Briefs: President-elect marks Veterans Day at Korean War Memorial

President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden, attend a service at the Philadelphia Korean War Memorial at Penn’s Landing on Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Associated Press

Stories include a look at how the media "calls" elections and preparations for government transition

The Associated Press

Joe Biden is marking Veterans Day with a visit to the Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia.

The president-elect is making a brief foray out with his wife, Jill, to the memorial, where he is laying a wreath.

Biden's son Beau was a major in the Delaware Army National Guard and died in 2015 of brain cancer. Biden often spoke emotionally of his son's service on the campaign trail.

Jill Biden made military spouses and families one of her signature issues when Biden served as Barack Obama's vice president, and aides say that may be one of her focal points as first lady.

Biden otherwise is spending his Wednesday in private briefings with his transition team.

States cite smooth election, despite Trump's baseless claims

ATLANTA — The 2020 election unfolded smoothly across the country and without any widespread irregularities, according to state officials and election experts, a stark contrast to the baseless claims of fraud being leveled by President Donald Trump following his defeat. 

Election experts said the large increase in advance voting — 107 million people voting early in person and by mail — helped take pressure off Election Day operations. There were also no incidents of violence at the polls or voter intimidation. 

"The 2020 general election was one of the smoothest and most well-run elections that we have ever seen, and that is remarkable considering all the challenges," said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to serve on the Election Assistance Commission, which works closely with officials on election administration.

Following Democrat Joe Biden's victory, Trump has sought to discredit the integrity of the election and argued without evidence that the results will be overturned. Republican lawmakers have said the president should be allowed to launch legal challenges, though many of those lawsuits have already been turned away by judges and those that remain do not include evidence of problems that would change the outcome of the race. 

In Wisconsin, a battleground state where Biden narrowly edged Trump, top election official Meagan Wolfe said there were no problems with the election reported to her office and no complaints filed alleging any irregularities. 

US hits record COVID-19 hospitalizations amid virus surge

NEW YORK — The U.S. hit a record number of coronavirus hospitalizations Tuesday and surpassed 1 million new confirmed cases in just the first 10 days of November amid a nationwide surge of infections that shows no signs of slowing.

The new wave appears bigger and more widespread than the surges that happened in the spring and summer — and threatens to be worse. But experts say there are also reasons to think the nation is better able to deal with the virus this time around.

"We're definitely in a better place" when it comes to improved medical tools and knowledge, said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious-disease researcher.

Newly confirmed infections in the U.S. were running at all-time highs of well over 100,000 per day, pushing the total to more than 10 million and eclipsing 1 million since Halloween. There are now 61,964 people hospitalized, according to the COVID Tracking Project. 

Several states posted records Tuesday, including over 12,600 new cases in Illinois, 10,800 in Texas and 7,000 in Wisconsin.

Joe Biden vows to 'get right to work' despite Donald Trump's resistance

WILMINGTON, Del. — Vowing "to get right to work," President-elect Joe Biden shrugged off President Donald Trump's fierce refusal to accept the election outcome as "inconsequential," even as Democrats elsewhere warned that the Republican president's actions were dangerous.

Raising unsupported claims of voter fraud, Trump has blocked the incoming president from receiving intelligence briefings and withheld federal funding intended to help facilitate the transfer of power. Trump's resistance, backed by senior Republicans in Washington and across the country, could also prevent background investigations and security clearances for prospective staff and access to federal agencies to discuss transition planning.

As some Democrats and former Republican officials warned of serious consequences, Biden sought to lower the national temperature Tuesday as he addressed reporters from a makeshift transition headquarters near his home in downtown Wilmington. 

Biden described Trump's position as little more than an "embarrassing" mark on the outgoing president's legacy, while predicting that Republicans on Capitol Hill would eventually accept the reality of Biden's victory. The Republican resistance, Biden said, "does not change the dynamic at all in what we're able to do." 

Additional intelligence briefings "would be useful," Biden added, but "we don't see anything slowing us down."

Analysis: GOP lets doubts about Biden's legitimacy flourish

WASHINGTON — In backing President Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud, Republicans risk leaving millions of Americans with the false impression that the results of the 2020 race are illegitimate.

And that may be the point.

None of Trump's legal challenges and assertions of voting irregularities has revealed any substantive issues with the election that would overturn the results. And some GOP lawmakers and party officials privately acknowledge that Trump has no choice but to step aside by Jan. 20 and cede power to President-elect Joe Biden. 

But Trump is doing nothing to make that road to Inauguration Day easier for Biden. In fact, he's trying to block it, littering the path with misinformation and falsehoods about the election. As a result, Biden will almost certainly be viewed as an illegitimate president by some voters, potentially denying him that period of goodwill that typically greets a new president. 

The stakes for Biden are even greater, especially if the Senate remains in Republican control, as he advances an agenda to arrest the spiraling pandemic and faltering economy.

In Iran, a massive cemetery struggles to keep up with virus

TEHRAN, Iran — For over half a century, a massive graveyard on the edge of Iran's capital has provided a final resting place for this country's war dead, its celebrities and artists, its thinkers and leaders and all those in between. 

But Behesht-e-Zahra is now struggling to keep up with the coronavirus pandemic ravaging Iran, with double the usual number of bodies arriving each day and grave diggers excavating thousands of new plots.

"All of the crises that we have experienced at this cemetery over the past 50 years of its history have lasted for just a few days or a week at most," said Saeed Khaal, the cemetery's manager. Never before — not during earthquakes or even the country's 1980s war with Iraq — has the pace of bodies flowing into Behesht-e-Zahra been so high for so long, he said.

"Now we have been in a crisis for 260 days, and it is not clear how many months more we are going to be facing this crisis," he said. 

With 1.6 million people buried on its grounds, which stretch across more than 5 square kilometers (1,320 acres), Behesht-e-Zahra is one of the world's largest cemeteries and the primary one for Tehran's 8.6 million people. The golden minarets of its Imam Khomeini Shrine, the burial site of the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, are visible for kilometers. 

Recordings reveal WHO's analysis of pandemic in private

GENEVA — As the coronavirus explodes again, the World Health Organization finds itself both under intense pressure to reform and holding out hope that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will reverse a decision by Washington to leave the health agency.

With its annual meeting underway this week, WHO has been sharply criticized for not taking a stronger and more vocal role in handling the pandemic. For example, in private internal meetings in the early days of the virus, top scientists described some countries' approaches as "an unfortunate laboratory to study the virus" and a "macabre" opportunity to see what worked, recordings obtained by The Associated Press show. Yet in public, the U.N. health agency lauded governments for their responses. 

Biden has promised to overturn President Donald Trump's decision in June to cut off funds to WHO and withdraw the U.S. WHO has also bowed to demands from member countries for an independent panel to review its management of the pandemic response, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that the agency welcomed "any and all attempts" to strengthen it "for the sake of the people we serve." 

One of the central dilemmas facing the WHO is that it has no enforcement powers or authority to independently investigate within countries. Instead, the health agency relies on behind-the-scenes talks and the cooperation of member states. 

Critics say WHO's traditional aversion to confronting its member countries has come at a high price. As COVID-19 spread, WHO often shied away from calling out countries, as big donors such as Japan, France and Britain made repeated mistakes, according to dozens of leaked recordings of internal WHO meetings and documents from January to April obtained by The Associated Press.

EXPLAINER: Why do the media call races in US elections?

Fifty-one separate elections — one in each state and one in Washington, DC. Each with different rules and regulations, and no national elections commission to tell the world who wins. How, then, to quickly and accurately determine who won the highest office in the land?

That's where the news media come in — and have done so since 1848, when The Associated Press declared the election of Zachary Taylor as president.

The Electoral College actually chooses the president under the U.S. Constitution, acting in a process that starts with the popular vote across the republic. But its work takes weeks. In that strange vacuum created by a federalist system and worsened — in the 1800s — by the slow counting and communicating of returns, news organizations emerged as major players in first, collecting and adding together the vote from each state's election officials around the country, then announcing the victor based on that vote count.

Lots of people seem surprised by that these days, including President Donald Trump. After The Associated Press and the major U.S. television networks called the presidential race for Democrat Joe Biden, Trump tweeted: Since when does the media "call who the next president will be"?

Hong Kong's pro-democracy lawmakers resign as a group

HONG KONG — Hong Kong's pro-democracy lawmakers said Wednesday that they were resigning en masse following a move by the semi-autonomous Chinese territory's government to disqualify four of their fellow pro-democracy legislators.

The 15 lawmakers announced the move in a news conference Wednesday, hours after the Hong Kong government said it was disqualifying the four legislators — Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung.

The disqualifications came after China's National People's Congress Standing Committee, which held meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, passed a resolution stating that those who support Hong Kong's independence or refuse to acknowledge China's sovereignty over the city, or threaten national security or ask external forces to interfere in the city's affairs, should be disqualified. 

"Today we will resign from our positions, because our partners, our colleagues have been disqualified by the central government's ruthless move," Wu Chi-wai, convener of the pro-democracy camp, said at the news conference.

"Although we are facing a lot of difficulties in the coming future for the fight of democracy, but we will never, ever give up," he said.

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