Study: Kids Who Play Violent Video Games May Be More Likely to Handle Guns

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Children who either played or watched a video game that included gun violence were more likely afterward to handle a gun and pull the trigger, a new study finds.

More than 200 children were randomly assigned to play either a non-violent video game or a game with firearm violence. Soon after, more than 60% of kids who played the violent game touched a gun, compared to about 44% of those who played a non-violent game, researchers report in JAMA Network Open.

The lessons from the new findings are that: “gun owners should secure their guns,” and “parents should protect their children from violent media, including video games,” said study coauthor Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

“Each day in the United States, nearly 50 children and teenagers are shot with a firearm, often as a result of a child finding one loaded and unsecured,” Bushman and his coauthor Justin Chang, a former graduate student at Ohio State, wrote.

“Among firearm-owning households with children, approximately 20% keep at least one firearm loaded and unsecured.”

Bushman and Chang recruited 242 kids, ages 8 to 12, to look at the impact of violent video games. The children were partnered up and then randomly assigned to one of three groups: a version of Minecraft that included violence with guns, a version that included violence with swords and a non-violent version. No matter which game a pair of children was assigned to, one would play the game and the other would watch.

After playing the games for 20 minutes, the children were moved to another room that contained toys for them to play with as well as two disabled guns with trigger counters that had been tucked away in a cabinet.

Out of the 242 children recruited, 220 eventually found the guns and those kids were included in the study.

Among the 76 children who played video games that included guns, 61.8% handled the weapon, as compared 56.8% of the 74 who played a game including sword violence and 44.3% of the 70 who played a non-violent game.

Children who played violent video games were also more likely to pull the trigger, researchers found.

How many times children pulled the trigger depended on the video game they watched.

It was a median of “10.1 times if they played the version of Minecraft where the monsters could be killed with guns, 3.6 times if they played the version of Minecraft where the monsters could be killed with swords and 3.0 times if they played the version of Minecraft without weapons and monsters,” Bushman said in an email.

“The more important outcome, though, is pulling the trigger of a gun while pointing that gun at oneself or one’s partner [children were tested in pairs],” Bushman said. There, the median was 3.4 times for the game with gun violence, 1.5 times for the game with swords and 0.2 times for non-violent games.

The new study “is the most rigorous design that can be conducted,” said Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

While “it’s important to recognize certain types of entertainment can be violent, when it comes to firearms, the solution is to store guns safely so that children can’t gain access,” Crifasi said. “That doesn’t mean children won’t engage in other violent play. But we can cut off guns as a source of potential harm.”

Dr. Shari Platt agreed that the best way to protect kids is proper gun storage.

“The study is interesting and I think they are touching on some very real fears parents have around graphically violent video games,” said Platt, chief of pediatric medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine. But in the end, “education and prevention are always the answers.”

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2EHXw4w and http://bit.ly/2EJslpC JAMA Network Open, online May 31, 2019.

Energy Secretary: US Aims to Make Fossil Fuels Cleaner 

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The Trump administration is committed to making fossil fuels cleaner rather than imposing “draconian” regulations on coal and oil, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Thursday at an energy conference in Salt Lake City.

Perry previously said the administration wants to spend $500 million next year on fossil fuel research and development as demand plummets for coal and surges for natural gas. 

 

“Instead of punishing fuels that produce emissions through regulation, we’re seeking to reduce those emissions by innovation,” Perry said at the conference.

Fossil fuel emissions have been cited by scientists as a major source of global warming. 

 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said the world must change how it fuels factories, vehicles and homes to limit future global warming.

Perry said the Trump administration has proven it can make energy cleaner, but he provided no details involving coal and other fossil fuels, other than the closing of old, inefficient coal-burning power plants and exporting increasing volumes of natural gas, an alternative to coal.  

Department of Energy spokesman Dirk Vande Beek didn’t immediately return an email and voicemail seeking more details about Perry’s claim.

Perry pointed to an overall drop in emissions as proof of progress.

Greenhouse gas emissions dropped 13 percent from 2005 to 2017, according to the most recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lindsay Beebe of the Sierra Club in Utah said trying to make fossil fuels cleaner is misspent energy.

“I don’t know that it’s possible right now, but what is ready right now are renewables. Wind, solar and geothermal are commercially viable and at scale,” Beebe said.

The summit Thursday was briefly interrupted when 15 protesters took the stage to criticize the administration’s fixation on fossil fuels. 

 

They said the misguided approach ignores climate change. Police then escorted them out.

After they left, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who sponsored the event, said he and other leaders appreciated the “youthful enthusiasm” but their call to immediately discard fossil fuels and shift entirely to renewable energy isn’t realistic.

They would like us to quit by Friday and not take anything out of the ground,'' Herbert said.That obviously doesn’t work from a practical standpoint.”

Americans burned a record amount of energy in 2018, with a 10% jump in consumption from booming natural gas helping lead the way, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

Fossil fuels in all accounted for 80% of Americans’ energy use. 

IMF Denies Pressuring Venezuela to Release Economic Data

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The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday it had not pressured Venezuela to release economic indicators after years of silence, while two sources said the country’s surprise data release this week was due to pressure from China.

The central bank on Tuesday unexpectedly released data confirming Venezuela is suffering hyperinflation and massive economic contraction. The release reversed President Nicolas Maduro’s unofficial policy of classifying economic indicators as state secrets.

The data reported a 22.5 percent contraction in Venezuela’s economy in the third quarter of 2018 from the same period of the previous year. The bank did not provide a full-year 2018 figure for economic activity.

Monthly inflation in April 2019 was 33.8 percent, while 2018 full-year inflation reached 130,060 percent, the bank said.

The IMF said it suspended work with Venezuela on its economic data in January, when opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Most Western countries, including the United States, have backed Guaido as the OPEC nation’s interim head of state.

However, Maduro and ruling socialist party continue to control state institutions including the military, state oil company PDVSA and the central bank.

The Fund said in March it was awaiting guidance from member countries on whether to recognize Guaido as the country’s leader. The United States and Venezuelan ally China are important IMF members, as they have the world’s two largest economies.

“Work in this area has been suspended since late January as political developments gave rise to questions regarding government recognition,” the spokesman said.

Last year, the IMF issued a “declaration of censure” against Venezuela for failing to report timely and accurate economic data, such as gross domestic product and inflation.

The move was a warning that Caracas could be barred from voting on IMF policies, and eventually expelled, unless it resumed timely and accurate reporting.

Maduro has repeatedly dismissed the IMF as an agent of U.S. colonialism and criticized the institution for leading harsh austerity programs in developing countries.

China, which has for years sought to increase its influence within the IMF, had pressured Maduro’s government to release the data, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.

One of the sources said China had hoped releasing the data would help bring Venezuela into compliance with the IMF, making it harder for the institution to recognize Guaido.

An IMF spokesman said the fund could not fully assess the quality of the data because there was no contact with the government.

“We cannot offer a view on data quality as we have not had the opportunity to make a full assessment in the absence of contacts with the authorities,” the spokesman said.

Wall Street Slump Continues on U.S.-China Trade Uncertainty

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U.S. stocks lost ground again on Thursday, as conflicting comments on trade talks from President Donald Trump and Beijing  reinforced investor nervousness that a lengthy battle could be in the offing and harm global growth.

Trump said talks with China were going well but those comments were countered by a senior Chinese diplomat who said provoking trade disputes is “naked economic terrorism.”

The lack of clarity around the trade battle has rattled investors of late, after the S&P 500 had risen more than 17% through the first four months of the year on optimism a trade deal between the two countries could be reached.

That optimism has faded, however, as the escalating dispute between the two countries has weighed heavily on Wall Street in May, with each of the three main indexes declining at least 5% for the month. The benchmark S&P 500 is nearly 6% lower from its closing high on April 30.

“The market is coming to that realization that we are not getting really clean or clear information and it is going to be a lot of noise and just prepare for that,” said Ben Phillips, chief investment officer at Eventshares in Newport Beach, California.

“It is a difficult market right now. There are a lot of macro signals that are starting to roll over and the question is the trade dispute causing that or is it other factors.”

A government report on Thursday showed U.S. inflation was much weaker than initially thought in the first quarter on a sharp slowdown in domestic demand, while growth was also slightly lower than estimated in April.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 27.59 points, or 0.11%, to 25,098.82, the S&P 500 lost 2.11 points, or 0.08%, to 2,780.91 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 9.19 points, or 0.12%, to 7,538.12.

The trade jitters helped sustain demand for safe haven debt, as U.S. Treasury yields held near 20-month lows. The yield curve between three-month bills and 10-year notes remained inverted, the inversion the widest in nearly 12 years.

That, in turn, weighed on interest-rate sensitive bank stocks, which dropped 1.5% and were on track for a third straight day of declines, while the broader financial sector declined 0.8%.

The energy sector fell 1.3%, as oil prices continued their slump in part due to a smaller-than-expected decline in U.S. crude inventories. The sector has fallen more than 10% this month.

Among stocks, Dollar General Corp jumped 7.2% after the discount retailer’s same-store sales and profit topped expectations.

Viacom Inc climbed 3.6% after report that CBS Corp is preparing for merger talks with the media company. CBS rose 2.5%.

PVH Corp plunged 14.2% as the worst performer on the S&P 500, after the Calvin Klein owner cut its annual profit forecast as it grapples with tariffs and slowing retail growth.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.11-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, a 1.38-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 had 1 new 52-week high and 25 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite 25 new highs and 119 new lows.

Telecoms Giant EE Launches Britain’s First 5G Services

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British mobile phone operator EE on Thursday became the first in the country to launch a high-speed 5G service, but without smartphones from controversial Chinese technology giant Huawei.

EE, which is a division of British telecoms giant BT, has launched 5G in six major cities comprising Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester — and more hubs will follow.

“From today, the U.K. will be able to discover 5G for the first time thanks to EE,” it announced in a statement, after an official launch featuring a performance from chart-topping grime act Stormzy on a boat on London’s River Thames.

Next-generation 5G mobile networks offer almost instantaneous data transfer that will become the nervous system of Europe’s economy in strategic sectors like energy, transport, banking and health care.

EE had announced last week that it would make its 5G network available to the public — but would not sell Huawei’s first 5G phone, the Mate 20 X 5G.

However, the Chinese company still provides 5G network infrastructure equipment to EE.

“We are very pleased to be one of the partners supporting EE with a new era of faster and more reliable mobile connectivity over 5G in the U.K.,” a Huawei spokesperson told AFP on Thursday.

Rival British mobile phone giant Vodafone will launch its own 5G services on July 3 in seven UK cities — but it has also paused the sale of the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G smartphone.

Vodafone does not use Huawei in its core UK network but uses a mixture of Ericsson and Huawei technology in its radio access network or masts, according to a company spokesman. He added that there are “multiple” layers of security between the masts and the core network.

Huawei faces pushback in some Western markets over fears that Beijing could spy on communications and gain access to critical infrastructure if allowed to develop foreign 5G networks.

The Chinese company flatly denies what it describes as “unsubstantiated claims” about being a security threat.

US internet titan Google has meanwhile started to cut ties between its Android operating system and Huawei, a move that affects hundreds of millions of smartphone users, after the U.S. government announced what amounts to a ban on selling or transferring technology to the company.

Earlier this week, Huawei asked a U.S. court to throw out US legislation that bars federal agencies from buying its products.

The U.S. moves against Huawei come as the Washington and Beijing are embroiled in a wider trade war.

 

 

Should Facebook Delete Fake Pelosi Video?

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When a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — one altered to show the Democratic leader slurring her words — began making the rounds on Facebook last week, the social network didn’t take it down. Instead, it “downranked” the video, a behind-the-scenes move intended to limit its spread.

That outraged some people who believe Facebook should do more to clamp down on misinformation. Pelosi derided Facebook Wednesday for not taking down the video even though it knows it is false.

But the company and some civil libertarians warn that Facebook could evolve into an unaccountable censor if it’s forced to make judgment calls on the veracity of text, photos or videos.

Facebook has long resisted making declarations about the truthfulness of posts that could open it up to charges of censorship or political bias. It manages to get itself in enough trouble simply trying to enforce more basic rules in difficult cases, such as the time a straightforward application of its ban on nudity led it to remove an iconic Vietnam War photo of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack. (It backed down after criticism from the prime minister of Norway, among others.)

But staying out of the line of fire is harder than it used to be, given Facebook’s size, reach and impact on global society. The social network can’t help but run into controversy given its 2.4 billion users and the sorts of decisions it must make daily — everything from which posts and links it highlights in your news feed to deciding what counts as hate speech to banning controversial figures or leaving them be.

Facebook has another incentive to keep its head down. The deeper it gets into editorial decisions, the more it looks like a publisher, which could tempt legislators to limit the liability shield it currently enjoys under federal law. In addition, making judgments about truth and falsity could quickly become one of the world’s biggest headaches.

For instance, Republican politicians and other conservatives, from President Donald Trump to Fox News personalities, have been trumpeting the charge that Facebook is biased against conservatives. That’s a “false narrative,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia. But as a result, he said, “any effort to clean up Facebook now would spark tremendous fury.”

Twitter hasn’t removed the doctored Pelosi video, either, and declined comment on its handling of it. But YouTube yanked it down, pointing to community guidelines that prohibit spam, deceptive practices and scams.

Facebook has a similar policy that prohibits the use of “misleading and inaccurate” information to gain likes, followers or shares, although it apparently decided not to apply it in this case.

None of these companies explicitly prohibit false news, although Facebook notes that it “significantly” reduces the distribution of such posts by pushing them lower in user news feeds.

The problem is that such downranking doesn’t quite work, Vaidhyanathan said. As of Wednesday, the video shared on Facebook by the group Politics Watchdog had been viewed nearly 3 million times and shared more than 48,000 times. By contrast, other videos posted by this group in the past haven’t had more than a few thousand views apiece.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Facebook is starting to de-emphasize the news feed itself. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has outlined a broad strategy that will emphasize private messaging over public sharing on Facebook. And Facebook groups, many of which are private, aren’t subject to downranking, Vaidhyanathan said.

Facebook didn’t respond to emailed questions about its policies and whether it is considering changes that would allow it to remove similar videos in the future. In an interview last week with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Facebook’s head of global policy, Monika Bickert, defended the company’s decision , noting that users are “being told” that the video is false when they view or share it.

That might be a stretch. When an Associated Press reporter attempted to share the video as a test, a Facebook pop-up noted the existence of “additional reporting” on the video with links to fact-check articles, but didn’t directly describe the video as false or misleading.

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief, tweeted Sunday that few critics of the social network’s handling of the Pelosi video could articulate realistic enforcement standards beyond “take down stuff I don’t like.” Mass censorship of misleading speech on Facebook, he wrote, would be “a huge and dangerous increase in FB’s editorial power.”

Last year, Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook that the company focuses on downranking so-called “borderline content,” stuff that doesn’t violate its rules but is provocative, sensationalist, “click-bait or misinformation.”

While it’s true that Facebook could just change its rules around what is allowed — moving the line on acceptable material — Zuckerberg said this doesn’t address the underlying problem of incentive. If the line of what is allowed moves, those creating material would just push closer to that new line.

Facebook continuously grapples with the right way to deal with new forms of misinformation, Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of cybersecurity policy, said in a February interview with the AP. The problem is far more complex than carefully manipulated “deepfake” videos that show people doing things they never did, or even crudely doctored videos such as the Pelosi clip.

Any consistent policy, Gleicher said, would have to account for edited images, ones presented out of context (such as a decade-old photo presented as current), doctored audio and more. He said it’s a huge challenge to accurately identify such items and decide what type of disclosure to require when they’re edited.

Fox Host, Chinese State TV Anchor Face Off Over Trade War

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A Chinese state TV anchor and a host from Fox Business, whose sparring over the U.S.-China trade war has been avidly followed on Chinese social media, brought their duel to the American cable network for what turned out to be a respectful encounter.

The showdown between Liu Xin of China’s state-run English channel CGTN and Fox Business Network host Trish Regan was aired on Wednesday evening in the United States but was not shown live on TV in China, though it had been hyped by state and social media.

Following U.S. moves this month to increase tariffs on Chinese imports and blacklist tech giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd the rhetoric out of Beijing has become more strident.

At the start of the roughly 16-minute segment, Liu corrected

Regan to say that she was not a member of the Chinese Communist Party and was speaking for herself as a CGTN journalist. 

Otherwise, there was little in the way of fireworks.

Liu agreed intellectual property theft was a problem, although not only in China, and that there was a “consensus” in China that “without the protection of IP rights, nobody, no country, no individual, can be strong and can develop itself.”

Regan asked Liu her definition of state capitalism, and Liu described China’s system of “socialism with Chinese characteristics, where market forces are expected to play the dominating or the deciding role in the allocation of resources.”

Liu said state-owned enterprises play “an important but increasingly smaller role, maybe, in the economy,” and said 80 percent of Chinese employment is in the private sector.

Washington argues that Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecoms network gear, is linked to the government and therefore poses a security risk, which Huawei disputes, arguing that it is owned by employees.

Liu had said on Twitter that because of rights issues, CGTN would not be able to show the debate live, though it would “report on it closely.”

A Fox News spokesperson said a free live stream of the debate would be available on the Fox Business Network website and the entire segment would also be available after the broadcast.

China’s internet is heavily censored and many major foreign media sites are blocked, but many people in China appeared to have followed the debate on state broadcaster CCTV’s live blog or watched via livestream.

The feud between Liu and Regan had started on air and was amplified on Twitter, which is blocked in China, with one social media hashtag on the Twitter-like Weibo garnering more than 120 million views as of Wednesday.

Liu had been critical of Regan’s China coverage and Regan has taken up the challenge, calling on Liu to have an honest debate.

“She’s so sure of U.S. victimhood, so indignant that her eyes practically spit fire, yet in carefully analyzing her words, it’s all emotion and accusation, supported with little substance,” Liu said of Regan on CGTN.

Regan responded this week on air and on Twitter: “They’re launching a full-scale information war against the United States of America, and their latest target is me.”

State broadcaster CCTV and the People’s Daily newspaper had shared news of the debate on Weibo, while other Chinese media outlets had joined in, some even circulating footage of Liu in an English speech competition from 23 years ago.

Chinese state media has opened the floodgates to patriotic commentaries since the latest U.S. tariff hike and there has been a surge in internet chatter about the trade war during the past few weeks.

Pro-China Policies Unlikely in Australia, India After Recent Elections

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In recent weeks, Australia and India have re-elected incumbent prime ministers. These Asia-Pacific countries, who have a difficult relationship with China, are unlikely to make the kind of policy changes that Beijing has been seeking for a long time, analysts said.

Australia this month re-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison stunning pollsters who had anticipated his defeat for several months. India gave a landslide victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, who campaigned largely on a nationalistic agenda.

China wants support from Australia and India on issues like the U.S.-China trade war, the Huawei controversy, South China Sea controversy and the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Communist Party in Beijing attaches great importance to obtaining support from democratic countries as a means to enhance China’s global influence. It has spent huge sums to obtain the support of the relatively poor European countries like Greece in order to expand the Chinese footprint. But Australia and India are unlikely to support China on many of the issues that are core to Beijing’s foreign policy.

But there may be some exceptions. India has invited Huawei to start trials of its 5G telecommunications network while Australia has blocked it.

“Australia was the first country to reject Huawei’s 5G technology and it is very hard to see how it is going to revisit the decision,” said Richard McGroger, senior fellow at Lowy Institute in Sydney.

China’s official media expressed dissatisfaction over a statement by Morrison describing China as a customer of Australia and the United States as a friend. He made a clear distinction between the two countries when he said, “China is an incredibly important country for Australia’s future. Our relationship with China is of course different to our relationship with the United States,” he said during the elections.

McGregor said there was no reason to be upset over the remarks. “I think it was not a good choice of words. I am sure the Prime Minister did not intend to send any kind of wrong signal and I doubt very much he will be describing China that way again,” he said.

Beijing may have preferred a change of government in Australia which would revisit some of the decisions taken by the coalition under Morrison earlier. But Morrison is back as Prime Minister and he is unlikely to review past decisions.

Besides, Australia has its own domestic reasons to support the United States on issues like opposing China’s military build up in the South China Sea.

“Of course, Australia is worried about the Chinese bases in the South China Sea, since most Australian trade passes through those waters,” he said.

China-India relations

In his congratulatory message to India’s re-elected prime minister, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on Modi to continue joint efforts with China in “promoting multi-polarization and economic globalization as well as upholding multilateralism.”

Analysts see this statement as a sign that Xi wants India to join in a broad coalition against the dominating influence of the United States.

Xi’s choice of words is significant because they come ahead of the meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kyrgyz Republic capital, Bishkek, on June 13-14. He will meet Modi along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and heads of central Asian countries. China will once again push forward its agenda for opposing U.S. trade policies.

As the re-elected government settles down in New Delhi after a stormy election, envoys from India and China are making swift preparations for a series of exchanges between the leaders. A meeting of foreign ministers will happen soon.

Modi is inviting Xi to his election constituency and pilgrimage city of Varanasi in northern India for an informal summit in September.

The first Mar-a-Lago style informal summit took place with the two leaders meeting each other without aides took place in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year. The idea is for the two leaders to understand each other, see issues from a larger canvass and give “strategic guidance” to their ministers on enhancing India-China relations.

The Wuhan summit took place one year after India and China were engaged in a 72-day long border spat at a place called Doklam near the Bhutan border.

“There will be some serious effort to improve relationship. I think they will also look at the possibility of finding an early solution to the border dispute between the two countries,” said Phunchok Stobdan, former Indian diplomat and strategic expert.

“They might also discuss the Dalai Lama issue,” he said. The Tibetan leader fled China and came to India in 1959. He has since been demanding “greater autonomy” for Tibetan speaking people in China while Chinese leaders describe him as a “separatist and splittist” element who is instigating a section of Tibetans to break up from China.

Modi will also be careful about allowing implementation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative because it can be an emotional issue, more so because the Indian public regards Beijing as Pakistan’s biggest ally and protection. Modi and his party fought the election speaking against what he regards as Pakistan based terrorists causing mayhem in India.

An important issue on Xi’s mind is to garner support from different countries against Washington’s aggressive trade actions, which has also affected India and other countries. An important question is whether he will manage to persuade Modi to come out openly against the trade war.

“India usually tries to stay middle of the road instead of choosing between the U.S. and China. It is unlikely to come out strongly against U.S. trade actions,” Stobdan said.

India cancelled oil shipments from Iran under pressure from Washington, incurring huge losses. But it is likely to go back to the earlier practice of importing Iranian oil despite U.S. sanctions, Stobdan said.

“India is ready to make exceptions when it comes to its long-term a relationship with Iran and Russia. Everyone’s watching if India would regard its relationship with China at the same level,” he said.

Drought Forces Water Bans in Sydney

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Water restrictions are to be imposed in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, for the first time in almost a decade because of falling reservoir levels and a long-standing drought. Residents who breach the regulations could be fined US$150.

The flow of rainwater into some of Sydney’s reservoirs is at its lowest since World War II. From Saturday, households will face restrictions that will target the use of water outdoors. Garden sprinklers will be banned, and tougher measures could follow. The New South Wales state government says that “early and decisive action” will help to conserve supplies as a record-breaking drought worsens.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology is predicting below-average rainfall and higher temperatures for the next three months across the much of the continent.

“With the lowest inflows into Sydney’s water storage since 1940, the government has come to a decision that it is best to go into water restrictions,” said Melinda Pavey, the New South Wales state Minister for Water. “We may get rain. The Bureau of Meteorology’s predictions are not fabulous, but as we know as we plan weekends, they are not always right and I hope that they are wrong. We are taking the appropriate course of action to take it to level one.”

New South Wales has been in drought since the middle of 2017.

Catherine Port, from Sydney Water, a government-owned company, says its officers will patrol to ensure the water ban is not broken.

“Sydney Water have a team of community water officers that will be out in the community to monitor and ensure that water restrictions are complied with. Penalties that will apply is AUD$220 for individuals and $550 for businesses,” she said.

Critics, though, insist that Sydney’s plight is in part the result of poor planning and a failure to take water recycling seriously.

Falling reservoir levels prompted authorities to switch on a multi-million dollar desalinization plant in January. At full capacity, it could supply Sydney, a city of 4.6 million people, with 15 per cent of its water needs.

Smaller towns in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, are also facing water crises. In Tamworth, residents are on level four restrictions that ban all use of water outdoors, and swimming pools cannot be filled or topped up. Level five restrictions are considered to be an emergency measure.

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent.

 

How One Pollution-Weary Asian Island Adopted Electric Vehicles

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Electric vehicles have struggled to gain mass appeal in much of the world despite the fanfare surrounding Tesla Motors, the world’s best-selling brand of plug-in cars last year. Drivers worry about prices, comfort and what happens when a battery expires in the middle of a trip.

But in Taiwan, scooter vendor Gogoro doubles its sales every year largely because of a widespread battery exchange network supported by a central government that’s keen to control emissions. Gogoro designs what it describes as ride-able scooters as well as engines for other brands, filling what the chief executive officer calls earlier market voids.

“People say we’re the two wheels of Tesla, and in some ways, we are,” CEO and co-founder Horace Luke said. “We do a little bit of everything.”

The company, which launched in 2011, first had to prove that it could all be done.

“Nobody could believe that an electric vehicle could be cool and fun to ride, so we built that,” said Horace Luke, founder of Gogoro. “Nobody believed that you could swap batteries, so we enabled that.”

Battery swaps

Gogoro stands out among other electric scooter developers by working with Taiwan’s central government plus the city of Taipei to locate and pay for 1,300 battery swap stations. Those alleviate rider fears of running out of juice in mid-trip, a barrier to development of the world’s $17.43 billion electric vehicle industry.

Battery swap sites are placed every 500 meters in urban Taiwan, usually in obvious roadside locations. They turn up every two to five kilometers in other parts of the island. The central government pays half the cost of building the swap stations and offers publicly accessible land, Luke said. The government’s National Development Fund invested venture capital in Gogoro in 2014.

“You should have seen how hard it was for first 50 stations; it was almost impossible,” recalled Luke, 49, a Seattle native and former software designer who moved to Taiwan for the engineering talent and supply chain. He co-founded Gogoro in 2011. 

“And our consumers are the ones voicing out. They go to the government and say ‘I want this here’,” he said. 

Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 and hacking them by 20 by 2030. 

For the government now, Luke added, “it’s a win-win situation for them to adopt electric.” 

Gogoro’s stations do 90,000 swaps per day. Those transactions give Gogoro the data it needs to know where it should resupply batteries.

Worldwide, just “a handful” of countries have “significant market share” of electric cars, the independent, intergovernmental International Energy Agency says. Norway led in 2017 with 39 percent of new sales in 2017, followed by Iceland at 11.7 percent and Sweden at 6.3 percent.

Taiwanese still want to know more about their next battery, said Paul Hsu, co-founder of Okgo.life, a fellow Taiwanese electric scooter brand with an app that lists types and prices of batteries at the swap sites on its roster.

“Every rider has a plan for every trip. The riders know where they’re going but not how much money it will take to get there,” Hsu said. For example, he said, “a short trip should have a short-distance vehicle and a short-distance price.”

‘Fun to ride’

Gogoro has raised its sales as well by designing scooter models attractive to men who like bigger motorcycles along as well as vehicles aimed at female riders. Sales doubled last year and they’re on track to double again this year, Luke said. 

Total sales are about 160,000, or 16 percent of the total Taiwan scooter fleet. Tesla, by comparison, sold about 532,000 cars worldwide from 2012 to 2018.

Taiwanese adapted especially fast because of the earlier prevalence of gas-powered scooters. Riders were comfortable with the idea of scooters in general – just not the noise and pollution they kick up.

Tsai Cheng-yang, 36, an urban designer of the southern Taiwan city Tainan, has five electric scooters in his household. Compared to gas-powered scooters, he said, electric ones a quieter, give off less heat and lack the stench of fuel, he said. Operation costs are about the same, he said.

“If all vehicles were an electric powered, you’d feel it was quite peaceful, with no odors either, quite happy and a different experience,” Tsai said.

Gogoro plans to overcome competitors such as Yamaha and Aeon by selling motors to them, giving it a cross-brand presence, Luke said. “The idea is to create a platform allowing others to create their own vehicles,” he said.