Day: May 9, 2017

US Commerce’s Ross: 3 Percent GDP Growth Not Achievable This Year

The U.S. economy won’t achieve the Trump administration’s 3 percent growth goal this year and not until all of its tax, regulatory, trade and energy policies are fully in place, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Tuesday.

Ross also said trade enforcement actions would be a major tool to cut U.S. trade deficits, adding that he has problems with World Trade Organization rules which allow widely divergent tariffs and are slow to punish violators.

The 3 percent growth target “is certainly not achievable this year,” Ross told Reuters in an interview. “The Congress has been slow-walking everything. We don’t even have half the people in place.”

But Ross said the growth target ultimately could be achieved in the year after all of President Donald Trump’s business-friendly policies are implemented. He noted that delays were possible if the push for tax cuts was slowed down in Congress.

“I think between the change in regulatory attitudes which will make it easier to make big projects, and the new taxes, which will make the rates of return much better, the reduced regulatory environment, I think over time you will see increases in capex – and that in turn has a big multiplier effect through the economy,” Ross said.


Latin Singer Prince Royce Gears Up for Summer Tour

Latin pop star Prince Royce will tour 21 U.S. cities this summer to showcase his new music, which he says has a bit of a new twist.

Known for his Dominican bachata hits, Royce released his fifth studio album, “FIVE,” in February, collaborating with musicians Chris Brown, Zendaya and Shakira. Bachata is a style of romantic music originating in the Dominican Republic.

“I think it’s important to always try new things,” Royce, 27, told Reuters on Tuesday. “On this album, we got Chris Brown singing bachata, he did a little bit of Spanish, Zendaya also singing in Spanish,” he said.

Royce said it was “a pleasure to work with” Shakira, adding that he shares a lot in common with the “Hips Don’t Lie” singer.

“She’s very involved with every detail,” said Royce. “I identify with her a lot because that’s the way I am. I like to listen to a song 1,000 times.”

Since launching his career in 2009, Royce, who was born in the New York City borough of The Bronx, has garnered 15 No. 1 hits on Latin radio charts, 21 Latin Billboard Awards and 9 Latin Grammy nominations.

Although he is proud of his accomplishments, Royce said he chooses to live in the present.

“I think it’s always good to focus on today,” Royce said. “I think that’s what always keeps that hunger, keeps that motivation.”

He will kick off his summer tour on June 29 in Laredo, Texas and end it on July 30 in Miami.


In Drought-hit Kenya, Selling Water Keeps City’s Young People in Business and Off Drugs

Now onto his third job since finishing high school a decade ago, Festus Chege is hoping his latest venture as a water vendor in Githurai, a growing suburb to the south of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, will pay off.

Like many young people from poor families, the 30-year-old passed his high-school exams but lacked the funds to pursue his studies, confining him to work in the city’s fast-expanding informal sector.

Kenya’s current drought, which is affecting some 3 million people across the East African country, has led to a drop in water volumes in reservoirs serving Nairobi residents.

The city authorities have been forced to ration water services, giving priority to critical facilities like hospitals, as well as manufacturers. Taps in poor households are now empty of piped water most of the time, and they have little choice but to buy their water from vendors like Chege.

“The water business is good,” said Chege, who has been selling water for the past four months. “People call me to supply them with water as early as 4 a.m.”

Chege, who uses a rickshaw to transport the water, sells 20-liter drums of water for 50 shillings ($0.49) each. In a day, he can supply as many as 40 drums, earning him 2,000 shillings — more than double a government clerk’s wage.

It’s five times more than what he was making last year hawking secondhand clothes.

“There were days when I would find myself idle because of a lack of customers,” said Chege. That’s when he would join his friends to smoke bhang, a form of cannabis — a common pastime among young slum-dwellers who take the drug in secret dens.

Now, Chege says he no longer has time to mess around with drugs because he is busy from dawn to dusk selling water.

In January this year, he joined a youth group called Ni Sisi Sasa (“It is our time”), which helps jobless young people in the neighborhood improve their lives. One activity it offers is water vending.

The group has a water depot in Githurai, which purchases its supply from the Kiambu County Council water unit.

Group members like Chege buy water from the depot at low rates and resell it to local residents at a profit.

“By the end of the year, I want to make enough money so that I can enroll in a teacher training college,” said Chege. He plans to continue supporting the group even if he realizes his ambition of becoming a teacher.

Growing population

According to the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), the capital’s residents need 740,000 cubic meters of water daily to meet demand.

Currently only 462,000 cubic meters of water are being supplied due to declining water levels in the Ndakaini reservoir, said Philip Gichuki, NCWSC’s managing director.

The reservoir, which supplies 85 percent of the city’s water, has a capacity of 70 million cubic meters, but due to poor rains this season, it is only around 40 percent full.

For instance, the Aberdares water tower in central Kenya — the source of rivers feeding the reservoir — has received just 250 mm of rain since December, way below the 1,000 mm it would normally receive in the rainy season, said Gichuki.

“The shortage has forced us to ration water,” said Nairobi County’s executive for water, Peter Kimori. “Estates have been forced to look for alternative sources due to the rationing.”

The county government plans to sink 140 boreholes in Nairobi’s fringe estates to ward off future water shortages.

But experts like Gichuki say more will be needed to meet demand in the capital due to its growing population, as rural migrants flock to areas like Githurai where many find work as manual laborers.

According to the World Bank, there are over 4 million people — around a tenth of Kenya’s population — living in Nairobi and its suburbs. In 1963, when Kenya attained independence, the city was home to only a third of a million people.

Creaking infrastructure

Gichuki said the solution was to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure.

“[It] has not been developed since post-independence days,” said Gichuki. “This is leading to the increasing water pressure and shortage in Nairobi.”

Fred Kihara, water fund manager at The Nature Conservancy, an international NGO, said the worsening water problem in Nairobi is linked to climate change, as rainfall volumes in central Kenya have declined.

On top of this, the government is not doing enough to conserve water towers like the Aberdares, he added, by preventing forests being cut down for farming, for instance.

“Clearing of trees reduces the soil’s ability to retain water which seeps into rivers feeding reservoirs like Ndakaini dam,” said Kihara, explaining that without trees, the water evaporates faster.

Meanwhile, Kenya’s Central Organization of Trade Unions says 4 million jobs are needed for the country to cut poverty to zero by 2020.

Youth unemployment has shrunk to 15 percent from 25 percent in 2006, as the economy’s informal sector has expanded.

“I am able to do this [water] business because the government has removed harsh regulation on the informal sector,” said Chege. “There is less harassment from tax officials.” But he called for better access to government support such as the youth enterprise development fund, which is hard to tap for young people without political connections.


AeroVironment Unveils Palm-sized Surveillance Drone for US Military

Drone-maker AeroVironment Inc. unveiled a small four-rotor surveillance helicopter on Tuesday that can be carried in a small pouch and launched from the palm of a hand.

The smaller size and simplicity of operation means it can used by ordinary soldiers, offering squads and other small military units the kind of surveillance capacity previously reserved for larger military units, where drones are operated by specialists.

AeroVironment said it delivered 20 of the 5-ounce (140-gram) Snipe unmanned aircraft to its first U.S. government client in April. The company declined to identify the government agency that purchased the drones, but Aviation Week reported last year that AeroVironment was developing prototypes for the U.S. Army.

Designed to worn as part of uniform

AeroVironment said the drone benefited from advances in technology achieved in the development of its Nano Hummingbird drone for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has been responsible for many technological and scientific breakthroughs used by the military.

Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment’s vice president in charge of unmanned aircraft systems, said in a statement the Snipe copter drone is “designed to be worn by its operator so it can be deployed in less than a minute.”

Battery life is 15 minutes

The aircraft, which is intended for intelligence and reconnaissance missions, can relay high-resolution images and record video both day and night. It can fly at speeds of 20 mph (35 kph), has a range of more than a kilometer (half-mile), and can fly for about 15 minutes on batteries, the statement said.

AeroVironment’s hand-launched Raven unmanned aircraft, which weighs 4.2 pounds (2 kg) and has a wingspan of 4.5 feet (1.4 meters), is one of the most widely used military surveillance drones, with more than 19,000 built.

Shares of AeroVironment dropped 0.2 percent to $29.13 within its 52-week range of $22.16 to $32.44.


Stirring Portraits of Communist Albania’s Women Recall Different Reality

Three women stare down from the gallery wall — colorful, defiant and imbued with a spirit of working for the many not the few.

They are a brigadier, a factory worker and a youth volunteer with a hoe. They are paintings of socialist realism. They are also all Albanian women from the time of Enver Hoxha, who created one of the world’s most closed societies until his death in 1985.

Visitors to Greece’s capital have a relatively rare opportunity to see Hoxha-era art on display outside its regular home in Tirana’s National Gallery of Art.

The portraits are part of documenta 14, the Kassel, Germany-based exhibition of Western European modern art that this year is being hosted both in Kassel and Athens.

Hundreds of documenta 14 displays are to be found in museums across the Greek city until July, with the three women portraits among the offerings at EMST, the National Museum of Contemporary Art located in the old but renovated Fix brewery building.

The paintings — by Spiro Kristo (1976), Zef Shoshi (1969) and Hasan Nallbani (1968) — draw you in and can inspire.

But they were also political, more than acceptable to Hoxha, who saw threats from the West, Russia, the then-Yugolavia and just about everywhere.

In a sense, they are modernist icons for the only society in the world that was officially atheist.

As Edi Muka, an Albanian art critic and curator, notes of Shoshi’s factory worker, “representations of motherhood as constitutive of women’s central role in religious art are carefully removed.”

Hoxha-era paranoia was to be found everywhere from spikes in vineyards to deter potential enemy paratroopers to more than 700,000 concrete bunkers across the country, housing soldiers on guard for potential attack.

So it was not all easy for painters. Not far from the three women, documenta 14 has hung a 1971 painting “Planting of Trees” by Edi Hila.

It depicts blissfully happy young people planting trees for their country.

Too blissfully happy, perhaps. Almost “expressive dancing,” in the words of the painter.

“My work stepped out of the contours of socialist realism,” Hila told Reuters in Tirana. “Generally in those works the positive, the hero, is in the center. … The compositional structure was different so this hurt their taste.”

Hila, deemed to be in need of re-education, ended up being sentenced to work as a loader on a chicken farm. His drawings from that time — showing a different kind of realism — are also on display in Athens.


As Droughts Worsen, Phones and Radios Lead Way to Water for Niger’s Herders

When Moumouni Abdoulaye and his fellow herders in western Niger used to set off on scouting missions in search of water, they feared for their livestock – and for their own lives.

Unable to rely anymore on their traditional methods of predicting the weather amid increasingly erratic droughts and floods, and lacking modern climate information, they struggled to predict where, and when, they might find water in the vast arid region.

“We were living in limbo. Without knowledge, we constantly risked our lives,” said Abdoulaye, seeking shade under a tree from the fierce midday sun in Niger’s Tillabery region.

But a project to involve the region’s semi-nomadic people in the production of locally-specific, real-time weather forecasts – and provide them with radios and mobile phones to receive and share the information – is transforming the lives of tens of thousands of Nigeriens like Abdoulaye.

“Now we receive daily updates about rainfall, can call other communities to ask if they have had rain, and plan our movements accordingly,” Abdoulaye told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Niger, as across much of Africa’s Sahel region, frequent droughts have impoverished many people and made it much harder to make a living from agriculture. That is happening in a West African country already consistently ranked at the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index.

With climate change now exacerbating pressures, experts say there is a growing and urgent need for better climate information, to ensure farmers and pastoralists are equipped to cope with unpredictable rainfall and climate shocks.

Across Africa, only limited climate data is collected and made available, and information services are often not well understood, user-friendly, or followed up to help people put the information to use in adapting to climate threats, experts say.

Ensuring that communities play a role – alongside state and aid agencies – in generating and sharing weather information is the best way to get them to use it and to build their resilience to the growing pressures, said Blane Harvey of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

“Co-participation is very powerful because people will buy into a service if they’ve had a hand in producing it,” he said.

“Crucially, they bring in their local knowledge, which helps to downscale and triangulate more regionalized forecasts,” added Harvey, a research associate at the London-based think tank.

Collaboration crucial

A lack of weather stations across Africa means that forecasts, produced by national meteorological agencies, tend to be too broad to be of much use at a local level.

But a project launched in 2015, funded by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) and led by CARE International, is trying to improve the quality of and access to climate data for farmers and pastoralists in western Niger.

CARE’s project under the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) program aims to help 450,000 people become better prepared for climate shocks, including through giving them access to better forecasts.

The goal is to help them diversify their farming and find ways of making money which are not so heavily impacted by climate change, in order to better withstand climate pressures.

For farmer Adamou Soumana, improved access to climate information has given his village a better understanding of the weather shocks they are encountering, and the confidence to adopt resilience boosting strategies such as using climate-adapted seeds, finding sustainable ways to harvest forest products, and storing harvests.

“Previously, if it rained in January, we rushed to plant our crops thinking the rainy season starts – when in fact it never comes before May,” he said.

“Now we understand climate shocks, and can plan our activities in advance. We feel more resilient,” he said.

The BRACED project has helped communities by acting as a broker between them and meteorological agencies, and ensuring agency partners are trained to interpret climate data, translate it into local languages and help people to make sense of the forecasts.

The project also connects local people who collect rainfall data, as well as other farming and pastoralist leaders, with community radio stations to share real-time information daily.

Incorporating traditional observations – such as when trees bloom or the way birds behave – and having regular discussions with communities is key to building and maintaining trust in climate information services, said Richard Ewbank of Christian Aid, another charity working on climate resilience issues.

“Having experts and community leaders together and combining local knowledge with scientific forecasts is the best way to agree on a climate scenario, and make key decisions for the coming season,” said the global climate advisor for the charity.

Life or death decisions

In addition to improving the quality of climate information and making it more relevant on a community-by-community basis, the BRACED project in Niger has provided mobile phones and radios to boost the spread of the forecasts.

“Receiving and sharing the information in this way not only helps pastoralists know when and where to move, it also builds relationships and trust between people,” said Amadou Adamou of the Association for the Revitalization of Livestock Breeding.

Good information can not only help pastoralists find water sources but also help them know when to sell their animals, especially if drought is on the way, according to Adamou.

The mobile phones and radios used are powered by solar cells, enabling pastoralists to get forecasts while on the move. They also are given to both male and female community chiefs to ensure women have equal access to the information.

While better climate data has improved resilience for many in Tillabery region, in both settled and nomadic communities, there is still much room for improvement, several experts said.

Residents want to see more meteorological advisers based locally who can help them have regular discussions about the forecasts.

They also want more help to convert the data into action on the ground such as diversifying the crops they grow and better planning the timing and direction of their migration routes in search of water. They also want the information service expanded to cover neighboring countries.

“Getting better forecasts is one thing. But having good, solid advice about what the information means, and discussions on how to use it to become more resilient, is what people in the region really want,” said Harouna Hama Hama of CARE.

For roaming communities like Abdoulaye’s – people who cross into neighboring Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo with their livestock – expanding the climate data effort to produce region-wide forecasts could mean the difference between life and death for many of their members, Abdoulaye said.

“Whenever some of our people head to these countries, they and the animals risk dying of thirst,” he said. “With better forecasts, and for the whole region, we could lose fewer lives.”


US Medical Body Recommends Against Screening for Thyroid Cancer

Screening for thyroid cancer is no longer recommended for adults with no symptoms, a U.S. health task force says.

In a news release, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force said physicians should not screen for the disease in adults who have “no signs or symptoms.”

Thyroid cancer, which grows on the thyroid, is relatively rare in the U.S., the Task Force said, adding there likely would be 56,300 new cases in 2017 or 3.8 percent of all cancers.

The thyroid is a gland found in the neck and it produces hormones governing metabolism.

The Task Force said there was no evidence that screening boosts survival and can lead to over diagnosis and other potential complications.

“While there is very little evidence of the benefits of screening for thyroid cancer, there is considerable evidence of the serious harms of treatment, such as damage to the nerves that control speaking and breathing,” said Task Force member Karina W. Davison, Ph.D., M.A.Sc. “What limited evidence is available does not suggest that screening enables people to live longer, healthier lives.”

Over diagnosis, the Task Force said, “leads to an increase in new diagnoses of thyroid cancer without affecting the number of people who die from thyroid cancer.”

“Over diagnosis occurs because screening for thyroid cancer often identifies small or slow growing tumors that might never affect a person during their lifetime,” said Task Force member Seth Landefeld, M.D. “People who are treated for these small tumors are exposed to serious risks from surgery or radiation, but do not receive any real benefit.”

The Task Force’s recommendation does not include people who’ve been exposed to radiation in the head or neck area, which can lead to a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer.

The Task Force’s recommendation was published in JAMA.


India’s IndiGo to Fly to Smaller Cities in Strategy Shift

Indian airline IndiGo said it plans to start flying smaller planes to second-tier towns and cities later this year, in a shift in strategy for the carrier that has prided itself on the simplicity of running only one type of jet.

IndiGo, which has a fleet of 131 Airbus A320 aircraft, said on Tuesday it has placed a provisional order for 50 ATR 72-600 aircraft from European turboprop maker ATR, worth over $1.3 billion at list price.

IndiGo joins national carrier Air India and SpiceJet which have finalized plans under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheme to make it cheaper for people to fly within India. The scheme subsidizes part of the cost for airlines to fly to smaller towns.

“We should see increased business activity in small towns and cities which will increase demand for air travel in these regions,” IndiGo’s President Aditya Ghosh said after the company reported a 25 percent fall in quarterly net profit.


InterGlobe Aviation Ltd, owner of IndiGo, said net profit fell to 4.4 billion rupees ($68 million) in the quarter ended March 31, from 5.84 billion rupees a year ago, as fuel costs jumped 71 percent over the same period.

The company said it expects available seat kilometer, a key measure of an airline’s capacity, to increase by 22 percent in the April-June quarter.

IndiGo, which has maintained its efficiency by operating only one type of aircraft, said it plans to set up a separate unit to manage the ATR fleet to reduce the complexity of flying two different types of aircraft.

Functions such as flight operations, in-flight services, route planning and revenue management will be managed by a separate team, whereas administrative functions like human resources, finance and legal would be controlled by IndiGo.

“It would avoid adding complexity to mainline operations,” Ghosh said during an analyst call, adding that it would also result in synergies in corporate overheads and ground handling.

The company said it expects to have up to seven ATR aircraft by March 2018 if it reaches an agreement to buy the planes.

IndiGo also expects to add 39 new aircraft in the current fiscal year that started on April 1, of which 28 will be A320neos, taking the total to 170 A320 aircraft.

The carrier has faced operational issues with some A320neo aircraft due to problems with engines built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

Ghosh said IndiGo expects Pratt & Whitney to provide a solution to one part of the problem by the fourth quarter of 2018 and the engine maker is working on a new design solution that will be retro-fitted later.

Pratt & Whitney has also carried out hardware and software changes on all of IndiGo’s A320neos which should address part of the issue, he said.

IndiGo has ordered a total of 430 A320neo aircraft in the past two years, making it one of Airbus’s biggest customers.


Gibraltar Plans for Hard Brexit, End of Access to EU Market

Gibraltar is preparing for a post-Brexit setup in which its firms will have no longer access to the European Union market but will maintain a preferential relationship with Britain, a top Gibraltar financial official said on Tuesday.

The tiny British enclave on Spain’s southern tip, with a population of 30,000, is home to around 15,000 companies and is a major provider of insurance and gambling services.

“We are currently planning for a hard Brexit,” James Tipping, director at Gibraltar’s government body for financial promotion, told EU lawmakers in a hearing in Brussels.

He said Gibraltar did not expect to obtain a “special status” and was resigned to lose its access to the EU market after Britain leaves the EU at the end of a process triggered in March by British Prime Minister Theresa May.

This would mark a shift in Gibraltar’s stated policy of seeking extraordinary arrangements with the EU after Brexit.

Many companies have so far been attracted to Gibraltar by the prospect of being able to operate in all 28 EU countries from a territory with low tax rates and business-friendly regulations.

The loss of the access to the EU market, granted to EU member states by so-called passporting rules, may reduce firms’ appetite to establish their headquarters in the British enclave.

But this may not discourage Gibraltar-based firms that operate in the United Kingdom.

“Our financial model will not have to change,” Tipping told lawmakers, noting Britain has committed to guarantee full access to its market for Gibraltar companies.

He said about 20 percent of motor vehicles in Britain are underwritten by Gibraltar-based insurance companies, making insurers the largest financial sector in Gibraltar, which is also home to more than a dozen banks, several investment funds and top online gambling firms.

Gibraltar, often dubbed “the Rock” because of its famous cliff-faced mountain, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU at last year’s Brexit referendum.

It remains, however, committed to remain part of Britain after Brexit. The enclave rejected the idea of Britain sharing sovereignty with Spain by 99 percent to 1 percent in a 2002 referendum.

The future of Gibraltar is one of the many thorny issues that will have to be sorted in the two-year divorce talks between Britain and the EU which will end in March 2019.

The EU offered Spain a veto right over the future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU after Britain leaves the bloc.


China’s President Xi Says to Uphold Global Climate Deal

Chinese President Xi Jinping told French President-elect Emmanuel Macron in a phone call on Tuesday that he would uphold the Paris Agreement on curbing climate change.

China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, and France should “protect the global governance achievements contained within the Paris Agreement on climate change”, Xi told Macron, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed skepticism China’s President Xi says to uphold global climate deal

Chinese President Xi Jinping told French President-elect Emmanuel Macron in a phone call on Tuesday that he would uphold the Paris Agreement on curbing climate change.

China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, and France should “protect the global governance achievements contained within the Paris Agreement on climate change”, Xi told Macron, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed skepticism about the deal and threatened to pull out. A meeting of his advisers that had been scheduled for Tuesday was postponed due to scheduling conflicts, a White House Official said.

Many nations want Trump to remain in the agreement, meant to rein in rising world temperatures by shifting toward cleaner energies such as wind and solar power, even though he plans to bolster the U.S. coal industry.

Macron told Trump in a phone call on Monday that he would also seek to defend the climate change deal agreed in Paris in 2015.

China has consistently reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris agreement. Climate change was widely seen as one of the few bright spots of cooperation between Beijing and the previous Obama administration in Washington.

Representatives of nearly 200 countries that are party to the agreement are meeting in Bonn from May 8-18 to discuss technical aspects of implementing the accord.

In their phone call on Tuesday, Xi congratulated Macron on his election win and emphasized China’s continued support for an integrated Europe and hopes that relations with France would “stride onto a new platform”.

The two leaders agreed to meet as soon as possible, according to the Chinese foreign ministry. about the deal and threatened to pull out. A meeting of his advisers that had been scheduled for Tuesday was postponed due to scheduling conflicts, a White House Official said.

Many nations want Trump to remain in the agreement, meant to rein in rising world temperatures by shifting toward cleaner energies such as wind and solar power, even though he plans to bolster the U.S. coal industry.

Macron told Trump in a phone call on Monday that he would also seek to defend the climate change deal agreed in Paris in 2015.

China has consistently reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris agreement. Climate change was widely seen as one of the few bright spots of cooperation between Beijing and the previous Obama administration in Washington.

Representatives of nearly 200 countries that are party to the agreement are meeting in Bonn from May 8-18 to discuss technical aspects of implementing the accord.

In their phone call on Tuesday, Xi congratulated Macron on his election win and emphasized China’s continued support for an integrated Europe and hopes that relations with France would “stride onto a new platform”.

The two leaders agreed to meet as soon as possible, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.



Amazon Gives Voice-enabled Speaker a Screen, Video Calling

Amazon is giving its voice-enabled Echo speaker a touch screen and video-calling capabilities as it competes with Google’s efforts at bringing “smarts” to the home.


The new device, called Echo Show, goes on sale on June 28 for $230.


The market for voice-assisted speakers is small but growing. Research firm eMarketer expects usage of the speakers to more than double, with nearly 36 million Americans using such a device at least once a month by year’s end.


Amazon’s Echo is expected to continue its dominance, with a share of nearly 71 percent, though eMarketer expects Google’s Home speaker to cut into that share in the coming years.


Amazon says it’s also bringing calling and messaging features to its existing Echo and Echo Dot devices and the Alexa app for phones.


Study: Laws to Tackle Climate Change Exceed 1,200 Worldwide

Nations around the world have adopted more than 1,200 laws to curb climate change, up from about 60 two decades ago, which is a sign of widening efforts to limit rising temperatures, a study showed on Tuesday.

“Most countries have a legal basis on which future action can be built,” Patricia Espinosa, the U.N.’s climate change chief, told a webcast news conference of the findings issued at an international meeting on climate change in Bonn, Germany.

She said the findings were “cause for optimism”, adding that laws were one yardstick for tracking action on global warming alongside others such as investment in renewable energy or backing for a 2015 climate agreement, ratified by 144 nations.

The study, by the London School of Economics (LSE), reviewed laws and executive policies in 164 nations, ranging from national cuts in greenhouse gases to curbs in emissions in sectors such as transport, power generation or industry.

Forty-seven laws had been added since world leaders adopted a Paris Agreement to combat climate change in late 2015, a slowdown from a previous peak of about 100 a year around 2009-13 when many developed nations passed laws.

U.S. President Donald Trump doubts that climate change has a human cause and is considering pulling out of the Paris Agreement but legislation is often complicated to undo.

“If you have that big body of 1,200 laws it is hard to reverse,” Samuel Fankhauser, co-director of the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, told the news conference.

The study said that developing nations were legislating more but there were many gaps. Nations including Comoros, Sudan and Somalia had no climate laws.

“We don’t want weaklings in the chain,” said Martin Chungong, secretary- general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. He urged all countries to adopt laws that help limit downpours, heatwaves and rising sea levels.


Chicken Nugget Tweet Breaks World Record

Move over Ellen DeGeneres, there’s a new most-tweeted tweet.

And it’s not from another celebrity, famous athlete or politician, but rather a 16-year-old kid from Reno, Nevada named Carter Wilkerson who has a deep love for chicken nuggets from U.S. fast food chain Wendy’s.

It all started in April when Wilkerson tweeted at Wendy’s asking them how many retweets he would need to get free nuggets for a year.

Wendy’s reply was simple “18 million.”

To that, Wilkerson said “consider it done” and tweeted screenshots of his conversation with Wendy’s.

It went viral, and on Tuesday his tweet had been retweeted 3.441 million times, surpassing DeGeneres’ famous, and former world-record holding Oscars tweet, which had 3.430 million retweets.

While not 18 million, Wendy’s gave Wilkerson his free nuggets and $100,000 for him to give to charity.

“We didn’t expect Carter’s response, and we couldn’t anticipate the overwhelming support he has received,” said a spokesman for Wendy’s.


Grammy Awards Returning to NYC After 14 Years in LA

The Recording Academy announced Tuesday that the 2018 Grammys would return to New York City after spending the last 14 years in Los Angeles. The show will take place at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018.


Madison Square Garden last hosted the Grammys in 2003. Spike Lee, a New Yorker, directed a video called “NY Stories” to coincide with Tuesday’s announcement.

The Grammys will air live on CBS. Adele won big at this year’s show, taking home the album of the year award for “25” as well as song and record of the year for the hit “Hello.”


Nominees for the 60th annual Grammy Awards will be announced later this year.


With Lacoste, Mont Blanc, Socialist Cuba Has 1st Luxury Mall

The saleswomen in L’Occitane en Provence’s new Havana store make $12.50 a month. The acacia eau de toilette they sell costs $95.20 a bottle. Rejuvenating face cream is $162.40 an ounce.

A few doors down, a Canon EOS camera goes for $7,542.01. A Bulgari watch, $10,200.

In the heart of the capital of a nation founded on ideals of social equality, the business arm of the Cuban military has transformed a century-old shopping arcade into a temple to conspicuous capitalism.

With the first Cuban branches of L’Occitane, Mont Blanc and Lacoste, the Manzana de Gomez mall has become a sociocultural phenomenon since its opening a few weeks ago, with Cubans wandering wide-eyed through its polished-stone passages.

Older Cubans are stunned at the sight of goods worth more than a lifetime’s state salary. Teenagers and young adults pose for Facebook photos in front of store windows, throwing victory signs in echoes of the images sent by relatives in Miami, who pose grinning alongside 50-inch TV sets and luxury convertibles.

The Cuban armed forces’ business arm has become the nation’s biggest retailer, importer and hotelier since Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008.

Gaviota, the military’s tourism company, is in the midst of a hotel building spree. The military corporation Cimex, created two decades ago, counts retail stories, auto-rental businesses and even a recording studio among its holdings. The military retail chain TRD has hundreds of shops across Cuba that sell everything from soap to home electronics at prices often several times those in nearby countries.

The military-run Mariel port west of Havana has seen double-digit growth fueled largely by demand in the tourism sector and the armed forces last year took over the bank that does business with foreign companies, assuming control of most of Cuba’s day-to-day international financial transactions.

On a recent weekday, Oswell Mendez and the members of his hip-hop dance group De Freak posed for their Facebook page in the center of the Manzana, on the spot where a bust of early 20th century Cuban Communist leader Julio Antonio Mella sat before it was removed in the building’s multi-year renovation.

“This is a high-end spot, really nice,” said Mendez, 24. “It’s something we haven’t seen before.”

The five-story Manzana sits off the Prado, the broad, tree-lined boulevard that divides the colonial heart of the city. The upper floors are a five-star hotel opening in early June that is owned by the military’s tourism arm, Gaviota, and run by Swiss luxury chain Kempinski. Along the bisecting galleries of the Manzana’s ground floor, TRD Caribe and Cimex – host the luxury brands along with Cuban stores selling lesser-known but still pricey products aimed at Cuba’s small but growing upper-middle class, like $6 mini-bottles of shampoo and sets of plates for more than $100.

A few blocks away, working-class Cubans live in decaying apartments on streets clogged by uncollected trash. With state incomes devastated by long-term stagnation and inflation, there’s barely money for food, let alone home repairs or indulgences.

“This hurts because I can’t buy anything,” said Rodolfo Hernandez Torres, a 71-year-old retired electrical mechanic who lives on a salary of $12.50 a month. “There are people who can come here to buy things but it’s maybe one in 10. Most of the country doesn’t have the money.”

L’Occitane, Lacoste, Mont Blanc and the Cuban military’s business wing did not return requests for comment.

With its economy in recession and longstanding oil aid from Venezuela in doubt, the Cuban government appears torn between the need for market-based reforms and the fear of social inequality that would spawn popular dissatisfaction and calls for political change.

With other sectors declining, Cuba’s increasingly important tourism industry is under pressure to change its state-run hotels’ reputation for charging exorbitant prices for rooms and food far below international standards. The Manzana de Gomez Kempinski bills itself as Cuba’s first real five-star hotel, and the brand-name shops around it appear designed to reinforce that.

The hotel is earning positive early reviews but many tourists say they find the luxury mall alongside it to be repulsive.

“I was very disappointed,” said Jeannie Goldstein, who works in sports marketing in Chicago and ended a six-day trip to Cuba, her first, on Saturday.

“I came here to get away from this,” she said. “This screams wealth and America to us.”

The Prado boulevard was the scene of Cuba’s previous record for a state-sponsored display of exorbitant consumerism. Last May, the government closed the boulevard for a private runway show by French luxury label Chanel for a crowd that included actors Tilda Swinton and Vin Diesel and supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

The temporary privatization of a street for an international corporation built on exclusivity and luxury generated widespread revulsion in Cuba and an unusually angry reaction among writers and intellectuals. Cuba’s culture minister resigned two months later, with no reason given for his departure.

Many other Cubans were delighted by Chanel and adore the Manzana de Gomez, saying it’s the sign the country knows its future depends on opening itself to foreign wealth.

“These stores are for millionaires. Attracting tourists with money, that’s development, capitalism,” said Maritza Garcia, a 55-year-old airline office worker. “Everything that’s development is good. Bit by bit the country is lifting itself up. We’re a socialist country but the economy has to be a capitalist one.”


Sharapova More Disappointed to Lose Early Than to Detractor

To Maria Sharapova, the most disappointing part of leaving the Madrid Open was doing so in the second round.


Not losing to arch critic Eugenie Bouchard.


Sharapova will more than likely meet Bouchard again, and have another shot at beating the Canadian who wanted her banned for life for doping last year and openly called her a cheater.


More important for Sharapova for now was tournament play, winning matches, getting match fit and her ranking up to where it was before her 15-month ban.


Sharapova’s ranking rose from nothing to 258 after reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart two weeks ago, in her first tournament after her ban.


Going only two rounds in Madrid, where she won in 2014, will bump her up into only the low 200s.


Her aim is to quickly lift her ranking so it’s good enough to automatically qualify for main tour events, to at least 150, which would get her in the French Open this month.


That would mitigate her reliability on wild cards that a lot of her fellow tour players have opposed. The players believe Sharapova, after doping, should have gone through qualifying, worked her way back from the bottom instead of receiving free passes into main draws.


She has declined to enter that debate.


Like at Stuttgart and Madrid, where she was a former champion, Sharapova has a wild card into the Italian Open next week. Rome was the first to offer her a wild card while she was suspended, and the three-time champion (2011, 2012, 2015) was grateful.


Her effort to automatically qualify for the French Open could become moot next week when organizers announce whether they will give one to Sharapova, the champion at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.


In the meantime, losing in the second round at Madrid stung.


“I would be worried about myself if I sat here and said I’m pretty happy with losing a tennis match, no matter who I face, no matter what round it is, whether it’s the first round or final of a Grand Slam,” she said on Monday after losing to Bouchard.


“I’m a big competitor. What you work for for so many hours every single day is to be on the winning end of matches. Of course I’m disappointed. That’s what’s going to make me a better player. That’s what’s going to win me more tournaments and more Grand Slams.”


Sharapova said she still needed to regain the confidence for critical points in a match.


“There’s no way to train but be a part of it,” she said. “To find myself in those situations, come up with the goods…”


FCC Website Under Attack

The website for the Federal Communications Commission has come under attack.

Initially, the problems were believed to have been caused by comedian John Oliver, who on Sunday urged his viewers to leave comments on the site about the FCC’s plans to revisit net neutrality rules.

Net neutrality rules were implemented in 2015 and required internet service providers to treat all traffic equally. New FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said he will review the rules, arguing they are “holding back investment, innovation and job creation.”

The FCC, which “regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable,” says the website attacks were coordinated, distributed denial of service attacks, not a surge in traffic.

“These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves, rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC,” chief information officer David Bray said. “While the comment system remained up and running the entire time, these distributed denial of service events tied up the servers and prevented them from responding to people attempting to submit comments.”

On his show, “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver said, “Every internet group needs to come together … gamers, YouTube celebrities, Instagram models, Tom from MySpace if you’re still alive. We need all of you,” he said.

The FCC will vote on net neutrality rules on May 18.


CERN Launches New Accelerator to Help Boost Data Output

Scientists at the world’s biggest atom smasher have inaugurated their newest particle accelerator, a key step toward churning out greater amounts of data that could help explain many lingering mysteries of the universe.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, announced Tuesday the completion of Linac 4, a 90-meter-long (295-foot-long) underground machine that took nearly a decade to build and will deliver proton beams for many experiments.


Linac 4 is CERN’s largest accelerator developed since the 2008 startup of the Large Hadron Collider that helped confirm the Higgs boson particle five years ago.


Director-General Fabiola Gianotti said it’s the first key element in a multi-year program to “increase the potential of the LHC experiments for discovering new physics and measuring the properties of the Higgs particle in more detail.”