Day: August 25, 2017

US, Canada to Investigate Deaths of Endangered Whales

Marine authorities in the U.S. and Canada said Friday they will marshal resources to try to find out what’s behind a string of deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The animals are among the rarest marine mammals in the world, with only about 500 still living. The countries will collaborate on a report that could help craft future regulations that protect the vulnerable whales, representatives said.

Representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Fisheries and Oceans Canada both said ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear have played roles in the deaths of the whales, and that other factors also could have played a role.

The goal of the countries is to find out more about why 13 of the whales have been found dead this year and respond with solutions, said David Gouveia, protected species monitoring program branch chief for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region.

“The North Atlantic right whale is fragile, and one of NOAA and DFO’s most difficult conservation challenges,” Gouveia said. “Every factor impacting their ability to thrive is significant.”

This year, 10 dead whales have been found off Canada’s coast and three off the coast of Massachusetts, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare the deaths an “unusual mortality event” on Thursday and to launch an investigation. The agency said that designation triggers a “focused, expert investigation” into the cause of the deaths.

The report will take months to assemble, and a budget for the investigation has not been developed, officials said. The effort will involve collecting data on each whale that died and considering factors such as changes to the environment and habitat, they said.

An average number of dead right whales would be about four, Gouveia said. Representatives for both countries said strategies to protect the whales could include fishing gear modifications, ship speed restrictions and changes to shipping traffic patterns.

“The priority is to protect these whales,” said Matthew Hardy, aquatic resources management division manager for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Conservationists have said the right whale population is so small that a year of poor reproduction and heavy mortality could threaten its survival. Only a few baby right whales were born this year, said Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a senior scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Biologist Regina Asmutis-Silvia of Whale and Dolphin Conservation has called this year’s number of deaths “unprecedented.” She and other conservationists have said right whales haven’t suffered such high mortality since the whaling era, when their populations were decimated. Hunting right whales became illegal 80 years ago.

The whales migrate north every summer to feed. Scott Kraus, who heads the New England Aquarium’s right whale research program, has said it’s possible the whales are more vulnerable to hazards because they are traveling more due to changes in the availability of food.


Iran Media Report Apple Shuts Down Iranian Apps

Iranian media are reporting that Apple Inc. has removed all Iranian mobile apps from its App Store.

In reaction to Apple’s decision, Telecommunication Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said Apple should respect its Iranian consumers. He also sent out this tweet:


Apple, based in Cupertino, California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jahromi tweeted: “11 percent of Iran’s mobile phone market share is owned by Apple. Giving respect to consumer rights is a principle today which Apple has not followed. We will follow up the cutting of the apps legally.”

Apple is not officially in Iran or any other Persian Gulf countries, but many Iranians purchase its products from stores inside Iran.


Facebook Lambasted Over Video of Traffickers Abusing Migrants

People smugglers are using Facebook to broadcast the abuse and torture

of migrants in order to extort ransom money from their families, the U.N. migration agency said on Friday.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) lambasted the tech giant for failing to police the platform and help crack down on traffickers.

One video hosted on the site since June shows Libyan gangmasters threatening emaciated and abused migrants – mostly Somalis and Ethiopians – huddled in a concrete room.

IOM said the traffickers had sent clips to the captives’ families via the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp – a Facebook channel – along with threats that their loved ones would be killed unless ransoms of up to $10,000 were paid.

One young Somali man is seen lying face down with a concrete block on his back. “I was asked for $8,000,” he says, according to the IOM. “They broke my teeth. They broke my hand. I have been here 11 months. They put this stone on me for the last three days. It’s really painful.”

British newspaper The Times, which ran the story on its front page on Friday, also quoted a young Ethiopian who had been held for 15 months. “They beat me with iron bars,” he said. “They ordered me to pay $8,300 and my family cannot afford to pay that amount.”

Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe since 2014, and thousands have died trying.

Facebook, which has also been criticized for failing to stop traffickers using the platform to advertise their services, said posts by smuggling groups would be removed if reported.

“We encourage people to keep using our reporting tools to flag this kind of behavior so it can be reviewed and swiftly removed by our global team of experts, who work with law enforcement agencies around the world,” a spokesperson said.

But Facebook said it had not removed the June video as it had been posted by a Somali journalist and was important for raising awareness of the problem.

However, IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle accused Facebook of “arrant nonsense”, adding that the smugglers had used the journalist to publicize their demands.

He told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it was totally inappropriate for Facebook to host a video showing the faces of vulnerable people being abused.

“Don’t let Facebook off the hook here,” he said. “It’s an absolutely nonsensical argument that it’s up to the public to notify Facebook of stuff that’s happening on Facebook.

“They should invest heavily in policing their platforms to stop vulnerable migrants being exploited, extorted and murdered.”

Doyle said the IOM had tried without success to talk to Facebook about targeting smugglers.

“They should stop smugglers telling people there’s an El Dorado waiting for them in Europe when it’s a lie,” he added. “It’s not good enough to say, ‘we are a technology platform, it’s got nothing to do with us’.”

Doyle said the IOM had tried to find the people in the video, but they had disappeared.



Hurricane Damage as Measured by Saffir-Simpson Scale

The Saffir-Simpson scale of a hurricane’s intensity is used to estimate potential property damage and coastal flooding caused by storm surge. The scale is determined by wind speed. Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water above the normal tide, generated by a storm. Flooding from storm surge depends on many factors, such as the track, intensity, size, and forward speed of the storm and the characteristics of the coastline where it comes ashore or passes nearby.


Category 1


Winds of 74-95 mph (120-150 kph). Storm surge of 4 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) above normal. Damage primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery and trees. Some damage to poorly constructed signs and piers. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.


Category 2


Winds of 96-110 mph (155-175 kph). Storm surge 6 to 8 feet (1.8-2.4 meters) above normal. Some roof, door and window damage to buildings. Considerable damage to mobile homes, small watercraft, trees, poorly constructed signs and piers. Flooding of coastal and low-lying areas. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.

Category 3


Winds of 111-129 mph (180-210 kph). Storm surge 9 to 12 feet (3 to 4 meters) above normal. Some structural damage to small homes. Mobile homes destroyed and large trees blown down. Coastal flooding destroys smaller structures and floating debris damages larger structures. Terrain lower than 5 feet (1.5 meters) above sea level may flood as far as 8 miles (13 kilometers) inland. Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, was a Category 3 storm at landfall in 2005 after being a Category 5 in the Gulf of Mexico. At least 1,800 people died.

Category 4


Winds of 130-156 mph (210-250 kph). Storm surge 13 to 18 feet (4-5 meters) above normal. Wall failures and roof collapses on small homes, and extensive damage to doors and windows. Complete destruction of some homes, especially mobile homes. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Major coastal flooding damage. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months. Two 2004 storms were Category 4: Hurricane Ivan, which made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Hurricane Charley, which hit the Florida Gulf Coast near Fort Myers. Charley killed at least 21 people and left thousands homeless. The total U.S. damage was estimated to be near $15 billion.


Category 5


Winds greater than 157 mph (250 kph). Storm surge greater than 18 feet (5 meters) above normal. Complete roof failure on many homes and industrial buildings. Smaller buildings and mobile homes blown over or completely blown away. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 feet (4.5 meters) above sea level and within 500 yards (460 meters) of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 kilometers) inland may be required. The last Category 5 storm to hit the United States was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. An estimated 250,000 were left homeless and the storm caused more than $20 billion in damage in the Bahamas, Florida and Louisiana. Fifty-five people were killed.


Source: National Hurricane Center


American Women Step Up as Nuclear Energy Advocates

Kristin Zaitz is confident that her nuclear power plant is safe.


Zaitz, an engineering manager, was at Diablo Canyon Power Plant during both her pregnancies and has scuba dived to inspect the plant, which hugs the California coast. Zaitz wears a pendant with a tiny bit of uranium inside, an item that tends to invite questions.


“We all have our perceptions of nuclear,” Zaitz said.


In a few years, Diablo Canyon will close, part of a trend nationwide. The availability of cheap natural gas and greater energy efficiency has reduced demand for nuclear power in recent years. Add to that ongoing concerns about public safety, such as those raised by memories of disasters at nuclear plants in Fukushima, Japan, Chernobyl in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union) and Three Mile Island in the United States.

Nuclear is ‘cleaner’ than fossil fuels

Supporters of nuclear power plants say that when a reactor-based generating station closes, not enough wind and solar power is available to make up the difference. They lament that energy companies tend to turn instead to fossil fuels — coal and natural gas — which produce environmentally harmful emissions.


Zaitz and her co-worker Heather Matteson, a reactor operator, started Mothers for Nuclear, their effort to get the word out that nuclear power is clean, safe and better for the environment than some alternative energy sources.  


“I went into the plant very skeptical of nuclear and being scared of it,” said Matteson. “It took me six to seven years to really feel like this is something good for the environment. I don’t want people to take six to seven years to make that decision. We don’t have that long.”

Matteson, too, wears the uranium necklace as a conversation starter. “Nuclear is fun,” she said. Is there any radiation emitted by the pendant? “There’s slightly more than from a banana,” she conceded.

Women seen as powerful advocates

Industry experts say that women who work in nuclear power can be powerful advocates for nuclear. They can help change attitudes of other women who tend to be more skeptical than men about nuclear energy’s benefits.


At the recent U.S. Women in Nuclear conference in San Francisco, women working in the industry talked about how more should be done to make nuclear power’s case to the public, and how they may be the best suited to do it.


“As mothers, I think we also have an important role to play in letting the public know that we support nuclear for the future, for our children,” said Matteson. “And we don’t know other mothers supporting nuclear power in a vocal way. We thought there was a gap to fill.”

Young women say they look at careers in this industry because they are socially minded.

‘Do something good for the world’


“I went into this wanting to do something good for the world,” Lenka Kollar, business strategy director at NuScale, a firm in Oregon that designs and markets small modular reactors. “Wanting to bring power to people. There are still more than a billion people in the world who don’t have electricity.”

Critics of nuclear energy say it doesn’t matter who is promoting it.

“Using mothers’ voices to argue for a technology that is fundamentally dangerous and that has been demonstrated by disasters like Fukushima to be not safe for the communities that surround the power plants or even cities that are hundreds of miles away is disingenuous,” said Kendra Klein, a staff scientist with Friends of the Earth, an environmental group.


While the future of nuclear power in the United States may be uncertain, the women here say they have a positive story to tell.



Women Stepping Up As Nuclear Energy Advocates

Nuclear power in the U.S. is under threat: power plants are closing and new construction is being abandoned. At a recent conference in San Francisco, women working in the industry talked about how more should be done to make nuclear power’s case to the public, and how they may be the best suited to do it. VOA’s Michelle Quinn attended the U.S. Women in Nuclear National Conference to find out more.


Yellen: Financial System Safer, But Adjustments May Be Needed

The head of the U.S. central bank says the financial system is safer now than it was before the recession, and urges Washington to make some adjustments in financial regulations, rather than trash them.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says the recession of 2008 cost nine million American jobs and meant millions of people lost their homes. She says financial reform regulations were intended to make it less likely that big institutions would fail in the future and to provide an orderly way to resolve the debts of big financial companies that do fail without government bailouts.

She says financial firms, particularly very large ones that could hurt the entire economy if they fail, are now required to keep larger reserves. That way if one loan goes bad, the firm is less likely to have to hastily sell off other assets at bad prices to cover the losses. Low reserve levels prompted a downward spiral when many fragile firms ran into trouble all at once, all of them trying to sell assets and no one willing to buy them.

Yellen acknowledges that over-regulation could hamper the lending and risk-taking needed for economic growth, but she says some research shows the current level of regulation hurts lending, while other research shows it helps.

In a Friday speech to a gathering of top economic officials from around the world at a resort in Wyoming, she said Fed officials are looking at ways to simplify regulations for small banks that would not cause problems for the national economy if they failed.

Small banks complain the cost of complying with complex regulations makes it hard to make loans. Small banks are important because they are often the source of capital for small companies, and such small, growing firms are the source of most new jobs.

Yellen’s closely-watched speech at the annual gathering of economists at a resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, comes after criticism from Republicans and others that stricter regulation is hurting lending and economic growth.

President Donald Trump has called for repealing a key part of the regulations called “Dodd-Frank” named after the legislators who crafted the law.


Top 5 Songs for Week Ending Aug. 26

We’re interfacing with the five most popular songs in the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart, for the week ending August 26, 2017.

We greet a new song this week, but that’s not the big story.

Number 5: Charlie Puth “Attention

Let’s open in fifth place, where Charlie Puth jumps two slots with “Attention.”

His first came in 2015, when his hit with Wiz Khalifa, “See You Again,” topped the Hot 100 for 12 weeks. Charlie says record bosses wanted him to simply write the song, not sing on it or appear in the video. He threatened to withhold the track if he didn’t get to participate…and that turned out to be the decision that made him a star.

Number 4: Imagine Dragons “Believer”

Imagine Dragons has a serious hit on its hands as “Believer” jumps a notch to fourth place.

It’s the Las Vegas band’s second biggest hit, following its 2012 breakthrough “Radioactive,” which peaked at number three and sold more than 10 million copies. On August 26, the band travels to Utah for the LoveLoud Festival. It’s the brainchild of lead singer Dan Reynolds and benefits LGBTQ youth within the Mormon Church.

Number 3: French Montanta Featuring Swae Lee “Unforgettable”

Holding in third place are French Montana and Swae Lee with “Unforgettable.” 

French is the new brand ambassador for Ciroc Vodka – he’s the personal choice of Ciroc boss Sean “Diddy” Combs. Mr. Montana helped develop and name its latest flavor, Ciroc French Vanilla. Diddy tells People Magazine that one dollar from the sale of every bottle will go toward the charitable Mama Hope Organization.

Number 2: DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Bryson Tiller “Wild Thoughts”

Staying put in second place are DJ Khaled, Rihanna, and Bryson Tiller with “Wild Thoughts.”

Anchoring the song is Carlos Santana’s 1999 hit “Maria, Maria.” In a statement to Billboard Magazine, Santana thanks his original collaborator, Wyclef Jean, and says DJ Khaled, Rihanna, and Bryson Tiller move it into a new dimension…with the groove still intact.

Number 1: Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber “Despacito”

Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber remain your Hot 100 champs for a 14th week with “Despacito.” That ties it with Los Del Rio’s 1996 hit “Macarena” as the longest-running Spanish-language champion in Hot 100 history.

The sky’s the limit from here, so you have to join us next week!


UK Police Slammed for Missing Clues to Stop Rock Star’s Sex Abuse

Detectives missed chances to stop pedophile rock star Ian Watkins in the years before he was charged with child sex abuse, Britain’s police watchdog said Friday.

Watkins, lead singer of the Welsh band Lostprophets, was sentenced in 2013 to 29 years in prison for crimes against children as young as 1.

In a highly critical report, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said that South Wales Police made mistakes and in some cases failed to “carry out even rudimentary investigation” into reports about Watkins’ behavior by an ex-girlfriend and other witnesses between 2008 and 2012.

Ex-girlfriend Joanne Mjadzelics told police in 2009 that she had a cellphone message from Watkins about his desire to sexually abuse children. The watchdog said police considered her report “malicious” and didn’t examine the phone.

Watkins, now 40, was eventually arrested for drug offenses in 2012, and police found evidence of abuse on his computers.

Lostprophets — which formed in 1997 and had a chart-topping album in 2006 with “Liberation Transmission” — disbanded after Watkins’ arrest.


Rosa Parks’ House May Be Returned to US From Germany

Section by section, American artist Ryan Mendoza painstakingly disassembled the small wood-frame home of civil rights icon Rosa Parks after learning that the struggling city of Detroit was going to have it demolished. He shipped it across the Atlantic Ocean and rebuilt it in the German capital of Berlin, saving the home and creating a new tourist attraction.

The house has been up in Berlin less than a year, but after violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the growing call to remove Confederate monuments in the United States, the New York native said it’s now clear to him that Parks’ house needs to return soon to the U.S.

“It’s actually become a necessity, as we see people rising up and seeing things for what they are,” he said. “As Americans begin to understand they have to re-contextualize these monuments, the Confederate statues, there is a lack of civil rights monuments to balance things out.”

Parks, who died in 2005, became a leading name in the civil rights movement for refusing in 1955 to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. She moved to Detroit in 1957 to escape death threats and stayed in the house with her brother and his family — crammed into the tiny residence with more than 15 people.

After the financial crisis of 2008 and Detroit’s dramatic decline, Parks’ home was abandoned and put on a list for demolition. Parks’ niece Rhea McCauley instead bought it from the city for $500 and donated it to Mendoza for preservation. In 2016, he and others took it carefully apart, then rebuilt it on the lot in Berlin where his studio and home are.

Queen Yahna, a soul and gospel singer from Philadelphia who now lives in Berlin, performed for the crowd at the house’s official dedication in April. Visiting the house this week, she said it doesn’t matter to her where the house is, so long as Parks’ struggle is remembered.

“The issue of racism is going on, negative things are going on and there are different things, positive, that can be brought to light, not just physical monuments,” she said. “The spirit is more important.”

But Mendoza said even though the house is tucked away on his lot, it still draws curious onlookers daily — including many Americans — showing how important a symbol it is.

“Imagine if the house were on a public setting in a prominent city in the U.S.?” he said. “That’s an educational tool that shouldn’t be denied the American people. They have to know their past.”

He said a foundation has offered to help pay the costs of moving it back to the U.S., and he’s been in talks with museums and a university about putting it on display, but there’s no timeline yet on when the house may return.

His dream would be to see the derelict home reconstructed on the lawn of the White House with the blessing of U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Trump says that he’s not a racist. This would be a wonderful moment for him to redeem himself in the eyes of Americans,” Mendoza said. “He wants to embrace all of America’s past. Why not embrace the house that Rosa Parks once lived in?”

McCauley, Parks’ niece who still lives in Detroit, told The Associated Press that she would welcome the home’s return to the U.S.

“We need all the help we can get, in light of all current events,” she said.