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Blast Kills at Least 7 in Mogadishu After US Defense Secretary Visit

A huge blast went off in Mogadishu Friday, killing at least seven people, and wounding 10 others, according to Somali police. The suicide bomber blew himself up at Gelato Devino, a popular ice cream parlor near the international airport hours after acting U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher Miller made an unannounced visit to the Somali capital.The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack. Al-Shabab frequently carries out attacks in Mogadishu as part of its bid to overthrow the Somali government and impose its strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.CIA Officer Killed in Somalia, Report SaysOfficer was killed in combat, New York Times saysThe Pentagon said Friday that Miller met with U.S. military personnel and contractors in Mogadishu to express appreciation for their service and to reiterate the U.S. commitment to fighting extremist groups. Miller celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday with U.S. troops in Somalia’s capital and at Camp Lemonnier in nearby Djibouti.Miller’s surprise visit came following reports that U.S. President Donald Trump is planning to withdraw most of the 750 U.S. military personnel who are in Mogadishu, training and supporting the Somali National Army.Somali government officials and opposition leaders strongly condemned Friday’s attack. Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble sent his condolences to the families of the victims and called on Somalis to unite against terrorism.Somali police said among those killed were young professionals, including a staffer from the Somali embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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Los Angeles Issues Stay-at-Home Order to Curb COVID

A surge in new coronavirus cases has led California’s Los Angeles County to issue a new three-week, stay-at-home order which will go into effect Monday.The county had said previously that it would issue the restrictive order when new COVID-19 cases reached an average of 4,500 per day over a five-day period.On Friday, the five-day average was 4,751.The order prohibits gatherings, publicly or privately, of people who do not live in the same household.Stores deemed essential will be allowed to remain open, operating at 50% capacity. Other retail stores will remain open but will only be able to operate at 20% capacity during the holiday shopping season.U.S. health officials say the numbers of new COVID-19 cases may appear erratic in the coming days, a result of fewer tests being administered during the Thanksgiving holiday and the reduced schedules of tests sites.Reports of new cases may seem lower than usual because of the holiday, but the numbers, experts say, would not give an accurate account of where the U.S. is in fighting the virus. On Friday, the U.S. surpassed the 13 million mark in number of coronavirus cases, more than anyplace else in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and a George Washington University professor, told the Associated Press, “I just hope that people don’t misinterpret the numbers and think that there wasn’t a major surge as a result of Thanksgiving, and then end up making Christmas and Hanukkah and other travel plans.”The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals across the United States reached 90,000 Friday after nearly doubling in the last month, according to the Reuters news agency. The hospitalizations follow weeks of rising infection rates in the United States and have increased worries that the recent Thanksgiving gatherings would lead to even more infections and hospitalizations.A couple wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus passes by a statue with a face mask at a shopping street in Goyang, South Korea, Nov. 28, 2020.The British newspaper The Guardian said its partner, Kaiser Health News, has conducted a review of hundreds of U.S. health care workers’ deaths that went unreported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, even though reports of such deaths are required. The deaths that could have been workplace COVID-related were not reported to authorities in the early days of the pandemic, the report said.“Work-safety advocates say OSHA investigations into staff deaths can help officials pinpoint problems before they endanger other employees as well as patients or residents,” the newspaper said.The World Health Organization’s top vaccine expert said the agency needs to evaluate coronavirus vaccines and their immune responses based on more than just a press release.Kate O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals said at a press briefing in Geneva on Friday that it is still not clear if vaccines against COVID-19 are able to reduce people’s ability to spread the virus.”It’s really important that we actually start to get more information about what the vaccines do, not just for preventing disease, but for actually preventing the acquisition of the virus,” O’Brien said.British drugmaker AstraZeneca said Thursday it is cooperating with government regulators in investigating a manufacturing error of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.The pharmaceutical company and Oxford University have admitted that a lower dosage of the vaccine performed better than a full dosage, according to a spokesman who spoke after AstraZeneca’s CEO said a further global trial was likely.The statement comes as the company prepared to provide a temporary supply of the drug ahead of its plans to distribute 4 million doses of the vaccine by the year’s end.The England-based pharmaceutical company said earlier this week its vaccine was 70% effective overall, but there were differences between two dosing regimens. One was 90% effective. The other was 62%.Drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have also announced initial results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were nearly 95% effective.WHO has also announced that it is sending a team of 10 scientists to Wuhan, China, to investigate how COVID-19 jumped from animals to humans.Dancers wearing face shields to prevent the spread of the coronavirus perform in Tangerang, Indonesia, Nov. 28, 2020,“We need to start where we found the first cases — and that is in Wuhan in China — and then we need to follow the evidence after that wherever that leads,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies program.The team includes renowned virus hunters, public health specialists and experts in animal health from Britain, the United States, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Japan, Qatar, Germany, Vietnam and Russia.Denmark said Friday that hundreds of dead mink are reemerging from the trenches where millions of the animals were buried after being culled to stop the spread of a mutated form of the coronavirus that passed from humans to the animals and back to humans.The order to cull the 17 million mink was determined to be illegal and resulted in the resignation last week of Food and Agriculture Minister Morgens Jensen.“Zombie mink” is what the Danish media have dubbed the animals coming out of the trenches at a military area in western Denmark.Reuters reports that the animals are being “pushed out of the ground by what authorities say is gas from their decomposition.”In Ireland, the government said it would allow shops, restaurants and gyms to reopen next week after the latest round of shutdowns. Prime Minister Micheal Martin said travel would be permitted between counties in the week preceding Christmas.”We now have the opportunity to enjoy a different, but special Christmas,” he said in a televised address.Officials in France said the rate of new coronavirus infections slowed again Friday, as the country prepares to allow for the reopening Saturday of stores selling nonessential goods.Italy is also seeing a gradual decline in hospitalizations from coronavirus, leading the government to announce that it would ease restrictions in five regions from Sunday, including the populous Lombardy region.The number of coronavirus infections in Germany topped 1 million on Friday. The country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 22,806 cases overnight, bringing the country’s total since the start of the outbreak to more than 1 million.Iran on Friday announced that its government offices would operate only with essential staff because of a surge in coronavirus cases. Officials reported a record number of new cases on Friday — 14,051 — bringing the country’s total to more than 922,000.In other developments, Australia’s second-largest state, Victoria, has recorded no new coronavirus infections or deaths in the past 28 days, health officials said Friday. The state did not have any active cases after the last COVID-19 patient was discharged from the hospital Monday.While Victoria has achieved the 28-day benchmark, widely accepted by health experts as eliminating the virus from the community, cases of the coronavirus infections have been detected in other parts of the country. 

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Biden Win Means Some Guantanamo Prisoners May be Released

The oldest prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention center went to his latest review board hearing with a degree of hope, something that has been scarce during his 16 years locked up without charges at the U.S. base in Cuba.Saifullah Paracha, a 73-year-old Pakistani with diabetes and a heart condition, had two things going for him that he didn’t have at previous hearings: a favorable legal development and the election of Joe Biden.President Donald Trump had effectively ended the Obama administration’s practice of reviewing the cases of men held at Guantanamo and releasing them if imprisonment was no longer deemed necessary. Now there’s hope that will resume under Biden.“I am more hopeful now simply because we have an administration to look forward to that isn’t dead set on ignoring the existing review process,” Paracha’s attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, said by phone from the base on Nov. 19 after the hearing. “The simple existence of that on the horizon I think is hope for all of us.”Guantanamo was once a source of global outrage and a symbol of U.S. excess in response to terrorism. But it largely faded from the headlines after President Barack Obama failed to close it, even as 40 men continue to be detained there.Those pushing for its closure now see a window of opportunity, hoping Biden’s administration will find a way to prosecute those who can be prosecuted and release the rest, extricating the U.S. from a detention center that costs more than $445 million per year.Biden’s precise intentions for Guantanamo remain unclear. Transition spokesman Ned Price said the president-elect supports closing it, but it would be inappropriate to discuss his plans in detail before he’s in office.His reticence is actually welcome to those who have pressed to close Guantanamo. Obama’s early pledge to close it is now seen as a strategic mistake that undercut what had been a bipartisan issue.“I think it’s more likely to close if it doesn’t become a huge press issue,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch.The detention center opened in 2002. President George W. Bush’s administration transformed what had been a sleepy Navy outpost on Cuba’s southeastern tip into a place to interrogate and imprison people suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.FILE – A US flag flies inside the razor wire of the Camp VI detention facility in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, in April 2019.U.S. authorities maintain the men can be held as “law of war” detainees, remaining in custody for the duration of hostilities, an open-ended prospect.At its peak in 2003 — the year Paracha was captured in Thailand because of suspected ties to al-Qaida — Guantanamo held about 700 prisoners from nearly 50 countries. Bush announced his intention to close it, though 242 were still held there when his presidency ended.The Obama administration, seeking to allay concerns that some of those released had “returned to the fight,” set up a process to ensure those repatriated or resettled in third countries no longer posed a threat. It also planned to try some of the men in federal court.But his closure effort was thwarted when Congress barred the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to the U.S., including for prosecution or medical care. Obama ended up releasing 197 prisoners, leaving 41 for Trump.Trump in his 2016 campaign promised to “load” Guantanamo with “some bad dudes,” but largely ignored the issue after rescinding Obama’s policies. His administration approved a single release, a Saudi who pleaded guilty before a military commission.Of those remaining, seven men have cases pending before a military commission. They include five men accused of planning and supporting the Sept. 11 attacks. Additionally, there are two prisoners who were convicted by commission and three facing potential prosecution for the 2002 Bali bombing.Commission proceedings, including death penalty cases related to the Sept. 11 attacks, have bogged down as the defense fights to exclude evidence that resulted from torture. Trials are likely far in the future and would inevitably be followed by years of appeals.Defense attorneys say the incoming administration could authorize more military commission plea deals. Some have also suggested Guantanamo detainees could plead guilty in federal court by video and serve any remaining sentence in other countries, so they wouldn’t enter the United States.Detainee advocates also say Biden could defy Congress and bring prisoners to the U.S., arguing that the ban wouldn’t stand up in court.“It’s either do something about it or they die there without charge,” said Wells Dixon, a lawyer for two prisoners, including one who has pleaded guilty in the military commission and is awaiting sentencing.The remaining detainees include five who had been cleared for release before Trump took office and have languished since. Advocates want the Biden administration to review the rest, noting that many, had they been convicted in federal court, would have served their sentences and been released at this point.FILE – A guard tower in front of the detention facility on Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba in 2019.“Whittle it down to the folks who are being prosecuted and either prosecute them or don’t, but don’t just hang on to them,” said Joseph Margulies, a Cornell Law School professor who has represented one prisoner. “At great expense, we walk around with this thing around our necks. It does no good. It has no role for national security. It’s just a big black stain that provides no benefit whatsoever.”Over the years, nine prisoners have died at Guantanamo: seven from apparent suicide, one from cancer and one from a heart attack.Paracha’s attorney raised his health issues, which include a heart attack in 2006, at his review board, speaking by secure teleconference with U.S. security and defense agencies.She also raised an important legal development. Paracha, who lived in the U.S. and owned property in New York City, was a wealthy businessman in Pakistan. Authorities say he was an al-Qaida “facilitator” who helped two of the Sept. 11 conspirators with a financial transaction. He says he didn’t know they were al-Qaida and denies any involvement in terrorism.Uzair Paracha, his son, was convicted in 2005 in federal court in New York of providing support to terrorism, based in part on the same witnesses held at Guantanamo that the U.S. has relied on to justify holding his father. In March, after a judge threw out those witness accounts and the government decided not to seek a new trial, Uzair Paracha was released and sent back to Pakistan.Had his father been convicted in the U.S., his fate might have been the same. Instead, it will likely be in Biden’s hands and, Sullivan-Bennis said, time is of the essence. “It could be a death sentence.”

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Trump Administration Moves Ahead on Removing Bird Protections

The Trump administration moved forward Friday on removing long-standing federal protection for the nation’s birds, over objections from former federal officials and many scientists that billions more birds will likely perish as a result.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its take on the proposed rollback in the Federal Register. It’s a final step that means the change — greatly limiting federal authority to prosecute industries for practices that kill migratory birds — could be made official within 30 days.The wildlife service acknowledged in its findings that the rollback would have a negative effect on the many bird species covered by the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which range from hawks and eagles to seabirds, storks, songbirds and sparrows.The move scales back federal prosecution authority for the deadly threats migratory birds face from industry — from electrocution on power lines, to wind turbines that knock them from the air, to oil field waste pits where landing birds perish in toxic water.Industry operations kill an estimated 450 million to 1.1 billion birds annually, out of roughly 7 billion birds in North America, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and recent studies.The Trump administration maintains that the act should apply only to birds killed or harmed intentionally and is putting that change into regulation. The change would “improve consistency and efficiency in enforcement,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said.Judge’s rejectionThe administration has continued to push the migratory bird regulation even after a federal judge in New York in August rejected the administration’s legal rationale.Two days after news organizations announced President Donald Trump’s defeat by Democrat Joe Biden, federal officials advanced the bird treaty changes to the White House, one of the final steps before adoption.Trump was “in a frenzy to finalize his bird-killer policy,” David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society, said in a statement Friday. “Reinstating this 100-year-old bedrock law must be a top conservation priority for the Biden-Harris administration” and Congress.Steve Holmer with the American Bird Conservancy said the change would accelerate bird population declines that have swept North America since the 1970s.How the 1918 treaty gets enforced has sweeping ramifications for the construction of commercial buildings, electric transmission systems and other infrastructure, said Rachel Jones, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers.Jones said the changes under Trump would be needed to make sure the bird law wasn’t used in an “abusive way.” That’s a long-standing complaint from industry lawyers despite federal officials’ contention that they bring criminal charges only rarely.It’s part of a flurry of last-minute changes under the outgoing administration benefiting industry. Others would expand Arctic drilling, favor development over habitat protections for imperiled species and potentially hamstring future regulation of environmental and public health threats, among other rollbacks.

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During the Pandemic, Santa Makes Video House Calls

This holiday season, the traditional visit with Santa Claus is going digital. Virtual visits with Santa Claus are being offered as a safer way for children to interact with Santa during the pandemic, as Tina Trinh reports.

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US Appeals Court Rejects Trump Appeal Over Pennsylvania Race 

President Donald Trump’s legal team suffered yet another defeat in court Friday as a federal appeals court in Philadelphia roundly rejected its latest effort to challenge the state’s election results.Trump’s lawyers vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court despite the judge’s assessment that the “campaign’s claims have no merit.”“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote for the three-judge panel.The case had been argued last week in a lower court by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who insisted during five hours of oral arguments that the 2020 presidential election had been marred by widespread fraud in Pennsylvania. However, Giuliani failed to offer any tangible proof of that in court.U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann had said the campaign’s error-filled complaint, “like Frankenstein’s Monster, has been haphazardly stitched together” and denied Giuliani the right to amend it for a second time.The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called that decision justified. The three judges on the panel were all appointed by Republican presidents. including Bibas, a former University of Pennsylvania law professor appointed by Trump. Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, sat on the court for 20 years, retiring in 2019.Friday’s ruling comes four days after Pennsylvania officials certified their vote count for President-elect Joe Biden, who defeated Trump by more than 80,000 votes in the state. Nationally, Biden and running mate Kamala Harris garnered nearly 80 million votes, a record in U.S. presidential elections.Trump has said he hopes the Supreme Court will intervene in the race as it did in 2000, when its decision to stop the recount in Florida gave the election to Republican George W. Bush. On Nov. 5, as the vote count continued, Trump posted a tweet saying the “U.S. Supreme Court should decide!”Ever since, Trump and his surrogates have attacked the election as flawed and filed a flurry of lawsuits to try to block the results in six battleground states. But they’ve found little sympathy from judges, nearly all of whom dismissed their complaints about the security of mail-in ballots, which millions of people used to vote from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.Trump perhaps hopes a Supreme Court he helped steer toward a conservative 6-3 majority would be more open to his pleas, especially since the high court upheld Pennsylvania’s decision to accept mail-in ballots through Nov. 6 by only a 4-4 vote last month. Since then, Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett has joined the court.“The activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania continues to cover up the allegations of massive fraud,” Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis tweeted after Friday’s ruling. “On to SCOTUS!”In the case before Brann, the Trump campaign asked to disenfranchise the state’s 6.8 million voters, or at least the 700,000 who voted by mail in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other Democratic-leaning areas.“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption,” Brann wrote in his scathing ruling on Nov. 21. “That has not happened.”A separate Republican challenge that reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week seeks to stop the state from further certifying any races on the ballot. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is fighting that effort, saying it would prevent the state’s legislature and congressional delegation from being seated in the coming weeks.On Thursday, Trump said the Nov. 3 election was still far from over. Yet he offered the clearest signal to date that he would leave the White House peaceably on Jan. 20 if the Electoral College formalizes Biden’s win.“Certainly I will. But you know that,” Trump said at the White House, taking questions from reporters for the first time since Election Day.Yet on Friday, he continued to baselessly attack Detroit, Atlanta and other Democratic cities with large Black populations as the source of “massive voter fraud.” And he claimed, without evidence, that a Pennsylvania poll watcher had uncovered computer memory drives that “gave Biden 50,000 votes” apiece.All 50 states must certify their results before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14, and any challenge to the results must be resolved by Dec. 8. Biden won both the Electoral College and popular vote by wide margins.

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Philippines Looking to Reverse Course on Scrapping US Military Pact

The Philippines, an old American ally in Asia, is changing its view on whether to scrap a key U.S. military pact, as it explores new ways of benefiting from U.S. defense aid without isolating its newer superpower friend, China, analysts and officials say.Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte this month announced that cancelling the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) would be suspended for another six months, which lets U.S. troops access Philippine soil for military exercises aimed at regional security as well as local humanitarian work. Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday that in six more months “we will know” the president’s decision.The first suspension was announced in June, four months after Manila said it would fully withdraw from the 21-year-old pact.Duterte hopes the suspensions will prompt the United States – which wants to keep the agreement so its military personnel can easily reach Asia – renegotiate the two-way defense relationship with a focus not just on warding off China but also on quelling armed rebels at home, analysts believe.FILE – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his address to a Filipino business sector in suburban Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines, Oct. 13, 2016.Shortly after taking office in 2016, the leader surprised his citizens by seeking a friendship with China despite a maritime sovereignty dispute that shook the two sides from 2012 to 2016. That year, a world court said Chinese claims in the contested waterway, the South China Sea, were illegal.The Philippines president has expressed anti-American views while in office, but domestic opinion polls show that much of the public still favors close ties with Washington. Duterte’s government has acknowledged this year that China remains a threat at sea despite Chinese economic aid offered since 2016.“For the Duterte government’s perspective, there’s too much focus from the United States on U.S.-China great power competition and arming the Philippines to deal with China, rather than arming the Philippines so that the Philippines can do other missions as well,” said Derek Grossman, senior analyst with the U.S.-based Rand Corp. research institution.“By delaying the VFA further, they are keeping the agreement intact but also putting some pressure on negotiators to come up with a better deal,” he said.Philippines Breaks Major Security Agreement with USAgreement that allows US forces to be stationed on Philippine soil has long been a target of President Rodrigo DuterteForeign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. sent in February a “notice of termination” of the Visiting Forces Agreement to the U.S. Embassy in Manila, following through on an order from Duterte. He hinted later that the president was having a rethink.“Why did he change his mind? A man who does not change his mind cannot change anything,” Locsin tweeted June 3 in announcing the first suspension. “And he ran on the slogan: Change is coming.”Washington and Manila separately signed a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951. The Visiting Forces Agreement is seen as a way to execute the 1951 deal through arms sales, exchanges of intelligence and new discussions on military cooperation.Duterte probably hopes the government of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will renegotiate military ties so the Philippines can tone down maritime defenses against China and instead focus on anti-terrorism campaigns around the restive southern Philippine island Mindanao, experts say. Expect more suspensions of the VFA cancellation, they add.China or US ? Philippines Foreign Policy Plays Both SidesForeign secretary says Asia needs more US presence“It’s going to be like this until the two sides really find an agreement to better the alliance based on mutually acceptable terms,” said Aaron Rabena, research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation in Metro Manila.About 20 Muslim rebel groups operate in Mindanao and the adjacent Sulu Sea. Mindanao is a stronghold too for the Philippine communist party’s armed front.Duterte ultimately wants a superpower-neutral foreign policy like those crafted by Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, some experts say.The United States had governed the Philippines for more than five decades before granting it independence after World War II. For Washington today, the Philippines represents one in a Western Pacific chain of political allies that work together as needed to stop Chinese maritime expansion.Beijing resents U.S. military activity near the resource-laden, 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea. China, better armed than any other country in East Asia, calls 90% of the sea its own despite protests from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.“The Philippines will be friends with both sides, but it will not be taken for a ride and I think the six-month, short-term leash is also seen in the context that the Philippines and the U.S. [are] still discussing revisions of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” said Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school.Duterte’s government values its U.S. ties as well as others, Jose Manuel Romualdez, Philippines ambassador to the United States, said November 18 in a videoconference with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall.“It’s not fair to say Duterte is really just cozying up to China and it’s a zero-sum game,” the ambassador said. “We would like to have relations with all countries. We feel that our interests will be best protected by reaching out to major countries like China and even Russia to do what is best for our country.”

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Amid Pandemic, Earlier Promotions Black Friday Takes New Shape

From Walmart Inc to Best Buy, retailers have overhauled Black Friday shopping, with some assigning clerks in orange vests to serve as traffic cops, taking shoppers’ temperatures and offering “grab-and-go” merchandise, including toys, bikes and kitchen appliances to discourage lingering in store aisles.Most major retailers closed on Thanksgiving this year in a nod to the stress endured by their workers during a global health pandemic. Walmart reopened stores at 5 a.m. on Friday, directing shoppers to turn right upon entering and proceed along main aisles to shop deals before paying at registers surrounded by plastic barriers.Best Buy is opening its doors at 5 a.m. and Target, which introduced contactless self-checkout and doubled the number of parking spots for its contactless “Drive Up” pick-up service this holiday season, set a 7 a.m. opening.Traditionally, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has launched the holiday shopping season in the United States, with retailers offering steep discounts and turning a significant profit.But during this pandemic-ridden year, major retailers from Target Corp to Kohl’s Corp and Walmart rolled out online winter holiday promotions in October to capture any holiday-related spending as early as possible.Overall, the National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasts U.S. holiday retail sales will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019, for a total of $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion. That compares with an average annual increase of 2.5% over the past five years.A Walmart spokeswoman said the world’s largest retailer was not selling traditional “hot-ticket doorbuster” items in stores this Black Friday. But even as health officials around the globe encouraged people to stay home and shop online, Walmart set aside some deals only for shoppers who came into its stores—advertising items including “in-store only” savings on $5 packs of Wonder Nation’s girls’ and boys’ underwear and socks. The spokeswoman declined to comment on the ads.Lindsey Cox, 43, of Thomasville, North Carolina, said she noticed Walmart’s advertised in-store price for Christmas gnomes was much lower than on Amazon.com Inc. But she said she doesn’t plan to visit Walmart stores on Black Friday.”I could not justify going into the store right now,” the stay-at-home mother of three told Reuters. The savings is “not worth the tradeoff” of her or her family potentially being exposed to people who may be infected with coronavirus, she said.On Nov. 19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deemed “going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving” as a high-risk activity.More than half of U.S. shoppers expect to shop online on Black Friday, despite 75% of consumers taking advantage of seasonal sales, which started earlier this year, an Adobe Analytics survey predicts.However, 55% of consumers reported that sales on the Black Friday weekend feel less special due to promotions in the run up to the event, according to Adobe.Adobe expects Thanksgiving Day to come in below $6 billion in total sales, with Black Friday set to cross $10 billion in sales.The volume of Black Friday payment transactions in Britain as of 0900 GMT was down 13.2% versus last year, initial data from Barclaycard showed, with retailers of non-essential goods still shut and many in the sector spreading out online discounts throughout the month.The end of England’s second national lockdown on Dec. 2 is predicted to see a surge in transactions, surpassing Black Friday, Barclaycard, which processes nearly one pound ($1.33) in every three pounds spent in the United Kingdom, said.

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Can Recycling Be Profitable?

China used to be the world’s biggest buyer of recycled materials around the world. But that stopped in 2018, when the country banned importing recycled plastics and other scrap materials, forcing the United States and many other countries to look for a new alternative. VOA’s Keith Kocinski has more from New York.
Camera: Nick Jastrzebski    Producer: Keith Kocinski 

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CIA Officer Killed in Somalia, Report Says

A CIA officer was killed in combat in Somalia in recent days, U.S. media said Thursday without releasing details of how the agent died.The veteran officer was a member of the CIA’s Special Activities Center, a paramilitary branch that carries out some of the US intelligence agency’s most dangerous tasks, The New York Times said.The officer died of injuries suffered during an operation last week, according to CNN.The CIA has not commented publicly on the death.Washington has some 700 troops deployed in Somalia carrying out training of Somali forces and conducting counter-terrorism raids against the Al-Shabaab militant group, which Washington designated a terrorist movement in 2008.Earlier this month, Washington put on its terror blacklist the leader of an elite unit of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group blamed for a January attack in Kenya that killed three Americans.Al-Shabaab is estimated to have between 5,000 and 9,000 fighters who have vowed to overthrow the Somali government, which is supported by some 20,000 troops from the African Union.The slain US operative was a veteran of special forces operations, having previously been a member of the elite SEAL Team 6, the Times reported.The outgoing administration of President Donald Trump is considering withdrawing all US forces from Somalia by the time he leaves office in January, the paper added.At the start of his term, Trump gave the Pentagon a freer hand to expand their operations, with both air strikes and ground raids, in the war-ravaged African country.But an official report released in February said that “despite continued US air strikes in Somalia and US assistance to African partner forces, Al-Shabaab appears to be a growing threat that aspires to strike the U.S. homeland.”

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Trump Says He Will Leave White House if Biden Wins Electoral College Vote

U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday he will leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden, the closest he has come to conceding the Nov. 3 election, even as he repeated his unfounded claims of massive voter fraud.Speaking to reporters on the Thanksgiving holiday, Republican Trump said if Democrat Biden, who is to be sworn in Jan. 20, is certified the election winner by the Electoral College, he will depart the White House.But Trump said it would be hard for him to concede under the current circumstances and declined to say whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration.”This election was a fraud,” Trump insisted at the White House while continuing to offer no concrete evidence of widespread voting irregularities. Earlier Trump spoke by video link with members of the U.S. military for the holiday.Biden won the election with 306 Electoral College votes — many more than the 270 required — to Trump’s 232, and the electors are scheduled to meet Dec. 14 to formalize the outcome. Biden also leads Trump by more than 6 million in the popular vote tally.Trump has so far refused to fully acknowledge his defeat, though last week, with mounting pressure from his own Republican ranks, he agreed to let Biden’s transition process officially proceed.Asked if he would leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden, Trump said: “Certainly I will. Certainly I will. And you know that.””But I think that there will be a lot of things happening between now and the 20th of January. A lot of things,” he said. “Massive fraud has been found. We’re like a third world country.”Desperate efforts by Trump and his aides to overturn results in key states, either by lawsuits or by pressuring state legislators, have failed, and he is running out of options.In the United States, a candidate becomes president by securing the most electoral votes rather than by winning a majority of the national popular vote. Electors, allotted to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on their population, are party loyalists who pledge to support the candidate who won the popular vote in their state.Biden, Trump stay close to homeBiden and Trump both stayed close to home to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday as the coronavirus pandemic raged across the country.Biden spent the holiday in the small seaside town of Rehoboth, Delaware, where he and his wife, Jill, have a vacation home. The Bidens hosted daughter Ashley Biden and her husband, Dr. Howard Krein, for the holiday meal.The former vice president, appearing with his wife in a video message posted to his Twitter account on Thanksgiving, said his family typically holds a large gathering on the island of Nantucket off Massachusetts but would remain in Delaware this year “with just a small group around our dinner table” because of the pandemic.In the presidential-style address to a nation that has lost more than 260,000 lives to the coronavirus, the Democratic president-elect said Americans were making a “shared sacrifice for the whole country” and a “statement of common purpose” by staying at home with their immediate families.Trump often likes to celebrate holidays at his Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida. But on Thursday he remained in the Washington area, spending part of the morning at his Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, where he played a round of golf.

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Letter From Venezuelan Jail: ‘Give Me Freedom’ 

A U.S. oil executive jailed for three years in Venezuela said all he hopes for is a fair trial so that he can walk free with his name cleared and go home to his family in the United States.In a letter from prison provided exclusively to The Associated Press, Tomeu Vadell said it’s especially painful to be separated during the Thanksgiving season from his wife, three adult children and a newborn grandson he’s never held.”Before living this tragedy, these celebrations were very special times for our family,” Vadell wrote, saying he embraced the traditional American holiday after moving in 1999 from Caracas to Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a job with Venezuelan-owned Citgo. “Now, they bring me a lot of sadness.”It’s the first time Vadell or any of the other so-called Citgo 6 have spoken publicly since being arrested and charged with a massive corruption scheme. He’s held at a feared Caracas jail called El Helicoide.Despite his circumstances, Vadell held out hope for a brighter future.”During the trial, the truth has proven undeniable,” Vadell said in the four-page handwritten letter. “It proves that I am innocent.”2017 meetingVadell, 61, and the five other Citgo executives were summoned to the headquarters of the Venezuelan state-run oil firm PDVSA, the parent company of the Houston-based Citgo, for what they had been told was a budget meeting on November 21, 2017. A corporate jet shuttled them to Caracas, and they were told they’d be home for Thanksgiving.Instead, a cadre of military intelligence officers swarmed the boardroom, taking them to jail.Their trial started four months ago and closing arguments took place Thursday. That began a wait for the judge’s verdict.With their arrests, President Nicolás Maduro’s government launched a purge inside Venezuela’s once-thriving oil industry, built on the world’s largest crude reserves. It later arrested the head of PDVSA, a former oil minister and dozens of others.FILE – This undated photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020, by Venezuela’s foreign minister shows, from left, CITGO executives Jose Angel Pereira, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano in Caracas.The men accused along with Vadell are Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, brothers Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano, all now U.S. citizens, and Jose Pereira, a permanent resident.They’re charged with embezzlement stemming from a never-executed proposal to refinance $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason.” They all have said they are not guilty.The trial has played out one day a week in a downtown Caracas court. Because of the pandemic, sessions are held in front of a bank of dormant elevators in a hallway, apparently to take advantage of air flowing through open windows.Reporters and rights groups have been denied access to the hearings. There was no response to a letter addressed to Judge Lorena Cornielles seeking permission for The Associated Press to observe.The office of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said in a statement to the AP that investigators found “serious evidence” that corroborates financial crimes potentially damaging to the state-run company.”The Citgo case has developed normally during all the stages established by the Venezuelan criminal process,” the statement said. “In the next few days, we’ll know the verdict.”Held for ‘all the wrong reasons’Vadell’s attorney, Jesus Loreto, said his client appears to have been caught up in a “geopolitical conflict” of which he’s not a part. He said Vadell’s name never appeared on any of the documents prosecutors read into evidence.”There’s nothing that refers to Tomeu in any way — directly or indirectly,” he said. “This is the story of a good guy being held against his will for all the wrong reasons.”Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has negotiated the release of other Americans held by hostile governments, traveled to Caracas in July and met with Maduro.He didn’t win their freedom, but days later two of them — Cárdenas and Toledo — were freed from jail and put in house detention. Two weeks later, the long-delayed trial began.Richardson told The Associated Press that conversations with the Venezuelan government continue, despite his meeting with Maduro being “a little stormy.”Jesus Loreto, an attorney representing Tomeu Vadell, one of six U.S. oil executives jailed in Venezuela, shows a letter written by Vadell, in Caracas, Venezuela, Nov. 25, 2020.Richardson said he believes there’s an opening tied to President-elect Joe Biden’s election and a desire by Maduro to improve relations with Washington.”I think the Venezuelans have been straight with me, but more progress needs to be made,” he said. “My hope is to have something positive by Christmas.”It’s not clear what approach Biden will take toward Maduro. Trump aggressively pressed to remove Maduro through sweeping financial sanctions, and the U.S. Justice Department has indicted Maduro as a “narcoterrorist,” offering a $15 million reward for his arrest.Vadell’s letter steered clear of politics. He didn’t mention Maduro or speak about his jailers, though he did express concern about the “consequences” of speaking out.With encouragement from his family, Vadell broke his silence, taking a risk relatives said was necessary.’Light of hope illuminates us'”I believe it’s more important that the light of hope illuminates us,” Vadell wrote. “May the light of hope put an end to the sadness of my family.”The five other men did not respond to invitations The Associated Press made through their lawyers to comment.Vadell’s daughter, Cristina Vadell, 29, said in a phone interview from Lake Charles that her father isn’t the kind of person who seeks attention. Rather, he prefers to focus on work and his family.During his 35-year career with PDVSA and Citgo, Vadell ended up running a massive refinery in Lake Charles and then became vice president of refining. The letter attempts to expose this side of his life, she said.”I think he was willing to take some risks and open some hearts to allow him to come home,” she said. “I think he’s still wondering, ‘What happened?’ He went to a work meeting and never came home.”She shared photos of the family with her father, standing around a Thanksgiving turkey. Each year, they would give it a name, something like Charlie or Phillip. The past three Thanksgivings just haven’t been the same without him, she said.Vadell wrote that he’s proud to be the son of Spanish immigrants to Venezuela, where he was educated as an engineer. He brought his family to the U.S., bringing the best of the two countries together, he said.”I’m now reaching an intersection where if justice is done, I will be able to rebuild my life and try to compensate my family for all the lost moments,” Vadell wrote. “The light is intense — the hope is great — give me freedom.”

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Observers Dismayed as US Considers Troop Pullout From Somalia 

No other country has been involved in Somalia’s future as much as the United States. Now the Trump administration is thinking of withdrawing the several hundred U.S. military troops from the Horn of Africa nation at what some experts call the worst possible time.Three decades of chaos, from warlords to al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab to the emergence of an Islamic State-linked group, have ripped apart the country that only in the past few years has begun to find its footing. The U.S. Embassy returned to Somalia just last year, 28 years after diplomats and staffers fled.Somalia faces a tense election season that begins in the next few weeks to decide the presidency and parliament. United Nations experts say al-Shabab, supporting its 5,000 to 10,000 fighters on a rich diet of extorting businesses and civilians, is improving its bombmaking skills. And an ever bigger military force, the African Union’s 19,000-strong AMISOM, has begun its own withdrawal from a country whose forces are widely considered unready to assume full responsibility for security.It is not clear whether President Donald Trump will order the withdrawal of the estimated 700 U.S. military forces from Somalia, following his orders for Afghanistan and Iraq, or whether the reported urge will pass before he leaves office in January. But the idea is taken seriously, even as U.S. drone strikes are expected to continue in Somalia against al-Shabab and IS fighters from neighboring Djibouti and Kenya — where al-Shabab carried out a deadly attack against U.S. forces early this year.The U.S. Africa Command has seen a “definitive shift” this year in al-Shabab’s focus to attack U.S. interests in the region, a new report by the Department of Defense inspector general said Wednesday — and the command says al-Shabab is Africa’s most dangerous and imminent threat.Here’s what’s at stake:Counterterrorism”The first thing … it’s disastrous for Somalia’s security sector. It just causes that first panic reaction — you know, ‘Why now?’ said Samira Gaid, a Somali national security specialist who served as senior security adviser to the prime minister and special adviser to the head of AMISOM. “Especially since over the past 3½ years in particular the security sector really improved, and we tried to work closely with” the U.S., she told The Associated Press.FILE – U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Damian T. Donahoe, deputy commanding general, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, center, talks with service members during a battlefield circulation, Sept. 5, 2020, in Somalia.Recent progress includes a “war council” between the U.S. and Somali governments, she said, where the U.S. helps to draw up military plans. “We call them Somali-led operations, but really the U.S. is hand-holding us through it.”The U.S. military also trains Somalia’s elite Danab special forces that now number around 1,000, and is providing Danab with air cover and intelligence, Gaid said.Danab units are now operational in four of Somalia’s five member states, the U.S. military says, and they conducted about 80% of the Somali national army’s offensive forces in the quarter ending September 30 and nearly all operations against al-Shabab.The Danab forces also serve as a model for how the rest of Somali military forces can develop to be “more meritocracy and less clan-focused,” said Omar Mahmood, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.The loss of U.S. forces is widely seen as a gain for al-Shabab, and for the far smaller presence of hundreds of IS-affiliated fighters in Somalia’s north.Al-Shabab’s messaging has always stressed the extremist group’s staying power, national security specialist Gaid said: “These external forces will always leave.” A U.S. withdrawal will play into that narrative.SecurityWithout U.S. forces, al-Shabab “will find it easier to overrun AMISOM, let alone the Somali national army,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, co-director of the African Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, told an online event this week. And with neighboring Ethiopia’s conflict increasing pressure to withdraw more Ethiopian forces from Somalia, a U.S. troop withdrawal “is really just the worst time.”The U.S. has said implementation of the plan for Somali forces to take over the country’s security next year is “badly off track,” said the new report by the Department of Defense inspector general.FILE – U.S. Army Spc. Dominic Deitrick, assigned to the 1-186th Infantry Battalion, seen through a night-vision device, provides security, June 12, 2020, at an undisclosed location in Somalia.Somali forces cannot contain the al-Shabab threat on their own, the report said. They still rely on the international community for financial support, and yet they “sometimes go unpaid for months.”The U.S. has been the most engaged security partner in Somalia “willing to get down and dirty,” Mahmood said. But no other country appears to have the willingness to replace what U.S. forces are doing on the ground.And a withdrawal of both the U.S. and AMISOM would risk leaving the impression that “Somalia increasingly can rely less and less on external security partners,” Mahmood said.Political stabilitySomalia is on the brink of elections, with the parliamentary vote scheduled in December and the presidential one in February. What was intended to be the country’s first one-person-one-vote election in decades instead remains limited by disputes between the federal government and regional ones, which the U.S. has said also weakens command and control of Somali forces.At least keep U.S. forces in Somalia until after the elections, Felbab-Brown wrote this week, warning of possible postelection violence or al-Shabab taking advantage of any chaos.Even though U.S. forces don’t provide election security, “our problem is, with the U.S. focused on a drawdown of troops, it would not be focused on how the elections are going politically,” Gaid said.The U.S. has been one of the most vocal actors on Somalia’s election process, she said. “We were all expecting after November that the U.S. would be clear on a lot of stuff. Now it seems we have to wait.”

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Empty Seats, Delivered Feasts as Virus Changes Thanksgiving

Vivian Zayas can’t keep herself from scrolling through photos of last Thanksgiving, when her mother stood at the stove to make a big pot of rice and beans and then took a seat at the edge of the table. That was before anyone had heard of COVID-19 and before it claimed the retired seamstress. Ana Martinez died at 78 on April 1 while recovering at a nursing home from a knee replacement.  The family is having their traditional meal of turkey, yams, green beans and rice and beans — but Zayas is removing a seat from the table at her home in Deer Park, New York, this year and putting her mother’s walker in its place as a reminder of the loss.  “It’s a painful Thanksgiving. You don’t even know, should you celebrate?” asked Zayas. “It’s a lonely time.” Americans are marking the Thanksgiving holiday Thursday amid an unrelenting pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people in the United States.  Yayoi Kusama’s “Love Flies Up to the Sky” balloon is seen during the 94th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was closed to spectators due to the spread of COVID-19, in Manhattan, New York City, November 26, 2020.Turkey and pies will still come out ovens, football will still be on TV, families will still give thanks and have lively conversations about politics. But this holiday has been utterly altered after months filled with sorrows and hardships: Many feasts are weighed down by the loss of loved ones; others have been canceled or scaled back with the virus surging. Zoom and FaceTime calls have become a fixture at dinner tables to connect with family members who don’t want to travel. Far fewer volunteers are helping at soup kitchens or community centers. A Utah health department has been delivering boxes of food to residents who are infected with the virus and can’t go to the store. A New York nursing home is offering drive-up visits for families of residents struggling with celebrating the holiday alone. “The holidays make it a little harder,” said Harriet Krakowsky, an 85-year-old resident of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York who misses the big Thanksgiving celebrations of years past and has lost neighbors and friends to the virus. “I cry, but I get over it. We have to go on.” On any normal Thanksgiving Day, Kara McKlemurry and her husband would drive from their Clearwater, Florida, home to one of two places: his family’s home in another part of the state or her family’s house in Alabama. This year, McKlemurry informed her family there would be no visits because of the pandemic. And when her in-laws offered to stop by, the couple said no. Kara McKlemurry poses for a photo while writing Thanksgiving notes to family and friends at her home, November 19, 2020, in Clearwater, Florida. On any normal Thanksgiving Day, McKlemurry and her husband would gather with family.She and her husband didn’t want to risk infecting anyone or getting the virus themselves.  Not everyone followed McKlemurry’s example. Millions of Americans bought tickets to fly somewhere for the holiday, crowding airports despite pleas from officials to avoid travel and gatherings.  Still, McKlemurry, 27, wanted to do something unique to mark this unusual holiday — something to let everyone know that she and her husband still feel blessed this year. So, a week before Thanksgiving, armed with colored pens and stickers of owls with scarves, she hand wrote notes of gratitude to every member of the family.  “We’re so grateful to have you in our lives,” she wrote on a card with a cartoon fox, “even if we can’t actually be together this year for the holidays.” In the nation’s capital, the convention center is empty unlike in previous years, when volunteers have worked together to serve a meal to about 5,000 people. In the era of social distancing, the sponsored event had to be reimagined.  Ahead of the holiday, organizers delivered to 20 nonprofits 5,000 gift bags, each with winter clothing accessories, hand sanitizer and a mask, and 5,000 boxes that included a turkey sandwich with condiments, a side potato salad, a cookie and utensils. From start to finish, Thanksgiving is different this year for Jessica Franz, a nurse who works the graveyard shift at Olathe Medical Center, in a Kansas City suburb.  For one, Franz, 39, is celebrating without her mother-in-law, Elaine Franz, who died of the coronavirus on November 10, just one day before her 78th birthday. In previous years, her mother-in-law, who was Mennonite, would lay out a spread for her children and grandchildren. At Franz’s work, in a typical year, co-workers would bring food for a potluck.  Nurse Jessica Franz shows a photo of her mother-in-law, Elaine Franz, outside Olathe Medical Center after working the graveyard shift November 26, 2020, in Olathe, Kansas. Elaine Franz died November 10 after contracting COVID-19.None of that is happening this year. The family is shifting the festivities to Zoom and FaceTime. It’s been hard for her daughters — ages, 2, 8 and 11. Her middle daughter was exposed to the coronavirus at school and is quarantined until December 3, and her oldest daughter is struggling with the concept of a scaled-back holiday. “We had a good conversation that was, ‘This year may be different, and that’s OK. It is one year. If things are different this year and that means we get to see all the rest of our family next year, it is OK,'” said Franz, who has personally cared for patients dying of coronavirus.  The Thanksgiving gathering at David Forsyth’s home in Southern California, meanwhile, comes with a uniquely 2020 feel: rapid virus tests at the door to decide who gets inside. The kit costs about $1,000 for 20 tests, each of which involve pricking a finger and putting a drop of blood on a tray. Ten minutes later the results either show someone is negative, has antibodies or is positive. Normally, about 15 to 20 people attend the family’s Thanksgiving dinner in Channel Islands Harbor. But this year, it will be only eight of them: Forsyth, his wife, her four adult sons and the partners of two of them.  His wife started cooking Tuesday. She’s planning a cold cucumber soup for a starter and bunch of appetizers for the early afternoon meal. The sons are bringing side dishes. Turkey and the fixings are the main course. Champagne may be cracked. Forsyth hasn’t seen his family much during the pandemic but wanted to save the holiday.  “People are trying to live a normal life,” he said. “And, you know, with the second wave coming now, it’s not a bad idea to be prepared.” Kerry Osaki, right, helps his wife, Lena Adame, in the kitchen in their Fountain Valley, California, home, November 25, 2020. This year, their traditions have fallen to the pandemic that took the life of Osaki’s 93-year-old mother.Kerry Osaki longs to see his now-grown children, without masks, and hug them. But instead he and his wife are celebrating just the two of them after their traditions were upended. Osaki’s 93-year-old mother, Rose, who lived with the couple in Orange County in California, died from the virus after all three got sick. With his mother gone, Osaki, 67, and his cousin decided to pass on the family’s annual Thanksgiving get-together. His wife, Lena Adame, typically spent the holiday cooking a spread of turkey and stuffing with her relatives — but some had seen virus cases at their workplaces, so the couple decided to skip that, too. “It’s just been a long, rough and sometimes sad year,” he said. In Ogden, Utah, Evelyn Maysonet stepped out of her home Tuesday morning to find boxes overflowing with canned goods, desserts and a turkey. She has been isolating with her husband and son since all three tested positive for COVID-19.  None of them has been able to leave to buy groceries, so they were thrilled to receive the health department’s delivery — and the chance to cherish the things that matter most. “As long as you have a life and you’re still alive, just make the best of it with you and your family,” Maysonet said.  

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EU Parliament Backs Lobster Deal And EU-US Mini Trade Pact

Thanksgiving just got a little bit better for the Maine lobster industry.
The European Union parliament on Thursday approved a mini trade deal with the United States, which includes the elimination of customs duties on U.S. lobster imports. The passage with 638 votes for, 45 against and 11 abstentions was the last major political step for the deal to come into effect.
As a result, the 27-nation EU will drop its 8% tariff on U.S. lobsters for the next five years and work to make the move permanent.
U.S. lobster imports to the EU came to about $111 million in 2017 before falling off in the face of rising tensions between the trading partners, and an EU trade agreement with Canada that allowed its lobsters to enter the bloc tariff-free.
Because of it, said EU legislator Bernd Lange, “we have seen a drop in demand by 50% in Maine, which is obviously quite serious. So now we are making an offer to allow American lobster to come tariff-free into the EU.”
For its part, the U.S. agreed to cut in half tariffs on EU imports worth about $160 million a year, including some prepared meals, crystal glassware and cigarette lighters. The tariff cuts will be retroactive to Aug. 1.
The deal approved on Thursday covers only a tiny portion of trans-Atlantic trade with the U.S., but the EU hopes it will have some symbolic value. And for the lobster industry, already hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, every piece of good news is welcome.
For the EU, which has had acrimonious relations with the Trump administration, a sign of goodwill will never hurt.
“We have more in common than divides us,” said Lange. “This piece of legislation is an offer: it’s not about lobster for all. It’s about cooperation instead of confrontation.”

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EU Parliament Backs Lobster Deal And EU-US Mini Trade Pact

Thanksgiving just got a little bit better for the Maine lobster industry.
The European Union parliament on Thursday approved a mini trade deal with the United States, which includes the elimination of customs duties on U.S. lobster imports. The passage with 638 votes for, 45 against and 11 abstentions was the last major political step for the deal to come into effect.
As a result, the 27-nation EU will drop its 8% tariff on U.S. lobsters for the next five years and work to make the move permanent.
U.S. lobster imports to the EU came to about $111 million in 2017 before falling off in the face of rising tensions between the trading partners, and an EU trade agreement with Canada that allowed its lobsters to enter the bloc tariff-free.
Because of it, said EU legislator Bernd Lange, “we have seen a drop in demand by 50% in Maine, which is obviously quite serious. So now we are making an offer to allow American lobster to come tariff-free into the EU.”
For its part, the U.S. agreed to cut in half tariffs on EU imports worth about $160 million a year, including some prepared meals, crystal glassware and cigarette lighters. The tariff cuts will be retroactive to Aug. 1.
The deal approved on Thursday covers only a tiny portion of trans-Atlantic trade with the U.S., but the EU hopes it will have some symbolic value. And for the lobster industry, already hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, every piece of good news is welcome.
For the EU, which has had acrimonious relations with the Trump administration, a sign of goodwill will never hurt.
“We have more in common than divides us,” said Lange. “This piece of legislation is an offer: it’s not about lobster for all. It’s about cooperation instead of confrontation.”

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