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US midterms: Democrats on track to take House, Republicans hold Senate

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Washington, Nov 7 : Democrats were on track to capture control of the House of Representatives, while Republicans would retain control of the Senate and may even increase their majority, according to projections based on exit polls and early returns from Tuesdays midterm elections.

Democrats captured 13 Republican-held seats early, ejecting incumbents in the suburbs of Kansas City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Miami and Washington D.C., reports The Washington Post.

The wins moved them closer to taking the House majority for the first time since 2011, when the “tea party” wave swamped Democrats in President Barack Obama’s first midterm elections.

By winning the House, Democrats will gain a powerful new pedestal to investigate President Donald Trump’s administration, his personal finances, and the hotels, golf courses and other businesses he still owns.

They were also likely to press for details about the 2016 election, asking whether Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government’s efforts to sow misinformation and pro-Trump messages.

Meanwhile, the Republicans snuffed out Democrats’ hopes of winning the Senate. The party seemed likely to increase its majority, by holding on to key seats in Florida, Texas and Tennessee and winning Democrat-held seats in North Dakota and Indiana.

In Florida, Republican Representative Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahasee Democrat Mayor Andrew Gillum in the race for governor.

Most recent polls had shown Gillum ahead.

The two parties each won important governorships, reports The New York Times.

In Michigan, a historic Democratic stronghold that the President carried narrowly in 2016, voters chose Gretchen Whitmer, a former Democratic leader in the State Senate.

Illinois voters elected J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat and Hyatt hotel heir, over the embattled governor, Bruce Rauner.

In other Senate races, Democrats won reelection in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, all states that Trump carried in 2016 on his way to a surprise election victory.

However, major Senate races remain undecided in Arizona, Nevada and Montana.

All 50 states and Washington D.C. went to the polls on Tuesday as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the two houses of Congress, with experts saying that voter turnout could be the highest for a midterm election in 50 years, CNN reported.

Americans were voting for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of 100 seats in the Senate – the two bodies that make up Congress. Governors are also being chosen in 36 out of 50 states.

To win congressional majorities, Democrats would need a net gain of 23 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate.

Trump’s approval rating stood at 39 per cent in the latest CNN poll.

Trump, who will complete his second year in the White House in January 2019, has campaigned non-stop in the midterm elections, focusing on states where his Republican Party has a chance to pick up seats, especially in the US Senate.

The President has touted his administration’s economic policies, which have resulted in strong economic growth, record job creation and low unemployment.

World

US undermining South China Sea stability: Foreign Ministry

Zhao stressed that China will continue to determinedly safeguard its national sovereignty and security, friendly and cooperative relations with regional countries, and the South China Sea’s peace and stability.

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Zhao Lijian

BEIJING, July 14 : The United States was undermining peace and stability in the South China Sea and intended to drive a wedge between regional countries, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said here on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Monday that many Chinese maritime claims over the South China Sea were illegitimate, and the United States urged relevant countries to oppose China’s maritime claims. Pompeo added that the so-called award of the South China Sea arbitration was legally binding to both China and the Philippines.

In response, spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a news briefing that the U.S. statement disregarded the history and facts on the South China Sea issue, and violated its commitment of holding a neutral position on relevant territorial sovereignty disputes. It also violated and distorted international law, deliberately provoked territorial maritime disputes, and undermined regional stability and peace, he added.

The U.S. statement said the dotted line in the South China Sea was announced by China in 2009, which is completely untrue, Zhao said, adding that China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea were established throughout a long course of history.

He said China has exercised effective jurisdiction over relevant islands, reefs, and waters in the South China Sea for thousands of years, and as early as 1948, the Chinese government announced the dotted line in the South China Sea. This was under no doubt from any country for a long time, he said, adding that China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea have sufficient historical and legal basis, which is consistent with relevant international laws and practices.

China doesn’t strive to build an “empire” in the South China Sea, always treats countries surrounding the South China Sea as equals, and always maintains the utmost restraint in safeguarding the sovereignty, rights, and interests of the South China Sea, Zhao said.

“On the contrary, the United States refused to join the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), frequently pulls out of international treaties and organizations, abides by international rules that suit its purpose, and discards those that it finds obstructive. It frequently promotes militarization of the South China Sea by dispatching large-scale, advanced warships and aircraft. The United States is the destructor and troublemaker of peace and stability in the region. The international community sees this very clearly,” Zhao said.

As for the arbitration case and the award, Zhao said China’s position is consistent, clear, and firm. The arbitral tribunal expanded its power to exercise jurisdiction, and made obvious mistakes in the determination of facts and the application of laws, which was questioned by many countries.

The U.S. hyped up the South China Sea arbitration for their own political agenda, which was abusing the international law of the sea, and China would never accept it, he said.

According to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) reached by China and ASEAN in 2002, China is always committed to resolving disputes on territory and jurisdiction through negotiations and consultations with the related sovereign states, maintaining the peace and stability in the South China Sea with the ASEAN countries, Zhao told the briefing.

“With joint efforts of the relevant countries, the situation in the South China Sea remains sound and stable at the moment,” Zhao said, adding that China and the ASEAN countries not only abide by the DOC, but are also speeding up negotiations on a more binding code of conduct (COC) to safeguard the peace, stability, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Now the consultations have made positive progress, and the relationships between China and the ASEAN countries have further consolidated and developed during their cooperations against COVID-19, Zhao said.

However, the United States, as a non-regional country, has repeatedly stirred up trouble regarding the South China Sea for its own selfish agenda, played off the relationships of regional countries against China, and ruined the joint efforts made by these countries, he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. statement deliberately misinterpreted the Chinese representative’s statement at the ASEAN Regional Forum Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in 2010. Zhao said the fact was that China’s representative said China has always advocated that all countries are equal, and relevant disputes should be settled peacefully by the direct parties concerned through negotiations and consultations.

“China expressed its strong indignation and firm opposition to the U.S. wrongdoing,” he said, urging the United States to immediately stop making trouble in this regard, and not to go further down the wrong path.

Zhao stressed that China will continue to determinedly safeguard its national sovereignty and security, friendly and cooperative relations with regional countries, and the South China Sea’s peace and stability.

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World

Trump administration drops visa ban for online only students

Foreigners make up over 75 per cent of graduate students in electrical, computer, petroleum and industrial engineering fields, according to Inside Higher Ed.

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Donald Trump

New York, July 15 : In a victory for universities and foreign students, President Donald Trump’s administration has dropped its order to deny visa status to those taking only online cases because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal Judge Allison Burroughs said on Tuesday that the government agreed to rescind the rule that would have required foreign students on F-1 or M-1 visas to leave the US or transfer to another university if they cannot take at least some in-person courses. Those staying on could have faced deportation.

The judge made the announcement about the government backtracking during an emergency hearing asked by the two institutions that was held by teleconference and lasted only a few minutes.

The case was brought in the federal court in Boston by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University on July 8 and it had snowballed with scores of colleges and tech companies backing them in court briefs and 18 state attorneys general filing another case against the order.

The Trump administration’s order issued last week reversed another issued in March that permitted students to take all their courses online because of the national COVID-19 emergency — which still continues.

Many universities, including Harvard, have announced plans to conduct only online classes in the Fall semester starting in August or September, while some like Columbia and Yale plan to offer a hybrid programme that combines online and in-person teaching if local authorities permit classroom attendance.

The administration’s order against online only teaching seemed to be a tactic to force educational institutions to comply with Trump’s agenda to open the nation fully before the November election.

When the case was filed, Harvard President Larry Summers said, “It appears that it was designed purposefully to place pressure on colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors, and others.”

At least two other cases against the government’s order are pending before other federal courts: One is by Johns Hopkins University in Washington and the other is by the University of California in San Francisco.

Harvard and Yale said in court documents that although it may be argued that the students can continue their studies online from their home countries, “they may have their research and learning inhibited by time zone variations, unavailable, unreliable or state-managed Internet connections, and other barriers to online learning”.

They said that students can suffer irreparable harm from the order if they are forced out of the country.

Tech companies, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook said in their brief that “America’s future competitiveness depends on attracting and retaining talented international students”.

According to the International Institute of Education, there are over one million foreign students in the US and of them about 200,00 are from India.

several US institutions are dependent on tuition from foreign students, many of whom pay full fees.

But another factor of importance to both the universities and the economy is the pre-ponderance of graduate students in engineering and science.

Foreigners make up over 75 per cent of graduate students in electrical, computer, petroleum and industrial engineering fields, according to Inside Higher Ed.

They not only back up the faculty as teaching assistants and researchers, but go on to work for or found tech companies.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)

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Lifestyle

More people could slip into hunger as result of COVID-19: UN Chief

The COVID-19 pandemic is making things even worse. Many more people could slip into hunger this year, he said.

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Antonio Guterres

United Nations, July 14 : UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that many more people could slip into hunger this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He sounded the alarm in a video message on Monday during the launch of “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020” report, which says almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019, up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years, Xinhua news agency reported.

“This year’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report sends a sobering message. In much of the world, hunger remains deeply entrenched and is rising,” said Guterres in the video message.

The COVID-19 pandemic is making things even worse. Many more people could slip into hunger this year, he said.

“The report is clear: if the current trend continues, we will not achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 — zero hunger — by 2030.”

Guterres said transformation can begin now. Investments in COVID-19 response and recovery need to help deliver on the longer-term goal of a more inclusive and sustainable world.

“We must make food systems more sustainable, resilient and inclusive — for people and the planet.”

He said he will convene a Food Systems Summit next year. “We must make healthy diets affordable and accessible for everyone.”

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