Комітет Сенату США погодив санкції проти «Північного потоку-2»

Комітет із міжнародних відносин Сенату США погодив санкції проти фізичних та юридичних осіб, які залучені до будівництва газопроводу «Північний потік-2» між Росією та Німеччиною.

Тепер документ мають розглянути в Сенаті та Палаті представників. Якщо члени Конгресу підтримають законопроєкт, його передадуть на підпис президенту США Дональду Трампу.

Документ передбачає санкції проти кораблів, які прокладають російські газопроводи у морі на глибині понад 30 метрів. Таким чином, санкції можуть стосуватися й іншого російського газопроводу – «Турецького потоку».

Проєкт російського газового монополіста «Газпрому» «Північний потік-2» має доставляти газ із Росії до Німеччини дном Балтійського моря.

Німеччина, компанії з якої беруть фінансову участь у проекті постачання газу до Європи з Росії в обхід транзитних можливостей України, підтримує його і на державному рівні, називаючи «суто комерційним», хоча Берлін заявляє про необхідність зберегти транзит російського газу і через Україну.

Україна, як і низка країн Євросоюзу, переважно східноєвропейських, балтійських і скандинавських, а також США виступають проти цього проекту. Вони наголошують, що проект суто політичний, бо збільшує залежність Європи від російського газу, і економічно не обґрунтований. Таку позицію підтримує і Європейська комісія.

У червні президент США Дональд Трамп під час свого візиту до Польщі розкритикував Німеччину через співробітництво з Росією в межах будівництва газопроводу. Він зазначив, що альтернативою для Берліна може стати скраплений газ зі Сполучених Штатів.

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Fire Breaks out at Houston-Area Exxon Mobil Refinery

Fire broke out at an Exxon Mobil oil refinery in Texas on Wednesday, sending a large plume of smoke into the air, in the latest of a series of petrochemical industry blazes this year in the Houston area.

The fire began around 11 a.m. at an Exxon Mobil facility in Baytown, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Houston.

The city of Baytown said the fire is in an area that contains polypropylene material and that Exxon Mobil has requested some nearby residents to shelter in place as a precaution.

It was not immediately known if there were injuries.

Television video from the fire showed dark smoke rising into the air from a large metal stack that was on fire. Crews were dousing the stack and surrounding structures with water.

In a statement, Irving, Texas- based Exxon Mobil said the fire occurred at its Olefins plant, which produces ethylene, a chemical used to make plastic and industrial products. Ethylene is highly flammable. According to records kept by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Olefins plant had 68 tons (69 metric tons) of ethylene on site in 2017. It also had large quantities of other potentially hazardous chemicals, including ammonia, benzene, and propylene.

Exxon Mobil said it was conducting air quality monitoring at the site on Wednesday and it was cooperating with regulatory agencies.

“Our first priority remains the safety of people, including our employees, contractors and the community,” the company said.

The Olefins plant is part of the company’s 3,400-acre refinery complex in Baytown. It is one of eight plants that Exxon agreed to retrofit with anti-pollution technology in a settlement with the U.S. government. The company also agreed to pay $2.5 million in fines to federal and state authorities after being accused of violating the Clean Air Act with industrial flares from its factories.

Wednesday’s fire is the latest one to have taken place at Houston-area petrochemical facilities this year, including one at another facility on the Exxon Mobil Baytown complex.
On March 16, a fire erupted at a refinery on Exxon Mobil’s Baytown complex. The fire was extinguished hours later, but Harris County officials say it continued to release toxic pollutants for eight more days. The county has sued Exxon Mobil, accusing the company of violating the federal Clean Air Act.

Also in March, a fire burned or days at a at a petrochemical storage facility in nearby Deer Park and caused chemicals to flow into a nearby waterway.

In April, one worker died after a tank holding a flammable chemical caught fire in nearby Crosby.


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Fed Lowers Interest Rates as Expected, Leaves Door Open to More Cuts

The Federal Reserve cut interest rates on Wednesday for the first time since 2008, citing concerns about the global economy and muted U.S. inflation, and signaled a readiness to lower borrowing costs further if needed.

Financial markets had widely expected the quarter-percentage-point rate cut, which lowered the U.S. central bank’s benchmark overnight lending rate to a target range of 2% to 2.25%.

In a statement at the end of its latest two-day policy meeting, the Fed said it had decided to cut rates “in light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell walks to the podium during a news conference in Washington, July 31, 2019.

The Fed said it will “continue to monitor” how incoming information will affect the economy, adding that it “will act as appropriate to sustain” a record-long U.S. economic expansion. The decision drew dissents from Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren and Kansas City Fed President Esther George who argued for leaving rates unchanged.

Both have raised doubts about a rate cut in the face of the current expansion, an unemployment rate that is near a 50-year-low, and robust household spending.

On the opposite flank, U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to be disappointed the Fed did not deliver the large rate cut he had demanded. Trump has repeatedly harangued the central bank
and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell for not doing enough to help his administration’s efforts to boost economic growth.

‘Strong,’ but ‘soft’

Powell and other Fed officials in recent weeks have walked a middle ground, flagging risks like continued uncertainty on the global trade front, low inflation and a weakening world economy,
but repeating the view the United States is fundamentally in a good spot.

Powell is expected to elaborate on the Fed’s thinking in a news conference at 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT).

The Fed said in its statement that it continued to regard the labor market as “strong” and added that household spending had “picked up.” But it noted business spending was “soft” and
that measures of inflation compensation remain low.

The Fed said the rate cut should help return inflation to its 2% target but that uncertainties about that outlook remain. Sustained expansion of economic activity and a strong labor
market are also the most likely outcomes, the Fed said.

Underscoring its decision to ease policy across the board, the Fed also said it would stop shrinking its massive holdings of bonds starting Aug. 1, two months ahead of schedule.

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Married at 15 and 16, Each Still a Child

Between 2000 and 2010, an estimated 248,000 children — some as young as 12 — were married in the U.S.  Studies show most teens who are forced into marriage face financial strain and divorce. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti introduces us to two teens who had very different experiences.

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US, China Agree to Hold Next Round of Trade Talks in September

The latest round of trade talks between U.S. and Chinese negotiators ended in Shanghai Wednesday with an agreement to meet again in September in the U.S.

Although neither side immediately commented on the talks, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported the talks were “frank, highly efficient and constructive.”

The news agency also reported negotiators discussed “the issue of China increasing its purchases of U.S. agricultural products, according to its domestic needs.”

U.S. and Chinese representatives held talks at a working dinner on Tuesday and less than a half day of negotiations on Wednesday before the U.S. delegation headed straight to the airport.

Shortly after U.S. negotiators arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump warned China against negotiating a deal after the 2020 U.S. presidential election  — declaring a delayed agreement would be less attractive than a deal reached in the near term.

“The problem with them waiting … is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now … or no deal at all,” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

…to ripoff the USA, even bigger and better than ever before. The problem with them waiting, however, is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now…or no deal at all. We have all the cards, our past leaders never got it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2019

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to Trump’s tweet on Wednesday, telling reporters at a daily news briefing in Beijing “it doesn’t make any sense for the U.S. to exercise its campiagn of maximum pressure at this time.”

Hua also said “It’s pointless to tell others to take medication when you’re the one who sick.”

U.S. and Chinese officials gathered in Shanghai in an attempt to revive talks, with both sides trying to temper expectations for a breakthrough.

The world’s two largest economies are engaged in an intense trade war that has dragged on for more than a year, having imposed punitive tariffs on each other totaling more than $360 billion in two-way trade.

The Shanghai negotiations came after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at June’s G-20 summit to resurrect efforts to end the costly trade war over China’s technology ambitions and trade surplus.

China is resisting U.S. demands to abolish government-led plans for industrial leaders to enhance robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies.

The U.S. has complained China’s plans depend on the acquisition of foreign technology through theft or coercion.

Days prior to the Shanghai meeting, Trump threatened to withdraw recognition of China’s developing nation’s status at the World Trade Organization. China responded by saying the threat is indicative of the “arrogance and selfishness” of the U.S.

The U.S. delegation in Shanghai was represented by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. They met with a Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Liu He, who serves as the country’s economic czar.



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Loophole Allows Families to Get Aid Meant for Needy Students

The U.S. Education Department is being urged to close a loophole that has allowed some wealthy families to get federal, state and university funding that’s meant to help needy students.

Federal authorities were notified last year that some parents in Illinois were transferring custody of their children to friends or relatives to make it appear they came from poorer backgrounds. In doing so, they became eligible for scholarships and federal grants that are typically reserved for low-income students.

Disclosure of the practice comes at a time of intense debate over the fairness of college admissions. Earlier this year, federal authorities say they uncovered a sweeping scheme in which wealthy parents paid bribes to get their children into elite universities across the nation.

The latest case was uncovered at the University of Illinois after guidance counselors at nearby high schools caught wind of the scheme and notified the school’s admissions office. University officials soon noticed a pattern of students coming from certain Chicago suburbs with recent guardianship transfers and similar language in their applications. In total, the school says it has identified 14 cases over the last year.

Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions, said that while the strategy appears to be legal, it’s ethically questionable. By tapping into funding for needy students, he said, wealthy families deprive students who legitimately need help. Some of the families were able to obtain state grants that are first-come, first-served, while thousands of other students were turned away.

“Financial aid is not infinite,” he said. “There are students who are eligible for need-based aid who are not receiving their awards because the state runs out.”

The Education Department’s inspector general said it’s aware of the issue and is urging the agency to add new language to its rules to close the loophole. Under the proposed update, changes of guardianship would not be recognized “if a student enters into a legal guardianship but continues to receive medical and financial support from their parents.”

A statement from the department said it’s weighing how to respond.

“Those who break the rules should be held accountable, and the department is committed to assessing what changes can be made — either independently or in concert with Congress — to protect taxpayers from those who seek to game the system for their own financial gain,” according to the statement.

The scheme, which was first reported Monday by Pro Publica and The Wall Street Journal, has been traced to clusters of parents in Chicago suburbs. It’s unclear how widespread the scheme reaches, but Pro Publica reported that students involved have been accepted to schools including the University of Missouri, the University of Wisconsin and Indiana University. Those schools said they’re looking into the issue.

A statement from the University of Wisconsin said it will review all cases of legal guardianship to verify “genuine financial need.” Indiana University said it will contact any involved students and request documentation to verify financial aid eligibility. The University of Missouri said it has a “very small number” of suspected cases but will pull institutional aid from any students who misrepresented their financial status.

News of the scheme is likely to trigger a wave of similar investigations at colleges across the country as officials try to determine the scope, according to admissions and financial aid groups.

“I can guarantee that they are going to start doing some digging on their own campuses to see if they see any patterns,” said Jill Desjean, a policy analyst at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Some parents told Pro Public and The Journal that they transferred custody of their children on the advice of a college consulting firm called Destination College, based in Lincolnshire, Illinois. The company’s website promises to help parents pay for college “in the most efficient and inexpensive way.” The firm did not respond to a request seeking comment.

After having their custody transferred, students can claim they are independent of their families and apply for financial aid using their own earnings rather than their families’. That would typically qualify them for federal Pell Grants, which are capped at about $6,000 a year, and an Illinois state program that provides about $5,000 a year. It could also make them eligible for university scholarships that range as high as the full cost of tuition.

Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, says both the guardianship scheme and the bribery scandal are symptoms of the spiraling cost of college tuition. Still, he denounced the scheme and said it unfairly robs students who need the most help.

“Guardianship laws are designed for when parents are unable or should not be responsible for a child’s well-being,” he said. “It isn’t something that is meant to be traded away in order to beat the system.”

To help spot the scheme, the University of Illinois added new questions for applicants who indicate they’ve had changes in guardianship. They’re now asked who pays their cellphone bills, for example, and their health care costs. But school officials and financial aid experts are wary of making the process overly complicated for students who have undergone legitimate custody transfers.

“We don’t want to see them having to jump through additional hoops,” said Desjean, of the financial aid association. “It could place an extra burden the most vulnerable students who really are in legal guardianship.”

Among the most immediate questions for the University of Illinois is whether to continue providing university aid to students who used the scheme. Officials said they’re still deciding. But when it comes to federal and state aid, the school is legally required to keep that money flowing to eligible families, said Borst, the admissions director.

“We’ve addressed it as much as we are able to legally,” he said. “But we’re still stuck with having to provide federal and state aid to families who are manipulating the financial aid process.”

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Taliban Expects Peace Deal With US in Next Meeting

The Taliban says it is hopeful an agreement will be reached with the United States to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan when the two adversaries meet later this week in Qatar for a crucial round of peace negotiations.

The two sides have worked hard for nearly one year and almost drafted a text in which “we have addressed all major issues,” Suhail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban negotiating team, told VOA.

Taliban negotiators have done their part and it is now up to the American side whether they have “made up their mind” and take the next step of winding up the dialogue process, he asserted.

“We hope to reach an agreement on the troops’ withdrawal,” Shaheen said when asked for his exceptions from the upcoming meeting, though he declined to say when exactly the talks will take place.

FILE – Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad at the U.S. Institute of Peace, in Washington, Feb. 8, 2019.

U.S chief negotiator Zalamay Khalilzad, who has been in Afghanistan for more than a week, tweeted Wednesday that he is heading to Qatar for talks with the Taliban. “In Doha, if the Taliban do their part, we will do ours and conclude the agreement we have been working on.” Khalilzad added that during his stay in Kabul he worked with Afghan leaders to finalize a negotiating team for intra-Afghan talks. Khalilzad said he will stop in neighboring Pakistan before traveling to the Qatari capital.

The draft text outlines a “mutually agreed” timeline for U.S. troops to leave the country in exchange for Taliban guarantees that “Afghan soil, particularly areas under our control” do not become a platform for transnational terrorism, Shaheen said, without sharing specific details.

He said international guarantors, possibly China, Russia, the United Nations, and neighbors of Afghanistan, including Pakistan and Iran, will witness the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement.

U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated he intends to wind down the longest U.S. foreign military intervention, costing Washington an estimated nearly one trillion dollars and more than 2,400 lives of American military personnel.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said President Trump has instructed him to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan by the 2020 election. “He (Trump) has been unambiguous: End the endless wars. Draw down. Reduce. It won’t just be us,” Pompeo noted in some of the clearest comments on the administration’s plans to terminate the war.

Once the agreement between the United States and the Taliban is inked, it will require the insurgents to immediately enter into negotiations with Afghan stakeholders.

The chief Taliban negotiator, Sher Abbas Stanikzai, earlier this month acknowledged while talking to VOA in Doha that issues such as a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire will be taken up in the intra-Afghan talks.

“We are committed that when the final agreement is signed with the Americans for the withdrawal of their troops and the timetable is given and international guarantors are witnessing the final signature, after that we will go to the inter-Afghan dialogue,” Stanikzai explained to VOA.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government has repeatedly said it would have the lead role in conducting the inter-Afghan talks, prompting the Taliban to quickly deny those assertions.

Khalilzad, however, intervened on Saturday to end the confusion by publicly explaining who would be sitting on the negotiating table when intra-Afghan negotiations begin.

“They will take place between the Taliban and an inclusive and effective national negotiating team consisting of senior government officials, key political party representatives, civil society and women,” the Afghan-born U.S. envoy tweeted.

Khalilzad’s statement was yet another major concession to the Taliban who have consistently refused to engage in direct talks with the Ghani administration, dismissing it as “illegitimate and an American puppet.”

The Afghan-born American reconciliation envoy has been in Kabul over the past week and has held at least four meetings with Ghani and talked to key Afghan opposition leaders as well as civil society leaders in his bid to push them to form a representative team for the much-awaited talks with the Taliban to help end decades of bloodshed in the country.

Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace

Neighboring Pakistan, meanwhile, is increasingly taking the center stage in the Afghan peace process for arranging the U.S.-Taliban dialogue and vowing to intensify its role to help bring the process to the logical conclusion.

Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Washington earlier this month and discussed Afghanistan with President Trump. The Pakistani leader promised to personally meet with Taliban leaders to persuade them to go for a negotiated settlement to the war through Afghan-to-Afghan talks.

On Tuesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi welcomed Pompeo’s statement about U.S. military drawdown. He insisted while talking to reporters that Islamabad is moving forward with “honesty and in good faith” to further the Afghan reconciliation process but he dismissed assertions Pakistan alone is responsible for doing so.

“Pakistan is a facilitator. Pakistan is not a guarantor. The onus cannot be on Pakistan alone because it is a shared responsibility. It will be unrealistic for the world to expect that we (Pakistan) have a magic wand and can ensure desired outcomes from this peace process,” Qureshi stressed.

Afghans, however, remain critical of Pakistan’s efforts, alleging the country has sheltered Taliban leaders and helped them sustain insurgent activities on the Afghan side, charges Islamabad rejects.

Pakistan’s ongoing effort to fence its nearly 2,600 kilometer Afghan border, denunciation of continued Taliban violence and promoting a reconciliation process are all aimed at securing peaceful neighborhood, say officials in Islamabad.

“We will cooperate even with the devil for ensuring peace in Afghanistan,” a senior Pakistani security official insisted when asked to respond to allegations Pakistan wants to install a government of its own choice in Kabul like it did in the past by supporting certain Afghan factions.

“Pakistan had coined the phrase, and now continues to urge all sides to faithfully implement the “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led” principle as hopes for peace grow stronger by the day,” observed a senior foreign ministry official with direct knowledge of Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace building efforts.

“Aware of its key role, Pakistan will continue to shoulder its part of the shared responsibility,” he added.

Pakistani officials, however, cautioned in background interviews  that their “core interests and serious concerns cannot be overlooked” as such attempts would cast a shadow on this spirt of cooperation.”

Pakistani officials allege rival India’s growing influence in the Afghan security establishment is behind recent terrorist attacks inside Pakistan and want India’s role restricted to only reconstruction assistance to the war-torn country. New Delhi rarely comments on the Pakistani allegations while the Afghan government rejects them as baseless.  

Sources in Islamabad told VOA senior U.S. State Department diplomat Alice Wells will arrive in Pakistan next week to review Afghan peace efforts in meetings with Pakistani officials.

Wells, the U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of South and Central Asian affairs, is credited with initiating the direct U.S. talks with the Taliban in July 2018. There was no official confirmation available from either side about her upcoming visit, however.

Iran’s possible role to act as a guarantor in the final U.S.-Taliban deal, however, is unclear in the wake of the country’s increased tensions with the United States. Sources tell VOA that Tehran had refused to attend a meeting Beijing hosted in early July of senior Chinese, Russian, American and Pakistani officials to review Afghan peace developments.



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У Росії опозиціонери планують два нові протести після масових затримань 27 липня

У Росії незалежні кандидати на виборах у Московську міську думу закликають своїх прихильників вийти на мирний мітинг у Москві 3 і 10 серпня.

Зокрема, незареєстрована кандидатка Олена Русакова подала заявку на проведення акції протесту 10 серпня, інша кандидатка Любов Соболь написала у фейсбуці, що опозиціонери готуються «до масового, мирного, але регулярного протесту».

Раніше опозиційні кандидати заявили, що вийдуть на акцію протесту і 3 серпня. Заявку на її проведення на Луб’янській площі подали члени Лібертаріанської партії. Московська мерія узгодила мітинг, але на проспекті Сахарова. Організатори не захотіли проводити свою акцію там.

Мерія Москви після цього офіційно попередила партію про відповідальність у разі проведення несанкціонованої акції в іншому місці. А генпрокурор Росії Юрій Чайка доручив вжити «ефективні заходи» для припинення «несанкціонованих акцій та інших порушень закону в період підготовки до виборів».

Слідчий комітет Росії 30 липня порушив кримінальну справу про масові заворушення після протестної акції 27 липня в центрі Москви, що, зокрема, передбачає позбавлення волі на термін до 15 років.

У двох учасників мітингу пройшли обшуки. За даними джерела російського державного агентства новин ТАСС, обшуки проводять співробітники служби із захисту конституційного ладу і боротьби з тероризмом ФСБ Росії, співробітники Головного управління з протидії екстремізму і Центру «Е».

Слідчий комітет 30 липня порушив кримінальну справу про масові заворушення після протестної акції 27 липня в центрі Москви. Ця стаття, зокрема, передбачає позбавлення волі на термін до 15 років.

У Москві 27 липня відбулася акція протесту з вимогою допустити до виборів у Московську міську думу понад 20 незалежних кандидатів. Протести жорстоко розігнали співробітники поліції і Росгвардії, затримали більше ніж 1300 людей, багатьох побили.

Після протестів 27 липня Слідчий комітет також порушив три кримінальні справи.

На 30 липня в судах було зареєстровано 278 адміністративних матеріалів. За 61 із них винесли рішення про адміністративний арешт, по 161 – про штраф.

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