Month: July 2020

Columbus Statue Decapitated in Waterbury Amid Protests

A statue of Christopher Columbus in Waterbury has been decapitated amid protests over racial injustice and the legacy of the 15th-century navigator.Columbus Statue Vndalized: ‘Stop Celebrating Genocide’A statue of Christopher Columbus in Rhode Island has been vandalized on the US holiday named for himThe Republican-American reports  that photos shot Saturday show the headless statue outside Waterbury’s City Hall.The statue had been the focus of a standoff earlier in the week between its supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters who wanted it removed.Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day Gains National ApprovalFor many Americans, the annual Columbus Day holiday honors the heritage and contributions of the 17 million-plus Italian Americans living in the United States. But honoring navigator Christopher Columbus has long been considered by many as an affront to Native Americans who were in the so-called New World long before Columbus arrived in 1492. Several Columbus statues in Connecticut have been removed in recent weeks as anti-racism protesters have argued that the renowned explorer was responsible for the exploitation and genocide of Indigenous people.Crews removed a Columbus statue from its pedestal in Hartford on Monday, and city leaders said it would be placed in storage until a decision is made on what to do with it.  The Waterbury statue was donated to the city in the 1980s by UNICO, an Italian American organization. 

Redskins to Have ‘Thorough Review’ of Name Amid Race Debate

The Washington Redskins began a “thorough review” of their nickname Friday, a significant step toward moving on from what experts and advocates call a “dictionary-defined racial slur.”Even though owner Dan Snyder had shown no willingness to change the name since buying the team in 1999, the recent national conversation on race has renewed opposition to the name and prompted sponsors to speak up. With support from the NFL, it may finally lead to a new moniker for the long-struggling storied franchise with long-ago Super Bowl success.Washington Redskins head coach Ron Rivera holds up a helmet during a news conference at the team’s NFL football training facility in Ashburn, Virginia, Jan. 2, 2020.”In the last few weeks, we have had ongoing discussions with Dan, and we are supportive of this important step,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said.In a statement, the team said recent events around the U.S. and feedback from the community prompted the formal review.”This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field,” Snyder said.  Washington Redskins Remove Racist Founder From Team Material George Preston Marshall refused to integrate his team until government forced him to do so in 1962Native American advocacy groups have tried for decades to force a change, and a peer-reviewed UC Berkeley study released earlier this year revealed 67% of those surveyed who strongly identify as Native agreed or strongly agreed the name was offensive. The death of George Floyd in Minnesota and other examples of police brutality against Black people in the U.S. sparked protests worldwide and changes to various brands considered racially insensitive.Asked last month about the name, a spokesman said the team had no comment. But this week marked a possible sea change on the issue with investors writing to FedEx, PepsiCo and other sponsors hoping they woould influence change.FedEx was the first to act publicly. The title sponsor of the team’s stadium in Landover Maryland, FedEx said Thursday, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.” FedEx paid $205 million in 1999 for the naming rights to the stadium.Controversy Continues Over Washington Redskins Name

        A leading U.S. 

On Thursday night, Nike appeared to remove all Redskins gear from its online store. Nike did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment. PepsiCo did not immediately respond to an email Friday seeking comment.Coach Ron Rivera, who said in a recent radio interview now is not the time to discuss the name, called it “an issue of personal importance.” Rivera, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent and is the only Hispanic head coach currently in the NFL, added he’d work closely with Snyder during the process.Washington mayor Muriel Bowser said recently the name was an “obstacle” to the team building a stadium in the District. The current lease at FedEx Field expires in 2027, and the old RFK Stadium site in Washington is one of several options for the team’s new headquarters, along with locations in Maryland and Virginia.The team in late June removed racist founder George Preston Marshall from its Ring of Fame. A monument of Marshall was also removed from the RFK Stadium site.Marshall’s granddaughter supported those moves and recently told The Associated Press she’s fine with the team changing its name.”I think if anybody’s offended that they should change the name,” Wright said. “I’ve always felt that way.”

Advertisers Boycott Facebook, Demand Changes

Companies such as Coca-Cola, Adidas, Ford and Lego are boycotting Facebook this month, pulling ads that appear on the social network in the United States. Some advertisers are part of an organized boycott demanding the company do more to crack down on hate speech, conspiracies and misinformation on its site on topics such as voting. Facebook has responded with some changes but will it be enough? Michelle Quinn reports.
Camera: Deana Mitchell

Botswana Investigates Mystery Deaths of At Least 275 Elephants

Botswana is investigating a growing number of unexplained deaths of elephants, having confirmed 275 had died, up from 154 two weeks ago, the government said Thursday. The dead elephants were first spotted months ago in the Okavango Panhandle region, and the authorities say they have since been trying to discover the cause. Poaching has been ruled out as the cause of death, as the carcasses were found intact. “Three laboratories in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Canada have been identified to process the samples taken from the dead elephants,” the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism said in a statement. In a report prepared for the government and seen by Reuters, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), a conservation organization, said that its aerial surveys showed that elephants of all ages appeared to be dying. The group counted 169 dead elephants on May 25, and another 187 on June 14, according to the report. The directors of EWB did not immediately respond to phone calls or text messages seeking comment on the report. “Several live elephants that we observed appeared to be weak, lethargic and emaciated. Some elephants appeared disorientated, had difficulty walking, showed signs of partial paralysis or a limp,” the report said. “One elephant was observed walking in circles, unable to change direction although being encouraged by other herd members.” The report said urgent action was needed to establish if the deaths were caused by disease or poisoning. Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching, but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow to 130,000 from 80,000 in the late 1990s. However, they are seen as a nuisance by some farmers, whose crops have been destroyed. President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a five-year ban on big game hunting in May last year but the hunting season failed to take off in April as global travel restrictions meant hunters from many coronavirus-hit countries could not enter Botswana.  

South Africa Theater Puts on a Show for the World With Online Season 

South Africa’s Market Theater is one of several African cultural institutions that has recently gone entirely online because of coronavirus restrictions that prevent large gatherings. But for this small institution often known as the “Theater of the Struggle” for its flouting of apartheid-era laws, obstacles are nothing new. Now, the theater hope its artistic message — which touches on local and global events — will resonate beyond the African continent.Johannesburg’s Market Theater is no stranger to struggle. It opened in 1976, at the height of South Africa’s racist apartheid system, and made a point of flouting segregation laws.  And so now, as a global pandemic has made live shows impossible, the institution’s artistic director, James Ngcobo says the show must go on — even if that means it goes online.  He told VOA the acclaimed theater, which has received 21 international awards for its work, is now seizing the opportunity to spread its stories well beyond this country, by streaming its entire season online.  Not only that — it is writing brand-new, topical shows that touch on the issues many South Africans — and people across the world — are facing right now. Ngcobo said he cooked up the plan shortly after South Africa’s government announced a strict total lockdown in late March, shuttering pretty much all non-essential businesses.   
“I then said to my team, ‘we are going on a long pause that we don’t know the pause is going to last for for how long. But our stories can never be on pause.’ And my team said to me. ‘So what do we do?’ And I said, ‘well, we are going to commission some of our finest playwrights to create works for us, that, at the moment, these short plays that are between 20 and 25 minutes, that we are producing for the virtual space.’” South African actor and playwright Paul Slabolepszy says it is more important than ever that art continues to be made. He spoke to VOA on the Google Hangouts platform.   “Without art, we are, we are nothing,” he said. “We explain ourselves, our conversations come through storytelling. If we were living just with the struggles that we have with no hope, life would be terrifying. We need stories all the time. We need to connect in any way we can to feel human.”  National theaters in Algeria and Egypt are also doing live shows online, and Somalia’s National Theater recently reopened for Independence Day celebrations —and hopefully more.   Meanwhile, major theaters on New York’s Broadway and London’s West End have also gone online. Ngcobo says the Market Theater has gotten an enthusiastic response to its online offerings from people in the U.S., Europe and other African countries.    But he laments that the continent’s artistic houses could do more. His theater is communicating with institutions in Ghana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to help them go online.  “In most places around the continent, it’s very sad because some places might not have the infrastructure that you find in other countries that I’ve mentioned, and South Africa. And so we are always looking at an idea of working with countries — especially Anglophone countries,” he said.At the small theater in central Johannesburg, the doors may be closed, and the lights may be off, but the curtain will still rise.  

Legendary US TV Personality Hugh Downs Dies at 99

Legendary U.S. broadcaster Hugh Downs, who at one time held the record for the most hours appearing on American television, has died at 99.Downs’ daughter said her father died Wednesday of a heart ailment.Hugh Downs once described himself as “a jack of all trades and a master of none,” excelling at every broadcasting assignment during his 60 years on radio and television.Downs began in radio in his native Ohio, and after moving to Chicago and later New York, became one of television’s most familiar and welcomed faces.FILE – Hugh Downs hosts the Today show on NBC, March 10, 1966.With a smooth voice, warm demeanor and simple style, Downs announced variety shows, did commercials, narrated soap operas, joked around with puppets and hosted talk shows.He announced The Tonight Show with host Jack Paar and hosted the early morning news broadcast Today, while finding time to emcee the fondly remembered game show Concentration.Downs liked to say people woke up with him on Today, went to bed with him on Tonight, and played Concentration with him in between.Downs co-anchored the news magazine 20/20 from 1978 until his retirement in 1999. That job allowed Downs to indulge in such adventures as traveling to the North and South Poles, swimming with sharks and killer whales, diving for sunken treasure, and experiencing weightlessness on a NASA flight simulator.Downs estimated that he spent 10,000 hours on television, which earned him a one-time spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.  

Twitter Removes Image Tweet by Trump Over Copyright Complaint

Twitter Inc has taken down an image tweet by the U.S. President Donald Trump on June 30, in response to a report from a copyright holder. Twitter now displays the message “This image has been removed in response to a report from the copyright holder,” in place of the tweet. News website Axios reported that the tweet was removed after a copyright complaint from the New York Times, which owns the rights to the photo. 

‘Death Cafes’ Help Ease Grief, Loss in Time of Coronavirus

Panic attacks, trouble breathing, relapses that have sent her to bed for 14 hours at a time: At 35, Marissa Oliver has been forced to deal with the specter of death on COVID-19’s terms, yet conversations about her illness, fear and anxiety haven’t been easy.That’s why she headed onto Zoom to attend a Death Cafe, a gathering of strangers willing to explore mortality and its impact on the living, preferably while sipping tea and eating cake.”In the Death Cafe, no one winces,” said Oliver, who was diagnosed with the virus in March. “Now, I’m writing down everything in my life that I want to achieve.”Death Cafes, part of a broader “death-positive” movement to encourage more open discussion about grief, trauma and loss, are held around the world, in nearly 100 countries. While many haven’t migrated online in the pandemic, others have.The global virus toll and the social isolation it has extracted have opened old, unresolved wounds for some. Others attending virtual Death Cafes are coping with fresh losses from COVID-19, cancer and other illnesses. Still more bring metaphorical death to the circles: the end of friendships, shattered romances or chronic illness, as Oliver has endured.FILE – Robb Kushner, center, talks with Alicia Evans during a Death Cafe discussion in a New York City apartment, Oct. 8, 2013. Death Cafes, where people talk freely about death-related issues, are spreading through the U.S. and the world.At one recent virtual Death Cafe, a 33-year-old man spoke of refusing to pack up his wife’s belongings six months after her death from cancer. A woman who underwent a heart transplant 31 years ago described her peace with the decision not to have another, as her donated organ deteriorates.For Jen Carl in Washington, D.C., the pandemic has intensified memories of her 11 years of sexual abuse as a child, her father’s drug and alcohol abuse, and his death about six years ago. She said sharing and listening to the stories of others in Death Cafes have helped.”I feel just really so at peace and relieved when I’m in circles where folks are talking about real things in life and not trying to move away from the uncomfortable,” Carl told a recent group.”I’ve been on a couple of Zoom calls with close friends who aren’t worried about talking about difficult things most of the time, but then when COVID’s come up, it’s like, `Oh, well, we’re partying right now. Let’s not talk about that,’ and that just triggers me so much.”Inspired by Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz, who organized his first “cafe mortel” in 2004, the late British web developer Jon Underwood honed the model and held the first Death Cafe in his London home in 2011. The idea spread quickly and the meetups in restaurants and cafes, homes and parks now span Europe and North America, reaching into Australia, the Caribbean and Japan.Underwood died suddenly as a result of undiagnosed leukemia in 2017, but his wife and other relatives have carried on. They maintain a website,, where hosts post their gatherings.FILE – This photo shows an invitation to a Death Cafe discussion in New York City, Oct. 17, 2013.One important difference between Death Cafes and traditional support and bereavement groups is the range of stories. But the cafes also offer the freedom to approach the room with levity rather than stern seriousness, and extraordinary diversity: a mix of races, genders and ages, from people in the moment with terminal loved ones to those who have lost classmates or relatives to suicide.Death Cafes aren’t intended to “fix” problems and find solutions but to foster sharing as the road to support. They’re generally kept to 30 or so, meet monthly and also include the “death curious,” people who aren’t dealing with loss but choose to take on the topic anyway.Psychotherapist Nancy Gershman, who specializes in grief and loss, has been hosting Death Cafes in New York since 2013, the year after they made their way to the U.S.”Death Cafes are a place where strangers meet to talk about things regarding death and dying that they can’t bring anywhere else, that they can’t bring home or to co-workers or to best friends,” she said.Registered nurse Nicole Heidbreder is a birth and end-of-life doula. She also trains others as doulas and has been hosting Death Cafes in Washington, D.C., for about five years.Heidbreder was working as a full-time hospice nurse and found that many of the families she was working with had never discussed end-of-life issues before. “I just felt it was such an absolute shame,” she said.FILE – Jane Hughes Gignoux leads a Death Cafe discussion at her home in New York City, Oct. 8, 2013.”One of the parallels between birth and death is that a little more than 100 years ago in our country, all of us would have been very well versed in what birth and death literally looked like,” she said. “We would have seen our family and neighbors do the tasks of tending to people who are giving birth or families who are losing someone. And now we simply aren’t exposed to that.”Heidbreder said the coronavirus has changed the conversation yet again. She said she shifted to offering the virtual cafes “on a weekly basis at the time of peak COVID in the country.”She now hosts people not just in the D.C. area, as she did before the pandemic, but across America, from California to North Carolina. More health care workers have shown up, too.J. Dana Trent, a professor of world religions at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina, served as a hospital chaplain in a death ward at age 25 after graduating from divinity school, assisting in 200 deaths in a year. The ordained Southern Baptist minister used her experiences in the hospital for a 2019 book, “Dessert First: Preparing for Death While Savoring Life,” which offers a view of how “positive death” can be achieved.”COVID has certainly brought death to the forefront. It has brought the death-positive movement to the forefront, but we’re still scared,” Trent said. “What I’m grateful for is that COVID has awakened society to the possibility of death. None of us is getting out of here alive.”

Richmond Orders Removal of Confederate Statues on City Land

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney on Wednesday ordered the immediate removal of all Confederate statues on city land, saying he was using his emergency powers to speed up the healing process for the former capital of the Confederacy amid weeks of protests over police brutality and racial injustice.Work crews began removing a statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson early Wednesday afternoon. Flatbed trucks and other equipment were also spotted at several other Confederate monuments along Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue.
Another famous statue on city land is that of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam had previously ordered the most prominent statue along the avenue, that of Gen. Robert E. Lee, which sits on state land. The removal has been stalled pending the resolution of a lawsuit from at least two people who oppose its removal.The statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson stands at the Manassas Battlefield Park in Virginia. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet). Jackson was a commander in the Battle of Manassas, which marked the first major land battle of the Civil War.Stoney said he was also moving quickly because protesters have already toppled several Confederate monuments and is concerned that people could be hurt trying to take down the gigantic statues.
“We have an urgent need to protect the public,” Stoney said in a statement.
Stoney’s move came on the day a new state law took effect granting control of the monuments to the city. The law outlines a removal process that would take at 60 days to unfold.
But during a City Council meeting Wednesday morning, Stoney balked as the council scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to formally vote on a resolution calling for the immediate removal of the statues.
“Today, I have the ability to do this through my emergency powers,” Stoney said. “I think we need to act today.”
About an hour later, work crews were spotted near the Jackson statue.
Videos posted on Twitter showed workers being lifted in a crane to the top of the statue and attempting to attach something to it.
During Wednesday’s meeting, city councilors expressed support for removing the statues, but several councilors said the council needed to follow the proper legal process.
Interim city attorney Haskell Brown said any claim that Stoney has the authority to remove the statues without following the state process would contradict legal advice he has previously given the council and administration.
Stoney and several city councilors said they were concerned that the statues have become a public safety hazard during weeks of protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In Portsmouth, one man was seriously injured as protesters tried to pull down a Confederate statue. 

Reliance on Social Media News Amplifies COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories, Report Finds

People who get most of their news from social media like Facebook and YouTube are much more likely to believe conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic, according to research from Kings College London. The report also suggests those reliant on social media for news are much more likely to ignore government messaging on staying safe during the pandemic and more likely to disobey lockdown rules.The research was published earlier this month in the journal A 5G logo is displayed on a screen outside the showroom at Huawei campus in Shenzhen city, China’s Guangdong province.One prominent conspiracy theory is that 5G mobile technology is causing the disease. In recent weeks, dozens of 5G mobile telecom towers have been destroyed across Britain. Police say a belief that the masts are causing the respiratory ailment appears to have motivated many of the attacks. The researchers questioned 2,254 British residents. Overall, 8 percent believed that 5G technology was causing the pandemic. Of those people, 60 percent said they got their information from YouTube. Out of the 92 percent of people who don’t believe the 5G conspiracy theory, only 14 percent said their information came from YouTube.Among people who believe the coronavirus does not exist at all, some 56 percent cited Facebook as their primary source of news. Allington says the most disturbing finding has been the readiness among those who believe in conspiracy theories about the disease to break quarantine and lockdown rules.“We found that people who had gone out, gone outside or gone to work despite having what they knew were possible coronavirus symptoms were much more likely to be getting their information from social media,” Allington told VOA.That presents a health risk that must be addressed, says British lawmaker Damian Collins, co-founder of the group ‘Infotagion’ which aims to fight misinformation about the pandemic.“A lot of this content is still there and a lot of the times when it’s referred to social media companies, they don’t act immediately to take this content down,” Collins told VOA via Skype, adding that he has big concerns over the role social media might play in any vaccination program. “If we get to a position where we’ve got a vaccine and for the vaccine to be effective, we need the vast majority of people to agree to take it. It’s important that people have got confidence in that. And if people are spreading conspiracy theories and lies about the vaccine and trying to persuade people not to take it, then there’s a serious public health risk to that.”FILE – The Twitter and Facebook logos are seen with binary cyber codes in this illustration, Nov. 26, 2019.Facebook, YouTube and Twitter say they have removed hundreds of thousands of videos and posts relating to COVID-19 misinformation that could lead to imminent harm. In written evidence submitted to the British parliament, Facebook said that during the month of April it had “displayed warning labels on around 50 million pieces of content related to COVID-19 on Facebook,” adding, “…When people saw those warning labels, 95% of the time they did not click to view the original content.”Despite such claims, the internal systems in place to deal with misinformation remain opaque, says Allington of Kings College London. “Those systems have got to be opened up for auditing by democratically-accountable bodies,” he told VOA.The social media giants are facing a backlash on multiple fronts. More than 150 companies – including Starbucks and Coca-Cola – have stopped buying advertising on Facebook over concerns around misinformation and hate speech.At the same time, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order in May seeking to strip social media companies of legal immunity for the content posted by users, after Twitter tagged one of his tweets with a fact-check notice. “If Twitter were not honorable and you’re going to have a guy like this being the judge and jury, I think you shut it down, as far as I’m concerned. But I’d have to go through a legal process to do that,” Trump told reporters May 28.

Turkish President Calls for Tighter Social Media Controls

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday he would tighten controls on social media, days after remarks were made on Twitter about his daughter and son-in-law.“Turkey is not a banana republic,” Erdogan said in a televised address to his party members. “We will snub those who snub this country’s executive and judicial bodies.”Erdogan’s eldest daughter, Esra Erdogan, and his son-in-law, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak reportedly received what were called insulting tweets after the couple announced the birth of their fourth child on social media.Eleven of 19 Twitter users who allegedly insulted Erdogan’s family were detained, Turkish police said in a statement on Wednesday.“Do you understand now why we are against social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Netflix?” Erdogan ask while addressing his party. “These platforms do not suit this nation. We want to shut down, control [them] by bringing [a bill] to parliament as soon as possible.”Rights groups have accused Erdogan of using the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to tighten controls on the media, with only a few independent publications continuing to report on the Turkish president’s handling of the pandemic.Turkey’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, called Twitter a “propaganda machine” after it recently suspended 7,340 accounts. Twitter said the accounts were “employing coordinated inauthentic activity” promoting favorable narratives to Erdogan and his party. 

Hollowed Out US Public Health System Faces More Cuts Amid Virus

The U.S. public health system has been starved for decades and lacks the resources to confront the worst health crisis in a century.Marshaled against a virus that has sickened at least 2.6 million in the U.S., killed more than 126,000 people and cost tens of millions of jobs and $3 trillion in federal rescue money, state and local government health workers on the ground are sometimes paid so little, they qualify for public aid.  They track the coronavirus on paper records shared via fax. Working seven-day weeks for months on end, they fear pay freezes, public backlash and even losing their jobs.  Since 2010, spending for state public health departments has dropped by 16% per capita and spending for local health departments has fallen by 18%, according to a KHN and Associated Press analysis of government spending on public health. At least 38,000 state and local public health jobs have disappeared since the 2008 recession, leaving a skeletal workforce for what was once viewed as one of the world’s top public health systems.  KHN, also known as Kaiser Health News, and AP interviewed more than 150 public health workers, policymakers and experts, analyzed spending records from hundreds of state and local health departments, and surveyed statehouses. On every level, the investigation found, the system is underfunded and under threat, unable to protect the nation’s health.Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview in April that his “biggest regret” was “that our nation failed over decades to effectively invest in public health.”So when this outbreak arrived — and when, according to public health experts, the federal government bungled its response — hollowed-out state and local health departments were ill-equipped to step into the breach.  Over time, their work had received so little support that they found themselves without direction, disrespected, ignored, even vilified. The desperate struggle against COVID-19 became increasingly politicized and grew more difficult.States, cities and counties in dire straits have begun laying off and furloughing their limited staff, and even more devastation looms, as states reopen and cases surge. Historically, even when money pours in following crises such as Zika and H1N1, it disappears after the emergency subsides. Officials fear the same thing is happening now.”We don’t say to the fire department, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. There were no fires last year, so we’re going to take 30% of your budget away.’ That would be crazy, right?” said Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, the health officer in Shawnee County, Kansas. “But we do that with public health, day in and day out.”Ohio’s Toledo-Lucas County Health Department spent $17 million, or $40 per person, in 2017.  Jennifer Gottschalk, 42, works for the county as an environmental health supervisor. When the coronavirus struck, the county’s department was so short-staffed that her duties included overseeing campground and pool inspections, rodent control and sewage programs, while also supervising outbreak preparedness for a community of more than 425,000 people.When Gottschalk and five colleagues fell ill with COVID-19, she found herself fielding calls about a COVID-19 case from her hospital bed, then working through her home isolation. She only stopped when her coughing was too severe to talk on calls.”You have to do what you have to do to get the job done,” Gottschalk said.Now, after months of working with hardly a day off, she says the job is wearing on her. So many lab reports on coronavirus cases came in, the office fax machine broke. She faces a backlash from the community over coronavirus restrictions and there are countless angry phone calls.Things could get worse; possible county budget cuts loom.  But Toledo-Lucas is no outlier. Public health ranks low on the nation’s financial priority list. Nearly two-thirds of Americans live in counties that spend more than twice as much on policing as they spend on nonhospital health care, which includes public health.More than three-quarters of Americans live in states that spend less than $100 per person annually on public health. Spending ranges from $32 in Louisiana to $263 in Delaware, according to data provided to KHN and AP by the State Health Expenditure Dataset project.  That money represents less than 1.5% of most states’ total spending, with half of it passed down to local health departments.  The share of spending devoted to public health belies its multidimensional role. Agencies are legally bound to provide a broad range of services, from vaccinations and restaurant inspections to protection against infectious disease. Distinct from the medical care system geared toward individuals, the public health system focuses on the health of communities at large.”Public health loves to say: When we do our job, nothing happens. But that’s not really a great badge,” said Scott Becker, chief executive officer of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “We test 97% of America’s babies for metabolic or other disorders. We do the water testing. You like to swim in the lake and you don’t like poop in there? Think of us.”But the public doesn’t see the disasters they thwart. And it’s easy to neglect the invisible.A history of deprivationThe local health department was a well-known place in the 1950s and 1960s, when Harris Pastides, president emeritus of the University of South Carolina, was growing up in New York City.”My mom took me for my vaccines. We would get our injections there for free. We would get our polio sugar cubes there for free,” said Pastides, an epidemiologist. “In those days, the health departments had a highly visible role in disease prevention.”The United States’ decentralized public health system, which matches federal funding and expertise with local funding, knowledge and delivery, was long the envy of the world, said Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health.”A lot of what we’re seeing right now could be traced back to the chronic funding shortages,” Omer said. “The way we starve our public health system, the way we have tried to do public health outcomes on the cheap in this country.”In Scott County, Indiana, when preparedness coordinator Patti Hall began working at the health department 34 years ago, it ran a children’s clinic and a home health agency with several nurses and aides. But over time, the children’s clinic lost funding and closed. Medicare changes paved the way for private services to replace the home health agency. Department staff dwindled in the 1990s and early 2000s. The county was severely outgunned when rampant opioid use and needle sharing sparked an outbreak of HIV in 2015.Besides just five full-time and one part-time county public health positions, there was only one doctor in the outbreak’s epicenter of Austin. Indiana’s then-Gov. Mike Pence, now leading the nation’s coronavirus response as vice president, waited 29 days after the outbreak was announced to sign an executive order allowing syringe exchanges. At the time, a state official said that only five people from agencies across Indiana were available to help with HIV testing in the county.The HIV outbreak exploded into the worst ever to hit rural America, infecting more than 230 people.At times, the federal government has promised to support local public health efforts, to help prevent similar calamities. But those promises were ephemeral.Two large sources of money established after Sept. 11, 2001 — the Public Health Emergency Preparedness program and the Hospital Preparedness Program — were gradually chipped away.  The Affordable Care Act established the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which was supposed to reach $2 billion annually by 2015. The Obama administration and Congress raided it to pay for other priorities, including a payroll tax cut. The Trump administration is pushing to repeal the ACA, which would eliminate the fund, said Carolyn Mullen, senior vice president of government affairs and public relations at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.Former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat who championed the fund, said he was furious when the Obama White House took billions from it, breaking what he said was an agreement.  “I haven’t spoken to Barack Obama since,” Harkin said.If the fund had remained untouched, an additional $12.4 billion would eventually have flowed to local and state health departments.But local and state leaders also did not prioritize public health over the years.In Florida, for example, 2% of state spending goes to public health. Spending by local health departments in the state fell 39%, from a high of $57 in inflation-adjusted dollars per person in the late 1990s to $35 per person last year.  In North Carolina, Wake County’s public health workforce dropped from 882 in 2007 to 614 a decade later, even as the population grew by 30%.  In Detroit, the health department had 700 employees in 2009, then was effectively disbanded during the city’s bankruptcy proceedings. It’s been built back up, but today still has only 200 workers for 670,000 residents.Many departments rely heavily on disease-specific grant funding, creating unstable and temporary positions. The CDC’s core budget, some of which goes to state and local health departments, has essentially remained flat for a decade. Federal money currently accounts for 27% of local public health spending.Years of such financial pressure increasingly pushed workers in this predominantly female workforce toward retirement or the private sector and kept potential new hires away.More than a fifth of public health workers in local or regional departments outside big cities earned $35,000 or less a year in 2017, as did 9% in big city departments, according to research  by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the de Beaumont Foundation.  Even before the pandemic, nearly half of public health workers planned to retire or leave their organizations for other reasons in the next five years. Poor pay topped the list of reasons.Armed with a freshly minted bachelor’s degree, Julia Crittendon took a job two years ago as a disease intervention specialist with Kentucky’s state health department. She spent her days gathering detailed information about people’s sexual partners to fight the spread of HIV and syphilis. She tracked down phone numbers and drove hours to pick up reluctant clients.The mother of three loved the work, but made so little money that she qualified for Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for America’s poorest. Seeing no opportunity to advance, she left.  “We’re like the redheaded stepchildren, the forgotten ones,” said Crittendon, 46.Such low pay is endemic, with some employees qualifying for the nutrition program for new moms and babies that they administer. People with the training for many public health jobs, which can include a bachelor’s or master’s degree, can make much more money in the private health care sector, robbing the public departments of promising recruits.  Dr. Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, said the agency “intentionally underpaid people” in a training program that sent early-career professionals to state and local public health departments to build the workforce.  “If we paid them at the very lowest level at the federal scale,” he said in an interview, “they would have to take a 10-20% pay cut to continue on at the local health department.”As low pay sapped the workforce, budget cuts sapped services.In Alaska, the Division of Public Health’s spending dropped 9% from 2014 to 2018 and staffing fell by 82 positions in a decade to 426. Tim Struna, chief of public health nursing in Alaska, said declines in oil prices in the mid-2010s led the state to make cuts to public health nursing services. They eliminated well-child exams for children over 6, scaled back searches for the partners of people with certain sexually transmitted infections and limited reproductive health services to people 29 and younger.Living through an endless stream of such cuts and their aftermath, those workers on the ground grew increasingly worried about mustering the “surge capacity” to expand beyond their daily responsibilities to handle inevitable emergencies.  When the fiercest of enemies showed up in the U.S. this year, the depleted public health army struggled to hold it back.  A decimated surge capacityAs the public health director for the Kentucky River District Health Department in rural Appalachia, Scott Lockard is battling the pandemic with 3G cell service, paper records and one-third of the employees the department had 20 years ago.  He redeployed his nurse administrator to work round-the-clock on contact tracing, alongside the department’s school nurse and the tuberculosis and breastfeeding coordinator. His home health nurse, who typically visits older patients, now works on preparedness plans. But residents aren’t making it easy on them.”They’re not wearing masks, and they’re throwing social distancing to the wind,” Lockard said in mid-June, as cases surged. “We’re paying for it.”Even with more staff since the HIV outbreak, Indiana’s Scott County Health Department employees worked evenings, weekends and holidays to deal with the pandemic, including outbreaks at a food packing company and a label manufacturer. Indiana spends $37 a person on public health.”When you get home, the phone never stops, the emails and texts never stop,” said Hall, the preparedness coordinator.All the while, she and her colleagues worry about keeping HIV under control and preventing drug overdoses from rising. Other health problems don’t just disappear because there is a pandemic.  “We’ve been used to being able to `MacGyver’ everything on a normal day, and this is not a normal day,” said Amanda Mehl, the public health administrator for Boone County, Illinois, citing a TV show.  Pezzino, whose department in Kansas serves Topeka and Shawnee County, said he had been trying to hire an epidemiologist, who would study, track and analyze data on health issues, since he came to the department 14 years ago. Finally, less than three years ago, they hired one. She just left, and he thinks it will be nearly impossible to find another.  While epidemiologists are nearly universal in departments serving large populations, hardly any departments serving smaller populations have one. Only 28% of local health departments have an epidemiologist or statistician.Strapped departments are now forced to spend money on contact tracers, masks and gloves to keep their workers safe and to do basic outreach.Melanie Hutton, administrator for the Cooper County Public Health Center in rural Missouri, pointed out the local ambulance department got $18,000, and the fire and police departments got masks to fight COVID-19.  “For us, not a nickel, not a face mask,” she said. “We got (5) gallons of homemade hand sanitizer made by the prisoners.”  Public health workers are leaving in droves. At least 34 state and local public health leaders have announced their resignation, retired or been fired in 17 states since April, a KHN/AP review found. Others face threats and armed demonstrators.Ohio’s Gottschalk said the backlash has been overwhelming.  “Being yelled at by residents for almost two hours straight last week on regulations I cannot control left me feeling completely burned out,” she said in mid-June.  Many are putting their health at risk. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, public health worker Chantee Mack died after, family and co-workers believe, she and several colleagues contracted the disease in the office.  A difficult road aheadPence, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on June 16, said the public health system was “far stronger” than it was when coronavirus hit.It’s true that the federal government this year has allocated billions for public health in response to the pandemic, according to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. That includes more than $13 billion to state and local health departments, for activities including contact tracing, infection control and technology upgrades.A KHN/AP review found that some state and local governments are also pledging more money for public health. Alabama’s budget for next year, for example, includes $35 million more for public health than it did this year.But overall, spending is about to be slashed again as the boom-bust cycle continues.In most states, the new budget year begins July 1, and furloughs, layoffs and pay freezes have already begun in some places. Tax revenues evaporated during lockdowns, all but ensuring there will be more. At least 14 states have already cut health department budgets or positions or were actively considering such cuts in June, according to a KHN/AP review.  Since the pandemic began, Michigan temporarily cut most of its state health workers’ hours by one-fifth. Pennsylvania required more than 65 of its 1,200 public health workers to go on temporary leave, and others lost their jobs. Knox County, Tennessee, furloughed 26 out of 260 workers for eight weeks.  Frieden, formerly of the CDC, said it’s “stunning” that the U.S. is furloughing public health workers amid a pandemic. The country should demand the resources for public health, he said, just the way it does for the military.  “This is about protecting Americans,” Frieden said.Cincinnati temporarily furloughed approximately 170 health department employees.Robert Brown, chair of Cincinnati’s Primary Care Board, questions why police officers and firefighters didn’t face similar furloughs at the time or why residents were willing to pay hundreds of millions in taxes over decades for the Bengals’ football stadium.”How about investing in something that’s going to save some lives?” he asked.In 2018, Boston spent five times as much on its police department as its public health department. The city recently pledged to transfer $3 million from its approximately $60 million police overtime budget to its public health commission.Looking ahead, more cuts are coming. Possible budget shortfalls in Brazos County, Texas, may force the health department to limit its mosquito-surveillance program and eliminate up to one-fifth of its staff and one-quarter of immunization clinics.Months into the pandemic response, health departments are still trying to ramp up to fight COVID-19. Cases are surging in states including Texas, Arizona and Florida.Meanwhile, childhood vaccinations began plunging in the second half of March, according to a CDC study analyzing supply orders. Officials worry whether they will be able to get kids back up to date in the coming months. In Detroit, the childhood vaccination rate dipped below 40%, as clinics shuttered and people stayed home, creating the potential for a different outbreak.Cutting or eliminating non-COVID activities is dangerous, said E. Oscar Alleyne, chief of programs and services at the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Cuts to programs such as diabetes control and senior nutrition make already vulnerable communities even more vulnerable, which makes them more likely to suffer serious complications from COVID. Everything is connected, he said.It could be a year before there’s a widely available vaccine. Meanwhile, other illnesses, including mental health problems, are smoldering.  The people who spend their lives working in public health say the temporary coronavirus funds won’t fix the eroded foundation entrusted with protecting the nation’s health as thousands continue to die.   

NASA Astronauts Take Space Walk to Upgrade ISS Batteries

NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Robert Behnken were once again outside the International Space Station (ISS) Wednesday on the second of two scheduled space walks to upgrade the station’s batteries.The astronauts began the project Friday, a spacewalk that was only notable because Cassidy lost a small mirror that was attached to his suit by the wrist. In an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday, Cassidy called losing the mirror “a real bummer” and couldn’t figure out how it happened. He said he just glanced down and saw it disappear into the darkness.The astronauts were also asked about the COVID-19 pandemic on earth, which they are closely watching. Both astronauts are based in Houston, where virus cases have seen a surge.  Likewise, in Florida, home of the Kennedy Space Center, the launch site for the SpaceX spacecraft that brought Behnken to the ISS a month ago.Florida and Texas each have had to reimpose restrictions in response to the surges. Both astronauts had to be quarantined for several days before they left for the ISS and really did not experience any of the restriction’s others had to face, but both said they are greatly concerned about the situation on earth.Wednesday, the two are working on removing the sixth nickel-hydrogen battery outside the space station and replace it with a new lithium-ion battery and an adapter plate. The swap will upgrade the station’s power supply by replacing the batteries that store power generated by the station’s solar arrays and provide it to the microgravity laboratory when the station is not in sunlight as it circles Earth during orbital night. 

Judge Suspends Publication of Tell-All Trump Book

A New York judge is temporarily blocking publication of a tell-all book that could be tremendously embarrassing to President Donald Trump. State Supreme Court Judge Hal Greenwald put on hold Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, written by Trump’s niece, Mary Trump. Its publication date is July 28. Greenwald said he will make a final decision about publication after hearing the validity of a claim by the president’s brother, Robert, who demands that Mary Trump abide by a family agreement not to write any books about the Trump family without permission of other family members. Mary Trump’s lawyer, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., called the restraint on the publication a clear violation of the First Amendment.  “This book, which addresses matters of great public concern and importance about a sitting president in an election year, should not be suppressed even for one day,” Boutrous said.  Robert Trump’s attorney, Charles Harder, called the actions of Mary Trump and her publisher, Simon and Schuster, “truly reprehensible.” “We look forward to vigorously litigating this case and will seek the maximum remedies available by law for the enormous damages,” he said.   Mary Trump is the daughter of the president’s elder brother, Fred Trump Jr., who died of a heart attack in 1981 after a struggle with alcoholism. Information about the book has already been taken down from Simon and Schuster’s website. The publisher called the book a “revelatory authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him.”   

In Rare Move, US Clears Limited Cooperation Between US Firms, Huawei

In a rare twist to Washington’s long-standing restrictions on the Chinese tech giant Huawei, the Commerce Department recently reversed its ban preventing U.S. firms from working with Huawei on developing new technical standards.The move was seen by many in China as an admission by President Donald Trump’s administration that it cannot ignore Huawei’s influential role in developing the technical standards critical for future technologies.  “America finally bowed its head” read a headline by Chinese network Phoenix TV.The new rule, announced by the Commerce Department on June 15, amends the Huawei “entity listing,” to allow American companies to collaborate with Huawei on setting standards that will determine the technical rules of the road for 5G and other emerging technologies.   “This action is meant to ensure Huawei’s placement on the entity list in May 2019 does not prevent American companies from contributing to important standards-developing activities despite Huawei’s pervasive participation in standards-development organizations,” the department said.  The situation with Huawei is no accident. For years, Beijing has focused on joining international standard-setting bodies, such as 3GPP and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which are little-known among the public, but make some of the most consequential decisions in modern telecommunications.
 3GPP and the future of your smartphone
Nestled in a quiet industrial park in southern France, a technology consortium with esoteric name, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, or 3GPP, sets the technical standards behind the world’s communication platforms, the fundamental building blocks for product development. As the primary global standard setting organization for the last 20 years, 3GPP helped create technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth as well as today’s 5G high-speed networks.
“Standards are not very sexy but extremely important,” Andrew Polk, partner at Beijing-based research and consultancy firm Trivium China, told VOA. “And it takes sustained long-term effort and attention. While western companies try to set standards, China has a long-term coordinated game plan to influence standards,” he said.FILE – A staff member holds a Huawei ‘Mate20 X 5G’ smartphone at the IFA 2019 tech fair in Berlin, Germany, Sept. 5, 2019.China’s leaders have long seen technology as a key to the country’s economic and military might, and have financially backed companies such as Huawei to become powerful global competitors that will help the country’s political and military goals. Critics say Beijing takes the same approach to setting technical standards.
“Beijing views standards as foundational to its goals to reshaping global governance and expand geostrategic power,” said Dr. J. Ray Bowen, analyst of Pointe Bello, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic intelligence firm.
Even though U.S. companies remain world leaders in most areas of technology, observers such as Dustin Daugherty, head of North America Business Development at Dezan Shira & Associates, a pan-Asia business consulting firm, say China’s strategy means “in the future the U.S. could fall behind a coordinated government effort in standard setting (such as from China).”
 China’s long-term plan
As of May, Chinese firms and government research institutes have accounted for the largest number of chairs or vice chairs in 3GPP, holding 16 of the 45 available leadership positions, according to VOA’s count based on the data release by 3GPP. By comparison, U.S. companies hold nine such leadership positions.
That’s up from a year ago, when 3GPP sent VOA a file showing that representatives from Chinese and U.S. companies each held 12 chair and vice chair positions.
While the 3GPP is the primary global group setting 5G standards, another major global organization, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), is now led by a formal Chinese government official Zhao Houlin.
Zhao, who began his career in China’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, was first elected as the secretary-general of ITU in 2014. He was reinstated in November 2018 for another four-year term.
Established in 1865, ITU is one of the oldest international organizations in the world and has historically avoided politics. However, Zhao publicly criticized Washington in its dispute with Huawei, the Chinese communications giant that U.S. officials say has deep links to the military. “I would encourage Huawei to be given equal opportunities to bid for business,” Zhao told reporters in Geneva earlier this year. “But if we don’t have anything then to put them on the blacklist – I think this is not fair.”FILE – Zhao Houlin, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, May 28, 2018.Under Zhao’s leadership, another Chinese national, Richard Li, serves as the chairman of a critical group with the ITU called Focus Group Technologies for Network 2030. Li, according to his LinkedIn Page, is still currently employed by Huawei as Chief Scientist and Vice-President of Network Technologies, is in charge of examining the world’s emerging technologies and 5G.
Doug Barry, the spokesperson for The US-China Business Council (USCBC), a private organization with the mission of promoting trade between the two countries, said there are companies that are concerned about the abuse of leadership positions by China, but so far he has not heard any examples of this happening in practice.
“Most international standards setting bodies have strong due process which makes it difficult for stakeholders to abuse leadership positions to force proposals through or block proposals,” said Barry.
Daugherty said because Chinese companies are among the most important international players in a variety of industries, including telecommunications, their presence in industry groups and standard setting bodies is logical. But he said there is an important difference between them and their counterparts from democratic countries.  
“Chinese companies (and by extension possibly their individual representatives on such bodies) may ultimately need to answer to Beijing’s priorities for strategically important issues,” said Daugherty.
In an interview with VOA, he said the politicization of such international bodies could conceivably lead to a decrease in legitimacy in international standard setting. “The damage could be immense,” he said.
 Flooded with proposals
Holding leadership positions is one part of Beijing’s strategy. Another part involves massive investments in submitting technical proposals to the international groups.
In a rare disclosure last September, Huawei said for one particular technical area alone, the company submitted 18,000 5G New Radio proposals. “If printed on A4 paper and piled up high, would stand a staggering 10 meters tall,” it said proudly on its official twitter account.FILE – A 5G logo is displayed on a screen outside the showroom at Huawei campus in Shenzhen city, in China’s Guangdong province, March 6, 2019.The U.S.-China Business Council said last February this is an issue of concern.  “Some companies and experts complained that Chinese stakeholders submit large numbers of proposals that are low-quality or irrelevant to market needs in some industries, including for products that China does not actually produce.”
The report titled “China in International Standards Setting” said this takes valuable time and resources away from considering serious proposals.
China also sends more people to attend international meetings that discuss, vote and make decisions on standards.
According to a report release last November by German intellectual property research firm Iplytics, Huawei dispatched over 3,000 engineers to participate in the 5G standard-setting process. American chipmaker Qualcomm sent 1,701 engineers to attend 3GPP meetings.
Dr. Melanie Hart, director for China Policy Center for American Progress, said the Chinese government is channeling state financial support to help Huawei and other Chinese firms send personnel to attend 3GPP meetings and flood the process with Chinese technical contributions.
“It is difficult for private companies from other nations to match that level of activity because sending engineers overseas to participate in 3GPP meetings and devoting R&D resources to develop 3GPP technical contributions are costly activities,” she testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission last March.