News, August 6th

75 years after the bomb, Hiroshima still chooses ‘reconciliation and hope’

In a video message delivered to a Peace Memorial Ceremony in Japan on Thursday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has paid tribute to the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which devastated the city in 1945.

“Seventy-five years ago, a single nuclear weapon visited unspeakable death and destruction upon this city”, he said in his address. “The effects linger to this day”.

However, he noted that Hiroshima and its people have chosen not to be characterized by calamity, but instead by “resilience, reconciliation and hope”.

As “unmatched advocates for nuclear disarmament”, the survivors, known as hibakusha, have turned their tragedy into “a rallying voice for the safety and well-being of all humanity”, he said.

The birth of the UN in that same year, is inextricably intertwined with the destruction wrought by the nuclear bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Since its earliest days and resolutions, the Organization has recognized the need to totally eliminate nuclear weapons”, Mr. Guterres said. Yet, that goal remains elusive.

The web of arms control, transparency and confidence-building instruments established during the Cold War and its aftermath, is fraying, said the UN chief, and 75 years on, the world has yet to learn that nuclear weapons diminish, rather than reinforce security, he warned.

Against the backdrop of division, distrust and a lack of dialogue along with States modernizing their nuclear arsenals and developing new dangerous weapons and delivery systems, he fears that the prospect of a nuclear-weapon-free world “seems to be slipping further from our grasp”.

“The risk of nuclear weapons being used, intentionally, by accident or through miscalculation, is too high for such trends to continue”, the UN chief added, repeating his call for States to “return to a common vision and path leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons”.

While all States can play a positive role, the countries that possess nuclear weapons have a special responsibility: “They have repeatedly committed to the total elimination of nuclear weapons”, Mr. Guterres reminded.

“Now is the time for dialogue, confidence-building measures, reductions in the size of nuclear arsenals and utmost restraint”.

Calling for the international non-proliferation and disarmament architecture to be safeguarded and strengthened, the UN chief cited next year’s Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as an opportunity for States to “return to this shared vision”.

He also looked forward to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entry into force, along with that of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which he said “remains a top priority in order to entrench and institutionalize the global norm against nuclear testing”.

The commemoration took place in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, which the Secretary-General said has exposed so many of the world’s fragilities, “including in the face of the nuclear threat”.

“The only way to totally eliminate nuclear risk is to totally eliminate nuclear weapons”, he spelled out.

“The United Nations and I will continue to work with all those who seek to achieve our common goal: a world free of nuclear weapons”, concluded the Secretary-General.

There truly is no winner in a nuclear war, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande President of the UN General Assembly told the ceremony.

“We must recommit to nuclear disarmament for there will never be a justification for the decimation caused by nuclear weapons”, he emphasized, urging everyone to “work relentlessly” to do so.

Calling the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons “a milestone agreement” in nuclear disarmament, he called on all Member States to sign and ratify it. 

“In memory of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki…let us work together to create the future we want: a future which is free from the existential threat of nuclear weapons”, concluded the Assembly president.

Meanwhile, the head of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test -Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Lassina Zerbo, said that the devasting blasts continue to “haunt humanity and raises a challenging question: Can we ever escape the destructive instinct that led to these horrific bombings”?

Calling the hibakusha a “forceful moral compass for humanity”, he maintained that their pain and stories have made nuclear risk more “perceptible and concrete”.

According to Mr. Zerbo, the hibakusha have taught that patience, determination, and resolution are “indispensable in the long battle towards nuclear disarmament”.

“We must finish what we started because what happened in Japan must never happen again”, he said, adding, “we must hear them so we can act”.

An Optimistic Outlook

Last week, when I was in Sioux Falls to discuss reopening schools with parents and superintendents, I saw a great bulletin board in a 4th grade classroom. It said, “Put your positive pants on.” That message reminded me of a lesson that is often easy to forget: an optimistic outlook can be tremendously helpful when responding to life’s challenges. That’s especially true in the fight against COVID-19.

As we get more and more data about this virus, it’s becoming increasingly clear that most of us aren’t at high risk. This virus has a clear vulnerable population; we know that elderly folks are far more likely to get seriously ill, especially when paired with certain pre-existing health conditions. That leaves about 95% of the population that is not at risk for serious infection. For these folks, we can continue getting back to normal, while making the best decisions for ourselves and our loved ones.

We need to make sure to take care of the vulnerable population, and that starts with good hygiene and social distancing. Our vulnerable friends and family should continue to take extra precautions and to stay home when they are able, and we can all take precautions to avoid spreading the virus to them.

We can also celebrate that we’re getting better at treating COVID-19. This means that even for those who do get seriously sick, our outlook is getting better all the time. Our case fatality rate is dropping, meaning that those who get sick are more likely to recover from the virus than in the past.

Data shows that the antiviral drug Remdesivir substantially reduces the mortality rate and cuts recovery time significantly. Similarly, a study out of Michigan’s Henry Ford Health System indicates that hydroxychloroquine may cut mortality rate for COVID-19 in half. And progress on a vaccine is moving along ahead of schedule.

As we continue planning to reopen schools in the fall, let’s remember that kids are less likely to contract the virus and far less likely to get seriously ill. In fact, science suggests that influenza is a greater risk to kids than COVID-19. If children do contract the virus, data indicates they are less likely to spread it to others.

There is a risk associated with everything that we do in life; more South Dakotans have died from accidental injuries than from COVID-19 in the past 5 months. We mitigate risks by taking proper precautions when we get in our cars, when we operate farm equipment, and when we make choices about what we eat and how much we exercise. The same should be true about life as we get back to normal.

So, let’s remember to “put our positive pants on.” We need to emphasize facts, not fear. Let’s tell the story of what works in the fight against this virus, and let’s continue to get through this together.

Beirut in crisis after deadly explosion.

In the wake of the massive explosion in Beirut that killed at least 135 and injured around 5,000, officials in the country have been calling for help from the international community to recover from the tragedy, which could also leave some 300,000 homeless, officials said.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud called the Aug. 4 explosion “a national catastrophe” in a tearful interview early Thursday, pleading for assistance. He said the country will need to rely heavily on donations and foreign aid to rebuild. French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to offer support as the country reels from the explosion and at least 100 remain missing.

The exact cause of the blast remains unknown, although authorities said that more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, an industrial compound, was being stored in the warehouse that was the scene of the blast. Footage from the scene appears to show a cloud of smoke forming before the blast, then a fire, before the massive explosion that carried a mushroom cloud well over the city.

More than a dozen Lebanese charities have begun receiving donations to help with disaster relief as well. Volunteers with the Lebanese Red Cross were on the scene helping with victims Thursday along with the Lebanese Food Bank, which are both taking donations.

One of the fastest ways to help is to donate to international organizations with existing infrastructures in Lebanon, like Humanity & Inclusion, UNICEF, and Save the Children, as rescue workers continue to search for survivors.

“I have never seen this amount of destruction on this scale. This is a national catastrophe. This is a disaster for Lebanon. We don’t know how we will recover. We don’t know,” Abboud told Sky News. “We could barely survive before and now we have this. We have to be strong.”

He urged residents to hold themselves together and “be brave” as crowds took to the streets with brooms, garbage bins and other tools to help rid the city of the tons of glass, shrapnel and debris left behind by the blast.

The explosion leveled homes and buildings and was captured on gut-wrenching video. Humanitarian officials said the incident could have a crippling effect on the city’s already struggling economy, citing the ongoing financial crisis, political tensions, and the COVID-19 pandemic there.

“The country’s weak health system and current political crisis have left families with no means to protect themselves against a pandemic,” a spokesperson for Save the Children said, pleading for the public to help with donations. “With hospitals completely overwhelmed, our teams stand ready to support relief efforts wherever possible. Your urgent support is needed today.”

Hospitals were already struggling to keep with demand due to the virus, but now they’re battling with a sudden influx of patients from the blast on top of that, humanitarian officials said.

Lebanon is also home to the largest number of Syrian refugees per capita in the world with refugees now accounting for about 30% of the country’s population, according to Mercy Corps, which is now taking up donations for aid.

Humanity & Inclusion, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its work to ban landmines, said it has been doing humanitarian work in Lebanon since 1992. Most recently, it was providing aid to Syrian refugees, especially the elderly and those with disabilities and/or serious illnesses.

“Our 100-person team in Lebanon, including physical therapists, psycho-social, and livelihood experts, are leading this critical response. Post-surgical physical therapy, in particular, will be a vital component of our actions,” Humanity & Inclusion said in a statement on its website. “Your gift, whatever the amount, can help provide desperately-needed care.”

Similarly, UNICEF’s Lebanon arm said it’s been working to mobilize youth to help clean up those neighborhoods with the most damage. The organization is also working with authorities on the ground to respond to the needs of health and other front-line workers. The organization said some staff members had lost loved ones in the explosion.

“Yesterday’s catastrophe in Beirut adds to what has already been a terrible crisis for the people of Lebanon compounded by an economic collapse and a surge in COVID-19 cases,” UNICEF said in a statement. “Our hearts are with children and families who have been impacted, especially those who lost their loved ones. We wish a speedy recovery to the injured.”

The potential humanitarian implications of the explosion are still unclear, but Beirut’s governor, Abboud, said that as many as 300,000 people could be left “without homes,” according to local media reports. He estimated that it could cost the country between $3 billion and $5 billion, noting that engineers had yet to conduct an official assessment.

Countries around the world have also pledged support, with France, Germany, Canada, Bangladesh, Israel, Russia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, and Iran offering humanitarian aid, rescue teams, supplies and other resources.

Officials with the World Health Organization said the organization delivered 20 tons of supplies since the explosion.

Separately, the U.S. government said it plans to send three large military transport plane shipments of food, water, and medical supplies, according to the Department of Defense.

America is also sending support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which said it would “continue to monitor the impact of the explosion in close coordination with the U.S. Embassy and USAID’s Mission in Beirut, Lebanese authorities, and our humanitarian partners on the ground.” That includes support for local university hospitals.

Conflating State, Religion and Politics

THE Bhumi Pujan ceremony for the Ram temple at Ayodhya, though organized by the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, became an official function with the prime minister laying the foundation for the temple with the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and governor in attendance.

August 5, thus, marks an important stage in the political project of Hindutva; the building of a Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid stood was a centerpiece of its mobilizing strategy to shape a Hindu majoritarian State.  For the BJP-RSS combine, the Ram temple project is a matter of “national honor” setting right the so-called wrong committed in the historical past against the Hindus.  Ram is not just a deity but a national symbol.

Under the presidentship of L K Advani, the BJP adopted the Palampur resolution in 1989 calling for the building of a Ram temple at the site where the mosque stood. The political journey of Hindutva’s communal mobilization began with Advani’s rath yatra, which left in its wake a trail of communal violence that killed thousands, the demolition of the Babri Masjid that further sparked horrific violence, followed by various maneuvers towards getting the legal sanction for the temple.

After the BJP came to power with a bigger majority in May 2019, the Supreme Court expedited the case with daily hearings and delivered the verdict that the government wanted. After terming the demolition of the mosque an “egregious violation of the law”, the court proceeded to hand over the entire 2.77 acres to the Hindu plaintiffs for building the temple.

The temple construction will be welcomed by a large number of Hindus for whom faith in Lord Ram is paramount.  However, there is another grim reality – the character of the Indian Republic is changing.  The term `republic’ (which means a government of the people, not a monarchy) does not necessarily mean it is secular.  The Islamic Republic of Iran, for instance, derives its legitimacy from Islamist ideology. The State of Israel aspires to be a Jewish State reducing its Arab population to second class citizens. In India, the political project of converting India into a Hindu majoritarian republic has scored a significant success with the construction of the Ram temple. And there has been no punishment for those who brazenly violated the law and the constitution by an act of vandalism that destroyed the mosque.

Modi in his speech at Ayodhya conflated the image of Ram, with national honor and national unity. He called the Ram temple a symbol of national sentiment. The talk of brotherhood and unity is hypocritical after the divisive and violent course the temple movement has taken.

The merging of State, politics and religion is something which was flaunted by Modi in Ayodhya.  What a contrast to the stand taken by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, regarding the construction of the Somnath temple in Gujarat.  He denied any State funds for the purpose and conveyed his objection to President Rajendra Prasad inaugurating the temple.  The principle he stood for was clear and simple:  a secular State cannot patronize or fund the construction of a religious place of worship.

Ethno-religious nationalism which seeks to mobilize people on religious and ethnic identity is the very opposite of the anti-colonial inclusive nationalism which pervaded our freedom struggle and the establishment of the independent Indian State. This narrow nationalism based on politics of revenge and targeting the minorities has become the hallmark of many rightwing authoritarian regimes.

Just two weeks before Modi laid the foundation stone for temple construction, on July 24, Recep Erdogan, president of Turkey, led the first Friday prayers in the world famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.  This historic monument was built as a church in the sixth century AD by Byzantine emperor Justinian in Constantinople (later Istanbul).  After being a church for 900 years, it was converted into a mosque when the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 AD.  After Kemal Ataturk overthrew the decrepit Ottoman rule and took the revolutionary step of establishing a secular republic, in 1934, by a cabinet decision, the 1500-year-old religious monument was converted into a museum.  This architectural marvel remained a museum till last month.

The ruling Islamist AKP Party, which governs Turkey, demanded that the Hagia Sophia be made a mosque again.  The highest administrative court of Turkey, the Council of State, obliged and unanimously ruled that the 1934 cabinet decision was illegal and its status as a mosque was restored on the same day that President Erdogan issued a decree. Like Modi, for Erdogan, this was a step to defend national honor.

In Israel, where the ideological soulmate of Modi, Netanyahu, is heading an ethno-nationalist government, excavations have been going on for decades beneath the Temple Mount to unearth the remains of the first Jewish temple built centuries before Christ.  The Al-Aqsa Mosque revered by Muslims as the most holy place after Mecca and Medina is situated on the Mount.  Jewish extremist forces have long been demanding that the mosque be demolished, and a Jewish temple built there. The Mount, which is holy for Jews, Christians and Muslims is a perennial source for mobilizing the Jewish extremist elements against the Palestinians and Arabs.

There are some who think that having got their way to construct the Ram temple at Ayodhya, the Hindutva communal mobilization will abate.  They are mistaken.  The political project of the Hindutva rulers requires constant fueling with issues which can create communal polarization and help find ways to consolidate their hold on power. For example, the Places of Worship Act of 1992, ordains that the status quo on religious sites as on August 15, 1947 be maintained. Ayodhya was not brought under its purview as it was termed a dispute prior to independence.  The original RSS-VHP campaign was to get hold of not only the site at Ayodhya, but also in Kashi and Mathura, where mosques are situated.  The law will hardly be an obstacle when the Hindutva forces decide to rake up these so-called disputes.

Finally, one must remember the date chosen for the Bhumi Pujan at Ayodhya – August 5.  It is the date on which, a year ago, the state of Jammu & Kashmir lost its special status and was dismembered into two centrally run union territories.  The new dispensation cannot tolerate a Muslim majority state in the Indian union.

For Congress leaders and some secular politicians who are now joining the chorus of celebrations on the Ram temple being built and publicly espousing their faith in Ram, the symbolism of holding the event on August 5, is a warning.  If they adopt this opportunistic approach, it will only facilitate those who want to establish a Hindu Rashtra.

Judges, Lawyers Bring Life Skills to Virtual Classroom Activities for Home and School

High school teachers can bring real-life civics into their virtual lessons when they invite federal judges and volunteer attorneys to facilitate a civil discourse and decision-making simulation with students at home or in the classroom this fall.

Simulations that feature legal skills as life skills in advocacy and jury deliberations are among the offerings on a menu of distance-learning activities. Judges and volunteer attorneys conduct live programs on a range of topics, including the everyday impact on teens and adults of the rule of law, separation of powers, and judicial independence. Other successful distance-learning pilots tested this spring were a career showcase in St. Louis, and a sentencing activity, You Be the Judge, in the District of New Hampshire.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom, of Miami, launches the fourth year of Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions by piloting a 90-minute distance-learning version of this popular national initiative for high school and college students.

In the flagship program, Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions, realistic scenarios bring forward issues related to the coronavirus, including social media memes used to start ambiguous rumors, and a car parade of 16-year-olds protesting for the right to vote. The program, which is facilitated by judges and members of local Federal Bar Association (FBA) chapters, has reached students in federal courtrooms across the country.  As it enters its fourth year, the live program with judges and lawyers is available online to high school and college teachers who want to offer it to their students.

“The need for civil discourse skills doesn’t diminish when day-to-day life is disrupted,” said U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom, of Miami, who launched the fall series with a virtual program from her closed courtroom on July 31. “In fact, now more than ever, students need exposure to the ways that civil discourse is the foundation for effectively resolving disputes in the legal system and in their lives.”

Bloom and U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg, of West Palm Beach, with the assistance of FBA chapters in the Southern District of Florida, pioneered the courtroom program in 2017.  For the coming academic year, they have modified it as a 90-minute distance-learning module.

South Florida teachers can request a judge and attorney team (link sends e-mail) for a class in the 2020-2021 term. Interested teachers in other parts of the country should make requests at aogrp_outreach@ao.uscourts.gov (link sends e-mail).

“Over the past three years, working with federal judges on this initiative has been a rewarding experience in our chapter and in our school communities,” said Stephanie Turk, the South Florida Chapter’s civics liaison and an associate at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson. In the July distance-learning pilot, coordinated by Bloom and South Florida Chapter President Alaina Fotiu-Wojtowicz, a partner at Brodsky Fotiu-Wojtowicz, students learned and practiced several life-impacting skills.

“The program also gives students a reality check when it comes to situations that they can find themselves in that can have legal and long-term consequences,” said Rosenberg. “Students analyze 10 realistic, seemingly harmless scenarios that they may not realize could have a negative impact on their futures.

“When we talk them through the scenarios, students understand that good people – whether they are teens or adults – can make bad decisions that can change the course of their lives.”

Federal Bar Association lawyers in the Southern District of Florida join U.S. District Judges Beth Bloom, of Miami, and Robin Rosenberg, of West Palm Beach, as faculty in Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions online.

Participating attorney volunteers from area FBA chapters brought additional perspectives to the online experience.

“Personal interaction with judges and lawyers is an important part of the program, so we built the agenda in ways to connect with the students, even in a virtual setting,” said volunteer attorney Andrew Loewenstein, a partner at Holland & Knight.

“If we can help students communicate and negotiate respectfully and effectively when they are in contentious situations, we’ve made a positive difference in their lives and, we hope, in their communities going forward,” said volunteer attorney Darren Spielman, a partner at The Concept Law Group, P.A.

Moderna taps into Amazon Web Services to boost COVID-19 vaccine research

The biotechnology major Moderna which has entered the phase III clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine has selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its preferred Cloud partner as well as its standard for analytics and Machine Learning (ML) workloads.

Moderna is pioneering a new class of messenger RNA (mRNA) medicines.

Leveraging its mRNA platform and manufacturing facility with the AWS-powered research engine, Moderna delivered the first clinical batch of its vaccine candidate (mRNA-1273) against COVID-19 to the NIH for the Phase I trial, 42 days after the initial sequencing of the virus.

“The science behind mRNA medicines is advancing at a rapid pace and building Moderna’s technology platform on AWS gives our scientists the insights, agility, and security they need to continue to lead in the industry,” said Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s Chief Executive Officer.

“With AWS, our researchers have the ability to quickly design and execute research experiments and rapidly uncover new insights to get potentially life-saving treatments into production faster,” Bancel said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Moderna has invented proprietary technologies and methods that run on AWS to create mRNA constructs that cells recognize as if they were produced in the body.

This invention has empowered Moderna to experiment rapidly on virtually any mRNA sequence, easily shifting between research priorities, without investing in new technology.

In addition, by leveraging Amazon Redshift – AWS’s fully managed data warehousing service – Moderna’s scientists and engineers aggregate results from dozens of experiments that are running in parallel and can easily query and share insights to refine their design and production cycle quickly.

“Running on AWS, Moderna has the agility to continuously refine its research, development, and manufacturing,” said Matt Garman, Vice President, Sales and Marketing at AWS.

“Moderna is relying on the proven performance and scale of the world’s leading cloud to innovate and develop drug and vaccine candidates on timelines that may have been impossible even just a few years ago.”

Persecution of Lula shows just how far our enemies will go

Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court has dismissed the complaint filed by ex-minister Antonio Palocci, against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, ruling in favor of the defense, citing a violation of impartiality given the announcement of the accusations six days before the 2018 elections, teleSUR reports.

Palocci’s complaint was accepted by then Federal Judge Sergio Moro, days before the first round of the Presidential elections, with the clear objective of preventing the victory of the Workers’ Party (PT) and electing Bolsonaro.

The PT leadership and Lula’s defense team insist that this is another demonstration of Moro’s political objective, who as a “reward for his work” would become Minister of Justice under the government he helped install.

PT President Gleisi Hoffmann tweeted, “It’s official: Moro acted to elect Bolsonaro.”

Lula da Silva was accused of accepting a property from the construction firm Odebrecht, worth 12 million dollars.

Cubans, like millions of honest people around the world, never had the slightest doubt about Lula’s innocence. The first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee, Army General Raul Castro Ruz, in his remarks during the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution, in Santiago de Cuba, noted: “They managed to imprison compañero Lula da Silva, and deprived him of the right to run as the Workers’ Party’s Presidential candidate, to prevent his sure victory in the past elections.”

At the closing of the 25th Sao Paulo Forum, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez likewise insisted: “Lula, imprisoned under false charges using scandalous legal maneuvers, is an example of just how far the enemies of the left can go.”

It seems that the old adage that justice may be delayed, but not denied, was fulfilled in this case; not by chance, but as a result of the determined struggle of millions.

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the struggle for peace continues

Today is the 75-year anniversary of the U.S. genocidal nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and three days later Nagasaki was bombed. Today our hearts go out to the Japanese people. Hundreds of thousands of mostly civilians lost their lives in these attacks, survivors and their children suffered injuries including disfigurement, leukemia, and other forms of cancer. Today we re-commit ourselves to the struggle for peace.

The nuclear attack was a warning to the world of the U.S.’s military supremacy, especially for the USSR. To this date the U.S. refuses to apologize and continues to propagate a lie that it was a necessity to drop the nuclear bombs. The U.S. Government is the only to have ever used the weapon on another country and it insists on continuing to build more. The U.S. Government even reserves the right to use nuclear weapons as a first strike and against countries who do not possess nuclear weapons.

We understand that the threat of this horrific act repeating itself continues to pose a threat to us all. The U.S. Government’s commitment to militarism resembles in truth an addiction to war. President Obama announced the “Pivot to Asia”—the massive military buildup in the Pacific to surround China. In August of 2019, the Trump Administration officially withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty—a serious blow to peace. In fact, rather than the threat of “global terrorism” of previous years, now the official National Defense Strategy is centered on preparing for “Great Power Conflict,” meaning war with China or Russia.

While these threats loom, the potential for a mass pro-peace and anti-war movement is more realizable today. The unprecedented uprising against racism which has swept the country and the thousands fighting for healthcare and economic relief during the pandemic shows the way forward in the struggle for peace.

Russia registers over 5,200 new COVID-19 cases

Russia has registered 5,267 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing its total to 871,894, the fourth highest in the world, the country’s coronavirus response center said Thursday.

Meanwhile, 116 people died in the same period, pushing its national tally to 14,606, while a total of 7,331 patients have recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 676,357, the center said.

Moscow, the hardest-hit region in Russia, has recorded 684 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, it said.

According to Russia’s public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, over 29.7 million tests for COVID-19 have been conducted across the country since the beginning of the epidemic.

Text of a Letter to the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate on Addressing the Threat Posed by WeChat

Dear Madam Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, I hereby report that I have issued an Executive Order (the “order”) that takes additional steps to deal with the national emergency with respect to the information and communications technology and services supply chain declared in Executive Order 13873 of May 15, 2019 (Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain).  Specifically, the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.  To protect our Nation, I took action, in an Executive Order of August 6, 2020 (Addressing the Threat Posed by Tiktok, and Taking Additional Steps to Address the National Emergency With Respect to the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain), to address the threat posed by one mobile application, TikTok.  I have now taken further action to address a similar threat posed by another mobile application, WeChat.

WeChat, a messaging, social media, and electronic payment application owned by the Chinese company Tencent Holdings Ltd., reportedly has over one billion users worldwide, including users in the United States.  Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users — threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.  In addition, WeChat captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.  WeChat, like TikTok, also reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive and may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party.

To deal with this threat, the order prohibits, beginning 45 days after the date of the order, to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd. (a.k.a. Téngxùn Kònggǔ Yǒuxiàn Gōngsī), Shenzhen, China, or any subsidiary of that entity, as identified by the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) under section 1(c) of this order.  The Secretary will identify the transactions subject to this prohibition 45 days after the date of the order.

I have delegated to the Secretary the authority to take such actions, including adopting appropriate rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA as may be necessary to implement the order.  The order also directs all department and agencies to take all appropriate measures within their authority to implement the order.

I am enclosing a copy of the order I have issued.

Trump signs order banning WeChat, TikTok

PRESIDENT Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders prohibiting US residents from doing business with the Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat apps beginning 45 days from now, citing the national security risk of leaving Americans’ personal data exposed.

The bans mark a significant escalation by Trump in his confrontation with Beijing as the US seeks to curb China’s power in global technology. With the US election less than 90 days away, Trump is making his challenge of China a central theme of his campaign, where he trails Democrat Joe Biden in the polls.

Shares of WeChat’s owner, China’s Tencent, fell as much as 10 per cent in morning trading. The offshore yuan weakened as much as 0.40 per cent, the most since July 22, to 6.971 a dollar.

“This is yet another watershed moment in the US-China technology cold war here, where the US government is targeting these two very popular Chinese apps and basically saying they have national security problems,” said Paul Triolo, Head of Global Technology policy at Eurasia Group. “It shows the depth of the US concern.”

The move coincides with Trump’s push for the sale of TikTok, the popular video app owned by ByteDance, to an American company, and it comes a day after Secretary of State Michael Pompeo urged US businesses to remove the two Chinese apps from their stores. It threatens penalties on any US resident or company that conducts transactions with TikTok, WeChat or their owners after the orders take effect.

“To protect our Nation, I took action to address the threat posed by one mobile application, TikTok. Further action is needed to address a similar threat posed by another mobile application, WeChat,” Trump said in the order against WeChat, released minutes after the TikTok measure.

Earlier this week, Trump threatened to shut down TikTok if its owners didn’t sell the business to a US company by Sept 15. Microsoft has been in talks about a possible purchase of TikTok, an app that’s been downloaded more than 2 billion times globally and more than 165 million times in the US. The software company is focused on buying the app’s operations in the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Tencent declined to comment. TikTok representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The order against TikTok blocks all transactions in which its owner, ByteDance, or subsidiaries have an interest, according to a US official. The measure against WeChat blocks all transactions involving the app but it doesn’t amount to a broader ban on dealings with its owner, Tencent, the official said.

The measure would apply to any transaction over which the US could have jurisdiction, and sanctions would be defined by the US Commerce Secretary, according to a Trump administration official, who discussed the order on condition of anonymity.

Transactions subject to punishment could include purchases of ads on the apps and agreements to make TikTok or WeChat available in app stores, according to a person familiar with the matter, who discussed the orders on condition of anonymity. Simply downloading the apps could be affected, since that involves accepting terms of service that include an intellectual property agreement between the user and app developer, the person said.

WeChat, the messaging software developed by Tencent, has evolved into an all-purpose app that allows people to use it for payments, e-commerce and more. The app is one of the most popular in the world with more than 1 billion users, and US companies like Starbucks, for example, use the service with consumers in China.

Tencent is one of China’s most valuable tech companies, and its Chief Executive Officer Pony Ma is among the many business leaders who serves as a delegate to the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament.

Trump made his move under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a 1977 law that allows the president to declare a national emergency in response to an “unusual and extraordinary threat,” allowing him to block transactions and seize assets.

“IEEPA is an incredibly expansive authority and allows the president to declare a national emergency with respect to just about anything,” Brian Fleming, a lawyer at Miller & Chevalier in Washington who previously worked in the Justice Department’s national security division. “A legal challenge on the grounds that IEEPA does not provide the President authority to act with regard to something deemed to be a national security emergency would have a very low likelihood of success.”

In his TikTok order, Trump said the app “automatically captures vast swaths” of user data, including location information and browsing history.

“This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information – potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage,” Trump said.

TikTok says American user data is stored in servers in the US and Singapore, not China. But TikTok’s terms of service stipulate that the company may share information with its parent, subsidiary, or other affiliates. Previous versions of its privacy policy warned users it could exchange information with its Chinese businesses, law enforcement agencies and public authorities, if legally required to do so.

Banning WeChat in the US could have far greater implications to cross-border business between Chinese and American companies, impacting everything from the manufacturing of medical face masks and Apple iPhones to the inking of contracts of lawyers and bankers.

While WeChat is not popular in the US as a consumer messaging tool, the messaging app isn’t just used to chat with friends and family.

In China, it’s virtually impossible to function without WeChat and is essentially used by businesses in the place of email and text messages, which are not used as widely in China as they are in the US. Other messaging apps like Facebook-owned WhatsApp are blocked in China, making it harder to communicate with overseas partners without WeChat.

“A ban on WeChat would be consequential because it would practically shut down communication between the US and China,” said Graham Webster, China Digital Economy Fellow at think tank New America. “There are real data, privacy, and security concerns but they go well beyond these two Chinese apps and these orders just wrap the real issues up in political theatre.”

UN assesses damage of Beirut blast, plans alternative aid routes

The United Nations, which has more than 100 people injured in the devastating Beirut explosion, is assessing damage, and planning alternative aid operations, a UN spokesman said on Wednesday (August 5).

Among the injured were about 22 members of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), including those from the Maritime Task Force of the mission, who were in the port when the blast occurred Tuesday (August 4), said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

A ship of the Maritime Task Force docked in the port was damaged, leaving some UNIFIL naval peacekeepers injured, some of them seriously, he said.

“We expect that the damage of the port will significantly exacerbate the economic and food security situation in Lebanon, which imports about 80 to 85 percent of its food,” Haq said. “This is a place that’s used both for goods for Lebanon but also for some of our activities in Syria.”

“We’ll need to assess how that damage affects our deliveries and how we can redirect, in the short term, more of our activities through the airport rather than through the seaport,” the spokesman said. “Obviously, the loss of the port will affect our activities.”

The United Nations is working closely with the Lebanese government to support all ongoing response efforts, particularly in the delivery of emergency medical assistance, said Haq. Support for hospitals and trauma response capacity is a top priority.

The World Health Organization is working with Lebanon’s Ministry of Health to assess hospital facilities in Beirut, their functionality and needs for additional support, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specialists are being dispatched to Beirut to assist in the emergency response, both from the United Nations and several countries, Haq said. Experts also are on the way to support urban search and rescue operations.

“We’re heartened to see the declarations of support from different governments around the world, and we hope that all of the governments and all of us can stand beside the Lebanese people,” said Haq. “We need to remember that the people of Lebanon have been extremely generous and extremely helpful for many years.”

Lebanon has taken in tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, and there has been a long-time Palestine refugee population in Lebanon, he said. “These are people who have given a lot of support to others, and this is a time when they themselves will need help, and we will certainly try to give it to them as much as we can.”

US military sends 3 cargo planes to Lebanon filled with medical supplies

The U.S. military is sending three cargo planes to Lebanon filled with food, water, and medical supplies, the U.S. Central Command announced in a statement Thursday two days after a massive explosion in Beirut’s port left at least 157 dead and some 5,000 injured.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, spoke with Lebanon Armed Forces Commander, Gen. Joseph Aoun, to express condolences for the loss of life and devastation caused by the explosion in Beirut’s port facility, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement to Fox News.

Three C-17s shipments of U.S. relief supplies including food, water, and medical supplies would be delivered to Lebanon, Gen. McKenzie said, adding that the U.S. military was willing to continue to work with the Lebanese Armed Forces “to help provide aid and assistance to meet the needs of the Lebanese people during this terrible tragedy.” The planes departed from the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar en route to Beirut, officials told Fox News.

Gen. McKenzie also “expressed a desire to continue to partner with the Lebanese Armed Forces, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, and USAID to identify and expedite support for Lebanon’s recovery effort.”

Pentagon officials are expected to hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. Thursday to further outline U.S. relief efforts in Lebanon.

Volunteers and the Lebanese Red Cross continued to search for survivors and dead bodies trapped beneath the extensive damage seen for miles away from the explosion’s epicenter at the Port of Beirut, where Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at the facility for six years.

Badri Daher, director-general of Lebanese customs, told local media on Wednesday that his office sent six letters to the country’s judiciary over the years expressing concern over the ammonium nitrate stored at the port since it was confiscated from a ship in 2013.

His letters said the cargo was the equivalent of “a floating bomb” and posed a risk of exploding if they weren’t removed from a warehouse at the port but the warnings went unheeded, the Washington Post reported, citing legal documents and Lebanese officials.

An unspecified number of port officials were placed on house arrest on Wednesday amid the Lebanese government’s five-day investigation into the explosion. Public anger mounted against the Lebanese ruling elite that is being blamed for the chronic mismanagement and carelessness that led to the disaster. The port and customs office are notorious for being one of the most corrupt and lucrative institutions in Lebanon where various factions and politicians, including Hezbollah, hold sway.

The first world leader to visit the site of the blast, French President Emmanuel Macron told crowds of protesters in Beirut on Thursday that foreign aid dollars would not fall into “corrupt hands” but warned the already economically strapped Lebanon would “continue to sink” unless its leaders carry out reforms, Al Jazeera reported.

Australia pledged an initial 2 million Australian dollars ($1.4 million) to the relief effort in Lebanon. France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Jordan, and China are among the nations also sending search-and-rescue teams as well as doctors and specialists to treat the wounded.

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut said at least one American citizen was killed and several more were injured. More than 100 U.N. staff members and dependents were injured, and two family members of U.N. staffers were killed. At least 22 members of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon were among the injured. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed Thursday that an embassy employee was found to be killed inside her home in Beirut in the aftermath of the explosion, Reuters reported.

As international aid flights began to arrive in Lebanon, hospitals, already struggling with the financial crisis and coronavirus pandemic, were overwhelmed by the wave of injured. Many patients had to be treated in hallways and parking lots once the wards filled up.

The Lebanese Army stepped in Wednesday to assume security operations in the capital amid a two-week state of emergency. Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion, Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud told Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath, adding that nearly 300,000 people are homeless. Dozens of people remain missing, as the death toll is expected to climb.

Where are the feathers?

In 2015, a group of 57 Lakota students from American Horse School travelled to a minor league Rush hockey game as a reward for their academic achievements. Three men seated above the group spilt beer on the students and yelled racist remarks. Only one man, Trace O’Connell, was charged with disorderly conduct and later cleared of the charge.

Shortly after the incident, a trip to honor the students was organized by Cody Hall, a Lakota who operates a sport oriented non-profit. The students travelled to Minneapolis through Hall’s connections. Not all 57 students were able to go, but those who did go were able to tour the University of Minnesota campus, attend a University of Minnesota women’s soccer game, receive a signed Timber Wolves jersey, go to a Vikings game, and be honored with a meal and gift of 57 eagle feathers that was organized by the local Native American community of Minneapolis.

Even though not all 57 students were able to go on the Minneapolis trip, Hall said that the trip was supposed to be “their exclamation point.” Hall would later take more students from the Lakota 57 on a ski and snowboard trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Lisa Bellanger was the main organizer of the meal and gift of 57 eagle feathers. “I sent a couple of emails and made a few calls and then those people made a few more calls and the feathers just came,” she said.

All of the eagle feathers were given to Travis Thunder Bull who was a chaperone on the trip. Thunder Bull was approached to chaperone the trip the day that the group left, and he had anxiously accepted the invitation.

“They fed us traditional rice dishes and we had a good meal,” said Thunder Bull about Bellanger’s event. “Then we all gathered around and Jerry Dearly gave a speech and we all smudged. From other Natives throughout the world, they were able to secure 57 eagle feathers. Some of the eagle feathers were very pretty and the color of rainbows.”

Thunder Bull took the feathers back to South Dakota where he was to organize a ceremony for the feathers to be distributed to each student or made into a display for the American Horse School. After returning to South Dakota, Thunder Bull told Pass Creek district president James Cross that a ceremony would need to be organized.

When Thunder Bull was not home two days later, Cross obtained the feathers while telling Thunder Bull’s wife that he would assume the responsibility of conducting a ceremony.

“I was a little frustrated because I was the one that was put in charge of the feathers and I was the one that needed to see it done,” said Thunder Bull. “I let it go because he is an elected official.”

Thunder Bull persisted in with his obligation and attempted to coordinate with Cross. “I kept bothering him every month,” Thunder Bull said. “I left him phone messages and text messages, but over the years he never did anything. When he finally did respond to me, he told me that he made a staff out of the feathers. But he never could tell me where the staff is.”

Hall had heard about no ceremony being conducted for the feathers. “What was told to the parents was that they were supposed to go in a display in the American Horse School,” said Hall. “They were supposed to resemble what those kids stood up against, but they are probably in someone’s wardrobe and going to some local powwow.”

In response to learning that no ceremony was held for the students, Lisa Bellanger said that “it would be nice to rekindle the event and know where the feathers are because I know some great people who could make a flag or some other display.”

“I understand the significance of eagle feathers and why people pray for them,” said Thunder Bull. “When they don’t end up where they are supposed to go it is bad medicine.”

Overall, Thunder Bull wants to put the story of the Lakota 57 to rest. “Let’s tell the last story of the Lakota 57 and then shut the book,” he said.

But it seems that the student’s justice will not be complete until the eagle feathers make it where they were intended to be even if it is nearly 6 years later.

James Cross could not be reached for comment by the Native Sun News Today.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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