U.S. lawmakers turn to tech sector for answers on 2016 election

(L-R) Colin Stretch, general counsel for Facebook; Sean Edgett, acting general counsel for Twitter; and Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and information security at Google, are sworn in prior to testifying before Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee hearing on on “ways to combat and reduce the amount of Russian propaganda and extremist content online,” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By David Ingram

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators said on Tuesday they wanted to work with Silicon Valley to find answers to election meddling as they kicked off two days of congressional hearings on how Russia allegedly manipulated social media networks to try to influence the 2016 U.S. campaign.

Lawyers from Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google are testifying before three hearings this week, the first time tech executives have appeared publicly before U.S. lawmakers on the Russia matter.

At stake for the tech firms are their public images and the threat of tougher advertising regulations in the United States, where the technology sector has grown accustomed to light treatment from the government.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate’s crime subcommittee, said at the start of the hearing on Tuesday that he was focused on finding solutions to election meddling, not demonizing tech companies.

“The purpose of this hearing is to figure out how we can help you,” Graham told the lawyers.

The subcommittee’s top Democrat, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, said he was also looking for ways to work with the tech companies. He added, however, that online ad platforms such as Facebook should disclose who buys elections ads on them.

As many as 126 million Americans over two years may have seen politically divisive posts that originated in Russia under fake names, Facebook, the world’s largest social network, told Congress in written testimony on Monday.

Google and Twitter have also said that people in Russia used their services to spread messages in the run-up to last year’s U.S. presidential election.

The Russian government has denied it intended to influence the election, in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The three tech companies told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that they agreed with the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that concluded Russians used social media as part of a disinformation campaign targeting American voters.

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said in testimony that the election meddling on Facebook was “reprehensible” and contrary to what the network stands for.

Graham asked Stretch whether Iran and North Korea could replicate what Russia did in the United States.

“Certainly potentially. The internet is borderless,” Stretch said.

After threats of U.S. regulation, Facebook, Google and Twitter have all recently taken steps toward self-regulation of political advertising, saying they would create their own public archives of election-related ads.

(Reporting by David Ingram in Washington; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

Paul Feig to Produce, Direct Female Tech Entrepreneur Comedy Series in Development at Freeform

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-TV/NEWS:Paul Feig

By Joe Otterson

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Freeform is developing a comedy series about female tech entrepreneurs with “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig attached to direct and executive produce.

“Girls Code” is described as a half-hour women-in-the workplace comedy about an antisocial tech CEO and an outspoken feminist non-profit warrior who must put aside their issues with each other in order to mastermind a groundbreaking, all-women tech incubator.

The series was created by Kim Rosenstock, with Joy Gorman Wettels of Anonymous Content bringing the original idea to Feig and Rosenstock. It is inspired by female coders, robotic scientists, and social entrepreneurs. Along with Feig, Rosenstock and Gorman Wettels will also executive produce along with Jessie Henderson of Feigco Entertainment. Paramount Television will produce in association with Anonymous Content.

Rosenstock got her start on the Fox comedy series “New Girl,” working her way up to writer and supervising producer. She is also the writer and executive producer on an untitled comedy project at NBC. Amy Poehler will also executive produce that project, which tells the story of a newly single mother who is forced to rely on the last people she wants help from—her family. NBC gave the project a put pilot commitment.

In addition to directing “Bridesmaids,” Feig is known for writing and directing comedy films like “Spy” and the female reboot of “Ghostbusters.” He also created the cult classic TV series “Freaks and Geeks” and has previously directed episodes of series like “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “Weeds,” and “Arrested Development.”

Rosenstock is repped by WME. Feig is repped by CAA.

Netflix suspends ‘House of Cards’ production after Spacey allegation

FILE PHOTO: Cast member Kevin Spacey poses at the premiere for the second season of the television series “House of Cards” at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, California February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Netflix Inc <NFLX.O> indefinitely halted production of political drama “House of Cards” on Tuesday following an allegation of sexual misconduct against series star Kevin Spacey.

Producer Media Rights Capital and Netflix “have decided to suspend production on House of Cards season six, until further notice, to give us time to review the current situation and to address any concerns of our cast and crew,” a statement said.

A day earlier, Netflix had said the groundbreaking show about a ruthless political power couple would conclude with season six. Representatives for Spacey did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

On Sunday, “Star Trek: Discovery” actor Anthony Rapp told Buzzfeed that Spacey made an unwanted sexual advance toward him in 1986 when he was just 14 and Spacey was 26. Spacey, a two-time Oscar winner who is now 58, said he did not recall the incident. But in a tweet he said that if he did behave as Rapp described then he apologized and it would have been due to “inappropriate drunken behavior.”

Rapp told BuzzFeed he felt compelled to come forward after dozens of women recently accused movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and several other Hollywood figures of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

Spacey’s apology sparked a backlash because he also used the statement to come out as a gay man. Many social media users saw it as a damaging conflation of sexual misconduct and being gay.

On Monday, Netflix and MRC called the allegation against Spacey “deeply troubling.”

“House of Cards” became Netflix’s defining show when it launched in 2013, upending traditional television viewership by making all episodes of each season available online at the same time.

Earlier on Tuesday, the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences said it was revoking a planned award for Spacey that he had been due to receive in New York on Nov. 20.

Spacey was to have received the 2017 International Emmy Founders Award, but the Academy said in a statement that “in light of recent events it will not honor Kevin Spacey” as planned.

In a separate statement, London’s Old Vic theater, where Spacey was artistic director from 2004 to 2015, said on Tuesday it was “deeply dismayed by the allegations of sexual misconduct” against Spacey.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Kellogg’s surprise sales increase cheers investors

FILE PHOTO: Kellogg’s products of U.S. Kellogg Company are offered at a supermarket of Swiss retail group Coop in Zumikon, Switzerland December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

(Reuters) – Kellogg Co <K.N> surprised investors on Tuesday with its first quarterly sales increase in more than two years, showing it was turning a corner after massive cost cuts and a shift to healthier products, sending its shares up 7 percent.

The stock, which has declined 16 percent in the past year, was set for its best day since the 2009 financial crisis.

Kellogg’s legacy cereals business has suffered for several years as people reach for healthier breakfasts items, prompting the company to reduce sugar and artificial ingredients and come out with newer products.

Revenue from Kellogg’s U.S. morning foods unit, which includes cereals, fell 3 percent. Sales at Kellogg’s snack business, which encompasses Cheez-It crackers and Pringles chips, were down 4.5 percent in the latest quarter, partly due a change in its distribution model.

The company has stopped distributing products directly to stores and switched to its more widely used warehouse model to lower expenses.

Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Lavery said the drop in the snack business was not as drastic as he had expected.

“US snacks weathered price cuts and disruptions from its (direct-store delivery) transition better than we had expected,” wrote Lavery, who had estimated a 14 percent drop in snack sales.

The quarter benefited from a 4.5 percent increase in sales in the unit that includes its Kashi whole grain cereals and snack bars as well as frozen foods such as Eggo waffles and Morningstar Farms burger patties.

Kellogg’s net sales rose 0.6 percent to $3.27 billion, while analysts on average had expected it to drop 1.4 percent to $3.21 billion.

Kellogg has also kept a tight lid on costs, through jobcuts and production optimization. Selling and general costs dropped 10 percent in the third quarter.

Net income rose to $297 million, or 85 cents per share, in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, from $292 million, or 82 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, earning were $1.05 per share, beating the average analyst estimate of 94 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Kellogg also raised its full-year adjusted profit forecast to $4.00-4.06 per share, up from its previous forecast of $3.97-4.03, citing a smaller impact from currency translation than previously anticipated.

(Reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

Suspect arrested in University of Utah killing

Austin Boutain, 24, wanted in connection with a shooting death on the University of Utah campus October 30, 2017, is shown in this undated photo in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., provided October 31, 2017. Salt Lake City Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A 24-year-old man accused of killing a student from China at the University of Utah and suspected in a second homicide in Colorado was arrested in Salt Lake City on Tuesday after a massive police search.

Austin Boutain was taken into custody without incident at a public library in the city’s downtown, said Detective Keith Horrocks of the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Police said Boutain and his wife, Kathleen Boutain, 23, were also wanted for a homicide committed last week in Golden, Colorado.

The victim of Monday night’s shooting was identified as ChenWei Guo, who was parked near Red Butte Canyon when he was shot dead during what investigators believe was a failed carjacking attempt.

Kathleen Boutain was being treated for minor injuries and held in jail on unrelated charges, following her arrest on Monday night, University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy said.

Police in Golden say they found the body of a 63-year-old man last week after being asked by their Utah counterparts to conduct a welfare check at a trailer park.

That death is being investigated as a homicide and the Boutains are persons of interest in the case, the Golden Police Department said in a statement. A news conference was scheduled for later on Tuesday.

Classes were canceled on Tuesday at the university, where officials remembered Guo as “extraordinarily outgoing, creative, smart and extremely engaged.”

A pre-computer science student and peer adviser in the school’s International Student and Scholar Services Office, Guo also was an interpreter and technology supporter at the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to a social media profile.

A campus gathering in his honor was being organized for Tuesday night, university officials said.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Angela Moon in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Dan Grebler)

U.S. Army deserter Bergdahl was efficient, conflicted: witness

U.S. Army Sergeant Beaudry Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl (C) enters the courthouse for the fifth day of sentencing proceedings in his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

By Greg Lacour

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Reuters) – U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was an efficient soldier who at times seemed conflicted about his unit’s mission in Afghanistan before walking off his post in June 2009 in an act of desertion, his former squad leader testified on Tuesday.

Bergdahl, 31, could be sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty on Oct. 16 to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. His defense lawyers are trying to avoid a prison sentence for the Idaho native, who spent years as a prisoner of Taliban insurgents.

“He executed quickly, efficiently – no back talk, no questions,” said former Sergeant Greg Leatherman, who was Bergdahl’s squad leader the year he deserted. “He wanted to go out and get bad guys.”

Under cross-examination, Leatherman added that Bergdahl complained a lot about the military hierarchy and that the unit was not aggressive enough against the Taliban.

“He wasn’t sold on the mission we were fighting,” Leatherman testified at the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina.

Bergdahl was released in a 2014 Taliban prisoner swap brokered by Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration. He has no plea agreement with prosecutors, leaving his sentence up to Army Colonel Jeffery Nance.

Bergdahl gave nearly two hours of unsworn statements on Monday, discussing his mental health and the torture and neglect he endured after being captured by the Taliban, factors the defense hopes will earn him leniency.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Republican candidate Donald Trump called Bergdahl “a no-good traitor who should have been executed.” Nance has ruled that the comments by Trump, now president and commander in chief, had not affected the fairness of the court proceeding, but said he will consider them a mitigating factor.

Another witness, who supervised Bergdahl’s current work as a clerk at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, said he has been reliable.

“There was less drama with Sergeant Bergdahl on a daily basis than most of the (non-commissioned officers) in our office,” Audry Ellingson, Bergdahl’s former supervisor, testified. Ellingson is a retired Army major who was serving in a civilian capacity at the time.

Multiple service members called as witnesses by prosecutors spoke of the hazardous conditions they faced in the futile search for Bergdahl, who says he deserted to report “critical problems” in his chain of command.

Several soldiers fell ill or were badly injured during hastily organized missions to find him. Master Sergeant Mark Allen, the most critically hurt, was shot in the head, leaving him unable to speak or walk.

(Reporting by Greg Lacour; Writing by Colleen Jenkins and Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

New Jersey sues OxyContin maker, links marketing to opioid crisis

FILE PHOTO: A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin, 40mg pills, made by Purdue Pharma L.D. at a local pharmacy, in Provo, Utah, U.S. on April 25, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – New Jersey on Tuesday sued Purdue Pharma LP, accusing the OxyContin maker of contributing to the state’s opioid crisis through deceptive marketing to doctors and patients, including the elderly and the “opioid-naive.”

Christopher Porrino, the New Jersey attorney general, faulted what he called a decade-long marketing campaign of “almost inconceivable callousness and irresponsibility, and said Purdue downplayed the risks of opioids and exaggerated their benefits in the pursuit of profit.

The 103-page lawsuit filed in Essex County Superior Court accused the privately held company of engaging in unconscionable practices, making false claims and creating a public nuisance, while costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars in prescription costs.

“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense,” Purdue said in a statement. “We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution.”

Many state and local governments have filed lawsuits to hold drugmakers accountable for a nationwide opioid epidemic, which President Donald Trump last Thursday called a national public health emergency.

Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, played a role in 33,091 U.S. deaths in 2015, an increase of 16 percent from 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New Jersey said Purdue deceived doctors and patients into believing OxyContin, which is used to relieve pain, and other opioids could treat chronic pain over the long term, as an alternative to over-the-counter pills such as Advil and Tylenol, even though there were no studies showing their safety and effectiveness beyond 12 weeks.

Purdue pushed sales representatives to visit as many as 40 doctors a week in person to promote opioids, and set annual prescription quotas as high as 8,400 for OxyContin alone, according to the lawsuit.

A former sales rep was quoted as saying she knew OxyContin dosages would rise as patients’ tolerances increased, and struggled to meet her quotas because she thought patients should not “go down that road” if they had safer alternatives.

OxyContin was launched in 1996.

Purdue has faced similar lawsuits by at least nine other U.S. states, several cities and counties.

Last Wednesday, Purdue said it was cooperating with a U.S. Department of Justice probe related to OxyContin.

In 2007, the company and three executives pleaded guilty to misbranding OxyContin and agreed to pay $634.5 million to resolve a separate Justice Department investigation.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Exclusive: U.S. states to expand generic drug price-fixing suit – sources

A person holds pharmaceutical tablets and capsules in this picture illustration. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

By Karen Freifeld

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Forty-six U.S. state attorneys general will seek to expand a lawsuit alleging price fixing of generic drugs to 18 companies and 15 medicines on Tuesday, including Novartis AG’s <NOVN.S> generic unit Sandoz and India-based Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd <SUN.NS>, people familiar with the matter said.

The original complaint, being litigated in federal court in Pennsylvania, describes an industry-wide conspiracy in which companies divide up the market as a way to push up prices.

In the amended complaint, the number of generic drug manufacturers named goes from six to 18, including Endo International PLC’s <ENDP.O> unit Par Pharmaceutical, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Apotex, Glenmark Generics Ltd <GGLN.NS> and Lannett Company Inc <LCI.N>, the sources said.

Big players in the multi-billion dollar generic drug industry stand accused of conspiring to boost prices in a marketplace in which consumers assume they are buying lower-priced versions of widely used drugs.

Two senior executives from drug companies alleged to have engaged in the illegal conduct are also being sued, the sources said.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen is leading the coalition of states. A news conference announcing the expanded lawsuit has been scheduled for 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) in Connecticut.

The new complaint will address the relationships between such parties as wholesalers, distributors, large pharmacies and supermarkets, the sources said, adding that it will also cover the agreements with manufacturers to keep prices high.

The previous lawsuit, filed in December, had focused on Mylan NV <MYL.O>, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd <TEVA.TA> and four other companies. It had centered on just two medicines: a delayed-release version of a common antibiotic, doxycycline hyclate; and glyburide, an older drug used to treat diabetes.

The amended complaint expands the number of drugs to include glipizide-metformin and glyburide-metformin, which are among the most commonly used diabetes treatments, the sources said.

Others include: acetazolamide, which is used to treat glaucoma and epilepsy; the antibiotic doxycycline monohydrate; and the blood pressure medicine fosinopril. Others are the anxiety medicine meprobamate and the calcium channel blocking agent nimodipine, the sources said.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in Washington; Writing by Diane Bartz; Editing by Chris Sanders and Will Dunham)

Exclusive: U.S. needs to improve oversight of labs handling dangerous pathogens – report

FILE PHOTO: Spores from the Sterne strain of anthrax bacteria (Bacillus anthracis) are pictured in this handout scanning electron micrograph (SEM) obtained by Reuters May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Center for Disease Control/Handout via Reuters

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A year-long audit of the program overseeing U.S. labs that handle lethal pathogens such as Ebola and anthrax found overworked safety inspectors, an absence of independent review and weak biosafety protections that could expose lab workers and the public to harm, a government report will say on Tuesday.

The report by the Government Accountability Office to Congress followed a series of mishaps in which dangerous pathogens were inadvertently released. The report, seen by Reuters, concluded that the Federal Select Agent Program needs an overhaul.

The GAO audited laboratory safety oversight following errors that could have exposed dozens of people to live anthrax bacteria and the deadly toxin ricin. Its report will guide questioning of officials before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight subcommittee on Thursday.

The Federal Select Agent Program is jointly run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the report, a chief concern is that the program is too focused on physical security measures, such as preventing theft from labs, and needs to focus more on biosafety issues that could protect researchers and the wider public from errors.

The GAO report also noted that many of the labs using high-risk pathogens for research belong to either CDC or the USDA, and recommended that Congress consider setting up a fully independent oversight body to remove potential conflicts of interest.

“The Select Agent Program does not fully meet our key elements of effective oversight,” the report stated.

Safety lapses in CDC labs captured headlines in 2014 when scientists at a high-level biosecurity lab did not properly inactivate anthrax bacteria before sending the material to labs with fewer safeguards. More than 80 scientists were exposed to potentially live anthrax, though no one fell ill.

In the months that followed, the Food and Drug Administration disclosed the discovery of decades-old vials of smallpox in a storage closet, while a U.S. Army lab erroneously shipped live anthrax to nearly 200 labs worldwide.

To address concerns of conflict of interest, CDC and APHIS have made structural changes to increase the program’s independence, but according to the GAO report, the program has not undergone a comprehensive risk management review, even as problems with lab safety continue to come to light.

As recently as last November, the Department of Homeland Security found a private lab inadvertently shipped ricin – a lethal poison – to one of its training centers on multiple occasions in 2011.

“Considering the type of research we’re talking about, we should have a much more robust, systematic oversight approach. That seems to be lacking,” said an aide to the House committee who declined to be identified.

To avoid conflicts of interest, inspections of APHIS laboratories are supposed to be carried out by the CDC, and inspections of CDC labs are to be carried out by APHIS. But the report revealed that at least three times in 2015, APHIS inspected its own laboratories, partly because there is no process in place to ensure compliance.

The report also cited excessive workloads for inspectors, which delay inspection reports and make it harder to retain personnel. In some cases, inspectors have been assigned to tasks outside of their expertise. For example, the GAO found that an APHIS physical security expert was asked to inspect ventilation systems – a critical protection against the accidental release of dangerous pathogens.

Short of a move by Congress to create an independent oversight agency, GAO recommended that CDC and APHIS officials conduct a risk assessment of the Select Agent Program and how it handles conflicts of interest. It also recommended that program officials shift inspection priorities to focus on high-risk activities in labs and develop a joint plan to train and hire inspectors.

The Health and Human Services Department, which oversees CDC, and the USDA, which runs APHIS, agreed with many of these recommendations, according to the report. Officials from the CDC and APHIS will testify at the Thursday hearing.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Michele Gershberg)

Google ditched autopilot driving feature after test user napped behind wheel

FILE PHOTO: A visitor looks at a self-driving car by Google at the Viva Technology event in Paris, France, June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

By Paresh Dave

ATWATER, Calif. (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s <GOOGL.O> self-driving car unit stopped developing features that required drivers to take control in dangerous situations, its chief executive said Monday, as autopilot reliance left users prone to distractions and ill-prepared to maneuver.

The decision followed experiments of the technology in Silicon Valley that showed test users napping, putting on makeup and fiddling with their phones as the vehicles traveled up to 56 mph.

John Krafcik, the head of Waymo, which was formed in 2009 as a project within Alphabet’s Google unit, told reporters that about five years ago the company envisioned technology that could autonomously drive cars on highways as a quick way to get on the market.

Other self-driving automakers include similar autopilot features for highway-driving in vehicles, but they require drivers to take over the steering wheel in tricky situations. Waymo planned to do the same.

“What we found was pretty scary,” Krafcik said on Monday during a media tour of a Waymo testing facility. “It’s hard to take over because they have lost contextual awareness.”

Krafcik said the company determined a system that asked drivers to jump in at the sound of an alert was unsafe after seeing videos from inside self-driving cars during tests.

The filmed tests were conducted in 2013, with Google employees behind the wheel. The videos had not been publicly shown until Monday’s event, Waymo spokeswoman Lauren Barriere said.

The company decided to focus solely on technology that didn’t require human intervention a couple of days after the napping incident, said Krafcik, who joined as CEO in 2015. It has also since argued against allowing “handoffs” between automated driving systems and people.

“Our technology takes care of all of the driving, allowing passengers to stay passengers,” the company said in report this month.

The two drive controls provided to passengers in Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans are buttons for starting a ride and asking the vehicles to pull over at their next chance.

Waymo is running a ride-hailing pilot program around Phoenix, Arizona that chauffeurs an undisclosed, but growing number of users in self-driving cars. The service area is limited to well-mapped roads on which Waymo has extensively tested.

Krafcik declined to specify when the company would expand beyond the small experiment, saying only that such a moment is getting “close.”

He reiterated that the company is simultaneously also identifying ways to launch self-driving trucks, municipal transit services and partnerships with carmakers.

“We see four potential applications, whether it’s Waymo branded or not,” he said.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Sam Holmes)

U.S. business group worries Trump unprepared for commercial talks with China

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a briefing on hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in Dallas, Texas, U.S, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) – A top U.S. business lobby in China said on Tuesday it was concerned U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration was not making sufficient preparation for talks on imbalances in the bilateral economic relationship ahead of his November visit.

Little advance work has been done for the visit, said William Zarit, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He was referring to meetings by working level officials to negotiate outcomes on commercial issues for Trump’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

“From what I understand, there really hasn’t been much of that for this visit, which makes us a bit concerned that there may not be much discussion on the structural issues,” Zarit told reporters in Beijing.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will bring a business delegation to Beijing during Trump’s visit. Some in the U.S. business community are worried that deals announced on the trip could distract from solutions to long-standing complaints over discriminatory Chinese policies and market access restrictions.

Zarit said he hoped proposed deals from the business delegation “do not overshadow the real need for structural changes in the economic relationship”.

Trump, who will stop in five Asian countries on his first visit to the region as president, will arrive in Beijing on Nov. 8.

‘MASTER NEGOTIATORS’

U.S. officials were “still waiting” for a Chinese response to issues raised during the U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue in July, Zarit said, though he did not give specifics.

He called Chinese officials “master negotiators” and said the U.S. government and business community had long suffered from a less strategic view of the economic relationship.

“And I think there is no exception with this administration,” Zarit said.

He added that it was “not unreasonable” to expect more progress 10 months into Trump’s presidency.

Ross, has said the United States will be looking for “immediate results” and “tangible agreements” during Trump’s visit, but has acknowledged that market access, intellectual property rights, and tariffs are more complex and will take a longer time to negotiate.

Washington and Beijing launched a 100-day economic plan during Trump’s first meeting with Xi in April, including some industry-specific announcements, such as the resumption of American beef sales in China. But U.S. business groups have expressed disappointment over the extent of the outcomes.

XI VOWS REFORMS

Xi vowed on Monday that China would take more measures to open up the economy. He made the remarks at a meeting with members of an advisory board to Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management, including Apple Inc <AAPL.O> chief executive Tim Cook and Facebook Inc’s <FB.O> Mark Zuckerberg.

China will make joint efforts with the United States to “take each other’s interests and concerns into consideration, resolve disputes and contradictions, and engage in win-win cooperation”, Xi said according to the official China Daily newspaper.

But such frequently made pledges have done little to assuage foreign companies’ concerns over ownership caps in key sectors, such as autos, securities, insurance, and information technology.

U.S. business lobbies argue that their members are restricted in those industries while Chinese companies operate freely in the U.S. market. They have also criticized Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan, which offers government backing for sectors the Chinese government deems strategic.

Particularly galling to foreign tech firms are a slate of new national security and cyber security regulations that mandate companies store crucial data within China and pass security reviews they argue could put business secrets at risk.

“Basically, when we look at that, what it boils down to for us is it’s a company competing against a country,” Zarit said.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Mastercard’s profit rises on higher consumer spending

A Mastercard logo is seen on a credit card in this picture illustration August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

By Aparajita Saxena

(Reuters) – Mastercard Inc <MA.N> on Tuesday posted a record profit and trounced Wall Street expectations as it battled for consumers and global market share over other payment channels, including its bigger rival Visa Inc <V.N>.

More people used credit, debit and commercial prepaid cards across Mastercard’s global network – pushing the value of transactions processed – known as ‘gross dollar volume’, up 11 percent to $1.35 trillion.

“In the U.S., we continue to see steady economic growth, low unemployment and inflation,” said Ajay Banga, chief executive officer of Mastercard, on a post-earnings call.

“Consumer sentiment is favorable.”

Last month, consumer spending in the United States had its largest increase in eight years, aiding payment processors such as Mastercard and Visa, which generate revenue by facilitating credit- and debit-card transactions.

Visa also beat market expectations last week, posting an 11 percent rise in quarterly profit on healthy consumer spending.

Mastercard shares hit a record earlier but lost ground and were down 1.5 percent at $146.66 mid-day. The drop was attributed to profit taking after a 20 percent rise from the previous quarter, according to Thomas McCrohan, managing director of Americas Research at Mizuho.

Mastercard has risen nearly 44 percent this year, as of Monday’s close, outpacing Visa, which was up 41 percent over the same period.

Mastercard’s net income rose 21 percent to $1.43 billion or $1.34 per share in the third quarter ended Sept 30. Analysts on average were looking for $1.23, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. http://mstr.cd/2gYxlhy

Cowen analyst George Mihalos called the results “very strong” and said the company has “exceeded our expectations every quarter this year.”

Mastercard is taking measures to bolster security on its network and said safety remains a key priority. Many American companies are investing heavily in securing their systems against hackers.

“Our investments in technologies like biometrics, tokens, encryption and artificial intelligence are redefining the way both consumers and transactions are protected,” Banga said.

Mastercard has already started the process when it announced this month it would forgo signatures after purchases.

Total operating expenses rose 20.4 percent to $1.46 billion in the quarter, partly from costs related to buying digital payments company Vocalink.

Net revenue rose 18 percent to $3.40 billion and topped estimates of $3.28 billion.

(Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Kevin Spacey embroiled in Hollywood’s latest sexual misconduct scandal

FILE PHOTO – Cast member Kevin Spacey poses at the premiere for the second season of the television series “House of Cards” at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, California February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

By Piya Sinha-Roy and Chris Michaud

(Reuters) – Actor Kevin Spacey has apologized for an alleged attempt to seduce a 14-year-old boy more than 30 years ago, an encounter the two-time Oscar winner denied recalling but attributed to drunkenness as he also came out as a gay man on Twitter.

But rather than tempering an uproar over the allegation, Spacey’s combination of an apology with a statement going public about his sexual orientation stirred a backlash against the actor as Hollywood found itself embroiled in yet another sex scandal.

Adding fuel to the latest controversy was news on Monday that Netflix will soon end the landmark political drama “House of Cards,” which stars Spacey as a corrupt and closeted bisexual U.S. president.

Netflix Inc did not give an explicit reason for deciding to air just one more season of “House of Cards” before pulling the plug on the Emmy-winning, critically acclaimed show, its first original hit series.

Netflix spokeswoman Karen Barragan said the determination was made months ago, long before the allegation surfaced against Spacey, 58, who is also a Tony-winning actor and former creative director of London’s famed Old Vic theater.

But the internet streaming service and the show’s producers issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply troubled” by the accusation leveled against Spacey by actor Anthony Rapp, 46, a member of CBS’s new “Star Trek: Discovery” series.

According to Rapp, in an interview published late on Sunday by BuzzFeed, Spacey in 1986 made an unwanted sexual advance toward him when he was just 14 at the time.

Rapp said the encounter occurred after a party Spacey hosted at his New York apartment, where he said Spacey, then 26, found him watching TV alone at the end of the night when other guests had left, then carried him to a bed and lay down on top of him.

Rapp said he had the impression that Spacey was drunk, pushed him away and left.

“He was trying to seduce me,” Rapp told BuzzFeed. “I don’t know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.”

Rapp was just starting his career on Broadway in a production of “Precious Sons” at the time and went on to star in the hit musical “Rent.” Spacey was then appearing in a Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

LATEST HOLLYWOOD SEX SCANDAL

Rapp told BuzzFeed he remained unnerved by the experience decades later and felt compelled to come forward after dozens of women recently accused movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and several other Hollywood figures of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Weinstein, who has since been expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Producers Guild of America, has denied engaging in non-consensual sex with anyone.

Spacey said in a Twitter post on Sunday that he was “beyond horrified” by Rapp’s account, which he said he did not recall.

“But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years,” Spacey tweeted.

Spacey went on to say that Rapp’s story “had encouraged me to address other things in my life.”

“As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, I now choose to live life as a gay man,” wrote Spacey, who had not previously addressed his sexuality publicly.

Spacey immediately came under fire on social media for what many saw as a disingenuous conflation of an apology for sexual misconduct with a public acknowledgement of being gay.

“Coming-out stories should not be used to deflect from allegations of sexual assault,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). “This is not a coming-out story about Kevin Spacey, but a story of survivorship by Anthony Rapp and all those who bravely speak out against unwanted sexual advances.”

A representative for Spacey did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

An Oscar winner for “The Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty,” Spacey is best known lately for his role as the ruthless fictional president Frank Underwood in “House of Cards.”

The series became Netflix’s defining show when it launched in 2013, upending traditional television viewership by making all episodes of each season available for internet streaming at once.

Spacey will next be seen on the big screen playing Jean Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s drama “All The Money in the World,” scheduled for release by Sony Pictures in December for possible awards consideration.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles and Chris Michaud in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler)

Halloween Costumes 2017: What Kristen Bell, Gwyneth Paltrow and Other Celebrities Wore

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-BIZ/NEWS:Amal Clooney Cindy Crawford

By Matt Fernandez

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – It’s only fitting that Hollywood celebrated Halloween early with costumes from their favorite films and TV shows.

To help keep track of some of the best costumes (and possibly serve as a last-minute inspiration), here are some of 2017’s celebrity get-ups:

Kristen Bell just can’t seem to “let it go” as she dons the royal Arendelle garb of ice queen Elsa.

True to her dark onscreen persona, Aubrey Plaza dressed up as Wednesday Addams on a Sunday.

It’s hard to wish for a better costume than Laverne Cox’s Major Tony Nelson from “I Dream of Jeannie.”

It looks like Jessica Alba and Kelly Sawyer got into some shenanigans as Juno and Paulie.

Stranger things have happened at time than Sarah Hyland and her band of demogorgons, but not many.

Gwyneth Paltrow finally let us know what was in the box.

Even though he never wore the classic blue and yellow suit on screen, Hugh Jackman teased that he might finally don the comic book Wolverine costume.

There is a lot that could be said about Zoe Kravitz’s costume, but rules are rules.

No need to tell Ryan Seacrest and Kelly Ripa what season it is. They know that winter is coming.

Speaking of seasons, Poison Ivy seems like more of a summer look, but Rita Ora pulls it off just fine.

Meanwhile, Amal Clooney and Cindy Crawford (pictured above) — whose husbands George Clooney and Rande Gerber co-founded Casamigos — dressed up as disco queens at the tequila company’s party on Friday.

How ‘Stranger Things’ Star Millie Bobby Brown Made Eleven ‘Iconic’ and Catapulted Into Pop Culture

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-TV/FEATURES:Millie Bobby Brown Variety Cover

By Debra Birnbaum

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – “I’ve never seen that in a child actor.”

It’s almost a mantra for anyone who’s worked with Millie Bobby Brown.

Whether it’s “Stranger Things” executive producer Matt Duffer praising her on-set technical knowledge, co-star David Harbour extolling her emotional intelligence or casting director Sarah Finn explaining why she selected her for the next installment in the “Godzilla” film franchise — even the most seasoned industry pro marvels at the young actor’s preternatural ability.

Brown, now just 13, has never trained professionally as an actor. Never gone to acting school. Never taken a class. She simply decided at age 8 she wanted to be on-screen, and her parents obliged, moving her and her siblings from Bournemouth in England to Orlando, Fla., to allow her to pursue her dream.

“It was like a bug,” she says. “I know this sounds crazy, but once I find something I want to do, nobody’s stopping me. If I don’t know how to sew, and I really had that passion to sew, that’s it, I’m going to sew. That’s also with acting. So here I am.”

Her path to stardom wasn’t immediate: She secured a few guest star spots here and there, in shows like “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” “Modern Family” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” She got turned down for “Logan,” which eventually went to Dafne Keen. But it was the role of Eleven in Netflix’s sleeper hit that catapulted her to fame.

“I felt at one point I couldn’t do it [anymore], but then I got this and everything changed,” she says over a mid-afternoon soda break at the London hotel in West Hollywood. Now, “acting is like breathing to me.”

To say the past year of her life has been a roller coaster would imply that there have been dips. In fact, it’s been nothing but a steady climb since the July 2016 bow of “.” Her Instagram followers ballooned from 25 to 4.2 million; the cast won best ensemble at the SAG Awards and best drama at the PGA Awards; and she claimed her own trophy at the MTV Movie & TV Awards for best actor in a TV show, with an emotional acceptance speech that won her even more accolades for its honesty. And with season two of “Stranger Things” now streaming (it debuted Oct. 27), she just wrapped production on the next installment of the “Godzilla” franchise opposite Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Thomas Middleditch. (“You’ll find out in two years,” she jokes about her secret role in the film, which is slated for a 2019 release.)

Then there’s that Emmy nomination for supporting actress in a drama. “It was a true honor and privilege to be representing the young generation,” she says. Although she went home on Emmy night empty-handed, she took things in stride, happy to simply enjoy the evening out with her merry band of co-stars.

“I’m leery of blowing too much smoke up her already well-filled smoke ass,” says Harbour, who plays Chief Hopper on the Netflix hit. “Because I do feel that when I’m in the nursing home, I would like to be able to watch movies with her in her 30s and have her become Meryl Streep. She has the potential for that to happen.”


It was all about the Look.

Fans of “Stranger Things” know it well: when Eleven lowers her chin and glares defiantly at whoever — or whatever — is in her path.

It was in her audition for the role that she came up with that intense laser-beam stare — and nailed the part. She was 11 at the time.

“I’ve never forgotten it, because it was so intuitive,” recalls executive producer Shawn Levy. “That this little person had such fierce power — that’s what took me aback. That same day the Duffers [brothers Matt and Ross, who created the show] and I knew she was the one.”

In the “Stranger Things” universe, Eleven — so-called because of the tattoo she wears — is a product of psychological experiments by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) that infused her with telekinetic abilities, among other supernatural powers. Because of her years of isolation under Brenner’s watch, her vocabulary is rather limited. (One fan counted: Her dialogue amounts to just under 250 words in the whole first season.)

Brown wasn’t intimidated by the role of Eleven being mostly nonverbal. “You can talk with your face,” she says matter-of-factly. “It’s very easy for someone to say, ‘I’m mad. I’m sad. I’m angry.’ I have to just do it with my face.”

Nor did she mind shaving her head. Brown’s parents were more against it than she was, but it helped that “Mad Max: Fury Road” was out at the time. Matt Duffer recalls persuading her with the argument “Doesn’t Charlize look badass? You’re going to look badass too.”

What did cause a bit of on-set drama was The Kiss — the moment when Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven smooch in the season-one finale. For all of her remarkable self-possession, the little girl that’s still in Brown reveals itself when she recounts the moment — her first kiss ever. “It was a strange experience. Having 250 people looking at you kissing someone is like, ‘Whoa!’” she says.

Further complicating matters, it seems there’s some debate over whether it was Wolfhard’s first smooch as well. “He says I wasn’t, but I definitely think I was,” she says. “I think he was just trying to be cool.”

As for how those awkward teenage moments play out in the second season, “No comment,” say the Duffer Brothers.

“My character’s just so, so perfect for me,” says . “I definitely think that we relate to each other a lot.”
COURTESY NETFLIX

The Duffers, who write, direct and executive produce the series, have gotten a front-row seat to Brown’s talents. The role of Eleven was always central to the show’s plot — it’s with her help that the boys rescue their friend who’s vanished into the Upside Down — but with Brown on board, the storytelling options have blossomed.

“We have yet to give her something that she’s unable to do,” says Matt Duffer. “I can throw this girl an incredible fastball, she’s going to hit it. It’s like a singer who can hit any note. Her range is just absolutely incredible. I have yet to see any limits to it.”

He compares her to Tom Cruise in her keen perception of how the camera works — and how to use it to her advantage. “She’s four years away from knowing what millimeter lens she’s on and how she should adjust her performance accordingly,” he says. “She’s not there yet, but it’s right around the corner.”

Ross Duffer recalls the scene in season one where Eleven is being dragged down the corridor shouting “Papa!” at Brenner. Even the crew stopped to marvel. “That was when we realized, as good as she is, she’s even better than we thought,” he says. “We can push her to all these intense and emotional places.” They take her even further in the second season (there’s an epic finale showdown), and report she “knocks it out of the park” every time.

And the critics agree: “Brown’s ability to summon emotion is as impressive as her character’s ability to walk between worlds,” writes Variety’s Maureen Ryan.

As Brown heads into her teenage years, the question is whether she can avoid that curse of child stardom that has plagued so many before her. “Everyone from Tennessee Williams to Sarah Paulson has warned of the perils of early success,” says Harbour. “There’s a piece of me that’s very protective of her and feels that we should all let her be brave and brilliant and turn our eyes away and not give her so much attention.”

Levy says her close family ties give her a “fighting chance.” She’s surrounded by her parents, as well as her 23-year-old sister, who’s usually on set with her and travels with her. And if all else fails, there’s Harbour: “I tell you what, she’s got me. And I’m the biggest curmudgeon around.”

Brown has purposely made her U.S. home in Atlanta, far from the crush of Hollywood, where she jokingly complains every waiter is an actor. “I feel like Hollywood is just a place where everything’s going so fast,” she says. Georgia, she says, is “calm, peaceful, beautiful.” There she can keep herself “grounded for my family and my home and my friends.”

She’s been flooded with advice, but the one thing she’s retained is this: “To live in the moment and to make mistakes is a big part of being a person,” she says. “I’m still just a kid. I’m 13, and making mistakes is OK.” So if a spoiler slips (no such luck!) or she says something wrong on Twitter, so be it.

“We knew Eleven was a cool character on the page — it took the magic of Millie to make it this culturally iconic figure.”
Executive Producer Shawn Levy

She’s trying to hold on to some vestiges of her childhood and not rush headlong into adulthood, despite all the magazine cover offers coming her way. “I don’t like showing off my skin,” she reveals. “If I’m in a photo shoot and they’re like, ‘Can you wear a crop top?’ I’m like, ‘No. No, not yet.’ When that day comes I’m going to be, like, 18.”

She plans to spend her hiatus doing charity work. “I just want to focus on helping other people,” she says. “Working with Unicef is a really big dream of mine.”

And while she’s content to focus on acting, her other passion is singing — just watch her impressive rap to Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Monster” on YouTube. As with acting, she’s never trained. “It came to me naturally,” she says.

Even more remarkable, Brown is deaf in one ear — she was born with partial loss of hearing, and then her hearing faded away after years of tubes. So she can’t fully hear herself perform, but no matter. “I just started to sing, and if I sound bad I don’t care, because I’m just doing what I love,” she says. “You don’t have to be good at singing. You don’t have to be good at dancing or acting. If you like to do it, if you genuinely enjoy doing it, then do it. No one should stop you.”

Season one of “Stranger Things” ended with Eleven sacrificing herself to the Demogorgon who’s been terrorizing the town. But there was never really any question that Brown would return for season two. (And we did see Harbour’s Chief Hopper leaving those Eggos, her favorite snack, in the woods.)

“Once we realized [‘Stranger Things’] was going to be multiple seasons, Eleven was such the heart of the show we had to keep her,” says Ross Duffer.

Brown says she knew she was coming back and is relieved she finally gets to talk about it, since she had to keep it a secret even from her family. But she’s been well-trained in the art of avoiding spoilers (“I’m a pro at this now,” she says when her publicist hands her talking points for an upcoming panel), and ahead of the premiere, she refuses to reveal how or why Eleven returns.

“It’s really twisted and just perfect,” she says cryptically.

“We thought she was special, but once we saw what she was capable of in front of the camera, it just blew us all away,” says Ross Duffer, who created the show with brother Matt.
JACKSON LEE DAVIS/NETFLIX

Season two, which picks up a year later in 1984, probes more deeply into Eleven’s backstory. “We wanted to delve more into her past and how she ended up where she ended up,” says Ross Duffer. “It’s an emotional journey for Millie and her character to see where she came from. The first season was a fish-out-of-water, ‘E.T.’ story for her. This season we wanted to give her more of an arc and a journey.”

Adds Matt Duffer, “I think people are really going to respond to her storyline.”

We find out more about not just her mother but her connection to Brenner, the man she calls her father. “Without Papa, Eleven wouldn’t be Eleven,” says Brown. “Everybody thinks he’s evil, but he was a big part of Eleven’s life. He was her Papa.”

But her true father figure is Harbour’s Chief Hopper. “They’re both such strong, oddball characters,” Harbour says. “We wanted to fit this feral cat of a little girl, wise beyond her years, who also has these supernatural abilities, with this very broken man who’s got issues about his own parenting abilities. There’s some connection that Hopper understands about the reemergence of Eleven that very much comes into play in season two.”

This time out, Eleven has more hair (“We let it grow out, as much hair as was able to grow from season one to season two,” says Ross Duffer) and more dialogue. (Among her new favorite words: “Mouth-breather.”) “She’s not speaking as if she was raised and lived in the regular world her whole life, but it’s a more verbal performance,” says Levy. “But in spite of more written dialogue in season two, Millie’s more powerful moments remain the ones without words.”

And there’s a new girl in town, challenging Eleven’s role as the lone girl in the gang of boys: Sadie Sink plays Max, a skateboarding tomboy with “a complicated history and a suspicious streak.” And though their characters may not exactly bond immediately, off-screen is a different story: Brown’s Instagram is filled with photos of her and Sink, whom she calls a “sister.” “I loved having a new girl on the show, because it’s nice not to be surrounded by boys,” Brown says. “One girl is just perfect.” Echoes Sink, “Me and Millie automatically clicked because we were the only girls in the group.”

Spoiler alert: There’s one moment this season that had Brown in tears. “I cried for hours actually after that, because it was just so sad,” she says.

All involved acknowledge the pressure of living up to the nearly impossible expectations of the sophomore season. “I don’t believe in resting on your laurels,” says Harbour. “I think the purpose of artistry in some degree as opposed to entertainment is to be one step ahead of your audience. Give them what they might not know they need as opposed to just rehashing the hits. So from very early on, the first scripts we were like we’re going to take some chances that hopefully will pay off. It might upset some people. But it was exciting to be a part of it.”

Brown’s ties to the boys — Wolfhard, Noah Schnapp, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin — seems unbreakable. Their palpable on-screen chemistry translates off set, where they spend much of their free time together — at Six Flags, on sleepovers, on giant text chains that the Duffers occasionally get caught on. (“That’s not so fun,” sighs Matt Duffer.) “They’re close and they’re going to be bonded in some way for life, and I think they realize that,” he says.

At the London, Brown can’t resist looking over with a tinge of jealousy as the boys run around nearby, on a break from a tutoring session. “I know the true boys, and they know the true me,” she says. “We like to be as private as we can.”

Wolfhard calls her “one of the best actresses I’ve ever worked with.” “If you put something on her shoulders, something big or a big scene, she’ll figure it out,” he says. “She can handle pressure very well.”

Schnapp says he’s grown closer with Brown in the second season. They’ve become prank buddies — they called the show’s costume designer and told her her wedding had to be canceled — and he’s especially fond of her ATV. “We ride it all the time and watch scary movies together,” he reports.

As luck would have it, the production of “Godzilla” was in Atlanta. She bonded with director Michael Dougherty over a mututal interest. “I have such a passion about animals and he did as well, and I felt like we just immediately connected,” she says. “I was like, I need to work with him. I need to.”

She points out, though, that she’s going to be 15 when the movie finally comes out. “I’m going to see my 13-year-old self and be like, ‘Why did I do that? Why did I blink at that specific time?’” she says with a sigh. “I’m a perfectionist, so I don’t like to watch my work.”

Millions would beg to differ.

Senators to introduce bill to boost cyber defenses of voting systems

Voting booths are seen during the New York primary elections at a polling station in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan pair of U.S. senators plans to introduce legislation on Tuesday seeking to boost the cyber defenses of state election systems, after warnings from senior U.S. officials that future elections may be vulnerable to foreign interference.

The Securing America’s Voting Equipment, or SAVE, Act is the latest attempt by lawmakers to respond to what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a multi-pronged cyber operation, including hacking and online propaganda by Russia during the 2016 presidential election aimed at helping President Donald Trump. Moscow has repeatedly denied the accusations.

The bill will be introduced by Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich and Republican Senator Susan Collins, a Heinrich spokeswoman said. It does not currently have other co-sponsors.

“Until we set up stronger protections of our election systems and take the necessary steps to prevent future foreign influence campaigns, our nation’s democratic institutions will remain vulnerable,” Heinrich said in a statement.

The SAVE Act would authorize the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to grant security clearance to the top election official in each state in addition to one other designee. It would also allow the DNI to share some classified information with the states about threats to their voting systems.

Several state election officials have complained that they were left in the dark about Russia’s attempts to probe their voting systems during the 2016 campaign.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not notify 21 states it said had been targeted by Russian until last month, in part due to confidentiality and classification restrictions.

The DHS in January designated voting systems as a critical part of the nation’s infrastructure, making state elections eligible for more federal protections.

The legislation would write that designation into law, and also create a grant program for states to upgrade their systems to better fend off physical and cyber threats.

It was not clear whether the bill would gain momentum in an otherwise gridlocked Congress.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Kremlin says Russia not accused in U.S. case against ex-Trump aides

Former Trump 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort (L) leaves U.S. Federal Court after being arraigned on twelve federal charges in the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday that U.S. charges against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and another aide showed Moscow had been unfairly maligned for meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election.

Federal investigators probing alleged Russian interference in the election, something Moscow denies, charged Manafort and Gates with money laundering on Monday.

But despite being brought as part of a five-month-old investigation into alleged Russian efforts to tilt the election in Trump’s favor and into potential collusion by Trump aides, the charges, some going back over a decade, centered on Manafort’s work for Ukraine’s former government, not Russia’s.

That was welcomed in Russia, where officials are watching the investigation closely since public evidence of Russian meddling, something that has not so far been presented, would be sure to translate into tougher U.S. sanctions against Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov highlighted the absence of allegations against Russia in the indictment against Manafort and another aide, Rick Gates, saying on Tuesday that Moscow had always said it had never meddled in the U.S. election.

That assertion is challenged by U.S. intelligence agencies who say unequivocally that Moscow interfered in the November 2016 vote.

“…Russia does not feature in the charges that were levelled in any way. Other countries and other people feature (in the charges),” Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

“Moscow never felt itself guilty so as to feel exonerated now,” he said, when asked whether the Kremlin interpreted the indictment as proof that its repeated denials about meddling in the U.S. presidential election were true.

‘LAUGHABLE ALLEGATION’

Russia’s flagship TV news show on Monday evening took a similar line, saying it was “now clear that there was nothing” to allegations about Manafort being in touch with Russian officials to try to sway the election.

The U.S. investigation was an internal matter for the United States, said Peskov, but Moscow was following it with interest.

He also commented on details of a case against a third former Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty in early October to lying to the FBI.

Papadopoulos told investigators he had tried to set up a meeting between the Trump campaign and the Russian leadership during which he said he met a London-based professor boasting of contacts with Russian officials and an unnamed Russian woman.

The court papers against Papadopoulos mentioned contacts with someone with links to the Russian Foreign Ministry too.

Peskov, when asked what the Kremlin made of someone linked to the Russian Foreign Ministry allegedly trying to set up a Putin-Trump meeting, said the accusation was unsubstantiated.

“It’s an absolutely laughable allegation,” he said.

Media reports have suggested the individual linked to the Russian Foreign Ministry is Ivan Timofeev who works for a Moscow-based think-tank called the Russian International Relations Council (RIAC).

Timofeev did not respond to a request for comment, but told the gazeta.ru online news portal in August that Papadopoulos had emailed him in the spring of 2016 and spoken about the possibility of organizing a Trump trip to Russia.

Timofeev said Papadopoulos had never made a formal request to either RIAC or the Russian Foreign Ministry for such a visit, however, and that he had got the impression that he had been “acting on his own initiative”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday that it had not been “illegal” for Papadopoulos to contact someone at RIAC.

(Additonal reporting by Dmitry Solovyov, Katya Golubkova and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Trump chief of staff’s Civil War comment draws fire

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks during a daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s comment that the U.S. Civil War was sparked by a lack of “compromise” drew criticism and reignited a debate over Confederate monuments and the role of slavery.

In an interview on Monday night with Fox News, Kelly was asked whether a Virginia church should have removed plaques honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee and President George Washington, both Virginians. Kelly said figures of the past could not be viewed through the lens of current moral values.

“I think it’s just very, very dangerous and it shows you … how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is,” Kelly said. “I will tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.”

“The lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand,” Kelly added.

The comment sparked an immediate backlash, with critics noting that the United States had made a number of compromises on slavery before tensions eventually erupted into the war between the North and the South in 1861.

“Notion that Civil War resulted from a lack of compromise is belied by all the compromises made on enslavement from America’s founding,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, an African-American writer, wrote on Twitter.

Others accused Kelly of encouraging white supremacists by saying Lee was honorable.

“It’s irresponsible & dangerous, especially when white supremacists feel emboldened, to make fighting to maintain slavery sound courageous,” Bernice King, the daughter of American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., wrote in a Twitter post.

President Donald Trump has said Confederate monuments, many of which have been removed in recent years, should remain in place to preserve the country’s heritage.

He stirred tensions after a deadly rally by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, by insisting that counterprotesters were also to blame, drawing condemnation from some Republican leaders and praise from white supremacists.

Kelly had a distinguished military career and led the Department of Homeland Security before Trump tapped him to be chief of staff.

Kelly is viewed by some as a moderating influence in the turbulent White House, but has also stepped into controversy. Earlier this month, he attacked a Florida congresswoman who had characterized a call between Trump and a military widow who lost her husband in Niger as disrespectful.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Oatis)

Girardi surprised, disappointed with exit from Yankees

Oct 21, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Joe Girardi (28) speaks to media before game seven of the 2017 ALCS playoff baseball series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Joe Girardi said he is “surprised” and “disappointed” with the New York Yankees’ decision to opt against his return as the team’s manager next season.

Girardi expressed his feelings to The Athletic in his first interview since being dismissed as the Yankees’ manager on Thursday.

The 53-year-old Girardi said his conversation with Brian Cashman was “fairly quick” when the general manager told him that he would not be returning to the club.

“Brian told me as an organization they had decided to go in a different direction,” Girardi said. “We talked for a few minutes and we talked later on for a little bit longer. For me, there was disappointment because I kind of wanted to finish what we had started this year. And I was looking forward to the growth of the organization, the young players, the more young players with the veterans we had.

“I was very excited about 2018. But in a lot of respects, I’m really thankful. I was there for 10 years. How many managers, head coaches in the NFL, NBA, NHL, college football coaches, college basketball coaches, get to spend 10 years in one place?”

Girardi concluded a four-year, $16 million contract with the Yankees, who fell one win shy of advancing to the World Series this year — losing Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to the Houston Astros.

After the Yankees lost in the ALCS, Girardi said he would once again discuss his situation with his wife and three children.

ESPN’s Buster Olney, citing sources, said that Cashman recommended to owner Hal Steinbrenner that the team change managers.

Girardi took significant criticism for his team’s loss in Game 2 of the ALDS versus the Cleveland Indians after failing to ask for a replay review on a strikeout that was incorrectly called a hit batsman.

Girardi managed the then-Florida Marlins for one year before taking over with the Yankees in 2008. He guided the club to the World Series title in 2009 and six playoff appearances.

Girardi owns a record of 910-710 with the Yankees. His win total ranks sixth in franchise history, trailing only Joe McCarthy (1,460), Joe Torre (1,173), Casey Stengel (1,149), Miller Huggins (1,067) and Ralph Houk (944).

As a catcher, Girardi played for 15 seasons with three World Series titles in four years as a member of the Yankees.

(Editing by Steve Keating.)

Chiefs end skid with ugly win over Broncos

Oct 30, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris (84) can’t make the catch in the end zone as Denver Broncos free safety Darian Stewart (26) and inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (54) defend during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – The Kansas City Chiefs needed a win in the worst way following back-to-back close losses, and that was exactly what they got Monday: an ugly 29-19 victory over the Denver Broncos fueled by turnovers and field goals.

The Chiefs (6-2) forced five Denver turnovers, including three interceptions of Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, and rookie Harrison Butker hit five field goals to help the Chiefs pull away in the second half.

Both offenses struggled much of the game. The Broncos did establish the run game, rushing for 177 yards. C.J. Anderson picked up 78 yards on 15 carries for Kansas City, while former Chiefs running Jamaal Charles had 39 yards on eight carries in his return to Arrowhead Stadium.

While the Chiefs’ defense was opportunistic, the Kansas City offense rarely found a rhythm, scoring just 12 second-half points, all on field goals from Butker, who has connected on 18 consecutive field-goal attempts.

Tight end Travis Kelce paced the Chiefs offense, tallying 133 yards and a touchdown on seven catches. Quarterback Alex Smith delivered his most pedestrian performance of the season, finishing 14 of 31 for 202 yards a touchdown.

The Broncos’ attempt at second-half rally fell short. Running back Devontae Booker pulled Denver (3-4) within a touchdown at 20-13 with a 6-yard touchdown run with 1:14 remaining in the third quarter.

After three Butker field goals extended the lead to 29-13, Simian connected with tight end A.J. Derby for an 11-yard score, cutting the margin to 29-19 with 1:55 remaining in the game.

Siemian completed 19 of 36 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown.

Marcus Peters forced two first-quarter turnovers in helping the Chiefs build a 17-3 halftime lead.

Early in the first quarter, Peters pried the ball loose from Charles, scooping up the fumble and running 45 yards for a touchdown.

After Smith hooked up with Kelce for a 29-yard score to put Kansas City up 14-0, Peters struck again. The defensive back intercepted a pass from Siemian.

The Chiefs appeared on their way to making it a three-score game with just more than four minutes remaining in the first quarter. With Kansas City facing a second-and-goal from the Broncos 9-yard line, wide receiver Tyreek Hill took a lateral from Smith and tossed a pass in the end zone toward tight end Ross Travis. The throw instead landed in the hands of Denver safety Darian Stewart.

Kansas City threatened again late in the first half. Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett stripped the ball from Smith, however, recovering the fumble and thwarting the drive.

Apple touches record as brokerages bullish on iPhone X demand

FILE PHOTO: An attendee checks out a new iPhone X during an Apple launch event in Cupertino, California, U.S. September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

(Reuters) – Several analysts downplayed concerns about Apple Inc’s iPhone X production issues and were bullish on demand and sales, pushing the company’s shares to a record on Monday.

The Cupertino-based company does not provide pre-order figures on iPhones, leaving investors and analysts in the dark in trying to track output through research with its suppliers, consumer surveys and other industry indicators.

But positive commentary from analysts on Monday signaled strong demand for the pricey device with pre-orders starting this past Friday.

Apple is scheduled to report quarterly results this Thursday. The company provides sales figures in its results.

Since the launch of new iPhones on Sept.12, the stock had fallen 2.5 percent until last Thursday’s close. They rebounded on Friday after Apple said pre-orders for the 10th anniversary phone were “off the charts”.

The stock climbed to $168.07 earlier in the session, adding nearly $26 billion to its market cap and inching it closer to becoming the first company with a trillion dollar valuation. Shares pared gains and were up 1.9 percent at $166.15 mid-day.

Daniel Ives, a well-known sector analyst, raised his forecast on Monday for pre-orders by 10 million, and several other analysts talked up sales over the next year.

In a note, Ives of research house GBH Insights, raised his pre-order demand expectations for the iPhone X to 50 million units from 40 million, calling the first stage of the iPhone X release a “stellar success”.

“With the official launch of iPhone X in Apple retail stores slated for this Friday, Nov. 3, we anticipate very high demand globally with limited supply of iPhone X on hand,” Ives said.

Jeffrey Kvaal from brokerage Nomura Instinet, said Apple and U.S. wireless carriers’ pushing out of delivery times for iPhone X orders to 5-6 weeks was longer than for previous phones and pointed to strong demand.

Asked by Reuters whether production bottlenecks are causing shipment delays, Tigress Financial Partners analyst Ivan Feinseth responded: “No, there’s no bottlenecks. This is a company that manages the supply chain well.”

However, Drexel Hamilton analyst Brian White, cautioned that the longer wait times for consumers ordering phones may be as much due to the component supply issues, which led Apple to delay the launch of the premium phone until November.

“Although we believe Apple is benefiting from strong demand from the iPhone X, the company is also struggling with supply constraints,” White, who has a buy rating on Apple, said.

“A sound debate around the key driver for the surging shipping lead times can be made by reasonable people. Thus we believe it was important for Apple to highlight the demand side of the equation for the iPhone X.”

Wall Street is bullish on Apple with 31 of 38 brokerages rating the stock “buy” or higher. Their median price target of $180 projects a market cap of nearly $930 billion for the iPhone maker.

(Reporting by Arjun Panchadar and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Amazon to expand its video studio after shakeup

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the web service Amazon is pictured in Mexico City, Mexico on June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/Illustration/File Photo

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc plans to expand its video production arm and move into a historic studio near Hollywood, the company said on Monday, signaling its entertainment ambitions remain high after a management shakeup earlier this month.

The world’s largest online retailer said in a news release that it would start moving into the Culver Studios, where “Gone with the Wind” was filmed, at the end of the year. The space will allow it to expand its headcount beyond the more than 700 employees working in its current Santa Monica, California, office.

Video streaming has been a major reason people subscribe to the Amazon Prime benefits club, whose members tend to buy more from the company.

Amazon Studios chief Roy Price resigned this month, and other top executives left the unit afterward.

Some have criticized Amazon for making shows that do not appeal to a broad-enough audience.

The company is nonetheless committed to original content. Analysts estimate Amazon will have spent $4.5 billion on video in 2017, and the company said last week that it would budget more for next year.

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment on how many people it would hire for the studio. It said in the news release that it would have space to add creative, technical, legal and marketing jobs.

The new studio in Culver City, California, is owned by an affiliate of Hackman Capital Partners.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

U.S. court blocks Trump’s transgender military ban

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. military personnel at Naval Air Station Sigonella following the G7 Summit, in Sigonella, Sicily, Italy, May 27, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

By Andrew Chung

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge in Washington on Monday blocked President Donald Trump from banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, handing a victory to transgender service members who accused the president of violating their constitutional rights.

Trump in July said he would ban transgender people from the military in a move that would reverse Democratic former President Barack Obama’s policy and halt years of efforts to eliminate barriers to military service based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The transgender service members sued in August to try to block the ban. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the plaintiffs were entitled to an injunction halting enforcement of the ban until their case is resolved.

The service members asserted that Trump’s policy violated their rights to due process and equal protection under the law under the U.S. Constitution.

Trump signed a memorandum in August that directed the U.S. military not to accept transgender men and women as recruits and halted the use of government funds for sex-reassignment surgeries for active-duty personnel unless the process is already underway.

Kollar-Kotelly said the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their claims that the ban was unconstitutional because the reasons given for the ban “do not appear to be supported by any facts.” She said that other factors, including “the unusual circumstances surrounding the president’s announcement” of the ban, weighed in her decision.

The judge, however, tossed out the suit’s challenge to the sex-reassignment surgery directive, saying none of the plaintiffs had shown they would be impacted by that prohibition.

Trump’s action appealed to his hard-line conservative supporters. The president in February also rescinded protections put in place under Obama for transgender public school students.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy goes on trial for leading 2014 armed standoff

FILE PHOTO: Rancher Cliven Bundy looks out over his 160 acre ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada May 3, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By John L. Smith

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy goes on trial on Monday for his role in leading a 2014 armed standoff against federal agents that became a rallying point for militia groups challenging U.S. government authority in the American West.

Bundy, two of his sons and a third follower are accused of conspiracy, assault, firearms offenses and other charges in the latest of several trials stemming from the confrontation near Bunkerville, Nevada, 75 miles (120 km) northeast of Las Vegas.

The revolt was sparked by the court-ordered roundup of Bundy’s cattle by government agents over his refusal to pay fees required to graze the herd on federal land.

Hundreds of supporters, many heavily armed, rallied to Bundy’s cause demanding that his livestock be returned. Outnumbered law enforcement officers ultimately retreated rather than risk bloodshed. No shots were ever fired.

The face-off marked a flashpoint in long-simmering tensions over federal control of public lands in the West and a precursor to Bundy’s two sons leading an armed six-week occupation of a federal wildlife center in Oregon two years later, in 2016.

Defense lawyers have generally argued that the Bunkerville defendants were exercising constitutionally protected rights to assembly and to bear arms, casting the showdown as a patriotic act of civil disobedience against government overreach.

Prosecutors have said that armed gunmen were using force and intimidation to defy the rule of law.

Jury selection in the latest trial was slated to begin on Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. The proceedings were postponed for three weeks after an unrelated mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 in which 58 people were killed.

Standing trial with Cliven Bundy, 71, are the two sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who led last year’s Oregon occupation, and a third co-defendant, Ryan Payne, a Montana resident linked by prosecutors to a militia group called Operation Mutual Aid.

A fourth co-defendant, internet blogger and radio host Peter Santilli, pleaded guilty on Oct. 6 to conspiracy and faces a possible six-year prison term.

Six lesser-known participants in the Nevada ranch showdown went on trial as a group earlier this year. Two men were found guilty, one of them sentenced to 68 years in prison. The other is awaiting sentencing.

Two of the four remaining defendants were retried and acquitted, and two others pleaded guilty last week to obstructing a court order. Those two each face up to a year in prison when sentenced.

Yet another group of six defendants, including two more Bundy sons, Dave and Mel Bundy, are due to stand trial 30 days after the current trial ends.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with five other people, were previously charged with criminal conspiracy in the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. That trial ended with the surprise acquittal last year of all seven.

(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Obamacare benchmark premiums up 37 percent in 2018 after subsidy cut-off

FILE PHOTO: Beds lie empty in the emergency room of Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans February 14, 2006. REUTERS/Lee Celano REUTERS

By Michael Erman

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The average monthly premium for benchmark Obamacare insurance plans will surge around 37 percent in 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Monday, fueled by the Trump administration’s suspension of billions of dollars in subsidy payments to health insurers.

The average monthly premium for the second-lowest cost “silver” plan for a 27-year-old will rise to $411 a month in 2018 from $300 a month this year, before tax credits are applied.

Federal tax credits that help individuals buy coverage will also rise sharply, according to a report from the health department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

As a result, people eligible for tax credits based on their income may end up paying less per month for insurance, while middle-class Americans who do not qualify for the credits will face much higher prices.

“This data demonstrates just how rapidly Obamacare’s exchanges are deteriorating with sky-rocketing premiums year after year, more than half of Americans with no more than two insurers to choose from, and the taxpayer burden exploding,” HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said.

The agency said the average advance premium tax credit paid to current enrollees in 2018 will be $555, up 45 percent from 2017, when it paid $382. That is more than double the $259 in tax credits the average enrollee received in 2014.

But those ineligible for the tax credits will face sharply higher costs.

Earlier this month the Trump administration cut off subsidies that insurers use to reduce copays and other out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans under former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

President Donald Trump has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, though fellow Republicans in Congress have so far failed to agree on a replacement. The administration has since taken steps to undermine the law, moves that are expected to cut into enrollment for 2018.

Insurers must still provide discounts on out-of-pocket costs to eligible consumers enrolled in the most popular “silver” plans, even without the government subsidies. To recoup those costs, insurers raised premiums on those plans.

Premiums for the benchmark plans rose more modestly after the plans first went on sale in 2013. But they jumped 24 percent on average for 2017 after insurers found they were covering patients who were sicker than anticipated.

The “silver” plan is in the bottom half in terms of how much of an individual’s health costs are covered, between “bronze” and “gold.” There are also “platinum” plans on the federal Healthcare.gov website.

In addition, the percentage of enrollees who could choose a plan costing less than $75 per month in premiums rose to 80 percent for 2018, compared with 71 percent this year, HHS said.

Health insurers such as UnitedHealth Group Inc, Aetna Inc and Humana Inc exited most of the states where they sold Obamacare plans earlier this year, citing issues including uncertainty due to repeal efforts and the subsidy payments. National players remaining in the market include Anthem Inc, Molina Healthcare and Cigna Inc.

As a result, 51 percent of U.S. counties have only one insurer selling Obamacare plans in 2018. Enrollment in the individual insurance markets begins on Nov. 1

(Reporting by Michael Erman; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Dan Grebler)

Texas costume party turns deadly when man in Santa suit opens fire: police

Randall Gaston Jones, 32, charged in connection with a man dressed as Santa Claus, shooting to death one and injuring three during a Holloween costume party in Austin, Texas, U.S., is shown in this booking photo October 30, 2017. Austin Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

DALLAS (Reuters) – A man dressed in a Santa Claus outfit opened fire at a weekend Halloween party in his Texas home, killing one person and injuring three others, Austin police said on Monday.

The shooting occurred early Sunday morning after Randall Gaston Jones, 32, became “highly intoxicated” during the costume party and was asked to leave by his roommates, Austin Police Lt. Jason Staniszewski told a news conference. He later returned to the party with a handgun and began firing at the party-goers.

Michael McCloskey, 38, attempted to intervene and was shot several times, according to police. He died later at an area hospital. Two women were also taken for treatment with non-life- threatening injuries. A third victim was treated at the scene.

After the shooting, Jones went to a neighbor’s house and told the resident a fight broke out at the party and he would surrender to authorities, police said.

When officers arrived, the handgun was on the welcome mat and Jones was waiting outside to be taken into custody.

Jones was booked into Travis County jail and charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to online records. A murder charge is pending, Staniszewski said.

No information was available on a lawyer for Jones.

(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; editing by Frank McGurty and Dan Grebler)

U.S. moves to revoke claim that soy protein protects the heart

FILE PHOTO: A farmer shows her soy beans to a trader at a bean buying agent in Tri Thuy village, outside Hanoi December 26, 2012. REUTERS/Kham

By Toni Clarke

(Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday proposed a rule revoking the right of companies to say soy protein protects the heart, while potentially allowing a more circumspect health claim.

The agency, which to date has never revoked a health claim, said studies published since it authorized the soy protein claim in 1999 had shown inconsistent results.

“Our review of that evidence has led us to conclude that the relationship between soy protein and heart disease does not meet the rigorous standard for an FDA-authorized health claim,” the agency said in a statement.

The FDA said that if its proposed rule is finalized, it would consider allowing the use of a qualified health claim, which requires a lower scientific standard of evidence than an authorized claim.

The move comes nearly a decade after the FDA announced its intent to reevaluate the scientific evidence for certain health claims, including the one that soy protein may lower the risk of heart disease.

The American Heart Association has long advocated revoking the soy health claim. In a 2008 comment on the FDA’s intent to reevaluate the evidence, the association said: “Direct cardiovascular health benefit of soy protein or isoflavone supplements is minimal at best.”

In the same comment, the association urged the FDA not to allow the use of a qualified health claim.

“Consumer research conducted by AHA, the FDA and others has repeatedly shown that despite the presence of qualifying language, consumers do not understand qualified health claims and do not understand that they are based on limited and varying degrees of evidence,” the organization said.

American Heart Association officials were not immediately available to comment on the FDA’s most recent announcement.

(Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)

Astros win thriller, on brink of World Series crown

Oct 29, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman (2) celebrates with teammates after hitting the game-winning RBI single against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 10th inning in game five of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

By Frank Pingue

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The Houston Astros escaped a thrilling home-run filled clash with a 13-12 extra-innings victory against Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday to be one win away from their maiden World Series title.

After blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning during which they had the Dodgers down to their final strike, Houston closed out one of the wildest games in World Series history when Alex Bregman hit a walk-off single in the 10th inning.

“Back and forth, the two best teams in baseball fighting to the very end and going toe to toe with each other,” Bregman told reporters. “Everybody was used on both teams, pretty much, every single player. It was special for us to come out on top.”

Each team had their left-handed aces on the mound to start the pivotal fifth game of the best-of-seven series but both the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Astros’ Dallas Keuchel failed to produce the pitchers’ duel many had expected.

By the time the final out was recorded in a game that had it all and kept the capacity crowd on their feet most of the way, the Dodgers and Astros had combined for a whopping seven home runs, including a trio of three-run blasts.

The Astros, who lead the series 3-2, now have two chances in Los Angeles to win their first World Series championship since the inception of the franchise 55 years ago.

“We knew going into this series, this is the best offensive ballclub that we were going to see all year. And they can slug you. They spoil pitches. They’re athletic. And credit to them,” said Dodges manager Dave Roberts. “But our guys did the same thing. They just got the hit when they needed.”

After rallying back from four, three and one-run deficits, Houston finally pulled in front when Jose Altuve’s run-scoring double made it 9-8 just two batters after George Springer tied the game with a solo shot.

Carlos Correa’s two-run homer before the inning was over stretched the Astros lead to three but Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager doubled in a run in the top of the eighth to pull his team to within 11-9.

On a night when no lead was safe, the Astros fans remained a tense bunch even after Brian McCann’s eighth-inning homer gave the Astros their biggest lead of the night, 12-9.

But the drama was only getting started as the Dodgers stormed back in the ninth compliments of Yasiel Puig’s two-run shot and a run-scoring single from Chris Taylor before sending it to extra innings.

Kershaw, who enjoyed a pitching masterclass in the series opener, was locked in early but the wheels came off and by the time he left the game had allowed six runs and four hits with two strikeouts and three walks over 4-2/3 innings.

Keuchel also had a rough night as he loaded the bases in the first before a Logan Forsythe single scored a pair. The Dodgers added another before the frame was done and Keuchel left the game after allowing four runs on five hits through 3-2/3 innings.

“It’s hard to put into words all the twists and turns in that game, the emotion, doing it at home, in front of our home crowd,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch.

“Just exactly what you expect to come to the park with Keuchel and Kershaw pitching. Just a perfect setup game for a bunch of runs,” he added jokingly.

Game Six is scheduled for Tuesday in Los Angeles where the Dodgers will send Rich Hill to the mound while the Astros will counter with Justin Verlander.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Astros’ Verlander eager for shot at World Series title

Oct 29, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander before game five of the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

By Frank Pingue

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The Houston Astros acquired Justin Verlander in the hopes that he would be the final piece to their World Series puzzle and now the veteran right-hander will get a chance to lead his team to a maiden championship.

Houston lead the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in the best-of-seven World Series and will just happen to have the postseason’s hottest pitcher on the mound when the Fall Classic resumes on the West Coast on Tuesday.

“These are what it’s all about,” said Verlander. “These are the moments that you want to be a part of as a baseball player. It’s everything you could ask for.”

Verlander, who has yet to win a World Series, has already exceeded expectations when the Astros acquired him a mere minutes before the trade deadline at the end of August.

The 34-year-old former ace of the Detroit Tigers staff has started nine games for the Astros over the last two months and won them all. He even pitched once in relief, and Houston won that one, too.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch, when asked if Verlander fits into his description of a “big-game pitcher”, said the co-ace of his staff fits into a lot of categories given an ability to block out distractions and execute pitches no matter the stage.

“I like more calling these guys big-time pitchers before the game, because that’s what we expect. We expect them to prepare the same. We expect them to show up ready to play. We expect them to produce the executed pitches,” said Hinch.

“When you can do that on this kind of stage you’re called a big-time pitcher regardless of your performance. But oftentimes these guys step up and deliver big-time results, too.”

Verlander is one of just three active players on the Astros and Dodgers rosters with previous World Series experience. He reached the Fall Classic twice with Detroit in 2006 and 2012 but did not pitch particularly well either time.

But the six-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner as the American League’s best pitcher has since seemingly always managed to find another gear in pressure-packed situations.

Verlander did just that in the American League Championship Series when, with the Astros facing elimination, he stepped up to the challenge by pitching seven shutout innings in a 7-1 victory that forced a decisive seventh game.

He attributes part of his success to being able to manage his intensity level during the regular season when the stakes are not as high and therefore allowing him to find another gear come the postseason.

“You can’t focus that much mental energy and physical drain on hanging on every single pitch that way and the crowd and the intensity, that it all encompasses, you just can’t do that every single day out for 34, 35 starts,” said Verlander.

“But as soon as the postseason starts you’re living or dying on every single pitch, and your whole team is living or dying on every single pitch. It changes everything.”

(Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Novartis to buy French cancer specialist AAA for $3.9 billion

Swiss drugmaker Novartis’ logo is seen at the company’s plant in the northern Swiss town of Stein, Switzerland October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) – Novartis has agreed to buy French-based Advanced Accelerator Applications (AAA) for $3.9 billion, giving it a platform in radiopharmaceuticals and access to a new therapy for the kind of cancer that killed Steve Jobs.

The deal further strengthens the Swiss drugmaker’s oncology business, already boosted by the 2015 acquisition of GlaxoSmithKline’s marketed cancer drugs and August’s approval of a ground-breaking gene-modifying leukemia treatment.

The cash offer of $41 per ordinary share and $82 per American depositary share represents a 47 percent premium to AAA’s price before media reports on Sept. 27 that Novartis was interested, the two companies said on Monday.

The ADS, which closed on Friday at $72.91 and were priced at only $16 when they listed two years ago, traded at $80 in U.S. premarket dealings.

The transaction, which Novartis is to finance using debt, will reap AAA founder and 11 percent owner Stefano Buono more than $420 million.

The move fits with Novartis Chief Executive Joe Jimenez’s strategy of pursuing bolt-on deals worth up to around $5 billion rather than seeking out larger targets.

With AAA, Novartis gets technology that deploys trace amounts of radioactive compounds to not only create images of organs and lesions to diagnose diseases but which can also be used to fight cancer.

AAA’s flagship product, Lutathera, won European Union backing in late September against rare gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, the likes of which killed Jobs, Apple’s founder, in 2011.

“Novartis has a strong legacy in the development and commercialization of medicines for neuroendocrine tumors,” said Bruno Strigini, head of Novartis Oncology. “With Lutathera we can build on this legacy.”

PEAK SALES

Lutathera, which has also been submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, harnesses a molecule not only to diagnose cancer but also to deliver treatment by hitting tumors with high-energy electrons.

In trials, it demonstrated a 79 percent risk reduction versus Novartis’s $1.6 billion-per-year drug Sandostatin against neuroendocrine tumors. Now, Novartis will likely replace patent-expired Sandostatin with its new drug, said Baader Helvea analyst Bruno Bulic.

“We see the more sophisticated technology to Lutathera commanding a premium price to Sandostatin and estimate peak sales potential at $2 billion,” Bulic wrote in a research note.

Analysts from Vontobel said the $3.9 billion price “appears expensive” given AAA — spun off from Europe’s physics research center CERN 15 years ago and listed on Nasdaq — had sales of just $78 million in the first half of 2017.

Novartis shares were little changed at 1115 GMT.

AAA founder Buono said the deal with the world’s biggest maker of prescription drugs would not only support Lutathera’s launch but also accelerate development of its other therapies.

The Italian-born former CERN physicist steadily took on investors and built up manufacturing capacity while making small acquisitions. AAA went public in a 2015 IPO.

Its other biggest shareholders are Fidelity with 9.1 percent and HBM Healthcare Investments run by former Roche finance chief Henri B. Meier. PJT Partners served as financial adviser and Shearman & Sterling as legal adviser for Novartis. Jefferies LLC was financial adviser to AAA, with Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP serving as legal counsel.

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London; Editing by Michael Shields and Keith Weir)

U.S. consumer spending grows at fastest pace since 2009

FILE PHOTO: Customers shop at a Whole Foods store in New York City, U.S., August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer spending recorded its biggest increase in more than eight years in September, likely as households in Texas and Florida replaced flood-damaged motor vehicles, but underlying inflation remained muted.

The Commerce Department said on Monday consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, jumped 1.0 percent last month. The increase, which also included a boost from higher household spending on utilities, was the largest since August 2009.

Consumer spending rose by an unrevised 0.1 percent in August. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast consumer spending increasing 0.8 percent in September.

Prices of U.S. Treasuries were higher in early morning trading while the dollar was weaker against a basket of currencies. U.S. stock index futures were mixed. The data was included in last Friday’s third-quarter gross domestic product report, which showed consumer spending growth slowing to a 2.4 percent annualized rate after a robust 3.3 percent pace in the second quarter.

The moderation in consumption was offset by a rise in inventory investment, business spending on equipment and a drop in imports, which left the economy growing at a 3.0 percent rate in the third quarter after the April-June period’s brisk 3.1 percent pace.

The Commerce Department said September data reflected the effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but said it could not quantify the total impact of the storms on consumer spending and personal income.

Consumer spending in September was buoyed by purchases of motor vehicles, probably as drivers in Texas and Florida replaced automobiles that were destroyed when Harvey and Irma slammed the states in late August and early September. Spending on long-lasting goods like autos surged 3.2 percent last month. Outlays on services rose 0.5 percent.

CORE INFLATION BENIGN

Though disruptions to the supply chain as a result of the hurricanes also likely contributed to an uptick in inflation last month, underlying price pressures remained benign.

The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation measure, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy, edged up 0.1 percent in September. The so-called core PCE has now increased by 0.1 percent for five straight months.

The core PCE increased 1.3 percent in the 12 months through September after a similar gain in August. The core PCE has undershot the Fed’s 2 percent target for nearly 5-1/2 years.

The soft core PCE readings are likely to intensify the inflation debate among Fed officials, who are holding a policy meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. The U.S. central bank is not likely to raise interest rates this week, but is expected to do so in December. It has raised rates twice this year.

When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending increased 0.6 percent in September after slipping 0.1 percent in August.

While that put consumer spending on a higher growth trajectory heading into the fourth quarter, it is unlikely to be sustained as households increasingly rely on dwindling savings to fund purchases.

Personal income rose 0.4 percent last month after increasing 0.2 percent in August. Wages advanced 0.4 percent. Savings fell to $441.9 billion in September, the lowest level since August 2008, from $521.4 billion in the prior month.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S. regulator wants to loosen leash on Wells Fargo: sources

FILE PHOTO: A Wells Fargo branch is seen in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, U.S. February 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

By Patrick Rucker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A leading U.S. regulator wants to make it easier for Wells Fargo to pay employees when they leave, loosening a restriction in place since a phony accounts scandal hit the bank last year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The initiative comes as President Donald Trump is trying to lighten rules on Wall Street and the bank regulator, Keith Noreika, acting Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), must weigh whether to vet new Wells Fargo executives.

If Noreika’s approach prevails, the OCC could go easier on Wells Fargo and any other large banks sanctioned in the future.

Since Noreika took control of the OCC in May, he has advocated easing up on sanctions imposed on Wells Fargo in the wake of the scandal over abusive sales practices, according to current and former officials.

Wells Fargo reached a $190 million settlement in September 2016 after admitting that its sales staff opened as many as 2.1 million accounts without customers’ consent. Since then the estimate has climbed to as many as 3.5 million.

As part of the deal with regulators, incoming Wells Fargo executives can face a vetting from the OCC while severance payouts must be cleared by the OCC and a sister agency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

But Noreika wants officials to work faster when they review severance pay and the agency can choose to waive its check on incoming executives.

Wells Fargo declined comment on the reviews.

Hundreds of Wells Fargo employees have had their severance payouts frozen when they left as regulators tried to determine what role those employees might have had in the scandal.

Under one proposal floated by the OCC, departing employees would collect severance automatically if regulators could not finish their review within weeks, according to one current and two former officials who were not authorized to discuss an internal debate.

Under another scenario, the OCC could push for payouts to a Wells Fargo employee without waiting for the FDIC to concur. The FDIC has the final say on severance and until now the decisions have always been made jointly.

The FDIC has resisted hurrying its severance reviews, according to those familiar with the discussions.

But the current FDIC chief, Martin Gruenberg, could be replaced within weeks by a President Trump nominee.

If that happens and Noreika prevails, it could provide relief for Wells Fargo as it faces fresh scrutiny for wrongly charging customers for car insurance and mortgages.

Noreika is expected to leave the OCC in coming weeks, but the matter could be settled by Joseph Otting, the former banker who is Trump’s permanent pick for the OCC. Otting is expected to favor a similar, light touch approach to financial rules.

PAYOUTS

The “golden parachute” rule is meant to halt payouts to employees who played a role in a bank’s problems, but Noreika has said too many innocent Wells Fargo employees are caught up in the reviews.

In a June 5 letter to a former Wells Fargo employee made public by the OCC, Noreika said that he had personally called Gruenberg to expedite a payment.

In the weeks after that letter was sent, sources said, the OCC has proposed speeding up the reviews, but the FDIC pushed back against setting “artificial” deadlines, according to one official.

“The OCC has sought ways to make regulatory reviews more efficient (and) complete in weeks not months,” OCC spokesman Bryan Hubbard said, while declining to discuss inter-agency deliberations.

The FDIC defended the pace of its severance audits, which in some cases have taken months to finish.

“When delays occur, it is generally because the applying institution provided incomplete or inconsistent information,” said Barbara Hagenbaugh, spokeswoman for the FDIC.

Severance payouts are simple to calculate for rank-and-file Wells Fargo employees who can get two weeks’ pay for each year of work. It gets more complex for senior executives who get a mix of salary, bonuses, stocks and other perks.

For example, James Strother, the bank’s former chief counsel who retired this summer, was among senior Wells Fargo executives that had $32 million in payouts frozen in March. But Strother has yet to repay a $310,000 interest-free loan Wells Fargo granted him in 2001, a year before such insider loans were banned, according to securities filings and the bank.

“Mr. Strother has informed us that he does plan on paying back the loan, as required and expected,” said Diana Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo.

Strother declined to comment.

According to several former officials, the FDIC has authority to scrutinize such loans under their ‘golden parachute’ review, adding another layer of complexity to the process.

(Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Tomasz Janowski)

Kevin Spacey apologizes after actor describes sexual advance at 14

FILE PHOTO: Britain Tennis – Aegon Championships – Queens Club, London – 19/6/16
Actor Kevin Spacey watches from the stands during the final
Action Images via Reuters / Tony O’Brien
Livepic

By Chris Michaud

(Reuters) – Kevin Spacey apologized on Sunday to fellow actor Anthony Rapp who said Spacey made a sexual advance to him in 1986 when Rapp was 14 years old.

Spacey said in a post on Twitter he was “beyond horrified” to hear Rapp’s story of the encounter, which he said he did not remember. He wrote that he owed Rapp a “sincere apology” for what he said would have been “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”

In an interview with BuzzFeed, Rapp described attending a party hosted by Spacey in which the actor picked him up, brought him to a bed and lay down on top of him after other guests left.

Rapp, who said he had the impression Spacey was drunk, pushed him away and left.

Spacey, 58, who has won Oscars for “The Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty,” also said that Rapp’s story “had encouraged me to address other things in my life.”

“I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I now choose to live life as a gay man,” Spacey wrote.

“I want to deal with this honestly and openly,” he said, “and that starts with me examining my own behavior.”

The actor for years had declined to publicly discuss his sexuality.

Rapp, who went on to star in the Broadway musical “Rent,” was starting his career on Broadway at the time of the incident.

“He was trying to seduce me,” Rapp told BuzzFeed of the encounter with Spacey. “I don’t know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.”

Rapp said on Twitter overnight that he had decided to come forward and tell his story, “standing on the shoulders of the many courageous women and men who have been speaking out … to shine a light and hopefully make a difference, as they have done for me.”

Everything he wanted to say about the experience had been covered in the interview, Rapp tweeted, adding that he had no further comment to make.

Spacey, a Tony Award winner for “Lost in Yonkers,” stars in the Netflix political drama “House of Cards.” He also served for 10 years as artistic director of London’s Old Vic theater company.

Hollywood and some top U.S. companies have been rocked in recent weeks by allegations from scores of women that executives had sexually harassed them.

U.S. movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has been accused by numerous women of having sexually harassed or assaulted them in incidents dating back to the 1980s, including some who said they were raped.

Weinstein denies having non-consensual sex with anyone. He has since been fired as chief executive of The Weinstein Company, which he co-founded and has which been one of Hollywood’s most influential forces since its launch in October 2005.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Martin Howell and Grant McCool)

Oscar-nominated Iranian director challenges Trump to watch her film

Iran’s first Oscar-nominated female director Narges Abyar attends an interview with Reuters in Istanbul, Turkey, October 27, 2017. Picture taken October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Parisa Hafezi

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Iran’s first Oscar-nominated female director has challenged President Donald Trump to watch her film to see if its portrayal of ordinary Iranians’ experience of war and revolution will change his views of her country.

The U.S. president has called Iran a “terrorist nation” for involvement in conflicts in the Middle East, and derided an international deal that scrapped sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on what many in the West believe was a nuclear weapons program.

Narges Abyar’s Farsi-language film “Nafas” (Breath) follows a young girl, Bahar, living through the changes that follow Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the start of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980 with her impoverished family.

Her greatest fear is losing the chronically asthmatic father who is bringing her and her three brothers and sisters up on his own, and she spends much of her time making sure that he is still breathing. Bahar’s devout grandmother, far from being kindly, punishes her for refusing to go to Koran school.

The film and Abyar’s Oscar nomination have angered hardline conservatives in Iran’s establishment, who call the Iran-Iraq war the “Sacred Defense” and consider the movie anti-Islamic.

“Three thousand (Iranian) children were killed during the war. Why should I not show all these?” Abyar told Reuters in an interview. “This film promotes peace.”

She said it could also “help American society … to understand that Iranians are not terrorists, as claimed by some politicians”.

“Trump is using the language of threat against Iran … what will he think if he watches Nafas? Will he continue to threaten Iran?”

“I WISH I WERE A BOY”

The film’s anti-war message runs alongside an exploration of what it means to be a woman in Iran, where Abyar lives and works.

“I chose Bahar because … I wanted the world to understand all the limitations an Iranian girl faces … Bahar was even banned from playing with her male cousin at a certain age … At one point, Bahar says: ‘I wish I were a boy’,” Abyar said.

“Outsiders may think it is the influence of the establishment or the religion, but it is not. It is the culture … and even many women in Iran believe that men are more capable than women, and women should have fewer rights than men.”

To follow in the footsteps of her male compatriot Asghar Farhadi, winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film category in 2012 and 2016, would for Abyar be a recognition of her struggle against sexism in her industry and wider society.

“In Iran, like many other countries, women are disdained, considered second-class citizens … As a woman, if you want to produce new ideas and be successful, you have to fight.”

Iran’s women are among the most highly educated in the Middle East and allowed to do most jobs, glass ceilings permitting. But under its Islamic legal system, they have fewer rights than men in areas including inheritance, divorce and child custody, and are subject to travel and dress restrictions.

Abyar said she had hoped for more from the pragmatist president, Hassan Rouhani, who owed his 2013 and 2017 election victories in great part to women voters encouraged by his promises of social and cultural liberalization.

“Women’s situation has improved a bit in Iran,” she said. “But I was expecting improvement in more areas.”

Abyar encountered less pressure than expected from the authorities to censor parts of her film, but added: “I cannot say that the government defended me when the film was criticized by hardliners.”

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Ex-Trump campaign manager Manafort indicted on conspiracy, other charges

Paul Manafort hides behind his car visor as he leaves his home in Alexandria, Virginia, this morning.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Karen Freifeld

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, was indicted on charges of money laundering and conspiracy against the United States, the most serious step yet in a special counsel investigation into Russian links with Trump’s 2016 White House campaign.

Manafort, 68, a longtime Republican operative, arrived at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington field office on Monday morning to hand himself in after being indicted by a federal grand jury.

Manafort associate Rick Gates was also indicted. He was also due to surrender, the New York Times reported.

The 12-count indictment was the first from the investigation by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump’s favor.

Lawyers for Gates and Manafort did not immediately return calls for comment.

The Russia investigations by Mueller and by several congressional panels have cast a shadow over the Republican’s nine-month-old presidency and have widened the rift between Republicans and Democrats.

Manafort ran the Trump campaign from June to August of 2016 before resigning amid reports he might have received millions in illegal payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

It was not immediately clear if the charges, some of which go back at least a decade, related to Manafort’s work as campaign manager. Neither Trump nor his campaign were mentioned in the indictment.

“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????,” Trump said in a Twitter post on Monday morning, referring to his Democratic rival last year, Hillary Clinton.

“As it relates to the president, this is nothing,” a Trump adviser said of the charges, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It had nothing to do with their tenure at the campaign as far as I can tell,” he said.

CONSPIRACY AGAINST U.S.

The indictment contains counts of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as unregistered agents of Ukraine’s government, false and misleading statements and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, the federal special counsel said.

The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer called for the Trump administration to avoid interfering with the special prosecutor’s probe.

“The rule of law is paramount in America and the investigation must be allowed to proceed unimpeded. The president must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel’s work in any way,” Schumer said.

Trump, who has denied any allegations of collusion with the Russians, has expressed frustration with the Mueller probe and called it “a witch hunt.” He reiterated his denial of any collusion in a Twitter post on Monday.

The Kremlin has also denied the allegations of campaign meddling.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia interfered in the election to try to help Trump defeat Clinton, by hacking and releasing embarrassing emails and disseminating propaganda via social media to discredit her.

Wall Street opened lower on Monday, pulling back from a strong rally last week, as investors assessed the fallout of the indictment.

Mueller has been investigating Manafort’s financial and real estate dealings and his prior work for that political group, the Party of Regions, which backed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

A federal grand jury issued the indictment on Friday and a federal judge ordered it sealed, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

Gates was a long-time business partner of Manafort and has ties to many of the same Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. He also served as deputy to Manafort during his brief tenure as Trump’s campaign chairman.

Manafort was indicted on nine counts and Gates was indicted on eight counts.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Frances Kerry)

Afghan Taliban say kidnapped U.S. professor is seriously ill

Kevin King in an undated photo. REUTERS/via FBI

KABUL (Reuters) – The Afghan Taliban said on Monday that Kevin King, one of two professors from the American University of Afghanistan who were kidnapped at gunpoint in Kabul last year, is seriously ill and needs urgent medical attention.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said King, an American, was suffering from “dangerous” heart disease and kidney problem.

“His illness has intensified, his feet have swollen and sometimes he becomes unconscious and his condition worsens every day,” Mujahid said in a statement.

“We have tried to treat him time to time but we do not have medical facilities as we are in a war situation,” he added.

King and his Australian colleague Timothy Weeks were kidnapped in August 2016 as they were returning to their compound in the Afghan capital.

Afghan and Western officials believe they are being held by the Haqqani network, a militant group affiliated with the Taliban which has carried out many previous kidnappings. They acknowledge that an unsuccessful rescue attempt was made in eastern Afghanistan months after the two were taken.

The Taliban statement came around two weeks after Pakistani troops rescued Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife Caitlan Coleman, who had been held by the Haqqanis since being kidnapped in 2012, from an area near the Afghan border.

Earlier this year, the Taliban released a video of King and Weeks, showing them pleading with their government to release Taliban prisoners in turn for their freedom.

Kidnapping high profile targets has become a lucrative business for the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan who in return often demand huge ransom or release of their members.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi, additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Editing by Michael Perry)

Puerto Rico moves to cancel Whitefish power contract after uproar

FILE PHOTO: A pickup truck from Montana-based Whitefish Energy Holdings is parked as workers (not pictured) help fix the island’s power grid, damaged during Hurricane Maria in September, in Manati, Puerto Rico October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez/File Photo

By Ginger Gibson and David Gaffen

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s government power company said on Sunday it will cancel a $300 million contract with a tiny Montana company to restore power to the storm-hit U.S. territory after an uproar over the deal.

The contract between Whitefish Energy Holdings and Puerto Rico’s bankrupt power utility came under fire after it was revealed last week that the terms were obtained without a competitive public bidding process. Residents, local officials and U.S. federal authorities all criticized the arrangement.

The cancellation could further complicate Puerto Rico’s most pressing challenge from the territory’s worst storm in 80 years – restoring power to its 3.4 million residents. Nearly six weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, only about a quarter of homes and businesses have power, and the utility has set a goal of having 95 percent of power back by the middle of December.

Several other utilities have been involved in recovery efforts, but Whitefish said they had more than 350 people on the island. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) Director Ricardo Ramos said that he had to consider the “delay risk” of agreeing to cancel the contract. The territory has reached out to officials in Florida and New York, which have already sent people to Puerto Rico, to send more crews in the event that Whitefish departs.

Whitefish said in a statement it was “disappointed” in the decision, adding that it will “only delay what the people of Puerto Rico want and deserve – to have the power restored quickly in the same manner their fellow citizens on the mainland experience after a natural disaster.”

Earlier on Sunday, Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló had called for the contract with Whitefish to be canceled, and PREPA’s Ramos said he had accepted the governor’s recommendation.

“Following the information that has emerged, and with the goal of protecting public interest, as governor I am asking government and energy authorities to immediately activate the clause to cancel the contract to Whitefish Energy,” Rossello said in a statement.

Ramos, in a press conference Sunday, noted that the initial enthusiasm from residents over Whitefish employees coming to the island had shifted in the last several days after media reported the details of the contract.

“As soon as this whole issue was interpreted by the tabloids that PREPA has given away $300 million to a company with little experience…if you read that, and you have no light and no water that perception changes abruptly to the extent that the last four days they’ve been throwing stones and bottles” at workers, Ramos said.

Ramos said contract terms with Whitefish meant that the cancellation would become effective 30 days from notice and, signaling potential intricacies, explained that there were “a lot of logistics involved. I believe they have people on the way here.”

“The contract is not canceled as of yet. I am writing today a letter to the board of directors of PREPA asking for a resolution that will allow me to cancel the contract,” Ramos said.

Whitefish, which has a full-time staff of two, said it would complete any work that PREPA wanted it to, and noted their initial efforts “exceeded all other efforts by other parties.”

They said they completed work on two major transmission lines that crossed the island’s mountainous interior, and that PREPA’s decision to contact them “only sped up the repairs.”

Criticism increased after a copy of the contract with PREPA surfaced online on Thursday night and raised more questions, particularly over language blocking oversight of costs and profits.

Ramos noted that the federal contracting process is a long one, and that PREPA “could not wait.”

APPEAL TO NEW YORK, FLORIDA

Efforts to restore power have been bumpy. It took more than a week for a damage assessment to be completed, and PREPA did not immediately ask for what is known as “mutual aid,” whereupon utilities send workers in droves to restore power to hard-hit areas.

Residents have been forced to rely on diesel generators and most of the island remained in darkness.

Eventually, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was put in charge of power restoration. Rosselló said he had reached out to Florida and New York in part because of a delay in the arrival of brigades from the Army Corps.

Speaking to CNN, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he could send hundreds of work crews to Puerto Rico to assist with the repair work. Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office said he and Rossello “have talked frequently regarding Hurricane Maria recovery. Governor Scott is proud to offer any guidance, advice and assistance they may need.”

PREPA declared bankruptcy in July. It has a $9 billion debt load caused by years of unsuccessful rate collection efforts, particularly from municipal governments and state agencies, and a lack of investment in equipment and maintenance.

The Puerto Rican government is bracing for the possibility that Whitefish would sue for breach of contract if the cancellation is approved, according to sources familiar with discussions. The government already paid Whitefish $8 million and does not expect the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse that sum, the sources said.

(Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski, Jessica Resnick-Ault, Dan Bases and Nick Brown; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Mary Milliken)

Investor group presses U.S. drug companies on opioid controls

FILE PHOTO: A used needle sits on the ground in a park in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S., May 30, 2017, where individuals were arrested earlier in the day during raids to break up heroin and fentanyl drug rings in the region, according to law enforcement officials. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Ross Kerber

BOSTON (Reuters) – U.S. shareholder activists are addressing a soaring death toll from opioid drug abuse, asking companies that make and distribute the painkillers to review the risks their businesses could face from their role in the sector.

Leaders of a 30-fund group that includes state pension officials and religious and labor organizations plan to reveal on Monday they have begun filing shareholder resolutions at 10 companies, including distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp <ABC.N> and Cardinal Health Inc <CAH.N> and manufacturers Johnson & Johnson <JNJ.N> and Insys Therapeutics <INSY.O>.

In resolutions aimed at annual shareholder meetings to be held in 2018 and in letters to the companies, activists are urging independent directors to review and report on how the boards are managing the legal, financial and reputational risks their enterprises face from their involvement with opioids.

They also seek corporate-governance reforms such as allowing more grounds to claw back pay from executives who inappropriately promote the drugs, or creating independent board chairs to provide better oversight.

Representatives of Cardinal and Insys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Johnson & Johnson spokesman Ernie Knewitz said the company was preparing a response to the investors, and that the company had acted responsibly.

“Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue that must be addressed, and doing so will require collaboration among many stakeholders, and our company is committed to working with federal, state and local officials to help find meaningful solutions,” he said in an emailed statement.

In a statement emailed by AmerisourceBergen spokeswoman Keri Mattox, the company said it “welcomes a productive dialogue with all shareholders. The issue of opioid abuse is a complex one that spans the full healthcare spectrum, including manufacturers, wholesalers, insurers, prescribers, pharmacists and regulatory and enforcement agencies.”

The statement said the company worked closely with officials “to combat drug diversion while supporting appropriate access to medications.”

At an annual meeting on Nov. 8, Cardinal Health will face a resolution calling for an independent board chair in order to improve oversight.

“These considerations are especially critical at Cardinal given the potential reputational, legal and regulatory risks Cardinal faces over its role in the nation’s opioid epidemic, including its history of compliance challenges concerning the distribution of controlled substances,” the resolution’s sponsors, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in a supporting statement. The statement cited Cardinal’s payment of tens of millions of dollar to settle various federal and state charges related to opioids.

In a securities filing, Cardinal calls the change unnecessary, noting it already has an independent lead director and “state-of-the-art controls” over its pain medications.

Officials at all levels of government in the United States are struggling to respond to a surge in deaths from opioid abuse, which hit 33,000 in 2015, the last year for which there is complete federal data.

In many cases patients prescribed opioid painkillers become addicted to them and then move on to acquiring the drugs illegally, or turn to heroin or fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opiate.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency.

State attorneys general have also taken on opioid manufacturers, with lawsuits charging that deceptive marketing practices helped fuel an epidemic of abuse. Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged the founder of Insys, John Kapoor, with participating in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe a particularly potent opioid.

A lawyer for Kapoor said in a statement that Kapoor is innocent and will fight the charges.

Shareholder activists said healthcare providers may have underestimated how addictive the drugs were, but said the crisis points to a need for stronger oversight within drugmakers.

“We believe these companies have played an important role in this epidemic,” said Donna Meyer, director of shareholder advocacy for Mercy Investment Services, an investment fund for Roman Catholic nuns. It is leading the resolutions push, along with the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, which oversees benefits for about 700,000 retirees of the United Auto Workers.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Leslie Adler and Bernadette Baum)

LA breaks Houston’s home spell, evens World Series

Oct 28, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Joc Pederson hits a three-run home run against the Houston Astros in the 9th inning in game four of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

By Frank Pingue

HOUSTON (Reuters) – The Los Angeles Dodgers, playing with their backs against the wall for the first time all year, sprang back to life with a five-run ninth inning on Saturday to beat the Houston Astros 6-2 and level the World Series at two games apiece.

With Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw set to take the mound for Sunday’s pivotal Game Five in Houston, the best team in baseball all season are suddenly back on track in their quest for a first World Series title since 1988.

“It’s now a three-game series, and we’ve got our ace going tomorrow. So I know that in our clubhouse we feel good,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.

The Dodgers, who breezed through regular season and into World Series, were staring at a potential 3-1 series deficit until Cody Bellinger’s bat came alive when he doubled and scored the tying run in the seventh inning.

Bellinger, who had been hitless in his previous 13 plate appearances, then put the Dodgers ahead in the ninth with a run-scoring double as part of a five-run inning that was capped by Joc Pederson’s three-run blast.

“We’ve been doing it all year. We’re a super resilient team,” said Bellinger, whose Dodgers are now guaranteed to host a Game Six on Tuesday. “Taking one here to make sure we go back to LA is huge.”

The game had been a tight affair as both teams got stellar outings from their starting pitchers.

Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood was working on a no-hitter when George Springer opened the scoring with a two-out homer in the sixth that ended the pitcher’s night. The Dodgers responded an inning later when a Logan Forsythe scored single Bellinger.

“I was glad to keep us in it long enough to where our bats came alive. That felt like us there those last few innings,” said Wood. “It’s a big win for us. We’ve got our guy going tomorrow, so we’re excited to be able to take it back to LA, too.”

Houston’s Charlie Morgan was nearly as impressive as he allowed just three hits in 6-1/3 innings.

The Astros sent closer Ken Giles out for the ninth and he promptly allowed a single to Corey Seager, a walk to Justin Turner before Bellinger put the Dodgers ahead.

“He hadn’t faced those guys a ton, but they didn’t have good swings against him in LA,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of Giles. “One ground-ball base hit to start the inning and things sort of sped up on him a little bit, the walk after that.”

With the Astros down to their final strike, Alex Bregman homered to left but it proved too little too late as Houston’s unbeaten home stretch in the postseason ended at seven games.

Game Five of the best-of-seven World Series is scheduled for Sunday in Houston where the Astros will send Dallas Keuchel to the mound against Kershaw in a battle of left-handed former Cy Young Award winners.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Amlan Chakraborty)

Federer outlasts Del Potro for eighth Basel title

Tennis – ATP 500 – Swiss Indoors Basel – Final – St. Jakobshalle, Basel, Switzerland – October 29, 2017 – Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina and Roger Federer of Switzerland pose with the trophies after the final match. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

BASEL, Switzerland (Reuters) – Roger Federer claimed an eighth Swiss Indoor title when he out-lasted Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro 6-7(5) 6-4 6-3 in front of a partisan Basel crowd on Sunday.

The 36-year-old local favourite, beaten by Del Potro in consecutive Basel finals in 2012 and 2013, was ragged at times and looked in danger of an unwanted hat-trick, but showed all his battling qualities to turn the match around.

Fourth seed Del Potro, making a late run to try and qualify for next month’s ATP World Tour Finals in London, broke serve in the first game of the decider but wilted as Federer stormed back to the delight of a raucous crowd inside the St Jakobshalle.

World number two Federer charged into a 5-2 lead and while Del Potro delayed the end by holding serve, Federer would not be denied and racked up his 95th career title as Del Potro fired a backhand long under pressure.

Victory means Federer trails world number one Rafael Nadal by 1,460 points going into the Paris Masters where 1,000 points are on offer for the champion.

Del Potro would have moved into the eighth and final qualifying spot for London had he claimed a third Basel title, but now must reach the semi-finals at least in the French capital to make it to the season-ending tournament.

(Writing by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

CVS bid for Aetna: A $66 billion bet on cutting drug costs

FILE PHOTO: The CVS logo is seen at one of their stores in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

By Caroline Humer and Carl O’Donnell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The proposed merger between U.S. pharmacy operator CVS Health Corp and No. 3 health insurer Aetna Inc represents a $66 billion bet that insurers can drive down high U.S. drug prices by cutting out the middleman.

The move is the most expensive effort to date that would enable a national health insurer to take back full control of prescription medicines for their customers by negotiating prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers and setting customer out-of-pocket costs for each drug.

CVS, one of the largest U.S. pharmacy benefits managers, has offered to buy No. 3 health insurer Aetna for more than $200 per share, sources said on Thursday. It could take at least several weeks for any deal to materialize.

If the deal happens, it would likely pressure rival insurers, drugmakers, pharmaceutical benefits managers, and retail pharmacies to also consider mergers or switching partners to try to keep up with the potential healthcare cost savings or increase in profit margins.

“It’s an alternate model at this point. It’s not clear that it’s definitely a better one,” BMO Capital Markets analyst Matt Borsch said. “More consolidation could lead to pressure on some of the brand-name drug prices and a better counterweight to the big pharma companies.”

For years, insurers paid drug benefits managers like CVS and Express Scripts Holdings Co to negotiate down drug prices, with both parties taking a share of any discount by the time a medicine was paid for by consumers.

But outrage over the high costs of drugs has grown as consumers have picked up a larger portion of the tab for drug costs and it is threatening profit margins all along the drug supply chain, from manufacturers to distributors, insurers and pharmacies.

UnitedHealth Group Inc and Humana Inc currently have in-house pharmacy benefits businesses, and say that it has helped them keep medical costs down.

Anthem Inc recently decided to go down that same path. It cut ties with Express Scripts during a $3 billion legal fight, and said it would use CVS to build its own pharmacy benefits business in the next few years. That tie-up could now be at risk if CVS reaches a deal to buy Aetna, Leerink analyst Ana Gupta said.

CVS also provides management services for Aetna rival Cigna Corp. If CVS buys Aetna, that could revive Cigna’s interest in buying Humana, analyst Christine Arnold of investment bank Cowen & Co said in a research note.

Aetna earlier this year closed the door on a deal with rival insurer Humana Inc after antitrust regulators said that combination and a rival deal between Anthem Inc and Cigna Corp were anti-competitive.

The pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance could need to match its business model closer to CVS to attempt to stay competitive, Arnold said in a note, and may look at buying Express Scripts.

Jefferies analyst Brian Tanquilut said that Express Scripts could also be a target for Amazon Inc which is reported to be looking to get into the pharmacy business.

SWINGING PENDULUM

Over the past decade, health insurers have diverged on the value of the pharmacy benefits business.

Anthem sold its pharmacy benefit manager to Express Scripts and outsourced almost all of the business in 2010.

UnitedHealth took the opposite approach when it decided in 2011 to bring its pharmacy benefits management in house, then bought an even bigger standalone benefits manager, Catamaran, in 2015.

Humana operates its own pharmacy benefit manager and Cigna and Aetna have hybrid approaches where they manage some parts in house and outsource others.

Until recently, insurers sought to expand their profit margins by reducing their spending on hospital services, using their size to negotiate down what they pay to healthcare providers.

But with those profits in hand, and with drug prices representing a bigger proportion of overall healthcare spending, they see new opportunity in targeting the pharmacy benefits, Leerink’s Gupta said.

Another potential lure of a deal for Aetna would be to capitalize on the growing number of simple health services offered in a CVS store, from flu shots to blood pressure checks. Reimbursing such patient care outside of a doctor’s office or hospital could cut healthcare costs, Gupta said.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer and Carl O’Donnell; editing by Michele Gershberg and Meredith Mazzilli)

As Trump tax comes to floor, failure could spell stocks selloff

FILE PHOTO: A street sign is seen in front of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in New York, February 10, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES)

By David Randall and Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investors are increasingly pricing in the effect of a corporate tax cut into the shares of U.S. companies, leaving the market primed for a steep sell-off if the Republican-controlled Congress fails to pass one of President Donald Trump’s top priorities.

The benchmark S&P 500 <.SPX> is up nearly 6 percent from its August lows as the Trump administration has rolled out its tax reform proposal, which would cut corporate taxes to 20 percent from the current 35 percent and allow companies to bring back some of the $2.6 trillion in cash currently held offshore at reduced rates.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch said that a positive boost from taxes “had been priced out of stocks” in July but “has been making a solid comeback.”

Yet there are signs that the Trump administration has little room for error as it gets ready to introduce its tax legislation next week. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a budget measure on Thursday necessary for a vote on a tax bill, with Republicans from such high-tax states as New York and New Jersey among the opponents out of concerns that a bill would eliminate the deduction of state and local taxes.

Trump must also stem potential revolts over a proposal to scale back the level of tax-deferred contributions to 401(k) retirement savings plans, which many middle-class Americans rely on for their retirement.

“The nature of the rally over the last two months has been tax-cut led. If we don’t get a cut then the market is going down” several percentage points, said Edward Perkin, chief equity investment officer at Eaton Vance.

Such a decline would be the first significant sell-off of the year, he said, but would not likely be near the 20 percent decline that signifies the start of a bear market.

A collapse in the tax measure would likely send the S&P 500 down 5 percent or more, Goldman Sachs said in an Oct. 20 note.

“Tax reform will determine the direction of the S&P 500’s next 100 points,” the report said.

Over the last 30 days, roughly 75 companies – ranging from delivery service United Parcel Service Inc <UPS.N> to hotel operator Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc <HLT.N> – have discussed how they would benefit from a corporate tax cut on conference calls with analysts, according to a Reuters analysis of earnings call transcripts, a sign that Wall Street is increasingly focused on the tax bill.

The White House’s plan would boost 2018 S&P 500 adjusted earnings per share by 12 percent, to $156, Goldman Sachs estimates, while leading to an additional $75 billion in stock buybacks.

Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia, said that Trump’s clashes over the last week with members of his own party could threaten the tax bill’s success because it could alienate other Republicans. Because Republicans hold only a slim 52-48 seat advantage in the Senate, Trump can afford to lose only two votes.

“When the possibility of a defection of some Republican senators increases, that kind of puts the whole tax reform thing in jeopardy. He needs them all,” Tuz said.

At the same time, the 14.4 percent year-to-date rally in the S&P 500 leaves the index primed for a decline of at least 5 percent, said Barry James, a co-portfolio manager of the $3.1 billion James Balanced Golden Rainbow fund <GLRBX.O>.

The S&P 500 trades at a trailing price-to-earnings ratio of 22.6, and a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 19.5, both well above their historical norms.

“We’re at levels today that are historically very risky for stocks and we’re primed for a correction,” James said. “If there’s not the tax cut that everyone is expecting, then the correction could be a whole lot more serious.”

(Reporting by David Randall and Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Leslie Adler)

‘Stranger Things 2’ gets darker in aftermath of death and Demogorgon

Cast members (L-R) Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, Noah Schnapp and Gaten Matarazzo pose at the premiere for the second season of the television series “Stranger Things” in Los Angeles, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A year has passed since a supernatural demon terrorized the town of Hawkins, Indiana, but as Netflix’s hit 1980s science fiction series “Stranger Things” returns for a second season on Friday, life has not returned to normal for the unlikely heroes.

The adults and teenagers of “Stranger Things 2” wrestle emotionally with the events of the first season: a town boy’s disappearance, a death, a mysterious girl with superpowers and a decaying parallel universe called the Upside Down.

“We wanted that trauma to really run through the entire season so it’s about these characters confronting the horrors,” said Matt Duffer, one half of the Duffer Brothers, the twins who created the show.

All nine episodes of “Stranger Things 2” will be released on Friday.

At the center of the show are its young teenage breakout stars. Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) suffers worsening visions of the Upside Down after being rescued, forcing his friends to try to find a way to defeat the demon known as Demogorgon.

Eleven, the innocent, tormented young girl with superpowers played by Emmy-nominated 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown, is believed dead and is in hiding, staying with the town’s police chief, Jim Hopper. Frustrated at being kept away from her friends, Eleven clashes with Hopper (David Harbour) and embarks on a mission to find her mother and finally find a home.

“We wanted (Eleven) to go through her own journey in a way that was much more personal to her and wasn’t tied to the boys,” Matt Duffer said. “We wanted her to go through a journey of self-discovery without the help of anyone else.”

“Stranger Things” has become a phenomenon for Netflix Inc, landing Emmy wins and drawing a cadre of obsessed fans who launched a viral online campaign, #JusticeForBarb, sparked by the gruesome demise of supporting character Barb Holland.

The second season ramps up the quest to bring closure to her death while introducing new characters and expanding the story geographically.

The Duffers said they anticipate five seasons to bring “Stranger Things” to a conclusion.

“It was important to us this season to start to move out of Hawkins and to introduce this world,” said Ross Duffer.

“It’s such a fine line and it’s difficult and obviously sequels always feel this way because people want some of the same – that’s why they liked it in the first place – but you don’t want to just go in circles,” he added.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Thunders to $107.6 Million at International Box Office

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-FILM/BOX-OFFICE:Thor: Ragnarok trailer

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Disney-Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” has topped the international box office with $107.6 million in 52% of overseas markets, a week ahead of its U.S. release.

The U.K. is the top market with $15.8 million, 27% ahead of “Doctor Strange.” It’s the biggest October opening ever for a movie in the U.K. except for James Bond titles.

South Korea took in $15.3 million, followed by Australia at $8.4 million, Brazil at $8.3 million, France at $7.4 million, Indonesia at $5.5 million and Taiwan at $5.4 million.

Disney said the opening of the third Thor movie is 4% ahead of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” which wound up  with $481 million at current exchange rates and 22% ahead of “Doctor Strange.” In many markets, “” posted the best October opening weekend ever.

Markets which will open next weekend include Germany, Russia, China, Japan and Mexico, along with the U.S. — where it should top the early November box office with as much as $125 million in its opening weekend, early projections have shown.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is directed by Taika Waititi from a screenplay by Eric Pearson and the writing team of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. It stars Chris Hemsworth , Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins.

Republican senator wants Democrats to testify on Trump dossier

U.S. Senator Susan Collins speaks at the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Business Breakfast in Rockport, Maine, U.S., October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Joel Page

By Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican member of the Intelligence Committee, said Democrats should be called again to testify about reports that their party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign paid for parts of a dossier that detailed accusations about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

The Washington Post reported last week that Marc Elias, a lawyer for 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Clinton, used campaign funds to hire Fusion GPS, the firm behind the dossier. Committees in both chambers of Congress have been investigating the origin and contents of the document.

John Podesta, who was Clinton’s campaign chairman, and U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was the head of the Democratic National Committee at the time, as well as Elias “absolutely need to be recalled” to testify,” Collins said in an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“It’s difficult to imagine that a campaign chairman, that the head of the DNC would not know of an expenditure of this magnitude and significance,” Collins said. “But perhaps there’s something more going on here. But certainly, it’s worth additional questioning of those two witnesses. And the lawyer; absolutely, he more than anyone.”

It has been widely reported that supporters of Republican Jeb Bush, a primary opponent of Trump, initially paid for the firm’s research. Perkins Coie, Elias’ law firm, confirmed on Tuesday that it had hired Fusion GPS in April 2016.

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online publication backed by billionaire Republican megadonor Paul Singer, said on Friday it was the original funder of the Fusion GPS project to compile opposition research on multiple Republican presidential candidates, including Trump.

Known as the Steele dossier because it was compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele, the document identified Russian businessmen and others who U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded are Russian intelligence officers or working on behalf of the Russian government.

Representative Trey Gowdy, a Republican who runs the House Oversight Committee, said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” that he was more interested in whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Department of Justice used the dossier in conducting their own probes.

“I don’t expect the (Democratic National Committee) to be objective,” Gowdy said. “Almost by definition, opposition research is not objective.

“The next thing that House Intel is trying to find out is whether or not the U.S. government relied on it.”

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

In pro-Trump Ohio county, opioid announcement disappoints

Ross County Commissioner Doug Corcoran poses in Chillicothe, Ohio, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Tim Reid

By Tim Reid

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) – Doug Corcoran is in the trenches every day in the fight against the opioid crisis in the rural Ohio county he helps oversee.

So President Donald Trump’s failure this week to formally declare the overdose epidemic a “national emergency” – words that would have freed up more federal funds to tackle the crisis – was disappointing for him.

“I have been hopeful for the last several years that the federal government would step up and help us with this crisis, and they haven’t. They’ve really dropped the ball on this and it’s sad,” said Corcoran, a county commissioner in Ross County, home to 77,000 people an hour south of Columbus, Ohio.

The county’s child services budget nearly doubled in the past five years to almost $2.4 million from $1.3 million, because of the number of children needing care due to addicted parents. For a county with a general fund of $23 million, that is a stress on the finances.

Corcoran struggles constantly to make funds available from the county budget for the likes of drug treatment centers, the county jail and anti-drug education programs.

The disappointment about Trump’s announcement is more bitter in Ross County given that more than 60 percent of the county voted for the Republican at last year’s presidential election against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

ACROSS THE COUNTRY

Corcoran, who attended a youth education event about opioids on Friday in the city of Chillicothe, is not alone as the crisis strains local budgets across the country.

Brian Namey, a spokesman for the National Association of Counties, which represents 3,069 county and local governments, said Trump’s declaration on Thursday that the opioid crisis is a “public health emergency” rather than a national emergency lasts only 90 days and frees up no additional federal funds.

“We strongly urge the administration to release additional money to confront this emergency,” Namey said.

The opioid epidemic played a role in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death rate has kept rising, both in cities and in many rural areas across the country, estimates show.

Opioids, primarily prescription painkillers, in addition to heroin and fentanyl – a pain medicine 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine – are fueling the drug overdoses. More than 100 Americans die daily from related overdoses, according to the CDC.

Republican lawmakers called the president’s declaration an important step in combating the crisis. Some critics, including Democratic lawmakers, said it was meaningless without additional funding.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), representing nearly 3,000 local health departments, also expressed disappointment that Trump did not go further and call the crisis a national emergency.

“The declaration of an opioid public health emergency and not a state of national emergency does not go far enough,” said NACCHO’s Laura Hanen, the association’s interim executive director. “We strongly urge the Administration to act further and release additional monies to bring this emergency to an end.”

Matt Osterberg is a county commissioner in rural Pike County, Pennsylvania. He said the county jail has roughly 120 inmates, the majority of whom are incarcerated for a drug-related crime.

The county of 55,000 has an overall annual budget of $42 million. It spends $3.5 million annually treating drug addicts inside the jail, but often when inmates are released they start taking drugs again and end up back behind bars.

Additional federal funds would be vital to help finance treatment centers for inmates once they are released, something the county cannot afford.

“If people got proper intensive treatment after they get out of jail, that would be my dream,” Osterberg said.

(Additional reporting by Paula Seligson in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Lena Waithe on Sexual Assault Scandal: ‘Stories Will Be Birthed Out of These Turbulent Times’

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-SCENE/VPAGE:Lena Waithe

By Taryn Nobil

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Lena Waithe (“Master of None”), Scott Silveri (“Speechless”), and George Lopez were among those who spoke Thursday night at the Writers Guild Theater about screenwriting. All of the speakers have made massive accomplishments in telling underrepresented stories spanning race, gender, sexuality, special needs, geopolitics, and labor justice.

“Groundbreakers: Writers Who Moved Hearts and Minds” included back-to-back panels, moderated by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. The event was presented by Writers Guild of America West and WGAW’s Publicity and Marketing Committee in partnership with American Cinematheque and sponsor Final Draft.

In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal, the first panel addressed the blaze of empowerment that women in Hollywood have recently felt to stand up and use their voices — and the necessity of men to speak up as allies.

“We need men to not be a–holes,” said Waithe, who won an Emmy for her writing on “Master of None.” “And we need the men who aren’t a–holes to call out other men when they see them being a–holes.” She continued with a hopeful message: “Stories will be birthed out of these turbulent times in which we live. I think we’ll see some amazing movie about it. Movies move the culture, so maybe a movie about sexual harassment will help us deal with it in real life.”

Callie Khouri (“Nashville,” “Thelma and Louise”) emphasized that “storytelling depends on empathy.” Brian Yorkey (“13 Reasons Why”) echoed that sentiment during the second panel. “Empathy is the quality that is most lacking in too much public discourse,” he said. He expressed his hope for more people to “really understand and feel what other people are feeling, not in a removed way, but by living through it with them.” He added, “Drama can create and teach empathy.”

In addition to learning to understand other people’s feelings, screenwriting and viewership can help people better understand themselves. “People who are living a story [like the one they see onscreen] can look at that and say, ‘That feels like what I’m going through.’ It can let them know that they’re not alone,” Yorkey said.

Susannah Grant (“Confirmation,” “Erin Brockovich”) declared that “telling the truth is a radical act” in Trump’s America. “The key to telling any story is specificity,” she insisted. “If you tell one person’s story really well, it humanizes everything. Outrage fatigue is significant, but specific connection to people’s hearts and minds can jog that.”

Grant stressed the significance of “the collective emotional experience of watching something together” with an inspiring moviegoing experience. “I saw ‘La La Land’ soon after [Trump’s presidential election]. Everybody walked into the theater like battered shipwreck survivors. They were so isolated, not making eye contact. It was a horrible time. But we walked out of the theater like, ‘Oh, you’re another human being! That’s right! I see myself in you!’ We had such joy together. That’s a profound act,” she said. “It’s my church.”

The first panel featured Waithe, Lopez, Khouri, Silveri, Diane English (“Murphy Brown”), and Ron Nyswaner (“Homeland,” “Philadelphia”).  The second panel included Grant, Yorkey, Tom Musca(“Stand and Deliver”), David Pollock (“M*A*S*H”), and Josh Singer, who co-wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Spotlight” with Tom McCarthy, and co-wrote Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated film “The Post” with Liz Hannah.

McDonald’s sets new welfare standards for chicken suppliers

FILE PHOTO: The logo of a McDonald’s Corp restaurant is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – McDonald’s Corp <MCD.N> will require suppliers to improve the living conditions and slaughter process for chickens raised to be served in its restaurants, the company said on Friday, the latest changes affecting popular menu items like McNuggets.

Under new guidelines for animal welfare, suppliers such as Tyson Foods Inc <TSN.N> and Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] must by 2024 meet new standards for the amount and brightness of light in chicken houses, provide access to perches that promote natural behavior among birds, and take other steps, according to McDonald’s.

The fast-food chain said it will set targets for chickens’ health, including how well they walk and whether they have broken wings, and use third-party audits to ensure that farms comply. It will work with suppliers and technology companies to develop monitoring systems that automatically gather data on chickens’ behavior on farms.

Such requirements often raise costs for chicken producers because they must buy new equipment and retrofit chicken houses to comply. However, McDonald’s said it would not raise menu prices as a result.

Tyson and Cargill said they supported McDonald’s moves.

The requirements are the latest changes to affect McDonald’s menu that address consumers’ concerns about human and animal health. The company previously stopped buying chicken meat for U.S. restaurants from birds raised with antibiotics that are important to human health and said it would shift to using cage-free eggs in the U.S and Canada.

The world’s largest restaurant chain by revenue has been working to boost flagging traffic at its U.S. restaurants, where it gets most of its profit, after customers defected to fast-food rivals.

“While this might not be a direct impact on sales at McDonald’s, it might help certain segments of our customer base make purchasing decisions that they might not have otherwise made,” Bruce Feinberg, a senior director for McDonald’s who works on meat products, said about the new standards.

Under the changes, McDonald’s also will buy chickens in the United States and Canada that have been rendered unconscious before slaughter with gas, instead of with electricity, a process some consider more humane.

The changes cover birds that account for more than 70 percent of McDonald’s global chicken supply, according to the company. It declined to reveal the number of chickens.

“I think it’s one of the most comprehensive programs that I’ve seen for chickens,” said livestock researcher Temple Grandin, who pioneered humane slaughterhouse practices and works with McDonald’s.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

U.S. women gather in Detroit to build on anti-Trump Women’s March

A group of Indigenous women raise their fists as they sing during the opening session of the three-day Women’s Convention at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

By Letitia Stein

DETROIT (Reuters) – Ryan Elwood was in Detroit on Friday for a three-day Women’s Convention expected to draw thousands who joined the worldwide Women’s March that protested Republican President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.

An artist from Oakland, California, Elwood, 28, said she wants to learn how to better advocate for local issues and translate her outrage into change.

“Protesting is good for making noise,” she said on Friday. “Being able to sit down and collect similar minds together can make actual action plans.”

Expected to draw 4,000 people, the three-day Women’s Convention is intended to build on the grassroots activism that brought millions of protesters to the streets of Washington D.C. and other cities around the world. The women’s marches in January were considered to be the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.

“The march was great, but that was a moment,” Linda Sarsour, a lead organizer of the Women’s March, told convention participants on Friday. “Now we need the work and the movement.”

The convention’s agenda was designed to provide training and networking opportunities ahead of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. Breakout sessions focus on neighborhood organizing, engaging minority groups and related topics.

Impact from the marches and convention, however, may take years to materialize. Drawing large numbers to an organizing session marks a milestone, said Lee Ann Banaszak, a political science professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies women’s movements. But it is no guarantee of electoral results.

“That is the harder thing,” she said.

A few women at Friday’s opening session wore the pink pussy hats that became symbol of the January marches. But the gathering was more focused on issues than grabbing attention.

Standing up against sexual violence was a key subject following allegations movie producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted women over the past three decades.

Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone. Reuters has been unable to independently confirm any of the allegations.

One of the convention’s first speakers was Tarana Burke, who a decade ago created a campaign to call awareness to the pervasiveness of sexual violence using the phrase “me too.” In the wake of the scandal, it has emerged as a social media hashtag reaching well beyond show business.

“We are here for the long haul,” Burke said to applause. “If you are ready for this fight, if you are here to take that charge, my simple reply to you is – me too.”

She was followed by Rose McGowan, an actress who was part of a settlement with Weinstein in an alleged sexual harassment case, the New York Times reported. McGowan is also joining a convention panel on advocating for victims of sexual assault. Weinstein spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister did not respond to a request for comment.

“No more. Name it. Shame it. Call it out,” McGowan said. “Join me, join all of us, as we amplify each other’s voices.”

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Osterman)

Facebook says will make ads more transparent

FILE PHOTO: Facebook logo is seen at a start-up companies gathering at Paris’ Station F in Paris, France on January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

(Reuters) – Facebook said on Friday it would make advertising on its network more transparent, amid increased scrutiny of political spending on social media.

Advertisers will be required to include a disclosure in election-related ads, which will read: “Paid for by,” Facebook said.

“When it comes to advertising on Facebook, people should be able to tell who the advertiser is and see the ads they’re running, especially for political ads,” Rob Goldman, vice president of ads at Facebook said in a blog post.

Facebook Inc <FB.O>, Twitter Inc <TWTR.N> and Google have in recent weeks said Russian operatives bought ads and used fake names on their services to spread divisive messages in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

On Tuesday, Twitter said it would add labels to election-related ads and say who is behind each of them, after a threat of regulation from the U.S. over the lack of disclosure for political spending on social media.

Twitter also accused two Russian media outlets of interfering in the 2016 U.S. election and banned them from buying ads on its network, after criticism it had not done enough to deter international meddling.

Facebook said its users will be able to view the ads any Facebook page is running, whether or not they are the intended target audience for the ad.

It will begin testing the feature in Canada, Facebook said.

(Reporting by Laharee Chatterjee and Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)