Catalonia Sets Date for Independence Vote

Parliament in Spain’s prosperous Catalonia region has approved an independence vote for October 1, which Madrid has vowed to stop.

Separatist parties, which hold a slim majority, backed the referendum legislation and legal framework needed to set up an independent state.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy ordered government lawyers to file a complaint with the country’s constitutional court in hopes of annulling the referendum.

Polls in the northeastern region show support for self-rule waning as Spain’s economy improves. But the majority of Catalans say they do want the opportunity to vote on whether to split from Spain.

The vote will come about three weeks after Barcelona and a nearby town were struck by Islamist attacks that killed 15 people.

‘Act of force’

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría condemned the Catalan leadership for carrying out “an act of force” and for acting more like “dictatorial regimes than a democracy.”

“What is happening in the Catalan parliament is embarrassing. It’s shameful,” she told reporters.

But Catalan leaders have pledged to proclaim a new republic within 48 hours if the “yes” side wins, regardless of turnout.

Former Catalan President Artur Mas said pushing ahead with the referendum was justified because a pro-independence coalition won the 2015 regional election.

“The referendum is what we have to do because we have the mandate of the peoples of Catalonia,” Mas said.

US Ambassador Defends Russian Diplomatic Property Expulsions

The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, has defended the expulsion of Russian diplomats from seized consular property in the United States amid an increasing strain in diplomatic ties.

In a joint interview Wednesday in Moscow with the Russian services of VOA News and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Tefft rejected statements in Russian media that the seizing of diplomatic property in San Francisco, New York and Washington was done in what Russian President Vladimir Putin called a “boorish and unprecedented” fashion.

Putin accused U.S. authorities of threatening to “break down the entrance door” of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco after Washington set a September 2 deadline for the premises to be evacuated.

“Nobody broke down doors. Nobody put undue pressure on people. It was all done very, very carefully — and, in compliance with the Vienna Conventions,” Tefft said.

Court battle

Speaking in China on Tuesday, Putin said, “Let’s see how well the much-praised American legal system works in practice.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a telephone call on Wednesday that Russia had initiated legal proceedings for what was a “violation of international law.”

U.S. President Donald Trump reduced Russia’s consular facilities this month after the Kremlin demanded the U.S. cut its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people.

Russia said it was imposing the demand as a countermeasure to new U.S. sanctions over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and to achieve “parity” with the level of the Russian diplomatic presence in the U.S. Trump’s closing of the Russian consulate and two annexes brought the number of Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. even with the number of U.S. facilities in Russia.

“But when we used parity to withdraw our consent for the Russian government to have a consulate in San Francisco, then everyone got all excited. And, you know, parity is parity,” Tefft noted.

Tefft: Reduction not voluntary

Russia’s Foreign Ministry gave conflicting statements, implying that the U.S. had voluntarily reduced its staff, a notion also rejected outright by Tefft.

However, Tefft said in the interview that it was false to suggest that Washington “negotiated or somehow signed on to the idea of reducing our staff.”

“We were told to do that. That was not something that was negotiated,” he said.

Russian officials say they are considering how to respond to the reduction of their U.S. consular facilities.

Despite the downward spiraling diplomatic relations, Tefft has urged Russia to join U.S. allies in Asia and Western governments in pressuring North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.

“While the focus, at this point, is on the United States, I noted one of the earlier missiles a few weeks ago, you know, landed 60 kilometers off of Vladivostok in the water,” Tefft said. “This is a regional and now becoming a global threat. It’s not just against the United States, it’s against all of us.

“One of the things that Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Minister Lavrov agreed, when they saw each other here in March, was that the United States and Russia both believed the Korean Peninsula should be non-nuclear.That’s a fundamental which we can work on,” Tefft added.

Regular talks seen continuing

The U.S. ambassador said there had been regular consultations between U.S. and Russian experts on North Korea and that he expected more in the next few weeks.

“Now, getting forward, we’ve got to try to find the best tactics to do this. But we need strong efforts by Russia and China if we’re all going to be successful,” he said.

Tefft is expected to leave Russia this year and be succeeded by Trump appointee Jon Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to China.

VOA’s Danila Galperovich contributed to this report.

Chinese Textile Giant Brings Factory Jobs to Struggling Arkansas Town

One of China’s biggest textile mills is planning its first North American factory in a small town in the southern U.S. state of Arkansas.

Forrest City, located near the Mississippi River, is where the Chinese textile giant Shandong Ruyi plans a $410 million investment to spin yarn at a factory where local workers once built Japanese televisions.

Mayor Larry Bryant says the company is already working on training at the local community college.

“I think everybody is happy,” Bryant said. “Everybody is waiting. If they would tell people tomorrow to come out to fill out applications, they would have thousands.”

Ruyi’s project will consume 200,000 bales of Arkansas cotton annually, nearly all the cotton the state grows each year. So Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mike Preston expects a surge of new planting.

“That’s going to turn around and put money back in their pockets and the people they employ as well as anyone in between, people who are baling the cotton, transporting and bringing it to facility and anyone transporting out,” he said. “So the supply chain on a company like this, a project like this is exponential.”

Some Chinese investors in the U.S. face challenges from labor unions amid claims of workplace culture clashes.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who has brought nearly $2 billion worth of Chinese investment to his state, says there are always cultural differences to work through.

“There are things we can learn from China entrepreneurship and China workers, how they do things and say, ‘Hey, it’s a great idea that we ought to adopt here.’ And vice versa,” Hutchinson said. “I think you will see that China’s business leaders will see some very good practices that we have that they may want to adopt. I see this as a great win for both sides whenever we have those exchanges.”

The owner of a local barbecue restaurants expects the new Chinese bosses to receive a warm welcome in Forrest City.

“It can’t do anything but help, not only my business, but all the businesses,” said Pierre Evans, owner of Delta Q Barbecue. “That influx of income and influx of money is going to be a big impact to a small community like this.”

Local leaders are especially encouraged by the company’s promise to create 800 jobs and offer wages of more than $15 an hour. That’s nearly double the minimum wage in a community that has been struggling economically for decades.

European Judges Reject Hungary, Slovakia’s Attempt to Block Refugee Quotas

European judges Wednesday rejected an attempt by Hungary and Slovakia to block mandatory quotas of resettled refugees from Greece and Italy. European Union officials welcomed the ruling and called on member states to speed up the resettlement process – seen as a key part of the bloc’s response to the crisis, which has seen millions of asylum seekers arrive on the continent over the past three years. Henry Ridgwell reports.

Madonna Moves to Portugal, Rated New Star Destination for Expats

New Lisbon resident Madonna has been extolling the delights of living in the Portuguese capital, the most illustrious of a growing number of foreigners in the newly-fashionable city.

“I used to be a basket case but now I live in Lisbon,” she wrote on Instagram on Sunday under a photo of baskets hanging from the ceiling of an old Portuguese kitchen.

Local media say she has bought a 7.5 million-euro ($9 million) estate in the mountains of Sintra, outside Lisbon, and will continue to stay at the Pestana Palace hotel, where she is in the royal suite, while it is refurbished.

The 18th century Quinta do Relogio estate mentioned by various news outlets was still up for sale on the Engel&Volkers real estate agency’s website on Wednesday.

If the reports are true, Madonna — who wrote that “the energy of Portugal is so inspiring” — joins film stars Michael Fassbender and Monica Bellucci, who have bought properties in Lisbon in the past year.

Among the reasons the pop star has come to Lisbon is that her 11-year-old son, David Banda, has started soccer training at the youth academy of Benfica, according to the Lisbon club.

She also arrives as Portugal has been named Europe’s best destination for expatriates to live in 2017 and the world’s best for quality of life, in a survey published by social network InterNations on Wednesday.

In the overall global rating for best expatriate destination, it soared 23 positions from 2016 to No. 5, making it the leading gainer worldwide.

Portugal, which boasts sandy beaches, golf courses, historic castles and some of the lowest prices in Western Europe, was hard-hit by an economic and debt crisis in 2010-13, but has been on a steady recovery since and is going through a tourism boom.

Catalan Parliament Paves Way for Independence Vote

Catalan lawmakers were voting Wednesday on a bill that will allow regional authorities to officially call an Oct. 1 referendum on a split from Spain, making concrete a years-long defiance of central authorities, who insist the referendum as illegal.

In an effort to rein in one of the country’s deepest political crises in recent years, Spain’s conservative government threatened to challenge the Catalan parliament’s decision to allow the vote at the country’s top court. The public prosecutor’s office also said it was preparing a lawsuit to punish the Catalan speakers’ committee for disobeying previous court orders and for abusing power.

The plenary session in Barcelona saw tensions flare when the regional parliament’s top speaker, Carme Forcadell, announced that the vote on the bill will go ahead without the customary vetting of a legal committee.

The so-called “referendum bill” was included at the last minute in Wednesday’s agenda. It was likely to be passed by a pro-independence majority later in the day, paving the way for plans for the ballot to be formalized.

The pro-independence coalition ruling Catalonia, where a strong Catalan identity is built around its own language and traditions, says the bill will legitimize a binding vote on breaking away from Spain based on the right to self-determination.

The Spanish government, however, considers that the referendum violates the country’s constitution because only the central authorities can make such a call.

Spain’s constitutional court has previously ruled that any step taken toward a referendum on secession would be illegal. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday urged the court to take punitive measures against the Catalan legislative body’s committee of speakers, including Forcadell.

Wednesday’s parliamentary session was an “embarrassing show” and “a kick to democracy, to Catalans and to political decency,” said Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria.

Rajoy has vowed to use all legal measures at hand to ensure the vote doesn’t take place and has ordered his cabinet to be ready to challenge the constitutionality of the bill if it ends up being passed.

“We are defending the rule of law in Spain and democracy in Catalonia,” his deputy, Saenz de Santamaria, said in a televised press conference that was hastily convened.

The Spanish government is trying to strike a delicate balance between offsetting the secessionist defiance and staying away from more dramatic measures that would further inflame anti-Spanish sentiments, such as suspending Catalonia’s autonomous powers or declaring a state of emergency that would bring the army into the mix.

The vote is also not recognized by most of the political opposition at the national level. The leaders of the Socialists and the business-friendly Ciudadanos party declared support for the conservative government in fighting the vote.

Home to 7.5 million, the prosperous Catalonia region centered on Barcelona generates a fifth of Spain’s gross domestic product and enjoys ample self-government, running its own police and with considerable powers in health and education. But key areas such as taxes, foreign affairs and most infrastructures are in the hands of the Spanish government.

The pro-independence block has argued that full control would benefit Catalonia, an idea that grew in support in times of high unemployment and harsh austerity measures as a result of Spain’s 2008-2013 financial crisis. The return to solid growth has weakened public backing for independence, although polls show that almost eight out of 10 Catalans want to have the right to vote.

But a referendum in defiance of Spain’s rule of law, without the blessing of central authorities, has inflamed controversy. If the vote takes place and there is a victory for the “yes” side, Catalan leaders have pledged to proclaim a new republic within 48 hours, regardless of turnout.

Former Catalan leader Artur Mas said that pushing ahead with the referendum was justified because a pro-independence coalition won the 2015 regional election. “The referendum is what we have to do because we have the mandate of the peoples of Catalonia,” he said.

Mas is the highest-ranking among Catalan politicians suspended from office and fined by the country’s Supreme Court for organizing a non-binding vote on independence in 2014. The “yes” vote to breaking away from Spain won at the time amid a low turnout by voters.

Trump Making New Push for US Corporate, Individual Tax Cuts

U.S. President Donald Trump is making a new push Wednesday for a tax overhaul, visiting the midwestern state of North Dakota to call for lower corporate and individual tax rates.

Trump is pressing Congress to approve tax reforms in the coming months, with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin predicting that changes can be completed by the end of the year.

But tax legislation is one of several complicated issues Congress is facing and Republican and Democratic lawmakers have sharply divergent ideas of how to change the country’s complex tax code.

Trump plans to meet with workers at an oil refinery in North Dakota, a largely rural state along the northern U.S. border with Canada. The White House said Trump would make the case that one of the country’s last major tax overhauls, in 1986, also occurred under a Republican president like Trump, Ronald Reagan, with support from Democratic lawmakers.

North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp is traveling with the president on Air Force One to her state, and Trump is hoping she will join at least a handful of other Democrats to support a tax overhaul. With Trump’s national voter approval rates mired in the 30-percent range, Democratic lawmakers in Washington have shunned Trump’s legislative initiatives, mostly notably his efforts to dismantle national health care policies championed by former president Barack Obama.

Specific tax changes

Trump’s tax pitch is the second he has made in a week on trips to states he won in last year’s contentious election against Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. Secretary of State. But like his speech in Missouri last week, Trump is expected to steer clear of specific tax changes he wants.

Trump has continued to call for a national corporate tax rate cut from 35 to 15 percent, a figure most U.S. economists say is unreachable without adding a new tax of some sort to offset the lost revenue the government needs to operate.

As he prepared for the North Dakota trip, Trump again made the inaccurate claim the United States is “the highest taxed nation in the world.” Numerous studies of tax rates around the globe show that by various measures, U.S. taxation is relatively low compared to that in other developed countries.

The World Economic Forum said U.S. business taxes do not rate among the world’s top 27 countries, all of which have total rates above 50 percent. The top U.S. rate, including additional state corporate taxes, totals nearly 39 percent, but corporations often pay far less after deducting their business expenses.

Trump met with top Republican congressional leaders Tuesday about taxes, telling them, “If we’re going to keep momentum going and allow the economy to truly take off as it should, it is vital that we reduce crushing tax burden on our companies and on our workers.

“This is more than just tax reform. This is tax cutting,” Trump said. “We’re going to cut taxes, we’re going to reduce taxes, for people, for individuals, for middle income families. We’re going to reduce taxes for companies.”

Trump has feuded with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in recent months over the Senate’s failure to overhaul U.S. health care policies.

But McConnell praised Trump’s commitment to the tax overhaul, saying he was “very engaged on this issue.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

НАБУ планує закупити нові автомобілі на 5,5 мільйона гривень – #Точно

У вересні Національне антикорупційне бюро України планує оголосити тендер на закупівлю нових автомобілів на суму понад 5,5 мільйонів гривень. Така інформація міститься в річному плані закупівель НАБУ на порталі Prozorro, повідомляє проект Радіо Свобода #Точно.

Зокрема, для антикорупційного відомства хочуть придбати автомобілі таких марок, як Ford Focus, Ford Mondeo, Renault Megane і Peugeot Treveller. У документі також зазначено, що потенційні учасники закупівель можуть запропонувати автомобілі інших марок з аналогічними характеристиками.

Автівки мають бути поставлені до кінця року.

Протягом літа НАБУ вже уклало кілька угод на суму понад 10 мільйонів гривень на закупівлю авто, серед яких Ford Custom Tourneo, Mazda CX 5.

У червні бюро сплатило 46 тисяч гривень за навчання на курсах контраварійного водіння.

Загалом протягом 2017 року НАБУ уклало на тендерах 168 угод на суму 55 мільйонів гривень. 

Уряд Німеччини підтримав ідею миротворців для Донбасу, але не на умовах Путіна

Уряд Німеччини у принципі позитивно поставився до заяви президента Росії Володимира Путіна про введення в зону конфлікту на українському Донбасі миротворчої місії ООН і готовий обговорювати цю ініціативу, але наголосив, що це не мало б відбутися на умовах російського керівника.

Речниця уряду Німеччини, яка разом із Францією є партнером України в так званому «нормандському форматі» переговорів про врегулювання на окупованій частині українського Донбасу, Ульріке Деммер повідомила, що німецький уряд підтримає таку ініціативу тільки за дотримання низки інших умов.

Як заявила речниця, розміщення миротворців мусить відбутися на всій території зони конфлікту, а не тільки на лінії контакту, як заявляв президент Росії.

Крім того, сепаратисти не мали б отримати права голосу щодо такої миротворчої місії, як говорив Путін. За її словами, це було б неприйнятно.

Деммер також відкинула ідею поступового зняття санкцій із Росії. Коментуючи заяву російського керівника про миротворців, вона сказала: «Крок президента – тільки перший крок, а треба зробити ще дуже багато кроків, перш ніж санкції будуть зняті».

Попереднього дня, у вівторок, міністр закордонних справ Німеччини Зіґмар Ґабріель припустив послаблення санкцій, висловивши задоволення тим, що президент Росії Володимир Путін виступив на підтримку ідеї спрямувати миротворців ООН до українського Донбасу.

Як сказав Ґабріель, пропозиція Путіна – добра можливість домогтися запровадження режиму припинення вогню на сході України і таким чином зробити крок до послаблення санкцій щодо Росії.

«Іще важливіше, що цією пропозицією про місію «блакитних шоломів» на сході України Росія засвідчила зміну своєї політики, і ми не маємо поставитися до цього легковажно. Нам потрібна Росія для вирішення таких конфліктів, як із Північною Кореєю. Було б добре, якби ми могли сприйняти це як завдання домовлятися про нові шляхи розрядки напруженості і політики щодо Сходу – в Німеччині і також у Європі», – додав міністр, відомий своєю прихильністю до ідеї якнайшвидшого зняття санкцій із Росії чи принаймні послаблення їх.

Раніше у вівторок Володимир Путін, влада якого ще наприкінці серпня продовжувала відкидати можливість ввести на Донбас миротворчу місію ООН чи в іншому форматі, несподівано заявив, що вже підтримує цю ідею. Але він наголосив, що, за версією Москви, ці миротворці мають стати виключно на лінії розмежування сторін «і ні на яких інших територіях» – що означало б консервацію становища на окупованій частині Донбасу. Крім того, він заявив, що це питання не може бути вирішене без «прямого контакту» з представниками підтримуваних Росією незаконних збройних сепаратистських угруповань «ДНР» і «ЛНР», визнаних в Україні терористичними.

Цю думку рішуче відкинули в Україні, де наголосили, що будь-яка миротворча місія, чи під егідою ООН, чи ЄС, чи ОБСЄ, має розташуватися на всій окупованій території, і, зокрема, на непідконтрольній нині Києву ділянці українсько-російського кордону, і в такій місії не може брати участі Росія як держава-агресор. Крім того, в Києві заявили, що не мають наміру обговорювати це питання з сепаратистами, які не є стороною конфлікту, бо діють за вказівками Росії – яка й є стороною російсько-українського конфлікту, хоча намагається представити свою агресію як «внутрішньоукраїнський конфлікт».

Тим часом постійний представник Росії в ООН Василь Небензя заявив у вівторок, що вже надіслав листа про пропозицію Москви і російський проект резолюції Ради безпеки ООН про це до генерального секретаря ООН і до голови Ради безпеки.

Зі свого боку, постійний представник України в ООН Володимир Єльченко повідомив, що Україна розробила свій проект резолюції Ради безпеки про введення миротворчої місії на Донбас, у якому зазначено, що участь у місії представників Росії неможлива, а самі миротворці повинні розміщуватися на українсько-російському кордоні. Але він припустив, що Україна може взяти участь і в обговоренні російського проекту як основи для внесення бажаних для України і її союзників змін.

ZIK заявляє про блокування роботи через обшуки у справі Димінського

Медіа-холдинг ZIK заявляє про блокування роботи інформаційного агентства й телеканалу у Львові, куди з обшуком прийшли правоохоронці.

Як заявили в медіа-холдингу, причиною обшуків у поліції назвали слідчі дії у рамках справи про смертельну ДТП з участю автомобіля, який належить інвестору ZIKу, бізнесмену Петрові Димінському. Водночас у ZIK наголосили, що бізнесмен був присутній у вказаному приміщенні один раз – «8 років тому під час урочистого відкриття прес-центру ІА ZIK».

«Це вже виходить за межі й інакше як рейдерським захопленням названо бути не може. Робота телестудії й інформаційного агентства частково заблокована. У діях правоохоронців відсутня будь-яка логіка. Це просто політичне замовлення Авакова і Ко. Я не здивуюся, якщо наші глядачі завтра увімкнуть ZIK і нічого не побачать, мовляв, у зв’язку із ДТП мовлення каналу зупинене», – цитує прес-служба ZIK генерального директора медіа-холдингу Ігоря Туркевича.

6 вересня поліція провела обшук у трьох офісах Димінського у Львові. Про те, в якій справі проводили слідчі дії, у поліції не уточнили.

Водночас народний депутат, радник міністра внутрішніх справ Антон Геращенко заявив, що слідчі Національної поліції провели обшуки за місцями проживання й роботи бізнесмена Петра Димінського з метою пошуку його зразків ДНК для порівняння їх із тими, що були виявлені в автомобілі, водій якого став винуватцем смертельного ДТП.

Головне слідче управління Нацполіції розслідує ДТП на Львівщині з участю автомобіля Димінського, внаслідок якого 18 серпня загинула 31-річна жінка. Відповідальність за ДТП взяв на себе охоронець Димінського, проте родичі загиблої переконані, що за кермом був сам бізнесмен. 22 серпня Димінський залишив Україну, не з’явившись на допит у поліцію.

Міністр внутрішніх справ України Арсен Аваков 30 серпня заявив, що результати експертизи ДНК підтвердили, що охоронець Петра Димінського, який взяв на себе провину за ДТП, не був за кермом на момент аварії, тобто «в машині сліди ДНК однієї людини, і це не той чоловік, який заявив про те, що він був за кермом».

Петро Димінський, 1954 року народження – почесний президент футбольного клубу «Карпати», співвласник телеканалу ZІК, народний депутат України четвертого скликання.

Round of NAFTA Talks Ends Amid Resistance Over Mexico Wages

The second round of talks on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement ended Tuesday amid resistance to discussing Mexico’s low wages and large differences over dispute resolution mechanisms.

 

The head negotiators for all three countries at the talks in Mexico City said progress had been made, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer said some areas were going to be challenging.

 

“There’s no secret that the labor provisions will be contentious and that it’s our objective to have provisions that raise wage rates in Mexico,” Lighthizer said. “I think that’s in the interest of Mexicans and in the interest of the United States.”

 

He also said that while the U.S. had proposed eliminating the current dispute resolution mechanism, “we haven’t had any detailed negotiations” on the system, which is known as Chapter 19.

 

Text was coming together for most chapters of the treaty, however, including small and medium enterprises, competitiveness, digital trade, services and the environment.

 

“The strategy is to conclude in the short term those things that can be concluded” and then tackle the thornier issues, Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo said.

 

Regarding energy, Guajardo said “there are no points of difference or controversy.” He said the main question was whether it should have its own chapter or be spread across all chapters.

 

But those close to the talks said relatively few concrete proposals appear to have been made on contentious issues like dispute-resolution mechanisms, seasonal farm tariffs and regional content rules.

 

The United States wants to eliminate the Chapter 19 private arbitration panels, while Canada wants to keep them. The panels can overrule tariffs, making it harder for the United States to unilaterally block products.

 

“It is clear that there are differing positions on Chapter 19,” Guajardo said.

 

Produce growers, many of whom have operations in all three countries, said they like the current dispute resolution system. They said changing it might force them to adjudicate disputes in courts in one of the three countries, a prospect they don’t relish.

 

“I think industries across all three countries have found Chapter 19 to be an effective, timely method for dealing with disputes,” said the head of the United Fresh Produce Association, Thomas Stenzel. Repealing it “could certainly make it a much more complicated, legalistic process.”

 

The U.S. also wants to tighten labor standards and local content rules in products like autos. But business groups want to keep wages out of the talks. Lighthizer declined to go into detail on either of those topics.

 

“I think mandating wages becomes very difficult across multiple countries,” said Stenzel. “Within the trade agreement itself we believe that the workers’ standards of fair treatment, addressing forced labor, child labor, those issues, is appropriate. But when it comes to wages we don’t feel that that is as appropriate in the trade agreement.”

 

Mexico has drawn plants and investments by capitalizing on low wages and weak union rules, and Mexican business and labor leaders appear to be resistant to any attempt to tighten labor standards or ensure that Mexican wages rise.

 

Mexican and Canadian auto unions have said in a report that Mexican autoworkers earn about $3.95 an hour, which is about one-ninth of average wages north of the border.

 

The United States also wants to increase minimum levels of regional content in products like autos, so that fewer parts are imported from Asia or Europe, assembled in Mexico and labelled “made in North America.”

 

As for seasonal anti-dumping tariffs, Stenzel said growers don’t like the idea though that proposal appears not to have been formalized yet. Such measures seek to protect producers like tomato growers in Florida against surges in Mexican imports. Stenzel and other big producers fear it could be extended to apply to other crops.

 

The five days of talks in Mexico City were held in around two dozen working groups. The first round of talks took place in Washington in mid-August and the next round will be held Sept. 23-27 in Ottawa, Canada.

El Pais: Spanish Auditors Demand Catalan Leaders Pay for 2014 Independence Vote

A Spanish audit office has demanded the former leader of Catalonia and other politicians from the region pay 5 million euros ($5.96 million) for holding a consultative independence ballot in 2014, El Pais newspaper said on Tuesday.

The report, which cited judicial sources, came a day before Catalonia is expected to approve plans to hold an Oct. 1 referendum on a split from Spain.

The 2014 vote was non-binding, a symbolic ballot by pro-independence campaigners that was declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

Catalonia, along with Britain’s Scotland and Belgium’s Flanders, has one of the most active independence movements in the European Union.

El Pais said the former head of the Catalan government, Artur Mas and other regional leaders, were being told by the audit body in charge of overseeing the financing of political parties and the public sector to pay out of their own pocket for organizing the consultation vote.

The money was due by Sept. 25, it said.

The audit office was not immediately available for comment.

The current head of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, said the move was the Spanish state “spreading fear.”

Catalan lawmakers are due to vote on Wednesday on laws approving the referendum and the legal framework to set up an independent state.

The laws are expected to be approved because pro-independence parties have a majority in the regional parliament.

The populous, north-eastern region, with its capital Barcelona, has a strong national identity with its own language and traditions, although polls show support for self-rule waning as Spain’s economy improves.

($1 = 0.8391 euros)

BRICS: Militant Groups Pose a Threat to Regional Security

Leaders of BRICS, an acronym for the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa combined, on Monday expressed concerns over Pakistan-based militant groups and cited them as a problem for regional security.

The economic bloc called for the supporters of these groups to be held accountable.

The call for action comes two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump put Pakistan on notice to stop harboring Afghan militant groups that use Pakistani soil to plan and launch attacks against Afghan and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

BRICS members condemned terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and called for an “immediate cessation of violence” in the country.

“We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates, including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir,” read a joint declaration issued by the economic bloc during its annual summit in China’s Xiamen.

“We reaffirm that those responsible for committing, organizing, or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable,” the declaration added.

While the BRICS statement has not named Islamabad directly, many of the groups cited in the declaration find safe haven in the country.

Washington and Kabul have long accused Islamabad of turning a blind eye to the issue of safe havens for Afghan militant groups.

Trump last month blamed Pakistan for “housing” terrorist groups that are fighting Afghan and American forces in Afghanistan. He vowed not to be “silent about Pakistan’s safe havens” for the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.

New Delhi also has accused Pakistan-based religious groups of supporting militancy in Indian Kashmir.

Analysts say the new charges put additional pressure on Pakistan for its alleged support of regional militant groups that are fighting in Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir.

“The BRICS summit’s decision that Laskar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are a threat to the region will certainly have an impact on Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a political analyst in Pakistan, told VOA.

Possible change in China’s stance

Experts believe the BRICS statement also indicates a change in China’s traditional stance toward militant groups in the region.

“This has now become a necessity, as China and Russia are looking into the matter very seriously and it’s becoming evident that China might not support Pakistan the way it has done in the past,” Pakistani analyst Raza Rumi told VOA.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, believes the BRICS statement is a serious development.

“This is a big deal because China has agreed to single out, on the global stage, terror groups that it typically blocks from getting sanctioned on the global stage,” Kugelman said.

He believes China has economic interests in the region and “needs stability in Pakistan as it builds out its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC] in that country.”

“In fact, Beijing has a strong interest in Pakistan cracking down on all terror groups, not just some,” Kugelman underscored.

Голова МЗС Німеччини висловив задоволення згодою Путіна на миротворців для Донбасу

Міністр закордонних справ Німеччини Зіґмар Ґабріель висловив задоволення тим, що президент Росії Володимир Путін висловив підтримку ідеї спрямувати миротворців ООН до українського Донбасу.

Виступаючи на брифінгу в Берліні, він заявив: «Ми вочевидь радіємо з цього першого сигналу, на мою думку, разючого сигналу, який висловив сьогодні президент Росії Володимир Путін, що він підтримує дальше обговорення того, що Росія раніше відкидала, – спрямування «блакитних шоломів», сил ООН, місії «блакитних шоломів» на схід України, щоб запровадити припинення вогню».

«Іще важливіше, що цією пропозицією про місію «блакитних шоломів» на сході України Росія засвідчила зміну своєї політики, і ми не маємо поставитися до цього легковажно. Нам потрібна Росія для вирішення таких конфліктів, як із Північною Кореєю. Було б добре, якби ми могли сприйняти це як завдання домовлятися про нові шляхи розрядки напруженості і політики щодо Сходу – в Німеччині і також у Європі», – додав він.

За словами Ґабріеля, пропозиція Путіна – добра можливість домогтися запровадження режиму припинення вогню на сході України і таким чином зробити крок до послаблення санкцій щодо Росії.

Наразі не ясно, чи був міністр закордонних справ Німеччини, яка разом із Францією є партнером України в так званому «нормандському форматі» переговорів про врегулювання на окупованій частині українського Донбасу, ознайомлений із ініціативою президента Росії в повному обсязі. Раніше Зіґмар Ґабріель уже висловлювався за послаблення санкцій Євросоюзу щодо Росії.

Раніше у вівторок Володимир Путін, влада якого раніше відкидала можливість ввести на Донбас миротворчу місію ООН чи в іншому форматі, несподівано заявив, що вже підтримує цю ідею, але наголосив, що, за версією Москви, ці миротворці мають стати виключно на лінії розмежування сторін – що означало б консервацію становища на окупованій частині Донбасу.

Цю думку рішуче відкинули в Україні, де наголосили, що будь-яка миротворча місія, чи під егідою ООН, чи ЄС, чи ОБСЄ, має розташуватися на всій окупованій території, і, зокрема, на непідконтрольній нині Києву ділянці українсько-російського кордону, і в такій місії не може брати участі Росія як держава-агресор.

У Міністерстві закордонних справ України, зокрема, заявили, що повідомлення про заяву Путіна свідчать про «чергове намагання Росії як сторони конфлікту представити агресію як внутрішньоукраїнський конфлікт і спотворити саму ідею й цілі запровадження миротворчої операції, що не слугуватиме досягненню головної мети – встановлення сталого миру на Донбасі і відновлення територіальної цілісності України».

Постійний представник України в ООН Володимир Єльченко заявив Радіо Свобода, що питання щодо запровадження миротворчої місії на Донбасі порушить президент України Петро Порошенко, коли буде виступати 20 вересня на сесії Генеральної асамблеї ООН.

Тим часом постійний представник Росії в ООН Василь Небензя заявив, що на виконання вказівок президента Росії, який доручив російському МЗС внести російський проект резолюції щодо миротворців на Донбасі на розгляд Ради безпеки ООН, він уже надіслав листа про це до генерального секретаря ООН і до голови Ради безпеки.

Зовсім недавно, наприкінці серпня, під час перебування в Україні міністра оборони США Джеймза Маттіса Петро Порошенко повідомляв, що обговорив із ним можливе розгортання миротворчої місії ООН з мандатом Ради безпеки ООН в окремих районах Донецької та Луганської областей; тоді російська сторона в особі речниці МЗС Марії Захарової назвала ініціативу України щодо введення миротворців ООН у зону конфлікту на Донбасі спробою перешкодити процесові реалізації мінських домовленостей.

Immigrants Sought for Labor Shortage in Harvey Recovery

As a parade of motorists rolled down their windows on the edges of a Houston Home Depot parking lot offering cash, the crowd of day laborers had slowly thinned to about a dozen by mid-morning.

 

The workers who were already gone were off to tear out soggy carpeting, carry ruined sofas to the curb and saw apart mold-infested drywall. Those who still remained knew they were hot commodities and weren’t going to settle for low offers.

 

The owner of a car dealership shook his head and drove off after his $10-an-hour proposal to clean flooded vehicles drew no takers. A pickup driver who promised $50 for two hours to rip out wet carpeting and move furniture was told the job was too short to be worthwhile.

 

Day laborers — many of them immigrants and many of them in the country illegally — will continue to be in high demand as workers who clear debris make way for plumbers, electricians, drywall installers and carpenters. Employers are generally small, unregulated contractors or individual homeowners, resulting in a lack of oversight that creates potential for workers to be unpaid or work in dangerous conditions.

 

Houston’s day laborers are generally settling for $120 to $150 to clear homes of Harvey’s debris for eight hours. As noon struck Friday, three workers took a job for $100 for up to five hours rather than let the whole day slip. It didn’t hurt that the contractor provided tools, distributed bottles of cold water and dangled the prospect of more steady work clearing other houses.

 

“Now we’ll be busy for the rest of the year,” said the contractor, Nicolas Garcia, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico who has had his own business for 15 years. “Now that this disaster happened, we have to step it up.”

 

Garcia, 55, is working about 20 miles southeast of downtown Houston in the Southbelt/Ellington area, a middle-class residential neighborhood whose main streets are lined with fast-food restaurants, strip malls and churches. Waters reached 5 feet in some streets on Aug. 27, forcing families with young children to escape on neighbors’ boats and inflatable swimming pool toys.

 

The contractor led a caravan of workers to a four-bedroom house that was in better shape than others. Sharon Eldridge, a 63-year-old renter who lives alone, landed in about a foot of water when she stepped out of bed Sunday. Her furniture and clothes were ruined, but she didn’t have to evacuate.

 

Armando Rivera, a 36-year-old Honduran who is living in the country illegally and raising four children with his wife, said it was painful to see so many people die and lose their home, but the storm would jolt the local construction economy.

 

“When there is work, you can live a good life,” he said as he took a break from knifing Eldridge’s water-logged beige carpeting into pieces small enough to carry outside.

 

Construction workers were scarce even before Harvey struck. The Associated General Contractors of America, a trade group, said Tuesday that a survey of 1,608 members showed 58 percent struggled to fill carpentry jobs and 53 percent were having trouble finding electricians and bricklayers. Texas’ shortages were more acute.

Nationwide unemployment in construction was 4.7 percent in August, down from 5.1 percent a year earlier. Ken Simonson, chief economist for the contractor trade group, said the latest indicator was the lowest for any August since the government began keeping track in 2000.

 

“From what I’m reading, we’ve never seen so many homes either destroyed or at least rendered uninhabitable at once,” Simonson said. “I doubt there is enough labor with the skills.”

 

A sharp increase in immigration arrests under President Donald Trump may further limit the labor pool. The Houston office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has made about 10,000 arrests this year, second-highest in the country after Dallas. The region has about 600,000 immigrants in the country illegally, third-largest behind New York and Los Angeles.

 

Laborers who gathered at Home Depot stores for Harvey work — some on their fourth of fifth major storm — swapped stories about exploitation that either they or someone they knew had suffered. Jose Pineda, a Nicaraguan who entered the country illegally in 2005 through the Arizona desert, said he had injured his arm with a saw and was shorted $380 but decided not to complain. Arturo Garcia, a legal resident from Mexico, knows three people who got hernias on the job and had to pay for surgery out of pocket because they were uninsured.

 

Storm recoveries pose heightened danger. A 2009 study by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network found that day laborers working on storm recovery during Hurricane Katrina were commonly exposed to mold, worked on roofs without safeguards against falling and were exposed to chemicals and asbestos.

 

Pineda, 40, joined three other laborers at a three-bedroom house with soaked red carpet, moldy leather chairs, a television and other furniture strewn about as if a tornado hit. The owner balked in the Home Deport parking lot when workers asked for $120 each to clear the house and bargained them down to $100.

 

When Pineda saw the home and experienced its overwhelming stench, he realized it would take much longer than the owner promised and insisted on $150. The workers left when the owner refused.

 

“They didn’t realize that everything in the house was ruined,” said the owner, who identified himself only by his first name, Guy. “We just don’t have the money to pay them.”

 

 

French Prosecutor: Former IAAF President’s Son Focus of Corruption Probe

France’s financial prosecutor said Tuesday the son of the president of track and field’s global governing body was at the center of large corruption investigations.

“The investigations revealed a large-scale system of corruption around Papa Massata Diack, son of Lamine Diack, former IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) president and influential members of the International Olympic Committee,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

The IAAF has regulatory and sanctions authority over IAAF competitions.

The prosecutor’s office said it has evidence showing that payments were made in exchange for votes of IAAF and International Olympic Committee members over the selection of host cities for the “biggest global sporting events.”

The probes initially focused on Tokyo’s designation as the host city for the 2020 Olympic games, but were expanded to include the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

They stem from a two-year-old corruption probe in France that first came to light with the November 2015 arrest of Lamine Diack. French authorities had been investigating allegations that Diack, his son, and others were involved in blackmailing athletes and covering-up doping violations.

The French investigation has evolved into a large probe that involves several law enforcement agencies outside of France. The investigation, named “Unfair Play,” has authorities looking beyond the IAAF to explore possible vote-buying to influence where sports events are hosted.

Brazilian police raided the house of the country’s Olympics chief Tuesday on allegations International Olympic Committee members were bribed to select Rio de Janeiro as host of the 2016 games.

French anti-corruption Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke was seen with Brazil’s federal police as they raided the posh seaside Rio home of Carlos Nuzman, who was detained for questioning but was not arrested. Nuzman’s lawyer, Sergio Mazzillo, told reporters outside Nuzman’s home that he was innocent and would cooperate with authorities.

Brazilian police said in a statement they were investigating an “international corruption scheme.” The statement said 70 officers, accompanied by French officials, searched 11 sites in Rio. An arrest warrant was issued for Nuzman’s associate, Miami resident Arthur Cesar de Menezes Soares Filho, who received lucrative contracts from the Rio government in the spending spree that preceded the Olympics games. A former associate of Soares Filho, Eliane Pereira Cavalcante, was arrested in Rio.

Brazilian prosecutor Fabiana Schneider told reporters Tuesday that Soares Filho allegedly bribed Papa Massata Diack before the 2009 vote that resulted in Rio being named host of the 2016 games. Diack’s father was president of the IAAF at the time and had considerable influence over African votes on the IOC.

Schneider said Nuzman had been the “linchpin” between Soares Filho and the younger Diack.

Nuzman’s lawyer, Sergio Mazzillo, told reporters outside Nuzman’s home that he was innocent and would cooperate with authorities.

The Rio games were generally considered a success until revelations came to light of massive corruption during the preparations.

Former Rio governor Sergio Cabral was sentenced in June to 14 years in jail. He was convicted of bribery and money laundering, including the embezzlement of $64 million from public works projects like Rio’s iconic Maracana football stadium.

Putin: Trump ‘Not My Bride, and I’m Not His Groom’

Russian President Vladimir Putin refrained from criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump at a news conference in China on Tuesday, but said a decision to shutter Russian diplomatic outposts in the U.S. was poorly handled.

Speaking at a news conference during a summit in China on Tuesday, Putin dismissed as “naive” a question about whether he was disappointed in Trump.

In comments carried by Russian news agencies, Putin said Trump is “not my bride, and I’m not his groom.”

Asked how Russia would feel if Trump were impeached, Putin said it would be “absolutely wrong” for Russia to discuss domestic U.S. politics.

Russian officials cheered Trump when he was elected last year, and Putin praised him as someone who wanted to improve ties with Russia. However, further U.S. sanctions on Russia and the U.S. decision to close Russian diplomatic outposts have raised concerns that the two countries remain far apart.

The Trump administration last week ordered the closure of three Russian facilities in the U.S.: The San Francisco consulate and trade missions in New York and Washington. It was the latest in a series of escalating retaliatory measures between the former Cold War foes.

Putin said the U.S. had a right to close consulates but “it was done in such a rude way.”

“It is hard to hold a dialogue with people who mix Austria with Australia,” he continued, an apparent reference to a decade-old gaffe by George W. Bush, who during a 2007 visit to Sydney referred to Austrian troops when he meant Australian troops.

“The American nation, America is truly a great country and a great people if they can tolerate such a big number of people with such a low level of political culture,” Putin said.

Геращенко: українська сторона знає про місце перебування 87 заручників зі 144

Представник України в гуманітарній робочій підгрупі Тристоронньої контактної групи зі врегулювання ситуації на Донбасі, перший віце-спікер Верховної Ради Ірина Геращенко заявляє, що українській стороні відоме місце утримання 87 зі 144 заручників бойовиків на Донбасі. Водночас, за її словами, бойовики підтверджують лише 71.

«Останній рік ключова тема всіх засідань гуманітарної підгрупи – це звільнення заручників, і Україна давно готова до широких компромісів у питаннях звільнення заручників. На жаль, за цей час, як ми бачимо, зросла кількість тих, кого незаконно утримують на окупованих територіях. Сьогодні це 144 українці», – сказала Геращенко.

За словами Геращенко, представники бойовиків в останні кілька місяців шантажем вимагають від України внести до списку на звільнення 43 осіб, які не мають ніякого стосунку до бойових дій на Донбасі.

На уточнювальне запитання, чи дійсно Україна запропонувала обмін заручниками у форматі 87 на 309, про що заявив спецпредставник з питань гуманітарного характеру у Тристоронній контактній групі Віктор Медведчук, Геращенко сказала: «Ми працюємо… Я ніколи не коментую перед роботою групи те, що може зашкодити її роботі завтра».

Наприкінці липня у СБУ повідомляли, що кількість утримуваних проросійськими бойовиками на Донбасі українських заручників складала 137 людей.

У законопроекті про реінтеграцію Донбасу терміну «війна» не буде – Гримчак

У законопроекті про реінтеграцію Донбасу пропонується замінити термін «АТО» на термін «операція з оборони України», але слова «війна» не буде, повідомив в ефірі Радіо Свобода заступник міністра з питань тимчасово окупованих територій і внутрішньо переміщених осіб України Юрій Гримчак.

За його словами, якщо Україна офіційно застосує слова «війна», це тільки допоможе Росії.

«Ми можемо назвати це війною. Тоді фактично ми оголошуємо війну Росії. Сьогодні Росія каже, що «нас там немає». Але коли ми оголошуємо війну, ми починаємо «отримувати» все, що може запропонувати російський ВПК: танки, артилерію, літаки, ракети і багато чого іншого. Це нам потрібно?», – пояснив Юрій Гримчак.

За його словами, у законопроект про реінтеграцію Донбасу внесуть зміни в позицію щодо миротворців і запропонують на розгляд народним депутатам України після сесії Генеральної асамблеї ООН.

«Після того, як пройде Генеральна асамблея ООН і стане зрозуміло, яким чином ми будемо приймати миротворців, ми внесемо зміни… Думаю, що до кінця вересня», – заявив Юрій Гримчак.

20 вересня на Генасамблеї ООН виступатиме президент України Петро Порошенко з пропозиціями щодо миротворчої місії на Донбасі. 

Представник президента України у Верховній Раді України, народний депутат України Ірина Луценко заявила, що законопроект про реінтеграцію Донбасу підготований повністю, за винятком пункту щодо миротворчої місії.

Рада безпеки ООН хоче посилити санкції проти КНДР: чи підтримають їх Росія і Китай?

Рада безпеки ООН хоче посилити санкції проти КНДР: чи підтримають їх Росія і Китай? Хто живе у «Вейшнорії», з якою збирається воювати Путін під час навчань у Білорусі? Чому дорожчає борщ в Україні?

На ці теми ведучий Ранкової Свободи Дмитро Баркар говоритиме з гостями студії. Відповідатимуть на запитання: директор Центру дослідження міжнародних відносин Микола Капітоненко, аналітик Інституту світової політики Микола Белесков; військовий експерт, екс-заступник начальника Генштабу ЗСУ Ігор Романенко, колишній прес-аташе посольства Грузії в Україні Бачо Корчилава; виконавчий директор Економічного дискусійного клубу Олег Пендзин, керівник центру «Інфо-Шувар» Тетяна Гетьман.

For Chinese Millennials, Despondency Has a Brand Name

Chinese millennials with a dim view of their career and marriage prospects can wallow in despair with a range of teas such as “achieved-absolutely-nothing black tea,” and “my-ex’s-life-is-better-than-mine fruit tea.”

While the drink names at the Sung chain of tea stalls are tongue-in-cheek, the sentiment they reflect is serious: A significant number of young Chinese with high expectations have become discouraged and embrace an attitude known on social media as “sang,” after a Chinese character associated with the word “funeral” that describes being dispirited.

“Sang” culture, which revels in often-ironic defeatism, is fueled by internet celebrities, through music and the popularity of certain mobile games and TV shows, as well as sad-faced emojis and pessimistic slogans.

It’s a reaction to cut-throat competition for good jobs in an economy that isn’t as robust as it was a few years ago and when home-ownership — long seen as a near-requirement for marriage in China — is increasingly unattainable in major cities as apartment prices have soared.

“I wanted to fight for socialism today but the weather is so freaking cold that I’m only able to lay on the bed to play on my mobile phone,” 27-year-old Zhao Zengliang, a “sang” internet personality, wrote in one post. “It would be great if I could just wake up to retirement tomorrow,” she said in another.

Such ironic humor is lost on China’s ruling Communist Party.

In August, Sung Tea was called out for peddling “mental opium” by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, which described sang culture in an editorial as “an extreme, pessimistic and hopeless attitude that’s worth our concern and discussion.”

“Stand up, and be brave. Refuse to drink ‘sung tea,’ choose to walk the right path, and live the fighting spirit of our era,” it said.

China’s State Council Information Office did not reply to a request for comment for this story.

Despondency among a segment of educated young people is a genuine concern for President Xi Jinping and his government, which prizes stability.

The intensifying censorship clampdown on media and cyberspace in the run-up to autumn’s Communist Party congress, held once every five years, extends even to negativity, with regulations issued in early June calling for “positive energy” in online audiovisual content.

Later that month, some young netizens were frustrated when Bojack Horseman, an animated American TV series about a half-man/half-horse former sitcom star, and popular among the “sang” generation for his self-loathing and cynicism, was pulled from Chinese streaming site iQiyi.

“Screw positive energy,” Vincent, a 27-year old Weibo user, commented under a post announcing the news.

A spokesperson at iQiyi said the decision to remove Bojack Horseman was due to “internal process issues” but declined to give further details.

Social media and online gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd has even gone on the counterattack against “sang” culture. It has launched an ad campaign around the Chinese word “ran” — which literally means burning and conveys a sense of optimism — with slogans such as “every adventure is a chance to be reborn.”

Only-child blues

Undermining “sang” may take some doing.

“Sang” is also a rebellion against the striving of contemporary urban China, no matter the cost or hopes of achieving a goal. Tied to that is intense social and family pressure to succeed, which typically comes with the expectation that as members of the one-child generation people will support aging parents and grandparents.

Zhao’s online posts, often tinged with dark humor, have attracted almost 50,000 fans on microblogging site Weibo. Zhao turned the subject into a book last year: A Life Where You Can’t Strive for Success All The Time.

While China’s roughly 380 million millennials — or those aged about 18 to 35 — have opportunities that earlier generations would have found unimaginable, they also have expectations that are becoming harder to meet.

The average starting salary for college graduates dropped by 16 percent this year to 4,014 yuan ($608) per month amid intensifying competition for jobs as a record 8 million graduate from Chinese universities — nearly ten times the number in 1997.

Even among elite “sea turtles” — those who return after studying overseas, often at great expense — nearly half of 2017 graduates earned less than 6,000 yuan per month, a Zhaopin.com survey found, with 70 percent of respondents saying their pay is “far below” expectations.

Home-ownership is a nearly universal aspiration in China, but it is increasingly difficult to get on the property ladder in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

An average two-bedroom home in Beijing’s resale market costs around 6 million yuan ($909,835) after prices surged 36.7 percent in 2016, according to Fang.com, China’s biggest real estate website. That’s about 70 times the average per capita disposable income in the city; the ratio is less than 25 times for New York City.

Median per person rent in Beijing, where most of the estimated 8 million renters are millennials, according to Ziroom.com, has risen 33 percent in the past five years to 2,748 yuan a month in June, equivalent to 58 percent of median income in the city, a survey by E-House China R&D Institute found. The costs often mean that young Chinese workers have to live on the edges of cities, with long, stressful journeys to work.

Financial pressures also contribute to young Chinese waiting longer to get married.

In Nanjing, a major eastern city, the median age for first marriages rose to 31.6 last year, from 29.9 in 2012, official data showed.

Rising expectations

“Sang” contrasts with the optimism of those who entered adulthood during the years of China’s double-digit economic growth in previous decades. That generation was motivated by career prospects and life quality expectations that their parents and grandparents, who had learned to “eat bitter” during tougher times, could only dream of.

“Our media and society have shoved too many success stories down our throat,” said Zhao.

“‘Sang’ is a quiet protest against society’s relentless push for achieving the traditional notion of success. It is about admitting that you just can’t make it,” she told Reuters.

It is also a symptom of the lack of channels for frustrated young adults to vent frustration, a survey of 200 Chinese university students by researchers at state think tank Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) found in June.

“The internet itself is a channel for them to release pressure but, due to censorship, it’s impossible to do so by openly venting,” Xiao Ziyang, a CASS researcher, told Reuters.

“It’s necessary for the government to exercise public opinion control to prevent social problems.”

Sung Tea founder Xiang Huanzhong, 29, said he expects pressure on young Chinese adults only to grow, citing the aging of the population as a particular burden for the young.

Xiang has capitalized on the trend with products named after popular “sang” phrases. The chain has single locations in 12 cities after opening its first permanent tea stall in July in Beijing, where a best-selling “sitting-around-and-waiting-to-die” matcha milk tea costs 18 yuan.

Xiang said he chose tame names for his products so as not to attract censure from authorities, leaning toward the self-deprecating.

He took issue with the People’s Daily’s critical editorial.

“It didn’t try to seriously understand at all,” he said.

Wang Hanqi, 21, a student at Nanjing Audit University, sought out Sung Tea after hearing about it on social media.

“I’m a bit disappointed that the names for the tea are not ‘sang’ enough,” he said in an interview outside the Beijing stall.

Growing US Dilemma: Automated Jobs Meet Social Consciousness

Security guard Eric Leon watches the Knightscope K5 security robot as it glides through the mall, charming shoppers with its blinking blue and white lights. The brawny automaton records video and sounds alerts. According to its maker, it deters mischief just by making the rounds.

Leon, the all-too-human guard, feels pretty sure that the robot will someday take his job.

“He doesn’t complain,” Leon says. “He’s quiet. No lunch break. He’s starting exactly at 10.”

Even in the technology hotbed stretching from Silicon Valley to San Francisco, a security robot can captivate passers-by. But the K5 is only one of a growing menagerie of automated novelties in a region where you can eat a delivered pizza made via automation and drink beers at a bar served by an airborne robot. This summer, the San Francisco Chronicle published a tech tourism guide listing a dozen or so places where tourists can observe robots and automation in action.

Yet San Francisco is also where workers were the first to embrace mandatory sick leave and fully paid parental leave. Voters approved a $15 hourly minimum wage in 2014, a requirement that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law for the entire state in 2016. And now one official is pushing a statewide “tax” on robots that automate jobs and put people out of work.

It’s too soon to say if the effort will prevail, let alone whether less-progressive jurisdictions might follow suit. The tussle points to the tensions that can flare when people embrace both technological innovation and a strong brand of social consciousness.

Such frictions seem destined to escalate as automation makes further inroads into the workplace. One city supervisor, Norman Yee, has proposed barring food delivery robots from city streets, arguing that public sidewalks should be solely for people.

“I’m a people person,” Yee says, “so I tend to err on the side of things that should be beneficial and safe for people.” 

Future for workers

Jane Kim, the city supervisor who is pushing the robot tax, says it’s important to think now about how people will earn a living as more U.S. jobs are lost to automation. After speaking with experts on the subject, she decided to launch a statewide campaign with the hope of bringing revenue-raising ideas to the state legislature or directly to voters.

“I really do think automation is going to be one of the biggest issues around income inequality,” Kim says.

It makes sense, she adds, that the city at the center of tech disruption take up the charge to manage that disruption.

“It’s not inherently a bad thing, but it will concentrate wealth, and it’s going to drive further inequity if you don’t prepare for it now,” she says.

“Preposterous” is what William Santana Li, CEO of security robot maker Knightscope calls the supervisor’s idea. His company created the K5 robot monitoring the Westfield Valley Fair mall in San Jose.

The private security industry, Li says, suffers from high turnover and low pay. As he sees it, having robots handle menial tasks allows human guards to assume greater responsibilities — like managing a platoon of K5 robots — and likely earn more pay in the process.

Li acknowledges that such jobs would require further training and some technological know-how. But he says people ultimately stand to benefit. Besides, Li says, it’s wrong to think that robots are intended to take people’s jobs.

“We’re working on 160 contracts right now, and I can maybe name two that are literally talking about, `How can I get rid of that particular human position?”‘

Spurring new jobs

The question of whether — or how quickly — workers will be displaced by automation ignites fierce debate. It’s enough to worry Bill Gates, who suggested in an interview early this year a robot tax as a way to slow the speed of automation and give people time to prepare. The Microsoft co-founder hasn’t spoken publicly about it since.

A report last year from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that 9 percent of jobs in the United States — or about 13 million — could be automated. Other economists argue that the impact will be much less drastic.

The spread of automation should also generate its own jobs, analysts say, offsetting some of those being eliminated. Workers will be needed, for example, to build and maintain robots and develop the software to run them.

Technological innovation has in the past created jobs in another way, too: Work involving new technologies is higher-skilled and typically higher-paying. Analysts say that much of the extra income those workers earn tends to be spent on additional goods and services, thereby creating more jobs.

“There are going to be a wider array of jobs that will support the automation economy,” said J.P. Gownder, an analyst at the research firm Forrester. “A lot of what we’re going to be doing is working side by side with robots.”

What about people who lose jobs to automation but can’t transition to more technologically demanding work?

Lawmakers in Hawaii have voted to explore the idea of a universal basic income to guarantee wages to servers, cooks and cleaners whose jobs may be replaced by machines. Kim, the San Francisco supervisor, is weighing the idea of using revenue from a robot tax to supplement the low wages of people whose jobs can’t be automated, like home health care aides.

Doug Bloch, political director of Teamsters Joint Council 7 in Northern California and northern Nevada, said there have been no mass layoffs among hotel, trucking or food service staff resulting from automation. But that day is coming, he warns.

Part of his responsibility is to make sure that union drivers receive severance and retraining if they lose work to automation.

“All the foundations are being built for this,” he says. “The table is being set for this banquet, and we want to make sure our members have a seat at the table.”

Innovation ‘moves the world forward’

Tech companies insist their products will largely assist, and not displace, workers. Savioke, based in San Jose, makes 3-foot-tall (91 centimeter) robots — called Relay — that deliver room service at hotels where only one person might be on duty at night. This allows the clerk to stay at the front desk, said Tessa Lau, the company’s “chief robot whisperer.”

“We think of it as our robots taking over tasks but not taking over jobs,” Lau says. “If you think of a task as walking down a hall and waiting for an elevator, Relay’s really good at that.”

Similarly, friends Steve Simoni, Luke Allen and Gregory Jaworski hatched the idea of a drink-serving robot one night at a crowded bar in San Francisco. There was no table service. But there was a sea of thirsty people.

“We all wanted another round, but you have to send someone to leave the conversation and wait in line at the bar for 10 minutes and carry all the drinks back,” Allen says.

They created the Bbot, a box that slides overhead on a fixed route at the Folsom Street Foundry in San Francisco, bringing drinks ordered by smartphone and poured by a bartender — who still receives a tip. The bar is in Kim’s district in the South of Market neighborhood.

Simoni says the company is small and it couldn’t shoulder a government tax. But he’s glad policymakers are preparing for a future with more robots and automation.

“I don’t know if we need to tax companies for it, but I think it’s an important debate,” he says.

As for his trio, he says: “We’re going to side with innovation every time. Innovation is what moves the world forward.”

Sweden to Deport 106-Year-Old Afghan Refugee

A 106-year-old woman thought to be the world’s oldest refugee is set to be deported after being denied asylum in Sweden.

Bibihal Uzbeki’s son and grandson carried her on their backs as they fled from Kunduz in northeastern Afghanistan via Iran and Turkey in the hopes of finding haven in Europe.

Their journey made headlines in 2015, when they were part of a huge influx of people who came to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. They traveled by foot and on trains through the Balkans before reaching Sweden.

Two years later, she and her 11 family members are living in the small village of Hova, in central Sweden.

Her family says Uzbeki has suffered a stroke since her application was rejected. They say traveling back to Afghanistan is out of the question for the bed-bound centenarian who is unable to see, speak or walk.

The family is appealing the decision.

The Swedish Migration Agency confirmed in a statement to the Associated Press they had “taken a decision regarding an expulsion in the case,” adding “generally speaking, high age does not in itself provide grounds for asylum.”

People whose applications are rejected are allowed up to three appeals, a time-consuming process. The applications of other family members are in various stages of appeal. 

Мер Львова пообіцяв участь представників «Самопомочі» в «зустрічі» Саакашвілі на кордоні

Міський голова Львова, лідер партії «Об’єднання «Самопоміч» Андрій Садовий заявив, що низка народних депутатів із фракції його партії буде брати участь у «зустрічі» іншого опозиційного до влади України діяча Міхеїла Саакашвілі, який, втративши українське громадянство під час перебування за кордоном, тим не менше анонсував спробу в’їхати до України 10 вересня з Польщі.

«10 вересня мої однопартійці – Ірина Подоляк, Єгор Соболєв, Роман Семенуха, Семен Семенченко та Павло Костенко – будуть на КПП «Краковець», аби проконтролювати дотримання Закону та Конституції України щодо Міхеїла Саакашвілі», – написав він у фейсбуці, не уточнивши, як саме, на його думку, має бути дотриманий закон.

При цьому він назвав «помилкою» і «непродуманим рішенням» указ президента Петра Порошенка про втрату Міхеїлом Саакашвілі громадянства України і висловив сподівання, що до 10 вересня голова держави «зуміє виправити» це рішення, щоб цей день не став, за його словами, «днем ганьби для країни». В чому може виразитися ця ганьба, він теж не уточнив.

Садовий також заявив: «Я хочу, аби позиція «Самопомочі» була чіткою і зрозумілою. Ми не боремось за політика Саакашвілі. Ми захищаємо грубо порушені права громадянина України. Бо завтра те ж саме зроблять і з нашими з вами правами».

Серед опонентів влади України поширена думка, що оформлення втрати Саакашвілі громадянства України було незаконним. Низка політиків і політичних сил уже заявила, що збирає людей на «зустріч» колишнього президента Грузії в оголошені ним день і місце. Туди планують прибути й деякі народні депутати, що мають право недоторканності.

Партія «Рух нових сил Михайла Саакашвілі», яку очолює сам Міхеїл Саакашвілі, заявляє, що українські силовики відповіли на запити адвоката: прямих заборон в’їзду діяча до України немає.

Але через те, що Саакашвілі в момент втрати громадянства України став особою без громадянства, для в’їзду на територію України йому, відповідно до українського законодавства, потрібна в’їзна віза, нагадували в Генеральній прокуратурі України.

Державна прикордонна служба України, зі свого боку, попереджала, що в разі спроби Саакашвілі в’їхати до України з його закордонним паспортом громадянина України, чинність якого скасована, прикордонники, відповідно до законодавства, вилучать цей паспорт і видворять політика за межі України.

Останніми роками Міхеїл Саакашвілі, свого часу президент Грузії, жив в Україні, де набув українського громадянства і був призначений головою Одеської обласної державної адміністрації. Після відставки з цієї посади Саакашвілі став різко критикувати владу України і заявляв про свої плани скинути її.

Наприкінці липня стало відомо, що президент України Петро Порошенко своїм указом затвердив втрату Міхеїлом Саакашвілі громадянства України – за повідомленнями, через свідоме подання неправдивих відомостей при набутті українського громадянства. Сам Саакашвілі на той момент перебував за кордоном, у США, і перебуває там досі, подорожуючи країнами Європи.

При цьому він стверджує, що далі користується своїм українським паспортом, чинність якого Україна скасувала. Це рішення скасувати чинність паспорта інші держави не зобов’язані визнавати. Твердження Саакашвілі щодо паспорта наразі не підтверджені й не заперечені з незалежних джерел.

Tens of Thousands in Russia’s Chechnya Rally for Rohingya

In an apparent bid to raise his profile as Russia’s most influential Muslim, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of the capital Grozny on Monday to protest what he called the “genocide of Muslims” in Myanmar.

Violence over the past few days in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has killed nearly 400 people and prompted thousands of ethnic Rohingya refugees to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. The Russian government has not been clear in its stance on the Myanmar violence, giving Kadyrov an opportunity to criticize it for inaction.

State television footage showed tens of thousands rallying in Grozny’s main square to support the Rohingya. Chechnya is predominantly Muslim.

In his address to the rally that was interrupted with shouts of “Allahu akbar” (“God is great!” in Arabic), Kadyrov compared the violence against Rohingya to the Holocaust.

 

Kadyrov, who has ruled the republic for more than a decade, keeps a tight grip on Chechen society, and any public displays there are carefully orchestrated.

 

Local police authorities reported that 1.1 million people attended the rally. The entire population of Chechnya is 1.4 million, according to official statistics.

 

In a video released earlier, Kadyrov issued a vague threat to “go against” the Russian government if it does not act to stop the violence.

 

“If Russia were to support the devils who are perpetrating the crimes, I will go against Russia,” he said.

 

On Monday, police arrested 20 people for disturbing public order outside the Myanmar embassy in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported. On Sunday, some 800 people held an unauthorized protest outside the embassy.

 

Russia has developed military ties with Myanmar in recent years. Russia’s defense minister hosted Myanmar’s commander in chief in June, and Russia has been selling arms to the South Asian nation including some of its most advanced fighter jets and artillery systems.

 

Kadyrov fought with Chechen separatists in a war with Russian forces in the 1990s, but switched sides in the second war that began in 1999.

 

In recent years, Kadyrov has cultivated ties with several leaders in the Muslim world and has recently used Russia’s involvement in Syria to position himself as Russia’s most influential Muslim. Kadyrov’s opaque charitable foundation has been sending humanitarian aid to Syrian children and offering funds to restore Aleppo’s oldest mosque and other landmarks.

 

 

 

Egypt Finalizes Deal With Russia for First Nuclear Plant

Russian media say Egypt has finalized a deal to build a nuclear power plant with funding from Moscow after nearly two years of negotiations.

 

The reports Monday came after Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in China, where they were attending a summit.

 

The nuclear plant will be built in Dabaa, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of Cairo on the Mediterranean coast.

 

Egypt’s presidency says el-Sissi has invited Putin to Egypt to mark the start of construction.

 

In 2015, Egypt signed an agreement with Russia to build a four-reactor power plant. It will receive a $25 billion Russian loan to cover 85 percent of the plant, with a capacity of 4,800 MW.

US Farmers Look for Economic Boost From NAFTA Negotiations

Ken Beck characterizes his life as a farmer in the U.S. right now as a gamble.

“Risky at best,” he told VOA. “There is no money in this game anymore.”

 

Beck says he is entering a fifth year of losing money, due in part to lower corn and soy prices, along with high input costs for fertilizer and seed.  

 

But he says there is something the U.S. government can do to help.

 

“Trade. Which is under attack right now.”

 

The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP agreement, earlier this year erased Beck’s hope for increased demand, and ultimately a boost in prices for his corn and soybeans.

 

That is why he now is closely watching the U.S. government’s efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with Canada and Mexico.

 

Campaign promises

Renegotiating NAFTA fulfills a campaign promise made by President Donald Trump. While much of the focus is on manufacturing jobs, the original NAFTA agreement, signed in 1994, provided a critical boost for U.S. agricultural exports, and farmers like Beck are concerned about any changes to the current agreement that could negatively affect their bottom line.  

 

“For a corn producer, grain producer, NAFTA’s been extremely good,” said Beck, standing not far from some of that produce which could ultimately travel south of border after it is harvested later this year.

 

The U.S. sent more than $2.5 billion of corn to Mexico in 2016, making the U.S. one of the top suppliers to its southern neighbor.

 

“They have a rising middle class there that wants to eat protein, and I produce protein,” Beck explained.

 

But this year, Mexican imports of both U.S. soybean and corn are down, and Beck knows his protein isn’t the only one on the market.

 

“Mexico for the first time in history bought corn from Argentina. Was it cheaper? No. But they are sending a signal,” he said.

 

Other signals that concern Beck are those from President Trump, who has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA, creating further uncertainty for U.S. farmers.

 

“I think everybody’s running a little bit scared because we are in uncharted territory,” he told VOA.

 

“If you have a shock like pulling out of TPP or not keeping the agreement going on NAFTA, it makes the markets nervous and it lowers the farmers farm income,” said Tamara Nelsen, senior director of commodities for the Illinois Farm Bureau.  

 

She has heard from many farmers in recent weeks, including those she met with during the 2017 Farm Progress show in Decatur Illinois — one of the largest Farm shows in the country — who tell her they are concerned about the increased rhetoric as negotiations continue.

 

“We hope that some of the rhetoric, like anti-trade, anti-exports for agriculture, will turn around and we’ll actually have some achievements,” said Nelsen.

 

Status quo

Meanwhile, Beck says he isn’t looking for dramatic changes for agriculture in NAFTA, and would be satisfied with the status quo.

“Hopefully cooler heads prevail and we can tweak this,” he said, “or do a little something, and nothing much really changes.”

 

Whatever happens, Nelsen says it’s important to reach a new agreement — soon. “There’s a presidential election next year in Mexico, and so if things do not move quickly, it’s possible they might make progress here in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico in the next four months, and then we might see a slide into some stalemate. So the hope is, by Ag groups and others, to keep it moving.”

 

Beck also hopes negotiations keep moving, because time to make money isn’t on his side at the moment.

 

“Decisions in the next few weeks are going to have to be made for next year already,” he noted. “If you are going to start cutting costs, where do you start?”

 

As Beck keeps one eye on his bank account, the other is looking at the skies above his Illinois farm as he deals with the other major unknown in his life right now — the weather.

 

 

Merkel Weathers Election Debate, Appears Dominant

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-left challenger Martin Schulz failed to land a blow Sunday in the German election campaign’s one and only TV debate between party leaders.

A relaxed chancellor easily parried the attacks from Schulz, whose Social Democrats (SPD) have propped up Merkel’s conservatives in a “grand coalition” government since 2013.

With three weeks to go before the polls Schulz, a former European Parliament president, has been unable to engineer momentum to close a big gap between his party and Merkel’s conservatives, who in the latest surveys enjoy a 14 percent edge.

Migrants, Turkey

Schulz attacked Merkel for her 2015 decision to throw open Germany’s borders for mainly Syria asylum-seekers stranded in Hungary, arguing that she should have consulted Germany’s neighbors before making a decision that triggered central European leaders to close their borders, placing an even greater burden on Germany.

Merkel responded that she had to take a quick decision to relieve a growing humanitarian crisis, “In the life of a chancellor, there are moments when you need to make decisions.”

Schulz also took aim at the Chancellor’s handling of Turkey amid rising tensions between the two countries, which are currently in yet another stand-off, this time over the arrests of a dozen German citizens.

But the center-left challenger’s barbs on Turkey didn’t shake Merkel, and allowed her to appear tough on Ankara by announcing a new position on Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, saying, “The fact is that Turkey should not become an EU member.”

Merkel’s performance

Polls during and immediately after the one-on-one debate aired by all four of Germany’s main broadcasters showed voters saw the confident Merkel as more credible and likable than the hesitant Schulz. One poll found 44 percent found Merkel more convincing than Schulz, whom only 32 percent found convincing.

Commentators faulted Schulz for failing to press Merkel, who has been in power now for 12 years, on some of the key challenges Germany faces — including renewing the country’s infrastructure, education and how the country will handle growing defense responsibilities. He chose to be more aggressive on foreign policy than on the domestic issues that trouble many Germans and clashed for several minutes with the Chancellor over motorway tolls, hardly a populist issue that can swing an election.

“This was Mr Schulz’s one big chance to change the direction and narrative of the election campaign, and he blew it,” judged the Economist magazine. The Social Democrats partly chose Schulz to be their candidate because his tenure in Brussels meant he would be in a better position to criticize the chancellor than others in the party who have had to work with her. But he appeared not to use that advantage in Sunday’s debate.

A year ago Germany’s veteran leader appeared to be in trouble with her popularity plummeting in reaction to her handling of the migration crisis roiling Europe. But after the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. her poll numbers started to climb again. Her aides jokingly explained the improving poll ratings as due to “the Trump factor.”

She seemed also to get a lift from political turmoil in Britain following the Brexit referendum. Instability elsewhere appeared to be pushing Germans to favor continuity and sticking with experience and positioning Merkel in a strong position for this month’s federal election.

One of the key questions, though, as Germany heads into the home stretch of campaigning is who Merkel will decide her right-leaning Christian Democratic Union should partner with to form a coalition government.

Seeking partners

As the CDU will not secure sufficient seats in the German Bundestag to govern alone it will either have to partner once again with the Social Democrats or with the Free Democrats and Greens and that may have major consequences for Germany’s position on European Union reforms being proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The electoral performance of Germany’s far-right anti-immigrant party, Alternative for Germany, which likely will become the third-largest­ faction in the German parliament after the September 24 election, could well have a bearing on the Merkel’s choice of coalition partners for her fourth term in office, say analysts.

While the AfD has failed to shape a right-wing populist wave, it will, according to the latest opinion polls, break the threshold needed to secure seats in the Bundestag. Polls give the far-right nationalist party about an 11 percent share of the vote, which would translate to about 60 Bundestag seats.

But as it tries to reshape itself as more of a political party than a protest movement, the AfD hasn’t backed away from Islamophobia, presumably having decided that it needs to consolidate its base rather than to try to try to reach out to a wider public. It has run throughout the campaign what critics charge has been inflammatory advertising. One of its election posters depicts two women wearing skimpy swim-wear with the tagline: “Burkas? We prefer bikinis.”

Another recalls Nazi propaganda, with a smiling, pregnant German under the caption: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.”