Joe Biden supporters ‘apoplectic’ one year into his US presidency

Joe Biden supporters ‘apoplectic’ one year into his US presidency
For now, virtually none of the groups that fueled Joe Biden’s 2020 victory are happy. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 January 2022

Joe Biden supporters ‘apoplectic’ one year into his US presidency

Joe Biden supporters ‘apoplectic’ one year into his US presidency
  • Leading voices across Biden’s diverse political base openly decry the slow pace of progress on key campaign promises

NEW YORK: Just over a year ago, millions of energized young people, women, voters of color and independents joined forces to send Joe Biden to the White House. But 12 months into his presidency, many describe a coalition in crisis.
Leading voices across Biden’s diverse political base openly decry the slow pace of progress on key campaign promises. The frustration was especially pronounced this past week after Biden’s push for voting rights legislation effectively stalled, intensifying concerns in his party that fundamental democratic principles are at risk and reinforcing a broader sense that the president is faltering at a moment of historic consequence.
“People are feeling like they’re getting less than they bargained for when they put Biden in office. There’s a lot of emotions, and none of them are good,” said Quentin Wathum-Ocama, president of the Young Democrats of America. “I don’t know if the right word is ‘apoplectic’ or ‘demoralized.’ We’re down. We’re not seeing the results.”
The strength of Biden’s support will determine whether Democrats maintain threadbare majorities in Congress beyond this year or whether they will cede lawmaking authority to a Republican Party largely controlled by former President Donald Trump. Already, Republicans in several state legislatures have taken advantage of Democratic divisions in Washington to enact far-reaching changes to state election laws, abortion rights and public health measures in line with Trump’s wishes.
If Biden cannot unify his party and reinvigorate his political coalition, the GOP at the state and federal levels will almost certainly grow more emboldened, and the red wave that shaped a handful of state elections last year could fundamentally shift the balance of power across America in November’s midterm elections.
For now, virtually none of the groups that fueled Biden’s 2020 victory are happy.
Young people are frustrated that he hasn’t followed through on vows to combat climate change and student debt. Women are worried that his plans to expand family leave, child care and universal pre-K are stalled as abortion rights erode and schools struggle to stay open. Moderates in both parties who once cheered Biden’s centrist approach worry that he’s moved too far left. And voters of color, like those across Biden’s political base, are furious that he hasn’t done more to protect their voting rights.
“We mobilized to elect President Biden because he made promises to us,” Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, told The Associated Press, citing Biden’s pledge to address police violence, student loan debt, climate change and voter suppression, among other issues.
“We need transformative change — our very lives depend on it,” Bush said. “And because we haven’t seen those results yet, we’re frustrated — frustrated that despite everything we did to deliver a Democratic White House, Senate and House of Representatives, our needs and our lives are still not being treated as a top priority. That needs to change.”
Facing widespread frustration, the White House insists Biden is making significant progress, especially given the circumstances when he took office.
“President Biden entered office with enormous challenges — a once-in-a-generation pandemic, economic crisis and a hollowed-out federal government. In the first year alone, he has delivered progress on his promises,” said Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to the president. He pointed to more than 6 million new jobs, 200 million vaccinated Americans, the most diverse Cabinet in US history and the most federal judges confirmed a president’s first year since Richard Nixon.
Richmond also highlighted historic legislative accomplishments Biden signed into law — specifically, a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that sent $1,400 checks to most Americans and a subsequent $1 trillion infrastructure package that will fund public works projects across every state in the nation for several years.
In an interview, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading voice in the Democratic Party’s left wing, described Biden’s pandemic relief package as among the most significant pieces of legislation ever enacted to help working people.
“But a lot more work needs to be done,” he said.
Like other Biden allies, Sanders directed blame for the president’s woes at two Senate Democrats: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. They are blocking the president’s plan to protect voting rights by refusing to bypass the filibuster, having already derailed Biden’s “Build Back Better” package, which calls for investments exceeding $2 trillion for child care, paid family leave, education and climate change, among other progressive priorities.
“It has been a mistake to have backroom conversations with Manchin and Sinema for the last four months, or five months,” Sanders said. “Those conversations have gotten nowhere. But what they have done is demoralize tens of millions of Americans.”
About 7 in 10 Black Americans said they approved of Biden in December, compared with roughly 9 in 10 in April. Among Hispanics, support dipped to roughly half from about 7 in 10.
Just half of women approved of Biden last month compared to roughly two-thirds in the spring.
There was a similar drop among younger voters: Roughly half of Americans under 45 approved of the president, down from roughly two-thirds earlier in the year. The decline was similar among those age 45 and older. And among independents, a group that swung decidedly for Biden in 2020, just 40 percent of those who don’t lean toward a party approved of Biden in December, down from 63 percent in April.
“Biden is failing us,” said John Paul Mejia, the 19-year-old spokesman for the Sunrise Movement, a national youth organization focused on climate change. “If Biden doesn’t use the time he has left with a Democratic majority in Congress to fight tooth and nail for the promises that he was elected on, he will go down in history as a could-have-been president and ultimately a coward who didn’t stand up for democracy and a habitable planet.


North Korea, after harsh 2-year lockdown, slowly reopens border

North Korea, after harsh 2-year lockdown, slowly reopens border
Updated 14 sec ago

North Korea, after harsh 2-year lockdown, slowly reopens border

North Korea, after harsh 2-year lockdown, slowly reopens border
SEOUL: After spending two years in a strict lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea may finally be opening up — slowly. The reason could reflect a growing sense of recognition by the leadership that the nation badly needs to win outside economic relief.
The North’s tentative reopening is seen in the apparent resumption of North Korean freight train traffic into neighboring China. But it comes even as Pyongyang has staged several weapons tests, the latest being two suspected ballistic missiles on Thursday, and issued a veiled threat about resuming tests of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles targeting the American homeland.
The apparently divided message — opening the border, slightly, on one hand, while also militarily pressuring Washington over a prolonged freeze in nuclear negotiations — likely signals a realization that the pandemic has worsened an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions over North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles.
According to South Korean estimates, North Korea’s crucial trade with its ally China shrank by about 80 percent in 2020 before plunging again by two-thirds in the first nine months of 2021 as it sealed its borders.
The partial reopening of the border also raises questions about how North Korea plans to receive and administer vaccines following a yearlong delay in its immunization campaign.
“North Korea could end up being the planet’s last battlefield in the war against COVID-19. Even the poorest countries in Africa have received outside aid and vaccines or acquired immunity through infection, but North Korea is the only country in the world without a real plan,” said analyst Lim Soo-ho at Seoul’s Institute of National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s main spy agency.
Commercial satellite images indicate that the first North Korean freight train that crossed the Yalu River last week then returned from China and unloaded cargo at an airfield in the border town of Uiju, according to the North Korea-focused 38 North website. The airfield is believed to have been converted to disinfect imported supplies, which may include food and medicine.
China’s Foreign Ministry has said trade between the border towns will be maintained while pandemic controls stay in place. But South Korean officials say it isn’t immediately clear whether the North is fully reopening land trade with China, which is a major economic lifeline.
Some South Korean media have speculated North Korea may have temporarily reopened the railroad between Sinuiju and China’s Dandong just to receive food and essential goods meant as gifts for its people during important holidays, including the 80th birth anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un’s father next month, and the 110th birth anniversary in April of his grandfather who founded North Korea.
Many experts, however, say it’s more likely that the pandemic’s economic strain is forcing North Korea to explore a phased reopening of its borders that it could quickly close if greater risks emerge.
Following two years of extreme isolation and economic decay, Pyongyang’s leadership is looking for more sustainable ways to deal with a pandemic that could last years.
While North Korea has so far claimed zero virus infections, it also calls its antivirus campaign a matter of “national existence.” It has severely restricted cross-border traffic and trade, banned tourists and kicked out diplomats, and is even believed to have ordered troops to shoot-on-sight any trespassers.
Pyongyang’s leadership knows that a major COVID-19 outbreak would be devastating because of North Korea’s poor health care system and may even fan social unrest when combined with its chronic food shortage, experts say.
South Korean officials have said that North Korea established disinfection zones in recent months at border towns and seaports. The World Health Organization said in October that the North had started receiving shipments of medical supplies transported by sea from China through its port of Nampo.
The pandemic is another difficulty for Kim, who gained little from his nuclear disarmament-for-aid diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump. Those talks imploded in 2019.
Kim in 2020 acknowledged that his previous economic plans weren’t working and opened 2021 by issuing a new development plan for the next five years.
But North Korea’s review of its 2021 economy during a December ruling party meeting indicated that the first year of the plan was disappointing, Lim said. A rare piece of tangible progress was a modest increase in food production, which rebounded from a 2020 marked by crop-killing storms and floods.
North Korea’s resumed trade with China will be driven by imports. Most of North Korea’s major export activities are blocked under international sanctions tightened since 2016 after Kim accelerated nuclear and missile development.
The North may focus on importing fertilizer to boost food production. It also needs construction materials for development projects important to Kim. Factory goods and machinery are crucial to revive industrial production, which has been decimated by two years of halted trade.
Experts, however, still expect North Korea’s trade with China to be significantly smaller than pre-pandemic levels.
North Korea can’t immediately purchase a huge amount of goods because the multiyear toll of sanctions and pandemic-related difficulties has thinned out foreign currency reserves.
“Still, it’s clear that North Korea isn’t a country that can survive without imports for two or three years, so it’s certain they will attempt to slowly increase imports within a limited scope,” said Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
North Korea has so far shunned millions of vaccine shots offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, possibly reflecting an unease toward accepting international monitors. But the country may still seek help from China and Russia to inoculate workers, officials and troops in border areas as it proceeds with a phased resumption of trade, said Hong Min, an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.
North Korea may also be forced to adopt a scaled-back vaccination program by tightly restricting access to border areas and providing regular testing and vaccination for border workers.
“It could take nearly 100 million shots to fully vaccinate the North Korean population of more than 25 million, and the country will never get anything close to that,” Lim said.

Biden to address US crime wave in New York visit

Biden to address US crime wave in New York visit
Updated 27 January 2022

Biden to address US crime wave in New York visit

Biden to address US crime wave in New York visit
  • Biden faces pressure from the right, which blames him for presiding over rising disorder

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will address the soaring US crime wave during a trip next week to New York, where five police officers have been shot this year, the White House said Wednesday.
Rising urban violence is a major political liability for the Democrat, with a January study by the Council on Criminal Justice showing homicides in 22 cities increased five percent in 2021 — and a whopping 44 percent over 2019 levels.
Biden will meet next Thursday with Mayor Eric Adams, who took over the Big Apple at the start of the year and was immediately confronted with a spate of high-profile crimes. Two police officers have been killed and three others wounded just this month.
And the city has been unsettled by a series of other violent crimes this month, including another shooting in which a 19-year-old Puerto Rican woman was killed at the fast food restaurant where she worked.
They will “discuss the administration’s comprehensive strategy to combat gun crime, which includes historic levels of funding for cities and states to put more cops on the beat and invest in community violence prevention and intervention programs, as well as stepped up federal law enforcement efforts against illegal gun traffickers,” the White House said.
The crime wave — which still leaves US cities far safer than they were in the 1990s — has been connected by experts to a combination of social disruption linked to the Covid-19 pandemic and fallout for police departments in the aftermath of a spate of botched arrests in which Black people were killed or badly injured.
Biden faces pressure from the right, which blames him for presiding over rising disorder, and from the left, which has campaigned for police reforms — at times, going as far as the “defund the police” movement.
Biden has stressed the need to control the flow of unregistered weapons, such as so-called ghost guns that cannot be traced after use in a crime.
Adams, himself a former police officer, said in a statement also posted to Twitter Wednesday, “Public safety is my administration’s highest priority, and we welcome the opportunity to display to President Biden how federal and local governments can coordinate and support each other in this fight to keep New Yorkers safe.”
And he echoed Biden’s message earlier this week when he called gun violence “a public health crisis.”
The mayor, a Democrat, has proposed more aggressive policing, with deployment of undercover officers.
According to a Pew Research poll last year, some 30 percent of Americans say they own a firearm.


Moderna begins trial of omicron-specific vaccine booster

Moderna begins trial of omicron-specific vaccine booster
Updated 27 January 2022

Moderna begins trial of omicron-specific vaccine booster

Moderna begins trial of omicron-specific vaccine booster
  • The booster specifically targeting omicron will therefore be evaluated as both a third and a fourth dose

WASHINGTON: US biotech company Moderna announced on Wednesday that it has begun clinical trials of a booster dose of vaccine designed specifically to combat the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The trials will involve a total of 600 adults — half of whom have already received two doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine at least six months ago, and half of whom have received two doses plus the previously authorized booster dose.
The booster specifically targeting omicron will therefore be evaluated as both a third and a fourth dose.
The company also reported results on the efficacy against omicron of the booster that has already been authorized.
It said that six months after the booster injection, the levels of neutralizing antibodies against omicron were reduced by six times from the peak observed 29 days after the injection — but remained detectable in all participants.
These data were obtained by studying the blood of 20 people who received the 50 microgram booster, half the amount of the first two injections.
“We are reassured by the antibody persistence against omicron at six months after the currently authorized” booster, Moderna chief executive Stephane Bancel said in the statement.
“Nonetheless, given the long-term threat demonstrated by omicron’s immune escape, we are advancing our omicron-specific variant vaccine booster candidate and we are pleased to begin this part of our Phase 2 study,” Bancel continued.
Moderna’s statement came the day after rivals Pfizer and BioNTech said they had begun enrollment for a clinical trial for an omicron-specific vaccine.
Both vaccines are based on messenger RNA technology, which makes it relatively easy to update them to keep up with mutations specific to new variants.
Several countries, including the United States, have begun to see a decline in cases associated with the infection wave caused by omicron, the most transmissible variant detected so far, but the number of infections worldwide continues to rise.


Muslim boy referred to UK government anti-extremist program

The boy, who was struggling with his homework, was referred to Prevent anti-extremism program after he was overheard saying he wished school would burn down. (Shutterstock)
The boy, who was struggling with his homework, was referred to Prevent anti-extremism program after he was overheard saying he wished school would burn down. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 January 2022

Muslim boy referred to UK government anti-extremist program

The boy, who was struggling with his homework, was referred to Prevent anti-extremism program after he was overheard saying he wished school would burn down. (Shutterstock)
  • Mother criticized decision and said: ‘Being a brown, Muslim, Asian boy does not make you a terrorist’
  • An investigation into the incident found no evidence of links to extremism and no further action was taken

LONDON: An 11-year-old boy from a Muslim family was referred to a UK government anti-extremism program, called Prevent, after telling a friend that he hoped his school would burn down.

His mother told The Guardian newspaper: “Being a brown, Muslim, Asian boy does not make you a terrorist.”

She admitted that her son’s comments were unacceptable but added that they were “isolated” and the result of stress. The child is said to suffer from anxiety.

An investigation by the boy’s school into the incident found no evidence of any links to extremist groups or prior instances of radical rhetoric.

“Prevent guidance places clear emphasis on appropriateness and proportionality,” his mother said.

The Prevent officer who examined the case decided not to take any further action but, as per protocol, the boy’s personal information was due to be logged for six years in a police counterterrorism database until his mother intervened.

She also complained to the school, in the north of England, that she had not been informed about the incident or the referral, and is set to receive an apology.

“I was told by the Prevent officer that the matter would not be taken any further as it looked like a matter related to an 11-year-old boy struggling with school,” she said. “My son had become so unhappy and stressed about the demands placed on him relating to homework.”

She added that she had to fight to have her son’s name removed from the counterterrorism database, she added.

“I’ve achieved a partial victory because the police have agreed to remove his name from their database but I am seeking further information from his files, which are held by the UK Home Office,” she said.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Prevent is a safeguarding program helping people to turn away from radicalization. Prevent referral data is only held temporarily by the police, and parents or carers can request for it to be deleted sooner, where appropriate.

“All data is kept completely confidential, other than where a serious security risk emerges. Information and guidance on the use of, and access to, the central Prevent referral database is owned by the police and not by the Home Office.”


France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law

France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law
Updated 26 January 2022

France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law

France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law
  • Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would shut down "Nantes Révoltée", a local media platform, which had relayed information about the protest
  • The government has been making increasing use of powers to shut down organisations or groups

PARIS: The French government said this week it was closing down an activist-run media outlet and a Muslim website deemed at odds with “national values“
This is the latest in a series of steps that rights groups and lawyers say infringe on democratic freedoms.
Following a violent protest against the extreme right in Nantes, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would shut down “Nantes Révoltée,” a local media platform, which had relayed information about the protest.
Days earlier, he had announced plans to close the website “La Voie Droite,” which publishes Islamic religious content.
The government has been making increasing use of powers to shut down organizations or groups. In the last two years, there have been 12 such shutdowns, an uptick from seven between 2016 and 2019, according to French public records.
Before dissolving an association, the Ministry of Interior informs the concerned party, which has 15 days to reply with its counter-arguments. Then, once the decree is published, the organization can take the case to the Council of State, an administrative court.
To date, Nante Révoltée says it has not received any communication from the Ministry of Interior regarding its closure.
Of the organizations shut by decree since January 2020, seven are Muslim-related, including associations to run mosques, a humanitarian organization and anti-Islamophobia groups, the records show. Three far-right groups have been closed.
Announcing the plan to close “Nantes Révoltée” to MPs in the French parliament on Tuesday, Darmanin described it as an “ultra-left” group that had repeatedly called for violence against the state and the police in the run-up to the weekend protest, at which three people were arrested, shop windows were broken and fights broke out.
Raphael Kempf, a lawyer for Nantes Révoltée, said that a website sharing information on an event could not be held responsible for what happens there.
“We are seeing a government that is using this legal tool to attack voices that criticize them,” says Kempf, adding that the government now has enhanced powers under 2021 legislation that makes inciting violence grounds for dissolution. Previously the groups had to themselves be armed or violent.
CRITICAL VOICES
The 2021 legislation was introduced in response to violent attacks that France has seen in recent years, including the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in 2020 and the 2015 attacks on Paris that killed 130 people.
But some lawyers and campaign groups say the authorities are overreaching to muzzle critical voices and target anyone practicing a form of Islam not approved by the state.
During a TV interview on Sunday, Darmanin announced the Islamic website “La Voie Droite” would be closed using the 2021 legislation for “content inciting for hatred and calling for jihad.”
La Voie Droite denied publishing such content, saying in a statement that “when we encourage Muslims to respect the texts, it is opposed to any type of threat or legitimation of violence.”
The French Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
In another step that has alarmed some rights groups, the French government has ramped up censorship of content on the Internet deemed to be terrorist-related or justifying violence under a 2014 law. Officials say that is necessary to stem violent attacks.
Noémie Levain, a lawyer with digital rights organization La Quadrature du Net, said these powers were open to abuse.
“The decision-making process is opaque,” she said. “[The police] can designate something Muslim as problematic even if it is not violent, they can do the same with something activist that is calling to protest.”