WHO Concerned Over Polio Outbreak in Southeastern Africa

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The World Health Organization says authorities in Mozambique have declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 after confirming that a child in the country’s northeastern Tete province has contracted the disease. It becomes the second case of wild poliovirus confirmed in southern Africa this year, following a case in Malawi in mid-February.

In a statement, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, called the outbreak of poliovirus in Mozambique “greatly concerning.”

She added that efforts were underway to help strengthen disease surveillance in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with plans to reach 23 million children ages five and below with the polio vaccine in the coming weeks.

Dr. Ndoutabe Modjirom, the interim polio program coordinator for the WHO Africa Region, said that the first step is to carry out a quality vaccination campaign. 

“The second measure is to reinforce the surveillance in all our countries so that they will be able to detect very, very quickly all poliovirus circulating in our region,” he said. “We have to extend to all other countries the measure of surveillance. So that measure we have to take very, very quickly to address this situation.”

Dr. Norman Matara, head of the Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights, said the outbreaks of diseases may have resulted from the lockdowns that countries around the world instituted while fighting COVID-19. 

“You know with the pandemic, the lockdowns and clinics shutting down, there is a probability some infants and children might have missed their immunizations schedule and thus we now have these emergency outbreaks; measles in Zimbabwe and polio in Mozambique,” he said. “So, we really urge the government that as they fight COVID-19, we should intensify immunization of children especially in those neglected areas so that every child gets immunized. We also urge the government to implement strong surveillance systems.”   

Last week, Zimbabwe declared an outbreak of measles in a province on the border with Mozambique. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government said it was working with the WHO to immunize children in the whole country.

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UN Floats Plan to Boost Renewables as Climate Worries Mount

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The United Nations chief on Wednesday launched a five-point plan to jump-start broader use of renewable energies, hoping to revive world attention on climate change as the U.N.’s weather agency reported that greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification reached record highs last year.

“We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the renewable energy transition before we incinerate our only home,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Time is running out.”

His latest stark warning about possible environmental disaster comes after the World Meteorological Organization issued its State of the Climate Report for 2021, which said the last seven years were the seven hottest on record. The impacts of extreme weather have led to deaths and disease, migration, and economic losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars — and the fallout is continuing this year, WMO said.

“Today’s State of the Climate report is a dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption,” Guterres said. “The global energy system is broken and bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe.”

In his plan, which leans into the next U.N. climate conference taking place in Egypt in November, Guterres called for fostering technology transfer and lifting of intellectual property protections in renewable technologies, like battery storage.

Such ambitions – as with his call for transfers of technologies aimed to fight COVID-19 – can cause innovators and their financial backers to bristle: They want to reap the benefits of their knowledge, investments and discoveries — not just give them away.

Secondly, Guterres wants to broaden access to supply chains and raw materials that go into renewable technologies, which are now concentrated in a few powerful countries.

The U.N. chief also wants governments to reform in ways that can promote renewable energies, such as by fast-tracking solar and wind projects.

Fourth, he called for a shift away from government subsidies for fossil fuels that now total a half-trillion dollars per year. That’s no easy task: Such subsidies can ease the pinch in many consumers’ pockets – but ultimately help inject cash into corporate coffers too.

“While people suffer from high prices at the pump, the oil and gas industry is raking in billions from a distorted market,” Guterres said. “This scandal must stop.”

Finally, Guterres says private and public investments in renewable energy must triple to at least $4 trillion dollars a year. He noted that government subsidies for fossil fuels are today more than three times higher than those for renewables.

Those U.N. initiatives are built upon a central idea: That human-generated emissions of greenhouse gas in the industrial era have locked in excess heat in the atmosphere, on the Earth’s surface, and in the oceans and seas. The knock-on effect has contributed to more frequent and severe natural disasters like drought, hurricanes, flooding and forest fires.

Climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of the tech company Stripe and Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit focused on environmental data science, says a good way to head toward net-zero emissions is “to make clean energy cheap.”

“While rich countries can afford to spend extra on clean energy, poor and middle income countries may be less willing to accept tradeoffs between reducing emissions and lifting millions out of abject poverty,” he said. “If clean energy sources are cheaper than fossil fuels, they become win-win and will be adopted more rapidly.”

The WMO report breaks little new ground in terms of data, but compiles earlier studies into a broader picture of the global climate.

Its secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, pointed to a downward blip in emissions in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic dampened human activity. But he said that doesn’t change the “big picture” because carbon dioxide – a leading greenhouse gas – has a long lifetime and lingers on, and emissions have been growing since then anyway.

“We have seen this steady growth of carbon dioxide concentration, which is related to the fact that we are still using too much fossil fuel,” Taalas said in an interview. “Deforestation in regions like Amazon, Africa and southern Asia still continue.”

Last year’s U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, failed to muster carbon-cutting pledges from the “BRICS” countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — which threaten a key goal of the 2015 Paris accord to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, he said.

“We are rather heading towards 2.5- to 3-degree warming instead of 1.5,” Taalas said.

Climate experts lauded the U.N. ambitions and lamented the WMO findings, and said some countries are headed in the wrong direction.

“If climate change is death by one thousand cuts, in 2021 we took our thousandth,” said Rob Jackson, professor of Earth System Science at Stanford University, who also chairs the Global Carbon Project that tracks carbon emissions.

“Dirty coal use roared back through economic stimulation incentives for COVID in China and India. We built more new coal plant capacity worldwide than we took offline,” he added. “How is this possible in 2021?”

Jonathan Overpeck, a professor of environmental education at the University of Michigan, noted that fossil fuels have a role in the Russian government’s war in Ukraine. Russia is a key global producer of oil and gas, including through a pipeline that transits Ukraine to supply homes and businesses in Europe.

“The secretary-general has it right in pointing the blame at fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are creating an ever-worsening climate crisis and all that comes with it,” Overpeck said. “The solution for climate change, the deadly air pollution and true national security is to leave fossil fuels behind in favor of clean renewable energy.”

“It’s getting scary,” he added. “The climate crisis and the European war are a call to action, and to rid the planet of fossil fuels as fast as we can.”

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US Congress Looks at UFOs Through Security Lens  

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 The U.S. government has often ignored the possibility of unidentified flying objects, even after decades of unexplained sightings, including by U.S. military pilots who sometimes filmed the UFOs, some of which moved with lightning speed and incredible agility. 

On Tuesday, a congressional hearing focused on UFOs for the first time in 50 years, this time looking at their threat to national security — not from people from other worlds, but from potential international adversaries on Earth.  

The hearing came nearly a year after a government report documented more than 140 cases of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP, that U.S. military pilots had observed since 2004. 

“They are real. They need to be investigated. And any threats they pose need to be mitigated,” said Representative André Carson, chair of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation.

During his testimony, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ronald Moultrie said, “We’re open to all hypotheses. We’re open to any conclusions that we may encounter.”  

“The stigma associated with UAPs has gotten in the way of good intelligence analysis. Pilots avoided reporting or were laughed at when they did,” Carson said. “Today we know better.” 

Moultrie, who oversees the Pentagon-based UAP investigation team, added that “because UAP pose potential flight safety and general security risks, we are committed to a focused effort to determine their origins.”    

The hearing focused on possible foreign adversaries of the U.S. developing secret technologies that could be construed as UFOs and prove detrimental to the United States. 

“The intelligence community has a serious duty to our taxpayers to prevent potential adversaries, such as China and Russia, from surprising us with unforeseen new technologies,” said Republican Representative Rick Crawford.  

While testifying, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence Scott Bray showed UAP video clips. One showed flashing triangular objects in the sky, later determined to be visual artifacts of light passing through night-vision goggles. In another, a shiny spherical object zipped past a military aircraft’s cockpit window — an observation Bray said remained unexplained. 

Although Bray did not rule out extraterrestrial origins, he said there hasn’t been anything to suggest the sightings are “nonterrestrial in origin.” 

The number of UAPs in the military database has grown to about 400, Bray said.  

They are increasing, he noted, likely because of technological advances, such as better sensors, and expanded drone usage.  

Bray cautioned the committee about the need to balance transparency with the protection of sensitive intelligence information. 

“Given the nature of our business, national defense, we’ve had to sometimes be less forthcoming with information in open forums than many would hope,” he said. “We do not want potential adversaries to know exactly what we’re able to see or understand or how we come to the conclusions we make,” he said. 

 

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Nigeria Becoming Destination for Africa’s Promising Tech Startups

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In February, the Nigerian technology startup CrowdForce announced a big break: It had received $3.6 million from investors to expand its financial services operations to many more underserved communities.  

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Tomi Ayorinde said new funding will boost its mobile agent network from 7,000 to 21,000 this year.

“We were looking to scale faster and really gain market share,” Ayorinde said. “And what we’re doing is also very impact-related because we’re creating jobs, avenues for people to make extra income in their communities. So, it was also very interesting for impact investors to be part of what we’re trying to do.” 

When Ayorinde helped launch CrowdForce seven years ago, he intended it to be a data collection company. But after about two years, the company overhauled its business model when Ayorinde realized it could fill a need for bank accounts.   

“When we collected data of 4.5 million traders what we saw was, a lot of them didn’t have bank accounts and the ones that have bank accounts had a very tough time accessing the cash that was sent to them,” said Ayorinde.”That’s when we kind of realized that there’s a bigger problem to solve here.”

Experts say about 60% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people lack access to banks or financial services. Technology startups in Africa are trying to fix that, said the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association known as AVCA.   

In a recent report, the industry group said African startups attracted $5.2 billion in venture capital last year, and that West Africa – led by Nigeria – accounted for the largest share of investments.    

AVCA research manager Alexia Alexandropoulou said investors are looking to tap into Africa’s huge population of young people.    

“Africa is the world’s most youthful population, so as the proportion of skilled labor increases, then the result will be more human capital in order to power African businesses and also the industrial development within the continent,” said Alexandropoulou.

AVCA’s report also cites increased internet penetration in Africa and more favorable government policies as contributing to increased investments in financial technology services knwoFintech.  

But Fintech Digital Marketing Expert Louis Dike said there are obstacles to overcome, such as weak currencies and policies.  

“Africa is not a perfect place because it’s still made up of virgin markets,” said Dike. “The standard of living is quite low, our regulations are not consistent, today the government will say this and tomorrow they will change the law and restrict some startup activities.”  

But with new talents emerging in technology, more startups with big dreams are emerging in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. 

 

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Ghanaian Entrepreneur Recycles Textile Wastes into Shoes

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Working to achieve sustainability in textile production is one of the projects of the U.N. Environment Programme for this year as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. In Ghana, an entrepreneur is supporting this agenda by recycling waste textiles and rubber into shoes. Senanu Tord has details from Takoradi, Ghana.
Videographer: Senanu Tord Produced by: Rob Raffaele

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Musk: Doubt About Spam Accounts Could Scuttle Twitter Deal

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his deal to buy Twitter can’t move forward unless the company shows public proof that less than 5% of the accounts on the social media platform are fake or spam.

Musk made the comment in a reply to another user on Twitter early Tuesday. He spent much of the previous day in a back-and-forth with Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, who posted a series of tweets explaining his company’s effort to fight bots and how it has consistently estimated that less than 5% of Twitter accounts are fake.

In his tweet Tuesday, Musk said that “20% fake/spam accounts, while 4 times what Twitter claims, could be much higher. My offer was based on Twitter’s SEC filings being accurate.”

He added: “Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of 5%. This deal cannot move forward until he does.”

Twitter declined to comment.

It’s Musk’s latest salvo over inauthentic accounts, a problem he has said he wants to rid Twitter of.

At a Miami technology conference Monday, Musk estimated that at least 20% of Twitter’s 229 million accounts are spam bots, a percentage he said was at the low end of his assessment.

The battle over spam accounts kicked off last week when Musk tweeted that the Twitter deal was on on hold pending confirmation of the company’s estimates that they make up less than 5% of total users.

Also at the All In Summit, Musk gave the strongest hint yet that he would like to pay less for Twitter than the $44 billion offer he made last month.

Musk’s comments are likely to bolster theories from analysts that the billionaire either wants out of the deal or to buy the company at a cheaper price. His tweet Tuesday came in reply to one from a Tesla news site speculating that Musk “may be looking for a better Twitter deal as $44 billion seems too high.”

“Twitter shares will be under pressure this morning again as the chances of a deal ultimately getting done is not looking good now,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives, who covers both Twitter and Tesla, said in a research note. He estimated that there’s “60%+ chance” that Musk ends up walking away from the deal and paying the $1 billion breakup fee.

Musk made the offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share on April 14. Twitter shares have slid since then. They were down slightly in Tuesday morning trading to $37.28.

To finance the acquisition, Musk pledged some of his Tesla shares, which have slumped by about a third since the deal was announced.

In tweets on Monday, Agrawal acknowledged Twitter isn’t perfect at catching bots. He wrote that every quarter, the company has made the estimate of less than 5% spam. “Our estimate is based on multiple human reviews of thousands of accounts that are sampled at random, consistently over time,” Agrawal wrote.

Estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5%, he wrote. “The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter.”

Twitter has put the under 5% estimate in its quarterly filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission for at least the last two years, well before Musk made his offer last month.

But in the filings, Twitter expressed doubts that its count of bot accounts was correct, conceding that the estimate may be low.

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Americans Return to the Office With Willingness and Trepidation 

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As cases of coronavirus continue to decline in the United States, many businesses have told their employees it’s time to return to the office.  

Some people are already doing the daily grind, while others are splitting their time between home and the office as part of a hybrid plan.  

The office routine was normal for millions of Americans before the pandemic. Now, some two years later, it is regarded as a new normal, after those employees worked full-time from their residences. 

Morning Consult, a global business intelligence company, has been polling U.S. consumers about returning to the workplace.  

Charlotte Principato, a financial services analyst for the organization, said the latest poll showed 73% of remote workers felt comfortable returning to the office. The remaining 27% wanted to remain at home where, they said, they work more efficiently.  

“The return to the office is experienced differently depending on each person’s situation,” and introverts may have a harder time getting used to it than extroverts, said Debra Kaplan, a therapist in Tucson, Arizona.  

She told VOA many people will experience stress adjusting to an office environment after working from home. 

Mark Gerald, a psychoanalyst in New York, likens it to a child going to school for the first time.  

There’s almost childlike anxiety that’s related to change and fears of going into the world, he said. 

The fears include contracting the coronavirus, as well as being away from family during the workday. 

That’s true for Imani Harris, a federal government employee in Washington who has two young children. 

“I wear a mask at work because I don’t feel safe being at the office,” she said. “I’d rather be at home because I accomplish more, and get to spend quality time with the kids — plus it’s harder financially since I have to spend money on child care.” 

Another drawback is exhaustion.  

“At first, returning to the office can be really draining because you haven’t seen the people you work with in person for a long time,” said Karestan Koenen, a psychiatric epidemiology professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. 

“Psychologically and emotionally, the transition is not comfortable but should eventually become more comfortable as time goes on,” she added.  

Still, many workers favor a hybrid approach in which they work more at home than in the office.  

“We tend to see that younger folks are more likely to want a hybrid environment where they feel they’re more productive and have more flexibility and control,” Principato said.  

They also don’t think their jobs need to be done in the office and want to work in a way that feels better for them, Kaplan said.  

For Ethan Carson, who is in his 20s and works for a technology firm in Falls Church, Virginia, going to his office “is more of a bother” than working from home. “I don’t need to be in my building to do my job,” he said, “and the commute is difficult with the horrible traffic.” 

Other employees, however, think it’s easier for them to get their job done around their peers than at home, where there may be more distractions.  

For some, the office makes them feel they are part of a community again.  

“There is a hunger for human connection and sometimes the human touch,” Gerald said.  

“People have realized that socializing is helpful for their mental health,” Kaplan said. “They often feel positive about seeing their colleagues,” talking to them face-to-face, and not just on Zoom, she explained.  

Angela Morgensen, a communications consultant in Bethesda, Maryland, is relieved to be back at the office. 

“I’m enjoying talking to the people I work with and feel more like I’m part of the company again,” she said. “I used to hate meetings, but I’m finding it stimulating to share ideas.” 

Gerald points out that the pandemic has made people think more about a better work-life balance, including how many hours they want to spend in the office. 

“They are not returning as the same person they were before the pandemic happened. Some wonder, ‘Is this job fulfilling and the workplace a good environment for me?'”  

And that’s reflected in seeing hybrid work becoming more of the norm, he said. 

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Convicted Killer Turned Tech Whiz Confronts His Sordid Past

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When he was 20 years old, Harel Hershtik planned and executed a murder, a crime that a quarter of a century later is still widely remembered for its grisly details.

Today, he is the brains behind an Israeli health-tech startup, poised to make millions of dollars with the backing of prominent public figures and deep-pocket investors.

With his company set to go public, Hershtik’s past is coming under new scrutiny, raising questions about whether someone who took a person’s life deserves to rehabilitate his own to such an extent.

“When I was young, I would say that I was stupid and arrogant,” said Hershtik, now 46. “You can be a genius and yet still be very stupid and the two don’t contradict each other.”

Today, Hershtik is the vice president of strategy and technology at Scentech Medical, a company he founded in 2018, while behind bars, which says its product can detect certain diseases through a breath test.

In a three-hour interview with The Associated Press, he repeatedly expressed remorse for his crime.

Hershtik was convicted of murdering Yaakov Sela, a charismatic snake trapper he met when he was 14. The two had a bumpy relationship.

Sela was known for having numerous girlfriends at once, one being Hershtik’s mother. Hershtik said he felt uneasy with how Sela treated some of the women, including his mother.

In early 1996, Sela discovered that Hershtik had stolen 49,000 shekels (about $15,000 at the time) from him, and the two agreed that instead of involving the police, Hershtik would pay him back double that amount. Court documents say Hershtik instead planned to murder Sela.

Pulled over during a drive to gather the money, an accomplice of Hershtik’s fired three shots at Sela, using Hershtik’s mother’s pistol. He then handed Hershtik the gun, according to the documents, and Hershtik shot Sela in the head at close range.

The pair shoved Sela’s body into the trunk and buried it in a grove in the Golan Heights, according to the documents. Weeks later, hikers saw a hand poking up from the earth, and Sela’s body was found.

The sensational crime gripped the nation.

In court documents, prosecutors say Hershtik lied repeatedly in his attempt to distance himself from the murder.

Hershtik said he was compelled to lie so that he could protect the others involved in the scheme, which included his mother.

Hershtik was sentenced to life in prison for premeditated murder and obstructing justice, among other crimes.

He would serve 25 years, during which time Hershtik earned two doctorates, in math and chemistry, and got married three separate times. He said he established 31 companies, selling six of them.

But prison was also a fraught time for Hershtik. He said he spent 11 years in quarantine because of health issues. He was punished twice for setting up internet access to his cell, in one case building a modem out of two dismantled DVD players.

Last year, a parole board determined he had been rehabilitated and no longer posed a danger to society.

As part of his early release and until 2026, he is under nightly house arrest from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. He must wear a tracking device around his ankle at all times and is barred from leaving the country.

A free man, Hershtik sat recently with the AP in his office in the central city of Rehovot, Israel.

His start-up is waiting for regulatory approval to merge with a company called NextGen Biomed, which trades on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and would make Scentech public.

Hershtik said the company’s product is being finalized for detecting COVID-19 through a patient’s breath, and it is working to add other diseases such as certain cancers as well as depression. The product is meant to provide on-the-spot results in a non-invasive way.

The company has received a patent for its technology in Israel and said it is preparing to apply for FDA approval soon.

Hershtik said the merger values the company at around $250 million and that he has raised more than $25 million in funding over the last two years through private Israeli investors. A large part of the investment is from Hershtik’s own money, although he won’t say how much. Prisoners in Israel aren’t barred from doing business, but

Hershtik’s success is rare.

His company is backed by prominent Israeli names, including Yaakov Amidror, who chairs NextGen and is a former chief of the country’s National Security Council.

“According to the rules of the country, the man is allowed to rehabilitate. He paid his price and he rehabilitated. So there is no reason not to help him rehabilitate,” Amidror, who testified to the parole board on Hershtik’s behalf, told the AP.

But Hershtik’s past is already haunting him. Hershtik was demoted from CTO earlier this year to his current position, in part because he didn’t want his crime to scare away investors.

“Harel has always said if for some reason his presence is a problem and the company would be better off without him, that he’s willing to leave the company,” said Drew Morris, a board member and investor.

As Scentech seeks to take its product to market, investors will need to decide whether Hershtik’s rap sheet influences where they put their money.

Ishak Saporta, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management, said he believed investors would be drawn to the company’s potential for profit rather than deterred by Hershtik’s history.

“What concerns me here is that he became a millionaire. He paid his debt to society in jail. But does he have a commitment to the victim’s family,” Saporta asked.

Tovia Bat-Leah, who had a child with Sela, suggested he help fund her daughter’s education or create a reptile museum in Sela’s name.

“He served his time but he should also make some kind of reparation,” she said.

Hershtik sees the good that could come about from the company as the ultimate form of repentance. He said he could have used his smarts to create any sort of company with no benefit to society but chose health tech instead.

“Trust me, this is not for the money,” he said.

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IBM: 6 Black Colleges Getting Cybersecurity Centers

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Six historically Black universities in five Southern states will be getting the first IBM cybersecurity centers aimed at training underrepresented communities, the company said.

The schools are Xavier University of Louisiana, that state’s Southern University System, North Carolina A&T, South Carolina State, Clark Atlanta and Morgan State universities, according to a news release Tuesday.

“Technology-related services are in constant demand, and cybersecurity is paramount,” said Dr. Ray L. Belton, president of the Southern University System based in Baton Rouge.

The centers will give students, staff, and faculty access to modern technology, resources, and skills development, said Dr. Nikunja Swain, chair and professor of the Computer Science and Mathematics Department at South Carolina State, in Orangeburg.

“It will further enhance our ongoing activities on several key areas, including cybersecurity, data science analytics, cloud computing, IOT, blockchain, design thinking, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence,” he said.

IBM said it plans more than 20 such centers at historically Black colleges and universities nationwide.

The company said each school will get customized courses and access to company academic programs. They also will be able to experience simulated but realistic cyberattacks through IBM Security’s Command Center.

The company said it also will provide faculty and students free access to multiple SaaS IBM Cloud environments.

Xavier is in New Orleans, North Carolina A&T in Greensboro and Morgan State in Baltimore.

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US Abortion Rights Activists Start ‘Summer of Rage’ With Saturday Protests

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Abortion rights supporters will protest in cities across the United States on Saturday, kicking off what organizers said would be “a summer of rage” if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Planned Parenthood, Women’s March and other abortion rights groups organized more than 300 “Bans Off Our Bodies” marches for Saturday, with the largest turnouts expected in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago.

The demonstrations are in response to the May 2 leak of a draft opinion showing the court’s conservative majority ready to reverse the 1973 landmark decision that established a federal constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

The court’s final ruling, which could give states the power to ban abortion, is expected in June. About half of U.S. states could ban or severely restrict abortion soon after a ruling vacating Roe.  

Organizers said they anticipated hundreds of thousands of people to participate in Saturday’s events, which they said would be the first of many coordinated protests around the Supreme Court’s decision.

“For the women of this country, this will be a summer of rage,” said Rachel Carmona, president of Women’s March. “We will be ungovernable until this government starts working for us, until the attacks on our bodies let up, until the right to an abortion is codified into law.”

Democrats, who currently hold the White House and both chambers of Congress, hope that backlash to the Supreme Court decision will carry their party’s candidates to victory in the November midterm elections.  

But voters will be weighing abortion rights against other issues such as the soaring prices of food and gas, and they may be skeptical of Democrats’ ability to protect abortion access after efforts to pass legislation that would enshrine abortion rights in federal law failed. 

On Saturday, demonstrators in New York City plan to march across the Brooklyn Bridge, while protesters in Washington will meet at the Washington Monument and then head to the Supreme Court. Los Angeles protesters planned to meet at City Hall, and a group in Austin was to convene at Texas’ state capitol.

In the past week, protesters have gathered outside the homes of Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, who have voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to the leaked opinion.

Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion advocacy group with campus chapters across the country, said it was holding counter protests on Saturday in nine U.S. cities, including in Washington.

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New Zealand Prime Minister Tests Positive for COVID-19   

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New Zealand’s prime minister has tested positive for COVID.

Jacinda Ardern’s office said in a statement Saturday that she has mild symptoms and has been in isolation since Sunday, when her partner, Clarke Gayford, tested positive.

Ardern is required to be in isolation until May 21, preventing her from being in Parliament for the release of the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan on Monday and the country’s budget on Thursday.

“This is a milestone week for the government, and I’m gutted I can’t be there for it,” Ardern said.

Meanwhile, an Associated Press report says that four U.S. Air Force Academy cadets may not graduate or receive a military commission because they have refused COVID-19 vaccinations.

AP reports that Air Force officials say the cadets may also have to “pay back thousands of dollars in tuition costs.”

The Asian Football Confederation announced Saturday that the Chinese Football Association will not be able to host the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

The confederation said in a statement that it “acknowledges the exceptional circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the relinquishment by China PR of its hosting rights.”

China maintains a zero-COVID policy that has forced thousands of people to go into quarantine for long periods of time.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported more than 520 million COVID-19 cases early Saturday and over 6 million deaths.

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Storm Chasers Face Host of Dangers Beyond Severe Weather

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The deaths of four storm chasers in car crashes over the last two weeks have underscored the dangers of pursuing severe weather events as more people clog back roads and highways searching for a glimpse of a lightning bolt or tornado, meteorologists and chasers say.

Martha Llanos Rodriguez of Mexico City died Wednesday when a semitrailer plowed into her vehicle from behind on Interstate 90 in southwestern Minnesota. The car’s driver, Diego Campos, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he and Rodriguez and two other weather experts had been chasing violent weather and were hit after he stopped for downed power lines on the road.

More people are hopping into their cars and racing off after storms, jamming up roads, running stop signs and paying more attention to the sky than traffic, said Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia.

“There is such a volume of chasers out there on some storms sometimes that it creates potential traffic and other hazards,” Shepherd said. “Seeing storms within their natural context has scientific and broader value so I am not anti-chasing, however, there are elements that have become a little wild, wild West-ish.”

Popularized in the 1996 movie “Twister,” storm chasing involves pursuing severe weather events such as electrical storms and tornadoes, often in cars or on foot.

Some are researchers looking to gather data, such as verifying computer models predicting storm behavior. Some are looking to get in touch with nature. Others are photographers. And still others are just looking for a rush, said Greg Tripoli, an atmospheric and oceanic sciences professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who taught a class on storm chasing.

“Seeing a tornado is a life-changing experience,” Tripoli said. “You want to see one instead of just talking about them. It’s really just one of the excitements of life. You’ve got to take chances and go out there and go after your passions. It’s no different from rock-climbing or deep-sea diving.”

The storms themselves present dangers to inexperienced chasers who get too close. They can get hit by debris, struck by lightning or worse. Tripoli said he decided to stop teaching his storm chaser class and taking students into the field in the early 1990s after university officials stopped insuring the trips.

Nature isn’t the only threat. Storm chasers spend long hours on the road traveling from state to state like long-haul truckers, inviting fatigue. When they catch up to the storms, they can often keep their eyes on the skies instead of the road, sometimes with deadly consequences. Tripoli said he would warn students in his storm chaser class that the most likely way they would get hurt is in a car crash.

Three University of Oklahoma students were killed on April 30 after traveling to Kansas to chase a tornado. According to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the students’ car hydroplaned on the interstate in Tonkawa, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Oklahoma City. They slid off and back onto the interstate before a semitrailer hit them.

The University of Oklahoma has a policy stating that anyone who chases storms does so at their own risk and that storm chasing isn’t part of the school’s meteorology curriculum.

The mother of one of the students, 19-year-old Gavin Short of Grayslake, Illinois, told WMAQ-TV that her son loved to chase storms.

“He loved it, and we were so happy for him,” Beth Short said. “And it just, this is just the worst nightmare for us and two other sets of parents.”

Chaser traffic jams are becoming more common, said Kelton Halbert, a University of Wisconsin atmospheric and oceanic sciences doctoral student. He said he’s been chasing storms since he was 16 because he wants to feel closer to nature’s beauty and verify his forecast modeling, mostly by taking video of storms’ behavior.

“Unless you’re with one of these research institutions, storm chasers don’t have the ability to collect a lot of hard data,” he said. “For most … it’s the beauty, it’s the photography and then obviously the thrill seekers and adrenaline seekers. You can have people tailgating you, people in the middle of the road. If you’re in Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas on a high-risk day, yeah, you can see hundreds of them. Given the recent couple weeks, I’ve definitely felt more apprehensive. It brings back to the forefront that every time you do this you’re taking a risk.”

Wednesday’s storm in the Upper Midwest left tens of thousands of homes and businesses without power into Thursday. More potentially severe weather was forecast into Thursday evening that could bring hail, high winds and tornadoes from the Dakotas and Minnesota into other parts of the Midwest, the Storm Prediction Center said.

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Interfaith Group Asks Starbucks to Drop Vegan Milk Surcharge

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A group of Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish leaders is asking Starbucks to stop charging extra for vegan milk alternatives, saying the practice amounts to a tax on people who have embraced plant-based lifestyles.

In a statement issued Friday, an interfaith coalition led by Nevada-based Hindu activist Rajan Zed pressed the coffee chain to end the surcharges it called “unethical and unfair.”

“A coffee company should not be in the business of taxing individuals who had chosen the plant-based lifestyle,” said Zed’s statement, which was also signed by Thomas W. Blake, an Episcopal priest; Greek Orthodox clergyman Stephen R. Karcher; Buddhist priest Matthew Fisher; and Jewish rabbi ElizaBeth Webb Beyer.

The religious leaders cited numerous reasons why some Starbucks customers prefer alternatives to dairy, including dietary restrictions, ethical issues, environmental concerns, lactose intolerance, milk allergies and animal welfare.

Those who want plant-based milk should not have to pay more, they said, calling on the Seattle-based company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, and board chair Mellody Hobson to immediately drop the surcharge.

Starbucks outlets in the United States typically charge 50 cents to a dollar more for drinks made with plant-based milks.

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Canada Blazes Path in Space Law

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The Canadian government is amending its criminal law to include any crimes committed by citizens who one day go to the moon.

While the move seems far-fetched, experts say that because of the growing interest in and feasibility of space tourism, countries should begin thinking about how crimes committed in space will be adjudicated, and they suggest the coming Canadian legislation could become a model for other countries.

Legal procedures are already in place to deal with crimes committed aboard the International Space Station, which is divided into different sections controlled by individual countries.

If two Americans were involved in a crime in the American part of the station, it would be prosecutable under U.S. law. If an astronaut of one nationality was accused of a crime against a one of a different nationality, the two countries would have to negotiate which would prosecute or possibly extradite the suspect.

Now Canada is looking beyond the laws governing low Earth orbit and considering legal scenarios on another celestial object — in this case, the moon. Language buried deep within the 443 pages of this year’s budget implementation bill stipulates that any Canadian crew member who commits an offense in space is deemed to have committed it in Canada.

Steven Freeland, a professor emeritus of international law at Western Sydney University in Australia, says current laws on the space station will not work for something more complex, such as a lunar settlement.

Freeland, who has been involved extensively with space law for several years, told VOA that Canada’s action has created interesting questions about rights and obligations because space travel now includes tourists going into orbit and — one day — possibly staying on the moon.

He says new laws are needed that will apply to every person, regardless of their earthly nationality.

“And it’s not just about murder,” Freeland says. “It’s about, you know, those people might want to get married. (Under) what law did they get married? Those people might want to have children. You know, what nationality, you know, what is the nationality of the child and etc., etc. … as those quote-unquote ‘settlements’ become more and more sophisticated?”

Professor Ram Jakhu, acting director of the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal, says that as technological advances make space travel more common, laws must reflect that reality.

“The technology is being tested. It is becoming safer. I think five, six years, and here you will see a number of people going to space for all kinds of things — for tourism, for, you know, having lunch or dinner somewhere. There are honeymoons or manufacturing of some products,” he said.

“And those things are going to happen. And this is no more science fiction. That is for sure.”

Michelle Hanlon, co-director of the Center for Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law, says the original international treaties concerning outer space were designed in the 1950s and were less about human space flight than about assets such as satellites. The Canadian amendment is a reminder to space-bound humans that earthly laws follow them, she says.

“And so, to just sort of reinforce the fact that as a Canadian, and soon Americans will probably do the same thing, and then it will probably be a requirement in order to join Lunar Gateway,” a U.S.-led international project to establish a space station in lunar orbit that can serve as a launching pad for exploration of the moon and deep space.

“You know, just a reminder, you’re human, but all of these laws still apply to you. Your laws will follow you into space,” Hanlon said.

Canadian Minister of Justice David Lametti was unavailable for an interview, but in a written statement, his office called the new amendment a response to a bilateral memorandum of understanding between Canada and the United States over the Civil Lunar Gateway Initiative. It said the amendment is required to ensure that Canada’s criminal jurisdiction can also apply to the country’s Lunar Gateway crew members.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is working toward an unmanned Orion capsule lifting off to the moon on top of the Artemis 1 rocket this summer. The first crewed mission is scheduled for May 2024.

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Baby Formula Shortage in the US Challenges Families 

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One of the three companies that make baby formula in the U.S. has halted production, adding to what was already a baby formula shortage due to supply chain issues and other factors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it is doing everything in its power to ensure that an adequate supply of the product is available. And even the White House says it’s taking steps to alleviate the crisis. VOA’s Laurel Bowman has more. 

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Moon Goes Blood Red This Weekend: ‘Eclipse for the Americas’

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A total lunar eclipse will grace the night skies this weekend, providing longer than usual thrills for stargazers across North and South America. 

The celestial action unfolds Sunday night into early Monday morning, with the moon bathed in the reflected red and orange hues of Earth’s sunsets and sunrises for about one-and-a-half hours, one of the longest totalities of the decade. It will be the first so-called blood moon in a year. 

Observers in the eastern half of North America and all of Central and South America will have prime seats for the whole show, weather permitting. Partial stages of the eclipse will be visible across Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Left out: Alaska, Asia and Australia.  

“This is really an eclipse for the Americas,” said NASA’s Noah Petro, a planetary geologist who specializes in the moon. “It’s going to be a treat.” 

All you need, he noted, are “patience and eyeballs.” 

A total eclipse occurs when Earth passes directly between the moon and the sun and casts a shadow on our constant, cosmic companion. The moon will be 362,000 kilometers (225,000 miles) away at the peak of the eclipse — around midnight on the U.S. East Coast. 

“This is this gradual, slow, wonderful event that as long as it’s clear where you are, you get to see it,” Petro said. 

If not, NASA will provide a livestream of the eclipse from various locations; so will the Slooh network of observatories. 

There’ll be another lengthy total lunar eclipse in November, with Africa and Europe lucking out again, but not the Americas. Then the next one isn’t until 2025. 

Launched last fall, NASA’s asteroid-seeking Lucy spacecraft will photograph this weekend’s event from 103 million kilometers (64 million miles) away, as ground controllers continue their effort to fix a loose solar panel. 

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, a geologist, plans to set her alarm clock early aboard the International Space Station. 

“Hopefully, we can be up in time and be at the right place at the right time to catch a good glimpse,” she told The Associated Press earlier this week. 

 

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April 2022 Tied for Earth’s 5th Warmest Ever, NOAA Reports

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Scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Friday that April 2022 tied April 2010 as the fifth warmest April on record. 

In a release, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information said the average global temps in April were 0.85 of a degree Celsius above the 20th century average of 13.7 C. 

NOAA said the global temperature for the year through April 2022 was 0.87 of a degree C above average, making it the fifth warmest such year through April on record. 

They report Asia recorded its warmest April ever this year, with temperatures running 2.62 degrees above average. The agency says unusually high temperatures in India and Pakistan during the month contributed to the region’s record heat. 

The agency’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook reports there is a virtual certainty — greater than 99% — that 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record. 

NOAA reports that the 10 warmest Aprils globally have all occurred since 2010, with 2014-2022 all ranking among the 10 warmest Aprils on record. 

 

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Malawi Moves to Administer Cholera Vaccines as Cases Rise

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Plans are underway in Malawi to start administering the cholera vaccine in some southern districts, as the number of cholera cases has been rising since an outbreak began in January.

According to a daily update released Thursday by the Ministry of Health, Malawi has registered more than 200 cases, with seven deaths and 26 hospital admissions. 

The update says the outbreak that started in Nsanje district in January has spread to four other areas in southern Malawi: Neno, Chikwawa, Machinga and Blantyre. 

Records show that as of Thursday, Nsanje had 97 registered cases, Blantyre had 53, Neno had 38, Chikwawa had 12 and Machinga had two. 

Wongani Mbale, deputy spokesperson for the district health office in Blantyre, blames the outbreak on poor sanitation. 

“According to what we have gathered, it seems that a lot of people are using unprotected wells, which are a source of infections,” Mbale said. “The water is contaminated. So as a district, we think that the cause is the use of contaminated water.” 

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with bacteria. The disease affects both children and adults and, if untreated, can kill within hours. 

To contain the outbreak, Malawi’s government has announced plans to start administering the cholera vaccine this month in all affected districts. 

Health Ministry spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe told a local newspaper that the government has 2.9 million doses of vaccine to be administered orally starting May 23. 

Mbale of the Blantyre health office said his office has started taking measures to combat the vaccine hesitancy that hindered the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Starting from next Monday, we are having some briefings to health workers to train HSAs (Health Surveillance Assistants) on how they can implement this activity,” he said. “After that, we will have orientation and sensitization meetings with the community so that they can receive the vaccine without any doubt, as you know that the majority are fearing the vaccine, saying that maybe it’s for COVID.” 

George Jobe, executive director for Malawi Health Equity Network, a health rights organization, said cholera aside, there is a need for the government to address sanitation problems in many rural areas in Malawi.   

“In Neno, for example, water has been a challenge. There was a time when [people in] Neno suffered typhoid because of water. And we also understand that the places that have been affected are relying on the Lisungwi River. In this case, there is a need for clean water to be made available even in hard-to-reach rural areas,” Jobe said. 

The government said it is distributing chlorine in affected areas for water treatment, as well as sending out cholera control information to people through various channels of communication. 

 

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