Category Archives: News

worldwide news

Growing Levels of E-Waste Bad for Environment, Health and Economy

A new report finds growing levels of E-waste pose significant risks to the environment and human health and result in huge economic losses for countries around the world.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the launch of the International Telecommunication Union report in Geneva.

The global information society is racing ahead at top speed.  The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports nearly half of the world uses the internet and most people have access to mobile phones, laptops, televisions, refrigerators and other electronic devices.

But ITU E-waste Technical Expert, Vanessa Gray, said the ever-increasing expansion of technology is creating staggering amounts of electronic waste.

“In 2016, the world generated a total of 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste—that is, electronic and electrical equipment that is discarded,” Gray said. “So, that basically everything that runs on a plug or on a battery.  This is equivalent to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers for the year.” 

The report found Asia generates the greatest amounts of E-waste, followed by Europe and the Americas.  Africa and Oceania produce the least.

Gray warned improper and unsafe treatment and disposal of e-waste pose significant risks to the environment and human health.  She noted that low recycling rates also result in important economic losses, because high value materials – including gold, silver, copper – are not recovered. 

“We estimate that the value of recoverable material contained in the 2016 e-waste is no less than $55 billion US, which is actually more than the Gross Domestic Product in many of the world’s countries,” Gray said.

The report calls for the development of proper legislation to manage e-waste.  It says a growing number of countries are moving in that direction.  Currently, it says 66 percent of the world population, living in 67 countries, is covered by national e-waste management laws.

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WH Denies Trump’s Tweet Against Democratic Senator Was Sexist

U.S. President Donald Trump is facing a backlash after posting an insulting tweet about a Democratic senator from New York. Kirsten Gillibrand said Tuesday that the president is trying to silence her calls for his resignation following renewed allegations by women who claim that Trump harassed them sexually in the past. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports the White House has denied the allegations.

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Italian Laser Device Detects Potentially Dangerous Food Fraud

‘Food Fraud’ costs the food and beverage industry an estimated $30 billion every year. Food fraud is the deliberate substitution or misrepresentation of food products for economic gain. It can be as harmless as selling watered down olive oil, or as dangerous as substituting starch or plastic for rice. But a new laser test developed in Italy can spot the fakes with incredible accuracy. VOAs’ Kevin Enochs reports.

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Democrat Jones Wins Alabama Senate Election

Democrat Doug Jones won the special election to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat representing the southern state of Alabama, delivering what many see as a stunning setback to the Republican Party and a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump, who urgently endorsed embattled Republican candidate Roy Moore despite a chorus of sexual misconduct allegations.

After a contentious campaign, voters backed Jones over Moore by a margin of 49.9 percent to 48.4 percent.

The result means that in January when Jones is sworn in, the Republican majority in the 100-seat Senate will shrink to 51-49 and make it tougher for President Trump to enact his agenda.

“We have shown not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way, that we can be unified,” Jones told cheering supporters in a victory speech Tuesday night. He said the Senate has a lot of work to do on important issues facing the country, including health care, jobs and the economy.

Moore, at his own rally, did not concede the election to Jones.

“It’s not over. It’s going to take some time,” he said.

His campaign pointed to Alabama laws concerning recounts, including a provision that calls for an automatic recount of votes if the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percent.

​Speaking to CNN, Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill said he would find it “highly unlikely” that Jones will not be declared the winner when the vote tally is certified in the coming week. He said there are “not a whole lot of mistakes that are made” during the initial vote-counting process.

Moore had the backing of Trump, but faced opposition from other Republican leaders. He has been accused of sexual misconduct in the 1970s when his female accusers were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Moore has consistently denied the allegations, but he initially admitted dating young women when he was an attorney general, before denying ever knowing any of his accusers.

Some Republicans, including Alabama’s other senator, Richard Shelby, opted to use write-in votes rather than support Moore. The number of total write-ins was about the same as the margin of victory for Jones.

Trump used Twitter to congratulate Jones while looking ahead to the next election for the Senate seat in 2020.

“The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time,” Trump wrote.

Jones is the first Democrat from Alabama to win a Senate seat since 1992 and will serve out the roughly three years remaining in the term Jeff Sessions won in 2014 before stepping down to serve as Trump’s attorney general.

Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs, told VOA that with the demographics of Alabama it is more likely than not that whoever challenges Jones in the 2020 race will win.

She said overall with Jones in the Senate she thinks there will be a slowdown in the Republicans’ legislative agenda, but with a major push already ongoing on tax reform in Congress, Republicans will do their best to finish that work before breaking for a holiday recess at the end of this month.

“Certainly now that the majority has shrunk by one seat and now they only have a one-seat margin, it will be more likely than not the Republicans will try to expedite the process,” she said.

Cafaro added that the controversies surrounding Moore, including his history of statements regarding the LGBT, Muslim and Jewish communities, as well as the recent rise in visibility and consequences surrounding high-profile sexual assault cases in the United States, made a difference in Tuesday’s result.

Jones, who said he was “overwhelmed” by the victory, did not specifically reference Moore in his victory speech, but did allude to some of the same themes.

“This entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state regardless of which zip code you live in is going to get a fair shake in life,” he said.

Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican who has announced he will not be running for re-election in his state of Arizona, posted on Twitter last week a picture of a campaign donation he was making to Jones. He followed that Tuesday night with a post that said, “Decency wins.”

Democratic Senator Cory Booker campaigned alongside Jones and said Alabama “gave the whole country a needed renewal of hope and the first ray of light of a rising sun and a coming new day.”

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US, EU, Japan Slam Market Distortion in Swipe at China

The United States, European Union and Japan vowed Tuesday to work together to fight market-distorting trade practices and policies that have fueled excess production capacity, naming several key features of China’s economic system.

In a joint statement that did not single out China or any other country, the three economic powers said they would work within the World Trade Organization and other multilateral groups to eliminate unfair competitive conditions caused by subsidies, state-owned enterprises, “forced” technology transfer and local content requirements.

The move was a rare show of solidarity with the United States at a World Trade Organization meeting dominated by differences over U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade agenda and U.S. efforts to stall the appointment of WTO judges.

It reflected growing frustration among industrial countries over China’s trade practices, along with concerns that other developing countries will follow Beijing’s lead.

The statement said protectionist practices “are serious concerns for the proper functioning of international trade, the creation of innovative technologies and the sustainable growth of the global economy.”

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said China’s industry subsidies, including for aluminum and steel, were flooding global markets and hurting European workers in a “very, very dramatic” way.

“There’s no secret that we think that China is a big sinner here, but there are other countries that are as well,” Malmstrom told reporters on the sidelines of a business forum.

In the opening session of the WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires on Monday, the United States and Japan criticized a lack of transparency in some WTO members’ trade practices, a thinly veiled swipe at Beijing.

China, meanwhile, appealed for members to “join hands” and uphold WTO rules to protect globalization in the face of rising protectionism.

The joint statement came after Japan approached the European Union and the United States about overcapacity, according to an EU source, with both Tokyo and Brussels concerned about the possibility the Trump administration could act unilaterally.

“There is a thought that if we bring them into the fold, and can work jointly with them, then it reduces the risk of them going alone,” the source said.

​’Playing by the rules’

Washington, Brussels and Tokyo have previously raised complaints about China’s excess production capacity in a number of industrial sectors that has pushed down world prices and caused layoffs elsewhere.

The United States recently sided with the EU in arguing that such distortions mean the WTO should not grant China market economy status, a move that would severely weaken their trade defenses.

“We have been … reaching out to China to tell them they really must start playing by the rules,” Malmstrom told reporters.

The EU’s and Japan’s willingness to cooperate with the Trump administration comes despite disagreements over the role of the WTO and the future of multilateral trade deals. 

Trump has expressed his preference for bilateral negotiations, and his trade rhetoric has cast a cloud over the WTO meeting.

Efforts on Tuesday to make progress on a ministerial statement from all 164 WTO members were unsuccessful, since one country could not agree on the language, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters, declining to name that country.

U.S. officials last month blocked WTO efforts to draft a statement of unity over the “centrality” of the global trading system and the need to aid development.

A spokeswoman for the office of the U.S. trade representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Trump administration is considering several unilateral tariff actions on steel, aluminum and China’s intellectual property practices that are likely to draw disputes from WTO members.

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Afreximbank Pledges Up to $1.5B to Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

The African Export and Import Bank has pledged up to $1.5 billion in new loans and financial guarantees to Zimbabwe in a major boost for new President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, the bank’s president and chairman said Tuesday.

Mnangagwa, who took over last month after veteran autocrat Robert Mugabe quit following a de facto military coup, has vowed to focus on reviving the struggling economy and provide jobs in a nation with an unemployment rate exceeding 80 percent.

Afreximbank was the only international lender that stood by Zimbabwe throughout Mugabe’s repressive 37-year rule, but its quick announcement of a fresh package of loans and guarantees appeared to be a vote of confidence in the new government.

Cairo-based Afreximbank was a major funder of Zimbabwe while the country was cut off from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for having defaulted on its debt in 1999.

Bank president and chairman Okey Oramah told reporters after a meeting with Mnangagwa and senior government officials that Afreximbank would provide $150 million to local banks to help them pay for outstanding critical imports.

“We also discussed a number of other areas that involve additional investment from us for something that will be in the order of $1 billion to $1.5 billion that will include certain kinds of guarantees to encourage investors to come to Zimbabwe.

“We … want to make sure that we support the stabilization of the economy, that means providing liquidity to make sure that the situation where people are rushing every time to look for cash is dealt with,” Oramah said.

In August, before Mugabe’s ouster, Afreximbank provided $600 million to help Zimbabwe pay for imports and $300 million to allow it to print more “bond notes,” a quasi-currency that officially trades on par with the U.S. dollar.

Zimbabwe has a foreign debt of more than $7 billion and in September said it would not be able to pay $1.8 billion in arrears to the World Bank and African Development Bank until economic fundamentals improved.

The southern African nation, which dumped its hyperinflation-hit currency in 2009, is struggling with a severe dollar crunch that has seen banks fail to avail cash to customers while importers struggle to pay for imports.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa promised in a budget speech last week to re-engage with international lenders, curb spending and attract investors to revive the economy.

On Tuesday, Chinamasa described Afreximbank as a “pillar of strength” and said the economy was “in for some very good times.”

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Filipino Houses From Debris, Californian Fruit Pickers’ Homes Win Major Award

A project in the Philippines that used debris to rebuild typhoon-ravaged houses and Californian homes providing year-round housing for migrant workers won one of the world’s most prestigious housing awards on Tuesday.

The development charity CARE used innovative techniques, such as teaching building skills to residents and using wreckage from destroyed homes, to rehouse more than 15,000 Filipino families devastated in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan.

“This is the first time self-recovery has been used on such a large scale,” said David Ireland, director of British charity World Habitat, which co-hosts the World Habitat Awards together with the United Nations (U.N.) settlement program, UN-Habitat.

“It has helped more people, more quickly, than traditional disaster recovery programs. The potential of this approach to be used elsewhere is absolutely huge.”

The winners of the competition, which was established in 1985, received 10,000 pounds and opportunities to share their ideas around the world.

The second winner was Mutual Housing, a not-for-profit affordable housing developer in Yolo County in northern California, which built the first permanent year-round homes for seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers.

Tens of thousands of workers are brought in from Central America at harvest time to do low-wage jobs, often living in sub-standard houses in government-funded migrant centers.

“It has been a complete 180 degree turn since we’ve been living here,” said Saul Menses, who moved into one of Mutual Housing’s 62 apartments and houses in Spring Lake, some 60 miles (97 km) northeast of San Francisco, in 2015.

“For five years, we lived in an apartment there that was very cold and in poor condition. My wife had to board the windows up with tape and unclog the sink daily.”

The Spring Lake houses are the United States’ first certified zero-energy rental homes, meaning they consume less energy than they produce, using solar power, efficient lights and drought-resistant landscaping.

Seasonal work also disrupts family life for the estimated 6,000 migrants who come to Yolo County for the harvest, making it difficult for children to stay in one school. The new houses are less than 1 km from a secondary school and other services.

“Seasonal agricultural laborers are one of the most marginalized groups in the USA,” said World Habitat’s Ireland. “Mutual Housing California have managed to help a group not normally reached and proven that you don’t have to be a homeowner or on a high income to embrace green lifestyles.”

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Facebook to Book Advertising Revenue Locally Amid Political Pressure

Social media giant Facebook said on Tuesday it would start booking advertising revenue locally instead of re-routing it via its international headquarters in Dublin although the move is unlikely to result in it paying much more tax.

Corporate taxation has become a hot-button topic in the wake of revelations of tax avoidance schemes by multinationals which have led to calls for companies to pay more tax while Europe has begun exploring options for taxing digital giants.

Facebook Chief Financial Officer Dave Wehner said the company had decided to move to a local selling structure in countries where it has an office to support sales to local advertisers.

“In simple terms, this means that advertising revenue supported by our local teams will no longer be recorded by our international headquarters in Dublin, but will instead be recorded by our local company in that country,” Wehner said in a blog post.

Tuesday’s announcement follows Facebook’s April 2016 shift to recording revenues from its large UK sales customers in Britain which resulted in an increase in the tax it paid.

“We believe that moving to a local selling structure will provide more transparency to governments and policy makers around the world who have called for greater visibility over the revenue associated with locally-supported sales in their countries,” Wehner said.

The European Commission is working on legislative proposals, expected in March, to increase taxes on multinational digital companies, who are accused of paying too little in the EU by booking profits in low-tax countries where they have their EU headquarters, like Ireland and Luxembourg.

Among the options the EU executive is considering to raise taxes quickly on tech giants is a levy on revenues from advertising, according to an EU document published in September.

Other short-term options are a tax on turnovers of digital firms and a withholding tax on electronic transactions. Wehner said Facebook would implement the change throughout 2018 and aim to complete it by the first half of 2019.

Facebook’s recent experience in Britain suggests that the move will not lead to the company paying significantly more in tax.

Facebook reported a dramatic rise in revenues and profits reported in the UK for 2016 and had a 2.5 million pound ($3.34 million) tax bill against racking up tax credits in previous years.

However, while the change did lead to an increase in the tax it paid, Facebook still enjoyed a low effective tax rate.

That’s because, even with this measure, Facebook declares relatively little profit in Britain. It reported a profit margin of under 7 percent for 2016 in Britain, compared to a group wide margin of around 45 percent for the year.

Much of the profit linked to UK sales is reported elsewhere are a result of inter-group transactions worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

($1 = 0.7491 pounds)

Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Tom Bergin in London; Editing by Adrian Croft.

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Survey: Majority in US Believe Government Corruption Has Risen Under Trump

A new survey shows that nearly six in 10 Americans believe the level of government corruption has risen in the year since U.S. President Donald Trump was elected and that the White House is now a more corrupt institution than Congress.

Berlin-based Transparency International says its survey of 1,000 Americans in October and November revealed that 44 percent believe that Trump and White House officials are corrupt, up from 36 percent recorded in a similar survey in early 2016 at the start of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s last year in office.

The Trump White House responded Tuesday by saying it has acted to end corruption and increase transparency in government.

The anti-corruption group says nearly seven of 10 of those it surveyed believe the U.S. government is failing to fight corruption, up from half in 2016. The group defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

“I think the survey shows that Americans are disappointed that the government has not delivered on its promises to clean up government. Around the world we’ve seen that when elected officials fail to deliver on their anti-corruption promises, it has a corrosive effect on public trust in government,” said Zoe Reiter, Transparency International’s representative. “We are having a cultural moment in history in America that our elected officials really need to wake up to.” 

Responding for the White House, Principal Deputy White House Spokesman Raj Shah said, “Actually, we’ve done quite a bit to end corruption and increase transparency in government. We’ve elevated the status of the ethics office, issued guidance to staff to be more cooperative with congressional resolutions, and we’ve said we want government agencies to be as transparent as possible. We have worked hard to work back the backlog of FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests to make information about the government more available. What people say they believe in this [TI] survey has more to do with the media barrage of negative coverage than with actual corruption.”

Global perspective

In the survey, Transparency International asked people how well their government is doing at fighting corruption.

In 2016, people in the United States had slightly more faith in their government’s efforts than the global average.

“In 2017, citizens’ responses to this question are now much worse and similar to what people in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda told us. In terms of perceptions of the level of corruption in the Office of the President, the global average is that less than a third of people say their executive is highly corrupt,” said Transparency International researcher Coralie Pring.

“In 2016, the U.S. was already over this mark [36 percent]. However, the figure is now even worse at 44 percent — comparable to what people in Pakistan, Armenia and El Salvador told us,” Pring told VOA.

Survey numbers

The survey says 38 percent of Americans believe members of Congress are corrupt and 33 percent believe government officials are. Congress fared the worst in last year’s survey.

The poll says 32 percent think business executives are corrupt, 23 percent believe local government officials are corrupt and 22 percent believe religious leaders are corrupt. Judges and magistrates fare the best, with 16 percent of Americans believing they are corrupt.

The survey shows that close to a third of African-Americans believe police are corrupt, compared to a fifth of those polled overall. Slightly more than half say they feared retaliation for reporting what they believe to be wrongdoing, up from slightly less than a third in 2016.

Transparency International says its survey shows “people are now more critical of government efforts to fight corruption. From just over half in 2016, nearly seven in 10 people in the United States now say that the government is doing a bad job at combating corruption within its own institutions. This is despite widespread commitments to clean up government.”

Those surveyed said that while public protests and speaking out can be effective in fighting corruption, the best way is to vote out of office politicians they believe to be corrupt.

The anti-corruption group says that while Trump was elected on a vow to make government work better “for those who feel their interests have been neglected by political elites,” the opposite has happened.

“Rather than feeling better about progress in the fight against corruption over the past year,” the group said, “a clear majority of people in America now say that things have become worse.”

VOA’s Ken Bredemeier and Peter Heinlein contributed to this report.

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