Category Archives: Technology

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What’s in Store for Ivanka Trump?

Ivanka Trump, daughter and adviser to the president, has been the subject of criticism and ridicule after her prominent involvement during President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia last week. Many are questioning her competence to be in such high-profile events, accusing the administration of harming the country’s interest through nepotism, as well as wondering whether the president is grooming his daughter for a bigger role in the future. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has more.

African Migrants in Record Numbers Head for US via Latin America

Marilyne Tatang, 23, crossed nine borders in two months to reach Mexico from the West African nation of Cameroon, fleeing political violence after police torched her house, she said.

She plans soon to take a bus north for four days and then cross a 10th border, into the United States. She is not alone, a record number of fellow Africans are flying to South America and then traversing thousands of miles of highway and a treacherous tropical rainforest to reach the United States.

Tatang, who is eight months pregnant, took a raft across a river into Mexico on June 8, a day after Mexico struck a deal with U.S. President Donald Trump to do more to control the biggest flows of migrants heading north to the U.S. border in more than a decade.

Trump threats encourage migrants

The migrants vying for entry at the U.S. southern border are mainly Central Americans. But growing numbers from a handful of African countries are joining them, prompting calls from Trump and Mexico for other countries in Latin America to do their part to slow the overall flood of migrants.

As more Africans learn from relatives and friends who have made the trip that crossing Latin America to the United States is tough but not impossible, more are making the journey, and in turn are helping others follow in their footsteps, migration experts say.

Trump’s threats to clamp down on migrants have ricocheted around the globe, paradoxically spurring some to exploit what they see as a narrowing window of opportunity, said Michelle Mittelstadt, communications director for the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

“This message is being heard not just in Central America, but in other parts of the world,” she said.

Record breaking numbers from Africa

Data from Mexico’s interior ministry suggests that migration from Africa this year will break records.

The number of Africans registered by Mexican authorities tripled in the first four months of 2019 compared with the same period a year ago, reaching about 1,900 people, mostly from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which remains deeply unstable years after the end of a bloody regional conflict with its neighbors that led to the deaths of millions of people.

‘They would have killed me’

Tatang, a grade school teacher, said she left northwest Cameroon because of worsening violence in the English-speaking region, where separatists are battling the mostly French-speaking government for autonomy.

“It was so bad that they burned the house where I was living … they would have killed me,” she said, referring to government forces who tried to capture her.

At first, Tatang planned only to cross the border into Nigeria. Then she heard that some people had made it to the United States.

“Someone would say, ‘You can do this,’” she said. “So I asked if it was possible for someone like me too, because I’m pregnant. They said, ‘Do this, do that.’“

Tatang begged her family for money for the journey, which she said so far has cost $5,000.

Epic journey

She said her route began with a flight to Ecuador, where Cameroonians don’t need visas. Tatang went by bus and on foot through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala until reaching Mexico.

She was still deciding what to do once she got to Mexico’s northern border city of Tijuana, she said, cradling her belly while seated on a concrete bench outside migration offices in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula.

“I will just ask,” she said. “I can’t say, ‘When I get there, I will do this.’ I don’t know. I’ve never been there.”

FILE – A migrant from Cameroon holds his baby while trying to enter the Siglo XXI immigrant detention center to request humanitarian visas, issued by the Mexican government, to continue to the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico, July 5, 2019.

Reuters spoke recently with five migrants in Tapachula who were from Cameroon, DRC and Angola. Several said they traveled to Brazil as a jumping-off point.

They were a small sampling of the hundreds of people, including Haitians, Cubans, Indians and Bangladeshis, clustered outside migration offices.

Political volatility in Cameroon and the DRC in recent years has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

People from the DRC made up the third largest group of new refugees globally last year with about 123,000 people, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency, while Cameroon’s internally displaced population grew by 447,000 people.

The number of undocumented African migrants found by authorities in Mexico quadrupled compared with five years ago, reaching nearly 3,000 people in 2018.

Most obtain a visa that allows them free passage through Mexico for 20 days, after which they cross into the United States and ask for asylum.

More families coming, too

Few choose to seek asylum in Mexico, in part because they don’t speak Spanish. Tatang said the language barrier was especially frustrating because she speaks only English, making communication difficult both with Mexican migration officials and even other Africans, such as migrants from DRC who speak primarily French.

Those who reach the United States often send advice back home, helping make the journey easier for others, said Florence Kim, spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration in West and Central Africa.

Like their Central American migrant counterparts, some Africans are also showing up with families hoping for easier entries than as individuals, said Mittelstadt of the Migration Policy Institute.

U.S. data shows a huge spike in the number of families from countries other than Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras at the U.S. southern border. Between last October and May 16,000 members of families were registered, up from 1,000 for the whole of 2018, according to an analysis by the MPI.

Regional approach

The grueling Latin America trek forces migrants to spend at least a week trudging across swampland and hiking through mountainous rainforests in the lawless Darien Gap that is the only link between Panama and Colombia.

Still, the route has a key advantage: Countries in the region typically do not deport migrants from other continents partly because of the steep costs and lack of repatriation agreements with their home countries.

That relaxed attitude could change, however.

Under a deal struck with United States last month, Mexico may start a process later this month to become a safe third country, making asylum-seekers apply for refuge in Mexico and not the United States.

To lessen the load on Mexico, Mexico and the United States plan to put pressure on Central American nations to do more to prevent asylum-seekers, including African migrants, from moving north.

For the moment, however, more Africans can be expected to attempt the journey, said IOM’s Kim.

“They want to do something with their life. They feel they lack a future in their country,” she said.

A Celebration of Independence, in Trump Fashion

America’s annual Independence Day is celebrated a bit differently in Washington, D.C., this year, with a display of military might and a speech about patriotism by U.S. President Donald Trump. The event draws Trump supporters, as well as protesters who accuse the president of politicizing a nonpartisan holiday and wasting taxpayer money. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has the story.

German Fire Exercise Aims to Prevent Notre Dame Tragedy

A single cigarette may have started the April fire that destroyed much of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  Flames tore through the global tourist destination as firefighters struggled to find and extinguish their source.  German authorities want to make sure what happened in France, doesn’t happen there.  Arash Arabasadi has more.

Vietnam Asks Firms to Use Local Materials as US Threatens Tariffs

Vietnamese manufacturers should use domestically-sourced raw materials to avoid incurring U.S. tariffs, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, days after Washington said it would impose large duties on some steel products shipped through the Southeast Asian country.

The U.S. Commerce Department said on Tuesday it would slap tariffs of up to 456% on certain steel produced in South Korea or Taiwan which are then shipped to Vietnam for minor processing and finally exported to the United States.

“The Ministry of Industry and Trade has warned local companies about possible moves by importing countries, including the United States, to apply stricter requirements in trade protection cases,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said at a routine news conference in Hanoi.

Vietnamese companies should consider business strategies that include switching to domestic materials, she said.

Hang said Vietnam will continue to work with the United States in its efforts to crack down on goods of foreign origin illegally relabeled “Made in Vietnam” by exporters seeking to dodge tariffs.

Vietnam has been touted as one of the largest beneficiaries of the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, but recent comments from U.S. President Donald Trump have led some to believe that Vietnam may be the next target of U.S. tariffs.

Last month, Trump said Hanoi treated the United States “even worse” than China, amid the ongoing trade spat between Washington and Beijing.

Vietnam responded by saying it was committed to free and fair trade with the United States.

Vietnam’s largest export market is the United States, with which it has a rapidly growing trade surplus, which widened to $17 billion in the first five months of this year from $12.9
billion in the same period last year.
 

Warning Light Flashing for Slovakia’s Auto Industry

When David landed an assembly line job at Volkswagen’s Bratislava factory, his colleagues congratulated him on securing a well-paid position he could ride to retirement.

Two years later, he is among the 3,000 workers being laid off at the plant that produces the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne in a round of job cuts that has sent shockwaves through Slovakia, the world’s biggest car producer per capita.

“All my colleagues were saying there’s nothing to worry about, if I get used to the work load and work pace, the salary will gradually increase and I will have a stable job until retirement,” said David, who declined to give his last name.

“And suddenly I get a call from human resources and learn that I’m being let go.”

The job losses at the factory, Slovakia’s largest private sector employer, underline the challenges the country faces to keep the engine revving in an industry that accounts for about 12% of annual economic output and more than one in ten jobs.

Competition from lower-cost southeastern European markets, a shift to electric vehicles and global trade tensions are among the headwinds buffetting the small central European nation as automakers mull where to launch future production lines.

Volkswagen itself is looking at building a new plant in eastern Europe, with trade publications citing Bulgaria, Serbia and Turkey as the most likely locations.

While David found a job at another carmaker, the layoffs at the Bratislava plant, which also makes the Audi Q7 and Q8 models, have put the government on alert.

“To use a car metaphor, we see a warning light, we don’t need to take the car for a general repair yet,” economy minister Peter Ziga told Reuters.

“We have 300,000 people working in the car sector (directly and indirectly). Should anything happen to them it would be serious.”

The uncertainty has spurred unions, which have previously pushed for big wage increases, to change tack.

“At the moment, we do not focus on salaries, the priority is job stability,” Volkswagen union chief Zoroslav Smolinsky told Reuters. “We need to wait out the worse times and wait for the better times.”

COMPETITIVE EDGE

Seeking to bolster an auto industry that accounts for 44% of industrial output and 40% of exports, the government has approved subsidies to boost the sale of electric cars and announced tax breaks of up to 200% of the amount invested in research and development.

But at the same time, moves to raise the minimum wage and increase bonuses for night shifts introduced last year are making Slovakia less competitive, said Jan Pribula, secretary general of the Slovak Automotive Industry Association.

“This is the time when companies are deciding who gets new models in seven years,” said Pribula, whose group represents Slovakia’s four carmakers – Volkswagen, PSA Group, Kia Motors and Jaguar Land Rover – along with suppliers, research institutes and importers.

“It is important to send a signal that we are responsible because now we are gradually losing a competitive edge.”

Slovakia is not the only central European country facing such challenges. Fellow European Union members the Czech Republic, home to Volkswagen’s Skoda brand, and Hungary, where both BMW and Daimler have plants, rely heavily on investment from foreign automakers.

A brewing global trade war is a particular concern for such countries, given their high reliance on foreign trade, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said earlier this month.

Deloitte Chief Economist David Marek has said a 25% tariff on U.S. imports of cars from Europe would cut the revenue of the Czech auto industry by 12 billion crowns ($532 million) a year.

Poland, the region’s biggest economy, is betting on electric vehicles, setting a target of having 1 million such cars and vans on the road by 2025 and highlighting a battle for investment as the auto industry embraces new technologies.

At the same time, faltering global growth has led some carmakers to put expansion plans on hold, such as Daimler’s announcement in May to postpone an increase in capacity at its Kecskemet compact-car plant in Hungary.

“It has been taken for granted that plants like Bratislava would just carry on and produce the next generation model,” Carol Thomas, an auto analyst at LMC Automotive, told Reuters.

“But we can’t just assume that anymore. Plants will not only have to fight for new models, they will also face greater competition to retain new generations of models they already produce.”

So far this year, Volkswagen has scaled back production lines in Bratislava and returned workers borrowed from Hungary’s Audi plant in 2016.

“This is the key year that will decide the future of the Slovak factory,” VW Slovak Chief Executive Oliver Grunberg said, adding a decision was expected by the end of the year.

“Improvements in Slovakia’s business environment would help increase attractiveness of Bratislava’s plant.”

Prince Harry, Meghan Say They Won’t Name Archie’s Godparents

Buckingham Palace says that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will not reveal the names of the godparents of their son Archie when he is christened this weekend.
 
The palace said in a statement Wednesday that the christening at Windsor Castle on Saturday will be private and that “the godparents, in keeping with their wishes, will remain private.”
 
The decision sparked controversy in Britain’s media on Thursday, in part because the royal couple’s home was renovated with 2.4 million pounds ($3.06 million) of taxpayer money. Anti-monarchy campaign group Republic questioned why so much money was spent at a time when public services are under financial pressure.
 
Critics suggest that occasions like christenings should be public, but Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have repeatedly signaled that they’re entitled to privacy.

 

 

White House Blasts Seattle Judge’s Ruling on Asylum-Seekers

The White House is blasting a Seattle judge’s ruling that says the Trump administration can’t indefinitely lock up migrants who are seeking asylum without giving them a chance to be released on bond.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman on Tuesday blocked a new administration policy saying that asylum-seekers will no longer get bond hearings but instead must remain in custody as they pursue their claims. 
 
She said it’s unconstitutional for the government to detain people without demonstrating it’s necessary.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement Wednesday calling the ruling “at war with the rule of law.” She says it “only incentivizes smugglers and traffickers.”

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Michael Tan says the ruling “upholds the law against this administration’s ongoing attempts to violate it.”
 

Ben Gurion Incident Exposes West’s Vulnerability to GPS Disruption 

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian service.

A spate of GPS disruptions at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport has confirmed what several prominent tech analysts have long feared: that Western nations, and the U.S. in particular, are unusually vulnerable to foreign meddling with location-based technology. 
 
Most location-based software programs, such as the U.S.’s Global Positioning System (GPS), the European Union’s Galileo, China’s BeiDou and Russia’s Glonass, depend on the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), the vast network of international satellites orbiting the Earth. 
 
The technology plays an integral part in our everyday lives, affecting such things as personal phone use, car navigation, international shipping, air travel, power grids, financial markets, and law enforcement and emergency response services. It’s also vital to military operations. 
 
So it is no surprise that authorities were alarmed last week when several aircraft flying near Ben Gurion reported disruption to their satellite navigation systems. Officials said they thought the disruptions were caused by signals emanating from Syria, where Russian forces are involved in that nation’s long-running civil war. 
 

FILE – A U.S. soldier in Kuwait holds a GPS navigation device.

Russian diplomats ridiculed the claim, but it was not the first time their country has been singled out. A report issued in March by the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) charged that Russia has been hacking non-Russian navigation systems on an extraordinary scale. 
 
Since February 2016, C4ADS analysts reported, Russian intelligence had meddled with GPS equipment aboard 1,311 civilian ships. The report said 9,883 hacking incidents were reported or detected by maritime vessels or aircraft in 2017, with most of the incidents involving planes and ships near the Black Sea, Russia and Syria. 
 
Beyond pinpointing geographic coordinates, GNSS is also used for precision timing, a feature that can also be hacked and manipulated. Various cybersecurity and automotive trade journals reported in March that an unknown entity hacked the GPS systems in a range of high-end cars featured at the annual Geneva Motor Show, programming the cars to report a location of Buckingham, England, in the year 2036. 
 
How it works 
 
GPS spoofing is an attack in which a radio transmitter located near the target is used to send out false GPS signals. Using tools that are cheap and easily accessible online, the attacker can transmit inaccurate coordinates or no data at all. 
 
Russia has been known to protectively scramble radio signal devices near sensitive state facilities or along routes traveled by VIPs. For example, multiple ships reported phony geographic coordinates in the Kerch Strait on the day that Russian President Vladimir Putin drove a truck across a newly completed bridge to Russian-annexed Crimea. 
 
But some analysts say the scale of recent disruptions indicates that Russia is taking its coordinates-spoofing game to another level, methodically calculating the damage it can inflict on unprotected systems in case of conflict. 

FILE – A Ukrainian sailor, right, is escorted by a Russian FSB officer to a courtroom in Simferopol, Crimea, Nov. 27, 2018. Russians captured Ukrainian seamen and their vessels two days earlier as they were about to transit the Kerch Strait.

“A ship that has falsified information navigating through the Kerch Strait, for instance, would be at a much greater risk of colliding with another ship or of potentially violating some sort of territorial water regime,” said Thomas Ewing, C4ADS chief analyst, referring to a Nov. 25 incident in which Russia seized three Ukrainian navy vessels near the Kerch Strait and detained their crews. 
 
Ewing also said evidence of spoofed coordinates had been recorded by U.S. forces in Syria, suggesting that Russia may be hacking satellite networks as part of its electronic warfare campaigns. There have also been reports of Russian spoofing of GPS signals during the Russian military training exercise Zapad in 2017 and NATO’s Trident Juncture in 2018. 
 
“Our report details a number of Russian assets that are designed to interfere with GNSS as part of a general electronic warfare capability,” Ewing told VOA.  
 
Some analysts have questioned why Russian intelligence would meddle with commercial airliners servicing Tel Aviv, the most populous city in a country with which the Kremlin seeks friendly relations.
 
Others, however, say formal attribution to a malign state actor is beside the point. 
 
“The basic danger is that when your positioning, navigation or timing information is falsified, you could make a decision based on information that doesn’t correspond to reality,” said Ewing, explaining that spoofed coordinates could easily spark an international dispute. 
 
Dana Goward, president of the U.S. Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, said the U.S. remains particularly vulnerable. 
 
Because American engineers designed GPS to be used by everyone, its signal characteristics are routinely published and easily accessible. That makes them easier to imitate than signals relayed by mainly ground-based positioning systems in China and Russia. 
 
America’s ‘gift to the world’ 
 
“I think that European countries and the United States are especially vulnerable because Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea have alternate navigation systems that transmit from the ground,” Goward told VOA’s Ukrainian service. He said those systems “have very high power and are very difficult to disrupt. So those countries are not nearly as dependent upon satellite navigation as Europe and the United States.”  
 
Asked about the erroneous coordinates reported by vessels in the Kerch Strait and along the Syrian coast, Goward said he thought Russia was using the vulnerabilities of the technology to demonstrate its power. 
 

FILE – A GPS station is seen in the Inyo Mountains of California. (S. Lawrence/UNAVCO)

“America likes to think of GPS as its gift to the world,” he said. “But by doing this, Russia is saying to the whole world that ‘we can take that away from you with a flip of a switch, so America’s gift is not so great.’ So they’re certainly using it as an instrument of strategic state power as well.” 
 
To protect itself, Goward said, the United States should increase its protection of GPS frequencies, use only high-quality receivers that can resist jamming and spoofing, and augment the GPSS with a ground-based system that would be harder to disrupt.  
 
The incident in Ben Gurion again attracted attention to the need to create a fully functional backup system for GPS, Goward said. “It is fortunate that aviation has a terrestrial electronic navigation system it can rely upon when GPS is not available,” Goward said. He praised the 2001 U.S. Department of Transportation decision not to give up the terrestrial system completely in favor of the GPS-based one. 
 
U.S. policy has called for maintaining an effective backup system since 2004, but experts say its full implementation is still in the works both in the United States and Europe.  
 
According to the Military Times newspaper, the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Germany will field test jam-resistant positioning, navigation and timing gear in September, including a Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module in some vehicles.