Bonsai trees shaped like rats are popular in Vietnam ahead of Lunar New Year (Source cnn.com) Farmers in Vietnam have come up with a unique way to herald the Year of the Rat. These bonsai trees are shaped to look like rats, and were made to order in small quantities. They take about a year to grow, and a meticulous hand is required to shape them so that all the fruits are exposed. Kumquats — a citrus fruit with a sour tang — are growing on the ornamental trees. And the more ripe fruit a tree has, the higher its price, with the bonsais costing up to $215. It’s believed that the more kumquat fruits on the tree, the luckier your family will be in the new year. The kumquat tree has deep orange-colored fruits, and is a popular ornamental plant in Vietnam and parts of Asia during Lunar New Year because its many fruits symbolize fertility, abundance and luck. It’s believed that the more fruit on the tree, the luckier your family will be in the new year. The first day of the Lunar New Year, known as Tet in Vietnam, falls on January 25 and marks the start of the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac. Many people who celebrate the festival prepare by spring cleaning and decorating their homes.
Australia’s ‘Apocalyptic’ Bushfire Crisis (Source thetrumpet.com) Fires continue to ravage Australia as it suffers through an unprecedented fire season. Over 100 fires are burning across 13 million acres of land, an area much larger than Denmark. The fires have destroyed more than 1,300 homes and killed 18 people. With dozens of fires still out of control and weather conditions worsening, the death toll is expected to rise. On Monday, 28-year-old Samuel McPaul became the 10th firefighter to die when his 12-ton fire truck was lifted into the air and slammed down onto its roof by a fire tornado in New South Wales. The two colleagues with him escaped with severe burns and injuries. Another fire truck suffered the same fate, but its firefighters survived. The New South Wales fire commissioner described Monday’s condition as “truly horrific.” On Tuesday, to the south of New South Wales in Mallacoota, Victoria, fires trapped citizens before they had time to evacuate. Four thousand holiday-makers and locals took refuge on the beach, trapped by blazes that encircled them. Boat owners took to the water for safety; many others entered the water for protection from the ember showers and heat. Images from Mallacoota are eerie. Thick smoke has turned day into night, and the area is blanketed by a thick red haze. Mallacoota resident Francesca Winterson described the situation: “We are surrounded by red sky, choking dust and choking smoke, and embers falling on the town.” Authorities warn that the fires are causing extreme thunderstorms and “ember attacks.”
Russian warship ‘aggressively approached’ US destroyer in Arabian Sea(Source CNN)
“On Thursday, Jan. 9, while conducting routine operations in the North Arabian Sea, USS Farragut was aggressively approached by a Russian Navy ship,” the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which oversees naval operations in the Middle East, said in a statement. “Farragut sounded five short blasts, the international maritime signal for danger of a collision, and requested the Russian ship alter course in accordance with international rules of the road. The Russian ship initially refused but ultimately altered course,” the statement said, adding “While the Russian ship took action, the initial delay in complying with international rules while it was making an aggressive approach increased the risk of collision.” The Russian vessel ultimately turned away after bridge-to-bridge radio communication was established with the US destroyer.
A US Navy official says that the Farragut is part of the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier group and the Farragut is tasked with intercepting potential enemy ships to prevent them from approaching the aircraft carrier. The Russian Defense Ministry responded Friday by accusing the USS Farragut of conducting dangerous maneuvers. The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the US Navy’s claim “doesn’t correspond with reality,” and accused the crew of the USS Farragut of acting “unprofessionally.” “It was the US Navy destroyer, being on the left of the Russian warship that was moving forward, grossly violated international rules for preventing collisions of ships at sea on January 9, 2020, having made a maneuver to cross the Russian ship’s course,” the statement said.
“The crew of the Russian warship acted professionally, taking a maneuver that prevented a collision with the intruder vessel,” the Russian Defense Ministry added. Russia responded similarly after the encounter in June, claiming it was the US ship that instigated the incident, according to comments carried by the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency. “When moving (on) parallel courses of a detachment of ships of the Pacific Fleet and a carrier group of the US Navy, the cruiser Chancellorsville suddenly changed its direction and crossed within 50 meters of the Admiral Vinogradov,” forcing the Russian destroyer to take emergency evasive action, the RIA-Novosti report said.
US allies see Mideast strategy vacuum that Putin can fill (Source Associated Press)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has had a busy week, stepping into the aftermath of the American drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Putin’s visit Tuesday to Syria was emblematic of a reality that has been playing out in recent months: The U.S. strategic position in the Middle East is a mystery to many of its allies, and Russia is more than ready to fill any vacuum.
The shift has, in many ways, left U.S. allies in a bind — or turning to Russia themselves in search of a partner. Putin was the first world leader French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with just after learning about the drone strike on Friday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, is traveling to the Kremlin to discuss the crisis in the Mideast.
Canada, Denmark and Germany moved their troops in Iraq to safety, as did NATO, which has forces stationed there as part of the international coalition against the Islamic State group. There was no sign that any had been warned by the Trump administration of the drone strike. Coalition activities froze, and NATO’s secretary-general described the killing as “a U.S. decision. It is not a decision taken by either the global coalition nor NATO. But all allies are concerned about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.”
The base targeted in northern Iraq was filled with coalition troops. Putin offered an alternative to perceived chaos. “Unfortunately, the situation in the region we are in tends to escalate. But Turkey and Russia are demonstrating different examples – examples of cooperation for the sake of our nations and all of Europe,” he said in Turkey.
U.S. Officials Say It’s ‘Highly Likely’ Iranian Missile Downed Ukrainian Plane (Source Time) U.S. and Canadian officials have said it is “highly likely” that an antiaircraft missile strike caused the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines operated Boeing 737 in Iran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board. Two U.S. officials, anonymously citing U.S. intelligence, told the Associated Press that it’s possible the aircraft was mistaken as a threat and then struck by Iran. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Thursday that intelligence from multiple sources shows the plane was shot down. At least 63 Canadians were on the aircraft. “The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Trudeau said. President Donald Trump dismissed Iran’s initial explanation that a mechanical error caused the crash while speaking at the White House earlier on Thursday, though he did not directly blame Iran for the crash. “It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood, and somebody could have made a mistake,” Trump said. “Some people say it was mechanical. I personally don’t think that’s even a question.” The comments from intelligence officials, Trudeau and Trump come after Ukrainian officials said Thursday that they are considering a missile strike as one of many possible reasons for the crash. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, told Ukranian media that officials had not ruled out a strike, the AP reported.
THE FINAL CHAPTER IN THE DECLINE OF US IMPERIAL DOMINANCE HAS BEGUN (Source blacklistednews.com)
We need to understand the U.S. is now at war with Iran. It’s an undeclared, insane and unconstitutional war, but it is war nonetheless. There is no world in which one government intentionally assassinates the top general of another government and that not be warfare. You can argue the U.S. and Iran were already engaged in low-level proxy wars, and that’s a fair assessment, but you can’t say we aren’t currently in far more serious a state of war. We are.
Soleimani was not only a powerful general, he was a popular figure within Iran. Unlike other blows the U.S. and Iran have inflicted upon one another, this cannot be walked back. There’s no deescalation from here, only escalation. Even if you want to pretend this didn’t happen and turn back the clock, it’s impossible. This is a major event of historical proportions and should be seen as such. Everything has been turned up a notch. Before discussing what happens next and the big picture implications, it’s worth pointing out the incredible number of blatant lies and overall clownishness that emerged from U.S. officials in the assassination’s aftermath. It started with claims from Trump that Soleimani was plotting imminent attacks on Americans and was caught in the act. Mass media did its job and uncritically parroted this line, which was quickly exposed as a complete falsehood. The assassination of Soleimani kicks off the beginning of the final chapter in the decline of U.S. imperial dominance. It will likely play out over the course of the first part of this decade (2020-2025), and by the time it’s over it’ll be undeniable that the U.S. is no longer the global hegemon it once was.
‘A terrible time to be poor’: Cuts to SNAP benefits will hit 700,000 hungry Americans (Source usatoday.com) Alisa Holteen likes to play a game where she imagines a life different from the ones she’s living. “What would it be like,” she wonders, “to never have to worry about money?” She posed this question recently at the homeless camp where she lives in Northeast Portland, chatting with friends outside her tent about what it would be like to have an unlimited supply of cash. Certainly, they’d always be warm and clean and have a roof over their heads, they agreed. Perhaps best of all, she recalled wistfully, she’d never go hungry.
Holteen, 32, is one of an estimated 36 million Americans on food stamps, a federal benefits program that President Donald Trump’s administration wants to cut dramatically.
There are lots of potential changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on the table, but earlier this month the Trump administration announced the first major change will be implemented early next year, limiting benefits available to able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49 – like Holteen – who do not have dependents. The change will not affect children and their parents, people over 50, people with disabilities or pregnant women. Hunger is a problem across the U.S., with 37 million people suffering from food insecurity. That means roughly 1 in 10 Americans are hungry. And nearly one-third, or 11 million, are children.
The Crumbling of America(Source globalresearch.ca)
The American society of Civil Engineers produced a comprehensive evaluation report on America’s entire infrastructure, which gave all but one item category a “D” grade, meaning unsatisfactory, inadequate, and in danger of failing. The list included drinking water, wastewater treatment and handling, the electric power grid, airports and aviation facilities, rail facilities and transportation, inland waterway transportation, roads and highways, bridges, dams, hazardous waste, schools and transit. Each category received a D. More than 4,000 dams in America were classified as unsafe and dangerous by the American Society of Civil Engineers, who noted that failures were increasing at a disturbing rate with about 40% of all US dam failures since 1875 having occurred in only the last ten years. In one year, 2004, in only one county in New Jersey, 30 different dams failed or were severely damaged due to heavy rainfall. In only one 5-year period ending in 2006, 130 major dams failed and the US experienced 1,000 of what the engineers called “dam incidents” which revealed deficiencies so serious as to threaten the integrity of the dam. In one major case, the US saved a dam only by opening the flood gates and releasing all the water. Engineers claim the number of unsafe dams is increasing much faster than those being repaired.
Before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, engineers wanted to rebuild the levees to prevent their collapse, but the $1 billion cost was unaffordable. After Katrina, the federal government had to spend $17 billion on a poor-quality repair, leaving many of the original problems unresolved.
The US has more than 300,000 Kms (186,411.358 miles) of highways, most of which were built in the 1940s and 1950s and which have seldom received adequate maintenance. In Washington, the nation’s capital, 65% of all roads and highways today require either substantial and expensive overhaul or total replacement. Many US states today are tearing out their hard-surfaced highways, and reverting to gravel and dirt-surfaced roads that were common in the 1950s, since the highways, like the bridges, are nearing the end of their useful lives but no money is available for the expensive repairs.
A PLATEFUL OF PLASTIC: VISUALISING THE AMOUNT OF MICROPLASTIC WE EAT(Source Reuters) Microscopic pieces of plastic have been discovered in the most remote locations, from the depths of the ocean to Arctic ice. Another place that plastic is appearing is inside our bodies. We’re breathing microplastic, eating it and drinking plastic-infused water every day. Plastic does not biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into smaller pieces, and ultimately ends up everywhere, including in the food chain. Pieces that are less than five millimeters in length, around the size of a sesame seed, are called “microplastics.” Dozens of reports have been published on microplastics but the scientific community is still only scratching the surface of understanding just how much plastic we consume and how harmful it could be. People could be ingesting the equivalent of a credit card of plastic a week, a recent study by WWF International concluded, mainly in drinking water but also via sources like shellfish, which tend to be eaten whole so the plastic in their digestive systems is also consumed.
Australia’s Wildfire Crisis: Key Numbers Behind the Disaster(Source Bloomberg)
Australia is in the grip of deadly wildfires burning across the country. The unprecedented scale of the crisis, and images of terrified tourists sheltering on beaches from the infernos, has shocked many Australians. With summer only just beginning and the nation affected by a prolonged drought, authorities fear the death toll will continue to mount as more homes and land are destroyed. Here are some key details of the crisis. Since the fire season began months ago during the southern hemisphere winter, 20 people have died and with 28 people missing in Victoria state, authorities fear the death toll will rise. Among the fatalities are volunteer firefighters, including a young man who died when his 10-ton truck was flipped over in what officials have described as a “fire tornado.” Australia’s worst wildfires came in 2009 when the Black Saturday blazes left 180 people dead. Massive tracts of land have burned. More than 12 million acres have been destroyed — that’s more than twice the size of Wales, and larger than Denmark. In New South Wales state alone, 8.9 million acres of forest and bush has been destroyed, while more than 1.8 million acres has been burned in Victoria. The fires are so large they are generating their own weather systems and causing dry lightning strikes that in turn ignite more. One blaze northwest of Sydney, the Gospers Mountain fire, has destroyed more than 1.2 million acres — about seven times the size of Singapore. The scale of the blazes dwarfs the California wildfires in 2018, which destroyed about 1.7 million acres, and about 260,000 acres in 2019.