations on Sunday to extend their cooperation beyond 2018, but said this might mean a new form of deal rather than continuing the same supply cuts that have boosted prices in recent months.

It was the first time that Saudi Arabia had publicly raised the possibility of a new form of coordination among oil producers after 2018. Their agreement on supply cuts, originally launched last January, is set to expire in December this year.

Cooperation ‘here to stay’

Khalid al-Falih, speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting later in the day of the joint ministerial committee, which oversees implementation of the cuts, said extending cooperation would convince the world that coordination among producers was “here to stay.”

“We shouldn’t limit our efforts to 2018, we need to be talking about a longer framework of cooperation,“ Falih said. ”I am talking about extending the framework that we started, which is the declaration of cooperation, beyond 2018.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean sticking barrel by barrel to the same limits or cuts, or production targets country by country that we signed up to in 2016, but assuring stakeholders, investors, consumers and the global community that this is something that is here to stay. And we are going to work together.”

Falih said the global economy had strengthened while supply cuts, of which Saudi Arabia has shouldered by far the largest burden, had shrunk oil inventories around the world. As a result, the oil market will return to balance in 2018, he said.

$70 a barrel oil

Falih and energy ministers from the United Arab Emirates and Oman noted that the rise of the Brent oil price to three-year highs around $70 a barrel in recent weeks could cause an increase in supply of shale oil from the United States.

But both Falih and UAE minister Suhail al-Mazroui said they did not think the rise in prices would hurt global demand for oil.

Kuwait’s oil minister Bakheet al-Rashidi said any discussion among producers on the future of the agreement on supply cuts would not occur Sunday, but was expected to happen at a meeting in June. OPEC and other producers led by Russia are next scheduled to meet to discuss oil policy in June.

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British Group Works to Preserve Afghanistan’s Arts & Crafts Heritage

Afghanistan’s arts and architecture were once the pride of Asia. However, more than four decades of war have left many of the country’s traditional crafts on the verge of extinction. Now a Britain-based organization, Turquoise Mountain, is working to preserve Afghan heritage in the capital’s still surviving commercial district, Murad Khani. VOA Deewa service’s Munaza Shaheed reports from a recent trip to Kabul.

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British Group Works to Preserve Afghanistan’s Arts & Crafts Heritage

Afghanistan’s arts and architecture were once the pride of Asia. However, more than four decades of war have left many of the country’s traditional crafts on the verge of extinction. Now a Britain-based organization, Turquoise Mountain, is working to preserve Afghan heritage in the capital’s still surviving commercial district, Murad Khani. VOA Deewa service’s Munaza Shaheed reports from a recent trip to Kabul.

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