Share Austin Price / The Texas TribuneU.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry speaks to the press after touring the Daikin Texas Technology Park in Waller, Texas, on July 28, 2017.U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says he backs President Donald Trump’s move to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military.“I totally support the president in his decision,” Perry, an Air Force veteran and the former Governor of Texas, told reporters on Friday after speaking to workers at an air conditioning manufacturer. “The idea that the American people need to be paying for these types of operations to change your sex is not very wise from a standpoint of economics.”Trump announced the transgender troop ban earlier this week through a series of tweets that injected a fresh dose of confusion into a U.S. Capitol already best by political chaos.“After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow … transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” Trump tweeted. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming …victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption.”Perry, who frequently touts his five-year tenure as an Air Force cargo pilot, backed that position on Friday, speaking to reporters at Daikin Texas Technology Park, a sprawling campus that produces heating, ventilation and cooling equipment.“I think the president makes some good decisions about making sure that we have a force that is capable,” he said, focusing on the potential medical costs of sex reassignment surgeries.A Rand Corp. study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense and published last year estimated that the cost of extending gender transition-related health care coverage to transgender troops would range from $2.4 million and $8.4 million.Trump’s critics have described the cost as minuscule, particularly when considering that the military spends $84 million each year on medicines to combat erectile dysfunction — nearly half of the sum on Viagra, according to a 2015 Military Times analysis.Asked about that comparison, Perry said: “You know what, I don’t check on the price of Viagra.” Also on Friday, Perry renewed his call for Washington to find a long-term storage site for thousands of metric tons of high-level radioactive waste piling up at nuclear reactor sites across the country — whether or not that includes Texas.“What I think is a tragedy is that we have 38 states that have nuclear waste that is stored in various forms of storage – some of it not very well protected,” he said. “And I do worry about that, from the standpoint of the citizens of this country. I think we have a moral obligation to address nuclear waste, to store it in a way that’s as safe as possible.”Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists — formerly owned by the late Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, a longtime political donor to Perry — has applied for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission permit to bring much of the nation’s high-level waste to its low-level radioactive waste dump in Andrews County. Due to financial turmoil, however, the company paused that effort in April.Perry, long bullish on the economic prospects of Texas as a home for the highly radioactive material, would not comment specifically on Waste Control Specialists’ struggles.“I think there’s a path forward for that company,” he told reporters. “I don’t know with great detail where they are from a business model.”
Rohingya refugees make their way to a refugee camp after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Palong Khali, near Cox`s Bazar.File photo ReutersAustralia and its ASEAN neighbours vowed to boost defence ties while stressing the importance of non-militarisation in the disputed South China Sea Sunday at a summit where the “complex” Rohingya crisis took centre stage.Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at the three-day meeting in Sydney, also agreed to work more closely to tackle the growing menace of violent extremism and radicalisation.But while a final communique noted a resolve to “protect the human rights of our peoples”, it failed to condemn member state Myanmar’s treatment of the Muslim-minority Rohingya.Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled the troubled Rakhine state for Bangladesh since authorities launched a brutal crackdown six months ago that the UN has called “ethnic cleansing”.Myanmar, whose de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was in Sydney, has vehemently denied the allegations.“We discussed the situation in Rakhine state at considerable length today,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at a closing press conference.“Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the matter comprehensively, at some considerable length herself,” he said.“It’s a very complex problem … Everyone seeks to end the suffering that has been occasioned by the events, the conflict.”Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said the crisis was “a concern for all ASEAN countries, and yet ASEAN is not able to intervene to force an outcome”.Security threatTensions in the South China Sea remain a big worry for regional leaders, as Beijing continues to build artificial islands capable of hosting military installations-much to the chagrin of other claimants to the area.Vietnam remains the most vocal in the dispute with the Philippines backing off under China-friendly President Rodrigo Duterte. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims.Canberra and ASEAN reaffirmed “the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region”, without naming Beijing.The leaders added they wanted to see an “early conclusion of an effective code of conduct in the South China Sea”.“We will uphold our commitment to the rules-based order and international law in the region, including the South China Sea,” stressed Turnbull.With China flexing its muscle, they also committed to enhancing “the scope and sophistication of defence cooperation”, while expressing “grave concern” about escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.Day two of the summit on Saturday was devoted to counter-terrorism, with an agreement to work together to tackle extremism amid growing concern about the use of the “dark web”, or encrypted messaging apps, by terrorists to plan attacks.Fears have been heightened by jihadists now being forced out of Syria and Iraq with the Islamic State caliphate mostly crushed, and into other countries.Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak cited the flow of the displaced Rohingya as a potential new security threat, with desperate people more susceptible to radicalisation.Human rights issues were a key focus of protests during the summit, with thousands denouncing Aung San Suu Kyi, Cambodian strongman Hun Sen and Vietnam’s Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who are accused of oppression.With the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, without the United States, now signed, Turnbull urged leaders to get behind a “high quality” Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership deal.Australia, the full ASEAN bloc, as well as China and India are among countries still negotiating that deal.Singapore’s Lee said there was hope it could be finalised this year.“This is a historic opportunity to establish the world’s largest trade bloc,” he said.ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, with Australia, a dialogue partner since 1974.