News, July 14th

China’s trade rises as economy recovers from virus slump

China’s trade improved in June in a fresh sign the world’s second-largest economy is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. But its exporters face threats including tension with Washington and a possible downturn in U.S. and European demand.

Chinese imports rose 3% over a year earlier to $167.2 billion, rebounding from May’s 3.3% decline, customs data showed Tuesday. Exports edged up 0.4% to $213.6 billion, an improvement over the previous month’s 16.7% contraction.

Imports of U.S. goods surged 10.6% to $10.4 billion despite tariff hikes in a fight with Washington over trade and technology. Exports to the United States gained 1% to $39.8 billion.

China, where the pandemic began in December, was the first economy to start the struggle to revive normal business activity in March after declaring the virus under control. Manufacturing is recovering, but consumer spending is weak. Forecasters say exports are likely to slump as demand for masks and other medical supplies recedes and U.S. and European retailers cancel orders.

Leading indicators “suggest that exports will start to contract again before long,” Martin Rasmussen of Capital Economics said in a report.

Relations with the United States, China’s biggest national export market, have deteriorated to their lowest level in decades.

Disputes over Hong Kong, human rights and the South China Sea added to strains that began with a tariff war launched by the Trump administration in 2018 over Beijing’s technology ambitions and trade surplus.

The two sides have announced sanctions on some prominent Chinese and U.S. political figures in a dispute over abuses in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, though it is unclear whether those officials will be affected.

President Donald Trump said Friday that work on the second stage of a deal aimed at ending the tariff war is a low priority because relations were “severely damaged” by Beijing’s handling of the pandemic.

The two sides signed a “phase one” agreement in January to postpone further penalties but tariff increases already imposed stayed in place.

China’s June imports were boosted by a 74% increase in purchases of U.S. soybeans under a pledge by Beijing in that January agreement to narrow its trade surplus with the United States by importing more food and other goods.

“China’s imports from the U.S. will likely remain elevated in the second half of this year,” said Nomura economists in a report.

Imports of U.S.-made semiconductors accelerated to 18.6% growth over a year earlier, which Citigroup economists suggested might have been motivated by concern U.S. export sanctions imposed on Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Ltd. will be fully enforced once a temporary postponement end.

Imports “should continue to ramp-up” as the government spends more to support economic recovery and consumer demand, Rasmussen said.

China’s global trade surplus narrowed to $46.4 billion from May’s $62.9 billion.

The Chinese economy shrank by 6.8% in the first quarter, its worst performance since at least the mid-1960s. The ruling party skipped announcing an annual economic growth target, but private sector forecasts range from low single digits to a small contraction.

Some forecasters raised their outlook slightly after factory activity in May improved more than expected.

China-South Asia Friendship Organizations launch initiative to fight the pandemic together

During a webinar on Monday, officials, and scholars from friendship organizations of China and seven South Asian countries discussed ways to promote solidarity and pragmatic cooperation between China and South Asia in fighting COVID-19.

Organized by Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), the China-South Asia Friendship Organizations webinar is themed “Gather Strength to Combat COVID-19 through Friendship, Promote Common Development through Cooperation”.

Acknowledging that China and South Asia are good neighbors with a long-lasting friendship and a shared destiny, participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka spoke highly of China’s general assistance to South Asian countries at this challenging time, calling for strengthened solidarity and further people-to-people contact and friendship on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to the global epidemic, it dawned on the world that all human beings are in a community with a shared future. No country can tackle this alone and no one can be an exception,” shared the President of CPAFFC, Lin Songtian, in his opening remarks, adding that the key to victory is to put people first, put life above everything else and have respect for science.

Lin pledged to establish a closer partnership with friendship organizations from South Asia and to strengthen dialogue on an equal footing for international equity and justice.

South Asia, home to nearly 2 billion people representing 21 percent of the world’s population, is fiercely fighting to save the lives of its people, said Farwa Zafar, Secretary General of All Pakistan-China Friendship Association.

“COVID-19 is indeed ushering in an era of cooperation marked by shared responsibility for a shared future,” she said, pointing out that the BRI corridor, ports and logistics hubs are now being used to provide medical support to partner countries.

These efforts can be further coordinated to develop a “healthy Silk Road” in combination with the “digital Silk Road” to show how technology can harness to mitigate the social and economic fallout of the pandemic, she added.

President of Afghanistan China Friendship Association, Sultan A. Baheen, said the experience of different countries, especially China, acknowledges that quarantine and city lockdowns are the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

In his view, friendship associations are of great significance in fighting against the virus through measures such as raising public awareness, mobilizing people, and providing aid through volunteers to affected areas.

Founder and Chairman of China-Maldivian Cultural Association, Mohamed Rasheed, stressed the importance to improve the governance system for public health security in view of the weaknesses and deficiencies exposed by COVID-19, appealing for reducing virus-related stigma.

Several media outlets in the region are spreading “false news and disinformation that are extremely detrimental to our solidarity,” Rasheed said, noting that all nations must unite together and use the great advances of science and instinctive compassion to heal.

During the webinar, participants reached a broad consensus on fighting the pandemic, launching a joint initiative titled “Fighting the Pandemic Together for a Beautiful Dream,” emphasizing further practical cooperation between China and South Asia through friendly dialogue.

“In light of the Asia spirit, Asia wisdom and Asia strength, we shall make greater efforts in pushing forward the Belt and Road Initiative, to promote win-win cooperation for common development, and to safeguard the regional and world peace and prosperity, as well as to build a community of a shared future for mankind,” the initiative stated.

Iran’s nuclear facilities are mysteriously under attack

Black smoke rose as flames engulfed the Shahid Tondgooyan petrochemical plant in the Khuzestan province of Iran late Sunday afternoon.

Hours earlier, more than 500 miles away, detonations rocked the basement of an old, nondescript home in a northern pocket of Tehran. The two-story dwelling was said to have housed at least 30 gas cylinders that were used for unclear purposes.

Both incidents came fewer than two days after a string of explosions – and power outages – were reported west of Tehran in the early hours of Friday. Local reports indicated that multiple “mortar-like sounds similar to anti-aircraft missiles” were heard.

The blasts reportedly took place at an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) missile depot.

While some Iranian officials denied the outbursts altogether, and others quoted a former mayor – who reportedly died more than a year ago – as saying it was caused by gas tanks, experts said there is something bizarre at play across the beleaguered country.

These most recent attacks happened on the heels of multiple other mysterious explosions at sensitive sites over the course of the last three weeks – and no one is precisely sure what is going on, other than its rattling of the regime and stymying its controversial nuclear program.

“The tempo and tenor of the recent explosions in Iran have been unusual. There is evidence of a concerted campaign underway to thwart Iran’s nuclear program,” Jason Brodsky, Policy Director of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), told Fox News. “The more Iran advances its nuclear program in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the greater the likelihood for additional strikes.”

He continued: “Additionally, Tehran is distracted by the coronavirus and economic problems. The public is increasingly disenchanted with the regime’s ability to govern the country. The conditions are ripe for additional kinetic activity.”

The first enigmatic hit happened on June 26 at a known liquid fuel production center that makes ballistic missiles in Khojir, near Parchin, southeast of the capital. Despite a downplaying by officials, satellite images later emerged to show extensive damage on an arsenal of gas tanks, along with an entire hillside blackened in the blast.

Then on June 30, 19 people died following an explosion at a medical center in Tehran.

Two days later, on July 2, the notorious Natanz uranium enrichment plant – which became active in 2018 as Iran’s principal place to develop centrifuges required to produce uranium and other nuclear weapons were in-development – was struck by a mammoth blast, as confirmed by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).

Tehran conceded that a severe attack had impaired an “industrial shed,” and AEOI officials acknowledged to the Iranian media that the blow had “set back Iran’s nuclear program by months.”

According to an analysis by the Kuwait-based publication Al-Jarida, the target of the assault was the UF6 gas – uranium hexafluoride – which Iran uses to infuse into its most advanced IR-6 centrifuges – of which 80 percent has been decimated as a result of the attack.

Then, on July 3, an unexplained fire erupted at a power plant in the southwest city of Shiraz, triggering a power outage in the region.

The next day, yet another explosion and inferno tore through a power plant in Ahwaz, while at the same time, a chlorine gas leak was detected at a Karoun petrochemical plant in Mahshahr, about 75 miles away.

“While one can never ignore the potential for an accident or gross incompetence, the locations of these explosions coupled with the increasing number of things exploding in the last few weeks does make a strong case for this being foreign sabotage,” underscored Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). “Let’s not forget, they are all occurring on or near, nuclear, missile, or military installations.”

Nonetheless, a swirl of suspicion continues to linger around the series of seemingly harmonized attacks, with many suspecting Israel – and the United States – as pulling strings.

But adding to the peculiarity, BBC Persian reported that just after midnight on June 30, some of its journalists received an email from a group purporting to be the “Homeland Cheetahs” – comprised of anti-government, underground dissidents – claiming credit for earlier attacks. The outlet also said they were informed of the Natanz attack hours before it was documented by officials.

Several intelligence sources told Fox News that they had never heard of the outfit prior to the BBC’s report, and suspected it to be a ruse or a front for a much more sophisticated operation.

While almost all experts conclude that the attacks that have occurred are physical, some say cyber warfare may additionally play a part – especially given that Natanz was targeted by the infamous Stuxnet malware kindled by Israel and the U.S. in 2010. That attack successfully crippled controls at the site by altering the spin cycles of the centrifuges and left scientists scratching their heads.

“Although many are asking the question, was this a cyber-attack or physical sabotage, the answer could be ‘both.’ The most likely suspects are the U.S. and Israel working in tandem. Both countries have very sophisticated cyber warfare units and significant capabilities when it comes to cyber-kinetic attacks,” explained David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec and a former NSA and Marine Corps cyber-intelligence expert. “An attack of this magnitude would require a great deal of planning and preparation and is very complex because you are exploiting industrial control systems and air-gapped devices.”

Jeff Bardin, CIO of security firm Treadstone 71, concurred that their assessment “indicates this was a physical attack likely with cyber used for reconnaissance and support.”

“The explosion was far beyond what is believed cyber sabotage could have created,” he said. “If Iran complains too loudly that adversaries destroyed their nuclear weapons development, the IAEA and the world will want a local inspection – Iran has claimed they are not creating nuclear weapons. If they complain too loudly, we can confirm those locations for nuclear weapons development. If Iranian authorities claim adversary actions occurred, internally, they look weak, where they already suffer a lack of confidence. If they openly respond, they risk more attacks.”

Experts have also pointed to the glaring holes in Tehran’s intelligence apparatus – essentially allowing its country’s most guarded sites to be slaughtered with convention weapons, with little means of foiling it or fighting back.

“Tehran has not yet retaliated for the Natanz explosion. (But) I would expect to see an uptick in Iranian cyber operations against the U.S., Israel, and our Mideast allies like Saudi Arabia, but I don’t expect a serious conflagration,” Kennedy surmised. “The Iranians have suffered a major setback to their nuclear program and their domestic security. They’ve been badly embarrassed. And the truth is, they may not know the full extent of what happened in that attack. They also don’t know what else is coming.”

Several hurt as Taiwan lawmakers’ brawl in parliament

Taiwanese lawmakers scuffled in parliament on Tuesday over a nomination for the head of a top government watchdog, the second time physical confrontations have erupted over the issue in as many weeks.

Opposition Kuomintang (KMT) members clashed with legislators from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as they tried to block nominee Chen Chu from entering the main parliamentary chamber.

A KMT lawmaker was sent to hospital after his arm was cut when glass panels were shattered during the melee while several other lawmakers from both sides suffered minor injuries.

Taiwan’s parliament was once notorious for mass brawls among lawmakers and has been the location of frequent protests.

Scuffles broke out over reform policies and pension cuts when President Tsai Ing-wen first took office four years ago, but such confrontations had since become rare.

Chen, 70, has been nominated to be president of the Control Yuan, an investigatory agency that monitors the other branches of government.

The KMT is opposed to her appointment, which requires approval from the DPP-dominated parliament.

“Out of 27 nominees for Control Yuan members, 24 have close ties with the DPP,” the KMT said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We refuse the list of corrupt nominees… we demand withdrawal of the list,” KMT chairman Johnny Chiang told supporters gathered outside parliament.

Chen is a long-time human rights advocate and was jailed for six years when Taiwan was a dictatorship under the KMT.

She has said she will quit the DPP after her nomination is approved to maintain the impartiality of the position.

“It’s very regrettable that I don’t have the opportunity to brief everyone in parliament today,” Chen said in a message posted on her Facebook page after the chaos.

“I have 100 per cent confidence in my ideals and my innocence but the opposition party unilaterally and endlessly smears my name with accusations while using irrational methods to prevent me from getting on the podium.”

Teachers Demand COVID-19 Containment Before Return to Campuses

When it comes to the risks to opening schools, in the words of San Jose, CA teacher Jodi Disario, “I think I need to draw the line at dying.” But that is the risk students, teachers and school staff are facing due to lack of government action to contain COVID-19 and lack of logistical preparation to reopen schools safely.

In an internal document leaked last week, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that reopening schools poses a high risk for an even larger surge of COVID-19 cases. In spite of that, in state after state, elected officials pass the buck from one agency to the other to avoid accountability for students’ and workers’ lives.

Now, as the Trump Administration threatens to withhold federal education funding if schools do not reopen at full capacity, teachers are showing that we will be the ones protecting students and workers. Teacher unions are emerging as a force with the will and power to help lead the U.S. out of the COVID-19 surge gripping the country, and the pandemic itself.

Both national teacher unions and local affiliates are calling for no return to campuses until it is safe to do so. United Teachers of Los Angeles as well as teachers in Oakland, CA and Fairfax, Virginia called for starting the school year with distance learning. In Sacramento, David Fisher, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association stated, “We hope we don’t have to go there, but if it comes to it, we do retain the right to refuse to work under unsafe conditions.” In response to teacher and community demands, districts across the country are announcing plans to begin the year online-only including in California (Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, and San Bernardino) as well as Atlanta, GA and Miami-Dade, FL. It is expected San Francisco will begin the year with online-only instruction.

Even as schools are currently closed, the United States is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 not seen anywhere else in the world, largely due to states reopening too early. At the time of writing this, there are 3.29 million confirmed cases in the U.S., and there have been 137,000 deaths in the U.S., 25 percent of the world’s total despite the U.S. having just 4 percent of the world’s population. On July 9, officials reported 59,880 new cases in one day, surpassing the single-day record for the sixth time in the last 10 days. In Texas, where less than 10 percent of daycares are open, there have been 1,695 positive cases at 1,078 childcare centers — two-third of the cases were childcare workers, the rest children. In Oregon, the number of children under the age of 5 infected increased by five times, and now matches the rate of infections in those over 80. Summer camps in Missouri, Georgia and Alabama have been closed due to widespread infection of children and employees.

Early last week, the CDC issued new guidelines for the safe reopening of schools which were immediately attacked by Trump, Pence and DeVos as “too expensive.” Trump and DeVos threatened to withhold federal funding to public schools if they do not fully reopen in person – something they do not have the medical expertise to recommend or legal authority to do. Most federal education funding goes to Title 1 schools, schools where the majority of students qualify for free and reduced lunches, so Trump and DeVos’s threat was to harm poor children and the workers who care for them in the middle of a pandemic. DeVos has called for diverting funds from schools that do not return to campuses to vouchers for private schools, again something she does not have the power to do. She would immediately be taken to court by education unions, which are completely confident they would win.

A recent study by Kaiser Family Foundation found that 25 percent of teachers have underlying health conditions or are at an age that puts them at high risk of complications from COVID-19. Consistent with this, recent polls show 1 in 5 public school teachers will not return to work until COVID-19 is contained due to health and safety concerns. Years of defunding have led to overcrowded and decaying facilities in the public-school system. An unsafe reopening during a pandemic which is killing people of color at twice the rate as whites will be a catastrophe.

Returning to schools when it is unsafe, while forcing hundreds of thousands of public-school teachers out of the profession, would be a boon to the school privatization schemes Trump and DeVos support. It would deal a major blow to public education. As always though, they have not included workers’ power in their calculations. 

On July 11, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, the School Superintendents Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a joint statement demanding “schools in areas with high levels of COVID-19 community spread should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts… Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”

The NEA further stated, “The absolute preconditions for opening are: scientific consensus that the virus has been sufficiently contained and the local health infrastructure can effectively address current and future outbreaks; and, a plan to continue to contain the virus that includes robust COVID19 testing, effective contract tracing, and isolation within the school community, and in coordination with broader community and state efforts.”

Parents need wider access to safe childcare, but schools have not received funding to make this a reality and are grappling with budget cuts due to lack of funding from states. Parents also have not been provided with adequate income protections allowing for safe supervision of children if they are forced to work out of the home to meet basic needs. Trump, DeVos and others have waged a concerted effort to pit parents and teachers against each other in a bid to force an unsafe reopening of schools, but this effort is breaking down as parents learn that schools are not prepared to meet Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 safety guidelines of ensuring social distancing, small student groupings, personal protective equipment and adequate hygiene infrastructure. As the COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S. continues to break world records, COVID-19 tests continue to be rationed by healthcare providers, ICUs become full and medical and school systems are severely strained, it is becoming clearer to workers that a united struggle to meet people’s needs, instead of maximizing corporate profits, is the solution to the pandemic.

Reds in Eds is in full solidarity with all education workers and their unions struggling to protect lives and public education. We demand:

1. No return to campuses until 14 days pass with no new infections in a county. Widespread COVID-19 testing, tracing of infections, and funding making it possible for those infected to isolate.

2. Funding for job and paycheck protection, as well as adequate family care and sick leave. Access to safe childcare that meets CDC safety guidelines.

3. Continued food service for children. Universal access to the internet, a computer for every child to access distance learning, and other essential needs like counseling and health screenings.

4. Funding for schools to reopen safely when data indicates it is safe to return. Assurances from school districts that CDC COVID-19 guidelines will be met when students and workers return to campus: 6 ft social distancing allowed by reduced class sizes, hiring additional staff to allow for smaller student groups, temporary classrooms; on-site daily health screenings including temperature checks of students and staff; PPE: masks, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, facial tissue, gloves;  gowns and face shields  when needed; adequate air filtration;  other logistical materials in line with CDC guidelines like hand washing stations, additional sanitation; availability of testing and contact tracing.

5. Defund police in our schools, use the money to pay for more school counselors, social workers, and nurses to provide services to students addressing systemic racism and the pandemic.

Teachers will not risk their lives or allow harm to come to their students or the wider community by returning to school sites before it is safe to do. The buck stops with us. Education workers’ unions will continue to lead the way in the fight to contain COVID19, making it safe to return to campuses for students and workers. Speak out, act!

United Way gives $10K to Western Dakota Tech for COVID-19 relief efforts

The United Way of the Black Hills distributed $12,000 in grant funding to both Western Dakota Tech and the Spearfish United Methodist Church last week for COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts.

Western Dakota Tech received $10,000 of that funding, which will be used to purchase materials to make reusable face masks for local businesses, service providers, students, health care providers and people facing homelessness.

Kits are assembled by WDT employees, their family and friends, and community volunteers. So far, 13,209 sewn masks have been collected and 10,360 of them have been distributed to businesses and individuals.

Spearfish United Methodist Church will use their $2,000 in funding to purchase extra cleaning supplies for classrooms in order to continue to serve the Spearfish community.

Western media praises Vietnam’s success in containing COVID-19

Major media corporations and news agencies have run articles highlighting Vietnam’s success in coping with COVID-19 through the hospital discharge of a British pilot – known as Patient 91, the most seriously ill COVID-19 case in Vietnam.

Stephen Cameron fully recovered thanks to the effective treatment and rehabilitation provided by Vietnamese doctors and nurses for over three months. He was discharged from the Ho Chi Minh City-based Cho Ray Hospital before returning home on July 12.

USA Today quoted the British pilot thanking everyone in Vietnam for what they have done for him. The article appreciated the measures to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic in Vietnam, emphasizing that the high efforts of the Vietnamese doctors in treating Patient 91 have become a symbol of Vietnam’s success in the fight against the pandemic.

The Washington Post also assessed that Vietnam tried its best to cure Cameron. The British pilot said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of the Vietnamese people, and the dedication and professionalism of doctors and nurses at Cho Ray Hospital. The patient also said that he returned home with a “happy heart”, even though he felt sad to say goodbye to the people and friends in Vietnam.

In the UK, The Guardian also run an in-depth article about Cameron’s case and his treatment, as well as posted his thank-you note before leaving Cho Ray Hospital. The article shared that Vietnam has not recorded any deaths due to COVID-19 because it has responded and handled the disease quickly and positively.

Sky News also reported on the repatriation of Patient 91 to the UK. It said that in the last three months, Vietnam has not found any locally transmitted infections, and all recent reported cases are people who were infected abroad and have been placed in government quarantine facilities.

The Daily Mail praised Vietnam for keeping a “perfect score” when it said that the 91st COVID-19 patient detected in Vietnam was a critical case but was discharged after 115 days of treatment. The article emphasized Vietnam’s achievement in maintaining a zero-death rate due to COVID-19 with only just over 300 cases of infection since the outbreak began.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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