A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
|San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, Vol. 16, No. 198|
|U.S. lawmakers going slow
on Pacific trade partnership
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Many U.S. lawmakers reacted cautiously to the successful conclusion of negotiations to forge the world’s biggest trading bloc. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would reduce trade barriers among 12 Pacific Rim nations that account for 40 percent of global economic output.
Sen. John McCain stood out among lawmakers by immediately and enthusiastically endorsing the pact.
“The TPP offers a historic opportunity to reduce trade barriers, open new markets, promote made in America exports, and keep American companies competitive in one of the most economically vibrant and fastest-growing regions in the world,” McCain, a Republican, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Independent Bernie Sanders, who is running for president as a Democrat, promptly proclaimed his fierce opposition, saying it will hurt consumers and cost American jobs.
“I will do all that I can to defeat this agreement,” said Sanders in a statement. “We need trade policies that benefit American workers and consumers, not just the CEOs of large multinational corporations.”
McCain and Sanders are exceptions to a wait-and-see approach that currently prevails on Capitol Hill. Many lawmakers said they needed time to read the accord and digest its provisions.
“I haven’t read it yet,” said Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat. “I have serious questions about it that I am going to have to have answered.”
“It’s a complex agreement,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican. “None of us has seen the text yet, so it’s premature for me to reach a decision.”
Even so, senators who are generally supportive of freer trade are voicing apprehensions about the agreement’s impact on the states they represent.
“I’ve been very concerned that the administration was not protecting domestic athletic shoe manufacturers like New Balance, which employs nearly a thousand people in my state,” said Sen. Collins of Maine. “So I will be looking specifically at the tariffs in that area.”
“I think it’s a good idea for us to export the things we grow and make to other parts of the world,” said John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican.
Cornyn, however, adds that some trade treaty provisions concern him, such as “limitations on our protection of our pharmaceutical drugs that we invest very heavily in here in the United States, and the rest of the world gets the benefit.”
President Barack Obama said Tuesday he expects resistance to the pact on Capitol Hill, but is confident the agreement’s benefits will win the argument.
"The TPP took five years to negotiate, and I want to get the best possible deal done for American workers and American businesses, and that is what we have achieved,” the president said at the Department of Agriculture. "This agreement makes us more competitive by eliminating 18,000 tariffs that are placed on America’s products in these other countries."
"This week marks an important step forward, but there is going to be a long, healthy process of discussion and consultation and debate before this comes to an actual vote,” Obama added.
Getting the agreement to the president’s desk will require approval in both houses of Congress as lawmakers gear up for next year’s elections.
Earlier this year, many Democrats and a few Republicans opposed Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, also known as fast track, which subjects trade pacts to simple majority votes with no amendments allowed. Fast track ultimately was approved, but foreshadowed a bruising legislative battle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“One of the problems with having passed fast track is we can’t change the agreement,” said Sen. Collins. “I am not at all convinced that this is going to be a fair agreement.”
Republican Orrin Hatch, who helped shepherd fast track through the Senate, said the Pacific trade pact cannot survive many defections by lawmakers who support the accord in concept but object to some of its provisions.
“Every vote is a tight vote,” said Hatch.
South Carolina is awaiting
more problems from rain
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The sun shone on the Carolinas Tuesday after a week straight of being pummeled by historic rains that led to 16 deaths, widespread flooding and burst dams.
Yet, the worst isn't over.
"Don't let the sunshine fool you," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said. "We are still in the mode that the next 36 to 48 hours will be volatile."
Gov. Haley took an aerial tour of the flooding and damage Tuesday and said, "We still have to be cautious. ... What I saw was disturbing.''
Tuesday was the first completely dry day in Columbia since Sept. 24, but officials warned that new evacuations could be ordered as several rivers remained above flood stage, sending a huge mass of water flowing toward the sea, threatening dams and displacing residents along the way.
At least 14 weather-related deaths in South Carolina and two in North Carolina were blamed on the vast rainstorm, described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a fire hose of tropical moisture aimed directly at the state.
Gov. Haley said it was too soon to put a price tag on the amount of damage the state has suffered, saying it could be any amount of dollars, although some insurance experts were saying it would be well over $1 billion.
The governor asked for and received a federal disaster declaration from President Barack Obama, freeing up money and resources for the state.
State residents reeled under the effects of weekend flooding.
In Columbia, the state capital, as many as 40,000 homes lacked drinking water, and the rest of the city's 375,000 customers were told to boil water before using it for drinking or cooking, an order that Mayor Steve Benjamin said will likely be in effect for quite some time.
Tuesday, about 800 people were in two-dozen shelters, but Gov. Haley said that number was expected to rise in the coming days. While nearly 30,000 customers were without electricity at the storm's peak over the weekend, the power grid had returned to normal by Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
A tropical air mass over much of South Carolina since Thursday dumped up to 51 centimeters (20 inches) of rain in some parts of the state between Friday and Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
In South Carolina there are about 2,400 dams, almost all privately owned, according to media reports.
At least 10 of them have failed in the past few days, state officials said Tuesday.
Emergency management officials said about 300 state-maintained roads and 160 bridges remained closed, with about 200 engineers checking the structures for safety.
Many of the closures are in the Columbia area, which registered record rainfall this week and where as many as six people drowned in their cars from flooding.
Haley stressed the need for motorists to mind police barricades on flooded roads after reports of people moving the barricades or driving around them. "We are doing this to protect you," she said.
Members of the South Carolina National Guard were also called in to assist state and county emergency crews and first responders.
A 120-kilometer (75-mile) stretch of Interstate 95 was also closed Tuesday due to flooding and overall poor road conditions.
Also Tuesday, the University of South Carolina in Columbia, which has more than 30,000 students, canceled classes for the rest of the week. The campus doesn't have full water capacity and has brought in more than 150 portable restrooms.
The 42.2 centimeters (16.6 inches) of rain that fell at Gills Creek near downtown Columbia Sunday made for one of the rainiest days recorded at a U.S. weather station in more than 16 years.
Former U.N. Assembly chief
held in major bribery case
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
A former United Nations General Assembly president was arrested in New York and charged with accepting over a million dollars in bribes and committing tax fraud in a multi-year scheme to promote the interests of a Chinese businessman.
The former official, John Ashe, 61, was Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the U.N. from 2004 until his election as the president of the 68th session of the General Assembly in 2013. He was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in a New York City suburb, authorities said.
In a 37-page complaint, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, detailed allegations against Ashe, including Ashe's acceptance of at least $1.3 million in bribes in 2013 and 2014 and his failure to pay U.S. taxes on them.
“As alleged, for Rolexes, bespoke suits and a private basketball court, John Ashe, the 68th president of the U.N. General Assembly, sold himself and the global institution he led,” Bharara told reporters at a news conference announcing the indictment.
Ashe is accused of taking the money from Ng Lap Seng, also known as David Ng, a billionaire Chinese businessman from Macau with real estate and gambling interests. Ng was arrested Sept. 15 on separate charges.
Prosecutors say Ng was seeking Ashe’s influence to promote the building of a multi-billion-dollar U.N. conference center in Macau. In June 2013, they allege that he submitted a document to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pressing for the conference center in Macau. The U.N. said a preliminary search for the document was fruitless.
“Although this case involves the high-flying world of billionaire business executives and influential U.N. officials, at its core, it was just a classic quid pro quo criminal scheme, bribes paid in exchange for official actions taken,” Bharara said.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not inform the secretariat of the investigation, nor did the U.N. chief ever discuss Ng’s hoped for Macau conference center with Ashe.
“I think all of this was news to us when we read about it in the paper this morning,” he said. Dujarric added that the secretary-general was shocked and deeply troubled by the allegations, which he said go to the heart of the integrity of the United Nations.
Authorities have charged Ashe and five others in the scheme, including Francis Lorenzo, who is the current deputy ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations, and four Chinese business associates of Ng.
It is alleged they funneled the bribes to Ashe through at least two non-governmental organizations. While not named in the complaint, they match the description of South-South News and the Global Sustainability Foundation. Lorenzo is president of South-South and Ashe is honorary chairman of the Global Sustainability Foundation.
Sheri Yan, who is also charged in the complaint, is the CEO of the Global Sustainability Foundation. According to the group’s Web site, another of their board members is Edith Gasana Kutesa, the wife of Ashe’s successor as president of the U.N. General Assembly, Sam Kutesa.
Kutesa’s 2014 election as the 69th president of the General Assembly was shrouded in controversy over corruption allegations against him in his native Uganda.
The complaint also alleges Ashe shared some of his bribe money with Antigua's then-prime minister in a bid to support the Chinese group’s business interests in the Caribbean island nation.
The U.S. attorney said the investigation is continuing. “I’m not commenting on who may be in crosshairs, who may be arrested,” Bharara told reporters. “It’s early and we’re looking at a lot of things, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you would see other people charged.”
Japanese and Canadian share
Nobel Prize for neutrinos
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The 2015 Nobel Physics prize has been awarded to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur MacDonald for their discovery of neutrino oscillations, which show that neutrinos, the second-most abundant particles in the universe, next to photons, have mass and change identities.
The Nobel Committee said the research done by Kajita of the University of Tokyo and MacDonald of Queen's University, Canada, has changed the world's understanding of the innermost workings of matter.
According to the Standard Model of particle physics, a theory that explains the hundreds of fundamental particles that comprise the atoms that make up chemical elements and other particles, there are three types of neutrinos — electron-neutrinos, muon-neutrinos and tau-neutrinos.
In experiments designed to count the number of neutrinos that arrive from the sun, particularly electron-neutrinos, scientists found that up to two-thirds of the calculated amount was missing.
The research conducted by Kajita and MacDonald confirmed suspicion that neutrinos change from one identity to another while in the atmosphere and this metamorphosis requires them to have mass.
According to the Nobel Committee, this breakthrough has revealed the first apparent crack in the Standard Model.
"It has become obvious that the Standard Model cannot be the complete theory of how the fundamental constituents of the universe function," said the Nobel statement.
"The universe where we live in is still full of unknowns. A major discovery cannot be achieved in a day or two. It takes a lot of people and a long time. I would like to see young people try to join our pursuit of mystery solving," said Kajita at a press conference organized by his university.
MacDonald said scientists would still like to find the actual weight of neutrinos. Experiments are underway to investigate whether there are other types besides the three that have been observed.
Monday, the Nobel Committee announced the prize winners for medicine: scientists from Ireland, Japan and China.
William Campbell from Ireland and Satoshi Omura from Japan shared the prize for their discovery of a new therapy for infections caused by roundworm parasites.
And China's Tu Youyou discovered a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates for patients suffering from malaria, so she will also share in the prize.
Nobel Prizes are awarded each year in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economic sciences. The money comes from a bequest by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel and the awards, in existence since 1901, have become a top achievement award in each field.
Winners are awarded a monetary prize that varies slightly from year to year. In 2015, the Physics prize is $963,000, to be divided equally between the winners. They also receive a medal and a Nobel diploma.
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