After free-spending Trump years, Republicans rediscover US debt

After free-spending Trump years, Republicans rediscover US debt
US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at the White House in Washington on January 29, 2021. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Updated 31 January 2021

After free-spending Trump years, Republicans rediscover US debt

After free-spending Trump years, Republicans rediscover US debt
  • With Democrats back in the presidency, Republicans are citing concerns about the rising US debt and deficit as grounds to object to Biden’s agenda

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan to revive the US economy has been met with howls from the Republican opposition in Washington, with conservative lawmakers saying it is full of money-wasting programs at a time when the country doesn’t need any more debt.
Yet it wasn’t so long ago that the party, led by fellow Republican Donald Trump in the White House, passed massive tax cuts and an even larger stimulus package to fight the economic disruptions caused by Covid-19 — expensive measures that fueled the rising budget deficit.
Now, with Democrats back in the presidency and narrowly controlling Congress, Republicans are citing concerns about the rising US debt and deficit as grounds to object to Biden’s agenda.
The $1.9 trillion package the president proposed to accelerate the country’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is “a colossal waste, and economically harmful,” Republican Senator Pat Toomey said.
“The total figure is pretty shocking,” said Mitt Romney, a fellow Republican senator who seized on the rising national debt during his failed attempt to unseat Democratic President Barack Obama in the 2012 election.
New Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has taken the lead in countering the Republicans’ protests, saying at her recent confirmation hearing, “Neither (Biden), nor I, propose this relief package without an appreciation for the country’s debt burden.
“But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big.”
Biden served as vice president under Obama, in a period when Republicans repeatedly raised debt and deficit concerns to stymie his agenda.
Trump, then a private citizen, joined in, tweeting in 2012, “The deficits under (Obama) are the highest in America’s history. Why is he bankrupting our country?“
Yet after Trump took office in 2017 with a Republican-controlled Congress, that party’s lawmakers seemed to forget those concerns.
Government spending increased, and Congress enacted a $2 trillion tax cut — the most significant tax reform in 30 years and one voted for by every Republican senator, including the “budget hawks” known for decrying such spending.
“Republican concerns about the deficit, they are kind of tough to take seriously right now, given their support for tax cuts and spending increases during the Trump years,” said Tori Gorman, policy director of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates for fiscal responsibility.
“And a lot of that took place even before the pandemic,” she told AFP.
The tax reform boosted growth in 2018 but also increased the budget deficit and inflated the debt, which rose from $19.5 trillion four years earlier to nearly $27 trillion at the end of September 2020.

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At the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic battered the economy, Trump signaled that debt was no longer a concern, saying money was better spent on the country’s armed forces.
He also pushed back the target date for achieving a balanced federal budget to 2035 from 2030, even as the Congressional Budget Office warned of a spiraling deficit.
Then Covid-19 broke out, and Democrats and Republicans agreed to pass the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, the country’s largest-ever stimulus package. It helped keep the economy from an even worse downturn.
But in the months to follow, Republicans who controlled the Senate objected to Democrats’ attempt to pass an even larger follow-up measure, arguing for smaller individual bills before the parties, at the last minute, signed off on a $900 billion law in December.
With Democrats now fully in control of the levers of power in Washington, Gorman said, both sides have lost credibility over the deficit.
“I think both sides are guilty of hypocrisy when it comes to fiscal responsibility,” she said.


India to restart COVID-19 vaccine exports to COVAX, neighbors

India to restart COVID-19 vaccine exports to COVAX, neighbors
Updated 50 min 20 sec ago

India to restart COVID-19 vaccine exports to COVAX, neighbors

India to restart COVID-19 vaccine exports to COVAX, neighbors
  • India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, stopped exports of COVID-19 shots in April to focus on inoculating its own population

NEW DELHI: India will resume exports of COVID-19 vaccines from the next quarter, prioritizing the global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX and neighboring countries first as supplies rise, the health minister said on Monday.
India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, stopped exports of COVID-19 shots in April to focus on inoculating its own population as infections exploded.
The country’s monthly vaccine output has since more than doubled and is set to quadruple to over 300 million doses next month, minister Mansukh Mandaviya said, adding that only excess supplies would be exported.
“We will help other countries and also fulfill our responsibility toward COVAX,” he told reporters.
Reuters reported last week that India was considering restarting exports of COVID-19 vaccines soon. It donated or sold 66 million doses to nearly 100 countries before the export halt.
The announcement on resumption of exports come ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington this week where vaccines are likely to be discussed at a summit of the leaders of the Quad countries — the United States, India, Japan and Australia.
India wants to vaccinate all its 944 million adults by December and has so far given at least one dose to 64 percent of them and two doses to 22 percent.
India’s inoculations have jumped since last month, especially as the world’s biggest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India, has more than trebled its output of the AstraZeneca shot to 200 million doses a month from April levels.
Indian companies have set up the capacity to produce nearly 3 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses a year.


Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case
Updated 20 September 2021

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case

Rwandan court finds ‘Hotel Rwanda’ film hero guilty in terrorism case
  • Prosecutors had sought a life sentence on nine charges
  • Rusesabagina’s trial began in February, six months after he arrived in Kigali on a flight from Dubai

KIGALI: A Rwandan court on Monday found Paul Rusesabagina, a one-time hotel manager portrayed as a hero in a Hollywood film about the 1994 genocide, guilty of being part of a group responsible for terrorist attacks.

“They should be found guilty for being part of this terror group — MRCD-FLN,” judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi said of 20 defendants including Rusesabagina. “They attacked people in their homes, or even in their cars on the road traveling.”

The case has had a high profile since Rusesabagina, 67, was arrested last year on arrival from Dubai after what he described as a kidnapping by Rwandan authorities.

Since being portrayed by actor Don Cheadle as the hero of the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” Rusesabagina emerged as a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame, based in the United States. He had denied all the charges against him, while his supporters called the trial a sham and proof of Kagame’s ruthless treatment of political opponents.

Prosecutors had sought a life sentence on nine charges, including terrorism, arson, taking hostages and forming an armed rebel group which he directed from abroad. After the announcement of the initial verdict, one of the defendants became ill, causing a short recess which delayed verdicts on other charges and sentencing.

Rusesabagina became a global celebrity after the film, which depicted him risking his life to shelter hundreds as the boss of a luxury hotel in the Rwandan capital Kigali during the 100-day genocide when Hutu ethnic extremists killed more than 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority.

Cheadle was nominated for an Oscar for the role. Rusesabagina used his fame to highlight what he described as rights violations by the government of Kagame, a Tutsi rebel commander who took power after his forces captured Kigali and halted the genocide.

Rusesabagina’s trial began in February, six months after he arrived in Kigali on a flight from Dubai. His supporters say he was kidnapped; the Rwandan government suggested he was tricked into boarding a private plane. Human Rights Watch said at the time that his arrest amounted to an enforced disappearance, which it called a serious violation of international law.


Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
Updated 20 September 2021

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
  • Tens of thousands of Algerians fought with the French army in the war from 1954 to 1962

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday asked for “forgiveness” on behalf of his country for abandoning Algerians who fought alongside France in their country’s war of independence.
Tens of thousands of Algerians fought with the French army in the war that pitted Algerian independence fighters against their French colonial masters from 1954 to 1962.
At the end of the war, the loyalist fighters known as “harkis” were left to fend for themselves, despite earlier promises that France would look after them.


Six dead after gunman opens fire on Russian campus

Six dead after gunman opens fire on Russian campus
Updated 51 min 15 sec ago

Six dead after gunman opens fire on Russian campus

Six dead after gunman opens fire on Russian campus
  • The Investigative Committee initially said eight people were killed
  • Country’s second mass shooting this year to target students

MOSCOW: A gunman opened fire Monday on a university campus in central Russia and killed six people before being detained, investigators said, in the country’s second mass shooting this year to target students.

Video on social media showed students throwing belongings from the windows of university buildings in the city of Perm, around 1,300 kilometers east of Moscow, before jumping to flee the shooter.

The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes in Russia, initially said eight people were killed but later revised the number of deaths to six.

It said 28 people were being treated after the attack at Perm State National Research University.

“Some of them have been hospitalized with injuries of varying severity,” it said in a statement.

It said the gunman, later identified as a student at the university, carried out the shooting with a hunting rifle he purchased earlier this year.

“During his arrest, he put up resistance and was wounded, after which he was taken to a medical facility,” the statement said.

The health ministry, in comments cited by Russian news agencies, said 19 among the wounded were being treated for gunshots.

State media broadcast amateur footage reportedly taken during the attack showing an individual dressed in black tactical clothing, including a helmet, carrying a weapon and walking through the campus.

Video from outside the university showed distressed students fleeing the campus and making phone calls to friends and family behind a cordon of police wearing helmets and body armor.

President Vladimir Putin had been notified of the shooting, the Kremlin said, and ministers had been ordered to travel to Perm to coordinate assistance for the victims.

“The president expresses sincere condolences to those who have lost family and loved ones as a result of this incident,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Regional authorities said that classes at local schools, colleges and universities were canceled on Monday.

School shootings have been relatively unusual in Russia due to tight security at education facilities and because it is difficult to buy firearms.

But Monday’s attack was the second one this year, after a 19-year-old opened fire in his old school in the central city of Kazan in May, killing nine people.

Investigators said that gunman suffered from a brain disorder, but he was deemed fit to receive a license for the semi-automatic shotgun he used in the attack.

On the day of that attack — one of the worst in recent Russian history — Putin called for a review of gun control laws. The age to acquire hunting rifles was increased from 18 to 21 and medical checks were strengthened.

Peskov noted Monday that despite the tightened legislation “unfortunately, this tragedy has happened, and it has to be analyzed.”

“Law enforcement agencies must give an expert assessment. It looks like we are talking about abnormalities in a young man who committed these killings,” Peskov said.

Authorities have blamed foreign influences for previous school shootings, saying young Russians have been influenced by similar attacks in the United States and elsewhere.

In November 2019, a 19-year-old student in the far eastern town of Blagoveshchensk opened fire at his college, killing one classmate and injuring three other people before shooting and killing himself.

In October 2018, another teenage gunman killed 20 people at a Kerch technical college in Crimea, the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

He was shown in camera footage wearing a similar T-shirt to Eric Harris, one of the killers in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in the United States, which left 13 people dead.

The Crimea shooter was able to legally obtain a gun license after undergoing marksmanship training and being examined by a psychiatrist.

The country’s FSB security service says it has prevented dozens of armed attacks on schools in recent years.

The shooting took place as Russia was counting ballots following three-day parliamentary and local elections.


Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
Updated 20 September 2021

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
  • Up to a hundred public schools in areas considered ‘minimal risk’ for coronavirus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial

MANILA: The Philippines will reopen up to 120 schools for limited in-person classes for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in a pilot approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, officials said Monday.
While nearly every country in the world has already partially or fully reopened schools for face-to-face lessons, the Philippines has kept them closed since March 2020.
“We have to pilot face-to-face (classes) because this is not just an issue for education, it’s an issue for the children’s mental health,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.
“It’s also an issue for the economy because we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”
Under guidelines approved by Duterte Monday, up to a hundred public schools in areas considered “minimal risk” for virus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial.
Twenty private schools can also participate.
Classrooms will be open to children in kindergarten to grade three, and senior high school, but the number of students and hours spent in face-to-face lessons limited.
Schools wanting to take part will be assessed for their preparedness and need approval from local governments to reopen. Written consent from parents will be required.
“If the pilot class is safe, if it is effective, then we will gradually increase it,” said Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
Duterte rejected previous proposals for a pilot reopening of schools for fear children could catch Covid-19 and infect elderly relatives.
But there have been growing calls from the UN’s children fund and many teachers for a return to in-person learning amid concerns the prolonged closure was exacerbating an education crisis in the country.
It is not clear when the pilot will begin or which schools will be included.
A “blended learning” program, which involves online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast on television and social media, will continue.
France Castro of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the decision was “long overdue.”
Fifteen-year-olds in the Philippines were at or near the bottom in reading, mathematics and science, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Most students attend public schools where large class sizes, outdated teaching methods, lack of investment in basic infrastructure such as toilets, and poverty have been blamed for youngsters lagging behind.