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Ghirardelli, Russel Stover Fined over Chocolate Packaging

Ghirardelli and Russell Stover have agreed to pay $750,000 in fines after prosecutors in California said they offered a little chocolate in a lot of wrapping.

Prosecutors in Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Fresno, Santa Cruz and Yolo counties sued the candy makers, alleging they misled consumers by selling chocolate products in containers that were oversized or “predominantly empty.”

Prosecutors also alleged that Ghirardelli offered one chocolate product containing less cocoa than advertised.

The firms didn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing but agreed to change their packaging under a settlement approved earlier this month. Some packages will shrink or will have a transparent window so consumers can look inside.

San Francisco-based Ghirardelli and Kansas City-based Russell Stover are owned by a Swiss company, Lindt & Sprungli.

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Trump Order Asks Federal Fund Recipients to Buy US Goods

President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Thursday pushing those who receive federal funds to “buy American.” The aim is to boost U.S. manufacturing.

Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council, told reporters during a telephone briefing the policies are helping workers who “are blue collar, Trump people.” Later he amended that, saying he “every American is a Trump person” because Trump’s economic policies affect everyone.

 

Navarro said the order would affect federal financial assistance, which includes everything from loans and grants to insurance and interest subsidies.

 

He says some 30 federal agencies award over $700 billion in such aid each year. Recipients working on projects like bridges and sewer systems will be encouraged to use American products.

 

 

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Need for Speed: Carts on Rails Help Manila’s Commuters Dodge Gridlock

Thousands of commuters flock to Manila’s railway tracks every day, but rather than boarding the trains, they climb on to wooden carts pushed along the tracks, to avoid the Philippine capital’s infamous traffic gridlock.

The trolleys, as the carts are known, most of them fitted with colorful umbrellas for shade from the sun, can seat up to 10 people each, who pay as little as 20 U.S. cents per ride, cheaper than most train rides.

“I do this because it gives us money that’s easy to earn,” said Reynaldo Diaz, 40, who is one of more than 100 operators, also known as “trolley boys,” who push the carts along the 28-km (17-mile) track, most wearing flimsy flip-flops on their feet.

“It’s better than stealing from others,” said Diaz, adding that he earned around $10 a day, just enough for his family to get by. A trolley boy since he was 17, he lives in a makeshift shelter beside the track with his two sons.

Diaz said the trolley boys were just “borrowing” the track from the Philippine National Railways, but the state-owned train company has moved to halt the trolley service after the media drew attention to its dangers recently.

The risk arises because those pushing and riding the trolleys have to watch out for the trains to avoid collisions.

“Of course we get scared of the trains,” said Jun Albeza, 32, who has been a trolley boy for four years after he was laid off from plumbing and construction jobs.

“That’s why, whenever we’re pushing these trolleys, we always look back, so we can see if there’s a train coming. Those in front of us will give us a heads-up too.”

When a train approaches, the trolley boys quickly grab the lightweight carts off the track and jump out of the way along with their riders.

Still, there have been no fatal accidents since the makeshift service started decades ago, some of the trolley boys told Reuters.

A Manila police officer confirmed that records showed no casualties related to the trolley boys.

“It is really dangerous and should not be allowed, But we understand that it’s their livelihood,” said the officer, Bryan Silvan. “They’re like mushrooms that just popped up along the tracks and they even have their own association.”

When the Philippine National Railways began operation in the 1960s, its network of more than 100 stations extended to provinces outside Manila.

But neglect and natural disasters have since caused it to cut back operations by two-thirds, even as the capital’s population has ballooned to about 13 million.

For office workers and students, the minutes shaved off daily commutes justify the risks of trolley rides.

“The distance to our workplaces is actually shorter through this route,” said one office worker, Charlette Magtrayo.

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Lawmakers Attempt to Rein in President’s Tariff Power

U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday introduced legislation to limit the president’s power to levy import tariffs for national security reasons. The bills face an uncertain future but underscore bipartisan concerns on Capitol Hill over the rising costs of the Trump administration’s trade policies.

The United States in 2018 slapped duties on aluminum and steel from other countries, drawing criticism from lawmakers who support free trade and complaints of rising supply chain costs across business sectors.

Two bipartisan groups of lawmakers Wednesday introduced legislation known as the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The bills would require Trump to have congressional approval before taking trade actions like tariffs and quotas under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The law currently allows the president to impose such tariffs without approval from Capitol Hill.

“The imposition of these taxes, under the false pretense of national security (Section 232), is weakening our economy, threatening American jobs, and eroding our credibility with other nations,” said Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, co-sponsor of the Senate bill.

Toomey led a similar push last year that did not go to a vote.

It is unclear that Congress would consider taking up such legislation now. Still, the bills underscore mounting pressure from lawmakers to address concerns over tariffs, especially those on Canada and Mexico as lawmakers prepare to vote on a new North American trade deal agreed to late last year.

​Republican Chuck Grassley from Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, earlier pressed the Trump administration to lift tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico before Congress begins considering legislation to implement the new pact.

Numerous business and agricultural groups have come out in support of the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, but have said its benefits will be limited so long as the U.S. tariffs and retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico remain in place.

Companies are able to request exemptions from the steel and aluminum tariffs, but the process has been plagued by delays and uncertainty.

“Virginia consumers and industries like craft beer and agriculture are hurting because of the president’s steel and aluminum tariffs,” said Democratic Senator Mark Warner, co-sponsor of the Senate legislation. “This bill would roll them back.”

Republicans Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Darin LaHood of Illinois and Democrats Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Jimmy Panetta of California introduced the House legislation.

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Trump Organization to Use E-Verify for Worker Status Checks

The Trump Organization, responding to claims that some of its workers were in the U.S. illegally, said on Wednesday that it will use the E-Verify electronic system at all of its properties to check employees’ documentation.

A lawyer for a dozen immigrant workers at the Trump National Golf Club in New York’s Westchester County said recently that they were fired on Jan. 18. He said many had worked there for a dozen or more years. Workers at another Trump club in Bedminster, New Jersey, came forward last month to allege managers there had hired them knowing they were in the country illegally.

“We are actively engaged in uniforming this process across our properties and will institute E-verify at any property not currently utilizing this system,” Eric Trump, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “As a company we take this obligation very seriously and when faced with a situation in which an employee has presented false and fraudulent documentation, we will take appropriate action.”

“I must say, for me personally, this whole thing is truly heartbreaking,” he added. “Our employees are like family but when presented with fake documents, an employer has little choice.”

Launched in 1996, the E-Verify system allows employers to check documentation submitted by job applicants with records at the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to see whether they are authorized to work. 

During his presidential campaign, Republican Donald Trump called for all employers to use the federal government online E-Verify system. He told MSNBC in 2016 that he uses it at his properties, and that there should be a “huge financial penalty” for companies that hire workers who are in the country illegally.

Several of those workers from Trump’s properties paid visits to Congressional offices this week in hopes of raising support for their fight against possible deportation. One Democrat, New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, confirmed Wednesday that she had invited a maid who had cleaned President Trump’s rooms at Bedminster as her guest at his State of the Union speech.

The maid, Victorina Morales, was featured in a New York Times story last month titled “Making President Trump’s Bed: A Housekeeper Without Papers.” She has said that managers there knew she was living in the country illegally, helped her obtain false documentation and that she was physically abused by a supervisor.

Morales’ lawyer, Anibal Romero, said that Morales had accepted the invitation.

The Trump Organization has said it does not tolerate employing workers who are living in the U.S. without legal permission, and any problems with hiring is not unique to the company.

“It demonstrates that our immigration system is severely broken and needs to be fixed immediately,” Eric Trump said in his statement. “It is my greatest hope that our ‘lawmakers’ return to work and actually do their jobs.”

President Trump has repeatedly cast the millions of immigrants in the country illegally as a scourge on the health of the economy, taking jobs from American citizens. He has said they also bring drugs and crime over the border.

He turned over day-to-day management of his business to Eric and his other adult son, Donald Jr., when he took the oath of office two years ago. The Trump Organization owns or manages 17 golf clubs around the world.

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A Virtual Human Teaches Negotiating Skills

Whether it’s haggling for a better price or negotiating for a higher salary, there is a skill to getting the most of what you want. Researchers at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies are conducting research on how a virtual negotiator may be able to teach you the art of making a good deal. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.

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Egypt Sentences Senior Official to 12 Years Over Corruption

An Egyptian court has sentenced the deputy governor of the country’s second-largest city to 12 years in prison on corruption charges.

 

The Cairo criminal court also sentenced Souad el-Kholy, deputy governor of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, to a one-year suspended sentence for bribery, profiteering and squandering public funds on Wednesday. The court acquitted five local businessmen in the same case.

 

El-Kholy can appeal the verdict against her.

 

She became Alexandria’s deputy governor in 2015 and was arrested two years later, in October 2017, in a case linked to illegal seizures of state land, illegal construction and building violations. She is the most senior female official to be arrested on corruption charges.

 

Alexandria is notorious for illegal construction and demolition of historical buildings to make way for high-rise apartment towers.

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Japan’s Nikkei: Ghosn Says Arrest Due to Plot Within Nissan

Nissan’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn, in his first interview since his arrest in November, blamed fellow executives opposed to forging closer ties with the automaker’s French alliance partner Renault for scheming against him, the Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported Wednesday.

The financial daily said it spoke with Ghosn for 20 minutes earlier in the day at the Tokyo Detention Center, where the 64-year-old star executive has been held since Nov. 19.

Earlier, Ghosn only was allowed visits by his lawyers and embassy officials.

Prosecutors have charged Ghosn with falsifying financial reports in under-reporting his compensation. He has also been indicted on charges of breach of trust related to his handling of investment losses and to payments made to a Saudi businessman.

In the interview, Ghosn reiterated that he is innocent and said others in the company schemed to force him out with a “plot and treason.”

“People translated strong leadership to (mean) dictator, to distort reality,” he told the Nikkei. It was for the “purpose of getting rid of me,” he was quoted as saying.

Nissan Motor Co. defended itself, saying prosecutors took action following an internal investigation set off by whistleblowers in the company.

“The sole cause of this chain of events is the misconduct led by Ghosn and Kelly,” company spokesman Nicholas Maxfield said. He was referring to Greg Kelly, another executive who has been charged with collaborating with Ghosn in underreporting his compensation. Kelly was released on bail last month and remains in Tokyo.

French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux declined to comment when asked about Ghosn’s interview.

Authorities have rejected Ghosn’s requests for bail, saying he might tamper with evidence or possibly flee.

Ghosn told the Nikkei he had no intention of fleeing and wants to defend himself in court. But he questioned why he could not gain release on bail.

“I don’t understand why I am still being detained,” he was quoted as saying, adding he could not tamper with evidence because “All the evidence is with Nissan.”

The newspaper said Ghosn did not appear tired or flustered and when asked about his health, he said he was “doing fine.”

“In life there are ups and downs,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Renault SA owns 43 percent of Nissan. It sent Ghosn to Japan in 1999 to help lead the Japanese automaker’s turnaround from near bankruptcy. Ghosn said he had discussed a “plan to integrate” Nissan with Renault and their smaller alliance partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp. with Nissan’s CEO, Hiroto Saikawa, in September.

The plan was to bring Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors closer together and ensure they had “autonomy under one holding company,” he told the newspaper.

Nissan dismissed Ghosn as chairman shortly after his arrest. He was also dismissed as chairman of Mitsubishi. Earlier this month, he resigned as chairman and CEO of Renault and was replaced by Jean-Donimique Senard, the former chairman of Michelin.

Ghosn refuted various allegations against him, saying most of the alleged violations were approved by Nissan’s legal department or other senior executives.

He also denied any wrongdoing in buying expensive homes in Brazil and Lebanon, saying he needed a safe place to work and meet with people. The homes were no secret and if they had been a problem, he should have been consulted, Ghosn said.

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Energy-Short Pakistan Moves to Power Up Solar Manufacturing

Pakistan’s government has proposed to eliminate taxes associated with manufacturing of solar and wind energy equipment in the country, in an effort to boost the production and use of renewable power and overcome power shortages.

A new government budget bill, expected to be approved in parliament within a month, would give renewable energy manufacturers and assemblers in the country a five-year exemption from the taxes.

“Pakistan is paying the heavy cost of an ongoing energy crisis prevailing for the last many years,” Finance Minister Asad Umar said last week in a budget speech. “In this difficult time, the promotion of renewable energy resources like wind and solar has become indispensable.”

Only about 5 to 6 percent of the power to Pakistan’s national electrical grid currently comes from renewable energy, according to the country’s Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB).

The proposed tax reduction should boost that by encouraging greater local manufacturing of equipment needed for renewable power expansion, said Asad Mahmood, a renewable energy expert with the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, which sits within the Ministry of Energy.

Remaining hurdles

But manufacturers said the tax breaks likely would not be sufficient to spur expansion of local renewable energy industries.

Naeem Siddiqui, the chairman of Ebox Systems, which assembles solar panels in Islamabad, said the new tax breaks were good news but Pakistani manufacturers would still struggle to compete with tax-free, low-priced imports of foreign-built solar panels and other renewable energy equipment.

“The government has already waived off taxes and duties on the import of renewable energy products, and local manufacturers cannot compete with the low-priced imported items,” he said.

Pakistan today imports more than 95 percent of the solar panels and other renewable energy systems it uses, largely from China, said Aamir Hussain, chief executive officer of Tesla PV, one of the largest manufacturers of solar energy products in Pakistan.

“As long as the government will not impose duties on the import of finished products, the local market cannot grow,” he said.

Pakistani manufacturers also might need government help in pushing sales of new Pakistani clean energy products abroad, in order to build bigger markets and lower manufacturing costs, Siddiqui said.

Mahmood, of the energy ministry, said he believed the government would also move to cut existing duties on the import of components used in manufacturing finished renewable energy products, in order to help Pakistani manufacturers.

Taxes on those components have pushed up prices of Pakistani-made renewable energy systems, making them harder to sell and leading several companies to the brink of failure, he said.

Certification system

Local manufacturers should work with the government to determine which components should be manufactured locally and which imported to ensure costs of locally made wind and solar systems are competitive, he said.

Muhammad Abdur Rahman, managing director of Innosol, a company that imports and installs renewable energy systems, said that cheap imports of renewable energy systems from China remain the main barrier to building more such systems in Pakistan.

“The local industry is facing pricing issues because of low-quality solar energy appliances being imported in the country that are very cheap as compared to the local market,” he said.

That might be resolved in part by the government starting a certification system for renewable energy products to grade them according to quality, he said.

Amjad Ali Awan, chief executive officer of the Alternate Energy Development Board, said the aim of the new policies was for renewable energy to supply 28 to 30 percent of the country’s national electrical grid by 2030.

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Utility Bankruptcy Could Be Costly to California Wildfire Victims

Faced with potentially ruinous lawsuits over California’s recent wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday in a move that could lead to higher bills for customers of the nation’s biggest utility and reduce the size of any payouts to fire victims.

The Chapter 11 filing allows PG&E to continue operating while it puts its books in order. But it was seen as a possible glimpse of the financial toll that could lie ahead because of global warming, which scientists say is leading to fiercer, more destructive blazes and longer fire seasons.

The bankruptcy could also jeopardize California’s ambitious program to switch entirely to renewable energy sources.

PG&E said the bankruptcy filing will not affect electricity or gas service and will allow for an “orderly, fair and expeditious resolution” of wildfire claims.

“Throughout this process, we are fully committed to enhancing our wildfire safety efforts, as well as helping restoration and rebuilding efforts across the communities impacted by the devastating Northern California wildfires,” interim CEO John R. Simon said in a statement.

PG&E cited hundreds of lawsuits from victims of fires in 2017 and 2018 and tens of billions of dollars in potential liabilities when it announced earlier this month that it planned to file for bankruptcy.

The blazes include the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century — the one in November that killed at least 86 people and destroyed 15,000 homes in Paradise and surrounding communities. The cause is under investigation, but suspicion fell on PG&E after it reported power line problems nearby around the time the fire broke out.

Last week, however, state investigators determined that the company’s equipment was not to blame for a 2017 fire that killed 22 people in Northern California wine country.

The wildfire lawsuits accuse PG&E of inadequate maintenance, including not adequately trimming trees and clearing brush around electrical lines, and failing to shut off power when the fire risk is high.

The bankruptcy filing immediately puts the lawsuits on hold and consolidates them in bankruptcy court, where legal experts say victims will probably receive less money.

“They’re going to have to take some sort of haircut on their claims,” said Jared Ellias, a bankruptcy attorney who teaches at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. “We don’t know yet what that will be.”

In a bankruptcy proceeding, the victims have little chance of getting punitive damages or taking their claims to a jury. They will also have to stand in line behind PG&E’s secured creditors, such as banks, when a judge decides who gets paid and how much.

But legal experts also noted that state officials will be involved in the bankruptcy, and that could soften the blow to wildfire victims.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement that his administration will work to ensure that “Californians have access to safe, reliable and affordable service, that victims and employees are treated fairly, and that California continues to make forward progress on our climate change goals.”

Legal experts said the bankruptcy will probably take years to resolve and result in higher rates for customers of PG&E, which provides natural gas and electricity to 16 million people in Northern and central California.

PG&E would not speculate about the effect on customers’ bills, noting that the state Public Utilities Commission sets rates.

PG&E also filed for bankruptcy in 2001 during an electricity crisis marked by rolling blackouts and the manipulation of the energy market. It emerged from bankruptcy three years later but obtained billions in higher payments from ratepayers.

California has set a goal of getting 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and hydropower by 2045. To achieve that, utilities must switch to buying power from renewable sources.

PG&E made agreements in 2017 to buy electricity from solar farms. But because of its bankruptcy, some experts have questioned its ability to pay what it agreed to, or to make the investments in grid upgrades and batteries necessary to bring more renewable energy online.

“PG&E’s bankruptcy is going to make it a lot more costly for California to meet its environmental goals, and could make it more challenging just to get the infrastructure built to help cut emissions and increase renewable energy,” said Travis Miller, an investment strategist at Morningstar Inc.

Consumer activist Erin Brockovich, who took on PG&E in the 1990s, had urged California lawmakers not to let the utility go into bankruptcy because it could mean less money for wildfire victims.

PG&E faced additional pressure not to seek bankruptcy after investigators said a private electrical system, not utility equipment, caused the 2017 wine country blaze that destroyed more than 5,600 buildings in Sonoma and Napa counties. The governor’s office estimated that more than half of the roughly $30 billion in potential wildfire damages that PG&E said it was facing came from that fire.

While the investigators’ finding reduced PG&E’s potential liability, it did little to reassure investors. Its stock is down 70 percent from about a year ago.

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PM: Ireland Ready to Tap Range of Emergency Aid in No-Deal Brexit

Ireland has alerted the European Commission that it will seek emergency aid in the event of a no-deal Brexit and is considering a range of other ways to help firms cope, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday.

With close trading links with Britain, Ireland’s export-focused economy is considered the most vulnerable among the remaining 27 European Union members to the impact of its nearest neighbor’s departure from the bloc.

Ireland’s finance department forecast earlier on Tuesday that economic growth could be 4.25 percentage points less than forecast by 2023 in a disorderly Brexit and would disproportionately hit agricultural goods and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Varadkar said last month that Dublin was discussing with the Commission what state aid might be available if Britain leaves the bloc without a deal, and confirmed on Tuesday that it had informed Brussels that such a request would be forthcoming.

“The purpose of this aid would be to help cope with the impact on Irish trade, particularly for the beef, dairy and fishing sectors,” Varadkar said in the text of a speech to be delivered at the Irish Farmers’ Association’s annual general meeting.

Additional exceptional EU supports available in the case of serious agricultural market disturbance that Baltic states used when the Russian market was closed to them “can be used for us too,” Varadkar added.

He said the government has been engaging on these issues with EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, a former Irish government minister and member of Varadkar’s Fine Gael party.

Farmers were told that domestic assistance would also likely be made available, with Varadkar saying his cabinet discussed providing funds for storage, restructuring grants and other state aids at its weekly meeting on Tuesday.

“I can assure you that Ireland is seeking every possible assistance,” he said.

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Brazil Eyes Management Overhaul for Vale After Dam Disaster

Brazil eyes management overhaul for Vale after dam disaster

Brazil’s government weighed pushing for a management overhaul at iron ore miner Vale SA on Monday as grief over the hundreds feared killed by a dam burst turned into anger, with prosecutors, politicians and victims’ families calling for punishment.

By Monday night, firefighters in the state of Minas Gerais had confirmed that 65 people were killed by Friday’s disaster, when a burst tailings dam sent a torrent of sludge into the miner’s offices and the town of Brumadinho.

There were still 279 people unaccounted for, and officials said it was unlikely that any would be found alive.

Brazil’s acting president, Hamilton Mourao, told reporters a government task force on the disaster response is looking at whether it could or should change Vale’s top management.

Public-sector pension funds hold several seats on the board of the mining company, and the government holds a “golden share” giving it power over strategic decisions.

“The question of Vale’s management is being studied by the crisis group,” said Mourao, who is serving as acting president for some 48 hours while President Jair Bolsonaro recovers from surgery. “I’m not sure if the group could make that recommendation.”

Shares of Vale, the world’s largest iron ore and nickel producer, plummeted 24.5 percent on Monday in Sao Paulo, erasing nearly $19 billion in market capitalization. A U.S. law firm filed a shareholder class action lawsuit against the company in New York, seeking to recover investment losses.

Igor Lima, a fund manager at Galt Capital in Rio, said the severe threats from the government and prosecutors drove the shares even lower than many analysts had estimated.

“This reaction has brought quite a lot of uncertainty about the size of the financial punishment Vale will have to handle,” he said.

Senator Renan Calheiros, who is in the thick of a Senate leadership race, on Twitter called for Vale’s top management to be removed urgently “out of respect for the victims … and to avoid any destruction of evidence.”

One of Vale’s lawyers, Sergio Bermudes, told newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that management should not leave the company and said that Calheiros was trying to profit politically from the tragedy.

Vale’s senior executives have apologized for the disaster but have not accepted responsibility, saying the installations met the highest industry standards.

Brazil’s top prosecutor, Raquel Dodge, said the company should be held strongly responsible and criminally prosecuted.

Executives could also be personally held responsible, she said.

Repeated Failures

The disaster at the Corrego do Feijao mine occurred less than four years after a dam collapsed at a nearby mine run by Samarco Mineracao SA, a joint venture by Vale and BHP Billiton, killing 19 and dumping toxic sludge in a major river.

While the 2015 Samarco disaster unleashed about five times more mining waste, Friday’s dam break was far deadlier as the wall of mud hit Vale’s local offices, including a crowded cafeteria, and tore through a populated area downhill.

“The cafeteria was in a risky area,” Renato Simao de Oliveiras, 32, said while searching for his twin brother, a Vale employee, at an emergency response station. “Just to save money, even if it meant losing the little guy. … These businessmen, they only think about themselves.”

As search efforts continued on Monday, firefighters laid down wood planks to cross a sea of sludge that is hundreds of meters wide in places, to reach a bus in search of bodies inside. Villagers discovered the bus as they tried to rescue a nearby cow stuck in the mud.

Longtime resident Ademir Rogerio cried as he surveyed the mud where Vale’s facilities once stood on the edge of town.

“The world is over for us,” he said. “Vale is the top mining company in the world. If this could happen here, imagine what would happen if it were a smaller miner.”

Nestor José de Mury said he lost his nephew and coworkers in the mud. “I’ve never seen anything like it, it killed everyone,” he said.

Vale Chief Financial Officer Luciano Siani told journalists on Monday evening that, despite interrupting operations in Brumadinho, the company would continue royalty payments to the municipality. He said Vale royalties made up about 60 percent of the town’s 140 million reais in revenue last year.

Siani said a donation of 100,000 reais will be made to each family that lost a relative in the disaster and said Vale would step up investments in dam safety.

Safety Debate

The board of Vale, which has raised its dividends over the last year, suspended all shareholder payouts and executive bonuses late on Sunday, as the disaster put its corporate strategy under scrutiny.

Since the disaster, courts have order a freeze on 11.8 billion reais of Vale’s assets to cover damages. State and federal authorities have slapped it with 349 million reais of administrative fines.

German insurer Allianz SE may have to cover some of the costs of the dam collapse, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

“I’m not a mining technician. I followed the technicians’ advice and you see what happened. It didn’t work,” Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman said in a TV interview. “We are 100 percent within all the standards, and that didn’t do it.”

Many wondered if the state of Minas Gerais, named for the mining industry that has shaped its landscape for centuries, should have higher standards.

“There are safe ways of mining,” said Joao Vitor Xavier, head of the mining and energy commission in the state assembly. “It’s just that it diminishes profit margins, so they prefer to do things the cheaper way — and put lives at risk.”

Reaction to the disaster could threaten the plans of Brazil’s newly inaugurated president to relax restrictions on the mining industry, including proposals to open up indigenous reservations and large swaths of the Amazon jungle for mining.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said in a TV interview on Monday that Brazil should create new regulation for mining dams, replacing wet tailings dams with dry mining methods.

Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque proposed in a Sunday newspaper interview that the law be changed to assign responsibility in cases such as Brumadinho to the people responsible for certifying the safety of mining dams.

“Current law does not prevent disasters like the one we saw on Brumadinho,” he said. “The model for verifying the state of mining dams will have to be reconsidered. The model isn’t good.”

($1 = 3.7559 reais)

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Report: ‘Food Shocks’ Increasing in Frequency Over Last Five Decades

Food shocks, or sudden losses of crops, livestock or fish, due to the combination extreme weather conditions and geopolitical events like war, increased from 1961 to 2013, said researchers at The University of Tasmania in a report released Monday.

Researchers saw a steady increase in shock frequency over each decade with no declines.

The report, published in Nature Sustainability, said that protective measures are needed to avoid future disasters.

The authors studied 226 shocks across 134 countries over the last 53 years and, unlike previous reports, examined the connection between shocks and land-based agriculture and sea-based aquaculture.

“There seems to be this increasing trend in volatility,” said lead author Richard Cottrell, a PhD candidate in quantitative marine science at the University of Tasmania in Australia. “We do need to stop and think about this.”

Extreme weather events are expected to worsen over time because of climate change, the report said, and when countries already struggling to feed their populations experience conflict, the risk of mass-hunger increases.

The researchers found that about one quarter of food resources are accessed through trade, and many countries could not feed their populations without imports, making them particularly vulnerable to food shocks of trading partners.

As the frequency of shocks continues to increase, it leaves what Cottrell called “narrowing windows” between shocks, making it nearly impossible to recover and prepare for the next one.

The report said trade-dependent countries must find ways to store food in preparation for inevitable shocks elsewhere.

Countries must invest in “climate-smart” practices like diversifying plant and animal breeds and varieties and enhance soil quality to speed recovery following floods and droughts, the report said.

“We need to start changing the way we produce food for resiliency,” Cottrell said, adding that he had yet to see much action being taken by wealthy food-producing countries. “Because we are going to see a problem.”

The report was released the same day the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported findings on conflict and hunger.

That report stated that around 56 million people across eight conflict zones are in need of immediate food and livelihood assistance.

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Caterpillar, Nvidia Warnings Send Wall Street Tumbling

U.S. stocks tumbled on Monday after warnings from Caterpillar and Nvidia added to concerns about a slowing Chinese economy and tariffs taking a bite out of U.S. corporate profits.

Shares of Caterpillar, the world’s largest heavy equipment maker, fell 9.13 percent and had their worst day since 2011 after the company’s quarterly profit widely missed Wall Street estimates, hit by softening demand in China and higher manufacturing and freight costs.

Caterpillar’s drop accounted for nearly a third of the Dow’s fall, and the S&P industrial index dropped 1.0 percent.

Nvidia tumbled 13.82 percent after the chipmaker cut its fourth-quarter revenue estimate by half a billion dollars on weak demand for its gaming chips in China and lower-than-expected data center sales.

The Philadelphia semiconductor index slumped 2.09 percent, while the S&P technology index dropped 1.40

percent.

“People had some optimism last week on earnings when numbers were pretty good, and today it’s clearly gone the other way.

China is such a big part of so many companies’ earnings picture,” said Rick Meckler, a partner at Cherry Lane Investments, a family investment office in New Vernon, New Jersey.

Also hurting global investor sentiment, China data showed earnings at industrial companies shrank for a second straight month in December, hit by slowing prices and weak factory activity amid a protracted trade war with the United States.

As signs of a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy become stark, investors are pinning their hopes for a compromise between Washington and Beijing on trade when officials meet on Wednesday and Thursday.

“With the Chinese economy struggling the way it is and with companies feeling the impact, the U.S. is also starting to realize that there is enough motivation to get a deal done. It’s just a question of when,” said Ryan Nauman, market strategist at Informa Financial Intelligence in Zephyr Cove, Nevada.

Although earnings have largely surpassed Wall Street’s expectations, helping the S&P 500 climb about 12 percent from its December lows, worries about slowing global growth have tempered expectations.

With Wall Street in the thick of quarterly results this week, 72.6 percent of companies that have already reported have exceeded profit estimates, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Since the reporting season began two weeks ago, analysts’ estimates for fourth-quarter profit growth have stayed steady at about 14 percent, but expectations for 2019 earnings growth have dropped to 5.6 percent from 6.3 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.84 percent to end at 24,528.22 points, while the S&P 500 lost 0.78 percent to 2,643.85.

The Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.11 percent to 7,085.69.

Nine of the 11 major S&P sector indexes fell. Amazon.com and Microsoft each dropped nearly 2 percent, while Apple shares declined almost 1 percent, dragging down the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq. All three are set to report later this week.

The S&P energy index dropped 1.03 percent as oil prices fell after U.S. companies added rigs for the first time this year, a signal that crude output may rise further.

Amgen fell 3.43 percent, weighing the most on the Nasdaq Biotech index, after Evercore ISI downgraded its stock, citing heightened competition for its arthritis drug.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.82-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.11-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted seven new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 29 new highs and 29 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 7.3 billion shares, compared with the 7.7 billion-share average over the last 20 trading days.

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Coffee in Seattle Does Not Always Mean Starbucks

The first Starbucks coffee shop opened in Seattle, Washington, in 1971 – and grew into what is perhaps the world’s best known American coffee company. But in Seattle, it is not the only brew in town, and as Natasha Mozgovaya discovered, locals never lost their love and appreciation for an individual approach and experimentation, and small coffee bars mushroomed in the city. Anna Rice has her report.

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Malawi Looks to Cannabis to Supplement Lost Tobacco Earnings

Malawi is the latest African country to look at legalizing cannabis – the plant that produces hemp and marijuana – after similar moves in Lesotho, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. As Malawi’s tobacco industry – the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner – has dwindled due to anti-tobacco campaigns, farmers are now looking to grow cannabis. Lameck Masina reports from Lilongwe.

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Leaders Skip Davos Amid Domestic Troubles, Anti-Globalist Backlash

The World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland, that wrapped up Friday, had some notable absentees, including U.S. President Donald Trump.

With a backlash against a perceived ruling elite gaining ground in many countries, analysts say some leaders steered clear of a gathering often seen as an inaccessible club for the world’s super-rich. Others argue it is vital they get together to discuss urgent issues like climate change and world trade.

On the surface, though, it was business as usual: On a sealed off, snowbound mountaintop, world leaders rubbed shoulders with global executives, lobbyists and pressure groups. It remains a vital gathering of global decision-makers, said Leslie Vinjamuri, head of the U.S. and the Americas Program at policy group Chatham House.

“They’re there to do business, they’re there to engage in an exchange of ideas. And so I think it’s still tremendously important.”

President Trump stayed away because of the partial U.S. government shutdown, which ended Friday. China’s President Xi Jinping wasn’t there, neither was Britain’s Theresa May, nor France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

“They’re tremendously preoccupied with the troubles they face at home, which isn’t a good sign for globalism. The criticism and the critique that surrounds Davos is extraordinary. People say, ‘You know, it’s where all those people go to have dinner with each other, it has nothing to do with the rest of us.’ And, of course, it’s about a lot more than that, but the optics are tremendously negative at this point in time,” Vinjamuri said.

Behind the heavily guarded security perimeter, delegates were well aware of a growing global backlash beyond.

David Gergen of the Harvard Kennedy School echoed the concerns of many at Davos during a debate at the summit.

“It’s worth remembering we’ve just had the longest bull run in our stock market in history. We’ve had good economic times. Incomes have gone up in a number of countries and yet the discontent is deep and it’s threatening our democracies. And there’s something that’s not working here that we need to figure out,” Gergen told an audience Wednesday.

The absence of many big players means others have stolen the limelight. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali has been widely praised for making peace with Eritrea. Speaking at the forum, he said African countries must deepen their ties.

“We believe integration must be viewed not just as an economic project but also as crucial to securing peace and reconciliation in the Horn of Africa,” Ali said.

Other issues also rose up the Davos agenda, notably climate change. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged action.

“This is about being on the right side of history. Do you want to be a leader that you look back in time and say that you were on the wrong side of the argument when the world was crying out for a solution? And it’s as simple as that I think,” Ardern said.

The Davos 2019 will likely be remembered, however, for the lack of global leadership, according to Vinjamuri of Chatham House.

“That space has been vacated and nobody necessarily even wants to take things forward at the level of providing a vision,” Vinjamuri said.

The lack of such a vision at a time of profound global change sent a chill far beyond the confines of this winter resort.