Day: May 5, 2017

Nicaragua Downplays Potential Impact of US Bill on Lending

President Daniel Ortega downplayed the possible impact of a U.S. bill that would condition international lending to Nicaragua on a range of democracy and rights issues, saying it’s more of a political than an economic threat to his country.


“The world is not going to disappear, the economy is not going to disintegrate” if the so-called Nica Act passes, Ortega said late Thursday after meeting with representatives of the International Monetary Fund during a visit to the Central American nation.


The bill before the House and Senate calls for the U.S. to oppose most loans to Nicaragua’s government through organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, with the exception of funds for humanitarian purposes or to promote democracy.


That would be the official U.S. position unless the secretary of state certifies that Nicaragua is taking steps to hold fair and competitive elections, safeguard political rights, strengthen the rule of law and fight corruption, among other conditions.

Similar legislation last year failed to advance in Congress.


US Older-worker Rate Highest Since 1962

More Americans age 65 and over are still punching the clock. In fact, the last time the percentage was this high was when John F. Kennedy was in the White House.

Last month, 19 percent of Americans age 65 and over were still working, according to government data released Friday. That’s the highest rate since 1962, and the trend has been upward since the figure bottomed out at 10 percent in 1985.

As America grows older and as life expectancy gets longer, some workers keep heading to the office because they like it and still feel engaged. But many others are continuing to work for a simpler, darker reason: They can’t afford not to.

More than a quarter of workers age 55 or older say they have less than $10,000 in savings and investments, according to the latest retirement confidence survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Perhaps because of small nest eggs, nearly a third of workers in that age group say they expect to work until at least 70, if they retire at all.

Older workers still heading for jobs may also be the lucky ones. Many older Americans would like to work but say they can’t find a job, whether because they lack the skills or because employers are looking for someone younger. The unemployment rate for workers age 65 and over was 3.7 percent last month. That’s a tick higher than its median over the last 30 years, though it’s down from earlier this year.

The numbers may rise higher, critics say.

Congress this past week voted to overturn a federal rule designed to help states give more workers access to retirement savings plans.

Several states have been pushing to create their own plans to get more workers into plans like a 401(k) that automatically deduct savings from each paycheck. Low-income workers tend to have much less access to savings plans through their jobs.

Republicans and players in the investment industry, though, argue that the state-run plans could end up being much more expensive than imagined and would water down safeguards in place to protect investors.


Robotics, Artificial Intelligence Could Transform Society, But at What Cost?

Some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential leaders came to California this week for the Milken Institute Global Conference, a wide-ranging review of issues permeating economics and politics, with topics ranging from agriculture to mortgage markets to international trade and alliances, plus a long look at what the future will hold.

Of the 4,000 VIPs who attended — invitations are highly selective, and tickets topped out as high as $50,000 — one of the most intriguing questions under discussion was one that almost no one could readily answer: What effect will robotics and artificial intelligence have on our lives and on the world’s business, and how rapidly will this next technological revolution take place?

The Milken Institute Global Conference, an annual event for the past 20 years, has grown steadily into a unique gathering: individuals with the capital, power and influence to move the world forward meet face-to-face with those whose expertise and creativity are reinventing industry, philanthropy and media.

This year’s meeting in Beverly Hills, California, amounted to a peer review of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. Four members of Trump’s Cabinet took part.

Former U.S. leaders

Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Joe Biden also were on hand to give their perspectives on U.S. politics. They were interviewed by Mike Milken, the onetime omnipotent investor who almost single-handedly developed the high-yield debt market in the United States and piled up billions of dollars in profits during the 1980s, from leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers and corporate raids.

Milken, now 70, was known as the “junk bond king,” and he ruled unchallenged until 1989, when he was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and fraud. He served two years in prison and survived personal health crises, and has rebounded in the 21st century to his current status as a renowned philanthropist and public health advocate.

Interest rates and corporate balance sheets faded into the background when the business and policy leaders turned their attention to artificial intelligence, or AI, and robotics — key factors in massive changes looming over the U.S. economy.

Unemployment in the United States is currently at its lowest point in 10 years — 4.4 percent — but jobs in the retail sector are drying up, down more than 60,000 in the past two months. So-called bricks-and-mortar retail stores are closing down in the face of competitive prices and easy shop-at-home service provided by online retailers such as

Robotics have transformed the auto industry and many other sectors of manufacturing, and the high-end analytics available through what is known as “big data” have streamlined the entire process, from raw materials to finished products. Both blue-collar and white-collar jobs are becoming harder to find; opportunities in the services industry keep overall employment levels high, but that also means a decline in average workers’ income.

Manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have been declining for decades, and that trend is having an effect on society as a whole, said Roy Bahat of Bloomberg Beta,  a venture capital firm that is part of the financial services company Bloomberg LP.

Rising costs

Costs are rising for health care, housing and education, and with fewer good-paying jobs available, Bahat says those who “play the game by the rules” — educating themselves adequately, buying a home and supporting families — “still struggle to provide for an ordinary life.”

Bloomberg Beta partnered with the think tank New America to look at the future of work during this week’s conference, with input from leaders in popular culture, technology, faith communities, government and business.

They are due to issue a joint report later this month, but for now they raised imponderable questions: innovations such as self-driving trucks promise to change the way that companies move their goods, but how soon will that happen, and what will happen to drivers and packers now involved in such work?

The first large-scale commercial delivery of this kind was handled by a startup company called Otto last year. One of Otto’s autonomous (driverless) trucks hauled 50,000 cans of beer for 200 kilometers along a highway in Colorado, in the American West.

Otto’s co-founder, Lior Ron, said self-driving trucks hold immediate promise for American business, but he also admitted it was a carefully prepared test: Highway traffic, especially in a state like Colorado, is less challenging than traffic in cities, where pedestrians and stoplights make driving unpredictable.

The ride-sharing service Uber, which already had been studying the possible use of driverless vehicles, acquired Otto last year.

Most Americans tend to believe their children will have a better life — or at least earn more money — than they do, but Bahat deflated that notion: “If you look at the economic data, it turns out we live in the first generation where kids are statistically likely to make less” than their parents.

Anne-Marie Slaughter of New America said projections about how many jobs will be automated in the future vary widely, from 10 percent to 50 percent, and “we have no idea which of those [proportions] is true.”

‘Civic enterprise’

New America, founded in 1999, describes itself as a “civic enterprise committed to renewing American politics, prosperity and purpose in the Digital Age.” It lists all of its funding sources, from “under $1,000” to more than $1 million; the biggest donors tend to be philanthropic groups and other foundations.

“We generate big ideas,” New America says in a capsule of its mission statement. “[We] bridge the gap between technology and policy and curate broad public conversation.”

To underscore the uncertainty cloaking analyses of technological change, Slaughter noted that drivers interviewed for her group’s joint study with Bloomberg Beta believe that self-driving trucks will not be in service for 20 to 25 years. By other estimates, she added, “It could be five. Who knows?”

Challenges in an era of artificial intelligence include the need to align technology with professional standards and social norms, Italian computer scientist Francesca Rossi said. In other words, human sensibilities must be integrated into machines’ decision-making process.

Brian Chin of the huge international banking firm Credit Suisse said his company has employed 20 robots to handle complicated tasks including answering bank employees’ questions about how best to comply with regulations on compliance and other banking procedures.

Bloomberg Beta’s Bahat forecasts self-auditing accountants and automated mortgage officers in the years ahead. Steering clear of explicit predictions, he said workers and consumers must prepare for “wildly unexpected” developments in the future.

New America’s Slaughter offers a wry comparison between the rapidly changing digital age and the Industrial Revolution. Harnessing the power of machines for manufacturing and transportation transformed the world and created lots of jobs, she said, but it also caused upheaval — Marxism, wars and revolutions.

For those gauging the impact of the current technological revolution, the New America analyst cautioned, “Do not think this is going to be a smooth ride.”


Venezuela Full of Strife With Empty Refrigerators

In Venezuela, plagued with chronic food shortages and a devastated economy, Carmen Elena Perez describes her refrigerator as merely “an ornament in my kitchen, because filling it costs me too much money.”

Dulce Maria Garcia Leon, in the western state of Trujillo, says she has corn masa and “a little bit of cottage cheese” and eggs, though her fridge often holds “only cold.”

Vane Vargas jokes that her refrigerator, with its top-mount freezer, “is like the North Pole: ice above, water below.”

Bitter humor remains among the few things in plentiful supply in this once-wealthy South American country, where many of its 31 million people struggle to find enough to eat.

So VOA’s Spanish Service invited Facebook and Twitter users there to dish about the contents of their refrigerators and cupboards. The informal, unscientific survey drew more than 60 responses – 54 on Facebook, nine on Twitter – offering a glimpse into daily lives.

Now, few people mark their days with three full meals. Instead, many count the hours spent standing in line for bread, oil and other basics.

“We eat what we can get,” says Elvis Mercado of El Tigre, a city about 340 kilometers southeast of the capital. Usually it’s a meal of arepas, the Venezuelan pan-fried staple made from corn flour, “because the salary is not enough to buy food for a fortnight.”

A raise, but little respite

Seeking to counter widespread protests, socialist President Nicolas Maduro this week ordered a 60 percent raise in the minimum wage, including food subsidies and pension increases. That translates to roughly 200,000 bolivares a month – or $278 at the official currency exchange rate on May 5.

But, given a scarcity of dollars as well as consumer goods, that amount has the buying power of just $39 on the black market – the one in which everyone does business. The International Monetary Fund predicts Venezuela’s inflation rate – already one of the world’s highest – could reach 720 percent this year.

With increases in both wages and prices, “we are practically in the same” spot, Jhonaiker Daniel Rodriguez says.

“Thank you very much, but what is needed is to keep prices stable,” Nancy Haydee Roa says.

Rsan Leuqim writes that a carton of eggs is 11,000 bolivares ($2.15) – roughly 5 percent of a minimum-wage worker’s monthly total.

If you can find eggs. Many survey respondents complained of shortages of consumer goods, most of which are imported.

“We go to a store and there is nothing! If there is, it is very expensive,” Dexcy Ramirez says via Facebook. Near her home in Barinas, in west-central Venezuela, “a kilo of [powdered] milk costs 20,000bv” or $3.91.

Adreina Chauran Pineda frets about imports: “A soda is worth three days’ salary, a little vegetable soup is worth 1,500bv (29 cents). … A kilo of meat is worth 10,000” – or $1.96.

Changing diets

Rising costs have altered Paula Pena’s diet. “I buy grains,” she writes on Facebook, saying it’s what she and her family now primarily rely on for nutrition. She purchases meat, including chicken, “when we can. We cannot buy fruits or vegetables.”

Yamile Corona of Valencia, Venezuela’s third-largest city, writes of being “blessed with the mango tree.”

Scarcity generally is more pervasive outside of Caracas.

Shortages of food and medicine last year sparked dozens of riots and spasms of looting in parts of the country. Desperation has driven some people to forage for wild roots, occasionally with dire consequences. A young man in the eastern city of Maturin died on his 16th birthday last July after eating bitter yuca, a toxic plant, The New York Times reported in chronicling the case.

Luzdary Mussa Uribe writes that she once was well fed but has involuntarily lost weight: “What we are is yellow and thin.”

Government-subsidized food delivery

Last year, the government created a program called Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAPs) to manage distribution and combat hoarding. Community leaders deliver bags or boxes of foodstuffs to the homes of people who’ve registered.

“Only rice, milk, grains and flour are in the bags that the government sells,” Ruperta@vidayarte2012 tells VOA via Twitter. “I have never received one. … And the corn meal that is really our daily bread, you just do not get it.”

Liliana Vasqez, who lives in Rio Chico in Miranda state, says she recently paid 10,500bv ($2.06) for a CLAP box containing a liter of oil, six cans of tuna, four bags of rice, small jars of mayonnaise and catsup, some pasta and a kilo of flour. Vasquez – whose son relayed her information to VOA – says it was the second time that a CLAP delivery was made in her neighborhood since the program began.

Nelly Mendez, a survey respondent from an unknown location in Venezuela, says she’s gotten deliveries “every 3 months of a case of CLAP” and the contents last just for two days.

The CLAP program has been criticized for inconsistency and for allegedly favoring supporters of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). 

“Sadly, both scarcity and hunger” mark the “disastrous reality” for Venezuelans, Raul Ernesto Gonzalez Salazar tells VOA.

For now, humor makes the situation almost palatable.

“The refrigerators are on vacation,” Nery Acevdo echoes, adding that soon hungry Venezuelans “will eat whatever we see.”


3 African Runners Will Try to Break Marathon Barrier

Three elite runners from East Africa will try Saturday to reach one of track and field’s most elusive goals: the sub-two-hour marathon.

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea will run on a flat, closed 2.4-kilometer course in Monza, Italy, chosen for its optimal altitude and track conditions for running.   

The race is sponsored by sportswear manufacturer Nike Inc., which recently launched what it called a “moonshot” project to break the two-hour marathon barrier. The current world record for the 26.2-mile race is 2:02:57, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at the 2014 Berlin Marathon.

Kenyan Wesley Korir, the winner of the 2012 Boston Marathon, thinks a sub-two-hour time is possible.

“It’s achievable someday, though I am not sure if it will happen in this particular race,” he told VOA’s Swahili service. “Nike as the main sponsors have done their best to ensure some of the best runners participate.”

Tall order

Korir said attempting to run a marathon in two hours or less would stretch the limits of human capacity. To complete the marathon in under two hours, the runners will have to shave an average of seven seconds off every mile they run.

The sponsors are giving the runners every possible advantage, including pace setters and specially designed shoes — made by Nike, of course.  

“It’s good to have good shoes, but that’s not enough,” Korir said. “The ultimate requirement is fitness and enough exercise.”

Because of the advantages, the time will not count as an official world record if achieved.

Kipchoge is considered one of the greatest long-distance runners of all time, having won the 2016 Olympic Marathon and marathons in London, Chicago and Berlin. His top time in the race is 2:03:05.

Desisa has two wins at the Boston Marathon, including the 2013 edition, which was disrupted by two bomb explosions at the finish line. His top marathon time is 2:04:45.

Tadese is the current world record-holder for the half-marathon. He has competed in marathons, with a personal best of 2:10:41.


US Investigates Malfunctioning Nissan Automobile Brakes

The United States office that handles highway safety announced it would investigate complaints that brakes can malfunction on Nissan’s popular Murano SUV.

According to documents released Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 60 people have complained that the brakes on their cars lose pressure when trying to stop on a low-friction surface.

Some drivers reported increased stopping distances after pushing the pedal all the way to the floor. The investigation will cover upwards of 100,000 Muranos from the 2009 model year.

In a statement, Nissan said it is cooperating with the probe and encouraged any drivers experiencing brake problems to visit their local Nissan dealership.

Some drivers cited in the complaint said they replaced the anti-lock brake hydraulic control unit in their SUVs and that apparently fixed the problem.

The investigation will determine if Nissan needs to issue a recall on the vehicles. The NHTSA said the problem generally involves older, higher mileage vehicles.


Delta Apologizes for Kicking Family Off Flight

After yet another viral video has surfaced of people being kicked off an overbooked plane. Delta Air Lines has apologized.

In a statement, the company said it was “sorry for the unfortunate experience.”

The video, posted by Brian and Brittany Schear, showed them and their two toddlers being told to exit the flight or be arrested after a dispute over a seat the Schears bought for their teenage son.

The couple posted the video on YouTube and showed Brian Schear arguing with someone aboard Delta flight 2222 before take-off from Maui to Los Angeles.

The dispute started over whether Brian Schear could use the seat he had bought for his teenage son for his toddler and if the toddler was required to use a car seat or could sit in an adult’s lap.

“You will hear them lie to me numerous times to get my son out of the seat. The end result was we were all kicked off the flight,” Schear wrote in a blurb about the incident.

“They oversold the flight. When will this all stop?”

The Schears ended up leaving the flight and stayed at a hotel before leaving the following day.

“Delta’s goal is to always work with customers in an attempt to find solutions to their travel issues. That did not happen in this case and we apologize,” Delta’s apology stated, adding it would refund their travel expenses and provide additional compensation.

The incident came about a month after another incident was captured on video showing a man who was injured when forcibly removed from a United flight. The airline announced an undisclosed settlement with that man last month.


US Program Helps Blow Whistle on Wildlife Crimes

Rampant poaching across Africa has pushed species of elephants, rhinos and other treasured wildlife to the edge of extinction. However, there is a mostly untapped resource that can help crack down on these crimes: the Wildlife Whistleblower Program.

The program, an initiative of the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, allows witnesses to report wildlife crimes online, anonymously if they so choose. Reportable crimes include illegal poaching and trafficking, destruction of rainforests, and the improper netting of dolphins.

The international program provides confidentiality and monetary rewards to those who report such crimes if a case is successfully prosecuted.

The Washington-based Whistleblower Center describes itself as a legal advocacy organization that protects “the right of individuals to report wrongdoing without fear of retaliation.”

Chief operating officer Ashley Binetti says the wildlife program was created after the executive director realized U.S. wildlife laws that include rewards have not been fully implemented.

She thinks that will change as people with knowledge of such crimes realize that their identities will be kept confidential.

“[It’s] now a two-fold endeavor,” she said. “One aspect is educating potential whistleblowers about this opportunity and the other side is creating a safe online reporting platform whereby individuals with information can come forward with that, report it, and then be connected to attorneys who will help them transmit that information to appropriate law enforcement.”

“It’s not like you’re reporting to a tip line where you don’t know that your information is going to remain confidential,” Binetti said.

She says another element of the anti-poaching project is the potential for monetary rewards.

“Whistleblower rewards have been incredibly successful and there is all the reason to believe that that model can be replicated in terms of energizing wildlife whistleblowers and reversing the extinction crisis,” she said.     

Link to US

Binetti says anyone with knowledge of a wildlife crime can contact the center and be eligible for an award, with one caveat.

“The crime can occur anywhere, but it does have to have a tie to the U.S. But under these laws, that can be quite broad,” she explained. “For example, with the Lacey and Endangered Species acts, if a [wildlife product] is destined for the United States or is leaving the U.S. or a U.S. person is involved, there is potential liability there.”.

Another law that can be applied to wildlife crime is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which criminalizes bribery that would allow illicit goods onto ships and planes.

“So whereas you have the wildlife crime laws that haven’t been fully implemented in terms of the whistleblowing provisions, you have the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that is a really great route to start, [though] we haven’t seen it used in this context as best that it can be,” Binetti said.

To report a wildlife crime, witnesses should visit the National Whistleblower Center website at:\submit-a-report. 


India Launches South Asia ‘Diplomacy’ Satellite for Communication Services

India launched a “South Asia” satellite on Friday to provide communication services to neighboring countries in a new initiative hailed by leaders of seven South Asian countries as a boost to regional cooperation.

The “space diplomacy” by India, which has an advanced space program, aims at building stronger ties in the region where China has been gaining influence. But underlining the tensions between the two most populous countries in the region, India’s arch-rival, Pakistan has opted out of the project.

Soon after the launch of the $70-million satellite, which is funded by New Delhi, the leaders of the seven countries participating in the project — India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Maldives, addressed a video conference that was nationally televised.

Calling it the “first of its kind” project, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the satellite would help meet the aspirations of economic progress of one-and-a-half-billion people in the region.

“It shows that our collective choices for our citizens will bring us together for cooperation, not conflict, development, not destruction, and prosperity, not poverty, he said.”

Pointing out that South Asia was the world’s least economically integrated region, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said “South Asia has taken a giant step today toward regional cooperation.”

The leader of the landlocked country, which does not have road access to India, said if cooperation through land is not possible, it is certainly possible through the sky. “We are confident we will integrate,” he said.

Weighing 2,230 kilograms and containing 12 communication transponders, the satellite was put in orbit by a rocket in Sriharikota in eastern Andhra Pradesh state. It will help provide services such as telecommunications, telemedicine, disaster management and weather forecasting.

In a region prone to natural disasters like cyclones, floods and earthquakes, the satellite’s greatest benefit is expected to be in the area of disaster management.

The biggest beneficiaries will be the two smallest countries — Bhutan and Maldives.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay noted that his tiny Himalayan country, which measures the happiness quotient of its citizens as an indicator of progress, had neither the technical know-how nor the resources to launch their own satellite. He said the satellite will “advance the well being and happiness of our people” as it helps boost an array of services.

Pointing out that India wants to use its space program to further its regional goals, Sukh Deo Muni, a South Asia expert at New Delhi’s Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses said “India wants to take the lead in integrating the region, and probably join hands on the developmental issues, cooperating with each other.”

After taking office in 2014, Prime Minister Modi launched what he called a “neighborhood first” approach, partly to counter China, which has expanded its influence in South Asia and pumped in billions of dollars to build infrastructure projects in countries like Sri Lanka.

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan at the Observer Research Foundation Others said that for the first time, Modi is giving a strategic dimension to the country’s space program.

“India is possibly beginning to appreciate the importance of space launches as part of foreign policy tool and diplomatic engagement, something that China has been doing for a long time,” he said.

Foreign policy experts say Pakistan’s decision to opt out of the project is not surprising given the deep political hostilities and suspicions between the two countries.


‘Last Men in Aleppo’ a Testimonial on Crimes Against Humanity

In Aleppo, Syria, even as Bashar al-Assad’s regime destroys the city and its inhabitants with barrel bombs and airstrikes, many civilians risk their lives to rescue the injured and pull the dead from the rubble. Since 2013, these volunteers from all walks of life have created the Syrian Civil Defense, known to the world as The White Helmets. 

In his documentary, Last Men in Aleppo, Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad delivers an unprecedented testimonial of their sacrifices and love for their besieged city. While bombs explode all around, White Helmets set off in their makeshift van, siren on, speeding to the latest site of destruction.

Khaled is the main character, and though by no means the only hero, one gets attached to his stoic persona. Khaled is calm, a rock of strength to his community, a loving father to his two lively children. 

We follow his gaze as he looks to the sky, eyeing the approaching bombers. Sometimes, they are Assad’s, other times, they are Russian. The locals can tell them apart easily. Every sighting portends new attacks and death. 

After the bombs drop

In the middle of a city in ruins, Khaled is one of the last men left in Aleppo to drag the injured and the dying from under tons of concrete.

They dig with shovels, with their hands, with everything they’ve got. One of the most emotionally draining scenes is the gentle pulling of an infant from under the debris. The White Helmets drag the child out, head first, through a sharp jagged hole of a collapsed building. The baby is bleeding and powdered with dust, but he’s alive. 

Other children are not that lucky. The camera focuses steadily as they are dragged out, while people scream, sob and rush to cradle the small, limp bodies.

Sundance award

Filmmaker Feras Fayyad won one of the top awards at the Sundance Film Festival for Last Men in Aleppo. But he does not take full credit. The recording of these scenes was the work of a group of cinematographers, The Aleppo Media Center, who followed the White Helmets day and night under relentless bombings. 

Fayyad said he wanted to call attention to the crimes against humanity committed in the city. He also wanted to show the world that these civilians who face death every day and live their lives in constant fear are no different than the rest of us.

“There are markets, houses with families, people who fight for common values,” he said. “No one is acting and the Syrians feel despondent. People did not choose this life. These people did not join ISIS. These people try to live,” he said.

Last Men in Aleppo focuses on those Syrians who chose to stay. Like Khaled.

He is very aware of the dangers his wife and children face daily. But he doesn’t want to run. He tells his friend Abu Yousef, another White Helmet, that refugees are treated inhumanely and fears that if he sends his kids away they could face a dire fate without him, and that he might never see them again. 

“This is my city. I was born and raised here. Should I leave it to some stranger? I will not leave,” he said.

Fayyad’s documentary is an indictment of crimes against humanity. But it is also about compassion and resilience. In the middle of destruction, people still find joy among friends and family.

Targeting civilians 

“This was one of the reasons that motivated me to make the story, the killings of civilians,” Fayyad said. “I started with the idea that the war brings out the worst in humans but also brings the best in humans.”

Fayyad started filming the siege of Aleppo in 2013. He said he was arrested and imprisoned twice and had to leave the city. He could not return because, “a huge number of people were being killed then by Russian bombings.” 

After that, he employed the help of others, such as The Aleppo Media Center, video journalists and citizen journalists, who under his instructions would pick up a camera and document life and death in Aleppo. Nowadays, he lives in exile. He would face death should he return to Syria.

“I have the feeling of anger for the Russians, of course. I have the feeling of anger for the regime killing the Syrians every day. Now I’m sitting here in the studio and there are bombings in places next to my family that is still living in Syria and I could lose my family any time,” he said. 

When asked if he was surprised by reports that Assad had gassed his own people, he said, “not at all.”

The film may be hard to watch but it must be watched. And though painful, it is also uplifting, depicting the altruism that cannot be smothered. 

While Last Men in Aleppo focuses on those Syrians who choose to stay in their war-torn country, it also helps us empathize with those who leave. During the filming of this documentary, Khaled, like countless others, was killed saving his neighbors.


Last Men in Aleppo: Visual Testimonial on Crimes Against Humanity

In Aleppo, Syria, while the Assad regime destroyed the city and its inhabitants, many civilians risked their lives to rescue the injured and pull the dead from the rubble. Since 2013, these volunteers have created the Syrian Civil Defense, known as The White Helmets. Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad delivers a testimonial of their sacrifices. VOA’s Penelope Poulou spoke with Fayyad.


Scientists, Investors Betting on Fusion

Fusion is the holy grail of energy production. And plenty of investors around the world are betting on it as the emission-free, waste-free energy of the future. There’s no real proof we’re there yet, but we’re close. And one company in England says it will be able to start putting fusion energy into the grid by 2030. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


A ‘Home Away From Home’ for New York’s International Students

New York City can be a daunting place for first-time visitors, and a culture shock for foreigners. But at the heart of one of the most prestigious higher-education scenes in the country, students from more than 100 countries have the opportunity to connect under one roof, and find their place as future world leaders.


Analyst: Trump Tax Plan Benefits Skew Toward the Wealthy

Small-business owners are applauding President Donald Trump’s plan to overhaul the tax system, saying lower taxes for everyone means more buying power for consumers and more money for businesses to hire workers. But can the White House plan simplify the nation’s cumbersome tax code fairly? And how would lower- and middle-income Americans fare? Mil Arcega spoke to tax analysts to find out.


Japan, China, S. Korea Pledge to Resist Protectionism

Finance leaders of Japan, China and South Korea agreed to resist all forms of protectionism in a trilateral meeting on Friday, taking a stronger stand than G20 major economies against the protectionist policies advocated by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“We agree that trade is one of the most important engines of economic growth and development, which contribute to productivity improvements and job creations,” the finance ministers and central bank governors of the three nations said in a communique issued after their meeting.

“We will resist all forms of protectionism,” the communique said, keeping a line that was removed – under pressure from Washington – from a G20 communique in March when the group’s finance leaders met in Germany.

China has positioned itself as a supporter of free trade in the wake of Trump’s calls to put America’s interest first and pull out of multilateral trade agreements.

The trilateral meetings’ communique said Asian economies were expected to maintain relatively robust growth thanks to a long-awaited cyclical recovery in manufacturing and trade.

But it warned that downside risks remained and called for policymakers to use “all necessary policy tools” to achieve strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.

“We will continue a high degree of communication and coordination among China, Japan and Korea to cope with possible financial instability in the context of increased uncertainty of the global economy and geopolitical tensions,” the communique said.

It also said the three countries agreed to enhance cooperation under the G20 framework and work towards a successful summit of the group in Hamburg in July.

The trilateral meeting was held on the sidelines of the Asian Development Bank’s annual meeting in Yokohama, eastern Japan.


In Trump Era, Mexican-Americans Torn by Cinco de Mayo

For years, Yazmin Irazoqui Ruiz saw Cinco de Mayo as a reason to eat tacos and listen to Mexican music.

The 25-year-old Mexican-born medical student left Mexico for the U.S. as a child and celebrates the day to honor a homeland she hardly remembers.

But the Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident said she’s reluctant to take part in Cinco de Mayo festivities this year as President Donald Trump steps up federal immigration enforcement and supporters back his call for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

‘What is it about?’

“I mean, what is it about? You want to eat our food and listen to our music, but when we need you to defend us, where are you?” Irazoqui Ruiz asked about the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.

She isn’t alone. Trump’s immigration policies and rhetoric are leaving some Mexican Americans and immigrants feeling at odds with a holiday they already thought was appropriated by beer and liquor companies, event promoters and bars.

Latino activists and scholars say that ambivalence is bolstered by the hazy history of Cinco de Mayo and by stereotypes exploited by marketers.

The once-obscure holiday marking a 19th century-battle between Mexico and invading French forces is now a regular celebration in the U.S., where party-goers flock to bars for cheap margaritas and tacos. Television beer commercials often show mostly white actors on a beach celebrating.

“The narrative around Cinco de Mayo seems to say, ‘this day really isn’t yours,’” said Cynthia Duarte, a sociology professor at California Lutheran University.

Jose Cuervo’s pitch

Tequila company Jose Cuervo is playing off the notion that the holiday is largely overlooked south of the border by throwing a party in a small Missouri town called Mexico. More than 90 percent of people there are white and less than 2.5 percent of Mexican descent. The company is marketing the event on its Facebook page as “Mexico’s First Cinco de Mayo.”

Jose Cuervo said in a statement the idea come from Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a Los Angeles-based advertising agency, and has been well received on social media.

“Consumers consistently tell us that Cinco de Mayo is a great way for them to reconnect with people they care about and enjoy a few cervezas,” said John Alvarado, vice president of marketing for Corona beer, which is made by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Not Mexican Independence Day

Often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16), Cinco de Mayo commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla between the victorious ragtag army of largely Mexican Indian soldiers against the invading French forces of Napoleon III. The day is barely observed in Mexico, but was celebrated in California by Latinos and abolitionists who linked the victory to the fight against slavery.

During the Chicano Movement of the 1970s, Mexican Americans adopted Cinco de Mayo for its David vs. Goliath story line as motivation in civil rights struggles.

Celebrations curtailed

This year, some immigrant enclaves have canceled or reduced Cinco de Mayo celebrations over fears that party-goers could be exposed to possible deportation. In Philadelphia, a Cinco de Mayo-related celebration was scrapped after organizers determined turnout would drop over concerns about immigration raids.

Others worry that parties could take a cruel spin, with revelers, emboldened by Trump’s crackdown, mocking and even attacking Mexicans. In Waco, Texas, a college fraternity at Baylor University was suspended after throwing a Cinco de Mayo party where students reportedly dressed as construction workers and maids and chanted “Build that Wall,” a reference to Trump’s signature campaign promise. The party sparked an investigation and campus protest.

“I don’t like to be so angry or shut people down for celebrating,” said Joanna Renteria, a Mexican-American blogger in San Francisco. “But when anyone makes an ignorant comment about my culture, it does affect me.”

She plans to celebrate by wearing a huipil, a loose tunic designed with colorful patterns of birds and flowers, that she bought in her family’s hometown.

Mexican-American rapper Kap G appeared in a Black Entertainment Television sketch in which he argues about the origin of margaritas, a drink with a murky history, at an office meeting.

“It’s not even a Mexican drink, bro,” the Georgia-based entertainer says before hammering a piñata against a table in a fit of rage.

Other ways to celebrate

Not everyone is turned off by Cinco de Mayo. Randy Baker, owner of the popular Rio Bravo Brewing Co. in Albuquerque, is unveiling the brewery’s new German-style beer Imperial Kolsch on Cinco de Mayo. The brewery is calling it Fünf de Mayo.

In Colorado Springs, a nonprofit group that provides scholarships for Hispanic students is holding a Cinco de Mayo “Fiesta & Car Show” featuring mariachi music and dances. Orlando, Florida, is throwing a Chihuahua dog race, and other cities are hosting Cinco de Mayo beauty pageants.

But, Jose Luis Santiago, an immigration advocate, said migrant workers in Homestead, Florida, are more likely to celebrate Mexican Mother’s Day on May 10 and leave the Cinco de Mayo drinking and partying to ritzy neighborhoods near downtown Miami and in Miami Beach.

“Maybe we will get together and barbecue, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal for us,” Santiago said.


Facebook Nears Ad-only Business Model as Game Revenue Falls

Facebook’s growth into a digital advertising power is showing a flip side: The social network is more dependent than ever on the cyclical ad market, even as its rival Google finds new revenue streams in hardware and software.

Facebook reported on Wednesday that 98 percent of its quarterly revenue came from advertising, up from 97 percent a year earlier and 84 percent in 2012. Revenue from non-advertising sources fell to $175 million in the quarter, from $181 million a year earlier.

Facebook has warned for some time about declining non-ad revenue. That part of its business consists almost entirely of video game players on desktop computers buying virtual currency, and it has fallen as gaming has moved to smartphones.

Facebook takes 30 percent of purchases, with the balance going to companies such as Zynga, maker of the game Farmville.

The company’s dependence on advertising is a long-term concern but it has time to find other revenue while building its core ad business, said Clement Thibault, a senior analyst at

“We have to remember it’s still a fairly young business. It’s not like they’re an old-fashioned business that needs to move soon,” he said.

A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment.

Facebook’s share price hit an all-time high of $153.60 on Tuesday before dipping to close at $150.85 on Thursday.

The lack of diversification stands in contrast to Google, a unit of Alphabet. Its non-advertising revenue, from sources such as cloud services and Pixel smartphones, posted a 49.4 percent jump to $3.1 billion in the most recent quarter and now represents 13 percent of Google’s total revenue, up from 10 percent a year earlier.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said during a conference call in February that the company was diversifying revenue by expanding its base of advertisers across geographic regions and industries.

Facebook’s non-advertising products, such as its Oculus virtual reality headset and the Workplace office software, currently generate little revenue.

Some companies diversify through acquisitions, but most of Facebook’s purchases such as Instagram and WhatsApp have been in adjacent markets.

Chief Financial Officer David Wehner said in a conference call for investors on Wednesday that Facebook was not breaking out Instagram revenue as a separate line in financial reports because Instagram ads are sold through the same interface as Facebook ads.


Jerry Garcia’s Guitar Truckin’ to Auction, Could Fetch $1M

Jerry Garcia’s custom-made guitar is truckin’ to auction in New York City.


The Grateful Dead frontman’s guitar is called Wolf. Guernsey’s auction house says it’ll be offered May 31 at Brooklyn Bowl, a bowling alley, restaurant and venue for music shows.


The proceeds will go to the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center .


The guitar is being sold by devoted Deadhead Daniel Pritzker. The philanthropist, musician and film director bought it in 2002 at Guernsey’s for $790,000. It could exceed $1 million this time.

The auctioneer says Wolf first appeared in a 1973 New York performance the Grateful Dead gave for the Hells Angels.

Garcia played Wolf everywhere from San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom to New York’s Palladium and Egypt’s Great Pyramids.


The 1977 film “The Grateful Dead Movie” was directed by Garcia and features extensive Wolf footage.


Garcia died in 1995.