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Biden Pushes Expansion of Domestic Semiconductor Manufacturing

22
Jan,2022

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U.S. President Joe Biden touted a $20 billion investment by American technology company Intel to build a semiconductor factory in Ohio to address a global shortage that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S.-China trade war.

In a speech from the White House on Friday, Biden said the Intel factory, part of the administration’s effort to work with the private sector, would create thousands of jobs. He urged Congress to pass legislation to further expand domestic chip manufacturing, framing it in the context of strategic competition with China.

“Today 75% of the production takes place in East Asia; 90% of the most advanced chips are made in Taiwan,” Biden said. “China is doing everything it can to take over the global market so they can try to outcompete the rest of us.”

Semiconductor chips function as the brains of cars, medical equipment, household appliances and electronic devices.

The $20 billion factory is an initial investment, said Patrick Gelsinger, chief executive officer of Intel, at the White House event.

“This site alone could grow to as much as $100 billion of total investment over the decade,” he said.

The White House pointed to other investments in semiconductor manufacturing in the United States earlier this year by Samsung, Texas Instruments and Micron.

“Congress can accelerate this progress by passing the U.S. Investment and Competition Act, also known as USICA, which the president has long championed and which he called for action on today,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, referring to legislation that aims to strengthen research, development and manufacturing for critical supply chains to address semiconductor shortages.

Driven by Washington’s desire to retain an edge over China’s technological ambitions, USICA was passed with rare bipartisan Senate support in June but still needs to be passed by the House of Representatives. It includes full funding for the CHIPS for America Act, which provides $52 billion to catalyze more private sector investments in the semiconductor industry.

“The Chinese have been really clear. They want an indigenous chip industry. They want to be globally dominant, and that means displacing the U.S. and others,” James Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA.

The U.S. share of global semiconductor production has fallen from 37% to 12% over the past 30 years, according to government data.

Pandemic impact

The COVID-19 pandemic and extreme changes in consumer demand during lockdowns have exacerbated fragility in the global semiconductor supply chain.

“Consumer demand increased rapidly for items such as home computers, while supply could not keep up and many Chinese manufacturers were locked down,” Nada Sanders, professor of supply chain management at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, told VOA.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-China tariff war that began under the Trump administration and geopolitical conflicts between the two global rivals have made the environment even less conducive for cooperation, Sanders said.

The Intel factory will not be operational until 2025, but analysts say the initiative will still be effective to secure the supply of chips in the long run.

“You cannot underestimate demand for this stuff. It grows at about 10% a year,” Lewis said.

As the U.S. expands its domestic chip manufacturing capacity, analysts say a key component is working with international partners, including South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, to fill in the supply gap.

Earlier Friday, Biden discussed semiconductor supply chain resilience in his virtual summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“The leaders did discuss the importance of cooperation on supply chain security, including semiconductors, and the president described what we are doing at home and underscored the importance of working together on it,” a National Security Council spokesperson told VOA.

The spokesperson added that the two countries have been working closely in this area bilaterally through the Quad, a security dialogue forum involving the U.S., Australia, India and Japan.

“The new ministerial-level Economic Policy Consultative Committee (the Economic ‘2+2’) established by the leaders today will also cover this important issue,” the spokesperson said.

Taiwan, home to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and the leading producer of advanced chips in the world, is another key partner.

“If China was to take over Taiwan, and use TSMC as a leverage point, that would be hugely disruptive,” Lewis said. “Taiwan and its proximity to China and China’s hostility drives a lot of the concern.”

The global chip shortage has pushed up inflation rates and hamstrung the administration’s economic recovery efforts. It contributed to the sharp increases in the price of new and used automobiles, which account for one-third of the annual price increases in the consumer price index.

Biden’s approval in the polls has been lagging recently, partly driven by inflation. Consumer prices jumped 7% in December compared with a year earlier, the highest inflation rate in 40 years. It has dampened economic recovery in a year that the administration says has shown the biggest job growth in American history.

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WHO Recommends Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine for 5-11-Year-olds

22
Jan,2022

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A World Health Organization ((WHO)) advisory panel Friday recommended extending the use of a smaller dose of the Pfizer – BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11.

The recommendation follows a meeting this week by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts ((SAGE)) on immunization to evaluate the company’s vaccine. The WHO had previously recommended the vaccine for use in people ages 12 years and older.

During a virtual briefing Friday, SAGE Chairman Alejandro Cravioto told reporters the committee said the 5-11 age group should be a low priority for vaccination except for those children with underlying medical conditions who are in the high priority group.

The recommended dosage for the younger population is 10 micrograms instead of 30 micrograms.

Cravioto said the panel is also recommending that booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine should be administered to adults 4 to 6 months after receiving an original series of shots. He said older adults along with health and other front-line workers should be prioritized for the boosters.

U.S. and European health and drug regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for young children and for boosters late last year.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters. 

 

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Norway to Host Talks with Taliban on Afghan Aid and Human Rights

21
Jan,2022

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Norway said Friday that Taliban delegates, Afghan civil society representatives and officials from “a number of allied countries” will gather in Oslo next week for three days of talks on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and human rights.

Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi will lead the Taliban team at the dialogue starting Sunday, his office in Kabul said.

“They are scheduled to hold meetings and discussions on various issues with American diplomats, European Union delegates, and a number of Afghan personalities,” said Bilal Karimi, a Taliban spokesman.

Officials from Britain, France, Germany and Italy are reportedly among the participants. 

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt as stressing the meetings Oslo is hosting will “not represent a legitimization or recognition of the Taliban.”

However, she emphasized the need for engaging with the “de facto authorities” in Afghanistan in order to help the civilian population there.

“We are extremely concerned about the grave situation in Afghanistan, where millions of people are facing a full-blown humanitarian disaster,” Huitfeldt said. “We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster.”

“We will be clear about our expectations of the Taliban, particularly as regards girls’ education and human rights, such as women’s right to participate in society,” Norway’s foreign minister stressed. 

The Taliban military regained power in Afghanistan last August as the Western-backed government collapsed and all remaining U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from the country later that month after 20 years.

The change in power immediately halted international assistance for aid-dependent Afghanistan and the United States blocked the Taliban’s access to roughly $9.5 billion in foreign assets — largely held in the U.S. Federal Reserve — in addition to imposing financial sanctions on Kabul.  

International donors have urged the Taliban to form an inclusive government and respect the rights of women as a condition for the release of more aid, which the group has not done.

The punitive actions have plunged the fragile Afghan economy into an unprecedented crisis, worsening an already bad humanitarian crisis in the country. The United Nations says it needs $5 billion this year to bring urgent relief to an estimated 24 million people experiencing acute food insecurity, with 9 million of them threatened with famine. 

“Humanitarian assistance, while essential, is not enough. We must prevent a collapse in basic services such as health and education. We must support the livelihoods of families and communities,” Huitfeldt said. 

The International Labor Organization reported this week that 500,000 jobs have been lost in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, saying the number could go to as high as 900,000 by the middle of this year because of the economic upheaval. 

Critics say despite pledging not to re-introduce harsh Islamic polices of their previous regime in Kabul, the Taliban rulers are cracking down on human rights, particularly those of women. 

Most female government employees have been prevented from returning to their jobs and most secondary schools for girls remained shuttered across Afghanistan. 

Taliban officials maintain they recognize women’s rights to education and work within Sharia or Islamic law but they need funds to pay salaries to teachers and organize a safe environment for female students. The Taliban have pledged to allow all girls to return to schools in March, when the new education year begins in Afghanistan.

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TotalEnergies to Leave Myanmar Over Human Rights Abuses

21
Jan,2022

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French oil giant TotalEnergies on Friday said it would withdraw from Myanmar over “worsening” human rights abuses committed since the country’s military took power in a February 2021 coup.

“The situation, in terms of human rights and more generally the rule of law, which have kept worsening in Myanmar… has led us to reassess the situation and no longer allows TotalEnergies to make a sufficiently positive contribution in the country,” the company said.

Total will withdraw from its Yadana gas field in the Andaman Sea, which provides electricity to the local Burmese and Thai population, six months at the latest after the expiry of its contractual period.

The company said it had not identified any means to sanction the military junta without avoiding stopping gas production and ensuing payments to the military-controlled Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

Around 30% of the gas produced at Yadana is sold to the MOGE for domestic use, providing about half of the largest city Yangon’s electricity supply, according to Total.

International diplomatic pressure and sanctions have been building against Myanmar’s military junta since last year’s coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The European Union has imposed targeted sanctions on the Myanmar military, its leaders and entities, while Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor this week sold its stake in a Burmese digital payments service over the coup.

More than 1,400 civilians have been killed as the military cracks down on dissent, according to a local monitoring group, and numerous anti-junta militias have sprung up around the country.

Suu Kyi this month was convicted of three criminal charges and sentenced to four years in prison and now faces five new corruption charges. 

 

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French Parliament’s Uyghur Genocide Declaration Angers China

21
Jan,2022

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China condemned a French parliament resolution on Friday that accuses Beijing of carrying out a genocide against its Uyghur Muslim population, a move that has strained ties two weeks before the Winter Olympics.

The resolution adds to a chorus of western nations that have criticized Beijing for placing around 1 million Uyghurs in forced labor camps, terming “the violence perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China against the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity and genocide.”

France’s National Assembly joins Canada, the Netherlands, Britain and Belgium in having parliaments where lawmakers have passed similar motions. The United States government has formally accused China of genocide in western Xinjiang.

But China rejects such accusations and hit out at French lawmakers Friday.

“The French National Assembly’s resolution on Xinjiang ignores facts and legal knowledge and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing. “China firmly opposes it.”

The French motion was proposed by the opposition Socialists in the lower house of parliament but also backed by President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party.

The non-binding resolution by France’s National Assembly was adopted with 169 votes in favor and just one against Thursday.

It calls on the French government to undertake “the necessary measures within the international community and in its foreign policy towards the People’s Republic of China” to protect the minority group in the Xinjiang region.

“China is a great power. We love the Chinese people. But we refuse to submit to propaganda from a regime that is banking on our cowardice and our avarice to perpetrate a genocide in plain sight,” Socialist party chief Olivier Faure said.

Tit-for-tat sanctions

He recounted testimony to parliament from Uyghur survivors who told of conditions inside internment camps where men and women were unable to lie down in cells, subjected to rape and torture, as well as forced organ transplants.

The French government has declined to term China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority a “genocide,” arguing that it is a legal term that can only be proven with a judicial investigation.

Beijing has turned down repeated requests from the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights to visit the region to investigate.

President Emmanuel Macron, who has sought to avoid being dragged into increasingly confrontational ties between China and the United States, was asked about the Uyghurs during an appearance before the European Parliament on Wednesday.

“France raises this in a very clear fashion in all of our bilateral talks (with Beijing),” he told campaigning MEP Raphael Glucksmann.

He said he was in favor of an EU regulation that would “ban the import of goods that result from forced labor” and supported increasing requirements on European companies operating in China to check supply chains.

Human rights groups say they have found evidence of mass detentions, forced labor, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilization in Xinjiang.

Beijing denies genocide or the existence of forced labor camps in Xinjiang and has accused Uyghurs testifying overseas about conditions inside the northwestern region of being paid liars.

After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps altogether, China later defended them as vocational training centers aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

The United States has slapped sanctions on a growing list of Chinese politicians and companies over the treatment of the Uyghurs, leading to tit-for-tat measures from Beijing.

China has sanctioned European, British and U.S. lawmakers, as well as academics who study Xinjiang and a London law firm. 

 

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Israel Probes Allegations Police Cyber-Spied on Citizens

21
Jan,2022

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Israel on Thursday launched an investigation into allegations police used the controversial Pegasus spyware on the country’s citizens.

In a letter sent to police commander Koby Shabtai, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit asked to receive all wiretapping and computer spying orders from 2020 and 2021 in order to “verify allegations made in the media.”

The Israeli business daily Calcalist reported Thursday that Israeli police used Pegasus software to spy on an Israeli they considered a potential threat and attempt to gather evidence that could be used as leverage in future investigations.

According to the newspaper, which did not cite any sources, the police action represents a “danger to democracy.”

Police commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, reacting to the story, said that “the police have not found any evidence to support this information.”

“The Israeli police are fighting crime with all the legal means at their disposal,” Shabtai added in a statement.

Israeli security forces have wide leeway to conduct surveillance within Israel with judicial approval.

On Wednesday, Israel’s justice ministry pledged a full investigation into allegations that Pegasus spyware was used on Israeli citizens, including people who led protests of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pegasus, a surveillance product made by the Israeli firm NSO that can turn a mobile phone into a pocket spying device, has remained a source of global controversy following revelations last year it was used to spy on journalists and dissidents worldwide.

Once installed in a mobile phone, Pegasus allows access to the user’s messaging and data, as well as remote activation of the device for sound and image capture.

NSO would neither confirm nor deny it sold technologies to Israeli police, stressing that it does “not operate the system once sold to its governmental customers and it is not involved in any way in the system’s operation.”

“NSO sells its products under license and regulation to intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent terror and crime under court orders and the local laws of their countries,” it said in a statement sent to AFP.

Israel’s defense ministry, which must approve all exports of Israeli-made defense industry products, has also opened an investigation into sales of Pegasus overseas. 

 

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Blinken to Meet Russian Foreign Minister on Ukraine

21
Jan,2022

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Geneva, where he meets Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the fourth time in the last week that U.S. and Russian officials have engaged in direct talks.

The West is demanding that Russia pull its troops and weapons away from the Ukraine border while Moscow is pushing for NATO to curtail its operations in eastern and central Europe and insisting that the Western military alliance reject Ukraine’s membership bid.

Blinken vowed Thursday that the United States and its allies would inflict “swift and massive” costs on Russia if it invades Ukraine but said Russian President Vladimir Putin can still opt for a diplomatic solution to rising tensions in eastern Europe.

Blinken said the U.S. has been “very clear throughout” that if any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border “that they will be met with a swift, severe united response from the U.S, and our allies and partners.”

After meeting with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Berlin, Blinken said Putin has a choice between “dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand and conflict and consequences on the other hand. He has to decide which course to take.”

Blinken said, “We’re at a decisive juncture,” referring to the standoff between Western countries and Moscow over Putin’s massing of 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern flank.

While the U.S. has been resolute in saying that a Russian military invasion of Ukraine would draw swift and significant economic sanctions, but no U.S. or NATO military response, it has been less clear what the West might do in the event of Russian cyberattacks or other actions against the Kyiv government.

 

At his news conference Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden made confusing remarks about the West’s response to what he called a “minor incursion.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki later said Biden “knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics. And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”

Biden’s comment about a “minor incursion” drew a sharp retort from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who said on Twitter, “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the president of a great power.”

Biden hedged on whether Putin will invade Ukraine, saying, “I’m not so sure he [is] certain what he’s going to do. My guess is he will move in. He has to do something.”

The U.S. leader said he does not believe Putin wants a “full-blown war” but does want to test the resolve of the United States and NATO.

Russia has denied it has intentions of invading Ukraine, while it seeks security guarantees, such as Ukraine not joining the NATO, the seven-decade-old military alliance formed after World War II.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova alleged that Ukrainian and Western claims of an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine were a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.”

“They may have extremely tragic consequences for the regional and global security,” Zakharova said.

She pointed to Britain delivering weapons to Ukraine in recent days, claiming that Ukraine perceives Western military assistance as a “carte blanche for a military operation” in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Some material in this report came from the Associated Press.

 

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Biden: Any Russian Troop Movement into Ukraine Would Trigger Severe Action

21
Jan,2022

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U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to clear up any misunderstanding surrounding remarks made Wednesday, saying he has made very clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that any movement of Russian troops across Ukraine’s border will be treated as an invasion and will trigger severe consequences. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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US Charges 4 Belarus Officials With Air Piracy in Reporter’s Arrest

21
Jan,2022

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U.S. prosecutors charged four Belarusian government officials Thursday with aircraft piracy for allegedly using a bomb threat ruse to divert a Ryanair flight last year in order to arrest an opposition journalist.

The charges, announced by federal prosecutors in New York, recounted how a regularly scheduled passenger plane traveling between Athens, Greece, and Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 23 was diverted to Minsk, Belarus, by air traffic control authorities in Belarus.

“Since the dawn of powered flight, countries around the world have cooperated to keep passenger airplanes safe. The defendants shattered those standards by diverting an airplane to further the improper purpose of repressing dissent and free speech,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a news release announcing the charges.

Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the pilots that there was a bomb threat against the jetliner and ordered them to land in Minsk. The Belarusian military scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet in an apparent attempt to encourage the crew to comply with the orders of the flight controllers.

In August, President Joe Biden levied sanctions against Belarus on the one-year anniversary of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s election, in a vote the U.S. and international community said was fraught with irregularities.

The arrested journalist and activist, Raman Pratasevich, ran a popular messaging app that helped organize mass demonstrations against Lukashenko. The 26-year-old Pratasevich left Belarus in 2019 and faced charges there of inciting riots.

Lukashenko was awarded a sixth term leading the Eastern European nation last year. Widespread belief that the vote was stolen triggered mass protests in Belarus that led to increased repressions by Lukashenko’s regime on protesters, dissidents and independent media. More than 35,000 people were arrested, and thousands were beaten and jailed.

Those charged in court papers were identified as Leonid Mikalaevich Churo, director general of Belaeronavigatsia Republican Unitary Air Navigation Services Enterprise, the Belarusian state air navigation authority; Oleg Kazyuchits, deputy director general of Belaeronavigatsia; and two Belarusian state security agents whose full identities weren’t known to prosecutors. 

 

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US Air Travel Safety Questions Linger Amid 5G Rollout

21
Jan,2022

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An unresolved disagreement between U.S. wireless communications carriers and commercial airlines over the rollout of new 5G networks continues to generate confusion about whether air travel is safe in the United States. 

On Wednesday, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest providers of mobile voice and internet service in the U.S., began turning on new wireless towers across the United States, making the ultra-fast 5G spectrum available to consumers, primarily in the more densely populated parts of the country.

Up until the last moment, there was a dispute between the carriers and major U.S. airlines over whether or not the new service would be deployed near airports. This caused a handful of international carriers, including British Airways, Lufthansa, All Nippon, Japan Airlines and Emirates, to announce that they would suspend some service to the United States until the issue was resolved.

Emirates President Tim Clark described the situation as “utterly irresponsible,” speaking earlier this week on CNN.

By Thursday morning, most of the concern about international flights had been resolved, but lingering questions remain for the United States’ vast system or regional air travel.

Interference with landing instruments possible

The 5G C-band spectrum signal used for mobile communications – for which mobile carriers paid more than $80 billion in an auction last year – is similar to the signal that commercial airlines use to measure the altitude of planes landing during inclement weather. Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have expressed concern that some aircraft devices, called radar altimeters, could experience interference from the new 5G signals, creating dangerous conditions.

On Wednesday, in a deal brokered by the Biden administration, mobile carriers said they would delay activating 5G towers near airport runways, leaving about 10% of the planned rollout inactive. In addition, the FAA specifically cleared several kinds of radar altimeters, including those commonly used in the Boeing 777, saying the data shows that 5G signals do not interfere with their systems.

In a press release Wednesday, the FAA said its new approvals “allow an estimated 62 percent of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports where wireless companies deployed 5G C-band.”

Regional airports waiting for answers

While the FAA’s steps to clear large passenger planes for continued use following the 5G rollout have helped prevent problems at large airports, the new technology is causing concern about safety at regional airports across the country, which are served by a wide variety of passenger planes, typically smaller than those that fly into major hub airports.

As of Wednesday, the FAA had not updated guidance for many smaller planes. Because there were relatively few severe weather systems in the U.S. on Wednesday, that did not translate into major delays. However, industry representatives said that it was only a matter of time before challenging weather conditions would begin causing problems.

Faye Malarkey Black, the president and CEO of the regional Airline Association, used Twitter to air her concerns about the situation, saying, “Situational update: 0% of the regional airline fleet has been cleared to perform low visibility landings at #5G impacted airports if/when weather drops below minimums. Today’s fair weather is saving rural America from severe air service disruption.”

Not a new problem

The battle between the airlines and mobile carriers is particularly frustrating to many in the U.S., because it is a problem that has been successfully resolved in other countries around the world. China, the U.K., and France, for example, have managed to roll out 5G service without any significant impact on air travel. That was achieved by agreements between the parties that limited the number of cell towers near airports and the power levels at which they operate.

In a warning to its members, the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations noted that, in the U.S., “The power levels and proximities of the 5G signals are at higher power levels than any other deployment currently in use elsewhere in the world.”

The situation in the U.S. was complicated by the fact that the slice of spectrum being used for 5G services is slightly different here than it is in Europe. In the U.S., mobile carriers bought the rights to the band between 3.7 and 3.98 gigahertz, putting their signals somewhat closer to the 4.2 to 4.4 GHz being used by airlines than the European mobile carriers, which are limited to a range of 3.4 to 3.8 GHz.

The issue was raised during a press conference that U.S.President Joe Biden held at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. After being asked whether his administration bore part of the blame for confusion about flight safety, Biden characterized it as a fight between two private entities, over which the federal government exerts limited control.

“The fact is that you had two enterprises — two private enterprises — that had one promoting 5G and the other one are airlines,” Biden said. “They’re private enterprises. They have government regulation, admittedly.”

“And so, what I’ve done is pushed as hard as I can to have 5G folks hold up and abide by what was being requested by the airlines until they could more modernize over the years so that 5G would not interfere with the potential of the landing,” he said. “So, any tower — any 5G tower within a certain number of miles from the airport should not be operative.”

Bureaucratic dysfunction

The confusion resulting from the 5G rollout this week is at least partly attributable to dysfunction within the federal bureaucracy. Analysts say lines of authority between agencies responsible for auctioning off the rights to the wireless spectrum and those charged with managing conflicts are unclear. 

The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for spectrum auctions, but it is the Federal Aviation Administration, a part of the Department of Transportation, which makes decisions about airline safety. Further complicating matters is that the agency in charge of mediating spectrum disputes, which is located within the Commerce Department, was without a director for two-and-a-half-years, until President Biden’s nominee was confirmed last week.

That situation has led to multiple problems in the rollout of new communications technology over the years, including a recent battle during the Trump administration over whether new spectrum auctions would interfere with the satellite-based Global Positioning System

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Senate Panel Moves Forward With Bill Targeting Big Tech

21
Jan,2022

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Legislation that would bar technology companies from favoring their own products in a way that undermines competitiveness moved forward Thursday after a Senate panel voted to move the bill to the Senate floor. 

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act received bipartisan support in a 16-6 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

The bill targets Amazon; Alphabet, the parent company of Google; Apple; and Meta, which was formerly called Facebook. 

The companies had worked strenuously to sink the bill, arguing it could disrupt their services. 

Smaller tech companies that supported the bill argued it will benefit consumers through adding competition. 

“This bill is not meant to break up Big Tech or destroy the products and services they offer,” said Senator Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the judiciary panel. “The goal of the bill is to prevent conduct that stifles competition.” 

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, was critical of the bill and said he thought it would not pass the full Senate. 

“Antitrust policy should aim to promote consumer welfare — not punish specific companies,” he said in a statement. 

Another bill aimed at Big Tech, which has bipartisan sponsorship, is also working its way through Congress. The Open App Markets Act would prevent the Apple and Google app stores from requiring app makers to use their payment systems. 

The House of Representatives is also considering versions of both bills. 

Some information for this report came from Reuters. 

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Macron’s Call for EU Talks With Kremlin Unnerves European Allies

21
Jan,2022

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the European Union to pursue its own talks with the Kremlin is raising fears of a split developing in the Western response to the threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine.

Macron has struggled in the past to convince his EU partners of the need for Europe to take regional security into its own hands and depend less on the United States. His speech to European lawmakers Wednesday, though, in which he called for the bloc to negotiate its own security and stability pact with the Kremlin, was welcomed by Russian state-owned media.

But some Central European and Baltic leaders said Macron’s comments were ill-timed and risk encouraging the Kremlin to try to play the U.S. and EU against each other, and cause a divide as the U.S. calls for Western unity.

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, said he was at a loss to understand what Macron means about coming up with “a new order of security and stability.”

“These next few months, rather, seem to call for firm defense of the existing post-1989 order,” he tweeted.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Russia could “attack at very short notice.” Also, there have been reports that Russia has moved Iskander short-range ballistic missiles to the border, placing them within striking range of Kyiv. Russia has deployed an estimated 127,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, according to Ukrainian intelligence assessments.

 

Some Russian detachments currently in Belarus, a Russian ally, have been moved closer to the Ukrainian border, according to the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of independent Russian researchers, who say Russian military hardware has been spotted in Belarus’s Gomel region, a short distance from Ukraine. Russian officials deny they have any intention to attack Ukraine and that Russian forces are in Belarus for joint military exercises.

In his speech before the European Parliament, Macron said: “It’s good for Europe and the U.S. to coordinate, but it is vital that Europe has its own dialogue with Russia.” He said Europeans should build a new framework “between us, Europeans, share it with our allies in NATO, and propose it for negotiation to Russia,” he told EU lawmakers.

Additionally, Macron emphasized that borders should be inviolable, and that the EU must not allow Russia to veto Ukraine or any other state from joining NATO, a key Russian demand.

Macron’s floating of an EU security pact with Russia is “exactly the wrong thing to do,” tweeted Edward Lucas, of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a U.S.-based think tank, and author of the book “The New Cold War.”

EU officials say they were blindsided by Macron’s call for Europeans to conduct their own dialogue with the Kremlin that’s distinct from the United States. Western diplomats said the French leader had not consulted other national leaders before the speech. On Thursday, senior EU officials sought to reassure Washington.

 

Macron aides also scrambled to walk back some of the French leader’s comments, with one saying Paris is very much in favor of close coordination with the U.S. And he said Macron’s call for a new security framework would help reinforce “the unity of the NATO alliance.”

The EU has not been directly involved in the most substantive talks with the Kremlin over Ukraine and a series of other Russian demands, including an end to NATO enlargement and a rollback of any NATO military presence in the former Communist states of central Europe that have joined the Western alliance.

Russian officials held meetings last week with the U.S. and with NATO, though EU representatives participated in a meeting of the 57 states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Twenty-one of the EU’s 27 members also are NATO members.

Asked whether the European Commission backed Macron’s proposal for separate talks with Russia, a spokesperson said the EU was formulating is strategy “within the framework of the ongoing contacts and coordination, both within the EU and between the EU and the transatlantic partners such as the U.S., Canada, NATO and the OSCE.”

EU and NATO allies have been unanimous in rejecting Russian demands for Ukraine never to join the Western alliance, but there have been signs of divisions among them about how the West should seek to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine and what steps to take if Russia does so.

 

Current and former Western diplomats have told VOA that while there’s broad agreement among Western powers about sanctioning Russia in the event of a military incursion, there is not yet a final deal on the details.

And there have been disagreements between NATO allies on re-arming Ukraine, with Baltic NATO allies Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia pushing for weeks to be allowed to transfer American-made lethal weapons, including anti-armor and ground-to-air missiles, to Ukraine. Midweek they received a go-ahead from the U.S. State Department. But Germany is opposed to large arms transfers to Ukraine, fearing it risks escalating the East-West confrontation.

U.S. President Joe Biden hinted Wednesday at the challenge of keeping all the NATO allies united. Biden reiterated warnings that Russia would face devastating Western sanctions, if an attack went ahead. But at a press conference in Washington, he also said: “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and we [in NATO] end up fighting about what we should do, not do.”

Ukrainian officials reacted angrily to Biden’s comments, saying they fear the U.S. leader was inadvertently giving Russian leader Vladimir Putin the green light to mount an incursion short of a full-scale invasion. Ukrainian officials said they were surprised Biden distinguished between incursion and invasion.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told the Wall Street Journal: “Speaking of minor and full incursions or full invasion, you cannot be half-aggressive. You’re either aggressive or you’re not aggressive.” He added: “We should not give Putin the slightest chance to play with quasi-aggression or small incursion operations. This aggression was there since 2014. This is the fact.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a clarification amid the Ukrainian backlash, saying, “President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.” 

At a joint press conference in Berlin on Thursday, neither Secretary Blinken nor his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock directly addressed Macron’s comments. Both foreign ministers emphasized the intensity of consultations between all Western allies

“The coordination and consultation amongst us allies couldn’t be more intensive than it is,” said Baerbock.

Blinken added: “All of these engagements are part of wide-ranging, ongoing consultations with our European allies and partners — more than a hundred in recent weeks alone, including with Ukraine, NATO, the European Union, the OSCE, the Bucharest Nine, as well as many bilateral conversations with individual countries — to ensure that we are speaking and acting together with one voice when it comes to Russia.”

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Explainer: What Are US Military Options to Help Ukraine?

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Jan,2022

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President Joe Biden is not planning to answer a further Russian invasion of Ukraine by sending combat troops. But he could pursue a range of less dramatic yet still risky military options, including supporting a post-invasion Ukrainian resistance.

The rationale for not directly joining a Russia-Ukraine war is simple. The United States has no treaty obligation to Ukraine, and war with Russia would be an enormous gamble, given its potential for expanding in Europe, destabilizing the region, and escalating to the frightening point of risking a nuclear exchange.

Doing too little has its risks, too. It might suggest an acquiescence to future Russian moves against other countries in eastern Europe, such as the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, although as NATO members those three have security assurances from the United States and the rest of the alliance.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Europe this week to speak with officials in Ukraine, consult NATO allies and then meet Friday with his Russian counterpart, has asserted “an unshakable U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” But he has not publicly defined the limits of that commitment.

How far, then, might the United States and its allies go to help Ukraine defend itself if the buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s borders leads to an invasion?

 

WHY NOT CONTEST A RUSSIAN INVASION?

Going to war against Russia in Ukraine could tie up U.S. forces and resources for years and take a heavy toll in lives with an uncertain outcome at a time when the Biden administration is trying to focus on China as the chief security threat.

On Wednesday, Biden said it was his “guess” that Russian President Vladimir Putin will end up sending forces into Ukraine, although he also said he doesn’t think Putin wants all-out war. Biden did not address the possibility of putting U.S. ground troops in Ukraine to stop an invasion, but he previously had ruled that out.

Biden said he is uncertain how Putin will use the forces he has assembled near Ukraine’s border, but the United States and NATO have rejected what Moscow calls its main demand — a guarantee that the Western alliance will not expand further eastward. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and also intervened in eastern Ukraine that year to support a separatist insurgency. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting there.

The stakes in Ukraine are high — militarily and politically. Lawmakers have intensified their criticism of Biden’s approach to Putin. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused Biden of “handwringing and appeasement,” but he has not urged sending combat troops. Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, called for an urgent “nonstop airlift” of military equipment and trainers into Ukraine.

Philip Breedlove, a retired Air Force general who served as the top NATO commander in Europe from 2013 to 2016, said in an interview he does not expect or recommend that the United States send combat troops into Ukraine. Instead, Washington and its allies should be looking for ways to help Ukraine defend its own airspace and territorial waters, where it faces overwhelming Russian superiority, he said.

“Those are things we should be considering as an alliance and as a nation,” he said. “If Mr. Putin is allowed to invade Ukraine and there were to be little or no consequence, we will see more of the same.”

 

WHAT ARE BIDEN’S OTHER OPTIONS?

Given its clear military inferiority, Ukraine could not prevent Russian forces from invading. But with help from the United States and others, Ukraine might deter Putin from acting if he were convinced that the costs would be too high.

“The key to thwarting Russian ambitions is to prevent Moscow from having a quick victory and to raise the economic, political, and military costs by imposing economic sanctions, ensuring political isolation from the West, and raising the prospect of a prolonged insurgency that grinds away the Russian military,” Seth Jones, a political scientist, and Philip Wasielewski, a former CIA paramilitary officer, wrote in a Jan. 13 analysis for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Biden administration has suggested it is thinking along similar lines.

 

HOW IS THE U.S. SUPPORTING UKRAINE’S MILITARY NOW?

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby says there are about 200 National Guard soldiers in Ukraine to train and advise local forces, and on Tuesday he said there are no plans to augment their number. There also are an undisclosed number of U.S. special operations troops providing training in Ukraine. Kirby wouldn’t say whether the U.S. soldiers would pull out in the event of a Russian invasion, but he said the Pentagon would “make all the appropriate and proper decisions to make sure our people are safe in any event.”

The administration said Wednesday it is providing a further $200 million in defensive military aid to Ukraine. Since 2014 the United States has provided Ukraine with about $2.5 billion in defense assistance, including anti-tank missiles and radars.

 

HOW MIGHT THE U.S. HELP UKRAINE AFTER AN INVASION?

It’s not clear. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that the U.S. would “dramatically ramp up” support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty.” But he did not spell out how that might be done.

The administration says it also is open to sending military reinforcements to NATO allies on the eastern front who want American reassurance.

Jones and Wasielewski say that in addition to implementing severe sanctions against Russia in the event of an invasion, the United States should provide Ukraine with a broad range of military assistance at no cost. This would include air defense, anti-tank and anti-ship systems; electronic warfare and cyber defense systems; small arms and artillery ammunition, and other items.

“The United States and NATO should be prepared to offer long-term support to Ukraine’s resistance no matter what form it ends up taking,” they wrote. This aid could be delivered overtly with the help of U.S. troops, including special operations forces, or it could be a CIA-led covert action authorized by President Biden, they added.

That would carry the risk of putting U.S. personnel in the line of fire — and drawing the United States into the very combat it’s determined to avoid.

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