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Biden to meet with bipartisan group to discuss $2tn infrastructure plan – live | US news

Biden is preparing to name Republican Cindy McCain to a coveted ambassador post in Western Europe in what would be his administration’s first Republican appointee to a Senate-confirmed position.

McCain is undergoing vetting to be nominated for U.S. ambassador to the U.N. World Food Programme, a mission based in Rome, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter. …

As chair of the McCain Institute board of trustees, McCain has worked on curbing world hunger and human trafficking. During the 2008 campaign, she traveled to Georgia with the U.N.’s World Food Programme to visit wounded soldiers after a Russian invasion and also monitored the program’s work in Southeast Asia and Africa.

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Prince William Calls Prince Philip An ‘Extraordinary Man’ In Touching Tribute

Prince William shared a statement mourning the loss of Prince Philip on Monday, days after Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth’s husband had died at age 99.

“I feel lucky to have not just had his example to guide me, but his enduring presence well into my own adult life – both through good times and the hardest days,” the Duke of Cambridge said in a statement on Monday. 

“I will always be grateful that my wife had so many years to get to know my grandfather and for the kindness he showed her,” William continued. “I will never take for granted the special memories my children will always have of their great-grandpa coming to collect them in his carriage and seeing for themselves his infectious sense of adventure as well as his mischievous sense of humour!”

The royal family announced the Duke of Edinburgh died on Friday in a statement on behalf of the queen. 

“It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,” said the statement, which was also shared on the family’s social media accounts. “His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.”

“The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss,” the announcement added.



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California, Illinois, Washington lift vaccine restrictions

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Bulgarian PM reveals price for EU’s new vaccine contract with Pfizer

SOFIA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has revealed that a big new vaccine supply contract that the European Union is seeking from Pfizer-BioNTech from 2022 will be at a significantly increased price.

The bloc is seeking the new supply deal with the two companies for up to 1.8 billion vaccines, of which is 900 million optional, to be delivered in 2022 and 2023, Reuters reported on Friday.

Borissov, speaking on Sunday, said the EU was negotiating the new contract at a price of 19.5 euros ($23.22) per dose.

“The prices are going up quickly,” Borissov said during a trip to a village in southern Bulgaria.

“Pfizer’s (price) was 12 euros, then increased to 15.5 euros. Now for 2022 and 2023 the European Union contracts are being signed for 900 million vaccines, but already at a price of 19.5 euros,” he said.

That is a significant increase from 15.5 euros per dose the EU has paid for the 600 million Pfizer shots it has so far contracted, according to an EU internal document and officials.

An EU official involved in talks with vaccine makers confirmed the price cited by Borissov for the new contract but said negotiations had not been wrapped up yet.

The new contract would cover variants, meaning that the companies would offer enhanced shots if mutations of the coronavirus became prevalent, a second EU official said.

Borissov said: “Roughly this will cost 18 billion euros, at least … That means that in the new budgets financial experts should earmark bigger, much bigger buffers for vaccines.”

Borissov’s government was among EU states who initially declined to buy their full share of Pfizer shots secured by the EU because they considered the vaccine too expensive, several EU officials have said.

The Balkan country of 7 million people, which has initially bet mainly on the AstraZeneca vaccine, has suffered from delays and decreased deliveries of its vaccines to the EU.

At present, Sofia has vaccinated some 7.7% of its population with a first dose, the slowest rate in the EU.

Borissov said his centre-right government has secured the deliveries of some 2.7 million Pfizer doses until the middle of June that should speed up rollout and ensure herd immunity for Bulgarians.

($1 = 0.8403 euros)

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Editing by Jane Merriman)

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COPY OF Iran blames Israel for Natanz nuclear plant outage, vows revenge

By Parisa Hafezi 

  DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Monday accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging its key Natanz nuclear site and vowed revenge for an attack that appeared to be latest episode in a long-running covert war. 

  Iran’s semi-official Nournews website said the person who caused an electricity outage in one of the production halls at the underground uranium enrichment plant had been identified. “Necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person,” the website reported, without giving details about the person. 

  The incident occurred amid diplomatic efforts by Iran and the United States to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, an accord Israel fiercely opposed, after former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago. 

  Last week, Iran and the global powers held what they described as “constructive” talks to salvage the deal, which has unravelled as Iran has breached its limits on sensitive uranium enrichment since Trump reimposed harsh sanctions on Tehran. 

  Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of “nuclear terrorism” and said Tehran reserved the right to take action against the perpetrators. 

  On Monday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explicitly blamed Israel. “The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions… We will not fall into their trap…We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks,” Zarif was quoted by state TV as saying. 

  “But we will take our revenge against the Zionists.” 

  Multiple Israeli media outlets have quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying the country’s Mossad spy service carried out a successful sabotage operation at the underground Natanz complex, potentially setting back enrichment work there by months. Israel has not formally commented on the incident. 

  Iranian nuclear energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said an emergency power system had been activated at Natanz to offset the outage. “Enrichment of uranium has not stopped in the site.” 

  ADVANCED CENTRIFUGES 

  The incident took place a day after Tehran, which has insisted it wants only peaceful nuclear energy not nuclear bombs from the enrichment process, launched new advanced centrifuge machines at Natanz. 

  “All of the centrifuges that went out of circuit at Natanz site were of the IR-1 type,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference, referring to Iran’s first generation of enrichment machines more vulnerable to outages. 

  “Our nuclear experts are assessing the damage but I can assure you that Iran will replace damaged uranium enrichment centrifuges in Natanz with advanced ones.” 

  Modernised centrifuges can refine uranium to higher fissile purity at a much faster rate, helping accumulate a stockpile that could shorten Iran’s route to a nuclear weapon, if it chose to develop them, than the IR-1 that still predominates in Natanz’s production halls. 

  The 2015 deal only allows Iran to enrich with up to 5,060 IR-1 machines, in a plant designed to house around 50,000, but it has begun enriching at Natanz with hundreds of advanced centrifuges including the IR-2m. 

  Despite strong Israeli opposition, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is committed to rejoining the deal if the Islamic Republic returns to full compliance with restrictions on nuclear fuel production. 

  Khatibzadeh said nuclear talks would resume on Wednesday in Vienna. Diplomatic headway has been made, delegates said on Friday. Iran insists all U.S. sanctions crippling its oil-based economy must be lifted first before it stops accelerating enrichment and restores caps on the process. 

  At a ceremony on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no direct reference to Natanz, though said: “The fight against Iran’s nuclearisation…is a massive task.” 

  There have been sporadic episodes of sabotage and outages at Iranian nuclear installations for over a decade, for which Tehran has blamed Israel, which regards the Iranian uranium enrichment drive as a menace to its existence. 

  In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz, causing damaging breakdowns of centrifuge cascades that refine uranium. 

  In July last year, a fire broke out at Natanz that Iran said was an attempt by Israel to sabotage its enrichment activity. 

  Iran also accused Israel of responsibility for last November’s ambush killing outside Tehran of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was regarded by Western intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement. 

  (Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Francois Murphy in Vienna; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich) 

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Food delivery app Menulog will treat drivers as employees in Australia

Food delivery app Menulog will soon treat its Australian delivery drivers as employees instead of independent contractors, ditching the framework that its peers have stubbornly clung to for years. It’s a massive change, and one that may have far-reaching implications.

Menulog’s huge shift from a contractor model to an employee one was announced by managing director Morten Belling during the Senate Select Committee on Job Security‘s Monday hearing. The committee is currently conducting an inquiry into workers’ rights and wages in Australia’s gig economy, among other issues.

“We are committed to the safety of our couriers, providing them with insurance cover and a fair income,” said Belling in his statement, which was subsequently supplied to Mashable. “While we are compliant with local laws, we believe there is more we can do for couriers, to better meet our evolved values and moral standards.”

Debate over the classification of gig workers has been a hot issue across the globe. Last November, California voted to continue classifying ride-hailing companies’ drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, denying them employee rights and benefits. This came after aggressive campaigning from Lyft and Uber, who threatened to suspend their Californian operations if forced to make drivers employees. In contrast, in the UK Supreme Court in February, which ruled that the company’s UK drivers should be classed as workers and not as self-employed — drivers will now receive the National Living Wage, as well as benefits. 

Now Menulog, one of Australia’s biggest food delivery platforms, has voluntarily broken with the corporate ranks.

“We owe it to our couriers to help enhance their life standards and as such, we have begun looking at how we can improve the way we operate and, as part of this, how we can roll out an employee model in Australia,” said Belling.

A Menulog spokesperson told Mashable they don’t have have many details on exactly how or when the change will be implemented, particularly at this early stage. However, Belling did state that it currently involves a “three-pronged approach.”

First, the company will increase its insurance cover and examine delivery drivers’ leave entitlements and superannuation. Next, it will start a pilot program to employ some of its couriers in the Sydney CBD. And finally, it will consult with stakeholders and apply for a new Modern Award with Australia’s Fair Work Commission.

This last point is particularly interesting. In Australia, awards lay out legal conditions of employment for particular occupations, including pay and leave entitlements. Australia’s minimum wage of $19.49 per hour is set by an award. 

Employed food delivery drivers are currently covered by the Road Transport and Distribution Award 2020. This award sets a minimum hourly rate of $21.01 for couriers traveling by bike or foot, and $21.54 if they deliver via car or motorcycle. It also stipulates that casual employees must be paid for a minimum of four hours per engagement, regardless of how long they actually work.

Menulog most likely considers these requirements onerous and incompatible with its services, hence its desire to introduce a new award. 

“Ultimately, we want to employ couriers, however the current regulatory framework presents a number of challenges, with specific regards to existing modern awards, the lack of flexibility they present and subsequent cost,” said Belling.

Such issues mean that employment for all of Menulog’s delivery drivers is still a long way from being a reality, the company having warned that switching from a contractor model to employee model will be a lengthy process. Still, it’s an undeniably bold new step for the gig economy.

“Due to the timing of the hearing today, we are sharing this update on these intended changes sooner than anticipated,” said Belling. “However, we strongly believe it is the right approach for this market and we are committed to progressing with it.”

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Black Lives Matter activists want investigation of leader after real-estate binge – HotAir

If there’s one thing that unites activists the political left and the political right, it’s … grift. From ultra-nationalists to Marxists, eventually someone figures out how to use organizing to get rich. This time around it’s the turn of Black Lives Matter activists, who are shocked, shocked to find their founder and leader Patrisse Khan-Cullors buying up high-end real estate with seven-figure price tags:

As protests broke out across the country in the name of Black Lives Matter, the group’s co-founder went on a real estate-buying binge, snagging four high-end homes for $3.2 million in the US alone, according to property records.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, 37, also eyed property in the Bahamas at an ultra-exclusive resort where Justin Timberlake and Tiger Woods both have homes, The Post has learned. Luxury apartments and townhouses at the beachfront Albany resort outside Nassau are priced between $5 million and $20 million, according to a local agent.

The self-described Marxist last month purchased a $1.4 million home on a secluded road a short drive from Malibu in Los Angeles, according to a report. The 2,370 square-foot property features “soaring ceilings, skylights and plenty of windows” with canyon views. The Topanga Canyon homestead, which includes two houses on a quarter acre, is just one of three homes Khan-Cullors owns in the Los Angeles area, public records show.

This started off with the discovery last week that Khan-Cullors had bought a pricey “mini-compound” in Topanga Canyon, a part of Los Angeles that is far from the “struggle.” She purchased the quarter-acre site with two dwellings from an unnamed corporation for a cool $1.4 million, which isn’t exactly a redistribution of the wealth:

A secluded mini-compound tucked into L.A.’s rustic and semi-remote Topanga Canyon was recently sold for a tad more than $1.4 million to a corporate entity that public records show is controlled by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, 37-year-old social justice visionary and co-founder of the galvanizing and, for some, controversial Black Lives Matter movement. …

A winding 15 minute drive from The Commons at Calabasas and a slightly longer and somewat less serpentine drive from Malibu’s Getty Villa, the pint-sized compound spans about one-quarter of an acre. The property’s not-quite 2,400 square feet is divided between the a three-bedroom and two-bath main house and a separate one-bed/one-bath apartment capable of hosting guests long term with a private entry and a living room with kitchenette.

It sounds like a nice place to live, and $1.4 million isn’t exactly a surprising amount for a property in that area of Los Angeles. If she got the cash from the book, no one would question it, but that kind of money is unusual from book sales, even from a prominent figure in the news. However, the scope of Khan-Cullors’ real-estate “binge” has BLM activists demanding an independent investigation into the group’s finances:

Hawk Newsome, the head of Black Lives Matter Greater New York City, called for “an independent investigation” to find out how the global network spends its money.

“If you go around calling yourself a socialist, you have to ask how much of her own personal money is going to charitable causes,” he said. “It’s really sad because it makes people doubt the validity of the movement and overlook the fact that it’s the people that carry this movement.”

If you go around calling yourself a socialist, you probably shouldn’t keep snapping up personal property in the form of real estate. (One could ask Bernie Sanders about that, too.) Socialists oppose personal property, especially in the form of real estate, and especially when the wealthy collect more of it than they can use at any one time. Investments in real estate are usually the hallmark of capitalists, and occasionally grifters as well.

So which is Khan-Cullors? We’ll see what she has to say about her investment portfolio, assuming she answers these questions at all. In the meantime, perhaps the rest of the world will take a step back from BLM and perform the due diligence that they should have exercised about it from the beginning. That’s a lesson that people across the political spectrum need to keep relearning, not just the Left.

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Texas has a cautionary tale for Biden’s infrastructure plan — Quartz

Orphaned wells are poised to overwhelm the US. Millions of oil and gas wells have been abandoned by drilling companies around the country. More are expected as bankruptcy or dwindling oil supplies leave companies unable to pay for their clean up.

These orphaned wells, often leaking methane into the air and other pollutants into local groundwater, have been targeted in President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure plan seeking to allocate $16 billion to “put hundreds of thousands to work in union jobs plugging oil and gas wells.”

It’s a laudable goal. But the recent experience of Texas, home to more of these wells than any other state, shows that without better financial regulation of oil companies, that money won’t put a cap on the problem. Instead, it could put taxpayers on the hook for a ballooning expense while some company executives cash out—even though the overall infrastructure plan is billed as eliminating subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

“We’re rewarding the worst-performing operators,” said Virginia Palacios, executive director of Commission Shift, an advocacy group focused on the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency. “Without substantive reform attached to [the Biden plan’s] funding, you’re sending the message that it’s ok to socialize the cost of bad business.”

How taxpayers get stuck with orphan wells

Texas was once a pioneer in orphan well remediation. Since the early 1990s, it has channeled some tax revenue from oil companies into a cleanup fund, and also required drillers to pay for cleanup bonds upfront, so they couldn’t stick the state with the bill if they went bankrupt. The program is working in a sense: Texas plugs about 1,800 wells per year.

But that’s the same number of wells that are being abandoned annually as well. The total number of orphaned wells in the state has stalled around 6,000 for more than a decade, according to state data. Now, Texas is a ticking time bomb. According to a terrific April 5 analysis by Grist and The Texas Observer, at least 12,000 wells are poised to be abandoned just in the next four years. The number could be still higher—and more of the cleanup cost shifted to taxpayers—if Texas continues to lead the nation in oil and gas bankruptcies, a trend started by the long-term collapse of shale drilling and accelerated by the pandemic.

“Texas is known for having one of the better plugging programs, but we’re still so far behind,” Palacios said.

The main reason is that bonds are far too low. In Texas, bonds can cost as little as $2,500 per well, even though the actual median cost to plug a well and remediate the surface around is $48,000, according to Resources for the Future. Altogether, bond revenue in Texas covers less than 16% of actual plugging costs; 43%, meanwhile, comes from the state’s general coffers. And that’s actually better than most states: Nationwide, bonds cover just 1% of the $280 billion total projected cleanup cost for all oil and gas wells.

The solution is a race to better bonding

Bonding requirements need to be much higher, and any federal funding for well cleanup should be restricted to states that adopt them, Palacios said. One of Biden’s supporters on the plan, Colorado senator Michael Bennet, has pushed legislation that would set a federal minimum of $200,000 to cover all of a company’s wells in a given state, which is less than what Texas requires for companies with more than 100 wells, but above the requirement of some other states. That type of minimum could be adopted in the Biden plan.

Another issue, Palacios said, is the judicial system. Too often during bankruptcy proceedings, remediation costs are shunted to the back of the breadline after creditors, executives, employees, and vendors take their share of the company’s assets. Taxpayers have to pick up the remainder. In one 2019 bankruptcy case, an oil company dumped $10 million cleanup costs on the state the year after paying its top executives nearly $9 million. State judges should commit to prioritizing the payment of cleanup costs, she said, and consider holding company principles personally accountable or bar those with outstanding cleanup costs from starting new drilling companies, as many often do.

Lastly, more research is needed on the real costs of sealing different types of wells, and on tracking their emissions. In a recent paper, University of Michigan economist Daniel Raimi argued that wells with low methane leakage but high sealing costs (those that are particularly deep, for example) may not be worth addressing, while others, especially those located near residential communities, should get priority.

Without a clear federal standard, any bailout funds won’t keep up with pace of new orphaned wells, Palacios said: “We absolutely need this federal funding to come with some strings attached.”

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Optical Illusion of Woman Vaulting Over Building Baffles People in Viral Video

An optical illusion showing a woman supposedly jumping over a building is going viral online, as people are trying to work out how she’s pulled it off.

A TikTok user, who calls herself Ying, shared a clip to her account, @ying.hxxx, showing herself walking in the foreground, with her garden shelter in the background.

Ying then turns her back to the camera and jumps over the wooden structure, landing behind it.

She puts her hands in her pockets and walks away—as she now simultaneously resembles a giant while her back yard appears to be the size of a doll’s house.

The mum, believed to be from Canada, has shared numerous clips showing herself jumping over it from various angles, going backwards and forwards.

And she also started off one video sitting inside the structure, and then jumped over it, as fans called on her to try out numerous poses as they tried to work the secret behind the convincing stunt.

Captioning one of her videos, Ying asked: “Are u confused?”

Her most popular “illusion” clip has been watched more than nine million times, as thousands commented on the video sharing their theories.

Some people have claimed she’s jumping over a toy while others thought it was a piece of cardboard with a photo on it.

One TikToker, called Letimarie, said: “U know how many times I watched this to understand and I still don’t understand lol. My brain can’t take it anymore.”

While Ida wrote: “I’ve never been more confused.”

Thanks for the 1,000 followers spotted: “After she jumps the plants stop moving.”

And noticing a similar continuity error, #1 COD mobile page explained: “Notice how the wind is blowing the umbrella then it freezes when she jumps, just simple editing.”

Izuku Midoriya thought: “I think u edited it, when u jumped there was no shadow on the roof so it’s not a toy, it must be a green screen or transition.”

While user asdfghjkl commented: “I have a headache cuz of all the time I watched this and I still have no idea what this is!”

Anne Peoble said: “How are ya’ll confused she obviously just jumped a house.”

While Ying didn’t confirm exactly how she achieved the mind-bending illusion, she thanked people who praised her editing skills in the comment section.

But she did dispel one theory, after she added: “No green screen needed.”

Stock image of a double garden path reflecting in crystal glass ball. A woman’s optical illusion showing her jumping over her back yard is going viral.
Getty iStock/Wierzchu