News, August 2nd

Australia declares ‘State of Disaster’ in Victoria after coronavirus cases spike continues

A “State of Disaster” was declared for the Australian state of Victoria after almost 700 new cases of coronavirus were recorded overnight, according to reports.

The declaration is just one of several measures taken as Australia’s second most populated state grows more concerned over the pandemic situation it faces. All of Melbourne has entered Stage 4 lockdown, which goes into effect from 6 p.m. Sunday.

“If you’ve got that many cases – and they’re not just in metropolitan Melbourne, they’re in regional Victoria as well – if you have that many cases of community transmission you must assume you have even more and on that basis you can no longer be confident that you’ve got a precise understanding of how much virus is there,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said during a press briefing.

“You have to err on the side of caution and go further and harder.”

The lockdown includes a nightly curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., and only allows for one resident from each household to go shopping within three miles of their homes, according to the Guardian.

Residents also are restricted to one hour of daily exercise with no more than two people together.

Victoria recorded over 700 cases on Thursday of last week, giving rise to alarm within the government. The numbers dipped near the end of the week, with only 397 recorded on Saturday, but the increase to almost 700 again overnight pushed the state government to act.

The new rules will remain in place until at least Sept. 13, and Andrews promised more changes would be coming as well, the BBC reported.

“Today is about a series of changes that relate to how we live our lives,” Andrews added. “Tomorrow I’ll make further announcements about how we work.”

Victoria has found itself at the center of Australia’s pandemic, with its 11,557 cases making up the bulk of Australia’s roughly 17,000 total infections. The state also recorded 123 deaths, again making up over half of the roughly 200 deaths across the country.

The spike in Melbourne has proven to be a major setback in the country’s otherwise positive progress in combating the spread of the virus.

Big increase recorded in Amazon fires

Official figures from Brazil have shown a big increase in the number of fires in the Amazon region in July compared with the same month last year, it was reported on Sunday.

Satellite images compiled by Brazil’s National Space Agency revealed on Saturday that there were 6,803 – a rise of 28 per cent, the BBC reported.

The latest figures raise concerns about a repeat of the huge wildfires that shocked the world in August and September last year.

President Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged agricultural and mining activities in the Amazon.

But under pressure from international investors in early July his government banned starting fires in the region.

Bolsonaro has criticized Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency, Ibama, for what he describes as excessive fines, and his first year in office saw a sharp drop in financial penalties being imposed for environmental violations.

Cory Ness Street Glide Custom

No pressure building a custom bike for NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, right? Not only would the motorcycle have to meet the standards of a man who made his living standing in victory lane, the motorcycle’s a star attraction of the Buffalo Chip’s second annual Rusty Wallace Ride. The benefit ride raises money for the NASCAR Foundation, All Kids Bike and SD Special Olympics – Rapid City Flame and the sale of the one-of-a-kind custom motorcycle brings in a big chunk of change. The list of people you’d trust with such an important task is short. Luckily, the Buffalo Chip and the Ness family go way back, so when looking for somebody to spearhead the project, The Chip didn’t have to think too hard.

“I enjoyed working with Rusty. Certain things he liked, certain things I liked, and we blended design ideas together,” said Cory Ness, president of Arlen Ness Enterprises.

Before implementing those design ideas, they needed a bike. Again, having friends in the right places paid off as another of The Chip’s long-time allies, Black Hills Harley-Davidson, graciously donated a brand spankin’ new 2020 FLXH Street Glide with a Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine to the cause.

As fine as Harley’s new Street Glide is, though, the Ness family is known for making showstoppers, so Cory and the Ness team set about the task of taking the Glide to the next level. The front end now flexes bigger muscles thanks to the addition of Ness’ Wide Tire Kit and Hot Leg fork legs. The wider 180mm tire needed a wider fender, too, and the Ness Wrapper front fender fits like a glove. Then there’s the wheels. The Ness Y-spoked Wheels feature not only a new design that hasn’t even hit the market yet, the titanium finish is new to the market as well, and right now the only place you’re going to find these wheels is on the Rusty Wallace Ride Street Glide.

While Harley’s Milwaukee-Eight is a mighty fine engine, dressing it up in a full complement of covers and accents from the Ness 10 Gauge collection makes it even finer. Like the wheels, the covers are dressed up in Ness’ new titanium finish. The engine ensemble’s piece de resistance might possibly be the latest Ness Sidekick air cleaner. The air cleaner’s filter is generously wide in the front so it’s funneling copious amounts of air to the engine. Of course, a free-breathing engine is going to be more powerful, and who doesn’t like more power? Another slick little feature is the Sidekick’s transparent cover, which allows riders to see what’s going on inside the air cleaner. The custom exhaust system Rinehart Racing made for the Rusty Wallace Ride Street Glide will also give it an extra kick in the pants. Turns out, Wallace is friends with the Rinehart folks, which is a good thing because the muffler needed to be extended an extra five inches to fit the Ness Down-and-Out Saddlebag bottoms and custom back fender Ness built specifically for this motorcycle.

With a bit of newfound power thanks to its air cleaner and exhaust, boosting the motorcycle’s braking performance was also important, and billet Arlen Ness 4-piston caliper brakes and rotors were just the ticket. The list of premium Ness parts doesn’t stop there. The Ness MX Floorboards are a fresh upgrade to the stodgy stock footrests. Better yet, like a fine wine they’re paired with Ness Air Trax shifter pegs and arms. The motorcycle grips also come from the Ness Air Trax line. Ness Modular handlebars are a big upgrade because they have a high degree of adjustability and can be tailor-fit to a rider. Just another hot ticket item coming from the Ness factory you’ll find on this contemporary machine. LaPera also had a hand in making this motorcycle special by crafting a beautiful custom leather seat for it. And speaking of beautiful, the paint job Mazz Enterprises out of Arizona did is simply stunning. Between the stripes and underlying geometric honeycomb pattern, the paint is deep and lustrous. Smartly applied splashes of titanium paint bring about a homogenous feel to the motorcycle’s clean and classy lines.

The Cory Ness-customized FLHX Street Glide will be on display at Black Hills Harley-Davidson during the rally if you’d like to stop by and check it out. Better bring your checkbook because once you see this beauty in person, you’re going to want to take it home. We’ll find out exactly who the lucky new owner is Wednesday, August 12, 2020, when they are handed the keys at the second annual Rusty Wallace Ride.

Ethiopians celebrate progress in building dam on Nile River

Ethiopians in the capital are celebrating progress in the construction of the country’s dam on the Nile River, which has caused regional controversy over its filling.

In joyful demonstrations urged by posts on social media and apparently endorsed by the government, tens of thousands of residents flooded the streets of the capital Addis Ababa on Sunday afternoon, waving Ethiopia’s flag and holding up posters. People in cars honked their horns, others whistled, played loud music, and danced in public spaces to mark the occasion. Similar events were held in other cities in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Demeke Mekonnen, called on the public to rally behind the dam and support the completion of its construction.

“Today is a date in which we celebrate the beginning of the final chapter in our dam’s construction,” Demeke told scores of people who gathered at a hall in the capital. “We want the construction to complete soon and began solving our problems once and for all.”

Hashtags like #ItsMyDam, #EthiopiaNileRights and #GERD are also trending among Ethiopian social media users. Ethiopians around the world contributed to the festivities on social media.

Sunday’s celebration, called “One voice for our dam,” came after Ethiopian officials announced on July 22 that the first stage of filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s reservoir was achieved due to heavy rains. Officials in the East African nation say they hope the $4.6 billion dam, fully financed by Ethiopia itself, will reach full power generating capacity in 2023.

With 74% of the construction completed, the dam has been contentious for years and raised tensions with neighboring countries.

Ethiopia says the dam will provide electricity to millions of its nearly 110 million citizens and help them out of poverty. The dam should also make Ethiopia a major power exporter. Downstream Egypt, which depends on the Nile River to supply its farmers and booming population of 100 million with fresh water, asserts that the dam poses it an existential threat. Sudan, between the two countries, is also concerned about its access to the Nile waters.

Negotiators have said key questions remain about how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the countries will resolve any future disputes. Negotiations to resolve the differences between the countries have broken down several times, but now appear to be making progress.

Insurance industry profits over people’s lives: Democrats reject Medicare for All

Last week a Democratic National Committee (DNC) panel voted against an amendment that would include Medicare for All as part of the Party’s 2020 platform. Only 36 members of the panel voted “Yes,” while an overwhelming 125 voted “No.” Furthermore, the committee rejected both the expansion of Medicare to children and the dropping of the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 55. Any of these measures would significantly improve the lives of workers during a grave public health crisis.

By contrast, the DNC’s 2016 party platform stated that Americans, “over 55 should be able to opt into Medicare,” and that the Party would endlessly fight to, “guarantee health care as a fundamental right for every American.” So, what happened to those promises?

While the Democrats put up a progressive front of standing with working people, it consistently fights against workers and does not deliver on its promises.

The Democratic Party elite is quick to sign on to any effort to bail out big corporations during economic crises, as we’ve seen during the current pandemic, while millions have lost their jobs along with their health insurance. Like its Republican counterpart, the Democratic Party cares more about profits than people, and prizes its friends on Wall Street and Silicon Valley above all else.

In May, the Democrats fell short in their Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act — still held up by Republican Senators — which fails to include: recurring direct cash payments, a paycheck guarantee, rent and mortgage payment cancellations, and expansion of Medicare to provide assistance to uninsured and unemployed Americans. Further, the bill would expand the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) eligibility to include corporate trade associations and 501(c)(4) organizations for dark money groups that influence elections.

What people need is not more profits for private companies and corporate bailouts, but a universal, socialist healthcare system. They need to be able to pay their rents and mortgages, and not fear evictions.

This is far from the first time the Democratic Party refused to deliver a critically needed progressive reform. Take the Affordable Care Act for instance, also known as Obamacare. While it appealed to the people as a progressive health care reform aimed to reduce the amount of uncompensated care for the average American family, it still ensured the profits of private companies and Big Pharma. Furthermore, it didn’t protect the working class when it levied a 40% “Cadillac Tax” on union health insurance plans — surprisingly repealed by Trump in 2019.

There were further failures that hurt unions. In 2009 the Obama administration turned its back on the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would have made it vastly easier for workers to unionize. While he had promised to support the measure during his campaign, his party once again failed to deliver.

It is clear that the Democratic Party has failed the people time and time again despite its progressive facade. But the people deserve better. We deserve a stable health care system that puts our needs before the needs of private insurance companies. We deserve universal healthcare that protects us regardless of employment status. We deserve peace of mind and security during a global pandemic. To borrow the Democrats’ empty words from 2016, the people deserve guaranteed healthcare because, “it’s their fundamental right.”

Leaders duel over coronavirus relief bill

Top negotiators for a coronavirus relief bill couldn’t even agree on what they agree on Sunday, indicating that Democrats and Republicans are still a way away from clinching a deal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said both parties have yet to come to agreement on the fact that the U.S. must defeat Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, an issue a bemused Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was adamant that there is agreement on.

Pelosi also blamed President Donald Trump for “standing in the way of” enhanced unemployment insurance for tens of millions of Americans, the exact language White House chief of staff Mark Meadows used to describe Democrats.

And the California Democrat suggested that Senate Republicans are in disarray over unemployment benefits while Democrats are united in support, but Meadows noted that only Democrats voted against a weeklong extension of the $600 benefit in the Senate last week.

The competing comments showed how far apart House Democrats and the Trump administration are on sending a relief package to the president, even as two major federal benefits — a $600 weekly unemployment payment and an eviction moratorium — expired late last week.

They also come a day after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said negotiators had “the best discussions we’ve had so far.”

“I would characterize it that way, but we still have a long way to go,” Meadows told CBS’ John Dickerson on “Face the Nation.”

The White House chief of staff said he and Mnuchin have spent the last few days trying to reach a consensus to “at least start negotiating.” He characterized Saturday’s talks as “a step in the right direction.”

Staffs are working Sunday, and the principals will meet again Monday, according to Meadows, who admitted that “I’m not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term.”

Democratic leaders have similarly struggled to say when both sides will reach a deal. “We’ll be close to an agreement when we have an agreement,” Pelosi told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told Dana Bash that while “they are in a better place today than they were the day before,” “I don’t know how close we are to a deal.”

Pelosi framed defeating the virus — which has infected more than 4.6 million Americans and killed more than 154,000 people in the U.S. — as “one of the contentious issues that we have to deal with.”

“I was surprised that the speaker said we don’t agree on the need to kill the virus,” Mnuchin said on “This Week,” moments after Pelosi’s segment. “We absolutely agree on the need to kill the virus.”

Asked what she would say to Americans who lost their unemployment benefits, Pelosi responded: “Talk to President Trump. He’s the one who’s standing in the way of that.”

Using identical language in a later interview, Meadows told “Face the Nation”: “It’s important for your viewers to understand that if you have unemployed people that have lost their enhanced unemployment, they need to call their Democrat senators and House members because they’re the ones standing in the way of having those extended right now.”

In a pair of tweets Saturday, Trump accused Pelosi and Schumer of blocking “desperately needed unemployment payments, which is so terrible, especially since they fully understand that it was not the workers fault that they are unemployed” — and claimed that the Democratic leaders “have no interest in making a deal that is good for our Country and our People.”

Mnuchin said Trump is “very concerned about the expiration of the unemployment insurance” and that Republicans proposed a one-week extension “so that while we negotiate a longer-term solution, at least all those people don’t lose their money, and I’m surprised that the Democrats won’t agree to that.”

“They are insistent on having this as part of a larger deal,” he added.

Pelosi argued Sunday that Democrats are unified in their support for the $600 benefit while Senate Republicans are in disarray over an alternative $200 proposal, which she said fails to meet the needs of working families.

“So, the idea that they made a proposal is really not actually factual,” she said.

Clyburn acknowledged that both sides are always trying to maximize their leverage in negotiations but said it’s Republicans who are “playing games with us.”

“I don’t know that this is an honest negotiation when you want to leave town and not sit around the table and do what needs done for the American people to have some security and some safety in trying to live their lives,” Clyburn said. “That’s what we are trying to do. This ‘every week, one more week, two more days,’ that’s not the way you do things.”

Meadows lamented that Democrats are “stonewalling” piecemeal legislation. “Hopefully, that will change in the coming days,” he said, highlighting another disagreement with Democrats, who want a full package instead of a narrow, short-term solution.

He said his question to Clyburn is if he would encourage Pelosi to consider a standalone bill for enhanced unemployment, bringing that to the floor and encouraging the Senate to do the same.

“I can tell you, it’s the only thing that that we’ve run out of money [on],” Meadows said, noting that there’s more than $1.4 trillion left in unspent funds from previous legislation, including $100 billion each for state and local governments and small business aid, as well as more than $9 billion for testing. “The one area where we don’t have the money is for enhanced unemployment benefits.”

Trump wants a deal done quickly, but “there are different things that are very contentious” on both sides, Mnuchin said. The Treasury secretary cited Democrats’ push for more than a trillion dollars in aid to state and local governments as an example but maintained that “there’s definitely areas of agreement” on issues like the Payment Protection Program and direct payments to Americans.

“Mark Meadows and I will be back there every day until we reach an agreement,” Mnuchin said. “We understand there’s a need to compromise, but on the other hand there’s also a big need to get kids into school, get people back to jobs and keep the economy open and keep people safe.”

Leaving No Roma behind during a pandemic, and beyond: a UN Resident Coordinator’s Blog

Roma people in Europe face widespread discrimination in many areas of life, including housing and health. In this opinion piece, Francoise Jacob, the UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, explains how the UN is helping Roma communities, many of which have no access to safe water or electricity, to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first time I met Roma people in the Western Balkan region was in 1999, while I was working in Montenegro. I had just come out of a few hard years in South Sudan and Rwanda, and I was looking forward to coming closer to home.

I was working for an NGO and spent my days in the Roma camp outside of the town of Podgorica, where thousands of people were struggling to make a living. Despite the tensions, past and recent, and the lack of many things, the camp was not a sad place, somehow.

I remember being amazed by the incredible diversity of facial features in that community, feeling sometimes like I was in an international airport with people coming from around the world. I remember thinking the history of these people is on their face. Many families had similar stories and ancestry, but others recalled different paths, India, the Middle East, northern Africa.

I could see the camp as a lake, where different rivers had converged, over the centuries; and the lake was tempted between remaining a lake or turning back into a river.

We used to sit with Roma women, and share stories. After a while, they read my future in the coffee grounds, and of course, it involved love.

We probably were working on needs assessment or something like that, but I just remember the two things that all women kept mentioning to me: they wanted better teeth (their teeth were damaged quickly due to poor nutrition and hygiene conditions), and they wanted nail polish. They were 15, 35, 50-year-old, and in the midst of chaos and despair, they wanted beauty, and love.

This was one of these moments that captured the reality of inequalities: not just a sophisticated macro-economic concept, but something people experience as individuals, something which prevents them from fulfilling their potential and their dreams, in whatever shape and scope.

A year later, I met them again. In Gujarat, India, in the wake of the 2001 devastating earthquake. There, they are called Kuchis, the nomadic tribes of India and Afghanistan. Same faces, same stories, same music. Same extraordinary resilience within different chaos. The first migrants.

I meet Roma families now again, in Serbia, in my position of the UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, in the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. According to the official data, there are at least 150,000 Roma people living in Serbia, though unofficial figures point this number may be significantly higher.

During the first three months of the UN response to COVID-19, our teams, along with government counterparts, identified that tens of thousands of Roma lacked basic access to safe water and electricity, which is a serious health risk in the time of a pandemic, besides being a threat to life and human dignity. 

We assessed humanitarian needs in 500 substandard Roma settlements (out of over 760 estimated settlements) and quickly started acting. In close cooperation with the Serbian Red Cross at the local level and many other local stakeholders, the UN has provided assistance packages and tailor-made health messages to thousands of Roma families at risk.

The UN also put in place assistance so that Roma children could attend some form of remote education, in communities where access to the internet and to computer is extremely limited.

Eighty-two Roma health mediators in 70 municipalities switched to telephone consultations. In just a few weeks’ they reached 9,260 Roma families, advised over 4,500 persons on preventive measures, and referred over 100 persons to COVID-19 testing centers.

For a long period of time, Roma people in Serbia have been structurally neglected, which resulted in inadequate housing, unequal access to education for Roma children and unequal position in the open labor market.

Roma communities face multiple risks of discrimination and marginalization: Roma women and girls are traditionally engaged in early marriages, social and family neglect; Roma children consistently work in informal, dangerous labor, and Roma Internally Displaced Person (IDPs) are amongst the most destitute people in the region. In the months and years to come, as a response to COVID-19 threats and beyond, the UN will continue to work with Roma communities and assist the government in adopting national policies that are in line with human rights standards. We will also continue to work on building capacities of Roma civil society for effective advocacy and human rights monitoring.

In the true spirit of Leave No One Behind, it is our duty to ensure that this particular group of people gets a fair deal in the face of COVID-19 and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and blossom on their own path. I hope that we will succeed!

Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of COVID-19: poll

Only 34 percent of Americans approve of U.S. President Donald Trump’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll.

The survey, whose results were released Friday, also found that the U.S. public broadly disapproves of the president’s handling of other recent crises such as the nationwide protests following the death of African American George Floyd.

According to the poll’s result, “just over a third of Americans (36 percent) approve of President Trump’s handling of the response to the protests across the country.”

“Specifically, a majority of Americans (52 percent) believe the deployment of federal law enforcement to cities with protests have made the situation worse,” it added.

The ABC News/Ipsos study surveyed 730 U.S. adults from July 29 to July 30.

Victoria declares ‘state of disaster’, Melbourne under curfew

Australia on Sunday introduced sweeping new measures to control a growing coronavirus outbreak in its second-biggest city, including an overnight curfew and a ban on weddings for the first time during the pandemic.

Despite a lockdown that began in early July, Melbourne has continued to report hundreds of new cases daily, and authorities said the city’s residents would now face a curfew from 8pm to 5am for the next six weeks.

Declaring a “state of disaster” on Sunday, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the state capital would move to Stage 4 restrictions until Sept 13 given “unacceptably high” levels of community transmission.

Melbourne residents will be limited to an hour of exercise a day, no further than five kilometers (about three miles) from home starting on Sunday night.

Only one person per household will be able to shop for essential items each day, also within the same strict radius.

Most school and university students in Melbourne will return to online learning from midnight on Wednesday, just weeks after returning to their classrooms, while kindergartens and daycare centers will be effectively closed from Thursday.

Weddings will also be banned in the city. At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, weddings in Australia were limited to five people.

“These are the decisions made because anything short of this will not keep us safe,” Andrews said.

“Anything short of this will see it drag on for months and months and months.”

Additional restrictions affecting workplaces would be announced on Monday, Andrews added, suggesting that non-essential businesses will face closures.

The state recorded 671 new Covid-19 cases and seven deaths from the virus Sunday.

Outside Melbourne, the rest of Victoria will move to a Stage 3 lockdown from midnight on Wednesday with people allowed to leave home only for work, study, care, and essential shopping.

Elsewhere in Australia, other states and territories have for weeks reported zero or a small number of cases while relaxing restrictions.

They have, however, banned visitors from Victoria and Sydney – another virus hotspot.

Australia’s total reported infections reached almost 18,000 on Sunday, with 208 deaths in a population of 25 million.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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