March 4, 2017

Beijing announced Saturday its military spending will grow by just 7 percent in 2017, the slowest rate of growth for the Chinese defense budget in years. Last year's increase of 7.6 percent was the first single-digit hike after nearly two decades of annual double-digit growth.

The news came with a reiteration from the Chinese legislature that the military is exclusively defensive in nature. "We advocate dialogue for peaceful resolutions, while at the same time, we need to possess the ability to defend our sovereignty and interests," said Fu Ying, a representative of the National People's Congress. "The strengthening of Chinese capabilities benefits the preservation of peace and security in this region, and not the opposite."

This move comes despite political pressure in China's state-run media to further increase Chinese defense spending in response to President Trump's proposed 10 percent addition to the U.S. military budget. "There was a view that China would increase its defense budget in line with the rise of the defense budget in the United States," said Takashi Kawakami of Japan's Takushoku University. "But the fact China kept it at this level means it's in a wait-and-see mode regarding the Trump administration." Bonnie Kristian

3:14 p.m.

Virgin Galactic and Under Armour want you to fulfill your sci-fi dreams.

In a dramatic press conference in New York on Wednesday morning, dancers performed in spacesuits in a zero-gravity simulation and Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson donned his new space threads as the companies unveiled their spacewear collaboration to be worn on commercial space flights by "private astronauts."

Under Armour designer Nick Cienski reportedly drew inspiration from both Battlestar Galactica and the sun casting rays on Earth. The full getup includes a base layer, spacesuit, boots, a training suit, and a jacket, reports CNN.

Suits will be customized with country flags and name badges, and feature a transparent inner pocket for photographs of loved ones "who will literally be close to the heart," according to Virgin Galactic. Beyond aesthetics, the suit will help regulate body temperature and provides the space tourists with shoulder pads for comfort and safety during portions of the flight with high G-forces.

Roughly 600 people have purchased tickets — at around $200,000 each — for the nearly 2-hour commercial space flights, which are set to launch in 2020, reports CNN.

The "private astronauts" will pay homage to the scientist who discovered gravity, Sir Isaac Newton, by wearing his words imprinted on the sockliner of their spacesuit: "We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants." Taylor Watson

3:04 p.m.

Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top Russia and Europe adviser, was reportedly quite concerned that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, would accidentally divulge national security secrets while on the job, two people familiar with her private congressional testimony told The New York Times.

Hill reportedly testified on Monday that Sondland was so unprepared for his job that she considered him a national security threat, though she reportedly did not accuse him of intentionally putting the country at risk. Instead, she reportedly likened him to someone driving a car without guardrails or a GPS.

The actions that reportedly concerned Hill include Sondland's use of a personal cell phone for diplomatic business and his penchant for inviting foreign officials to pop by the White House whenever they felt like it, which once reportedly resulted in Romanian officials arriving at the White House without an appointment. Sondland, Hill reportedly testified, would also provide the cell phone numbers for other American officials to foreigners.

Hill's concerns were likely enhanced by the fact that she feared Sondland was replacing Washington's previous ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, as part of the Trump administration's effort to pressure Kyiv into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, among other Democratic figures. Sondland is expected to testify before impeachment investigators Thursday, despite the White House directing him not to cooperate. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

2:50 p.m.

Former President Barack Obama has one big executive endorsement.

While he's not wading into America's presidential election just yet, Obama tweeted Wednesday to reveal his position on Canada's upcoming federal election. He's hoping current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will keep his spot, which wouldn't have been surprising if Trudeau hadn't gotten into a blackface scandal just a month ago.

Trudeau's Liberal Party currently holds a majority in the Canadian parliament, but has seen its popularity fall since the last election in 2015. It's currently neck-and-neck with its rival Conservative Party, a toss-up that somehow wasn't hurt by the revelation that Trudeau wore blackface and brownface and unknown number of times. In fact, polling averages show the gap between the two parties has only narrowed since Trudeau apologized for painting his face and body as recently as 2001. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:34 p.m.

President Trump might not be particularly thrilled with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the moment, but that didn't stop him from echoing one of his Turkish counterpart's favorite arguments.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday while meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Trump defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria and, in the process, abandon Washington's Kurdish allies, by pointing out that the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, are "worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat, in many ways" than the Islamic State, whom Kurdish forces, including the PKK, have fought against alongside U.S. forces. Erdogan, who considers Kurdish nationalists forces a security threat against Turkey, has been pushing that idea for quite some time.

Trump later reiterated the point during the press conference and said that even ISIS respects the PKK because its fighters are "as tough or tougher" than ISIS, while also making the case that the allegiance between U.S. and Kurdish forces was too pricey.

Now, as some experts have pointed out, the PKK is not an entirely peaceful political party, but rather a pro-independence movement that has been in an armed conflict with Turkey for decades and is recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. So, while Trump may be generally misinformed about the historical context surrounding the PKK's struggle with Ankara and off base in his ISIS comparisons, there is some validity to the idea that they are "no angels," as the president argued. Tim O'Donnell

2:12 p.m.

Tom Steyer, your billionaire is showing.

So far in the 2020 campaign he once promised not to enter, Steyer has contributed $47 million to his own cause. But when you stack that up against just how many words the mega-rich philanthropist got into Tuesday night's Democratic primary debate, it doesn't really go a long way.

Steyer ranked dead last when it came to speaking time on Tuesday, owning just 7 minutes and 12 seconds, or 1,300 words, of the conversation. Divided by the money he put into his campaign, that's $37,000 per word, The Wall Street Journal's analysis shows.

Of course, Steyer's actual money has largely gone into TV ads, and far more so than any of his closest rivals. He's run a hefty 53,310 ads on national and broadcast television, while his advertising runner-up, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, has run 1,672.

Yet in the polls, Steyer is still pretty much at the bottom of the pack. He's averaging a 1.4 percent showing across Democratic primary surveys, per RealClearPolitics, meaning he's spent about $33.6 million on each percentage point he pulled from his fellow contenders. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:11 p.m.

President Trump apparently can't take criticism over his Syria decision from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) anymore.

Trump during a news conference Wednesday went after Graham, who is typically one of his most loyal allies on Capitol Hill, after more than a week of Graham railing against his decision to pull troops back from Syria ahead of a Turkish invasion.

"Lindsey Graham would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years, with thousands of soldiers, and fighting other people's wars," Trump said. "I want to get out of the Middle East. I think Lindsey should focus right now on Judiciary," referring to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Graham chairs.

This came as a response to Graham warning of a "disaster worse than President Obama's decision to leave Iraq" and urging Trump to "adjust his thinking." Clearly, Trump has no plans to do so, suggesting he knows Graham's constituents better than he does.

"The people of South Carolina don't want us to get into a war with Turkey, a NATO member, or with Syria," Trump said. "Let them fight their own wars."

Trump has been defending his Syria decision, earlier on Wednesday saying, "If Turkey goes into Syria that’s between Turkey and Syria. That's not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe.” Presumably, Trump is including Graham in this group.

At his press conference, Trump also reminded viewers he made a campaign promise to get out of Syria. Last week, Graham told Axios, "If I hear the president say one more time, 'I made a campaign promise to get out of Syria,' I'm going to throw up." Brendan Morrow

1:26 p.m.

The monthlong General Motors strike may be coming to an end in a matter of days, thanks to a tentative deal that was just struck.

The United Auto Workers, the labor union that organized a General Motors strike of almost 50,000 workers that has been ongoing since mid-September, announced Wednesday it has reached a tentative agreement with the company, HuffPost reports. This agreement now needs to be approved by a union council, which will meet Thursday, and then ratified in a vote.

No details about the tentative deal have been released yet, but The Associated Press reports it's "likely to include some pay raises, lump sum payments to workers, and requirements that GM build new vehicles in U.S. factories." Union officials, CNN reports, will decide at Thursday's meeting whether the strike should remain ongoing until the ratification vote.

The United Auto Workers last month said it was asking General Motors for more affordable health care, fair wages, and profit sharing. The nationwide strike came after a four-year contract expired between General Motors and UAW, with the failure to reach a new agreement leading to the union's first national strike since 2007, and General Motors' longest since 1970, The Wall Street Journal reports. The strike is expected to cost General Motors around $1.5 billion. Brendan Morrow

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