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US Republicans ready a new infrastructure counteroffer for Biden | Infrastructure News

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Senate Republicans revived negotiations over United States President Joe Biden’s sweeping investment plan, preparing a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal that would be funded with COVID-19 relief money as a counteroffer to the White House.

Biden, a Democrat, had said he wanted to see progress on legislation by May 31, the US Memorial Day holiday.

Republicans said on Tuesday they would disclose details of the new offer by Thursday, with some sounding upbeat after both sides had panned other offers.

“I think that we’ve got good momentum, but we’ll see what their reaction is,” said Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

However, there are others who remain pessimistic about the negotiations.

The number-three Senate Republican, John Barrasso, told reporters: “We are now very far apart. We were pretty close when we met with President Biden in the White House” two weeks ago.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to address the new plan but said: “We expect this week to be a week of progress.”

Sharp disagreements

There is sharp disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about a basic definition of infrastructure – Republicans want to keep it strictly to things like roads, bridges and broadband, while Biden and Democrats want a bill to include items such as funding for childcare centres and green energy investments.

Biden had dropped his $2.3 trillion opening bid to $1.7 trillion, and Republicans had nudged their initial $568bn offer up by about $50bn late last week, but talks teetered as both sides complained the movement was insufficient.

Also complicating the negotiations is a significant conflict over how to pay for it.

The Republicans have uniformly rejected Biden’s plan to pay for the investments by raising the corporate tax rate, from 21 percent to 28 percent. Instead, the GOP senators want to shift approximately $700bn of unspent COVID-19 relief funds to infrastructure, which may be a nonstarter for Democrats. Republicans also want to rely on gas taxes, tolls and other fees charged to drivers to pay for the highways and other infrastructure.

The Republicans said their new proposal would be aligned with what they discussed with Biden in their first Oval Office meeting almost two weeks ago.

US President Joe Biden gestures towards West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito during an infrastructure meeting with Republican senators at the White House in Washington, DC, May 13, 2021 [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

If talks stall, Biden and his fellow Democrats in Congress could decide to move forward at the end of the month without Republicans. Biden in March signed sweeping COVID-19 relief legislation passed in Congress without Republican support.

As talks hit a deadlock late last week, it is unclear if this latest GOP offer will be enough to put negotiations back on track.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who tapped Capito to lead the GOP effort, gave a nod to the latest offer, saying the idea of repurposing the COVID-19 funds was “good advice” from Larry Summers, a Harvard professor and Clinton-era treasury secretary. Summers suggested as much in a recent op-ed as some economists warn of rising inflation with the government spending.

Publicly and privately, the Republicans say that while Biden appears willing to negotiate with the senators, his staff often changes course. They point to a similar dynamic during coronavirus aid talks when Biden seemed to agree with a group of GOP senators, only to have staff behind him shaking their heads no.

The Republicans are eager to publicly disclose Biden’s comments to them as they make the case for their new offer before the Memorial Day deadline.

Among Democrats, it is not lost on them that McConnell has said repeatedly that “100 percent of my focus” is on stopping Biden’s agenda.

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly promised to stand in the way of Biden’s agenda [Erin Scott/Reuters]

Adding to the mix, a bipartisan group that includes Republican Senator from Utah Mitt Romney is quietly working on other proposals as a “backup”, he said.

“This is going to feel like a tightrope walk all the way until it gets to Biden’s desk,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president of Third Way, a centrist think-tank.

The administration is signalling that it is important not just whether Biden can push his infrastructure and other proposals into law, but also how he does it. By this reasoning, voters — and some moderate Democratic lawmakers — are more likely to be on board if Biden at least tries for bipartisanship.

The West Wing believes its bargaining position is strong. Aides point to Biden’s high poll numbers and the popularity of his proposals, all while believing that they have the option of muscling the infrastructure plan to the passage under special budget reconciliation rules that require only a party-line vote.

But there is a growing sense of urgency within the White House and among Democrats. After a burst of legislative accomplishments, including the COVID-19 relief bill, the pace has slowed dramatically. And the future may hinge on a few select senators.

Psaki insisted no decisions had been made on whether the administration will go it alone as it awaits a counteroffer from Republicans. “We’re not quite there yet,” she said.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Nic Dlamini is set to be first black South African at Tour de France

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South African cyclist Nic Dlamini
Nic Dlamini is set to become the first black South African to ride the Tour de France

Nic Dlamini will make history at this year’s Tour de France by being the first black South African to compete in cycling’s most famous race.

The 25-year-old will be one of the eight riders for Africa’s only top-flight professional cycling team Qhubeka-Assos at the Tour, which runs from 26 June until 18 July.

He will be the only African on the team that will be jointly led by Australia’s Simon Clarke and Austrian Michael Gogl as well as including the Italian 2015 Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru.

“Being selected to ride in my first Tour de France is an absolute dream come true for me,” Dlimani said.external-link

“It’s always been an childhood dream and now that I’m about to live it makes it feel surreal.

“I think it speaks to what the team is about, the Ubuntu spirit [I am because we are], and how we change people’s lives because it is honestly a very special moment: to come from a small township and then to go to the Tour de France.”

He becomes the latest rider to progress from the South African-registered team’s development squad and onto the UCI WorldTour.

Humble beginnings

South African cyclist Nic Dlamini

The 25-year-old, who grew up in an informal settlement in Cape Town, first caught the eye as a runner before moving into cycling where his talents saw him move to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

“Considering where I come from it would simply have been impossible for me to have the opportunity to ride at the Tour de France if it wasn’t for Team Qhubeka-Assos,” he explained.

“The platform that they’ve provided me, and other riders from Africa, to compete at the highest level in cycling has been critical.

“I really hope that this will serve as a reference of hope and inspiration to many young South Africans, and people around the world, who have been working really hard to reach their dreams. My hope is that they take from this that anything is possible.

“I want to race the Tour to inspire more kids on Qhubeka bikes to follow in my footsteps and to experience the world like I have, for more kids in communities to put their hands up for bikes to work hard like I did, to dream big.”

According to the team “Dlamini’s style of racing will likely see his talents deployed in the offensive strategy the team will look to pursue during the race, while also playing a key supporting role in the flatter stages.”

The team is completed by Belgium’s Victor Campenaerts, Max Walscheid of Germany, debutant Sean Bennett of the USA and Colombian Sergio Henao.

Qhubeka-Assos’ team principal Douglas Ryder also hopes that Dlamini’s inclusion is a special moment.

“For Nic, what a moment though; his story is simply an incredible one and for him to have earned this opportunity shows that dreams really do come true, and for the team to have provided that opportunity makes me incredibly proud,” he said.

“He’s always been an individual that has stepped up and taken the opportunities that he’s fought for; and he does so again as he lines up at the startline in Brest on the sport’s biggest stage in front of the world.

“This will culminate in an incredible moment for him, South Africa and especially for our team.

“His selection speaks to everything about what we’ve created and built with this team through providing hope, an opportunity and then ultimately the platform to be on the biggest stage of all, the Tour de France.”

The only African rider to have worn the Tour de France leader’s famous ‘yellow jersey’ is Dlamini’s compatriot Darryl Impey, who wore it for two stages in 2013.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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In COVID hit Asia, mixed messages on refugee vaccinations | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Medan, Indonesia – Earlier this month, dozens of Rohingya refugees landed on a deserted island off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

The refugees had been at sea for more than 100 days, having left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in a rickety wooden fishing boat, and were spotted huddling on uninhabited Idaman Island by local fishermen who used the island as a rest stop between fishing trips.

By June 5, just a day after their arrival, all 81 refugees, including children, had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The refugees were vaccinated in conjunction with the local government,” Nasruddin, the humanitarian coordinator of Geutanyoe Foundation, an NGO which provides education and psychosocial support to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.

“When we found them, they were in a crisis situation on the island with no food, water or electricity, so local residents brought them food and we also brought them 50 tanks of water,” he added. “The feeling on the ground was that we needed to share our vaccines with the refugees in order to protect them as well. No one complained that the vaccines were being given to refugees.”

Aceh Province has been widely praised by humanitarian groups, NGOs and the general public for vaccinating Rohingya refugees, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers have not been so lucky.

Hard line

When Nasruddin assessed the 81 refugees on Idaman Island, they told him that they had wanted to go to Malaysia. Some had family members who were already living there, while others were under the impression that the country had a more liberal policy towards refugees than its neighbours.

Some of the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Aceh earlier this month. They told NGOs that they had wanted to go to Malaysia because they had family there or thought it would be more welcoming to refugees than other countries in Southeast Asia [Cek Mad/AFP]

But like most countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and while the government has said it will vaccinate everyone living in the country, it has also taken a hard line on undocumented migrants and refugees, including Rohingya.

“In February, the cabinet decided that in the interest of pandemic recovery all foreigners would receive vaccination free of charge, including refugees and undocumented migrants,” Lilianne Fan, the co-founder and international director of Geutanyoe Foundation who is based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera.

“The COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force and Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin as coordinator of the vaccination programme, have been vocal advocates of this approach.

“However, the recent statement of the minister of home affairs that those without valid documents should not be vaccinated, combined with renewed crackdown on undocumented migrants, contradicts the government’s earlier position and will simply drive more people into hiding and slow down Malaysia’s pandemic recovery.”

Malaysia went into its second strict lockdown at the beginning of June after cases of coronavirus surged – stretching hospitals and intensive care units to the limit. The health ministry announced 6,440 new cases on Friday.

The government has indicated that it will ease the lockdown as more people are vaccinated, and Khairy has consistently stressed that the programme will include everyone living in the country.

But as it did during last year’s first lockdown, Malaysia has once again stepped up operations against undocumented migrants.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has declared that PATI – the acronym for undocumented people in the Malay language – will be detained and sent to immigration detention centres.

This month, he stressed that undocumented migrants had to “surrender” before they would be vaccinated.

In early June, a video from state news agency Bernama showed 156 undocumented migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar being sprayed with disinfectant in Cyberjaya, near Malaysia’s international airport, after they had been detained.

Last week the immigration department shared a post on its Facebook page – styled like a poster for an action movie – with the headline “Ethnic Rohingya migrants are not welcome”. After an outcry, but not before it had been widely shared among refugee communities, it was deleted.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia on Monday expressed concern at “recent statements portraying migrants, undocumented or irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to the safety and security of the country and a risk to the health of Malaysians” and urged the government to rethink its approach.

“Instilling fear through threats of arrests and detention of undocumented foreigners is counterproductive in light of ongoing efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve herd immunity,” it said, stressing the clear differences in the situations of migrant workers, and refugees and asylum seekers.

Malaysia closed its borders during the first strict lockdown last year when immigration officers carried out a number of raids on areas under ‘enhanced’ lockdown. Rights groups fear more raids will deter people from coming forward for the vaccine that is crucial to Malaysia ending the COVID pandemic [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Rohingya made up about 57 percent of the 179,570 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia at the end of May.

Unofficial estimates suggest the country may have as many as three million undocumented migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Widespread problem

The mixed messaging on vaccinations for refugees is not exclusive to Malaysia.

In a statement released in early June, the UN refugee agency warned that a shortage of vaccines in the Asia Pacific region was putting the lives of refugees and asylum seekers at risk.

“Refugees remain especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded settings, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can contribute to increased infection rates and an exponential spread of the virus,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in the statement.

There are almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, making it the single largest and most densely populated cluster of refugee camps in the world. According to Mahecic, the number of COVID-19 cases in the camps has increased dramatically in the last two months.

As of 31 May, there had been more than 1,188 confirmed cases among the refugee population, with more than half of these cases recorded in May alone.

None of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar has yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mahecic added that, in many countries in the Asia Pacific region, there were not enough vaccines to go around, leading to groups such as migrant workers and asylum seekers being sidelined.

The UNHCR had observed a “worrying increase” in the number of coronavirus cases among refugees and asylum seekers in countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

Indonesia, at least, appears to be starting to do more to address the problem.

The UNHCR says COVID-19 has begun to accelerate in the crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, but no Rohingya living there have been vaccinated [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Other parts of the country have started to follow Aceh’s lead, according to the IOM, which vaccinated more than 900 refugees in the Indonesian city of Pekanbaru in Riau Province in early June in collaboration with the local government.

“IOM applauds the response of the City Government of Pekanbaru for making vaccines available to the refugee community in the city,” Ariani Hasanah Soejoeti, the national media and communications officer of IOM Indonesia told Al Jazeera, adding that all refugees in the city over the age of 18 have now received vaccines.

“Vaccines are one of our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep individuals and therefore entire communities safe and healthy,” she said.

“The virus knows no borders or nationality; and neither should our solidarity.”





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed by Abiy

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PM Abiy Ahmed swept to power after mass protests, but his Oromo community still feel like outsiders.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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