The HINDU Notes – 17th May 2019 - VISION

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Friday, May 17, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 17th May 2019

📰 U.S. President Donald Trump announces new points-based green card system

Education, language skills to be rewarded in new proposal

•U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a proposal that will include significant changes to the way green cards are allocated, by dramatically reducing the number of family-based green cards and moving towards a points-based (“merit-based”) system that will reward, among other factors, education, skills and English language proficiency. The plan, which the President outlined at a Rose Garden gathering, with senior administration officials and influential Hill Republicans in attendance, sought to boost border security and tighten asylum procedures.

•Mr. Trump’s new plan, details of which had already been reported widely in the U.S. media before the announcement, will dramatically increase the number of green cards that are given through the skills route versus the family-based route. However, the overall number of green cards, just over 1.1 million in 2017, will remain the same.

•Currently about 12% of those receiving green cards entered the U.S. based on skill-based visas (such as the H1B), while some 66% are family-based green cards. The new proposal will increase skills-based green cards to 57%. Points will be awarded to applicants based on their education, work experience, age (more points for younger workers), English language ability etc. New immigrants will have to show that they can financially support themselves and will need to pass a civics exam.

•Mr Trump also announced that there would be a new “Build America” visa – details of which were not provided on Thursday. His Rose Garden speech made references to foreign workers displacing low income Americans’ jobs and highly valuable graduates leaving America to start companies in their own countries because they could not get a visa in America.

•People given Green Cards on humanitarian and diversity grounds will now only constitute 10% of all Green Card recipients, according to a handout given to the press at the end of the Rose Garden event. Currently, the diversity lottery offers 50,000 green cards to under-represented groups each year.

•The proposals, if they eventually turn into law, are likely to have a significant impact on Indians who interact with the U.S. immigration system. A large majority (over 70%) of H1B visas, for skilled workers, went to Indians in fiscal year 2018. Many of these are eventually converted to green cards. Indian residents getting green cards have been in the range of 57,000-62,000 in the 2015-2017 period.

•However, it is far from clear that a shift towards a points-based system will make the prospects of Indian skilled migrants wanting to settle in the U.S. easier, as bringing family members over, especially elderly parents, may get more complicated. Mr Trump said that spouses and children will be prioritized under the new system.

•"If Trump's plan became law, millions of U.S. citizens and permanent residents—including those who first arrived as H-1B workers—would no longer be able live in America with their parents and children,” Doug Rand, who worked on immigration in the Obama White House and is now co-founder of Boundless Immigration, a firm that helps immigrants get green cards and U.S. citizenship, told The Hindu.

•“But this has no chance of becoming law—it's just a cynical PR move that pays lip service to high-skill immigration even as the Trump administration is systematically dismantling high-skill immigration with every tool at its disposal,” Mr Rand said. The Trump administration has made regulation around legal immigration more stringent, such as by seeking to clamp down on work-permits for spouses of migrants.

•The second part of the White House proposal seeks to reduce illegal migration to the U.S. by building “physical barriers” in sections of the southern border with Mexico. It will also make it harder for individuals to claim asylum (which is a right under U.S. and international law). It will create a border security trust fund , which is funded by fees collected at the border, Mr Trump said.

•The White House immigration plan was designed, as per reports, by Mr Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller, senior advisor to Mr Trump, who is considered a right-wing immigration hardliner .

•The proposal seeks to bring Republicans together around the immigration debate that will be a focus in the 2020 Presidential elections. However it is by no means a given that it appeal to the Republicans. Mr Kushner and Mr Miller lobbied Congressional Republicans earlier this week and reportedly failed to get strong support.

•It is even less certain that Democrats will support the bill. Based on details currently available, the proposal also does not appear to address concerns the Democrats have with current asylum laws. It also remains silent on how to deal with the status of millions of “dreamers”, individuals who were brought into the U.S. illegally as minors.

•“The idea that for every immigrant they help, they “hurt one, all of that is no good,” the New York Times quoted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as saying.

•“Don’t come up with a plan that Stephen Miller rubber stamps and say, ‘Now pass it.’ It’s not going to happen,” Mr Schumer said.

•“I don’t think it’s designed to get Democratic support as much as it is to unify the Republican Party around border security, a negotiating position,” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said. Mr Graham released his own immigration proposal on Wednesday.

📰 Pact will aid information exchange to fight terrorism, says U.S. Admiral

John M. Richardson speaks on sidelines of Asia-Pacific event

•India and the U.S. are cooperating to prevent all forms of terrorism both from land and sea, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John M. Richardson said on Thursday.

•The Admiral, who was in India earlier this week on a three-day visit, said Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba and he were especially concerned by the threat “coming from the sea”.

Foundational agreement

•Adm. Richardson said the foundational agreement, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which India signed last year would enable exchange of information on such threats.

•“We can constantly share information that we have. That will help in situational awareness in fighting terror,” he said in response to a pre-submitted question from The Hindu . He was addressing a teleconference from Singapore on the sidelines of the three-day Asia-Pacific naval and maritime event, International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX).

•With COMCASA, India has signed three of the four foundational agreements with the U.S., and discussions are under way on the final one, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA). COMCASA allows India to procure specialised equipment for encrypted communications from the U.S. origin military platforms.

Indian warships

•Two warships, INS Kolkata and INS Shakti , are also participating in IMDEX as also several Indian engineering and ship-building firms, including the Larsen & Toubro and the BrahMos aerospace corporation.

•After IMDEX, the Indian ships along with a Navy P-8I long range maritime surveillance aircraft will participate in the 26th edition of the Singapore India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (SIMBEX) scheduled from May 16 to 22. SIMBEX is the longest uninterrupted naval exercise that India has with any other country, the Navy said.

📰 Iran, India discuss visa extension

Talks held in the wake of sanctions

•Two days after the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, India held the 11th Consular Committee Meeting with Iran on Thursday which dealt with smoothing visa and legal matters essential for bilateral ties.

•Both sides went ahead with the talks, even as Saudi Arabia blamed Tehran for a drone attack on Saudi oil installations on May 14.

•However, indicating a balancing act, India issued a statement on Thursday, “strongly” condemning the attack.

•“Both sides discussed issues of mutual interest, including early conclusion of Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance on civil and commercial matters, extending longer duration of e-Visa for each others’ nationals on reciprocity and visa facilitation for greater people-to-people contact,” a press release issued by the External Affairs Ministry said.

•Iran at present provides visa-on-arrival to Indian travellers which is given as a paper visa. Iranian visas are also given to Indians online and through missions.

•Joint Secretary in charge of consular affairs Amit Narang from India and Ali Asghar Mohammadi, Director General of Consular Affairs of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led the two delegations at the talks here.

Travel concerns

•Iran has been conducting talks with various countries for bilateral visa arrangements to help facilitate smooth travel as the country is facing U.S. government-backed international sanctions that can potentially affect the free movement of business travellers. India offers e-visa facilities to Iranian travellers. It is understood that Iran wants longer duration e-visas from India.

•India seemed to be carefully balancing its moves with the Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, and issued a statement in support of Saudi concerns after talks with Iran. “We strongly condemn the drone attack on oil installations in Saudi Arabia. We reiterate our resolve to fight terrorism,” the official spokesperson said.

📰 ‘Local language criteria for jobs mandatory’

Influential Assam NGO issues diktat

•An influential literary organisation in Assam has issued a diktat, saying people who don’t know Assamese or any other indigenous language will not be allowed to work in the State.

•The Assam Sahitya Sabha, established in 1917, has given the Sarbananda Sonowal government a month to make the schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education introduce any recognised indigenous language as the third language up to Class 12.

Resistance in the past

•The NGO asked private universities such as Don Bosco University that have allegedly resisted using a local language as a medium of instruction to fall in line. The government should take punitive action if they doesn’t take action, it said.

Protection of identity

•“We have served notice under the provisions of the Assam Accord [of 1985 that ended a six-year agitation for ejecting illegal migrants]. The Centre should have made an effort to protect the cultural and linguistic identity of the indigenous people. We have to protect our identity,” Assam Sahitya Sabha president Paramananda Rajbongshi said in a statement on Thursday.

📰 India gives 2 attack copters to Afghanistan

Two more to be sent as replacement
•India on Thursday handed over two Mi-24 attack helicopters to Afghanistan.

•“These helicopters are a replacement for the four attack helicopters gifted by India to Afghanistan in 2015. The Mi-24 helicopters shall boost the capability of the Afghan Air Force (AAF) and enhance the effectiveness of the Afghan National Defence and Security Force in combating the scourge of terrorism,” the Indian Embassy in Kabul said in a statement.

•The helicopters were formally handed over by Indian Ambassador Vinay Kumar to the Minister of National Defence of Afghanistan, Asadullah Khalid, at the Kabul Air Force base. The helicopters were purchased from Belarus, Mr. Khalid said in a tweet. “Two more will be supplied to the AAF,” he said.

📰 Technology ban escalates U.S.-China tensions

Order prohibits purchase of equipment from companies that pose security risk

•China warned the U.S. on Thursday against further harming trade ties after President Donald Trump effectively barred Chinese telecom giant Huawei from the U.S. market, escalating tensions between the world’s top economic powerhouses.

•At the same time, Beijing’s diplomatic relations with Ottawa further soured as China formally arrested two Canadians on suspicion of snatching state secrets in a case seen as retaliation over Canada’s arrest of a Huawei executive on a U.S. extradition request.

•The spat over Huawei adds to the uncertainty over efforts to revive a deal that would end a bruising U.S.-China trade war after the two sides hiked tariffs n recent days. “The U.S.’s bullying and maximum pressure tactics have caused the China-U.S. economic and trade talks to suffer a serious setback,” Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng told a weekly press briefing.

•Mr. Trump stepped up the U.S. battle against Huawei on Wednesday when he signed an executive order prohibiting the purchase or use of equipment from companies that pose “an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States” or the safety of the American people. While the White House insisted that no particular country or company was targeted, Huawei is likely to be hit by the move amid concerns that its equipment could be used by Chinese intelligence services.

•The U.S. Commerce Department followed up with a more direct hit on the tech giant, adding it to a blacklist that will make it much harder for the firm to use crucial U.S. components in its array of phones, telecom gear, databases and other electronics.

📰 Images of Iran missiles set off U.S. alert

Photos of weapons on small boats in the Gulf caused White House to fear an attack from Tehran

•The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces, three U.S. officials said.

•Overhead imagery showed fully assembled missiles, stoking fears that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps would fire them at U.S. naval ships. Additional pieces of intelligence indicated the possibility of potential attacks, on U.S. troops in Iraq, by militias having Iranian connections.

Threat perception

•But just how alarmed the Trump administration should be over the new intelligence is a subject of fierce debate among the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA and America’s allies. The photographs presented a different kind of threat than previously seen from Iran, said the three officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

•Taken with the other intelligence, they could indicate that Iran is preparing to attack U.S. forces. That is the view of John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s hard-line National Security Adviser, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

•But other officials — including Europeans, Iraqis, members of both parties in Congress and some senior officials within the Trump administration — said Iran’s moves might mostly be defensive against what Tehran believes are provocative acts by Washington. Either way, the questions about the underlying intelligence, and complaints by lawmakers that they had not been briefed on it, reflect the deep mistrust of Mr. Trump’s national security team.

Evacuation of Embassy

•The State Department on Wednesday ordered the partial evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and a consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that one senior U.S. official said was an overreaction to the intelligence and could possibly do more to endanger diplomats than to keep them safe.

•Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a closed-door meeting of House Democrats, criticised the administration’s lack of transparency on the intelligence, according to a Democratic aide. She also said that the administration must consult Congress before taking any action.

•Intelligence officials were set to meet on Thursday with senior congressional leaders for a briefing on the new intelligence about Iran.

•As military officials struggled to show that the threat from Iran was growing, intelligence officials declassified a photograph of one of the small boats, called dhows, carrying what was described as a functional Iranian missile.

•The Pentagon has not released the photograph. On its own, two U.S. officials said, the photograph was not compelling enough to convince the American public and lawmakers, nor foreign allies, of the new Iranian threat.

•The other photographs, which remain classified, show the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps loading missiles onto the boats in several different Iranian ports, the two officials said. It is believed the boats are under the Revolutionary Guards’s control.

📰 GDP numbers suggest high growth in medium term, says 15th Finance Commission

‘Projections for indirect tax fluctuating, need to stabilise’

•The 15th Finance Commission on Thursday said that India’s GDP numbers suggest a continued high growth trend in the medium term even though they have fluctuated in the last few years.

•The Commission and its Members made these observations during a meeting with senior officials in the Ministry of Finance, including Finance Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg, Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey, Expenditure Secretary Girish Chandra Murmu, Chief Economic Adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian, Central Board of Direct Taxes Chairman P.C. Mody, and Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs Chairman P.K. Das.

•“The Finance Commission held consultations with senior officials of the Ministry of Finance on the overall economic situation and key economic variables,” the Commission said in a statement.

• “These discussions are credible to the ongoing work of the Commission to reach an appropriate conclusion on both the vertical and the horizontal devolution,” the statement added.

•“The Commission observed that the GDP numbers have somewhat fluctuated within the overall global trend, which suggests continued high growth trend over the medium term,” the statement added.

•“The Commission also made note of the revenue projections and said that although the direct tax collections and projections are healthy, the ones for indirect tax have been fluctuating and need to stabilise in a stronger position,” a senior official in the Finance Ministry told The Hindu following the meeting.

Rationalising schemes

•“The Commission and the Ministry also spoke about the expenditure side and how to rationalise the Centrally-sponsored schemes,” the official added.

•The 15th Finance Commission has been holding detailed discussions with the Finance Ministry over the last few months to discuss the consequences of the Seventh Pay Commission and the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) on financial positions of the States.

📰 Chinese probe reveals secrets of the moon

The natural satellite is believed to have gone through a phase when it was composed of molten rock

•Scientists have said they could be a step closer to solving the riddle behind the Moon’s formation, unveiling the most detailed survey yet of the far side of Earth’s satellite.

•In January, the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 — named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology — became the first ever craft to touch down on the far side of the lunar surface.

•The moon is believed to have gone through a phase during its formation when it was partially or entirely composed of molten rock.

•As it cooled, denser minerals sank to the bottom of the magma-ocean, while lighter materials gathered near the surface to form its mantle.

•The team landed its probe in the Von Karmen Crater in the Aitken Basin at the Moon’s south pole — home to one of the largest impact craters known in the solar system.

•They detected materials such as olivine and low-calcium pyroxene that are rare elsewhere on the surface. Authors of the study, which was published in the journal Nature , suggest that these materials were ejected from the Moon’s upper mantle when it was struck by a meteor.

Magma ocean theory

•“Our results support the lunar magma ocean theory, and demonstrate that the magma ocean hypothesis can be used to describe the early evolution history of the moon,” said Chunlai Li from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

•Unlike the near side of the moon that always faces the Earth and offers many flat areas to touch down on, the far side is mountainous and rugged. The United States, Russia and China have all landed probes on the near side of the moon, though neither NASA’s Apollo missions nor the Soviet Union’s probes have ever returned samples of the lunar mantle.

•Writing in a linked comment piece, Patrick Pinet, from France’s L’Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie, said the findings were “thrilling”. The results “might also affect our understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary interiors,” he said.

📰 Scorching heat forcing animals out of Seshachalam biosphere

With water sources and food depleting, even shy and critically endangered species are foraying into human habitations

•With the summer heat touching 45 degree Celsius, the wild animals in the Seshachalam biosphere, which is spread over Chittoor and Kadapa districts, are facing a torrid time.

•The phenomenon, which is preceded by deficit rainfall in the region, is forcing the animals to enter the forest fringe villages to quench their thirst.

•The intensity of heat this year is said to be the highest in the biosphere. As a result, even shy and critically endangered species such as the pangolin and the slender loris (devanga pilli) are venturing out of their habitat.

•According to information, a combing party of the Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force spotted an emaciated slender loris close to the Kalyani Dam a few days ago. Before it could be rescued, the animal slid down a tree and vanished into the bushes.

Global warming

•In another incident, a forest official found the species close to a human habitation near the Talakona forests.

•“It’s a surprise that this nocturnal animal, a rare species to be found close to humans, is seen loitering in a dried up water body in broad daylight,” he said.

•Generally found clinging to the top tree branches and moving on the canopy, these animals have become a victim of steady signs of global warming in the biosphere.

•In search of water, they are forced to slide down the trees.

•The species is considered “critically endangered” in forest parlance, and is poached for its eyeballs and others body parts, which are believed to have healing power for multiple human health debilities.

•The pangolin is another species that has fallen on hard times in the biosphere, hit by paucity of food and water sources. The oppressive heat has not only led to vanishing of water in the ditches, ponds and streams but also suppressed the moisture content in the soil.

•The anteater is finding it difficult to gather food, mostly worms, insects, flies, bees and ants. Failure of rains for over three years led to the earth developing clods in several parts of the biosphere. These conditions would generally prevent the small creatures from coming out of the earth surface.

•Present in small number, the pangolin is not a widely seen animal in the region. However, morning walkers in the forest fringe area in Tirupati have spotted the animal moving feebly towards a water tap, several metres away from the forest. The species is also found close to human habitations surrounding the biosphere.

•According to the forest officials, this species is the most smuggled one from India for its scales, which are believed to be in great demand in Vietnam and several South-East Asian nations.

Dig at officials

•Nature lovers deplore that no serious efforts are being taken by the forest officials to provide succour to the animals during summer. Most of the saucer pits and ditches inside the forest are found empty while the summer is at its peak, they lament.

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