YouTube to Block Comments on Most Videos Showing Minors

YouTube said Thursday it will disable user comments on a broad array of videos featuring children to thwart “predatory behavior” after revelations about a glitch exploited for sharing of child pornography.

The Google-owned video sharing service announced further steps to crack down on inappropriate comments a week after an investigation showing how comments and connections on child porn were being displayed alongside innocuous videos.

“We recognize that comments are a core part of the YouTube experience and how you connect with and grow your audience,” YouTube said in a posted message to creators.

“At the same time, the important steps we’re sharing today are critical for keeping young people safe.”

YouTube said that during the past week it has suspended comments on tens of millions of videos to prevent users from exploiting of the software glitch for nefarious purposes.

“These efforts are focused on videos featuring young minors and we will continue to identify videos at risk over the next few months,” YouTube said.

“Over the next few months, we will be broadening this action to suspend comments on videos featuring young minors and videos featuring older minors that could be at risk of attracting predatory behavior.”

A small number of video creators will be allowed to keep comments enabled, but will be required to carefully moderate commentary and to deploy software tools provided by YouTube, according to Google.

YouTube accelerated the release of an improved “classifier” that it said will detect and remove twice the number of policy-breaking comments by individuals.


A YouTube creator last week revealed what he called a “wormhole” that allowed comments and connections on child porn alongside videos.

Shortly thereafter, YouTube deleted many comments and blocked some accounts and channels showing inappropriate comments.

Matt Watson, a YouTube creator with some 26,000 subscribers, revealed the workings of what he termed a “wormhole” into a pedophile ring that allowed users to trade social media contacts and links to child porn in YouTube comments.

The post by Watson sparked a series of news reports and boycotts of YouTube ads from major firms.

The incident raised fears of a fresh “brand safety” crisis for YouTube, which lost advertisers last year following revelations that messages appeared on channels promoting conspiracy theories, white nationalism and other objectionable content.

Thai Lawmakers Approve Controversial Cybersecurity Act

Thailand’s legislature has passed a cybersecurity bill that would allow authorities access to people’s personal information without a court order.

The Cybersecurity Act addresses computer hacking crimes, but activists fear it will allow the government sweeping access to people’s personal information.

The National Legislative Assembly, which passed the bill in its final reading Thursday by a vote of 133-0, was appointed by the junta that came to power after a 2014 coup. It becomes law when published in the Royal Gazette.

The cybersecurity bill allows state officials to seize, search, infiltrate, and make copies of computers, computer systems and information in computers without a court warrant if an appointed committee sees it as a high-level security threat, and relevant courts can later be informed of such actions.

Walmart Is Eliminating Greeters, Worrying Disabled Workers

As Walmart moves to phase out its familiar blue-vested “greeters” at 1,000 stores nationwide, disabled workers who fill many of those jobs say they’re being ill-treated by a chain that styles itself as community-minded and inclusive. 


Walmart told greeters around the country last week that their positions would be eliminated on April 26 in favor of an expanded, more physically demanding “customer host” role. To qualify, they will need to be able to lift 25-pound (11-kilogram) packages, climb ladders and stand for long periods. 


That came as a heavy blow to greeters with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other physical disabilities. For them, a job at Walmart has provided needed income, served as a source of pride and offered a connection to the community.  

Customer backlash


Now Walmart, America’s largest private employer, is facing a backlash as customers rally around some of the chain’s most highly visible employees. 


Walmart says it is striving to place greeters in other jobs at the company, but workers with disabilities are worried.  


Donny Fagnano, 56, who has worked at Walmart for more than 21 years, said he cried when a manager at the store in Lewisburg, Pa., called him into the office last week and told him his job was going away.  


“I like working,” he said. “It’s better than sitting at home.” 


Fagnano, who has spina bifida, said he was offered a severance package. He hopes to stay on at Walmart and clean bathrooms instead. 


Walmart greeters have been around for decades, allowing the retail giant to put a friendly face at the front of its stores. Then, in 2016, Walmart began replacing greeters with hosts, adding responsibilities that include helping with returns, checking receipts to deter shoplifters and keeping the front of the store clean. Walmart and other chains have been redefining roles at stores as they compete with Amazon.  

The effect of the greeter phase-out on disabled and elderly employees — who have traditionally gravitated toward the role as one they were well-suited to doing — largely escaped public notice until last week, when Walmart launched a second round of cuts. 


As word spread, first on social media and then in local and national news outlets, outraged customers began calling Walmart to complain. Tens of thousands of people signed petitions. Facebook groups sprang up with names like “Team Adam” and “Save Lesley.” A second-grade class in California wrote letters to Walmart’s CEO on behalf of Adam Catlin, a disabled greeter in Pennsylvania whose mother had written an impassioned Facebook post about his plight. Walmart said it has offered another job to Catlin. 


In Galena, Ill., hundreds of customers plan to attend an “appreciation parade” for Ashley Powell on her last day of work as a greeter. 


“I love it, and I think I’ve touched a lot of people,” said Powell, 34, who has an intellectual disability. 

‘What am I going to do?’


In Vancouver, Wash., John Combs, 42, who has cerebral palsy, was devastated and then angered by his impending job loss. It had taken his family five years to find him a job he could do, and he loved the work, coming up with nicknames for all his co-workers. 

“What am I going to do — just sit here on my butt all day in this house? That’s all I’m going to do?” Combs asked his sister and guardian, Rachel Wasser. “I do my job. I didn’t do anything wrong.” 


Wasser urged the retailer to “give these people a fair shake. … If you want to make your actions match your words, do it. Don’t be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” 


With the U.S. unemployment rate for disabled people more than twice that for workers without disabilities, Walmart has long been seen as a destination for people like Combs. Advocacy groups worry the company is backsliding.  

“It’s the messaging that concerns me,” said Gabrielle Sedor, chief operations officer at ANCOR, a trade group representing service providers. “Given that Walmart is such an international leader in the retail space, I’m concerned this decision might suggest to some people that the bottom line of the company is more important to the company than inclusive communities. We don’t think those two are mutually exclusive.” 


The greeter issue has already prompted at least three complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as a federal lawsuit in Utah alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the federal law, employers must provide “reasonable” accommodations to workers with disabilities. 


Walmart did not disclose how many disabled greeters could lose their jobs. The company said that after it made the change at more than 1,000 stores in 2016, 80 percent to 85 percent of all affected greeters found other roles at Walmart. It did not reveal how many of them were disabled. 


This time, Walmart initially told greeters they would have 60 days to land other jobs at the company. Amid the uproar, the company has extended the deadline indefinitely for greeters with disabilities. 


“We recognize that our associates with physical disabilities face a unique situation,” Walmart spokesman Justin Rushing said in a statement. The extra time, he said, will give Walmart a chance to explore how to accommodate such employees. 

Offers made


Walmart said it has already made offers to some greeters, including those with physical disabilities, and expects to continue doing so in the coming weeks.  


But some workers say they have been tacitly discouraged from applying for other jobs. 


Mitchell Hartzell, 31, a full-time Walmart greeter in Hazel Green, Ala., said his manager told him “they pretty much didn’t have anything in that store for me to do” after his job winds down in April. He said he persisted, approaching several assistant managers to ask about openings, and found out about a vacant position at self-checkout. But it had already been promised to a greeter who doesn’t use a wheelchair, he said. 


“It seems like they don’t want us anymore,” said Hartzell, who has cerebral palsy. 


Jay Melton, 40, who has worked as a greeter in Marion, N.C., for nearly 17 years, loves church, Tar Heels basketball and Walmart. His sister-in-law, Jamie Melton, said the job is what gets him out of bed. 


“He doesn’t have a lot of things he does himself that bring him joy,” she said. Addressing Walmart, Melton added: “When you cut a huge population of people out, and you have written a policy that declares they are no longer capable of doing what they have been doing, that is discrimination.”  

World Bank: Women Have Just 75 Percent of Men’s Legal Rights

Women around the world are granted only three-quarters of the legal rights enjoyed by men, often preventing them from getting jobs or opening businesses, the World Bank said in study published Wednesday. 


“If women have equal opportunities to reach their full potential, the world would not only be fairer, it would be more prosperous as well,” Kristalina Georgieva, the bank’s interim president, said in a statement. 


While reforms in many countries are a step in the right direction, “2.7 billion women are still legally barred from having the same choice of jobs as men,” the statement said. 


The study included an index measuring gender disparities that was derived from data collected over a decade from 187 countries and using eight indicators to evaluate the balance of rights afforded to men and women. 


The report showed progress over the past 10 years, with the index rising to 75 from 70, out of a possible 100, as 131 countries have agreed to enact 274 reforms, adopting laws or regulations allowing greater inclusion of women. 


Among the improvements, 35 countries have proposed laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, granting protections to an additional 2 billion women, while 22 nations have abolished restrictions that kept women out of certain industrial sectors. 


Six perfect scores

Six nations — Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden — scored a 100, “meaning they give women and men equal legal rights in the measured areas,” the World Bank said. 


A decade ago, no economy had achieved a perfect score. 


On the other hand, too many women still face discriminatory laws or regulations at every stage of their professional lives: 56 nations made no improvement over the last decade. 


South Asia saw the greatest progress, although it still achieved a relatively low score of 58.36. It was followed by Southeast Asia and the Pacific, at 70.73 and 64.80, respectively.  


Latin America and the Caribbean recorded the second-highest scores among emerging and developing economies at 79.09. 


Conversely, the Middle East and North Africa posted the lowest score for gender equality at 47.37. The World Bank nevertheless pointed to encouraging changes, such as the introduction of laws against domestic violence, in particular in Algeria and Lebanon.

TikTok Fined in US for Illegally Gathering Children’s Data 

The fast-growing, Chinese-owned video sharing network TikTok agreed to pay a $5.7 million fine to U.S. authorities to settle charges that it illegally collected personal information from children, officials said Wednesday. 


The Federal Trade Commission said the penalty for the social network, which had been known as, was the largest ever in a children’s privacy investigation. 


The social network, which has been surging in popularity with young smartphone users and taking over from rivals like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, failed to obtain parental consent from its underage users as required by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, FTC officials said. 


The operators of TikTok “knew many children were using the app, but they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons.  

No tolerance for lawbreakers


“This record penalty should be a reminder to all online services and websites that target children: We take enforcement of COPPA very seriously, and we will not tolerate companies that flagrantly ignore the law.” 


TikTok claimed 500 million users worldwide last year, making it one of the most popular worldwide apps. 


Owned by China’s ByteDance, it expanded its reach in the U.S. with the merger with 


Teens have been flocking to the service, which allows them to create and share videos of 15 seconds.  

According to the FTC, the company required users to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography, and a profile picture. 


The consumer protection regulator said 65 million accounts have been registered in the United States. 


Officials said the company knew that many of its users were under 13 and should have taken greater precautions. 


“In our view, these practices reflected the company’s willingness to pursue growth even at the expense of endangering children,” said a statement from FTC Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter. 


“The agency secured a record-setting civil penalty and deletion of ill-gotten data, as well as other remedies to stop this egregious conduct.” 

Suggestive content


TikTok has faced criticism around the world for featuring sexually suggestive content inappropriate for children. 


TikTok said in a statement it would create a “separate app experience” for younger users with additional privacy protections as part of its agreement with regulators. 


“It’s our priority to create a safe and welcoming experience for all of our users, and as we developed the global TikTok platform, we’ve been committed to creating measures to further protect our user community — including tools for parents to protect their teens and for users to enable additional privacy settings,” the statement said.

Fed to Stop Shrinking Portfolio This Year, Powell Says 

The Federal Reserve will stop shrinking its $4 trillion balance sheet later this year, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said on Wednesday, ending a process that investors say works at cross-purposes with the Fed’s current pause on interest rate hikes. 

“We’ve worked out, I think, the framework of a plan that we hope to be able to announce soon that will light the way all the way to the end of balance sheet normalization,” Powell told members of the House Financial Services Committee in what were his most detailed remarks to date on the subject. 

“We’re going to be in a position … to stop runoff later this year,” he said, adding that doing so would leave the balance sheet at about 16 percent or 17 percent of GDP, up from about 6 percent before the financial crisis about a decade ago. 

The U.S. gross domestic product is currently about $20 trillion, suggesting the Fed’s balance sheet would be between $3.2 trillion and $3.4 trillion. 

The Fed has been trimming its balance sheet — bulked up by trillions of dollars of bond-buying during the post-crisis years to help keep interest rates low and bolster the economy — by as much as $50 billion a month since October 2017. As recently as a few months ago it had expected to keep shrinking its portfolio for another couple of years. 

New tack

But in a series of meetings that began in November, the Fed has been devising a new approach. With rising demand for currency around the world, and from U.S. banks for reserves held at the central bank, Fed policymakers now believe a big balance sheet is necessary just to ensure it has proper control over the short-term interest rates it sets to manage the economy. 

In addition, Fed policymakers now say balance sheet policy should take financial and economic conditions into account. 

Questions about the plan remain, including whether the Fed will adjust the maturities of its Treasury portfolio, and how it will go about shedding the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) it accumulated during its asset-buying days. 

Powell said the Fed still has a bunch of decisions ahead of it. 

“The one on MBS sales is really closer to the back of the line — really, we have to decide about the maturity composition, things like that, and we’ll be working through that in a very careful way,” Powell said.  “Markets are sensitive to this.” 

Powell’s remarks on the balance sheet came toward the end of more than two hours of testimony before the Democrat-led House panel that includes several new members, including New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

But the Green New Deal advocate and Bronx populist asked no questions during the debate, and much of what Powell said on Wednesday repeated comments made Tuesday to the Republican-controlled Senate Banking Committee, including that the economy is on solid ground and the Fed would be patient on raising rates. 

Inflation goal unchanged

Powell was asked, as he was in the Senate, about the Fed’s plan to rethink its policy framework this year. He assured lawmakers that the Fed is merely trying to refine its approach so it can meet its current 2 percent inflation goal. 

“We are not looking at a higher inflation target, full stop,” he said. 

Powell also repeated his warnings against a failure by Congress to raise the debt ceiling, saying there would be “bad consequences” should the United States default on its debt payments. 

Powell by law appears two times a year before Congress to brief members of the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee on monetary policy and the state of the economy. 

Meet Elon Tusk: Tesla Chief Changes Twitter Display Name

Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk changed his Twitter display name to “Elon Tusk” in another late-night flurry of tweets on Wednesday, which also promised news from his electric carmaker Tesla Inc later this week.

In a series of tweets to his 25 million followers following charges from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this week, Musk accused the regulator of failing to read Tesla’s annual reports and said its oversight was “broken”.

On Wednesday, he changed his display name and added an elephant tag.

Social media platforms have featured a number of memes involving wordplay around Musk’s name this week.

He also promised Tesla would have “news” at 2 p.m. California time on Thursday. The company, deep in debt as it ramps up production of its popular Model 3 sedan, is due to repay a $920 million convertible bond a day later.

Musk had promised last year to have his public statements vetted by the company’s board, as part of a settlement with the SEC that headed off demands for him to resign as Tesla CEO.

Tesla did not immediately respond to request for comment.


Volvo’s Polestar Unveils Electric Car Touted as Tesla Rival

Volvo’s electric performance brand Polestar is unveiling a battery-powered compact car touted as a rival to Tesla’s Model 3.

The Polestar 2 is a five-door vehicle with a panoramic glass roof, an all-vegan interior and a battery with enough capacity to drive 500 kilometers under European tests for range measurement, or 275 miles under U.S. testing rules.

With 408 horsepower, it should accelerate from zero to 100 kph (0-62 mph) in under five seconds. Polestar said Wednesday that the car’s U.S. price for the launch version will be $55,500 after tax incentives; later a lower-priced version with less range is envisioned.

The car, to be shown at next month’s Geneva auto show, becomes available in 2020.

Volvo Car Group, headquartered in Goteborg, Sweden, is a subsidiary of Chinese automaker Geely.

На валютному ринку немає значних змін: майже 27 гривень за долар

Національний банк України зберігає стабільність на валютному ринку. За результатами торгів 27 лютого регулятор встановив на останній день зими курс 26 гривень 99 копійок за долар, це на одну копійку більше, ніж днем раніше.

На початку лютого гривня вже зміцнювалася щодо долара до літніх рівнів 2018 року. Свого пікового значення 28 гривень 39 копійок впродовж останнього року долар сягнув 30 листопада 2018 року. Відтоді американська валюта втратила майже півтори гривні.

Національний банк пояснює тренд на зміцнення гривні, зокрема, стабільними надходженнями експортної виручки.

Україна має треті за обсягом запаси газу в Європі – «Нафтогаз»

Україна має треті за обсягом запаси газу в Європі, повідомив «Нафтогаз України» у своїй презентації, наданій у відповідь на запит Радіо Свобода.

Компанія оцінює її на рівні 590 мільярдів кубометрів. На другому місці за обсягом запасів газу йдуть Нідерланди (696 мільярдів), на першому – Норвегія (1,763 трильйона). Про Росію «Нафтогаз» не згадує.

При цьому найбільша компанія з видобування газу в Україні – «Укргазвидобування» – у 2018 році отримала лише один спецдозвіл на розвідку нових ділянок та подальше видобування газу. У 2014 році таких спецдозволів було дев’ять, у 2015 – чотири, у 2016 – 13, у 2017 – чотири.

«Один мільярд кубометрів не видобуто через невидачу ліцензій», – заявили в «Нафтогазі».

Компанія вказує, що природне падіння видобутку через виснаження свердловин становить 1-1,2 мільярда кубометрів на рік.

Водночас обсяги буріння зросли зі 173 тисяч кубометрів у 2015 році до 313 тисяч у 2018.

Обсяг видобутку газу в Україні державними й приватними компаніями у 2018 досяг 21 мільярда кубометрів. Водночас обсяг споживання газу більший – 32,3 мільярда.

«Нафтогаз» вважає, що для збільшення видобутку газу частка інвестицій в його ціні має зрости у 8,5 разів.

У компанії стверджують, що із кожного проданого кубометра за поточною ціною – 8,55 грн – на інвестиції йде 34 копійки. «Нафтогаз» підрахував, що частка інвестицій у ціні газу має складати 2,1 грн, якщо потрібно утримати видобуток газу, і 2,9 грн – якщо потрібно його нарощувати.

«Нафтогаз»: для збільшення видобутку газу частка інвестицій в його ціні має зрости у 8,5 разів

Для збільшення видобутку газу частка інвестицій в його ціні має зрости у 8,5 разів, йдеться в презентації «Нафтогаз України», наданій у відповідь на запит Радіо Свобода.

У компанії стверджують, що із кожного проданого кубометра за поточною ціною – 8,55 грн – на інвестиції йде 34 копійки. Там підрахували, що частка інвестицій у ціні газу має складати 2,1 грн, якщо потрібно утримати видобуток газу, і 2,9 грн – якщо потрібно його нарощувати.

«Держава забирає 5,91 грн з 8,55 грн на кожному проданому кубометрі», – розповіли в «Нафтогазі».

Ще 2 гривні 30 копійок в тарифі формуються за рахунок тарифів облгазів на розподіл та постачання газу (з ПДВ), операційних витрат на видобуток та транспортування, недоотриманих коштів від споживачів та покриття збитків від імпорту газу для ПСО, тобто компаній, на які покладені спеціальні обов’язки.

Згідно з презентацією, найбільша компанія з видобування газу в Україні – «Укргазвидобування» – має вкладати 29 мільярдів гривень на рік, щоб принаймні зберігати поточний рівень видобутку (15,5 мільярда кубометрів у 2018 році).

«Нафтогаз» вважає ринковою ціною газу 10 гривень 65 копійок за кубометр. Це, за підрахунками компанії, дозволило б «Укргазвидобуванню» упродовж п’яти років збільшити видобуток до 20 мільярдів кубометрів.

Обсяг видобутку газу в Україні державними й приватними компаніями у 2018 досяг 21 мільярда кубометрів. Водночас обсяг споживання газу більший – 32,3 мільярда.

Boeing Unveils Unmanned Combat Jet Developed in Australia

Boeing on Wednesday unveiled an unmanned, fighter-like jet developed in Australia and designed to fly alongside crewed aircraft in combat for a fraction of the cost.

The U.S. manufacturer hopes to sell the multi-role aircraft, which is 38 feet long (11.6 meters) and has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704-kilometer) range, to customers around the world, modifying it as requested.

It is Australia’s first domestically developed combat aircraft in decades and Boeing’s biggest investment in unmanned systems outside the United States, although the company declined to specify the dollar amount.

Defense contractors are investing increasingly in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for a cheaper and safer way to maximize their resources.

Boeing rivals like Lockheed Martin and Kratos Defense and Security Solutions are also investing in such aircraft.

Four to six of the new aircraft, called the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, can fly alongside a F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, said Shane Arnott, director of Boeing research and prototype arm Phantom Works International.

“To bring that extra component and the advantage of unmanned capability, you can accept a higher level of risk,” he said.

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in the United States said last year that the U.S. Air Force should explore pairing crewed and uncrewed aircraft to expand its fleet and complement a limited number of “exquisite, expensive, but highly potent fifth-generation aircraft” like the F-35.

“Human performance factors are a major driver behind current aerial combat practices,” the policy paper said. “Humans can only pull a certain number of Gs, fly for a certain number of hours, or process a certain amount of information at a given time.”

In addition to performing like a fighter jet, other roles for the Boeing system early warning, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance alongside aircraft like the P-8 Poseidon and E-7 Wedgetail, said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems.

​”It is operationally very flexible, modular, multi-mission,” she said. “It is a very disruptive price point. Fighter-like capability at a fraction of the cost.”

Robertson declined to comment on the cost, saying that it would depend on the configuration chosen by individual customers.

The jet is powered by a derivative of a commercially available engine, uses standard runways for take-off and landing, and can be modified for carrier operations at sea, Robertson said. She declined to specify whether it could reach supersonic speeds, common for modern fighter aircraft.

Its first flight is expected in 2020, with Boeing and the Australian government producing a concept demonstrator to pave the way for full production.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, is home to Boeing’s largest footprint outside the United States and has vast airspace with relatively low traffic for flight testing. 

The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will be manufactured in

Australia, but production lines could be set up in other countries depending on sales, Arnott said.

The United States, which has the world’s biggest military budget, would be among the natural customers for the product.

The U.S. Air Force 2030 project foresees the Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter working together with stealthy combat drones, called the “Loyal Wingman” concept, said Derrick Maple, principal analyst for unmanned systems at IHS Markit.

“The U.S. has more specific plans for the wingman concept, but Western Europe will likely develop their requirements in parallel, to abate the capabilities of China and the Russian Federation and other potential threats,” he said.

Robertson declined to name potential customers and would not comment on potential stealth properties, but said the aircraft had the potential to sell globally.

“We didn’t design this as a point solution but a very flexible solution that we could outfit with payloads, sensors, different mission sets to complement whatever their fleet is,” she said. “Don’t think of it as a specific product that is tailored to do only one mission.”

Cameroon Cracks Down on Illegal Fuel Trade

Cameroonian police officers, assisted by members of the country’s elite corps, seized hundreds of containers of fuel illegally transported from Nigeria by suspected Central African Republic rebels in the northern town of Mbe, Cameroon.

Rigobert Ojong, a member of a task force of military, police and civil society members created three weeks ago to stop the illegal fuel trade, said the group received a tip that the fuel was on its way to the C.A.R., where it would be used by rebels fighting the central African state’s government. 

“We have put aside personnel dedicated to this fight, within the framework of this task force, and we have been able to intercept about 1,500 drums of fraudulently imported fuel. If we go by the price in the black market, we are talking about more than 3 billion CFA francs [$5 million] a year,” Ojong said.

Cameroon’s government says an unknown quantity of oil is smuggled from Nigeria through its territory because the border is so porous. The military says it has opened an investigation to track dealers who might be collaborating with rebel groups in the C.A.R.

Alleged corruption

Businessman Patrice Essola, who supplies fuel to the C.A.R. from Cameroon, says illegal trade with C.A.R. rebels is facilitated by corrupt government officials in both countries.

He said the rebels and traffickers work in collaboration with corrupt Cameroonian military officials and C.A.R. border immigration staff to import the fuel from Nigeria. Some of the tankers and trucks that smuggle the fuel are even protected by corrupt officials while in Cameroon and in the C.A.R., Essola added.

Kildadi Taguieke Boukar, governor of the Adamawa region that shares a border with the C.A.R., denies corrupt military officials assist rebels and smugglers, but said investigations had been opened.

Each time the traffickers are arrested, they answer charges in courts of law, Boukar said, but added the task is very, very difficult because Cameroon’s borders with Nigeria and the C.A.R. are very porous. All of the fuel will be taken to C.A.R. authorities, he said.

C.A.R. violence, peace deal

In January, Cameroon said 300 of its citizens had been abducted by suspected C.A.R. rebels within the past two years, along with at least 5,000 cattle. Local border communities asked the government to authorize self-defense groups to be equipped with guns to face rebels who they said continued to cross to their villages for supplies.

The C.A.R. was plunged into turmoil in 2013 when Muslim rebels known as the Seleka seized power in the majority-Christian country. A band of mostly Christian militias, called the anti-Balaka, rose up to counter the Seleka. Thousands of people have been killed in the violence and more than one million are internally displaced. An estimated 570,000 people have fled to neighboring countries, with about 350,000 in Cameroon.

On Feb. 2, the U.N. mission in the C.A.R., known as MINUSCA, and the African Union announced that a peace deal between the C.A.R. government and 14 rebel groups had been reached after sponsored talks in Sudan. They called on the C.A.R.’s neighbors to help bring peace by not allowing their borders to be used for supplies or as a hiding ground for fighters who refuse to respect the deal.

Boeing Nominates Former UN Ambassador Haley to Join its Board

U.S. aerospace manufacturer Boeing said on Tuesday it has nominated Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a close ally of President Donald Trump, to join its board of directors at the company’s annual shareholders meeting on April 29.

If elected by Boeing shareholders, she would help guide the future of America’s largest exporter, with a network of suppliers across the United States and the world, as Washington and Beijing have been locked in intense negotiations to end a trade war.

Haley’s nomination comes as Boeing grapples with a major decision: whether to launch an all-new jetliner known as NMA, a midsize plane that would serve a niche market falling between narrow- and wide-body aircraft.

The world’s largest planemaker has said it would make a final launch decision in 2020 on the new program, which is expected to define competition with archrival Airbus SE.

Viewed as a rising Republican Party star, Haley has often been mentioned as a future presidential candidate. Her counterparts at the United Nations saw her as a voice of clarity in the Trump administration.

Haley, 47, is the first female governor of South Carolina and a three-term legislator in the South Carolina House of Representatives. As governor in 2015, Haley was a key opponent of a campaign by Boeing’s largest labor union to form a collective bargaining unit at its 787 Dreamliner factory in South Carolina – though the machinists were later successful in forming a small bargaining unit there.

Boeing has faced growing scrutiny over its links to the Trump administration after a former senior planemaking executive, Pat Shanahan, was named deputy defense secretary and later acting defense secretary. The 31-year Boeing veteran has recused himself, however, from matters relating to the aerospace company.

The U.S. government has been weighing the purchase of an advanced version of the F-15 Boeing fighter. Last year, Boeing’s defense side had a series of wins, including the U.S. Air Force’s next training jet, which could be worth up to $9.2 billion, as well as a contract to replace UH-1N Huey helicopters worth $2.4 billion over the life of the programs.

In a press release, Muilenburg praised Haley’s record in government and industry partnership.

“Boeing will benefit greatly from her broad perspectives and combined diplomatic, government and business experience to help achieve our aspiration to be the best in aerospace and a global industrial champion,” Muilenburg said.

Based on total compensation for Boeing’s other 13 board members, Haley can expect to earn more than $300,000, well above her salary as U.N. ambassador.

Separately on Tuesday, the shareholders of Brazilian planemaker Embraer SA approved a deal to sell 80 percent of the Sao Paulo-based company’s commercial jet division to Boeing, a move that could reshape the global market for aircraft of up to 150 seats.

Boeing shares were flat at $427.88 a share in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Poll: Brazilians Split on Pension Reform, But Back Bolsonaro 

Brazilians are split on a proposed overhaul of the country’s pension system, a poll showed on Tuesday, while most said they approve of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s performance.

In one of the first major surveys since Bolsonaro’s Jan. 1 inauguration, 45.6 percent of respondents said they disapprove of the proposed pension reform, while 43.4 percent said they approve. The rest said they did not know or did not respond.

It was the first time a poll, conducted by the MDA institute and commissioned by the CNT transportation lobby, directly asked respondents if they approved of pension reform.

Other polls in the past year have shown large swings in voter opinion on pension reform, from over two-thirds against to figures in line with the MDA survey.

Bolsonaro’s proposal to address a widening pension deficit by raising taxes, delaying retirements and creating individual savings accounts is the cornerstone of his economic agenda.

Last week, the president delivered his proposal to Congress, aiming to save over 1 trillion reais ($266 billion) in the next decade. Most economists agree the system must be overhauled to shore up public finances and foster growth.

On Bolsonaro’s popularity, 57.5 percent approved of his performance, while 28.2 percent disapproved and 14.3 percent did not offer an opinion.

In the survey, 38.9 percent said Bolsonaro’s government was “good” or “excellent,” 29 percent said it was “regular” and 19 percent said it was “bad” or “terrible.”

MDA surveyed 2,002 Brazilians between Feb. 21 and 23. The poll has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.


Mobile World Congress Overshadowed by Huawei 5G Spying Standoff

Robots, cars, drones and virtual-reality gaming sets connected by cutting-edge 5G networks are among the thousands of futuristic gadgets on display at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

While there is much excitement over how 5G will transform our everyday lives, the conference is overshadowed by the standoff between the United States and Beijing over the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, which the U.S. says could be used by the Chinese government for espionage.

Some U.S. cities and parts of Asia are already operating 5G mobile networks. They offer speeds of over a gigabyte per second and low latency — in other words, practically instant connections with no delay.

Experts say that opens up whole new fields of connectivity, from new generations of virtual reality gaming and communication, to remote robotic surgery.

The technology promises to transform not only the mobile phone in your pocket — but also the world around us, says Paul Triolo of the Eurasia Group, who spoke to VOA from the conference.

“The really key aspects of 5G, like some of the low latency communications and massive sensor, massive machine-to-machine communications, that’s more about industry and industrial uses. And that gets into thing like critical infrastructure so you’re going to have a lot more non-personal or industrial data flying around and that really has people concerned. For example, military forces in countries like the U.S. will also leverage large parts of the commercial network,” said Triolo.Chinese firm Huawei is a big presence at the Mobile World Congress and a big player in 5G network technology.

Washington has banned the company from 5G rollout in the United States, citing Chinese legislation requiring companies to cooperate with the state — raising fears Huawei 5G networks overseas could be used as a ‘Trojan horse’ to spy on rivals.

Attending the Mobile World Congress Tuesday, the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Secretary for Cyber Policy Robert L. Strayer urged allies to do the same.

“We will continue to engage with these governments and the regulators in these countries to educate them about what we know and keep sharing the best practices for how we can all successfully move to next generation of technology. I´ll just say there are plenty of options in the West,” Strayer told reporters.

Huawei’s management has said the company would never use ‘back doors’ for espionage — and the Chinese government has dismissed the accusations.

Australia, New Zealand and Japan have followed Washington’s lead and restricted Huawei’s involvement in 5G. Europe remains undecided — but the industry needs clarity, said analyst Paul Triolo.

“The European community in particular and also the U.S. have to clarify what these policies mean, what a ban would mean or what some kind of a partial ban would mean, if there’s really a middle ground that can be found here.”

Vodafone’s CEO Nick Read told the Barcelona conference that banning Huawei could set Europe’s 5G rollout back another two years.

The eye-catching gadgets show the potential that 5G networks are about to unleash. But the question of who controls those networks, and the data they carry, looms large over this futuristic world.

China-US Huawei 5G Standoff Overshadows Mobile Tech Summit in Spain

5G-connected robots, cars, drones and virtual-reality gaming sets are among the thousands of futuristic gadgets on display at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. While there is much excitement over how 5G networks will transform our everyday lives, the conference is overshadowed by the standoff between the United States and Beijing over the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei – which the U.S. says could be used by the Chinese government for espionage. Henry Ridgwell has more.

Нацбанк продовжує зміцнювати гривню

Національний банк України за результатами торгів на міжбанківському валютному ринку встановив на 27 лютого курс 26 гривень 98 копійок за долар. Це на одну копійку менше, ніж днем раніше.

На початку лютого гривня вже зміцнювалася щодо долара до літніх рівнів 2018 року. Свого пікового значення 28 гривень 39 копійок впродовж останнього року долар сягнув 30 листопада 2018 року. Відтоді американська валюта втратила майже півтори гривні.

Національний банк пояснює тренд на зміцнення гривні, зокрема, стабільними надходженнями експортної виручки.

Look But Don’t Touch as Smartphone’s Flexible Future Unfolds

Flexible and folding formats framed the future of smartphones this week as manufacturers focused on new forms in an effort to jolt the market out of uniformity and re-invigorate sales.

But anyone hoping to tap or swipe Huawei’s Mate X, a smartphone that wraps the screen around the front and back, was soon disappointed at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress.

Initial cheers were quickly followed by gasps when the Chinese firm revealed its eye-watering 2,299 euros ($2,600) price tag, although that includes a 5G connection.

This is even more than Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, which was unveiled last week and will be priced from $1,980 when it goes on sale in some markets in April. It was on display in Barcelona in a glass case like a museum artefact.

While the hands-off stance indicates neither firm has a consumer-ready device, 2019 would be remembered as the year of the foldable Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, said, adding that the new format was still in its infancy.

“But we are at the stone age of devices with flexible displays; it’s a whole new phase of experimentation after the sea of smartphone sameness we have seen for the last decade.”

Samsung took the opposite approach to Huawei by putting its folding screen on the inside of its device, with another smaller screen on the front panel for use when its is closed.

“That was the solution we felt was best for longevity,” Samsung’s European Director of Mobile Portfolio & Commercial Strategy Mark Notton told Reuters.

Smartphone makers have been trying to innovate to persuade consumers to upgrade from devices which already meet most of their needs, in an effort to reverse falling sales.

And although more vendors will soon follow with their own takes on foldable displays, 2019 will not be the year they go mainstream, market analysts Canalys said. They will remain exclusively ultra-luxury devices with fewer than 2 million expected to be shipped worldwide this year, Canalys added.

The mobile market slipped 1.2 percent in 2018, research company Gartner says, although it expects growth of 1.6 percent in 2019, driven by replacement cycles in the largest and most saturated markets China, the United States and Western Europe.

Gearing up for 5G

With 5G next generation mobile networks not becoming widely available until 2023 in the United States and China and 2026 in Europe, analysts say, the vast majority of customers will be buying the latest 4G devices like Samsung new Galaxy S10.

Nonetheless, manufacturers such as LG were keen to show they could squeeze 5G technology into 4G smartphone form, although most lacked launch or pricing information.

Chinese maker OnePlus had a 5G device running a video game using a 5G connection on show, but visitors were teased with only a glimpse of the phone’s screen in a display cabinet.

“For us, launching means commercial availability, it doesn’t mean PowerPoint,” OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei told Reuters.

“We are confident we are going to be one of the first with a commercially available smartphone in Europe,” he said, adding that this would be within the first half of 2019.

Xiaomi Corp, which ranked fifth in smartphone shipments in the last quarter according to IDC, did reveal pricing information along with its first 5G device.

“Xiaomi has fired the starting gun with a $599 price. That will bring tears to the eyes of many other mobile phone makers,” Wood said, adding that many sub-scale makers such as Sony, LG and others could find it tough to make any kind of margin on 5G.

Sony did not show a 5G device, relying instead on its ownership of a major Hollywood studio to release a new line of Xperia phones with a 21:9 display ratio optimized to watch movies and Netflix content.


Taiwan Concerns Mean China Defense Budget Likely to Defy Slowing Economy

A slowing economy is unlikely to crimp China’s 2019 defense budget rise, as Beijing earmarks more spending for modernization and big-ticket items like stealth jets, and focuses on Taiwan after a stern new year’s speech from President Xi Jinping.

The defense spending figure is closely watched worldwide for clues to China’s strategic intentions as it develops new military capabilities, including aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.

In 2018, China unveiled its largest defense spending increase in three years, setting an 8.1 percent growth target for the year, fueling an ambitious military upgrade program and making its neighbors nervous.

The 2019 number should be revealed at the March 5 opening of the annual session of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, although in 2017 it was initially not announced, prompting renewed concerns about transparency.

China plans to set a lower economic growth target of 6-6.5 percent in 2019 compared with last year’s target of around 6.5 percent, policy sources have told Reuters. The government will also announced the economic growth target on March 5. 

However, the defense budget increase could well surpass that.

Influential state-run tabloid the Global Times, which takes a strongly nationalistic line, this month cited an unidentified military expert as saying “a stable 8-9 percent increase from 2018 would be a reasonable prediction.”

China still has a long way to go to catch Western forces because the number of advanced weapons now in its arsenal, such as the J-20 stealth fighter, remain limited, the paper said.

Xie Yue, a professor of political science at Tongji University in Shanghai and a security expert, said with a weakening economy there would naturally be an expectation for a slower increase in military spending.

“It should go down, as the defense budget is connected to economic growth, but certainly factors will probably mean it will still go up, like the South China Sea and Taiwan issues,” Xie said.

Xi’s January speech threatening to attack Taiwan should it not accept Chinese rule has shot the issue back up the agenda for China’s military thinkers, especially as the island gears up for presidential elections next year.

“The Taiwan question can’t keep being put off, passed down through the generations,” retired Chinese Major General Luo Yuan, one of the country’s most prominent and widely read military commentators, wrote on his blog last month. “Our generation must complete our historic mission.”

‘Itching for a fight’

One source with ties to China’s military said the armed forces were itching for a fight over self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory, especially after Xi’s speech.

“Every day, they’re like ‘fight, fight, fight,'” said the source, who regularly meets senior officers.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly warned of the threat from China, and vowed to defend the island and its democratic way of life. The United States has said it is closely watching Chinese intentions towards Taiwan.

“Even with just a broom, I would fight against China,” Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told parliament last week. “You would pay a price if you want to annex Taiwan.”

The United States again sent two Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday as the U.S. military increased the frequency of movement through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.

China’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on this year’s military budget. China routinely says spending is for defensive purposes only, comparatively small and that critics just want to keep the country down.

“What people are scared of is China getting strong,” said Xu Guangyu, a senior consultant at the China Arm Control and Disarmament Association and another former senior Chinese officer, dismissing concerns about defense spending.

U.S. President Donald Trump has backed plans to request $750 billion from Congress for defense spending in 2019. That compares with the 1.11 trillion yuan ($165.40 billion) China set for its military budget in 2018.

China provides no breakdown of its defense budget, leading neighbors and other military powers to complain that Beijing’s lack of transparency has added to regional tension. China says it is fully transparent and no threat.

Diplomats and many foreign experts say China’s defense numbers probably underestimate true military spending for the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest armed forces, which also runs the country’s space program.

Another Ceasefire: Can the US and China End Their Trade War?

Relief swept across world financial markets Monday after President Donald Trump pushed back a March 2 deadline in a trade dispute with China.


But the respite might not last.


The world’s two biggest economies have squared off over Beijing’s aggressive campaign to turn Chinese companies into world leaders in advanced industries such as robotics and electric vehicles. Both sides have said they’ve made progress but haven’t provided much detail.


“Popping the champagne today would be premature,” Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, wrote in a research note.


Daco added that vast differences between the two countries “will prevent a significant de-escalation of trade tensions between the two giants.”


In the United States, business groups and lawmakers fear that Trump will settle for a deal that doesn’t require China to change its sharp-elbowed business practices.


A look at the dispute:


What Are the U.S. and CHINA Fighting About?


The United States accuses China of deploying predatory tactics in a headlong push to challenge American technological dominance. These, the U.S. says, include: outright theft of trade secrets, forcing foreign companies to hand over technology as the price of access to the Chinese market, and unfairly subsidizing Chinese tech companies and using regulations to hobble their foreign competitors.


The accusations elevate the standoff from a typical trade dispute to a battle over whether the United States or China dominates the industries of the future, the outcome of which has implications for national security.


Trump is also obsessed with America’s massive trade deficit with China, $336 billion in 2017 and likely higher last year.


Critics complain that the administration has been inconsistent about what it wants — sometimes demanding sweeping changes in Chinese economic policy, sometimes seeming willing to settle for China just buying more American stuff to narrow the trade deficit.


Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center think tank, said he would be disappointed if the Trump administration settles only for more exports to China and vague promises to make structural reforms. “The Trump administration could have had that in week one,” Daly said.


What’s Happened So Far?


In July, the Trump administration gradually began slapping import taxes on Chinese goods to pressure Beijing into changing its policies. It now has imposed 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports and 25 percent tariffs on another $50 billion.


Twice, Trump has pushed back plans to raise the tariffs on the $200 billion to 25 percent. He extended a Jan. 1 deadline by three months after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires Dec. 1. And on Sunday, following meetings last week between U.S. and Chinese negotiators, he delayed indefinitely the tariff hike that was scheduled to kick in at 12:01 EST March 2.


The U.S. is also restricting Chinese investment in high-tech American industries and U.S. exports of sensitive technology to China.


Meanwhile, the Chinese have punched back by slapping import taxes on $110 billion in U.S. goods, focusing on soybeans and agricultural products in a direct shot at Trump supporters in the American farm belt.


Forecasters at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have all downgraded their forecasts for the global economy, citing the heightened trade tensions.


Are U.S. and Chinese Negotiators Making Headway?


They say they are but haven’t provided many particulars. Trump tweeted Sunday that negotiators had made “substantial progress” on issues including protection of intellectual property, coerced tech transfer, currency manipulation and U.S. access to the Chinese farm and services markets among “many other issues.” China’s official Xinhua news agency echoed that assessment.


Trump has said he would likely have to meet one-on-one with Xi — probably late next month at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — to resolve the thorniest issues.


What Happens Next?


Trump sees the stock market as a measure of the success of his economic policies. Investors’ view is clear: When U.S.-China negotiations go well, American stocks rise. When talks falter, they drop.


So the question is whether Trump, having taken U.S.-China economic relations to the brink, has the patience to hold out in the face of likely stock-market volatility for an enforceable deal that requires China to change its behavior. Or whether he’ll agree to more exports and promises of change.


“If the U.S. has already achieved quite a bit, and we are just clarifying the details of substantial Chinese concessions, then that’s not a huge concern,” said Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But if the U.S. has come away with very little in terms of binding commitments (after dropping the tariff deadline), then the chance of getting more in the coming weeks could be quite low.”


Daly at the Wilson Center faulted the administration for not imposing a new deadline. “They are expert at the use of time and delay until conditions have changed and leverage has been lost, to get a better outcome,” he said.


Trump has also alarmed Canada and critics by suggesting the U.S. might drop criminal charges against Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, in a quest to cut a deal. The U.S. has charged Huawei with lying about violating sanctions against Iran and with stealing trade secrets. Canada arrested Meng Dec. 1 at America’s request and is weighing whether to extradite her to the United States. China arrested two Canadians in apparent retaliation.


Former Canadian Ambassador to China David Mulroney tweeted Monday that “it’s now the US that has to hang tough, and not sell out its integrity in Huawei case for a trade deal with China.”

Трамп закликав країни ОПЕК приборкати зростання цін, котирування нафти знизилися

Президент США Дональд Трамп попросив країни, які входять до нафтового картеля ОПЕК, зменшити свої апетити. Після цього котирування нафти на світових біржах пішли вниз.

«Ціни на нафту стають зависокими. ОПЕК, розслабтеся, будь ласка, і поставтеся з розумінням. Ми не можемо собі дозволити зростання цін», – висловився Трамп у свій традиційний спосіб, у сервісі мікроблогів Twitter.

Твіт Трампа був оприлюднений після 13:00 за київським часом, а станом на вечір 25 лютого котирування «чорного золота» впали приблизно на 3%, це стосується як сорту Brent, який торгується в Лондоні, так і американського сорту WTI.

Brent втратив понад два долари і оцінюється станом на 19:15 за Києвом у 64,85 долара, WTI втратив менш як два долари і коштує 55,30 долара.

Котирування цін на нафту значною мірою впливає на формування бюджетів країн-експортерів цієї сировини, таких, як Росія чи Саудівська Аравія.

НБУ знову не втримав долар на міжбанку

Національний банк України знову не втримав офіційний курс гривні до долара на рівні 27 гривень за одиницю американської валюти. Як повідомляли учасники міжбанківського валютного ринку, 25 лютого регулятор викупив близько 10 мільйонів доларів за курсом 27 гривень 2 копійки, але пропозиція валюти все одно перевищувала попит на неї.

У результаті НБУ встановив на 26 лютого курс 26 гривень 99 копійок за долар.

Після завершення активної фази торгів зниження котирувань долара тривало, і на незначних обсягах міжбанк завершив день на рівні 26 гривень 90-93 копійки за долар.

На початку лютого гривня вже зміцнювалася щодо долара до літніх рівнів 2018 року. Свого пікового значення 28 гривень 39 копійок впродовж останнього року долар сягнув 30 листопада 2018 року. Відтоді американська валюта втратила майже півтори гривні.

Національний банк пояснює тренд на зміцнення гривні, зокрема, стабільними надходженнями експортної виручки.

Afghanistan Begins Exports To India Through Iranian Port

Afghanistan has started shipping goods to India for the first time through a newly developed Iranian seaport in a bid to improve exports and reduce reliance on routes through its uneasy neighbor, Pakistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani traveled Sunday to the western border city of Zaranj to see off the inaugural convoy of 23 trucks loaded with 570 tons of cargo to the Chabahar port in neighboring Iran. The consignment is destined for the Indian port city of Mumbai. 

For decades, landlocked Afghanistan has mostly relied on Pakistani land and seaports for international trade. But mutual tensions have in recent years significantly reduced Afghan trade and transit activities through Pakistan. 

Addressing the nationally televised ceremony, Ghani credited a “healthy cooperation between India, Iran and Afghanistan” for achieving the milestone. He said the new export route will help improve economic growth in his war-shattered country, saying “Afghanistan is not landlocked anymore.”

New Delhi has financed and developed Iran’s Chabahar Port to enable Kabul get direct and easy sea trade access.

India took operational control of a portion of the Iranian port late last year for 18 months and plans to send cargo ships from its ports of Mumbai, Kandla and Mundra every two weeks, according Indian media reports. 

The United States last year waived certain anti-Iran sanctions to allow development of Chabahar to support efforts aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan. The waiver has enable India, Iran and Afghanistan to continue their work to establish a new transit and transport corridor linking the three countries to help improve Afghan economy and allow the war-ravaged country to import food and medicines.

India successfully shipped 1.1 million tons of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar Port in 2017. That year, New Delhi also launched an air corridor with Kabul for bilateral trade. 

Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, Vinay Kumar, while addressing Sunday’s ceremony in Zaranj said the air corridor has since helped increased Afghan exports to his country by 40 percent. 

China also opened an air corridor with Afghanistan in November and has since imported thousands of tons of Afghan pine nuts, bringing much-need foreign exchange to Kabul. Afghanistan is the largest producer of pine nuts in the world, with an annual output of about 23,000 tons. The increase in exports to China has led to an unusual rise in in prices of pine nuts in Afghanistan, say local traders and consumers.

Pakistan allows Afghanistan to use its seaports for international trade under a bilateral trade and transit agreement. It also allows use of overland routes for Afghan exports to India. However, Islamabad wants improvement in ties with New Delhi before it will allow Indian exports via the same routes back to Afghanistan. 

US-China Trade Talks Extended as March Deadline Approaches

The United States and China are discussing a meeting between their two leaders soon to finalize a trade agreement. To move things forward, the latest round of trade talks between senior officials is being extended into the weekend. As Nike Ching reports, experts say world’s two largest economies must bridge wide gaps as they seek common ground before new U.S. tariffs are set to start.

Your Flight’s Seat-Back Screen May Be Watching You

Now there is one more place where cameras could be watching you — from 30,000 feet.

Newer seat-back entertainment systems on some airplanes operated by American Airlines and Singapore Airlines have cameras, and it’s likely they are also on planes used by other carriers.

American and Singapore both said Friday that they have never activated the cameras and have no plans to use them.

However, companies that make the entertainment systems are installing cameras to offer future options such as seat-to-seat video conferencing, according to an American Airlines spokesman.

A passenger on a Singapore flight posted a photo of the seat-back display last week, and the tweet was shared several hundred times and drew media notice. Buzzfeed first reported that the cameras are also on some American planes.

Cameras standard features

The airlines stressed that they didn’t add the cameras — manufacturers embedded them in the entertainment systems. American’s systems are made by Panasonic, while Singapore uses Panasonic and Thales, according to airline representatives. Neither Panasonic nor Thales responded immediately for comment.

As they shrink, cameras are being built into more devices, including laptops and smartphones. The presence of cameras in aircraft entertainment systems was known in aviation circles at least two years ago, although not among the traveling public.

Seth Miller, a journalist who wrote about the issue in 2017, thinks that equipment makers didn’t consider the privacy implications. There were already cameras on planes, although not so intrusive, and the companies assumed that passengers would trade their images for convenience, as they do with facial-recognition technology at immigration checkpoints, he said.

“Now they’re facing blowback from a small but vocal group questioning the value of the system that isn’t even active,” Miller said.

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said cameras are in “premium economy” seats on 82 Boeing 777 and Airbus A330-200 jets. American has nearly 1,000 planes.

“Cameras are a standard feature on many in-flight entertainment systems used by multiple airlines,” he said.

Singapore spokesman James Boyd said cameras are on 84 Airbus A350s, Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s and 787s. The carrier has 117 planes.

Cameras not turned on

While the airlines say they have no plans to use the cameras, a Twitter user named Vitaly Kamluk, who snapped the photo of the camera on his Singapore flight, suggested that just to be sure the carriers should slap stickers over the lenses.

“The cameras are probably not used now,” he tweeted. “But if they are wired, operational, bundled with mic, it’s a matter of one smart hack to use them on 84+ aircrafts and spy on passengers.”

US-China Trade Hopes Lift Stocks

Stocks rose in major markets around the world Friday on bets of progress in trade talks between China and the United States, while crude futures hit their highest level in more than three months supported by ongoing supply cuts. 

U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that there was a very good chance the United States would strike a deal with China to end their trade war and that he was inclined to extend his March 1 deadline to reach an agreement. 

U.S. and Chinese negotiators meeting in Washington made progress and will extend this week’s round of negotiations by two days, he said.  

Main stock indexes on Wall Street rose as the optimistic trade talk more than offset signs of slower growth in both U.S. earnings and the economy, with the S&P 500 posting a fourth consecutive week of gains. 

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 181.18 points, or 0.7 percent, to 26,031.81; the S&P 500 gained 17.79 points, or 0.64 percent, to 2,792.67; and the Nasdaq Composite added 67.84 points, or 0.91 percent, to 7,527.55. The Dow rose for the ninth consecutive week.

Overnight, shares in Asia were buoyed by a late rally in Chinese shares, with the main blue-chip index rising more than 2 percent to a near seven-month high. 

Emerging market stocks rose 0.73 percent after touching the highest level since August. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 0.7 percent higher, while Japan’s Nikkei lost 0.18 percent. 

Trade talks and a growing number of policy U-turns by global central banks have propped up equities in recent weeks, although this week saw the first outflows from emerging market debt and equity funds since October 2018, Bank of America Merrill Lynch strategists said, citing EPFR data. 

Crude rising 

Oil prices touched their highest level in more than three months, supported by OPEC supply cuts as well as the trade developments. New record U.S. oil supply, however, limited gains in post-settle trade. 

U.S. crude rose 0.37 percent to $57.17 per barrel and Brent was last at $67.00, down 0.1 percent on the day. 

In currencies, the U.S. dollar was little changed against a basket of peers. The dollar index fell 0.05 percent, with the euro down 0.03 percent to $1.1331. The Japanese yen strengthened 0.03 percent versus the greenback at 110.68 per dollar. Sterling was last trading at $1.3053, up 0.03 percent on the day. 

The Australian dollar recovered a day after falling more than 1 percent after Reuters reported the Chinese port of Dalian had barred imports of Australian coal indefinitely. China said Friday that imports would continue, but customs has stepped up checks on foreign cargoes. 

Separate comments by Reserve Bank of Australia Gov. Philip Lowe that a rate increase may be appropriate next year also helped to boost the Aussie dollar. 

The Aussie dollar recently gained 0.56 percent versus the greenback at 0.7128. 

Despite gains on risky assets, safe-haven U.S. Treasuries also gained in price. Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 10/32 in price to yield 2.6536 percent, from 2.688 percent late on Thursday. 

The 30-year bond last rose 18/32 in price to yield 3.0159 percent, from 3.045 percent late Thursday. 

Spot gold added 0.4 percent to $1,328.20 an ounce. U.S. gold futures gained 0.21 percent to $1,330.60 an ounce. 

Copper rose 1.52 percent to $6,477.00 a metric ton. 

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