Space Station Marking 20 Years of People Living in Orbit 

FILE – Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalyov (Top), Yuri Gidzenko and U.S. astronaut Bill Shepherd (C) wave hands before the launch at Baikonur.Shepherd, a former Navy SEAL who served as the station commander, likened it to living on a ship at sea. The three spent most of their time coaxing equipment to work; balky systems made the place too warm. Conditions were primitive, compared with now.   Installations and repairs took hours at the new space station, versus minutes on the ground, Krikalev recalled.   “Each day seemed to have its own set of challenges,” Shepherd said during a recent NASA panel discussion with his crewmates.   The space station has since morphed into a complex that’s almost as long as a football field, with eight miles (13 kilometers) of electrical wiring, an acre of solar panels and three high-tech labs.   “It’s 500 tons of stuff zooming around in space, most of which never touched each other until it got up there and bolted up,” Shepherd told The Associated Press. “And it’s all run for 20 years with almost no big problems.”   “It’s a real testament to what can be done in these kinds of programs,” he said.   Shepherd, 71, is long retired from NASA and lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Krikalev, 62, and Gidzenko, 58, have risen in the Russian space ranks. Both were involved in the mid-October launch of the 64th crew.   The first thing the three did upon arriving at the darkened space station on Nov. 2, 2000, was turn on the lights, which Krikalev recalled as “very memorable.” Then they heated water for hot drinks and activated the lone toilet.   “Now we can live,” Gidzenko remembers Shepherd saying. “We have lights, we have hot water and we have toilet.”   The crew called their new home Alpha, but the name didn’t stick.   Although pioneering the way, the three had no close calls during their nearly five months up there, Shepherd said, and so far the station has held up relatively well.   NASA’s top concern nowadays is the growing threat from space junk. This year, the orbiting lab has had to dodge debris three times.   As for station amenities, astronauts now have near-continuous communication with flight controllers and even an internet phone for personal use. The first crew had sporadic radio contact with the ground; communication blackouts could last hours.   While the three astronauts got along fine, tension sometimes bubbled up between them and the two Mission Controls, in Houston and outside Moscow. Shepherd got so frustrated with the “conflicting marching orders” that he insisted they come up with a single plan.   “I’ve got to say, that was my happiest day in space,” he said during the panel discussion.   FILE – This image of the International Space Station with the docked Europe’s ATV /Johannes Kepler/ and Space Shuttle /Endeavour/ was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on 24 May 2011.With its first piece launched in 1998, the International Space Station already has logged 22 years in orbit. NASA and its partners contend it easily has several years of usefulness left at 260 miles (400 kilometers) up.   The Mir station — home to Krikalev and Gidzenko in the late 1980s and 1990s — operated for 15 years before being guided to a fiery reentry over the Pacific in 2001. Russia’s earlier stations and America’s 1970s Skylab had much shorter life spans, as did China’s much more recent orbital outposts.   Astronauts spend most of their six-month stints these days keeping the space station running and performing science experiments. A few have even spent close to a year up there on a single flight, serving as medical guinea pigs. Shepherd and his crew, by contrast, barely had time for a handful of experiments.   The first couple weeks were so hectic — “just working and working and working,” according to Gidzenko — that they didn’t shave for days. It took a while just to find the razors.   Even back then, the crew’s favorite pastime was gazing down at Earth. It takes a mere 90 minutes for the station to circle the world, allowing astronauts to soak in a staggering 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets each day.   The current residents — one American and two Russians, just like the original crew — plan to celebrate Monday’s milestone by sharing a special dinner, enjoying the views of Earth and remembering all the crews who came before them, especially the first.   But it won’t be a day off: “Probably we’ll be celebrating this day by hard work,” Sergei Kud-Sverchkov said Friday from orbit.   One of the best outcomes of 20 years of continuous space habitation, according to Shepherd, is astronaut diversity.   In this photo released by NASA on Oct. 17, 2019, U.S. astronauts Jessica Meir, left, and Christina Koch pose for a photo in the International Space Station.While men still lead the pack, more crews include women. Two U.S. women have served as space station skipper. Commanders typically are American or Russian, but have also come from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. While African-Americans have made short visits to the space station, the first Black resident is due to arrive in mid-November on SpaceX’s second astronaut flight.   Massive undertakings like human Mars trips can benefit from the past two decades of international experience and cooperation, Shepherd said.   “If you look at the space station program today, it’s a blueprint on how to do it. All those questions about how this should be organized and what it’s going to look like, the big questions are already behind us,” he told the AP.   Russia, for instance, kept station crews coming and going after NASA’s Columbia disaster in 2003 and after the shuttles retired in 2011.   When Shepherd and his crewmates returned to Earth aboard shuttle Discovery after nearly five months, his main objective had been accomplished.   “Our crew showed that we can work together,” he said. 

Former James Bond Actor Sean Connery Dies Aged 90 

Scottish movie legend Sean Connery, who shot to international stardom as the suave, sexy and sophisticated British agent James Bond and went on to grace the silver screen for four decades, has died aged 90. The BBC and Sky News reported his death on Saturday. “I was heartbroken to learn this morning of the passing of Sir Sean Connery. Our nation today mourns one of her best loved sons,” said Scottish First Minster Nicola Sturgeon. “Sean was a global legend but, first and foremost, he was a patriotic and proud Scot.” 
Connery was raised in near poverty in the slums of Edinburgh and worked as a coffin polisher, milkman and lifeguard before his bodybuilding hobby helped launch an acting career that made him one of the world’s biggest stars. 
Connery will be remembered first as British agent 007, the character created by novelist Ian Fleming and immortalized by Connery in films starting with “Dr. No” in 1962. 
 FILE – In this file photo taken on Oct. 22, 1982 British actor Sean Connery is seen during the making of the film “Never say, never again” in Nice.As Bond, his debonair manner and wry humor in foiling flamboyant villains and cavorting with beautiful women belied a darker, violent edge, and he crafted a depth of character that set the standard for those who followed him in the role. 
He would introduce himself in the movies with the signature line, “Bond – James Bond.” But Connery was unhappy being defined by the role and once said he “hated that damned James Bond.” Tall and handsome, with a throaty voice to match a sometimes crusty personality, Connery played a series of noteworthy roles besides Bond and won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a tough Chicago cop in “The Untouchables” (1987). 
He was 59 when People magazine declared him the “sexiest man alive” in 1989. 
Connery was an ardent supporter of Scotland’s independence and had the words “Scotland Forever” tattooed on his arm while serving in the Royal Navy.FILE – Sir Sean Connery, with wife Micheline (R), pose for photographers after he was formally knighted by the Britain’s Queen Elizabeth at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh July 5.When he was knighted at the age of 69 by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in 2000 at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, he wore full Scottish dress including the green-and-black plaid kilt of his mother’s MacLeod clan. 
 Became fed up with ‘idiots’  
Some noteworthy non-Bond films included director Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie” (1964), “The Wind and the Lion” (1975) with Candice Bergen, director John Huston’s “The Man Who Would be King” (1975) with Michael Caine, director Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) and the Cold War tale “The Hunt for Red October” (1990). 
Fans of alternative cinema will always remember him starring as the “Brutal Exterminator” Zed in John Boorman’s mind-bending fantasy epic “Zardoz” (1974), where a heavily mustachioed Connery spent much of the movie running around in a skimpy red loin-cloth, thigh-high leather boots and a pony tail. 
Connery retired from movies after disputes with the director of his final outing, the forgettable “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” in 2003. 
“I get fed up dealing with idiots,” he said. The Bond franchise was still going strong more than five decades after Connery started it. The lavishly produced movies, packed with high-tech gadgetry and spectacular effects, broke box office records and grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. 
After the smashing success of “Dr. No,” more Bond movies followed for Connery in quick succession: “From Russia with Love” (1963), “Goldfinger” (1964), “Thunderball” (1965) and “You Only Live Twice” (1967). 
Connery then grew concerned about being typecast and decided to break away. Australian actor George Lazenby succeeded him as Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” in 1969. 
But without Connery it lacked what the public wanted and he was lured back in 1971 for “Diamonds Are Forever” with temptations that included a slice of the profits, which he said would go to a Scottish educational trust. He insisted it would be his last time as Bond. 
Twelve years later, at age 53, Connery was back as 007 in “Never Say Never Again” (1983), an independent production that enraged his old mentor, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. 
 Preferred beer to martinis  
In a 1983 interview, Connery summed up the ideal Bond film as having “marvelous locations, interesting ambiance, good stories, interesting characters — like a detective story with espionage and exotic settings and nice birds.” 
Connery was a very different type from Fleming’s Bond character with his impeccable social background, preferring beer to Bond’s vodka martini cocktails that were “shaken not stirred.” 
But Connery’s influence helped shape the character in the books as well as the films. He never attempted to disguise his Scottish accent, leading Fleming to give Bond Scottish heritage in the books that were released after Connery’s debut. 
Born Thomas Connery on Aug. 25, 1930, he was the elder of two sons of a long-distance truck driver and a mother who worked as a cleaner. He dropped out of school at age 13 and worked in a variety of menial jobs. At 16, two years after World War II ended, Connery was drafted into the Royal Navy, and served three years. 
“I grew up with no notion of a career, much less acting,” he once said. “I certainly never have plotted it out. It was all  happenstance, really.” 
Connery played small parts with theater repertory companies before graduating to films and television. It was his part in a 1959 Disney leprechaun movie, “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” that helped land the role of Bond. Broccoli, a producer of the Bond films, asked his wife to watch Connery in the Disney movie while he was searching for the right leading actor. 
Dana Broccoli said her husband told her he was not sure Connery had sex appeal. 
“I saw that face and the way he moved and talked and I said: ‘Cubby, he’s fabulous!'” she said. “He was just perfect, he had star material right there.” 
Connery married actress Diane Cilento in 1962. Before divorcing 11 years later, they had a son, Jason, who became an actor. He married French artist Micheline Roquebrune, whom he met playing golf, in 1975.   

Trump Travels Saturday to Pennsylvania; Biden to Michigan

With only three days of campaigning left before Election Day in the United States, both top candidates travel to battleground states Saturday, with Republican President Donald Trump focusing on Pennsylvania while Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden plans events in Michigan.Biden will be campaigning alongside former President Barack Obama for the first time during the campaign. The two will travel to Flint and Detroit on Saturday, part of two days of campaigning to get out the vote in Michigan.In Detroit, they will be joined by singer Stevie Wonder, who will perform at a drive-in rally. Wonder has previously performed at several Democratic events, including for Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 as well as for Hillary Clinton in 2016.Trump plans to hold four rallies in cities across Pennsylvania on Saturday. The president narrowly won the state in 2016 and is seeking to repeat his performance there. Polls currently show Biden with a slight advantage.Trump told reporters Friday that he is undecided about his election night plans after The New York Times reported he canceled plans to appear at an event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.“We haven’t made a determination,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question about his whereabouts on election night. Trump said coronavirus restrictions imposed by the local government in Washington, including a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, would be a factor in the decision.“You know, Washington, D.C., is shut down. The mayor has shut it down. So we have a hotel; I don’t know if it’s shut — if you’re allowed to use it or not, but I know the mayor has shut down Washington, D.C. And if that’s the case, we’ll probably stay here or pick another location,” Trump added.On Friday, Trump and Biden both campaigned in the Midwest with Trump traveling to Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, while Biden held events in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.Michigan has 16 electoral votes, Minnesota and Wisconsin have 10 each, and Iowa has six.Biden told supporters at a drive-in rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines Friday that the state hit a daily record number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations this week and argued that Trump “has given up” on fighting the virus.Trump told supporters at an outdoor rally in Waterford Township, Michigan, that Biden has predicted a dark winter ahead because of the coronavirus pandemic.“Just what our country needs is a long dark winter and a leader who talks about it,” Trump said.The president said a safe vaccine would be delivered to Americans in a matter of weeks, adding that it will be free because “this wasn’t your fault. This wasn’t anyone’s fault. This was China’s fault.”National polls typically show Biden with a lead of 7 or 8 percentage points over Trump, although the margin is about half that in several key battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome in the Electoral College.According to an average of major polls compiled by the website Real Clear Politics, Biden and Trump are virtually tied in the battleground states of Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina, while the president trails the former vice president in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.Americans are voting early for Tuesday’s presidential election in unprecedented numbers, a product of strong feelings for or against the two main candidates and a desire to avoid large Election Day crowds at polling stations during the pandemic.More than 82 million people had already voted as of Friday, well above half of the overall 2016 vote count, which was 138.8 million.     

At Least 27 Dead as Powerful Quake Hits Major Turkish City, Greek Islands

Rescue teams in Turkey working around the clock recovered another body Saturday from the rubble of a collapsed building in Bayrakli district in Izmir struck by a strong earthquake.The quake hit Turkey’s third-largest city and a nearby Greek island on Friday morning, killing at least 27 people and injuring more than 800.Haluk Ozener, director of the Istanbul-based Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, said that Izmir was the hardest-hit and most-damaged area.Izmir’s Governor Yavuz Selim Kosger said at least 70 people were rescued from the wreckage of four destroyed buildings and from more than 10 other collapsed structures.As the quake hit, residents were seen running into the streets in panic in Izmir, which has a population of 4 million.The European-Mediterranean Seismological Center said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.9 with an epicenter 13 kilometers north-northeast of Samos and 32 kilometers off the coast of Turkey.The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude at 7.0. It is common for preliminary magnitudes to differ in the early hours and days after a quake.The quake triggered a surge of water into Izmir’s Seferihisar district.On the nearby Greek island of Samos, a teenage boy and girl were found dead in an area where a wall had collapsed.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all means necessary would be used to assist rescue efforts.Many of Izmir’s inhabitants, fearing for their safety, were spending the night outside, in parks and open land or in their cars. Soup kitchens have been set up to feed those in need.Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis offered his condolences to Erdogan. The quake comes amid high tensions between the neighbors over disputes over territorial waters, but Mitsotakis tweeted, “Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together.”Erdogan thanked Mitsotakis and offered assistance, “We are standing with Greece if there is anything we can do for them.”Turkey is no stranger to powerful earthquakes, developing a large pool of expertise in rescue operations.The provincial city of Izmit, close to Istanbul, was devastated by an earthquake in 1999, killing at least 17,000 people. Many of those killed died in collapsed buildings.Since the 1999 quake, stringent building regulations have been introduced, along with a program of strengthening old structures. 

How Bats and COVID Canceled Halloween

Bats, a symbol of Halloween, may be responsible for canceling it this year.The coronavirus that has grounded trick-or-treaters likely came from bats.These creatures of the night have evolved a spooky ability to harbor a number of viruses that can kill humans — without getting sick themselves.How they do it may hold the key to immortality — or a longer life, anyway.Guilt by associationThough there is no smoking gun showing that the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic came from bats, the virus is closely related to several others they harbor.Bats also are known to carry rabies and the Marburg hemorrhagic fever virus, and they are lead suspects as the source of Ebola and the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.It sure seems like they carry a lot of nasty viruses.But “maybe we just have a lot of bat viruses because there’s lots of bats,” said University of Glasgow researcher Daniel Streicker.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 9 MB480p | 13 MB540p | 16 MB720p | 32 MB1080p | 66 MBOriginal | 82 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioThere are roughly 1,400 different species around the world, Streicker noted, second only to rodents, which also carry a lot of diseases.”It isn’t the bats. They figured out how to deal with their viruses,” University of Saskatchewan microbiologist Vikram Misra said.Taking offTheir virus-resisting powers may be an unexpected byproduct of evolving to fly.Flying requires a tremendous amount of energy. Generating that energy also produces toxic byproducts that can damage cells.Normally, cell damage would trigger inflammation, the immune system’s first line of defense. The same inflammatory response kicks in whether the damage comes from toxic molecules, injury or infection. As part of the response, the body mobilizes cells to the damaged area that can blast germs or infected cells.Too much inflammation can kill. Overactive inflammatory responses are what lead to lung damage, blood clots and other fatal complications in COVID-19 patients.”Maybe bats had to down-regulate their responses just not to get inflamed every time they had to fly,” said University of Rochester biology professor Vera Gorbunova.But flight “doesn’t explain everything about bats,” she said. Another reason their immune systems are different from most mammals may be because of the way they live.Bats live in colonies that can number in the millions of individuals, roosting shoulder to shoulder. Diseases could spread quickly in those close quarters.”They probably evolved defenses because they’re exposed to a lot of viruses,” Gorbunova said.Delicate balanceFor whatever reason, their adaptations appear to be so important that they evolved independently in different bat species, a new study shows.Turning down a key immune response would seem to leave bats open to infection. But evolution has turned up another line of defense that targets viruses.Bats and viruses may have reached a “wonderfully balanced relationship where viruses don’t cause diseases and bats don’t get rid of the viruses,” Misra said. He and his colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan have found that bat cells can remain infected for months.But stress — from humans encroaching on their habitat or capturing them to sell at live-animal markets — may disrupt that relationship.”If you upset this delicate balance in such a way that the viruses now have an upper hand,” Misra said, “then the viruses start to multiply and the bats now start to shed more of these viruses. We think that that may be one of the reasons why spillovers occur” and the viruses jump into another species.”We can’t say for sure that that’s the case,” he added, but he and his colleagues are testing the idea now.Live long and prosperAside from reaching a detente with viruses, bats may have reaped another unintended reward from learning to fly. They may have discovered the fountain of youth.Bats live disproportionately long and healthy lives for their size. Take North American little brown bats, which are “about the size your thumb,” Misra said.”Normally, you would expect them to live maybe two years, three years, if you compare them to animals that are of comparable size,” he said. “These bats live 30 or 40 years.”The key may be their ability to tamp down inflammation without leaving themselves exposed to viruses.”Inflammation may be the driving force of age-related diseases,” biology professor Gorbunova said. It is a factor in Alzheimer’s disease, some forms of heart disease, diabetes and many others.With more research, she added, perhaps the bats that seem to be responsible for so much suffering can someday help us live longer.

Global COVD-19 Cases Top 45 Million

Globally, COVID-19 cases have exceeded 45 million and nearly 1.2 million people have succumbed to the virus, according to the latest data. VOA correspondent Mariama Diallo reports on countries with the highest number of cases, the US, India and Brazil, respectively.

Rare Meteorite Contains ‘Rich Inventory’ of Organic Compounds

Researchers say a rare type of meteor recovered nearly three years ago from a frozen lake in the U.S. state of Michigan has offered one of the best glimpses yet into the organic compounds such objects carry.A study published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science tells the story of a bright meteor, also known as fireballs for how they light up the night sky, that fell in January 2018.Researchers say the meteors that shine with such brightness are usually larger and have traveled farther into Earth’s atmosphere without breaking up, raising hopes pieces could be recovered. Using weather radar, they were able to track the meteor’s trajectory, discovering large pieces just two days after it hit a frozen lake.University of Chicago researcher Philipp Heck said finding the meteorite (what a meteor is called once it lands on Earth) pieces so quickly and on a frozen lake was significant. He said meteors often fall into dirt or water, and if they are not discovered quickly, they can be contaminated by organic Earth material.The researchers determined they’d found an “H4 chondrite” meteorite. Only 4% of all meteorites falling to Earth are of this type, at least in recent history. Heck said it had “a rich inventory of extraterrestrial organic compounds,” which contain carbon, one of the basic ingredients of life on Earth.The discovery adds evidence to the widely held theory that compounds such as these — the so-called building blocks of life — were delivered to Earth by similar meteors shortly after Earth formed.Heck said the discovery of the Michigan meteor and subsequent analysis also helped scientists develop new analytical techniques to study meteors of its kind and gain knowledge that can be shared with other scientists around the world.

Rising New Tide of COVID-19 Cases Worldwide Force Leaders to Consider New Lockdowns

A rising tide of new coronavirus cases worldwide is forcing leaders to consider new lockdown measures to contain an increase in infections.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said in an interview with BBC television Friday a national lockdown in his country is not inevitable to prevent the further spread of the disease, adding that a localized approach would be efficient if rules for each area were strictly observed.
Raab’s statment followed announcements by leaders of France and Germany earlier in the week to impose new lockdowns.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide monthlong lockdown that will take effect Friday. Macron said restaurants, bars, cafes and other nonessential businesses will be closed, while citizens will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, shopping and doctor appointments.
 German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a debate about German government’s policies to combat the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease at the parliament Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Photo/Markus Schreiber)German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a set of similar measures in her own month-long lockdown which takes effect Monday. In addition to restaurants and bars, all gyms, theaters and opera houses will be shut down under Merkel’s order, while the majority of businesses, shops and hair salons will be allowed to remain open.  
Schools in both nations will remain open during their respective lockdowns.  
The restrictions were announced by Macron and Merkel as both nations struggle with a record number of new COVID-19 cases practically every day.
France and Germany joined several other European nations that have been forced to impose a new set of restrictions to deal with a second and growing wave of the virus as the cold weather season approaches in the Northern Hemisphere.
Ukraine reported Friday a record 8,312 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, up from the October 23 high of 7,517, with total infections at 378,729. The deaths also jumped by a record 173, for a toll of 7,041.
In Japan, the health ministry said Friday that the coronavirus cases topped 100,000, nine months after the first case was reported in mid-January. Japan has more than 1,700 deaths.
As of early Friday, there are more than 45 million total COVID-19 cases worldwide, including over 1.18 million deaths. India has reached the milestone of over 8 million total novel coronavirus cases, second only to the United States, with 8.94 million total confirmed cases.
As the effort to develop a safe and effective vaccine continues, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said it would ensure that everyone in the United States will be able to be inoculated free of charge. 

Australian Inquiry Recommends Sweeping Changes to Handle Catastrophic Bushfires

A high-level report into Australia’s devastating “Black Summer” bushfires warns that natural disasters are becoming “more complex, more unpredictable, and more difficult to manage.”The Royal Commission, a high-level public inquiry into Australia’s bushfires, said the Black Summer fires of 2019 occurred during Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. According to the commission’s final report, more than 24 million hectares of land were burned. Thirty-three people died, and more than 3,000 homes were destroyed.The commission was set up in February to examine how Australia could become more resilient in the face of natural calamities.It has identified climate change as a key factor in an increasingly dangerous future. It warned that extreme weather had already become more frequent and intense because of climate change, bringing with it floods and bushfires.In the report released Friday, the inquiry said traditional firefighting methods might be no match for catastrophic fire conditions in the years and decades to come, when Australia would likely have more hot days and fewer cool days.The commission offered 80 recommendations, including the need for a national aerial firefighting fleet. Water-bombing aircraft are operated by individual states and territories, and the commission called for greater across-the-board cooperation between federal and local authorities. An integrated country-wide early warning system to alert residents was also recommended.David Littleproud, the minister for emergency management, said the report also advised harnessing firefighting techniques successfully used by Indigenous Australians.“It also brings into light the role that First Australians can play, and I have said this when this disaster first hit us back at the start of the year, is that our First Australians have a significant role to play in educating us and working with the new science to make sure that were can prepare better for particular bushfires in the future,” he said.Aboriginal methods involve the lighting of small so-called “cool” fires in specific areas during the early dry season between March and July. The flames burn slowly, reducing vegetation that can feed wildfires and that creates fire breaks.Australia’s federal, state and territory leaders will soon discuss the Royal Commission’s recommendations. Campaigners are urging them to adopt all of the recommendations and do more to address the impact of climate change.

Activists Hail Canadian Parliamentary Committee Report on Uighur ‘Genocide’

After the Canadian parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights concluded last week that China’s treatment of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region amounts to genocide, some experts and international human rights activists say the international community could be entering a new phase of action to hold officials in Beijing accountable.In its Oct. 21 statement, the committee said the detention of nearly 2 million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims, forced labor, “pervasive” state surveillance and repressive control were “a clear attempt to eradicate Uighur culture and religion.”“Based on the evidence put forward during the Subcommittee hearings, both in 2018 and 2020, the Subcommittee is persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitute genocide as laid out in the Genocide Convention,” the committee said in a news release.The U.N. Genocide Convention defines genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.Kyle Matthews, executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, said the committee’s move represents the first time a national legislative body has described the treatment of Uighurs in China as genocide.“This will put pressure [on] the executive branch of government to follow suit and respond accordingly,” Matthews told VOA.China has been accused internationally of arbitrary detention, forced indoctrination and torture of over a million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in internment camps in Xinjiang since 2017.Approval by governmentThe committee called on the Canadian government to recognize the campaign as genocide, condemn China, and sanction officials involved in “grave human rights abuses.” It also asked the government to push for international access to the region and support organizations raising awareness on Uighurs.Committee chair Peter Fonseca told VOA that the suggestions included in the statement were “a unanimous proclamation on the part of the multiparty members of the subcommittee.”He said the committee report will be presented to the Foreign Affairs Committee, which can approve or reject its findings.Some experts say the findings are likely to proceed further in the country’s legislative branch and be presented to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet for approval.“The government has often followed the suggestions of the committee,” Ilan Orzy, director of operations at the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, told VOA.Orzy said the Canadian government followed such a proceeding with regard to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.Canada recognized the actions by Myanmar authorities against the Rohingya minority as genocide in September 2018.The Canadian government has yet to announce whether it will act on the committee suggestions. In a statement shared with VOA, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said his government takes genocide allegations “very seriously.”“We will continue to work in close collaboration with our allies to push for these to be investigated through an international independent body and for impartial experts to access the region so that they can see the situation firsthand and report back,” Champagne said.‘‘We remain deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang and have publicly and consistently called on the Chinese government to end the repression of Uighurs,” he said.‘Vocational training’China rejects the claim that it is running a repressive campaign against Turkic minorities in Xinjiang. Beijing officials say they have sent Uighurs who were “poisoned” by religious extremism or who lagged behind in society to “vocational training centers” to deradicalize them and teach them new work skills.Last Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the committee’s statement “groundless” and called on Canada to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Xinjiang-related matters.“The so-called genocide in Xinjiang is a rumor and a farce fabricated by some anti-China forces to slander China,” Zhao said at a press conference.Some observers charge that a possible move by the Canadian government to approve the committee findings and recognize the Uighur genocide could encourage other countries to follow suit.U.S. stanceLast Friday, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Foreign Relations Committee member, urged the U.S. government to formerly recognize the issue as genocide.Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution to declare the Uighur campaign genocide.Peter Irwin, a senior program officer at the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, told VOA that those resolutions show the international community is ready to go beyond condemnation of China’s policies in Xinjiang toward holding party officials accountable.“The Canadian [parliamentary] subcommittee, to their credit, took the time to study the issue intensively, calling witnesses and analyzing reports, and concluded that what’s happening amounts to genocide,” Irwin said.Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said that discussions of genocide-labeling means those countries understand the severity of the Uighur situation, and their policymakers are willing to adjust their responses to the crisis.“There is growing momentum to recognize the situation as a genocide, and the decision of the subcommittee has greatly contributed to that. It is our hope that this move will be the start of a more meaningful and concrete push by the international community to demand that China stops the Uighur genocide,” Isa told VOA.

California Voters to Decide Gig Economy’s Fate

Voters in California are deciding on an initiative that would keep people who work in the so-called gig economy as independent contractors, not employees. Michelle Quinn reports.
Camera: Matt Dibble and Deana Mitchell      Producer: Matt Dibble

‘Era of Pandemics’ to Intensify Without Transformative Change, Report Says

Ecological destruction and unsustainable consumption have entered humanity into an “era of pandemics,” according to a new report.”Without preventative strategies, pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, kill more people, and affect the global economy with more devastating impact than ever before,” says the report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a global expert body advising governments.The authors say roughly $50 billion per year in pandemic prevention would spare the world about $1 trillion per year on average in economic damage, not to mention the toll in human suffering.The report suggests ways to shift the focus to prevention, rather than trying to contain pandemics after they happen.SpilloverAs of July, COVID-19’s economic toll was at least $8 trillion and counting, the authors say.It’s just the latest costly emerging infectious disease, following HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Zika, H1N1 swine flu and others.All of these deadly diseases originated in animals before “spilling over” into humans. Nearly three-quarters of all emerging diseases have animal origins. And there are hundreds of thousands more possibly infectious viruses that have not been discovered yet, the report notes.But don’t blame the animals. The rate of spillover has increased because of human activities.COVID-19 is a prime example of the problem, the authors say. The coronavirus that causes the disease likely emerged from bats in China, where expanding human populations are increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitat. It probably spread through the wildlife trade, at a market where vendors sell wild animals for food and medicine.Deforestation, agricultural expansion, urbanization and other land-use changes are responsible for about a third of all new diseases to emerge since 1960, the report says. The $100 billion-plus global wildlife trade is also responsible for the spread of new and existing diseases and is a threat to biodiversity.Not too lateHowever, “this is not a doom and gloom report saying the world’s going to end and it’s too late,” said report author Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a global health, conservation and development organization. “This is an optimistic call for action.”The current strategy to deal with pandemics is to wait for them to emerge and try to identify them before they spread, Daszak said.COVID-19 has demonstrated the flaws in that plan. Chinese authorities tried to contain it after the disease emerged late last year, but it was too late.”And here we are waiting for a vaccine and drugs to work,” Daszak said. “It’s not a good strategy. We need to do more.”The report calls for “transformative change towards preventing pandemics.”Some of that change needs to come from consumers.One change involves eating meat.Demand for meat drives increased pandemic risk in two ways, the report says. Feeding food animals is a major driver of deforestation. Also, intensive animal agriculture, which packs many animals into small spaces, often in close proximity to people, makes it easy for germs to jump species.”We can continue to eat meat,” Daszak said, “but we need to do it in a way that is far more sustainable if we want to get rid of pandemics.”The report suggests taxes on meat or livestock or other ways to incorporate the costs of pandemics into the price of production and consumption.Consumers also can drive change by pressuring companies to reduce deforestation, for example.”Global for-profit companies care about what we, the public, think about them,” Daszak said. “They respond when people call them out.”Government policy should focus on pandemic prevention as well, the authors say.Emerging-disease risk should be factored into any large-scale land use planning. Wildlife trade enforcement should focus on reducing or removing species at high risk of spreading diseases. And increased disease monitoring should focus on the links between human health, animal health and the environment, known as the One Health approach.All these suggestions, he noted, are “easy to say, really difficult to do.”These measures and others would cost about $40 billion to $58 billion per year, the report says.But with the bill for pandemics averaging a trillion dollars per year, Daszak said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a hundred pounds of cure.”

Mask Effectiveness Against Coronavirus Varies

Virologists at the University of Tokyo say that while masks can offer protection from airborne COVID-19 particles, their effectiveness varies. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo has more on the results of the new research.

 White House Task Force Warns of ‘Unrelenting’ Spread of COVID-19

The White House Coronavirus Task Force warned Thursday of an “unrelenting” spread of the virus, particularly across the western half of the country, Reuters reported. Members of the task force are reportedly pushing for aggressive measures to quell the spread of the virus.The United States has confirmed more than 8.9 million cases of COVID-19 and recorded more than 228,000 deaths as of Thursday, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.”We continue to see unrelenting, broad community spread in the Midwest, Upper Midwest and West. This will require aggressive mitigation to control both the silent, asymptomatic spread and symptomatic spread,” said the task force’s report to one state, according to CNN. The task force’s most prominent member, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNBC Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is “going in the wrong direction.” “If things do not change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s going to be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths,” Fauci said, noting that case numbers were rising in 47 states.At least seven states reported record one-day case increases Thursday, according to Reuters.

Six Dead as Tropical Storm Zeta Moves Through Southeastern US

Tropical Storm Zeta left six people dead and a trail of destruction in its wake as it brought high winds and heavy rain from the U.S. Gulf Coast across the mid-Atlantic states.In its latest report, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Zeta was on the Virginia-North Carolina border with sustained winds of 85 kph (53 mph) and was swiftly moving to the northeast.Zeta made landfall as a powerful Category 2 hurricane in Louisiana on the U.S. Gulf Coast.Will Arute, who lives New Orleans, said it sounded like a bomb went off when part of a large oak snapped outside his home and crashed into his car and a corner of his home, The Associated Press reported.“I did not anticipate this to happen. It was pretty intense along the eye wall when it went through here,” he said.Northern Virginia and Washington were expected to get 2 to 7 centimeters (about 1 to 3 inches) of rain.Earlier, Zeta made a nearly direct hit on the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, but was also felt farther east in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a very strong Category 2 storm with maximum winds of about 175 kph (109 mph).At least six deaths have been attributed to the storm. Four people died in Alabama and Georgia when trees fell on homes, the AP reported. Two of the dead were pinned to their bed when a tree crashed through their home, according to Gwinnett County, Georgia, fire officials.Boat owner Ricky Mitchell, left, surveys damage to his boat that Hurricane Zeta washed up against a home in Lakeshore, Miss., Oct. 29, 2020.In Mississippi, Leslie Richardson, 58, drowned when he was trapped in rising seawater in Biloxi after taking video of the raging storm, Harrison County Coroner Brian Switzer told the AP. And in New Orleans, a 55-year-old man was electrocuted by a downed power line, a Louisiana coroner said.The website says the storm left millions without electricity across seven states, including more than 553,000 in Georgia, 414,000 in Alabama, and 444,000 Louisiana.Zeta became the fourth hurricane to hit Louisiana this season and the 11th named storm to hit the U.S. mainland this year. It tied a record set in 2005 as the 27th named storm in a season. The hurricane center says that record may fall in coming days because a weather disturbance in the southern Caribbean has a 60% chance of becoming the 28th named storm of the season.

Ukraine’s Zelenskiy Promises Action as Allies Sound Alarm Over Reform Rollback

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy promised swift action on Thursday and warned Ukraine could lose international aid and support after a Constitutional Court this week ruled to abolish some anti-corruption laws. The court said it saw as excessive the punishment set for false information on officials’ asset declarations and struck down some critical powers of the key anti-graft body NAZK, which in turn said the court had destroyed the anti-corruption system. Ukraine’s patchy performance on reforms and tackling entrenched corruption has derailed a $5 billion program agreed in June with the International Monetary Fund at a time its economy is in sharp downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic. FILE – The International Monetary Fund logo is seen in Washington, April 21, 2017.The European Union’s delegation to Kyiv warned that its financial assistance was tied to Ukraine’s performance on corruption. A further deterioration could threaten Ukraine’s prized visa-free access to the EU countries, a member of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee has warned. “We will not have money. We will not have support. Projects on which agreement was reached will be canceled, as well as World Bank support. We will have a big hole in the budget,” Zelenskiy said in a statement. “The recent decisions of the [court] undermine trust in Ukraine, outrage Ukrainians,” he said in a separate post on Twitter, adding that he wanted new legislation introduced as soon as possible to rectify the situation. The United States, Canada, Britain and the European Union have backed Ukraine with aid and sanctions on Russia after the 2014 Maidan street protests that ousted a Kremlin-backed leader but have repeatedly pressed Kyiv to quicken the pace of reforms. “The G-7 ambassadors are alarmed by efforts to undo the anti-corruption reforms that followed the Revolution of Dignity,” a statement said. “Too much progress has been made, Ukraine must not go back to the past.” In a separate statement, the EU said the court decision “calls into question a number of international commitments which Ukraine assumed in relation to its international partners, including the EU.”  

La Nina Seen Continuing Into 2021, Affecting Temperature, Weather Patterns

The World Meteorological Organization predicts La Nina will continue through January and is expected to usher in drier and wetter conditions than normal in different parts of the world.The latest seasonal forecasts indicate the La Nina event will cause drier than normal conditions in much of East Africa and lead to increased rainfall in southern Africa. Central Asia is likely to see below normal rainfall earlier than usual.The WMO reports some of the Pacific islands and the northern region of South America will see some of the most significant precipitation anomalies associated with this year’s La Nina event — a cooling of ocean surface water along the Pacific coast of the South American tropics that occurs on average every two to seven years.Some countries and regions are particularly vulnerable to changes in weather patterns.WMO humanitarian expert Gavin Iley told VOA the Greater Horn of Africa was an area of particular concern.“As we know, it is already being beset by problems, with locust infestation,” Iley said. “And generally, the models are suggesting below normal rainfall for quite a large portion of the Greater Horn of Africa. So, obviously that could have a number of impacts … in areas like Somalia. … So, we always need to keep an eye on the latest outlook.”WMO said governments can use weather forecasts to plan ways to reduce adverse impacts in climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, health, water resources and disaster management.WMO Deputy Director of Climate Services Maxx Dilley said governments can use La Nina forecasting to adapt their strategies to the changing weather patterns.“You can imagine in the agricultural sector that some crops will do well under wet conditions and others will do better under dry conditions,” Dilley said. “And there are agricultural management practices that can be adjusted to take account of whether it is expected to be wet or dry.”Dilley said WMO increasingly is trying to tailor these forecasts to specific concerns, such as food security or human health. For example, he said, wet conditions alone do not provoke outbreaks of dengue fever or malaria. He said temperature, humidity and vegetation create the conditions for mosquitoes to breed.So, rather than just giving a rainfall forecast, he said, meteorologists will provide a forecast that is correlated with these diseases and can be used for dengue fever or malaria control.

The Infodemic: The West Isn’t Waging a ‘War’ Against Russian Vaccine

Fake news about the coronavirus can do real harm. is spotlighting fact-checks from other reliable sources here​.Daily DebunkClaim: “The West has waged a vaccine war over the COVID-19 Sputnik V vaccine. It is a geopolitical confrontation that really has nothing to do with the vaccine. Clinical trials are ongoing and the results are positive.” — Russian defeners of the country’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccineVerdict: FalseRead the full story at: EUvsDiSiNFOSocial Media DisinfoCirculating on social media: Video filmed at UK hospital claims that COVID-19 is a hoax.Verdict: FalseRead the full story at: Reuters Fact CheckFactual Reads on CoronavirusThe race to make COVID antibody therapies cheaper and more potent
Injections of antibodies might prevent mild COVID-19 from becoming severe, but the treatments are expensive and difficult to make.
— Nature, October 28