Commerce’s Ross: China’s Plans Threaten US Semiconductor Dominance

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sees the U.S. semiconductor industry as still dominant globally but said he is worried that it will be threatened by China’s planned investment binge to build up its own chipmaking industry.

Ross told Reuters in an interview this week that his agency is considering a national security review of semiconductors under a 1962 trade law because of their “huge defense implications” — including their use in military hardware and proliferation in devices throughout the economy. He has launched similar Section 232 reviews of the U.S. steel and aluminum sectors, where a flood of imports especially from China has depressed prices, threatening the industries’ long-term health.

The probes could lead to broad import restrictions on the metals, and the Trump administration could potentially take similar actions based on the findings of a semiconductor investigation.

“Semiconductors are one of our shining industries, but they have gone from substantial surplus to the beginnings of a deficit,” Ross told Reuters. “China has a $150 billion program to take that much further between now and 2025. That is scary.”

The 79-year-old billionaire investor was referring to China’s plans for massive state-directed investments in semiconductor manufacturing capacity under its Made in China 2025 program, which aims to replace mostly imported semiconductors with domestic products.

Ross’ predecessor at Commerce, Penny Pritzker, warned last November about looming market distortions if China builds too much semiconductor capacity.

Ross added that while he understands Beijing’s logic in developing its domestic chip industry, “that’s going to be a struggle” from a U.S. trade standpoint.

Industry view

U.S. semiconductor makers, meanwhile, have other ideas about how to secure their future. Their major trade group, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), advocates open trade and increased access to international markets, which now buy 80 percent of U.S.-made semiconductors. U.S. chipmakers also depend on a complex global supply chain and have nearly half their production capacity located overseas.

“So while we fully support efforts to ensure trade in semiconductors is fair and market-based, we do not believe a Section 232 investigation is the right tool to be applied to our industry” SIA President John Neuffer told Reuters.

One area where there appear to be some differences is how to define the industry’s trade balance.

Commerce Department trade data showed that “semiconductors and related device manufacturing” had a trade deficit of $2.4 billion in 2016, with exports of $43.1 billion and imports of $45.6 billion.

But that category includes rapidly growing imports of non-semiconductor devices including solar cells and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), as well as some raw materials.

In a new submission late on Wednesday to Commerce for a study on trade deficits, SIA said that excluding the non-semiconductor products shows the sector had a $6.4 billion trade surplus last year, with exports of $41.3 billion and imports of $34.9 billion.

Neuffer said the industry was ready to work with the Trump administration to find ways to persuade China to allow its semiconductor industry to develop in a market-driven way and not discriminate against foreign firms.

He added the government could make the United States a more competitive environment for semiconductor output through tax reform that does not penalize overseas earnings, immigration reform that allows the industry to attract new talent, improvements to U.S. education and more spending on basic research.

“The Chinese are determined to build a semiconductor industry,” Neuffer said. “I think the strongest pillar of any strategy going forward has to be our government helping to create an environment where we can pedal faster and stay as far ahead as possible.”

Bulgaria Seeks Private Investors for Nuclear Project

Bulgaria is seeking private investors to build a nuclear power plant on the Danube River, which was canceled five years ago, Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

Sofia canceled the Belene project in 2012 after failing to find foreign investors and facing pressure from Brussels and Washington to limit its energy dependence on Russia.

Since then Bulgaria has opened a gas link with neighboring Romania and is working to connect its gas network with neighboring Greece, Turkey and Serbia to diversify its suppliers.

It hopes to privatize the nuclear plant project after it paid more than 600 million euros ($652 million) in compensation to Russia’s state nuclear giant Rosatom when it canceled the 10 billion euro project. Rosatom had agreed to provide the nuclear reactors.

Bulgarian authorities have already said that Belene could be built without state guarantees or obligatory long-term contracts for the government to purchase power from it.

“Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said the government is looking for a strategic private investor to develop the project,” the government’s press office said in a statement.

In December, the Bulgarian government said that Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China’s biggest lender by assets, was ready to finance the Belene nuclear power project. China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has also expressed an interest in investing in the project.

During their phone call, Borisov and Putin also underlined their mutual interest in the construction of the natural gas hub on Bulgarian territory, the government’s press office said.

Plans for a hub at the Black Sea port of Varna, which would store and transport gas from Russia and the Caspian Sea to southeastern and central Europe, follow the cancellation of Russian gas giant Gazprom’s South Stream gas pipeline project, which would have shipped Russian gas under the Black Sea via Bulgaria to central Europe.

UN Rights Chief Tells Uzbekistan to Go Easy in Fight Against Islamism

The U.N.’s human rights chief urged Uzbekistan on Thursday to avoid “repressive policies” in its fight against Islamist radicalization, a growing threat throughout Central Asia, while welcoming a rapprochement with Tashkent.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Uzbekistan since the post was created in 1993, said the former Soviet republic had agreed to work with his office after previously refusing to do so.

Commenting on President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s reform plans, which include an overhaul of the judicial system and measures to tackle religious extremism, Hussein said it was crucial to balance the latter with ensuring individual rights.

“As in other countries, I have emphasized that the answer to the risk of radicalization is not simply heavy-handed security measures and repressive policies which breed resentment and frustration, thereby making it easier for extremists to recruit new supporters,” he said.

President Islam Karimov, who died in September after 27 years in power, had been widely criticized for his government’s human rights violations, and Tashkent’s ties with the West hit their lowest point after troops violently suppressed unrest in the city of Andijan in 2005.

Hussein, describing the Andijan events as “terrible,” told a briefing: “While it is important to look forward, it also important to come to terms with past events and ensure that victims are not forgotten and their grievances are addressed.”

Hussein said he had had an hour-and-a-half meeting with Mirziyoyev, “in which we found much common ground and reached agreements on a number of concrete steps.”

Uzbekistan found itself in a global security spotlight after an Uzbek man living in Sweden was identified as the main suspect behind the deadly truck attack in Stockholm last month. Hundreds of Uzbeks are also believed to have joined the Islamic State militant group based in Syria and Iraq.

Uber Chases GrabTaxi in Myanmar, Expanding in Southeast Asia

Uber is launching its private ride-hailing service in the Myanmar commercial capital of Yangon on Thursday, aiming to tap into one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing online markets.

The launch follows Singapore-based GrabTaxi’s debut by about two months.

Uber is one of the world’s largest on-demand transportation platforms. It is seeking an alliance with the government to smooth acceptance of the use of private vehicles for commercial transport.

A taxi ride in Myanmar usually involves negotiating prices, no use of meters and a lack of air conditioning or seat belts. Using a ride-hailing app is still a relatively new concept, though the practice has been gaining in popularity.

Local travel services start-up Oway and Hello Cabs, a rival service run by a construction and auto dealership tycoon, also provide ride-hailing services. 

“I definitely want to try Uber,” said Nyan Zay Htet, 26, a company worker who was haggling with a driver over a fare on a downtown street in Yangon. “I welcome having international companies come in because it can be more convenient for us if we don’t have to bargain over prices and can just hop in and go.”

More than two-thirds of Southeast Asians are younger than 40 and the number going online to buy goods and services is soaring. A recent research report by Google and the Singaporean investment arm Temasek put the potential ride-sharing market in six larger regional markets at $13 billion by 2025, up from $2.5 billion in 2015.

With more than 50 million people, Myanmar is growing fast and its public transport networks are not keeping up. Taxis are plentiful in Yangon, with local media reporting authorities estimate there are more than 50,000 on the city’s jammed roads. The industry is something of a free-for-all, with non-licensed drivers turning their cars into taxis as they please. But the government has said it intends to crack down on that.

Incomes for most people are still low, so price competition may be key.

An online Uber fare estimator put the base fare in Yangon at 1,500 kyats (pronounced chuts) ($1.09) with a minimum charge of 1,800 kyats ($1.31).

Uber has faced trouble from regulators in various markets, including China, France, Spain and Mexico. But generally they target services transporting paying customers using private vehicles that are not registered for public transport, not ride-hailing that uses smartphone apps to call licensed taxis.

Study: US Foreclosure Activity Drops to Lowest Level Since 2005 

Housing foreclosure activity in the United States dropped to the lowest level since 2005 last month, according to a business research group.

ATTOM Data Solutions tracks default notices, auctions and bank repossessions across the nation and says the number of actions dropped 23 percent from a year ago. That means more than 77,000 homeowners missed payments, and banks took some kind of action to encourage the repayment of their loans.

Severe problems in the U.S. housing market, and sales of securities backed by sometimes-faulty mortgages, played a key role in the financial crisis, which is one reason that investors and economists watch the housing market closely.

Seattle, a city in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington, did the best in this study, with the number of foreclosure notices dropping 38 percent from the same time a year ago. Atlantic City, New Jersey, had the worst foreclosure problem in this study, with one out of every 237 housing units getting a notice of some kind.

Alaskan Natives Look to Arctic Council to Preserve Waters, Way of Life

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the foreign ministers of the other Arctic Council nations, Russia, Greenland, Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland meet Thursday amid changes to the North Pole ice and a decision by the Trump administration about the U.N. Paris Agreement on Climate. Any changes to U.S. climate policy could have a direct impact on the lives of Alaskan Natives, who depend on the Arctic Sea to survive. VOA’s Cindy Saine reports from Fairbanks, Alaska.

Montenegro’s Historic Town at Risk of Losing UNESCO Status

Montenegro’s historic port city of Kotor has earned the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site for the beauty of its well preserved medieval town. But Kotor’s international fame has become a source of trouble in recent years. Excessive construction is now threatening to diminish the town’s beauty and its reputation as one of the world’s top tourist destinations. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

China: Silk Road Plan Not Tied to Xi Presidency

China’s President Xi Jinping initiated the ambitious Belt and Road development plan but it has become a world plan not tied to his presidency, the Commerce Ministry said Wednesday, days before Xi hosts a global forum on the initiative.

The forum in Beijing next week will draw heads of state to discuss Xi’s plan to expand trade links between Asia, Africa and Europe through billions of dollars in infrastructure investment.

Representatives from more than 100 countries will attend China’s biggest diplomatic event of the year, though only one leader from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, is set to join.

China says that between 2014 and 2016, its businesses signed projects worth $304.9 billion along inland and maritime corridors of the plan, also known as the New Silk Road. But some of the projects could be in development for years.

Judging by recent precedent in China’s political system, Xi is slated to step down from the presidency in early 2023 at the end of his second five-year term.

Asked what guarantee the world had that the initiative would go on after Xi’s second term, Vice Minister of Commerce Qian Keming told a news briefing that its vitality lay in countries’ hopes for development and not in the idea of “who proposed it or what term in office there is later.”

“The Belt and Road initiative was proposed by President Xi in 2013, but this initiative is not an individual proposal, or merely left at a proposal level. Rather it is an initiative that has been widely received by the whole world. It is jointly owned by everyone,” Qian said.

China has repeatedly rebuffed concern that the plan is part of a grand strategy to expand its economic interests for selfish gain and to seek global dominance, saying that anyone can join the plan to boost common prosperity.

Xi has used the initiative to help portray China as an open economy, distinct from a rising wave of global protectionism.

However, the government has faced criticism from foreign business groups and governments alike, who say it has done little to remove discriminatory policies and market barriers that favor Chinese companies.

Foreign business groups have questioned whether multinational companies would be able to compete with Chinese firms through the plan in transparent bidding processes.

Zhang Xingfu, an official from the Commerce Ministry’s cooperation department, played down such concerns.

“Chinese enterprises conducting investment and cooperative business in countries along the Belt and Road initiative will … actively participate in project bidding, and cooperate and compete with international enterprises in the same industries on the same platform,” Zhang said.

Syria Tops Agenda in Trump-Lavrov Meeting

Syria was at the top of the agenda Wednesday as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov came calling on President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But as VOA’s Peter Heinlein reports from the White House, the meetings touched on several other world hotspots.

US Criticizes Russian Build-up Near Baltic States

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday criticized what he called a destabilizing Russian military build-up near Baltic states and officials suggested the United States could deploy Patriot missiles in the region for NATO exercises in the summer.

U.S. allies are jittery ahead of war games by Russia and Belarus in September that could involve up to 100,000 troops and include nuclear weapons training —the biggest such exercise since 2013.

The drills could see Russian troops on the border with Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Russia has also deployed Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, its enclave on the Baltic Sea. It said the deployment was part of routine drills, but U.S. officials worry that it may represent a permanent upgrade to Kaliningrad’s missile capability.

Asked during a trip to Lithuania about the Russian missile deployment, Mattis told a news conference: “Any kind of buildup like that is simply destabilizing.”

The United States is ruling out any direct response to the Russian drills or the potential missile deployment.

But at the same time, U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, raised the possibility that a Patriot missile battery could be deployed briefly to the Baltic region during upcoming NATO exercises in July that focus on air defense, known as Tobruk Legacy.

One of the officials said Patriots had not been previously deployed to the Baltics, although they had been in Poland. The officials stressed the Patriots, if deployed, would be withdrawn when the drills were concluded. That would likely happen before the Russian drills began, they said.

Mattis declined to comment directly on the possible Patriot deployment when asked by reporters after talks in Vilnius.

“The specific systems that we bring are those that we determine necessary,” Mattis said, saying that NATO capabilities in the region were purely defensive.

It was Mattis first trip to the Baltic states, who fear a repeat of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The Baltic states are concerned about their lack of air defenses and are weighing upgrades in their military hardware.

Asked about any future Patriot deployment, Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite, standing next to Mattis, said: “We need all necessary means for defence and for deterrence, and that’s what we’ll decide together.”

The scale of this year’s Russian Zapad exercises, which date from Soviet times when they were first used to test new weapon systems, is one of NATO’s most pressing concerns. Diplomats say the war games are no simple military drill.

Estonian Defense Minister Margus Tsahkna told Reuters last month NATO governments had intelligence suggesting Moscow may leave Russian soldiers in Belarus once the Zapad 2017 exercises are over, also pointing to public data of Russian railway traffic to Belarus.

Moscow denies any plans to threaten NATO and says it is the U.S.-led alliance that is risking stability in eastern Europe.

The Kremlin has not said how many troops will take part in Zapad 2017.

 

Syria Likely to Dominate Tillerson-Lavrov Talks in Washington

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the State Department Wednesday, for talks expected to be dominated by the two countries’ differences over Syria and Ukraine. This will be the first time Lavrov has visited Washington since 2013, and analysts say the two men will have their work cut out for them, before both head to Alaska for a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council. VOA State Department correspondent Cindy Saine reports,

For One Chinese City, New ‘Silk Road’ Leaves Old Problems Unsolved

In August, 2014, planners in the northeastern Chinese city of Hunchun argued in state media that it should be included in the “One Belt, One Road” project, Beijing’s vision laid out the previous year of a new Silk Road across Asia to Europe.

In 2015, the official Xinhua news agency ran stories about how Hunchun was accelerating its “OBOR” plans, and early in 2016, China’s cabinet released a list of Chinese cities included in “OBOR:” Hunchun was on the map.

The fact that the list came about slowly, and that some cities felt moved to lobby to be included, underlines how the pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping is as amorphous as it is ambitious.

The challenge of defining exactly what OBOR means will come to the fore later this month, when heads of state and senior officials from around the world gather in Beijing for the first major summit dedicated to the project.

“Frankly, I don’t really know what the belt and the road are. The reason being that I think Beijing doesn’t know either,” said Tom Miller of Gavekal Dragonomics, who recently wrote a book on the New Silk Road.

Reality is complicated

In theory, incentives for cities, companies and countries to be involved are strong: hundreds of billions of dollars are expected to be spent on roads, railways, pipelines, ports and industrial zones stretching from Sri Lanka to Djibouti.

But as Hunchun shows, the reality of OBOR can be complicated and requires buy-in from other countries.

The city’s position at the apex of Russia, North Korea and China is a blessing and a curse. While Russia is gradually opening up to more trade, North Korea has stalled.

Tantalizingly close to the sea but without a sea port after Russia’s annexation in 1860, local businesses said they wanted to ship more goods via Rason, a nearby North Korean port earmarked as an export hub to China, Japan, South Korea and beyond.

That would open a shipping route to southern China, but with sanctions in place against Pyongyang, global tensions rising over its arms programme and Rason developing slowly, expectations of progress are low.

“We currently transport goods by rail to southern China. We’d like to ship from Rason, but at present that’s not happening,” said Wang Hai, general manager of Guanghai Import and Export Trading Company in Hunchun, a small firm with 12 staff, both Chinese and Russian. “Hunchun is a hub for northeast Asia, so in theory it should play a big role in ‘One Belt, One Road,’ but for now it hasn’t been able to get its act together.”

Russia more promising?

North Korea remains largely shut to the outside world, and China, while remaining its main economic and diplomatic backer, has signed up for tough U.N. sanctions against it.

But China said on Tuesday that North Korea would be sending a delegation to the upcoming OBOR summit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will also attend, reflecting his country’s importance in China’s OBOR strategy; in Hunchun, some enterprises are already seeing benefits from mutual trade.

Xingyang Seafood, for example, imports 90 percent of its seafood from Russia and 10 percent from North Korea, said chairman Zhao Yang.

“The main advantage of being in Hunchun is that we are close to Russia,” Yang told Reuters. The company is headquartered in northern China’s Shandong province, but in 2015 it opened a branch in Hunchun to exploit its proximity to Russia.

“How does North Korea help us? It doesn’t help us at all, they have hardly any seafood left there.”

Trade with Russia

Hunchun’s spokesman Hao Qiang declined to comment about the city’s relationship with North Korea, because of the “current political situation,” and would not say how many North Koreans were working in the city. “But we can talk about Hunchun’s trade with Russia, the city’s clean air and successful tree-planting initiatives,” he said.

In addition to oil and gas export opportunities between Russia and China, Putin has spoken of roads and bridges being built to strengthen links.

Russia has struggled, however, to lure enough people to sparsely populated regions bordering China’s northeast, and there are concerns among Russians of creeping colonization if too much land is leased to the Chinese.

“They [Chinese] will live there, their relatives will come, they will deepen their roots there, they will take Russian women as wives,” firebrand opposition politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in 2015, when proposals to lease Russian land to Chinese farmers were put forward. “We will only have problems. I see no advantages.”

For Hunchun, OBOR is the latest in a series of development programs aimed at revitalizing Jilin province and China’s northeast.

Benefits of investments are clear

In the 1990s, the United Nations backed the Tumen River Area Development Project, which became the Greater Tumen Initiative linking China, Mongolia, South Korea and Russia.

The benefits of large-scale state investment are clear. From 25th place among smaller cities in Jilin in terms of economic growth, Hunchun now stands third. Foreign trade has doubled since 2011, according to city statistics.

Whether OBOR can add value over the longer term is uncertain, Peter Cai wrote in a report for the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.

“If the Chinese government fails to connect its domestic projects with overseas components, OBOR will be little different from other domestic infrastructure programs, greatly diminishing its economic and strategic value.”

Mexico Targets Suppliers, Buyers in Move Against Fuel Theft

Mexico is embarking on a strategy to combat illegal pipeline thefts that includes going after those who purchase and deal in stolen fuel as well as the thieves, the country’s treasury secretary said Tuesday.

 

Jose Antonio Meade said it’s a problem that costs Mexico somewhere between 15 billion and 20 billion pesos a year, or $780 million to $1 billion, and one that requires a holistic approach to solve.

 

Mexico’s government wants to reduce the siphoning of gasoline and diesel from illegal pipeline taps by attacking “not only the supply but also the demand,” Meade said, according to a transcript of remarks during a Q&A session released by the Treasury Department.

 

Besides quick-response actions against thieves, authorities must work to make the illicit business less profitable and make those who buy it face consequences, he said.

Armed gangs add to problem

The topic is front-and-center in Mexico these days after gun battles between the army and suspected thieves killed four soldiers and six gunmen last week in the central state of Puebla. Armed gangs have gotten involved in the business of fuel thefts, and gunmen were said to have used civilians as human shields in one of the clashes.

 

Fuel thieves are also suspected of being behind a shocking crime in Puebla on May 2, when eight assailants raped a woman and her 14-year-old daughter, killed her toddler son, beat her husband, stole the family’s pickup truck and left on them on a highway at night. In March, three state detectives were abducted and killed by a fuel theft gang allegedly with the help of the local mayor and police officers.

 

Meade said those who “tear at the social fabric, who in a very cowardly fashion hide behind … women and children,” cause problems for communities and are “terribly dangerous.”

Corrupt workers a concern

 

Meade acknowledged it’s “very likely” that corrupt workers at state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, are involved in facilitating pipeline thefts. He said officials are working with the company to identify them.

Officials are also looking at gas stations that may be selling stolen fuel, as well as the mass transportation sector. To that end, authorities raided 13 gas stations last month after detecting irregular fuel-buying patterns, Meade said.

 

“There was even a gas station that had been shut down (by authorities) for a year but was continuing to sell gasoline, which of course was stolen,” he said.

Looking for help from Senate

The secretary said authorities are looking into technology that would allow them to better track illegal pipeline taps and “mark” gasoline to help identify fuel that has been stolen.

 

Meade also noted legislation passed in the Chamber of Deputies and pending in the Senate would make it easier to prosecute fuel theft.

“The theft is illegal, but possession of stolen gasoline … since we don’t catch them physically and flagrantly stealing, we often find it impossible to take legal action,” he said.

Stolen fuel part of local economy

 

The Puebla state Public Security Department reported Tuesday that in a series of raids it seized over 21,000 liters (5,600 gallons) of fuel and 12 vehicles apparently involved in thefts.

 

Some communities in Puebla and elsewhere have come to base much of their economies on selling fuel stolen from the thousands of taps that are drilled into state-owned pipelines each year. It can also be dangerous — on Sunday one such illegal tap exploded into flames.

Meade said Puebla is the state with the highest incidence of fuel theft, followed by Guanajuato and Veracruz.

States Sue Over Trump Decision to Restart Coal Lease Program

Four U.S. states filed a lawsuit Tuesday over President Donald Trump’s decision to restart the sale of coal leases on federal lands, saying the Obama-era block of the leasing program was reversed without studying what’s best for the environment and for taxpayers.

The attorneys general of California, New Mexico, New York and Washington, all Democrats, said bringing back the federal coal lease program without an environmental review risks worsening the effects of climate change on those states while shortchanging them for the coal taken from public lands.

“Climate change has to be considered when we are talking about compensating states and New Mexico citizens for their resources,” said Cholla Khoury, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ director of consumer and environmental protection.

The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management administers 306 coal leases in 10 states, producing more than 4 billion tons of coal over the past decade. Most of that coal — 85 percent — comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana.

Production and combustion of coal from federal lands accounted for about 11 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014.

The Obama administration blocked the sale of new leases in 2016 to conduct an environmental study and a review of the royalties that mining companies pay the U.S. government for coal that’s extracted. Federal officials and members of Congress said the current royalty rates were shortchanging taxpayers.

In January, Interior officials said they were considering raising those royalty rates to offset the effects of climate change from burning the coal.

In March, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to amend or withdraw the coal leasing program moratorium.

The next day, Zinke did so, saying the Obama administration’s environmental review would cost “many millions of dollars” and that improvements to the program can be made without a full-scale environmental review.

The lawsuit by the four attorneys general, which was filed in Great Falls, Montana, says the reversal was made “with no justification other than an objection to the time and cost of complying with the law.”

Lifting the moratorium without properly considering the environmental effects or ensuring that the program is providing fair market value for the publicly owned coal violates federal laws, they allege.

“They didn’t follow the law,” Khoury said. “You can’t make piecemeal changes without doing this assessment to fully understand all parts of this program.”

Interior Department officials did not return telephone and email messages seeking comment.

India’s IndiGo to Fly to Smaller Cities in Strategy Shift

Indian airline IndiGo said it plans to start flying smaller planes to second-tier towns and cities later this year, in a shift in strategy for the carrier that has prided itself on the simplicity of running only one type of jet.

IndiGo, which has a fleet of 131 Airbus A320 aircraft, said on Tuesday it has placed a provisional order for 50 ATR 72-600 aircraft from European turboprop maker ATR, worth over $1.3 billion at list price.

IndiGo joins national carrier Air India and SpiceJet which have finalized plans under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheme to make it cheaper for people to fly within India. The scheme subsidizes part of the cost for airlines to fly to smaller towns.

“We should see increased business activity in small towns and cities which will increase demand for air travel in these regions,” IndiGo’s President Aditya Ghosh said after the company reported a 25 percent fall in quarterly net profit.

 

InterGlobe Aviation Ltd, owner of IndiGo, said net profit fell to 4.4 billion rupees ($68 million) in the quarter ended March 31, from 5.84 billion rupees a year ago, as fuel costs jumped 71 percent over the same period.

The company said it expects available seat kilometer, a key measure of an airline’s capacity, to increase by 22 percent in the April-June quarter.

IndiGo, which has maintained its efficiency by operating only one type of aircraft, said it plans to set up a separate unit to manage the ATR fleet to reduce the complexity of flying two different types of aircraft.

Functions such as flight operations, in-flight services, route planning and revenue management will be managed by a separate team, whereas administrative functions like human resources, finance and legal would be controlled by IndiGo.

“It would avoid adding complexity to mainline operations,” Ghosh said during an analyst call, adding that it would also result in synergies in corporate overheads and ground handling.

The company said it expects to have up to seven ATR aircraft by March 2018 if it reaches an agreement to buy the planes.

IndiGo also expects to add 39 new aircraft in the current fiscal year that started on April 1, of which 28 will be A320neos, taking the total to 170 A320 aircraft.

The carrier has faced operational issues with some A320neo aircraft due to problems with engines built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

Ghosh said IndiGo expects Pratt & Whitney to provide a solution to one part of the problem by the fourth quarter of 2018 and the engine maker is working on a new design solution that will be retro-fitted later.

Pratt & Whitney has also carried out hardware and software changes on all of IndiGo’s A320neos which should address part of the issue, he said.

IndiGo has ordered a total of 430 A320neo aircraft in the past two years, making it one of Airbus’s biggest customers.

Macron’s Victory in France Revives Talk in Britain of Progressive Alliance

Britain’s political centrists and liberals can only look on jealously. The victory of Emmanuel Macron across the English Channel in France’s presidential race is reviving talk in Britain of a progressive alliance to deprive the Conservatives of a likely landslide win in next month’s parliamentary elections.

The leaders of the country’s main opposition Labor Party, however, are rejecting out of hand any electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats and Greens, despite mounting calls from activists for them to do so.

“Labor is a national party and everyone needs to have the opportunity to vote for a Labor candidate,” senior Labor lawmaker John Ashworth told reporters Monday. “Politicians who try to do these backroom deals never, ever come out of it well.”

Last week, Labor candidates in local elections suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of the Conservatives, losing control of councils in the party’s traditional heartland territory of the industrial Midlands and the north, regions that favor Brexit — Britain quitting the European Union.

If the voting pattern is repeated in the parliamentary elections on June 8, Labor could be facing a wipeout as large as the one it suffered in 1983 at the hands of Margaret Thatcher, who secured a 144-seat majority in the House of Commons. One gloomy newspaper columnist quipped that the local election setback was “a bloodbath foreshadowing a full-on abattoir come June 8.”

 

 

Tactical voting

Nonetheless, Labor leaders also are discouraging supporters from engaging in tactical voting on election day, an idea touted by former Prime Minister Tony Blair to the fury of party stalwarts.

Blair and some other opposition party grandees have urged voters to back “progressive” candidates in the strongest position in their districts to defeat Brexit-supporting Conservative rivals.

Labor’s leader, the hard-left Jeremy Corbyn, is insisting against the facts, “We are closing the gap on the Conservatives.”

The Green Party has decided not to run candidates against Labor’s in London and the southern coastal town of Brighton, and it has demanded to no avail that Corbyn return the favor elsewhere. The Greens’ leader, Caroline Lucas, is accusing the Labor leader of paving the way for a Tory majority by ignoring calls for an election deal.

“We are going to wake up on June 9 and a lot of people are going to be asking themselves, ‘When will the left ever learn?’” she said Monday.

Lucas told BBC Radio, “We’ve still got a few more days where we could build on these alliances, which it isn’t just the Green Party asking for them, it is people up and down the country begging parties of the left and the center-left to get together to do grown-up politics and to be able to put in place a group of people who have a better chance of serving the interests of the people, rather than allowing a massive Tory landslide.”

Ideological battles

As an electoral annihilation approaches, the Labor Party — moderates and hard-left alike — appears more eager to focus on internal ideological battles and to position itself for an internecine fight after the election. The ideological divisions are spilling out publicly on the campaign trail as party members fight for the soul of their party and Labor candidates opposed to Corbyn distance themselves publicly from their leader.

Labor moderates see a huge defeat on June 8 as the only way of forcing Corbyn, who has weathered several attempts by them to oust him, to resign. As they see it, that would clear the path for a moderate to replace him. The party could then begin the arduous process of expunging the hard left from its ranks, modernizing the party and returning Labor to credibility, much as the Labor modernizer Tony Blair and his supporters did more than 20 years ago after Thatcher’s three-on-the-trot [one after the other] election victories.

Corbyn loyalists, many of whom are young entryists from far-left Trotskyite groups, are less interested in electoral politics, say their critics, and are focused on refashioning the party as a revolutionary protest movement, pure in ideology and untainted by the nasty compromises electoral politics require.

Some Labor stalwarts are turning away from the party’s tribal politics. A former Labor minister, Chris Mullin, a former darling of the Labor left and a one-time editor of the weekly Tribune newspaper, once the home of writer George Orwell, believes “the only way forward” is “an eventual pact between Labor, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens not to oppose each other in marginal seats.”

 

“It will be difficult for any party that is not the Conservative party to form a government on its own in the foreseeable future,” Mullin recently argued.

“It may take three or four election defeats for the penny to drop,” he added.

Even if the penny did drop [meaning: an understanding of the situation occurs] before June 8, it is not clear, thanks to Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system, that a ‘progressive’ electoral pact could even stop the Conservative juggernaut. Pollsters say a functioning progressive alliance would only reduce a likely Tory majority.

 

Gibraltar says it Plans for Hard Brexit, End of Access to EU Market

Gibraltar is preparing for a post-Brexit setup in which its firms will have no longer access to the European Union market but will maintain a preferential relationship with Britain, a top Gibraltar financial official said on Tuesday.

The tiny British enclave on Spain’s southern tip, with a population of 30,000, is home to around 15,000 companies and is a major provider of insurance and gambling services.

“We are currently planning for a hard Brexit,” James Tipping, director at Gibraltar’s government body for financial promotion, told EU lawmakers in a hearing in Brussels.

He said Gibraltar did not expect to obtain a “special status” and was resigned to lose its access to the EU market after Britain leaves the EU at the end of a process triggered in March by British Prime Minister Theresa May.

This would mark a shift in Gibraltar’s stated policy of seeking extraordinary arrangements with the EU after Brexit.

Many companies have so far been attracted to Gibraltar by the prospect of being able to operate in all 28 EU countries from a territory with low tax rates and business-friendly regulations.

The loss of the access to the EU market, granted to EU member states by so-called passporting rules, may reduce firms’ appetite to establish their headquarters in the British enclave.

But this may not discourage Gibraltar-based firms that operate in the United Kingdom.

“Our financial model will not have to change,” Tipping told lawmakers, noting Britain has committed to guarantee full access to its market for Gibraltar companies.

He said about 20 percent of motor vehicles in Britain are underwritten by Gibraltar-based insurance companies, making insurers the largest financial sector in Gibraltar, which is also home to more than a dozen banks, several investment funds and top online gambling firms.

Gibraltar, often dubbed “the Rock” because of its famous cliff-faced mountain, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU at last year’s Brexit referendum.

It remains, however, committed to remain part of Britain after Brexit. The enclave rejected the idea of Britain sharing sovereignty with Spain by 99 percent to 1 percent in a 2002 referendum.

The future of Gibraltar is one of the many thorny issues that will have to be sorted in the two-year divorce talks between Britain and the EU which will end in March 2019.

The EU offered Spain a veto right over the future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU after Britain leaves the bloc.

Chicken Nugget Tweet Breaks World Record

Move over Ellen DeGeneres, there’s a new most-tweeted tweet.

And it’s not from another celebrity, famous athlete or politician, but rather a 16-year-old kid from Reno, Nevada named Carter Wilkerson who has a deep love for chicken nuggets from U.S. fast food chain Wendy’s.

It all started in April when Wilkerson tweeted at Wendy’s asking them how many retweets he would need to get free nuggets for a year.

Wendy’s reply was simple “18 million.”

To that, Wilkerson said “consider it done” and tweeted screenshots of his conversation with Wendy’s.

It went viral, and on Tuesday his tweet had been retweeted 3.441 million times, surpassing DeGeneres’ famous, and former world-record holding Oscars tweet, which had 3.430 million retweets.

While not 18 million, Wendy’s gave Wilkerson his free nuggets and $100,000 for him to give to charity.

“We didn’t expect Carter’s response, and we couldn’t anticipate the overwhelming support he has received,” said a spokesman for Wendy’s.

Italy Builds New Detention Centers to Speed up Migrant Deportations

Italy will open new detention centers across the country in the next few months as part of its push to speed up deportations of illegal migrants, despite critics saying that the centers are not only inhumane but also do not produce the desired result.

Violent protests and difficulty identifying migrants has led to the closure of similar centers over the past few years, but on Tuesday the Interior Ministry asked regional governments to provide a total of 1,600 beds in such centers.

Interior Minister Marco Minniti says migrants must be detained to stop them from slipping away before they can be sent home.

The plans include reopening one for men at Ponte Galeria on the outskirts of Rome where migrants had sewed their mouths shut in protest before it was destroyed by interned migrants in 2015.

Over the weekend, Reuters journalists visited the still-open female section of the Ponte Galeria center, and spoke to three Nigerian women. All have applied for asylum from behind bars.

Of the 63 women now being held in the center, more than two thirds are awaiting asylum request responses. Twenty-seven are Nigerian, many of them victims of sex trafficking.

Isoke Edionwer, 28, said she was a prostitute for five years, but two years ago paid off her debt and lived in Naples until she was brought to the center a few weeks ago.

“I’m a changed person. I’m no longer a prostitute,” she said. She wants to go back to Naples and earn a living from selling soaps and other items from a shop she opened.

Mass migrant arrivals by sea are putting Italy under increasing pressure. Numbers are up almost 40 percent this year after a record 181,000 came in 2016, and more than 175,000 are being housed in shelters for asylum seekers.

Senator Luigi Manconi of the ruling Democratic Party said the new-style detention centers had been phased out previously because officials working there had failed to determine the real identity and nationality of most migrants for deportation.

“If they didn’t work before, the solution isn’t to create a bunch of new ones,” he told Reuters outside the Ponte Galeria center’s gate, which is guarded by soldiers and police.

In particular, victims of sex trafficking should be helped, not locked up, Manconi said: “Why aren’t they being protected? Are they a threat to the state? No!”

Between 45-50 percent of those held in the new centers were likely to be deported, officials said. Others either cannot be identified or are not accepted by their countries of origin and must be released.

Some 4,000 were deported in 2015, but there are no official numbers yet for 2016.

Happy Idahosa, 20, was picked up by police in the city of Perugia on New Year’s Eve and sent to Ponte Galeria.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “I came to Italy because there is peace and freedom here, and I want to stay.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Lacoste, Mont Blanc, Socialist Cuba Has 1st Luxury Mall

The saleswomen in L’Occitane en Provence’s new Havana store make $12.50 a month. The acacia eau de toilette they sell costs $95.20 a bottle. Rejuvenating face cream is $162.40 an ounce.

A few doors down, a Canon EOS camera goes for $7,542.01. A Bulgari watch, $10,200.

In the heart of the capital of a nation founded on ideals of social equality, the business arm of the Cuban military has transformed a century-old shopping arcade into a temple to conspicuous capitalism.

With the first Cuban branches of L’Occitane, Mont Blanc and Lacoste, the Manzana de Gomez mall has become a sociocultural phenomenon since its opening a few weeks ago, with Cubans wandering wide-eyed through its polished-stone passages.

Older Cubans are stunned at the sight of goods worth more than a lifetime’s state salary. Teenagers and young adults pose for Facebook photos in front of store windows, throwing victory signs in echoes of the images sent by relatives in Miami, who pose grinning alongside 50-inch TV sets and luxury convertibles.

The Cuban armed forces’ business arm has become the nation’s biggest retailer, importer and hotelier since Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008.

Gaviota, the military’s tourism company, is in the midst of a hotel building spree. The military corporation Cimex, created two decades ago, counts retail stories, auto-rental businesses and even a recording studio among its holdings. The military retail chain TRD has hundreds of shops across Cuba that sell everything from soap to home electronics at prices often several times those in nearby countries.

The military-run Mariel port west of Havana has seen double-digit growth fueled largely by demand in the tourism sector and the armed forces last year took over the bank that does business with foreign companies, assuming control of most of Cuba’s day-to-day international financial transactions.

On a recent weekday, Oswell Mendez and the members of his hip-hop dance group De Freak posed for their Facebook page in the center of the Manzana, on the spot where a bust of early 20th century Cuban Communist leader Julio Antonio Mella sat before it was removed in the building’s multi-year renovation.

“This is a high-end spot, really nice,” said Mendez, 24. “It’s something we haven’t seen before.”

The five-story Manzana sits off the Prado, the broad, tree-lined boulevard that divides the colonial heart of the city. The upper floors are a five-star hotel opening in early June that is owned by the military’s tourism arm, Gaviota, and run by Swiss luxury chain Kempinski. Along the bisecting galleries of the Manzana’s ground floor, TRD Caribe and Cimex – host the luxury brands along with Cuban stores selling lesser-known but still pricey products aimed at Cuba’s small but growing upper-middle class, like $6 mini-bottles of shampoo and sets of plates for more than $100.

A few blocks away, working-class Cubans live in decaying apartments on streets clogged by uncollected trash. With state incomes devastated by long-term stagnation and inflation, there’s barely money for food, let alone home repairs or indulgences.

“This hurts because I can’t buy anything,” said Rodolfo Hernandez Torres, a 71-year-old retired electrical mechanic who lives on a salary of $12.50 a month. “There are people who can come here to buy things but it’s maybe one in 10. Most of the country doesn’t have the money.”

L’Occitane, Lacoste, Mont Blanc and the Cuban military’s business wing did not return requests for comment.

With its economy in recession and longstanding oil aid from Venezuela in doubt, the Cuban government appears torn between the need for market-based reforms and the fear of social inequality that would spawn popular dissatisfaction and calls for political change.

With other sectors declining, Cuba’s increasingly important tourism industry is under pressure to change its state-run hotels’ reputation for charging exorbitant prices for rooms and food far below international standards. The Manzana de Gomez Kempinski bills itself as Cuba’s first real five-star hotel, and the brand-name shops around it appear designed to reinforce that.

The hotel is earning positive early reviews but many tourists say they find the luxury mall alongside it to be repulsive.

“I was very disappointed,” said Jeannie Goldstein, who works in sports marketing in Chicago and ended a six-day trip to Cuba, her first, on Saturday.

“I came here to get away from this,” she said. “This screams wealth and America to us.”

The Prado boulevard was the scene of Cuba’s previous record for a state-sponsored display of exorbitant consumerism. Last May, the government closed the boulevard for a private runway show by French luxury label Chanel for a crowd that included actors Tilda Swinton and Vin Diesel and supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

The temporary privatization of a street for an international corporation built on exclusivity and luxury generated widespread revulsion in Cuba and an unusually angry reaction among writers and intellectuals. Cuba’s culture minister resigned two months later, with no reason given for his departure.

Many other Cubans were delighted by Chanel and adore the Manzana de Gomez, saying it’s the sign the country knows its future depends on opening itself to foreign wealth.

“These stores are for millionaires. Attracting tourists with money, that’s development, capitalism,” said Maritza Garcia, a 55-year-old airline office worker. “Everything that’s development is good. Bit by bit the country is lifting itself up. We’re a socialist country but the economy has to be a capitalist one.”

France’s Macron Joins Ranks of World’s Youngest Leaders

Emmanuel Macron, 39, will join the ranks of the world’s youngest leaders when he is inaugurated as president of France on Sunday.

Some leaders past and president who made big marks were even younger when they assumed power.

 

Fidel Castro

 

The Cuban revolutionary leader, who died last year, was 32 when his rebel forces took control of Cuba. He ruled for nearly five decades as one of the world’s last communist leaders.

 

John F. Kennedy

 

Kennedy was the youngest person ever elected to the presidency of the United States. The wealthy senator and war hero was 43 when he took the oath of office in 1961. But he was not the youngest U.S. president ever — that was Theodore Roosevelt, who was 42 when he took over after the assassination of President William McKinley.

 

Tony Blair and David Cameron

 

Blair was 43 when he was elected Britain’s prime minister in 1997 — the country’s youngest leader since 42-year-old Lord Liverpool in 1812.

Cameron was also 43, but a few months younger than Blair, when he became Britain’s leader in 2010.

 

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

 

Ataturk, the revered founder of the Republic of Turkey, was 42 when he became the country’s first president in 1923. The revolutionary leader’s last name means “Father of the Turks.”

 

Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson

 

In Iceland, Gunnlaugsson became prime minister at 38 in 2013. He resigned in 2016 after details of his offshore financial holdings were revealed in the Panama Papers leak.

 

Moammar Gadhafi

 

The late Libyan leader was 27 when he seized power in 1969. The dictator held on to power until he was ousted in 2011. He was captured and killed a few months later.

 

Gamal Abdel Nasser

 

Nasser was 38 when he became president of Egypt in 1956. He nationalized the Suez Canal and championed the pan-Arab cause, becoming one of the world’s most prominent anti-imperialist figures by the time of his death in 1970.

 

Kim Jong Un

 

The North Korean ruler’s age remains something of a mystery, but he is thought to be 32 or 33. Kim, the third generation in North Korea’s ruling dynasty, assumed power in December 2011 upon the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

 

Rajiv Gandhi

 

Gandhi was catapulted to India’s highest office when his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was assassinated in 1984. He began his premiership with promises of modernizing India’s creaking government. Within a few years, he was forced to resign amid allegations of taking bribes in an arms deal. He was assassinated in 1991 while campaigning to return to office.

 

Justin Trudeau

 

Trudeau was elected as Canada’s prime minister in 2015, when he was 43. Like Rajiv Gandhi, he had a strong family connection to the office — his father, Pierre Trudeau, also served as prime minister.

Canada Political Pressures Force PM’s Hand on US Trade Disputes

Canada escalated a trade dispute with United States by making threats Washington called inappropriate in part because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under pressure to secure support in a key region ahead of the country’s 2019 elections.

Washington last month slapped tariffs on timber imports, prompting Trudeau to say he was considering a ban on exports of U.S. coal through Pacific ports.

As well as lumber, the administration of President Donald Trump has targeted Canadian dairy farmers, while Boeing Corp. launched a trade challenge against Montreal-based planemaker Bombardier Inc.

All three are vital to the economy of Quebec, Canada’s second most-populous province. And Quebec is seen as vital to Trudeau’s hopes of maintaining a strong grip on power in a national election set for October 2019.

As contentious talks on renegotiating NAFTA draw closer, Trudeau has little choice but to defend dairy farmers and offer help to the lumber industry, even though that is likely to prompt fresh U.S. challenges.

“Quebec is the key,” said one senior Liberal organizer.

The predominantly French-speaking province holds 78 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons and Liberals acknowledge they need to win extra seats there to offset expected losses elsewhere in 2019.

The challenge is that they captured 40 seats in Quebec in 2015, which was far more than expected.

The Liberals say they can take another 10 to 15 seats, but only if everything goes their way. This means showing support for the dairy industry – and its influential lobby – amid fresh attacks from Washington.

No Choice?

The United States has long complained about Canada’s system of domestic protections for its dairy industry, which bars most imports and keeps prices high. Trump last month branded the industry “a disgrace.”

The system is unpopular in large parts of Canada, where people complain about high prices for milk and cheese. Trudeau, however, has little choice but to defend it.

Leger Marketing pollster Christian Bourque noted there are dairy farms in every part of Quebec.

“If you’re seen as attacking farming and the land, it’s probably easy for the farmers’ union to get Quebeckers onside.

You don’t necessarily want to forget farmers,” he said.

While observers see little risk of Trudeau being defeated outright in 2019, the danger for the Liberals is losing their majority, forcing them to rely on opposition parties to govern.

This would inevitably mean political compromises and a diluted policy agenda.

The Liberals have so far tried to maintain calm as tensions ratchet up, relying on visits from cabinet ministers and to key states to press the message that trade benefits both sides.

Bark vs Bite

The outreach efforts will continue, according to a source familiar with official strategy, adding that Ottawa will show its teeth where necessary.

“Do people honestly expect the Canadian government just to say ‘We accept these lumber duties, we will move on and pay the price?'” asked the source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

In Washington, White House spokesman Sean Spicer dismissed talk of a trade war.

“That’s why we have dispute settlement mechanisms to do this in a responsible way,” he told reporters on Monday.

In a sign of the mounting pressures on Trudeau over lumber, former Quebec Liberal premier Jean Charest said Ottawa should consider loan guarantees to affected firms.

“It is very black and white now: either the government supports them or they will just close down,” he said in an interview.

Although giving such aid could prompt fresh U.S. challenges, insiders make clear Canada has no option.

Trudeau last week met with Quebec’s timber unions and tweeted “supporting softwood lumber producers in Quebec and across the country is a priority.”

In the short term, he faces few immediate threats. Polls show the Liberals well ahead of the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats, both of which have stand-in leaders and will not choose permanent replacements until later this year.

“He’s had an exceptionally long honeymoon, he’s still having a honeymoon, but that has a lot to do with the absence of opposition,” said pollster Nik Nanos.

Although being seen to openly favor one province or region over another can be politically fatal in Canada, Liberal sensitivity toward Quebec is clear.

When it came time to deciding on aid to Bombardier – which has received billions in subsidies from Ottawa – the Liberals made clear the only question was not if, but how much.

Party operatives also admitted relief once became clear Ottawa would not have to decide before the election on whether to allow TransCanada Corp. to build an oil pipeline across Quebec.

Environmentalists and aboriginal activists had promised protests that Quebec Liberals said they feared could hurt the party’s chances.

What You Need to Know About EB-5 Visas

What is the EB-5 Visa?

The EB-5 program allows entrepreneurs and their families to apply for green cards (permanent residence) if they 1) make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States, and 2) plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.

How much is the necessary investment?

$1 million or $500,000 if the money is invested in a high unemployment or rural area, considered a targeted employment area (TEA). The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says approximately 97 percent of all investments by EB-5 petitioners are made in TEAs at the reduced amount of $500,000.

DHS proposed in January increasing the minimum investment amount required for the EB-5 program from $500,000 to $1.35 million for projects in TEAs; from $1 million to $1.8 million for developments in low-to-average unemployment areas.

What is purpose of program?

Congress created the EB-5 Program in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Under a program initially enacted as a pilot in 1992, and regularly reauthorized since then, investors also may qualify for EB-5 classification by investing through regional centers designated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

What are regional centers?

Regional Centers are federally approved third parties that “connect foreign investors with developers in need of funding, and take a commission.” Regional centers are usually private, for-profit businesses that are approved by the USCIS.

What kinds of businesses can I invest in?

EB-5 investors must invest in a “for profit activity formed for the ongoing conduct of lawful business,” which was established after Nov. 29, 1990. If the enterprise was established before that date, it must have been restructured and expanded.

How many EB-5s are available every year?

There is a cap of about 10,000 annually. However, many EB-5 visa holders bring family members with them, and they are included in the count. So, the actual number of visas issued is much lower than that. Before the 2008 recession, DHS says the EB-5 program received fewer than an average 600 EB-5 petitions per year.

Since then, the program has received an average of more than 5,500 petitions per year. Between FY 2014 and FY 2015 alone, more than 25,000 petitions were received. As a result, demand for EB-5 visas by investors has now outpaced the annual supply, resulting in visa backlogs.

Who gets EB-5s?

In 2014, 85 percent of the 10,692 EB-5 visas issued were for Chinese nationals.

What is the future of the EB-5 program?

The EB-5 visa program has just been extended in its current form through September. What happens after that will depend on a review being conducted by the Trump administration and Congress. White House spokesman Sean Spicer says the administration is looking “over the entire visa program, all the various visa programs, and whether or not they are serving the purpose they intended to, whether or not we’re making sure we’re doing what’s in the best interests of the American worker.”

Both parties in Congress have expressed an interest in revising the program.

Austerity Remains a Bitter Pill for Greeks to Swallow

The prospect of an economic doomsday for Greece may have diminished in the past week, but citizen Angelika Dinkel doesn’t much care.

Following months of negotiations, the Greek government last week agreed to further austerity measures in order to access loans from its $94 billion bailout program..

But as she waits in central Athens for a church to open and a hoped-for handout of maybe $5 — or even $10 if she’s lucky —  the 60-year-old’s mind is focused on day-to-day survival.

There may be talk of a light at the end of the tunnel for a country traumatized by seven years of economic turmoil, but on the streets of Athens they seem a world away from everyday reality.

“There’s no reason to pay attention. Things are just getting worse,” says Dinkel, who struggles to scrape together the $50 a month she needs to stay off the streets.  

“No one thought it could be this bad.”

A disconnect

The race is now on for Greek officials rushing to create a bumper package of new legislation agreed to during the negotiations.

These include a cut in taxes, the opening up of energy markets and a further slashing of pensions.

Pending approval from the Greek parliament in the coming days, it is expected the agreement will be ready for the next meeting of eurozone finance ministers on May 22.

There, hopes are that $8 billion in rescue loans will be approved, allowing the country to make a crucial debt repayment in July.

The markets have been largely cheered by the news, while there have been other positive signs too — last month, the country posted its first overall budget surplus in more than two decades.

Yet little of this is being felt on the ground, where poverty and homelessness remain all too prevalent.  

“I don’t think [the latest agreement] will improve the daily lives of people,” claims Aliki Mouriki, a sociologist and senior research fellow at the National Center for Social Research in Athens. “People are seeing further cuts in things like their pensions, so why would they be happy? Some segments of the Greek population and businesses may be happy over [the reforms] as the economic climate has less uncertainty, but this is not reflecting on daily lives.”

Sense of betrayal

The Greek leftist ruling party Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras may have emerged with a deal, but the moves have already sparked new protests.

Meanwhile, many consider these latest steps just another act of weakness or betrayal by a party that swept into power on an anti-austerity ticket in 2015.

Though emergency funds from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) helped pull Greece back from the brink of collapse in 2010, this is the third such bailout, and many Greeks are of the opinion that the country’s supposed medicine of reforms and austerity is actually proving to be its poison.

Chrysa Lazaridou, who runs a bakery not far from the city’s towering ancient Acropolis, has been keeping an eye on recent developments.

Despite the inclusion of “counter measures” against the austerity — including rent subsidies for low income families — she feels the agreed package represents more of the same when it comes to Greece’s current place in the world.

“I thought [Alexis] Tsipras would be different, but in practice he’s not,” she said.

“All the decisions made here are made outside of Greece in the European Union, while politicians and businessmen will be the ones to profit.”

Vanishing savings

Meanwhile, other signs of progress remain tentative.

Amid the bailouts, reforms and austerity, the unemployment rate has declined from a peak of nearly 28 percent.

However, in recent months it has climbed once again to 23.5 percent — still the highest in Europe — while Friday the European Commission is set to revise its prediction of growth in Greece over 2017 from 2.7 percent to 2 percent.

Panagiotis Lappas, approached by VOA in central Athens, is a banking lawyer who often deals with families overcome by debt — something he sees with increasing regularity.

“Their savings have vanished after seven years,” he explained.

He was circumspect about the latest agreement, stating it was neither “pleasant nor necessary, but maybe now we have no other choice.”

However, in Lappas’ view, the time for austerity is over. More needed to be done, he thought, to stimulate growth and attract investment by lowering business rates.

He also called for debt relief, an issue still at the heart of the debate among creditors regarding Greece, and a pre-condition demanded by the IMF for its participation in this bailout.  

Eyes abroad

Tsipras has talked up the deal as “balanced and sustainable,” but he may find the Greek public even harder to convince than his own party, or those holding the purse strings.

Syriza is badly lagging behind its competitors in the polls, though the true test will come in the country’s elections in 2019.

Meanwhile, for one teenager not yet old enough to vote, the answer may not lie with Tsipras, or any of his political rivals.

Clutching his skateboard in Athens’ Monastiraki neighborhood, 17-year-old Alberto Frangou feels little allegiance to the idea of the EU and is scornful of Greek politicians.  

“I hate them, they’ve not helped us,” he said, telling VOA that he feared entering a job market where youth unemployment was measured at 48 percent in January.

Instead, he is considering another option, one that potentially spells more trouble for Greece in the coming years.

Between 2008 and 2016, around 450,000 mostly young and educated people left the country in search of a better future.

“If things don’t get any better, then I will just have to go elsewhere,” he told VOA.

Czech President Sets Conditions for Firing Finance Minister in Rift with PM

Czech President Milos Zeman on Monday demanded his prime minister terminate the agreement that formed the coalition government if he is to agree to firing the finance minister, deepening a rift between the country’s two leaders.

The European Union member is in political crisis over the future of Finance Minister Andrej Babis, a billionaire businessman who faces questions over past business practices and is the main political rival of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

With an election due in October, Sobotka is demanding the president dismiss Babis, but the finance minister, who heads the anti-establishment ANO party, has found an ally in Zeman who has long had poor relations with the prime minister.

Sobotka, who heads the center-left Social Democrats, asked Zeman on Friday to dismiss Babis by May 9, but the president has refused to do so.

“The president stated that the prime minister cannot task the president with setting a date for dismissal,” the presidency said in a statement issued after Zeman met Babis on Monday.

Under the constitution, the president dismisses a minister if requested by the prime minister. Lawyers say the head of state should act promptly and has little wiggle room.

However, on Monday Zeman said Sobotka’s and Babis’s parties were bound by coalition agreement — reached in 2014 to form the cabinet — and that the prime minister must pull out of the deal before requesting Babis’ dismissal against the minister’s will.

“A termination of the coalition agreement would be needed for a valid dismissal,” the statement said.

Such a move could trigger the coalition government’s collapse. Last Friday the prime minister took back a pledge to resign along with his whole government in order to dislodge Babis.

Zeman also wanted to see a nomination for a replacement, the statement added.

Sobotka later urged the Zeman to respect the constitution.

“I would like to call on Mr. President to respect the fundamental law of our country. The coalition agreement has nothing to do with that,” the prime minister said in a statement.

Sobotka has said Babis failed to clear suspicions he dodged taxes by buying tax-free bonds from his conglomerate Agrofert.

Babis says he has not violated any laws.

The EU’s fraud office and Czech police have also been investigating whether Babis manipulated ownership of a conference center to unfairly qualify for EU subsidies meant for small businesses.

Babis has said the prime minister’s actions are politically motivated ahead of parliamentary elections in October. Babis’ ANO party enjoys a more-than 10 point lead over the Social Democrats, according to opinion polls.

World Leaders Congratulate Macron for French Presidential Election Win

World leaders and other political heavyweights have sent congratulatory messages to France’s president-elect, Emmanuel Macron on his victory over Marine Le Pen.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his big win today as the next President of France. I look very much forward to working with him!”

Trump had not publicly endorsed either candidate ahead of the election, but let it be known he generally favored Marine Le Pen’s views.

Former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and New York mayor Bill de Blasio, among others, congratulated Macron and the people of France for the presidential election result.

“Your victory is a victory for a strong and united Europe and for French-German friendship,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said in statement.

Macron spoke with Merkel after his victory was announced, telling her that he would travel to Berlin “very quickly.”

A British spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that May “warmly congratulates President-elect Macron on his election success. France is one of our closest allies and we look forward to working with the new President on a wide range of shared priorities.”

May also discussed Brexit with Macron, saying “the UK wants a strong partnership with a secure and prosperous EU once we leave,” the spokesman added.

European Union leaders also offered congratulations to Macron: “Happy that the French chose a European future,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote on Twitter.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the French had chosen “liberty, equality and fraternity” and “said no to the tyranny of fake news”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said “the victory of President-elect Macron is a symbolic victory against inward-looking and protectionist moves and shows a vote of confidence in the EU.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his message to Macron that China is willing to push partnership with France to a higher level. Xi said their countries share a “responsibility toward peace and development in the world.”

Xi recalled that France was the first Western power to establish diplomatic relations with communist-ruled China in 1964.

Other world leaders from Canada to Latin America to Australia also congratulated Macron on his historic victory.

Macron, the youngest French leader since the Emperor Napoleon, will take office on May 14, 2017.

France Elects Macron, Rejects Le Pen

Voters in France have elected pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron as the country’s new president, rejecting the anti-EU, anti-immigrant policies of nationalist Marine Le Pen. Preliminary results released immediately after polls closed Sunday showed Macron won 65 percent support compared to 34.5 percent for Le Pen. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Paris.

German President Says Israel Ties Solid Despite Recent Spat

Germany’s president said Sunday that despite recent disagreement the foundation of his country’s relations with Israel remains solid – a reference to a recent diplomatic spat over an Israeli anti-occupation group.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in Israel on his first foreign trip outside Europe since he was elected president earlier this year. It comes two weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled talks with the German foreign minister because the visitor chose to meet Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli combat soldiers-turned-whistleblowers who oppose Israel’s rule over the Palestinians.

 

The dispute has cast a shadow over what would otherwise have been a routine visit to Israel by the German president.

 

Netanyahu said after meeting with Steinmeier that Israel has a “unique partnership” with Germany. In an apparent dig at Breaking the Silence, Netanyahu said Israeli troops have “moral standards second to none.”

 

The group says soldiers come forward with their war stories to shine a light on problems either unknown or ignored by the public. But many Israeli leaders have portrayed them as traitors, in part because their reports and lectures are often aimed at foreign audiences.

 

Steinmeier addressed the dispute at a speech in German at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

 

He said diverse voices are “the oxygen of democracy” and said he believes “those who raise their voice, who criticize, but also respect the voices of others – they are not traitors of the people, but guardians of the people.”

 

Complex ties

Israel and Germany have had a long, close and complicated relationship. Israel was established in 1948 on the ashes of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were systematically killed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II. The countries only established diplomatic relations in 1965.

 

Today, Germany is a key Israeli trade partner and ally in Europe, and assumes responsibility for the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.

 

But tensions occasionally flare up over Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Germany, along with most of the international community, considers Israeli settlements in territory claimed by the Palestinians illegal. Israel says settlements should be resolved along with other core issues in peace talks.

 

Steinmeier said some advised he cancel or postpone his visit over the spat but he decided otherwise “not because I agreed with your prime minister’s cancellation of the meeting with the German foreign minister, but because I believe that I would be amiss if I allowed the relationship between the two nations to get deeper into a dead end, which would harm both sides,” he said.

 

“The relationship between Germany and Israel will always remain unique. We must not forget then when it is difficult and the wind is a bit stormy. Especially in such times, we are called upon to protect this precious heritage,” said Steinmeier.

In Pictures: French Voters Select New President in Key Election

In a race dominated by the issues of jobs, immigration and security, the choice before voters in this second and final round Sunday is stark, with centrist, pro-EU former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron facing nationalist, anti-immigration crusader Marine Le Pen.

50,000 Evacuated in German City after 5 WWII Bombs Uncovered

German authorities are evacuating around 50,000 people from their homes in the northern city of Hannover while five suspected aerial bombs from World War II are made safe for removal.

City officials say two suspected bombs were found at a construction site and three more nearby. Germany was heavily bombed by Allied planes during the war and such finds are common.

 

Leaflets in German, Polish, Turkish, English and Russian were delivered door-to-door to make sure everyone evacuated on Sunday. The city’s museums are open for free and the senior citizen’s agency organized an afternoon Scrabble and card-playing gathering so evacuated residents would have places to go.

Authorities say they hope people will be able to return to their homes by evening.