US Trade Deficit Hits Highest Level in Nearly 5 Years

The U.S. trade deficit in January hit the highest level in nearly five years.

Tuesday’s report from the Commerce Department says the gap between what Americans sell to foreigners and what U.S. customers buy from overseas grew by 9.6 percent for the month to $48.5 billion.

U.S. exports rose six-tenths of a percent, as American companies sold more cars overseas, but U.S. commercial aircraft sales faltered. Export gains were overwhelmed by a surge in imported cell phones and autos, along with rising costs for oil imports.

The head of the White House National Trade Council, Peter Navarro wrote in the Wall Street Journal recently that the trade deficit hurts economic growth and could be a threat to national security.

In a note to journalists, analysts at Wells Fargo Securities say growing exports and imports are also a sign of improving economies in the United States and key trading partners. They blame some of the trade gap on the strength of the U.S. dollar, which means American-made products are more expensive, and harder to sell on global markets.

Other concerns came to light in a survey of hundreds of economists across the nation by the National Association for Business Economics. Many of these experts said expected increases in government spending could increase the deficit.

In a VOA interview, survey committee chair Richard DeKaser said members have concerns about efforts to limit immigration to the United States, and would support allowing more arrivals for highly-skilled migrants.

Housing market

A separate report from a private company says U.S. home prices jumped a strong 6.9 percent during the past year. Tuesday’s report from CoreLogic also forecasts a 4.8 percent price gain over the next year, which is well above the expected rate of inflation. The authors say prices are rising because of economic recovery, limited supply of homes for sale, and continued low mortgage interest rates.

Economists have been watching the housing market with particular care since severe problems in this sector contributed to the Great Recession.

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Study: Healthy Sex Life Leads to Better Job Satisfaction

The secret to better job satisfaction may be as easy as having a healthy sex life, a new study suggests.

According to researchers at Oregon State University, married employees who “prioritized sex at home” were better workers and enjoyed work more.

On the other hand, the research showed that people who bring work-related stress home “impinges on employees’ sex lives,” leading researchers to recommend leaving work at the office.

The reason sex helps workers enjoy work more is that it releases dopamine and oxytocin, both of which are mood enhancers the effects of which can last into the next day. They added that the effects can last for at least 24 hours and worked equally among men and women.

“We make jokes about people having a ‘spring in their step,’ but it turns out this is actually a real thing and we should pay attention to it,” said Keith Leavitt, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Business and an expert in organizational behavior and management. “Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for.”

“This is a reminder that sex has social, emotional and physiological benefits, and it is important to make it a priority,” Leavitt said. “Just make time for it.”

For their study, researchers followed 159 married employees for two weeks and had them fill out two brief questionnaires each day. Those who had sex reported better moods the next day, particularly in the morning, which allowed them to be more engaged.

“Making a more intentional effort to maintain a healthy sex life should be considered an issue of human sustainability, and as a result, a potential career advantage,” Leavitt said. “Employers [in the U.S.] can steer their employee engagement efforts more broadly toward work-life balance policies that encourage workers to disconnect from the office,” he said.

The French recently enacted a law that bars after-hours email and gives employees a ‘right to disconnect.’

“Technology offers a temptation to stay plugged in, but it’s probably better to unplug if you can,” he said. “And employers should encourage their employees to completely disengage from work after hours.”

The study was published this month in the Journal of Management.

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США пообіцяли далі підтримувати Україну і зберігати санкції – МЗС

Державний секретар США Рекс Тіллерсон під час зустрічі у Вашингтоні з міністром закордонних справ України Павлом Клімкіним наголосив, що США і надалі підтримуватимуть Україну, а санкції США проти Росії залишаться чинними до повного виконання мінських домовленостей, припинення агресії та деокупації Донбасу і Криму, повідомило Міністерство закордонних справ України.

Співрозмовники також домовилися працювати над підготовкою зустрічі між президентами України та США, мовиться в повідомленні.

Сам Клімкін після зустрічі заявив, що українське питання «залишається фундаментально важливим для США».

Міністр не навів деталей переговорів, але розповів, що говорив із Тіллерсоном про агресію Росії проти України, і наголосив, що ні про який «обмін» України в контексті відносин нової адміністрації США з Росією не йдеться.

Державний департамент США поки що не коментував зустрічі Тіллерсона й Клімкіна.

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У Маріуполі мітингували проти блокади на Донбасі

У Маріуполі у вівторок відбувся мітинг проти блокади торгівлі з непідконтрольною частиною Донбасу.

За повідомленням кореспондента Радіо Свобода, мітингувальники на Театральній площі тримали плакати «Досить сидіти на рейках, йдіть працювати!» «Блокада – розруха промислових центрів», «Блокада – злочин проти України». Ініціатором мітингу виступило маріупольське відділення Українського союзу промисловців і підприємців, про що на своїй сторінці у «Фейсбуці» написав його голова Андрій Дияконов.

Серед учасників мітингу у Маріуполі були й депутати Верховної Ради Тетяна Чорновол і Дмитро Лубинець. Чорновол зокрема назвала учасників блокади «провокаторами Путіна».

Як повідомляє кореспондент Радіо Свобода, на маріупольській площі також були присутні й прихильники блокади, серед яких – волонтери, активісти міста. Доступ до сцени для прихильників блокади був обмежений. Тим, хто зумів прорватися на сцену, відключали мікрофон.

Активісти, які прийшли підтримати блокаду, стверджують, що серед протестувальників – переважно працівники металургійних комбінатів і бюджетних підприємств міста.

Акцію на площі охороняли посилені наряди поліції.

Від січня активісти, серед яких депутати Верховної Ради та люди, що називають себе ветеранами АТО, блокують деякі ділянки залізниці з вимогою припинити, за їхніми словами, торгівлю з окупованими районами Донбасу. Блокада зокрема стосується поставок вугілля, що видобувається не непідконтрольній частині Донбасу.

Президент України Петро Порошенко та прем’єр-міністр Володимир Гройсман засудили дії блокувальників.

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Fredericks Leaves 2024 Olympic Bid Role, Waives Vote

IOC member Frank Fredericks has stepped down from his role overseeing the 2024 Olympic bidding process after a $300,000 payment from a banned track official was revealed.

Fredericks says “Paris and Los Angeles are presenting two fantastic candidatures and I do not wish to become a distraction.”

The Namibian sprinter, a four-time Olympic silver medalist, says stepping aside as IOC evaluation chairman is “in the best interests” of the bidding process.

Fredericks would have led an April 23-25 visit to Los Angeles.

He also will skip the September hosting vote.

Last Friday, Fredericks said he contacted the IOC Ethics Commission ahead of French daily Le Monde reporting that a company linked to him was paid $299,300 on Oct. 2, 2009, the day Rio de Janeiro won 2016 Olympic hosting rights.

Fredericks denies wrongdoing.

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Oklahoma City Bombing Documentary Examines Growth of American Extremism

The Oklahoma City bombing nearly 22 years ago was an act of domestic terror by U.S. military veteran Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice, Terry Nichols. The bombing destroyed one third of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people and injuring 680 others. In his documentary, Oklahoma City, filmmaker Barak Goodman revisits the bombing as the first major domestic terrorist attack in the United States on April 19, 1995.

It was the number of civilians killed – especially the 15 children, four of them infants, crushed inside the building’s day care center – that made this terrorist attack by a massive fertilizer bomb so heinous for many Americans. Many films have recounted the story, but Goodman’s documentary treats the Oklahoma City bombing as a springboard to examine the roots of America’s ultra-right militia and to analyze the makeup of homegrown American terrorism.

History of suspicion

“It goes all the way back to the founding of the Republic,” the filmmaker told VOA. “The Republic was founded on the suspicion of government.” Goodman says many of these extreme separatists believe in white supremacy and in unregulated freedom to keep and bear arms so that they can protect themselves from outsiders and the government.

In the documentary, former militia member Kerry Noble explains the ideology. “The government is an enemy of the people, and in this war it’s an all or nothing. We’re either gonna win as the white race or we’re gonna lose.”  

Oklahoma City points to two events in the late 20th century that bolstered separatist ideologies: The Ruby Ridge incident on August 21, 1992, and the Waco siege in Waco, Texas, between February 28 and April 19, 1993. In both cases, federal and local government agents clashed with American separatists. The deadly incidents were fueled by the authorities’ demand to search the premises for illegal firearms.

The Waco siege was particularly deadly. The compound belonged to a group known as the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh. When federal authorities sent in armed agents and armored vehicles to end the standoff, a fire engulfed the compound, killing 82 people, including David Koresh. Sixty-two of the victims were women and children.

Birth of an extremist

Timothy McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran disillusioned by the government during his tour in Iraq, was among those who went to witness the siege.  According to the documentary, McVeigh was radicalized by those events and by an extremist publication called The Turner Diaries.

“It’s a Talisman for the far right, even to this day, but especially back in the ’90s and ’80s it was the ‘Bible’ of this movement,” says Goodman. “It’s a novel about a small group of ‘patriots,’ ‘white patriots’ who retake the government from the Jews and blacks who have infiltrated it, essentially. It’s a racist creed and as I said, it is very poorly done. Intriguingly though, it describes the bombing of the FBI, the culmination of the novel, and it really lays out a recipe on how to build a bomb like this.”

That bomb is very similar to the one McVeigh used in Oklahoma City.

“McVeigh was deeply, deeply influenced by this book,” Goodman adds. “He sold it in gun shows, he quoted it, when he was arrested he had several pages of it in a folder beside him in a car. And it wasn’t just McVeigh, it was all through this movement. People were really exorcised, impassioned, inflamed by this novel.”

The documentary shows McVeigh obsessed with his guns and with the idea that the government was going to take them away. The film also points out that his exposure to the war in Iraq accelerated his feeling of mistrust of the U.S. government. 

“The way he put it made it sound he was emphatic towards the dead Iraqi soldiers that he killed. I really don’t think that’s the case,” says Barak Goodman. Instead, says the filmmaker, it was McVeigh’s mistrust of the U.S. government, how it had blundered into Iraq and his idea of the U.S. government as a bully, and McVeigh, says Goodman, hated bullies. The Ruby Ridge and Waco stand-offs reinforced that idea in his mind.

Homegrown extremism

According to the documentary, there are 500 militia organizations in the U.S. today. Goodman believes they are as radicalized as ever.  “Some of them have gotten rid of their camouflage outfits and put on suits and ties, but really the rhetoric has been virtually the same for 100 years or more. ‘It’s a whites-only country, it should be a whites-only country, the federal government is in the hands of Jews, blacks, it’s a conspiracy.’”

Goodman says it is a misconception to believe that this is a movement of white poor disenfranchised people. Certainly, he says, many are, but there also many professionals feeling a loss of entitlement, a loss of privilege and power. The filmmaker stresses that these people operate outside political parties and share a deep mistrust of the Washington political establishment.

But Goodman cautions these extremists are not de facto terrorists. He says it takes a confluence of opportunity and a warped personality, often a lone individual, to commit a terrorist act of a scale such as the Oklahoma City bombing.

“McVeigh was a shock to most people in the FBI. It would be less of a shock today. But it’s very hard to prevent these things. One of the takeaways from our film and audiences who have seen it have been amazed at how really easy it was to do this. It cost about $6000, it was one guy, reading some literature,” says the filmmaker.

Goodman says in a politically polarized America, the possibility for future domestic terrorist attacks is high. 

“If you talk to people from the Southern Law Poverty Center, which tracks these groups, they are pounding on the wall, they are ringing the bell, they are saying, ‘This is an ongoing threat, it’s threat level midnight, it’s rising, it’s whatever the highest color is on the chart,’” he says.

The SPLC reports, “the number of hate groups in the United States rose for a second year in a row in 2016 as the radical right was energized by the candidacy of Donald Trump.” “The most dramatic growth,” it states, “was the near-tripling of anti-Muslim hate groups – from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year.” Also, a wave of bomb threats and vandalism has rattled Jewish institutions around the country, but especially in the South.  “Right now, minorities feel particularly threatened,” says the Oklahoma City filmmaker.

“There is a very big difference between even hard gun rights activists and terrorists. I want to make that clear,” says Goodman. “I would take issue with the idea that they have infiltrated the administration. But it is a little galling to see the really mono focus on terrorists from abroad, terrorists influenced by ideas from abroad, whatever those ideas might be, and not on any real discussion about home-grown terrorism which has always been with us and which is not going away and which is actually — if you look at the numbers of the incidents — rivaling or exceeding those by that other group,” he adds.

Goodman hopes his film, Oklahoma City, will call attention to this rising threat and contribute to the conversation on the inherent dangers of domestic terrorism.

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Baldwin Says Trump Impersonation Revived His Comedy Career

Actor Alec Baldwin said that his impersonation of U.S. President Donald Trump on NBC’s sketch show “Saturday Night Live” has revived his “dead” comedy career after he wrapped up sitcom “30 Rock” in 2012.

“I didn’t realize in the comedy terms that I was dead,” Baldwin told Reuters on Monday when asked if he felt he was entering a new era with his comedy.

“Maybe I was in a coma … now I’m waking up from a coma and now I’m ready to do some comedy.”

The actor was promoting his latest film, DreamWorks’ animated comedy “The Boss Baby,” out in theaters on March 31, in which he voices a suit-wearing baby manager of a corporation for babies who is adopted by a family to undertake a covert mission.

It has been nearly five years since Baldwin, 58, concluded his six-year tenure as the charming corporate boss Jack Donaghy in NBC’s quirky comedy series “30 Rock.”

Since then, he has appeared in a handful of movies in supporting roles, but the actor saw a new surge in popularity when he took over as Trump on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) last October, ahead of November’s U.S. presidential elections.

Baldwin quipped that his comedy career “did die” but that “I’m being reincarnated. As Trump! Oh God!”

Viewer ratings have soared for “Saturday Night Live” since Baldwin started portraying Trump in a series of skits mocking the billionaire reality TV star-turned-politician as a dim-witted commander-in-chief with a short attention span, an oversized-ego and a Twitter addiction.

Trump criticized the NBC show in December, calling it “totally unwatchable” and a “hit-job.”

Asked whether he felt playing the president took a toll on him, Baldwin said the challenge of the role was that it would “delight some people and offend other people.”

“A large plurality of the country voted for Trump as president, and I think many of them are people that are not fond of the way Trump is treated, not just by ‘Saturday Night Live’ but the comedy cosmos in general,” he said.

“I think for me playing Trump has been, it’s been a fun experience because it’s like going home when I do SNL.”

 

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Coroner: Pop Star George Michael Died of Natural Causes

Pop star George Michael died from natural causes, according to a British coroner.

Specifically, the singer died of “dilated cardiomyopathy with myocarditis and fatty liver,” according to Darren Salter senior coroner for Oxfordshire, where Michael died last Christmas at the age of 53.

The heart conditions named interfere with the heart’s ability to pump blood and cause inflammation of the heart muscle.

Since Michael died of natural causes, there will be no investigation.

Michael had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse.

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, he once played music on the London underground train system before forming Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1981.

Michael enjoyed immense popularity early in his career as a member of Wham! with hits such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” and “Careless Whisper.”

As a solo artist, he developed into a more serious singer and songwriter, lauded by critics for his tremendous vocal range. Some of his solo hits included “Father Figure” and “Freedom.”

In 2011, Michael postponed a series of concerts after being hospitalized with pneumonia. He later said it had been “touch and go” as to whether he lived.

Michael disclosed he was gay in 1998 after being arrested in a public toilet in Beverly Hills, California for engaging in a lewd act.

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Insurance Vital, But No Magic Bullet to Fight Drought in Africa

More developing countries urgently need insurance to cushion their farmers against weather extremes that can worsen poverty, but it is no magic bullet to ward off the escalating impacts of climate change, experts say.

The burning question of how to stop drought becoming a major crisis — especially in Africa — has caused many to eye insurance as a possible answer.

“People think sometimes that insurance is the solution for everything. It is not correct,” said Mohamed Beavogui, director general of the African Risk Capacity, an African Union agency that helps states plan for natural disasters and climate change, and provides them with insurance through its company, ARC Limited.

“Insurance is … [for] when you have done everything you can and there is still a risk you cannot cover,” Beavogui said.

Planning for those risks — such as the number of people a government would be unable to help in a crisis — is vital, he told Reuters.

As climate change bites harder, bringing with it worse droughts and floods, demands on donors’ purse strings are likely to grow, and experts say development gains — especially in Africa — are at risk of being rolled back.

Last year, southern African states appealed for $2.9 billion in aid when the region was hit with its worst drought in 35 years, affecting 39 million people. Now, drought in the continent’s east is pushing millions into hunger.

Insurance can be triggered more quickly than international aid, which can take months to fund. ARC’s cover is based on a pre-agreed plan for how the government will use the payout.

Since ARC Ltd began issuing policies in 2014, eight nations have taken out insurance and four — Senegal, Mauritania, Niger and Malawi — have received payouts totaling $34 million.

The index-based insurance offers maximum coverage of $30 million per country per season for drought events that occur with a frequency of one in five years or less.

But while drought last year left 6.5 million people in Malawi in need of food aid, Malawi did not receive an ARC payout until January.

Malawi took out insurance based on a crop — long-cycle maize — that, as it turned out, most farmers did not grow in the 2015/2016 season. Long-cycle maize survived the drought, while the short-cycle maize most farmers grew did not.

In the end, ARC’s member states agreed to an $8.1 million payout for Malawi — the amount it would have received had the government requested short-cycle maize as the base.

“It means that we shouldn’t rely only on data the government gives us,” Beavogui said. ARC will now also check what farmers are growing with research centers and extension services, among others, he added.

Jury still out

Insurance companies that pay out directly to farmers are still few and far between in many developing countries, and they offer limited services.

Where they do exist, they mainly serve commercial farmers because the poorest cannot afford to pay premiums without help from a donor or government, said Andrew Shepherd, director of the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network, based at the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank.

“The jury is still out” on whether insurance can make the poorest farmers more resilient to drought, but it can play an important role in preventing wealthier farmers from becoming impoverished, he said.

“All the focus by governments, and often donors, is on getting people out of poverty, and not on preventing people from falling into poverty,” he said.

India is one of the few developing countries with a national insurance scheme for farmers, including those with as little as one cow or buffalo, which works through local agents, said Shepherd.

Senegal has two kinds of insurance — macro-insurance through ARC, and micro-insurance — both of which paid out when bad drought hit in 2014.

The Compagnie Nationale d’Assurance Agricole du Senegal (CNAAS) — set up by the government, insurance companies and international agencies — targets most farmers in rain-fed crop areas with index-based insurance products.

In 2014, Senegal’s ARC payout reached people and livestock with aid, getting help to herders within three months, said Mathieu Dubreuil, micro-insurance adviser at the World Food Program (WFP).

“It was a good match” between ARC which pays out in a crisis and micro-insurance schemes that pay out more often, he said.

WFP, which offers small-scale insurance for farmers, is also exploring taking out ARC insurance, which would give an additional payout to countries, disbursed either by WFP or through the government.

Vicious cycle of hunger

In Malawi, farmers are waiting for the April maize harvest to bring an end to months of food shortages.

“If we are not careful, we will have a vicious cycle of hunger,” said Wycliffe Kumwenda of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi, representing more than 100,000 farmers.

Uninsured farmers are condemned to line up for food aid — time taken away from cultivating their fields — while hunger saps their energy, he said.

There is some insurance for Malawian tobacco farmers, but many do not know about it. Premiums are a problem too, as is the ability to make a claim, Kumwenda said.

“We need to install proper instruments that can capture weather parameters like rainfall [and] temperature,” he said. “Most of the met stations are not reliable.”

That makes claims hard to justify, putting off potential insurance providers, he added.

As climate impacts are expected to worsen in the coming years, potentially pushing up the cost of premiums, ARC is developing an Extreme Climate Facility (XCF) which will give countries access to finance for climate change adaptation.

“You have to insure what you cannot cover, and at the same time you have to prepare and adapt,” said Beavogui. “My real fear is we don’t do it quickly enough.”

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про уродов и людей