Tag Archives: U.S.

Iran blames Israel for sabotage at Natanz site as U.S. begins talks to re-enter nuclear deal

Iran blamed Israel on Monday for a sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges, an assault that imperils ongoing talks over its tattered nuclear deal and brings a shadow war between the two countries into the light.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. It rarely does for operations carried out by its secret military units or its Mossad intelligence agency. However, Israeli media widely reported that the country had orchestrated a devastating cyberattack that caused a blackout at the nuclear facility. Meanwhile, a former Iranian official said the attack set off a fire.

The attack further strains relations between the United States, which under President Joe Biden is now negotiating in Vienna to re-enter the nuclear accord, and Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to stop the deal at all costs. Netanyahu met Monday with U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose arrival in Israel coincided with the first word of the attack.

At a news conference at Israel’s Nevatim air base Monday, where he viewed Israeli air and missile defence systems and its F-35 combat aircraft, Austin declined to say whether the Natanz attack could impede the Biden administration’s efforts to re-engage with Iran in its nuclear program.

“Those efforts will continue,” Austin said. The previous American administration under Donald Trump had pulled out of the nuclear deal with world powers, leading Iran to begin abandoning its limits.

‘We will take revenge’

Details remained scarce about what happened early Sunday at the facility. The event was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls — but later Iranian officials began referring to it as an attack.

A former chief of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said the attack had also set off a fire at the site and called for improvements in security. In a tweet, Gen. Mohsen Rezaei said that the second attack at Natanz in a year signalled “the seriousness of the infiltration phenomenon.” Rezaei did not say where he got his information.


This photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/The Associated Press)

“The answer for Natanz is to take revenge against Israel,” Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “Israel will receive its answer through its own path.” He did not elaborate.

Khatibzadeh acknowledged that IR-1 centrifuges, the first-generation workhorse of Iran’s uranium enrichment, had been damaged in the attack, but did not elaborate. State television has yet to show images from the facility. However, the facility seemed to be in such disarray that, following the attack, a prominent nuclear spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi walking above ground at the site fell seven metres through an open ventilation shaft covered by aluminum debris, breaking both his legs and hurting his head.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Natanz would be reconstructed with more advanced machines. That would allow Iran to more quickly enrich uranium, complicating the nuclear talks.

“The Zionists wanted to take revenge against the Iranian people for their success on the path of lifting sanctions,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying. “But we do not allow (it), and we will take revenge for this action against the Zionists.”

Previous target of sabotage

Officials launched an effort Monday to provide emergency power to Natanz, said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program. He said enrichment had not stopped there, without elaborating.

The IAEA, the United Nations body that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the blackout at Natanz and had spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not elaborate.

Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges there during an earlier period of Western fears about Tehran’s program.


This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire at the Natanz facility. Authorities later described the mysterious explosion as sabotage. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/The Associated Press)

In July, Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain. Iran also blamed Israel for that, as well as the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Israel also has launched a series of airstrikes in neighbouring Syria targeting Iranian forces and their equipment. Israel also is suspected in an attack last week on an Iranian cargo ship that is said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen.

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout, but it remains unclear what actually happened there. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the attack. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility.

While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a coincidence,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, said of the blackout. “If it’s not a coincidence, and that’s a big if, someone is trying to send a message that ‘we can limit Iran’s advance and we have red lines.'”

It also sends a message that Iran’s most sensitive nuclear site is penetrable, he said.

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CBC | World News

U.S. taxi services see business boost helping Canadians avoid hotel quarantine

Airport transport service, Buffalo Limousine, lost about 70 per cent of its business during COVID-19 pandemic. But the company said its luck changed recently, thanks to Canadian snowbirds returning from U.S. sunbelt states who want to avoid Canada’s hotel quarantine requirement. 

“This is a huge, huge shot in the arm for us, this Canadian snowbird travel,” said Carla Boccio, owner of Buffalo Limousine. “It’s a godsend.”

Since February 22, air passengers entering Canada have been required to quarantine for up to three days in a designated hotel and pay for the cost — up to $ 2,000. However, travellers entering by land are exempt from the rule. 

To avoid the hotel quarantine, some snowbirds are flying to U.S. cities close to the Canadian border — such as Buffalo, N.Y. — and then hiring a ground transport service — such as Buffalo Limousine — to drive them across the Canadian border.

“When Canada imposed that hotel [quarantine], then it was just like our phones were exploding,” said Boccio. “What I hear from the majority of these people, it’s not even so much the cost, it’s like you’re in jail … with this hotel quarantine.”


A new post on Buffalo Limousine’s website informs Canadian travellers that it will drive them from Buffalo, N.Y., across the Canadian border. (Buffalo Limousine)

CBC News interviewed three airport transport services based in Buffalo and one in Burlington, Vt., which is about 70 kilometres from the Quebec border. The companies said they’ll drive Canadians to or across the Canadian border for around $ 100 US and, for an added fee, the Buffalo companies will drive passengers directly to their homes in Ontario. 

Each company said it has seen a boost in business after Canada introduced the hotel quarantine requirement.

Since late February, Buffalo Limousine has, on average, transported 50 customers a day across the Canadian border, increasing its lagging business by around 50 per cent, Boccio said. 

“I’m more thankful than I could even put into words.”

Buffalo Limousine charges about $ 120 US to drive a couple from the Buffalo airport across the border to neighbouring Fort Erie, Ont., or Niagara Falls, said Boccio. A trip to downtown Toronto costs around $ 300 US.

Crossing by land has different rules

The federal government surprised snowbirds abroad when it changed the travel rules on Feb. 22, requiring air passengers entering Canada to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival, and spend up to three days of their 14-day quarantine in a hotel to await the test results.

Ottawa introduced the hotel quarantine requirement to discourage international travel and help stop the spread of COVID-19 infections, which are surging due to more contagious variants

But travellers entering Canada by land face no hotel quarantine requirement. Instead, they must quarantine at home for 14 days and take multiple COVID-19 tests, including one in the U.S. within 72 hours of arrival at the Canadian border. 

According to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data, land entries into Canada jumped by 15 per cent during the first three weeks of March, compared to the same period in February (when the hotel quarantine rules were not yet in effect). Those entries include both leisure travellers and essential workers who aren’t truck drivers.

WATCH | Quarantine hotels problems include access to food, travellers say

Some Canadians who’ve had to stay at a mandatory quarantine hotel say they’ve been met with long delays, crowded waiting areas and issues accessing basic needs like food. 2:07

To avoid the hotel quarantine requirement, snowbird Jaroslaw Stanczuk said when he returns home from Florida later this month, he will fly to Buffalo, and take a taxi across the border to his home in Fort Erie, Ont. 

Stanczuk, who got the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida, said he’s taking the necessary safety precautions during the pandemic and feels the hotel quarantine is a needless step. 

“You want me to get a COVID-19 test? I’m happy with that. You want me to get one when I arrive? I’m happy with that. But why punish me with three days of quarantine in a hotel?” 


Canadian snowbird Jaroslaw Stanczuk said he plans to fly to Buffalo when he returns to Canada from Florida and then take a taxi across the Canadian border. (submitted by Jaroslaw Stanczuk)

Other snowbirds are also travelling by cab. Since the hotel quarantine rule took effect, Buffalo Airport Taxi said it has driven, on average, 20 to 30 customers a day across the Canadian border, increasing its business by at least 50 per cent.

“They want to go home. They don’t want to go to quarantine prison,” said Buffalo Airport Taxi manager, Saleman Alwhishah. “It boosted our business tremendously.”

Why can U.S. drivers cross the border?

John Arnet, general manager of 716 Limousine in Buffalo, said he’s been inundated with requests for transport across the Canadian land border and questions about the rules for entering Canada during the Canada-U.S. land border closure to non-essential traffic.

“Most of the questions are … ‘Can you take us across the border?'” said Arnet. “Yes, we can take you across the border. We’re an essential service.”

CBSA said that foreign transport workers such as taxi and bus drivers can enter Canada during the border closure, if they establish they’re employed as a driver and are performing a service related to their job. 

CBC News asked the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) for comment about Canadians travelling home by land to avoid the hotel quarantine requirement. The agency did not provide a direct response. Instead, it listed the types of fines and other penalties Canadians can face if they violate quarantine rules. 

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CBC | Health News

Biden announces gun-control actions following spate of mass shootings in U.S.

U.S. President Joe Biden, in his first gun-control measures since taking office, announced a half-dozen executive actions Thursday aimed at addressing a proliferation of gun violence across the nation that he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment.”

“It is actually a public health crisis,” Biden said during remarks at the White House, where he was joined by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland. Greeting the families of gun-violence victims and activists, he assured them: “We’re absolutely determined to make change.”

Biden’s Thursday announcement delivers on a pledge he made last month to take what he termed immediate “common-sense steps” to address gun violence, after a series of mass shootings drew renewed attention to the issue.

His announcement came after yet another shooting, this one in South Carolina on Wednesday, where five people were killed.

But the announcement underscores the limitations of Biden’s executive power to act on guns. They include moves to tighten regulations on homemade guns and provide more resources for gun-violence prevention, but fall far short of the sweeping gun-control agenda Biden laid out on the campaign trail.

Indeed, the White House has repeatedly emphasized the need for legislative action to tackle the issue.

But while the House passed a background-check bill last month, gun-control measures face slim prospects in an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans remain near-unified against most proposals.

Stricter rules, more community funding

Biden is tightening regulations for buyers of “ghost guns” — homemade firearms usually are assembled from parts and milled with a metal-cutting machine, and often lack serial numbers used to trace them.

It’s legal to build a gun in a home or a workshop and there is no federal requirement for a background check. The goal is to “help stop the proliferation of these firearms,” according to the White House.

The Justice Department will issue a proposed rule aimed at reining in ghost guns within 30 days, though details weren’t immediately issued.

WATCH | Mass shooting in Colorado renews calls for assault-weapons ban:

A 21-year-old man has been arrested after 10 people, including a police officer, were killed in a mass shooting inside a Boulder, Colo., grocery store on Monday. Court documents say the suspect, Ahmad Alissa, bought an assault rifle six days before the shooting, renewing calls for an assault-weapons ban in the U.S. 2:56

A second proposed rule, expected within 60 days, will tighten regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces, like the one used in a mass shooting at a Boulder, Colo., grocery store last month that left 10 dead. The rule will designate pistols used with stabilizing braces as short-barrelled rifles, which require a federal licence to own and are subject to a more thorough application process and a $ 200 US tax.

The department also is publishing model legislation within 60 days that is intended to make it easier for states to adopt their own “red flag” laws that allow people to petition a court to let police confiscate weapons from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

The justice department also will begin to provide more data on firearms trafficking, starting with a new comprehensive report on the issue. The administration says that hasn’t been done in more than two decades.

The Biden administration will also make investments in community violence intervention programs, which are aimed at reducing gun violence in urban communities, across five federal agencies.

Officials said the executive actions were “initial steps” completed during Garland’s first weeks on the job and more may be coming.

Former agent to head ATF

Biden is also nominating David Chipman, a former federal agent and adviser at the gun-control group Giffords, to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The ATF is currently run by an acting director, Regina Lombardo. Gun-control advocates have emphasized the significance of this position in enforcing gun laws, and Chipman is certain to win praise from this group.

During his time as a senior policy adviser with Giffords, he spent considerable effort pushing for greater regulation and enforcement on ghost guns, changes to the background check system and measures to reduce the trafficking of illegal firearms.

Chipman spent 25 years as an agent at the ATF, where he worked on stopping a trafficking ring that sent illegal firearms from Virginia to New York, and served on the ATF’s SWAT team. Chipman is also a gun owner.

He is an explosives expert and was among the team involved in investigating the Oklahoma City bombing and the first World Trade Center bombing. He also was involved in investigating a series of church bombings in Alabama in the 1990s. He retired from the ATF in 2012.

The White House fact sheet said Chipman has worked “to advance common-sense gun safety laws.”


Biden was accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland at the announcement. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

Advocates applaud moves

During his campaign, Biden promised to prioritize new gun-control measures as president, including enacting universal background check legislation, and banning online sales of firearms and the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

But gun-control advocates have said that while they were heartened by signs from the White House that they took the issue seriously, they’ve been disappointed by the lack of early action.

With the announcement of the new measures, however, advocates lauded Biden’s first moves to combat gun violence.

“Each of these executive actions will start to address the epidemic of gun violence that has raged throughout the pandemic, and begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun-safety president in history,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Feinblatt in particular praised the move to regulate ghost guns, which he said “will undoubtedly save countless lives,” and lauded Chipman as an “invaluable point person” in the fight against illegal gun trafficking.

He also said the group is looking forward to continuing to work with the Biden administration on further gun-control measures, but it’s unclear what next moves the White House, or lawmakers on Capitol Hill, will be able to take.

Biden himself expressed uncertainty late last month when asked if he had the political capital to pass new gun-control proposals, telling reporters, “I haven’t done any counting yet.”

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CBC | World News

Officer dead, driver fatally shot after ramming vehicle into barricade near the U.S. Capitol

A Capitol Police officer was killed Friday after a man rammed a car into two officers at a barricade outside the U.S. Capitol and then emerged wielding a knife. It was the second line-of-duty death this year for a department still struggling to heal from the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Video shows the driver of the crashed car emerging with a knife in his hand and starting to run at the pair of officers, Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told reporters. The driver stabbed one of the officers, Pittman said. Authorities shot the suspect, who died at a hospital.

Two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that the suspect stabbed one of the officers. The officials spoke to AP were not authorized to publicly discuss the pending investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I just ask that the public continue to keep U.S. Capitol Police and their families in your prayers,” Pittman said. “This has been an extremely difficult time for U.S. Capitol Police after the events of Jan. 6 and now the events that have occurred here today.”

Police identified the slain officer as William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran who was a member of the department’s first responders unit.


Police identified the slain officer as William ‘Billy’ Evans, an 18-year veteran who was a member of the department’s first responders unit. (U.S. Capitol Police via AP)

Authorities said that there wasn’t an ongoing threat and that the attack did not appear to be related to terrorism, though the Capitol was put on lockdown as a precaution. There was also no immediate connection apparent between Friday’s crash and the Jan. 6 riot.

The crash and shooting happened at a security checkpoint near the Capitol typically used by senators and staff on weekdays, though most are away from the building during the current recess. The attack occurred about 100 yards (91 metres) from the entrance of the building on the Senate side of the Capitol. One witness, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, said he was finishing a Good Friday service nearby when he suddenly heard three shots ring out.

It comes as the Washington region remains on edge nearly three months after a mob of armed insurrectionists loyal to former president Donald Trump stormed the Capitol as Congress was voting to certify Joe Biden’s presidential win.

Five people died in the Jan. 6 riot, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was among a badly outnumbered force trying to fight off insurrectionists seeking to overturn the election. Authorities installed a tall perimeter fence around the Capitol and for months restricted traffic along the roads closest to the building, but they had begun pulling back some of the emergency measures in recent weeks. Fencing that prevented vehicular traffic near that area was recently removed.

Law enforcement officials identified the slain suspect as 25-year-old Noah Green. Investigators were digging into the suspect’s background and examining whether he had a mental health history as they tried to discern a motive. They were working to obtain warrants to access his online accounts.


A car that crashed into a barrier on Capitol Hill is seen on Friday. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Pittman said the suspect did not appear to have been on the police’s radar. But the attack underscores that the building and campus — and the officers charged with protecting them — remain potential targets for violence.

Evans is the seventh Capitol Police member to die in the line of duty in the department’s history. Two officers, one from Capitol Police and another from Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, died by suicide following the Jan. 6 attack.

Almost 140 Capitol Police officers were wounded then, including officers not issued helmets who sustained head injuries and one officer with cracked ribs, according to the officers’ union. It took hours for the National Guard to arrive, a delay that has driven months of finger-pointing between key decision-makers that day.

WATCH | ‘We will get through this,’ says Capitol police chief:

Yogananda Pittman, acting chief of the U.S. Capitol police, thanks the community for supporting them through an ‘extremely difficult and challenging year.’ 0:19

They were called upon soon afterward to secure the Capitol during Biden’s inauguration and faced another potential threat in early March linked to conspiracy theories falsely claiming Trump would retake the presidency.

“Today, once again, these heroes risked their lives to protect our Capitol and our Country, with the same extraordinary selflessness and spirit of service seen on January 6,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire House, we are profoundly grateful.”

The suspect had been taken to the hospital in critical condition. One of the officers who was injured was taken by police car to the hospital; the other was transported by emergency medical crews.


U.S. National Guard troops stand guard near the scene of the incident on Friday. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

The U.S. Capitol complex was placed on lockdown after the shooting and staff were told they could not enter or exit buildings. Video showed National Guard troops mobilizing near the area of the crash.

Video posted online showed a dark-coloured sedan crashed against a vehicle barrier and a police dog inspecting the vehicle. Law enforcement and paramedics could be seen caring for at least one unidentified individual.

U.S. President Joe Biden had just departed the White House for Camp David when the situation unfolded. As customary, he was traveling with a member of the National Security Council Staff who was expected to brief him.

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CBC | World News

Biden to announce $2-trillion infrastructure plan that would transform U.S. economy

U.S. President Joe Biden wants $ 2 trillion US to re-engineer America’s infrastructure and expects the nation’s corporations to pay for it.

The president travels to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to unveil what would be a hard-hatted transformation of the U.S. economy as grand in scale as the New Deal or Great Society programs that shaped the 20th century.

White House officials say the spending over eight years would generate millions of new jobs as the country shifts away from fossil fuels and combats the perils of climate change. It is also an effort to compete against the technology and public investments made by China, the world’s second-largest economy and fast gaining on the United States’ dominant position.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the plan is “about making an investment in America — not just modernizing our roads or railways or bridges but building an infrastructure of the future.”

Biden’s choice of Pittsburgh for unveiling the plan carries important economic and political resonance. He not only won Pittsburgh and its surrounding county to help secure the presidency, but he launched his campaign there in 2019.

The city famed for steel mills that powered America’s industrial rise has steadily pivoted toward technology and health care, drawing in college graduates from western Pennsylvania in a sign of how economies can change.

Mostly aimed at transportation

The Democratic president’s infrastructure projects would be financed by higher corporate taxes — a trade-off that could lead to fierce resistance from the business community and thwart any attempts to work with Republicans lawmakers.

Biden hopes to pass an infrastructure plan by summer, which could mean relying solely on the slim Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.


Construction workers are pictured on the northeast cables of New York’s George Washington Bridge, which is undergoing a multi-year reconstruction. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

The White House says the largest chunk of the proposal includes $ 621 billion for roads, bridges, public transit, electric vehicle charging stations and other transportation infrastructure. The spending would push the country away from internal combustion engines that the auto industry views as an increasingly antiquated technology.

Another $ 111 billion would go to replace lead water pipes and upgrade sewers. Broadband internet would blanket the country for $ 100 billion. Separately, $ 100 billion would upgrade the power grid to deliver clean electricity. Homes would be retrofitted, schools modernized, workers trained and hospitals renovated under the plan, which also seeks to strengthen U.S. manufacturing.

Could spur economy

The new construction could keep the economy running hot, coming on the heels of Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package — economists already estimate it could push growth above six per cent this year.

Separately, Biden will propose in the coming weeks a series of soft infrastructure investments in child care, family tax credits and other domestic programs, another expenditure of roughly $ 2 trillion to be paid for by tax hikes on wealthy individuals and families, according to people familiar with the proposal.

Funding the first $ 2 trillion for construction and “hard” infrastructure projects would be a hike on corporate taxes that would raise the necessary sum over 15 years and then reduce the deficit going forward, according to a White House outline of the plan.

Biden would undo the signature policy achievement of the Trump administration by lifting the corporate tax rate to 28 per cent from the 21 per cent rate set in a 2017 overhaul.

To keep companies from shifting profits overseas to avoid taxation, a 21 per cent global minimum tax would be imposed. The tax code would also be updated so that companies could not merge with a foreign business and avoid taxes by moving their headquarters to a tax haven. And among other provisions, it would increase IRS audits of corporations.

Critics take aim

White House officials led by National Economic Council director Brian Deese offered a private briefing Tuesday for top lawmakers in both parties. But key GOP and business leaders are already panning the package.

“It seems like President Biden has an insatiable appetite to spend more money and raise people’s taxes,” Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP whip, said in an interview.

Scalise predicted that, if approved, the new spending and taxes would “start having a negative impact on the economy, which we’re very concerned about.”

The business community favours updating U.S. infrastructure, but it dislikes higher tax rates. An official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who insisted on anonymity to discuss the private talks said the organization fears the proposed tax hikes could undermine the gains from new infrastructure.

The Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs, would rather have infrastructure funded with user fees such as tolls.

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CBC | World News

‘Right now, I’m scared,’ CDC head says as she warns of potential 4th pandemic surge in U.S.

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

What’s new

U.S. officials issued what was intended to be a sobering warning Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic could still get a whole lot worse.

Their unusually emotional message carried obvious international implications, especially given that the U.S. has already vaccinated its citizens at a rate triple Canada’s.

The theme of a White House briefing Monday was that this is a terrible time for the country to let down its guard and reopen as some states are doing.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control, Rochelle Walensky, said she plans to speak with state governors Tuesday to encourage continued mask-wearing and physical distancing.

She said U.S. case loads had risen 10 per cent in a week, and hospitalizations and deaths are ticking up again. She said the country is on the same trajectory as some European countries were a few weeks ago before they hurtled into their latest wave.

“We are not powerless; we can change this trajectory of the pandemic,” she said. “But it will take all of us recommitting to following public health-prevention strategies.”

Walensky said she was pleading with Americans as a physician who had seen the death and human suffering caused by COVID-19, and as a wife, mother and daughter.

“I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” she said as she went off script.

“We have so much to look forward to … so much reason for hope, but right now, I’m scared.”

When later asked to elaborate on her reference to “impending doom,” Wilensky said:

“We know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw in the summer and the winter again.”


Cases are still way down in the U.S. since January. What has the CDC worried is a 10 per cent uptick last week, along with more hospitalizations. It sees the coming days as a race between vaccinations and a new pandemic wave. (U.S. Centers For Disease Control)

It’s an abrupt change in tone after weeks of growing confidence in the U.S. The country is expecting to have vaccines for 90 per cent of its adults by the end of April and for all adults in May.

Numerous states have already dropped restrictions.

Yet the federal government is telling states it’s too soon to do that: only 15 per cent of the country is fully vaccinated, while the virus continued to kill 1,000 Americans per day last week as case numbers rose to 63,000 a day. 

Why it matters to Canada

Any U.S. setback would hold a series of cross-border consequences. Starting with the obvious point involving public health: that the virus and its new variants are outpacing vaccinations.

It’s especially true in places with a slower vaccination rollout.

It could also have repercussions on the economic recovery and on cross-border travel. Businesses and politicians have been urging governments, without success so far, to define a plan for reopening the border. 

Some of the states experiencing the worst surges happen to be near the Canadian border, including New York, and Michigan, which has seen its case totals more than triple in a single month. 

The virus is still infecting, and killing, a far higher proportion of Americans than Canadians, although the gap had been narrowing in recent weeks with cases growing faster in Canada.   


Lots of states have eased restrictions. However, Miami subsequently imposed a local curfew, for public health reasons, during spring break festivities seen here earlier this month. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, said that if this recent spike turns into another wave, it’s because Americans let their guard down too soon. “We’re essentially pleading,” he said.

What’s the good news

At the same news conference, officials delivered encouraging details on a new CDC study showing vaccines performing extraordinarily well in limiting infection and transmission.  

This is atop clinical trials that, Fauci said, showed 100 per cent effectiveness in avoiding hospitalization and death from vaccines approved in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere.  

Another Biden adviser, Andy Slavitt, said Monday: “Hope is around the corner. But we’re not there yet… The worst thing we could do now would be to let up. We cannot get complacent. We cannot let our guard down.”

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CBC | World News

How U.S. media lost the trust of the public

A global pandemic, historic anti-racism protests and a turbulent U.S. presidential election had Americans glued to their screens in 2020 like never before. Cable news ratings soared, online news subscriptions increased and the amount of time we all spent online broke records.

But as people consumed more news, they also began to trust the media less, surveys showed. According to a recent Gallup survey, the percentage of Americans with no trust in the mass media hit a record high in 2020: only nine per cent of respondents said they trust the mass media “a great deal” and a full 60 per cent said they have little to “no trust at all” in it.

The American media landscape has become increasingly polarized over the last few decades. 

A Pew survey suggests 95 per cent of MSNBC’s audience are now Democrats while 93 per cent of the Fox News audience are Republicans. A similar trend is unfolding online. 

“There’s a constant selection process that’s going on, that Silicon Valley is encouraging and accelerating,” said U.S. journalist and author Matt Taibbi in the new CBC documentary Big News. “If you read the Daily Caller, you are not going to read the New York Times and vice versa.” 

Meanwhile, the media’s traditional sources of revenue have been uprooted. More than 16,000 news jobs were cut in the U.S. last year alone, the highest on record. 

“Profitability is disappearing. Losses are growing. And budgets are tighter and tighter,” said conservative commentator and author Andrew Sullivan. “And the truth is … polarization is profitable.” 

WATCH | Matt Taibbi and other media critics on the loss of trust in media:

Journalist Matt Taibbi and others reflect on the loss of trust in the U.S. news media and the parallel rise in ratings. 1:47

Online metrics also show that the best way to get people to engage and spread content is to inflame their emotions, said Taibbi, who wrote the book Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another

CBC’s Big News, which was released March 26 on CBC Gem, examines some of these issues in depth by interviewing media insiders and critics who dig into the ratings wars, public mistrust, the Trump effect, the politicization of the anti-racism protests and the pandemic, and the weaponization of social media. Coming off a record-breaking news year, the documentary asks, can the U.S. media be saved from itself?

Watch some highlights below:

Capitol Hill riots expose trust crisis in the U.S. 

Every year, the public affairs company Edelman releases a trust barometer that measures perceived trust in the information we consume and its sources. This year’s report paints a particularly bleak picture.

“This is the era of information bankruptcy,” said CEO Richard Edelman in a statement. “We’ve been lied to by those in charge, and media sources are seen as politicized and biased. The result is a lack of quality information and increased divisiveness.”

“Fifty-seven percent of Americans find the political and ideological polarization so extreme that they believe the U.S. is in the midst of a cold civil war.”

Some of the experts interviewed for the documentary said that polarization and the increasing alienation from mainstream media among parts of the American population contributed to the convictions that drove the deadly Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill.  

“Jan. 6 was the logical result of the profound disparity between the elites and a lot of people who had been profoundly misinformed,” Sullivan told the CBC.

WATCH | MSNBC host Ali Velshi and others on media polarization and the Capitol riot:

MSNBC host Ali Velshi and others analyze how the U.S. media landscape contributed to the events at the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021. 2:26

How cable news became polarized in the U.S.

Until the 1990s, American broadcast news was focused on gaining the largest possible audience with the least objectionable content, Taibbi says in the documentary. 

“It was oblivious in all sorts of ways to poverty, to race, to issues of sexual orientation, to America’s role in the world, but it knit together a common understanding. And that common understanding drove politics,” Lawrence Lessig, lawyer and author of They Don’t Represent Us, told CBC.

By the early 2000s, as competition increased and regulations softened, that profit model began to change and media outlets began targeting specific demographics.

WATCH | How did media become so polarized? Experts offer their take:

Lawrence Lessig, Sue Gardner and others explain how and why American broadcast news became increasingly polarized. 7:50

Journalists increasingly seen as ‘out of touch’

According to a 2019 Pew survey, 73 percent of Republicans say news media don’t understand people like them, and 40 percent of Democrats feel the same way.

Local news has been particularly hard-hit by recent job cuts, which means journalists are now increasingly congregated in big urban cities, such as New York, Washington and Los Angeles.  

“Those cities are expensive, and so you have to be wealthy to be a journalist, which didn’t used to be true,” said Sue Gardner, former director of the Wikimedia Foundation and CBC.ca. 

“People don’t know journalists anymore unless they themselves are also part of the wealthy elites, so all of that creates more distance.”

Former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson grew up and worked in the Midwest for decades before becoming a Fox News host in the early 2000s. “There are a lot of people who feel like their voice isn’t being heard,” she told CBC.

WATCH | How journalists lost touch with their audiences:

Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson and others dig into the divide between journalists and their audiences. 1:39

Global pandemic another test of media credibility

The coronavirus pandemic was another event that polarized Americans, and the media played a part in that, those who spoke with CBC for the Big News documentary said.

One example, says New York Times health reporter Apoorva Mandavill, was the shifting and increasingly politicized coverage of the mask debate.

“I think that as journalists, we were disoriented at the beginning, and we probably didn’t ask quite as many tough questions, like, ‘Why wouldn’t masks work?” Mandavilli said.  

“It really did feed into this idea that we cannot trust anybody.”

According to a University of Michigan analysis, COVID-19 stories in American newspapers and network news were highly politicized and polarized.

“It is likely that media coverage is contributing to the polarization of public attitudes [around COVID-19],” the study concluded.

WATCH | Why even coverage of the pandemic became polarized:

How the American news media’s coverage of the COVID-19 crisis put people’s faith in media and experts to the test. 5:14

Watch the full documentaryon CBC Gem

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Watching Washington: U.S. oil lobby endorses carbon taxes

This item is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

What’s new

Carbon pricing didn’t just win a big endorsement from Canada’s Supreme Court on Thursday — it also got surprising support from a new corner in the U.S.: the American oil lobby.

The country’s main oil-industry group, the American Petroleum Institute, endorsed carbon pricing as part of its 13-page list of proposals for climate action.

It called carbon pricing a clearer, more transparent approach than a patchwork of different regulations.

The API said that whatever carbon pricing gets introduced, either a cap-and-trade plan or tax, should apply across the economy to all sectors; be transparent and revealed to consumers at the point of sale; and have rates periodically adjusted under a predictable long-term formula, at levels that limit economic damage.

What’s next

There’s some political irony, however, in the oil lobby choosing this moment to support a carbon tax: the idea has faded somewhat from the U.S. national stage.

While some Democrats are still eyeing various carbon-tax proposals, the centrepiece of the party’s plan has shifted to renewing infrastructure.

President Joe Biden’s next key legislative priority is a massive spending package — $ 2 trillion is what he campaigned on, and he’s reportedly finalizing a proposal closer to $ 3 trillion.

Biden wants to transition the U.S. power grid to cleaner fuels, create incentives for consumers to buy electric vehicles, build car-charging stations, and spend on new transit systems. 

There’s no guarantee the plan will pass Congress, as Republicans have warned they want an bill that focuses on traditional needs like roads and bridges.

Biden will either need 10 Republican votes in the Senate under that chamber’s filibuster rules, or tuck the plan into an annual spending bill that can pass the Senate with a simple majority.

One key Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin, has said he wants the infrastructure spending paid for without incurring too much debt — and he says new taxes should be part of that plan. 

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Health Canada says AstraZeneca shot is safe as U.S. questions vaccine’s clinical trial data

Health Canada said today Canadians should not be concerned about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine — even as a U.S. regulatory body raises concerns about the company’s clinical trial results.

Marc Berthiaume, the director of the bureau of medical science at Health Canada, said the issues flagged Monday by a U.S. federal health agency relate to the product’s published efficacy rate, not to whether it’s safe to use.

Berthiaume said Health Canada’s decision to authorize the product was not based on any of the clinical trial information U.S. authorities are now probing. He said Canada based its approval largely on data that emerged from AstraZeneca trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil, and on studies published in countries where the shot has been in use for some time.

“I think it would be alarmist to suggest that the results of additional clinical testing could lead to a change in the approval status of AstraZeneca here in Canada,” Berthiaume said.

“The additional information that was collected in the U.S. will be sent to Health Canada in the coming weeks. If there’s a need to readjust, then we’ll do that with Canadians later.”

Millions of people have received the AstraZeneca shot worldwide, including more than 17 million in Britain and the European Union — almost all without serious side effects.

Health Canada ‘concerned’ about vaccine hesitancy  

Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said U.S. questions about the efficacy rate change nothing for Canadians at this point. She conceded the barrage of headlines about the AstraZeneca shot are “something of a concern to us” because they could make some Canadians reluctant to take vaccines.

“We’ve said this many times before — that even the most effective vaccine only works if people trust it and agree to receive it,” she said.

“It’s like any other reputation. Once there’s some doubt that creeps into that reputation, it’s that much more difficult to gain that back. The press and the concerns around the AstraZeneca vaccine don’t help.”

WATCH: Health Canada says federal recommendations on AstraZeneca vaccine are not changing 

Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, says federal recommendations on the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine are not changing at this point in time. 1:40

In a statement released last night, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the U.S. said the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB), which keeps an eye on clinical trials, found “outdated information” may have been reported by the company when it released some information yesterday.

The agency said the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant may have released information that gives an “incomplete view of the efficacy data.”

“We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible,” the agency said — without stating what sort of data may have been  included improperly.

The statement came only hours after AstraZeneca released the results of its U.S.-based phase three clinical trials, which began last August and wrapped up earlier this month. Phase three is the point in a clinical trial when a vaccine maker gathers more information about safety and effectiveness and studies the effect of different doses on various groups.

The company said its COVID-19 vaccine had a 79 per cent efficacy rate for preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and was 100 per cent effective in stopping severe disease and hospitalization. Investigators said the vaccine was effective for adults of all ages, including older people — something which previous studies in other countries had failed to establish.

The product has not yet been authorized for use in the U.S.

Speaking to ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and the head of the NIAID, said the monitoring board was surprised by the the better-than-expected efficacy results published by AstraZeneca.

“They got concerned and wrote a rather harsh note to them and with a copy to me, saying that in fact they felt that the data that was in the press release were somewhat outdated and might in fact be misleading a bit, and wanted them to straighten it out,” Fauci said.

The board members pegged the vaccine’s efficacy at between 69 per cent 74 per cent — up to 10 points lower than what AstraZeneca itself reported — and said the company’s decision to issue a press release with better results served to erode public trust.

“We told the company they better get back with the DSMB and make sure the correct data get put into a press release.”

In response to the blowback, AstraZeneca said the efficacy numbers it released yesterday were current as of February 17 — a month before the clinical trial was actually completed. In a statement, the company said it would “immediately engage with the independent data safety monitoring board” and provide the U.S. regulator with “the results of the primary analysis within 48 hours.”

This is just the latest public communications issue the company has faced over the last three months.

Earlier this year, a number of European countries halted vaccinations in response to questions about the product’s efficacy in people over the age of 65, only to restart them after new evidence emerged.

After Health Canada approved the shot for all adults, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended the product be used only on people under the age of 65, citing a dearth of clinical trial data on the vaccine’s effectiveness in older people.

NACI changed course last week after reviewing three “real-world studies,” saying the two-dose viral vector vaccine can and should be used on seniors.

The European Medicines Agency has also had to assure European Union member countries that the product is safe to use after reports of post-vaccine blood clots in a very small number of patients.

The agency concluded that the benefits of protecting against COVID-19 — which itself results in clotting problems — outweigh the risks.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has said it’s “possible” the vaccine may be associated with “very rare but serious cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia” — a condition associated with very low levels of blood platelets. Health Canada has maintained that the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine continue to outweigh the risks.

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At U.S.-Mexico border, a new U.S. president spurs hope and a rush to enter

A few minutes drive from the U.S.-Mexico border, a bus station in Brownsville, Texas, has become an unlikely way station for Central American migrants fleeing their countries and risking all for a new life in the United States. Volunteers give out pizza, clothing and arrange transport while city officials conduct COVID-19 tests. 

Irela Mejia, 24, and her five-year-old son from Honduras were among those picked up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers while crossing the Rio Grande river onto U.S. land on a raft with dozens of other migrants.

“I came for a better future for my child,” said Mejia, who is hoping to reunite with her brother in Houston and apply for asylum. She says she had already lost her job due to the COVID -19 pandemic, before two hurricanes in November devastated Honduras.

Her son turned five on the month-long trek from Honduras. They came alone, vulnerable and reliant on smugglers.

“I was very afraid,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

But her eyes light up when asked about whether Joe Biden becoming U.S. president influenced her decision to come to the border: “Yes, after he put out that immigrants could come over, I felt it would be a better future, that they might give us documents to be legal in this country.” 


Irela Mejia, 24, fled Honduras a month ago with her son before arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. She is among the tens of thousands hoping it will be easier to enter the U.S. under Biden’s administration. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Mejia is one of tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived at the U.S. border along Mexico in recent weeks in hopes of an easier passage into the country under Biden’s administration. They have been undeterred by the government’s public plea to asylum seekers: “Don’t come now.”

In February, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials detained just over 100,000 people crossing the border — a 28 per cent increase over January, though below the record high of 144,000 hit in February 2019. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said the number of people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021 is on track to hit the highest level in the last 20 years. 

The surge of migrants is fast becoming an early and critical test for Biden to show he can be both firm and humane in dealing with immigration and set his administration apart from that of his predecessor, Donald Trump, whose policies restricted migrants from entering the U.S.

But the challenges are mounting. The Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged it is struggling to find space for more than 15,000 children under 18 travelling alone and picked up by U.S. border officials in the last several weeks.

Photos released Monday by Texas Rep. Henry Cueller, a Democrat, showed youth at a new, temporary processing centre in Donna, Texas, crowded together on sleeping mats and covered with emergency foil blankets. Reporters have not been allowed inside the facility. 

WATCH | Migrants flock to U.S. border in hope of easier entry:

Hundreds of migrants from Central America are streaming into Texas from Mexico every day, posing problems not only for the U.S. border patrol but for President Biden. 5:15

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said on Sunday the Biden administration is expelling “family units and single adults” but would not “expel into the Mexican desert” young and vulnerable children. He said the government is working all hours to build up capacity to house them while they are processed. 


Migrants crowd a room with walls of plastic sheeting at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary processing centre in Donna, Texas, in a recent photograph released Monday by Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar. (Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar/Reuters)

Critics attack Biden over immigration

Across the border from Brownsville, in Matamoros, the largest migrant camp on the southwest U.S. border was closed March 6 after Biden reversed Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico,” policy, in place since 2019.

That policy prevented asylum seekers from staying in the U.S. to pursue their claim and ordered them back to Mexico, where thousands subsequently camped along the border. Biden’s swift reversal of that policy allowed migrants with active asylum claims back into the U.S. to pursue their case. 

Critics, including Trump, accuse Biden of throwing open the border to migrants.

“We proudly handed the Biden Administration the most secure border in history,” the former Republican U.S. president said in a statement. They’ve “turned a national triumph into a national disaster.” 


Migrants crowd a room at the Donna processing facility in another photograph released this week by Cuellar. (Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar/Reuters)

Charlene D’Cruz, an immigration lawyer who works in Brownsville and Matamoros, says the topic is a source of “pressure on every single president.” 

“It is in no way the crisis or the situation some Republicans are making it out to be,” she said in Brownsville. “The way the previous president decided to take care of it is just to seal it [the border] until it’s reached a fever pitch; it’s like a tourniquet and when you let it go, of course there’s going to be [a big flow].”

Cruz, who has been working with migrants for 30 years, says there were surges in 2014, 2016 and 2019 and that the latest one started in spring last year with the pandemic and natural disasters adding to the existing threats of local violence in Central American countries.


A girl, with donated butterfly wings, and her mother wait at a Brownsville, Texas, bus station, part of a new surge of migrants trying to get asylum in the U.S. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Treated with respect and dignity 

Aura Cruz, a 67-year-old from Guatemala, is still stranded in Mexico. She fled with her great granddaughter, then an infant, and four other families in 2019 after the baby’s mother was murdered in Guatemala. Dulce is now 2 years old, unaware of her uncertain future.

“I’m worried about the girl,” said Cruz, sitting outside the empty Matamoros camp. “I [could] suddenly die, so I’m eager to keep fighting for asylum.” 


Migrants, mostly from Central America, wait in line to cross the border at the Gateway International Bridge from Matamoros, Mexico, to Brownsville, Texas, on March 15. Biden’s pledge of a more humane approach to immigration has sparked a new rush to the border. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Global Response Management, a U.S. non-governmental organization that provides medical care and humanitarian relief, says migrants need to be given help to ensure they can seek asylum safely. 

“We know more migrants are on their way, more are crossing every day,” said Mark McDonald, a paramedic and assistant project director with GRM.  “They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”

WATCH | U.S. border officials detain migrants crossing border:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents unload migrants picked up in the fields between the border wall near Abram, Texas, and the Rio Grande River, which separates the U.S. and Mexico. After criminal and document checks, some will be released and allowed to pursue their asylum cases; others will be sent back across the border. 0:51

Getting to the root of the problem

For those who’ve cared for migrants for decades along the border, the surge has been predictable.

Sister Norma Pimentel manages a group of shelters in the Rio Grande Valley, including one in McAllen, Texas. 

An advocate for migrants, she says restrictive policies only exacerbate the misery of migrants without stopping them from trying to cross the border. 

“The reason why people come has never been addressed. The focus has been in militarizing the border, but the problem is not the border,” said Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. “The problem is back home, the root causes of why these families migrate in the first place.”


Aura Cruz, 67, fled Guatemala with her infant great-granddaughter after the girl’s mother was killed. She lived in a tent for a year and half in Matamoros, Mexico, in the largest migrant camp on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Dalila Moran de Asencio, 33-year-old teacher, and Edgardo Antonio Asencio, a 33-year-old public servant, and their two children fled gangs and violence in El Salvador 15 months ago. They crossed into the U.S. but were sent back under Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. They’ve been living with 30 other migrants for over a year in a house managed by a Catholic charity in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. 

“It wasn’t easy, but our lives were in danger,” said Edgardo. “I never could imagine that a crime situation would force us to take such drastic decisions.” 


Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas. A longtime advocate of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, she was nominated as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2020. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Doctors without Borders provides mental health counselling for people stuck in limbo.

“They show symptoms relating to acute stress that’s associated with anxiety and depression,” said psychologist Catalina Urrego Echeverri, the group’s medical team co-ordinator in the area. 

Dalila, whose dad died when she was 12, says her journey has been a difficult one.

“Sometimes I feel stressed and sad because I don’t come from a family with a great economic situation but with a lot of sacrifices, I finished university,” she said. “And I feel sad because I fought so hard and had graduated soon before I had to leave. From one day to the next we had to leave the country.”

She says the change in the U.S. presidency is the first hopeful sign in over a year. 

“We’ve seen on the news that a lot of families have already been granted access to the U.S., to seek asylum inside,” she said. “We hope and trust that’s our case as well.”


Dalila Moran de Asencio, 33, and Edgardo Antonio Asencio, 33, and fled El Salvador in Dec. 2019 with their children to escape gang violence but were sent back to Mexico after reaching the U.S. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

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