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By The Associated Press

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

___

Nov. 25

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The Baltimore Sun on toilet paper purchases during the pandemic:

You’ve got packages of toilet paper stacked in your bathroom closet. And some stashed in the basement. But then you throw some more rolls into your grocery cart, while food shopping. And you’re tempted to add some to your online cart as you take advantage of those Black Friday deals. Just in case. Sound familiar?

We bet it does. As the COVID case numbers rise so do the rolls of toilet paper people are buying. We’re already starting to see some empty shelves and sold out signs on online retailer websites. “Panic shopping” they call it. It happens when there is a call for snow, even if it’s a meager 2 inches, and when a hurricane is scheduled to hit. The unpredictable destruction of a hurricane and likely interruption of services and regular commerce make the panic a little more understandable. That it happens during a pandemic makes less sense, given that toilet paper is not going to protect you from COVID-19 in any way whatsoever, and grocery stores are among the few things we can count on remaining open, whether you shop online or in person.

Americans have a history of panic attacks over toilet paper, though. In 1973, Johnny Carson caused a mad dash for it after reading a newspaper clipping about a toilet paper shortage on the air and joking about it. He was talking about commercial toilet paper and not the kind we use at home.

So, why the toilet hoarding, and, to a lesser extent, hand sanitizer, paper towels and wipes? It gives us a sense of control when we feel hopeless over the spread of a deadly disease. We try to eliminate one type of superficial risk entirely because we can, but it often backfires. People buy toilet paper to ease their anxiety, but then toilet paper sells out, and people get frustrated and emotional and worried about toilet paper running out – a problem they helped create. So an action that initially comforts us, ends up doing the exact opposite. “This is not a rational behavior,” says Amna Kirmani, the Ralph J. Tyser Professor of Marketing at Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. “This is based on fear. It is emotional; it is a gut reaction.”

When this happens, we run out of T.P. in the short-term, but the shortage doesn’t last long. People use an average of about 100 rolls of toilet paper a year, and there’s generally plenty for everyone in the long term, when the masses don’t stockpile it (we promise). Many companies have said they are better prepared for a sudden rush this time around, anyway, unlike when pandemic shutdowns began in March.

We can control these irrational actions if we consciously try to be kind and remind ourselves that we need to make sure there is enough for everyone. We have to remind ourselves there is plenty to go around, and we have to trust the country’s supply system. Each of us has more control than we think if we follow the safety guidelines offered by health professionals, and focus on wearing masks, social distancing and keeping our gatherings small and outdoors – rather than on panic shopping paper products.

Think about your family, particularly the children, as motivation not to hoard shop, suggests Sharon Hoover, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. When children see parents hoarding and practicing other survival mechanisms, they may take on the anxiety of their parents, she said. So for the sake of the children, resist the urge to buy toilet paper until you really need it.

Instead, take advantage of the deals right now and buy something that brings joy to your life and reduces the stress, rather than creates it. How about a robot vacuum cleaner to help with the chores or an adult coloring book or online yoga membership? Or maybe focus on holiday gifts and buying and bringing joy to others in this season of Thanksgiving. Goodness knows we can all use some cheer in our life in these not so joyous times.

Online: https://www.baltimoresun.com/

___

Nov. 24

The Washington Post on President-elect Joe Biden’s choices for his national security team:

President-Elect Joe Biden’s choices for his national security team will please those who hope, as we do, that he will quickly replace President Trump’s chauvinist and self-defeating “America First” policies with a return to liberal internationalism, with its focus on building and leading alliances and promoting democratic values. But the nominations also ought to encourage anyone who values experience, expertise, integrity and fundamental competence in U.S. government leaders.

The last two men Mr. Trump installed as directors of national intelligence were partisan hacks who devoted themselves to purging his perceived enemies and releasing classified information that the president thought bolstered his conspiracy theories – regardless of the cost to U.S. intelligence operations. The successor nominated by Mr. Biden, Avril D. Haines, is a thoroughgoing professional who served as the CIA’s deputy director and as deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump’s second secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, boasted about his “swagger” as he alienated the United States from its closest allies, disregarded congressional mandates and dismissed an inspector general who investigated his use of department resources for personal ends. His nominated successor, Antony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state, is a thoughtful and soft-spoken consensus-builder who already has strong relationships in foreign capitals and in Congress.

Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser was convicted of lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Mr. Biden’s choice, Jake Sullivan, is another seasoned hand who headed the State Department’s policy planning department before serving as Mr. Biden’s national security adviser while he was vice president. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is nominated as U.N. ambassador, is a 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service who headed the State Department’s Africa bureau during the Obama administration.

The nominations could be portrayed as the return of a foreign policy establishment that led the United States to failure in the Middle East and elsewhere. But Mr. Biden’s team has reflected deeply on the shortcomings of the Obama administration and the ways in which the world has changed in the past four years. In an essay published last year, Mr. Sullivan said the United States must reassert its global role, but in new ways: It must fashion “a different kind of leadership, giving others a greater voice along with greater accountability.”

Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Blinken have both written of the urgent need to build coalitions to counter the authoritarian models and mounting belligerence of China and Russia. They suggest the Biden administration will be more assertive than Mr. Obama was in promoting democracy and human rights. At the same time, Mr. Biden’s naming of former secretary of state John F. Kerry as special envoy for climate change shows that the escalating threat will play a central role in U.S. diplomacy.

“America is back, ready to lead the world,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday in announcing the appointments. As his nominees know, delivering on those words will be a formidable task in Mr. Trump’s wake. He leaves behind deep doubts about U.S. capacity, trustworthiness and resolve. Still, if they are confirmed, beginning next year, the United States will have national security principals who are capable, conscientious, well-versed in the issues they will face and not vulnerable to being undercut by presidential tweets. That’s a big step toward recovery.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

___

Nov. 24

The Wall Street Journal on Dow Jones Industrial Average surging above 30,000 for the first time:

The American economy is a wonderful engine of prosperity left to its own devices, and on Tuesday it proved this again with another surge in equity prices that pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 30,000 for the first time. Stock prices rise and fall, but this symbolic milestone of optimism for the future shows the economy’s resilience despite the Covid-19 plague.

We’ve lost track of the many doom and gloom predictions, especially since politicians shut down the economy in March. Remember the disaster that was supposed to follow the end of enhanced federal jobless benefits on July 31? Didn’t happen. Third quarter growth was 33.1%.

Then recall the catastrophe if Congress didn’t pass another $3 trillion spending bill? Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi issued almost daily press releases, echoed by the sages at Bloomberg. Didn’t happen. Then last week we were told that if the Treasury ended the Federal Reserve’s special pandemic facilities, the markets would reel. Some reeling.

Instead the economy keeps growing, and the jobless rate keeps falling, despite the surge in new Covid infections. The Atlanta Fed is estimating growth in the fourth quarter, which is halfway over, at 5.6%. That could certainly change if more governors follow California’s Gavin Newsom in punishing his state’s citizens with lockdowns. That’s one reason California’s jobless rate was fifth highest among the 50 states in October at 9.3%. New York was third highest at 9.6%.

Meantime, overall U.S. growth continues to surprise for the better. The housing market is booming, and consumer and small-business confidence are strong. The unemployment rate is down to 6.9%, and continuing jobless claims fell another 429,000 in last week’s report. Americans have enormous savings they can deploy, which explains why consumers keep spending despite the pandemic. Auto sales have been strong, no doubt in part because people are flying less and aren’t taking the usual vacations.

Investors are looking at the medical miracles of Covid vaccines that portend the end of the pandemic in 2021. The fading chance of post-election political trauma helps, but the bigger boost to the market has come from the prospect of a Republican Senate acting as a check on Joe Biden’s destructive tax increases. He can still do damage with regulation, but that takes more time and is subject to legal challenge. The two Georgia runoffs on Jan. 5 producing a Democratic Senate are, apart from shutdowns, the biggest market risk ahead.

By the way, on Election Day in 2016 the Dow closed at 18,332.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/

___

Nov. 22

The Guardian on potential COVID-19 vaccines:

In the 1960s, academics studying rumours drew inspiration from epidemiology. They noted how such stories spread through communities, “infecting” some individuals while others seemed immune, and how more resistant populations could stop their spread.

Their insights have in turn been taken up by health professionals. Hearsay can be useful, helping to catch disease outbreaks. It can also be deadly. Though vaccine hesitancy is as old as vaccines themselves, it has risen sharply in many countries in recent years. Unfounded scare stories about the safety of immunisation programmes have contributed to growing scepticism and outright refusal, with fatal consequences. In her new book Stuck: How Vaccine Rumours Start – and Why They Don’t Go Away, Prof Heidi Larson notes the paradox: we have better vaccine science, more safety regulations and processes than ever before, yet a doubting public.

For the foreseeable future, demand for Covid-19 vaccines is likely to far outstrip supply. The US biotech firm Moderna has now joined Pfizer/BioNTech in announcing a vaccine with more than 90% efficacy in protecting people from Covid-19, but it will not be available outside the US until next year. The Oxford University/AstraZeneca candidate is some way further off in its work.

But while many are thrilled by the prospect of immunisation – three in four adults globally have said they would take it up if it were available – the unusual speed with which these products have been developed and tested has prompted anxiety among others, including those normally sanguine about vaccines. While 72% of Americans said in May that they would definitely or probably get a vaccine, that had dropped to 51% by October.

Fearmongering has played a part, with some of those responsible profiting politically or financially. Social media has produced an “infodemic”, allowing unfounded claims to spread internationally in hours or days – with algorithms pointing people toward more extreme content. Undoing the damage caused by anti-vaccination campaigns can take years or decades. Though internet companies are belatedly taking some action, more needs to be done.

Yet the problem is not merely disinformation, but why it is believed. Prof Larson, who runs the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warns that simply dismissing rumours can entrench them. When people’s questions or concerns are batted away, and they feel they are being treated as stupid, doubts can grow and vaccine ambivalence turn to scepticism and outright refusal.

Effective challenges to anti-vaccination messages must come before this hardening of attitudes occurs. It can feel baffling and frustrating when well-tested evidence fails to counter wild assertions and unverified anecdotes, but there is some underlying logic to suspicions. It is true that big pharma is often short on scruples; that governments don’t always make the right decisions about people’s lives; that medical staff can be dismissive of valid concerns; and indeed that vaccines are not entirely without risk.

In the US, where there is a horrific history of white scientists experimenting on black people without their consent, and ongoing racial discrimination in healthcare, African Americans are much less likely than whites to say they would take a Covid-19 vaccine, despite being twice as likely to die from the illness. Good communication about the new vaccines will mean not only clarity about the advantages and safeguards, but acknowledgments and explanations of potential risks and uncertainties, putting them into context.

Prof Larson argues that anti-vaccine sentiment flourishes when people do not feel a sense of dignity or control over their own lives. The last year has exacerbated such emotions, and they will not disappear when lockdowns end. Restoring confidence in immunisation may, in the long run, require the much more fundamental rethink that many hoped this pandemic might produce: a reappraisal of who and what is valued, and how we should be living and relating to each other.

Online: https://www.theguardian.com/

___

Nov. 21

The New York Times on COVID-19 cases in prisons and jails:

As Americans grapple with how – or whether – to gather with loved ones this holiday season, the roughly two million people confined in the nation’s prisons and jails face an even grimmer challenge: how to stay alive inside a system being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Like the nation overall, U.S. correctional facilities are experiencing record spikes in coronavirus infections this fall. During the week of Nov. 17, there were 13,657 new coronavirus infections reported across the state and federal prison systems, according to the Marshall Project, which has been tracking these numbers since March. The previous week saw 13,676 new cases. These are by far the highest weekly tolls reported since the pandemic began. With winter descending, the situation threatens to grow bleaker still.

The American penal system is a perfect breeding ground for the virus. Squabbles over mask wearing and social distancing are essentially moot inside overcrowded facilities, many of them old and poorly ventilated, with tight quarters and with hygiene standards that are difficult to maintain. Uneven testing, inadequate medical resources and the constant churn of staff members, visitors and inmates further speed transmission. Crueler still, inmates suffer disproportionately from comorbidities, such as high blood pressure and asthma, putting them at an elevated risk for complications and death.

Eight months into the pandemic, the precise shape and scope of the devastation remains difficult to pin down. But the available data is heartbreaking. As of mid-November, more than 196,600 coronavirus infections had been reported among state and federal prisoners. More than 1,450 of those prisoners had died. The case rates among inmates are more than four times as high as those of the general public, and the death rate is more than twice as high.

Inmates are not the only ones trapped with the virus. The correctional system employs more than 685,000 people – guards, nurses, chaplains and so on. There have been more than 45,470 reported coronavirus infections and 98 deaths among staff members to date. Their case rates are three times as high as for the general public.

Remember: These are the reported cases. The real numbers are assumed to be higher. The virus ripples outward from these hot spots, engulfing the families and communities of inmates and workers. The coronavirus does not respect prison walls any more than it respects state or national borders. It will not be confined.

This spread poses a particular problem for rural communities – 40 percent of prisons are in counties with fewer than 50,000 residents – which typically lack the health care infrastructure to deal with such outbreaks. Even a modest outbreak can quickly overwhelm local hospitals with scant numbers of ventilators and I.C.U. beds.

Local jails face additional challenges. While prisons report much larger case numbers, the rapid turnover in jails – where many people are confined for only a few days or even hours – enables the virus to circulate swiftly between inmates and the larger community, and makes tracking all the more difficult. In a report last month on outbreaks in the Mountain West, The Times noted that in Cascade County, Mont., infections at the local jail made up about a quarter of all known cases in the county. Over two months, the facility knowingly released 29 people who were considered actively infected.

As with so much about the pandemic, this is a problem that should have been dealt with more aggressively early on. In the spring, Attorney General Bill Barr was among those calling on correctional facilities to mitigate risk, with a focus on reducing overcrowding through early release and other decarceration measures. While some progress has been made, it has been uneven and inadequate.

“Prisons and jails experienced declines in total population (approximately 11 percent of the incarcerated population) in the first half of 2020,” according to a report on decarceration put out by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The report notes that “these reductions appear to be mainly the result of declines in arrests, jail bookings and prison admissions related to lockdowns and the closure of state and local courts.” It continues: “The releases among sentenced jail and prison populations that have occurred have, for the most part, occurred on a case-by-case basis and have been procedurally slow and not well suited to crisis situations.”

While many jails saw a population drop during the first few months of the pandemic, the numbers of people being held in jails began climbing again over the summer, according to a September briefing by the Prison Policy Initiative, which analyzed 451 county jails. “In 88 counties, jail populations are higher now than they were before the pandemic” the briefing notes.

Some states have taken legislative action to speed the decarceration process. A bill signed by New Jersey’s governor last month permits prisoners with less than a year left on their sentences to be released up to eight months early. This has already prompted the release of more than 2,000 people, with another 1,000 or more releases anticipated.

All too often, continued foot-dragging or dysfunction by prison officials requires the courts to step in. In the spring and summer, the San Quentin State Prison in California had a major coronavirus outbreak. Built in the mid 1800s and early 1900s, the outdated facility suffered from overcrowding, inadequate medical staffing, “exceedingly poor ventilation, extraordinarily close living quarters and inadequate sanitation,” according to a panel of medical experts from the University of California, Berkeley, who were brought in to assess the situation in June. By late July, the number of active cases had topped 1,600. Tents were erected to house the sick. Before the outbreak faded, around 2,200 inmates had confirmed coronavirus infections, and 28 had died. In addition, 298 staff members were infected, resulting in one death.

The problem continued to fester. In late October, a state appeals court ruled that the prison authorities’ efforts to address the issue had been insufficient and that inmates’ constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment was still being violated. To deal with the emergency, the prison was ordered to cut its population by around half, through a mix of releases and transfers. (The original outbreak was sparked by the transfer to San Quentin of infected inmates from another prison.)

Clearly, more needs to be done. The report by the National Academies outlines best practices for reducing the incarcerated population, broken down into short-term and longer-term solutions. The suggested measures start with a systemic commitment to diversion efforts such as “noncustodial penalties” for minor infractions, including probation and parole violations, and the limiting of pretrial detentions through means such as reducing or eliminating bail.

In addition to offering guidance on a bolder decarceration effort, the report stresses the importance of minimizing risks to the families and communities involved, such as “offering testing prior to release, a place to quarantine in the community, and examination of parole and probation policies and procedures.” More comprehensive and more standardized testing and reporting requirements are also needed.

Managing this kind of crisis is not a one-and-done effort, the report emphasizes. It is a process requiring “sustained engagement” by a wide array of actors at all levels.

It is all too easy for many Americans to ignore the horrors of what is happening inside the nation’s prisons and jails. Inmates are isolated from the broader populace, their suffering kept out of sight. But their welfare in this pandemic remains inextricably linked to everyone else’s. The nation’s continued failure to bring the virus to heel among this vulnerable population is both a public health catastrophe and a moral one.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

___

Nov. 19

The Houston Chronicle on the fatal shooting of Joshua Jackson by a Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy and the lack of public information on cases involving law enforcement shootings:

Just before dawn on April 22, Joshua Johnson was shot and killed near his parents’ home in Missouri City by an undercover Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy. Hours later, standing behind yellow police tape about 200 feet from where the 35-year-old’s body lay under a sheet, his family demanded answers.

In a recorded conversation with Sgt. Allen Beall of the sheriff’s department, Richard Beary, Johnson’s stepfather, can be heard asking to see his son and why his body is still on the ground.

Beall gives what would soon become the official story: How Johnson walked up to the unmarked Ford Explorer where a plainclothes deputy sat on the lookout for a murder suspect. How Johnson allegedly tapped on the window holding a BB gun in one hand and his cellphone, its light shining, in the other. How he failed to lower the gun when told to and how the deputy opened fire while seated, hitting Johnson at least twice.

The family was distraught. How was the narrative – that Johnson was the victim of bad luck and poor judgment – already so neat when the medical examiner hadn’t arrived yet and, as Beall acknowledges in the recording, he hadn’t even spoken to the deputy involved?

“I’m tired of this BS, y’all,” Beary said in the recording, his voice breaking. “Police for years been shooting Black people for no reason. I’m not going to say, ‘y’all did it,’ but I want to know the facts about my son.”

Almost seven months later, the family says they’re still waiting.

The sheriff’s office has completed its investigation but is not disclosing the results. A spokesman said that’s to avoid compromising a separate review by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which plans to take its findings to a grand jury.

“We only have one chance, unless there’s new evidence, to present a case to a grand jury,” district attorney spokesman Dane Schiller told the editorial board. “For the family and for the community, we have to get it right.”

Officials’ decisions to not disclose more information until after a fair and thorough investigation seems reasonable, even if that’s no comfort to Johnson’s family. District Attorney Kim Ogg’s policy of conducting independent reviews of each officer-involved shooting before taking the case to a grand jury has meant true progress in a county where grand juries once cleared officers in shootings some 300 consecutive times. It can be a slow process, given both COVID-related delays and the sheer number of such shootings: 33 this year alone in Harris County, 16 resulting in civilian deaths.

Still, nearly seven months is a long time for any parent to wait for answers in the death of a child – or for the community to learn what happened. The grief of Johnson’s family is understandable and so is the general mistrust in law enforcement these days given the nauseating pattern of police brutality and deaths in custody across the country.

Johnson’s family has launched its own investigation and found support from U.S. Congressman Al Green. So far, they have interviewed neighbors and gathered evidence that seems to contradict what officials said happened.

They point to neighbor testimony that places the deputy’s vehicle in a vacant lot several houses over from where the shooting occurred and the unlikely trajectory of a bullet that struck a neighbor’s garage. They wonder if the deputy identified himself. They ask how a mortally wounded Johnson managed to hold on to his BB gun and cellphone as he stumbled back to his car, where he was found by police.

“They have their theory,” Green said of the sheriff’s office, “but it doesn’t seem to coincide with the facts.”

The family also notes that in 2015, the deputy who shot Johnson, Tu Tran, a 12-year veteran of the office, killed an armed man outside a Houston nightclub while working security. A grand jury declined to indict in the shooting. The deputy was later suspended without pay in 2017 after a video showed him striking a handcuffed suspect in the throat after a vehicle chase.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez met with the family several times and tried to address their concerns, said spokesman Jason Spencer. Tran is back on active duty.

Spencer said that except in rare cases, any disciplinary action and disclosure of an investigation’s details wait until a grand jury has its say.

The skepticism of Johnson’s family is supported by a long history, in Harris County and elsewhere, of covering up police wrongdoing when it comes to the deaths of civilians, especially Black men.

That’s why each of these cases deserves our attention and vigilance as a community. We have to stop, take notice, and listen when families raise the kinds of concerns that officials and the media used to ignore. We urge agencies investigating to do so thoroughly, promptly and with as much transparency as possible.

But we also have to give law enforcement officials time to do their jobs.

We also note that both Ogg and Gonzalez have a record of holding law enforcement accountable.

The sheriff fired Deputy Chauna Thompson in 2017 after she helped restrain a man while her husband choked him to death and dismissed Deputy Cameron Brewer after a deadly shooting in 2018. During Ogg’s tenure, six Houston Police officers have been indicted over the botched Harding Street raid, including two counts of felony murder for former officer Gerald Goines.

We implore Gonzalez and Ogg to show the same integrity in Johnson’s case, and to never forget that somewhere in each of these cases, there’s a grieving family who’s skeptical, suffering and desperately waiting for answers.

Online: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/

Inside the Ring: Biden, Democrats to scale back nukes

Biden, Democrats to scale back nukes

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Presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden has said he would return to an Obama-era policy of reducing the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. (Associated Press) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The federal government’s $1.2 trillion program to upgrade U.S. nuclear forces is in jeopardy with the election of presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden and a Congress that could be led in both chambers by Democrats.

Anti-nuclear activists in Congress are expected to press for scaling back the effort to build new missiles, bombers and ballistic missile submarines — despite the high priority modernization has been given by the Pentagon.

After years of failing to fully fund recapitalization of aging nuclear forces, the Trump administration embarked on a major spending program for nuclear forces. Most current systems are aging and in need of upgrades, even as both China and Russian have for years been engaged in large-scale nuclear modernization programs.

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The former vice president has not provided details on how he will approach nuclear modernization. But in early 2017 he said in a speech that spending more for building up nuclear forces in ways opposite those of the Obama administration would not improve American security.

“If future budgets reverse the choices we’ve made and pour additional money into a nuclear buildup, it hearkens back to the Cold War and will do nothing to increase the day-to-day security of the United States or our allies,” Mr. Biden said.

The Democratic president-elect has said he would return to President Obama‘s policy of reducing the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. military posture. He also favors “no-first-use” nuclear policies like the one adopted by China, which claims Beijing will only nuclear weapons in a conflict to retaliate against an enemy’s nuclear attack.

Plans to build “low-yield” nuclear weapons that U.S. military commanders have said are needed to deter comparable nuclear threats from China and Russia are also likely to be shelved by an incoming Biden administration.

Michele Flournoy, deputy defense secretary in the Obama administration and a candidate to head the Department of Defense under Mr. Biden, outlined her views on nuclear forces in 2017. Ms. Flournoy said investments are needed to maintain a strong, stable and effective nuclear deterrent, but added, “We also have to make sure that it’s one that we can afford and sustain.”

Rather than spending heavily on new nuclear forces, other military modernization programs should be funded, she told the Arms Control Association.

A future nuclear force could employ “a different mix of systems and capabilities,” Ms. Flournoy said.

“I do think we need to debate that in looking at the broad architecture of the [nuclear] triad, but also looking at specific systems and what is the most cost-effective approach to creating a more modern set of capabilities,” she said.

Not all legs of the triad — missiles, bombers and submarines — may be needed.

“I think that it’s a question as to (a) whether we need an ICBM leg; and (b) if we do need some ICBM leg, how big does it really have to be to serve the purpose” she said.

Ms. Flournoy also said she has not decided whether the new B-21 bomber is needed to replace the largely 1960s-era B-52 force. That means the Biden administration could conduct another nuclear posture review that would supersede the Trump administration’s 2018 review.

The review could be used by the new administration to scrap plans to replace aging Minuteman 3 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles with a new missile. The new missile is estimated to cost at least $85 billion.

That would result in nuclear forces relying solely on the new B-21 bomber and older strategic bombers, along with the new Columbia-class nuclear missile submarines.

In Congress, should the Senate switch to Democrat control, liberal anti-nuclear advocates in both the Senate and House will have a clear path to make significant cuts in nuclear force modernization and overall defense spending.

Two former aides to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer warned recently that defense cuts are coming under Democrats.

“If Democrats effectively leverage the House majority and executive branch, they could put their mark on national security by retiring legacy platforms and closing unneeded installations; sustaining essential [Defense Department] platforms, reallocating resources, and leveraging technological advancements from the private sector to modernize the DoD,” wrote Israel Klein and Brian Greer in The Hill.

Cuts in nuclear modernization likely will be met with opposition from U.S. military leaders. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown recently said that building new missiles and bombers is his highest priority

“Nuclear modernization is there at the top,” he told Defense News.

General on hypersonic warfare

Air Force Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, recently outlined the military’s plan for conducting ultrahigh speed hypersonic warfare.

One key program to be involved is called Joint All Domain Command and Control, dubbed JADC2.

Asked earlier this month about deterring China, which is leading the world in hypersonic weapons and recently announced deployment of its first hypersonic strike weapon, the DF-17 missile, Gen. Wilsbach said he has been contemplating what weapons are needed.

In addition to U.S. hypersonic missiles currently in development, there is a new system that can detect and counter enemy hypersonics as well as guide and direct U.S. high-speed missiles.

“These weapons travel at such a speed and they go such a great distance that it’s very difficult to defend against,” the general said Nov. 17 in a meeting with reporters. “That means you can hold targets at risk with a minimum amount of time, it really cuts the time of flight of the weapon down, and the success that the weapon hits the target is considerably higher than the current family of weapons that we have.”

The U.S. is “on our way” to building some of these weapons, he noted.

To guide American hypersonic missiles and track and destroy enemy hypersonics, Gen. Wilsbach said the military is building the JADC2 high-tech sensor and tracking system, combining all systems of Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force into a single network.

“What is JADC2? It’s the ability to command and control your joint forces to create an integrated set of dilemmas for your adversary, at a volume as well as at a pace that your adversary really has a hard time keeping up with,” the four-star general explained.

The Air Force variant of the system is called the “advanced battle management system” that the general described as a software network of networks. The system gives commanders “situational awareness of what the targets are, where they are, where your forces are, and to communicate a tasking to those forces to strike the target,” he said.

Forces in the Indo-Pacific recently conducted experiments in the region and European forces also were practicing with the system. More tests will be held in coming year.

The JADC2, when combined with hypersonic weapons, will be shared with American allies and partners to increase the effectiveness of regional and global defenses.

COVID-restricted Thanksgiving meals

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) once again has moved large numbers of Thanksgiving Day meals to troops deployed in Afghanistan and other missions around the world.

This year holiday meals will be held in COVID-restricted dining facilities and galleys in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Korea, Japan, Qatar and Honduras, as well as in the United States. Following months of preparation, all 9,000 turkeys that were sent to hubs in Europe, Southwest Asia and Alaska come from the U.S. farms and were flown aboard Transportation Command aircraft.

This year’s supply of Thanksgiving Day food had the added problem of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic that has made a challenging logistics feat more difficult. Meal halls in many troop locations have limited seating in a bid to limit the risk of infection.

In addition to whole turkeys, the holiday menu includes 74,000 pounds of beef, 21,000 pounds of ham, 67,000 pounds of shrimp, 16,000 pounds of sweet potatoes, 19,000 pounds of pies and cakes, 7,000 gallons of eggnog and other treats.

“Thanksgiving is the food service Super Bowl,” said Todd Lutz, customer operations division chief in DLA’s Subsistence supply chain.

The DLA troop support branch supplies the services each year with $19 billion in food, uniforms, protective gear, medicine and medical supplies, repair parts and construction equipment.

The DLA is the main combat logistics support agency for the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Coast Guard, 11 combatant commands. It also supplies other federal agencies and allied nations.

• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz

Oklahoma schools may offer in-school quarantine of students

Oklahoma schools may offer in-school quarantine of students

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By KEN MILLER

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Wednesday that public schools will be allowed to offer in-school quarantines for students exposed to the virus.

Schools in Mustang became the first in the state to adopt the policy, the department said.

“In the past, if a student had tested positive for COVID-19, any students who interacted with the case — up to the entire class — would have been required to move to distance learning for 14 days,” said Dr. Jared Taylor, Interim State Epidemiologist. “An in-school quarantine option is the best way to keep our kids in school and prevent them from falling behind.”

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Mustang Superintendent Charles Bradley said in a statement said the policy allows the suburban Oklahoma City district to avoid moving entirely to online teaching.

“Our goal, as a school district, is to have in-person instruction for five days each week for all of our students, but we will only do that if it is safe,” Bradley said. “This in-school quarantine pilot program will help move us in that direction.”

Students who are quarantined will be allowed to go to school to take part in virtual classes, but kept out of individual classrooms in buildings such as gyms or an auditorium where they would be socially distanced and must wear masks.

The policy will be in effect from Nov. 30 through Dec. 23.

In Oklahoma City, three bars and four bar employees are suing the city over Mayor David Holt’s proclamation that in-person service at bars must end at 11 p.m.

The lawsuit alleges Holt overstepped his legal authority and improperly cited the city’s Riot Control and Prevention Act when he declared a public disaster and issued the proclamation this month.

“The plain and unambiguous language of the RCPA makes clear that its intent is to control and prevent riots-not to contain the spread of pandemics,” according to the lawsuit.

City spokesperson Kristy Yager declined to comment on the pending litigation, which city attorneys moved from state to federal court because it makes claims under the U.S. Constitution.

Attorney Frank Urbanic, representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Oklahoma City, said he will file a new lawsuit that does not include federal claims.

Last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a statewide emergency due to COVID-19 and issued restrictions on bars and restaurants that prohibit on-premises consumption of all food and beverages after 11 p.m.

Urbanic told The Associated Press on Wednesday that stopping the Oklahoma City declaration would not end the governor’s requirement that bars and restaurants stop in-person service at 11 p.m. He said the difference is the governor’s declaration carries no penalty while the city’s ordinance includes a possible $750 fine and up to six months in jail for those who violate it.

“Oklahoma City needs to be stopped first,” Urbanic said. “That would take the penalty out of it.”

In Tulsa, the City Council approved measures Tuesday night that are intended to slow the spread of the virus, including giving the Tulsa Health Department authority to enforce the city’s ordinances in public places such as restaurants and bars.

“Just as THD staff inspect local food establishments to ensure they are operating safely to prevent foodborne illnesses, our staff will now also help local businesses keep their employees and customers safe,” Health Director Bruce Dart said.

The measures also require event organizers to submit safety plans to the health department 14 days prior to an event of 150 or more people, down from 500, and businesses must require customers and employees to follow the city’s mask mandate.

There is no penalty for failing to wear a mask, but the ordinance says people who refuse to do so could face trespassing, disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace charges.

The state health department reported a record one-day high of 1,604 people hospitalized with confirmed or probable cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday. The were 3,732 newly reported cases and 16 additional deaths for totals of 184,342 cases and 1,680 deaths since the pandemic began.

Liberal think tank urges DOJ to block sale of Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House

DOJ should block Simon & Schuster sale, liberal think tank says

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This March 13, 2003 file photo shows an exterior view of the German media giant Bertelsmann in Guetersloh, Germany. German media giant Bertelsmann said Wednesday that it is buying publisher Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS for $2.17 billion in cash. … more >

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By Ryan Lovelace

The Washington Times

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The liberal Open Markets Institute said Wednesday that the sale of Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House poses “multiple dangers to American democracy,” and called on the Department of Justice to intervene.

ViacomCBS announced Wednesday that it agreed to sell book publisher Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House, which is owned by Bertelsmann, for $2.175 billion in cash.

Open Markets Institute executive director Barry Lynn said the deal would deliver too much power over the U.S. book market to a foreign-owned corporation.

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“The Open Markets Institute calls on the Justice Department to challenge this deal and to make clear that no further consolidation of power will be allowed in America’s book publishing industry, which is already too concentrated,” said Mr. Lynn in a statement.

“Open Markets also calls on the Justice Department to immediately take steps to break Amazon’s power over the sale and distribution of books in America, which is the ultimate source of the pressures on America’s authors, editors, and publishers, as all the major publishers have made repeatedly clear in recent years.”

ViacomCBS said Wednesday that it expects the deal to close in 2021, subject to regulatory approvals. The announcement of the sale billed the deal as the “outcome of a highly competitive auction that attracted interest from buyers around the world.”

The deal has the potential to alter the book-publishing landscape in the United States and places American regulators in a crucial position to decide the future of the industry for years to come.

If successful, the deal would knock the big five publishers in the book industry down to four. Alongside Penguin Random House, the others are Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, and Macmillian.

Penguin and Random House consolidated in 2013.

Court overturns ruling that Germany must press US on drones

Court overturns ruling that Germany must press US on drones

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – Germany‘s top administrative court has ruled that the country’s government can’t be forced to ensure that U.S. drone strikes controlled via an American military base on German territory are in line with international law.

The decision Wednesday by the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig overturns a ruling last year that held the German government partly responsible for making sure that such military operations comply with international law.

The ruling restores a lower court decision in 2015 that concluded the German had fulfilled its legal duties and was within its rights to balance them with “foreign and defense policy interests.”

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The case was brought by human rights groups on behalf of three Yemeni plaintiffs who allege their relatives were killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2012. They alleged that the U.S. air base in Ramstein, southern Germany, plays a key role in the relay of flight control data used for armed drone strikes in Yemen.

Jennifer Gibson of the human rights group Reprieve said the plaintiffs would continue to campaign against the drone strikes.

“What we are talking about here is a secret assassination program that kills scores of civilians each year,” said Gibson. “It is simply unsustainable, and despite today’s ruling, clearly unlawful.”

Granting the German government‘s appeal against last year’s verdict, judges in Leipzig said that Berlin could only be compelled to take further action if “due to the number and circumstances of the breaches of international law that have already taken place there must be a concrete expectation further actions that are illegal under international law will also occur in future.”

They also concluded that there was no direct link to Germany in the case, citing the provision of technical relay capabilities as insufficient.

Judges noted that the German government had taken some steps to address the issue in its communications by seeking assurances from Washington, thereby proving that Berlin had made an effort to ensure the plaintiffs’ rights were protected.

UN agency: Israel’s Gaza blockade has devastated economy

UN agency: Israel’s Gaza blockade has devastated economy

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A Palestinian boy sells bananas on a donkey carte in an alley in the Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has cost the seaside territory as much as $16.7 … more >

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By JOSEF FEDERMAN

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has cost the seaside territory as much as $16.7 billion in economic losses and sent poverty and unemployment skyrocketing, a U.N. report said Wednesday, as it called on Israel to lift the closure.

The report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development echoed calls by numerous international bodies over the years criticizing the blockade. But its findings, looking at an 11-year period ending in 2018, marked perhaps the most detailed analysis of the Israeli policy to date.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after Hamas, an Islamic militant group that opposes Israel’s existence, violently seized control of Gaza from the forces of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. The Israeli measures, along with restrictions by neighboring Egypt, have tightly controlled the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory.

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Israel says the restrictions are needed to keep Hamas from building up its military capabilities. The bitter enemies have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes over the years.

But critics say the blockade has amounted to collective punishment, hurting the living conditions of Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants while failing to oust Hamas or moderate its behavior. Gaza has almost no clean drinking water, it suffers from frequent power outages and people cannot freely travel abroad.

“The result has been the near-collapse of Gaza’s regional economy and its isolation from the Palestinian economy and the rest of the world,” the U.N. agency said in a statement.

The report analyzed both the effects of the closure, which has greatly limited Gaza’s ability to export goods, as well as the effects of the three wars, which took place in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014.

The last war was especially devastating, killing over 2,200 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, and displacing some 100,000 people from homes that were damaged or destroyed, according to U.N. figures. Seventy-three people, including six civilians, were killed on the Israeli side, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and indiscriminate Hamas rocket fire brought life to a standstill in southern Israel.

Using two methodologies, the report said that overall economic losses due to the blockade and wars ranged from $7.8 billion to $16.7 billion. It said Gaza’s economy grew by a total of just 4.8% during the entire period, even as its population grew over 40%.

These economic losses helped propel unemployment in Gaza from 35% in 2006 to 52% in 2018, one of the highest rates in the world, UNCTAD said.

It said the poverty rate jumped from 39% in 2007 to 55% in 2017. Based on Gaza’s economic trends before the closure, the report said the poverty rate could have been just 15% in 2017 if the wars and blockade had not occurred.

“The impact is the impoverishment of the people of Gaza, who are already under blockade,” said Mahmoud Elkhafif, the agency’s coordinator of assistance to the Palestinian people and author of the report.

Israel has long accused the U.N. of being biased against it. The report, for instance, included only a brief mention that indiscriminate rocket fire at Israeli civilian areas is prohibited under international law. “Palestinian militants must cease that practice immediately,” it said.

Israel‘s Foreign Ministry accused UNCTAD of failing its mission to assist developing economies and presenting a “one-sided and distorted depiction” that disregards ”terrorist organizations’ control over the Gaza Strip and their responsibility for what occurs in the Gaza Strip.”

“In light of all this, we cannot take the findings of the reports it publishes seriously, and this report is no different,” it said.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the report revealed “the level of the crime” committed by Israel.

“This siege has amounted to a real war crime and pushed all services sectors in the Gaza Strip to collapse,” he said. “These figures also reveal the international inability to deal with the illegal siege on Gaza.”

Gisha, an Israeli human rights group that pushes for freedom of movement in an out of Gaza, said it was Israel’s “moral and legal obligation” to lift the closure. “The true price paid by Palestinians in lost time, opportunities, and separation from loved ones is inestimable,” it said.

The U.N. agency said it compiled the report at the request of the U.N. General Assembly and noted that it did not include other costs of Israeli occupation over the Palestinians. Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

UNCTAD, a technical agency that seeks to reduce global inequality, recommended that Israel lift the blockade to allow free trade and movement. It also called for reconstruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, addressing Gaza’s electricity and water crisis, allowing the Palestinians to develop offshore natural gas fields and for the international community to push Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to reconcile.

___

Associated Press writer Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza City, Gaza Strip.

James Mattis failed to disclose his role with consultant tied to China in bombshell column

Mattis failed to disclose role with global consultant tied to China in bombshell column

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and Vice President Mike Pence, right, listen to President Donald Trump, center, speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 23, 2018, about the $1.3 trillion spending bill. (AP Photo/Pablo … more >

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By Rowan Scarborough

The Washington Times

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A column this week by former Defense Secretary James N. Mattis that blasted President Trump‘s “America First” theme did not disclose that Mr. Mattis holds a senior position at the Cohen Group, a firm that dedicates itself to making business deals in China.

Mr. Trump‘s get-tough approach toward China — tariffs and prohibitions on Beijing‘s cyberproducts — is generally counter to the Cohen Group‘s objective of bringing Chinese and U.S. companies together in multimillion dollar deals.

The Cohen Group, founded by former Defense Secretary William Cohen and staffed by a number of former high-ranking government and military leaders, has two of its four overseas offices in China.

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Mr. Mattis’ Nov. 23 ForeignAffairs.com column was co-authored with three other national security experts, but it was his name that gave it weight in the news media. The article’s thoughts resemble the Obama administration‘s China approach. It could be a window into how presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden pulls back from Mr. Trump‘s hardline.

Mr. Mattis is identified in his column as a former defense secretary and fellow at the Hoover Institution, but not as a senior counselor at the Cohen Group global consulting firm in Washington.

In the column, Mr. Mattis rejects Secretary of State Mike Pompeo‘s campaign of rallying Asian countries against China‘s drive for dominance. Mr. Mattis does not mention China‘s declared economic war against U.S. ally Australia in retaliation for Canberra calling for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

China has yet to explain and document exactly how the pandemic began in Wuhan, where the virus was first discovered in 2019.

Mr. Mattis wrote, in a broad indictment of Mr. Trump‘s foreign policy: “Crucially, the United States should not press countries to choose outright between the two powers. A ‘with us or against us’ approach plays to China‘s advantage, because the economic prosperity of U.S. allies and partners hinges on strong trade and investment relationships with Beijing. Rather than treating countries as pawns in a great-power competition, a better approach would emphasize common codes of behavior and encourage states to publicly promulgate a vision for their country’s sovereign future and the types of partnerships they need to pursue it.

“It would also expand the cooperative space in which all countries supporting a rules-based order can work together to advance shared interests. Cooperation across different ideological systems is difficult but necessary, and there should be opportunities to cooperate with China in areas of overlapping interests, such as pandemic response, climate change and nuclear security.”

Mr. Mattis urged Mr. Biden to remove “America First” from all foreign policies.

The Cohen Group announced Mr. Mattis’ hiring in September 2019 as a “senior counselor,” calling him a “national treasure.” His photo is prominently featured on its home page. “China is a market of enormous opportunity and complexity,” the firm states. “The Cohen Group’s (TCG) China Practice has a solid record of success with professionals in offices in Beijing, Tianjin and Washington, D.C.

“Building upon decades of experience, on-the-ground management expertise, and longtime personal and professional relationships throughout the region, TCG‘s China Practice helps companies succeed in the Chinese market. TCG enables Fortune 500 companies, as well as small- and medium-sized enterprises, to achieve their commercial goals in China through tailored government, business and media relations strategies.”

Citing a recent “success,” the website said, “TCG facilitated discussions between a global pharmaceutical company and relevant Chinese government entities regarding the regulatory framework for a high-profile drug, resulting in a mutually beneficial solution for both the company and the Chinese healthcare community.”

Mr. Mattis, a highly decorated and respected Marine Corps four-star general who oversaw all Middle East troops as Central Command head, resigned as Mr. Trump‘s defense secretary to protest planned troop withdrawals from Syria.

American forces are backing Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State terrorists. Mr. Trump argues he smashed the ISIS hold on Syrian territory. About 500 American troops remain in Syria.

Robert Gates, a Republican and President Barack Obama’s first defense secretary, has praised Mr. Trump‘s foreign policy.

“At least he has not started any new wars,” Mr. Gates said on “Meet the Press.” “And he has robustly funded the military. … I thought his challenging China was about time.”

Mr. Gates has said that the Western powers welcomed China into the family of nations some 20 years ago and China reacted by violating trade rules to gain advantages.

Led by Mr. Pompeo, the Trump administration unleashed a series of actions against China‘s drive to lead the world. It uses tariffs to rein in what it calls unfair trade practices and calls out China for the illegal theft of U.S. inventions and personal identities and for rampant spying in colleges, businesses and government.

The FBI says it opened numerous counter-intelligence probes into Chinese nationals. It estimates that China has broken into computer networks and stolen the personal information of half the American population.

The Trump administration shut down a Chinese consulate in Houston, calling it nothing more than an intelligence collection hub. Mr. Trump has blocked U.S. businesses from doing deals with Chinese companies supporting the People’s Liberation Army. It has called China‘s telecommunications giant Huawei a spying tool. He has required China‘s propaganda arms in the U.S. to register as foreign agents rather than continue operations as journalists.

Mr. Pompeo and congressional Republicans have accused China of covering up the coronavirus outbreak by telling the world initially that it was not contagious as travelers arrived in the U.S. and Europe where the virus went on to infect millions.

As vice president Mr. Biden was the Obama administration‘s point man on China while his son, Hunter, engaged in networking with Chinese billionaires. He eventually worked out multimillion-dollar deals for himself and uncle James Biden.

A Senate Republican report documented the flow of cash based on Treasury Department suspicious activity reports (SARS) filed by lending institutions because they suspected illegality such as money laundering.

In 2011, Mr. Biden delivered a speech in China as Hunter was making business contacts there, promising to integrate China into American life.

“In order to cement this robust partnership, we have to go beyond close ties between Washington and Beijing, which we’re working on every day, go beyond it to include all levels of government, go beyond it to include classrooms, and laboratories, authentic fields and boardrooms.”

Mr. Biden returned to China in 2013 with Hunter onboard Air Force 2.

With hope high for vaccine, Britain prepares to roll it out

With hope high for COVID-19 vaccine, Britain prepares to roll it out

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In this undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. With major COVID-19 vaccines showing high levels of protection, British officials are cautiously … more >

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By Danica Kirka

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

LONDON (AP) — With major COVID-19 vaccines showing high levels of protection, British officials are cautiously — and they stress cautiously — optimistic that life may start returning to normal by early April.

Even before regulators have approved a single vaccine, the U.K. and countries across Europe are moving quickly to organize the distribution and delivery systems needed to inoculate millions of citizens.

“If we can roll it out at a good lick … then with a favorable wind, this is entirely hypothetical, but we should be able to inoculate, I believe on the evidence I’m seeing, the vast majority of the people who need the most protection by Easter,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday after vaccine makers in recent weeks have announced encouraging results. “That will make a very substantial change to where we are at the moment.”

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The U.K. has recorded more than 55,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, the deadliest outbreak in Europe. The pandemic has prevented families from meeting, put 750,000 people out of work and devastated businesses that were forced to shut as authorities tried to control the spread. England’s second national lockdown will end Dec. 2, but many restrictions will remain in place.

The British government has agreed to purchase up to 355 million doses of vaccine from seven different producers, as it prepares to vaccinate as many of the country’s 67 million people as possible. Governments around the world are making agreements with multiple developers to ensure they lock in delivery of the products that are ultimately approved by regulators.

The National Health Service is making plans to administer 88.5 million vaccine doses throughout England, according to a planning document dated Nov. 13. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are developing their own plans under the U.K.’s system of devolved administration.

The first to be vaccinated would be health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by older people, starting with those over 80, according to the document, first reported by the London-based Health Service Journal. People under 65 with underlying medical conditions would be next, then healthy people 50 to 65 and finally everyone else 18 and over.

While most of the injections would be delivered at around 1,000 community vaccination centers, about a third would go to 40 to 50 “large-scale mass vaccination centers,” including stadiums, conference centers and similar venues, the document indicates.

The NHS confirmed the document was genuine but said details and target dates are always changing because the vaccination program is a work in progress.

Professor Mark Jit, an expert in vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said Britain has the advantage of having a well-developed medical infrastructure that can be used to deliver the vaccine.

But this effort will be unlike standard vaccination programs that target individuals one at a time.

“The challenge now is to deliver the biggest vaccine program in living memory in the U.K. and other countries around the world,” Jit said. “We’re not vaccinating just children or pregnant women like many other vaccination programs…. We’re trying to vaccinate the entire U.K. population. And we’re trying to do it very quickly.”

Other European countries are also getting ready, as are the companies that will be crucial to the rollout.

For example Germany’s Binder, which makes specialized cooling equipment for laboratories, has ramped up production of refrigerated containers needed to transport some of the vaccines under development. Binder is producing a unit that will reach the ultra-cold temperatures needed to ship the Pfizer vaccine.

The German government has asked regional authorities to get special vaccination centers ready by mid-December. France, meanwhile, has reserved 90 million vaccine doses, but has not yet laid out its plan for mass vaccination. A government spokesman said last week that authorities were working to identify locations for vaccination centers, choose companies to transport vaccines and set the rules for shipping and storage.

In Spain, health workers will get priority, as will residents of elder care homes. Spain hopes to vaccinate some 2.5 million people in the first stage between January and March and have most of the vulnerable population covered by mid-year. The vaccinations will be administered in 13,000 public health centers.

But sticking syringes in people’s arms is just the last part of the enormous logistical challenge the worldwide mass vaccination campaign will pose.

First, drugmakers must ramp up production, so there is enough supply to vaccinate billions of people in a matter of months. Then they have to overcome distribution hurdles such as storing some of the products at minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 Fahrenheit). Finally, they will need to manage complex supply chains reminiscent of the just-in-time delivery systems carmakers use to keep their factories humming.

“It will be the challenge of the century, basically, because of the volumes and everything else which are going to be involved …,” said Richard Wilding, a professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield School of Management. “It’s just the absolute scale.”

Vaccines from three drugmakers are considered leading candidates. Pfizer and Moderna have released preliminary data showing their vaccines were about 95% effective. AstraZeneca on Monday reported interim results of its vaccine developed with Oxford researchers that were also encouraging. Dozens of other vaccines are under development, including projects in China and Russia.

Britain and other Northern Hemisphere countries may also get a boost from the weather, said Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer. Transmission of respiratory viruses generally slows during the warmer months.

“The virus will not disappear, but it will become less and less risky for society.”

But Johnson, who credited NHS nurses with saving his life after he was hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this year, warned restrictions will continue for months and Christmas celebrations will be curtailed this year.

“We can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill, but they are not here yet,” Johnson said.

___

Associated Press writers David Rising and Geir Moulson in Berlin, Angela Charlton in Paris and Ciarán Giles in Madrid contributed.

Iran’s president hopes Biden unravels Trump’s Iran policies

Iran’s president hopes Biden unravels Trump’s Iran policies

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In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. On Sunday, Rouhani called on President-elect Joe Biden to "compensate for … more >

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By AMIR VAHDAT

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s president reiterated his hope Wednesday that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden would return America’s Iran policy to where he left things as vice president four years ago, state TV reported, rejoining Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Hassan Rouhani said that if Iran and the U.S. could find a path back to “the situation on Jan 20, 2017,” President Donald Trump’s inauguration day, “it could be a huge solution for many issues and problems.”

Under Trump, tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated, pushing the two sides to the brink of war earlier this year.

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One of Trump’s signature foreign policy moves was unilaterally withdrawing from the nuclear accord in 2018, which had limited Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Trump has since piled punishing sanctions on Iran that have devastated the country’s economy and crashed its currency.

Rouhani called on Biden to “explicitly condemn” Trump’s maximum pressure campaign as well as “compensate for wrong policies pursued over the past four years,” a possible reference to the massive financial losses Iran suffered as a result of Trump’s sanctions campaign.

In an effort to pressure Europe to find a way around the sanctions, Iran has gradually abandoned the limits of the nuclear deal. Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile, which would have been under 300 kilograms (660 pounds) in the deal, now stands at over 2,440 kilograms (5,380 pounds), according to the latest report by U.N. inspectors.

That’s potentially enough material to make at least two nuclear weapons, experts say, if Iran chose to pursue the bomb. Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Rouhani, a relative moderate, along with Iran’s foreign minister, have signaled the country’s willingness to roll back its enrichment and return to negotiations.

Although Biden appears unlikely to lift crippling sanctions on Iran in his “first steps” in office, as Rouhani demanded in his Wednesday speech, the president-elect has indicated he would return to the nuclear deal if Iran first comes back into compliance.

China accuses Britain of discriminating with tech ban

China accuses Britain of discriminating with tech ban

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China accused Britain on Wednesday of improperly attacking Chinese tech companies after the British government proposed a law to block market access to telecom equipment giant Huawei and other vendors that are deemed high-risk.

The foreign ministry gave no indication whether Beijing might retaliate if the law proposed Tuesday is approved. It would tighten security requirements for next-generation wireless and optical fiber networks and fine violators.

The Trump administration is lobbying European and other allies to avoid Huawei and other Chinese vendors as they upgrade telecom networks. Washington says Huawei, China’s first global tech brand, is a security risk, which the company denies.

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“Without any evidence, the British side has repeatedly cooperated with the United States to discriminate against and suppress Chinese companies under the pretext of unfounded risks,” said a ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian.

Britain is “blatantly violating the principles of market economy and free trade, seriously damaging the normal operations of Chinese companies” and hurting trust between the two governments, Zhao said.

Huawei is at the center of U.S.-Chinese tension over technology and security.

The Trump administration is trying to limit U.S. market access to Chinese companies it says might collect too much information about users or pose other risks. They include video app TikTok, video surveillance provider HikVision and messaging service WeChat.

The law proposed Tuesday would formalize British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s July order that blocks Huawei from a planned fifth-generation, or 5G, network. Britain earlier gave Huawei a limited role but reversed that under U.S. pressure.

Duchess of Sussex reveals she had miscarriage in the summer

Meghan Markle, duchess of Sussex, reveals she had miscarriage in the summer

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Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrive at the annual Endeavour Fund Awards in London on March 5, 2020. The Duchess of Sussex has revealed that she had a miscarriage in July. Meghan described the experience … more >

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Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

LONDON (AP) — The Duchess of Sussex has revealed that she had a miscarriage in July, giving a personal account of the traumatic experience in hope of helping others.

Meghan described the miscarriage n an opinion piece in the New York Times on Wednesday. She wrote: “I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.”

The former Meghan Markle and husband Prince Harry have an 18-month-old son, Archie.

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The duchess, 39, said she was sharing her story to help break the silence around an all-too-common tragedy.

“Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few,” she wrote.

“In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing.”

In a startlingly intimate account of her experience, the duchess described how tragedy struck on a “morning that began as ordinarily as any other day: Make breakfast. Feed the dogs. Take vitamins. Find that missing sock. Pick up the rogue crayon that rolled under the table. Throw my hair in a ponytail before getting my son from his crib.

“After changing his diaper, I felt a sharp cramp. I dropped to the floor with him in my arms, humming a lullaby to keep us both calm, the cheerful tune a stark contrast to my sense that something was not right.”

Later, she said, she “lay in a hospital bed, holding my husband’s hand. I felt the clamminess of his palm and kissed his knuckles, wet from both our tears. Staring at the cold white walls, my eyes glazed over. I tried to imagine how we’d heal.”

Meghan, an American actress and star of TV legal drama “Suits,” married Harry, a grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, in a lavish ceremony at Windsor Castle in May 2018. Their son was born the following year.

Early this year, the couple announced they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said was the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media. They recently bought a house in Santa Barbara, California.

UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

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Christmas lights are lit up on New Bond Street in Mayfair, London, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Haircuts, shopping trips and visits to the pub will be back on the agenda for millions of people when a four-week lockdown in England … more >

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By PAN PYLAS

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

LONDON (AP) – The British government faced fury Wednesday after ditching its long-standing target for overseas aid in the wake of what it described as the deepest recession in over three centuries.

In a statement to lawmakers, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the target to allocate 0.7% of national income to overseas aid will be cut to 0.5%. The move is expected to free up 4 billion pounds ($5.3 billion) for the Conservative government to use elsewhere, money that critics say could be used to save tens of thousands of lives in the poorest parts of the world.

While expressing “great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target,” Sunak said “sticking rigidly” to it “is difficult to justify” to people at a time when the economy has been so battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

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“At a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices,” he said.

Without giving a timetable, he said that the government aims to return to the target first laid out by the Labour government of Tony Blair in 2004. And he said that even with the new target, the U.K. will still be the second biggest aid spender among the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.

The decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism from across the political spectrum, including within Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative Party.

Liz Sugg, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, quit in the wake of the decision, arguing that it “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right.” She said it undermines Johnson’s efforts to promote a “Global Britain” in the wake of the country’s departure from the European Union earlier this year.

The U.K. is considered one of the world’s leaders in development issues so the cut was met with dismay from anti-poverty campaigners.

“Cutting the U.K.’s lifeline to the world’s poorest communities in the midst of a global pandemic will lead to tens of thousands of otherwise preventable deaths,” said Oxfam Chief Executive Danny Sriskandarajah.

Save the Children Chief Executive Kevin Watkins said the decision had “broken Britain’s reputation for leadership on the world stage” ahead of its hosting of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby joined the chorus of disapproval, describing the cut as “shameful and wrong” and urging lawmakers “to reject it for the good of the poorest, and the U.K.’s own reputation and interest.”

In a sobering assessment that provided the backdrop to the cut, Sunak sought to balance ongoing support for the economy with a longer-term commitment to heal public finances after a stark deterioration.

“Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun,” he said.

Sunak said the government’s independent economic forecasters are predicting that the British economy will shrink 11.3% this year, the “largest fall in output for more than 300 years.”

The Office for Budget Responsibility expects the economy to grow again next year as coronavirus restrictions are eased and hoped-for vaccines come on stream, though it warned that a failure to agree a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU would wipe 2 percentage points off growth next year.

Assuming a trade deal is secured by the year-end deadline, the agency is predicting growth of 5.5% in 2021 and 6.6% the following year. As a result the output lost during the pandemic won’t have been recouped until the final quarter of 2022.

Sunak warned that the pandemic’s cost will create long-term “scarring,” with the economy 3% smaller in 2025 than predicted in March, before the spring lockdown.

The massive fall in output this year has led to a huge increase in public borrowing as the government sought to cushion the blow and tax revenues fell. Sunak said the government has pumped 280 billion pounds into the economy to get through the pandemic. Public borrowing this fiscal year is set to hit 394 billion pounds, or 19% of national income, “the highest recorded level of borrowing in our peacetime history.”

He warned that underlying public debt is rising towards 100% of annual GDP.

“High as these costs are, the costs of inaction would have been far higher,” he said. “But this situation is clearly unsustainable over the medium term.”

Sunak said the 1 million doctors and nurses in the National Health Service will get a pay rise next year, as will 2.1 million of the lowest paid workers in the public sector. However, he said pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be “paused” next year.

Sunak also announced extra money to support Johnson’s program of investments in infrastructure across the U.K., particularly in the north of England, where the Conservatives won seats during the last general election. A new infrastructure bank will be headquartered there.

___

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

EU is willing to be “creative” to get a Brexit trade deal

EU is willing to be “creative” to get a Brexit trade deal

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a statement at EU headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. The European Commission announced on Tuesday that it has approved a new contract to secure another COVID-19 vaccine for Europeans. (AP … more >

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By RAF CASERT

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union on Wednesday committed to be “creative” in the very final stages of the Brexit trade negotiations but warned that whatever deal emerges, the United Kingdom will be reduced to “just a valued partner” far removed from its former membership status.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said “genuine progress” had been made on several issues “with an outline of a final text,” little more than a month before Britain’s transition period as a former EU member runs out.

And she said that on the divisive issues of fisheries, governance of any deal and the standards the U.K. must meet to export into the EU, the bloc is “ready to be creative, but we are not ready to put into question the integrity of the single market, the main safeguard for European prosperity and wealth.”

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In the EU single market, goods and services can freely flow from one of the 27 member states to another without barriers like customs or checks, and it is seen as a cornerstone of the EU. With Britain deciding to walk out, von der Leyen insisted it should feel the cold.

“One thing is clear. Whatever the outcome, there has to be and there will be a clear difference between being a full member of the union and being just a valued partner,” she told legislators at the European Parliament. Britain however is seeking to maintain many of the advantages of membership while insisting on full sovereignty within its borders and its fishing waters.

The EU legislators will have to approve any deal and many scoffed at the extended negotiations past a slew of deadlines which ever more reduces its powers to seriously vet the deal ahead of the Jan. 1 cutoff date.

“We cannot just simply agree to anything that comes up in the last minute. This parliament needs time for scrutiny and for debating any possible agreement,” said Greens leader Ska Keller.

“We will look very closely if this is an agreement that is of mutual benefit, that safeguards social and environmental standards, and that does not endanger the peace in Northern Ireland. And we will not hesitate to defend those rights and standards.”

There are widespread fears in the EU that Britain will slash those standards and pump state money into U.K. industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep.

Britain has long said the EU is making unreasonable demands and is failing to treat it as an independent, sovereign state, especially when it comes to the control of its fishing waters. It insisted EU negotiator Michel Barnier was sticking far too long to negotiating lines which would make any compromise impossible.

It made von der Leyen’s concession to be “creative” all the more significant. It even applied to fisheries. For a long time, demands were that EU trawlers would be allowed to continue to roam British waters like before, as if Brexit had never happened.

On Wednesday, von der Leyen sounded more conciliatory. “No one questions the U.K. sovereignty in its own waters, but we ask for predictability and guarantees for our fishermen and fisherwomen who have been sailing in these waters for decades, if not centuries.”

Negotiators from both sides are still talking remotely after an EU official tested positive for COVID-19, forcing Barnier into quarantine. He might be free to travel and negotiate face-to-face again as of Thursday, and observers expect a breakthrough once that happens.

Japan, China agree on economic ties, split over islands

Japan, China agree on economic ties, split over islands

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China’ Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi (unseen) participate in a press briefing in Tokyo on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Wang met Motegi on Tuesday to discuss ways to revive their pandemic-hit economies as well … more >

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By MARI YAMAGUCHI

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

TOKYO (AP) – China‘s top diplomat told Japan‘s leader on Wednesday that Beijing wants the two Asian powers to have good relations and cooperate in fighting the coronavirus and reviving their pandemic-hit economies, but the two sides remained at odds over an island dispute.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered a message from Chinese President Xi Jinping expressing his hope of developing positive relations with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and “strengthen cooperation with Japan in pandemic measures and for the economic recovery,” Wang told reporters after meeting with Suga.

Wang told Suga that ties between the two countries have improved through high-level dialogue and mutual efforts and that China wants to cooperate further in a range of areas.

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“A stable relationship between the two countries is important not only for Japan and China but also for the region and the international community, and I would like to fulfill our responsibilities together,” Suga said during his talks with Wang.

Wang’s visit came as Japan is actively promoting military and economic partnerships with countries in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s rise, which Japan considers a security threat. Beijing has criticized the move as an attempt to create an “Asian NATO.”

Often-thorny relations between the two countries have improved in recent years as China’s trade dispute with the U.S. has escalated, but territorial disputes continue to strain ties.

Suga reminded Wang of Japan‘s claim over Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands and raised concern about China‘s growing activity in the area. Chinese coast guard ships have stepped up activity around the islands despite protests and warnings by Japan.

Japan says the islands belong to it historically and under international law and that China started claiming them only after undersea oil reserves were found in the area in the 1970s.

Earlier Wednesday, Japan protested the increased Chinese activity and what it called infiltration around the islands.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the government protested after Chinese ships entered Japan’s contiguous zone, just outside its territorial waters, for the 306th time this year, including 20 cases of territorial violations.

“The situation is extremely serious,” Kato told reporters after meeting with Wang.

The Chinese ships entered the zone only a day after both sides agreed to avoid provocative actions in the contested area, he said.

On Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Wang agreed to try not to escalate tensions over the islands.

Wang was firm about China‘s right to defend its sovereignty, and accused Japanese authorities of sending “fake” fishing boats into the area to interfere with the Chinese side. Japan has said Chinese ships threatened the safety of the Japanese fishing boats.

“We hope that both sides can calmly deal with it so that it will not affect the current hard-won improvement of Sino-Japanese relations and the future development of bilateral relations,” Wang said.

The two foreign ministers agreed to resume business travel between the world’s second and third largest economies through a “business track” program that will allow visitors to engage in limited activities during their 14-day quarantine periods. They also agreed to work together on climate change, energy conservation, health care and digital commerce as part of their economic cooperation.

It was the first trip to Japan by a top Chinese official since the February visit of Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi. Officials said the two sides did not discuss a rescheduling of Xi’s state visit to Japan, postponed from the spring due to the pandemic.

After his visit to Japan, Wang heads for meetings in South Korea.

____

Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Joe Biden to deliver a Thanksgiving address seeking US unity

Joe Biden appeals for unity in Thanksgiving-eve address

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President-elect Joe Biden introduces nominees and appointees to key national security and foreign policy posts at The Queen theater, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) more >

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By ALEXANDRA JAFFE

Associated Press

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – In a time of plague and raw division, President-elect Joe Biden appealed for unity Wednesday in a Thanksgiving-eve address to the nation asking Americans to “steel our spines” for a fight against the coronavirus that he predicted would continue for months.

But even as he implored Americans to join in healing and common purpose, President Donald Trump asserted that the election should be overturned, a futile call but one that stokes the divisions Biden is trying to overcome.

With COVID-19 cases surging nationwide, Biden called on Americans to take precautions to try to stem the tide of the virus, by wearing masks and practicing social distancing. He said that he himself was taking precautions around Thanksgiving and eschewing his traditional large family gathering, instead spending the holiday with just his wife, daughter and son in law.

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“This is the moment when we need to steel our spines, redouble our efforts and recommit ourselves to this fight,” Biden said in remarks in Wilmington on Wednesday. “We’re all in this together.”

But Trump stoked the embers of his flailing effort to upend the election results as his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and other members of his legal team met Pennsylvania Republican state senators in Gettysburg. There, they again aired grievances about the election and repeated allegations of Democratic malfeasance that have already disintegrated under examination by courts.

Trump joined the meeting from the Oval Office, asserting: “This was an election that we won easily. We won it by a lot.” In fact the election gave Biden a clear mandate and no systemic fraud has been uncovered.

Biden‘s remarks came as COVID-19 cases are surging nationwide. Hospitalizations, deaths and the testing positivity rate were also up sharply as the nation approached Thanksgiving, and public health experts have warned that the large family gatherings expected for the holiday are likely to extend and exacerbate the surge.

Biden has said turning the tide of the pandemic will be the top priority of his administration once he takes office in January, and he’s made multiple public remarks urging Americans to embrace mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines to combat the spread. The Democratic president-elect formed a coronavirus advisory board of scientists, doctors and public health experts, and he plans to establish a COVID-19 coordinator in the White House to lead his administration’s response.

This week, however, Biden focused beyond the crisis stateside and unveiled his national security team on Tuesday, including his nominees for secretary of state, director of national intelligence and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Drawing implicit contrasts with President Donald Trump throughout the event, Biden said that the team “reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.” He’s also expected to name Janet Yellen as treasury secretary in the coming weeks.

The president-elect’s team has also begun the next phase of its transition preparations after the Trump-appointed head of the General Services Administration declared Biden the “apparent winner” of the election, removing a major roadblock to cooperation between Biden’s staff and their counterparts in the Trump administration.

Trump has refused to concede the election, and his campaign continues to pursue legal challenges to the vote in some states. But the GSA’s ascertainment of Biden‘s win means the transition can proceed regardless of the Republican president’s resistance.

For the next few days, Biden plans to spend some time focused on his family. He’s traveling with his wife, Jill, to Rehoboth Beach, the small Delaware beach town where the two have a vacation home. That’s where they’ll host their family for Thanksgiving dinner. Biden is expected to stay through the weekend in Rehoboth, before returning to Wilmington for further work on the transition.

San Diego border drug raid exposes Sinaloa Cartel operations

Feds’ largest drug raid in Southern California sheds light on Sinaloa Cartel operations

Nets 1,500 pounds of cocaine, 52 pounds of fentanyl, $3.5 million in cash, 20,000 rounds of ammo

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday that they raided a suspected drug trafficking garage in San Diego and netted more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine, 52 pounds of fentanyl, $3.5 million in cash and 20,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition — the largest haul ever in Southern California.

Agents said the operation was tied to the Sinaloa Cartel.

They found a fleet of vehicles with hidden compartments they believe were used to smuggle the drugs into the U.S., and carry the cash and weapons back south to Mexico.

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The money was wrapped in plastic and coated with axle grease.

“This seizure is significant not just because of its size, but because it demonstrates the direct correlation between narcotics, illicit money, and guns that drives violence in our communities and destroys lives,” Cardell T. Morant, special agent in charge at ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego.

Three people were charged with intent to distribute cocaine.

One is listed as the owner of one of the trucking companies, while the other two are employees, HSI said in a criminal complaint.

They have been tied to Jorge Alberto Valenzuela-Valenzuela and his brother, Gabriel Valenzuela-Valenzuela, both of whom HSI says are high in the Sinaloa Cartel.

They own several trucking companies in Mexico which they use to “transport ton-quantity cocaine loads” from Sinaloa into the U.S. through legal border crossings, HSI said.

Agents said they discovered Jorge Valenzuela had entered the U.S. last month and watched him at a San Diego airfield as he overaw loading a private jet with suitcases of drugs. Agents then caught up with him near Boston and arrested him on Oct. 29.

He was indicted on federal cocaine distribution charges earlier this month, and the federal government has begun an effort to forfeit his assets.

The bust is the latest in a decade-long investigation into the Sinaloa Cartel’s U.S. activities, dating back to an operation to wrap up a drug distribution cell along the border in California. At first agents thought it was a small-scale operation, but soon realized it was tied to the Sinaloa network.

In the years since, more than 125 people have been charged, nearly $28 million has been found and massive amounts of drugs have been seized.

“This investigation has also offered one of the most comprehensive views to date of the inner workings of one of the world’s most prolific, violent and powerful drug cartels,” wrote HSI Agent Roy Voss.

The circular nature of the smuggling operation — with drugs coming north, and weapons and money flowing south to Mexico — is standard procedure.

But the amount of weaponry was eye-popping.

In addition to the .50 caliber ammunition, agents found 427 body armor vests, 1,000 rounds of .40 caliber ammunition and a stolen AK-47-style semiautomatic rifle.

Ex-Mexico treasury chief rejects 2nd set of accusations

Ex-Mexico treasury chief rejects 2nd set of accusations

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexico’s former treasury and foreign relations secretary, Luis Videgaray, angrily denied accusations Tuesday by a lawyer for another former Cabinet secretary who claimed he used embezzled government money to help finance election campaigns.

The accusations by a lawyer for ex-social development secretary Rosario Robles mark the second time that former top officials have lodged such accusations against Videgaray. A former head of the state-owned oil company, Emilio Lozoya, made similar accusations earlier this year.

All three – Robles, Videgaray and Lozoya – worked in the 2012-2018 administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

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Videgaray, currently a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, is considered the political figure closest to Peña Nieto.

He called the accusations “completely false.”

“The mechanism of ‘I will save myself by blaming Videgaray’ has a limit, and that limit is truth and justice,” Videgaray wrote in a statement.

Both Lozoya and Robles have reportedly offered to turn state’s evidence and implicate Videgaray in return for favorable treatment for themselves.

Robles wrote in her Twitter account Tuesday that “statements have been made that have not been agreed on with me. I have instructed my lawyers to limit themselves to the legal proceedings,” but she did confirm she had decided to be a cooperating witness.

Videgaray wrote that strategy “is immoral and wrong, and does nothing to contribute to the fight against corruption led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.”

López Obrador made the crusade against corruption the centerpiece of his administration upon taking office in December 2018. He has, however, said he is not personally eager to go after former presidents and has proposed submitting the question to voters in a referendum.

In 2019, a judge ordered Robles to be held in jail pending trial on corruption charges. She is accused of “wrongful exercise of public service” related to the alleged diversion of up to $260 million in public funds.

Robles held multiple posts in Peña Nieto’s administration. The accusations against Videgaray date to June 2014 when Robles was social development secretary. Prosecutors say she was aware of the diversion of funds but never denounced it.

Robles has denied wrongdoing.

Lozoya was extradited from Spain earlier this year to face money laundering charges and immediately began cooperating with authorities. Videgaray previously denied accusations by Lozoya that he engaged in bribery or illegal campaign financing.

Lozoya accused Peña Nieto and Videgaray of using bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to help win the presidency and then to pass the energy sector overhaul that could greatly benefit that company and others. To that end, some opposition lawmakers were bribed for their votes, he alleges.

In a statement in August, Videgaray called the accusations false, adding that “moreover, they are absurd, inconsistent and reckless.”

The accusations Tuesday involved elections in 2012, 2015 and 2018. Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party denied there had been any illicit financing in those races and said mandatory electoral audits had confirmed that.

Projects to focus on missing, murdered Indigenous peoples

Projects to focus on missing, murdered Indigenous peoples

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By KEN MILLER

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma and five other states will participate in pilot projects to better coordinate investigative efforts surrounding cases of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples, U.S. Attorneys Trent Shores and Brian Kuester announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Justice projects created protocols for federal, state and tribal investigative agencies to work together and with victims’ families when American Indian or Alaska Native jurisdictional boundaries are crossed, said Shores of the Northern District of Oklahoma.

The key, according to Shores, is developing a coordinated effort with different tribes and their individual cultures and practices.

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“We know that Indian Country knows Indian Country best and tribal leaders and tribal citizens know best what will work for their community,” Shores said. “Too often we have tried to find a one size fits all” solution when what may work in Oklahoma does not apply in other states and regions.

The first pilot project will launch in Oklahoma and is joined by the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations, whose Principal Chiefs, Chuck Hoskin, Jr. and David Hill said the project recognizes tribal sovereignty while helping protect their citizens.

“No matter what … reservation we call home we all have the same goal, public safety (and) a successful future for those residing in our state,” Hill said.

Shores said the project will focus on both missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, but in Oklahoma is likely to have greater impact on missing persons cases. Homicide cases, Shores said, often are well defined as to which agency has jurisdiction, but missing persons cases may not even involve a crime, such as when a person flees an abusive relationship.

Shores said similar projects are planned in Alaska, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Oregon.

The U.S. Department of Justice last year launched a national strategy to address missing and murdered Native Americans that later expanded. The program includes $1.5 million to hire coordinators in 11 states, including Oklahoma.

An Associated Press investigation in 2018 found that nobody knows precisely how cases of missing and murdered Native Americans happen nationwide because many cases go unreported, others aren’t well documented and no government database specifically tracks them.

Alabama certifies election results, record absentee voting

Alabama certifies election results, record absentee voting

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By KIM CHANDLER

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama officials on Monday certified results of the Nov. 3 election that saw a record number of absentee ballots cast during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The State Canvassing Board, which consists of Secretary of State John Merrill and representatives for the governor and attorney general, met briefly to certify the returns.

President Donald Trump easily won Alabama, capturing 62% of the votes. Republican Tommy Tuberville defeated incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, winning about 60% of the vote.

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“The numbers broke specifically the way you would have expected them to, based on returns you saw in 2014, 2016, 2018, and now 2020- approximately 60-40 Republican to Democrat split,” Merrill said.

“People in our state seemed to vote for three purposes. Number one, they voted for the president. Number two, they voted against the president and number three, they voted for Senator Jones,” Merrill said.

Merrill said 318,000 absentee ballots were cast this year, shattering the previous record of 89,000.

The surge in absentee ballot voting came after rules were loosened during the pandemic. Normally, to vote absentee, people must swear that they are out of town or ill or working during polling hours. Merrill said this year people could vote by absentee ballot if they are concerned about the risk of COVID-19 at the polls.

Some Alabama lawmakers have said they will push to allow more early and absentee voting in the state, but the outlook for the legislation is unclear in the GOP-controlled Alabama Legislature.

A record number of 2.3 million Alabamians voted in the Nov. 3 election after increases in voter registration. However, the number was short of initial projections that estimated that more than 2.5 million people might vote and short of the 2008 record for the percentage of registered voters coming to the polls.

About 62% of registered voters voted in the election. More than 70% of registered voters cast ballots in 2008 and 2012, according to state records.

Maine certifies Biden’s victory in the state’s election

Maine certifies Biden’s victory in the state’s election

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Monday, November 23, 2020

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Maine has certified the results of the 2020 election, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Monday.

Maine is one of two states in the country that apportions single electoral votes for each congressional district in addition to awarding two for the statewide victory. President-elect Joe Biden won the statewide vote and the 1st Congressional District, good for three of the state’s four total electoral votes.

President Donald Trump won the 2nd Congressional District, which he also carried in 2016. The other state that awards electoral votes by district is Nebraska.

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Maine is also the only state in the country that uses ranked-choice voting to elect the president. The method didn’t come into play this year because the margins of victory were too wide to trigger the ranked round.

Dunlap said he handed the certified results to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills at 2 p.m. on Monday, the day they were due.

Michael Studeman visit shatters another Taiwan taboo

U.S. intel officer’s visit shatters another Taiwan taboo

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The guided missile destroyer, U.S.S. Barry. The warship is one of four destroyers sent to the Mediterranean. (credit: U.S. Navy) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Trump administration is stepping up pressure on China with the unprecedented visit to Taiwan by a senior military intelligence officer and the transit of a guided missile destroyer through the Taiwan Strait.

U.S. officials said Rear Adm. Michael Studeman, director of intelligence for the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific Command, arrived unannounced in Taipei on Sunday for intelligence-sharing talks with the island’s government, which has been a major target of Chinese military intimidation attempts in recent months.

In the past senior military officers were blocked from visiting Taiwan over concerns the visits might upset relations with Beijing, which considered Taiwan a renegade province that will eventually join the mainland.

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A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the visit that was first reported by Taiwan news media based on the arrival of a charter aircraft at Taipei’s Songshan Airport on Sunday evening.

A day earlier, a Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed through the disputed Taiwan Strait.

“The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit Nov. 21 in accordance with international law,” said Navy Lt. Joe Keiley, 7th Fleet spokesman.

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Asked if the warship was shadowed by Chinese ships or aircraft, a military official said the passage was not disrupted.

The visit by Adm. Studeman and the passage by the Barry comes at a time of political uncertainty in the United States over the still-disputed presidential election.

Last weekend’s moves by the administration appear designed to avoid any miscalculation by China.

China in recent months has stepped up both naval and air force activities near Taiwan as part of a what U.S. officials have called military coercion. Large-scale military exercises were held near the island in September in what Chinese officials said could be used as a prelude for an invasion of the island.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Nov. 11 that “Taiwan has not been a part of China,” a comment that also angered Beijing.

Additionally, the administration has arranged for more than $5 billion in arms sales to Taiwan to bolster its defenses. The sales include F-16 jets and long-range land-attack missiles.

“All of these things are designed to live up to the promises that have been made between, frankly, China and the Taiwanese people,” Mr. Pompeo said in a radio interview.

China’s government voiced anger at the admiral’s visit and promised an unspecified response.

China firmly opposes any form of official exchange and military contact between the U.S. and the Taiwan region,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

China will make legitimate and necessary responses in light of the developments,” he added.

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell said the visit is a breakthrough, reversing the past policy of limiting visits to Taiwan by senior military officers.

Adm. Studeman’s visit to Taiwan “reflects the seriousness of the PRC’s military threat to Taiwan,” Capt. Fanell said.

If the visit is confirmed officially, it would be “unprecedented and would highlight the importance of intelligence-sharing between the U.S. and Taiwan as Beijing has dramatically increased its military operations and threats to Taiwan,” he said.

Defending the status quo

Strategically, a visit by such a senior military official would reconfirm the importance of maintaining the status quo in the cross-strait standoff given 20 years of Chinese military modernization and operations against Taiwan, he said.

“Such a visit is testament to the correctness of this administration’s China strategy, something previous administrations never articulated and have certainly never had the intellectual capacity to formulate,” Capt. Fanell said.

The visit by Adm. Studeman highlights the U.S. strategic and moral interests in bolstering Taiwan, which is facing the threat of a Chinese military invasion for the first time in five decades, said Rick Fisher, a China affairs analyst.

“Sending high military and intelligence officials like Rear Adm. Studeman to Taipei to confer with counterparts would be consistent with the defense of those interests,” said Mr. Fisher with the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “Signaling American willingness to help defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion by sending U.S. Navy warships through the Taiwan Strait is also consistent with the defense of American high interests.”

Mr. Fisher said the Trump administration has succeeded in elevating the strategy dialogue with Taiwan. “It helps to assure the people of Taiwan as it serves to demonstrate to China’s Communist Party leadership that its threats against Taiwan will only serve to further strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan relationship,” he said.

The Studeman visit was disclosed after Taiwan media initially reported that the visit included CIA Director Gina Haspel. That report was later corrected to state that Adm. Studeman was the visitor.

The Taiwan Foreign Ministry denied Ms. Haspel had come and said in a statement that it would not comment on the reported visit, noting that the schedule for a “senior U.S. official” would not be made public. The ministry added that interaction and exchanges between the two countries are common and that U.S. officials’ visits are welcome.

The Studeman visit is the first by a senior military officer following two earlier visits by high-ranking Trump administration officials. In September, Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, traveled to Taiwan, and in August, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II visited the island.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to visit Taiwan next month.

The visits and warship passages are designed to warn China against taking any action against Taiwan while the U.S. is distracted over the election outcome and a possible transfer of power in the White House, a U.S. official said.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and has stepped up threatening military maneuvers near the island in recent months.

China’s Communist Party-affiliated Global Times outlet denounced the visit as part of “ramped-up collusion” between Washington and Taipei. The outlet reported that the Trump administration is seeking to lock in policies toward Taiwan before a Biden administration takes office.

“Trump has less than two months in his term,” Global Times stated. “How bold would the U.S. and Taiwan be to perform the ‘final madness’?”

Both the U.S. and Taiwan fear China will resort to military action against Taiwan, Global Times said.

“The Chinese mainland’s air force and navy have normalized their flight and navigation around the island,” it stated. “Fighter jets of the Chinese mainland have crossed the ‘median line’ of the Taiwan Straits multiple times. Fighter jets of the Chinese mainland flying over the island may take place at any time.”

Mainland military drills by China’s armed forces “are no longer merely a warning, but a combat exercise,” the Global Times wrote. “All these have produced actual deterrence. Neither the U.S. nor Taiwan can afford to take [them] lightly.”

The Latest: Trump, US agency allow formal Biden transition

The Latest: Trump, US agency allow formal Biden transition

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President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris attend a meeting at The Queen theater Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) more >

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By

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Latest on President-elect Joe Biden (all times local):

8 p.m.

The General Services Administration has formally designated President-elect Joe Biden as the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election.

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The move late Monday allows Biden to coordinate with federal agencies on plans for taking over on Jan. 20. Trump, who had refused to concede the election, said in a tweet that he is directing his team to cooperate on the formal transition but is vowing to keep up the fight.

The letter to Biden from Emily Murphy, the head of GSA, came after Trump efforts to subvert the vote failed across battleground states. Michigan certified Biden’s victory Monday, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state.

Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the Biden transition, said in a statement that the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.”

___

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN‘S TRANSITION TO THE WHITE HOUSE:

President-elect Joe Biden is building out his administration with several key picks for national security and foreign policy roles, including John Kerry. Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state.

Read more:

– AP source: Biden taps ex-Fed chair Yellen to lead treasury

– Carl Bernstein says 21 GOP senators contemptuous of Trump

– Trump aims to box in Biden abroad, but it may not work

– States certifying results ahead of Electoral College meeting

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON:

3:55 p.m.

More than 100 former national security officials who served in Republican administrations or GOP members of Congress say President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election and allow for an orderly transition is a “serious threat” to the homeland and America’s democratic process.

In a signed letter released Monday, the group urged all Republican leaders, including those on Capitol Hill, to publicly demand that Trump “cease his anti-democratic assault on the integrity of the presidential election.”

Trump has refrained from conceding and has faced roadblocks in courts as he has worked to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Trump’s allegations of widespread conspiracy and fraud have been met with rejection as states move forward with certifying their results.

Among those who signed the letter were: former FBI and CIA director William Webster; former CIA Director Michael Hayden; former National Intelligence Director John Negroponte; and Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania who was President George W. Bush’s secretary of homeland security.

___

3:30 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden says he wants to work closely with the nation’s mayors to help Americans cope during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris met Monday with the U.S. conference of mayors virtually, from a theater in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. They each sat at a low table and spoke to a screen displaying a video grid of 49 mayors.

Biden told the mayors that “the quality of life falls on your shoulders” and said that working with them and getting input from local officials will be “a priority for me as president.” He added that “we’re here for you, and we’re gonna listen to you, and we’re gonna work with you,” regardless of party.

Harris told the mayors that Americans “look to you for confidence, look to you for a sense of security that everything’s going to be okay” and said that they’re “carrying an enormous burden of responsibility” during the pandemic. She added that she looked forward to being a “strong partner” like Biden was when he was vice president.

___

2:35 p.m.

President-elect Joe Biden has selected Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, to be director of national intelligence, the first woman to hold that post.

If confirmed, Haines would be the first woman to be the nation’s top intelligence officer, charged with overseeing more than a dozen U.S. intelligence agencies.

Picking Haines is a signal that Biden intends to return the nation’s spy agencies to the hands of experienced intelligence professionals. Trump said he was a fan of the agencies, but often disparaged their work, especially their assessment about Russian interference in the 2016 election. He put the word “intelligence” in quotes on several tweets and pushed out more than a handful of individuals who made careers in intelligence in favor of partisan loyalists.

Haines, 51, was the White House deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration. She previously was the deputy director of the CIA and was deputy counsel to the president for national security affairs in the White House counsel’s office.

___

12:20 p.m.

Joe Biden is filling out his administration with key picks for his national security and foreign policy teams.

John Kerry will lead the incoming administration’s effort to combat climate change.

Alejandro Mayorkas will be nominated as the secretary for the department of homeland security.

Biden also plans to nominate Antony Blinken as his secretary of state.

Kerry is a former secretary of state, senator from Massachusetts and Democratic presidential nominee.

Earlier Monday, Biden named two longtime Capitol Hill aides to his legislative affairs team. Reema Dodin and Shuwanza Goff will serve as deputy directors of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

___

11:35 a.m.

President-elect Joe Biden has named two longtime Capitol Hill aides to his legislative affairs team.

Reema Dodin and Shuwanza Goff will serve as deputy directors of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

Dodin has been working on the transition team already, leading its legislative engagement with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. She also serves as deputy chief of staff and floor director to Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip in the Senate.

Goff served as floor director for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. She helped craft the House Democrats’ legislative agenda.

Dodin and Goff join Louisa Terrell, who was recently named the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. About a dozen other senior White House staffers also have been announced by the president-elect.

The team will be tasked with turning Biden’s long list of campaign promises into legislative blueprints and ushering them through a closely divided House and Senate. The first and biggest concern is expected to be a major coronavirus aid and response package after Biden takes office in January.

Biden names climate statesman John Kerry as climate envoy

Biden names climate statesman John Kerry as climate envoy

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FILE – In this Jan. 9, 2020, file photo former Secretary of State John Kerry smiles while speaking at a campaign stop to support Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at the Biden for President Fort Dodge Office … more >

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By ELLEN KNICKMEYER

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

John Kerry, one of the leading architects of the Paris climate agreement, is getting one more chance to lead the fight against climate change after President-elect Joe Biden named the longtime senator and former secretary of state as climate envoy for national security.

Biden’s team gave little immediate detail on Monday about how he envisioned Kerry shaping the new job, which many on social media and on all sides of the climate-action spectrum were quick to dub “climate czar.” But the transition team made clear that it will be a prominent role, with Kerry becoming the first member of the National Security Council to focus exclusively on climate change.

It was one of Biden’s first steps in making good on campaign pledges to confront climate damage from fossil fuel emissions more broadly and forcefully than any previous U.S. administration. And it’s a sign of how the incoming administration is heeding warnings that natural disasters from global warming will weaken U.S. defense and spur conflicts around the globe.

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“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry tweeted. “I’m proud to partner with the President-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the President’s Climate Envoy.”

At 76, Kerry has the stature to help him make deals with foreign governments on global climate efforts. But he’s up to a half-century or more older than the activists who pushed climate change to the forefront of national politics over the past four years.

Varshini Prakash, the executive director of the Sunrise Movement climate group, whose members skew younger, called the appointment a “very good move,” saying Kerry combined a long track record on climate issues with a commitment “to engaging and listening to young voices.” But Prakash called for Biden to go further and create a new domestic federal office to push agencies on climate efforts.

The incoming administration’s move comes after four years in which President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, promoted more drilling of climate-damaging oil and gas and mining of coal, and steadily dismantled Obama administration efforts to rein in fossil-fuel emissions.

Biden has pledged to get the U.S. back into the Paris climate accord. After 2018 midterm elections in which young progressives like New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez succeeded in pushing climate change toward the front of the U.S. political agenda, Biden in his presidential race promised a $2 trillion plan to overhaul the nation’s transportation and power sectors and buildings to curb fossil fuel emissions.

Kerry was a senator from Massachusetts, failed Democratic presidential candidate against George W. Bush in 2004, and Obama’s second secretary of state from 2013 to 2017.

In the Senate, Kerry in 2010 was one of the main authors of one of the biggest legislative pushes to date by the Congress to limit fossil fuel emissions. It failed.

Kerry’s former Democratic colleagues in Congress praised his appointment.

Kerry brings “diplomatic and political expertise” and “knows better than anyone how to ensure this crisis receives the international attention it so desperately needs,” said Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental advocacy group, welcomed the incoming Biden administration’s move on Kerry.

But “it is important somewhere in Biden’s administration,” particularly in climate, to see “not just the same people and actors we have seen before on these issues,” Hartl said.

Other environmental advocates – some of whom want the U.S. to pivot away from all fossil fuels within a few years – were more acerbic. Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Action said Kerry’s record was far too tepid on limiting fossil fuels. “Kerry’s proposals are tired ideas from years past that will do little or nothing to address our climate crisis,” Hauter said in a statement.

The U.S. military has warned in a series of reports that climate change is a security threat on many fronts. That includes “through direct impacts on U.S. military infrastructure and by affecting factors, including food and water availability, that can exacerbate conflict outside U.S. borders,” the federal government’s most recent, grim climate report said.

EU invites Biden to patch up trans-Atlantic ties

EU invites Biden to patch up trans-Atlantic ties

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European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a press briefing ahead to a G20 online meeting in Brussels, Friday Nov. 20, 2020. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP) more >

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Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union chief Charles Michel is inviting Joe Biden once he is U.S. president to come visit and patch up trans-Atlantic relations that have suffered over the past four years under President Donald Trump.

“Now is the time to join forces. In a changing world, our partnership will be more important than ever to protect our citizens, relaunch our economies, stop global warming and create a safer world,” Michel said in a statement Monday after a call with the American president-elect.

“The EU and the U.S. will always have more impact when taking steps together,” Michel said.

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The 27-nation bloc has often complained about a worsening relationship under Trump, and hope that with Biden, trans-Atlantic ties can be rekindled like they were under President Barack Obama.

Over the past years, both sides disagreed over key topics from trade and security to the fight against climate change. Now, Michel said Biden should come over next year for a meeting with EU leaders.

During his tenure, Trump variously stunned and disappointed the Europeans – most of them members of the NATO military alliance that Washington leads – by slapping tariffs on EU exports and pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

Biden builds out national security picks with Blinken, Kerry

Biden builds out national security picks with Blinken, Kerry

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FILE – In this Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, file photo, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria. Blinken is the leading contender to become President-elect Joe … more >

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By MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – President-elect Joe Biden is building out his administration with several key picks for national security and foreign policy roles.

John Kerry, a former secretary of state, will lead the incoming administration’s effort to combat climate change. Alejandro Mayorkas will be nominated as the secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Biden also plans to nominate Antony Blinken as his secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.

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Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.

Biden is moving forward with plans to fill out his government even as Trump refuses to concede defeat, has pursued baseless legal challenges in several key states and has worked to stymie the transition process. The stakes of a smooth transition are especially high this year because Biden will take office amid the worst pandemic in more than a century, which will likely require a full government response to contain.

In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.

Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.

Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.

If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.

For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.

Biden‘s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.

Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.

A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.

“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”

Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.

Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election – a determination that would remove those roadblocks.

“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”

Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”

Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.

“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.

___

Associated Press writers Julie Pace in Washington, Alexandra Jaffe in Wilmington, Delaware, and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

EU, UK still have ‘fundamental’ differences in trade talks

EU, UK still have ‘fundamental’ differences in trade talks

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FILE – In this file photo dated Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom Michel Barnier, centre, leaves the Conference Centre in London with unidentified members of his team. The Brexit … more >

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By RAF CASERT

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – With the European Union‘s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in quarantine, trade talks with the United Kingdom continued by videoconference this week, though the optimism expressed last week seemed to have faded.

Barnier stressed on Monday that negotiators were running out of time to make a Jan. 1 deadline and that “fundamental divergences still remain.”

The talks were shifted to a videoconference last week when an EU official tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing Barnier into a quarantine until at least Thursday. Both sides have indicated that to reach an agreement on key issues the negotiators need to meet in person.

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On Friday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued one of the most upbeat assessments of the state of post-Brexit trade negotiations in several weeks, saying the EU had seen “in the last days better progress, more movement on important files.”

But on Monday, EU Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie said that “while some progress has been made in drafting legal texts, significant fundamental divergences remain in the three key areas” that negotiations have centered on – the fishing industry, how to check compliance with the deal and the standards the U.K. must meet to export into the EU.

Though the U.K. left the EU on Jan. 31, it remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of this year. A trade deal would ensure there are no tariffs and quotas on trade in goods between the two sides, but there would still be technical costs, partly associated with customs checks and non-tariff barriers on services.

Both sides have expressed hope of securing a deal in time to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs that could be affected if the trade agreements lapse with no deal on future ties. Though both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, most economists think the British economy would take a greater hit, at least in the near-term, as it is relatively more reliant on trade with the EU than vice versa.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey warned that the long-term impact of a no-deal Brexit on the British economy would be greater than the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The bank expects the British economy to end the year around 12% smaller and to not recover its virus-related losses until early 2022.

“I think it’s in the best interests of both sides for there to be a trade agreement and for that trade agreement to have a strong element of goodwill around it on how it’s implemented,” he told British lawmakers on the Treasury Select Committee.

Any deal brokered by Barnier and his British counterpart, David Frost, would need to be approved by the individual EU countries and the European Parliament. The legislature is even considering meeting around Christmas, when it is usually enjoying a long recess, to make any deadline.

The bloc accuses Britain of wanting to retain access to the EU’s lucrative markets, much like any EU country, without agreeing to follow all its rules. The EU fears Britain will slash social and environmental standards, and pump state money into U.K. industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep.

Britain says the EU is making unreasonable demands and is failing to treat it as an independent, sovereign state, especially when it comes to the control of its fishing waters.

If the talks resume in person from Thursday, they would be held in London.

___

Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.

Reports: Israeli PM flew to Saudi Arabia, met crown prince

Reports: Israeli PM flew to Saudi Arabia, met crown prince

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In this Nov. 9, 2020, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a new coronavirus lab at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel. Israeli media reported Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, that Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a … more >

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By ILAN BEN ZION

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli media reported Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would mark the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials.

The reported meeting was the latest move by the Trump Administration to promote normalized ties between Israel and the broader Arab world and reflected the shared concern of all three nations about Iran.

The Israeli news site Walla, followed quickly by other Hebrew-language media, cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, flew Sunday night to the Saudi city of Neom, where they met with the crown prince. The prince was there for talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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People traveling with Pompeo declined comment. Netanyahu, in a meeting with his Likud Party, also declined to explicitly confirm the visit.

“I have not addressed such things for years and I will not start with that now. For years I have spared no effort to strengthen Israel and expand the circle of peace,” he said.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, denied on Twitter that the meeting took place.

“No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi,” he wrote. He did not elaborate.

The flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com showed a Gulfstream IV private jet took off from Tel Aviv on Sunday night and flew south along the edge of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula before turning toward Neom and landing. The flight took off from Neom over three hours later and followed the same route back to Tel Aviv.

Pompeo, who was in Israel last week, traveled with a small group of American reporters on his trip throughout the Mideast, but left them at the Neom airport when he went into his visit with the crown prince.

While Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have reached deals under the Trump administration to normalize ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia so far has remained out of reach.

The Trump administration, as well as Netanyahu, would love to add the Saudis to that list before it leaves office in January. Israel’s Channel 12 TV, citing an anonymous diplomatic official, said the Saudis told Netanyahu and Pompeo that they are not ready to normalize ties with Israel.

In Sudan, a military official said an Israeli delegation was in the country on Monday to discuss the normalization efforts. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the visit with the media.

King Salman long has supported the Palestinians in their effort to secure an independent state as a condition for recognizing Israel. However, analysts and insiders suggest his 35-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, likely is more open to the idea of normalizing relations without major progress in the moribund peace process.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have a shared interest in countering archrival Iran, and they have welcomed the Trump administration’s pressure campaign on the Iranians, which included withdrawing from the international nuclear deal with Iran and imposing tough economic sanctions on the Tehran government.

The reported meeting puts even more pressure on Iran ahead of an incoming Biden administration that has signaled a potential willingness to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

“I think there’s a message to Iran. Look, there’s a front against you. There’s two months to go to the new administration. Beware. We are on the same page,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a prestigious Israeli think tank.

In an apparent message to President-elect Joe Biden, Netanyahu said in a speech Sunday evening, shortly before the reported trip to Saudi Arabia: “We must not return to the previous nuclear deal.”

In the same speech, Netanyahu also praised “trailblazing Arab leaders who understand the benefits of peace” and predicted “we will see other states that widen the circle of peace.”

In another possible reference to the Saudi meeting, a Netanyahu aide, Topaz Luk, accused Netanyahu’s rival and coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, of “playing politics at the same time that the prime minister is making peace.” Gantz on Sunday launched an investigation into Israel’s purchase of German submarines – a scandal that has turned several close Netanyahu confidants into criminal suspects. Netanyahu himself is not a suspect.

Gantz, who also holds the title of alternate prime minister, said he had not been notified of the meeting and angrily said Netanyahu behaved irresponsibly by allowing such a sensitive trip to be leaked to the media.

The reported visit Sunday night to Neom, still a largely undeveloped desert region alongside the north end of the Red Sea, also reflected Prince Mohammed’s ambitions.

It brought two world leaders to Neom, which he hopes will become a futuristic, skyline-studded Saudi version of Dubai that will offer the kingdom jobs and cement a future beyond its vast crude oil reserves. It also would reframe a rule so far colored by the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the kingdom’s grinding war in Yemen.

It was unclear where the three men met, though the Saudi royal family has massive mansions along the turquoise waters of the Red Sea, with a major golf course.

Netanyahu has long signaled back-channel relations with the Saudis, though the nations have never officially confirmed a meeting between their leaders. But Saudi Arabia appears to have given its blessing to the decisions of its Gulf neighbors, the UAE and Bahrain, to establish ties with Israel.

The kingdom approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE. Bahrain normalizing ties also suggest at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom relies on Riyadh.

___

Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed.

China tests millions after coronavirus flareups in 3 cities

China tests millions after coronavirus flareups in 3 cities

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People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus chat each other as a man performs morning exercise at a park in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) more >

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Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities are testing millions of people, imposing lockdowns and shutting down schools after multiple locally transmitted coronavirus cases were discovered in three cities across the country last week.

As temperatures drop, widescale measures are being enacted in Tianjin, Shanghai and Manzhouli, even though the number of new cases remains low compared to the United States and other countries that are seeing new waves of infections.

Experts and government officials have warned that the chance of the virus spreading will be greater in cold weather. Recent flareups have shown that there is still a risk of the virus returning, despite being largely controlled within China.

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On Monday, the National Health Commission reported two new locally transmitted cases in Shanghai over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to seven since Friday. China has recorded 86,442 cases overall and 4,634 deaths since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

The two latest cases confirmed in Shanghai were close contacts of another airport worker who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier in November. On Sunday night, the city’s Pudong International airport decided to test its workers, collecting 17,719 samples through the early hours of Monday morning. Plans call for testing others in surrounding communities if further cases are detected.

Videos on social media purportedly from workers showed what appeared to be chaotic scenes at the airport as they were given last-minute orders to get tested. In the videos, people are seen standing in large groups pushing back and forth against officials in hazmat suits.

Shanghai has been more selective with mass testing, targeting people associated with a particular place, such as the airport or the hospital where someone who has tested positive had worked, rather than an entire district.

In Tianjin, health workers have collected more than 2.2 million samples for testing from residents in the Binhai new district, after five locally transmitted cases were discovered there last week.

In Manzhouli, a city of more than 200,000 people, local health authorities are testing all residents after two cases were reported on Saturday. They also shut down all schools and public venues and banned public gatherings such as banquets.

China has resorted to its heavy, top-down approach each time new cases of local transmission are found – shutting down schools and hospitals, locking down residential communities and entire neighborhoods, and testing millions.

Tianjin authorities shut down a kindergarten and moved all the teachers, family and students to a centralized quarantine space. They also sealed the residential compound where the five cases were found.

China’s approach to controlling the pandemic has been criticized for being draconian. It locked down the city of Wuhan, where cases were first reported, for more than two months to contain the virus, with the local government shutting down all traffic and confining residents to their homes. Domestically, however, China has called its strategy “clear to zero” and has boasted of its success.

“In the entire world, only China has the ability to get to zero. Other countries don’t have this ability,” Zeng Guang, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a webinar hosted by Chinese media in September. “It’s not just getting to zero, even for them to control the first wave of the epidemic is hard.”

“‘Clearing to zero’ is actually the most economically effective way to do epidemic prevention. If you don’t do that, then this problem will get more troublesome,” he said. “Use a heavier hand, and get to zero, then people will feel reassured.”

___

AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.

US provides missiles, renews pledge to defend Philippines

US provides missiles, renews pledge to defend Philippines

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U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien speaks during the turnover ceremony of defense articles at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Philippines Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (Eloisa Lopez/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By JIM GOMEZ

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration provided precision-guided missiles and other weapons to help the Philippines battle Islamic State group-aligned militants and renewed a pledge to defend its treaty ally if it comes under attack in the disputed South China Sea.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien represented Trump in Monday’s ceremony at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, where he announced the delivery of the missiles and bombs to the Philippine military. Trump pledged to provide the $18 million worth of missiles in a phone conversation with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in April, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.

O’Brien expressed condolences to the Philippines after back-to-back typhoons left a trail of death and devastation in the country and outlined U.S. help to the country to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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The U.S. assistance projects normalcy in Washington’s foreign relations as Trump works to challenge the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election, claiming he was a victim of fraud. Duterte had asked Filipino Americans to vote for Trump but congratulated Joe Biden, through his spokesperson, for winning the election.

Asked in an online news briefing if any of the officials he met in Vietnam and the Philippines voiced concern about the post-election situation in the U.S., O’Brien said nobody did. “There will be a transition if the courts don’t rule in President Trump’s favor,” he said.

O’Brien represented Trump in a recent online summit between the U.S. and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and an expanded East Asia summit of heads of state attended by China and Russia that was also held by video and hosted by Vietnam.

In his remarks at the turnover of the U.S. missiles in Manila, O’Brien cited the Trump administration’s role in the defeat of the Islamic State group in the Middle East and last year’s killing of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in Syria, and renewed its commitment to help defeat IS-linked militants in the southern Philippines.

“President Trump is standing with President Duterte as we combat ISIS here in Southeast Asia,” O’Brien said. “This transfer underscores our strong and enduring commitment to our critical alliance.”

He expressed hope for the continuance of a key security agreement that allows American forces to train in large-scale combat exercises in the Philippines. Duterte moved to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S. early this year but later delayed the effectivity of his decision to next year, a move welcomed by O’Brien.

He said the U.S. stands with the Philippines in its effort to protect its sovereign rights in the South China Sea. The Philippines announced last month that it would resume oil and gas explorations in or near Reed Bank, which lies off the country’s western coast and is also claimed by China.

“They belong to the Philippine people. They don’t belong to some other country that just because they may be bigger than the Philippines they can come take away and convert the resources of the Philippine people. That’s just wrong,” O’Brien said.

He repeated U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement early this year that “any armed attack on Philippine forces aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger our mutual defense obligations.” The allies have a 69-year-old mutual defense treaty.

In July, Pompeo escalated the Trump administration’s attacks against China by declaring that Washington regards virtually all Chinese maritime claims in the disputed waterway as illegitimate. China reacted angrily by accusing the U.S. of sowing discord between Beijing and neighboring Asian states.

Yemen rebels claim attack on Saudi oil facility in Jiddah

Yemen rebels claim attack on Saudi oil facility in Jiddah

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This Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. annotated by TankerTrackers.com, shows a damaged tank and fire-suppressing foam on the ground at a Saudi Arabian Oil Co. facility in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they … more >

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By JON GAMBRELL

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they struck a Saudi oil facility in the port city of Jiddah on Monday with a new cruise missile, just hours after the kingdom finished hosting its virtual Group of 20 leaders summit.

An unnamed official at the kingdom’s Ministry of Energy acknowledged the attack in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency late Monday. It came after videos of a small explosion at a Saudi Arabian Oil Co. facility in Jiddah circulated on social media all day. A projectile struck a fuel tank at the Jiddah distribution station and ignited a fire, the official said.

Col. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, blamed the Yemeni rebels for what he called “a cowardly attack which not only targets the kingdom, but also targets the nerve center of the world’s energy supply and the security of the global economy.”

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Brig. Gen. Yehia Sarie, a Houthi military spokesman, tweeted that the rebels fired a new Quds-2 cruise missile at the facility. He posted a satellite image online that matched Aramco’s North Jiddah Bulk Plant, where oil products are stored in tanks.

That facility is just southeast of Jiddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, a major airfield that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.

Online videos appeared to show a tank farm similar to the bulk plant on fire, with wailing sirens heard and police cars alongside a highway by the facility. Details of the videos posted predawn Monday matched the general layout of the bulk plant. However, passers-by could not see damage to the tank farm from the highway running beside the facility later Monday morning.

A satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. later published by TankerTrackers.com appeared to show damage to one of the tanks at the bulk plant and what appeared to be fire-suppression foam on the ground near it.

The Saudi energy official said that firefighters had brought the blaze under control and the strike had not resulted in any casualties or damage to oil supplies.

Earlier, the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah said it wasn’t aware of any casualties from the claimed attack. It urged Americans to “review immediate precautions to take in the event of an attack and stay alert in case of additional future attacks.”

Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s oil giant that now has a sliver of its worth traded publicly on the stock market, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Its stock traded slightly up Monday on Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange as crude oil prices remained steady above $40 a barrel.

The claimed attack comes just after a visit by outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the kingdom to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman , a meeting that reportedly included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The kingdom also just hosted the annual G-20 summit, which concluded Sunday.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis since March 2015, months after the rebels seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. The war has ground into a stalemate since, with Saudi Arabia facing international criticism for its airstrikes killing civilians.

The Houthis have used Quds, or “Jerusalem,” missiles to target Saudi Arabia in the past. The Quds-1 has a copy of a small, Czech-made TJ-100 jet engine, with a range of 700 kilometers (435 miles). United Nations experts have said they don’t believe the missiles are built in Yemen and instead have been sold or traded to them in violation of an arms embargo.

Iran uses a copy of TJ-100 engines in its drone program. U.N. experts, Arab countries and the West say Iran supplies arms to the rebels, allegations denied by Tehran.

The Quds-1 was used in a missile-and-drone strike on the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry in 2019 that shook global energy markets. The U.S. believes Iran carried out that attack amid a series of escalating incidents last year between Tehran and Washington, something Tehran denies.

___

Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.