Category Archives: News

worldwide news

ESA’s Mars Rover Undergoes Testing

If everything goes according to the plan, the European Space Agency, ESA, will launch its first robotic exploration vehicle to Mars in 2020. A prototype of the advanced 6-wheeled rover is now undergoing various tests in order to prove that it will be able to withstand the extreme environmental conditions on Mars. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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Pompeo Promises To Help State Department Get Its ‘Swagger’ Back

New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has promised to boost U.S. diplomacy and help the State Department get its “swagger back.” Hundred of employees at the agency in Washington greeted him enthusiastically Tuesday. Morale at State had plummeted under the threat of sharp budget cuts, with dozens of key posts and ambassadorships left unfilled under his predecessor, former secretary Rex Tillerson. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more from the State Department.

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Pompeo Promises To Help State Department Get Its ‘Swagger’ Back

New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has promised to boost U.S. diplomacy and help the State Department get its “swagger back.” Hundred of employees at the agency in Washington greeted him enthusiastically Tuesday. Morale at State had plummeted under the threat of sharp budget cuts, with dozens of key posts and ambassadorships left unfilled under his predecessor, former secretary Rex Tillerson. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more from the State Department.

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‘Amazing China’ Documentary More Fiction Than Fact

A Chinese company that manufactured Ivanka Trump shoes and has been accused of serious labor abuses is being celebrated in a blockbuster propaganda film for extending China’s influence around the globe.

 

The state-backed documentary “Amazing China” portrays the Huajian Group as a beneficent force spreading prosperity — in this case, by hiring thousands of Ethiopians at wages a fraction of what they’d have to pay in China. But in Ethiopia, Huajian workers told The Associated Press they work without safety equipment for pay so low they can barely make ends meet.

 

“I’m left with nothing at the end of the month,” said Ayelech Geletu, 21, who told the AP she earns a base monthly salary of 1,400 Birr ($51) at Huajian’s factory in Lebu, outside Addis Ababa. “Plus, their treatment is bad. They shout at us whenever they want.”

With epic cinematography, “Amazing China” — produced by China Central Television and the state-owned China Film Group Co. Ltd. — articulates a message of how China would like to be seen as it pursues President Xi Jinping’s vision of a globally resurgent nation, against a reality that doesn’t always measure up.

China’s ruling Communist Party recently announced it would take direct control of major broadcasters and assume regulatory power over everything from film and TV to books and news.

 

As the party deepens its ability to cultivate “unity of thought” among citizens, “Amazing China” demonstrates the scope of China’s propaganda machine, which not only crafted a stirring documentary about China’s renaissance under Xi but also helped manufacture an adoring audience for it.

 

The movie, which weaves together extraordinary feats of engineering and military, environmental and cultural achievements, hit theaters three days before China’s rubber-stamp legislature convened to amend the constitution and allow Xi to potentially rule China for life.

 

The star — duly noted by IMDb.com — is Xi himself, who appears more than 30 times in the 90-minute film.

 

“Amazing China” presents Huajian as an inspiring example of China exporting the success of its own economic miracle by creating transformative jobs for thousands of poor Ethiopians and sharing China’s knowledge, language and can-do discipline to build a new industrial foundation for Ethiopia’s economy.

The company is celebrated as a model of the inclusiveness at the heart of a much larger project: Xi’s signature One Belt One Road initiative, a plan to spread Chinese infrastructure and influence across dozens of countries so ambitious in scope that it’s been compared to the U.S.-led Marshall Plan after World War II.

 

“In opening to the outside world, China’s pursuit is not to only make our lives better, but to make the lives of others better,” the narrator says.

 

In the film, Huajian chairman Zhang Huarong stands before neat rows of Ethiopian workers singing a song about unity, describing himself as a father to his employees, who “like me very much.”

 

But four current and former Huajian employees told the AP their wages were so low that they struggled to pay their bills. They said they had no protective gear, were forced to work 12 hours a day and participate in military-style physical drills, were not permitted to form a union and were regularly yelled at by their Chinese managers.

 

All that made it hard for them to relate to the inspirational video about Huajian circulated by mobile phone with its sweeping shots of a gleaming factory and a soundtrack that repeats in operatic Mandarin: “Huajian has come, Huajian has come … holding the torch of hope.”

 

“If someone complains, he will be accused of disturbing the workplace and will be fired right away,” said Ebissa Gari, a 22-year-old who estimated he earns 960 Birr ($35) a month. “That’s why we keep quiet and work no matter how much we are subdued.”

Getahun Alemu, a 20-year-old who quit Huajian last year to continue his studies, complained of inadequate safety gear.

 

“There are chemicals that hurt our eyes and nose, and machines that cut our hands,” he said. “They have no idea about hand gloves! If you refuse to work without that protective gear, then you will be told to leave the company.”

 

Huajian declined the AP’s requests for comment. Ivanka Trump’s brand said it no longer does business with Huajian and “has always and continues to take supply chain integrity very seriously.”

 

Huajian’s investment in Ethiopia was part of a government-led industrialization drive. In the last few years, Ethiopia’s leaders and business allies came under intense criticism, with more than 300 businesses attacked by protesters who saw them as bolstering a repressive regime.

 

These days, armed soldiers stand guard at the entrance to the Eastern Industrial Zone in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, where Huajian opened its first factory.

 

Six years after the company’s arrival, the dream of turning Ethiopia into a shoe-manufacturing hub remains unrealized, and few harbor illusions about the main incentive for Huajian’s investment in a country where there is no legal minimum wage.

 

“These companies are moving out of Asia and coming to Africa to save labor costs,” said Fitsum Arega, who recently stepped down as head of the Ethiopian Investment Commission to become an adviser to the new prime minister. He praised Huajian for employing more than 5,000 Ethiopians, but said the company “could have done better.”

 

“I’m not saying all employees are happy and there are no abuses here and there,” Arega said, adding that the government pushes companies to protect workers. “There’s a labor law which actually the companies say favors the employees.”

 

The Chinese-owned Eastern Industrial Zone effectively took fertile land from Ethiopian farmers and handed it over to foreign investors — a strategy the Ethiopian government is rethinking, according to Nemera Mamo, a teaching fellow in economics at the University of London.

 

“You can clearly see that these industrial zones are absolutely favorable to the Chinese investors, but not to the local communities or the local private investors,” he said. Huajian workers told the AP they made 960 Birr ($35) to 1,700 Birr ($62) a month. A basic living wage in Ethiopia is about 3,000 Birr ($109) a month, according to Ayele Gelan, a research economist at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research.

 

In a post promoting “Amazing China” on its official WeChat account, Huajian claimed to be Ethiopia’s largest exporter — an exaggeration also promulgated by China’s official Xinhua News Agency.

Huajian is Ethiopia’s largest shoe exporter, shipping out $19.3 million worth of goods last fiscal year, according to Ethiopia’s Leather Industry Development Institute. But coffee producer Mullege PLC said it exported $42 million worth of coffee during the same period and that other companies export even more.

 

Huajian’s record within China also has been troubled. In at least five cases since 2015, Huajian sued workers in Chinese court rather than pay compensation mandated by a government arbitration panel. Huajian lost every case, court records show, and the court had to freeze Huajian’s assets to get one worker the 44,174 yuan ($7,000) he was owed.

 

Last year, Huajian found itself entangled in labor and human rights controversies that made global headlines but attracted little attention in China’s official media. Three men working with the New York-based non-profit group China Labor Watch were arrested after their investigation of Ivanka Trump’s suppliers zeroed in on Huajian. The men are out on bail, but remain under police surveillance.

 

China Labor Watch founder Li Qiang said Huajian’s factory in Ganzhou, in southeastern Jiangxi province, had some of the worst conditions he has ever encountered, including excessive overtime, low pay, and verbal and physical abuse.

 

Huajian has called those allegations “completely not true to the facts, taken out of context, exaggerated” and accused the investigators of conducting industrial espionage — a charge that was parroted in China’s party-controlled media.

Wei Tie, the director of “Amazing China,” said he wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding Huajian until the AP informed him. That’s not too surprising given the years of positive coverage of Huajian in party-controlled media and the fact that many foreign news sites, especially Chinese-language ones, are blocked inside China.

 

Wei said he included the company in the film because it is “introducing China’s experience of prosperity to Africa.”

 

He said he prefers to focus on the good. “What I did was absorb the essence and discard the dross,” he said, citing a longstanding aphorism of Chinese political thought.

 

At first glance, Wei’s selective approach appears to have resonated with Chinese audiences. “Amazing China” smashed box-office records for documentary films, raking in 456 million yuan ($72 million) in its first five weeks, according to ticketing website Maoyan.com. It even thumped “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

 

Wei attributed this success to the “spontaneous feeling” of citizens inspired by the arc of tremendous progress they’ve witnessed, a national rejuvenation forged with sweat and skill that he compared to Europe’s Renaissance and the pioneering days of the American republic.

In Shanghai, midday screenings during the week sold out immediately, suggesting either unquenchable public appetite or organized bulk ticket sales.

 

None of the viewers surveyed by AP had purchased their own tickets. Instead, they said they got them from state-run companies, neighborhood committees or government departments that handed them out as part of their “party building work.”

 

Douban, a popular film review website, blocked users from rating and commenting on the movie. The only entries came from official media, which gave it an 8.5 out of 10 ranking. On IMDb.com, a subsidiary of Amazon, “Amazing China” earned only one star.

 

But for some, “Amazing China” is balm for old feelings of inferiority and a welcome reaffirmation that China is ready to resume its rightful place in the community of great nations.

 

“I did not know how good our country is until I watched this movie,” said Zuo Qianyi, a 68-year-old retiree. “I have been to many countries, Britain, Spain, and they are not as good as China, at least not as Shanghai. I am very happy, and I will love my country more.”

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CNN: Doctor Says Trump Dictated Glowing 2015 Health Report

A letter from Donald Trump’s New York physician released by his campaign in 2015 declaring he would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency” was composed by the candidate himself, the doctor said Tuesday.

“He dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter,” Harold Bornstein told CNN.

Bornstein was not immediately available to comment, but in a subsequent interview with NBC News he confirmed the account.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

“Mr. Trump has had a recent complete medical examination that showed only positive results,” said the letter signed by Bornstein, who said he had treated Trump since 1980.

“Actually, his blood pressure, 110/65, and laboratory results were astonishingly excellent. His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary,” the letter said. “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Bornstein told NBC News the characterization of “healthiest” was “black humor.”

Dictation in Central Park

Trump read out the language as Bornstein and his wife were driving across Central Park, the doctor told CNN. The campaign released the letter in December 2015.

“[Trump] dictated the letter and I would tell him what he couldn’t put in there,” he said.

Bornstein had previously said he had written the letter in a rush while seeing other patients.

His latest version of the letter’s origins follows his accusation that Trump’s ex-bodyguard, Keith Schiller, raided his office while retrieving Trump’s medical records after he was elected president.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday that the records were retrieved as part of “standard operating procedure.”

“As is standard operating procedure for a new president, the White House Medical Unit took possession of the president’s medical records,” she told a regular news briefing.

Asked whether the operation was a raid, she said: “No, that is not my understanding.”

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CNN: Doctor Says Trump Dictated Glowing 2015 Health Report

A letter from Donald Trump’s New York physician released by his campaign in 2015 declaring he would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency” was composed by the candidate himself, the doctor said Tuesday.

“He dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter,” Harold Bornstein told CNN.

Bornstein was not immediately available to comment, but in a subsequent interview with NBC News he confirmed the account.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

“Mr. Trump has had a recent complete medical examination that showed only positive results,” said the letter signed by Bornstein, who said he had treated Trump since 1980.

“Actually, his blood pressure, 110/65, and laboratory results were astonishingly excellent. His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary,” the letter said. “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Bornstein told NBC News the characterization of “healthiest” was “black humor.”

Dictation in Central Park

Trump read out the language as Bornstein and his wife were driving across Central Park, the doctor told CNN. The campaign released the letter in December 2015.

“[Trump] dictated the letter and I would tell him what he couldn’t put in there,” he said.

Bornstein had previously said he had written the letter in a rush while seeing other patients.

His latest version of the letter’s origins follows his accusation that Trump’s ex-bodyguard, Keith Schiller, raided his office while retrieving Trump’s medical records after he was elected president.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday that the records were retrieved as part of “standard operating procedure.”

“As is standard operating procedure for a new president, the White House Medical Unit took possession of the president’s medical records,” she told a regular news briefing.

Asked whether the operation was a raid, she said: “No, that is not my understanding.”

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Tomorrow’s Jobs Require Impressing a Bot with Quick Thinking

When Andrew Chamberlain started in his job four years ago in the research group at jobs website Glassdoor.com, he worked in a programming language called Stata.

Then it was R. Then Python. Then PySpark.

“My dad was a commercial printer and did the same thing for 30 years. I have to continually stay on stuff,” said Chamberlain, who is now the chief economist for the site. Chamberlain already has one of the jobs of the future — a perpetually changing, shifting universe of work that requires employees to be critical thinkers and fast on their feet. Even those training for a specific field, from plumbing to aerospace engineering, need to be nimble enough to constantly learn new technologies and apply their skills on the fly.

When companies recruit new workers, particularly for entry-level jobs, they are not necessarily looking for knowledge of certain software. They are looking for what most consider soft skills: problem solving, effective communication and leadership. They also want candidates who show a willingness to keep learning new skills.

“The human being’s role in the workplace is less to do repetitive things all the time and more to do the non-repetitive tasks that bring new kinds of value,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce in the United States.

So, while specializing in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field can seem like an easy path to a lucrative first job, employers are telling colleges: You are producing engineers, but they do not have the skills we need.

It is “algorithmic thinking” rather than the algorithm itself that is relevant, said Carnevale.

Finding gems

Out in the field, Marie Artim is looking for potential. As vice president of talent acquisition for car rental firm Enterprise Holdings Inc, she sets out to hire about 8,500 young people every year for a management training program, an enormous undertaking that has her searching college campuses across the country.

Artim started in the training program herself, 26 years ago, as did the Enterprise chief executive, and that is how she gets the attention of young adults and their parents who scoff at a future of renting cars.

According to Artim, the biggest deficit in the millennial generation is autonomous decision-making. They are used to being structured and “syllabused,” she said.

To get students ready, some colleges, and even high schools, are working on building critical thinking skills.

For three weeks in January at the private Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia, students either get jobs or go on trips, which gives them a better sense of what they might do in the future.

At Texas State University in San Marcos, meanwhile, students can take a marketable-skills master class series.

Case studies

One key area zeroes in on case studies that companies are using increasingly to weed out prospects. This means being able to answer hypothetical questions based on a common scenario the employer faces, and showing leadership skills in those scenarios.

The career office at the university also focuses on interview skills. Today, that means teaching kids more than just writing an effective resume and showing up in smart clothes.

They have to learn how to perform best on video and phone interviews, and how to navigate gamification and artificial intelligence bots that many companies are now using in the recruiting process.

Norma Guerra Gaier, director of career services at Texas State, said her son just recently got a job and not until the final step did he even have a phone interview.

“He had to solve a couple of problems on a tech system, and was graded on that. He didn’t even interface with a human being,” Guerra Gaier said.

When companies hire at great volume, they try to balance the technology and face-to-face interactions, said Heidi Soltis-Berner, evolving workforce talent leader at financial services firm Deloitte.

Increasingly, Soltis-Berner does not know exactly what those new hires will be doing when they arrive, aside from what business division they will be serving.

“We build flexibility into that because we know each year there are new skills,” she said.

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Tomorrow’s Jobs Require Impressing a Bot with Quick Thinking

When Andrew Chamberlain started in his job four years ago in the research group at jobs website Glassdoor.com, he worked in a programming language called Stata.

Then it was R. Then Python. Then PySpark.

“My dad was a commercial printer and did the same thing for 30 years. I have to continually stay on stuff,” said Chamberlain, who is now the chief economist for the site. Chamberlain already has one of the jobs of the future — a perpetually changing, shifting universe of work that requires employees to be critical thinkers and fast on their feet. Even those training for a specific field, from plumbing to aerospace engineering, need to be nimble enough to constantly learn new technologies and apply their skills on the fly.

When companies recruit new workers, particularly for entry-level jobs, they are not necessarily looking for knowledge of certain software. They are looking for what most consider soft skills: problem solving, effective communication and leadership. They also want candidates who show a willingness to keep learning new skills.

“The human being’s role in the workplace is less to do repetitive things all the time and more to do the non-repetitive tasks that bring new kinds of value,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce in the United States.

So, while specializing in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field can seem like an easy path to a lucrative first job, employers are telling colleges: You are producing engineers, but they do not have the skills we need.

It is “algorithmic thinking” rather than the algorithm itself that is relevant, said Carnevale.

Finding gems

Out in the field, Marie Artim is looking for potential. As vice president of talent acquisition for car rental firm Enterprise Holdings Inc, she sets out to hire about 8,500 young people every year for a management training program, an enormous undertaking that has her searching college campuses across the country.

Artim started in the training program herself, 26 years ago, as did the Enterprise chief executive, and that is how she gets the attention of young adults and their parents who scoff at a future of renting cars.

According to Artim, the biggest deficit in the millennial generation is autonomous decision-making. They are used to being structured and “syllabused,” she said.

To get students ready, some colleges, and even high schools, are working on building critical thinking skills.

For three weeks in January at the private Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia, students either get jobs or go on trips, which gives them a better sense of what they might do in the future.

At Texas State University in San Marcos, meanwhile, students can take a marketable-skills master class series.

Case studies

One key area zeroes in on case studies that companies are using increasingly to weed out prospects. This means being able to answer hypothetical questions based on a common scenario the employer faces, and showing leadership skills in those scenarios.

The career office at the university also focuses on interview skills. Today, that means teaching kids more than just writing an effective resume and showing up in smart clothes.

They have to learn how to perform best on video and phone interviews, and how to navigate gamification and artificial intelligence bots that many companies are now using in the recruiting process.

Norma Guerra Gaier, director of career services at Texas State, said her son just recently got a job and not until the final step did he even have a phone interview.

“He had to solve a couple of problems on a tech system, and was graded on that. He didn’t even interface with a human being,” Guerra Gaier said.

When companies hire at great volume, they try to balance the technology and face-to-face interactions, said Heidi Soltis-Berner, evolving workforce talent leader at financial services firm Deloitte.

Increasingly, Soltis-Berner does not know exactly what those new hires will be doing when they arrive, aside from what business division they will be serving.

“We build flexibility into that because we know each year there are new skills,” she said.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Vows to ‘Keep Building’ in No-apology Address

With a smile that suggested the hard part of an “intense year” might be behind him, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed developers Tuesday and pledged the company would build its way out of its worst-ever privacy debacle.

It was a clear and deliberate turning point for a company that’s been hunkered down since mid-March. For first time in several weeks, Zuckerberg went before a public audience and didn’t apologize for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a political data-mining firm accessed data from as many as 87 million Facebook accounts for the purpose of influencing elections. Or for a deluge of fake news and Russian election interference.

Instead, Zuckerberg sought to project a “we’re all in this together” mood that was markedly different from his demeanor during 10 hours of congressional testimony just a few weeks ago. His presentation also marked a major change for the company, which seems relieved to be largely done with the damage control that has preoccupied it for the past six weeks.

On Tuesday, speaking in San Jose at the F8 gathering of software developers, Zuckerberg said to cheers that the company was reopening app reviews, the process that gets new and updated apps on its services, which Facebook had shut down in late March as a result of the privacy scandal.

Investing in security

Zuckerberg then vowed to “keep building,” and reiterated that Facebook was investing a lot in security and in strengthening its systems so they can’t be exploited to meddle with elections, including the U.S. midterms later this year. The company had previously announced almost all of those measures.

“The hardest decision I made wasn’t to invest in safety and security,” Zuckerberg said. “The hard part was figuring out how to move forward on everything else we need to do, too.”

He also unveiled a new feature that gives users the ability to clear their browsing history from the platform, much the same way people can do in web browsers. Then Zuckerberg returned to techno-enthusiasm mode.

Facebook executives trotted out fun features, most notably a new dating service aimed at building “meaningful, long-term relationships,” in a swipe at sites like Tinder. After Facebook announced its entry into the online dating game, shares of Tinder owner Match Group Inc. plummeted 22 percent.

Poking fun at himself, Zuckerberg unveiled a “Watch Party” feature that gives users the ability to watch video together — such as, he suggested, “your friend testifying before Congress.” Up flashed video of Zuckerberg’s own turn on Capitol Hill.

“Let’s not do that again soon,” he said.

Zuckerberg got big cheers when he announced that the thousands of people in attendance would get Facebook’s latest virtual reality headset — the portable $199 Oculus Go — for free. “Thank you!” he yelled.

Salute to WhatsApp CEO

Zuckerberg also went out of his way to thank Jan Koum, the co-founder and CEO of messaging platform WhatsApp, who announced his departure Tuesday. Facebook paid $19.3 billion for WhatsApp in 2014.

Despite reports that Koum left over concerns about how the company handles private data, Zuckerberg described him warmly as “a tireless advocate for privacy and encryption.”

Some analysts said Zuckerberg’s performance bolstered his chances of navigating the company out of its privacy scandal and overcoming concerns that it can’t handle its fake-news and election problems.

By leading off with Facebook’s security and privacy responsibilities, then continuing to extend Facebook’s ambitions to connect people in new ways, Zuckerberg successfully “walked the tightrope,” said Geoff Blaber, vice president of research and market analysis firm CCS Insight.

“F8 felt like the first time Facebook has been on the front foot since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke,” Blaber said.

Dan Goldstein, president of digital marketing agency Page 1 Solutions, said the company “is getting the message” about privacy.

“Time will tell, but this may help Facebook overcome the shadow of the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” he said. 

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