Moderna produces first batch of South African coronavirus vaccine

Pharmaceutical company Moderna said it has produced the first batch of doses of a new vaccine with increased efficacy against a new strain of coronavirus that has proven to be more resistant to the company’s original vaccine.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company said it has sent doses of the new vaccine to the National Institutes of Health to conduct the first human trial of the modified vaccine. It can start within a few weeks.

The new vaccine, codenamed mRNA-1273.351, is designed to provide greater protection against a variant of the virus that was first discovered in South Africa but has since spread to other countries.

Other companies, including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, said they are also modifying their vaccines or working on boosters that better match new variants of the virus.

Democrats failed to include a clause on raising the minimum wage in the economic aid package

Senate MP Elizabeth McDonough has ruled that the House cannot include President Joe Biden’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour in a $ 1.9 trillion pandemic-related economic aid bill.

Democrats and progressives hoped to include a clause in the bill to raise the minimum wage to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden is “disappointed with this decision” and “will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best way forward because no one in this country should live in poverty, working full-time.”

However, the leading Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Lindsay Graham, welcomed the decision.

“I am delighted that a Senate MP ruled that raising the minimum wage is inappropriate in the budgetary reconciliation process,” he tweeted.

House of Representatives passes LGBTQ rights bill

The House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a landmark LGBTQ rights bill that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in many areas, including employment, housing, education, public spaces, credit and jury service.

“The LGBTQ community has waited long enough,” said Rhode Island Democratic Congressman David Sisillini, who introduced the bill. “The time has come to extend freedom and equality to all Americans, no matter who they love or who they love.”

The bill was passed by 224 votes to 206.

Voices were largely split along party lines, with only three Republicans supporting the bill.

A similar document was submitted for consideration in the Senate on Tuesday, where a fierce battle could flare up around it, since it is required to overcome the threshold of 60 votes.

However, the bill has now received support from the White House. During his presidential campaign, President Joe Biden said that passing the Equality Act would be one of his priorities in his first 100 days in office.

The bill expands the protection against discrimination in the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

US concerned about Russian court ruling against two followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses

The United States said it was concerned about reports that a Russian court sentenced Valentina Baranovskaya and her son Roman Baranovsky to prison for being followers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement.

The woman is to spend two years in the colony, and her son six.

“The verdict handed down to Valentina, a 69-year-old woman who suffered a stroke, is especially harsh,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “This is also the first time that a Russian court has passed a sentence against a woman who is a follower of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

“The ruling of the Russian court is yet another manifestation of the ongoing persecution of members of religious minorities in Russia,” the spokesman continued.

According to him, since the Supreme Court of Russia declared Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization in 2017, 52 followers of the movement have been sentenced to imprisonment, including Alexander Ivshin, who was recently sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, which is the harshest decision of a Russian court in cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“We call on Russia to lift the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and respect the right of all citizens to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief,” Price said.

Legislators propose to recognize the Coordination Council of the Belarusian opposition

The Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives approved the draft resolution, which recognizes the Coordination Council of the Belarusian Opposition as a legitimate institution to participate in the dialogue on the peaceful transfer of power.

At the same time, the committee stated that the presidential elections in Belarus in August were neither free nor fair, and therefore the US Congress “does not recognize the results announced by the government, and Alexander Lukashenko is the legitimate president of Belarus.”

The document, which requires approval by the full House of Representatives, calls for continued cooperation between the United States and its transatlantic allies “in search of ways to support the democratic movement in Belarus.”

The resolution also calls for the adoption of further targeted sanctions in coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and other allies and partners.

According to the document, sanctions should be directed against Belarusian officials who “committed human rights violations and participated in actions that led to the falsification of the election results on August 9, 2020”.

US military launched an airstrike on pro-Iranian militants in Syria

The US military on Thursday launched an airstrike in Syria on a structure belonging to an Iranian-backed paramilitary group. Reuters was the first to report this. A Pentagon source confirmed this information in a commentary to Voice of America.

According to the interlocutor of the Voice of America, the blow was struck on “a target used by several groups supported by Iran.” The source added that the attack was carried out to prevent further gunfire by the militants, and “in response to recent shelling by US and coalition forces.”

Reuters sources confirmed that the attack against Iranian-backed militants in Syria was approved by President Joe Biden.

A little later, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced that a “defensive precision strike” was launched tonight on targets in Syria associated with the militant groups Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada. Both groups enjoy the support of Iran.

According to Kirby, the airstrikes against militants based in eastern Syria were carried out “at the direction of President Biden.” As a result of the strikes, the US military destroyed a number of facilities located at a border checkpoint used by militants supported by Iran.

“This commensurate military response was carried out along with diplomatic measures, including consultations with Coalition partners. This operation is a clear signal that President Biden will act to protect American and coalition military personnel. At the same time, we … are striving to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq, ”the Pentagon spokesman added.

Michael McCall, the top Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee, supported the military’s actions.

“I have called on the administration to respond to the recent attacks on US and Coalition forces, and I thank (the administration) for that. Such responses are a necessary deterrent and remind Iran, its puppets and our adversaries around the world that attacks on American forces are unacceptable. I thank the President and our troops for protecting Americans overseas, ”McCall said.

Politico: Democratic group urged Biden to reconsider the use of nuclear weapons

About three dozen Democratic congressmen wrote to President Joe Biden asking him to relinquish his sole authority to use nuclear weapons, Politico reported.

“There are real risks to empowering one person with this power,” says a letter initiated by Congressman Jimmy Panetta and received by Politico. “Previous presidents have threatened to use nuclear weapons against other countries or displayed behavior that prompted other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.”

“While any president will presumably consult with advisers before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no such requirement,” the letter said, quoted by the publication. – The military are obliged to obey the order if they deem it legal under the laws of war. The current state of the US nuclear forces makes it possible to launch such an attack within minutes. “

According to Politico, Democrats are offering a range of alternatives.

Specifically, they demand that other officials in the line of succession, such as the Vice President or Speaker of the House of Representatives, support the launch order. At the same time, “in case of disagreement, none of them can be removed by the president.”

Democrats have previously expressed concern that previous President Donald Trump had such powers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, in January discussed with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milli, the protection of nuclear codes from a “derailed president.”

Biden lifts visa bans imposed by Trump

US President Joe Biden canceled a proclamation issued by his predecessor that barred many residence permit applicants and temporary foreign workers from entering the United States.

Former President Donald Trump issued a ban last year, stating the need to protect American workers amid high unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden dismissed this argument in a proclamation issued Wednesday overturning visa bans.

The Democrat President said they were interfering with family reunification in the United States and damaging American business.

Biden has pledged to reverse many of Trump’s tough immigration decisions. Immigration lawyers in recent weeks have demanded that he lift visa bans, which expired on March 31.

Judge bans Biden’s administration from imposing a moratorium on deportation

A federal judge indefinitely barred President Joe Biden’s administration from imposing a 100-day moratorium on most deportations.

District Judge Drew Tipton issued a preliminary injunction sought by Texas authorities, who argued that the moratorium violated federal law and could incur additional costs to the state.

During the campaign, Biden proposed a 100-day hiatus in deportations as part of a broader overhaul of immigration law enforcement and an effort to re-prioritize former President Donald Trump.

Operational error led to major disruption of the Fed’s electronic financial services

The Federal Reserve System (FRS), which serves as the central bank of the United States, announced on Wednesday that the electronic services Fedwire Funds, Fedcash and bank check clearing services have resumed normal operation after a three-hour disruption to more than a dozen critical payment services that form the basis of the country’s banking system. This is reported by many media outlets, including Reuters.

The Fed added that the work of electronic applications was also restored: the National Settlement Service (NSS) and the Fedwire securities operations service, which provides services for the issuance, settlement and transfer of treasury and other government securities.

“Our technical team determined that an operational error at the Federal Reserve was the cause of the crash,” the Fed said in a statement on Wednesday. The banks in the federal system have done everything necessary to restore the Fedwire and NSS applications.

The system service outage began around 11:15 AM ET, and four hours later, at 2:58 PM, the Fed’s website continued to post an emergency announcement in several service areas.

Affected services facilitate the clearing (cashing) process of checks and allow multi-billion dollar payments to pass through the financial system every day.

Fedwire Funds is “the leading electronic money transfer service that banks, businesses and government agencies rely on for critical, same-day transactions,” the Fed’s website says.

Fedwire Funds processed more than 835,000 transactions per day on average in December with an average daily volume of $ 3.4 trillion.