Archive Month: June 2017

Climate change will have an impact, not just on the temperature, but on the economy, according to a new analysis. A group of researchers has just released a study focused on the future economic effects of climate change in the U.S. Using six different economic variables, the team is predicting, with county by county accuracy, how a warming climate will rapidly change American society over the next century. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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A New York jury ruled Thursday in federal court that a skyscraper with apparent ties to the Iranian government can be seized by the U.S. government, in what prosecutors are calling the single largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture case in American history.

The jury found that the Alavi Foundation, which owns about 60 percent of the 36-floor building, funneled money to the Assa Corporation, a shell company for Iran’s state-controlled bank that owned the remaining 40 percent of the building.

The defense argued that the Alavi Foundation, founded as a charity by the shah of Iran in the 1970s, had been tricked into believing that Assa had been sold to private investors after the 1995 implementation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“It’s really difficult to understand why you can be held accountable for the knowledge that you were trying to get, but you were lied to about,” defense attorney John Gleeson said during closing arguments, according to The New York Times.

Prosecutors asserted that officials from the Alavi Foundation lied, hiding and shredding documents in an attempt to erase guilt.

“The owners of 650 Fifth Avenue gave the Iranian government a critical foothold in the very heart of Manhattan through which Iran successfully circumvented U.S. economic sanctions,” Joon H. Kim, a lawyer from the prosecutor’s office, told French news agency AFP.

Situated on New York City’s posh Fifth Avenue, the building is valued at between $500 million and $1 billion. The court has decided to distribute the proceeds from its sale to the victims of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks.

In particular, victims of the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks attack and of the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia will receive benefits. Tehran has consistently denied involvement in either of the attacks.

In 2013, a lower court decided the case in the U.S. government’s favor, but the decision was stayed on appeal.

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In a major boost to Thailand’s transportation infrastructure, the military government is set to sign a more than $5 billion agreement with China for a high-speed rail network.

The first stage of the rail, the 252 kilometers from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, is a key step in a line that, once complete, will stretch more than 1,260 kilometers to Kunming, in China’s Yunnan province. The next stages will reach the Thai border with Laos. 

Analysts see the rail line as an extension of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, expanding regional trade and investment. The project also highlights China’s growing regional influence.

The agreement, expected to be signed in July, follows almost two years of delays in negotiations, with final details of the contract still to be made public.

The deal has also raised widespread criticism of the government’s use of powerful clauses in an interim charter.

Economic boost for Thailand

Economists say investment in Thailand’s rail infrastructure needs to be a priority.

Pavida Pananond, an associate professor of business studies at Thammasat University, said general improvements to Thailand’s transportation network are welcome.

Several other countries, including Japan and South Korea, have put forward transportation plans and proposals for rail systems in recent years.

“It’s good for Thailand and it’s good for Thai business. I would say a clear ‘yes’ because Thailand is in dire need of better infrastructure, especially with regard to transport,” Pavida said.

Thailand, she said, faces high transportation logistics costs due to a reliance on roads.

Talks surrounding the Sino-Thai rail agreement have been bogged down for over two years due to disputes over land access to China, debate over interest charges on loans from Chinese banks, and the eligibility of Chinese engineers and architects to work on the project.

Professor of economics Somphob Manarangsan said the rail project offers the region significant economic potential and a boost in Chinese foreign direct investment.

He said Thailand is also looking to China to invest in the government-backed Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) that is targeting regional foreign investment.

“Thailand wants them [China] to move their regional supply chain outside of China to the mainland of ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] area, which has Thailand at the hub, connecting to CLMV [Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam],” he told VOA.

The rail network includes a 410-kilometer section through Laos, in which China is contributing 70 percent of the total $5.8 billion cost. Laos sees the rail line as vital to enable it to export goods to the Thai seaport of Laem Chabang, near Bangkok.

Special powers raise concern

But the project has come under increasing criticism in Thailand after the military government, in power since May 2014, insisted on using powers under Section 44 of the interim charter that give the government absolute authority in policy application.

The government claims the use of the special power was to ensure Chinese investment, expertise, technology and equipment.

Former army chief and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told local media the use of the charter powers was to clear legal hurdles in the Thai-Sino rail project, “not a special favor to China but to Thailand’s benefit.”

But the use of the laws was challenged by organizations of Thai professional engineers and architects who said Chinese engineers were not registered to work in Thailand.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, in a commentary, said Thailand should press for open bidding on the project to ensure the country ended up with the “best bid with the best value.”

“Instead, opting for the Chinese plan is poised to violate a slew of Thai laws and undermine the government’s own good governance agenda,” Thitinan said.

Besides exemptions to Chinese engineers and architects working on the project, the charter articles also exempt state procurement laws and environmental regulations covering forest reserves, which will be set aside for the line’s construction.

Thammasat University’s Pavida said other concerns include levels of transparency on the agreement.

“People don’t know the details. People haven’t seen much information on the potential benefit, and partly, this is because the feasibility study has been done by the Chinese,” she said.

“So, if you look at that and the Chinese try to sell their technology and then we let them do the feasibility study, so they would say, ‘yes, it is feasible.’ So that’s one of the reasons why people do not have trust in the rush into this,” she said.

Analysts said the government’s push to sign an agreement comes as Thai’s Prayut is due to visit China in September to attend meetings of the BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — forum in Xiamen.

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India is set to rollout a momentous tax reform at midnight Friday that will transform the country of 1.3 billion people into a single market.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) will replace an entanglement of more than a dozen confusing levies with a single tax and bring down barriers between states.

But the transition is bringing upheaval. The new tax has sparked strikes, protests and concerns it could disrupt many businesses unprepared for a leap into the digital economy.

In markets across the country, confusion and chaos prevail among millions of small shopkeepers and traders, who have for decades maintained records in dusty ledgers and issued paper receipts to customers. Some are hurriedly investing in computers as new rules require all but the smallest businesses to submit online taxes every month.

Calculator to computer

Suresh Kumar, who runs a family owned store in a bustling neighborhood market in New Delhi, has never operated a computer and does not have an Internet connection in his shop. His customers mostly pay in cash and a calculator on his counter is the only modern gadget he has used since he opened this shop 47 years ago.

“How will I pay the salary of an accountant? I can barely cover the costs of these three men who help me,” Kumar said, pointing out that stores like his run on wafer-thin profit margins to stay in business.

The archaic accounting systems that were the method of operation of thousands of shops and traders also kept them out of the formal economy.

But as GST draws them into the tax net, government revenues are expected to get a huge boost in a country where tax compliance has been very low.

​Growing pains

The government agrees there will be growing pains due to the scale of the task ahead but points to long-term advantages. Over time, the new tax is expected to add about 2 percent to gross domestic output and vastly improve business efficiencies in the world’s fastest growing economy.

Economists say the GST will be a benefit for manufacturers, because it will free up domestic trade by cutting through a gigantic bureaucracy that involved a myriad of tax inspectors and checkpoints at state borders.

At the moment, trucks transporting goods lose an estimated 60 percent of transit time as they wait at state borders. Paying bribes was a fact of life accepted by businesses.

The tax will also make India’s $2 trillion economy more attractive to investors as it makes the economy more transparent.

More time needed

But in recent weeks many businesses have called for a postponement of the July 1 rollout, saying they did not get enough time to prepare.

K.E. Raghunathan, president of the All India Manufacturers Organization, said businesses need more time to adjust.

“The way it is being implemented, it is bound to create lots of chaotic conditions,” he said.

Underlining concerns of millions of small and medium manufacturers, he said, “they neither have the wherewithal to understand the sudden implementation and if they approach chartered accountants or consultants, it costs lots of money.”

A big concern is that the GST being rolled out by India is far more complex than that introduced by other countries where a single rate prevails. There will be four layers of taxation with rates of 5, 12, 18 and 28 percent.

Manufacturers and traders complain the different levels are creating confusion.

More than 50,000 textile traders went on strike this week. Thousands of other traders shut businesses Friday.

Many big and small retailers worried about the switchover have been offering massive discount sales across the country to get rid of their inventories.

Government pushes ahead

But the government has brushed aside concerns about businesses not being prepared for the switchover. 

“If he is still not ready, then I am afraid he does not want to be ready,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently as he rejected calls for a delay of the rollout.

Businesses say the tax rollout is the second disruption they have faced, coming months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s radical move to scrap 86 percent of the country’s currency, which slowed the economy.

As customers pour into his shop to buy stationery and other items, New Delhi shopkeeper Vimal Jain wonders whether he will handle customers or enter transactions in a computer starting Saturday. 

“Now this is another headache,” he said. “We had barely begun to recover from demonetization and now this sword hangs over our head.”

The tax will be ushered in at a grand midnight ceremony in parliament, but even that has become contentious. Calling it a “publicity stunt,” the main opposition Congress Party and several other parties have said they will boycott the special session.

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One hundred fifty years ago, an event occurred that became a part of American history still studied by academics today: Countless Chinese railroad workers for the Central Pacific Railroad stopped going to work.

“It’s significant because this was the first major strike that any Chinese group ever did. There were earlier strikes, but this was a major one, which involved 2,000 Chinese who struck for one week,” said Chinese-American historian SueFawn Chung, who is professor emerita of the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Railroad work

Chung recently discovered an old newspaper article that gave a description of an explosion two days before the start of the strike, which may have sparked it.

“The Chinese were working on the railroad and it was very dangerous,” Chung said. “There were explosions. There were accidents. There were deaths all around. This particular one was so horrific that the Chinese had to pick up the body parts of horses and white supervisors and other fellow Chinese people.”

The Chinese workers wanted more pay, shorter working hours and better working conditions. While historians have long thought the workers did not receive what they wanted and returned to work, after not receiving food from their bosses for a week, Chung made a new connection in another newspaper article.

“But a month later, they got their, at least their wage increase that they wanted from $35 to $40 a month. It was sort of the Chinese system of ‘save face.’ ‘OK, we’ll let you save face by saying we didn’t accomplish anything, but you’ll give us the $5 increase a month, and we will have won,’ but of course no one publicized the fact that they got the $5 a month increase.”

Watch: Historians Uncovering Details of 150-Year-Old Chinese Strike

Family histories

As historians look for new details about the Chinese railroad workers, descendants also have been doing their own digging into the past.

One of the descendants of a railroad worker is San Diego physician Russell Low, who believes his great-grandfather, Lai Wah Huang, and Huang’s brother, Jick Wah, took part in the strike. Like most of the Chinese railroad workers, Low’s ancestors came to the U.S. from China’s Guangdong province and helped build the railroad that would link the western part of the United States to the East.

“My family took part in the building, not only of the West, but really the building of America. That railroad that he helped to build really united our country, and it was probably one of the most important achievements for America in the 19th century and we took part in that,” Low said.

Low said Jick Wah Huang lost an eye in a blasting accident. After building the railroad, he went to Montana and opened a dry goods store. Low’s great-grandfather, Lai Wah Huang, became successful in the cigar industry in San Francisco. He met and married Tom Ying at a time when Chinese women were rare in the United States.

“She was brought here as a child slave. She came to this country when she was 9 years of age, and she was forced to work in servitude as a slave for a very rich family,” said Low, who described how his great-grandmother was treated badly before escaping her servitude. She and her husband had five children.

“So you went from a railroad worker and a slave girl to the first Chinese (American) graduating (with an engineering degree) from UC Berkley,” said Low of one of his grand uncles.

“So you went from a railroad worker and a slave girl to the first Chinese graduating from UC Berkley,” said Low of one of his granduncles.

​Numerous descendants

The descendants of Huang number 100. They include war heroes, such as Low’s father, who received a Silver Star for his actions in the World War II.

“If you think about what binds these railroad worker descendants together, and we’ve all met each other, I think it’s this courage of the ancestors,” Low said. “These young men who built that railroad had the right stuff, a determination where they never quit … you had to adapt. They knew how to learn so they could bend like a supple willow tree and never break.”

Low said these characteristics have been passed down through the generations as the legacy of the railroad workers who left their homes for the unknown in hopes of a better life.

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U.S. economic growth in the first quarter of 2017 was better than expected but not by much. The Commerce Department says U.S. GDP, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the country, grew 1.4 percent from January to March, 0.2 percent faster than the previous estimate. But many analysts believe U.S. growth will improve in the second quarter. And growth prospects for the global economy are the best they’ve been in six years. Mil Arcega has more.

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It looked like a hostage swap, only the currency was livestock and the mission was to end decades of deadly clashes.

More than 50 sheep, goats and cows stood in the scorching heat of a desolate no-man’s land in arid northern Kenya, as Maasai and Samburu herders negotiated their handover.

Lipan Kitonga cast a critical eye over his emaciated herd, which 10 gun-toting Samburu had stolen from his home in Isiolo County, 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of Kenya’s capital.

“I was not around at the time,” said Kitonga, a community-based police officer, known as a police reservist, dressed in camouflage fatigues with a G3 rifle in hand. “Otherwise it would have been a different matter,” he said, his voice still tight with anger nine days after the animal theft.

Drought and violence

Nomadic herders in remote northern Kenya, which is awash with illegal arms, frequently raid cattle from each other and fight over scarce pasture and water, especially during droughts.

A wave of violence has hit Isiolo’s neighboring Laikipia region in recent months as armed herders searching for grazing have driven tens of thousands of cattle onto private farms and ranches from denuded communal land.

The livestock exchange was organized by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), a charity set up in 2004 with support from donors and conservationists to reduce conflict and poverty among nomads by helping them better manage their land.

Almost 300,000 people are members of NRT’s 33 conservancies, which are community organizations focused on conservation, owning nearly 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares) of land across Kenya’s north and coast.

Nomads no more

Drought has hit millions this year in northern Kenya, where most people live off their livestock. As Kenya’s population has doubled in 25 years, nomads can no longer freely follow the rains, turning some overgrazed common lands to dust.

“You have got more people, with more livestock, on less and less productive rangeland and it’s a really explosive situation,” said Mike Harrison, chief executive of NRT, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “The only answer to this is that everybody has to invest in improving their land.”

NRT promotes rotational grazing with a sustainable number of livestock, which allows land to rest, and the reseeding of degraded areas. Zones are set aside for wildlife, people and livestock, with limited access during drought for nomadic animals from other communities.

It also helps develop new businesses — tourism, bead-making and livestock markets — so nomads are less dependent on herding.

Tourism is the real money-spinner.

The most successful conservancies earn about $500,000 a year from visitors paying daily entry fees of $50-$80, Harrison said.

These earnings go into a community fund with 40 percent spent on operations, such as rangers’ salaries, and 60 percent on community projects, such as education and health, NRT says.


One of NRT’s main achievements has been to reduce conflict, cattle rustling and poaching by funding more than 500 rangers, trained by Kenya Wildlife Service, to patrol members’ land.

Many are police reservists, like Kitonga, issued rifles by the government to back up the overstretched police.

In Nasuulu, just north of Isiolo town, the Samburu, Turkana, Somali and Borana — who have traditionally fought each other — have come together to form one conservancy, an NRT member.

“They never used to talk to each other before, but they are now working together,” said Omar Godana, Nasuulu’s chairman.


Wildlife protected, too

Elephant poaching has stopped on 35,000 hectare (86,487 acre) Nasuulu since 12 NRT-funded scouts were deployed, he said.

NRT’s mobile security teams work with the police and wildlife service and receive aircraft and tracker-dog backup from a nearby wildlife conservancy, Lewa.

With increased security and strict controls on grazing, shootouts between armed herders and rangers are inevitable.

“It’s a killer squad,” said John Leparsanti, a Samburu herder in Laikipia who sees the crackdown on illegal grazing on NRT conservancies as a threat to his traditional way of life. “When there is a biting drought we cannot graze.”

Herding is key to the identity and culture of Kenya’s nomads, whose young men are initiated as warriors in colorful ceremonies where each kills a cow and drinks its blood. Their role as ‘morans’ is to guard the community and its animals.

Livestock provide nomads with a ready income because they can be sold quickly for cash. Pastoralists often do not have bank accounts and have high illiteracy rates because they roam over vast terrains with their cattle from a young age.

“We are not ready to do business like other tribes because we believe in cows,” said Samburu politician Mathew Lempurkel. “What are we going to replace them with?”

Harrison says less than 1 percent of NRT members’ land is set aside exclusively for wildlife.

Livestock is life

In remote, insecure lands, with poor roads and patchy mobile phone networks, there are no obvious alternative ways of life.

“If we went to say: ‘Look, you’ve all got to cut your livestock numbers in half, we would be laughed out the door,” Harrison said. “It’s a long slow process of rethinking what the incentives might be, trying different options.”

The authority of elders who used to control shared grazing land has been eroded by centralized government rule and modern education, experts say.

As climate change has brought increasingly frequent and prolonged drought and less grass, herders are keeping more goats as they can browse on shrubs and young shoots, unlike cattle.

The goats rip out the grass roots, further degrading the rangeland and reinforcing the vicious downwards cycle.

Some northern counties have formalized traditional land management customs in local bylaws, with the aim of giving power back to elders, in contrast to NRT’s approach of supporting decision-making by conservancy boards of directors.

“When you have the elders managing, there is enhanced ownership and the feeling of exclusion is not there,” said George Wamwere-Njoroge, an expert with the International Livestock Research Institute, which supports such initiatives.

ILRI is also encouraging herders to keep fewer, healthier animals, which fetch a better price at local markets, instead of trucking their cattle for 24 hours to the capital, Nairobi, where cartels control sales, he said.

Status cows

One solution, rarely discussed by politicians, would be to reduce the number of livestock owned by wealthy, urban elites, who keep vast herds on northern lands as a status symbol.

Unlike in the past, when droughts would naturally have reduced livestock numbers, the elites ship in hay and water to keep their animals alive.

“A lot of destitute pastoralists have dropped out and moved to the small trading centers and depend on relief and petty trade,” said Wamwere-Njoroge. “But the elite pastoralist animals keep on going.”

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France is known worldwide for its wine, food and culture, but under its new president, the French are aiming to be the new global hub for tech startups.

President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to build a version of Silicon Valley in France. His administration has launched pro-business initiatives that are loosening government restrictions and encouraging entrepreneurs to launch their startups in the country.

“The tradition has been in Europe and in France to invest in big, traditional companies and not specifically [in] tech startups. So we will dedicate a €10 billion fund to the investment in tech startups in France,” said Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s Secretary of State for Digital Affairs.

Both public and private investments will factor into Macron’s vision of France as a “country of unicorns” — the term popularly used for tech startups valued at $1 billion or more, said Mahjoubi, who recently was in New York City for “La French Touch” conference, where he discussed France’s strategy for attracting the tech world’s best and brightest.

In the French tech world, all eyes are on the privately financed Station F, which is set to open this summer in Paris. Billed as the world’s biggest startup campus, the 34,000-square-meter space already has major tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Ubisoft signed on. The companies will develop their products, as well as host and mentor startup founders in incubator programs. One thousand individual startups are expected to set up shop at Station F.

Seeking global appeal

Silicon Valley has attracted tech talent from all over the world. Now France hopes to do the same for those beyond its borders. Initiatives like the “French Tech Ticket” and more recent “French Tech Visa” are designed to bring startup founders, employees and investors to the country through a combination of mentorships, grants and subsidized work spaces. The French Tech Visa fast-tracks a process for participants to obtain a renewable, four-year residence permit.

Not to be left out are the locals in France’s poorer, outer suburbs, the banlieue. The new administration is aiming for social diversity through inclusion initiatives that foster entrepreneurship, said Mahjoubi.

“We decided to create hubs in the private area[s] of France,” said Mahjoubi. “There might be entrepreneurs over there that believe that it’s not for them, because they couldn’t afford to not having a salary for a year of entrepreneurship … we created the condition so they could receive money from the state, to have a salary during these 12 months [to] push their project to the highest level they can.”

Unemployment at 9.5 percent

The encouragement of entrepreneurship is a novel sentiment in a country where traditional attitudes and strict labor laws have long dominated work culture. With a national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, venturing out on one’s own to start a business can seem too risky.

But with the success of French unicorns like ride-sharing service BlaBlaCar and network provider Sigfox, attitudes appear to be shifting; 68 percent of French people aged 18 to 25 aspire to run their own business one day, according to a 2015 Ernst & Young survey.

“I think the ecosystem, the government, have done a very good job to do some marketing about entrepreneurship and I think it’s very important because when we compare our situation to the U.S., in the U.S. there is a lot of storytelling, everyone is super enthusiast[ic] and it brings a momentum that is super beneficial,” said François Wyss, co-founder of French startup DataBerries.

Funding available

Wyss and his co-founders recently secured $16 million in their first round of funding for his digital marketing startup.

“There is a lot of funding now in France, so it’s great. We have the chance to have world-class engineers, which are far cheaper than in the U.S. So a lot of companies are developing their core product and R&D in France before exporting it overseas,” said Wyss.

“French tech is all about having roots in France and having a vision for the world,” said Mahjoubi. “The French tech startup scene is an international startup scene.”

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Poor and southern U.S. counties will get hit hardest by global warming, according to a first-of-its-kind detailed projection of potential climate change effects at the local level.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, calculates probable economic harms and benefits for the more than 3,100 counties in the United States under different possible scenarios for worldwide emissions of heat-trapping gases. It looks at agriculture, energy costs, labor costs, coastal damage from rising seas, crime and deaths, then estimates the effect on average local income by the end of the century.

Researchers computed the possible effects of 15 types of impacts for each county across 29,000 simulations.

“The south gets hammered and the north can actually benefit,” said study lead author Solomon Hsiang, a University of California economist. “The south gets hammered primarily because it’s super-hot already. It just so happens that the south is also poorer.”

The southern part of the nation’s heartland — such as Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky and southern Illinois — also feels the heat hard, he said. Michigan, Minnesota, the far northeast, the northwest and mountainous areas benefit the most.

Counties hit hardest

The county hit hardest if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated is tiny and impoverished Union County in Florida, where median income would take a 28 percent hit. And among counties with at least 500,000 people, Polk County in central Florida would suffer the most, with damages of more than 17 percent of income.

Seven of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of projected county income losses from climate change are in Florida, along with two in Texas and one in Georgia. Half of these are among the poorest counties in the country. 

Five of the 10 counties that would benefit the most from global warming are in Michigan. The others are in Alaska, Colorado, Nevada and the mountainous region of North Carolina. Mineral County in Nevada would see a 13 percent increase in income, while Tacoma, Washington’s Pierce County would benefit by about 2 percent, the most among counties with a population of more than 500,000.

“You’re going to see this transfer of wealth from the southeast to the parts of the country that are less exposed to risk,” said study co-author Robert Kopp, a Rutgers University climate scientist. “On average both in this country and on this planet just poorer people are in hotter areas.”

The whole nation’s gross domestic product would shrink by 0.7 percent for every degree Fahrenheit temperatures go up, the study calculates, but that masks just how uneven the damage could be. On average, the poorest counties would suffer a drop of 13.1 percent of income if carbon pollution continues unabated, while the richest counties would fall 1.1 percent.

Rise in fatalities

Economists and scientists who specialize in climate and disasters praised the study as groundbreaking.

“This is the most comprehensive, the most detailed information to date,” said University of Illinois finance professor Donald Fullerton, who wasn’t part of the study. “Nobody had ever done anything like this.”

The biggest economic damage comes from an increase in deaths. In the early stages of warming, overall deaths fall because the number of deaths from extreme cold falls fast. But as the world warms further, the increase in deaths from heat rises faster and results in more deaths overall by the end of the century.

Fullerton said the one place where he felt the study could overstate costs is in these deaths because it uses the same government-generated dollar value for each life — $7.9 million per person — when most of the people who die in temperature-related deaths are older and some economists prefer valuing deaths differently by age.

The study looks at production of four different crops — soy, wheat, corn and cotton. Much of the Midwest could be hit “with the type of productivity losses we saw during the Dust Bowl,” Hsiang said.

The study also examines two types of crime data: property and violent crime. Previous studies have found a direct and strong correlation between higher temperatures and higher rates of violent crime such as assault, rape and murder, Hsiang said.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann called it “a fascinating and ambitious study.” But because many extreme weather factors weren’t or can’t yet be calculated, he said the study “can at best only provide a very lower limit on the extent of damages likely to result from projected climate changes.”

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President Donald Trump on Thursday promoted a “golden era” of the U.S. energy business by seeking to assert power abroad through a boost in natural gas, coal and petroleum exports.

In what he called a policy of “energy dominance,” Trump re-branded efforts to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to markets in Eastern Europe and Asia that had been set in motion during the previous presidential administration.

The United States also will offer to export coal to Ukraine, where energy consumers often have suffered from cuts in natural gas supply by Russia.

“We are here today to unleash a new American energy policy,” Trump said at an event at the Department of Energy attended by oil and coal executives and union members who build pipelines. “We will export American energy all around the world.”

Trump plans to promote U.S. LNG exports at a meeting next week in Warsaw with a dozen leaders from central and eastern Europe, a region heavily reliant on Russian supplies.

Trump then will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Germany, in the first meeting between the two leaders, coming amid rising tensions over interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

After decades of being a major importer of natural gas, the United States is set to become a net exporter of gas later this year or in 2018 thanks to the boom in fracking in states such as Texas and Pennsylvania.

There is currently one operating U.S. LNG exporting facility in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, with four others currently under construction that are expected to become operational between 2018 and 2020.

As the United States aims to boost LNG exports, it will compete for markets with Australia, Qatar and Russia, other major gas producers.

U.S. crude oil exports have also risen after former president Barack Obama signed a law in 2015 allowing the shipments.

‘Hell of a Lot More Friends’

While many of Trump’s opponents have said his plan to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate has the potential to harm the country’s relations around the world, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at the event that energy exports will strengthen ties with allies.

The United States is in a position “to be able to clearly create a hell of a lot more friends by being able to deliver to them energy and not being held hostage by some countries, Russia in particular,” Perry said.

Whether it is sending LNG to Poland or Ukraine, “the entirety of the EU totally get it that if we can lay in American LNG … we can be able to have an alternative to Russia,” for natural gas sales to Europe, Perry said.

Earlier this month, Cheniere Energy Inc delivered the first U.S. cargoes of LNG to Poland and the Netherlands.

The Energy Department on Thursday approved additional LNG exports from the Lake Charles project in Louisiana, which is under development.

Trump announced plans to offer coal exports to Ukraine, as well as lift restrictions on U.S. lending for coal projects overseas.

“Ukraine already tells us they need millions and millions of metric tons (of coal),” he said. “Right now, there are many other places that need it too and we want to sell it to them and to everyone else all over the globe who need it.”

The Trump administration will launch a review of the ailing nuclear power industry, which has experienced a slew of closures due to stagnant electricity demand and low natural gas prices.

Trump’s 2018 budget included $120 million for addressing nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain and other projects, but most of the state’s politicians oppose that project.

In addition, the State Department issued a permit for a NuStar Logistics LP for its New Burgos Pipeline oil product pipeline from the United States to Mexico with a capacity of up to 180,000 barrels per day.

In 2016, the United States exported about 879,000 barrels of petroleum products daily to Mexico, more than any other country, according to the Energy Department.

For the year, the United States exported 4.7 million barrels a day of products — including gasoline, diesel and other refined products — around the world, making it the world’s largest exporter of refined petroleum products.

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Many Americans in rural parts of the United States voted to elect Donald Trump as president in 2016, despite his stance against trade agreements. In the wake of the President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, and now curbing trade with Cuba, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on how farmers in the Midwest state of Illinois are reacting, and adjusting, to the uncertain road ahead.

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Nguyen Kim Lan used to make a decent living shuttling customers around town on his Honda motorbike. But his clientele has dwindled as young and tech-savvy Vietnamese increasingly use ride-hailing apps like Uber and Grab to summon cheaper, safer motorbike taxis.


The expansion of the ride-hailing services across Southeast Asia is shaking up traditional motorcycle taxi services that are a key source of informal work for people like Lan. In some cases, the Xe Om, or motorbike taxi, drivers are venting their anger in attacks on the new competitors.


Lan is just frustrated. He says his income has fallen to 20 percent to 30 percent of what it used to be. 

‘Picked up at the door’


“Nowadays, my frequent customers have all booked Grab and Uber, so they don’t come here anymore,” said Lan, 62, as he waited for customers at an intersection in downtown Hanoi. 


“Before, office workers would come here after work. Now they just sit in their offices and get picked up at the door,” he said. 


As elsewhere in the region, motorbikes are Vietnam’s main form of transportation, especially in the capital Hanoi and the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. They can maneuver through crowded, narrow city streets more easily than cars and are less expensive to buy and run.

​First taxis, now motorbikes

Having invaded the conventional taxi market, ride hailing apps like Uber and Malaysia-based Grab are now elbowing aside the Xe Om with their UberMoto and GrabBike services.


Vietnam, a communist-ruled country of 93 million, has about 45 million motorbikes, the highest rate of motorcycle ownership per capita in Southeast Asia. About 3 million new motorbikes were sold last year. 


Practically everyone has mobile phones, and cheap Internet access has enabled most Vietnamese city dwellers to get online. 


Nguyen Tuan Anh, chairman of Grab Vietnam, said the number of GrabBike drivers has jumped from 100 when they first launched in late 2014 to more than 50,000, with hundreds joining every day.


The growth of passengers is “explosive,” he said. 


Many Vietnamese now prefer to use ride hailing apps, viewing their services as safer and cheaper, Tuan Anh said. “GrabBike brings transparency and that’s why customers love it. They know that they will not be cheated by the drivers.”

Hotspots of conflict


But Tuan Anh said he knows of more than 100 cases where GrabBike drivers were attacked in the past year, often by Xe Om drivers worried about losing business. 


Bus stations, hospitals and schools are hotspots for conflict. In one case, a GrabBike driver was stabbed in the lung. In another, police fired warning shots to disperse crowds of Xe Om and GrabBike drivers who were battling near a bus station in Ho Chi Minh City.


Similar problems have been reported in Thailand and Indonesia. 


Tuan Anh said GrabBike tells its drivers to be cautious and to seek help from police. 


Many Vietnamese seem keen to use such services despite the potential for conflict.

Cheaper, more convenient


Tran Thuc Anh, a 21-year-old video games designer, says she switched to using GrabBike to commute from bus stations to and from her office about six months ago.


It costs her half as much as using Xe Om did, she says. 


“I just need to be online to book a bike without going around to look for a traditional Xe Om, so it’s very convenient,” Thuc Anh said. 


Many GrabBike drivers originally worked as Xe Om, but not all are willing to sign up. Older motorbike taxi drivers say they don’t know how to use online apps or lack the cash to buy smart phones. Others are put off by the cheaper fares GrabBike charges. 


But Nguyen Quang Trung, a 30-year-old salesman who began moonlighting for GrabBike six months ago, said Xe Om drivers who try to overcharge their customers are finished.


“Uber and Grab are safe and their fares are reasonable and customers see this,” Trung said. “Only elder people or those who are in hurry use traditional Xe Om. Young people and people who are not short on time never use Xe Om.”

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Cuba earned more than $3 billion from tourism in 2016 and expects to better that this year despite President Donald Trump’s tightening of restrictions on U.S. travel to the Caribbean island, a government official said on Wednesday.

“In 2016, revenue reached more than $3 billion in all activity linked to tourism in the country,” Jose Alonso, the Tourism Ministry’s business director, told state-run media.

“We think that, given the growth the country is seeing at the moment, we will beat that figure this year,” Alonso said.

Tourism revenue totaled $2.6 billion in 2015.

The number of foreign visitors to Cuba was up 22 percent in the first half of 2017 compared with the same period last year, according to Alonso, who said that put it on track to reach its target for a record 4.2 million visits this year.

Tourism has been one of the few bright spots recently in Cuba’s economy, as it struggles with a decline in exports and subsidized oil shipments from its key ally Venezuela.

A surge in American visitors has helped boost the sector since the 2014 U.S.-Cuban detente under the Obama administration and its easing of U.S. travel restrictions, even as a longtime ban on tourism remained in effect.

But Trump earlier this month ordered a renewed tightening of travel restrictions, saying he was canceling former President Barack Obama’s “terrible and misguided deal” with Havana.

Many details of the policy change are still unknown. But independent travel to Cuba from the United States, by solo travelers and families, will likely be much more restricted.

Alonso said he was confident “an important number of Americans” would still be able to visit the island. But an announcement by Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) on Wednesday that it was reducing its number of flights to Cuba cast shadow over his upbeat comments.

“There is not a clear path to sustainability serving these markets, particularly with the continuing prohibition in U.S. law on tourism to Cuba for American citizens,” Southwest said in a statement.

Southwest joined other U.S. airlines that have cut flights to Cuba over past months or pulled out of the market altogether.

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For Shalini Gera, a rights lawyer in India’s Chhattisgarh state, it was the searing testimony of tribal activist Soni Sori that drew her attention to atrocities in the mineral-rich state.

Sori, who was arrested in 2011 on charges of aiding Maoist rebels in the state, accused the police of torturing and sexually assaulting her while in prison. Her crime?

Defending the right of indigenous people to live in an area rich in minerals in what is one of India’s poorest states.

Police officials, who have since been moved to other locations, deny any mistreatment.

Stirred by Sori’s call for justice, Gera and a couple of other lawyers left Delhi to set up office in the state’s restive Bastar region in 2013. It wasn’t long before they were targets.

The lawyers said they were followed, had objects thrown into their home, and were accused of helping Maoist rebels. They say they were harassed for defending villagers and indigenous people.

They were finally evicted by a fearful landlord last year, and relocated to Bilaspur about 400 km (250 miles) away, where they continued to pursue their cases.

Mineral-rich, rights-poor

The lawyers have angered plenty of people in high places.

A top police official recently said they should be crushed on the highway for going against the state to protect villagers.

“Parts of Chhattisgarh are like a war zone,” said Sudha Bharadwaj, a lawyer in Bilaspur who backed Gera and set up a legal aid group, Janhit, for farmers and indigenous people.

“There is violence against people who insist on their rights and we are perceived as anti-development for helping them,” said Bharadwaj, 55, who took up law at the age of 40 to help local people.

One of India’s least developed states, Chhattisgarh sits atop some of India’s biggest reserves of coal, iron ore, bauxite, dolomite, limestone, tin and gold, and accounts for nearly a fifth of the total value of minerals produced in India.

At least 25 conflicts are raging in the state — over coal and iron ore, power projects and steel plants — and they affect 70,000 people, according to research firm Land Conflict Watch.

The race for resources to spur India’s economic growth has pitted some of its most vulnerable people against the state, stalling industrial projects worth billions of dollars.

There are at least 332 land conflicts nationwide, affecting more than 3.5 million people, according to Land Conflict Watch.

Nowhere are these conflicts more violent and bloody than in Chhattisgarh, part of the “Red Corridor” stretching across eastern and central India that has witnessed a Maoist rebellion for more than three decades.

The rebels, who say they are fighting for the land rights and empowerment of indigenous people, accuse the government of plundering mineral resources while ignoring the villagers.

Adivasis, or “original dwellers,” and lower-caste Dalits make up more than 40 percent of the state’s 28 million population and traditionally lived in its forests and hills.

After the opening of the economy in the early 1990s, tracts of forest land were handed to companies including Adani Group, Jindal Power, Essar and Tata Steel for mines and power plants.

Backed by the state, an anti-insurgency militia called Salwa Judum — meaning “Peace March” or “Purification March” — began cracking down on the Maoist rebels from 2005 to free up land.

A pitched battle ensued, in which hundreds were killed and tens of thousands displaced amid accusations of mass rape, illegal detentions, torture and extra-judicial killings.

Activists are caught “between two sets of guns” in the conflict between Maoist combatants and government security forces, Human Rights Watch said in a 2012 report.

“The original inhabitants are seen as road blocks that they have to get out of the way to do more mining, build more plants, more industry,” said Bharadwaj.

Murder, treason

The fight for land and the environment is “a new battleground for human rights,” according to British-based watchdog Global Witness, with India chalking up at least six deaths in 2015 related to land conflicts.

In Chhattisgarh, villagers spoke of giving up land at gunpoint while activists faced charges from murder to treason.

Lingaram Kodopi, a tribal activist, fled to Delhi after being shot in the leg in 2011.

Binayak Sen, a physician, was convicted of treason and sedition in 2010 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Ramesh Agrawal, who received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2014 for leading a protest that shut down a proposed coal mine, was wounded by masked gunmen in 2012.

Sori was attacked again last year with chemicals.

Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar was among those charged last year in the killing of an indigenous man in Bastar shortly after she published a book on the conflict.

“People opposing the state are not treated as citizens. The state sees it fit to tackle them only through the military,” said Gera, a co-founder of Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group. “Would there be less violence if there were no resources? Perhaps.”

‘Iron fist’

Laws that protect the rights of farmers and indigenous people — including a 1996 law on tribal areas and the 2006 Forest Rights Act giving traditional forest dwellers access to forest resources — are poorly implemented, activists say.

Meanwhile, state officials say resource-based industries are needed to spur growth and generate jobs for the state.

“We have settled forest rights where requested. If there is any complaint of rights violation, we look into it,” said Subodh Kumar Singh, a senior official in the mines department. “There may be a few displacements, but the people are resettled. The industries are bringing good development.”

The Supreme Court in 2011 called Salwa Judum “illegal” and ordered its disbandment. The top court said it was dismayed the only option for the state was “to rule with an iron fist.”

But a battle is still raging.

Among the cases that Bharadwaj is handling is that of Janki Sidar, who is fighting the unauthorized takeover of her land.

The case is 14 years old. Bharadwaj is her 10th lawyer.

“It is necessary for us — doctors, lawyers, journalists — to be involved,” said Bharadwaj. “We have to help them confront the power of the state and industry. We have to become their amplifiers to carry their voices to the outside world.”

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Компанія «Укренерго» підписала угоду про приєднання України до енергетичної системи Європи, написав у Facebook керівник компанії Всеволод Ковальчук.

«Угода про умови приєднання сьогодні підписана у Брюсселі під час Генеральної Асамблеї об’єднання операторів систем передачі електроенергії ENTSO-E. Ми стаємо на шлях, з якого Україна не має схибити. Кілька років спільної роботи Уряду, НКРЕКП, Міненерговугілля, Укренерго та енергогенеруючих компаній попереду. Проект дорожньої карти вже розроблено, всі вимоги до модернізації нашої енергосистеми містяться в угоді. Приєднання разом зі впровадженням нового закону про ринок електроенергії дозволить об’єднати ринки з сусідніми країнами, дасть справжню конкуренцію, поборе монополії», – зазначив він.

Окрім того, Ковальчук повідомив про зустріч вранці 28 червня із віце-президентом Єврокомісії Марошем Шевчовичем.

«Говорили про можливості майбутньої інтегранції ринків, про нові виклики перед енергетикою Європи, про енергетичний мікс, про впровадження нової моделі енергоринку в Україні, в тому числі про анбандлінг в електроенергетичному секторі та реформу корпоративного управління Укренерго», – написав він.

Президент України Петро Порошенко 8 червня підписав закон «Про ринок електроенергії», який 13 квітня ухвалила Верховна Рада. Закон доповнює перелік учасників ринку новим учасником – трейдером, яким може бути суб’єкт господарювання, що здійснює купівлю електроенергії винятково з метою її перепродажу, крім продажу кінцевому споживачеві.

Відповідно до закону, трейдери здійснюватимуть купівлю-продаж електричної енергії за двосторонніми (прямими) договорами або на ринку «на добу наперед» чи внутрішньодобовому ринку. На думку авторів законопроекту, існування трейдерів на ринку електричної енергії сприятиме обмеженню значних коливань цін на ринку.

Документ спрямований на виконання зобов’язань України за договором про заснування Енергетичного співтовариства та Угодою про асоціацію між Україною та Євросоюзом.


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