Special Report: In a hospital ward in Yemen, the collapse of a nation

Nahla Arishi, a pediatrician, checks a woman infected with diphtheria at the al-Sadaqa teaching hospital in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman

By Selam Gebrekidan

ADEN (Reuters) – Nahla Arishi, chief pediatrician at the al-Sadaqa hospital in this Yemeni port city, had not seen diphtheria in her 20-year career. Then, late last month, a three-year-old girl with high fever was rushed to Arishi’s ward. Her neck was swollen, and she gasped for air through a lump of tissue in her throat. Eight days later, she died.

Soon after, a 10-month-old boy with similar symptoms died less than 24 hours after arriving at the hospital.

Two five-year-old cousins were admitted; only one survived.

A 45-day-old boy, his neck swollen and bruised, lasted a few hours. His last breath was through an oxygen mask.

One morning in early December, 16-month-old Sameh arrived at the hospital carried by his aunt and delirious with fever. Arishi immediately recognized a new case of diphtheria. “Put on your mask,” she ordered the aunt.

Sameh’s father, a fighter in Yemen’s three-year war, rushed in, grabbed his son, yanked off the baby’s shoes and threw them on the floor. “Sameh is the light of the house,” he wailed, feeling the boy’s feverish brow and body.

This is the emergency ward to a nation. After three years of warfare, cholera and hunger, Yemen faces a new battle: In the past four months, doctors across the country have recorded at least 380 cases of diphtheria, a bacterial disease that last appeared here in 1992.

Arishi, like her country around her, is struggling to cope. Every month, she and her team drip-feed dozens of Yemen’s half a million severely malnourished children. Her ward has also treated hundreds of the one million people infected by cholera.

This spring, Arishi and her colleagues reopened an abandoned wing of al-Sadaqa hospital, fenced it with chicken wire and created a makeshift cholera treatment center. Now, they are converting part of that center into a diphtheria ward, cordoning off isolation units by barring hallway doors.

But with rusty oxygen tanks and only two functional ventilators in a different part of the hospital – and with the expectation that the cholera epidemic will worsen in coming months — her triage upon triage is no longer working.

“We’re getting more patients but we can’t deal with them. We don’t have supplies. We don’t have money,” said Arishi, “This war has got to end.”

For the past three years, Yemen has been the combat zone of a struggle for regional supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Riyadh and some of its Arab allies jumped into Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to help quell an uprising by the Houthis, an Islamic political-religious movement backed by Iran. In addition to airstrikes, Riyadh – with U.S. and U.N. backing – has positioned ships in Yemeni waters as a way to stop arms reaching Houthi militia.

But the blockade has ended up isolating a country that was already the poorest in the Middle East. Vital provisions – food, medicine, fuel, medical equipment, batteries, solar panels and more – are not getting through. Humanitarian shipments of food and medicine have mostly been allowed into the country. Yet Saudi-led forces have severely delayed aid shipments or closed ports outright, especially in northern Yemen where fighting and the humanitarian crisis are most acute.

The war and blockade have also thwarted Yemen’s vaccination programs.

Seven years ago, 80 percent of children were fully immunized with three doses of diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus vaccine, or DTP as the combined shot is called, according to Zaher Sahloul, a critical-care specialist who cofounded a nonprofit called MedGlobal. Now, he says, that has dropped to 60 percent.

Poor record keeping means there are discrepancies in data related to vaccine coverage. Yemen’s Ministry of Health says 85 percent of Yemeni children have been immunized against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, Hepatitis B and bacterial influenza since the beginning of the conflict, a mere two percentage point drop from pre-war years.

In late November, the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO) sent a shipment of diphtheria antitoxins – designed to treat those already infected – and vaccines to the capital Sanaa. The vaccines were delayed by the Saudi blockade for a week, the WHO said.

In July, the Geneva-based International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision earmarked a million cholera vaccines for Yemen. An initial shipment of 500,000 doses was sent to the African Horn country of Djibouti, and was ready to send on to Sanaa. But the WHO and local authorities in Sanaa decided together to scrap the vaccination plan, citing logistical and technical issues.

“Yemen needs a Marshall Plan,” said Sahloul, who was visiting al-Sadaqa’s treatment center in December. “It is difficult to foresee an optimistic scenario if the current conditions persist,” he said.

DISEASE AFTER DISEASE

Arishi began her medical career in the mid-1990s after Yemen unified following years of conflict between communist and pro-western forces. She joined the al-Sadaqa hospital, which was built in the 1980s with funds from the Soviet Union.

In her two decades at the hospital’s pediatric ward, Arishi has seen Yemen slowly come apart again. Even in the mid 2000s, the country faced widespread hunger because of rising food prices. The feeding center of al-Sadaqa’s hospital, she said, was crowded even before the new civil war began.

In the spring of 2015, Houthi forces, aided by the now-deceased former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, advanced south from their stronghold in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and took over Aden’s airport. It was then that the coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia joined the war and began launching airstrikes against Houthi-held enclaves. Fighting raged until troops backing the officially-recognized government wrenched Aden from Houthi control in July of that year.

During the first months of fighting, al-Sadaqa filled with hundreds of wounded children and adults.

By the middle of 2016, another group of patients began pouring into the hospital. A cholera outbreak that started in Sanaa had spread to Aden. Dehydrated children, their condition made worse by malnutrition, flooded into her pediatric ward. Many did not survive, Arishi said.

Cholera can kill because patients quickly lose their fluids through vomiting and watery diarrhea. When caught early, it can be treated by replacing fluids.

When a second wave of cholera infections swept Yemen in April this year, Arishi and her colleagues decided to set up the new treatment center. They picked a building away from the main wings of the hospital to avoid contamination and repaired it with funds from the WHO and medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Converting the building, which had been abandoned for two years after the war, required “heavy cleaning work, electricity, water system repairs as well as installing air conditioners,” according to MSF.

Yet, like the country itself, al-Sadaqa was overwhelmed by the cholera epidemic. Nationwide, a million people have been infected, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The WHO says cholera has killed more than 2,200 people.

Most of the infected were in the populous north of the country. But al-Sadaqa, which took in patients from across south Yemen, was also unprepared. Arishi and her colleagues had expected 10 patients at a time. Instead, by the summer, they were treating more than a hundred, mostly adults, a day.

Since September, the spread of cholera across the country has abated. However, doctors agree that a new wave of infections is likely in March, when the country’s rainy season returns. Cholera spreads more easily in wet weather, because the bacteria live in rivers and coastal waters which swell with the rain. Rain brings sewage into sources of drinking water.

In August, a new disease began to emerge. In Ibb governorate, 170 km south of Sanaa, a 17-year-old boy was diagnosed with diphtheria, according to the WHO.

Diphtheria is caused by bacteria that mainly infect the throat, nose and airways and send toxins into the bloodstream. It has largely receded as a global health threat, because much of the world’s population is protected through routine immunization.

But the disease is highly contagious once it takes root, doctors say, since it spreads in the droplets from coughing and sneezing. Small children are particularly vulnerable because toxins from the bacteria build up a coating of dead tissue that blocks their small airways.

Since the mid-August case, more than 380 patients have been admitted to hospitals across Yemen with diphtheria-like symptoms, according to the WHO. Doctors diagnosed the cases based solely on patients’ symptoms. Close to 40 of the patients have died, by WHO estimates.

The first case of suspected diphtheria reached al-Sadaqa in November. Of the seven children who arrived within a fortnight, nearly all were initially misdiagnosed with mumps or flu. Four died.

Arishi faced the problem of isolating children with symptoms of diphtheria. She asked hospital administrators to block a hallway door with a cupboard. Behind it, she tried to isolate those who might infect others.

But she lacked basic resources to treat the new disease. Al-Sadaqa hospital, like most others in Yemen, does not have the reagents needed to test for diphtheria. In fact, none of Arishi’s diagnoses has been confirmed by laboratory tests.

Marc Poncin, an MSF emergency coordinator in Ibb governorate, said the lack of recent experience means it could be harder to treat diphtheria.

“There has been a loss of knowledge regarding its treatment, because it’s become something of a neglected and forgotten disease,” he said.

After a diagnosis, treatment is far from easy. Doctors can prescribe antitoxins and antibiotics. But until a few weeks ago, Yemen had no such antitoxin stocks.

The United Nations Children’s Fund and the WHO have imported more than 5 million doses of vaccines to immunize children in the worst affected areas. The WHO has already distributed antibiotics to patients and, as prophylactics, to their families.

Some diphtheria patients need emergency surgery to remove blockages from their airways or need machines to breathe. But most of Yemen’s hospitals don’t have such equipment. As of early December, only two of al-Sadaqa’s three mechanical ventilators were working, and the hospital didn’t have an isolated operating room for diphtheria patients.

The lack of resources has caused strains with the hospital’s supporters. When Arishi cordoned off a part of the cholera ward for the incoming diphtheria patients a couple of weeks ago, the WHO was not happy with the decision, according to Hussein Hassan, head of the WHO’s Aden office.

“We cannot confidently say that cholera is over. It is a seasonal problem and it may come back. What happens if another wave starts and the ward is filled with diphtheria patients?” said Hassan.

“I DIDN’T WANT TO LOSE MY KID”

Arishi says there is another sign that Yemen is breaking down: parents’ waning faith.

She sees more examples of families that have not vaccinated their children because they distrust both their government and international organizations.

Earlier this month she confronted Saleh Khaled, the father of a five-year-old boy called Yasir, who arrived with severe diphtheria symptoms.

“Why did you not vaccinate your son?” Arishi asked.

Yasir’s first cousin, who was also five years old and unvaccinated, had died a few days earlier. When the first symptoms had appeared on Yasir’s neck and chin, the boy’s parents had given him honey.

Khaled said he had heard rumors, years earlier, about children who had died after healthcare workers had allegedly switched vaccine vials with insulin during a door-to-door vaccination campaign.

“I didn’t want to lose my kid because of something like this,” he said. “We don’t trust the people who work in the health department.”

Others in the al-Sadaqa ward that day echoed similar fears.

“We live only because of God’s mercy,” said Khaled Nasser, the father of 16-month-old Sameh. Nasser, a member of a local armed group that fights alongside Saudi-allied forces, said fellow fighters had helped him buy medicine when Sameh got sick.

Arishi herself barely ekes out a living. She makes $210 a month at al-Sadaqa and works at a private clinic three days a week to supplement her income. The mother of three treats neighbors and relatives without getting paid. Her husband, also a pediatrician, works at another clinic in Aden.

For Arishi, war is both burden and inspiration. She says it has made her commitment to medicine stronger.

“If I leave and my husband leaves and everyone leaves, who will stay to treat our patients?” she said. “Aden is my city. It is my responsibility.”

(Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva. Edited by Alessandra Galloni and Simon Robinson)

Gold breaks above $1,300/oz on way to best year since 2010

FILE PHOTO: An employee sorts gold bars in the Austrian Gold and Silver Separating Plant ‘Oegussa’ in Vienna, Austria, December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

By Jan Harvey

LONDON (Reuters) – Gold hit its highest in 2-1/2 months on Friday and remained on track for its biggest annual rise since 2010 as a wilting dollar, political tensions and receding concerns over the impact of U.S. interest rate hikes fed into its rally.

The dollar, in which gold is priced, is sliding towards its worst year since 2003, damaged by tensions over North Korea, the Russian scandal surrounding U.S. President Donald Trump’s election campaign, and persistently low U.S. inflation. [FRX/]

The dollar’s drop to three-month lows versus a basket of currencies on Friday lifted gold to its highest since mid October at $1,303.90 an ounce.

At 1430 GMT spot gold <XAU=> was at $1,302.72 an ounce, up 0.2 percent, while U.S. gold futures <GCv1> for February delivery were up $7.80 an ounce at $1,305.00.

“In the last couple of weeks, trade has been relatively thin, yields have been under pressure and the dollar as well, so gold has profited from that,” ABN Amro analyst Georgette Boele said. “If you look over the year, dollar weakness has been the main theme.”

Gold will be vulnerable next year to a rebound in the currency, as well as any gains in yields, she said. The opportunity cost of holding non-interest bearing bullion increases when yields rise elsewhere.

The impact of three U.S. interest rate hikes this year was offset by the dollar’s weakness, Boele said. “The dollar is the most important driver, and then real yields. The Fed is increasing rates, but the dollar’s not profiting.”

Gold, which is also on course for its best month since August, has also benefited of late from technically driven momentum, analysts said.

ScotiaMocatta’s technical team said in a note that chart signals for the metal look positive after it broke above its 100-day moving average this week at $1,295 an ounce. “Momentum indicators are bullish as gold appears poised to target the October high (of) $1,306,” it said.

Among precious metals, palladium has seen the strongest rise this year, climbing 56 percent as concerns grew over availability after years of market deficit.

Spot palladium <XPD=> was down 0.5 percent at $1,059.65 an ounce, having hit its highest since February 2001 at $1,072 in the previous session. It has held in a historically unusual premium to platinum through the fourth quarter.

Spot silver <XAG=> was up 0.7 percent at $16.97, while platinum <XPT=> was 1.2 percent higher at $933.90. This year the two metals have risen by 6.5 percent and 3.8 percent respectively.

(Additional reporting by Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru; editing by Mark Heinrich and Jason Neely)

Goldman to take one-time $5 billion hit to profit from new tax law

FILE PHOTO: A view of the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

(Reuters) – Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N> said on Friday it expects fourth-quarter earnings to decrease by about $5 billion, as the bank looks to take advantage of a new tax law that makes it cheaper for U.S. companies to repatriate profits.

Around two-thirds of the $5 billion decrease is due to repatriation tax, the cost of moving money from foreign countries to the U.S., Goldman said in a statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

However, the impact of the tax legislation may differ from the estimate, according to the bank.

Congress’ U.S. tax overhaul bill, which President Donald Trump signed into law last week, significantly cuts the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent.

According to the new law, profits brought back to the United States would not be taxed at the full 35-percent corporate tax rate that would normally be due. Instead, those profits would be taxed at only 15.5 percent for cash assets and 8 percent for illiquid assets.

Apple Inc <AAPL.O> is likely to be a big beneficiary of the overhaul since it allows the company bring back its $252.3 billion foreign cash pile without a major tax hit.

Drugmaker Amgen Inc <AMGN.O> last week said it expects to incur tax expenses of $6 billion to $6.5 billion over time as it repatriates cash.

Several other companies have also warned of a one-time loss due to the tax overhaul, Delta Airlines <DAL.N> said it may take a hit of around $200 million to tax expense.

Big European banks such as Barclays <BARC.L>, UBS Group <UBSG.S> and Credit Suisse Group <CSGN.S> said the new tax rules will cost each between $1.3 billion to $3 billion.

JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N>, Wells Fargo <WFC.N> and Morgan Stanley <MS.N> did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Bank of America <BAC.N> said in a public filing last week it expects net income for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2017 to reduce by about $3 billion, mainly due to lower valuation of some deferred tax assets.

Goldman Sachs shares were down marginally down in early trading.

(Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

Tennis: Serena, Fed and Rafa make it landmark year for greats

Tennis player Serena Williams attends the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Ian Chadband

LONDON (Reuters) – Serena Williams needed just one January fortnight to underline her greatness before Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal then spent the rest of 2017 reminding us of why tennis really is still basking in its age of sporting wonders.

When Williams beat big sister Venus in the Australian Open to lift a 23rd grand slam singles crown, a record in the Open era, she seemed so dominant that a calendar year grand slam even felt feasible.

Instead, it was to be the last match Serena played all season as she ended up celebrating an even happier event.

For after it was revealed that, astonishingly, she had been eight weeks pregnant when winning in Melbourne without dropping a set, Serena gave birth to baby daughter, Alexis Olympia in September.

She reckoned those ‘AO’ initials were a nod to how they spent together on court at the ‘Australian Open’ and Serena will be back there in January at 36, seeking to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 singles slams.

Yet even ‘supermum’ Serena would do well to top the amazing Federer-Nadal comeback roadshow of 2017 as they seemed to hop from some time machine to share the season’s four slams.

That would have been considered preposterous at the start of 2017 with Federer, at 35, given no chance after a six-month injury absence, and 30-year-old Nadal apparently a shadow of his old dominating self after so much wear and tear on his battered knees.

Instead, the pair served up an epic final in Melbourne, won in five mesmerising sets by Federer, that was to reignite and reshape sport’s most shining rivalry.

With his new-found swashbuckling backhand attack, Federer beat his nemesis in all four 2017 meetings but, also recognising the importance of rest, decided daringly to bypass the entire draining claycourt season.

He was right to predict Nadal would be unstoppable as usual at his Roland Garros kingdom as the Spaniard achieved ‘La Decima’, that unreal 10th French Open crown, without dropping a set and thrashing Stan Wawrinka in the final.

A refreshed Federer was then equally majestic at Wimbledon, winning a record eighth crown in the same blemish-free fashion, outplaying injury-hit Marin Cilic for his 19th slam.

Nadal did, though, win their duel for the world No.1 spot in August as Federer’s form was affected by back trouble and the Spaniard roared to a 16th slam, beating Kevin Anderson in the U.S. Open final.

Of course, the duo’s monopoly was aided by injury woes for the outgoing no.1 Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, whose lame exits at Wimbledon persuaded them to take a leaf out of Federer’s book and seek rest and recuperation.

They will be back raring to go in Melbourne, as will Grigor Dimitrov, leader of the chasing pack who was crowned ATP Tour champion in November, but Federer, who lost just five of 57 matches and lifted seven titles, offered the eerie impression of actually playing better than ever.

Williams, meanwhile, will return, knowing no-one seemingly had the game nor ambition to take command of women’s tennis in her absence.

Four others also held the No.1 ranking in 2017 — Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza, winner at Wimbledon over 37-year-old Venus Williams, and Simona Halep, who ended the season on top.

Halep, though, again fell short in the biggest events, topped by her loss to free-hitting 20-year-old Latvian Jelena Ostapenko in the French Open final, perhaps the most startling triumph of the year from a youngster who had previously not even won any tour event.

As for comeback of the year, even Federer bowed to Petra Kvitova, who returned after a career-threatening knife attack to win, astonishingly, in just her second tournament back on tour.

Then there was Sloane Stephens, who after 11 months out with a foot injury that needed surgery and having been ranked 957th only a month before the tournament, won her home U.S. Open final against great friend Madison Keys.

“If you told someone this story, they’d be, like, ‘That’s insane.’,” Stephens mused afterwards.

She could have been reflecting on the whole of a faintly surreal but wonderful tennis year.

(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Rex Gowar)

Djokovic doubtful for Australian Open after withdrawing from Abu Dhabi event

Tennis – Wimbledon – London, Britain – July 12, 2017 Serbia’s Novak Djokovic reacts as he retires from his quarter final match against Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych with an injury REUTERS/Matthew Childs

(Reuters) – Former world number one Novak Djokovic’s preparation for next month’s Australian Open suffered a blow after he pulled out of the season-opening exhibition event in Abu Dhabi on Friday due to pain in his right elbow.

The 12-time grand slam winner was scheduled to kickstart the new season against Roberto Bautista Agut but was advised by his medical team to skip the tournament just hours before the match.

Djokovic has not played since he was forced to retire against Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon in July due to an elbow injury.

“I am terribly disappointed that I am forced to withdraw from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship,” the Serb said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, in the past few days I started to feel pain in the elbow and after several tests, my medical team has advised me not to risk anything, to withdraw from the tournament and to immediately continue with the therapies.

“I am very sad because I was eager to return to playing official matches. Now I need to accept this situation, and to wait for the results of the therapies, in order to start playing tennis again and getting back to full rhythm.”

Organizers said that Britain’s Andy Murray had agreed to step in and play an exhibition match against Bautista Agut instead. Murray has been out of competitive action for six months due to an ongoing hip problem but was in Abu Dhabi as part of his rehabilitation.

The Australian Open, the first grand slam of 2018, begins on Jan. 15 at Melbourne Park.

(This story has been refiled to tweak the headline.)

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Highlights of Thursday’s NHL games

Dec 28, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Vegas Golden Knights players celebrate after a goal by left wing Brendan Leipsic (13) in the third period against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of National Hockey League games on Thursday:

Golden Knights 3, Kings 2

David Perron scored the winning goal at 3:30 of overtime as the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Thursday for their sixth consecutive win.

Vegas extended its point streak to 11 games (10-0-1), the longest of any team in its inaugural season. It is the first time in NHL history that an expansion team has won six games in a row.

Jonathan Marchessault and Brendan Leipsic registered the other Vegas goals. Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves.

Los Angeles lost its second straight game and has dropped five of its past seven. Marian Gaborik and Drew Doughty registered goals, and Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

Capitals 4, Bruins 3 (SO)

Alex Ovechkin scored the only goal of the shootout, and Washington earned its 12th consecutive victory over Boston.

Ovechkin, the Capitals’ third shooter, made a move to his right and fired high over Bruins goaltender Anton Khudobin, off the post and in. Boston had won five straight while Washington snapped a three-game slide after overcoming a 2-0 deficit.

David Backes’ second goal of the night gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead at 7:19 of the third period, but the Capitals tied it on Brett Connolly’s eighth goal of the season during a scramble in front with 8:38 remaining. Backes and Noel Acciari scored early in the first period.

Lightning 3, Canadiens 1

Red-hot Tampa Bay tied the game with 12 seconds left in the second period and jumped ahead 30 seconds into the third to defeat Montreal.

The Lightning’s top two scorers combined on a highlight-reel goal — Nikita Kucherov outskated a Canadiens defender to a loose puck and flicked a no-look backward pass to a charging Steven Stamkos, who beat Carey Price for the tying goal.

Tampa Bay, which is 10-0-1 in its past 11, took the momentum from that score into the third, when Brayden Point poked in a loose puck in front of the net for his 15th goal and a 2-1 lead with 19:30 left.

Maple Leafs 7, Coyotes 4

Patrick Marleau scored twice as Toronto defeated Arizona.

Mitch Marner recorded a goal and two assists, William Nylander had a goal and an assist, and Auston Matthews, Zach Hyman and Connor Brown also scored for the Maple Leafs. Marleau finished with a three-point night.

Jordan Martinook had a goal and an assist, and Josh Archibald, Brendan Perlini and Christian Fischer also scored for the Coyotes, who fell to a league-worst 9-26-5. Arizona has lost two of three, giving up at least six goals in each of the defeats.

Panthers 3, Flyers 2

James Reimer came within eight minutes of his second consecutive shutout as Florida won its fourth straight game.

Reimer, who made 29 saves in his 10th straight start in place of injured starter Roberto Luongo, has allowed just seven goals in his past four appearances. In a span covering parts of three games, Reimer went 121:54 without allowing a goal.

Jared McCann, Derek MacKenzie and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for the Panthers, and Nick Bjugstad picked up two assists. Huberdeau has 13 goals, one shy of Vincent Trocheck for the team lead.

Sharks 3, Flames 2 (SO)

Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi scored the only goals in a shootout, lifting San Jose past Calgary for the Sharks’ third consecutive win.

Pavelski and Timo Meier scored for the Sharks in regulation, and Martin Jones made 32 saves. Jones stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout.

Garnet Hathaway and Mikael Backlund scored for the Flames. Backup goaltender David Rittich made 30 saves.

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Thomas Vanek scored two goals and added three assists, and Sam Gagner added two goals and an assist as Vancouver beat Chicago.

Gagner extended his point streak to four games after producing points in only five of the previous 15 contests. His linemate, Brock Boeser, had a goal and three assists to take the NHL rookie points lead (38) from Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders.

The Canucks ended a four-game losing streak. The Blackhawks took their third loss in a row. Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman, with only 8.6 seconds left in the game, scored for Chicago.

Highlights of Thursday’s NBA games

Dec 28, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) and guard Kyrie Irving (11) jump in the air in celebration of a basket during the second half against the Houston Rockets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights from National Basketball Association games on Thursday:

Celtics 99, Rockets 98

The Boston Celtics pulled off the biggest comeback of the NBA season on Thursday.

Down by 26 points early in the third quarter, Boston never led until Al Horford scored with 3.7 seconds left, escaping with a wild 99-98 victory that sent the Houston Rockets to their fourth straight loss.

Two straight offensive fouls in the backcourt resulting from James Harden knocking down Marcus Smart as Houston tried to inbound the ball with no timeouts left turned the game in the closing seconds.

Kyrie Irving paced the Celtics with 26 points. Harden led all scorers with 34 points but was only 7-of-27 from the floor.

Spurs 119, Knicks 107

LaMarcus Aldridge scored a game-high 25 points, and Pau Gasol added 17 points and 11 rebounds to rack up his fourth straight double-double as San Antonio rolled past New York.

All five starters scored in double figures for the Spurs, who won their straight game. Kyle Anderson, who started in place of Kawhi Leonard, scored 16 points, and Danny Green and Tony Parker hit for 15 and 14 points, respectively.

Michael Beasley led the Knicks with 23 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Kristaps Porzingis, who fouled out with 2:30 left, and Courtney Lee had 18 points apiece.

Magic 102, Pistons 89

Point guard Elfrid Payton had 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in leading Orlando to a victory over Detroit that snapped a nine-game losing streak.

The Pistons lost for only the second time in the past seven games.

Evan Fournier scored 17 points for the Magic. Bismack Biyombo, in his second start of the season, had a season-high 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Aaron Gordon added 14 points.

Tobias Harris led Detroit with 21 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and a game-high 18 rebounds. Ish Smith, in his first start of the season, scored 18 points.

Trail Blazers 114, 76ers 110

CJ McCollum scored 34 points and Portland rallied from an 18-point, third-quarter deficit to beat Philadelphia at Moda Center.

Shabazz Napier added a season-high 23 points and Jusuf Nurkic collected 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who snapped a six-game home skid.

Joel Embiid had 29 points and nine rebounds and Dario Saric chipped in 25 points and nine boards for the 76ers, who lost for the sixth time in seven outings.

Bucks 102, Timberwolves 96

Eric Bledsoe hit a three-pointer with 2:25 left to give Milwaukee its first lead of the night in a victory over Minnesota at the Bradley Center.

Bledsoe scored 26 points, and Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Bucks, who overcame a 20-point deficit in the second half.

The Timberwolves were hitting at a 57.7 percent clip through three quarters but went 2 of 10 from beyond the arc and 4-of-19 overall in the fourth quarter.

Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 22 points. Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler had 21 and 20, respectively, as Minnesota’s five-game win streak ended.

Chicago board finds policeman’s fatal shooting of two not justified: newspapers

FILE PHOTO: Janet Cooksey (L), is embraced as she attends the funeral for her son Quintonio LeGrier in Chicago, Illinois, January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

(Reuters) – A Chicago city oversight board has found that a policeman was unjustified in fatally shooting a 19-year-old college student and a 55-year-old grandmother about two years ago, newspapers reported on Thursday.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability said no evidence supported the claims of Officer Robert Rialmo, who said student Quintonio LeGrier advanced at officers with a baseball bat in a threatening manner, the Chicago Sun Times and Chicago Tribune reported.

Bettie Jones, a neighbor standing nearby, was accidentally killed by the officer’s gunfire in the December 2015 incident that unfolded in a vestibule of a Chicago home.

LeGrier and Jones were African-Americans and the deaths fueled Chicago’s already intense debate over police use of force against minorities that have sparked protests in a number of cities around the United States.

Officials from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) were not immediately available for comment.

Joel Brodsky, a lawyer for Rialmo, said the board’s conclusions are “designed to preserve votes for the mayor at the expense of a good police officer who was doing his job.

“COPA’s conclusions, which are unsupported by the facts, are clearly political in nature,” Brodsky said in a statement.

The report said Rialmo’s statements on the bat were “inconsistent and ultimately unreliable,” the Sun-Times said.

The board’s report also concluded that a “reasonable officer” would not have believed he was in danger of death or serious injury, the Tribune said.

The board did not include any recommendations for punishment in its report, the Tribune said.

Both LeGrier’s and Jones’ estates have sued Rialmo and the city for wrongful death.

Rialmo has counter-sued, saying LeGrier attacked him with a baseball bat, forcing him to kill him. Rialmo has also sued the City of Chicago saying he was not properly trained to reduce tensions in heated encounters with mentally ill people.

LeGrier was shot six times, including twice in the back. Jones was hit once in the chest, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said in autopsy reports.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Richard Chang)

California set for New Year’s buzz with recreational marijuana sales

FILE PHOTO: Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles, California July 11, 2014. REUTERS/David McNew

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California adults not content to ring in the New Year with the traditional fizz of champagne can look forward to celebrating with the buzz of marijuana, purchased for the first time from state-licensed retailers of recreational pot.

Dozens of newly authorized marijuana stores are due to open for business across California on Jan. 1, launching yet another chapter in America’s drug culture and the largest regulated commercial market for cannabis in the United States – one valued at several billion dollars.

The rollout is expected to be gradual and bumpy. The state only began handing out licenses in mid-December, issued on a temporary basis because implementing regulations were still under review.

Newly permitted retailers will rely on a hodge-podge of marijuana producers in the state’s illicit “gray market” to stock their shelves for the next six months, until state-licensed growers can harvest their first crops.

And many jurisdictions, notably Los Angeles and San Francisco, will be closed to business in the recreational pot sector for days or weeks because of additional local approvals applicants must win.

Shops in San Diego, San Jose, the Bay area-towns of Berkeley and Oakland, and Eureka – the heart of Northern California’s cannabis country – are among those ready to go on Day One, said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the state Cannabis Control Board.

“The market is going to be kind of rough getting started,” said Jordan Lams, chief executive of Moxie, a company based in the Los Angeles suburb of Lynwood that specializes in making cannabis extracts, including oils used in electronic vaporization, or “vape,” devices.

He predicted supply shortages early on.

California led the way in legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in 1996, and more than 30 states have followed suit since then, though cannabis remains classified as an illegal narcotic under U.S. law.

On Monday, California will become the sixth U.S. state, and by far the most populous, to legalize, regulate and tax sales of recreational marijuana – a market catering to consumers wishing to buy the drug for its mind- and mood-altering properties.

MEDICINAL VS. RECREATIONAL

Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada were first in launching recreational pot sales on a state-regulated basis. Massachusetts and Maine are on track to do so in 2018.

With California and its 39.5 million residents joining the fold, more than one in five of Americans will now live in states where recreational marijuana is commercially available to buy in state-licensed stores.

Many among the new recreational pot proprietors previously operated as medical cannabis dispensaries, under a patchwork of local regulations. Some will now be licensed by the state to sell both.

The recreational sector – what state regulators prefer to call the “adult use” market – is considered more lucrative.

“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for,” said Daniel Yi, spokesman for the 7-year-old Los Angeles-area dispensary chain MedMen, which is expanding from a medical business model to serving recreational users as well.

The stage for Monday’s grand opening was set when voters passed a ballot measure in November 2016, Proposition 64, immediately legalizing personal possession and use of recreational pot by adults 21 and over. They could also grow their own.

But it has taken California lawmakers and bureaucrats over a year to devise a licensing, regulatory and tax structure for all phases of the commercial distribution chain.

A key goal of the new regime is to eliminate California’s illicit marijuana production and farms, which account for roughly 60 percent of the nation’s pot supply and are blamed for degrading the environment.

Supporters also point to a hefty new tax revenue source that by most estimates will total $1 billion a year. Both medical and recreational cannabis will be subject to a 15 percent state excise tax, though medical pot will be exempt from regular state sales taxes.

Recreational customers are limited to buying no more than one ounce (28 grams) of raw cannabis or its equivalent at a time, though individuals may grow up to six plants per person.

Investors have expressed an eagerness for a piece of California’s burgeoning legit marijuana market, estimated to be worth $4 billion to $11 billion.

Opponents, however, have argued liberalized marijuana laws carry major public safety risks and make pot more accessible to youngsters.

Analysts expect much of the illicit trade in recreational pot will quickly gravitate to legit retailers as prices come down and reach parity with the illegal market.

An eighth ounce of “fairly good-quality flower,” labeled with such names as “Blue Dream,” “Youth in Asia” and “Super Glue,” will go for about $35, said Yi of MedMen, which plans to wait until Jan. 2 to launch recreational sales in two of its sleek, artisanal shops in West Hollywood and Santa Ana.

Three other MedMen shops within the city of Los Angeles will probably have to wait for at least a few weeks, Yi said.

(Reporting By Steve Gorman, Editing by Ben Klayman and Rosalba O’Brien)

Trump demands border wall, visa changes as part of immigration fix

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters in Washington, U.S., December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he would not consider reinstating an immigration program that protected young people from deportation without a commitment from Democrats to help build a wall on the border with Mexico and end certain immigration programs.

The debate on immigration will be a pivotal issue in Washington in early 2018 ahead of midterm congressional elections in November.

In September, Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protected young people from deportation who had been brought to the United States illegally as children, and gave Congress until March to devise a long-term solution.

Democrats have pushed for DACA to continue, but Trump, a Republican, has said that will not happen without the end to various visa programs and the construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border.

“The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc,” Trump posted on Twitter on Friday.

Representatives for Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said they would not negotiate the issue in the media but looked forward to serious talks after lawmakers return to work in Washington early next month.

The Senate is set to resume its work Jan. 3 while the U.S. House of Representatives restarts its session Jan. 8.

Trump promised to build a border wall as a presidential candidate and has continued to press for it publicly.

He has also called for an additional “merit based” assessment for U.S. visa recipients.

(Reporting by Katanga Johnson and Makini Brice; Editing by Susan Heavey and Alistair Bell)

Boy playing with stove caused deadly New York fire, officials say

Fire Department of New York (FDNY) personnel work on the scene of an apartment fire in Bronx in New York, U.S., December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A 3-year-old boy playing with the burners on a kitchen stove started a fire in a New York City apartment building that killed 12 people, including four children, city officials said on Friday.

The child had a history of fiddling with the stove in his family’s first-floor apartment, his mother told officials investigating the deadliest fire in the city since 1990.

A little before 7 p.m. (midnight GMT) on Thursday, the child, who had been left unattended in the kitchen, started screaming as it filled with smoke and fire, Daniel Nigro, the city’s fire department commissioner, told reporters at a news conference.

His mother grabbed him and his younger sibling, running outside to safety and leaving the apartment door open.

“The stairway acted like a chimney,” Nigro said at the Friday news conference. The blaze swept out of the apartment to higher floors of the five-story building, fanned by fresh oxygen each time frightened tenants flung open windows.

“People had very little time to react,” he said. “They couldn’t get back down the stairs. Those that tried perished.”

Children ages 1, 2 and 7 died along with four men and four women, local media reported. A boy, whose age was not known, also died.

Authorities said firefighters rescued 12 people from the building and four people were in the hospital in critical condition. More than 160 firefighters responded to the four-alarm blaze, the first arriving about 3 minutes after emergency calls came in. About 20 people were already on fire escapes, Nigro said.

New York City is going through a bitter cold snap with temperatures in the low-teens Fahrenheit (minus teens Celsius) and high winds.

“Children starting fires is not rare,” Nigro said. He emphasized that young children should not be left unattended, and those fleeing apartment fires should always shut doors behind them once the last person is out.

The building, with 26 apartments, has at least six open building code violations, according to city records. One violation was for a broken smoke detector in an apartment on the first floor, reported in August.

“I know there were concerns raised about the building itself,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC. “Based on the research we have at this moment, it does not appear there was anything problematic about the building or the fire safety in the building.”

The building is in the Belmont section of the Bronx, a primarily residential, close-knit neighborhood known as the “Little Italy” of the borough, near Fordham University and the Bronx Zoo.

It was the deadliest fire in the city since an arsonist torched a Bronx nightclub in 1990, killing 87 people inside the venue that did not have fire exits, alarms or sprinklers, the New York Times reported.

In 2007, 10 immigrants from Mali, including nine children, died after a space heater caught fire in a Bronx building.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Stephanie Kelly and Dan Trotta in New York, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Trump targets Amazon in call for postal service to hike prices

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo shows Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (L) in New York and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S. on December 14, 2016 and on December 20, 2017 respectively. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (L) Jonathan Ernst (R)/Files

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump targeted Amazon<AMZN.O> on Friday in a call for the country’s postal service to raise prices of shipments in order to recoup costs, picking another fight with the online retail giant he has criticized in the past.

“Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The U.S. Postal Service, which runs at a big loss, is an independent agency within the federal government and does not receive tax dollars for operating expenses, according to its website. The organization makes up a significant portion of the $1.4 trillion U.S. delivery industry. Other players include United Parcel Service Inc <UPS.N> and Fedex Corp<FDX.N>.

Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos, who remains the chief executive officer of the retail company. Bezos also owns the Washington Post, a newspaper that Trump has repeatedly railed against in his criticisms of the news media.

In tweets over the past year, Trump has said the “Amazon Washington Post” fabricated stories. He has said Amazon does not pay fair taxes and so hurts other retailers, part of a pattern by the former businessman of periodically turning his ire on big American companies since taking office in January.

Representatives for the White House, the U.S. Postal Service and Amazon were not immediately available for comment.

According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual report, the agency lost $2.74 billion this year, and its deficit, from when it was spun off into an independent agency in 1971, has ballooned to $61.86 billion. In 2016, the USPS lost $5.59 billion and had a total deficit of $55.98 billion.

The organization had projected to lose $4.2 billion and said in its annual report that the loss this year was lower than expected primarily because of a “$2.2 billion reduction in workers’ compensation liability.”

While the postal service’s revenue for first class mail, marketing mail and periodicals is flat or declining, the revenue from package delivery is up 44 percent since 2014 to $19.5 billion in the 2017 fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, the postal service said.

Amazon has shown interest in the past in shifting into its own delivery service. In 2015, the company spent $11.5 billion on shipping, 46 percent of its total operating expenses that year.

In October, Bloomberg reported that Amazon was testing its own delivery service to move products more quickly out of its overcrowded warehouses and make more of them available for free two-day delivery.

However, Amazon said at the time that it was using the same carrier partners to offer the program as it has used for years, including the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx.

Shares of Amazon were last down 0.62 percent to $1,178.66.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Damon Darlin and Frances Kerry)

Cristin Milioti Breaks Down ‘Black Mirror’s’ Stand Against a ‘Misogynist Bully’ in ‘USS Callister’

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-TV/FEATURES:BM_S4_USS

By Danielle Turchiano

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – SPOILER ALERT:Do not read if you have not yet watched the “USS Callister” episode of “Black Mirror’s” fourth season.

When Cristin Milioti first received materials for “’s” “USS Callister” episode, she had no idea just how timely the story would become — that of a young woman, harassed at work by male bosses but who topples the patriarchy in a virtual reality world to become the captain of a the spaceship. In fact, she didn’t even know that was the character journey for Nanette, the woman she would be playing in the fourth season of Netflix’s futuristic anthology drama.

“I was only given a couple of pages of the script,” Milioti admits, explaining that the two scenes she was given initially were when Nanette meets Robert Daley (Jesse Plemons) on her first day in the gaming company’s office and the scene on the ship where she rallies the crew by telling them she’ll blackmail herself in order to get to Daley’s refrigerator full of his co-workers’ DNA.

“I was not able to piece things together from those two scenes, but I knew I loved how it was written and I loved her, in particular,” Milioti says.

Noting that it is very important to her to play “fully realized women who are very strong,” Milioti points out the unpacking of its characters’ layers is what made “USS Callister” stand out to her.

“She’s so tough, but one can write her off at first as being this very sweet, meek women in the office who just has her head down and is trying to focus on her work and isn’t taken as seriously as she would like to be taken. But when push comes to shove, she can captain a ship. She has a strength in her that no one saw coming. She’s a spitfire,” Milioti says of Nanette.

The episode starts by following Plemons’ Daley, a beaten-down tech genius by day who enters a virtual reality world of his own creation by night to lead a space crew of his real world co-workers on missions modeled after a beloved show from his childhood (the fictional “Space Fleet,” which looks a lot like “Star Trek”).

“It’s supposed to be heightened. It’s supposed to be sort of phony in some way. And that’s when I realized we should really go all-out. We couldn’t hold back on this. We had to go fully ‘Star Trek’ on the way that it was shot, the way that we held the camera,” director Toby Haynes says. “We literally built a spaceship that had a ceiling in the studio, and when we put a ceiling in, we had to light it like the original ‘Star Trek.’ When we come in close we needed to get the full molding lights and the back lights and the key lights, especially for those Kirk-like close-ups [on Daley]. It was a language.”

While that virtual world first just feels like a way for the man to escape Daley’s lackluster reality, he begins to show abuses of power within that world — first with the way he treats his crew there and then through the reveal of how he got that crew in the first place. In the “real” world, Daley collected and copied his co-workers’ DNA, effectively creating digital clones of them that he trapped inside the confines of the virtual world. They have the consciousnesses and the memories of his still very much alive co-workers, but they are doomed to bide their time on the spaceship, awaiting Daley’s visits to go on missions and fearing his wrath when he arrives.

“We think he’s the protagonist at first — he’s the hero — but slowly we realize he’s the villain, and I thought that was so well done,” Milioti says. “He’s a bully. He’s bullied into being a bully, and it’s beautiful that they did that so you understand why he is the way he is, but it doesn’t make it right.”

Nanette is introduced a few scenes into the episode, as a new employee at Daley’s company who has to deal with two kinds of harassment not only from Daley but from another executive at his company (played by Jimmi Simpson).

“This is a woman, who has Jimmi Simpson’s character putting his hand on her lower back and even Jesse Plemons’ character wants to make it something sexual, but she just wants to work,” Milioti explains, adding that she “just wants to be taken seriously as a coder” but like so many who enter a hostile workplace faces micro-aggressive harassment and chooses to deal with it in a way that has her “keeping her distance but with a smile” so as to not cause more problems or to lose the job she loves.

“What started out as ‘I want to work with the man who inspired me’ becomes shut down because it’s inappropriate almost immediately,” MIlioti says. “So the way I tried to portray her in the office is as someone who is overwhelmed by the niceties that she has to insist upon herself in the business world. If she wants to get ahead, she has to just smile, and as opposed to just ripping the hand off of her back, she shrugs her shoulders. I tried to make her voice a little higher, too, because it’s that thing where you’re just like, ‘Oh gosh, sorry!’ when you really want to be like, ‘Don’t kiss me on both cheeks, we’re not in Europe!’”.

But after Daley overhears Nanette saying she doesn’t want to pursue anything romantically, he feels slighted and uploads a copy of her DNA to his custom program as well. A new version of Nanette awakens on the ship and struggles to adjust to the reality that she is stuck there while another version of herself lives out in the “real world.”

“When she’s on the ship, the stakes are so incredibly high for her, and she’s fighting for her life, so all of those niceties just go out the window, and she lets go of the bulls— and the need to be polite and smile, all of that,” Milioti says. “She actually realizes her greatest potential. It’s why she fights him, it’s why she makes fun of him. As much as she’s a prisoner in that world, she takes the filter off for the first time and says, ‘F— you.’ I think she’s the truest version of herself on that ship.”

Nanette leads a revolution of the others on the ship to wipe his custom program. It is a plan that requires them to reach out to the real world version of herself in order to break into Daley’s home and steal their DNA so that he cannot just upload new copies of them and start the process over. Haynes admits he was nervous about the end and at one point questioned if it wouldn’t be a more fitting, typical “Black Mirror” end if the final shot was on Daley, stuck in his chair in his apartment in the quote-unquote real world.

“Charlie said not every ‘Black Mirror’ has to end in such a dark place,” Haynes says. “He knows that he has this in his back pocket — an episode that will end in a more positive place. I think it will really surprise people to have something that has such a dramatic draw but ends so positively as ‘USS Callister.’ It really throws you around tonally and emotionally. At least, that’s what I tried to do, to take these characters — these avatars — in a virtual environment and make you feel for them, make you care about them, and come away with a kind of empathy.”

Nanette’s plan is also one Milioti feels reflects the reality she wants to see more of in the actual real world: “a woman in charge [fighting] against a small-minded, misogynist bully.”

“In the quote-unquote real world, she probably continues to be a team player and very sweet and keeps her nose to the grindstone, but in the fake world she becomes a captain and beats the super villain,” Milioti says. “It’s amazing. Something that starts out so bleak is able to turn into her own hero’s story, and I love that.”

“Black Mirror” is streaming now on Netflix.

Veteran male rock’n’roll acts had biggest 2017 world tours

Irish group U2 receive an award at the 2017 MTV Europe Music Awards at Wembley Arena in London, Britain, November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Veteran, white male rock stars raked in the most cash from world tours in 2017, according to an annual list released on Thursday, while the highest-ranked women – Celine Dion and Lady Gaga – failed to make the top 10.

Irish band U2 grossed a leading $316 million from its 30th anniversary, 50-date “Joshua Tree” tour. It was followed by hard rock band Guns N’ Roses which took in $292.5 million, according to trade publication Pollstar’s ranking of the Top 20 worldwide tours of 2017.

British band Coldplay came in third, with $238 million, on a list where Bruno Mars, 32, of Puerto Rican and Philippine descent, was the only musician of color in the top ten. Mars grossed $200 million. Ed Sheeran, 26, was the youngest singer in the top ten, pulling in $124.1 million.

At a whopping $1,500 average, Bruce Springsteen’s limited Broadway run had the highest ticket prices and grossed $87.8 million to give the “Born to Run” singer 14th place.

In 11th place, Dion was the top female act with $101.2 million, while Lady Gaga’s “Joanne” tour grossed $85.7 million for 15th place.

The touring numbers mark a strong contrast with U.S. music sales and streaming preferences, where hip hop and R&B music this year became the most consumed music genre, according to a July Nielsen Music report.

The top 20 tours grossed $2.66 billion in 2017, a record high and an increase of more than $264 million from 2016, Pollstar said.

Pollstar’s ranking is based on ticket sales data and does not include revenue from merchandise which can add a sizable chunk to tour earnings.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Rohingya at risk of deadly diphtheria face shortage of medics, antitoxins

FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees, who suffer from diphtheria, are being treated at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) clinic near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By Krishna N. Das and Nurul Islam

(Reuters) – Health workers in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are struggling with a shortage of medics able to administer antitoxins to patients infected with diphtheria that has killed nearly two dozen people, aid officials said.

Neighboring Myanmar’s military cracked down on Muslim Rohingya from Rakhine state following Rohingya militant attacks on an army base and police posts on Aug. 25. More than 650,000 Rohingya have fled mainly Buddhist Myanmar to Bangladesh since August, on top of more than 200,000 who fled earlier, according to latest United Nations data.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the lead agency dealing with an outbreak of the bacterial disease in camps sheltering the Rohingya, has treated around 2,000 patients in the past few weeks and is receiving around 100 new cases daily.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes diphtheria as a widespread, severe infectious disease with epidemic potential and a mortality rate of up to 10 percent. MSF has called diphtheria a disease “long forgotten in most parts of the world thanks to increasing rates of vaccination”.

MSF has managed to provide antitoxins to only around 12 patients daily due to the lack of trained medics, said Crystal van Leeuwen, an MSF emergency medical coordinator now in Cox’s Bazar where the refugee camps are located.

“Once we do have enough people and other organizations start to administer as well, we may get into a situation where we don’t have enough antitoxins anymore,” she told Reuters by phone on Thursday.

“It’s a double-edged sword. We need both the human resources to administer it, and we need more antitoxins at the same time.”

According to a U.N. report in February, supply of diphtheria antitoxin serum has been limited for many years and the shortage is expected to continue through 2017.

The British government said on Thursday it was sending a team of more than 40 doctors, nurses and firefighters to Cox’s Bazar for six weeks to deal with the diphtheria outbreak following a request by the WHO and Bangladesh government.

The refugees live in densely populated camps and shacks made from bamboo and plastic sheets, with poor access to clean water, sanitation and health services.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das in NEW DELHI and Nurul Islam in COX’S BAZAR; additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in DHAKA)

Highlights of Wednesday’s NHL games

December 27, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Vegas Golden Knights celebrate the 4-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks following the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of National Hockey League games on Wednesday:

Golden Knights 4, Ducks 1

Shea Theodore, Cody Eakin, William Karlsson and David Perron registered goals, and Malcolm Subban made 27 saves as the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Vegas won its fifth consecutive game and remained undefeated in regulation play through 10 games (9-0-1), the longest point streak by a team in its inaugural NHL season.

Anaheim had a two-game winning streak snapped. Rickard Rakell registered the lone Ducks’ goal, and John Gibson made 24 saves.

Coyotes 3, Avalanche 1

Tobias Rieder, Alex Goligoski and Lawson Crouse scored goals, Antti Raanta made 25 saves, and Arizona defeated Colorado.

The Coyotes won for the second time in three games after going 1-8-2 in their previous 11 contests.

Mikko Rantanen had a goal and Semyon Varlamov stopped 24 shots for the Avalanche, who lost home games to the two worst teams in the league this month. The Buffalo Sabres beat Colorado 4-2 on Dec. 5.

Jets 4, Oilers 3

Winnipeg may have picked up a valuable two points with a victory over Edmonton, but it also lost offensive leader Mark Scheifele with a serious arm or shoulder injury.

After assisting on a goal, Scheifele was taken hard into the end boards. The Jets’ second-leading scorer fell awkwardly, immediately grabbed his right shoulder and writhed on the ice for about 30 seconds. He finally got up under his own power and went straight to the dressing room. He did not return.

Connor Hellebuyck stopped 21 shots in picking up his 13th win of the season for the Jets while Cam Talbot got in front of 35 shots directed his way at the other end of the ice for the Oilers.

Wild 4, Stars 2

Mikael Granlund’s second-period goal stood up as the game-winner, and Alex Stalock made 24 saves as Minnesota held on for a victory over Dallas.

Jared Spurgeon and Eric Staal added goals the Wild and Charlie Coyle had a pair of assists.

Tyler Seguin and Mattias Janmark scored for the Stars, but it wasn’t enough as Dallas saw its two-game winning streak snapped. Ben Bishop kept his team within striking distance with 27 saves.

Predators 2, Blues 1

Pekka Rinne stopped 29 shots and Nashville got goals from Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok in a win over St. Louis.

The win moved the Predators past the Blues into first place in the Central Division.

The Blues fell behind 2-0 after the first two periods before ruining Rinne’s bid for his fourth shutout of the season on a goal by Vladimir Sobotka, who deflected a shot by Kyle Brodziak with 6:23 to go in the third period.

Rangers 1, Capitals 0 (SO)

Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad scored during a shootout as New York defeated Washington.

Both backup goaltenders kept the game scoreless through regulation and overtime.

The Rangers’ Ondrej Pavelec turned aside 27 shots through the first 60 minutes, three more in overtime and two during the shootout. The Capitals Philipp Grubauer stopped 37 shots, including 18 in the third period and one in overtime. Grubauer was beaten on both of New York’s shootout attempts.

Bruins 5, Senators 1

Riley Nash scored his first two goals since Nov. 28 and added an assist, and Boston came out of the holiday break with a convincing victory over Ottawa.

Nash matched his career high for points in a single game. Tuukka Rask made 25 saves to go to 9-0-1 in his past 10 starts. David Backes and Danton Heinen both posted a goal and an assist, and Kevan Miller scored his first goal in 35 games, and defenseman Matt Grzelcyk had two assists for Boston.

Thomas Chabot scored the lone goal for the Senators on a slap shot.

Islanders 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

Mathew Barzal scored 1:08 into overtime as New York mounted a late comeback to beat Buffalo.

Josh Bailey forced overtime by scoring with 1:09 left in regulation for the Islanders, who won two straight for the first time this month. Jason Chimera scored in the second period and Jaroslav Halak made 35 saves.

Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo scored for the Sabres, who have lost 11 of 14 (3-7-4). Robin Lehner made 31 saves.

Devils 3, Red Wings 1

Rookie Nico Hischier scored two goals, and Cory Schneider made 31 saves as New Jersey extended its winning streak to a season-high five games with a victory over Detroit.

Hischier, the top pick in the 2017 draft, scored twice in the first period, the second two-goal game of his young career. The Red Wings answered back in the second period with a Justin Abdelkader goal but could not score the equalizer against an exceptionally sharp Schneider.

The Devils’ Sami Vatanen collected an empty-net goal to close out the scoring in the final minute.

Penguins 5, Blue Jackets 4 (SO)

Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby scored in a shootout as Pittsburgh overcame three two-goal deficits to beat Columbus.

The Penguins’ Jake Guentzel scored with 1:40 left in the third period to force a 4-4 tie. Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel and Malkin also scored for the Penguins.

Sonny Milano and Boone Jenner staked the Blue Jackets to a 2-0 lead in the first before leading scorer Artemi Panarin scored once in the second and once in the third.

Hurricanes 3, Canadiens 1

Sebastian Aho, the third member of Carolina to put a shot on goal in a five-second sequence, scored the winning goal against Montreal.

Aho’s go-ahead power-play goal came with 10:45 remaining. He added an empty-netter with 1:24 to play, giving him 10 goals this season. Teuvo Teravainen opened the scoring for the Hurricanes, who won six of their last seven games.

Alex Galchenyuk scored for the Canadiens, who began a stretch of three road games in four nights. Cam Ward, who made a third consecutive start for the first time this season, was credited with 23 saves.

Alpine skiing: Dominant Shiffrin wins again

Alpine Skiing – FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup – Women’s Alpine Slalom – Lienz, Austria – December 28, 2017 – Winner Mikaela Shiffrin of U.S. celebrates on the podium. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

LIENZ, Austria (Reuters) – American Mikaela Shiffrin continued to dominate the women’s World Cup season when she won the slalom at Lienz on Thursday, her fifth win of the season.

Shiffrin produced the fastest time on the first run of 51.03 seconds and, although Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener was slightly quicker on the second leg, she was unable to make up the gap.

The American won by a comfortable margin of 0.89 seconds as she claimed her second slalom of the season in addition to one giant slalom, a parallel slalom and a downhill. Swede Frida Hansdotter was third.

“I’m feeling better and better with my slalom now. I’m in a really good place,” said the 22-year-old after the 36th World Cup win of her career.

Shiffrin is well on course to retain the overall World Cup title she won for the first time last year, as she leads the standings on 821 points with Germany’s Viktoria Regensburg a distant second on 430.

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Highlights of Wednesday’s NBA games

Dec 27, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) shoots over Brooklyn Nets guard Nik Stauskas (2) during the first quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of Wednesday’s National Basketball Association games:

Pelicans 128, Nets 113

Anthony Davis scored a team-high 33 points, DeMarcus Cousins had 27 points and 14 rebounds, and Rajon Rondo dished out a career-high 25 assists to power the New Orleans Pelicans to a 128-113 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center.

Jrue Holiday added 23 points and E’Twaun Moore had 20 for the Pelicans, who won their third consecutive game. The Nets lost for the seventh time in eight games. Brooklyn was led by Caris LeVert with 22 points.

Davis also had a season-high six blocks and tied a career high with four made 3-pointers.

Kings 109, Cavaliers 95

Vince Carter scored 24 points in Sacramento’s improbable win over Cleveland.

The 40-year-old guard, who missed the team’s previous three games — two by coach’s decision and one as a result of rib pain — received multiple standing ovations from the Golden 1 Center crowd. He finished 10 of 12 from the field and had big-time shots to answer almost every time Cleveland tried to cut into the lead.

Cleveland’s LeBron James had a triple-double of 16 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.

Bulls 92, Knicks 87

Kris Dunn scored 17 points and hit a pair of free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining, and Lauri Markkanen finished with 12 points as Chicago rallied to beat New York.

Robin Lopez finished with 11 points for Chicago, which has won nine of its last 11 games. Justin Holiday, who capped the victory with two free throws in the closing seconds, also finished with 11 points in the victory.

Kristaps Porzingis led New York with 23 points to go along with 17 by Courtney Lee and 11 by Jarrett Jack. The Knicks lost their third straight game.

Warriors 126, Jazz 101

Kevin Durant ignited a third-quarter runaway with consecutive dunks, propelling Golden State to a victory over Utah.

Durant had 21 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots without playing in the fourth quarter. The Warriors improved to 9-1 since Stephen Curry left the lineup with a sprained right ankle earlier this month.

Playing their second road game in two nights, the Jazz led by as many as seven points in the second quarter and trailed only 48-47 at halftime. Rodney Hood paced Utah with 26 points.

Timberwolves 128, Nuggets 125 (OT)

Jimmy Butler scored 12 of his game-high 39 points in overtime to help Minnesota top Denver.

Butler picked up the slack in overtime after Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson fouled out and point guard Jeff Teague exited with an injury.

The Timberwolves won their fifth game in a row while halting the Nuggets’ winning streak at three games. Denver got 28 points from Will Barton.

Thunder 124, Raptors 107

Paul George had 33 points, and Russell Westbrook added 30 points and 13 assists as Oklahoma City beat Toronto.

Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams contributed 18 points apiece for the Thunder.

C.J. Miles led the Raptors with 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points. DeMar DeRozan had 15 points but made just four of 16 shots from the floor.

Hawks 113, Wizards 99

Dennis Schroder erupted for 16 of his 21 points in the second half, leading Atlanta to a win over Washington.

Ersan Ilyasova chipped in with 20 points while Marco Belinelli helped with 19 off the bench for Atlanta. The victory marked the first time this season that the Hawks won consecutive games.

Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 20 points, and Markieff Morris scored 18. John Wall had 10 points and 11 rebounds in the loss.

Mavericks 98, Pacers 94

Dirk Nowitzki scored 15 points to lead six players in double figures in Dallas’ victory over Indiana.

Harrison Barnes and Yogi Ferrell each had 13 points for Dallas. Wesley Matthews and Dwight Powell added 12 points apiece, and Devin Harris scored 10 for the Mavericks, who shot 51.3 percent from the field.

Indiana got 16 points apiece from Myles Turner, Lance Stephenson and Darren Collison. Stephenson added 15 rebounds.

Celtic 102, Hornets 91

Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and Al Horford and Kyrie Irving combined for 41 points as Boston closed out Charlotte.

Irving scored 21 points and handed out eight assists, and Horford added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics, who had lost three of their previous four games, including a Christmas Day defeat to the Washington Wizards.

Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 24 points.

Grizzlies 109, Lakers 99

A 32-point performance from guard Tyreke Evans helped Memphis capitalize on a sluggish Los Angeles offensive performance.

Jarell Martin had 20 points, Andrew Harrison recorded 15 points, Deyonta Davis scored 14 points, and Marc Gasol finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots for the Grizzlies.

With a shoulder injury sidelining rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, the Los Angeles offense stagnated. Brandon Ingram led the Lakers with 23 points.

Citigroup to pay $11.5 million fines, compensation over errant stock ratings

File Photo: The Citigroup Inc (Citi) logo is seen at the SIBOS banking and financial conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Citigroup Inc <C.N> will pay at least $11.5 million in fines and restitution to settle charges it displayed the wrong research ratings on more than 1,800 stocks, causing many customers to own shares they never would have bought, a U.S. regulator said on Thursday.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority fined Citigroup $5.5 million and ordered it to pay at least $6 million to retail customers over errors that occurred between February 2011 and December 2015, and involved more than 38 percent of the equity securities that the New York-based bank covered.

Citigroup did not admit or deny wrongdoing, but the sanctions reflected its cooperation, including its decisions to report the rating issues and compensate customers, FINRA said.

The regulator said Citigroup would sometimes display to customers, brokers and supervisors the wrong ratings, such as “buy” instead of “sell,” while in other cases it would display ratings for companies it did not cover, or no ratings at all.

As a result, brokers solicited thousands of transactions and negligently made inaccurate statements premised on wrong ratings, and many customers ended up owning stocks with “sell” ratings despite a prohibition on such ownership, FINRA said.

FINRA said the errors stemmed from problems with an electronic data feed, and Citigroup failed to timely fix the wrongly displayed ratings despite “numerous” red flags. The bank’s actual research reports and ratings were not affected.

“The display and use of incomplete and inaccurate research ratings can have widespread, adverse consequences to customers,” FINRA enforcement chief Susan Schroeder said in a statement. “Firms should react quickly to address those errors.”

Citigroup spokeswoman Danielle Romero-Apsilos said the bank was pleased to resolve the matter.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)

U.S. jobless claims steady in latest week

FILE PHOTO: A sign advertises open jobs at an Embassy Suites hotel in Waltham, Massachusetts, U.S., December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was unchanged last week and the underlying trend remained consistent with a tightening labor market.

U.S. workers filed 245,000 initial claims for state unemployment benefits during the week that ended Dec. 23, according to seasonally adjusted figures published by the Labor Department on Thursday. Data for the prior week was unrevized.

Since mid-October, claims have been confined to a range of 223,000 to 252,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging down to 240,000 in the latest week. Last week marked the 147th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The labor market is widely seen as near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. Labor market tightness and a strengthening economy encouraged the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates earlier this month for a third time this year. The U.S. central bank has forecast three rate hikes for 2018.

The economy added 228,000 jobs in November, well above the roughly 100,000 jobs per month needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population.

The Labor Department said claims-taking procedures continued to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the islands. The processing of claims in Puerto Rico was still not back to normal.

Last week, the four-week moving average of initial claims, which is seen as a measure of labor market trends because it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 1,750 to 237,750.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 7,000 to 1.94 million in the week ended Dec. 16. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 4,250 to 1.92 million.

(Reporting by Jason LangeEditing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Apple, Epson face French legal complaints over allegedly shortening life of products

An Apple logo is seen in a store in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

PARIS (Reuters) – Smartphone maker Apple <AAPL.O> and Japanese printer company Epson <6724.T> are facing legal complaints in France over allegedly speeding up the ageing process of their products to stimulate demand.

A French consumer association called “HOP” — standing for “Stop Planned Obsolescence” — filed preliminary, legal complaints in court against the two groups over the charges.

HOP said it filed its complaint against Apple in Paris on Wednesday. A prosecutor opened an investigation into Epson last month, a judicial source said on Thursday, following a complaint filed in September by HOP in a court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Laetitia Vasseur, co-founder of HOP, told Reuters the aim of both complaints was to apply the French consumer law, which was modified in 2015 to include the notion of planned obsolescence.

Apple is already facing lawsuits in the United States over accusations of having defrauded iPhone users by slowing down devices without warning to compensate for poor battery performance.

These lawsuits came after Apple said last week that operating system updates released since “last year” for the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone SE and iPhone 7 included a feature “to smooth out” power supply from batteries that are cold, old or low on charge.

Phones without the adjustment would shut down abruptly because of a precaution designed to prevent components from getting fried, Apple said.

Under French law, companies risk fines of up to 5 percent of their annual sales for deliberately shortening the life of their products to spur demand to replace them.

A spokeswoman for Epson France said Epson denied the charges made against it by the HOP association. She added that Epson was working with authorities on the matter and that the quality of its products was of the utmost importance for the company.

Officials for Apple France could not be immediately reached for comment.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Emmanuel Jarry and Gwenaelle Barzic; Editing by Mathieu Rosemain and David Evans)

 

U.S., Turkey mutually lift visa restrictions, ending months-long row

General view of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States and Turkey lifted all visa restrictions on Thursday after Washington said Ankara had kept to assurances no further U.S. mission staff would be targeted for performing official duties, following detention of two earlier this year.

But Turkey swiftly denied having granted such assurances in the affair that has tested relations since the two local employees of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul were held on suspicion of ties to last year’s failed coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.

The United States suspended visa services at its missions in Turkey in October and Turkey reciprocated. In November, Washington said it was resuming limited services upon getting assurances on the safety of its local staff.

“Based on adherence to these assurances, the Department of State is confident that the security posture has improved sufficiently to allow for the full resumption of visa services in Turkey,” the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said on Thursday.

It said the United States continued to have concerns about the two employees detained.

Turkey, while announcing the end of restrictions on the issue of visas to U.S. citizens, took issue with the U.S. declaration.

“We do not find it right for the United States to claim it had received assurances from Turkey and misinform the U.S. and Turkish publics,” the Turkish Embassy in Washington said in a statement.

Turkey’s lira firmed to 3.78 against the U.S. dollar after the statement, its highest level since Oct. 31, and the main share index BIST100 climbed 2.08 percent to reach its highest closing level ever.

Relations between the two NATO allies have become strained in the last year with Turkey angered by what it sees as the U.S. reluctance to hand over Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the coup attempt in July of 2016.

Turkey was further annoyed by U.S. military support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria, considered by Ankara to be an extension of the banned PKK which has waged an insurgency for three decades in southeast Turkey.

More recently, Turkey took a leading role in the United Nations to pass a resolution denouncing a U.S. move to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

(Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Erie, Pennsylvania, buried under record snowfall

Snow hangs from a rooftop after two days of record-breaking snowfall in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Robert Frank

By Jon Herskovitz

(Reuters) – A storm that has dumped more than 65 inches (165 cms) of snow this week on Erie, Pennsylvania, is expected to slightly taper off on Wednesday after leaving drifts that buried cars, paralyzed the area and made the county declare an emergency.

But the respite for Erie, a city of about 100,000 in northwest Pennsylvania on the shores of Lake Erie, is expected to be short-lived, with a fresh round of winter storms coming Thursday night predicted to bring as much as 10 inches more snow, forecasters said.

“This is a crippling snow event,” said Zach Sefcovic, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland.

“They are no strangers to snow in that part of the state, but this much snow in that short a time is just unprecedented,” he said in a telephone interview.

Large parts of the United States were gripped by freezing weather, with an area stretching from Montana to Maine expected to see temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12.2 degrees Celsius) early on Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

The winter blast in Erie was caused by cold Arctic air moving over the lake, which had relatively mild water temperatures, forecasters said.

The storm broke a 59-year-old record for a two-day snowfall in Pennsylvania, topping the 44 inches that fell in 1958. Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper issued a temporary disaster emergency declaration that mobilized resources to help the area.

Pictures of residents on social media showed drifts reaching beyond window-levels in houses and people clearing paths through chest-high accumulations.

“Out of Doritos. Family is arguing. Dogs are getting ornery. It’s been 3 days since my last chicken wing. We are out of whiskey,” wrote Nicole Massari on her Instagram account @theworldaroundnikki, along with a video showing her Pennsylvania home surrounded by snow.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf deployed 21 Pennsylvania National Guard troops along with some all-terrain military vehicles to the region on Tuesday to help residents dig out and transport emergency responders around the area.

Erie resident Brian Sheridan on Wednesday posted a photo on social media showing the top of his mail box peeking out underneath a mound of snow. In a caption, he wrote: “At this point, it just might be easier to put a hold on our mail until spring.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Texas; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Andrew Hay)

Trump says ‘disappointed’ China allowing oil into North Korea: tweet

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to reporters as he boards Air Force One for travel to Palm Beach from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he was “very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea” and that such moves would prevent “a friendly solution” to the crisis over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

“Caught RED HANDED – very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

China earlier on Thursday said there had been no U.N. sanction-breaking oil sales by Chinese ships to North Korea after a South Korea newspaper said Chinese and North Korean vessels had been illicitly linking up at sea to get oil to North Korea.

(Reporting by Susan HeaveyEditing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Disneyland Power Restored After Outage

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-BIZ/NEWS:Disneyland

By Rebecca Rubin

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – UPDATED: Power has been repaired and restored to Disneyland and all attractions are operating after the park suffered a power outage on Wednesday afternoon, Variety has confirmed.

At least a dozen rides and attractions were shut down shortly after 11 a.m., in Toontown and Fantasyland at the Anaheim, Calif., park, spokesperson Elva Rubalcava said. Crews worked to restore the outage, which stemmed from an issue with a Disneyland transformer.

A majority of the rides were back up by noon, however, a handful of attractions in Fantasyland were down until 4 p.m. Guests who were on rides when the power went out were escorted off by employees, though they were not asked to leave the area, according to patrons who shared their experience on social media.

According to Rubalcava, refunds are being handled on an individual basis.

A spokesperson didn’t know whether crowd size caused the issue. As of Wednesday afternoon, Disneyland Parks is currently only accepting guests for re-entry.

Earlier on Wednesday, the official Disneyland account tweeted that the park was busy. They later added, “Disney California Adventure Park remains available for your enjoyment. Updates to follow.”

With the holiday season being an especially hectic time for theme parks, Disney coincidentally tweeted earlier today, asking, “Why not relax and join us for a vacation to a galaxy far, far away. What’s the worst that could happen?” One guest replied, “Hmmm I don’t know maybe a major power outage and being stuck on a hot monorail car for an hour??? Oh wait.” Another posted a photo of the extremely packed park, while others complained about the lack of information being circulated from park officials.

Alicia Vikander, Carol Burnett, Aaron Taylor-Johnson Set as Golden Globe Presenters

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-FILM/NEWS:Alicia Vikander

By Variety Staff

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Alicia Vikander, Carol Burnett, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Shirley MacLaine are among the stars set as presenters for the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards telecast on Jan. 7.

The three-hour ceremony at the Beverly Hilton will be hosted by Seth Meyers and air live on NBC.

Vikander is a two-time Globe nominee, most recently for 2015’s “The Danish Girl,” for which she won a supporting actress Oscar.

Burnett has five Globe trophies, the last of which came in 1978 for her work on CBS’ “The Carol Burnett Show.”

Taylor-Johnson won the supporting actor motion picture prize this year for his performance in “Nocturnal Animals.”

MacLaine has been a Globes darling for decades. The first of her six wins came in 1955 when she was voted “most promising” female newcomer by Hollywood Foreign Press Association members. MacLaine was also feted with the org’s Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement kudo in 1998.

Next month’s Globes telecast might be a more somber affair than in years past. It will be the first live awards event to air since the turmoil in Hollywood erupted in October with sexual harassment allegations leveled against powerful men including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman, and others.

There’s also a budding social media push to encourage women to wear black to the ceremony in a sign of solidarity with women who have come forward with stories of abuse.

Now 80, Jane Fonda says she didn’t think she’d live to 30

FILE PHOTO: Actress Jane Fonda attends the Women’s Media Center 2017 Awards in New York, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Actress Jane Fonda, who celebrated her 80th birthday last week, says that growing up she never expected to reach 30.

“I never pictured 30,” Fonda told People magazine in an interview published on Wednesday.

“I assumed I wouldn’t live very long and that I would die lonely and an addict of some sort. I didn’t think if I did live this long, that I would be vibrant and healthy and still working. I’m grateful,” she added.

Fonda’s mother committed suicide when she was 12 years old and the same year her actor father, Henry Fonda, remarried. She has spoken in the past about suffering from bulimia, taking hallucinogenic drugs and being abused as a child.

Fonda won her first Oscar in 1972, at age 35, for the movie “Klute” and went on to win her second for the 1978 Vietnam War drama “Coming Home.” She became an anti-war and women’s activist, launched a fitness craze with her 1980s workout videos, married three times, and is nominated at January’s Screen Actors Guild awards for her lead role in TV series “Grace and Frankie”.

The actress turned 80 on Dec. 21.

“I’m thankful that I’ve gotten better over the 80 years,” she told People. “I’m less judgmental. I’m forgiving. It wasn’t always true. I’ve really worked hard to get better as a human being.”

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Highlights of Tuesday’s NBA games

Dec 26, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; LA Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell (5) shoots against Sacramento Kings forward Justin Jackson (25) and center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) in the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of Tuesday’s National Basketball Association games:

Suns 99, Grizzlies 97

Tyson Chandler slammed home an alley-oop dunk off a Dragan Bender inbounds feed with four-tenths of a second left, and the Phoenix Suns held off the Memphis Grizzlies for the second time in six days with a 99-97 win on Tuesday night.

Memphis tied the score at 97 when Jarell Martin slammed home a Tyreke Evans miss with six-tenths of a second left and the teams seems headed to overtime. With the subsequent inbounds play moved to midcourt, Bender threw the ball just over the far side of the rim, where Chandler was waiting to slam it down.

Devin Booker had 32 points in his return to the lineup for the Suns, who beat the Grizzlies 97-95 on Dec. 21 when Evans missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. TJ Warren finished with 17 points for Phoenix, which gave coach Jay Triano his 100th NBA win.

Evans had 25 points and Marc Gasol scored 18 for Memphis, which lost for the 20th time in 24 games.

Mavericks 98, Raptors 93

J.J. Barea scored a team-high 20 points to lead Dallas past Toronto.

Dirk Nowitzki (18 points), Harrison Barnes (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Maxi Kleber (15 points) also were the big producers for Dallas, which earned just their third win in 11 games.

Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 23 points, Jonas Valanciunas finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Serge Ibaka had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Toronto lost for just the second time in 14 games.

Spurs 109, Nets 97

Kawhi Leonard scored a season-high 21 points while seeing the court for a season-most 26 minutes as Antonio defeated Brooklyn.

LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Pau Gasol nabbed his third double-double in a row with 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds for the Spurs. Tony Parker scored 14 points, and Patty Mills and Ginobili tallied 11 each for San Antonio.

Caris LeVert hit on 8 of 11 shots and led Brooklyn with 18 points. Allen Crabbe contributed 15, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hit for 13 points and Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen had 12 points apiece for the Nets.

Pistons 107, Pacers 83

Tobias Harris scored 26 of his 30 points in the first half, and Detroit won for the fifth time in six games, thumping Indiana.

Andre Drummond supplied 21 points and 18 rebounds for the Pistons, who never trailed. Ish Smith added 12 points, and Reggie Bullock chipped in 11. Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson sprained his right ankle during the third quarter. Jackson had eight points and a season-high 13 assists prior to the injury.

Victor Oladipo, who came into the game averaging 25.3 points, scored a season-low 13 points for Indiana. Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis added 10 points apiece for the Pacers.

Bulls 115, Bucks 106

Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points off the bench, and Kris Dunn finished with 20 as Chicago snapped a two-game losing streak.

Dunn bounced back from a 1-for-12 showing his last time out against the Boston Celtics. He hit 9 of 17 shots Tuesday and added 12 assists. The Bulls shot 43.7 percent from the floor and made 10 3-pointers.

Milwaukee got 28 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and 22 from Eric Bledsoe. The Bucks committed a season-high 20 turnovers that the Bulls turned into 24 points.

Heat 107, Magic 89

Josh Richardson scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead Miami past Orlando.

Wayne Ellington scored 18 points off the bench, including 12 in the fourth, for the Heat, who got starting center Hassan Whiteside back from a 13-game knee-injury absence. Whiteside produced seven points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes.

Evan Fournier returned after missing eight games due to an injured right ankle and scored 14 points in 30 minutes for the Magic, who have lost nine games in a row. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

Nuggets 107, Jazz 83

Jamal Murray scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds, Trey Lyles added 16 points and eight rebounds against his former team, and Denver beat Utah.

Nikola Jokic had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists before being ejected early in the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets closed it out to win their third straight.

Derrick Favors led Utah with 20 points, Jonas Jerebko scored 13 and rookie Donovan Mitchell had 13 points and six assists. The Jazz lost for the ninth time in 11 games.

Clippers 122, Kings 95

Montrezl Harrell scored 22 points and Lou Williams added 21 as Los Angeles’ bench helped power a victory over Sacramento.

The Clippers’ bench outscored the Kings’ reserves 72-43. Los Angeles rookie Jamil Wilson started and scored a career-high 17 points, 14 of which came in the first quarter. DeAndre Jordan added 13 points and 15 rebounds as the Clippers won for the third time in their past four games.

Willie Cauley-Stein had 17 points and seven rebounds for the Kings. Buddy Hield and Malachi Richardson each added 10 points for Sacramento.

In Pakistan, questions raised over GE’s flagship power turbines

An aerial view of the Haveli Bahadur Shah LNG power plant in Jhang, Pakistan July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Drazen Jorgic

By Drazen Jorgic and Henning Gloystein

ISLAMABAD/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – General Electric’s flagship gas turbines ran into problems in Pakistan earlier this year, leading to delays and lengthy outages at three newly built power stations, according to several senior Pakistani officials and power executives.

GE has said they were teething problems. But the questions over one of its most important products suggest another setback for the company in a year in which its shares have plunged and third-quarter results were called “horrible” by new Chief Executive John Flannery. GE is now undergoing major restructuring.

There is no evidence that GE’s 9HA-Class turbines have fundamental design flaws.

But so far the Pakistani plants, which began running this year, are producing power at levels well below their capacity and the problem was acute in the crucial summer months, when temperatures in the country frequently exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104°F).

Data from Pakistan’s Central Power Purchasing Agency, seen by Reuters, showed the Bhikki, Haveli and Balloki plants jointly generated only a half of their current maximum capacity in August.

A month later all three plants showed improved output but remained well below capacity. Reuters was unable to review more recent data.

“It had terrible consequences because we lost a lot of power which would have come to the grid during the peak summer,” Yousaf Naseem Khokhar, the top civil servant in the Energy Ministry’s power division, told Reuters. “It is now up to General Electric to rise to the challenge and to take care of these issues… before next summer starts,” he said.

In a statement sent to Reuters, GE said “every commercial HA site today is demonstrating exceptional performance levels for both output and efficiency”. On the issues in Pakistan, GE said: “We’ve encountered and communicated openly about launch challenges and readily resolved issues during this time. It’s important to note that challenges are common with power plants of this size and complexity during the commissioning and early operations phase.”

GE also said in a separate statement that the three plants are expected to deliver enough power to supply the equivalent of 7.3 million Pakistani homes over their 30-plus-year life cycle, and that will make a “meaningful difference in the everyday lives of the people of Pakistan.”

The 9HA-class gas turbines, the GE power division’s newest and most prestigious product, entered the Guinness World Records last year for efficiency, based on the amount of electricity generated from natural gas at the power plant in Bouchain, France, where it was first put into commercial operation in June last year.

Both the 9HA and the 7HA turbines – the A stands for air-cooled – are in tough competition with similar products made by Germany’s Siemens <SIEGn.DE>, Japan’s Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems – a joint venture between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries <7011.T> and Hitachi <6501.T> – and Italy’s state-controlled Ansaldo Energia.

Flannery said in a GE investor presentation in November that “resolving initial launch issues” with HA class gas turbines would be a future priority.

TOUGH YEAR

GE’s shares have fallen more than 40 percent this year, and the 125-year-old company announced this month it was cutting 12,000 jobs in its power division, about a fifth of the workforce, to cut costs.

Operating profit of the power division, once the strongest part of GE’s operations, fell 51 percent in the third quarter against the year-ago period. Flannery said the division, which brought in 28 percent of GE’s revenue last year, was “challenged” but could be turned around in one or two years.

Pakistan, desperate for additional electricity to avoid crippling blackouts, teamed up with GE to build the power stations at Bhikki, Haveli and Balloki, all in the most populous province Punjab, at breakneck speed.

GE won the contracts to supply Pakistan with six turbines for the three power plants in 2015, based on the lowest priced deal per megawatt of capacity.

The first problem was the deliveries were delayed by up to three months and missed some of the summer months this year, several Pakistani officials said. They said they were told the delays happened because a part of the turbine needed further testing.

The plan was to fire up the turbines in simple cycle mode – delivering around 800 MW per power plant – in the spring of 2017 and then to upgrade to 1,200 MW combined cycle output after the summer.

The delays infuriated Islamabad, because getting additional power during the summer was a crucial factor ahead of 2018 parliamentary elections.

One of the two turbines at the Bhikki power plant was delayed by about a month. At the Balloki and Haveli plants, the turbines were delayed by about three months, two senior Pakistani officials aware of the situation said. Then, in early May, a combustion seal leak was detected at one of the turbines at the Bhikki plant.

To fix this, and to apply the same remedy to the five other turbines, GE airlifted all the units to France for repairs.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was then the petroleum minister, told Reuters in July that GE spared no expense to fix the problems. “They found the problem, they took out the part, they went back to the vendor, they re-machined them, they came back – all on dedicated transport flights,” Abbasi said.

TURBINE DAMAGE

But that meant one Bhikki turbine was offline for about 40 days and the other for about 50 days. The other two plants had not begun operations at the time, but came online in July and August.

In a third setback, one of the turbines at the Haveli plant was badly damaged during a power outage three weeks after it was inaugurated in July, the Pakistani officials said.

At such times, batteries and a generator act as back-ups to ensure a pump continues to push lube oil into the turbine.

“Both didn’t work,” said one of the Pakistani officials, adding the diesel generator had no fuel. The turbine crashed, with damage estimated at $33 million, and although it was refitted with a new rotor by GE, it is still to resume operations.

The power station is being built by China’s SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corporation. SEPCOIII did not return queries for comment.

“GE and SEPCOIII are working together to determine the cause behind the loss of functionality of the planned backup power system,” GE said in a statement.

A senior Pakistani official in Islamabad said the delays and outages had cast GE in a bad light.

“Frankly speaking, they have lost a lot of credibility here in the government because of these plants,” the official said.

In September, Pakistan awarded its most recent power contract to Siemens, after bidding by several companies, including GE.

Stephen Tusa, an analyst at JPMorgan in New York, wrote in a recent note that although GE has assured investors that the Pakistan problems have been resolved, they could re-emerge in other plants around the world.

“The risk is that if these issues are not remedied, GE has already ‘sold’ another around 30 units (around 10 plus of which are in operation), some of which are at higher output ratings,” he wrote.

“Remedies would have to be applied up the curve, something we view as a challenge, especially as senior management tries to cut costs aggressively. Stay tuned.”

FORCED OUTAGES

Not everyone is complaining, even when performance isn’t perfect.

In France, the Bouchain plant suffered 26 forced outages in the 15 months ending November, according to data published by operator Electricite de France (EDF) <EDF.PA>.

Despite these unplanned outages, GE and operator EDF, with whom GE has a long-standing alliance, say they are satisfied.

“The cause of these events varies, and in certain cases a single event has been interpreted as multiple events. It would not be accurate to link this number to HA technology as fewer than 10 of these events were related to the gas turbine,” GE and EDF said in a joint statement.

In a another joint statement, the two said “the Bouchain facility is an example of our HA technology at its very best”. They added: “During the commissioning and early operations phase, we encountered minor issues that are very typical of what you’d expect with a project of this size, but we worked together to quickly resolve them.”

(GRAPHIC: GE vs Siemens 2017 share price performance http://reut.rs/2BHgN2m)

(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic in ISLAMABAD and Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; Additional reporting by Alwyn Scott in NEW YORK and Geert De Clercq in PARIS; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Poll: Hugs and dirty jokes – Americans differ on acceptable behavior

FILE PHOTO: People participate in a “MeToo” protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. on November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Chris Kahn

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Americans differ widely in their views of what constitutes sexual harassment, with age and race as well as gender throwing up the dividing lines, posing a challenge for those who police for such conduct in the workplace.

The issue has been thrown into the national spotlight as a string of prominent men in U.S. politics, entertainment and the media have been felled by allegations of sexual misconduct in recent months.

A Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll, released on Wednesday, asked more than 3,000 American adults to consider eight different scenarios and then prompted them to decide if they would personally label each to be an example of sexual harassment. The variation in responses showed a need for employers to spell out expected standards, employment experts said.

While most adults in the Dec. 13-18 poll agreed that acts such as intentional groping or kissing “without your consent” amounted to sexual harassment, they disagreed over a number of other actions.

(Graphic on the poll: http://tmsnrt.rs/2BFmwWI)

When asked about “unwanted compliments about your appearance,” for example, 38 percent of adults said this amounted to sexual harassment, while 47 percent said it did not.

Some 41 percent of adults said they thought it was sexual harassment when someone told you “dirty jokes” but 44 percent said it was not. And 44 percent of adults said that nonconsensual hugging was sexual harassment, while 40 percent said it was not.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that enforces workplace discrimination laws, says sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances as well as other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment, interferes with their performance or creates an intimidating or hostile work environment.

But courts have disagreed on when individual actions cross the line into harassment. And many workplace sexual harassment cases are settled by employers before they ever reach a court, so there is not a constant judicial airing of standards.

TOUCHING AND HUGGING

Since people come to work with different ideas of what is appropriate, managers should train their employees and develop clear lines of conduct so that there are no misunderstandings, said Suzanne Goldberg, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School.

“The onus is on employers” to set the tone, Goldberg said. “Even if the co-workers don’t object or go to management to complain.”

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, for example, 19 percent of men said that touching someone intentionally without their consent was not sexual harassment, compared with 11 percent of women. The poll did not specify exactly what was meant by non-consensual touching.

Fifty-two percent of people from racial minorities said that they considered non-consensual hugging to be sexual harassment, compared with 39 percent of whites.

While most adults said they thought that it was sexual harassment to send “pornographic pictures” to someone without their consent, younger people appeared to be more permissive.

Eighty-three percent of millennials, or those adults born after 1982, said it was sexual harassment, compared with 90 percent of gen-Xers (born 1965-1981) and 94 percent of baby boomers (born 1946-1964.)

Experts in sexual harassment law said it is understandable that women, especially women who are racial minorities, define sexual harassment differently than men, given that many have experienced it first-hand.

“Men do not cross the street to avoid people,” said Joanna Grossman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in workplace equality. “Virtually all women do, whether or not they’ve been attacked before. It’s part of growing up in a group that’s been victimized for so long.”

WORKPLACE STANDARDS

Clear workplace standards would help everyone, including those who are accused of sexual harassment, said Minna Kotkin, director of the Brooklyn Law School Employment Law Clinic.

Kotkin, whose clinic provides legal help for people dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, said she recently advised a man who said he was fired because he misunderstood where the line had been set.

“He worked in retail, and this was a place where there was sexual banter going around,” Kotkin said. “And one day he made a comment about a co-worker’s breasts. And then later she claimed that he grabbed her by the waist.”

“He got fired, and he was really surprised,” she said. “He thought that conduct was part of their relationship … But the question is, maybe this woman tolerated this all along and then finally had enough?”

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points for the entire sample. The credibility interval is higher for subsets based on gender, age and race, as the sample size is reduced.

(This version of the story refiles to remove duplicate word poll in headline.)

(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Frances Kerry)

‘Sound of Music’ actress Heather Menzies-Urich dies at 68

FILE PHOTO: Cast members Heather Menzies-Urich (L), Kym Karath (C), and Debbie Turner pose during 50th anniversary screening of musical drama film “The Sound of Music” at the opening night gala of the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 26, 2015. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

(Corrects Dec. 25 story to say that Menzies-Urich played the third-oldest von Trapp child, not the oldest)

By Dave McNary

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Actress Heather Menzies-Urich, best known for portraying Louisa von Trapp in the 1965 film “The Sound of Music,” died Sunday night in Frankford, Ontario. She was 68.

Menzies-Urich, the widow of actor Robert Urich, had been recently diagnosed with cancer, according to her son Ryan Urich.

Urich said his mother died on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her children and family members.

“She was an actress, a ballerina and loved living her life to the fullest,” Urich said. “She was not in any pain but, nearly four weeks after her diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, she had enough and took her last breath on this earth at 7:22 pm.”

Born in Toronto, Menzies-Urich’s first screen credit came in the TV series “The Farmer’s Daughter” in 1964. She was then cast as the third-oldest of the seven von Trapp children in “The Sound of Music.” The film adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was a box office smash that won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Kym Karath, who played Gretl, tweeted, “I am filled with infinite sadness.”

Ted Chapin, president and chief creative officer of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, praised Menzies-Urich’s efforts to keep the movie fresh for new generations.

“Heather was part of ‘the family.’ There is really no other way to describe the members of the cast of the movie of ‘The Sound of Music.’ And of ‘the kids,’ Heather was a cheerful and positive member of the group, always hoping for the next gathering,” Chapin said. “We are all lucky to have known her, and she will happily live on in that beautiful movie. We will miss her.”

Her other feature films credits included “Hawaii,” “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” “Piranha,” and “Endangered Species. Her TV credits included “Dragnet,” “Bonanza,” “Marcus Welby M.D.,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” and starring as Jessica 6 in the TV series “Logan’s Run.”

Menzies-Urich’s family moved from Canada to the Los Angeles area when she was a teenager. She was 14 when she landed the part of Louisa in the landmark 20th Century Fox production, directed by Robert Wise, that starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

Menzies-Urich met her future husband while filming a commercial for Libby’s Corned Beef Hash in the mid-1970s. Urich died in 2002 of a rare form of cancer. Menzies-Urich created the Robert Urich Foundation and spent most of her time in recent years to the organization that raises money for cancer research and support for cancer patients.

In addition to her son, Menzies-Urich is survived by two other children, numerous grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Israel ambassador asks to meet New Zealand pop star Lorde over canceled show

Lorde performs on the Other Stage at Worthy Farm in Somerset during the Glastonbury Festival in Britain, June 23, 2017. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand on Wednesday appealed to the pop star Lorde to meet him after she canceled a show in Tel Aviv after appeals from activists for her to shun Israel as a protest against its treatment of Palestinians.

Itzhak Gerberg, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, said in a public letter it was “regrettable” that the concert had been called off and the boycott of his country represented “hostility and intolerance”.

“I invite you to meet me in person to discuss Israel, its achievements and its role as the only democracy in the Middle East,” Gerberg said on the Embassy of Israel’s Facebook page.

Lorde’s representatives did not immediately respond to request for comment on her response or whether she planned to meet the ambassador.

The 21-year-old New Zealand singer had been slated to perform in Tel Aviv in June as part of a global tour to promote her chart-topping second album ‘Melodrama’.

Campaigners have been urging her to scrap the show, calling in an open letter on Dec. 21 for her to pull out as part of a boycott to oppose Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

“Playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government, even if you make no comment on the political situation,” campaigners Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab, wrote on news website The Spinoff.

“We believe that an economic, intellectual and artistic boycott is an effective way of speaking out,” they said.

Lorde said on Twitter at the time she was speaking with “many people about this and considering all options”.

Eran Arielli, the promoter of the concert, said on Facebook on Sunday that the show was off.

“The truth is I was naive to think that an artist of her age would be able to absorb the pressure involved in coming to Israel,” he wrote in Hebrew.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was launched in 2005 as a non-violent campaign to press Israel to heed international law and end its occupation of territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Artists who have boycotted Israel include Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Elvis Costello.

Other major stars, such as Elton John, Aerosmith, Guns and Roses, the Rolling Stones, Justin Bieber and Rihanna have performed in recent years in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has long campaigned against the BDS movement, describing it as anti-Semitic and an attempt to erase Israel’s legitimacy.

(This story has been refiled to show Eran Arielli was sole promoter, paragraph 10.)

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON; additional reporting by Peter Hirschberg in SYDNEY and Jeffrey Heller in JERUSALEM; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Apple faces lawsuits after saying it slows down aging iPhones

FILE PHOTO – A salesman checks a customer’s iPhone at a mobile phone store in New Delhi, India, July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File photo

By Paresh Dave

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Apple Inc <AAPL.O> defrauded iPhone users by slowing devices without warning to compensate for poor battery performance, according to eight lawsuits filed in various federal courts in the week since the company opened up about the year-old software change.

The tweak may have led iPhone owners to misguided attempts to resolve issues over the last year, the lawsuits contend.

All the lawsuits – filed in U.S. District Courts in California, New York and Illinois – seek class-action to represent potentially millions of iPhone owners nationwide.

A similar case was lodged in an Israeli court on Monday, the newspaper Haaretz reported.

Apple did not respond to an email seeking comment on the filings.

The company acknowledged last week for the first time in detail that operating system updates released since “last year” for the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone SE and iPhone 7 included a feature “to smooth out” power supply from batteries that are cold, old or low on charge.

Phones without the adjustment would shut down abruptly because of a precaution designed to prevent components from getting fried, Apple said.

The disclosure followed a Dec. 18 analysis by Primate Labs, which develops an iPhone performance measuring app, that identified blips in processing speed and concluded that a software change had to be behind them.

One of the lawsuits, filed Thursday in San Francisco, said that “the batteries’ inability to handle the demand created by processor speeds” without the software patch was a defect.

“Rather than curing the battery defect by providing a free battery replacement for all affected iPhones, Apple sought to mask the battery defect,” according to the complaint.

The plaintiff in that case is represented by attorney Jeffrey Fazio, who represented plaintiffs in a $53-million settlement with Apple in 2013 over its handling of iPhone warranty claims.

The problem now seen is that users over the last year could have blamed an aging computer processor for app crashes and sluggish performance – and chose to buy a new phone – when the true cause may have been a weak battery that could have been replaced for a fraction of the cost, some of the lawsuits state.

“If it turns out that consumers would have replaced their battery instead of buying new iPhones had they known the true nature of Apple’s upgrades, you might start to have a better case for some sort of misrepresentation or fraud,” said Rory Van Loo, a Boston University professor specializing in consumer technology law.

But Chris Hoofnagle, faculty director for the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, said in an email that Apple may not have done wrong.

“We still haven’t come to consumer protection norms” around aging products, Hoofnagle said. Pointing to a device with a security flaw as an example, he said, “the ethical approach could include degrading or even disabling functionality.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages in addition to, in some cases, reimbursement. A couple of the complaints seek court orders barring Apple from throttling iPhone computer speeds or requiring notification in future instances.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Leslie Adler)

No Trump windfall for private prisons yet, but some bet on gains

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Sinead Carew

(Reuters) – Investors who bet on private prison operators as big winners from Donald Trump’s tough line on crime and illegal immigration are looking back at a bruising year of high hopes and disappointment. Some, however, say the stocks still offer good value even though an anticipated windfall under the Trump administration so far has failed to materialize.

They say the two listed operators – Geo Group Inc <GEO.N> and CoreCivic Inc <CXW.N> – stand to win contracts from states struggling with prison overcrowding, such as Kansas and Oklahoma, and have plenty of room to accommodate new demand.

Valuable properties owned by the two companies, which operate as prison real estate investment trusts (REITs), and long-term federal contracts with minimum revenue guarantees also make them attractive, they say.

The administration’s proposals to bolster the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency could help in the future though it is still unclear how much new money it will bring.

“People are focusing on ICE and ignoring the state level opportunities,” said Jordan Hymowitz managing partner Philadelphia Financial Management in San Francisco.

Geo and CoreCivic shares soared after Trump won the White House, partly on expectations that detention centers they run for ICE would fill up thanks to an anticipated surge in arrests along the Mexican border.

Yet the opposite happened – arrests declined for months after Trump’s inauguration because fewer people attempted to cross the border and shares in CoreCivic and Geo reversed course after peaking in February and April respectively. (Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/2BUZlfe)

While detentions have been rising from month to month since hitting a year-low in May, the stocks have not yet recovered. CoreCivic now trades 37 percent below its post election high, while Geo is about 32 percent below its 2017 peak.

Investors say lack of clarity on how much business they will get from ICE, the companies’ biggest client, is holding the shares back.

“People can’t figure out if immigration reform is good or bad for private contractors,” said Eric Marshall, portfolio manager and head of research at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas, Texas. Hodges sold its CoreCivic shares after the post-election rally but still owns Geo.

CoreCivic and Geo declined comment on their performance and outlook beyond their comments in earnings calls and statements.

MAIN CUSTOMER

The immigration enforcement agency, which cites its average cost per bed at $129 per day, accounted for about a quarter of CoreCivic’s and Geo’s revenue in the first nine months of 2017.

Federal, state and local prisons make up most of the remaining revenue.

ICE asked Congress for a $1.2 billion funding increase, but the latest budget proposal offered $700 million, according to Geo, and its 2018 funding remains unclear.

GEO and CoreCivic make up two-thirds of the roughly $5.3 billion per year U.S. private prison business, according to market research firm IBISWorld.

However, potential state contracts promise to boost prison companies’ earnings and make them less controversial.

Both the sheer size of the U.S. prison population, by far the world’s largest, and the use of privately-run prisons have been a subject of political debate. (Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/2BFI8Sz)

As a result, Barack Obama’s administration laid out plans, abandoned under Trump, to phase out outsourcing, citing, among others, safety concerns.

Investors said a pending Kansas Department of Corrections proposal for CoreCivic to build a new prison which the state would manage, would address some investor concerns by making the company a landlord rather than a prison operator. If copied by other states, such approach would open new opportunities for the companies, which mostly derive revenue from running their own prisons or government facilities.

“There’s a lot of noise around being a private prison operator” said Jamie Cuellar, co-portfolio manager of the Buffalo Small Cap Fund based in Mission, Kansas.

“If people start thinking of them more like a government agency REIT than a prison operator it could be helpful to the valuation,” he said.

Cuellar noted that Easterly Government Properties <DEA.N>, a REIT which leases office buildings to government agencies, trades at a multiple of 15.8 times earnings estimates. In comparison, CoreCivic’s forward multiple is 10.0 and Geo’s is 11.8, according to the latest data.

Thousands of vacancies at CoreCivic and Geo facilities should also be viewed as a positive, because they could lift earnings with little extra investment, investors say.

Hymowitz estimated that CoreCivic, which has around 15,000 empty beds, could boost by a fifth its funds from operations (FFO) per share if it could fill just a quarter of them. CoreCivic said in November it could add $1 to annual earnings per share (FFO) if it can open its eight idle prisons and boost inmate numbers in partially vacant facilities.

Geo said in October that filling 7,000 empty beds could add $50-$60 million to its annual earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), a roughly 11-13 percent increase to 2018 analyst estimates.

Buffalo Funds’ Cuellar has a $45 long term price target for CoreCivic, which last traded around $22. While it would take new business to get there, Cuellar says he can afford to be patient given its steady dividend payouts.

“I don’t believe there is a lot of downside from here. Meanwhile, I get paid a 7.6 percent dividend to wait.”

(GRAPHIC: http://reut.rs/2BzSzex)

(GRAPHIC: http://tmsnrt.rs/2y7wgeh)

(Additional reporting by Noel Randewich and Megan Davies; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

JPMorgan pays $2.8 million fine over improper safeguards for customers

FILE PHOTO: People pass the JP Morgan Chase & Co. Corporate headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N> will pay $2.8 million to settle charges that a broker-dealer unit lacked sufficient controls to safeguard customer securities from several countries over more than eight years, a U.S. regulator said on Wednesday.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said JPMorgan Clearing Corp created hundreds of millions of dollars of deficits by violating U.S. rules designed to thwart the improper commingling of assets.

Such rules are intended to avoid delays in returning customer securities, or the inability to make customers whole, when broker-dealers fail.

FINRA said the violations occurred from March 2008 to June 2016, and stemmed in part from defective electronic systems that JPMorgan inherited from Bear Stearns Cos, the investment bank it bought in May 2008 in a government-arranged fire sale.

JPMorgan did not admit or deny wrongdoing in agreeing to settle. Brian Marchiony, a spokesman for the New York-based bank, in an email said there were no findings that any client accounts were harmed.

According to settlement papers, JPMorgan failed to properly segregate customer securities from its own assets because of systematic coding and design flaws and a lack of supervision.

FINRA cited as examples how the improper safeguarding of Italian securities for nearly two years and Nigerian securities for four years created respective deficits of $146 million and $120 million.

The fine reflected JPMorgan’s “extraordinary” cooperation in addressing the violations, and its practice of setting aside excess deposits to protect customers from losses, FINRA said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Rigby)

JetBlue plane skids off taxiway in Boston, no injuries

A JetBlue plane is seen on the in-flight map on the plane, at the Boston’s Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., December 25, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Courtesy of Yuval Gonczarowski/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A JetBlue Airways passenger plane skidded off an icy taxiway after landing at Boston’s Logan International Airport on Monday night but no injuries were reported, the airline said.

The mishap involving an AirBus A320 occurred around 7:15 p.m. as Flight 50 from Savannah, Georgia touched down in Boston, where nearly three inches of snow had fallen earlier in the day, the airline said.

“No injuries have been reported at this time,” the airline said in a statement. “Buses transported customers from the aircraft to the terminal.”

Earlier on Monday departures and arrivals were halted at Logan International for about an hour as snow reduced visibility to near zero, airport officials said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Oil hits 2-1/2 year highs on Libyan pipeline blast

ExxonMobil’s Hebron oil platform is shown off the coast of Canada’s Newfoundland & Labrador, in this June 13, 2017 handout photo. Courtesy ExxonMobil Canada/Handout via REUTERS

By Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices touched two-and-a-half year highs in light volume on Tuesday, boosted by an explosion on a crude pipeline in Libya and voluntary OPEC-led supply cuts.

Libya has lost around 90,000 bpd of crude oil from a blast on a pipeline feeding Es Sider port, a Libyan oil source said, adding that NOC was still assessing the damage.

A Libyan military source said earlier that armed men had planted explosives at the pipeline.

The country’s output had been recovering in recent months after being held down for years by conflict and unrest.

Brent crude <LCOc1>, the international benchmark for oil prices, rose $1.51, or 2.31 percent, to $66.76 a barrel by 11:40 a.m. (1640 GMT.) Prices hit a session high of $66.83 a barrel, the highest since late May 2015.

U.S. crude <CLc1> climbed $1.29, or 2.21 percent, to $59.76 a barrel after touching a session high of $59.86, the highest since late June 2015.

The impending restart of a key North Sea pipeline, Forties, limited the rally. The pipeline is being tested after repairs and full flows should resume in early January, its operator said on Monday.

“Keep in mind that the field and pipeline are old and it may have issues and it’s probably why the market isn’t selling off,” said Scott Shelton, broker at ICAP in Durham, North Carolina.

Trading activity was thin because of the Christmas holiday in many countries. Just 50,000 contracts of front-month Brent crude futures changed hands on Tuesday, well below the typical daily average of more than 250,000 contracts.

Brent has risen 17 percent while U.S. crude has rallied about 11 percent in 2017. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, plus Russia and other non-members, have been withholding some output since Jan. 1 to get rid of a glut.

The producers have extended the supply cut agreement to cover all of 2018.

Iraq’s oil minister said on Monday there would be a balance between supply and demand by the first quarter, leading to a boost in prices. Global oil inventories have decreased to an acceptable level, he added.

That is earlier than predicted in OPEC’s latest official forecast, which calls for a balanced market by late 2018. [OPEC/M]

U.S. shipments to China, one of the biggest oil consumers in the world, have benefited from the OPEC-led output cuts. Russia, however, was China’s largest crude oil supplier for the ninth month in a row in November, also topping Saudi Arabia for the year so far, Chinese customs data showed on Tuesday.

While the OPEC action has lent support to prices all year, the unplanned shutdown of the Forties pipeline on Dec. 11 pushed Brent to its 2-1/2 year high.

Forties is the biggest of the five North Sea crude streams underpinning Brent, the benchmark for oil trading in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Still, rising production in the United States is offsetting some of the OPEC-led cuts.

The U.S. rig count <RIG-OL-USA-BHI>, an early indicator of future output, held at 747 in the week to Dec. 22, according to the latest weekly report by Baker Hughes.

To view a graphic on U.S. oil production and rig drilling click on this link http://reut.rs/2C9dOTU

(Additional reporting by Alex Lawler in London and Henning Gloystein; Editing by John Stonestreet and Steve Orlofsky)

Highlights of Monday’s NFL games

Dec 25, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles kicker Jake Elliott (4) kicks the go-ahead field goal out of the hold of punter Donnie Jones (8) in the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports – 10499509

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of National Football League games on Monday:

Eagles 19, Raiders 10

Jake Elliott kicked a 48-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining and the Philadelphia Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a narrow 19-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles looked shaky but improved to 2-0 since Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. Foles went 19 of 38 for 163 yards, one touchdown and one interception as the Eagles improved to 13-2 overall and 7-0 at home. The Eagles conclude the regular season on Sunday at home against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Eagles were also 13-2 in 2004 when they advanced to the Super Bowl.

Oakland quarterback Derek Carr finished 15 of 29 for 140 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

The Raiders, who had already been eliminated from playoff contention, fell to 6-9.

Steelers 34, Texans 6

Mike Hilton and Cameron Heyward recorded multisack games and the Pittsburgh Steelers remained in the running for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by breezing to a 34-6 victory over the Houston Texans.

Hilton and Heyward combined for five sacks of Houston quarterbacks T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke as the Steelers (12-3) limited the Texans (4-11) to 51 net passing yards.

Pittsburgh scored on its first two possessions and completed its road schedule with just one loss.

Pittsburgh clinched a bye in the postseason while extending its road winning streak to six.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 29 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, including scoring strikes of five yards to Justin Hunter and 18 yards to JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Roethlisberger completed multiple passes to four receivers as the Steelers’ passing offense excelled in its first week without injured Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown.

Houston has lost five consecutive games and eight of nine since its mid-October bye week

NBA-Highlights of Monday’s NBA games

December 25, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Cavaliers 99-92. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

(The Sports Xchange) – Highlights of Monday’s National Basketball Association games:

Warriors 99, Cavaliers 92

Klay Thompson broke a late tie with a 3-pointer and Kevin Durant protected the lead with two key defensive plays on LeBron James, lifting the Golden State Warriors to a 99-92 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA’s marquee matchup on Christmas Day.

Neither team led by more than nine points in the tightly contested rematch of last spring’s NBA Finals, which the Warriors won in five games.

Durant, despite just 8-for-19 shooting, had 25 points to pace the Warriors, who have won six of their last seven at home against the Cavaliers.

Kevin Love had a game-high 31 points and 18 rebounds for the Cavaliers. James was held to 20 points on 7-for-18 shooting.

Sixers 105, Knicks 98

Joel Embiid had 25 points and 16 rebounds, and J.J. Redick added 24 points with four 3-pointers as Philadelphia snapped its season-high five-game losing streak.

Enes Kanter had 31 points — including 14 in the third quarter — and 22 rebounds, and Kristaps Porzingis added 22 points for the Knicks, who have lost three of four after winning four straight.

Ben Simmons, who struggled offensively and finished with eight points, had a crucial steal and breakaway dunk with 1 minute, 6 seconds left, jumping in front of a Porzingis pass and taking it the other way to give the 76ers an eight-point cushion. He then forced a turnover on New York’s next possession, and Philadelphia was able to juice the clock late.

Wizards 111, Celtics 103

Kelly Oubre Jr. and Bradley Beal both scored five straight points during a late 12-0 run, leading Washington past Boston.

It was the first time the Celtics played at home on Christmas, and they were fighting an uphill battle throughout the game. They wiped out an 11-point third-quarter deficit and led by five before the Wizards (19-15) caught fire.

Beal scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds and John Wall had 21 points, 14 assists and five boards. Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 20 points apiece.

Thunder 112, Rockets 107

Russell Westbrook scored 31 points to lift Oklahoma City over Houston.

Westbrook outdueled James Harden, who finished with 29 points.

Paul George added 24 and Carmelo Anthony 20 for the Thunder, who extended their season-long winning streak to five games.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon scored 20 for the Rockets, who lost for the third consecutive time after winning 14 consecutive games.

Timberwolves 121, Lakers 104

Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler scored 24 points apiece and Minnesota continued its best start in 14 years with a victory against Los Angeles.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Jamal Crawford contributed 19 points off the bench for the Timberwolves, who shot a season-high 58.3 percent from the floor.

Kyle Kuzma made 6 of 11 3-pointers and scored 31 points to lead the Lakers. Jordan Clarkson added 17 points and Julius Randle scored 16 off the bench.

Celebrities Who Made a Difference in 2017

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-BIZ/NEWS:Chance the Rapper Charity

By Alex Stedman

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – 2017 saw some dark times, to say the least. From the aftermath of an especially divisive election to terrorist attacks, the troubling headlines — both in the U.S. and abroad — kept rolling in.

And celebrities, like so many other citizens, felt compelled to led a helping hand. While there are countless stars who spoke out politically on social media, raised money for various causes, and gave rousing speeches at awards shows and rallies, we decided to look back at some of the stars who made a measurable difference in the past year. Whether they were championing diversity in Hollywood, inspiring hope after tragedy, or exposing some of the entertainment industry’s dark secrets, here are 10 celebrities who truly made a difference in 2017.

Ariana Grande

Grande was performing at a concert on May 22 in Manchester when unexpected tragedy struck: a terrorist bombing at the Manchester Arena, killing 23 people and injuring more than 500 others. It would have been understandable for Grande to recoil from the public for awhile, but instead, she was back on stage no less than two weeks later in triumphant fashion. Spearheaded in part by manager Scooter Braun, Grande headlined a benefit concert, One Love Manchester , raising funds for the victims of the bombing and featuring big names like Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus. It also spawned one of Grande’s most memorable performances: a touching rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”

Chance the Rapper

puts his money where his mouth is. The Chicago native has always been an advocate for his city, but 2017 saw the artist step up in a big way, when he and his charity SocialWorks donated a whopping $2.2 million to the Chicago Public School system. In addition, he announced the Twilight Awards, which will take place in June 2018 in the Windy City and honor the often-underappreciated educators. On a smaller but still important scale, he handed out toys to children, collected by Chicago-area students, on Dec. 20 at the city’s Field Museum. And that’s not to mention the other work he’s done, like livestreaming his Hollywood Bowl concert in October to raise funds to aid Hurricane Maria victims. Chicago truly couldn’t ask for a better hometown hero.

Chris Evans

Sometimes, when someone’s being bullied, all it takes is one cool kid to stand up for them… and who’s cooler than Captain America himself? When Keaton Jones posted a video that would go on to go viral with a devastating account of being bullied, several celebrities sent him support on social media, but Evans invited him to the “Avengers: Infinity War” premiere, presumably sending the bullies running for the hills. Plus, the actor has been an outspoken activist via social media, perhaps most memorably getting in a heated Twitter war with David Duke. “Look, I’m in a business where you’ve got to sell tickets,” he told Esquire in March. “But, my God, I would not be able to look at myself in the mirror if I felt strongly about something and didn’t speak up.” Amen, Cap.

Gina Rodriguez 

Immigration was no doubt a hot-button issue this year, especially considering that the current POTUS staked his campaign, in part, on the promise of “The Wall.” “Jane the Virgin” star Rodriguez just didn’t speak out when Trump announced plans to roll back the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program — she’s developing an entire show aimed at dismantling the stigmas associated with immigrants and telling their stories. Titled “Illegal” and announced shortly after Trump’s DACA plans made headlines, it’s based on the life of series co-executive producer and writer Rafael Agustin. It’s one of two shows related to immigrants she’s developing as part of her overall deal with CBS TV Studios. The other, “Have Mercy,” centers on a Latina doctor who is unable to practice when she immigrates to Miami.

Alyssa Milano

When Milano tweeted a message inviting women to share their stories of sexual harassment or assault with the hashtag #MeToo, she wasn’t surprised at the massive response she got from around the world, she told Variety at the time . But it would have been hard to predict how much the movement, first started by Tarana Burke 10 years ago, would take off after Milano lent it her voice. Within 24 hours, more than 53,000 people left comments on her original viral tweet, and tens of thousands more used the hashtag to raise awareness of the daily struggle so many women face. Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, and Reese Witherspoon opened up about the issue. The epidemic of sexual harassment still rages on but, thanks in large part to Milano, it’s no longer a silent one.

Colin Kaepernick

To be fair, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick first took the knee heard ’round the world in 2016, when he began to kneel during the National Anthem before the start of NFL games to protest racial inequality in America. But 2017 saw his actions amplified, thanks in large part to President Donald Trump. POTUS tweeted back in September that players who kneel during the National Anthem should be fired or suspended — leading to dozens of the NFL’s top stars, including the conservative Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones , taking a knee in solidarity with Kaepernick. Kaepernick is a free agent now, with political controversy no doubt preventing him from getting picked up, but he deserves credit for starting a movement.

Ed Skrein

How do you solve a problem like whitewashing? Boycotts haven’t worked. Op-eds, while drawing attention to the issue, haven’t worked. Sometimes it takes an actor to step up — and step aside in place of a person of color. That’s exactly what Skrein, who was cast in the role of Major Ben Daimio in the new “Hellboy,” did just days after his casting was announced, leaving the role after public outcry , saying he didn’t know his character was “of mixed Asian heritage.” Daniel Dae Kim would go on to replace him. While you could argue that he shouldn’t have taken the part in the first place (and it would be a valid argument), stepping down was a bold move, and one that sets a precedent for other actors in his position.

Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park

Kim and Park made headlines when they both exited “Hawaii Five-O” in June after appearing in the rebooted version of the CBS series since its 2010 debut. And they made no secret about the reason why: they had been seeking  pay parity with white stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan. “It’s possible to be grateful for the opportunity and have respect for your colleagues and still maintain a steadfast sense of your self-worth,” Kim said in a Facebook post at the time. While CBS offered a different version of the negotiations (“Hawaii Five-O” showrunner Peter Lenkov insisted that CBS was “extremely generous” with the departing actors), Kim and Park opened the door to a necessary conversation about race and salary in Hollywood.

When Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, Miranda, who has family on the island and is of Puerto Rican heritage, couldn’t sit around and do nothing. Quite the opposite: in October, he released a charity single , “Almost Like Praying,” featuring Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Camila Cabello, Gloria Estefan, Fat Joe, Luis Fonsi, John Leguizamo, Rita Moreno, and more to raise money for Puerto Rico after the hurricane. He just recently urged the government to provide more assistance to Puerto Rico months after the hurricane in a stirring op-ed for the Washington Post , and — perhaps the cherry on top — revealed that he’ll be reprising his “Hamilton” role for a special series of shows in Puerto Rico next year, giving the beleaguered citizens something to look forward to.

Logic

For those suffering with suicidal thoughts and seeking help, Logic made it very easy for them to find. Logic named his emotional and powerful single “1-800-273-8255,” the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and almost immediately made a huge impact. According to the hotline , when the song was released on April 28, it received the second-highest daily call volume in its history at the time: more than 4,573 calls, and increase of 27% compared to the same day of the week for the previous three weeks. The volume of calls also increased after Logic’s moving performance with Alessia Cara and Khalid  at the MTV Video Music Awards , which saw the number flash on the screen behind him and local Los Angeles volunteers in T-shirts bearing the lifeline’s number join the stage.

The Victims Who Spoke Out

Last but certainly not least, this year was one of a reckoning of sexual abusers in Hollywood, spurred by the victims who were brave enough go public, among them several famous faces. Even before the Harvey Weinstein bombshell dropped, Taylor Swift successfully countersued a former radio DJ who groped her during a photo op (and then blamed her for the loss of his job) for a mere $1, sending a statement loud and clear. When the New York Times expose did publish, Ashley Judd and Asia Argento spoke on-the-record about their harrowing experiences with the disgraced mogul. Rose McGowan was another clear leader in the movement, holding Weinstein and his enablers accountable.

And then the other shoes started to drop. Olivia Munn went public with her claims against Brett Ratner, emboldening other women to do so as well. Terry Crews shattered stereotypes when he led the charge against WME’s Adam Venit , claiming that the high-profile agent groped his genitals at a Hollywood party. Anthony Rapp told BuzzFeed that Kevin Spacey made a pass at him when he was only 14, spurring even more men to level accusations against the “House of Cards” actor. And before even any of that, Amber Tamblyn, after alleging that James Woods hit on her when she was 16, wrote in the New York Times that she’s “done with being not believed.”

It’s hard to even mention, in brief terms, the dozens of others who came foreword, from the “One Tree Hill” cast’s brave letter alleging sexual misconduct against showrunner Mark Schwahn to Ellen Page’s powerful Facebook post that not only accused Ratner of sexist and homophobic behavior, but detailed the struggles facing women, LGBT individuals, and people of color in Hollywood. It hasn’t been easy — far from it — but the courage of victims started a cultural movement that will undoubtedly reverberate long after the year is over.

Variety Critics Name the 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2018

VARIETY-ENTERTAINMENT-FILM/OPINION:Bohemian Rhapsody Ilse of Dogs A Wrinkle in Time

By Variety Staff

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Variety polled its international team of critics, asking which films they were most looking forward to in the coming year. The results are diverse, ranging from likely blockbusters to potential Palme d’Or winners, although you won’t find a single comic-book movie on this list.

“Annihilation” (Feb. 23)
Alex Garland follows his hit debut “Ex Machina” with a brainy horror movie about an all-female team of explorers who venture into a deadly environmental disaster zone. Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s award-winning trilogy, the nature thriller stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and an iridescent mist that gives the air the sinister shimmer of an oil slick. — Amy Nicholson

“Black Klansman”
For many, the pinnacle of Spike Lee’s career to date remains 1992’s epic biopic “Malcolm X.” A quarter-century later, he returns to fact-based drama with the incredible story of Ron Stallworth (played by Denzel’s son John David Washington), an African-American police detective who managed to infiltrate a Colorado Ku Klux Klan chapter — even getting appointed its leader. With Jordan Peele on board as a producer, this should be Jones’ most scorchingly relevant joint in some time. — Dennis Harvey

“Bohemian Rhapsody” (Dec. 25)
I’ve been waiting for years to see a musical drama about Queen and the tumultuous life and reckless passion of their lead singer, Freddie Mercury. But director Bryan Singer unleashed a rash of headlines by getting fired off the project, with just over two weeks of shooting to go, and he was then accused of rape. The film’s future suddenly looks murky: Will it see the light of day? And, if so, will Singer’s name be on the project? It’s too early to tell, but the movie could still prove to be an ecstatic rock biopic. The wild card is Rami Malek (from “Mr. Robot”), who plays Mercury: Will he nail that sublime flamboyance from hell? — Owen Gleiberman

“Boy Erased” (Sept. 28)
In his 2015 suspense film “The Gift,” the actor Joel Edgerton proved to be a filmmaker of shrewd and stunning talent. For his second feature as a director, he turns to a subject that begs to be treated with dramatic honesty: the moral travesty that is “conversion therapy.” Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir, the film stars Lucas Hedges, the great young actor from “Manchester by the Sea” and “Lady Bird,” as the gay son of a Baptist pastor (Russell Crowe) in small-town Arkansas. Nicole Kidman plays his mother, and Edgerton is the conversion therapist against whom Conley gradually goes to war. Owen Gleiberman

“Burning”
While his name may not be as well known in the U.S. as Bong Joon Ho and Park Chan-wook, South Korean director Lee Chang-dong is a profound humanist (see “Secret Sunshine”) working in a country known for its innovative artifice. It’s been a long seven years since Lee’s previous feature, “Poetry.” Expect his latest, adapted from a New Yorker short story by sometime-surrealist Haruki Murakami, to premiere at Cannes. — Peter Debruge

“Everybody Knows”
There are certain filmmakers who, when they say they’re going to make a “thriller,” mean that they’re going to find the psychological shivers in reality. That’s the anticipation one has for the first thriller directed by Iran’s Asghar Farhadi. Coming off a trio of brilliant films (“A Separation,” “The Past” and “The Salesman”), all set in Iran, Farhadi now travels to Spain to tell the story of a woman, played by Penélope Cruz, who returns to her hometown and confronts a series of strange events. The costars are Javier Bardem and Ricardo Darín. — Owen Gleiberman

“First Man” (Oct. 12)
Damien Chazelle’s first feature after “La La Land” would be a breathlessly awaited event even if he wasn’t literally shooting the moon. It’s an epic docudrama, starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, that chronicles the entire history of the space race, starting in 1961 and culminating in Armstrong’s July 21, 1969, walk on the lunar surface. Timed to anticipate the 50th anniversary of that globe-altering event, the movie has the chance to be a stirring and visionary reminder of what America could once do. — Owen Gleiberman

“Halloween”/“Suspiria” (Oct. 19/TBD)
Under most circumstances, the ravaging of classic horror properties for modern remakes would raise an immediate red flag, but two ’70s standard-bearers have fallen into the right hands. Directors David Gordon Green and Luca Guadagnino both did excellent work in 2017 with “Stronger” and “Call Me by Your Name,” respectively, and their sensibilities are well-suited to genre revivals. Green’s “Halloween” will likely forego the revisionist shocks of the Rob Zombie reboots in favor of a more faithful evocation of the original, and Guadagnino’s florid sensuality is perfect for “Suspiria,” to say nothing of Tilda Swinton in the Joan Bennett role. — Scott Tobias

“High Life”
The irresistible combination of director Claire Denis and sci-fi in a story about a group of convicts on a no-return exploration into space is already exciting enough. Add an intriguing cast headed by Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, plus Icelandic-Danish sculptor Olafur Eliasson’s designs for the black hole, and cinephile’s expectations for Denis’ first English-language film are literally sky-high. — Jay Weissberg

“Isle of Dogs” (March 23)
Following a relatively mediocre year for big-studio animation, 2018 brings cause for hope: Aardman’s “Early Man,” Pixar’s “The Incredibles 2” and China’s beyond-gorgeous “Big Fish and Begonia” (already a record-setting phenomenon back home). The most eccentric of the lot will undoubtedly be Wes Anderson’s return to the world of stop-motion (following “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), in which talking canines are banished to their own island. — Peter Debruge

“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”
The setbacks that “Time Bandits” director Terry Gilliam has faced on this project are so epic, they spawned a feature-length documentary, “Lost in La Mancha.” Enter Amazon Studios, which saw the potential of applying cinema’s preeminent magical realist to this imaginative retelling of Cervantes’ novel. Barring any unforeseen complications, Gilliam’s fans will finally have a chance to see what promises to be the director’s magnum opus. — Peter Debruge

“The Palace”
Bringing the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai to the screen would be a huge challenge for any first-time director, though Aussie Anthony Maras (recently named one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” ) enlisted a starry cast that includes Dev Patel, Armie Hammer and Jason Isaacs for the project. Here’s hoping it delivers on the promise of his outstanding 2011 short film of the same name (although that one is about something completely different, being an action-drama set during the 1974 conflict in Cyprus). — Richard Kuipers

“Ready Player One” (March 30)
Until now, “Wreck-It Ralph” is the closest Hollywood has come to making a great video game movie. Because hope springs eternal, however, 2018 brings “Rampage” and a “Tomb Raider” reboot, which both look pretty pro forma. Still, there’s potential in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s sci-fi scavenger-hunt novel, which imagines an elaborate virtual-reality gaming environment the director has populated with fan-favorite characters, from Freddy Krueger to the Iron Giant. — Peter Debruge

“Red Sparrow” (March 2)
We’re entering the “try everything” phase of Jennifer Lawrence’s career, and it’s quite a ride. She’s flexing her artsy muscles with Darren Aronofsky and Luca Guadagnino, but is also expanding her multiplex range in this sleek, classily cast espionage thriller from her “Hunger Games” director (and expert hokum merchant) Francis Lawrence. J.Law as a Russian ballerina turned undercover intelligence agent? It’s not obvious, and I’m in. — Guy Lodge

“Roma”
In his first film since “Gravity” (yes, four years ago), director Alfonso Cuarón tells the multi-stranded story of a middle-class family in Mexico City during the early 1970s. It’s the first film the director has set in his country of origin since “Y Tu Mamá También” (2001), and it promises to be a portrait at once intimate and teeming. — Owen Gleiberman

“Shadow”
Zhang Yimou’s upcoming costume epic depicts the relationship between an exiled king and his general, as they plot to take back their realm. Starring actor-director Deng Chao (“The Mermaid”), one of the most bankable actors in China, “Shadow” supposedly boasts an aesthetic inspired by Chinese ink wash painting, promising a return to more lyrical form after “The Great Wall.” — Maggie Lee

“The Sisters Brothers”
For his first English-language feature, French director Jacques Audiard (Oscar nominated for “A Prophet”) attempts a darkly comical take on that most American of movie genres, the Western, in his adaptation of the novel by Canadian author Patrick deWitt. Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly star as gunmen ordered by their fearsome boss (Rutger Hauer) to kill a troublesome prospector (Jake Gyllenhaal) in 1850s San Francisco. Nothing goes according to plan. — Joe Leydon

“Sunset”
After galvanizing Cannes and going on to win the foreign language Oscar with his debut “Son Of Saul,” Hungarian director Laszló Nemes set a high bar for his second feature. Although not much is known about “Sunset,” the portents look promising. It’s another period piece, set in pre-WWI Budapest. And important “Saul” collaborators such as co-writer Clara Royer, DP Mátyás Erdély and producers Gábor Rajna and Gábor Sipos are on board. — Alissa Simon

“Widows” (Nov. 18)
Next year, “Ocean’s 8” isn’t the only female-led heist movie to look forward to. Boasting an equally impressive cast — plus an Oscar-winning director in Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), who co-wrote with “Gone Girl” scribe Gillian Flynn — this update of the 1983 British TV miniseries about four women who choose to finish the heist that killed their husbands unites Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo. — Nick Schager

“A Wrinkle in Time” (March 9)
With so few women being handed the reins of blockbuster franchise movies, there’s reason to celebrate the faith Disney put in director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) and screenwriter Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”) to adapt Madeline L’Engle’s visionary fantasy novel — starring none other than Oprah! While the rest of Hollywood takes baby steps, Disney is making giant strides in the right direction, having also tapped Niki Caro to helm its live-action “Mulan” remake. — Peter Debruge

Top small-cap funds of 2017 focus on healthcare, tech in year ahead

By David Randall

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Healthcare, technology and Japanese small-cap stocks look poised to outperform the broader market in the year ahead, according to some of the best performing U.S.-based stock fund managers of 2017.

Small-cap stocks should be among the largest winners of the newly-signed Republican-led tax law, which slashed corporate taxes at home and made it cheaper for companies to bring back their profits from overseas. Yet small-cap fund managers from Loomis Sayles, Federated Investors and Wasatch Advisors whose funds are up 30 percent or more for the year say that a bigger factor in the year ahead will be continued global growth.

“The tax bill is going to make some balance sheets look better on the margin, but we think the larger factor is that the recovery is still going on internationally,” said Kenneth Korngiebel, a co-portfolio manager of the $335-million Wasatch Micro Cap fund, which is up 36.1 percent year-to-date. That performance makes it the 13th best small-cap fund of the year, according to Lipper data, which tracks about 1,800 small-cap funds.

As a result, Korngiebel is shifting more of his portfolio into international stocks, which often trade at lower valuations than their U.S. counterparts and have better growth characteristics, he said.

Korngiebel is adding to stocks like Japanese outsourcing company UT Group Co Ltd, whose shares are up 243 percent for the year to date, and which he expects to grow its revenue by more than 30 percent in the year ahead. He is also adding to his position in U.S.-based Tabula Rasa Healthcare Inc, which helps doctors screen for potential drug interactions. Shares of the company are up 97 percent in 2017.

“The percentage of the population who take five or more medication is going up and adverse drug events are expensive and can lead to loss of life. What we see here is opportunity to take advantage of an under-covered company that is unique and meets a large need,” he said.

Overall, companies in the small-cap benchmark Russell 2000 index pay a median effective tax rate of 31.9 percent, while the larger, multinational companies in the S&P 500 pay a median effective tax rate of 28 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. The median for the 30 mega-cap stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average is 23.8 percent.

Some of the benefits of the tax cut are already reflected in stock prices. The iShares Russell 2000 ETF, which tracks the benchmark Russell 2000 index of small-cap shares, is up 14 percent for the year to date, with about half of that gain coming over the last three months as Republicans rolled out their tax plan.

John Slavik, a co-portfolio manager of the $18-million Loomis Sayles Small/Mid Cap Growth fund, the 16th best performing small-cap fund this year, said that industrial machinery companies such as Gardner Denver Holdings Inc should benefit if corporations reinvest part of their tax windfalls into improving their factories.

The fund’s largest position is in supply chain company XPO Logistics Inc, which Slavik expects to gain from both corporate capital reinvestment and global economic growth. Shares of the company are up 78 percent for the year, and now trade at a trailing price to earnings ratio of 65.9, but Slavik said that he expects its revenues and cash flow to accelerate as the global manufacturing sector continues to expand.

“The valuation of the stock has been more challenging but we still thinks it works into the future,” he said.

He has also been selling his position in clear-braces maker Align Technology Inc, whose shares are up 135 percent this year and now trade at a market value of more than $18 billion, making it too large for his fund.

“This is a company that has done very well for us but we are looking to start to redeploy that cash elsewhere,” he said.

Stephen DeNichilo, a portfolio manager of the $872 million Federated Kaufmann Small Cap fund, the 9th best small-cap fund this year, said that fund holdings such as plastics molding manufacturer Milacron Holdings Corp will benefit from a pickup in capital spending because its products help improve a factory’s efficiency. “This kind of investment pays for itself very quickly,” he said.

Yet he has a larger position overall in biotech companies, which have greater growth potential, he said. He has been adding to his position in Nektar Therapeutics, which is developing in abuse-proof opioid medication, and gene-therapy drug maker Spark Therapeutics Inc.

He also added a position in retailer Floor & Decor Holdings Inc shortly after its initial public offering in April as a play on consumer spending on home renovation. Shares of the company, which makes high-end floor tiles, are up 37.8 percent for the year.

“This a traditional brick and mortar retailer that has built a better mouse trap,” he said.

(Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Wall St. lower as iPhone X concerns hit Apple shares

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, (NYSE) in New York, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Sruthi Shankar

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes came under pressure on Tuesday following a 2.5 percent drop in Apple’s shares on a report of weak iPhone X demand.

Apple <AAPL.O> will slash its sales forecast for its flagship phone in the current quarter to 30 million units, down from what it said was an initial plan of 50 million units, Taiwan’s Economic Daily reported, citing unidentified sources.

That, along with a few bearish brokerage calls on iPhone X demand, put its shares on track for their worst single-day percentage fall since Aug. 10.

Shares of companies that supply parts to Apple, including Broadcom <AVGO.O>, Skyworks Solutions <SWKS.O>, Finisar <FNSR.O> and Lumentum Holdings <LITE.O>, fell between 2 percent and 5.5 percent.

The S&P technology index <.SPLRCT> fell 0.7 percent, the biggest loser among the 11 major S&P 500 sectors. The tech-heavy Nasdaq <.IXIC> fell 0.37 percent to 6,934.14 as high-flying names such as Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet and Netflix declined.

“It looks to me that technology sector, already paying the lowest in taxes of around 24 percent, will not get as much of an impact as the financial sector, which pays the highest,” said Sandy Villere, portfolio manager of the Villere Balanced Fund

“Maybe that rotation has begun and the FANGS may see some profit-taking into next year.”

A long-promised Republican bill to cut corporate tax rates to 21 percent from 35 percent was ratified last week.

At 12:26 p.m. ET (1726 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> fell 0.08 percent to 24,734.98 and the S&P 500 <.SPX> slipped 0.09 percent to 2,680.88.

Most markets around the world, including parts of Europe and Asia, were shut on Tuesday. Trading volumes are also expected to be light in the holiday week.

Oil prices jumped more than 2 percent, helped by an explosion on a crude pipeline in Libya and voluntary OPEC-led supply cuts. [O/R]

Chevron <CVX.N>, EOG Resources <EOG.N>, Exxon <XOM.N> and ConocoPhillips <COP.N> rose between 0.8 percent and 2.5 percent.

Shares of department store operators Kohl’s <KSS.N>, JC Penney <JCP.N> and Macy’s <M.N> got a boost after a report that retail sales in the holiday period rose at their best pace since 2011.

Sucampo Pharma <SCMP.O> surged 6 percent after Mallinckrodt <MNK.N> said it would acquire the drugmaker for $1.2 billion. Mallinckrodt shares rose 2 percent.

Bitcoin <BTC=BTSP> traded up more than 14 percent at $15,865, recovering from last week’s selloff that saw the cryptocurrency plunge about 30 percent.

Related stocks such as Riot Blockchain <RIOT.O>, Overstock.com <OSTK.N> and Longfin Corp <LFIN.O> rose between 3 percent and 37 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,702 to 1,117. On the Nasdaq, 1,463 issues fell and 1,386 advanced.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

Kremlin seeks investigation of vote boycott called by Putin opponent

Members of the initiative group to nominate Vladimir Putin as a candidate in the 2018 presidential election attend a meeting in Moscow, Russia December 26, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

By Andrew Osborn and Polina Nikolskaya

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Hundreds of Russian celebrities, sportspeople and politicians nominated President Vladimir Putin for re-election on Tuesday, hours after the Kremlin said it wanted opposition leader Alexei Navalny investigated for calling for a boycott of the vote.

Navalny called for the boycott of the March 18 election on Monday after Russia’s central election commission ruled he was not eligible to run for president due to a suspended prison sentence hanging over him.

The 41-year-old lawyer, who says he’s being excluded on false grounds because the Kremlin is running scared, said he would use his campaign headquarters across the country to call the election’s legitimacy into question and organize protests.

The Kremlin, which points to polls that show Putin is the runaway favorite with Navalny trailing far behind, on Tuesday set the scene for possible police action against Navalny and his supporters whose protests have been broken up before.

“The calls for a boycott will require scrupulous study, to see whether or not they comply with the law,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Declining to comment on the election commission’s decision to bar Navalny, Peskov shrugged off allegations that the presidential poll would be a farce without the opposition leader who has made a name for himself by leveraging social media and conducting corruption investigations into senior officials.

“The fact that one of the would-be candidates is not taking part has no bearing on the election’s legitimacy,” said Peskov.

Hours later, Putin, 65, was feted by his supporters, almost 700 of whom pledged to back him for re-election — above the minimum 500 required to initiate a presidential bid.

Putin’s own schedule was too busy for him to attend the Moscow nomination event, the Kremlin said, though he is expected to personally submit the necessary paperwork to the central election commission in the coming days.

FATHER OF THE NATION

The former KGB officer is running as an independent, a move seen as a way of strengthening his image as a “father of the nation” rather than as a party political figure.

The ruling United Russia party and the Just Russia party have both said they will support him.

“I have worked under the leadership of the president for quite a long time so I know that everything will be alright for us with President Putin,” Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s former ambassador to the United States, now a senator, told Reuters at Tuesday’s nomination meeting.

The commander of a nuclear submarine, Sergei Novokhatsky, told the same meeting that Putin had helped revive the Russian Navy, which he described as mired in apathy at the end of the 1990s with many of its ships stuck in ports.

Now, he said, wages were up and Russian ships served throughout the world.

“The course the motherland is on is the right one,” Novokhatsky told the meeting.

If, as expected, he wins re-election, Putin, who has dominated Russia’s political landscape for the last 17 years, will be eligible to serve another six years until 2024, when he turns 72.

Allies laud him for restoring national pride and expanding Moscow’s global clout with interventions in Syria and Ukraine.

But Navalny, the opposition leader, says Putin’s support is exaggerated and artificially maintained by a biased state media and an unfair system which excludes genuine opponents.

Navalny, who says he could defeat Putin in a fair election, has been jailed three times this year and charged with breaking the law for organizing public meetings and rallies designed to bolster his presidential campaign.

He has said millions of voters will be disenfranchised unless the authorities relent and allow him to run.

The European Union has also questioned the decision to bar Navalny.

“(It) casts a serious doubt on political pluralism in Russia and the prospect of democratic elections next year,” the EU’s External Action Service said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Politically motivated charges should not be used against political participation,” it said, urging Moscow to ensure a “level playing field” for all Russian elections.

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk in Moscow and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Peter Graff)

Robot growing pains: Two U.S. factories show tensions of going digital

FILE PHOTO: A job seeker departs the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. career fair held by the New York State department of Labor in New York, April 12, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Timothy Aeppel

COLUMBUS, Ind. (Reuters) – When Sandy Vierling took a job at a new robot-packed factory her company built just a few miles from an older plant where she made automotive exhaust systems, she crossed into the future of manufacturing in the United States.

She didn’t like it at all.

Auto supplier Faurecia SA’s <EPED.PA> new plant – dubbed Columbus South to distinguish it from the older operation known as Gladstone – is glistening clean and the physical work is lighter. But the 57-year-old found her new job had long hours and was monotonous – loading parts onto conveyors that fed robots all day. She also missed the interaction with coworkers she had at Gladstone.

Other workers at the new plant complain that they do not get to fix machines when they jam. Technicians swoop in to do that.

“I was stressed all the time,” she said.

President Donald Trump has put bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States at the center of his economic and trade agenda. But when jobs actually come – as they have here in southern Indiana – many factory workers are not prepared for them, and employers are having trouble hiring people with the needed skills.

U.S. manufacturing job openings stand near a 15 year high and factories are hiring workers at the fastest clip since 2014, with many employers saying the hardest-to-fill jobs are those that involve technical skills that command top pay.

In 2000, over half of U.S. manufacturing workers had only high school degrees or less, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, 57 percent of manufacturing workers have technical school training, some college or full college degrees, and nearly a third of workers have bachelors or advanced degrees, up from 22 percent in 2000.

(For a graphic, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2z5f84w)

Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the digitalization sweeping the economy is forcing employers to hunt for a different mix of workers – and pay more in some cases for workers with technical skills.

A new study by Muro found those with the highest digital skills saw average wage growth of 2 percent a year since 2010, while wages for those with medium skills grew by 1.4 percent and those at the bottom by 1.6 percent.

SKILLS MISMATCH

The skills mismatch is playing out at Faurecia’s factories in Columbus.

The company’s older Gladstone plant has 500 production workers and only a handful of robots. The new plant, Columbus South, has about 400 workers and about 100 robots, including 30 automated guided vehicles that move materials instead of human-driven tugs. Both plants make exhaust systems.

Faurecia invested $64 million in its new plant, and invited trained workers from the old plant to apply for jobs in the new one. Many workers, including Vierling, were lured by higher wages. She saw her pay jump from $16.65 an hour to $18.80 at Columbus South. About 150 made the move, according to the union that represents workers in both facilities, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

There’s no plan to shutter the older plant, but rather to introduce automation there in phases as well.

But some said no to the opportunity.

Christina Teltow says she never even considered it. She is 42 years-old, and has spent 22 years at Gladstone. She was recently promoted, but previously worked as “gap leader,” one of the better jobs someone with a high school education can attain at the plant. That job includes overseeing the schedules of workers and monitoring the quality of parts.

The same job at Columbus South requires 16 credit hours from the local technical college in business administration as well as learning to use computers to track production and schedules.

“Here, I get in and work on machinery,” she said. “In South, it’s totally different — it’s all robots.”

The company says one reason the new plant needs a lot of robots is because it produces a different kind of product. Gladstone mostly makes exhaust systems for light vehicles, while Columbus South is dedicated to much beefier commercial exhaust systems used mainly on large trucks. One worker can easily lift most of the parts at Gladstone, while some parts at Columbus South weigh up to 260 pounds.

Without robots, the new plant would need many more workers just to move things around, said managers.

Of course, robots have been in factories for decades. The difference now is that the machines are being linked together in networks that allow more oversight and control. At Columbus South, managers and engineers walk around with iPads that allow them to watch production levels in real time and even less-skilled workers have to know the basics of how to use computer drop down screens and entering data.

Leading the way onto the factory floor, manager Mike Galarno points to the front of one of the long production lines dotted with robots to a large video screen that tracks production in real time.

At the old plant, each part of the operation was like an island. If a problem arose, the people working there could sort it out without ever coming to the attention of managers, he said.

“Here, it’s all data – and everyone is looking and reacting to it,” he said.

This type of work requires some workers with skills normally found in high-tech, not in auto parts factories. Drawing those workers to Columbus – and keeping them – has posed another challenge.

One of the first employees hired for Columbus South last year was Chase Chapman, a mathematician and data-management specialist who was finishing a five-year stint in the Navy. The company moved Chapman and his young family from Florida, so he could become the plant’s head of data analytics – a position that doesn’t exist at Gladstone or at any other Faurecia exhaust system factory.

He left in April after only eight months, citing the desire to be closer to his extended family.

The position has now been empty for months as the company tries to recruit someone new.

Another problem became clear after the new plant was up and running. As a start-up operation—with lots of potential for technical glitches in its highly automated systems—many workers at the new plant work 12 hour shifts, often more than five days a week.

Those long hours have worn on workers like Vierling. “I was making all that money, but I had no time to spend it,” she said.

Workers from Gladstone were required to stay at the new plant a year before seeking a transfer back. Last month, Vierling returned to her old workplace. She gave up most of the $2 an hour raise she got for moving, but does not regret it.

“I feel like I’ve gone back home,” she said.

(Editing by Joe White and Edward Tobin)

Chicago police say Facebook ‘secret groups’ traffic in guns and drugs

FILE PHOTO: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson speaks about the latest police districts to start wearing body cameras, during a news conference at the 20th District Chicago Police Department in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

By Bernie Woodall

(Reuters) – Police in Chicago said on Thursday they have arrested 50 people suspected of using “secret groups” on Facebook to deal in guns and drugs, and have teamed up with the world’s largest social media network to crack down on criminal trafficking online.

Announcing the arrests at a news conference, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson initially criticized Facebook as being unhelpful during a 10-month investigation by his department.

“Quite frankly, they haven’t been very friendly to law enforcement to prevent these things,” he told reporters.

However, police later said the department and the California-based company agreed to work collaboratively “to target any illegal activity on the platform.”

Police did not detail charges facing the 50 men and women arrested through Thursday, but said there were “dozens and dozens” of private Facebook groups being used for illegal drug and weapons transactions. Arrest warrants for 18 more suspects have been signed, and most have prior criminal histories, police said.

Among the illicit sites monitored by police was one offering a “Thanksgiving special” on cocaine baggies discounted to $40 from a normal street price of $60.

In an emailed statement on Thursday, Facebook Inc, which boasts 2 billion users worldwide, said it had only just been alerted to the arrests in Chicago.

“We do not allow the sale of guns or drugs on our platform. We routinely work with law enforcement and outline how officials may submit a request on our site,” Facebook added.

Among those arrested was an elementary school teacher taken into custody at his Chicago school in possession of scales often used for weighing drugs, according to Anthony Riccio, chief of the police department’s organized crime unit.

Since a confidential informant alerted investigators about alleged criminal trade on Facebook in February, police detectives working undercover arranged for the purchase of 17 different types of drugs and 18 different illegal firearms, Riccio said.

Riccio said investigators created covert identities on Facebook and were invited into private groups, which are closed unless the user-administrator allows someone to join. Police then monitored messages and contacted those in the group via Facebook to make buys.

Chicago has been singled out by President Donald Trump as one of the most violent U.S. cities. In 2016, the number of murders there exceeded 760.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

From Covfefe to Hollyweed: Weird news grabs headlines in 2017

FILE PHOTO: A late night Tweet is seen from the personal Twitter account of U.S. President Donald Trump, May 31, 2017. Donald Trump/Twitter/Handout via REUTERS

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Oval Office style dominated U.S. headlines in 2017, but readers were particularly perplexed by his use of the word “covfefe,” in what turned out to be one of the oddest news stories of the year.

A tweet by Trump in May read simply: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”

White House officials batted away questions about what the word meant and even the dictionary company Merriam-Webster drew a blank. Trump left it up to the reader to divine his meaning, with a follow-up: “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ??? Enjoy!”

But he was not alone in leaving readers scratching their heads. Even outside Washington, the year produced a spate of weird news, including odd pranks and poorly considered crimes.

Los Angeles residents awoke on New Year’s Day to find the four-story white letters of the world-famous “Hollywood” sign had been altered to read: “Hollyweed.” The prank came just two months after California voters approved the recreational use of marijuana despite a federal ban.

Austin, Texas, police were tipped off to an illegal brothel when hundreds of condoms clogged a city sewer pipe in March. The blockage at Jade Massage Therapy was the smoking gun that led to the arrest of two people for prostitution and money laundering.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents were spared a spine-chilling surprise when a California man was arrested in July for trying to smuggle three highly poisonous king cobra snakes hidden in potato chip canisters.

Crooks had planned the latest haul of snakes in a can after all 20 king cobras in a previous shipment died in transit, authorities said.

Back in the political arena, an octogenarian ex-con New Jersey politician revived her burlesque act at a May fundraiser – although she kept her clothes on.

Former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, who is in her early 80s and danced as “Hope Diamond,” performed in a gown and feather boa to raise cash for a non-profit dance company, three years after being released from prison following a bribery conviction.

Animal stories also captured the public’s attention.

Millions watched via webcam as April, a giraffe, gave birth to a 6-foot-tall (1.83-meter) male calf. From around the globe, her fans watched her endure the conclusion of a 16-month pregnancy at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York – in April, of course.

Months earlier, a small moth with a yellowish-white coif of scales was named for then-President-elect Trump, who wears a similar hairstyle, researchers told the scientific journal ZooKeys.

The new species of insect, Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, is native to Southern California and Mexico’s Baja California, and is likely capable of flying over the proposed border wall with Mexico that was a central promise of Trump’s presidential campaign.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

Putin critic Navalny barred from Russian presidential election

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media after submitting his documents to be registered as a presidential candidate at the Central Election Commission in Moscow, Russia December 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

By Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was barred on Monday from running in next year’s presidential election after officials ruled he was ineligible to take part due to a suspended prison sentence he says was trumped up.

The decision by the central election commission was widely expected as election officials had repeatedly declared Navalny would be ineligible to run. Twelve members of the 13-member commission voted to bar Navalny. One member abstained, citing a possible conflict of interest.

Navalny, 41, who polls show would struggle to beat incumbent Vladimir Putin in the March election, said he would appeal and called on his supporters to boycott the election and campaign against it being held.

“We knew this could happen, and so we have a straight-forward, clear plan,” Navalny said in a pre-recorded video released immediately after the decision.

“We announce a boycott of the election. The process in which we are called to participate is not a real election. It will feature only Putin and the candidates which he has personally selected.”

Navalny said he would use his campaign headquarters across Russia to support the boycott and monitor turnout on voting day, March 18.

Polls show Putin, 65, who has dominated Russia’s political landscape for the last 17 years, is on course to be comfortably re-elected, making him eligible to serve another six years until 2024, when he turns 72.

Allies laud Putin as a father-of-the-nation figure who has restored national pride and expanded Moscow’s global clout with interventions in Syria and Ukraine.

Navalny says Putin’s support is exaggerated and artificially maintained by a biased state media and an unfair system. He says he could defeat him in a fair election, an assertion Putin’s supporters have said is laughable.

‘DO THE RIGHT THING’

Before the commission voted, Navalny, dressed in a dark suit, had demanded he be allowed to take part in the election delivering a speech that angered election officials.

In one heated exchange, he said Russian voters’ faith in the system hung in the balance.

“If you do not allow me to run, you are taking a decision against millions of people who are demanding that Navalny take part,” he said, referring to himself in the first person.

“You are not robots, you are living, breathing human beings you are an independent body … for once in your lives, do the right thing,” he said.

His supporters clapped him, but officials were unmoved.

Boris Ebzeev, one of the officials, said: “We’re talking about the law and abiding by the law.”

Ebzeev said there could not be “the slightest doubt” that Navalny was ineligible to run, a reference to Russia’s constitution that bars him running because of his suspended sentence relating to an embezzlement case.

Navalny has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and says the case is politically motivated.

There had been some speculation prior to the decision among the opposition that Navalny might be allowed to run in order to inject more interest into what looks like a predictable contest amid Kremlin fears that apathetic voters might not bother to vote.

Navalny has been jailed three times this year and charged with breaking the law by repeatedly organizing public meetings and rallies.

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Polina Ivanova and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Mideast needs two-state solution, Pope says in Christmas message

Pope Francis waves as he leads the “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican December 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis used his Christmas message on Monday to call for a negotiated two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after U.S. President Donald Trump stoked regional tensions with his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Francis spoke of the Middle East conflict and other world flashpoints in his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) address, four days after more than 120 countries backed a U.N. resolution urging the United States to reverse its decision on Jerusalem.

“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders,” he said, referring to the Israelis and Palestinians.

“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said in his address, delivered from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to tens of thousands of people.

It was the second time that the pope has spoken out publicly about Jerusalem since Trump’s decision on Dec. 6. On that day, Francis called for the city’s “status quo” to be respected, lest new tensions in the Middle East further inflame world conflicts.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state, whereas Israel has declared the whole city to be its “united and eternal” capital.

Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, urged people to see the defenseless baby Jesus in the children who suffer the most from war, migration and natural calamities caused by man today.

“Today, as the winds of war are blowing in our world … Christmas invites us to focus on the sign of the child and to recognize him in the faces of little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, ‘there is no place in the inn,'” he said.

OPEN HEARTS FOR REFUGEES

Francis, celebrating the fifth Christmas of his pontificate, said he had seen Jesus in the children he met during his recent trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and he called for adequate protection of the dignity of minority groups in that region.

More than 600,000 Muslim Rohingya people have fled mainly Buddhist Myanmar to Bangladesh in recent months. The pope had to tread a delicate diplomatic line during his visit, avoiding the word “Rohingya” while in Myanmar, which does not recognize them as a minority group, though he used the term when in Bangladesh.

“Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one’s head. May our hearts not be closed as they were in the homes of Bethlehem,” he said.

He also urged the world to see Jesus in the innocent children suffering from wars in Syria and Iraq and also in Yemen, complaining that its people had been “largely forgotten, with serious humanitarian implications for its people, who suffer from hunger and the spread of diseases”.

He also listed conflicts affecting children in South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ukraine and Venezuela.

At his Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, Francis strongly defended immigrants, comparing them to Mary and Joseph finding no place to stay in Bethlehem and saying faith demands that foreigners be welcomed. [L8N1OO0DS]

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)