Day: April 12, 2017

Russia Says It is Struggling to Source Gas Turbines for Crimea Power Plant

Russia is struggling to source gas turbines for two new power plants it is building in Crimea, Russian Energy Ministry Alexander Novak said Wednesday.

European Union sanctions bar European individuals and companies from providing energy technology to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The Black Sea peninsula has suffered electricity shortages since then.

Three sources told Reuters last year that turbines for the Crimean plants would be made by Siemens Gas Turbine Technologies LLC, a joint venture in which Siemens has a 65 percent share.

The German company categorically denied it intended to send turbines to Crimea.

The joint venture’s factory is the only one in Russia capable of making turbines which will be compatible with the Crimean power plants.

“Work is continuing despite problems related to the delivery of equipment from a Western company. We are working on buying other equipment,” Novak told the upper house of Russia’s parliament on Wednesday. He did not name the Western company.

Novak later told reporters Russia was considering various options, including sourcing equipment from other countries, using Russian machinery, or using foreign equipment on Russian territory that was imported before sanctions were introduced.

The two new power plants were due to be commissioned at the end of 2017, but Novak said last month their launch had been delayed by a few months.


Former Rio Mayor Probed in Olympic-linked Corruption Scandal

Former Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, the moving force behind organizing last year’s Olympics, is being investigated for allegedly accepting at least 15 million reals ($5 million) in payments to facilitate construction projects tied to the games.

Paes is one of dozens of top politicians implicated in a sweeping judicial corruption investigation in which construction giant Odebrecht illegally paid billions to help win contracts.

Paes’ name appears in documents published Tuesday by Brazil’s top court, and could stand trial if the country’s attorney general decides to prosecute.

In a statement Wednesday from his spokeswoman, Tereza Fayal, the former mayor strongly denied the allegations made in several plea bargains signed by former and present Odebrecht employees, calling the accusations “absurd and untruthful.”

“He vehemently denies that he has accepted bribes to facilitate, or to benefit, the interests of the Odebrecht company,” the statement said.

Paes stepped in forcefully about two years before the Olympics opened, shortly after International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates called Rio’s preparations “the worst” he’d ever seen and woefully behind schedule.

The IOC repeatedly credited Paes with speeding up preparations and cutting through red tape.

As rumors swirled around Olympic preparations, Paes often challenged reporters to find any corruption in city-hall contracts.

Days after the trouble-plagued Olympics ended, Paes and Carlos Nuzman — an IOC member and the president of the organizing committee — were awarded the “Olympic Order” by IOC President Thomas Bach.

In a statement Wednesday to The Associated Press, the IOC said Paes should be regarded as innocent until proven otherwise.

“These are allegations which he (Paes) strenuously denies,” the IOC said.

Odebrecht was involved in building many Olympic-related projects, including several arenas at the Olympic Park in suburban Barra da Tijuca, a subway-line extension, and the renovation of Rio’s port area.

The Supreme Court documents showed Paes received more 11 million reals ($3.5 million) in local bank accounts, and the rest in off-shore accounts.

In the statement, Paes said “he’s never had off-shore accounts.”

Paes left office on Jan. 1 after a term-limited eight years. He was once viewed as a presidential candidate, hoping to use the Olympics as a springboard. He recently said he hoped to run next year for governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

He is referred to in the Odebrecht documents as “The Little Nervous One.”

Sidney Levy, the CEO of the Rio organizing committee, which operated independently from the government, repeatedly pledged his body was being run “without corruption.” His name did not come up in the documents.

Plea bargains also indicate that irregularities — none of them involving Paes — were seen in awarding contracts for at least three stadiums for the 2014 World Cup: Sao Paulo, Recife and Brasilia.

In the case of the Sao Paulo stadium of Brazilian club Corinthians, plea bargains showed that Vicente Candido, a federal congressman and former official of the Brazilian Football Confederation, appeared to receive 50,000 reals ($16,000) from Odebrecht to help secure public financing.

Odebrecht built the stadiums in Sao Paulo and Recife. Brazilian constructor Andrade Gutierrez built the stadium in Brasilia.




Mexico Economy Starts Year Well Despite Trump’s Threats

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president last year raised the specter of economic recession in Mexico, sent the country’s peso into a tailspin, and threatened local industry such as car making.

But four months on, Mexican automobile output is accelerating fast, unemployment is at a nine-year low, and the peso has been one of the world’s best-performing currencies in 2017.

Since diplomatic ties reached a nadir in January with the cancellation of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s planned meeting with Trump, business confidence has slowly returned.

Fears that Trump could tear up the NAFTA trade treaty have subsided, and so far the hit to foreign investment has been slight, said Gilberto Fimbres, head of Mexican employers’ federation Coparmex in the northern border city of Tijuana.

“The storm of the great talker, the big negotiator, descended on us,” he said. “Then it turns out that all these great things, the great threat, weren’t so great in the end.”

Instead, Mexican auto production leapt 36 percent in March, capping the strongest start to any year since 2011. The same month, growth in new manufacturing orders was the highest in six months, the Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index showed.

As a result, areas most exposed to the threat of a trade war are now looking ahead with cautious optimism.

Baja California, a major draw for manufacturers supplying the U.S. market, expects to book $2.7 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) this year, up from about $2.5 billion in 2016, said Carlo Bonfante, the border state’s economy minister.

Companies investing in the state this year include China’s Kunshan Eson Precision Engineering, Korea-based electronic components maker INZI DISPLAY, and U.S. drinks company Constellation Brands although its plans are facing opposition from local farmers worried about water supply.

In Guanajuato state in central Mexico, a car making hub, the industry is likely to create some 20,000 new jobs this year, an increase of about 10 percent from 2016, said Alfredo Arzola, director of the local automotive cluster.

Arzola declined to give specific examples, saying that “absolutely all” the auto sector companies in Guanajuato, which include General Motors, Honda and Volkswagen, were adding jobs.

Broader surveys present a similar picture.

A poll of 868 foreign and domestic executives by consultancy KPMG showed 58 percent planned to expand operations in Mexico in the next three years, up three percentage points from a year earlier. Though published in March, the survey was conducted November-December at the height of uncertainty over Trump.

Maurizio Rosa, chief executive of Codan Rubber Mexico, a maker of hoses for the automotive industry, said his worries about Trump began to fade when U.S. clients persuaded him that Mexico was indispensable to their business.

“If you take away the low-cost parts the U.S. buys from Mexico, it’s going to be very difficult for them,” said Rosa, who expects Codan’s sales to rise around 30 percent this year.

Rosa declined to name his clients, but said they included parts suppliers to global automakers including Nissan, Fiat Chrysler and Ford.

Risks to economic growth still loom, including government spending cuts, rising interest rates, low oil production, and lingering fears over Trump’s plan to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Trump’s threats to slap import tariffs on Mexican-made cars in the weeks after his victory pummeled the peso. However, the currency’s slump helped spur a revival in exports and tourism.

Concern about NAFTA still clouds investment, and on March 31 the government cut its 2017 growth forecast by 0.7 points to around 1.8 percent.

Still, private sector economists who cut growth forecasts last year on fears Trump could choke the economy are starting to revise up estimates, citing stronger data and a softer tone from U.S. officials over trade in recent weeks.

Much depends on consumer sentiment, which hit a record low when Trump took office in January, the same month the government ushered in an inflation-boosting gasoline price hike.

But the more conciliatory U.S. tone, a drop in unemployment to its lowest rate since December 2007, and the peso’s appreciation over the past 2 1/2 months have helped confidence rebound.




Sculptor of Wall Street’s Bull Wants ‘Fearless Girl’ Moved

The sculptor of Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” says New York City is violating his legal rights by forcing his bronze beast to face off against the “Fearless Girl.”

Artist Arturo Di Modica said Wednesday that the new neighboring statue changes his bull into something negative.

He says the bull’s message is supposed to be “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.”

His lawyers say “Fearless Girl” exploits the bull for commercial purposes. They want it moved and are hoping for an amicable solution.

Artist Kristen Visbal’s statue of a girl with her hands on her hips was placed on the traffic island on March 7.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says men who don’t like women taking up space “are exactly why we need ‘Fearless Girl.'”



United Airlines CEO: Forced Removal of Passengers Will Never Happen Again

United Airlines Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz took to the airwaves Wednesday in an attempt to quell the outrage over Sunday’s forced removal of a passenger, vowing that kind of incident “will never happen again.”

Facing mounting pressure, Munoz was much more contrite in an interview with ABC News, apologizing profusely to Dr. David Dao and promising that security officers will no longer be used to remove passengers. “We can’t do that,” he said.

The tone of Munoz’s remarks contrasted sharply with some of his previous statements, which many critics viewed as perfunctory, even calling Dao “belligerent and disruptive.”

The statements further fueled the controversy, which began when Dao was videotaped being dragged from an overbooked United Airlines flight Sunday at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

Dao was one of four passengers bumped from the flight to accommodate four airline employees after the airline failed to get passengers to voluntarily take a later flight.

Dao repeatedly refused to leave his seat, prompting Chicago aviation security officers to pull him from it and drag him down the aisle on his back and off the plane. Fellow passengers recorded the incident on their cellphones and video of the incident quickly went viral.

Dao was hospitalized Tuesday in Chicago for injuries he sustained while being removed, according to Thomas Demetrio, a Chicago personal injury lawyer Dao has retained.

The backlash from the incident spread worldwide, with calls for a boycott of the airline and Munoz’s resignation. As of Wednesday morning, an online petition demanding he step down had more than 40,000 signatures.

Reaction to the incident was particularly intense among Asian-Americans and in Vietnam. The website of the medical board in the southern state of Kentucky, where Dao is licensed to practice medicine, shows he graduated in 1974 from the University of Medicine of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Reports that he was convicted in 2004 of felony charges related to his medical practice were generally dismissed in Vietnam as a likely smear campaign.

“Dr. Dao didn’t do anything wrong on that flight and that’s the main thing,” Clarence Dung Taylor wrote on Facebook, the most popular social media platform in Vietnam.

After surrendering his medical license and a five-year probationary period, the state licensing board allowed him to practice medicine again in 2015.

The security officer who dragged Dao from the plane remains on leave “pending a thorough review of the situation,” the Chicago Department of Aviation said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating the incident, and several legislators have called for new rules to curb the airline industry’s practice of overbooking flights.

United’s share price, meanwhile, has rebounded. It opened at $71.65 Wednesday in New York after plunging to an intra-day low of $68.36 the previous day.


Loud Shrimp Named After Rock Band

A shrimp that uses a very loud sound to stun its prey has been named after legendary rock band Pink Floyd.

The Synalpheus pinkfloydi, a kind of pistol shrimp, has an oversized pink claw, which, when snapped, creates a blast that’s louder than a gunshot.

Sammy de Grave of Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, who named the shrimp, combined the loudness, the pink color and his love for Pink Floyd to come up with the name.

“I have been listening to Floyd since The Wall was released in 1979, when I was 14 years old. I’ve seen them play live several times since, including the Hyde Park reunion gig for Live 8 in 2005,” he told The Telegraph newspaper, referencing the anti-poverty benefit concerts. “The description of this new species of pistol shrimp was the perfect opportunity to finally give a nod to my favorite band.”

When Synalpheus pinkfloydi snaps its claw, it creates a “high-pressure cavitation bubble which collapses to produce one of the loudest sounds in the ocean,” The Telegraph reported. The sound can be as loud as 210 decibels, which is enough to stun or kill small fish.

The bubble is also hot, reaching temperatures as high as 4,400 degrees Celsius.

This is not the first time de Grave has named a crustacean after his love of rock and roll, the BBC reports. The Elephantis jaggerai is a tribute to Mick Jagger, front man of the Rolling Stones.

De Grave’s description of the shrimp, which was discovered off the Pacific coast of Panama, was published in the journal Zootaxa.


KFC to Stop Using Chickens Raised with Human Antibiotics

KFC says it plans to stop serving chicken given antibiotics important to human health.

The fried chicken chain says the change will be completed by the end of next year at all its U.S. restaurants. Other fast-food companies have made similar pledges, including McDonald’s Corp. 

Meat producers give animals antibiotics to make them grow faster and prevent illness, a practice that has become a public health issue. Officials say it can lead to germs becoming resistant to drugs, making antibiotics no longer effective in treating some illnesses in humans.

KFC, owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum Brands Inc., has more than 4,000 restaurants in the U.S.


Nigeria Tackles Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Amid Vaccine Scarcity

At least 489 people have died from a meningitis outbreak in Nigeria, according to Nigeria’s Minister of Health Isaac Adewole.

During an emergency health meeting in the Nigerian state of Kaduna, Adewole said most of the victims are children aged 5 to 14.


Local and international health workers met with traditional rulers from Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim northern region to discuss how to contain and stop the outbreak.  Northern Nigeria’s traditional Islamic rulers wield enormous influence.  Many people trust them over government officials. These rulers have been instrumental in dispelling false myths about the polio vaccine, helping to eradicate polio in the north.


More than 4,000 meningitis cases have been recorded since the outbreak began in December, hitting the country’s poor northern region the hardest.  While meningitis outbreaks are not uncommon in Nigeria, this C strain of the disease is fairly new, according to the head of Nigeria’s Center for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.


“Meningitis C was fairly rare in our context until 2013, 2014, thereabouts.  Meningitis A was the dominant group by a lot, a huge margin all over West Africa,” Ihekweazu tells VOA.  “As far as Meningitis C, it’s probably the worst we’ve seen.  It’s a fairly serious one.  This particular strain we’ve found it in five states only.”


The disease is killing people who live in communities where access to hospitals is low and poverty is high.  In poor northern neighborhoods families are usually polygamous with several children.  Relatives are packed into small homes with little ventilation.  Meningitis A and C are bacterial infections spread by saliva and close physical contact.

Vaccinations in Abuja


The Nigerian capital, Abuja, in central Nigeria has reported six suspected Meningitis deaths, and Niger state, which neighbors Abuja, has reported 16 cases.  Health authorities in Abuja have administered more than 70,000 doses of Meningitis A and C vaccine.


“When we heard, we started collecting and we starting vaccinating.  We are very careful, because this is national federal capital territory.  People are coming in and out.  It’s about 9.5 percent growth rate.  It’s really a peak place where infections can be transferred easily,” says Dr. Rilwanu Mohammed, the executive secretary of the Federal Capital Territory Primary Health Care Development Board.


The immunization campaign is targeting high-risk populations, like people who have fled their homes in northeastern Nigeria in fear of Boko Haram.  About 65,000 of them are living in camps across Abuja.  Health workers are also targeting motor parks, the prison that sits on the outskirts of the city, and Nigerian military barracks.


Vaccine running short

It’s a robust immunization aim, but there is not enough vaccine.  Health workers are facing the reality of a global shortage of Meningitis C vaccine.  


The allocation given to Abuja by the federal government of Nigeria ran out about a week ago.  This year, the World Health Organization gave Nigeria 500,000 doses of the Meningitis A and C vaccine, but that stock is nearly gone.  An additional 800,000 doses of conjugate Meningitis C vaccine from the British government is expected soon, most to sent to the northwestern state of Sokoto.

Zamfara state, where the outbreak began, says it needs three million doses.

“If we had all the currently available global stock of vaccine, it will not be enough to provide immunity for Nigeria alone. We really need to plan more aggressively but we need the world to help us.  We need to increase global production and reduce prices.  The best vaccine we have at the moment, the polyvalent conjugate vaccine cost close to $50 a dose,” Dr. Ihekweazu says.


Ihekweazu says it’s unaffordable for Nigeria and other West African countries.  He suggests strong global advocacy to reduce the price.

A treatable disease


Dr. Ikekweazu says Meningitis is a bacterium that lives with people in West Africa, where nearly 20 percent of the population carrys a Meningitis strain in the respiratory tract.  But people don’t always get sick.  When someone does get sick the disease inflames tissue around the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is treatable, but survivors may live with long-term or even permanent medical disabilities, such as visual impairment and neurological dysfunction.  The World Health Organization says the disease is fatal in 50 percent of cases, if untreated.

Meningitis rates are highest in a region stretching from Senegal in westernmost Africa to Ethiopia in the east.

The 2015 outbreak of Meningitis C killed 1,100 people and sickened more than 10,000 in Nigeria and neighboring Niger.  More than 2,000 people died from the A strain of the disease in 2009.  In 1996, more than 1,000 cases were recorded, mostly in northern Nigeria.


Nigerians have turned to social media for public health advocacy.  The hashtag Meningitis is trending in Nigeria’s Twitter space as public officials and concerned citizens discuss how to handle the epidemic.


Health Minister Adewole used Twitter to denounce the actions of health workers who are charging people for the Meningitis C immunization.  Adewole says the immunization is supposed to be free of charge, provided by the Nigerian federal government.


Wall Street Reforms May Be Replaced, Trump Tells CEOs

President Donald Trump told a group of chief executives Tuesday that his administration was revamping the Wall Street reform law known as Dodd-Frank and might eliminate the rules and replace them with “something else.”

At the beginning of his administration, Trump ordered reviews of the major banking rules that were put in place after the 2008 financial crisis, and last week he said officials were planning a “major haircut” for them.

“For the bankers in the room, they’ll be very happy because we’re really doing a major streamlining and, perhaps, elimination, and replacing it with something else,” Trump said Tuesday.

“That will be the minimum. But we’re doing a major elimination of the horrendous Dodd-Frank regulations, keeping some obviously, but getting rid of many,” he said.

The many provisions of the Dodd-Frank measure were aimed at decreasing risks in the U.S. financial system. The White House is not unilaterally able to upend Dodd-Frank’s rules, almost all of which are implemented by independent regulatory agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve.

A sweeping change to the law would require congressional action, though in some cases regulators may also have wiggle room to make changes through a formal rule-making process.

Report on regulations

In February, Trump issued an executive order requiring Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to consult with U.S. regulators and submit a report outlining a proposal for possible regulatory and legislative changes that will help fuel economic growth and promote American business interests.

That report, due to be released in June, will most likely serve as a blueprint for possible changes down the road. However, congressional action on a Wall Street bill is not expected in the near term, as Congress focuses primarily on health care and tax reform.

Participants in the Tuesday meeting included Rich Lesser, chief executive of Boston Consulting Group; Doug McMillon, chief executive of Wal-Mart Stores; Indra Nooyi, chief executive of PepsiCo; Jim McNerney, former chief executive of Boeing; Ginni Rometty, chief executive of IBM; and Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric.

The business leaders are part of Trump’s “Strategy and Policy Forum” that last met with him in February.

Trump also reiterated his criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“NAFTA is a disaster. It’s been a disaster from the day it was devised. And we’re going to have some very pleasant surprises for you on NAFTA, that I can tell you,” he said.


United’s Treatment of Passenger Sparks Social Media Storm

United Airlines saw its stock price decline by 4 percent or more after a viral video showing a passenger being dragged off a flight and injured sparked outrage in the U.S. and several nations. One airline analyst says he has never seen such a “parade of incompetence.”


Sheryl Crow Argues for Return to Empathy on New Album

Last year, Sheryl Crow started a petition on to shorten the U.S. presidential election cycle. The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter said she was exhausted by the mudslinging and divisive language that had dominated the discussion about the candidates.


“I felt like it was becoming so hateful that I had to watch to make sure my kids didn’t pick up the remote and turn the TV on,” she said during a recent interview at her home in Nashville.


Crow said what upset her was how technology and social media had changed the conversation.


“Now we have this forum for haters to come out and say the worst thing you could possibly say to someone without having the experience of the reaction,” she said. “We’ve learned to be a society without empathy and without compassion.”


The ways people connect, or fail to connect, became a central theme on her upcoming album, “Be Myself,” to be released on April 21, which brings Crow back to her early roots as a rocker after brief stints exploring Country music and soul music on her last two records.


“The whole album is very informed by the atmosphere, which is very chaotic, very vitriolic, a lot of fear that was really in the ether while we were making this record,” she said.


Crow listened to her early records, including her debut, “Tuesday Night Music Club,” and “The Globe Sessions,” and teamed up with Jeffrey Trott, her longtime songwriting partner and a multi-instrumentalist. She brought in Tchad Blake, a Grammy-winning engineer who worked with her in the late ’90s.


“We wanted to make a really catchy record, but one that had some edge, some grit, in the same way that some of those early recordings had,” Trott said.


Crow, who has often peppered her lyrics with political references, said the album helped her after Donald Trump won the presidential election.


“I started losing faith and not only for our country, but for the people that voted for him,” Crow said.


As she sings on her first single, “Halfway There,” Crow asks for cooperation and compromise as a solution to the discord.


“You may not be an environmentalist and I might be, but at the end of the day, don’t we all want the same thing for our kids?” she said. “We want a healthy future that is secure. And we have to figure out a way to communicate with reason and a modicum of decorum at least.”


As a mother of two children, ages 6 and 9, she favors an unplugged life as reflected in “Roller Skate,” a nostalgic, toe-tapping song about ditching the phone for a good time.


“At the end of the day, you’re missing out on life experiences if you’re constantly checking in with anybody that’s not in the room,” Crow said.