Day: June 1, 2017

Treasury Chief ‘Confident’ Congress Will Raise US Debt Limit

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday he was confident that Congress would raise the federal debt limit  “before there’s an issue” with U.S. creditworthiness, and he pledged that the Trump administration’s tax reform plans would be paid for.

“We’re going to get it increased,” Mnuchin told Fox Business Network about the debt limit. “The credit of the United States is the utmost. I’ve said to Congress they should do it as quickly as they can. But we are very focused on working with them and I’m confident we’ll get there before there’s an issue.”

Mnuchin said last week that he wanted a “clean” debt ceiling increase before the start of Congress’ summer recess in early August.

Mnuchin said that it “makes no sense” to view the Trump administration’s tax reform plans through a “static” budget analysis that does not account for economic growth effects. He has previously pledged that increased economic growth would generate more revenue to offset lower tax rates.

“We’re about creating economic growth, we’re about broadening the base and we’re going to make sure that this is tax reform, not just tax cuts, and that they’re paid for,” Mnuchin said.


US Withdrawal From Paris Climate Deal Disappoints Many Businesses

President Donald Trump is moving the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, signed by nearly 200 other nations.

Trump said Thursday that the Paris agreement hurts U.S. economic growth, costs millions of American jobs and puts U.S. firms at a disadvantage. However, his decision contrasted with the views of hundreds of American business leaders who urged him to continue participating in the climate agreement.

While the president said Washington would stop implementing the Paris accord immediately, he added that he would begin negotiations aimed at rejoining the Paris accord or a similar agreement on terms more advantageous to the United States.  

“We will see if we can make a deal that’s fair,” Trump said. An audience at the White House Rose Garden warmly applauded his announcement.

Among the many corporations that opposed the move to bow out of the Paris Agreement were Mars, Nike, Levi Strauss and Starbucks. Their top corporate officers signed a letter to Trump several months ago, arguing that failing to build a low-carbon economy would put U.S. “prosperity at risk.”

WATCH: Trump: US ‘Will Cease All Implementation’ of Paris Climate Accord

Trump: ‘Fortune’ at stake

Trump said the climate agreement, as presently written, would cost U.S. businesses “a vast fortune” and lead to the loss of 7 million jobs by 2025.

Tesla founder Elon Musk tried to persuade the president to stay in the accord and said Wednesday that he would quit the White House business advisory council if Washington left the Paris Agreement.

GE chief Jeff Immelt has written that customers, partners and countries are demanding technology that generates electric power while improving energy efficiency and cutting costs.

Oil companies like Chevron and ExxonMobil recently argued that the Paris Agreement gives their firms a more predictable future, and therefore more manageable one. The oil companies and some coal firms also say remaining part of the accord helps maintain U.S. influence over future talks.  

Earlier this week, more than 60 percent of Exxon shareholders voted to require that the firm do more analysis and disclosure of the likely impact of tougher climate policies on company revenue. Previous efforts to force such disclosures failed to get a majority of votes from shareholders.  

Some other business, Republican and conservative groups agreed with Trump’s action. The Heritage Foundation, for example, said the accord produces “devastating” economic costs and “zero” environmental benefits.


Stones’ Guitarist Richards Donates Items for Auction Benefiting Autistic Adults

Rolling Stones fans are sure to get some satisfaction from an upcoming auction to benefit a pair of Connecticut charities that help autistic adults.

The Stamford Advocate reports that Stones guitarist Keith Richards and his wife, Patti Hansen, are donating items from their Manhattan apartment to benefit the Prospector Theater and Sphere Inc., both based in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Hansen’s nephew has received services from the organizations.

The couple lives in nearby Weston.

The 73-year-old Richards’ guitars and flamboyant stage costumes aren’t on the auction block. Instead, items for sale include Italian, French and English furniture, Persian carpets, paintings, Waterford crystal and even a skull-motif china tea set.

The auction is being handled by Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York, on June 24. The preview begins June 10.


Stars Added to Grande’s Manchester Concert

The Black Eyed Peas and Robbie Williams will join Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and other stars at a charity concert Sunday in Manchester, England.

Live Nation said Thursday that girl group Little Mix had also been added to the show being held in response to the Manchester bombing that took place at Grande’s concert in the city last week. Twenty-two people died at the show.

Katy Perry, Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Pharrell Williams, Take That and Niall Horan also will perform. The event, “One Love Manchester,” will take place at Emirates Old Trafford.

Tickets went on sale Thursday. Proceeds will go to an emergency fund set up by the city of Manchester and the British Red Cross.


Investors Pick Tesla’s Promise Over GM’s Steady Profits

When General Motors CEO Mary Barra introduced the Chevrolet Bolt at the CES gadget show last year, she took a shot at Tesla.

Buyers can be confident because Chevy has 3,000 U.S. dealers to service the new electric vehicle, she said. The implication was that Tesla, with just 69 service centers nationwide, can make no such promise.


The uncharacteristic insult from Barra was designed to highlight the difference between 108-year-old GM and Tesla, a disruptive teenager. It also acknowledged a budding rivalry that could help determine whether Detroit or Silicon Valley sets the course for the future of the auto industry.

The tale of the tape favors GM. It has made billions in profits since returning to the public markets in 2010. GM got the Bolt, a $36,000 car that goes 238 miles per charge, to market before Tesla’s Model 3. Tesla, the 14-year-old company led by flamboyant CEO Elon Musk, has never posted an annual profit.


Yet, as both CEOs face shareholders for annual meetings Tuesday, it is Barra who must explain to skeptical investors why GM’s future is as bright as Tesla’s.


GM’s stock is trading around the $33 price of its initial public offering seven years ago. During that time, Tesla shares have soared more than tenfold to $335. Wall Street now values Tesla at about $55 billion, compared to around $50 billion for GM.


Despite efforts to paint themselves as technology companies, automakers can’t shake their giant, capital-intensive global manufacturing operations. The huge investment needed to build vehicles yields low profit margins compared with tech companies that make software or cell phones, says Michael Ramsey, an analyst with Gartner. GM’s net profit margin in 2016 was 5.7 percent. By comparison, Alphabet Inc., parent of Google, had a 22 percent margin.


Although it’s an automaker, Tesla started in the tech bucket and remains there in the eyes of investors and buyers, Ramsey says.


Tesla’s electric cars are the envy of the industry, and its semi-autonomous technology is among the most advanced on the road. Musk says Tesla’s California assembly plant – which used to be GM’s – will soon be among the most efficient in the world. And it’s branching into areas with potential for bigger returns, including solar panels, energy storage and trucking.

Tesla is absurdly overvalued if based on the past, but that’s irrelevant. A stock price represents risk-adjusted future cash flows,” Musk tweeted in April.


Still, Musk can’t risk any missteps as Tesla pivots from a niche manufacturer of 84,000 high-priced cars per year. The Model 3 sedan, Tesla’s first mainstream car, is due out later this year, but previous launches have been plagued with delays. Tesla has yet to prove it can build high-volume vehicles with quality and reliability, as GM does. Musk aims to make 500,000 vehicles per year in 2018; GM made more than 10 million cars and trucks last year.

GM, too, is stretching into new areas. Its Maven car-sharing service has 35,000 members in 17 North American cities, and it’s providing cars for ride-hailing services. GM is developing autonomous cars with Cruise Automation, a software company purchased last year. Its SuperCruise semi-autonomous driving system, due out this year, is designed to be safer than Tesla’s.


And GM isn’t the only automaker with a stagnant stock price. Of the seven best-selling carmakers in the U.S., only Toyota and Fiat Chrysler have seen significant growth in seven years. Ford, Honda and Hyundai all have lost value.


“Investors and the financial markets are much more interested in investing in the potential of what might be huge than in the reality of what’s already profitable and likely to remain so for years to come,” says Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst with Navigant Research.


Abuelsamid says GM could better trumpet its technology achievements. For instance, it scarcely markets the Bolt. By contrast, Musk builds hype with nightclub-like events for Tesla owners and Twitter banter with 8.8 million followers.


“The only way you can get people to perceive you in the same light as a company like Tesla is to demonstrate it,” Abuelsamid says.


Musk is crucial to Tesla’s success. The risk-taking billionaire founded PayPal and rocket company SpaceX before taking over Tesla. He espouses big ideas like Hyperloop high-speed transportation and colonizing Mars.


Barra, on the other hand, is a methodical engineer who rarely strays from script. She has only 29,500 Twitter followers. She’s a GM lifer who earned a company-paid MBA from Stanford; Musk left a Stanford graduate physics program after just two days to form a publishing startup.


“Mary is like a normal high-level performing executive,” Ramsey says. “Elon Musk is like an almost unrivaled superstar, even in comparison to Silicon Valley executives.”


Still, the big changes in the auto industry are in the early stages. Electric vehicles make up less than 1 percent of global auto sales and fully self-driving cars are years away. The economy can falter and company fortunes can shift. Already this year, sales in the U.S. and China are slowing, and GM pulled out of the European and Indian markets because they weren’t profitable.


GM knows the ups and downs of auto sales, but Tesla will have to learn to manage them. If the Model 3 is late and Tesla sales fall, its stock price could drop and reduce Tesla’s access to cheap capital, Ramsey says.


“I don’t think they’re completely immune to economic cycles,” he says. “That will be when we really know if Tesla can maintain this out-of-whack share value with their fundamentals.”


It’s a Girl? Venus Williams Opens Up on Serena’s Baby

Venus Williams may have revealed the gender of sister Serena Williams’ baby during a post-match interview at the French Open this week.

When asked by Eurosport what the baby will call her, Venus replied, “she’s going to call me favorite aunt.” She added that she and her other sisters are pushing for the child to be named after them.


Serena Williams announced her pregnancy with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in April, but didn’t hint at the baby’s gender.


Venus Williams defeated Kurumi Nara, with Serena looking on from the stands Wednesday. She takes on Elise Mertens in the third round of the French Open on Friday.




US Army Ramps Up Testing of Autonomous Trucks

The United States Army is taking another step toward developing autonomous trucks this month when it tests them on a Michigan highway.

The test, the first on a public road, will feature only flatbed trucks, but the technology could eventually be used in other military vehicles and could help protect troops on the battlefield.

As with the many tests of driverless cars, the trucks will have sensors to stay on course and communicate with one another. Also, like current driverless car efforts, the Army’s test will still see a human behind the wheel just in case something goes wrong.

“In order for automated vehicles to work and work correctly and work safely, that automated vehicle needs to talk very fast, sending data back and forth, first to the vehicles around it,” said Doug Halleaux, public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in an interview with the Times Herald newspaper.

One potential hurdle the test will have to overcome is crossing a steel girder bridge called the Blue Water Bridge. Researchers say the steel could present a challenge to the radar readings, possibly confusing the autonomous system.

The push for autonomous military vehicles stems from the number of deadly attacks on U.S. military convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Michigan highway will remain open to normal traffic during the testing.


EU: Social Media Firms Have Increased Removals of Online Hate Speech

Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube have stepped up both the speed and number of removals of hate speech on their platforms in response to pressure from the European Union to do more to tackle the issue, according to the results of an EU evaluation.

Facebook won particular praise for reviewing most complaints within a 24-hour target timeframe set down in a code of conduct agreed in December by the European Commission,

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube

Calling the results “encouraging” for the Commission’s push for self-regulation, Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said the proportion of offending items taken down had doubled and action was being taken more quickly than when the EU checked six months ago.

“This … shows that a self-regulatory approach can work, if all actors do their part. At the same time, companies … need to make further progress to deliver on all the commitments,” Jourova said in a statement, adding that firms should provide more feedback to people who brought abuses to their attention.

Facebook scored highly on this, Twitter and YouTube less so.

The voluntary code of conduct obliges firms to take action in Europe within 24 hours, following rising concerns about the proliferation of racist and xenophobic content on social media triggered by the refugee crisis and attacks in Western Europe.

This included removing or disabling access to the content if necessary, better cooperation with civil society organizations and the promotion of “counter-narratives” to hate speech.

Facebook assessed notifications of hateful content in less than 24 hours in 58 percent of cases, up from 50 percent in December, according to the report.

Twitter also sped up its dealing with notifications, reviewing 39 percent of them in less than 24 hours, as opposed to 23.5 percent in December, when the Commission first reviewed the companies’ progress and warned them they were being too slow.

YouTube, on the other hand, slowed down, reviewing 42.6 percent of notifications in less than 24 hours, down from 60.8 percent in December, the results showed.

“IT companies have all been improving time and response to notifications on manifest illegal hate speech,” Jourova said at a meeting of the EU High Level Group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance on Wednesday.

“There are differences among the companies … but we can objectively say that all have improved.”

All the companies significantly increased the number of removals. Overall, content was removed in 59.2 percent of cases, more than double the rate in December which was 28.2 percent.

The proliferation of hate speech on social media has increased pressure on the companies to remove the content swiftly as they face the prospect of legislation at both EU and national level.

Last week EU ministers approved plans to force social networks to take measures to block videos with hateful content while the German government approved a plan in April to fine companies up to 50 million euros if they fail to remove hateful postings quickly.

The most common ground of hate speech the Commission identified was xenophobia, including expressions of hatred against migrants and refugees, together with anti-Muslim hatred, followed by ethnic origin.

The spread of fake news and racist content has taken on more urgency in Germany after the arrival of about a million migrants over the last two years.


As Europe Talks Tough on Climate, Data Show Emissions Rose

A new report showed greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union rose in 2015, the first increase since 2010, even as European officials on Thursday urged the United States to remain part of a global climate pact.

Emissions grew by 0.5 percent compared with 2014, mainly due to increases from transportation and a colder winter, the European Environment Agency said.


Greenhouse gases are a major contributor to man-made climate change and most countries around the world have pledged to reduce emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement.


The report was released as the EU is trying to emphasize its commitment to combating global warming, with senior European officials appealing to President Donald Trump not to quit the Paris accord. Trump was scheduled to announce his decision Thursday afternoon in Washington.


“Higher emissions were caused mainly by increasing road transport, both passenger and freight, and slightly colder winter conditions in Europe, compared to 2014, leading to higher demand for heating,” the European Environment Agency said.


It noted that improvements in fuel efficiency failed to offset the growth in traffic.


“Road transport emissions — about 20 percent of total EU greenhouse gas emissions — increased for the second year in a row in 2015, by 1.6 percent,” the agency said.


It noted, however, that the EU has achieved a long-term reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2015 of 22.1 percent despite economic growth of 50 percent.


This decoupling of economic growth from emissions during the 25-year period occurred due to a mix of green policies, such as encouraging the use of renewable energy and improving fuel efficiency, and changes in European economies that have seen a shift away from heavily polluting industries toward service jobs.


Milder winters have also contributed to a decline in heating fuel use, the agency said.

AP-WF-06-01-17 1407GMT



Microsoft Cofounder Unveils Huge Rocket Launching Plane

Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s entry into the commercial space race has been revealed.

Allen posted a picture of a plane nicknamed the “Roc” on Twitter, showing an extremely unusual and enormous plane that he hopes will eventually launch rockets into space.

The Roc has six engines, two fuselages, 28 wheels and is built by Allen’s company Stratolaunch Systems.

The plane has a wingspan of more than 117 meters, the longest ever built, and weighs more than 227,000 kilograms. To put the wingspan into perspective, it is longer than an official soccer pitch, which measure between 100 and 110 meters.

The aircraft is 72.5 meters from nose to tail and stands 15.2 meters tall from the ground to the top of the tail.

In his tweet, Allen said the plane was being taken out of its hangar for fuel testing. Next will come engine testing and taxi testing.

“Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be actively conducting ground and flightline testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port,” Stratolaunch Systems CEO Jean Floyd said. “This is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, so we’re going to be diligent throughout testing and continue to prioritize the safety of our pilots, crew and staff.”

The plane’s maximum takeoff weight can be up to 589,000 kilograms. The company says the plane will first launch an Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket, but that it will be capable of launching up to three rockets in one flight.


Ohio Sues Drug Makers it Accuses of Fueling Opioid Crisis

The U.S. state of Ohio filed a lawsuit Wednesday against five prescription drug manufacturers, saying they used deceptive practices that fueled an opioid addiction epidemic.

“These drug manufacturers led prescribers to believe that opioids were not addictive, that addiction was an easy thing to overcome, or that addiction could actually be treated by taking even more opioids,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “They knew they were wrong, but they did it anyway.”

Five companies

The state wants the companies to stop misrepresenting the drugs, to pay damages for the amount of money the state spent on excessive opioid prescriptions and resulting addiction treatments for patients, and to reimburse patients as well.

The lawsuit names Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon, and Johnson & Johnson with its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

A Janssen statement called the lawsuit legally and factually unfounded and said the company has acted appropriately and responsibly. Purdue said it shares DeWine’s concerns about the opioid crisis and wants to work together on a solution.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says opioids are most commonly given for moderate-to-severe pain after surgery or injury, but that in recent years there has been an increase in their prescription for chronic pain “despite serious risks and the lack of evidence about their long-term effectiveness.”

Tens of thousands died

Opioids, including prescription varieties, and heroin killed a record 33,000 people in the United States in 2015, according to the CDC.

Ohio’s lawsuit says 2.3 million people, or nearly 20 percent of its population, were prescribed an opioid drug last year, and that the drugs are the main source of unintentional overdose deaths in the state. It called the opioid crisis in the state “catastrophic.”

“Because they know prescribing doctors and other health care providers rely on drug companies’ statements in making treatment decisions, drug companies must tell the truth when marketing their drugs and ensure that their marketing claims are supported by science and medical evidence. Defendants broke these simple rules and helped unleash a health care crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social and deadly consequences in the state of Ohio.”

Crisis across US

The effects of the opioid crisis have been felt across the United States, and Ohio is not the first to sue drug companies. Kentucky settled a lawsuit with Purdue in 2015, while a group of 27 states did so with Purdue as well in 2007. Oregon also reached a settlement with another drug maker, Insys, in 2015.

U.S. President Donald Trump pledged during his campaign last year that he would fight the opioid epidemic, which has ravaged many of the rural areas and small towns where Trump received strong support.

The president has created a drug addiction task force, but critics of the budget proposal he unveiled last month said his planned cuts in government spending would hurt the opioid epidemic fight.

Trump’s spending plan would slash funding for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent, eliminating its drug-free communities and high-intensity drug trafficking programs that each have bipartisan congressional support.


NASA May Build GPS for Space Travel

Today’s travelers on land, sea and air rely on one of the satellite-based navigational systems commonly known as GPS, where the G stands for Global. Scientists at NASA will soon start experiments aiming at changing Global to Galactic. For that, they plan to use neutron stars, also known as pulsars, as positioning beacons. VOA’s George Putic visited NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to talk with astrophysicists involved with the project.


Researcher Engineers Protein-Rich Algae as Meat, Soy Substitute

Fighting hunger around the globe is uniquely challenging. It’s not just getting the food to those who need it. It includes growing, or in the case of protein, raising the food that will feed the hungry. But a group of California researchers may have an answer to the protein problem. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


Canada Threatens to Cancel Boeing Order Over Trade Complaint

Canada’s defense minister repeated a threat Wednesday to cancel the purchase of 18 fighter jets from Boeing Co. because of the company’s trade complaint against Canadian plane maker Bombardier.


Harjit Sajjan said Boeing’s action against Bombardier is “unfounded” and not the behavior of a “trusted partner.” He said buying the Super Hornet fighter jets “requires a trusted industry partner.”

Sajjan urged Boeing to withdraw the complaint. Canada’s foreign minister has also threatened to block the order.


“Our government — and I stress this — our government is disappointed in the action of one of our leading industry partners,” he said. 

Complaint could mean duties


Chicago-based Boeing’s trade complaint prompted a U.S. Commerce Department anti-dumping investigation that could result in duties being imposed on Bombardier’s new larger C Series passenger aircraft. Boeing insists the plane receives Canadian government subsidies that give it an advantage internationally.


Canada’s threat is coming amid increasing trade disputes with the U.S. 


Scott Day, a spokesman for Boeing, noted that Sajjan also recognized Boeing as a strong partner in the past and for the future. Day defended the company’s trade action. 


“This is a commercial matter that Boeing is seeking to address through the normal course for resolving such issues,” Day said in an email. 


Boeing petitioned the U.S. Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate subsidies of Montreal-based Bombardier’s C Series aircraft. Boeing says Bombardier has received more than US $3 billion in government subsidies that let it engage in “predatory pricing.”


Brazil has also launched a formal complaint to the World Trade Organization over Canadian subsidies to Bombardier. Sao Paolo-based Embraer is a fierce rival of Bombardier.

Government investment


The Quebec government invested US $1 billion in exchange for a 49.5 percent stake in the C Series last year. Canada’s federal government also recently provided a US $275 million loan to Bombardier, which struggled to win orders for its new medium-size plane. But Bombardier won a 75-plane order for the C Series from U.S.-based Delta Air Lines in 2016. Bombardier said its planes never competed with Boeing in the sale to Delta.


The Canadian government said late last year it would enter into discussions on buying 18 Super Hornet jet fighters from Boeing on an interim basis and hold an open competition to buy more planes over the next five years. Canada remains part of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. 



Angkor Wat Takes Top Spot for Tourist Destination

Angkor Wat has triumphed across the centuries to emerge at the world’s top tourism landmark in TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice awards—for the second time since 2015.

The travel website used — what else? — an algorithm to determine the winners, which were determined by taking into account the quantity and quality of reviews and rankings for landmarks worldwide gathered over a 12-month period.

WATCH: Angkor Wat voted top travel site

Angkor Wat scored 33,000 5-star reviews with comments that included “must see,” “magnificent” and “WOW!” along with admonitions to bring comfortable shoes and bottled water to explore the 250 square kilometers of Angkor Archaeological Park, which includes Angkor Wat and hundreds of other temples.

“This is the Khmer nation’s pride, because Angkor is not only part of the prosperous heritage of Cambodia, but it has also become the heart and soul of the nation,” according to Long Kosal,  a spokesman for the government’s Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA).

Built between the years 802 and 1431, the city of Angkor was the center of the Khmer empire in what is now Cambodia, until it was toppled by internal power struggles, foreign invasion and climate change.

‘Unique concentration of features’

A complex of temples, basins, dikes, reservoirs and canals, the site “is a unique concentration of features testifying to an exceptional civilization,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Angkor was, according to World Archaeology, “the most extensive urban complex in the pre-industrial world.”

Angkor topped the 2015 TripAdvisor landmarks list, and last year Lonely Planet, another travel site, gave the temples of Angkor the top spot.

Ang Kim Eang, founder of the Great Angkor Tour Company, said the most recent award, which was made on May 23, will bolster tourism as more people become aware of the temples. But he cautioned that it was important to educate tourists about how to behave while visiting the sacred site, as visitor numbers continue to rise.

Code of conduct

To prevent damage to the complex, the APSARA provides a code of conduct with video on its site.

“They don’t have any knowledge,” he said. “They did not pay respect to the Buddha statues while they are visiting. We are worried especially when it is crowded.”

Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a George Washington University professor who is director of the masters of tourism administration program, on Wednesday told VOA Cambodia “the way you preserve a cultural heritage site is that you put caps on admission. I did see that they doubled the admission prices in 2016, which is one way to control capacity.”

For foreign tourists, the price of a one-day pass increased from $20 to $37, a three-day ticket from $40 to $62 and a seven-day pass from $60 to $72. Cambodians enter without charge.

Golden Gate Gate Bridge top US landmark

In 1993, when Agkor Wat was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, there were 7,650 recorded visitors. Last year, 2.2 million tourists visited the temple complex, Kosal said, bringing in more than $62 million to government coffers. So far this year, about 950,000 tourists have visited Angkor Wat. In April, 63,541 Chinese tourists visited the complex, far in excess of the 17,217 South Koreans and 12,660 visitors from the United Kingdom, according to government statistics.

Until November 2015, the complex was leased to a company owned by Sok Kong, a petroleum magnate close to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Since then, it has been under government control.

The 2017 TripAdvisor awards honored 706 landmarks in 82 countries, with the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the Mezquita Cathedral de Cordoba in Cordoba, Spain, St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, and the Taj Mahal in India occupying the next four positions. The 80-year-old Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco holds 11th place worldwide and is the top-rated U.S. landmark.



Investors Push Exxon on Climate Change, Diverge With Trump

Major investors put U.S. industry on notice Wednesday that climate change matters, even as reports emerged that President Donald Trump plans to withdraw the United States from an international pact to fight global warming.

A number of large institutional fund firms including BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, supported a shareholder resolution calling on ExxonMobil to share more information about how new technologies and climate change regulations could impact the business of the world’s largest publicly traded oil company. The proposal won the support of 62.3 percent of votes cast.

The victory, on such a wide margin, was hailed by climate activists as a turning point in their decades-long campaign to get oil and gas companies to communicate how they would adapt to a low-carbon economy.

Major investors see major risk

With major investors now seeing climate change as a major risk, activists said U.S. corporations will have to be more transparent about the impact of a warming planet even if the United States withdraws from the 2015 Paris climate accord, as Trump promised during his presidential campaign.

“Economic forces are outrunning any other considerations,” said Anne Simpson, investment director for sustainability at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, one of the sponsors of the resolution.

She credited big investors in Exxon for the change, since at least some of them switched their votes after last year when a similar measure won just 38 percent support.

“We have seen a sea change in their viewpoint,” she said.

Many top investors now consider their votes on shareholder proposals “on merit, rather than considering it a test of loyalty to management,” she said.

Among Exxon’s top investors, Vanguard Group and BlackRock opposed last year’s call for climate change reporting. A spokeswoman for Vanguard, which has about 7 percent of Exxon’s shares, declined to comment on its voting this year.

A person familiar with the matter said funds run by BlackRock, which holds about 6 percent of Exxon shares, voted in favor of the climate resolution.

Filings showing their exact votes are not due for months.

But both fund firms and others have taken steps since last year to make it easier to support climate resolutions.

Doug Holt, a spokesman for Exxon’s ninth-largest investor Northern Trust Corp, said it voted in favor of the proposal, citing its own guidelines updated in 2016.

Vote from the street

The investment firms’ approach reflects a new interest in climate matters among their own investors, who have stuffed money into so-called green mutual funds and other vehicles that use environmental factors in their stock picking.

Wall Street’s priorities have shifted the terms of debate at a number of other energy and utility companies. A majority of shareholders voting at Occidental Petroleum Corp and PPL Corp called for similar reports on the risks of climate change. Votes on two more of the measures are scheduled for June 7 at Devon Energy and at Hess.

Michael Crosby, involved in corporate outreach for the Midwest Capuchin Franciscans, a religious order, said Wednesday’s vote was a rejection of Exxon’s arguments it already provides enough detail on its outlook.

“The Street is saying, you have to give better evidence,” Crosby said.

Exxon and the Paris deal

After the measure passed, Exxon Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods said its board would reconsider its climate communications.

The activists now face the task of maintaining alliances with leaders like Woods who opposed their resolutions but who in some cases support the 195-nation Paris agreement. Exxon said in a March 22 letter to the White House that the Paris deal is “an effective framework for addressing the risks of climate change.”

Trump had at least one ally at Exxon’s meeting in Dallas, Steven Milloy of Potomac, Maryland, who urged other investors to support his resolution that would make it harder to file proposals like the one on climate change.

Milloy said management should show less concern for climate issues, which he called misplaced, and cited Trump as a model.

“For the first time we have a president who actively opposes climate hysteria,” Milloy said.

According to Exxon, Milloy’s proposal received support from 1.6 percent of votes cast.


You Could Be Dancing … on ‘Saturday Night Fever’ Disco Floor

The Saturday Night Fever dance floor where John Travolta captured the 1970s disco craze is going up for sale next month and could fetch up to $1.5 million, the auctioneers said Wednesday.

The dance floor that lit up in red, blue and yellow in rhythm with the music was custom-built for the 1977 movie whose soundtrack featured disco hits by the Bee Gees, including Night Fever and You Should Be Dancing.

The floor, measuring 24 feet by 16 feet (7 meters by 5 meters) and housing more than 250 separate light compartments, was fitted into a small club in Brooklyn for the film’s famous dance scenes, said Profiles in History, a Calabasas, California-based auction house.

It will go up for auction in Los Angeles during the June 26-28 Profiles in History Hollywood Auction, and carries an estimated price of $1 million to $1.5 million.

Vito Bruno, who owns the floor, said he started his career at 2001 Odyssey, the club in Brooklyn where Saturday Night Fever was filmed. The club later changed its name and then closed in 2005.

“I received a call from a friend telling me that the club was closing and they were auctioning off the contents, including the legendary dance floor, so I bought it,” said Bruno, the chief executive of New York-based party planning group AMPM Entertainment.

“I have had the dance floor for a few years now. It’s one of the most recognizable pieces of film memorabilia in history, but I’ve decided it’s time to share it with the world,” he said.

Saturday Night Fever, the story of a working-class Brooklyn youth trying to break out of his dead-end life through dancing, launched Travolta as an international movie star.

Travolta rehearsed for months to perfect his dance moves, and his white-suited disco dancer became one of the enduring images of the 1970s disco scene.

In 2010, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


Big Data Maps India’s Human Traffic Hot Spots

An Indian charity is using big data to pinpoint human trafficking hot spots in a bid to prevent vulnerable women and girls vanishing from high-risk villages into the sex trade.

My Choices Foundation uses specially designed technology to identify those villages that are most at risk of modern slavery, then launches local campaigns to sound the alarm.

“The general Indian public is still largely unaware that trafficking exists, and most parents have no idea that their children are actually being sold into slavery,” said Elca Grobler, the founder of My Choices Foundation.

“That’s why grass-roots awareness and education at the village level is so important to ending the human traffic trade,” Grobler said in a statement released late Tuesday.

The analytics tool — developed by Australian firm Quantium — uses a range of factors to identify the most dangerous villages.

It draws on India’s census, education and health data and factors such as drought risk, poverty levels, education and job opportunities to identify vulnerable areas.

Red alert

There are an estimated 46 million people enslaved worldwide, with more than 18 million living in India, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index. The Index was compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, a global organization seeking to end modern slavery.

Many are villagers lured by traffickers with the promise of a good job and an advance payment, only to find themselves or their children forced to work in fields or brick kilns, enslaved in brothels and sold into sexual slavery.

Almost 20,000 women and children were victims of human trafficking in India in 2016, a rise of nearly 25 percent from the previous year, according to government data.

While India has strengthened its anti-trafficking policy in recent years, activists say a lack of public awareness remains one of the biggest impediments.

In 2014, My Choices Foundation launched “Operation Red Alert,” offering educational programs to inform parents, teachers, village leaders and children about traffickers.

But with more than 600,000 villages across India and limited resources, the charity teamed up with Quantium to build the new data tool and use methods old and new to fight the criminals.

“We are helping to banish human trafficking, one village at a time, through a combination of highly sophisticated technology and grass-roots … education,” said Grobler.