Thanksgiving Meals Help Low Income Families

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This week is Thanksgiving in the United States, a national holiday during which people celebrate their blessings over the past year. Traditionally a large meal is shared with friends and family. Not everyone can afford to do that, though, so some food banks are providing special Thanksgiving meals to low-income families. VOA’s Deborah Block takes us to the largest food bank in northern Virginia, where Thanksgiving packages are being handed out so everyone can enjoy the holiday.
 

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French Farmers Fight for Survival

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Farmers across France are protesting poor economic and social conditions in the farming community. Hundreds of tractors disrupted traffic in Paris and other major cities in a demonstration organized by the National Federation of Agricultural Holders’ Unions and the union of young farmers. Farmers unloaded tires to block some roads and scattered hay bales across the Champs-Elysées, the central avenue in Paris. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports farmers demand a response from President Emmanuel Macron.
 

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Study: For HIV-Infected Babies, Treatment Best Started at Birth

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Babies born with HIV benefit the most if treatment is started within hours or days of birth rather than waiting for them to be a little older, a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine found.

A Harvard-led study of 40 infected infants in Botswana found those treated within hours of birth developed a much smaller viral reservoir, the pool of virus that remains within the body during and after treatment and is responsible for later relapses. While babies who were given the medications starting at four months after birth did not fare as well.

The first group of babies also had more robust immune systems even than babies born without the virus.

The study was based on a case in the U.S. know as the “Mississippi Baby.” That case involved a baby who was treated within 30 hours of birth in July 2010. Her family stopped treatment when she was a toddler and she stunned the medical community by remaining in remission for 27 months before she relapsed and restarted treatment.

The findings of the Mississippi Baby case and the study in Botswana are particularly important to poorer nations where at-risk babies are not tested for HIV immediately after birth, as they are in the U.S., Europe and South Africa.

The availability of anti-HIV drugs can prevent infected moms from passing the virus on to their children but despite that, a study found that some 300-500 infants are thought to be infected every day in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Trump: ‘Not Looking for War’ With Iran

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U.S. President Donald Trump says he is “not looking for war” with Iran and willing to negotiate with its leaders without preconditions, but that under no circumstances can the Islamic Republic be allowed to mass a nuclear weapons arsenal.

Trump told NBC’s Meet the Press show that if the U.S. went to war with Iran, “It’ll be obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”

“But,” he added, “I’m not looking to do that.”

The U.S. leader said, “Here it is. Look, you can’t have nuclear weapons. And if you want to talk about it, good. Otherwise, you can live in a shattered economy for a long time.”

Trump’s comments, taped Friday, were aired after he announced Saturday, without providing any details, that he plans to impose “major” new sanctions on Iran on Monday. He said the sanctions would be dropped as soon as the country becomes “a productive and prosperous nation again.”

Iran cannot have Nuclear Weapons! Under the terrible Obama plan, they would have been on their way to Nuclear in a short number of years, and existing verification is not acceptable. We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday. I look forward to the day that…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2019

Two other key U.S. officials, national security adviser John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence, issued new warnings to Iran that Trump’s last-minute decision to not militarily retaliate for Tehran’s Thursday shoot-down of an unmanned U.S. drone near the Strait of Hormuz should not be viewed as a sign of “weakness.”

National security adviser John Bolton talks to reporters about Venezuela, outside the White House, May 1, 2019, in Washington.

“Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness,” Bolton said in Jerusalem ahead of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East,” Bolton said of Iran. “Our military is rebuilt new and ready to go.”

Pence told the CNN television network, “Iran must not take restraint for a lack of resolve. This is a president who hopes for the best for the Iranian people…but we will stand up to their provocations.”

Bolton said existing sanctions against Tehran already are having a sharp effect on the Tehran economy.

“Sanctions are biting,” he said. “Iran can never have nuclear weapons — not against the U.S.A. and not against the world.”

Trump spoke with reporters Saturday at the White House before leaving for the presidential retreat at Camp David outside Washington for a meeting with top administration officials, at one point saying as soon as Tehran agreed to renounce nuclear weapons, “I’m going to be their best friend.”

Trump’s tone was much softer on Saturday after a week of intense actions between the U.S. and Iran.

Concern about a potential armed confrontation between the U.S. and Iran has been growing since U.S. officials recently blamed Tehran for mine attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, allegations Tehran denies, and Iran’s downing of the drone.

On Friday, Trump said that he had canceled late Thursday a retaliatory strike against several Iranian targets.

He tweeted that the United States was “cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,” Trump tweeted, saying the action would have been disproportionate.

Pence said the U.S. was “not convinced” the downing of the drone “was authorized at the highest level” of the Iranian government. As Trump weighed how to respond last week, he said the shoot-down might have been launched on orders of a “loose and stupid” Iranian officer.

World powers have called for calm after the incidents.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged for a political resolution of the crisis. “That is what we are working on,” she told Reuters.

On Sunday, Britain’s Middle East minister, Andrew Murrison, will travel to Tehran for talks with Iranian officials.

Britain’s Foreign Office said Murrison would call for “urgent de-escalation in the region.” He will also discuss Iran’s threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal that the United States pulled out of last year.  

James Phillips, a senior researcher at the conservative Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said he believes the immediate risk of a U.S.-Iran conflict has passed.

“It’s probably over as far as the incident goes with the shoot down of the drone. But, I think if there are further provocations, the president will respond in a strong and effective manner,” he said.

Phillips also said he does not expect Tehran to accept U.S. calls for negotiations while Trump continues a “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions on Iran. “I doubt that Tehran will be serious until it sees who wins the next presidential election,” he said.

The U.S. announced this week it was authorizing another 1,000 troops — including a Patriot missile battery and additional manned and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft to bolster defenses at U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria.

 

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Ruling Party Candidate Concedes Defeat in Istanbul Re-Vote

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The ruling party candidate in the re-run of Istanbul’s mayoral election, Binali Yildirim, has conceded defeat to opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu.

Sunday’s vote was held because election authorities controversially annulled Imamoglu’s initial historic election victory in March on a technicality after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan disputed the defeat of his candidate.

Electoral authorities rejected Erdogan’s AKP Party’s claims of voting fraud, but ordered a revote on the grounds a number election officials were ineligible. The opposition condemned the decision and claimed the Sunday vote is now more than just about who runs the city.

In a sign of the importance of Sunday’s election, voting was brisk from the moment the Kadikoy district ballot station opened, in a city where people traditionally vote late.  Early heavy voting  was reported across the city.

“The election is very important for Turkey, this will change the face of Turkey,” said retiree Cengiz Demir, one of the first to vote in Kadikoy district. “We have to return to democratic settings. Maybe more than a majority have had enough of one man rule,” he added.

One man rule is a reference to President Erdogan who many of his opponents accuse of undermining democracy and turning Turkey into an authoritarian state.

“In the name of our Turkey, in the name of our Istanbul, we are going through a very important election,” Imamoglu said to hundreds of supporters after voting. “This is not only about the Istanbul metropolitan, municipal election but at the same time a day for the repair the damage of this unlawful process imposed on our nation for the sake of democracy in Turkey.”

Observers say Imamoglu’s strategy of avoiding polarizing politics and pledging inclusivity has been key to turning his CHP party’s fortunes around in the city.

“I have so many hopes for Turkey,” said Ayse, a teacher who only wanted to be identified by her first name, “Imamoglu is the only person who can make the change. Before I was so pessimistic.”

The importance of Sunday’s election has seen hundreds of thousands of people cut short their vacations to vote. The city’s airports and roads were full the night before the polls opened.

“This is so important,” said Deniz Tas speaking after voting, “I have traveled 12 hours on the road to vote and to right this injustice that has been done.”

Istanbul is Erdogan’s home city and has been his power-base for 25 years, since his rise to power started as the city’s mayor. The city accounts for a third of Turkey’s economy and nearly half the taxation, and the mayorship is widely seen as Turkey’s most important political prize after the presidency.

Underscoring the importance of the vote,  Erdogan has again put his political prestige on the line, campaigning heavily for Yildirm in the run-up to the election.  Erdogan too claims democracy is at stake, repeatedly accusing the opposition of voter manipulation. Observers say a second defeat for Erdogan could have significant consequences, damaging his reputation of electoral invincibility empowering opponents both in and outside his party.

In what was a bitter campaign Yildirim appeared conciliatory. “If we’ve ever made any wrongdoing to any rival or brother in Istanbul, I would like to ask for their forgiveness and blessing,” he said after casting his vote.

 Some AKP supporters expressed similar sentiments. “Re-vote happens in other countries, too, the voting can be repeated,” said a woman who didn’t want to be named.  “It is very normal that we have a repeat as well. The candidate who deserves it should win. The person with experience will win. Also, for us, Binali Yildirim has the experience to run Istanbul.”

 Both the leading candidates mobilizing thousands of lawyers and monitors to scrutinize the vote, claiming to defend democracy, Istanbul is bracing itself for a tense election.

 

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India Dismisses US Religious Freedom Report

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India says it is proud of its secular credentials as it rejected a U.S. report that said that religious freedom in the country has come under attack in recent years.

The latest U.S. State Department Report on International Religious Freedom released Friday said that right wing Hindu-groups claiming to protect cows that Hindus consider holy had used “violence, intimidation, and harassment” against Muslims and low-castes. It also noted that Christians have been targeted for proselytizing.

In a statement, the Indian Foreign Ministry said that no foreign government had the right to criticize its record. “We see no locus standi for a foreign entity to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.” It said that India is proud of “its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion.”

New Delhi’s sharply worded statement comes ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to India starting Tuesday. His talks in New Delhi are expected to lay the ground for a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Japan later next week.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party also rejected the U.S. report on religious freedom saying that the presumption that “there is some grand design behind anti-minority violence is simply false.”

In a statement, party media head Anil Baluni said that Prime Minister Modi and other BJP leaders have strongly deplored violence against minorities and weaker sections of the society.

The U.S. report had said that senior BJP officials had last year made “inflammatory speeches” against religious minorities and that despite Indian government statistics indicating that communal violence has increased sharply over the past two years, the Modi administration has not addressed the problem.

 

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Amazon Set to Begin Drone Package Delivery

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The giant e-commerce technology company, Amazon, has announced that it expects to start delivering orders to shoppers’ homes by drones in the coming months. The details are still in the works, but the innovation could change the way we get packages. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Trade Experts Unruffled About Rare Earth Minerals Supply

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Rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China have sparked worries about the 17 exotic-sounding rare earth minerals needed for high-tech products like robotics, drones and electric cars. 

 

China recently raised tariffs to 25% on rare earth exports to the U.S. and has threatened to halt exports altogether after the Trump administration raised tariffs on Chinese products and blacklisted telecommunications giant Huawei.  

  

With names like europium, scandium and ytterbium, the bulk of rare earth minerals are extracted from mines in China, where lower wages and lax environmental standards make production cheaper and easier.  

  

But trade experts say no one should panic over China’s threats to stop exporting the elements to the U.S. 

 

There is a U.S. rare minerals mine in California. And Australia, Myanmar, Russia and India are also top producers of the somewhat obscure minerals. Vietnam and Brazil both have huge rare earth reserves.  

  

The sky is not falling,'' said Mary B. Teagarden, a China specialist, professor and associate dean at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix.There are alternatives.” 

 

Simon Lester, associate director of the center for trade policy studies at the Cato Institute think tank in Washington, agreed. “Over the short term, it could be a big disruption, but companies that want to stay in business will find a way,” he said.    

Although the U.S. is among the world’s top 10 countries for rare earths production, it’s also a major importer of the minerals, looking to China for 80% of what it buys from other countries, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. China last year produced 120,000 metric tons of rare earths, while the United States produced 15,000 metric tons.  

Mountain Pass Mine

 

The United States also depends on China to separate the minerals pulled from Mountain Pass Mine, the sole rare earths mine in the U.S., which was bought two years ago by the Chicago-based JHL Capital Group LLC .  

  

“We need to develop a U.S.-based supply chain so there is no possibility we can be threatened,” said Ryan S. Corbett, managing director of JHL Capital. 

 

The mine’s top products are neodymium and praseodymium, two elements that are used together to make the lightweight magnets that help power electric cars and wind turbines and are found in electronics such as laptop hard drives. 

 

Mountain Pass, located in San Bernardino County, Calif., was once the top supplier of the world’s rare earth minerals, but China began taking over the market in the 1990s and the U.S. mine stopped production in 2002.  

  

Mountain Pass later restarted production, only to close again amid a 2015 bankruptcy. Corbett said extraction resumed last year after JHL Capital purchased the site with QVT Financial LP of New York, which holds 30%, and Shenghe Resources Holding Co. Ltd. of China, a nonvoting shareholder with 9.9%.  

  

Since then, Mountain Pass has focused on achieving greater autonomy with a $1.7 billion separation system set to go online late next year that would allow it to skip sending rare earths ore to China for that step. 

 

China could hurt itself in the long run by cutting off the U.S., specialists said.  

  

David Merriman, a rare earths analyst for Roskill commodity research in London, said that during a similar trade flap with China in 2011, Japan began looking to other countries, including Australia, for the minerals needed to manufacture electronics.   

Australian rare earths production giant Lynas Corp. Ltd. this month announced a proposed deal with Blue Line Corp. of Texas for a separation facility at an industrial site in Hondo, Texas.  

Other deposits

  

There may be other options, too. Deposits of rare earths have been detected in other U.S. states, including Wyoming and Alaska, as well in several remote areas of Canada. The Interior Department is calling for more prospecting and mining of “critical minerals,” including on public lands currently considered off-limits, and even in oceans. 

 

We have to be more forward-thinking,'' said Alexander Gysi, an assistant professor in geology and geological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.It would be better for the U.S. to have a greater range of sources for rare earths.”

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G-20 Finance Leaders’ Goal: Adapt to Turmoil in Trade, Tech

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Financial leaders of the Group of 20 gathered Saturday to brainstorm ways to adapt global finance to an age of trade turmoil and digital disruptions.

The central bank governors and other financial regulators meeting in this southern Japanese port city also flagged risks from upsets to the global economy as Beijing and Washington clash over trade and technology.

Asked if other financial leaders attending the meetings in Fukuoka were raising concerns over the impact on global markets and trade from President Donald Trump’s crusade against huge, chronic U.S. trade deficits, especially with China, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said no.

Trump and members of his administration contend that the ripple effects of the billions of dollars in tariffs imposed by Washington on Chinese exports over the past year are creating new business opportunities for other businesses in the U.S. and other countries.

But Mnuchin acknowledged that growth has been slowing in Europe, China and other regions.

“I’m hearing concerns if we continue on this path there could be issues. There will be winners and losers,” he said.

The G-20 officials were expected to express their support for adjusting monetary policy, for example by making borrowing cheaper through interest rate cuts, in a communique to be issued as meetings wrap up on Sunday.

Their official agenda on Saturday was focused on longer-term, more technical issues such as improving standards for corporate governance, policing cyber-currencies and reforming tax systems to ensure they are fair for both traditional and new, online-based industries.

Ensuring that governments capture a fair share of profits from the massive growth of businesses like Google and Amazon has grown in importance over the many years the G-20 finance chiefs have been debating the reforms aimed at preventing tax evasion and modernizing policies to match a financial landscape transformed by technology.

One aim is to prevent a “race to the bottom” by countries trying to lure companies by offering unsustainably and unfairly low tax rates as an incentive.

Mnuchin said he disagreed with details of some of the proposals but not with the need for action.

“Everyone, we are now facing a turning point,” Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso told the group. “This could be the biggest reform of the long established international framework in over 100 years.”

Some European members of the G-20, especially, want to see minimum corporate tax rates for big multinationals. France and Britain have already enacted stop-gap tax systems for digital businesses, but they are not adequate, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

“For the time being there is no fair taxation of this new economic model,” Le Maire said, adding that the hope is to have an agreement by the year’s end.

The issue is not confined to the wealthiest nations. Indonesia, a developing country of 260 million with more than 100 million internet users, is also struggling to keep up.

“The growth has been exponential but we cannot capture this growth in our GDP as well as in our tax revenue,” said Indonesian Finance Minister Mulyani Indrawati.

Mobile banking, big data, artificial intelligence and cloud computing are among many technologies that are expanding access to financial services for many people who in the past might not have even used banks.

But such innovations raise questions about protecting privacy and cybersecurity, Aso said.

“We need to stay vigilant against risks or challenges,” Aso said.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is hosting the G-20 for the first time since it was founded in 1999. The venue for the annual financial meeting, Fukuoka, is a thriving regional hub and base for start-ups.

The G-20 groups include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

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With Mexico Deal Done, US Urges China to Resume Trade Talks

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One down, still others to go. President Donald Trump claimed a victory after Washington and Mexico agreed on measures to stem the flow of Central American migrants into the United States.

Trump called off plans to impose a 5% tax on Mexican exports, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, speaking to reporters Saturday in Fukuoka on the sidelines of a meeting of financial leaders of the Group of 20 major economies, urged China to follow suit and return to stalled negotiations.

Mnuchin said he planned to have a private conversation with the head of China’s central bank, Yi Gang. In a G-20 group meeting later in the day, the two were seen exchanging friendly remarks, but there were no fresh signs Beijing is ready to compromise in the dispute over trade and technology.

“From our perspective of where we are now, it is a result of them backtracking on significant commitments,” Mnuchin said. “I don’t think it’s a breakdown in trust or good or bad faith. … If they want to come back and complete the deal on the terms we were negotiating, that would be great.”

Mnuchin said he had no direct message to give to Yi, who has participated in the 11 rounds of talks so far on resolving the dispute between the world’s two largest economies over technology and trade.

He said there were no plans for trade talks in Washington or Beijing before Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping are due to meet in Osaka for the G-20 summit on June 28-29.

“This will be a one-on-one with Gov. Yi to talk alone about the trade issues,” Mnuchin said. But he added, “I would expect the main progress will be at the G-20 meetings of the presidents.”

The Trump administration began slapping tariffs on imports of Chinese goods nearly a year ago, accusing Beijing of using predatory means to lend Chinese companies an edge in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and electric vehicles. Those tactics, the U.S. contends, include hacking into U.S. companies’ computers to steal trade secrets, forcing foreign companies to hand over sensitive technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market and unfairly subsidizing Chinese tech firms.

The deal with Mexico helps alleviate uncertainty over the deal Washington recently reached on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement. The new U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal has been heading toward a vote in Congress and might have been stymied by new tariffs. But the U.S. is still negotiating new trade deals with Japan after withdrawing from a Pacific Rim arrangement, the Obama-era proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

America’s huge trade deficit with China — a record $379 billion last year — is one factor driving Trump’s frustrations with Beijing.

The United States now is imposing 25% taxes on $250 billion in Chinese goods. Beijing has counterpunched by targeting $110 billion worth of American products, focusing on farm goods such as soybeans in a deliberate effort to inflict pain on Trump supporters in the U.S. heartland.

The U.S. side has been preparing to expand retaliatory tariff hikes of 25% on another $300 billion of Chinese products, and Mnuchin indicated it was prepared to take that step if negotiations with Beijing fail. But he said Trump had not yet made a decision on that, suggesting room for further delays depending on the outcome of his discussion with Xi later this month.

“As the president has said, if we can get the right agreement, that’s great. If we can’t, we will proceed with tariffs,” he said.

 

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