Washington, Jan 23 (IANS) US President Joe Biden has signed two executive orders, one to expand food assistance to low-income Americans, and the other to raise minimum wage to $15 for federal employees.
"We need to tackle the growing hunger crisis in American," Xinhua news agency quoted Biden as saying before signing the orders on Friday.
He noted that one in seven households in America, more than one in five Black and Latino households in America, report they do not have enough food to eat.
That includes 30 million adults and as many as 12 million children, the President continued.
With the signing of one of the executive orders, the Department of Agriculture will consider taking immediate steps to make it easier for the hardest hit families to enrol and claim more generous benefits in the critical food and nutrition assistance areas, he said.
The order would also increase Pandemic-EBT, an electronic debit card program for students who would have qualified for free or reduced-price meals at school.
The second order Biden signed is to improve collecting bargaining power and protections for federal workers, and direct the Office of Personnel Management to develop recommendations to increase the minimum wage for federal employees to $15 per hour.
Biden also highlighted the need for the Congress to roll out more sweeping aid, saying that the $1.9 trillion 'American Rescue Plan' he proposed last week has gained support from bipartisan economists and Wall Street analysts.
The package includes over $400 billion to combat the pandemic directly such as more funding for testing and vaccine distribution; roughly $1 trillion in direct relief to households; and over $400 billion for hard-hit small businesses and communities.
"We cannot, will not let people go hungry. We cannot let people get evicted because of nothing they did themselves. We cannot watch people lose their jobs. We have to act," Biden said.
"We must act decisively and boldly to grow the economy. The bottom line is this: we're in a national emergency. We've got to act like we're in a national emergency," he added.
New York, Jan 23 (IANS) The second impeachment trial of former US President Donald Trump will begin in the second week of February, although the process for it will start next week when the document with the charges will be received by the Senate and the Senators will be sworn in as jurors.
Senate Democratic Party Leader Chuck Schumer announced the schedule on Friday night after he reached a deal with the Republicans, who wanted a two-week delay in starting the trial to give Trump to prepare his defence.
He said that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will deliver the Articles of Impeachment, as the chargesheet voted by the House of Representatives is known, to the Senate on Monday and the Senators will be sworn-in as jurors the next day, but the trial itself will not start till two weeks later.
"Make no mistake, a trial will be held in the US Senate, and there will be a vote whether to convict the President," Schumer said
Impeachment is the framing of charges against an official by the House, which then holds a judicial-style trial with senators as the jury. Two-thirds of them, 67 members in the 100-member Senate, will have to vote to convict.
Last year the Senate could not convict him at his first impeachment.
Trump has been accused of inciting an "insurrection" -- the January 6 storming of the Capitol building while Congress was in the middle of counting the electoral college votes from the November 3, 2020, election and ratifying the election of Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President.
The delay in starting the trial also helps Biden, who wants his cabinet and other senior officials confirmed by the Senate and move forward his agenda to deal with the Covid-19 crisis and its economic fallout.
"The more time we have to get up and running to meet these crises, the better," he said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who made the deal for the delayed start of the trial, said that the impeachment was carried out in a "fast and minimal process" in the House.
"The sequel cannot be an insufficient senate process that denies former President Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself."
By agreeing to the delay, Schumer has undercut this argument and short-circuited an excuse that some Republicans may want to use.
The Senate is divided equally with each party having 50 members and the Democrats will have to get 17 Republicans to defect on the issue to get the two-thirds majority to convict Trump. McConnell and some Republicans have blamed Trump for the riot which left five people dead, including a police officer.
McConnell said in the Senate on Tuesday that "they were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence" to stop a function of the Congress. But he has not indicated how he would vote on the impeachment.
There have also been questions whether a president who is out of office could be impeached.
Schumer said: "I've heard some of my Republican colleagues argue that his trial would be unconstitutional because Donald Trump is no longer in office. The argument has been roundly repudiated debunked by hundreds of constitutional scholars, left, right and centre, and defies basic common sense.
"It makes no sense whatsoever that a predator could commit a heinous crime against our country, and then be permitted to resign, so as to avoid accountability and a vote to disbar them from future office." Trump's famous last words before boarding the Air Force One for the final flight to Florida was, "we will be back in some form". The aim of the impeachment would be to block Trump from running for office again.
US President Joe Biden has planned to keep Christopher Wray, appointed by his predecessor in 2017 as the FBI Director, in the same position, allowing him to continue serving out his 10-year term.
Wray was nominated by Trump in June 2017 to succeed James Comey who was abruptly fired amid the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) probe into the the former President's campaign's link with Russia, Xinhua news agency reported.
While she was queried at her first White House briefing on Wednesday about Wray's position, Biden's Press Secretary Jen Psaki did not give a direct response, adding that she had not spoken with the the President about it "in recent days", The Hill news website reported.
But in a tweet on Thursday, she said: "I caused an unintentional ripple yesterday so wanted to state very clearly President Biden intends to keep FBI Director Wray on in his role and he has confidence in the job he is doing."
The FBI director is appointed to a 10-year term, but does not necessarily serve the full term and can be fired by the President or choose to resign.
It was not immediately knows if Wray and Biden has spoken since the latter was inaugurated on Wednesday as the new President.
The Hill news report quoted an FBI official as sayingthat all interactions between the Bureau and Biden's team have been "very positive".
Biden's decision on Wray was welcomed by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who commended the FBI Director for serving with "great professionalism and integrity".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she wants to speak to the administration of new US President Joe Biden about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project that faces American sanctions.
At a press conference on Thursday, Merkel said that some transatlantic dispute, among them the Nord Stream 2 project, are still to be settled with the new US administration, Xinhua news agency.
She said that Germany and the US should "put everything on the table" and clarify the extent to which Washington can accept the project.
Such debates, she said, would now take place "on a broader foundation of shared convictions".
There is "just a broader space for political agreement with President Biden", the Chancellor added.
Washington and Berlin have long been at odds over the 1,230-km Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is designed to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea.
Former President Donald Trump has long voiced his discontentment about the project, complaining about Germany's large payment to Russia on energy and "delinquency" on military spending.
German government and officials have repeatedly condemned the US sanctions and Washington's extraterritorial administration.
At Thursday's presser, Merkel also welcomed the decrees that Biden had signed immediately after taking office and that it was once again possible to work together with the US at the World Health Organization (WHO) and on the Paris Agreement on climate change.
She said that "we can't now just count on political agreement" with Biden's administration, as there will also be discussions about "how we do things well for both countries".
"Europe will have to take on more responsibility... Not only militarily but also in the diplomatic arena and many other areas. We in Germany are ready for this and the European Union is also ready for this."
On Wednesday, Merkel congratulated Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on their inauguration through government spokesman Steffen Seibert via Twitter.
"I look forward to a new chapter of German-American friendship and cooperation," she said.
In a letter addressed to US President Joe Biden, Amazon has said that its essential workers who cannot work from home should receive the Covid- 19 vaccine at the "earliest appropriate" time.
Amazon also said that the company stands ready to assist the Biden administration in reaching the goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of the new administration, GeekWire reported on Wednesday.
"The essential employees working at Amazon fulfilment centres, AWS data centres, and Whole Foods Market stores across the country who cannot work from home should receive the Covid-19 vaccine at the earliest appropriate time," Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon's worldwide consumer business, wrote in the letter.
"We will assist them in that effort," he said.
Amazon, which has over 800,000 employees in the US, earlier faced criticism from former and current employees who had alleged that the safety measures put in place by the company to protect warehouse employees were inadequate.
However, Amazon said that it invested $10 billion to help keep employees safe and deliver products to customers throughout 2020.
Clark, in his letter to Biden, said that Amazon has an agreement in place with a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to administer vaccines on-site at Amazon facilities.
"We are prepared to move quickly once vaccines are available," he said.
"Additionally, we are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration's vaccination efforts," Clark said in the letter.
In a first phone call with a foreign leader since his inauguration as the 46th President of the US, Joe Biden will speak to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to the White House.
Addressing reporters on Wednesday shortly after Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris' inauguration, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters: "I expect they will certainly discuss the important relationship with Canada as well as (Biden's) decision on the Keystone pipeline that he announced today."
The call will take place two days after Biden signed an executive order to revoke the existing presidential permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, which would carry oil from Canada to the American Gulf Coast.
In response, Prime Minister Trudeau said that "we are disappointed but acknowledge the President's decision to fulfil his election campaign promise on Keystone XL", but "I look forward to working with President Biden to reduce pollution, combat climate change, fight Covid-19, create middle class jobs, and build back better by supporting a sustainable economic recovery for everyone".
The Keystone XL project was rejected by former President Barack Obama in 2015.
Former President Donald Trump reversed the decision in 2017 and granted a presidential permit to build the pipeline.
New York, Jan 20 (IANS) Anthony Blinken, who is President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be the secretary of state has indicated that the US would continue to back India against challenges to its sovereignty from China and work with it in the fight against terrorism.
Speaking at the confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Blinken said that cooperation in defence equipment and information sharing that had deepened under former President Barack Obama had been carried forward by Trump's administration "including its concept of Indo-Pacific and to make sure we were working with India so that no country in the region including China could challenge its sovereignty and also working with it on concerns that we share about terrorism".
He made the comment when asked by Republican Senator Mitt Romney about China's recent clashes with India.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has given strong support to India against China following the deadly clashes between the two neighbours along the Line of Actual Control in the Ladakh area last year.
"The US will stand with the people of India as they confront threats to their sovereignty and to their liberty," Pompeo said in New Delhi during a visit for the "2+2" meeting of the heads of defence and foreign relations of the two countries.
"I'm glad to say that the US and India are taking steps to strengthen our cooperation against all manner of threats, and not just those posed by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party)," he added.
China figured prominently in the marathon hearings held before Biden takes office on Wednesday in order to speed up the confirmation process.
"There is no doubt that it poses the most significant challenge of any nation" to US interests and there are "rising adversarial aspects to the relationship", Blinken said.
He gave credit to President Donald Trump for recognising the China challenge, even though he disagreed with how he went about it.
"I also believe that President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China," he said.
About the future of relations with India, Blinken said that he expected it to grow, boosted by cooperation on climate change, an issue that is a priority for the new administration.
Blinken referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's programmes for renewable energy, he said, "I think there's a very strong potential for our countries to work together in that area."
Biden has put a premium in battling climate change and has said that one of his first acts will be to have the US rejoin the Paris climate change accord, from which President Donald Trump withdrew.
He said that India's greenhouse gas emissions could catch up with China in the coming decades and, therefore, cooperation on climate change was a necessity.
The Joe Biden team has launched a Snapchat lens that will virtually take users to the Capitol Hill as the new US president is sworn-in on Wednesday.
The Snapchat lens will also play a message from Biden addressing Snapchatters: "Hey Snapchat!! It's me, Joe. Welcome to inauguration!"
"Once the inaugural lens is selected in the Snapchat reel, users can take a selfie in front of the Capitol as confetti falls from above," reports The Verge.
If users flip the camera around, they'll be greeted by a Biden Jumbotron in front of a crowd of inauguration attendees.
The lens will also direct users to a live stream of the inauguration event.
"This year's inauguration has allowed us to create new, innovative, and creative tools for Americans across the country to participate in inaugural traditions and ceremonies while staying home to keep everyone safe," said Christian Tom, digital director for the presidential inaugural committee.
"We are excited for President-elect Biden to share his message around unifying the country with folks on Snapchat and invite them to be a part of this historic inaugural," Tom was quoted as saying.
The inauguration Snapchat lens builds on the Augmented Reality (AR) technology Biden's campaign used last year for the voting process.
"We hope this tool will bring the inaugural experience to young Americans wherever they are and share it with their friends and families," Tom said.
Joe’s years in office will be enlivened by a Republican civil war, quite likely ending in a permanent split of the American Right
US President-elect Joe Biden is thrice-blessed. Not only did he win the Democratic nomination and then the presidential election but as a result of the events of January 6 — when supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump attacked Capitol Hill — he takes office when the Republican Opposition is in utter disarray and likely to stay that way for a long time. None of that was foreordained, or even very likely.
“Just days ago the media and the pundits had declared this candidacy dead,” Biden marvelled almost exactly a year ago after winning the South Carolina primary election by a landslide. It had been dead, too, until African-American voters in South Carolina gave him their overwhelming support.
It was the first primary he had won, and it put him back in the race. Two days later Biden won 10 out of 14 States on “Super Tuesday” and practically wrapped the nomination up. But if South Carolina had scheduled its primary even a few days later, he would have gone into “Super Tuesday” as a loser and probably been written off.
So he got lucky once but it was a bad year for a Democrat to be running for the presidency. Donald Trump was mocked and loathed by the rest of the world and by almost exactly half the US population but Trump’s “base” didn’t care and the US economy was in excellent shape.
The US media were doing their best to make the presidential race look exciting, because that’s what they were going to have to talk and write about through most of 2020. But the fact is that incumbent US presidents running for re-election when the economy is good almost always win.
Biden’s second stroke of luck came just 10 days before he won the South Carolina primary, when the first case of Covid-19 showed up in America. By March it was running wild, but Trump, aware that his re-election depended on a booming economy, avoiding taking any public health measures that would slow it down. Other populist leaders did the same. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been a week or two late on every pandemic-related decision and Britain’s per capita covid death toll is even worse than America’s. President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil downplayed the covid threat, as did Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary and their people paid a high price, too. But none of them were running for re-election in 2020.
Trump’s refusal to back anti-covid measures like using masks, social distancing and a countrywide lockdown were driven more by electoral concerns than ideology: Stall the economy and he could lose the election. But of course mass death will also stall the economy in the end, so he couldn’t win. He ended up with a crashed economy, 4,00,000 covid deaths and a lost election, too.
And then, incredibly, he gave Biden another gift: The assault on the Capitol Hill by his followers two weeks ago. In fact, Trump had wanted to join the thousands of hardcore followers who assembled at Capitol Hill and had told aides in the days leading up to the rally that he planned to accompany them to demonstrate his ire at Congress as it moved to certify Biden’s November election victory. But the Secret Service kept warning him that agents could not guarantee his safety if he went ahead. Trump relented and instead hunkered down at the White House to watch television images of the mob rioting he is accused of triggering.
Before that attack on Capitol Hill, Biden was facing a grim time in office, with at least 70 per cent of Republican voters and a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives seduced by Trump’s “big lie” that he really won the election by a landslide and that the Democrats had somehow “stolen” it. It was Adolf Hitler, not Joseph Goebbels, who gave the technique that name, but it still works.
“In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility,” Hitler wrote in ‘Mein Kampf (My Struggle)’: “Because...in the primitive simplicity of their minds (the great masses) more readily fall victim to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
“It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”
That is what Biden faced only two weeks ago: A nightmare time in office with the “big lie” rampant and Trump its proud purveyor. And then suddenly Trump, in his manic determination to hold onto power, sent his mob off to try a foredoomed coup in the “Temple of Democracy”, as American commentators call it. End of game. Trump is discredited even with a modest but significant proportion of his own base and a growing number of Republican office-holders are in rebellion against the party’s subservience to the “Tangerine Tyrant.” Biden’s years in office will be enlivened by a vicious Republican civil war, quite likely ending in a permanent split of the American Right. This will give Lucky Joe time to do some useful work.
(Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy and Work.’ The views expressed are personal.)
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
First the United Kingdom, now in the United States. Members of the Indian diaspora are rising to power
It is said about the Indian diaspora in the Western world, whether they are first-generation immigrants or third or even fourth-generation immigrants, that they have a humongous amount of influence compared to the size of the ‘Indian’ community in those countries. In Kamala Harris, a half-Jamaican, half-Tamilian woman, a person of partial Indian ethnicity (Harris identifies as ‘Black’ despite being raised by her Tamilian mother) is rising to one of the most powerful offices in the United States (US) and many openly predict that this role is an audition for a potential run as President very soon. Harris also speaks fluent Sanskrit and Tamil and is believed to be a distant cousin of India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. Along with Harris, we are now informed that over 20 Indian-origin members of the Biden-Harris Administration will start their jobs on January 20, and in doing so this administration has come a long way from the lily-White Trump Administration and even the Obama Administration where actor Kalpen Modi (stage name ‘Kal Penn’) was the most notable American of Indian origin. Harris however, is not the first Indian in a major office of state in a western nation, that would be the Indian-origin ministers in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel. While we in India should feel proud of the achievements of our brethren on foreign shores, many of whom have overcome institutional racism to rise to the top, we must not forget a couple of things. While many of these people might be proud of their Indian heritage, none of them owe anything to the country of their origin. Indeed, if any of them come from lower down the social ladder in India, they might even have an antithetical view and might be hostile towards India.
In fact, it is very likely that Indian-origin politicians and bureaucrats in power in the West, might use that power to put a squeeze on Indian policymaking, indeed some like US Representative Pramila Jayapal have tried doing just that. That said, global realpolitik and the western world’s need to position India as a bulwark against China might make all this posturing a moot point. The Quad alliance between Australia, Japan, the US and India is a reality that will not go away. But, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s miscalculation in supporting US President Donald Trump during his 2019 visit to Houston and Trump’s visit to India last year, might have potential after-effects for Indian policymakers going forward. And while celebrating the success of Indians in the US we must not forget a few realities that we tend to ignore. Many Indians tend to “ghettoise” when they go to the West, something clearly visible in cities like San Jose, California and Edison, New Jersey, it would be remiss of us in India to ignore this fact. It is also true that a vast majority of Indians in the western world are not just upper caste immigrants but also extremely insular. Indeed social caste mobility in India is easier than in communities who have immigrated to the West as their social outlook is stuck in the past while India has progressed.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has said that more than 58,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled into neighbouring Sudan amid military confrontation in east African country's northernmost Tigray region.
A total of 58,612 Ethiopian refugees have been registered in Sudan since military confrontations between the federal and regional forces in the Tigray region broke out in November 2020, Xinhua news agency quoted the UN agency as saying in a statement on Sunday.
According to the UNHCR, in a bid to mitigate "potential health and security risks", the UN body has been working with partners to relocate refugees to camps away from the border, and 26,864 refugees have been moved to the designated refugee camps.
The Ethiopian government is presently providing protection to nearly 1 million refugees mainly from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan, who are being hosted across 26 camps and non-camp locations.
Ethiopia's federal government has been undertaking military operations in the conflict-ridden regional since November 2020 against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
The TPLF, which used to rule the region, reportedly attacked a command base of the Ethiopian Defenve Forces.
The clash followed rising tensions between Ethiopia's ruling Prosperity Party and the TPLF, as each side accused the other of trying to destabilise the country.
Mounting differences between the two sides exacerbated in September 2020, when the Tigray regional government decided to go alone with its planned regional elections, which the country's Parliament had previously postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.