Day: May 14, 2019

Explorer Dives to Deepest Depths, Takes Time to Take it in

Taking the hours-long journey to what is believed to be the deepest point mankind has visited in any ocean was a complicated one, and for Victor Vescovo, it meant being constantly alert as he monitored his state-of-the-art vessel.

But when he reached 10,928 meters into the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean, Vescovo took the advice of the man whose record he just broke, Oscar-winning director James Cameron, and took 15 uninterrupted minutes to take in the view and the enormity of the moment.

Cameron told him he’d be busy, of course, but noted that “few if any people have seen what you’ve seen” so “deeply appreciate how fortunate you are to see it,” Vescovo recalled in an interview.

​Deepest ocean depths

Last month’s groundbreaking mission was filmed as part of an upcoming Discovery Channel documentary series that will chronicle Vescovo’s trips to the furthest parts of the world’s waters — the Atlantic Ocean, the Southern Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. He has done all except the Arctic plunge, which is set for the fall.

The entire journey took nearly 12 hours: four hours to descend, four hours spent at the bottom, and then about four hours to ascend again. Vescovo, a businessman and amateur pilot who has also traversed the highest mountain peaks, including Mount Everest, said the goal of the expedition was not to best Cameron’s mark in the ocean, but to go to areas that were unexplored.

“I was stunned to discover when I did my research that of the five oceans, four had never had a visitation to their bottoms,” he said. “I thought it was about time that someone actually did that.”

For his journey, Vescovo traveled in a vessel called the SDV Limiting Factor, a titanium craft that is billed as the “ultimate submersible” and the only one able to travel to such depths. It was outfitted with high definition cameras that documented everything, including creatures unknown to man.

New species and plastic

“There’ve been numerous new species thought found on this expedition. The scientific group is thrilled with the things that have been brought back for additional analysis. It’s really great,” he said.

He saw a very unusual jellyfish in the Indian Ocean but there was also an unsettling find — trash, particularly plastic, in the deepest part of the water.

The discovery of plastic in such far reaches proves the need for more vigilance to protect the oceans, said Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, which describes itself as the largest worldwide group in the world with the goal of saving the oceans.

“Vescovo’s discovery of plastic in the deepest part of the ocean is disturbing but not surprising because plastic is found throughout the water column in our oceans,” he said in a statement. “That’s why it can’t be easily ‘cleaned up.’ We need to focus on reducing the use and production of plastic in order to really protect our seas from plastic.”

Crucial ocean exploration

Patrick Lahey of Triton Submarines, which made the vessel that transported Vescovo and also followed Vescovo’s dives to the Challenger Deep, said the missions show why more exploration of the oceans are critical for science’s benefit.

“These are large swaths of the oceans that we’ve never seen that really we know virtually nothing about. I think it’s important for us as human beings to study these areas,” Lahey said.

“The ocean is the life force of our planet. I think this is a great opportunity for us to learn more about it and to try to use this tool that we’ve developed for that purpose.”


Stocks Rise, Claw Back Chunk of Monday’s Trade-War Plunge

Stocks climbed on Tuesday and clawed back a chunk of their losses from Monday’s rout, the latest whipsaw move as investors weigh just how badly the escalating U.S.-China trade war will hurt the economy. 

The day’s rally was nearly a mirror image of Monday’s plunge, when the S&P 500 had its worst day since early January, just not as severe: Technology companies led the way higher after bearing the brunt of the selling on Monday, Treasury yields rose modestly and gold gave back a bit of its gains. 

The S&P 500 rose 22.54 points, or 0.8%, to 2,834.41. It recovered nearly a third of its loss from Monday, and would now need to rise 3.9% to regain the record it set a couple weeks ago. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 207.06, or 0.8%, to 25,532.05, and the Nasdaq composite index jumped 87.47, or 1.1%, to 7,734.49. 

Of course, stocks are still lower than they were last week, following China’s pledge to raise tariffs on U.S. goods. Stocks also remain lower than they were on May 5, when President Donald Trump ignited this latest round of fear for markets by announcing on Twitter that the U.S. would raise tariffs on Chinese goods. 

Tuesday’s rally came after another round of morning Trump tweets on trade. He said, “When the time is right we will make a deal with China,” and he cited his “unlimited” respect for and friendship with China’s leader.

Investors are looking for a “place of equilibrium,” said Mark Hackett, chief of investment research for Nationwide Investment Management.

“My skepticism is that there’s really not a lot of news driving the rally,” he said. “It feels like an attempted recovery that may not have legs.”

‘Looking for path to progress’

In the meantime, any further hints of resolution on the trade dispute — or Twitter storms — could drive markets into their next swing. 

“We’re not counting on a full resolution,” said John Lynch, chief investment strategist at LPL Financial. “But, we’re looking for a path to progress.”

The worries about trade have shattered what had been a remarkably steady rise for stocks at the start of this year. As 2019 began, investors increasingly bet that a trade deal would happen, and the Federal Reserve said it would take a pause in raising interest rates, which helped the S&P 500 rocket to its best start to a year in decades. 

If the trade dispute gets worse, or lasts longer than many expect, it could hurt confidence among businesses and households. If that in turn drives spending lower, it would lead to lower economic growth and corporate profits. 

On Tuesday, at least, such worries eased. An index known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” which measures how much traders are paying to protect themselves from upcoming price swings for stocks, dropped 12.1%. A day earlier, it had spiked 28.1%. 

The VIX index remains higher than it’s been for much of the past five years, but fear is considerably lower than it was during the market sell-off late last year sparked by worries about a possible recession. 

Tech companies post gains

Investors also returned to stocks of tech companies, which may have the most to lose from a protracted U.S.-China trade battle because many of their customers and suppliers are abroad. Tech stocks in the S&P 500 jumped 1.6%, with semiconductor companies making particularly big gains. 

A day earlier, tech stocks had taken the market’s heaviest losses. 

On the flip side were utility stocks, which were the only one of the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500 to fall. A day earlier, when all the fear in the market put an alluring spotlight on the utility sector’s steady profits and dividends, they had been the only S&P 500 sector to manage a gain. 

Other investments seen as safe harbors also dropped, such as U.S. government bonds. When a bond’s price falls, its yield rises, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.41% from 2.40% late Monday. It was at 2.45% at the end of last week. 

Gold is another investment that tends to do fade when investors are feeling more optimistic, and it fell $5.50 to settle at $1,296.30 per ounce. 

In overseas stock markets, European indexes gained. The French CAC 40 jumped 1.5%, the German Dax rose 1% and the FTSE 100 in London climbed 1.1%. Asian markets were mixed. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropped 1.5%, Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.6% and South Korea’s Kospi ticked up 0.1%.

Silver jumps 4 cents

In the commodities markets, silver rose 4 cents to $14.81 per ounce, and copper gained a penny to $2.73 per pound.

Benchmark U.S. oil rose 74 cents to settle at $61.78 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, gained $1.01 to $71.24 a barrel. 

Natural gas rose 4 cents to $2.66 per 1,000 cubic feet, heating oil rose 2 cents to $2.06 per gallon and wholesale gasoline rose a penny to $1.98 per gallon. 

The dollar rose to 109.64 Japanese yen from 109.34 yen late Monday. The euro slipped to $1.1207 from $1.1231, and the British pound fell to $1.2905 from $1.2965. 


Creating New Batteries from Dead Ones

Researchers at Rice University have discovered an eco-friendly way to recycle lithium-ion batteries, the kind that power nearly every electronic device today. Their findings could keep more batteries out of landfills and even create new batteries from dead ones. Tina Trinh reports.


The ISS Gets A New Generation of Astronaut Helpers

Even though you hear a lot about human beings moving into space permanently, there are really only three humans in space at any give time. They are on the International Space Station and they are very, very busy. But they just got some robotic help from NASA. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


Actor Tim Conway of ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ Dies at 85

Emmy-winning actor Tim Conway, who brought an endearing, free-wheeling goofiness to skits on “The Carol Burnett Show” that cracked up his cast mates as well as the audience, died Tuesday at the age of 85, his publicist said.

Publicist Howard Bragman said Conway died in the Los Angeles area on Tuesday morning. Before his death, he had suffered complications from normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) but had no signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, Bragman said.

Conway won three Emmy awards for acting on the Burnett show and a fourth as a writer in the 1960s and ’70s. He also won guest actor Emmys for a 1996 appearance on “Coach” and another in 2008 for “30 Rock.”

Burnett said Tuesday she was “heartbroken” at Conway’s death.

“He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever,” she said in a statement.

Vicki Lawrence, who co-starred on “The Carol Burnett Show,” called Conway “hysterical, crazy, bold, fearless, humble, kind, adorable. … The angels are laughing out loud tonight,” the actress wrote Tuesday in an Instagram posting.

Comedy fame

Conway first found television fame on the 1960s comedy “McHale’s Navy” playing Ensign Parker, a befuddled by-the-book officer in a group of unconventional sailors in the Pacific during World War II.

He would find greater success in the comedy sketches on Burnett’s show starting in 1968. He was at his best with characters that were a little naive, clumsy or slow-witted, and especially when teamed with straight man Harvey Korman and given the chance to show off his improvisational and slapstick skills.

“Nobody could be with Tim and keep a straight face once he got on a roll,” Burnett said in a 2003 interview with the Television Academy Foundation.

She said Conway would stick with a sketch’s script through dress rehearsal but once it was time to tape the performance for a broadcast, he began freelancing. His improvised antics often reduced his co-stars — especially his close friend Korman — to tears of laughter.

“I think Conway’s goal in life was to destroy Harvey,” Burnett told the Television Academy Foundation.

​Dangerous dentist skit

In one popular skit, Conway’s portrayal of an inept dentist who accidentally injects himself with painkiller resulted in Korman, who was playing the patient, laughing so hard that he wet his pants, Burnett said.

Conway’s other most memorable recurring characters included an elderly man whose shuffling pace always caused trouble and Mr. Tudball, a businessman plagued by an indifferent and inept secretary played by Burnett.

Conway started on the show as a guest star in its first season in 1967 but did not officially become a regular until 1975.

“People have often asked me, ‘If you weren’t in show business, what would you be doing?’” Conway wrote in his memoir “What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life.” “The truth is I don’t think there’s anything else I could be doing so the answer would have to be, nothing … I guess you could say I’m in the only business I could be in.”

His popularity on the Burnett program led to his own shows, a sitcom in 1970 and a variety show in 1980, and they lasted about a year each. He said they failed because he was not comfortable being the star.

Before Korman’s death in 2008 he and Conway toured with an act that featured stand-up comedy, recreations of their better-known skits and question-and-answer sessions with the audience.

Movie career

Conway’s movie work included “The World’s Greatest Athlete” in 1973, “The Apple Dumpling Gang” in 1975, “The Shaggy D.A.” in 1976, “The Prize Fighter” in 1979 and “Private Eyes” in 1980. Conway also starred in the “Dorf” series of short videos as a sawed-off golf instructor, borrowing the accent his Mr. Tudball character used. He said Dorf was one of his favorite characters.

Conway, who was born Dec. 15, 1933, grew up near Cleveland and after serving in the Army worked in Cleveland radio and developed comedy routines. Actress Rose Marie, a co-star on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” liked his work and helped him get a regular spot on “The Steve Allen Show” in the early 1960s.


Former Manager Charged with Abuse of Marvel’s Stan Lee

A former business manager of Stan Lee has been charged in California with five counts of elder abuse involving the late Marvel Comics mastermind. 

A request for a restraining order filed last year by Lee’s daughter alleged Keya Morgan was manipulating the mentally declining Lee, preventing him from seeing family and friends, and trying to take control of his money and business affairs. 

The felony charges filed Friday by Los Angeles County prosecutors against the 43-year-old Morgan include theft, embezzlement, forgery or fraud against an elder adult, and false imprisonment of an elder adult. A misdemeanor count also alleges elder abuse. 

The charges date to June, when Morgan was working closely with Lee, who died in November. 

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Morgan. His attorney Alex Kessel said Morgan is not guilty.

“He has never abused or taken advantage of Mr. Lee in any way,” Kessel said in an email. “We expect him to be completely exonerated of all charges.” 

In June, attorneys for the 95-year-old Lee and his daughter Joan C. Lee were granted a restraining order against Morgan that barred contact with Lee and revealed that police were investigating Morgan for elder abuse.  

Lee, co-creator of such characters as Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, was for decades the face of Marvel Comics. His movie cameos, still emerging after his death in films like “Avengers: Endgame,” are a beloved element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 


Uber Drivers Are Contractors, Not Employees, US Labor Agency Says

A U.S. labor agency has concluded that ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc’s drivers are independent contractors and not its employees, which could prevent them from joining unions.

The National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel, in a memo released on Tuesday, said Uber drivers set their hours, own their cars and are free to work for the company’s competitors, so they cannot be considered employees under federal labor law.

San Francisco-based Uber in a statement said it is “focused on improving the quality and security of independent work, while preserving the flexibility drivers and couriers tell us they value.”

Uber shares were up 6.4 percent at $39.46 in late trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The memo dated April 16 came in an NLRB case against Uber that has yet to reach the five-member board, which is independent of the general counsel.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, independent contractors cannot join unions and do not have legal protection when they complain about working conditions.

In January, President Donald Trump’s appointees to the NLRB adopted a new test making it more difficult for workers to prove they are a company’s employees.

Uber, its top rival Lyft Inc, and many other “gig economy” companies have faced scores of lawsuits accusing them of misclassifying workers as independent contractors under federal and state wage laws.

Employees are significantly more costly because they are entitled to the minimum wage, overtime pay and reimbursements for work-related expenses under those laws.

Uber, in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week, said it would pay up to $170 million to settle tens of thousands of arbitration cases with drivers who claim they were misclassified. Uber denied any wrongdoing, but said settling the cases was preferable to drawn-out litigation.

The company has agreed to pay an additional $20 million to end long-running lawsuits by thousands of drivers in California and Massachusetts.

The U.S. Department of Labor in a memo released last month said an unidentified “gig economy” company’s workers were not its employees under federal wage law because it did not control their work.

The company, which appeared from the memo to provide house-cleaning services, had a similar relationship with its workers as Uber does with drivers. The memo signaled a shift from the Obama administration, which maintained that most workers should be considered companies’ employees.


5G Technology Excites, Worries US Lawmakers

If you’re fuzzy on next-generation 5G wireless connectivity, you aren’t alone.

Powerful U.S. lawmakers who help shape the legal framework for America’s technological advances on Tuesday admitted ignorance and confusion about the highly-anticipated broadband system already being deployed in parts of the world.

“I actually know very little about 5G,” said Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Today, we’re going to talk about something that I’m by no means an expert on,” the panel’s chairman, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, said at a hearing where America’s top cybersecurity officials testified on 5G’s promise and looming perils.

“It’s really hard for people to get their heads around what we’re talking about here,” Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said. “First of all, what is it?”

Witnesses said the fifth generation of wireless technology, or 5G, will bring eye-popping data transmission capacity and spur a new age of digital device connectivity that will revolutionize many people’s daily lives, as well as America’s economic output.

“5G is going to be about machine-to-machine communication, the internet of things,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cyber and International Communications Robert Strayer.

“Advances in 5G will support greater bandwidth, capacity for billions of sensors and smart devices, and ultra-low latency [minimal data delays] necessary for highly-reliable critical communications,” said the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, Christopher Krebs. “Autonomous vehicles, critical manufacturing, medical doctors performing remote surgery, and a smart electric grid represent a small fraction of the technologies and economic activity that 5G will support.”

Added Strayer: “The massive amounts of data transmitted by Internet of things devices on 5G networks will also advance artificial intelligence.”

Lawmakers signaled they are coming to grips with the anticipated impact.

“I’m told 5G is expected to provide not only 20 times faster network performance, but also generate 12.3 trillion [dollars] in global sales activity by 2035,” Feinstein said. “I’m told it’s going to create millions of new jobs and launch entirely new industries.”

With such an impact, including a new era of ultra-connectivity, will come a need to protect the network from foreign interference or manipulation and to guard against espionage and data theft, according to U.S. officials.

“With all the critical services relying on 5G networks, the stakes for safeguarding them could not be higher. A disruption to that underlying 5G network will disrupt all of those critical services. That’s why this is so fundamentally different and so much more important that we get the security right,” Strayer said.

“When we talk about [interruptions to] 5G, we’re talking about autonomous vehicles not being able to operate,” Krebs said, adding that such a scenario constitutes “a life-safety issue where things won’t work as designed.”

Lawmakers focused on China, which has emerged as an early global leader in producing 5G infrastructure.

“The Chinese government has invested more than $400 billion in development. It has supported Chinese industry efforts in international standard-setting bodies,” Feinstein said.

She added that Chinese law requires companies like telecommunications giant Huawei to assist and cooperate with state security entities.

“Fundamentally, the private sector in China is an extension of the government, and so if our allies decide to trust Huawei, they are deciding to trust the Chinese government with their big data,” Sasse said.

Witnesses echoed the apprehensions.

“We are concerned that China could compel actions by [5G] network vendors to act against the interests of our citizens or citizens of other countries around the world,” Strayer said. “They [vendors] could be ordered to undermine network security, steal personal information or intellectual property, conduct espionage, disrupt critical services or conduct cyberattacks.”

The United States bans Chinese companies from critical telecommunications infrastructure and has warned allies against Huawei’s participation in building their 5G networks.

“We must protect our critical telecom infrastructure, and the United States is calling on all our security partners to be vigilant and to reject any enterprise that would compromise the integrity of our communications technology or national security systems,” Vice President Mike Pence said earlier this year.

“Our success will depend on engagement with international allies,” Krebs said at the hearing. “Ultimately, our goal, our vision is to enable that broader collective defense against cybersecurity threats, where the government and industry understand the risks we face and are prepared to defend against them.”

“The United States will be a leader in 5G deployment, and we will do so using trusted vendors to build our networks,” Strayer said. “Through our engagements, many other countries are now acknowledging the supply-chain risks and beginning to strengthen their security alongside the United States.”

A few U.S. carriers have activated initial 5G systems in several U.S. cities. Coverage and carrier participation are expected to grow exponentially in coming years.


New Woody Allen Movie to Open in France in September

Woody Allen’s latest film, which has been put on ice in the U.S. over decades-old sex abuse allegations against the director, will be released in France this year, a distributor said Tuesday.

“A Rainy Day in New York” starring Timothee Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez and Jude Law will hit French cinemas Sept. 18, Mars Films said ahead of the opening of the Cannes film festival.

“The 50th feature film by Woody Allen … is a romantic comedy set in present-day New York City,” the company’s CEO Stephane Celerier said on Twitter.

In February, Allen filed a $68 million (60 million euros) lawsuit against Amazon for breach of contract, accusing the streaming giant of canceling the film because of a “baseless” accusation that he sexually abused his daughter.

Allen has said Amazon sought to terminate the deal in June 2018, and has since refused to pay him $9 million in financing for “A Rainy Day in New York.”

The film has been completed but not released.

Earlier this month, Variety magazine reported it would be released in Italy in October.

The movie was one of several to be produced with the Oscar-winning director under a series of agreements reached after Allen made the “Crisis in Six Scenes” program for Amazon.

Allen has been accused of molesting Dylan Farrow, his adopted daughter, when she was seven years old in the early 1990s. 

He was cleared of the charges, first leveled by his then-partner Mia Farrow, after two separate months-long investigations, and has steadfastly denied the abuse. But Dylan, now an adult, maintains she was molested.

Her brother Ronan Farrow revived the allegations on the day the Cannes film festival opened in 2016 with Allen’s “Cafe Society,” lashing out at the media for failing to ask hard questions about the director.

Amazon’s relationship with Allen began with “Cafe Society” (2016), to which the studio had purchased the rights, before producing and distributing “Wonder Wheel” (2017), then committing to four additional films.


Wall Street Rebounds as US-China Trade Rhetoric Cools

Technology stocks led the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq higher on Tuesday, with U.S. stocks reclaiming ground lost to Monday’s steep sell-off as investors took heart from a tonal shift in ongoing U.S. trade negotiations with China.

All three major U.S. indexes were in the black, recovering some ground from their worst one-day percentage losses in months. The bellwether S&P 500 was hovering more than 3% below its most recent all-time high reached two weeks ago.

Investors’ nerves were calmed after U.S. President Donald Trump referred to the escalating trade war with China as “a little squabble,” adding that “we have a good dialogue going.”

Beijing echoed that sentiment, with a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman telling reporters: “My understanding is that China and the United States have agreed to continue pursuing relevant discussions.”

“Either this is a bargain-hunting rally or a dead cat bounce, or there is some consensus that something meaningful is going to come out of the trade talks in the next four to six weeks,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

But Hellwig also feels the rollercoaster of the escalating trade war has had an effect on investor psychology.

“I’m starting to see some investors becoming anesthetized on the negotiations and focusing on what the market’s going to look like a year from now,” Hellwig added.

Boeing Co provided the biggest boost to the Dow, rising 2.1% as tariff-sensitive industrials buoyed the blue chip index.

Ralph Lauren Corp dropped 3.8% after the apparel company posted quarterly results.

Uber Technologies and ride-hailing peer Lyft Inc were both trading higher, reversing course after their post-debut slides. Their stocks were up 1.7% and 5.5%, respectively.

Walt Disney Co announced it would take control of Comcast Corp’s Hulu in a move to challenge Netflix and others in the global video streaming war.

Disney stock climbed 2.0%, while Comcast gained 2.4%. Netflix shares were up slightly.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 344.71 points, or 1.36%, to 25,669.7, the S&P 500 gained 39.29 points, or 1.40%, to 2,851.16 and the Nasdaq Composite added 124.25 points, or 1.62%, to 7,771.27.

Of the 11 major sectors of the S&P 500, all but utilities were in the black. Technology stocks had the largest percentage gains, climbing 2.1%.

Chipmakers enjoyed a reprieve, with the Philadelphia SE Semiconductor Index rising 2.7% after suffering its worst one-day percentage loss since Jan. 3.

First quarter earnings season is winding down, with 453 of S&P 500 companies having reported, 75.3% of which beat analyst expectations, slightly below the 76% beat rate for the last four quarters.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 3.70-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.74-to-1 ratio favored advancers. The S&P 500 posted 23 new 52-week highs and 6 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 41 new highs and 79 new lows.