News, July 16th

Black UK protester statue removed from pedestal in Bristol

Officials in the English city of Bristol on Thursday removed a statue of a Black Lives Matter activist that was installed barely 24 hours earlier on a pedestal once occupied by a monument to a 17th-century slave trader.

Artist Marc Quinn created the resin and steel likeness of Jen Reid, a protester photographed standing with a raised fist on the pedestal after demonstrators pulled down the statue of merchant Edward Colston and dumped in Bristol’s harbor on June 7.

The statue of Reid was erected before dawn on Wednesday without the approval of city authorities and removed by those same authorities early Thursday, carted away in a waste-removal truck.

Bristol City Council said the sculpture “will be held at our museum for the artist to collect or donate to our collection.”

Colston was a trader who made a fortune transporting enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas on Bristol-based ships. His money funded schools and charities in Bristol, 120 miles (195 kilometers) southwest of London.

The toppling of his statue was part of a worldwide reckoning with racism and slavery sparked by the death of a Black American man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May.

From Confederate monuments in the United States to statues of British slave traders, memorials erected in honor of historical figures have become a global focus of protests — and removal, both authorized and unauthorized.

City authorities fished the Colston statue out of the harbor and say it will be placed in a museum, along with placards from the Black Lives Matter demonstration.

Mayor Marvin Rees, who is the first Black leader of Bristol, said the decision about what replaces the statue of native son Colston must be made by the people of the city, not an artist from London.

“There were people in Bristol who were elated that Colston got pulled down.,” he said. “There were some people who were sympathetic that the Colston statue got pulled down but were dismayed by the way it happened. There were people who feel they have lost a bit of themselves in the statue being pulled down.

“None of those people are going anywhere. We all still live in the city together and we have to find a way of leading Bristol that actually shows everyone that they are respected even if they don’t get what they want.”

Bristol Council said officials would speak to Quinn about what should happen to his artwork. He has said that if it is sold, profits will be donated to educational charities chosen by Reid.

The speed with which events transpired disappointed people who had heard about the new statue and wanted to see it. Activist Deasy Bamford alluded to a decades-long dispute over the presence of the Colston statue in expressing her exasperation over the new work’s quick exit.

“It took them 35 years to do nothing and 24 hours to do something. That says something,” Bamford said. “However, I understand that they are playing a role, so hopefully that statue will go somewhere in another iconic spot where everyone will see it where there is a proper plaque which explains exactly why it was put up and it belongs to Bristol.”

COVID-19: UN relief chief urges G20 to step up to avert ‘cascading crises’ in fragile countries

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession are set to trigger the first increase in global poverty in three decades, pushing 265 million people to the point of starvation by the end of the year, the UN’s top humanitarian official warned on Friday.

Mark Lowcock called on the world’s leading industrial nations, the G20, to step up support, as he released an updated $10.3 billion appeal to fight coronavirus spread in 63 low-income countries.

“The pandemic and associated global recession are about to wreak havoc in fragile and low-income countries”, he said. “The response of wealthy nations so far has been grossly inadequate and dangerously short-sighted. Failure to act now will leave the virus free to circle round the globe, undo decades of development and create a generation’s worth of tragic and exportable problems.”

“It doesn’t have to be like this – this is a problem that can be fixed with money from wealthy nations and fresh thinking from the shareholders of international financial institutions and supporters of UN agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, and NGOs.”

As of Thursday, there were more than 13 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and nearly 580,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Mr. Lowcock fears that unless G20 countries act now, they will face a series of human tragedies more brutal and destructive than the direct health impacts of the pandemic.

“Rich countries have thrown out the rulebook when it comes to protecting their own economies. They must apply the same exceptional measures to countries that need help”, he declared.

“The prospect of cascading crises more brutal and destructive than anything the virus alone can do must jolt us all out of our comfort zone.”

UN agencies estimate that due to disruptions to health systems caused by the pandemic, some 6,000 children could die each every day from preventable causes, while annual deaths from HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, could double.

Humanitarians said the first confirmed case of the disease was reported in Idlib, Syria, last week, sparking fears of a devastating outbreak in crowded camps housing millions of people displaced by the country’s nearly decade-long conflict.

The COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan addresses the humanitarian impacts of the pandemic in 63 low- and middle-income countries and supports their efforts to combat it.

The plan prioritizes the world’s most vulnerable citizens, including older persons, people with disabilities, displaced people, and women and girls.

It was initially launched in late March, shortly after WHO declared the global pandemic.

While $1.7 billion has been raised since then, the update includes a supplementary $300 million, to bolster rapid response from NGOs, $500 million for famine prevention, and a sharper focus on preventing gender-based violence.

Economic Reforms and Investments in Health, Social Protection and Infrastructure will Support Indonesia Sustainable Recovery

The global economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Indonesia. Indonesia’s economic growth is projected to fall to zero percent in 2020, as weary consumers and mobility restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus have led to a freeze in tourism, low commodity prices, and empty shops and restaurants. Recovery will be gradual, and real GDP growth is projected to reach 4.8 percent in 2021, only bouncing back to 6.0 percent in 2022, according to the World Bank’s July 2020 Indonesia Economic Prospects report, released today.

The impact on livelihoods has also been severe, with most Indonesians experiencing income losses. Without a significant expansion of social assistance, as many as 5.5 million Indonesians could have been pushed into poverty because of the Covid-19 shock.

To respond to the crisis, the Indonesian Government has announced a fiscal package amounting to 4.3 percent of GDP. The package includes funds to improve the preparedness of the health sector and a substantial increase in social assistance.  If fully disbursed and well-targeted, the stimulus package could go a long way to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on poverty, according to the report.

“We welcome the robust response of the Government of Indonesia to mitigate the impacts of this unprecedented crisis. It is essential that the package is now effectively implemented to have the fullest impact on the people and the economy,” said Satu Kahkonen, World Bank Country Director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste. “We are also encouraged that the Government is keen to turn this crisis into an opportunity by advancing important reforms to boost competitiveness, which will lay a strong foundation for a more robust recovery.” 

This July 2020 edition of the Indonesia Economic Prospects report also outlines strategies to help the country build back better from the crisis, including by building on the expansion of the pandemic-driven expansion of social protection coverage and closing newly identified gaps in the system, and accelerating the delivery of universal health care for all.

“To effectively curb the impact of the pandemic, the government’s decision to shift spending priorities and increase the budget deficit was absolutely necessary,” said Frederico Gil Sander, World Bank Lead Economist for Indonesia. “Going forward, higher spending on health, social protection and infrastructure will still be needed, which makes tax reforms to raise fiscal revenues of paramount importance to flatten the debt curve and maintain Indonesia’s strong macroeconomic framework.”

The Indonesia Economic Prospects report is supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

EU to meet face-to-face at summit to carve up $2.1 trillion

There are limits to videoconferencing. When there is a lot of money at stake, people like to look each other in the eye.

So on Friday, leaders from 27 European Union nations will be meeting face-to-face for the first since February despite the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic – simply to try to carve up a potential package of 1.85 trillion euros ( 2.1 trillion) among themselves, and, just as importantly, see who will pay in the most.

In perhaps the first such major meeting of leaders since the COVID-19 outbreak hit the world, the stakes were just too high to maintain extreme social distancing.

You can feel the mood, as it were,” Germany’s Europe minister, Michael Roth, said of such flesh-and-blood summits. I wouldn’t claim to be a psychologist, but I would say it really does help.”

It had better since five remote video summits so far this year failed at bridging the financial gap between rival nations needing to agree on a more than 1-trillion-euro budget for the next seven years and a 750-billion-fund to allow nations to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

It was already clear at Easter when I was calling, the first time, all the different capitals that such a decision can only be taken if the leaders, prime ministers, heads of state, meet in person in Brussels,” EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn said.

French President Emmanuel Macron is already sweeping into town late Thursday, eager to get as many encounters in as possible.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds out until the official kickoff time early Friday.

Whatever happens, it will make for an EU summit unlike any other at the urn-shaped Europa headquarters.

For starters, the cozy meeting room on the top floor, where the leaders have clashed at close quarters over everything from Brexit to migration issues, will be exchanged for the prosaically-named meeting room EBS-5, where normally 330 people fit in a space of 850 square meters (9,150 square feet).

They will be well spaced” when they go into a restricted session with barely a few delegates, deadpanned an EU official preparing the summit.

There will be no group photo of the leaders like at last December’s summit because of social distancing requirements.

Often, the toughest of summits have so-called confessionals where the president of the proceedings takes one or more leaders to the side to see where they might budge. Other leaders can gather in mini sessions to defend common regional or financial interests.

It’s bound to happen again, but this time, every room which will be used at the summit center will be deep cleaned. The main summit room will only use filtered, non-recycled air.

As soon as their vehicles pull up into driveway outside the Europa building, the leaders will immediately experience the difference, officials said. Most of their delegations will be split off immediately and parked in an adjacent building.

And instead of a warren of microphones and cameras seeking early comment, they will have the option to make a comment to a neutral outlet, no questions asked.

The already byzantine map of the building has been redrawn to avoid unexpected crowds and certain elevators for the leaders will be limited to a maximum capacity of two.

At the start of a session, leaders will be urged to mask themselves and respect at least 1.5 meters of distance for the informal greetings, often a moment when body language gives away how tough a summit will be. Yet if Monday’s trial run of foreign ministers was anything to go by, discipline was often lacking.

Should the worst happen, and a leader suddenly shows symptoms, doctors will be on site once he or she is taken out of the room. A nation can’t put in a replacement, and it can only ask a friendly colleague to vote or speak in its place.

So, even if it will be a true face-to-face meeting, it will be one laden with provisos.

“It doesn’t automatically mean that excellent results will be achieved, and that agreement will be reached quickly,” Roth said. But after all, I am an optimist.”

Others are already looking at an extended summit running even into Sunday, with another one possible within two weeks.

Israel’s jobless rate skyrockets to 23pct as Covid-19 intensifies

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday a financial aid plan for “all citizens” aimed at rebooting the economy, hard hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Families with children will receive one-off payments of between 2,000 and 3,000 shekels (US$580-875), while “all other citizens over the age of 18 will receive 750 shekels,” Netanyahu pledged at a press conference.

“This money will put the economy back on track faster,” he added, calling for people to purchase “local products.”

The financial support, part of a general aid package of 90 billion shekels announced last week, must still be approved by the government, Netanyahu said.

On Sunday, the Israeli government approved measures to provide financial assistance to the self-employed, whose livelihoods have been devastated by the novel coronavirus.

As part of efforts to combat the virus’ spread, Israeli authorities in mid-March imposed strict lockdown measures, during which only professionals working in occupations deemed essential were allowed to work and public gatherings were prohibited.

Israel’s unemployment rate jumped from 3.4 per cent in February to 27 per cent in April, before falling slightly in May to 23.5 per cent.

The Jewish state had won praise for its early response to the Covid-19 outbreak, but the government has come under criticism amid a resurgence in cases after lockdown measures were lifted.

The country of some nine million people has recorded more than 43,668 coronavirus cases, including 375 deaths as of Wednesday.

The government lifted some restrictions at the end of May, but announced new one’s last week, including closing bars, nightclubs, and gyms.

Landmark Supreme Court ruling Confirms Muscogee treaty rights

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the exercise of Native American rights in a long-awaited July 9 landmark decision that holds the Muskogee (Creek) Nation retains jurisdiction over the treaty lands it negotiated at the end of the 19th Century Trail of Tears.

“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever,” Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the narrow 5-4 majority of the judicial panel.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” the opinion in McGirt v. Oklahoma states.

The Treaty with the Creeks in 1832, another by the same name in 1833, and yet another in 1866 established 3 million acres in the eastern part of present-day Oklahoma state, including a large chunk of Tulsa (population 400,000), as Muscogee territory.

The far-reaching implications of the finding stirred reactions from many quarters.

“The Supreme Court today kept the United States’ sacred promise to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of a protected reservation,” the tribal government said in written statement. “Today’s decision will allow the nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries.”

The Muscogee were quick to point out that the victory for treaty rights does not put private or state land status in jeopardy; instead, it allows the native nation government to take part in criminal prosecutions of American Indians in cases within reservation borders.

“We will continue to work with federal and state law enforcement agencies to ensure that public safety will be maintained throughout the territorial boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation,” it said.

Four other forcibly relocated tribes that had obtained recognition as landlords of the lion’s share of the rest of the Oklahoma, chimed in with the State Attorney General’s Office, showing they had anticipated the decision and a smooth transition to shared law enforcement as well as prosecution activities.

“The state, the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole nations have made substantial progress toward an agreement to present to Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice addressing and resolving any significant jurisdictional issues raised by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma,” they said.

“The nations and the state are committed to implementing a framework of shared jurisdiction that will preserve sovereign interests and rights to self-government while affirming jurisdictional understandings, procedures, laws, and regulations that support public safety, our economy, and private property rights,” they said.

“We will continue our work, confident that we can accomplish more together than any of us could alone.”

The Oklahoma Congressional delegation, long accustomed to conciliatory relations with the tribal nations, noted that the decision impacts “the Five Tribes of Oklahoma and all Oklahomans.”

In a written statement, it added, “We are reviewing the decision carefully and stand ready to work with both tribal and state officials to ensure stability and consistency in applying law that brings all criminals to justice.

“Indeed, no criminal is ever exempt or immune from facing justice, and we remain committed to working together to both affirm tribal sovereignty and ensure safety and justice for all Oklahomans,” said the delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, which consists of Kevin Hern (Republican) , Markwayne Mullin (Republican), Frank Lucas (Republican), Tom Cole (Republican) and Kendra Horn (Democrat).

New Mexico U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland remarked, “As we move forward addressing longstanding broken promises, this decision will serve as a marker to ensure the federal government honors its promises to native nations.”

The National Congress of American Indians called the decision an “historic win.” NCAI President Fawn Sharp noted, “Through two terms of the United States Supreme Court, and as many cases and fact patterns, this question has loomed over federal Indian law.

“NCAI joins the rest of Indian country in congratulating the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and proudly asserting that its lands remain, and will forever be considered, Indian country – as guaranteed in their treaty relationship with the United States,” she said in a written statement.

Native American Rights Fund Executive Director John Echohawk responded to the decision, saying, “In this case, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation had to fight long and hard to protect their homelands, which were promised in their treaty agreements with the United States. In holding the federal government to its treaty obligations, the U.S. Supreme Court put to rest what never should have been at question. We congratulate the nation on its success.”

The Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute “praises the United States Supreme Court in upholding the treaty with the Muscogee Creek Nation,” it said. “This decision gives hope to surrounding Oklahoma tribes” with similar treaty language, foreshadowing criminal, civil, regulatory and tax jurisdiction, it said.

Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and a professor at the University of Kansas, argues that the decision is key to protecting indigenous women from crime and bringing perpetrators of the violence to task.

In a friend-of-the-court brief during proceedings in a separate Supreme Court case in 2018, she wrote, “Today, native women and children face the highest rates of domestic violence, murder, and sexual assault in the United States.”

Numerous federal laws limit the charges that federal prosecutors can bring against both Indian and non-Indian offenders who commit crimes in Indian country located within certain states, while tribal courts have sentencing limitations. she noted.

This became evident in a similar case appealed to the Supreme Court. Called Sharp v. Murphy, it was resolved at the same time as McGirt v. Oklahoma, via a writ of certiorari, applying a like ruling.

Successful multijurisdictional investigations and prosecutions “require a collaborative working relationship,” Deer said.

According to the American Bar Association, Seminole Nation citizen Jimcy McGirt brought the landmark suit, challenging the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma state court in his 1977 conviction of rape and other sex crimes on what is, as of now, considered the Creek reservation.

McGirt, at more than 70 years old, is serving life in prison with what adds up to a sentence of at least two 500-year terms.

As he faces retrial, the Five Oklahoma Nations and the state pledged they “are committed to ensuring that Jimcy McGirt, Patrick Murphy, and all other offenders face justice for the crimes for which they are accused, they said in their statement.

Lower Brule Sioux Tribal citizen Nick Estes, an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, observed that the decision and other recent court rulings favoring Indian country are “welcome legal victories.”

However, he warned, the 1980 Supreme Court ruling that the Black Hills had been stolen from the Lakota in 1876 in violation of the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty failed to result in a return of jurisdiction to the seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation or Oceti Sakowin.

“Indigenous people cannot merely rely on the courts of the conqueror. Much more is needed,” he wrote in a nationally broadcast opinion.

“To realize a complete vision of indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice takes people power — the kind that energized the 2016 Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Estes is the author of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance.

OPEC+ decides to move to 2nd phase of oil cuts by easing output restrictions

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC countries decided in a meeting on Wednesday (July 15) to move to the second phase of their agreement to cut oil output by easing restrictions on production.

Entering the second phase, the cuts will be reduced from 9.6 million barrels per day (bpd) to 7.7 million bpd starting August until the end of the year, according to an OPEC statement released after the online meeting.

The meeting, co-chaired by Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud and his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak, highlighted full commitment of all parties to follow the oil cuts deal.

The meeting also required the countries that overproduced in previous months to submit their compensation plans to the OPEC Secretariat by the end of July.

The compensation plans mean that the effective oil cuts will exceed 7.7 million bpd.

OPEC and its allies, an oil group known as OPEC+ led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, agreed in April to slash output by 9.7 million bpd for May and June as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged demand, and decided in June to extend the first phase of oil output cuts until the end of July.

Rising uncertainties from COVID-19 cloud medium-term agricultural prospects

The fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented uncertainties in global food supply chains, with potential bottlenecks in labor markets, input industries, agriculture production, food processing, transport, and logistics, as well as shifts in demand for food and food services. In the short term, the economic and social impacts of the pandemic interrupt the generally positive medium-term outlook for global agricultural production and food consumption. Governments face the challenge to create balanced policies that address immediate needs, such as labor shortages and create durable conditions for the agricultural sector to ‘build back better,’ according to a new report presented today by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General QU Dongyu.

The joint OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2020-2029 report finds that over the next ten years supply growth is going to outpace demand growth, causing real prices of most commodities to remain at or below their current levels. Fluctuations in the driving factors of supply and demand could lead to strong price variations around this general path. At the same time, a decrease in disposable incomes in low-income countries and households caused by COVID-19 is expected to depress demand in the early years of this outlook and could further undermine food security.

An expanding global population remains the main driver of demand growth, although the consumption patterns and projected trends vary across countries in line with their level of income and development. Average per capita food availability is projected to reach about 3,000 kcal and 85 g of protein per day by 2029. Due to the ongoing transition in global diets towards higher consumption of animal products, fats and other foods, the share of staples in the food basket is projected to decline by 2029 for all income groups. In particular, consumers in middle-income countries are expected to use their additional income to shift their diets away from staples towards higher value products. Meanwhile, environmental and health concerns in high-income countries are expected to support a transition from animal-based protein towards alternative sources of protein.

Open and transparent international markets will be increasingly important for food security, especially in countries where imports account for a large share of their total calorie and protein consumption. “A well-functioning, predictable international trade system can help ensure global food security and allow producers in exporting countries to thrive,” Mr. Gurría said. “Experience has shown that trade restrictions are no recipe for food security.”

FAO Director-General Qu said: “We need better policies, more innovation, increased investments and greater inclusiveness to build dynamic, productive and resilient agricultural and food sectors.”

About 85 percent of global crop output growth over the next decade is expected to come from yield improvements resulting from higher input use, investments in production technology and better cultivation practices. Multiple harvests per year will account for another 10 percent of crop output growth, leaving only 5 percent to cropland expansion. By 2024, aquaculture production is projected to overtake capture fisheries as the most important source of fish worldwide. Global livestock production is expected to expand by 14 percent, faster than the projected increase in animal numbers. Feed use will expand in line with aquaculture and livestock production as feed efficiency improvements will be counterbalanced by an increase in feed intensity due to reduced backyard farming.

The Outlook underscores the continuing need to invest in building productive, resilient, and sustainable food systems in the face of uncertainties. Beyond COVID-19, current challenges include the locust invasion in East Africa and Asia, the continued spread of African swine fever, more frequent extreme climatic events, and trade tensions among major trading powers. The food system will also need to adapt to evolving diets and consumer preferences and take advantage of digital innovations in agro-food supply chains. Innovation will remain critical in improving the resilience of food systems in the face of multiple challenges.

Assuming the continuation of current policies and technologies, agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are projected to grow by 0.5 percent annually, indicating a reduction in agriculture’s carbon intensity. Livestock will account for 80 percent of this global increase. Nevertheless, without additional efforts, this slowdown will still fall short of what the agricultural sector could and should do to contribute to the Paris Agreement targets for fighting climate change.

Russian hackers behind cyberattacks on coronavirus vaccine developers: US, UK, Canada intel

Russian cyber hackers are targeting organizations involved in coronavirus vaccine development, security officials in the U.S., United Kingdom and Canada claimed Thursday.

The British National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) published an advisory detailing the activity of the threat group known as APT29, which “has exploited organizations globally.”

The NCSC assessed that APT29, also named “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear,” almost certainly operate as part of Russian Intelligence Services. The assessment is supported by partners at the Canadian Communication Security Establishment (CSE), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).

“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” U.K.’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement. “While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behavior, the U.K. and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health.”

The NCSC made the announcement in a press release, where it claimed “APT29’s campaign of malicious activity is ongoing, predominantly against government, diplomatic, think-tank, health care and energy targets to steal valuable intellectual property.”

“We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” Paul Chichester, NCSC’s director of operations, said in a statement. “Working with our allies, the NCSC is committed to protecting our most critical assets and our top priority at this time is to protect the health sector.”

Chichester also urged “organizations to familiarize themselves with the advice we have published to help defend their networks.”

The NCSC said they are more than 95 percent certain that APT29 is part of the Russian Intelligence Services. It also assessed it is highly likely – between 80 and 90 percent – that this activity was to collect information on COVID-19 vaccine research or research into the COVID-19 virus itself.

Is it realistic to expect a vaccine by the end of 2020? Fox News medical contributor Dr. Janette Nesheiwat weighs in.

The persistent and ongoing attacks are seen by intelligence officials as an effort to steal intellectual property, rather than to disrupt research. It was unclear whether any information actually was stolen but the British center says individuals’ confidential information is not believed to have been compromised.

Cozy Bear, also known as “the Dukes,” has been identified by Washington as one of two Russian government-linked hacking groups that broke into the Democratic National Committee computer network and stole emails ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The other group is usually called Fancy Bear.

The NCSC has previously warned that APT – which stands for Advanced Persistent Threats – groups have been targeting organizations involved in both national and international COVID-19 responses. It said known targets of APT29 include British, American, and Canadian vaccine research and development organizations. Officials claim the group uses a variety of tools and techniques, including spear-phishing and custom malware known as “WellMess” and “WellMail.”

The statement did not say whether Russian President Vladimir Putin knew about the vaccine research hacking, but British officials believe such intelligence would be highly prized.

U.S. authorities have for months leveled similar accusations against China. FBI Director Chris Wray said last week, “At this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”

Some Courts Slow Reopening Plans as COVID Cases Rise

At a time when some states are backtracking on plans to restore business and government operations, a number of federal courts also are slowing plans to reopen courthouse doors as coronavirus (COVID-19) case numbers escalate in many states.

In recent weeks, federal courts, especially in Sun Belt “hot spot” states, have issued orders extending courthouse closures, postponement of jury trials, and the use of video and teleconferencing for most or all proceedings. Most of the orders cited rising COVID-19 numbers.

“Unfortunately, the last month has seen an increase in the rate of spread across the state, and the rolling seven-day average of new cases is at an all-time high,” wrote Chief Judge Daniel P. Jordan III, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, in a July 1 order. The court postponed all but one jury trial until August.

The Northern District of Texas, which in early June successfully staged a criminal jury trial using social distancing measures, postponed all jury trials scheduled for July in the district’s Dallas courthouse.

Courts in Florida, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina all have issued orders postponing a return to full courthouse operations. Numerous courts outside the Sun Belt also have slowed resumption of jury trials, even where COVID-19 case counts have plateaued.

“We have definitely hit the pause button,” said Chief Judge James K. Bredar, of the District of Maryland, where local COVID-19 cases have fallen since their peak. He hopes to hold a few small jury trials in August, to test out new safety procedures devised by the court.

Since the pandemic escalated in March, federal courts have responded in varied ways, depending largely on local conditions. While some continued to hold in-person proceedings, many districts closed courthouse buildings or curtailed public entry, conducting most proceedings by video or teleconference.

However, most courts have worked cautiously but diligently to resume in-person courtroom proceedings, noting that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to a speedy trial. Efforts have included social distancing and mask mandates, building plexiglass barriers into courtrooms, and limiting how many people can share an elevator.

A memo sent to federal courts in late April proposed an exhaustive set of “gating” criteria for courts to consider as they gradually progress through four phases, or, reverse course to move into earlier phases if local conditions deteriorate.

The criteria included local public health agency recommendations, which rely on conditions such as total population, population density, number of people over age 60, the availability of intensive care unit beds, and confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Even where courts have begun reopening courthouse doors, conditions remain fluid, judges and court staff said. “We are monitoring it daily,” said Chief Judge David C. Nye, of the District of Idaho, who recently reinstated a limit of 50 persons attending any proceeding at the Boise courthouse after the COVID-19 warning for Boise was revised.

In the District of Arizona, jury trials have been indefinitely postponed in the Flagstaff courthouse, and customer service counters are closed in Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, and Yuma. “The number of daily diagnosed cases of COVID-19 have recently and considerably increased in the State of Arizona resulting from, among other factors, increased community spread,” a June 24 order noted.

In the Eastern District of Louisiana, which includes New Orleans, criminal and civil jury trials have been postponed until Oct. 5. A June 26 order cited “the severity of risks posed to the public, Court staff, and other Court agencies.”

In the Southern District of Florida, which includes Miami, jury trials and grand jury proceedings have been suspended until Oct. 13. “Judges are strongly encouraged to conduct court proceedings by telephone or video conferencing,” a June 29 order said.

And the Southern District of California, which includes San Diego, continued postponement of jury trials until mid-August. “Many of the circumstances giving rise to the judicial emergency have not abated,” said a July 13 order signed by Chief Judge Larry Alan Burns. “To protect the public safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Chief Judge … hereby extends the judicial emergency for an additional period of 30 days.”

South Dakota Closes the 2020 Budget Year with a $19 Million Surplus

South Dakota closed the 2020 budget year on June 30 with a surplus of $19.1 million, Governor Kristi Noem announced today. Although total revenue finished $7.9 million lower than adopted estimates, the state general fund budget ended with expenditures approximately $27.2 million lower than budgeted. The state spent $74.8 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds in fiscal year 2020.

“Despite the challenges with COVID-19, South Dakota remains in a strong financial position,” said Governor Noem. “As many states closed their economies, I trusted South Dakotans to make the right decisions for themselves and their loved-ones. Our future remains bright because we kept our state open for business and we live within our means.”

Of the $27.2 million of 2020 general fund reversions, $23.9 million came from executive branch agencies, $1.8 million came from the Board of Regents, $0.9 million came from the Unified Judicial System, and $0.6 million came from the Legislature and constitutional offices. The unspent funds in fiscal year 2020 represent just 1.6 percent of the total general fund budget.

Total general fund revenue for fiscal year 2020 was lower than legislative adopted estimates in February by $7.9 million, or 0.5 percent. Sales and use tax, which is the state’s largest revenue source, finished $11.8 million below estimates but still grew 4.6 percent over the prior fiscal year. A combination of all other sources of general fund revenue finished the fiscal year $3.9 million above legislative estimates.

By law, the fiscal year 2020 surplus of $19.1 million was transferred to the budget reserve fund. The state’s budget reserve fund now has a balance of $149.4 million, and the general revenue replacement fund has a balance of $44.0 million, for a total reserve of $193.4 million.

This Is How Much Overregulation Would Cost Your Family Each Year

For years, the Swamp has interfered in the lives of private American citizens by piling regulations on nearly every form of economic activity. This “expert” rule from Washington has created thousands of jobs for bureaucrats while costing everyone else time, money, and—for many—their careers.

Today, President Trump announced more results from his Administration’s historic regulatory relief efforts. The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) estimates that just 20 of the Administration’s deregulatory actions will save U.S. consumers and businesses over $220 billion per year.

What does that mean for your family? According to the CEA, President Trump’s deregulation program is projected to boost household incomes by upwards of $3,100 annually in the years ahead.

These benefits will take many forms: Americans will have access to cheaper cars, and patients will save nearly 10 percent on prescription drugs. Most important, these rollbacks on everyday items will help blue-collar and middle-class Americans significantly more than the richest among us.

Overregulation falls disproportionately on the shoulders of lower-income families, who spend a larger share of their incomes on heavily regulated goods and services. Those purchases include transportation, food, and healthcare. Government labor-market burdens also cost American jobs by causing workers to be replaced with lower-cost machines.

Before taking office, President Trump promised to roll back two regulations for every new one added in Washington. He’s kept that promise—and then some. Under the Trump Administration, nearly eight regulations have been rolled back for each new one implemented.

About $50 billion in regulatory costs has already been saved on President Trump’s watch. By current projections, the CEA estimates that cutting red tape will lead real incomes for Americans to rise by $53 billion per year between 2021 and 2029.

Americans don’t need Washington to create more white-collar jobs for central planners in the bureaucracy. They need a government that operates efficiently, effectively, and inexpensively to protect its citizens while creating jobs for workers across our country.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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