“zero Covid” strategy.

China has steadfastly kept a high wall against visitors from the rest of the world. Foreign residents and visa holders are allowed in only under limited circumstances, leading to concerns by some within the business world that Covid restrictions were leaving the country increasingly isolated.

Visitors must submit to two-week quarantines upon arrival and face potential limits on their movement after that. Movements are tracked via monitoring smartphone apps, which display color codes that can signal whether a person has traveled from or through an area with recent infections, triggering instructions to remain in one place.

In other parts of Asia, people are less focused on eradicating the virus than just surviving it.

“This news is terrifying,” said Gurinder Singh, 57, in New Delhi, who worried about his shop going under. “If this virus spreads in India, the government will shut the country again, and we will be forced to beg.”

Reporting was contributed by Declan Walsh from Nairobi, Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem, Carlos Tejada from Seoul, Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, India, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Elian Peltier and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, Megan Specia from London, Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin, Emma Bubola from Rome and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva.

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Troubled Student Loan Forgiveness Program Gets an Overhaul

The Education Department outsources the work of billing borrowers and guiding them through the repayment process to hired vendors. FedLoan, which holds a contract to manage the accounts of borrowers pursuing public service loan forgiveness, told the agency this summer that it would not renew its contract when it lapses at the end of the year. It said that the “increasingly complex and challenging” work of servicing federal loans had become too costly.

Another major servicer, Navient, said last month that it, too, is resigning to focus on its other lines of business. Those defections and those of several smaller servicers mean that the Education Department will need to move at least 16 million accounts to new servicers in the coming months — a process that has in the past been filled with confusion and mistakes. Agency officials said they did not yet have a successor to FedLoan lined up.

Kristi Jacobson, a second-grade teacher at George R. Moscone Elementary School, in San Francisco, was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of relief.

Ms. Jacobson learned in June that none of the payments she had been making on her loans since 2005 qualified for forgiveness. She had also been submitting the annual paperwork for the program since 2014. She found out when she filled out a form on the Education Department’s website that advised her to consolidate her loans into one that qualified for public service loan forgiveness. The news stunned her.

“I got goose bumps,” she said. “I read it over and over.”

The 54-year-old had been looking forward to retiring in nine years. Instead, she would be restarting the clock on 10 more years of payments on her $86,000 loan, at $550 per month, after she consolidated her Federal Family Education Loans into a qualifying loan this summer.

“I don’t think I should get a free ride,” Ms. Jacobson said. “I borrowed this money for my education, and I should pay it back. But to be 54, and to think: Oh, I’ll never buy a house. It’s like being in a Kafkaesque tunnel.”

“I’ve been told that good things are on the way,” she added, “but I can’t believe it until it happens.”

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Taliban Try to Polish Their Image as They Push for Victory

KABUL, Afghanistan — In June, when the Taliban took the district of Imam Sahib in Afghanistan’s north, the insurgent commander who now ruled the area had a message for his new constituents, including some government employees: Keep working, open your shops and keep the city clean.

The water was turned back on, the power grid was repaired, garbage trucks collected trash and a government vehicle’s flat tire was mended — all under the Taliban’s direction.

Imam Sahib is one of dozens of districts caught up in a Taliban military offensive that has swiftly captured more than a quarter of Afghanistan’s districts, many in the north, since the U.S. withdrawal began in May.

It is all part of the Taliban’s broader strategy of trying to rebrand themselves as capable governors while they press a ruthless, land-grabbing offensive across the country. The combination is a stark signal that the insurgents fully intend to try for all-out dominance of Afghanistan once the American pullout is finished.

have begun to muster militias to defend their home turf, skeptical that the Afghan security forces can hold out in the absence of their American backers, in a painful echo of the country’s devastating civil war breakdown in the 1990s.

report. Some homes there were burned down by the Taliban, residents said.

“The Taliban burned my house while my family was in the house,” said Sirajuddin Jamali, a tribal elder. “In 2015, a military base was under siege and we provided food and water for them, but now the Taliban are taking revenge,” Mr. Jamali sobbed. “Do they do the same in any area the Taliban take?”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the accusations of burning down homes was under investigation.

The group’s public responses, though rarely sincere, play directly into a strategy meant to portray the insurgents as a comparable option to the Afghan government. And they ignore the fact that local feuds drive large amounts of the war’s violence, outweighing any official orders from the Taliban leadership.

On the battlefield, things are shifting quickly. Thousands of Afghan soldiers and militia members have surrendered in past weeks, forfeiting weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles as the Taliban take district after district. Government forces have counterattacked, recapturing several districts, though not on the scale of the insurgents’ recent victories.

But little reported are Taliban losses, aside from the inflated body counts announced by the Afghan government’s Ministry of Defense. The Taliban, with their base strength long estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 fighters, depending on the time of year, have taken serious casualties in recent months, especially in the country’s south.

The casualties are primarily from the Afghan and U.S. air forces, and sometimes from Afghan commando units.

Mullah Basir Akhund, a former commander and member of the Taliban since 1994, said that cemeteries along the Pakistani border, where Taliban fighters have long been buried, are filling up faster than in years past. Pakistani hospitals, part of the country’s unwavering line of support for the insurgents, are running out of bed space. During a recent visit to a hospital in Quetta, a hub for the Taliban in Pakistan, Mr. Akhund said he saw more than 100 people, most of them Taliban fighters, waiting to be treated.

But despite tough battles, the weight of a nearly withdrawn superpower, and the Taliban’s own leadership issues, the insurgents continue to adapt.

Even as they seek to conquer the country, the Taliban are aware of their legacy of harsh rule, and do not want to “become the same pariah and isolated state” that Afghanistan was in the 1990s, said Ibraheem Bahiss, an International Crisis Group consultant and an independent research analyst.

“They’re playing the long game,” Mr. Bahiss said.

Reporting was contributed by Asadullah Timory in Herat, Taimoor Shah in Kandahar, Ruhullah Khapalwak, Farooq Jan Mangal in Khost and Zabihullah Ghazi in Jalalabad.

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Guantánamo Detainee Agrees to Drop Call for C.I.A. Testimony

WASHINGTON — A detainee at Guantánamo Bay has agreed to a deal intended to lead to his release in the next few years in return for giving up the right to question the C.I.A. in court about its torture program, United States government officials said.

The deal, negotiated by the Pentagon official who oversees the military commissions that serve as a court for some detainees, was reached in recent weeks, and comes as a number of those who have been charged at Guantánamo are seeking to cite their abuse at the hands of the C.I.A. as part of their defense.

Under the deal, the prisoner, Majid Khan, 41, who has pleaded guilty to serving as a courier for Al Qaeda, would complete his prison sentence as early as next year and no later than 2025 and then could be released to another country, assuming one will take him, according to people who have seen the terms or are familiar with its details.

In exchange, Mr. Khan will not use his sentencing proceedings to invoke a landmark war court decision that allowed him to call witnesses from the C.I.A.’s secret prison network to testify about his torture.

2014 Senate investigation. He was also sleep deprived, kept naked and hung by his wrists, and hooded, to the point of hallucinations.

Mr. Khan was transferred to Guantánamo Bay in 2006 and saw a lawyer for the first time in his fourth year of detention. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges stemming from his work for Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks, and agreed to postpone his sentencing while he cooperated with government prosecutors.

On April 16, he and his lawyers reached agreement with the overseer of military commissions for a sentence that would end sometime between early next year and March 1, 2025.

The agreement itself is under seal, at least until a judge questions Mr. Khan on whether he voluntarily entered into it. But several people, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe details of the deal, said that it has a sentencing range of 11 to 14 years, applied starting with his guilty plea in 2012.

prosecutors failed to disclose certain evidence. Colonel Watkins retires from the Army on Aug. 1 and was replaced on the case Wednesday by an Air Force judge, Col. Mark W. Milam.

The agreement is the first involving a Guantánamo detainee that the Biden administration has reached since taking office. It was made by Jeffrey D. Wood, a National Guard colonel who was appointed by the Trump administration to the civilian role of convening authority for military commissions.

had actually seen Mr. Khan in C.I.A. detention.

The issue had been simmering but had not come to a head because travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic brought most military commission hearings to a standstill for the last year.

The question of whether Mr. Khan could receive a reduction in his sentence because of his torture was also a potential model for the defense in the capital conspiracy case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks. Defense lawyers for all five defendants say there is evidence that each was systematically tortured in the black sites, and they want a judge or jury to hear graphic details about it to avert a death sentence when the long-delayed case eventually proceeds.

Two contract psychologists who devised the C.I.A.’s interrogation program, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen, have been publicly identified. But the identities of the people who interrogated Mr. Khan, and in which countries where they did it, are still classified at the court, which operates under rules that the government says are intended to balance state secrets and fair trial rights.

Prosecutors argued that anonymous, in-person testimony about Mr. Khan’s treatment, whether in a classified session or in public, risked exposing covert U.S. government employees, and said it was not possible to take them to Guantánamo Bay. That left the possibility of the judge ordering their appearances, prosecutors refusing to bring them and as a remedy, the judge reducing Mr. Khan’s sentence.

filing on April 22, Mr. Khan’s lawyers will also ask the judge after sentencing to void the June 2020 ruling that found credit for pretrial punishment is an available remedy at a military commission — undercutting its potential use in the Sept. 11 case.

Mr. Khan has been kept apart from the other former C.I.A. prisoners at Guantánamo since he pleaded guilty. At that time, he became a government informant, and has been debriefed on demand although prosecutors have yet to hold a trial where his testimony would be needed.

In pleading guilty he admitted to delivering $50,000 from Mr. Mohammed to militants in Indonesia that was used to finance the bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2003, killing 11 people. Three men at Guantánamo have been charged in that plot, but have yet to be arraigned and have no trial date.

During the Trump administration, Mr. Khan was also listed as a government witness in a planned federal prosecution of another Pakistani man, Uzair Paracha. Mr. Paracha was convicted in 2005 in New York of federal terrorism-related offenses, but the conviction was overturned. Rather than retry him last year, federal prosecutors dropped the case in exchange for Mr. Paracha voluntarily giving up his U.S. residency and returning to Pakistan, after 17 years of incarceration.

For Mr. Khan, the path out of Guantánamo may be more complex. Successive U.S. administrations have argued that a convicted war criminal who completes his sentence may still be held at Guantánamo in the quasi-prisoner of war status of a detainee, as long as the United States considers itself to be at war with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Also, it is unclear where Mr. Khan would go. He was born in Saudi Arabia, lived as a child in Pakistan but went to high school in suburban Baltimore and had asylum in the United States before he returned to Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. By law, he cannot be sent to the United States.

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India’s Covid Vaccinations Fall as Its Outbreak Reaches New Highs

As India recorded a single-day high in new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its vaccination campaign has been marred by shortages and states are competing against one another to get doses, limiting the government’s hope that the country can soon emerge from a devastating outbreak.

The Indian health ministry recorded about 410,000 cases in 24 hours, a new global high, and 3,980 deaths, the highest daily death toll in any country outside the United States. Experts believe the number of actual infections and deaths is much higher.

A second wave of infections exploded last month, and some Indian states reintroduced partial lockdowns, but daily vaccination numbers have fallen. The government said it had administered nearly two million vaccine doses on Thursday, far lower than the 3.5 million doses a day it reached in March. Over the past week, 1.6 million people on average were vaccinated daily in the country of 1.4 billion.

India’s pace of vaccinations has become a source of global concern as its outbreak devastates the nation and spreads into neighboring countries, and as a variant first identified there begins to be found around the world. The outbreak has prompted India to keep vaccine doses produced by its large drug manufacturing industry at home instead of exporting them, slowing down vaccination campaigns elsewhere.

delay the expansion of vaccine access to younger age groups because of shortages.

India also lacks enough doses to meet the growing demand. Two domestic drug companies — the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, and Bharat Biotech, which is making its own vaccine — are producing fewer than 100 million doses per month.

About 3 percent of India’s population has been fully vaccinated, and 9.2 percent of people have received at least one dose. Experts say that at the current rate the country is unlikely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s target of inoculating 300 million people by August.

India has recorded 20.6 million coronavirus cases and more than 226,000 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

India’s government has said it will fast-track approvals of foreign-made vaccines, and on Wednesday the Biden administration said it would support waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to increase supplies for lower-income countries.

approved the departure of family members of U.S. government employees in India and is urging American citizens to take advantage of commercial flights out of the country. It said on Wednesday that it would approve the voluntary departure of nonemergency U.S. government employees.

On Thursday, Sri Lanka became the latest country to bar travelers from India, joining the United States, Britain, Australia and others.

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State Department Approves Departure of Nonemergency Government Officials From India

The State Department announced on Wednesday that it would approve the voluntary departure of nonemergency U.S. government employees in India as the country battles a second wave of coronavirus infections.

According to a travel advisory posted on the State Department’s website, the agency is urging U.S. citizens to take advantage of commercial flights out of India and has also approved the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. government employees.

According to a travel advisory posted on the State Department’s website, the agency is urging U.S. citizens to take advantage of commercial flights out of India.

India’s surge in Covid-19 cases has prompted other countries to take precautions concerning who is allowed within their borders. Earlier this week Australia began a travel ban, making it a criminal offense for its citizens in India to return home — a move some have condemned as overly harsh.

restricting travel from India to the United States, although restrictions will not apply to citizens or lawful permanent residents, their spouses, minor children or siblings as well as the parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents who are under 21.

Facing mounting pressure, the administration committed to exporting materials for vaccines to India along with therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective gear.

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They Want You Back at the Office

Before, businesses had little interest in spending on such services, according to Rebecca Humphrey, an executive vice president at Savills and head of the Workplace Practice Group. “A client would say ‘I don’t want to pay for that, I just want this deal done,’” she said. “The pandemic has shifted that.”

Her Savills colleague, Mr. Lipson, said he saw possible changes for even some of the staunchest traditionalists, like white-shoe law firms in Washington. “Senior partners went home last March thinking ‘my paper, I can’t do without my paper, and I can’t do without my assistant right outside my office,’” he said. “Then they billed the same amount of hours the next week and thought, ‘huh, that went better than I thought?’”

With companies anticipating changes, and reactions to them, one new role the real estate firms may be playing is that of the scapegoat.

For businesses with employees reluctant to return to the office, the consultants’ stamp of approval can provide credibility — and a reason to make office workers come back.

“We’re very helpful to play the bad guy,” Ms. Humphrey said, noting a fair amount of business had related to auditing office plans and helping companies communicate changes or bring people back. “It helps in messaging to say ‘we brought the outside guys in’.”

Sixteen floors up in a quiet Midtown Manhattan high-rise, Joseph J. Sitt leapt to his feet and pointed to a television headline that heartened him: Remote work would soon end for New York City government employees. He had been agitating for a signal like this. “If he’s not going to have workers back in the office,” he said, “who is?”

Mr. Sitt, chief executive of Thor Equities, reopened his own workplace last July, unveiling what he called a “Covid conference room,” with chairs spaced a shade more generously. (“I guess I should call it the socially distanced conference room,” he corrected himself.) He was counting on a “violent reopening.”

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Biden Forms Task Force to Explore Ways to Help Labor

President Biden signed an executive order on Monday creating a White House task force to promote labor organizing, an attempt to use the power of the federal government to reverse a decades-long decline in union membership.

The task force, to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and populated by cabinet officials and top White House advisers, will issue recommendations on how the government can use existing authority to help workers join labor unions and bargain collectively. It will also recommend new policies aimed at achieving these goals.

The administration noted that the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law governing federal labor rights, explicitly sought to encourage collective bargaining, but that the law had never been fully carried out in this regard. “No previous administration has taken a comprehensive approach to determining how the executive branch can advance worker organizing and collective bargaining,” a White House statement declared.

Unions have lobbied for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would prohibit employers from holding mandatory anti-union meetings and impose financial penalties for violating workers’ labor rights. (Workers can currently receive only so-called make-whole remedies, like back pay.) The House passed the measure in March and Mr. Biden supports the legislation, but it faces long odds in the Senate.

signed a handful of executive orders that sought to rein in union protections and bargaining rights for federal employees. The unions challenged the orders in court, and Mr. Biden revoked them shortly after taking office.

It is not entirely clear what kind of support the federal government could provide to workers seeking to organize short of changing the law, though some labor experts have argued that Mr. Biden and his appointees could use administrative action to allow workers to bargain on an industrywide basis, known as sectoral bargaining. That would make it less necessary to win union elections work site by work site, as is often the case today.

Seth Harris, a White House labor adviser, said the task force would explore the administration’s ability to increase unionization through federal procurement law, which requires the president to promote efficiency in government contracts.

“The simple fact of the matter is having a unionized work force means they are going to be paid more, they are more likely to be more productive, more likely to stay for a long time,” Mr. Harris said. “You’ll have more skilled, more experienced workers working on government procurement. You don’t have the same labor strife.”

labor leaders regarded Mr. Biden as the most pro-union president in generations. They cited his quick ouster of Trump appointees they regarded as anti-labor, the tens of billions of dollars for shoring up union pension plans enacted in his pandemic relief bill and a video message during a recent union campaign at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama warning employers not to coerce or threaten workers who are deciding whether to unionize.

Many union advocates have compared him favorably with his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who they complained was loath to support unions vocally.

The task force comes at a particularly frustrating moment for organized labor. Roughly two-thirds of Americans approve of unions, according to a 2020 Gallup poll, but just over 6 percent of private-sector workers belong to them.

Many union officials have cited the loss in the election at Amazon, whose results were announced this month, as an illustration of the need to reform labor law and develop new organizing strategies.

Mr. Biden’s task force will solicit the views of union leaders, academics and labor advocates and is to deliver its recommendations within 180 days.

Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh will serve as vice chair of the group, which will include Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the White House economic advisers Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese, and the White House climate adviser, Gina McCarthy.

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Macron Closes ENA, in Bid to Diversify France’s Public Service

Mr. Macron embarked on a national debate to fathom the causes of the revolt, and on April 25, 2019, announced for the first time that his alma mater would be eliminated. It was a powerful symbolic gesture, but it met opposition and two years went by without any follow-up. ENA, it seemed, would survive after all.

Earlier this year, during a visit to Nantes, the president announced a program called “Talents” designed to ensure that, when it comes to elite schools for senior public service positions, “no kid from our republic ever says that this is not for me.”

Among the measures announced then was the designation of several spots a year at ENA for students from underprivileged backgrounds, particularly the dismal projects on the outskirts of big cities where many Muslim immigrants are concentrated. Thursday’s statement made clear this program would continue at the new institute.

Mr. Macron has made the modernization of the French state a priority, pushing to eliminate excessive bureaucracy and create a more efficient, performance-based public service. It is a work in progress.

The president has been criticized for focusing his energy on attracting voters to the right of the political spectrum in a bid to head off a challenge from the rightist leader Marine Le Pen. In that context, honoring a decision initially taken in response to the Yellow Vest movement and intended to promote social mobility and greater diversity in senior state posts appeared important.

“Among the vital problems in France, there is one that you are aware of every day: It’s the complete fracture between the base of society — people who work, who are retired, who are unemployed, young people, students — and the supposed elite,” Francois Bayrou, a political ally of Macron, told France Inter radio.

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In China Sex Scandal, Many See a #MeToo Moment

Even Xinhua, the official news agency, chided local officials for trying to eliminate posts about the topic. “In the face of public skepticism, the local authorities should not resort to deleting posts,” the Xinhua commentary said. “A public response is the only correct measure.”

Ms. Xu’s fight is now playing out in public to a rapt audience.

Her parents hired two lawyers from Shanghai to represent her, but the local appeals court rejected their request to meet. Instead, it appointed two legal aid lawyers, according to a post by Ms. Xu’s uncle on Weibo, the social media service. He used a verified Weibo account, meaning the Chinese censors knew his identity and tacitly approved of the comments. The post was reposted more than 66,000 times and liked over a quarter of a million times in 24 hours.

Ms. Xu’s uncle said on the account that the government officials were socially respected figures in their 40s and 50s, far more senior and powerful than his niece. Their ages aren’t clear, since the verdict disclosed only their family names and their positions.

Online watchers of the trial also amplified an article by an online news outlet in Sichuan earlier this month that said it had interviewed Ms. Xu’s father. According to the article, her father accused local authorities of making her a scapegoat and asked why they hadn’t come forward earlier.

The outlet didn’t name him, and his comments couldn’t be corroborated, though her uncle quoted it approvingly in a Weibo post. The news site deleted the article a few hours later without explanation. Still, a hashtag citing the article got 130 million views within 12 hours on Weibo.

Even as people online cheer Ms. Xu’s appeal, many acknowledge that she has a tough fight ahead. They fear she will become the latest victim of the government’s drive to prove itself right. They also believe that, in the dark corners of government offices, many female employees will have to continue putting up with their bosses’ sexual advances.

“This is not the first time this type of thing has happened,” one Weibo user wrote, “nor will it be the last time.”

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