VOA Interview NASA Astronaut Victor Glover

VOA’s Kane Farabaugh spoke with NASA Astronaut Victor Glover ahead of Monday’s scheduled Artemis launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. While the launch was postponed, NASA’s quest to return to the moon and eventually send humans to Mars remains a priority for the U.S. space agency.

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Taiwan Pilots, Cabin Crews Bemoan Stringent COVID Restrictions 

The flight crews at one of Taiwan’s main airline carriers have voiced frustration about continued COVID-19 policies that require them to adhere to some of the strictest quarantine and testing requirements in the world. 

The policies remain in place even as other parts of the world loosen pandemic restrictions and adapt to a “new normal.” 

Upon arrival at destinations overseas, pilots and cabin crews from China Airlines must be taken directly to their hotel rooms and provided with room key cards that work only once — when they leave and embark on their next flights. 

 

One pilot for China Airlines, who wished to remain anonymous, told VOA he was “frustrated” with the current conditions. 

 

“It’s really affected [me]. Whenever I went to work, I felt so frustrated … it means I can’t go home for a period of time, and [I’m] also very tired, because I need to continuously [go] back and forth to Taipei and the U.S. or Europe. So, I have to adjust myself, try to sleep more and be more positive. [Being] stuck in a tiny room for long is really uncomfortable, but I still have to get used to it,” he said. 

 

The first officer has worked for the airline for nearly eight years, and he flies both long- and short-haul trips each month. He said the restrictions were worse in the beginning of the pandemic, as pilots were forced to wear goggles, gloves and face masks while on duty, as well as facing quarantine for seven days. And because of the quick turnaround of a pilot flying both domestically and internationally, the pilot described how he was in a constant loop of being quarantined. 

 

“There [was] a period of time we couldn’t quarantine at home, only in the hotel, so I’ve been 22 days and [still can’t] go home,” he said.

Today, the rules for vaccinated flight crews have since been relaxed slightly, removing the necessity of home quarantine in Taiwan. But when pilots and crews go abroad, they are still restricted from leaving their hotel rooms.

“At out stations, we still can’t go out. We only [can] stay in the room, until our pickup time for the next flight. It’s really unhealthy, [I] watch TV, read and sleep all day. I’ll do some workouts, too, and order Uber Eats, but that’s it,” the pilot added, referring to the food delivery service provided by Uber. 

 

Rule change

A local pilots union in Taiwan is now seeking the loosening of some restrictions. 

 

The Pilots Union Taoyuan, which represents nearly half of all pilots working for Taiwan’s airlines, has called the measures “outdated” and is requesting that the Taiwan government ease the strict controls. 

 

The head of the union, Lee Hsin-yen, referred to an in-house survey that found most of the member pilots who have had the coronavirus caught it in Taiwan, the news website Focus Taiwan reported.

VOA has requested a comment from the Civil Aeronautics Administration in Taiwan but has not yet received a reply.

Cabin crews 

 

Cabin crews also have vented their discontent about the rules and said following the restrictions is like being in prison. 

 

A woman calling herself Shirley, who didn’t want to be identified, is a cabin crew member at China Airlines and said she has worked there for nearly seven years. 

 

“The rules are: We are not allowed to leave our room; crews got one-time-use key card, or [the] hotel monitors us via [closed-circuit television] to make sure there’s no crew [leaving] their room. And we’re also not allow to have any contact with locals,” she told VOA.

She said that in pre-pandemic times, cabin crew members would often go shopping, have coffee or enjoy the summertime when overseas. 

 

“That’s how crew members [would] release their stress,” she said. 

 

Today, with the prolonged restrictions, she said, the flight crews in Taiwan are being treated unfairly in comparison to those  in the rest of the world. 

 

“In the beginning of the COVID, all these rules seemed to make sense. Nowadays, more and more countries open their borders. It feels like we [are] behind bars when we are in another country, because we can’t go anywhere. When we have [a] layover flight, the only place we can go is on the plane and hotel room. And it seems like the lockdown is endless,” she said. 

 

Taiwan tourism 

 

As the rest of the world is returning to pre-pandemic travel norms, Taiwan is currently closed to overseas tourists. Only residents and business travelers can enter Taiwan, but they must quarantine for three nights, followed by four days in self-health control. This means they are prohibited from visiting public venues or meeting groups of people.  

It is an example of how concerns about the infection still linger in East Asia, with parts of the region slow to reopen travel to the world. The trend seems to be gradually changing, as Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan have all opened their respective borders recently for visitors, each with specific measures in place. 

 

Gary Bowerman, an Asia travel analyst, told VOA that Taiwan’s cautious approach is soon going to affect its goals to boost tourism. 

 

“Taiwan is talking about a phased reopening beginning with tour groups from Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea. This is a cautious strategy, which some Southeast Asian countries tried initially. As Southeast Asian countries discovered over the past year, it is only when full border reopenings are activated, and pre-flight and on-arrival testing and restrictions are removed, that travelers gain the confidence to visit in larger numbers,” he said. 

 

With a population of more than 23 million, despite keeping infections low at the beginning of the pandemic, Taiwan is now reporting upward of 25,000 domestic cases daily. Vaccination numbers are high, with 85% of the population inoculated, according to the website Our World in Data.

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UN Weather Agency Predicts Rare ‘Triple-dip’ La Nina in 2022

The U.N. weather agency is predicting that the phenomenon known as La Nina is poised to last through the end of this year, a mysterious “triple dip” — the first this century — caused by three straight years of its effect on climate patterns like drought and flooding worldwide.

The World Meteorological Organization on Wednesday said La Nina conditions, which involve a large-scale cooling of ocean surface temperatures, have strengthened in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific with an increase in trade winds in recent weeks.

The agency’s top official was quick to caution that the “triple dip” doesn’t mean global warming is easing.

“It is exceptional to have three consecutive years with a La Nina event. Its cooling influence is temporarily slowing the rise in global temperatures, but it will not halt or reverse the long-term warming trend,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.

La Nina is a natural and cyclical cooling of parts of the equatorial Pacific that changes weather patterns worldwide, as opposed to warming caused by the better-known El Nino — an opposite phenomenon. La Nina often leads to more Atlantic hurricanes, less rain and more wildfires in the western United States, and agricultural losses in the central U.S.

Studies have shown La Nina is more expensive to the United States than the El Nino.

Together El Nino, La Nina and the neutral condition are called ENSO, which stands for El Nino Southern Oscillation, and they have one of the largest natural effects on climate, at times augmenting and other times dampening the big effects of human-caused climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas, scientists say.

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Half of the World’s Health Care Facilities are Unhygienic and Infection Incubators

A World Health Organization-UNICEF global study of health care facilities finds half lack basic hygiene services, putting around 3.85 billion people at risk of infection and death.

The study is based on data from 40 countries representing 35% of the world’s population. It presents an alarming picture of health facilities that lack water and soap for handwashing, have dirty toilets, and are unable to manage health care waste.

It says the lack of safe water, sanitation, and basic hygiene services, known as WASH, in health care facilities can lead to many preventable deaths. Rick Johnston is WHO lead WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for WASH. He says sepsis, a major cause of mortality globally, could be prevented by improving WASH services in health care.

“It causes about 11 million avoidable deaths each year. And we know that in health care settings, sepsis mortality is linked to poor quality of care, including inadequate WASH… Still today, 670,000 neo-natal deaths occur due to sepsis. So, there is a huge burden that could be improved right there,” he said.

Data show the situation tends to be better in hospitals than in smaller health care facilities. The WHO reports the 46 least developed countries lag most behind in hygiene services, with only 32% of health care facilities providing WASH services.

Johnston says sub-Saharan Africa is the geographic region with the lowest coverage of basic services, about a third lower than globally.

“I mentioned hand hygiene services at 51% globally. It is only 38% in sub-Saharan Africa… Water services 78% globally, only 52% in sub-Saharan Africa… In sub-Saharan Africa, only 13% of health care facilities met the requirement for a basic health care service. So, lots of work to be done in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

The WHO estimates the cost of achieving universal basic WASH services in the 46 least developed countries at less than $10 billion between now and 2030. While that sounds like a lot, WHO officials say it comes to just under $1 per person per year. Officials say that is a fraction of what currently is being spent on health care services in those countries.

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Excitement Builds for Moon Missions Ahead of NASA’s Artemis Launch

NASA’s space shuttle program brought Brenda Mulberry and her husband from Tampa to Florida’s Space Coast in the early 1980s. Since then, Mulberry has operated “Space Shirts,” a space-themed clothing shop not far from Kennedy Space Center.

She said business slowed significantly when shuttle launches ended in 2011.

But this year is different.

“Excitement is over the moon,” said Mulberry, in between helping customers pay for armfuls of souvenirs.

People now flock to Mulberry’s store to get anything they can related to NASA’s new Artemis mission.

“On a normal day we might see 60 to 70 people in a day in our store,” she told VOA. “We’re seeing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds an hour. It’s a zoo.”

Artemis — NASA’s ambitious program to return to the moon — has generated renewed interest in space exploration ahead of the launch of the first unmanned test flight of the SLS, or Space Launch System, rocket and the Orion capsule, which will eventually carry astronauts back to the moon more than 50 years after the last Apollo mission visited the lunar surface.

Monday’s first launch date was scrubbed, disappointing throngs of tourists, but added to the anticipation for when the program’s first liftoff occurs. NASA will try again on Saturday.

“I call it the Artemis generation. Apollo had a twin sister — Artemis — and this is our generation,” said Branelle Rodriguez, an integration manager for NASA’s Orion capsule that will house astronauts traveling to the moon and back. “I think it’s a fantastic thing for us to experience, for people to go explore and create a presence on the moon.”

NASA astronaut Stan Love said the Artemis program will feature crews that pave the way for the first woman and person of color to stand on the lunar surface.

“We are going to broaden our demographics, so it won’t just be white guys on the moon,” Love told VOA during a recent interview at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA’s goals for the Artemis program include crewed missions to the moon for decades to come.

And that’s just the beginning.

“We’re going to establish a permanent [lunar] base, but I think long term, we want to go to Mars. NASA has said this is a steppingstone to Mars eventually,” said Doug Hurley, a retired NASA astronaut who now works on Artemis for Northrop Grumman, a government contractor.

NASA projects the budget for Artemis will reach $93 billion by 2025. While critics have pointed out the program is already billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, Hurley says patience and expenditure will be rewarded.

“It takes time to build these complicated machines, but it’s worth it. I mean, when you look at NASA’s budget — one-half of 1% of the federal budget — and SLS is a small part of NASA’s budget. So, to me, it’s all perspective,” Hurley said.

Mulberry said criticism of the program is hard to find on Florida’s Space Coast. She credits Artemis with creating jobs and boosting tourism in a part of the state that suffered when the space shuttle program ended.

“I think everybody in the area underestimated the power this was going to have,” Mulberry told VOA.

Even though it’s an unmanned test flight, when Artemis 1 takes off on a planned six-week mission, it will provide valuable data for NASA and show how new systems function in space.

The first crewed mission back to the moon — to orbit but not to land — is Artemis 2, currently scheduled for 2024, with Artemis 3 scheduled to return astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2025.

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Excitement Builds for Moon Missions Ahead of NASA’s Artemis Launch

After Monday’s scrubbed Artemis launch, NASA is awaiting liftoff of its first mission back to the moon — an unmanned test flight of its new rocket and capsule system. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on the excitement surrounding the Artemis program, which aims to one day send humans to Mars.

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Astronaut Details NASA’s Ambitious Artemis Program

VOA’s Kane Farabaugh spoke with NASA Astronaut Victor Glover ahead of Monday’s scheduled Artemis launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. While the launch was postponed, NASA’s quest to return to the moon and eventually send humans to Mars remains a priority for the U.S. space agency. A former military aviator, Glover has taken part in a SpaceX mission, spent time aboard the International Space Station, completed 168 days in orbit and participated in four spacewalks. He is a candidate for future Artemis missions. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VOA: “So Victor, tell me what it’s like to sort of be here right now in this moment?”

NASA ASTRONAUT VICTOR GLOVER: “It’s unreal. I mean it sounds a little cliche but to be at the place where the Apollo missions launched from all those shuttle launches happened from, and I actually launched from that next door neighbor launch pad right there just under two years ago. But it’s still surreal to be here. This is one of my favorite places on the planet, and that’s just any day of the week, but when there’s a big rocket like SLS or Orion sitting over there, it’s just the buzz here, the energy. It’s really special. And my favorite part about this is the excitement of all the NASA employees who have worked hard for years to make this happen.”

VOA: “What is that excitement like? What is it [excitement level] at right now? I mean, you weren’t born when Apollo was happening so I’m sure there’s really nothing to equate this to, is there?”

GLOVER: “Well, I mean you know, growing up and appreciating Apollo and having that being a motivational force in your life, it’s really neat to, like, stand on the precipice of maybe the next thing like that happening knowing it. We call things moonshots when humans do great things, right? And so our generation doesn’t have that, so we look back at Apollo for that inspiration. So now our generation is going to have its own moon shots. And so that’s, I think, a part of it for all of us. And I love the fact that it’s connected. The legacy of Apollo and Apollo–Soyuz and the shuttle and ISS and our partnerships with SpaceX and Boeing. People say this is a marathon not a sprint. I say it’s actually a relay race. And so those programs have all informed what we’re doing now. They’ve handed us the stick, and now it’s time for us to run our best leg. And so this is going to open the door for us to send humans to the moon. And I mean I just, it’s hard to imagine anything more exciting for people all over the world.”

VOA: “But this mission is also not just charting new paths in space, it’s also sort of crossing historic barriers in gender, race, ethnicity, culture. Can you talk about that a bit?”

GLOVER: “Well of course you know you heard the line it originally was we’re going to send the first woman and the next man to the moon. And then it became you know we’re going to send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon. And I’ll say here’s what I think about that. Our office is diverse enough, we represent America. And because of that, we make our bosses’ jobs actually challenging, we make his job hard because he’s got to pick some of us and I think all of us are ready trained and capable of making this mission a success, but then I think the fact that our leadership recognizes the past and how maybe it wasn’t equitable, that we can do something about that now in the astronaut office that we have today looks like America. So it’s easy to do. But the fact that our leadership recognizes that they have a role in it as well to make sure that it happens and to support and encourage the continued dialogue about that I think is really important. So it is encouraging, and I think all people should feel supported by this effort.”

VOA: “Victor, when you sit back and you think about this, does the reality that you may be someone who charts some kind of historic milestone for humanity, is it something that seeps into your mind often while you’re going through training or while you’re talking to the media? Or while you’re doing this or does it have a special place in your mind to prepare for this?”

GLOVER: “You know, there was a lot of talk about that from my mission to ISS and I didn’t focus on that. I kept my head down and just did the work. And so but again, I do think it’s important you know, there are little kids out there that look up to us and say I want to do that. But more important is that inspiration drives decisions, right? It drives behavior. And so some little kid’s going, ‘I want to be like that and I’m going to study this and I’m going to eat my vegetables and I’m going to be a good person.’ And that to me is valuable. No matter what those kids look like, people keep asking me, is it meaningful to you that little Black kids look up to you and say they want to be like you? You know what? Let’s be honest, I represent America. I’m a naval officer and I work for NASA. I represent America and little white kids, little Mexican kids, little Hispanic kids, and little Iranian kids follow what we’re doing because this is maybe one of the most recognizable symbols in the universe. And I think that that’s really important and I take that very seriously.”

VOA: “What is the most challenging part of the job ahead for you?”

GLOVER: “The most challenging part of this job for me is the time away from my family. But you know what? I’m a member of a group that is serving the people, right? This is the people’s stuff. That rocket was built by the American people, literally. … [W]hat we do is meaningful to America and to humanity at large and so I think it’s important for us to explore space, to explore the cosmos for all people, especially now when we can do it by all people.”

VOA: “Is there anything you can do mentally to prepare for a mission to the moon? I mean, nobody in the program right now has ever been there before. There isn’t like relative experience you can go to unless you’re talking to an Apollo astronaut to help prepare you for what it’s going to be like to reach the surface of the moon. How do you get ready and how do you do this because it’s not been done in 50 years?”

GLOVER: “There’s going to be a great training program. We’ve got a great team of people that are thinking about how to train astronauts for this mission. One of the primary things all astronauts have to do though is integrate all of that and then take it into space and know how space is different than what you do on the ground. There’s going to always be that no matter where you go lower earth orbit or beyond, on the moon or on to Mars. But I think personally, I’m a little bit more of a philosophical astronaut I would say and I think it’s important for us also to recognize when you go do something like this, to not just know there are unknowns but to embrace it. You are not prepared, you’re not as prepared as you can be if you don’t expect something to catch you off guard. And so knowing that it’s going to happen, you’re going to be able to process those emotions faster and instead of going, ‘Oh my God is this really happening?’ You’re going to go, ‘Yeah God, thanks for the preparation’ and you’re going to do the next right thing. And so knowing that you’re going to a place not many human beings have been, I think is an important part of preparing for something like flying Artemis II or Artemis III to the moon.”

VOA: “Do you think the general public is invested, educated and excited about this mission as they might have been for Apollo?”

GLOVER: “[H]opefully the public is following that closely to know this is not a walk in the park. There’s a lot about this mission that could go wrong, and that’s going to help us to send people back to the moon. And so I think part of that falls on us to do that advocacy.”

VOA: “You’ll be on this stage on Monday for Artemis I broadcasting for NASA to talk about the mission from an astronaut perspective. But when this rocket goes up, Orion is on its way to the moon and nobody’s here on the stage anymore. What are you watching for as that mission progresses?”

GLOVER: “Oh, everything. How the team works together. That’s a big one. We have not flown a mission like this in complexity, in distance, and also the international component of it in a very long time, in some aspects ever. The International Space Station is very international, but having your astronauts only four or six hours away from the planet is very different than multiple day journey to the moon or back. And so how they work together and how they communicate and how they decide and act to handle problems is something that I’m going to be paying close attention to. If everything goes perfectly on this, actually that to me would not be the best case. I want us to have some challenges that we work together and overcome so that we know we can do that, but then come back. And when that heat shield hits the atmosphere going Mach 32, twenty-five thousand miles [40,000 km] an hour or seven miles [11 km] a second, we’re going to learn all that we need to know. And if we can keep the structure and the avionics and the crew inside safe, then I think we’re well on our way a couple of years from now having a crew going to the moon as well.”

VOA: “You’re a military aviator…”

GLOVER: “Yes, sir.”

VOA: “This will be automated. This is going to be more automated than any other spacecraft in history. You know, in Apollo, they had switches and knobs. Here, people on the ground will be controlling a lot of the flight maneuvers in the path of the spacecraft. As somebody who has that background, how do you feel about that automation?”

GLOVER: “[T]there are regimes of flight where we can have full manual control and there are regimes of flight where we would have a blended, some sharing between manual inputs and automation. And so there’s a scale, a range of sharing of that responsibility. And I think that that’s the state of the practice, right? The state of the art is maybe one day going to be, who knows, it’s controlled by thoughts and folks on the ground but that’s the state of the practice. And so, software has gotten much better. Hardware has gotten a whole lot better, our manufacturing capability, and so I think that’s progress. And yes, as somebody who likes to have a stick and throttle, you know, I want to go up there and do aileron rolls in the thing, but the maneuvers it’s going to do are so complicated that for me to have manual control throughout the entire regime of flight actually adds risk that that we aren’t necessarily trying to buy off on. So we want manual control where it really matters, things like docking, things like landing on the surface, and enduring entry to make sure that we have the ability to steer to a safe location to get us back down to Earth safe.”

VOA: “How do you gauge mission success for Artemis I as you’re watching this mission unfold over the next six weeks?”

GLOVER: “Yeah, it’s been a long road getting here and we have overcome some significant challenges. … It is no small thing that we still have a moon capable rocket and spacecraft through some of the changes that we’ve had in the last decade. And so the fact that we’ve overcome those things makes me the most confident in this group of people. Human hands put that together. Human hands and minds and hearts and ears and eyes are going to be watching it and working it as it goes on this 42-day journey. And so I’m confident in that team and we’ll see how the hardware and software hold up. It’s an unknown, we haven’t done this before. This will be the first time a lot of this hardware is flying, but you noticed there are some legacy out there. If you can see it in the distance, that orange tank is very similar to the shuttle main fuel tanks and those boosters are very similar to shuttle solid rocket boosters. And so there’s some heritage in our space flight hardware. But this is the first time it’s been integrated into this stack-up. And so we’re going to learn, we’re going to learn. But I have full confidence in that team.”

VOA: “Knowing where you’re at now, knowing what you might have the opportunity to do, what would you say to 12-year-old Victor Glover?”

GLOVER: “Oh wow. Oh boy. That’s a great question. Twelve-year-old Victor Glover didn’t even know if college was a reality, you know, and just, no one in my family had graduated from college, and so there’s a lot to this iceberg, and I’ll save you the long story and I’ll just answer your question. What I would say to 12-year-old me is, ‘It’s going to be OK. It’s going to be OK. You’re going to be OK, but it’s going to be OK because you’re going to work so hard.’ And so, that’s what I would say to myself. You know, this will take care of itself. Getting to this point and the amazingness of this, the awe of it all, it will take care of itself. You know, I wouldn’t spoil the surprise.”

VOA: “Victor, man or people have not landed on the moon in our lifetime. That’s about to change. Do you think we will get to Mars in our lifetime?”

GLOVER: “Oh, I think we will get to Mars in our lifetime. I said it a little while ago. This is a relay race. The journey to Mars has been 25 years away since we went to the moon back in the Apollo program. This is the first leg of the race to Mars. And so it’s been 25 years ahead of us because we haven’t started the race. When this is successful, we will have finished the first leg of that race, and we’ll be that much closer. I think it will happen in our lifetime. I think I may be too old to be on that crew, but to all those kids out there, be your best self. Listen to your mom and dad, say please and thank you and eat your vegetables and exercise, because those young kids are going to be the people that have a chance to put feet on Mars.”

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Musk Cites Whistleblower as New Reason to Exit Twitter Deal

Elon Musk and Twitter lobbed salvos at each other Tuesday in the latest round of legal filings over the billionaire Tesla CEO’s efforts to rescind his offer to buy the social media platform. 

Musk filed more paperwork to terminate his agreement to buy Twitter, this time based on information in a whistleblower complaint filed by Twitter’s former head of security. Twitter fired back by saying his attempt to back out of the deal is “invalid and wrongful.” 

In an SEC filing, Musk said his legal team notified Twitter of “additional bases” for ending the deal on top of the ones given in the original termination notice issued in July. 

In a letter to Twitter Inc., which was included in the filing, Musk’s advisers cited the whistleblower report by former executive Peiter Zatko — also known by his hacker handle “Mudge.” 

Zatko, who served as Twitter’s head of security until he was fired early this year, alleged in his complaint to U.S. officials that the company misled regulators about its poor cybersecurity defenses and its negligence in attempting to root out fake accounts that spread disinformation. 

The letter, addressed to Twitter’s Chief Legal Officer Vijaya Gadde, said Zatko’s allegations provide extra reasons to end the deal if the July termination notice “is determined to be invalid for any reason.” 

Billionaire Musk has spent months alleging that the company he agreed to acquire undercounted its fake and spam accounts, which means he doesn’t have to go through with the $44 billion deal. Musk’s decision to back out of the transaction sets the stage for a high-stakes legal battle in October. 

In a separate SEC filing, Twitter responded to what it called Musk’s latest “purported termination,” saying it’s “based solely on statements made by a third party that, as Twitter has previously stated, are riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies and lack important context.” 

The company vowed to go through with the sale at the price agreed with Musk. 

 

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Excitement Over Cryptocurrency Tinged With Fear

The price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has fallen dramatically in recent months. Still, many investors are excited about the future of digital currencies despite the risks. VOA’s Michelle Quinn reports from San Francisco.

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Arizona Governor to Focus on Semiconductors in Taiwan Visit 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday for a visit focused on semiconductors, the critical chips used in everyday electronics that the island manufactures.

Ducey is on a mission to woo suppliers for the new $12 billion Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC) plant being built in the state. He is traveling with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce president and the head of the state’s economic development agency.

Ducey is to meet with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, business leaders and university representatives in the semiconductor industry, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

American states are competing to attract a multibillion-dollar wave of investment in chip factories as the U.S. government steps up spending on expanding the U.S. semiconductor industry with a recently passed law. Last week, the Indiana governor visited Taiwan for a similar purpose.

U.S. officials worry that the country relies too heavily on Taiwan and other Asian suppliers for processor chips used in smartphones, medical devices, cars and most other electronic devices.

Those worries have been aggravated by tensions with China over technology and security. The potential for disruption was highlighted by chips shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic that sent shockwaves through the auto and electronics industries.

Taiwan produces more than half the global supply of high-end processor chips.

Beijing, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, fired missiles into the sea near the island starting on Aug. 4 after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited, disrupting shipping and air traffic, and highlighting the possibility that chip exports might be interrupted.

A law approved by Congress on July 29 promises more than $52 billion in grants and other aid to develop the U.S. semiconductor industry and a 25% tax credit for investors in chip factories in the United States.

State governments are now promising tax breaks and grants to lure chip factories they hope will become centers for high-tech industry.

Intel Corp., the only major U.S. producer, announced plans in March 2021 to build two chip factories in Arizona at a cost of $20 billion. The company has had another facility in Arizona since 1980.

In January, Intel announced plans to invest $20 billion in a chip factory in Ohio.

TSMC., headquartered in Taiwan and which makes chips for Apple Inc. and other customers, announced plans last year to invest $3.5 billion in its second U.S. manufacturing site in North Phoenix, Arizona.

TSMC’s first U.S. semiconductor wafer fabrication facility is in Camas, Washington. It also operates design centers in San Jose, California, and Austin, Texas.

South Korea’s Samsung Electronics says it will break ground in 2024 for a $17 billion chip factory near Austin, Texas. The state says it is the biggest single investment to date in Texas.

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WHO Director in Asia Accused of Racism, Abuse Put on Leave

The World Health Organization’s top director in the Western Pacific, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, has been indefinitely removed from his post, according to internal correspondence obtained by The Associated Press.

Kasai’s removal comes months after an AP investigation revealed that dozens of staffers accused him of racist, abusive and unethical behavior that undermined the U.N. agency’s efforts to stop the coronavirus pandemic in Asia.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told staff in the Western Pacific in an email on Friday that Kasai was “on leave” without elaborating further. Tedros said Deputy Director-General, Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, would be arriving Tuesday in Manila, WHO’s regional headquarters, to “ensure business continuity.” Two senior WHO officials who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the press, said Kasai had been put on extended administrative leave after internal investigators substantiated some of the misconduct complaints.

In a statement, WHO said it was unknown how long Kasai would be away. The U.N. health agency said the investigation into him was continuing and that it was believed to be the first time a regional director had been relieved of their duties. Kasai did not respond to requests for comment but previously denied he used racist language or acted unprofessionally.

In January, the AP reported that more than 30 unidentified staffers sent a confidential complaint to senior WHO leadership and members of the organization’s Executive Board, alleging that Kasai had created a “toxic atmosphere” in WHO’s offices across the Western Pacific. Documents and recordings showed Kasai made racist remarks to his staff and blamed the rise of COVID-19 in some Pacific countries on their “lack of capacity due to their inferior culture, race and socioeconomics level.” Several WHO staffers working under Kasai said he improperly shared sensitive coronavirus vaccine information to help Japan, his home country, score political points with its donations.

Days after the AP report, WHO chief Tedros announced that an internal probe into Kasai had begun. Several months later, however, WHO staffers alleged that Kasai was manipulating the investigation. In a letter sent to the U.N. agency’s top governing body in April, the Executive Board, the staffers wrote that Kasai had ordered senior managers to destroy any incriminating documents and instructed IT staff “to monitor emails of all the staff members.”

Kasai is a Japanese doctor who began his career in his country’s public health system before moving to WHO, where he has worked for more than 15 years.

The removal of a regional director at WHO, even temporarily, is “unprecedented,” according to Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights at Georgetown University. “There have been a lot of bad regional directors at WHO, but I’ve never heard of action like this,” Gostin said.

Any withdrawal of support from Japan for Kasai could hasten his dismissal. A Japanese government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said they hoped WHO had conducted a fair investigation.

Kasai’s removal stands in stark contrast to WHO’s past reluctance to discipline perpetrators of unethical and sometimes illegal behavior, including during the sex abuse uncovered during the Ebola outbreak in Congo from 2018-2020. More than 80 outbreak responders under WHO’s direction sexually abused vulnerable women; an AP investigation found senior WHO management was informed of multiple exploitation claims in 2019 but refused to act and even promoted one of the managers involved. No senior WHO staffers linked to the abuse have been fired. 

“WHO’s reputation was shattered by those allegations,” Gostin said, calling the lack of accountability in Congo “truly outrageous.” He welcomed the disciplinary action taken against Kasai and called for WHO to release its investigation in some form.

Gostin and other public health academics said that if WHO’s Executive Board determines that Kasai violated his contract by engaging in the racist and abusive conduct alleged, his contract could be terminated.

WHO’s own staff association urged Tedros to take action against Kasai at a meeting in June, saying that failing to do so “would be a tragic mistake,” according to a memo from the private briefing.

“If swift action is not taken … the results may be regarded as questionable at best, fixed and farcical at worst,” the staffers warned Tedros. “If (Kasai’s) wrongdoing is proven, the assumption will be that many other items were swept aside to save face.”

Before Kasai was put on leave, WHO’s Western Pacific office had planned a town hall this week to address “workplace culture,” including concerns about racism and abusive conduct. In an email to staff on Saturday, Dr. Angela Pratt, a director in Kasai’s office, announced that the meeting had been postponed. 

 

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Sri Lanka’s President Says IMF Talks Nearing Successful End

Sri Lanka’s president said Tuesday that his bankrupt country’s talks with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package have successfully reached final stages as he presented an amended budget that seeks to tame inflation and hike taxes.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the finance minister, said in a speech in Parliament that his government will soon start negotiating debt restructuring with countries that provide loans to Sri Lanka.

Declaring that Sri Lanka is on the “correct course in the short term for recovery,” Wickremesinghe warned the country must prepare for at least 25 years of a national economic policy, staring with the 2023 budget.

An IMF team is visiting Sri Lanka and is expected to end the current round of talks on Wednesday.

Prior to the visit, the IMF said that because Sri Lanka’s public debt is unsustainable, the IMF’s executive board will need assurances by Sri Lanka’s creditors that debt sustainability will be restored before any bailout program begins.

Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt exceeds $51 billion — of which it must repay $28 billion by 2027.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis with acute monthslong shortages of essentials like fuel, medicine, and cooking gas due to a severe foreign currency dearth. Though cooking gas supplies were restored through World Bank support, shortages of fuel, critical medicines and some food items continue.

Wickremesingh delivered his first budget proposal after he was elected by Parliament in July to cover the remainder of the five-year term of ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Wickremesinghe said that the United Nations along with other international organizations has launched a program to ensure food security. Schools have reopened and universities have resumed classes after long closures, he said. However, long fuel lines have reappeared after a quota system seemed to have brought them under control over the past weeks.

“I thought things are improving,” salesperson Asanka Chandana said. “For several weeks in May and June, we faced severe hardships, but things were getting better over the last two weeks after the introduction of the quota system. Now it looks like the shortage is still there and we are back to the square one.”

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said lapses in distribution, delays in unloading, and payments for orders by fuel stations have created long lines. He said the issues will be sorted out within days.

Wickremesinghe also said that his administration’s fiscal program envisages government revenue increasing to around 15% of GDP by 2025 from 8.2% at the of end 2021. He also aims to reduce public sector debt from around 110% of GDP in 2021 to less than 100% in the medium term.

He also vowed to control inflation to a mid-single digit level, and proposed a value added tax increase to 15% from the current 12%. Other taxes approved in May will soon come into operation, he said.

The new budget comes amid a relative calm following months of public protests that led to the ouster of Wickremesinghe’s predecessor and his family members from power. Protesters accused the once-powerful Rajapaksa family of being responsible for the economic crisis through corruption and mismanagement.

Rajapaksa fled the country in July and resigned after protesters stormed his official residence. He is now in Thailand. Party leaders say he is expected to return from exile early in September and have asked Wickremesinghe to provide him with security and facilities to which a former president is legally entitled.

Since becoming president, Wickremesinghe has cracked down on protesters and dismantled their main camp outside the president’s office. The use of a harsh anti-terror law to detain a protest leader has led to the United States and European Union raising human rights concerns.

On Tuesday, police fired tear gas on students demonstrating against the detention of a student leader also under anti-terror laws.

“I don’t see a significant change except there is a new person in the office of the president,” political analyst Jayadeva Uyangoda said, as criticism mounted that Wickremesinghe was an extension of the Rajapaksas’ administration.

“No opposition party seems to be willing to join Mr. Wickremesinghe’s proposed all-party government for two reasons: they think Mr. Wickremesinghe lacks legitimacy and they are not happy with the dominance of the Rajapaksa party,” Uyangoda said.

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Elon Musk Subpoenas Twitter Whistleblower Ahead of Trial

Elon Musk’s legal team is demanding to hear from Twitter’s whistleblowing former security chief, who could help bolster Musk’s case for backing out of a $44 billion deal to buy the social media company. 

Former Twitter executive Peiter Zatko — also known by his hacker handle “Mudge” — received a subpoena Saturday from Musk’s team, according to Zatko’s lawyer and court records. 

The billionaire Tesla CEO has spent months alleging that the company he agreed to acquire undercounted its fake and spam accounts — and that he shouldn’t have to consummate the deal as a result. 

Zatko’s whistleblower complaint to U.S. officials alleging Twitter misled regulators about its privacy and security protections — and its ability to detect and root out fake accounts — might play into Musk’s hands in an upcoming trial scheduled for Oct. 17 in Delaware. 

Zatko served as Twitter’s head of security until he was fired early this year. 

 

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US Government to Provide $11 Million for Production of Monkeypox Vaccine

The U.S. government said on Monday it would provide about $11 million to support the packaging of Bavarian Nordic’s BAVA.CO Jynneos monkeypox vaccine at a U.S.-based manufacturer’s facility.

The Danish company, which is the maker of the only approved monkeypox vaccine, had earlier this month signed up Michigan-based Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing to package the two-dose shot.

The production is expected to begin later this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said, adding that the funding will help the manufacturer recruit more staff and buy additional equipment.

Globally, the number of confirmed monkeypox cases have crossed 47,600 with over 17,000 cases reported in the United States so far.

The Jynneos vaccine is in short supply and U.S. regulators have authorized a method of administration that allows providers to get five doses instead of one from a single vial to expand access.

The United States initially ordered 3 million doses and in July sought another 2.5 million doses. Bavarian Nordic said the additional doses would be packaged at the U.S. facility.

The delivery of the total 5.5 million doses is spread across this year and the next.

More than 207,000 doses of Jynneos vaccine have been given in the country as of Aug. 23, but very few people have received the second shot needed for full protection, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said last week.

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US Navy Turns to Driverless Ships for Indo-Pacific Strategy

As the U.S. military continues to consider China’s military strength in the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S. Navy is turning to driverless ships to multiply its forces. VOA’s Jessica Stone takes us along for a closer look at this military innovation. Camera: Keith Lane

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NASA Set to Test Rocket, Capsule for Sending Astronauts to Moon 

Engineers for the U.S. space agency NASA were troubleshooting several issues early Monday ahead of the planned launch of a new rocket and crew capsule designed to send humans back to the moon. 

NASA teams dealt with delays due to a thunderstorm that passed over the launch site in the southeastern state of Florida as well as a leak discovered during fueling operations. 

NASA’s assistant launch director, Jeremy Graeber, said Monday’s scheduled launch could still go forward. If it does not, another try could happen on Friday. 

The test involves the Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful in NASA’s history, which will propel the Orion capsule without any people on board for this flight. Orion is due to go around the moon and return to Earth, with the entire journey taking about six weeks.    

If successful, NASA plans to fly astronauts around the moon in 2024 and potentially put them on the lunar surface as early as 2025.     

The launch is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to have humans walk on the moon for the first time since 1972, including the first woman and person of color to do so.    

NASA is also planning a moon base as part of Artemis, and says it will use what it learns to inform efforts to send the first astronauts to Mars.    

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters  

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