Category Archives: News

worldwide news

Lightweight Brain-Controlled Artificial Hand Being Developed

Scientists and engineers around the world are slowly but steadily improving brain-controlled artificial limbs hoping to make them more affordable to patients. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology – EPFL – say their lightweight artificial hand may someday help paraplegic patients be able to feed themselves. VOA’s George Putic explains.

Dating App Tinder Cited for Discriminating Against Over-30s

A California court has ruled that the popular dating app Tinder violated age discrimination laws by charging users 30 and older more than younger ones.

Allan Candelore of California sued the app company over the pricing of its Tinder Plus premium service. Tinder Plus costs $9.99 per month for users younger than 30, while those 30 and older are charged $19.99 per month. The features for Tinder Plus are identical for users regardless of age.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brian Currey ruled in favor of Allan Candelore, 33, of San Diego, saying Tinder’s pricing violates California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. That law “provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in California.”

The company countered in court documents that it is “self-evident that people under 30 face financial challenges” and this “common knowledge provides a reasonable and non-arbitrary basis for Tinder to offer a discount to people under 30.”

“Why is Tinder allowed to get away with charging me more for the exact same product as any other 18-28 year old?” asked Reddit user jshrlzwrld02. “Nothing magically changes at age 29 on Tinder. I don’t get new features. I don’t get anything extra. So why is this not discrimination based on age/sex/religion/orientation?”

Tinder has faced similar accusations before. In 2015, Michael Manapol sued Tinder for age and gender discrimination, but a judge dismissed that claim, saying Manapol failed to show how he was harmed by the allegations. Also in 2015, Wired magazine took issue with Tinder’s pricing tiers, calling them “ageist.”

“The only time pricing should be staggered is if each step up in cost coincides with a step-up in service or concern,” said Robert Carbone, a digital marketer with the LinkedIn networking service.

“Tinder is a privately owned company and should be able to charge any amount they see fit to whoever wants to use their service. No one is forcing consumers to use Tinder. This ruling is an infringement of capitalistic practices,” said Katja Case, a math major at Iowa State University, on LinkedIn.

Tinder is popular among college-age people.

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US Official: Controversial Republican Memo to Be Released Quickly

The White House plans to release a classified House Intelligence Committee memo that Republicans say shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department, U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said on Wednesday.

“It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it,” Kelly said in an interview on Fox News Radio, adding he had seen the four-page document and that White House lawyers were reviewing it.

Kelly’s comments follow Trump’s response to a Republican lawmaker after his State of the Union speech on Tuesday that suggested there was a “100 percent chance” the memo would be made public.

Justice Department officials have warned that releasing the memo would be reckless. On Monday, department officials advised Kelly against releasing the memo on the grounds it could jeopardize classified information, the Washington Post reported.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has told the White House the memo contains inaccurate information and offers a false picture, according to Bloomberg News.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told CNN on Wednesday the memo was still being reviewed and “there’s always a chance” that it would not be released.

The memo has become a lightning rod in a bitter partisan fight over the FBI amid ongoing investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and any possible collusion by Trump’s campaign, something both Russia and Trump have denied.

Republicans, who blocked an effort to release a counterpoint memo by Democrats on the panel, have said it shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department in seeking a warrant to conduct an intelligence eavesdropping operation.

Democrats have said the memo selectively uses highly classified materials in a misleading effort to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Justice Department’s Russia probe, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired him.

The House panel this week voted along partisan lines to release the memo. Trump has until the weekend to decide whether to make it public.

“The priority here is not our national security, it’s not the country, it’s not the interest of justice. It’s just the naked, personal interest of the president,” U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, said at an event hosted

by the Axios news outlet.

Sanders told CNN Trump had not seen the memo before his address on Tuesday night or immediately afterwards.

The document was commissioned by Representative Devin Nunes, the House committee’s Republican chairman who had recused himself from the panel’s Russia probe.

Sanders said she did not know if Nunes had worked with anyone at the White House on it: “I’m not aware of any conversations or coordination with Congressman Nunes.”

 

Train Carrying GOP Lawmakers to Policy Retreat Hits Truck

A train carrying several Republican lawmakers from Washington to a retreat in West Virginia was involved in an accident with a truck Wednesday in southwestern Virginia.

The White House said none of the lawmakers or their staff members were seriously injured but that one person was killed and another seriously injured. News accounts said the person killed was on the truck.

“The president has been fully briefed on the situation in Virginia and is receiving regular updates,” the statement said. “There is one confirmed fatality and one serious injury. There are no serious injuries among members of Congress or their staff. Senior administration officials are in regular contact with Amtrak and state and local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone that has been affected by this incident.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne, a passenger on the train, posted on Twitter that he and his wife Rebecca were not injured.  “The train carrying GOP members to our retreat had a collision, but Rebecca and I are both okay.  Security and doctors on board are helping secure the scene and treat injuries.”

Congressman Greg Walden also tweeted he was not injured and said emergency personnel are helping those who were on the truck.

“We are fine, but our train hit a garbage truck.  Members with medical training are assisting the drivers of the truck.”

The crash occurred about 20 miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

The lawmakers were en route to the Greebrier resort in the state of West Virginia to discuss how to sell their new tax law and how to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to join the legislators Thursday.

Clinton Regrets not Firing Adviser Accused of Harassment

Hillary Clinton says she should not have let a senior campaign adviser keep his job after a female staffer accused him of sexual harassment in 2007.

“The most important work of my life has been to support and empower women,” Clinton wrote on Facebook Tuesday night. “So I very much understand the question I’m being asked as to why I let an employee on my 2008 campaign keep his job despite his inappropriate workplace behavior. The short answer is this: If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t.”

 

Clinton said that senior campaign staff and legal counsel confirmed that the behavior by faith-based adviser Burns Strider had occurred after the woman came forward. Her campaign manager recommended that Strider be terminated, but Clinton said she instead demoted him, docked his pay, required counseling, separated him from the victim, and warned him that he’d be fired if he did it again.

 

The Times reported that Strider declined to attend the counseling sessions. He did not immediately respond Wednesday to a call and email requesting comment. Strider told BuzzFeed News that he didn’t consider his behavior “excessive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t to” the woman.

 

Clinton said that there were no further complaints against Strider during the rest of the campaign, but that she is troubled that he was terminated from a job leading an independent political action committee supporting Clinton for inappropriate behavior several years later.

 

“I believed the punishment was severe and the message to him unambiguous. I also believe in second chances,” Clinton said in the post published shortly before the start of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. “But sometimes they’re squandered.”

 

She said that the reoccurrence of the behavior “troubles me greatly” and leads her to question whether it would have been better if she had fired him.

 

“There is no way I can go back 10 years and know the answers. But you can bet I’m asking myself these questions right now.”

 

Clinton said that her first thought after the Times report “was for the young woman involved” and that she reached out to her “to see how she was doing, but also to help me reflect on my decision and its consequences.”

 

“She expressed appreciation that she worked on a campaign where she knew she could come forward without fear,” Clinton said. “She was glad that her accusations were taken seriously, that there was a clear process in place for dealing with harassment, and that it was followed. Most importantly, she told me that for the remainder of the campaign, she flourished in her new role.”

 

She said the woman “read every word of this and has given me permission to share it.”

 

 

Connected Thermometer Tracks Spread, Intensity of Flu

This year’s flu season in the U.S. is the worst in 15 years and health officials predict there are weeks of sickness ahead. One company’s “smart thermometer” is tracking how the flu is spreading across the country in real time by gathering data every time someone takes a temperature. Michelle Quinn reports.

Connected Thermometer Tracks the Spread and Intensity of the Flu

When a child feels sick, one of the first things a parent does is reach for a thermometer.

That common act intrigued Inder Singh, a long-time health policy expert.

What if the thermometer could be a communication device – connecting people with information about illnesses going around and gathering real time data on diseases as they spread? 

That’s the idea behind Singh’s firm Kinsa, a health data company based in San Francisco that sells “smart” thermometers.

Worst flu season in years

With the U.S. in the midst of its worst flu season in years, Kinsa has been on the forefront of tracking the spread and severity of flu-like symptoms by region.

The company says its data is a close match to flu data tracked by the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whereas the CDC collects from state and regional reports, Kinsa can spot fever spikes in regions or even by cities, said Singh.

Fast and accurate information about how disease is spreading can make a difference during a health crisis.

“If you knew when and where a disease was starting, you could target the people who needed the treatment and potentially prevent pandemics and epidemics from occurring,” said Singh, founder and chief executive of Kinsa.

How it works

Kinsa thermometers, which range in price from $14.99 to $49.99, connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone app, which pose questions about a person’s symptoms. The customer’s personal information is private, the firm said.

With its thermometers in 500,000 households, Kinsa receives 25,000 temperature readings per day.

The company can’t diagnose illnesses or distinguish between different kinds of sicknesses. But from gathering information about individuals’ fevers and other symptoms, it can report where flu-like symptoms are peaking. In recent weeks, Missouri and Kansas have been the hardest hit, Kinsa said. 

Selling aggregated data 

Beyond selling thermometers and advertising on its app, Kinsa makes money by selling data – stripped of any personally identifiable information – to companies that want to know where and how illness is spreading – cough and cold companies, disinfectant manufacturers, orange juice sellers. Sales of toothbrushes spike during flu season, Singh says.

Companies “want to know when and where illness is striking on a general geolocation basis,” he said. Firms stock shelves with products and change marketing plans if they know how an illness is progressing.

Kinsa has launched a program in schools, where it gives away thermometers, so parents can learn about illness trends locally. The company is also starting a new initiative with some U.S. firms, which buy Kinsa thermometers for their employees. When an employee shows a fever, Kinsa can inform the person about available company benefits.

At the moment, Kinsa thermometers are sold just in the U.S. But the company plans to go global.

“Imagine a living breathing map where you can see where and when disease is spreading,” Singh said. “That’s what we want.”

Mugabe’s Political Demise Brings Hope to Zimbabwe’s Ousted White Farmers

A new political dawn in Zimbabwe has sparked talk among farmers of land reform and the return of some whites who lost their land and livelihoods to President Robert Mugabe during a 37-year rule that drove the economy to collapse.

Mugabe, 93, resigned in November after the army and his ZANU-PF party turned against him, prompting optimism among some of the thousands of white farmers ousted in the early 2000s on the grounds of redressing imbalances from the colonial era.

For colonialists seized some of the best agricultural land that remained in the hands of white farmers after independence in 1980 leaving many blacks effectively landless and making land ownership one of Zimbabwe’s most sensitive political topics.

Now some white landowners hope the post-Mugabe regime may address the land issue, either through compensation or returning land, and try to resuscitate a once vibrant agricultural sector boosting an economy once seen as one of Africa’s great hopes.

“We are convinced positive signals will come quickly in terms of property rights,” Ben Purcel Gilpin, director of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), which represents white and black farmers, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It would send a good signal to people outside Zimbabwe.” 

New president and long-time Mugabe ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised a raft of changes since he took office, including a return to the rule of law and respect for property rights.

Land ownership has been a key issue for decades in Zimbabwe dating back to British colonial rule in what was then Rhodesia.

At independence, white farmers owned more than 70 percent of the most fertile land and generated 80 percent of the country’s agricultural output, according to academics.

Reforms began after independence with a “willing buyer, willing seller” system aimed at redistributing land to poor black subsistence farmers. In the 1990s, compulsory acquisition of land began with some funding provided by Britain.

But for many Zimbabweans change was too slow and Mugabe approved radical land reforms that encouraged occupation of some 4,000 white-owned farms. Land went to his supporters with no knowledge of farming and thousands of white farmers fled.

The violent farm seizures saw Zimbabwe forfeit its status as the bread basket of Africa and led to a collapse of many industries that depended on agriculture. Among those were paper mills, textile firms, leather tanners and clothing companies.

As a result the country failed to generate foreign currency, resulting in the central bank printing money which led to unprecedented levels of hyper-inflation and high unemployment.

New start

Now some white farmers are starting to reclaim their land.

“White commercial farmers, like all other Zimbabweans, could apply for land from the Government and join the queue or go into joint ventures,” Mnangagwa told a former white commercial farmer during a recent visit to Namibia.

The CFU’s Gilpin – who quit farming and moved to Harare after his farm was compulsorily acquired by the government in 2005 – said sound policies from the new team could win support and help the economy.

He said compensation rather than putting people back into their properties might be the best route as many farmers are now too old to farm, some had died and others migrated.

The current situation – where resettled farmers had 99-year leases – was also untenable as the leases were not accepted by banks as collateral against borrowing.

Gilpin said this effectively made the land dead capital, as banks could not sell if farmers failed to pay back loans, so the government should instead offer farmers freehold titles.

Property rights expert Lloyd Mhishi, a senior partner in the law firm Mhishi Nkomo Legal Practice, said although Mnangagwa spoke about compensating farmers whose land was expropriated, he did not give specifics and title deeds of the former white farmers had no legal force after repossession.

Political way out

“As far as the law of the country is concerned, the title deeds that the former white commercial farmers hold do not guarantee them title,” Mhishi said in an interview.

But the lawyer said there were positive signs that the new administration realised land was a vital cog in the economy.

“I see there will be an attempt to make land useful, productive,” he said. “The land tenure side needs to be addressed to make land useful.”

Independent economist John Robertson, a former Advisor to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, said, however, that any idea of compensation should be dropped and former white commercial farmers should get back to their land and resume work.

“I’d rather see them get back their land and start farming again than paid out and emigrating. We need their skills. If people who oppose that idea could be just successful, where have they been for the past 20 years?” he said.

Refugees Ready to Go Green, Become ‘Innovation Hubs’

Many refugees would like to buy low-carbon stoves and lights but poor access in camps and a lack of funding is forcing them to rely on “dirty and expensive” fuels, a report said Tuesday.

Millions of refugees worldwide struggle to access energy for cooking, lighting and communication and often pay high costs for fuels like firewood, which are bad for their health.

Yet two-thirds would consider paying for clean cookstoves and more than one-third for solar household products, according to a survey by the Moving Energy Initiative (MEI), a partnership among Britain, the United Nations and charities.

“Energy providers don’t tend to think of refugees as potential energy consumers, but the opportunities to build a relationship with them are huge,” Mattia Vianello, one of the report’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Clean energy for refugees is a global priority for the U.N. refugee agency, which provides free solar power to thousands of displaced people in camps in Jordan and Kenya.

Campaigners are seeking to create a market for cleaner-burning stoves and fuels to supply millions of households worldwide that are using inefficient, dangerous methods.

Perilous smoke

When burned in open fires and traditional stoves, wood, charcoal and other solid fuels emit harmful smoke that claims millions of lives each year, according to the Clean Cooking Working Capital Fund, which promotes stoves that produce less pollution.

In Uganda, refugees collect wood from surrounding areas, “devastating” the local environment and creating tensions with locals, Raffaela Bellanca, an energy adviser with the charity Mercy Corps, said in emailed comments.

Humanitarians should work with the private sector to provide more sustainable energy to displaced people, said the report, which surveyed about 500 refugees, business owners and aid workers in Burkina Faso and Kenya.

“Refugee camps have the potential to become energy innovation hubs with a spillover effect on surrounding host communities,” Bellanca said.