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Updated: 17 min 27 sec ago

WHO Appeals for $76 Million to Help Lebanon

23 min 43 sec ago

The World Health Organization is making a worldwide appeal for $76 million in aid to Lebanon a week after a massive explosion in Beirut devastated the port and destroyed hospitals, clinics and stores of medical supplies.

“In particular, we are concerned about the return of COVID-19 in Lebanon. We have launched an appeal for $76 million and ask the international community to support the Lebanese people and show solidarity with them in every way possible,” WHO regional program director Rana Hajjeh said.

She added that the WHO is also concerned about the psychological suffering of those who were wounded, lost loved ones or are homeless after the blast.

WHO officials said the explosion put three hospitals totally out of commission and left three others only partially open. It cut the number of hospital beds by as many as 600.  Half of Beirut’s 55 primary health care clinics cannot function.

WHO emergencies director Rick Brennan said there were 309 new coronavirus cases in Lebanon on Tuesday and that people, including those at hospitals, have relaxed protective measures.

The WHO has already brought in tons of medical and surgical supplies, including protective gear, and reported that 11 emergency medical teams from around the world are in Beirut.

Ammonium nitrate that had likely been improperly stored at the port for years is the widely suspected cause of the August 4 explosion in Beirut that killed at least 170 people and injured 6,000.

The blast also destroyed or heavily damaged buildings across the Lebanese capital.  

Business Lobby Raises Concerns Over Trump Payroll Tax Break

38 min 26 sec ago

The nation's leading business group on Wednesday raised serious concerns about President Donald Trump's move to defer Social Security payroll taxes for American workers, warning that the plan for a shot of economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic could prove unworkable.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a White House ally in battles to cut federal regulations and taxes, said in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that Trump's directive is "surrounded by uncertainty as to its application and implementation" and "only exacerbates the challenges" for companies trying to quickly put his action in place.

There was no immediate reaction from the administration.

Trump on Saturday directed the Treasury Department to defer the 6.2 percent Social Security tax on wages paid by employees, beginning September 1 and lasting through the end of the year.

A deferral leaves workers still on the hook for the money later on. But Trump said his ultimate goal is to make the tax break permanent, which would require congressional approval. That appears unlikely for now: Democrats have blasted Trump's plan as an attempt to undermine Social Security's finances and Republicans seem to have little enthusiasm for the idea.

There's a little more than two weeks before the payroll tax plan is supposed to go into effect, and the Chamber's misgivings compound the problems for a president who wants to be seen as taking decisive action in the face of a stalemate with Congress over another pandemic relief bill.

The Chamber's chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, called the president's move "well-intended to provide relief," but raised questions about whether it would be workable.

"There remains widespread uncertainty on how businesses will implement and apply the executive order, and as American employers, workers and families work to navigate the COVID-19 crisis they need clarity not more confusion," Bradley said in a statement.

In the letter to Mnuchin, the Chamber pressed to find out whether the tax deferral would be optional. If it's employers who get that flexibility, it could make it easier for businesses to adjust. But then the tax deferral would not pack the economic punch for which Trump seemed to be reaching.

Among the potential problems cited are whether businesses would be liable for repayment of deferred taxes, and what to do about short-term workers and those who earn part of their compensation from bonuses.

The letter also raised questions about whether a tax deferral would have much impact on the economy if workers have to pay the money back. Some critics have said people might just save the money, not spend it, knowing that the government would ask for it back. 

 

Tear Gas at Portland Protests Raises Concern About Pollution 

1 hour 6 min ago

The presence of U.S. agents has diminished in Portland, Oregon, but city officials are still cleaning up tear gas residue from the streets, dirt and possibly the storm drains after the chemical was used frequently by both police and federal officers during more than two months of often-violent protests over racial injustice. 

The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services cleaned and took samples from six storm drains last week around the federal courthouse and a building with a police station and jail that have been targeted in nightly demonstrations.

Environmental officials aimed to prevent pollutants from reaching the Willamette River, which runs through downtown and is popular with kayakers, canoeists and boaters, and determine the possible impact if contaminants did flow into the waterway. 

"There is no American city, that I am aware of, that has endured the level of tear gas," agency spokeswoman Diane Dulken said. "We are researching and looking through environmental literature. What are these materials and their toxicity?" 

Officials said they're testing for pollutants that are found in crowd control agents such as the heavy metals zinc, lead, copper and chromium.  

Demonstrators huddle and blow back tear gas with leaf blowers during clashes with federal officers during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse, July 29, 2020, in Portland, Ore.

Dulken said there is no evidence yet of tear gas residue reaching the river, "but it's also hard to say because there is so much unknown about the materials and so much unknown about the quantities." 

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and state Rep. Karin Power sent a letter last month to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality requesting an investigation into "the public health and environmental risks of tear gas and other chemicals to people, wildlife, aquatic life and local air and water quality."  

Blumenauer and Power asked the EPA for information on what kind of chemicals federal agents used and how the residue will be cleaned up.  

"We don't know yet what has been deployed, but we aim to find out," Power said.  

The protests over racist policing often ended with a fog of tear gas as federal agents tried to disperse the crowd. Before they arrived, local police frequently deployed it. The protests started after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, dwindled to smaller groups that spread chaos and grew again when President Donald Trump sent federal agents to the liberal city in early July. Violence has persisted, but the gatherings over the last week have been much smaller and targeted local police facilities.  

Demonstrators and city officials said agents' use of tear gas was excessive, but U.S. authorities said it was necessary to protect federal property and officers as protesters hurled objects like cans of beans, bottles and fireworks. 

Robert Griffin, who is the dean of the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the University at Albany in New York, said he was "a little bit appalled" by the use of tear gas.  

"If you put a cloud of gas into a crowd, it's going to affect the old, it's going to affect the young, it's going to affect the youth. It doesn't pick," Griffin said. "The problem is, if the wind shifts, it will go into areas that it was never intended to go." 

While local officials have called for a study on the impact of the chemical irritants, Griffin said that should have been done much earlier. 

"We should be putting money into understanding the long-term health and impacts of these technologies because they are being used on our own citizens," Griffin said.  

Sven-Eric Jordt, an associate professor and researcher at Duke University's School of Medicine who has extensively studied tear gas, said the majority of data used to justify its use is outdated, having been generated in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.  

"It's really very distressful that the science is really so old," Jordt said.  

Documents listing the ingredients in the gas, as well as the amount used on Portland protesters, haven't been released.  

"I really think that the federal government and also local health departments have really neglected their duty to reinvestigate the safety of tear gas," Jordt said. 

At the end of July, federal authorities were pulled back from downtown Portland and the cleanup began. 

The city Bureau of Environmental Services received reports of power-washing that possibly flushed contaminants from the streets into storm drains. While some lead to a sewer system, the drains surrounding the federal courthouse lead directly to the Willamette River. Officials told city workers to put buffers around storm drains while cleaning.  

The river has a history of pollution, which was stained with sewage as often as 50 times a year and for decades carried industrial pollution from several Oregon cities. Today, people swim in the river that's now considered safe.  

Dulken said Portland has worked to be proactive about stopping pollutants from reaching the river, including any tear gas residue.  

Authorities took samples from the entry and exit points of the storm drains and expect results later this month, which could lead to further cleanup.  

"What is the effect? We don't know," Dulken said. 

As China’s Vloggers Draw International Fans, Beijing Sees Soft Power Opportunity

1 hour 8 min ago

At first glance, the videos conjure up visions of a secluded utopian paradise.

In one, a young woman rides on horseback in the dewy landscape of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, picks lily magnolias while wearing in a red cape and then cooks a large spread of dishes with the blossoms.

In another, she uses grape skins to dye white cloth, sews a flowing purple maxi-dress, and dances in her beautiful, spacious country house.

Meet one of China’s most popular vloggers, Li Ziqi. Picking ingredients from her farm, constructing furniture by hand, and tending her adorable sheep and dogs, she performs the work of a farmer with the grace of a fairy and offers a romantic depiction of China’s country life.

This rural dreamscape comes with some hardheaded analytics: She has over 26.3 million followers on China’s Sina Weibo, more than over 3.5 million followers on Facebook and She has 11.8 million subscribers on YouTube, where her last post, “The Life of Cucumbers” generated more than 10 million views in three weeks. Facebook and YouTube are blocked by China’s Great Firewall.

Li is one of the few Chinese Internet celebrities whose popularity transcends borders. She has received high praise from China’s state media outlets for “showing the wonderful lives of Chinese people in the countryside,” who account for about 40 percent of its people.

Experts who spoke to VOA say that China is trying to tap into its vast pool of talented cybercelebrities to generate soft power for the country. Yet they suggest the strategy is unlikely to be very successful because the actions of the Chinese Communist Party have generated mostly negative publicity outside of China. Soft power, a concept first introduced by Harvard University professor Joseph Nye, refers to a country’s appeal and attraction originated from its culture, political values, foreign policies and ways of life.

Party approval

In an interview with Goldthread, which explores trends and presents human interest stories from China, the 30-year-old said she started as a one-woman operation in 2015. Li said now she has a videographer and an assistant, but she “has full control of the content she wants to film.” The news outlet noted that they were not allowed to observe Li’s filming.

Li's main audience includes urban millennials, as her videos portray an appealing rural life for urban fantasies. Michel Hockx, a professor of Chinese literature at the University of Notre Dame, told VOA Mandarin that these videos would undoubtedly appeal Western audiences and Chinese-speaking communities worldwide.

“For non-Chinese audiences, they might strengthen certain views of Chinese culture and Chinese tradition as "exotic and different,” he said.

Along with praise from her fans in China and elsewhere, China’s official CCTV applauded Li for introducing Chinese culture to the world, telling China’s stories and showing “the confidence and wonderful lives of China’s youth.” All this falls in line with President Xi Jinping’s call issued two years ago to “to tell China’s stories well, present a true, multidimensional, and panoramic view of China, and enhance our country’s cultural soft power.”

Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper published under the auspices of the official People's Daily, reported Li lives a reclusive yet ideal Chinese pastoral life, adding which foreigners may liken to “a fairy tale.” The China Association of Young Rural Entrepreneurial Leaders, an organization with deep ties to the Communist Youth League, has invited Li to be their ambassador.

Kingsley Edney, the author of Soft Power With Chinese Characteristics: China’s Campaign for Hearts and Minds, said the fact that the state media are praising vloggers like Li sends a political signal.

“The Chinese government would certainly see these celebrities as a potential resource, but one that needs to be harnessed and controlled,” he told VOA Mandarin.

Stanley Rosen, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Southern California, echoed Edney.

“I think there is no question that the Party/government wants to co-opt these individuals for domestic and international purposes,” he told VOA Mandarin. “The latter is clear from the YouTube channel since YouTube is banned in China.”

Han Li, an associate professor of literature at Rhodes College, pointed out that Li has a support team for her presence on the banned platforms, Facebook and YouTube. “That tells you she has government support,” she told VOA.

Soft power

In June, an article in The Diplomat magazine said suggested that individual content creators like Li are sensitive to viewer perceptions and present a softer, diversified, and apolitical side of Chinese society that better connects with international audiences.

“Their success implies that China could tap into this vast pool of talented cyber celebrities to generate soft power for the country – in fact, this may have already started,” wrote author Jo Kim.

Rosen said the Chinese Communist Party has tried to generate soft power through its culture in numerous ways, including films and Confucius Institutes, but has not been notably successful, particularly in the West.

“Given all the negatives that stem from China's actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and elsewhere, the Party-state is looking for something to show the ‘soft side’ of China, through ordinary people, to show that Chinese people are just like people everywhere,” he said.

Yet Rosen argued this strategy would be hard to be overly successful because the recent aggressive actions of CCP have generated negative publicity outside China.

Since Xi came to power, the Chinese leader has stressed the importance of building a network to reach out to the international audience, and do a better job "telling China's stories, conveying China's voice and building cultural self-confidence."

Jonathan McClory, a globally recognized expert on soft power and government communications, said it’s hard for China to win the hearts of citizens from other countries in light of its authoritarian rule at home and aggressive foreign policies abroad.

“While cultural soft power is best placed to draw people in for an initial ‘conversation’, (China’s) behavior in terms of domestic and foreign policy will carry the day in shaping global opinion of a country,” he told VOA.

Edney said the biggest problem with China’s image is its political system. Meanwhile, almost all of the culture it promotes is traditional Chinese culture which is largely non-existent in today’s China.

He recommended the Chinese authorities give these Internet celebrities a little space to promote their quirky interests or personalities, so it can help showcase the vibrancy of contemporary Chinese society to international audiences and give people a fresh view of the country.

Edney continued, saying “Internet celebrities are not going to be able to make people ignore human rights abuses in China.”

 

US Skeptical about Russian Claim of Effective COVID-19 Vaccine

2 hours 21 min ago

Two top U.S. health officials are expressing skepticism about Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russian scientists have come up with the world’s first safe and effective vaccine.

“I seriously doubt that they've done that," infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said. But he added that he hopes Moscow has indeed "actually definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective.”

Fauci said a number of U.S. labs are working on a vaccine and could, if they wanted to, roll them out anytime.

“If we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people or giving them something that doesn't work, we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to. But that's not the way it works,” Fauci said in remarks to be broadcast Thursday by National Geographic.

Fauci has said he hopes to have millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine ready in the U.S. by early 2021 but has warned there is no way to guarantee the long-term effectiveness of a vaccine.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar thumbs up as he visits a mask factory with Director of the American Institute in Taiwan William Brent Christensen, right, in New Taipei City, Aug. 12, 2020.

Meantime, U.S. Health and Human Services chief Alex Azar said during a visit to Taiwan on Wednesday that developing a COVID-19 vaccine is “not a race to be first.”

He said the Trump administration is working with the U.S. pharmaceutical industry to "deliver as quickly as we can for the benefit of the United States' citizens, but also for the people of the world, safe and effective vaccines."

The Food and Drug Administration must approve any vaccine of any kind before it is distributed to doctors and other health care professionals.

China on Wednesday called Azar’s performance in handling COVID-19 in the U.S. “the worst in the world” and said his trip to Taiwan was a stunt.

“He ignored millions of Americans suffering from the virus and went to Taiwan to put on a political show,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan said. “His behavior proves once again that in the eyes of U.S. politicians, American lives mean nothing when compared with their selfish political gains.”

The Trump administration has accused China of trying to cover up the outbreak of COVID-19 when it began in Wuhan in December and failing to contain the disease — allegations China denies.

Azar said if the coronavirus outbreak started in Taiwan or the U.S., it could have been “snuffed out easily.”

People wearing face masks wait their turn to be called for a PCR test for the COVID-19 outside a local clinic in Santa Coloma de Gramanet in Barcelona, Spain, Aug. 11, 2020.

Spain’s Galicia region has banned cigarette smoking in the streets, in outdoor restaurants, and anywhere social distancing is impractical.

Although it’s unclear if cigarette smokers are more susceptible to COVID-19, smoking contributes to the underlying health problems that make recovery from the disease much more difficult. Second-hand cigarette smoke is also a health hazard.

Officials in Spain’s Aragon region have ordered a military field hospital, and testing in Catalonia, including its capital Barcelona, is being expanded after Spain reported 1,700 hundred new COVID cases in just 24 hours Wednesday.

Greece reported 262 new cases Wednesday — its highest one-day total since the outbreak began — and Italy is ordering visitors from Greece, Spain, Croatia and Malta to be tested for COVID-19 when they cross the border. Italy is a popular vacation spot for tourists from those four nations.

The pandemic continues to have an effect on the sporting world. Two major U.S. college athletic conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — announced Tuesday they are postponing their upcoming fall football seasons.

Now, one of the world’s top golf tournaments — The Masters — will be played this year with no spectators.

It’s the third major U.S. golf match to be fan-free this year. The PGA Championship was played last week with no one watching from the sidelines. The U.S. Open, which was moved from June to September, will also have no spectators.

The Masters is usually held every April at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. The club has been closed because of the coronavirus, and this year’s tournament has been postponed until November.

Pop singer and guitarist Trini Lopez, best known for his smash recordings of “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree” in the 1960s, has died from COVID-19. He was 83 years old.

Along with his hit records, Lopez was also an actor, appearing on television and co-starring in the 1967 World War II film “The Dirty Dozen.”

Biden, Harris Make Their Case to US Voters

2 hours 33 min ago

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden took note of the historic moment Wednesday when introducing Senator Kamala Harris, his vice presidential choice, at a campaign event in Delaware.

Biden and Harris, who both came onstage wearing face masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, spoke from the stage of a high school in Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

Their speeches focused on the theme of their campaign, stressing their leadership in helping Americans during the crises of the pandemic and growing economic turmoil, as well as the inspirational message of choosing Harris.

“This morning,all across the nation, little girls woke up — especially little Black and brown girls, who so often feel overlooked and undervalued in their communities — but today, just maybe they’re seeing themselves for the first time in a new way,” Biden said.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, joined by his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, speaks during a campaign event at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del., Aug. 12, 2020.

About 100 people, most of them Wilmington residents, gathered outside Alexis DuPont high school on Wednesday for just a glimpse of the candidates.

Janice Nelson, left, brought her 14-year-old son to the high school in hopes of catching a glimpse of the first Black vice presidential nominee, August 12, 2020. (E. Sarai/VOA)

“I thought it was important to come out to see history,” Janice Nelson, a Delaware native standing alongside her 14-year-old son, told VOA.

“We don't know if I'll get a glimpse of them or not. It doesn't matter. We just want to be here to say that we're voting,” she said.

A few attendees wore Biden shirts or hats. One man had fashioned his own “Biden Harris” sign, just hours after Harris was named Biden’s running mate when little merchandise featuring both names has been made available. 

 

About 100 people now at the back of the high school - including a handful of people protesting Biden for his stance on abortion. Unclear who is already inside. pic.twitter.com/lRBTabxLUa

— Esha is at #AAJA20 (@egkaur) August 12, 2020

Biden officially named Harris as his running mate Tuesday, making her the first Black woman and South Asian American woman to be named on a major party ticket for a presidential election. 

Due to the pandemic, the candidates’ first joint event was held in a nearly empty gymnasium. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has killed more than 165,000 people in the U.S.

Biden said he and Harris would work to "rebuild this country." 

He accused President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of failing to lead during the COVID-19 crisis and said that he and Harris would fix "the mess” created in the U.S. and abroad by Trump and Pence, whom the Democrats are seeking to defeat in the November general election. 

Harris, from California, also attacked Trump in her speech.

"America is crying out for leadership, yet we have a president who cares more about himself than the people who elected him, a president who is making every challenge we face even more difficult to solve," she said, saying Trump has endangered Americans by not taking the pandemic seriously. 

Ahead of their appearance Wednesday, a number of Wilmington residents — including many members of Harris’s Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, dressed in the group’s signature salmon pink and apple green — dropped by on their lunch breaks from work, hoping to witness either Biden or Harris entering the building. 

Shealese Russell-Reams, left, and Melanie Daniels, co-workers and members of Kamala Harris’ sorority, AKA, spent their lunch break hoping to catch a glimpse of the newly named VP candidate, August 12, 2020. (E. Sarai/VOA)

“We are coming out to support this monumental experience,” Melanie Daniels, an AKA member dressed all in pink, told VOA outside the high school.

"And as a Delaware native and a graduate, class of ’88, Alexis DuPont High School, it’s just an awesome moment in time for us,” her colleague, Shealese Russell-Reams, who was dressed all in green, added. 

The two women were among more than a dozen people who stopped by over the lunch hour in hopes of catching a glimpse of Biden and Harris entering the high school, where a virtual fundraiser was scheduled to take place later Wednesday afternoon.

After winning enough primaries to secure the nomination earlier this year, Biden, 77, committed himself to picking a female running mate. There was much speculation he would choose a Black woman to run with him. A number of familiar and respected names surfaced in the press as potential candidates.  

Harris delivered stinging criticism of Biden during the primary debates but had high praise for him during a campaign event several weeks ago.  

“Joe has empathy. He has a proven track record of leadership, and more than ever before, we need a president of the United States who understands who the people are, sees them where they are, and has a genuine desire to help and knows how to fight to get us where we need to be,” Harris said.  

Harris, 55, was born in Oakland, California. She is the daughter of immigrants — her father is from Jamaica, and her mother is from India.  

She graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and was elected district attorney for San Francisco in 2003 and California attorney general in 2010.  

Harris arrived in Washington less than four years ago as a U.S Democratic senator from California.  

In her 2020 presidential campaign, Harris was briefly the Democratic front-runner after success in the early debates.

Harris is only the third woman ever picked for vice president by a major party. 

Semocratic Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro was Vice President Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984 when they lost by a landslide to the Republican ticket of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin ran with Republican John McCain in 2008 but lost to Democrats Barack Obama and Biden. 

Trump Plans Campaign Swing Next Week as Counter to Democrats' Convention

3 hours 11 min ago

President Donald Trump is planning to visit four election battleground states next week as the Republican competes for attention with Democrats who will formally nominate Joe Biden as their presidential candidate.

A source familiar with the planning said Trump plans stops in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona and Pennsylvania, all of them states that may prove crucial to determining the winner of the Nov. 3 election.

Democrats are holding their mostly virtual convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, next week. The Milwaukee Sentinel Journal said the Trump campaign was considering holding an event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Trump, struggling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession, has been looking for ways to blunt the momentum of Biden after the Democrat chose California Senator Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate.

The incumbent president, seeking a second four-year term, trails Biden in many opinion polls both nationally and in many swing states, although Trump insists he is making up ground.

Trump's travel next week is likely to be a mix of official White House and campaign-related events. He is planning a stop in Biden's home town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, the source said.

The Trump campaign declined to comment on next week's travel.

Typically a candidate from one party will sit out most of the week in which the opposing party holds its nominating convention since most of voters' attention will be focused on the convention.

But Trump has shown himself to be no adherent to political tradition and with his campaign appearances reduced by the pandemic, he is under pressure to get out more and make the case for why he should be re-elected.

 

CENTCOM Chief Warns of Resurgent IS Without Repatriation from Syrian Camps

3 hours 30 min ago

The top U.S. general for military operations in the Middle East is warning of a potential Islamic State resurgence should the international community not act quickly to repatriate and deradicalize former members and supporters of the terror group who are in Syrian camps. 

“We’re buying ourselves a strategic problem [where] 10 years down the road, 15 years down the road, we’re going to do this all over again. I would prefer to avoid that,” General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said during an online forum Wednesday hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). 

The U.S.-led international coalition against Islamic State declared victory over the terror group last year, but an “interconnected ecosystem of problems” that requires an international agreement remains, McKenzie said. 

FILE - General Frank McKenzie, center front, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, walks as he visits a military outpost in Syria, January 25, 2020.

Nations have tried to reach a global consensus on what to do with captured IS fighters and their families, with many countries refusing to take back citizens who left their country to fight in Iraq and Syria. Travel concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic have halted repatriation discussions. 

Officials say horrible conditions at Syria’s al-Hol camp, which houses captured Islamic State fighters along with tens of thousands of displaced men, women and children, have fueled radicalization. The facility has also recently confirmed its first COVID-19 cases, raising fears that the deadly virus may spread. 

“If we stay where we are, we're going to have huge problems: huge problems in the near term with lots of people potentially dying, and then huge problems in the long-term because I have yet to see a scheme that can talk about deradicalization at scale,” McKenzie said. 

“I don’t have an answer besides repatriation. We either deal with this problem now or deal with it exponentially worse a few years down the road,” the CENTCOM commander added. 

Concerns of a resurgent Islamic State come as the United States wants to pull more American forces from Iraq and Syria. The U.S. pulled some of its forces from Syria in 2018 and began exiting bases in Iraq in March of this year. 

Last month, McKenzie confirmed in a VOA interview that U.S. forces could continue to fight IS and support Iraqi forces with fewer troops, adding that the reduction will be done in close consultation with Iraq and international allies.

VOA Exclusive: CENTCOM Chief Says US Can Do Job in Iraq with Fewer ForcesGen. Kenneth 'Frank' McKenzie also told VOA that Afghan Taliban is not living up to peace commitments and that idea of Russian bounties on US troops is ‘morally abhorrent’

Speaking to USIP on Wednesday, McKenzie stressed that the U.S. was also not going to be in Syria “forever,” while hinting the solution would require a gradual exit on an unclear timeline. 

“There's not going to be a significant victory celebration. There's not going to be a clear-cut military victory [against IS],” McKenzie said. 

Meanwhile, Turkey’s unilateral moves against the terror group in northern Syria have complicated the situation, with the U.S. general acknowledging he does not have a clear idea of what is taking place inside Turkish-controlled areas of the country. 

“I just don't know, I've got no visibility,” he said. 

U.S. military leaders have criticized Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria, which pushed out members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a largely Kurdish group allied with the United States who had successfully expelled IS from the area. Turkey sees the group as a threat linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has carried out several attacks in Turkey. 

Tensions further escalated last month as SDF officials expressed dismay after Turkish intelligence agents infiltrated al-Hol to smuggle out a Moldovan woman and her four children. It is unclear why such an operation was necessary, according to the SDF, claiming all that Moldova had to do was ask to repatriate the woman. 

“The global coalition asked the countries to get their citizens back [with] no response. Moldova did not ask for this woman,” Sinam Mohamad, the U.S. representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the SDF’s political wing, told VOA. 

McKenzie on Wednesday said he had “no evidence” that anybody was smuggled out of al-Hol. 

National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed reporting. 

Doctors Warn Coronavirus Could Cause Huge Rise In Deaths From TB, Malaria, HIV

4 hours 14 min ago

Doctors are warning that the global death toll from diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and HIV could increase sharply this year because of disruption to health services caused by the coronavirus pandemic. One report warns that malaria deaths in Africa could double in 2020. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Camera: Henry Ridgwell 

Producer: Rob Raffaele

RFE/RL: Pompeo Vows US Action to Ensure 'Good Outcome' for Belarusian People

4 hours 33 min ago

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking about the contentious Belarusian presidential election and the ensuing police crackdown against peaceful protesters, says that "we want good outcomes for the Belarusian people, and we'll take actions consistent with that." 

Pompeo, who earlier condemned the conduct of the election that handed authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth-straight term by a landslide, said in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with RFE/RL in Prague that "we've watched the violence and the aftermath, peaceful protesters being treated in ways that are inconsistent with how they should be treated." 

The vote Sunday, which the opposition has called "rigged," has resulted in three-straight evenings of mass protests marred by police violence and thousands of detentions. 

Pompeo said that the United States had not yet settled on the appropriate response but would work with Washington's European partners to determine what action to take. 

Asked whether the election and its aftermath would affect the future of U.S.-Belarus relations, including the promised delivery of U.S. oil, Pompeo said: "We're going to have to work through that...we were incredibly troubled by the election and deeply disappointed that it wasn't more free and more fair." 

U.S. troops in Afghanistan 

Pompeo, who was in Prague at the start of a five-day trip to Europe that will also take him to Slovenia, Austria and Poland, discussed a number of other issues, including allegations that Russia was involved in offering Taliban militants bounties to attack U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; expectations that Washington will seek to extend the U.N. arms embargo against Iran; and the effect violence against protesters in the United States might have on Washington's image abroad. 

WATCH: See Mike Pompeo's entire interview

The U.S. secretary of state declined to comment on whether he believed U.S. intelligence reports that said Russia had offered money to the Taliban and their proxies in Afghanistan to kill U.S. soldiers, saying he never commented on U.S. intelligence matters. 

"What we've said is this: If the Russians are offering money to kill Americans or for that matter, other Westerners as well, there will be an enormous price to pay," Pompeo said. "That's what I shared with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov. I know our military has talked to their senior leaders as well. We won't brook that. We won't tolerate that."  

Last month, in an interview with VOA, CENTCOM Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie said the allegations were " very worrisome, it's very concerning, but it's not proven to my satisfaction that it actually occurred." 

Regarding the prospect of resistance among European allies to U.S. efforts to extend the expiring arms embargo on Iran indefinitely, Pompeo said it "makes no sense for any European country to support the Iranians being able to have arms." 

"I think they recognize it for exactly what it is," he said of the U.S. proposal, a draft resolution of which is reportedly currently being floated in the 15-member Security Council. "And I hope that they will vote that way at the United Nations. I hope they will see." 

"The resolution that we're going to present is simply asking for a rollover of the extension of the arms embargo," Pompeo said. "It's that straightforward.” 

Asked specifically about the prospect that Iranian allies Russia and China could veto such a proposal, the U.S. secretary of state said: "We're going to make it come back. We have the right to do it under 2231 and we're going to do it." 

U.N. Resolution 2231 was passed unanimously by the United Nations in 2015, endorsing the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 

The United States withdrew from the deal, which offered sanctions relief to Tehran in exchange for security guarantees aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, in 2018. 

Russian media pressure  

Pompeo also discussed recent efforts by Russia to target foreign media operating there, which the secretary of state earlier warned would "impose new burdensome requirements" on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice Of America. 

In a statement Monday, Pompeo said that the two U.S.-funded media outlets already faced "significant and undue restrictions" in Russia, and that a recent draft order by Russia's state media regulator requiring all media registered as "foreign agents" to label their content as such or face fines of up to 5 million rubles ($70,000) had left Washington "deeply concerned." 

In Prague on Wednesday, Pompeo said that he believed that "we think we can put real pressure and convince them that the right thing to do is to allow press freedom." 

"We've condemned it. We've also imposed enormous sanctions on Russia for other elements of their malign activity," Pompeo said. "We hope that the rest of the world will join us in this. We hope that those nations that value the freedom of press, who want independent reporters to be able to ask questions, even if sometimes leaders don't like them, will join with us." 

Asked whether the recent handling of protests against social injustice in the United States, which has included the use of police force against civilians and journalists, had harmed Washington's image and weakened its moral authority in scolding authoritarian regimes, Pompeo called the question "insulting."  

He said that the "difference between the United States and these authoritarian regimes couldn't be more clear." 

"We have the rule of law, we have the freedom of press, every one of those people gets due process. When we have peaceful protesters, we create the space for them to say their mind, to speak their piece," he said. 

"Contrast that with what happens in an authoritarian regime. To even begin to compare them, to somehow suggest that America's moral authority is challenged by the amazing work that our police forces, our law enforcement people do all across America — I, frankly, just find the question itself incomprehensible and insulting." 

VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

The Infodemic: What's Known About Russia's Alleged COVID-19 Vaccine?

4 hours 57 min ago

Fake news about the coronavirus can do real harm. Polygraph.info is spotlighting fact-checks from other reliable sources here​.

 

Daily Debunk

"What we know -- and don't know -- about Russia's 'Sputnik V' vaccine," CNN, August 12.

 

Social Media Disinfo

Screenshot

Circulating on social media: Claim that Serbia on Aug. 3 announced mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for children returning to school and that millions of Serbians took to the street that night in protest.

Verdict: False

Read the full story at: Reuters


Factual Reads on Coronavirus

Winter is coming: Why America’s window of opportunity to beat back Covid-19 is closing
Unless Americans use the dwindling weeks between now and the onset of “indoor weather” to tamp down transmission in the country, this winter could be Dickensianly bleak, public health experts warn.
-- Stat, August 10

America’s Obesity Epidemic Threatens Effectiveness of Any COVID Vaccine
Scientists know that vaccines engineered to protect the public from influenza, hepatitis B, tetanus and rabies can be less effective in obese adults than in the general population, leaving them more vulnerable to infection and illness. There is little reason to believe, obesity researchers say, that COVID-19 vaccines will be any different.
-- Kaiser Health News, August 6

Iran Shutters Newspaper After Expert Questions Coronavirus Numbers

5 hours 20 min ago

Iran shut down a newspaper on Monday after it published remarks by an expert who said the official figures on coronavirus cases and deaths in the country account for only 5% of the real toll, allegations rejected by the Health Ministry. 

Mohammad Reza Sadi, the editor-in-chief of Jahane Sanat, told the official IRNA news agency that authorities closed his newspaper, which began publishing in 2004 and was mainly focused on business news. 

On Sunday, the daily quoted Mohammad Reza Mahboobfar, an epidemiologist the paper said had worked on the government's anti-coronavirus campaign, as saying the true number of cases and deaths in Iran could be 20 times the number reported by the Health Ministry. 

He also said the virus was detected in Iran a month earlier than February 19, when authorities announced the first confirmed case. He said they held up the announcement until after the commemorations of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and parliamentary elections earlier that month. 

"The administration resorted to secrecy for political and security reasons," he said, and only provided "engineered statistics" to the public. 

He also criticized testing efforts and warned of a renewed outbreak next month as universities hold entrance exams and people mark major Shiite holidays. 

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari rejected the allegations and said Mahboobfar had no role in the government's anti-coronavirus campaign. IRNA quoted her as saying the ministry has provided figures in a "transparent" way. 

"The Health Ministry is not a political body and health of people is its main priority," she said. 

The ministry has reported a total of nearly 330,000 cases and 18,616 deaths, including 189 fatalities in the past 24 hours.  

Authorities in Iran have come under heavy criticism since the start of the pandemic because of their reluctance to impose the kind of sweeping restrictions seen elsewhere in the region. Iran is home to the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East. 

 

As France Examines Slave-Trading Past, Corporations Are Unusually Silent

5 hours 46 min ago

As Black Lives Matter protests around the world topple statues and target streets and buildings linked to slavery, banks and businesses are increasingly acknowledging ties to the grim history. But critics say corporate soul-searching is not happening in France.

AXA Insurance Company, Banque de France and the maker of Hennessy Cognac have one thing in common, according to a new investigation by France’s Le Monde newspaper: All are tied, directly or indirectly, with slavery.  
 
Le Monde reports these are among a number of French corporations that have not acknowledged such links. At a time when companies have become socially and environmentally responsible, the newspaper wrote, why not accept their historical responsibility?  
 
AXA and the Banque de France could either not be reached or did not immediately respond to VOA.  
 
Bordeaux-based activist Karfa Diallo, who conducts tours of the city’s slave trading past, said he’s not surprised by the silence. His association, Memoires et Partages, has also tried to contact local businesses with similar historical links – with no success.  
 
Luis-Georges Tin, honorary president of Black activist umbrella association CRAN, offers one explanation.  
 
“France is a very arrogant country,” Tin said. “In the elite, most people will tell you, ‘We are the country of human rights. So, why should we apologize when we’re so great?’” 
 
France ended slavery and the slave trade in the 19th century. But there was a time when it was one of Europe’s top slave-trading countries. So was nearby England.  
 
Now, a growing number of prominent British banks and businesses are beginning to acknowledge past links to the slave business. In the United States, too, the Black Lives Matter protests have cast new scrutiny on businesses and places like New York’s Wall Street, which was once a slave market.  
 
Still, French historian Myriam Cottias says she can understand this nation’s corporate silence. It can sometimes be hard to draw clear historical links with French businesses today.  
 
“It's not clear, even for me, the exact organization from the slavery (times) to the present. And maybe it’s one of the reasons why there’s no acknowledgment or apology.”  
 
Still, activists say France is beginning to face its past in other ways. A slavery museum is to be built in Paris. And a new foundation for the memory of slavery was launched earlier this year. A Banque de France subsidiary is helping to finance it, in what some say is at least an indirect acknowledgment of history.
 

Supporters Turn Out for Biden, Harris in First Joint Campaign Event

6 hours 19 min ago

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his newly named running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, are set to make their first joint appearance Wednesday as a team seeking to defeat President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the November general election.

The Biden-Harris campaign said the pair would speak in Wilmington, Delaware, about “working together to restore the soul of the nation and fight for working families to move the country forward.”

Watch the campaign event:

Ahead of their appearance at Alexis DuPont High School Wednesday afternoon, several Delaware locals — including many members of Harris’ sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, dressed in the group’s signature salmon pink and apple green — came to show their support.

“We are coming out to support this monumental experience,” Melanie Daniels, an AKA member dressed all in pink, told VOA outside the high school.

"And as a Delaware native and a graduate, class of ’88, Alexis DuPont High School, it’s just an awesome moment in time for us,” her colleague, Shealese Russell-Reams, who was dressed all in green, added.

The two women were among the more than a dozen people who stopped by over the lunch hour in hopes of catching a glimpse of Biden and Harris enter the high school, where a virtual fundraiser is scheduled to take place later Wednesday afternoon.

Ahead of the appearance, Biden said he picked Harris, because if they are elected on November 3, “She’s ready to lead on day one.”

If @KamalaHarris and I are elected, we’re going to inherit multiple crises, a nation divided, and a world in disarray. We won’t have a minute to waste.

That's exactly why I picked her: She's ready to lead on day one.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 12, 2020

Biden officially named Harris as his running mate Tuesday, making her the first Black woman and South Asian American woman to be named on a major party ticket for a presidential election.

“I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked Kamala Harris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate,” Biden tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

Biden, Harris to Make First Public Appearance Together as Running Mates Pair will speak in Wilmington, Delaware Wednesday, as they seek to defeat President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in November general election

After winning enough primaries to secure the nomination earlier this year, Biden, 77, committed himself to picking a female vice presidential candidate. There was much speculation he would choose a Black woman to run with him. A number of familiar and respected names surfaced in the press as potential running mates.

FILE - U.S. Senator Kamala Harris holds her first organizing event in Los Angeles as she campaigns in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 19, 2019.

But Biden and Harris have a long friendship going back to the days when she was California attorney general at the same time Biden’s late son, Beau Biden, was attorney general in Delaware.

“She worked closely with Beau. I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse,” Joe Biden tweeted Tuesday. “I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”

Harris delivered stinging criticism of her rival during the primary debates but had high praise for Biden during a campaign event several weeks ago, before she was named as his running mate.

“Joe has empathy, he has a proven track record of leadership and more than ever before, we need a president of the United States who understands who the people are, sees them where they are, and has a genuine desire to help and knows how to fight to get us where we need to be,” Harris said.

Harris, 55, was born in Oakland, California. She is the daughter of immigrants, her father from Jamaica and her mother from India.

She graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and was elected district attorney for San Francisco in 2003 and California attorney general in 2010.

Harris arrived in Washington less than four years ago as a U.S Democratic senator from California.

In her 2020 presidential campaign, Harris was briefly the Democratic front-runner after success in the early debates. Her criticism of Biden’s one-time opposition to court-ordered busing to achieve racial balance in public schools strained their relationship.

But Harris’ overall centrist political stance in the early debates, including her support for law enforcement as an attorney general, failed to excite progressives and liberals, and she dropped out of the presidential race before the first primaries.

Some Democrats accused her of being out of touch over issues of police violence - questions that are bound to be raised again amid nationwide protests against police brutality against Black people and other people of color.

Several other women whom Biden considered for a running mate gave their endorsements of Harris after her selection Tuesday.

US UN Ambassador Susan Rice speaks in the UN General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York after a vote to suspend Libya from the UN Human Rights Council, March 1, 2011

“Senator Harris is a tenacious and trailblazing leader who will make a great partner on the campaign trail,” said Susan Rice, former U.S. national security adviser and U.N. ambassador.

Congresswoman Karen Bass, who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of most African Americans in Congress, called Harris a “great choice.”

"Her tenacious pursuit of justice and relentless advocacy for the people is what is needed right now,” Bass said.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who also ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination, said of Harris: “She'll be a great partner to Joe Biden in making our government a powerful force for good in the fight for social, racial and economic justice."

FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2018, photo, former President Barack Obama accepts the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award at a ceremony in New York.

Former President Barack Obama was among other prominent Democrats who welcomed the Harris selection.

“I’ve known Senator Kamala Harris for a long time. She is more than prepared for the job. She’s spent her career defending our Constitution and fighting for folks who need a fair shake. This is a good day for our country. Now let’s go win this thing,” Obama tweeted Tuesday.

Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who was born in New Delhi, tweeted: “Regardless of your political leanings, it says so much about the progress our country has made that a major party ticket now includes a Black and South Asian American woman.”

Trump said Tuesday he was “surprised” Biden chose Harris.

“I was more surprised than anything else because she did so poorly, many people did much better than her in the primaries,” Trump said.

Harris is the third woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket.

Democratic representative Geraldine Ferraro was Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984 when they lost by a landslide to the Republican ticket of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin ran with Republican John McCain in 2008 but lost to Democrats Obama and Biden.

 

Coronavirus Challenge in Africa

6 hours 23 min ago

Africa recently counted its one-millionth confirmed case of coronavirus and health officials fear there are many more uncounted. Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren examines the challenges of dealing with a pandemic with Dr. Michel Yao, the Emergency Operations Manager for WHO Africa and Dr. Linda Mobula, Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Airdate: August 12, 2020.

Ethnic Violence in Sudan’s West Darfur Sends Thousands Fleeing to Chad

6 hours 25 min ago

The U.N. refugee agency says last month’s ethnic violence in Sudan’s Western Darfur region has driven thousands of refugees, some for the second time, to neighboring Chad for safety.

Land disputes in Western Darfur’s Masteri town reportedly killed at least 61 people and injured more than 88. The July 25 attacks are blamed on armed nomads who targeted the African farming communities, triggering the mass exodus of at least 2,500 people from Sudan to Chad. An estimated 20,000 people within Western Darfur in are reportedly affected by the ethnic-related unrest.

The U.N. refugee agency says the nomads also reportedly burned down houses in Masalit and in surrounding villages. UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said more than 80 percent of the refugees arriving in the Chadian border town of Adre are women, children and elderly people.

“Many have witnessed extreme violence. A 25-year-old woman told UNHCR staff that her husband was stabbed to death in front of her eyes and she had to run for her life with her three children, making the journey to Chad riding a donkey for one whole day," he said.

The UNHCR reports many of the newly arriving refugees had returned home to Darfur from eastern Chad earlier this year. Farmers who had been displaced by a conflict, which broke out in 2003 and lasted 11 years, had started to return home under a government-sponsored deal reached two months ago, in time for the July-November planting season.

Baloch said the situation inside West Darfur State has stabilized since the attacks but remains unpredictable. He said many of the returning internally displaced are staying in El Geneina but are hesitant to go home until security improves.

“Federal authorities in Khartoum have reportedly deployed additional forces to control and calm the situation, while a delegation from Massalit and the Arab tribal leaders arrived in El Geneina from Khartoum on August 4 and is conducting peace talks between both sides,” he said.

In the meantime, Baloch said the UNHCR and Chadian government are relocating the newly arrived refugees from the border areas to a refugee camp further inland. However, he said this is proving to be difficult because of poor road conditions and heavy rains.

 

Thai King Welcomes New Officials as Protests Rage

6 hours 41 min ago

Thailand’s King swore in six new cabinet officials Wednesday amid unprecedented student-led protests that have erupted in recent days denouncing the monarchy.  

King Maha Vajiralongkorn called for “order and peace” during his remarks, but refrained from explicitly acknowledging the unrest. He blessed the new members, bestowing “good health and wisdom to have the strength to perform your duties according to your oaths.” 

The reorganization of the cabinet, which now includes banking executive Predee Daochai as finance minister and Supattanapong Punmeechaow as energy minister, comes as six ministers resigned last month, citing ruling party internal disputes.  

FILE - Pro-democracy students raise a three-finger salute, a resistance symbol borrowed by Thailand's anti-coup movement from the movie "The Hunger Games," during a protest at Thammasat University near Bangkok, Thailand, Aug, 10, 2020.

Dissent in Thailand has been growing steadily since 2016, when the current monarch ascended the throne after his father’s death. Over the past four years, he has enacted several security laws that restrict freedom of speech and criticism of the government.  

Thailand is home to one of the world’s most punitive lèse-majesté laws, which punishes those who insult the monarchy with a maximum of 15 years in prison.  

Many in the government view the students’ calls for more democracy radical and antithetical to Thai culture, which typically reveres the monarchy as semi-divine.  

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday that thousands of student protesters “went too far” after some issued a 10-point call for various reforms.  

No student leaders have yet been charged under the lèse-majesté law, but two have been brought up on allegations of sedition and treason.  
 

Egypt Elects New Upper Chamber of Parliament as Heat, COVID-19 Weigh on Popular Enthusiasm

6 hours 46 min ago

Voter turnout was mostly mixed at polling stations in the Egyptian capital Cairo, in a two-day election designed to resurrect an upper house of Parliament that was eliminated by the country's 2014 constitution.

Many Egyptians appeared less than enthusiastic about the operation, with some complaining the chamber will have little or no real power. Government supporters, however, said the body was conceived to play a mostly consultative role.

Some candidates for the new Senate spoke to voters in person to get out the vote, while billboards and banners dotted the capital's urban landscape with photos and portraits of rival candidates. Most people went about business as usual amid the summer heat, with some telling VOA they planned to vote before polls closed Wednesday night.

Government officials, including the president, prime minister and other top officials, were filmed Tuesday casting their ballots, on the first day of voting. More than 14,000 judges have been posted at polling stations across the country to supervise the election, while police and military have been deployed in strategic places to ensure voting takes place in relative safety.

Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek tells VOA that Egypt "historically had a senate until 1952," when the monarchy was overthrown. President Anwar Sadat, he notes, "copied the U.S. Senate, after a visit to Washington in 1980, calling it the Majlis al Shura (Consultative Council)."

"The body officially played an advisory role to Parliament, while in practice rewarding loyalists with a post,” Sadek argues. “The 2011 election got rid of it for being a waste of money. Historically, turnout has been low for the Shura Council or Senate."

Sadek said, "The summer heat and COVID19 will make for a low turnout" this time around, too.

People wait to cast their votes as they queue while keeping social distance outside a polling station during the second day of Egypt's Senate elections in Cairo, Aug. 12, 2020.

Ahmed Gad, a former member of Parliament under Islamist President Mohamed Morsi from 2011 to 2014, told Arab media the new Senate will be a "carbon copy" of former President Hosni Mubarak's Shura Council.

Gad said the upper chamber of Parliament was abolished in 2014 because it was a source of political spoils and a drain on government resources, and now the old system is being restored.

Nearly 800 candidates are vying for 100 seats to be chosen directly in the new 300-member senate. Almost 100 candidates alone are vying for 10 seats in Cairo. A second bloc of 100 seats will be apportioned to competing political parties, while the final 100 seats will be chosen by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

Dr. Paul Sullivan, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University, tells VOA he "hopes and wishes that Egypt's new upper house of Parliament can move it forward to a better future."

"Egypt needs to accomplish much in order to reach its undeniable great potential," he argues.

Preparations to sterilize polling stations due to COVID-19 did not appear to have a negative impact on voting, with efforts to make the voting process safe apparently successful.

Election supervisors wore masks and surgical gloves, while workers sprayed polling stations at regular intervals, and distributed hand sanitizer to kill potential germs left on ballot boxes.

 

China Embraces Bigger Internet with Virtually Unlimited IP Addresses

6 hours 53 min ago

China is pushing for the adoption of a new worldwide Internet Protocol that could make the internet bigger and faster, but also potentially less anonymous. The technology, called IPv6, is an upgrade of the internet’s architecture that would allow trillions more electronic devices to have unique addresses online.

At a global summit held in Guangdong, China, July 30-31, the country's top internet agencies called for a new IP-only Internet. "The initiative proposed that 2020 be the first year for the global large-scale acceleration of the deployment of pure IPv6," the state-run Xinhua news agency reported last Friday.

Designed to replace the version 4 protocol that the current internet mostly depends on, IPv6 is an upgraded version of the architecture that creates the unique “addresses” that allow computer networks around the world to communicate with one another.

A larger and faster internet, but at what cost?  

As the first widely deployed Internet Protocol, IPv4 has been in use for decades. It also has been running out of space. In the 1990s as the Web rapidly grew, technologists warned that there were only about 4.3 billion addresses available, and eventually the number of online devices like PCs, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems and “smart” appliances would exceed that, preventing new devices from going online.  

By 1998, engineers came up with a proposal to rebuild the system under a new protocol. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), an organization responsible for establishing internet standards, developed the new IPv6 communications protocol, which uses a 128-bit address versus IPv4’s 32-bit address, dramatically expanding the number of devices that can go online.   

"There are more than enough IPv6 addresses for every piece of dust on the face of the Earth," Wu Hequan, chairman of the Internet Society of China, told Xinhua in 2017 when the general offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council first unveiled the country’s action plan on the deployment of IPv6.  

The system also promises that by using improved routing techniques, the new internet will not only be larger, but faster. In a technical presentation at a technology conference last month, Apple shared some internal statistics in the hope of convincing app developers to adopt IPv6. "And when IPv6 is in use, the median connection setup is 1.4 times faster than IPv4," said Jiten Mehta, internet technologies engineer at Apple.  

More unique IDs may mean “real-name” IP system  

Because IPv6 can provide a virtually unlimited number of unique addresses, the Chinese government is considering creating globally unique IP addresses that would be assigned to each citizen as a sort of online identification. Proponents say a previously unattainable goal under IPv4 is now within the reach: a true internet real name system.  

China already requires that people prove their identity with government documentation when opening a phone account or registering for home internet service. Once they go online, using different devices, however, the current IP system makes it difficult or impossible to tie people’s real identities to the online devices. IPv6 would change that.   

"With IPv6, we would know where every piece of data is from, which machine it was sent from, and who received it," said Wu Jianmin, chair of computer science and technology at Tsinghua University, according to Xinhua.   

Wu Hequan, who also served as director of China Next Generation Internet, said in the same report that would mean China would succeed in pinning online users to real-world identities. "The traceability of IPv6 can also support online applications to established real name authentication systems."   

Outside analysts say this elimination of anonymity online is one of the main reasons China’s leaders are attracted to the system. 

"The communist party has been sold on the idea that because of the transparency of the network's addresses under IPv6, they think it would make it easier to identify people,” said Milton Mueller, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy.  

But that is true everywhere, not just China, emphasized Mueller, who is the co-founder and director of the Internet Governance Project (IGP), a policy analysis center for global internet governance. “It is supported by law enforcement authorities in Europe and in the U.S. as well because it is easier to track people down.”  

Efforts to improve privacy in IPv6 

In 2007, a group called the Internet Engineering Task Force, or IETF, created a feature called "Privacy Extensions" that is designed to prevent the kind of surveillance to which IPv6 would be susceptible. 

Dan York, project leader for Open Standards Everywhere at the Internet Society, told VOA that critics of the new system seem to miss that when IPv6 is implemented, the privacy extensions are also implemented to prevent this kind of surveillance.  

"For a good number of years now all major operating systems (Windows, Mac OS, IOS, Android, Linux) provide new, randomized IPv6 addresses on a regular basis," said York, whose organization is a strong proponent for IPv6. "So, on an iPhone, you are repeatedly getting a new IPv6 address throughout any given day."  

The problem is that while those extensions are installed and enabled by default, they may make the system slower and could be turned off entirely. A 2007 IETF document suggests that such a feature could be disabled. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology released guidelines for IPv6 deployment that say organizations only "generally" should use privacy extensions for external communications but not for internal communications.  

"With internal IT systems, privacy extensions affect logging and prevent administrators from properly tracking which systems are accessing which services. Many internal resources require the ability to track the end user’s use of services for correct operations," the guidelines said.  

A study by Helsinki University of Technology, titled “IPv6 is Bad for Your Privacy," also found that the privacy extensions themselves could pose security vulnerabilities if they are used to create a “covert channel” that could violate a user’s privacy.  

Impact on VPNs   

Many internet users now go online with the help of a virtual private network (VPN), which allows them to circumvent censorship and internet controls. For a variety of technical reasons, the majority of VPNs do not support the IPv6, possibly exposing an internet user's web activity to their internet service provider.   

That is one of the reasons the Chinese government has made migrating to IPv6 a national priority, said Ross Darrell Feingold, a lawyer and political risk analyst who advises clients on doing business in China. "With the use of VPNs common in China, despite being illegal, it is no surprise that the Chinese government and companies have put significant resources into arming themselves with as much knowledge as possible about IPv6," Feingold said in an email to VOA.  

An organization that tracks Chinese censorship, iyouport.org, recommends users not use IPv6 in the VPN application settings to prevent these leaks. "The vast majority of the internet still uses IPv4, but sometimes IPv6 address is used. When it does, your VPN may not be able to protect this address."  

The use of VPNs has become more popular in the United States in recent years as well. A study released in June by Security.org, a security company, reported that 68% of American internet users (142 million) claim to use some type of free or paid VPN.  

With IPv6, however, the internet is evolving quickly, and so is online privacy. In 2008, just 0.14% of internet users accessed Google over IPv6. Today, more than 30% do. One of the top U.S. authorities on the issue, the federal chief information officer, has advised federal agencies to anticipate as much as 80% of their traffic could be on IPv6 systems by 2025.   

Three People Dead After Train Derailment in Scotland

7 hours 3 min ago

Officials in Scotland said three people died Wednesday and at least six others were injured when a passenger train derailed near the northeastern city of Stonehaven. 

The British Transport Police force said officers were notified of the accident about 9:40 a.m. local time. Initial investigators at the scene report the six-car train went off the track about 160 kilometers northeast of Edinburgh, with the locomotive and three cars sliding down an embankment. 

The full extent of the incident can be seen in aerial video from the scene, with one carriage lying on its side in a hilly, woodland area near the track. 

The British Broadcasting Company reports the train was traveling from Aberdeen to Glasgow when the derailment occurred. It reports six people were taken to a local hospital following the accident, but their injuries were not believed to be serious. 

British Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps spoke to reporters Wednesday, saying members of the Rail Accident Investigation Board were on their way to the scene.  

It is suspected that a landslide, caused by recent heavy rain in the area, contributed to the wreck. But Shapps stressed that it is still early in the investigation. 
 

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