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China completes stealth fighter prototype

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China appears to have completed a prototype of its first stealth fighter, highlighting Beijing’s military modernisation drive, but experts said Wednesday the jet will not be operational for years to come.

Photographs published online and Chinese military sources cited by the Japanese media indicate a test model of the J-20 fighter has been finished, with taxi tests carried out last week at an airfield in southwestern China.

The news comes just days before a visit to Beijing by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who will seek to mend military ties cut off a year ago by China when Washington sold billions of dollars in arms to its rival Taiwan.

Experts say the J-20 will eventually rival the US Air Force’s F-22, the world’s only fully operational next-generation stealth fighter jet — but not any time soon.

The J-20 “will become fully competitive with the F-22, in capability and perhaps in numbers, around the end of this decade,” Rick Fisher, an expert on the Chinese military at the International Assessment and Strategy Centre, a US think tank, told AFP.

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Dennis Blasko, an expert on the People’s Liberation Army — the world’s largest military force — said the timeline for development of the jet was “probably considerably longer than what most outside observers would estimate”.

China plans to begin test flights of the J-20 as soon as this month, with plans to deploy the jet as early as 2017, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper said, quoting Chinese military sources.

The fighter will be equipped with large missiles and could reach the island of Guam, a US territory in the western Pacific, with aerial refuelling, although it would take 10 to 15 more years to develop technology on a par with that of the US F-22, it said.

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In late 2009, the deputy head of China’s air force, General He Weirong, said the country’s stealth fighter would be operational sometime between 2017 and 2019, reports said.

Officials at China’s defence ministry declined immediate comment when contacted by AFP about the reports.

Western military experts expressed doubts over how far the PLA had progressed with the J-20 programme.

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“I have yet to see proof of a test flight. And testing for a prototype can take quite some time before production begins,” Blasko said.

Other than the United States and China, only a handful of countries are working on so-called next-generation stealth fighters.

In January 2010, Russia unveiled a new aircraft touted as a rival to the US jet, developed by Sukhoi. According to Fisher, Japan has a homegrown programme, while India is cooperating with Russia.

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The news about the J-20 comes at a key moment in Sino-US relations, with Gates due in Beijing on Sunday and Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit Washington later this month.

US military officials and strategists see Beijing as a potential threat to Washington’s once unrivalled dominance of the Pacific. Ahead of the visit by Gates, contacts had only resumed at a technical level.

Fisher indeed predicted that the J-20 could become a “serious threat to US air superiority in Asia before the end of the decade”.

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China’s massive annual military spending also has aroused concern among its neighbours. Japan last month labelled Beijing’s military build-up a global “concern”, citing its increased assertiveness in the East and South China Seas.

China has repeatedly insisted its military growth does not pose any threat.

Defence Minister Liang Guanglie said last week that China was currently beefing up its navy, air force and strategic missile forces, while decreasing its ground forces.

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According to defence industry publication Aviation Week, the J-20 is larger than observers expected — suggesting a long-range capacity and the ability to carry heavy weapons loads.


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Trump’s tax law threatened TurboTax’s profits — so the company started charging the disabled, the unemployed and students

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The 2017 tax overhaul vastly expanded the number of people who could file simplified tax returns, a boon to millions of Americans.

But the new law directly threatened the lucrative business of Intuit, the maker of TurboTax.

Although the company draws in customers with the promise of a “free” product, its fortunes depend on getting as many customers as possible to pay. It had been regularly charging $100 or more for returns that included itemized deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations. Under the new law, many wealthier taxpayers would no longer be filing that form, qualifying them to use the company’s free software.

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Trump’s packed Supreme Court backs ‘forced arbitration’ that bars workers from taking abusive bosses to court

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Corporations are rapidly rendering sexual harassment, race and gender discrimination, life-threatening workplaces and wage theft immune to employee legal action.

They achieve this by forcing the vast majority of non-union private-sector workers to sign away their rights to go to court or use class or collective arbitration. Instead many millions of workers are being forced to forgo these efficient legal ways to resolve issues and to file individual arbitration claims.

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Popular Democracy says that by 2024 more than 80% of non-union private-sector workers will find courthouse doors chained shut by forced arbitration clauses that ban lawsuits and collective actions. (EPI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to press the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions.)

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Corporations can legally put carcinogens in our food without warning labels — here’s why

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A recent study by the Environmental Working Group revealed something horrifying: Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular weedkiller Roundup, was present in 17 of the 21 oat-based cereal and snack products at levels considered unsafe for children. That includes six different brands of Cheerios, one of the most popular American cereals.

I've written before about the limits of corporate free speech when it comes to public safety, but on that occasion I discussed this insofar as it involved corporate-sponsored climate change denialism. Yet here we have something more tangible, more direct: The safe glyphosate limit for children is 160 parts per billion (ppb), yet Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch has 833 parts per billion and regular Cheerios has 729 ppb. While the potential risks of glyphosate are fiercely debated, many scientists believe that it is linked to cancer.

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