MacKenzie Scott Donates $2.7 Billion to ‘Underfunded and Overlooked’ Causes

Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announced Tuesday that she has donated $2.7 billion to communities “that have been historically underfunded and overlooked.” “Because community-centered service is such a powerful catalyst and multiplier, we spent the first quarter of 2021 identifying and evaluating equity-oriented nonprofit teams working in areas that have been neglected,” Scott wrote in a blog post. But Scott emphasized in the post that she struggled with headlines centering on her instead of the organizations and causes she hopes to uplift.  “Putting large donors at the center of stories on social progress is a distortion of their role,” Scott wrote. She said that the headline she would wish for her post was “286 Teams Empowering Voices the World Needs to Hear.” Among the “teams” Scott listed as the recipients of her donations were higher education institutions “successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved.” Scott also listed interfaith organizations working to bridge racial divides, and arts and cultural institutions working with “culturally rich regions and identity groups that donors often overlook.” Scott committed to donating half her fortune to charity upon divorcing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2019.MacKenzie Bezos Pledges to Give Away Half Her Fortune MacKenzie Bezos, who just months ago divorced the world’s richest man, has pledged to give away half her fortune to charity. The former wife of Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos is one of the 19 new signatories to the Giving Pledge who have promised to donate more than 50% of their wealth, the organization said. “I have …

US Surpasses 600,000 Deaths from COVID, Leading the World

The United States has surpassed 600,000 dead from COVID-19, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported Tuesday. The count spans from the beginning of the pandemic 15 months ago. While the numbers of new COVID-19 cases and daily deaths in the United States have fallen steadily in recent weeks, the milestone is a harsh reminder of the toll the pandemic has taken and is still taking.  U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday acknowledged the approaching milestone, saying that while new cases and deaths are dropping dramatically in the U.S., “there’s still too many lives being lost,” and “now is not the time to let our guard down.” In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced late Monday that the government would be pushing back by nearly four weeks its “road map out of lockdown” date — from June 21 to July 19 — on which all COVID-19-related restrictions would be lifted. Speaking to reporters, Johnson said the decision was based on a surge in COVID-19 infections caused by the delta variant of the virus in certain parts of the country. He said July 19 will be “a terminus date” that will allow the country to proceed with full reopening.  Racial inequalities in COVID deaths Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports it has uncovered data showing how the pandemic has exposed wide racial inequalities in the U.S. A story published Monday by the AP said that where race is known, white Americans account for 61% of all COVID-19 deaths, followed by Hispanics with 19%, Blacks with …

New Study Suggests Coronavirus Was Present in US Earlier than First Believed

The novel coronavirus was present in the U.S. in December 2019, weeks before health officials first identified infections, according to a new government study.   Conducted by a team that included researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the study analyzed 24,000 blood samples. The findings suggest that some Americans were infected as early as the middle of December 2019, weeks before the world recognized the spread of the new deadly virus that erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan.   While the analysis is inconclusive, and some experts remain unconvinced, more federal health officials are accepting a scenario during which small numbers of people in the U.S. were infected with the virus before the world was aware of its spread.   The study, published Tuesday by the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, is the latest and largest to suggest the virus first appeared in the U.S. earlier than previously known. It found that at least seven people in the U.S. states of Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were infected earlier than any COVID-19 case was ever reported in those states. …

Mexico Receives 1.35 Million COVID Vaccines from US

Mexico has received 1.35 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson, single-dose COVID-19 vaccine donated by the United States.The doses will be given to those over 18 in four border towns, Tijuana, Mexicali, Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa. The goal is to end essential travel restrictions on the border.The first vaccinations could be given as early as Wednesday, according to Mexican Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell. Mexico’s vaccination program has used a mix of vaccines and so far, has been focused on people 40 and older. It has administered about 26 million shots, according to the Associated Press.After an upsurge in December and January, cases have been declining across the country until a spike of 8% this week attributed to a breakout along the Caribbean coast.Earlier this month, the Biden administration said the U.S. would donate up to 80 million vaccine doses worldwide by the end of the month. …

Indian Government in Standoff with Twitter Over Online Speech

The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in a battle with U.S. tech firms over a new set of online speech rules that it has enacted for the nation of nearly 1.4 billion.  The rules require companies to restrict a range of topics on their services, comply with government takedown orders and identify the original source of information shared. If the companies fail to comply, tech firm employees can be held criminally liable.  The escalation of tensions between Modi’s government and tech firms, activists say, could result in the curtailment of Indians’ online speech.  “Absent a change in direction, the future of free speech in the world’s largest democracy is increasingly imperiled,” said Samir Jain, director of policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a digital rights advocacy group. “Users will have less freedom of expression and less access to news and entertainment that is unapproved by the government. The rules will thereby undermine Indian democracy,” Jain told VOA. At the center of the battle is Twitter, which asked for a three-month extension to comply with the new IT rules that went into effect May 25.  On May 24, New Delhi police attempted to deliver a notice to Twitter’s office, which was closed at the time, and then released a video of officers entering the building and searching the offices on local TV channels. #WATCH | Team of Delhi Police Special cell carrying out searches in the offices of Twitter India (in Delhi & Gurugram)Visuals from Lado Sarai. pic.twitter.com/eXipqnEBgt— ANI (@ANI) May 24, 2021In a tweet days later, Twitter said it was “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve.”Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat …

Blacks, Hispanics More Likely to Die of COVID-19 in US, Associated Press Finds

As the United States approaches 600,000 COVID-19 related deaths, the Associated Press has uncovered data showing how the pandemic has exposed  the country’s wide racial inequalities. A story published Monday by the AP said where race is known, white Americans account for 61% of all COVID-19 deaths, followed by Hispanics with 19%, Blacks with 15%, and Asian Americans with 4% — figures that track with the groups’ share of the U.S. population as a whole.  But the news agency said an analysis of data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Native Americans, Latinos and Blacks are two or three times more likely than whites to die of the disease after adjusting for population age differences.  The AP also found Latinos are dying at much younger ages than other groups — 37% of Hispanic deaths were of those under 65 years of age, compared to 30% for Blacks and just 12% for whites.  According to the AP, Blacks and Hispanics overall have less access to medical care and are in poorer health, with higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.  They are also more likely to work at jobs deemed “essential,” are less able to work from home and more likely to live in crowded, multi-generational households, where working family members are more likely to expose others to the virus. An analyst with the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-policy research organization, tells the AP that the high rates of COVID-19 deaths among Blacks and Latinos parallels …

Gunmen Kill 5 Polio Vaccinators in Afghanistan

Officials in conflict-torn Afghanistan said Tuesday gunmen had shot dead at least five polio vaccinators and injured several others in separate attacks in eastern Nangarhar province.    Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where the crippling polio disease remains endemic.    Authorities said the early morning violence in parts of Jalalabad, the provincial capital, and nearby Khogyani district came on the second day of a four-day national campaign administering polio drops to children under five years of age.     Jan Mohammad, head of the provincial immunization department, told VOA they had suspended the vaccination campaign following the deadly attack. No one immediately took responsibility for what appeared to be a coordinated shooting spree.      In March, three female anti-polio workers were gunned down in Jalalabad during this year’s first polio immunization drive. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack. The terror group’s regional affiliate, known as IS Khorasan Province, has bases in Nangarhar and adjoining Afghan provinces.     The United Nations condemned Tuesday’s attack, saying depriving children from an assurance of a healthy life “is inhuman.”    Ramiz Alakbarov, U.N. secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, demanded the “senseless violence must stop” and authorities bring to justice those responsible for it.     “I am appalled by the brutality of these killings,” Alakbarov wrote on Twitter. The United Nations strongly condemns all attacks on health workers anywhere. Delivery of health care is impartial attack against health workers and those who defends them …

India’s Government in Standoff with Twitter Over Online Speech

The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in a battle with U.S. tech firms over a new set of online speech rules that it has enacted for the nation of nearly 1.4 billion.  The rules require companies to restrict a range of topics on their services, comply with government takedown orders and identify the original source of information shared. If the companies fail to comply, tech firm employees can be held criminally liable.  The escalation of tensions between Modi’s government and tech firms, activists say, could result in the curtailment of Indians’ online speech.  “Absent a change in direction, the future of free speech in the world’s largest democracy is increasingly imperiled,” said Samir Jain, director of policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a digital rights advocacy group. “Users will have less freedom of expression and less access to news and entertainment that is unapproved by the government. The rules will thereby undermine Indian democracy,” Jain told VOA. At the center of the battle is Twitter, which asked for a three-month extension to comply with the new IT rules that went into effect May 25.  On May 24, New Delhi police attempted to deliver a notice to Twitter’s office, which was closed at the time, and then released a video of officers entering the building and searching the offices on local TV channels. #WATCH | Team of Delhi Police Special cell carrying out searches in the offices of Twitter India (in Delhi & Gurugram)Visuals from Lado Sarai. pic.twitter.com/eXipqnEBgt— ANI (@ANI) May 24, 2021In a tweet days later, Twitter said it was “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve.”Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat …

Coronavirus, Climate and Trade on Agenda for US-EU Summit

Battling the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as working together on trade and foreign affairs are on the agenda Tuesday as U.S. President Joe Biden and European Union leaders hold a summit in Brussels. In statements issued ahead of the talks, the two sides said they would reiterate support for the COVAX facility for ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and to work together on ways to promote a global recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic. They also planned to discuss efforts to reform the World Health Organization. After both were a major topic at G-7 and NATO meetings this week, Russia and China will again be on the agenda Tuesday.  Both the White House and European Union said the leaders would also express a commitment to supporting democracy and combatting corruption, and to upholding human rights around the world. They are also pledging to cooperate on issues involving cybersecurity and migration. The EU side is being represented in the summit by European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. On climate change, the United States and the EU said they would reaffirm commitments to upholding the 2015 Paris climate agreement and to become climate neutral economies by 2050. They also said they plan to urge other “major players” to take ambitious climate actions. Adopted by nearly 200 nations when it was initially signed, the Paris climate agreement’s goal is to slow down global warming.   …