US Trade Panel Recommends Varying Solar Panel Import Restrictions

Members of the U.S. International Trade Commission on Tuesday made three different recommendations for restricting solar cell and panel imports on Tuesday, giving President Donald Trump a range of choices to address injury to domestic producers.

The recommendations range from an immediate 35 percent tariff on all imported panels to a four-year quota system that allows the import of up to 8.9 gigawatts of solar cells and modules in the first year. The president’s ultimate decision could have a major impact on the price of U.S. power generated by the sun.

Both supporters and critics of import curbs on solar products were disappointed by the proposals, which were unveiled at a public meeting in Washington.

Trade remedies were requested in a petition earlier this year by two small U.S. manufacturers that said they were unable to compete with cheap panels made overseas, mainly in Asia. The companies, Suniva Inc and the U.S. arm of Germany’s SolarWorld AG, said Tuesday’s recommendations did not go far enough to protect domestic producers.

“The ITC’s remedy simply will not fix the problem the ITC itself identified,” Suniva said in a statement. The company, which is majority owned by Hong Kong-based Shunfeng International Clean Energy, filed the rare Section 201 petition nine days after seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April. It had sought a minimum price on panels of 74 cents a watt, nearly double their current cost.

One analyst said the stiffest remedy recommended, a 35 percent tariff on solar panels, would add about 10 percent to the cost of a utility-scale project but would have a negligible impact on the price of residential systems because panels themselves make up a small portion of their overall cost.

“It’s not nearly the doomsday impact we were potentially expecting,” said Camron Barati, a solar analyst with market research firm IHS Markit Technology.

But the top U.S. solar trade group, the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement on Tuesday that any tariffs would be “intensely harmful” to the industry. The group has lobbied heavily against import restrictions on the grounds that they would undermine a 70 percent drop in the cost of solar since 2010 that has made the technology competitive with fossil fuels.

Recommendations

The ITC will deliver its report to Trump by Nov. 13. He will have broad leeway to come up with his own alternative or do nothing at all. Since only two members agreed on the same restrictions, there was no majority recommendation from the four-member commission.

“There is still plenty to be worried about,” said MJ Shiao, who follows the U.S. solar market for GTM Research.

Trump has vowed to protect U.S. manufacturers from low-priced imports, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has talked about tariff-rate quotas as a flexible way to protect some industries, allowing imports in as needed, but only up to a certain level before high tariffs kick in.

Commissioners David Johanson and Irving Williamson urged the president to impose an immediate 30 percent tariff on completed solar modules, to be lowered in subsequent years, and a tariff-rate quota on solar cells. Imports of cells in excess of one gigawatt would be subject to a 30 percent tariff that would decline after the first year.

ITC Chair Rhonda Schmidtlein recommended an immediate 35 percent four-year tariff on imported solar modules, with a four-year tariff rate quota on solar cells. This would impose a 30 percent tariff on imports exceeding 0.5 gigawatts and 10 percent on imports below that level. These tariffs would decline over a four-year period.

In the most lenient recommendation, Commissioner Meredith Broadbent said the president should impose a four-year quota system that allows for imports of up to 8.9 gigawatts of solar cells and modules in the first year.

your ad here

California Wildfire Insurance Claims Top $3.3B

Property damage claims from a series of deadly October wildfires now exceed $3.3 billion, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Tuesday.

The figure represented claims for homes and businesses insured by 15 companies and was more than triple the previous estimate of $1 billion. Jones said the number would continue to rise as more claims were reported.

The amount of claims now reported means that the fires caused more damage than California’s 1991 Oakland Hills fire, which was previously the state’s costliest, with $2.7 billion in damage in 2015 dollars, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Forty-three people were killed in the October blazes that tore through Northern California, including the state’s renowned winemaking regions in Napa and Sonoma counties. They destroyed at least 8,900 buildings as more than 100,000 people were forced to evacuate. It was the deadliest series of fires in California history.

Several dozen buildings were also damaged or destroyed in fires in Southern California’s Orange County.

“Behind each and every one of these claims … are ordinary people, Californians who lost their homes, lost their vehicles, in some cases whose family members lost their lives,” said Jones, a Democrat who is running for attorney general.

Jones said there were just over 10,000 claims for partial home losses, more than 4,700 total losses and about 700 for business property. There were 3,200 claims for damaged or destroyed personal vehicles, 91 for commercial vehicles, 153 for farm equipment and 111 for watercraft.

The figures do not reflect uninsured losses, including public infrastructure and the property of people who were uninsured or underinsured.

Arson suspect’s warning

Meanwhile, a man facing arson charges for a wildfire that destroyed two homes south of the San Francisco Bay Area had an ominous message for a prosecutor during a court hearing Tuesday: “You’re next.”

Marlon Coy, 54, uttered the words while glaring at Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell while he explained four of the felony charges Coy is facing, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

Coy pleaded not guilty to charges of arson of a nondwelling, arson causing bodily injury and being a felon in possession of a firearm, the newspaper reported.

Witnesses saw Coy start the fire on October 16 near a property in Santa Cruz County connected to someone with whom he had a dispute, sheriff’s officials said.

Coy was arrested in possession of jewelry and a bicycle taken from a home that had been burglarized while under evacuation, according to sheriff’s officials.

your ad here

US Social Media Giants Pledge to Combat Foreign Disinformation

Attorneys for Twitter, Facebook and Google on Tuesday told U.S. lawmakers that Russian entities used their platforms to sow discord and disinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, but downplayed the magnitude of those efforts.

“Foreign actors used fake accounts to place ads in Facebook and Instagram that reached millions of Americans over a two-year period,” Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said, testifying before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. “Many of these ads and posts are inflammatory. Some are downright offensive.”

Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, said the company studied all tweets posted from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15, 2016, and found that election-related content posted by automated Russian troll accounts “was comparatively small.” He said the Russian troll accounts made up “around 1/100th of a percent of total Twitter accounts” during the time studied.

“Twitter believes that any activity of that kind — regardless of magnitude — is unacceptable and we agree we must do better to prevent it,” he said.

Twitter has taken action against the suspected Russian trolls, suspending 2,752 accounts and implementing new dedicated teams “to enhance the quality of the information our users see,” Edgett said.

Facebook, meanwhile, said it would hire more people to vet and, when necessary, remove content, and verify and publish the identities of election advertisers.

Watch: Social media companies to fight disinformation

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Senate requiring some of the very steps technology giants say they are implementing on their own.

“These platforms are being used by people who wish us harm and wish to undercut our way of life,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“It shouldn’t be news to anyone that Russia interfered in the election,” said California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “What is really staggering and hard to fully comprehend is how easily and successfully they turned modern technologies to their advantage.”

The social media attorneys said Russian trolling campaigns consistently sought to rile up Americans, first in a way damaging to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. After the election, they said, Russian efforts appeared aimed at sowing doubts about the legitimacy of Republican Donald Trump’s victory at the polls — a point seized upon by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

“Russia does not have loyalty to a political party in the United States; their goal is to divide us and discredit our democracy,” Grassley said.

Representatives from the same social media companies testify Wednesday before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. 

VOA’s Joshua Fatzick contributed to this report.

your ad here

Water Up! Re-Think Your Drink

The suburbs of Washington are the setting for a pilot project to promote healthier eating habits, a partnership between leaders of the Latino community there and researchers at George Washington University. The “Water up Project” encourages the community to drink more water and reduce their consumption of sugary beverages. Faiza Elmasry reports. Faith Lapidus narrates.

your ad here

Dakota Fanning Says ‘Important’ to Speak Up About Assault

Actress Dakota Fanning has told reporters that although she hasn’t experienced the sort of sexual assault that has turned Hollywood on its head, it’s “important to talk about these issues, for women to stand up for themselves.”

 

Fanning, 23, spoke Tuesday at the Rome Film Festival, where she was presenting the film “Please Stand By.” She plays a young autistic woman obsessed with the Star Trek series, who runs away from her home in San Francisco to get to Los Angeles to submit her manuscript for a Star Trek script writing contest.

 

Fanning said she shares her character’s determination in achieving her goal, adding: “you have to fight for what you believe in and stay true to what you are.”

 

 

your ad here

Under Fire, Kevin Spacey Won’t Get International Emmy Award

The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has revoked an award it was going to give Kevin Spacey, a decision made after allegations that he made sexual advances on a teen boy.

The group says “”it will not honor Kevin Spacey with the 2017 International Emmy Founders Award.”

The award is to honor “an individual who crosses cultural boundaries to touch humanity.” Spacey was to get it at a gala on Nov. 20 in New York City. Past recipients include Steven Spielberg, Shonda Rhimes and J.J. Abrams.

The move comes after actor Anthony Rapp came forward with claims Spacey made inappropriate sexual advances toward him in 1986, when he was 14. Netflix announced Monday that it was pulling the plug on “House of Cards,” which stars Spacey.

your ad here

Kushner Partner All But Kills Plan for Fifth Ave Skyscraper

The co-owner of a Fifth Avenue skyscraper controlled by the family of Jared Kushner says demolishing the tower to build luxury apartments is not practical and the building will likely remain as offices.

 

Vornado Realty Trust CEO Steven Roth told investors on Tuesday that the Kushner family’s plan to raise billions from investors to rebuild the tower is “not feasible.” He added that “it’s likely that the building will revert to an office building.”

The project drew criticism after media reports that the Kushner Cos. was negotiating with a Chinese insurer with ties to the ruling Communist Party, among other big foreign investors. Critics say such deals would raise conflicts of interest issues with Jared Kushner serving in the White House as an adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

 

your ad here

Malawi Kung Fu Movie Generates Online Buzz

The southern African country of Malawi may not be what comes to mind when you think of kung fu movies. But four young acrobats in its capital, Lilongwe, are out to change that. The trailer for their first locally produced action flick, The Town Monger, has been generating buzz online and drawn interest from regional cable distributors. The film will premiere in Malawi this week.

The buzz started soon after the director posted the film’s trailer online.

“It is not what we expected, and we have been overwhelmed by the response,” said Denis Imaan, manager of the Kufewa Acrobatics. “And we have taken some time now just to sit down, trying to strategize like ‘OK, where do we go from now?’”

Kufewa Acrobatics is a group of four school drop-outs from the Area 36 Township in Malawi’s capital.

The acrobats are self-taught. They learned by watching Jackie Chan movies and videos of Cirque de Soleil.

“At first, we were performing around our neighborhood. After the positive response, we started performing in townships, performing in the streets. In the process, people would give us money for each performance,” explained group member Abdul Rashid Shaibu.

Making their own movie seemed a natural progression. In 2015, they embarked on The Town Monger. The film tells the story of the challenges they have faced.

“We have sometimes been accused by many people, even by our own relatives, that what we are doing has no future. But I could not back down because I had a vision, and, moreover, these are the skills which God blessed me with,” said Alfred Hambali of Kufewa Acrobatics.

The 82-minute movie was filmed using a borrowed camera and a borrowed iPad. The set was the streets they know well.

The action movie got mixed reviews at its first local screening to journalists.

“What has impressed me most is the setting. As [what] was at the beginning, when the movie was being set, it was not just linear,” said Shadrick Kalukusha of World Wide Media.

“It never had a lot of dialogue,” noted Gertrude Abudu of Rainbow TV. “That they can really grow on. It never had a lot of female actresses. We only saw only one female actress. That we also definitely grow on.”

Meanwhile, several regional TV networks have expressed interest in buying rights to the film. It is entirely in the local language, Chichewa. Producers are busy adding English subtitles.

The four young men are preparing to stage live action performances of The Town Monger, and they hope to one day perform abroad.

your ad here

Vietnam Tech Startups Seek Next Phase

There’s a short but not-so-simple question facing Vietnam’s technology startup fans: Now, what?

The communist country was not immune to the startup craze that swept the globe, but much of the early period was spent talking about tech and all the local potential. In what could be called the next phase of the craze, Vietnam now hopes to go beyond just talking. The focus now is on getting entrepreneurs to deliver on their pitches and meet concrete benchmarks, whether that’s to turn a profit, expand overseas, or find “exits” for their businesses, such as through acquisitions.

At a basic level, Vietnam has what’s needed to be a place prime for startups. Citizens have high literacy rates and math proficiency, which eases the path to creating an army of programmers for the economy. The country also has a balance that combines, on the one hand, a large consumer market on par with those of Thailand and the Philippines, and on the other hand, a lower level of development with high growth rates on par with those of Laos and Cambodia. And the low cost of things like wages and Internet plans allows people to establish companies at minimal expense.

But these are only ingredients, not, so far, action toward a modern culture of enterprise.

“Vietnam usually does copy-paste,” said Lam Tran, CEO of the startup WisePass, adding that locals should move past the model of copying a business idea from a foreign country and pasting it into the domestic market. “We don’t know how to internationalize.”

WisePass, an app that connects monthly subscribers to bar and restaurant deals, launched in Ho Chi Minh City with plans to cover seven countries in the near future.

Taking advantage of cross-border ties is one effective, increasingly popular strategy, startup aficionados say. For one thing, Vietnam has a huge postwar diaspora, known as Viet Kieu, who help connect the Southeast Asian country to investors, advisers, and developers abroad. For another, the tech scene inside the border is more cosmopolitan than ever.

To give one example, the Vietnam Innovative Startup Accelerator (VIISA) has invested in 11 companies for the second batch of what it calls “graduates.” All have domestic links, but have partners operating in locales as disparate as Ukraine, South Korea and France.

Sangyeop Kang, investment officer at VIISA partner Hanwha Investment, said he’s “delighted about the diversity” of this sophomore batch.

“The foreign teams were able to expand their business in Vietnam, while helping Vietnamese companies with global insights,” Kang said. “This is a step forward for the ecosystem.”

In a sign of official interest, the government has a carve-out for startups in its Law on Supporting Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, which will take effect Jan. 1. The law offers young companies support with co-working spaces, technical equipment, intellectual property training, and low interest rates, among other things.

To do more than copy and paste, new businesses are contemplating how to outfit themselves for Vietnam. The startup But Chi Mau, for instance, makes games that tap into the unquenchable thirst for education, while MarketOi deploys motorbike drivers to let customers customize their food deliveries.

“The question is how to differentiate ourselves,” MarketOi founder Germain Blanchet said, before proceeding to answer that question: “This is with flexibility.”

 

your ad here

UN Environment Report Urges Revived Effort to Cut Emissions

The U.N.’s environment program said Tuesday countries and industries need to do more to meet targets to trim emissions of greenhouse gases that experts say are contributing to global warming.

 

In its latest “Emissions Gap” report issued ahead of an important climate conference in Germany next week, the program takes aim at coal-fired electricity plants being built in developing economies and says investment in renewable energies will pay for itself — and even make money – over the long term.

 

Tuesday’s report comes as U.N. officials are making a renewed push to maintain momentum generated by the Paris climate accord of 2015.

 

It aims to cap global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (Fahrenheit) by the year 2100 compared to average world temperatures at the start of the industrial era.

 

“The Paris agreement boosted climate action, but momentum is clearly faltering,” said Edgar Gutierrez-Espeleta, Costa Rica’s environment minister who heads the 2017 UN Environment Assembly. “We face a stark choice: up our ambition, or suffer the consequences.”

 

A new round of U.N. climate talks known as COP 23 starts in Bonn, Germany, on Monday, when countries will take stock of their achievements and prepare more ambitious national goals.

 

In a summary of the report, UNEP says that current trends suggest that even if current national commitments are met, a temperature increase of 3-degrees Celsius by the end of the century is “very likely — meaning that governments need to deliver much stronger pledges when they are revised in 2020.”

 

“Should the United States follow through with its stated intention to leave the Paris agreement in 2020, the picture could become even bleaker,” the statement said, alluding to the Trump administration plans to withdraw the U.S. from the global climate pact.

 

On the upside, the agency highlights “rapidly expanding mitigation action” and says carbon-dioxide emissions have remained stable since 2014, thanks partly to renewable-energy use in China and India. It cautioned that other greenhouse gases like methane continue to rise, however.

 

UNEP trumpets the positive effects of investment in solar and wind energy and efficient appliances and cars, and efforts to preserve forests.

 

your ad here

Eurozone Recovery Helps Unemployment Fall to Near 9-Year Low

Official figures show that the robust economic recovery across the 19-country eurozone persisted during the third quarter, helping unemployment fall to a near 9-year low.

 

Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, said Tuesday that the eurozone economy grew by 0.6 percent during the July to September period. Though that’s slightly down on the stellar 0.7 percent tick recorded in the second quarter, it’s modestly higher than expectations for a 0.5 percent rise.

 

Separately, Eurostat said unemployment fell to 8.9 percent in September from 9.0 percent the previous month. That’s the lowest rate since January 2009.

 

Elsewhere, Eurostat said annual inflation in the eurozone dipped to 1.4 percent in October from 1.5 percent as the core rate, which strips out volatile items, surprisingly fell to 0.9 percent from 1.1 percent.

 

 

your ad here

Uber Scrambles to Head Off Brazil Bill Regulating Ride Software

Hundreds of drivers for the internet based ride-hailing firm Uber drove through Brazil’s largest cities on Monday to protest legislation that would turn them into regular taxi drivers subject to the same local licensing and taxation rules.

The chief executive of Uber Technologies Inc, Dara Khosrowshahi, arrived in Brazil to lobby against the bill that is due to be voted on by the Senate on Tuesday and which threatens the company’s business in a fast-growing foreign market.

Brazil is Uber’s third-largest market, with 17 million users, and the city of Sao Paulo sees more trips on the ride-hailing service than any other city in the world, ahead of New York and Mexico City, according to the company.

A spokesman for the company said the application as it exists could not operate under the new rules, including the use of a taxi license plate on cars owned by Uber drivers.

“The business model we have today would not longer be viable,” Uber’s executive spokesman in Brazil Fabio Sabba told Reuters.

Uber is already battling to keep operating in London after the city’s transport regulator deemed it unfit to run a taxi service and refused to renew its license.

Police said 800 Uber drivers drove through the center of Brazil’s capital Brasilia to protest the bill that many say will put them out of business. Similar protests in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro snarled downtown traffic.

Uber did not organize the drivers’ protests but alerted authorities that they would happen.

“The bill will create so much bureaucracy that it prevents the 500,000 drivers in Brazil from earning income for their families,” Uber said in a statement.

Uber said it has paid 495 million reais ($150 million) in federal and municipal taxes so far this year.

The bill, which has already been approved by the lower house of Congress, would define ride hailing applications as public transport instead of private services and require drivers to get a special permit from city authorities. It would also establish additional regulations and taxes.

If the Senate votes to approve the bill, it will be up to President Michel Temer to sign or veto the legislation or parts of it.

your ad here

Want to Know When Ebola Will Strike Next? Look to the Forest

Ebola outbreaks tend to occur two years after trees have been cut down or forests cleared in West and Central Africa, researchers said on Monday, suggesting that deforestation data could be used to predict outbreaks of the deadly disease.

A study published in online journal Scientific Reports was the first to find a time correlation between deforestation and the onset of Ebola, caused by a virus which humans catch from infected wild animals that can then be transmitted between humans through direct contact.

Ebola ravaged Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014-2016, killing around 11,300 people in the world’s worst recorded outbreak, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

There have been dozens of smaller outbreaks since the disease was discovered in 1976, typically in remote villages near tropical rainforests in West and Central Africa, WHO said.

By analyzing 27 outbreak sites for the period 2001-2014, researchers found that the Ebola was significantly more likely to emerge in areas with surrounding forest loss, typically two years after the damage was done.

Deforestation likely pushes infected wild animals into human areas, but how exactly this works – and why it takes two years – is not yet known, said John Fa, a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University and one of the authors of the report.

“The next step is to pinpoint areas that were deforested two years ago,” Fa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If we know where they will occur, we might be able to prevent future outbreaks.”

Fa hopes that the findings will be used to create an early warning system in high-risk areas so that Ebola can be detected and stopped before it spreads. However, many of the areas involved are vast and inaccessible, the study said.

Africa’s tropical forests are being lost to industrial agriculture, logging, urbanization and more, a trend that is only expected to accelerate with population growth, experts say.

Ebola outbreaks may increase in coming decades as humans penetrate deeper into Africa’s remaining forests, the study found.

“Our results show that forest loss, like EVD (Ebola virus disease) should be seen as a major global health issue,” the researchers wrote.

Africa’s most recent Ebola outbreak, which ended in July, killed four people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

your ad here

Robotic Eel Seeks Water Pollution, Aids Researchers

Trash and tires floating in a river are easy to see. But there’s a lot of harmful water pollution that isn’t visible to the naked eye. Researchers in Switzerland are testing a robotic version of a sea monster that’s helping them get a better look at what’s floating in the water. Arash Arabasadi reports.

your ad here

DNA Lab in Netherlands to Help Find Missing People Worldwide

An organization that has been helping find people missing from the 1990s Balkan conflict has now expanded to tackle the cases of millions of missing people around the world. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), based in the Netherlands, will use the latest DNA technology to identify bodies and provide closure to family members of the missing people. The laboratory findings also will be used to serve justice and support demands for reparations. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

your ad here

SpaceX Racks Up Another Rocket Launch, Its 16th This Year

SpaceX has racked up another rocket launch, its 16th this year.

That’s double last year’s count, and 2017 still has two months remaining.

 

The unmanned Falcon rocket blasted off Monday afternoon from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, hoisting a communications satellite for the South Korean company KT SAT. This newest Koreasat will replace a failed satellite launched in 2006, and serve both Asia and the Middle East.

Once separated, the 15-story first-stage booster flew to a floating platform in the Atlantic and landed upright. The TV link of the touchdown was lost. But SpaceX confirmed success despite the choppy seas and some flames shooting from the landed booster. The fire went out.

“A little toasty, but stage one is certainly still intact,” said the launch commentator from company headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX expects to reuse the booster to save time and money. Other rocket makers ditch the boosters at sea following orbital missions.

The company has launched almost every month this year — a personal record — flying Falcons from both U.S. coasts.

 

your ad here