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White House Defends Ad Calling Democrats ‘Complicit’ in Killings

The White House is defending a tough new ad by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign that says Democrats will be “complicit” in any killings committed by immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

The 30-second spot was released on Saturday’s anniversary of Trump’s inauguration and amid the government shutdown. Democrats are refusing to fund the government unless Republicans agree to protect some 700,000 immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. The ad highlights the Republican president’s pledge to build a border wall and tighten border security.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says national security is Trump’s top priority as president.

Sanders told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday that “it’s absolutely appropriate for the commander in chief to do everything he can to make sure he’s protecting our citizens.”

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Schumer: Democrats Will Vote to Reopen Government

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer says Democrats in the chamber will vote to reopen the government, which has been partially shutdown for three days.

The vote is on funding the government through February 8.  It comes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell assured opposition Democratic lawmakers that he would in the coming weeks allow a vote on protecting about 800,000 young illegal immigrants from deportation

Earlier, President Donald Trump attacked Democratic lawmakers in new Twitter comments, saying, “The Democrats are turning down services and security for citizens in favor of services and security for non-citizens. Not good!” He contended that “Democrats have shut down our government in the interests of their far left base. They don’t want to do it but are powerless!”

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told CNN that the Trump administration wants “to find a pathway” for the young immigrants, many of whom only know the U.S. as their home country, to stay in the United States. But Short also said “a real security threat” remains on the southern U.S. border with Mexico, with Trump demanding funding for a wall to thwart further illegal immigration.

A new Trump political ad accuses Democrats of being “complicit” in U.S. murders committed by illegal immigrants.

At the same time, Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said late Sunday that Democratic and Republican lawmaker had “yet to reach an agreement on a path forward” linking the full reopening of the government to resolution of the deportation issue.

‘Trump Shutdown’

Earlier, in a Senate speech, he called the partial government closure the “Trump Shutdown,” contending that he offered the president funding for the wall, a key 2016 Trump campaign promise, but that the U.S. leader would not compromise on other immigration policy changes.

“He can’t take yes for an answer,” Schumer said of Trump.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, “We’re not going to start having negotiations about immigration reform until the government’s reopened. It’s pretty simple.”

The effect of the shutdown was relatively minimal over the weekend, but on Monday, federal agencies moved to furlough without pay thousands of workers considered to be non-essential. They halted some portions of their operations when no agreement was reached in the Senate on Sunday or in the early hours of Monday.

The U.S. government has partially shut down on several occasions over lawmaking and funding disputes. The most recent was a 16-day shutdown in 2013 in a partisan deadlock over health care policy. About 850,000 federal workers were furloughed then.

Services that stop or continue during a federal shutdown vary. But federal research projects could be stalled, national parks and museums closed, tax questions left unanswered, processing of veterans’ disability applications delayed, and federal nutrition programs suspended, as was the case in 2013.

Senate lawmakers spent all day Sunday meeting and negotiating and looking for a way to end the impasse on immigration that forced the government shutdown at midnight Friday. But it was unclear exactly how much progress had been made. Maine’s Susan Collins, a Republican moderate, told reporters a group of 22 of her colleagues were determined to find a way to resolve the conflict.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said there needs to be what he calls an “understanding” from Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that after a temporary funding bill is passed, the Senate would then tackle immigration as part of a long-term spending bill that extends to the end of the current fiscal year on September 30.

McConnell called off a 1 a.m. Monday vote on reopening the government in favor of the vote at noon, Washington time.

With Republican and Democratic lawmakers blaming each other for the stalemate, Graham on Sunday also appeared to fault the White House for the immigration standoff, specifically hardline immigration Trump adviser Stephen Miller.

“Every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members,” Graham said. “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiation on immigration, we are going nowhere.”

Graham said Miller is out of the “mainstream” with his immigration views. There has been no response so far from the White House on Graham’s comments.

Sanders called Graham’s comments “a sad and desperate attempt…to tarnish a staffer.” She said Miller was not at the White House “to push his agenda,” but rather to support Trump’s immigration views.

Pete Heinlein at the White House contributed to this report

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Solar Industry on Edge as Trump Weighs Tariffs on Panels

Some in the U.S. solar-power industry are hoping a decision this week by President Donald Trump doesn’t bring on an eclipse.

Companies that install solar-power systems for homeowners and utilities are bracing for Trump’s call on whether to slap tariffs on imported panels.

The solar business in the U.S. has boomed in recent years, driven by falling prices for panels, thanks in part to cheap imports. That has made solar power more competitive with electricity generated from coal and natural gas.

A green-technology research firm estimates that tariffs could cost up to 88,000 U.S. jobs related to installing solar-power systems.

On the other side are two U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies that argue the domestic manufacturing of solar cells and modules has been decimated by a flood of imports, mostly from Chinese companies with operations throughout Asia.

The four members of the U.S. International Trade Commission – two Republicans and two Democrats – unanimously ruled in October that imported panels are hurting American manufacturers, although they differed on exactly how the U.S. should respond. Trump has until Friday to act on the agency’s recommendations for tariffs of up to 35 percent.

Trump has wide leeway – he can reject the recommendations, accept them, or go beyond them and impose tougher tariffs. Congress has no authority to review or veto his action. Countries harmed by his decision could appeal to the World Trade Organization.

The trade case grew out of a complaint by Suniva Inc., a Georgia-based subsidiary of a Chinese company, which declared bankruptcy last April. Suniva was joined by SolarWorld Americas, the U.S. subsidiary of a German company. Both blame their difficulties on a surge of cheap imports, mostly from Asia. Suniva wants higher tariffs than those recommended by the trade commission.

The U.S. Commerce Department imposed stiff anti-dumping duties on imported panels made from Chinese solar cells in 2012. Tim Brightbill, SolarWorld Americas’ lawyer, said Chinese companies have gotten around those sanctions by assembling panels from modules produced in other Asian countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam. That makes the current trade case even more important, he said.

“It is a global case. It addresses the global import surge,” Brightbill said. “We need the strongest possible remedies from President Trump to maintain solar manufacturing here in the United States.”

A consultant for SolarWorld said tariffs on imports could create at least 12,000 jobs and up to 45,000 depending on capacity growth, and that installer jobs would also increase.

While U.S. solar manufacturing has shriveled, installations – from home rooftops to utility-scale operations – have boomed. Installations have soared more than tenfold since 2010, with the biggest jump coming in 2016, after prices for solar panels collapsed.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group for U.S. installers, says tariffs would drive up the cost of installing solar-power systems, leading to a drop in demand.

“We are selling energy that can be created by wind, by natural gas, by hydro, by coal, by nukes. When you raise the price of what we are selling, we can’t compete,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, the group’s president.

Jim Petersen, CEO of PetersenDean, a California company that installs solar rooftop panels mostly for residential customers, once favored tariffs on imported panels, which he found to be of inferior quality. He has changed his mind.

Petersen said tariffs could stunt his business by raising the cost of a job, which ranges from $6,000 to $60,000 or more. He said he might be forced to lay off up to 25 percent of his 3,200 installers.

“This is bad for American jobs, bad for the consumer,” he said.

In the New Mexico desert, Albuquerque-based Affordable Solar is working on a $45 million solar farm to help power a massive new data center for Facebook. The company’s president, Kevin Bassalleck, said tariffs would hurt homegrown companies that make racks, tracking systems and electronics that are part of a power system. He said jobs at those companies are hard to outsource.

“If you ever set foot in a solar module assembly factory, most of what you see are robots. There are very few people,” he said. “But if go out on to any one of our project sites like the Facebook project, you would see a small army of people working and installing things.”

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat and advocate for renewable energy, says his state could lose more than 1,500 jobs by 2020 if tariffs are imposed, and tariffs won’t revive U.S. solar manufacturing.

“The jobs that have been lost because of cheaper solar cells have already been lost,” Heinrich said in an interview. “These tariffs are then going to take the very rapidly growing, successful, good jobs that we have built in manufacturing of the other equipment, in installing, and reduce those jobs to a fraction of what they should be.”

The conventional wisdom is that Trump will impose sanctions. Developers anticipating tariffs began flooding foreign manufacturers with orders last fall, driving up prices.

Brightbill, the lawyer for SolarWorld Americas, sounded confident.

“This administration’s focus is on U.S. manufacturing and U.S. jobs and getting tough on China for the trade deficit,” he said, “so we think the administration’s goals are very well-aligned with saving U.S. solar manufacturing.”

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Maldives Ex-Leader: Chinese Projects Akin to Land Grab

The exiled former leader of the Maldives said Monday that this year’s presidential election could be the last chance to extricate his country from increasing Chinese influence, which he described as a land grab in the guise of investments in island development.


Mohamed Nasheed told reporters in Sri Lanka’s capital that current President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has opened the doors to Chinese investment without any regard for procedure or transparency.


“A large emerging power is busy buying up the Maldives,” Nasheed said, explaining that he was referring to China.


China is “buying up our lands, buying up our key infrastructure and effectively buying up our sovereignty,” he said.


China considers Maldives to be key cog in the Indian Ocean in its “One Belt One Road” project along ancient trade routes through the Indian Ocean and Central Asia. The initiative is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature project and envisages building ports, railways and roads to expand trade in a vast arc of countries across Asia, Africa and Europe.


Nasheed is disqualified from contesting the presidency this year due to a prison sentence. He is now living in exile in Britain after going there for medical treatment while in prison.


Nasheed said he is awaiting a decision from the U.N. Human Rights Committee, which he hopes will ask the Maldivian government to allow him to run in the election. His trial on terrorism charges and 13-year prison sentence in 2015 drew widespread international criticism for an alleged lack of due process.


The U.N. working group on arbitrary detention said Nasheed’s sentencing was unlawful.


Nasheed became the archipelago state’s first democratically elected president 10 years ago, ending a 30-year autocratic rule. However, he resigned in 2012 after public protests for ordering the arrest of a senior judge.


He lost the 2013 presidential election to Gayoom.


Maldives’ democratic gains have largely diminished under Gayoom’s presidency, with all of his potential election opponents either jailed or in exile. Nasheed says the opposition parties are in discussion to field a common candidate if he is unable to run.


“President Yameen wants a coronation; not an election. We won’t let that happen,” he said.


There was no immediate comment from the government.

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US Tests Nuclear Power System to Sustain Astronauts on Mars

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface of Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA’s Kilopower project.

Months-long testing began in November at the energy department’s Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations.

A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA’s six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space.

“Mars is a very difficult environment for power systems, with less sunlight than Earth or the moon, very cold nighttime temperatures, very interesting dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

“So Kilopower’s compact size and robustness allows us to deliver multiple units on a single lander to the surface that provides tens of kilowatts of power,” Jurczyk added.

Testing on components of the system, dubbed KRUSTY, has been “greatly successful — the models have predicted very well what has happened, and operations have gone smoothly,” said Dave Poston, chief reactor designer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Officials said a full-power test will be conducted near the middle or end of March, a bit later than originally planned.

NASA’s prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll.

President Donald Trump in December signed a directive intended to pave the way for a return to the moon, with an eye toward an eventual Mars mission.

Lee Mason, NASA’s principal technologist for power and energy storage, said Mars has been the project’s main focus, noting that a human mission likely would require 40 to 50 kilowatts of power.

The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets.

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Move Over Traditional Billboards. Make Way for 3-D Holographic Ads

Move over traditional billboards. Three-dimensional, slightly hypnotic holograms may soon replace two-dimensional signs and ads. Several companies with this technology said 3-D holograms will revolutionize the way businesses and brands talk to potential customers.

“It’s already replacing billboards, LED screens, LCD screens, because there hasn’t been any revolution in the display industry for decades,” said Art Stavenka, founder of Kino-mo, a company with offices in London and Belarus. 

The main hardware of the technology is a blade that emits a strip of light creating holograms of images and words. Multiple blades can be synchronized for larger holograms.

“As soon as this piece of hardware spins, you stop seeing hardware and you start seeing (a) hologram, and the piece of hardware spins fast enough so a human eye does not see any rotation, and it sees the amazing holographic image,” said Stavenka.

Another company developing this type of device is Hologruf, with a presence in both the U.S. and China. 

“In the not so distant future on every street corner, there will be these types of ad displays just like in a science fiction movie,” said Hologruf’s Quan Zhou. 

The applications for 3-D holographic displays include shopping centers, train stations and restaurants. 

For franchises such as fast food restaurants that want these displays in more than one location, “they have the capability to manage multiple devices around the world from a central location,” said Hologruf’s co-founder, Ted Meng. 

The cost of a blade ranges anywhere from around $1,300 to just over $3,000, depending on the manufacturer. 

The competition has begun for this technology. Kino-mo has customers in 50 countries on almost every continent. It will be releasing an outdoor version sometime in 2018. Hologruf said it already has a product to replace outdoor billboards.

“We can make it to be water proof, wind proof and work under all kinds of extreme environmental conditions,” said Zhou.

So what would Tokyo or Times Square in New York look like in a few years? Stay tuned.

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Traditional Billboards Make Way for 3-D Holographic Ads

Those two-dimensional billboards that dot the landscape of many cities around the world may soon be replaced — with 3-D holograms. Companies working on this technology say it will revolutionize the way businesses and brands talk to potential customers. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee got a glimpse of advertising’s future at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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Republican Moderates Hint Government Shutdown May be Short-Lived

Two moderate Senate Republican voices in Washington’s budget battle may offer hope the the U.S. government shutdown might be moving toward resolution.

Maine’s Susan Collins told reporters a group of 22 of her colleagues are determined to find a way out.

“A substantial number of senators are eager to find that path,” she said, while adding that details of their negotiations are still “in flux.”

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham said he believes there could be a “breakthrough” before the Senate’s scheduled vote on funding the government for at least another three weeks.

Graham told reporters there needs to be what he calls an “understanding” from Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that after a temporary funding bill is passed,  the Senate would then tackle immigration — the issue that led to the impasse — as part of a longterm spending bill.

The House passed a budget to fund the federal government late last week.

But Senate Democrats have so far refused, demanding protection from deportation for the so-called “dreamers,” young immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children.

Republicans say they will not discuss immigration until the government reopens.

Each side blames the other for the government shutdown that has suspended all but essential services because there is no authority to spend any funds.


McConnell calls the Democrats’ demand for the dreamers “a political miscalculation of gargantuan proportions.” He said he considers it a “non-emergency” since President Donald Trump gave Congress a March 5 deadline to find a solution to the matter.

McConnell echoed Trump by calling the standoff the “Schumer Shutdown, for Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.

Democrat Schumer calls it the “Trump Shutdown.”

He blamed the president for agreeing to sign an immigration deal last week, then changing his mind hours later.Schumer said during at a Friday White House meeting he offered Trump a deal to fund his top immigration priority – a wall along the border with Mexico –  in exchange for protection for the dreamers.

“I essentially agreed to give the president something he wanted (the wall) for something we both wanted (protection of the immigrants against deportation)” Schumer said. “He can’t take yes for an answer.”

Senator Graham appeared Sunday to blame the White House for the immigration standoff, specifically hardline Trump advisor Stephen Miller.

“Every time we have a proposal, it is only yanked back by staff members,” Graham said Sunday. “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiation on immigration, we are going nowhere.”

Graham said Miller is out of the “mainstream” with his immigration views. There has been no response so far from the White House on Graham’s comments.

Trump tweeted Sunday, “Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border” with Mexico. “The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked.”

Federal agencies, meanwhile, prepared to idle employees and halt major portions of their operations if no agreement was reached Sunday or in the early hours of Monday.

The U.S. government partially shut down on several occasions over lawmaking and funding disputes. The most recent was a 16 day shutdown in 2013 in a partisan deadlock over health care policy.  About 850,000 federal workers were furloughed.

Services that stop or continue during a federal shutdown varies. But federal research projects could be stalled, national parks and museums closed, tax refunds delayed, processing of veterans’ disability applications delayed, and federal nutrition programs suspended, as was the case in 2013.

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Australia, Canada Trade Blows over Wine

Australia has filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization that accuses Canada of placing “discriminatory” rules on the sales of imported wine.

Canada is Australia’s fourth-biggest wine market. Officials in Canberra say rules in Canada unfairly discriminate against overseas wine.

An official protest has been lodged with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against regulations in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where wine produced locally can be sold in grocery stores but imports must be sold in a “store within a store” with a separate cash register.

Canberra’s objection also targets policies in other provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, as well as federal practices in Canada, which could breach a WTO agreement. They mean higher prices for foreign wines, as well as other barriers to sale, according to the Australian complaint.

“Australia is seeing its market share and that market erode. That concerns me, it concerns wine exporters,” said Australian trade minister Steve Ciobo. “Potentially this could cost Australian jobs, so I want to make sure we are on the front foot about protecting Australia’s interests.”

Australia’s complaint to the WTO is similar to one made by the United States, which has accused Canada of placing unfair limits on the sale of imported wine.

In October, the U.S. said British Columbia was favoring local vineyards by giving their wine an exclusive retail outlet in grocery store shelves and cutting out U.S. competition.

A spokesman for Canada’s international trade minister said the federal government works to ensure its liquor policies “are consistent with our international trade commitments”.

Under WTO rules, Canada has 60 days to settle the dispute with Australia.

After that, Canberra could ask the WTO to adjudicate, which could result in Canada being forced to change its laws or risk trade sanctions.





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Iran May Try to Loosen Revolutionary Guard’s Grip on Economy

Iran’s supreme leader has ordered the Revolutionary Guard to loosen its hold on the economy, the country’s defense minister says, raising the possibility that the paramilitary organization might privatize some of its vast holdings.

The comments this weekend by Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami appear to be a trial balloon to test the reaction of the idea, long pushed by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. Protests over the country’s poor economy last month escalated into demonstrations directly challenging the government.


But whether the Guard would agree remains unclear, as the organization is estimated to hold around a third of the country’s entire economy.


Hatami, the first non-Guard-affiliated military officer to be made defense minister in nearly 25 years, made the comments in an interview published Saturday by the state-run IRAN newspaper. He said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered both the country’s regular military and the Guard to get out of businesses not directly affiliated to their work.


“Our success depends on market conditions,” the newspaper quoted Hatami as saying.


He did not name the companies that would be privatized. The Guard did not immediately acknowledge the supreme leader’s orders in their own publications, nor did Khamenei’s office.


The Guard formed out of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution as a force meant to protect its political system, which is overseen by Shiite clerics. It operated parallel to the country’s regular armed forces, growing in prominence and power during the country’s long and ruinous war with Iraq in the 1980s. It runs Iran’s ballistic missile program, as well its own intelligence operations and expeditionary force.


In the aftermath of the 1980s war, authorities allowed the Guard to expand into private enterprise.


Today, it runs a massive construction company called Khatam al-Anbia, with 135,000 employees handling civil development, the oil industry and defense issues. Guard firms build roads, man ports, run telecommunication networks and even conduct laser eye surgery.


The exact scope of all its business holdings remains unclear, though analysts say they are sizeable. The Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which long has been critical of Iran and the nuclear deal it struck with world powers, suggests the Guard controls “between 20 and 40 percent of the economy” of Iran through significant influence in at least 229 companies.


In his comments, Hatami specifically mentioned Khatam al-Anbia, but didn’t say whether that too would be considered by the supreme leader as necessary to privatize. The Guard and its supporters have criticized other business deals attempting to cut into their piece of the economy since the nuclear deal.

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