Off the Wires

Kalashnikov gunmaker opens store at Moscow's largest airport

August 19th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Gunmaker Kalashnikov, whose AK-47 assault rifle has armed Russian forces for 70 years and been the preferred weapon of insurgents across continents, has opened a store at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport selling souvenirs including plastic model guns, the company said.

An airport official said the shop, offering novelties including pens, umbrellas, bags, hats, camouflage gear and "I love AK" T-shirts, would be situated in the rail-link section of the airport complex. The model guns - automatic pistols and rifles - would very clearly be imitations and would pose no security problems, he added.

"Kalashnikov is one of the most popular brands that come to mind for most people in the world when they hear about Russia," Kalashnikov's head of marketing, Vladimir Dmitriev, said in a press release.

"So, we are pleased to provide the opportunity for everyone to take away from Russia a souvenir with our company brand."

The AK-47, the first rifle the firm produced, has acquired an iconic status due to its low production costs and reliability in extreme conditions. It was introduced in 1948, armed the whole of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe in communist times and served largely pro-Soviet rebel forces across Africa and Asia.

Produced also under license beyond Russian frontiers, it remains one of the most popular assault rifles in the world.

Sheremetyevo International Airport is Moscow's and Russia's largest airport by passenger traffic. In 2015, it handled more than 31 million passengers.


China launches 'hack-proof' communications satellite

August 16th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

China on Tuesday launched the world's first quantum satellite, which will help it establish "hack-proof" communications between space and the ground, state media said, the latest advance in an ambitious space program.

The program is a priority as President Xi Jinping has urged China to establish itself as a space power, and apart from its civilian ambitions, it has tested anti-satellite missiles.

The Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, or QUESS, satellite, was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the remote northwestern province of Gansu in the early hours of Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"In its two-year mission, QUESS is designed to establish 'hack-proof' quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground," it said.

"Quantum communication boasts ultra-high security as a quantum photon can neither be separated nor duplicated," it added. "It is hence impossible to wiretap, intercept or crack the information transmitted through it."

The satellite will enable secure communications between Beijing and Urumqi, Xinhua said, referring to the capital of China's violence-prone far western region of Xinjiang, where the government says it is battling an Islamist insurgency.

"The newly-launched satellite marks a transition in China's role - from a follower in classic information technology development to one of the leaders guiding future achievements," Pan Jianwei, the project's chief scientist, told the agency.

Quantum communications holds "enormous prospects" in the field of defense, it added.

China insists its space program is for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. Defense Department has highlighted its increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed to prevent adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis.


Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief

August 15th, 2016  |  Source: NYT.com

KIEV, Ukraine — On a leafy side street off Independence Square in Kiev is an office used for years by Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, when he consulted for Ukraine’s ruling political party. His furniture and personal items were still there as recently as May.

And Mr. Manafort’s presence remains elsewhere here in the capital, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former PresidentViktor F. Yanukovych.

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.

In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of PresidentVladimir V. Putin.

Mr. Manafort’s involvement with moneyed interests in Russia and Ukraine had previously come to light. But as American relationships there become a rising issue in the presidential campaign — from Mr. Trump’s favorable statements about Mr. Putin and his annexation of Crimea to the suspected Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails — an examination of Mr. Manafort’s activities offers new details of how he mixed politics and business out of public view and benefited from powerful interests now under scrutiny by the new government in Kiev.

Anti-corruption officials there say the payments earmarked for Mr. Manafort, previously unreported, are a focus of their investigation, though they have yet to determine if he actually received the cash. While Mr. Manafort is not a target in the separate inquiry of offshore activities, prosecutors say he must have realized the implications of his financial dealings.

“He understood what was happening in Ukraine,” said Vitaliy Kasko, a former senior official with the general prosecutor’s office in Kiev. “It would have to be clear to any reasonable person that the Yanukovych clan, when it came to power, was engaged in corruption.”

Mr. Kasko added, “It’s impossible to imagine a person would look at this and think, ‘Everything is all right.’”

Mr. Manafort did not respond to interview requests or written questions from The New York Times. But his lawyer, Richard A. Hibey, said Mr. Manafort had not received “any such cash payments” described by the anti-corruption officials.

Mr. Hibey also disputed Mr. Kasko’s suggestion that Mr. Manafort might have countenanced corruption or been involved with people who took part in illegal activities.

“These are suspicions, and probably heavily politically tinged ones,” said Mr. Hibey, a member of the Washington law firm Miller & Chevalier. “It is difficult to respect any kind of allegation of the sort being made here to smear someone when there is no proof and we deny there ever could be such proof.”

Mysterious Payments

The developments in Ukraine underscore the risky nature of the international consulting that has been a staple of Mr. Manafort’s business since the 1980s, when he went to work for the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Before joining Mr. Trump’s campaign this spring, Mr. Manafort’s most prominent recent client was Mr. Yanukovych, who — like Mr. Marcos — was deposed in a popular uprising.

Before he fled to Russia two years ago, Mr. Yanukovych and his Party of Regions relied heavily on the advice of Mr. Manafort and his firm, who helped them win several elections. During that period, Mr. Manafort never registered as a foreign agent with the United States Justice Department — as required of those seeking to influence American policy on behalf of foreign clients — although one of his subcontractors did.

It is unclear if Mr. Manafort’s activities necessitated registering. If they were limited to advising the Party of Regions in Ukraine, he probably would not have had to. But he also worked to burnish his client’s image in the West and helped Mr. Yanukovych’s administration draft a report defending its prosecution of his chief rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, in 2012.


U.S. aims to restore water, return fish to diverted California river

August 12th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

California's San Joaquin River flows out of the mountains above Yosemite, clear and bubbling until it abruptly stops just north of Fresno, its water diverted to irrigate farms.

Environmentalists have cheered a plan to reconnect the river this fall. But it is over budget, overdue and vehemently opposed by local farmers and some Republican lawmakers. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, once joked about eating its protected fish with crackers.

"For somebody who doesn't really understand about the issue it seems very simple - just reconnect the river and water will flow," said Cannon Michael, a sixth-generation farmer whose family settled in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1800s. "But the river was disconnected for a reason."

Initially diverted to provide water for agriculture and encourage family farms, the San Joaquin River has become the latest battleground of California's century-old water wars. Its dams, hydro-electric plants and diverted flow illustrate the benefits as well as the costs of 20th century efforts to tame the state's natural resources.

Damming the river in 1942 was an engineering feat that made the San Joaquin a keystone of a complex water system that ultimately allowed a semi-arid state to provide water for 40 million residents and grow more fruits and vegetables than any other U.S. state, on land watered almost entirely by irrigation.

But construction of Friant Dam near Fresno also eliminated the Pacific Coast's southernmost runs of Chinook salmon. The river is dry most years along two stretches for a total of 60 miles. It was recently named the second-most endangered U.S. river by the group American Rivers.

"Old-timers tell stories of the water being so thick with salmon that you could practically walk across it," said Doug Obegi, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

In 1988, that environmental group sued the federal government, saying diverting the river broke state law protecting fish. After 18 years of court battles, environmentalists, the federal government and water users finally agreed to restore the river to again support salmon.

Since that 2006 settlement, efforts to restore the river have been slowed by engineering challenges, tense negotiations with farmers and other delays. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Friant Dam, is now set to release enough water to reconnect the river this fall, said program manager Alicia Forsythe.

But improvements targeted for completion by 2013, including levees to prevent flooding and screens to keep threatened fish out of irrigation canals, have yet to start.

Environmentalists, government officials and farmers are still arguing over the path the river should take because agricultural land has encroached on its traditional route.

And farmers who rely on water diverted at Friant Dam will get less under the plan. Their allocations will drop by about 18 percent as more water is allowed to flow downstream.

Near Mendota, where levee construction is planned to begin next year, a road runs across the dry riverbed. Abandoned furniture sits in the dirt, and a target with bullet holes hangs from a tree.

Costs have ballooned, rising from an estimated $250 million to $800 million in 2006 to $1.5 billion today, said Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Shane Hunt.

The latest projected completion date is 2029.

"It's a giant waste of time and money," said Greg Pearl, who farms 800 acres near the river.


In Brazil, high security Uber for the safest trips

August 10th, 2016  |  Source: Springwise.com

Bluclub is a new car service featuring armored vehicles and drivers trained in defensive driving.

Though on-demand rideshare services are undoubtedly convenient, the peer-to-peer model of businesses like Uber can be prone to crime. Last year, according to the district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the company had failed to notice the criminal record of 25 drivers it background-checked and hired in the two cities. We have seen the car service that only employs female drivers and will serve only women (including trans women) and children under 13. Now, from Brazil,Bluclub is an on-demand car service that puts the safety of its passengers first.

Recently launched in Beta, all of the vehicles used by Bluclub are armored for utmost security. All drivers employed by the startup have also taken defensive driving courses, ensuring that passengers are protected. Users pay for ride packages in advance, and the rate starts at around 11 miles for BRL 90 (USD 27), or USD 2.45 per mile. This puts the service a little above Uber rates in NYC (USD 1.75 per mile).

Intersted riders in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo can now apply for access via Bluclub’s site. We have already seen a community-funded rideshare nonprofit in Austin, what other niche rideshare services could offer functions neglected by the giants?

Website: www.bluclub.com.br
Contact: www.facebook.com/bluclubbr


Climate warming blamed for vanishing fish in African lake

August 9th, 2016  |  Source: AFP

Fish are becoming more scarce in Africa's oldest and deepest lake, Lake Tanganyika, because of climate warming, not just overfishing, US researchers said this week.

The study on Lake Tanganyika, which covers parts of Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, relied on sediment samples drilled from the lake bed and going back 1,500 years to analyze the changing biodiversity.

Researchers found that the lake has been warming since the 1800s, leading to a decline in lake algae which fish feed on, and decreasing numbers of fish.

Large-scale commercial fishing began on Lake Tanganyika in the 1950s, and some have raised concern that overfishing may be threatening the lake's fish.

The lake provides 60 percent of the animal protein to feed people in the region, and yields some 200,000 tons of fish annually.

"Some people say the problem for the Lake Tanganyika fishery is 'too many fishing boats,' but our work shows the decline in fish has been going on since the 19th century," said lead author Andrew Cohen, a professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona.

"We can see this decline in the numbers of fossil fish going down in parallel with the rise in water temperature."

Overfishing is still partly to blame for the reduction in catch, Cohen acknowledged.

But the warming of the lake predates that, and has reduced the suitable habitat for fish and molluscs by 38 percent since 1946, said the study in the August 8 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lake Tanganyika is known for diverse species, many of which are unique to the lake, with hundreds of species found nowhere else, Cohen said.

As it warms, large parts of the freshwater lake's floor are losing oxygen and killing off bottom-dwellers such as snails.

"We know this warming is going on in other lakes," Cohen said.

"It has important implications for food and for ecosystems changing rapidly."


Climate warming blamed for vanishing fish in African lake

August 9th, 2016  |  Source: AFP

Fish are becoming more scarce in Africa's oldest and deepest lake, Lake Tanganyika, because of climate warming, not just overfishing, US researchers said this week.

The study on Lake Tanganyika, which covers parts of Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, relied on sediment samples drilled from the lake bed and going back 1,500 years to analyze the changing biodiversity.

Researchers found that the lake has been warming since the 1800s, leading to a decline in lake algae which fish feed on, and decreasing numbers of fish.

Large-scale commercial fishing began on Lake Tanganyika in the 1950s, and some have raised concern that overfishing may be threatening the lake's fish.

The lake provides 60 percent of the animal protein to feed people in the region, and yields some 200,000 tons of fish annually.

"Some people say the problem for the Lake Tanganyika fishery is 'too many fishing boats,' but our work shows the decline in fish has been going on since the 19th century," said lead author Andrew Cohen, a professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona.

"We can see this decline in the numbers of fossil fish going down in parallel with the rise in water temperature."

Overfishing is still partly to blame for the reduction in catch, Cohen acknowledged.

But the warming of the lake predates that, and has reduced the suitable habitat for fish and molluscs by 38 percent since 1946, said the study in the August 8 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lake Tanganyika is known for diverse species, many of which are unique to the lake, with hundreds of species found nowhere else, Cohen said.

As it warms, large parts of the freshwater lake's floor are losing oxygen and killing off bottom-dwellers such as snails.

"We know this warming is going on in other lakes," Cohen said.

"It has important implications for food and for ecosystems changing rapidly."


Wealthy Republicans campaign for Clinton

August 4th, 2016  |  Source: r

Groups of wealthy Republicans unhappy with Donald Trump have been privately courting prominent peers to join them in backing Democrat Hillary Clinton's U.S. presidential bid, several people involved in the effort told Reuters.

They say they are seeking money and endorsements from other Republicans disillusioned by Trump, their party's candidate for the Nov. 8 presidential election. Some have received encouragement from Clinton and members of her campaign staff.

"I made the decision that I wouldn't be able to look at my grandkids if I voted for Trump," said Dan Webb, a former federal prosecutor and a self-described "Republican for decades" working to win over prominent Republican business people in Chicago.

Trump, a New York developer making his first run at public office, has made traditional Republican donors uneasy with inflammatory statements about women, Mexicans, Muslims and war veterans, among others.

Big-name Wall Street donors can make a difference for Clinton. They could inject big money into a campaign. They might influence moderate Republicans to switch sides. Their support of Clinton challenges Trump's assertion that his business successes make him a better candidate for president.

With the political conventions barely over, the Republican effort to fundraise for Clinton is at an early stage. Some of the groups have yet to receive contributions because they must still file paperwork under campaign finance rules.

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks declined to comment for this story. Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson said business leaders are supporting Clinton because of her economic plan and because Trump "cannot be trusted to lead our economy."

WARY OF TRUMP

Groups formed to support Clinton include Republicans for Her 2016, run by Republican lobbyist Craig Snyder; a grassroots organization called R4C16, led by John Stubbs and Ricardo Reyes, officials in former President George W. Bush's administration; and the Republican Women for Hillary group co-led by Jennifer Pierotti Lim, an official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The first two groups are acting independently of Clinton's own effort. The third is acting in concert with her campaign.

"We wanted to go out there and be the voice for Republicans who were feeling wary about Trump and weird about publicly endorsing Hillary," said Pierotti Lim, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention at the Clinton team's invitation.

Webb, a partner at law firm Winston & Strawn, said he began his outreach after being approached by billionaire investor J.B. Pritzker and longtime Clinton associate Lanny Davis. Pritzker and Davis could not be reached for comment.

On Wednesday, billionaire hedge fund manager Seth Klarman said he would work to get Clinton elected because of comments by Trump he found "shockingly unacceptable." Although Klarman, who is the president and chief executive of The Baupost Group, is a registered independent, a review of filings shows his political giving has largely benefited Republicans over the years, including some of Trump's rivals in the state-by-state nominating contests this year.

Jim Cicconi, a former Reagan and George H.W. White House staff member and lifelong Republican, said he went public with his decision to support Clinton "to encourage others in my situation to do the same thing."

"I feel like I need to do something more than quietly pulling the lever," he said. "I'm willing to assist the campaign in any way that they want me to help."

WHITMAN, BLOOMBERG BACK CLINTON

Spearheading in part the Clinton effort to woo Republicans on Wall Street is Democratic strategist Leslie Dach, a former Walmart executive and aide to Bill Clinton, sources close to the Clinton campaign said.

People familiar with the Clinton drive say the Democratic nominee herself has spoken to Republican business leaders, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chief Executive Meg Whitman, who endorsed Clinton on Tuesday.

Clinton deputies courted former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ahead of a rousing speech he gave at last month's Democratic National Convention that urged Wall Street to support her.

Whether Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire media mogul and an erstwhile Republican, will play a role in courting other Republican business leaders has yet to be determined, a source close to the discussions said.

While some major donors are hesitant to back Trump, the candidate over the last month has pulled in millions of dollars in small-money donations to boost total contributions to more than $80 million for Trump's campaign and the Republican Party, nearly matching Clinton's $90 million haul during the same period.


China's 'mosquito factory' aims to wipe out Zika, other disease

August 2nd, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Every week, scientists in southern China release 3 million bacteria-infected mosquitoes on a 3 km (two-mile) long island in a bid to wipe out diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika.

The scientists inject mosquito eggs with wolbachia bacteria in a laboratory, then release infected male mosquitoes on the island on the outskirts of the city of Guangzhou.

The bacteria, which occurs naturally in about 28 percent of wild mosquitoes, causes infected males to sterilize the females they mate with.

"The aim is trying to suppress the mosquito density below the threshold which can cause disease transmission," said Zhiyong Xi, who is director of the Sun Yat-sen University Centre of Vector Control for Tropical Diseases and pioneered the idea.

"There are hot spots," Xi said. "This technology can be used at the beginning to target the hot spots ... it will dramatically reduce disease transmission."

Mosquito-borne diseases are responsible for more than one million deaths worldwide every year and Zika has become a concern for athletes at this year's Olympic Games, which open in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.

Some athletes, including the top four ranked male golfers, have declined to take part.

An outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil last year has spread through the Americas and beyond, with China confirming its first case in February.

U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.

The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.


Islamic State calls on members to carry out jihad in Russia

August 1st, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Islamic State called on its group members to carry out jihad in Russia in a nine-minute YouTube video on Sunday.

"Listen Putin, we will come to Russia and will kill you at your homes ... Oh Brothers, carry out jihad and kill and fight them," a masked man driving a car in the desert yelled while wagging his finger in the last couple of minutes of the video.

The video with subtitles showed footage of armed men attacking armored vehicles and tents and collecting arms in the desert. "Breaking into a barrack of the Rejectionist military on the international road south Akashat," read one subtitle.

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the video but the link to the footage was published on a Telegram messaging account used by the militant group.

It was not immediately clear why Russia would be a target, but Russia and the U.S. are talking about boosting military and intelligence cooperation against Islamic State and al Qaeda in Syria.

Islamic State has called on its supporters to take action with any available weapons targeting countries it has been fighting.

There has been a string of deadly attacks claimed by Islamic state in Europe over the past weeks. Last week, assailants loyal to Islamic State forced an elderly Catholic priest in France to his knees before slitting his throat. Since the mass killing in Nice, southern France on July 14, there have been four incidents in Germany, including the most recent suicide bombing at a concert in Ansbach.




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