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Biden: Science, not politics, should decide school reopening – The Associated Press

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden on Friday unveiled a plan to reopen schools in the era of coronavirus, seeking to establish federal safety guidelines that he says will be based on science and not on political pressure for the country to arbitrarily put the pandemic behind it.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s proposal ultimately leaves final decisions up to state and local officials. His guidelines to resume classes comes as the White House argues that most parents are anxious to see schools resume in-person classes in the fall. President Donald Trump says the decision to possibly avoid doing so in some areas is more motivated by politics than by legitimate fears about the pandemic.

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“They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed,” Trump said at a White House discussion on school plans last week. “No way. We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.”

Trump has also threatened to hold back federal funding if schools don’t bring their students back in the fall and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on new guidance for how to do so.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has advanced much the same argument as Biden, saying the decision to reopen schools should be driven by science — but arguing that doing so means bringing students back to classrooms.

When the president “says open, he means open in full, kids being able to attend each and every day in their school. The science should not stand in the way of this,” she said Thursday, while adding, “The science is on our side here, and we encourage for localities and states to just simply follow the science, open our schools.”

Biden countered that any plans for the new school year have to start by reducing the number of coronavirus cases in communities around the country: “That’s step one.”

“Everyone wants our schools to reopen. The question is how to make it safe, how to make it stick,” Biden said in a video he recorded with his wife, Jill, a former teacher. “Forcing educators and students back into a classroom in areas where the infection rate is going up or remaining very high is just plain dangerous.”

Although state and local officials would have the final say, Biden plans to enlist federal agencies including the CDC to establish “basic, objective criteria” for reopening schools. Those include districts securing necessary funding to reconfigure classrooms to better allow for social distancing, reducing class sizes, procuring protective equipment and devising plans to accommodate at-risk teachers and students.

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Biden promised, if elected, to send to Congress an emergency funding package to help schools prepare for reopening, which could cost as much as $30 billion.

The former vice president also suggested schools shouldn’t be forced to reopen until the creation of federal guidelines “free from political influence.” He said they should detail how low a community’s infection rate needs to be before resuming in-person instruction, when schools might close again if virus infection cases rise, what safe maximum class sizes are and who should return to the classroom first if not everyone can be accommodated.

The Trump administration’s “chaotic and politicized response has left school districts to improvise a thousand hard decisions on their own,” Biden’s campaign wrote in its five-page “roadmap” to reopening. “Schools need clear, consistent, effective national guidelines, not mixed messages and political ultimatums.”

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A King Above and Beyond Politics – The New York Times

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A King Above and Beyond Politics

Why are the people of Thailand rising up against royal power now?

By

Mr. Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

  • Dec. 5, 2020, 11:00 a.m. ET
Credit…Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Several thousand people dressed in yellow or pink, colors associated with the royal family of Thailand, gathered along the road to the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016.

Many more people have gathered at recent protests to call for the monarchy’s reform.

Last week a demonstration was supposed to take place outside the majestic yellow building that houses the Crown Property Bureau, the agency that manages the Thai royal family’s colossal fortune. In 2018, the current king and Bhumibol’s son, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, claimed direct, personal control over those assets, estimated at $30 billion to $60 billion.

But after razor wire and road blocks went up around the vast compound, organizers changed the venue for the demonstration to the headquarters of Siam Commercial Bank: King Maha Vajiralongkorn is thought to be the bank’s largest single shareholder.

One of the protest leaders, Panupong Jadnok, had called for the gathering to “demand the return of taxpayers’ money.” In August, protesters put out a 10-point manifesto “to resolve the problems with the monarchy,” adding that it “must not hold power related to politics.”

Why, though, are the people of Thailand rising up against this king now when the previous one drastically restricted Thai democracy?

The kings of modern Thailand have sometimes exercised their royal prerogatives apparently at odds with existing laws. King Bhumibol, Vajiralongkorn’s father, intervened in politics occasionally but significantly, even though Thailand’s many constitutions over the years have defined the monarchy as being “yoo neua gaan meuangor “above politics.”

King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit in 1955 with their children Princess Sirindhorn, left, and Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Credit…-/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The historian Thongchai Winichakul has argued that King Bhumibol’s reign redefined the meaning of that phrase: from staying out of politics to being on top of politics, or acting as the ultimate authority, superseding all laws.

King Bhumibol’s extrajudicial exercise of power wasn’t just tolerated by many Thais; it came to seem justified, even when it contravened the popular will as expressed in democratic elections. (During his 70-year reign, he endorsed a number of military coups.) Partly this was because of King Bhumibol’s status as a “dhammaraja,” a virtuous leader and god-king. He was also immensely popular, partly for spearheading development projects in marginalized regions and his personal outreach.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, after just a few years on the throne, seems to have inherited his father’s practice of overriding formal limits on royal power, but not his spiritual aura, nor his ways.

King Bhumibol usually pursued his political objectives by acting at a slight remove, typically through the monarchy’s vast influence network, such as via the Privy Council. More problematically, he at times called on the judiciary, including in 2006, to annul the results of a democratic election.

But King Maha Vajiralongkorn has tended to intervene directly, without proxies.

Soon after he ascended to the throne in late 2016, he requested amendments to a new Constitution — which was essentially drafted by the military and approved in a nationwide referendum — so that he could rule Thailand from Germany, where he had been residing. Last year, he ordered by royal decree that two army units be placed under his direct command.

In the lead-up to the last elections in March 2019, the Thai Raksa Chart Party, a splinter group from the party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (who was deposed in a military coup in 2006) nominated Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Varnavadi, the king’s older sister, as its candidate for prime minister. The king issued a royal order prohibiting her candidacy, while accusing Mr. Thaksin of jeopardizing the monarchy’s supposed apolitical position. The Constitutional Court then disbanded the party.

Last year, too, King Maha Vajiralongkorn elevated Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, a former bodyguard of his, to the status of “royal noble consort” — a practice last exercised a century ago. Months later he summarily stripped her of her rank and titles; a royal statement claimed that she had been disloyal and had tried to compete with Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, the king’s wife. Ms. Sineenat disappeared from public view, sparking rumors that she had been imprisoned or even killed. Then in September the king ordered her privileges reinstated, now calling her “flawless.”

By my count, based on announcements in the royal gazette, more than 200 people have been dismissed, demoted or imprisoned since 2016, without access to proper legal process, presumably on the personal orders of the king.

The country’s punishing lèse-majesté laws were not applied in recent years, at the king’s request. But with the protests of the past months becoming more and more daring, the government has redeployed them recently.

It is not the first time the royal family’s prerogatives have been in tension with the popular will. But protesters see King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s personalized exercise of power as a breach of the monarchy’s tacit social contract with the Thai people.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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Rajinikanth's spiritual politics not against any religion, says his aide – Mint

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Chennai: Superstar Rajinikanth’s spiritual politics has got nothing to do with any particular religion and the actor will embark on a political journey of inclusiveness without any kind of discrimination, his close aide Tamizharuvi Manian said on Saturday. Spiritual politics was first proposed by Mahatma Gandhi, he noted. Rajinikanth had on Thursday announced he will float his political party in January 2021 to face next year’s Assembly polls and take forward spiritual politics.

Manian, a former Congress leader, has been appointed by the actor in a supervisory role in the proposed party and for its launch. Speaking to reporters here after holding discussions with Rajinikanth, Manian said there was no link between spiritual politics and religion politics. “Spirituality has no religion. A spiritualist is one who sees him in every living being and all of them in him. He has no caste, religion, no discrimination. Spirituality is all about embracing everyone with love. Rajini is going to do that,” Manian said.

Rajinikanth’s spiritual politics should not be construed as for or against any particular religion as the actor is “indebted” to all of Tamils who have taken him to great heights, he added. “There is nothing like only a particular caste or religion stood by him. Beyond caste and religion, the entire Tamil Nadu has taken him to such heights and therefore he brings in a brand of spiritual politics encompassing all,” he said.

Mahatma Gandhi first proposed spiritual politics where the one practising it should remain selfless. “Spiritual politics is not some discovery of Rajini. Mahtama Gandhi said it first… there will be no selfish interest and it is all about public welfare which Rajini will strive for.”

“Further, the actor does not want the party to be strengthened by criticising others or “talking about the mistakes of DMK and AIAMDK” but will reach out to people with “what I intend to do for people,” he added. Rajinikanth aims to provide corruption-free, transparent administration where there will no discrimination based on caste or religion, Manian said, echoing what the superstar said on Thursday.

The actor’s politics will be a departure from the current “hate politics” in Tamil Nadu where attacking each other is the order of the day, he said. Asked about Rajinikanth’s earlier announcement that he did not intend to be Chief Minister even if his party captured power, Manian said that matter was not being discussed now.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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Canadian politicians won't get vaccine prioritization – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other political leaders of all levels will be waiting their turn to receive a COVID-19 vaccine like most other Canadians.

“We have really based our priorities on burden of illness, so people who have died most of the disease or have been most touched with complications, and frontline health-care workers, as well as Indigenous communities and remote communities. Political leaders are not part of these groups,” said Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) in an interview on CTV’s Question Period.

This of course, is not unexpected, as the latest advice from NACI— the group of medical, pharmaceutical and public health experts who make recommendations to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on vaccines and vaccine-related issues—was to narrow down its priority list due to the small number of initial doses expected.

Under the revised recommendations, the advisory committee has identified four specific groups as the ones who should be considered for early immunization.

  • Residents and staff of long-term care, assisted living, retirement homes, and chronic-care hospitals;
  • Individuals of advanced age (starting with 80 years and older and expanding by five-year increments to age 70 years as doses become available);
  • Health-care and personal support workers, considering exposure risk and direct contact with patients; and
  • Indigenous communities

In a separate interview on CTV’s Question Period, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized the government for not securing more doses that could be ready in the initial rollout, which is right now estimated to be six million doses by March 31, which is enough to vaccinate three million people.

“The census shows that seniors that are over 70 years of age, there are more… then the three million that the doses will cover,” Singh said. “The first round should have secured more.”

Asked earlier this week whether he’d be looking to get one of the early doses, Trudeau said that he’s “going to trust the experts to make the right determination of what the priority populations are.”

Discussions are continuing with the provinces as to how many doses of the initial tranche each will have access to.

Dr. Quach-Thanh said that while her team is offering the recommendations for who should get access to the first doses, “it is very possible that in the end, logistically and based on local epidemiology, provinces might decide to tweak a bit within the priorities.”

She also said that NACI is not recommending the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory, nor is it the government’s plan to force anyone to be immunized.

With files from CTV News’ Jackie Dunham

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