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US will reclaim its credibility to lead free world: Joe Biden

DELAWARE, Dec 28: US President-elect Joe Biden has said America under him would reclaim its credibility to lead the free world, insisting that the world faces an "enormous vacuum" without America's leadership.

Biden's remarks came as he held a meeting with his national security team to discuss different strategic challenges.

Biden said there are several pressing national security issues his administration is preparing to tackle when he takes office next month, including the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis.

“We’ve overcome incredible challenges as a nation. And we will do so again. We’ll do it by coming together. By uniting after a year of pain and loss to heal, to rebuild, and to reclaim America’s place in the world," Biden said.

"This is the work that lies ahead of us, and I know we are up to the task. We will champion liberty and democracy once more. We will reclaim our credibility to lead the free world,” he said.

He also vowed to repair the US foreign policy.

Noting that there is an enormous vacuum right now, Biden said: “We’re going to have to regain the trust and confidence of a world that has begun to find ways to work around us or without us.”

“When we consider the most daunting threats of our time, we know that meeting them requires American engagement and leadership, but also that none of them can be solved by America acting alone,” Biden said.

Climate change is one such example, he said.

The US accounts for less than 15 per cent of global carbon emissions. But without a clear, coordinated, and committed approach from the other 85 per cent of carbon emitters, the world will continue to warm, storms will continue to worsen, and climate change will continue to threaten lives and livelihoods, public health, and economies — and the very existence on the planet, he said.

“We’ve learned so painfully this year the cost of being unprepared for a pandemic that leaps borders and circles the globe. If we aren’t investing with our partners around the world in strengthening health systems everywhere, we’re undermining our ability to permanently defeat COVID-19, and we’re leaving ourselves vulnerable to the next deadly epidemic,” he said.

Nearly 334,836 people have died in the US due to the pandemic.

The President-elect said part of the discussion in the briefing focused on strategic challenges that China and Russia pose to the United States.

“And as we compete with China and hold China’s government accountable for its abuses on trade, technology, human rights, and other fronts, our position will be much stronger when we build coalitions of like-minded partners and allies to make common cause with us in defence of our shared interests and values,” he said.

“That’s how we multiply the impact of our efforts and make those efforts more sustainable. That’s the power of smart and effective American leadership,” said the president-elect.

Biden said much work needs to be done to re-invest in diplomacy after four years of pulling back from international organisations and agreements.

President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

US President-elect Joe Biden slams Donald Trump on national security

DELAWARE, Dec 28: In a scathing attack on outgoing US President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden on Monday (December 28) claimed that under the Trump administration, US government agencies in charge of national security have “incurred enormous damage.”

Biden said that those departments have been "hollowed out in personnel, capacity and in morale" during Trump regime.

Biden said, “Most notable the Department of Defence, we encountered obstruction from the political leadership. The truth is, many of the agencies that are critical to our security have incurred enormous damage.” He added that the actions of the Trump administration “makes it harder for our government to protect the American people, to defend our vital interests”.

Biden's attack on Trump administration followed a briefing from members of his national security and foreign policy agency review teams "on their findings and key challenges that the Biden-Harris administration will inherit," his transition team said before his remarks.

Biden said it is important to ensure "nothing is lost" during the transition period and asserted that his team must be given a "clear picture" of the country's force posture worldwide and operations to deter enemies, as well as "full visibility" into the budget planning underway at the Pentagon and other agencies to "avoid any window of confusion or catch-up" that can be misused by the enemies of the US.

"We have encountered roadblocks from the political leadership at the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget," Biden said. "Right now, we just aren't getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas. It's nothing short in my view of irresponsibility," he added.

Trump signs Covid-19 relief and spending bill

WEST PALM BEACH, Dec 28: Donald Trump has abruptly signed a $900 billion Covid-19 relief and spending bill, ending days of drama over his refusal to accept the bipartisan deal that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown.

Without the legislation, the government would have shut down on Tuesday and millions of Americans would have lost eviction protections and unemployment benefits. His delay in signing the bill has already allowed crucial unemployment aid programs to lapse.

Trump blindsided members of both parties and upended months of negotiations when he demanded last week that the package – already passed by the House and Senate by large margins and believed to have Trump’s support – be revised to include larger relief checks and scaled-back spending.

But on Sunday night, while vacationing in Florida, Trump released a statement saying he had signed the bill, and it was his “responsibility to protect the people of our country from the economic devastation and hardship” caused by the coronavirus.

Signing the bill into law prevents another crisis of Trump’s own creation and ends a standoff with his own party during the final days of his administration. It was unclear what, if anything, Trump accomplished with his delay, beyond angering all sides and empowering Democrats to continue their push for higher relief checks, which his own party opposes.

Trump had received the bill last Thursday and his decision to delay signing it allowed unemployment benefits for millions of Americans to expire. The lapsed benefits will not restart until the first week of January.

In the statement, Trump said he would still send a “redlined” version of the bill to Congress highlighting changes he wanted to the legislation. There is no indication Congress plans to act on these changes, in part because Trump’s presidency ends in a few weeks.

Trump ended the statement by saying “much more money is coming,” although he provided nothing to back this promise.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell welcomed Trump’s signing of the bill. “I am glad the American people will receive this much-needed assistance as our nation continues battling this pandemic,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was a “downpayment on what is needed” adding: “Now, the president must immediately call on congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000.”

Democratic lawmakers, who have a majority in the House of Representatives and have long wanted $2,000 relief checks, hope to use a rare point of agreement with Trump to advance the proposal - or at least put Republicans on record against it - in a vote on Monday afternoon.

It was not immediately clear why Trump changed his mind as his resistance to the massive legislative package promised a chaotic final stretch of his presidency.

White House officials have been tight-lipped about Trump’s thinking but a source familiar with the situation said that some advisers had urged him to relent because they did not see the point of refusing.

Republican officials were relieved that Trump had backed away from his veiled veto threat, saying it should help Republican Senate candidates David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in the Georgia runoff elections on 5 January that will determine control of the Senate.

Republican representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said too much was at stake for Trump to “play this old switcheroo game”.

“I don’t get the point,” he said. “I don’t understand what’s being done, why, unless it’s just to create chaos and show power and be upset because you lost the election.”

Washington had been reeling since Trump turned on the deal, without warning, after it had won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House had assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.

The bill laid unsigned on his desk since Christmas Day as the president, who was mostly silent through weeks of intense negotiations, spent the weekend at the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach.

Instead, he assailed the bill’s plan to provide $600 Covid-19 relief checks to most Americans – insisting it should be $2,000 – and took issue with spending included in an attached $1.4 trillion government funding bill to keep the federal government operating through September.

And already, his opposition has had consequences, as two federal programs providing unemployment aid expired on Saturday.

Lauren Bauer of the Brookings Institution had calculated that at least 11 million people would lose aid immediately as a result of Trump’s failure to sign the legislation; millions more would exhaust other unemployment benefits within weeks.

How and when people are affected by the lapse depends on the state they live in, the program they are relying on and when they applied for benefits.

In some states, people on regular unemployment insurance will continue to receive payments under a program that extends benefits when the jobless rate surpassed a certain threshold, said Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank.

About 9.5 million people, however, had been relying on the pandemic unemployment assistance program that expired altogether Saturday. That program made unemployment insurance available to freelancers, gig workers and others normally not eligible. After receiving their last checks, those recipients will not be able to file for more aid, Stettner said.

Joe Biden, who won November’s presidential election and who will be sworn in as Trump’s successor on 20 January, accused him of an “abdication of responsibility” in a statement on Saturday.

The relief bill wrangles come as the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen in the US, with medical experts joining Biden in predicting that the darkest days lay ahead.

“We very well might see a post-seasonal, in the sense of Christmas, New Year, surge,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the US head of infectious diseases, told CNN on Sunday.

United States facing 4 historic crises at once: Biden

DELAWARE, Dec 28: US President-elect Joe Biden on Sunday said that his country is facing “four historic crises at once”, adding that his team is work working hard to tackle the time-bound challenges.

“From Covid-19 and the economy to climate change and racial justice -- our nation is facing four historic crises at once. And come January, there will be no time to waste. That’s why my team and I are hard at work preparing to take action on day one,” Biden tweeted.

Hours after Biden’s tweet, President Trump officially signed the trillion dollar coronavirus relief and government spending bill, The Hill reported.

On Saturday, Biden had accused Donald Trump of “abdicating responsibility” and had pressed the outgoing President to immediately sign the Covid-19 relief bill that was pending.

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said in a statement.

Members of both parties had urged Trump to sign the USD 2.3 trillion packages, The Hill reported. Earlier, the bill was passed with bipartisan support in US Congress.

Earlier today, top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said the United States is headed for the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic in the upcoming weeks as Americans will see the effects of the holiday season.

“The reason I’m concerned and my colleagues in public health are concerned also is that we very well might see a post-seasonal, in the sense of Christmas, New Year’s, surge,” CNN quoted Fauci as saying. “We are really at a very critical point.... So I share the concern of President-elect Biden that as we get into the next few weeks, it might actually get worse,” Fauci added.

President-elect Biden last week had said that “darkest days” against coronavirus “are ahead of us, not behind us.”

The Covid-19 case total in the United States surpassed 19 million-mark on Sunday (local time), according to the US-based Johns Hopkins University, which tracks and compiles data from various sources including local authorities and media outlets.

As of 6:35 IST on Monday, Johns Hopkins University had registered 19,107,675 positive tests for the coronavirus disease in the United States. The country’s death toll, at the same time, stood at 333,069.

Trump defies Chinese warning, signs off on law on next Dalai Lama

WASHINGTON, Dec 27: US President Donald Trump has signed off on the legislation that reaffirms the right of Tibetans to choose a successor to the Dalai Lama, a move described by the Tibetan government-in-exile as a “powerful message of hope and justice” to Tibetans living in Tibet.

The United States Congress had passed the Tibet Policy and Support Act last week, provoking howls of protest from the Chinese foreign ministry that calls the legislation as an attempt to meddle in China’s affairs.

The legislation, which calls for the establishment of a US consulate in Tibet’s main city of Lhasa, also asserts the absolute right of Tibetans to choose a successor to the 14th Dalai Lama and the preservation of Tibet’s environment.

The US law that aims to build an international coalition to ensure that China does not interfere with the selection of the next Dalai comes against the backdrop of Beijing appointing its own Panchen Lama after arresting a boy Gedhun Choekyi Nyima in May 1995 who was identified by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second-most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism’s largest school. Human rights groups had called the Panchen Lama as the world’s youngest political prisoner. He was just six when he disappeared.

President Xi Jinping’s China, which regards the exiled Dalai Lama as a dangerous “splittist”, or separatist, claims that Beijing’s approval is a must for choosing the successor to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Tibetans have rejected this claim.

“This legislation sends a powerful message of hope and justice to the Tibetans inside Tibet and bolsters US support for the protection of Tibetan people’s religious freedom, human rights, environmental rights and exile Tibetan democracy like never before,” said Lobsang Sangay, president of Central Tibetan Administration in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala said in a statement.

China’s deep interest in projecting its successor to the Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders is driven by its objective to divide the world of Tibetan Buddhism, where religious leaders of all the four major schools have sought refuge sometime or other in India. The American legislation, in coordination with other countries, will try to build pressure on China to wait for the 14th Dalai Lama, who turned 85 this April, to identify his reincarnation, rather than come up with its nominee to split Tibetans.

India had settled the Dalai Lama in April 1959 and the thousands of Tibetans who followed him in the Himalayan town of Dharamshala where he has been living in exile after escaping from Tibet when it was invaded by the Chinese. There are over 80,000 Tibetans living in exile in India; 150,000 more around the world particularly in the US and Europe.

Fauci says worst of Covid-19 pandemic still to come

WASHINGTON, Dec 28: The top infectious disease expert of the United States, Dr Anthony Fauci, on Sunday said that he believes the worst of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic is yet to arrive. During an interview on CNN’s State of the Union show, Dr Fauci was asked whether he agrees with president-elect Joe Biden’s recent statement on the ongoing pandemic that the darkest days in the battle against Covid-19 is “ahead of us”.

“I do,” replied Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. “We very well might see a post-seasonal - in the sense of Christmas, New Year’s - surge,” he added.

The United States has, so far, recorded nearly 332,000 Covid-19 related deaths, and a report suggests that the country will witness a total of over 567,000 deaths by April 1, 2021. According to the predictions from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE), around 193,000 people could lose their lives over the next two months.

Earlier this week, Dr Fauci was administered with Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine as a part of a confidence-building effort by health officials. The 80-year-old immunologist said that he feels fine after receiving the first dose of the vaccine, adding that he only felt an ache in his arm that lasted around 24 hours.

“Then it went away and completely other than that, I felt no other deleterious type of effects,” he said.

The United States has rolled out two Covid-19 vaccines - one developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and the other by Moderna - for health care and frontline workers and for those at high risk. There have been concerns over the recent reports of severe allergic reactions after receiving the first dose of vaccine. However, public health experts have said that those cases as “rare” and “in line with the expectations.”

Dr Ashish K Jha, Dean, Brown University School of Public Health, pointed out that over a million people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 and less than 10 people have had allergic reactions, highlighting that one in 2,000 courses of penicillin also leads to an allergic reaction. Taking to Twitter, Dr Jha said that though it is important to determine the cause of these reactions, he was pleasantly surprised how well the immunisation drive is going so far.

14 million Americans are without jobless benefits as Trump refuses to budge on bill

WASHINGTON, Dec 27: An estimated 14 million Americans lost jobless benefits on Sunday as outgoing President Donald Trump continued to resist signing an omnibus spending legislation that provides for $900 billion in Covid-19 relief and $1.4 trillion to keep the federal government funded beyond Tuesday.

Trump is demanding $2,000 in direct payments in relief for those rendered jobless by the pandemic instead of the $600 in the bill that was proposed by his own negotiators and passed by both the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-led Senate. He is also seeking the federal spending bill to be stripped of certain expenses, including some proposed by his own administration.

Congressional leaders have signalled they will try one more time on Monday to put together a package for the president to sign.

“Increase payments to the people, get rid of the ‘pork’,” Trump tweeted on Sunday morning, shortly after the unemployment benefits lapsed. “Pork” comes from “pork barrel”, a term used to describe federal funding of local projects at the behest of members of congress.

US Congress sent the president an omnibus legislation last week proposing $900 billion in Covid-19 relief that included direct payments of $600 each to those unemployed and assistance to small businesses, airlines and funds for vaccine distribution. The $2.3 trillion package also contained $1.4 trillion to fund the federal government.

The outgoing president, who had been largely missing from the protracted negotiations that took place, suddenly announced that he won’t sign the bill as proposed unless the direct payments were hiked to $2,000 and certain expenses were not removed from the federal funding part of the legislation.

Trump’s announcement took both Democrats and Republicans by surprise. Democrats had been seeking more in direct payments and had settled for less at the insistence of Republicans and the president’s own negotiators, led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who had personally proposed the amount of $600, as the Washington Post reported.

Democrats tried to pass a legislation with the increased amount sought by the president, but Republicans blocked it. Trump has felt frustrated with some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who are unwilling to go along with his efforts to overturn the November 3 election which he lost to President-elect Joe Biden. The president wants Republican lawmakers to force Congress to reject the electoral college vote when it comes up for a final certification on January 6.

Millions of Americans risk losing jobless benefits as Trump refuses to sign aid bill

WASHINGTON, Dec 26: Millions of Americans are about to see their jobless benefits expire on Saturday as US President Donald Trump has so far refused to sign into law a $2.3 trillion pandemic aid and spending package, insisting that it did not do enough to help everyday people.

Trump stunned Republicans and Democrats alike when he said this week he was unhappy with the massive bill, which provides $892 billion in badly needed coronavirus relief, including extending special unemployment benefits expiring on Dec. 26, and $1.4 trillion for normal government spending.

Without Trump’s signature, about 14 million people could lose those extra benefits, according to Labor Department data. A partial government shutdown will begin on Tuesday unless Congress can agree a stop-gap government funding bill before then.

After months of wrangling, Republicans and Democrats agreed to the package last weekend, with the support of the White House. Trump, who hands over power to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20, did not object to terms of the deal before Congress voted it through on Monday night.

But since then he has complained that the bill gives too much money to special interests, cultural projects and foreign aid, while its one-time $600 stimulus checks to millions of struggling Americans were too small. He has demanded that be raised to $2,000.

“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” the president tweeted on Saturday.

His refusal to sign prompted sharp rebuke from Biden, who called on the outgoing Republican president to act immediately.

“This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences...This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now,” Biden said in a statement.

Americans face an unprecedented holiday season amid a pandemic that has killed nearly 330,000 people in the United States, with a daily death toll now repeatedly well over 3,000 people, the highest since the pandemic began.

Many economists agree the bill’s aid is too low but say the immediate support is still welcome and necessary.

A source familiar with the situation said Trump’s objection to the bill caught many White House officials by surprise. While the outgoing president’s strategy for the bill remains unclear, his repeated expression of discontent over it dashed hopes that he would sign.

Trump spent much of Thursday and the Christmas Day golfing at his club in West Palm Beach, Florida. The bill has been sent to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida residence, where he is spending Saturday.

On Friday, Trump said he has held many calls and meetings from his golf club, but neither him nor the White House provided details. He has been sending tweets repeating his baseless claims about election fraud and accusing his fellow Republicans of abandoning him in his bid to overturn the election result, already shot down multiple times by US courts.

Biden, whose Nov. 3 electoral victory Trump refuses to acknowledge, is spending the holiday in his home state of Delaware.

Democratic US Representative Don Beyer told CNN that Trump can still save the day if he signed the bill Saturday. “That means that the people on pandemic unemployment insurance, which runs out today, get to keep it...And the way forward if he signs this, on Monday the House will take up his $2,000 check – direct check stuff – which we’ve been for all along.”

The US Congress, which normally is adjourned the last week of December, will be preparing to return to work. The Democratic-controlled House plans to vote on legislation providing one-time, $2,000 checks to individuals.

Trump has also repeated his discontent over a $740 billion bill authorizing the nation’s defense programs, a legislation he vetoed last week. On Monday, the House is scheduled to vote on overriding Trump’s veto. If the House vote succeeds, the Senate could hold its vote as early as Tuesday.

Biden warns of ‘devastating consequences’ of Trump block on pandemic relief

DELAWARE, Dec 26: US President-elect Joe Biden warned Saturday of “devastating consequences” if President Donald Trump continues to delay signing a Covid-19 economic relief bill passed by Congress.

Trump threw a long-awaited pandemic aid package into doubt last week as millions of Americans prepared to lose benefits and face eviction -- demanding lawmakers more than triple the $600 direct payments to US taxpayers.

“This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences. Today, about 10 million Americans will lose unemployment insurance benefits,” Biden said in a statement.

“In just a few days, government funding will expire, putting vital services and paychecks for military personnel at risk. In less than a week, a moratorium on evictions expires, putting millions at risk of being forced from their homes over the holidays.”

Trump confers Legion of Merit award to Modi for elevating India-US ties

WASHINGTON DC, Dec 22: US President Donald Trump has mainstreamed the QUAD by awarding its original architects Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the prestigious Legion of Merit.

The US had last awarded Legion of Merit to late Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on September 18, 2020 as the senior most Royal in the Middle-East for bridging divides in the restive region.

THE LEGION OF MERIT (DEGREE OF CHIEF COMMANDER) AWARDED TO PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA NARENDRA MODI for exceptionally meritorious service as the Prime Minister of the Republic of India from May 2014 to November 2020.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s steadfast leadership and vision have accelerated India’s emergence as a global power and elevated the strategic partnership between the United States and India to address global challenges.
His personal engagement expanded United States-India ties across all facets of the relationship, helping to establish a strong foundation for an enduring partnership that is based on shared commitment to freedom, democratic principles, the equal treatment of all citizens, and the rule of law.

India is a key partner for the United States in the Indo-Pacific, where the two countries are increasing collaboration to ensure freedom of the seas, open and transparent investment and infrastructure development, secure and reliable digital networks, and good governance. Prime Minister Modi’s personal initiative strengthened the defense partnership between the United States and India, enhancing the United States’ ability to secure joint military cooperation that addressed shared challenges. His efforts to expand India’s economic cooperation with the United States has advanced prosperity, investment and job creation in both countries.

Prime Minister Modi’s superior effort, personal leadership, and unwavering commitment to advancing strategic cooperation between the United States and India and promoting global peace and prosperity reflect great credit upon himself, the Indian armed forces, and his country.

While the outgoing US president has awarded the Legion of Merit to Modi, Abe and Morrison for their leadership and vision, it can also be interpreted as President Trump telling the world that it was during his time at the White House that these relationships were taken to a different level.

“The Legion of Merit basically mainstreams the QUAD dialogue from an experimental stage and towards institutionalisation of the security architecture. The world has now realised that the real father of QUAD is China, which forced democracies to cement ties due to its aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea, East Ladakh and against Taiwan. It is another matter that India, Australia and Japan’s relationship with the US is bipartisan with a shared vision of democracy and values,” said a senior official.

The QUAD dialogue took shape after China aggravated the dispute with Japan over Senkaku Islands, with India after the transgression on the north banks of Pangong Tso in East Ladakh sector, Australia after imposing trade sanctions and testing nuclear missiles during US naval exercises in the South China Sea.
While China calls QUAD a product of 20th century mindset, the fact is that Beijing’s Middle Kingdom concept with tributary states is an imperial expansion concept of 18th century with Belt Road Initiative.

US ambassador congratulates Modi for receiving Legion of Merit

NEW DELHI, Dec 22: US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster on Tuesday congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being honoured by the “well-deserved” Legion of Merit saying that Washington appreciates his efforts for elevating India-US partnership.

“Congratulations to (Prime Minister) @narendramodi (Narendra Modi) for the well-deserved Legion of Merit. We greatly appreciate your commitment to a strong U.S.-India partnership,” the US Ambassador wrote in a tweet.

He added, “Similar awards were given to PM (Shinzo) Abe and PM (Scott)Morrison, recognizing our leaders’ shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

United States President Donald Trump has presented Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the prestigious Legion of Merit, a top US honour, for his leadership in elevating India and US strategic partnership, National Security Advisor Robert C. O’ Brien informed.

Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu accepted the medal on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Legion of Merit Medal was established by Congress on July 20, 1942.

It is awarded to members of the US military and foreign military members and political figures who have displayed exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements. It is one of the highest military medals that can be awarded to foreign officers.

The Legion of Merit Medal is a five-rayed white cross, edged with red, resting on a green wreath with a blue centre containing 13 white stars.

The Legion of Merit, Degree Chief Commander, is a rarely-awarded, prestigious decoration that can only be bestowed by the President, typically to Heads of state or Heads of Government of other countries.

The Legion of Merit, Degree Chief Commander is a domed five-pointed American white star plaque of heraldic form bordered in purplish-red enamel 215/16 inches circumscribing diameter with 13 white stars on a blue field emerging from a circle of clouds; backing the star, a laurel wreath with pierced, crossed arrows pointing outward between each arm of the star and the wreath. The reverse is engraved with the words “United States of America.”

US president-elect Joe Biden receives Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine shot on live television

NEWARK, DELAWARE, Dec 22: US President-elect Joe Biden received his first injected dose of the Covid-19 vaccine live on television on Monday in an effort to boost confidence in its safety ahead of its wide distribution next year.

Biden has said he would make the fight against the coronavirus, which has killed more than 315,000 Americans and infected more than 17.5 million, his top priority when he takes office on Jan. 20. At age 78, he is in the high-risk group for the highly contagious respiratory disease.

A Democrat, Biden will inherit the logistical challenges of distributing the vaccine to hundreds of millions of Americans, as well as the task of persuading people who worry its development was rushed for political reasons to take it.

His black long-sleeved shirt rolled up, Biden received the injection from Tabe Mase, nurse practitioner and head of Employee Health Services at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware, in front of reporters. Images were carried live on television.

After getting the shot, a dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc, Biden praised medical professionals as “heroes”.

“I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine. There’s nothing to worry about,” Biden said. His wife, Jill Biden, who got the injection earlier in the day, stood by.

But Biden also noted that the vaccine would take time to roll out and that people should listen to medical experts and not travel for the upcoming holidays if possible.

He credited the scientists who worked on the vaccines, adding: “I think that the (Trump) administration deserves some credit, getting this off the ground with Operation Warp Speed.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would likely get the vaccine next week, Biden’s transition team said.

Republican President Donald Trump frequently has played down the severity of the pandemic and overseen a response health experts say was disorganized, cavalier and sometimes ignored the science behind disease transmission.

New American economy

Efforts to limit the economic fallout on Americans from the pandemic were boosted on Sunday when congressional leaders agreed on a $900 billion package to provide the first new aid in months, with votes likely on Monday.

Biden on Monday also named additional members to his National Economic Council (NEC), rounding out his economic policymaking team with people his transition office said would help lift Americans out of the economic crisis.

David Kamin, an official in former President Barack Obama’s White House, will be NEC deputy director, and Bharat Ramamurti, a former top economic adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign, will serve as NEC deputy director for Financial Reform and Consumer Protection, Biden’s team said in a statement.

Joelle Gamble will be special assistant to the president for economic policy.

“This is no time to build back the way things were before — this is the moment to build a new American economy that works for all,” Biden said in the statement.

Biden had already named Brian Deese, who helped lead Obama’s efforts to bail out the automotive industry and negotiate the Paris climate agreement, to lead the council, which coordinates the country’s economic policymaking.

Much of the fate of Biden’s White House agenda will hinge on the outcome of a pair of Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 that will determine which party controls the upper chamber of the US Congress.

Harris traveled on Monday to Columbus, Georgia, to campaign on behalf of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidates locked in tight races with incumbent Republicans.

At a drive-in rally for the candidates, Harris, currently a California senator, said she would return to Washington later in the day to vote on the stimulus package.

Asked by one journalist whether there were plans to “fumigate” the White House over virus concerns before the Biden administration moved in, Harris said: “I don’t have the current status for that.”

Trump was briefly hospitalized in October with Covid-19, and many of his advisers and White House staff have also contracted the virus.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, was also set to campaign in Georgia for Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

The outgoing president, making unsubstantiated claims of widespread electoral fraud, has focused on trying to overturn his election loss even as daily Covid-19 deaths soared. His campaign’s latest long-shot effort was a petition to the US Supreme Court on Sunday that legal experts said would fail.

Joe Biden selects Vedant Patel as White House assistant press secretary

WASHINGTON, Dec 20: Joe Biden has named Indian-American Vedant Patel as the assistant press secretary as the US president-elect announced the names of additional members of the White House communications and press staff.

Patel is a senior spokesperson of the Biden inaugural committee and has been a part of the Biden campaign where he served as regional communications director. During Biden’s primary campaign, Patel served as the Nevada and Western primary-states communications director.

Born in the Indian state of Gujarat and raised in California, Patel is a graduate of the University of California-Riverside and the University of Florida. He is the third Indian-American in the White House press team after Priya Singh and Raj Shah.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law a two-day stopgap extension of federal funds passed by Congress to avoid a midnight government shutdown, as lawmakers negotiate a $900bn pandemic aid bill and as part of $1.4tn government spending package.

Trump signs bill that could remove Chinese stocks from US

WASHINGTON, Dec 19: President Donald Trump on Friday signed legislation that could kick Chinese companies off of US exchanges unless American regulators can review their financial audits, a move likely to further escalate tensions between the two countries.

The measure, which could affect corporate giants like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Baidu Inc., serves as another parting shot at Beijing before Trump leaves office in January.

The president has long railed against China for what he calls unfair trading practices, and slapped tariffs on billions of dollars in imports. But his rhetoric sharpened this year as he blamed Beijing for the global coronavirus pandemic -- a central issue in his electoral loss to Joe Biden as Trump was widely criticized for his handling of the outbreak.

The de-listing law won bipartisan support in the House early this month after easily clearing the US Senate in May. While it applies to any foreign company, the bill’s sponsors have said their goal was to target China.

Chinese firms for years have used American capital markets and dollar-based finance as a key funding component to grow their businesses. While the measure includes a phase-in period, with penalties kicking in after three straight years of noncompliance, it could impose real damage on Chinese companies that fail to meet the audit standards.

“US policy is letting China flout rules that American companies play by, and it’s dangerous,” Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, a lead sponsor of the new law, said in a statement.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing after passage of the House bill that China was “against politicizing securities regulation” and urged cooperation to protect investors’ rights.

“It will undermine global investors’ confidence in the US capital markets and will undermine the US capital markets’ global standing and hurt US interests,” Hua said.

Trump’s signing of the law capped a flurry of recent steps against China, including guidelines that would limit travel visas for 92 million Communist Party members. Any of them with a 10-year visa would now see it reduced to one month.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said that customs officers at American ports would impound “shipments containing cotton and cotton products originating from” the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps., a military-affiliated entity that’s one of China’s largest producers. This follows earlier US action against the company that bars it from making any transaction with American companies and citizens.

The new law marks a watershed moment in a long-running dispute over China’s refusal to let the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board examine audits of firms whose shares trade in the US The requirement for the inspections by the agency, which was created in the wake of the Enron Corp. accounting scandal, is meant to prevent fraud and wrongdoing that could wipe out shareholders.

In addition to requiring companies to allow US inspectors to review their financial audits, the measure -- introduced by Kennedy and Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat -- requires firms to disclose whether they are under government control.

Van Hollen said in a statement that the delisting bill would protect people who “have been cheated out of their money after investing in seemingly legitimate Chinese companies that are not held to the same standards” as other public companies. “This bill rights that wrong, ensuring that all companies on the US exchanges abide by the same rules,” he said.

Implementing the law falls heavily on the US Securities and Exchange Commission. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, a Trump appointee, had been racing to propose rules before he stepped down by year’s end that would trigger the delisting of companies that don’t comply with US auditing rules. Clayton announced Friday that he was abandoning that effort to ensure that the agency’s plan conforms with the just-signed legislation.

“While I am disappointed that I will not have an opportunity to consider the staff’s recommendation, I am pleased with the bipartisan, multi-agency approach to addressing these critical investor protection issues,” Clayton said in a statement.

Joe Biden names key members of his climate team

WASHINGTON, Dec 18: US President-elect Joe Biden has announced his climate and energy team, which the transition said is ready on day one to advance his agenda and lead the world to confront the undeniable, accelerating and punishing reality of climate change.

The nominees are Congresswoman Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior, Jennifer Granholm as Energy Secretary, Michael Regan as administrator for Environmental Protection Agency and Brenda Mallory as Chair of the Council of the Council on Environmental Quality.

Biden on Thursday also announced the appointment of Gina McCarthy as his National Climate Advisor and Ali Zaidi as his Deputy National Climate Advisor. Zaidi is the highest-ranking Pakistani-American appointed by Biden in his administration.

“This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity. They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of environmental harms,” Biden said in a statement.

“Together, on behalf of all Americans, they will meet this moment with the urgency it demands — and seize the opportunity to build back better with good-paying union jobs, climate-resilient infrastructure and a clean energy future that benefits every single community,” he said.

Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated as the 46th US President on January 20. He has vowed to rejoin the Paris climate deal on the first day of his presidency.

The Trump administration last month formally withdrew from the Paris accord, a decision originally announced three years ago. The deal committed the US and 187 other countries to keeping rising global temperatures below 2C above pre-industrial levels and attempting to limit them even more, to a 1.5C rise.

Trump argues that the agreement is disadvantageous for the US, while it gives benefits to countries like China, Russia and India. According to him, it could be economically detrimental and cost 2.5 million Americans their jobs by 2025.

Observing that the undeniable, accelerating, punishing reality of climate change is exacting an incalculable toll on lives and livelihoods in every community across the country, the transition said the team knows that science demands they address climate change immediately and that the response must be grounded in science.

The team will turn the climate crisis into an unprecedented opportunity to create millions of good paying union jobs in communities across the country; powering the economy with clean energy and positioning the US as an exporter of 21st century products; and making the economy stronger and more resilient.

They will work closely with communities who bear the outsized burden of environmental injustice, including Tribal Nations and communities of colour, and young Americans who will live with the long-term consequences of climate change, the transition said.

Haaland is currently serving as Vice Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources. If confirmed, she will make history as the first-ever Native American Cabinet secretary.

Granholm is a two-term Governor of Michigan whose work during and after her tenure has centred on creating clean energy jobs in America. Her leadership was instrumental in rescuing the US auto industry, saving one million jobs, and preparing Detroit for a clean energy future.

Nominated to serve as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Regan is the current Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. He has served in the EPA under both Democratic and Republican presidents and has a distinguished track record of bringing people together across the public, private and non-profit sectors to advance environmental justice and seek solutions to environmental and climate challenges.

An accomplished public servant and environmental lawyer, Mallory is former General Counsel to the Council on Environmental Quality and current Director of Regulatory Policy at the Southern Environmental Law Centre. If confirmed, she would be the first African American to hold the position since its creation more than half a century ago.

McCarthy will serve as the first-ever National Climate Advisor, heading up the newly formed White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, where she will drive an “all of government” approach to combating climate change.

A leading voice on climate and environmental issues for more than 30 years, McCarthy was a driving force behind the Obama-Biden administration’s groundbreaking Clean Power Plan during her tenure as EPA Administrator.

Zaidi, a leading climate expert and longtime advisor to the president-elect, will serve as Deputy National Climate Advisor. He had helped draft and implement the Obama-Biden Administration’s Climate Action Plan and negotiate the Paris accord. Zaidi immigrated from Pakistan and grew up in the Rust Belt outside Erie, Pennsylvania.

“...our climate crisis is a grave and growing threat to the American people and the planet...President-elect Biden and I proposed one of the most ambitious climate plans in history. The team we are announcing today will help make that plan a reality,” Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said.

“They are the team the American people need and deserve to help protect our communities — and our planet — for generations,” she said.

US Congress asks China to end aggression against India along LAC

WASHINGTON, Dec 16: The US Congress has officially passed the USD 740 billion defence policy bill, which among other things include calling out Chinese aggression against India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The US House of Representatives and the Senate on Tuesday passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included key components of Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s resolution language urging the Chinese government to end its military aggression against India along the LAC.

China and India have been locked in a military standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh since May this year. Several rounds of talks between the two countries to resolve the standoff have not yielded any concrete outcome.

The House and Senate versions of the bill were reconciled by a bipartisan Congressional conference committee earlier this month.

The inclusion of this provision, which Krishnamoorthi led as an amendment when the bill passed the House, reflects the US government’s strong support for its allies and partners like India in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

Krishnamoorthi’s measure, which passed each chamber with overwhelming bipartisan support, will become law if President Donald Trump signs it.

Trump has threatened to veto the bill as it lacks a repeal of legal protections for social media companies. However, the NDAA has been passed by Congress for the last 59 years.

“Violent aggression is seldom the answer, and this is especially true for the Line of Actual Control, which is the disputed border region that separates the People’s Republic of China from India,” Krishnamoorthi said.

“By including my resolution language in the NDAA and signing that legislation into law, the United States government will send a clear message that China’s military provocations of India will not be tolerated,” he said.

“The United States is committed to standing with our allies and partners like India in resolving the border standoff using diplomatic means,’ Krishnamoorthi said.

As approved by the conference report, the powerful NDAA says that it is the sense of the Congress on the aggression of China along the border with India and its growing territorial claims.

The Senate agreed to include the provisions of the bill that was passed by the House in its version of the bill.

The House bill contained provisions that would express the sense of Congress on cross-border violence between China and India and the growing territorial claims of Beijing.

Expressing “significant concern” over the continued military aggression by China along the border with India, the NDAA says that China “should work with” India toward de-escalating the situation along the Line of Actual Control through existing diplomatic mechanisms and refrain from attempting to settle disputes through coercion or force.

Attempts by China to advance baseless territorial claims, including those in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and with respect to Bhutan, are destabilising and inconsistent with international law, says the bill.

China is also engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims.

Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region. Both areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade.

Ro Khanna named Democratic vice chair of Congressional India Caucus

WASHINGTON, Dec 17: Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents the Silicon Valley in the US House of Representatives, has been named as Democratic Vice Chair of the Congressional India Caucus.

The seat has been created for the first time since its formation in 1994.

Khanna, who was recently elected for a third consecutive term from the congressional district representing Silicon Valley, is being considered as a potential contender to fill the US Senate seat from California that will fall vacant in January after Kamala Harris is sworn in as the country’s vice president.

“I believe Ro Khanna would be an outstanding Democratic Vice Chair,” Congressman Brad Sherman, Democratic Co-Chair of the Caucus, said in an email to his Congressional colleagues on Wednesday.

Born in Philadelphia in 1976, Khanna is the youngest of the four Indian-American lawmakers in US House of Representatives. The other three being Dr Ami Bera, 55, who is the senior-most member of the so called ‘Samosa Caucus’, Raja Krishnamoorthi, 47, and Pramila Jayapal, 55.

Khanna’s father is a chemical engineer who graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the University of Michigan, and his mother is a former substitute school teacher.

Considered to be “dynamic” by his Congressional colleagues, Khanna is a strong supporter of India-US relationship. He previously served in the Obama Administration, as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department of Commerce under from August 8, 2009, to August 2011.

First elected to the US Congress in 2016 by defeating incumbent Mike Honda, he has made a mark for himself within the Democratic Party, but also at the national stage on key issues ranging from foreign policy, national security, environment, commerce and manufacturing jobs.

He identifies himself as a progressive capitalist and was a national co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign.

Biden accuses Trump of unprecedented assault on democracy after electoral college affirms his victory

WASHINGTON, Dec 15: US President-elect Joe Biden on Monday called upon the country to “turn the page” in a victory speech after the electoral college voted to reaffirm his 2020 White House win.

He also went on to express rare outrage and impatience with President Donald Trump and his allies’ “assault on democracy” for their refusal to acknowledge his defeat.

Shortly after the vote, William Barr, the once loyal attorney general who later disputed Trump’s election fraud claims, resigned, ending a souring relationship.

Biden formally won 306 electoral college votes as electors voted in state capitals around the country either virtually or in person, fulfilling a pro forma responsibility that wouldn’t have received so much public attention but for Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his defeat. Trump expectedly won 232.

“If anyone didn’t know it before, we know it now. What beats deep in the hearts of the American people is this – democracy,” Biden said in remarks from Wilmington, Delaware. “And so, now it is time to turn the page, to unite, to heal.”

Biden had been publicly patient with Trump’s constant efforts to question and overturn the election result, giving the president time to come to terms with his defeat. He had extended the same understanding to Republican lawmakers, a majority of whom have also not acknowledged Biden’s victory fearing Trump’s wrath.

The dam broke on Monday, though. Biden ripped into Trump, mentioning him by name more times than he has before in any speech after winning the election, and also the Republicans, accusing them of launching an “unprecedented assault on democracy”.

Biden listed out Trump’s efforts — the legal challenges that were heard and rejected by 80 judges around the country, including the Supreme Court, the multiple recounts, and the political pressure on elected Republican officials and election officials.

“Every avenue was made available to President Trump to contest the results,” Biden said. “Respecting the will of the people is at the heart of our democracy – even when we find those results hard to accept. But that is the obligation of those who have taken a sworn duty to uphold our constitution.”

Biden became the “projected” winner of the election in the week of November 3, when polling closed. He was then “officially” the winner on December 8 when all 50 states and Washington, DC “certified” the election result setting up the electoral college vote for December 14.

The electoral college votes cast on Monday will be counted by the House of Representatives on January 6, another formality elevated to prominence.

Trump allies in the House expect to use that part of the process to try to overturn the election one last time. They will fail, as they have so far, and the president-elect will be sworn in on January 20.

Shortly after the electoral college vote became clear in the evening, Trump announced the departure of Barr, who has publicly disputed Trump’s poll fraud claims, saying his department had found no evidence of irregularities of the scale that could change the outcome of the election.

Barr’s exit had been imminent since his public break with the president. But instead of being hounded out of office like his predecessor Jeff Sessions, Barr managed a carefully choreographed exit that appeared amicable. So much so that Trump tweeted out Barr’s resignation letter.

Joe Biden to take oath outside Capitol amid Covid-19 restrictions

WASHINGTON, Dec 16: President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office outside the US Capitol building as inauguration planners seek to craft an event that captures the traditional grandeur of the historic ceremony while complying with Covid-19 protocols.

Biden’s team released some broad details for the January 20 event on Tuesday. They’re proceeding with the plans without any assurances that outgoing President Donald Trump will participate.

The president, who continues to make unproven claims of widespread voter fraud, has not yet told current and former White House aides whether he will attend Biden’s inauguration. While many had assumed he would skip the event after his loss, some now do expect him to make an appearance for the sake of tradition, even if he tries to overshadow the event by, perhaps, announcing the launch of his 2024 campaign just before.

Despite this week’s rollout of the new vaccine, its availability to the general public is still months away. Biden’s team is urging supporters not to come to Washington, DC, to celebrate the inauguration.

“The ceremony’s footprint will be extremely limited, and the parade that follows will be reimagined,” Biden’s inaugural committee said in a statement.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Biden will deliver an inaugural address that “lays out his vision to beat the virus, build back better, and bring the country together,” the statement said.

The committee announced that Dr David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, had been named as chief medical adviser for the inauguration.

“The pandemic is continuing to have a significant public health impact across the nation,” Kessler said. “We are asking Americans to participate in inaugural events from home to protect themselves, their families, friends, and communities.”

As it seeks to retain some of the traditional touchstones of the event and imagine new pandemic-era aspects, the committee is turning to the same production team that handled this year’s Democratic National Convention. Features of that convention, such as the virtual roll call from every state, may be incorporated.

It’s still unclear whether other traditional inaugural events, such as a luncheon with members of Congress or a pre-ceremony tea with the outgoing president, will happen this time.

The presidential face-to-face is up in the air due to Trump’s ongoing maneuvering rather than any virus concerns. The outgoing president still refuses to concede the election. When asked in a Sunday Fox News interview whether he would participate or attend, Trump said, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Top Republican breaks with Donald Trump, congratulates Joe Biden

WASHINGTON, Dec 15: Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the US Senate, congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris on their election win on Monday, the day after their victory was cemented by an electoral college vote.

McConnell, who heads the Republican-controlled Senate as majority leader, is the first elected official of the Republican Party to acknowledge Biden’s election as president, signalling a break with President Donald Trump, who has refused to accept his defeat.

“The electoral college has spoken. So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” McConnell said on the floor of the Senate, and went on to congratulate Harris, adding, “Beyond our differences, all Americans can take pride that our nation has a female vice-president-elect for the very first time.”

Only a handful of Republicans have acknowledged Biden’s victory, so as to not upset the president, including Senator Mitt Romney. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, has still not congratulated Biden.

In a speech after the electoral college victory, Biden had for the first time shown impatience with Trump and his Republican allies’ refusal to accept the election’s outcome, and slammed them for launching an “assault on democracy” over their efforts to overturn the election result.

Health worker in New York receives first jab of COVID-19 vaccine; Trump congratulates country

WASHINGTON, Dec 14: US President Donald Trump on December 14 tweeted that the first COVID-19 vaccine has been administered in the country.

"First vaccine administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!" Trump tweeted.

According to a news agency, a nurse in New York was the first to receive the jab. Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, received the shot live on television shortly before 9:30 am ET.

With this, the largest vaccination campaign in the history of the US has started.

The development comes days after the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) on December 11 approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.

That was the first COVID-19 vaccine candidate granted emergency use authorisation (EUA) in the Unites States, the country most affected by the pandemic.

The US has so far recorded nearly 16 million (1.6 crore) cases of the novel coronavirus and nearly 300,000 (3 lakh) deaths.

In a video statement released on Twitter, Trump had earlier said the US will start administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine "in less than 24 hours" and will be "free for all Americans".

"Through our partnership with FedEx and UPS, we have already begun shipping the vaccine to every state and zip code in the country," he said, adding that governors would decide who would receive the shots first in their states.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer developed the vaccine against COVID-19 along with German company BioNTech. The mRNA vaccine candidate, administered in two doses, has been found to be 95 percent effective in preventing the disease.

"The FDA's authorization for emergency use of the first COVID-19 vaccine is a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world," FDA Commissioner Stephen M Hahn said in a statement on December 11.

Packed in dry ice to stay at ultra-frozen temperatures, the first of nearly 3 million doses being shipped in staggered batches this week made their way by truck and by plane around the country Sunday from Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Michigan, factory. Once they arrive at distribution centres, each state directs where the doses go next.

The US will vaccinate health care workers first, who along with nursing home residents, have spent months battling a coronavirus that still is surging in the country and around the world. Authorities are expected to rush against time to rapidly get the vaccine into the arms of millions, not just doctors and nurses but other at-risk health workers such as janitors and food handlers — which will be immediately followed by a second dose three weeks later.

According to FDA – the world’s most strict medical regulator – the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine appears safe and strongly protective. The agency has also laid out the data behind it in a daylong public meeting last week for scientists and consumers alike to see. Experts have pointed out that the shots can cause temporary fever, fatigue and aches as they rev up people’s immune systems, forcing hospitals to stagger employee vaccinations.

Residents in the United Kingdom (UK) have already begun receiving doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech on December 8, after the jab received emergency use authorisation in the country. Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have also approved the vaccine candidate for emergency use.

Supreme Court rejects Texas bid to overturn Trump’s loss

WASHINGTON, Dec 11: The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the bid by Texas and President Donald Trump to nullify the election results in four pivotal states in an abrupt, effectively unanimous order that could be the legal death-knell for efforts to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

The justices refused to let Texas sue to challenge Biden’s wins in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. The order clears those states to cast their votes for Biden in the Electoral College on Monday.

“Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections,” the court said in an unsigned two-paragraph order.

No justice publicly dissented from that conclusion or said he or she would block the states from casting their votes. Trump’s three Supreme Court appointees -- Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett -- gave no suggestion they disagreed with the order.

The decision ends a lawsuit hailed by Trump on Twitter as “the big one,” and it dashes his oft-expressed dream of vindication at the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority thanks to Trump’s appointments. Barrett’s nomination was rushed through the Senate confirmation process, with Trump saying her vote would be needed to resolve any election disputes.

Earlier Friday, Trump called on the nation’s top court to show “great Wisdom and Courage.”

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would have let Texas file the suit, noting that they’ve long maintained the Supreme Court has no choice but to allow a suit by one state against another. They indicated they wouldn’t have blocked the electors from voting, though, saying they “would not grant other relief.”

Michael Gwin, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said in a statement that the court “decisively and speedily rejected the latest of Donald Trump and his allies’ attacks on the democratic process.”

The White House referred reporters to the Trump campaign, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has spent months trying to shake the nation’s faith in the integrity of its voting systems, repeatedly forecasting before Nov. 3 that the election would be rigged because of the expanded use of mail-in ballots, and then saying afterward it had been, without ever producing evidence to back up those claims in court.

Dozens of lower courts rejected cases pressed by Trump and his allies. Members of the Trump administration, including Attorney General Bill Barr, have said they haven’t found any instances of widespread fraud.

Texas, with Trump’s support, sought an extraordinary last-minute intervention by the high court. Texas claimed its rights were violated because the four states unconstitutionally expanded mail voting, opening up their elections to fraud and irregularities.

The court’s apparent unanimity created a contrast with the 2000 Bush v. Gore ruling, a 5-4 decision that sealed Republican George W. Bush’s election and stopped recounts that might have swung the pivotal state of Florida to Democrat Al Gore.

More than half of the House Republicans and GOP attorneys from 17 states backed Texas at the Supreme Court. But Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska praised the decision.

“Every American who cares about the rule of law should take comfort that the Supreme Court -- including all three of President Trump’s picks -- closed the book on the nonsense,” Sasse said in an emailed statement.

The Supreme Court had already suggested it had little patience for efforts to overturn Biden’s victory. In a one-sentence rebuff on Tuesday, the court rejected a request by Trump allies to nullify Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania. A group led by a Republican congressman argued that the state’s legislature exceeded its power by allowing universal mail-in voting for the first time.

Texas tried to invoke the court’s so-called original jurisdiction, which lets states sue one another directly at the Supreme Court as if it were a trial court. The four states being sued said the court hears those types of claims only when they implicate core sovereign interests.

The four states said Texas lacks standing to sue in any court because it hasn’t suffered the type of concrete injury that would let it press a case. They also said Texas waited so long to sue -- 34 days after the election -- that its claims became legally moot.

Although other election challenges remain in the legal pipeline, Texas’s suit was the only one that attempted -- in an unprecedented way -- to nullify Biden victories in enough states to potentially flip the outcome. Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College advantage means Trump would have to somehow reverse the results in at least three contested states to retain the presidency.

US allows emergency Covid-19 vaccine in bid to end pandemic

WASHINGTON, Dec 12: The U.S. gave the final go-ahead Friday to the nation’s first Covid-19 vaccine, marking what could be the beginning of the end of an outbreak that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans, according to a person familiar with the decision but not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Shots for health workers and nursing home residents are expected to begin in the coming days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized an emergency rollout of what promises to be a strongly protective vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech.

Initial doses are scarce and rationed as the U.S. joins Britain and several other countries in scrambling to vaccinate as many people as possible ahead of a long, grim winter. It will take months of work to tamp down the coronavirus that has surged to catastrophic levels in recent weeks and already claimed 1.5 million lives globally.

While the FDA decision came only after public review of data from a huge ongoing study, it has also been dogged by intense political pressure from the Trump administration, which has accused the agency of being too slow and even threatened to remove FDA chief Stephen Hahn if a ruling did not come Friday.

The move sets off what will be the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history -- but it also has global ramifications because it’s a role model to many other countries facing the same decision.

The world desperately needs multiple vaccines for enough to go around, and the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is the first based on rigorous scientific testing to emerge from that worldwide race -- a record-setting scientific achievement that shaved years off the usual process.

“I don’t think you would have found a scientist on this planet that would have predicted this 11 months ago,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who advises the FDA.

The U.S. is considering a second vaccine, made by Moderna Inc., that could roll out in another week. In early January, Johnson & Johnson expects to learn if its vaccine is working in final testing.

Europe is set to make its own decision on the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots later this month, an important step as some other candidates that multiple countries were anxiously awaiting have hit roadblocks. Friday, Sanofi and GSK announced a months-long delay after early tests showed their vaccine didn’t work well enough in older adults.

And China and Russia didn’t wait for final-stage tests before beginning vaccinations with some homegrown shots.

About 3 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected in the first shipments around the country, according to officials with Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development program. A similar amount is to be held in reserve for those recipients’ second dose.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee is poised to recommend who’s first in line. Expected to follow health workers and nursing homes are other essential workers, older adults and people at high risk because of other health problems. U.S. authorities don’t expect enough for the general population before spring, and that’s assuming there are no manufacturing glitches.

In a still unfinished study of nearly 44,000 people, the FDA found the vaccine was safe and more than 90% effective across recipients of different ages, including older adults, races and those with health problems that put them at high risk from the coronavirus.

Emergency use means the vaccine still is experimental. Most important for would-be recipients to know:

--Some protection begins after the first dose, but it takes a second dose three weeks later for full protection. It’s unclear how long protection lasts.

--The vaccine protects against Covid-19 illness, but no one yet knows if it can stop the silent, symptomless spread that accounts for roughly half of all cases. The ongoing study will attempt to answer that but for now, the vaccinated still will need to wear a mask and keep their distance.

--Expect a sore arm and some flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headache and chills after the second dose. While uncomfortable, those reactions only last about a day. “That’s just your immune system working. It’s a good thing,” Offit said.

--Authorities are investigating several allergic reactions reported in Britain by people with a history of severe allergies. Offit said it is routine in the U.S. for the vaccinated to stick around for a half-hour so they could get prompt treatment if such reactions appear.

If emergency use of Moderna’s vaccine also is authorized, the U.S. expects to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of December. They hope to have enough for another 30 million people in January and 50 million in February.

Getting shots into arms is the big challenge, especially as a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found only half of Americans want the vaccine when it’s their turn. About a quarter say they won’t get it and the rest aren’t sure.

Political interference has complicated health authorities’ message that the testing was rigorous and cut no corners.

President Donald Trump bashed the FDA, again, Friday for taking too long, complaining that the agency “is still a big, old slow turtle.” One of his deputies even pressed Hahn to clear the shots by the end of the day or face possible firing, two administration officials said.

The FDA is unique in analyzing drugmakers’ raw data, a process that takes longer than many other countries’ regulatory reviews. In addition, the FDA insisted that large Covid-19 vaccine studies track at least half the participants for two months to look for side effects, a time period when historically any vaccine problems appear.

US FDA ‘working rapidly’ on Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine decision

WASHINGTON DC, Dec 11: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Friday it was working rapidly to issue an emergency use authorization for Pfizer Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine, setting the stage for the first Americans to be immunized as soon as Monday or Tuesday.

The FDA’s decision making follows one of the last steps of its regulatory process: a panel of outside advisers on Thursday evening endorsed emergency use of the vaccine to help stem a pandemic that has killed more than 285,000 US residents.

US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, which oversees the FDA, told ABC News that regulatory authorization should come within days and the federal government would work with the company to get the vaccine shipped out.

Pfizer has asked that the two-dose vaccine, developed with German partner BioNTech, be approved for use in people aged 16 to 85.

The companies last month said that a two-dose regimen of the vaccine was 95% effective in preventing illness from Covid-19, and detailed data released in the FDA’s documents showed the vaccine began showing some protection even before volunteers received a second dose.

The vaccine is already approved in Britain, and people there began receiving the shots on Tuesday. Bahrain and Canada have also authorized the vaccine, and Canada expects to start inoculations next week.

The FDA has notified the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Operation Warp Speed so that they can execute their plans for timely vaccine distribution, it said in a statement.

Healthcare workers, first responders and nursing home residents are expected to receive the first doses, but a wider rollout faces significant logistical challenges.

Another 2,902 US deaths were reported on Thursday, a day after a record 3,253 people died, a pace projected to continue for the next two to three months until the vaccine can be widely distributed.

For months, US President Donald Trump had pressured the FDA in tweets and press conferences to move more quickly, accusing staff and Pfizer of dragging their feet.

Shortly after the FDA’s statement, the outgoing president criticized the agency for what he said was its slow handling of the vaccines and criticized FDA Commissioner Steven Hahn.

Trump said his “pushing” the agency had speed up new vaccine approval, but that the FDA was “still a big, old, slow turtle. Get the dam vaccines out NOW, Dr. Hahn @SteveFDA. Stop playing games and start saving lives!!!”

Pfizer shares rose 1% before the opening bell, while BioNTech US shares were flat.

Biden names Asian-American Tai as top trade negotiator

WASHINGTON, Dec 10: US President-elect Joe Biden has named Katherine Tai his top trade negotiator and enforcer as US Trade Representative. If confirmed, she will take over ongoing trade talks with Indian counterpart Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, from Robert Lighthizer, a Trump administration hardliner.

The Taiwanese-American, who will be the first Asian-origin person to head this federal agency, currently serves as the chief lawyer on trade for the powerful Ways and Means Committee of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and was previously chief counsel on China trade enforcement in the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

The Biden-Harris transition team said Tai’s experience will allow the incoming administration to “hit the ground running on trade, and harness the power of our trading relationships to help the US dig out of the Covid-induced economic crisis and pursue the President-elect’s vision of a pro-American worker trade strategy”.

India and the United States have been negotiating an interim trade deal that will eventually pave the way for an ambitious Free Trade Agreement. Talks started in the summer of 2019 after the Trump administration ended special benefits for India under US trade promotion programme that had allowed more than $6 billion worth of Indian goods to enter America free of import duty. The US wants greater access to India markets in dairy and medical devices sectors and the removal of what it has called discriminatory rules.

Officials on both sides have been optimistic of signing the initial pact— which was said to be a “a few phones calls away” at one stage. There were expectations they could sign it after the November 3 elections. Lighthizer’s tough negotiating positions have been seen by Indians as the key reason for the prolonged talks.

Biden also announced former US National Security Adviser Susan Rice to head his domestic policy council; former Obama chief of staff Dennis McDonough at secretary of veteran affairs; Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary for third term; and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge as secretary of housing.

US Supreme Court Rejects Trump Election Appeal On Pennsylvania

WASHINGTON, Dec 8: The US Supreme Court dealt the latest blow Tuesday to Donald Trump's effort to overturn his election loss when it denied his allies' attempt to block the certification of votes in key state Pennsylvania.

The nation's highest court, which includes three Trump-appointed justices out of nine, did not explain its decision, and none of the members expressed dissent.

More than a month since the November 3 election, Trump still refuses to concede to Democrat Joe Biden -- who has a seven million-vote lead -- and continues to make baseless claims of fraud.

Trump and his allies have filed dozens of lawsuits in several key states, almost all of which have been thrown out by the courts.

One of them, brought by Republican congressman Mike Kelly, challenged the legality of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state.

Biden carried Pennsylvania in November's vote, four year after Trump won the state.

After the case was rejected by the state supreme court, the plaintiffs turned to the national Supreme Court, asking it to freeze all electoral operations while they developed their arguments.

In dismissing the case, the Court put an end to the procedure and signaled that it is not inclined to get involved in post-election litigation.

Trump had hoped that the high court, whose bench he has tipped solidly to the right, would intervene in his favor.

In 2000, the Supreme Court halted a recount in Florida, where George W. Bush was only 537 votes ahead of Democrat Al Gore, allowing the Republican to win the election.

UN rights boss welcomes Biden pledges

GENEVA, Dec 9: US President-elect Joe Biden’s pledges to halt the separation of migrant families, address “systemic racism” and climate change are promising and could reverse setbacks during the Trump administration, the UN human rights chief said on Wednesday.

“He has made a series of promising pledges like the protection for child arrivals - and I think that’s fantastic that they will stop the family separation - and of course all the issues with the frontier, the border with Mexico,” Bachelet told a news conference in Geneva.

“If those pledges are implemented I think they will have a positive impact on human rights in the US and globally. They could also reverse policies carried out in the Trump administration which have led to serious setbacks for human rights including the rights of women, of LGBT persons, migrants or journalists,” she said.

Trump Says His Lawyer Rudy Giuliani Has Tested Positive For "China Virus"

WASHINGTON D.C., Dec 7: Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has tested positive for Covid-19, the president said Sunday, the latest member of his inner circle to contract the disease.

It was unclear whether Giuliani was experiencing symptoms, but at age 76 the former New York mayor is considered part of a high-risk group.

He has been seen frequently without a mask -- CNN showed film of him Thursday in Atlanta walking maskless down a hall chatting with several other people whose faces were uncovered -- and other members of his legal team presumably have been exposed.

"Giuliani, by far the greatest mayor in the history of NYC, and who has been working tirelessly exposing the most corrupt election (by far!) in the history of the USA, has tested positive for the China Virus," Trump tweeted, using a term he applies to the coronavirus that has outraged Beijing.

Giuliani's diagnosis comes as he has been leading the president's defiant -- and unsuccessful -- effort to undo Joe Biden's victory in the November 3 presidential election.

If the legal tean hews to health guidance, anyone thus exposed should self-quarantine for at least a week, which could cripple Trump's already fading efforts to challenge his election loss.

The diagnosis was also a day after Trump, who long played down the severity of the pandemic and even mocked those who wore masks, held his first big political rally since the election -- before a tightly packed crowd of thousands of largely unmasked supporters in Georgia.

The United States -- the country with the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the world -- has seen a dramatic resurgence in its epidemic in recent weeks.

For the third day in a row, the United States on Saturday notched a record number of coronavirus cases in 24 hours, reaching nearly 230,000 new infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

A series of members of Trump's inner circle have contracted the disease since the president himself caught it weeks before the election.

They include his wife Melania, his son Donald Jr., his son Barron, his press secretary, some of his advisors, his campaign manager as well as several Republican members of Congress.

Many of them, including Giuliani, followed Trump's example, often ignoring health experts' guidance and attending White House and political events without masks.

Giuliani's son Andrew, who works in the White House, tested positive for the virus late last month.

David Gergen, a senior advisor in four US administrations, noted on CNN that while dozens of people around Trump had now contracted the virus, only one or two in Biden's camp had done so.

The lesson, Gergen said: "The cavalier attitude taken by the Trump people is only going to get you closer to catching this stuff...

"It's just as plain as it can be."

With nod from California, Biden now has enough electors to officially become US president

WASHINGTON DC, Dec 5: US President-elect Joe Biden has secured enough electoral college votes to officially win the presidency after California certified its election outcome on Friday, handing him 55 pledged votes.

Biden now has nine more than the 270-mark that he needed to technically secure a win over his opponent, President Donald Trump, in the election. Colorado, New Jersey and Hawaii, which Biden won, still haven’t certified their results, and when they do, Biden’s tally of electoral college votes will go up to 306, which he has been projected to win for weeks now.

Trump lost the election, garnering 232 electoral college votes. But he has refused to accept his defeat, alleging, without any proof, election fraud.

The Trump campaign and his allies have filed multiple lawsuits challenging the outcome in the six states that cost him the election - Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia Arizona and Nevada - and his campaign announced one more lawsuit on Friday.

The outgoing US president is scheduled to address a rally in Georgia in support of Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler whose fate in the January run-off would determine who controls the Senate. Their loss would hand over the Republican-controlled chamber to the Democrats.

California’s certification of Biden’s win wouldn’t have received so much attention. But Trump’s refusal to accept defeat has turned every formality in the election process into a milestone.

It’s still a significant milestone, as Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, told AP. “It is a legal milestone and the first milestone that has that status,” Foley said. “Everything prior to that was premised on what we call projections.”

The remaining states have until December 8 to certify their results. And on December 14, electors of the electoral college will vote to declare the victor - in this case, Biden. They will convey the outcome to US congress, which will approve it on January 6, two weeks to the inauguration on January 20.

Trump has tried to persuade Republican-controlled legislature in these states to declare their own list of electors. But has had no success yet. He is also trying to get state legislators to petition Congress to reject the electoral college result.

Dozens of Republican state legislators wrote to the state’s congressional delegation on Friday, seeking rejection of the electoral college vote. “We, the undersigned members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, urge you to object and vote to sustain such objection to the electoral college votes received from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania during the joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” they wrote.

Judge order US government to reinstate protections for ‘Dreamers’

WASHINGTON, Dec 4: In a rebuke to President Donald Trump’s administration, a judge on Friday ordered the US government to reopen to first-time applicants a program that protects from deportation and grants work permits to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who live in the United States unlawfully after arriving as children.

The action by US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn centered on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama in 2012. The Supreme Court in June blocked Trump’s 2017 bid to end DACA. His administration, however, continued its policy of not accepting new applications for the program.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has said he plans to revitalize DACA.

Garaufis directed the Department of Homeland Security to post a public notice “displayed prominently” on its websites by Monday announcing that it is accepting new DACA applications. The judge also ordered that the notice make clear that employment authorization under DACA would last for two years rather than one.

The Supreme Court decided that the administration’s attempt to end DACA was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated federal law. Following the ruling, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf in July issued a memo that continued to block new applications to the program while he subjected it to a “full reconsideration.” The memo also limited employment authorization to one year and curtailed recipients’ ability to travel outside the United States.

Garaufis found in November that Wolf had been unlawfully appointed to his post, meaning he did not have the authority to issue the July DACA memorandum.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s administration had argued that Obama exceeded his constitutional powers when he created DACA by executive action, bypassing Congress. Obama created DACA after Congress failed to pass bipartisan legislation to overhaul U.S. immigration policy. DACA recipients often are called “Dreamers” based on the name of legislation considered but never passed in Congress.

US urges countries to make law over access to Tibet

WASHINGTON, Dec 4: Slamming China for its alleged repressive regime in Tibet, a top American diplomat has urged other countries to pass their own versions of a US law that calls for denying access to the US for Chinese officials known to be involved in restricting visits to the remote Himalayan region.

Robert A Destro, Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, on Friday said that together with partners around the world, the US has and will continue to call on China to provide unhindered access to foreigners travelling in Tibetan areas, including for diplomats  and  journalists, just as other countries give Chinese diplomats, journalists and citizens access to their respective countries.

“The US adopted the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act to press for greater access and transparency. Today, I call on our like minded friends  and partners  to pass their own versions of the Act,” he said in his remarks at a virtual event: “Religious Freedom in Tibet: The Appointment of Buddhist Leaders and the Succession of the Dalai Lama.” The Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2018 calls for denying access to the US for Chinese officials known to be involved in restricting visits to Tibet.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader has been demanding meaningful autonomy for Tibetans.

The 85-year-old Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 following a crackdown on an uprising by the local population in Tibet. India granted him political asylum and the Tibetan government-in-exile is based on Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh since then.

China views the 14th Dalai Lama as a “separatist” working to split Tibet from China.

Destro said it is no accident that the Chinese Communist Party claims the right to direct the  selection of the next Dalai Lama, and through that process to remake or in its words to “Sinicize” Tibetan Buddhism in its own Communist image.

“Nor is it a surprise that the  Chinese Communist Party  is ramping up its efforts to eliminate Tibetan language and culture.  It’s doing precisely the same thing with our  Uyghur and Kazakh Muslim brothers and sisters in Xinjiang, and in its efforts to replace the teachings of Jesus and the Prophets with the state-inspired drivel of a ‘patriotic’ church,” he alleged.

“This is what information warfare looks like.  In all it says and does, the Chinese Communist Party aims to control not only the information landscape, but the very thoughts of all whose perspectives and approaches to life in community differ from  those of  the Communist Party,” he alleged.

“Consider the case of the Panchen Lama.  It’s no accident that he was abducted when he was six years old.  What better way to Sinicize Tibetan Buddhism by installing their own pliable and fake replacement who would promote the Communist Party and weaken Tibetan Buddhist individuality,  while  Sinicizing the real Panchen Lama from youth, relegating his traditional roots to what Leon Trotsky derisively called, quote “the dustbin of history”?” he said.

Unfortunately, Tibetan Buddhists are not alone, the American diplomat said.

“The Communist Party  feels so threatened by faith in something other than the Party that its leaders are bent on controlling all aspects of religion, from the selection of Catholic bishops and the training of monks, to the content of scripture and the succession of Buddhist spiritual leaders,” he said. 

“Driven by a need to control anyone or anything that exists independent of the Party, Communist Party officials use force, intimidation, censorship, and coercion  to shape both the medium and the message,” he alleged.  

He alleged that the Communist Party  forces  Chinese citizens into “re-education” and slave labour camps, threatens the families of regime critics, censors  the brave scientists who sought to warn the world about  Covid-19, and corrupt the short-sighted  around the world  with their bribes.  And  the  Communist Party have the audacity to complain that  we  are interfering in their internal affairs.”

The United States, he said, is committed to helping Tibetans safeguard their way of life – not  just in Tibet but  also  in India, Nepal, Bhutan and everywhere that it flourishes. 

“Within a day of announcing my appointment, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the US for interfering in China’s internal affairs, as if Tibetan Buddhism belongs  to China.  It  doesn’t.  Tibetan Buddhism belongs to Tibetans and to its adherents everywhere.  If our commitment to human rights means anything, it is our collective duty to bring attention to this unfolding tragedy – for  Tibetans’ sake and for our own,” he said.

Joe Biden Asks Top Doctor Fauci To Join His Covid Team

WASHINGTON, Dec 4: US President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday said he had asked the government's top infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci to remain in his post and join his Covid-19 team after he takes office.

"I asked him to stay on in the exact same role he's had for the past several presidents," Biden said in an interview with CNN, referring to the expert who outgoing President Donald Trump had suggested he would fire after the election.

"And I asked him to be chief medical adviser for me as well and to be part of the Covid team."

Biden also said that on his first day in office he would ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days to help reduce transmission of the virus that is again surging in a country with the world's highest number of deaths and infections.

"I'm going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask -- not forever," Biden said in the interview excerpts, broadcast ahead of the full interview later Thursday.

Biden's approach to the virus stands in sharp contrast to that of Trump, who has downplayed its seriousness, mocked mask-wearing and called for reopenings despite having been hospitalized with Covid-19 himself.

The president-elect said he planned to use government authority where possible to issue a "standing order" for masking in federal buildings as well as for interstate transportation, including on airplanes and buses.

To build trust in vaccines after they are approved, Biden said he was willing to be vaccinated in public.

The United States has surpassed 14 million Covid-19 infections, with more than 275,000 deaths.

US virus deaths top 3,100 in a single day for the first time

WASHINGTON, Dec 3: The US recorded over 3,100 Covid-19 deaths in a single day, obliterating the record set last spring, while the number of Americans hospitalized with the virus has eclipsed 100,000 for the first time and new cases are topping 200,000 a day, according to figures released Thursday.

The three benchmarks altogether showed a country slipping deeper into crisis, with perhaps the worst yet to come, in part because of the delayed effects from Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans disregarded warnings to stay home and celebrate only with members of their household.

Across the US, the surge has swamped hospitals with patients and left nurses and other health care workers shorthanded and burned out.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday.

Health authorities had warned that the numbers could fluctuate strongly before and after Thanksgiving, as they often do around holidays and weekends, when because of reporting delays, figures often drop, then rise sharply a few days later as state and local agencies catch up with the backlog.

Still, deaths, hospitalizations and cases in the US have been on a fairly steady rise for weeks, sometimes breaking records for days on end.

The US recorded 3,157 deaths on Wednesday, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than the number of people killed on 9/11, and it shattered the old mark of 2,603, set on April 15, when the New York metropolitan area was the epicenter of the US outbreak.

The number of people in the hospital likewise set an all-time high Wednesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. It has more than doubled over the past month.

Also, the number of newly confirmed infections climbed just over 200,000 Wednesday for the second time in less than a week, by Johns Hopkins’ count.

US may impose new visa restrictions on Chinese

BEIJING, Dec 3: China on Thursday accused critics in the US government of “an escalation of political suppression” against Beijing following a report of new visa restrictions on members of China’s ruling Communist Party and their immediate family members.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China would “make representations” to the US following the report Thursday in the New York Times that such people would be limited to one-month, single-entry visas.

Hua called Washington’s approach “totally inconsistent with the US’s own interests,” and said it would damage America’s global image.

“I think it is obvious to all that this is an escalation of political suppression by some extreme anti-China forces in the US out of strong ideological prejudice and deep-rooted Cold War mentality against China,” Hua said at a daily briefing.

The Times report could not immediately be confirmed, but follows earlier hints that Washington was planning such a move, possibly even including a total ban on all 92 million Communist Party members. It wasn’t clear how the restrictions would be enforced since many members do not play active public roles in the party’s institutions.

The restrictions would be the latest punitive measure taken against China’s leadership and economy amid sharpening disputes over human rights, the coronavirus pandemic, trade, technology, Taiwan and a host of other issues.

On Wednesday, the U.S. said it would block imports from a major Chinese producer of cotton goods because of its reliance on workers detained as part of a crackdown on ethnic minorities in China’s northwest.

Washington has already slapped travel bans and financial sanctions on officials connected to the crackdown on Uighurs and other Chinese Muslim groups in Xinjiang, as well as on Chinese and Hong Kong officials it accuses of restricting social and political rights in the semi-autonomous Chinese city through the implementation of a harsh new national security law.

Diplomatic ties hit a low point over the summer when the US ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston and China responded by demanding the US vacate its consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

Washington had been loosening restrictions on travel by Chinese to the U.S., seeking to take advantage of the lavish spending habits of China’s newly wealthy.

Beginning in 2014, Chinese travelers — whether party members or not — became eligible for multiple-entry visas valid for 10 years, with stays of 180 days allowed for each entry, while students were permitted visas good for five years. China reciprocated with similar treatment for US citizens.

Chinese who make up the single largest group of foreign students at American universities have already complained of tougher conditions for obtaining or extending visas. Chinese academics have also faced greater scrutiny, while dozens of journalists with state media have been forced to return home and visa restrictions placed on those remaining, prompting retaliation from Beijing.

Analysts have long speculated that President Donald Trump will impose harsher measures on China before leaving office on Jan. 20, placing President-elect Joe Biden in a bind in managing the increasingly fractious relationship.

Congressman Gregory Meeks assures special ties with India

By Deepak Arora

NEW YORK, Dec 2: The Indian American Community organized a video meeting with
Congressman Gregory Meeks on December 2 with Congressman Raja krishnamoorthi's help. The meeting was attended by US India Security Council President Ramesh Kapur, Bharat Barai, Rajendar Dichpally, American Jewish Community representative Nissim Reuben, Ronak Desai and constituents from the Congressional district of Gregory Meeks -
Dilip Chouhan, Dr.Hari Shukla, Hiren Kumar and staff of the Congressmen Meeks and Raja krishnamoorthi.

Congressman Meeks spoke about China challenge and also the Pandemic issue and the fact that most of the vaccines will be coming from India and USA needs to work with India with a special relationship. He said he looks forward to going to India again and recalled his earlier
visit to India last year with his elder daughter.

Meeks also recognized the contributions of Indian Americans to USA and the role they played in strengthening the bond between both the democracies. He said that he was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's role in shaping a plural world from South Africa and the influence it had on him and his ideal - Martin Luther King.

In the question and Answer session, Ronak Desai asked if there will be any major realignment in American policy post the Pandemic. Meeks spoke about the dialogue that is needed to be continued with China and also said that it was important to continue to work with friends like India for a stronger relationship as we move forward.

Bharat Barai thanked Congressman Meeks for his support to US-India Civil Nuclear deal. He also offered to convey any personal message from Congressman to Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi.

Congressman Meeks recalled his meeting with Prime Minister Modi in New York and said he looks forward to going to India again and help strengthen the bond betweenthe two democracies.

Ramesh Kapur spoke on the support from Congressman Meeks for increase in Trade relationship between USA and India. He said that President Obama and Vice President Biden had classified India as a Major Defense Partner and signed it in the NDAA agreement towards the end of 2016. Ramesh Kapur asked for Congressman Meeks support to operationalize the Export control Act so that India is classified as a NATO plus 6 country. He predicted that the Congressman will soon be elected as Foreign Relations Chair to the
House Committee.

Congressman Meeks said that he will work with Chairman Adam Smith (Armed Services Committee), Biden Administration and Tony Blinken (Secretary of State in Biden Administration) to make sure this law is changed in NDAA 2022.

The meeting ended with an agreement that the community will engage the Congressman closely for a better relationship once he is elected as chairman of Foreign Relation Committee in the House of Representatives.

US justice dept finds no vote fraud, orders probe into ‘cash for pardon’ scheme

WASHINGTON, Dec 2: The US justice department had found no evidence of widespread voting fraud to change the outcome of the 2020 election, attorney general William Barr has said, in a big blow to President Donald Trump’s plans to overturn his defeat.

The department is also probing an alleged bribery scheme involving campaign donations to secure a presidential pardon, a court filing showed on Tuesday. The document is highly redacted, with all identifying information blacked out. But it refers to a “secret lobbying scheme” directed at “senior White House officials” to gain a presidential “pardon or reprieve of sentence” for an unnamed person. The probe comes days after Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The clean chit to elections from Barr, a Trump ally, was seen as a stunning repudiation of his boss’s efforts. Barr said that the department of justice prosecutors and FBI agents had followed up specific poll fraud complaints and information they had received, but “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election”.

Trump’s attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis hit back in a statement, saying “there hasn’t been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation” and that the lawyers had “gathered ample evidence of illegal voting in at least six states, which they have not examined”.

Barr also said he had named US attorney John Durham as Special Counsel to investigate origins of the Russia meddling probe into the 2016 election. As attorney general, a political appointee, he could have been easily removed by the Biden administration, but firing a special counsel can be messy.

Trump’s lies about election fraud are beginning to alarm Republicans. One Georgia election official angrily appealed to him to stop and condemn threats of violence against election officials by his supporters.

With his chances of staying in power dwindling, Trump indicated he may be considering another run in 2024. “It’s been an amazing four years. We are trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years,” he told guests at a White House Christmas party, according to a CNN report.

The president has also threatened to veto the defence spending bill if it did not include a provision rescinding a law that shields social media platforms from liability for their content — Section 230. He and his allies have long complained of discrimination by Facebook, Twitter and others.

Seemingly undeterred by being fact-checked by his attorney general, Trump tweeted out a stream of TV clips of so-called witnesses speaking about election fraud at briefings and one legislative hearing that they claimed to have seen or experienced personally, which, have failed, once again, to withstand scrutiny in court.

President-elect Joe Biden, on the other hand, has continued to put together his administration publicly, unaffected by Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. He introduced his economic team comprising Janet Yellen and Neera Tanden, nominees for treasury secretary and director of the office of management and budget respectively, in Wilmington, Delaware.

“Let me be clear, with this team and the others who we will add in the weeks ahead, we will create a recovery for all and get this economy moving again,” Biden said while introducing his team. “We will create jobs, raise incomes, reduce drug prices, advance racial equity across the economy, and restore the backbone of this country — the middle class.”

Trump’s H-1B visa rule that hurt Indians scrapped by US judge

WASHINGTON DC, Dec 2: A US judge on Tuesday threw out two rules proposed by the Trump administration to narrow eligibility for H-1B visa aspirants and raise their salaries in an effort to make it tougher for companies, mostly in IT, to use this short-term employment programme to hire foreigner workers instead of local Americans.

US district judge Jeffrey S. White of the Northern District of California ruled that the changes were introduced in a hurry and did not abide by the usual transparency obligations: provide notice and sufficient time for public comments.

The administration had sought to rush it through in October arguing urgency - as a “good cause exception” - in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The court cannot countenance - reluctantly or otherwise - defendants’ reliance on the Covid-19 pandemic to invoke the good-cause exception,” White wrote. “The pandemic’s impact on the economy is the only reason DHS proffered as good cause, and defendants do not dispute that the failure to provide notice and comment was prejudicial.”

The United States issues 85,000 new H-1B visa every year. More than 70% of them go to Indian professionals hired by American companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, and Indian IT services companies such as TCS, Wipro and Infosys.

Many of them tend to stay on and graduate to permanent residency, or Green Cards, and eventually citizenship - such as Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, who came to the US to study on an F-1 visa, got hired by McKinsey on H-1B and went on to become a US citizen via the mandatory Green Card.

“This ruling has many companies across various industries breathing a huge sigh of relief today,” said Jon Baselice, director of immigration policy for the US Chamber of Commerce in a statement. “Both of these rules had the potential to be incredibly disruptive to the operations of many businesses.”

Among those breathing easier will be people at Nasscom, which represents Indian IT companies, some of whom have built substantial operations in the US using H-1B visas to bring workers from India.

“These regulations seem to be based on misinformation about the programme and runs counterproductive to their very objective of saving the American economy and jobs,” it had said when the administration announced the new rules in October.

In October, the administration announced two rules. One of them went into effect immediately – it raised salaries for H-1B to match those of Americans workers with similar qualifications, which was intended to deny companies from hiring foreign workers only because they were cheaper.

The second rule was to go into effect after some days. It sought to narrow the eligibility for H-1B aspirants. A basic bachelor’s degree in anything wouldn’t be enough. For instance, a foreigner being hired for a job in computer engineering had to be a computer engineer.

The Trump administration has had the H-1B programme in its crosshairs from the president’s first year in office, when he announced his “Buy American, Hire American” policies.

Critics of the programme that allows two tranches of three-year work permits to principal H-1B visa holders and work authorisation for spouses, have argued that companies have used it to replace American workers with foreigners on lower salaries.

The Trump administration agreed. While it tried to change the system incrementally, it accelerated them and with more far-reaching changes after Covid-19 struck early this year, causing widespread job losses.

Trump suspended the programme and immigration to ensure Americans have the first shot at jobs becoming available as the economy recovered.

Biden assembles administration as Trump cries foul in another call-in

WASHINGTON DC, Dec 1: US President-elect Joe Biden continued assemble his administration and prepare to take over in January as Arizona and Wisconsin certified their results, making his victory official and delivering another snub to President Donald Trump’s efforts to cling on to the presidency citing baseless poll fraud claims.

Biden will introduce his economic team comprising nominees for treasury secretary and director of the Office of Management and budget Janet Yellen and Neera Tanden on Tuesday, after his daily intelligence briefing, which he began receiving on Monday as part of a delayed transition process.

Biden also announced his presidential inauguration committee with Maju Varghese, an Indian American, as executive director. Tony Allen, the African American CEO of a Delaware university, will head it as CEO.

Trump remains dug in, refusing to accept the result. With Republican-ruled Arizona and Democratic Nevada certifying Biden’s victory, all six swing states that Trump have now made their election outcomes official: Biden wins with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.

The Trump campaign has continued to file lawsuits, none of which withstood even the most cursory scrutiny in courts, and lobby Republican-controlled legislatures in these states to reject the outcome and send their own list of electors, who, according to the plan, will vote for Trump on December 14, and not for Biden as they should in the winner-takes-all system of electoral college voting.

Trump called into a briefing his lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis gave Republican legislators of Arizona, which has been wrongly portrayed as a “hearing”, as he had in Pennsylvania last week.

“What they did is they played game, and games like nobody has ever seen before,” Trump said on the call, referring to Democrats.

“This is the first time that Republicans or the first time anyone has fought back.” He went on to falsely claim he actually won the swing states that have certified Biden the winner.

Meanwhile, Melania Trump, the first lady, unveiled season decorations for what will be the family’s last Christmas in the White House. “During this special time of the year, I am delighted to share “America the Beautiful” and pay tribute to the majesty of our great Nation. Together, we celebrate this land we are all proud to call home,” she wrote in a tweet with a one-minute video of the decorations.

Joe Biden gets access to President’s Daily Brief

WILIMINGTON, Dec 1: Joe Biden on Monday got his first look as president-elect at the President’s Daily Brief, a top secret summary of US intelligence and world events — a document former first lady Michelle Obama has called “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book.” Biden has already had eyes on different iterations of the so-called PDB, which is tailored to the way each president likes to absorb information.

More than a decade ago, Biden read President George W Bush’s PDB during Biden’s transition into the vice presidency. After that, he read President Barack Obama’s PDB for eight years. Now, after a four-year break, he’s reading President Donald Trump’s PDB.

“The briefers almost certainly will be asking Biden what he prefers in terms of format and style,” said David Priess, author of “The President’s Book of Secrets,” a history of the PDB.

“At a minimum, they’re seeing what seems to resonate most with him so that when they make the book his book, they can tailor it to him.” Obama’s PDB was a 10- to 15-page document tucked in a leather binder, which he found waiting for him on the breakfast table. Later in his presidency, he liked reading the ultra-secret intelligence brief on a secured iPad.

“Michelle called it “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book,” Obama wrote in his recently released book, ”A Promised Land.” “On a given day, I might read about terrorist cells in Somalia or unrest in Iraq or the fact that the Chinese or Russians were developing new weapons systems,” Obama wrote.

“Nearly always, there was mention of potential terrorist plots, no matter how vague, thinly sourced, or unactionable — a form of due diligence on the part of the intelligence community, meant to avoid the kind of second-guessing that had transpired after 9/11.”

From now until Inauguration Day, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be reading the PDB crafted for Trump, who had delayed giving Biden and Harris access to it as he contests the outcome of the election.

Trump, who prefers absorbing information in visual ways, likes short texts and graphics.

“Trump himself said during his campaign and during the transition in 2016 that he did not like reading long documents — that he preferred bullet points,” said Priess, who has not seen any of Trump’s PDBs. “It probably has charts, tables, graphs — things like that. Not the parody that people make that it’s like a cartoon book ... but something that is more visual. But we don’t know for sure.”

The written brief, which Trump doesn’t always read, often is followed by a verbal briefing with an intelligence official, although those oral briefings stopped at least for a time in October. Priess said he didn’t know why they stopped or if they had resumed, but that they stopped at a time when Trump was spending much of his time on the campaign trail.

Before Trump authorized Biden to get the PDB as president-elect, Biden was given some intelligence background briefings as a candidate. But they were more general and did not include the nation’s top secrets.

The other thing that a president-elect gets is a briefing “on CIA’s covert actions,” former acting CIA director Mike Morell said at an event hosted by the Center for Presidential Transition based in Washington. “It’s important for the president-elect to get this briefing ... because on Inauguration Day, these covert actions will become the new president’s.”

In 1961, President John F Kennedy read his first brief while sitting on the diving board of a swimming pool at his retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. President Lyndon Johnson liked to read his brief in the afternoon. President Richard Nixon relied on his national security adviser Henry Kissinger to peruse the briefs and tell him what he thought the president should know.

As the laborious recount of ballots dragged on in 2000, President Bill Clinton decided that then-Gov George W Bush should get access to his PDB just in case he was the winner. Bush became was the first incoming president to read it before he was president-elect.

Biden is getting the PDB later than usual because of Trump’s ongoing protest of the election results. Trump approved the briefings for Biden last Tuesday, a day after his administration approved the formal transition process to his successor.

When Biden walks into the Oval Office, he’ll be inheriting nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, changing political dynamics in the Middle East, the winding down of America’s presence in Afghanistan and rising competition from China.

Biden had access to the PDB in Wilmington, Delaware. Harris received it in a secure room at the Commerce Department, where the presidential transition offices are located.

Even Biden, who has decades of experience in foreign policy, could be the victim of an old political adage that no matter how informed he thinks he is, he could learn otherwise from the PDB.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden wrote in his book that revelations and new insight found in the PDB are known as “aw s---” moments. As in: “Aw s---,” he wrote, “wish we hadn’t said that during that campaign stop in Buffalo.”




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