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Video link spanning New York City to Dublin reopens after temporary shutdown

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Judge in Tennessee blocks effort to put Elvis Presley’s former home Graceland up for sale 

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee judge on Wednesday blocked the auction of Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley, by a company that claimed his estate failed to repay a loan that used the property as collateral. 

Shelby County Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins issued a temporary injunction against the proposed auction that had been scheduled for Thursday this week. Jenkins’ injunction essentially keeps in place a previous restraining order that he had issued after Presley’s granddaughter Riley Keough filed a lawsuit to fight off what she said was a fraudulent scheme. 

A public notice for a foreclosure sale of the 13-acre estate in Memphis posted earlier in May said Promenade Trust, which controls the Graceland museum, owes $3.8 million after failing to repay a 2018 loan. Keough, an actor, inherited the trust and ownership of the home after the death of her mother, Lisa Marie Presley, last year. 

Naussany Investments and Private Lending said Lisa Marie Presley had used Graceland as collateral for the loan, according to the foreclosure sale notice. Keough, on behalf of the Promenade Trust, alleged in her lawsuit that Naussany presented fraudulent documents regarding the loan in September 2023. 

Neither Keough nor lawyers for Nassauny Investments were in court Wednesday. 

“Lisa Maria Presley never borrowed money from Naussany Investments and never gave a deed of trust to Naussany Investments,” Keough’s lawyer wrote in a lawsuit. 

Kimberly Philbrick, the notary whose name is listed on Nassauny’s documents, indicated that she never met Lisa Marie Presley nor notarized any documents for her, the court filing said. 

Graceland opened as a museum and tourist attraction in 1982 as a tribute to Elvis Presley, the singer and actor who died in August 1977 at age 42. It draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. A large Presley-themed entertainment complex across the street from the museum is owned by Elvis Presley Enterprises. 

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White House chef duo has dished up culinary diplomacy at state dinners for nearly a decade 

Washington — A house-cured smoked salmon, red grapefruit, avocado and cucumber starter. Dry-aged rib eye beef in a sesame sabayon sauce. Salted caramel pistachio cake under a layer of matcha ganache.

While President Joe Biden and his guest of honor at a White House state dinner chew over foreign policy, the female chef duo of Cris Comerford and Susie Morrison take care of the culinary diplomacy. They pulled off the above menu for Japan’s leader in April, and they’ll have a new array of delicacies for Kenya’s president on Thursday night.

Comerford, the White House executive chef, and Morrison, the executive pastry chef, are the first women to hold those posts, forming a duo that has tantalized the taste buds of guests at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with their culinary creations for nearly a decade. Comerford is also the first person of color to be executive chef.

“Both are just exceptional examples of success in their field,” said Bill Yosses, who was the executive pastry chef for seven years before his departure in 2014 cleared the way for Morrison to be promoted. “They excel at what they do.”

Comerford and Morrison get to do it again Thursday when Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, host the administration’s sixth state dinner, for Kenyan President William Ruto and his wife, Rachel. It will be the first such honor for an African head of state since 2008 and the first for Kenya since 2003.

A lavish state dinner is a tool of U.S. diplomacy, a high honor reserved for America’s longstanding and closest allies. In the case of Kenya, Biden wants to elevate a relationship that he sees as critical to security in Africa and far beyond.

Jill Biden planned to preview the dinner setup for the news media on Wednesday afternoon.

State dinner planning is done by the first lady’s staff and the White House social office, and starts months in advance. Ideas are kicked around before the chefs propose a few different menus. The meals are prepared, plated as they would be served and tasted by the social secretary and the first lady, who makes the final call on what will be served.

The menus change, but the overarching goal has stayed the same.

“We’re trying to showcase American food, American regions, American farmers,” while incorporating small tributes to the guest of honor, Yosses said. “It would be rare that we would really try to imitate something from the guest’s country.”

Ingredients for April’s state dinner for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife, Yuko, came from California, Maryland, Oregon and Ohio. The wines were from Oregon and Washington state.

At the media preview for that glitzy event, Comerford explained that the diets of the Bidens and the visiting dignitaries are factored into the preparations, along with those of other guests.

“When we formulate and we create the state dinner menu, we take into consideration all the principals and most of our guests,” she said. “We also take into consideration the season because this is the perfect time for some beautiful bounties right now, with the spring coming up, with all the morels and the mushrooms, and Susie’s cherries and all the stuff she has on her plate.”

The chefs contact their regular purveyors to find out what’s in season, and go from there.

The salmon appetizer served in April was inspired by the California roll, which Comerford said was invented by a Japanese chef.

Morrison’s dessert highlighted Japan’s gift of cherry trees to the United States, many of which are planted in Washington, and its matcha tea. She decorated the pistachio cake with sugary mini cherry blossoms.

“We wanted to bring a little bit of the cherry blossoms that are here on the Tidal Basin right here to our dessert in order for everyone to enjoy the cherry blossoms that we enjoy every year,” she said.

Serving dinner to hundreds of guests at once comes down to timing. Thursday’s event will be held in an expansive pavilion put up on the South Grounds of the White House.

Sam Kass, who was an assistant chef during President Barack Obama’s administration, said tradition holds that the president is the first one served and that plates are cleared away when he is finished eating.

“You have to have a service that is so efficient and quick to get those plates out so that the last table has a chance to eat,” he said.

Comerford, 61, sharpened her culinary skills while working at hotels in Chicago and restaurants in Washington before the White House brought her on in 1995 as an assistant chef. A naturalized U.S. citizen and Filipino native, she was named executive chef in 2005. Her responsibilities include designing and executing menus for state dinners, social events, holiday functions, receptions and official luncheons.

Morrison, 57, started at the executive mansion as a contract pastry employee in 1995 while she was working at a hotel in northern Virginia. She was named an assistant pastry chef in 2002 and became the executive pastry chef in November 2014 — just in time to sweat over the details of that year’s gingerbread White House for the holiday season.

The pair has worked together at the White House for nearly 30 years.

Yosses recalled at least one instance where the honoree’s wishes dictated the menu selections.

In 2015, China’s Xi Jinping wanted a very American menu, “which I think was a polite way for him to say that he didn’t think we could do Chinese food very well,” Yosses said.

The Chinese leader was served butter-poached Maine lobster and grilled Colorado lamb.

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Australian researchers unveil device that harvests water from the air

SYDNEY — A device that absorbs water from air to produce drinkable water was officially launched in Australia Wednesday.

Researchers say the so-called Hydro Harvester, capable of producing up to 1,000 liters of drinkable water a day, could be “lifesaving during drought or emergencies.”

The device absorbs water from the atmosphere. Solar energy or heat that is harnessed from, for example, industrial processes are used to generate hot, humid air. That is then allowed to cool, producing water for drinking or irrigation.

The Australian team said that unlike other commercially available atmospheric water generators, their invention works by heating air instead of cooling it.

Laureate Professor Behdad Moghtaderi, a chemical engineer and director of the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Innovative Energy Technologies, told VOA how the technology operates.  

“Hydro Harvester uses an absorbing material to absorb and dissolve moisture from air. So essentially, we use renewable energy, let’s say, for instance, solar energy or waste heat. We basically produce super saturated, hot, humid air out of the system,” Moghtaderi said. “When you condense water contained in that air you would have the drinking water at your disposal.”

The researchers say the device can produce enough drinking water each day to sustain a small rural town of up to 400 people. It could also help farmers keep livestock alive during droughts.

Moghtaderi says the technology could be used in parts of the world where water is scarce.

Researchers were motivated by the fact that Australia is an arid and dry country.

“More than 2 billion people around the world, they are in a similar situation where they do not have access to, sort of, high-quality water and they deal with water scarcity,” Moghtaderi said

Trials of the technology will be conducted in several remote Australian communities this year.

The World Economic Forum, an international research organization, says “water scarcity continues to be a pervasive global challenge.”

It believes that atmospheric water generation technology is a “promising emergency solution that can immediately generate drinkable water using moisture in the air.”

However, it cautions that generally the technology is not cheap, and estimates that one mid-sized commercial unit can cost between $30,000 and $50,000.

 

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UK infected blood scandal victims to start receiving final compensation

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US looks to work with EU to address Chinese industrial policy

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Small island states secure climate win at international ocean court

BERLIN — A group of small island states that include Antigua and Barbuda and the Bahamas secured a win on climate change in an international court Tuesday as they seek to combat rising sea levels.

In its first climate-related judgment, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, or ITLOS, said that greenhouse gas emissions absorbed by the ocean are considered marine pollution and countries are obliged to protect marine environments by going further than required under the Paris climate agreement.

The opinion was requested by a group of nine island nations facing climate-driven rises in sea levels.

The opinion is not legally binding, but it can be used to help guide countries in their climate policy and, in other cases, as legal precedent.

“The ITLOS opinion will inform our future legal and diplomatic work in putting an end to inaction that has brought us to the brink of an irreversible disaster,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

The other nations in the group that brought the case were Tuvalu, Palau, Niue, Vanuatu, St.Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis.

The court said states are legally obligated to take all necessary measures to achieve the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels according to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas.

In the case hearings in September, China, the world’s biggest carbon polluter, had challenged the islands’ request, arguing that the tribunal does not have general authority to issue advisory opinions. Beijing said its position was taken to avoid the fragmentation of international law.

“If ITLOS were to find that such an obligation exists, Beijing’s response would most likely be to characterize this as falling outside of its proper scope of authority,” said Ryan Martinez Mitchell, law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Eselealofa Apinelu, a representative of the South Pacific island of Tuvalu, said the advisory opinion spells out the legally binding obligations of all states to protect the marine environment and the states against the existential threats posed by climate change.

“This is a historic moment for small island developing nations in their request for climate justice, an important first step in holding the major polluters accountable, for the sake of all humankind,” Apinelu said.

Climate activists and lawyers said the decision could also influence two upcoming legal opinions by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights and the International Court of Justice, which are also considering states’ climate obligations.

Last month, the European Court of Human Rights issued a historic ruling in favor of plaintiffs who argued that Switzerland was violating their human rights by not doing enough to combat climate warming.

“Now we have clarity on what states are obligated to do, which they have failed to do through 30 years … but this is the opening chapter,” Payam Akhavan, lead counsel for the nine island nations in the proceedings, said of the ITLOS opinion, adding that the next step was to ensure that major polluters would implement their obligations.

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Global carbon emissions pricing raised record $104 bln in 2023

LONDON — Countries raised a record $104 billion last year by charging firms for emitting carbon dioxide, but prices remain too low to drive changes needed to meet Paris climate accord targets, the World Bank said in a report on Tuesday.  

Several countries are using a price on carbon emissions to help meet their climate goals by making polluters pay in the form of a tax, or under an emissions trading (ETS), or cap-and-trade, system.

“Carbon pricing is a critical part of the policy mix needed to both meet the Paris Agreement goals and support low emissions growth,” the World Bank’s State and Trends of Carbon Markets report said.  

There are 75 global carbon pricing instruments in operation, up two from a year ago, covering around 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The figure raised in 2023 in carbon revenues was up from around $95 billion raised in 2022.  

However, the report said less than 1% of global greenhouse emissions are covered by a direct carbon price at or above the range recommended by the High-level Commission on Carbon Prices to meet the 2015 Paris agreement target of limiting temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.  

In 2017, a report by the High-Level Commission indicated carbon prices need to be in the $50-100 per ton range by 2030 to keep a rise in global temperatures below 2C. Adjusted for inflation those prices would now need to be in a $63-127 metric ton range, the World Bank report said.  

The largest single contributor to global carbon revenue is the EU’s Emissions Trading System.

“Recent price drops in the EU ETS… suggests global carbon pricing revenues may fall in 2024,” the report said.  

The benchmark EU carbon contract CFI2Zc1 is currently trading around 73 euros/ton, down from around 80 euros/ton at the start of the year and having touched a record over 100 euros/ton in February 2023.

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Samsung to expand chip output from Texas

The Biden administration last month announced $6.4 billion in direct funding to back South Korean tech giant Samsung’s new semiconductor cluster in central Texas. That means big changes for the town of Taylor. Deana Mitchell has our story

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  Britain, South Korea co-host two-day AI summit in South Korea

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Dark web drug site founder to appear in New York court

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US pediatricians end decades-old advice against breastfeeding by HIV-positive mothers

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‘The Apprentice,’ about a young Donald Trump, premieres in Cannes

CANNES, France — While Donald Trump’s hush money trial entered its sixth week in New York, an origin story for the Republican presidential candidate premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, unveiling a scathing portrait of the former president in the 1980s. 

“The Apprentice,” directed by the Iranian Danish filmmaker Ali Abbasi, stars Sebastian Stan as Trump. The central relationship of the movie is between Trump and Roy Cohn (Jeremy Strong), the defense attorney who was chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s Senate investigations. 

Cohn is depicted as a longtime mentor to Trump, coaching him in the ruthlessness of New York City politics and business. Early on, Cohn aided the Trump Organization when it was being sued by the federal government for racial discrimination in housing. 

“The Apprentice,” which is labeled as inspired by true events, portrays Trump’s dealings with Cohn as a Faustian bargain that guided his rise as a businessman and, later, as a politician. Stan’s Trump is initially a more naive real-estate striver, soon transformed by Cohn’s education. 

The film notably contains a scene depicting Trump raping his wife, Ivana Trump (played by Maria Bakalova). In Ivana Trump’s 1990 divorce deposition, she stated that Trump raped her. Trump denied the allegation and Ivana Trump later said she didn’t mean it literally, but rather that she had felt violated. 

That scene and others make “The Apprentice” a potentially explosive big-screen drama in the midst of the U.S. presidential election. The film is for sale in Cannes, so it doesn’t yet have a release date. 

Variety on Monday reported alleged behind-the-scenes drama surrounding “The Apprentice.” Citing anonymous sources, the trade publication reported that billionaire Dan Snyder, the former owner of the Washington Commanders and an investor in “The Apprentice,” has pressured the filmmakers to edit the film over its portrayal of Trump. Snyder previously donated to Trump’s presidential campaign. 

Neither representatives for the film nor Snyder could immediately be reached for comment. 

In the press notes for the film, Abbasi, whose previous film “Holy Spider” depicts a female journalist investigating a serial killer in Iran, said he didn’t set out to make “a History Channel episode.” 

“This is not a biopic of Donald Trump,” said Abbasi. “We’re not interested in every detail of his life going from A to Z. We’re interested in telling a very specific story through his relationship with Roy and Roy’s relationship with him.” 

Regardless of its political impact, “The Apprentice” is likely to be much discussed as a potential awards contender. The film, shot in a gritty 1980’s aesthetic, returns Strong to a New York landscape of money and power a year following the conclusion of HBO’s “Succession.” Strong, who’s currently performing on Broadway in “An Enemy of the People,” didn’t attend the Cannes premiere Monday. 

“The Apprentice” is playing in competition in Cannes, making it eligible for the festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or. At Cannes, filmmakers and casts hold press conferences the day after a movie’s premiere. “The Apprentice” press conference will be Tuesday.

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Study: Climate change key driver of record-low Antarctic sea ice

Paris — Climate change played a key role in last year’s record-low levels of Antarctic sea ice, a study published on Monday found, marking an abrupt shift from the growth seen in previous decades.

Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) found that human-caused global warming resulted in a once-in-2,000-year low in ocean surface around the continent blanketed by ice.

Compared to an average winter over the last several decades, the maximum extent of Antarctic sea covered by ice shrank by two million square kilometers — an area four times the size of France, the BAS said.

“This is why we were so interested in studying what climate models can tell us about how often large, rapid losses like this are likely to happen,” the study’s lead author Rachel Diamond told AFP.

Scientists, having analyzed 18 distinct climate models, found that climate change quadrupled the likelihood of such large and rapid melting events.

Understanding the cause of sea ice melt is complex as there are many variables — from ocean water to air temperature to winds — that can effect it, scientists say.

But determining the role of climate change is critical since ice formation has global impacts from ocean currents to sea-level rise.

Sea ice, which forms from freezing salt water already in the ocean, has no discernible impact on sea levels.

But when highly reflective snow and ice give way to dark blue ocean, the same amount of the Sun’s energy that was bounced back into space is absorbed by water instead, accelerating the pace of global warming.

Recovery unlikely

Unlike the Arctic, where sea ice has been declining since satellite records began in the 1970s, the melt trend in Antarctica is a more recent phenomenon.

Antarctic sea ice increased “slightly and steadily” from 1978 until 2015, according to the BAS.

But 2017 brought a sharp decline, followed by several years of low ice levels.

In the study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, BAS researchers also ran projections to see whether the ice would return.

“It doesn’t completely recover to original levels even after 20 years,” Diamond told AFP. That means “the average Antarctic sea ice may still stay relatively low for decades to come”, he added.

“The impacts… would be profound, including on local and global weather and on unique Southern Ocean ecosystems — including whales and penguins,” co-author Louise Sime said.

Previous studies by the BAS have shown that the abnormal melt has led to the deaths of thousands of emperor penguin chicks.

Reared on the ice sheets, they perished when they were plunged into the ocean before they had developed their waterproof feathers.

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Researchers use artificial intelligence to classify brain tumors

SYDNEY — Researchers in Australia and the United States say that a new artificial intelligence tool has allowed them to classify brain tumors more quickly and accurately.  

The current method for identifying different kinds of brain tumors, while accurate, can take several weeks to produce results.  The method, called DNA methylation-based profiling, is not available at many hospitals around the world.

To address these challenges, a research team from the Australian National University, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute in the United States, has developed a way to predict DNA methylation, which acts like a switch to control gene activity.  

This allows them to classify brain tumors into 10 major categories using a deep learning model.

This is a branch of artificial intelligence that teaches computers to process data in a way that is inspired by a human brain.

The joint U.S.-Australian system is called DEPLOY and uses microscopic pictures of a patient’s tissue called histopathology images.

The researchers see the DEPLOY technology as complementary to an initial diagnosis by a pathologist or physician.

Danh-Tai Hoang, a research fellow at the Australian National University, told VOA that AI will enhance current diagnostic methods that can often be slow.

“The technique is very time consuming,” Hoang said. “It is often around two to three weeks to obtain a result from the test, whereas patients with high-grade brain tumors often require treatment as soon as possible because time is the goal for brain tumor(s), so they need to get treatment as soon as possible.”

The research team said its AI model was validated on large datasets of approximately 4,000 patients from across the United States and Europe and an accuracy rate of 95 percent.

Their study has been published in the journal Nature Medicine.

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Cannes film follows Egypt feminists on brink of adulthood

Cannes, France — Filmmakers Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir spent so much time following an all-girl theatre troupe in a remote Egyptian village that at one point someone tried to sell them a house.

“He thought we were always there so we might as well live there,” Riyadh told AFP after the premiere of their documentary at the Cannes Film Festival.

“The Brink of Dreams” follows a group of teenage girls in rural southern Egypt over four years, between rehearsals, as they navigate the tough decisions that will determine their adulthood.

Majda dreams of studying theatre in Cairo, Monika wants to become a famous singer and Haidi is being pursued by the hottest guy in the village.

In their feminist street performances, they boldly rail against the patriarchy, challenging members of the crowd on issues such as self-fulfillment and early marriage.

But soon life takes over and the teenagers from Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority find themselves confronted with these concepts for real.

The camera discreetly captures conversations in the family shop, between a father and daughter, or two lovers, as neighbors and animals go about their daily lives.

“In the beginning there was a lot of people always looking at the camera. Everybody was self-conscious,” said Riyadh.

But “once the trust had been built between them and us, we had that chance to blend in.”

Riyadh said the documentary, which is screening in a sidebar section of the festival, was driven by her and co-director Amin discovering the troupe in 2017.

The film “is intentionally feminist in every way but I think it was also dictated by what this inspiring group of women was already doing,” she said.

It’s “mind-blowing because they’re demanding answers about very important things and opening a dialogue with everybody in their community.”

Co-director Amin said the main challenge was editing down 100 hours of footage to tell this coming-of-age tale and convey a seldom seen side of Egypt.

“Most mainstream films in Egypt tell stories about living in gated compounds and shopping in malls,” Amin said.

“It’s very rare to see stories that take place in the south outside of Cairo or Alexandria and see girls like those girls on screen.”

The documentary has a French distributor, but the filmmakers also hope to show the film widely in Egypt, including in the rural south.

Until then, six of the actors in the film got to attend the Cannes premiere, after a last-minute rush to get them their first passports and visas on time.

Monika, the aspiring singer, has two children now. But on the red carpet, the DJ played the catchy song that she made with a popular Egyptian producer called Molotof for the film’s final credits.

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Companies trying to attract more smartphone users across Africa, but there are risks

Accra, Ghana — Anita Akpeere prepared fried rice in her kitchen in Ghana’s capital as a flurry of notifications for restaurant orders lit up apps on her phone. “I don’t think I could work without a phone in my line of business,” she said, as requests came in for her signature dish, a traditional fermented dumpling.

Internet-enabled phones have transformed many lives, but they can play a unique role in sub-Saharan Africa, where infrastructure and public services are among the world’s least developed, said Jenny Aker, a professor who studies the issue at Tufts University. At times, technology in Africa has leapfrogged gaps, including providing access to mobile money for people without bank accounts.

Despite growing mobile internet coverage on the continent of 1.3 billion people, just 25% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa have access to it, according to Claire Sibthorpe, head of digital inclusion at the U.K.-based mobile phone lobbying group GSMA. Expense is the main barrier. The cheapest smartphone costs up to 95% of the monthly salary for the poorest 20% of the region’s population, Sibthorpe said.

Literacy rates that are below the global average, and lack of services in many African languages — some 2,000 are spoken across the continent, according to The African Language Program at Harvard University — are other reasons why a smartphone isn’t a compelling investment for some.

“If you buy a car, it’s because you can drive it,” said Alain Capo-Chichi, chief executive of CERCO Group, a company that has developed a smartphone that functions through voice command and is available in 50 African languages such as Yoruba, Swahili and Wolof.

Even in Ghana, where the lingua franca is English, knowing how to use smartphones and apps can be a challenge for newcomers.

One new company in Ghana is trying to close the digital gap. Uniti Networks offers financing to help make smartphones more affordable and coaches users to navigate its platform of apps.

For Cyril Fianyo, a 64-year-old farmer in Ghana’s eastern Volta region, the phone has expanded his activities beyond calls and texts. Using his identity card, he registered with Uniti, putting down a deposit worth 340 Ghanaian Cedis ($25) for a smartphone and will pay the remaining 910 Cedis ($66) in installments.

He was shown how to navigate apps that interested him, including a third-party farming app called Cocoa Link that offers videos of planting techniques, weather information and details about the challenges of climate change that have affected cocoa and other crops.

Fianyo, who previously planted according to his intuition and rarely interacts with farming advisors, was optimistic that the technology would increase his yields.

“I will know the exact time to plant because of the weather forecast,” he said.

Kami Dar, chief executive of Uniti Networks, said the mobile internet could help address other challenges including accessing health care. The company has launched in five communities across Ghana with 650 participants and wants to reach 100,000 users within five years.

Aker, the scholar, noted that the potential impact of mobile phones across Africa is immense but said there is limited evidence that paid health or agriculture apps are benefiting people there. She asserted that the only beneficial impacts are reminders to take medicine or get vaccinated.

Having studied agricultural apps and their impact, she said it doesn’t seem that farmers are getting better prices or improving their income.

Capo-Chichi from CERCO Group said a dearth of useful apps and content is another reason that more people in Africa aren’t buying smartphones.

Dar said Uniti Networks learns from mistakes. In a pilot in northern Ghana designed to help cocoa farmers contribute to their pensions, there was high engagement, but farmers didn’t find the app user-friendly and needed extra coaching. After the feedback, the pension provider changed the interface to improve navigation.

Others are finding benefit with Uniti’s platform. Mawufemor Vitor, a church secretary in Hohoe, said one health app has assisted her to track her menstruation to help prevent pregnancy. And Fianyo, the farmer, has used the platform to find information on herbal medicine.

But mobile phones are no substitute for investment in public services and infrastructure, Aker said.

She also expressed concerns about the privacy of data in the hands of private technology providers and governments. With digital IDs in development in African nations such as Kenya and South Africa, this could pave the way for further abuses, Aker said.

Uniti Networks is a for-profit business, paid for each customer that signs up for paying apps. Dar asserted that he was not targeting vulnerable populations to sell them unnecessary services and said Uniti only features apps that align with its idea of impact, with a focus on health, education, finance and agriculture.

Dar said Uniti has rejected lucrative approaches from many companies including gambling firms. “Tech can be used for awful things,” he said.

He acknowledged that Uniti tracks users on the platform to provide incentives, in the form of free data, and to provide feedback to app developers. He acknowledged that users’ health and financial data could be at threat from outside attack but said Uniti has decentralized data storage in an attempt to lessen the risk.

Still, the potential to provide solutions can outweigh the risks, Aker said, noting two areas where the technology could be transformative: education and insurance.

She said mobile phones could help overcome the illiteracy that still affects 773 million people worldwide according to UNESCO. Increased access to insurance, still not widely used in parts of Africa, could provide protection to millions who face shocks on the front lines of climate change and conflict.

Back in Fianyo’s fields, his new smartphone has attracted curiosity. “This is something I would like to be part of,” said neighboring farmer Godsway Kwamigah.

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California Disneyland character, parade performers vote to join labor union

Anaheim, California — Disneyland performers who help bring Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and other beloved characters to life at the Southern California resort chose to unionize following a three-day vote culminating Saturday.

The Actors’ Equity Association labor union said in a statement Saturday that cast members for the parades and characters departments at Disney’s theme parks near Los Angeles voted by a wide margin for the union to become the bargaining agent for the group of roughly 1,700 workers.

An association website tracking the balloting among cast members indicated passage by 78.7% (953 votes) in favor and 21.3% (258 votes) opposed.

“They say that Disneyland is ‘the place where dreams come true,’ and for the Disney Cast Members who have worked to organize a union, their dream came true today,” Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle said in a statement Saturday night.

Shindle called the workers the “front lines” of the Disneyland guest experience. The association and cast members will discuss improvements to health and safety, wages, benefits, working conditions and job security before meeting with Walt Disney Company representatives about negotiating the staff priorities into a contract, she said.

The union already represents theatrical performers at Disney’s Florida parks.

Barring any election challenges, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board will certify the results within a week, the association said.

The NLRB did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking confirmation or additional information about the vote.

The election took place on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday in Anaheim, California, after workers earlier this year filed cards to form the unit called “Magic United.”

Parade and character workers who promoted unionizing said they love helping to create a magical experience at Disneyland but grew concerned when they were asked to resume hugging visitors after returning to work during the coronavirus pandemic. They said they also suffer injuries from complex costumes and erratic schedules.

Most of the more than 35,000 workers at the Disneyland Resort, including cleaning crews, pyrotechnic specialists and security staff, are already in labor unions. The resort includes Disneyland, the Walt Disney Co.’s oldest theme park, Disney California Adventure and the shopping and entertainment district Downtown Disney in Anaheim.

In recent years, Disney has faced allegations of not paying its Southern California workers, who face exorbitant housing costs and often commute long distances or cram into small homes, a livable wage. Parade performers and character actors earn a base pay of $24.15 an hour, up from $20 before January, with premiums for different roles.

Union membership has been on a decadeslong decline in the United States, but organizations have seen growing public support in recent years during high-profile contract negotiations involving Hollywood studios and Las Vegas hotels. The NLRB, which protects workers’ right to organize, reported more than 2,500 filings for union representation during the 2023 fiscal year, which was the highest number in eight years.

The effort to organize character and parade performers in California came more than 40 years after those who play Mickey, Goofy and Donald Duck in Florida were organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union traditionally known to represent transportation workers.

At that time, the Florida performers complained about filthy costumes and abuse from guests, including children who would kick the shins of Disney villains such as Captain Hook.

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