Two elections in Georgia on Tuesday will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate — and the results will shape myriad aspects of Joe Biden's administration.
Two elections in Georgia on Tuesday will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate — and the results will shape myriad aspects of Joe Biden's administration.
The A-list is back. How A-list? Try Lady Gaga and J. Lo. Inauguration officials announced on Thursday that the glittery duo would appear in person on Jan. 20, with Gaga singing the national anthem as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, and Jennifer Lopez giving a musical performance. Foo Fighters, John Legend and Bruce Springsteen will offer remote performances, and Eva Longoria and and Kerry Washington will introduce segments of the event. Later that day, Tom Hanks will host a 90-minute primetime TV special celebrating Biden’s inauguration. Other performers include Justin Timberlake, Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato and Ant Clemons. Despite a raging pandemic that is forcing most inaugural events online, it was a sign that Hollywood was back and eager to embrace the new president-elect four years after many big names stayed away from the inauguration of President Donald Trump, hugely unpopular in Hollywood. The question: How would the star wattage play across the country as Biden seeks to unite a bruised nation? Eric Dezenhall, a Washington crisis management consultant and former Reagan administration official, predicted reaction would fall “along tribal lines.” “I think it all comes down to the reinforcement of pre-existing beliefs,” Dezenhall said. “If you’re a Biden supporter, it’s nice to see Lady Gaga perform.” But, he added, “what rallied Trump supporters was the notion of an uber-elite that had nothing to do at all with them and that they couldn’t relate to.” Presidential historian Tevi Troy quipped that the starry Gaga-J. Lo lineup was not A-list, but D-list — "for Democratic.” "When Democrats win you get the more standard celebrities,” said Troy, author of “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House.” “With Republicans you tend to get country music stars and race-car drivers." Referring to Lady Gaga’s outspoken support for the Biden-Harris ticket, he said he was nostalgic for the days when celebrities were not so political. “Call me a hopeless romantic, but I liked the old days when Bob Hope or Frank Sinatra would come to these events and they were not overtly political,” he said. Still, he said, Biden’s unity message won’t be derailed. “In the end, I don’t think having Lady Gaga or J. Lo is all that divisive,” he said. Attendance at the inauguration will be severely limited, due to both the pandemic and fears of continued violence, following last week’s storming of the Capitol. Outside the official events, one of the more prominent galas each inauguration is The Creative Coalition's quadrennial ball, a benefit for arts education. This year, the ball is entirely virtual. But it is star-studded nonetheless: The event, which will involve food being delivered simultaneously to attendees in multiple cities, will boast celebrity hosts including Jason Alexander, David Arquette, Matt Bomer, Christopher Jackson, Ted Danson, Lea DeLaria, Keegan Michael-Key, Chrissy Metz, Mandy Patinkin and many others. Robin Bronk, CEO of the non-partisan arts advocacy group, said she's been deluged with celebrities eager to participate in some way. The event typically brings in anywhere from $500,000 to $2.5 million, and this year the arts community is struggling like never before. Bronk noted that planning has been a challenge, given not only the recent political upheaval in the country but also the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic. Given all that, did a celebration make sense? “I was thinking about this when we were trying to phrase the invitation,” Bronk said. “Do we celebrate? This is the most serious time of our lives.” But, she said, especially at a time when the arts community is suffering, it’s crucial to shine a spotlight and recognize that “the right to bear arts is not a red or blue issue. One of the reasons we have this ball is that we have to ensure the arts are not forgotten." The Presidential Inaugural Committee also announced Thursday that the invocation will be given by the Rev. Leo O’Donovan, a former Georgetown University president, and the Pledge of Allegiance will be led by Andrea Hall, a firefighter from Georgia. There will be a poetry reading from Amanda Gorman, the first national youth poet laureate, and the benediction will be given by Rev. Silvester Beaman of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware. On the same platform, Biden sat in 2013 behind pop star Beyoncé as she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at President Barack Obama's second inauguration. James Taylor sang “America the Beautiful,” and Kelly Clarkson sang “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” At Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the anthem was performed by 16-year-old singer Jackie Evancho. A number of top artists declined the opportunity to perform at the festivities, and one Broadway star, Jennifer Holliday, even said she’d received death threats before she pulled out of her planned appearance. There was indeed star power in 2017, but most of it was centred at the Women’s March on Washington, where attendees included Madonna, Julia Roberts, Scarlett Johansson, Cher, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Emma Watson and many others. This year, signs are that Obama-era celebrities are returning. Dezenhall said that in the end, it's logical for organizers to go with the biggest talent. “Lady Gaga is as big as you can get, and she is very talented,” he said. “If I were being inaugurated and I could have Lady Gaga, I would take it.” Jocelyn Noveck, The Associated Press
After 11 years in the trades – from scaffolding and metal work, to her current role in concrete forming – Mulisius Joe has also become skilled at navigating the male-dominated construction industry. “I've worked with a few men who didn’t think I should be there,” she said, citing times when empty reasons were given to exclude her from contributing to a job. “It’s never said out loud but you could feel it…where you don't know if it’s racist or it’s sexist, but you know it's something.” Calls for equity among construction labourers in the GTA were made decades ago, with African-Canadian carpenters and their allies protesting the exclusion of Black workers from trades unions and construction companies in the early ‘70s. Trade union programs are now slowly helping to change that. Joe said she has seen a shift in how journeypersons, or mentors for trade apprentices, are increasingly focused on the treatment of women and visible minorities on site, and are better prepared to foster an equitable environment. These changes make her hopeful the industry will develop a similar awareness around issues of discrimination and equity, especially after the racist incidents this past summer, when five nooses were found tied onto scaffolding or hanging in view at GTA construction sites. Despite police and union investigations – and the firing of at least one worker – another two nooses were found at Michael Garron Hospital in East York in late September. “It didn't just go away because we said how we feel,” said Brampton resident Chris Campbell, of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario. In November, Campbell became the union’s first Equity and Diversity Representative. He will work to include racism in the scope of “toolbox talk” – trades-speak for frank discussions about safety issues – in an attempt to change the culture of silence around workplace discrimination in the construction industry. The Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario represents more than 30,000 workers across 16 affiliated trades unions. Campbell completed his apprenticeship in the early ‘90s, and became a project supervisor at various sites across the GTA before teaching at the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades, based in Woodbridge. An active member in the Jamaican Canadian Association and other Black community organizations, Campbell went on to become a Local 27 Toronto Carpenters’ Union rep prior to his current appointment. Following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last spring, Black Lives Matter demonstrations underscored the urgent need to confront anti-Black racism in the workplace. Campbell said he and other union representatives marched in the downtown Toronto protests in June, sporting the union flag. Mulisius joined the marches, and commended the union for making their presence visible. “It feels good, because as a woman on site, and also as a Black person, I’m always the minority. To see our union jump behind this, it makes me feel so much prouder to be a Local 27 member,” she said. But later that month, the first noose was found at the Eglinton Crosstown LRT job site. Campbell said one of the union’s members admitted to tying it and was fired, had his union membership revoked and was banned from working on projects operated by Crosslinx Transit Solutions. “It’s not just a noose for some people. It’s a health issue, because they’re traumatized, they can’t mentally handle it,” Johnson said, adding that there were Black workers at the site. “Some people, they become emotional and they cannot go back to work because to them, it symbolizes an extreme aggression. To them, it symbolizes what their grandparents went through a few decades ago.” According to 2016 Census data, close to one-fifth of Brampton’s workforce was in the trades, transport and equipment operations industry, compared to about 12 percent in Mississauga. Peel Region also has the highest proportion of immigrants compared to its bordering regions – at about 52 percent of the population – and the highest proportion of visible minorities, at 62 percent, compared to 51 percent in Toronto, and the GTA average of 48 percent. The booming construction industry holds the potential to dramatically improve the employment prospects of Peel’s large visible minority communities. Many of these residents have not been well represented in the trades, traditionally. The BOLT (Building Opportunities for Life Today) program was launched by construction giant Tridel in 2009, and in 2013 it was established as a charitable foundation aimed at introducing career opportunities to marginalized and other “under-resourced” youth across the GTA. It has provided more than 400 post-secondary scholarships for construction-related programs, in an effort to help young people from all backgrounds pursue a career in the trades. Opening up one of Ontario’s largest industries to reflect the province’s population, is a challenge the unions are now taking up as well. Whether it’s because of cultural issues, for example the view among some South Asian-Canadian communities that trades jobs are not traditionally socially acceptable, or because of discriminatory dynamics within the industry, the lack of representation means many Peel residents are being cut off from highly lucrative careers. In 2018, the average wage of workers in the construction industry across the country was almost $32 an hour, according to Statistics Canada. The average minimum wage in the country (which is what many newcomers earn) at the time sat at about $12 an hour. A 2016 Peel-Halton Workforce Characteristics Report notes that women, racialized minorities and newcomers face disadvantages when holding precarious positions in Peel, with the largest proportions of people earning lower incomes located in Brampton and Mississauga compared to Halton municipalities. In the construction and industrial sectors, about 97 percent of Peel and Halton journeypersons and apprentices are male, though there is no race-based data provided or notes on discrimination trends in the workplace. The recent rash of racist incidents raises questions about what the industry is doing to confront discrimination. At the large LRT construction site where the Fairbank Station in Toronto, near Dufferin Street and Eglinton Avenue will open in 2022, Campbell said the union interviewed people on site and had a “toolbox talk” after a noose was tied there. The union has partnered with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council to create a charter document and establish standards for an inclusive workplace that rejects racism, xenophobia and discrimination. The document is now posted at some construction sites, Campbell said, adding that the union is planning to address racism in the workplace through new educational initiatives and training for members and senior leadership. In his new role, Campbell will be notified and involved in the complaints resolution process related to racism in the workplace, and encourages workers to report these incidents. “It’s a health and safety issue,” he said. With the work of craft and trade unions based in skill development, at the forefront of efforts to address racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination is the question of whose skills are being recognized, said Tania Das Gupta, a professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at York University. As part of her research into racism in the labour movement, Das Gupta interviewed visible minority workers in leadership roles within larger unions, who expressed feeling obstructed in their work. “In other words, you could have diversity, but sometimes it becomes tokenism and the [union] structures are not conducive to inclusion,” she said. Education is integral to making anti-racism programs a success, she added. “If the workers are prepared, and they’re educated on why these changes are happening, then they're likely not to feel threatened.” Professional associations and developers such as Tridel and Ellis Don have launched anti-racism campaigns in response to the incidents this past summer, including quarterly roundtable discussions with 21 industry partners, spearheaded by the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). The group is meeting for the second time this month. “These incidents didn’t happen in isolation, and it wasn’t just one incident…so we realized that this is an issue that we need to dive deeper into combatting,” said Amina Dibe, manager of government and stakeholder relations at RESCON. The collective launched the Construction Against Racism Everyone (CARE) Campaign, distributing more than 2,000 hardhat stickers for workers to show their solidarity, while launching educational webinars and subcommittees to tackle education, communication and training within the industry. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @LaVjosa COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you.Vjosa Isai, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer
OTTAWA — Activist Velma Morgan says several Black organizations were denied federal funding through a program designed to help such groups build capacity — after the department told them their leadership was not sufficiently Black.The chair of Operation Black Vote tells The Canadian Press her group received an email from Employment and Social Development Canada this week saying their application did not show "the organization is led and governed by people who self-identify as Black."The department sent a second email the next day, saying their applications were not approved because it did not receive "the information required to move forward."Morgan says her not-for-profit, multi-partisan organization that aims to get more Black people elected at all levels of government is one of at least five Black organizations that didn't get the funding.Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen says the initial letter his department sent to unsuccessful applicants was "completely unacceptable" and that he demanded a retraction as soon as he saw it.In a thread on Twitter, Hussen says he discussed with his department's officials to how such a mistake could have happened and implemented measures to make sure it does not happen again. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2020———This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. The Canadian Press
The deal will be largely paid through cash and Lazy Audio's management team will get post-acquisition equity-settled awards, Tencent said. The acquisition comes at a time when the music streaming site is looking to bolster its content library in order to put it behind a paywall and add more paid users.
South River and Machar residents should have a better idea over the next few weeks what will happen to the ice at their arena in the wake of the province's 28-day stay-at-home order. South River council will discuss the issue at its Jan. 25 meeting. South River clerk-administrator Don McArthur says the municipality developed COVID-19 protocols for the arena's four user groups that were working prior to the latest lockdown. The arena was used by the Junior A Spartans, boys' minor hockey, girls' minor hockey and figure skating. The protocols were explained to the users last fall and McArthur says when the arena opened in October, everything “worked wonderfully. “We really felt comfortable with the protocols and with the cooperation of the groups where they took on a lot of the responsibilities,” McArthur says. “They looked after their own contact tracing and what we did was buy disinfectant and sanitized the equipment.” This approach worked well, he says, and the municipality didn't have to put any extra staff at the arena. It would have been a different story had council opened the arena to public skating. “If we allowed public skating, protocols like who's coming and going would have to have been done by us,” McArthur says. “So the staffing level would have gone up considerably in order to police and look after all that information flow.” That would have become too expensive for the municipality, he says. The protocols the municipality has in place are good and “everyone feels confident that we can operate safely. “But we don't have that option (to operate) under the lockdown,” McArthur says. The South River-Machar Community Centre and Arena has been closed since Dec. 21. Assuming there's a reopening in the near future, the user groups will operate under the same protocols in place prior to Dec. 21. McArthur says staff and council are looking at various scenarios depending on when the latest lockdown ends. In the best-case scenario, the lockdown could be lifted earlier in the North, in which case “if we're delayed only two to four weeks then maybe we can add that time and run the season a little later into March or to the end of March. “Council's challenge is we don't know if or when we'll get a green light,” McArthur says. “So at what point does it become too late or no longer economically feasible for us and the user groups?” This is now a waiting game and it's not easy as options are weighed. “The big cost, beyond wages, at the arena is maintaining the ice,” he says. “If there isn't going to be anyone using it and no revenue coming in, then how long do we maintain that ice for?” McArthur adds the arena isn't only used for winter activities. It's also used for a hockey opportunity camp during the summer. In fact, the arena is at its busiest during the eight to 10 weeks of the hockey camp. The facility is only without ice from mid April to mid June. When the lockdowns first started last March, McArthur says the hockey camp “was one of the first (activities) to take a direct hit.” With the arena in shutdown mode, staff were able to carry out considerable maintenance at the site that normally would not be achievable. But with the arena down for the entire summer, it meant no revenue to the municipality. McArthur says 2020 saw the arena lose about $40,000 over and above its normal expenses. McArthur says the province's safe restart agreement helped offset part of the arena loss and council is grateful for that. Council also was able to offset the remainder of the loss by reducing the number of capital projects it had scheduled for 2020. One of those projects involved a compressor rebuild at the arena. So, while the village will still have a balanced budget for 2020, it comes at a cost because it now has to delay some of the scheduled capital projects into the future, McArthur says. Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped nine of her most trusted allies in the House to argue the case for President Donald Trump’s impeachment. The Democrats, all of whom are lawyers and many of whom have deep experience investigating the president, face the arduous task of convincing skeptical Senate Republicans to convict Trump. A single article of impeachment — for “incitement of insurrection” — was approved by the House on Wednesday, one week after a violent mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol. At the time, lawmakers were counting the votes that cemented Trump’s election defeat. As members of the House who were in the Capitol when it was attacked — several hiding under seats as rioters beat on the doors of the chamber — the Democrats are also witnesses to what they charge is a crime. So are the Senate jurors. “This is a case where the jurors were also victims, and so whether it was those who voted in the House last night or those in the Senate who will have to weigh in on this, you don’t have to tell anyone who was in the building twice what it was like to be terrorized,” said California Rep. Eric Swalwell, one of the managers. It is unclear when the trial will start. Pelosi hasn’t yet said when she will send the article of impeachment to the Senate. It could be as soon as next week, on President-elect Joe Biden’s first day in office. The managers plan to argue at trial that Trump incited the riot, delaying the congressional certification of the electoral vote count by inciting an angry mob to harm members of Congress. Some of the rioters were recorded saying they wanted to find Pelosi and Vice-President Mike Pence, who presided over the count. Others had zip ties that could be used as handcuffs hanging on their clothes. “The American people witnessed that,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., one of the managers. “That amounts to high crimes and misdemeanours.” None of the impeachment managers argued the case in Trump’s first impeachment trial last year, when the Senate acquitted the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The House impeached Trump in 2019 after he pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden’s family while withholding military aid to the country. Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette, another manager, says the nine prosecutors plan to present a serious case and “finish the job” that the House started. A look at Pelosi’s prosecution team in Trump’s historic second impeachment: REP. JAMIE RASKIN, MARYLAND Pelosi appointed Raskin, a former constitutional law professor and prominent member of the House Judiciary Committee, as lead manager. In a week of dramatic events and stories, Raskin’s stands out: The day before the Capitol riots, Raskin buried his 25-year-old son, Tommy, after he killed himself on New Year’s Eve. “You would be hard pressed to find a more beloved figure in the Congress” than Raskin, says House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who was the lead manager during Trump’s first trial. He worked closely with Raskin on that impeachment investigation. “I know that part of what gives him strength to take on this burden that he now carries is knowing that this is something that would be enormously meaningful to his son.” REP. DIANA DEGETTE, COLORADO DeGette, who is serving her 13th term representing Denver, is a former civil rights attorney and one of Pelosi’s go-to allies. The speaker picked her to preside over the House during the first impeachment vote in 2019. DeGette said Pelosi trusted her to do it because she is “able to to control the passions on the floor.” She says she was surprised when Pelosi called to offer her the prosecutorial position but quickly accepted. “The monstrosity of this offence is not lost on anybody,” she says. REP. DAVID CICILLINE, RHODE ISLAND Cicilline, the former mayor of Providence and public defender, is in his sixth term in Congress and is a senior member of the Judiciary panel. He was heavily involved in Trump’s first impeachment and was one of three original authors of the article that the House approved on Wednesday. He and California Rep. Ted Lieu began writing the article together, in hiding, as the rioters were still ransacking the Capitol. He tweeted out a draft the next morning, writing that “I have prepared to remove the President from office following yesterday’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.” REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO, TEXAS Castro is a member of the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs panels, where he has been an outspoken critic of Trump's handling of Russia. He was a litigator in private practice before he was elected to the Texas legislature and came to Congress, where he is in his fifth term. Castro’s twin brother, Julian Castro, is the former mayor of San Antonio and served as former President Barack Obama’s secretary of housing and urban development. Julian Castro ran in the Democratic primary for president last year. REP. ERIC SWALWELL, CALIFORNIA Swalwell also serves on the Intelligence and Judiciary panels and was deeply involved in congressional probes of Trump’s Russian ties. A former prosecutor, he briefly ran for president in 2019. “The case that I think resonates the most with the American people and hopefully the Senate is that our American president incited our fellow citizens to attack our Capitol on a day where we were counting electoral votes, and that this was not a spontaneous call to action by the president at the rally,” Swalwell said. REP. TED LIEU, CALIFORNIA Lieu, who authored the article of impeachment with Cicilline and Raskin, is on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs panels. The Los Angeles-area lawmaker is a former active-duty officer in the U.S. Air Force and military prosecutor. “We cannot begin to heal the soul of this country without first delivering swift justice to all its enemies — foreign and domestic,” he said. DEL. STACEY PLASKETT, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS Because she represents a U.S. territory, not a state, Plaskett does not have voting rights and was not able to cast a vote for impeachment. But she will bring her legal experience as a former district attorney in New York and senior counsel at the Justice Department — and as one of Raskin's former law students. “As an African American, as a woman, seeing individuals storming our most sacred place of democracy, wearing anti-Semitic, racist, neo-Nazi, white supremacy logos on their bodies and wreaking the most vile and hateful things left not just those people of colour who were in the room traumatized, but so many people of colour around this country," she said Friday. REP. JOE NEGUSE, COLORADO Neguse, in his second term, is a rising star in the Democratic caucus who was elected to Pelosi’s leadership team his freshman year in Congress. A former litigator, he sits on the House Judiciary Committee and consulted with Raskin, Cicilline and Lieu as they drafted the article the day of the attack. At 36, he will be the youngest impeachment manager in history, according to his office. “This armed mob did not storm the Capitol on any given day, they did so during the most solemn of proceedings that the United States Congress is engaged in,” Neguse said Thursday. “Clearly the attack was done to stop us from finishing our work.” REP. MADELEINE DEAN, PENNSYLVANIA Like Neguse, Dean was first elected when Democrats recaptured the House in 2018. She is also a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and is a former lawyer and member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She says she hopes the prosecutors can convince the Senate and the American people “to mark this moment" with a conviction. “I think I bring to it just the simple fact that I’m a citizen, that I’m a mom and I’m a grandma," Dean said. "And I want my children, my grandchildren, to remember what we did here.” Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press
Tanya Bogatin's once pristine home is no longer quite so organized, and she's waiting a little longer between loads of laundry, but it's no skin off her back. Her priorities have shifted now that she'll be helping her two young kids attend classes from their home in Vaughan, Ont., for another month. "Things are gonna fall to the backburner," she said. "I tell my kids, don't stress about it ... relax, relax. We're happy, we're safe, we're healthy." With online learning extended until late January across southern Ontario, and for even longer in Toronto, York, Peel, Durham and Windsor-Essex, parents like Bogatin are finding a litany of strategies to manage all their responsibilities. She said she briefly panicked when she found out her kids would be learning remotely until at least Feb. 10, but then she came up with a game plan. Each morning, she and her kids get up at around 8:20 a.m., with half an hour to spare before classes begin. Once classes start, her son -- who is in Grade 4 -- stations himself in the dining room, and her daughter -- in Grade 2 -- sets up her laptop at the desk in the toy room. Bogatin sits on the stairs between them, listening in case they call for help. At recess, she said, she bundles them up in winter gear and sends them out to play in the backyard. Right after classes end, they get to work on homework. Bogatin works part-time, and as of this week she's able to do that from home. "I'm very, very lucky that I have a very flexible job," she said, noting that she's mostly able to set her own schedule, and will sometimes retreat into her bedroom for online meetings. Her days are busy, she said, but they're "good busy." Parents are making it work, said Rachel Huot with the Ontario Parent Action Network, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's easy. "It's extremely challenging to try and support children learning remotely," she said. "Your kids are not meant to learn sitting in front of a computer screen for six hours a day." Parents who have to juggle supervising kids and working -- either in or out of the home -- are stretched even thinner, she said. "Then there's the fact that we're watching the government fail us day after day. And there's no clear end in sight," she said. Huot echoed calls from teachers' unions that are requesting broader testing of asymptomatic students, smaller class sizes and better ventilation systems in schools so that kids can safely return to the classroom. A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said student safety is the government's top priority. "We know that parents want their children back in class and we firmly agree, and our commitment to deliver on that is to further enhance our safety protocols and provincewide targeted surveillance testing to ensure our students can safely go back to class," she said. The government has cited rising COVID-19 positivity rates amongst children as well as soaring daily infections for its decision to have students learn virtually for longer. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2021. Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — The line stretched nearly a block long. Nobody was grumbling about the wait. Those gathered at a senior wellness centre in Washington, D.C., viewed it as a matter of life or death. The nation's capital had just opened up coronavirus vaccines to people 65 and older because of their increased risk. I was among those who had a shot within reach. In the nation's capital, along with the rest of the country, coronavirus cases have surged since the holidays. More than 32,800 positive cases have been recorded overall in the city. Nearly 850 people have died. And now add fears that the mob insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month could turn into a superspreader event, adding to the totals. People were on edge. As I waited for my shot, I wondered if I should be there. The district had offered the vaccine first to health care workers, but were there others who should have come before me, people like teachers and workers in grocery stores and other businesses providing essential services during the pandemic? What about the older old — people over 75? Yes, journalists are considered essential, and I also am a teacher at the college level. But equally important to me, I haven't seen my grandson and his parents in California for more than a year — half his life — and l long to get on a plane to visit. And I do fit the new criteria for vaccines, people 65 and older. So I was all in. The city started offering appointments to the over-65 crowd Monday. I called up the website, filled in the questionnaire and looked for a location. The site closest to my home had no times available so I widened my search, finally choosing a senior centre about 3 miles away. Later, I checked my neighbourhood listserv. It was filled with complaints from residents who found the whole process unwieldy and were furious that all the available appointments had been booked. A D.C. council member acknowledged that “the rollout came with a significant number of frustrations and challenges" but said there would be other opportunities for seniors to get the vaccine. It's an issue of supply and demand. There are just under 85,000 D.C. residents 65 and older who qualify for shots, but only 6,700 appointments were available the first week. I was one of the lucky ones. It was cold, but the length of the line at the wellness centre didn't bother me. I was grateful that we were outside for much of the wait, and that people were voluntarily self-distancing. That was enforced once we moved inside. Everyone wore a mask. Some people who were visibly frail were moved to front of the line. No one complained. And while I waited, I worked. In a bit of irony, that meant consulting with a colleague on a story about the Trump administration's push to expand vaccination to more people, including those over 65. The District of Columbia, it turns out, was ahead of the curve. Ninety minutes after I arrived, I was given the Moderna vaccine, administered by a Safeway pharmacy manager brought in from Rehoboth, Delaware. After we talked about her hometown — a favourite beach vacation spot for my family — and other vaccinations I might need, she told me how to sign up for the second dose. Then I was sent to wait in another room to make sure I didn't have a serious allergic reaction to the shot. I didn't. I get my second dose Feb. 10. I've already started thinking about booking that flight to California. There's only one negative — now everyone knows my age. ___ Virus Diary, an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. Follow Washington-based AP news editor Carole Feldman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaroleFeldman Carole Feldman, The Associated Press
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A partnership with the Trump administration has reduced disparities in Alaska Native access to COVID-19 testing, treatment and protective equipment, tribal health care leaders said. The administration’s coronavirus initiative has treated Indigenous tribes as sovereign governments and set aside special vaccine shipments, Alaska Public Media reported Thursday. Operation Warp Speed, as the initiative is known, designated vaccine doses for tribes in the same manner as for the Department of Defence, Veterans Health Administration and Bureau of Prisons. The federal government distributed more than 35,000 doses to Alaska tribes, in addition to 78,000 doses to Alaska’s state government. More than 250,000 doses were dedicated to tribes nationwide through the Indian Health Service. “It’s something to celebrate,” Alaska Native Health Board CEO Verné Boerner. “When you embrace tribes and tribal sovereignty, you can bring so much more to the state.” Tribal shipments have afforded broad vaccine access for rural and Indigenous Alaskans and expanded availability of doses beyond older people. Providers acknowledge part of their ability to offer expanded access is because about a third of health care workers and older residents have declined to immediately take vaccines. While tribal providers are vaccinating Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, state and Native leaders said there is a legal basis for separate shipments because of longstanding recognition of tribes as sovereign governments. Officials said the decision also is appropriate from a scientific and medical standpoint because of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Alaska Native people and the dynamics in many rural communities that make the virus difficult to control. Factors include crowded, multi-generational homes, lack of running water and sewer and distance from advanced medical care. “It’s never been about equal distribution of the vaccine. It’s about equitable distribution,” said Dr. Ellen Hodges, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. chief of staff. “The congregate living settings that exist in most of our villages are a setup for the virus to just spread like wildfire, and there’s no defence against that.” For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The Associated Press
The long-promised public inquiry into search and rescue operations in Newfoundland and Labrador was launched Thursday. Justice and Public Safety Minister Steve Crocker formally established the $1.5-million inquiry, which he said will look different than past commissions of inquiry, such as the recent one on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. It will be more policy based as opposed to investigative, Crocker said, and will be smaller and more focused. “It will examine the organization, the operations of ground search and rescue in the province, with a final report making recommendations on how to improve that system,” he said at a news conference. The 2012 death of 14-year-old Burton Winters after he went snowmobiling near Makkovik spurred the inquiry, which is expected to last about six months. Winters' body was found three days after he was reported missing. Search and rescue helicopters were not called to look for him until two days after he was reported missing, which caused widespread concern. Crocker said it is impossible to deny how the case exposed gaps in the search and rescue system and spurred the inquiry. “None of us know when we will require the support of search and rescue teams,” he said. “But we hope that if we need them that service will be there and be adequate and prepared to respond in a timely manner.” The inquiry was a Liberal campaign promise in 2015 and was announced on Dec. 4, 2018. Retired provincial court judge James Igloliorte, originally from Hopedale, will lead the inquiry as commissioner, and said the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed things down a little, but they have been working behind the scenes doing consultation and research since last summer. The inquiry won’t focus on any specific cases, but a hearing will be held in Makkovik involving members of Winters' family and others who knew him. Igloliorte said they want to frame the examinations and the recommendations as being the Burton Winters Inquiry, and people were affected by the Inuk teen’s death, with a lot of questions arising about search and rescue. “We will be in Makkovik and allow the entire community to speak to us if they wish, and we will make sure that, insofar as we can, we will answer any questions they may have through the presentation of various witnesses to participate in the discussions,” he said. Igloliorte said they have already been consulting with the Indigenous groups of Labrador and expect them to be a part of the process. He said due to the relationship the Indigenous people of Labrador have with the land and outdoor activities, they are more at risk, and that will be recognized in this inquiry and report. They will work with a number of groups, Igloliorte said, including the public, various search and rescue organizations, and police forces. The inquiry will be largely comprised of informal hearings, but may also include research studies, interviews and surveys, and written submissions. Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram
Nova Scotia will continue to hold back second doses of COVID-19 vaccine until it is guaranteed there will be no interruption in supply. "We cannot waste a single dose of this vaccine and we are continuing to give the first shot and hold back the second shot to guarantee people a full vaccination," Premier Stephen McNeil said in a news briefing Friday. McNeil said he understands the concerns people have with the rollout, but stressed the importance of moving the vaccine throughout the province safely and effectively. He said the province has administered 7,600 doses of the vaccine as of late Thursday, which includes 2,200 front-line health-care workers who have received their second dose. CBC News is tracking vaccine administration across Canada. McNeil also said all front-line workers and residents at Northwood's Halifax campus, the long-term care home where 53 people died due to the virus last spring, have received their first dose of the vaccine. Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said the province had received 13,000 doses of vaccine prior to Thursday. Most of that supply has been administered or has been scheduled for second doses. The province has since received another 10,000 doses, which will be administered starting Monday. Strang expects all of those doses to be used by the end of next week. "Our goal is to make sure that we have a constant and steady supply of vaccines going to clinics," Strang said. "We don't want to have a surplus of vaccines in the province but also we have to be cognizant that we have to make sure that people have access across the province … it's an ongoing balancing act." Strang said health-care workers in the Annapolis Valley and Cape Breton have started receiving the first doses of the vaccine. Staff, residents and designated caregivers at Shannex's Harbourstone Enhanced Care and Northside Community Guest Home, two of Nova Scotia's largest long-term care homes, are expected to start being immunized next week. Strang said immunizations are expected to begin in the northern zone by early February as three new cold-storage units are being set up in Antigonish, Amherst and Bridgewater. Vaccine shipments reduced Strang also mentioned during the briefing that there would be a meeting Friday to discuss a delay in shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Pfizer had recently said it will temporarily reduce shipments of its vaccine to Canada. The pharmaceutical giant is pausing some production lines at a facility in Belgium in order to expand long-term manufacturing capacity. In an email, a spokesperson from Nova Scotia Health said it has been notified it should expect fewer Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses each week for a month. "We have solid processes in place to manage a decrease or increase in vaccine supply. We can adjust our clinics to accommodate the amount of vaccine we receive," the email said. Ineligible people tried to book appointments In an email Friday, Nova Scotia Health said some people signed up to book vaccine appointments when they were ineligible. In a statement from Angela Keenan with Nova Scotia Health, a registration link provided to health-care staff who are eligible to receive the vaccination at the Valley Regional Hospital Clinic was circulated in the community and used by people who were ineligible. Keenan said three days of vaccination appointments were scheduled for that clinic during the week of Jan. 18, based on initial expectations around vaccine delivery, but those appointments will now be rebooked for later dates because of "updated information." "As we rebook appointments, we will ensure that no one who may have registered in error through the circulated link is booked for vaccination at this time," the statement said. "Screening was put in place at the vaccine clinic to confirm those booked were in fact eligible before they were vaccinated. We do not believe anyone who was ineligible received the vaccine. We are auditing our records to verify this." Keenan also said they have heard reports of a phone number circulating that people are using to book vaccination appointments, but said there is no phone number available for that purpose. "We recognize that Nova Scotians are eager to receive the vaccine. There will be enough vaccine for all Nova Scotians who wish to receive it. Please be patient as we work through this process," she said. 2 new cases Friday Nova Scotia reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. One case was detected in the northern health zone and the other was identified in the central zone. Both are close contacts of previously reported cases, according to a news release from the Department of Health and Wellness. There are now 32 known active cases in the province. No one is in hospital with the virus. Mandatory testing for rotational workers came into effect Friday. Workers will now be required to get a test within two days of returning to Nova Scotia and again about a week later. If rotational workers do not get tested, they will be fined $1,000. Regardless of the test result, they must still complete their 14-day modified self-isolation. Second positive case at Cape Breton University On Friday, Cape Breton University said a second positive case has been found on campus. "The student arrived this week, and since then has been isolating on-campus and following mandatory public health requirements," read a statement on the school's website. "As with the first case, it was during this isolation time the student chose to participate in asymptomatic testing, which did produce a positive result." The province is continuing to urge students who have returned from outside of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland or P.E.I. to book a COVID-19 test on the sixth, seventh or eighth day of their quarantine, regardless of whether they have symptoms. Strang said more than 3,500 students have arrived in Nova Scotia from other provinces and more than half have been tested. So far, there have been 10 cases identified at Nova Scotia universities this month. Any students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 must complete a self-assessment online or call 811. Students still must complete their 14-day isolation period even with a negative test result. The two new cases announced Friday were discovered after Nova Scotia Health Authority's labs completed 2,010 tests on Thursday. The province also completed 808 rapid tests between Jan. 8 and 14 at pop-up sites in Halifax, Lower Sackville and Yarmouth. A mobile health unit was also set up in Truro , N.S., on Thursday in response to an increase in the number of potential exposures in the area in the last week. A full list of exposures in the province can be found here. On Friday, Nova Scotia Health said the unit will be expanded for four more days of testing. Drop-in testing will be available on Saturday at the NSCC Truro Campus from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday through Tuesday at the convention centre in the Best Western Glengarry from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Strang said it has been two weeks since the new year began and Nova Scotia's epidemiology looks promising, but now is not the time to slack off. He said he was disappointed to hear that some individuals who contracted COVID-19 haven't been following public health regulations and haven't been honest when disclosing their movement, or the people they've been in contact with while infected. "This lack of information has delayed investigations and is leaving more time for the virus to spread in communities," he said. Strang reminded Nova Scotians to follow public health regulations like hand-washing, mask-wearing, physical distancing and keeping social circles consistent with no more than 10 people. "We are in a very precarious situation," he said. "We are one of the safest places certainly in the country, if not globally, but we can only stay here if we continue to stay committed." Atlantic Canada case numbers MORE TOP STORIES
On Agenda Middle East we speak to political commentator and best-selling author, Fareed Zakaria about the takes from his new book: 'Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World'. We also delve into what the future holds for the Middle East.View on euronews
Educators teaching students with special needs are raising concerns about returning to physical classrooms in southern Ontario while schools otherwise remain closed to in-person learning due to COVID-19. Students in southern Ontario are learning online until at least Jan. 25 and the government extended virtual classes for those in five hot spots until Feb. 11. Special education students who cannot participate in remote learning, however, were back in physical classrooms on Monday – a move the government said was recommended by experts. But as COVID-19 cases rise, some special education teachers say they are worried about their safety, as well as the safety of their students, some of whom are immunocompromised. "For my five- and six-year-old (children), it's not safe for them to go to school, but it's totally safe for my immunocompromised students to go to school?" asked Katie Swallowell, a teacher working for a Catholic school board in London, Ont. Swallowell, who teaches high school students with special needs, said some of her students may not wear masks or may have mask exemptions. "Some of them don't wear masks or they take them off because they hate them. Sneezing, coughing, hugging," she said. "Some of them you can't say no to. You try to say no, but they don't understand and you feel bad." Among 16 of her students, only five opted for remote learning, while the remaining 11 resumed in-person classes, said Swallowell. The teacher said she's worried about bringing the virus home to her three children, including a one-year-old. "It's either safe or it's not safe," she said, adding that there have been no added COVID-19 measures at her school since coming back from winter break. "It looks the same as it did in December." The education ministry said students with special needs can benefit from the routine and consistency of in-class learning and noted that their return to physical classrooms comes with "strong health and safety measures." "We have followed that advice, supported by the chief medical officer of health, to ensure a small number of the most exceptional children can receive the care they desperately need," said ministry spokeswoman Caitlin Clark. Laura Kirby-McIntosh, a parent of two children with autism and president of Ontario Autism Coalition, said the government's choice to resume in-person learning for special education students is the right one. Keeping schools open for those students helps them maintain normalcy and routine during the pandemic, she said. But more needs to be done to ensure consistency for students and a safe working environment for educators, she said. A good supply of personal protective equipment, regular asymptomatic testing, temperature checks and access to vaccinations are just some of the things that can help, she said. Jennifer Windsor, a physical education teacher at Huron Park Secondary School in Woodstock, Ont., said her school board only informed educators about coming back to teach in-person two days before classes resumed. "We're being told, it's not safe for students. Yet our most vulnerable sector, you're telling us it's safe to return and no changes since we left in December have been made," she said. Windsor, also a mother of three, said she had to ask her ageing parents for help with her own kids as she returned to teach at school. "For me, the potential of exposing my parents – that has a certain burden and stress. I have barely slept since Thursday, I can barely eat," she said. The resumption of special needs in-person learning means unrecognized increased risks for many education workers, students and families, the union representing Windsor and other teachers in her school board said. "(We are) concerned that the Ford government’s announcement is a half measure that does not go far enough in protecting student and staff safety during the COVID-19 pandemic," District 11 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said in a statement. Union district president John Bernans said he can't understand how the government believes it's safe for the group of students and staff to return to in-person learning when it is not safe for any other group. “This government has had 10 months to put social supports in place for parents of children with special needs that keep students, families and workers safe. They have failed to do that," said Bernans. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2021. This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press
Laval police have confirmed they have arrested the mother of the seven-year-old girl who died in Laval earlier this month. The woman, in her mid-30s, was arrested just before 7 a.m. Friday, a police spokesperson said. The woman is expected to make a court appearance by video-conference this afternoon to face charges of assault and criminal negligence causing death. According to Radio-Canada, the child was found Jan. 3 with bruises and burns on her body. First responders performed CPR on the child, but she was later pronounced dead at Sacré-Coeur hospital in Montreal. An autopsy was ordered, but results have not been made public. Ambulance workers who responded to the call were offered peer support from colleagues trained to help those suffering from shock.
NEW YORK — A bound edition of materials about President Donald Trump's second impeachment will feature a foreword from an estranged associate — former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. Skyhorse Publishing announced that “The Second Impeachment Report: Materials in Support of H. Res. 24, Impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for High Crimes and Misdemeanours by the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary" will come out Feb. 9. Publishers do not require permission to release Congressional reports as books because they are not copyrighted. The House impeached Trump earlier this week on a single charge, incitement of insurrection, over his role in last week's bloody attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump also was impeached a year ago for pressuring Ukraine's president to investigate President-elect Joe Biden. The Senate voted to acquit him. Cohen already has written a book about his falling out with Trump, the bestselling “Disloyal.” In his foreword to the new book, he writes, “We should never have to call Donald Trump ‘Mr. President’ again after January 20, 2021.” The Associated Press
The Township of Seguin and the other six municipalities that make up west Parry Sound have signed off on a letter, dated Dec. 1, to Ontario’s minister of the environment, conservation and parks. The letter states that they would like the ministry to reconsider the transition of the blue box from 2025 to 2024. What exactly is the blue box transition program? The Blue Box Transition program is being legislated by the Province of Ontario and means the responsibility of collecting and processing recyclable products will be on the manufacturers who make the items. What that means is the duty of recycling is being shifted to the manufacturers who produce the material rather than society. Will this effect how I put out my recycling? The government says there shouldn’t be any change of service. You may have to go to a different location to drop off your recycling, if rural, or you may have a new company that picks up your curbside blue box materials. When is this supposed to come into effect? For the municipalities that make up west Parry Sound — Parry Sound, Archipelago, Seguin, McKellar, McDougall, Carling and Whitestone — the change is supposed to come into effect in 2025; however, all seven municipalities have signed a letter to Minister Jeff Yurek requesting the transition take place in 2024. Why? The District of Muskoka is transitioning in 2024 and, currently, the west Parry Sound municipalities process blue box materials in Bracebridge. They are concerned about issues that may happen if the transition happens at a different time than Muskoka. Another concern is the fact the Greater Toronto Area is transitioning in 2023 and the expanded list of recyclables there will differ from what is offered in west Parry Sound for a time. Residents who migrate north for the summer may expect to recycle the same list of items, which may cause contamination in waste systems. Will this transition raise my taxes? Once the producers and manufacturers take over the recycling process, it’s going to save the taxpayers; however, prices for products may go up to pay for the manufacturers’ cost of processing the recycling. The Township of Seguin said at its Jan. 11 council meeting that the mayors from the seven municipalities would follow up on the letter once a response was received. Sarah Cooke’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.Sarah Cooke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star
Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, as the province's chief medical officer of health addressed expectations for the ongoing vaccine rollout. Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said at Friday's COVID-19 briefing that regional health authorities are working to make sure vaccines are being administered "as expediently and efficiently as possible." "It it unrealistic to expect that a shipment of vaccines is to be administered within a day or two of its arrival," she said. Fitzgerald noted the regional health authorities have been able to administer their allotments within one week of the vaccines arriving in the province, which she calls "phenomenal" considering the planning and work involved. She said she knows there is anxiety as people wait to receive an inoculation but she urged patience. "The vaccine will come, but, for now, continue to do your part in keeping COVID at bay as we do our part to vaccinate our population," Fitzgerald said. Health Minister John Haggie said vaccination figures provided by government and health officials are just a snapshot of how the rollout is going. For example, said Haggie, within an hour or two Thursday night the province went from delivering 91 per cent of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to having only delivered 51 per cent, simply because a delivery arrived. "Our aim is to try and reduce the amount of time vaccines spend in the supply chain between arrival in the province and getting into someone's arms." Watch the full Jan. 15 update: But a production change is expected to have an effect on delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next three or four weeks. The company is temporarily pausing some of its production lines at the plant in Belgium where the vaccine is manufactured — and from where Canada receives its shipments — in order to expand them, meaning a reduction in the expected doses delivered, Haggie said. "What that means for Canada next week is that it will receive 195 trays instead of the 214 that were scheduled. The last week in January will be the worst, with only 25 per cent of expected trays being delivered. That's 41 for the entire country," he said. The new case reported on Friday is a woman in the Eastern Health region, a resident of the province between 20 and 39 years old, is related to international travel and is the fifth case announced so far in 2021. The woman is self-isolating and contact tracing is finished, according to the Department of Health. Across the country people have already received their second and final dose of vaccination. When asked if there protocols in place in Newfoundland and Labrador for those who have received their second dose and want to travel to the province, Fitzgerald said evidence is still evolving surrounding disease transmission. "The public health measures that we have in place will remain in place until we have more information and we have evidence to support being able to lift those measures," she said. The province now has five active cases, and one person is in hospital. In total, 75,973 people have tested, including 196 since Thursday's update. Election during pandemic Residents of the province are expecting an election call imminently. That means candidates will hit the campaign trail, including Premier Andrew Furey and Haggie. When asked how the province will manage its response to the pandemic, while also juggling an election, Fitzgerald said clinical decisions based on evidence will still be made, vaccines will still be administered and public health will still respond to new COVID-19 cases as need be. "Our policies are in place, we feel comfortable with them, so I think at this point we'll be carrying on with the status quo," she said. Haggie said the daily media releases will continue to provide updates, and that Fitzgerald will be available on a weekly basis for live briefings. In the event of an emergency, he said, he still remains health minister, and Furey the premier. Notably absent from Friday's briefing was Furey, as election rumours continued to swirl into the afternoon. When asked why Furey was not present, Haggie said he didn't know. "I only found out by accident shortly before this started. I checked back through Twitter and noticed it was only myself and Dr. Fitzgerald," he said. "So I know as much as you do." "We will keep people informed, and we will plan to see you next week and who knows what the future holds," said Haggie. Less than an hour after the briefing concluded, Furey headed to Government House, presumably to ask Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote to dissolve the House of Assembly. Vaccines for the Northern Peninsula COVID-19 inoculations are set to reach another corner of Newfoundland and Labrador, with the first people on the Northern Peninsula to receive theirs Monday, according to Labrador-Grenfell Health. Priority groups, including front-line health-care workers, long-term care staff and residents and personal-care home staff and residents, will be getting their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the health authority said in a release. That's quicker than the previously announced schedule; the health authority's previous timeline had vaccinations set to begin in St. Anthony in the first week of February. Vaccinations continue elsewhere in the province, with members of the Canadian Rangers being tapped to help deliver Moderna doses in Nain by transporting residents to the vaccination site. The number of people vaccinated is updated weekly on Wednesdays. As of this past Wednesday, 5,291 doses of either type of vaccine had been given out. Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
WASHINGTON — U.S. wholesale prices rose 0.3% in December led by a the biggest jump in energy costs since June. The Labor Department reported Friday that the gain in its producer price index, which measures inflation pressures before they reach consumers, followed a modest 0.1% gain in November and matched the 0.3% rise in October. The December increase reflected a 5.5% surge in energy costs, the biggest gain since a 9.6% jump in June. That offset a 0.1% drop in food costs, the first decline since August. Over the past 12 months, inflation at the wholesale level has risen a modest 1.5%. The government reported Wednesday that consumer inflation was also well-behaved last year, rising just 1.4% over the past 12 months. These low inflation reading are giving the Federal Reserve room to keep interest rates at ultra-low levels in an effort to help lift the economy out of a pandemic-induced recession. Martin Crutsinger, The Associated Press
Brandon Sun readers request specific questions be asked about COVID-19. Question: What is Brandon’s test positivity rate? We are anxious for loosening restrictions and feel we should be counting on our own numbers rather than the rest of Manitoba’s stats. I got a little worried yesterday when seeing Winnipeg’s positivity rate has dropped, but the rest of Manitoba of which we are part of didn’t. Dr. Jazz Atwal: Sorry, I don’t have all the test positivity rates off the top of my head or on a paper in front of me right now. So I do apologize. I do know, Manitoba test positivity is 10 per cent, Winnipeg is 7.1 per cent. I think it’s somewhat intuitive to know that the Northern RHA (regional health authority) likely has a high positivity rate with all the new cases and a smaller population. Again, I think we need to understand that test positivity is just one indicator that public health looks at, right? So, when we look at our epidemiology, we look at test positivity, we look at cases, we look at risk. We look at a whole bunch of different things when we’re looking at restrictions and orders and what should be done from an orders perspective, to look at those things. So, again, we don’t look at one indicator. I know people get fixated on a case number or just test positivity, or both, but there are many other indicators on top of that, that we look at. We look at hospitalizations, etc. to take those next steps, to create a sound plan for Manitobans. Follow-up question: Is it nevertheless possible to provide the region’s positivity rate or even just Brandon’s? Is it possible to tease that out for the area? Atwal: I have to come back to you on that. We’ll have to seek out that information and see what we can provide. Do you have a question about something in your community? Send your questions to email@example.com with the subject line: Readers Ask.Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun
MOSCOW — Russia said on Friday that it will withdraw from an international treaty allowing surveillance flights over military facilities after the U.S. exit from the pact, compounding the challenges faced by the incoming administration of president-elect Joe Biden. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty last year “significantly upended the balance of interests of signatory states,” adding that Moscow’s proposals to keep the treaty alive after the U.S. exit have been cold-shouldered by Washington’s allies. The ministry said that Russia is now launching the relevant procedures to withdraw from the pact "due to the lack of progress in removing the obstacles for the treaty's functioning in the new conditions.” The Russian parliament, which ratified the treaty in 2001, will now have to vote to leave it. The treaty was intended to build trust between Russia and the West by allowing the accord’s more than three dozen signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to collect information about military forces and activities. More than 1,500 flights have been conducted under the treaty, aimed at fostering transparency about military activity and helping monitor arms control and other agreements. U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty, arguing that Russian violations made it untenable for the United States to remain a party. The U.S. completed its withdrawal from the pact in November. Russia denied breaching the treaty, which came into force in 2002. The European Union has urged the U.S. to reconsider and called on Russia to stay in the pact and lift flight restrictions, notably over its westernmost Kaliningrad region, which lies between NATO allies Lithuania and Poland. Russia has argued that the limits on flights over Kaliningrad, which hosts sizable military forces, are permissible under the treaty’s terms, noting that the U.S. has imposed more sweeping restrictions on observation flights over Alaska. As a condition for staying in the pact after the U.S. pullout, Moscow unsuccessfully sought guarantees from NATO allies that they wouldn't transfer the data collected during their observation flights over Russia to the U.S. Leonid Slutsky, head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, said in televised remarks Friday that Russia could review its decision to withdraw if the U.S. decides to return to the pact, but acknowledged that the prospect looks “utopian.” Moscow has warned that the U.S. withdrawal will erode global security by making it more difficult for governments to interpret the intentions of other nations, particularly amid Russia-West tensions after the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014. The demise of the Open Skies Treaty follows the U.S. and Russian withdrawal in 2019 from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The INF Treaty, which was signed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, banned land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres (310 to 3,410 miles), weapons seen as particularly destabilizing because of the shorter time they take to reach targets compared with intercontinental ballistic missiles. The only U.S.-Russian arms control pact still standing is the New START treaty that expires in three weeks. Moscow and Washington have discussed the possibility of its extension, but have so far failed to overcome their differences. Biden has spoken for the preservation of the New START treaty and Russia has said it's open for its quick and unconditional extension. But negotiating the deal before the pact expires on Feb. 5 appears extremely challenging. New START was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. It limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance. Arms control advocates have warned that its expiration would remove any checks on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, striking a blow to global stability. Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press