News, August 11th

Belarus opposition rejects election results amid calls for more protests

Belarus’ main opposition candidate has rejected the official result of the presidential election that handed a landslide victory to the country’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday, hours after security forces violently crackdown on protests who had challenge the result.

There were chaotic scenes in Belarus’ capital Minsk Sunday night, as hundreds of riot police and interior ministry troops used armored vehicles, stun grenades and rubber bullets against thousands of demonstrators protesting the election.

Dozens of protesters were injured, at least one seriously, while authorities said around 3,000 people were detained.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the key opposition challenger to Lukashenko, told a press conference Monday morning that the vote had seen massive fabrication and that she was the winner of the election.

“We don’t recognize the results of the election. We have seen the real ballot results. We call on those who believe that their vote has been stolen not to keep silent,” Tikhanovskaya said.

She called on authorities now to negotiate for the peaceful transfer of power and her campaign said they would seek to use all legal means to have the result reassessed.

“The government aren’t listening to us, it has completely broken with the people, but I should repeat that we are for peaceful transitions and the government ought to think about now how to hand over power through peaceful means, because at the moment they only have one way — violence against their own people,” Tikhanovskaya said according to the local Belarus’ news outlet, Tut.by

Tikhanovskaya stopped short of calling explicitly for more protests, but other opposition social media channels urged people to join a new demonstration on Monday evening in Minsk.

In the posts, people were urged to buy helmets and other protective gear from building supplies stores, as well as first aid equipment, in anticipation of fresh violence from the police.

The posts also called for a national strike to begin on Tuesday with the demand that fresh elections be held without Lukashenko.

Belarus’ central elections commission on Monday said preliminary results showed Lukashenko received a huge 80.24% of the vote, with Tikhanovskaya receiving just 9%.

Tikhanovskaya has become the head of a swelling protest movement in Belarus that, before the election, attracted the biggest political demonstrations in the country since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The protests have meant the election this year is seen as the biggest challenge Lukashenko– often referred to as ‘Europe’s Last Dictator”– has faced in his 26 year-rule.

Tikhanovskaya’s supporters, as well as most outside observers, believe the election saw widespread ballot rigging.

Tikhanovskaya’s campaign has claimed ballots checked at polling stations in Minsk show her winning in reality by five to six times against Lukashenko. They also pointed to a record number of early votes — 40% of voters — as suggesting there had been massive falsification.

Lukashenko on Monday immediately dismissed the idea of any negotiations with the opposition and was unapologetic about the crackdown on demonstrators.

“I warned there won’t be a Maidan, no matter who wanted it,” Lukashenko said, according to Belarus’ state news agency, referring to Ukraine’s popular revolution in 2014 that toppled an autocratic president. “And so, it has to be quietened down, to be calmed down. The response will be adequate. We will not allow them to blow up the country.”

Lukashenko accused demonstrators of deliberately provoking police and accused several European countries of directing the opposition. He said the election on Sunday had meant to be a “holiday”.

“You understand, it’s a holiday. And somebody wanted to spoil this holiday. We saw them — they showed themselves ever brighter this night. From Poland, Britain, the Czech Republic, there were calls, directing our, forgive me, our sheep,” Lukashenko said.

The European Union expressed concerns about the situation in Belarus. The European Council’s president Charles Michel wrote on Twitter calling on Belarus’ authorities to respect freedom of assembly and “basic human rights”. Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki called for an emergency EU summit to be held on the situation.

Lukashenko’s re-election was quickly recognized by China and by Belarus’ key ally Russia. President Vladimir Putin was among the first to send a message to Lukashenko congratulating him on his victory. Relations between the Kremlin and Lukashenko have been strained recently, as the Belarusian leader has turned more towards Western countries as a counterbalance to a more overbearing Russia.

Lukashenko had improved relations with Europe and in particular the United States after being a pariah for years following another crackdown after a presidential election in 2010. The U.S. restored diplomatic relations with Belarus last year and an American ambassador was due to arrive soon in Minsk for the first time in a decade.

The new crackdown and allegations of a stolen election could now pose a challenge to that rapprochement.

Some analysts had thought the Kremlin might remain distant from Lukashenko during any political crisis, frustrated by his recent refusal to accept greater integration with Russia.

Putin’s swift congratulations, however, suggested Moscow has no interest in seeing him pushed from power by protests, although Putin’s message also emphasized the Russian president’s hope that Lukashenko would now facilitate greater integration in “all spheres” between the two countries.

Lukashenko cracked down harshly on opposition protests following an election in 2010, jailing key opponents and violently dispersing street protests. Observers have said the scale of popular dissent this year is significantly larger than then.

Tikhanovskaya, who spent election day an undisclosed location over fears she might be arrested, has stopped short of calling for fresh demonstrations yet and it was unclear whether she would join those planned on Monday.

The internet in Belarus, which was partly shutdown on Sunday, was still greatly slowed down on Monday making communications difficult.

Another of her allies, Veronika Tsepkalo on Sunday left for Moscow where her husband, another opposition leader, Valery Tsepkalo was already in self-exile with their children. She has said she would return to Belarus.

Blame game in high gear as Covid relief talks stall

Top congressional leaders and the White House lashed out at each other Monday over who’s to blame for stalled coronavirus relief negotiations, the latest sign that a bipartisan deal to boost the U.S. economy appears unlikely anytime soon.

President Donald Trump claimed in a tweet that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “want to meet to make a deal” on a relief bill, but aides to the two top Democrats said no one from the White House had reached out to them since negotiations fell apart over the weekend.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, accused Pelosi and Schumer of using the economic hardships being felt by tens of millions of Americans to pressure Trump and Senate Republicans into a deal.

“They think they have political leverage over the president of the United States and so they’re willing to personally increase the pain for vulnerable families unless they get their way on matters not related to Covid,” McConnell claimed on the Senate floor. “Republicans wanted to agree on the things we could agree to. Democrats said our way or the highway.”

But Schumer rebutted the GOP’s claims, saying the White House and top Senate Republicans were the ones who refused to compromise, leading to inaction on critical issues including testing, education funding and additional stimulus payments.

“Rather than compromise, our Republican counterparts said, ‘Take a hike,'” Schumer said. “Quite literally they said virtually this in the room: ‘It’s going to be our way or no. We’re not going to meet you in the middle.'”

Schumer added: “This Republican Party is so tied in a knot it can’t agree on anything. It can only spew the same political speech day after day.”

Talks between the White House and Democratic leaders collapsed on Friday after two weeks of unsuccessful closed-door negotiations. Trump then issued a series of executive actions on Saturday he said would address the ongoing economic crisis from the coronavirus pandemic. The actions included a memo ordering federal agencies to take steps to reduce evictions, extensions of the suspension of student loan payments and interest and of federal unemployment benefits at a lower rate, and the deferral of payroll taxes.

Democrats lambasted Trump’s actions as ineffectual and legally dubious, although they have not filed any legal challenges yet.

“The bottom line is even if [the orders are legal], they’re not going to what’s needed or come even close,” Schumer told Capitol Hill reporters on Monday.

The Senate will remain in session but with no scheduled votes unless there is an agreement, McConnell and other GOP senators said. The vast majority of senators are out of town with a 24-hour notice to return if a vote is scheduled.

As for House Democrats, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced on the Monday that there will be no votes until the week of Sept. 14, unless an agreement on more Covid relief is reached.

The impasse over a new coronavirus relief package comes as the United States now has seen 5 million cases and more than 160,000 deaths from the disease. The economy is also showing little sign of improvement. The Labor Department reported Friday that the economy added 1.8 million jobs in July, but job growth also slowed down, and the unemployment rate remains at 10.2 percent.

Global COVID-19 cases surpass 20 mln

Global COVID-19 cases surpassed 20 million on Monday (August 10), according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

The global case count reached 20,001,019, with a total of 733,897 deaths worldwide as of 7:35 p.m. local time (2335 GMT), the CSSE data showed.

With 5,085,821 cases and 163,370 fatalities, the United States has suffered the most from the pandemic, accounting for a quarter of the global caseload. Brazil recorded 3,057,470 cases and 101,752 deaths, second only to the United States. India confirmed more than 2.2 million cases.

Countries with more than 400,000 cases also include Russia, South Africa, Mexico, and Peru. Other countries with over 30,000 deaths are Mexico, Britain, Italy, and France, according to the center.

The world has seen soaring new infections over the past months. Global cases topped 10 million on June 28 and doubled just 43 days later.

Has Belarus reached a tipping point?  Thousands of protesters don’t buy election result

“The more they beat us, the less we believe the official results.”

Those were the words of one protestor who took to the streets after election results were announced in Belarus. Long-standing President Alexander Lukashenko has claimed a sixth term and 80 percent of the vote. But thousands of protestors have taken to the streets because they don’t buy it.

The co-founder of the Belarus Free Theatre who also serves as a lobbyist for democracy in her homeland tells Fox News these opposition activists won’t go home anytime soon.

“They are ready to go and protect their stolen voices,” Nadia Kaliada said.

She is referring to reports of voter fraud. It is not the first time in Belarus. But this election cycle feels different, many say. Video on social media is circulating that shows a woman climbing out a window and down a ladder with what appears to be a bag of ballots. She supposedly worked at a polling station. Brazen supporters of the opposition went around in the weeks leading up to the poll wielding slippers — to symbolically squash the cockroach character from a fairytale — that detractors associate with the current president.

Lukashenko addressed it directly, expressing offense.

Reports are at least 3,000 have been detained in protests, dozens have been injured and one may even have been killed when rammed by a security services vehicle. The government denies anyone has died. Tear gas, water cannons, flash grenades and truncheons have been deployed.

But the crowds tangling with heavily protected riot police appear to have little fear. Natalia Kaliada said there has been a run on sporting goods shops where protestors are looking for some minimal protection.

A stagnant economy closed political system and the repression of dissent are what Belarussians want to see changed. Many have said it is time finally to turn a page in their history after 26 years of Lukashenko’s rule. Two popular figures who hoped to run against him, Sergei Tikhanovsky and Viktor Barbariko, were put in jail. A third disqualified candidate Valery Tsepkalo fled the country with his children after he said he’d received threats they’d be put in an orphanage.

Tikhanovsky’s wife stepped into his place and with Tsepkalo’s wife and Barbariko’s campaign manager, formed an unlikely troika of women in a country long run by a strongman who was head of a collective farm in Soviet times.

The women’s rallies drew large and emotional crowds, the biggest since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the one whose name was actually on the ballot, is a 37-year-old stay home mother who trained as an English teacher but has said she’d rather be homemaking. She said, if elected, her plan was to then allow for truly fair elections, so she could pass the torch on. She has not recognized the results of the election. One unofficial exit poll showed results to be exactly the opposite of the official announcement.

Luksashenko’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic may have been a tipping point. Long in denial that it was circulating, he originally described the situation as “psychosis” instead of pandemic and he was widely mocked for that. Someone printed “Psycho 3%” T-shirts, a nod to that and what one private poll claims is the President’s real support numbers. The store selling the shirts was shut down.

But for many, there is nothing to laugh about. Kseniya Milya, 26, lost her father to the virus.

“Of course, he didn’t believe (in coronavirus). He always believed our president, he always supported him and believed everything he said. The same was with coronavirus. We were among the first wave. Back then the statements of the president were absurd. Denying and blaming people for getting sick. Back then, he said that the cure is riding tractor, shot of vodka, and sauna,” Milya said.

The European Union has issued a statement condemning “disproportionate and unacceptable state violence against peaceful protestors.”  Natalia Kaliada has called on the West to do more.

“We want to make it very clear that the West needs to make Lukashenko to step down and to organize a smooth transition of power, to stop the crackdown on the people of Belarus and we insist and demand targeted economic sanctions against the regime,” Kaliada said.

The White House Press Secretary said Monday the U.S. is deeply concerned by the Belarussian election and urges the government to refrain from the use of force.

But earlier, the man seen as Europe’s longest-serving dictator had this to say to his opposition.

“Follow the law and any talk of repression will disappear. The law is above all else. If you break it, we will respond. And we’ve been light-handed in our response so far. Light-handed. To be honest with you, I’ve always held back our law enforcement.”  The President went on to say he had warned his forces, “They (the opposition) don’t amount to anything and aren’t worth launching repression against.”

The U.S. has previously put sanctions on the regime for repression of opponents, but some had been lifted and recently Washington has been building bridges with Minsk. Belarus is important in the ongoing competition for influence in the region and sits on the outer edge of the EU’s border with Russia. The U.S. recently started selling oil at market prices to help wean Belarus off its dependence on Russia. The annexation of Crimea may have been a wake-up call for the former Soviet republic which has no significant natural resources of its own but a burgeoning IT sector.

It is unclear where things go from here. Lukashenko has accused all sides of meddling in his election with talk of “sheep” and “puppet masters.” Though he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have gone through some bumpy times lately, they are still seen as like-minded leaders, at least to a large extent.

Belarus Free Theatre’s Kaliada told Fox News: “The West needs to recognize it’s not about only the safety and independence of Belarussian democracy and the safety of people but currently we are talking about the safety and stability and peace of Europe and democracy in general.”

Here’s all you need to know about the 1st COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V registered in Russia

Russia on Tuesday became the first country in the world to register a Covid-19 vaccine jointly developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute and the Russian Defense Ministry.

The vaccine has two separately injected components. These two components work together to build a long-term immunity against the virus, Sputnik news agency reported.

“The two-stage injection plan helps form a lasting immunity. The experience with vector vaccines and two-stage scheme shows that immunity lasts for up to two years,” the Russian Health Ministry was quoted as saying in the report.

Preclinical tests of the vaccine for toxicity, safety, immunogenicity, and protective effectiveness on large and small animals were conducted at the 48th Central Research Institute of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

On June 16, the Russian Health Ministry issued a permit to conduct clinical trials of the vaccine on volunteers at the Burdenko Main Military Clinical Hospital.

Clinical trials of the vaccine started on June 18 and included 38 volunteers.

The volunteers were divided into two main groups – one group consisted of 18 people and the other group had 20.

The experiment started with the first group. Nine volunteers were given one component of the vaccine, and nine more were given the second component.

After receiving initial data on the safety and tolerability of the vaccine based on the results of the survey of the first group of volunteers, the vaccine was inserted into 20 more selected volunteers on June 23.

This group of experimental participants received the drug in a booster version — three weeks after the first vaccination, they were given the second component of the vaccine according to indications.

On August 3, a “final medical examination” of participants in clinical trials of the vaccine took place at the Burdenko Main Military Clinical Hospital, Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

The results clearly showed that all volunteers had a clear immune response resulting from vaccination, the ministry said, adding that there were no side effects or abnormalities in the work of the volunteers.

According to the registration certificate, the vaccine is expected to go into civilian circulation on January 1 next year, Sputnik reported.

According to Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, two sites — the Gamaleya Research Institute and a private company — will be used for producing the vaccine, said the report.

While Russia has claimed that the vaccine has passed “all the necessary inspections”, the country has faced criticism from several quarters for rushing the vaccine development process and for not involving a large number of people in the trial before declaring it safe.

The news of the registration of the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine came at a time when over 20 million people worldwide have tested positive for the disease which has so far caused over 736,000 deaths.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are currently over 165 Covid-19 vaccines in different stages of development.

In Turkey:  Continued Containment of Virus, Support to Vulnerable Households, and Effective Economic Policy Mix, Key to Building Sustained Recovery, Says World Bank

The World Bank issued today its latest edition of the Turkey Economic Monitor (TEM), which takes stock of recent economic developments and provides the World Bank’s analysis of economic prospects in Turkey.

Despite an initial surge, Turkey contained the COVID-19 virus relatively quickly, but continued vigilance is essential to sustain this fragile trend. The economic impacts of this health crisis have been severe and have derailed the gradual recovery from the 2018-19 economic slowdown in Turkey. Current account imbalances have reappeared, as external demand for Turkey’s exports of goods and services dropped on account of a slowdown in global growth.

A global flight to safety of financial capital and a sharp drop in Central Bank reserves have raised external financing and market pressures. External pressures and domestic COVID containment measures led to a sudden halt in domestic output in April-May. These economic impacts have exacerbated labor market challenges that were already building prior to the pandemic, with employment and labor force participation declining.

The impact of the COVID-19-induced shock could push 3.3 million people into poverty. However, three-quarters of these people could be protected from falling into poverty with the expansion of targeted social support programs put in place earlier by the Turkish authorities to respond to the immediate impact of the pandemic.

“A swift and comprehensive policy response to the pandemic helped to mitigate the worst of the effects, and has set the stage for an earlier recovery, assuming the virus remains under control and policy measures continue to be adjusted to the evolution of the pandemic and developments in the national and global economies,” said Auguste Kouame, World Bank Country Director for Turkey.

Turkey faces a difficult year in 2020 like much of the global economy. The Turkish economy is projected to contract by 3.8 percent this year, with an uncertain rebound in 2021. The need for continued COVID-19 containment and vigilance will be a drag on consumption, while corporate debt overhang will weigh on investment, and weak external demand will be a drag on exports. The decline in investment and labor force participation is projected to compound the decline in productivity growth and potential output experienced by Turkey and other emerging market economies.

The report discusses policy priorities for containing economic imbalances, protecting people, and promoting financial sector stability.

“A sustained and resilient recovery will be helped by an effective monetary and fiscal policy mix, anchored economic expectations and strengthened external buffers,” noted Habib Rab, Program Leader in the World Bank Turkey Office, and team leader for the report.

Korea:  Keep supporting people and the economy until recovery fully under way

Korea has limited the damage to its economy from the COVID-19 crisis with swift and effective measures to contain the virus and protect households and businesses. Support for workers and the export-dependent economy should continue, given falling employment and the risk of prolonged disruption to trade and global value chains, according to a new OECD report.

Thanks to the government’s prompt response to the pandemic, Korea is experiencing the shallowest recession among OECD countries. However, the recovery will be slow, and uncertainty remains high, says the latest OECD Economic Survey of Korea. The Survey recommends continuing economic support measures to households and business until a recovery is fully under way, while ensuring that fiscal plans preserve long-term fiscal sustainability. Income support should be targeted to low-income households, and skills training should be offered even beyond the crisis to help vulnerable people who lost their job find employment in new areas.

Sound public finances mean there is room for fiscal stimulus. The Survey suggests focusing investment in some of the areas featuring in the recent Korean New Deal, such as 5G telecommunication and artificial intelligence. Reforming regulations, cutting barriers to competition, and encouraging innovation could help to diffuse new technologies through the economy and lift productivity.

The Survey projects a rebound in activity after the sizeable drop in the first half of 2020, with a 0.8% contraction in 2020 and 3.1% growth in 2021, absent a resurgence of the pandemic. While domestic-oriented activity is normalizing gradually, the global recession is holding back exports and investment. A second global wave of infections would delay the recovery: GDP would then contract by 2% in 2020, and growth reach only 1.4% in 2021.

Further disruptions in world trade and global value chains would hurt the Korean economy, which depends heavily on exports and is deeply integrated in global value chains. In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is creating financial risks, notwithstanding a wide range of policy interventions, as rising unemployment and loss of income affect debt reimbursement by households and small businesses, while uncertainty increases financial market volatility.

The Survey examines the looming pressures of an ageing population, with Korea’s old-age dependency ratio set to be the highest of any OECD country by 2060. It notes that the share of elderly people in relative poverty – defined as living on less than half of the median household income of the total population – is the highest among OECD countries. It recommends further increasing the basic old-age pension and focusing it on people in absolute poverty, as well as addressing high unemployment among disadvantaged groups and the wide gender wage gap. Along with stronger social protection, easing labor market regulations would promote productivity and reduce labor market duality.

A Survey chapter on the digital economy looks at the potential to boost productivity and well-being by building on the country’s outstanding digital infrastructure and IT technology and addressing digital skills gaps and the digital gap between large and small firms. The Survey recommends building on the system of regulatory sandboxes – where regulatory obligations can be partly waived to encourage innovation in products or business models – to improve product market regulations. It also recommends facilitating the use of telemedicine to boost productivity and well-being.

Neoconservative Wolves Dressed In Never-Trumper Clothing

Never-Trumper Republicans have been working their way into the Biden campaign, offering to flesh out his “coalition” ahead of the election and pushing their way into the foreign policy discussions, particularly on China. Given their shared history with the liberal interventionists already in the campaign, don’t for a second think that there aren’t hungry neoconservatives among them trying to get a seat at the table.

“Some hawkish Democrats may see the neocons as convenient allies in preserving an outdated interventionist mindset,” offers Matt Duss, who is Sen. Bernie Sanders’ longtime foreign policy advisor and maintains close ties with the Democratic campaign to replace President Trump.  “And of course, neocons are desperate for any opportunity to salvage their own relevance.”

To those who oppose Trump and support his Democratic opponent, The Lincoln Project’s frontal assault on the president, along with the mainstream headline-grabbing Republican Voters Against Trump PAC, are manna from heaven. But to those of us who were called “unpatriotic conservatives” for failing to goose step with the neoconservatives dominating Washington before the Iraq War—many of whom are soaring around this never-never land right now—this may be a warning from below.

Duss was responding to a Daily Beast report last week which quoted unnamed “individuals who work for conservative think tanks in Washington” who have acknowledged “informally speaking with members of the Biden team in recent weeks.” The focus appears to be on the failing China trade deal and Trump’s supposed weak posture. Reportedly, they are “so frustrated with the U.S-China trade deal and the administration’s efforts to hold Beijing accountable that they are willing to offer counsel to the Democratic nominee.”

For his part, Biden wants to challenge Trump on his own turf by making “an overt, persistent push to signal to voters that he supports American-made products,” and talking tough on China, saying the president started and lost a trade war with Xi Jinping. And, while military action is not discussed in the article, it says the Biden campaign has pondered “enforcement actions against Beijing” to be taken up with like-minded “allies” on more than trade, to include cyber and human rights. The article also suggests Trump has not effectively confronted these issues, quoting one unnamed Republican:

    “The foreign policy space is one where given Biden’s track record as a senator, even more so than as vice president, there are a lot more Republicans who are comfortable with a Biden foreign policy.”

    “Everybody’s been quietly moving behind the scenes,” the source added, noting that there are “a whole bunch of issues where they’re looking for folks to come out at the right time, sort of change the narrative.”

It’s hard to think that real hardline conservative hawks on China, like Steve Bannon and the folks at the Committee on the Present Danger: China, are involved here. Some of them are certainly neoconservative (like the denizens of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies) but more in the John Bolton mold. They’d be pushing for cold if not hot war from Trump’s right, not hedging bets with Biden.

No, it can only be the establishment Republican types perched at places like Brookings and AEI who now see some sort of opening on the D-team. But if they seem like the mushy end of the right flank, think again. These guys are charter members of the Washington foreign policy consensus, mixed in with neoconservative never-Trumpers like Eliot Cohen and Robert Kagan (his wife Victoria Nuland was a top neocon official in the Clinton State Department) who have despised Trump from the beginning and think his America First foreign policy is “deeply misguided” and leading the country to “crisis.” Kagan, who openly supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, has already authored at least one anti-Trump foreign policy op-ed with top Biden advisor Anthony Blinken. Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

At the same time, The Lincoln Project has been killing Trump in online video fare this summer and is currently the signature Republican opposition to the president’s re-election. It is led by several GOP strategists from losing presidential campaigns, including Steve Schmidt, who is best known for convincing military hawk Sen. John McCain to put Sarah Palin on his ticket in 2008, as well as Rick Weaver (McCain, 2000), and Stuart Stevens (Mitt Romney, 2012).

Meanwhile, the backbone of Republican Voters Against Trump is Bill Kristol, who as AEI fellow and editor of The Weekly Standard, was the media mouthpiece for U.S. regime change in the Middle East, dating back in the Clinton Administration, all the way through the invasion of Iraq and his magazine’s timely demise in 2018. The PAC is a project of Defending Democracy Together, which he also directs. Other projects for the outfit include “Republicans Against Putin” and “Standing with Allies” (which urges continued assistance to the Kurds, read: more U.S. troops in Syria). Kristol also co-founded and contributes to the anti-Trump webzine, The Bulwark, which he co-founded in 2018.

Neocon friends and allies are not in short supply. From Max Boot at The Washington Post singing the praises of The Lincoln Group:

    If we are ever again to have a sane and sober center-right party in America — something we desperately need — then the Trumpified GOP must first be demolished. That is what the Lincoln Project is trying to accomplish, and more power to it. By leading the charge against the Republican Party, its founders have shown greater fealty to conservative principles than 99 percent of elected Republicans.

While we cannot speak for the conservative principles of every elected Republican, we can safely say that “sane and sober” would not be words for how Boot, a saber rattler of the first order, ceaselessly promoted the failed U.S. war policy in Iraq. Once hated by non-interventionists on the left and right, his fedora-wearing visage is now firmly ensconced in the firmament of Washington’s elite liberal press. As is never-Trumper and neoconservative Jennifer Rubin, another Iraq War cheerleader, who tweeted about Lincoln’s willingness “to say out loud what we all whisper.”

Fearlessness is what Pat Buchanan and Scott McConnell and Taki Theodoracopulos were when they started TAC in 2002 because every single so-called Washington establishment conservative was all in for war. For that, they were called “unpatriotic.” And what of “axis of evil” David Frum, who penned that sorry invective against our magazine’s founders for National Review? He’s written his second anti-Trump book, and surprise, re-writing history, with nuggets like this:

    I came of age inside the conservative movement of the twentieth century.  In the twenty-first, that movement has delivered much more harm than good, from the Iraq War to the financial crisis to the Trump presidency.

Wait, what? Frum, as speech writer for President George W. Bush after 9/11 practically delivered the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Global War on Terror to the American public on a silver platter.

“In many ways these never-Trumpers are responsible for the rise of Trump,” quipped Trita Parsi, founder and vice-president at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “By selling the Iraq War on a pack of lies, they helped deplete the American public’s trust and confidence in the political elite, the media, and the country’s leadership more generally.” Now they turn around as “allies” of Trump’s opposition.

Too bad they don’t get the irony.

Tim Shorrock, a foreign policy writer who contributes regularly to The Nation says he is disturbed by what seems to be a neocon push into the Biden orbit, but is more concerned with the Democratic interventionists and Blob careerists now at the right hand of the candidate. People like former ambassador Blinken, Nicholas Burns, Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Michele Flournoy, who has been touted as a possible Secretary of Defense. They would sooner drag the country back into Syria, as well as position aggressively against China if the military pushed hard enough and there was a humanitarian reason to justify it.

“While I don’t think the neocons would have a formal place in this administration, I think their kind of thinking would still be present,” Shorrock warned.  However, “I am concerned it is going to be a lot of the same people who worked for Obama. And we know the kind of policies they supported in the Middle East.”

Duss, who has close insight into the Biden campaign, says thankfully, there is a real debate “not just in the party, but in the foreign policy community more broadly” about the future of U.S. intervention overseas. “In the past there has been an unfortunate tendency among some Democrats to jump at opportunities to attack the Republicans from the right on foreign policy. It never works.”

He pointed out the Democratic platform has adopted many of Bernie Sanders’ planks, including getting out of the war in Yemen, reducing the defense budget, returning to the Iran nuke deal, and having better control of arms sales to Middle East partners with despicable human rights records. Those restrainers who worked to get these things into the Democratic platform, Duss said, “actually represent a meaningful number of voters.”

Chris Preble, who just left the Cato Institute to start the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told TAC he’s not surprised the Biden campaign is willing to work with Republicans but, “If Joe Biden is a smart politician, he won’t listen to the people who pushed the Iraq War, and who want to leave troops in Iran and Afghanistan indefinitely.”

Simply put they are out of step not only with reality but with the American public. He points out that in a recent Charles Koch Institute poll, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they wanted troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. “I think those around Biden are smart,” he added. “They read polls too.”

One Democrat close to the party who did not want to be named for this story agreed there were tensions, one could see that in the letter signed by some 275 mostly former Sanders delegates this week, calling Biden’s close foreign policy advisors like Rice and Flournoy “a horror show” for their ties to the failing policies of the last two decades and with the defense industry. That goes for any reports of neocons and never-Trumpers hanging around, too.

“There is an instinct around Biden to get the same meals around the same table around the same neocons,” he said. Thankfully, there seems to be enough people on the inside to reflect the American public and put up a fight. “Am I concerned that (neocons and never-Trumpers) are trying to influence the campaign? Sure, I’m a little concerned, but they have demonstrated they have no real base.”

Outrage at demolition of mural in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood

On Thursday, July 23 the iconic Roxbury Love Mural was demolished by Cruz Companies with little warning to the community that had cherished it for years. In its place will be built condos well out of the price range of current residents. As outrage spread at this brazen act of gentrification, the Boston branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation called a speak-out at the site where the mural once stood on July 26. Over 200 people gathered at 6:30pm on an extremely hot day to display their frustrations with the deeply red-lined and rapidly gentrifying state of the city.

Boston is the third most gentrified city in the country, according to a recent report by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. About 20 percent of city neighborhoods were gentrified in the period from 2013-2017. Roxbury is a key battleground in the struggle against gentrification, as a historically Black and Brown neighborhood neglected by the city government, lacking social services and public infrastructure. The neighborhood has been experiencing skyrocketing real estate prices as developers continue to move in.

Residents and organizers have been fighting against this looming displacement by forcing amendments to city plans for rezoning, educating themselves and organizing protests and disruptions.

Polio vaccination campaigns restart in Afghanistan and Pakistan after COVID-19 hiatus

Polio vaccinations campaigns have resumed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, months after having been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

Programs are expected to be rolled out across Pakistan and almost half of Afghanistan this month, after vaccination drives in July reached some 780,000 children and three provinces in the two countries, respectively.

“These life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency”, said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.

“As the world has come to see only too well, viruses know no borders and no child is safe from polio until every child is safe”, she added.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last two polio-endemic countries in the world and the coronavirus pandemic hit almost 50 million children without their polio vaccines, an easy protection against the highly infectious, crippling and sometimes fatal disease. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable.

Child vaccination drives, including polio campaigns, were halted in both South Asian countries in March to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission to children, caregivers, and vaccinators themselves.

As a result, reported polio cases rose to 34 in Afghanistan and 63 in Pakistan, including in some previously polio-free areas, according to UNICEF.

The application of new vaccination guidelines and the use of protective equipment by frontline health workers will help ensure that vaccination campaigns resume safely.

According to UNICEF, while every effort will be made to reach children nationwide in both countries, there are concerns that up to a million children in Afghanistan could miss out as door-to-door vaccinations which are not possible in some remote areas, and parents will have to make their way to health clinics to have their child vaccinated.

Nonetheless, Ms. Gough said that although new challenges could compound the coronavirus disruption, “the eradication of this contagious disease will get back on track and is firmly within our reach.”

“Together with the respective governments and other partners including the WHO (UN World Health Organization), Rotary, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and with the dedicated work by frontline health workers – we are committed to reaching every child”, she said.

School board votes to require masks for students, staff

The Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education voted in favor of requiring masks for students and staff Monday night before school returns this fall on Sept. 8.

Teachers will be required to wear masks in classrooms and other staff will wear masks when six feet of social distancing isn’t possible, Superintendent Lori Simon clarified at the meeting.

The board voted on masks while members Jim Hansen, Kate Thomas, Brian Johnson, and Clay Colombe didn’t wear masks during the meeting even though signs leading into the RCAS building stated that masks would be required.

Thomas abstained from both votes on masks for students and staff. Johnson voted against requiring masks for students, while the other five board members voted to require masks for staff and students.

“What is a mandate if you can’t enforce it?” Thomas asked. “If there’s no repercussions for it, it makes it look like the mandate is a joke, to me. I can’t wrap my head around having a rule that you can’t enforce and that you have no repercussions for, other than maybe the bullying or harassment or the shaming. I do see that coming.”

The board also voted on an activity plan and voted unanimously to allow Simon to make changes to the back-to-school plan as needed.

Board President Curt Pochardt said he recommended the board review convention notes from the Associated School Boards of South Dakota in which one of Gov. Kristi Noem’s policy advisors, the state health secretary and state education officials gave recommendations to reopen schools.

Assistant Superintendent Mark Gabrylczyk shared information from the ASBSD that he said would keep the district open to liability if mask requirements weren’t put forward. The ASBSD had used SDCL 20-9-1 as their basis to put forth more mask requirements statewide.

“District, board, board members, administrators, etc. could be sued during the pandemic should someone be infected, just as they could be sued on other claims before COVID-19 hit,” the ASBSD wrote on the PowerPoint that Gabrylczyk shared.

Gabrylczyk said the board doesn’t have a choice to forgo a mask requirement.

“We have a duty to keep everyone safe who’s on our campuses,” he said.

Hansen said he cautioned against referencing the state’s codified law because the laws could be interpreted differently in a courtroom.

Thomas said she was concerned about the legal implications for students and staff who don’t want to wear masks, or who couldn’t wear one because of medical reasons.

Simon said for staff that wouldn’t be an issue and that for students she would consult legal counsel.

Thomas also said the district is more likely to be sued by students and parents who see negative health effects from wearing a mask than from someone who contracts COVID-19 in a school building.

Simon said the ASBSD information came from the legal counsel and that the district would be better protected from liability by requiring masks.

The board also voted 6-1 on the distance-learning plan with Thomas dissenting.

Simon said the majority of parents and teachers were uncomfortable with the Swivl option that was proposed at the previous board meeting, which would have cost the district an estimated $1.3 million.

The other distance-learning options were to dedicate some teachers for off-campus learning with prorated pay to teach an extra section; virtual vendors; and keeping some teachers dedicated to off-campus teaching only.

Simon estimated the costs for the assumption of prorated teaching salary vs. a dedicated teacher salary as follows:

    $828,480 for kindergarten through second grade;

    $647,250 for third through fifth grade;

    $966,560 for sixth through eighth grade.

Simon left the high school costs as “TBD” based on students and their graduation requirements, as well as on the reorganization of staff/student schedules. The costs were at $2,442,290 Monday night without the addition of high school.

The Rapid City Education Association held a demonstration outside of the RCAS building before the board meeting. More than a dozen teachers were holding signs in support of masks for students and staff.

Sue Podoll, president of the RCEA and a teacher in the district, said she encouraged the board to vote in favor of masks.

Lisa Evans, a photography teacher at Stevens High School, was at the demonstration with her four-year-old granddaughter, Brynnleigh, who held a sign with the message “Keep My Grandma Safe!”

Evans previously told the Journal that she had health concerns for her students and for herself, as she was recently diagnosed with asthma. She said Monday that she believes the board and public need to know what teachers expect for the fall in order to feel safe at school.

Nancy Kroeger is a retired teacher who is returning to the district this fall as a substitute teacher in order to help meet the district’s need for extra staff in the middle of a substitute shortage. Kroeger said she’s concerned for the safety of students, teachers, and staff.

Zarah Mattox, a math teacher at Stevens, said she wants to be in class safely with masks and social distancing. Mattox said one of her classes has 32 students, and social distancing would be impossible without finding some adjustments.

Trump’s “China virus” remark incites xenophobic behavior in US

During a White House press conference on Monday, Trump urged Americans to stop politicizing the virus, but moments later blamed China for the deteriorating pandemic situation in the US, adding, “The virus came from China, it’s China’s fault.”

“We must stop politicizing the virus and instead be united in our condemnation of how this virus came to America, how this virus came to the world,” Trump said.

This is not the first time that Trump has used such a radically charged term to deflect from his own failures in responding to the pandemic by blaming China. On August 8, Trump put up a post on his Twitter account, in which he called COVID-19 the “China Virus.” The comment quickly drew a public backlash, with netizens around the globe creating the hashtag “TrumpsCovidCoverup” and launching an online campaign calling for the president to stop using such racist and groundless terms.

“Trump calls it the China virus; I call it the Trump virus. China had nothing to do with what Trump did to American people,” said Maggie Schafer, a Twitter user.

The Trump administration’s smearing of China has not changed the fact that the US has the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world, with the highest numbers of confirmed fatalities and reported cases. According to Johns Hopkins University, there were over 5 million reported COVID-19 cases and more than 163,000 confirmed deaths from the virus in the US as of Monday, making the president’s groundless accusation even more feeble and absurd.

As a public figure, Trump’s irresponsible remarks have exacerbated the already rising xenophobic behavior in the US. According to Chinese advocacy groups, between March and June, 2,100 hate crimes against Asian Americans related to COVID-19 were committed, 10 percent of which were physical.

According to a China Daily report, an 89-year-old Chinese American woman in Brooklyn, New York, was slapped in the face and then set on fire by two men. Even Asian American celebrities, including actress Min-Na Wen and model Kelly Hu have told the public about hate crimes targeting their family members and friends.

“Why the China Virus, is COVID too difficult for Trump? And to be fair, why don’t we rename it for Trump who wants to spread it everywhere in America?” said Pam Szitas, a Twitter user.

US to label Hong Kong goods as ‘Made in China’

Goods imported from Hong Kong must be marked “Made in China” to be sold in the United States as part of Washington’s punitive response to a sweeping clampdown on the city, US customs authorities are set to announce today.

Last month, President Donald Trump retaliated to Beijing’s imposition of a tough new security law in Hong Kong by removing special trading privileges for the financial hub, which in 2018 sold goods worth US$6.3 billion to the United States.

Among the biggest categories of these imports were electrical machinery, precious metals and stones, and plastics.

“With respect to imported goods produced in Hong Kong, such goods may no longer be marked to indicate ‘Hong Kong’ as their origin, but must be marked to indicate ‘China’,” said a draft document from US Customs and Border Protection due to be published on Tuesday (Wednesday in Malaysia).

Hong Kong said the expected move ignored the city’s status as a separate member of the World Trade Organization and violated international trade rules.

“Hong Kong enjoys the unique status as a separate customs territory… which is not granted nor can be revoked by any other country,” the city’s government said in the statement.

The new rule comes at a time of rapidly deteriorating relations between China and the US – although fears the world’s two biggest economies could renew their damaging trade war were tempered by weekend talks to renew a January tariffs pact.

Until recently, Washington had treated imports from Hong Kong differently to goods from the rest of China, in recognition of the city’s semi-autonomous status.

However, after Beijing imposed the security law in June to quell last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests, Trump vowed that this would change.

The customs document said the move was in accordance with an executive order made by Trump last month, “due to the determination that Hong Kong is no longer sufficiently autonomous to justify differential treatment in relation to China.”

A 45-day grace period would be granted to importers following the announcement to allow them time to ensure no goods were marked “Made in Hong Kong”, it added.

Trump’s order, signed on July 14, also ends preferential treatment for Hong Kong passports, revokes license exceptions for certain exports, suspends Washington’s extradition agreement with the city and stops any joint police training.

The United States last week imposed sanctions on a group of Chinese and Hong Kong officials – including city leader Carrie Lam – in response to the crackdown.

China condemned the sanctions as “barbarous” and imposed retaliatory sanctions on some senior American politicians and leading human rights campaigners.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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