BEIJING : China has passed a law that levies taxes on pollution, but ignores carbon dioxide, one of the major contributors to global warming, according to the web site of the country’s highest legislative body.
The National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee passed the law, the first to tax polluters, on Sunday, less than a fortnight after a red alert for smog left more than 20 cities in the country’s northeast choking under a heavy haze.
Polluters will be charged for contributing to air, water and noise pollution, according to a copy of the legislation on the NPC’s official web site.
But CO2 did not make the list, which includes air and water pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and sulfite, taxed at rates beginning at 1.2 yuan ($0.17) and 1.4 yuan ($0.20) per unit respectively.
It also stipulates a monthly tax ranging from 350 to 11,200 yuan ($50 to $1612) for noise pollution.
The Environment Tax Law will come into effect on January 1, 2018.
China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, due to its heavy reliance on coal to provide electricity to its population of 1.37 billion.
The fuel has also contributed to the country’s severe smog problem.
Last week, cities across China’s northeast went on “red alert” for air pollution, triggering an emergency response that included taking large numbers of cars off the road and closing some factories.
The crisis also spurred a call by Chinese President Xi Jinping for the country to develop clean energy sources in order to reduce smog, Xinhua reported.
BEIJING : China has passed a law that levies taxes on pollution, but ignores carbon dioxide, one of the major contributors to global warming, according to the web site of the country’s highest legislative body.
ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania: Jill Stein’s bid to recount votes in Pennsylvania was in trouble even before a federal judge shot it down Dec. 12. That’s because the Green Party candidate’s effort stood little chance of detecting potential fraud or error in the vote — there was basically nothing to recount.
Pennsylvania is one of 11 states where the majority of voters use antiquated machines that store votes electronically, without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the balloting. There’s almost no way to know if they’ve accurately recorded individual votes — or if anyone tampered with the count.
More than 80 percent of Pennsylvanians who voted Nov. 8 cast their ballots on such machines, according to VotePA, a nonprofit seeking their replacement. VotePA’s Marybeth Kuznik described the proposed recount this way: “You go to the computer and you say, ‘OK, computer, you counted this a week-and-a-half ago. Were you right the first time?’“
These paperless digital voting machines, used by roughly 1 in 5 US voters last month, present one of the most glaring dangers to the security of the rickety, underfunded US election system. Like many electronic voting machines, they are vulnerable to hacking. But other machines typically leave a paper trail that could be manually checked. The paperless digital machines open the door to potential election rigging that might not ever be detected.
Their prevalence also magnifies other risks in the election system, simply because error or fraud is harder to catch when vote counts can’t be verified. And like other voting machines adopted since the 2000 election, the paperless systems are nearing the end of their useful life — yet there is no comprehensive plan to replace them.
“If I were going to hack this election, I would go for the paperless machines because they are so hard to check,” said Barbara Simons, the co-author of “Broken Ballots,” a study of flawed US voting technology.
Stein described her recount effort as a way to ensure that the 2016 election wasn’t tainted by hacking or fraud. There’s no evidence of either so far — a fact federal judge Paul Diamond cited prominently in his decision halting the Pennsylvania recount .
Stein pursued similar recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan, to little avail. Those states use more reliable paper-based voting technologies. (The Electoral College certified Donald Trump’s presidential victory last week.)
But a cadre of computer scientists from major universities backed Stein’s recounts to underscore the vulnerability of US elections. These researchers have successfully hacked e-voting machines for more than a decade in tests commissioned by New York, California, Ohio and other states.
Stein and her witnesses said worries about fraud were justified given US charges that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign. Emails of top Democrats were hacked and leaked. Over the summer, hackers also tried to breach the voter registration databases of Arizona and Illinois using Russia-based servers, US officials said. Election networks in at least 20 states were probed for vulnerabilities.
“It’s a target-rich environment,” said Rice University computer scientist Dan Wallach. Researchers would like to see the US move entirely to computer-scannable paper ballots, because paper can’t be hacked.
The US voting system — a loosely regulated, locally managed patchwork of more than 3,000 jurisdictions overseen by the states — employs more than two dozen types of machinery from 15 manufacturers. Elections officials across the nation say they take great care to secure their machines from tampering. They are locked away when not in use and sealed to prevent tampering.
All of that makes national elections very difficult to steal without getting caught.
But difficult is not impossible. Wallach and his colleagues believe a crafty team of pros could strike surgically, focusing on select counties in a few battleground states where “a small nudge might be decisive,” he said.
Most voting machines in the US are at or near the end of their expected lifespans . Forty-three states use machines more than a decade old. Most run on vintage operating systems such as Windows 2000 that pre-date the iPhone and are no longer updated with security patches.
On Nov. 8, election officials across the US handled numerous complaints of aging touchscreens losing calibration and casting votes for the wrong candidate.
But while many experts agree the US voting system needs an upgrade, no one wants to pay to fix it.
Money flowed after the 2000 Florida recount debacle, when punch-card technology was discredited by hanging chads. Congress appropriated $4 billion for election upgrades; states raced to replace punch cards and lever machines with digital technology.
But when that money ran out, so did the ability of many states to address security concerns overlooked in their initial rush. Four in 5 US election officials polled by New York University’s Brennan Center last year said they are desperate to replace equipment but lack the cash.
Voters in poorer areas suffer disproportionately, the center found. Data collected in Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Colorado suggests the poor are more apt to encounter failing machines.
In Virginia, wealthier counties near Washington have upgraded technology while lower-income counties in the state’s southwest have not been able to afford it, said Edgardo Cortes, the state elections commissioner.
WASHINGTON: Donald Trump spent the past two years attacking rival Hillary Clinton as crooked, corrupt, and weak.
But some of those attacks seem to have already slipped into the history books.
From installing Wall Street executives in his Cabinet to avoiding news conferences, the president-elect is adopting some of the same behavior for which he criticized Clinton during their fiery presidential campaign.
Here’s a look at what Trump said then — and what he’s doing now:
Then: “I know the guys at Goldman Sachs,” Trump said at a South Carolina rally in February, when he was locked in a fierce primary battle with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “They have total, total control over him. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton.”
Now: A number of former employees of the Wall Street bank will pay a key role in crafting Trump’s economic policy. He’s tapped Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn to lead the White House National Economic Council. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary nominee, spent 17 years working at Goldman Sachs and Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, started his career as an investment banker at the firm.
Trump is following in a long political tradition, though one he derided on the campaign trail: If Cohn accepts the nomination, he’ll be the third Goldman executive to run the NEC.
Then: “Crooked Hillary. Look, can you imagine another four years of the Clintons? Seriously. It’s time to move on. And she’s totally controlled by Wall Street and all these people that gave her millions,” Trump said at a May rally in Lynden, Washington.
Now: Trump has stocked his Cabinet with six top donors — far more than any recent White House. “I want people that made a fortune. Because now they’re negotiating with you, OK?” Trump said, in a December 9 speech in Des Moines.
The biggest giver? Linda McMahon, incoming small business administrator, gave $7.5 million to a super PAC backing Trump, more than a third of the money collected by the political action committee.
Then: “She doesn’t do news conferences, because she can’t,” Trump said at an August rally in Ashburn, Virginia. “She’s so dishonest she doesn’t want people peppering her with questions.”
Now: Trump opened his last news conference on July 27, saying: “You know, I put myself through your news conferences often, not that it’s fun.”
He hasn’t held one since.
Trump skipped the news conference a president-elect typically gives after winning the White House. Instead, he released a YouTube video of under three minutes. He also recently abruptly canceled plans to hold his first post-election news conference, opting instead to describe his plans for managing his businesses in tweets. “I will hold a press conference in the near future to discuss the business, Cabinet picks and all other topics of interest. Busy times!” he tweeted in mid-December.
Then: “It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins. It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office. They sold access and specific actions by and really for I guess the making of large amounts of money,” Trump said at an August rally in Austin.
Now: While Trump has promised to separate himself from his businesses, there is plenty of overlap between his enterprises and his immediate family. His companies will be run by his sons, Donald Jr and Eric. And his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have joined Trump at a number of meetings with world leaders of countries where the family has financial interests.
In a financial disclosure he was required to file during the campaign, Trump listed stakes in about 500 companies in at least 25 countries.
Ivanka, in particular, has been caught making early efforts to leverage her father’s new position into profits. After an interview with the family appeared on “60 Minutes,” her jewelry company, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, blasted out an e-mail promoting the $10,800 gold bangle bracelet that she had worn during the appearance. The company later said they were “proactively discussing new policies and procedures.”
Ivanka is also auctioning off a private coffee meeting with her to benefit her brother’s foundation. The meeting is valued at $50,000, with the current top bid coming in at $25,000.
“United States Secret Service will be Present for the Duration of the Experience,” warns the auction site.
Trump on Saturday said he would dissolve his charitable foundation amid efforts to eliminate any conflicts of interest before he takes office next month.
Then: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor,” Trump said in the October presidential debate, referring to Clinton.
Now: Since winning office, Trump has said he has no intention of pushing for an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server as secretary of state or the workings of her family foundation. “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about,” he told the New York Times.
“She went through a lot. And suffered greatly in many different ways,” he said. “I’m not looking to hurt them.”
TAIPEI: A group of Chinese warships led by the country’s sole aircraft carrier entered the top half of the South China Sea on Monday after passing south of Taiwan, the self-ruled island’s Defense Ministry said of what China has termed a routine exercise.
The move comes amid renewed tension over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, ineligible for state-to-state relations, following US President-elect Donald Trump’s telephone call with the island’s president that upset Beijing.
The Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier has taken part in previous exercises, including some in the South China Sea, but China is years away from perfecting carrier operations similar to those the United States has practiced for decades.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the carrier, accompanied by five vessels, passed southeast of the Pratas Islands, which are controlled by Taiwan, heading southwest.
The carrier group earlier passed 90 nautical miles south of Taiwan’s southernmost point via the Bashi Channel, between Taiwan and the Philippines.
“Staying vigilant and flexible has always been the normal method of maintaining airspace security,” said ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi, declining to say whether Taiwan fighter jets were scrambled or if submarines had been deployed.
Chen said the ministry was continuing to “monitor and grasp the situation.”
Senior Taiwan opposition Nationalist lawmaker Johnny Chiang said the Liaoning exercise was China’s signal to the United States that it has broken through the “first island chain,” an area that includes Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said people should not read too much into what the carrier was up to, as its movements were within the law.
“Our Liaoning should enjoy in accordance with the law freedom of navigation and overflight as set by international law, and we hope all sides can respect this right of China’s,” she told a daily news briefing.
Influential state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said the exercise showed how the carrier was improving its combat capabilities and that it should now sail even further afield.
“The Chinese fleet will cruise to the Eastern Pacific sooner or later. When China’s aircraft carrier fleet appears in offshore areas of the US one day, it will trigger intense thinking about maritime rules,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
China has been angered recently by US naval patrols near islands that China claims in the South China Sea. This month, a Chinese navy ship seized a US underwater drone in the South China Sea. China later returned it.
Japan said late on Sunday it had spotted six Chinese naval vessels including the Liaoning traveling through the passage between Miyako and Okinawa and into the Pacific.
Japan’s top government spokesman said on Monday the voyage showed China’s expanding military capability and Japan was closely monitoring it.
China’s air force conducted long-range drills this month above the East and South China Seas that rattled Japan and Taiwan. China said those exercises were also routine.
Last December, the defense ministry confirmed China was building a second aircraft carrier but its launch date is unclear. The aircraft carrier program is a state secret.
Beijing could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years, the Pentagon said in a report last year.
China claims most of the South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
TOKYO: Japan and the US have agreed in principle on guidelines for limiting immunity from Japanese prosecution for civilian workers at American military bases, following a murder case this year on a southern Japanese island involving a Marine-turned-contractor, officials said Monday.
Since July, the governments have been negotiating several points concerning US civilian contractors at American bases who are subject to protection under the countries’ Status of Forces Agreement.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a regular news conference that the two sides have agreed on how to define what constitutes a “civilian contractor” at an American base and hope to sign the agreement “during President Barack Obama’s term.” He did not give further details.
The May arrest of the base contractor, accused of raping and murdering a 20-year-old woman, has renewed outrage on Okinawa island, where resentment has been simmering over its heavy US troop presence.
That prompted Tokyo and Washington to try to establish a clearer definition of “civilian base workers.” In July, the two sides said base contractors, now described vaguely as having a “civilian component,” will be classified in more specific terms, to exclude from preferential treatment those without skills and those who are residents of Japan, like the suspect in the April murder case.
Kishida said a clear definition of civilian contractors and adequate control of their data would help prevent criminal cases in the future.
About 50,000 US troops are stationed in Japan under a bilateral security agreement, more than half of them based on Okinawa. In addition, 7,000 Americans employed as civilian contractors were at US military bases in Japan as of March.
The Status of Forces Agreement, originally signed in 1960, gives US military personnel and civilians employed at American bases in Japan immunity from Japanese criminal procedures in accidents or crimes while on duty or on base.
It also allows the US military to hold suspects on base until formal indictment by Japan. Okinawan authorities say the rule denies them proper access to investigate crimes under Japanese law.
SOCHI, Russia: A pilot error or a technical fault — not terrorism — is likely to be the cause of the plane crash into the Black Sea, Russia’s transport minister said Monday as the nation held a day of mourning for the victims.
All 84 passengers and eight crew members on the Russian military’s Tu-154 plane are believed to have died Sunday morning when it crashed two minutes after taking off from the southern Russian city of Sochi. The passengers included dozens of singers in Russia’s world-famous military choir, nine Russian journalists and Russian doctor known for her charity work in war zones.
More than 3,000 rescue workers on 32 ships — including over 100 divers flown in from across Russia — have been searching the crash site at sea and along the shore, the Defense Ministry said. Helicopters, drones and submersibles were being used to help spot bodies and debris. Powerful spotlights allowed the operation to go on all through the night.
Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said in televised remarks on Monday that terrorism was not among the main theories, and that authorities were looking into a possible technical fault or a pilot error.
Still, several aviation experts noted factors that could suggest a terror attack, such as the crew’s failure to report any malfunction and the fact that plane debris was scattered over a wide area.
“Possible malfunctions … certainly wouldn’t have prevented the crew from reporting them,” Vitaly Andreyev, a former senior Russian air traffic controller, told RIA Novosti.
The plane was taking the Defense Ministry’s choir, the Alexandrov Ensemble, to perform at a New Year’s concert at Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.
The plane originated from Moscow’s military airport of Chkalovsky and stopped in Sochi for refueling before heading to Syria. Despite the Syrian connection, Sokolov said the government sees no need to heighten security measures at Russian airports.
Emergency crews on Sunday found fragments of the plane about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from the shore but a deputy defense minister told Russian news agencies that experts estimated the Tu-154 crash site at 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the shore.
By Monday morning, rescue teams had recovered 11 bodies as well as fragments of bodies. Those were flown to Moscow, where the remains will be identified.
Russian President Vladimir Putin went on television to declare Monday a nationwide day of mourning.
Some choir members did not go to Syria for personal reasons. Soloist Vadim Ananyev stayed behind to help his wife with the kids as they just had a new baby.
“I have lost my friends and colleagues, all killed, all five soloists — I feel in complete disarray,” Ananyev told The Associated Press. “It is such a shame. I have known these people for 30 years. I know their wives and children. I feel terrible for the children and for all that I have lost.”
Ananyev said he had received condolences from all over Russia and from abroad.
“We were loved all over the world, never mind the political situation,” he said.
Mourners stopped by the Sochi Adler airport on Monday to light candles at the airport’s chapel and lay flowers at an improvised shrine that featured photos of the plane and of some victims.
The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s. More than 1,000 have been built, and they have been used extensively in Russia and worldwide. The plane that crashed Sunday was built in 1983, and underwent factory check-ups and maintenance in 2014, the Defense Ministry said.
The Black Sea search area — which covers over 10 square kilometers (about 4 square miles) — is plagued by underwater currents that can carry debris and body fragments into the open sea. Sokolov said the plane’s flight recorders did not have radio beacons, so locating them on the seabed was going to be challenging.
Russia asked the authorities of Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia, which borders Russia just 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) east of the Sochi airport, to help monitor the Black Sea area for possible plane fragments or bodies.
Despite the transport minister’s comments downplaying the possibility of a terror attack, Russian planes have been hit before by attacks, including one just last year.
In October 2015, a plane carrying mostly Russian tourists back from vacation in Egypt was brought down by a bomb over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard. The local affiliate of the Daesh group claimed responsibility.
Author: AP, AFPMon, 2016-12-26ID: 1482702790623419500VALLETTA, Malta: Two Libyan men have been arraigned in a Maltese court on charges of hijacking a domestic Libyan flight to the Mediterranean island of Malta.Defendants Moussa Saha and Ahmed…
FRANKFURT, Germany: Explosives experts have defused a large World War II aerial bomb in the southern German city of Augsburg — clearing the way for thousands of evacuated residents to return and hold their Christmas celebrations at home.
City police tweeted that they had “good news at Christmas” just before 7 p.m. local time.
Prior to that, they had been unable to say how long residents would have to stay away due to the sensitive explosives work being done.
Some 32,000 households with 54,000 residents in the city’s historic central district were forced to leave by 10 a.m. Christmas morning so experts could handle the bomb.
SANTIAGO, Chile: A 7.6 magnitude earthquake jolted southern Chile on Sunday, prompting thousands to evacuate coastal areas, but no fatalities or major damage were reported in the tourism and salmon farming region.
Chile’s National Emergency Office (ONEMI) lifted both the evacuation order and a tsunami watch three hours after the Christmas Day quake struck, telling nearly 5,000 people who had evacuated they could return to their homes.
Onemi said one bridge in the area was impassible as crews worked to restore electricity to 21,000 homes without power.
Officials had issued a tsunami warning earlier for areas within 1,000 km (621 miles) of the epicenter, just 39 km (24.5 miles) southwest of Puerto Quellon, off the coast. But the warning was downgraded to a tsunami watch. Eight mostly small ports in the area were closed, Chile’s Navy said.
The quake was felt on the other side of the Andes mountains in Argentina, in the southwestern city of Bariloche, but structural damage in areas close to the epicenter was limited, witnesses said.
The quake’s depth was about 34.6 km (21.5 miles), the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.
“There was a lot, a lot of movement here, but besides that nothing of note, there weren’t houses falling,” said Alamiro Vera, owner of the Cabanas Hotel in the southern Chile fishing town of Quellon. “It was just scary, and some things inside fell.”
A Reuters witness said some roads and at least one bridge were damaged in Quellon, located on Chiloe Island, a tourist destination in Chile’s Los Lagos region.
‘Biggest scare of our lives’
The quake disrupted Christmas plans for thousands of people who fled their homes on foot, in cars and on horseback, seeking higher ground amid torrential rains as sirens warned about the potential tsunami.
Quellon resident Denisse Alvarado was preparing to travel to the countryside to celebrate Christmas with friends when she felt the quake and ran out of her home.
“All of a sudden it shook and shook and shook,” Alvarado, 46, told Reuters. “I thought the house would fall and the ground would open because it was very strong and very loud.”
“It was the biggest scare of our lives,” she added.
Though there were dozens of weaker aftershocks, damage was concentrated along a highway that runs across Chiloe Island, where traffic was shut down in one section and on smaller roads and bridges.
Local television showed damage to some homes, especially in Quellon and surrounding areas.
The area hit by Sunday’s quake was south of Valdivia, Chile, where 1,655 people died in a 1960 quake ranked by the USGS as the most powerful recorded in Chile.
The region is home to several industrial salmon farms. An official with Chile’s National Fish and Aquaculture Service said several companies had evacuated employees and were evaluating their facilities for possible damage.
Fishing and agriculture company Empresas AquaChile SA said its employees in the watch zone had been evacuated and were safe, adding that there was no damage to its facilities.
Several other companies have industrial salmon farming operations in the region, including Blumar SA, Cia Pesquera Camanchaca SA, Australis Seafoods SA, Multiexport Foods SA, Invermar SA, and the local unit of Norway’s Marine Harvest ASA.
Chile is the world’s leading copper producer, but there are no major mines located near the zone affected by the earthquake.
Chile’s state-run oil company ENAP said its Bio Bio refinery in southern Chile was operating normally. The Puerto Montt airport was operating normally, a spokesman said.
Latam Airlines Group SA and Sky Airlines said their southern Chile routes were operating without major delays.
Chile has a long history of deadly quakes, including a 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010 off the south-central coast, which also triggered a tsunami that devastated coastal towns.
BEIJING: A Chinese city said on Sunday it will suspend trade of live poultry in the interests of public health after neighboring provinces reported cases of human bird flu infections.
Suzhou, the second-biggest city in the eastern province of Jiangsu, will halt trading of live poultry as of midnight, the official People’s Daily reported on its website.
Two people have died of the H7N9 strain of bid flu in China this winter, the first fatalities among at least seven infections.
In the past week, Hong Kong and Macau have also reported their first human bird flu infections for this season.
H7N9 had not been detected in either humans or animals in China until March 2013.
The city of Shanghai, about 100 km (62 miles) southeast of Suzhou, reported last week that a man had been diagnosed with the H7N9 strain after traveling from Jiangsu.
The two deaths were in Anhui province, west of both Shanghai and Suzhou. Anhui has reported five human infections since Dec. 8.
Authorities in Anhui, which has a population of almost 60 million, have shut some livestock markets and stepped up sterilization to prevent the virus spreading. “A few” chickens had been culled.
In Xiamen, a city in Fujian province also in the east, authorities halted poultry sales on Thursday in one district, after a 44-year-old man was diagnosed with H7N9, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The H7N9 strain does not seem to transmit easily from person to person, and sustained human-to-human infection has not been reported, according to the World Health Organization.
The danger with any such virus is that it mutates and acquires genetic changes that might increase its pandemic potential.
The last major bird flu outbreak in mainland China — from late 2013 to early 2014 — killed 36 people and led to more than $6 billion in losses for the agricultural sector.