Author Archives: Nbiz

Lotus Showcases First Pure Electric Sports Car

British sports car maker Lotus revealed its pure electric “hypercar” on Tuesday, the first completely new vehicle to be launched under the stewardship of Chinese firm Geely which acquired a majority stake in 2017.The Evija, to be produced at the firm’s factory in Hethel, eastern England, will have a limited production run of just 130 cars and will be built from 2020.The model, which will cost from 1.7 million pounds ($2.1 million), will have a driving range target of 250 miles (400 kilometres) as manufacturers race to improve low and zero-emissions technology to meet stricter emissions rules and win over more environmentally-conscious buyers.”It will re-establish our brand in the hearts and minds of sports car fans and on the global automotive stage,” said Lotus Chief Executive Phil Popham.”It will also pave the way for further visionary models,” he said.($1 = 0.8033 pounds) 

New Greek PM Calls Bond Auction ‘Vote of Confidence’

Greece launched a 7-year bond auction Tuesday, the country’s third effort this year to raise money from international markets while improved borrowing rates provide an advantage.The auction aimed at raising 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion) followed 5-year and 10-year bond issues earlier in 2019. Altogether, the three are intended to generate about 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) to fulfill Greece’s financing needs.  The Tuesday auction was the first of the new Greek government that took office this month under conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He has promised Greece’s steady return to bond markets following three international bailouts and to renegotiate strict budget performance targets with the country’s creditors.Before announcing results of the auction, government officials said demand for the bond was more than four times the target amount. The prime minister congratulated government agencies in a tweet for the issuance of a bond “at a record low yield of 1.9%.””This is a vote of confidence in Greece’s growth prospects,” he said.Greece has promised lenders it will deliver an annual primary budget surplus — the balance before debt servicing costs — of 3.5% for the coming years. But the new government wants to renegotiate the target for 2021 and onward.”We will not endanger the achievement of primary surpluses in 2019 and 2020. We must be serious and consistent with the budget execution,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told state-run ERT television late Monday.”When we move forward with our reform plan. That will allow us to … set out to our partners and lenders the need to reduce primary surpluses to more realistic levels.”Creditors, however, have appeared cool to the idea of lowering targets, which they argue are crucial to keeping in check Greece’s huge national debt — around 180% of GDP.”Any rebalancing of fiscal policies should be targeted to foster growth while safeguarding the achievement of the agreed primary surplus,” Klaus Regling, head of the eurozone rescue fund ESM, told a conference near Athens Tuesday.The ESM and a predecessor rescue fund remain Greece’s largest creditors, having provided 205 billion euros ($230 billion) out of the nearly 290 billion euros ($325 billion) the country received in bailout loan support.

Top French Minister Resigns over Alleged Lavish Lifestyle

The No. 2 in the French government has resigned over reports that he has been living a lavish lifestyle at the expense of France’s taxpayers.Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy said on Tuesday via his verified Facebook page that he submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe “to defend myself.”He has been the object of intense criticism since the investigative news site Mediapart revealed that when he served as president of the lower house of parliament he and his wife hosted lavish dinners with friends.
After recently being appointed ecology minister, he reportedly spent some 60,000 euros ($68,000) to refurbish his government apartment. 

Cyberattacks Inflict Deep Harm at Technology-Rich Cchools

Cyberattacks on schools are leading to disruptions in instruction in districts that have thoroughly integrated technology.The FBI says cyberattacks have become common at schools, which are attractive targets because they hold sensitive data and provide critical public services. The agency says perpetrators include criminals motivated by profit, juvenile pranksters and possibly foreign governments.The widespread adoption of education technology, which generates data that officials say can make schools more of a target for hackers, also worsens an attack’s effects when instructional tools are rendered useless by internet outages.A series of attacks over the course of six weeks brought instruction to a halt at a 4,000-student school district in Avon, Connecticut.

Facebook’s New Currency Plan Is Under Scrutiny in Congress

Facebook’s ambitious plan to create a financial eco-system based on a digital currency faces questions from lawmakers, as it’s shadowed by negative comments from President Donald Trump, his treasury secretary and the head of the Federal Reserve.Congress begins two days of hearings Tuesday on the currency planned by Facebook, to be called Libra, starting with the Senate Banking Committee. Meanwhile, a House Judiciary subcommittee will extend its bipartisan investigation of the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.Trump tweeted last week that the new currency, Libra, “will have little standing or dependability.” Both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell have expressed serious concerns recently that Libra could be used for illicit activity.The Treasury Department has “very serious concerns that Libra could be misused by money launderers and terrorist financers,” Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Monday. “This is indeed a national security issue.”Facebook has “a lot of work to do before we get to the point where we’re comfortable with it,” Mnuchin said.Already under intense scrutiny from regulators and Congress over privacy and market dominance, Facebook stirred anger on Capitol Hill last month with the unveiling of its plan to create a financial ecosystem based on a digital currency. Senate and House hearings went on the calendar, and the Democratic head of the House Financial Services Committee, which is holding Wednesday’s hearing, called on Facebook to suspend the plan until Congress and regulators could review it.Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said that Facebook, with some 2 billion users around the world, “is continuing its unchecked expansion and extending its reach into the lives of its users.” She called Libra “a new Swiss-based financial system” that potentially is too big to fail and could require a taxpayer bailout.David Marcus, the Facebook executive leading the project, says in his testimony prepared for Tuesday’s hearing by the Senate Banking Committee that Libra “is about developing a safe, secure and low-cost way for people to move money efficiently around the world. We believe that Libra can make real progress toward building a more inclusive financial infrastructure.”Facebook agrees with Powell’s view that the government’s review of Libra must be “patient and thorough, rather than a sprint to implementation,” Marcus’ statement says. “The time between now and launch is designed to be an open process and subject to regulatory oversight and review. In fact, I expect that this will be the broadest, most extensive and most careful pre-launch oversight by regulators and central banks in FinTech’s history. We know we need to take the time to get this right.”The planned digital currency is billed as a “stablecoin” backed by deposits in sovereign currencies such as the dollar, euro and Japanese yen — unlike bitcoin, ether or other digital currencies. Promising low fees, it could open online commerce to millions of people around the world who lack access to bank accounts and make it cheaper to send money across borders. But it also raises concerns over the privacy of users’ data and the potential for criminals to use it for money laundering and fraud.To address privacy concerns, Facebook created a nonprofit oversight association, with dozens of partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and MasterCard, to govern Libra. As one among many in the association, Facebook says it won’t have any special rights or privileges. It also created a “digital wallet” subsidiary, Calibra, to work on the technology, separately from its main social media business. While Facebook owns and controls Calibra, it won’t see financial data from it, the company says.Mnuchin’s comments came a few days after Trump tweeted: “I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air. Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity.”If they want to get into the financial business, Facebook and its dozens of partner companies in the venture will have to accept the kind of tight regulation that banks are under, Trump said.Powell, a powerful financial regulator who is independent of the Trump administration, told Congress last week that Facebook’s plan “raises a lot of serious concerns, and those would include around privacy, money laundering, consumer protection, financial stability. Those are going to need to be thoroughly and publicly assessed and evaluated before this proceeds.”Facebook’s challenges in Washington go beyond Libra. Later Tuesday, at a Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Facebook will be among four big tech companies — along with Google, Amazon and Apple — testifying about their impact on the innovation and entrepreneurship of smaller companies. It’s the latest chapter in lawmakers’ examination of the industry.”What happens in tech is that one big company grows to control a lot of stuff, and if it’s allowed to stay there for too long, it slows down the sector,” Timothy Wu, a professor of law, science and technology at Columbia Law School, has said. “Companies like Google and Facebook have come to hold too much power. There’s a growing sense that they have too much control over information, news, advertising, even who we are and what’s going on.”Wu is among the expert witnesses scheduled to appear before the antitrust panel, which also will hear from executives from the four tech companies.Early Tuesday, it was Google that was on the receiving end of Trump tweet.Over the weekend, billionaire investor Peter Thiel said the FBI and the CIA should open an investigation to determine if Google had been infiltrated by Chinese intelligence, according to Axios.According to the Axios story, Theil said Google was “engaged in the seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military and not with the US military.”Before 5 a.m. Eastern, Trump tweeted about Thiel, “A great and brilliant guy who knows this subject better than anyone! The Trump Administration will take a look!”

EU is Preparing for More Venezuela Sanctions

The European Union is preparing to impose more sanctions on Venezuela targeting officials who are accused of being involved in torture and other human rights violations.EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement Tuesday that it is working with the U.N. to make sure that human rights are respected in Venezuela following reports of abuses by the security forces.
Mogherini said that “the EU is ready to start work towards applying targeted measures for those members of the security forces involved in torture and other serious violations of human rights.”
The EU has had measures in place since 2017, including an embargo on arms and on equipment for internal repression.  It also slapped 18 officials with travel bans and asset freezes.

EU Slaps Sanctions on Turkey Over Gas Drilling Off Cyprus

European Union foreign ministers on Monday turned up the pressure on Turkey after approving an initial batch of sanctions against the country over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. The ministers said in a statement that in light of Turkey’s “continued and new illegal drilling activities,” they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement and would call on the European Investment Bank to “review” it’s lending to the country.They also backed a proposal by the EU’s executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional “targeted measures” were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu issued his own warning last week that his country would step up drilling activities off Cyprus if the EU moved ahead with sanctions. Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus.The EU ministers repeated the “serious immediate negative impact” that Turkey’s illegal actions are having on EU-Turkey relations and called on Ankara to respect Cyprus’ sovereign rights in line with international law.They also welcomed the Cypriot government’s invitation to Turkey to negotiate the borders of their respective exclusive economic zones and continental shelf.Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state and claims 44% of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone as its own, according to Cyprus government officials. Turkish Cypriots in the east Mediterranean island nation’s breakaway north claim another 25%.Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits. Turkey contends that it’s protecting its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area’s hydrocarbon deposits. Cypriot officials, however, accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 42 miles (68 kilometers) off the island’s west coast.The Cyprus government has licensed energy companies including ExxonMobil, France’s Total and Italy’s Eni to carry out gas drilling in blocks, or areas, off the island’s southern coastline. At least three significant gas deposits have so far been discovered there.  Meanwhile, Cyprus’ Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades will chair a meeting of political leaders Tuesday to discuss a renewed proposal by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa AKinci to establish a joint committee with Greek Cypriots on managing offshore gas drilling activities.Akinci has repeatedly called for the creation of such a committee that he says would give his community a say in how newly found gas deposits off Cyprus’ southern coast are managed and future proceeds are divvied up. A similar proposal was made by Akinci’s predecessor Dervis Eroglu in 2011. The Cypriot government says energy discussions with Turkish Cypriots should be part of overarching reunification talks, adding that Turkish Cypriot rights to the island’s energy reserves are assured. The government says future gas proceeds that will flow into an established hydrocarbons fund will be shared equitably after a peace deal is signed.

No Evidence of Russia Buying Iran’s Oil in Claimed Defiance of US Sanctions

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Danila Galperovich of VOA’s Russian Service contributed.A Russian bid to defy U.S. sanctions on Iran appears to have failed, with Russian energy experts saying Moscow has made no recent purchases of Iranian oil as part of a sputtering 2014 deal with Tehran.Russian state media have said that under the August 2014 memorandum, which was never published in full, Moscow agreed to buy Iranian oil in order to deliver it to international customers, while Iran would use the payments received from Russia to buy and import Russian goods. Iranian state media have said only half of the received Russian funds would be used to buy Russian imports. The two sides reached the agreement on what they called an “oil for goods” program at a time when Iran was under a previous round of international sanctions against its oil exports. Russia said the deal was intended to boost trade ties with Iran, a longtime purchaser of Russian weapons. It was not aimed at delivering Iranian crude to the territory of Russia, already one of the world’s top oil producers.Moscow announced a brief suspension of the program in 2016 after having failed to get it operational. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the program was no longer necessary because oil sanctions on Iran had been lifted that year. The sanctions relief was Iran’s reward for a 2015 deal with world powers, in which it promised to restrict nuclear activities that could be diverted to making bombs.Russia began talks with Iran to revive the program in February 2017 after the inauguration a month earlier of U.S. President Donald Trump, who had campaigned on withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal. In May 2017, Russia and Iran declared a new agreement for Moscow to buy 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, equivalent to 5 million tons of oil per year (1 metric ton equals 7.33 barrels). Russian media said Moscow secured its first, and so far only, Iranian oil delivery in November 2017, in the form of a tanker carrying just 1 million barrels, or about 136,000 tons, of crude. They did not specify to which country Moscow’s energy ministry re-sold the oil through Russian state-owned trading unit Promsyrioimport. The Russian state news agency Interfax said Novak later acknowledged that he was having problems finding buyers for the Iranian oil, telling journalists in March 2018 that Moscow had stopped taking deliveries from Tehran due to a “lack of contracts with end customers” for the crude. In further complications for Russia, Washington sanctioned Promsyrioimport in November 2018, accusing it of helping Iran to make illicit shipments of millions of barrels of oil to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, in defiance of Western sanctions on Damascus. The Trump administration also re-imposed U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports that month to pressure Tehran into negotiating a new deal to end its perceived malign behaviors.In the past year, Russian Energy Minister Novak has made several attempts to portray the “oil for goods” program as operational, but without disclosing evidence of any Russian purchases of Iranian oil.In September 2018, Interfax quoted Novak as saying the program had been “resumed.” In his next public comment on the program while visiting Iran in June, Interfax said Novak confirmed that Iran has imported Russian goods using proceeds from past “deliveries” of oil to Moscow. But he did not confirm any new delivery of Iranian oil to Russia since the apparent test-case transfer of November 2017. Earlier this month, Novak reiterated Russia’s rejection of U.S. sanctions that have targeted Iran’s ability to sell oil and other commodities. In an interview with U.S. TV network CNBC, he called the sanctions “unlawful.”(L-R) Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Venezuela’s Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo, OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo, Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih are seen at an OPEC and NON-OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, July 2, 2019.Mikhail Krutihin, founder of the Moscow-based consultancy RusEnergy Agency, told VOA Russian that he has not heard of Russia buying any Iranian oil since its November 2017 purchase. Speaking by phone last week, he described the Russian government’s promotion of the oil for goods program as “purely political.”“Russian companies have no interest in buying any oil from Iran, and all these plans are just for loud statements, not for practical use,” Krutihin said.In a July 9 online article, Russian economist Alexander Karavayev of the Russian Academy of Sciences also said there had not been a single transfer of Iranian oil to Russia so far this year. Writing for the Valdai Discussion Club, a Moscow-based policy forum whose annual meetings are attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Karavayev said: “The Russian ‘oil for goods’ program (with Iran) is seriously stuck.”The State Department has declined to respond to questions by VOA Persian about Russia’s policy of buying Iranian oil to sell to third parties and whether it would trigger secondary U.S. sanctions against Moscow.“The fact that the U.S. government has not moved forward with such sanctions may indicate one of two possible causes,” said John E. Smith, a former director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under President Donald Trump, in a VOA Persian interview earlier this month.“One is that the U.S. may have information that Russia has continued to buy Iranian oil but may be unwilling to go after the energy or financial institutions involved because of their size or magnitude,” said Smith, a partner at global law firm Morrison & Foerster. “More likely, U.S. officials may not have convincing evidence that such activity has continued after the November 2018 snapback of U.S. sanctions (on Iran’s oil exports),” he added.Smith said Russia likes to make political displays of support for Iran. “But they may not be willing to take the risk of having their companies sanctioned (by the U.S.), so they may be proclaiming support for Iran while actually not really buying Iranian oil in a way that would be sanctionable,” he said.There have been no recent statements by Iranian officials about selling oil to Russia.

House Intelligence Chief Presses Social Media Companies on Deepfake Policies

U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff on Monday pressed major social media companies on how they plan to handle the threat of deepfake images and videos on their platforms ahead of the 2020 elections.The Democratic congressman wrote letters to the chief executives of Facebook, Twitter and Google, which owns YouTube, asking about the companies’ formal policies on deepfakes and their research into technologies to detect the doctored content.Deepfakes use machine learning to manipulate source material and create hyperrealistic content where a person – such as a political candidate – appears to say or do something they did not.Facebook spokesman Andy Stone confirmed the company had received the letter and said it would respond to Schiff accordingly.Twitter did not comment on the letter but pointed to a statement last month by Nick Pickles, its global senior strategist for public policy, that said Twitter’s rules “clearly prohibit coordinated account manipulation, malicious automation, and fake accounts.”Alphabet’s Google also declined to comment on the letter.Major social media platforms have been used to spread disinformation ahead of previous elections. U.S. intelligence agencies say there was an extensive Russian cyber-influence operation during the 2016 presidential election aimed at helping Republican President Donald Trump get elected. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations.”As we look ahead to the 2020 election, I am gravely concerned the experience of 2016 may have just been the prologue,” Schiff wrote in the letters.”Social media platforms can catapult a compelling lie into the conversations of millions of users around the world before the truth has a chance to catch up,” the California congressman wrote.There has not been a well-crafted deepfake video with major political consequences in the United States, but the potential for doctored videos to sow misinformation was recently highlighted by a more manually doctored viral clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, slowed down to make her speech seem slurred.FILE – Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill, April 19, 2019..Schiff’s letters also asked the California-based social media companies about their responses to this ‘cheapfake.’YouTube took down the video, citing policy violations, but Facebook left it up, only limiting its distribution and adding fact-checking warnings.Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last month that posting false information was not against the site’s rules, but acknowledged that it did not respond quickly enough to the Pelosi video.Zuckerberg also said Facebook is considering developing a specific policy on deepfakes.The company recently opted to mark as false but leave up a deepfake of Zuckerberg posted to Facebook-owned Instagram by British artists.Instagram head Adam Mosseri said last month that his platform does not currently have a policy around deepfakes.The name deepfake — a combination of “deep learning” and “fake” — comes from the Reddit user who published AI software for creating fake porn videos.

Pearson Goes ‘Digital First’ in US College Market

Pearson, the world’s biggest education company, will release all its titles for the United States college market in digital form first, in a break from the traditional and more expensive textbook publishing model.The British provider of textbooks, courseware and testing has been hit in recent years by changes in the U.S. market as students sought to save money by buying second-hand books, hammering its sales and profit.However it hailed a tipping point earlier this year when it said its offering of cheaper e-books, designed to appeal to the “Spotify generation,” had enabled it to forecast sales growth in 2020 following more than five years of declines. “I am increasingly confident and excited about this,” Pearson Chief Executive John Fallon told Reuters.The rapid switch to digital, which is similar to the changes endured by the music, film and newspaper industries, has forced the 175-year-old firm to cut thousands of jobs and sell assets to rebuild.From now on, all future releases of its 1,500 active U.S. titles will be “digital first” and updated on an ongoing basis when there are new developments in the field of study.Previously many textbooks were updated every 3 years.College students already access over 10 million digital courses and e-books each year from Pearson.While they pay less for a digital version, at an average price of $40 for an ebook and $79 for a full suite of e-learning tools such as feedback, Pearson believes the company will in time have more predictable revenue as students have less reason to turn to second-hand books.An average textbook costs around $110, but can stretch as high as $200 to $300.The move will also help the company in its drive to cut costs. Fallon said the switch would not change the company’s guidance but gave him increasing confidence he could stabilize the U.S. college business and get the top line growing again.Pearson said 62% of its revenue now comes from digital or digital enabled products and services.