Category Archives: North America – United States

Trump’s pentagon stalling transition, risky – Joe Biden

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Biden said he was seeking a “clear picture” from the outgoing administration on the force posture of US troops around the world.

President-elect Joe Biden said Monday that Donald Trump’s appointees at the Pentagon were stalling on the transition and warned that the United States faces security risks as a result.

After he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were briefed by their transition teams on national security, Biden said that political appointees at the Pentagon as well as the Office of Management and Budget had put up “roadblocks.”

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“Right now, we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security area(s),” Biden said after the briefing.

“It is nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility.”

“We need full visibility into the budget planning underway at the Defense Department and other agencies in order to avoid any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit,” Biden said.

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Trump has refused to concede the November 3 election, which Biden won by some seven million votes and by 306-232 in the state-by-state Electoral College. The president has made unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud.

The Trump administration has drawn concern by shaking up the leadership of the Pentagon since the election including firing defense secretary Mark Esper, who had distanced himself from the president’s use of force against unarmed anti-racism demonstrators earlier this year.

Trump’s new acting defense secretary, Chris Miller, has said that the outgoing administration had agreed with Biden’s people to pause briefings for the holiday season, an assertion that the incoming team called untrue.

Miller released a statement Monday saying the Pentagon’s coordination efforts with the transition team “already surpass those of recent administrations with over three weeks to go.”

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He added that Department of Defense officials would continue working in a “transparent and collegial manner” to support the transition.

Trump’s last-minute installation of loyalists at the Pentagon comes amid high tensions with Iran, which Trump blamed for a rocket attack on the US embassy in Iraq ahead of the January anniversary of the US killing in Baghdad of a top Iranian general.

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#Newsworthy

US shooting: Solider charged with murder

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The highly decorated Green Beret was assigned to the US Army’s 7th Special Forces Group, based in Florida, and had served four Afghan tours.

A US Green Beret has been charged with murder after a shooting at a bowling alley over the weekend left three dead in Illinois, the state attorney said Monday.

A further three people were injured when a man opened fire in Rockford’s Don Carter Lanes bowling alley on Saturday night.

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Duke Webb, 37, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder and denied bail, State Attorney J. Hanley said in a press conference.

Hanley named those killed as Thomas Furseth, 65, from Machesney Park in Illinois, Jerome Woodford, 69, and Dennis Steinhoff, 73, who were both from Rockford.

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Of those wounded, the state attorney said a 16-year-old girl was stable, while another teen — a 14-year-old boy — and a 62-year-old man remain in a critical condition in hospital.

“The defendant admitted to the shootings and directed officers to the locations of the firearms he used,” Hanley told the press conference.

Two weapons were recovered at the scene.

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Webb was on leave and reportedly visiting family at the time of the attack.

He is due to appear again in court on February 16, and could face life imprisonment without parole if convicted.

A decorated Special Forces assistant operations and intelligence sergeant, Webb finished his most recent tour of Afghanistan in July, US media said.

Media reported his lawyer saying Webb might have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) although noting he will need a medical examination before that can be confirmed.

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Major General John Brennan, commander of 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), said Webb’s actions were “abhorrent and are absolutely not representative of the Special Forces Regiment.”

“The actions described in reports are shocking and are completely out of character with Webb’s 12 years of honourable service,” Brennan told NoRM‘s known Media

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#Newsworthy

COVID-19: Million of Americans vaccinated

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This week, the target was to distribute six million vaccine doses by Moderna this week and another two million of Pfizer’s.

More than a million people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield said Wednesday.

“The United States achieved an early but important milestone today — jurisdictions have now reported that more than one million people have received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine since administration began 10 days ago,” said Redfield.

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In a call with reporters, Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor of the government’s Operation Warp Speed, said that the objective of immunizing 20 million people this month was “unlikely to be met.”

But he said the US was still aiming for 100 million people immunized by the end of the first quarter of 2021, and another 100 million by the second quarter.

Three million doses were delivered last week across the United States, with the first authorized vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, administered on December 14.

The US is the world’s hardest-hit country and is in the middle of an extreme winter surge.

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More than 320,000 people have succumbed to the virus, and it will likely be the leading cause of death in 2020 behind heart disease and cancer.

Residents of long-term care facilities and health care workers were at the front of the line, while the next phase is set to target people aged over-75 and critical workers.

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#Newsworthy

Breaking: Trump signs COVID-19 relief bill upon pressure

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The total number of confirmed infections since the outbreak began surpassed 19 million on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University, by far the highest number in the world.

United States President Donald Trump, on holiday in Florida, has finally signed a $2.3 trillion financial package that is crucial to millions of jobless Americans, after coming under pressure from legislators.

The White House confirmed the outgoing president had signed the bill shortly after he tweeted: “Good news on Covid Relief Bill. Information to follow.”

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Trump, who has been pictured playing golf at his Mar-a-Lago resort over the Christmas weekend, had been under pressure from legislators on both sides to stop blocking the pandemic aid and government funding bill, which had been approved by Congress last week.

The Republican president had demanded the bill be changed to increase the size of stimulus cheques for struggling Americans to $2,000 from $600, putting not only the enormous package of economic and public-health assistance at risk, but the basic functioning of the government itself.

“I have told Congress that I want far less wasteful spending and more money going to the American people in the form of $2,000 checks per adult and $600 per child,” Trump said in a statement announcing he had signed the bill.

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White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said the president was “sending a strong message” that “wasteful items” needed to be removed from the bill and added that a “redlined” version would be sent back to Congress with a requirement that such items be removed from the bill.

Other conditions include a review and possible repeal of Section 230, under which social media giants cannot be held legally responsible for objectionable words, photos or videos that people post to their platforms.

Deere says Congress also agreed to “focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud” in the November elections. There is no evidence of such fraud and the courts have thrown out Trump’s efforts to bring legal action.

The financial package passed with wide margins in the House and Senate and with the understanding of members of both parties that Trump supported it.

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The bill had to be signed by midnight on Tuesday (05:00 GMT) to ensure the federal government did not run out of money.

“This is President Donald Trump’s last stand at 1: Being relevant and 2: Being able to cause chaos and discord in Washington,” political analyst Eric Ham told NoRM‘s known Media.

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Legislators were urging Trump to sign the legislation immediately and then push Congress for more money given the economic hardship faced by many people and the continuing surge of COVID-19.

Media personnel said the president’s delay meant that people were unlikely to get the money in time to meet rental payments and pay their bills, especially with a public holiday on Friday.

“It’s better than nothing, which is what people went into Christmas having,” Jordan said. “There is a lot of criticism of the president for delaying unnecessarily in these critics view and making things even harder on people than it has already been for the past nine months.”

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As well as unemployment benefits and relief payments to families, the bill was also necessary for money for vaccine distribution, businesses, cash-starved public transport and protections against eviction.

The United States has reported more cases of coronavirus – and more deaths – than any other country in the world and experts are warning of further pain once the Christmas and New Year holidays are over.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases expert, has warned travel during the holiday season could push the country to a “critical point” in the pandemic.

According to COVID Tracking Project data, the US has recorded an average of 185,903 new daily infections over the past seven days, while the number of people in hospital with the disease reached 117,344 on Saturday.

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Congress, which is usually adjourned during the last week of December, is preparing to return to work on Monday.

The Democrats, who control the lower House of Representatives, have proposed an increased relief payment of $2,000 but Republicans have expressed concern about the cost.

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#Newsworthy

Just in: Trump tag COVID-19 relief bill ‘Shame’, Nays adoption

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In his address, Trump said he would refuse to accept the bill as it is and demanded changes, notably a big increase in the proposed $600 direct payments to less well-off Americans.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday rejected a massive Covid economic relief package passed by Congress, branding it “a disgrace” in an act of political brinkmanship less than a month before he must leave office and when millions of Americans are suffering fallout from the pandemic.

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Trump dropped the bombshell via a pre-recorded statement made in the White House and sent out on Twitter.

It came just a day after his Republicans and the Democrats finally agreed overwhelmingly to a $900 billion bill meant to throw a lifeline to businesses and people struggling to keep heads above water.

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“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple,” he said, referring to relief checks.

Tapping into his nationalist “America First” brand, Trump also castigated measures added onto the bill during complex negotiations that would provide funding for projects benefiting US partners abroad and other non-Covid related items like the environment.

“It really is a disgrace,” he said. “I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and just send me a suitable bill.”

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Trump has not yet received the bill and he did not explicitly say he would not sign. If he actually vetoed the package, Congress would almost certainly quickly override that, given the bipartisan support.

In what is widely expected to be only a portion of a slew of presidential pardons and commutations issued in the dying days of the administration, the White House also announced late Tuesday that 20 people had been selected.

They included two convicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe into Trump campaign ties to Moscow and four men convicted in connection with the mass killing of at least 14 Iraqi civilians.

Power struggle
The Covid package is wrapped into a $2.3 trillion, almost 5,600-page “coronabus” bill that includes a so-called omnibus bill to fund the government for the coming year.

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A congressional override of a veto would mark an embarrassing defeat for Trump, who is spending his final weeks in office before the January 20 inauguration of Democrat Joe Biden by pursuing unprecedented attempts to try and get the election results overturned.

However, until he has the bill on his desk he has no need to veto.

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And Trump’s motives in picking the fight with Congress are intertwined with his extraordinary ongoing struggle to overturn the November 3 election.

Despite courts across the country rejecting his baseless claims of fraud, he has enough allies on the right of the Republican party — and a devoted following among some voters — to keep trying to derail the traditionally smooth presidential transition.

He pushed again Tuesday in a second lengthy video statement from the White House, claiming that he won in a “landslide.”

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His challenge now puts the Republican party in a bind, forcing lawmakers who angered him by declaring Biden the true winner to choose whether they dare defy him further and risk wrecking Covid relief.

“We spent months trying to secure $2000 checks but Republicans blocked it,” said top Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer on Twitter.

“Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open and we’re glad to pass more aid Americans need. Maybe Trump can finally make himself useful and get Republicans not to block it again.”

“At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!” said Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, which is Democrat-controlled.

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Senator Bernie Sanders, who sought the Democratic nomination for president on a progressive platform, also joined in, tweeting that he “first introduced a bill to provide a $2,000 direct payment with @SenKamalaHarris & @EdMarkey 7 months ago.”

“Now, Mr. President, get Mitch McConnell and your Republican friends to stop opposing it and we can provide working class Americans with $2,000.”

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#Newsworthy

US Election: Joe Biden in new battle as Republican accepts win

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Republicans have framed Georgia as must-win races, with the state forming the last line of defense against what they describe as radical “socialism.”

President-elect Joe Biden threw his weight into the Democratic battle for control of the US Senate on Tuesday, as his White House win was finally acknowledged by top Republicans and holdout foreign leaders.

Biden flew into Georgia — a southern state he won in an upset against President Donald Trump — to host a rally for two Democratic candidates in runoff races that will determine the Senate’s balance of power.

“Honk for your next United States senators Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock,” Biden told the crowd at the drive-in event in Atlanta — urging voters to turn out in force on January 5.

“Send me these two men, and we will control the Senate!”

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One day after the Electoral College affirmed Biden’s victory, attention shifted to the looming Senate battle — and to the shape of the incoming administration as US media reported Biden will tap Pete Buttigieg, a former Indiana mayor and presidential rival, as secretary of transportation.

Buttigieg would be the first openly gay person confirmed by the Senate to a presidential cabinet post — in sync with Biden’s pledge to usher in the most diverse cabinet ever when he takes office on January 20.

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And while Trump still refuses to concede — continuing to tweet allegations of mass fraud that have been rejected in dozens of lawsuits — top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell finally broke his silence with a message to the president: it’s over.

ATLANTA, GA – DECEMBER 15: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in rally for U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock at Pullman Yard on December 15, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Biden’s stop in Georgia comes less than a month before the January 5 runoff election for Ossoff and Warnock as they try to unseat Republican incumbents Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

“The Electoral College has spoken. So today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, adding that Americans can also “take pride” that they will have their first female vice president in Kamala Harris.

Biden told reporters before flying to Georgia that he had a “good” phone conversation with McConnell, a longtime Senate colleague.

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“I told him that while we disagree on a lot of things there are things we can work together on,” Biden said.

The Electoral College confirmation triggered a recognition of Biden’s win from Russian President Vladimir Putin who said he was “ready for collaboration” with the Democrat.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of — who had both waited until now to recognize the president-elect — also sent their congratulations.

‘Turn the page’
Trump, in unprecedented fashion, has yet to acknowledge his defeat in the chaotic election that will see him exit the White House after a single four-year term.

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But Biden urged the divided country to “turn the page” as he welcomed the Electoral College vote on Monday, saying US democracy proved “resilient” against Trump’s “abuse of power.”

He praised voters for casting ballots in record numbers despite fears of Covid-19 and “enormous political pressure, verbal abuse and even threats of physical violence.”

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The White House transition is occurring with the coronavirus pandemic surging, pushing US Covid-19 deaths above 300,000.

While critical winter months lie ahead, a bright spot has emerged with health care workers receiving the first doses of coronavirus vaccine distributed in the nation.

And with top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci recommending Biden and Harris quickly take the vaccine, the president-elect said they would receive the shot in public view.

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Minds on Georgia
Although the door has all but shut on his efforts to overturn the vote results, Trump remained defiant, insisting in a series of tweets that he won a “landslide victory” and that there were still “tremendous problems” with the vote.

In a threatening move against Republican leaders in Georgia, where he has made baseless claims of massive voter fraud, he retweeted a pro-Trump lawyer who posted a picture of Georgia’s governor and secretary of state, saying “they will soon be going to jail.”

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, need to flip both Georgia Senate seats in order to seize control of the upper chamber, while Republicans must hold just one to maintain their majority.

If Republicans do, McConnell remains majority leader, and his relationship with Biden will quickly become the most closely watched in Washington.

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The pair were known for striking deals during crunch periods when Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president.

But McConnell gave Obama no quarter, repeatedly stymying him on judicial nominations and forcing the president to curtail his legislative agenda.

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#Newsworthy

Just in: United States Gov’t affirm Cyber Attack

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The same group also reportedly hacked US government agencies during the Obama administration.

The US government confirmed Sunday that its computer networks had been hit by a cyberattack, as The Washington Post reported at least two departments had been targeted by Russian state hackers.

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“We have been working closely with our agency partners regarding recently discovered activity on government networks,” a spokesperson for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency told AFP.

“CISA is providing technical assistance to affected entities as they work to identify and mitigate any potential compromises.”

The Post said the hacks were linked to an attack last week on cybersecurity firm FireEye, which said its own defenses were breached by sophisticated attackers who stole tools used to test customers’ computer systems.

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FireEye said it suspected the attack was state-sponsored.

US media reports also said the FBI was investigating a group working for the Russian foreign intelligence service, SVR, and that breaches had been taking place for months.

“The United States government is aware of these reports and we are taking all necessary steps to identify and remedy any possible issues related to this situation,” National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said.

Russia’s embassy in the US hit back later Sunday against what it said were the “unfounded” media claims, denying any role in the alleged attacks.

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“Malicious activities in the information space contradicts the principles of the Russian foreign policy, national interests and our understanding of interstate relations,” the embassy said in a statement on its official Facebook page.

“Russia does not conduct offensive operations in the cyber domain.”

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#Newsworthy

Joe Biden appoints Obama vet, Susan Rice, Others

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A tug of war over the agriculture post reportedly developed in recent weeks, with progressive congresswoman Marcia Fudge a leading candidate.

US President-elect Joe Biden announced several administration picks Thursday, including Obama-era officials such as former national security advisor Susan Rice as White House Domestic Policy Council director and ex-chief of staff Denis McDonough as veterans affairs secretary.

The appointments, laid out by Biden’s presidential transition team, highlight the diversity which Biden pledged to bring to his cabinet.

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“This is the right team for this moment in history, and I know that each of these leaders will hit the ground running on day one to take on the interconnected crises families are facing today,” Biden said in a statement.

Rice, who is Black, had been a contender for secretary of state. But she was expected to face intense opposition from Republicans in the Senate confirmation process over her role in the Benghazi crisis of 2012, and that prestigious cabinet position went to close Biden advisor Antony Blinken.

Heading the Domestic Policy Council will assure Rice, 56, gets into the president-elect’s White House inner circle and see her influence key elements of Biden’s “build back better” agenda amid a surging coronavirus pandemic and strains over racial justice.

In this file photo taken on March 18, 2015, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at a press conference in Washington, DC. – US President-elect Joe Biden announced several administration nominations on December 10, 2020, including Vilsack, Obama’s secretary of agriculture for two full terms, has been nominated to that same role under Biden. (Photo by Nicholas KAMM / AFP)

But it may be seen as a surprise appointment given her experience in foreign policy. The position does not need Senate confirmation.

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He has been nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, a sprawling government agency tasked with managing a health care network that serves nine million enrolled veterans.

Biden has repeatedly stressed that his presidency will not equate to a third Obama term, and yet Thursday’s announcement spotlights his close connection with his Democratic predecessor’s brain trust.

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He named 69-year-old Iowan Tom Vilsack, Obama’s secretary of agriculture for two full terms, to the same role, which is seen as central to the coronavirus response as the department helps feed millions of Americans in need.

Instead, Fudge, 68, was nominated to serve as secretary of housing and urban development, a position whose profile could also rise as the pandemic fuels a potential eviction crisis.

Biden also chose international trade expert Katherine Tai to be the US trade representative.

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Tai, currently the chief trade lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee, would be the first Asian American and first woman of color in the USTR role.

The transition team also confirmed that Biden will travel to Georgia Tuesday to boost two Democratic candidates in tight run-off elections that will determine which party controls the US Senate.

The trip coincides with the start of early voting there next Monday.

The runoffs feature former journalist Jon Ossoff challenging Republican Senator David Perdue, and Raphael Warnock, pastor at one of the most prominent Black churches in America, running to unseat Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler.

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Biden narrowly won Georgia in the presidential race. The tight state contest has been challenged by President Donald Trump, who has made repeated accusations that the election was “rigged” and that massive fraud helped Biden win in Georgia and elsewhere.

No evidence has emerged to support such claims.

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#Newsworthy

Facebook seeks divestment of Instagram, WhatsApp messenger.

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The suits allege Facebook sought to squelch competition by acquiring the messaging applications — Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.

United States federal and state antitrust enforcers filed suit against Facebook on Wednesday claiming the social media giant abused its dominant position and seeking to unwind its acquisitions of messaging services Instagram and WhatsApp.

Separate suits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of state officials called for the divestment of Instagram and WhatsApp, services which are part of the Facebook “family” of applications.

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“Facebook’s actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition,” said Ian Conner, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition.

“Our aim is to roll back Facebook’s anticompetitive conduct and restore competition so that innovation and free competition can thrive.”

A separate legal action was filed by antitrust enforcers from 48 US states and territories.

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“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” said New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who leads the coalition.

The action presages a fierce court battle seeking to force Facebook to divest the apps which have become an increasingly important element of the business model of the California giant and integrated into its technology.

Facebook said it would “vigorously” defend its actions and denied abusing its position.

“Antitrust laws exist to protect consumers and promote innovation, not to punish successful businesses,” Facebook general counsel Jennifer Newstead said in a statement.

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“Instagram and WhatsApp became the incredible products they are today because Facebook invested billions of dollars, and years of innovation and expertise, to develop new features and better experiences for the millions who enjoy those products.”

Newstead added that these deals had been approved years ago by the FTC, which she said meant “the government now wants a do-over, sending a chilling warning to American business that no sale is ever final.”

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Consumer harm?
Some analysts argued the antitrust cases would have difficulty proving Facebook harmed consumers since its services are largely free.

Jessica Melugin of the Competitive Enterprise Institute libertarian think tank called the actions “political theater dressed up as antitrust law” and argued that “a billion consumers worldwide have benefited from Facebook’s purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp.”

Cleveland State University law professor Christopher Sagers said the case may have merit because Facebook “has been an unabashedly predatory and exclusionary bully in every sector it’s been involved in.”

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But he also noted that “American antitrust law is now so hard to enforce in all cases, especially in cases like this, involving no conspiracy among competitors, and rather involving only one big firm’s unilateral conduct.”

Tiffany Li, a Boston University law professor who studies the sector, said that while Facebook has rivals bidding for internet users’ attention it has a big advantage because of its access to data.

“One company having exclusive ownership of vast amounts of user data, with no potential for interoperability or access to competitors, can be anti-competitive,” she said.

The FTC announced earlier this year it would review acquisitions made by five Big Tech firms over the past decade, opening the door to a wave of potential antitrust investigations.

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The consumer protection agency said it would review deals made by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet since 2010 amid growing complaints about tech platforms which have dominated key economic sectors.

The US Justice Department, which shares antitrust enforcement with the FTC, in October sued Google parent Alphabet, accusing the Silicon Valley giant of maintaining an “illegal monopoly” in online search and advertising and opening the door to a potential breakup. Eleven US states joined that case.

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#Newsworthy

United States ‘blacklist’ Nigeria on Religious Freedom

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Nigeria is the base of Boko Haram, the Islamist extremists whose 11-year insurgency has killed more than 36,000 people and spread to neighbouring countries.

The United States on Monday placed Nigeria for the first time on a religious freedom blacklist, pressing an ally as Christian groups voice growing insecurity.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom, the rare inclusion of a fellow democracy in the US effort to shame nations into action.

“These annual designations show that when religious freedom is attacked, we will act,” Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, wrote on Twitter.

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Nigeria maintains a delicate balance between Muslims and Christians, but church groups have expressed their rising concerns to the United States.

US law requires designations for nations that either engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”

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The nations on the blacklist include Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which both have historic albeit complicated alliances with the United States, as well as China and Iran, arch-rivals for President Donald Trump’s administration.

The other nations on the list are Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Pompeo notably did not target India, an increasingly close partner of the United States.

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India voiced outrage earlier this year when the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which provides recommendations to the State Department, called for India’s blacklisting over what it said was a sharp downturn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist.

Sudan, which is transforming after decades of dictatorship, exited the blacklist last year, and Pompeo on Monday lifted the country from a second-tier watchlist along with Uzbekistan.

Under US law, nations on the blacklist must make improvements or face sanctions including losses of US assistance, although the administration can waive measures.

Worries about Nigeria worsening
The State Department did not immediately elaborate on why it designated Nigeria but, in its annual report earlier this year, took note of concerns both at the federal and state levels.

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It pointed to the mass detention of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a Shiite Muslim group that was banned last year on terrorism allegations.

The Nigerian army killed some 350 Shiites, many of them gunned down or burned alive, in a 2015 confrontation, according to rights groups.

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The movement has taken inspiration from Iran, ordinarily a major target for Trump. But the Catholic Church criticized the prohibition on the group, fearing it set a dangerous precedent for all religions.

The State Department report also highlighted the arrests of Muslims for eating in public in Kano state during Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to fast during daylight hours, and new regulations on preaching in Kaduna state.

But the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a letter to Pompeo, said that far more Nigerians were being killed in herder-farmer conflicts, in which Christians have borne the brunt as climate change worsens desertification.

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Christian groups have also accused President Muhammadu Buhari of paying insufficient attention after jihadists abducted and killed a pastor, Lawan Andimi.

The International Committee on Nigeria, an advocacy group, has urged the United States to appoint a special envoy, calling the Buhari government’s response to the violence “weak” and voicing fear it will worsen.

Bipartisan push on blasphemy
Religious freedom has been a core issue for Pompeo and Trump, who count on strong evangelical Christian support and have often played down other human rights concerns among allies.

In a bipartisan effort as Trump exits, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution Monday that asks the United States to put a priority on repealing blasphemy laws around the world.

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The resolution noted that more than 70 countries had blasphemy laws on the books and voiced alarm over Pakistan, where minorities have frequently been targeted, as well as about attacks on secularist writers in Bangladesh.

The House also unanimously approved a resolution calling for an end to Iran’s “state-sponsored persecution” of the Baha’i community and urged the immediate release of detained members of the faith.

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#Newsworthy

US Election: Trump shows no surrender

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But on Saturday night, there were flashes where it seemed Trump may be beginning to accept what lies ahead.

President Donald Trump made clear Saturday he had no intention of relinquishing his baseless claims that last month’s election was stolen from him, telling a raucous crowd at his first post-poll rally he would somehow still win.

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In a speech remarkable for its twisting of reality more than a month after the November 3 election, the outgoing president launched into another litany of allegations that the polls won handily by Democrat Joe Biden were rigged.

The crowd in Valdosta, Georgia for what was nominally a rally in support of two Republican Senate candidates facing a hugely consequential runoff election roared in support, at one point chanting “fight for Trump.”

Even with Covid-19 cases surging nationwide, there were few masks in the crowd and many ignored social-distancing rules.

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In a nearly two-hour speech Trump, 74, declared he would not concede, at times sticking to his script but regularly going off-the-cuff for his more incendiary claims.

“We’re winning this election,” Trump told the rally, which was similar to his many gatherings prior to the election, down to the soaring country song “God Bless the USA” played as he took the stage with First Lady Melania Trump.

“It’s rigged. It’s a fixed deal.”

It was yet another example of Trump breaking democratic norms, engaging in conspiracy-mongering and presenting falsehoods in ways unprecedented in US history.

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His stance has raised the question of how he will react when Biden’s January 20 swearing-in date arrives.

“The swing states that we’re all fighting over now, I won them all by a lot,” Trump said, falsely.

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“And I have to say, if I lost, I’d be a very gracious loser. If I lost, I would say, I lost, and I’d go to Florida and I’d take it easy and I’d go around and I’d say I did a good job. But you can’t ever accept when they steal and rig and rob.”

– Huge stakes -Trump has barely left the White House since Biden was projected winner of the election on November 7, though he has made a number of trips to his nearby golf course.

There had been concerns from some Republicans over whether Trump’s continuing claims of fraud would drive down voter turnout among Republicans in the upcoming election, making his appearance in Georgia somewhat of a gamble.

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The runoff election will decide which party controls the US Senate, and Trump in his speech continued his fear-mongering about rival Democrats.

“The voters of Georgia will determine which party runs every committee, writes every piece of legislation, controls every single taxpayer dollar,” he said.

“Very simply, you will decide whether your children will grow up in a socialist country or whether they will grow up in a free country.”

If Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeat Republican senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the Senate will be evenly divided at 50-50, meaning Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris would cast any deciding votes, as the Constitution dictates.

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The race has drawn enormous attention. One measure of the intense interest: With donations pouring in from across the country, the candidates have already spent more than $315 million, the AdImpact website reported, an astounding figure for senatorial races.

And figures as prominent as ex-president Barack Obama, Vice President Mike Pence and now Trump himself have scrambled to boost voter turnout.

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But while Trump offered words of praise for the two Republicans and invited them on stage for brief comments on Saturday, he spent much of the time arguing that he had won the election.

– Hugo Chavez claims -Despite an overwhelming series of setbacks in the courts, the president and his lawyers have advanced wild conspiracy theories (one involving the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez) to explain Biden’s victory.

Biden won Georgia by just under 12,000 votes.

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That result, while narrow, has been confirmed by subsequent recounts, making all the more surprising a phone call Saturday from Trump to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp reportedly urging him to press state legislators to overturn the result.

The Washington Post said Kemp, once a devoted Trump ally, refused the entreaty.

Loeffler and Perdue have moved cautiously, urging Georgians to vote without directly challenging Trump’s complaints.

But Trump has not made things easier for Georgia Republicans, angrily attacking officials in his own party over his loss there, starting with Kemp.

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He has denounced Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensperger as an “enemy of the people.”

At one point, he said half-jokingly: “A friend of mine said, ‘Oh don’t worry about it sir, you’re way up in the polls, you’ll win in 2024.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to wait until 2024. I want to go back three weeks.’”

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#Newsworthy

US Election: Trump’s administration throws final supreme court fight

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The Republican who has spent his presidency seeking to limit immigration has said he does not want to allow congressional representation to foreigners in the country illegally.

United States President Donald Trump’s administration wages its last major policy fight before the Supreme Court Monday as it seeks to exclude undocumented immigrants from the population count used to determine states’ representation in Congress.

If the outgoing president’s plan goes forward, states with large numbers of undocumented immigrants could see their influence reduced in the US House of Representatives.

It would amount to a last-minute victory or defeat for Trump, who is due to leave the White House and hand over to President-elect Joe Biden on January 20 even though he is still refusing to concede his electoral loss.

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The US census is carried out every 10 years as spelled out in the Constitution, and it determines certain federal aid and the number of seats each state holds in the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress.

In July, with the census underway, Trump issued a directive to exclude the country’s estimated 10 million undocumented immigrants from the count determining the number of House seats.

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Until now, the census has included all residents of a state apart from foreigners on a temporary visa.

Several Democrat-led states, including New York, which has a large number of immigrants, have challenged the change and have been victorious in lower courts.

The Trump administration as a result asked the Supreme Court to intervene urgently since the president is due to transmit the results of the 2020 census and the number of seats for each state to Congress in January.

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Monday’s arguments before the court will be by telephone due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and a decision is expected soon.

US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after participating in a Thanksgiving teleconference with members of the United States Military, at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 26, 2020. – In the first TV interview since losing his re-election bid, President Donald Trump indicated on November 29, 2020 that he will never concede to Joe Biden and abandon his conspiracy theory about mass ballot fraud. “It’s not like you’re gonna change my mind. My mind will not change in six months,” Trump told Fox News interviewer Maria Bartiromo. (Noble Reporters Media / NoRM)

In 2019, a narrow majority on the court blocked an attempt to ask for the citizenship of census participants, which risked further reducing foreigners’ willingness to respond and undercounting the population in certain states.

Since then, another Trump appointee has been named to the Supreme Court, with conservative justices now holding a six-to-three majority.

The justices could however limit themselves to questions of procedure in the case and avoid the issue entirely.

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According to a study from the Pew Research Center, three states — California, Florida and Texas — could lose a seat each over the next decade if the change goes forward.

Three others — Minnesota, Alabama and Ohio — could gain one seat, Pew said.

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#Newsworthy

Breaking: ‘Arrested’ exec team of Huawei accuses Canada of ‘Cover up’.

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The 48-year-old daughter of Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei was held on a US warrant during a Vancouver stopover in December 2018, a detention that Beijing says is politically motivated.

Lawyers for detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou have accused Canadian police of trying to “cover-up” the illegal sharing of data from her electronic devices with the FBI ahead of her high-profile arrest in Vancouver.

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Meng, the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant, has been fighting extradition from Canada to the US, where she faces fraud and conspiracy charges related to alleged violations by Huawei of American sanctions on Iran.

Her defence on Thursday said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police shared her electronic device information with US authorities, alleging the Canadians and Americans conspired to breach her rights and violate Canada’s Extradition Act.

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Days later, Beijing arrested Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what Ottawa has insisted was a retaliatory move.

Alongside the charges of aiding Iran in breach of sanctions, the administration of US President Donald Trump has railed against Huawei over fears that adoption of its 5G technology could pose a spying risk.

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Sergeant Janice Vander Graaf, who oversaw Meng’s arresting officers, denied the cover-up the accusation, saying a review of emails had left her confident that Meng’s information was not sent to the FBI, despite previously writing in her notes that a colleague said it had been.

That officer, Constable Gurvinder Dhaliwal, has since testified that he did not tell Graaf the information had been sent. The accused sender, RCMP Staff Sergeant Ben Chang, has denied the allegation but refused to testify.

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Graaf said her memory of events had changed since she swore an affidavit last year.

“You are trying to cover up for Constable Dhaliwal and Staff Sergeant Chang in relation to this issue,” Meng’s defence lawyer Scott Fenton said in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

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“I suggest… you tailored your evidence to suit what you think protects the RCMP in this issue.”

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month held firm that Canada would not bow to pressure to release Meng following fresh anger from Beijing.

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He has also raised the case of the two detained Canadians with US President-elect Joe Biden.

Meng’s extradition hearing is expected to wrap up in April 2021.

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#Newsworthy

US Election: Donald Trump’s election defiance in new havoc

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Giuliani and other Trump lawyers have seen baseless challenges to the vote counts thrown out by courts across the country.

President Donald Trump’s unprecedented attempt to defy the results of the US election were thrown into fresh disarray Wednesday when he abruptly canceled a trip reportedly meant to showcase his grievances with an appearance at the epic Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg.

Officially, Trump had nothing on his schedule but US media reports quoted officials saying that he planned an impromptu trip there — his first outside the Washington area since losing his reelection to Democrat Joe Biden.

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Secret Service agents had reportedly shut down a hotel in the small Pennsylvania town, the site of a turning point in the Civil War where President Abraham Lincoln’s North defeated the secessionist Southern forces.

A pool of journalists was gathered to accompany Trump from the White House to Pennsylvania but was told at the last minute that their trip was off.

According to CNN and other NoRM‘s known media reports, Trump planned to join his controversial lawyer Rudy Giuliani and state Republicans who were holding an unofficial “hearing” on their fraud claims in Gettysburg.

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Trump’s lawyers have so far not produced any substantive evidence of fraud and national election officials say there was none.

Biden won Pennsylvania by a margin of 80,000 votes on November 3, helping him assemble a convincing nationwide victory and making Trump a one-term president.

– Trump’s next presidential run? –
Trump, who tore up countless norms during his four years in power, is carving out new territory with his refusal to concede to Biden, while supporters suggest he is already eying an announcement of running for president again in 2024.

Building his brand ahead of a new campaign might be one explanation for the real estate tycoon’s dogged pursuit of such a lost cause.

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And while Trump is alleging — among other evidence-free conspiracy theories — that voting machines deliberately deleted millions of his votes, the government election security agency declared this “the most secure” election in US history.

After coming under pressure from a slowly building trickle of senior Republicans, Trump on Monday ended his blockade of government assistance to ease Biden’s preparation for assuming the presidency on January 20.

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But Trump has yet to take even the simplest steps in the normal post-election protocol, starting with a phone call to Biden.

“No, I have not heard anything from President Trump,” Biden told NoRM‘s known Media.

Given Trump’s threats before the election not to recognize the results, Biden told NoRM‘s known Media he is “not surprised by the response of the president.”

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Since the election, Trump has largely disappeared from his usual work schedule and has not once taken questions from journalists.

However, adding to the sense that he is focused on preparing his next political act, he continues to raise money from supporters contributing to an “Official Election Defense Fund.”

Much of that money does not go to the lawyers promoting his fraud allegations but is instead being funneled into paying off 2020 campaign debts and building a future war chest with Trump’s political action committee.

Kate Bedingfield, a Biden spokeswoman, said the outgoing president was now the last person to accept the reality of the election.

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“Virtually everyone on Earth has accepted that truth except for Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani,” she said.

“The Trump campaign has been laughed out of every courtroom, with their meritless and baseless lawsuits meant to undermine the will of the American people. This is a sideshow.”

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#Newsworthy

US Election: Xi Jinping congratulates Joe Biden

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Xi’s message came more than two weeks after several other major countries had congratulated Biden.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday congratulated Joe Biden on his US election victory, state media reported.

In his telegram, Xi said both countries should “stick to no conflict or confrontation, mutual respect, (and) the spirit of win-win cooperation” in order to promote the “noble cause” of world peace and development.

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US-China relations have hit historic lows in recent months, as the two superpowers have traded barbs over a variety of issues including the trade war, espionage allegations, human rights, media freedoms and tech rivalry.

Both countries have repeatedly attacked each other’s handling of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, with Washington blaming China’s lack of transparency during the initial outbreak in Wuhan late last year.

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Xi added that the “healthy and stable development of US-China relations accords with the fundamental interests of both peoples”.

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan also sent a congratulatory message to Kamala Harris on her election as US vice president, Xinhua news agency reported.

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Beijing had previously offered low-key congratulations to Biden and Harris on November 13, well after several major countries had congratulated the president-elect on his victory after days of turmoil and anticipation as votes in key states were finalised.

“We understand the US election results will be confirmed based on US law and procedure,”said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin during a routine briefing at the time.

Chinese media’s response to Biden’s victory since the result was confirmed earlier this month has been similarly muted.

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#Newsworthy

Cooperate with Biden’s transition – Trump asks Administration

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The decision frees up millions of dollars in financing to support the transition, as well as formally allows Biden to coordinate with current government officials.

President Donald Trump said Monday he no longer opposes government aid for Joe Biden’s transition team in his closest statement yet to finally conceding he lost the US election.

Trump’s tweet that the General Services Administration should “do what needs to be done” came after the agency’s head, Emily Murphy, said she was releasing the long-delayed assistance.

Trump has spent the last three weeks since the November 3 election claiming without any evidence that Biden’s convincing victory was the result of fraud.

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Murphy, who denies acting under political pressure, has refused until now to release the standard package of aid that her agency manages to Biden’s incoming team.

Biden’s team welcomed the decision, saying in a statement it will provide the incoming administration “with the resources and support necessary to carry out a smooth and peaceful transfer of power.”

“Today’s decision is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track. This final decision is a definitive administrative action to formally begin the transition process with federal agencies.”

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Murphy, who had faced harsh criticism over her previous refusal to act, said in her letter to Biden obtained by various US news outlets that “contrary to media reports and insinuations, my decision was not made out of fear or favoritism.”

The step by her GSA is usually a routine one following a US presidential election, but Trump’s continuing efforts to overturn the results of the vote and refusal to concede have complicated the process.

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President Donald Trump came his closest yet to admitting election defeat Monday after the government agency meant to ease Joe Biden’s transition into the White House said it was finally lifting its unprecedented block on assistance.
 Trump acknowledged it was time for the General Services Administration to “do what needs to be done.”
 In the same tweet he insisted that he was still refusing to concede, saying: “Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good fight, and I believe we will prevail!”
 But for the Republican to sign off on the GSA’s decision to work with the Biden transition team signaled that even he sees the writing on the wall after three weeks of evidence-free claims that the November 3 election was stolen from him.
 This means that Biden’s team will now have access to funds, office space and the ability to meet with federal officials.
 Biden’s office, which hours earlier announced a highly experienced group to be nominated for top US foreign policy and security posts, said the GSA would now allow “support necessary to carry out a smooth and peaceful transfer of power.”
 “In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies,” Biden’s transition director Yohannes Abraham said in a statement.
 The sudden break in Trump’s dogged attempt to deny Biden’s win came after Michigan became the latest state to certify its results and more powerful Trump supporters came out demanding that the impasse end.
 Biden To Shift Diplomacy
 Earlier, Biden announced a foreign policy and national security team crammed with veterans from the Barack Obama years, teeing up an end to the upheaval under Trump and a return to traditional US diplomacy.
 Top of the list was former State Department number two Antony Blinken, tapped for secretary of state.
 Biden also named the first female head of intelligence, the first Latino chief of Homeland Security, the first woman as treasury secretary, and a heavyweight pointman on climate issues — Obama-era top diplomat John Kerry.
 The list put out by Biden’s team ahead of a formal announcement Tuesday demonstrated a push to bring back the US role of leader in multilateral alliances, in contrast to Trump’s “America first” regime.
 “They will rally the world to take on our challenges like no other — challenges that no one nation can face alone,” Biden tweeted. “It’s time to restore American leadership.”
 Blinken, a longtime advisor to Biden, will spearhead a fast-paced dismantling of Trump’s go-it-alone policies, including rejoining the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization and resurrecting the Obama-crafted Iran nuclear deal.
 Biden named the first woman, Avril Haines, as director of national intelligence, and Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas to head the Department of Homeland Security, the agency whose policing of tough immigration restrictions under Trump was a frequent source of controversy.
 Signaling the Democratic president-elect’s campaign promise to raise the profile of global warming threats, he named Kerry as a new special envoy on climate issues.
 And in a further message of US reengagement with the international community, Biden named career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador.
 Jake Sullivan, who also advised Biden when he was vice president under Obama, was named national security advisor.
 Picked to manage the world’s biggest economy as Treasury secretary was Janet Yellen, who will make history as the first woman in the job if confirmed. The 74-year-old was confirmed as Federal Reserve chairwoman under Obama in 2014 and replaced by Trump four years later.
 The picks underline an emphasis on professionals whom Biden already knows well, in contrast to the Trump White House where officials were often picked without having traditional background for the job or proved incompatible and departed in acrimony.
 Dwindling Options
 The president, meanwhile, has largely halted at least his public work duties, while heading out to a golf course he owns in Virginia half a dozen times since the election.
 He has also not taken questions from reporters since the election — a previously unimaginable silence from a president who for most of his time in office sparred near daily with the press.
 His options for overturning the election, however, are dwindling rapidly in the face of repeated court defeats.
 With Biden having won a comfortable victory, Trump’s last card is to disrupt the normally routine process of state-by-state certification of results, followed by the formal December 14 vote by the Electoral College. However, that too is bearing little fruit.
 More cracks appeared in the facade of Republican unity on Monday when Senator Rob Portman said it was “time to expeditiously resolve any outstanding questions and move forward.”
 Senator Lamar Alexander, a senior Republican and close ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said “it seems apparent that Joe Biden will be the president-elect.”
 “My hope is that President Trump will take pride in his considerable accomplishments, put the country first and have a prompt and orderly transition to help the new administration succeed,” he said after having issued a similar if less forthright statement a few days earlier.
 There was also a push from Trump’s highest profile Wall Street backer, Stephen Schwarzman, head of the Blackstone private equity group, who told Axios “the country should move on.”
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#Newsworthy