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TikTok Fate in the Balance as Judge Weighs App Store Ban

Lawyers for TikTok pleaded with a U.S. federal judge on Sunday to delay the Trump administration’s ban of the popular video sharing program from app stores set to take effect at the end of the day, arguing the move would infringe on First Amendment rights and do irreparable harm to the business.The 90-minute hearing came after President Donald Trump declared this summer that TikTok was a threat to national security and that it either sold its U.S. operations to U.S. companies or the app would be barred from the country.TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is scrambling to firm up a deal tentatively struck a week ago in which it would partner with tech company Oracle and retailer Walmart and that would get the blessing of the Chinese and American governments. In the meantime, it is fighting to keep the app available in the United States.The ban on new downloads of TikTok, which has about 100 million users in the U.S, was delayed once by the government. A more comprehensive ban is scheduled for November, about a week after the presidential election. Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said he would make a decision by late Sunday, leaving TikTok’s fate hanging.In arguments to Nichols, TikTok lawyer John Hall said that TikTok is more than an app but rather is a “modern day version of a town square.””If that prohibition goes into effect at midnight, the consequences immediately are grave,'” Hall said. “It would be no different than the government locking the doors to a public forum, roping off that town square” at a time when a free exchange of ideas is necessary heading into a polarized election.  TikTok lawyers also argued that a ban on the app would stop tens of thousands of potential viewers and content creators every month and hurt its ability to hire new talent. In addition, Hall argued that a ban would prevent existing users from automatically receiving security updates, eroding national security.  Justice Department lawyer Daniel Schwei sought to undercut TikTok lawyers’ argument, saying that Chinese companies are not purely private and are subject to intrusive laws compelling their cooperation with intelligence agencies. The Justice Department has also argued that economic regulations of this nature generally are not subject to First Amendment scrutiny. Plaintiffs can’t claim a First Amendment right in hosting TikTok itself as a platform for others’ speech because merely hosting a platform is not an exercise of the First Amendment, the Justice Department contends.  “This is the most immediate national security threat,” Schwei argued. “It is a threat today. It is a risk today and therefore it deserves to be addressed today even while other things are ongoing and playing out.”Schwei also argued that TikTok lawyers failed to prove it would suffer irreparable business harm.The Justice Department laid out its objections to TikTok’s motion for a temporary injunction in a brief under seal, but it was unsealed in redacted form to protect confidential business information.Trump set the process in motion with executive orders in August that declared TikTok and another Chinese app, WeChat, as threats to national security. The White House says the video service is a security risk because the personal information of its millions of U.S. users could be handed over to Chinese authorities.Trump has said he would approve a proposed deal in which Oracle and Walmart could initially own a combined 20% of a new U.S. entity, TikTok Global. Trump also said he could retract his approval if Oracle doesn’t have “total control.”The two sides of the TikTok deal have also appeared at odds over the corporate structure of TikTok Global. ByteDance said last week that it will still own 80% of the U.S. entity after a financing round. Oracle, meanwhile, put out a statement saying that Americans “will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”Chinese media have criticized the deal as bullying and extortion, suggesting that the Chinese government is not happy with the arrangement. ByteDance said Thursday it has applied for a Chinese technology export license after Beijing tightened control over exports last month in an effort to gain leverage over Washington’s attempt to force an outright sale of TikTok to U.S. owners.  China’s foreign ministry has said the government will “take necessary measures” to safeguard its companies but gave no indication what steps it can take to affect TikTok’s fate in the United States.TikTok is suing the U.S. government over Trump’s Aug. 6 executive order, saying it is unlawful. So are resulting Commerce Department prohibitions that aim to kick TikTok out of U.S. app stores and, in November, essentially shut it down in the U.S., it claimed.The Chinese firm said the president doesn’t have the authority to take these actions under the national security law he cited, that the ban violates TikTok’s First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment due-process rights, and that there’s no authority for the restrictions because they are not based on a national emergency.

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Tobacco Causes One in Five Deaths from Heart Disease

The World Health Organization reports tobacco kills 1.9 million people, or 20 percent of all those who die every year from coronary heart disease. In advance of World Heart Day (September 29), WHO, the World Heart Federation and the University of Newcastle Australia have released a new report warning of the dangers of tobacco-induced heart disease.Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death on Earth, killing an estimated 17.9 million people every year. The World Health Organization reports smoking and second-hand smoke are responsible for nearly two million of these deaths.Director for Health Promotion at WHO, Ruediger Krech said smokers should take heart. All is not lost. He told VOA even life-long smokers who quit their deadly habit can prevent dying prematurely from heart attack or stroke.“That’s the good news. If tobacco users take immediate action now and quit, then their risk of heart disease will decrease by 50 percent after one year of not smoking. So, you can, if you quit smoking now, you can have immediate health effects on that,” he said.Besides tobacco use, major risk factors for heart disease include lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity and being overweight.WHO also warns high blood pressure and heart disease increase the risk of severe COVID-19. Krech said people are beginning to understand that smoking during a raging pandemic is not a good idea.“There are about 400 million people who want to quit smoking because of COVID-19. They now realize that a pandemic like this which is in the respiratory tract actually—you are more vulnerable, and you will actually develop more severe symptoms,” he said.While it is not easy to quit smoking, tools such as nicotine patches are available to help. WHO warns against using smokeless tobacco, which every year, it says, causes around 200,000 deaths from coronary heart disease. It adds e-cigarettes also raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as COVID-19.Krech said governments can help people quit by creating communal smoke-free zones, banning tobacco advertising and raising taxes on these deadly commodities. 

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3 Bollywood Stars Questioned in Drug Investigation

Three Bollywood actors, including top star Deepika Padukone, were questioned by India’s narcotics agency on Saturday as part of an investigation into the movie industry’s alleged links with drug peddlers and cartels, officials said.Padukone was the first to arrive at the Narcotics Control Board’s office in Mumbai. She had received a summons earlier in the week while shooting a movie in the western beach resort of Goa.Video broadcast live on Indian TV news channels later showed Shraddha Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan also reaching the agency’s office for questioning.Details of the questioning were not immediately available.The narcotics agency said in a statement that it started the Bollywood drug probe after the death of young actor Sushant Singh Rajput, whose body was found at his Mumbai residence in June. An investigation is ongoing.Padukone is one of more than a dozen people working with the Hindi movie industry who have been questioned by the agency in the past two weeks. Her manager Karishma Prakash was questioned on Friday.A top Bollywood filmmaker, Karan Johan, said in a statement Friday that allegations of narcotics being consumed at a party hosted by him in July last year at his residence were “false and baseless.” His response came after an old video from a star-studded party at his residence surfaced on social media. 

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Tiny Airborne Particles May Pose a Big Coronavirus Problem

At a University of Maryland lab, people infected with the new coronavirus take turns sitting in a chair and putting their faces into the big end of a large cone. They recite the alphabet and sing or just sit quietly for a half hour. Sometimes they cough.The cone sucks up everything that comes out of their mouths and noses. It’s part of a device called “Gesundheit II” that is helping scientists study a big question: Just how does the virus that causes COVID-19 spread from one person to another?It clearly hitchhikes on small liquid particles sprayed out by an infected person. People expel particles while coughing, sneezing, singing, shouting, talking and even breathing. But the drops come in a wide range of sizes, and scientists are trying to pin down how risky the various kinds are.The answer affects what we should all be doing to avoid getting sick. That’s why headlines were made a few days ago when a U.S. health agency appeared to have shifted its position on the issue, but later said it had published new language in error.The recommendation to stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart — some authorities cite about half that distance — is based on the idea that larger particles fall to the ground before they can travel very far. They are like the droplets in a spritz of a window cleaner, and they can infect a person by landing on his nose, mouth or eyes, or maybe if they are inhaled.Smaller particlesBut some scientists are now focusing on tinier particles, the ones that spread more like cigarette smoke. Those are carried by wisps of air and even upward drafts caused by the warmth of our bodies. They can linger in the air for minutes to hours, spreading throughout a room and building up if ventilation is poor.The potential risk comes from inhaling them. Measles can spread this way, but the new coronavirus is far less contagious than that.For these particles, called aerosols, “6 feet is not a magic distance,” said Linsey Marr, a leading researcher who is studying them at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. But she says it’s still important to keep one’s distance from others, “the farther the better,” because aerosols are most concentrated near a source and pose a bigger risk at close range.Public health agencies have generally focused on the larger particles for coronavirus.That prompted more than 200 other scientists to publish a plea in July to pay attention to the potential risk from aerosols. The World Health Organization, which had long dismissed a danger from aerosols except in the case of certain medical procedures, later said that aerosol transmission of the coronavirus can’t be ruled out in cases of infection within crowded and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.FILE – A view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta.The issue drew attention recently when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted and then deleted statements on its website that highlighted the idea of aerosol spread. The agency said the posting was an error, and that the statements were just a draft of proposed changes to its recommendations.Dr. Jay Butler, CDC’s deputy director for infectious disease, told The Associated Press that the agency continues to believe larger and heavier droplets that come from coughing or sneezing are the primary means of transmission.Last month, Butler told a scientific meeting that current research suggests aerosol spreading of the coronavirus is possible, but it doesn’t seem to be the main way that people get infected. Further research may change that conclusion, he added, and he urged scientists to study how often aerosol spread of the coronavirus occurs, what situations make it more likely and what reasonable steps might prevent it.Marr said she thinks infection by aerosols is “happening a lot more than people initially were willing to think.”‘Superspreader’ eventsAs a key piece of evidence, Marr and others point to so-called “superspreader” events where one infected person evidently passed the virus to many others in a single setting.Butler said such events raise concern about aerosol spread but don’t prove it happens.There could be another way for tiny particles to spread. They may not necessarily come directly from somebody’s mouth or nose, said William Ristenpart of the University of California-Davis. His research found that if paper tissues are seeded with influenza virus and then crumpled, they give off particles that bear the virus. So people emptying a wastebasket with tissues discarded by somebody with COVID-19 should be sure to wear a mask, he said.Scientists who warn about aerosols say current recommendations still make sense.FILE – Public information messages are posted in Manchester, England, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued new restrictions to slow the renewed spread of the coronavirus, Sept 22, 2020.Wearing a mask is still important, and make sure it fits snugly. Keep washing those hands diligently. And again, staying farther apart is better than being closer together. Avoid crowds, especially indoors.Their main addition to recommendations is ventilation to avoid a buildup of aerosol concentration. So, the researchers say, stay out of poorly ventilated rooms. Open windows and doors. One can also use air-purifying devices or virus-inactivating ultraviolet light.Best of all: Just do as much as you can outdoors, where dilution and the sun’s ultraviolet light work in your favor.”We know outdoors is the most spectacularly effective measure, by far,” said Jose-Luis Jimenez of the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Outdoors it is not impossible to get infected, but it is difficult.”FILE – In this July 15, 2020, photo, job seekers exercise social distancing as they wait to be called into the Heartland Workforce Solutions office in Omaha, Neb.The various precautions should be used in combination rather than just one at a time, researchers say. In a well-ventilated environment, “6 feet [of separation] is pretty good if everybody’s got a mask on” and nobody stays directly downwind of an infected person for very long, said Dr. Donald Milton of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, whose lab houses the Gesundheit II machine.Duration of exposure is important, so there’s probably not much risk from a short elevator ride while masked or being passed by a jogger on the sidewalk, experts say.Scientists have published online tools for calculating risk of airborne spread in various settings.At a recent meeting on aerosols, however, Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, noted that preventive steps can be a challenge in the real world. Keeping apart from other people can be difficult in homes that house multiple generations. Some old buildings have windows that were “nailed shut years ago,” he said. And “we have far too many communities where they simply don’t have access to clean water to wash their hands.”It might seem strange that for all the scientific frenzy to study the new coronavirus, the details of how it spreads can still be in doubt nine months later. But history suggests patience.”We’ve been studying influenza for 102 years,” said Milton, referring to the 1918 flu epidemic. “We still don’t know how it’s transmitted and what the role of aerosols is.”

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US Imposes Curbs on Exports by China’s Top Chipmaker SMIC

SHANGHAI/WASHINGTON — The United States government has imposed restrictions on exports to China’s biggest silicon chip maker after concluding there is an “unacceptable risk” that equipment supplied to it could be used for military purposes.
 
Suppliers of certain equipment to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) will now have to apply for individual export licenses, according to a letter from the Commerce Department dated Friday and seen by Reuters.
 
SMIC becomes the second leading Chinese technology company to face U.S. trade curbs after telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, whose access to high-end chips has been curtailed by its addition to a so-called entity list.
 
The Pentagon said earlier this month that it was weighing blacklisting SMIC, which the U.S. authorities have identified as a threat due to an alleged “fusion” of civilian and military technologies.
 
Asked for comment, SMIC said it had not received any official notice of the restrictions and said it has no ties with the Chinese military.
 
“SMIC reiterates that it manufactures semiconductors and provides services solely for civilian and commercial end-users and end-uses,” SMIC said.
 
“The Company has no relationship with the Chinese military and does not manufacture for any military end-users or end-uses.”
 
The Commerce Department declined on Saturday to comment specifically on SMIC, but said its Bureau of Industry and security was “constantly monitoring and assessing any potential threats to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”
 

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Mythical (But Possibly Real) Creatures That Roam the USA

Mysterious creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are more than just fun scary stories that we tell ourselves. Myths and superstitions that are passed down through the generations can provide insight into a culture’s perspective. As VOA’s Dora Mekouar  reports, they can also function as a warning.

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For Standup Comics, a Tricky COVID Comeback

From dark, crowded venues, to social-distanced back yards, stand-up comedians are adapting to life in the nation with the world’s highest death toll from COVID-19.  VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias found comics in the Washington, DC area who, despite their own struggles, are still succeeding to make people laugh.
Camera, producer: Veronica Balderas Iglesias

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Justice Department Asks Judge to Allow US to Bar WeChat from US App Stores

The U.S. Justice Department asked a federal judge in San Francisco on Friday to allow the government to bar Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google from offering WeChat for download in U.S. app stores pending an appeal.The filing asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler to put on hold her preliminary injunction issued Saturday. That injunction blocked the U.S. Commerce Department order that was set to take effect late September 20 and that would also bar other U.S. transactions with Tencent Holding’s WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States.Beeler responded late Friday by setting a hearing for October 15 on the motion but said she could potentially hold it on “a tighter time period.”The Justice Department filing said Beeler’s order was in error and “permits the continued, unfettered use of WeChat, a mobile application that the Executive Branch has determined constitutes a threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”Tencent had put forward a “mitigation proposal” that sought to create a new U.S. version of the app, deploy specific security measures to protect the new apps source code, partner with a U.S. cloud provider for user data storage, and manage the new app through a U.S.-based entity, the filing said.However, its proposal still allowed Tencent to retain ownership of WeChat and did not address U.S. concerns over the company, it added.Tencent declined to comment.Lawyers for U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, the group behind the legal challenge to the WeChat ban, questioned the urgency of the government’s request, noting the time it took for the government to seek a stay.”The government’s decision to sit tight for five days shows that there is no emergency,” they wrote.In support of its argument, the Justice Department made public portions of a September 17 Commerce Department memo outlining the WeChat transactions to be banned.”The WeChat mobile application collects and transmits sensitive personal information on U.S. persons, which is accessible to Tencent and stored in data centers in China and Canada,” the memo said. Beeler said WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim.”The Justice Department filing said, “The First Amendment does not bar regulation of WeChat simply because it has achieved the popularity and dependency sought by (China), precisely so it can surveil users, promote its propaganda, and otherwise place U.S. national security at risk.”WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.Beeler wrote “certainly the government’s over-arching national-security interest is significant. But on this record — while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national security concerns — it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns.”WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.TikTok on Wednesday sought a similar preliminary injunction from a U.S. judge in Washington. A judge on Friday said he would hold a hearing Sunday morning about whether to halt the U.S. app store ban on new TikTok downloads set to take effect Sunday night.  

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NASA Says It Added $64 Billion to US Economy in 2019

The U.S. space agency NASA released the results of its first-ever agency-wide economic impact study Friday, indicating its work generated more than $64 billion for the U.S. economy last year. In a release on its official website, NASA said through all its activities during fiscal year 2019, the agency supported more than 312,000 jobs nationwide, and generated an estimated $7 billion in federal, state and local taxes throughout the country. NASA said it commissioned the study to better understand how the U.S. economy benefited from its work and paid back the investment by the federal government. FILE – NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., May 23, 2020.In the release, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the study provides numbers and data to illustrate how taxpayer investment of one-half of one percent of the total federal budget in America’s space program pays off, in both a stronger economy and through advances in science and technology. The study showed that every state in the country saw some benefit from NASA activities, with 43 states seeing an economic impact of $10 million or more, and eight showing an impact of $1 billion or more. The analysis also showed that NASA’s “Moon to Mars” program alone generated $14 billion in economic output, brought in $1.5 billion in tax revenue and supported more than 69,000 jobs. The study said the program is expected to double those figures next year. The program aims to return people to the moon by 2024, and use it as a base for operations to Mars and elsewhere. The economic impact study also showed NASA has generated more than 2,000 technologies since 1976. The study was conducted by the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 
 

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Thousands March in Berlin Climate Rally

Thousands of mostly young people gathered Friday in Berlin to demand more action on climate change, part of a global day of action for the environment.Defying gray skies, the participants, many on bicycles, brought placards and banners to a rally near the iconic Brandenburg Gate. Most wore face masks as a COVID-19 precaution. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.Germany is a focal point for the demonstrations in Europe because it holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, which together with Britain accounts for 22 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans.The climate has made headlines around the world recently, from melting Arctic ice to record Siberian heat to wildfires in California and elsewhere.German climate activist Luisa Neubauer told the crowd, “We’re here because we know that climate justice is possible as long as we keep fighting for it. That’s why we’re here today.”Fridays for Future activists protest calling for a “Global Day of Climate Action” in Berlin, Germany, Sept. 25, 2020.The demonstration was one of 3,000 scheduled to be held around the world Friday, as part of the youth activist movement “Fridays for Future.” COVID-19 restrictions forced many of the activities online.In Stockholm, the person considered to be the founder of the movement, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, was in her usual location, in front of the Swedish parliament. She told a reporter the main goal of the protests was to raise awareness and sway public opinion on the urgency of climate issues.She said, “We need to treat the climate crisis as a crisis. It’s just as simple as that. The climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, and unless we treat it as a crisis, we won’t be able to so-called ‘solve’ it.’ ”In 2018, at age 15, Thunberg began skipping school on Fridays and going to the parliament to hold demonstrations for legislation on climate change. Soon, she was joined by others, and the protests eventually went viral through social media.
 

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