Ukraine, Israel aid package gains Biden’s support as US House Speaker Johnson fights to keep his job

US House Speaker Mike Johnson arrives to discuss his proposal of sending crucial bipartisan support to aid Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after weeks of inaction on Capitol Hill on April 17, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo)
Short Url
Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

Ukraine, Israel aid package gains Biden’s support as US House Speaker Johnson fights to keep his job

  • Aid package to provide $61 billion for Ukraine, $26 billion for Israel and $8 billion to allies in the Indo-Pacific
  • Republican hardliners have moved to oust Johnson, but are expected to fail without support from Democrats

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden said Wednesday he strongly supports a proposal from Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, sending crucial bipartisan support to the precarious effort to approve $95 billion in funding for the US allies this week.

Before potential weekend voting, Johnson was facing a choice between potentially losing his job and aiding Ukraine. He notified lawmakers earlier Wednesday that he would forge ahead despite growing anger from his right flank. Shortly after Johnson released the aid proposals, the Democratic president offered his emphatic support for the package.
“The House must pass the package this week, and the Senate should quickly follow,” Biden said. “I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed.”
After agonizing for days over how to proceed on the package, Johnson pushed ahead on a plan to hold votes on three funding packages — to provide about $61 billion for Ukraine, $26 billion for Israel and $8 billion to allies in the Indo-Pacific — as well as several other foreign policy proposals in a fourth bill. The plan roughly matches the amounts that the Senate has already approved.
The bulk of the money for Ukraine would go to purchasing weapons and ammunitions from US defense manufacturers. Johnson is also proposing that $9 billion of economic assistance for Kyiv be structured as forgivable loans, along with greater oversight on military aid, but the decision to support Ukraine at all has angered populist conservatives in the House and given new energy to a threat to remove him from the speaker’s office.
Casting himself as a “Reagan Republican,” Johnson told reporters, “Look, history judges us for what we do. This is a critical time right now.”
The votes on the package are expected Saturday evening, Johnson said. But he faces a treacherous path to get there.
The speaker needs Democratic support on the procedural maneuvers to advance his complex plan of holding separate votes on each part of the aid package. Johnson is trying to squeeze the aid through the House’s political divisions on foreign policy by forming unique voting blocs for each issue, then sewing the package back together.
Under the plan, the House would also vote on bill that is a raft of foreign policy proposals. It includes legislation to allow the US to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; to place sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic fentanyl; and to potentially ban the video app TikTok if its China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake within a year.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said he planned to gather Democrats for a meeting Thursday morning to discuss the package “as a caucus, as a family, as a team.”
“Our topline commitment is iron-clad,” he told reporters. “We are going to make sure we stand by our democratic allies in Ukraine, in Israel, in the Indo-Pacific and make sure we secure the humanitarian assistance necessary to surge into Gaza and other theaters of war throughout the world.”
The House proposal keeps intact roughly $9 billion in humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza and other conflict zones. However, progressive Democrats are opposed to providing Israel with money that could be used for its campaign into Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians.
“If they condition the offensive portion of the aid, that would be a conversation, but I can’t vote for more aid to go into Gaza and continue to kill people,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Meanwhile, the threat to oust Johnson from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican of Georgia, gained steam this week. One other Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, said he was joining Greene and called for Johnson to resign. Other GOP lawmakers have openly defied Johnson’s leadership.
“I want someone that will actually pursue a Republican agenda and knows how to walk in the room and negotiate and not get tossed around the room like some kind of party toy,” Greene said. But she added that she would not move on the motion to vacate Johnson as speaker before the vote on foreign aid.
In an effort to satisfy conservatives, Johnson offered to hold a separate vote on a border security bill, but conservatives rejected that as insufficient. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas called the strategy a “complete failure.”
“We’re going to borrow money that we don’t have — not to defend America, but to defend other nations. We’re going to do nothing to secure our border,” said Rep. Bob Good, the chair of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus.
With the speaker fighting for his job, his office went into overdrive trumpeting the support rolling in from Republican governors and conservative and religious leaders for keeping Johnson in office.
“Enough is enough,” said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on social media. He said “instead of bickering among themselves” the House Republicans should do their “job and vote on the important issues facing our nation.”
At the same time, the speaker’s office was tidying up after Johnson said on Fox News that he and Trump were “100 percent united” on the big agenda items, when in fact the Republican presidential nominee, who had just hosted the House leader in a show of support, opposes much overseas aid as well as a separate national security surveillance bill.
Johnson told CNN on Wednesday that he thought Trump, if elected president, would be “strong enough that he could enter the world stage to broker a peace deal” between Ukraine and Russia.
Yet Johnson’s push to pass the foreign aid comes as alarm grows in Washington at the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. Johnson, delaying an excruciating process, had waited for over two months to bring up the measure since the Senate passed it in February.
“Ukraine is on the verge of collapsing,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In a hearing on Wednesday, Pentagon leaders testified that Ukraine and Israel both desperately need military weapons.
“We’re already seeing things on the battlefield begin to shift a bit in Russia’s favor,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The House’s version of the aid bill pushes the Biden administration to provide long-range ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) to Ukraine, which could be used to target Russian supply lines.
The US has resisted sending those weapons out of concerns Moscow would consider them escalatory, since they could reach deeper into Russia and Russian-held territory. The House legislation would also allow the president to decline to send the ATACMS if it is against national security interests, but Congress would have to be notified.
Still, there was acknowledgement in Washington that Johnson could soon be out as speaker — a job he has held less than five months since Rep. Kevin McCarthy was ousted from the office.
Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican, said this week that if Johnson is ousted, he would “be known in history as the man who did the right thing even though it cost him a job.”

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities

Enter


keywords

Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Updated 56 min 22 sec ago
Follow

Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

  • Locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol
  • Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally

BENGALURU, India: The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.
Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday.
More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.
Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.
To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.
The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councilor, Palraj, describing how poor laborers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.
Some went blind and were rushed to hospital.
Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.
“The men work just to drink, and the women run the family,” motorized rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.
M.S. Prasanth, the top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, said “53 people have passed away,” according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 55, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the “spurious liquor tragedy,” PTI added.
Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.
The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.
She said people drank the moonshine “because they cannot afford” alcohol from the government-run shops.
“They start buying packets early in the morning,” she said.
Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.
Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.


Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

  • Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon

Moscow may change the timing for use of its nuclear weapons if threats against Russia increase, the RIA state news agency cited Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Russian lower house’s defense committee, as saying on Sunday.
The former general’s comments follow recent warnings by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow may change its nuclear doctrine, which lays out the conditions in which such weapons could be used.
“If we see that the challenges and threats increase, it means that we can correct something in (the doctrine) regarding the timing of the use of nuclear weapons and the decision to make this use,” the agency quoted Kartapolov as saying.
“But of course, it’s too early to talk about specifics now.”
Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon: broadly as a response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is put under threat.”
Putin has also said Russia could test a nuclear weapon, if necessary, though he saw no need to do so at the present time.
The heightened rhetoric on nuclear weapons comes as both Russian and US diplomats say that Russia’s war in Ukraine, launched against its smaller neighbor in 2022, is in the most dangerous phase yet.


Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

  • Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Sunday his country is not in the business of instigating wars and will always aim to settle disputes peacefully, amid escalating maritime confrontations with China.
“In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” Marcos said in a speech to troops of the Western Command unit in charge of overseeing the South China Sea.
Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway, where the Philippine military said a Filipino sailor was severely injured and its vessels damaged.
“In the performance of our duties, we will not resort to the use of force or intimidation, or deliberately inflict injury or harm to anyone,” Marcos said.
He did not name China in his speech.
Beijing’s actions during a routine Philippine resupply mission have been condemned by the United States, Britain and Canada.
China’s foreign ministry disputed the Philippine account, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

  • Swiss court dismissed charges of human trafficking against tycoon Prakash Hinduja, wife, son and daughter-in-law 
  • Forbes magazine has put Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion, family set up residence in Switzerland in 1980s

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.
A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.
The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.
Lawyers representing the defendants said they would appeal.
Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.


Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

  • Those who died has consumed liquor spiked with methanol in Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Nearly 200 people treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches, diarrhea

NEW DELHI: The death toll has climbed to 54 from consumption of tainted liquor in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, with more than 100 people still in hospital, a government official said on Saturday.
Nearly 200 people have been treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhea, after drinking liquor spiked with methanol in the district of Kallakurichi, about 250 km (150 miles) from Chennai, the state capital.
Law enforcement officials investigating the incident have arrested seven people, said M.S. Prasanth, a senior district official, adding that follow-up action was being taken against liquor sellers and brewers in the district.
Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, often called country liquor, are a regular occurrence in India, where few can afford branded spirits, despite public demands for a crackdown on the vendors.
The state government said it was taking steps to identify those involved in production of methanol, a toxic chemical normally used for industrial purposes.