Day: June 15, 2017

Indonesia Plows Ahead on Fisheries Protection, Despite Resource Constraints

Foreign fishing in Indonesian waters has long been a concern for the government, for which it has recently taken a literally explosive approach: blowing up illicit fishing boats. But the country’s wildly popular Minister of Marine Affairs lobbied the United Nations last week to declare illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) an organized crime, signaling growing frustration and a new approach from Jakarta.

That said, even if the U.N. takes this step, Indonesia faces an uphill battle in protecting its fisheries. As the world’s largest archipelagic nation, it has somewhere between 15,000 and 17,000 islands and many kilometers of unsecured coastline. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo created a task force to address illegal fishing in October 2015, which reports directly to him and gives the Navy, the National Police and the Maritime Security Agency wide jurisdiction to deter illegal fishing by any means necessary.

But the fleet and law enforcement personnel are still small given the scale of the problem, which costs Indonesia, by one estimate, $3 billion a year.

Surprisingly empowered task force

Task forces, or “Satgas” (satuan tugas in Bahasa Indonesia) are almost a punchline in Indonesian governance because they are created for a wide variety of issues and often with unclear mandates. But the fishing task force feels different, according to Mas Achmad Santosa, head of the IUUF Fisheries Task Force.

“This is the first time for Indonesians that the president has set up a task force and it actually works well,” Santosa told VOA. “Every element needed for enforcement is there: investigators [from the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fishery, Marine Police, Coast Guard, and Navy], prosecutors under the attorney general’s office, and several experts from fields like money laundering and environmental law.”

There are about 60 dedicated members of this task force, but they work closely with the above institutions so their effective numbers are larger, Santosa said.

The task force only directly prosecutes cases with “elements of serious crime,” said Santosa, and they have prosecuted 42 such cases over the last year.

“But our fleet is far from sufficient, we must admit,” Santosa said. “Compared to our oceans, which are huge, the technology is limited.” They only have four patrol boats, for instance.

Since Jokowi took office in 2014, Indonesia has blown up over 300 illegal fishing boats, taking out 81 near Ambon over a single weekend last April. The eye-catching strategy has become something of a local tourist attraction. Its symbolic impact, though, could be larger.

“Blowing up boats is just one of our treatments. But we hope it creates a general deterrent effect,” Santosa said.

Charismatic leader

Indonesia’s Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, known as “Bu Susi,” is a high school dropout turned entrepreneur with a knack for viral photo opportunities (smoking on a paddleboard, sleeping in an airport) and a no-nonsense style that has raised the profile of her relatively obscure ministry.

“It’s very important to have a strong leader, and she is a person of integrity who leads by example,” Santoso said.

Foreign fishing is concentrated in Maluku, Sumatra, and the Indian Ocean, according to the maritime ministry. Beyond that, there are also illicit Indonesian vessels that engage in what Santoso calls “unsustainable fishing that will destroy ecosystems.” So international cooperation is not a silver bullet;  the task force’s inroads on domestic fishing will be equally important, and somewhat harder to attack in such a spectacular manner.

Domestic agenda

The Peoples Coalition for Fishery Justice (KIARA) has urged the maritime ministry to revise regulations that they say hinder the development of the local fishing industry.

“Today the biggest challenge faced by coastal communities, especially fishermen, is the investment from and development through foreign capital,” KIARA secretary-general Susan Herawati Romica told VOA. For instance, she said, on the island of Gili Sunut, Lombok, there are 109 households who have been displaced by construction on a Singaporean beach resort to more dangerous cliffside areas.

“Today, 90 percent of Indonesian fishermen are traditional fishermen with vessels that average below 10 gross tons,” she said. “They rely heavily on marine and coastal areas, but they still face major challenges in accessing the coast.”

According to KIARA data, there have been at least 34 recent cases of mine reclamation or development that have displaced local communities. “To that end, we say, if the country wants to push fisheries to provide the maximum benefit to coastal communities, then access to the sea [for local communities] should be guaranteed by the state.”


Video Game Helps Unlock Animal Vision, Camouflage Secrets

Like many online video games, the one developed by scientists at the University of Exeter challenges players to quickly find hidden objects, but with a twist. They’re not looking for gold or swords or magical mirrors in an imaginary universe, but for birds in real photos. And everyone who plays “Where is that Nightjar” is contributing to a study of animal vision.

Nightjars are ground-nesting birds, whose mottled feathers help them disappear into the fallen leaves and twigs where they lay their eggs. They are hunted by a variety of predators and rely on their camouflage for their survival.

Some predators, such as mongooses, are color-blind and cannot see reds and greens. They are called dichromats. Others, like baboons and humans, are trichromats, and can see a wider range of colors. Researchers wanted to know how color vision affected an animal’s ability to find camouflaged prey.

“A huge number of mammals are dichromats,” ecologist Jolyon Troscianko explains. “But it does not take a huge evolutionary leap to develop this third color channel. So it is surprising that this has not happened more often in nature, suggesting there could be some advantage to being a dichromat.”

The game uses actual photos of nightjars, manipulated so the images appear as they would through the eyes of a dichromat predator, and also as we would see them. People could choose to play as a trichromat or a dichromat, and they had just 30 seconds to try to find each camouflaged bird.

After 30,000 volunteers played the game, the researchers got some surprising results, published in Behavioural Ecology.

Scientists assumed that dichromats, which are better at differentiating between light and shadow, would be better at finding camouflaged prey. But the trichromat competitors found the birds and their eggs faster, at first. Troscianko says as the game progressed, the dichromats improved faster, and were performing equally well by the end of the game.

“That shows that there is a huge element of learning, which has previously been largely ignored in the importance of camouflage. But if a predator in the wild is learning to try to find one type of prey, one type of camouflage faster than another, that could actually change the whole dynamics of an ecosystem where there is now a disadvantage to having a camouflage type that is easily learned by predators over time.”

The Exeter Sensory Ecology Group has also developed games to study camouflage in other animals, like crabs and moths.


Footsteps Through the Ancient Past in New Mexico

Strolling through a tranquil landscape of lush meadows and meandering streams in northern New Mexico, it was hard for national parks traveler Mikah Meyer to imagine that this area was once rocked by a violent force of nature.

1.25 million years ago, a supervolcano blew its top, creating a 21-kilometer wide circular depression now known as the Valles Caldera.

“It really is this gorgeous bowl of pure grass, with mountains on every side, and it’s a stunning thing to look at, [especially] coming from the rest of New Mexico that is so mountainous everywhere, and so dry,” Mikah said.

The ancient land where ancestral natives once lived is one of the newest sites to be protected by the National Park Service. Today, Valles Caldera National Preserve is home to an abundance of wildlife, including the second largest elk population in New Mexico as well as Gunnison prairie dogs, coyotes, badgers, black bears, Eastern mountain bluebirds, golden eagles and bobcats.

Grueling journey to engineering wonders

People often say that it’s the journey that matters more than the destination, but that certainly wasn’t the case as Mikah made his way northwest to the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

According to the young traveler, who’s one-third of the way through his quest to visit all 417 national park sites within the U.S., this was the hardest park to get to so far.

“It was 20-some miles of rough, rough gravel roads — I mean I easily was going 4-5 miles per hour and even then the van was shaking and it was probably the worst experience I’ve had accessing a park.”

But he realized the rough ride was worth it, once he arrived at his destination.

“The park itself was really gorgeous…beautiful canyons with valleys, lots of ancient ruins, lots of historical and cultural and spiritual significance of the Chaco culture and the Chaco people and the natives of today and how they got there.”

Chaco has approximately 4,000 prehistoric archaeological sites, including 16 “great houses” — the largest, best preserved, and most complex prehistoric architectural structures in North America. Altogether, the park’s prehistoric and historic archaeological sites represent more than 10,000 years of human cultural history in Chaco Canyon.

In addition to its remarkably well-preserved structures, the park is also known for its spectacular night skies. On August 19, 2013, Chaco Culture distinguished itself by becoming the world’s newest International Dark Sky Park (IDSP), one of only four National Park sites to receive this distinction.

According to the International Dark-Sky Association, the designation is given to “a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.”

In recognition of its rich archaeological resources, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Ancient footprints

Aztec Ruins National Monument, also in northwestern New Mexico, was not as spectacular as Chaco Culture. But Mikah said it was easy to get to.

“It’s just a very tiny site with an old ruins of the native people that lived there, so not the most magnificent site but a nice addition to help better understand the native culture that is shared partially by the historical park.”

While it may be small, the National Park Service refers to the site as “the footprint of Ancestral Pueblo society,” because it was one of the largest communities in this region.

One of the excavated buildings is the large, 900-year-old ancestral Pueblo Great House, which many believe was used for ceremonial or social purposes. It has more than 400 rooms.

Mikah strolled the kilometer-long trail through the ruins, exploring intact doorways and rooms, and visited a reconstructed Great Kiva, a room Puebloans would have used for religious rituals and political meetings.

As he reflected on his multi-day journey through this stark but charming area of the American southwest, Mikah said he enjoyed learning about the region’s rich and ancient history through the many natural and man-made wonders that are being preserved for all to enjoy.

“The name of New Mexico is Land of Enchantment and it’s a really great moniker because it is a state of such varied landscapes,” he said. “From Carlsbad Caverns to White Sands National Monument, to the Gila Cliffs…” and the 12 others that he visited, “it’s just such a diverse state with so much candy for the eye that it really should not be overlooked by any traveler.”

Mikah invites you to learn more about his travels across America by visiting him on his website, Facebook and Instagram.


No Longer the Hot New Thing? Teen Vaping Falls, Study says

Teen vaping, which has been skyrocketing, fell dramatically last year in the United States.


A government survey released Thursday suggests the number of high school and middle school students using electronic cigarettes fell to 2.2 million last year, from 3 million the year before.


Health officials have worried about the booming popularity of vaping products among kids and the potential impact on adult smoking rates in the future.


“It certainly is a public health win,” said Brian King, an expert on smoking and health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


It’s the first decline CDC has reported in teen vaping since the agency began tracking it in 2011. The findings echo a recent University of Michigan survey, which also detected a decline in 2016.


It’s unclear why teen vaping fell last year, and it’s too soon to know if the numbers will continue to drop.

One possibility may be a growing push to ban sale of e-cigarettes to minors, including a federal regulation that took effect in August. Another may be the influence of ad campaigns by the government and other organizations to discourage kids from smoking, the CDC said.


E-cigarettes may also be losing their novelty among teens, said Matthew Farrelly, a tobacco control researcher at RTI International.


Studies suggest many kids who vape use the products less often than kids who smoke cigarettes — a sign that vaping seems to be more social and experimental, some experts said.


“These products were new and novel and now we’re starting to see that change,” said Robin Koval, president of Truth Initiative, a public health education organization that runs anti-tobacco ads.


E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that provide users with aerosol puffs that can contain nicotine. Research has found kids like to vape flavorings like strawberry and bubble gum, though often in nicotine-free versions.


They’re generally considered a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes. But health officials have warned nicotine in e-cigarettes is harmful to developing brains.


The CDC study is based on a questionnaire filled out annually by about 20,000 students in grades 6 through 12. It focused on “current users” — kids who said they had used a tobacco product within the 30 days before they answered the survey.


It found an overall decline in use of vaping devices, traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products. Based on the survey responses, the CDC estimates that the number of middle and high school students using tobacco products fell to 3.9 million last year, from 4.7 million the year before.


Adolescent cigarette smoking has been falling for many years, but the decline in e-cigarette and hookah use was more remarkable.


In 2011, 1.5 percent of high school students said they’d recently vaped. That jumped to 16 percent in 2015, and it’s become more common than cigarette smoking. But it dropped to about 11 percent last year, the CDC said.


For middle school students, about 5 percent said they’d recently vaped in 2015. That fell to about 4 percent last year, the study found.


New HIV Infections Climb Among Young Women in South Africa

Among the people socializing in a tavern in Alexandra township in Johannesburg is Karabo Sathekge, who asked that VOA not give her real name. She is a slight, attractive 19-year-old in a veil of an orange dress, defying the winter chill.

Sathekge often meets one of her partners here. He is more than twice her age.

Sathekge explains that sex with older men is sometimes “rough,” and always without a condom.

South Africa has almost 7 million people living with HIV and manages the globe’s largest antiretroviral program, keeping about 4 million people alive with the drugs. At the South African National AIDS Conference in Johannesburg this week, specialists voiced their concern about the spiking rates of infections among young women, a trend reflected throughout the continent.

“What does it tell you about the lack of knowledge about HIV, 20, 30 years into the HIV epidemic?” said Mark Heywood, the director of the Section 27 social justice movement. “We have seen, shockingly, a decline in knowledge of HIV amongst young people. It is like we have taken our foot off the accelerator, in certain respects.”

Heywood says more than 200 young women, ages 15 to 24, are infected with HIV each day in South Africa.

In 2015, that demographic accounted for the largest segment of new HIV infections in South Africa and a disproportionate number of new cases in the region. Adolescent and young women made up a quarter of the new cases in sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNAIDS most recent global report.

UNAIDS says adolescent and young women in Africa are at “particularly high risk” for a variety of reasons, such as poverty, lack of education and violence.

Like Sathekge, many poor young women in South Africa have “transactional” sexual relationships with older men who have jobs and money. The men buy them food, clothes and gifts.

Health care workers in South Africa say transactional sex is a key driver of the new infections among young women in the country.

Heywood is at the forefront of protests to demand the government make a new weapon against HIV infection available to young women. That weapon is a combination of antiretroviral drugs called “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” or Prep. Taken correctly, the pill can prevent people from getting HIV.

Heywood says the state could afford to give the drugs to young women for free.

“If you have literally tens of billions of rand being stolen every year out of different government departments, that is money that could be generating programs that reduce the vulnerability of young women,” he said. “But there has to be a [political] will.”

South Africa’s health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, says he plans to provide Prep to young women in about two to three years, after educating them about the pill. It must be taken at about the same time every day, and ideally is used with condoms.

However, Heywood says Motsoaledi’s “innovative” policies to prevent new HIV infections are likely to stall, as Motsoaledi has been politically isolated after publicly opposing President Jacob Zuma over Zuma’s alleged corruption.


From Bleeps of ‘Pong’ and ‘Mario,’ Game Music Comes of Age

The electronic bleeps and squawks of “Tetris,” “Donkey Kong” and other generation-shaping games that you may never have thought of as musical are increasingly likely to be playing at a philharmonic concert hall near you.

From the “ping … ping”  of Atari’s 1972 ground-breaking paddle game “Pong,” the sounds, infectious ditties and, with time, fully-formed orchestral scores that are an essential part of the sensory thrill for gamers have formed a musical universe. With its own culture, sub-cultures and fans, game music now thrives alone, free from the consoles from which it came.

When audiences pack the Philharmonie de Paris’ concert halls this weekend to soak in the sounds of a chamber orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra performing game music and an homage to one of the industry’s stars, “Final Fantasy” Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu, they will have no buttons to play with, no characters to control.

Music triggers nostalgia


They’re coming for the music and the nostalgia it triggers: of fun-filled hours spent on sofas with a Game Boy, Sonic the Hedgehog and the evergreen Mario.

“When you’re playing a game you are living that music every day and it just gets into your DNA,” says Eimear Noone, the conductor of Friday’s opening two-hour show of 17 titles, including “Zelda,” “Tomb Raider,” “Medal of Honor” and other favorites from the 1980s onward.

“When people hear those themes they are right back there. And people get really emotional about it. I mean REALLY emotional. It’s incredible.”

Dating the birth of game music depends on how one defines music. Game music scholars — yes, they exist — point to key milestones on the path to the surround-sound extravaganzas of games today.

Game music remix

The heartbeat-like bass thump of Taito’s “Space Invaders” in 1978, which got ever faster as the aliens descended, caused sweaty palms and was habit-forming.

Namco’s “Pac-Man,” two years later, whetted appetites with an opening musical chirp. For fun, check out the 2013 remix by Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank, and game music composer Tommy Tallarico. Their take on the tune speaks to the sub-culture of remixing game music, with thousands of redos uploaded by fans to sites like — dedicated, it says, “to the appreciation and promotion of video game music as an art form.”


Based on the Russian folk song “Korobeiniki,” the music of the 1984 game “Tetris” has similarly undergone umpteen remixes — including “Tetris Meets Metal,” with more than 2.2 million views on YouTube.

Fame for Kondo

By 1985, the can’t-not-tap-along-to-this theme of “Super Mario Bros.,” the classic adventure of plumber Mario and his brother Luigi, was bringing fame for composer Koji Kondo, also known for his work on “Legend of Zelda.” Both are on the bill for the “Retrogaming” concert in Paris. Kondo was the first person Nintendo hired specifically to compose music for its games, according to the 2013 book, “Music and Game.”

Noone, known herself for musical work on “World of Warcraft,” “Overwatch” and other games, says the technological limitations of early consoles — tiny memories, rudimentary chips, crude sounds — forced composers “to distill their melodies down to the absolute kernels of what melodic content can be, because they had to program it note by note.”


But simple often also means memorable. Think “da-da-da-duh” — the opening of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

‘It speaks to people’

“That is part of the reason why this music has a place in people’s hearts and has survived,” Noone says of game tunes. “It speaks to people.”

She says game music is where movie music was 15 years ago: well on its way to being completely accepted.


“I predict that in 15 years’ time it will be a main staple of the orchestral season,” she says. “This is crazy to think of: Today, more young people are listening to orchestral music through the medium of their video game consoles than have ever listened to orchestral music.”

She still sometimes encounters snobbism from orchestras: “They saw ‘Pong’ once and that’s video game music to them, you know?”

‘The Rolling Stones’

But “halfway through the first rehearsal, their attitude has changed,” she adds. “And then when they walk out on stage and the audience treats them like they’re The Rolling Stones.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first game-music concert: The Tokyo Strings Ensemble performed “Dragon Quest” at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall in August 1987. Now there are six touring shows of symphonic game music, Noone says.  


“This is just the best way, the most fun way to introduce kids to the instruments of the orchestra,” she adds. “It may be the first time ever they are that close to a cellist, and that’s really exciting for me.”


Facebook Uses Artificial Intelligence to Fight Terrorism

Facebook has revealed it is using artificial intelligence in its ongoing fight to prevent terrorist propaganda from being disseminated on its platform.

“We want to find terrorist content immediately, before people in our community have seen it,” read the message posted Thursday. “Already, the majority of accounts we remove for terrorism we find ourselves. But we know we can do better at using technology — and specifically artificial intelligence — to stop the spread of terrorist content on Facebook.”

The company has been under increasing pressure from governments around the world to do a better job of removing posts made by terrorists

Some of the roles AI plays involve “image matching” to see if an uploaded image matches something previously removed because of its terrorist content.

“Language understanding,” the company says, will allow it to “understand text that might be advocating for terrorism.”

AI, Facebook says, is also useful for identifying and removing “terrorist clusters.”

“We know from studies of terrorists that they tend to radicalize and operate in clusters,” according to the blog post. “This offline trend is reflected online as well. So when we identify pages, groups, posts or profiles as supporting terrorism, we also use algorithms to “fan out” to try to identify related material that may also support terrorism.”

Facebook said AI has helped identify and remove fake accounts made by “repeat offenders.” It says it has already reduced the time fake accounts are active.

However, the company does not rely completely on AI.

“AI can’t catch everything,” it said. “Figuring out what supports terrorism and what does not isn’t always straightforward, and algorithms are not yet as good as people when it comes to understanding this kind of context.

“A photo of an armed man waving an ISIS flag might be propaganda or recruiting material, but could be an image in a news story. Some of the most effective criticisms of brutal groups like ISIS utilize the group’s own propaganda against it. To understand more nuanced cases, we need human expertise.”


Child Poverty, Hunger Widespread in World’s Richest Countries

A new report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) finds child poverty and hunger are widespread in 41 of the world’s richest countries. The report says one in five children in rich countries lives in poverty, while one in eight often do not have enough to eat.

The report finds high income does not necessarily lead to a good outcome for children and often serves to widen the gap between rich and poor. UN Children’s Fund Chief of Social Policy and Economic Analysis, Jose Cuesta says all 41 countries surveyed, in one way or another, are failing to protect the well-being of their children.

“If I were to grade all countries, no one will get an A,” he said. “There is good news, of course, in quite a number of targets and areas. For instance, childhood learning or reductions in neonatal mortality rates. But, there are also substantive gaps in some targets. For instance, poverty reduction of children, increasing inequality, increasing obesity and worsening mental health.”

The seven top ranked countries in UNICEF’s League Table of 41 countries includes all the Nordic countries — Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, as well as Germany and Switzerland. The seven countries holding up the bottom are Chili, Mexico, the United States, Bulgaria, Romania, Israel and Turkey.

Cuesta tells VOA the United States, which ranks 37th does not perform well in areas such as poverty, hunger, good health and well-being, and quality education.

“Actually, it is a surprise and it is not a surprise at the same time because consistently the U.S. is doing poorly across these key indicators. So, it is not really one indicator driving the results here,” he said.

The report notes wealth and economic growth alone are not enough to ensure the well-being of children. UNICEF is urging rich countries to put children’s needs at the heart of their policy agenda.



Thai Local Communities Want Their Say in Fighting Pollution

Thailand’s industrial development faces fresh calls for greater local community participation in addressing the challenges of environmental pollution, especially as reports point to an escalation in the production of hazardous industrial pollution.

Industrialization has been a core of Thailand’s economic progress over the past three decades as the country progressed from agricultural to industrial and manufacturing development.

Investments in major chemical and manufacturing industries have been marked by industrial estates, especially in the Eastern Seaboard some 150 kilometers from Bangkok.

The military government is now looking to expand industrial development to boost the economy through 10 special economic zones throughout the country and further investment near Bangkok by way of an Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).

But Thailand’s push for growth has raised concerns by local communities about increasing pollution, despite controls and legislation.

Thailand’s Pollution Control Department (PCD), in its latest report, estimates some 37.4 million metric tons of industrial waste was generated nationwide in 2015, of which 2.8 million tons — or 7.5 percent of the total, were hazardous industrial waste.

Hazardous waste

At the same time, hazardous waste — covering all waste from communities, industrial activities and infectious waste — stood at 3.45 million tons, an increase of 28 percent from the previous year.

“The production and use of hazardous substances in the country has caused pollution as hazardous substances were released into the environment and may cause contamination or remain in the environment,” the PCD said.

A European Union funded report with the Thai-based Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH) and Prague-based University of Chemistry and Technology covered eight provinces and the impact on local communities from dangerous heavy metal pollution.

The heavy metals examined in the study included arsenic, mercury, zinc, cadmium, chromium, and lead along with organic contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and petroleum products, which medical authorities warn can be potential dangers to health.

Key areas of concern were the eastern seaboard industrial areas of Map Ta Phut and the provinces of Samut Sakorn Saraburi and Praeksa — which was affected by leakages from industrial landfills into the local environment.

Heavy metal pollution

Marek Sir, a chemistry researcher from the University of Chemistry and Technology in the Czech Republic, said the studies indicated concerns over heavy metal pollution in areas near industrial plants.

“In some areas there are real problems with the mixture of heavy metals or with the mixture of pollution. I was surprised mainly by the levels of heavy metals around recycling plants and smelting plants,” Sir told VOA.

“That’s a problem — still there are toxic fumes released into the environment and the easiest way to spread the pollution of heavy metals, which are absorbed on solid particles and they can diffuse into the air and can be transported. So that’s the problem — one of the problems,” he said.

EARTH director Penchom Saetang said there is a need for local communities to participate in the studies or projects in the future, as well as taking part in any process to rehabilitate affected polluted areas or studies.

Thailand has more than 139,000 large and medium-sized industrial plants, both inside and outside industrial estates and parks which number some 87 throughout the country.

The EARTH/ARNIKA report accused factory owners responsible for pollution of “uncaring management,” with the result of water pollution, toxic air pollution and hazardous industrial waste — especially those mismanaged and illegally dumped.

Contaminated areas are often not restored with local people increasingly lacking trust in officials and the state, and leading to opposition to further industrial development.

Cost of rehabilitation

EARTH director Penchom said access to funding for land rehabilitation remains a major stopping block.

“The big problem is rehabilitation and remediation will consume lots or money. I think the private corporations and the polluters are not willing to pay and this is the fundamental cost in Thailand. It’s very difficult to enforce the law for the polluters to pay,” she said.

Greenpeace Thailand country director Tara Buakameri said too often environmental policy depends on “top down” decision making, failing to address the pollution at the source.

Tara said policy often compromises the environment to the benefit to industry and development.

“It is a compromise situation – the compromise that benefits the polluter, benefits irresponsible companies that pollute the environment. When we can see that the result from the toxic contamination in different regions in Thailand — also affects the community,” Tara told VOA.

He said communities have a “right to know” when pollution has occurred and the amount and toxicity to be able to respond and to seek solutions and treatments.

The Pollution Control Department set out a strategic plan covering 2012-2021 calling for “rules and regulation amendments to facilitate effective waste management as well as strict enforcement of the laws. Additionally, compensation schemes for local administrations and residents should be developed.”


US Central Bank Hikes Key Interest Rate Amid Weaker Than Expected Data

The U.S. central bank raised its benchmark interest rate Wednesday amid concerns about sluggish growth, a slowdown in consumer spending and low inflation. But the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve says the one-quarter of 1 percent increase in the federal funds rate demonstrates the committee’s confidence in the overall health of the U.S. economy. Mil Arcega has more.


Kushner Company Drops Tax Break Request in New Jersey

The real estate firm owned by the family of Jared Kushner has withdrawn a request for a big tax break for one its buildings in Jersey City, New Jersey, the latest setback for the company in the area.


The Kushner Cos. sent a letter withdrawing its application for a 30-year break from city taxes for a planned two-tower project in the struggling Journal Square section of the city, Jersey City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said Wednesday. Opponents of the tax breaks marched downtown earlier this year and the city’s mayor recently came out against the Kushner request.


Jared Kushner was CEO of the family company before stepping down to become a senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

Committed to area


Kushner Cos. spokesman James Yolles said the company is committed to the “much-needed investment” in that area of the city.


The loss of the tax break is the latest blow for the company in a city where it is major real estate developer.


The 79-story building, One Journal Square, gained attention last month after Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, mentioned her brother in a presentation in Beijing where she had hoped to attract Chinese investors in the building. Marketing material noted the “celebrity status” of her family.


Government ethics experts blasted the family for what they said was an attempt to profit off Jared Kushner’s position in Washington, and the Kushner Cos. canceled upcoming investor presentations in the country.


The company said Meyer wasn’t trying to use her White House ties to attract investors.

EB-5 visa program


The Kushner family is seeking 300 wealthy Chinese to invest a total of $150 million in One Journal Square. The family was trying to raise money through the EB-5 visa program that grants temporary U.S. residency to wealthy foreigners in exchange for investments of at least $500,000 in certain U.S. projects


The company also is in danger of losing another tax break for the building. The shared office space firm WeWork recently pulled out as anchor tenant. That has put in doubt a state tax break tied to WeWork.


Another project is off, too. The Kushner Cos. once considered bidding to develop a 95-acre industrial site along the Hackensack River in the city for housing, called Bayfront. Last month, it was revealed the family had withdrawn from those plans last year.


The Kusnher Cos. has said politics had nothing to do with its decision to withdraw from Bayfront, and that “economics of the deal” drove the move.


As for One Journal Square, company spokesman Yolles said the project will provide 4,000 construction jobs and $180 million in tax revenue for the city over 30 years.

Tax breaks an issue


Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a Democrat, is running for re-election this fall, and tax breaks to developers have become a major issue.


Unlike neighboring Hoboken, Jersey City has granted dozens of tax breaks in recent years. Fulop had campaigned to reform the practice, but critics say he has done little.


Another Kushner property in the city overlooking the Hudson River got a five-year tax break soon after Fulop was elected mayor. That 50-story building has licensed the Trump name and is called Trump Bay Street. The building was also partly financed with EB-5 visa money from abroad.


The Kushner family owns or manages 20,000 apartments, 13 million square feet of office space and industrial properties in several states, including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Illinois. 


Russia’s Hosting FIFA Tournaments Reignites World Cup Hopes

Russia’s hosting of FIFA’s (International Federation of Association Football) Confederations Cup from June 17 to July 2 and the World Cup championship in 2018 is reigniting hopes in the country for football (soccer).

The last time Russia made the world’s top four was in 1966 when it was part of the Soviet Union.

Watch: Russia’s Hosting of FIFA Tournaments Reignites World Cup Hopes


Russian football gained global recognition during the 1966 World Cup when the Soviet Union defeated Italy, Chile, and Hungary to take fourth place.

Half-a-century later, the few living players from that championship have yet to see Russia return to the top four.


“When there was the world championship in England, the coach said, ‘Thank you guys, we won’t achieve such a success for the next 50 years.’ So, 50 years passed,” said Vladimir Ponomarev, USSR defender in the 1966 championship.

Fans have high hopes


Despite Russian football’s struggle since, die-hard fans have high hopes for the tournaments.


“That’s why we are faced with big problems when they show negative results,” said Lokomotiv Football Club’s Maksim “Loko” Shataylo. “Sometimes it may result in such extraordinary situations because the fans become too upset. They believe too much, they hope too much! I believe in the better. We’ll definitely be in the top eight,” adds Shataylo.

As host of the FIFA tournaments, Russia’s national team automatically qualifies to compete.

Russia’s star players say their goal is clear.

“Of course, it is to get to the final game, step by step,” said Spartak Moscow Football Club Captain Denis Glushakov in May comments to the press. “We’ll play the first and the second match and only then I may tell you whether we get to the final or not.”

Passion is lacking

Ponomarev says Russian football lacks the passion it had during Soviet times.


“But we’ll keep working and growing. We’ll keep training and that will allow us to get on the same level as great European teams,” said Ponomarev. “So far, we are not much valued. The Confederations Cup matches will show us the level of Russian football.”

The Confederations Cup will also test how well Russia itself is prepared for next year’s World Cup championship.

“As for the world championships and the idea that so much effort is put into winning them without a result, I think that after the world championship of 2018 there will be a breakthrough in football here,” says Shataylo. “It will become more popular. New stadiums, new infrastructure are under construction. It will be more convenient to move around the country to see the matches. The fans will love this country and football, and all will be well.”

Meanwhile, Ponomarev continues to support Russian football and the next generation of players by offering advice to amateur teams and coaches.

“We must start small. We must start with our small footballers who train here,” he said.

But as for hosting the upcoming FIFA tournaments, he adds optimistically, “For me it will be a success. Fifty years have passed. It’s time to get to fourth place. It would be superb for all Russian fans! They would be absolutely happy.”

Field is set

For the host Russian team, its Confederations Cup Group A opener will be played on Saturday (June 17) against New Zealand in St. Petersburg. Wednesday (June 21) the Russians play in Moscow against Portugal, and the hosts final group match is against Mexico in Kazan on June 24.

The other four teams in the tournament — Cameroon, Chile, Australia and Germany — are in Group B. After round-robin play, the first and second-place teams in each group advance to the semifinals, with the championship match in St. Petersburg July 2. The tournament winner will receive $5 million, and the runner-up $4.5 million.

 Olga Pavlova and Ricardo Marquina Montañana contributed to this report.


Russia’s Hosting of FIFA Tournaments Reignites World Cup Hopes

Russia’s role as host of FIFA’s (International Federation of Association Footballs’) Confederations Cup from June 17 to July 2 and the World Cup championship in 2018 is reigniting hopes for Russian football (soccer). The last time Russia made the world’s top four was 1966, when it was part of the Soviet Union. VOA’s Daniel Schearf spoke with one of the few living players from that game and has this report from Moscow.


Group Exercises Make for Happier, Safer Construction Site

Even though we know that exercising is good for us, far too many of us can not seem to work it into our day. But that is not a problem for workers at the Mortenson construction firm, as Faith Lapidus explains.


Lighter Cars Can Save a Lot of Money

Fierce competition among car manufacturers requires constant search for ways to cut expenses without compromising safety and other standards. One of the areas with room for improvement is in manufacturing of car bodies, which could be made lighter but still strong enough to protect passengers. VOA’s George Putic visited the National Institute for Science and Technology, NIST, outside Washington, where everything starts with new ways of testing sheet metal.


Inside Amazon Reserve, High-end Chocolate Thrives With Forest

With a cigarette in one hand and a muddy machete in the other, Brazilian grandmother Maria Nobre de Oliveira thinks high-end chocolate will help end the epidemic of deforestation ravaging Amazon communities like hers.

Her community of a few dozen residents live in hand-built wooden houses with no electricity or running water in the world’s largest rainforest, more than six hours by river boat from the nearest town in Brazil’s southwestern Amazonas State.

Residents in isolated Amazon settlements say they have few opportunities to make a living other than clearing land to raise cattle — part of the reason why Amazon deforestation rates in Brazil shot up 29 percent last year after years of decline.

As well as villagers clearing land to feed themselves, large ranchers and speculators have been trying to invade the Arapixi nature reserve where Oliveira lives to cut down trees, an official with Brazil’s environment ministry said.

But residents of the reserve have new ally to help them protect the trees — chocolate.

“This is virgin forest,” Oliveira, 62, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as residents used long poles to knock cocoa beans — the base ingredient for chocolate — from the reserve’s trees.

“Some guys came to cut the trees down a while back — but we told them to get lost,” Oliveira said, as other farmers carried fresh cocoa beans to dry in the sun.

“If we had let them, we wouldn’t have an income source … cocoa helps us protect the forest.”

Farmers in the nature reserve work with a local cooperative in Boca do Acre that manages the sale and export of the cocoa.

Finding a balance

Finding a balance between employment for local people and protecting Amazonian forests has long stumped policymakers.

Every minute, forests larger than two football fields are felled in the Amazon, according to the former director of Brazil’s forestry service.

Brazilian officials say projects like the cocoa co-op are helping residents make a living from the land while moving away from deforestation.

“These cocoa projects come from the community, we are a partner with them,” said Abilio Ikeziri, an official at Brazil’s environment ministry, responsible for protected areas.

The income also helps locals keep the ranchers and land scammers out of the reserve, Ikeziri said.

“I am the only [official] responsible for looking after 1.5 million hectares (15,000 km sq) of land — it is impossible [without local help],” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Communities living in the reserve and making a living from sustainably harvesting plants like cocoa that grow naturally makes it easier for over-stretched officials to defend the land from speculators, the official said.

Cooperative solutions

In the Arapixi reserve, residents used to harvest cocoa for their own consumption and began selling it to a cooperative 10 years ago.

Last year they exported more than 10 tonnes of natural cocoa to Europe which earned the co-op about 130,000 reis ($39,000), a decline from previous years due to poor weather.

Once it arrives in Germany the cocoa is refined into high-end, environmentally certified chocolate.

Based in the Amazon river port of Boca do Acre the co-op employs more than 400 people, including a dozen in Dona Oliveira’s community, said manager Jose Geraldo Tranin.

“Before we launched the co-op, many people were deforesting land for cattle,” Tranin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the co-op’s sparse one room office in Boca do Acre. “Now people know cocoa will generate some income so they are preserving the forest.”

With help from German social entrepreneurs who provided money to buy boats and other capital for the co-operative to get started, reserve residents like Oliveira were given training in cocoa production and tools to better harvest and transport the crop.

“The co-op wants to expand, so that is good for us,” said 52-year-old farmer Jose Freitas, taking a break from racking cocoa beans over a metal grate in the sun.

Backed by research

Residents can earn up to 1,200 reais ($365) per month in the busy season preparing the beans for export – a decent salary in a region beset by poverty – although it means working seven days per week.

“We can buy more food now,” Freitas said. “I could even afford to make the trip to the hospital.”

For European consumers, their chocolate is branded as “wild cocoa of Amazonas.”

The project has had a clear impact on forest preservation in Arapixi compared to similar Amazon reserves, said Francidalva Oliveira de Souza, a researcher at the State University of Amazonas studying the project.

“Deforestation has been decreasing in this reserve,” Souza told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview. “This sort of project could be expanded to help preserve other areas and help residents earn an income.”


Hot Dog! Eye-catching LA Wiener Stand Finds Museum Home

An eye-catching Los Angeles hot dog stand designed in the 1940s to look like a giant wiener on a bun has found a home a decade after closing.


The Tail o’ the Pup, which fed working people and Hollywood stars for 60 years, will be moved Thursday for permanent display at Valley Relics Museum, home to many pop culture items. The unique structure, which appeared in TV shows and movies and was named a Los Angeles cultural landmark, has been in a storage yard since its walk-up window shut for the final time in 2005.


Nicole Miller, whose husband Jay’s family has owned the Pup since the 1970s, said they’d hoped to find a new location to serve its famous all-beef franks once again, but couldn’t secure permits.


The family is glad the museum “is willing to take it, restore it, and put it on display,” she told the Los Angeles Daily News.


The chicken wire and stucco dog measured 18 feet from nose to tail with a line of mustard running across its service window.

Designed by architect Milton Black and opened in 1946, the Tail o’ the Pup was built to catch the attention of passing motorists during an era when cars were king.


It’s a rare surviving example of when giant doughnuts, chili bowls and coffee cups dotted Los Angeles curbs from the 1920s to after World War II, the newspaper said.


“The Tail o’ the Pup was clearly among the best known of the `programmatic’ buildings — buildings that often looked like products sold inside,” said Cindy Olnick of the Los Angeles Conservancy, a preservation group. “The whole building, besides the sign, was an advertisement.”


New Forecast Tool Gives Countries Edge Against Desert Locust Invasions

A new satellite forecast tool could more than double the warning time for desert locust invasions, allowing vulnerable nations to prepare better against the crop-eating grasshoppers, the United Nations and European Space Agency (ESA) said Wednesday.

Desert locusts, found mainly in the Sahara, across the Arabian Peninsula and in India, pose a major threat to agricultural production when migrating in swarms, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says.

A one-kilometer-square swarm of about 40 million locusts can eat the same amount of food as 35,000 people in a day, according to the agency. FAO and ESA said they have developed a new remote sensing system that by processing satellite data on soil moisture and vegetation can predict the formation of swarms up to three months in advance.

“Longer warning periods give countries more time to act swiftly to control a potential outbreak and prevent massive food losses,” said Keith Cressman, FAO’s senior locust forecasting officer.

The tool is the latest in a series to apply satellite data to agricultural purposes.

For pest prevention teams, it is key to find locust breeding areas early in order to apply pesticides before grasshoppers grow wings and start migrating, Cressman said.

“Then you are chasing a moving target,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Best breeding conditions

Locusts breed in large numbers when good rains and rapid vegetation growth follow a period of drought.

Soil moisture data help authorities locate areas where the ground is wet enough for the locusts to lay eggs and to monitor them for signs of swarming.

Trials on data from a locust invasion in Mauritania in 2016 allowed ESA and FAO experts to identify hatching areas 70 days before the outbreak occurred.

That significantly improved upon current forecast systems based on satellite information of green vegetation that give a maximum notice of one month and sometimes give authorities just a few days to reach remote breeding locations, Cressman said.

“Often they are too late,” he said.

Up to 100 percent of cereals and 90 percent of legumes were destroyed in West Africa in a 2003-05 plague that affected 8 million people and took 13 million liters of pesticide to be reined in, the FAO said.

Cressman said FAO is hoping to make the new tool available to all countries at risk by the end of the year.