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US Officially Requests To Rejoin UNESCO

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US Officially Requests To Rejoin UNESCO

PARIS (AP) — UNESCO announced Monday that the United States plans to rejoin the U.N. cultural and scientific agency — and pay more than $600 million in back dues — after a decade-long dispute sparked by the organization’s move to include Palestine as a member.

U.S. officials say the decision to return was motivated by concern that China is filling the gap left by the U.S. in UNESCO policymaking, notably in setting standards for artificial intelligence and technology education around the world.

The move will face a vote by UNESCO’s member states in the coming weeks. But approval seems a formality after the resounding applause that greeted the announcement in UNESCO’s Paris headquarters Monday. Not a single country raised an objection to the return of a country that was once the agency’s single biggest funder.

The U.S. and Israel stopped financing UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011. The Trump administration decided in 2017 to withdraw from the agency altogether the following year, citing long-running anti-Israel bias and management problems.

UNESCO’s director general, Audrey Azoulay, has worked to address those concerns since her election in 2017, and that appears to have paid off.

“It’s a historic moment for UNESCO,” she said Monday. “It’s also an important day for multilateralism.″

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma submitted a letter last week to Azoulay formalizing the plan to rejoin. He noted progress in depoliticizing debate about the Middle East and reforming the agency’s management, according to the hand-delivered letter, obtained by AP.

The decision is a big boost to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known for its World Heritage program as well as projects to fight climate change and teach girls to read.

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While Palestinian membership in UNESCO was the trigger for the U.S. fallout with the agency, its return is more about China’s growing influence.

Undersecretary of State for Management John Bass said in March that the U.S. absence from UNESCO had strengthened China, and ”undercuts our ability to be as effective in promoting our vision of a free world.”

He said UNESCO was key in setting and shaping standards for technology and science teaching around the world, “so if we’re really serious about the digital-age competition with China … we can’t afford to be absent any longer.”

The U.S. decision doesn’t address the status of Palestine. While it’s a member of UNESCO, on the ground, the Palestinians are further away from independence than ever. There have not been serious peace talks in over a decade, and Israel’s new government is filled with hardliners who oppose Palestinian independence.

The Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO didn’t comment on the U.S. decision. The only envoy who wasn’t gushing with praise was China’s ambassador, Jin Yang. He noted the negative impact of the U.S. absence, and expressed hope that the move means Washington is serious about multilateralism.

“Being a member of an international organization is a serious issue, and we hope that the return of the U.S. this time means it acknowledges the mission and the goals of the organization,” the ambassador said.

UNESCO director Azoulay, who is Jewish, won broad praise for her personal efforts to build consensus among Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli diplomats around sensitive UNESCO resolutions. She met with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to explain those efforts. Thanks to those bipartisan negotiations, she expressed confidence that the U.S. decision to return is for the long term, regardless of who wins next year’s presidential election.

“What’s happened over the last years meant that UNESCO matters,” she said. “And when you’re absent from that … you lose something. You lose something for your influence in the world, but also for your own national interest.”

Under the plan, the U.S. government would pay its 2023 dues plus $10 million in bonus contributions this year earmarked for Holocaust education, preserving cultural heritage in Ukraine, journalist safety, and science and technology education in Africa, Verma’s letter says.

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The Biden administration has already requested $150 million for the 2024 budget to go toward UNESCO dues and arrears. The plan foresees similar requests for the ensuing years until the full debt of $619 million is paid off.

That makes up a big chunk of UNESCO’s $534 million annual operating budget. Before leaving, the U.S. contributed 22% of the agency’s overall funding.

A UNESCO diplomat expressed hope that the return of the U.S. would bring “more ambition, and more serenity” — and energize programs to regulate artificial intelligence, educate girls in Afghanistan and chronicle victims of slavery in the Caribbean.

The diplomat said that the agency would also “welcome” Israel back if it wanted to rejoin. There was no immediate response from the Israeli government.

Israel has long accused the United Nations of anti-Israel bias. In 2012, over Israeli objections, the state of Palestine was recognized as a nonmember observer state by the U.N. General Assembly. The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state. Israel says the Palestinians’ efforts to win recognition at the U.N. are aimed at circumventing a negotiated settlement and meant to pressure Israel into concessions.

The United States previously pulled out of UNESCO under the Reagan administration in 1984 because it viewed the agency as mismanaged, corrupt and used to advance Soviet interests. It rejoined in 2003.

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Lee reported from Washington. Laurie Kellman in Tel Aviv and Masha Macpherson in Paris contributed.

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Uber and Lyft agree to pay drivers $32.50 per hour in Massachusetts settlement

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Uber and Lyft agree to pay drivers $32.50 per hour in Massachusetts settlement

BOSTON (AP) — Drivers for Uber and Lyft will earn a minimum pay standard of $32.50 per hour under a settlement announced Thursday by Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell, in a deal that also includes a suite of benefits and protections.

The two companies will also be required to pay a combined $175 million to the state to resolve allegations that the companies violated Massachusetts wage and hour laws, a substantial majority of which will be distributed to current and former drivers.

Campbell said the settlement resolves her office’s yearslong litigation against the two companies and stops the threat of their attempt to rewrite state employment law by a proposed 2024 ballot initiative.

That question would have resulted in drivers receiving inadequate protections and an earnings standard that would not guarantee minimum wage, she said.

“For years, these companies have underpaid their drivers and denied them basic benefits,” Campbell said in a written statement. “Today’s agreement holds Uber and Lyft accountable, and provides their drivers, for the very first time in Massachusetts, guaranteed minimum pay, paid sick leave, occupational accident insurance, and health care stipends.”

Democratic Gov. Maura Healey said the settlement delivers “historic wages and benefits to right the wrongs of the past and ensure drivers are paid fairly going forward.”

In a statement Lyft said the agreement resolves a lawsuit that recently went to trial, and avoids the need for the ballot initiative campaign this November.

“More importantly, it is a major victory in a multiyear campaign by Bay State drivers to secure their right to remain independent, while gaining access to new benefits,” the company said.

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Uber also released a statement calling the agreement “an example of what independent, flexible work with dignity should look like in the 21st century.”

“In taking this opportunity, we’ve resolved historical liabilities by constructing a new operating model that balances both flexibility and benefits,” the company said. “This allows both Uber and Massachusetts to move forward in a way that reflects what drivers want and demonstrates to other states what’s possible to achieve.”

The companies were pushing a ballot question that would classify drivers as independent contractors eligible for some benefits, but Campbell said the settlement stops the threat of the ballot question. A competing ballot question seeks to give drivers the right to unionize in Massachusetts.

Drivers will now earn one hour of sick day pay for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. As part of the agreement, Uber and Lyft must update their driver applications so drivers are able to view and claim their sick leave directly in the app. Drivers will also receive a stipend to buy into the state’s paid family and medical leave program.

Under the deal, Uber and Lyft will also allow drivers to pool together their hours driving for the two companies to obtain access to a health insurance stipend. Anyone who drives for more than 15 hours per week — for either or both companies — will be able to earn a health insurance stipend to pay for a plan on the Massachusetts Health Connector.

Drivers will be eligible for occupational accident insurance paid by the companies for up to $1 million in coverage for work-related injuries.

The agreement also requires the companies to provide drivers with key information — about the length of a trip, the destination and expected earnings — before they are expected to accept a ride.

The companies are barred from discriminating against drivers based on race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or other protected identities — and can’t retaliate against drivers who have filed a complaint about the companies with the Attorney General’s Office.

The deal also requires the companies to provide drivers in-app chat support with a live person in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French and must provide drivers with information about why they have been deactivated and create an appeals process.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

BALTIMORE (AP) — Teams of engineers worked Saturday on the intricate process of cutting and lifting the first section of twisted steel from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, which crumpled into the Patapsco River this week after a massive cargo ship crashed into one of its supports.

Sparks could be seen flying from a section of bent and crumpled steel in the afternoon, and video released by officials in the evening showed demolition crews using a cutting torch to slice through the thick beams. The joint incident command said in a statement that the work was being done on the top of the north side of the collapsed structure.

Crews were carefully measuring and cutting the steel from the broken bridge before attaching straps so it can be lifted onto a barge and floated away, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said.

Seven floating cranes — including a massive one capable of lifting 1,000 tons — 10 tugboats, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats were on site in the water southeast of Baltimore.

Each movement affects what happens next and ultimately how long it will take to remove all the debris and reopen the ship channel and the blocked Port of Baltimore, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said.

“I cannot stress enough how important today and the first movement of this bridge and of the wreckage is. This is going to be a remarkably complicated process,” Moore said.

Undeterred by the chilly morning weather, longtime Baltimore resident Randy Lichtenberg and others took cellphone photos or just quietly looked at the broken pieces of the bridge, which including its steel trusses weigh as much as 4,000 tons.

“I wouldn’t want to be in that water. It’s got to be cold. It’s a tough job,” Lichtenberg said from a spot on the river called Sparrows Point.

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The shock of waking up Tuesday morning to video of what he called an iconic part of the Baltimore skyline falling into the water has given way to sadness.

“It never hits you that quickly. It’s just unbelievable,” Lichtenberg said.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

One of the first goals for crews on the water is to get a smaller auxiliary ship channel open so tugboats and other small barges can move freely. Crews also want to stabilize the site so divers can resume searching for four missing workers who are presumed dead.

Two other workers were rescued from the water in the hours following the bridge collapse, and the bodies of two more were recovered from a pickup truck that fell and was submerged in the river. They had been filling potholes on the bridge and while police were able to stop vehicle traffic after the ship called in a mayday, they could not get to the construction workers, who were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The crew of the cargo ship Dali, which is managed by Synergy Marine Group, remained on board with the debris from the bridge around it, and were safe and were being interviewed. They are keeping the ship running as they will be needed to get it out of the channel once more debris has been removed.

The vessel is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk.

The collision and collapse appeared to be an accident that came after the ship lost power. Federal and state investigators are still trying to determine why.

Assuaging concern about possible pollution from the crash, Adam Ortiz, the Environmental Protection Agency’s mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, said there was no indication in the water of active releases from the ship or materials hazardous to human health.

REBUILDING

Officials are also trying to figure out how to handle the economic impact of a closed port and the severing of a major highway link. The bridge was completed in 1977 and carried Interstate 695 around southeast Baltimore.

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Maryland transportation officials are planning to rebuild the bridge, promising to consider innovative designs or building materials to hopefully shorten a project that could take years.

President Joe Biden’s administration has approved $60 million in immediate aid and promised the federal government will pay the full cost to rebuild.

Ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore remains suspended, but the Maryland Port Administration said trucks were still being processed at marine terminals.

The loss of a road that carried 30,000 vehicles a day and the port disruption will affect not only thousands of dockworkers and commuters, but also U.S. consumers, who are likely to feel the impact of shipping delays. The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other U.S. facility.

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Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C.; Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tennessee; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed.

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