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N Korea’s Kim looks much thinner, causing health speculation

The health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has long been a source of morbid fascination in rival South Korea, which sits in the shadow of Kim’s 1.2-million-strong army and his growing arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles.

Has he gained even more weight? Is he struggling for breath after relatively short walks? What about that cane? Why did he miss that important state anniversary?

Now, the 37-year-old faces fresh speculation in the South about his health again. But this time, it’s because he’s noticeably slimmer.

Kim’s health matters in Seoul, Washington, Tokyo and other world capitals because he hasn’t publicly anointed a successor who would control an advancing nuclear program targeting the United States and its allies — if he is incapacitated. North Korea, never open about the internal workings of its leadership, has over the last year shut itself up even tighter to protect against the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent state media images, including those published on Wednesday, Kim appeared to have lost a large amount of weight. The strap on his fancy watch is tighter, and his face thinner. Some observers say Kim — who is about 170 centimeters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall and has previously weighed 140 kilograms (308 pounds) — may have lost about 10-20 kilograms (22-44 pounds).

Kim’s apparent weight loss is more likely an attempt to improve his health, rather than a sign of illness, according to Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

“If he was experiencing health problems, he wouldn’t have come out in public to convene the plenary meeting of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee,” a major political conference this week that is expected to last two to three days, Hong said.

Kim, known for heavy drinking and smoking, comes from a family with a history of heart problems. His father and grandfather, who ruled North Korea before him, both died of heart issues. Experts have said his weight could increase the possibility of cardiovascular diseases.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it has no information to share about Kim’s health. His slimmer look has been the focus of keen interest in South Korea, with media outlets publishing photos of his previous and current appearances.

Seo Yu-Seok at the Seoul-based Institute of North Korean Studies said the North’s recent creation of a first secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party, the country’s No. 2 job, might have been related to Kim’s possible health issues. He said Kim may have allowed the post’s establishment at the urging of top officials but still hasn’t named anyone to the job because it could loosen his grip on power.

“If Kim faces a real health problem and is in a condition in which he can’t express his opinions, though he isn’t dead, who will make a decision to name the first secretary?” Seo said.

When global speculation flared about Kim’s health last year after he missed the commemoration of the birthday of his late grandfather, some analysts speculated Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, was next in line to inherit her brother’s power. Others said a collective leadership was also possible.

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Face to face: Biden, Putin ready for long-anticipated summit

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin sit down Wednesday for their highly anticipated summit in the Swiss city of Geneva, a moment of high-stakes diplomacy at a time when both leaders agree that relations between their countries are at an all-time low.

For four months, the two leaders have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on U.S. interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader and interference in American elections.

Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations — pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to argue that the U.S. has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn’t been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite U.S. intelligence showing otherwise.

Now, the pair will meet for their first face-to-face as leaders — a conversation that is expected to last four to five hours. In advance, both sides set out to lower expectations.

Even so, Biden has said it would be an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America’s fiercest adversaries.

“We should decide where it’s in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world, to cooperate, and see if we can do that,” Biden told reporters earlier this week. “And the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear what the red lines are.”

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that no breakthroughs were expected and that “the situation is too difficult in Russian-American relations.””

“However, the fact that the two presidents agreed to meet and finally start to speak openly about the problems is already an achievement,” Peskov said several hours before the summit’s scheduled start time.

Arrangements for the meeting have been carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated by both sides.

Biden first floated the meeting in an April phone call in which he informed Putin that he would be expelling several Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions against dozens of people and companies, part of an effort to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

Putin and his entourage will arrive first at the summit site: Villa La Grange, a grand lakeside mansion set in Geneva’s biggest park. Next come Biden and his team. Swiss President Guy Parmelin will greet the two leaders.

The three will spend a moment together in front of the cameras, but only Parmelin is expected to make remarks, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.

Biden and Putin first will hold a relatively intimate meeting joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Each side will have a translator.

The meeting will then expand to include five senior aides on each side.

After the meeting concludes, Putin is scheduled to hold a solo news conference, with Biden following suit. The White House opted against a joint news conference, deciding it did not want to appear to elevate Putin at a moment when the president is urging European allies to pressure Putin to cut out myriad provocations.

Biden sees himself with few peers on foreign policy. He traveled the globe as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was given difficult foreign policy assignments by President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president. His portfolio included messy spots like Iraq and Ukraine and weighing the mettle of China’s Xi Jinping during his rise to power.

He has repeatedly said that he believes executing effective foreign policy comes from forming strong personal relations, and he has managed to find rapport with both the likes of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Biden has labeled an “autocrat,” and conventional politicians like Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

But with Putin, whom the president has “no soul,” Biden has long been wary. At the same time, he acknowledges that Putin, who remained the most powerful figure in Russian politics over the span of five U.S. presidents, is not without talent. Biden this week suggested that he is approaching his meeting with Putin carefully.

“He’s bright. He’s tough,” Biden said. “And I have found that he is a — as they say…a worthy adversary.”

The White House held on to hope of finding small areas of agreement.

No commitments have been made, but according to the senior administration official, there are hopes that both sides will return their ambassadors to their respective postings following the meeting. Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer; U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago, after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations.

Both ambassadors will be in Geneva during Wednesday’s meeting.

Biden administration officials say they think common ground can be found on arms control. International arms control groups are pressing the Russian and American leaders to start a push for new arms control by holding “strategic stability” talks — a series of government-to-government discussions meant to sort through the many areas of disagreement and tension on the national security front.

The Biden team will press its concerns on cybersecurity. In recent months, Russia-based hackers have launched alarming attacks on a major U.S. oil pipeline and a Brazil-headquartered meat supplier that operates in the U.S.

The Russian side has said that the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is an internal political matter and one area where Putin won’t engage Biden. But the senior Biden administration official said there “is no issue that is off the table for the president,” suggesting Navalny will come up.

The meeting is sure to invite comparisons with President Donald Trump’s 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, where the two leaders held a joint news conference and Trump sided with Russian denials when asked whether Moscow had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Biden has prepared for his one-on-one by reviewing materials and consulting with officials across government and with outside advisers. Aides said the level of preparation wasn’t unusual. Biden, in a brief exchange with reporters upon a rriving in Geneva on Tuesday night, sought to offer the impression that he wasn’t sweating his big meeting.

“I am always ready,” Biden said.

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Contributing: Associated Press video journalist Daniel Kozin contributed reporting

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This story has been corrected to show that Geneva is not Switzerland’s capital.

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‘No Sunday Law, No Great Controversy, No End-time Prophet and the Mark of the Beast is Undetermined’

Dr. Jon Paulien is a professor at the Loma Linda University School of Religion. At a recent church-sponsored symposium about the end time prophetic events, Dr. Paulien said that Sunday Laws are not coming, the Great Controversy is outdated, there are other options for the mark of the beast and Ellen White was not an end-time prophet.

The presentation was entitled “The Coming Sunday Law Dilemma” featuring Dr. Jon Paulien. However, the “coming Sunday law dilemma” was not about the crisis our world would soon face; no, the “dilemma” that Dr. Paulien was inferring was that there was no Sunday law forthcoming.

What about the mark of the beast? Well, the new contemporary interpretation about the “Mark of the Beast,” according to Dr. Paulien, is that the text of Revelation describes a “counterfeit” and not specifically “Sunday,” and there are many options when interpreting a counterfeit. It can mean “any day” or it can mean “no days.” Do you see what is happening? They are rewriting the message of the mark of the beast. The contemporary church is attempting to remake the movement founded by our pioneers. We are witnessing a scenario in which anything remotely resembling historic Adventism is being eliminated, turned upside down or corrupted.

Then Dr. Pauline said the following about the book Great Controversy and Sunday laws: “The idea of a world-wide Sunday law made a lot of sense back then. The world was quite different than today. So we should not assume that after the passage of more than one hundred and fifty years that every detail would necessarily be fulfilled … Great Controversy fits perfectly with exactly what was happening in the world in the 1880s…If God was giving a prophecy today it wouldn’t sound like what was given back then because we are in a different world.

Dr. Paulien is only affirming what many of our leaders already believe. His statements are a reflection of what Ted Wilson and other church leaders have already embraced. This explains why things are the way they are and why the Great Hope has replaced the Great Controversy. Seventh-day Adventists have reached a watershed moment at this point in history. We must choose between the paths before us. Will the Spirit of Prophecy be believed and obeyed, as revealed in the Great Controversy book? Will we cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land? Or will we believe these scholars who tell us that they know more than the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord and who are leading us not only to Egypt, but into the hands of Rome?

Contact: Andy Roman, Publisher
Address: Advent Messenger, PO Box 96, Dover, OK 73734
Phone: (888) 299-2119

About: Advent Messenger provides news and commentary on current events, top stories, social trends and political and religious events.

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EHA:Eficacia de la vacuna Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b2 en pacientes que reciben CAR-T

La vacuna Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b2 ha sido aprobada para la prevención del síndrome respiratorio agudo severo por coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) y se recomienda para pacientes inmunosuprimidos. Sin embargo, su eficacia y seguridad en pacientes sometidos a terapia celular inmunológica no han sido bien documentadas. En este estudio, evaluamos la eficacia y seguridad de la vacuna BNT162b2 en pacientes que se sometieron a trasplante de células hematopoyéticas (HCT) y terapia con receptor de antígeno quimérico (CAR) -T. Seguimos prospectivamente a 79 pacientes vacunados que fueron tratados activamente en el Centro Médico Sourasky de Tel Aviv y monitoreamos el perfil de seguridad y la respuesta inmune humoral a la vacuna.

En general, la vacuna fue bien tolerada y todos los efectos secundarios se resolvieron en unos pocos días, excepto un rechazo secundario del injerto, que aún está bajo investigación. Observamos que solo el 36% de los pacientes que recibieron terapia CAR-T desarrollaron una respuesta humoral de anticuerpos en comparación con el 81% de los pacientes que se sometieron a un HCT alogénico. Además, los pacientes con aplasia de células B y los que recibieron la vacuna poco después de la infusión de células tenían menos probabilidades de desarrollar anticuerpos. Tomados en conjunto, estos datos demuestran que la respuesta humoral a la vacuna BNT162b2 está significativamente alterada en los pacientes que reciben CAR-T, a diferencia de aquellos después de un HCT alogénico que tuvieron una buena respuesta.

Presentador: Profesor Ron Ram

Afiliación: BMT Unit, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Tel Aviv, Israel

Abstract: #S285 SAFETY AND EFFICACY OF THE BNT162B2 MRNA COVID-19 VACCINE IN PATIENTS AFTER ALLOGENEIC HCT AND CD19-BASED CAR-T THERAPY – A SINGLE CENTER PROSPECTIVE COHORT STUDY

Acerca del Congreso anual de EHA: Cada junio, la EHA organiza su Congreso Anual en una de las principales ciudades europeas. Este año, debido a la persistente pandemia de COVID19, EHA organiza un Congreso virtual por segunda vez. El Congreso está dirigido a profesionales de la salud que trabajen o estén interesados en el campo de la hematología. Los temas del programa científico van desde la fisiología y el desarrollo de las células madre hasta la leucemia; linfoma diagnostico y tratamiento; las células rojas de la sangre; trastornos de los glóbulos blancos y las plaquetas; hemofilia y mieloma; trombosis y trastornos hemorrágicos; así como transfusión y trasplante de células madre.

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The Ad Council and USDA Forest Service Encourage Families to Make the Forest Part of Their Story

Ahead of National Get Outdoors Day on June 12, the USDA Forest Service and the Ad Council today announced new public service advertisements (PSAs) from the Discover the Forest campaign. Since 2009, the Ad Council and USDA Forest Service’s Discover the Forest campaign has encouraged parents and caregivers to take their families out to the forest to experience and reconnect with nature. The new creative work highlights the power of authentic storytelling to showcase the value of the forest as a place where families can deepen their connection with each other and with the outdoors. The PSAs culminate in a singular ask: make the forest part of your family’s story.

“In these times, we are excited that so many families are visiting the outdoors and reconnecting with each other, themselves, and nature,” said Tinelle Bustam, Director, Conservation Education, Forest Service, State and Private Forestry at the USDA Forest Service. “We are deeply grateful to the storytelling artists for their depictions of the forests and family connection. We look forward to engaging families in making the forest part of their story through this campaign.”

This newest creative installment was developed pro bono by David&Goliath, in partnership with multidisciplinary artists Joe Cepeda and Shabazz Larkin. Cepeda and Larkin crafted culturally resonant stories, respectively, for Latino and Black audiences, which serve as the basis of the PSAs. “Our Colors,” written by Cepeda, illustrates how nature inspires art and links us through generations. Larkin’s story entitled “Am I A Tree?” showcases the lessons that humans can learn from trees about how to live and grow. Custom illustrations by Cepeda and Larkin also appear throughout the PSAs. The full suite of assets (including TV, radio, print, outdoor and digital banners) will be available in English and Spanish.

The creative aims to reach all parents and caregivers, with an emphasis on fostering a sense of connection to and belonging in nature among Black and Latino families. While participation in outdoor recreation has increased among Black and Hispanic Americans over the last decade, current participation rates still do not reflect our diverse population in the U.S., and Black and Hispanic Americans remain underrepresented outside.1

“Over the last year, we’ve seen the outdoors become a place of respite for families, and as we head into summer, we know many are eager to continue enjoying and exploring nature,” said Michelle Hillman, Chief Campaign Development Officer at the Ad Council. “This newest iteration of Discover the Forest amplifies authentic and impactful storytelling from two talented artists to help ensure that everyone can envision making the forest part of their family’s story.”

The latest iteration of Discover the Forest also includes a Digital Storybook activity. This new tool allows parents and caregivers to select one of the stories created by Cepeda and Larkin and upload their own family photographs, creating a unique digital memory book capturing their experiences in the forest. In addition to “Am I A Tree?” and “Our Colors,” the Digital Storybook includes two other stories from Larkin and Cepeda, respectively: “We’ve Got the World in Our Hands,” which explores our role as protectors and keepers of nature, and “Stories in the Stars,” which illustrates how we are connected to our ancestors through the stars.

“The stories I wrote for this campaign came partially through craft and partially from personal experience,” said Cepeda. “As a family, we have spent time out in the woods, in the desert and under starry skies. I hope audiences will be able to relate to the feelings my own family has experienced when we venture out – the perspective we get from looking out over a canyon or standing at the foot of a redwood tree. Nature reminds us that we’re stronger and more resourceful than we may realize, and we all need to do a better job of caring for the places we live.”

“My hope in writing these stories is two-fold,” said Larkin. “I hope people will find trust in their joy – to go to the forest with no other intention but to play. I also hope that this campaign reminds everyone that Earth is home for all humans. Little Black boys and girls need to know that the earth is our inheritance just as anyone else and protecting our inheritance is our work, too.”

“We wanted to take this campaign a step further than just creating another set of PSAs and really provide a genuine connection to the forest that would resonate with our target audience,” said Lixaida Lorenzo, Executive Creative Director, David&Goliath. “From this sentiment, Joe and Shabazz crafted these unique stories that our audiences can relate to in an immediate and visceral way. Stories that just don’t talk to them, but belong to them.”

Creative agency partner Wordsworth + Booth is developing additional radio assets to extend this new round of PSAs, with creative that also uses storytelling to demonstrate how the forest can bring imagination to life and allow families to connect in their own unique ways.

Across all PSAs, audiences are directed to DiscoverTheForest.org and DescubreElBosque.org, where they can search for nearby forests, parks and trails and where they’ll find ideas for outdoor-focused activities. The new PSAs will run nationwide in time and space donated by the media, per the Ad Council’s model.

To find a forest, park or trail near you, visit DiscoverTheForest.org, and follow Discover the Forest on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Ad Council
The Ad Council is where creativity and causes converge. The non-profit organization brings together the most creative minds in advertising, media, technology and marketing to address many of the nation’s most important causes. The Ad Council has created many of the most iconic campaigns in advertising history. Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk. Smokey Bear. Love Has No Labels.

The Ad Council’s innovative social good campaigns raise awareness, inspire action and save lives. To learn more, visit AdCouncil.org, follow the Ad Council’s communities on Facebook and Twitter and view the creative on YouTube.

USDA Forest Service
The Forest Service is the agency responsible for overseeing the use of Smokey Bear in cooperation with the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council. The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands for the American Public. Its mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

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CGTN: La educación en la lucha de China contra la pobreza: que nadie se quede atrás

Un viejo refrán chino dice: “para cavar un pozo, comienzas con un hueco pequeño y, con el tiempo, tendrás una fosa”. La frase significa que un viaje largo comienza con un solo paso. Fue extraída del tratado filosófico “Liu Zi · Chong Xue”, un libro escrito hace aproximadamente 1.500 años.

El presidente chino Xi Jinping consideró que la educación era el primer paso fundamental para “cavar el pozo” de la erradicación de la pobreza absoluta en China, lo que se logró en 2020.

La escuela primaria Fuzhou Hope de Yangjialing en Yan’an, provincia de Shaanxi, en el noroeste de China, fue renovada en 1995 con donaciones por parte de la ciudad de Fuzhou, capital de la provincia suroriental de Fujian después de que Xi Jinping, entonces jefe del Partido en Fuzhou, alentara a los empresarios locales a colaborar en la construcción de escuelas en las regiones subdesarrolladas del país.

“No dejen que los niños pierdan estando en la línea de partida”, afirmó Xi cuando visitó la escuela en 2015 y destacó la educación como un factor clave en el desarrollo de las regiones pobres.

La escuela, que en algún momento de la historia empezó con un maestro y un aula acomodados en una cueva, ha cambiado rápidamente con el apoyo del gobierno y la sociedad. Ahora es un establecimiento de cuatro pisos equipado con modernas aulas multimedia en el cual los estudiantes pueden recibir almuerzos gratuitos.

Las estadísticas del Ministerio de Educación publicadas en 2020 muestran que la inversión total de China en educación, que incluye el suministro de alimentación gratuita y la mejora de las instalaciones escolares, aumentó en más de un 8 % anual durante los últimos tres años.

Según el informe técnico sobre la mitigación de la pobreza en China, publicado en abril de 2021, el país ha renovado 108.000 escuelas desde 2013 para fortalecer el modelo de educación obligatoria de nueve años en las zonas vulnerables.

“La reducción de la pobreza debe comenzar acabando con la ignorancia. Por lo tanto, brindar a los niños de las zonas rurales una buena educación es una tarea importante para mitigar la pobreza y también constituye una medida crucial para acabar con la transmisión intergeneracional de la pobreza”, sostuvo Xi.

En cuanto a la igualdad en la educación como base de la igualdad social, Xi Jinping ha destacado en muchas ocasiones la importancia de cerrar la brecha que existe en relación con los recursos educativos y la calidad entre las zonas rurales y urbanas.

Según el Ministerio de Educación, en el XIII Plan Quinquenal (2016-2020), el presupuesto central de China asignó alrededor de 749.500 millones de yuanes (114.600 millones de dólares estadounidenses) en subsidios para garantizar la educación obligatoria y el 90 % de esos fondos se invirtió en áreas rurales. Por ejemplo, a los estudiantes provenientes de familias rurales de bajos recursos se les concedió un subsidio de subsistencia gubernamental para apoyar sus estudios.

En el informe técnico de 2021 sobre la mitigación de la pobreza en China se afirma que no se han registrado cifras de abandono escolar en las zonas rurales causadas por dificultades financieras. La educación obligatoria de nueve años ahora es accesible para todos los niños de los hogares rurales de bajos recursos y la tasa de finalización en 2020 fue del 94,8 %.

A medida que China avanza en la digitalización de la educación, la infraestructura de la internet también ha contribuido a cerrar la brecha de la calidad de la educación entre las zonas urbanas y rurales: las escuelas de educación primaria y media de todo el país tienen conexión a internet.

Los estudiantes de la escuela primaria de Yangjialing Fuzhou Hope gozan del privilegio de tener “aulas de internet” mediante las cuales la escuela utiliza la red para compartir clases en tiempo real con las escuelas asociadas de las grandes ciudades.

También se han aprovechado las políticas favorables para matricular a más estudiantes de bajos recursos, ampliar las oportunidades de empleo de los graduados y ayudar a los estudiantes a superar la pobreza a través de la educación técnica.

Más de 8 millones de graduados de escuelas de educación media y secundaria provenientes de familias de bajos recursos han recibido formación técnica; otros 5,14 millones de estudiantes han recibido educación superior, y algunas instituciones clave de enseñanza superior han admitido a unos 700.000 estudiantes provenientes de varias zonas rurales y vulnerables designadas.

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The new guy? Biden debuts at democracy’s most exclusive club

Angela, Boris, Emmanuel, Justin, Mario, Yoshihide and a relative newcomer: Joe.

They’re the board of global democracy’s most exclusive club, and they’re meeting this week after four years of U.S. disruption and a two-year coronavirus interruption.

Already on a first-name basis with relationships that range from just months to years, the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized democracies are gathering Friday amid hopes that the departure of their most unruly member and a new era of personal friendships enhanced by face-to-face discussions can restore a global anti-authoritarian consensus on climate, the coronavirus, China and Russia.

The G-7’s return to polite quasi-normality comes as President Joe Biden seeks to restore steady U.S. leadership to the bloc, which had been hamstrung by his predecessor Donald Trump’s often confrontational approach to longtime American allies. U.S. officials believe Biden’s decadeslong experience in foreign policy combined with his personal skills and folksy demeanor will ease lingering resentments.

Trump had thrown a wrench into G-7 unity, demanding the absolute prioritization of U.S. interests, threatening decades-old security guarantees, insulting colleagues and loudly suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin be invited back into the group despite his refusal to meet demands for Moscow to stay out of Ukraine.

Biden aims to take a new tack. Asked about his goals upon departing from Washington, Biden replied: “Strengthening the alliance and make it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight, and the G-7 is going to move.”

Of the seven leaders meeting Friday in Britain’s southwest Cornwall, two are newbies. Biden and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi took office within weeks of each other this year.

Two others have been in power for two years or less: Britain’s Boris Johnson since 2019, and Japan’s Yoshihide Suga since 2020. Yet the other three have a long history together, some of them with Biden dating to his days in the Senate and as vice president.

Germany’s Angela Merkel will be attending her last G-7 summit before stepping down as chancellor in September after 16 years. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been in office since 2015 and French President Emmanuel Macron since 2017. All had famously testy relations with Trump over trade, defense spending, climate change and other issues.

Trump once accused Trudeau of being “very dishonest and weak” in the context of a G-7 summit. He frequently disparaged Merkel and Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May in similar terms and denounced Macron’s skepticism of NATO abilities as “nasty” and “insulting.” Johnson was the exception, as Trump saw him as a kindred iconoclastic spirit.

The open hostility hindered the group’s ability to present a unified front. Biden hopes to soothe those relations on his first overseas trip as president.

Since taking office, Biden has met in person with only one of his G-7 counterparts, Suga. But in virtual sessions and phone calls, he has sought to build on his personal connections with the others and has said he wants more in-person meetings.

“There’s no substitute for face-to-face discussions,” Biden told Suga when they met at the White House in April. “Those personal bonds of friendship and connection, they’re the ones that are going to keep this alliance strong and vibrant for decades to come.”

Good relations “make it easier to do business,” said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and a retired three-time U.S. ambassador.

“You won’t find that people will act against what they perceive as their interests just because they’re friends, but it does mean that it’s easier to have conversations to explore whether there are ways to bring interests closer together,” he said.

That didn’t happen in the Trump years. “My sense is that we were not very interested in exploring areas for compromise — we were interested in getting, or rather telling, the others to do things our way,” Neumann said.

As Biden has pursued some policies identical to Trump’s, he has met far less resistance than his predecessor did, notably winning support for the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Just weeks before Biden announced he had decided to generally stick with Trump’s pullout plan, U.S. allies had warned against any precipitous moves.

Similarly, Biden’s reversal of Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada was met with only a muted response from Ottawa amid the new president’s outreach to Trudeau. “The United States has no closer friend — no closer friend — than Canada. That’s why you were my first call as president,” Biden told Trudeau.

On Wednesday, though, the sponsor of Keystone XL pulled the plug on the project after Canadian officials failed to persuade Biden to reverse his cancellation of its permit on the day he took office.

Biden and Macron will be meeting for the first time in person, and French officials said Macron is eager to build on discussions they have had by phone and video. A centrist, Macron did not hide that he was counting on Biden’s election to bring the United States’ positions closer to France’s over the Paris climate accord, a minimum global corporate tax and global security issues.

But, perhaps, no G-7 leader has been a greater beneficiary than Merkel, the doyenne of the group. Biden slapped a hold on Trump’s decision to reduce the U.S. military presence in Germany and used a national security waiver to avoid hitting a German company and its CEO with sanctions over a controversial pipeline.

“It’s a basic truth of foreign policy that each country has its own values and interests. But then there is of course also the hard-to-measure factor of understanding that can form between two sides’ leaders — or sometimes doesn’t form,” said Merkel spokesperson Steffen Seibert. “And of course it’s better if it does form, if one does have a common culture of dialogue, if one listens to each other, if one also tries to understand the other person’s stance and convictions.”

Johnson, meanwhile, is keen to ensure Biden remains committed to Washington-London comity, especially as he continues to seek preferential post-Brexit trade status with America that had been all but guaranteed under Trump.

Trump had praised Johnson and Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union unequivocally, calling him “Britain’s Trump.” Biden had reacted in kind as a candidate, calling the British leader a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump. Still, the British government has worked hard to overcome that impression, stressing Johnson’s common ground with Biden on issues such as climate change and his support for international institutions.

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Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Rob Gilles in Toronto, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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Biden, Johnson to stress close ties, manage differences

Their nations may have a famed “special relationship,” but President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet for the first time Thursday against a backdrop of differences both political and personal.

Biden hopes to use his first overseas trip as president to reassure European allies that the United States had shed the transactional tendencies of Donald Trump’s term and is a reliable partner again. But tensions may simmer beneath the surface of Biden’s meeting with Johnson.

The president staunchly opposed the Brexit movement, the British exodus from the European Union that Johnson championed, and has expressed great concern with the future of Northern Ireland. And Biden once called the British leader a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump.

The British government has worked hard to overcome that impression, stressing Johnson’s common ground with Biden on issues such as climate change and his support for international institutions. But Johnson, the host for the Group of Seven summit that will follow his sit-down with Biden, has been frustrated by the lack of a new trade deal with the United States.

But both sides stressed that, publicly, the Biden-Johnson meeting would be about reaffirming ties between longtime allies in a week in which Biden will look to rally the West to rebuff Russian meddling and publicly demonstrate it can compete economically with China.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan described Biden’s initial calls with Johnson as “warm” and “constructive” and played down any differences between the two nations’ goals.

“They’ve been very much down to business,” Sullivan said at the White House this week. “And I expect that their meeting together will just cover the waterfront. I mean, really, a wide range of issues where the two of them and the U.S and United Kingdom do see eye to eye.”

Biden, who is fiercely proud of his Irish roots, has warned there will be no trade deal if contentious Brexit-related legislation planned by Johnson’s government undermines Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday peace accord. Some on the British side have viewed Biden warily because of his heritage.

After Brexit, a new arrangement was needed for the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, because the European Union requires certain goods to be inspected and others not to be admitted at all. Ahead of a June 30 deadline, ongoing negotiations over goods — including sausages — have been contentious and have attracted the attention of the White House.

“President Biden has been crystal clear about his rock-solid belief in the Good Friday Agreement as the foundation for peaceful coexistence in Northern Ireland,” Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden flew to England on Wednesday. “Any steps that imperil or undermine it will not be welcomed by the United States.”

The two leaders also were expected to discuss climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, creating an infrastructure financing program for developing countries, Afghanistan and a refresher of the 80-year-old Atlantic Charter between the two nations, Sullivan said.

The new charter will be modeled on the historic joint statement made by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 setting out goals for the postwar world.

But Trump’s presence was still likely to be felt on Thursday. Johnson and Trump, for a time, appeared to be kindred spirits, both riding a wave of populism that in 2016 delivered Brexit and upended the American political landscape.

Biden, for his part, has expressed a mistrust of Johnson, who once unspooled a Trump-like insult of President Barack Obama, saying that Biden’s former boss was “half-Kenyan” and had an ancestral dislike of Britain.

“Did Donald Trump irrevocably damage relations with Europe? I think the answer to that is no,” said Thomas Gift, director of the Centre on U.S. Politics at University College London. “But I do think that it created some challenges that Biden is going to have to overcome.”

Since World War II, the trans-Atlantic “special relationship” has been sustained by a common language, shared interests, military cooperation and cultural affection. Sometimes that has been bolstered by close personal bonds, such as the friendship between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, or between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

It has endured even when leaders’ relations were less cordial, as when British Prime Minister Harold Wilson refused to join the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

“There is far more that unites the government of this country and government in Washington any time, any stage, than divides us,” Johnson told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Brexit may test those bonds. The U.S. still values Britain’s role as a European economic and military power and a member of the intelligence-sharing “Five Eyes” alliance. But Biden has made clear that he intends to rebuild bridges with the EU, a frequent target of Trump’s ire. That suggests Berlin, Brussels and Paris, rather than London, will be uppermost in his thoughts.

Britain had been hoping to secure a quick trade agreement with the U.S. after its official departure from the EU in January. The change in administration in Washington leaves prospects of a deal uncertain.

And there may be one more, though admittedly small, obstacle to nurturing the “special relationship” — the very phrase itself.

Johnson has said he did not appreciate “special relationship,” used by the U.S. president, because to the prime minister it seemed needy and weak. Johnson’s spokesperson said this week: “The prime minister is on the record previously saying he prefers not to use the phrase, but that in no way detracts from the importance with which we regard our relationship with the U.S., our closest ally.”

___

Lawless reported from London. Madhani reported from Mildenhall, England. Associated Press writer Josh Boak in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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ProPublica: Many of the uber-rich pay next to no income tax

The rich really are different from you and me: They’re better at dodging the tax collector.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011. Tesla founder Elon Musk’s income tax bill was zero in 2018. And financier George Soros went three straight years without paying federal income tax, according to a report Tuesday from the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica.

Overall, the richest 25 Americans pay less in tax — an average of 15.8% of adjusted gross income — than many ordinary workers do, once you include taxes for Social Security and Medicare, ProPublica found. Its findings are likely to heighten a national debate over the vast and widening inequality between the very wealthiest Americans and everyone else.

An anonymous source delivered to ProPublica reams of Internal Revenue Service data on the country’s wealthiest people, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. ProPublica compared the tax data it received with information available from other sources. It reported that “in every instance we were able to check — involving tax filings by more than 50 separate people — the details provided to ProPublica matched the information from other sources.”

Using perfectly legal tax strategies, many of the uber-rich are able to shrink their federal tax bills to nothing or close to it.

A spokesman for Soros, who has supported higher taxes on the rich, told ProPublica that the billionaire had lost money on his investments from 2016 to 2018 and so did not owe federal income tax for those years. Musk responded to ProPublica’s initial request for comment with a punctuation mark — “?″ — and did not answer detailed follow-up questions.

The federal tax code is meant to be progressive — that is, the rich pay a steadily higher tax rate on their income as it rises. And ProPublica found, in fact, that people earning between $2 million and $5 million a year paid an average of 27.5%, the highest of any group of taxpayers.

Above $5 million in income, though, tax rates fell: The top .001% of taxpayers — 1,400 people who reported income above $69 million — paid 23%. And the 25 very richest people paid still less.

The wealthy can reduce their tax bills through the use of charitable donations or by avoiding wage income (which can be taxed at up to 37%) and benefiting instead mainly from investment income (usually taxed at 20%).

President Joe Biden, in seeking revenue to finance his spending plans, has proposed higher taxes on the wealthy. Biden wants to raise the top tax rate to 39.6% for people earning $400,000 a year or more in taxable income, estimated to be fewer than 2% of U.S. households. The top tax rate that workers pay on salaries and wages now is 37%.

Biden is proposing to nearly double the tax rate that high-earning Americans pay on profits from stocks and other investments. In addition, under his proposals, inherited capital gains would no longer be tax-free.

The president, whose proposals must be approved by Congress, would also raise taxes on corporations, which would affect wealthy investors who own corporate stocks.

ProPublica reported that the tax bills of the rich are especially low when compared with their soaring wealth — the value of their investment portfolios, real estate and other assets. People don’t have to pay tax on an increase in their wealth until they cash in and, say, sell their stock or home and realize the gains. Using calculations by Forbes magazine, ProPublica noted that the wealth of the 25 richest Americans collectively jumped by $401 billion from 2014 to 2018. They paid $13.6 billion in federal income taxes over those years — equal to just 3.4% of the increase in their wealth.

Chuck Marr, a senior director at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, suggested that Biden’s proposals, which face fierce opposition from Republicans in Congress and from businesses, are “modest” given how much the wealthy have benefited in recent years and how comparatively little tax many of them pay.

“It always seems like the solutions are cast as radical when there’s less focus on the current situation being radical,” Marr said.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, among others, have proposed taxing the wealth of the richest Americans, not just their income.

On Tuesday, Warren tweeted in response to the ProPublica report:

“Our tax system is rigged for billionaires who don’t make their fortunes through income, like working families do. The evidence is abundantly clear: it is time for a #WealthTax in America to make the ultra-rich finally pay their fair share.″

Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is a leading expert on economic inequality, says there are three ways to ensure that the wealthy pay more: Impose a direct tax on their wealth like the one Warren has proposed; tax the gains in their wealth, whether or not they cash in and realize a gain; or raise taxes on corporate profits.

ProPublica’s data “reveals that the country’s wealthiest, who have profited handsomely during the pandemic, have not been paying their fair share of taxes,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who leads the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, said at the start of a hearing Tuesday on the IRS’ budget with Commissioner Charles Rettig.

Wyden has proposed legislation that would tighten enforcement of tax collection against wealthy individuals and corporations that use artifices and loopholes to skirt paying taxes.

For his part, Rettig said that the IRS is investigating the leak of the tax data to ProPublica and that any violations of law would be prosecuted. (ProPublica reported that it doesn’t know the identity of the source who provided the data.)

“We will find out about the ProPublica article,” Rettig said. “We have turned it over to the appropriate investigators, both external and internal.”

Now controlling the White House and Congress, Democrats are focusing on the tax gap — the hundreds of billions of dollars’ difference between what Americans owe the government in taxes and what they pay — and its connection to economic inequality. The top 10% of earners have accounted for most of that gap, experts say, by underreporting their liabilities, intentionally or not, as tax avoidance or as outright evasion.

The tax gap is under a spotlight as a potential source for recouping some revenue to help pay for Biden’s proposed spending on infrastructure, families and education. Democrats have been pushing the IRS to invigorate its enforcement of tax collection and make it fairer, by pursuing the big corporations and wealthy individuals who manage to game the system.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Wyden told Rettig that it’s wrong “how the wealthy always seem to skip out on their obligations.”

“You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being audited if you’re a partner in a partnership,” Wyden said.

Rettig responded, “We are outgunned.”

Democrats have argued that the tax gap has widened mainly because big U.S. corporations have parked revenue overseas and wealthy individuals have failed to pay their fair share. They assert that the IRS, long understaffed and underfunded, has tended to pursue taxpayers of modest means more aggressively than high-powered businesspeople and corporations.

Taxpayers with annual incomes under $25,000 are audited at a higher rate (0.69%) than those with incomes up to $500,000 (0.53%), according to IRS data. Taxpayers who receive the earned-income tax credit, which applies mainly to low-income workers with children, are audited at a higher rate than all but the very wealthiest tax filers. The audit rate for millionaires fell from 8.4% in 2010 to 2.4% in 2019.

The agency’s funding has been slashed about 20% since 2010. Biden’s new spending proposals include an extra $80 billion over 10 years to bolster IRS audits of upper-income individuals and corporations, with an eye toward recovering an estimated $700 billion.

Much of the gap comes from the use of overseas havens. The government loses between an estimated $40 billion and $120 billion a year from offshore tax evasion. Biden’s tax plan includes measures to stop corporations from stashing profits in countries with low tax rates. Last weekend, the Group of Seven wealthy democracies, which includes the United States, agreed to support a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15% to deter multinational companies from avoiding taxes by stashing profits in low-rate countries.

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Global glitch: Swaths of internet go down after cloud outage

Dozens of websites went down briefly around the globe Tuesday, including CNN, The New York Times and Britain’s government home page, after an outage at the cloud computing service Fastly, illustrating how vital a small number of behind-the-scenes companies have become to running the internet.

The sites that could not be reached also included some Amazon pages, the Financial Times, Reddit, Twitch and The Guardian.

San Francisco-based Fastly acknowledged a problem just before 6 a.m. Eastern. About an hour later, the company said: “The issue has been identified and a fix has been applied.” Most of the sites soon appeared to be back online.

The company said in an emailed statement that it was a “technical issue” and “not related to a cyber attack.”

Still, major futures markets in the U.S. dipped sharply minutes after the outage, which came a month after hackers forced the shutdown of the biggest fuel pipeline in the U.S.

Fastly is a content-delivery network, or CDN. It provides vital but behind-the-scenes cloud computing “edge servers” to many of the web’s popular sites. These servers store, or “cache,” content such as images and video in places around the world so that it is closer to users, allowing them to fetch it more quickly and smoothly.

Fastly says its services mean that a European user going to an American website can get the content 200 to 500 milliseconds faster.

Internet traffic measurement by Kentik showed that Fastly began to recover from the outage roughly an hour after it struck at mid-morning European time, before most Americans were awake.

“Looks like it is slowly coming back,” said Doug Madory, an internet infrastructure expert at Kentik. He said “it is serious because Fastly is one of the world’s biggest CDNs and this was a global outage.”

Brief internet service outages are not uncommon and are only rarely the result of hacking or other mischief.

Fastly stock jumped about 6% by midday as investors shrugged off the problem.

Still, the incident highlighted the relative fragility of the internet’s architecture given its heavy reliance on Big Tech companies — such as Amazon’s AWS cloud services — as opposed to a more decentralized array of companies.

“Even the biggest and most sophisticated companies experience outages. But they can also recover fairly quickly,” Madory said.

When the outage hit, some visitors trying to access CNN.com got a message that said: “Fastly error: unknown domain: cnn.com.” Attempts to access the Financial Times website turned up a similar message, while visits to The New York Times and U.K. government’s gov.uk site returned an “Error 503 Service Unavailable” message, along with the line “Varnish cache server,” which is a technology that Fastly is built on.

Down Detector, which tracks internet outages, posted reports on dozens of sites going down.