A Special Schoolhouse for a Special Schoolgirl

For many kids studying during lockdown has been a challenge. VOA’s Lesia Bakalets in a story narrated by Anna Rice, shows how one family creatively tackled the problem.Camera: Andrey Degtyarev

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Barrett Likely to be Confirmed to US Supreme Court Monday    

The U.S. Senate is expected to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a seat on the Supreme Court in a vote late Monday. If confirmed, Barrett would be the third justice on the nine-member court to be nominated by President Donald Trump and significantly tip its ideological balance toward a 6-3 conservative majority.  Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and Senator Susan Collins is the only Republican to indicate she would not vote on Barrett’s nomination due to the close proximity to next week’s presidential election. Democrats have opposed Barrett’s nomination both objecting to her credentials and to the process of filling the seat of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in such rapid fashion.Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett testifies during the third day of her confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 14, 2020.The Democrats have argued that the decision of picking a nominee for the seat should have been left up to whichever candidate wins the presidential election, a position Republicans held when there was an election-year vacancy in early 2016. “The Senate is doing the right thing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday.“We’re moving this nomination forward.” The Senate voted 51-48 Sunday to end Democrats’ filibuster on Barrett’s nomination, starting a period of 30 hours of debate before the final vote. “Senate Democrats are taking over the floor all night to fight this sham process by Senate Republicans,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.  “We will not stop fighting.” Barrett almost assuredly would be among the justices hearing a new challenge Nov. 10 on whether to invalidate the country’s Affordable Care Act, which Trump has sought to overturn.  The law, popularly known as Obamacare after former President Barack Obama who championed its passage in 2010, is a measure that helps provide health care to millions of Americans. Its fate is a crucial concern for many people amid the surging number of new coronavirus cases in the United States.  Republicans have long argued that Obamacare costs taxpayers too much and gives government too much control over health care. The Republican-led Congress in 2017 eliminated the Act’s mandate that people who could afford to buy health insurance do so. They now want the Supreme Court to invalidate the entire Act, saying that without that key provision, the rest of the legislation is invalid. 

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New Storm Zeta a Hurricane Threat to Mexico, US Gulf Coast

Newly formed Tropical Storm Zeta strengthened Sunday in the western Caribbean and will probably become a hurricane before hitting Mexico’s resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula and the U.S. Gulf Coast in coming days.Zeta was the earliest named 27th Atlantic storm recorded in an already historic hurricane season.The system was centered about 275 miles (445 kilometers) southeast of Cozumel island early Sunday evening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.The storm was nearly stationary, though forecasters said it was likely to shear the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula or westernmost Cuba by late Monday or early Tuesday and then close in on the U.S. Gulf Coast by Wednesday, but could weaken by then.The storm had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph), and forecasters said Zeta was expected to intensify into a hurricane Monday.Officials in Quintana Roo state, the location of Cancun and other resorts, said they were watching the storm. They reported nearly 60,000 tourists in the state as of midweek. The state government said 71 shelters were being readied for tourists or residents who might need them.The government is still handing out aid, including sheet roofing, to Yucatan residents hit by Hurricane Delta and Tropical Storm Gamma earlier this month.Zeta may dawdle in the western Caribbean for another day or so, trapped between two strong high pressure systems to the east and west. It can’t move north or south because nothing is moving there either, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.“It just has to sit and wait for a day or so,” McNoldy said. “It just needs anything to move.”When a storm gets stuck, it can unload dangerous downpours over one place, which causes flooding when a storm is over or near land. That happened in 2017 over Houston with Harvey, when more than 60 inches (150 centimeters) of rain fell and 2019 over the Bahamas with a Category 5 Dorian, which was the worst-case scenario of a stationary storm, said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.While Zeta was over open ocean Sunday, Jamaica and Honduras were getting heavy rains because the system is so large and South Florida was under a flood watch, McNoldy said.But once Zeta eventually gets moving, it won’t be stalling over landfall, Klotzbach said.The Hurricane Center said Zeta could bring 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain to parts of the Caribbean and Mexico as well as Florida and the Keys before drenching parts of the central Gulf Coast by Wednesday.A 2018 study said storms, especially in the Atlantic basin, are slowing down and stalling more. Atlantic storms that made landfall moved 2.9 mph (4.7 kph) slower than 60 years ago, the study found. Study author James Kossin, a government climate scientist, said the trend has signs of human-caused climate change.Zeta is also in a dangerous place to stall. The western Caribbean is “where storms can cook” and rapidly intensify because of the deep, warm waters, like 2005’s Wilma, Klotzbach said. However, the National Hurricane Center was not forecasting rapid intensification for Zeta.The lack of steering currents also meant wide spread of possible landfalls when Zeta eventually heads north to the Gulf Coast. The hurricane center said it could make landfall anywhere from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards urged his state’s citizens to monitor the storm, and the state activated its Crisis Action Team.On Sunday, a hurricane warning was called for the Yucatan Peninsula from Tulum to Rio Lagartos, including Cancun and Cozumel, while a tropical storm warning was in effect for Pinar del Rio, Cuba.Zeta broke the record of the previous earliest 27th Atlantic named storm that formed Nov. 29, 2005, according to Klotzbach.This year’s season has so many storms that the hurricane center has turned to the Greek alphabet after running out of official names.Zeta is the furthest into the Greek alphabet the Atlantic season has gone. There was also a Tropical Storm Zeta in 2005, but that year had 28 storms because meteorologists later went back and found they missed one, which then became a “unnamed named storm,” Klotzbach said.Additionally, Hurricane Epsilon was moving quickly through the northern portion of the Atlantic Ocean. Forecasters said it would become a post-tropical cyclone later Sunday. Large ocean swells generated by the hurricane could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions along U.S. East Coast and Atlantic Canada during the next couple of days.

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Black US Archbishop’s Rise Marks a Historic Moment

Washington D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory is set to become the first Black U.S. prelate to assume the rank of cardinal in the Catholic Church, a historic appointment that comes months after nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice.Gregory’s ascension, announced on Sunday by Pope Francis alongside 12 other newly named cardinals, elevates a leader who has drawn praise for his handling of the sexual abuse scandal that has roiled the church. The Washington-area archbishop also has spoken out in recent days about the importance of Catholic leaders working to combat the sin of racial discrimination.The 72-year-old Gregory, ordained in his native Chicago in 1973, took over leadership of the capital’s archdiocese last year after serving as archbishop of Atlanta since 2005. The ceremony making his elevation official is slated for Nov. 28.“With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s Church,” Gregory said in a statement issued by the archdiocese.Gregory helped shape the church’s “zero tolerance” response to the sexual abuse scandal while serving as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004. During that period, the bishops adopted a charter designed to govern its treatment of sexual abuse allegations made by minor children against priests. The church’s efforts since 2004 have helped achieve a sharp reduction in child-sex abuse cases. But some abuse continues to occur, and the church’s procedures for addressing abuse continue to incur criticism from those who feel there’s a lack of consistency and transparency.More recently, amid nationwide protests this summer sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Gregory made headlines for issuing a statement critical of President Donald Trump’s visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. That presidential visit to the shrine came one day after demonstrators were forcefully cleared to facilitate Trump’s visit to an Episcopal church in Washington, and Gregory responded that he considered “it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated.”During a June dialogue hosted by Georgetown University, Gregory talked frankly about his own response to Floyd’s killing and emphasized the value of church involvement in pressing social issues.“The church lives in society. The church does not live behind the four doors of the structures where we worship,” Gregory said then.The Washington D.C. archdiocese has created an anti-racism initiative under Gregory’s leadership, offering focused prayer and listening sessions.In addition to his work combating racial injustice and sexual abuse in the church, Gregory has drawn notice for his more inclusive treatment of LGBTQ Catholics. In 2014, while serving in Atlanta, he wrote a positive column about his conversations with a group of Catholic parents of LGBTQ children.Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which represents LGBTQ Catholics, said his group is “very excited” to see Gregory’s elevation and connected it back to Francis’ recently reported comments supporting civil unions for same-sex couples.Gregory’s elevation, while pathbreaking for Black Americans in the church, also follows a pattern of D.C.-area archbishops getting named to the rank of cardinal. Five of the six prelates who previously held Gregory’s position were later named cardinals.The archdiocese, though, has become embroiled in the abuse crisis since its previous two leaders — Donald Wuerl and Theodore McCarrick — were implicated in the church sex scandal.Francis in February 2019 defrocked McCarrick after a Vatican-backed investigation concluded he sexually abused minors and adults over his long career. It was the first time a cardinal had been dismissed from the priesthood for abuse.Francis reluctantly accepted Wuerl’s resignation in October 2018 after he lost the trust of his priests and parishioners in the months following the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. The report accused Wuerl of helping to protect some child-molesting priests while he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.

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UN Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons Worldwide Ratified

An international treaty to ban nuclear weapons has been ratified by 50 United Nations member countries, the world body said Saturday.With Honduras being the 50th nation to ratify it, the historic document enters into force in 90 days, on Jan. 22.In a statement U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commended the efforts of the 50 countries and of civil society’s anti-nuclear activists for such “instrumental work.”The treaty is the culmination of a worldwide movement “to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons,” Guterres said in the statement issued by U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, adding it “is a tribute to the survivors of nuclear explosions and tests, many of whom advocated for this treaty.”The movement had been strongly opposed by the United States and other major nuclear powers.The treaty “represents a meaningful commitment towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations,” Dujarric quoted Guterres as stating.The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross saluted the treaty, saying in a statement “today is a victory for humanity, and a promise of a safer future.”Since the 75th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August, several countries, including Nigeria, Malaysia, Ireland, Malta and Tuvalu, have ratified the treaty.

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‘Murder Hornet’ Nest Vacuumed Out of Washington Tree

A team of entomologists in full-body protective gear vacuumed Asian giant hornets out of a tree in Washington state on Saturday, eradicating the first nest of the so-called murder hornets found in the United States.The state’s agricultural department said it had spent weeks searching for and trapping the hornets, which attack honeybee hives and could pose a threat to humans, because they can sting repeatedly with venom that is stronger than a honeybee’s.The state’s entomologists succeeded by attaching radio trackers to three hornets they had trapped earlier in the week, one of which they followed to the nest, located in a tree near Blaine, Washington, on Thursday.They returned on Saturday to make the extraction.”Got ’em. Vacuumed out several #AsianGiantHornets from a tree cavity near Blaine this morning,” the agriculture department said on Twitter, adding that more details would be provided at a news conference on Monday.The stinging hornet, the world’s largest, can grow as large as 6.4 centimeters in length and is native to Southeast Asia, China and Taiwan. It was first discovered in the United States in December by a homeowner in Blaine.Aside from the danger to humans, the hornet presents a threat to agriculture and the apiary industry, officials have said, because it is a known predator of honeybees, with a few of the hornets capable of wiping out an entire hive in hours.

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Top Aide to US Vice President Pence Tests Positive for Coronavirus

A close aide to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesperson for the office said late Saturday.“Today, Marc Short, chief of staff to the vice president, tested positive for COVID-19, began quarantine and assisting in the contact tracing process,” Devin O’Malley said, adding that Pence and his wife, Karen, tested negative Saturday and were in good health.Pence “will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel,” O’Malley said. On Sunday the vice president is to address a campaign rally in North Carolina.Asked about Short when he returned to Washington Saturday evening, after rallies in three U.S. states, President Donald Trump said, “I did hear about it just now. I think he’s quarantining. I did hear about that. He’s going to be fine. But he’s quarantining.”

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Trump Holds Rallies in 3 States While Biden Focuses on Pennsylvania

U.S. President Donald Trump was holding three large rallies in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin on Saturday while his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, focused on the battleground state of Pennsylvania where he held two drive-in campaign events.Trump, the Republican incumbent, attacked the Democrats and the media for continuing to focus on the coronavirus, accusing them of deflecting what he termed scandals involving Biden and his son Hunter.“You’re trying to scare people” by reporting on the pandemic, the president told reporters at the Columbus airport before his second rally. “Don’t scare people.”At his first event in Lumberton, North Carolina, he spoke about testing for COVID-19, a day after the United States registered a single-day record number of cases.”In some ways it’s good. In many ways it’s foolish,” Trump said of increased testing. “Cases are up. If we tested half, cases would be half.”The record number of cases gives “the fake news media something to talk about,” added the president.Trump made the remark at a packed rally in defiance of pandemic social distancing guidelines in Lumberton.At a second, similar event in Circleville, Ohio, the president said the coronavirus “is going away” but the media only talk about “cases, cases, cases” and not a drop in COVID-19 deaths.Hospitalizations, however, for the virus are increasing in many states.Prior to his Saturday appearances, Trump cast an early vote for himself in his home state of Florida, to which he switched his official residence from New York last year.“It’s an honor to be voting,” the president told reporters immediately after depositing his ballot at a library in West Palm Beach after spending the night at his nearby Mar-a-Lago resort. “I voted for a guy named Trump.”At Biden’s second event of the day, rock musician Jon Bon Jovi played three songs before the nominee addressed the drive-in rally in a high school parking lot in Dallas, Pennsylvania, where honking of horns substituted for applause.“These days on the radio and at the [Trump] rallies on the TV, I always hear a lot of ‘me, me, me,’ but I really do believe that Joe believes in the power of we,” said the singer, a New Jersey native who spent boyhood summers in Erie, Pennsylvania.The event took place in the pivotal county of Luzerne, which voted for the ticket of Barack Obama and Biden in 2012 but helped to deliver Pennsylvania to Trump four years ago.Biden earlier in the day also held a socially distanced drive-in event in Bucks County, a suburban county near Philadelphia that Hillary Clinton captured by a slim margin in 2016.On the coronavirus, the former vice president warned, “There’s going to be a dark winter ahead unless we change our way.”Trump at his first rally of the day mocked that comment, sarcastically calling his opponent “a very inspiring guy.”Obama, meanwhile, spoke Saturday at a drive-in rally in North Miami, Florida.“What we do in the next 10 days will matter for decades to come,” said the former president.Obama contended that his successor has failed in the job and “doesn’t even acknowledge the reality of what’s taking place across the country” with the pandemic.Trump, said Obama, has treated the presidency “like a reality show to give himself more attention.”Although the presidential election is less than two weeks away, more than 57 million people have already voted. Another 100 million or so are expected to cast ballots before a winner is declared.Most nationwide polls show Biden comfortably ahead of Trump and the challenger with slight leads in key states expected to swing the outcome of the election.

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UN: Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons to Enter Into Force

An international treaty banning nuclear weapons has been ratified by a 50th country — Honduras — allowing it to enter into force after 90 days, a U.N. official said Saturday.”Today is a victory for humanity, and a promise of a safer future,” Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in a statement.Other NGOs also welcomed the news, including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its key role in bringing the treaty to fruition.”Honduras just ratified the treaty as the 50th state, triggering entry into force and making history,” ICAN said in its tweet.The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — which bans the use, development, production, testing, stationing, stockpiling and threat of use of such weapons — was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in July 2017 with the approval of 122 countries.It is now expected to enter into force in January 2021.The clutch of nuclear-armed states, including the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, have not signed the treaty.However, campaigners hope that its coming into force will have the same impact as previous international treaties on land mines and cluster munitions, bringing a stigma to their stockpiling and use, and thereby a change in behavior even in countries that did not sign up.

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Europe, US Watch COVID Case Totals Grow, Debate New Restrictions

Confirmed coronavirus infections continued to soar Saturday in many parts of the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, so did anger over the restrictions governments put in place to try to stem the tide.Oklahoma, Illinois, New Mexico and Michigan were among states announcing new record highs in daily confirmed cases Saturday, a day after a nationwide daily record of more than 83,000 reported infections, according to Johns Hopkins University.Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said it’s “now more important than ever that people take this seriously.” The 3,338 new COVID-19 cases in her state topped the old record by more than 1,300.German authorities reported a record one-day total of new coronavirus cases this weekend while leaders in Spain and Italy debated how to control the resurgent virus amid public pushback to curfews despite a global death toll topping 1.1 million.In Italy, officials huddled with regional authorities on Saturday to determine what new restrictions could be imposed as confirmed cases surpassed half a million.Premier Giuseppe Conte has said he doesn’t want to put Italy under severe lockdown again, as he did at the pandemic’s start. In past days, several governors ordered overnight curfews in their regions to stop people from congregating at night outside bars and other venues.One such curfew fueled anger in Naples, triggering a violent clash by protesters with police. Italian media said protesters hurled rocks, pieces of broken ceramic tiles and smoke bombs at police while they battled back with tear gas. Elsewhere in Europe, police in Warsaw, Poland, used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters angry over new virus restrictions, and anti-lockdown demonstrators gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square.Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Saturday branded the Naples protests “unacceptable” and said prosecutors were investigating.According to Health Ministry figures, Italy’s one-day new caseload of confirmed infections crept closer to 20,000 on Saturday, a slightly bigger daily increase than Friday. The nation’s confirmed death toll, second-highest in Europe after Britain’s, rose to 37,210 after 151 more deaths.Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez plans to meet with his Cabinet on Sunday morning in Madrid to prepare a new state of emergency, a strategy used twice since the start of the pandemic.The first in March ordered strict home confinement across the nation, closed stores, and recruited private industry for the national public health fight. The second went into effect two weeks ago, focused on transit limits in the Madrid area.In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged citizens again to reduce their number of social contacts as the nation recorded a new daily high for infections.The 14,714 cases reported on Saturday includes cases from both Friday and Thursday because of a three-hour data outage at the country’s disease control agency Thursday. Forty-nine more people died, bringing the overall death toll past 10,000.The chancellor said in her weekly podcast “if we all obey (to social distancing) we will all together survive this enormous challenge posed by the virus.”Other European countries have tightened restrictions hoping to cope with their own rising case counts.Slovenia closed down hotels, shopping malls and other nonessential shops as authorities reported a record high of both new daily infections and deaths in the small country of 2 million people. Greece unveiled a mask requirement and a mandatory nightly curfew for Athens and other areas deemed high risk.In South America, Colombia became the eighth country to reach 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, according to the Colombian Ministry of Health. Two of the others are also in Latin America: Argentina, which hit that mark on Monday, and Brazil, which has more than 5 million confirmed cases.In the U.S., the virus has claimed about 240,000 lives, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard published by Johns Hopkins. The total U.S. caseload reported Friday was 83,757, topping the 77,362 cases reported on July 16.Many rural communities are bearing the brunt. In Columbia, Tennessee, Maury Regional Medical Center said Friday it was suspending elective surgical procedures that require an overnight stay for two weeks, beginning on Monday. The Daily Herald reported that it was treating 50 COVID-19 inpatients, 20 of whom were in the medical center’s 26-bed intensive care unit.Martin Chaney, Maury Regional’s chief medical officer, said small home gatherings have become the emerging threat through which the disease is being spread in the six-county region the medical center covers.”In our homes, we all let our guard down,” Chaney said. “You think it is safe to not socially distance, and you take your masks off. That is spreading the disease very rapidly.”

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