Motorists in Crime-ridden Caracas Seek Safety Through ‘Buddy’ App

Two men on motorbikes approached a broken-down vehicle in Caracas one day earlier this month in what could have been a nightmare scenario in one of the world’s most dangerous cities where roadside robberies and murders are an everyday occurrence.

The men took up positions either side of the green four-wheel-drive vehicle, with a 33-year-old female schoolteacher behind the wheel, and guarded it until a tow truck arrived two hours later to cart it off to a garage.

The two guards are employees of a new mobile application called “Pana” – “Buddy” in Venezuelan slang – which dispatches security crews to stranded drivers who request help.

It’s a reflection of how Venezuelans are turning to technology to overcome the dangers and nuisances of living in the crisis-hit country. Mobile payment apps, for example, attract customers who do not have enough paper money, which is in short supply due to hyperinflation.

Domingo Coronil who started Pana with his brother Juan Cristobal last September said they have carried out more than 5,000 successful driver rescues on the streets of the capital.

“People’s reactions have been amazing. Some start crying, while others take selfies,” the 46-year-old security consultant said in an interview.

Violence in Venezuela has shot up during the oil-wealthy country’s spiral into a five-year economic crisis and political meltdown. Many Caracas residents refuse to go out at night due to security fears, and wealthier Venezuelans often travel in bullet-proof cars with bodyguards.

There were almost 27,000 violent deaths in the country last year, with Venezuela having the second highest murder rate in the world after El Salvador, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a local crime monitoring group.

National homicide rates rose each year from 67 murders per 100,000 people in 2011 to 92 in 2016, before dipping to 89 last year, according to the group.

The homicide rate in Caracas alone was 104 per 100,000 people in 2017, the group said. New York, in contrast, had a homicide rate of 3 per 100,000 last year and most European cities had less than 1.

A recent Gallup study placed Venezuela at the bottom of its 2018 Law and Order index, with 42 percent of surveyed Venezuelans reporting they had been robbed the previous year and one-quarter saying they had been assaulted.

“The fear people have isn’t you’ll be robbed in your car, but that you’ll be killed or kidnapped,” said Roberto Briceno Leon, the observatory’s director.

Venezuelan authorities say nongovernmental groups inflate crime figures to create paranoia and tarnish President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government. But even the most recent official national murder rate – 58 per 100,000 inhabitants for 2015 – was still among the world’s highest.

About 700 people have joined Pana because of the high crime rate, Coronil said, each paying an annual fee of 4,800,000 bolivars, or about $2 to $4 on the black market, to request help as many times as they want at any hour day or night.

The company receives a customer’s geo-locations at its headquarters and dispatches two of its 28 security guards to the breakdown. Coronil hopes to expand coverage to roads outside Caracas and offer corporate plans.

Vanessa Mikuski, the schoolteacher in the van, tapped the button in Pana’s smartphone app when her car broke down without warning that June morning in the east of Caracas. A friend had recommended she download it last year.

The two Pana security guards, who were not armed and wear jackets with the app’s logo, kept pedestrians and drivers away while Mikuski waited and arranged for her children to be picked up from school.

“You feel much more secure … And at that price, it’s great,” she said.


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Across Asia’s Borders, Trafficking Survivors Dial in for Justice

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.”


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China Calls Trump Threat of More Tariffs ‘Blackmail’

China calls President Donald Trump’s threat to slap more tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S. “extreme pressure and blackmail” and threatens to retaliate.

Beijing reacted Tuesday to Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese goods “if China refuses to change its practices.”

“China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology,” a presidential statement said late Monday. “Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong.”

The president has ordered Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to identify a list of $200 billion in additional Chinese goods subject to a 10 percent tariff — a move that would bring on another round of Chinese penalties on American products.

Trump has already ordered 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese products. Those penalties are scheduled to take effect next month and will likely be followed by Chinese countermeasures.

The U.S. has long accused China of stealing U.S. technology secrets, requiring U.S. firms to share intellectual property as a condition for doing business in joint ventures in China. China denies such theft and accuses Washington of “deviating from the consensus reached by both parties.”

The Director of White House National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, told reporters Tuesday the White House has given China every opportunity to change its “aggressive behavior.”

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit last year at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. But that meeting and several rounds of trade talks between high-level officials in the past year have not yielded any progress.

“It is important to note here that the actions President Trump has taken are purely defensive in nature. They are designed to defend the crown jewels of American technology from China’s aggressive behavior,” Navarro contended. 

U.S. stock market tumbled on Tuesday following the latest salvos between Washington and Beijing. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 1.1 percent at the close of trading and other major indexes posted losses as well. 

But Navarro dismissed concerns about how the administration’s trade policy would affect the financial markets and global economy, saying it will have only a “relatively small effect.” He argued the U.S. steps will ultimately benefit the country and global trading system. 

Navarro did not reveal plans for further trade talks between Washington and Beijing, but added, “our phone lines are open, they have always been open.”

Trump has said he has an excellent relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but has also said “the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”

He has imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union and is feuding over trade with some of the United States’ closest allies.


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Scan on Exit: Can Blockchain Save Moldova’s Children from Traffickers?

Laura was barely 18 when a palm reader told her she could make $180 a month working in beetroot farms in Russia — an attractive sum for a girl struggling to make a living in the town of Drochia, in Moldova’s impoverished north.

That she had no passport, the fortune teller said, was not a problem. Her future employers would help her cross the border.

“They gave me a [fake] birth certificate stating I was 14,” Laura, who declined to give her real name, told Reuters in an interview.

That was enough to get her through border controls as she traveled by bus with a smuggler posing as one of her parents.

It was the beginning of a long tale of exploitation for Laura — one of many such stories in Moldova in eastern Europe, which aims to become the first country in the world to pilot blockchain to tackle decades of widespread human trafficking.

Trafficking generates illegal profits of $150 billion a year globally, with about 40 million people estimated to be trapped as modern-day slaves — mostly women and girls — in forced labor and forced marriages, according to leading anti-slavery groups.

The digital tool behind the cryptocurrency bitcoin is increasingly being tested for social causes, from Coca-Cola creating a workers’ registry to fight forced labor to tracking supply chains, such as cobalt which is often mined by children.

Moldova has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in Europe as widespread poverty and unemployment drive many young people, mostly women, to look for work overseas, according to the United Nations migration agency (IOM).

Due to the hidden nature of trafficking and the stigma attached, it is unknown how many people in the former Soviet country have been trafficked abroad but IOM has helped some 3,400 victims — 10 percent of whom were children — since 2001.

In Russia, Laura was forced to toil long hours, beaten and never paid. After ending up in hospital, she was rescued by a doctor, only to be trafficked again a few years later when an abusive partner sold her into prostitution.

She now lives with her daughter in a rehabilitation center in the northern village of Palaria with help from the charity CCF Moldova.

“I had a lot of suffering,” the 36-year-old said. “I am very afraid of being sold again, afraid about my child.”

​Scans and bribes

Moldova plans to launch a pilot of its digital identity project this year, working with the Brooklyn-based software company ConsenSys, which won a U.N. competition in March to design an identity system to combat child trafficking.

Undocumented children are easy prey for traffickers using fake documents to transport them across borders to work in brothels or to sell their organs, experts say.

More than 40,000 Moldovan children have been left behind by parents who have migrated abroad for work, often with little supervision, according to IOM.

“A lot of children are staying just with their grandfathers or grandmas, spending [more] time in the streets,” said Lilian Levandovschi, head of Moldova’s anti-trafficking police unit.

Moldova, with a population of 3.5 million, is among the poorest countries in Europe with an average monthly disposable income of 2,250 Moldovan Leu ($135), government data shows.

ConsenSys aims to create a secure, digital identity on a blockchain — or decentralized digital ledger shared by a network of computers — for Moldovan children, linking their personal identities with other family members.

Moldova has strengthened its anti-trafficking laws since Laura’s ordeal and children now need to carry a passport and be accompanied by a parent, or an adult carrying a letter of permission signed by a guardian, to exit the country.

With the blockchain system, children attempting to cross the border would be asked to scan their eyes or fingerprints.

A phone alert would notify their legal guardians, requiring at least two to approve the crossing, said Robert Greenfield who is managing the ConsenSys project.

Any attempt to take a child abroad without their guardians’ permission would be permanently recorded on the database, which would detect patterns of behavior to help catch traffickers and could be used as evidence in court.

“Nobody can bribe someone to delete that information,” said Mariana Dahan, co-founder of World Identity Network (WIN), an initiative promoting digital identities and a partner in the blockchain competition.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking are significant problems in Moldova, according to the U.S. State Department, which last year downgraded it to Tier 2 in a watchlist of those not doing enough to fight modern day slavery.

Moldova is eager to prove that it is taking action, as a further demotion could block access to U.S. aid and loans.

​Tricked

Many details have yet to be agreed before the blockchain project starts, including funding, populations targeted, the type of biometrical data collected, and where it will be stored.

But the scheme is facing resistance from some anti-trafficking groups who say it will not help the majority of victims — children trafficked within Moldova’s borders and adults who are tricked when they travel abroad seeking work.

“As long as we don’t have job opportunities … trafficking will still remain a problem for Moldova,” said IOM’s Irina Arap.

Minors made up less than 20 percent of 249 domestic and international trafficking victims identified in 2017, said Ecaterina Berejan, head of Moldova’s anti-trafficking agency.

“For Moldova, this is not a very big problem,” she said, referring to cross-border child trafficking, adding that child victims may travel with valid documents as their families are in cahoots with traffickers in some cases.

But supporters of the blockchain initiative say low official trafficking figures do not account for undetected cases, and they have a duty to attempt to stay ahead of the criminals.

“Many times, authorities are late in using latest technologies,” said Mihail Beregoi, state secretary for Moldova’s internal affairs ministry. “Usually organized crime uses them first and more successfully. … Any effort [to] secure at least one child is already worth trying.”


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Trump’s Tariffs: What They Are and How They Would Work

Is this what a trade war looks like?

The Trump administration and China’s leadership have threatened to impose tariffs on $50 billion of each other’s goods. Trump has proposed imposing duties on $400 billion more if China doesn’t further open its markets to U.S. companies and reduce its trade surplus with the United States. China, in turn, says it will retaliate.

In recent years, tariffs had been losing favor as a tool of national trade policy. They were largely a relic of 19th and early 20th centuries that most experts viewed as mutually harmful to all nations involved. But President Donald Trump has restored tariffs to a prominent place in his self-described America First approach.

Trump enraged U.S. allies Canada, Mexico and the European Union earlier this month by slapping tariffs on their steel and aluminum shipments to the United States. The tariffs have been in place on most other countries since March.

Trump has also asked the U.S. Commerce Department to look into imposing tariffs on imported cars, trucks and auto parts, arguing that they pose a threat to U.S. national security.

Here is a look at what tariffs are, how they work, how they’ve been used in the past and what to expect now.

Are we in a trade war?

Economists have no set definition of a trade war. But with the world’s two largest economies aggressively threatening each other with punishing tariffs, such a war appears perilously close. All told, the White House has threatened to hit $450 billion of China’s exports to the U.S. with punitive tariffs. That’s equivalent to 90 percent of the goods that China shipped to the United States last year.

It’s not uncommon for countries — even close allies — to fight over trade in specific products. The United States and Canada, for example, have squabbled for decades over softwood lumber.

But the U.S. and China are fighting over much broader issues, such as China’s requirements that American companies share advanced technology to access China’s market, and the overall trade deficit the U.S. has with China. So far, neither side has shown any sign of bending.

What are tariffs?

Tariffs are a tax on imports. They’re typically charged as a percentage of the transaction price that a buyer pays a foreign seller. Say an American retailer buys 100 garden umbrellas from China for $5 apiece, or $500. The U.S. tariff rate for the umbrellas is 6.5 percent. The retailer would have to pay a $32.50 tariff on the shipment, raising the total price from $500 to $532.50.

In the United States, tariffs — also called duties or levies — are collected by Customs and Border Protection agents at 328 ports of entry across the country. Proceeds go to the Treasury. The tariff rates are published by the U.S. International Trade Commission in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, which lists U.S. tariffs on everything from dried plantains (1.4 percent) to parachutes (3 percent).

Sometimes, the U.S. will impose additional duties on foreign imports that it determines are being sold at unfairly low prices or are being supported by foreign government subsidies.

Do other countries have higher tariffs than the United States?

Most key U.S. trading partners do not have significantly higher average tariffs. According to an analysis by Greg Daco at Oxford Economics, U.S. tariffs, adjusted for trade volumes, on goods from around the world average 2.4 percent, above Japan’s 2 percent and just below the 3 percent for the European Union and 3.1 percent for Canada.

The comparable figures for Mexico and China are higher: Both have higher duties that top 4 percent.

Trump has complained about the 270 percent duty that Canada imposes on dairy products. But the United States has its own ultra-high tariffs — 168 percent on peanuts and 350 percent on tobacco.

What are tariffs supposed to accomplish?

Two things: Raise government revenue and protect domestic industries from foreign competition. Before the establishment of the federal income tax in 1913, tariffs were a big money raiser for the U.S. government. From 1790 to 1860, for example, they produced 90 percent of federal revenue, according to Clashing Over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy by Douglas Irwin, an economist at Dartmouth College. By contrast, last year tariffs accounted for only about 1 percent of federal revenue.

In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the U.S. government collected $34.6 billion in customs duties and fees. The White House Office of Management and Budget expects tariffs to fetch $40.4 billion this year.

Those tariffs are meant to increase the price of imports or to punish foreign countries for committing unfair trade practices, like subsidizing their exporters and dumping their products at unfairly low prices. Tariffs discourage imports by making them more expensive. They also reduce competitive pressure on domestic competitors and can allow them to raise prices.

Tariffs fell out of favor as global trade expanded after World War II.

The formation of the World Trade Organization and the advent of trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada reduced tariffs or eliminated them altogether.

Why are tariffs making a comeback?

After years of trade agreements that bound the countries of the world more closely and erased restrictions on trade, a populist backlash has grown against globalization. This was evident in Trump’s 2016 election and the British vote that year to leave the European Union — both surprise setbacks for the free-trade establishment.

Critics note that big corporations in rich countries exploited looser rules to move factories to China and other low-wage countries, then shipped goods back to their wealthy home countries while paying low tariffs or none at all. Since China joined the WTO in 2001, the United States has shed 3.1 million factory jobs, though many economists attribute much of that loss not to trade but to robots and other technologies that replace human workers.

Trump campaigned on a pledge to rewrite trade agreements and crack down on China, Mexico and other countries. He blames what he calls their abusive trade policies for America’s persistent trade deficits — $566 billion last year. Most economists, by contrast, say the deficit simply reflects the reality that the United States spends more than it saves. By imposing tariffs, he is beginning to turn his hard-line campaign rhetoric into action.

Are tariffs a wise policy?

Most economists — Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro is a notable exception — say no. The tariffs drive up the cost of imports. And by reducing competitive pressure, they give U.S. producers leeway to raise their prices, too. That’s good for those producers — but bad for almost everyone else.

Rising costs especially hurt consumers and companies that rely on imported components. Some U.S. companies that buy steel are complaining that Trump’s tariffs put them at a competitive disadvantage. Their foreign rivals can buy steel more cheaply and offer their products at lower prices.

More broadly, economists say trade restrictions make the economy less efficient. Facing less competition from abroad, domestic companies lose the incentive to increase efficiency or to focus on what they do best.


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IBM Computer Proves Formidable Against 2 Human Debaters

An argumentative computer proved formidable against two human debaters as IBM gave its first public demonstration of new artificial intelligence technology it’s been working on for more than five years.

The new skills show that computers are getting better at mastering human language and speech.

The computer made its case for government-subsidized space research by pulling in evidence from its huge internal repository of newspapers, journals and other sources. After delivering opening arguments, the computer listened to a professional human debater’s counter-argument and spent four minutes rebutting it.

The company unveiled its Project Debater in San Francisco on Monday. IBM selected possible topics based on whether they were debatable, but neither the computer nor the human debaters knew the topic in advance. Nonetheless, the computer championed the topic fiercely with just a few awkward gaps in reasoning.

“Subsidizing space exploration is like investing in really good tires,” argued the computer system, its female voice embodied in a 5-foot-tall machine shaped like a monolith with TV screens on its sides. Such research would enrich the human mind, inspire young people and be a “very sound investment,” it said, making it more important even than good roads, schools or health care.

After closing arguments, it moved on to a second debate about telemedicine.

An IBM research team based in Israel began working on the project not long after IBM’s Watson computer beat two human quizmasters on a Jeopardy challenge in 2011.

But rather than just scanning a giant trove of data in search of factoids, IBM’s latest project taps into several more complex branches of AI. Search engine algorithms used by Google and Microsoft’s Bing use similar technology to digest and summarize written content and compose new paragraphs. Voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa rely on listening comprehension to answer questions posed by people. Google recently demonstrated an eerily human-like voice assistant that can call hair salons or restaurants to make appointments.

But IBM says it’s breaking new ground by creating a system that tackles deeper human practices of rhetoric and analysis, and how they’re used to discuss big questions whose answers aren’t always clear.

“If you think of the rules of debate, they’re far more open-ended than the rules of a board game,” said Ranit Aharonov, who manages the debater project.

IBM doesn’t try to declare a winner of the debates, but Noa Ovadia, one of the human debaters, said the computer was a formidable opponent even if it made a few too many blanket statements about space exploration being the pinnacle of human achievement.

Ovadia, a national debate champion in Israel, said she was impressed by its fluency in language and ability to construct sentences. She said the computer was able to “get to the bottom line of my arguments” and respond to them.

Among several outside experts IBM invited to attend Project Debater’s debut was Chris Reed, who directs the Centre for Argument Technology at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Reed said he was impressed by its grasp of “procatalepsis” — a rhetorical technique that involves anticipating an opponent’s argument and pre-emptively rebutting it.

As expected, the machine tends to be better than humans at bringing in numbers and other detailed supporting evidence. It’s also able to latch onto the most salient and attention-getting elements of an argument, and can even deliver some self-referential jokes about being a computer.

But it lacks tact, researchers said. Sometimes the jokes don’t come out right. And Monday, some of the sources it cited — such as a German official and an Arab sheikh — didn’t seem particularly germane.

“Humans tend to be better at using more expressive language, more original language,” said Dario Gil, IBM’s vice president of AI research. “They bring in their own personal experience as a way to illustrate the point. The machine doesn’t live in the real world or have a life that it’s able to tap into.”

There are no immediate plans to turn Project Debater into a commercial product, but Gil said it could be useful in the future in helping lawyers or other human workers make informed decisions.


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Dreaming of Farming Empire, Kazakhs Seek Management Tips from Genghis Khan

Kazakhstan is taking management lessons from warrior-emperor Genghis Khan as it seeks to conquer neighboring countries’ food markets, Deputy Agriculture Minister Arman Yevniyev said Tuesday.

The Central Asian nation, whose territory was once part of the Mongol Empire, wants to more than double exports of foodstuffs and other agricultural products over the next five years, Yevniyev told a government meeting.

He said meat production was a particularly promising area that could generate up to $2.6 billion in annual export revenue and presented his ministry’s plans to overhaul the industry’s management and subsidy system.

“Genghis Khan can be considered the founder of project management,” he said unexpectedly, livening up the meeting which was broadcast online.

Yevniyev then recalled the organizational structure of the Mongol army, divided into three wings and units of tens, hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands.

“Using this approach, Genghis Khan conquered half of the world with his army,” he said. “We will conquer [markets] with meat and other agricultural products.”

According to Yevniyev’s presentation, the biggest potential markets for Kazakh meat are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Russia — which are, coincidentally, the directions of the medieval Mongol conquest.

Breeding livestock was the main occupation of the ancestors of today’s Kazakhs — when they were not busy shooting arrows from horseback at opposing armies. Yevniyev said this nomadic heritage was another competitive advantage.

Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev urged caution with the use of bellicose metaphors.

“You’ve mentioned Genghis Khan — I hope we do not scare our neighbors,” he said with a laugh.

The Mongol ruler is a revered figure in the former Soviet republic of 18 million, where a significant number of people trace their lineage directly to him.


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US Patent and Trademark Office Issues 10-Millionth Patent

The 10 millionth patent has been issued in the United States, almost 228 years after President George Washington signed the first one.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the newest patent Tuesday to the Raytheon Company, a defense contractor. Raytheon received the patent based on an invention by Joseph Marron, who works for the firm as an optical engineer.

Marron created a system, known as LADAR, which improves laser detection and ranging. Patent officials say it has applications in areas that include autonomous vehicles, medical imaging devices, military defense systems and space and undersea exploration. Raytheon says the concept involves delivering real time data from a laser radar.

“Innovation has been the lifeblood of this country since its founding,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement issued by the patent office. “Our patent system’s importance to the daily lives of every American has never been greater. Given the rapid pace of change, we know that it will not take another 228 years to achieve the next 10-million-patent milestone,” he added.

The real deal

“The issuance of patent 10 million is an exceptional milestone,” PTO spokesman Paul Fucito told VOA. “It is a timely and relevant opportunity to promote the importance of innovation, the ubiquity of intellectual property, and the history of America’s patent system.”

For his part, Marron said in a statement the 10 millionth patent is “equivalent to a guy who buys a lottery ticket every month.” He added, “Eventually, it hits.”

Back in March, at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, patent officials revealed a new cover design to mark the issuance of the milestone license.

Among the 10 million patents are inventions by Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Apple founder Steve Jobs. For every well-known inventor, however, there are many other, less recognizable individuals whose innovative products have greatly affected our world.

Fifteen of those trailblazing men and women recently were honored for their unique contributions, in a special ceremony at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in Alexandria, Virginia.

On July 31, 1790, President Washington signed the first patent. The patent office said the document was issued for “a process of making potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer.”

VOA’s Julie Taboh contributed to this report.


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Russia’s Record-Breaking $15 Billion World Cup Price Tag: What Does It Buy?

The World Cup in Russia is the most expensive ever – with the official price tag around $15 billion. The result: several huge new stadiums, railroads and upgraded airports, plus the chance to reboot Russia’s global image. So, will the tournament represent a good value for Russians? As Henry Ridgwell reports from Moscow, the government appears to have used the World Cup to bury some bad economic news.


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China Warns US of ‘Countermeasures’ Against Possible New Tariffs

China says it will take appropriate countermeasures if the United States follows through with additional tariffs on Chinese goods. 

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Monday that he had asked the U.S. trade representative to identify a list of products to subject to 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods. The president said the move was in retaliation to Beijing’s decision to impose tariffs on $50 billion in U.S. goods, matching the first set of tariffs imposed by Trump.

In a statement issued Tuesday, China’s commerce ministry criticized Trump’s latest move as nothing more than “extreme pressure and blackmail” that “deviates from the consensus reached by both sides” during multiple talks. 

“China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology,” Trump said in his statement Monday. “Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers and farmers who have done nothing wrong.”

He threatened even more tariffs if Beijing again hits back with tit-for-tat duties on American goods.

Trump’s comments came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a Detroit business meeting that China was engaging in “predatory economics 101” and an “unprecedented level of larceny” of intellectual property.

He said China’s recent claims of “openness and globalization” are “a joke.” 

Pompeo said he raised the issue last week in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying, “I reminded him that’s not fair competition.”

Trump said he has an “excellent relationship” with Xi, “but the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”


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