No new Measles Cases Reported in Fading US Outbreak

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The nation’s worst measles epidemic in 27 years could be in its final stages as a week went by with no new reported cases.

“To get to zero is tremendously encouraging,” said Jason Schwartz, a Yale University expert on vaccination policy.

The current epidemic emerged about a year ago and took off earlier this year, with most of the cases reported in Orthodox Jewish communities in and around New York City. It started with travelers who had become infected overseas but spread quickly among unvaccinated people.

In the spring, 70 or more new cases were being reported every week. Not long ago, the nation that saw that many measles cases in a whole year.

So far this year, 1,241 cases have been confirmed — a number that didn’t rise last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday. The last time the CDC reported no new measles cases was 11 months ago.

New York officials responded to the explosion of measles cases with a wave of measures, including education campaigns to counter misinformation about vaccine safety and fines for people who didn’t get vaccinated.

The epidemic has threatened the Unites States’ nearly 2-decade-old status as a nation that has eliminated measles. The status could come to an end if the disease spreads among Americans for a year or more. Other countries, including Greece and the United Kingdom, recently lost their elimination status amid a global surge in the disease.

Measles outbreaks are typically declared over when 42 days pass without a new infection. If no new cases crop up, the national outbreak would likely end on or about Sept. 30 — just before officials might have to decide on the U.S. elimination status.

The loss of elimination status in the U.S. could take the steam out of measles vaccination campaigns in other countries, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert.

Health ministers around the world might say, “Why should we strive for elimination? We’ll just do the best we can to control measles, but we won’t go the extra several miles to get to zero,” Schaffner said.

Global Nuclear Threat ‘Highest Since Cuban Missile Crisis’

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World leaders meeting at the United Nations General Assembly, which begins Tuesday in New York, must make nuclear arms control a priority, according to a group of over 100 political, military and diplomatic figures. They have issued a statement warning that the risks of nuclear accident, misjudgment or miscalculation have not been higher since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

IS Says it Releases News Audio of Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

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The Islamic State terror group has issued a new audio recording , claiming to show the group’s reclusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi encouraging his supporters and fighters to conduct more military operations and engage in more propaganda.

The recording, posted to the internet Monday by IS’s al-Furqan media division, also calls on IS supporters not to forget about Muslims being held in prisons and refugee camps.

U.S. officials have yet to comment on the purported recording.

Earlier this year, the terror group released a video of the man it claimed was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seeking revenge for the fall of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate In Iraq and Syria.

FILE -  This image made from video posted on a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.
IS Claims Video Shows Reclusive Leader, Calls for Revenge
The Islamic State issued a new video Monday claiming to show its reclusive leader delivering a message to his followers, urging them to seek revenge for the fall of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate In Iraq and Syria.

The more than 18-minute-long video posted to the internet by IS’s al-Furqan media division shows a man, allegedly Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, sitting cross-legged against a white backdrop with a machine gun and a couple of pillows by his side. 

The man is seen speaking with other IS members, whose faces are blurred or covered with masks, acknowledging the recent fall of the

Before that, the 48-year-old Baghdadi had not been seen since he gave a sermon at the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, in July 2014.

The lack of public appearances and the sporadic messages attributed to him had led to speculation about his whereabouts, while also sparking numerous rumors of his death. But U.S. military and intelligence officials have long believed Baghdadi is alive and hiding in remote areas of Syria or Iraq where IS remains entrenched, possibly with local support.

Since 2016, the United States has offered a reward of up to $25 million for information that helps bring Baghdadi to justice. Only one other person, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, has a reward that high.

VOA’s Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

 

Democratic Presidential Candidates Call for Kavanaugh’s Impeachment

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Several Democratic presidential candidates on Sunday lined up to call for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the face of a new, uninvestigated, allegation of sexual impropriety when he was in college.

Kavanaugh was confirmed last October after emotional hearings in the Senate over a sexual assault allegation from his high school years. The New York Times now reports that Kavanaugh faced a separate allegation from his time at Yale University and that the FBI did not investigate the claim. The latest claim mirrors one offered during his confirmation process by Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate who claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drunken party.

When he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, Kavanaugh denied all allegations of impropriety .

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said after the new report that “Brett Kavanaugh lied to the U.S. Senate and most importantly to the American people.” She tweeted: “He must be impeached.”

A 2020 rival, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, tweeted that “Confirmation is not exoneration, and these newest revelations are disturbing. Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached.”

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke asserted in a tweeted, “We know he lied under oath. He should be impeached.” He accused the GOP-run Senate of forcing the FBI “to rush its investigation to save his nomination.”

Their comments followed similar ones from Julian Castro, a former U.S. housing secretary, on Saturday night. “It’s more clear than ever that Brett Kavanaugh lied under oath,” he tweeted. “He should be impeached and Congress should review the failure of the Department of Justice to properly investigate the matter.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont didn’t refer to impeachment by name in a tweet Sunday, but said he would “support any appropriate constitutional mechanism” to hold Kavanaugh “accountable.”

Later Sunday, Sen. Cory Booker tweeted: “This new allegation and additional corroborating evidence adds to a long list of reasons why Brett Kavanaugh should not be a Supreme Court justice. I stand with survivors and countless other Americans in calling for impeachment proceedings to begin.”

Democrats control the House, which holds the power of impeachment. If the House took that route, a trial would take place in the Senate, where Republicans now have a majority, making it unlikely that Kavanaugh would be removed from office.

Trump, who fiercely defended Kavanaugh during his contentious confirmation process, dismissed the latest allegation as “lies.”

In a tweet Sunday, Trump said Kavanaugh “should start suing people for libel, or the Justice Department should come to his rescue.” It wasn’t immediately clear how the Justice Department could come to the justice’s defense.

Trump added that they were “False Accusations without recrimination,” and claimed his accusers were seeking to influence Kavanaugh’s opinions on the bench.

Biden on Racism: Whites ‘Can Never Fully Understand’

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Visiting a black church bombed by the Ku Klux Klan in the civil rights era, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Sunday the country hasn’t “relegated racism and white supremacy to the pages of history” as he framed current tensions in the context of the movement’s historic struggle for equality.

He spoke to parishioners at 16th Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham as they commemorated the 56th anniversary of the bombing that killed four black girls in 1963. “It’s in the wake of these before-and-after moments when the choice between good and evil is starkest,” he said.

The former vice president called out the names of the victims — Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. He drew nods of affirmation as he warned that “the same poisonous ideology that lit the fuse on 16th street” has yielded more recent tragedies including in 2015 at a black church in South Carolina, in 2018 at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh and in August at an El Paso, Texas , Wal-Mart frequented by Latino immigrants.

He condemned institutional racism as the direct legacy of slavery and lamented that the nation has “never lived up to” the ideals of equality written into its founding documents. But then he added a more personal note. “Those who are white try,” Biden said, “but we can never fully understand.”

Biden praised the congregation for offering an example of “rebirth and renewal” to those communities and to a nation he said must recommit itself to “giving hate no safe harbor — demonizing no one, not the poor, the powerless, the immigrant or the ‘other.’”

Biden’s appearance in Birmingham comes at a political inflection point for the Democrats’ 2020 polling leader. He is trying to capitalize on his strength among older black voters even as some African American and other nonwhite leaders, particularly younger ones, view Biden more skeptically.

From his long time in government, as a senator and vice president, the 76-year-old Biden has deep ties in the black community. Though Biden didn’t mention President Donald Trump in his remarks, he has made withering critiques of the president’s rhetoric and policies on race and immigration a central feature of his candidacy.

Yet Biden also draws critical, even caustic appraisals from younger nonwhite activists who take issue with his record. That includes his references to working productively alongside segregationist senators in the 1970s to distrust over his lead role in a 1994 crime law that critics frame as partially responsible for mass incarceration, especially black men.

The dynamics flared up again Thursday after Biden, during a Democratic debate, offered a sometimes incoherent answer when asked how the nation should confront the legacy of slavery. At one point, Biden suggested nonwhite parents use a play a record player to help their children with verbal and cognitive development. That led to a social media firestorm and commentary that Biden takes a paternalistic view of black and brown America even as he hammers Trump for emboldening more obvious forms of racism.

Author Anand Giridharadas called Biden’s answer “appalling — and disqualifying” for “implying that black parents don’t know how to raise their own children.”

Biden gave only slightest of nods to some of those critiques Sunday.

Biden’s audience seemed to reflect his relative popularity with black voters more than the fierceness of his critics.

Parishioners wielded their cellphones when he arrived with Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, a white politician beloved in the church for his role as the lead prosecutor who secured convictions in the bombing case decades after it occurred. The congregation gave Biden a standing ovation as he concluded his 20-minute remarks.

Alvin Lewis, a 67-year-old usher at 16th Street Baptist, said the welcome doesn’t necessarily translate to votes. But as Lewis and other congregants offered their assessment of race relations in the United States under Trump, they tracked almost flawlessly the arguments Biden has used to anchor his campaign.

“Racism has reared its head in a way that’s frightening for those of us who lived through it before,” Lewis said, who said he was at home, about “20 blocks from here” when the Klan bomb went off at 10:22 a.m. on Sept. 15, 1963. “No matter what anyone says, what comes out of the president of the United States’ mouth means more than anything,” Lewis added, saying Trump “has brought out some nastier times in this country’s history.”

Antoinette Plump, a 60-year-old who took in the service alongside lifelong member Doris Coke, 92, said racism “was on the back burner” until Trump “brought out all the people who are so angry.”

Coke, who was at the church on that Sunday in 1963, said, “We’ve come a long way.” But she nodded her head as Plump denounced Trump.

Nearby sat Fay Gaines, a Birmingham resident who was in elementary school in 1963 — just a few years younger than the girls who died.

Gaines said she’s heard and read criticisms about Biden. Asked whether she’d seen his “record players” answer in the debate, she laughed and said she did. But he remains on her “short list” of preferred candidates.

“I think there may just be a generational divide,” she said of the reaction. “People who lived through all these struggles maybe can understand how to deal with the current situation a little better.”

That means, she said, recognizing a politician’s core values.

“I trust Joe Biden,” she said. “History matters. His history matters.”

Union Votes to Strike at General Motors’ US Plants

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Roughly 49,000 workers at General Motors plants in the U.S. plan to go on strike just before midnight Sunday, but talks between the United Auto Workers and the automaker will resume.

About 200 plant-level union leaders voted unanimously in favor of a walkout during a meeting Sunday morning in Detroit. Union leaders said the sides were still far apart on several major issues and they apparently weren’t swayed by a GM offer to make new products at or near two of the four plants it had been planning to close, according to someone briefed on the matter.

“We stood up for General Motors when they needed us most,” union Vice President Terry Dittes said in a statement, referring to union concessions that helped GM survive bankruptcy protection in 2009. “Now we are standing together in unity and solidarity for our members.”

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said Sunday evening that contract talks would resume at 10 a.m. Monday, but the strike was still expected to go ahead.

GM on Friday offered to build a new all-electric pickup truck at a factory in Detroit that is slated to close next year, according someone who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because that person wasn’t authorized to disclose details of the negotiations, which hadn’t been released to the public. The automaker also offered to open an electric vehicle battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio, where it has a plant that has already stopped making cars. The new factory would be in addition to a proposal to make electric vehicles for a company called Workhorse, the person said.

It’s unclear how many workers the two plants would employ. The closures, especially of the Ohio plant, have become issues in the 2020 presidential campaign. President Donald Trump has consistently criticized the company and demanded that Lordstown be reopened.

The UAW’s Rothenberg said the company made general statements about why it is planning to strike, but he would not comment further on GM’s offer. The union said it would strike for fair wages, affordable health care, profit sharing, job security and a path to permanent employment for temporary workers.

In a statement, GM also said the offer made to the union on Saturday included more than $7 billion in U.S. factory investments and the creation of 5,400 new positions, a minority of which would be filled by existing employees. GM would not give a precise number. The investments would be made at factories in four states, two of which were not identified.

The statement also said the company offered “best in class wages and benefits,” improved profit sharing and a payment of $8,000 to each worker upon ratification. The offer included wage or lump sum increases in all four years of the deal, plus “nationally leading” health benefits.

The announcement came hours after the union let its contract with GM expire Saturday night.

If there is a strike, picketers would shut down a total of 53 GM facilities, including 33 manufacturing sites and 22 parts distribution warehouses. GM has factories in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, Indiana and Kansas.

On Saturday, Dittes, the union’s chief bargainer, said in a letter to GM members that after months of bargaining, both the union and GM were far apart on issues such as wages, health care, temporary employees, job security and profit-sharing. The letter to members and another one to GM were aimed at turning up the pressure on GM negotiators.

A strike would bring to a halt GM’s U.S. production, and would likely stop the company from making vehicles in Canada and Mexico as well. That would mean fewer vehicles for consumers to choose from on dealer lots, and it would make it impossible to build specially ordered cars and trucks.

The strike would be the union’s first since a two-day work stoppage at GM in 2007.

On Friday, union leaders extended contracts with Ford and Fiat Chrysler indefinitely, but the pact with General Motors was still set to expire Saturday night.

The union picked GM, which is more profitable than Ford and Fiat Chrysler, as the target company, meaning it’s the focus of bargaining and would be the first company to face a walkout.

Talks between the union and GM were tense from the start, largely because GM plans to close four U.S. factories, including the one on the Detroit border with the enclave of Hamtramck, and Lordstown. The union has promised to fight the closures.

Here are the main areas of disagreement:

— GM is making big money, $8 billion last year alone, and workers want a bigger slice. The union wants annual pay raises to guard against an economic downturn, but the company wants to pay lump sums tied to earnings. Automakers don’t want higher fixed costs.

— The union also wants new products for the four factories GM wants to close. The factory plans have irked some workers, although most of those who were laid off will get jobs at other GM factories. GM currently has too much U.S. factory capacity.

— The companies want to close the labor cost gap with workers at plants run by foreign automakers. GM pays $63 per hour in wages and benefits compared with $50 at the foreign-owned factories. GM’s gap is the largest at $13 per hour, followed by Ford at $11 and Fiat Chrysler at $5, according to figures from the Center for Automotive Research.

— Union members have great health insurance plans and workers pay about 4% of the cost. Employees at large firms nationwide pay about 34%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The automakers would like to cut costs.

 

Tropical Storm Humberto Forecast to Strengthen into Hurricane

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Tropical Storm Humberto is expected to become a hurricane Sunday as it slowly strengthens to the north of the Bahamas, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Weather forecasters have not issued any coastal watches or warnings for the storm that is moving north-northwest with maximum sustained winds of 95 kilometer per hour.

NHC said late Saturday “the center of Humberto should continue to move well offshore of the east coast of Florida during the next day or so and then move away from the U.S.”

The NHC added that “swells generated by Humberto are expected to affect the northwestern Bahamas, and the coast of the U.S. from east-central Florida to North Carolina during the next few days.” The center warned that the “swells could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.”

Humberto’s presence forced officials to suspend aid efforts and close airports Saturday in the Bahamas as it grapples to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian. Dorian was a Category 5 storm, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever to hit land, that wrecked the archipelago’s northwest region two weeks ago.

Guterres visits Bahamas

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Saturday after returning from the Abaco island in the Bahamas that he was “horrified” by what he saw. 

“I’ve never seen such a level of systematic devastation,” he said. “Hurricane Dorian has been classified as Category 5. I think it’s category hell.”

“But it was not powered by the devil,” Guterres warned, it was “powered by climate change.” He said the international community should learn two things from Dorian’s destruction in the Bahamas.

“First,” Guterres said, “is that we need to stop climate change. We need to make sure that we reverse the present trend where climate change is running faster than what we are.

“And second, that countries like the Bahamas that do not contribute to climate change, but are in the first line of the devastating impacts of climate change, deserve international support, to be able to fully respond to the humanitarian emergency but also to the reconstruction and the building of resilience of their communities and their islands.”
 

‘Ghost Fleet’ Designated US Marine Sanctuary

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A watery grave of old sunken ships has been designated the newest national marine sanctuary in the United States. Located in Maryland about 60 kilometers south of Washington, the “ghost fleet” rises like an apparition out of the water when the tide is low. VOA’s Deborah Block takes us to this underwater park with ships going back more than one hundred years.