A century of tragedy: How the car and gas industry knew about the health risks of leaded fuel but sold it for 100 years anyway

about 2 hours ago

Concept of Integrated Deterrence Will Be Key to National Defense Strategy, DOD Official Says > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News

by Jim Garamone, about 2 hours ago

The undersecretary of defense for policy fleshed out the concept of integrated deterrence during the Defense One Outlook 2022 summit.

US Announces Comprehensive Plan to Battle Public Corruption

about 3 hours ago

The United States will significantly overhaul the way it targets public corruption, dedicating new resources to stemming illicit financial flows and coordinating the effort across the entire federal government, according to a new plan released Monday by the Biden administration. The United States Strategy on Countering Corruption is the product of a six-month push in the executive branch to "take stock of existing U.S. government anti-corruption efforts and to identify and seek to rectify persistent gaps in the fight against corruption," according to the proposal.  The 38-page document is unsparing in its assessment that developed economies, including the United States, have long created the conditions that allow corrupt public officials, frequently in the developing world, to hide illicit wealth abroad. "Emerging research and major journalistic exposés have documented the extent to which legal and regulatory deficiencies in the developed world offer corrupt actors the means to offshore and launder illicit wealth," the document says. The plan commits the federal government to a policy built on five pillars. According to the document, those are "modernizing, coordinating, and resourcing U.S. government efforts to fight corruption; curbing illicit finance; holding corrupt actors accountable; preserving and strengthening the multilateral anti-corruption architecture; and improving diplomatic engagement and leveraging foreign assistance resources to advance policy goals." Anti-corruption activists pleased The leaders of several global anti-corruption organizations said they were pleasantly surprised by the forcefulness of the language in the new U.S. plan. "I think anybody who has been working on anti-corruption for any amount of time is very excited with what the administration has put together," Tom Cardamone, president and CEO of Global Financial Integrity, told VOA. "It seems like a very well-thought-through approach to the problem." The release marks the first time the U.S. has put forward a national strategy to combat corruption, said Gary Kalman, director of the U.S. office of Transparency International. He said it is particularly significant that the Biden administration is recognizing the need to coordinate anti-corruption efforts across the entire federal government. "It's not just one agency saying, 'Oh, we have a problem with corruption in our particular corner of the world.' But in fact, the corruption impacts so much of what the U.S. government's trying to do, that we need a whole-of-government approach," Kalman told VOA. "Finally, here, the U.S. looks like it's playing a global leadership role on this really important issue," said Liz David-Barrett, director of the Center for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex. "And we really need global leadership." Several prominent Republican lawmakers who have proposed anti-corruption legislation in the past did not comment on the Biden administration proposal when asked by VOA. Earlier this year, a broad Democrat-sponsored bill on voter rights, corruption and campaign finance failed in the Senate, partly because of Republican opposition over expanding ballot access. The Biden anti-corruption strategy does not need support from Congress to take effect.  Detailed proposal The plan aims to allocate new resources to law enforcement agencies to strengthen their anti-corruption operations, and will create a coordinating body to align anti-corruption work done across the departments of State, Treasury and Commerce, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The government will also develop new rules that will make it more difficult to disguise the origins of assets and their actual owners. This includes developing new disclosure requirements for corporate registrations and real estate transactions. The administration said it will also develop regulations that will make it harder for "gatekeepers" of the legitimate financial system, including "lawyers, accountants, and trust and company service providers" to open a back door to illicit funds. The plan also promises extensive work to strengthen international partnerships in the fight against corruption, including the provision of financing and technical support for developing nations struggling to fight sophisticated financial crime. US is part of the problem In a fact sheet accompanying the plan, the administration noted that "corrupt actors and their facilitators rely on vulnerabilities in the United States and international financial systems to obscure ownership of assets and launder the proceeds of their illicit activities. As the world's largest economy, the United States bears responsibility to address gaps in our own regulatory system and work with our allies and partners to do the same." David-Barrett said it is significant that the administration is owning up to the U.S. role in creating the problem. "The U.S. is a major offshore haven where you can set up companies secretly," she told VOA, referring to laws that allow companies to be established without identifying their "beneficial ownership," that is, the person or persons ultimately controlling them. In addition to shutting down a specific means of hiding illicit funds, David-Barrett said, the U.S. cleaning its own house also has other benefits. "It's important in terms of the signal it sends," she said. "To have the U.S. be a major offshore haven sends a signal that this is an acceptable way of doing business and organizing your affairs. To have the U.S. take a stronger stance on this would really help a lot to change international norms on this issue." Tied to democracy summit It is no coincidence that the administration's anti-corruption plan was announced Monday, just days before the White House is set to host a virtual Democracy Summit with more than 100 other nations. The gathering is part of the Biden administration's effort to reassert the U.S. position as leader of the world's democratic countries. In a column in The Washington Post, released at the same time as the plan, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and USAID Administrator Samantha Power made the linkage explicit. "The gathering is a recognition that the world's democracies need a new strategy," they wrote. "For the past 15 years, the number of people living under authoritarian regimes has been rising, while leaders of many democratic countries have been chipping away at fundamental rights and checks and balances. Corruption has made this possible. Autocrats use public wealth to maintain their grip on power, while in democracies, corruption rots free societies from within."  

Alleged Massacre in Myanmar Village Highlights Bitter Fight 

about 3 hours ago

Outrage spread on social media in Myanmar on Wednesday over images and accounts of the alleged killing and burning of 11 villagers captured by government troops in the country's northwest.  Photos and a video of charred corpses in Done Taw village in Sagaing region circulated widely Tuesday. They were said to have been taken shortly after the men were killed and their bodies set on fire.  The material could not be independently verified. An account given to The Associated Press by a person who said he had gone to the scene generally matched descriptions of the incident carried by independent Myanmar media.  The government has not commented on the allegations. If confirmed, they would be the latest atrocity in an increasingly bitter struggle following the military's seizure of power in February and ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.  The takeover was initially met with nonviolent street protests, but after police and soldiers used lethal force against demonstrators, violence escalated as opponents of military rule took up arms in self-defense.  The witness who spoke to the AP said about 50 troops marched into Done Taw village about 11 a.m. Tuesday, seizing anyone who did not manage to flee.  "They arrested 11 innocent villagers," said the witness, who described himself as a farmer and an activist and asked to remain anonymous for his own safety.  Bound, set afire He added that the captured men were not members of the locally organized People's Defense Force, which sometimes engages the army in combat. He said the captives had their hands tied behind them and were set on fire.  He did not give a reason for the soldiers' assault. Accounts in Myanmar media said they appeared to have acted in retaliation for an attack earlier that morning by People's Defense Force members.  Other witnesses cited in Myanmar media said the victims were members of a defense force, though the witness who spoke to the AP described them as members of a less formally organized village protection group.  There are resistance activities in the cities and the countryside, but the fighting is deadliest in rural areas where the army can unleash greater force against its targets. In recent months the struggle has been sharpest in Sagaing and other areas of the northwest.  The alleged incident was sharply decried by Myanmar's underground National Unity Government, which has established itself as the country's alternative administrative body in place of the military-installed government.  "On the 7th of December in Sagaing region, sickening scenes reminiscent of the Islamic State terrorist group bore witness to the military's escalation of their acts of terror," the organization's spokesperson, Dr. Sasa, said in a statement.  "The sheer brutality, savagery and cruelty of these acts shows a new depth of depravity, and proves that, despite the pretense of the relative détente seen over the last few months, the junta never had any intention of deescalating their campaign of violence," said Sasa, who uses one name.  Sentencing of Suu Kyi The allegations followed Monday's conviction of Suu Kyi on charges of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions and her sentencing to four years in prison, which was quickly cut in half. The court's action was widely criticized as a further effort by the country's military rulers to roll back the democratic gains of recent years.  In New York, the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday expressed "deep concern" at the sentencing of Suu Kyi, ousted President Win Myint and others and reiterated previous calls for the release of all those arbitrarily detained since the February 1 military takeover.  "Members of the Security Council once again stressed their continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar and underlined the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, pursue constructive dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law," a council statement said. 

Effort to Save Local Journalism in US Inches Toward Enactment

about 3 hours ago

As the Biden administration prepares to convene a virtual summit of the world's democracies this week, lawmakers in Washington are pushing a plan to fight what they perceive as a threat to democracy at home: the sharp decline of local news coverage.  Between 2004 and 2020, the United States lost more than 25% of its local newspapers, according to data gathered by the University of North Carolina Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. Those that remain are operating with far fewer reporters than they used to, as more than half of total journalism jobs in the United States have disappeared over the same period.  A section of the Build Back Better Act, the giant social and environmental spending package currently working its way through Congress, is aimed at helping repair some of that damage. The proposal would support the hiring of journalists by local news outlets through $1.67 billion in payroll tax credits to be delivered over the next five years.  Transformative investment  Advocates for local journalism said that the $1.67 billion investment in local newsrooms could be enormously beneficial to local news outlets across the country, many of which have been forced to shut down because much local advertising, historically a major source of revenue, has migrated to the internet.  "It could be profound. It could help save local news, and it's a very big deal," Steve Waldman, the president and co-founder of Report for America, told VOA. "There are 1,800 communities that have no local newspapers at all, and there are thousands more that barely have anything. Sixty percent of reporting positions have gone away since 2000."  The proposal would subsidize reporters' salaries, providing a tax credit equal to 50% of the first $50,000, in the first year. In the following years, the subsidy would drop to 30%. If not renewed by Congress, the program would end after five years.  'News deserts'  The U.S. communities without local sources of news are increasingly known as "news deserts." Many experts warn that their existence is damaging not just to the communities that have no local source of information, but to the growing partisan divide in the United States. Karen Rundlet, director of journalism at the Knight Foundation, told VOA that local news sources in the United States have typically served as agents of social cohesion, reporting on issues that affect everyone in a community.  In areas with no local news coverage, public officials have no reliable means of communicating with the general public about the issues facing local government. As a result, the public becomes disengaged at a local level, and civic participation suffers.  "Local news informs people of basic public services, education, local government, city government, things like that," said Rundlet. "When people aren't aware of those issues, they don't vote as much."  Filling the gap  Waldman and Rundlet both said that the decline of local journalism has contributed to higher levels of partisanship in the United States, because in its absence, people tend to consume more national news, which is frequently reported as a battle between Democrats and Republicans. They also turn to social media, which tends to amplify conflict between the country's two main political parties.  "When something disappears, something else fills in the gap," Rundlet said. "If local news disappears, it's not only national news that fills the gap, it's also, frankly, misinformation and disinformation."  "The collapse of local news is a deep crisis for democracy, especially on the local level because it gets increasingly hard for communities to solve their own problems when there's no good source of local news, or information," Waldman added. "Saving local news should be part of any serious effort to save and strengthen democracy."  Ironically partisan  In an ironic twist, this effort to combat growing partisanship in the United States, if it becomes law, will almost certainly do so on a purely partisan basis. That is despite its having bipartisan origins.  The first version of the proposal was introduced in 2020 as the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, sponsored by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat from Arizona, and Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Washington. The bill had dozens of co-sponsors, including 20 Republicans.  However, because the proposal has been rolled into President Joe Biden's signature Build Back Better Act, it received no votes from Republicans when it passed the House of Representatives, and is not expected to garner any Republican support in the Senate, either.

Time for Guam Missile Defense Build-Up Is Now > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News

by C. Todd Lopez, about 3 hours ago

There's no time to spare when it comes to getting the tools in place to defend Guam — a U.S. territory, home to 168,000 Americans, and a centerpiece of America's defensive abilities in the Pacific region.

Biden Signs Executive Order to Combat Climate Change

about 4 hours ago

U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to "leverage" the federal government's scale and purchasing power to make it carbon neutral, cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 65% in less than a decade and establish an all-electric fleet of vehicles. The order will cut emissions in federal operations as part of the government's effort to combat climate change. Biden's directive requires that government buildings consume 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030, the U.S. fleet of vehicles be 100% electric by 2035, and federal contracts for goods and services be carbon-free by 2050. "The United States government will lead by example to provide a strong foundation for American businesses to compete and win globally in the clean energy economy while creating well-paying union jobs at home,'' the White House said in a statement announcing the climate change initiative. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

Filipino, Russian Journalists to Receive Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo

about 4 hours ago

Two journalists, one from the Philippines and the other from Russia, will receive the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo Friday. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it was honoring the pair for their efforts to safeguard press freedom. The Nobel Peace Prize is the latest accolade for Filipino American journalist Maria Ressa, who has received numerous awards for her fight for press freedom in the Philippines.  "There’s a part of me that is happy (to accept the Nobel Peace Prize), yes, but also angry, and hoping for a better future,” Ressa told reporters at the Manila airport Tuesday on her way to the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Arrests Ressa founded the news website Rappler, which has had its license suspended by Philippine authorities. She is an outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, and her scrutiny of the government’s often deadly war on drugs has seen her clash with authorities.    She has been arrested several times, most recently in 2020 when she was convicted of "cyber-libel" and sentenced to six years in jail. She is currently out on bail.    Further libel charges were filed against her and six other news organizations Wednesday by the Philippine government’s energy secretary, Alfonso Cusi. In total, Ressa is facing seven separate legal cases brought by the Philippine state. Earlier this week, a Manila court gave Ressa permission to travel to Oslo, ruling she was not a flight risk.  “It feels like it’s really a small price to pay to keep doing our jobs, but we shouldn’t have to worry about this,” Ressa said. “I shouldn't have 10 arrest warrants. I shouldn't be out on bail. There are so many 'shouldn’ts,"
 but, you know, what can you do? You deal with what it is. It’s like pollution in the environment, and you keep doing your job.” Russia Ressa is sharing the 2021 prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. He is a frequent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since 2000, six Novaya Gazeta journalists have been killed in connection with their work, including top investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya. She wrote extensively on the wars in Chechnya, including abuses by Russian military forces. She was murdered in Moscow in 2006. Novaya Gazeta was co-founded by former Soviet leader and fellow Nobel Peace laureate Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev called Muratov a "courageous” journalist.  Muratov spoke to reporters in October after learning of his win. “For us, this prize means the recognition of the memory of our late colleagues,” he said. Putin Putin was asked about Muratov’s Nobel prize in October. “If he tries hiding behind the Nobel Prize, using it as a shield to violate Russian law, then he will be doing it deliberately to attract attention to himself or some other reason,” Putin said. It is the first time since 1935 that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalists. Press freedom campaigners have warmly welcomed the decision. Free press “If you care about being able to shape the society in which you live, if you care about being able to hold leaders accountable, if you care about solving problems like climate change or figuring our way out of this pandemic, then you need to be informed, and you can't be informed if journalists can't do their job,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, in an October interview with the Reuters news agency. Both the Philippine and Russian governments deny targeting journalists or stifling a free press.   Arriving in Oslo Wednesday, Ressa told reporters the Nobel Prize would give encouragement to others.  “It’s a lift not just for journalists and international journalists, as well as Filipino journalists who continue to hold the line. It’s also for our people. We have elections coming up, right? And when facts are under threat, when you don’t have integrity of facts, you cannot have integrity of elections. So, it begins with us. We must keep getting the facts and serving the people.”

5 Winners Selected for Dragon's Lair 6 > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News

by Army Capt. Perianne Duffy, about 4 hours ago

Five servicemembers won the XVIII Airborne Corps Dragon's Lair, Episode 6. The trailblazers created three innovations, which were chosen by a panel of technology experts from across the civilian industry and DOD.

UN Food Stocks Looted in N. Ethiopia; Some Aid Distribution Halted 

about 5 hours ago

The United Nations said Wednesday that large amounts of food supplies have been looted from their warehouses in northern Ethiopia, leading to the suspension of food distributions in two towns. “The World Food Program teams on the ground were not able to prevent the looting in the face of extreme intimidation, including staff being held at gunpoint,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. “As a result, WFP has suspended food distributions in the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha.” Those towns are in the northern Ethiopian state of Amhara. Dujarric said nutritional items for malnourished children were among the looted goods.  He said recent “mass looting” in Kombolcha was reportedly carried out “by elements of the Tigrayan forces and some members of the local population.”  Forces aligned with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, pushed federal army troops out of the Tigray region in July, and then expanded their movements to the neighboring states of Amhara and Afar. Food insecurity has been escalating in these regions because of the 13-month-long conflict.  The U.N. says more than 9.4 million people in these areas are in dire need of food assistance. In Amhara, 3.7 million people need aid, while in Afar some 534,000 are struggling, and in Tigray, an estimated 5.2 million people urgently need assistance. Some 400,000 Tigrayans are already in famine-like conditions. Military takes trucks In a separate incidents, Dujarric said that on Tuesday and Wednesday, three WFP trucks used for humanitarian operations in Amhara were commandeered by military personnel and used for their own purposes. He condemned the incidents and harassment of aid workers as unacceptable.  “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, misappropriate or loot relief supplies, installations, materials, units or vehicles,” he noted.  The United Nations has been a target of anger by both the federal government and now the Tigray forces. On September 30, the government declared several senior U.N. humanitarian officials persona non grata and expelled them, saying they were interfering in the country’s internal affairs. The government has since arbitrarily detained several Ethiopian U.N. staff, and currently holds nine staff members and three dependents in detention.  Dozens of truck drivers who were to transport aid to Tigray were also detained for several days and then released.  The federal government’s military has been fighting Tigray forces since November 2020. The conflict has displaced nearly 1.2 million people internally, while more than 70,000 have sought safety in neighboring Sudan.

UN Security Council Condemns Sentencing of Former Myanmar Leader Aung San Suu Kyi

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The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday expressed “deep concern” over this week’s conviction and sentencing of Myanmar’s ousted democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, former President Win Myint and others.  A Myanmar court on Monday found Suu Kyi guilty of inciting dissent and breaching COVID-19 rules after she was detained in a February 1 military coup amid unfounded charges of voting fraud in the wake of 2020 elections, in which her National League for Democracy (NLD) party had retained power. The Zabuthiri Court in Naypyidaw sentenced her to four years in jail, then hours later the military reduced the sentence to two years. Myint, the former president and NLD party ally, also received a four-year sentence that was reduced to two. After the sentences were handed down, the Security Council released a statement condemning the verdicts and calling for a democratic transition in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma. Members of the council “reiterated their calls for the release of all those who have been arbitrarily detained since 1 February 2021,” according to the statement. The Security Council expressed ongoing support for democratic institutions and processes in Myanmar, and it directed the parties in power to avoid violence, “pursue constructive dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law.” The incitement charges against Suu Kyi were related to a letter the NLD had sent to embassies in Myanmar urging them not to recognize the military’s rule after the February coup, according to Reuters. The second charge against her was connected to alleged breaches of COVID-19 protocols during last year’s election campaign. Suu Kyi and Myint denied the charges against them prior to sentencing. The court ruled that Suu Kyi’s incitement charges presented a violation of section 505 (B) of Myanmar’s Penal Code and said she had violated the Natural Disaster Law for her COVID-19 protocol breach, according to VOA reporting. In the February 1 coup, Myanmar’s military deposed Suu Kyi and her democratically elected government over unsubstantiated charges of electoral fraud. The military State Administrative Council has since charged her with a dozen criminal charges, such as corruption and violating Myanmar’s secrets act. In total, Suu Kyi’s charges carry a maximum of 100 years in jail.

UN: IED Kills 7 Togolese Peacekeepers in Mali

about 5 hours ago

Seven peacekeepers from the West African nation of Togo were killed Wednesday when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in central Mali, according to the United Nations.  U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters that three other Togolese peacekeepers were seriously injured in the explosion in the Bandiagara region. He said the peacekeepers were part of a logistics convoy traveling between the towns of Douentza and Sevare.  There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Togo contributes about 930 personnel to the 16,000-strong U.N. force in Mali, known as the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, or MINUSMA.  Dujarric said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attack and called on Malian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.  In Mali's capital, Bamako, MINUSMA chief El-Ghassim Wane also condemned the attack and said it could constitute a war crime in accordance with international law. The peacekeeping force was established in 2013 to help stabilize Mali following a coup and a takeover of the north by Islamist militant groups.  Groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group remain active in the country and frequently attack MINUSMA personnel.  Dujarric said a peacekeeper from Egypt died in a hospital Monday from injuries he suffered during an attack in northern Mali last month.  Wane said, "MINUSMA is the peace operation where the peacekeepers have paid the heaviest price, with over 200 soldiers killed in the line of duty."  VOA’s Margaret Besheer, along with the French to Africa service, contributed to this report.  

Print books beat tablets when reading to toddlers

by Beata Mostafavi-Michigan, about 6 hours ago

When reading to young children, cuddling together over a good old-fashioned book beats story time on a tablet.

Many global charities refrain from 'poverty porn' imagery to raise money from donors, but stereotypes still distort their pictures

about 6 hours ago

December 8, 2021

about 7 hours ago

A look at the best news photos from around the world.

The right e-cigarette nicotine delivery can help smokers quit

by Barbara Schindo-Penn State, about 7 hours ago

Switching to e-cigarettes that have nicotine delivery similar to regular cigarettes can help smokers quit and reduce their exposure to certain carcinogens.

Russia Keeps Door Ajar for Further US Talks

about 8 hours ago

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his aides are preparing a discussion document outlining the Kremlin's views on what is needed for strategic stability and security on the continent of Europe, which will also further detail Moscow's objections to Ukraine joining NATO.  The document will be shared with Washington within a week, Putin said.  In his first public remarks since a high-stakes, two-hour video conference with U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday, Putin once again accused NATO of being "openly confrontational against Russia" and "quite hostile to us," but added, "We don't want confrontation with anyone." Putin spoke during a press conference Wednesday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi after face-to-face talks with Greece's prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the first leader of a NATO country to see him since Tuesday's video conference. Biden and Putin appeared to make little headway in their talks and traded accusations over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine, which U.S. and Ukrainian officials fear is a prelude to an invasion. During their talks, Biden outlined to his Russian counterpart the punitive steps America and its NATO allies will take should Moscow decide to invade Ukraine. Western officials hope the threat of sanctions, which will target among other institutions Russian banks, will be enough to dissuade Putin from ordering any large-scale incursion into Ukraine. According to both U.S. and Russian officials, Putin demanded legal guarantees that NATO would not expand further east and allow Ukraine to join as a member. Washington has warned European allies that the Kremlin may be "attempting to rehash" 2014, when it annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and Russia-backed separatists seized a large part of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, bordering Russia. Kremlin officials maintain that Russia is not getting ready to invade Ukraine and accuse Ukrainians of mobilizing military units along their shared border.    "If Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures. We would provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians above and beyond that which we are already providing," Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, told reporters in a White House briefing following the virtual summit. In separate readouts of the two-hour discussion, both Russia and the U.S. indicated that there would be further talks but were both vague about the exact subject of those talks and unclear when and how they would be conducted. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday just before Putin's joint press conference with the Greek prime minister that Russia expects to begin a "discussion about strategic security on the continent" rapidly. Peskov said the two leaders had agreed to appoint representatives and that Biden and Putin would speak after lower-level talks. But it was "impossible to say" when that would happen, he added. In the meantime, there are no signs that the Kremlin will withdraw an estimated 100,000 troops that are now within striking distance of Ukraine.  Western diplomats said that Putin's remarks Wednesday suggest he is not abandoning talks and is leaving the door ajar for more discussions. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's foreign minister, said, "We appreciate the crucial diplomatic engagement of the U.S. in efforts to bring Russia back to the table of negotiations." Biden is scheduled to speak Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has been pressing for Ukraine to join NATO.  In his remarks Wednesday, Putin said countries have the right to decide how they should defend themselves but "they should never undermine the national security of other countries." He added, "And we have said on many occasions to our partners that it is unacceptable for Russia to see NATO expand to the east." "When we talk about security, we should talk about global security and it should be comprehensive," he said, adding, "But this is a long-term discussion. I think we will continue to talk about that in the future, and then we will express our views on that." Despite the absence of any substantial agreement between Biden and Putin, Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a policy research organization, says the video conference "has been useful." He tweeted, "Acknowledging each other's security concerns is key." He added, "War fears in West will not subside just yet, but jaw-jaw is better than war-war." Other observers are less optimistic, pointing out that Putin has long believed that Ukraine is essentially part of Russia and not a real country, repeating that view in an opinion article in July. "It's not about NATO. It's not about security. It's all about Putin's desire to gather the lands and dominate Ukraine," tweeted Alexander Vindman, the former director for European affairs on the U.S. National Security Council.  Former U.S. envoy to Russia Michael McFaul has voiced suspicions about the Kremlin's intentions. "Putin is not threatened by NATO expansion. Putin is threatened by Ukrainian democracy. Fellow Slavs — in Putin's view, people of one nation — practicing democracy next door undermines Putin's autocratic legitimacy inside Russia," he tweeted. 

Teacher support for 'zero tolerance' rules tied to lower feelings of safety

by Brian Consiglio-Missouri, about 9 hours ago

Teacher support for "zero tolerance" is linked to higher rates of out-of-school suspensions and lower feelings of safety among both students and teachers.

Blame the supply chain for lack of Christmas trees

by Ayana Isles-Georgia Tech, about 10 hours ago

When you head out to get your Christmas tree, it may seem like the Grinch got there first. But supply chain issues may explain the lack of seasonal cheer.

Britain Latest Nation to Announce Diplomatic Boycott of China Olympics

about 10 hours ago

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain will join the United States and Australia in a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympic games in February. Johnson made the announcement Wednesday, in response to questions from lawmakers. “There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, no ministers are expected to attend, and no officials,” the prime minister said in parliament. He added athletes would still participate as he did not believe “sporting boycotts are sensible.” Britain joins the United States, New Zealand, Lithuania and Australia in deciding not to send diplomats and other government officials to the Beijing games. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a similar boycott Wednesday in Canberra, citing a range of issues including accusations of human rights abuses against China and Beijing’s refusal to hold bilateral talks to resolve lingering trade and diplomatic disputes. In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed Morrison’s announcement, telling reporters “nobody cares” whether or not Australian officials attend the Olympics. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced Monday it would be staging a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which will run between February 4 to 20. President Biden said last month he was considering a diplomatic boycott because of criticism of China’s human rights abuses, including the detention of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province and the crackdown on pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong. Beijing has vowed to take “countermeasures” against Washington over the boycott. Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

Poopy hippo pools become their 'meta-gut'

by U. Florida, about 10 hours ago

Hippos do so much eating and therefore so much pooping in the pools where they hang out. The result: a "meta-gut."

Lebanon’s Dire Economic Crisis Threatens to Steal Christmas

about 10 hours ago

Lebanon’s dire economic crisis is threatening to cancel Christmas for many people. The Lebanese currency has lost more than 93 percent of its value against the dollar over the past two years and soaring inflation is making it difficult for ordinary people to buy food and medicine, let alone Christmas trees and gifts. With Christmas trees now costing between $80 to $120 dollars, almost double a Lebanese worker’s monthly salary, some are resorting to telling their children that Santa Claus is sick this year and won’t be able to bring them presents simply because parents are unable to buy the gifts. Most are struggling just to purchase food and medicine. The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, reports that 77 percent of Lebanese families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them only buy food by running up unpaid bills or borrowing money. Political analyst Dania Koleilat Khatib, with the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, said to VOA, "...although you may see some people shopping and think things are well, that’s not the situation for most Lebanese." “People who live from paycheck to paycheck, they are suffering big time. These people will not see Santa, will not see Christmas, will not see anything. You get shocked when you go to restaurants. The people in restaurants, they represent how much of the Lebanese society? They’re not 1 or 2 percent. The majority are very poor,” said Khatib. But in the upscale northern seaside resort of Batroun, it’s hard to see Lebanon’s financial woes. It has just opened its first Christmas market which organizer Francois Baraket said he hopes will rival those in Europe in years to come. It has drawn Lebanese with money to spend, he told Dubai’s The National newspaper. Dania Koleilat Khatib said those Lebanese who have money now receive help with hard currency from family abroad or are those who work with international agencies. Others may have been lucky enough to withdraw U.S. currency from the bank before the government froze dollar accounts. Christmas will also witness a number of Lebanese expats return home to celebrate with family. “At Christmas you will see celebration because a lot of people are coming from outside. But that doesn’t mean that people are better off. This is always the issue with Lebanon because you have a lot of expats coming in and out. If we didn’t have this influx of hard currency from outside into Lebanon, people would be ‘dog eat dog.’ It would be much worse,” said Khatib. The U.N’s World Food Program estimates that poverty in Lebanon has almost doubled this past March, affecting three million people compared with 1.7 million in 2020.

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South African Doctors: Omicron Coronavirus Variant Can Partly Evade Protective Antibodies

about 12 hours ago

Scientists in South Africa say the new and rapidly spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is partly able to evade antibodies produced by either a previous infection or vaccination. The results were found in laboratory tests conducted at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban on blood samples of 12 people who had been fully vaccinated with the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. The researchers discovered a 41-fold decrease in the levels of neutralizing antibodies against omicron, a much more extensive decrease than other variants in similar experiments. The samples were separated between those from six uninfected vaccinated people and six people who had been infected with COVID-19 before getting vaccinated. The researchers discovered that the samples from the second group produced stronger antibodies than those of the first group.  Alex Sigal, the lead researcher, says the results show that vaccines and vaccine booster shots are still effective against omicron. The study, which was released online Tuesday, has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. In a similar development, Pfizer and German-based BioNTech, the co-developer of its COVID-19 vaccine, said Wednesday that preliminary laboratory studies showed the two-dose vaccine was effective against the omicron variant after it was administered as a booster.   The companies said the samples of individuals who received the initial two-dose regimen showed a 25-fold decrease in antibodies against omicron compared to a so-called “wild-type” version of the coronavirus, while samples from people who received the booster shot showed the extra dose increased the antibodies by the same amount.   Pfizer and BioNTech are developing a new version of their COVID-19 vaccine specifically to combat the new omicron variant.   In other developments, British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline says further studies of its experimental COVID-19 antibody treatment is effective against all 37 identified  mutations of the omicron variant. Earlier studies showed that the drug, called sotrovimab, was effective against a key mutation in omicron’s spike protein, the part of the virus that binds to cells in our bodies. GSK is developing sotrovimab in collaboration with U.S.-based drugmaker Vir Biotechnology. The results of the study have not been peer-reviewed.    Some information for this report came from Reuters.  

UN Says Acute Hunger Grips Millions in West and Central Africa

about 12 hours ago

The latest United Nations analysis of food security in the Sahel and Western African countries finds a record 38 million people will face severe food shortages next year. It warns that many people may not survive without prompt and generous international humanitarian assistance. Acute hunger will hit the most vulnerable people during next year’s lean season. This is the period when food stocks are at their lowest and millions of people will not have enough food to eat.  The lean season normally occurs in the West and Central African region between June and August. But World Food Program Senior Research Officer for the region, Ollo Sib, says signs indicate next year’s lean season will begin as early as March.  “Given that the food stocks are very low
For livestock there is not enough pasture. For livestock we anticipate an earlier lean season, especially for the pastoralists in the region
and this will push people to adopt certain strategies,” Sib says. Sib notes many people already are feeling the pinch of hunger and are resorting to extreme coping strategies. These include selling livestock and other assets to have enough money to put food on the table. The WFP official says climate and conflict remain two major drivers of the poor harvest and poor production in the Sahel. He notes the past few years have been exceptionally dry in the Sahel and massive drought has affected millions of people from West Africa. He adds widespread conflict in the region has discouraged farmers from planting their crops and pastoralists from moving their livestock freely in search of grazing land. He says satellite imagery shows 35 percent of the villages have suffered severe crop losses due to conflict and massive displacement. “We are talking about five to seven million people overall displaced. We are talking about 13 million people affected by conflict in the region and most of them are farmers, most of them are pastoralists, and this conflict is pushing them away from their livelihoods system and their capacity to produce.” The United Nations says early action is needed to ward off the worst. It is calling on the international community to step up now before the lean season sets in. UN officials say early and adequate investment is needed to prepare for next year’s agricultural season. They say the provision of food aid is urgently needed to prevent malnutrition from soaring. 

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