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Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

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Biden Slammed as Weak for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

US President Biden has been slammed as weak after Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer was exchanged for WNBA star Brittney Griner. Bout is widely known abroad as the “Merchant of Death,” fueling some of the world’s worst conflicts.

In Russia, however, he’s seen as a swashbuckling businessman who was unjustly imprisoned after an overly aggressive U.S. sting operation. In 2008, one of the world’s leading illegal arms dealers was apprehended in Thailand on suspicion of supplying weapons to a Colombian rebel group.

Victor Bout is a former Soviet air force officer who gained fame supposedly by supplying weapons for civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa.

The 41-year-old former Russian KGB officer allegedly sold weapons to anyone willing to pay, including Taliban forces and various warring factions in more than a dozen African countries.

Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement the swap took place in Abu Dhabi, and Russian TV showed a video of Bout in a private jet, getting his blood pressure checked and speaking with his family by phone.

It later showed his arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, with his wife and mother hugging him.

“They simply woke me up and told me to gather my belongings,” Bout said, referring to U.S. prison officials. “They didn’t provide any special information, but I understood the unfolding situation.”

Tass reported that Bout’s mother, Raisa, thanked President Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Ministry for freeing her son.

Russia had pushed for Bout’s release for years, and as speculation about a deal grew, the upper house of parliament opened a display of paintings he created while imprisoned, ranging from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to a kitten.

The show of his art underlined Bout’s complexities. Though in a bloody business, the 55-year-old was a vegetarian and classical music fan who is said to speak six languages.

Even the former federal judge who sentenced him in 2011 to 11 years in prison was sufficient punishment.

“He’s done enough time for what he did in this case,” Shira A. Scheindlin told The Associated Press in July as prospects for his release appeared to rise.

Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

Griner, arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were discovered in her luggage, was sentenced to nine years in August.

Washington protested her sentence as disproportionate, and some observers suggested that trading an arms merchant for someone jailed for a small number of drugs would be a poor deal.

Bout was convicted in 2011 on terrorism charges. Prosecutors said he was willing to sell weapons worth up to $20 million, including surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down US helicopters. When they claimed at his sentencing in 2012, Bout yelled, “It’s a lie! ”

Bout has maintained his innocence throughout, describing himself as a legitimate businessman who did not sell weapons.

Bout’s case fits well into Moscow’s narrative that Washington sought to trap and oppress innocent Russians on flimsy grounds.

“From the resonant Bout case, a real ‘hunt’ by Americans for Russian citizens around the world has unfolded,” the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta wrote last year.

Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

Russia has increasingly cited his case as a human rights issue. His wife and lawyer claimed his health deteriorated in the harsh prison environment where foreigners are not always eligible for breaks that Americans might receive.

Bout had not been scheduled to be released until 2029. He was held in a medium-security facility in Marion, Illinois.

“He got a hard deal,” said Scheindlin, the retired judge, noting the U.S. sting operatives “put words in his mouth” so he’d say he was aware Americans could die from weapons he sold to require a terrorism enhancement that would force a long prison sentence, if not a life term.

Scheindlin gave Bout the mandatory minimum 25-year sentence but said she did so only because it was required.

At the time, his defence lawyer claimed the U.S. targeted Bout vindictively because it was embarrassing that his companies helped deliver goods to American military contractors involved in the war in Iraq.

The deliveries took place despite UN sanctions imposed on Bout in 2001 due to his reputation as a notorious illegal arms dealer.

Prosecutors had urged Scheindlin to sentence Bout to life in prison, claiming that if he was right to call himself a businessman, “he was a businessman of the most dangerous order.”

Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

When Bout was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, in March 2008, his net worth was estimated to be around $6 billion. Authorities in the United States duped him into leaving Russia for what he thought was a business meeting to ship what prosecutors described as “a breathtaking arsenal of weapons — including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns, and sniper rifles — 10 million rounds of ammunition, and five tons of plastic explosives.”

He was apprehended at a Bangkok luxury hotel following conversations with Drug Enforcement Administration informants posing as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as the FARC. Washington had classified the group as a narco-terrorist group.

He was extradited to the U.S. in November 2010.

A high-ranking Foreign Office minister bestowed the moniker “Merchant of Death” on Bout. The nickname was mentioned in Bout’s indictment by the US government.

Biden was Slammed as weak on Twitter.

Critics slammed the Biden administration’s deal to bring WNBA player Brittney Griner back to the United States after she was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on drug-related charges.

In addition to critics claiming Russian President Vladimir Putin gained an advantage in this deal by regaining control of its “Merchant of Death,” they chastised Biden for failing to return U.S. Paul Whelan, a Marine veteran.

Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges and is serving a 16-year sentence.

On Twitter, critics slammed the entire transaction, with some calling it the worst trade they’d ever seen.

In a Thursday morning tweet, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy slammed the trade, writing, “This is great news until you Google Victor Bout and realizes Biden just got taken to the woodshed on this deal. This has to go down as the most lopsided trade in history. What happened to Griner was beyond f—-ed, but this feels like a short-sighted PR stunt.”

Sports journalist and conservative podcaster Jason Whitlock was not impressed with the trade either, commenting, “Help me wrap my mind around this Griner-for-Death trade.

Is this one of the lowest points in US foreign policy history, or am I exaggerating? Please provide some context: what compares? Bay of BIG 2.0?”

“While it’s nice that Griner is home,” former CIA member John Sipher tweeted, “we need to be honest. This is playing Putin’s game. Bout was an actual criminal charged through a credible legal process recognized worldwide. Griner was a hostage taken to extort us.”

RedState author Bonchie tweeted, “To accomplish this, you put a murderous arms dealer back on the street and left the US Marine who has been there three years out of the deal. Griner shouldn’t have been sentenced to nine years, but bragging like this? That’s pretty gross.”

National Review correspondent Jim Geraghty slammed President Biden’s tweet promoting the swap. He tweeted, “And all it cost the U.S. was putting the world’s most notorious arms dealer, with a near-ocean of blood on his hands, who equipped armies of child soldiers and sold weapons to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, back on the metaphorical streets.”

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THAILAND: Rescue Dig Saves Toddler Trapped In Well For One Night

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BANGKOK, Thailand — A 19-month-old girl fell into a dry artesian well shaft at a cassava farm in northern Thailand 18 hours before she was saved. It took rescuers all night to get her out.

Rescuers clapped and cheered as the toddler, the daughter of Myanmar migrant workers, was pulled from the 15-meter (49-foot)-deep well shaft and placed on a stretcher that carried her to an ambulance waiting nearby.

“You guys did an excellent job. “We did it!” exclaimed one rescuer as his colleagues wept and hugged each other in Tak province’s Phop Phra district.

While her parents were working at the plantation, the child fell into the hole late Monday afternoon.

thailand rescue

Rescuers In Thailand Were On The Scene Quickly

The deep pit, dug by the landowner to be an artesian well, was left uncovered after it failed to reach groundwater, according to Phop Phra district chief Sanya Phetset on Tuesday.

According to local media, the first rescuers on the scene shouted down the hole and heard the child cry back. After lowering a camera into the hole to assess the situation, a tube was snaked to provide oxygen.

Using backhoes and other excavation tools, rescuers dug a 30-centimeter-wide trench alongside the pit overnight.

thailand rescue

The Child Is Now Safe And Sound

“At first, it appeared to be a simple operation because it appeared to be loose dirt, but once we started digging, we discovered rock, which made it difficult because excavators cannot dig through it,” Sanya explained.

He explained that the operation was risky because the digging could collapse the well’s sides onto the child.

After being carried to safety, the toddler was immediately taken to Phop Phra Hospital in Thailand.

“She is now safe. “She’s a little tired, but nothing serious,” Sanya explained.

SOURCE – (AP)

 

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Pope Francis Clarifies his Remarks on Homosexuality and Sin

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Pope Francis Clarifies his Remarks on Homosexuality and Sin

Pope Francis has clarified his recent remarks about homosexuality and sin, stating that he was referring to official Catholic moral teaching, which states that any sexual act other than marriage is a sin.

In a Friday note, Francis emphasized that even black-and-white teaching is subject to circumstances that may eliminate the sin.

Francis made the remarks in an interview with The Associated Press on January 24, stating that laws criminalizing homosexuality are “unjust” and that “being homosexual is not a crime.”

As he often does, Francis then imagined a conversation with someone who brought up the issue of the church’s official teaching, which states that homosexual acts are sinful or “intrinsically disordered.”

“All right, but first, let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime,” Francis said in the fictitious conversation. “It is also a sin not to be charitable to one another.”

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Pope asked for Clarification.

LGBTQ advocates hailed his comments calling for decriminalizing homosexuality as a watershed moment that would help end harassment and violence against LGBTQ people. However, his use of the word “sin” raised questions about whether he believed that simply being gay was a sin in and of itself.

The Reverand James Martin, an American priest who runs the Outreach ministry for LGBTQ Catholics in the United States, asked Francis for clarification and published the pope’s handwritten response late Friday on the Outreach website.

In his note, Francis reiterated that homosexuality “is not a crime” and that he was trying “to emphasize that criminalization is neither good nor just.”

“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which states that every sexual act other than marriage is a sin,” Francis wrote in Spanish, emphasizing the final phrase.

However, in a nod to his case-by-case approach to pastoral ministry, Francis noted that even teaching is subject to the circumstances, “which may decrease or eliminate the fault.”

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Sex is a Sin, as is Any Sexual Act

He admitted he could have been more specific in his comments to the AP. However, he stated that he was using “natural and conversational language” in the interview, which did not necessitate precise definitions.

“As you can see, I was generally repeating something. ‘Sex is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of the bonds of holy marriage,’ I should have said. This is to speak of ‘the matter’ of sexual sin, but we all know that Catholic morality considers not only the matter but also freedom and intention, and this for all types of sin,” he said.

According to Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws, 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalize same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty. According to experts, even when laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigma, and violence against LGBTQ people.

According to Catholic teaching, marriage is a lifelong bond between a man and a woman. It restricts intercourse with married couples and prohibits artificial contraception.

During his decade-long pontificate, Francis has upheld that teaching while prioritizing outreach to LGBTQ people.

Pope Francis has emphasized a more merciful approach to applying church doctrine, preferring to accompany rather than judge people.

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US General Tells His Officers to Prepare for War with China in 2025

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US General Tells His Officers to Prepare for War with China in 2025

In an internal memo, a four-star general in the United States Air Force stated that the US and China risk going to war in two years and advised officers under his command to prepare, including with target practice.

According to NBC, General Mike Minihan, head of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, believes the fight will take place in 2025 but hopes he is wrong. He claimed that presidential elections in the United States and Taiwan in 2024 would allow China to take action against Taiwan.

According to NBC, a Defense Department official stated that the remarks do not represent the Pentagon’s position on China. According to an Air Mobility Command spokesperson, the memo is part of the command’s effort to prepare for conflict if deterrence fails.

The administration of President Joe Biden has repeatedly expressed concern about China’s military buildup and what the US perceives to be a more aggressive Chinese stance toward Taiwan.

According to the administration’s national security strategy, China is the only US competitor “with the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do so.”

China has slammed the latest US defense spending bill, which allows up to $10 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan, for exaggerating the China threat and meddling in its internal affairs.

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Blinken Conerned Over Taiwan and China

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern about Beijing’s intentions regarding Taiwan as he prepares for a rare visit to Beijing, China.

When asked if the temperature had cooled with China during a visit to the University of Chicago, Blinken replied, “I think so because when you’re talking and engaging, it tends to have that effect.”

“The rest of the world anticipates that we will manage this relationship responsibly. “They understand that how we manage it will also impact them,” he said.

According to Taipei Times, Blinken will visit Beijing from February 5 to 6, marking the first US secretary of state visit to the rising Asian power since October 2018.

The trip was decided after US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping () met in November in Bali, Indonesia, to discuss wide-ranging disagreements between the world’s two largest economies.

Blinken, on the other hand, expressed concern about Taiwan, citing Beijing’s growing efforts to isolate the country and major military exercises conducted near it in August.

“What we’ve seen over the last few years is, I believe, China deciding that it was no longer comfortable with the status quo, a status quo that had prevailed for decades and had been successful in terms of our countries’ relationship and managing what a difficult situation is,” he said.

“What we say to China is that — they say this is a sovereign issue for us; we respond that this is an interest to the United States and countries all over the world,” Blinken said, referring to Taiwan’s dominance in semiconductors, which is critical to the global economy.

Any disruption of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait would be disastrous for the global economy, he said, adding that 50 percent of container ships operating around the world pass through the Taiwan Strait and that Taiwan manufactures 70 percent of higher-end computer chips.

Blinken was in Chicago for a trip that included a stop at the city’s historic Ukrainian community to discuss the response to Russia’s invasion.

By: Geoff Thomas

China Records 1st Population Drop In Decades As Births Fall

China Records 1st Population Drop In Decades As Births Fall

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