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U.S. President Joe Biden in trouble

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A year ago this month, Joe Biden was elected president of the United States. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. First there were the desperate and despicable attempts of Donald Trump to reverse the outcome of the election. These culminated in the horrific scenes on Capitol Hill when Trump supporters sought to block Congressional endorsement of the election results. This was a dark day indeed for democracy when senators and congressmen hid in their offices in the face of a raging mob of protestors. The violence that erupted that day should have been enough to put paid to Trump’s attempts to claim victory. It did not, however, and the defeated candidate continued his unsuccessful campaign through the courts, which all rejected his claims of widespread election irregularities. It was thus with a sigh of relief that most Americans welcomed the inauguration of Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. Perhaps the country could once again return to a degree of normalcy.

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That hope was, however, marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. A country that had the most outstanding scientific minds and institutions was holding the world record for the most number of infections and deaths. The total mishandling of the pandemic by the Trump administration had produced devastating results. It was left to the new president to correct the situation, and correct it he did. Biden became the Vaccinator in Chief, repeatedly appearing on television to urge his fellow citizens to get their shots. He also reformed the system for the distribution of vaccines so they became readily available to all Americans. And the results have been encouraging, with a steady decline in the infection and death rates. While much work remains to be done in the face of anti-vaxxers motivated by politics and ignorance, the United States no longer leads the world as a victim of the pandemic, and for that, Biden can take much of the credit.

On the world stage, Biden has restored the image of the United States as a leader in the liberal international community of nations. He has reversed his predecessor’s position as a denier of climate change and has positioned his country at the forefront of nations prepared to take bold action to save the planet. He has repaired relations with allies from Ottawa to Berlin to Tokyo. His strong commitment to NATO has provided reassurance to the countries of western Europe. And his calm and courteous dealings with foreigners of all sorts have been warmly welcomed by the leaders of countries around the globe.

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In the Middle East, Biden has done his best to rescue his country from the mess left behind by his predecessor. He has abandoned Trump’s totally pro-Israeli stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under his leadership, the United States has resumed diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority and has once again become a major financial contributor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. This will put the United States in a good position to become a trusted mediator in the conflict when conditions on the ground permit. Biden has also tried to remedy the situation created by Trump’s disastrous decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. By imposing additional sanctions on Iran, the Trump administration gave Iranian hard-liners all the encouragement they needed to resume nuclear enrichment activities that could lead to the testing and production of Iranian nuclear weapons. Biden has so far been unable to find a formula that will lead the Iranians to return to the terms of the original deal, but he deserves high marks for his constructive efforts on this file.

In the midst of his successes on the world scene, Biden has also experienced some mishaps. While his decision to end the American military engagement in Afghanistan was the right one, the manner in which it was carried out was, to say the least, unfortunate. Ignoring the pleas of his generals and his allies, he stuck by an arbitrary deadline of Aug. 31 for the final withdrawal of American forces. The result was the chaos that the world witnessed at Kabul airport. Thousands of Afghans who had claims on refuge in the United States and allied countries, including Canada, were left behind to the tender mercies of the Taliban. In addition to the great injustice inflicted on these people, it turned into a public relations disaster for the United States. It is one that Biden will have to wear for many years to come and has already contributed to the dramatic fall in his ratings in public opinion polls in the United States.

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Then there are the problems along the U.S.-Mexican border. These had become a national scandal during the Trump administration, when inhumane policies were vigorously pursued. On coming to office, Biden assigned this file to Vice-President Kamala Harris. She has so far managed to make little headway in addressing some of the fundamental flaws in American policy and in convincing some of the countries of Central America to co-operate more fully in arresting the flow of refugees northward. The American image was certainly not helped by well-publicized video footage showing American border patrol officers on horseback charging hapless refugees along the banks of the Rio Grande.

Biden has had a very mixed record in his relations with the U.S. Congress. The recent passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure package represents a triumph for the administration. It will allow for much-needed repair and upkeep to the country’s crumbling highways, bridges and rail lines, and will create thousands of new jobs.  More troubling, however, is the fate of the even more ambitious $3.5 trillion program to upgrade America’s woefully inadequate social security architecture. This bill provides for significant increases in the amounts the government spends on health and education, including child care. This bill now sits in limbo, caught between the opposition Republicans and elements in the Democratic party. The latter seem to be the main source of the problem. Some Democrats recognize they will have to compromise on the size of the spending while others refuse to give way on any of the provisions of the bill. The result is a stalemate to which there is no end in sight.

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Many had hoped Biden’s long experience in Congress would allow him to hammer out the compromises necessary to get his highly ambitious legislative programme enacted. So far this has not proved to be the case, and it speaks to a larger problem: his image as a leader. Two weeks ago The Economist published a Lexington column titled “No one loves Joe Biden.” Since becoming president, he has not been able to attract the public support that any successful president needs. His most obvious selling point is that he is not Donald Trump, but that only seems to carry him so far. On the public stage, he comes across as a rather flat performer, unable or unwilling to sell his record in office. That record is by and large a good one, but it takes salesmanship to bring it across to the American people. In that, Biden has proved inadequate, and he may well pay the price for it in next year’s midterm elections. If the Republicans manage to gain control of both Houses of Congress, Biden can only expect to be spending two years as a lame-duck president. It is very much to be hoped that he can recoup the fortunes of his party in the year ahead. The alternative (Trump) is too horrible to contemplate.

Louis A. Delvoie is a retired Canadian diplomat who served abroad as an ambassador and high commissioner. 

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trump: US bids farewell to Trump hotel that offered luxury… and access

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WASHINGTON: Occupying an entire city block a short walk from the White House, the Trump International Hotel is a splashy neolassical palace steeped in more than a century of Washington lore.
The towering atrium features a huge skylight that dapples the lobby bar in winter sun as the nation’s power brokers savor $140 glasses of wine served in Hungarian crystal, or $10,000 tumblers of vintage Macallan scotch.
After a drink, guests with $385 to spare can rejuvenate with a “hydrafacial” skin treatment downstairs before reclining on designer linens in one of the 263 stately, wood-paneled rooms.
“It’s a beautiful place,” one-time White House spokesman Sean Spicer gushed about the hotel, which is set to become a Waldorf Astoria in the New Year, ending six years of ownership by Donald Trump.
“It’s somewhere that he’s very proud of, and I think it’s symbolic of the kind of government that he’s going to run.”
Spicer turned out to be correct.
Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington, but instead opened his very own quagmire on Pennsylvania Avenue — inviting a dizzying array of conflicts of interest.
During Trump’s four years in office, the 19th-century Romanesque Revival-style hotel became a magnet for top donors, corporate lobbyists and foreign governments seeking to spend big in the hope of winning influence.
“The law is totally on my side, meaning the president can’t have a conflict of interest,” Trump said in 2016 when asked about mixing his day job with promoting his sprawling business empire.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) lobby group tracked 150 officials from 77 foreign governments that visited a Trump property during his presidency.
According to a congressional probe, the Washington hotel took in $3.7 million from countries including China, Kuwait, Turkey, India, Brazil and Romania.
The Philippines told a television station back home its decision to use the hotel for a 2018 Independence Day celebration was “a statement that we have a good relationship with this president.”
The clientele raised concerns about possible violations of anti-corruption provisions written by the nation’s founders restricting the acceptance of gifts to office-holders from foreigners.
“Donald Trump should never have been allowed to keep his DC hotel as president,” CREW’s head Noah Bookbinder said.
“He should have divested himself of it along with the rest of his businesses before taking office. Instead, he rode out four years of using it for influence peddling and constitutional violations.”
Altogether, domestic political groups spent $3 million at the hotel across some 40 political events during the Trump era.
Special interest groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute, often took part in White House meetings alongside a hotel event, and many secured favorable policy outcomes, according to CREW.
AFP reached out to the Trump Organization, but there was no response.
The former president handed control of his businesses to his two adult sons and a trustee when he entered the White House, promising not to get involved while in reality promoting the venues at every opportunity.
Meanwhile, the Trump Organization pledged to donate its profits from foreign governments to the US Treasury.
Built in the 1890s, the 12-story Old Post Office that houses the Trump International is the third-tallest building in the capital, after the Washington Monument and National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Scheduled for demolition several times, it was bailed out in 2011 when Trump pipped Hilton and Hyatt with a bid pledging to sink $200 million into a makeover.
The hotel opened in the fall of 2016, a few months before Trump entered the White House, effectively making the new president his own landlord, in violation of a provision banning elected officials from “any share” of the lease.
A review of rates by AFP found the least expensive room around the end of November would cost $512 per night. A night in the Franklin Suite, including breakfast in bed, was on offer for a cool $12,109.98.
But the sky-high prices did not translate into profit.
Investigators in Congress found the hotel lost more than $70 million during Trump’s presidency, concluding that he had “grossly exaggerated” its profits.
The Trump Organization called the report “intentionally misleading, irresponsible and unequivocally false” and described it as “political harassment.”
But reports in US media have chronicled low occupancy as the Trump International has struggled to contend with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Trump Organization sold the lease for a reported $375 million to an investment fund, which plans to reopen the hotel in the first months of 2022 as a Waldorf Astoria.
“The Trump Hotel DC stood as a bright neon sign telling foreign countries and moneyed interests how to bribe the president and a stark reminder to Americans that his decisions as president were just as likely to be about his bottom line as about our interests,” CREW’s Bookbinder added.
“Selling it now that he’s out of office and the grift dried up is, to say the least, too little, too late.”

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Scotland Detects 6 Cases Of New Covid-19 Variant; Uk Total Rises To 11

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Six cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant have been identified in Scotland, taking the UK’s total to 11 following three cases in England last week and two in London on Monday. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said the latest two cases found in Camden and Wandsworth areas of London have links to travel in southern Africa.

Earlier on Monday, the Scottish government said four cases have been found in Lanarkshire and two in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. While all of England’s detected cases have a travel link with southern Africa, some of the people identified in Scotland have no travel history and may have caught the potentially highly transmissible variant in the community.

“On some of the cases, we are aware that there is no travel history involved. So, what that tells us is that there must be a degree of community transmission of this particular strain of the virus,” Scotland Deputy First Minister John Swinney told the BBC in reference to the cases detected in Scotland. But the minister reiterated that it is too early to say whether even tougher social distancing norms may be required against what is feared to be a potentially highly infectious variant and its response to current vaccines is yet to be fully determined.

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“This will be a worrying time for the six people now identified as having the new variant, said Scotland Health Secretary Humza Yousaf. All will receive expert help and support and Public Health Scotland will undertake enhanced contact tracing in all cases. This will help establish the origin of the virus and any further individuals they have come into contact with in recent weeks,” he said.

Omicron was first reported in South Africa and cases have been detected in countries across the world, including Australia, Germany, Israel and Hong Kong. Ten countries in southern Africa have been added to the UK’s travel ban “red list” in response and all overseas travellers arriving into the UK from Tuesday will need to take a PCR test.
Meanwhile, the UK’s vaccine advisory body backed an expansion of the COVID-19 booster vaccine scheme to all adults aged over 18. Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has said it would be “sensible” to cut the current six-month time gap between doses and extend boosters to the under-40s as part of a planned “boost the booster” drive to protect against COVID-19.

First Published:  IST

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‘Jurassic World: Dominion’: release date, cast, plot

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Jurassic World: Dominion is the upcoming third movie in the legendary Jurassic World trilogy — and the sixth Jurassic Park film in total!

This epic film will excitingly see Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum reunite for the first time together since the original blockbuster went out in 1993.

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