Day: June 6, 2017

US, Mexico Reach Sugar Pact Without Backing from US Producers

The U.S. and Mexican governments reached a new agreement to significantly shift their sugar trade mix, but U.S. sugar producers have failed to endorse the deal, leaving question marks over whether it could still sour broader trade relations.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the “agreement in principle” with Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo calls for Mexico to reduce the share of refined sugar in its exports to the United States, while increasing the share of raw sugar.

He said Mexico met nearly every request by the U.S. sugar industry to fix problems with a 2014 sugar trade agreement.

“Unfortunately, despite all of these gains, the U.S. sugar industry has said it is unable to support the agreement in its present form,” Ross said without elaborating on their objections.

He added that the agreement would go through a final drafting stage in which he hoped that the U.S. producers could come on board with it.

Asked how long this would take, Ross said, “It should be days, not weeks or months.”

The deal cut by Ross and Guajardo leaves Mexico’s overall access to the U.S. sugar market unchanged but refined sugar must fall to 30 percent of overall imports from Mexico from a previous limit 53 percent.

It also lifts the U.S. price paid for Mexican raw sugar to 23 cents per pound from 22.25 cents, while, the price for refined sugar will rise to 28 cents per pound from 26 cents.

These prices exclude shipping and packaging costs, the Commerce Department said in a summary.

An agreement was expected to help avoid potential retaliation from Mexico on imports of U.S. high-fructose corn syrup, a trade battle that would heighten U.S.-Mexico tensions as both countries along with Canada prepare to begin renegotiating the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement in August.

Ross on Monday extended the deadline for the negotiations by 24 hours to complete what he called “final technical consultations” for a deal.

Sources on both sides of the border said on Monday that the U.S. sugar industry had added new demands outside of the terms agreed on earlier in the day by the two governments.

U.S. refiners have complained that high-quality Mexican raw sugar was going straight to sugar consumers, rather than passing through U.S. refineries.

The deal would mark the culmination of a years-long dispute between the countries over sugar, after U.S. groups three years ago asked the government for protection from dumping of subsidized imports from Mexico.

In 2014, the U.S. government slapped large duties on Mexican sugar but hammered out a deal with Mexico that suspended those levies. Factions of the U.S. industry have said that the deal has failed to eliminate harm from Mexican imports.

The U.S. industry involved in the dispute include a coalition of cane and beet farming groups as well as ASR Group, the maker of Domino Sugar that is owned by the politically connected Fanjul family.

ASR and fellow cane refiner Imperial Sugar, owned by commodities firm Louis Dreyfus Company BV, have said they are being starved of raw supplies under the current deal.

They have asked the U.S. government to terminate the pact.

The latest talks began in March, two months after U.S. President Donald Trump took office vowing a tougher line on trade to protect U.S. industry and jobs.


Ariana Grande Becomes British Heroine with Manchester Concert

U.S. pop star Ariana Grande, hardly a household name in Britain before a suicide bomber killed 22 people at her Manchester concert in May, has emerged as a national heroine there following an emotional televised benefit performance.

In the days following Grande’s sold-out show on Sunday, which raised some $3 million for a victims fund and became the U.K.’s most-watched TV broadcast of the year, Britons have embraced the 23-year-old singer. They have called for her to be formally honored by Queen Elizabeth and the city of Manchester.

At the One Love Manchester concert, Grande hugged a weeping schoolgirl as they performed her hit “My Everything” before a crowd of 55,000 people.

The tiny performer ended the show alone on stage, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in tears.

Her team is working to release that emotional final number as a single to raise even more money for victims, the U.K.’s Independent newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The concert served as a catharsis for many in Manchester and all of Britain, moving British tabloid journalist Piers Morgan to write Grande a lengthy public apology for doubting her courage.

“By coming back to Manchester so soon, shrugging off the latest attack in London, standing on that stage and performing with such raw emotion and power, you showed more guts, resilience, strength of character and “Blitz spirit” than every sniveling, pathetic ISIS coward put together,” Morgan wrote in the Daily Mail.

Grande was herself a survivor of the May 22 bombing, still inside Manchester Arena when an explosion ripped through the lobby area following her encore. Morgan had criticized the apparently shaken singer for quickly returning home to Florida instead of staying to console victims.

But within days Grande and her team began organizing the benefit, which overcame considerable logistical and security obstacles to take place less than two weeks later. Days before the show, she turned up unannounced at a Manchester-area hospital to visit young girls wounded in the attack.

Grande carried on with Sunday’s show despite the attack in London the night before in which seven people were killed. She enlisted fellow entertainers such as Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Coldplay and Oasis frontman and Manchester native Liam Gallagher.

Daily Telegraph columnist Victoria Lambert similarly apologized for dismissing Grande, who first gained fame on the Nickelodeon teen comedy “Victorious,” as a lightweight pop star not fit to be a role model for her daughter.

“Because far from being a cliched child star, Grande has shown herself to be a perfect role model for our daughters after all,” Lambert wrote.


Report: International Tourism to US Stronger Than Expected

More international visitors came to the U.S. than expected in April 2017, according to a new report released Tuesday in Washington.


The U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Trends Index shows that international travel to the U.S. grew by about 4 percent in April, compared with data for April 2016.


The strong showing contradicted fears that tourism from abroad would slow in reaction to President Donald Trump’s proposed travel bans, which have been blocked by court challenges.


The Trump administration’s first ban on travel from a handful of mostly Muslim countries was issued Jan. 27. The Travel Association said any fallout from the travel bans would have begun to show up in April travel data.


“Are we surprised by this data? The honest answer is yes,” U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow said in a statement. “There have been many claims that the administration’s actions on travel have tarnished America’s brand abroad, but we’re seeing hard economic evidence of the U.S. travel sector’s remarkable resilience.”


The U.S. Travel Association statistics also suggest that a slowdown in international arrivals that began in the spring of 2016 may be moderating.

Data from the U.S. Commerce Department has been showing a decline in international arrivals over the second and third quarters of last year. Those statistics take months to compile and will not reflect 2017 arrivals until next year. The government data is also more comprehensive, including, for example, border crossings by car from Canada and Mexico, which the U.S. Travel Association data does not include.

It’s also not unusual for travel spending and arrivals numbers to fluctuate month to month due to seasonal tourism and other economic factors.


The Travel Trends Index is compiled in partnership with Oxford Economics, using multiple sources including hotel and airline data.


The U.S. Travel Association is a national nonprofit organization representing the travel industry, dedicated to increasing travel within and to the U.S.



EU Hopes for Western Balkan Common Market by Mid-2018

The European Union hopes six Balkan countries will agree at a summit on July 12 in Italy to create a regional common market that could be working within a year, a top EU official said Tuesday, in the bloc’s latest step to re-engage the region.

The EU is eager to show it remains committed to the Balkan region despite public hostility at home to further eastern enlargement of the bloc following years of economic crisis, high unemployment and the rise of euroskeptic and populist parties.

The Western Balkan common market, which would remove barriers to trade, introduce standardized rules for businesses and lift obstacles to working across the region, would build on an existing regional free-trade accord, said European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who oversees EU membership bids.

“We hope to get endorsement for this at the Trieste summit,” Hahn said of the next annual gathering of Western Balkans leaders with top EU officials.

“With the political will, we can have this done within a year,” he told reporters, adding that the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, would help the process.

Pointing toward EU

The six Western Balkan nations, still scarred by wars fought in the 1990s and plagued by political and ethnic divisions, all hope eventually to join the EU. The six are Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The EU sees a common market of 20 million people across the six nations as a way to strengthen the Balkan economy, calm ethnic tensions, counter Russian influence and reinvigorate the region’s bid to join the bloc, diplomats say.

Hahn said the common market would help prepare countries for the EU’s single market, which breaks down barriers to trading across the bloc, giving unfettered access to consumers.

“This is an attempt to create a positive atmosphere in the Balkans, to create new business opportunities. It should be achievable,” Hahn said.

Hahn also stressed that any agreement would not remove all remaining tariff barriers because Kosovo relies on customs duties for a third of its revenues.


Alleged Cosby Sex Assault Victim: ‘I Wanted It to Stop’

The woman who accused comedian Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting her in 2004 told her story for the first time publicly Tuesday at the entertainer’s trial.

Andrea Constand, a former Temple University basketball official, told the suburban Philadelphia courtroom Tuesday that she visited the comic’s Philadelphia home for career advice. She told how Cosby allegedly gave her three blue pills, telling her they were to reduce stress.

“They’re your friends. They’ll take the edge off,” she said Cosby told her.

Constand said the pills instead left her paralyzed and unable to fend off Cosby’s sexual advances.

“In my head, I was trying to get my hands to move or my legs to move, but I was frozen. I wasn’t able to fight in any way. I wanted it to stop,” she said.

She alleged that Cosby put his hands under her shirt and on her genitals.

Cosby whispered to his lawyers and shook his head during her testimony.

His defense lawyers asked Constand why she continued to telephone Cosby after the alleged assault and attended one of his comedy shows.

Constand said it was just business concerning the university basketball team. But the defense emphasized inconsistencies between Constand’s testimony and in accounts she gave to police a decade ago, including how she first met the actor.

The cross-examination will continue Wednesday.

The court also heard from the mother of another one of Cosby’s alleged victims, who corroborated her daughter’s testimony of being assaulted by the comedian in 1996.

More than 50 women allege that Cosby sexually assaulted them in incidents dating back to the 1960s, when he emerged as a major comedy star. Most would have happened too long ago to prosecute.

Constand’s complaint is the only one that has come to trial. Cosby has denied all the charges and is not expected to take the stand.

Cosby is known for his stand-up comedy routines focusing on his Philadelphia childhood and growing up in a middle-class black family. He played a wise and genial doctor in his 1980s television comedy series The Cosby Show. It was the country’s most popular television series for several years, but is scarcely rebroadcast anymore.


Driverless Bus-train Hybrid Runs on Virtual Painted Tracks

A Chinese company has unveiled a driverless bus-train hybrid that uses white lines painted on the road to navigate.

The company, CRRC, called the electric vehicle a “smart bus.”

The Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit is made up of three cars, is 30 meters long and is capable of carrying about 500 passengers. It can reportedly reach speeds up to 70 kilometers per hour and can travel 25 kilometers on one 10-minute charge.

It uses sensors to stay on the white line.

The smart bus is much cheaper than building a rail track. This makes it ideal for cities that have growing demand for public transit, but not enough money to build subways.

According to state media, Xinhua, it costs $102 million to build a kilometer of subway and only $2 million for the ART.

The first line will be a 6.5 kilometer route expected to start running in 2018 in Zhuzhou.


US Army Base Goes Green With Renewable Energy Project

The U.S. military’s biggest base on American soil has begun drawing nearly half of its power from renewable energy, days after President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of a global agreement to fight climate change.

Fort Hood, in Texas, has shifted away from fossil fuels to wind- and solar-generated energy in order to shield the base from its dependence on outside sources, a spokesman said.

“We need to be autonomous. If the unfortunate thing happened and we were under attack or someone attacked our power grid, you’d certainly want Fort Hood to be able to respond,” Chris Haug, a spokesman for Fort Hood, said in a phone interview.

The project brings the Army base, home to 36,500 active-duty personnel and some 6,000 buildings, in line with the Department of Defense’s decade-long effort to convert its fossil fuel-hungry operations to renewable power.

It comes in the wake of Trump’s decision last week to withdraw the United States from a landmark global agreement to fight climate change, the Paris accord, a move that drew condemnation from world leaders and heads of industry.

The project is already fully operational. Its 63,000 solar panels, located on the base’s grounds, and 21 off-base wind turbines provide a total of some 65 megawatts of power, according to an Army statement.

Previously, some 77 percent of base’s energy was generated by fossil fuels, a 2015 draft report assessing the renewable energy plan shows.

Burning fossil fuel generates greenhouse gases that are blamed by scientists for warming the planet.

The Paris accord aims to reduce such emissions, including by encouraging a shift to clean energy.

Fort Hood’s new solar field and wind farm will result in savings of more than $100 million over some 30 years, the Army said.

Over the last decade, the U.S. military and intelligence officials have developed a broad agreement about the security threats that climate change presents, in part by threatening to cause natural disasters in densely populated coastal areas, damage American military bases worldwide and open up new natural resources to global competition.

The number of military renewable energy projects nearly tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015, a Reuters analysis of Department of Defense data previously showed.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a Department of Defense agency assisting the Army in its renewable-energy shift, is also working with the U.S. Air Force on long-term renewable energy projects, a DLA spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Qatari Riyal Under Pressure as Saudi, UAE Banks Delay Qatar Deals

Qatar’s currency came under pressure on Tuesday as Gulf Arab commercial banks started holding off on business with Qatari banks because of a diplomatic rift in the region.

Banking sources said some banks from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain delayed letters of credit and other deals with Qatari banks after their governments cut diplomatic ties and transport links with Doha on Monday, accusing Qatar of backing terrorism.

Saudi Arabia’s central bank advised banks in the kingdom not to trade with Qatari banks in Qatari riyals, the sources told Reuters. The central bank did not respond to a request for comment.

Qatar has dismissed the terrorism charge and welcomed a Kuwaiti mediation effort. Doha, the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas exporter, says it has enough reserves to support its banks and its riyal currency, which is pegged to the dollar.

Qatari banks have been borrowing abroad to fund their activities. Their foreign liabilities ballooned to 451 billion riyals ($124 billion) in March from 310 billion riyals at the end of 2015, central bank data shows.

So any extended disruption to their ties with foreign banks could potentially threaten a funding crunch for some Qatari banks. Banks from the UAE, Europe and elsewhere have been lending to Qatari institutions.

Gulf banking sources, who declined to be named because of political sensitivities, said Saudi Arabian, UAE and Bahraini banks were postponing deals until they received guidance from their central banks on how to handle Qatar.

“We will not take action without central bank guidance, but it is wise to evaluate what you give to Qatari clients and hold off until there is further clarity,” said a UAE banker, adding that trade finance had stalled for the time being.

The sources said the UAE and Bahraini central banks had asked banks under their supervision to report their exposure to Qatari banks. The UAE and Bahraini central banks did not reply to requests for comment.


With an estimated $335 billion of assets in its sovereign wealth fund and its gas exports earning billions of dollars every month, Qatar has enough financial power to protect its banks.

“We are watching the financial sector very closely. If the market needs liquidity, the central bank will definitely provide liquidity,” a Qatari central bank official told Reuters.

Nevertheless, losing some of their foreign business links could be uncomfortable for Qatari banks because they have been expanding their loans faster than other banks in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. To fund this, they have been seeking loans and deposits from the rest of the GCC.

Among large banks, Doha Bank and Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) are the most exposed to GCC deposits, with QIB obtaining a quarter of its deposits from the GCC, said Olivier Panis, analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.

“We need to look into the maturity of those deposits but if they’re short-term deposits, this could expose the banks rapidly to reduced confidence from GCC institutions,” he said.

Doha Bank and QIB did not respond to requests for comment.

Because of such worries, the Qatari riyal fell in the spot market on Tuesday to 3.6470 against the U.S. dollar, its lowest level since June 2016, although it later rebounded to 3.6405, almost equal to its official peg of 3.64.

It also fell slightly in the one-year forwards market, where traders bet on rates 12 months from now.

The riyal’s drop “is based on speculation,” the Qatari central bank official said, adding Doha had a “huge cushion” of foreign currency to support the riyal if necessary.

A commercial banker in fellow GCC state Kuwait, which did not sever diplomatic ties with Qatar, said on Tuesday that business with Qatari institutions was continuing as normal.

But there were signs that Qatar’s financial ties might be damaged well beyond the Gulf. Some Sri Lankan banks stopped buying Qatari riyals, saying counterpart banks in Singapore had advised them not to accept the currency.

In Egypt, which also cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar, some banks resumed dealing in Qatari riyals after halting trade on Monday, but others appeared to be continuing to limit transactions with Doha.

Banks reducing their business with Qatar could lose out financially, but the damage looks likely to be relatively minor.

Panis at Moody’s estimated under 2 percent of Saudi banking sector assets were related to Qatar and the figure was around 5 percent for Bahrain, while the UAE’s exposure was also small.



Cities Push Back as Trump Aims to Cut Anti-Terrorism Funding

Cities are pushing back on the possibility of losing millions of dollars in U.S. anti-terrorism grants under President Donald Trump’s spending plan — the third straight White House that has moved to cut the funding.


The proposed budget would cut cash for the program from $605 million to nearly $449 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and require cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas to pay 25 percent of the grants.


The administration says it is proposing the cost-share system, similar to other grant programs, to “share accountability” with states and cities.


But lawmakers and local officials argue that reducing funding for the Urban Area Security Initiative would undercut efforts to maintain safe communities. Cities have spent the money on command centers, active-shooter training and personnel to patrol airports, transit hubs and waterways.


Big cities have been down this road before, with funding fluctuating over the years.


President George W. Bush created the grant program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but scaled it back in his second term. President Barack Obama’s proposed 2017 budget suggested slashing the funding from $600 million to $330 million.


In each instance, local politicians reacted with outrage and questioned the wisdom of taking away money in the fight against terrorism. This year, Congress ignored Obama’s guidance and increased funding by $5 million.


But some cities that have received grants in previous years have not spent all the money, another reason the White House says the changes are needed.


The proposed cuts came a day after the deadly Manchester, England, concert bombing and the same day authorities in Las Vegas tried to ease concerns about the city being targeted in a recent Islamic State propaganda video. It encouraged knife and vehicle attacks and featured images of Sin City, Times Square in New York and banks in Washington, D.C.


Law enforcement officials in Orlando, Florida, told a congressional committee weeks after a nightclub became the site of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history that central Florida had missed out on needed training and opportunities to buy equipment because it had not made the cut to receive funding.


Grants are awarded to the highest-ranked urban areas on a list determined by risk of terrorist threats based on past plots or a known presence; whether its infrastructure is a valuable target; and the consequence of an attack on the population, economy or national security.


Last year, the 29 highest-ranked metro areas that applied for a grant received funding.


The Las Vegas area has spent the money on training and equipment for bomb and hazardous-material squads along with computer software and hardware at a law enforcement command center.


Las Vegas received almost $3 million in fiscal year 2016. Irene Navis, planning coordinator and assistant emergency manager in Nevada’s Clark County, said the area would be able to meet the proposed 25 percent cost-share requirement.


“Fortunately, not one agency is going to get the whole amount; it’s split up,” Navis said. “So, for one agency, it might be that they get $25,000 for equipment and the match is really small. Agencies that get a large amount of money, that’s something that they would have to consider. But, in general, in our urban area, it would not be a problem.”

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat whose district includes the Las Vegas Strip, called the funding change a “pay-to-play scheme.”


“It is unimaginable that the administration believes southern Nevada’s security will be improved by cutting vital programs that protect residents and travelers in our community,” she said.


But the government questions why state and local governments aren’t spending all the money if it’s so important.


“The federal government cannot afford to over-invest in programs that state and local partners are slow to utilize when there are other pressing needs,” according to a written justification from the Trump administration.


The office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who has sparred with Obama and Trump on the grants, says that because of government procurement rules, it can take time for cities and states to spend the money. But he says that does not mean they have not allocated the money or don’t need it.


New York City received the largest grant last year at more than $178 million, followed by Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.


“America’s cities are critical partners in the fight against terrorism — and taking away this funding would undermine the national priority to secure the homeland,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, said in a statement.


Chinese Firms Help Government Monitor Citizens with Big Data

A Chinese city is using big data provided by a phone company to track the movement of its migrant worker population, expanding the many ways China is using big data to not just enhance performance but also track the daily lives of its citizens.

“When you buy a mobile phone SIM card, you need to register your identity information,” said an officer of China Mobile designated at the company’s booth during the recent Big Data Expo in southwest China’s Guiyang city. He was explaining how the mobile phone company is assisting Guiyang police about the movement of migrants in the city on a real-time basis.

“So, we can obtain information about the people in a given area and details like whether they are men or women, their age, and where they come from,” he said.

Very suddenly, big data is set to take up many of the responsibilities of the Communist Party’s feedback mechanism. It is also expected to act as feedstock for the anti-corruption campaign, which has been using information about spending on wines and luxury buying for the purpose of investigations.

Social profiling

China has already introduced a system data-driven social credit rating system in 40 towns and cities, which will be expanded to the entire country by 2020.

Information about a person buying expensive wine, foreign luxury goods or an air ticket would be fed into a giant system which will analyze blocks of data to keep the government informed about the situation on the ground.

The tracking of people posting critical comments in social media is already going on and social media data will also be fed into the system, which goes far beyond financial credit ratings practiced in developed countries. Here, the system isn’t focused entirely on debts and earnings, but on economic and social behaviors with an intention to allocate rewards and punishments.

China’s Internet-based companies are eagerly joining the government’s grand experiment. Mobike, a bike hiring company is giving out award points for bicycle users to voluntarily inspect parked bikes and inform the company about the misbehavior of other bikers.

A big data based information system might help improve the working of the police force in some respects. Officials in the government’s education and health departments said big data is being introduced as a tool improve delivery systems.

Risks for many

But it can also help authorities in tracking the movement of political dissidents, journalists, NGO workers, foreign companies and individuals, analysts said.

“For international companies operating in China, the Social Credit System poses significant challenges,” Mirjam Meissner, an expert with Mercator Institute of China Studies in Berlin, said. “They will probably be fully integrated into the system’s mechanisms and could see their freedom of decision-making in China significantly constrained,” she said.

At the same time, the rating system could create a more level playing field, since both domestic and international companies would be subject to the same rating mechanisms, Meissner said.

Kweichow Moutai Group, which produces high-end wines, has introduced a mobile phone app and encourages buyers to make online purchases.

“We monitor online sales to analyze the proportion of our potential users and our actual users. So, we can allocate our promotion efforts in different regions based on the information,” an official posted at the company’s booth at the Guiyang Big Data Expo said.

“The data is only for decision-making support to our company, and our data is not being made public,” he said.

However, officials from several companies confirmed that they routinely share data with government departments. For instance, the government’s tourism department collects data from online ticket selling companies and airlines to determine the flow of Chinese tourists to specific countries, and judge which destination is attracting high-spenders.

This information is seen as a major asset for the government, which is anxious about the movement of money and talent out of China. In addition, China is widely believed to use tourism as a political lever in dealing with foreign governments.

For instance, it is believed to have actively discouraged the movement of Chinese tourists to South Korea during the recent controversy over the installation of the U.S.-made THAAD anti-missile system. China and South Korea are now discussing the resumption of tourist flows as part of a new effort to mend forces.



Diplomats Plant Seagrass to Celebrate World Environment Day

To celebrate the June 5 World Environment Day, diplomats from more than a dozen foreign embassies and international organizations Monday joined the U.S. State Department to plant underwater seagrass in the Potomac River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.


Diplomats told VOA their participation in “green diplomacy” is to help raise awareness of the challenges of clean water here and at home.


Underwater grasses growing in shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay add oxygen to the water, provide wildlife with food and habitat, absorb nutrient pollution, trap sediment and reduce erosion, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.


Representatives from China, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Iraq, Malta, Pakistan, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the European Union and the World Bank, have been growing seagrasses in their chanceries or ambassadors’ residences since January 2017.


After six months of grow-out, diplomats gathered at the Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, VA to plant their grasses to bolster grass populations and help restore the Chesapeake Bay.


Nursing the grasses is a challenge.


“My gosh, it is very difficult,” Anggarini Sesotyoningtyas from Embassy of Indonesia’s Economic Affairs office told VOA.


“It’s not just like regular plant ‘cause I think it really needs a careful maintenance and care,” said Sesotyoningtyas, adding that the first few days were making sure grass-growing kits were set up correctly, then checking constantly that the seeds were growing. 


By working with the CBF’s “Grasses for the Masses” program, diplomats are demonstrating the commitment to environmental protection.  


“Underwater grasses are great to protect the natural ecosystem. They offer a lot of benefits for the water. One of the neat things about grasses is they provide shade for some of the river critters or the bay critters. They also provide oxygen to the water, bring in more oxygen, they help trap pollution,“ said Rebecca LePrell, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia executive director.

Addressing the challenge of clean water is part of the State Department’s green diplomacy initiative.  

“It’s certainly something that many other countries, most other countries, struggle with as well. And so it’s something that we share in common and can work around a simple product that can be taken to other countries to use. Just simple six months of growing grasses makes a huge benefit to waterways,“ the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions director Cliff Seagroves told VOA.


Some diplomats say the U.S. decision to leave the Paris agreement will affect their partnerships. Instead of country-to-country relationships, they will instead focus on cooperation with local governments and communities. 


“My job here at the embassy is environmental cooperation with the United States.That might take a different form going forward. We might focus more on state local actors, on the business community who have been very loud in their opposition to the pulling out with the Paris agreement and want to continue to fight climate change,” said Anton Hufnagl from the Germany Embassy.


By helping restore seagrass in the Chesapeake Bay, the State Department said it aims to raise awareness of the challenge of clean water, both in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and around the world.  


It also is an opportunity for the U.S. to work with the foreign diplomatic community to address an environmental challenge that people face globally.


Turning a Climbing Wall Into a Video Game

Exercising can be boring. Really, really boring. That’s why the video game industry has attempted to incorporate game technology into an otherwise boring routine. They’ve had some success, but here’s the newest take: combine a climbing wall, a camera, a projector and a simple video game system and you’ve got something new and fun. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


Newly ID’d Fossil Shows Unique African Dinosaurs

A fossil of one of the last dinosaurs living in Africa before their extinction 66 million years ago has been discovered in Morocco. Faith Lapidus has details.


Diplomats Plant Underwater Seagrass in Potomac River to Celebrate World Environment Day

To celebrate World Environment Day (June 5th) representatives of more than a dozen embassies and international organizations joined the State Department to plant underwater seagrass in the Potomac River. Diplomats say their participation in “green diplomacy” is to help raise awareness of the challenges of clean water here at at home. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching reports.


With a Sloppy ‘Kiss,’ Intrepid Fish Enjoys Perilous Feast

A kiss from a colorful reef fish called a tubelip wrasse is no one’s idea of romance, being so full of slime and suction, but it is perfectly suited for eating a hazardous diet using one of the animal kingdom’s most unique feeding strategies.

Scientists on Monday described for the first time how the fish thrives in the Indian Ocean and central-western Pacific as one of the few creatures capable of dining on corals, one of the planet’s most difficult menu items.

Corals are marine organisms boasting thin, mucus-covered flesh that contains venomous, stinging cells spread over a razor-sharp skeleton. Of the more than 6,000 fish species that live on reefs, only about 128 eat corals. Scientists knew that the yellow-and-purple tubelip wrasse was one of them, but how it did it was a mystery.

The researchers used a scanning electron microscope to determine the structure of its fleshy, pouty-looking lips and high-speed video to learn what it does while feeding.

“Kissing the mucus and flesh of corals with self-lubricating lips was not what we were expecting,” said marine biologist Víctor Huertas of James Cook University in Australia.

The thick lips of the fish, which reaches about 7 inches (18 cm) long, were found to be made of a tightly packed series of thin folds of tissue, like the underside of a mushroom top, covered in slime from mucus-secreting cells.

“To our knowledge, this type of lip has never been recorded before,” James Cook University marine biologist David Bellwood said.

They discovered that the fish approaches the coral slowly and inspects its surface, protrudes its jaws, then produces powerful suction as its lips make contact with the coral for two-100ths of a second. In that scant time, it ingests the flesh and coral mucus off the coral skeleton.

“It looks exactly like a quick kiss with a distinctive ‘tuk’ sound,” Huertas said, “often leaving a coral ‘hickie,’ which is actually a patch of flesh sucked off the skeleton.”

“It would be a good basis for a horror movie,” Bellwood added.

The mucous coat may protect the lips from the stinging cells, help to seal them against the coral surface to enhance suction force and serve as a conveyor belt that captures the coral mucus and the stinging cells being ingested, the researchers said.

The research was published in the journal Current Biology.


Bob Dylan Delivers Nobel Lecture

Bob Dylan has completed his Nobel course requirements.

The Swedish Academy announced Monday that it has received the mandatory lecture from the 2016 literature winner, enabling Dylan to collect 8 million Swedish kronor ($922,000) in prize money.

Spokeswoman Sara Danius described Dylan’s talk in a news release as “extraordinary” and “eloquent.” Nobel Prize officials said the 26-minute talk was recorded on Sunday in Los Angeles and an audio clip is posted on the academy’s website.

Danius said its delivery to the academy meant that “the Dylan adventure is coming to a close.” Dylan, widely regarded as the most influential songwriter of his time, received the Nobel Literature diploma and medal in April but was still required to give a speech to receive the money.

Dylan took weeks to publicly acknowledge even winning the prize, announced in October, and greeted with both joy and dismay that a rock star had received an honor previously given to William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alice Munro among others.

He did not attend December’s Nobel ceremony in Stockholm and his acceptance remarks were read by the United States Ambassador to Sweden, Azita Raji.

Dylan’s songs have drawn on literary influences from Beat poetry to Anton Chekhov and his recording was a celebration of books and music and of the common language among art forms. In a warm, raspy delivery, with lounge-style piano in the background, he called Buddy Holly his first musical hero, praised his “imaginative verses” and remembered seeing him in concert not long before Holly died in a 1959 plane crash.

“Something about him seemed permanent and he filled me with conviction,” Dylan said of seeing Holly on stage.  “Then out of the blue, the most uncanny thing happened, he looked at me right straight there in the eye and he transmitted something, something I didn’t know what. It gave me the chills.”

Dylan said that folk songs were his earliest musical vocabulary, but that books such as “Ivanhoe” and “Don Quixote” helped shape his view of the world and inspire him to write songs “unlike anything anybody had ever heard.” From the start, he believed in absorbing classical texts and the vernacular of the day.

He discussed three works at length: “Moby Dick,” (a reminder we “see only the surface of things”), “All Quiet On the Western Front” (in which “death is everywhere, nothing else is possible”) and “The Odyssey,” a “strange, adventurous tale” he likened to such modern pop songs as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.” He concluded by noting that Shakespeare’s words were meant to be spoken, “Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page.”

“And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days,” he said. “I return once again to Homer, who says, `Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.'”


Airlines Hold Fast to Global Consensus in Fractured World

Global airlines made a full-throated defense of globalization on Monday at their largest annual gathering, vowing not to give up on climate change agreements and calling for a swift resolution of a diplomatic rift threatening air travel in the Middle East.

Missing from the general meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Mexico was Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker. Usually a star of the show, he appeared to have left the summit amid a dispute between Arab powers.

Asked about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’s move to ban Qatari planes from their airports and airspace, IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac called for openness.

“We would like borders to be reopened, the sooner the better,” he told reporters, expanding on earlier remarks in the opening session.

“Aviation is globalization at its very best,” he had told executives from IATA’s more than 200 airlines. “As aviation’s leaders, we must bear witness to the achievements of our connected world.”

Qatar Airways could not be reached for comment.

The Arab rift was a stark reminder of the political risks to the airlines, which have run up healthy profits even as the global consensus they rely upon comes under the threat of nationalist and protectionist political currents.

Forecasting a third straight year of robust earnings, IATA raised its 2017 industry profit outlook on Monday to $31.4 billion, up from a previous forecast of $29.8 billion.

The IATA also raised its outlook for 2017 industry revenue to $743 billion from $736 billion on expectations that the global economy will post its strongest growth in six years.

The forecast underscored a new golden age for airlines’ profitability even as carriers scramble to meet fast-changing electronics restrictions, pressure to limit emissions and unprecedented scrutiny on social media over their every mistake.

A United Nations representative urged airline leaders to stand by an industry emissions accord known as CORSIA even as U.S. President Donald Trump breaks with a climate pact struck in Paris last year.

“We need to promote implementation of this historic agreement,” said Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, president of the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization.

IATA’s de Juniac said the airlines would hold fast to their commitments.

“The very disappointing decision of the U.S. to withdraw from Paris is not a setback for CORSIA,” he told the meeting.  “We remain united behind CORSIA and our climate change goals.”


US Supreme Court Limits SEC’s Power to Recover Ill-gotten Gains

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday scaled back the Securities and Exchange Commission’s power to recover ill-gotten profits from defendants’ misconduct, handing Wall Street firms a victory and dealing another blow to the regulator’s enforcement powers.

In a 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court found that the SEC’s recovery remedy known as “disgorgement” is subject to a five-year statute of limitations. The justices sided with New Mexico-based investment adviser Charles Kokesh, who previously was ordered by a judge to pay $2.4 million in penalties plus $34.9 million in disgorgement of illegal profits after the SEC sued him.

The decision marked the second time since 2013 that the Supreme Court has reined in the SEC’s enforcement powers. In the prior case, called Gabelli v. SEC, the justices unanimously ruled that civil monetary penalties are also subject to a five-year time bar.

The ruling represented a major victory for Wall Street firms, whose Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association trade group had urged the justices to curb the SEC’s powers in order to provide more certainty and predictability to the enforcement process.

Writing for the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that disgorgement counts as a penalty and is therefore bound by a five-year statute of limitations that already applies to “any civil fine, penalty or forfeiture.”

The SEC disgorgement process “bears all the hallmarks of penalty: It is imposed as a consequence of violating a public law and is intended to deter, not to compensate,” Sotomayor wrote.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s opinion today, which grants important protection to defendants facing enforcement actions by the SEC and other agencies,” said Adam Unikowsky, one of Kokesh’s lawyers.

An SEC spokesman declined to comment on the ruling.

Kokesh was sued by the SEC in 2009 for misappropriating investors’ money. His penalties covered conduct within the five-year statute of limitations, but the disgorgement covered conduct that largely occurred outside that time frame.

Kokesh appealed to the Supreme Court after losing at the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kokesh’s attorney argued that a disgorgement in the case constituted a punitive “forfeiture” that is time-barred.

The Justice Department argued that disgorgement is equitable relief that is not considered a punishment, but merely restores the defendant to the same position he was in prior to when the misconduct occurred.

Nick Morgan, a Los Angeles-based lawyer with the Paul Hastings law firm who represents clients being investigated by the SEC, said the ruling will especially affect complicated cases that require more time for the SEC to investigate.

“For the more complex cases, this will be a sea change for them, they will have to move more quickly,” Morgan said.