North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million

North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million
The official Korean Central News Agency said over 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. (AFP)
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Updated 19 May 2022

North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million

North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million
  • The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April

SEOUL: North Korea on Thursday reported 262,270 more suspected COVID-19 cases as its pandemic caseload neared 2 million — a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and scrambled to slow infections in its unvaccinated population.
The country is also trying to prevent its fragile economy from deteriorating further, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported since the country lacks virus tests and other health care resources and may be underreporting deaths to soften the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea’s anti-virus headquarters reported a single additional death, raising its toll to 63, which experts have said is abnormally small compared to the suspected number of coronavirus infections.
The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. Most are believed to have COVID-19, though only a few omicron variant infections have been confirmed. At least 740,160 people are in quarantine, the news agency reported.
North Korea’s outbreak comes amid a provocative streak of weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years in March. Experts don’t believe the COVID-19 outbreak will slow Kim’s brinkmanship aimed at pressuring the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections May 12 and has described a rapid spread since. Kim has called the outbreak a “great upheaval,” berated officials for letting the virus spread and restricted the movement of people and supplies between cities and regions.
Workers were mobilized to find people with suspected COVID-19 symptoms who were then sent to quarantine — the main method of curbing the outbreak since North Korea is short of medical supplies and intensive care units that lowered COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in other nations.
State media images showed health workers in hazmat suits guarding Pyongyang’s closed-off streets, disinfecting buildings and streets and delivering food and other supplies to apartment blocks.


 The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April

The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. (AFP)

Despite the vast numbers of sick people and the efforts to curb the outbreak, state media describe large groups of workers continuing to gather at farms, mining facilities, power stations and construction sites. Experts say North Korea cannot afford a lockdown that would hinder production in an economy already broken by mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons ambitions and pandemic border closures.


Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe
Updated 6 sec ago

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe
  • It’s unclear how much the former New York mayor and attorney for Trump will be willing to say
ATLANTA: Rudy Giuliani is scheduled to appear in an Atlanta courthouse to testify before a special grand jury that is investigating attempts by former President Donald Trump and others to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia.
It’s unclear how much the former New York mayor and attorney for Trump will be willing to say now that his lawyers have been informed he’s a target of the investigation. Questioning will take place behind closed doors Wednesday because the special grand jury proceedings are secret.
Yet Giuliani’s appearance is another high-profile step in a rapidly escalating investigation that has ensnared several Trump allies and brought heightened scrutiny to the desperate and ultimately failed efforts to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election win. It’s one of several investigations into Trump’s actions in office as he lays the groundwork for another run at the White House in 2024.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened her investigation after the disclosure of a remarkable Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. On the call, Trump suggested that Raffensperger could “find” the exact number of votes that would be needed to flip the election results in Georgia.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing. He has described the call as “perfect.”
Willis last month filed petitions to compel testimony from seven Trump associates and advisers. She has also said she’s considering calling Trump himself to testify, and the former president has hired a legal team in Atlanta that includes a prominent criminal defense attorney.
In seeking Giuliani’s testimony, Willis noted that he was both a personal attorney for Trump and a lead attorney for his 2020 campaign.
She recalled in a petition how Giuliani and others appeared at a state Senate committee meeting in late 2020 and presented a video that Giuliani said showed election workers producing “suitcases” of unlawful ballots from unknown sources, outside the view of election poll watchers. The claims of fraud were debunked by Georgia election officials within 24 hours. Yet Giuliani continued to make statements to the public and in subsequent legislative hearings claiming widespread election fraud using the debunked video, Willis noted in her filing.
Two of the election workers seen in the video, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, said they faced relentless harassment online and in person after it was shown at the Dec. 3 Georgia legislative hearing in which Giuliani appeared. At another hearing a week later, Giuliani said the footage showed the women “surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they are vials of heroin or cocaine.” They actually were passing a piece of candy.
Willis wrote in the court filing that Giuliani’s hearing appearance and testimony were “part of a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.”
Willis also wrote in a petition seeking the testimony of attorney Kenneth Chesebro that he worked with Giuliani to coordinate and carry out a plan to have Georgia Republicans serve as fake electors. Those 16 people signed a certificate declaring falsely that Trump had won the 2020 presidential election and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors even though Biden had won the state and a slate of Democratic electors was certified.
Giuliani’s attorneys tried to delay his appearance before the special grand jury, saying he was unable to fly due to heart stent surgery in early July.
But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s overseeing the special grand jury, said during a hearing last week that Giuliani needed to be in Atlanta on Wednesday and could travel by bus, car or train if necessary.
Other Trump allies have also been swept up in the probe. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, received a subpoena ordering him to appear for testimony on Aug. 23. Graham has challenged that subpoena, citing his protections as a member of Congress. A judge on Monday rejected that argument and said he must testify. Graham has said he’ll appeal.
Willis has indicated she is interested in calls between Graham and Raffensberger about the results in Georgia in the weeks after the election.

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
Updated 17 August 2022

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
  • Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage

LOS ANGELES: Water supplies to some US states and Mexico will be cut to avoid “catastrophic collapse” of the Colorado River, Washington officials said Tuesday, as a historic drought bites.
More than two decades of well below average rainfall have left the river — the lifeblood of the western United States — at critical levels, as human-caused climate change worsens the natural drought cycle.
Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage, and on Tuesday, the federal government said it was stepping in.
“In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the US Interior Department.
Arizona’s allocation from the river will fall by 21 percent in 2023, while Nevada will get eight percent less. Mexico’s allotment will drop by seven percent.
California, the biggest user of the river’s water and the most populous of the western states, will not be affected next year.
The Colorado River rises in the Rocky Mountains and snakes its way through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and northern Mexico, where it empties into the Gulf of California.
It is fed chiefly by snowpack at high altitudes, which melts slowly throughout the warmer months.
But reduced precipitation and the higher temperatures caused by humanity’s unchecked burning of fossil fuels means less snow is falling, and what snow exists, is melting faster.
As a consequence, there is not as much water in the river that supplies tens of millions of people and countless acres of farmland.
The states that use the water have been locked in negotiations over how to slash usage, but missed a Monday deadline to cut a deal, so Washington stepped in.
Officials in upstream states hit out Tuesday at what they saw as an unfair settlement, with California exempted from any cuts.
“It is unacceptable for Arizona to continue to carry a disproportionate burden of reductions for the benefit of others who have not contributed,” said a statement by Tom Buschatzke, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources and Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project.
Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said his department — which oversees US water supplies — was “using every resource available to conserve water and ensure that irrigators, Tribes and adjoining communities receive adequate assistance.”
“The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation,” he said.
“In turn, severe drought conditions exacerbate wildfire risk and ecosystems disruption, increasing the stress on communities and our landscapes.”
The western United States is suffering under a drought that is now in its 23rd year, the worst episode in more than 1,000 years.
That drought has left swathes of the country dry and vulnerable to hotter, faster and more destructive wildfires.
Communities served by the Colorado River, including Los Angeles, have been ordered to save water, with unpopular restrictions in place on outdoor watering.
Those restrictions are unevenly adhered to, with some lawns — especially in the plushest parts of Los Angeles and its surroundings — still remarkably green.


Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation
Updated 17 August 2022

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation

Biden signs massive climate and health care legislation
  • In a triumphant signing event at the White House, Biden pointed to the law as proof that democracy — no matter how long or messy the process — can still deliver for voters in America

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden signed Democrats’ landmark climate change and health care bill into law on Tuesday, delivering what he has called the “final piece” of his pared-down domestic agenda, as he aims to boost his party’s standing with voters less than three months before the midterm elections.
The legislation includes the most substantial federal investment in history to fight climate change — some $375 billion over the decade — and would cap prescription drug costs at $2,000 out-of-pocket annually for Medicare recipients. It also would help an estimated 13 million Americans pay for health care insurance by extending subsidies provided during the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure is paid for by new taxes on large companies and stepped-up IRS enforcement of wealthy individuals and entities, with additional funds going to reduce the federal deficit.
In a triumphant signing event at the White House, Biden pointed to the law as proof that democracy — no matter how long or messy the process — can still deliver for voters in America as he road-tested a line he will likely repeat later this fall ahead of the midterms: “The American people won, and the special interests lost.”
“In this historic moment, Democrats sided with the American people, and every single Republican in the Congress sided with the special interests in this vote,” Biden said, repeatedly seizing on the contrast between his party and the GOP. “Every single one.”
The House on Friday approved the measure on a party-line 220-207 vote. It passed the Senate days earlier with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a 50-50 tie in that chamber.
“In normal times, getting these bills done would be a huge achievement,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said during the White House ceremony. “But to do it now, with only 50 Democratic votes in the Senate, over an intransigent Republican minority, is nothing short of amazing.”
Biden signed the bill into law during a small ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House, sandwiched between his return from a six-day beachside vacation in South Carolina and his departure for his home in Wilmington, Delaware. He plans to hold a larger “celebration” for the legislation on Sept. 6 once lawmakers return to Washington.
The signing caps a spurt of legislative productivity for Biden and Congress, who in three months have approved legislation on veterans’ benefits, the semiconductor industry and gun checks for young buyers. The president and lawmakers have also responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and overwhelmingly supported NATO membership for Sweden and Finland.
With Biden’s approval rating lagging, Democrats are hoping that the string of successes will jump-start their chances of maintaining control in Washington in the November midterms. The 79-year-old president aims to restore his own standing with voters as he contemplates a reelection bid.
The White House announced Monday that it was going to deploy Biden and members of his Cabinet on a “Building a Better America Tour” to promote the recent victories. One of Biden’s trips will be to Ohio, where he’ll view the groundbreaking of a semiconductor plant that will benefit from the recent law to bolster production of such computer chips. He will also stop in Pennsylvania to promote his administration’s plan for safer communities, a visit that had been planned the same day he tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
Biden also plans to hold a Cabinet meeting to discuss how to implement the new climate and health care law.
Republicans say the legislation’s new business taxes will increase prices, worsening the nation’s bout with its highest inflation since 1981. Though Democrats have labeled the measure the Inflation Reduction Act, nonpartisan analysts say it will have a barely perceptible impact on prices.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., on Tuesday continued those same criticisms, although he acknowledged there would be “benefit” through extensions on tax credits for renewable energy projects like solar and wind.
“I think it’s too much spending, too much taxing, and in my view wrong priorities, and a super-charged, super-sized IRS that is going to be going after a lot of not just high-income taxpayers but a lot of mid-income taxpayers,” said Thune, speaking at a Chamber of Commerce event in Sioux Falls. The administration has disputed that anyone but high earners will face increased tax scrutiny, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen directing the tax agency to focus solely on businesses and people earning more than $400,000 per year for the new audits.
The measure is a slimmed-down version of the more ambitious plan to supercharge environment and social programs that Biden and his party unveiled early last year.
Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal also envisioned free prekindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and eased immigration restrictions. That crashed after centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Virginia, said it was too costly, using the leverage every Democrat has in the evenly divided Senate.
During the signing event, Biden addressed Manchin, who struck the critical deal with Schumer on the package last month, saying, “Joe, I never had a doubt” as the crowd chuckled. Later, outside the White House, Manchin said he has always maintained a “friendly relationship” with Biden and it has “never been personal” between the two, despite Manchin breaking off his negotiations with the White House last year.
“He’s a little bit more vintage than I am, but not much,” Manchin said of Biden.
Though the law is considerably smaller than their initial ambitions, Biden and Democrats are hailing the legislation as a once-in-a-generation investment in addressing the long-term effects of climate change, as well as drought in the nation’s West.
The bill will direct spending, tax credits and loans to bolster technology like solar panels, consumer efforts to improve home energy efficiency, emission-reducing equipment for coal- and gas-powered power plants, and air pollution controls for farms, ports and low-income communities.
Another $64 billion would help 13 million people pay premiums over the next three years for privately bought health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Medicare would gain the power to negotiate its costs for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for only 10 drugs. Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket prescription costs would be limited to $2,000 annually starting in 2025, and beginning next year would pay no more than $35 monthly for insulin, the costly diabetes drug.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a powerful political ally to Biden, noted during the White House ceremony that his late wife, Emily, who battled diabetes for three decades, would be “beyond joy” if she were alive today because of the insulin cap.
“Many seem surprised at your successes,” Clyburn told Biden. “I am not. I know you.”

 


Top Republican Trump critic Liz Cheney loses seat in US Congress

Top Republican Trump critic Liz Cheney loses seat in US Congress
Updated 46 min 34 sec ago

Top Republican Trump critic Liz Cheney loses seat in US Congress

Top Republican Trump critic Liz Cheney loses seat in US Congress
  • Lawmaker has become a Republican pariah in the party over her membership on the congressional panel investigating the January 6 assault on the US Capitol

JACKSON, United States: Republican rebel Liz Cheney lost her seat in Congress Tuesday to an election conspiracy theorist, but vowed to fight on and do “whatever it takes” to ensure that former president Donald Trump is never returned to power.
Once considered Republican royalty, the lawmaker from Wyoming has become a pariah in the party over her membership on the congressional panel investigating the January 6 assault on the US Capitol — and Trump’s role in fanning the flames.
“I have said since January 6 that I will do whatever it takes to ensure Donald Trump is never again anywhere near the Oval Office, and I mean it,” the Wyoming congresswoman said in a concession speech after losing her bid at reelection.
Defeat for the 56-year-old daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney in the Wyoming Republican primary marks the end of the family’s four-decade political association with one of America’s most conservative states.
The Republican nomination to contest November’s midterms instead goes to 59-year-old lawyer Harriet Hageman — Trump’s hand-picked candidate who has amplified his false claims of a “rigged” 2020 election.
In her speech Tuesday night, Cheney delivered a stark warning about the danger of Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories, urging politicians on both sides of the aisle to join her fight to protect US democracy.
Speaking at a cattle ranch near Jackson, Cheney sought to move quickly beyond her defeat, setting out what she said was “real work” of her effort to ensure Trump never regains the White House.
She blamed the former president, who is embroiled in numerous criminal and civil investigations over alleged misconduct in office, for sending the deeply-divided United States toward “crisis, lawlessness and violence” with his inflammatory rhetoric.
“No American should support election deniers, for any position of genuine responsibility, (because) their refusal to follow the rule of law will corrupt our future,” she warned.
There is already speculation that Cheney may challenge Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 — or even run as an independent — and supporters were hoping her concession speech would double up as a blueprint for her political future.
She pointedly avoided addressing the issue, but had earlier told CBS that the primary — regardless of the result — would be “the beginning of a battle that is going to continue.”
“We are facing a moment where our democracy really is under attack and under threat,” she said.
Cheney had framed her campaign as a battle for the soul of a party she is trying to save from the anti-constitutional forces of Trumpism.
She was the last of 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives who backed Trump’s second impeachment to face primary voters.
Four retired rather than seek reelection, three lost to Trump-backed opponents, and only two — California’s David Valadao and Dan Newhouse of Washington state — have made it through to November’s midterm elections.
Cheney voted in line with Trump’s positions 93 percent of the time when he was president but he didn’t pull his punches as he sought vengeance for her role in the House committee probe.
Trump has made Cheney his bete noire, calling her “disloyal” and a “warmonger,” prompting death threats that have forced her to travel with a police escort.
He called her defeat Tuesday night “a wonderful result for America.”
“Now she can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion where, I am sure, she will be much happier than she is right now,” he posted on his Truth Social platform.
During the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote in Wyoming — the first US state to grant women the right to vote, in 1869 — the congresswoman was forced to run a kind of shadow campaign, with no rallies or public events.
She even avoided the traditional election day photo op Tuesday, eschewing media at her local polling station to instead cast her ballot in nearby Jackson.
“Liz is representing the constituents that are in her mind, and they aren’t the constituents of Wyoming,” said Mary Martin, chairwoman of the Republican Party in Teton County — Cheney’s Wyoming base.
There were also elections on Tuesday in Alaska, where 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s comeback battle — to complete the term of a congressman who died in office — divided locals.
Fourteen years after rising to international fame on the losing Republican presidential ticket headed by John McCain, Palin remains popular among women as the “soccer mom” who pioneered the ultra-conservative “Tea Party” movement that paved the way for Trumpism.
But many voters blame her for abandoning her single term as governor halfway through, amid ethics complaints, and a recent poll showed her to be viewed unfavorably by 60 percent of Alaskans.
The results in Palin’s race are not expected for several days.


Chinese navy ship docks in Sri Lanka, stokes worry in India

Chinese navy ship docks in Sri Lanka, stokes worry in India
Updated 16 August 2022

Chinese navy ship docks in Sri Lanka, stokes worry in India

Chinese navy ship docks in Sri Lanka, stokes worry in India
  • The Yuan Wang 5 sailed into the Hambantota port and was welcomed by Sri Lankan and Chinese officials in the morning

HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka: A Chinese navy vessel arrived at a Beijing-built port in southern Sri Lanka on Tuesday, after its port call was earlier delayed due to apparent security concerns raised by India.

The Yuan Wang 5 sailed into the Hambantota port and was welcomed by Sri Lankan and Chinese officials in the morning. The development could spark worry in India, which views China’s rising influence in the Indian Ocean with suspicion.

Sri Lanka has referred to the Yuan Wang 5 as a “scientific research ship,” but there are fears in India that the vessel could be used to surveil the region, with multiple media reports calling it a “dual-use spy ship.”

“The Yuan Wang 5 is a powerful tracking vessel whose significant aerial reach — reportedly around 750 km — means that several ports in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh could be on China’s radar,” the Indian Express newspaper wrote.

The keenly watched developments surrounding the vessel underscore the competing interest from regional giants India and China in the small island nation. For more than a decade, Sri Lanka’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean and along one of the busiest shipping routes has seen both countries vie for influence.

Over the years, Beijing was widely seen as having an upper hand with its free-flowing loans and infrastructure investments. But Sri Lanka’s economic collapse proved an opportunity for India to gain greater sway, as New Delhi stepped in with massive financial and material assistance to its neighbor.

The ship has permission to dock in Hambantota until Aug. 22, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said last weekend. It added that China had agreed the ship would keep its identification systems on and would not carry out any research activities while in Sri Lanka waters.

“Given the geopolitical dynamics in the region and Sri Lanka’s heavy vulnerability on the economic front, Sri Lanka is playing with two fires at a diplomatic level,” said international affairs analyst Ranga Kalansooriya.

The Yuan Wang family of naval vessels serve both the Chinese missile force and the space program, which is run by the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the ruling Communist Party.

Previous official Chinese media reports have described PLA officers serving in command positions aboard the vessels in the Yuan Wang class, which may also have civilians in their crews.

China Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin dismissed concerns about the ship in a briefing Monday.

“I would like to reiterate that the marine scientific research conducted by the research ship Yuan Wang 5 conforms to international law and international common practice, and will not affect the security and economic interests of any country,” he said.