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TOP STORIES, World News

Russia nuclear treaty: Bolton in Moscow amid missile tensions


Europe

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US national security adviser John Bolton is in Moscow for talks after Russia gave a frosty reception to news the US was dropping a nuclear treaty.

President Donald Trump said Russia had violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and the US planned to withdraw as a result.

The treaty signed in 1987 restricted US and Russian short- and medium-range nuclear missiles.

Mr Bolton is reported to have been a key voice pushing for the withdrawal.

He is due to meet senior officials during his pre-planned visit but may now meet President Vladimir Putin too.

Moscow has said abandoning the treaty would be “dangerous” and warned it would be forced to take retaliatory action.

What did the treaty do?

The INF treaty was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, in the last years of the Cold War.

It banned ground-launched medium-range missiles, with a range of between 500 and 5,500km (310-3,400 miles) – both nuclear and conventional – effectively reducing the perceived threat to European nations from Soviet missiles.

It has stayed in effect for three decades but on Saturday President Trump said Russia had not adhered to the deal.

Trump and the nuclear codes

Mikhail Gorbachev: The man who lost an empire

Tensions rise as US threatens to ‘take out’ Russian missiles

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“So we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” he said. “Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years.”

“And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons [while] we’re not allowed to.”

How is Russia suspected of breaking the treaty?

The announcement followed reports in The Guardian newspaper that Mr Bolton, in his capacity as national security adviser, had recommended withdrawal from the treaty .

He is not the first to suggest doing so – Barack Obama publicly accused Russia of violating the treaty in 2014 but ultimately chose not to pull the US out of the deal.

Mr Bolton will now face meetings with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other top officials.

Mr Putin is “seeking answers”, according to a Kremlin spokesperson.

Russia has always denied any violations of the treaty but has accused Washington of violations in return.

On Sunday, one of the original signatories of the INF treaty, Mikhail Gorbachev, said a US withdrawal would reverse efforts made to achieve nuclear disarmament.

But the US insists the Russians have, in breach of the deal, developed a new medium-range missile called the Novator 9M729 – known to Nato as the SSC-8.

It would enable Russia to launch a nuclear strike at Nato countries at very short notice.

Withdrawal from the treaty is also seen as a counter-move to China, which has not signed up to the deal and can therefore develop such weapons at will.

Top Macau official Zheng Xiaosong dead after fall from building


China

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China’s top representative governing the Chinese territory of Macau has died after falling from a tall building.

Beijing released a brief statement saying that Zheng Xiaosong had been suffering from depression, implying he had killed himself.

Mr Zheng, who was 59, fell off the building where he lived, officials said.

He served as the liaison between the Chinese government and the casino hub of Macau, a former Portuguese colony.

There is no evidence that Mr Zheng had come under the watch of China’s pervasive anti-corruption campaign.

However, hundreds of mid-level Chinese officials who had been accused of graft have died in recent years – reportedly by killing themselves, though observers have questioned these accounts.

A statement on the Macau liaison’s office website showed that Zheng met with the head of a think tank the day before his death, Reuters reported.
‘One country, two systems’

Mr Zhang was educated overseas and and was a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, one of China’s elite ruling bodies.
Find out more about Macau

Hong Kong’s democracy debate

Like Hong Kong, Macau operates under China’s “one country, two systems” policy .

This means it has a degree of self-government but the chief executive must be approved by Beijing after an election.

The head of the special administrative region, Fernando Chui, expressed his “shock” at Zheng’s death. Macau’s economy revolves around tourism. It has a long history as a gambling centre , drawing many thousands of visitors every year from China and Hong Kong.

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US tourists die as Costa Rica rafts capsize


Latin America & Caribbean

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Four US tourists have died in Costa Rica after a rafting accident on a swollen river on Saturday, officials have said.

A fifth person, a local tourist, is also missing.

“Fourteen tourists and three guides on board three rafts, and a kayaker, were on the Naranjito river in Quepos, Puntarenas when the accident occurred,” Alexander Morales of the Red Cross told AFP.

The victims have not yet been named.

Rafting is a popular tourist activity in Costa Rica. The country is currently in its wet season, and heavy rain over its Pacific coast has flooded waterways, making water sports more dangerous.

Costa Rica country profile

Daniel Calderon, General Director of the Public Police Force, confirmed that 10 tourists had been rescued.

“We have had some trouble confirming the total number of tourists and their nationalities since we have been unable to get a hold of the representatives of the tour company”, local outlet the Costa Rica Star quoted him as saying.

Mr Calderon said rescuers from the coast guard and Red Cross would resume searching for the missing tourist in the early hours of Sunday.

Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado expressed his “dismay” at the incident and said he had asked authorities to give all possible support to the victims’ families.

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Latin America & Caribbean

Why speaking out in Nicaragua is getting tough


Latin America & Caribbean

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Rrom encrypted messages with people in hiding, to clandestine meetings in secret locations – speaking openly in Nicaragua is becoming tough.

The simple task of talking to those affected by the country’s deep-seated political crisis is increasingly complicated, as so many fear for their wellbeing.

In many cases, their fears seem justified too.

Some of the testimonies to emerge are reminiscent of the worst years of military governments in Latin America during the 1970s.

Take the story of Maritza Castellon and her husband, Juan Pablo Garcia, for example. A blind couple, they have represented Nicaragua in chess and Paralympic marathon running respectively.

Earlier this month, armed pro-government forces entered their home in the dead of night and took away their teenage son, Engel, for allegedly organising anti-government protests.

The men never identified themselves or produced any arrest warrant and Maritza says they stuck a gun into her chest.

“It was terrible,” she told me as they sought word from the authorities on Engel’s whereabouts.

“As blind people, we didn’t know who they were or what they look like. My youngest son was crying and saying, “Mum, they’re wearing balaclavas”. There was a man kicking in the back door saying ‘It’s up to you, either get out of the way or I’m going to shoot it in’.”

The government of President Daniel Ortega denies any wrongdoing by its forces.

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Still, there is evidence of paramilitary gangs now operating with impunity and government support. Scores of students have been jailed as terrorists.

Little wonder people are remaining in the shadows.
Presentational grey line
What is going on in Nicaragua?

Demonstrators have been protesting since April , , calling for an end to the government of President Daniel Ortega.

He says the protests are being led by terrorists who want to stage a coup against him.

The unrest originally began over pension reforms. But tensions have increased after people were killed in the government crackdown that followed.

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Hundreds of people have been standing trial in the country accused of organising violent street protests.

Among them are three students facing terrorism charges for allegedly setting fire to a government-run radio station:

It’s Ortega-ism’

Among those unwilling to come out of her safe haven was Dora Maria Tellez, a former leftist guerrilla and one-time close ally of Daniel Ortega. Today, she says, he is a “tyrant”.

“We’ve been saying this for 23 years and unfortunately, we were right,” she tells me via Skype, sitting against a non-descript grey wall somewhere in Nicaragua.

In 1978, as a 22-year-old rebel, Ms Tellez led an audacious attack on the national parliament while it was in full session. It was a turning point in the revolution against the reviled dictator, Anastasio Somoza. A year later, the Sandinista guerrilla army took power.

In the 1990s, Ms Tellez split from the Sandinistas and established the Sandinista Renovation Movement. Now she fears she could be arrested by her former comrades.

“Ortega didn’t only expropriate the FSLN [the Sandinista Front for National Liberation], he effectively dissolved ‘Sandinismo’ altogether and replaced it with ‘Ortega-ism’, the political model which forms this tyranny we Nicaraguans are living under.”

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Unsurprisingly, government supporters scoff at the idea that Nicaragua is under a dictatorship.

“Daniel Ortega is the constitutional president of this republic, the result of an electoral process in which he won a majority,” says Gustavo Porras, head of the Sandinista-controlled parliament.

“Why would they label him a dictator? To justify the aggression.”

He adds: “There is so much money washing around from [Washington-based organisations such as] the National Endowment for Democracy. They justify it by saying there is no democracy here and calling the president a dictator.”
Clandestine clinics

Nevertheless, since the worst of the street violence subsided, many international observers believe there has been a systematic programme of retribution by the state.

Dr Jose Luis Borgen agreed to meet in person but insisted on a safe place, the headquarters of a local human rights group.

A general surgeon with decades of experience, he was on his way to lodge a complaint against his arbitrary dismissal from a public hospital earlier this year. With the entire justice system allegedly in the hands of the Ortega government, he doesn’t rate his chances of a fair hearing.

“We started to receive a large number of patients with gunshot wounds. Many died. People didn’t have anyone to treat them during the conflict,” he recalls.

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The health ministry issued a ban on public hospitals treating such patients, he says, so a number of medical students and doctors “created clandestine clinics in homes and in some of the universities.”

“Some treated patients, others brought in medicines or clean syringes, cotton swabs. All of this we did in our spare time.”

It appears to have cost him his job.

There was an atmosphere of intimidation and persecution across the healthcare sector, he says.

“Then the mass firings began. 35 people were fired from one hospital, 40 from another, 18 from a third.”

In total he estimates 300 healthcare professionals, half of them doctors, have been fired across the country.

The Ortega-controlled parliament’s truth commission said in its report that healthcare hadn’t been denied to anyone during the crisis. But critics say the report was a whitewash, and made no comment on allegations of subsequent repercussions against healthcare professionals.

“They haven’t replaced us. What’s more, they continue to fire people”, adds Dr Borgen.

“It’s been difficult. My family is frightened. Many have received death threats, others have chosen to leave the country altogether.”

It is a stark choice now facing many opponents of Daniel Ortega: either to live in hiding or go into exile.

Latin America & Caribbean

Cate Blanchett defends straight actors playing LGBT roles


Newsbeat

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Cate Blanchett has defended straight actors playing gay roles in film and TV.

Hollywood has been criticised for giving LGBT roles to straight actors and earlier this year Scarlett Johansson pulled out of playing a trans character following a backlash.

Blanchett played a lesbian in 2015’s Carol.

She said: “I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience.”

The Australian actress disagrees with the idea that a performer only really knows a character if they have shared experiences.

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“Reality television and all that that entails had an extraordinary impact, a profound impact on the way we view the creation of character,” she said during a Q&A at the Rome Film Festival.

“I think it provides a lot of opportunity, but the downside of it is that we now, particularly in America, we expect and only expect people to make a profound connection to a character when it’s close to their experience.”

When Scarlett Johansson was announced as the lead actor in a film about 1970s Pittsburgh crime boss Dante “Tex” Gill, who was born Jean Gill, some said it showed the limited opportunities given to transgender actors.

Pointing to other actors who’ve played trans roles, Johansson said of her critics: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”

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@baumanelise on Twitter

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Trace Lysette, who stars in the Amazon series Transparent, said it was representative of a wider problem in Hollywood.

“I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case,” she tweeted. “A mess.”

Cisgender describes someone who is not transgender. It applies to an individual whose gender matches their “assigned” sex at birth.

In her second statement announcing she’d no longer be playing the role, Johansson said she’d “learned a lot” from the trans community and was glad there had been a “larger conversation about diversity and representation in film”.

“While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person.”

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Sir Ian McKellen is an actor who’s been critical of Hollywood’s attitude to gay actors in the past.

He’s pointed out that no openly gay man has ever won the Academy Award for best actor, but straight actors have taken home the prize for playing LGBT roles.

Tom Hanks won it for Philadelphia and Sean Penn scooped it for Milk.

In total, 52 straight people have been Oscar-nominated for playing gay characters, including Cate Blanchett for her portrayal in Carol.

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Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 every weekday on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra – if you miss us you can listen back here .

Why do people think this ‘manspreading’ video is a Kremlin hoax? By BBC TrendingGoing in-depth on social media


BBC Trending

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Millions of people around the world have watched a viral video that appears to show a woman taking direct action against “manspreading”. So why do some think it is actually Kremlin-backed disinformation?

A woman creeps up to unsuspecting men on the St Petersburg Metro. The men are taking up lots of space, with their legs wide open. Before they can react, the woman dumps a bottle of diluted bleach onto their trousers. It’s enough to make a stain, although not strong enough to cause serious injury.

The video was made by Anna Dovgalyuk, a Russian activist, student and social media star. And it racked up millions of views before being removed from YouTube.

The story was picked up by numerous news websites and caused a huge online uproar. Comments heaped praise, scorn, and more extreme threats of violence on Anna and others involved with the video.

But along with the video’s viral spread came questions. Was it staged? And also was it – as some believe – a crafted piece of propaganda, sponsored and spread by the Russian government? And if it was, what was the aim?

YouTube activism

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Anna Dovgalyuk is relatively new to YouTube activism. The video was only her second post on the platform. Her first also had a feminist theme, and was also shot on the St Petersburg Metro. It was a protest against upskirting – taking photos up women’s skirts – and showed a model (not Anna) lifting her dress to show passengers her underwear.

That video also got a lot of coverage, and prompted Anna to turn her attention to a project attacking “manspreading” – the phenomenon of men on public transport who sit with their legs wide open or otherwise inconvenience fellow passengers by taking up too much space.

“I thought that it was one of those problems which should be highlighted, that people should be made aware of,” she told BBC Trending.

The video went up in late September, and was clocking up views at a rate of a million a day. But almost immediately, questions were raised about its authenticity.

An online news outlet in St Petersburg called Bumaga quoted a man who supposedly appeared in her video, admitting that he was paid to sit on the train and get squirted. Bumaga reproduced a post by the man on the Russian social network Vkontakte. (His account was deleted and the BBC could not immediately reach the man for comment).

Additionally, in the video, Anna states that it was created “in assistance with friends who share my position.”

Speaking to the BBC, she denied that it was staged or that anyone was paid to get diluted bleach thrown on them.

“This is some completely random guy,” she says, “I don’t know what kind of actor he considers himself to be… but there is no evidence, it’s just somebody’s claim.”

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‘Staged Kremlin propaganda’

The story took another turn when a European Union project to combat Russian misinformation, EUvsDisinfo, called the video “staged Russian propaganda”.

According to this theory, the stunt was part of the Kremlin’s surreptitious online interventions into various culture wars around the world, and designed to provide evidence that Western-style feminism has gone too far.

The EUvsDisinfo report gave the video another burst of publicity – and several of the same outlets which credulously reported on the video when it went viral ran reports with the European Union’s take.

EUvsDisinfo cited two main pieces of evidence: the Bumaga report, and also the fact that the video was picked up and repackaged by a Kremlin-funded social media venture called In The NOW, which has more than three million likes on Facebook . In The NOW also has accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

But In The NOW began as a TV programme on Russia Today – now known as RT.

RT and the news agency Sputnik, are directly funded by the Kremlin. Western governments as well as media critics have called them propaganda outlets.

And EUvsDisinfo sees the dark arts of the Kremlin at work in Anna’s video and its treatment by In the NOW. “The video stages extreme feminist activism and manages to provoke extreme anti-feminist reactions,” its post on the video concluded. EUvsDisinfo turned down a request for an interview about this story.

But is this a case of seeing Russian bogeymen where there are none? Wouldn’t any social media company pick up on such clickable content?

In The NOW – which is based in Berlin – says that although it is financed by Russian government money, it has editorial independence.

“There’s no top-down editorial memo that goes out, nothing like that,” says J Ray Sparks, an American who is chief operating officer of Maffick, the German company that produces In The NOW. “It has never been some kind of propaganda outlet.”

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Although In The NOW doesn’t deny that it receives money from the Russian government, this information isn’t readily apparent on its Facebook page. When asked whether its mix of light-hearted stories and more serious news had ever included a video critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sparks replied: “We haven’t done anything recently.”

In the NOW’s video about Anna’s manspreading stunt has racked up more than six million views.

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Pro-Putin Instagrammer

Anna Dovgalyuk’s social media accounts are filled with glamorous selfies of her in fashionable clothes or swimwear.

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But it would be a mistake to think Anna is from the Pussy Riot school of activism. Scattered throughout her Instagram and Vkontakte pages are posts praising President Vladimir Putin and Russian diplomats.

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And despite her campaigning videos, she denies she’s a feminist.

“Some people have said that my video is also very radical, and yes, that’s true. But it’s not in any way connected with feminism or the hatred of men,” she tells BBC Trending.

“Right now, feminism is not about equality, it is about bad feelings towards men, hatred. I don’t like this word very much, because of the way it was distorted. It’s really been turned upside down.”

It’s a view often echoed by Russian state media: that feminism is a Western ideology focused on hating men and not compatible with traditional Russian values or culture.

But Anna also vehemently denies that her video was a propaganda stunt.

“It is utter idiocy,” she says. “Seriously, it’s a disgrace!”

She told the BBC she was called in and questioned by the St Petersburg police, but refused to say which police station she visited. The office of the head of the St Petersburg Metro Police told us they were unaware of any complaints being filed against Anna, and the press office did not respond to requests for further comment.

In response to a request for comment, the Russian embassy in London wrote in an email: “We do not clearly understand what exactly is this video propaganding. Moreover, the Embassy does not comment on videos of all ‘social activists.'”

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Political trolling

Although no evidence has surfaced that Anna Dovgalyuk set out to make a viral propaganda video at the behest of the Kremlin, the idea that an anti-manspreading video might be used by Russia for propaganda purposes is by no means farfetched, according to experts who study bot and troll activity.

Accounts linked to the Russian government and the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency have repeatedly been accused of whipping up political storms, particularly around the 2016 US presidential election.

In one noteworthy incident, rival Facebook pages – both allegedly connected to Russia –planned and promoted anti-Islam and pro-Islam rallies for the same time and place in Texas .

BBC Trending previously reported on the role of Internet Research Agency-linked accounts in promoting a hashtag in support of California’s secession from the United States – an extremely fringe issue that suddenly became a top trend on Twitter just as it became clear that Donald Trump was about to win the 2016 election.

And the troll accounts have also plunged into hot-button cultural issues, amplifying divisive social debates.

Culture wars over Star Wars

Morten Bay is a research fellow at the Centre for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California. He examined Twitter activity about the release of The Last Jedi, a recent film in the Star Wars franchise.

As was widely reported at the time , some people took issue with the film’s cast, which included a number of women and ethnic minorities in prominent roles.

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Morten Bay found evidence that Russian bots and trolls targeted Last Jedi director Rian Johnson.

“Russian trolls have inserted themselves in American discourse online for a number of years,” he told BBC Trending. “On a daily basis, regular Americans will go about their business and start caring [only] three weeks before an election. And so, if you want to get to those people, you kind have to get them where they are and that means going into pop culture… whether that’s Star Wars, sports, or something else.”

Bay’s research was reflected recently when Twitter released a trove of 10 million tweets posted by suspected state-backed Russian and Iranian “troll farms” .

An early analysis by the Atlantic Council, an American think tank, determined that messages from the troll accounts were in part “aimed at dividing polarized online communities in the US. “

In addition, on Friday documents were released in the US outlining criminal charges against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St Petersburg, along with unnamed alleged co-conspirators. In a statement, the US Justice Department said Khusyaynova had been engaged in social media activity designed to stir up online arguments and interfere with the political system.

“The conspiracy allegedly used social media and other internet platforms to address a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate,” the department said in astatement .

Blog by Mike Wendling

Reporting by Marco Silva

Reporting and translation by Olga Robinson, BBC Monitoring

Do you have a story for us? Email BBC Trending .

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Suspected bot accounts are attempting to shape the social media narrative following the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. READ NOW

 

Indonesia tsunami: As desperation mounts, relief groups mobilize; here’s how you can help


Residents look for their belongings amid the debris of destroyed houses in Palu in central Sulawesi, Indonesia, on Sept. 29, 2018, after a strong earthquake and tsunami struck the area.

Relief workers mobilized to help devastated areas and rescue teams desperately hunted for survivors Monday in the aftermath of a fierce earthquake and tsunami that hammered Indonesia, killing hundreds.

More than 840 people have been confirmed dead in the twin disasters that unfolded Friday when a magnitude-7.5 quake triggered a tsunami that swallowed homes and pulverized neighborhoods. That number is expected to rise as first responders reach remote areas.

Conditions in the hard-hit city of Palu on the coast are particularly difficult because the quake caused a phenomenon called liquefaction, which occurs when loose water-filled soil near the surface collapses, said the country’s disaster agency spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

“Hundreds of victims” are still buried in the mud, he said.

Relief groups, many of which have a long history in Indonesia, are facing a daunting task less than two months after another quake rocked the nation’s Lombok Island, killing more than 400 people and displacing thousands.

Flooding from Friday’s tsunami cut off roads to some villages, and food and clean water are in short supply. Some groups are having to travel 10 hours to reach the disaster zone because of access issues, the Red Cross reports. Looters are also making security an issue.

More: Burials begin in Indonesia as rescue need becomes desperate

More: Dramatic rescues amid the rubble as death toll tops 800

Thousands of people, mostly women with children – some pregnant – packed the airport in Palu in a futile attempt to board an Indonesian Air Force plane to escape the disaster.

“The smell of death is strong in the air, and it could start impacting people’s health after four days … I’m afraid the death toll is going to continue to rise dramatically,” said Radika Pinto, with humanitarian aid agency World Vision in Palu.

Here is a list of some of the groups responding to the disaster and ways you can help:

International Medical Corps, a global first-response team, has staff on the ground to provide emergency health care services, including trauma surgery and medicine. The group is mobilizing with the government and local agencies.

Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization, has mobilized a team of emergency responders, including experts in disaster response. Essentials such as clean water, food and cash are most needed, the group says.

World Vision has deployed a team for search and rescue, set up feeding centers for infants and children and will be distributing hygiene kits, blankets and emergency tarps.

Food for the Hungry, a Phoenix-based nonprofit tackling global poverty, is partnering with its Indonesian staff and other NGOs to respond to this disaster by raising money and deploying other resources.

Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid group, is working with the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance, which overseas international disaster relief in Southeast Asia, on assessing health needs in the hard-hit areas. The group will target treatment of trauma injuries, waterborne diseases, respiratory issues and infections from puncture wounds and lacerations caused by rubble.

Global Giving, a global crowdfunding source, is helping connect dozen of nonprofits in Indonesia with donors to provide relief services.  

Project Hope, a health and humanitarian relief organization, has deployed a medical team to the island of Sulawesi to address health needs. 

Save the Children, an international children’s agency, has an emergency response team on the ground and is planning to set up child-friendly spaces in shelters for those who have lost their homes and will supply diapers and cribs. 

UNICEF, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, is working with authorities to reunite separated children with families, provide clean water through mobile water treatment and support infant and child feeding.

The Indonesian Red Cross, working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has search and rescue teams, medical workers, ambulances and water trucks on the ground. The agency is also providing blankets, tarps and sleeping mats.   

Oxfam, a confederation of independent charities targeting global poverty, is working with local partners to provide essential aid supplies such as ready-to-eat food, water purification kits and shelter packs.  

Russia’s Su-57 jet gets hypersonic missile that can shoot down enemy aircraft ‘300km away’


A hypersonic anti-aircraft missile with a range of over 300km will be part of the arsenal of the Su-57, Russia’s most-advanced multipurpose fighter jet. The weapon is meant to take out high-value targets with impunity.

The Su-57 is Russia’s first 5th-generation aircraft, designed to be a formidable threat to major air powers such as the US. It is normally expected to carry weapons in its internal bays, to reduce radar cross-section and avoid compromising its stealth capabilities. But larger missiles may be carried externally at a hardpoint, and one of those will be the R-37M, a missile with a greater range than anything the US aircraft would have at their disposal.

The R-37M is an upgraded version of the missile that came into service in 1985. The older variant is among the larger air-to-air missiles, measuring 4.2 meters in length and 600kg in weight, suitable only for bigger aircraft like the Mig-31BM interceptor.

The updated missile’s main feature is its range, which is reported as 300km, although some sources say it may be as high as 400km, depending on flight profile. The costly missile is meant to take down equally important targets like AWACS planes, but with Mach 6 speeds and an active-seeker homing system taking over during the terminal phase, it poses a threat to more agile targets like fighter jets.

The R-37M variant, which is reportedly in the final stages of development, was given a new guidance system and lost some weight and length to fit on smaller platforms. Boris Obnosov, director of the Tactical Missiles Corporation (KTRV), confirmed to Interfax on Wednesday that the Su-57 will be among aircraft capable of firing the new missile. KRTV is the parent company of NPO Vympel, the developer of the R-37.

The progress with developing the R-37M puts into question the future of another potential very long-range air-to-air missile considered for the Su-57. Called KS-172 and developed by NPO Novator, part of the competing military concern Almaz-Antey, this missile reportedly has an even greater range of over 400km.

This was made possible by using a two-stage composition, with a wider powerful first stage quickly boosting the smaller second stage. The weapon had a few successful tests, but is believed to be nowhere near entering service. Interestingly, China is reportedly developing a similar two-stage extended-range missile for its J-20 stealth fighters.

With its strategic rivals both having this type of weapon, the US may need to rethink its strategy for air superiority. The US Air Force used to deploy very-long range air-to-air missiles, like the AIM-54 Phoenix, which had an operational range of 190km, but it was retired in 2004 along with its platform, the F-14 Tomcat. Some missiles of this type is still in service in Iran – a relic of the country’s pre-revolution ties with the US.

The AIM-120 AMRAAM, the to-go beyond-the-horizon air-to-air missile of the USAF, has an even shorter range than the Phoenix, with the advanced AIM-120D variant reportedly limited to 160km. It’s still quite a formidable weapon adapted to many platforms, and the US military expect that pretty much any enemy may be taken down by the missiles from a safe distance, with more modern fighter jets like F-22 and F-35 providing extra targeting information for older aircraft.

By deploying missiles with an even greater range, Russia and China would essential double down on this strategy, threatening valuable US assets from a safe distance. This potentially opens a vulnerability gap, until NATO can develop a counterbalance such as MBDA’s Meteor missile.

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Polls show key Trump states flipping back to Democrats


US President Donald Trump speaks at a political rally at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on August 2, 2018.

WASHINGTON – New polls show Democrats doing well in the Great Lakes industrial states that were crucial to President Donald Trump’s victory.

Democratic senatorial candidates have double-digit leads in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to Ipsos Public Affairs polls released Wednesday. Democrats running for governor in those states also have healthy advantages.

“We went into it thinking that these races were going to be a little bit closer,” said Ipsos vice president Chris Jackson. “But it looks like the Democrats are performing pretty strongly across the region with a couple of exceptions.”

The exceptions are a dead heat in Indiana’s Senate race and in Ohio’s gubernatorial contest.

Trump won Indiana – the home of his running mate – by 19 percentage points and captured the swing state of Ohio by 8 points.

But it’s Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that propelled Trump to victory with razor-thin margins in those states.

If Clinton had won the three – as many expected – she would have won the election, but she lost each of them by less than 1 percent of the vote.

Those three states together hadn’t backed a Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Now, a greater share of likely voters surveyed in those states said they’re motivated to vote for a candidate who will oppose Trump than those wanting a candidate who will support Trump.

The biggest gap was in Michigan, where 56 percent want a candidate who will stand up to Trump, compared to 41 percent who want a Trump ally.

In Indiana, by contrast, voters are nearly evenly divided in their preference. That could be one reason why Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly is locked in a close contest with Republican challenger Mike Braun.

In all five states surveyed, health care and the economy were the top issue for voters. One in five likely voters in Wisconsin named it the most important issue in determining their vote.

“That really is central to what Democrats are focused on this year,” Jackson said of health care.

Here’s a look at the state of play in those states:

Indiana

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly is in a toss-up race against Republican Mike Braun, 46-43 percent.

Not quite half of likely voters (48 percent) are motivated to vote for a candidate who supports Trump and not quite half (47 percent) want to vote for a candidate who opposes Trump.

(Online survey of 1,181 registered voters from Sept. 12-19. Credibility interval is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.)

Michigan

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow is ahead of Republican John James 55-35 percent.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer is ahead of Republican Bill Schuette 52-39 percent.

More than half (56 percent) of likely voters are motivated to vote for a candidate who opposes Trump compared with 41 percent who want a candidate who supports Trump.

(Online survey of 1,150 registered voters from Sept. 14-21. Credibility interval is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.)

Pennsylvania

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey is ahead of Republican Lou Barletta 53-37 percent.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is ahead of Republican Scott Wagner 55-38 percent.

More than half (55 percent) of likely voters are motivated to vote for a candidate who opposes Trump compared with 43 percent who want a candidate who supports Trump.

(Online survey of 1,080 registered voters from Sept. 12-19. Credibility interval is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.)

Ohio

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is ahead of Republican Jim Renacci 50-39 percent.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray is in a toss-up race against Republican Mike DeWine 44-45 percent.

About half (52 percent) of likely voters are motivated to vote for a candidate who opposes Trump compared with 46 percent who want a candidate who supports Trump.

(Online survey of 1,074 registered voters from Sept. 13-20. Credibility interval is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.)

Wisconsin

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is ahead of Republican Leah Vukmir 52-39 percent.

Democratic challenger Tony Evers is ahead of Republican Gov. Scott Walker 50-43 percent.

More than half (54 percent) of likely voters are motivated to vote for a candidate who opposes Trump compared with 42 percent who want a candidate who supports Trump.

(Online survey of 1,109 registered voters from Sept. 14-21. Credibility interval is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.)

Contributing: Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press.  

   

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Trump claims he wanted the UN to laugh at his speech, calls it ‘great’     Donald Trump/Obama


Trump’s weird day at the UN got weirder, if you can believe it.

Image: Getty Images

President Donald Trump is playing off Tuesday morning’s embarrassing moment — in which he was laughed at by the United Nations General Assembly — by saying he totally meant it as a joke.

On Tuesday afternoon, between events at the UN, Trump briefly chatted with reporters and he dropped this nugget, apparently confusing the concepts of “laughing at” and “laughing with.

On the one hand, that is a pretty even-keeled response from someone as tantrum-prone as Trump.

On the other, it’s a lie. If you watch the speech, immediately following the line that got the laugh, Trump says, “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay.” So clearly not what you’d say if you’d just told an intentional joke.

As the laughter at Trump’s expense — and the implications — made waves across the internet, people were quick to surface old tweets in which Trump bemoaned a president (Obama) who he considered a laughingstock.

Trump has been busy enough at the UN that he hasn’t had time to tweet about the speech, but once he gets back in to the warmer comforts of his couch, he’ll surely let rip with what will no doubt be a tirade for the ages.