Category Archives: News

worldwide news

Drones Steal the Show at Dubai Technology Week

Bigger and more powerful flying drones are slowly entering everyday life. At this year’s international technology show in Dubai, a number of drone manufacturers displayed machines that could substantially increase the mobility of various public services, from police and firefighters to taxis. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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Water Gets Washed Before it Gets Anywhere Near Your Lips

It covers almost three-fourths of the planet, but it’s probably not a good idea to fill your cup from a river. Drinkable water flows to most of our taps only after it gets a good scrubbing. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports from a drinking water treatment plant in the Washington metropolitan area.

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China’s Imports From North Korea Fall Nearly 38 Percent in September

China’s imports from North Korea fell 37.9 percent in September from a year earlier, marking the seventh consecutive month of decline, the customs office said Friday.

China-U.S. ties have been strained by President Donald Trump’s criticism of China’s trade practices and by demands that Beijing do more to pressure North Korea over Pyongyan’s nuclear and missile programmes.

China’s exports to North Korea in September dropped 6.7 percent from a year ago, a spokesman for the General Administration of Customs told a briefing, adding no seafood imports from North Korea were recorded last month.

China’s imports from North Korea fell 16.7 percent on-year to $1.48 billion in Jannuary-September, while exports to North Korea rose 20.9 percent to $2.55 billion in the same period.

That created a trade surplus with North Korea at $1.07 billion in the first nine months of this year.

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California Wildfires Threaten Wine Country’s Lifeblood: Tourism

The wildfires burning through Northern California are sending visitors packing, threatening the $2 billion-plus spent annually by tourists on wine tours, fine food, limousine rides and much more, business leaders said.

At the Inn on First bed and breakfast in the famous wine town of Napa, co-owner Jamie Cherry was encouraging callers to postpone rather than cancel visits, as wildfires burned largely unchecked across the region.

“People are canceling as far as November already,” Cherry said. “It’s going to be devastating in terms of financial loss for everybody.”

The fast-moving fires have killed at least 26 people and left hundreds missing in an area less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco.

With hundreds of wineries, expensive restaurants and bucolic rolling scenery, the wine country of Sonoma and Napa counties is a major draw for visitors. Limousines and buses clog parking lots at weekends as visitors sip Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons in towns known for their mix of rural and cosmopolitan vibes.

Now, with at least 13 burned wineries, shuttered tasting rooms and thick smoke in the air from nearly two dozen fires that have charred more than 190,000 acres across the state, it is unclear how quickly the region can lure back tourists.

‘We’d go back’

Napa Valley welcomed 3.5 million visitors last year, with overnight guests spending on average $402 per day, according to Visit Napa Valley, the region’s tourism marketing group.

“There is a good amount of infrastructure that has burned down, homes have burned down, wineries have burned. There are restaurants that are not going to open quickly,” said Clay Gregory of Visit Napa Valley.

On Thursday, tasting rooms remained closed and the famous Napa Valley Wine Train, which ferries tourists through the vineyards, said it planned to reopen Sunday.

Dozens of limousines and tour buses, their polish dulled by a film of ash, sat in a parking lot and warehouse on the outskirts of Napa. The company’s owner, Michael Graham, said the business had just hit peak demand of 100 reservations a day, but since the fires that had slumped to two.

Graham remains hopeful, however, citing tourism’s quick recovery after the 6.0 earthquake that hit Napa in 2014: “People were out wine-tasting the same day.”

Graham said the region was still largely intact, with vast swathes of countryside untouched by fire.

“It’s just smoky. As soon as they get this contained it will be back to business as usual,” he said.

Others agreed the effect of the fires on tourism would be short-lived.

Roseanne Rosen has fond memories of the trip with her husband to wine country that she just finished ahead of the fires. The couple from Kansas City has been coming for the last decade and has no plans to abandon that tradition.

“It’s one of our favorite destinations and I don’t see that changing,” Rosen said by telephone. “Once people are open and ready for business, we’d go back in an instant.”

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Peru’s Cabinet Seeks New Legislative Powers on Economy From Congress

The government of Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said Thursday that it will request special powers to legislate economic policies from the opposition-ruled Congress, after growth slowed sharply during his first year in office.

During a presentation in Congress, Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz said her cabinet wants to legislate policies aimed at consolidating an incipient economic recovery and making Peru a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a wealthy-country think tank.

In Peru, Congress traditionally grants legislative powers to the executive branch at the start of a president’s term, and it is rare for a prime minister to seek them so far into an administration – underscoring ongoing worries about the economy.

Growth in Peru, one of the region’s most robust economies, faltered early this year after a corruption scandal halted public work projects and severe flooding destroyed billions of dollars in infrastructure.

The government and central bank now expect the economy to grow by about 2.8 percent this year thanks to better prices for Peru’s key copper exports, down from 3.9 percent last year.

Araoz said the economy should expand by at least 4 percent in coming years.

It was unclear whether the opposition would grant the government its request for new legislative powers following a political crisis in September that ended with Congress ousting Kuczynski’s former cabinet.

Kuczynski appointed a more socially conservative cabinet led by Araoz that won initial praise from the right-wing populist party Popular Force, which has an absolute majority in Congress.

But Congress must approve the new cabinet with a vote of confidence scheduled for Thursday.

Araoz said that she would present the request for legislative powers in coming days.

Congress gave Kuczynski legislative authority on economic policies in September 2016, which his government used to pass laws aimed at reducing and expediting bureaucratic permits.

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Report: Rise in Natural Disasters Fueling Global Homelessness

New research finds nearly 14 million people a year are losing their homes because of sudden onset disasters such as floods and cyclones.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, which analyzed the impact of sudden onset disasters in 204 countries and territories, warns that homelessness will continue to rise unless significant progress is made in managing disaster risk.

According to the research — officially released on Friday, marking International Day for Disaster Reduction — eight of the 10 disaster-prone countries with the highest levels of displacement are in East, South or Southeast Asia. India and China top this list. The two countries outside this region are Russia, ranked ninth, and the United States, ranked 10th.

The head of data and analysis at the center, Justin Ginnetti, said the 13.9 million people displaced by sudden onset disasters excluded those told to evacuate an area before a disaster struck. He called this a conservative figure, since homelessness due to drought was not included in the data.

Floods chiefly repsonsible

“Most of this displacement is being driven by floods, which is on the increase in a globally warming world and where population growth is increasing in flood-prone areas,” Ginnetti said. “Population exposure is indeed a key component of displacement risk. More people are likely to be displaced by disasters in countries with large populations.”

The data show displacement associated with disasters will mainly affect developing countries. However, the chief spokesman for the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Dennis McClean, said economic losses would be greatest in the richer countries. He said this year would probably be the worst year on record in terms of economic losses.

“If we look just at the Atlantic hurricane season, which is still ongoing, we see that economic losses in the United States alone are probably in the region of about $300 billion,” McClean said. “That is what the initial estimates are telling us. And, of course, the losses are perhaps even more significant in small island states in the Caribbean, which have also been devastated by these events.”

Specialists in disaster risk reduction are urging nations to improve land zoning and the quality of buildings, especially in seismic zones and on land exposed to storms and floods. They note that good early warning systems may not save homes but will save lives.

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US FCC Head Silent on Trump Comment About Pulling Broadcast Licenses

A suggestion by President Donald Trump that a U.S. regulator pull broadcast licenses from TV networks over what Trump calls “fake news” has been met by silence from the watchdog’s head Ajit Pai, who has a history of defending free speech rights.

Pai, who was reconfirmed last week for a new five-year term at the Federal Communications Commission and named chairman by Trump in January, has been urged by members of Congress to denounce Trump for a proposal that has little, if any, chance of success.

That is because the commission does not actually license broadcast networks or cable stations and the hurdles to denying licenses to individual stations are extremely high.

Trump’s remarks on Wednesday that threatened to muzzle the media and fellow-Republican Pai’s strong support for press freedoms could conflict as Pai mounts ambitious plans to overhaul federal communications regulations.

Trump said in a Twitter post: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

His ire was raised by an NBC News report that said he had called for a massive increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a report Trump denied. Trump and his supporters have repeatedly used the term “fake news” to cast doubt on media reports critical of his administration, often without providing any evidence to support their case that the reports were untrue.

Pai’s office has declined to comment, despite Reuters’ repeated requests Wednesday and Thursday.

The FCC, an independent agency, does not issue licenses to individual networks but to local stations, including those directly owned by broadcasters such as Comcast Corp that owns NBC. Comcast and NBC declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.

Pai has defended the First Amendment and press freedoms. In October 2016, he said anyone at the FCC “has the duty to speak out whenever Americans’ First Amendment rights are at stake.”

In a 2014 Wall Street Journal piece, Pai said “the government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.”

Pai has an ambitious agenda, which he is expected to unveil details of in the coming months. It includes proposing to eliminate some significant media ownership restrictions and a plan to roll back former Democratic President Barack Obama’s so-called net neutrality rules.

Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said on Twitter Trump’s comments were “unacceptable attacks on the #FirstAmendment by @POTUS. @AjitPaiFCC committed to Congress to speak up at times like this. We are waiting.”

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan defended press freedoms Thursday but did not directly criticize Trump.

“I’m for the First Amendment. I don’t always agree and like what you guys write, but you have a right to do it,” Ryan said.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse asked if Trump was “recanting” the oath of office to defend the First Amendment.

In March, Pai told the U.S. Congress he did not agree with Trump when he said that “the media is the enemy of the American people.” Pai said he would act independently of the White House on media-related matters.

Last month, Pai lamented that people on Twitter demand “the FCC yank licenses from cable news channels like Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN because they disagree with the opinions expressed on those networks. Setting aside the fact that the FCC doesn’t license cable channels, these demands are fundamentally at odds with our legal and cultural traditions.”

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US Proposes NAFTA Sunset Clause, Raising Tensions in Talks

Washington has increased tensions in talks to renew the North American Free Trade Agreement by insisting that any new deal be allowed to expire after five years, two officials familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday.

Canada and Mexico both strongly oppose the concept of a so-called sunset clause, a provision that had been floated earlier.

But the officials, who asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential, said the U.S. side formally proposed it late on Wednesday during the fourth of seven scheduled rounds to update the rules governing one of the world’s biggest trade blocs.

The Trump administration says the clause, causing NAFTA to expire every five years unless all three countries agree it should continue, is to ensure the pact stays up to date.

But Mexico and Canada insist there is no point updating the pact with such a threat hanging over it, arguing the clause would stunt investment by sowing too much uncertainty about the future of the agreement.

“It’s a source of total uncertainty,” said one of the NAFTA government officials familiar with details of the negotiations.

U.S. President Donald Trump says NAFTA, originally signed in 1994, has been a disaster for the United States and has frequently threatened to scrap it unless major changes are made.

Business and farm groups say abandoning the 23-year-old pact would wreak economic havoc, disrupting cross-border manufacturing supply chains and slapping high tariffs on agricultural products.

Trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico has quadrupled under NAFTA, now topping $1.2 trillion a year. As well as the sunset clause, the United States wants to boost how much North American content autos must contain to qualify for tax-free status and eliminate a dispute settlement mechanisms that Canada insists must stay.

Some trade observers said it is difficult to see how negotiators could reach an agreement given U.S. demands that many see as nonstarters.

The head of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector labor union, said it was clear the United States did not want a deal.

“NAFTA is not going anywhere. This thing is going into the toilet,” Jerry Dias told reporters on Thursday.

Despite clear signs of impatience from Canada in particular, U.S. negotiators have yet to submit their proposal on rules of origin for the auto sector. That looked unlikely to come before Friday, another official familiar with the talks said.

Trump on Wednesday repeated his warnings that he might terminate the pact and said he was open to doing a bilateral deal with either Canada or Mexico if three-way negotiations fail.

He was speaking at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said Canada was “braced” for Trump’s unpredictability but taking a serious approach to the NAFTA talks.

Negotiators were also set to cover the difficult issue of government procurement on Thursday.

Canada and Mexico want their companies to be able to bid on more U.S. federal and state government contracts, but this is at odds with Trump’s “Buy American” agenda. U.S. negotiators have countered with a proposal that would effectively grant the other countries less access, people familiar with the talks say.

On automotive rules of origin, NAFTA negotiators face tough new U.S. demands to increase regional vehicle content to 85 percent from 62.5 percent, with 50 percent required from the United States, according to people briefed on the plan.

The rules of origin demands are among several conditions that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has labeled “poison pill proposals” that threaten to torpedo the talks.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Wednesday that he believed higher percentages for automotive content would be achieved, and “car companies will adapt themselves to it.”

However, a study released on Thursday by the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association, which represents U.S. auto parts makers, showed the higher content requirements would lead to the loss of up to 24,000 U.S. jobs, as some companies would forgo NAFTA’s tariff-free benefits and ship in more components from other countries.

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Richard Branson Takes Another Bet on the Future with Hyperloop One

British billionaire Richard Branson on Thursday placed another bet on the future with an investment in Hyperloop One, which is developing super high-speed transportation systems.

Hyperloop One said Branson’s Virgin Group would take the company global and rebrand itself as Virgin Hyperloop One in the near future.

Branson has joined the board of Hyperloop One, which aims to develop pods that will transport passenger and mixed-use cargo at speeds of 250 miles per hour (402 km per hour).

The pod lifts above a track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to low aerodynamic drag.

The company did not disclose the size of the investment.

Hyperloop One was originally conceptualized by Elon Musk. In July, Musk said he had received verbal approval to start building the systems that would link New York and Washington, cutting travel time to about half an hour.

Last month, Hyperloop One raised $85 million in new funding, bringing the total financing raised to $245 million since it was founded in 2014.

Hyperloop One’s co-founders, executive chairman Shervin Pishevar and president of engineering Josh Giegel, have previously worked at Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic is Branson’s space company, which in 2016, was granted an operating license to fly its passenger rocket ship with the world’s first paying space tourists once final safety tests are completed.

“Virgin Hyperloop One will be all-electric and the team is working on ensuing it is a responsible and sustainable form of transport,” Virgin Group said in a statement.

Hyperloop One is also working on projects in the Middle East, Europe, India and Canada, according to the statement.

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