Day: April 11, 2017

Research Reveals Huge Burden of Guinea Worm

Guinea worm is on course to become the second human disease to be eradicated, after smallpox, thanks largely to intervention overseen by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Little was known about the infection for decades, as diseases like malaria took priority. However, previously unpublished research from the 1970s, released this month, shows the burden the disease has had on millions of people.

Guinea worm is contracted when people drink water contaminated with tiny crustaceans that contain the worm larvae. A year later, a meter-long female worm emerges through a painful blister, often disabling the infected person for months.

Professor Brian Greenwood, a British scientist, first came across Guinea worm in the 1970s when working in northern Nigeria. He says little was known about the disease, despite millions suffering from it across Africa and India.

“People were much more concerned with malaria, bilharzia and other tropical infections,” Greenwood said. “And part of the reason was that these people were so disabled they never got to the clinic or the hospital. So that if you looked in hospital records, you did not see this as a big problem.”

Greenwood spent four years studying the disease and trying to find out why sufferers often developed repeat infections, without developing immunity.

“We extracted some of the worms,” he said. “And the traditional way is winding them out on a matchstick, just gradually. And the problem is that if the worm then snapped inside, then they got a very severe reaction.”

Greenwood credits the Carter Center, a charitable foundation set up by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, for helping fight the disease to the brink of eradication.

There is no vaccine or treatment. Instead, community education programs teach people to filter drinking water and avoid entering water sources. 

Speaking in 2011, Carter described the initial difficulties.

“It was kind of an insult to say ‘this disease comes out of your pond,'” he said. “So we have had to do a lot of diplomacy and convincing the people there to take care of their own problems. Well, it has worked. And now almost every nation on earth has eradicated or eliminated Guinea worm.”

When the Carter Center first became involved in 1986, there were around 3.5 million cases in 21 countries; last year, 25 cases were recorded in only three countries — Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

Greenwood’s early study of Guinea worm remained unpublished, as he was directed to focus on malaria and meningitis instead; but last year in London, he met Carter, who persuaded him to publish the research.

“I hope that we have been able to document what a horrible disease this was,” Greenwood said. “And it is really important that people realize that. And if we do get eradication in the next year or two, which I hope will be the case, that this will not just be seen as a minor thing, but to be a really very important public health triumph.”

The last few cases of Guinea worm remain because they are the most difficult to reach. Many are in conflict areas like South Sudan, but scientists are optimistic this ancient disease can be eradicated within the next few years.


Report: Millions of Migrant Gulf Laborers Forced to Pay for Right to Work

South Asian migrants powering the construction boom in oil-rich Gulf countries are often illegally made to pay for their own recruitment, adding to hardships of poor working conditions and wages, according to an investigation released Tuesday.

Millions of migrants seeking a way out of poverty by working in Gulf nations from Qatar to the United Arab Emirates must routinely pay fees that can equal a year’s salary, U.S. researchers said in a report.

“Recruitment is not free,” said report co-author David Segall of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. “Somebody does have to bear these costs, but that of course should be the employing company.”

The findings came as conditions for construction workers from India, Nepal and Bangladesh in the 2022 FIFA World Cup host, Qatar, have drawn scrutiny from rights groups who say migrants live in squalor and work without proper access to water and shelter.

In five fact-finding missions to the Gulf and South Asia, the researchers found workers are typically made to pay for their airfare from South Asia and their work visa, often at inflated prices.

Selling visas for profit is illegal in the six Gulf countries the researchers investigated — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. But violations rarely lead to prosecution and punishment, the report said.

Fees highest for Bangladeshis

Bangladeshi workers paid as much as $5,200 in recruitment fees, according to the study, the highest price among other South Asian construction workers, who number some 10 million people in the Gulf.

In rare cases, construction companies took on expenditures to recruit their workers, the study found. The fees had the effect of pushing already destitute migrants further into poverty by tying them to high-interest loans.

“These are people who are already desperate enough that they feel that they need to undertake this journey, leave their families in order to just achieve the possibility of economic success,” Segall told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “For them to be in debt before they even start this journey is really an injustice.”

Reports of abuse of migrant domestic workers have prompted countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Indonesia to ban their citizens in recent years from seeking jobs in the Middle East.

The New York University report expanded on the findings of an investigation conducted in Qatar and released last week, which concluded hundreds of Asian workers had paid recruitment fees.


United CEO Conciliatory in Latest Comment on Passenger Incident

“No one should ever be treated this way,” reads part of a new public statement issued Tuesday by United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, following Sunday’s incident when a passenger was bloodied after being dragged off an overbooked United airliner at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

“I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight,” the Munoz statement also says.

The incident has gone viral through social media after being captured on other passengers’ cell phones.

Munoz added that the company will conduct a review of how the airline handles overbooking situations and how it interacts with airport authorities and law enforcement. He said the company will release the results of its review April 30.


Munoz released two earlier statements staunchly supporting the crew, saying in a statement late Monday that United attendants “followed established procedures” when the passenger was forcibly removed.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said President Donald Trump has seen what Spicer describes as the “troubling” video recorded on the United Airlines flight. Besides the global social media firestorm, the incident also has stirred up threats of a boycott.

Spicer told reporters at a White House briefing Tuesday the incident was “unfortunate” but does “not necessarily need a federal response,” adding there are “plenty” of law enforcement agencies available to conduct an investigation.

Because the Chicago to Louisville flight was overbooked, the crew asked passengers to voluntarily take another flight in exchange for financial compensation. According to media reports, the airline needed to make room for four of its employees.

No one volunteered, so the airline randomly selected four people, one of whom refused to leave – resulting in his forced removal by three men who were identified as Chicago aviation security officers.



Video showing the man, who appeared to be of Chinese descent, being dragged from the plane and later returning with a bloodied face was widely circulated on social media, drawing angry reactions. One passenger, Audra Bridges, who posted video of the incident, said the passenger was very upset when he was chosen and explained he was a physician who needed to get home in order to see patients the next morning. Bridges said the man appeared disoriented when he ran back onto the aircraft moments later.

Crew members eventually ordered everyone off the plane and did not let them return until the injured passenger was removed again on a stretcher.

Bridges said the passengers were “shocked and appalled” at the incident, which prompted threats of a boycott as the busy summer travel season begins.

The online backlash intensified when CEO Munoz used the euphemism “re-accommodate” in a Twitter posting Monday to describe the forcible removal of the passenger. Munoz. However, he also said the airline was reaching out to the passenger “to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

In the letter to employees, Munoz said the passenger “raised his voice and refused to comply” when he was initially asked to leave, and became “more disruptive and belligerent” in response to subsequent requests.

Crew members had “no choice” except to call Chicago Aviation Security officers to help remove the passenger, Munoz wrote.

In a statement late Monday, the Chicago Department of Aviation said the incident was “not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officers are obviously not condoned by the department.”

The statement added one officer involved has been placed on administrative leave, pending a review of the incident.

Munoz admitted to employees that the airline could learn from the incident but reiterated on his support of his employees’ actions. “I emphatically stand behind all of you,” he wrote.

Sunday’s incident follows another controversial occurrence in late March in which two girls, one estimated to be about 10 years old, were prevented from boarding a flight in Denver because they were wearing leggings, a violation of the airline’s dress code under a program for United employees.

The negative publicity may be adversely affecting the value of the airline. United’s stock price dropped nearly 4 percent during late morning trading Tuesday in New York, but by the close of the market it had dropped only about 1.1 percent.

For United Airlines, a global carrier that launched nonstop service to China in 1986, and bills itself as offering “more nonstop U.S.-China flights” to more cities in China “than any other airline,” comments on China’s lively social media were just one more problem Tuesday.

One commentator said: “Reading the news of the United Airlines’ violent removal of a passenger reminds me of three nightmarish trips with United Airlines. [It] provides the world’s worst service ever, not just one of the worst.”

Another commented: “I would like to give the passenger thumbs up. Although lots of American Chinese are discriminated against, they are afraid of speaking out due to [losing] face.”

Tourists’ remarks

VOA’s Mandarin service interviewed some Chinese tourists visiting Washington.

“I feel very angry. I feel this shouldn’t have happened in the U.S.,” said Xiaotian Liu. “It happened to be an Asian-American. I do not think they had a target.”

“I hope [United Airlines] can improve its service after this incident,” said Liu. “We will probably choose different airlines next time.”

“We happened to fly [United Airlines] on this trip,” said Xuhai Lu. “We flew a Chinese airline last time. Chinese airlines provide better service than American ones.”

VOA’s Mandarin service contributed to this report.


China Southern Airlines Launches First Flight to Mexico

China Southern Airlines has flown its inaugural Guangzhou to Mexico City flight, via Vancouver, the first route operated by a domestic Chinese carrier to the Latin American nation, the Mexican government said on Tuesday.

China’s interest in Mexico, including tourism and investment, has been on the rise in recent years. In 2016, 74,300 Chinese tourists visited Mexico, up 33.5 percent from a year earlier.

Mexican authorities expect over 100,000 Chinese tourists to visit this year.

China and Mexico recently pledged to deepen ties at a meeting between their top diplomats following the U.S. presidential election victory of Donald Trump, who has tested Washington’s relationship with both countries.



Second ‘Great Spot’ Found at Jupiter, Cold and High Up

Another “Great Spot” has been found at Jupiter, this one cold and high up.

Scientists reported Tuesday that the dark expanse is 15,000 miles (24,000 kilometers) across and 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers) wide. It’s in the upper atmosphere and much cooler than the hot surroundings, thus the name Great Cold Spot. And unlike the giant planet’s familiar Great Red Spot, this newly discovered weather system is continually changing in shape and size. It’s formed by the energy from Jupiter’s polar auroras.

A British-led team used a telescope in Chile to chart the temperature and density of Jupiter’s atmosphere. When the researchers compared the data with thousands of images taken in years past by a telescope in Hawaii, the Great Cold Spot stood out. It could be thousands of years old.

“The Great Cold Spot is much more volatile than the slowly changing Great Red Spot … but it has reappeared for as long as we have data to search for it, for over 15 years,” the University of Leicester’s Tom Stallard, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Stallard said Jupiter’s upper atmosphere may hold other features. Scientists will be on the lookout for them while also studying the Great Cold Spot in greater detail, using ground telescopes as well as NASA’s Juno spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter, he said.

The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.


Canadian Judge in Yahoo Hack Case to Reach Decision on Bail

A Canadian man accused in a massive hack of Yahoo emails has alleged ties to Russian agents and access to significant amounts of cash, making him a serious flight risk if freed on bail, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Karim Baratov, 22, was arrested last month and faces extradition to the U.S. He was indicted in the United States for computer hacking along with three other people, including two alleged Russian intelligence agents.

Officials have said Baratov has the money to leave Canada and the ability to destroy evidence while on the run.

“The evidence of Mr. Baratov’s connections to Russian officials exponentially elevate the flight risk in this case,’’ Prosecutor Heather Graham said.

Graham noted Baratov owned a number of luxury cars and flaunted his lifestyle on social media. She also said he has webmail and PayPal accounts with “large unknown sums of money” accessible anywhere. Graham said police seized about $22,000 ($30,000 Canadian) cash from his home and another $670 ($900 Canadian) from his wallet when he was arrested.

She also said there is evidence Baratov may have been trafficking in identity information. And there are allegations he continued hacking while on vacation in Jamaica.

Graham also noted Baratov faces up to 20 years in a U.S. prison.

Baratov’s parents have agreed to act as their son’s sureties. The young man’s attorney Deepak Paradkar said Tuesday that Baratov will never be alone because his father, Akhmet Tokbergenov, works at home. The father has agreed to turn off the internet in the family home if the court requests.

The breach at Yahoo affected at least a half billion user accounts, but Paradkar said Baratov is only accused of hacking 80 accounts.

In a scheme that prosecutors say blended intelligence gathering with old-fashioned financial greed, the four men targeted the email accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, Russian journalists and employees of financial services and other private businesses, American officials said.

In some cases using a technique known as “spear-phishing” to dupe Yahoo users into thinking they were receiving legitimate emails, the hackers broke into at least 500 million accounts in search of personal information and financial data such as gift card and credit card numbers, prosecutors said.

The case, announced amid continued U.S. intelligence agency skepticism of their Russian counterparts, comes as American authorities investigate Russian interference through hacking in the 2016 presidential election. Officials said those investigations are separate.

Justice Alan Whitten has said he’ll reach a bail decision Tuesday.


Cherry Blossoms Lure Admirers Around North Asia

China, Japan and South Korea may have their differences, but they mostly see eye-to-eye on cherry blossoms.

In all three north Asian countries, people flock to parks, gardens and temples to enjoy the beauty of the pinkish-white petals, often in the lingering chill of early spring.

The shared natural heritage has been a minor source of conflict: Japan is the most well-known for cherry blossoms, but researchers in South Korea and China have argued that their country is the birthplace of the cherry tree.

The horticultural disagreement seems far removed from the “oohs” and “ahs” of the admiring crowds, busy taking selfies and photographs.

In a series of triptychs, Associated Press photographers in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo capture the ways people in each country interact with the blossoms. Each set of images focuses on a theme: architecture, children, couples, picnics and others. The combined photos are notable as much for their similarities as their differences.

PHOTOS: Cherry Blossoms from North Asia


Dems: Trump’s Tax Secrecy Complicates Legislative Overhaul

The Senate’s top Democrat said Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns is going to make this year’s promised overhaul of the tax code “much harder.”


Sen. Chuck Schumer says Trump is opening himself to second guessing about his motives for supporting different policies and that the average American will think he’s making changes because “it’s good for him.”


Schumer, D-N.Y., said voters are “going to say, ‘Oh, he’s not doing that because it’s good for me, he’s doing it because it’s good for him.’ So for his own good, he ought to make them public. And the big mystery is why he hasn’t.”


Trump, a billionaire real estate magnate, is the first presidential candidate in decades who has refused to release his tax returns. Critics say Trump’s lack of transparency means the public doesn’t have enough information to determine whether his moves as president could represent a conflict of interest.


“I think he just has an obligation to come clean. When you clean up the swamp, it’s not keeping things secret and it applies to yourself,” Schumer said.


White House Press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that Trump’s financial disclosures are more revealing than his tax returns and that middle class people are more concerned with their own tax bills than with seeing Trump’s taxes.


Trump has promised to cut taxes for middle income workers. His administration is grappling with how to handle the tax issue in the wake of last month’s failure to deliver on promises to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law.


Google Refutes Charges, Says No Gender Pay Gap

Google said it’s “taken aback” by the government’s claim that it doesn’t compensate women fairly.

The company said it conducts “rigorous analyses” that its pay practices are gender-blind and found “no gender pay gap” in 52 major job categories it analyzed last year. Google added that analysts who calculate suggested pay don’t have access to employees’ gender data.

Google also said that beyond gender pay equity, the company recently expanded the analysis to cover race in the U.S., as well.

The U.S. Department of Labor had accused Google of shortchanging women doing similar work to men, saying it found “systemic compensation disparities” across the company’s workforce.

Google responded in a blog post Tuesday that the department’s assertion “came without any supporting data or methodology.” The company said it had already produced hundreds of thousands of documents in response to 18 separate requests, and the government is seeking thousands more, including contact details of employees.

The department had no comment, saying the case is ongoing.

The difference between Google’s and the Labor Department’s claims might come down to how each side defines pay discrimination, Tim Worstall, a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, wrote in a recent post for Forbes.

“Google is using a strict definition of ‘same job’ to find no gender pay gap. The Department of Labor is using a looser definition of ‘similar job’ to find that there is one,” he wrote. “Who you think is right here is entirely up to you, but that’s where the disagreement is.”


Climate Change Could Cause More Turbulent Flights

Climate change could cause stronger turbulence for airline passengers, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Reading in England say “turbulence strong enough to catapult unbuckled passengers and crew around the aircraft cabin” could become two or three times more common.

“For most passengers, light turbulence is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience that reduces their comfort levels, but for nervous fliers even light turbulence can be distressing,” said Paul Williams, who conducted the research. “However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149 percent increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travelers and flight attendants around the world.”

Specifically, researchers used supercomputer models to look at how wintertime transatlantic clear-air turbulence at an altitude of 12 kilometers will change when there is twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which could happen by the end of this century.

The models show light turbulence could increase by 59 percent, light-to-moderate turbulence could jump by 75 percent, moderate-to-severe turbulence could rise by 127 percent and severe turbulence could bounce a whopping 149 percent.

The reason, according to the researchers is that climate change “is generating stronger wind shears in the jet stream.”

“Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change,” said Williams.

The study is published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.


Jets Zip Through Narrow ‘Star Wars’ Canyon, Drawing Visitors

Silence and stillness settled over the deep, sun-baked gorge as a pair of photographers sat on a cliff, waiting. 

Then the rumbling started. As it grew louder, they scrambled into position.

Within seconds, a thunderous roar reverberated from the steep, narrow canyon as an F-18 fighter jet streaked through it, passing beneath their feet. It came so close they could see the pilots’ expressions.

This deafening show that was over in a flash is a fairly common sight at Death Valley National Park, 260 miles (415 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, where U.S. and foreign militaries train pilots and test jets in the gorge nicknamed Star Wars Canyon.

Photographers — some capturing images for work, others for fun —  along with aviation enthusiasts and others have been traipsing to the remote 4,688-square-mile (12,142-square-kilometer) park in growing numbers to see the jets soaring below the rim of what’s officially called Rainbow Canyon, near the park’s western entrance.

It earned its nickname because its mineral-rich soil and rocky walls in shades of red, gray and pink draw to mind a landscape in a galaxy far, far away — Tatooine, the home planet of Star Wars character Luke Skywalker.

The unusually close-up view of military planes zooming through the craggy gorge has become so popular the National Park Service is considering making it an attraction, with informational signs about the training that dates back to World War II.

Park Service officials recently discussed erecting signs and possibly paving a spot for cars, park spokeswoman Abby Wines said.

Wines understands the rush people get from seeing the jets up close. Once she was doing technical canyoneering, hanging from a rope on a 180-foot vertical, when a jet roared over her head but below the canyon rim.

“It’s the loudest thing I have ever heard in my life,” she said. “It was a scary experience since I was holding onto the rope and not anything else.” She also felt a sense of awe.

But on days when one jet passes after another, the noise gets to her.

Elsewhere in the park, the jets also have made it tough when performing the living history show at Scotty’s Castle, a Spanish mission-style villa reflecting early California architecture. The villa recently closed until further notice because of flood damage. But when it was open, it was “disruptive to act like it is 1939 while two military jets are circling, pretending to be in a dogfight above your head,” Wines said.

On a February day, planes careened through Star Wars Canyon 18 times. One pilot performed barrel rolls over the pass.

Jets zip through the gorge at 200 to 300 mph (322 to 483 kph) and can fly as low as 200 feet from the canyon floor. But the canyon’s walls are so steep, the aircraft are still several hundred feet below the rim.

Training at the canyon doesn’t happen every day, so the photographers who make the trek to see them sometimes sit in folding chairs, waiting in the heat, and spy no jets at all.

Jason Watson, who works in information technology at Stanford University’s law school and does freelance photography, recently made his seventh trip to the gorge.

He’s seen as many as 30 photographers spread out across the mile-long rim at different vantage points.

“You can meet anyone from anywhere in the world there,” Watson said.

The photographers develop a comraderie as they share in the thrill of standing above the speedy jets.

The aviators interact with them too, giving a thumbs-up or even flashing a “Hi Mom” sign as they whiz by.

“They know the photographers are there,” Watson said. “They’re aware of the following.”


US Panel Changes Recommendation on Prostate Cancer Screening

An independent U.S. panel of experts has changed course on its recommendation against routine PSA screening of men for prostate cancer.

In a draft recommendation, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said men between the ages of 55 and 69 should be screened using the prostate-specific antigen test on an “individualized” basis. The panel concluded, in its new guidance, that the potential benefits of screening slightly outweighed the harm.

The new draft guidelines echo those of several leading medical groups, but they don’t make the decision any easier for men: With their doctor’s help, they have to decide whether to take an imperfect PSA test that carries a small chance of detecting a deadly cancer and a larger chance of triggering unneeded worry and treatment with serious side effects.


“This isn’t a one-size-fits-all” recommendation, said the panel’s chair, Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a San Francisco internist who already follows the advice and discusses the potential pros and cons with her patients.

Men whose greatest concern is reducing their chances of dying from cancer are sometimes willing to face the consequences and choose testing. “Other men will realize the likely benefit is small and aren’t willing to risk the harms,” she said.

Controversial call

In a 2012 recommendation that caused controversy within the medical community, the task force expressed concern that routine use of the PSA test was leading to unnecessary biopsies and other tests in men suspected of having prostate cancer.

Critics of that recommendation worried that as a result of any reduction in testing, prostate cancer might be diagnosed at a more advanced stage in some men.

According to new data released by the task force, the test would let three men out of 1,000 avoid metastatic cancer and would prevent one to two prostate cancer deaths in 1,000.

The revised guidance is based on the findings of the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer.  

A longer follow-up period revealed that slightly more men in the 55-69 age group benefited from screening when the disease was suspected.

‘Thoughtful’ policy

The American Urological Association is hailing the proposed new recommendation as “thoughtful and reasonable.”  But the association expressed concern that, under the guidelines, men 70 and older would not be screened for prostate cancer.

A statement issued by the association said, “We believe that selected older healthier men may garner a benefit from prostate cancer screening,” even though the group acknowledged there is limited evidence that men in this age group benefit from the PSA test.

The revised draft recommendation is open to public comment before a final recommendation is issued.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is a national independent volunteer panel of medical experts created in 1984. It is funded, staffed and appointed by an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The task force is charged with making “evidence-based” recommendations about clinical preventive services, including health screenings, counseling services and preventive medications.

Some information for this report came from AP.


High Consumption, Trade Shift Harmful Effects of Pollution

Industrial air pollution causes nearly 3.5 million deaths a year, and international trade is shifting some of the harmful effects from consuming nations to producing nations, according to a study in the journal Nature.  

The authors say high consumption in the United States and Western Europe harms health in manufacturing countries such as China, and the pattern is continuing among developing nations in Asia.

“Take an example of a toy,” says Steve Davis, an Earth system scientist with the University of California, Irvine, and one of the report’s authors.  He explains that toys sold in America are most often made in China, displacing the emissions that would otherwise be released in the United States.  

“We’re effectively outsourcing the pollution that comes from the manufacture of that product,” he said.

750,000 premature deaths

Worldwide, the scientists estimate air pollution produced by exported goods and services caused more than 750,000 premature deaths in the baseline year of the study, 2007.

The report by Davis and his colleagues at Beijing’s Tsinghua University and other institutions found the cross-border effects of trade-related pollution is greater than the cross-boundary impact of industrial pollution caused by weather patterns.

Particulate matter from China was linked to 65,000 premature deaths outside of China, largely in Japan and the Korean peninsula, and including 3,100 deaths in the United States and Western Europe.  But U.S. and European consumption of goods produced in China was linked to nearly 110,000 premature deaths in China.

The researchers say that as China becomes a consuming society, its manufacturing is shifting, but the pattern is similar, as production and pollution are “outsourced by China into other up-and-coming industrialized countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, India,” said Davis.

Those countries are bearing the health costs.

The study examined 13 regions of the world and Davis said researchers were surprised levels of harm from emissions that were displaced from one country to another by outsourcing.

Trump order criticized

Davis notes that China’s industrial cities are plagued with pollution, and the country is working to clean up its air.  Yet as China expands its use of “scrubbers” that remove fine particulate matter from industrial emissions, environmentalist are accusing President Donald Trump of reversing the U.S. commitment to clean air.  On March 28, Trump signed a sweeping executive order to increase America’s energy independence and boost American jobs by reducing the federal government’s role in controlling emissions.

“There’s a concern that in the pursuit of economic gains, we’re maybe willing to now sacrifice our environmental quality,” Davis said, noting the United States has long “pointed a finger at China” for its emissions.

The study’s authors say environmental pollution caused by manufacturing, and by worldwide trade, requires a global response that balances the need for clean air and economic growth.


This Week in History: The Breakup of The Beatles, 20th Century’s Most Successful Rock Band

“At the actual breakup of the Beatles, it was painful,” Paul McCartney said during a 1990 television interview. “We likened it to a divorce.”

Twenty years earlier on April 10, McCartney signaled the end of the Fab Four during his unveiling of his solo album “McCartney.”

On April 9, McCartney released a Q&A package to the British press in which he explained his reasons for making his solo album. Compiled with the help of Apple executives, the self-interview also contained questions McCartney imagined he would be asked regarding the possibility of the Beatles splitting up.

While stopping short of saying that the band was finished, McCartney stated that he did not know whether his “break with the Beatles” would be temporary or permanent.

It didn’t quite feel real, in part, because of the way McCartney phrased it — and also, the Beatles’ final album “Let It Be” was yet to be released.

From the group’s first studio contract in 1962, it was clear that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were something special.

The Ed Sullivan Show

In February 1964, the group made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” during their first American tour. It took no time at all for “Beatlemania” to overtake America.

As Billboard Magazine put it in its 2016 year end issue, under the section called “Greatest of All Time:”  

“It’s hard to convey the scope of The Beatles’ achievements in a mere paragraph or two.

They synthesized all that was good about early rock n’ roll, and changed it into something original and even more exciting. They established the prototype for the self-contained rock group that wrote and performed its own material.

As composers, their craft and melodic inventiveness were second to none, and key to the evolution of rock from its blues/R&B-based forms into a style that was far more eclectic, but equally visceral.”

During a 1971 interview on The Dick Cavett Show, John Lennon addressed the non-stop controversy that Yoko Ono, John’s partner and wife, was responsible for the group’s demise.

“She didn’t split the Beatles because how could…one woman? The Beatles were drifting apart on their own.”

Business disagreements had much to do with the split, which led to an awkward legal suit filed by Paul dissolving the group’s business partnership.

And McCartney himself has said there were ill feelings on all sides.

In the May 14, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone, John Lennon lashed out.

“He ((McCartney)) can’t have his own way, so he’s causing chaos,” John said. “I put out four albums last year, and I didn’t say a f***ing word about quitting.”

All of the Beatles had begun working on their solo careers before the official split.

McCartney went on to form the wildly successful band “Wings;” Lennon moved to New York City with Yoko, had a son, and recorded his one collaboration with his wife, “Double Fantasy;” Harrison also made recordings as did Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.

In December 1980, Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York City apartment. He was 40 years old.

Lung cancer killed 58-year-old Harrison in 2001.


As Inequality Grows, Brazilians Irked by Tax to Ousted Royal Heirs

With its colonial mansions, landscaped gardens and ornate fountains, the town of Petropolis, a traditional haunt of Brazil’s last monarch Dom Pedro II, retains a grandeur that has not faded since he was forced into exile in 1889.


But beneath the opulent surface of the former summer imperial capital, resentment simmers against a special tax, the proceeds of which continue to go directly to the king’s descendants – more than a century after he was ousted.

For many of the 300,000 people living in the hill town, a 2.5 percent tax on real estate transactions is a symbol of social injustice in Latin America’s biggest country where inequality has widened amid its worst recession on record.

Brazil is one of the world’s most unequal places for property distribution with almost half of the land owned by one percent of the population. Colonial-era laws exacerbate the problem, analysts said.

“People aren’t happy to pay this tax,” Isabela Verleun, who works at the Imperial Museum of Petropolis, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It shouldn’t exist.”

Petropolis, known as the Imperial City, is the closest mountain resort to Rio. Just 65 kms (42 miles) northeast of Brazil’s second biggest city, it’s a favored getaway for Rio residents with its forested hills and waterfalls.

It is well known for its 19th century architecture and home of the Imperial Museum, one of Brazil’s most visited museums.

Dom Pedro II and his family spent summers there after 1845 to escape the sweltering heat of then capital Rio de Janeiro.


Inside what is now a tourist attraction, children slide along wooden floors as adults marvel at a grand dining room complete with crystal chandelier.

“Ancient and Hereditary”

The town’s special property tax – known as laudemio – dates back to before Brazil’s independence in 1882.

The tax was imported to Brazil by its former colonial master Portugal to ensure land was passed from European settlers to their heirs. In colonial years, Brazil’s land was deemed the property of the Portuguese crown.

Despite becoming an independent republic in 1889, the special tax has never been repealed and is now criticized for continuing to earn money for a few privileged families.

“This ancient tax is hereditary and perpetual,” said Vitor Fernandes, a property law expert at the University of Campinas.

Marco Antonio de Melo Breves, a senior official with Brazil’s federal tax department, could not provide figures on how much revenue is paid annually under the royal property tax or how much it costs the average homeowner.

“There is not a unified database where it’s possible to obtain this,” Breves told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Payments are generally made through notaries, or private lawyers who certify documents, Breves said, so the government doesn’t have information on how many royal descendants are receiving benefits from property taxpayers.

Dom Joao Henrique de Orleans e Braganca, a businessman and photographer popularly known as Prince Bishop Johnny, is the great-great-grandson of the final monarch, and counts prominent politicians and artists among his friends.

In an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Valor, Braganca acknowledged some resent the royal family’s continued perks.

The prince said he received “very little money” from Petropolis under the special tax, without giving an amount, but added payments must continue as they are part of a “legal contract” in the city.

Royal Rewards

A fan of the British TV series “The Crown” which showcases the hectic schedules of the U.K. royal family, Braganca said that he does useful work “traveling all over Brazil doing talks in favor of respect for democracy and citizenship.”

The former royal family is not the only institution to benefit from the laudemio and a related land tax known as enfiteuse. The navy and the Catholic Church also levy similar property taxes, said Ely Machado, a lawyer in Rio de Janeiro who helps clients navigate Brazil’s complex housing rules.

A lack of clear property ownership and complex land registration policies are ongoing problems in Brazil, government officials said.

Half the population cannot prove full legal ownership of their homes, according to the Ministry of Cities.

While taxing homeowners based on colonial history may seem archaic, removing the special land tax would require a series of complex legal changes, said Ana Paula Bueno, a lawyer with the Land Governance Group at the State University of Campinas.

When Brazil emerged from military dictatorship and launched a new constitution in 1988 some people pushed for the tax to be abolished, said Verleun, but their lobbying was unsuccessful.

“We have to live with it,” Ana Paula Bueno told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.