Motorized skateboards are a simple and affordable form of personal transportation while advanced battery technology considerably extended their range. Now a startup company in Germany offers a skateboard that is almost entirely printed in plastic and has wireless speed control. VOA’s George Putic reports.


North Korean claims that its newly-tested ballistic missile can carry a nuclear warhead appear to explain a subtle but significant shift in the way U.S. intelligence views Pyongyang.

 

Top officials, who once described North Korea as a “second tier” adversary with more intent than capability, now refer to it as an “increasingly grave” threat bent on demonstrating that the United States will soon be within its military reach.

 

“We have assessed this as a very significant, potentially existential threat to the United States that has to be addressed,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told lawmakers during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week on worldwide threats.

 

“It is the highest priority, one of the highest, if not the highest priority of the intelligence community at this time,” Coats added.

 

Coats’ comments seem to contrast the view taken by his predecessor, James Clapper, who just over a year ago told lawmakers that among nation states, Russia and China were the “prime” threats to the U.S.

 

And earlier this month, then-FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Russia poses “the greatest threat of any nation on Earth, given their intention and their capability.”

 

Current and former officials, however, caution the intelligence community’s use of increasingly stronger language to describe the threat from North Korea is not so much a change in thinking as it is a stark acknowledgment of an evolving threat.

 

Likewise, they warn that the elevation of North Korea on its list of threats should in no way diminish the danger posed by Russia.

 

“It’s hard to rack and stack the North Korean and the Russian threat,” former CIA and National Security Agency Director, Gen. Michael Hayden, told VOA via email.

 

“Russia is more global, more powerful but also in its own way more restrained,” he said, while North Korea “is more willing to conduct provocative and unpredictable action.”

 

Such unpredictability, combined with what officials have described as a ratcheting up of its development and testing program over the past year, has many now describing the North Korean issue as one that has escalated from a regional threat to a global one.

 

The ever more dire warnings appear to have found a receptive audience, both in the White House and Congress.

 

Asked about Comey’s testimony earlier this month describing Russia as the greatest threat, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters the president has been “very clear” about his views regarding the North Korea nuclear threat.

 

Likewise, during last week’s Intelligence Committee hearing, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein called the latest assessments on North Korea’s activities “deeply concerning.”

 

“I would argue that the greatest danger to the United States is North Korea,” she said.

 

Making the situation even more worrisome for U.S. officials is what they described as a persistent lack of clarity about what is going on inside such an isolated country.

 

In response, the CIA last week announced the creation of a Korea Mission Center to “get back on our front foot with respect to foreign intelligence collection,” according to CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

 

“We should not all focus simply on the ICBM’s either,” Pompeo told lawmakers.

 

In fact, the latest, unclassified U.S. intelligence assessment raises significant concerns about North Korea’s conventional military force.

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “has further expanded the regime’s conventional strike options in recent years,” the assessment warns, citing better training and upgraded artillery systems.

South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo told the country’s parliament Tuesday that not only was Sunday’s missile test successful, but that the program itself was developing faster than expected.

 

“There’s a worry about where they’re really going with this march forward — how far are they going to take it?” said Cortney Weinbaum, a senior technical analyst at the RAND Corporation. “It adds a very thick layer of uncertainty that makes a lot of people very nervous.”

 

Weinbaum, who spent 14 years working for U.S. intelligence agencies and the Defense Department, said the uncertainty alone would merit elevating North Korea on the list of threats.

 

Adding to the concerns is a growing realization that while international sanctions may have slowed North Korea’s progress, they have not stopped it altogether.

 

“The North Koreans have really perfected their networks and driven them deep underground,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton said at forum in Washington late last month.

 

“It’s very necessary for the international community to come together and share information and go after some of these companies that are providing either products or equipment that contribute to the weapons program or financial measures that continue to the sort of sustainment of the regime,” she said.

 

U.S. officials say China, for one, has shown a willingness to take significant financial and economic action against Pyongyang, pointing to the recent ban on North Korean coal imports, but caution it is just the start.

 

“The intelligence suggests we’re going to need more to shake free this terribly challenging problem,” said the CIA’s Pompeo.


A week after U.S. President Donald Trump sparked anger in Turkey by authorizing the arming of Syrian Kurds, he welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House on Tuesday.

Trump said the two leaders would hold “long and hard discussions” regarding the relationship between their countries.

“We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better. So we’re going to have a very, very strong and solid discussion,” he said.

WATCH: Trump on US-Turkey relationship

The United States sees the Kurdish force, the YPG, as a key part in the fight against Islamic State and the effort to oust the militants from their de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria. Turkey considers the YPG terrorists because of their links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that has been waging a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey.

Erdogan called the decision to provide U.S. arms “contrary to our strategic relations to the U.S.”

He reiterated his concerns Tuesday, telling reporters Turkey will never accept the use of YPG fighters in the battle against IS.

Erdogan, however, said last week ahead of the trip that he views his visit to Washington as “a new beginning in Turkish-American relations.”

Erdogan said Tuesday that cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey is “very important for the world” and vowed to expand economic and military ties between the two countries.

“There is no place for the terrorist organizations in the future of our region,” he said.

Protests

Prior to Erdogan’s arrival at the White House, a brief scuffle broke out between pro-Erdogan demonstrators and a group of Kurdish advocates. The two sides were quickly separated by police and Secret Service agents stationed outside the White House gates.

Both Turkey and the United States have backed rebels in Syria during the six-year war against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and allies. And the NATO allies have been heavily involved in battling Islamic State since the group swept into large areas of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria in mid-2014.

In comments to reporters, Erdogan brought up the status of Fethullah Gulen, the exiled cleric living in the United States. The Turkish president blames him for an attempted coup last year. Turkey has asked the U.S. to extradite Gulen, but that request has gone nowhere.


Bill Cosby says he doesn’t expect to testify at his Pennsylvania sexual assault trial.

 

The comedian spoke to Sirius radio host Michael Smerconish in an interview being broadcast Tuesday.

 

Smerconish says he agreed to air an uncut, 82-minute conversation between Cosby and his daughters in exchange for the interview.

 

Cosby says his lawyers won’t let him speak about the criminal case. But he says he has “never, never” lost the support of his wife.

 

Daughter Ensa Cosby says she believes “racism has played a role” in the accusations against her father.

 

Bill Cosby replies, “It could be.”

 

Cosby says his health is generally good, but glaucoma has left him legally blind.

 

Cosby says he isn’t trying to influence jurors, who will be selected next week for the June 5 trial.


Thailand backed off a threat to block Facebook on Tuesday, instead providing the social media site with court orders to remove content that the government deems illegal.

Thailand made the threat last week as it wanted Facebook to block more than 130 posts it considers a threat to national security or in violation of the country’s lese majeste law, which makes insults to the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Thailand’s military government has made prosecuting royal insults a priority since seizing power in a coup three years ago.

Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of Thailand’s broadcast regulator, said Facebook had requested the court orders before it would take action but he expected the social media giant would comply with the government’s demands.

“Facebook have shown good cooperation with us,” Takorn told reporters.

Emails and calls seeking confirmation from Facebook were not immediately returned.

The regulator last week demanded that Facebook remove more than 130 illegal posts by Tuesday or face legal action that could shut down the site. In a change of tactic, Takorn said that Thailand had forwarded 34 court orders to Facebook so far.

“The websites that need to be taken down are not only for those that are a threat to stability but they also include other illegal websites such as porn and websites that support human-trafficking which take time to legally determine,” Takorn said.

Thai authorities try to take pre-emptive actions against material they consider illegal, having local internet service providers block access or reaching agreements with some online services such as YouTube to bar access to certain material in Thailand.

Much of that is content deemed in violation of the country’s lese majeste law, the harshest in the world. The military government has charged more than 100 people with such offenses since the coup and handed down record sentences. Many of those cases have been based on internet postings or even private messages exchanged on Facebook.

Last month, Thai authorities declared it illegal to exchange information on the internet with three prominent government critics who often write about the country’s monarchy.

Facebook, which is blocked in a number of authoritarian countries such as North Korea, has said it relies on local governments to notify the site of information it deems illegal.

“If, after careful legal review, we find that the content is illegal under local law we restrict it as appropriate and report the restriction in our Government Request Report,” Facebook has said in past statements outlining its policy.


Get ready for more rabbit ears, dog noses and funny hats to show up in your Facebook feed.

Facebook’s Instagram service is launching face filters in an effort to keep up with rival, Snap Inc.’s Snapchat.

“From math equations swirling around your head to furry koala ears that move and twitch, you can transform into a variety of characters that make you smile or laugh,” the company wrote on its blog.

The new features will also include the ability to manipulate video, allowing users to play them in reverse.

“Capture a fountain in motion and share a rewind of the water floating back up,” according to the blog post. “Experiment with some magic tricks of your own and defy the laws of physics wherever you are.”

Facebook, the largest social media platform, has been accused of copying features from Snapchat such as “Stories” which allows users to post pictures and videos that are erased after 24 hours.

According to Instagram, 200 million people use Stories daily.

Facebook’s stock price has been hovering around $150 this month, which is near the stock’s all-time high of $153.60.

Last week, Snap stocks cratered by 23 percent after the company posted poorer than expected quarterly results. The company says it has 166 million daily active users as of March 31.

Snap was trading at $20.42 Tuesday, down from an all-time high of $29.44.


Фонд державного майна України подав у Господарський суд Києва позов до ТОВ «ЕСУ», що належить бізнесмену Рінату Ахметову, і ПАТ «Державний експортно-імпортний банк України» про розірвання договору купівлі-продажу акцій «Укртелекому» і стягнення пені у розмірі 2,17 мільярда гривень. Про це повідомляє прес-служба фонду.

«Підставою для подачі позову стало невиконання умов, передбачених договором купівлі-продажу пакета акцій ВАТ «Укртелеком», укладеним між Фондом державного майна та ТОВ «ЕСУ», та концепцією післяприватизаційного розвитку ВАТ «Укртелеком», яка є невід’ємною частиною договору», – йдеться в повідомленні.

Коли має початися суд у справі – наразі невідомо.

На приватизаційному конкурсу у 2011 році було продано 92,791% статутного капіталу ВАТ «Укртелеком», які викупила компанія «ЕСУ», заплативши 10,57 мільярда гривень. У 2013 році холдинг українського бізнесмена Ріната Ахметова «Систем Кепітал Менеджмент» завершив угоду з придбання 100% акцій компанії UA Тelecominvest Limited, якій належить 100% «ЕСУ».

13 квітня генпрокурор Юрій Луценко повідомив, що Печерський районний суд Києва наклав арешт на акції «Укртелекому». 

Генпрокуратура проводить розслідування щодо незаконного виділення за вказівкою колишнього президента Віктора Януковича 220 мільйонів гривень з державного бюджету та приватизації 93% акцій «Укртелекому» за заниженою на 1,6 мільярда гривень ціною.

 


Верховна Рада України запровадила адміністративну відповідальність від штрафу до адміністративного арешту за виготовлення й пропаганду «георгіївської стрічки». Зміни до Кодексу України про адміністративні правопорушення на засіданні парламенту 16 травня підтримали 238 народних депутатів за необхідних 226.

Документ передбачає, що публічне використання, демонстрація або носіння «георгіївської стрічки» передбачає накладення штрафу від 50 до 150 неоподатковуваних мінімумів доходів громадян (850–2550 гривень). За повторні такі дії передбачений штраф до 300 неоподатковуваних мінімумів доходів громадян (5 100 гривень) або адміністративний арешт на строк до 15 доби з конфіскацією стрічки чи її зображення.

Положення нової статті Кодексу про адміністративні правопорушення не поширюються на випадки використання «георгіївської стрічки» на документах державних органів, виданих до 1991 року, в експозиціях музеїв, на оригіналах бойових прапорів, на державних нагородах, якими нагороджувалися до 1991 року й протягом 1991-2015 року у зв’язку з річницями подій Другої світової війни, на могильних спорудах.

У пояснювальній записці до документа запровадження адмінпокарання пояснюється тим, що «георгіївська стрічка» стала в Україні символом російської окупації та агресії».

«Прийняття проекту закону України сприятиме посиленню охорони громадського порядку, уникнення провокацій з використанням «георгіївської» (гвардійської) стрічки. При цьому будуть забезпечені права осіб, які мають законне право на використання гвардійської стрічки та її зображення (наприклад, ветерани, нагороджені Орденом Слави)», – йдеться в пояснювальній записці.

9 травня на акціях до Дня перемоги в деяких українських містах сталися сутички, зокрема, через наявність у частини учасників «георгіївських стрічок».