Burundi Says Malaria Reaches Epidemic Proportions

Health experts say more than 700 people have died of malaria so far this year in Burundi, prompting the government to declare the disease an epidemic.

 

The determination was based on findings of a survey by Burundian and World Health Organization experts, said Josiane Nijimbere, Burundi’s Minister of Health.

 

She said there have been 1.8 million cases of malaria registered since the beginning of the year — a huge number in a country with a population of less than 11 million.

 

The minister attributed the increase of malaria partly to climate change.

 

“There is a strong association between malaria and warm temperatures, which have led to significant increase in malaria cases because of the spread of mosquitoes,” Nijimbere told reporters Monday.

 

According to the World Health Organization, some 8.2 million Burundians — 73 percent of the total population — were affected by malaria in 2016. More than 3,800 died.

 

The health minister said government is dispatching doctors and health care providers to villages to care for patients who cannot afford to go to hospitals.

 

The government says it needs at least $31 million to fight the epidemic.

 

Aid agencies have warned that Burundi’s ongoing political crisis is hurting the economy and contributing to a humanitarian crisis.

 

The small African country has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a controversial third term in 2015. Some 400,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries to escape political violence and reported human rights abuses.

 

A U.N. report last month said the number of people in need of assistance increased from 1.1 million to at least 3 million.

African Governments Learn to Block the Internet, but at Cost

The mysterious Facebook blogger kept dishing up alleged government secrets. One day it was a shadowy faction looting cash from Uganda’s presidential palace with impunity. The next was a claim that the president was suffering from a debilitating illness.

For authorities in a country that has seen just one president since 1986, the critic who goes by Tom Voltaire Okwalinga is an example of the threat some African governments see in the exploding reach of the internet – bringing growing attempts to throttle it.

Since 2015 about a dozen African countries have had wide-ranging internet shutdowns, often during elections. Rights defenders say the blackouts are conducive to carrying out serious abuses.

The internet outages also can inflict serious damage on the economies of African countries that desperately seek growth, according to research by the Brookings Institution think tank.

Uganda learned that lesson. In February 2016, amid a tight election, authorities shut down access to Facebook and Twitter as anger swelled over delayed delivery of ballots in opposition strongholds. During the blackout, the police arrested the president’s main challenger. Over $2 million was shed from the country’s GDP in just five days of internet restrictions, the Brookings Institution said.

The shutdowns also have “potential devastating consequences” for education and health, says the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organization founded by a mobile phone magnate that monitors trends in African governance.

As more countries gain the technology to impose restrictions, rights observers see an urgent threat to democracy.

“The worrying trend of disrupting access to social media around polling time puts the possibility of a free and fair electoral process into serious jeopardy,” said Maria Burnett, associate director for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

In the past year, internet shutdowns during elections have been reported in Gabon, Republic of Congo and Gambia, where a long-time dictator cut off the internet on the eve of a vote he ultimately lost.

In Uganda, where the opposition finds it hard to organize because of a law barring public meetings without the police chief’s authorization, the mysterious blogger Okwalinga is widely seen as satisfying a hunger for information that the state would like to keep secret. His allegations, however, often are not backed up with evidence.

It is widely believed that Uganda’s government has spent millions trying to unmask Okwalinga. In January an Irish court rejected the efforts of a Ugandan lawyer who wanted Facebook to reveal the blogger’s identity over defamation charges.

“What Tom Voltaire Okwalinga publishes is believable because the government has created a fertile ground to not be trusted,” said Robert Shaka, a Ugandan information technology specialist. “In fact, if we had an open society where transparency is a key pillar of our democracy there would be no reason for people like Tom Voltaire Okwalinga.”

In 2015, Shaka himself was arrested on suspicion of being the blogger and charged with violating the privacy of President Yoweri Museveni, allegations he denied. While Shaka was in custody, the mystery blogger kept publishing.

“Who is the editor of Facebook? Who is the editor of all these things they post on social media? Sometimes you have no option, if something is at stake, to interfere with access,” said Col. Shaban Bantariza, a spokesman for the Ugandan government.

Although the government doesn’t like to impose restrictions, the internet can be shut down if the objective is to preserve national security, Bantariza said.

In some English-speaking territories of Cameroon where the locals have accused the central government of marginalizing their language in favor of French, the government has shut down the internet for several weeks.

Internet advocacy group Access Now earlier estimated that the restrictions in Cameroon have cost local businesses more than $1.39 million.

“Internet shutdowns – with governments ordering the suspension or throttling of entire networks, often during elections or public protests – must never be allowed to become the new normal,” Access Now said in an open letter to internet companies in Cameroon, saying the shutdowns cut off access to vital information, e-financing and emergency services.

In Zimbabwe, social media is a relatively new concern for the government following online protests launched by a pastor last year. Aside from blocking social media at times, the government has increased internet fees by nearly 300 percent.

In Ethiopia, where a government-controlled company has a monopoly over all telecom services, internet restrictions have been deeply felt for months. The country remains under a state of emergency imposed in October after sometimes deadly anti-government protests. Restrictions have ranged from shutting down the internet completely to blocking access to social media sites.

Just 30 days of internet restrictions between July 2015 and July 2016 cost Ethiopia’s economy over $8 million, according to figures by the Brookings Institution. The country has been one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.

Ethiopia’s government insists social media is being used to incite violence, but many citizens are suspicious of that stance.

“What we are experiencing here in Ethiopia is a situation in which the flow of information on social media dismantled the traditional propaganda machine of the government and people begin creating their own media platforms. This is what the government dislikes,” said Seyoum Teshome, a lecturer at Ethiopia’s Ambo University who was jailed for 82 days last year on charges of inciting violence related to his Facebook posts.

“The government doesn’t want the spread of information that’s out of its control, and this bears all the hallmarks of dictatorship,” Seyoum said.

Facebook Bars Developers from Using Data for Surveillance

Facebook barred software developers on Monday from using the massive social network’s data to create surveillance tools, closing off a process that had been exploited by U.S. police departments to track protesters.

Facebook, its Instagram unit and rival Twitter came under fire last year from privacy advocates after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a report that police were using location data and other user information to spy on protesters in places such as Ferguson, Missouri.

In response to the ACLU report, the companies shut off the data access of Geofeedia, a Chicago-based data vendor that said it works with organizations to “leverage social media,” but Facebook policy had not explicitly barred such use of data in the future.

“Our goal is to make our policy explicit,” Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, said in a post on the social network on Monday. He was not immediately available for an interview.

The change would help build “a community where people can feel safe making their voices heard,” Sherman said.

Racially charged protests broke out in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in the aftermath of the August 2014 shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

In a 2015 email message, a Geofeedia employee touted its “great success” covering the protests, according to the ACLU report based on government records.

Representatives of Geofeedia could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. The company has worked with more than 500 law enforcement agencies, the ACLU said.

Geofeedia Chief Executive Officer Phil Harris said in October that the company was committed to privacy and would work to build on civil rights protections.

Major social media platforms including Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube have taken action or implemented policies similar to Facebook’s, said Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

Ozer praised the companies’ action but said they should have stopped such use of data earlier. “It shouldn’t take a public records request from the ACLU for these companies to know what their developers are doing,” she said.

It was also unclear how the companies would enforce their policies, said Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, a nonprofit that opposes government use of social media for surveillance.

Inside corporations, “is the will there, without constant activist pressure, to enforce these rules?” Cyril said.

FBI Official to Tech World: Try to Understand Us

So what was the FBI doing at the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas, primarily known for music, movies and interactive media?

James Baker, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s general counsel, took the stage at a hotel in Austin, Texas, on Monday to present a human face to the issues of encryption and cyber security. He talked about the quandaries law enforcement grapples with in the digital age.

The FBI has been in the center of a maelstrom over Wikileaks disclosures about CIA practices, foreign government election tampering and whether President Donald Trump was subject to a wiretap when he was a presidential candidate.

Baker steered clear of those topics. Instead, he focused on an issue near to the heart of the tech-focused attendees: encryption of devices. 

Still fresh in the audience’s minds was the San Bernardino, California, terror attack in 2015 that led to a standoff between law enforcement and Apple over one of the iPhones used by one of the attackers.

The FBI sought Apple’s help in getting access to the mobile phone. Apple balked, arguing that strong encryption was important to protect privacy. In the end, the government dropped its legal efforts to force Apple to open the phone and reportedly found other ways into the device. 

But the case highlighted disagreements within American society, Baker said. In the last three months of 2016, the FBI received more than 2,000 devices from law enforcement agencies seeking access. The FBI had no solutions in nearly half of the devices. 

“This is happening all the time,” he said. “It’s impeding investigations.”

While the questioner Jeffrey Herbst, chief executive of Newseum, spoke to Baker, audience members asked questions on Sli.do, a web-based Q&A and polling platform for live events.

Their focus showed an interest in the FBI’s greater maelstrom: “Is there any evidence that foreign governments tried to impact the campaign?” asked one questioner.

Baker did not address any questions on the issue but spoke broadly about security in the digital age. 

“We have to do a better job at explaining the cost of having better encryption,” Baker said. 

He suggested that lawmakers might break down the complex topic of encryption and look for areas where they can make progress, such as carving out new rules for devices law enforcement has in its possession to allow access. “What we don’t want to do is wait for an event to happen,” he said. 

In the end, Baker said that the American people need to hold the FBI accountable and be skeptical about what it does, but also invest the time to understand the issues. 

“The FBI has to deal with the reality of what is,” he said. “Not what we wish it to be.” 

Using Social Media, Carter Center Maps Syria Conflict

As the director of the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program, Lebanese-born Hrair Balian had a problem at the onset of the war in Syria in 2011.

“There really was a shortage of reliable information of developments on the ground,” he told VOA in an interview at the Atlanta headquarters of the Carter Center. “All we were seeing was propaganda.”

The widely used quote, “The first casualty when war comes is truth,” is evident today in Syria, where journalists have been killed and others forced or frightened out of the country. 

Despite a gap in media coverage, however, a then-enterprising intern discovered reliable information was available, hiding in plain sight, due largely to the fact the Syrian conflict unfolded in a part of the world where many are connected, digitally.

“Syrians, and people in the Middle East in general, are two to four times more likely to share information about politics, and religious views online,” said that former intern, Christopher McNaboe, citing a Pew Research Center study on social media habits of those living in the Middle East.

“In the case of Syria, there’s just too much. Videos, Facebook posts, tweets, blogs, photos, you name it…Syrians are very active and passionate about getting information out,” he said.

“One of the first things we started seeing online was the announcement of defections. As the conflict turned violent, people started defecting from the Syrian security forces. And they did so online.”

McNaboe began documenting where those defections occurred in Syria, who the defectors aligned with, and who was joining them. It was information that started to give Balian a better understanding of the growing complexities of the conflict.

“Through this process, we’ve been able to document the formation of over 7,000 opposition armed groups in Syria. Not all of them remain active to this day.”

From a laptop computer, McNaboe demonstrates how he has compiled and charted the information, using different colored dots on an interactive map to show the positions of a variety of groups engaged in the conflict, over different periods of time. This interactive map allows users to watch the evolution of the conflict and the changing front lines of the war. Almost all of the information that helps illustrate the map is culled from the volume of material publicly available on social media.

“The information available online ranges anywhere from political statements, and defections, and armed group formations, to footage of the actual fighting, and humanitarian relief efforts; you name it,” says McNaboe. 

“I think the Syrian conflict represents a major paradigm shift, a major change in the way in which conflict plays out,” he adds. “Previous conflicts did not take place in connected environments like Syria. There wasn’t YouTube. There wasn’t Twitter.”

Watching and documenting the information in that connected environment is now McNaboe’s full-time job as director of the Syria Conflict Mapping Project at the Carter Center, which former President Jimmy Carter says has been particularly useful for humanitarian organizations.

“So when the United Nations needs to find the best avenue to take in relief supplies, we can tell them which way to go,” he told VOA in a recent, exclusive interview.

The Carter Center also shares some of its Syria maps and reports publicly, making them available to non-profit organizations, governments and the news media. 

“We give the same information to The New York Times, and to The Economist magazine, and other notable news media, so they can be accurate when they describe the location of folks inside Syria,” Carter says.

Accuracy was part of Carter’s motivation to share the information with Russian President Vladimir Putin when his forces entered Syria in 2015.

“When he got ready to join in, and bomb, factions within Syria, I wanted to make sure he would bomb the right ones or at least he knew what he was bombing,” Carter said. “So I sent him a message through his embassy and told him we have this capability within Syria to tell you where people are located; do you want to have that? So the next day I got a response from him, ‘Yes, I would like to have your maps.’ So we sent our maps, on a current basis, to President Putin.”

McNaboe says the intention was to engage in “direct and frank contact with the Russian government” and put the Russians on notice the Carter Center could monitor their targets in Syria; but, he stresses there is limited military value in the information the center compiles and shares.

“If you were analyzing exactly where an armed group were announcing themselves, maybe you could act upon it, but it’s unlikely that it would be timely enough for actual military action,” he says. “What we report on publicly, things like front lines, are widely known; but, we analyze and structure the data in ways so that we can get insights to the bigger trends in the conflict.”

McNaboe says the information the Carter Center gathers is based on material publicly available to anyone with the means to compile and understand it.

“Any participant in the Syrian conflict, almost everybody has engaged online,” he says.

“It happens that with these kinds of transmissions, the people are very eager to identify themselves,” Carter told VOA.

Despite any perceived military or intelligence value of the information, McNaboe says the Carter Center doesn’t share information they believe would put people at risk.

“If you are a combatant in the conflict and you don’t know where the front lines are, our information is not going to help you too much,” McNaboe says. “So we are careful about what we make totally public.  We want our effort to pursue peace and support peace efforts, and do everything it can to reduce the risk to any civilian or participant in the conflict.”

A conflict now entering its seventh year, at a time when more U.S. military forces are joining the fight on the ground, engaged in a war with no clear end in sight.

Madrid to Ban Old Cars by 2025 in Crackdown on Air Pollution

Madrid’s city government announced plans on Monday to ban the oldest and most polluting vehicles from the city center by 2025 in a bid to crackdown on air pollution.

The local government will prohibit the use within the city’s limits of gasoline cars registered before 2000 and diesel-powered cars registered before 2006, which at the moment account for 20 percent of all those registered.

The ban would lower nitrogen dioxide levels in the city by an estimated 15 percent, a poisonous gas behind respiratory problems, Madrid’s local  government said in a presentation.

Madrid has failed to meet European Union-set limits on air quality for the last eight years. Other European cities such as Paris and Berlin have already put similar plans in place to curb emissions.

“This is plan A for air quality in Madrid. It’s plan A because there can’t be any plan B,” Madrid’s mayor Manuela Carmen said at an event to present the new plan.

Madrid’s local government has allocated 544 million euros ($580.83 million) to completing 30 measures included in the  plan, which also encourages greater use of renewable energy and regenerating urban areas, according to the presentation.

 

Opposing Groups in California Team Up Against Trump

Before Donald Trump’s election, Laurence Berland viewed political protest as a sort of curiosity. He was in a good place to see it: San Francisco’s Mission District, once an immigrant enclave in the country’s heartland of radicalism that is increasingly populated by people like him — successful tech workers driving up rents while enjoying a daily commute to Silicon Valley on luxury motor coaches.

Berland regarded the activism of his adopted city with a mix of empathy and bemusement, checking out Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and protests against the gentrification of his own neighborhood. But now there is less distance between him and activists on the street.

On a recent day, Berland stood with about 100 others — from software engineers like himself to those who work in tech company cafeterias — outside a downtown museum for a rally against Trump. A clipboard-carrying organizer approached Berland to ask if he wanted to join a network of grassroots activists, but Berland waved him away. He had already signed up.

In the place that fought against the Vietnam War and for gay rights and, more recently, has been roiled by dissent over the technology industry’s impact on economic inequality, an unlikely alliance has formed in the left’s resistance against Trump. Old-school, anti-capitalist activists and new-school, free-enterprise techies are pushing aside their differences to take on a common foe.

For years, these two strands of liberal America have been at each other’s throats. There’ve been protests against evictions of those who can’t afford the Bay Area’s ever-soaring rents. And think back, not so long ago, to the raucous rallies to block those fancy buses shuttling tech workers from city neighborhoods to the Silicon Valley campus of Google, where Berland once worked.

Cat Brooks, a Black Lives Matter activist in Oakland, has seen the toll the tech industry has taken on some. Her daughter’s elementary school teacher just moved to a distant suburb after her rent skyrocketed, and Brooks thinks more tech money must find its way into local communities. She nevertheless welcomes the infusion of new energy to the protest arena.

“It’s not about the business of we were here first,” Brooks said. “We’re about the business of how can we support? Division at this time is not helpful.”

The tech industry opposition started when Trump imposed his initial travel ban on immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim nations. The industry prides itself on its openness to immigrants, who comprise about one-quarter of the U.S. technology and science workforce and include the founders of iconic institutions.

Nearly 100 tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Uber, filed a court brief urging suspension of the ban, while Google co-founder Sergey Brin, a Russian immigrant, joined protests at San Francisco International Airport. That was followed by an unprecedented company-wide walkout at Google and now, on March 14, nationwide rallies are planned for a “Tech Stands Up” day of protest.

“People whose pedigree is knocking on doors and calling representatives and waving signs are getting together with people who design apps,” said Ka-Ping Yee, a software engineer from Canada who is a legal permanent resident of the U.S. and who works at a startup to help immigrants send cash home. “People are working with people who do really, really different things because they realize it’s an emergency.”

After the election he helped create an online pledge, signed by thousands of technology workers, against building databases for any potential Muslim registries or to aid deportations of immigrants.

Some aren’t so sure about sharing the streets because they don’t think they share the same goals.

Franki Velez, an Iraq War veteran on disability, stood outside an Oakland rental office recently with other longtime activists and renters fighting eviction. There was not a technology worker in sight, and she worried that they are missing the point anyway. They want to change, but preserve, a system that’s benefited them, she said, while protesters like her want to tear the system down and start from scratch.

“They don’t understand it’s a colonial system that’s never meant to be reformed,” she said.

Still, while their approaches can be strikingly different, Velez’s causes are increasingly being adopted by people not like her.

Velez’s group marched to a Wells Fargo branch to hand over a demand that the bank stop investing in the Dakota Access Pipeline. Two hours later, in the comfortable Silicon Valley suburb of Campbell, biotech executive Michael Clark drew cheers after telling a gathering of anti-Trump activists that he’d closed his Wells Fargo account to protest the pipeline.

Clark grew up in New Hampshire and then in Silicon Valley, when his mother took a job at Apple in the 1990s. He always considered himself a political independent, a moderate. But Trump’s election horrified him and, with a friend who runs a gourmet chocolate shop, he founded a chapter of the national liberal group “Indivisible” in Campbell.

“The country has moved so much to the right that puts me in the middle with people I wouldn’t have previously been aligned with,” Clark said. “It’s interesting that someone like me is on the same side as a lot of socialists.”

Trump Budget Plan Set to Spark Another Battle with Congress

U.S. President Donald Trump this week will unveil a budget expected to massively increase military spending while slashing other federal programs.

The proposal, set to be released Thursday, will offer the most detailed look yet at how Trump intends to move ahead with his so-called “America First” policy.

The budget will likely face significant opposition in Congress, where lawmakers are already bickering over a plan to overhaul the nation’s health care program.

Many of Trump’s fellow Republicans support his plan for a larger military; but, unlike Trump, some want to pay for it by cutting Social Security and Medicare – the two largest federal programs.

Democrats are alarmed about the entire proposal, particularly his plan to cut domestic government programs aimed at protecting the environment and helping the poor.

State Dept., foreign aid cuts

Lawmakers in both parties have also expressed concerns about Trump’s steep proposed cuts to the State Department and foreign aid budgets – a move they say will reduce U.S. influence abroad.

White House officials point out the president’s proposals are only a blueprint and that ultimately Congress must agree on a final budget, but they insist difficult decisions must be made.

“Unfortunately, we have no alternative but to reinvest in our military and make ourselves a military power once again,” White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told Fox News Sunday.

“It’s no different than every other family in America that has to make the tough decisions when they need to spend money somewhere, they have to cut it from somewhere else,” Cohn said.

Defense spending

In a blueprint released last month, White House officials said Trump intends to boost the military budget by $54 billion – one of the largest ever increases in national defense spending. This week’s proposal will outline how the president intends to pay for it.

According to budget documents leaked to the media, Trump will offset the military costs with far-reaching reductions in discretionary spending — the part of the budget that pays for various federal government agencies.

Trump is reportedly considering slashing up to 25 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency budget, 30 percent of the Energy Department budget, and 37 percent of the State Department and foreign aid budget.

Reduction in federal workforce

If passed, those cuts would result in a massive reduction of the federal government workforce, which Trump and his fellow Republicans have long said is bloated and inefficient. It is not clear, however, whether Trump’s plans would actually fulfill his campaign promise to reduce the national debt.

That won’t be clear until May, when the White House releases its plans to reform the tax code and its proposals for mandatory spending, which covers existing programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Trump has said it is not politically possible to reduce spending on Medicare and Social Security – which together account for nearly 40 percent of the federal budget. He is also considering a $1 trillion infrastructure plan to upgrade the country’s roads, airports and rail lines.

According to most analysts, that means Trump will likely continue to run a budget deficit.

The federal debt is expected to grow by nearly $10 trillion over the next decade, according to a recent projection by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

 

‘Boaty McBoatface’ to Embark on First Mission

It’s not every day that an unmanned scientific submarine makes international headlines, but this sub is named Boaty McBoatface, and it is about to embark on its first mission.

The sub is operated by Britain’s National Environmental Research Council, which last year turned to the internet to name the group’s new $248 million research ship that is still under construction.

The online naming poll went viral, but NERC opted instead to name the ship the Royal Research Ship Sir David Attenborough, after the famous British naturalist.

Making sure not to anger the internet, NERC opted to use Boaty McBoatface for the drone sub.

Now, little Boaty is about to undertake its first mission, according to a NERC statement.

“Cute though it sounds, this unmanned submarine is part of a fleet of some pretty intrepid explorers,” it said. “This month they’ll begin their first mission, traversing a deep current that originates in Antarctica and flows through the Southern Ocean. They’ll be collecting data for the Dynamics of the Orkney Passage Outflow (DynOPO) project as they ‘fly’ through submarine waterfalls and rapids, shedding light on how global warming is changing our oceans.”

Boaty McBoatface will likely be operated from the RSS Sir David Attenborough when it is finished being built in 2019.

“Work continues on dry land for now, but she’ll be ready to ‘splashdown’ off the yard and into the blue early next year, whilst works will continue inside,” NERC said. “Then she’ll be taken for trials to make sure she’s seaworthy and her scientific equipment is working to perfection before she sets off for her first mission in 2019.”

Intel to Buy Israeli Technology Firm Mobileye for $15B

U.S. chipmaker Intel agreed to buy driverless technology firm Mobileye for $15.3 billion on Monday, positioning itself for a dominant role in the autonomous-driving sector after missing the market for mobile phones.

The $63.54 per share cash deal is the biggest technology takeover in Israel’s history and the largest purchase of a company solely focused on the self-driving sector.

Intel will integrate its automated driving group with Mobileye’s operations, with the combined entity being run by Mobileye Chairman Amnon Shashua from Israel.

Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich said the acquisition, which unites Intel’s processors with Mobileye’s computer vision, was akin to merging the “eyes of the autonomous car with the intelligent brain that actually drives the car.”

Mobileye accounts for 70 percent of the global market for driver-assistance and anti-collision systems. It employs 660 people and had adjusted net income of $173.3 million last year.

Intel said it expected the transaction to close within the next nine months and to immediately boost its non-GAAP earnings per share and free cash flow.

The price represents a premium of around 33 percent to Mobileye’s Friday closing price of $47 a share.

“It’s an area where the company (Intel) has had very little presence – the automotive market, and so this is a tremendous opportunity for them to get into a market that has significant growth opportunities,” said Betsy Van Hees, an analyst at Loop Capital Markets who has a “buy” rating on Intel shares.

“Mobileye’s technology is very critical … The price seems fair,” she added.

Because Mobileye’s Shashua will remain in charge and the combined entity will be based in Israel, analysts said they expected it to be far more difficult for rivals to mount a counter offer for Mobileye.

Shashua and two other senior Mobileye executives stand to do well by the deal: together they own nearly 7 percent of the company. Shmuel Harlap, Israel’s biggest car importer and one of Mobileye’s earliest investors, also holds a 7 percent stake.

Yossi Vardi, seen as the godfather of Israeli high-tech, said the deal was a big endorsement of the whole sector.

“I’m sure that this … will be a very important impetus to create a whole industry related to autonomous and connected vehicles (in the country),” he said.

Battle for self-control

Automakers and their suppliers have been expanding alliances in the race to develop self-driving cars, a sector that once seemed a science-fiction dream but is drawing closer to reality month after month.

Mobileye and Intel are already collaborating with German automaker BMW on a project to put a fleet of around 40 self-driving test vehicles on the road in the second half of this year.

At the same time, Mobileye has teamed up with Intel for its fifth-generation of chips that will be used in fully autonomous vehicles that are scheduled for delivery around 2021.

While Intel is known for hardware chips and Mobileye for collision detection software, their merger promises to create the most complete portfolio of technologies needed for driverless vehicles, including cameras, sensor chips, in-car networking, roadway mapping, machine learning and cloud software, as well as the data-centres needed to manage all the data involved.

Last October, Qualcomm announced a $47 billion deal to acquire the Netherlands’ NXP, the largest automotive chip supplier, putting pressure on other chipmakers seeking to make inroads into the market for autonomous driving components, including Intel, Mobileye and rival NVIDIA.

The Qualcomm-NXP deal, which will create the industry’s largest portfolio of sensors, networking and other elements vital to autonomous driving, is expected to close later in 2017, subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals.

For a dozen years, Mobileye has relied on Franco-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics to produce chips that the Israeli company sells to many of the world’s top automakers for its current, third-generation of driver-assistance systems.

Mobileye’s relationships with automakers, leading suppliers and STMicroelectronics will continue uninterrupted, the companies said in their statement, and Mobileye’s current product roadmap will not be affected.

Founded in 1999, Mobileye made its mission to reduce vehicle injuries and fatalities. After receiving an investment of $130 million from Goldman Sachs in 2007, it listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.

Vietnam to Test Trump on Signing Solo Trade Pacts

Vietnam will test U.S. President Donald Trump’s openness to one-on-one trade deals as it starts nudging Washington for an eventual agreement to replace its role in the defunct Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Official media outlets in Vietnam say Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told an American business delegation last week he was ready to visit the United States, and that he hoped to meet Trump for a discussion about trade, among other topics.

Vietnam depends heavily on factory exports, which are about 19 percent of a $200 billion economy.

“A trade agreement with the U.S., a very large market, would certainly bring some benefits, that’s clear,” said Marie Diron, senior vice president at Moody’s Investors Service in Singapore. “It would be about, kind of about anchoring these export markets with a trade agreement in place.”

Trump is not expected to prioritize free trade deals in the short term, analysts say, but he may someday consider them. Trade deals usually obligate signatories to cut tariffs on each other’s good or services.  

US companies eye Vietnam market

Nguyen may have a chance at working out a trade deal with the United States because American firms selling products such as fast food, mobile phones and even insurance want more access to Vietnam’s fast-growing middle class.

More than one-third of the country’s roughly 93 million people will be middle class or higher by 2020, according to a Boston Consulting Group study.

“You would expect the direction of goods coming from Vietnam to the U.S. picking up more sharply than the other way around,” said Rahul Bajoria, a regional economist with Barclays in Singapore.

But, he said, “it could be the case there might be some pressure from the large [American] industrial manufacturers like the aircraft manufacturers or train companies. All of them may be much more interested in exporting to Vietnam.”

The United States is Vietnam’s top export market, giving the Asian country a trade surplus last year, with exports worth $38.1 billion and imports of $8.7 billion.

But in January, imports increased 14.6 percent, pointing to a possible soft spot in Vietnam for Western brands. American names such as Apple, Dell and Starbucks are easy to find in cities such as the financial center Ho Chi Minh City.

“The U.S. could export to Vietnam, to a market that’s growing so fast, with 90 plus million people who are very brand conscious, where Western brands have a very high reputation,” said Vojislav Milenkovic, analyst with the business advisory BDG Insights in Ho Chi Minh City.

“You can see this every day on the street. You can see that people are trying to save and to buy high-quality products from the foreign countries,” he said.

But Vietnamese consumers still earn just half of their counterparts in China, Diron said. “For some companies, that could be a hurdle,” she said. China’s market is also much larger that Vietnam’s.

End of TPP

Leaders in Hanoi had hoped the TPP would give them access to the U.S. market plus 10 other countries, including Japan. Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP in January, saying it would hurt the country.

Because of the size of the U.S. economy, Trump’s withdrawal made it effectively impossible for other countries to keep the TPP alive.

Trump said shortly after taking office he could consider one-on-one free trade agreements instead of regional ones.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he is open to the idea of a bilateral trade pact with the United States, and members of the U.S. Congress advocate an agreement with Britain.

In a phone call after his election in November, Trump told Nguyen he wanted to strengthen ties with Vietnam and that he was willing to meet in the United States.

In exchange for trade favors, Trump might ask Vietnam to support the U.S. presence in the South China Sea where the United States is trying to resist Chinese maritime expansion, said Oscar Mussons, international business advisory associate with the Dezan Shira & Associates consultancy in Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam may need to wait out most of Trump’s current term before getting any trade deals, Bajoria cautioned.

Any deal takes time to negotiate, he said, and the U.S. government may try first to build its relations with China, the world’s number two economy after the United States. “I don’t think there’s scope for an FTA over the next 12 months,” Bajoria said.

Since Trump was elected, Vietnamese leaders afraid that the TPP would die began looking instead to other trade deals.

An agreement reached with the European Union in 2015 is due to take effect next year if it clears hurdles in the European bloc’s parliament.

China is also keen to bolster trade ties, but Vietnam hopes to avoid dependence on the long-time political rival that’s known for unloading cheap mass-produced goods in Vietnam at prices lower than what local companies can charge.

Scientists Race to Prevent Wipeout of World’s Coral Reefs

There were startling colors here just a year ago, a dazzling array of life beneath the waves. Now this Maldivian reef is dead, killed by the stress of rising ocean temperatures. What’s left is a haunting expanse of gray, a scene repeated in reefs across the globe in what has fast become a full-blown ecological catastrophe.

The world has lost roughly half its coral reefs in the last 30 years. Scientists are now scrambling to ensure that at least a fraction of these unique ecosystems survives beyond the next three decades. The health of the planet depends on it: Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine species, as well as half a billion people around the world.

“This isn’t something that’s going to happen 100 years from now. We’re losing them right now,” said marine biologist Julia Baum of Canada’s University of Victoria. “We’re losing them really quickly, much more quickly than I think any of us ever could have imagined.”

Even if the world could halt global warming now, scientists still expect that more than 90 percent of corals will die by 2050. Without drastic intervention, we risk losing them all.

“To lose coral reefs is to fundamentally undermine the health of a very large proportion of the human race,” said Ruth Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

Coral reefs produce some of the oxygen we breathe. Often described as underwater rainforests, they populate a tiny fraction of the ocean but provide habitats for one in four marine species. Reefs also form crucial barriers protecting coastlines from the full force of storms.

They provide billions of dollars in revenue from tourism, fishing and other commerce, and are used in medical research for cures to diseases including cancer, arthritis and bacterial or viral infections.

“Whether you’re living in North America or Europe or Australia, you should be concerned,” said biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at Australia’s University of Queensland. “This is not just some distant dive destination, a holiday destination. This is the fabric of the ecosystem that supports us.”

And that fabric is being torn apart.

“You couldn’t be more dumb … to erode the very thing that life depends on — the ecosystem — and hope that you’ll get away with it,” Hoegh-Guldberg said. 

Corals are invertebrates, living mostly in tropical waters. They secrete calcium carbonate to build protective skeletons that grow and take on impressive colors, thanks to a symbiotic relationship with algae that live in their tissues and provide them with energy.

But corals are sensitive to temperature fluctuations, and are suffering from rising ocean temperatures and acidification, as well as from overfishing, pollution, coastal development and agricultural runoff.

A temperature change of just 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) can force coral to expel the algae, leaving their white skeletons visible in a process known as “bleaching.”

Bleached coral can recover if the water cools, but if high temperatures persist for months, the coral will die. Eventually the reef will degrade, leaving fish without habitats and coastlines less protected from storm surges. 

The first global bleaching event occurred in 1998, when 16 percent of corals died. The problem spiraled dramatically in 2015-2016 amid an extended El Nino natural weather phenomenon that warmed Pacific waters near the equator and triggered the most widespread bleaching ever documented. This third global bleaching event, as it is known, continues today even after El Nino ended.

Headlines have focused on damage to Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef, but other reefs have fared just as badly or worse across the world, from Japan to Hawaii to Florida.

Around the islands of the Maldives, an idyllic Indian Ocean tourism destination, some 73 percent of surveyed reefs suffered bleaching between March and May 2016, according to the country’s Marine Research Center.

“This bleaching episode seems to have impacted the entire Maldives, but the severity of bleaching varies” between reefs, according to local conditions, said Nizam Ibrahim, the center’s senior research officer.

Worst hit have been areas in the central Pacific, where the University of Victoria’s Baum has been conducting research on Kiritimati, or Christmas Island, in the Republic of Kiribati. Warmer water temperatures lasted there for 10 months in 2015-2016, killing a staggering 90 percent of the reef.

Baum had never seen anything like it.

“As scientists, we were all on brand new territory,” Baum said, “as were the corals in terms of the thermal stress they were subjected to.”

To make matters worse, scientists are predicting another wave of elevated ocean temperatures starting next month. 

“The models indicate that we will see the return of bleaching in the South Pacific soon, along with a possibility of bleaching in both the eastern and western parts of the Indian Ocean,” said Mark Eakin, coral reef specialist and coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch, which uses satellites to monitor environmental conditions around reefs. It may not be as bad as last year, but could further stress “reefs that are still hurting from the last two years.”

The speed of the destruction is what alarms scientists and conservationists, as damaged coral might not have time to recover before it is hit again by warmer temperatures.

But some may have a chance.

Last month, Hoegh-Guldberg helped launch an initiative called 50 Reefs, aiming to identify those reefs with the best chance of survival in warming oceans and raise public awareness. His project partner is Richard Vevers, who heads the XL Caitlin Seaview Survey, which has been documenting coral reefs worldwide.

“For the reefs that are least vulnerable to climate change, the key will be to protect them from all the other issues they are facing _ pollution, overfishing, coastal development,” said Vevers, who founded The Ocean Agency, an Australian organization seeking new technologies to help mitigate some of the ocean’s greatest challenges. If the reefs remain healthy and resilient, “they can hopefully become the vital seed-centers that can repopulate surrounding reefs.”

Nature itself is providing small glimmers of hope. Some of Kiritimati’s corals, for example, are showing tentative signs of a comeback.

But scientists don’t want to leave it to chance, and are racing ahead with experiments they hope might stave off extinction.

“We’ve lost 50 percent of the reefs, but that means we still have 50 percent left,” said Gates, who is working in Hawaii to breed corals that can better withstand increasing temperatures. “We definitely don’t want to get to the point where we don’t intervene until we have 2 percent left.”

Going a step further, she is also trying to “train” corals to survive rising temperatures, exposing them to sub-lethal heat stress in the hope they can “somehow fix that in their memory” and survive similar stress in the future.

“It’s probably time that we start thinking outside the box,” Gates said. “It’s sort of a no-win game if we do nothing.”

Saudi King Visits Japan, Seeks Help Diversifying Economy

King Salman and hundreds of business leaders from Saudi Arabia are in Japan for talks Monday mainly expected to focus on economic ties.

The visit is the first by a Saudi king in 46 years, though Salman visited more recently as crown prince.

Saudi Arabia is one of Japan’s biggest suppliers of crude oil, accounting for about a third of its total imports of oil from the Middle East.

The kingdom is striving to diversify its economy away from its heavy reliance on oil exports, and Salman is on a month-long tour of Asia to advance his kingdom’s economic and business interests.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Monday that Japan is willing to provide support for the economic power in the Middle East.

“We will discuss growth strategy, including our `Saudi Vision’ project,” he said, referring to Japanese collaboration with Vision 2030, a roadmap adopted by the kingdom last year for its development and economic objectives  

He did not confirm reports that the countries would agree to set up a special economic zone in Saudi Arabia.

Salman met with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and was to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later Monday.

Reports say Japan plans to urge that Saudi Aramco, the state-run oil company that is being partially privatized, seek a share listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Separately, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and Japanese telecoms provider and energy company Softbank have joined forces in setting up a $25 billion private fund for technology investments.

Trade between the countries fell overall last year as oil prices dropped. Japan’s 2.1 trillion yen ($18.6 billion) in imports from Saudi Arabia in 2016, mostly oil and gas, dwarfed its exports of 546.3 billion yen ($4.8 billion). 

The delegation arrived late Sunday on about 10 aircraft. Officials said top hotels and car hire services would be busy handling the unusually large group during its four-day visit.

Salman’s stop in Japan follows visits to Indonesia and Malaysia. He is due to travel on to Brunei, China and the Maldives.

While seeking investment and help with Saudi industrialization and development of its services sector, Salman has also offered help. Earlier, he pledged $1 billion in development finance for Indonesia and closer cooperation for combating transnational crime such as human trafficking, terrorism and the drugs trade.

State Research Center: China’s Economy Set for Steady Growth

The risk of a steep slide in China’s economy has reduced, the head of a government research center said on Sunday, adding the country had moved through an “L-shaped” pattern of slowing to now “horizontal” growth.

China’s economy grew 6.7 percent last year, according to the government, the slowest pace in 26 years. The country met its growth target with support from record bank loans, a speculative housing boom and billions in government investment.

But as Beijing moves to cool the housing market, slow new credit and tighten its purse strings, China will have to depend more on domestic consumption and private investment.

The government last week trimmed its economic growth target to about 6.5 percent for this year. Li Wei, the director of the Development Research Center of the State Council, China’s cabinet, said many positive economic signs were emerging domestically and internationally, and the risk of a large slide in economic growth had “clearly lowered”.

China’s economic development has gone from a “downward stroke in the L-shape to the horizontal stroke,” the official Xinhua news agency said, citing Li’s comments on the sidelines of China’s annual session of parliament.

The horizontal trend points to long-term steady development, but does not eliminate the possibility of short-term fluctuations, or mean the economic transformation is complete, Li said.

“Our economy still has many difficulties to resolve, so we must prepare to respond to the emergence of possibly relatively large risks,” Li said.

Earlier on Sunday, a vice chairman of the state economic planner said China’s industrial output grew more than 6 percent in January and February, and that the survey-based unemployment rate in 31 major cities was about 5 percent for the two months.

National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) Vice Chairman Ning Jizhe gave the approximations, which were in line with expectations for official data set to be issued on Tuesday.

Fixed asset investment growth kept pace with the final few months of last year, Ning said.

“China’s economic growth still mainly relies on domestic demand,” he said.

January and February data will be released together in a bid to smooth out seasonal factors caused by the timing of the long Lunar New Year holidays, which began in late January this year but fell in February last year.

China unexpectedly posted its first trade gap in three years in February as a construction boom pushed imports much higher than expected. That upbeat import reading reinforced the growing view that economic activity in China picked up in the first two months of the year.

Mexico Approves 4 Trademarks for Trump

On Feb. 19, 2016, at a campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, then-candidate Donald Trump gave a stump speech in which he railed against American jobs moving to Mexico: “We lose our jobs, we close our factories, Mexico gets all of the work,” he said. “We get nothing.” 

 

That same day a law firm in Mexico City quietly filed on behalf of his company for trademarks on his name that would authorize the Trump brand, should it choose, to set up shop in a country with which he has sparred over trade, migration and the planned border wall. 

 

The Trump trademarks have now been granted by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI). Records show the last three were approved February 21, just more than a month after Trump took office, and a fourth was granted October 6, about a month before the U.S. election.

Recent trademark approvals

 

Trump’s company has notched several trademark wins recently. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Chinese government recently granted preliminary approval for 38 trademarks to Trump and a related company. 

That sparked outrage from some Democratic senators and critics, who have been pushing Trump to sever financial ties with his global businesses to avoid potential violations of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars federal officials from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless approved by Congress.

 

The Mexican trademarks cover a broad range of business operations that can roughly be broken down into construction; construction materials; hotels, hospitality and tourism; and real estate, financial services and insurance. They are all valid through 2026.

 

The same four trademarks were previously held in the name of Donald J. Trump and expired in 2015, a year before the new applications. The new approvals list the trademark owner as the company DTTM Operations LLC, with an address in the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York.

No new deals abroad

 

As president, Trump has handed management of his business to his two adult sons and vowed to strike no new deals abroad while he is in office. However critics say questions remain about possible conflicts of interest, noting that foreigners could still seek to influence Trump by helping his existing foreign operations or by easing the way for future ones after he leaves the Oval Office.

 

Trump Organization General Counsel Alan Garten said the Mexican government’s decision was not a special favor to the president.

 

“We’re not being granted anything we didn’t have before,” he said. The original trademarks came “years before (Trump) even announced his candidacy.”

 

Garten said the Mexican trademarks originally had two purposes: laying the ground for possible new ventures and keeping other people from using Trump’s name for their own businesses. 

 

He said the trademarks are wholly defensive now.

 

“Circumstances have changed,” Garten said. “He’s been elected and we agreed not to do foreign deals.”

Ethical gray area 

Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, said the Mexican grants are in an ethical gray area: defensive in nature now, perhaps, but setting the president up to profit when he leaves office.

 

“To what extent is this appropriate? I don’t know,” Painter said. “We never had Obama running around the world locking up his name, or Bush.”

 

Intellectual property lawyer Enrique Alberto Diaz Mucharraz is listed on the trademark filings. A junior partner at the Mexico City law firm Goodrich Riquelme y Asociados, he declined to comment citing client confidentiality rules. Phones rang unanswered at the public relations office of IMPI, and there was no response to an emailed request for comment on a list of questions. 

 

Trademarks can prove enormously valuable to companies, especially in countries with a growing number of middle class consumers who recognize the brand, said Ashwinpaul C. Sondhi of A.C. Sondhi & Associates, an investment consultancy in Safety Harbor, Florida.

Why do business in Mexico?

 

Mexican political analyst Alejandro Hope said IMPI is generally considered to be apolitical and the trademark concession was most likely a technical decision. 

 

More remarkable, Hope said, was that the application was filed during a heated campaign when “he had already started using Mexico as a pinata” for political purposes. 

 

“What I find striking is that these guys were thinking about doing business in Mexico while they were trashing Mexico on the campaign trail,” Hope added.

Spotty business record

 

Last decade he and his children aggressively promoted a luxury hotel and condo development with the Trump name on it that was planned for the northern Baja California coast, near Tijuana. In December 2006, 188 units were sold for $122 million during an event at a hotel in San Diego. 

 

But the Trump Ocean Resort Baja Mexico project collapsed, and dozens of buyers who had lost their 30 percent deposits sued in March 2009. Trump settled out of court in November 2013 for an undisclosed sum; in a separate settlement the previous year, developer Irongate, which had licensed the Trump name, agreed to pay the buyers $7.25 million. 

 

On the Caribbean island of Cozumel, near Cancun, Trump tried in 2007 to purchase land for a luxury resort complete with an airstrip and golf course, according to Mexican media reports. It met with local and environmental opposition, and never went anywhere. 

Unpopular in Mexico

 

In all, Trump controls at least 20 trademarks in Mexico, including for Trump Ocean Resort and Trump Isla Cozumel. Others cover activities such as concierge and spa services, alcoholic beverages, golf club operations and home furnishings. For clothing, there’s the Donald J. Trump Signature Collection. 

 

If there are plans to take the Trump brand to Mexico, it could be tough going because of widespread popular anger toward the president for his comments disparaging Mexican immigrants who come to the United States illegally, his threats to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement and his vows to make Mexico pay for the border wall. 

 

Hope said that if a Trump hotel were in the cards, its prospects could depend a lot on location. 

 

“In Mexico City, I guess they would face a lot of political backlash at this point,” Hope said. Maybe it would fly in more politically insulated areas, like the beach resorts of Cancun or Los Cabos. “But even that would be a hard sell.” 

Two Critically Ill After Drinking Wolfsbane Tea

Two people are critically sick in San Francisco after drinking tea from the same Chinatown herbalist. 

 

The tea leaves bought at Sun Wing Wo Trading Company contained the plant-based toxin aconite, the Department of Public Health said Friday. 

 

A man in his 50s last month and a woman in her 30s this month became critically ill within an hour of drinking the tea, and both remain hospitalized, health officials said. 

 

Each person grew weak then had life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms that required resuscitation and intensive care. 

 

Aconite, also known as monkshood, helmet flower and wolfsbane, is used in Asian herbal medicines. But it must be processed properly to be safe. 

 

Health officials are working to find the original source of the tea leaves, and they are warning others to stop consuming it.

 

“Anyone who has purchased tea from this location should not consume it and should throw it away immediately,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, health officer for the city and county of San Francisco. “Aconite poisoning attacks the heart and can be lethal.”