U.S. health chief resigns over private jet trips

Health Secretary Tom Price quits Trump cabinet over private jet controversy

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price resigned on Friday amid increasing fire over his frequent and expensive private jet trips, becoming the first cabinet secretary to leave the Donald Trump administration.

Price offered his resignation on Friday and President Donald Trump accepted it, White House Press Secretary said in a statement.

"The President intends to designate Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as Acting Secretary, effective at 11:59 p.m. on September 29, 2017," the statement said. Wright currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Price has been under heavy fire since U.S. media outlets found he had flown on at least 26 private flights since May, including five domestic flights within one week this month.
He apologized on Thursday, saying he will pay a portion of the costs of his official travelling on private charter planes and will permanently halt his use of charter flights for official business as the health secretary.

However, the total cost of the private jets Price flew on was reportedly more than 400,000 U.S. dollars and Price would pay only 51,887.31 U.S. dollars for his seat on those planes, according to an HHS spokesperson.

Price is not covering the cost for his staffers who flew with him on those charter planes, said the spokesperson on Thursday.

Many of Price's flights were between major cities that offered inexpensive alternatives on commercial airlines. One leg was from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, a distance of some 130 miles (208 kilometers).

Moreover, on some of those trips, Price reportedly mixed official business with personal affairs such as having a lunch with his son.
On Wednesday, Trump said he was not happy with Price's private jet travel, saying "we'll see" when asked whether he will remove Price over the issue.

The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday launched a bipartisan investigation into the use of private planes by all members of the Trump cabinet. Senator Chuck Grassley on Thursday sent a letter asking the White House to detail its efforts to control officials' travel costs.

Price has frequently criticized government waste since his appointment as health secretary and during his tenure in the House of Representatives, where he once chaired the House Budget Committee.

Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner dies at 91

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, dies aged 91

American icon’ Hefner died at his Playboy Mansion home from natural causes, the publication announced

Hugh Hefner, who founded the men’s lifestyle magazine in 1953, died at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, the publication announced.

Cooper Hefner, Hefner’s son and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises said in a statement: “My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom. He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history.”

Hefner, who was born in Chicago in 1926 to Methodist parents, graduated from the University of Illinois and worked as a copywriter for Esquire before launching Playboy magazine in December 1953. The first issue, produced from his kitchen and financed with $8,000 from investors, featured nude photographs of Marilyn Monroe, taken years earlier, and sold over 50,000 copies.

The magazine became known for its sexually explicit content, as well as its publication of writers such as Ray Bradbury, Ian Fleming, Joseph Heller, Jack Kerouac and Margaret Atwood. Miles Davis was the magazine’s first interview. Other interviews included Fidel Castro, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, who confided that he had “committed adultery” in his heart. John Lennon spoke to Playboy in 1980, not long before he was murdered.

The magazine’s “progressive” approach to sexuality made it a controversial publication, albeit wildly popular, and during the course of Hefner’s lifetime the Playboy brand expanded to include film and print media products, clothing, fragrances, jewellery and accessories and more, all marked with its distinctive “bunny” logo. At the time of Hefner’s death, the magazine itself was published in over 20 countries, with Playboy Enterprises claiming over $1bn in annual sales from its trademarked assets.

Circulation reached 200,000 within its first year and more than 7 million by the 1970s. In 1960 Hefner opened a string of clubs around the world where waitresses wore revealing costumes with bunny ears and fluffy white bunny tails. The writer Gloria Steinem went under cover at the Playboy Club for a seminal series for Show magazine in 1963, which was highly critical.

“I think Hefner himself wants to go down in history as a person of sophistication and glamour. But the last person I would want to go down in history as is Hugh Hefner,” Steinem later said.

Also in 1963, Hefner was arrested on obscenity charges after publishing nude photos of Jayne Mansfield but the charges were dropped after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

In 1949, he married his first wife, Mildred Williams, with whom he had two children. They divorced in 1959, and Hefner shifted to a more ostentatious lifestyle, buying an enormous house in Chicago - the Playboy Mansion, where Hefner lived and many of the magazine’s centrefold models stayed while they were working for the publication - and talking openly about his promiscuity.

Hefner featured in several reality TV shows, showing him wearing silk pyjamas surrounding by girlfriends at the mansion. Hefner was married three times and is survived by his wife, Crystal, a former Playmate, and four grown children: Christie, who served as CEO of Playboy Enterprise for more than 20 years, David, Marston and Cooper.

Asked what he was most proud of in 1992, Hefner told the New York Times: “That I changed attitudes toward sex. That nice people can live together now. That I decontaminated the notion of premarital sex. That gives me great satisfaction.” The magazine and Hefner’s lifestyle often provoked criticism, from feminists and conservatives alike.

Hefner closed the Playboy clubs in 1988, declaring them “too tame for the times” although he returned to the business in a limited way in Las Vegas in 2006.

In 2015, Playboy announced it would no longer publish pictures of fully nude women because such images were “passé” in internet age, but they returned in 2017. “Today we’re taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are,” Hefner said.


King Salman issues decree allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia

‘A very positive sign’: congratulations pour in as Saudi women are finally allowed to drive

JEDDAH: The US on Tuesday led an international welcome for Saudi Arabia’s decision to allow women to drive.
The historic move, ordered in a decree by King Salman, will see women get behind the wheel from June next year.

“We’re happy to hear that,” said US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
“It’s a great step in the right direction. We’re just happy today. A very positive sign,” she said.
The decree, issued on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, said women in Saudi Arabia would be able to obtain driving licenses and drive cars.

News of the decision became the top trending topic on Twitter, with many posts tagged #SaudiWomenCanDrive.

The decree referred to the “negative effects of not allowing women to drive vehicles, and the positive effects envisaged from allowing them to do so” within the context of Islamic law.
The decree also pointed to the fact that the majority of the Council of Senior Scholars agreed that women driving was not prohibited by religion, and therefore they did not oppose allowing them to drive in principle.

“The scholars see no reason not to allow women to drive as long as there are legal and regulatory guarantees to avoid the pretexts (that those against women driving had in mind), even if they are unlikely to happen,” said the decree.
The king instructed the Interior Ministry to apply traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licenses, equally to both men and women.

The move was announced on television and also by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the royal decree mandating the creation of a high-level committee of ministries (including the Interior Ministry, Finance Ministry and the Labor and Social Development Ministry) to study the necessary steps needed to implement the regulations.

“The committee must submit its recommendations within 30 days. The implementation - God willing - will be from Shawwal 10, 1439 (corresponding to June 24, 2018) and in accordance with rules and regulations, and the completion of the necessary steps,” said the decree.

In Washington, Saudi Ambassador Prince Khaled bin Salman described the decision as a huge step. “It’s not just a social change, it’s part of economic reform,” he said.
“Our leadership believes this is the right time to do this change because in Saudi we have a young, dynamic open society.”

The reaction within Saudi Arabia was swift and emotional.

“I am on top of the world,” Lina Almaeena, a Shoura Council member, told Arab News from Bern, Switzerland, where she is part of the official Shoura Council delegation to Switzerland.

“This historic decision and announcement is really going to make a difference in many, if not most, Saudi families. Economically, it is going to decrease the burden on families; socially it will be much better for women to have control over their lives, not always waiting for a man who is no relation to her; or being in a car alone with a stranger whose background she is not aware of.”

Almaeena said the decree allowing women to drive was part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030. It was about women’s empowerment and equal opportunities for men and women, whether in the work force or anywhere else, she said.

“These things are all connected. Women can drive and even if they are not working, they can drive their families to work or their children to school. Fathers are not always available.”
Almaeena said there was a general expectation that Saudi women would be allowed to drive. “But were we expecting this decision tonight? No, this has come as a very pleasant surprise,” she said, thanking King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Samia Al-Amoudi, a prominent businesswoman and breast cancer survivor in Jeddah, told Arab News: “The idea of women’s empowerment would have remained incomplete without allowing women to drive.

“I am happy that women are allowed to drive and that my daughter will be allowed to drive. This is a great day for Saudi Arabia.”

Italy’s Consul General Elisabetta Martini also welcomed the decision. “We want to congratulate all Saudi women on this opportunity given to them by the king. We wish them safe driving,” she told Arab News.

Amena Bakr, a Saudi energy analyst, said it was a “massive victory for women in the Kingdom.”
“Really about time,” she said.

The issue of women driving has been the subject of debate in Saudi Arabia for many years.
“The Kingdom’s leadership has determined - correctly - that the time has come for it to be resolved,” said Fahad Nazer, international fellow at the Washington-based National Council on US-Arab Relations.

“There is wide support for the decision among both Saudi women and men. The issue was never about religion or culture. It has always been about the readiness of Saudi society. It is a very important step in the right direction.”


North Korea: US ‘declared war,’ warns it could shoot down US bombers

North Korea says US ‘declared war,’ warns it could shoot down US bombers

NEW YORK/SEOUL: North Korea’s foreign minister said on Monday President Donald Trump had declared war on North Korea and that Pyongyang reserved the right to take countermeasures, including shooting down US bombers even if they are not in its air space.

Ri Yong Ho said a Twitter message by Trump on Saturday, in which the president warned that the minister and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “won’t be around much longer” if they acted on their threats, amounted to a declaration of war.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Monday denied the United States had declared war, calling the suggestion “absurd.”
Speaking earlier in New York, where he had been attending the annual UN General Assembly, Ri told reporters: “The whole world should clearly remember it was the US who first declared war on our country.”

“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country.

“The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then,” Ri added.
On Saturday, US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighters flew east of North Korea in a show of force after a heated exchange of rhetoric between Trump and Kim over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

“That operation was conducted in international airspace, over international waters, so we have the right to fly, sail and operate where legally permissible around the globe,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning said on Monday.

North Korea, which has remained technically at war with the United States since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce and not a peace treaty, has been working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the US mainland and conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test this month.


Pyongyang, which has pursued its missile and nuclear programs in defiance of international sanctions, accuses the United States of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.

However, recent rhetoric from both sides has been unusually harsh, raising fears of miscalculation that could have massive repercussions, even though US officials have repeatedly stressed the administration prefers a negotiated solution.

The latest round of heavy verbal salvoes began when Trump threatened in his maiden UN address last Tuesday to “totally destroy” North Korea, a country of 26 million people, if it threatened the United States or its allies.

In an unprecedented direct statement on Friday, Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” he would tame with fire.
Kim said North Korea would consider the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” against the United States and that Trump’s comments had confirmed Pyongyang’s nuclear program was “the correct path.”

Ri told the UN General Assembly on Saturday targeting the US mainland with its rockets was inevitable after “Mr Evil President” Trump called Kim a “rocket man” on a suicide mission.
On Twitter late Saturday, Trump replied: “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at UN If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!“

On Monday, White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster defended Trump’s rhetoric, saying he agreed with the US president that the risk was that Kim Jong Un might fail to realize the danger he and his country were facing.

McMaster voiced confidence that the United States could, for example, impose a military blockade if it chose, perhaps even as a part of a multinational effort. But he acknowledged risks of escalation with any US military option.

“We don’t think there’s an easy military solution to this problem. There’s not a precision strike that solves the problem. There’s not a military blockade that can solve the problem,” he said, adding that ultimately it would come down to an international effort.

Still, McMaster told a conference hosted by the Institute for the Study of War, Washington was concerned a nuclear-armed North Korea capable of hitting the United States was likely to engage in “nuclear blackmail,” for instance to try to achieve its goal of getting US troops off the Korean peninsula.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said it was vital Seoul and the United States handle the situation “with astuteness and steadfastness ... to prevent a further escalation of tension or any kind of accidental military clashes in the region which can quickly spiral out of control.”
“There cannot be another outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula; the consequences would be devastating,” she told Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the most senior serving US official ever to visit Pyongyang, said it was “important to lower the temperature” of rhetoric.
“I’m kind of concerned about accidents of some kind that might happen,” she said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the only solution to the crisis was a political one.
“Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
China, North Korea’s neighbor and main ally, which has nevertheless backed UN sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear program, called for restraint on all sides.
“We want things to calm down. It’s getting too dangerous and it’s in nobody’s interest,” China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi told Reuters.

“We certainly hope (the United States and North Korea) will see that there is no other way than negotiations to solve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula ... The alternative is a disaster.”
China’s said it was vital that everyone implement all North Korea-related UN resolutions, which call for both tighter sanctions and efforts to resume dialogue.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking to British Prime Minister Theresa May by telephone, said he hoped Britain could play a constructive role in achieving a peaceful solution via talks, Chinese state media said.

Defense experts said North Korea would have difficulty shooting down a US bomber with missiles or fighter planes given its limited capabilities, and if it tried and failed, would appear weak.
“It is unlikely to take such a risk,” said Bruce Bennett of the Rand Corp. think tank. “So this sounds like another attempt by North Korea to ‘deter by bluster’ US actions the regime does not like.”

Ri warned on Friday North Korea might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, in what would be North Korea’s first atmospheric nuclear test. Experts said such a move, while perhaps not imminent, would be proof of North Korea’s ability to successfully deliver a nuclear warhead on a missile.


British Royal: Prince Harry with girlfriend

Prince Harry makes first public appearance with girlfriend

TORONTO: Britain’s Prince Harry and American girlfriend Meghan Markle made their first formal public appearance together on Monday, with the couple holding hands and watching a wheelchair tennis match at the Invictus Games in Toronto.

Markle, an actress who stars in the TV legal drama “Suits,” has been dating Harry for more than a year. They both appeared at the Invictus Games opening ceremony on the weekend, but sat apart and were not photographed together.

On Monday, they both wore jeans and sunglasses, but did not escape the notice of the crowd, which cheered their arrival. The pair appeared relaxed and were seen leaning in to share whispered comments during the match, and also turned around and chatted with spectators in the row behind them.

There were about 200 to 300 spectators at the match, which was free to attend.
The Invictus Games are an international sports competition for wounded and sick military personnel founded in 2014 by Harry, younger brother of William, the second in line to the British throne.

The couple’s step into the public eye together will likely fuel speculation that marriage is on the horizon and only add to media interest in Markle.
Harry, William and William’s wife Kate are a staple of the front pages of British newspapers and gossip magazines, which pore over every aspect of their lives.

Harry last November criticized the press for subjecting Markle to “a wave of abuse and harassment” after the news of their relationship sparked a stream of stories about the 36-year-old actress in British newspapers, including comment pieces he complained had a racial undertone.

Markle, a divorcee, is a native of Los Angeles whose father is white and mother African-American.

Markle told Vanity Fair magazine earlier this month that she and Harry were in love, in her first direct comments about the relationship.

Her former husband, Trevor Engelson, is reportedly working on a television comedy about divorce and about sharing custody of children after the former wife marries into the British royal family.


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