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Found 167 results

  1. BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s cancellation of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatens further strain on U.S.-China ties amid a trade dispute that had been intertwined with Beijing’s pressure on isolated Pyongyang. The United States and China are also increasingly at odds in the disputed South China Sea. The Pentagon this week withdrew an invitation for China to take part in a major naval exercise in Hawaii, and Beijing has ramped up pressure on self-ruled Taiwan, armed by Washington but claimed by Beijing. Trump on Thursday released a letter to Kim announcing his withdrawal from the planned June 12 meeting in Singapore, which would have been the first between leaders of the two countries. Although Chinese state media called for continued engagement between Washington and Pyongyang, Trump’s move could mark a split between China and the United States over how to deal with North Korea and its nuclear weapons, experts said. It also risks adding fuel to simmering trade tensions, just days after China and the United States pulled back from the brink of a full-blown trade war. “Definitely there are people in the U.S. who want to use this as an excuse for their efforts to push the relationship in the direction of confrontation,” said Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at China’s Peking University, referring to the collapse of the Trump-Kim summit. “This is one of the lowest points in the relationship since the normalization of relations between the two countries,” he added. China’s foreign ministry on Friday said the government would keep encouraging the United States and North Korea to have direct talks, describing such communication as having a “pivotal” role in denuclearisation. “Rest assured, China will continue, in our own way, to carry out U.S.-North Korea work, so as to promote the resumption of the dialogue process on the peninsula,” ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters. CHINA ALIGNED WITH KIM China has long viewed North Korea as a useful buffer between it and U.S. forces in South Korea. The two also have deep emotional ties; Chinese troops fought side-by-side with North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War. But in recent years, relations between China and North Korea had nosedived to the point of a near diplomatic freeze, as Beijing signed on to ever-stricter United Nations sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. China’s willingness to keep up pressure on its neighbor may now wane. Even with the summit’s collapse, China must continue to improve ties with North Korea given Kim’s pledge not to carry out nuclear and missile tests, China’s widely read state-run Global Times tabloid said in an editorial on Friday. A military conflict on the peninsula might see refugees flood over China’s long border with North Korea, or even drag it into confrontation with the United States - both scenarios Beijing would like to avoid. “China actually has played the role of hidden guarantor for the North Korea-United States summit, so China will continue to promote this meeting,” Sun Xingjie, an expert on North Korea at the Jilin University, said in comments to the People’s Daily Overseas Edition, an official Communist Party paper. “If they cannot come to the negotiating table, then they will enter the battlefield,” Sun said. Trump last week hinted that he partly blames China for how summit preparations went awry, saying President Xi Jinping might be “influencing” Kim after the North Korean leader made two visits to China in quick succession. But Chinese experts said Xi would not have sabotaged the meeting, given China’s deep interest in reducing tensions on the peninsula. “If the summit is canceled, China is the one that faces great increase of uncertainty,” said Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University in Beijing who has advised the government on diplomatic issues. Renewed friendly ties between China and North Korea would make Beijing more closely aligned with Pyongyang and nervous about Washington, Shi said. “A return by Trump to maximum pressure and military and economic threat brings a significant problem” for China. TRADE DEAL UNCERTAINTY Meanwhile, Trump also cast uncertainty over progress in trade talks, saying Wednesday that Washington would seek a new “structure” for the deal and a new direction for talks with Beijing, days after the two had taken conciliatory stances. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will visit China from June 2 to 4. “China does not link trade and North Korea because that will make things more complicated,” said Ruan Zongze, a former diplomat now with the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank linked to China’s foreign ministry. Some analysts had suggested, however, that China was using its leverage on North Korea, and Trump’s perceived desire for a successful summit with Kim, to blunt the sharpest edges of U.S. trade threats. Tu Xinquan, dean of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, said the summit’s collapse added to uncertainty in U.S.-China trade relations. “Even before this announcement, Trump’s attitude on trade with China had changed a bit,” he said. “I am a little pessimistic about this trade deal.” A souring of relations could see a tougher line from Washington on other issues deemed sensitive in Beijing, analysts say. This week, the United States uninvited China from a major U.S. naval drill in response to what it sees as Beijing’s militarization of the disputed South China Sea, drawing a sharp response from China. Disagreements have also flared over what China calls its most sensitive political issue, its claim on Taiwan, after Trump in March signed legislation encouraging U.S. officials to visit Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts. Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation has grown, however, as Burkina Faso on Thursday cut official ties with Taipei. It was the second nation to do so in a month, dropping the number of Taiwan’s formal allies to 18. On Friday, a pair of Chinese bombers flew around the island. Taiwan’s air force scrambled aircraft, which accompanied and monitored the Chinese bombers, the island’s defense ministry said.
  2. British High Commissioner Laura Clarke with Honorary Consul Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu The United Kingdom is opening a new High Commission in Apia. The British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, announced the opening of nine new diplomatic posts across the Commonwealth, including in Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. “As a Commonwealth family of nations, it is in our shared interest to boost prosperity, tackle security issues and clear up the environment,” he said. These new diplomatic posts are in regions which provide huge potential and opportunity post-Brexit for British businesses and will help us to deepen our relationships across the Commonwealth. After we leave the EU, Global Britain will remain outward facing, open for business and a champion of the rules-based international order.” Laura Clarke, non-Resident British High Commissioner to Samoa, said: “I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary has decided to open a High Commission in Samoa. I very much enjoyed my first visit to Samoa in March this year, and came back convinced that the UK should increase its work and presence there. There is a natural affinity between the UK and Samoa. Ours is a partnership based on a shared history, shared values, and a shared political and judicial system. We work in partnership together on shared challenges – such as combating climate change – and we are both proud members of the Commonwealth. There is so much more that we can achieve together. I look forward to working with the Government of Samoa as we set up our new British High Commission in Apia before I hand over my responsibility for Samoa, with both sadness and pride, to the new Resident British High Commissioner.” It is expected that the new British High Commission in Apia will open in 2019. http://www.samoaobserver.ws/en/21_04_2018/local/32410/United-Kingdom-to-open-High-Commission-in-Apia.htm Personal Comment From Bors: It begins...Britain casting the net after Brexit...also finally countering Russia in the South Pacific.
  3. PG Gamer www.pcgamer.com March 24, 2018 Electronic Arts is working on an open-world Star Wars game with online elements, according to one of the company's job listings. It's looking for a lead online engineer to deliver "online features for a Star Wars open world project" from its Vancouver studio. The listing doesn't provide any more details about the game, but it could be a continuation of the Star Wars project that Visceral Games was working on before EA closed the studio down. That was a "story-based, linear adventure game" but EA wanted to completely rework it, and the company's vice president Patrick Soderlund talked about giving it "greater depth and breadth". An open-world game would fit the bill. EA also said at the time that future work on Visceral's game would be led from its Vancouver studio, which matches up. When Visceral was closed down, fans were worried that it meant the single-player project would morph into a multiplayer game heavy on monetisation—EA spoke of making something that "players wanted to come back and enjoy for a long time". It later clarified that, saying: "It wasn't about this [being] just a single-player game or it needed to be a live service, it was more about how do we get to a point where the overall gameplay experience was right for players." We'll have to wait and see how the singleplayer/multiplayer portions balance in this open-world Star Wars game. You can bet that, given the controversy around Star Wars Battlefront 2 and its loot boxes, a lot of people are going to be sceptical. As a reminder, Titanfall developer Respawn is also working on a third-person action-adventure game set in the Star Wars universe. Thanks, Gamespot.
  4. The Myth of the German Renewable Energy 'Miracle' Is it true that Germany has a grid that is superior to that in the U.S. and the U.S. should strive to mimic the success of the German grid? Russ Schussler, Jill S. Tietjen | Oct 23, 2017 The addition of substantial levels of wind and solar resources to an electric energy grid raises significant reliability concerns at the transmission system level because these resources operate intermittently and, unlike other generating resources, they do not spin in synchronism with the grid. An electric grid is a large complex machine that must have many needs attended to in order to function properly. Dependable rotating generation operating in synchronism across the power system enabled the evolution of the modern grids. Without due regard to the issues of intermittency, voltage control, frequency control, and grid inertia an electric grid cannot operate reliably and stably. If the first world continues to expect affordable electricity, when we want it and in whatever quantity we want, these needs must be met. In August of 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a report investigating the reliability impacts of renewable energy resources and other recent developments on the electric grid. In the months leading up to its release, the German grid was held up as the model that the U.S. should emulate. Before seeking to do so, many questions should be explored. What levels of intermittent and asynchronous renewable energy (solar and wind) has Germany integrated into its electric system? Is it true that Germany has a grid that is superior to that in the U.S. and the U.S. should strive to mimic the success of the German grid? Should the US initiate a corresponding renewable energy miracle? We would argue that renewable energy in Germany is not at the high levels we have been led to believe, that the German grid is not superior and that there has been no miracle to be emulated. Renewable Energy in Germany Although Germany has a higher percentage of renewable energy resources than the U.S., the percentage is nowhere near the level that the U.S. public has been led to believe. Statistics from 2016 show that renewable energy resources in the form of onshore wind, offshore wind, hydroelectric power, biomass, solar and waste provided 29% of Germany’s electric energy in 2016 as shown in Figure 1. [1] Wind and solar amount to slightly over half of the total renewable energy resources (17.8% of Germany’s total energy resources) – with biomass a significant portion of the total. Coal in the form of hard coal and lignite provides 40% of energy, nuclear just over 13% and natural gas is at 12%. Thus, conventional resources in Germany are still generating two-thirds of the country’s electric energy requirements. This level of renewable energy resources is within the range of what the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study of 2012 said could be feasibly integrated into the U.S. grid by the year 2050. That study also said that additional dispatchable generating capacity would need to be added to accommodate intermittency and the electric grid itself would need to be much more flexible requiring technology advances, new operating procedures, different business models, and different market rules than are in place today. [2] As the NREL 2012 study noted, other issues arise as the percentage of renewable energy resources on the grid increases. In Germany’s case, as the percentage of renewable energy resources in the form of wind (both onshore and offshore) and solar has increased, Germany’s carbon emissions have increased. This is because conventional resources must be kept on line to provide stability to the grid due to wind and solar’s intermittency. As Germany phases out its nuclear units, those conventional resources increasingly are coal. In addition, solar resources and wind resources are often producing at maximum output at times when the grid doesn’t need them – resulting in excess electricity supply on the grid – and pushing the market price of power to very low levels, even negative (negawatts). [3, 4] Is the German Grid Superior? The short answer is no. Germany does not have an independent standalone high voltage grid (transmission system) but rather is part of the European interconnected grid. In evaluating reliability impacts associated with penetration levels of renewables, the focus should be on overall grid comparisons. It is not appropriate to expect to achieve grid-wide that which can only be achieved within a “dependent” subset of the grid. The German portion of the grid is supported by extensive hydroelectric resources in Denmark and coal resources in Poland. The interconnected grid as a whole does not have anywhere the same level of renewable penetration as is found in the German portion. The 2016 statistics show that 75% of the generation within the European interconnected grid in 2016 was conventional thermal and nuclear. Renewables in the entire European interconnected grid were 12% hydroelectric, 10% wind, and 4% other. [5] Thus, Germany relies on (or “leans on”) the conventional rotating machinery in neighboring counties in order to ensure continuous, reliable operation. Is the German grid more reliable? Data used to showcase the German grid as more reliable than the grid in the U.S. generally use SAIDI (System Average Interruption Duration Index) and SAIFI (System Average Interruption Frequency Index) statistics, which are data on the distribution system. These statistics measure interruptions at the end-use customer. The reliability concerns around renewable resources, however, occur at the bulk system level. Thus, these statistics do not demonstrate that the “German” bulk grid is more reliable as they do not measure bulk system reliability. Bulk system reliability applies to the high voltage system – the transmission system that consists of large high voltage wires that move power long distances – from generating stations to load centers. Planners constantly evaluate bulk system reliability in order to prevent voltage collapse, instability, cascading outages and uncontrolled separation. These undesirable conditions are rare, result in blackouts over wide areas and make national and international news. For example, the Northeast Blackout of 2003 impacted 55 million people and is estimated to have caused $6 billion in damages as well as at least 11 deaths. [6] Distribution system reliability, such as measured by SAIDI and SAIFI, is very different from bulk system reliability on the transmission system. The overwhelming majority of customer outages occur because of issues on the distribution system. These issues are the result of conditions including weather, falling trees, animals and equipment failures. These minor outages do not represent significant risks to bulk grid stability. Such outages are inconvenient for impacted businesses, homes and neighborhoods but they do not generally have the associated large economic impacts and safety risks associated with widespread grid outages. They are more typified by events like a lightning strike causing a neighborhood to go dark for a few hours, a car running into a power pole, snakes nesting in a power switchyard or an old transformer failing. Relying upon measures such as SAIDI and SAIFI to evaluate bulk system reliability is like evaluating the foundation of a bridge based on the performance of its guardrails. At present, tools are not available to quantify bulk system reliability. Thus, comparing the reliability of bulk systems of particular countries or across a continent is not feasible. Does Germany have superior distribution systems? This question is not really relevant to the discussion as to whether Germany has become a renewable energy miracle or whether its bulk system is reliable. However, since studies and reports on studies tend to confuse transmission system reliability with distribution system reliability, it is worth addressing in this article. Some renewable advocates tout stereotypical German engineering prowess in order to spur greater renewable efforts in the US as well as to dismiss valid reliability concerns from U.S. utility industry engineers and planners. While recognizing that Germany has lower outage rates as measured by SAIDI and SAIFI, a careful evaluation is needed to determine to what degree the lower outage rates may be attributable to other factors. Additionally evaluation of distribution performance must be tied to costs as well. SAIDI is calculated in various ways by differing utilities such that comparisons are challenging and specific benchmark studies must be done to get reasonable comparisons. However, it is clear that Germany does have significantly lower outage rates than are found in the US. What is also clear is that Germany spends considerably more per kWh or load (kW) served on the transmission and distribution systems. German consumers pay about 7 cents per kWh exclusive of energy for just the grid while in the U.S. the number is half that. (German households on average use about 30% of the amount of electricity as American households.) [7] Utilities in the U.S. made decisions regarding transmission and system improvements by balancing reliability, cost, and public responsibility. For example, one way for U.S. utilities to improve SAIDI is to proactively replace aging transformers at a younger age than is the current practice. There are tradeoffs, however. Very aggressive replacements will minimize outages but will be very expensive. Keeping aging transformers in service longer will reduce costs and minimize the environmental impacts associated with the delivery and installation of new equipment. Balancing such considerations will likely vary significant from utility to utility, however depending on the values of the electric consumers. Varying policies can lie within the spectrum of good engineering practice and none are objectively superior. Environmental factors play a significant role as well. The outages on the distribution system do not impact bulk system reliability and are generally localized – and do not generally have serious economic and safety consequences. Because Germany’s size, topography and location differ significantly from the U.S., it is not reasonable to expect U.S. utility distribution system reliability to achieve the same level. Germany is slightly smaller than the state of Montana with much higher load density making it easier to provide networked backup service. Most of the U.S. has orders of magnitude more lightning activity than Germany which also does not experience hurricanes. In addition, it is not clear that most U.S. customers, who appear to be more aware of what they are paying for electricity than German customers, would want to incur significantly higher costs to reduce occasional distribution system outages. Given such differing environments and drivers it should be expected that Germany and the U.S. might differ as to distribution level outage statistics. Conclusion There is a widespread belief that Germany has demonstrated that large amounts of intermittent renewables can be easily integrated without adversely impacting the reliability of the bulk power grid. This article has noted that such a conclusion is not supportable: 1) Germany has not integrated as high a level of renewables as many suppose, 2) Germany is part of and relies upon a larger integrated grid which contains even lower levels of renewable resources and 3) Germany has incurred nontrivial transmission costs, reliability concerns, and marketplace dislocations associated with their efforts to integrate renewables. Much of this erroneous belief has been based on inappropriate comparisons of outage statistics between Germany and the U.S. The large majority of outages comprising SAIDI values are limited to the distribution system. Improving SAIDI (which means decreasing SAIDI) within the U.S. will not serve to decrease bulk system/transmission reliability risks. Increasing asynchronous intermittent generation resources will increase bulk reliability risks and the emergence of such risks will not be well observed through monitoring SAIDI numbers in the U.S. or Germany. Germany’s physical size and location also contribute significantly to the differences in outage statistics between the two countries. Finally, it was noted that electric utilities within the U.S. would probably have to incur significantly greater costs than warranted by good engineering practice in order to replicate outage indices in Germany. Hopefully, we can lay to rest the myth that Germany has demonstrated that higher levels of renewable energy resources can be integrated into a bulk transmission grid without concern for bulk reliability impacts or emission impacts. With big challenges ahead of us, how do we stop misleading information and comparisons from impacting public policy? There are serious concerns about grid reliability that many in the public, press and academic institutions are working hard to discount and diminish. As we address the concerns and issues in front of us, we need to ensure that plans for the U.S. grid continue to balance economics, reliability and public responsibility. References: 1. Appunn Kerstine, Felix Bieler, and Julian Wettengel, Clean Energy Wire, “Germany’s energy consumption and power mix in charts,” https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/germanys-energy-consumption-and-power-mix-charts, August 1, 2017. 2. Mai, T.; Sandor, D.; Wiser, R.; Schneider, T (2012). Renewable Electricity Futures Study: Executive Summary. NREL/TP-6A20-52409-ES. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 3. Martin, Richard, Germany Runs Up Against Renewable Limits, MIT Technology Review – Sustainable Energy, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601514/germany-runs-up-against-the-limits-of-renewables/, May 24, 2016. 4. Moore, Stephen and Kathleen Hartnett White, Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2016. 5. Electricity production and supply statistics, Eurostat Statistics explained, May 2017, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Electricity_production_and_supply_statistics. 6. Minkel, J.R., The 2003 Northeast Blackout - Five Years Later: Tougher regulatory measures are in place, but we’re still a long way from a ‘smart’ power grid”, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/2003-blackout-five-years-later/, August 13, 2008. 7. Clean Energy Wire Fact Sheet, What German households pay for power, https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/what-german-households-pay-power, February 16, 2017. http://www.tdworld.com/generation-and-renewables/myth-german-renewable-energy-miracle Personal Commet: While this isn't the most exciting part of the discussion around alternative energy, this article points to some of the limitations. As is, solar and wind simply cannot provide reliable energy output during both high use and low use hours. Thus they can only reliably function as part of a larger grid where the excess energy during peak production hours can be accomodated by reducing output in other types of plants, and deficit of energy during peak use hours can be compensated by stepping out output of other types of plants.
  5. VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican on Tuesday rebuked a senior cardinal who said its diplomats were “selling out” Chinese Catholics loyal to the pope as part of a deal aimed at normalizing ties with Beijing’s communist government. In a sharply worded statement, the Vatican said it was surprising and regrettable that some people in the Church were “fostering confusion and controversy”. It came a day after Cardinal Joseph Zen, the outspoken former archbishop of Hong Kong, caused a stir with a long post on his Facebook page that was highly critical of the Vatican. The statement, which did not name Zen but which official Vatican sources said was prompted by the controversy he began, said it was “surprising and regrettable” that some were promoting “a presumed difference of thought and action” between Pope Francis and his top aides over China strategy. Zen has often criticized the Vatican’s attempt at rapprochement with the government of China, where Catholics are split between an “underground” Church that recognizes the pope and those belonging to a state-controlled group where bishops are appointed by the government. In his post, Zen, 86, referred to a report by AsiaNews agency about the activity of Vatican negotiators seeking to reunite the two Churches ahead of possible resumption of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Beijing that were severed after the communist takeover in 1949. AsiaNews said last week that Vatican negotiators had asked two bishops loyal to the pope to give up their posts to make room for two backed by the government. The main point of contention between the Vatican and Beijing has for decades been which side can appoint bishops. In his post, Zen said the pope had told him that he instructed his aides “not to create another Mindszenty case”. He was referring Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty, who was freed from jail during Hungary’s short-lived anti-Soviet uprising in 1956 and given refuge in the U.S. embassy in Budapest for 15 years before the Vatican forced him to leave the country. Critics at the time said the Vatican had sold out to the communists but the Holy See said it was necessary to protect the Church from more persecution. In his post criticizing Vatican diplomacy, Zen wrote: “So, do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all they are doing in recent years and months”. Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Catherine Evans Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-china/vatican-rebukes-cardinal-over-selling-out-to-china-accusations-idUSKBN1FJ2J8 Personal Comment From Bors: Never forget that the Pope is a national leader as well as a spiritual one and thus liable to the same pitfalls as intrigue.
  6. http://www.denofgeek.com Mike Cecchini Jan 18, 2018 The sleeper has awakened! After far too long, someone is taking another crack at Dune, Frank Herbert's classic series of science fiction novels. In this case, that someone is Legendary Entertainment, who are no stranger to genre franchises. Legendary announced they had acquired "the film and television motion picture rights" to the Dune saga in late 2016. Eric Roth, whose screenplay credits include Forrest Gump, Munich, The Insider, Ali, and others, will write the film, which Denis Villeneuve is directing. Legendary seems serious about getting Dune right this time around. Thomas Tull, Mary Parent and Cale Boyter, will produce for Legendary. Brian Herbert, Byron Merritt and Kim Herbert will serve as executive producers. And Denis Villeneuve might just be the director who does the impossible. For years, a Blade Runner sequel seemed, at best, improbable, let alone a good one. But Blade Runner 2049 was beautiful. So, with an almost impossible sequel to a sci-fi classic under his belt, and having just helmed the best sci-fi movie of 2016 with Arrival, he seems like the right guy to finally do justice to one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises of all time. “Most of the main ideas of Star Wars are coming from Dune so it’s going to be a challenge to [tackle] this,” Villeneuve told Fandom. “The ambition is to do the Star Wars movie I never saw. In a way, it’s Star Wars for adults. We’ll see.” Frank Herbert wrote six Dune novels, each more bonkers than the last. The saga has since been continued by Herbert's son along with sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson. But again, even just keeping the focus on Frank Herbert's first six, or even first three books, Dune simply can't be contained by a single film. Perhaps the biggest failing of the David Lynch version was its attempt to give closure to what was really only the beginning of the story. But it seems that's the plan here, as Villeneuve told Fandom, "the idea is to start from the very first book." There have been attempts to bring Dune to the screen since David Lynch's 1984 film, notably the Sci-Fi Channel's 2000 mini-series, which was perhaps more faithful to the source material, but lacked the resources of Lynch's big screen attempt. That was followed by the Children of Dune mini-series, which combined elements of the second and third books from the series, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. Each of those could take up a season or two of TV themselves, I might add, so if the franchise decides to branch out beyong movies, there's plenty of material But Dune, with its sprawling, psychedelic, intergalactic story of royalty, prophesy, and fiefdoms has proven notoriously difficult to do justice on screen. The most notable failure remains Alejandro Jodorowsky's years-long quest to bring the movie to life using everyone from legendary comic book artist Moebius to Mick Jagger to Salvador Dali. This was chronicled in the stunning Jodorowsky's Dune documentary, which is ironically the best Dune-related thing to ever actually make it to the screen. Seriously, you need to check it out. Mike Cecchini can be found folding space in his spare time and on Twitter.
  7. www.polygon.com September 5th, 2017 By Charlie Hall @Charlie_L_Hall Bungie Foundation will benefit Direct Relief, a non-profit already helping victims of Hurricane Harvey The team at Bungie are surely focused on tonight’s launch of Destiny 2, but they’re also making time to support the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Just a few days ago, Bungie created a listing for a commemorative pin at the Bungie Store. The $14.99 physical item, which features three red enamel hearts with silver trim, includes a code for a special in-game emblem that can be displayed on players’ profiles. All proceeds benefit Direct Relief, a non-profit on the ground helping victims of the disaster in Texas. This isn’t the first time that Bungie has partnered with Direct Relief, a non-profit based in Santa Barbara, California. Previously the developer offered a shirt, in-game shader and emblem that raised more than $1 million for Direct Relief efforts in Nepal following a massive magnitude 7.8 earthquake in 2015. Unlike that previous campaign, however, quantities of the commemorative pin are limited. “There are many other ways to get involved,” Bungie said. “Even if a pin or emblem isn’t your thing, we urge you to help those impacted by Hurricane Harvey in your own way. Get involved. Donate to a charity of your choice. Help spread the word and support those who are helping in whatever ways they can.” Polygon has spent more than 20 hours with Destiny 2. Check out our review-in-progress here.
  8. The history of human evolution continues to evolve. Up until now, experts have believed human lineage split from apes some 7 million years ago in Africa. But now scientists have traced the first hominid species to Europe instead some 7.2 million years ago. An international team of researchers shook up the science books with two studies published Monday in the journal Plos One. Their findings are based on two fossils of species discovered in Greece and Bulgaria. The creature they discovered, named Graecopithecus freybergi, is nicknameded "El Graeco." The findings shift the location of the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans, what some refer to as the Missing Link, to the Mediterranean. Our ancestors were apparently already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the earliest African hominid. source https://www.cnet.com/news/history-rewritten-with-europe-the-birthplace-of-mankind/ http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/evolution/scientists-discover-europe-was-the-birthplace-of-mankind-not-africa/news-story/ed5db48386d9ba6a034f964678de8f3a http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/05/22/europe-birthplace-mankind-not-africa-scientists-find/ Personal comment: Hitlerwasrightmeme.jpg
  9. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39510351 Any thoughts on this? I would be happy, I could go to Scotland without a passport.
  10. WikiLeaks on Tuesday published thousands of documents purportedly taken from the Central Intelligence Agency's Center for Cyber Intelligence, a dramatic release that appears to provide an eye-opening look at the intimate details of America's cyberespionage toolkit. The dump of more than 8,000 documents could not immediately be authenticated by The Associated Press and the CIA declined comment, but WikiLeaks has a long track record of releasing top secret government documents. Experts who've started to sift through the material said it appeared legitimate — and that the release was almost certain to shake the CIA. "There's no question that there's a fire drill going on right now," said Jake Williams, a security expert with Augusta, Ga.-based Rendition Infosec. "It wouldn't surprise me that there are people changing careers — and ending careers — as we speak." Bob Ayers, a retired U.S. intelligence official currently working as a security analyst, agreed, saying that the release was "real bad" for the agency. If it did prove legitimate, the dump would represent yet another catastrophic breach for the U.S. intelligence community at the hands of WikiLeaks and its allies, which have repeatedly humbled Washington with the mass release of classified material, including hundreds of thousands of documents from the State Department and the Pentagon. 'If the CIA can discover such vulnerabilities so can others.'— WikiLeaks The documents claim, among other things, that the spy agency has developed malware that can turn iPhones, Android devices and Samsung smart TVs into covert listening devices. The latter, known by the codename "Weeping Angel," was allegedly developed in co-operation with the U.K.'s MI-5. Infected TVs appear to be turned off while, in fact, they record conversations in the room and send them via the internet to the CIA, WikiLeaks said in a statement. WikiLeaks also claims U.S. spies can bypass the encryption of apps including WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, and that the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt, Germany is a "covert CIA hacker base" for personnel covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It is also alleged that — contrary to an agreement struck during the Obama administration — the CIA did not disclose to U.S. companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft vulnerabilities it has discovered in their products. Left uncorrected, such flaws leave openings for cyber-criminals and hostile intelligence services, WikiLeaks said. "If the CIA can discover such vulnerabilities so can others." WikiLeaks claims the CIA has developed malware to eavesdrop through cellphones, and that it can bypass the encryption on apps including WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press) Cryptic hints WikiLeaks, which had been dropping cryptic hints about the release for a month, said in a lengthy statement that the CIA had "recently" lost control of a massive arsenal of CIA hacking tools as well as associated documentation. The radical transparency organization said that "the archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner" and that one of them "provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive." Jonathan Liu, a spokesman for the CIA, said: "We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents." Williams, who has experience dealing with government hackers, said that the voluminous files' extensive references to operation security meant they were almost certainly government-backed. "I can't fathom anyone fabricated that amount of operational security concern," he said. "It rings true to me." "The only people who are having that conversation are people who are engaging in nation-state-level hacking," he said. Ayers noted that WikiLeaks has promised to release more CIA documents, saying Tuesday's publication was just "the first full part of the series." "The damage right now is relatively high-level," he said. "[but] the potential for really detailed damage will come in the following releases." http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/world/wikileaks-cia-cyber-intelligence-1.4013113 Personal Comment: https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/
  11. Google‘s DeepMind will train artificial intelligence on the game “StarCraft II,” the company announced on Friday. DeepMind, is an AI company whose mission is to understand intelligence. Its AlphaGo program beat the famously complicated game of go last spring, haslong hinted that it might go after the real-time strategy video game series. “StarCraft,” produced by Blizzard Entertainment, was one of the first major esports games and practically the national sport in South Korea in the 2000s. It emerged as a target for artificial intelligence researchers because of its layered complexity: players must make high-level strategic decisions while also controlling hundreds of units and making countless quick decisions. It helped that Blizzard signed off on attempts by researchers to build AI that could beat the game. Until now, researchers didn’t have access to “StarCraft II.” Now, following the recent effective end of “StarCraft II” esports, DeepMind and Blizzard are teaming up to release the game as an AI research environment, with DeepMind taking the lead. DeepMind research scientist Oriol Vinyals said it might be some time before the game could beat humans. “From a research standpoint, we might make great advances, but I think it’s way too early to know whether we could beat the best,” Vinyals said. Here’s the announcement: Today at BlizzCon 2016 in Anaheim, California, we announced our collaboration with Blizzard Entertainment to open up StarCraft II to AI and Machine Learning researchers around the world. For almost 20 years, the StarCraft game series has been widely recognised as the pinnacle of 1v1 competitive video games, and among the best PC games of all time. The original StarCraft was an early pioneer in eSports, played at the highest level by elite professional players since the late 90s, and remains incredibly competitive to this day. The StarCraft series’ longevity in competitive gaming is a testament to Blizzard’s design, and their continual effort to balance and refine their games over the years. StarCraft II continues the series’ renowned eSports tradition, and has been the focus of our work with Blizzard. DeepMind is on a scientific mission to push the boundaries of AI, developing programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be told how. Games are the perfect environment in which to do this, allowing us to develop and test smarter, more flexible AI algorithms quickly and efficiently, and also providing instant feedback on how we’re doing through scores. Over the past five years we’ve pioneered the use of games as AI research environments to drive our machine learning and reinforcement learning research forwards, from , to full 3D environments such as Torcs, mastering the game of Go, or our forthcoming DeepMind Labyrinth. Here’s a representation of what these research environments have looked like with L-R, Atari and Labyrinth. StarCraft is an interesting testing environment for current AI research because it provides a useful bridge to the messiness of the real-world. The skills required for an agent to progress through the environment and play StarCraft well could ultimately transfer to real-world tasks. At the start of a game of StarCraft, players choose one of three races, each with distinct unit abilities and gameplay approaches. Players’ actions are governed by the in-game economy; minerals and gas must be gathered in order to produce new buildings and units. The opposing player builds up their base at the same time, but each player can only see parts of the map within range of their own units. Thus, players must send units to scout unseen areas in order to gain information about their opponent, and then remember that information over a long period of time. This makes for an even more complex challenge as the environment becomes partially observable – an interesting contrast to perfect information games such as Chess or Go. And this is a real-time strategy game – both players are playing simultaneously, so every decision needs to be computed quickly and efficiently. An agent that can play StarCraft will need to demonstrate effective use of memory, an ability to plan over a long time, and the capacity to adapt plans based on new information. Computers are capable of extremely fast control, but that doesn’t necessarily demonstrate intelligence, so agents must interact with the game within limits of human dexterity in terms of “Actions Per Minute”. StarCraft’s high-dimensional action space is quite different from those previously investigated in reinforcement learning research; to execute something as simple as “expand your base to some location”, one must coordinate mouse clicks, camera, and available resources. This makes actions and planning hierarchical, which is a challenging aspect of Reinforcement Learning. We’re particularly pleased that the environment we’ve worked with Blizzard to construct will be open and available to all researchers next year. We recognise the efforts of the developers and researchers from the Brood War community in recent years, and hope that this new, modern and flexible environment – supported directly by the team at Blizzard – will be widely used to advance the state-of-the-art. We’ve worked closely with the StarCraft II team to develop an API that supports something similar to previous bots written with a “scripted” interface, allowing programmatic control of individual units and access to the full game state (with some new options as well). Ultimately agents will play directly from pixels, so to get us there, we’ve developed a new image-based interface that outputs a simplified low resolution RGB image data for map & minimap, and the option to break out features into separate “layers”, like terrain heightfield, unit type, unit health etc. Below is an example of what the feature layer API will look like. We are also working with Blizzard to create “curriculum” scenarios, which present increasingly complex tasks to allow researchers of any level to get an agent up and running, and benchmark different algorithms and advances. Researchers will also have full flexibility and control to create their own tasks using the existing StarCraft II editing tools. We’re really excited to see where our collaboration with Blizzard will take us. While we’re still a long way from being able to challenge a professional human player at the game of StarCraft II, we hope that the work we have done with Blizzard will serve as a useful testing platform for the wider AI research community. Note: This article has been corrected to note that Google has not said it’s trying to beat humans at the game. https://www.businessinsider.nl/google-deepmind-will-try-to-conquer-starcraft-ii-next-2016-11/?international=true&r=US Pretty cool, wonder how long it will take till Deepmind can beat the pros.
  12. How Pepe the Frog Became a Nazi Trump Supporter and Alt-Right Symbol 4chan’s Pepe the Frog meme was wildly popular among ‘normies’—until white nationalists decorated him with swastikas and gave him a Trump button. OLIVIA NUZZI 05.26.16 3:00 PM ET The green frog was behind the United States side of the metal fence at the country’s southernmost border, smirking and holding a Donald Trump campaign button up to his chin. A caricature of a Mexican couple—the man dressed in a sombrero and poncho, the woman with braided hair and an infant in her arms—looked out at him through the barricade and cried. Then the frog was someplace else entirely, this time covered in Nazi insignia: above his smirk, the phrase “SKIN HEAD” and a swastika; over his left eyelid, “14,” the numeric shorthand for “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”; and over his right eyelid, “88,” which stands for “Heil Hitler.” And there the frog was yet again, standing at a lectern stamped with the presidential seal, a red tie hanging from his green neck, Trump’s iconic hair arranged on his head and an American flag at his back. This is Pepe, a cartoon amphibian introduced to the world sans swastikas and Trump associations in 2005, on Myspace, in the artist Matt Furie’s comic strip Boy’s Club, and popularized on 4chan in the ensuing 11 years, culminating in 2015, when teens shared Pepe’s likeness so many times he became the biggest meme on Tumblr. (Furie did not respond to an interview request from The Daily Beast.) Like all great art, Pepe was open to endless interpretation, but at the end of the day, he meant whatever you wanted him to mean. All in good fun, teens made Batman Pepe, Supermarket Checkout Girl Pepe, Borat Pepe, Keith Haring Pepe, and carved Pepe pumpkins. But he also embodied existential angst. Pepe, the grimiest but most versatile meme of all, was both hero and antihero—a symbol fit for all of life’s ups and downs and the full spectrum of human emotions, as they played out online. On social media, Pepe became inescapable. Katy Perry tweeted a crying Pepe with the caption “Australian jet lag got me like,” racking up over 10,000 retweets. Nicki Minaj posted a twerking Pepe on Instagram with the caption “Me on Instagram for the next few weeks trying to get my followers back up,” which 282,000 users ‘liked.’ And then, recently, things took a turn: Pepe became socially unacceptable. Turns out that was by design. @JaredTSwift is an anonymous white nationalist who claims to be 19 years old and in school someplace on the West Coast. He told me there is “an actual campaign to reclaim Pepe from normies.” Normies are basics—agreeable, mainstream members of society who have no knowingly abhorrent political views or unsavory hobbies. They are Katy Perry, and when they latch onto a meme, the meme dies the way your favorite band dies when it sells out and licenses a song to Chevrolet. When mainstream culture gets in on the joke, in other words, the joke is ruined forever. The campaign to reclaim Pepe from normies was an effort to prevent this sort of death, but it also had the effect of desensitizing swaths of the Internet to racist, but mostly anti-Semitic, ideas supported by the so-called alt-right movement. It began in late 2015 on /r9k/, a controversial 4chan board where, as on any message board, it can be difficult to discern how serious commenters are being or if they’re just fucking around entirely. Nevertheless, /r9k/ has been tied to Elliot Rodger—the UC Santa Barbara shooter who killed six people in 2014—who found fans there, and GamerGate. There, Pepe transformed from harmless cartoon to big green monster. “We basically mixed Pepe in with Nazi propaganda, etc. We built that association,” @JaredTSwift said. He sent me a “rare Pepe,” an ironic categorization for certain versions of the meme: Pepe, his eyes red and irises swastika-shaped, against a trippy rainbow backdrop. “Do with it what you will,” he said. Building the Trump association came next, after which @JaredTSwift said the images got crossover appeal. They began to move from 4chan to Twitter, which is when “journalists were exposed to it via Trump memes.” On Jan. 7, Cheri Jacobus, a Republican consultant and pundit who is suing Trump for defamation and has been harassed by Trump supporters, tweeted, “The green frog symbol is what white supremacists use in their propaganda. U don’t want to go there.” #FrogTwitter considered Jacobus, the first prominent person to be duped, its first scalp and inundated her with ever more Pepe images and Trump memes, some of which were violent and sexually explicit. In one, a blond woman is decapitated before Pepe has intercourse with her headless body. In another, Jacobus’s face is photoshopped onto a topless woman kneeling before Trump, who is himself photoshopped to wear a Nazi uniform. “When they adapt Pepe the green frog and turn it into an anti-Semite, staring into the screen with the World Trade Center behind it, is that cute or funny?” she asked when reached by phone Wednesday. “Does that make it OK? I don’t know,” she said. “Violent and disturbing images are violent and disturbing images regardless of what their stated reasons are.” Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor at National Review, a conservative publication opposed to Trump’s candidacy, asked Twitter on Jan. 30, “Does anyone know what that green face is that ‘alt’ and ‘cuck’ people put in their avatars and their other images?” @TopKanker replied with an image of Pepe dressed as a Nazi soldier and holding a Star of David. On May 16, Ben White, a reporter for Politico, tweeted a drawing of Pepe and asked, “What/who is this character and why do I see it associated with Trumpsters/Alt-Right types all the time?” #FrogTwitter descended on White’s mentions, with predictable results. @DonaldjBismarck, a self-described “Nationalist,” replied with a meme of Hillary Clinton, squinting at a computer screen and asking, “WHO THE HELL IS PEPE?” “Turns out asking about Pepe was a bad idea,” White tweeted, in conclusion. But Pepe’s twisted transformation wouldn’t be complete until a few hours after White’s foray down the froghole, when Margarita Noriega, an executive editor at Newsweek, tweeted a Pepe at Marco Rubio. Benny Polatseck, who runs the public relations firm Colossal PR, accused Noriega of employing an image “used by racists to make fun of latinos.” Noriega deleted the Pepe. “Most memes are ephemeral by nature, but Pepe is not,” @JaredTSwift told me. “He’s a reflection of our souls, to most of us. It’s disgusting to see people (‘normies,’ if you will) use him so trivially. He belongs to us. And we’ll make him toxic if we have to.” @JaredTSwift said some of the support for Trump was in jest, but for most of his cohorts, it’s sincere. He even claimed to have voted for Trump in the primary himself, wherever it is he lives, and said he’d vote for him in the general, too. “In a sense, we’ve managed to push white nationalism into a very mainstream position,” he said. “Trump’s online support has been crucial to his success, I believe, and the fact is that his biggest and most devoted online supporters are white nationalists. Now, we’ve pushed the Overton window. People have adopted our rhetoric, sometimes without even realizing it. We’re setting up for a massive cultural shift.” Another anonymous white nationalist, @PaulTown_, claimed to be “in my late 20s,” but declined to say where he exists geographically, other than to confirm that, every few months, he meets the members of his community in New York City. He estimated the broad #FrogTwitter movement to consist of about 30 people but said 10 core members helped plot it out over drinks in late 2015, before taking to /r9k/. “We all do some weightlifting, so we met through friends involved in that scene,” he said. “Turning Pepe into a white nationalist icon was one of our original goals, although we’ve had our hands in many other things.” One of those things has been helping to turn Taylor Swift into an “Aryan goddess.” When several publications (Broadly, Slate, and The Washington Post) this week reported on the alt-right’s fixation on the pop star, #FrogTwitter was somewhat triumphant. “I never thought that would work,” @JaredTSwift said, “but they finally noticed.” @PaulTown_ characterized Pepe as “an experiment” the group used “as a test.” “As you can see,” he said, “it went better than we could ever have imagined.” http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/26/how-pepe-the-frog-became-a-nazi-trump-supporter-and-alt-right-symbol.html Personal Comment: Feels good man. Also all the normie articles declaring Pepe unilaterally a white nationalist meme.
  13. Daily Beast Removes Article on Gay Olympians in Rio By CHRISTOPHER MELE and NIRAJ CHOKSHIAUG. 12, 2016 The premise of The Daily Beast article was simple: The Olympics are a “hotbed of partying athletes, hookups, and sex, sex, sex.” So the reporter Nico Hines — a straight man who is married and has one child — headed to the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro seeking dates using various apps. He gained three in a single hour, and in an article published on Thursday went on to describe in detail the responses he received on Grindr, the gay dating app. No names were mentioned, but the article was so detailed, it was not hard to guess the identities of the men he had contacted, and not all of them were from gay-friendly countries. The story was quickly condemned on social media. After trying to smooth things over with a revised story and an editor’s note, The Daily Beast changed course on Thursday night and took the unusual step of yanking the story entirely. “Our hope is that removing an article that is in conflict with both our values and what we aspire to as journalists will demonstrate how seriously we take our error,” according to an unsigned note that went up in place of the story. “We were wrong. We will do better.” In an earlier note, after the story was revised in response to the barrage of criticism, The Daily Beast’s editor in chief, John Avlon, said editors had removed details that might identify the athletes. He also responded to complaints that Mr. Hines’s original article mocked or shamed the athletes who responded to Mr. Hines’s overtures on Grindr. “We do not feel he did this in any way,” he said. Mr. Avlon said Mr. Hines received more invitations on Grindr than on straight dating apps and that “he never claimed to be anyone he was not, did not offer anything to anyone, and immediately admitted that he was a journalist whenever he was asked who he was.” But at 9 p.m., the article and the original editor’s note were gone and replaced with the unsigned note describing how the organization took the “unprecedented but necessary step” of removing the entire article. “The Daily Beast does not do this lightly,” the note said. “Our initial reaction was that the entire removal of the piece was not necessary. We were wrong.” The note said the article was not intended “to do harm or degrade members of the LGBT community, but intent doesn’t matter, impact does.” Mr. Hines, reached by email before the article was removed, declined to comment on Thursday night. In the article, he described what he encountered: profiles of athletes competing in various events, including an individual “from a notoriously homophobic country”; photos of Olympic bedspreads; and a frank exchange with one user. The article drew significant backlash from gay leaders and athletes. Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said on Twitter: “Thoughtless @thedailybeast piece puts LGBT athletes in danger. It should be removed & replaced w a real story about violence LGBT ppl face.” Amini Fonua, a swimmer from Tonga who is competing in Rio and who is openly gay, said the article was “deplorable.” He wrote on Twitter: “It is still illegal to be gay in Tonga, and while I’m strong enough to be me in front of the world, not everybody else is. Respect that.” [MEDIA=twitter]763839572996423680[/MEDIA] [MEDIA=twitter]763841436009758720[/MEDIA] Robert Drechsel, who retired last week as the James E. Burgess Chair in Journalism Ethics and director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, described the article as “thoughtless, insensitive and unethical.” He said it was good that the article had been removed but that it came too late. “It’s hard to find the words to describe,” he said. “Why in the world — why in the world of journalism — would anyone do this?” ------------------------------ Personal Comment: Why would anyone think this was a good idea? At what point when you're writing up an article including identifying information about a person you state would be endangered if you identified them do you think "oh wait what am I doing".
  14. It appears the launch of Blizzard’s Overwatch open beta earlier this week has caused quite a splash amongst gamers. Quite literally, in fact. Can’t get enough of Blizzard’s latest? Check out our guide to Overwatch’s roster of characters here. Over on VentureBeat they’re reporting that, since the beta rolled out on Thursday, searches for Overwatch on adult video website Pornhub have soared by an impressive 817 percent. Tracer is apparently the most popular character for those on the hunt for some sexy time with Blizzard’s latest, with everything from “overwatch porn” to “xxx overwatch” registering interest. Indeed, this is by no means the first time video game characters have proved to have sex appeal. Have enough time on your hands and you can search Google for everything from the Dead or Alive girls wearing even less than they did in play (which is pretty hard to believe) to Tails of Sonic fame in some particularly compromising situations. Well, we knew that second tail would come in handy for something, right? Overwatch’s unofficial adult assault, however, is benefiting from some particularly specialist treatment from its dedicated fans, with Tumblr also reportedly already bursting full of fan-made art and animations depicting characters partaking in acts of a sexual nature. Pornhub claims videos have been put together that utilise character models from the game combined with Valve’s free Source Film Maker tool to allow the scantily clad characters to girate, jiggle and...well, you get the picture. What’s more, Overwatch porn appears to be a global affair, with Pornhub reporting users from Asia, Europe and South America all popping up (ahem) in their analytics. In all seriousness, the hype that has surrounded the launch of the Overwatch open beta in general will have brought a collective smile to the faces of those at Blizzard ahead of the multiplayer shooter’s launch on console and PC later this month. News of a spike in Overwatch porn searches will likely serve as some particularly sticky icing on the cake. While our journalistic integrity suggests we should head on over Pornhub ourselves to investigate the validity of the site’s claims, to be frank our ISP already has far too much dirt on us as it is, so we’ll leave the act of checking out our sources up to you. link:http://www.pcgamesn.com/overwatch/overwatch-porn-searches-surge Personal Comment: I find this hilarious considering Blizzard bent over backwards to please feminists because of Tracer's ass poses, and now there are extremely well produced Overwatch porn videos floating all the major porn sites. Its not my cup of tea, but one cannot deny that someone really talented made these videos.
  15. Russia has reacted angrily to NATO’s membership invitation to Montenegro, which was made formally on Thursday. The Kremlin said the Western military alliance’s further expansion was a “negative process”. The Kremlin has also criticised NATO for announcing a bilateral meeting would be held with Russia before its July summit – due to be held in Warsaw – saying it should have consulted Moscow first. At NATO’s foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels the secretary general said troops would be deployed in eastern Europe but details had yet to be decided. “The signal of having a multinational presence sends a very clear signal about that an attack on one ally would be an attack on the whole alliance. But at the same we are sending a signal about that NATO does not seek confrontation. We don’t want a new Cold War, and we’re are still striving for more constructive and cooperative cooperation with Russia,” Jens Stoltenberg told a news briefing. Britain has said NATO’s build-up in eastern Europe could include up to 3,500 troops, stressing that the planned deployments would not be aggressive towards Russia. Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 has prompted the alliance to consider deterrent forces in the Baltics Personal Comment: but seriously trough deploying more nato troops in baltics and eastern europe is just going to increase the tensions what the fuck are they thinking about doing this we don t need no muricans patrolling our forests they will be the ones requiring the saving once they get lost in them
  16. A 15-year-old boy believes he has discovered a forgotten Mayan city using satellite photos and Mayan astronomy. William Gadoury, from Quebec, came up with the theory that the Maya civilization chose the location of its towns and cities according to its star constellations. He found Mayan cities lined up exactly with stars in the civilization's major constellations. Studying the star map further, he discovered one city was missing from a constellation of three stars. Using satellite images provided by the Canadian Space Agency and then mapped on to Google Earth, he discovered the city where the third star of the constellation suggested it would be. William has named the yet-to-be explored city in the Yucatan jungle K'aak Chi, or Mouth of Fire. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/forgotten-mayan-city-discovered-in-central-america-by-15-year-old-a7021291.html Daniel De Lisle, from the Canadian Space Agency, said the area had been difficult to study because of its dense vegetation. However, satellite scans of the area found linear features which "stuck out". "There are linear features that would suggest there is something underneath that big canopy," he told The Independent. "There are enough items to suggest it could be a man made structure."
  17. An uneasy truce is already showing signs of fracture in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has accused Armenian-backed separatists of violating a new ceasefire agreed on Tuesday. While the Armenian side accused Azerbaijan of shelling its positions. Nagorno-Karabakh lies inside Azerbaijan but is controlled by ethnic Armenians. It has run its own affairs with Armenian support since a separatist war ended in 1994. A ceasefire had held since this date, but no official peace deal was signed. That ceasefire was shattered over the weekend, and dozens of people were killed. Azerbaijan’s army said they had seized territory from the separatists towards the border with Iran. Azeri officials said that ethnic Armenian forces had been using the positions to launch artillery strikes on Azeri villages Armenian officials state that status quo will only result in further bloodshed later on Both sides blame each other for shelling their positions casualties list is already over hundred on both sides with both civilian and military losses along with several destroyed military vehicles and shot down helicopter Personal comment: Putin definitely not happy about this
  18. A huge leak of confidential documents has revealed how the rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their wealth. Eleven million documents were leaked from one of the world's most secretive companies, Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. They show how Mossack Fonseca has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax. The company says it has operated beyond reproach for 40 years and has never been charged with criminal wrong-doing. The documents show links to 72 current or former heads of state in the data, including dictators accused of looting their own countries. Gerard Ryle, director of the ICIJ, said the documents covered the day-to-day business at Mossack Fonseca over the past 40 years. "I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents," he said. The data contains secret offshore companies linked to the families and associates of Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak, Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi and Syria's president Bashar al-Assad. Russian connection It also reveals a suspected billion-dollar money laundering ring that was run by a Russian bank and involved close associates of President Putin. The operation was run by Bank Rossiya, which is subject to US and EU sanctionsfollowing Russia's annexation of Crimea. The documents reveal for the first time how the bank operates. Money has been channelled through offshore companies, two of which were officially owned by one of the Russian president's closest friends. Concert cellist Sergei Roldugin has known Vladimir Putin since they were teenagers and is godfather to the president's daughter Maria. On paper, Mr Roldugin has personally made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from suspicious deals. But documents from Mr Roldugin's companies state that: "The company is a corporate screen established principally to protect the identity and confidentiality of the ultimate beneficial owner of the company." Iceland connection Mossack Fonseca data also shows how Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson had an undeclared interest in his country's bailed-out banks. Mr Gunnlaugsson has been accused of hiding millions of dollars of investments in his country's banks behind a secretive offshore company. Leaked documents show that Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson and his wife bought offshore company Wintris in 2007. He did not declare an interest in the company when entering parliament in 2009. He sold his 50% of Wintris to his wife for $1 (70p), eight months later. Mr Gunnlaugsson is now facing calls for his resignation. He says he has not broken any rules, and his wife did not benefit financially from his decisions. The offshore company was used to invest millions of dollars of inherited money, according to a document signed by Mr Gunnlaugsson's wife Anna Sigurlaug Pálsdóttir in 2015. 'Beyond reproach' In addition, Mossack Fonseca supplied a front man who pretended to own $1.8m, so the real owner could get the cash from the bank without revealing their identity. Mossack Fonseca says it has always complied with international protocols to ensure the companies they incorporate are not used for tax evasion, money-laundering, terrorist finance or other illicit purposes. The company says it conducts thorough due diligence and regrets any misuse of its services. "For 40 years Mossack Fonseca has operated beyond reproach in our home country and in other jurisdictions where we have operations. Our firm has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing. "If we detect suspicious activity or misconduct, we are quick to report it to the authorities. Similarly, when authorities approach us with evidence of possible misconduct, we always cooperate fully with them." Mossack Fonseca says offshore companies are available worldwide and are used for a variety of legitimate purposes. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-35918844 Personal Comment: Hey look, some people are rich bastards. This is interesting, if it will most likely not amount to anything.
  19. Parents around the world are sharing photos of dirty Tommy Tippee sippy cup lids. Photo / Facebook, Julie Turbride After a concerned father took to Facebook last week revealing the mouldy cap of his daughter's Sistema drink bottle was making her sick, more parents have come forward with similar grimy discoveries. Sippy cups are the latest in childrens' drink bottles to come under the spotlight, as parents around the world share photos of dirty Tommy Tippee lids. Penny Powell, a mum from Montreal, Canada, posted photos to Facebook of different cups, showing her mouldy findings in the anti-spill guard valve that holds the mouthpiece together. • READ MORE: Is your kid's drink bottle making them sick? Translated from French, she wrote: "My friend wondered why his son was still sick so he broke open the anti-spill guard of his Tommee Tippee cup and discovered mould inside the anti-spill top that you can't see except if you break it open." The original post has been shared over 100, 000 times. Thousands of parents have also posted photos of their children's mould infested cups, some imploring fellow mums and dads to throw the product out. Tommee Tippee representatives have responded to the online outrage, claiming to be "actively working on the issue." "We learned, as a result of posts, that some people were not satisfied with the result of the sippy valves used in our sippy cups: We apologise for the inconvenience," they wrote on Facebook. A spokesperson told BuzzFeed: "The results support that when used with recommended liquids (cold, light fluids including water and non-pulp juices) and cleaned in line with instructions, there are no problems. Difficulties have arisen though when liquids that are not recommended for use in the cups have been used, like thick formula milk, pulpy juice and warm liquids. They also shared instructions for proper cleaning, adding, "We also recommend that cups are not left for long periods before being cleaned." http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11595968 Personal Comment From Bors: Not hard. Really. I assure you whatever is living in that cup - won't be - anymore after you bleach wash it.
  20. By Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) 6:57 AM CST, Mon, Feb 22, 2016 Detained whistle-blower Julian Assange remains hopeful he’ll be able to leave embassy; warns a Clinton presidency would bring “disaster” Assange tells Salon that WikiLeaks has new releases in the works and talks about Sanders — and his limitations In a momentous ruling in early February, the United Nations announced that “Julian Assange has been arbitrarily detained by Sweden and the United Kingdom.” The founder of whistle-blowing journalism organization WikiLeaks was arrested in London in December 2010, but was never charged with a crime. Fearing politically motivated U.S. extradition, Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London in August 2012. In the three-and-a-half years since then, he has remained closed up in the small building, unable to leave. The British government has spent millions of tax dollars monitoring the embassy — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — in order to ensure that Assange does not leave. The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled on Feb. 5 that “Assange has been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty” and “recognized that Mr. Assange is entitled to his freedom of movement and to compensation.” Condemning “the lack of diligence by the Swedish Prosecutor in its investigations,” the U.N. called on Sweden and the U.K. “to assess the situation of Mr. Assange to ensure his safety and physical integrity, to facilitate the exercise of his right to freedom of movement in an expedient manner, and to ensure the full enjoyment of his rights guaranteed by the international norms on detention.” The U.N. had deliberated the issue since it was filed in September 2014. Last week, in the wake of the ruling, Salon conducted a brief interview with Assange. He only had a few minutes to speak, given his very busy schedule, but addressed several different issues. Assange said he is very pleased at the decision of the U.N. working group. Before the group released its statement, he had announced that he would have left the embassy and faced the consequences if the U.N. had not ruled in its favor. “The U.N. is the highest international authority,” Assange stressed, noting that the U.K. and Sweden, with the support of the U.S., had tried to derail the U.N.’s ruling for 18 months, but it still succeeded. In these regards, he is hopeful. He says he is confident that the U.K. and Sweden can be pressured into honoring the U.N.’s ruling, but is still worried that the U.S. government may try to intervene in order to extradite him. Assange told Salon he is “not sure” whether he will be able to leave the embassy soon. In October, Assange’s doctor recommended that he go to the hospital for an MRI scan. Assange revealed that he still has not been allowed to go. Even Ecuador requested that he be allowed to go to the hospital, but the U.K. denied, he noted. He still suffers from health issues, including sickness and pain. He also said WikiLeaks is presently working on several large releases that will be out soon, “involving both individual countries and multiple countries.” Assange said he is “excited” about the new materials, but could not say anything else. Salon asked the WikiLeaks publisher about this thoughts on U.S. politics and the upcoming presidential election. The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act to target whistle-blowers more than all other presidents combined — “three times more,” Assange stressed in the interview. Assange condemned the Obama administration for “its harsh repression of whistle-blowers and national security journalists.” He pointed out that it was President Obama himself who pushed for the crackdown, not former Attorney General Eric Holder, whom Obama pressured. Assange called Obama “the meanest president” in those regards. When asked about presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Assange revealed a fascinating connection: He says his adopted father was an activist with Sanders in Chicago. Assange says Sanders’ policies vis-à-vis Wall Street and out-of-control corporate influence are refreshing, but, emphasizing that he specializes in foreign policy, noted Bernie “has a lot of problems” in foreign policy. Sanders supported the U.S. in Afghanistan and the NATO wars in Libya and Yugoslavia. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, Assange warned would be a “disastrous” president. “She is very hawkish,” he stressed, recalling how Clinton led the NATO war that “destroyed Libya.” “Even the Pentagon did not want to be left with another Iraq,” Assange said, but Clinton strongly pushed for the war. Today, the country has no functioning federal government, and a variety of extremist groups control large territories. ISIS has also entered Libya amid the chaos, and is growing, building its largest self-declared “caliphate” outside of Iraq and Syria. Assange added, “We can expect many more subsequent disasters if Clinton becomes president.” WikiLeaks, widely described as one of the most important journalistic tools to emerge in the past several decades, has provided reporters around the world with documents that expose the crimes and lies of their governments. Because of WikiLeaks’ work in exposing the crimes of the U.S. government in particular, Assange has earned a space high on Washington’s wanted list. Due to the politicization of Assange’s case, there has been a lot of misreporting. The group Justice for Assange details the many myths and downright lies frequently spread about his case. Assange was arrested in London in December 2010, but was never charged with a crime. Swedish authorities allegedly wanted to question him for sexual abuse allegations, but in August 2010, Stockholm’s chief prosecutor cleared him of all suspicions, saying she had “made the assessment that the evidence did not disclose any offense of rape.” The prosecutor subsequently admitted that “the conduct alleged by [the woman] disclosed no crime at all and that file would be closed.” The woman involved in Assange’s case explicitly said that she “did not want to put any charges on JA [Julian Assange] but that the police were keen on grabbing him,” the group Justice for Assange points out. In the police report, the woman said she felt “railroaded by police and others around her” and stressed that she “did not want to accuse JA for anything.” She added, “It was the police who made up the charges.” http://www.salon.com/2016/02/22/detained_whistle_blower_julian_assange_remains_hopeful_hell_be_able_to_leave_embassy_warns_a_clinton_presidency_would_bring_disaster/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow Personal Comment From Bild: Because between a Republican and Shillary there is a lesser of two evils :rolleyes:
  21. A brutal new year selloff in oil markets quickened on Monday, with prices plunging 6 percent to new 12-year lows as further ructions in the Chinese stock market threatened to knock crude as low as $20 a barrel. Amid an accelerating tailspin that shows no sign of slowing, Monday's dive - the biggest one-day loss since September - triggered a rash of panicky trading across the market. Long-term futures contracts for 2017 and beyond fell nearly as hard as those for immediate delivery as some producers rushed to hedge, while a key options gauge surged to nearly its highest since 2009. The latest catalyst was a further 5 percent decline in China's blue-chip stocks and a surge in overnight interest rates for the yuan outside of China to nearly 40 percent, their highest since the launch of the offshore market. Technical and momentum selling added fuel to the selloff. Morgan Stanley warned that a further devaluation of the yuan could send oil prices spiraling into the $20-$25 per barrel range, extending the year's 15 percent slide. "The focus is still on China and the demand concerns in China moving forward into 2016," said Tony Headrick, an energy market analyst at CHS Hedging LLC. RELATED COVERAGE › FACT BOX: Barclays, Macquarie, BofA and SocGen cut 2016 oil price forecasts While China's volatility is spooking traders over the outlook for demand from the world's No. 2 consumer, drillers in the United States say they are focused on keeping their wells running as long as possible, despite the slump. U.S. shale output is expected to decline by 116,000 barrels per day in February versus the month before, the same rate as January's estimated drop and a slower pace than many had expected months ago, the Energy Information Administration said. Brent crude futures LCOc1 fell $2.00 to settle at $31.55 a barrel, their lowest since April 2004. Brent has fallen more than 15 percent in six straight days of losses, the worst such slump in a year. Long-dated Brent crude prices for 2017 and 2018 fell nearly as hard as the tumbling front-month contract on Monday amid a scramble of producer hedging, according to dealers. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 fell $1.75 to settle at $31.41 a barrel, the lowest since December 2013. The fierce selling triggered a renewed scramble to buy options betting on a further slide, sending the CBOE volatility index .OVX, a gauge of options premiums based on moves in the U.S. oil exchange traded fund, over 13 percent higher to more than 63 - close to its highest level in seven years. Nearly 17,000 lots of March $30 puts CL300O6 and 18,000 lots of February $30 puts CL300N6 traded, doubling Friday's volumes. The markets are positioned in a way where "traders are afraid to be long," said Clayton Vernon, a trader and economist with Aquivia LLC in New Jersey. "The firm push for normalization with Iran has taken the last shred of geopolitical risk out of traders' minds." The European Union said on Monday that the lifting of sanctions on Iran could come soon, following a deal last year to curb the Middle East nation's nuclear program. Many market participants say that Iran's return to the oil markets would add more pressure to the global glut that has knocked prices from more than $100 in mid-2014. Speculators cut their net long position to the smallest since 2010, with short positions rising in a sign that they are losing faith in a price rise any time soon. (Additional reporting by Amanda Cooper in London and Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Andrew Hay) http://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-oil-idUSKCN0UP01P20160111 Personal Comment From Bors: Still expensive here.
  22. Twitter's influence transcends the size of its user base, but it may risk that in order to chase a Facebook-sized audience. Photo: Bloomberg Since the beginning, Twitter has kept a tight limit on the number of characters you can squeeze into a single tweet — 140 of them, to be exact. But that could all change this year. The company is said to be testing a change to the service that could allow you to post as many as 10,000 characters at a time. Some Twitter users are already revolting over the idea — and the company's shares plummeted more than 2 per cent as word of the rumours disseminated — but if the change moves ahead, it would become Twitter's latest attempt at expanding the service's appeal. The company desperately needs new users, and investors worry that the firm's growth may be in danger. In September technology website Re/Code reported that new Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was stepping up discussions around lifting the character limit as the company chases the kind of massive user base enjoyed by Facebook. However, tinkering with Twitter's most defining feature would mark a major shift. Suddenly, users would be able to post whole essays or blog posts at a time. To understand the scale of such a decision, consider that the average length of an English word is about eight characters. Adding a character to account for spaces between words, Twitter's new character length would allow you to post a 1111 word essay in English. That's roughly the same as a 2.5-page, single-spaced paper. Twitter's famous technical constraint on conversation has led to creative feats of user poetry, whole genres of memes and conventions like the hashtag that have bled over into the rest of pop culture. So for the company to change its formula now would result in a shock to the internet ecosystem, reshaping the way people communicate online, produce digital culture and exchange ideas. You could say that Twitter's impact on the internet transcends the size of its user base. Even if its community remains a fraction of the size of Facebook's, it still exerts a major force on the web. It remains to be seen how that might change if its signature feature was tweaked in such a massive way. The Washington Post, with Fairfax Media Follow Digital Life on Twitter Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/web-culture/twitter-considers-increasing-character-limit-from-140-to-10000-20160105-gm01j5.html#ixzz3wPSLVrjR Follow us: @smh on Twitter | sydneymorningherald on Facebook http://www.smh.com.au/technology/web-culture/twitter-considers-increasing-character-limit-from-140-to-10000-20160105-gm01j5.html Personal Comment From Bors: So a twitter turns into a gaggle.
  23. As stock buybacks reach historic levels, signs that corporate America is undermining itself By Karen Brettell, David Gaffen and David Rohde Filed Nov. 16, 2015, 2:30 p.m. GMT REUTERS Combined stock repurchases by U.S. public companies have reached record levels, a Reuters analysis finds, but as the recent history of such iconic businesses as Hewlett-Packard and IBM suggests, showering cash on shareholders may exact a long-term toll. NEW YORK – When Carly Fiorina started at Hewlett-Packard Co in July 1999, one of her first acts as chief executive officer was to start buying back the company’s shares. By the time she was ousted in 2005, HP had snapped up $14 billion of its stock, more than its $12 billion in profits during that time. Her successor, Mark Hurd, spent even more on buybacks during his five years in charge – $43 billion, compared to profits of $36 billion. Following him, Leo Apotheker bought back $10 billion in shares before his 11-month tenure ended in 2011. The three CEOs, over the span of a dozen years, followed a strategy that has become the norm for many big companies during the past two decades: large stock buybacks to make use of cash, coupled with acquisitions to lift revenue. All those buybacks put lots of money in the hands of shareholders. How well they served HP in the long term isn’t clear. HP hasn’t had a blockbuster product in years. It has been slow to make a mark in more profitable software and services businesses. In its core businesses, revenue and margins have been contracting. HP’s troubles reflect rapid shifts in the global marketplace that pressure most large companies. But six years into the current expansion, a growing chorus of critics argues that the ability of HP and companies like it to respond to those shifts is being hindered by billions of dollars in buybacks. These financial maneuvers, they argue, cannibalize innovation, slow growth, worsen income inequality and harm U.S. competitiveness. Graphic: Lots of companies are buying lots of their shares. Graphic: Buybacks, dividends climb past net income. “HP was the poster child of an innovative enterprise that retained profits and reinvested in the productive capabilities of employees. Since 1999, however, it has been destroying itself by downsizing its labor force and distributing its profits to shareholders,” said William Lazonick, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Industrial Competitiveness at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. HP declined to comment for this article. CEO Meg Whitman has just overseen one of the largest corporate breakups ever attempted, creating one company for the PC and printer business, called HP Inc, and one for the corporate hardware and services business, called HP Enterprise. Ultimately, HP’s turnaround efforts and restructuring will cost 80,000 jobs. A Reuters analysis shows that many companies are barreling down the same road, spending on share repurchases at a far faster pace than they are investing in long-term growth through research and development and other forms of capital spending. Almost 60 percent of the 3,297 publicly traded non-financial U.S. companies Reuters examined have bought back their shares since 2010. In fiscal 2014, spending on buybacks and dividends surpassed the companies’ combined net income for the first time outside of a recessionary period, and continued to climb for the 613 companies that have already reported for fiscal 2015. In the most recent reporting year, share purchases reached a record $520 billion. Throw in the most recent year’s $365 billion in dividends, and the total amount returned to shareholders reaches $885 billion, more than the companies’ combined net income of $847 billion. The analysis shows that spending on buybacks and dividends has surged relative to investment in the business. Among the 1,900 companies that have repurchased their shares since 2010, buybacks and dividends amounted to 113 percent of their capital spending, compared with 60 percent in 2000 and 38 percent in 1990. And among the approximately 1,000 firms that buy back shares and report R&D spending, the proportion of net income spent on innovation has averaged less than 50 percent since 2009, increasing to 56 percent only in the most recent year as net income fell. It had been over 60 percent during the 1990s. COMPLEX LEGACY: During her tenure as Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, now seeking the Republican presidential nomination, spent $14 billion on buybacks and nearly doubled the company’s registered patents, but had no big, innovative successes. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank “Even the Wall Street analyst crowd at some point will say, ‘When are you going to grow?’ ” David Melcher, chief executive, Aerospace Industries Association Share repurchases are part of what economists describe as the increasing “financialization” of the U.S. corporate sector, whereby investment in financial instruments increasingly crowds out other types of investment. The phenomenon is the result of several converging forces: pressure from activist shareholders; executive compensation programs that tie pay to per-share earnings and share prices that buybacks can boost; increased global competition; and fear of making long-term bets on products and services that may not pay off. It now pervades the thinking in the executive suites of some of the most legendary U.S. innovators. IBM Corp has spent $125 billion on buybacks since 2005, and $32 billion on dividends, more than its $111 billion in capital spending and R&D during the same period. Pharmaceuticals maker Pfizer Inc spent $139 billion on buybacks and dividends in the past decade, compared to $82 billion on R&D and $18 billion in capital spending. 3M Co, creator of the Post-it Note and Scotch Tape, spent $48 billion on buybacks and dividends, compared to $16 billion on R&D and $14 billion in capital spending. At Thomson Reuters Corp, owner of Reuters News, capital spending last year totaled $968 million, more than half of which went toward R&D, according to the company’s annual report. Buybacks and dividends for the year were more than double that figure, at a combined $2.05 billion. The company had 53,000 full-time employees last year, down from 60,500 in 2011. So far this year, capital spending is at $743 million, while buybacks and dividends total $2.02 billion. “From a capital allocation perspective, we will always prioritize re-investments in our growth priorities over share buybacks,” said David Crundwell, senior vice president, corporate affairs, at Thomson Reuters. “A SCARY SCENARIO” In theory, buybacks add another way, on top of dividends, of sharing profits with shareholders. Because buybacks increase demand and reduce supply for a company’s shares, they tend to increase the share price, at least in the short-term, amplifying the positive effect. By decreasing the number of shares outstanding, they also increase earnings per share, even when total net income is flat. Companies say buybacks are warranted when demand for their products and services isn’t enough to justify spending on R&D, or when they deem their shares to be undervalued, and therefore a better investment than new projects. But if those buybacks come at the expense of innovation, short-term gains in shareholder wealth could harm long-term competitiveness. “The U.S. is behind on production of everything from flat-panel TVs to semiconductors and solar photovoltaic cells,” said Gary Pisano, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of “Producing Prosperity: Why America Needs a Manufacturing Renaissance.” If U.S. companies continue to dole out their cash to investors, he said, economic investment “will go where it can be used well. If a company in Germany, India or Brazil has something to do with the money, it will flow there, as it should, and create growth and activity there, not in the United States. It’s a scary scenario.” Even national security could be threatened as a shrinking defense budget has made it more difficult for contractors to justify research spending. David Melcher, chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association, said companies have turned to buybacks because of a dearth of new weapons programs and under pressure from Wall Street. “Their investment community and the analysts that cover them are all saying, ‘We want a better return and we want EPS to grow,’ ” Melcher said. “That’s not a sustainable long-term strategy unless all these companies are going to go private. ... Even the Wall Street analyst crowd at some point will say, ‘When are you going to grow?’ ” Among the largest U.S. defense contractors, Northrop Grumman Corp has spent more than $12 billion on share repurchases since 2010, even as revenue has declined in each of the past five years. Lockheed Martin’s revenue has been flat since 2010; it has spent almost $12 billion on buybacks in that time. In recent months, as the 2016 election campaigns have gathered momentum, concern about the long-term effects of the buyback craze has crept into public discourse and caught the attention of politicians. Democrat Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin have called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate buybacks as a potential form of market manipulation. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made shifting companies’ short-term focus to the long term a key plank of her campaign. In July, she proposed increasing taxes on short-term investments and more rigorous disclosure of share repurchases and executive compensation. These moves, she said, will foster longer-term investment, innovation and higher pay for workers. Fiorina, now a Republican presidential contender running on her record as a corporate executive, declined multiple requests for comment. INVESTOR FAVORITE: Mark Hurd spent even more on buybacks than his predecessor while he also improved operating results, but managers said his cost-cutting disrupted product development. REUTERS/Stephen Lam “HP had plenty of cash to buy back as much stock as it wanted to. … It’s a good use of capital.” Mark Hurd, former CEO, Hewlett-Packard Co Hurd, now a co-chief executive at Oracle Corp, told Reuters that repurchases were an appropriate use of capital. “HP had plenty of cash to buy back as much stock as it wanted to,” he said in an interview. Operating cash flow during his tenure was $62 billion, a third more than he spent on buybacks. “It’s a good use of capital,” he said. HP’s revenue and share price rose while Hurd was in charge. He said decisions about the size of stock buybacks and investment in R&D, which totaled $17 billion during his tenure, were not related. A spokesman for Apotheker, Hurd’s successor, declined to comment. Until 1982, companies were largely prohibited from buying their own shares. That year, as part of President Ronald Reagan’s broad moves to deregulate financial markets, the SEC eased its rules to allow companies to buy their own shares on the open market. At the time, free-market reformers argued that corporate America had become fat and wasteful after decades of postwar growth, with no checks on how managers spent cash – or didn’t. “The boards you had were managers themselves and their friends,” said Charles Elson, finance professor and director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “It was basically managerial power, unchecked.” Over the years, however, a belief has taken hold that companies’ primary objective is to maximize shareholder value, even if that means paying out now through buybacks and dividends money that could be put toward long-term productive investments. “Serving customers, creating innovative new products, employing workers, taking care of the environment … are NOT the objectives of firms,” Itzhak Ben-David, professor of finance at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business and a buyback proponent, wrote in an email response to questions from Reuters. “These are components in the process that have the goal of maximizing shareholders’ value.” That goal has come to the fore in some high-profile cases of late as activist investors have demanded that executives share the wealth – or risk being unseated. In March, General Motors Co acceded to a $5 billion share buyback to satisfy investor Harry Wilson. He had threatened a proxy fight if the auto maker didn’t distribute some of the $25 billion cash hoard it had built up after emerging from bankruptcy just a few years earlier. DuPont early this year announced a $4 billion buyback program – on top of a $5 billion program announced a year earlier – to beat back activist investor Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management, which was seeking four board seats to get its way. Even so, CEO Ellen Kullman stepped down in October after sales slowed and the stock slid. In March, Qualcomm Inc, under pressure from hedge fund Jana Partners, agreed to boost its program to purchase $10 billion of its shares over the next 12 months; the company already had an existing $7.8 billion buyback program and a commitment to return three quarters of its free cash flow to shareholders. Still, the stock had been underperforming the S&P 500 for most of the past 10 years. Jana wasn’t satisfied, and in July, Qualcomm announced it would shed nearly 5,000 workers, among other moves to cut costs. R&D spending, it said, would stay at around $4 billion a year. Managers ignore shareholder demands at their own risk, especially when the share price is under pressure. “None of it is optional. If you ignore them, you go away,” said Russ Daniels, a technology and management executive who spent 15 years at Apple Inc and then 13 years at HP, where he was chief technology officer for enterprise services when he left in 2012. “It’s all just resource allocation. … The situation right now is there are a lot of investors who believe that they can make a better decision about how to apply that resource than the management of the business can.” POLITICAL INTEREST: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has recently decried companies’ focus on the short term and voiced support for measures to foster long-term growth and innovation. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst Maximizing shareholder value has “concentrated income at the top and has led to the disappearance of middle class jobs.” William Lazonick, professor of economics, University of Massachusetts-Lowell IBM Corp, once the grande dame of U.S. tech companies, spent $5.43 billion on R&D in the most recent year. It has been spending a lot more on buybacks. For decades, the computer hardware, software and services company has linked executive pay in part to earnings per share, a metric that can be manipulated by share repurchases. Since 2007, IBM’s per-share earnings have surged 66 percent, though total net income has risen only 15 percent. (The company says in regulatory filings that it adjusts for the impact of buybacks on EPS when determining pay targets.) IBM has been among the most explicit in its pursuit of higher per-share earnings through financial engineering. In 2007, in communications with shareholders, it laid out the first of its “road maps” for boosting EPS, this time to $10 a share by 2010. It would do so, under the plan, through equal emphasis on improved margins, acquisitions, revenue growth, and share repurchases. It easily met its expectations. In 2010, then-CEO Sam Palmisano doubled down, pledging to boost earnings by more than 75 percent to $20 a share by 2015. This time, more than a third of that increase was expected to come from buybacks. Palmisano left in 2011, having received more than $87 million in compensation in his last three years at the company. For a while, the plan worked. Shares surged to an all-time high of $215 in March 2013. But the company’s operating results have lagged. Revenue has declined for the past three years. Earnings have fallen for the past two. The stock is down a third from its 2013 peak, while the S&P 500 has risen 34 percent. To rein in costs, IBM has cut jobs. It now employs 55,000 fewer workers than it did in 2012. “Morale is not too good when you see these cuts,” said Tom Midgley, a 30-year veteran of IBM’s Poughkeepsie, New York, plant. In recent years, he said, his wage increases have shrunk, as has the company’s contribution to 401(k) retirement savings. IBM spokesman Ian Colley said that the company’s results have been hurt by currency shifts and business divestitures. He said that the company continues to grow, and that its buybacks have not affected research, development and innovation efforts. “IBM prioritizes investment in the business,” he said, citing recent acquisitions in cloud and other areas. WEALTH BENEFIT Share repurchases have helped the stock market climb to records from the depths of the financial crisis. As a result, shareholders and corporate executives whose pay is linked to share prices are feeling a lot wealthier. That wealth, some economists argue, has come at the expense of workers by cutting into the capital spending that supports long-term growth – and jobs. Further, because most most U.S. stock is held by the wealthiest Americans, workers haven’t benefited equally from rising share prices. Thus, said Lazonick, the economics professor, maximizing shareholder value has “concentrated income at the top and has led to the disappearance of middle-class jobs. The U.S. economy is now twice as rich in real terms as it was 40 years ago, but most people feel poorer.” Paul Bloom, who was an executive at IBM for 16 years, including chief technology officer for telecom research before leaving in 2013, is among the optimists who argue that venture capital and other alternative channels of R&D investment will take up some of the slack, supporting innovation and economic growth. Now a consultant to venture capital firms, Bloom expects large companies to shift away from investing directly in R&D, focusing instead on acquiring startups and spinning off experimental projects that will be less constrained by bureaucracy and Wall Street demands. “You are going to see more and more corporate investing in the startups than you have in the past,” he said. Many of the transformative breakthroughs of the past century – light bulbs, lasers, computers, aviation, and aerospace technologies – were based on innovations coming out of the labs of companies that could afford rich funding, like IBM, Apple, Xerox Corp and HP. Some say a technological shift at companies like HP and IBM away from traditional manufacturing, which requires large investments in buildings and equipment, and toward data-based products is also changing the calculation of how much investment is needed in innovation. “The way these companies spend dollars is different, the type of investment is hard to count. While you might think their spending is flat, I think it’s better utilized,” said Mark Dean, who worked in R&D for 34 years at IBM and was a member of the team that created the first personal computer in 1981. “Innovation is changing.” THE HP WAY For years, HP adhered to “the HP way,” a widely admired egalitarian corporate philosophy. Operating divisions were given broad autonomy to develop their businesses. Employees were encouraged to think creatively in a nurturing environment. R&D spending regularly topped 10 percent of revenue. When Fiorina arrived in 1999, she upended that, implementing companywide layoffs, shifting jobs overseas and centralizing control. Bill Mutell, a former HP senior vice president who joined from Compaq Computer Corp after HP paid $25 billion for it in 2001, spoke to Reuters at the suggestion of Fiorina’s presidential campaign. He said that changes she implemented were needed because the company had become sluggish at innovation. HP would “aim, aim, and aim, and there was never any implementation and execution,” he said. Fiorina joined soon after the company had spun off what is now Agilent Technologies, the arm that housed much of the company’s high-tech expertise. In R&D, she focused on winning patents as a measure of the effectiveness of spending. The number of HP-registered patents rose from 17,000 in 2002 to 30,000 when she left in 2005, according to regulatory filings. Even so, all of those new patents failed to yield any enduringly successful innovations. R&D efforts were scattered, and some projects overlapped. Fiorina’s compensation was linked in part to earnings per share when she joined in 1999. And from 2003, it was also linked to something called total shareholder return, a measure of performance, including stock-price appreciation plus dividends, that was then compared to returns for the S&P 500 Index. Fiorina’s buybacks failed to stop HP’s share price slide after the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. Uneven earnings and concern about the Compaq acquisition whipsawed the share price during her tenure, helping lead to her ouster in 2005. IN AND OUT: Leo Apotheker, Hurd’s successor at HP, presided over a disastrous acquisition and $10 billion in stock buybacks during his brief 11-month tenure as CEO. REUTERS/Stephen Lam Some managers struggling to meet Hurd’s targets implemented spending freezes as the end of a quarter neared, halting procurement of supplies, according to former HP engineers. Hurd streamlined the company’s structure, which had ballooned after the Compaq acquisition. He slashed the number of research projects, from 6,800 to about 40, and cut costs across the company’s PC and printer divisions, focusing instead on building higher-margin software and services businesses. Market share in each division grew. But in the PC and printer divisions, researchers said, new limits on spending disrupted project timelines. Some managers struggling to meet Hurd’s targets implemented spending freezes as the end of a quarter neared, halting procurement of supplies, according to former HP engineers. “You can’t turn it on and off like a faucet, turn it off one quarter to make the quarterly results look good, then turn it back on next quarter and have great products coming out the other end,” said a former HP engineer. Engineers at HP who had previously created prototypes at U.S. facilities were also now relying on Asian manufacturing sites to build them. Travel to these regions was on occasion delayed due to spending pressures. Workers at the company’s labs were also moved off the more experimental projects and realigned to work on existing product lines. In the interview, Hurd said he wasn’t aware of any spending freezes or project disruptions. The changes he implemented led to sparkling results: From 2005 to 2010, net income rose 265 percent on a much smaller 45 percent increase in revenue. HP’s stock price more than doubled, from $20 to $50, during his tenure. Thanks to hefty stock buybacks, earnings per share did even better, increasing 350 percent. HP increased share repurchases from $3.51 billion in 2005 to $7.78 billion in 2006, and again to more than $9 billion a year in four of the next five years. (Roughly 20 to 30 percent of annual repurchases offset dilution from employee stock-purchase plans.) Hurd said improving revenue and market share during his term was always his first concern. “The share price is the result that occurs if the company is performing well,” he said. “Short-term tricks to try to improve EPS, and eventually share prices, usually don’t work. ... Going out and saying I’m going to cut a dividend, make a one-time buyback, these are sort of like parlor tricks, they aren’t sustainable.” He said he declined shareholder requests that ranged from increasing dividends to adopting a specific EPS plan like IBM’s “road map.” Because he nearly always met per-share earnings and other targets, his pay mostly rose, too. In 2008, for example, it jumped to $42 million from $25 million the year before. (It fell in 2009 to $30 million when he failed to meet targets.) Investors were impressed by the turnaround. Operating margins, which had dropped below 5 percent under Fiorina, rose as high as 9 percent under Hurd, and the share price soared 200 percent. Hurd resigned in August 2010 amid a scandal involving his relationship to an HP contractor. His successor, Leo Apotheker, spent just shy of a year at the helm, marked by his decision to buy software firm Autonomy for $11 billion in October 2011. A year later – after Apotheker left – HP said an investigation had uncovered accounting fraud at Autonomy before the purchase. It took a charge against earnings of nearly $9 billion. CEO Whitman has attempted to strike a balance with HP’s plans to move into a growth mode from a turnaround effort. R&D spending rose slightly to $3.45 billion in 2014, the highest since 2008, even as revenue declined. At the same time, share repurchases rose to $2.7 billion, from $1.5 billion in 2013. Post breakup, her immediate challenge is to build the higher-margin HP Enterprise. Both companies will continue with generous buyback programs. HP Enterprise said in September that it expects to give shareholders at least 50 percent of free cash flow next year through buybacks and dividends. HP Inc said it will give back 75 percent. ————— The Cannibalized Company By Karen Brettell, David Gaffen and David Rohde Data: Karen Brettell Graphics: Matthew Weber Edited by John Blanton http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-buybacks-cannibalized/
  24. Subi reef, located in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, is shown in this handout Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative satellite image taken September 3, 2015 and released to Reuters October 27, 2015. REUTERS/CSIS ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE/DIGITALGLOBE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS The U.S. Navy plans to conduct patrols within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands in the South China Sea about twice a quarter to remind China and other countries about U.S. rights under international law, a U.S. defense official said on Monday. "We're going to come down to about twice a quarter or a little more than that," said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about Navy operational plans. "That's the right amount to make it regular but not a constant poke in the eye. It meets the intent to regularly exercise our rights under international law and remind the Chinese and others about our view," the official said. U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes on Monday said there would be more demonstrations of the U.S. military's commitment to the right to freely navigate in the region. "That's our interest there ... It's to demonstrate that we will uphold the principle of freedom of navigation," Rhodes told an event hosted by the Defense One media outlet. Rhodes' comments came a week after a U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailed close to one of Beijing's man-made islands in the South China Sea last week. China's naval commander last week told his U.S. counterpart that a minor incident could spark war in the South China Sea if the United States did not stop its "provocative acts" in the disputed waterway. The USS Lassen's patrol was the most significant U.S. challenge yet to the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit China claims around artificial islands it has built in the Spratly Islands archipelago. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade transits every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan all have rival claims. Rhodes said the goal in the dispute was to come to a diplomatic framework to resolve these issues. U.S. Vice Admiral John Aquilino, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategies, declined to comment about when the next patrols would take place. "We do operations like that all the time around the world. That will continue for us," he told Reuters after his remarks at the same conference. "We'll just keep going." Defense Secretary Ash Carter may visit a U.S. Navy ship during his upcoming visit to Asia, but is not expected to be on board during any Navy freedom of navigation operations, the U.S. defense official said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Idrees Ali; editing by Mohammad Zargham and G Crosse) http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/03/us-southchinasea-usa-navy-idUSKCN0SR28W20151103 Personal Comment From Bors: What America sees... What China sees...
  25. Three-legged Mai is the tiger zoo officials believe to have bitten the woman. Photo / YouTube: Amy Palmer Mai the tiger has seen her share of battles. Born in the wilderness of Pahang province, Malaysia, the Malayan tiger was found with her front left leg ensnared in a poacher's trap. Veterinarians amputated the limb to save her life, and the less than 2-year-old tiger underwent rehabilitation at Malaysia's Malacca (or "Melaka") Zoo before arriving at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in 2003. Since then, Mai has successfully navigated life on just three legs, raising three litters of cubs on her own and partaking in regular enrichment activities with keepers. According to the zoo's Web site, Mai "has an affinity for fragrant perfumes and playing in beds of hay." At 18 years old, the tiger is now considered a senior. Though she is unusually friendly for an animal from the wild, she's still known to be more skittish around humans than big cats that grew up in captivity. It's perhaps these survival instincts that kicked in early Sunday morning, when Jacqueline Eide, 33, managed to get inside Henry Doorly Zoo before it had opened with the intention of petting a tiger, according to a police statement. When she allegedly reached into a cage, a tiger - which zoo officials believe to have been Mai - bit Eide's hand, causing severe trauma. A friend of the woman took her to Creighton University Medical Center, where she remains for treatment. The Omaha Police Department was alerted to the incident when they received a call from the center about a disturbance with a patient who had a hand injury. Eide, who was cited for criminal trespassing, was allegedly aggressive toward hospital staff and, according to police, "showed signs of intoxication of alcohol and/or drugs." The incident is currently under investigation. "The safety and security of our guests and animals are always a priority at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium," zoo executive director and CEO Dennis Pate said in a statement on the zoo's Facebook page. He noted that security cameras, new path lighting and computer-controlled locks have been added to better monitor exit and entry. Many commenters expressed concern that Mai would be disciplined for the injuries sustained by Eide. "Like everyone else has said," Tracey Martinez wrote, "I hope they don't destroy the tiger. It's not the tiger's fault at all." The zoo personally responded to several individuals who shared this sentiment, following up with a broader comment Sunday evening: "Thank you everyone for your concerns about Mai, our Malayan tiger. Mai will remain on display as normal and go about life as usual. No action will be taken against her." The general response to this news has been relief. "That is good to hear!" one commenter wrote. "Too many animals are 'put down' because some humans decided to be morons." - Washington Post http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11539324 Personal Comment From Bors:
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