California Police Employs Robocop to Patrol Parks

The city of Huntington Park in the state of California has hired a new police office to patrol local parks. It’s always on duty and monitors the park 24 hours a day to make sure things are in order. Khrystyna Shevchenko met with this supercop and watched him work. Anna Rice narrates her story. 
 

Trump Cancels California’s Auto Pollution Rules 

The state that made smog famous is losing its half-century-old authority to set air pollution rules. 
 
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday on Twitter that the Environmental Protection Agency was withdrawing California’s authority to issue stricter vehicle efficiency rules than the federal government. 
 
The move was the latest in the administration’s efforts to loosen regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 
 
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia follow California’s standards. Together, they account for a third of auto sales in the United States. 
 ‘Devastating consequences’California has pledged to fight the decision. 
 
“It’s a move that could have devastating consequences for our kids’ health and the air we breathe if California were to roll over,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement. “But we will fight this latest attempt and defend our clean car standards.” 
 
Trump tweeted that the administration was revoking California’s air pollution prerogative “in order to produce far less expensive cars for the consumer, while at the same time making the cars substantially SAFER.” 
 
Opponents said the action was illegal and unwise. 
 
“It slams the brakes on technological advancement and throws a wrench into states’ ability to deal with air pollution and confront the growing risk of climate change,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “It’s yet another way the administration is defying science, the law and democratic norms to enable increased pollution.” 
 FILE – Vehicles make their way west on Interstate 80 across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as seen from Treasure Island in San Francisco, Dec. 10, 2015.Led the way 
 
California has set its own air pollution rules since the late 1960s. Responding to eye-watering smog in Los Angeles, the state issued the nation’s first vehicle air pollution rules in 1966. When the 1970 Clean Air Act was passed, the state was allowed to request waivers to issue stricter standards than the federal government’s. 
 
The EPA has approved more than 100 such waivers, according to the California Air Resources Board. None has been revoked. It’s not clear if the EPA has the authority to take back a waiver once it has been issued, according to Richard Revesz, director of New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity. 
 
“This attempt to revoke California’s authority has no legal basis, and it is an affront to the well-established rights of California and more than a dozen other states,” he said in a statement. 
 Nationwide standards 
 
Revoking California’s waiver is the first salvo in an attempt to lower vehicle efficiency standards nationwide. 
 
During the Obama administration,  the EPA required auto manufacturers’ fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.  The Trump administration plans to lower the standard to 37 mpg for model years 2021 to 2026. 
 
Automakers initially came to the administration asking for relief from the Obama administration’s vehicle efficiency standards. But several major manufacturers have switched sides. Ford, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW FILE – An electric bus produced by China’s BYD Co. is parked at the announcement of the opening of an electric bus manufacturing plant in Lancaster, Calif., May 1, 2013.Other regulations targeted
 
The Trump administration is working to undo climate regulations across the board. The EPA has loosened rules for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and weakened emissions restrictions from oil and gas drilling of methane. The Department of Energy is relaxing efficiency rules for light bulbs. These rollbacks and others face court challenges. 
 
The Trump administration is rescinding permission California received in 2013 for programs that lower vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and mandate zero-emissions vehicles. 
 
The EPA says California does not need the waiver because these rules “address environmental problems that are not particular or unique to California.”Lower costs predicted
 
The administration says revoking California’s waiver will lower costs for consumers and make newer, safer cars more affordable.  FILE – Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks at a news conference in Washington, Sept. 12, 2019.EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told the National Automobile Dealers Association on Tuesday that automakers have to sell more electric vehicles in order to meet the higher efficiency standards. EVs cost more to manufacture but are less popular than conventional vehicles, he said. 
 
“One way for automakers to meet the standards is to lower the price of electric vehicles and raise the price of other, more popular vehicles, such as SUVs and trucks,” Wheeler said. “In other words, American families are paying more for SUVs and trucks so automakers can sell EVs at a cheaper price.” 
 
Environmental and consumer groups note that drivers spend less on gas under California’s standards. 
 
“The existing standards will save drivers money at the pump, cut hazardous air pollution and help us address climate change,” Luke Tonachel, director for clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “Cleaner, more efficient cars are cheaper to own because the fuel savings dwarf any initial expense.” Safety measure                               
 
The administration also says lowering vehicle costs will save hundreds of lives per year because it will be easier for people to buy newer, safer cars, a claim opponents question. 
 
“Pretending that automakers cannot make cars that are both safe and efficient is ridiculous,” Tonachel said. 

First Vaping Hospitalization Reported in Canada 

Canada reported its first hospitalization for severe respiratory illness linked to vaping Wednesday, following an outbreak in the U.S. that has killed seven people and sickened hundreds. 
 
The Middlesex-London Health Unit said in a statement that “a youth has been diagnosed with severe respiratory illness that has been linked to the individual’s use of vaping products.” 
 
Medic Christopher Mackie told a news conference that the London, Ontario, high school student, who vaped daily, was admitted to a local hospital intensive care unit but has since recovered. 
 
“As far as we’re aware, this is the first case of vaping-related illness that’s been reported in Canada,” he said. 
 
E-cigarettes have been available in the U.S. and Canada since 2006 and are sometimes used to aid in quitting smoking traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes. 
 
Despite a ban in Canada on selling vaping products to youths, adolescents’ use of them has skyrocketed in recent years. More restrictions weighed
 
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor said the Canadian government was looking at further banning of vaping advertising and certain flavors that may be appealing to young people. 
 
“At the end of the day, my number one priority is protecting our youth,” she said. “We want to make sure that the regulations in place will be protecting our youth and making sure these products are not appealing to youth in any way.” 
 
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said recently that there were more than 450 possible cases of pulmonary illness associated with vaping in the U.S. 
 
The CDC and Health Canada have cautioned against vaping as officials investigate the precise cause of the deaths. No single substance has been found to be present in all the laboratory samples being examined. 

World Leaders to Take Stock of ‘Faltering’ Global Goals

The world is decades behind schedule to achieve ambitious goals to fight poverty, inequality and other ills, development experts warned Wednesday, as global leaders prepared to meet to weigh their progress.The high-level summit in New York next week will be the first to focus on the sustainable development goals since they were adopted by the United Nations four years ago.The 17 sustainable development goals, known as SDGs, set out a wide-ranging “to-do” list tackling conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender inequality and climate change by 2030. Assessments of their progress have been bleak.On Wednesday the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based nonprofit, said the goals were unlikely to be reached until 2073, more than four decades past their target date.”Progress isn’t fast enough to achieve the ambition of the SDGs within my lifetime, and that’s a problem,” said Michael Green, chief executive of the Imperative. “There are some countries that are going backwards and letting us down.”Most countries are lagging particularly in efforts to improve sanitation, nutrition, basic medical care, shelter and water, said the group, which ranks nations on an array of economic and social factors.FILE – Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 9, 2018.”The U.N. General Assembly week in New York is really an opportunity for the world to step back and look at the progress in helping those most in need,” said Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft Corp and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Efforts to improve access to basic health care and end inequality are not doing well, he said.”If we don’t accelerate progress, the gaps will continue to get larger,” he said. “We are not on track to achieve these goals.”‘Progress is faltering’Placing blame on growing inequality and on climate change, Shantanu Mukherjee, policy chief at the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said: “The pace of progress is faltering.””Not only are business-as-usual efforts losing steam, … there are trends that threaten to undermine and even reverse the progress already being made on a massive scale,” he said at a recent release of a report on the goals by leading scientists.Their report said countries must address vast gaps in wealth distribution and improve access to economic opportunities and technological advances that undermine innovation and growth.Progress has been made on the goal of ending extreme poverty, but in other areas, “progress has been slow or even reversed,” a U.N. assessment said this summer.”The most vulnerable people and countries continue to suffer the most and the global response has not been ambitious enough,” it said.Global costHolding a global summit every four years was mandated when the goals were first approved to assess progress, encourage broader implementation and boost public awareness.The cost of implementing the global goals has been estimated at $3 trillion a year.The goals will fail without new ways to ease national debts, boost wages and expand trade, top financial organizations including the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization said earlier this year.Money needs to be freed up through international trading and financial systems, they said.When the goals were first adopted in 2015, then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The true test of commitment to Agenda 2030 will be implementation.”We need action from everyone, everywhere,” he said.

Researchers: AI Surveillance is Expanding Worldwide

A growing number of countries are following China’s lead in deploying artificial intelligence to track citizens, according to a research group’s report published Tuesday.The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says at least 75 countries are actively using AI tools such as facial recognition for surveillance.
 
The index of countries where some form of AI surveillance is used includes liberal democracies such as the United States and France as well as more autocratic regimes.Relying on a survey of public records and media reports, the report says Chinese tech companies led by Huawei and Hikvision are supplying much of the AI surveillance technology to countries around the world. Other companies such as Japan’s NEC and U.S.-based IBM, Palantir and Cisco are also major international providers of AI surveillance tools.Hikvision declined comment Tuesday. The other companies mentioned in the report didn’t immediately return requests for comment.The report encompasses a broad range of AI tools that have some public safety component. The group’s index doesn’t distinguish between legitimate public safety tools and unlawful or harmful uses such as spying on political opponents.
 
“I hope citizens will ask tougher questions about how this type of technology is used and what type of impacts it will have,” said the report’s author, Steven Feldstein, a Carnegie Endowment fellow and associate professor at Boise State University.Many of the projects cited in Feldstein’s report are “smart city” systems in which a municipal government installs an array of sensors, cameras and other internet-connected devices to gather information and communicate with one another. Huawei is a lead provider of such platforms, which can be used to manage traffic or save energy, but which are increasingly also used for public surveillance and security, Feldstein said.Feldstein said he was surprised by how many democratic governments in Europe and elsewhere are racing ahead to install AI surveillance such as facial recognition, automated border controls and algorithmic tools to predict when crimes might occur. The index shows that just over half of the world’s advanced democracies deploy AI surveillance systems either at the national or local level.”I thought it would be most centered in the Gulf States or countries in China’s orbit,” Feldstein said.

Green ‘Flying Taxi’ Spreads Wings on Paris’ Seine

A Parisian startup enterprise looks to ease congestion in one of the world’s densest urban transportation networks.  Entrepreneurs created a green machine unlike any you have ever seen outside of Hollywood films. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi dredges this story from the river Seine.

Facebook Still Auto-Generating Islamic State, Al-Qaida Pages

In the face of criticism that Facebook is not doing enough to combat extremist messaging, the company likes to say that its automated systems remove the vast majority of prohibited content glorifying the Islamic State group and al-Qaida before it’s reported.But a whistleblower’s complaint shows that Facebook itself has inadvertently provided the two extremist groups with a networking and recruitment tool by producing dozens of pages in their names.
 
The social networking company appears to have made little progress on the issue in the four months since The Associated Press detailed how pages that Facebook auto-generates for businesses are aiding Middle East extremists and white supremacists in the United States.On Wednesday, U.S. senators on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will be questioning representatives from social media companies, including Monika Bickert, who heads Facebooks efforts to stem extremist messaging.The new details come from an update of a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the National Whistleblower Center plans to file this week. The filing obtained by the AP identifies almost 200 auto-generated pages, some for businesses, others for schools or other categories, that directly reference the Islamic State group and dozens more representing al-Qaida and other known groups. One page listed as a “political ideology” is titled “I love Islamic state.” It features an IS logo inside the outlines of Facebook’s famous thumbs-up icon.In response to a request for comment, a Facebook spokesperson told the AP: “Our priority is detecting and removing content posted by people that violates our policy against dangerous individuals and organizations to stay ahead of bad actors. Auto-generated pages are not like normal Facebook pages as people can’t comment or post on them and we remove any that violate our policies. While we cannot catch every one, we remain vigilant in this effort.”Facebook has a number of functions that auto-generate pages from content posted by users. The updated complaint scrutinizes one function that is meant to help business networking. It scrapes employment information from users’ pages to create pages for businesses. In this case, it may be helping the extremist groups because it allows users to like the pages, potentially providing a list of sympathizers for recruiters.The new filing also found that users’ pages promoting extremist groups remain easy to find with simple searches using their names. They uncovered one page for “Mohammed Atta” with an iconic photo of one of the al-Qaida adherents, who was a hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks. The page lists the user’s work as “Al Qaidah” and education as “University Master Bin Laden” and “School Terrorist Afghanistan.”Facebook has been working to limit the spread of extremist material on its service, so far with mixed success. In March, it expanded its definition of prohibited content to include U.S. white nationalist and white separatist material as well as that from international extremist groups. It says it has banned 200 white supremacist organizations and 26 million pieces of content related to global extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.
 
It also expanded its definition of terrorism to include not just acts of violence attended to achieve a political or ideological aim, but also attempts at violence, especially when aimed at civilians with the intent to coerce and intimidate. It’s unclear, though, how well enforcement works if the company is still having trouble ridding its platform of well-known extremist organizations’ supporters.
 
But as the report shows, plenty of material gets through the cracks and gets auto-generated.
 
The AP story in May highlighted the auto-generation problem, but the new content identified in the report suggests that Facebook has not solved it.
 
The report also says that researchers found that many of the pages referenced in the AP report were removed more than six weeks later on June 25, the day before Bickert was questioned for another congressional hearing.
 
The issue was flagged in the initial SEC complaint filed by the center’s executive director, John Kostyack, that alleges the social media company has exaggerated its success combatting extremist messaging.“Facebook would like us to believe that its magical algorithms are somehow scrubbing its website of extremist content,” Kostyack said. “Yet those very same algorithms are auto-generating pages with titles like `I Love Islamic State,’ which are ideal for terrorists to use for networking and recruiting.”

India’s Government Approves Ban on E-Cigarettes

India’s government on Wednesday decided to ban e-cigarettes, expressing concern at the alarming rate at which vaping is becoming popular among the country’s youth and causing breathing illnesses.The ban was approved by the Cabinet. The government is expected to issue an ordinance soon prohibiting the manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertising related to e-cigarettes.”Its use has increased exponentially and has acquired epidemic proportions in developed countries, especially among youth and children,” a government statement said.The first offense will be punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 100,000 rupees ($1,390), or both. For a subsequent offense, the punishment will be imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to 500,000 rupees ($6,945).Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that e-cigarettes were promoted as a way to get people out of their smoking habits but reports have shown that many are becoming addicted to them.

Young People Demand Urgent Action on Climate Change

Fifty-seven percent of teens say they “fear” climate change, according to a new survey by the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post. The survey comes as Greta Thunberg, a climate-change activist from Sweden, brought her well-publicized climate campaign to Washington last week.  Called Fridays for Future, it has attracted young people around the world to press governments to take action, as Sahar Majid tells us more in this report narrated by Kathleen Struck.

Noise and Pollution Free, Green ‘Flying Taxi’ Spreads Wings on Paris’ Seine

A Parisian startup enterprise looks to ease congestion in one of the world’s densest urban transportation networks.  Entrepreneurs created a green machine unlike any you have ever seen outside of Hollywood films. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi dredges this story from the river Seine.

EPA Set to End California’s Ability to Regulate Fuel Economy

The Trump administration is poised to revoke California’s authority to set auto mileage standards, asserting that only the federal government has the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy.Conservative and free-market groups have been asked to attend a formal announcement of the rollback set for Wednesday afternoon at Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington.Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said Tuesday that her group was among those invited to the event featuring EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.The move comes after the Justice Department recently opened an antitrust investigation into a deal between California and four automakers for tougher pollution and related mileage requirements than those sought by President Donald Trump. Trump also has sought to relax Obama-era federal mileage standards nationwide, weakening a key effort by his Democratic predecessor to slow climate change.Top California officials and environmental groups pledged legal action to stop the rollback.The White House declined to comment Tuesday, referring questions to EPA. EPA’s press office did not respond to a phone message and email seeking comment.Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks at a news conference in Washington, Sept. 12, 2019.But EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told the National Automobile Dealers Association on Tuesday that the Trump administration would move “in the very near future” to take steps toward establishing one nationwide set of fuel-economy standards.”We embrace federalism and the role of the states, but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the nation,” he said, adding that higher fuel economy standards would hurt consumers by increasing the average sticker price of new cars and requiring automakers to produce more electric vehicles.Word of the pending announcement came as Trump traveled to California on Tuesday for an overnight trip that includes GOP fundraising events near San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.California’s authority to set its own, tougher emissions standards goes back to a waiver issued by Congress during passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. The state has long pushed automakers to adopt more fuel-efficient passenger vehicles that emit less pollution. A dozen states and the District of Columbia also follow California’s fuel economy standards.California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s action will hurt both U.S. automakers and American families. He said California would fight the administration in federal court.”You have no basis and no authority to pull this waiver,” Becerra, a Democrat, said in a statement, referring to Trump. “We’re ready to fight for a future that you seem unable to comprehend.”FILE – California Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses a news conference in Sacramento, July 23, 2019.California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the White House “has abdicated its responsibility to the rest of the world on cutting emissions and fighting global warming.””California won’t ever wait for permission from Washington to protect the health and safety of children and families,” said Newsom, a Democrat.The deal struck in July between California and four of the world’s largest automakers — Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen — bypassed the Trump administration’s plan to freeze emissions and fuel economy standards adopted under Obama at 2021 levels.The four automakers agreed with California to reduce emissions by 3.7% per year starting with the 2022 model year, through 2026. That compares with 4.7% yearly reductions through 2025 under the Obama standards. Emissions standards are closely linked with fuel economy requirements because vehicles pollute less if they burn fewer gallons of fuel.The U.S. transportation sector is the nation’s biggest single source of planet-warming greenhouse gasses.Wheeler said Tuesday: “California will be able to keep in place and enforce programs to address smog and other forms of air pollution caused by motor vehicles.” But fuel economy has been one of the key regulatory tools the state has used to reduce harmful emissions.Environmentalists condemned the Trump administration’s expected announcement, which comes as gasoline prices have crept higher following a weekend drone attack that hobbled Saudi Arabian oil output.”Everyone wins when we adopt strong clean car standards as our public policy,” said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund. “Strong clean car standards give us healthier air to breathe, help protect us from the urgent threat of climate change and save Americans hundreds of dollars a year in gas expenses.”
 

Teen Activist to Lawmakers: Try Harder on Climate Change

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg offered a blunt message to Congress on Tuesday as she brought her campaign for urgent action on climate change to the U.S. Capitol.”I know you’re trying,” she told Democratic senators at an invitation-only forum, “but just not hard enough. Sorry.”Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey thanked the 16-year-old activist for her advice and her activism, which has gained worldwide attention by inspiring a series of protests and school strikes, including one set for Friday.Thunberg and other young activists bring “moral clarity” to the fight against global warming, Markey said.”We hear you,” he told her, vowing that lawmakers “will redouble our efforts to make sure that we inject this issue into the politics of this building and this country because time is running out.”U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) speaks at a news conference about the Green New Deal hosted by U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) on the Northeast lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 17, 2019.Markey and other lawmakers hailed Thunberg as a “superpower,” noting that her activism has drawn a passionate following of children essentially challenging their elders to take action.”Save your praise,” Thunberg replied. “We don’t want it,” she added, especially if officials intend to talk about climate change “without doing anything about it.”Thunberg was in Washington ahead of a global strike planned for Friday. Activists are calling for immediate action from the world’s governments to halt global warming, reduce fossil fuel consumption and avert environmental catastrophe.Instead of listening to her and other teenagers, lawmakers should invite scientists to the Capitol to listen to their expertise on ways to slow a rise in global temperatures, Thunberg said.”This is not about us. This is not about youth activism,” she said. “We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard.”Despite Thunberg’s request, lawmakers bombarded her and other youth activists with praise, saying they had sparked a global movement that is already being felt in the 2020 presidential campaign and in the halls of Congress, where lawmakers are debating proposals such as the Green New Deal.Markey is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, which would shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and replace them with renewable sources such as wind and solar power.”We need your leadership,” he told Thunberg and other activists. “It’s creating a new X-factor” to boost efforts to fight climate change.Last month, Thunberg crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a solar-powered boat, landing in New York City on Aug. 28. She’s in Washington for several days of rallies and lobbying efforts ahead of Friday’s global climate strike.Thunberg will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday and address the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York next week.