Grocery Store Using Unmanned Vehicles for Delivery

U.S. supermarket chain Kroger Co said on Tuesday it has started using unmanned autonomous vehicles to deliver groceries Scottsdale, Arizona in partnership with Silicon Valley startup Nuro.

The delivery service follows a pilot program started by the companies in Scottsdale in August and involved Nuro’s R1, a custom unmanned vehicle.

The R1 uses public roads and has no driver and is used to only transport goods.

Kroger’s deal with Nuro underscores the stiff competition in the U.S. grocery delivery market with supermarket chains angling for a bigger share of consumer spending.

Peers Walmart Inc and Amazon.com Inc have also invested heavily in their delivery operations by expanding their offerings and shortening delivery times.

Walmart, Ford Motor Co and delivery service Postmates Inc said last month they would collaborate to deliver groceries and other goods to Walmart customers and that could someday use autonomous vehicles.

Kroger said the service would be available in Scottsdale at its unit Fry’s Food Stores for $5.95 with no minimum order requirement for same-day or next-day deliveries.

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Україна на засіданні в Мінську підтвердить готовність до обміну з Росією і бойовиками – Геращенко

Українська сторона на засіданні Тристоронньої контактної групи (ТКГ) 19 грудня підтвердить готовність до обміну з представниками ОРДЛО і Росією, повідомила перша віце-спікер Верховної Ради, представниця України в гуманітарній підгрупі ТКГ Ірина Геращенко.

«Не зупиняється робота зі звільнення всіх інших заручників і політв’язнів Кремля. 19 грудня в Мінську на останній цього року зустрічі робочих груп ми ще раз підтвердимо готовність провести звільнення в форматі 19-66 ( українців в ОРДЛО на помилуваних сепаратистів ) і 23-23 ( засуджених в Україні росіян в обмін на політв’язнів Кремля)», – написала Геращенко 18 грудня у Facebook.

За її словами, українська сторона наполягає на негайному створенні механізму за участі Росії і Міжнародного комітету Червоного Хреста з пошуку зниклих безвісти, в першу чергу на окупованих територіях.

Читайте також: Правозахисники назвали кількість цивільних заручників в ОРДЛО, чиї дані їм вдалося встановити

Востаннє обмін полоненими на Донбасі між Україною і підтримуваними Росією бойовиками відбувся в грудні 2017 року, а в листопаді окремо обміняли двох лідерів кримських татар у рамках особистої домовленості між керівниками Росії і Туреччини.

Станом на кінець січня в СБУ повідомляли, що в заручниках на непідконтрольних уряду територіях Донбасу перебувають 108 людей, 402 людини вважалися зниклими безвісти, десятки – утримують у Росії. У листопаді російські силовики захопили поблизу Керченської протоки три українських кораблі і 24 членів їхніх екіпажів. Влада України визнала захоплених моряків військовополоненими.

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Медведчук через суд вимагає 1 гривню від Гопко за «образу честі й гідності»

Лідер проросійського руху «Український вибір» і голова політради проросійської партії «За життя» Віктор Медведчук подав у суд на народного депутата і голову парламентського комітету в закордонних справах Ганну Гопко через «образу честі і гідності».

Підставою для позову став вересневий пост Гопко у Facebook із закликом до українців вийти до Генеральної прокуратури України на акцію #МедведчукПідАрешт.

«У роковини смерті Василя Стуса ми нагадаємо про Його ката, який тут, в Україні, веде бізнес, купує канали, рветься до влади. Адже #Медведчук є виродком системи, що знищила Стуса, а тепер уособлює сили реваншу, щоб знищити Україну», – йшлося тоді у дописі народного депутата.

У позові до Гопко Медведчук вимагає визнати поширену нею інформацію недостовірною, видалити допис, опублікувати резолютивну частину судового рішення, покрити судові витрати, а також заплатити політику за моральну шкоду 1 гривню.

Його інтереси у суді представляє народний депутат від «Опозиційного блоку» та заступник голови громадського руху «Український вибір» Василь Німченко.

Водночас адвокат Гопко Юрій Демченко наголошує, що її критика діяльності Медведчука є оціночним судженням та висловленням власного бачення, а тому спростуванню не підлягає.

«Більше того, Ганна Гопко як народний депутат повинна інформувати громадськість про суспільно важливі справи, серед яких і діяльність проросійських політиків в Україні», – наголошує адвокат.

Справу Медведчука проти Гопко розглядатиме Печерський районний суд Києва. Перші слухання у ній заплановані на 11 ранку 19 грудня. 

Віктор Медведчук був державним захисником українського поета Василя Стуса. Його часто звинувачують у порушенні адвокатської етики під час цього процесу. Сам він своєї провини не визнає.

«Я можу дивитися в очі і говорити про те, що стосовно Василя Стуса ніякої вини: ні внутрішньої, ні зовнішньої я не відчуваю і ніколи не відчував», – заявляв політик у 2013 році в інтерв’ю Радіо Свобода.

 

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Russia Rejects Reports Alleging Extensive US Election Meddling

The size and scope of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was far more extensive and thorough than previously understood, according to two newly released reports.

The reports that emerged this week support conclusions by the U.S. intelligence community — and published in an unclassified January 2017 report — that the goal of all of Russia’s meddling in the months leading up to the 2016 elections was to get their preferred candidate elected president of the United States.

“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party and specifically Donald Trump,” according to the report by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika.

Russia on Tuesday rejected the allegations in the two reports. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the accusations baseless.

The findings, as first reported by The Washington Post, said Russians working for a group called the Internet Research Agency (IRA) began experimenting with social media to influence local elections in 2009 and expanded its operations to U.S. elections in 2013 using Twitter.

​It gradually added other popular social media sites to its campaign, including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, using race and social issues such as gun rights, immigration and police brutality, to sow division and discontent.

“Conservative and right-wing voters were actively encouraged to get behind Trump’s campaign,” according to the report by Oxford and Graphika. “Other voters were encouraged to boycott the election, abstain from voting for Clinton, or to spread cynicism about participating in the election in general.”

Russia’s IRA activity also sought out African-American voters in particular with advertising on Facebook and Instagram and with video content on YouTube.

“Most of the interest-based targeting focused on African-American communities and interests,” the second report by the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge showed. 

“Messaging to African-Americans sought to divert their political energy away from established political institutions by preying on anger with structural inequalities faced by African-Americans, including police violence, poverty and disproportionate levels of incarceration,” the Oxford University-Graphika report added. “These campaigns pushed a message that the best way to advance the cause of the African-American community was to boycott the election and focus on other issues instead.”

Other groups such as liberals, women, Muslims, Latinos and veterans were also targeted with similar messages either appealing to their politics or trying to discourage them from voting.

This newly released data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology, and how the IRA actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped.”

“This should stand as a wake-up call,” added Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair, Democrat Mark Warner, who has been critical of social media companies and the way they have handled Russia’s online influence campaigns.

“It is time to get serious in addressing this challenge,” Warner said. “That is going to require some much-needed and long-overdue guardrails when it comes to social media.”

The Oxford-Graphika report said it is clear the response by social media companies has been lacking. 

“We clearly observe a belated and uncoordinated response from the platforms that provided the data,” the report said. “In some cases, activity on one platform was detected and suspended months before similar action was taken against related activity on another platform.”

In a statement Monday, Facebook said it continues to “fully cooperate with officials investigating the IRA’s activity on Facebook and Instagram around the 2016 election.”

“We’ve made progress in helping prevent interference on our platforms during elections, strengthened our policies against voter suppression ahead of the 2018 midterms, and funded independent research on the impact of social media on democracy,” the statement said, adding the company believes Congress and intelligence officials “are best placed to use the information we and others provide.”

“Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform,” Twitter said in a statement of its own. “We’ve made significant strides since 2016 to counter manipulation of our service, including our release of additional data in October related to previously disclosed activities to enable further independent academic research and investigation.”

Google reactions

The reports, though, indicate the measures that have been taken may not be enough, as Russia and others continue to make use of social media platforms.

The Oxford-Graphika report said Russia’s use of social media did not peak until after the election, with the IRA buying the most ad volume on Facebook in April 2017, shortly after the U.S. airstrikes against chemical weapon sites in Syria.

And U.S. intelligence and military officials have told VOA that Russia continued to target segments of U.S. society, including ongoing efforts to influence U.S. military personnel and their families in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections. 

The United States has already leveled criminal charges against IRA for interfering in the 2016 campaign.

Current and former intelligence officials also warn that it would be a mistake to focus only on Russia’s use of social media, pointing to last week’s guilty plea by Russian spy Maria Butina, who admitted to using the National Rifle Association to get close to key conservative politicians.

“It illustrates … the astute understanding the Russians have of our political ecosystem,” James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence, told VOA.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election and whether the president has tried to obstruct justice by trying to undermine the probe.

Trump denies there was any collusion and calls the Mueller probe a “witch hunt.”

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Російська армія нарощує сили біля кордонів України – ГУР

Начальник Генштабу ЗСУ заявив, що загроза повномасштабної військової агресії з боку Росії зараз найвища з 2014 року

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Budget Stalemate Pushes US Closer to Partial Government Shutdown

There is little public indication of progress in resolving the stalemate over U.S. government spending, which could bring a partial shutdown of federal agencies at midnight Friday.

At the center of the dispute is President Donald Trump’s insistence that Congress approves $5 billion in spending for his desired wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats and some Republicans oppose that plan, and Democratic leaders have offered $1.3 billion in other border security funding.

Trump used Twitter to attack the Democrats on Monday as the two sides came no closer to an agreement.

“Anytime you hear a Democrat saying that you can have good Border Security without a Wall, write them off as just another politician following the party line,” the U.S. leader said on Twitter. “Time for us to save billions of dollars a year and have, at the same time, far greater safety and control!”

The top Democrat in the Senate Chuck Schumer said there is not enough support in Congress for Trump’s wall, and that “no threat or temper tantrum” will change that.

“If President Trump decides to shut down the government, there is no end game in which President Trump gets the wall,” Schumer said. “There is no end game for Republicans in which they can avoid their share of responsibility — overwhelming share — for a shutdown. The time to solve this problem is now.”

In a meeting last week at the White House, Trump told Schumer and House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi that he would be happy to take responsibility for a government shutdown rather than give up any ground on the border wall issue.

But to avert a Friday shutdown Democrats and Republicans could reach agreement on some kind of stopgap spending plan to carry all government operations through the end of this year and into 2019.

Spending for three-fourths of the government has already been approved through next September, but the remaining bills include 2019 funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Justice, and the Interior Department.

Generally, agencies or offices funded by service fees, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, can continue their work, so the shutdown would not affect naturalization interviews or citizenship ceremonies. 

Impact abroad?

Overseas, U.S. embassies have “essential” staff members who will continue to perform basic duties. Whether locally employed staff will be able to work is dependent on the labor laws in each individual country. In past shutdowns, individual embassies have posted on social media about any adjustments to their services and largely functioned as normal.

The State Department told VOA that information on how embassies would be affected by this shutdown is not yet available.

Experts say the Internal Revenue Service may not be able to process tax refunds. Health safety inspections could be stalled. Most employees at the U.S. space agency NASA would likely be furloughed and might not get paid for that time, although Congress usually grants pay retroactively after a shutdown is over.

Voice of America continues to broadcast, and air traffic controllers are usually expected to keep working – along with FBI agents, members of the Transportation Security Administration, and the Secret Service agents that protect the president. Like the furloughed workers, they may not see any pay until after the shutdown concludes.

In a new shutdown, about 380,000 federal workers could be furloughed, and 420,000 deemed “essential” are expected to remain on the job.

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Dow Takes Second Straight Two-Percent Plunge

Another day of big losses knocked U.S. stocks to their lowest levels in more than a year Monday. Investors dumped high-growth technology and retail companies as well as steadier, high-dividend companies. Oil fell below $50 a barrel for the first time since October 2017.

 

Hospitals and health insurers slumped after a federal judge in Texas ruled that the 2010 Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Other stocks wobbled in morning trading, then plunged in the afternoon. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 507 points after a 496 point drop Friday.

 

Amazon led a rout among retailers and tech companies including Microsoft turned sharply lower. Some of the largest losses went to utilities and real estate companies, which have done better than the rest of the market during the turbulence of the last three months.

 

“That is basically retail investors panicking,’ said Mark Hackett, chief of investment research at Nationwide Investment Management. “Investors basically are confusing the idea of a slowdown with a recession.”

 

But investors dumped almost everything. Less than 40 of the 500 stocks comprising the S&P 500 finished the day higher.

 

The S&P 500 index, the benchmark for many investors and funds, finished at its lowest level since Oct. 9, 2017. It has fallen 13.1 percent since its last record close on Sept. 20. The Russell 2000, an index of smaller companies, has dropped more than 20 percent since the end of August, meaning that index is now in what Wall Street calls a “bear market.”

 

Germany’s main stock index also fell into a bear market Monday as companies like Siemens and SAP kept falling.

 

Smaller U.S. stocks have taken dramatic losses as investors have lost confidence in the U.S. economy’s growth prospects. Smaller companies are considered more vulnerable in a downturn than larger companies because they are more dependent on economic growth and tend to have higher levels of debt.

 

Hackett said the current drop is similar to the market’s big plunge in late 2015 and early 2016, which was also tied to fears that the global economy was weakening in a hurry. But even though the economy is slowing down after its surge in 2017 and 2018, it should continue to do fairly well.

 

“It’s a slowdown from extremely high levels to healthy levels,” he said. “The globe isn’t going into a recession.”

 

The S&P 500 skidded 54.01 points, or 2.1 percent, at 2,545.94. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 507.53 points, or 2.1 percent, to 23,592.98. The Nasdaq composite fell 156.93 points, or 2.3 percent, to 6,753.73. The Russell 2000 index dipped 32.97 points, or 2.3 percent, to 1,378.14.

 

Following the health care ruling, hospital operator HCA dropped 2.8 percent to $123.1 and health insurer UnitedHealth lost 2.6 percent to $258.07. Centene, a health insurer that focuses on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance exchanges, fell 4.8 percent to $121.42 and Molina skidded 8.9 percent to $120.

 

Many experts expect the ruling will be overturned, but with the markets suffering steep declines in recent months, investors didn’t appear willing to wait and see.

 

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 2.6 percent to $49.88 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, dipped 1.1 percent to $59.61 a barrel in London. Weaker economic growth would mean less demand for oil, and traders have been concerned there is too much crude supply on the market. That’s chopped oil prices by one-third since early October.

 

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.86 percent from 2.89 percent.

 

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates again Wednesday, the fourth increase of this year. It’s been raising rates over the last three years, and investors will want to know if the Fed is scaling back its plans for further increases based on the turmoil in the stock market over the last few months and mounting evidence that world economic growth is slowing down.

 

Hackett, of Nationwide, said investors will be happy if the Fed adjusts its plans and projects fewer increases in interest rates next year. But he said investors might be startled if the Fed doesn’t raise rates this week, as has been widely expected.

 

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Parliament will vote Jan. 14 on her deal setting terms for Britain’s departure from the European Union. She canceled a vote on the deal last week because it was clear legislators were going to reject it. May insists she can save the deal, but pressure is mounting for either a vote by lawmakers or a new referendum on the issue.

 

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in late March, and if it does so without a deal in place governing its trade and economic relationships with the bloc, it could bring huge disruptions to the British and European economies and financial markets.

 

Germany’s DAX lost 0.9 percent. That means the DAX, which represents Europe’s largest single economy, is also in a bear market. France’s CAC 40 and Britain’s FTSE 100 both fell 1.1 percent.

 

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index added 0.6 percent and the Kospi in South Korea gained 0.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was less than 0.1 percent lower. Both the Kospi and Hang Seng are in bear markets as well.

 

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline shed 1.7 percent to $1.41 a gallon and heating oil slid 1 percent to $1.83 a gallon. Natural gas dropped 7.8 percent to $3.53 per 1,000 cubic feet.

 

Gold rose 0.8 percent to $1,251.80 an ounce. Silver added 0.8 percent to $14.76 an ounce. Copper dipped 0.3 percent to $2.75 a pound.

 

The dollar slipped to 112.75 yen from 113.29 yen. The euro rose to $1.1350 from $1.1303. The British pound rose to $1.2629 from $1.2579.

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Trump Approves 2nd Round of Trade Aid Payments for US Farmers

U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday he has authorized the second round of payments from a $12 billion aid package for farmers stung by the U.S. trade war with China, but did not specify an amount.

“Today I am making good on my promise to defend our Farmers & Ranchers from unjustified trade retaliation by foreign nations. I have authorized Secretary Perdue to implement the 2nd round of Market Facilitation Payments,” he said in a Twitter post.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in July had authorized up to $12 billion in aid for farmers and ranchers hit by the fallout from Trump’s escalating trade war with China and the agency outlined the first round of payments.

An announcement on the second tranche had been expected in early December.

China had imposed a 25 percent tariff on American soybeans in July in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

Trump had promised the payments to farmers stung by the trade disputes.

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