The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, cut and hollowed out by hand into monolithic structures, have stood for almost 900 years, it is thought. Last year, however, the U.N. expressed “serious concern” for their future as Lalibela became a battleground in Ethiopia’s civil war. During the conflict, the town changed hands at least five times, among forces from the Tigray region and the federal government and allied militias. Beyene Abate is the chief receptionist at Lalibela’s Top 12 Hotel. He says the hotel was ransacked and used as a field hospital by forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front during the occupation. They were able to reopen only two weeks ago, after the cleanup. “The main problem is hydroelectric power, water supply. Even the road was not yet finished," Abate said. "The contract was with the Chinese people. They take all the machines, the TPLF soldiers. Because of that, many tourists are not coming here. Just a few tourists came by airplane.” It could have been worse. The hotel next door was hit by an Ethiopian government drone strike after TPLF forces occupied it, residents say. Inside that hotel, the windows have been blown out, shattered glass covers the floor, along with other debris. The town’s economy relies on Ethiopians’ pilgrimages and the international tourism that has sprung up around the churches. The combined effects of COVID-19 and the conflict mean visitor numbers have plummeted in the last two years. The town is struggling to recover. There is no electricity and access to water was severely affected. Dinku Fente, who sells souvenirs to tourists outside one of Lalibela’s churches, says earning a living under the TPLF was tough. Fente said the war totally froze his business, explaining that, during the conflict, no one even dared to try to sell souvenirs and religious books at the market because they were too scared. "The TPLF soldiers would steal any money you made anyway, so we chose to just stay away,” he added. Local tour guide Ayalew Abey said his business shut down during the conflict too. Now, he is finding it nearly impossible to recover. Abey said, "Before this case happened, almost every two, three days there was the chance to work as a tour guide. But, for the last three years, nothing at all. All the things are blocked or closed. No one is working properly here. Lazare Eloundou Assomo, an official with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said the agency plans to support the city of Lalibela. Assomo said, “Our major concern is the communities who are living at the site, who are caring about the site, who are caring about this important world heritage site, to manage the site and continue using it the way they have been using it, the way they have been doing since many, many centuries.” According to Assomo, a UNESCO delegation is due to visit Lalibela at the end of the month to assess the type of support that is needed.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered a nationwide lockdown Thursday to try to contain a highly transmissible variant of coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which was confirmed in the country this week for the first time. The official Korean Central News Agency said genetic sequencing analysis of samples collected from a group of people on Sunday in Pyongyang had identified the BA.2 strain, also known as the “stealth omicron” for its relative difficulty of detection. While calling the situation a “most critical emergency,” the report did not say how many infections had been confirmed nor how many people had been tested. North Korea has maintained a strict border closure since February 2020 and instituted its own quarantine measures amid the pandemic, which have now officially been breached. BA.2 became the world’s dominant strain in March, the World Health Organization said. It was also responsible for driving up infections in South Korea to highs unseen before. In late April, North Korea closed its rail line into China’s border city of Dandong after it registered a spike in COVID-19 cases. The detection of omicron and Pyongyang’s public admission of it came as North Korea remains one of the last remaining countries yet to run a vaccination program for its 26 million people. And given that its medical system still significantly lags behind those of its Asian neighbors, observers say it appeared unlikely that Pyongyang would shift from its yearslong stance of rejecting vaccine help and stick to its only allowable option of a border closure. 'A most serious emergency' Kim was seen wearing a mask for the first time at an early morning politburo meeting, which he took off only when addressing his masked aides. He ordered a “thorough lockdown” in all cities and counties, KCNA said Thursday. He directed businesses and construction projects to continue to operate but in isolation to “perfectly block" the spread of the virus. “They only have one option: simply lock down their country and try to prevent the spread of the omicron virus,” Park Won-gon, professor of North Korea studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told VOA. “Because North Korea doesn’t have simple medicines, much less a medical system comparable to other countries, even if they had the vaccines, they would not be able to stop omicron.” Park doesn’t think North Korea will be looking to solicit vaccines from outside parties; what it really wants is a simple cure, which the world has yet to develop more than two years into the pandemic. North Korea will institute draconian measures to those of its biggest ally, China, if not even more severe, Park predicted. Based on several studies conducted on the contingency of North Korea, Park said, there was a single scenario that would incite a people’s uprising, and possibly the regime’s collapse: a pandemic paired with extreme economic difficulty. “That is why, for more than two years, North Korea has been very sensitive and serious about this pandemic, even at the deep economic cost of closing its border with China.” Extended impact North Korea is already dealing with a difficult rice planting season, an important time on the socialist state’s calendar, challenged by droughtlike conditions and a shortage of necessities such as fertilizer. Even prior to the pandemic's official entrance to the country, the state had relocated office workers and laborers to its agricultural regions to assist in building trenches for water transport, according to the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun. The movement restrictions set to be enacted could complicate the effort, Park said, in a country that has chronically experienced the shortage of food. “It will definitely have a huge negative impact on their food supply in the near future.” Still, Kim, in Thursday’s politburo meeting, said more dangerous than the virus were “unscientific fear, lack of faith and weak will” as he expressed confidence in the people’s ability to organize and get behind a cause.
Police in Pakistan said Thursday that a bomb blast in the southern city of Karachi killed at least one person and wounded 13 others. An improvised explosive device planted on a motorcycle went off just before midnight in the busy Saddar commercial area of the port city, said police and hospital officials. The victims were mostly passersby. The bombing was apparently targeting a van carrying Pakistani maritime security forces. The blast damaged several vehicles, including the van, and two of the security personnel were injured. Karachi Police Chief Ghulam Nabi Memon told local media an investigation into the attack was underway. There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack. Last month, a female suicide bomber wearing a burqa blew herself up near a van carrying Chinese teachers in Karachi, the capital of the southern Sindh province. The ensuing blast killed three foreigners and their Pakistani driver. An outlawed insurgent group known as the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) took responsibility for the deadly bombing at the entrance to the Karachi university campus. BLA militants have been waging insurgent attacks against Pakistani security forces in the southwestern Baluchistan province but lately have extended their violent activities to Karachi, the country’s commercial center. Pakistan and the United States list the BLA as a terrorist organization.
A court in Afghanistan has sentenced a journalist to one year in prison on charges that free press advocates say included criticism of the Taliban government in his social media posts and "espionage." A Taliban spokesman said he was sentenced for “criminal misconduct.” Khalid Qaderi, a poet and reporter with Radio Nowruz in the western Afghan city of Herat, has been in custody since his arrest in mid-March. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) alleged in a statement issued Thursday that he was tried and sentenced last week by a Taliban military court, something the Taliban denied. The IFJ said the young Afghan journalist was accused of posting content critical of the Taliban, including his radio broadcasts, on Facebook. It quoted Qaderi telling the court, "I realized my errors, and I deleted the posts from my Facebook page." The IFJ denounced what it said was "the arbitrary sentencing" and urged the Islamist Taliban to cease their persecution of journalists for their independent reportage. This would be the first reported case of a journalist being tried by a military court since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last August. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Thursday confirmed the sentencing of the journalist but insisted Qaderi's arrest had nothing to do with his "journalistic work," nor was he tried by a military court. Mujahid claimed while speaking to VOA’s Afghan Service that a "civil" court in Herat had imposed the sentence on Qaderi for "criminal misconduct." The spokesman did not elaborate. "Under Taliban rule," the IFJ said, “Afghan journalists have continued to face draconian restrictions, threats to freedom and arbitrary arrests.” The group called for the Taliban to immediately release the journalist from prison. The Taliban insist they support media activities in Afghanistan within the law, but an estimated 1,000 journalists have fled the country since the Islamist group returned to power almost nine months ago, citing threats, harsh restrictions on media and economic upheavals. Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a report issued Thursday that the Taliban continue to persecute religious minorities and punish Afghans in accordance with the group's extreme interpretation of Islamic law or Sharia. "The Taliban takeover and U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 led to a mass exodus, heightened by a violent crackdown on civil society, targeted killings, beatings and detentions, severe restrictions on women's rights, diminished local media presence, and an increase in violent, targeted attacks claimed by Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K)," the U.S. government entity said. The USCIRF monitors the conditions of refugees who have fled severe violations of religious freedom and the U.S. government's policy responses. Women's rights Last week, the Taliban government decreed that women must fully cover their faces and bodies when in public, ideally with the traditional all-covering burqa, in one of the harshest restrictions the Islamist group has imposed on Afghan women since seizing power. The edict advised women to leave their homes only in cases of necessity and warned that violations could lead to the punishment of their male relatives. The move drew widespread international condemnation and demands for its reversal. The Taliban defended the female dress code, saying it is in line with Islamic and Afghan traditions. The group also has not yet allowed secondary schoolgirls to resume classes, ignoring domestic and international demands to lift the ban. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said Thursday that its chief, Deborah Lyons, in a series of meetings with Taliban leaders this week, called on them to respect and ensure women's fundamental rights. "The international community's ability to engage with the Taliban as credible actors requires them to make good on commitments for all girls to return to school, as well as to ensure women can work, access basic services and have free movement without impediments," UNAMA wrote on Twitter.
An infant formula shortage that began several months ago is reaching crisis proportions in the United States, as a combination of supply chain problems and a major recall are making it difficult or impossible for many parents to secure the product. The shortage has prompted retailers to limit the amount of formula that individuals can buy, in order to deter hoarding. It has also placed enormous strain on social services programs such as the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known by the acronym WIC. "The unprecedented scope of this infant formula recall has serious consequences for babies and new parents," Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association, said in a statement provided to VOA. "Assurances from manufacturers that production has ramped up have not yet translated to new product on the shelf. Each day that this crisis continues, parents grow more anxious and desperate to find what they need to feed their infants." Some health departments said that they had, with a few exceptions, been able to keep formula in stock for WIC recipients. In an email exchange with VOA, a District of Columbia health department spokesperson said, "Since the beginning of the national infant formula shortage, DC Health has been working with its WIC formula vendor, local retail stores, and its WIC grantees … to ensure all families receiving DC WIC benefits have continuous access to infant formula. While there have been spot shortages of infant formula in some stores, DC Health and its WIC grantee partners are assisting DC WIC families, and currently these families are able to purchase a range of infant formulas using their WIC benefits." A crisis with multiple causes The baby formula supply started to become unsteady in the second half of 2021, according to Datasembly, a firm that tracks sales at grocery and retail stores. In the first half of last year, out-of-stock rates for infant formula held steady, between 2% and 8%, the company found. As the year went on, however, the rates began climbing, ending the year at over 15%. The growing scarcity in the U.S. was primarily attributed to various supply chain woes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Rates climbed sharply in February, after Abbott, one of the three companies that produce virtually all infant formula in the U.S., announced a voluntary recall of its products after discovering dangerous bacteria in one of its manufacturing plants. The Abbott plant was shut down, and as of Thursday, it still had not received permission to begin production again. By the beginning of April, Datasembly was reporting out-of-stock rates above 30%. At the end of last week, the rate had leaped to 43%. Few import options When U.S. domestic production of crucial goods is disrupted, market participants' natural reaction is to import foreign-made goods to satisfy demand. But with infant formula, it's not that simple. Food and Drug Administration rules covering infant formula are so strict that almost all foreign-made formula cannot be legally sold in the U.S. That includes formula that meets standards for sale in the European Union and in developed countries such as Canada and Mexico. Abbott, which has an FDA-certified manufacturing facility in Ireland, has been air-shipping formula from the country daily, but the volume has not been meeting the need. Increasing production difficult Converting other food-manufacturing facilities to produce infant formula is not feasible because it poses an unacceptable health risk, the FDA said in a statement. "It's important to understand that only facilities experienced in and already making essentially complete nutrition products are in the position to produce infant formula product that would not pose significant health risks to consumers," the agency said. The FDA is aware that parents nationwide are struggling, Commissioner Robert M. Califf said in a statement. "We are doing everything in our power to ensure there is adequate product available where and when they need it," he said. "Ensuring the availability of safe, sole-source nutrition products like infant formula is of the utmost importance to the FDA. Our teams have been working tirelessly to address and alleviate supply issues and will continue doing everything within our authority to ensure the production of safe infant formula products." White House announces actions On Thursday, the White House announced the administration of President Joe Biden was taking several steps to alleviate the crisis. The administration said it would work with states to loosen the rules WIC participants follow when buying formula. The program usually requires them to use WIC funds to buy specific kinds of formula, and in packages of a specific volume. Easing those rules will help reduce the stress on many families, the administration said. The White House said it would ask the Federal Trade Commission to "crack down" on any businesses taking advantage of the shortage to raise prices to "unfair" levels. Finally, the administration said that in the coming days, the FDA would announce steps to make it easier to import infant formula from other countries. Congress gets involved In Congress, Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Wednesday that his committee would investigate the formula shortage this month. "The focus of this hearing will be on better understanding the causes of the shortage, what has been done to increase production and supply thus far, and what more still needs to be done to ensure access to safe formula across the nation," Pallone said. While Pallone praised the Biden administration's actions, the top Republican on the committee, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, criticized the White House for its slow response. "We are asking the questions. We've been raising the alarm to President Biden for months," she said. "We've been seeing the empty shelves. We've been seeing the rising cost on families." She added, "On behalf of every parent and caregiver who is unsure as to whether they will be able to feed their children, we need answers and we need accountability." Structural problems Some people involved in the WIC program question the wisdom of allowing a system to persist in which only a few companies supply something as vital as infant formula. They also question the tactics of infant formula manufacturers, who provide free samples to new mothers, which many see as discouraging breastfeeding. "As a country, we must take a hard look at how we got to this moment," said Dittmeier of the National WIC Association. "The infant formula industry is highly concentrated, with only three companies bidding for contracts in the WIC space," he said. "For decades, this small number of manufacturers have been allowed to target new parents in hospitals and other settings, undermining public health efforts to promote breastfeeding. "These tactics are abetted by policies that do not support new mothers in sustaining breastfeeding, including the more than 9 million women who work in jobs that do not have statutory protections for nursing or pumping." He added, "Every day, we hear from parents who are hurt, angry, anxious and scared. The lives of their infants are on the line. It is time for answers and accountability as we all work to improve the supply and ease the worries of parents enduring this national crisis."
The Biden administration and ASEAN leaders have agreed to put out an empty chair to represent Myanmar’s overthrown civilian government during the two-day U.S.-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Special Summit that President Joe Biden is hosting in Washington, a National Security Council spokesperson confirmed to VOA. Myanmar will be “a subject of intense deliberation” throughout the meetings and the empty chair reflects “dissatisfaction with what’s taken place and our hope for a better path forward,” another senior administration official said. Administration officials have expressed frustrations that despite ASEAN's adoption of a “Five Point Consensus” peace plan last year, the junta continues its human rights violations. The United States is supporting various proposals, including for ASEAN to open informal channels with Myanmar’s so-called National Unity Government (NUG) in exile. The plan, proposed initially by Malaysia, was quickly condemned by the ruling junta. “We continue to look at Burma with deep concern given the escalating violence there,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jung Pak told VOA on Wednesday. “We have continued to work with our ASEAN friends to figure out a path for Burma to return to democracy. So, we welcome any proposals, and we continue to work with all stakeholders.” The Five-Point Consensus has failed largely because ASEAN has so far engaged only with Myanmar’s junta, said Gregory B. Poling, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “NUG affiliated forces and ethnic armed organizations are winning the fight and control much of the country, so not engaging with them is getting more absurd by the day,” Poling told VOA. U.S. State Department officials are meeting with NUG representatives during the summit. Summit dilemma Beyond Myanmar, the summit reflects the dilemma Biden is facing as he seeks to balance America’s interests in countering Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific with his administration’s focus on human rights and democracy. At a White House dinner for ASEAN leaders later Thursday, Biden is expected to play the role of gracious host to the rotating chair of the group, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose almost four-decade rule has been marked by corruption, repression and violence. He is spared from breaking bread with members of the Myanmar military that toppled the civilian government last year; the junta did not send anyone to the summit following U.S. and ASEAN demands that it send only nonpolitical representatives. Other ASEAN leaders also bring their own sets of challenges when it comes to U.S. promotion of democracy. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the ruling monarch of Brunei, has been in power since 1967. Thailand Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha won elections in 2019 after seizing power through a military coup in 2014. Laos and Vietnam are repressive one-party authoritarian states. Even in democratic Indonesia, there are rumors that President Joko Widodo is quietly condoning efforts to change the constitution to allow himself a third term. Meanwhile, lame-duck Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is not attending; he will soon be replaced by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of one of Asia’s most notorious dictators. Activists are pointing out that by inviting these leaders the Biden administration is sending a message that the U.S. will tolerate human rights violations in the name of forging alliances to counter China. “One of the lasting images of this U.S.-ASEAN summit is going to be President Biden standing next to human rights abusers from Asia,” Sarah Jaeger, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, told VOA. “Now, he can mitigate that a little bit by calling out those human rights abuses in Cambodia and other places – Vietnam. But so far, we haven't seen that kind of very clear message from this White House.” Human Rights Watch says having these leaders at the White House stands in contrast with the administration’s goal of an “affirmative agenda for democratic renewal” set forth during the Summit for Democracy that Biden hosted virtually last year. “The summit’s goals will not be achievable without directly addressing the region’s worsening human rights environment and democratic backsliding — not just the 2021 coup in Myanmar but also the deterioration of democratic institutions in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, and the fact that Vietnam, Laos, Brunei and Cambodia are not democratic at all,” the rights group said in a letter to Biden ahead of the summit. Other observers point that the summit provides a useful platform for Biden to engage with leaders who have questionable human rights records. “It is unviable for President Biden to host Prime Minister Hun Sen at the White House or a bilateral meeting,” said Brian Harding, an expert on Southeast Asia at the United States Institute for Peace. “But at least they can engage talking about things that they might be able to agree on in this multilateral setting.” Ahead of the summit, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced a Senate resolution last week calling on ASEAN to prioritize democracy, human rights and good governance “in light of concerning democratic backsliding occurring in Southeast Asia.” However, some observers say the U.S. should be careful of pushing ASEAN too hard considering last year’s challenges to Biden’s own electoral victory over Donald Trump and the attempted insurrection by the former president’s supporters. “Sanctimony about democratic backsliding when the U.S. is barely a year out from the Capitol insurrection will make many roll their eyes,” Poling of CSIS said. $150 million initiatives The administration announced over $150 million in initiatives during the summit on Thursday that they said would “deepen U.S.-ASEAN relations, strengthen ASEAN centrality and expand our common capacity to achieve our shared objectives.” On Thursday, ASEAN leaders met with a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers for a working lunch. They were to meet with American business leaders and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai at an event sponsored by the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council before a White House dinner hosted by Biden. The summit continues Friday at the White House and State Department, where Biden will be joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Colored marker stones placed on either side of a small river – blue and white for Finland, red and green for Russia – are all that separate the two countries in the windswept fields of the South Karelia region. The border stretches 1,340 kilometers from the Baltic Sea to the Arctic, much of it sparsely populated, frozen wilderness. For decades, the two countries have enjoyed peaceful relations, founded on Finland's post-World War II policy of neutrality and nonalignment. But this simple border could soon become be a frontier between East and West: a geopolitical fault line. Finland's government said Thursday that the country should immediately apply to join NATO in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, upending a cornerstone of Finnish foreign policy in the space of a few weeks. Finnish lawmakers are set to vote on the issue in the coming days before an expected official application for NATO membership next week, in what is likely to be a joint bid with Sweden. Finland's admission into the alliance is likely to be a formality. It would create by far the longest land border between NATO and Russia. Moscow has threatened what it calls a "military technical response" if Finland joins the alliance. There are fears the border could become a flashpoint. "Could Russia then try to take a playbook of, say, Georgia, and try to create some kind of frozen conflict, invade a small part of Finland with the very few forces it has left? Certainly, it could try, but Finland has prepared for this militarily," Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs told VOA. For now, there is no visible military presence on the Finnish side, and little to indicate the emergence of any new Cold War Iron Curtain. Impact unknown Finnish border guard Captain Jussi Pekkala oversees operations at the Vaalimaa crossing point. "We don't know what will happen and how the situation will change between our countries. But at this time the situation is calm, and border traffic is flowing smoothly," he told VOA on a recent visit to the frontier. When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Pekkala said, there was a brief increase in crossings. "We had a lot of persons fleeing from Russia. Of course, Europeans, Americans. Actually, we had like 52 nationalities coming." Now cross-border traffic is running at just 10% of normal levels. Russia's Sputnik coronavirus vaccine is not approved in the European Union, so most Russians have not been able to enter the bloc for the past two years. Europe has not introduced travel restrictions on Russian visitors since the Ukraine invasion — but Finland's bid to join NATO could choke off the remaining trickle of visitors as tensions increase. The decline has hurt the regional economy. Frontier shopping malls selling luxury European brands to Russian consumers lie eerily empty. Kimmo Jarva, the mayor of Lappeenranta, the biggest town in the region and a popular destination for visiting Russians, said the impact has been significant. "We are used to cooperation with Russians. Here, for example, more than 3,000 Russian-speaking inhabitants are living here. Almost 2 million Russians were coming every year to this area. But now very few tourists are coming here. And we have estimated that we are losing 1 million euros ($1.04 million) every day because of this situation," Jarva said. Much of what happens at the border will depend on Russia and its reaction to Finland's NATO membership bid. The chill of rapidly worsening relations between East and West is keenly felt on this frontier. Mari-Leena Kuosa contributed to this report.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Jerome Powell to a second term as head of the Federal Reserve, as the central bank fights to crush soaring inflation. The 80-19 vote came amid inflation that has hit a 40-year high, fueled by the conflict in Ukraine and ensuing sanctions imposed on Russia, as well as COVID-19 restrictions in China that have raised concerns the global supply snarls may worsen. Powell continued at the helm of the central bank after his first four-year term officially expired February 4. His confirmation was delayed by the battle to approve Lisa Cook to join the Fed board, the first Black woman to serve in the post, who was confirmed on Tuesday with only Democratic votes. The vote on Powell came the day after the upper house of Congress approved the nomination of Philip Jefferson of Davidson College, marking the first time the Fed board has had more than one Black governor. Biden pleased President Joe Biden, whose popularity has taken a hit from the soaring inflation and record gasoline prices, has repeatedly said that tackling the issue is primarily a job for the Fed. "I am pleased to see the Senate take a step forward on my agenda to get inflation under control by confirming my nominees to the Fed," he said in a statement after the vote. Powell, a Republican, enjoyed broad bipartisan support, but also bipartisan opposition. Six Democrats voted against him, including progressive Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Powell, who first joined the Fed board in 2012, led the central bank as it slashed the benchmark interest rate to zero at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and pumped money into the financial system to prevent a severe downturn in the world's largest economy. Now he is overseeing efforts to cool price pressures impacting American families. The Fed last week announced its largest rate hike since 2000 and signaled similar increases were likely in the coming months. Fed's challenge The challenge for Powell and the Fed is to turn down the heat on inflation without tipping the United States into recession, but he has expressed confidence that the economy is strong enough to withstand the tighter monetary policy. With the latest additions, the Fed board will be just one short of its full complement of seven governors. The Senate last month confirmed longtime Fed governor Lael Brainard as vice chair of the board. In his statement, Biden urged the Senate to confirm his final nominee, Michael Barr, as vice chair for supervision. The president's first pick for the role of top Fed banking cop, Sarah Bloom Raskin, withdrew her name from consideration in March when it became clear she would not have sufficient support. She had previously won bipartisan approval for senior roles at the Fed and Treasury but faced opposition from Republicans and from a key Democratic lawmaker over her stance on climate change issues in banking supervision. Jefferson and Cook, a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University, each have researched inequality in the labor market. Powell has repeatedly stressed the importance of ensuring economic opportunities extend to disadvantaged groups, a notable change of focus in an economy where Black workers face far higher unemployment rates than other racial groups. Jefferson is only the fourth Black man to serve as a Fed governor.
Fisher House: 'Home Away From Home' When Medical Needs Arise > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department Newsby Terri Moon Cronk, 4 days ago
For 32 years, more than 430,000 U.S. service members, veterans and their families have made a Fisher House their home away from home during lengthy hospital stays and short-term outpatient care — all free of charge.
Get a ground-level look at the workings of America’s biggest port. What has caused supply shortages around the world, and what is being done to fix it, on The Inside Story-Broken Supply Chains.
Maria Lilly Delgado never wanted to leave Nicaragua. As a veteran reporter, she had covered human rights in her beleaguered country for decades. And Delgado had an important side gig, too, training other journalists for a prominent foundation. But last May, state prosecutors hauled her in twice for questioning in a politically tainted case, then slapped her with a travel ban – a sign of trouble to come. Delgado had to act. “Just because I demanded the right to attend with a lawyer on my side, the prosecution office changed my status from a witness to being investigated,” Delgado told VOA. “It has been one of the most difficult decisions in my life. You don't want to leave the country you love, the job you love and everything that you love. “But it was about my freedom.” The freedom Delgado prized, however, is a disappearing if not completely vanished concept in Nicaragua, where de facto dictator Daniel Ortega has crushed political opposition and taken sweeping measures to wipe out independent or opposition media. The result has been a massive exodus of Nicaraguan journalists. More than 120 have left the country in the last four years, rights groups say, under forced media closures, economic pressures and the regime’s repressive “foreign agents” and fake news laws. Nicaragua today is one of the world’s worst places for press freedom, according to the Paris watchdog group Reporters Without Borders – ranked 160 out of 180 countries and territories in the group’s new 2022 report. And it’s not only journalists who are fleeing. “Emigration has increased exponentially,” RSF said in its report. “The state of mind within Nicaragua is a mixture of fear of repression and hopelessness, with countless young people expressing their desire to leave the country on social networks.” The émigré reporters Delgado, 49, now lives in the United States. Her transformation to émigré reporter reflects a phenomenon that goes beyond just Nicaragua, mirroring the circumstances in Russia, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Belarus and other territories where autocrats rule. Delgado has reported in Nicaragua for more than 25 years, and she said the media climate in Nicaragua has always been hostile, though more intensely so since 2018. As a correspondent for the U.S.-based Spanish-language Univision network, she always had to look over her shoulder on the streets of Managua, the capital. “You wouldn’t know what could happen to you, because the riot police and paramilitary forces were everywhere,” she said. “They would make themselves visible to intimidate us and those we were interviewing.” Exile brings different challenges. Delgado co-founded the website Huellas De Impunidad (Traces of Impunity) shortly before leaving and continues reporting for the site, which specializes in documenting human rights abuses. Working from the U.S., though, adds the burden of distance. “As risky as it was, when I was in the country, it was easy for me to get first sources for my stories,” she said. “But now, I have to chase four or sometimes even more sources to confirm one story. The process is much longer and obviously harder.” She feels an added duty to explain what’s happened to her profession. “Since the same thing is happening to journalists in places like Russia, Hong Kong, Venezuela and Cuba, the international community should understand what is happening to journalists in Nicaragua and find ways to help them.” Interview as evidence Another Nicaraguan journalist, Cindy Regidor, is a reporter and editor with Confidencial, which presents a daily video report broadcast on YouTube and other social media. Regidor moved to Costa Rica of her own volition, but many of her colleagues were forced to join her there after the site’s offices were ransacked by the police last May. Fear of reprisal makes it dangerous for people inside Nicaragua to open up. “The hardest part right now is that sometimes we have different sources that can confirm that something is happening, but none of them are willing to go public about it or go on the record,” said Regidor, 33. “It’s even harder for our TV show because some people are like, ‘OK, I can give you this interview but only for the text version – I don't want to go on video,’ because it entails a great risk for them,” Regidor said. So, protecting sources has become a top priority, particularly after Maria Oviedo, a prominent human rights activist, was jailed after appearing on Regidor’s show. “She was arrested a week after we hosted her on our programming, where she talked about human rights abuses in Nicaragua,” Regidor said. “The court used the interview as evidence against Maria Oviedo. It was very hard.” Oviedo has been accused by the government with the crime of spreading false news, a charge denied by her lawyers. Rights groups say she is one of at least 170 political prisoners, including journalists, in Nicaragua. The politics of news Politics and journalism have long been intertwined in Nicaragua. In Delgado’s case, the interrogations that led to her departure were related to the case of journalist and former presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro, director of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy. The foundation, which champions free speech, is named after Chamorro’s mother, herself a former president. Cristiana Chamorro and two foundation staffers were also covered by the same travel ban as Delgado and were arrested last June. Delgado had been a consultant to the foundation since 2020, training young journalists on audiovisual reporting as well as journalism ethics. “I don’t understand why they included me in this repressive measure along with Cristiana and the other two staff members because I was just a media consultant with the foundation, not a staff member,” she said. Ortega’s drive to eliminate virtually all opposition or critical voices ahead of last November’s election may explain it. Ortega won a fourth presidential term, although the voting was widely declared a sham. In March, another in a series of critical reports by the United Nations’ human rights monitors alleged a pervasive “pattern of serious violations of civil and political rights” aimed at politicians, journalists, rights activists and civil society groups. In August, the government refused to provide newsprint to 95-year-old La Prensa, the country’s major opposition paper, forcing it to stop publication except online. Police then raided La Prensa’s offices, arresting the paper’s manager, Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro, a cousin of Cristina Chamorro. In March, he was sentenced to nine years in prison on disputed allegations of money laundering. Over the years, a number of influential media outlets, including Regidor’s Confidencial, have been connected with the Chamorro family. The Chamorros have opposed Ortega’s rule since 2007, when he returned to power a second time. Cristiana Chamorro also was sentenced in March to eight years in prison for money laundering and other crimes, which she denies. The power of law A government cybercrime law, passed in October 2020, makes it illegal to propagate fake news, although the law doesn’t specify what is meant by the term. “So essentially, anytime independent media published anything and the government disagreed with it or it cast the government in a bad light, they would just say it's fake news and then imprison or fine the journalist who published it,” said Aliza Appelbaum, a senior director at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in Washington, D.C. “So, it essentially criminalized any sort of opposition reporting,” she told VOA. Later that October, the government unveiled a “foreign agent” law that makes it illegal for media outlets and civil society groups to take money from outside the country. “We had a partner organization that we worked with, and they had to shut down,” Appelbaum said. “A lot of other human rights organizations and [non-governmental organizations] in Nicaragua had to shut down, and this was all happening in the first part of 2021 as Ortega prepared to essentially rig the election in his favor.” The Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington did not respond to VOA’s request for comment. A shred of hope This was the environment Delgado confronted last May, when prosecutors called. “In Nicaragua, there is a cocktail of repressive measures,” she said. “The government can use administrative pressure, judicial pressure. It can attack independent media and journalists using the police or paramilitary forces.” After the government froze her bank account, Delgado decided to leave even if it did violate the travel ban. For security reasons, Delgado declined to share details about how she left her country and asked VOA not to reveal her whereabouts in the United States. While she continues to adjust to her new life in America, Delgado remains hopeful. “I left a whole life behind,” she said, “my family, friends, and a long career in journalism. My hope is to return to them at some point.” Feedback? Tips? Write to Sirwan Kajjo, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canadian energy experts see the global spike in oil prices – exacerbated by the war in Ukraine – as a two-edged sword, spurring a rush to develop renewable energy sources while simultaneously encouraging increased production of environmentally damaging fossil fuels. For Canada, a major energy exporter with the potential to fill part of the gap created by the broadening boycott of Russian energy sources, the balancing act is especially delicate. The left-leaning government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to make major investments in renewable energy. But the country is also home to the Alberta tar sands, described by National Geographic magazine as “the world's most destructive oil operation." Speaking in Vancouver in late March, Trudeau announced a plan to spend $9.1 billion by 2030 to reduce carbon emissions through support for electric vehicles, energy-efficient homes and vehicles, wind and solar projects, support for sustainable farming and other measures. “The leaders I spoke with in Europe over the past few weeks were clear,” Trudeau told reporters at the time. “They don’t just want to end their dependence on Russian oil and gas, they want to accelerate the energy transformation to clean and green power. “The whole world is focusing on clean energy and Canada cannot afford not to do that,” he said. But Trudeau’s long-term ambition may be complicated in the short term by the rising demand for oil from Canada – the world’s fourth largest exporter – and a renewed interest in the Alberta tar sands, which have become more profitable than they have been for years. The environmental group Greenpeace Canada last year called for a halt to development of the heavy and hard-to-extract bitumen, saying, “The world can’t afford to expand the Alberta tar sands, not if we want to preserve this planet for future generations.” And with world oil prices as low as $50 a barrel in recent years, many producers had in fact shelved plans to expand production, mainly because of high start-up costs that made the effort unprofitable. But with current prices topping $100 a barrel, the heavy sludge is suddenly much more appealing. “It is certainly true that higher oil prices will increase interest in all oil resources, including the Canadian oil sands,” said Mark Finley, a former manager and analyst with an energy focus at the CIA. He is currently with Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “Moreover, a growing interest in resilient supply chains and what U.S. Treasury Secretary [Janet] Yellen has called ‘friend-shoring’ will also work to the advantage of Canadian producers,” Finley said in an interview. Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, an expert with the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, said it is “too soon to tell” what impact the war in Ukraine will have on energy investment in Canada. “We're not seeing a lot of investment into new fossil fuel projects at this point, but that could change if the war drags on and prices stay high.” Mertins-Kirkwood said industry announcements show “that investment in fossil fuels is up this year. That's mainly due to rising oil prices, which started last year but really picked up after the Russian invasion.” “Specifically, oil companies in Canada are intensifying production, which means they're trying to get more oil out of existing projects to take advantage of the current price environment.” On the green energy side, Mertins-Kirkwood suggested the Trudeau government’s spending plans fall far short of what its own calculations show will be needed to reach its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The most recent federal budget says Canada will need to between $125 billion and $140 billion of investment every year to reach that goal, he said, far beyond the current rate of investment in the climate transition of $15 billion to $25 billion. But Finley said the Trudeau administration’s green ambitions are not necessarily in conflict with the renewed interest in Alberta’s tar sands. “The outcome of this situation, I think, could be both more investment in oil and gas, and an accelerated interest in pursuing the transition [to renewable energy],” he said. “In that sense, there should be common ground to be found between the government in Ottawa and government/industry in Alberta. Finley noted that Canada is a natural partner for other Western countries as it belongs to many of the same key institutions, including the International Energy Agency, NATO and OECD, as well as being a major energy exporter. “As the United States and Europe focus on diversifying supplies away from Russia, what kind of countries are likely to be perceived as reliable partners?” he asked. “Canada would certainly be high on the list.”
Jordan's King Meets With U.S. Security Leaders > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department Newsby Jim Garamone, 4 days ago
Even with all that is happening in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East remains a source of concern for the United States and its partners in the region.
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Analysts say plans by Guinea’s transitional military government to prosecute former president Alpha Condé and 26 of his top officials will likely be marred by doubts over the fairness of their trials. A 2019 Afrobarometer survey revealed that over 90% of Guineans consider the judiciary to be corrupt. Additionally, Jesper Bjarnesen, a senior researcher at Denmark-based Nordic Africa Institute, told VOA that this trial is arguably a diversion. ''There are legitimate charges against the former president,” he said, but added ''I think that a transitional government has the primary task to work towards free and fair elections.'' As for judicial credibility, Bjarnesen said, “I am not sure that a temporary transitional government is the best facilitator of a legal process against the former president” and his cadre. ''There might be room for reconstitution of the judiciary with the military takeover, but that's still a very slim hope in a system where there's systematic abuse of power,” Bjarnesen said. “What's more likely,” he said, “is that you'll have new people in power making use of a dysfunctional system.” Condé was ousted by the military last year and placed under house arrest, which the military regime lifted on April 22. But it’s clear he is not free to leave the country. Charges filed against Conde and the others include acts of violence while in office, complicity in murder, and assault to destruction of property. Other charges include detention, torture, rapes, kidnapping, disappearances, other sexual abuse, and looting. Alix Boucher, at the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies, told VOA she doubts the interest of the military junta in ''upholding justice',” noting that the junta’s suspension of the constitution since the September 2021 coup would make such trials “highly ironic.'' Guineans are “still waiting for those responsible for the massacre and mass rapes committed by the previous junta at the stadium in Conakry in September 2009 to be prosecuted,” she added. “The lack of confidence that such trials would be free and fair reflects Guinea’s weak legacy of independent oversight institutions, even under Condé.'' Boucher said that the junta’s timeline for prosecuting Condé and the 26 others suggests it is set on hanging onto power. The military recently said it needed 39 months to transition back to civilian rule, refuting demands by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to do it much sooner. “Such pronouncements [by the military regime] lack credibility and obscure the essential takeaway that the junta has no plans to relinquish power on its own,” Boucher said. Guinea has a long legacy of military and authoritarian governments. But 77% of Guineans prefer democracy to any other regime and want two-term limits for the presidency, according to the Afrobarometer survey. ''Therefore, the junta’s aim to hold power is a direct effort to undermine Guinean’s deeply held aspirations for a democratic government,” Boucher said.
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U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday appealed to world leaders to step up efforts to respond to the next phase in the global pandemic, as the United States itself reaches a grim COVID-19 point – without the billions of dollars in emergency funding Biden has asked of Congress. “Today, we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States: one million COVID deaths,” Biden said in a pre-recorded message Thursday morning to attendees of the second U.S-led virtual COVID summit, co-hosted by Belize, Germany, Indonesia and Senegal. The U.S. has recorded about 82 million COVID cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimates of the total deaths vary, but as of Thursday Johns Hopkins University data said 999,009 deaths have been recorded. New U.S. cases and hospitalizations have been rising in recent weeks, but the number of deaths has stayed relatively low, at around 300 per day, down from more than 3,000 per day back in February. Biden added, “Around the world, many more millions have died. Millions of children have been orphaned, with thousands still dying every day. Now is the time for us to act. All of us together. We all must do more, must honor those we have lost by doing everything we can to prevent as many deaths as possible.” The U.S. comes to this gathering without a commitment from Congress for the $5 billion in global funding that Biden has asked for: a fact that Germany’s leader seemed to highlight in his introductory comments. “So what is needed?” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said. “The short answer is ‘money.’” Money, indeed, is the main focus of this gathering of leaders. Scholz pledged $885 million dollars to global COVID efforts on Thursday. Other wealthy nations announced new commitments, with Italy pledging $208 million to the global Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator; South Korea pledging $300 million to that initiative; and South Africa pledging to donate 5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to other African nations. Vice President Kamala Harris appealed to the U.S. Congress to approve the White House’s funding requests. “We have called upon the United States Congress for $22.5 billion dollars in additional emergency funding to battle COVID,” she said. “Five billion dollars of that would be dedicated to continue our leadership and helping to save lives around the world. We will continue to advocate for these life-saving resources as part of our global commitment.” Co-host President Macky Sall of Senegal said Africa has so far managed to avoid the dire predictions at the beginning of the pandemic, because of strong continental leadership. “In Africa, we have been able to remain resilient in the face of COVID-19 with relatively few positive cases and deaths compared to the rest of the world, whereas the worst was feared,” he said. “Our countries have adopted response strategies, each within their means. We have also coordinated our ongoing efforts at the continental level under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa with the support of the African Union Commission and Africa CDC,” referring to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health experts, however, have questioned whether Africa’s true death toll has been seriously underreported. “The numbers are so staggeringly different that arguments about demographic or health advantages are no longer plausible in explaining the gap,” write demographic and health experts Toshido Kaneda and Lori Ashford of the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau. “Rather, COVID-19 cases and deaths in sub-Saharan Africa appear to be vastly undercounted.” What the US is doing – and what it isn’t Biden said that the U.S. is continuing to fight the pandemic by sharing U.S government-developed COVID-19 technologies with the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. And, he said, the U.S. will start a pilot program with the Global Fund to expand access to rapid testing and antiviral treatments. A senior administration official told reporters on the eve of the summit that the U.S. has a three-point plan: first, to prevent complacency as new variants continue to emerge; second, to prevent deaths by focusing on the most vulnerable; and third, to lay the groundwork to prevent future pandemics. The White House says it’s realistic about its main constraint. “I think we don’t want to sugarcoat it, that we need more money,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “We don’t have a plan B here.” She urged Congress to approve the funding, “because we’re going to exhaust our treatment supply, we’ll lose out to other countries on promising new treatments, we’ll lose our place in line for America to order new COVID vaccines, we’ll be unable to maintain our supply of COVID tests, and our effort to get — help lower-income countries get COVID vaccines into arms will stall, which is especially relevant given the international summit we’re hosting.” Absent from the summit, however, were two major vaccine developers – China and Russia. Russia attended the previous summit, in September; China has yet to attend the event. VOA asked a senior White House official why those two nations were not included. “In terms of whether Russia was invited: no, we did not extend a commitment ask to them,” he said. “And with other countries, we have extended and asked for a financial policy commitment.” He added, “We're finding amongst the countries, the companies, the philanthropies and the nonprofits that have committed to this effort that we've mobilized $3.1 billion dollars of financing towards the global fight. So it's clear other countries are stepping up to do their part.” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus delivered his organization’s four requests to summit attendees: “First, we call for a policy commitment to boost vaccination, testing and treatment in countries,” he said. “Second, we call for investment in local production. Third, we call for financial commitments to fully fund the ACT accelerator and WHO strategic preparedness readiness and response plan. And fourth, we call for political commitment to support the financial intermediary fund and the new architecture for global health security.” South Africa’s president warned that the real goal should be global, equitable action. “The threat of new waves and the emergence of new variants is ever present,” Ramaphosa said. “Because COVID-19 is not over yet.” Chris Hannas contributed to this report.
Contrary to the explicit goals of competitive racing, recreational runners prefer a low-effort pace—even for short distances.
A new study digs into how the term "white privilege" affects online communication. The findings show how important language is in talking about race online.
Ethical Behavior More Than Just Yearly Online Training > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department Newsby C. Todd Lopez, 4 days ago
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has drawn special attention to the topic of compliance with ethical standards in a recently released video that supports ongoing DOD efforts.
The world got a look Thursday at the first wild but fuzzy image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers believe nearly all galaxies, including our own, have these giant black holes at their center, where light and matter cannot escape, making it extremely hard to get images of them. Light gets chaotically bent and twisted around by gravity as it gets sucked into the abyss along with superheated gas and dust. The colorized image unveiled Thursday is from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope, a collection of eight synchronized radio telescopes around the world. Previous efforts had found the black hole in the center of our galaxy too jumpy to get a good picture. The University of Arizona's Feryal Ozel called the black hole "the gentle giant in the center of our galaxy" while announcing the new image. The Milky Way black hole is called Sagittarius A(asterisk), near the border of Sagittarius and Scorpius constellations. It is 4 million times more massive than our sun. This is not the first black hole image. The same group released the first one in 2019 and it was from a galaxy 53 million light-years away. The Milky Way black hole is much closer, about 27,000 light-years away. A light year is 9.5 trillion kilometers (5.9 trillion miles). The project cost nearly $60 million with $28 million coming from the U.S. National Science Foundation.
North Korea Thursday tested three short-range ballistic missiles, according to South Korea’s military, the second provocative act in a week and the first since Seoul inaugurated its new president two days ago. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said three short-range ballistic missiles were launched from Pyongyang’s Sunan area toward waters east of the Korean Peninsula, in what is the year’s 16th test. It put their flight distance at 360 kilometers and a maximum altitude of 90 kilometers. Japan’s coast guard identified an object that could be a ballistic missile at around 6:30 p.m., NHK reported, which appeared to have landed outside of Tokyo’s exclusive economic zone. The last ballistic missile the North sent up, on May 7, was a submarine-launched ballistic missile, Seoul officials said, acknowledging for the first time it likely was launched from a submarine. On Tuesday, South Korea inaugurated President Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative, who takes a more hawkish stance against North Korea than his liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, and has pledged a “principles-based” approach to dealing with the North. Yoon's presidential office strongly condemned Thursday's test fire as a "grave provocation", following its first National Security Office meeting. Earlier on Wednesday, South Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations Cho Hyun called for North Korea's “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” at a U.N. Security Council meeting on the recent missile tests, marking a return of a phrase that irritates Pyongyang. The latest missile test also comes as South Korea’s military has been beefing up coordination in advance of an anticipated nuclear test, which, if realized, would be its first since September 2017. Some North Korea watchers had surmised military activity could be put on pause for a time, given Pyongyang’s announced lockdown Thursday morning after confirming COVID-19 cases in the capital city for the first time. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month promised to strengthen the state’s nuclear weapons program “in quality and scale” during a nighttime military parade, reinforcing that its self-imposed moratorium on ICBM and nuclear testing was off.
Vulnerable teens who have a miscarriage are at increased risk for suicide, new shows.
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