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  • Ford to Close Oldest Brazil Plant, Exit South America Truck Business

    Ford Motor Co. said on Tuesday it will close its oldest factory in Brazil and exit its heavy commercial truck business in South America, a move that could cost more than 2,700 jobs as part of a restructuring meant to end losses around the world.

    Ford previously said the global reorganization, to impact thousands of jobs and possible plant closures in Europe, would result in $11 billion in charges.

    Following that announcement, analysts and investors had expected a similar restructuring in South America. Ford Chief Executive Jim Hackett said last month that investors would not have to wait long for the South American reorganization plan.

    The factory slated for closure is in Sao Bernardo do Campo, an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo that has operated since 1967.

    It first produced a number of auto models before being switched predominantly to trucks in 2001. It makes the F-4000 and F-350 trucks, as well as the Fiesta small car, a sales laggard.

    The factory closure may mean Ford is refocusing on the core of its car business in Latin America’s largest economy, based in a much newer factory in the northeastern state of Bahia. But the job cuts in Brazil’s industrial heartland represent a psychological blow for the new administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, which is battling an unemployment rate above 11 percent.

    Ford’s latest cuts come as investors watch for signs of progress on the company’s alliance with Volkswagen AG, which already encompasses commercial vans and pickup trucks but may soon expand into electric and self-driving cars. The two automakers have also pledged to work together on other projects, which could include combining capacity in regions like South America.

    Ford shares closed up 3.4 percent at $8.83 in New York.

    “You can’t cost cut your way to prosperity in the long term,” said David Kudla, who heads Michigan-based Mainstay Capital Management, a firm that previously owned Ford stock. “We want to hear about the future, what you’re doing for mobility services and autonomous vehicles.”

    The closure is also a blow to the industrial outskirts of Sao Paulo, where Brazil’s automotive industry was born and which long drove its industrial growth. It is also where imprisoned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to fame as a union leader who organized massive strikes that helped harken the end of the military dictatorship.

    The union in Sao Bernardo did not have an immediate comment.

    But Sao Bernardo Mayor Orlando Morando complained angrily that Ford gave no warning and failed to discuss the closure with the workers.

    “The 2,800 families directly affected and another 2,000 indirectly affected deserved a chance to react. This is an act of cowardice,” Morando’s office said in a statement.

    A Ford spokesman declined to provide a precise figure for job cuts but acknowledged there would be “a significant impact” and said the automaker would work with unions and other affected parties on “next steps.”

    Ford South America President Lyle Watters said on Tuesday the automaker remains “committed” to South America, a region where it is not currently profitable.

    Slow Growth

    Sales of Ford cars and light trucks grew by 10 percent between 2017 and 2018 in Brazil, lagging a 15 percent post-recession increase for the industry as a whole.

    In the trucks business, it ranked fourth, with sales less than half those of Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen.

    Ford said in October it would stop building its Focus compact cars in Argentina in May 2019 as part of efforts to end its losses in the region.

    Kleiton Da Silva, an employee and union representative in Ford’s surviving Bahia plant, said the carmaker was in talks to cut 650 of its workforce there, which the automaker has said totals 4,604.

    The No. 2 U.S. automaker expects to record pre-tax special charges of about $460 million, with most of that recorded this year, it said in the statement.

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    20/02/2019

  • Is High Finance Growing a Social Conscience?

    Financiers who turnaround companies by injecting them with capital are increasingly considering the environmental and social impact of their investments, according to a survey published Tuesday by consulting firm PwC.

    The survey found a growing cohort of these financiers, called private equity firms, have embraced this ethical investment strategy, known as responsible investing or environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing.

    For a long time, responsible investing was a niche strategy within finance. But increasingly, investors are waking up to the fact that they can do good as well as achieving financial returns.

    PwC polled 162 finance companies from 35 countries, including 145 private equity companies, for its fourth Private Equity Responsible Investment Survey.

    It found 91 percent of respondents have adopted or are developing responsible investment policies, up from 80 percent in 2013.

    Meanwhile, 35 percent of the firms polled have formed in-house teams to ensure their investments are responsible.

    “This is really showing they are taking responsible investment seriously and it is becoming more mainstream,” Phil Case, a director at PwC and co-author of the report, told Reuters.

    Development goals

    The survey also showed a growing awareness among financiers of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a series of targets to combat global problems, such as poverty, hunger, gender inequality and climate change.

    According to the survey, 67 percent of respondents selected development goals to tackle that are relevant for the businesses they invest in. In 2016 — the year after the SDGs launched — just 38 percent did this.

    “What we are seeing in the market, including private equity, is more and more firms hang their sustainability strategies — or ESG strategies — around the SDGs, so they are being seen as a very useful framework,” said Case.

    However, he warned that there is scope for financiers to exaggerate their allegiance to the development goals.

    “Not all firms are taking the SDGs as seriously as others,” he said.

    Human rights, climate change

    The survey showed that human rights and climate change were also high on the agenda for the private equity community.

    It found 76 percent of respondents said they were concerned about human rights issues, such as poor labor practices within supply chains.

    Meanwhile, 83 percent are concerned about the impact climate change could have on the businesses they invest in.

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    20/02/2019

  • US Automakers to Trump: Don’t Slap Tariffs on Imported Cars

    America’s auto industry is bracing for a potential escalation in President Donald Trump’s tariff war with the world, one that could weaken the global auto industry and economy, inflate car prices and trigger a backlash in Congress.

    Late Sunday, the Commerce Department sent the White House a report on the results of an investigation Trump had ordered of whether imported vehicles and parts pose a threat to U.S. national security. Commerce hasn’t made its recommendations public, and the White House has so far declined to comment. If Commerce did find that auto imports imperil national security, Trump would have 90 days to decide whether to impose those import taxes.

    Trump has repeatedly invoked his duty as president to safeguard national security in justifying previous rounds of tariffs. An obscure provision in trade law authorizes a president to impose unlimited tariffs on particular imports if his Commerce Department concludes that those imports threaten America’s national security.

    Whatever Commerce has concluded in this case, Trump has made clear his enthusiasm for tariffs in general and for auto tariffs in particular. Some analysts say they think Commerce has likely endorsed the tariffs, not least because the president has conveyed his preference for them.

    ‘Tariff Man’

    Among Commerce’s recommendations “will certainly be tariffs because, hey, he’s a Tariff Man,” said William Reinsch, a former U.S. trade official and now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, referring to a nickname that Trump gave himself.

    Industry officials took part in a conference call Tuesday to discuss the possible steps Trump could take. They include tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported parts only; on assembled vehicles only; or on both vehicles and parts — including those from Mexico and Canada. The last option would be an especially unusual one given that the United States, Mexico and Canada reached a new North American trade deal late last year, and the legislatures of all three nations must still ratify it.

    In public hearings last year, the idea of imposing import taxes on autos drew almost no support. Even U.S. automakers, which ostensibly would benefit from a tax on their foreign competitors, opposed the potential tariffs. Among other concerns, the automakers worry about retaliatory tariffs that the affected nations would impose on U.S. vehicles. Many U.S. automakers also depend on imported parts that would be subject to Trump’s tariffs and would become more expensive.

    A similar Commerce investigation last year resulted in the Trump administration imposing taxes on imported steel and aluminum in the name of national security. The administration has adopted an extraordinarily broad view of national security to include just about anything that might affect the economy.

    In addition to steel and aluminum, Trump has imposed tariffs on dishwashers, solar panels and hundreds of Chinese products. Targeting autos would further raise the stakes. The United States imported $340 billion in cars, trucks and auto parts in 2017.

    ‘Economic fallout’

    If the administration imposed 25 percent tariffs on imported parts and vehicles including those from Canada and Mexico, the price of imported vehicles would jump more than 17 percent, or an average of around $5,000 each, according to estimates by IHS Markit. Even the prices of vehicles made in the U.S. would rise by about 5 percent, or $1,800, because all of them use some imported parts.

    Luxury brands would absorb the sharpest increase: $5,800 on average, IHS concluded. Mass-market vehicle prices would rise an average of $3,300.

    If the tariffs were fully assessed, IHS predicts that price increases would cause U.S. auto sales to fall by an average of 1.8 million vehicles a year through 2026. Auto industry officials say that if sales fall, there almost certainly will be U.S. layoffs. Dealers who sell German and some Japanese brands would be hurt the most by the tariffs.

    “The economic fallout would be significant, with auto tariffs hurting the global economy by distorting prices and creating inefficiencies, and the impact would reverberate across global supply chains,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a report. “The already weakening pace of global expansion would magnify global growth pressures, causing a broader hit to business and consumer confidence amid tightening financial conditions.”

    Congress could resist the auto tariffs. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., have introduced legislation to reassert congressional control over trade. Their bill would give Congress 60 days to approve any tariffs imposed on national security grounds. It would also shift responsibility for such investigations away from Commerce to the Pentagon.

    Some analysts say they suspect that Trump intends to use the tariffs as leverage to pressure Japan and Europe to limit their auto exports to the United States and to prod Japanese and European automakers to build more vehicles at their U.S. plants.

    Reinsch notes that Trump’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, worked in the Reagan administration, which coerced Japan into accepting “voluntary” limits on its auto exports.

    “This is the way Lighthizer thinks,” Reinsch said.

    Even if the tariff threat resulted in negotiations, Europe and Japan would have demands of their own. A likely one: Compelling the U.S. to drop its longstanding 25 percent tax on imported light trucks.

    Trump is “pursuing something that, as near as I can tell, the domestic [auto] industry doesn’t want,” Reinsch said. “Once he pursues it, he is going to be under pressure to give up the one thing the auto industry really does want” — the U.S. tariff on imported light trucks.

    ‘Cloud of uncertainty’

    For now, many in the industry are upset that the Commerce Department report remains secret, feeding uncertainty.

    “The 137,000 people who work for Toyota across America deserve to know whether they are considered a national security threat,” Toyota said in a statement Tuesday. “And the American consumer needs to know whether the cost of every vehicle sold in the U.S. may increase.”

    The American International Automobile Dealers Association this week called the Commerce Department’s investigation “bogus.”

    “Now, dealerships must continue to operate under a cloud of uncertainty, not knowing if at any moment their products will be slapped with 25 percent tariffs, raising vehicle and repair costs by thousands of dollars and slashing sales,” the association’s CEO, Cody Lusk, said in a statement.

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    20/02/2019

  • Trump: ‘No Rush’ to See North Korea Denuclearize

    U.S. President Donald Trump is downplaying expectations for his second summit next week with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, but is predicting “it’ll be a very exciting couple of days.”

    Trump said he spoke on Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in about the upcoming talks and he will also be phoning Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday.

    Moon told Trump that Seoul “is ready to play that role by reconnecting inter-Korean railways and roads and launching inter-Korean economic cooperation projects if asked by President Trump and said it was a way to lessen the United States’ burden,” said the South Korean Blue House in a statement.

    Trump is to meet Kim in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, on Feb. 27 and 28 as a follow-up to their first summit last June in Singapore.

    Some critics contend that the initial encounter resulted in nothing binding beyond a historical handshake, and Pyongyang has taken no steps to rid itself of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal.

    “I think a lot can come from it. At least I hope so — the denuclearization ultimately,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon, declaring his relationship with Kim to be “very strong.”

    ‘No rush’ on denuclearization

    The president said as long as there is no testing of rockets, missiles or nuclear weapons by Pyongyang, he is in “no rush” to see North Korea denuclearize.

    “A lot of the media would like to say: ‘What’s going on? Speed, speed, speed.’ No rush whatsoever. We’re going to have our meeting. We’ll see what happens. I think ultimately we’re going to be very successful,” Trump said.

    The president said there is now “a lot of sane thinking” coming out of Pyongyang, a reversal from early in his administration when Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea and belittled Kim as “little rocket man.”

    Trump emphasized that as long as Kim maintains his moratorium on testing his nuclear arsenal, “I’m in no rush. If there’s testing, that’s another deal.”

    The U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was traveling to Vietnam on Tuesday to prepare for next week’s summit there, according to the State Department.

    “Those commitments made at the Singapore summit will be fulfilled,” said Robert Palladino, the deputy spokesperson at the State Department, in response to a question from VOA as to whether the president’s latest remarks denote a U.S. policy change. 

    “This is a top-down approach” with Kim and Trump meeting directly that, if successful, “could fundamentally transform relations between our two countries,” Palladino told reporters. 

    “I’m not going to get ahead of diplomatic conversations or ahead of the president,” Palladino replied, when asked about a CNN report that Washington and Pyongyang are in discussions about exchanging liaison officers. “A lot of things are being discussed.”

    Two months ago, National Security Adviser John Bolton said North Korea had not lived up to its commitments made at the Singapore summit and that is why Trump wanted a follow-up summit.

    Ballistic missile program

    Independent analysts say satellite imagery indicates North Korea is moving forward with its ballistic missile program.

    The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington published a report last Friday on what it said was the third undisclosed missile base it had spotted since November.

    At the first meeting with Trump, Kim committed to work toward complete denuclearization but that was left undefined with no timetable.

    Bolton, who was in the Oval Office on Tuesday for Trump’s remarks, back in December said if North Korea follows through on its commitments then “President Trump will deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.”

    Trump said last Friday that Abe had nominated him for the prize but, “I’ll probably never get it,” adding that his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was awarded the honor in 2009, “didn’t even know what he got it for.”

    Trump said the Japanese leader nominated him because there were North Korean “rocket ships and he had missiles flying over Japan. And they had alarms going off. … Now, all of a sudden, they feel good. They feel safe. I did that.”

    Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.

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    20/02/2019

  • Trump: ‘Absolute Right’ to Build Border Wall

    U.S. President Donald Trump asserted Tuesday he had an “absolute right” to declare a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval of funding for it.

    Sixteen states sued Trump late Monday in federal court in California where judges have overturned other Trump initiatives during his 25-month presidency.

    But the U.S. leader said at the White House, “I think we’re going to do very well with the lawsuit.”

    As he announced the national emergency last Friday, Trump said he expected to lose the initial legal fights over the declaration, especially if the lawsuits disputing his decision were filed in the 9th Circuit of western state courts, which is where the 16 states sued. But Trump said he expects to ultimately prevail with a favorable Supreme Court ruling overturning any adverse lower court decisions.

    In earlier Twitter comments, the U.S. leader targeted California Tuesday for its leading role in the multi-state lawsuit.

    Trump cited California Gov. Gavin Newsome’s cancellation last week of a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, claiming, without evidence, the cancellation was due to “world record setting” cost overruns. Trump also claimed the project was “hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall!” 

    The states’ complaint alleges Trump’s emergency declaration is illegal and unconstitutional, and harms the states and their residents by taking money away from anti-drug programs, military construction projects and other law enforcement efforts. Trump is planning to reallocate $8 billion in funding from various U.S. agencies to build the border wall.

    The lawsuit asks the court to permanently prohibit the Trump administration from diverting the funds from elsewhere in the government, or to build a wall without Congress appropriating money for that purpose.

    “President Trump treats the rule of law with utter contempt,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. “He knows there is no border crisis. He knows his emergency declaration is unwarranted, and he admits that he will likely lose this case in court.”

    Becerra accused Trump of engaging in “theater” and hyping a crisis because he failed to get Congress or Mexico to pay for the wall, a favorite campaign vow of Trump during his successful 2016 run for the presidency.

    An environmental group and three Texas landowners across whose property the wall would be built have also already filed lawsuits.

    The White House has not yet responded to the states’ lawsuit. But it had anticipated court challenges to the emergency declaration.

    Trump said he declared the national emergency because he was unhappy with the amount of money Congress authorized for border security — $1.375 billion for barriers but not a wall.

    “I want to do it faster,” he said when he announced his declaration last week. “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster” — words that could come back to haunt the administration in court.

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    19/02/2019

  • У жителів Землі випала нагода спостерігати супермісяць

    У жителів Землі 19 лютого (в українців орієнтовно p 18:00 за Києвом), випала нагода спостерігати супермісяць. Таке астрономічне явище виникає, коли повний місяць збігається з проходом природного супутника планети через найближчу до Землі точку орбіти. Тоді місяць виглядає значно більшим, ніж зазвичай, – сьогодні більший приблизно на 8%.

    Раніше астрономи припустили, що сьогоднішній супермісяць стане «найбільшим» повним місяцем року.

    В ніч з 20 на 21 січня жителі Землі спостерігали «кривавий вовчий супермісяць». Це явище відбувався одночасно з місячним затемненням, коли Земля опиняється між Місяцем і Сонцем, таким чином закривши супутник від зірки своєю тінню. 

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    19/02/2019

  • Російський державний канал побачив «русофобію» у створеній українцями відеогрі

    Російський державний телеканал «Росія-24» заявляє, що виявив у створеній українською компанією відеогрі Metro Exodus «махрову русофобію».

    Ведучий новин телеканалу заявив, що розробники з студії 4A Games захопилися «власними майданними реаліями».

    Причиною таких заяв стало ігрове досягнення під назвою «Декомунізація». Для його отримання необхідно знищити в грі статую Володимира Леніна. Ведучий також звинуватив розробників у «знущанні над москвичами». За сюжетом, жителі російської столиці, що сховалися від ядерних ударів у метро не знають про те, що за межами Москви залишилося життя. У чому саме полягала образа – не уточнюється.

    За словами ведучого, російські гравці відгукуються про гру погано, проте про які саме відгуки він говорить, незрозуміло.

    Також співробітник каналу заявив про те, що Metro Exodus за кілька днів стала найбільш продаваною грою в усьому світі. При цьому студія-видавець Deep Silver ще не публікувала офіційну статистику продажів.

    Відеогра Metro Exodus вийшла у світ 15 лютого. Розробники – українська компанія 4A Games, частина працівників якої колись працювали над відомою грою S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

    Metro Exodus виходить на платформах PC, Xbox One та PlayStation 4. Exodus – одна з найочікуваніших ігор року. Такою її називали як профільні світові видання – Kotaku, PCGamer, Polygon, так і непрофільні – The Guardian, Washington Post.

    Це – шутер від першої особи, хоррор з елементами виживання та стелс. Дія гри відбувається в часи постапокаліпсису, який став результатом ядерної війни. Місце – зруйнована територія Росії.

    Читайте також: Metro Exodus. Українці створили гру про постапокаліпсис у Росії

    Минулі ігри серії – Metro 2033 і Metro: Last Light, що вийшли у 2010 та 2013 роках, відповідно, гравці й критики оцінили високо. Так само схвальні відгуки зібрало й перевидання цих частин у 2014 році під назвою Metro Redux.

    Ігри зроблені за мотивами романів російського письменника Дмитра Глуховського.

     

     

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    19/02/2019

  • Слідом за Світоліною: Цуренко вийшла до третього кола турніру в Дубаї

    Українська тенісистка Леся Цуренко вийшла до третього кола турніру Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, перемігши китаянку Чжу Лінь.

    Цуренко виграла перший сет (6:4), але в другій партії поступилася на тай-брейку (6:7). У вирішальному сеті українка довела свою перевагу – 6:3.

    Раніше 19 лютого вихід до третього кола оформила перша ракетка України Еліна Світоліна.

    У наступному колі Світоліна зіграє з іспанкою Гарбінє Мугурусою, а Цуренко – з екс-першою ракеткою світу румункою Сімоною Халеп.

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    19/02/2019

  • DOJ Official: US Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to Step Down in March

    Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. deputy attorney general who appointed a special counsel to investigate possible ties between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign, is expected to step down by mid March, a Justice Department official said on Monday.

    Rosenstein had been expected to depart shortly after new Attorney General William Barr assumed office. Barr was confirmed for the role by the U.S. Senate last week.

    The Justice official said Rosenstein’s departure was not related to renewed allegations that he considered wearing a wire in meetings with Trump and using the 25th amendment of the U.S. Constitution to remove the president from office.

    Rosenstein, the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, in May 2017 named Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate ties between Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign and Moscow. The investigation continues.

    A registered Republican, Rosenstein made the decision because his then-boss, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump supporter during the 2016 campaign, had recused himself from the issue.

    Last September, the New York Times reported Rosenstein in 2017 had suggested secretly recording Trump and recruiting Cabinet members to oust the president using the provisions of the Constitution’s 25th Amendment.

    In an interview broadcast on Sunday with CBS News “60 Minutes,” former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe confirmed the Times account that Rosenstein considered wearing a wire in meetings with Trump.

    Rosenstein said both the Times story and McCabe’s account were “inaccurate and factually incorrect,” which a Justice Department spokeswoman reiterated after the “60 Minutes” interview.

    Earlier on Monday Trump accused both McCabe and Rosenstein of planning a “very illegal act,” which he described in a tweet as “illegal and treasonous.”

    Rosenstein ceased overseeing Mueller’s probe on Nov. 7 when Trump named Matt Whittaker acting attorney general.

    Barr now has oversight of the investigation.

    Rosenstein had attracted far more attention than is typical for the No. 2 Justice Department official because of his decision to appoint Mueller to lead the investigation eight days after Trump fired James Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    Trump has frequently and publicly seethed about the Mueller probe, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department, which oversees them both.

    The president has denied any collusion and Russia says there was no election meddling, despite findings to the contrary by U.S. intelligence agencies.

    Mueller’s investigation, which the president has repeatedly called a “witch hunt,” has so far netted 34 individuals and three companies who have pleaded guilty, been indicted or been otherwise swept up in the inquiry.

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    19/02/2019

  • Cheap and Green: Pyongyang Upgrades Its Mass Transit System

    Pyongyang is upgrading its overcrowded mass transit system with brand new subway cars, trams and buses in a campaign meant to show leader Kim Jong Un is raising the country’s standard of living. 

     The long-overdue improvements, while still modest, are a welcome change for the North Korean capital’s roughly 3 million residents, who have few options to get to work or school each day. 

    First came new, high-tech subway cars and electric trolleybuses — each announced by the media with photos of Kim personally conducting the final inspection tours. Now, officials say three new electric trams are running daily routes across Pyongyang. 

    Transport officials say the capacity of the new trams is about 300, sitting and standing. Passengers must buy tickets in shops beforehand and put them in a ticket box when they get on. The flat fare is a dirt cheap 5 won (US$ .0006) for any tram, trolleybus, subway or regular bus ride on the public transport system. The Pyongyang Metro has a ticket-card system and the Public Transportation Bureau is considering introducing something similar on the roads as well. 

    Private cars are rare

    Privately owned cars are scarce in Pyongyang. Taxis are increasingly common but costly for most people. Factory or official-use vehicles are an alternative, when available, as are bicycles. Motorized bikes imported from China are popular, while scooters and motorcycles are rare.

    The subway, with elaborate stations inspired by those in Soviet Moscow and dug deep enough to survive a nuclear attack, runs at three- to five-minute intervals, depending on the hour. Officials say it transports about 400,000 passengers on weekdays. But its two lines, with 17 stations, operate only on the western side of the Taedong River, which runs through the center of the city.

    “The subway is very important transportation for our people,” subway guide Kim Yong Ryon said in a recent interview with The AP. “There are plans to build train stations on the east side of the river, but nothing has started yet.”

    The lack of passenger cars on Pyongyang’s roads has benefits. Traffic jams are uncommon and, compared to Beijing or Seoul, the city has refreshingly clean, crisp air. Electric trams, which run on rails, and electric trolleybuses, which have wheels, are relatively green transport options. 

    Crowded and slow

    But mass transit in Pyongyang can be slow and uncomfortable. 

    The tram system, in particular, is among the most crowded in the world. 

    Swarms of commuters cramming into trams are a common sight during the morning rush hour, which is from about 6:00 to 8:30. Getting across town can take about an hour.

    Pyongyang’s tram system has four lines. In typical North Korean fashion, one is devoted to taking passengers to and from the mausoleum where the bodies of national founder Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il, lie in state.

    The city’s red-and-white trams look familiar to many eastern Europeans. In 2008, the North bought 20 used trams made by the Tatra company, which produced hundreds of them when Prague was still the capital of socialist Czechoslovakia.

    North Korea squeezes every last inch out of its fleet. 

    Red stars are awarded for every 50,000 kilometers (31,000 miles) driven without an accident, and it’s not unusual to see trams with long lines of red stars stenciled across their sides. One seen in operation in Pyongyang last month had 12 — that’s 600,000 kilometers (372,800 miles), or the equivalent of about 15 trips around the Earth’s circumference.

    The numbers work

    Impossible as that might seem, the math works.

    Ri Jae Hong, a representative of the Capital Public Transportation Bureau, told an AP television news crew the main tram route, from Pyongyang Station in the central part of town to the Mangyongdae district, is 21 kilometers from end to end. He said a tram might do the full route there and back on average six times a day. 

    By that reckoning, it would take just over 198 days of actual driving to win that first red star. 

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    19/02/2019

  • Brazil’s Bolsonaro Fires Senior Minister, Investor Sentiment Sours

    Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday fired one of his most senior aides and cabinet members, Gustavo Bebianno, amid a scandal involving campaign financing for some of his party’s congressional candidates.

    Bebianno was secretary general of the president’s office.

    His departure punctuated Bolsonaro’s first cabinet crisis since he took office on Jan. 1 and has cast a shadow over the young government’s plans.

    Brazilian markets fell on Monday as investors feared that the brewing scandal could hurt Bolsonaro’s ability to pass a pension overhaul seen as key to fiscal and economic recovery.

    In a short video clip released late on Monday, Bolsonaro said he took the decision to dismiss Bebianno due to “differences of opinion on important issues,” although he did not elaborate.

    Bebianno, who helped coordinate government affairs and was acting president of Bolsonaro’s right-wing Social Liberal Party for the election campaign last year, denies any wrongdoing.

    Analysts at Eurasia Group said in a note on Monday, before Bebianno was dismissed, that the scandal is unlikely to dent Bolsonaro’s approval ratings. Despite the dubious optics, the president can claim to be taking a tough stand against an aide accused of illicit activity.

    But the timing could not be worse. Days before unveiling its landmark pension reform proposal, the government is mired in scandal, even if it is one that probably will not have much lasting impact on the administration or pension reform.

    “It is indicative, however, of a political team in disarray,” they wrote, adding that everything points to “an end result that will probably lead to the approval of a less ambitious version of the government’s proposal for pension reform.”

    The scandal is denting investor sentiment, which had brightened last week after early details of Bolsonaro’s social security reform proposals were released. The full package will be presented to senior lawmakers on Wednesday.

    Brazil’s Bovespa stock market fell 1 percent on Monday, the dollar rose almost 1 percent to 3.7350 reais and January 2020 interest rates rose two basis points to 6.39 percent.

    Last week, the Bovespa rose 2.3 percent, within touching distance of its record-high 98,588. Interest rates fell 15 basis points, the biggest weekly drop in two months, and the real also rose.

    The Bebianno scandal got personal after one of Bolsonaro’s sons branded him a liar on Twitter, putting pressure on the president to dismiss him just weeks into his term.

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    19/02/2019

  • Tycoons Tell Mexico’s President That Unions ‘Extorting’ Businesses

    A group representing some of Mexico’s biggest companies told left-wing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday that politicians should resist “extortion” by labor unions after strikes and blockades in recent weeks.

    Alejandro Ramirez, president of the Mexican Business Council, said strikes at factories in the northern state of Tamaulipas and blockades of railways by a teachers union had caused more than a billion dollars in losses and could cause businesses to close.

    Critics of Obrador

    Members of the group, including Mexico’s second-richest man, German Larrea, who controls mining and transport conglomerate Grupo Mexico, were critics of Lopez Obrador before his July 1 election, warning voters should be wary of populism.

    “In labor matters, we look favorably on Mexicans starting a new era of union freedom that will allow the end of old protectionist practices for a few unions and companies,” said Ramirez, chief executive of cinema chain Cineopolis.

    “Freedom of association and respect of the rule of law should be the axis of this new labor reform. For that reason, we make a respectful call to lawmakers of all parties that it doesn’t just guarantee union freedom but also avoids union extortion.”

    Lower prices on services

    Since taking office, Lopez Obrador and members of the ruling party have sought regulation in areas ranging from banking and pensions to mining to make services cheaper for consumers.

    The former Mexico City mayor wants to encourage investment to drive growth, but some worry regulation will be heavy handed and unpredictable.

    MORENA, the party created by Lopez Obrador, is planning a reform to make it easier for workers to form independent unions.

    Traditionally, unions have allied with the former party of power, the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

    Lopez Obrador brought veteran union leader Napoleon Gomez into his party as a senator. Gomez has a history of conflict with Grupo Mexico, including strikes.

    Gomez last week founded a federation called the International Workers Confederation.

    First meeting since election

    Monday’s event was the first time the group met with Lopez Obrador since he took office in December. Earlier in the day, he met the Council for Investment Promotion, Job Creation and Growth, a body he created to advise on economic policy.

    Labor strikes in January at manufacturers in the Mexican city of Matamoros on the U.S. border cost about $50 million a day in unfulfilled international contracts.

    Teachers from the National Committee of Education Workers blocked railroad tracks for weeks in January to protest labor demands.

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    19/02/2019

  • US States Sue Trump Administration in Showdown Over Border Wall Funds

    A coalition of 16 U.S. states led by California sued President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday over his decision to declare a national emergency to obtain funds for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

    The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California came just days after Trump invoked emergency powers on Friday after Congress declined to fulfill his request for $5.7 billion to help build the wall that was his signature 2016 campaign promise. His move aims to let him spend money appropriated by Congress for other purposes.

    “Today, on Presidents Day, we take President Trump to court to block his misuse of presidential power,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

    “We’re suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states. For most of us, the Office of the Presidency is not a place for theater,” added Becerra, a Democrat.

    Three Texas landowners and an environmental group filed the first lawsuit against Trump’s move on Friday, saying it violates the Constitution and would infringe on their property rights.

    The legal challenges could slow down Trump’s efforts to build the wall, which he says is needed to check illegal immigration and drug trafficking, but will likely end up at the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court.

    In a budget deal passed by Congress to avert a second government shutdown, nearly $1.4 billion was allocated toward border fencing. Trump’s emergency order would give him an additional $6.7 billion beyond what lawmakers authorized.

    In television interviews on Sunday and Monday, Becerra said the lawsuit would use Trump’s own words against him as evidence there is no national emergency to declare.

    Earlier, Trump had said he knew that he did not need to declare an emergency to build the wall, a comment that could now undercut the government’s legal argument.

    “Presidents don’t go in and claim declarations of emergency for the purposes of raiding accounts because they weren’t able to get Congress to fund items,” Becerra said on MSNBC.

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    19/02/2019

  • Trump Warns Venezuelan Military to Abandon Maduro

    U.S. President Donald Trump, in a speech partly intended to be heard by members of the military of Venezuela, called for the end of socialism in that country, saying the United States seeks “a peaceful transition of power but all options are open.”

    Trump, in Miami, appealed to Venezuelan soldiers to ignore orders from President Nicolas Maduro and accept the amnesty offer made by the head of the national assembly, Juan Guaido, who is now recognized as Venezuela’s president by the United States and about 50 other countries.

    “You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out,” Trump warned the soldiers. “You’ll lose everything.”

    The White House, ahead of Trump’s speech to the Venezuelan-American community, said, “The United States knows where military officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world.”

    Trump also warned members of the Venezuelan military to not block foreign aid intended for the country.

    Three U.S. military transport planes loaded with humanitarian aid for Venezuela landed in Cucuta, Colombia on Saturday, adding to the tons food and medicine waiting to cross the border.

    The aid sent from the U.S. and many other countries, however, has not yet reached any Venezuelans, but instead sits in towns in Colombia, Brazil and Curacao.

    Maduro says the aid is unnecessary and illegal and that to allow it to enter Venezuela would presage a U.S. military invasion.

    Venezuela suffers from shortages of food, medicine and other daily necessities and also has the worst inflation rate in the world. Three million people — about 10 percent of the country’s population — have fled the country.

    Trump, with hundreds of those who have fled Venezuela and Cuba in the audience, repeatedly linked those two countries, contending Havana’s military is protecting Maduro.

    “The ugly alliance between the two dictatorships is coming to a rapid end,” said Trump, decrying Maduro as “a Cuban puppet.”

    The president concluded his remarks by predicting that when Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua are no longer under Socialist or Communist regimes, “this will become the first free hemisphere in all of human history.”

    Trump’s warnings throughout the speech about socialism, which he declared is “about one thing only — power for the ruling class,” were also intended to rally his political base as he faces a re-election campaign next year.

    “There’s no doubt that today’s speech was part of his electoral campaign and he was speaking not to the Venezuelan people but to the voters in Florida. And that is disappointing,” Dany Behar, an economist from Venezuela at the Brookings Institution, tells VOA News.

    Anti-Trump activists in the Democratic socialist movement, including a freshman member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, are galvanizing young and disillusioned voters, who could be a pivotal force in the 2020 presidential election.  

     “There’s nothing less democratic than socialism,” Trump declared. “America will never be a socialist country.”

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    19/02/2019

  • Для водіїв в Україні спростили процедуру передачі номерних знаків

    Перезакріпити індивідуальні номерні знаки на автомобілях в Україні стало легше, повідомляє сервісний центр МВС на сторінці у Facebook.

    «Власник ІНЗ може перезакріпити його за іншим належним йому транспортним засобом або передати його власникові іншого транспортного засобу, подавши до будь-якого територіального сервісного центру МВС пакет необхідних документів», – йдеться в повідомленні.

    За даними відомства, раніше перезакріплення здійснювали на підставі довідки, яку можна було отримати винятково в головному сервісному центрі МВС.

    Індивідуальний номерний знак можна замовити в будь-якому територіальному сервісному центрі МВС незалежно від місця реєстрації. У грудні минулого року запрацювала онлайн-послуга перевірки можливості замовлення певного ІНЗ в «електронному кабінеті водія». 

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    18/02/2019