McDonald’s to Phase Out Plastic Toys from Happy Meals 

Fast-food giant McDonald’s said Tuesday it would phase out plastic toys from its signature Happy Meals by 2025. 

“Starting now, and phased in across the globe by the end of 2025, our ambition is that every toy sold in a Happy Meal will be sustainable, made from more renewable, recycled, or certified materials like bio-based and plant-derived materials and certified fiber,” the company said in a statement. 

McDonald’s said that this process had already begun in Britain and Ireland, and that all its Happy Meal toys in France were already made sustainably. 

The signature meal for children typically contains a plastic toy, often an action figure. But the new plan means that figurines may be made of cardboard for the child to assemble.

McDonald’s, which has been serving Happy Meals since 1979, said that its new plan to make toys out of renewable materials will reduce fossil fuel-based plastic in its toys by 90%. 

But a large part of McDonald’s packaging remains plastic, the company acknowledges, saying that it has “set goals” for all its packaging to be from “renewable, recycled, or certified sources” by 2025. 

 

 


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US Slaps Sanctions on Crypto Exchange in Effort to Curb Ransomware Attacks

The U.S. Treasury Department says it is sanctioning a cryptocurrency exchange for its alleged role in processing illicit proceeds from ransomware attacks.

 

The move, the department says, is part of a larger effort to crack down on the use of cryptocurrency by illicit actors.

 

The exchange sanctioned is Czech Republic-based Suex OTC, S.R.O., and it is the first of its kind move against an exchange.

 

“Exchanges like Suex are critical to attackers’ ability to extract profits from ransomware attackers,” Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a call with reporters previewing the announcement. “Today’s action is a signal of our intention to expose and disrupt the illicit infrastructure using these attacks.”

 

The Treasury said more than 40% of transactions on Suex involved illicit actors.

 

Ransomware attacks are becoming more common, the Treasury reports, noting that in 2020, payments over ransomware attacks totaled more than $400 million, up four times from 2019.

 

One recent, high-profile ransomware attack happened in May when hackers shut down a major fuel pipeline and demanded $4 million worth of Bitcoin to allow operations to resume. The hack led to nationwide gas shortages.

 

Sanctions on Suex will prevent the company from accessing any U.S.-based assets and will prevent Americans from using the company.

 

Some information in this report came from Reuters.


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US Eases Foreign Coronavirus Travel Restrictions

The United States said Monday that starting in early November it will ease its coronavirus restrictions for foreign travelers arriving in the country. 

Foreign travel to the U.S. had been largely curbed during the 18-month pandemic, even as European nations in recent months eased restrictions on American travelers ahead of the summertime vacation season. 

Under the new U.S. policy, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said foreign travelers will again be allowed into the country if they can demonstrate proof of being fully vaccinated before they board a flight and show proof of a negative COVID-19 test administered within three days of their flight. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson applauded the U.S. action, saying foreign travelers will be able to get to the U.S. before its annual Thanksgiving holiday, celebrated this year on November 25. 

“That’s a great thing,” Johnson said. “I thank the president (Joe Biden) for progress we have been able to make.” 

The U.S. Travel Association trade group also welcomed the move, saying it will “help revive the American economy.” 

“This is a major turning point in the management of the virus and will accelerate the recovery of the millions of travel-related jobs that have been lost due to international travel restrictions,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement Monday. 

Fully vaccinated travelers to the U.S. will not be required to be quarantined, as has been the case in some foreign countries. 

But Biden’s administration, in its effort to push millions more Americans to get inoculated, said unvaccinated Americans returning from overseas will need to be tested within a day of their flight and again after they return home. 

More than 181 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, according to government health officials, but it is estimated that 70 million people eligible for the vaccine have so far declined, for one reason or another, to get vaccinated. 

The new policy replaces a patchwork of restrictions first instituted by former President Donald Trump last year and tightened by Biden earlier this year that restricted travel by foreigners who in the prior 14 days had been in Britain, the European Union, China, India, Iran, Brazil or South Africa. 

Zients said the new policy “is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach, so it’s a stronger system.” 

He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also require airlines to collect contact information from international travelers to facilitate contact tracing if there is a coronavirus outbreak related to foreigners arriving in the U.S. 

It is uncertain under the new policy which vaccines would be acceptable to U.S. authorities, with Zients saying that would be left up to the CDC. Vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are used in the U.S. 

Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.​ Some information also came from Reuters and The Associated Press. 


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China’s New Stock Exchange Eyes Small, Medium-Sized Companies

U.S. experts say Beijing’s establishment of a new stock exchange catering to China’s small and medium-sized companies (SMS) is unlikely to raise the capital the enterprises had anticipated from listing on New York’s Nasdaq.

That funding step, known as an initial public offering (IPO), allows a company to raise capital from public investors. Chinese IPOs have hit a pause due to Beijing’s increased scrutiny of entities with share listings in the U.S. and new stringent reporting requirements imposed on Chinese companies that want to sell shares in the U.S.

“The impact of the new market is likely to be limited, at least compared to the impact of regulatory challenges to U.S. listing imposed by both Beijing and Washington,” Jennifer Schulp, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, told VOA in an email.

“While these regulatory challenges may help the market to get off the ground by forcing companies to turn to it to raise capital, it seems unlikely that the market will be a first choice for companies that would have otherwise looked to the U.S. markets for an IPO.”

Authorities registered the Beijing Securities Exchange Limited Co. (BSE) on Sept. 3, a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the plan to raise capital and support innovation and development for SMS at the China International Fair for Trade in Services.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), which oversees the securities and futures industry and reports directly to the State Council, China’s main administrative body, responded by saying its leaders were “excited” at the prospect.

“Small and medium-sized enterprises can do great things,” the CSRC added.

The new exchange would be similar to the Nasdaq in the U.S., which lists technology and biotech behemoths such as Microsoft, Oracle, Google, Amazon and Intel.

State-backed media Global Times said the new stock exchange, which joins two existing boards in Shanghai and Shenzhen, will “play a significant role in the country’s push for innovation-driven high-quality growth,” noting the move comes as the U.S. continues to push for financial decoupling.

But George Calhoun, director of the Quantitative Finance Program at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, is dubious.

“There is an interest in creating a Nasdaq-like venue for high-tech startups, but what’s impeding that is not the lack of another exchange, it’s (China’s) regulatory heavy hand, and it’s gotten heavier lately,” he told VOA via phone. Nasdaq is an acronym for the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations.

A third try

China’s two major exchanges – the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange – serve blue-chip companies, which are regarded as stable, safe and profitable. Both exchanges also include technology boards that serve younger and riskier tech and science companies.

“There is an interest to create a venue for smaller entrepreneurial tech companies to be able to go public without the same kind of expectations that you have if you’re going to list on one of the major exchanges,” Calhoun said. “That’s where China draws the comparison with Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange.”

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), founded in 1792, is where established companies are listed, which contributes to its reputation as being safer for investors than the Nasdaq, founded in 1971. At that time, startups such as Microsoft, Intel and Apple didn’t meet the requirements for listing on the NYSE. Nasdaq listed, and thus became known, by comparison with the NYSE, as the tech-friendly exchange for innovative science and technology companies in the U.S.

“I think China has looked at that and said, we should do something similar, and they’ve tried it twice, (the) ChiNext board in Shenzhen and Star Market in Shanghai,” Calhoun said. Both those boards list start-ups and billion-dollar tech unicorns, yet both failed due to China’s sluggish policy process for raising capital, he said.

The new Beijing Stock Exchange (BSE) will be largely based on the existing National Equities Exchange and Quotations (NEEQ), or the Third Board, founded in 2012. Created for SMEs, it failed to generate the cash needed by the majority of small companies listed.

It will adopt the faster IPO registration system rather than an older method of registration that required approval by the CSRC. Regulators will allow BSE shares to rise or fall by 30% per day, a wider range than the 20% limit set for Shanghai’s Star Board and ChiNext in Shenzhen, the tech listings on those exchanges. There will be no trading limit on any IPO shares on the first day of BSE trading.

Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida, told VOA Mandarin in an email that the BSE’s primary competitor will be the Growth Enterprise Market (GEM) aunched by the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited in 1999. The existing Third Board in Beijing will lose out, he added.

“There are a few small Chinese companies raising $10-20 million that list in the U.S. each year, in addition to more sizable companies. These small companies might list on the new Beijing exchange in the future,” he said.

Chinese tech firms in impasse

The BSE is opening as Washington and Beijing are increasing scrutiny of Chinese tech companies listed in the United States.

In the U.S., there’s growing pressure to require Chinese companies to delist if their auditors aren’t audited. Gary Gensler, SEC chairman, wrote in a Sept. 13 Wall Street Journal op-ep that unless Chinese companies allow an audit of their auditors by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board as required under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, some 270 China-related companies may be prohibited by early 2021 from continuing their U.S. listings.

Wu Ming-Tse, an associate research fellow at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research in Taiwan, told VOA Mandarin in a phone interview that China’s Xi hopes that the new stock exchange will bring these companies back to Beijing.

“The purpose of this new stock exchange is to slow down the pace of Chinese start-ups going public in the United States,” Wu said.

China’s tech industry crackdown started in December 2020 and has continued since. Several high-profile companies, including Jack Ma’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, its financial services subsidiary, the Ant Group, and the ride-hailing company Didi, have faced investigations, fines or both.

Calhoun from Stevens Institute of Technology said China’s current clampdown has forced its tech companies into a corner.

“China is saying let’s create our own Nasdaq and let those companies come to this exchange, but what they don’t realize is that you really have to have a more liberal regime in terms of allowing companies to go public with a lighter regulation, with less red tape, less of a headwind to float their shares,” he said. “It’s not about having another exchange.”

Norman Yin, a professor of finance at National Chengchi University in Taipei, told VOA in a phone interview that locating the new exchange in Beijing could be seen as reflecting Xi’s desire to grow China’s Nasdaq-like presence under the supervision of political authorities.

“If you take a look at the financial centers around the world, location is usually not a key consideration,” Yin said. “I would argue that China’s decision to set up a third stock exchange in Beijing is to allow President Xi Jinping to supervise the capital market closely by himself.” 

  

 


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US Business Demand High, Worker Availability Low

Millions of Americans who were thrown out of work in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic are now encountering a hot jobs market with businesses eager, even desperate, to hire them.

But amid continued spread of the delta COVID-19 variant, workers are trickling, not rushing, back into the labor market, despite the expiration of augmented federal unemployment benefits and offers of higher wages in some sectors.

Consumers eager to spend money would normally be a boon to the service industry in Charlotte, North Carolina. But businesses here, as in many parts of the United States, can’t find enough workers to accommodate the demand.

Help wanted signs are ubiquitous in storefronts across the city, where, since May 2020, the local unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 14% to less than 5%.

“Oh, there’s business here,” Brixx Wood Fired Pizza general manager Lethr’ Rotherttold VOA. “The restaurant stays busy and we’re making loads of money, but I don’t have the staff to keep up.”

It’s a similar situation at The Giddy Goat Coffee Roasters, an independent outfit with a unique business model of roasting coffee beans in-store and right in front of customers. The coffee shop was launched during the pandemic and has struggled to keep up with demand.

“When we think we’re good [for workers], the volume increases, and we suddenly need more help,” said manager Enzo Pazos. “Two people go to school, that’s two less staff on hand, so it’s kind of like it’s never enough.”

“You’re seeing variations of this same theme of a worker shortage across the country,” economist Matthew Metzgar of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte told VOA.

Metzgar notes that a federal economic stimulus program provided some workers with higher temporary incomes than they had received at their old jobs before the pandemic.

“What’s happening is of course with that higher unemployment compensation, people are less willing to work and people are less willing to accept lower wages,” Metzgar said.

Others who remain unemployed say they are reluctant to take jobs that would put them in close contact with the public at a time when the United States is averaging more than 1,500 COVID-19 deaths a day.

“Most people that have stayed on unemployment have done it for safety reasons, it seems,” job seeker Alex Jordan Ku said. “I have some friends on unemployment, and their safety was their main concern. They haven’t been looking for jobs They kind of just went back home to live with their parents so they can be without jobs for a while until things feel safe to them.”

Yet another problem keeping many people out of the workforce has been a shortage of affordable child care – a problem that was exacerbated by COVID-related school closures and remote learning that have forced many parents to remain at home with their children.

That problem may be easing as schools are reopening across the country this fall, but the parents of younger children are still finding it hard to secure placements in child care facilities, which are themselves impacted by difficulty in hiring enough qualified staff.

In a move partly aimed at getting more people back to work, the Biden administration is promoting enhanced child care subsidies as part of a proposed $3.5 trillion plan to fund infrastructure and social safety net programs.

 

This month’s expiration of supplemental unemployment benefits should force at least some workers back into the labor pool as their bank accounts run dry. But Metzgar says many potential workers are less than eager to return to jobs that pay less than what they received in benefits.

“From the worker’s point of view, there is resistance to coming back to lower-wage positions, and in some situations, there may not be much to entice them back in,” he said.

Adequate compensation

At a recent jobs fair in the neighboring state of Virginia, securing adequate compensation was on the minds of many prospective applicants, several of whom stressed factors beyond an hourly wage.

“What I’m looking for is something where there’s long-term stability, and benefits are important,” Lisette Bez told VOA at the Leesburg, Virginia, event. Even though she has run out of unemployment benefits, Bez indicated she is holding out for a job that includes things like generous health insurance benefits.

“The cost of insurance these days continues to go up. And I think for a lot of people that’s a huge concern,” she said. “So it’s not just enough to have a job that will pay you a certain amount. You have to have those other things.”

While employers have no control over the pandemic, they do have leeway in what they offer to entice workers, say labor advocates.

“In all candor, raising wages is the only thing that’s going to be bringing people back to work,” Charlotte labor organizer William Voltz told VOA.

Voltz, president of Unite Here’s Local 23, a union for airport employees, said workers need an hourly wage in the $17-$22 range to get by, far higher than the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

“Unfortunately, to live in Charlotte you really have to make a livable wage to be able to afford housing and life’s necessities,” he said.

Message heard

Amid fierce competition for labor, a growing number of U.S. employers big and small are sweetening wage and benefits packages offered to job seekers. E-commerce giant Amazon.com, Inc. recently boosted its average starting wage to $18 an hour, up from a $15 minimum wage the company set before the pandemic.

In Charlotte, Giddy Goat founder Carson Clough said he expects a certain amount of negotiation in determining compensation for new employees.

“If workers do have requests regarding pay and benefits, I am all ears,” Clough told VOA. “My business partner and I started off with the mindset [in] which we’re going to try and meet high-end wage requests, even prior to the pandemic. I’d be very open to hearing different demands, such as ‘How can I go do this’ or ‘How can this be a part of the package’ or something like that.”

Flexibility and creativity will be key to hiring and retaining workers going forward, according to Metzgar.

“Companies may consider thinking about bringing on workers that could contribute in multiple ways, doing something that brings value to the business. This would be a win-win, it would allow the worker to be invested, while the worker receives a higher wage in return,” the economist said.

“The point is to reimagine some of these positions so that the workers have the opportunity to produce more value, so managers set up workers to flourish to produce value for the company, which again comes with higher wages for the worker,” he added.

 

 


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Media: ‘Quad’ Countries to Agree on Secure Microchip Supply Chains

Leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia will agree to take steps to build secure semiconductor supply chains when they meet in Washington next week, the Nikkei business daily said Saturday, citing a draft of the joint statement.

 

U.S. President Joe Biden will host a first in-person summit of leaders of the “Quad” countries, which have sought to boost co-operation to push back against China’s growing assertiveness. The draft says that in order to create robust supply chains, the four countries will ascertain their semiconductor supply capacities and identify vulnerability, the Nikkei said, without unveiling how it had obtained the document.

 

The statement also says the use of advanced technologies should be based on the rule of respecting human rights, the newspaper said on its web site.

 

The draft does not name China, but the move is aimed at preventing China’s way of utilizing technologies for maintaining an authoritarian regime from spreading to the rest of the world, the Nikkei said.

 

The United States and China are at odds over issues across the board, including trade and technology, while Biden said in April his country and Japan, a U.S. ally, will invest together in areas such as 5G and semiconductor supply chains.

 

No officials were immediately available for comment at the Japanese foreign ministry.

 


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US Debt Limit Struggle Raises Specter of Catastrophic Default

Unless Congress votes to increase the amount of money the U.S. Treasury is allowed to borrow above its current debt of $28.5 trillion, the United States will default on its financial obligations sometime in the next several weeks, experts warn.

Few experts consider that likely to happen, but if it did, it could trigger an economic catastrophe with effects far beyond America’s shores.

In a letter to members of Congress last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned of the damage that would result if the U.S. is unable, even for a short time, to pay its bills.

“A delay that calls into question the federal government’s ability to meet all its obligations would likely cause irreparable damage to the U.S. economy and global financial markets,” wrote Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve Board. “At a time when American families, communities, and businesses are still suffering from the effects of the ongoing global pandemic, it would be particularly irresponsible to put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk.”

With that crisis looming, Democrats and Republicans in Washington are battling over who should take responsibility for the politically unpopular task of raising the cap on borrowing, commonly known as the debt limit. Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have vowed that not a single one of them will vote to raise the limit.

For their part, Democrats say that much of the spending the increased debt would finance is the result of policies passed by a Republican-led Congress and signed by a Republican president, Donald Trump. Therefore, they argue, the GOP should participate in raising the limit.

‘America must never default’

The strange thing about the current debate is that there is absolutely no disagreement between the parties about what should happen. In an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal in his home state of Kentucky last week, McConnell was explicit, saying that “America must never default” and “the debt ceiling needs to be raised.”

However, McConnell said, Republicans will not provide any votes to make that happen. What he is demanding the Democrats do is raise the debt limit unilaterally, using a process called “budget reconciliation,” which would make it impossible for Senate Republicans to block a vote on the measure.

McConnell’s stance has angered Democrats, who point out that enforcement of the debt ceiling was suspended three times during the four years of the Trump presidency, each time with Democratic support for allowing the debt to rise.

Possible House vote next week 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has ruled out the possibility of including a debt ceiling increase in a reconciliation package, creating what appears to be an impasse on Capitol Hill.

On Friday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said the House would vote on a measure to raise the debt ceiling next week. House Democrats could opt to tie the debt limit measure to a must-pass spending bill that would avert a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends on September 30, upping the significance of Republican opposition.

If the House bill passes, it would move to the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats have a bare majority because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tiebreaking vote. Such a measure, however, would be susceptible to a Republican filibuster if GOP lawmakers choose to block it.

‘Who blinks first?’ 

Many in Washington believe the debt ceiling will be raised before the U.S. defaults, but they aren’t sure of the mechanism. Yet lawmakers have come dangerously close to defaulting in the past. In 2011, when House Republicans battled with Democratic President Barack Obama over the federal debt, the bond rating firm Standard & Poor’s issued the first-ever downgrade of U.S. sovereign debt, sparking a major stock market sell-off.

“We know what’s going to happen, but we don’t know how it’s going to happen,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a government spending watchdog. “At the end of the day, one way or another, politicians will raise or suspend the debt limit. The United States cannot and will not default on its obligations. And so somebody is going to budge. But the question is, who blinks first?”

There are multiple ways this could play out, said Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Congress could enact a debt limit increase or a new suspension, and the amount of that increase or the duration of the suspension could be debatable,” he said. “Congress could choose to add other conditions, but doing so has not been the standard in recent years, for good reason. And it is possible that for political reasons Republicans in Congress will allow this to be done, but only with Democratic votes.”

New borrowing necessary

Until August 2, the country had been operating under the latest of a series of suspensions of the debt ceiling that allowed the Treasury to issue new debt without restrictions. When the suspension was lifted, the government’s debt stood at an estimated $28.5 trillion.

That represented an increase of about $6.5 trillion since 2019, the last time the limit was suspended, and about $8.6 trillion since a suspension that took effect in the first months of the Trump administration.

Most of the increase in federal debt since 2017 happened under the Trump administration, but a significant part of it, mainly in pandemic relief legislation, was signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Since August, the Treasury Department has engaged in a series of “extraordinary measures” to avoid defaulting on obligations without additional borrowing. However, Treasury officials have said those measures will become unsustainable sometime next month.

Pressure campaign 

The Biden administration has been trying to increase the political pressure on McConnell and congressional Republicans to force them to participate in a debt limit increase.

On Wednesday, Yellen spoke with McConnell on the phone. The White House said the purpose of the call was to “convey what the enormous dangers of default would be.” But a spokesperson for McConnell made it clear that the conversation had not moved the Republican.

“The leader repeated to Secretary Yellen what he has said publicly since July,” the spokesperson said. “They will have to raise the debt ceiling on their own, and they have the tools to do it.”

On Friday, The Associated Press reported that the administration had been reaching out to state and local government leaders to warn them about interruptions in federal funding that could result if the limit wasn’t raised.

Debt limit history 

The debt limit was not designed to be used as a political cudgel. Its origins go back to World War I, when Congress pre-authorized a certain level of debt so the Treasury would not have to seek congressional authorization every time it needed to issue new bonds.

Since 1917, when it was created, the debt limit has been raised many times. According to the Treasury Department, since 1960, Congress has acted to “raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit” 78 times.

It is only in recent decades, as federal borrowing has accelerated, that raising the debt limit has become a political weapon.

 


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‘Devious Licks’ Videos of Damage, Thefts Bedevil US Schools 

Kids across the U.S. are posting TikTok videos of themselves vandalizing school bathrooms and stealing soap dispensers and even turf from football fields, bedeviling school administrators seeking to contain the viral internet trend. 

The “devious licks” challenge that swept social media this week is plaguing principals and school district administrators who already must navigate a bitter debate over requiring masks to keep COVID-19 in check. Some schools have had to more closely monitor or even shut down bathrooms, where much of the damage is occurring. 

No section of the nation appears to have been untouched. In northeastern Kansas, Lawrence High School had to close several bathrooms after students pried soap dispensers off the walls. Then, students tried to steal the “closed” signs, so staff is guarding the bathrooms, even the closed ones, said 17-year-old student Cuyler Dunn, relaying Friday what he called “total destruction.” 

“Some of them were to the point where they were borderline unusable,” said Dunn, who is also the co-editor-in-chief of Lawrence High’s student newspaper. “Locks on stalls had been taken off.”

Ice Bucket Challenge

While social media did spawn the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for research into the condition known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, it also led to a rash of poisonings several years ago when teenagers swallowed pods of laundry detergent for the “Tide Pods challenge.” The latest trend follows close upon a viral challenge to walk on stacks of milk crates.

Some school officials are reluctant to say much about “devious licks,” which is slang for theft. In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson Kathleen Miller emailed that officials were aware of several incidents of property damage and that “disciplinary action has and will be taken.” 

Outside of that statement, Miller noted that the school district was saying little to avoid “encouraging copy-cat behavior.” 

A spokesperson said TikTok was removing “devious licks” content and redirecting hashtags and search results to its guidelines to discourage the behavior and that it doesn’t allow content that “promotes or enables criminal activities.”

While some school officials say they don’t know what caused the “devious licks” challenge to go viral, others chalk it up to a desire for peers’ attention or adolescents’ lack of impulse control. Some incidents have involved smashing things, like bathroom mirrors and sinks.

Tradition of senior pranks

Dunn said that his Kansas high school has a tradition of senior pranks that led someone to set chickens loose inside last year. But he said some students are starting to worry about the repercussions of “devious licks,” not only for kids who get caught but also for big events as the school tries to prevent thefts. His newspaper wrote about “devious licks” this week.

He said a detour sign taken from another school after a football game is in Lawrence High’s parking lot and that students even stole a small section of artificial turf off the school’s football field.

“The general vibe around the student body is that this is just another one of those funny things that high schoolers do,” he said. “But it has started to reach a point where it is starting to get in the way of things.” 

Damage displayed on social media

Northeast of Sacramento, California, the Rocklin school district has seen students destroy soap dispensers, damage faucets, plug toilets with whole rolls of toilet paper and tear mirrors and railings off walls, then share videos and photos on social media.

Spokesperson Sundeep Dosanjh said that the damage can close bathrooms for extended periods, an issue potentially made worse by “national supply chain disruptions” that have arisen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Police in the central Florida city of Bartow, located about 50 miles east of Tampa, said they arrested a 15-year-old student who vandalized a new building’s bathroom by tearing off soap dispensers and leaving one in a sink. 

“He said he did it because of this TikTok challenge and he wanted to be cool,” police Chief Bryan Dorman said. 

In the Cherry Creek school district serving an affluent Denver neighborhood and nearby trendy suburbs, the district sent parents of middle and high school students a letter warning that kids who are caught face being suspended, could be forced to make restitution and might have their cases forwarded to police.

Warnings sent to parents

Districts in Miami and Scottsdale, Arizona, sent similar warnings to parents.

Cherry Creek spokesperson Abbe Smith said its schools had seen “a handful” of incidents of damage to or theft of soap dispensers, toilet paper dispensers and fire extinguishers. 

In southern Alabama, Robertsdale High School’s principal said a student there is facing criminal charges after he was caught on surveillance cameras swiping a fire extinguisher. He also was suspended from school. 

Punishments aren’t effective

In Wichita, Kansas, the district has found that punishments like suspensions aren’t effective in stopping such behavior, and community service is the more likely response, said Terri Moses, its director of safety services. The district’s middle schools have lost soap dispensers, paper towels and toilet paper. 

And, she said, the district warns students that what they post now could hurt their chances of getting jobs in their early 20s. 

“What they’re putting out on social media is giong to be with them for a long time,” Moses said. “We’re trying very hard to relay that.” 

 


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Navalny App Gone from Google, Apple Stores on Russia Vote Day

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting app disappeared from Apple and Google stores Friday as Russians began voting in a three-day parliamentary election marked by a historic crackdown on the opposition.

“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” top Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter.

The app promoted an initiative that outlines for Navalny supporters which candidate they should back to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.

Russia had accused Google and Apple of election interference, demanding this week that they remove the app from their stores. 

Exiled Navalny ally Leonid Volkov said the companies had “caved in to the Kremlin’s blackmail.”

“We have the whole of the Russian state against us and even big tech companies,” Navalny’s team said on Telegram.

In a message from prison, Navalny had urged supporters to download the app, which aims to help Russians to vote out candidates from President Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party in the upcoming polls. 

On the eve of the vote his team urged Russian voters to back Communist Party candidates. 

Navalny – who was detained in January – has this year seen his organizations declared “extremist” and banned, while all his top aides have fled.

Russia’s media regulator has since barred dozens of websites linked to Navalny including his main website navalny.com. 

 


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Taiwan Calls for Quick Start to Trade Talks with EU

Taiwan’s government called on the European Union to quickly begin trade talks after the bloc pledged to seek a trade deal with the tech-heavyweight island, something Taipei has long angled for.

The EU included Taiwan on its list of trade partners for a potential bilateral investment agreement in 2015, the year before President Tsai Ing-wen first became Taiwan’s president but has not held talks with Taiwan on the issue since then.

Responding to the EU’s newly announced strategy to boost its presence in the Indo-Pacific, including seeking a trade deal with Taiwan, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday talks should start soon. The European Parliament has already given its backing to an EU trade deal with Taiwan.

“We call on the European Union to initiate the pre-negotiation work of impact assessment, public consultation and scope definition for a Bilateral Investment Agreement with Taiwan as soon as possible in accordance with the resolutions of the European Parliament,” it said.

“As a like-minded partner of the EU’s with core values such as democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law, Taiwan will continue to strengthen cooperation in the supply chain reorganization of semiconductors and other related strategic industries, digital economy, green energy, and post-epidemic economic recovery.”

EU member states and the EU itself have no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan due to objections from China, which considers the island one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of statehood, so any investment deal could be tricky politically for the EU.

But the EU’s relations with China have worsened.

In May, the European Parliament halted ratification of a new investment pact with China until Beijing lifts sanctions on EU politicians, deepening a dispute in Sino-European relations and denying EU companies greater access to the world’s second-largest economy.

The EU has also been looking to boost cooperation with Taiwan on semiconductors, as a chip shortage roils supply chains and shuts some auto production lines, including in Europe. 

 


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IMF Chief Denies Altering World Bank Report to Appease China 

International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva on Thursday disputed an independent investigation that found that in her previous job at the World Bank, she pressed staff to alter a report to avoid angering China. 

Based on the findings, the World Bank announced it was immediately discontinuing its “Doing Business” report, after the investigation found irregularities in the 2018 and 2020 editions. 

Georgieva, a Bulgarian national who took the helm of the IMF in October 2019, rejected its conclusions regarding her role.

“I disagree fundamentally with the findings and interpretations of the Investigation of Data Irregularities as it relates to my role in the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ report of 2018,” she said in a statement. 

The allegations could damage her reputation and provide grist for longtime U.S. critics of the multilateral organizations and their treatment of China. 

‘Serious findings’

“These are serious findings,” the U.S. Treasury said in a statement, noting that it was “analyzing the report.”

“Our primary responsibility is to uphold the integrity of international financial institutions,” the statement said. 

Georgieva said she briefed the IMF board on the situation. The board was expected to meet to discuss the issue, but it was unclear when. 

Justin Sandefur of the Center for Global Development, who has written extensively about the problems with the report’s methodology, said, “We need to hear her side of the story, but it doesn’t look great right now.” 

“The IMF is in charge of monitoring the integrity of macroeconomic and financial data internationally, and for the head of the IMF to have been involved in data manipulation is a pretty damning allegation,” he told Agence France-Presse. “That does seem like a real hit on their credibility.” 

Report ranks countries

The flagship report ranks countries based on their business regulations and economic reforms and has caused governments to jockey for a higher spot to attract investors. 

According to the investigation, Beijing complained about its ranking of 78th on the list in 2017, and the next year’s report would have shown Beijing dropping even further.

The Washington-based development lender’s staff was preparing the 2018 edition while leadership engaged in sensitive negotiations to increase its lending capital, which hinged on an agreement with China and the United States. 

In the final weeks before the report was released at the end of October 2017, the World Bank’s then-president, Jim Kim, and Georgieva, at the time the bank’s CEO, asked staff to look into updating the methodology in regard to China, according to the investigation by law firm WilmerHale. 

Chinese officials dismayed

Kim discussed the rankings with senior Chinese officials, who were dismayed by the country’s ranking, and his aides raised the issue of how to improve it, according to the summary of the probe, released by the World Bank. 

It is considered one of Kim’s signature achievements that he shepherded a deal for a $13 billion increase in World Bank resources.

The bargain required support from former U.S. President Donald Trump, who opposed concessional lending to China, and from Beijing, which agreed to pay more for loans. 

Amid the pressure from upper management, staff changed some of the input data, which boosted China’s ranking in 2018 by seven places to 78 — the same as it was the previous year, according to the investigation that analyzed 80,000 documents and interviewed more than three dozen current and former employees of the lender. 

Georgieva chastised a World Bank senior official for “mishandling the bank’s relationship with China and failing to appreciate the importance of the ‘Doing Business’ report to the country,” the report said.

After the changes were made, she thanked him for “doing his part for multilateralism.” 

Nobel Prize winner concerned

Georgieva later visited the home of the manager in charge of the report to retrieve a copy, whom she thanked for helping to “resolve the problem.” 

Paul Romer, a Nobel Prize winner who served as the World Bank’s chief economist at the time, resigned in January 2018 after telling a reporter that the methodology for the ranking had been changed in a way that could give the impression political considerations affected the results. 

At the time, the World Bank strenuously denied any political influence over the rankings. 

The investigation also found “improper changes” in the 2020 report affecting the rankings of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan. 

Nadia Daar, head of Oxfam International’s Washington, D.C., office, applauded the decision to scrap the report, saying the index “encouraged governments to adopt destructive policies that worsen inequality.” 


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Clive Sinclair, Computing Pioneer, Dies at 81

Sir Clive Sinclair, the British inventor who pioneered the pocket calculator and affordable home computers, died Thursday at age 81.

He died at his home in London a decade after being diagnosed with cancer, U.K. media said, prompting tributes from many who fondly recalled their first experience of computing in the early 1980s.

He was still working on inventions last week “because that was what he loved doing,” his daughter Belinda Sinclair told the BBC. “He was inventive and imaginative, and for him, it was exciting and an adventure. It was his passion.”

Sinclair’s groundbreaking products included the first portable electronic calculator in 1972.

The Sinclair ZX80, which was launched in 1980 and sold for less than £100 at the time, brought home computing to the masses in Britain and beyond.

Other early home computers such as the Apple II cost far more, and Sinclair’s company was the first in the world to sell more than a million machines.

Follow-up models included the ZX Spectrum in 1982, which boasted superior power and a more user-friendly interface, turbocharging the revolution in gaming and programming at home.

British movie director Edgar Wright, whose latest film, Last Night in Soho, premiered in Venice this month, paid tribute to Sinclair on Twitter.

“For someone whose first glimpses of a brave new world were the terrifying graphics of 3D Monster Maze on the ZX81, I’d like to salute tech pioneer Sir Clive Sinclair,” he said. “He made 21st century dreams feel possible. Will bash away on the rubber keys of a Spectrum in your honour. RIP.”

Tom Watson, former deputy leader of Britain’s opposition Labor Party, tweeted: “This man changed the course of my life.

“And arguably, the digital age for us in the UK started with the Sinclair ZX80, when thousands of kids learnt to code using 1k of RAM. For us, the Spectrum was like a Rolls-Royce with 48k.”

However, not all of Sinclair’s inventions were a runaway success.

The Sinclair C5, a battery-powered tricycle touted as the future of eco-friendly transport, became an expensive flop after it was launched in 1985.

But in retrospect, it was ahead of its time, given today’s attention on climate change and the vogue for electric vehicles.

“You cannot exaggerate Sir Clive Sinclair’s influence on the world,” gaming journalist and presenter Dominik Diamond tweeted. “And if we’d all stopped laughing long enough to buy a C5, he’d probably have saved the environment.”

Born in 1940, Sinclair left school at 17, becoming a technical writer creating specialist manuals.

At 22, he formed his first company, making mail-order radio kits, including what was then the world’s smallest transistor radio.

Other ventures included digital watches and an early version of a flat-screen television.

He was knighted in 1983.

Ironically, in a 2013 interview with the BBC, Sinclair revealed that he did not use computers.

“I don’t like distraction,” he explained. “If I had a computer, I’d start thinking I could change this, I could change that, and I don’t want to. My wife very kindly looks after that for me.” 


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Radical Action Needed to Prevent Irreversible Climate Change, Scientists Say

Scientists from multiple organizations that monitor and assess the state of the Earth’s climate system warn the world is not on track to meet the target of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The United in Science 2021 report warns greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are continuing at record levels, committing the planet to dangerous future warming. It notes the last five-year period has been the warmest since record-keeping began in 1850. 

Scientists say rising temperatures due to human activity are causing higher than average temperatures in the Arctic, Europe and Asia. That is increasing the frequency and intensity of floods, droughts, wildfires, storms, and other extreme weather events throughout the world. 

Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization Petteri Taalas says weather events that used to happen every 100 years now are happening every 20 years because of climate change. He warns they will occur with even greater frequency in the future if the world does not limit warming to well below two degrees Celsius by mid-century. 

“Now we are heading towards three degrees warming instead of 1.5 to two degrees,” he said.”And it has been shown clearly that it would be beneficial for the welfare of us human beings and the welfare of the biosphere and the planet to reach the lower limit of the Paris Agreement of 1.5 degrees.”

The report notes that COVID-19 has had no impact on climate change. It says pandemic lockdowns and economic slowdowns reduced air pollution for a time, but was only temporary. Now that societies are opening again, it says carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are growing.

Taalas says mitigation measures can reduce the release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and reduce climate change, but for this to happen, people must change their daily behavior. 

“If we fail with climate mitigation, we would have a permanent problem for at least hundreds or even thousands of years and both economic and human wellbeing events would be much more dramatic than this COVID pandemic, which has been hitting us all in a dramatic way,” he said.

In a forward to the United in Science report, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns time is running out. He says all countries must commit to net-zero emissions by 2050, backed up by concrete long-term strategies to prevent further irreversible damage.

He says these pledges must be made now for November’s U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow to be a turning point in the fight for the survival of the planet. 

 


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US Jobless Benefit Claims Increase, but Still Near Pandemic Low

First-time claims for U.S. unemployment compensation increased last week but remained near the low point during the 18-month coronavirus pandemic, the Labor Department reported Thursday. 

 

A total of 332,000 jobless workers filed for assistance — up 20,000 from the revised figure of the week before. In part, benefit claims increased because Hurricane Ida’s drenching rains played havoc with the economy in the southern state of Louisiana. 

 

Still, the claims figures for the last month have been on the whole the lowest since the pandemic swept through the U.S. beginning in March 2020, although they remain above the 218,000 average of 2019. 

 

The jobless claims total has fallen steadily but unevenly since topping 900,000 in early January. Filings for unemployment compensation often have been seen as a current reading of the country’s economic health, but other statistics are also relevant barometers. 

 

Even as the U.S. government said last month that its world-leading economy grew by an annualized rate of 6.6% in the April-to-June period, in August it added only a disappointing 235,000 more jobs. Economists said that figure was partly reflective of the surging delta variant of the coronavirus inhibiting job growth. 

 

The number of new jobs was down sharply from the more than 2 million combined figure added in June and July. The unemployment rate dipped to 5.2%, which is still nearly two percentage points higher than before the pandemic started in March 2020. 

 

About 8.7 million workers remain unemployed in the U.S. There are nearly 11 million available jobs in the country, but the skills of the available workers often do not match what employers want, or the job openings are not where the unemployed live. 

 

The size of the U.S. economy – nearly $23 trillion – now exceeds its pre-pandemic level as it recovers faster than many economists had predicted during the worst of the business closings more than a year ago. 

 

How fast the growth continues remains an open question. 

 

For months, the national government had sent an extra $300 a week in unemployment compensation, on top of often less generous state aid, to jobless workers. But that extra assistance has now ended throughout the country. About 7.5 million jobless workers were affected by the cutoff in extra funding. 

 

In addition, the delta variant of the coronavirus poses a new threat to the economy.

 

Political disputes have erupted in numerous states between conservative Republican governors who have resisted imposing mandatory face mask and vaccination rules in their states at schools and businesses, although some education and municipal leaders are advocating for tougher rules to try to prevent the spread of the delta variant. 

 

U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered workers at companies with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for the coronavirus. In addition, he is requiring 2.5 million national government workers and contractors who work for the government to get vaccinated if they haven’t already been inoculated. 

 

In recent weeks, about 150,000 new cases have been identified each day in the U.S., and more than 1,500 people are dying from COVID-19 daily.

 

More than 65% of U.S. adults now have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and overall, 54.1% of the U.S. population of 332 million. 


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