Top News Stories for Today – March 20, 2017
Gorsuch Supreme Court confirmation hearings
US Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on Judge Neil Gorsuch, nominated by Trump to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat, today. Gorsuch is expected to make his first comments on Monday afternoon, after opening statements from members of the Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday and Wednesday, each senator gets at least 50 minutes to question the conservative federal appellate judge from Colorado, and witnesses will speak for or against Gorsuch on Wednesday and Thursday.
GOPs are united in their support for Gorsuch, while no Democrats have said they will vote for him. Democrats are angry that Republicans blocked any consideration of Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by former Obama a year ago. The Washington Post
Japan Russia discus security and territorial dispute
The foreign and defense ministers from Japan and Russia met in Tokyo on Monday, with both sides expressing hope that discussions on joint development of islands claimed by both countries might help them move closer to resolving the territorial dispute preventing them from forging a peace treaty. The one-day meeting is largely focusing on regional security, especially how best to deal with North Korea’s launches of missiles and its nuclear program.
Joint efforts in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking were also on the agenda. The Tokyo talks are not expected to lead to a breakthrough on conflicting claims to islands north of Hokkaido — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islets — that came under Russian control after Japan’s defeat in World War Two. VOA
FBI and NSA to testify on Trump Russia
On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee is holding a rare public hearing, with FBI Director James Comey and NSA chief Adm. Mike Rogers expected to face questions about Russia’s involvement in the US election, any ties between Russia and President Trump’s campaign, who leaked information to the media about Trump campaign communications with Russia, and whether there is any evidence to back up Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama had his Trump Tower phones wiretapped.
Comey is expected to say there is no evidence Trump’s phones were tapped, but nobody is sure what other questions he will answer. Democrats are most eager to discuss any connections between Trump and Russia while Republicans are focused on who has been disclosing potentially classified information. The New York Times, BBC News, The Week
Theresa May to trigger Brexit process next week
Prime Minister Theresa May is to officially notify the European Union next Wednesday that the UK is leaving. Downing Street said she would write a letter to the European Council, adding that it expected negotiations on the terms of exit and future relations to then begin as quickly as possible.
The move comes nine months after a referendum in which the UK voted to leave by a margin of 51.9% to 48.1%. An EU spokesman said it was “ready and waiting” for the letter. Under the Article 50 process, talks on the terms of exit and future relations are not allowed until the UK formally tells the EU it is leaving. If all goes according to the two year negotiations set out in the official Article 50 timetable, Brexit should happen in March 2019. BBC
North Korean rocket engine test meaningful
South Korean officials say North Korea’s latest rocket-engine test showed “meaningful” advancement in engine function. North Korea ground-tested a new high-thrust rocket engine, the country’s official news agency KCNA said on Sunday. The test consisted of firing the rocket engine while it was held in place on the ground, not powering a missile. The ignition took place at the Tongchang-ri rocket launch station near the North’s border with China, according to KCNA, which said Kim went to the site at dawn.
The state news agency quoted Kim as saying the new “high-thrust engine would help consolidate the scientific and technological foundation to match the world-level satellite delivery capability in the field of outer space development.” This also indicated the engine being tested was likely intended for use in long-range missiles. VOA
Germany to Trump: we don’t owe NATO money
Germany’s defense minister has rejected claims from US President Donald Trump that her country owes NATO “vast sums of money.” In a statement released on Sunday, Ursula von der Leyen said “there is no debt account in NATO. To relate the 2% defense spending that we want to reach in the next decade solely to NATO is wrong.
“The defense spending also goes to UN-peace mission, into European missions and towards our contributions to the fight against ISIS terrorism.” Von der Leyen was responding to claims by Trump that some NATO allies owe money after not meeting defense spending targets. In its recent annual report, NATO estimated that Germany spent 1.2% of its GDP on defense in 2016, a figure that is expected to rise in 2017 and beyond. CNN
Germany to use new technology to detect origin of refugees
According to a report by Die Welt, Germany will soon employ voice recognition technology to find out the origin of refugees. The technology recognizes the dialect of the refugees and detects the region they are most likely to belong.
Banking and Insurance industries have been using voice recignition based softwares to identify refugees. The software analyzes the dialect of refugees on the basis of registered speech samples. It will help the authorities to find out of the refugee is coming from a war affected region and truly needs shelter. Germany has been using linguistic experts to analyze dialects and determine countries of origin since 1998, according to Deutsche Welle. But experts have expressed doubts over whether computers would be able to reliably perform such analysis. wccftech
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- Britain and the European Union after Brexit