Friday

Pompeo: US Won't Send Any Americans to Russia for Questioning


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States will not send Americans to Russia for questioning. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to let U.S. investigators question officials in Moscow about Russia’s interference in U.S. 2016 elections if Russian investigators are allowed to question American officials. U.S. President Donald Trump called Putin’s proposal an “incredible offer.” But in an interview with VOA on Thursday, Pompeo rejected the idea. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Spain Becomes Top EU Migrant Destination; Italy Accused of Causing Deaths at Sea


Italy has rejected criticism of its hard-line policy on immigration, after protesters marched on the Italian Interior Ministry, accusing it of being responsible for the deaths of migrants at sea. Rome has banned nongovernmental organization, or NGO, charity boats from disembarking migrants in Italian ports. As Henry Ridgwell reports, just-released figures show Italy’s crackdown is having an effect, with Spain overtaking Italy as the No. 1 destination for migrants in the European Union.

Blavity raises $6.5 million Series A round led by GV

Blavity, the digital lifestyle media company geared toward black millennials, recently closed a $6.5 million Series A round led by GV with participation from Comcast Ventures, Plexo Capital and Baron Davis Enterprises. As part of the investment, GV Partner John Lyman is joining Blavity’s board of directors.

As the media landscape continues to change, with some businesses up for sale, a prominent black media publication moving under new leadership and other ones shuttering, Blavity is at a point where it’s thinking about what phase two looks like, Blavity CEO Morgan DeBaun told TechCrunch over the phone.

“There’s just a lot going on where it’s important now more than ever that Blavity is committed and has the resources it needs to grow as a publication,” DeBaun told me.

Most of the funding will go toward opening a new office that is strictly focused on engineering and data, DeBaun said. As part of that, Blavity intends to triple the size of its engineering team. The office, which will likely be in Atlanta, will be home to engineers on additional products and content creation tools to facilitate better storytelling.

“A lot of innovation will come out of that office in the next six to nine months,” she said.

Currently, Blavity employs 30 people full-time and has between 60-80 contractors across its five brands. Since launching in 2014, Blavity has acquired Travel Noire, a travel startup for black millennials and media platform Shadow and Act to expand its focus from news to lifestyle.

Founded by DeBaun, Aaron Samuels, Jonathan Jackson and Jeff Nelson, Blavity ultimately aims to be a digital voice for black millennials. Prior to this Series A, Blavity raised a little over $1.8 million from MACRO, New Media Ventures, Base Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, Harlem Capital Partners, the Knight Enterprise Fund and others.

Canalys: Samsung and Xiaomi each ship 9.9 million smartphones in India in Q2 2018


According to Canalys, Samsung and Xiaomi each shipped 9.9 million smartphones in India in Q2 2018. This means that Samsung has caught up to Xiaomi this quarter. To recap, Xiaomi overtook Samsung to become the largest smartphone vendor in India in Q4 2017, and held on to its first position in Q1 2018. Now, the two competitors are neck-and-neck in the Indian smartphone market.


Canalys states that the two companies now account for 60 percent of total shipments in India—up from 43 percent a year ago. Xiaomi more than doubled its shipments (from a modest base), which just about put it in first place. Samsung’s annual growth, on the other hand, was the best it has been since Q4 2014 at nearly 50 percent.


Canalys Indian Smartphone Market Xiaomi Samsung Q2 2018

Source: Canalys



Vivo placed in third place followed by Oppo in fourth, with shipments of 3.6 and 3.1 million respectively. Overall smartphone shipments grew by 22 percent to 32.6 million units.


According to Canalys’ smartphone sell-in estimates, the Samsung Galaxy J2 Pro was Samsung’s top model in Q2 2018, with 2.3 million units shipped in India. In contrast, Xiaomi shipped 3.3 million of the Xiaomi Redmi 5A. (In our view, this shows the stark contrast in value between Xiaomi and Samsung’s phones. The Redmi 5A has better specifications than the Galaxy J2 Pro, while being cheaper as well.)


Canalys Indian Smartphone Market Share Q2 2018

Source: Canalys



Canalys states that smaller vendors are not giving up despite ongoing consolidation at the top of the Indian smartphone market, and they continue to rewrite their business strategies with the goal of long-term sustainability and profitability. Asus is a prime example here. Canalys notes that Asus recently changed its India strategy and moved from a distributor-driven go-to market model to a single partner, online-first strategy with Flipkart. (The company is achieving great success with the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1.) The company’s shipments almost tripled since the previous quarter.


Oppo, too, has changed its strategy after seeing shipments fall to a low of 2.2 million in Q4 2017. It launched a new online exclusive sub-brand, Realme, which directly challenges Xiaomi in the value for money segment. The Realme 1 undercuts all of its competitors in pricing, and has sold 400,000 units in 40 days in India.


Canalys notes that volume is not the only strategy to achieve success in India. The climate is said to be right for businesses to realign and re-enter the market in order to benefit from additional business opportunities. The Apple iPhone, on the other hand, isn’t doing well in India. Apple’s iPhone shipments fell by 50 percent in Q2 2018. The company seems to be playing the long game as it has pared back distribution partners and has opted to go for a “brand-first, volume-next” strategy according to Canalys. Apple has clearly gone for profitability over volume growth, but it remains to be seen how well the strategy is working. Other reports estimate that the company has 2 percent share of the Indian smartphone market.


In our view, the inference drawn from the report can be summed up as follows: there are multiple ways to succeed in the Indian smartphone market. Xiaomi is the leader of the budget and lower mid-range smartphone market, as the company sells phones that have a high price/performance ratio. Samsung’s budget phones fail to compete in terms of specifications, but still do well in terms of sales because of branding, marketing, and offline sales. Other companies like Asus and Oppo have successfully either turned around their business model (in case of Asus) or introduced an additional lucrative sales model (in case of Oppo’s Realme brand).



Source: Canalys

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Who owns the moon? A space lawyer answers

Most likely, this is the best-known picture of a flag ever taken: Buzz Aldrin standing next to the first U.S. flag planted on the Moon. For those who knew their world history, it also rang some alarm bells. Only less than a century ago, back on Earth, planting a national flag in another part of the world still amounted to claiming that territory for the fatherland. Did the Stars and Stripes on the moon signify the establishment of an American colony?


When people hear for the first time that I am a lawyer practicing and teaching something called “space law,” the question they ask most frequently, often with a big smile or a twinkle in the eye, is: “So tell me, who owns the moon?”


Of course, claiming new national territories had been very much a European habit, applied to non-European parts of the world. In particular the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the English created huge colonial empires. But while their attitude was very Europe-centric, the legal notion that planting a flag was an act of establishing sovereignty quickly stuck and became accepted worldwide as part and parcel of the law of nations.


Obviously, the astronauts had more important things on their mind than contemplating the legal meaning and consequences of that planted flag, but luckily the issue had been taken care of prior to the mission. Since the beginning of the space race the United States knew that for many people around the world the sight of a U.S. flag on the Moon would raise major political issues. Any suggestion that the moon might become, legally speaking, part of U.S. backwaters might fuel such concerns, and possibly give rise to international disputes harmful to both the U.S. space program and U.S. interests as a whole.


By 1969, decolonization may have destroyed any notion that non-European parts of the world, though populated, were not civilized and thus justifiably made subject to European sovereignty – however, there was not a single person living on the moon; even life itself was absent.


Still, the simple answer to the question of whether Armstrong and Aldrin by way of their small ceremony did transform the moon, or at least a major part thereof, into U.S. territory turns out to be “no.” They, nor NASA, nor the U.S. government intended the U.S. flag to have that effect.


The first outer space treaty


NASA Lunar Sample Return Container with moon soil on display in a vault at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. OptoMechEngineer, CC BY-SA

Most importantly, that answer was enshrined in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which both the United States and the Soviet Union as well as all other space-faring nations, had become a party. Both superpowers agreed that “colonization” on Earth had been responsible for tremendous human suffering and many armed conflicts that had raged over the last centuries. They were determined not to repeat that mistake of the old European colonial powers when it came to decide on the legal status of the moon; at least the possibility of a “land grab” in outer space giving rise to another world war was to be avoided. By that token, the moon became something of a “global commons” legally accessible to all countries – two years prior to the first actual manned moon landing.


Businessman Rajzeev V. Baagree, who purchased five acres of land on the moon for 1,400 rupees (equivalent to US$31 in 2005) per acre, poses next to documents of proof, at his home in Hyderabad, India. It turned out he got scammed. Mustafa Quraishi/ AP Photo

So, the U.S. flag was not a manifestation of claiming sovereignty, but of honoring the U.S. taxpayers and engineers who made Armstrong, Aldrin, and third astronaut Michael Collins’ mission possible. The two men carried a plaque that they “came in peace for all mankind,” and of course Neil’s famous words echoed the same sentiment: his “small step for man” was not a “giant leap” for the United States, but “for mankind.” Furthermore, the United States and NASA lived up to their commitment by sharing the moon rocks and other samples of soil from the lunar surface with the rest of the world, whether by giving them away to foreign governments or by allowing scientists from all over the globe to access them for scientific analysis and discussion. In the midst of the Cold War, this even included scientists from the Soviet Union.


Case closed, no need for space lawyers anymore then? No need for me to prepare University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s space law students for further discussions and disputes on the lunar law, right?


No space lawyers needed?


Not so fast. While the legal status of the Moon as a “global commons” accessible to all countries on peaceful missions did not meet any substantial resistance or challenge, the Outer Space Treaty left further details unsettled. Contrary to the very optimistic assumptions made at the time, so far humankind has not returned to the moon since 1972, making lunar land rights largely theoretical.


This 1964 file photo from the World’s Fair in the borough of Queens in New York shows a views of a moon colony in the Futurama 2 ride put together by General Motors. AP Photo

That is, until a few years ago when several new plans were hatched to go back to the moon. In addition at least two U.S. companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, which have serious financial backing, have started targeting asteroids for the purpose of mining their mineral resources. Geek note: Under the aforementioned Outer Space Treaty, the moon and other celestial bodies such as asteroids, legally speaking, belong in the same basket. None of them can become the “territory” of one sovereign state or another.


The very fundamental prohibition under the Outer Space Treaty to acquire new state territory, by planting a flag or by any other means, failed to address the commercial exploitation of natural resources on the moon and other celestial bodies. This is a major debate currently raging in the international community, with no unequivocally accepted solution in sight yet. Roughly, there are two general interpretations possible.


So you want to mine an asteroid?


Countries such as the United States and Luxembourg (as the gateway to the European Union) agree that the moon and asteroids are “global commons,” which means that each country allows its private entrepreneurs, as long as duly licensed and in compliance with other relevant rules of space law, to go out there and extract what they can, to try and make money with it. It’s a bit like the law of the high seas, which are not under the control of an individual country, but completely open to duly licensed law-abiding fishing operations from any country’s citizens and companies. Then, once the fish is in their nets, it is legally theirs to sell.


OSIRIS-REx will travel to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu and bring a small sample back to Earth for study. The mission launched Sept. 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As planned, the spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/ASSOCIATED PRESS

On the other hand, countries such as Russia and somewhat less explicitly Brazil and Belgium hold that the moon and asteroids belong to humanity as a whole. And therefore the potential benefits from commercial exploitation should somehow accrue for humanity as a whole – or at least should be subjected to a presumably rigorous international regime to guarantee humanity-wide benefits. It’s a bit like the regime originally established for harvesting mineral resources from the deep seabed. Here, an international licensing regime was created as well as an international enterprise, which was to mine those resources and generally share the benefits among all countries.


While in my view the former position certainly would make more sense, both legally and practically, the legal battle by no means is over. Meanwhile, the interest in the moon has been renewed as well – at least China, India and Japan have serious plans to go back there, raising the stakes even higher. Therefore, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln we will need to teach our students about these issues for many years to come. While ultimately it is up to the community of states to determine whether common agreement can be reached on either of the two positions or maybe somewhere in between, it is of crucial importance that agreement can be reached one way or another. Such activities developing without any law that is generally applicable and accepted would be a worst-case scenario. While not a matter of colonization anymore, it may have all the same harmful results.

Watchdog: EPA Must Bolster Oversight After Flint Water Crisis



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must strengthen its oversight of state drinking water systems in the wake of the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan.


The EPA’s Office of Inspector General said in a report released Thursday that slow response from the agency exposed residents to lead-tainted water for far too long.


Flint’s water was tainted for at least 18 months after the city switched its water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River as a cost-cutting measure.


The city switched its water supply in 2014 without ensuring that water from the Flint River had been treated with anti-corrosive agents, as required by law. It corroded the city’s old water mains, turning drinking water brown because of iron contamination, and leached lead from smaller pipes that carried water into homes.


The report blamed not only the EPA but also state authorities who for months ignored complaints from Flint residents about the water.


But the report placed most of the blame on the EPA for not acting more quickly to make sure that state and local authorities were complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as with federal rules that mandate testing for lead.


In all, nearly 100,000 people were affected by the contaminated water, and U.S. federal health officials found that young children in Flint had significantly higher levels of dangerous lead in their blood.


Lead in water supplies can cause profound and permanent health problems, particularly in children whose brains and nervous systems are still developing.


The city returned to its original water source in October 2015.