US capital sues Facebook over Cambridge Analytica data breach accusations



The attorney-general for Washington, DC, said on Wednesday the US capital city had sued Facebook Inc for allegedly misleading users about how it safeguarded their personal data, in the latest fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The case joins several legal and regulatory proceedings that threaten to hit Facebook with significant penalties and increase its operating costs.

Authorities and consumer advocates have questioned whether Facebook’s efforts on security, content moderation and cultural diversity have kept pace with the social responsibility it should have for its services, including WhatsApp and Instagram, which are essential communication tools for more than 2 billion people each month.

The world’s largest social media company has drawn global scrutiny since disclosing earlier this year that a third-party personality quiz distributed on Facebook gathered profile information on 87 million users worldwide and sold the data to British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

Washington, DC, attorney-general Karl Racine said Facebook misled users because it had known about the incident for two years before disclosing it. The company had told users it vetted third-party apps, yet made few checks, Racine said.

“This continues a year of bad publicity and significant issues for [Facebook], making it more likely that the US government will take action to penalize and/or regulate” it, said financial analyst Scott Kessler of CFRA Research. “Yet, we still see its fundamentals as healthy and valuation as attractive.”

Facebook shares suffered their biggest drop since July 26, closing down more than 7 percent at US$133.24 on Wednesday, extending a roughly five-month stretch since the company warned that profit margins would erode in coming years because of consumer and government pressure to better guard data and suppress objectionable content.


“Facebook could have prevented third parties from misusing its consumers’ data had it implemented and maintained reasonable oversight of third-party applications,” according to the lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of Washington, DC, on Wednesday.

Facebook said in a statement, “We’re reviewing the complaint and look forward to continuing our discussions with attorneys general in D.C. and elsewhere.”

The court could award unspecified damages and impose a civil penalty of up to US$5,000 per violation of the district’s consumer protection law, or potentially close to US$1.7 billion, if penalized for each consumer affected as is typical. The lawsuit alleges the quiz software had data on 340,000 DC residents, though just 852 users had directly engaged with it.

‘Confusing settings’

Facebook offered separate privacy settings around 2013 to control what friends on the network could see and what data could be accessed by apps, enabling the quiz and other services to collect details about their users’ Facebook friends without many of them realising it, according to the lawsuit.

It further alleges Facebook misled users by allowing several partners, including mobile software maker BlackBerry, “to override Facebook consumers’ privacy settings and access their information without their knowledge or consent.”

The New York Times reported new details on Tuesday about the user data that remained available to such partners years after they had shut down the features that required them. Facebook acknowledged the lapse, but said that it has not found evidence of wrongdoing by those partners.

Racine criticized Facebook’s “lax oversight and confusing privacy settings,” telling reporters that Facebook had tried to settle the case before he filed suit, as is common during investigations of large companies.

He said that a lawsuit was necessary “to expedite change” at the Silicon Valley company.

Britain’s data protection authority in July fined Facebook 500,000 pounds for the breaches of data in the Cambridge Analytica incident.

Since then, Facebook has disclosed a pair of security breaches involving profile data and posts of up to 29 million users and 6.8 million users, respectively.

At least six US states have ongoing investigations into Facebook, according to state officials.

In March, a bipartisan coalition of 37 state attorneys wrote to the company, demanding to know more about the Cambridge Analytica data and its possible links to US President Donald Trump’s election campaign.

At the same time, the Federal Trade Commission took the unusual step of announcing an investigation into whether Facebook had violated a 2011 consent decree, exposing the company to a multi-billion dollar fine.
State attorneys general have found some success taking on technology companies over data privacy. Uber Technologies Inc in September agreed to pay US$148 million as part of a settlement with 50 US states and Washington, D.C., which investigated a data breach that exposed personal data from 57 million Uber accounts.

Agnieszka McPeak, a professor at Duquesne University School of Law, said states will likely make claims similar to those of DC, pressuring Facebook into a settlement that involves both a monetary fine and modified business practices.

“If a company faces 51 separate actions around the country for deceptive practices, that can have a real impact,” McPeak said.




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Miss Universe 2018 - Philippines' Catriona Gray wins

Miss Universe 2018 - Philippines' Catriona Gray 

MANILA, Philippines - Christmas came early to the Philippines as Catriona Gray bested 93 other aspirants for the 2018 Miss Universe crown in ceremonies staged at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday morning to becoming the fourth Filipino woman to win the crown.

She received her crown from last year's winner Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa.

Nel-Peters' compatriot Tamaryn Green failed to score a back-to-back victory for their country and settled for second place. Venezuela's Sthefany Gutierrez came in third.

The representatives from Vietnam and Puerto Rico, both strong and popular contenders, cracked the Top 5.

Philippines' Catriona Gray crown Miss Universe 2018

The 94-candidate haul this year is the biggest in the pageant's 66-year-history.

During the final round of questioning, the final three were asked about the most important lesson they learned in their lives.

Gray shared her experience working in the slums of Tondo, Manila, and looking at the "silver lining" through the smiles of the children there.

She hopes to inspire a feeling of being grateful "where negativity will not foster, and the children will have smiles."

This year, the global tilt had its first all-female panel of judges.

The esteemed group of women includes two Filipinos - US-based international fashion designer Monique Lhuillier, and Richelle Singson-Michael, daughter of former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson, who organised the 65th Miss Universe pageant in the Philippines.

They were joined by former Miss Universe winners Porntip Nakhirunkanok of Thailand (who now goes by the name Bui Simon) and Michelle McLean of Namibia who won her crown in Bangkok in 1992.

Miss Philippines with performer Ne-Yo

Also in the panel were entrepreneurs Liliana Gil Valetta, Iman Obou, and Janaye Ingram.

As in the previous year, the Miss Universe pageant selected semifinalists based on geographical regions. Five delegates were chosen each from the Americas, Europe, and Africa and Asia-Pacific. Five more "wildcard" aspirants were included, regardless of the continent from where their countries are located.

The pageant also paid tribute to Spain's Angela Ponce for breaking barriers by being the first transgender woman to reach its global stage.

"I don't need to win Miss Universe, I just need to be here," Ponce said in Spanish in a pre-taped segment shown live during the telecast. She received a standing ovation from the judges and the audience.

The other Filipino Miss Universe winners were Gloria Diaz (1969), Margie Moran (1973) and Pia Wurtzbach (2015).

Steve Harvey hosted the ceremonies for the third straight year, with Grammy-winning RnB artist Ne-Yo performing.



SOURCE

Johnson & Johnson shares plunge after the report on asbestos in baby powder

US pharmaceutical and cosmetics group Johnson & Johnson

The controversy has long dogged the company, which has been facing a wave of several thousand court cases claiming the baby powder is causing cancer

NEW YORK: US pharmaceutical and cosmetics group Johnson & Johnson saw its shares plunge Friday after a media report alleged the group had deliberately concealed for decades that its baby powder sometimes contained asbestos.

A lengthy investigation by the Reuters news agency, which reviewed thousands of company documents, showed the company marketed talc-based products that, at least between 1971 and the beginning in the 2000s, sometimes contained asbestos.

The company’s executives, researchers, doctors and lawyers were aware but deliberately chose not to disclose this information and not to refer it to the authorities, according to the report.
Johnson & Johnson strenuously rejected the claims made in the article, calling it “one-sided, false and inflammatory.”

“Simply put, the Reuters story is an absurd conspiracy theory,” the company said in a statement. “Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder is safe and asbestos-free.”
J&J stock closed down more than 10 per cent at $133 on the New York Stock Exchange, its worst one-day fall in 16 years.

The controversy has long dogged the company, which has been facing a wave of several thousand court cases claiming the baby powder is causing cancer.

In July, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $4.7 billion in damages to a group of 22 women claiming to have developed ovarian cancer following the use of the powder.
The company said Friday there were rigorous tests showing the talc did not contain the cancer-causing mineral.

In addition, “J&J has cooperated fully and openly with the US FDA and other global regulators, providing them with all the information they requested over decades.”

According to Reuters, the company also tried, unsuccessfully, to block regulations that lower the maximum level of asbestos allowed in talc-based cosmetics.



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Hyundai sets sales price of Kona Electric for U.S. market

Hyundai Motor Company

NEW YORK, -- Hyundai Motor Company has announced starting price of all-electric compact utility vehicle (CUV) Kona Electric on Friday for the U.S. market.

Consumers could pay no more than 30,000 U.S. dollars for the crossover CUV after reduction of around 7,500 U.S. dollars of tax credit, according to a release by Hyundai Motor America on Friday.

As Hyundai's first compact electric crossover for the U.S. market, Kona Electric has as much as 415 km of range for each charge and would be shipped to the U.S. market in the beginning of 2019 from its manufacturing base in Ulsan, South Korea.

Hyundai Motor has received awards from Australia, the United Kingdom and Spain regarding Kona Electric, according to media reports.

The affordability of Kona Electric makes it attractive but production capacity of the electric vehicle is seen limited to around 4,000 each month now.

The United States recorded 1 million EVs running on the road in September in comparison of 260 million of national total vehicles.

Still, sales of EVs in the United States could be dampened as U.S. President Donald Trump is working to roll back incentive measures aimed to stimulates deployment of environmental friendly EVs.

Now, a tax payer in the country could claim as much as 7,500 U.S. dollars of tax credits in buying one EV, according to federal laws enacted in 2010 under the Obama administration.

Why Huawei arrest deepens conflict between US and China


chief financial officer of Huawei, Meng Wanzhou

Washington has been pushing other countries not to buy the equipment from Huawei, arguing that the company may be working stealthily for Beijing’s spymasters.

British Telecom said this week that it would stop using Huawei equipment in its 5G network, the BBC reported, and US lawmakers have lobbied Canada’s prime minister to freeze out the Chinese supplier

WASHINGTON: The dramatic arrest of a Chinese telecommunications executive has driven home why it will be so hard for the Trump administration to resolve its deepening conflict with China.
In the short run, the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer heightened skepticism about the trade truce that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping reached last weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina. On Thursday, US stock markets tumbled on fears that the 90-day cease-fire won’t last, before regaining most of their losses by the close of trading.

But the case of an executive for a Chinese company that’s been a subject of US national security concerns carries echoes well beyond tariffs or market access. Washington and Beijing are locked in a clash over which of the world’s two largest economies will command economic and political dominance for decades to come.
“It’s a much broader issue than just a trade dispute,” said Amanda DeBusk, chair of the international trade practice at Dechert LLP. “It pulls in: Who is going to be the world leader essentially.”

The Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, was detained by Canadian authorities in Vancouver as she was changing flights Saturday — the same day that Trump and Xi met at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina and produced a cease-fire in their trade war. The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing law enforcement sources, reported that Meng is suspected of trying to evade US sanctions on Iran. She faces extradition to the United States, and a bail hearing was set for Friday.
The British bank HSBC is cooperating with US authorities in its investigation, people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

Huawei, the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and Internet companies, has long been seen as a front for spying by the Chinese military or security services, whose cyber-spies are widely acknowledged as highly skilled. A US National Security Agency cybersecurity adviser, Rob Joyce, last month accused Beijing of violating a 2015 agreement with the US to halt electronic theft of intellectual property.

Other nations are increasingly being forced to choose between Chinese and US suppliers for next-generation “5G” wireless technology. Washington has been pushing other countries not to buy the equipment from Huawei, arguing that the company may be working stealthily for Beijing’s spymasters.
Beijing protested Meng’s arrest but signaled that it doesn’t want to disrupt progress toward settling its trade dispute with the Trump administration. Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said China is confident it can reach a deal during the 90 days that Trump agreed to suspend a scheduled increase in US import taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese products.

US national security adviser John Bolton told NPR that he knew of the pending arrest in advance. He noted that there has been much concern about the suspicion that Chinese firms like Huawei use stolen US intellectual property.

In the view of the United States and many outside analysts, China has embarked on an aggressive drive to overtake America’s dominance in technology and global economic leadership. According to analysts, China has deployed predatory tactics, from forcing American and other foreign companies to hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market to engaging in cyber-theft.
Washington also regards Beijing’s ambitious long-term development plan, “Made in China 2025,” as a scheme to dominate such fields as robotics and electric vehicles by unfairly subsidizing Chinese companies and discriminating against foreign competitors.

In addition to Trump’s tariffs, the administration is tightening regulations on high-tech exports to China. It’s also making it harder for Chinese firms to invest in US companies or to buy American technology in such cutting-edge areas as robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Earlier this year, the United States nearly drove Huawei’s biggest Chinese rival, ZTE Corp., out of business for selling equipment to North Korea and Iran in violation of US sanctions. But Trump issued a reprieve, possibly in part because US tech companies are major suppliers of the Chinese giant and would also have been scorched. ZTE got off with paying a $1 billion fine, changing its board and management and agreeing to let American regulators monitor its operations.

The US and Chinese tech industries depend on each other so much for components that “it is very hard to decouple the two without punishing US companies, without shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Adam Segal, cyberspace analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Dean Garfield, president of the US Information Technology Industry Council trade group, said innovation by US companies often depends utterly on product development and testing by Chinese partners, not to mention component suppliers.

British Telecom said this week that it would stop using Huawei equipment in its 5G network, the BBC reported, and US lawmakers have lobbied Canada’s prime minister to freeze out the Chinese supplier. New Zealand and Australia already have.  Other, less wealthy nations are concerned less about spying and more about low prices, which play to Huawei’s advantage.

Both Huawei and ZTE have not only been barred from use by US government agencies and contractors; they have also been mostly locked out of the American market. A 2012 report by the House Intelligence Committee report urged US businesses to avoid their products and called for blocking all mergers or acquisitions involving them.

And nearly a year ago, AT&T pulled out of a deal to sell Huawei smartphones.
“There is ample evidence to suggest that no major Chinese company is independent of the Chinese government and Communist Party — and Huawei, which China’s government and military tout as a ‘national champion’ is no exception,” Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote in October to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They urged him to keep Huawei off Canada’s next-generation network.

Priscilla Moriuchi, a former East Asia specialist at National Security Agency now with the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, said both ZTE and Huawei are wedded to China’s military and political leadership.
“The threat from these companies lies in their access to critical Internet backbone infrastructure,” she said.

“No matter what happens in the short term, (the arrest of Huawei’s CFO) is a symptom of a long-term technology clash,” said Derek Scissors, a China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “We’re not going to deal that away in 90 days.”

Scissors said he doubts that China will change its tech policies. Beijing must develop innovative technologies to keep its economy growing as its labor force ages and it confronts a huge stockpile of debt. Yet its political and economic system — which promotes inefficient state-owned companies at the expense of nimbler private ones — discourages innovation.
“I don’t see a way out of this,” Scissors said.

Likewise, Rod Hunter, an international economic official in President George W. Bush’s White House and a partner at law firm Baker McKenzie, said, “I’m skeptical that the Chinese are going to want to say ‘uncle.’ ” US and Chinese officials are “trying to tackle a problem that is going to take years, maybe a decade, to resolve.”



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Trump says interior secretary to leave office at year's end

US Interior Secretary Zinke resigning, cites ‘vicious’ attacks

US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

As head of Interior, Zinke made plans to realign the agency’s bureaucracy, trimming the equivalent of 4,600 jobs, about 7 per cent of its workforce

WASHINGTON: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, will be leaving the administration at year’s end, President Donald Trump said Saturday. In his resignation letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Zinke said “vicious and politically motivated attacks” against him had “created an unfortunate distraction” in fulfilling the agency’s mission.

Trump, in tweeting Zinke’s departure, said the former Montana congressman “accomplished much during his tenure” and that a replacement would be announced next week. The Cabinet post requires Senate confirmation.

Zinke is leaving weeks before Democrats take control of the House, a shift in power that promises to sharpen the probes into his conduct. His departure comes amid a staff shake-up as Trump heads into his third year in office facing increased legal exposure due to intensifying investigations into his campaign, business, foundation and administration.

Zinke’s resignation letter, obtained from a Zinke aide on Saturday, cites what he calls “meritless and false claims” and says that “to some, truth no longer matters.”
The letter, dated Saturday, said Zinke’s last day would be Jan. 2. It was not clear whether Zinke had already submitted the letter when Trump tweeted.

Zinke, 57, played a leading part in Trump’s efforts to roll back federal environmental regulations and promote domestic energy development. He drew attention from his first day on the job, when he mounted a roan gelding to ride across Washington’s National Mall to the Department of Interior.
Zinke had remained an ardent promoter of both missions, and his own macho image, despite growing talk that he had lost Trump’s favor.

On Tuesday, Zinke appeared on stage at an Environmental Protection Agency ceremony for a rollback on water regulations. Mentioning his background as a Navy SEAL at least twice, he led the audience in a round of applause for the US oil and gas industry.

Trump never established a deep personal connection with Zinke but appreciated how he stood tall against criticisms from environmental groups as he worked to roll back protections. But the White House concluded in recent weeks that Zinke was likely the Cabinet member most vulnerable to investigations led by newly empowered Democrats in Congress, according to an administration official not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters who spoke on condition of anonymity.

His tenure was temporarily extended as Interior helped with the response to California wildfires and the West Wing was consumed with speculation over the future of chief of staff John Kelly. But White House officials pressured him to resign, the official said, which he did after his department’s Christmas party on Thursday night. On Saturday night, hours after his resignation became public, Zinke was spotted at the White House for another holiday party, the Congressional Ball.
As interior secretary, Zinke pushed to develop oil, natural gas and coal beneath public lands in line with the administration’s business-friendly aims. But he has been dogged by ethics probes, including one centered on a Montana land deal involving a foundation he created and the chairman of an energy services company, Halliburton, that does business with the Interior Department.
Investigators also are reviewing Zinke’s decision to block two tribes from opening a casino in Connecticut and his redrawing of boundaries to shrink a Utah national monument. Zinke has denied wrongdoing.

The Associated Press reported last month that the department’s internal watchdog had referred an investigation of Zinke to the Justice Department.

Zinke’s travels with his wife, Lola Zinke, also had come under scrutiny.
Interior’s inspector general’s office said Zinke allowed his wife to ride in government vehicles with him despite a department policy that prohibits nongovernment officials from doing so. The report also said the department spent more than $25,000 to provide security for the couple when they took a vacation to Turkey and Greece.

Trump told reporters this fall he was evaluating Zinke’s future in the administration in light of the allegations and offered a lukewarm vote of confidence. Zinke in November denied he already was hunting for his next job.

“I enjoy working for the president,” he told a Montana radio station. “Now, If you do your job, he supports you.”
“I think I’m probably going to be the commander of space command,” Zinke said. “How’s that one?“
Zinke outlasted EPA chief Scott Pruitt, another enthusiastic advocate of Trump’s business-friendly way of governing who lost favor with Trump amid ethics scandals. Pruitt resigned in July. Trump’s first Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, also resigned under a cloud of ethical questions.
Democratic leaders in Congress were scathing in response to the news that Zinke was leaving as well.
“Ryan Zinke was one of the most toxic members of the cabinet in the way he treated our environment, our precious public lands, and the way he treated the govt like it was his personal honey pot,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of the New York tweeted Saturday. “The swamp cabinet will be a little less foul without him.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is set to become speaker in January, said Zinke had “been a shameless handmaiden for the special interests” and his “staggering ethical abuses have delivered a serious and lasting blow to America’s public lands, environment, clean air and clean water.”
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, had warned that after Democrats took control of the House they intended to call Zinke to testify on his ethics issues.

Grijalva spokesman Adam Sarvana said Saturday that committee leaders still intended to ask for Zinke’s testimony. “It’s safe to say that Citizen Zinke may be leaving, but real oversight of former Secretary Zinke has not even started,” Sarvana said in an email.
Earlier this month, Zinke unleashed a jarring personal attack on Grijalva, tweeting, “It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle.”

Zinke got a warmer send-off from Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, head of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who said in a statement that he had been a “strong partner for Western states.”

Under Zinke’s watch, the Interior Department moved to auction off more oil leases, ended a moratorium on new sales of federally owned coal, and repealed mandates governing drilling. Zinke’s focus on the president’s energy agenda was cheered by oil, gas and mining advocates, who credit the administration with seeking to balance conservation with development on public lands. But his tenure was denounced by most conservation groups.

“Zinke will go down as the worst Interior secretary in history,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement released Saturday. “His slash-and-burn approach was absolutely destructive for public lands and wildlife. Allowing David Bernhardt to continue to call the shots will still be just as ugly. Different people, same appetite for greed and profit.”

Bernhardt, the deputy secretary, is in line to lead the Interior Department on an interim basis. He has spent years in Washington as a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry and has deep ties to Republican politicians and conservative interest groups.

Two outgoing Republican congressmen are said to be interested in the job.
Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho planned to go to the White House on Saturday to discuss the job with officials, said a GOP congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe Labrador’s private plans. Labrador, 51, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who is retiring from Congress after eight years. He lost a bid for his state’s GOP gubernatorial nomination last spring.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., is also interested in Zinke’s job, according to another Republican congressional aide who described the situation only on condition of anonymity. The aide said the White House has made inquiries about Denham to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who will be House minority leader next year. Denham, 51, has been involved in water issues in California. He lost his bid for re-election last month.

As head of Interior, Zinke made plans to realign the agency’s bureaucracy, trimming the equivalent of 4,600 jobs, about 7 per cent of its workforce. He also proposed a massive overhaul that would have moved decision-making out of Washington, relocating headquarters staff to Western states at a cost of $17.5 million.

Zinke was a one-term congressman when Trump selected him to join his incoming Cabinet in December 2016.

An early Trump supporter, Zinke is close to the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and publicly expressed his interest in a Cabinet post when Trump visited Montana in May 2016.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush dead at 94

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush
(Reuters) - Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who presided over the end of the Cold War and routed Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army but lost a chance for a second term after breaking a no-new-taxes pledge, died on Friday at the age of 94, a family spokesman said.

Bush, the 41st president of the United States, lived longer than any of his predecessors. His death at 10:10 p.m. Central time was announced in a statement issued by longtime spokesman Jim McGrath. No further details about the circumstances of his death were immediately available.

He was the father of former President George W. Bush, who served two terms in the White House from 2001 through 2008, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Republican nomination for president.

The elder Bush, a Republican like his sons, also served as vice president for eight years during Ronald Reagan's two terms as president, before being elected to the White House himself.

He defeated former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, in the 1988 presidential campaign, and lost his 1992 re-election bid to Democrat Bill Clinton.

Bush's death came seven months after that of his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, to whom he was married for 73 years.

The former president, who served as a U.S. naval aviator during World War Two, had attended his wife's funeral in Houston in a wheelchair and wore a pair of colourful socks festooned with books, in honour of his late wife's commitment to literacy.



See AP’s complete coverage of George H.W. Bush here

Mauritius President to resign

Mauritius President to resign over expense claims, prime minister says

Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim delivers a speech in Paris in 2015.

The President of Mauritius will resign next week, the island country's prime minister has said.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will step down over allegations she misused a credit card given to her by a charity.

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said Gurib-Fakim, who was facing impeachment proceedings over the alleged expense irregularities, had agreed to step down after the country's 50-year independence celebrations on March 12.

"The President of the Republic told me that she would resign from office and we agreed on the date of her departure," Jugnauth told reporters in Port Louis, the country's capital.
"The interests of the country come first," he said.

Attempts to obtain comment from Gurib-Fakim and her office were not immediately successful.

The president was left fighting for her political career after local media published a report that she had paid for personal expenses on a credit card given to her by London-based charity Planet Earth Institute (PEI) in 2016.

The report alleged that Gurib-Fakim had spent thousands of dollars on the card on clothing and luxury items.

She has denied any wrongdoing and said she had refunded all the money.
"I do not owe anything to anybody. Why is this issue coming up now almost a year later on the eve of our independence day celebrations," she said on March 7, Reuters news agency reported.
The Planet Earth Institute is accredited to the United Nations Environmental Program and its mission is the "scientific independence of Africa." When contacted, a spokeswoman for PEI declined to comment.

Gurib-Fakim was appointed to the PEI board in 2015, but resigned two years later in 2017.
She is internationally renowned and is feted on the world stage, and is the recipient of the L'Oréal-UNESCO award for women in science.

Despite her huge international profile, commentators say Gurib-Fakim's popularity closer to home was waning.

Mauritians increasingly saw her as a "president in transit," because of her frequent trips abroad, said Rabin Bhujun, managing editor of ION News, a digital news platform in the country.
"How does it benefit the country for her to be on the Forbes list? This is an important factor which encouraged the government to get rid of her.

They felt she wasn't a heavyweight in politics and had no problem sacking her," Bhujun said.



SOURCE

Russia's Defense Ministry says a Russian cargo plane has crashed in Syria, killing 32 people onboard.

Russian cargo plane crashes in Syria, 32 killed



 Russian military says a Russian cargo plane crashes near Hmeimim base in Syria.
All people on board of the aircraft, including 26 passengers and six crew members died in the incident, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The Russian An-26 plane crashed near Syrian Hmeimin base on Tuesday when landing, according to the ministry of defence.

The Latest on the war in Syria (all times local):

4 p.m.

Russia says a military cargo plane has crashed at the Russian air base in Syria, killing all 32 people onboard.

The Defense Ministry says the An-26, with 26 passengers and six crew members onboard, crashed Tuesday just 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the runway. The military blamed the crash on a technical error.

Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, leases a military base in Syria near the Mediterranean coast.

___

2 p.m.

U.N. war crimes investigators say a Russian plane was apparently behind a deadly airstrike in November in Syria's Idlib province that killed 84 people at a marketplace, an attack which could amount to a war crime.

The findings were reported by the U.N.'s Commission of Inquiry on Syria on Tuesday.

It's the first time the commission has pinned responsibility for civilian deaths in Syria on Russia. The report says "all available information" indicates a Russian plane carried out the Nov. 13 airstrike that hit a market, surrounding houses and a police station run by Western-backed Syrian rebels in the town of Atarib, in northern Idlib.

At least 84 people were killed and about another 150 were wounded in the attack.

The commission, which was created 6-1/2 years ago to document alleged human rights violations by any side in Syria's war, says the plane that carried out the airstrike took off from an air base in Syria run by Russian forces, the Hemeimeem air base.

___

12:30 p.m.

A war-monitoring group says Syrian government shelling and airstrikes killed 80 people in the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus the previous day, making it the deadliest day there since the U.N.'s Security Council last month demanded a cease-fire across Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 80 died and dozens more were wounded on Monday as government forces ignored the U.N. call and pressed their assault on the rebel-held eastern Ghouta.

The United Nations estimates 400,000 people are trapped under a government siege in the area.

The Syrian American Medical Society charity, which supports several hospitals in eastern Ghouta, gave a slightly lesser death toll from the Observatory, saying 79 people were killed.

___

12:05 p.m.

The Russian defense ministry has extended an offer to Syrians in the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus, saying armed rebels with their families - not just civilians - can also leave eastern Ghouta through a safe corridor.

The ministry says its negotiators in Syria late on Monday called on all rebels leaders in eastern Ghouta to allow civilians leave the area, which has been under a crippling siege for weeks. It says the rebels are also free to leave the enclave with their weapons and families unhindered.

The first shipment of humanitarian aid reached eastern Ghouta on Monday but was cut short on Tuesday after Syrian government forces began shelling the area again.

Russia has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, helping him the tide of the bloody civil war in his favor.

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10:55 a.m.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry says the country plans to establish camps in nine locations in northern Syria to house people displaced by fighting amid Ankara's offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said on Tuesday that the camps would be built in a zone controlled by Turkish-backed forces, as well as in Idlib province where Turkish forces are trying establishing a "de-escalation zone" under an agreement reached between Turkey, Russia and Iran.

Aksoy said the camps would host a total of 170,000 people.

Turkey controls a swath of territory revolving around the town of al-Rai, al-Bab and Jarablus - a border zone that Turkey and Turkey-backed rebels took from the Islamic State group in 2016.

Turkey has also launched a campaign to oust a Syrian Kurdish militia from the enclave of Afrin that Ankara considers to be "terrorist" and linked to an insurgency within Turkey's own borders.

___

10:45 a.m.

The International Committee for the Red Cross says it was forced to halt aid delivery to the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus the previous day after the security situation deteriorated while aid workers were on the ground.

Ingy Sedky, the ICRC spokeswoman in Syria says most of the aid from a 46-truck convoy was delivered to the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta on Monday but the mission was cut short before the rest of the supplies could be unloaded.

Iyad Abdelaziz, a member of the Douma Local Council, says nine aid trucks had to leave the area after government shelling and airstrikes intensified in the evening.

Monday's shipment was the first to enter eastern Ghouta amid weeks of a crippling siege and a government assault that has killed hundreds.

Stormy Daniels: I’m Now Free to Tell My Trump Story

Stormy Daniels 'free to tell her story' after Trump lawyer statement


The newspaper says Mr Cohen declined to answer why the "private transaction" was made

An adult film star who has been embroiled in allegations of an affair with President Donald Trump is free to tell her story, her manager has said.

Stormy Daniels is no longer bound by a non-disclosure contract after Mr Trump's lawyer admitted he paid her, manager Gina Rodriguez says.

Mr Trump's personal lawyer confirmed in a statement to media he privately paid Ms Daniels $130,000 (£95,000) in 2016.

Ms Rodriguez says that acknowledgement allows her client to speak freely.

"Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story," Ms Rodriguez told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Her statement comes after Trump lawyer Michael Cohen told the New York Times he paid Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

"Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly," Mr Cohen told the New York Times.

He said he told the Federal Election Commission the same after a watchdog group filed a complaint about the payment, claiming that it had served as an "in-kind" political contribution to Mr Trump's campaign.

An X-rated cover-up?

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC Washington

Donald Trump's lawyer and all-around fixer Michael Cohen has said he doesn't plan "further comment" on his six-figure payment to Stormy Daniels. His statements, however, raise more questions than they answer.

While he said the money came from his "personal funds" and was not reimbursed directly or indirectly by the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign, that leaves open the possibility that he was compensated by other parties - including Mr Trump himself.

Why, in his generosity, would Mr Cohen give $130,000 to Ms Daniels? The Wall Street Journal has reported that it was in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement about a decade-old affair between Mr Trump and Ms Daniels. Circumstantial evidence - that Ms Daniels had been in contact with media outlets prior to the transfer and has since gone silent - lends credence to this line.

Porn actress Stormy Daniels alleged in 2011 that she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2006

Even though the alleged affair is long since past, a story about possible hush money and an attempted cover-up just weeks before the presidential election is much more dangerous for a White House already on its heels. And if it turns out there's more to the money trail than has been disclosed, an embarrassing situation could quickly morph into a criminal inquiry.

"The payment to Ms Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone," Mr Cohen said.

The lawyer has previously said Mr Trump "vehemently denies" it occurred.

The revelations on Wednesday follow US media reports that the porn actress known as Ms Daniels was paid to sign an agreement stopping her discussing an alleged affair.

She first said she had a relationship with Mr Trump in a 2011 interview.

In a 2011 interview with InTouch magazine, the actress said she began a sexual relationship with Mr Trump in 2006, shortly after Melania Trump gave birth to his son Barron.

The reports re-emerged in January when the Wall Street Journal reported that she was paid to sign a non-disclosure agreement in the run-up to the 2016 election, which prevented her from discussing the alleged liaison.

Ms Clifford was believed to be in discussion with US media about an television appearance to discuss Mr Trump at the time, the report said.

Responding to questions from CNN about why the payment was made, Mr Cohen said: "Just because something isn't true doesn't mean that it can't cause you harm or damage."


"I will always protect Mr Trump," Mr Cohen added.

On 30 January, Ms Daniels' publicist released a statement in her name denying having an affair with Mr Trump.

But many - including Ms Daniels herself - were quick to note that the signature attached to that denial did not bear much resemblance to another copy of her autograph which had been attached to an earlier statement.
Ms Daniels hosted a Super Bowl party last month

That denial had been released by Mr Cohen on 10 January.

She has since made several public appearances on television and at strip clubs, but has remained tight-lipped when asked directly about Mr Trump in interviews.

Minutes after Mr Trump's first formal State of the Union address to Congress, she gave an interview to late night comedian Jimmy Kimmel.

In it, she refused to directly answer whether she had signed a non-disclosure agreement, or if she had "ever made love to someone whose name rhymes with Lonald Lump".




SOURCE

Assailant caught in US school shooting, 'numerous fatalities'

Horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school

n this frame grab from video provided by WPLG-TV, students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland evacuate the area Picture: WPLG-TV/APSource:AP

MIAMI: A gunman opened fire Wednesday at a Florida high school, an incident that officials said caused "numerous fatalities" and left terrified students huddled in their classrooms, texting friends and family for help.

The Broward County Sheriff's Office said a suspect was in custody following the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometres) north of Miami.
AT LEAST one person is dead and dozens of people have been injured following a horrific mass shooting at a Florida high school.

Coral Springs Police was called to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland following reports of an active shooter on the scene.

Authorities warned the public to stay away from the area as the campus remains in lockdown.

It remained unknown exactly how many people were shot, however, it is understood there have been “multiple fatalities”.
The shooting, one of several in the United States since the start of the year, will once again throw the spotlight on the country's epidemic of gun violence and the ready accessibility of weapons, with 33,000 gun-related deaths annually.

Emergency crews on the scene near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Picture: ABCNewsSource:Supplied

The superintendent of the county's school district, Robert Runcie, said he believed there were "numerous fatalities," and that the gunman may have been a former student.

"Just a horrible day for us," Runcie said, adding that the incident appeared to be over.
So far, 14 "victims" had been or were being taken to local hospital, the sheriff's office said. Earlier reports suggested that between 20 and 50 people had been hurt.

"This is a very tragic situation for everybody involved," Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky told CNN, adding that she had spoken to a number of students.

"They were very scared," she said. "And almost in shock when they came out."
Asked about security, the mayor said a police officer is always stationed at the school and there was a "single point of entry."
Television images showed students being led out of the school by heavily armed police officers and an armoured vehicle filled with a SWAT team arriving at the scene.

One injured victim was seen being placed into an ambulance on a stretcher.

Police officers in helmets, bulletproof vests and armed with automatic weapons could be seen stationed at several points around the sprawling school complex, which houses nearly 3,000 students.
Student Jeiella Dodoo told CBS News that she and her schoolmates had evacuated their classroom calmly after hearing what they thought had been a routine fire alarm.

Parents wait for news following the horrific mass shooting. Picture: Joel Auerbach/APSource:AP

"The alarm went off so we had to evacuate from our classes," she said. "Then we heard gunshots.
"I heard about six gunshots," she said, "and then some people started running and then everyone started running because we were like 'If it's real, then just run.'"
A math teacher at the school told CBS that he was hiding with six of his students.
"We are fine. We are waiting," he said.

Caesar Figueroa told CNN his daughter was hiding in a closet and texting her family.
"She's trapped with her 10 friends. She said she heard gunshots. A window blew and everybody is screaming and running, and she said she ran in the closet and she's still there," Figueroa said.
The Broward Sheriff’s office confirmed the suspected shooter is now in custody, however, stressed the scene remains active.


“So far we have at least 14 victims,” the Sheriff’s office said.

“Victims have been and continue to be transported to Broward Health Medical Center and Broward Health North hospital.”

"My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting," President Donald Trump said on Twitter.


"No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school."
Coral Spring Police told concerned parents over Twitter the school remained on lockdown as a precaution.

Since January 2013, "there have been at least 283 school shootings across the country -- which averages out to one school shooting a week," according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit group that advocates for gun control.

Police handcuff the suspected gunmen following the shooting

Since the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were shot dead, warning procedures and emergency drills have multiplied at US schools.

The goal is to teach school children how to react to a shooter who opens fire at random.

Classified Information: Ex-CIA officer arrested

Ex-CIA officer arrested for retaining classified information

Ex-CIA Officer Arrested for Retaining Notebooks Full of Classified Information

WASHINGTON: An ex-Central Intelligence Agency officer was detained at a US airport on Monday night regarding the charges that he illegally held on to highly classified information, the US Justice Department said Tuesday.

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a US citizen who now resides in Hong Kong, used to keep a top secret clearance and started doing work for the CIA in 1994.

The Justice Department stated that in 2012, FBI agents searched his hotel rooms during the vacations to Virginia and Hawaii. They identified he had two small books comprising handwritten information on specifics such as the true names and numbers of spy recruits and covert CIA employees.
He was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.



The case is going to be prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. But Lee made his first court appearance on Tuesday before a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn. The judge ordered Lee held without bail.

A federal public defender who represented Lee at Tuesday’s hearing declined to comment.
Based upon an affidavit filed by an FBI agent, Lee, 53, served in the US Army from 1982 through 1986 and worked for the CIA from 1994 through 2007.


The FBI agent wrote that Lee and his family left Hong Kong in August 2012 to travel to northern Virginia. During the trip, they stayed in hotels in which the FBI found the books.

The small books were found inside Lee’s luggage, sealed in a small clear plastic vacation pack.
The handwritten information inside varied with regard to classification, however, the agent said no less than one page contained top secret information, “the disclosure of those might lead to extremely grave trouble for the national security of the United States.”

The agent also noted that classified cables Lee wrote when he had been a case officer talking about his interactions with CIA assets were revealed in the two books.

Lee was interviewed by the FBI five separate times in 2013 and do not share he had the books. He also met with former CIA colleagues about that period without giving back the materials to the government, the Justice Department said.

Nigerian Police killed, four North Americans kidnapped

Two Americans, two Canadians kidnapped in Nigeria: Police killed

Nigerian Police killed, four North Americans kidnapped

NIGERIA: Two Americans and two Canadians have already been kidnapped and two Nigerian police escorts murdered during an ambush in northern Kaduna state, police said Wednesday, in the recent abduction intended for foreigners.

State police spokesman Mukhtar Aliyu said, “unknown armed men” seized the four North Americans on the way to Abuja at 7:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Tuesday.
“They involved in a brutal gun battle with the two police escorts attached to the expats, who regrettably died,” he added.

No additional information was given and Aliyu said “every possible means” happen to be used to rescue the four abductees and arrest the kidnappers.

In Washington, a State Department official known as the abduction of only one US citizen.
“We are familiar with reports of a US citizen kidnapped in Nigeria,” he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The safety and security of US citizens overseas are among our top priorities,” he added.

A State Department travel advisory for urges US citizens to “reconsider” visiting Nigeria, warning that “violent crime including armed robbery, assault, carjacking, kidnapping and rape frequently occurs all over the country.”

Global Affairs Canada. that manages Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations, is “aware of reports of the kidnapping of two Canadian citizens in Nigeria,” spokesman John Babcock said, “Consular officials in Nigeria are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information,” he added.
Kidnapping has long been a problem in Nigeria’s southern states, where high-profile individuals, including the families of prominent politicians, are regularly seized.

Victims are generally released after a couple of days as soon as a ransom is paid.

These days the crime has multiply throughout the country since the economic situation has stalled. A crackdown on cattle rustling has been ascribed to increasing number of abductions in the north.
In October this past year, an armed group took four British missionaries doing work for a medical charity in the oil-rich but impoverished state of Delta in the south.

One among the hostages was killed even though the three other hostages were later released.
Also in October, the Vatican said an Italian priest was kidnapped near Benin City, the capital of Edo state, which borders Delta state to the north. He was also later released.

Safety on the Kaduna-Abuja road came under intense scrutiny during the past year as soon as the federal government announced the closure of the capital’s only airport for essential runway repairs.
Many foreign missions and corporations advised staff to limit their travel through the closure period, as all domestic and a few international flights were switched to Abuja.

In July 2016, Sierra Leone’s defence attache to Nigeria was kidnapped by men in military fatigues armed with AK-47 rifles at a fake checkpoint on the Abuja-Kaduna road.

Oil Prices Rises Above $70 per barrel

As oil hits US$70, warning lights flash up in Asia

Oil price top 70USD

SINGAPORE, ASIA: Oil prices have risen above $70 per barrel for the first time since 2014 as investors bet supply cuts led by OPEC will dominate the market this year.
But some traders are sounding a warning - the world’s biggest crude-consuming region, Asia, is showing signs of an impending downward correction.

Prices for Brent crude oil futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, have risen by more than 50 percent since mid-2017 and hit $70 per barrel this week for the first since December 2014. Average Asian physical crude oil prices also moved over $70 per barrel in January.

“A healthy (price) correction could be on the cards,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia/Pacific at futures brokerage Oanda in Singapore.

One reason, traders say, is that the supply of oil products remains ample. In the last three years, refiners enjoyed high profits because of relatively cheap crude oil, which is used to make fuels like diesel or gasoline.

As a result, Asian refiners processed an unprecedented 23 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil in late 2017.

China, by far Asia’s biggest oil consumer, is now producing so much fuel that its refiners have turned to exports to find buyers. And their purchases of crude could fall.

Chinese diesel exports (DL-CNEXP) have surged by almost 3,000 percent since early 2015, to a record of more than 2 million tonnes last December, according to customs data. Its gasoline exports (GL-CNEXP) are up by 365 percent since early 2015, to more than 1 million tonnes in December.

Its total December refined oil products reached a record 6.17 million tonnes, according to customs data announced on Friday.

“This drop in margins could reduce Asian refiners’ demand for incremental crude in the near term and weigh on global (crude) prices,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta.

Singapore refining margins (DUB-SIN-REF), which act as Asia’s benchmark, have slumped by 90 percent from their 2017 high to below $6 per barrel this week - the lowest seasonal level in five years.

BMI Research said in a note this week: ”In Q1, the balance of risk to Brent (prices) lies to the downside.”

Price hit 70USD

WHAT FUELED THE RALLY


The crude market’s focus has so far been no signs of tightening supplies as the Middle East dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia lead production cuts aimed at propping up prices.

With global oil consumption also strong amid healthy global economic growth, investor sentiment has been positive.

Ole Hansen, head of the commodity strategy at Saxo Bank, said this week that ”bullish news tends to get more attention than potentially bearish signals.” Yet, another of the bearish signals is rising U.S. oil production, which is threatening to derail OPEC’s and Russia’s efforts to tighten supplies.

Despite a recent drop due to extreme cold, U.S. crude oil output (C-OUT-T-EIA) is widely expected to break through 10 million bpd soon, largely thanks to shale production, which would take it to similar levels as top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia, who hit peak output of over 11 million bpd and about 10.7 million bpd respectively in recent years.

“Oil prices have been undeniably bullish this week despite the lingering concerns over the current bull rally running out of steam ... It must be kept in mind that rising production from U.S. shale has the ability to expose the oil to downside risks,” said Lukman Otunuga, Analyst at futures brokerage FXTM.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects U.S. output to surpass 11 million bpd by 2019.

Soaring U.S. supplies mean U.S. WTI crude prices are over $5.5 per barrel cheaper than Brent (CL-LCO1=R), off which most international crude supplies are priced.
Taking advantage of their competitive prices, U.S. crude oil exports are rising, including to faraway Asia.

Feeling the pinch from mounting competition and the pressure from refiners, OPEC’s No.2 and No.3 producers, Iran and Iraq, cut their crude oil prices this week to remain competitive with customers struggling from lower profits. - Reuters





SOURCE:  Reuters

H&M ‘racist’ ad: Black child in a hoodie

Black child in a hoodie that reads: "I'm the coolest monkey in the jungle." And the white child is the "survival expert."

H&M ‘racist’ ad

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN: A racism scandal at H&M is the latest indication of management problems at the Swedish clothing giant, once the darling of shoppers but now struggling to make the switch to e-commerce, analysts say.

The fast-fashion group is one of Sweden’s largest export brands and industrial heavyweights, alongside Ikea, Spotify, Electrolux and Volvo.

Owned by the Persson family dynasty, it has been listed on the Stockholm stock exchange since 1974.

It has collaborated with superstars like Beyoncé and Madonna, and prestigious fashion houses including Sonia Rykiel, Lanvin and Kenzo have designed exclusive collections for the group.

H&M is one of the most well-known brands in the world, with global brand consultancy Interbrand ranking it the 23rd best known company worldwide in 2017 - ahead of Ikea and fashion luxury goods manufacturer Hermes.

But lately, H&M has struggled to lure shoppers into its 4,553 stores around the world, and has been slow to develop its online offering.

“It’s (been) one of the toughest years for H&M,” Joakim Bornold, an economist at the investment bank Nordnet told AFP, noting that the company’s stock price has fallen by 35 per cent since January 2017.

In December, the group announced a 4 per cent drop in fourth quarter sales from the previous year, to 50.4 billion kronor.

Not only have H&M sales almost never declined, but the drop was bigger than analysts had expected.

H&M, which also owns the brands COS, Monki, Weekday, Cheap Monday, Arket and H&M Home, said in December it would be closing stores, but didn’t specify how many or where.

The company will publish its full-year earnings report on January 31.

“They have failed in describing their vision for the e-commerce business and how they plan to compete with truly digital companies,” Bornold said.

“That, combined with worse sales figures than expected, has affected investors’ faith in the company.”

Chief executive Karl-Johan Persson rejects that analysis.

“Our digital strategy is crystal clear. E-commerce, for all our brands, is definitely a part of the company that is going very well and is profitable,” insists Persson, heir to the company founded by his grandfather Erling.

At 42, he has headed the group for eight years. Some observers have questioned whether he’ll soon be shown the door, though his father Stefan Persson, the chairman of the board, has ruled out such a move.

Racism scandal


As if the company’s earnings weren’t problematic enough, H&M last week found itself in the middle of a social media storm, accused of racism.

Its online catalogue featured an advertisement of a black boy sporting a hoodie with the words “Coolest monkey in the jungle” written on it.

According to Gothenburg University marketing professor Eva Ossiansson, the gaffe is a sign that H&M has lost its Midas touch.

“It signals that the company has problems to cope with, both in terms of how their business should develop with regard to e-commerce and the digitalisation in our society, as well as in their communication,” she said.

The company tried to quash the criticism by apologising and withdrawing the ad and the item from sale. But the damage was done.

NBA superstar LeBron James expressed his anger on Instagram on January 9, hours after the garment was removed from sale.

“@hm u got us all wrong! And we ain’t going for it! Straight up!” James said, including a photo of the same ad but with a crown superimposed on the boy’s head, and the text on the hooded sweater replaced by a crown.

“Enough about y’all and more of what I see when I look at this photo. I see a Young King!! The ruler of the world, an untouchable Force that can never be denied!” the athlete said.

Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd, who collaborated with H&M on its spring and autumn collections last year, meanwhile severed his contract with the company.

“In some cases, in order to create a buzz, companies like to stretch their communication and commercials beyond borders,” Ossiansson said, adding: “It’s risky.”

Lisa Magnusson, editorialist at Swedish paper of reference Dagens Nyheter, meanwhile played down the scandal, saying people should be more upset about the working conditions of the labourers in Asia who make H&M clothes for pennies.

She noted that if every garment were sold for just three kronor more, those workers’ salaries could be doubled. - AFP




SOURCE:  AFP

Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger Pay Dropped

Disney CEO Bob Iger's pay fell 17% to US$36m in 2017

 Disney CEO, Bob Iger

US: Walt Disney Co. Chairman-Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger received $36.3 million in compensation during the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, down 17% from the previous fiscal year.

Disney made the disclosure as part of the company's proxy statement filing Friday. The 66-year-old Iger received a $15.2 million cash bonus tied to results, including segment operating income and return on invested capital.

His base salary remained flat at $2.5 million, as did stock awards at about $9 million. Non-equity incentive compensation fell to $15.2 million from $20 million.

CFO Christine McCarthy's total compensation fell to $8.95 million from $10.2 million, according to the statement, and Chief Strategy Officer Kevin Mayer's total pay declined to $8.4 million from $10.1 million. General Counsel Alan Braverman's total compensation slid to $8.45 million from $11.12 million. Chief Human Resources Officer M. Jayne Parker's pay also fell to $5.09 million from $5.6 million.

Iger will get paid more during the current fiscal year. Disney announced a $52.4 billion stock deal in December to buy the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox. As part of that deal, Iger signed a new contract boosting his salary and giving him an additional $100 million in stock awards. He has postponed his planned retirement four times.

Iger extended his contract last month as chairman-CEO for another two years, in order to oversee the integration of the Fox assets into Disney -- assuming the deal passes muster with federal regulators.

Iger had previously said that he was committed to stepping down at the end of his most recent extension, through mid-2019. But spearheading the biggest acquisition in Disney's nearly 100-year history required him to stay. The extension came at the request of the Disney board as well as that of 21st Century Fox.

The proxy statement also officially notified Disney shareholders of the annual meeting, set for March 8 in Houston. - Reuters




SOURCE:  Reuters

Sloane Stephens: Grand Slam Title "Overwhelming" Experience

First grand slam title was 'overwhelming', says Stephens


American Sloane Stephens during Interview

MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA (Reuters) - Without a victory since her stunning U.S. Open triumph last September, American Sloane Stephens admitted on Saturday how the experience of becoming a grand slam winner had been "overwhelming".

"I think it's always a tough transition when you go from not playing tennis for 11 months to winning a grand slam," Stephens told a news conference at the Australian Open, which begins on Monday.

"It's never going to be anything you expected. In terms of that, it's a little bit overwhelming."

The 24-year-old has lost all six of her matches following her win at Flushing Meadows, struggling to manage the expectations and extra demands on her time.


"But after the U.S. Open, after the match, I did three-and-a-half hours of press... and I was like, 'this sucks, what have you done'?

"I think things like that have changed. There's obviously more demand. These things are mandatory now. With that, it's been a bit challenging. But I only do the things that are mandatory, so it's easy."

Despite her poor form, Stephens goes into the Australian Open with a chance to back up her U.S. Open victory. Her disappointing results, she said, were not a huge concern.

American Sloane Stephens with her gland slam title

"I think you have to kind of put everything in perspective, evaluate where you are," she said.

"I think personally I had a lot of things going on. I'm not going to look back on it. It's a new year, new season. I'm hoping not to get injured. There are tons of things to look forward to. I'm not going to dwell too much on that." Stephens' victory in New York came completely out of the blue, having only returned from a long-term foot injury which required surgery.

Having won a grand slam once, though, why not again? "I would like to win another grand slam," she said. "It was tough. Obviously, it's doable because I did it. I'd definitely like to do it again."

Seeded 13th, Stephens will begin her Australian Open campaign with a first-round encounter against China's Zhang Shuai.


Hawaii False Ballistic Missile Alert

Hawaii officials mistakenly warn of inbound missile



HONOLULU - A false alarm that warned of a ballistic missile headed for Hawaii sent the islands into a panic Saturday, with people abandoning cars in a highway and preparing to flee their homes until officials said the cellphone alert was a mistake.

In a conciliatory news conference later in the day, Hawaii officials apologized for the mistake and vowed to ensure it will never happen again.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi said the error happened when someone hit the wrong button.

"We made a mistake," Miyagi said.

For nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea.

The emergency alert, which was sent to cellphones statewide just before 8:10 a.m., said: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

On the H-3, a major highway north of Honolulu, vehicles sat empty after drivers left them to run to a nearby tunnel after the alert showed up, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Workers at a golf club huddled in a kitchen fearing the worst.


Professional golfer Colt Knost, staying at Waikiki Beach during a PGA Tour event, said "everyone was panicking" in the lobby of his hotel.

"Everyone was running around like, 'What do we do?'" he said.

Richard Ing, a Honolulu attorney, was doing a construction project at home when his wife told him about the alert. His wife and children prepared to evacuate while he tried to figure out what was happening.

Cherese Carlson, in Honolulu for a class and away from her children, said she called to make sure they were inside after getting the alert.

"I thought, 'Oh my god, this is it. Something bad's about to happen and I could die,'" she said.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn't reach people who aren't on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the "false alarm" didn't reach cellphones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.

The incident prompted defense agencies including the Pentagon and the U.S. Pacific Command to issue the same statement, that they had "detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii."

The White House said President Donald Trump, at his private club in Florida, was briefed on the false alert. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it "was purely a state exercise."

House Speaker Scott Saiki said the system Hawaii residents have been told to rely on failed miserably. He also took emergency management officials to task for taking 30 minutes to issue a correction, prolonging panic.

"Clearly, government agencies are not prepared and lack the capacity to deal with emergency situations," he said in a statement.


Hawaii Gov. David Ige apologized for the "pain and confusion" caused by the alert.

The alert caused a tizzy on the islands and across social media.

At the PGA Tour's Sony Open on Oahu, Waialae Country Club was largely empty and players were still a few hours from arriving when the alert showed up. Workers streamed into the clubhouse trying to seek cover in the locker room, which was filled with the players' golf bags, but instead went into the kitchen.

Several players took to Twitter. Justin Thomas, the PGA Tour player of the year, tweeted, "To all that just received the warning along with me this morning ... apparently it was a 'mistake'?? hell of a mistake!! Haha glad to know we'll all be safe."

In Honolulu, hair salon owner Jaime Malapit texted his clients that he was cancelling their appointments and was closing his shop for the day.

"I woke up and saw a missile warning and thought 'no way.' I thought 'No, this is not happening today,'" Malapit said.

Brian Naeole, who was visiting Honolulu from Molokai, said he wasn't worried since he didn't hear sirens and neither TV nor radio stations issued alerts.

"I thought it was either a hoax or a false alarm," he said.

Ing, the Honolulu lawyer, tried to find some humor in the situation.

"I thought to myself, it must be someone's last day at work or someone got extremely upset at a superior and basically did this as a practical joke,' he said. "But I think it's a very serious problem if it wasn't that, or even it was, it shows that we have problems in the system that can cause major disruption and panic and anxiety among people in Hawaii."

Others were outraged. Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz tweeted the false alarm was "totally inexcusable" and was caused by human error.

"There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process," he wrote.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said on social media the panel would launch an investigation.

With the threat of missiles from North Korea in people's minds, the state reintroduced the Cold War-era warning siren tests last month that drew international attention. But there were problems there, too.

Even though the state says nearly 93 percent of the state's 386 sirens worked properly, 12 mistakenly played an ambulance siren. At the tourist mecca of Waikiki, the sirens were barely audible, prompting officials to add more sirens there and to reposition ones already in place.





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