Trump’s financial disclosure lists 13 loans in total, including five over $50 million in value. Eight of the loans are at fixed interest rates ranging from 3.25% to 5.5%. The variable-rate loans are pegged either to LIBOR, a benchmark rate maintained by the British Bankers’ Association, or to the U.S. prime rate. Both of those have moved upward in proportion to the federal-funds rate set by the Federal Reserve. On one Trump loan, as an example, the interest rate is prime + 5%.Many details of the Trump loans are unknown, such as possible balloon-payment clauses that could require smaller payments in the early years of the loan and larger payments toward the end of the loan. Those could reduce Trump’s vulnerability to rising rates today, since the variable rate loans mature in 2023 and 2024. Trump also likely uses many deductions and credits to offset his costs through lower tax payments.Trump’s net worth is around $3 billion, according to Bloomberg, so higher business costs of around a couple million dollars per year might seem inconsequential. Still, Trump’s financial stake in federal policymaking decisions he is in a position to influence is obviously unusual and problematic.President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Conflict of interests abound Trump already faces lawsuits from Maryland and the District of Columbia arguing he is accepting improper payments from foreigners — forbidden by the Constitution — through bookings at his hotels by officials of other governments. He was pursuing a business deal in Russia while campaigning for president in 2016, without acknowledging so, while also calling for a weakening of U.S. sanctions on Russia. He has boasted in the past about earning “hundreds of millions” of dollars from wealthy Saudis, which might explain his unusually soft stance toward the Saudi leader, Mohammed bin Salman, who’s apparently complicit in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. To this list of apparent and perhaps actual conflicts of interest, we can now add the personal gain that would accrue to Trump from lower interest rates and a reversal of the Fed’s current policy.There’s no rule or law saying a businessperson with sprawling financial interests can’t be president. But there are definitive laws against using one’s government position for personal gain. And there’s the obvious need for disclosure and transparency when a president stands to gain from a policy he may determine, as a minimal stab at credibility. Not Trump’s style, alas.Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.
U.S. President Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq
By Steve Holland
Al ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria during an unannounced visit to Iraq, saying that many people will start seeing things on Syria the same way he does.
Trump made the decision on Syria abruptly last week, against the advice of top aides and commanders, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned the next day.
Trump said he had told his advisers, „let’s get out of Syria,” but was persuaded to stay, before deciding last week to bring the 2,000 troops home.
„I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It’s time for us to start using our head,” the president told reporters at the Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad where he and first lady Melania Trump spent a little more than three hours on the ground with U.S. troops.
The base, in Anbar province, became one of the most important bases for U.S. Marines after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Since U.S. forces returned to Iraq in 2014, the base has played an important role in the fight against Islamic State because of its location.
Trump said the United States would remain in Iraq, adding, „In fact, we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria.”
Reuters reported last week that the Pentagon was considering using special operations teams to target Islamic State militants in Syria, based out of Iraq.
At the time, officials said a final decision had not been made and the option was being considered.
While in Iraq, Trump indicated he would not rush to nominate a new secretary to replace Mattis, the first defense chief in decades to resign over policy differences with the president.
Trump said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, whom he named on Sunday to replace Mattis in an acting capacity starting on Jan. 1, „could be there for a long time.”
Trump has come under withering criticism from fellow Republicans, Democrats and international allies over his decision to pull out of Syria because he believed Islamic State militants have been defeated.
Critics argue that the decision could undercut U.S. leverage in the region and undermine diplomatic efforts to the end the Syrian civil war, now in its eighth year.
Ankara is threatening a new offensive in Syria. To date, U.S. forces in Syria have been seen as a stabilizing factor and have somewhat restrained Turkey’s actions against Syrian Kurdish forces.
On Sunday, Trump said in a tweet that he had spoken with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan about a „slow and highly coordinated” withdrawal of the U.S. troops, suggesting that he might slow down the process after the barrage of criticism.
A complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria would leave a sizeable U.S. military presence in the region, including about 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq. Much of the U.S. campaign in Syria has been waged by warplanes flying out of Qatar and other locations in the Middle East.
(Writing by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Mary Milliken and Leslie Adler)
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw a test Wednesday of a new hypersonic glide vehicle, declaring that the weapon is impossible to intercept and will ensure Russia’s security for decades to come.
Speaking to Russia’s top military brass after watching the live feed of the launch of the Avangard vehicle from the Defense Ministry’s control room, Putin said the successful test was a „great success” and an „excellent New Year’s gift to the nation.”
The test comes amid bitter tensions in Russia-U.S. relations, which have sunk to their lowest level since the Cold War times over the conflict in Ukraine, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Putin’s hopes for repairing ties with Washington under President Donald Trump have fizzled amid investigations into allegations of Trump’s campaign ties with Russia, and tensions have escalated as the U.S. administration slapped Russia with new waves of sanctions.
The Avangard was among the array of new nuclear weapons that Putin presented in March, saying that Russia had to develop them in response to the development of the U.S. missile defense system that could erode Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
In Wednesday’s test, the weapon was launched from the Dombarovskiy missile base in the southern Ural Mountains. The Kremlin said it successfully hit a designated practice target on the Kura shooting range on Kamchatka, 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) away.
„The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary,” Putin said after the test, adding that the new weapon will enter service next year with the military’s Strategic Missile Forces.
When first presenting the Avangard in March, the Russian leader said the new system has an intercontinental range and can fly in the atmosphere at 20 times the speed of sound, bypassing the enemy’s missile defense.
He emphasized that no other country currently has hypersonic weapons.
Putin has said that Avangard is designed using new composite materials to withstand temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Celsius (3,632 degrees Fahrenheit) that come from a flight through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.
Is the U.S. falling behind Russia and China in hypersonic weapons development?
Why America Should Fear Russia’s New Avangard Hypersonic Weapon: „We Don’t Have Any Defense”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s March 1, 2018 annual annual state-of-the-nation address became his most-cited since his 2007 Munich speech. “Listen to us now,” he warned NATO after unveiling several hypersonic, nuclear-capable weapons: the Kinzhal missile system, Sarmat ICBM, and the Avangard glide vehicle.
The March 1st adress fell under a similar criticism: the Kremlin is bluffing, signaling capabilities that it doesn’t have to drive NATO to the negotiating table on terms favorable to Russia. But subsequent developments have borne out an altogether different truth: these weapons are, in fact, quite real, and pose varying levels of strategic threat.
The latest confirmation of Russia’s hypersonic weapons development progress came earlier today, when President Putin announced that the Avangard system had been successfully tested: „On my instructions the industrial enterprises and the Defense Ministry have prepared for and carried out the final test of this system… the test was completely successful: all technical parameters were verified,” he said to his cabinet.
Putin added that Avangard is on the verge of deployment readiness: „Starting from next year, in 2019, a new intercontinental strategic system Avangard will enter service in the Russian army and the first regiment in the Strategic Missile Troops will be deployed.”
Avangard, also known as “Objekt 4202,” is a hypersonic boost-glide missile system that is supposed to combine a high-performance ballistic missile with an unmanned glider vehicle for significant improvements in maneuverability and sustained top speed. This technology allows Avangard missiles to travel at up to 20 Mach or approximately 24,700 km per hour, a speed made possible by the useof “new composite materials” to stay within a stable range of 1,600 to 2,000 degrees celsius.
This design translates into a missile that is not only more difficult, but impossible to intercept according to Putin: “The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary.” The Russian president adds that this is due to the extreme agility made possible by its boost-glider, enabling “lateral” and “vertical” evasive maneuvers by “several thousand kilometers.”
As it stands, U.S. military experts offer a grim assessment of America’s ability to intercept such a missile: “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us,” said US Air Force General John E. Hyten, the Commander of US Strategic Command. It should be noted that, for a weapon with potential capabilities as devastating as the nuclear-capable Avangard system, even a relatively optimistic interception rate of, say, 50% still would pose an unacceptable risk.
A 2019 deployment schedule would put Russia ahead of China and the U.S. in the hypersonic, nuclear-capable boost-glider arms race. China’s hypersonic glider analogue to Avangard, the DF-ZF, is still in testing and appears to be on track for a 2020 release. Less is known of concrete American production plans, with some experts suggesting that that US research is driven by different objectives in non-nuclear hypersonic boost-glide system research.
Russia’s focus on advanced, nuclear-capable hypersonic weapons with purported first-strike capability like Avangard reflects a particular-kind of strategic thinking: researching, developing, and manufacturing a few un-interceptable nuclear warheads that can be more cost-effective over the long term than trying to match NATO’s combined output of conventional strategic weapons.
Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor toThe National Interest and serves as research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University
The pine-fringed village’s former pasture is cordoned off and marked by signs reading „Danger, mines” in English
Chugynka (Ukraine) (AFP) – Outside the picturesque Ukrainian village of Chugynka, dozens of men and women in bulletproof vests kneel down and explore every inch of ground.
The faded grass lies in the middle of a war zone that has become one of the most mine-riddled areas in the world over the past few years.
„The whole village used to use the field” for making hay and grazing cows, said Anatoliy Radchenko, a former entrepreneur who now leads the group of around 30 face-masked workers.
„We are doing this mine clearing for them, so that one day we can say — guys, you can use it, everything is fine here now.”
The pine-fringed village’s former pasture is cordoned off and marked by signs reading „Danger, mines” in English.
„For someone driving a tractor there’s always the risk of a mine exploding,” says Andriy, a 32-year-old farmer who lives in Chugynka with his family and earns his living from producing grain.
„But you have to work anyway,” he sighs, after telling how a farmer he knows was injured during the harvest this year.
Chugynka is just 15 miles (25 kilometres) west of the frontline in a war between Ukraine government forces and Russian-backed separatists.
The conflict has claimed more than 10,000 lives since it broke out in 2014 following a pro-Europe uprising in Kiev and Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
Russia denies claims it is funnelling troops and arms across the border to fuel the conflict, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Meanwhile, the UN says that more than 1,600 civilians have been killed or wounded by mines during the war.
That includes children — three of whom died while another was injured in the area in September.
A further two million Ukrainians, including 220,000 children, remain at risk.
– Dangerous and slow –
Equipped with metal detectors, the group near Chugynka hunt for mines, marking the spot where they find one with a small flag.
They immediately report the find to emergency services that can neutralise the threat.
The Ukrainian de-mining team was formed in 2016 and is funded by The Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD).
The work is dangerous and slow, however. In six weeks, the team has covered less than five percent of the 74,000-square metre (18-acre) area.
Two other humanitarian organisations, The HALO Trust and Danish Demining Group work in mine clearance in Ukraine. But the trio only work in areas of the country controlled by Kiev.
On the other side of the frontline, in the so-called Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, the problem is the same.
Separatist authorities there carry out mine clearance operations themselves, without revealing the size of the affected areas.
– ‘Some blame the parents’ –
The Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe estimated in a report last week that 7,000 square kilometres are mined in Eastern Ukraine.
That makes it „one of the most densely mined areas in the world,” the OSCE says.
Alexander Hug, then deputy head of the OSCE ceasefire monitoring operation in Ukraine, told AFP a few months ago that both sides continued to set mines without marking them.
This runs counter to 2015 peace agreements that have curbed the overall violence.
„I think we will suffer for a very long time,” Ivan Prykhodko, the separatist head of the city of Gorlivka in Donetsk, told AFP.
Recent experience appears to support his prediction.
More than two percent of Bosnia-Hercegovina is still thought to be affected by mines, according to OSCE data from 2017, even though fighting ended there more than 20 years earlier.
In Ukraine, military specialists have only been able to confirm 0.6 percent clearance of the total affected area.
As efforts by groups like the FSD continue, landmines’ horrific effects are felt all too keenly in the country’s east.
„Some believe that parents are guilty of letting boys walk alone, others — that children are guilty because they have not noticed the warning sign”, said Vladimir Tulup, grandfather of the local boy who survived the explosion in September.
„But they are not to blame, this goddamn war is to blame,” he told AFP.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A former Israeli armed forces chief who opinion polls show poses the toughest challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid for reelection next year formally established a political party on Thursday.
Details about Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party, leaked to local media after it was registered, gave little indication of its ideological tilt.
Along with preserving Israel as „a Jewish and democratic country”, the party pledged unspecified changes to priorities in national security and the economy.
Polling has predicted an easy win for Netanyahu in the April 9 election, with his rightist Likud party taking around 30 of parliament’s 120 seats and on course to form a right-wing coalition government similar to the current cabinet.
The surveys, published after Netanyahu announced on Monday an election some seven months before one was due by law, gave second place to a then-hypothetical Gantz party. The polls forecast it would take around 15 seats.
Netanyahu is running for a fifth term under the shadow of three corruption investigations in which police have recommended his indictment. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Israel’s attorney-general has still to decide whether to charge Netanyahu and it is unclear whether he will make his announcement before the election.
Should Gantz emerge as a center-left candidate, that could work in Netanyahu’s favor by further fracturing an already disparate opposition bloc.
Gantz, 59, became Israel’s top general in 2011 after stints as commander of forces on the combustible northern frontier with Syria and Lebanon and as military attache in Washington. During his four-year term he oversaw two wars in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones)