Biden implores voters to save democracy from lies, violence

Biden implores voters to save democracy from lies, violence
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on preserving and protecting Democracy at Union Station on November 2, 2022 in Washington, DC. (AFP)
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Updated 03 November 2022

Biden implores voters to save democracy from lies, violence

Biden implores voters to save democracy from lies, violence
  • Biden asked voters to “think long and hard about the moment we are in”

WASHINGTON: Warning that democracy itself is in peril, President Joe Biden called on Americans Wednesday night to use their ballots in next week’s midterm elections to stand up against lies, violence and dangerous “ultra MAGA” election disruptors who are trying to “succeed where they failed” in subverting the 2020 elections.
This is no time to stand aside, he declared. “Silence is complicity.”
After weeks of reassuring talk about America’s economy and inflation, Biden turned to a darker, more urgent message, declaring in the final days of midterm election voting that the nation’s system of governance is under threat from former President Donald Trump’s election-denying lies and the violence Biden said they inspire.
The president singled out “ultra MAGA” Republicans — a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan — calling them a minority but “driving force” of the Republican Party.
Pointing in particular to last Friday’s attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Biden said that Trump’s false claims about a stolen election have “fueled the dangerous rise of political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years.”
“There’s an alarming rise in the number of people in this country condoning political violence or simply remaining silent,” Biden added. “In our bones we know democracy is at risk, but we also know this: It’s in our power to preserve our democracy.”
The president’s speech — focused squarely on the rite of voting and the counting of that vote — amounted to a plea for Americans to step back from the inflamed rhetoric that has heightened fears of political violence and challenges to the integrity of the elections. Biden was straddling two roles, speaking as both a president defending the pillars of democracy and a Democrat trying to boost his party’s prospects against Republicans.
He called out the hundreds of candidates who have denied the 2020 election result and now refuse to commit to accepting the results of the upcoming midterms.
“This driving force is trying to succeed where they failed in 2020 to suppress the rights of voters and subvert the electoral system itself,” Biden said.
“That is the path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And it is un-American.”
The speech came days after a man seeking to kidnap House Speaker Pelosi severely injured her husband, Paul Pelosi, in their San Francisco home in the worst recent example of the political violence that burst forth with the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol and has continued with alarming, though less-spectacular incidents.
Election workers nationwide have questioned whether to go back to work following increased intimidation and harassment ahead of Election Day. At least five people have been charged with federal crimes for harassing workers as early voting has gotten underway.
Reports of people watching ballot boxes in Arizona, sometimes armed or wearing ballistic vests, have raised serious concerns about voter intimidation. Election officials nationwide are bracing for confrontations at polling sites. A flood of conspiracy theorists have signed up to work as partisan poll watchers.
Emphasizing that it is the first federal election since the Capitol riot and Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Biden called on voters to reject candidates who have denied the results of the vote, which even Trump’s own administration declared to be free of any widespread fraud or interference.
Biden asked voters to “think long and hard about the moment we are in.”
“In a typical year, we are not often faced with the question of whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put it at risk,” he said. “But we are this year.”
“I hope you’ll make the future of our democracy an important part of your decision to vote and how you vote,” Biden added, asking Americans to consider whether the candidates they are supporting would respect the will of the people and accept the outcome of their election.
“The answer to that question is vital and in my opinion it should be decisive,” he said.
Biden also aimed to get ahead of conspiracy theories about the ongoing vote, saying Americans were voting early, by mail and by absentee ballot and it would take time to tally them “in a legal and orderly manner.” Major changes in voting in 2020 because of the pandemic prompted more early voting and mail-in voting and saw record turnout. It took five days before the results of the 2020 presidential election were final.
“It is important for citizens to be patient,” Biden said.
Some Republicans sharply criticized Biden’s remarks. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who stands to be speaker of the House if the GOP retakes control of the chamber, tweeted, “President Biden is trying to divide and deflect at a time when America needs to unite— because he can’t talk about his policies that have driven up the cost of living. The American people aren’t buying it.”
Biden delivered his remarks from Washington’s Union Station, blocks from the US Capitol, just six days before polls close on Nov. 8 and as more than 27 million Americans have already cast their ballots.
Before the speech, US Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said he’s reviewed the attack on Pelosi’s husband and believes today’s political climate calls for more resources and better security for members of Congress after a massive increase in threats to lawmakers following the Capitol riot. He also made a rare call to stop the rancorous conspiracy talk that has swirled around the attack.
“Our brave men and women are working around the clock to meet this urgent mission during this divisive time,” he said in a statement. “In the meantime, a significant change that will have an immediate impact will be for people across our country to lower the temperature on political rhetoric before it’s too late.”
Biden last delivered a prime-time speech on what he called the “continued battle for the soul of the nation” on Sept. 1 outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, in which he condemned the “MAGA forces” of Trump and his adherents as a threat to America’s system of government.
The new remarks come as hundreds of candidates who have falsely denied the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election are on ballots across the country, with many poised to be elected to critical roles overseeing elections.
In contrast to the September remarks, which drew criticism from some corners for being paid for by taxpayers, Biden’s Wednesday night speech was hosted by the Democratic National Committee.
Many Americans remain pessimistic about the state of US democracy. An October poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that just 9 percent of adults think democracy is working “extremely” or “very well,” while 52 percent say it’s not working well.


Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital

Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital
Updated 8 sec ago

Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital

Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital
MOSCOW: Russia’s defense ministry on Saturday accused the Ukrainian army of striking a hospital in the eastern Lugansk region, leaving 14 dead and injuring 24 others.
On Saturday morning in the town of Novoaidar, “the Ukrainian armed forces deliberately attacked the building of a district hospital” with a US-made HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system, the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry added that 14 were killed and 24 wounded among the “hospital patients and medical staff.”
It said that the hospital has been providing “necessary medical assistance to the local population and military personnel for many months.”
“A deliberate missile strike on a known active civilian medical facility is, without doubt, a grave war crime by the Kyiv regime,” the ministry said.

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police
Updated 28 January 2023

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

NEW DELHI: Two Indian Air Force fighter jets crashed Saturday in an apparent mid-air collision while on exercises around 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of the capital New Delhi, police at the crash site told AFP.
Both aircraft had taken off in the morning from the Gwailor air base, around 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of where they came down.
“We have located the wreckage of one of the planes and found an injured pilot in the Pahadgarh forests,” officer Dharmender Gaur told AFP from the scene of the crash.
“The other plane has likely fallen further away from the site and we have sent teams to locate it.”
The air force was investigating whether the planes had collided in mid-air, local broadsheet the Hindustan Times reported.
The Su-30 was carrying two pilots and the Mirage jet had one on takeoff, according to the report.
“I have instructed the local administration to cooperate with the air force in quick rescue and relief work,” Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted.
“I pray to god that the pilots of the planes are safe.”
The crash is the latest in a string of aviation accidents involving India’s military air fleet.
Five army soldiers were killed last October when their helicopter crashed in Arunachal Pradesh state, near the country’s militarised and disputed border with China.
It was the second military chopper crash in the state that month, coming weeks after a Cheetah helicopter came down near the town of Tawang, killing its pilot.
India’s defense chief, General Bipin Rawat, was among 13 people killed when his Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter crashed while transporting him to an air force base in December 2021.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is grappling with the urgent task of overhauling India’s outdated armed forces.
Its military establishment is fretting over a growing assertiveness by China along its vast Himalayan frontier, which in 2019 sparked a lingering diplomatic freeze after a deadly high-altitude confrontation between troops of both countries.
India unveiled its first locally built aircraft carrier last year as part of government efforts to build an indigenous defense industry and reduce reliance on Russia, historically its most important arms supplier.
An effort to reform military recruitment to trim down India’s bloated defense payroll stalled last year after a backlash from aspiring soldiers, who burned train carriages and clashed with police in fierce protests.

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Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
Updated 28 January 2023

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
  • “I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” says US Air Mobility Command chief
  • Says Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer China an excuse for military aggression

WASHINGTON: A four-star US Air Force general has warned of a conflict with China as early as 2025 — most likely over Taiwan — and urged his commanders to push their units to achieve maximum operational battle readiness this year.
In an internal memorandum that first emerged on social media on Friday, and was later confirmed as genuine by the Pentagon, the head of the Air Mobility Command, General Mike Minihan, said the main goal should be to deter “and, if required, defeat” China.
“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” Minihan said.
Laying out his reasoning, Minihan said Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer Chinese President Xi Jinping an excuse for military aggression, while the United States would be distracted by its own contest for the White House.
“Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025,” he added.
The memorandum also calls on all Mobile Command personnel to go to the firing range, “fire a clip” into a target and “aim for the head.”
A Pentagon spokesperson responded to an AFP email query about the memo saying, “Yes, it’s factual that he sent that out.”
Senior US officials have said in recent months that China appears to be speeding up its timeframe to seize control of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.
China staged major military exercises in August last year, seen as a trial run for an invasion after a defiant visit of solidarity to Taipei by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who at the time was second in line to the White House.
The United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but sells weapons to Taiwan for its self-defense.
A growing number of US lawmakers have called for ramping up assistance, including sending direct military aid to Taiwan, saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscores the need for early preparation.
 


Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
Updated 28 January 2023

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
  • Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Friday named his former top Covid-19 aide Jeff Zients to White House chief of staff — one of the most crucial positions in an administration gearing up for a likely re-election campaign.
Zients replaces Ron Klain, who saw Biden through the first two years of his term in the post, arguably the most powerful behind-the-scenes job in any US administration. The swap will take place on February 8, a day after Biden delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.
The departure of Klain, who has worked with Biden throughout his decades-long Washington career — from senator to vice president, then victor over Donald Trump in 2020 — will deprive the 80-year-old president of an especially close, trusted aide.
Chiefs of staff do everything from managing access to the president, setting his agenda, communicating with political power brokers and acting as a constant crisis manager and sounding board for ideas.
“During the last 36 years, Ron and I have been through some real battles together. And when you’re in the trenches with somebody for as long as I have been with Ron, you really get to know the person. You see what they’re made of,” Biden said in a statement.
Klain is credited with masterminding the intricate, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the White House and lawmakers in Congress that has seen Biden get a string of landmark bills passed, often against expectations in the last two years.
Until November’s midterm elections, Democrats held a razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress and Klain was instrumental in preventing the various party factions from splitting at key moments.
On Twitter, Biden described Klain as a “once in a generation talent with fierce intellect and heart.”

Zients, who oversaw the vast Covid-19 pandemic response when Biden took office, is considered a skilled technocrat, who does not have the deep political connections of Klain but will aim to make sure that the earlier legislative victories are followed through.
“A big task ahead is now implementing the laws we’ve gotten passed efficiently and fairly,” Biden said.
“When I ran for office, I promised to make government work for the American people. That’s what Jeff does,” Biden said. “I’m confident that Jeff will continue Ron’s example of smart, steady leadership.”
Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024.
Zients will also be taking over just as Republicans flex their muscles in the House of Representatives, where they won their own tiny majority in November. With the hard-right of the party in the ascendant, Biden is due to face a series of aggressive investigations into his policies and the business activities of his son Hunter.
Biden is also currently embroiled in a Justice Department probe after the discovery of a small number of classified documents in his house and at a former office. The White House says the documents were accidentally mislaid after Biden’s time as vice president to Barack Obama.
Trump is also under investigation for handling secret documents, although in his case they number in the hundreds and the Republican repeatedly refused to cooperate with authorities on the matter.

 


Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
Updated 28 January 2023

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
  • Jullebee Ranara’s charred remains were discovered in a desert in Kuwait on Sunday
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases

MANILA: The murder of a Filipina worker whose body was found in a desert in Kuwait has sent a shockwave through the Philippines, where a two-week vigil will begin after her remains return to the country on Friday.

Jullebee Ranara, 35, was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers — mostly women employed as domestic helpers — living in Kuwait.

Her charred remains were discovered in a desert on Sunday. Kuwaiti media reported that she was pregnant and had been subjected to blunt-force trauma. The 17-year-old son of her employer has been arrested by Kuwaiti police on murder charges.

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople declined to comment on the causes of Ranara’s death until after the National Bureau of Investigation has conducted an autopsy.  

“There are many speculations as to the cause of death and motives behind it. The family has requested for an autopsy,” she said in a media briefing on Friday.

“What is important is the police acted quickly. The primary suspect is under the custody of the Kuwaiti police, and we are closely monitoring the case.”

A vigil for Ranara is going to begin after her remains are repatriated on Friday evening.

“We are hopeful that her wake will start by Sunday,” Ople told reporters.

“According to the husband, they would like the wake scheduled for two weeks to give time for relatives and friends who are in the province to pay their respect.”

The news of her death was “dreadful” for former OFWs like Maria Nida Dizon.

“What they did to her is inhuman. She went to Kuwait to work, carrying in her suitcase every hope for a better life, only to meet a gruesome death,” she told Arab News.     

FASTFACT

In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases.

“Based on my own experience, protection for OFWs, especially when it comes to our rights, is hardly felt by migrant workers. There is no guarantee that justice will be given to them when they get abused.”

Dizon, who used to work in the UAE, did not think that Ranara’s case would deter Philippine workers from seeking employment abroad, where they can earn much more than at home.

“Many cases of abuse have been reported, but our countrymen still want to try (to work abroad), especially women, mothers mostly,” she said.

“They think that they can help the family more if they work outside.”

While the migrant workers secretary said Philippine authorities would work with Kuwait to introduce better screening and accreditation mechanisms for employers, Rick Hernandez, a local administration worker in Manila, was now sure he would prevent his family members from working as domestic helpers abroad.

“A lot of Filipinos, especially our women, are willing to brave harsh climes and abusive employers just to provide for their loved ones,” he said.

“As a father and husband, I would rather starve here rather than send my daughter or wife to toil as menials in a faraway country.”   

Kuwait’s Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh Al-Thwaikh said on Friday that Kuwaiti society was also “shocked and saddened” by the incident.

“Our justice system will not lose sight in ensuring justice for Mrs. Ranara,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Ople.

“We assure you that such an incident is an isolated case.”

Ranara’s murder, however, was not the first such incident in Kuwait that shook the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment.     

The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers.   

In May 2019, Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another one, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured by her employer to death.   

The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging.