News, July 27th

Arrests and clashes follow anti-Netanyahu protests in Israel

Police said Sunday they arrested more than a dozen Israelis in country-wide protests the previous night that drew thousands of people in a growing and persistent show of force against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Thousands of people demonstrated outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem and hundreds gathered in a seaside park in Tel Aviv, demanding Netanyahu’s resignation and slamming his response to the crisis.

For the first time since the wave of protests began weeks ago, hundreds also assembled outside Netanyahu’s private home in the upscale coastal town of Caesarea, where heavy security greeted them. Demonstrators across bridges and intersections waved black flags, the symbol of one of the movements behind the protests that is demanding Netanyahu’s ouster.

The protests are emerging as among the biggest challenges to Netanyahu’s lengthy rule since demonstrations over the cost of living in 2011 drew hundreds of thousands to the streets. They come following what critics say is Netanyahu’s fumbling of the coronavirus response and in the shadow of Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which resumed earlier this month.

At a press conference last week that coincided with protests, Netanyahu addressed the surging protests, warning demonstrators: “Do not drag the country into anarchy, violence, vandalism.”

Critics say police have been heavy-handed in trying to clear out the protests, using water cannons to drive them out and in some cases causing injury. Police say that protesters who ignore calls to disperse are removed to restore order.

Police fired water cannons on protesters at the Jerusalem protest and said 12 people were arrested there for being involved in disturbances. Two other people were arrested in separate locations for attacking protesters with pepper spray and a knife.

Israel appeared to have contained its first wave of coronavirus infections in the spring, with Netanyahu boasting that Israel was among the most successful countries in the world in its response with the virus. But what critics say was a hasty and ill thought out reopening sent new cases soaring, with Israel now claiming one of the world’s highest infection rates, adjusted for population. The government, formed with the intention of focusing on combating the virus, has moved slowly and haltingly to contain the new outburst.

Israel has since reimposed some restrictions after an extended lockdown in the spring paralyzed its economy. Unemployment has since jumped to more than 20%, from around 3.9% before the outbreak, and anger has grown over the government’s financial assistance plans, which have been chided for providing those in need with a pittance or nothing at all.

The crisis has brought public confidence in Netanyahu and his government to a nadir, at a time when the Israeli leader could use the support. A court decided earlier this month that Netanyahu’s corruption trial will resume in January with three hearings a week, a pace that will keep his legal woes firmly in the public consciousness and raise questions about his ability to simultaneously govern and fend off the accusations against him.

Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving billionaire associates and media moguls. He denies wrongdoing and accuses the media, judiciary, and law enforcement agencies of a conspiracy to topple him against the will of the people.

Covid-19: WHO advises against keeping borders closed

Keeping borders closed to halt the spread of Covid-19 is unsustainable, the World Health Organization said on Monday, urging countries to adopt comprehensive strategies based on local knowledge of where the virus is spreading.

Border closures and travel restrictions remain an important part of many countries’ strategy to combat the novel coronavirus.

At the same time, rising cases in a range of countries in Europe and elsewhere that had loosened measures after appearing to get their outbreaks under control have spurred discussions of possible fresh border closures.

But the UN health body warned that such measures cannot be kept up indefinitely and are also only useful when combined with a wide range of other measures to detect and break chains of transmission.

“Continuing to keep international borders sealed is not necessarily a sustainable strategy for the world’s economy, for the world’s poor, or for anybody else,” Michael Ryan, WHO emergencies director, told journalists in a virtual briefing.

“It is going to be almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future,” he said, pointing out that “economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume.”

He acknowledged that when it comes to Covid-19, it is impossible to have a “global one size fits all policy” because outbreaks are developing differently in different countries.

While countries with rampant community transmission may need to use the blunt instrument of lockdowns to gain control of the situation, others should be burrowing down to get a clear overview of where and how the virus is spreading at a local level.

They should be prepared to tighten or loosen measures accordingly, he said, warning against “releasing pressure” on the virus, which has killed some 650,000 people and infected 16.3 million worldwide.

“Release pressure on the virus and the numbers can creep back up.”

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said that instead of expecting drastic measures to keep the virus in check, people need to adapt their behaviors for the long haul.

“What we’re going to have to figure out… is what our new normal looks like?” she told reporters.

“Our new normal includes physical distancing from others, (and) wearing masks where appropriate,” she said.

“Our new normal includes us knowing where this virus is each and every day, where we live, where we work, where we want to travel.”

Democrats ‘shoveling cash at the problem’ with coronavirus aid, Cruz says

Sen. Ted Cruz on Sunday reiterated his opposition to an extension of a boost to jobless benefits in a new round of coronavirus relief legislation while taking aim at Democratic positions on further aid to those affected by the pandemic.

In an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the conservative Texas Republican added that he still opposes an emerging GOP package set to be introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday, which would scale back the $600 benefit to compensating out-of-work Americans for a percentage of their lost wages.

But Cruz saved much of his criticism for a $3 trillion House Democratic package passed in May, which he said is “not actually solving the problem.”

“Her objectives are shoveling cash at the problem and shutting America down,” Cruz said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“The only objective Democrats have is to defeat Donald Trump, and they’ve cynically decided the best way to defeat Donald Trump is shut down every business in America, shut down every school in America,” Cruz added. “Nancy Pelosi talks about working men and women. What she’s proposing is keeping working men and women from working.”

Cruz was one of a handful of Republican senators who expressed opposition to legislation being negotiated by Senate GOP leaders and the White House.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday the administration will oppose extending the extra $600 unemployment payments. Republicans, who say the benefit has been so generous as to convince many unemployed Americans not to find jobs, are instead looking to enact a new measure that would replace 70 percent of workers’ lost wages.

Cruz did not say whether he’d be open to a lower amount of unemployment benefits in the bill but blamed the payments for making it harder for small businesses to hire back workers.

“They won’t come back. And, of course, they won’t come back because the federal government is paying them, in some instances, twice as much money to stay home,” Cruz said.

He argued that pandemic legislation should include measures such as a payroll tax cut, which President Trump had pushed for. The proposal died amid opposition from members of both parties.

“What we ought to focus on instead of just shoveling trillions out the door, we ought to be passing a recovery bill,” Cruz said. “A recovery bill would be lifting the taxes and the regulations that are hammering small businesses so that people can go back to work. A recovery bill would suspend the payroll tax, which would give a pay raise to everyone in America who’s working.”

Goods Council agrees on 2020 chairs for subsidiary bodies

The WTO’s Goods Council, on 27 July, approved a list of new chairs to the 14 subsidiary bodies that report to the Council.

The new chairs to the subsidiary bodies will take office when they have been formally elected by the committee or working party concerned. They are: Market Access Committee: Mr. Anatoly Chaplin (Russian Federation); Agriculture Committee: Ms. Maria Escandor (Philippines); Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Committee: Mr. Gregory MacDonald (Canada); Technical Barriers to Trade Committee: Mr. Laurence Sandral (Australia); Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) Committee: Mr. Manuel Chacón (Colombia); Antidumping Committee: Ms. Maarit Keitanen (Finland); Customs Valuation Committee: Mr. Carlos Guevara (Ecuador); Rules of Origin Committee: Mr. Han-Ming Huang (Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu); Import Licensing Committee: Dr Muhammad Irfan (Pakistan); Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Committee: Ms. Sungyo Choi (Republic of Korea); Safeguards Committee: Mr. Mustafa Tuzcu (Turkey); Working Party on State Trading Enterprises: Ms. Johana Méndez (Panama); Trade Facilitation Committee: HE Ms. Katrina Naut; (Dominican Republic); Information Technology Agreement Committee: Ms. Uma Muniandy (Singapore).

HKSAR gov’t grants over 1.73 mln USD for cyclone victims in India

China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government Monday announced three grants totaling 13.479 million HK dollars (about 1.737 million U.S. dollars) for providing relief to cyclone victims in West Bengal and Odisha, India.

The move came after the government accepted the advice of the Disaster Relief Fund Advisory Committee.

The three grants, one of 5.099 million HK dollars to Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong, one of 4.52 million HK dollars to Save the Children Hong Kong and one of 3.86 million HK dollars to World Vision Hong Kong, will be used to provide hygiene kits, food kits and education kits as well as household items and shelter materials to benefit around 104,040 victims.

The committee hopes the grants will facilitate the provision of timely relief to the victims and help them restore their normal living, a government spokesman said.

To ensure that the money is used for designated purposes, the relief agencies will be asked to submit evaluation reports and audited accounts on the use of the grants after the relief projects are completed, the spokesman added. (1 U.S. dollar = 7.75 HK dollars)

Kim Jong Un puts North Korean city on lockdown over suspected coronavirus case, says ‘vicious virus’ may be in country

After claiming for months that North Korea has no coronavirus cases, dictator Kim Jong Un placed a border city on lockdown after a person was discovered with suspected symptoms, state media reported Sunday.

North Korea’s Central News Agency said Kaesong near the border with South Korea has been shut down after Kim believed the “vicious virus” may have entered the country.

Kim said he took “the preemptive measure of totally blocking Kaesong City and isolating each district and region from the other” on Friday afternoon, the state-run news agency said.

According to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, O Chun-bok, North Korea’s minister of public health, underscored the situation in a news broadcast on Korean Central Television.

“In the past six months since the outbreak of infectious diseases, strong emergency measures have been taken on all fronts across the country,” O said. “Despite the efforts, it appears that a dangerous crisis has occurred in which the virus may have entered our borders.”

State media said the suspected COVID-19 patient is a runaway who fled to South Korea three years ago before illegally returning early last week.

North Korea said respiratory secretion and blood tests showed the person “is suspected to have been infected” with the coronavirus and has since been quarantined.

People who had been in contact with the patient and those who have been in Kaesong in the last five days were also quarantined.

NK News, an organization that tracks North Korean state-run media, said the person crossed the border on July 19. At a meeting on July 24, top North Korean leadership shifted to a “maximum emergency system” and agreed to put out a “top-class alert.”.

If the person is officially declared a coronavirus patient, he or she would be North Korea’s first confirmed case. As the coronavirus has spread globally and shut down various countries this year, North Korea has steadfastly said it has had no cases of the virus, a claim questioned by outside experts.

“It’s impossible for North Korea not to have a single case of coronavirus,” Jung H. Pak, a former CIA analyst on North Korea, told Fox News in March.

The Hermit Kingdom has repeatedly said there hasn’t been a single case on its soil but implemented social distancing measures back in April. North Korea also received $900,000 from the World Health Organization in the spring to fight the virus.

In late March, the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported more than 100 North Korean soldiers who were stationed at the border with China died from the virus. The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo also claimed that Kim was spending “considerable time” away from the capital of Pyongyang due to the virus.

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” North Korea earlier this year shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned foreign tourists and mobilized health workers to quarantine anyone with symptoms.

After Kim Jong Un disappeared from public view for weeks in the spring before reemerging, reports also circulated he was concerned about the virus.

The Kaesong lockdown, however, is the first known measure taken in a North Korean city to stem the pandemic.

Kaesong, with an estimated population of 200,000, is located just north of the heavily fortified border with South Korea. It once hosted the Koreas’ jointly run industrial complex, which has been shuttered since 2016 amid nuclear tensions.

Last month, North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong to protest a campaign by South Korean activists who have been sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

One analyst said the announcement Sunday by North Korea was important for several reasons.

“It’s an ice-breaking moment for North Korea to admit a case,” Choo Jae-woo, a professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, told Reuters. “It could be reaching out to the world for help. Perhaps for humanitarian assistance.”

During an emergency Politburo meeting Saturday, state media said Kim criticized the “loose guard performance” at the border area where the suspected patient crossed over.

Kim and other leaders were reportedly briefed on the results of an intensive investigation of a military unit responsible for the crossing and discussed administering “a severe punishment.”

More than 33,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea over the past 20 years to avoid poverty and political suppression, mostly via China. But it is highly unusual for North Korean refugees to return, according to The Associated Press.

South Korea’s military told Yonhap that it appears likely that an individual crossed the border into North Korea, adding that authorities are investigating what route the person used.

ONDCP’s Drug-Free Communities Program Highlights Trump Administration Success in Lowering Youth Substance Use

Today the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released its 2020 Drug-Free Communities (DFC) report, highlighting data proving the program continues to result in the consistent reduction of youth substance use rates.

ONDCP released the Executive Summary and Annual Report for its DFC grant recipients, which work at the local level to prevent youth substance use, including prescription drugs, marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol.

“Stopping substance use disorders in America starts with educating our country’s youth about their danger,” ONDCP Director Jim Carroll stated. “Thanks to the dedication of President Trump and the proven efforts of our Drug-Free Communities grant recipients, our next generation is learning at an early age to make healthy choices, reject using illicit substances, and are being empowered by their communities to be leaders of today — youth in DFC funded communities are creating community change across the country, resulting in positive outcomes. ONDCP applauds the hundreds of coalitions committed to the safety of young Americans, and the record investments of the Trump Administration that continue to make their work possible.”

Among the report’s many highlights are the significant reductions in past 30-day substance use rates among youth living in areas served by DFC coalitions, including:

A 27 percent decline in prescription drug misuse among high school students.

A 45 percent decline in tobacco use among high school students.

A 46 percent decline in tobacco use among middle school students.

A 13 percent decline in marijuana use among middle school students.

A 22 percent decline in alcohol use among middle school and high school students.

A 24 percent decline in alcohol use among high school students.

The Henry Reeve Brigades and the fruits of revolution

The COVID-19 global pandemic is a historic event. And the reactions to this event show the true character of a nation and its social, political, and economic systems.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Cuba, whose renowned Henry Reeve International Brigades, with their health solidarity missions in 70 countries, have inspired a campaign to award them this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

But what are the Henry Reeve Brigades and who is Henry Reeve?

Henry Reeve was a young U.S. soldier in the Union Army who, after the Civil War, volunteered to fight in Cuba’s First War for Independence where he was killed in battle at the age of 26, in 1876.

But what does that have to do with Cuban doctors travelling around the world saving lives?

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina and the United States’ extremely negligent response to the disaster, Cuba offered 1586 doctors, 36 tons of medicine, and diagnostic help to the U.S., which was rejected by George W. Bush. Afterwards, Fidel Castro, clearly understanding irony, renamed the brigades the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disasters and Serious Epidemics, and sent 27 brigades to 19 countries, showing the world the true meaning of “Internationalist Solidarity.”

Since then, the brigades have travelled throughout the world, helping in the most dangerous disasters and epidemics, from Nepal and Guatemala to Africa in order to treat Ebola, and now Italy and elsewhere to treat COVID-19.

But this solidarity is nothing new for Cuba. From the very start of the Revolution in 1959, Cuba has always shown international solidarity, notably sending material and medical aid to Chile after an earthquake in 1960, and also to newly independent Algeria in 1963.

Even as a nascent revolutionary state economically blockaded by the US, whose monetary reserves were pillaged by the Batista dictatorship, and had lost over half of its doctors and other professionals in “brain drain” to the U.S., Cuba always gave and helped, without needing a “surplus” to do so. What does that say about “richer” countries who have so many resources, but can’t or won’t provide real aid for other countries or even their own people?

Through its continuing revolutionary process, Cuba has been able to exemplify “people over profits,” working through a long, brutal blockade to meet the needs of its people, creating its own formidable biotech sector, and training enough medical professionals to have one of the highest amount of doctors per capita in the world in a country with free universal health care.

It takes a revolution to get to this point. It needed the revolutionary Cuban state, along with the revolutionary Cuban people, creating the fully integrated society of which the Henry Reeve Brigades and the medical sector is only a part of; creating the alternative to the worst parts of capitalism now undeniable in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Look at the U.S. today. The richest country in the world cannot do even a little bit of what Cuba has done. From the international solidarity to the fully integrated community system of health care, it simply can’t. There are too many private interests. It’s a system that can’t help people because it’s only occupied with making profit.

But Cuba leads the way, along with other countries walking the socialist path such as Vietnam, China, and Venezuela. Based on the response to COVID-19 alone, these countries not only show the failures and shortcomings of capitalism, but more importantly, that another way is both possible AND necessary.

So this 26th of July, the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks that started the Cuban revolutionary movement, we must remind ourselves that through both triumphs and setbacks, the Cuban revolution has achieved far more than anything Fidel and the 26 of July movement could have imagined back then, the fruits of a struggle that give us only a taste of what is possible if the people take control and change their world.

US says it has closed consulate in Chengdu, China

The US says it has closed its consulate in Chengdu, China. China ordered the consulate closed in retaliation for a US order to shut down the Chinese Consulate in Houston last week.

The American flag has been taken down at a U.S. consulate in southwestern China, according to state media, as officials vacate the premises under order of the Chinese government.

State broadcaster CCTV said on its social media account that the flag was lowered at 6:18 a.m. on Monday at the U.S. mission in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.

Police have closed off a two to three block area around the consulate, cutting off virtually any view of the property. Vehicles could be seen moving in the distance behind multiple police lines.

China ordered the closing of the consulate on Friday in retaliation for a U.S. order to close the Chinese Consulate in Houston. The tit-for-tat closings marked a significant escalation in the tensions between the two countries over a range of issues, including trade, technology, security, and human rights.

Moving trucks arrived at the U.S. consulate Sunday afternoon and left a few hours later. Late at night, flatbed trailers entered the complex. One later emerged carrying a large shipping container and a crane.

Before the area was closed, the impending closure of the consulate drew a steady stream of onlookers over the weekend as Chengdu, like Houston, found itself in the limelight of international politics.

People stopped to take selfies and photos, jamming a sidewalk busy with shoppers and families with strollers on a sunny day in the city of Chengdu. A little boy posed with a small Chinese flag before plainclothes police shooed him away as foreign media cameras zoomed in.

Police had shut the street and sidewalk in front of the consulate and set up metal barriers along the sidewalk on the other side of the tree-lined road.

Uniformed and plainclothes officers kept watch on both sides of the barriers after scattered incidents following the Chengdu announcement on Friday, including a man who set off firecrackers and hecklers who cursed at foreign media shooting video and photos of the scene.

A man who tried to unfurl a large placard late Sunday that he called an open letter to the Chinese government was quickly taken away.

Earlier, a bus left the consulate grounds and what appeared to be embassy staff spoke with plainclothes police before retreating back behind the property’s solid black gates. It wasn’t clear who or what was on the bus.

Three medium-size trucks arrived and left a few hours later, and cars with diplomatic plates departed in between.

The U.S. alleged that the Houston consulate was a nest of Chinese spies who tried to steal data from facilities in Texas, including the Texas A&M medical system and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. China said the allegations were malicious slander.

Zelensky, Putin hold phone talks on East Ukraine ceasefire

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the conflict resolution in East Ukraine ahead of the Monday (July 27) ceasefire during a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Ukrainian president’s press service reported on Sunday (July 26).

The leaders discussed the implementation of the Normandy Four summit agreements reached in Paris on Dec. 9, 2019.

“The parties welcomed the achievement of an agreement on a full and comprehensive ceasefire in Donbas, which begins at 00:01 Kiev time on July 27, 2020; the President of the Russian Federation supported this agreement,” the press service said on Sunday.

The two leaders also agreed on the urgent need to implement additional measures to support the ceasefire in Donbas.

The heads of state also touched on the need for the successful implementation of the agreements reached by the leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany, and Russia in Paris, in the context of holding the next Normandy Four summit in Berlin.

Earlier it was reported that on July 22 the representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) agreed on a complete and comprehensive ceasefire in East Ukraine to start at 00:01 on Monday, July 27.

The conflict between the government forces and rebels in East Ukraine has left some 13,000 people dead and 30,000 others injured since it broke out in April 2014.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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