Iran Seeks Ways to Defend Against US Sanctions

Iran is studying ways to keep exporting oil and other measures to counter U.S. economic sanctions, state news agency IRNA reported Saturday.

Since last month, when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal that lifted most sanctions in 2015, the rial currency has dropped up to 40 percent in value, prompting protests by bazaar traders usually loyal to the Islamist rulers.

Speaking after three days of those protests, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the U.S. sanctions were aimed at turning Iranians against their government.

Other protesters clashed with police late Saturday during a demonstration against shortages of drinking water.

“They bring to bear economic pressure to separate the nation from the system … but six U.S. presidents before him [Trump] tried this and had to give up,” Khamenei said on his website Khamenei.ir.

With the return of U.S. sanctions likely to make it increasingly difficult to access the global financial system, President Hassan Rouhani has met with the head of parliament and the judiciary to discuss countermeasures.

“Various scenarios of threats to the Iranian economy by the U.S. government were examined and appropriate measures were taken to prepare for any probable U.S. sanctions, and to prevent their negative impact,” IRNA said.

One such measure was seeking self-sufficiency in gasoline production, the report added.

Looking for buyers

The government and parliament have also set up a committee to study potential buyers of oil and ways of repatriating the income after U.S. sanctions take effect, Fereydoun Hassanvand, head of the parliament’s energy committee, was quoted as saying by IRNA.

“Due to the possibility of U.S. sanctions against Iran, the committee will study the competence of buyers and how to obtain proceeds from the sale of oil, safe sale alternatives which are consistent with international law and do not lead to corruption and profiteering,” Hassanvand said.

The United States has told allies to cut all imports of Iranian oil by November, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

In the separate unrest, demonstrators protesting against shortages of drinking water in oil-rich southwestern Iran clashed with police late Saturday after officers ordered about 500 protesters to disperse, IRNA reported.

Shots could be heard on videos circulated on social media from protests in Khorramshahr, which has been the scene of demonstrations for the past three days, along with the nearby city of Abadan. The videos could not be authenticated by Reuters.

A number of protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over water, a growing political concern because of a drought that residents of parched areas and analysts say has been exacerbated by mismanagement.

Speaking before the IRNA report on the clash, Khamenei said the United States was acting with Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states, which regard Shiite Muslim Iran as their main regional foe, to try to destabilize the government in Tehran.

“If America was able to act against Iran, it would not need to form coalitions with notorious and reactionary states in the region and ask their help in fomenting unrest and instability,” Khamenei told graduating Revolutionary Guards officers, in remarks carried by state TV.

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Trump Says Saudi King Agreed to Raise Oil Production up to 2 mln Barrels

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet on Saturday that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had agreed to his request to increase oil production “maybe up to

2,000,000 barrels” to offset production from Iran and Venezuela.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi authorities.

The world’s top oil exporter plans to pump up to 11 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) in July, an oil industry source told Reuters this week, after OPEC agreed with Russia and other

oil-producing allies to raise output by about 1 million bpd.

 

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Trump Claims Saudi Arabia Will Boost Oil Production

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he had received assurances from King Salman of Saudi Arabia that the kingdom will increase oil production, “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels” in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela. Saudi Arabia acknowledged the call took place, but mentioned no production targets.

Trump wrote on Twitter that he had asked the king in a phone call to boost oil production “to make up the difference…Prices to (sic) high! He has agreed!”

A little over an hour later, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on the call, but offered few details.

“During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy,” the statement said.

It added that there also was an understanding that oil-producing countries would need “to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies.” It did not elaborate.

Oil prices have edged higher as the Trump administration has pushed allies to end all purchases of oil from Iran following the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Prices also have risen with ongoing unrest in Venezuela and fighting in Libya over control of that country’s oil infrastructure.

Last week, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel led by Saudi Arabia and non-cartel members agreed to pump 1 million barrels more crude oil per day, a move that should help contain the recent rise in global energy prices. However, summer months in the U.S. usually lead to increased demand for oil, pushing up the price of gasoline in a midterm election year. A gallon of regular gasoline sold on average in the U.S. for $2.85, up from $2.23 a gallon last year, according to AAA.

If Trump’s comments are accurate, oil analyst Phil Flynn said it could immediately knock $2 or $3 off a barrel of oil. But he said it’s unlikely that decrease could sustain itself as demand spikes, leading prices to rise by wintertime.

“We’ll need more oil down the road and there’ll be nowhere to get it,” said Flynn, of the Price Futures Group. “This leaves the world in kind of a vulnerable state.”

Trump is trying to exert maximum pressure on Iran while at the same time not upsetting potential U.S. midterm voters with higher gas prices, said Antoine Halff, a Columbia University researcher and former chief oil analyst for the International Energy Agency.

“The Trump support base is probably the part of the U.S. electorate that will be the most sensitive to an increase in U.S. gasoline prices,” Halff said.

Trump’s comments came Saturday as global financial markets were closed. Brent crude stood at $79.42 a barrel, while U.S. benchmark crude was at $74.15.

Saudi Arabia currently produces some 10 million barrels of crude oil a day. Its record is 10.72 million barrels a day. Trump’s tweet offered no timeframe for the additional 2 million barrels — whether that meant per day or per month.

However, Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser told journalists in India on Monday that the state oil company has spare capacity of 2 million barrels of oil a day. That was after Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the kingdom would honor the OPEC decision to stick to a 1-million-barrel increase.

“Saudi Arabia obviously can deliver as much as the market would need, but we’re going to be respectful of the 1-million-barrel cap — and at the same time be respectful of allocating some of that to countries that deliver it,” al-Falih said then.

The Trump administration has been counting on Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members to supply enough oil to offset the lost Iranian exports and prevent oil prices from rising sharply. But broadcasting its requests on Twitter with a number that stretches credibility opens a new chapter in U.S.-Saudi relations, Halff said.

“Saudis are used to U.S. requests for oil,” Halff said. “They’re not used to this kind of public messaging. I think the difficulty for them is to distinguish what is a real ask from what is public posturing.”

The administration has threatened close allies such as South Korea with sanctions if they don’t cut off Iranian imports by early November. South Korea accounted for 14 percent of Iran’s oil exports last year, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

China is the largest importer of Iranian oil with 24 percent, followed by India with 18 percent. Turkey stood at 9 percent and Italy at 7 percent.

The State Department has said it expects the “vast majority” of countries will comply with the U.S. request.

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Exhibit Showcases Delicate Beauty of US Botanical Art

Botanical artist Carol Malone-Brown is seated, bent forward, intently concentrating on a painting she is working on of a green apple with leaves.

She carefully puts a small amount of paint on one leaf using the “dry brush” method — mixing tiny drops of water with watercolors and then using a paintbrush to draw short, fine lines. She will sit at her desk, painting this leaf for many days to get the shades of light and dark just right.

While many people might find this tedious, for Malone-Brown, creating botanical art is “very soothing and meditative.” She draws inspiration from her beautiful garden, filled with a variety of plants at her home in Alexandria, Virginia. This allows her to combine her love of plants with botanical art, painting only what she grows.

Botanical art combines art with science because each piece must have botanically accurate details. 

“The garden is like your laboratory,” Malone-Brown explained. “I mean you can run in and out, and maybe you’re in there drawing and painting, and you’re saying to yourself, ‘How does that leaf connect to the stem exactly?’”

Her images, which are mostly watercolors, show the delicate beauty of plant species.

A garden of botanical art

Malone-Brown’s art is being showcased, along with 45 other pieces, at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington. It’s part of a series of botanical art exhibits worldwide, featuring native plants in 25 countries, including China, South Africa, Indonesia, Russia and Colombia. The idea is not only to highlight botanical art but the great diversity of plants.

Malone-Brown’s painting of a Virginia strawberry plant is on display at the U.S. show, white flowers and red strawberries that look good enough to eat.

“To be authentic,” she said, “I had to make sure that the plant actually flowered and produced fruit at the same time.”

It took her four hours each day for five months to complete the image. She painted it on vellum, a parchment made from calfskin, which gives the image a lovely luminescence.

The Botanic Garden art exhibit also features other flora, like the saguaro cactus of the U.S. Southwest, the bigleaf maple tree from the West Coast, and a variety of flowers, including violets and sunflowers. A sunny orchid, called a yellow lady slipper, was painted by well-known botanical artist Carol Woodin, who also serves as exhibitions director for the American Society of Botanical Artists.

Distinctive styles

Woodin says every artist has a distinctive style. 

“Some tell a story, others capture a moment in time, or study a plant and focus on each stage of its growth,” she said.

Besides watercolor, oil, colored pencil and etching were used to create the pieces on display.

Botanical artist Alice Tangerini used pen and ink. She is the only botanical illustrator for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s botany department in Washington. For more than four decades, Tangerini has been drawing meticulous botanical images that scientists use for research.

She said photos cannot capture details the same way botanical drawings do.

“Every time I’m making a line it’s a little bit exciting,” she said. “You see a leaf or flower that is different from any other, or a small portion of a seed.”

Like other botanical artists, Malone-Brown said there is pleasure in the process of painting the plants.

“They are our best friends,” she joked. “You truly have to love a plant that you paint because you’re going to spend a lot of time with it!”

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Washington Exhibit Showcases Delicate Beauty of Botanical Art

Botanical art illustrates the delicate beauty of plant species, frequently in watercolor paintings. A series of botanical art exhibits featuring native plants is being showcased in 25 countries around the world. The idea is to highlight botanical art and the diversity of plants worldwide. In the United States, 46 pieces are on display at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington. VOA’s Deborah Block spoke with some of the artists about their exquisite artwork.

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AP Fact Check: Were Tax Cuts an ‘Economic Miracle?’

Editor’s note: A look at the veracity of claims by political figures

President Donald Trump has elevated his tax cuts to an act of biblical proportions, misleadingly claiming at a White House speech Friday that they triggered an “economic miracle.”

Not quite.

Also Friday, the president’s top economics aide, Larry Kudlow, appeared on the Fox Business Network to address one of the major problems with the tax cuts — that they’ll heap more than $1 trillion onto the national debt. Kudlow falsely countered that the budget deficit was falling because of growth generated by the tax cuts. The deficit is actually rising.

A look at the statements and the fact:

TRUMP: “Six months ago, we unleashed an economic miracle by signing the biggest tax cuts and reforms … the biggest tax cuts in American history.”

THE FACTS: The president is exaggerating, if not being outright deceptive.

Rather than achieving a miracle, his tax cuts have helped stoke additional growth in an economic expansion that was already approaching its 10th year. The additional growth is largely fueled by government borrowing, as the federal deficit rises because of the tax cut. The pace of growth is expected to taper off after next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Federal Reserve and outside analysts.

And while the $1.5 trillion worth of tax reductions over the next decade are substantial, they’re far from the largest in U.S. history as a share of the overall economy. The Trump tax cut ranks behind Ronald Reagan’s in the early 1980s, post-World War II tax cuts and at least several more, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates for deficit reduction.

Trump proudly went through a list of economic achievements that build on the progress begun under former President Barack Obama. The 3.8 percent unemployment rate and the historically low level of requests for jobless aid are both the result of a steady and gradual recovery from the worst economic meltdown since 1929.

Several hundred companies responded to the tax cuts by paying workers bonuses or hiking hourly wages, but any significant income growth has yet to surface in the overall economy.

The tax cuts have added on average $17 a month to people’s incomes, according to an analysis by Ernie Tedeschi, head of fiscal policy analysis at the investment firm Evercore ISI and a former Treasury Department economist. The analysis is based off consumer spending, income and inflation data released Friday.

That $17 monthly gain is helpful, but it’s far from miraculous.

​KUDLOW: “As the economy gears up, more people working, better jobs and careers, those revenues come rolling in, and the deficit, which is one of the other criticisms, is coming down, and it’s coming down rapidly.”

THE FACTS: Nope.

Since the fiscal year started in October, Treasury Department reports show the federal government has recorded a $385.4 billion deficit, a 12 percent jump from the same period in the previous year.

The Congressional Budget Office was even more blunt in a long-term assessment released Tuesday.

It estimates that the national debt — the sum of yearly deficits — will be $2.2 trillion higher in 2027 than it had previously forecast, largely a consequence of Trump’s 10 year, $1.5 trillion tax cut. The size of the debt could be even higher if provisions of the tax cut that are set to expire are, instead, renewed.

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GM: US Import Tariffs Could Mean Fewer Jobs

General Motors Co warned on Friday that higher tariffs on imported vehicles under consideration by the Trump administration could cost jobs and lead to a “a smaller GM” while isolating U.S. businesses from the global market.

The administration in May launched an investigation into whether imported vehicles pose a national security threat, and U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to impose a 20 percent vehicle import tariff.

The largest U.S. automaker said in comments filed with the U.S. Commerce Department that overly broad tariffs could “lead to a smaller GM, a reduced presence at home and abroad for this iconic American company, and risk less — not more — U.S. jobs.”

Higher tariffs could also hike vehicle prices and reduce sales, GM said.

​Less investment, fewer workers

Its comments echoed those from two major U.S. auto trade groups Wednesday, when they warned that tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported vehicles would cost hundreds of thousands of auto jobs, dramatically raise prices on vehicles and threaten industry spending on self-driving cars.

Even if automakers opted not to pass on higher costs “this could still lead to less investment, fewer jobs, and lower wages for our employees. The carry-on effect of less investment and a smaller workforce could delay breakthrough technologies,” GM said.

GM operates 47 U.S. manufacturing facilities and employs about 110,000 people in the United States. It buys tens of billions of dollars worth of parts from U.S. suppliers every year, and has invested more than $22 billion in U.S. manufacturing operations since 2009.

Still, 30 percent of the vehicles GM sold on the U.S. market in 2017 were manufactured abroad, according to the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research. Eighty-six percent of those vehicles came from Canada and Mexico, while others came from Europe and China.

Detroit automakers Ford Motor Co and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles NV also import many of the vehicles they sell in the United States.

“The overbroad and steep application of import tariffs on our trading partners risks isolating U.S. businesses like GM from the global market that helps to preserve and grow our strength here at home,” GM said.

GM shares closed down about 2.8 percent on Friday at $39.40. 

National security probe

Some aides have said that Trump is pursuing the national security probe to put pressure on Canada and Mexico to agree to concessions in talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Toyota Motor Corp filed separate comments opposing the tariffs on Friday saying they would “threaten U.S. manufacturing, jobs, exports, and economic prosperity.”

The company noted that Trump has repeatedly praised the Japanese automaker for investing in the United States, including a new $1.3 billion joint venture assembly plant in Alabama with Mazda.

“These investments reflect our confidence in the U.S. economy and in the power of the administration’s tax cuts,” Toyota said.

Toyota noted that international automakers assembling vehicles in the United States are based in countries including Japan, German and South Korea “that are America’s closest allies.”

The Commerce Department plans two days of public hearings next month, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week he aimed to wrap up the probe into whether imported vehicles represent a national security threat by late July or August.

“We have received approximately 2,500 comments already,” Ross said in a statement Friday, adding that he expected more before a midnight deadline.

“The purpose of the comment period and of the public hearing scheduled for July 19th and 20th is to make sure that all stakeholders’ views are heard, both pro and con. That will enable us to make our best informed recommendation to the president,” the statement said.

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‘Insect Vision’ Hunts Down Asteroids

June 30 marks Asteroid Day, a U.N.-sanctioned campaign to promote awareness around the world of what’s up in the sky. In Milan, scientists are assembling a new telescope that uses “insect vision” to spot risky celestial objects. Faith Lapidus explains.

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Study: HIV Drug Not Linked to Depression

A new study of a popular HIV drug could ease concerns about its link to depression. Researchers in Uganda found that efavirenz, once feared to lead to depression and suicide, did not cause the expected negative side effects in their patients.

Efavirenz is an affordable, once-a-day pill used around the globe to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS. It’s “the treatment of choice” in most of the world, according to Africa Health Research Institute’s Mark Siedner, “especially [in] countries that depend on global aid to treat HIV.”

But some fear that efavirenz may come with a cost.

Some studies in the United States and Europe found the drug increased patients’ risk of depression or suicide, although other studies did not.

The mixed results prompted many doctors in the United States to prescribe more expensive but potentially safer drugs.

Siedner wanted to take another look at the risk of depression, this time in an African population. From 2005 until 2015, he and a team of Ugandan and U.S. doctors tracked 694 patients who took either efavirenz or another antiretroviral medication. They regularly asked the patients whether they experienced depression or suicidal thoughts.

No difference

Their analysis, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed there was no difference between the two treatments. Siedner told VOA, “In other words, efavirenz was not associated with a risk of depression. If anything, there seems to be a signal that potentially it was associated with a decreased risk. But it wasn’t a strong enough [signal] for us to say that.”

The authors also reported that of the 17 participants who died in the course of the study, not a single death was a suicide. 

Siedner has two possible explanations for why their findings differed from those in Western countries. “One potential cause is that every single ethnic group in the world, of course, is different, and different in many different ways — different socially, different environmentally, and in this case they may be different genetically.” His team is looking at whether the genes that control metabolism of the drug have a role to play in this story.

A second explanation could be the effectiveness of the drug. Because efavirenz is so potent, it could be keeping people healthier than they expected, so patients are less likely to report negative emotions.

The study is important, said Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, because it pushes back against “the initial observation of suicidal ideation and suicide and depression” as caused by efavirenz. He told VOA, “I think now what you’re seeing is that with these conflicting reports, it’s likely someone will come in [with] the proposal to do a randomized study and take a look. So the story isn’t ended with this paper.”

As more research on the safety of efavirenz is conducted, new and cheaper drugs that might replace it are on the horizon. One of them, dolutegravir, might also pose a risk, however. A study in Botswana found dolutegravir was linked to neural tube defects in embryos, meaning it might not be safe for pregnant women. As always, further research is needed to confirm whether this is a common problem or specific to the population studied in Botswana.

“I think the whole field right now is in a bit of a holding pattern,” Siedner said when asked about dolutegravir and the future of HIV medication.

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Canada Strikes Back at US over Tariffs, Unveils Aid Package

Canada struck back at U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs on Friday, vowing to impose punitive measures on C$16.6 billion ($12.63 billion) of American goods and unveiling a C$2 billion aid package for affected industries

and workers.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told a news conference the tariffs would come into effect on July 1.

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Agony, Ecstasy Loom as Penalty Shootouts Come into Play at World Cup

Football’s cruel mistress — the penalty shootout — arrives at the World Cup on Saturday after a packed fortnight of group games, ready to dispense her characteristic doses of unbridled joy and heartbreak in the knockout stages.

There has been a penalty shootout at every World Cup since 1982 in Spain, and while it is still a matter of contention whether this is the best way to decide a winner, the post-match shootout is now common at all levels of the game.

But the consequences of failure are nowhere more devastating than at a World Cup, where two previous finals and five semi-finals have been decided by the gut-wrenching lottery of penalties.

Inevitably it is the misses that are best remembered, none more so than Italy’s Roberto Baggio blasting over the bar to hand Brazil the World Cup in 1994 or Chris Waddle with a similarly wild and wayward effort for England in the semi-final four years later.

In all, 26 World Cup clashes have needed penalties to produce a winner, although only twice have they gone past the first stage of five kicks each.

Of the 16 teams in the second round in Russia starting Saturday, all but four have had past experience of a World Cup shootout.

Argentina should be the most confident, having been involved in more World Cup shootouts than any other country and winning four out of five.

Brazil have won three of four, including the 1994 final in Los Angeles, and France two of four, losing to Italy in the deciding game in Berlin in 2006.

But for the likes of England, Mexico and Switzerland the prospect of progress in Russia hinging on spot kicks will verge on the terrifying.

England have lost all three of their shootouts, and Mexico two out of two. The Swiss, bucking the national stereotype of calm efficiency, failed to convert any of their kicks in their one previous shootout, going out to Ukraine in the last 16 in Cologne in 2006.

For Colombia, Croatia, Denmark and Russia it will be a new World Cup experience if they are forced into the post-match tie breaker, although the Danes succeeded in the semi-finals on their way to their shock European Championship success in 1992.

Conversion rate

In the entire World Cup finals history, there have been a total of 240 post-match penalties taken, with 170 of them scored.

That is a decent conversion rate given the gut-thumping tension that always goes with the shootouts. The stress of nail-biting fans in the stands has nothing on the pressure felt by the players involved, many of whom often cannot bare to look while their colleagues step up to take their shots.

Penalty shootouts were first introduced at the 1978 World Cup but were not needed until four years later. Before that, an even more unsatisfactory toss of the coin was used to break the deadlock.

One consolation for the teams now faced with the prospect of penalties in Russia is that they will not have to face Germany.

Their 100 percent record in World Cup shootouts remains intact due to their unexpectedly early departure.

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‘This Is Congo’ Explores Everyday Voices Amid Conflict

“To grow up as a child in Congo, according to God’s will, is to grow up in paradise,” Col. Mamadou Ndala says in the opening scenes of “This Is Congo,” a film making its theatrical release Friday in the United States.

Strolling outside the eastern city of Goma where he is stationed, Ndala adds: “Perhaps because of the will of man, growing up in Congo is to grow up in misery because of these endless, unjust wars imposed on the people.”

Congo has been in the headlines as it faces its latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, and as a long-delayed presidential election is set for December. Dozens of armed groups continue to wreak deadly havoc on the vast, mineral-rich nation.

“This Is Congo,” directed and filmed by former photojournalist Daniel McCabe, gives an insider’s view on the diverse lives behind the headlines. It follows four people — a military commander, a mineral dealer, a tailor and a high-ranking, anonymous military intelligence officer — to show the humanity in the middle of crisis.

Traveling around the Kivu regions in the east, McCabe sought to explore the root causes of conflict in Congo. He ended up on the front lines of fighting between the army and M23 rebels as they marched into Goma in 2012 and were pushed out the following year. He gained unprecedented access through Ndala, the film’s main subject.

Though filming mostly took place in 2012 and 2013 the scenes of fighting appear timeless, reflecting Congo’s continuous upheaval as some soldiers are recruited by ever-changing rebel groups and later reintegrated back into the army, which is poorly organized and badly paid.

“This is a revolving cycle of conflict,” McCabe told The Associated Press. “The film to me is about the banality of war and the corruption of man. Our hope is that the audience can identify with the characters.”

Another of the four main characters is Mama Romance, who turned to selling gemstones to support her family, eventually sending her children to good schools and breaking the cycle of poverty. The dangerous work, as she crosses borders to sell, shows how entrepreneurial Congolese make money from the rich mineral resources around them. Often the proceeds from exports never trickle down.

“This Congo” also follows Hakiza Nyantaba, a tailor who has been displaced for years by conflict, as he ekes out a life at the kind of camp that is home to many Congolese. As of January 4.5 million people had been displaced, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

“It seems God has forgotten us,” Nyantaba says.

McCabe honors his resilience.

“There are displacement camps where people have been living for 20 years. It’s unfathomable,” the filmmaker said.

Alleged corruption by officials and mining companies in part drives the fighting in Congo, which has trillions of dollars of mineral deposits ranging from diamonds and zinc to copper and tin.

“This is Congo” makes clear that civilians are the victims.

McCabe, who clearly adores the complexities of Congo, said he wants the film’s viewers to “dig up more information on their own . read more books, have more interest in the area.” He urged people to “broaden their gaze.”

The film premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival but will release on Friday in theaters in New York City, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities. It also is being released on the BBC in the UK on iTunes in more than 70 countries.

“This is Congo” also will screen in Goma on July 15 on the closing night of the Congo International Film Festival.

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Bob Mackie Gowns Worn by Carol Burnett, Cher up for Auction

Gowns and ensembles worn by Carol Burnett, Cher and Raquel Welch are going up on the auction block.

The clothing was created by 78-year-old fashion and costume designer Bob Mackie, who has been honored for his work in motion pictures, television and the fashion industry.

Julien’s Auctions says the highlights include two gowns that were worn by Burnett and a pair of Punch and Judy costumes that she and Joel Grey wore on her CBS program.

There’s a hand-painted silk ensemble that Cher wore to the 1974 Academy Awards, along with a gown that Raquel Welch wore.

The exhibition will be displayed aboard the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 on an Aug. 19 trans-Atlantic crossing before the auction takes place in Los Angeles at Julien’s on Nov. 17.

 

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US Consumer Spending Grew Just 0.2 Percent in May

U.S consumers increased their spending just 0.2 percent in May, a disappointing result after two months of much stronger gains. The weaker reading could raise questions about the extent of economic growth overall in the current April-June quarter.

The Commerce Department says the tiny rise in spending last month followed much stronger increases of 0.6 percent in March and 0.5 percent in April. It was the poorest showing since spending had fallen 0.1 percent in February.

Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, and economists are counting on solid gains to propel economic growth after a slow start to the year.

In a more hopeful sign, incomes grew a solid 0.4 percent in May, supported by strong growth in wages and salaries.

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Trade Dispute Hits China’s Yuan, Investors

After a sharp sell-off, China’s yuan and stock markets attempted a modest recovery Friday, yet investors were grappling with some of their worst losses in years as a bitter Sino-U.S. trade row threatened to ruffle the world’s second-biggest economy.

The yuan was set for its biggest monthly fall on record. Chinese stocks, on a downward spiral since late January, were also poised for their largest monthly slide since January 2016.

The downturn highlighted the anxiety among investors as Washington and Beijing showed no signs of backing down from their tariff dispute.

The worry is that an extended selloff in stocks and the yuan could spark a bout of capital outflows, putting further strain on the economy and complicating policy making as authorities put up defenses against the trade battle with the United States.

Down 3 percent in month

The yuan has shed more than 3 percent of its value against the dollar in June, its biggest fall since the market exchange rate was unified in 1994. On Friday, it fell to its lowest since mid-November 2017, but pulled up to 6.6139 per dollar by 0600 GMT for a modest bounce of about 0.16 percent on the day.

Offshore, where the yuan trades more freely, the unit was up by about a quarter of a percent, at 6.6224 per dollar.

In equities, the benchmark CSI300 Index rebounded more than 2 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index gained around 2 percent, though they were both down around 9 percent for the month. In Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng Index was also up more than 1 percent.

Trump and trade

U.S. President Donald Trump has shaken the world trade order by seeking to renegotiate the terms of some of the United States’ trading relationships, in particular with China.

The U.S. is targeting $34 billion of Chinese goods for tariffs to take effect July 6, and has threatened tens of billions of dollars more for similar duties.

Chinese 10-year treasury futures for September delivery, the most traded contract, leapt 0.34 percent. A fixed income portfolio manager said the sharp rise was a result of central bank promises of “ample” liquidity.

“The central bank is expected to step up efforts to calm investors and slow the pace of the yuan depreciation that has sparked risk aversion across regional markets, including a possible reintroduction of the counter-cyclical factor,” Gao Qi, FX strategist at Scotiabank in Singapore, wrote in a note Friday.

He expected “strong resistance” at 6.70 yuan per dollar.

Hard-hit areas

Sectors and stocks that were exposed to the depreciating yuan have been hit hard this month.

Real estate was down 5.7 percent and poised for its fifth straight month of losses. The transport sector index, whose components include many leading airlines, tumbled 9.4 percent this month and was set for its steepest monthly drop since January 2016.

A trader at a regional bank in Shanghai who declined to be named said there had been some “filtering” of the midpoint fixing, which is set by the central bank each morning, in an apparent bid to keep the yuan from falling too sharply.

“It is too early to say whether the counter-cyclical factor has been revived. If market sentiment could recover by itself, there is no need to use the factor. Market still needs some time to digest,” the trader said.

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US Suicide Rate is on the Rise

The suicide rate in the U.S. is rising. A new government report shows nearly 45,000 Americans killed themselves in 2016, more than twice the number of homicides. In fact, the suicide rate, particularly among young people ages 15 to 34, has been rising at an alarming rate for almost three decades, well before the recent high profile suicides of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. Reporter Daria Dieguts takes a look at a trend that has many health professionals worried.

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