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Obama, Bush Deplore Country’s Political Divisiveness

During a speech Thursday in New York, George W. Bush said, “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of our children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.” He spoke at the Bush Institute’s National Forum on Freedom, Free Markets and Security.

Bush deplored the country’s political divisiveness, saying that “at times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together,” he said.

“We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said. “Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”

“Bigotry seems emboldened,” he added. “Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Obama campaigns

Barack Obama took on the issue in Richmond while speaking at a campaign rally for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam. 

“Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities,” he said. “Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done in a practical way, we got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry. To demonize people who have different ideas.”

​No names

Neither of the former leaders mentioned U.S. President Donald Trump by name, but their messages seemed aimed at him.

“Our identity as a nation, unlike other nations, is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood, …” Bush said in New York. “This means that people from every race, religion, ethnicity can be full and equally American. It means that bigotry and white supremacy, in any form, is blasphemy against the American creed.”

“Too often,” he added, “we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions, forgetting the image of God we should see in each other. We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism, and forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”

“If you have to win a campaign by dividing people,” Obama said at the Virginia rally, “you’re not going to be able to govern them. You won’t be able to unite them later. We are at our best not when we are trying to put people down, but when we are trying to lift everybody up.”

Both former presidents have made infrequent public policy statements, in keeping with presidential tradition.

Last year, Bush supported the unsuccessful presidential campaign of his brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, one of a large field of Republican contenders Trump defeated for the party’s presidential nomination before winning the November election. Obama campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

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Last Holden Rolls Off Factory Line in Australia

The last mass-produced car designed and built in Australia rolled off General Motors Co.’s production line in the industrial city of Adelaide on Friday as the nation reluctantly bid farewell to its auto manufacturing industry.

GM Holden Ltd., an Australian subsidiary of the U.S. automotive giant, built its last car almost 70 years after it created Australia’s first, the FX Holden, in 1948.

Since then, an array of carmakers including Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chrysler and Leyland have built and closed manufacturing plants in Australia.

Clocking out for last time

After the last gleaming red Holden VF Commodore, a six-cylinder rear-wheel drive sedan, left the plant in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth that had grown over decades to provide its workforce, 955 factory workers will clock off the last time

“It’s pretty tragic really that we’ve let go probably one of the best cars around the world,” an auto painter who identified himself as Kane told reporters.

The 36-year-old was worked at Holden for 17 years and starts a new job with an air conditioner manufacturer Monday. But he knows many other former Holden employees won’t find jobs so quickly.

Dozens of Holden enthusiasts gathered outside the factory, bringing with them generations of Holdens dating back to favored FJ models that were built between 1953 and 1956.

South Australia state Premier Jay Weatherill said car manufacturing was seminal to the state’s industrial know-how.

“It has provided the backbone for our manufacturing capability in this state,” Weatherill told reporters. “It’s given us … the capacity to imagine ourselves as an advanced manufacturing state.”

​Iconic Australian brand

Holden is an iconic Australian brand and has been a source of national pride for generations.

The V8 Holden Commodore has sold in the United States since 2013 as the Chevrolet SS.

The brand will survive although Holdens will all now be imported from GM plants around the globe.

Holden retains design and engineering teams, a global design studio, a local testing ground, 1,000 employees and a 200-strong national dealer network.

The brand that became known as “Australia’s own car,” accounted for more than half the new cars registered in Australia by 1958.

The reasons behind the demise of Australian auto manufacturing are numerous.

The first Holden cars were built in an era of high Australian tariffs and preferential trade with former colonial master Britain, which encouraged global carmakers to set up local factories to increase market share.

Australian import tariffs have since tumbled through bilateral free trade deals with car manufacturing countries like the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.

The Holden workers’ union blames a lack of government support through subsidies for GM’s decision to end manufacturing.

There had been debate about whether the 7 billion Australian dollars ($5.5 billion) that the government spent on the car industry in subsidies since 2001 was worth the jobs that it created.

“We’re not just losing a car, we’re not just losing an industrial capability. We’re losing an icon and that is a tragedy,” Labor lawmaker Nick Champion, who represents the Holden factory region, told reporters Thursday.

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Mini Aquatic Robot Dives Into Nuclear Disaster Areas

An aquatic robot, small and nimble enough to fit inside the smallest of openings, is being tested in Japan ahead of being deployed into the damaged core of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Faith Lapidus reports.

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Snapchat Tops Facebook as Teens’ No. 1 Choice for Social Media

American teens have crowned a new king of social media. According to a recent poll, Snapchat is the most popular app for teens, toppling even Facebook for their neck-bending attention. Arash Arabasadi reports from Washington.

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At G-7, Social Media Firms Pushed to Do More to Fight Terror

Technology firms have improved cooperation with the authorities in tackling online militant material but must act quicker to remove propaganda fueling a rise in homegrown extremism, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said Wednesday.

The United States and Britain will push social media firms at a meeting of G7 interior ministers this week to do more on the issue, Duke told reporters in London where she had been meeting British Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

Duke said there has been a change in the attitude of tech companies since a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August turned deadly when a counter-protester was killed by a car driven into a crowd.

“There has been a shift and for us somewhat with the Charlottesville incident,” she said. “There are a lot of social pressures and they want do business so they really have to balance between keeping their user agreements and giving law enforcement what they need.

“The fact they are meeting with us at G7 is a positive sign. I think they’re seeing the evidence of it being real and not just hyperbole.”

Series of attacks

After a series of Islamist militant attacks this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers such as Rudd have been demanding action from tech leaders such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to do more about extremist material on their sites.

British politicians have also called for access to encrypted messaging services like Facebook’s WhatsApp, a campaign that U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave his backing to after meeting Rudd and the head of the UK domestic spy agency MI5 last week.

Internet companies say they want to help governments remove extremist or criminal material but say they have to balance the demands of state security with civil liberties.

“We would like to have the ability to get encrypted data with the right legal processes,” Duke said.

Propaganda’s role

Asked what action governments might take if social media firms failed to act to improve their removal of extremist material, she said: “We will continue to push as far as we can go. I think that we have the cooperation of those companies and we just need to work on that.”

Authorities say propaganda from Islamic State has played a major part in radicalizing people in the West but despite its defeat in its capital Raqqa in Syria, Duke said the group’s online presence was likely to increase.

“I would surmise being able to put terrorist propaganda on the internet might become more imperative,” said Duke, who described the terrorist threat to the United States as being as high as it had been since pre-9/11.

She also warned that those who turned to violence by being radicalized by such material posed a bigger problem than the comparatively small number of fighters who had joined the militant group returning to United States.

“The number of foreign fighters we have returning is declining,” she said. “The number of home-grown violent extremists, most of them inspired by terrorist organizations, is increasing.”

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Senator Mccain Says Subpoena May Be Required to Get Answers on Niger Ambush

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Thursday that he may consider issuing a subpoena because the White House has not been forthcoming with details of an ambush in Niger in which four U.S. soldiers were killed.

The attack earlier this month, which U.S. officials suspect was carried out by a local Islamic State affiliate, has thrown a spotlight on the U.S. counter terrorism mission in the West African country, which has about 800 U.S. troops.

The U.S. military is investigating the incident to find out what went wrong and what, if any, changes need to be made.

“It may require a subpoena,” McCain said when asked what steps his committee might need to take to determine what happened to the four troops.

Asked what information the committee still needed, McCain said “everything.” When questioned if the White House had been forthcoming with the information needed by the committee, he added, “of course not”

He said he had a good conversation with President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and hoped the White House would eventually provide the information needed by the committee.

From initial accounts, the 40-member patrol, which included a dozen U.S. troops, came under swift attack by militants riding in a dozen vehicles and on about 20 motorcycles.

The mission had been seen as a relatively lower-risk endeavor for America’s elite commandos and there was no armed air cover at the time that could carry out airstrikes if necessary.

Under heavy fire, U.S. troops called in French fighter jets for air support, but the firefight was at such close quarters that the planes could not engage and were instead left circling overhead.

U.S. officials have said French aircraft were overhead within 30 minutes.

The U.S. military’s Africa Command said the soldiers were in the area to establish relations with local leaders and deemed it unlikely that they would meet resistance.

A diplomat with knowledge of the incident said French officials were frustrated by the U.S. troops’ actions, because they had acted on only limited intelligence and without contingency plans in place.

U.S. forces do not have a direct combat mission in Niger, and instead provide assistance to its army that includes intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in their efforts to target violent extremist organizations.

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Trump Nearly Certain Senate Republicans Have Enough Votes to Pass Budget Bill

U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday he is nearly certain Senate Republican leaders have secured enough support to pass a budget bill that would help them approve tax legislation.

“Republicans are going for the big Budget approval today, first step toward massive tax cuts. I think we have the votes, but who knows?,” Trump tweeted.

Later Thursday, Trump told reporters at the White House, “I think we have the votes for the budget, which will be phase one of our massive tax cuts and reform.”

The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on a resolution to establish a federal budget framework for fiscal year 2018. The measure contains a legislative tool that would enable the 100-seat Senate, which Republicans control by a 52 to 48 margin, to approve a tax bill with a simple majority vote instead of the generally required 60 votes.

Unless there are Republican defections, the measure could be approved without Democratic support.

After failing to pass a Trump-supported effort to dismantle the nation’s health care law, commonly known as Obamacare, Senate Republicans are under pressure to approve the tax cut bill that is under consideration. The tax bill would clear the path for tax legislation that could add up to $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade to pay for tax cuts.

The Senate and the House of Representatives must agree on a budget resolution for the next fiscal year in order for Republicans reach their goal of enacting a tax bill that would be submitted to Trump for his signature by the end of this year.

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Twitter, Facebook Lawyers to Testify Before Congress on Russia Election Meddling

Lawyers for the social media companies Twitter and Facebook will testify next month at hearings before congressional committees investigating what, if any, effect Russian trolls may have had on the 2016 election.

Google also will send a representative to the hearings, though it has not yet said who would represent the company. Facebook and Twitter will send their general counsels, Colin Stretch and Sean Edgett, respectively.

The lawyers will testify before the Senate and House intelligence committees — two of the congressional panels searching for evidence that Russia sought to interfere in the U.S. election or potentially colluded with the Donald Trump campaign.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with the Russians, and to date, no evidence has emerged to suggest there was collusion. U.S. officials also have said Russia’s alleged meddling didn’t go so far as to change any votes in the election.

Facebook revealed last month that a group with alleged ties to the Russian government ran $100,000 worth of ads on the platform promoting “divisive” causes like Black Lives Matter. U.S. media reports also indicate Russians purchased similar ads on Google.

Facebook has turned the alleged Russian ads over to Congress, and last week, the company’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said she “absolutely” supports the public release of the advertisements.

In releasing the ads to Congress, Sandberg said, “It’s important that [the investigators] get the whole picture and explain that to the American people.”

In response to the Russian ad buys, Sandberg said Facebook is hiring 4,000 new employees to oversee ads and content. She said the company also is using “machine learning and automation” to target fake accounts that spread fake news.

In addition, Twitter has taken action against suspected Russian troll accounts, suspending 22 accounts that corresponded with fake accounts used on Facebook.

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Iridium to Rely on Used SpaceX Boosters for Next 2 Launches

Iridium Communications says its next two launches of new-generation satellites will use refurbished SpaceX Falcon 9 first-stage boosters that have flown previously.

The announcement Thursday is another step in SpaceX’s effort to reduce launch costs.

 

The company has launched a few used boosters and is trying to expand acceptance of reusability across the industry.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has had successful landings of Falcon 9 first stages after launches from both coasts.

Iridium is in the midst of seven launches to replace its satellite fleet that provides global mobile voice and data communications.

The McLean, Virginia, company says insurers confirmed there is no increase in premiums for “flight-proven” rocket use.

Thirty new satellites are in orbit and the fourth launch is scheduled for Dec. 22 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

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