California Voters to Decide Gig Economy’s Fate

Voters in California are deciding on an initiative that would keep people who work in the so-called gig economy as independent contractors, not employees. Michelle Quinn reports.
Camera: Matt Dibble and Deana Mitchell      Producer: Matt Dibble

your ad here

read more

‘Era of Pandemics’ to Intensify Without Transformative Change, Report Says

Ecological destruction and unsustainable consumption have entered humanity into an “era of pandemics,” according to a new report.”Without preventative strategies, pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, kill more people, and affect the global economy with more devastating impact than ever before,” says the report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a global expert body advising governments.The authors say roughly $50 billion per year in pandemic prevention would spare the world about $1 trillion per year on average in economic damage, not to mention the toll in human suffering.The report suggests ways to shift the focus to prevention, rather than trying to contain pandemics after they happen.SpilloverAs of July, COVID-19’s economic toll was at least $8 trillion and counting, the authors say.It’s just the latest costly emerging infectious disease, following HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Zika, H1N1 swine flu and others.All of these deadly diseases originated in animals before “spilling over” into humans. Nearly three-quarters of all emerging diseases have animal origins. And there are hundreds of thousands more possibly infectious viruses that have not been discovered yet, the report notes.But don’t blame the animals. The rate of spillover has increased because of human activities.COVID-19 is a prime example of the problem, the authors say. The coronavirus that causes the disease likely emerged from bats in China, where expanding human populations are increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitat. It probably spread through the wildlife trade, at a market where vendors sell wild animals for food and medicine.Deforestation, agricultural expansion, urbanization and other land-use changes are responsible for about a third of all new diseases to emerge since 1960, the report says. The $100 billion-plus global wildlife trade is also responsible for the spread of new and existing diseases and is a threat to biodiversity.Not too lateHowever, “this is not a doom and gloom report saying the world’s going to end and it’s too late,” said report author Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a global health, conservation and development organization. “This is an optimistic call for action.”The current strategy to deal with pandemics is to wait for them to emerge and try to identify them before they spread, Daszak said.COVID-19 has demonstrated the flaws in that plan. Chinese authorities tried to contain it after the disease emerged late last year, but it was too late.”And here we are waiting for a vaccine and drugs to work,” Daszak said. “It’s not a good strategy. We need to do more.”The report calls for “transformative change towards preventing pandemics.”Some of that change needs to come from consumers.One change involves eating meat.Demand for meat drives increased pandemic risk in two ways, the report says. Feeding food animals is a major driver of deforestation. Also, intensive animal agriculture, which packs many animals into small spaces, often in close proximity to people, makes it easy for germs to jump species.”We can continue to eat meat,” Daszak said, “but we need to do it in a way that is far more sustainable if we want to get rid of pandemics.”The report suggests taxes on meat or livestock or other ways to incorporate the costs of pandemics into the price of production and consumption.Consumers also can drive change by pressuring companies to reduce deforestation, for example.”Global for-profit companies care about what we, the public, think about them,” Daszak said. “They respond when people call them out.”Government policy should focus on pandemic prevention as well, the authors say.Emerging-disease risk should be factored into any large-scale land use planning. Wildlife trade enforcement should focus on reducing or removing species at high risk of spreading diseases. And increased disease monitoring should focus on the links between human health, animal health and the environment, known as the One Health approach.All these suggestions, he noted, are “easy to say, really difficult to do.”These measures and others would cost about $40 billion to $58 billion per year, the report says.But with the bill for pandemics averaging a trillion dollars per year, Daszak said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a hundred pounds of cure.”

your ad here

read more

Mask Effectiveness Against Coronavirus Varies

Virologists at the University of Tokyo say that while masks can offer protection from airborne COVID-19 particles, their effectiveness varies. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo has more on the results of the new research.

your ad here

read more

 White House Task Force Warns of ‘Unrelenting’ Spread of COVID-19

The White House Coronavirus Task Force warned Thursday of an “unrelenting” spread of the virus, particularly across the western half of the country, Reuters reported. Members of the task force are reportedly pushing for aggressive measures to quell the spread of the virus.The United States has confirmed more than 8.9 million cases of COVID-19 and recorded more than 228,000 deaths as of Thursday, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.”We continue to see unrelenting, broad community spread in the Midwest, Upper Midwest and West. This will require aggressive mitigation to control both the silent, asymptomatic spread and symptomatic spread,” said the task force’s report to one state, according to CNN. The task force’s most prominent member, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNBC Wednesday that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is “going in the wrong direction.” “If things do not change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s going to be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths,” Fauci said, noting that case numbers were rising in 47 states.At least seven states reported record one-day case increases Thursday, according to Reuters.

your ad here

read more

Supreme Court Issues Flurry of Last-Minute Election Orders

North Carolina, yes. Pennsylvania, yes. Wisconsin, no. That is how the Supreme Court has answered questions in recent days about an extended timeline for receiving and counting ballots in those states. In each case, Democrats backed the extensions and Republicans opposed them. All three states have Democratic governors and legislatures controlled by the GOP. At first blush, the difference in the outcomes seems odd because the Supreme Court typically takes up issues to harmonize the rules across the country. But elections are largely governed by states, and the rules differ from one state to the next. These cases are being dealt with on an emergency basis in which the court issues orders that either block or keep in place a lower court ruling. But there is almost never an explanation of the majority’s rationale, though individual justices sometimes write opinions that partially explain the matter.  FILE – A worker prepares tabulators for the upcoming election at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C., Sept. 3, 2020.There also is a difference in how the justices act based on whether they are ruling on a lawsuit that began in state or federal court. Conservative justices who hold a majority on the Supreme Court object to what they see as intrusions by federal judges who order last-minute changes to state election rules, even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The power to alter absentee ballot deadlines and other voting issues rests with state legislatures, not federal courts, according to the conservative justices. The court also is divided, but so far has been willing to allow state courts interpreting their own state constitutions to play more of a role than their federal counterparts.  The justices did not finally resolve the legal issues involved, but they could do so after the election. A more thorough examination could come either in a post-election challenge that could determine the presidential winner if, for example, Pennsylvania proves critical to the national outcome, or in a less tense setting that might not affect the 2020 vote but would apply in the future. Even a decision that only looked ahead to future elections would be “concerning given that state courts have often been more protective of the right to vote under state constitutions than the federal courts have under the U.S. Constitution,” University of Kentucky law professor Joshua Douglas said. Also, new Justice Amy Coney Barrett has not taken part in any of these last-minute orders but could participate going forward. Here are some state-specific explanations of what has taken place over the past 10 days. Pennsylvania Last week, before Barrett had been confirmed, the justices divided 4-4, a tie vote that allowed the three-day extension ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to remain in effect. On Wednesday, the court said it would not grant a quick, pre-election review to a new Republican appeal to exclude absentee ballots received after Election Day in the battleground state.  FILE – Media members photograph and record a sorting machine at Philadelphia’s mail-in ballot sorting and counting center in preparation for the 2020 U.S. general election in Philadelphia, Oct. 26, 2020.But it remained unclear whether those ballots will ultimately be counted. The court’s order left open the possibility that the justices could take up and decide after the election whether a three-day extension to receive and count absentee ballots ordered by Pennsylvania’s high court was proper. The issue would take on enormous importance if Pennsylvania turns out to be the crucial state in next week’s election, and the votes received between November 3 and November 6 are potentially decisive. The Supreme Court ruled hours after Pennsylvania’s Department of State agreed to segregate ballots received in the mail after polls close on Tuesday and before 5 p.m. on November 6. Without keeping those ballots separate, Pennsylvania might have risked having the state’s overall vote count called into question. Three conservative justices signaled their interest in the court’s eventual review of the case. North Carolina The court on Wednesday refused to block an extra six days to receive and count absentee ballots in North Carolina. The State Board of Elections lengthened the period from three to nine days because of the coronavirus pandemic, pushing back the deadline to November 12. The board’s decision was part of a legal settlement with a union-affiliated group. The extension was approved by a state judge. Lawmakers had previously set November 6 as the deadline for mailed ballots because of the pandemic.  There is no order or recommendation in North Carolina that ballots received after November 6 be kept apart. Justice Neil Gorsuch said courts should not be second-guessing the legislature. The election board and the state judge “worked together to override a carefully tailored legislative response to COVID,” Gorsuch wrote.  Wisconsin In Wisconsin, ballots must arrive by Election Day, November 3, to be counted.  The Supreme Court on Monday refused to reinstate a lower-court order that would have added six days to the deadline, identical to the extension granted primary voters in April. A federal appeals court already had blocked the additional days. FILE – A person drops off their absentee ballot at a drop box at City Hall as early voting for the upcoming presidential election begins in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Oct. 20, 2020.This time, it was the court’s liberals who objected. “As the COVID pandemic rages, the court has failed to adequately protect the nation’s voters,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in dissent. Again, there was nothing from the court explaining its order, but Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Gorsuch all wrote separate opinions. “Different bodies of law and different precedents govern these two situations and require, in these particular circumstances, that we allow the modification of election rules in Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin,” Roberts wrote, before the court had acted in the North Carolina case. Kavanaugh’s opinion drew outsized attention because he invoked the court’s Bush v. Gore case that effectively resolved the 2000 presidential election in favor of Republican George W. Bush.  The Supreme Court has never cited Bush v. Gore in an opinion of the court. In 2000, in its unsigned majority opinion, the court wrote, “Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances.” But three lawyers who worked for Bush’s cause in 2000 — Roberts, Kavanaugh and now Barrett — sit on the court.

your ad here

read more

La Nina Seen Continuing Into 2021, Affecting Temperature, Weather Patterns

The World Meteorological Organization predicts La Nina will continue through January and is expected to usher in drier and wetter conditions than normal in different parts of the world.The latest seasonal forecasts indicate the La Nina event will cause drier than normal conditions in much of East Africa and lead to increased rainfall in southern Africa. Central Asia is likely to see below normal rainfall earlier than usual.The WMO reports some of the Pacific islands and the northern region of South America will see some of the most significant precipitation anomalies associated with this year’s La Nina event — a cooling of ocean surface water along the Pacific coast of the South American tropics that occurs on average every two to seven years.Some countries and regions are particularly vulnerable to changes in weather patterns.WMO humanitarian expert Gavin Iley told VOA the Greater Horn of Africa was an area of particular concern.“As we know, it is already being beset by problems, with locust infestation,” Iley said. “And generally, the models are suggesting below normal rainfall for quite a large portion of the Greater Horn of Africa. So, obviously that could have a number of impacts … in areas like Somalia. … So, we always need to keep an eye on the latest outlook.”WMO said governments can use weather forecasts to plan ways to reduce adverse impacts in climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, health, water resources and disaster management.WMO Deputy Director of Climate Services Maxx Dilley said governments can use La Nina forecasting to adapt their strategies to the changing weather patterns.“You can imagine in the agricultural sector that some crops will do well under wet conditions and others will do better under dry conditions,” Dilley said. “And there are agricultural management practices that can be adjusted to take account of whether it is expected to be wet or dry.”Dilley said WMO increasingly is trying to tailor these forecasts to specific concerns, such as food security or human health. For example, he said, wet conditions alone do not provoke outbreaks of dengue fever or malaria. He said temperature, humidity and vegetation create the conditions for mosquitoes to breed.So, rather than just giving a rainfall forecast, he said, meteorologists will provide a forecast that is correlated with these diseases and can be used for dengue fever or malaria control.

your ad here

read more