Biden Focuses on Economy, Touts Accomplishments in 2nd State of the Union

U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday the “story of America is a story of progress and resilience” as he gave his second State of the Union address with a focus on his domestic economic policy, including an appeal to his Republican opponents to work together.

“Two years ago, COVID had shut down our businesses, closed our schools and robbed us of so much,” Biden told a joint session of Congress.

“Today, COVID no longer controls our lives,” he said.

“And two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the Civil War. Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken,” he added.

Highlights consensus

Facing a Congress in which Republicans now have a majority in the House of Representatives, Biden cited legislation that Republican and Democratic lawmakers came together to pass, including a massive infrastructure bill, aid for Ukraine and protecting same-sex marriage rights.

“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together and find consensus in this new Congress as well,” Biden said.

Biden said that to maintain the world’s strongest economy, the United States needs the best infrastructure, and he said new standards will require federal infrastructure projects to use only construction materials made in America.

“Lumber, glass, drywall, fiber-optic cable,” he said. “And on my watch, American roads, American bridges and American highways are going to be made with American products as well.”

Overall, Biden said, his economic focus is on “investing in places and people that have been forgotten.”

The president also argued for raising the debt ceiling, which is the maximum amount the U.S. Treasury can borrow to pay its bills. The U.S. hit its debt limit of $31.4 trillion in January. Congress now has until midyear to raise the limit before the U.S. defaults on its loans.

Biden said Congress has previously paid the country’s bills “to prevent an economic disaster.” He called on lawmakers to commit to making sure the credit of the United States will never be questioned.

Kevin McCarthy, the newly elected speaker of the House of Representatives, has said the Republican Party will continue to oppose what they see as excessive spending.

“Biden’s challenge in the State of the Union is to make the global case while also presenting himself as a leader who understands and is prepared to meet the day-to-day economic challenges facing Americans here at home,” political scientist Andrew Seligsohn said in a note to VOA.

Biden also was expected to discuss a range of foreign policy issues, administration officials said.

Relations with China, the nation Biden sees as the biggest competitor for the U.S., hit a new low last week when the U.S. shot down what it said was a Chinese spy balloon that traversed the country for a week, including over key military installations.

Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, told Lin Feng of VOA’s Mandarin Service that Biden needs to show he “is forging ahead with policies that strengthen the security of America and its allies. His words about China should highlight Beijing’s deeds, not words, but without adjectives. Let facts speak for themselves.”

Gun policy, immigration, health care, police reform and more were also likely to feature in the address.

President recognizes parents of Tyre Nichols

As is custom, the event hosted guests who symbolize some of the issues. The Congressional Black Caucus invited the parents of slain Memphis resident Tyre Nichols to the address.

Nichols, 29, was killed by five Black police officers in January. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have used the tragedy to urge Congress to revisit the stalled police reform act that Democrats proposed after the 2020 killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

And Jeremi Suri, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, also noted that Biden will use the speech to rally support. Biden has not officially announced whether he will run for reelection in 2024. His critics say at 80, he is too old for another term.

“He will depict Republicans as ideologues, while he is a pragmatist for the American people,” he told VOA.

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French Pension Reform Plan Triggers New Strikes, Protests

New nationwide strikes disrupted public transport and schools, as well as power, oil and gas supplies in France Tuesday, while tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in a third round of protests against planned pension reforms.

The protests came a day after French lawmakers began debating a pension bill that would raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. The bill is the flagship legislation of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term.

Tens of thousands marched in the cities of Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and elsewhere, as well as in Paris. Protesters in the French capital, many of whom were young, marched peacefully from the Opera area carrying placards reading “Save Your Pension” and “Tax Billionaires, Not Grandmas.”

France’s current pension system “is a democratic achievement in the sense that it is a French specialty that other countries envy,” said one protester, media worker Anissa Saudemont, 29.

“I feel that with high inflation, unemployment, the war in Ukraine and climate change, the government should focus on something else,” she added.

Last week, an estimated 1.27 million people demonstrated, according to authorities, more than in the first big protest day on Jan. 19. More demonstrations, called by France’s eight main unions, were planned for Saturday.

Rail operator SNCF said train services were severely disrupted Tuesday across the country, including on its high-speed network. International lines to Britain and Switzerland were affected. The Paris metro was also disrupted.

Saad Kadiui, 37, a consulting cabinet chief who had to go through a disrupted Paris train station Tuesday, said he did not support the “wearisome” strikes. “There are other ways to protest the pension reform,” he said.

Kadiui said he supported the principle of the pension reform but wanted the bill to be improved in parliament. “I think that for some jobs, 64 is too late,” he said.

Power producer EDF said the protest movement led to temporarily reduced electricity supplies, without causing blackouts. More than half of the workforce was on strike at the TotalEnergies refineries, according to the company.

The Education Ministry said close to 13% of teachers were on strike, a decrease compared to last week’s protest day. A third of French regions were on scheduled school breaks.

Macron vowed to go ahead with the changes, despite opinion polls showing growing opposition. The bill would gradually increase the minimum retirement age to 64 by 2030 and accelerate a planned measure providing that people must have worked for at least 43 years to be entitled to a full pension.

The government argues the changes are designed to keep the pension system financially afloat. France’s aging population is expected to plunge the system into deficit in the coming decade.

The parliamentary debate at the National Assembly and the Senate is expected to last several weeks.

Opposition lawmakers have proposed more than 20,000 amendments to the bill debated on Monday, mostly by the left-wing Nupes coalition.

Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the powerful CGT union, called on the government and lawmakers to “listen to the people.” Speaking on French radio network RT, he denounced Macron’s attitude as “playing with fire.”

Macron wants to show that “he is able to pass a reform, no matter what public opinion says, what the citizens think,” Martinez asserted.

The head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, also called on the government to “listen” to the crowd that took to the streets. “One can only respond to social tension through the democratic exercise of power,” he told French newspaper La Croix.

Rancor over the pension plan went beyond parliament’s raucous debate. The speaker of the lower house, the National Assembly, reported that the bill had triggered anonymous voicemails, graffiti and a threatening letter to the head of the chamber’s Social Affairs Committee.

“That’s enough,” Yael Braun-Pivet tweeted. “These acts are an attack on our democratic life. … We won’t tolerate it.”

Several lawmakers from the far-right National Rally party received voicemails during Monday’s debate saying that loved ones were hospitalized, in an apparent ploy to make them leave the assembly. The group’s leader, Marine Le Pen, said she was filing a legal complaint.

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Херсонщина: депутата від партії Сальдо підозрюють у співпраці з ФСБ – прокуратура

За даними слідства, підозрюваний раніше служив у правоохоронних органах, а під час окупації Херсона співпрацював із російськими спецслужбами

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Boeing Plans to Cut About 2,000 Finance, HR Jobs in 2023

Boeing plans to make staffing cuts in the aerospace company’s finance and human resources departments in 2023, with a loss of around 2,000 jobs, the company said.

“We expect about 2,000 reductions primarily in Finance and HR through a combination of attrition and layoffs,” Boeing said in a statement Monday. “While no one has been notified of job loss, we will continue to share information transparently to allow people to plan.”

The company, which recently relocated its headquarters to Arlington, Virginia, said it expects to “significantly grow” the overall workforce during the year. “We grew Boeing’s workforce by 15,000 last year and plan to hire another 10,000 employees this year with a focus on engineering and manufacturing,” the statement said.

Boeing’s total workforce was 156,000 employees as of Dec. 31, 2022, the company said.

The Seattle Times reported Boeing, which has been one of the largest private employers in Washington state, plans to outsource about a third of the eliminated positions to Tata Consulting Services in Bengaluru, India.

Mike Friedman, a senior director of communications, told the Times the other positions will be eliminated as the company makes reductions in finance and human resources support services.

“Over time, some of our corporate functions have grown quite large. And with that growth tends to come bureaucracy or disparate systems that are inefficient,” Friedman said. “So we’re streamlining.”

The Times reported about 1,500 of the company’s approximately 5,800 finance positions will be cut, with up to 400 more job cuts in human resources, which is about 15% of the department’s total staff.

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Кулеба назвав пріоритетні теми до обговорення на Мюнхенській конференції з безпеки

Мюнхенська конференція з безпеки – один із найпрестижніших міжнародних форумів у галузі міжнародної безпеки. Проходитиме цьогоріч 17-19 лютого

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В СБУ розповіли про докази проти «Росатому» та супутніх компаній, які потрапили під санкції РНБО

Економічні санкції на 50 років застосовані щодо російської корпорації «Росатом» та 199 компаній, що входять в її структуру

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Сумщина під вогнем військ РФ. Прикордоння обстріляли з артилерії, мінометів та кулеметів

Війська РФ у понеділок обстріляли три прикордонні громади на Сумщині, застосувавши артилерію, міномети та кулемети, повідомила у Telegram Сумська обласна військова адміністрація.

«Ворог здійснив обстріли 3 територіальних громад області: Краснопільської, Середино-Будської, Глухівської. Було 55 прильотів. Середино-Будська громада: по території громади зафіксовано 38 автоматних/кулеметних черг. Краснопільська громада: росіяни били з мінометів – 11 прильотів. Глухівська громада: був обстріл зі ствольної артилерії – 6 прильотів», – йдеться у повідомленні.

За даними ОВА, в усіх випадках − без втрат та руйнувань.

Сумщина межує з трьома областями Росії – Брянською, Курською, Бєлгородською. Прикордонні райони України регулярно зазнають обстрілів із боку Росії.

Москва від початку повномасштабного вторгнення заперечує цілеспрямовану атаку на цивільних, попри наявність свідчень і доказів цього.

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Republicans Launch Investigations Into Biden Administration

For the first time in his presidency Tuesday night, U.S. President Joe Biden will address a Congress under divided party rule.

Republicans who hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives have already issued the first subpoenas in one of many investigations just getting under way based on accusations the White House has abused its power.

“I do not think any American believes that justice should not be equal to all,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters last week. “We found from this administration, what happened before every single election, whatever comes out, that they utilize to try to falsify… they try to have different standards for their own beliefs. That doesn’t work in America.”

Republicans argue the Biden administration has abused its power in several ways and plans to conduct investigatory hearings. The House Judiciary Committee, headed by Representative Jim Jordan, launched hearings into the Biden administration’s border security last week.

“Month after month after month, we have set records for migrants coming into the country. And frankly, I think it’s intentional,” Jordan said. “I don’t know how anyone with common sense or logic can reach any other conclusion. It seems deliberate. It seems premeditated.”

One of the Republican-majority House’s first acts was to establish a Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. The subcommittee – along an entirely party-line vote – has a mandate to investigate the use of information on U.S. citizens by executive branch agencies. Republicans will investigate their allegations that U.S. government agencies targeted conservative supporters of former President Donald Trump.

“The goal, the principle is that the president, like every other American citizen, is not above the law. And congressional hearings are one way to ensure that the president does not put himself above the law,” Ken Hughes, a historian with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, told VOA.

Hughes said that in the past, Congress has been able to conduct productive investigations even in eras of divided party rule.

“Even in a polarized era, congressional investigation can do some good, but in order for you to have … a truly beneficial impact, both parties have to cooperate.”

With Democrats maintaining their control of the Senate, the prospect of any legislative solutions coming out of the House investigations is highly unlikely.

“Nobody really expects that were the House Republican majority to come up with a rule about how DOJ could do investigations, to pass a law, it’s dead on arrival in the Senate,” Sarah Binder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told VOA. “There’s a broad realm here for lawmakers to use the subpoena power to force people to come to speak to them, even though no one expects a real lesson of change to occur because of those investigations.”

Democrats have already said Republican investigations unfairly target Biden and distract Congress from important work of legislating.

“It’s very unfortunate that we’ve seen this extreme MAGA Republican agenda which is apparently anchored in impeachment and investigations focused on witch hunts, not on working families,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters last month. MAGA stands for Make America Great Again, a phrase associated with former President Donald Trump, who has announced his intention to run for the White House in 2024.

Chief among Democrats’ concerns are investigations into Biden’s family, including his son, Hunter Biden, who is alleged to have unfairly benefited from his father’s political position. Republicans have also already launched investigations into the use of congressionally appropriated funds combating the COVID-19 crisis and other issues of government waste. At a House Oversight Committee hearing last week, Republican Rep. James Comer said the oversight was long overdue.

“We’re going to be returning this committee to its core mission. And that is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being mismanaged, abused or wasted, to shine a light in the darkness of the federal bureaucracy to prevent corruption and self-dealing to make sure our federal government is working efficiently for the American people.”

The discovery of classified documents at Biden’s Delaware residence dating back to his time as vice president in the Obama administration will also come under investigation in the U.S. House. With just a year to go until the first 2024 presidential election primaries, Republicans will be seeking to keep the focus on Biden.

But Hughes, who specializes in studying abuses of presidential power, told VOA the classified documents issue now clearly impacts both parties.

“For the last decade or so we’ve seen a lot of political rhetoric about the danger of mishandling classified information, and almost no actual damage to national security as a result,” Hughes said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s OK for officials and former officials to mishandle classified information, but I think we need perspective on it. And it does no harm. If the information in the classified documents doesn’t fall into the hands of foreign powers, particularly the hostile powers, then we’re talking about an interaction rather than a crime.”

Investigations can be a way of bringing down presidential approval ratings, but the opposite party has to be careful about appearing too partisan, Binder told VOA.

“Congressional investigations we can show historically do dampen presidential approval, right? They can really tarnish what the public thinks about the president,” she said.

“The question is whether the public sees through that. Democrats won’t be convinced. And the question then is Republicans – do they care about the work of Hunter Biden? We’ll see, depending how far that investigation goes.”

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UN Chief: World Needs ‘Wake-Up Call’        

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Monday that the world needs to wake up and take urgent action to change the trajectory on conflicts and geopolitical divisions, the climate crisis, and economic inequality.

“We need a course correction,” Guterres said as he laid out his 2023 priorities to the U.N. General Assembly.

“The good news is that we know how to turn things around — on climate, on finance, on conflict resolution, on and on,” he added. “And we know that the cost of inaction far exceeds the costs of action. But the strategic vision — the long-term thinking and commitment — is missing.”

He cited the recent announcement by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the so-called Doomsday Clock 10 seconds closer to global catastrophe as a “wake-up call.”

On January 24, the organization’s board, citing Russia’s war in Ukraine and the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, said the planet is now “90 seconds to midnight.”

“This is the closest the clock has ever stood to humanity’s darkest hour, and closer than even during the height of the Cold War,” Guterres warned.

The organization of scientists, of which Albert Einstein was a founding member, created the clock in 1947 as an indicator of how close the world is to manmade global catastrophe.

Adding to the growing list of crises and concerns was Monday’s deadly 7.8 earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria. Guterres said the United Nations is mobilizing to support the emergency response.

“Let’s work together in solidarity to help those hit by this disaster, many of whom are already in dire need of humanitarian aid,” he said.

The quake’s epicenter was in parts of Turkey and Syria with large populations of refugees and people affected by more than a decade of civil war in Syria.

Russia’s war

Guterres has been clear in condemning Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine as a violation of the U.N. Charter and international law. He told the General Assembly that it has inflicted “untold suffering” on the Ukrainian people and had “profound” global implications. He voiced pessimism about the prospects for peace.

“The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing,” he warned. “I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open.”

He criticized the “tactical” use of nuclear weapons as an “absurdity.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned he is ready to draw on his country’s entire arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons, to defend Russian territory. On Thursday, he repeated the threat in a speech criticizing Germany for helping to arm Ukraine.

“We are at the highest risk in decades of a nuclear war that could start by accident or design,” Guterres said. “We need to end the threat posed by 13,000 nuclear weapons held in arsenals around the world.”

The U.N. chief said the world needs peace, not just in Ukraine, but also in many corners of the planet. He said conflicts and political crises in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Africa’s Sahel region, Haiti, the Middle East and elsewhere are driving the suffering of two billion people.

“If every country fulfilled its obligations under the [U.N.] Charter, the right to peace would be guaranteed,” Guterres said. “When countries break those pledges, they create a world of insecurity for everyone.”

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Global Airline Traffic Recovering to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Global airline traffic rose to over half of pre-pandemic levels in 2022 according to data released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Monday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, airlines saw a sharp decline in travel in 2020 and 2021 and lost tens of billions of dollars. Profits started to return in 2022 as traffic picked up again.

Global traffic grew to 68.5% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels in 2022, and 64.4% from 2021.

In 2022, international traffic rose 152.7% in comparison to 2021, and 62.2% compared to 2019. As for domestic travel, it rose 10.9% compared to the previous year and 79.6% of pre-pandemic levels.

China recently reopened its borders after three years on January 8. Analysts emphasize that full recovery to pre-pandemic levels depends on how quickly travel to and from China can return.

Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, is hopeful that traffic will continue to rise in 2023.

“The industry left 2022 in far stronger shape than it entered, as most governments lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions during the year and people took advantage of the restoration of their freedom to travel. This momentum is expected to continue in the New Year, despite some governments’ over-reactions to China’s reopening,” he said.

“It is vital that governments learn the lesson that travel restrictions and border closures have little positive impact in terms of slowing the spread of infectious diseases in our globally inter-connected world.”

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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