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UN Regional Center supports Central Asia’s efforts to strengthen regional peace and security – UNRCCA

BAKU, Azerbaijan, July 15

By Klavdiya Romakayeva – Trend:

UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) will continue to support important regional initiatives, as well as efforts of all Central Asian states to strengthen regional peace and security, the head of UNRCCA Natalia Gherman during the opening ceremony of the International Institute of Central Asia held on July 15 in Tashkent, Trend reports.

“UNRCCA welcomes the positive dynamics of regional cooperation, culminating in the annual consultative meetings of the Heads of State of Central Asia and final joint statements as a compass for the international community in building relationships with the region,” Gherman said.

In this regard, the important role of think tanks in promoting joint efforts of the countries of the region to ensure sustainable development was noted.

In addition, Gherman expressed hope that the establishment of will serve the interests of all countries in the region and will become a platform uniting the expert community of Central Asia.

During the opening ceremony of the institute, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov, stressed that the creation of the reflects an important trend in the development of international relations – the increasing importance of regional political and economic processes.

“The main area of scientific and practical activity of this research center is the study of regional processes and international relations associated with Central Asia – the main foreign policy priority of our country,” he said.

Also, Kamilov added that the institute is designed to promote the establishment and strengthening of close international cooperation, especially between research centers of the Central Asian region.

Follow the author on Twitter: @romakayeva

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This post originally posted here Trend – News from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkey.

Habitat efforts look to benefit more than endangered species in North Dakota & Regional

Whooping cranes rank No. 1 among Karen Lonefight’s bird sightings.

The White Shield woman learned birding in Grand Forks and goes all over, collecting photographs and enjoying the wildlife. Also among her favorites are a hawk owl and a great gray owl, as well as piping plovers — a threatened species.

She was out near White Shield in the spring of 2019 and initially assumed the six tall birds she spotted in a field were sandhill cranes.

“As I got closer and I saw that they were white, I just kinda freaked out,” Lonefight said. She sat and watched, photographing the rare whoopers, an endangered species for decades.

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White House Calls Out Critics of COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

As COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to plateau across the U.S., the White House is beginning to call out elected officials who criticize the national effort to get people immunized.

After South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster tried to block door-to-door efforts to increase vaccinations last week, according to The Associated Press, White House press secretary Jen Psaki challenged the spread of misinformation and fear around vaccines.

“The failure to provide accurate public health information, including the efficacy of vaccines and the accessibility of them to people across the country, including South Carolina, is literally killing people,” she said Friday during a news briefing.

Psaki and top U.S. health officials have voiced their concerns about a divided country with two realities as the pandemic continues: one with high vaccination rates and low COVID-19 cases in Democratic-leaning areas, and one with low vaccination rates, new outbreaks, and emerging variants in Republican-leaning areas.

Last week, President Joe Biden announced renewed efforts to reach the last third of adults who haven’t received a shot, including a grassroots campaign to deploy mobile vaccine clinics and send vaccines to local family doctors and pediatricians.

“Now we need to go community-by-community, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, and oftentimes, door-to-door ― literally knocking on doors ― to get help to the remaining people,” Biden said during remarks on Tuesday.

Although the local vaccination campaign has been ongoing since April, last week’s speech provided an opening for conservative leaders to speak out, the AP reported. McMaster asked South Carolina’s health department to stop state and local health groups from using door-to-door tactics, and Missouri Gov. Mike Pearson told his state health department that door-to-door tactics weren’t welcome. Arizona and Ohio officials also condemned Biden’s new strategy.

“The Biden Administration wants to knock on your door to see if you’re vaccinated,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan wrote in a Twitter post on Thursday. “What’s next? Knocking on your door to see if you own a gun?”

In response, Psaki said that door-to-door campaigns have been helpful in states that are lagging, such as Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, where vaccination rates increased in June. She also rebutted allegations that might stoke fear about community-based outreach.

“They are not members of the government. They are not federal government employees,” she said Thursday during a news briefing. “They are volunteers. They are clergy. They are trusted voices in communities who are playing this role and door knocking.”

Ultimately, Biden administration officials said, the ongoing divide and rhetoric are getting in the way of saving lives, the AP reported.

“For those individuals, organizations that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of trusted-messenger work, I believe you are doing a disservice to the country,” Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said Thursday during a separate COVID-19 news briefing.

They’re also wronging “the doctors, faith leaders, community leaders, and others who are working to get people vaccinated, save lives, and help end this pandemic,” he said.

Sources

The Associated Press: “White House calling out critics of door-to-door vaccine push.”

White House: “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, July 9, 2021,” “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, July 8, 2021,” “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials, July 8, 2021,” “Remarks by President Biden on the COVID-19 Response and the Vaccination Program.”

Twitter: @Jim_Jordan, July 8, 2021

SsangYong Motor to sell plant site in rehabilitation efforts

SsangYong Motor Co., a debt-ridden automaker, has decided to sell the site of its plant in Pyeongtaek as part of self-rescue efforts, the local government said, Trend reports citing Yonhap.

The company has been under court receivership since April, as its Indian parent, Mahindra & Mahindra, failed to secure a buyer for its 75 percent stake in the automaker.

The city government of Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, said it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the court-appointed manager of SsangYong and its labor union, regarding the sale of the site, which measures 850,000 square meters and is valued at 900 billion won (US$ 786 million). The plant was constructed in 1979.

The company will build a new factory in Pyeongtaek, and the city will provide administrative support in the process of construction and relocation, the city said.

“We will actively support SsangYong Motor to grow into a global company that contributes to the development of the local economy,” Jung Jang-seon, mayor of Pyeongtaek, said.

Chung Yong-won, court-appointed administrator of SsangYong, said the new plant will focus on green and self-driving cars as a base for the company’s long-term survival.

SsangYong opened an auction for its majority stake on June 28. EY Han Young, an accounting firm in charge of the sale process, issued a public notice that it will accept letters of intent from potential buyers until the end of July and conduct preliminary reviews on them in August.

The company says it is picking up efforts to develop a new booster and will seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration

It said it would seek emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for a booster dose in August after releasing more data about how well a third, booster dose of vaccine works.
“As seen in real world data released from the Israel Ministry of Health, vaccine efficacy in preventing both infection and symptomatic disease has declined six months post-vaccination, although efficacy in preventing serious illnesses remains high,” the company said in a statement emailed to CNN.
“Additionally, during this period the Delta variant is becoming the dominate variant in Israel as well as many other countries. These findings are consistent with an ongoing analysis from the Companies’ Phase 3 study,” it added.
“While protection against severe disease remained high across the full six months, a decline in efficacy against symptomatic disease over time and the continued emergence of variants are expected. Based on the totality of the data they have to date, Pfizer and BioNTech believe that a third dose may be beneficial within 6 to 12 months following the second dose to maintain highest levels of protection.”
Israel’s health ministry said in a statement earlier this week that it had seen efficacy of Pfizer’s vaccine drop from more than 90% to about 64% as the B.1.617.2 or Delta variant spread.
The company said booster doses of its vaccine, developed with BioNTech, produces levels of neutralizing antibodies that are five to 10 times higher than what’s produced after two doses.
“The companies expect to publish more definitive data soon as well as in a peer-reviewed journal and plan to submit the data to the FDA, EMA and other regulatory authorities in the coming weeks,” Pfizer said in a statement.
And it says it’s also developing a new formulation for a booster dose that may more thoroughly protect people from new variants.
“While Pfizer and BioNTech believe a third dose of BNT162b2 has the potential to preserve the highest levels of protective efficacy against all currently known variants including Delta, the companies are remaining vigilant and are developing an updated version of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that targets the full spike protein of the Delta variant,” the company said. Current vaccines target just a piece of the spike protein — the part of the virus it uses to attach to cells.
“The first batch of the mRNA for the trial has already been manufactured at BioNTech’s facility in Mainz, Germany. The Companies anticipate the clinical studies to begin in August, subject to regulatory approvals.”

Author: Maggie Fox, CNN
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Rescue efforts at collapsed Florida condo halted due to safety concerns; death toll at 18 | LIVE

SURFSIDE, Florida — Work at the collapsed condominium in Florida was halted due to concerns of stability of a section still standing, Miami-Dade County’s mayor said.

This is a breaking news update. A previous version of this report is below.

As the search for survivors of a Florida condo collapse enters its second week, rescue crews and relatives of those still missing are scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden on Thursday, in a visit many are hoping will provide some measure of comfort to a devastated community.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden, who left Washington early Thursday, planned to thank first responders and search and rescue teams. They also planned to meet with the families of victims, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The president’s visit comes a week after Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium building in Surfside, suddenly came crashing down, leaving a pancaked rubble.

Search crews going through the ruins found the remains of six people Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 18. The number of residents unaccounted for stands at 145.

WATCH: Tourist records water pouring from Florida condo, rubble moments before collapse

Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said he hopes Biden’s visit will be a morale booster for the entire community.

“We’ve had several challenges from weather, sorrow, pain. And I think that the president coming will bring some unity here for our community, support, like our governor, our mayor, all of us together,” he said.

Concerns remained that the still standing portion of the complex could also collapse and work at the site appeared to have paused early Thursday. During a meeting with families Wednesday, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah said officials are concerned about the stability of that portion of the building.

“What we know is that the columns on the east side of the building are kind of, of concern, not compromised, but just right now of concern,” Jadallah said. “Hypothetically, worst-case scenario: If these columns are truly really bad, we are worried they could collapse right back into the parking garage.”

Families were asking if they could add tensions rods but he said structural engineers say that is not possible.

State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said, “The work never stops,” when asked whether efforts had been temporarily halted.

MORE:9/11 fire commissioner sees ‘less hope’ in finding condo collapse survivors

Psaki said the president and first lady also want to make sure that state and local officials have the resources and support they need under an emergency declaration approved by Biden for Miami-Dade. She emphasized Wednesday that the White House is being careful to coordinate with officials on the ground to ensure that Biden’s visit doesn’t do anything to “pull away” from the ongoing search and rescue effort.

Patronis said he hopes to emphasize to Biden that there is a need for mental health resources to treat rescue workers for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“These guys are so blindly focused on the mission of saving lives, and unfortunately they see things they can’t unsee,” Patronis said.

“We want to make sure that when they ultimately do go home, that we’re giving them the strength … to be able to get back to work without fear of nightmares and challenges.”

Since the tragedy, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat, have projected a united and cooperative front as they respond to the crisis.

SEE ALSO: What we know about those missing, dead in the Miami-area condo collapse

Previously, they had sometimes sparred over how best to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, with clashes over wearing masks and other measures to control the pandemic. But no signs of partisanship have been evident in Surfside.

DeSantis has spoken appreciatively of the aid coming from Washington, even commending the Biden administration for “stepping up to the plate.”

“We really appreciate having the support of the president,” DeSantis said at a Friday news conference in Surfside — although hours before, he had blasted President Joe Biden’s border policies during an earlier press conference in the state’s Panhandle.

DeSantis, who is up for reelection next year, is said to be exploring a run for the presidency in 2024.
WATCH: Little fingers, screams lead dog walker to find boy trapped in Florida condo collapse rubble

Among the remains found Wednesday were those of a mother and her two daughters, ages 4 and 10, a loss that Cava called “too great to bear.”

Miami-Dade police identified the children as 10-year-old Lucia Guara and 4-year-old Emma Guara, and their mother as 42-year-old Anaely Rodriguez. The remains of their father, Marcus Guara, 52, were pulled from the rubble Saturday and identified Monday.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found “abundant cracking” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.

Just two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had “gotten significantly worse” and that major repairs would cost at least $ 15.5 million. With bids for the work still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.

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Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Author: AP
This post originally appeared on ABC13

Search grows dire in Miami condo collapse with 159 missing; Fire hampering rescue efforts

SURFSIDE, Fla — A “very deep fire” hampered rescue efforts Saturday at the collapsed oceanfront condominium tower near Miami where authorities are racing to recover any survivors beneath a mountain of rubble, officials said.

Rescuers were using infrared technology, water and foam to battle the blaze, whose source was unclear. Smoke has been the biggest barrier, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference.

“We’re facing very incredible difficulties with this fire. It’s a very deep fire. It’s extremely difficult to locate the source of the fire,” she said.

SEE ALSO: What we know about those missing in the Miami-area condo collapse

One hundred fifty-nine people remain unaccounted for since Thursday’s collapse, which killed at least four.

Authorities also announced Saturday they are beginning an audit of buildings nearing their 40-year review – like the fallen Champlain Towers South – to make sure they’re safe.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have joined local and state authorities at the site, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

The news came after word of a 2018 engineering report that showed the building had “major structural damage” to a concrete slab below its pool deck that needed extensive repairs, part of a series of documents released by the city of Surfside.

While the report from the firm of Morabito Consultants did not warn of imminent danger from the damage – and it is unclear if any of the damage observed was responsible for the collapse – it did note the need for extensive and costly repairs to fix systemic issues with the building.

MORE: 2018 report pointed out ‘major structural damage’ at Miami condo before collapse

It said the waterproofing under the pool deck had failed and had been improperly laid flat instead of sloped, preventing water from draining off.

“The failed waterproofing is causing major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas. Failure to replaced the waterproofing in the near future will cause the extent of the concrete deterioration to expand exponentially,” the report said.

The firm recommended that the damaged slabs be replaced in what would be a major repair.

The report also uncovered “abundant cracking and spalling” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage. Some of the damage was minor, while other columns had exposed and deteriorating rebar. It also noted that many of the building’s previous attempts to fix the columns and other damage with epoxy were marred by poor workmanship and were failing.

Beneath the pool deck “where the slab had been epoxy-injected, new cracks were radiating from the originally repaired cracks,” the report said.

Gregg Schlesinger, a former construction project engineer who is now a lawyer handling construction defect cases, said another area of concern in the report is cracks that were discovered in the tower’s stucco facade. Schlesinger said that could indicate structural problems inside the exterior that could have been critical in the collapse.

“The building speaks to us. It is telling us we have a serious problem,” Schlesinger said in a phone interview Saturday.

He added that there are frequently “telltale signs” on oceanfront buildings indicating problems structurally largely from saltwater and salty air intrusion.

“This is a wakeup call for folks on the beach. Investigate and repair. This should be done every five years,” Schlesinger added. “The scary portion is the other buildings. You think this is unique? No.”

Abi Aghayere, a Drexel University engineering researcher, said the extent of the damage shown in the engineering report was notable. In addition to possible problems under the pool, he said several areas above the entrance drive showing signs of deterioration were worrisome and should have been repaired immediately because access issues prevented a closer inspection.

“Were the supporting members deteriorated to the extent that a critical structural element or their connections failed leading to progressive collapse?” he wrote in an email to the AP after reviewing the report. “Were there other areas in the structure that were badly deteriorated and unnoticed?”

MORE: 9/11 fire commissioner sees ‘less hope’ in finding condo collapse survivors

On Saturday, a crane could be seen removing pieces of rubble from a more than 30-foot pile of debris at the collapse site. Scores of rescuers used big machines, small buckets, drones, microphones and their own hands to pick through the mountain of debris that had been the 12-story Champlain Towers South.

Levine Cava told WPLG there was no change in the number of people still unaccounted for: “We are at status quo,” she said. “I’m hopeful this will be a day that we have will have a breakthrough.”

Rachel Spiegel was anxious for any update on her missing mother, 66-year-old Judy Spiegel, who lived on the sixth floor.

“I’m just praying for a miracle,” Spiegel said. “We’re heartbroken that she was even in the building.”

Jeanne Ugarte was coming to grips with what she feared was a tragic end for longtime friends Juan and Ana Mora and their son Juan Jr., who was visiting his parents in their condo at the tower.

“I know they’re not going to find them (alive),” Ugarte said. “It’s been too long.”

While officials said no cause for the collapse early Thursday has been determined, Gov. Ron DeSantis said a “definitive answer” was needed in a timely manner. Video showed the center of the building appearing to tumble down first, followed by a section nearer to the beach.

The 2018 report was part of preliminary work by the engineering company conducting the building’s required inspections for a recertification due this year of the building’s structural integrity at 40 years. The condominium tower was built in 1981.

___

Condon reported from New York. Associated Press Terry Spencer in Surfside contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Author: AP

This post originally appeared on ABC13 RSS Feed

Biden Pushes New Efforts to Tackle Gun Violence

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Biden Outlines Actions to Reduce Gun Violence

President Biden announced new efforts to tackle gun violence on Wednesday, including cracking down on illegal sales and providing new funding for police departments and community-based organizations.

Crime historically rises during the summer. And as we emerge from this pandemic, the country opening back up again, the traditional summer spike may be more pronounced than it usually would be. For folks at home, here’s what you need to know. I’ve been at this a long time and there are things we know that work to reduce gun violence and violent crime and things that we don’t know about. But things we know about: Background checks for purchasing a firearm are important; ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines; community policing and programs that keep neighborhoods safe and keep folks out of trouble. These efforts work. They save lives. But over time, these policies were gutted and are woefully underfunded. In our conversation today, we talked about our strategy to supercharge what works while we continue to push the Congress to act on sensible gun violence legislation. We know that if there is a strict enforcement of background checks, then fewer guns get into the hands of criminals. Background checks have thus far kept more than three million guns out of the hands of felons, convicted felons, fugitives, domestic abusers and others prohibited from being able to purchase a gun. If you willfully sell a gun to someone who is prohibited from possessing it, if you willfully fail to run a background check, if you willfully falsify a record, if you willfully fail to cooperate with the tracing requests or inspections. My message to you is this: We’ll find you and we will seek your license to sell guns. We’ll make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets. It’s an outrage, has to end and we’ll end it. Period.

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President Biden announced new efforts to tackle gun violence on Wednesday, including cracking down on illegal sales and providing new funding for police departments and community-based organizations.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden on Wednesday announced new efforts to tackle gun violence and provide money to fund police departments, propelling the White House into the politically contentious debate over how to address a rise in violent crime in many U.S. cities.

The president also directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to revoke the licenses of gun dealers “the first time that they violate federal law” by failing to run background checks.

“We know that if there is a strict enforcement of background checks, then fewer guns get into the hands of criminals,” Mr. Biden said. “If you willfully sell a gun to someone who’s prohibited from possessing it, if you willfully fail to run a background check, if you willfully falsify a record, if you willfully fail to cooperate with a tracing request for inspections, my message to you is this: We’ll find you, and we will seek your license to sell guns.”

Mr. Biden’s speech at the White House came amid a national reckoning over racism and policing. City leaders are grappling with dueling calls to both improve oversight of their police departments and address soaring homicide rates that administration officials fear will continue through the summer. The president, who ascended to the presidency in part by vowing to prioritize the concerns of Black voters, now must address Republicans who accuse him of being soft on crime, as well as the progressive wing of his own party that is pushing reform.

“This is not a time to turn our backs on law enforcement or our communities,” Mr. Biden said, as he promoted funding for police that included some appropriated through the $ 1.9 trillion economic rescue package that was passed in March. “Congress should in no way take away this funding.”

Mr. Biden does not feel that reforming the police and tackling crime are conflicting goals, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Tuesday. “We believe that a central driver of violence is gun violence,” she said, adding that the president “also believes that we need to ensure that state and local governments keep cops on the beat.”

On Wednesday, the administration announced that state and local governments could use their designated $ 350 billion of coronavirus relief funds to hire police officers to prepandemic levels, pay overtime for community policing work, support community-based anti-violence groups and invest in technology to “effectively respond to the rise in gun violence resulting from the pandemic,” according to a statement from the Treasury Department.

Biden administration officials said the president’s remarks on Wednesday aimed to build on previous executive actions, including orders meant to curb the spread of “ghost guns” easily assembled from kits, expand federal grants for police departments and direct $ 5 billion in his infrastructure proposal to groups that intervene with those most likely to commit violence.

The Biden administration announced earlier this week that the Justice Department would start five “strike forces” to combat gun trafficking in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and the San Francisco area.

Criminologists have reported that homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year, though overall crime figures have been down during the pandemic.

Some criminal justice advocates are concerned about the possibility that raising alarm over crime could undermine momentum to overhaul law enforcement.

“We must not overreact and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past where crime has been politicized and the solutions have been focused on trying to arrest our way out of the problem,” said Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Justice Division. “If there is a lot of jargon in that speech that feeds the tough-on-crime narrative, then yes, we have a problem.”

A bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul has stalled in Congress, despite Mr. Biden urging lawmakers to reach a deal by May 25, the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Democrats continue to debate reducing funding for police departments, while Republicans have seized on the “defund the police” slogan to attack them as weak on public safety.

“If they think they’re just going to pass a few gun laws and everything is going to be fine, they’re absolutely not in touch with the reality of what’s going on across our country,” Representative John Katko, Republican of New York and the ranking member of the House Homeland Security committee, told Fox News on Tuesday.

For some, Mr. Biden’s comments on Wednesday will be a reminder of his political baggage. As a senator, Mr. Biden championed a 1994 crime bill that many experts say fueled mass incarceration, prompting questions during his presidential campaign over his commitment to overhauling the criminal justice system.

Mr. Biden has resisted calls by some members of the Democratic Party to defund police departments, calling instead for using Justice Department grants to encourage them to change and eliminating sentencing disparities.

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White House Defends Timing of Harris Trip to Southern Border

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, on Wednesday defended Vice President Kamala Harris’s upcoming trip to the Southern border. The vice president’s travel plans come amid pressure from Republicans who have seized on a surge of border crossings to criticize the Biden administration.

“Vice President will travel to El Paso, Texas, on Friday. She’ll be accompanied by Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Earlier this year, as you all know, the president asked the vice president to oversee our diplomatic efforts to address the root causes of migration from El Salvador to Guatemala and Honduras. And as a part of this work, she recently traveled to Guatemala and Mexico last month to have those discussions. And this trip to the border on Friday will be a part of this effort. I will note that I’ve also said here, from this podium, and she has also said that when it was the right time, she may go to visit the border. And I will note that we’re at this point, in part, because we’ve made a great deal of progress. And if you look just to a couple of months ago when 6,000 children were in Border Patrol facilities, we’re now at the point where there is far less than 1,000. If you look to just a couple of months ago when there were children who were waiting in Border Patrol facilities for more than 100 hours, and they were certainly overcrowded, now it’s less than 30 hours. In April, there were 22,000 kids in H.H.S. facilities, and now that number is 14,000. Is there still more work to do? Absolutely, that’s the purview of Secretary Mayorkas. But it’s important every component of our government is coordinated.” Reporter: “Was it important for the White House to have her seen at the border before former President Trump has a trip there next week?” “We made an assessment within our government about when it was an appropriate time for her to go to the border.”

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Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, on Wednesday defended Vice President Kamala Harris’s upcoming trip to the Southern border. The vice president’s travel plans come amid pressure from Republicans who have seized on a surge of border crossings to criticize the Biden administration.CreditCredit…Carlos Barria/Reuters

Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to the United States-Mexico border on Friday, a visit that comes after weeks of criticism from Republicans who assailed her for not visiting even though she is in charge of addressing the root causes of migration.

The criticism came after Ms. Harris’s visit to Mexico City and Guatemala this month, when Lester Holt of NBC grilled her about why she had not visited the border. She responded by calling the visit a “grand gesture” and pointed out that she had not visited Europe yet, either — answers that confounded her critics and members of her own administration.

“She said in the same interview she would be open to going to the border at an appropriate time,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said, fielding questions about Ms. Harris’s visit on Wednesday. “We made an assessment within our government about when it was an appropriate time for her to go the border.”

Administration officials did not give a clear answer about what made this week an appropriate time. Ms. Harris has held the role since March, when President Biden tapped her to lead an effort to improve conditions in Central America to deter migration north. But even during this month’s trip aimed at improving conditions in the region, she continued to face questions over her absence from the border.

Ms. Harris and her aides have since been on the defensive, arguing that she is focused on addressing the poverty and persecution that force vulnerable families to leave their homes. Allies have cautioned the White House not to give in to criticism.

The visit, which was first reported by Politico, will come just days before former President Donald J. Trump is set to visit the border with a group of House Republicans and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who has pledged to finish the border wall that became a symbol of Mr. Trump’s restrictive immigration agenda.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, and other senators met with White House officials on Tuesday to discuss infrastructure proposals.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

A bipartisan group of centrist senators will head to the White House on Thursday to brief President Biden on their infrastructure framework after lawmakers said they had signed off on an outline for how to fund and finance billions of dollars for roads, bridges and other public-works projects.

After two lengthy meetings with White House officials on Wednesday, multiple senators said they had struck an agreement on the overall framework for an infrastructure plan and would personally update Mr. Biden as they worked to finalize some details. Lawmakers and staff declined to offer any details about the apparent breakthrough, but a previous outline drafted by the group of senators — five Republicans and five Democrats — would provide for $ 579 billion in new spending as part of an overall $ 1.2 trillion package spent over eight years.

“There’s a framework of agreement on a bipartisan infrastructure package,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, told reporters as she left negotiations in the Capitol. “There’s still details to be worked out.”

The bipartisan group previously released a statement announcing an agreement on a framework that the White House had not yet backed. Mr. Biden sent aides to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday for further discussions.

“The group made progress toward an outline of a potential agreement,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement Wednesday evening after what she described as “two productive meetings” with White House officials.

The group has been scrounging for ways to pay for billions of dollars in new spending that would be a critical part of a potential compromise plan to invest in roads, broadband internet, electric utilities and other infrastructure projects.

“We just kept working at it, I’m serious,” Ms. Collins said. “Each of us brought in different ideas that we had researched with our staffs.”

Top White House officials separately met Wednesday evening with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. Those discussions were expected to center on infrastructure negotiations as well as a separate effort to move a large chunk of the president’s $ 4 trillion economic agenda through the Senate with no Republican votes using a procedural mechanism known as reconciliation.

Among those expected to attend the meeting were Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; Steve Ricchetti, a top adviser to Mr. Biden; Louisa Terrell, the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs; Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget; and Susan E. Rice, who leads the White House Domestic Policy Council, according to an official familiar with the plans.

Rodney S. Scott, the chief of the United States Border Patrol, near a border wall construction site outside McAllen, Texas, in October.
Credit…Sergio Flores for The New York Times

The Biden administration is forcing out the chief of the United States Border Patrol, Rodney S. Scott, who took over the agency during the final year of the Trump administration, a Department of Homeland Security official said on Wednesday.

The move comes as Vice President Kamala Harris plans to visit the southwest border on Friday for the first time since President Biden asked her to lead the administration’s efforts to deter migration from Central America. Republicans have increased pressure on both Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris to visit the border, where a record number of migrants have been trying to cross in recent months.

Mr. Scott, a 29-year veteran of the Border Patrol, took the helm of the agency in February 2020. He was a supporter of President Donald J. Trump’s signature border policy, a plan to complete a wall between the United States and Mexico. The Homeland Security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while Mr. Scott had been asked to move on, it was possible he could be reassigned to a new post within the department.

The Border Patrol monitors nearly 6,000 miles of the nation’s borders with Mexico and Canada, in between official points of entry. It has been at the center of a highly polarized national debate over immigration policy, particularly as Mr. Trump employed hard-line tactics against undocumented immigrants.

At Mr. Trump’s direction, the Border Patrol sought to catch and detain hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including migrant families who had fled violence in their home countries.

Earlier this year, Mr. Scott refused to follow a Biden administration directive to stop using the term “illegal alien” in reference to undocumented immigrants. Referring to immigration laws, which use the term, Mr. Scott said that public trust in the Border Patrol would continue to erode if its agents were forced to use terms “inconsistent with law.”

Mr. Scott was in charge of the agency when highly trained Border Patrol agents, assigned to investigate drug smuggling organizations, were deployed to the streets of Portland, Ore., last summer. While their mission was to protect federal buildings during a series of protests against police violence, there were reports of federal agents in riot gear inside the city and away from federal property. Mr. Scott pushed back against those reports, but the episode and others like it last summer left an indelible mark on the Trump legacy.

A pro-Trump mob breached the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The first person to be sentenced in connection with the riot at the Capitol — a 49-year-old woman from Indiana — will serve no time in prison after reaching an agreement with the government and pleading guilty on Wednesday to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.

At an unusual hearing where she admitted guilt and was immediately sentenced by a judge, the woman, Anna Morgan-Lloyd, expressed remorse for her role in the attacks of Jan. 6. She apologized to the court, her family and the “American people,” saying it was wrong to have entered the Capitol.

In court papers filed last week, prosecutors laid out seven reasons they believed Ms. Morgan-Lloyd should not have to serve time in prison. It is likely to serve as a checklist for other rioters who committed no violence and were accused of only minor crimes. Prosecutors noted that Ms. Morgan-Lloyd was not violent at the Capitol, did not plan her breach in advance, remained inside only briefly and allowed investigators to question her thoroughly about her role in the riot as well as search her cellphone.

Ms. Morgan-Lloyd also submitted a statement to the court saying that she was “ashamed” and suggested that her relatively peaceful part in the breach allowed others to do worse.

“At first it didn’t dawn on me, but later I realized that if every person like me, who wasn’t violent, was removed from that crowd, the ones who were violent may have lost the nerve to do what they did,” Ms. Morgan-Lloyd wrote. “For that I am sorry and take responsibility. It was never my intent to help empower people to act violently.”

At the hearing, the presiding judge, Royce C. Lamberth, made scathing remarks from the bench attacking the handful of Republican politicians who have labeled the assault on the Capitol the work of mere tourists, calling that position “utter nonsense.”

“I don’t know what planet they’re on,” Judge Lamberth said. “Millions of people saw Jan. 6.”

Under the terms of her deal with the government, Ms. Morgan-Lloyd agreed to pay restitution of $ 500 to help defray the estimated $ 1.5 million in damage done to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Cindy McCain, the widow of former Senator John McCain, endorsed Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the 2020 presidential election.
Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

President Biden announced Wednesday that he was nominating Cindy McCain, the widow of former Senator John McCain, as ambassador to the United Nations World Food Programme, giving the post to a longtime Republican friend as he continues to emphasize the importance of bipartisanship in a deeply divided Washington.

Ms. McCain, who participated in a video supporting Mr. Biden’s candidacy during the all-virtual Democratic National Convention last summer, was seen as a “must do” for an ambassador posting in the Biden administration, according to sources familiar with the process, and has been undergoing the vetting process for some time.

In the video, Ms. McCain spoke about Mr. Biden’s “unlikely friendship” with her husband.

“My husband and Vice President Biden enjoyed a 30+ year friendship dating back to before their years serving together in the Senate,” she tweeted before the Democratic convention. “So I was honored to accept the invitation from the Biden campaign to participate in a video celebrating their relationship.”

The U.N. mission is based in Rome.

Mr. Biden also announced on Wednesday that he was nominating Claire Cronin, a Massachusetts state representative, as ambassador to Ireland. Former Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a longtime Biden friend, had taken himself out of the running for that posting because he did not want to move his family out of the country, according to people familiar with the process.

Both nominations had been long expected.

A third nominee was Jack Markell — a former governor of Mr. Biden’s home state, Delaware — who is the president’s choice for U.S. representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with the rank of ambassador.

Mr. Biden announced his first slate of ambassador nominations earlier this month, including his picks for key posts to Mexico, Israel and NATO.

But some of his selections for the most significant posts abroad — including R. Nicholas Burns, a veteran Foreign Service officer and a former ambassador to NATO, to serve as ambassador to China; Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles to serve as ambassador to India; and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago to serve as ambassador to Japan — have still not been announced, even though multiple people familiar with the process said their nominations had been finalized internally.

Mark Calabria, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency Director, testified on Capitol Hill last June.
Credit…Pool photo by Astrid Riecken

President Biden on Wednesday removed the chief of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, acting immediately after the Supreme Court ruled that the president had the authority to dismiss the agency’s director.

The director, Mark Calabria, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, issued a statement wishing his successor well and noting that he respected the decision of the court and the president’s authority to remove him. Mr. Biden did not immediately name a replacement.

Replacing Mr. Calabria gives Mr. Biden more control over the fate of the mortgage giants, which play an outsize role in the housing market and are central to many homeowners’ ability to afford homes. Fannie and Freddie do not make home loans but instead buy mortgages and package them into securities, providing a guarantee to make investors who buy those securities whole in case of default. That helps keep the cost of 30-year mortgages low.

During his tenure, Mr. Calabria had overseen the enactment of a number of rules that were seen as critical steps toward ending the federal government’s conservatorship of Fannie and Freddie, which was imposed in 2008 at the start of the financial crisis. Mr. Calabria has favored a move toward privatizing Fannie and Freddie and ending the conservatorship.

Many housing advocates and Democrats also favor ending it, but they do not necessarily want Fannie and Freddie put into private hands.

The Supreme Court ruling stemmed from a dispute between shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Treasury Department over $ 124 billion in payments the two lenders were required to make to the government after the 2008 housing crisis.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for a unanimous court on this point, rejected the shareholders’ argument that this so-called profit sweep exceeded the agency’s statutory authority.

But he added, now writing for six justices, that the law that created the housing agency violated the Constitution because it insulated the agency’s director from presidential oversight.

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General Milley Defends Military Teaching of ‘Critical Race Theory’

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back forcefully on Wednesday to objections raised by Republican lawmakers about the teaching of “critical race theory” at service academies.

I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read. In the United States Military Academy is a university. And it is important that we train and we understand. And I want to understand white rage, and I’m white, and I want to understand it. So, what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind here, and I do want to analyze it. It’s important that we understand that because our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardians, they come from the American people. So, it is important that the leaders now and in the future do understand it. I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend? And I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned, non-commissioned officers of being, quote, woke or something else, because we’re studying some theories that are out there. That was started at Harvard Law School years ago. And it proposed that there were laws in the United States, antebellum laws prior to the Civil War, that led to a power differential with African Americans, that were 3/4 of a human being, when this country was formed. And then we had a Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation to change it. And we brought it up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took another 100 years to change that. So look, I do want to know. And I respect your service, and you and I are both Green Berets, but I want to know. And it matters to our military and the discipline and cohesion of this military.

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Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back forcefully on Wednesday to objections raised by Republican lawmakers about the teaching of “critical race theory” at service academies.CreditCredit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back on Wednesday against suggestions from a Republican congressman that the military was becoming too “woke,” calling such accusations “offensive” and alluding directly to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in which some veterans and active-duty members participated.

Mr. Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III were testifying before the House Armed Services Committee when they were questioned about anti-extremism efforts and curriculums about race relations at service academies and beyond.

Representative Michael Waltz, Republican of Florida, asked about the teaching of “critical race theory” at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and specifically a seminar called “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage.”

“This came to me from cadets, from families, from soldiers with their alarm and their concern about how divisive this type of teaching is that is rooted in Marxism,” Mr. Waltz said.

Mr. Austin, who is the nation’s first Black defense secretary, suggested that the teaching of literature concerning white rage, as Mr. Waltz had described it, “certainly sounds like something that should not occur.”

But General Milley, who is white, defended both the seminar and the broader practice of teaching service members controversial or uncomfortable ideas.

“I want to understand white rage, and I’m white,” General Milley said.

“What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America?” he continued, as Mr. Austin looked on. “What is wrong with having some situational understanding about the country we are here to defend?”

Noting that his having read writers like Karl Marx did not make him a communist, General Milley went on a long, impromptu disquisition on the history of racism in the military and the need for cadets and service members alike to study it.

“I do want to know,” he said. “It matters to our military and the discipline and cohesion of this military.”

For the 29th year, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to condemn the Cold War-era American embargo on Cuba, with many diplomats exhorting the Biden administration to resume the reconciliation that was upended by former President Donald J. Trump.

The Biden administration’s “no” vote appeared to signal, at least for now, that it would move cautiously to undo Mr. Trump’s policy on Cuba, which remains a politically contentious issue in the United States — particularly in Florida, home to many Cubans who fled Fidel Castro and his successors.

The U.N. resolution denouncing the six-decade embargo is symbolic only, having no practical effect. But the vote, held since 1992, amounts to a tradition for critics of American policy to vent their anger and express solidarity with Cuba at the United Nations.

The United States had always voted against the resolution until it abstained from the vote during the last year of the Obama administration, while Mr. Biden was vice president, signaling a move to fully repair U.S. relations with Cuba after more than a half-century of estrangement.

But Mr. Trump sought to reverse that direction after he took office, and the United States resumed voting against the resolution during his term. He went much further, adding sanctions on Cuba and — in his final weeks in office — putting the country back on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

A full termination of the embargo, which can only be rescinded by Congress, seems highly unlikely any time soon. But Mr. Biden is still expected to gradually move away from Mr. Trump’s stance on Cuba.

Brandi Levy, a Pennsylvania high school student, had expressed her dismay on Snapchat over not making the varsity cheerleading squad.
Credit…Danna Singer/ACLU, via Getty

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a Pennsylvania school district had violated the First Amendment by punishing a student for a vulgar social-media message sent away from school grounds.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for an eight-member majority, said part of what schools must teach students is the value of free speech. “America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy,” he wrote. “Our representative democracy only works if we protect the ‘marketplace of ideas.’”

“Schools have a strong interest in ensuring that future generations understand the workings in practice of the well-known aphorism, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” he wrote. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.

It has been more than 50 years since a high school student won a free-speech case the Supreme Court.

“The opinion reaffirms that schools’ authority over the lives of students is not boundless,” said Justin Driver, a law professor at Yale and the author of “The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court and the Battle for the American Mind.”

“At the same time,” he said, “the decision is intensely, almost painfully narrow, and for that reason it offers little in the way of clarity to students, educators or lower court judges.”

The case concerned Brandi Levy, a Pennsylvania high school student who had expressed her dismay over not making the varsity cheerleading squad by sending a colorful Snapchat message to about 250 people.

She sent the message on a Saturday from a convenience store. It included an image of Ms. Levy and a friend with their middle fingers raised, along with a string of words expressing the same sentiment. Using a swear word four times, Ms. Levy objected to “school,” “softball,” “cheer” and “everything.”

Though Snapchat messages are meant to vanish not long after they are sent, another student took a screenshot and showed it to her mother, a coach. The school suspended Ms. Levy from cheerleading for a year, saying the punishment was needed to “avoid chaos” and maintain a “teamlike environment.”

Ms. Levy sued the school district, winning a sweeping victory from a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. The court said the First Amendment did not allow public schools to punish students for speech outside school grounds, relying on precedent from a 1969 case.

Here are other key rulings announced Wednesday by the Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the mere fact that someone suspected of a minor crime had fled from the police did not justify entering a home without a warrant.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Supreme Court, which has said that police officers do not need a warrant to enter a home when they are in “hot pursuit of a fleeing felon,” ruled on Wednesday that the same thing is not always true when the crime in question is minor.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for a seven-justice majority in the case, Lange v. California, said the mere fact that someone suspected of a minor crime had fled from the police did not justify entering a home. She added that other factors could change the calculus.

“We have no doubt that in a great many cases flight creates a need for police to act swiftly,” she wrote. “A suspect may flee, for example, because he is intent on discarding evidence. Or his flight may show a willingness to flee yet again, while the police await a warrant. But no evidence suggests that every case of misdemeanor flight poses such dangers.”

The case concerned Arthur Lange, a retiree in Sonoma, Calif., who was charged with driving under the influence, a misdemeanor, and playing music too loudly, an infraction, after an officer followed him home and used his foot to stop Mr. Lange from closing his garage door. Mr. Lange moved to suppress the evidence against him, arguing that the officer’s entry into his home had violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

In an unusual move, California did not defend a lower court’s decision in its favor and instead urged the Supreme Court to rule that only felonies justified entering a home without a warrant.

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Austin Backs Plan to Remove Sexual Assault Cases From Commanders

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday formally endorsed a plan, recommended by a Pentagon commission, that would remove the prosecution of sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.

As you know, my first directive as Secretary of Defense issued on my first full day in the office was to service leadership about sexual assault. Yesterday, I received the final recommendations and complete report of the independent review commission, and I want to thank Lynn Rosenthal for her exceptional leadership on this commission, as well as the talented experts who worked so hard and so diligently to support her. The result is a comprehensive assessment across four lines of effort: accountability, prevention, climate and culture, and victim care and support. And that assessment recommends creative and evidence-based options. In the coming days, I’ll present to President Biden my specific recommendations about the commission’s finding, but I know enough at this point to say that I fully support removing the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes from the military chain of command. We are prepared to work with Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice in this regard. The I.R.C. also recommended the inclusion of other special victims crimes inside this independent prosecution system to include domestic violence, and I support this as well. As we move forward, I believe that it’s important to make changes that are both scope to the problem that we’re of trying to solve, and properly resource.

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Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday formally endorsed a plan, recommended by a Pentagon commission, that would remove the prosecution of sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III formally endorsed changes on Wednesday to the way the military handles sexual assault cases, a sharp retreat from years of opposition by prior secretaries on the issue.

The changes, which were recommended by a Pentagon commission convened by Mr. Austin, do not go as far as a bill that Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that she intended to put on the floor soon. That legislation would take decisions about prosecuting all serious crimes committed in the military — not just sexual assaults — from the hands of commanders.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, has pushed a similar bill for nearly a decade, but she has faced resistance from the chairman and top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“As you know, my first directive as secretary of defense, issued on my first full day in the office, was to service leadership about sexual assault,” said Mr. Austin, who appeared before the House Armed Services Committee with Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“In the coming days, I will present to President Biden my specific recommendations about the commission’s finding,” Mr. Austin said. “But I know enough at this point to say that I fully support removing the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes from the military chain of command.”

The competing visions of how far to go in altering the military justice system set the stage for a potentially intense legislative battle over an issue that has vexed the Pentagon for generations with little progress. Some military leaders have begun to protest such changes.

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Republicans Filibuster Voting Rights Bill

Senate Republicans used the filibuster on Tuesday to block debate on an ambitious Democratic bill aimed at countering a wave of ballot restrictions in G.O.P.-controlled states.

“The For the People Act is about setting basic national standards to make sure that all voters in this country can vote legally in the way that works for them, regardless of what ZIP code they live in, regardless of if they live in a big city or in a suburb or out in a small town in Western Minnesota. It is about reducing the power of big money in our elections by ending secret spending by billionaires and special interests. And it is about making anti-corruption reforms to ensure politicians work for the people, not for themselves.” “The federal takeover elections shouldn’t happen. I urge my colleagues not to support it happening. The American people don’t want to see the things imposed on our election system that are in this bill. And I urge my colleagues to vote against this harmful legislation.” “On this vote, the yeas are 50, the nays are 50. Three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn not having voted in the affirmative, the motion is not agreed to.” “All we wanted to do here on the floor was to bring up the issue of voting rights and debate how to combat these vicious, oftentimes discriminatory voting restrictions. And today, every single Democratic senator stood together in the fight to protect the right to vote in America. Regrettably, our efforts were met by the unanimous opposition of the Republic — of the Senate minority. Once again, Senate Republicans have signed their names in the ledger of history along Donal — alongside Donald Trump, the big lie and voter suppression, to their enduring disgrace.”

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Senate Republicans used the filibuster on Tuesday to block debate on an ambitious Democratic bill aimed at countering a wave of ballot restrictions in G.O.P.-controlled states.CreditCredit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The demise of the For the People Act — the far-reaching voting rights bill that Republicans blocked in the Senate on Tuesday — is a crushing blow to progressives and reformers, but it opens up more plausible, if still rocky, paths to reform.

The law, known as H.R. 1 or S. 1, was full of progressive wish list measures — from public financing of elections to national mail-in voting — that all but ensured its failure in the Senate.

But there were roads not taken. Reformers did not add provisions to tackle the most insidious and serious threat to democracy: election subversion, where partisan election officials might use their powers to overturn electoral outcomes. Those concerns have only escalated over the last several months as Republicans have advanced bills that not only imposed new limits on voting, but also afforded the G.O.P. greater control over election administration.

Instead, the bill focused on the serious but less urgent issues that animated reformers at the time it was first proposed in 2019: allegations of corruption in the Trump administration, the rise of so-called dark money in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, or the spate of voter identification laws passed in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s election victories.

Originally, the bill was seen as a “political statement” or a “messaging bill,” not as the basis for a realistic legislative effort.

One narrow, yet possible avenue emerged in the final days of the push for H.R. 1: a grand bargain, like the one recently suggested by Joe Manchin III, the moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia who provoked outrage among progressives when he said he would oppose the bill in its current form.

The Manchin compromise resembles H.R. 1 in crucial ways. It does not address election subversion any more than H.R. 1 does. And it still seeks sweeping changes to voting, ethics, campaign finance and redistricting law. But it offers Republicans a national voter identification requirement, while relenting on many of the provisions that provoke the most intense Republican opposition.

Mr. Manchin’s proposal nonetheless provoked intense Republican opposition. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri derided it as a “Stacey Abrams” bill. And Mitch McConnell, the minority leader from Kentucky, appeared to suggest that no federal election law would earn his support.

The Biden administration plans to extend the national moratorium on evictions through July, officials said. Activists in Brooklyn called in May for an extension of New York State’s eviction moratorium.
Credit…Justin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Biden administration plans to extend the national moratorium on evictions, scheduled to expire on June 30, by one month to buy more time to distribute billions of dollars in federal pandemic housing aid, according to two officials with knowledge of the situation.

The moratorium, instituted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last September to prevent a wave of evictions spurred by the economic downturn associated with the coronavirus pandemic, has significantly limited the economic damage to renters and sharply reduced eviction filings.

Congressional Democrats, local officials and tenant groups have been warning that the expiration of the moratorium at the end of the month, and the lapsing of similar state and local measures, might touch off a new — if somewhat less severe — eviction crisis.

President Biden’s team decided to extend the moratorium by a month after an internal debate at the White House over the weekend. The step is one of a series of actions that the administration plans to take in the next several weeks, involving several federal agencies, the officials said.

Other initiatives include a summit on housing affordability and evictions, to be held at the White House later this month; stepped-up coordination with local officials and legal aid organizations to minimize evictions after July 31; and new guidance from the Treasury Department meant to streamline the sluggish disbursement of the $ 21.5 billion in emergency aid included in the pandemic relief bill in the spring.

White House officials, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said that the one-month extension, while influenced by concerns over a new wave of evictions, was prompted by the lag in vaccination rates in some parts of the country and by other factors that have extended the coronavirus crisis.

Forty-four House Democrats wrote to Mr. Biden and the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, on Tuesday, urging them to put off allowing evictions to resume. “By extending the moratorium and incorporating these critical improvements to protect vulnerable renters, we can work to curtail the eviction crisis disproportionately impacting our communities of color,” the lawmakers wrote.

A spokesman for the C.D.C. did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Many local officials have also pressed to extend the freeze as long as possible, and are bracing for a rise in evictions when the federal moratorium and similar state and city orders expire over the summer.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced on Monday that his state had set aside $ 5.2 billion from federal aid packages to pay off the back rent of tenants who fell behind during the pandemic, an extraordinary move intended to wipe the slate clean for millions of renters.

Still, groups representing private landlords maintain that the health crisis that justified the freeze has ended, and that continuing the freeze even for an extra four weeks would be an unwarranted government intrusion in the housing market.

“The mounting housing affordability crisis is quickly becoming a housing affordability disaster fueled by flawed eviction moratoriums, which leave renters with insurmountable debt and housing providers holding the bag,” said Bob Pinnegar, president of the National Apartment Association, a trade group representing owners of large residential buildings.

Eric Adams, a former police officer, rode an anti-crime message to a commanding lead in the initial round of the Democratic mayoral primary on Tuesday.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Facing a surge in shootings and homicides and persistent Republican attacks on liberal criminal-justice policies, Democrats from the White House to Brooklyn Borough Hall are rallying with sudden confidence around a politically potent cause: funding the police.

In the nation’s capital on Wednesday, President Biden put the weight of his office behind a crime-fighting agenda, unveiling a national strategy that includes cracking down on illegal gun sales and encouraging cities to use hundreds of billions of dollars in pandemic relief money for law-enforcement purposes. It was his administration’s most muscular response so far to a rise in crime in major cities.

In New York City, the country’s largest metropolis and a Democratic stronghold, it was Eric Adams, a former police officer who is Black, who rode an anti-crime message to a commanding lead in the initial round of the Democratic mayoral primary on Tuesday.

The back-to-back developments signaled a shift within the Democratic Party toward themes of public safety. Senior Democrats said they expected party leaders to lean hard into that issue in the coming months, trumpeting federal funding for police departments in the American Rescue Plan and attacking Republicans for having voted against it.

Author: The New York Times
This post originally appeared on NYT > Top Stories

The Efforts to Make Text-Based AI Less Racist and Terrible

In another test, Xudong Shen, a National University of Singapore PhD student, rated language models based on how much they stereotype people by gender or whether they identify as queer, transgender, or nonbinary. He found that larger AI programs tended to engage in more stereotyping. Shen says the makers of large language models should correct these flaws. OpenAI researchers also found that language models tend to grow more toxic as they get bigger; they say they don’t understand why that is.

Text generated by large language models is coming ever closer to language that looks or sounds like it came from a human, yet it still fails to understand things requiring reasoning that almost all people understand. In other words, as some researchers put it, this AI is a fantastic bullshitter, capable of convincing both AI researchers and other people that the machine understands the words it generates.

UC Berkeley psychology professor Alison Gopnik studies how toddlers and young people learn to apply that understanding to computing. Children, she said, are the best learners, and the way kids learn language stems largely from their knowledge of and interaction with the world around them. Conversely, large language models have no connection to the world, making their output less grounded in reality.

“The definition of bullshitting is you talk a lot and it kind of sounds plausible, but there’s no common sense behind it,” Gopnik says.

Yejin Choi, an associate professor at the University of Washington and leader of a group studying common sense at the Allen Institute for AI, has put GPT-3 through dozens of tests and experiments to document how it can make mistakes. Sometimes it repeats itself. Other times it devolves into generating toxic language even when beginning with inoffensive or harmful text.

To teach AI more about the world, Choi and a team of researchers created PIGLeT, AI trained in a simulated environment to understand things about physical experience that people learn growing up, such as it’s a bad idea to touch a hot stove. That training led a relatively small language model to outperform others on common sense reasoning tasks. Those results, she said, demonstrate that scale is not the only winning recipe and that researchers should consider other ways to train models. Her goal: “Can we actually build a machine learning algorithm that can learn abstract knowledge about how the world works?”

Choi is also working on ways to reduce the toxicity of language models. Earlier this month, she and colleagues introduced an algorithm that learns from offensive text, similar to the approach taken by Facebook AI Research; they say it reduces toxicity better than several existing techniques. Large language models can be toxic because of humans, she says. “That’s the language that’s out there.”

Perversely, some researchers have found that attempts to fine-tune and remove bias from models can end up hurting marginalized people. In a paper published in April, researchers from UC Berkeley and the University of Washington found that Black people, Muslims, and people who identify as LGBT are particularly disadvantaged.

The authors say the problem stems, in part, from the humans who label data misjudging whether language is toxic or not. That leads to bias against people who use language differently than white people. Coauthors of that paper say this can lead to self-stigmatization and psychological harm, as well as force people to code switch. OpenAI researchers did not address this issue in their recent paper.

Jesse Dodge, a research scientist at the Allen Institute for AI, reached a similar conclusion. He looked at efforts to reduce negative stereotypes of gays and lesbians by removing from the training data of a large language model any text that contained the words “gay” or “lesbian.” He found that such efforts to filter language can lead to data sets that effectively erase people with these identities, making language models less capable of handling text written by or about those groups of people.

Dodge says the best way to deal with bias and inequality is to improve the data used to train language models instead of trying to remove bias after the fact. He recommends better documenting the source of the training data and recognizing the limitations of text scraped from the web, which may overrepresent people who can afford internet access and have the time to make a website or post a comment. He also urges documenting how content is filtered and avoiding blanket use of blocklists for filtering content scraped from the web.

Author: Khari Johnson
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

Garland Pledges Renewed Efforts to Protect Voting Rights

Republican-led legislatures in several states including Georgia, Florida and Iowa have passed laws imposing new voting restrictions, and Texas, New Hampshire, Arizona and Michigan, among other states, are considering changes to their electoral systems.

At the same time, hopes have dimmed on the left that Congress will pass two major election bills after Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said he would not support abolishing the filibuster to advance such measures.

Mr. Garland has said that protecting the right to vote is one of his top priorities as attorney general, and his top lieutenants include high-profile voting rights advocates such as Vanita Gupta, the department’s No. 3 official, and Kristen Clarke, the head of the Civil Rights Division. The division currently has about a dozen employees on its enforcement staff, which is focused on protecting the right to vote, according to a department official familiar with the staff.

Despite his pledge, Mr. Garland is still limited in what he can do unless Democrats in Congress somehow manage to pass new voter protection laws. He can sue states that are found to have violated any of the nation’s four major federal voting rights laws. He can notify state and local governments when he believes that their procedures violate federal law. And federal prosecutors can charge people who are found to have intimidated voters, a federal crime.

The Justice Department’s most powerful tool, the Voting Rights Act, was significantly weakened by a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down pieces of the act forcing states with legacies of racial discrimination to receive Justice Department approval before they could change their voting laws.

Now the department can only sue after a law has been passed and found to violate the act, meaning that a restrictive law could stand through multiple election cycles as litigation winds its way through the courts.

Any new steps to protect voting rights are unlikely to move quickly, said Joanna Lydgate, a former deputy attorney general of Massachusetts who co-founded the States United Democracy Center. “People will need to be patient,” she said.

Author: Katie Benner, Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News