Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Should Germany stop exporting arms to Saudi Arabia?

Despite official condemnation of Saudi Arabia's executions, many wonder why Germany doesn't take action against the kingdom. Critics think arms exports to the country should have been stopped a long time ago.
Großbritannien Proteste gegen die Hinrichtung von Nimr Al-Nimr in Saudi Arabien
Many countries have condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr together with three other Shiites and 43 alleged members of al Qaeda .
The Saudi embassy in Tehran was even attacked by protesters, and in response, countries including Bahrain and the UAE backed Riyadh by bringing their diplomats back from Tehran.
Germany, France and other world powers have urged Saudi Arabia and Iran to engage in dialogue - but many wonder if words are enough. Even as Western powers like Germany condemn Saudi Arabia's policies, they continue to export arms to the country, and thus benefit from its conflicts, critics claim.
Germany's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Martin Schäfer said at a news conference that Germany opposes the death penalty, but added that he is "unaware of any government plans to impose sanctions for this reason."
In the first half of 2015 alone, Germany approved a number of arms exports to the Gulf region, despite concerns about conflicts and human rights violations. Among the exports approved were 15 patrol boats for Saudi Arabia.
The latest report showed that the value of Germany's arms sales, the world's fourth-biggest arms exporter, was 3.5 billion euros ($4 billion) in the first six months of 2015 - compared to 2.2 billion euros in the first half of 2014.
Infografik Deutsche Rüstungsexporte 2014 und 2015 Englisch
Restrictive policy?
"In 2008 the German government gave a license to Hecker & Koch [a leading German gun-maker] to manufacture G36 rifles, so the company made tens of thousands of them and they are now used by the army of Saudi Arabia," Jürgen Grässlin, a German anti-weapons activist, told DW.
"From a moral point of view this was a criminal act, because these small arms - as they are called - are the deadliest weapons on earth. Small arms have killed millions of people every year in wars and conflicts," he says.
But according to the Economy Ministry, Germany is only supplying Saudi Arabia with 4-wheel-drive vehicles, protective parts for armored vehicles, drones and launchers - but no tanks, machine guns or automatic weapons.
"We have a very restrictive policy regarding the approval of weapons to be delivered to this region, and to Saudi Arabia in particular," says Andreas Audretsch, a spokesperson for the German Ministry of Economy.
"The case of 'Heckler & Koch' is a good example," he says. Audretsch was referring to a lawsuit the company filed against the German government for failing to approve the export of parts needed to produce the G36 in Saudi Arabia. "The case shows that in recent months and years the policy is very restrictive," Audretsch said.
Grässlin is not impressed by this. "Our Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told his voters before the 2013 election that when he is in power there will be no weapons exports to countries that violate human rights, but you see what happens now," he complains.
Iran Saudische Botschaft in Teheran gestürmt
Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi Arabia embassy in Tehran
"In 2014 he doubled the weapon exports from 915 million euros (about $988 million) to 1.8 billion euros, including to countries that are violating human rights or are in war. This step was meant to support the German weapon industry, and for that you have three reasons: profit, profit and profit."
The Economy Ministry argues that the decision of how much and to whom Germany exports its weapons is not a question of economy, but of the situation in each particular region, adding that there is no German economic interest in the pure sense of the word.
According to Grässlin, this is not entirely true. "In the past few years the German arms industry has been in a crisis," he says, especially because the German army - the Bundeswehr - is reducing its orders.
Grässlin claims that arms companies are now searching for new countries to sell arms to, as well as aiming to increase consumption among countries that already use German weaponry.
"Germany delivers weapon [sic.] to the United States, knowing that it is in war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and so on," he says. "Germany also delivers arms to NATO partners." But what surprises him is that Germany is sending arms to what he calls "third states" - countries that are neither members of the EU or NATO, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman - all of whom are good customers for German weapons.
"Germany profits from all the instability in that region," Grässlin stresses, "and military forces in these countries love German weapons because they are usually accurate and advanced."
A weapon-free world
For Grässlin, the main problem is the hypocrisy around military industries. "We always say that Germany is a country which stands for humanity, morals and ethics. Sometimes we do - but this coin has a back side to it, a dark side. And the dark side is giving weapons to dictatorships all around the world."
But despite his intensions, one might claim that Grässlin's aim - for a major industrial country to completely shut down its arms industry - is not only optimistic, but naive.
"Some 30 years ago I was asked whether it's realistic to stop all weapon exports. What I said back then is that I'd like to stop all exports of small arms, ban all land mines and ban cluster bombs - and people looked at me as if I were an alien," he recalls.
"And now, there is an international ban on land mines and cluster bombs and we have the international ATT, a sort of control on conventional weapons, so we are on the right way," he said.
Grässlin says he knows it's idealistic to ban weapons sales in the Middle East and Asia - but claims it's the only way to bring peace to these regions. "As Germany, we need to say that because of human rights, because of humanity, because of morals - we stop the distributions of weapons," he said. "That would be a start."

Saudi warplanes hit Yemen’s Hajjah, four people killed

Saudi warplanes have bombarded areas in Yemen’s Hajjah Province, where at least four people were killed.
Yemen’s al-Masirah TV said Wednesday that the Saudi bombers hit residential areas in the border region of al-Morzaq.
Hajjah is located in Yemen’s northwestern region which has been a flash point since the regime in Riyadh started its bombardment campaign on March 26, 2015.
The report said two other people were injured in the strikes.
Saudi warplanes also conducted combat sorties in the capital, Sana’a. Reports said the presidential palace and the city’s main airport were targeted.
The Saudi campaign was meant to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement and restore power to the fugitive former Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. More than 7,500 people have been killed and over 14,000 others injured since the strikes began. The Saudi war has also taken a heavy toll on the impoverished country’s facilities and infrastructure.
Sources close to Hadi claimed on Wednesday that at least 20 Ansarullah members have been killed in the strikes carried out on Sana’a in a time span of one day. Ansarullah has yet to comment on the figure.
Attacks were also reported in the southwestern province of Dhale on Wednesday. Fatalities were also reported. Various parts of Yemen’s northern province of Sa’ada also came under attack. Earlier in the day, Saudi jets launched several strikes on the northern provinces of Ma’rib and Jawf, killing and wounding a number of civilians.
Saudi Arabia officially announced the end of a UN-sponsored truce, claiming that members of Ansarullah and allies had repeatedly violated the ceasefire by launching rocket attacks into southern Saudi territories. Ansarullah says the retaliatory attacks are meant to avenge the Saudi aggression and only targets Saudi military positions. Independent sources in Yemen have reported a significant increase in the number of Ansarullah’s reprisal attacks since the truce ended.

Muslim reform needs external pressure

By Ding Gang

The fresh feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran again shows how long-standing sectarian hatred hampers the modernization process of Islamic society. 

The evolution of other major religions in the world suggests that sectarian strife is gradually eased as secularization advances. Only by detaching religion with politics and thoroughly walking away from divine supremacy can sectarian feuds be eliminated. 

Secularization is the biggest challenge facing today's Muslim world. The Muslims in Southeast and East Asia are mild because they are more secularized.

However, over the secularization issue, views by Western media and pundits are still chaotic and self-contradictory. In an article titled "Xinjiang Seethes Under Chinese Crackdown" published by the New York Times on Saturday,  the author Andrew Jacobs wrote that "A recent 10-day journey across the Xinjiang region in the far west of China revealed a society seething with anger and trepidation."

Among the examples cited in the article are measures by local Xinjiang governments to restrict religious activities. But the author merely emphasized the measures to regulate the religion and yet wholly neglected the other side that provides more opportunities to help Muslims engage in social and economic development. The observation is incomplete.

Given the current situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, some restrictions are necessary. This will promote the secularization of Muslim society in the long run. 

The hijab ban on Muslim women, mentioned in the report, also took place in France. In 2014, France's highest court upheld a ruling that obliges employers to dismiss employees for wearing Muslim hijab to work. This was taken by some Western scholars as an oppressive law targeted at Muslims in the name of secularization and as a reason that has ignited uproar among Muslims. 

Jacobs' view of the hijab ban is wrong because it ignored that if hijab becomes a religious manifestation, its appearance in public places may provoke non- Muslims. On business occasions and companies, the hijab may estrange customers and colleagues. 

Just as some US schools prefer that students say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas," advocating or encouraging a religious manifestation in the public may indicate the expulsion of another religion. To address it, the only way is to abide by common secular rules. 

We do need a diverse and inclusive society, but on the basis of some conditions and boundaries. Any religion can turn extreme and unbounded tolerance actually provides space for extremism. 

Many people think highly of the distribution policy of the public housing in Singapore as the multi-ethnicity community can facilitate the blending of different ethnicities. But more importantly, as the measure breaks the isolation of Muslims, it is still a compulsory and secular policy in nature.

In his book Hard Truths, late Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew said that other groups can integrate with mainstream society more easily than Muslim. "We can integrate all religions and races, except Islam…the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate."

In light of problems in European countries like France, it is exactly the inclusive policy that overly emphasizes the distinctness of Muslims that prompted them to form an enclave in France. 

Compulsory integration may stir up extremist sentiments, particularly when the Muslim population is excluded by social and economic process such as rising unemployment. But this is not where extremism originates. 

Secularization is unlikely to be a peaceful process and can only rely on reforms within the Islamic world, but in the meantime external pressure is equally important. The New York Times reporter's words on so-called human rights after a trip to Xinjiang actually reflects his shallow understanding of Muslim secularization. 

Saudis Seek Chaos to Cover Terror Tracks

Russia's incisive military intervention in Syria has succeeded in not only stabilizing the Arab state and salvaging it from a terrorist takeover. Russia's maneuver also exposed the foreign-fueled nature of the conflict - as a criminal covert war of aggression for regime change.

To varying degrees, the complicity of Washington, Britain and France in sponsoring an illegal insurgency against the elected government of President Bashar al-Assad has been uncovered through Russia's military intervention.
So too exposed — even more so — in the criminal conspiracy are the West's regional client regimes. Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey has been shown through Russian airstrikes to be up to its neck in running oil and weapons smuggling rackets to support the terrorist networks in Syria.

And the other regime exposed by Russia is Saudi Arabia. This explains why the oil-rich autocratic monarchy is now trying to inflame the region with sectarian conflict, with the execution of the Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimir last weekend.

Sheikh Nimr was revered among the region's Shiite Muslims for his courageous, peaceful protests against oppression under the fundamentalist rulers of Saudi Arabia — the House of Saud, who profess an extremist version of Islam known as Wahhabism.

In the Wahhabi mentality, Shiites, Christians and others are considered "infidels" who should be put to death by the sword. It is no coincidence that many of the so-called jihadists fighting in Syria to overthrow the Assad government also subscribe to Wahhabism. There is clear evidence to show that the terror groups such as Daesh (Islamic State) and al Nusra Front are funded by the Wahhabi rulers of Saudi Arabia.

The gratuitous killing of Sheikh Nimr came after months of appeals for clemency. The appeals were made not only by the government of Iran — the main Shiite power in the Middle East — but also from several international rights groups, owing to the dubious judicial process in Saudi Arabia and the abundant evidence attesting to Sheikh Nimr's innocence. That the House of Saud went ahead with his execution thus points to a deliberate act to provoke regional passions and in particular those of Iran.

The torching of Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, the war of words, and the severance of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran strongly suggest that the explosive reaction was premeditated. Now Arab allies of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, among others, are following suite by cutting diplomatic channels with Tehran. Some commentators are even wondering if an all-out war will erupt in the region.

Significantly, the mayhem unleashed by the Saudi execution of Sheikh Nimr appears to have irked Washington and other Western powers who patronize the Saudi rulers. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was "caught by surprise" and "expressed anger at the Saudis… for negligent disregard for how it would inflame the region".

So why did the Saudi rulers decide to plunge the region into turmoil? Because Russia's military intervention in Syria has seriously spoiled the foreign conspiracy for regime change in that country. Furthermore, Russia's defeats against the array of illegally armed groups, such as Daesh and Nusra and their various offshoots, has exposed the sponsor links of these terror groups to foreign governments, in particular those in Ankara and Riyadh.

American political analyst Randy Martin says: "What seems to be emerging now is the repercussion from Russia blowing the cover off the conflict in Syria. Russia's military operations against the terror networks have dramatically exposed the Wahhabi Saudi rulers for what they are."

The analyst added: "Now that the House of Saud is exposed in its criminal machinations in Syria and its association with known terror groups, the Saudis have decided that their next best option is to incite a full-on war with Shiite Iran, and possibly even the Russians."

Martin pointed to the Russian airstrike on December 25 that eliminated the leadership of the jihadist militia, Jaish al-Islam, also known as Army of Islam. The strike in the militia's stronghold of East Ghouta, near the Syrian capital Damascus, killed its leader Zahran Alloush and other commanders.

Four days later, on December 29, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir publicly condemned the Russian air strike against Jaish al-Islam. Speaking in Riyadh, the Saudi minister said the killing would complicate the forthcoming peace talks on Syria due to take place later this month in Geneva. Al-Jubeir expressed dismay, telling reporters: "I don't know what the Russians have in mind."

The official Saudi reaction to the killing of Zahran Alloush and other Jaish al-Islam members clearly illustrates the involvement of Saudi Arabia with known terror groups in Syria. The Jaish al-Islam militia is known to share fighters and weapons with the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, which is an officially designated terrorist group, according to the US government and the European Union.

Russia's military intervention in Syria has done two things. It has, firstly, put paid to the covert terror war that the West and its regional allies have been waging surreptitiously in Syria since March 2011 for the purpose of regime change. This result has thus made the political track the only feasible alternative by which the Western powers can hope to achieve their long-held objective of regime change in Syria. Hence Geneva.

Saudi Arabia, the region's hardliner in the regime-change project, is opposed to the political option, which has been earnestly pursued by US Secretary of State John Kerry over the past three months, since Russia began its air operations in Syria. "Saudi officials have long said they think that Mr Kerry's effort is doomed to failure, and that was before Sunday's diplomatic breach with Iran," noted the New York Times.

The second thing that Russia's military intervention has done, as analyst Randy Martin points out, is that the links of Saudi Arabia to terror groups have been laid bare for all to see.

This week, the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, claimed that the regional war of words with Iran will not deflect from his country's participation in the Geneva peace talks on Syria.

However, that is a just a public-relations fig leaf. The Saudi rulers find political negotiations anathema because that would mean talking with their "infidel" enemy of Iran, thus giving the latter more political esteem in the region, and also because the House of Saud persists with the ultimatum that Syria's President Assad "has to go".
It is for this reason that the Saudis last month said they retain the military option to invade Syria to oust Assad and why the oil-rich kingdom set up a 34-nation "anti-terror" military coalition with a license to invade any country where it deems a "terror threat" exists.

In other words, what has emerged is Saudi Arabia's belligerent policy in the region and its collusion with terror groups. And it is Russia's decisive, devastating anti-terror military intervention in Syria that has uncovered these nefarious connections.

That is why the Saudi rulers went ahead with the execution of the Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The chaos and bloodletting they hope to unleash is intended to cover up their terror tracks in Syria.

Read more:

'Convert or die': Yazidi refugees speak of ISIS assaults (RT EXCLUSIVE)

The ethnically-Kurdish Yazidi minority in Iraq is on the run from Islamic State in Syria, which continues to systematically hunt down and enslave them. RT’s Murad Gazdiev made the perilous journey to Nowrooz camp in Syria to hear their stories firsthand.
The camp is home to hundreds of Yazidis lucky enough to have escaped the intolerant wrath of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Syrian Kurds with the YPG in Al-Hasakah gave them shelter, where the camp is located.
Called "devil worshippers" by IS, groups of Yazidis huddle together around a single source of warmth inside temporary accommodation.
“When ISIS came, we fled to the mountains near Sinjar,” Del Shad, a refugee from the Rambusi Village told RT. “They tried to follow, but a group of Kurds from the PKK pushed them back. They gave us food and water.”
Del Shad recalls the harrowing scenes of August 2014, when a mass exodus took place. Over 50,000 Yazidis made the trek from war-torn Iraq to higher, safer ground. Plenty were abducted and at least 5,000 were massacred.
For 12 days they walked without food or water.
Del Shad and his mother were among the escapees who he says were offered a simple choice: convert to Sunni Islam, or die. "We are Yazidi, and we will stay so… We tried to resist, but we didn’t have weapons,” he says.
“They came for all of us. The men were killed, the women and children were taken. In the village of Kocho, they never got a chance to run. ISIS took thousands there.”
IS spread rumors it wouldn’t hurt civilians, even as it invaded Yazidi territory, Ceve Beiru Hadji said.
“My nephew decided to go back to his village. They seized him, his wife and her sister,” she added, showing a celebratory family picture. It was taken before the wife and teenage sister were taken as sex slaves.
IS would not even spare the old. Ceve recalls how her brother’s elderly wife was taken and made to strip for her captor. She was kept for six months. Ceve and her relative had to borrow $15,000 to make a deal with IS and buy her back.
“I had lost everything. There were 23 of us in the family. Now I am alone.”
However, life carries on in Nowrooz, and the Yazidis display an unwavering hope that someday they will be reunited with their loved ones.

#OregonStandoff: - Oregon standoff has roots in Mormon fanaticism


Most mainstream news accounts of antigovernment protesters’ occupation of a Fish and Wildlife Service facility in Oregon have ignored or downplayed the group’s religious beliefs. Ammon Bundy’s small band of armed followers turn out to be religious fanatics, and — inconveniently for the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Mormon religious fanatics.

Ammon — the name is prominent in the Book of Mormon — is one of the 14 children of Cliven Bundy, the Mormon patriarch who made headlines in 2014 for a similar confrontation with the Bureau of Land Management. One of Ammon’s band has identified himself as “Captain Moroni.” Moroni is the golden angel whose image looks down from the steeples of Mormon temples in cities around the world.

The Bundys’ challenge to federal authority has deep roots in the church’s history. After an angry mob lynched Mormon’s founding father Joseph Smith in 1844, every man entering the church swore an “oath of vengeance” against the United States, which refused to recognize Smith’s new religious awakening.

When the Mormons reached Utah in 1847, Smith’s successor Brigham Young founded the breakaway state of Deseret (the word for “honeybee” in the Book of Mormon), which rejected many US laws, specifically those that forbad the Mormon practice of polygamy. US troops invaded Mormon Utah in 1857. Last-minute diplomacy narrowly averted a bloodbath.

Like Joseph Smith, Brigham Young preached that the American Constitution was a divinely inspired document being perverted by secular politicians in Washington. In a famous speech recorded in the church’s “Journal of Discourses,” Young “said if the Constitution of the United States were saved at all it must be done by this people” — meaning the Mormons.

The Bundys likewise believe that Washington politicians have hijacked the Constitution, and Ammon thinks the Mormon church agrees with them. In a 2014 podcast, he reported that, in his Arizona church, “the majority came and showed their support for me and my family” when he and his father tangled with the BLM that year.

Bundy said that his local Mormon bishop had considered “releasing,” or expelling, him from the church, but then thought better of it. “Once I explained the Lord’s involvement” in the Bundys’ politics, Ammon said, the bishop “said he understands and has felt some of the things I have felt.”

The Mormon church kept quiet — too quiet — during the Cliven Bundy standoff, but not so now. “Church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the [Oregon] facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles,” according to an official statement released Monday afternoon in Salt Lake City. “This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis. We . . . live in a nation where conflicts with government or private groups can — and should — be settled using peaceful means, according to the laws of the land.”
This time the Mormons doubtless will expel Ammon Bundy — though I suspect that will be the least of his problems.

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Survey: How Americans contend with unexpected expenses

The washing machine broke, you chipped a tooth and the dog needs to visit a heart specialist. And that was just Tuesday.
Unexpected expenses are almost guaranteed to occur, but few Americans are budgeting for them by stashing money in savings each week or month, the latest Money Pulse survey from has found.
Bankrate commissioned Princeton Survey Research Associates International to conduct its Money Pulse survey on budgeting and unexpected expenses. It interviewed 1,000 people December 17-20, 2015, with results having a sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
"The survey shows that a very significant minority of American households apparently don't have the resources to pay for an unexpected expense of around $1,000," says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America.
Unexpected expenses occur with such frequency that they should be accounted for by budgeting to save money for emergencies. In Bankrate's survey, 4 of 10 respondents or their immediate family ran into a major unexpected expense last year. Just 57% made it out of 2015 financially unscathed.
If you need a personal loan to respond to an unexpected emergency, check out the rates at

How people deal with unexpected expenses

Nearly 4 in 10 respondents, 37%, say they would pay for an unexpected expense with savings, Bankrate's survey found. That's about the same as December 2014, when 38% of people answered the same way.
Nearly a quarter of people, 23%, reported they would pay for an emergency by reducing spending on other things.
"Let's give everyone credit for that. 60% are taking grown-up responsibility for the expense," says Robert Fragasso, chairman and CEO at Fragasso Financial Advisors in Pittsburgh.
Credit cards would be an option for 15% of respondents. The same number said they would borrow from family or friends.
"If it were $10,000 in uncovered expenses, the answers might be different. If it's paid with debt and if the balance is not amortized quickly, it should be converted to a home equity line of credit to pay down as quickly as possible, but in the meantime, the interest becomes tax-deductible," Fragasso says.
In a nutshell, the interest from the first $100,000 of a home equity line of credit is typically tax-deductible.
"The other thing is that if you shop (for a HELOC), it will be a low interest rate around 2% to 4.5%," says CFP professional Herbert Hopwood, CFA, president of Hopwood Financial Services in Great Falls, Virginia.

How people act based on income

Not surprisingly in Bankrate's survey, those with higher incomes were most likely to say they would rely on savings for emergencies. Over half, 54%, of those earning $75,000 or more annually said they would pony up the cash for an unexpected expense.
Only 23% of people with yearly incomes less than $30,000 said they would use savings. And 9% of respondents in this income level said they don't know how they would pay for an unexpected expense.

Are millennials getting the hang of personal finance?

Millennials changed up their answers from last year. The trends for older generations were mostly unchanged.
In 2014, many more young people said they would have to reduce their spending to pay for an emergency.
In this year's survey, millennials were most likely to say they would use savings. More also indicated they would use a credit card, while fewer said they would need to reduce spending to meet an unexpected expense.
How would millennials pay for unexpected expenses?33%31%7%24%37%23%12%21%20142015Use savingsReduce spendingUse credit cardsBorrow fromfamily/friendsReduce spending 2015: 23%Source: Bankrate Money Pulse survey, Dec. 17-20, 2015Results may not equal 100% due to rounding.
Note: Margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Unexpected expenses are a learning experience

When asked how they had dealt with their most recent unexpected expense, 36% of respondents said they used savings. Another 20% said they dealt with it by setting up a payment program.
About 1 in 10 said they borrowed from family and friends, while another 11% said they haven't begun paying the bill.
Only 13% paid for their most recent emergency expense with a credit card.

Cutting cable but not the smartphone

To understand how Americans bolster their savings, Bankrate asked respondents how likely they would be next year to cut back on spending in 5 categories: dining out, coffee, cable or satellite TV, alcohol and cellphone plans.
Where are people likely to cut spending in 2016?58%46%41%39%35%Restaurant mealsCable or satellite TVBuying coffee in coffeeor doughnut shopCellphone planAlcoholSource: Bankrate Money Pulse survey, Dec. 17-20, 2015Results may not equal 100% due to rounding.
Note: About 27% of respondents said they don't buy alcohol, and 22% said they don't buy coffee.
In terms of cost, restaurant meals and cable can be budget busters. For most people, cutting the fat out of their budgets means tackling the highest-cost items, such as cable TV. But in the end, it comes down to choices. Which expenses are negotiable, and which are mandatory?
"Don't cut things that are important. You don't cut your daughter's dance lessons, but (you cut) the superfluous things such as sending out for dinner. Do you have to eat out so often? Or, the latte factor," Fragasso says. "If you table up what you spend in the course of a year on coffee, you may be able to fund your IRA."
Cellphone plans also can cost an arm and a leg, but fewer people say they are willing to budge on that.
"The funny thing is that smartphone penetration is higher than the number of households with a computer at home. It's young people who are driving it up," Brobeck says.

Can you boost savings if you reduce spending?

Nearly two-thirds of adult Americans owned a smartphone as of April 2015, according to data from Pew Research. For those age 18-29, the number of smartphone owners jumped to 85%.
As vital as smartphones are to everyone, "don't by default take whatever plan the phone company gives you. Do you need all the data? Or, are you using all the devices?" Hopwood asks.
"I have an iPad that I rarely use, but I am still paying the cost of a data plan. Make sure you have the right plan for your usage and your needs," he says.
Acting proactively rather than reactively to reduce spending should help you boost your savings and increase your peace of mind. There's no way to avoid unforeseen expenses, but having a plan in place for emergencies could help you sleep at night.

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Most Americans can't handle a $500 surprise bill

While the recession may be long over, many Americans are still living one bill away from financial disaster.
Despite the stronger economy, a lack of emergency savings that would help them weather an unexpected expense such as a health crisis or car breakdown remains a serious handicap. In fact, about 63 percent of Americans say they're unable to handle a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room bill, according to a new survey from
Its findings shed light on a disconnect between rosier economic figures, such as an unemployment rate that's declined steadily since 2010, and what continues to be the worrying financial reality for many Americans. Real median household income has slumped since 1999, when it reached a high of $57,843, and now hovers at about $54,000.
But given the increasing costs of everything from food to health care, that has left many families struggling to put money aside for rainy days.
Even though most people would think such financial shocks are rare, the fact is they're increasingly common, partly because American workers are more likely than ever to see big swings in income due to job losses or cuts in hours.
About six out of 10 American households experienced a financial shock during the last year, with major car repairs and lost income ranking among the most common, The Pew Charitable Trusts found in a study published last year.
"These things do happen, and if you don't have the financial resources to handle it, it can be catastrophic if you are living on the edge," said senior investing analyst Sheyna Steiner.
While this is only the second year that Bankrate ran this specific survey, its prior studies about Americans' emergency savings rates have uncovered similar results. The bottom line: They haven't seen much improvement in their ability to handle unexpected financial shocks during the past few years.
But Steiner noted that Bankrate's survey also found that about one out of five consumers making less than $30,000 said they had enough emergency savings set aside to handle an unexpected bill.
This suggests that financial cushions aren't out of reach for lower-income households, although it may require more discipline than for Americans earning at least $75,000, given that about half of the latter said they have enough set aside to cope with a $500 or $1,000 expense.
It can be daunting to build an emergency savings fund of between three to six months of income while also juggling bills and paying down debt. That's why Steiner recommends aiming to set aside a smaller amount, such as $1,000, as a first step toward handling unexpected bills.
Given that so many are unprepared for a car breakdown or big medical bill, how do Americans say they would cope in such a situation? About 23 percent said they would cut back on spending in other areas, while 15 percent said they would need to rely on credit cards. Another 15 percent said they would turn to friends or family for help.
As for paring spending, Americans said dining out would be the first place they would cut back, while only one-third said they would be very or somewhat likely to cut spending on alcohol. In the face of trying times, Americans may not want to imagine giving up that glass of wine or beer while contemplating a growing stack of bills.

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Donald Trump: Obama's tears over gun deaths 'sincere'

No, Donald Trump did not mock President Obama for crying during his gun control event Tuesday.
“Well, I actually think he was sincere," Trump said Wednesday on Fox & Friends.
Trump, who often makes fun of the president, joked that he would probably go down "about five points" in Republican polls, but gun violence is "a thing that he (Obama) feels, you know."
While laying out a series of executive actions on gun control, Obama wiped away tears when citing the victims of mass shootings, particularly first graders at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Though he sympathized with Obama's emotions, Trump also criticized his gun control proposals. He told Fox & Friends: "We cannot tamper with the Second Amendment.”