Saturday, April 29, 2017

China Deports US Businesswoman Accused of Spying

An American woman who was arrested while on a business trip in China and later convicted of spying has been deported to the United States.

Jeff Gillis says his wife, Phan “Sandy” Phan-Gillis, got on a flight to Los Angeles on Friday evening. The couple planned to stay in LA a few days to visit relatives before returning to their Houston home.

It was just Tuesday when Phan-Gillis was sentenced by Chinese authorities to 3 ½ years in prison. But the sentence was seen as an indication that she soon could be allowed to return home.

She had faced an uncertain fate since March 2015, when she disappeared from her group traveling in southern China. She was later accused of espionage.

Phan-Gillis is a U.S. citizen of Chinese descent.

Source: newsmax – China Deports US Businesswoman Accused of Spying

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Merkel: 'Good Relationship' With Trump Despite Frosty Start

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday that she and President Donald Trump have built a “good working relationship” even though the two had frosty exchanges last year that raised fears of damage to the pivotal U.S.-German partnership.

“President Trump and I have developed a good working relationship, which doesn’t rule out having different points of view,” Merkel told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) group of newspapers.

“When we talk with each other, for instance, it’s about developing a common strategy for the Ukraine conflict or the horrible war in Syria. It’s also about the fight against terror or the disastrous humanitarian situation in Yemen – all these conflicts are at the doorstep of Europe.

“If we want to resolve these problems, if we want to help people, we need strong involvement from the United States,” Merkel said.

In his 2016 election campaign, Trump had disparaged Merkel for allowing more than a million refugees from Syria, the Middle East and Afghanistan into her country, saying she was “ruining Germany” with those policies. He had also criticised Germany’s large trade surpluses and threatened to import duties.

After Trump won, Merkel congratulated him but pointed out importance of democracy and the need to respect people’s dignity regardless of their origin, colour of their skin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views.

Merkel’s relations with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama got off to an awkward start when she rejected his request to speak at the Brandenburg Gate during the 2008 presidential campaign. But the two grew close, cooperating on sanctions against Russia and launching negotiations on a transatlantic free-trade deal.

Merkel met Trump for the first time in March – an encounter closely watched by governments around the world for clues about the transatlantic alliance that helped shape the post-war global order that Trump was threatening to upend.

Trump and Merkel shook hands when she arrived at the White House but did not do so in the Oval Office where she frequently leaned towards him while he stared straight ahead.

The two leaders’ differing views on trade, Russia and immigration led to some uncomfortable moments at a joint news conference which ended oddly with a quip by Trump about wiretapping that left Merkel visibly bewildered.

But Trump has since praised the chemistry he has developed with Merkel and the two have spoken regularly on the telephone. She also invited Trump’s daughter Ivanka, an unpaid advisor to the president, to address a conference in Berlin.

“When I visited him in Washington, we talked about trade agreements,” Merkel said. “The U.S. president is asking for fair conditions from his country’s point of view, and we’re naturally looking out for German and European interests.”

In her weekly podcast on Saturday, Merkel rejected criticism from Trump over Germany’s perennially large trade surpluses.

“It’s right indeed that we need to invest more at home,” she said, adding her government has been doing that. “But I’d also like to say … we’re proud that there is such strong demand around the world for our products. That’s our standard and many people are working very hard for that.”

Source: newsmax – Merkel: ‘Good Relationship’ With Trump Despite Frosty Start

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Maher Challenges Obama Speaking Fee: Didn't That Cost Clinton the Election?

HBO “Real Time” talk show host and comedian Bill Maher questioned the $400,000 speaking fee former President Barack Obama is scheduled to receive for a speech to a Wall Street firm later this year, asking, “Isn’t that what sort of cost Hillary the election?”

Maher discussed the issue with a panel in a segment of his show where former GOP communications director Tara Setmayer explained she saw no problem with Obama accepting the fee, The Hill reported Saturday.

“Personally, as long as he’s not running for office again, I don’t care how much money he makes,” Setmayer said. “If people want to pay him that, it’s a free market value. Who cares?”

Maher responded by comparing the blowback against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while running as the Democratic nominee for president in 2016 over payments she received for speeches she had made to Wall Street.

“But, wait a second, the current president is trying to undo all of his Wall Street regulations, and then he goes to Wall Street and takes (money). Isn’t that what sort of cost Hillary the election?” he asked.

“Are those ‘horrible’ speeches she made to Wall Street, and she couldn’t release the transcripts of it?” Maher added.

Panelist Rob Reiner, actor and liberal activist, countered that there was a difference because Obama’s political career was over.

“The difference is, ‘Are you in the pocket of Wall Street?’ And (Hillary Clinton) was running for office. He’s not running for anything right now.”

Maher countered, “It kind of looks like, ‘When he’s on our team, we’re okay with it.'”

“You could say that when a guy is president, he’s looking ahead to that $400,000 payday,” Maher said. “Isn’t the best thing to do to take your $10 million book deal? Can’t you live off that?”

Obama signed a joint book deal with his wife, former First Lady Michelle Obama, in March for over $65 million, marking the highest payment ever for presidential memoirs, Newsweek reported.

A spokesperson for Obama defended his decision to accept the fee for the speech, maintaining the former president had both initiated regulations on Wall Street while also receiving campaign contributions from financial industries.

Source: newsmax – Maher Challenges Obama Speaking Fee: Didn’t That Cost Clinton the Election?

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Marchers Use Trump's 100th Day to Protest Climate Policies

Thousands of people across the U.S. are marking President Donald Trump’s hundredth day in office by marching in protest of his environmental policies.

In Washington, D.C., large crowds on Saturday were making their way down Pennsylvania Avenue, where they planned to encircle the White House. Organizers say about 300 other protest marches are expected around the country.

Participants in the Peoples Climate March say they’re objecting to Trump’s rollback of restrictions on mining, oil drilling and greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants, among other things.

In Augusta, Maine, protesters outside the statehouse said they wanted to draw attention to the damage climate change can cause marginalized communities. A demonstration stretched for several blocks in downtown Tampa, Florida, where marchers said they were concerned about the threat rising seas pose to the city.

Source: newsmax – Marchers Use Trump’s 100th Day to Protest Climate Policies

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Amazon's Moves Beyond Retail Get Wall Street Thumbs Up, for Now Inc.’s ventures far beyond online retail, from cloud computing to movie making, are raising questions among corporate strategy experts about its focus.

The Seattle-based company wowed Wall Street again this week with a 23 percent jump in sales, pushing its shares to an all-time high. But there are concerns that if blockbuster growth stops, investors may come to regard the company more like a conglomerate stock – worth less than the sum of its pieces.

“High growth covers a lot of sins,” said Harry Kraemer, a partner at private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners and a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“Picture yourself running the company where one minute we’re talking about how we’re going to operate air cargo, and the next minute we’re going to talk about artificial intelligence,” he said. “I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

So far, analysts have balked at the idea of calling Amazon a conglomerate because its businesses, although varied, all relate in some way to retail. Warehouses, trucks and planes bring packages to shoppers’ doorsteps. Amazon Web Services sells the very cloud-computing services to enterprises that were built to meet the technology needs of

“It’s not like General Electric Co. having financial services and making aircraft engines,” Baird Equity Research analyst Colin Sebastian said.

Some initiatives, though, such as a television studio in Hollywood, seem further afield.

Amazon says the video foray has allowed it to stream unique programming to members of its Prime shopping club, thereby increasing sign-ups for a program that encourages people to buy more goods, more often.

The financial success of the investment is difficult to assess. Revenue from Prime membership fees and other media subscriptions rose 49 percent in the first quarter to $1.9 billion, the company reported on Thursday. It does not disclose the costs of content for its Prime Video service, but they were estimated by an analyst to be more than $3 billion in 2016.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.


These days, conglomerates like GE are out of fashion in the corporate world. By a standard method of valuation – comparing a company’s share price to its earnings per share – Amazon is worth about 10 times more than storied conglomerates Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and United Technologies Corp.

Investors discount conglomerate stocks partly because diverse businesses are tough to manage, and partly because they believe the market allots money across industries better than a company can.

Indeed, a 2012 report by McKinsey & Co. consultants found that conglomerates’ revenue on average grew by 6.3 percent per year from 2002 to 2010, while “focused” companies grew by 9.2 percent.

Amazon has acknowledged its pursuits point in many directions, but stresses they are for the long-term, not for quick gains.

Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky rattled off a lengthy list of investments from retail in India to drones and artificial intelligence on the company’s earnings conference call on Thursday, in an attempt to explain why its operating profit margin had thinned in North America.

“I know I’m drifting a bit from North America, but it’s all part of the same theme,” he told analysts.

For now at least, Amazon is being treated as a special case in part from the halo effect around its billionaire founder Jeff Bezos, the second-richest person alive. Many view Bezos as an entrepreneurial genius; he’s already extended his reach beyond Amazon to start a space exploration company and purchase the Washington Post.

“Bezos gets a longer leash to wander around than the typical CEO,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. But he was not convinced it was entirely justified.

“You hesitate to bet on this being the singular team that can do something that history has shown – over and over again – is really hard to do,” said Gordon.

Referring to Walt Disney Co.’s CEO, he said: “Leave the movie making to Bob Iger.” 

Source: newsmax – Amazon’s Moves Beyond Retail Get Wall Street Thumbs Up, for Now

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Duterte Will Urge Trump Against NKorea War in Saturday Call

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he will urge his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump not to go to war with North Korea in a phone call scheduled later on Saturday.

Speaking after wrapping up a meeting of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila, Duterte said the U.S. needed to be prudent and patient.

“I am expecting a call from President Trump tonight,” Duterte said. “Who am I to say you should stop but I would just say Mr. President please see to it that there’s no war because my region will suffer immensely,” Duterte said. “Everybody is worried.”

Earlier on Saturday, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson mounted an effort at the United Nations to rally pressure against Kim Jong Un’s regime.

Trump has threatened to act unilaterally against North Korea if China fails to do more to curb its neighbor’s activities.

In a tweet shortly after the missile launch Saturday, Trump said North Korea had disrespected the wishes of China and “its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!”

‘A Catastrophe’

With concerns about North Korea dominating the summit, Duterte, who is the current chairman of Asean, compared the standoff to two countries playing with toys.

“We have to caution everybody including those who’d give the advice to the two players because you have nuclear warheads to just show restraint,” Duterte said. “One miscalculation of a missile, whether or not a nuclear warhead or an ordinary bomb, one explosion there that would hit somebody would cause a catastrophe.”

As the leader of the more responsible country, Duterte said he was sure Trump was cautioning his military to “hang on there and not to start something which they can’t control.”

Maritime Disputes

Duterte said China’s recent actions in the South China Sea, which have overshadowed recent Asean summits, were not discussed at the leaders’ meeting on Saturday, describing any talks on the issue as “useless.”

China’s attempts to assert its dominance over the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes that carries more than $5 trillion in annual trade, have in the past angered Southeast Asian nations with competing maritime claims such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

The waterway has become a flash point in a broader tussle for regional influence between China and the U.S. in Asia.

“We want a code of conduct enacted at the very least before the end of this year so that everybody will feel comfortable sailing there because if not then it remains to be a flash point,” Duterte said.

Duterte said China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project would help neighboring countries and expand markets, adding that the reason for China’s pursuit of the project could only be economics.

Source: newsmax – Duterte Will Urge Trump Against NKorea War in Saturday Call

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WashPost: Half of Those Arrested in Immigration Raids Had Traffic Offenses Or No Record

Records provided by congressional aides to The Washington Post paint a small but detailed snapshot of the illegal immigrants being arrested under the administration of President Donald Trump, the newspaper reported Friday.

The Post called the data “the most detailed look yet,” and breaks down how many people were arrested for being in the U.S. illegally, who had committed crimes and what those crimes were. The data involves a roundup called Operation Cross Check and the period covers early February.

Of the 675 immigrants included in the data who were detained and targeted for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, 177 had no criminal convictions, although charges were pending in 66 of those cases involving immigration or traffic offenses.

Among the more serious offenders, 80 had been convicted of assault, 57 were convicted of “dangerous drugs” and two people were convicted of homicide. The largest single group of the total showed 163 had been convicted of traffic offenses, with over 90 percent involving drunken driving, according to ICE, The Post reported.

The 675 people in the raid represent a small part of the 21,362 immigrants rounded up into custody for deportation from January through the middle of March of this year. This total marks a 32 percent jump over the same period last year.

However, The Post pointed out that former President Barack Obama also deported thousands of people with no criminal convictions, but “toward the end of his administration, he imposed strict new rules that prioritized the arrest of criminals.”

Critics argue the arrests include students, minor offenders and parents of U.S. citizens who have no criminal record. Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, maintained many of the convictions were years old.

“(The data) confirms our worst fears, which is that this administration is really trying to deport as many as possible, regardless of whether they have a criminal record,” Matos said.

Jennifer Elzea, ICE spokeswoman, said Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly had stated the U.S. would “no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

“All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found, removable by final order, removal from the United States,” she said.

Democrats have grown wary of Kelly’s motivations, the article explained, but Kelly, a retired Marine general, addressed critics last week in a speech at George Washington University.

“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,” Kelly said. “Otherwise, they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., maintained on Friday that Kelly’s posture “wasn’t a constructive way to deal with Congress,” adding, “That kind of language ought to be jettisoned.”

The director of policy for the Center for Immigration Studies, Jessica M. Vaughan, said ICE was doing its job.

“Those are legitimate reasons to remove people,” she said. “ICE officers are no longer operating under the restraints imposed by the Obama administration. They’re not forced to look the other way when they encounter people who are removable.”

Trump is following through on a campaign promise in his efforts to secure public safety in the U.S. through his immigration initiatives. Officials said, though the emphasis was on deporting criminals, anyone in the U.S. illegally could face deportation.

Source: newsmax – WashPost: Half of Those Arrested in Immigration Raids Had Traffic Offenses Or No Record

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Coca-Cola: Philadelphia's Tax on Sugary Drinks Spurs 32 Percent Drop in Sales

Coca-Cola says Philadelphia’s new tax on sugary drinks is seriously hurting their business in the city.

According to a story on the beverage company’s website, the company’s volume in Philadelphia is down 32 percent from a year ago.

Fran McGorry, president and general manager of the local bottler known as Philly Coke, says because of the lost sales, the company’s workforce has been reduced by about 40 positions. The company has more than 700 workers in the region.

Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney, says the soda industry is suing the city to repeal the tax and has repeatedly looked for opportunities to scapegoat it. She says Coca-Cola had a bad first quarter and pointed to an announcement of job cuts across all their markets earlier this week.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman says the reductions at the Atlanta-based company aren’t related.

Source: newsmax – Coca-Cola: Philadelphia’s Tax on Sugary Drinks Spurs 32 Percent Drop in Sales

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Hacker Leaks Stolen 'Orange Is the New Black' Season 5 Episodes to Piracy Network

An anonymous hacker has carried through on a threat to release “Orange Is the New Black” season five episodes online — after Netflix allegedly failed to respond to the cybercriminal’s shakedown demands.

Variety was unable to verify the authenticity of the “OITNB” episodes the hacker claimed to have shared on popular file-sharing site the Pirate Bay.

The first 10 episodes of season 5 were apparently shared shortly before 6 a.m. ET Saturday, with the 10 files comprising a total of 11.46 gigabytes. The hacker, who uses the handle “thedarkoverlord,” published the premiere episode from the upcoming season of “Orange Is the New Black” on Friday to the Pirate Bay.

Netflix has set June 9 for the release of season five of “Orange Is the New Black.” It’s possible that the streamer will move up the “OITNB” premiere date now that the bulk of the episodes have leaked.

Related Netflix Hacker Also Claims Theft From ABC, Fox, IFC, National Geographic

Reps for Netflix did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest development outside regular business hours.

According to “thedarkoverlord,” the hacker or hackers also have obtained unreleased shows from ABC, Fox, National Geographic and IFC. The content appears to have been stolen in an attack on post-production studio Larson Studios in late 2016, according to piracy-news site TorrentFreak. “Thedarkoverlord” explained in an online post that they obtained only the first 10 of the 13 episodes of “OITNB” season 5 because the cyberattack was carried out before the final three installments were available.

In a statement Friday, Netflix said: “We are aware of the situation. A production vendor used by several major TV studios had its security compromised and the appropriate law enforcement authorities are involved.”

It’s not clear what impact the theft and piracy of Netflix’s top show will have. The hacker (or hacker collective) behind the heist has claimed to have made an extortion demand to the company, asking for an unspecified sum of money. However, the motive for purloining and leaking “OITNB” could be more about bragging rights in the cybercrime underworld.

In a message posted early Saturday, “thedarkoverlord” was arrogant and even scolding.

“It didn’t have to be this way, Netflix. You’re going to lose a lot more money in all of this than what our modest offer was,” the hacker wrote. “We’re quite ashamed to breathe the same air as you. We figured a pragmatic business such as yourselves would see and understand the benefits of cooperating with a reasonable and merciful entity like ourselves.”

The hacker concluded the diatribe with an explicit threat to the other networks whose TV shows were allegedly stolen: “And to the others: there’s still time to save yourselves. Our offer(s) are still on the table — for now.”

Netflix last year renewed “OITNB,” which execs have said is consistently its most-watched original series, for seasons 5, 6 and 7. Creator and showrunner Jenji Kohan signed on for all the upcoming seasons of the show, produced by Lionsgate TV.

Source: newsmax – Hacker Leaks Stolen ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Season 5 Episodes to Piracy Network

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SKorea Navy Begins Drill with US Supercarrier

South Korea’s navy says it has started joint exercises with U.S. ships, including the supercarrier USS Carl Vinson, which the United States dispatched to the region in a show of force amid the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The drills began Saturday hours after South Korean and U.S. officials said they detected what they presumed was a failed missile launch from an area near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The South Korean navy says the drill is aimed at “deterring North Korea’s provocations and displaying the firm alliance between the United States and South Korea.”

The USS Carl Vinson also participated in annual springtime drills between United States and South Korea in March.

Source: newsmax – SKorea Navy Begins Drill with US Supercarrier

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Friday, April 28, 2017

House Approves Bill to Avert Government Shutdown

With just hours to spare, Congress easily approved a short-term spending bill Friday that would prevent a partial federal shutdown over the weekend. But on President Donald Trump’s 99th day in office, lawmakers were leaving until next week without completing two other measures he’s coveted: A Republican healthcare overhaul and a budget financing government for the entire year.

The Senate sent the temporary spending measure to Trump by voice vote after the House approved it by a lopsided 382-30 vote. The bill keeps the government functioning through next Friday, which leaders hope will give bipartisan bargainers enough time to finish a $1 trillion package financing government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

But in a disappointment for the White House, Trump was destined to serve his 100th day in office — Saturday — without being able to claim victories on health care and a yearlong budget.

The White House had pressured GOP leaders to push legislation replacing President Barack Obama’s health care law through the House this week, in time for Trump to claim bragging rights by the symbolic 100th day. But late Thursday, House leaders abandoned that effort for now after falling short of the votes they would need for passage.

“As soon as we have the votes, we’ll vote on it,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters.

The struggle over both bills was embarrassing to the GOP, which has Trump in the White House and majorities in Congress. Republicans would have preferred to not be laboring to keep agencies functioning or approve a health care overhaul, the gold standard of GOP campaign promises for the past seven years.

On the spending bill, minority Democrats had threatened to withhold support for the temporary spending bill unless there was a bipartisan deal on the long-term $1 trillion measure. But they voted for it anyway, citing expectations that disagreements would be resolved.

Most core decisions about agency budgets have been worked out, but unrelated policy issues — such as a Democratic request to help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico with its Medicaid burden — are among the holdups.

Republicans still pressed for policy wins with so-called riders related to abortion, environmental regulations, and curbing new financial rules. But Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass the measure, pushed back.

The bipartisan budget talks had progressed smoothly after the White House dropped a threat to withhold payments that help lower-income Americans pay their medical bills and Trump abandoned a demand for money for a border wall with Mexico.

With neither party savoring a federal shutdown, it seemed likely Congress would approve the week-long stopgap measure in time to keep agencies open.

On the separate health care bill, House Republican leaders are still scrounging for votes from their own rank-and-file to rescue it.

At least 18 Republicans, mostly moderates, said they oppose the health care legislation and many others remained publicly uncommitted. That puts party elders in an uncomfortable spot because if 22 Republicans defect, the bill will fail, assuming all Democrats oppose it.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., wants to avoid an encore of last month’s embarrassment, when he abruptly canceled a vote on a health care overhaul at that time because of opposition from moderates and conservatives alike.

Republicans have recast it to let states escape a requirement under President Barack Obama’s 2010 law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. They could also be exempted from Obama’s mandate that insurers cover a list of services like hospitalization and substance abuse treatment and from its prohibition against charging older customers more than triple their rates for younger ones.

The overall legislation would cut the Medicaid program for the poor, eliminate Obama’s fines for people who don’t buy insurance and provide generally skimpier subsidies.

Centrist Republicans were the primary target of lobbying by the White House and GOP leaders seeking the 216 votes they would need to clinch passage of the health measure.

On Wednesday, conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus announced their support for the revised health legislation. That reversed the conservatives’ opposition to the earlier edition of the legislation.

Source: newsmax – House Approves Bill to Avert Government Shutdown

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Report: Caitlyn Jenner Visits the White House

Caitlyn Jenner met with Trump administration officials in the White House, ABC News reports.

“She was there for meetings and on her promo tour for her new book (“The Secrets of My Life”), released this week,” a representative for Jenner told the network news.

Jenner was spotted by ABC News as she entered the White House complex on Thursday.

Her rep did not disclose which White House officials had met with Jenner, who had backed Donald Trump in the election. However, she was recently critical of the president for rescinding protections for transgender students, according to ABC News.

But Jenner told CNN this week she does not regret voting for Trump. 

“As far as LGBT issues, yes, he’s made some mistakes,” she said. “I don’t support him in everything that he does. But we needed to shake the system up.”

Source: newsmax – Report: Caitlyn Jenner Visits the White House

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Amazon Surge Places Bezos Within $5 Billion of World's Richest Crown

A surge in after hours trading for Inc. added $3.3 billion to the fortune of Jeff Bezos, putting him less than $5 billion away from becoming the world’s richest person.

Bezos saw his fortune surpass $80 billion for the first time, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The 53-year old has added $65.2 billion to his net worth since the index debuted in March 2012 and ended Thursday with a net worth of $79 billion. His net worth will surpass $80 billion on the index for the first time if the gains hold Friday.

Amazon shares added almost $50 after the company projected sales that may beat estimates in the current quarter, furthering an unbroken 20-year streak of double-digit revenue growth. Amazon had first-quarter sales of $35.7 billion and earnings of $1.48 a share, beating Wall Street analyst expectations. Shares closed at $918.38 Thursday and reached as high as $965 after hours.

The rise for Bezos beat the after-hours gains seen by Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The pair added $1.4 billion when shares of Google parent Alphabet Inc. rose as high as $938.18 on news that the smartphone ad business helped Alphabet post revenue of $20.12 billion and net income of $7.73 a share.

Page is now worth $44.7 billion and Brin $43.7 billion, the 11th- and 12th-richest people in the world Thursday.

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates has been No. 1 on the Bloomberg index since May 17, 2013. His fortune slipped $200 million to $87.1 billion after hours as Microsoft presented mixed results and slowing tablet sales growth.

Source: newsmax – Amazon Surge Places Bezos Within Billion of World’s Richest Crown

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Michelle Obama Won't Run for Office – for Sake of Children

Michelle Obama made what’s believed to be her first public appearance since leaving the White House and during  her speech on Thursday in Florida she repeated, again, that she won’t be running for office.

“Politics is tough, and it’s hard on a family,” Obama told the American Institute of Architects’ annual convention, the Orlando Sentinel reports. “I wouldn’t ask my children to do this again because, when you run for higher office, it’s not just you, it’s your whole family.”

Obama’s popularity as first lady hovered around 60 percent since 2009, said The Washington Post in December, citing various political polls over that period.

According to a January Gallup poll, her husband left office with a 58 percent favorable rating, while she was 10 percent higher at 68 percent.

She told the convention audience, though, that she didn’t see that as a pathway to running for office, noted the Sentinel.

“It’s all well and good until you start running, and then the knives come out,”

“Plus, there’s just so much more we can do outside of the office, because we won’t have the burden of political baggage,” Obama added.

Obama shared the same sentiment in December during an interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

“Look, that’s one thing I don’t do,” Obama said in the interview. “I don’t make stuff up. I’m not coy. I have proven that. I’m pretty direct. If I were interested in it, I’d say it.”

“It’s not something I would do. But it also speaks to the fact that people don’t really understand how hard this is. And it’s not something that you cavalierly just sort of ask a family to do again,” she continued.

Before becoming first lady, Obama worked at the University of Chicago as associate dean of student services and then vice president of community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Barack Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago and won seats in the Illinois State Senate and the U.S. Senate before becoming president.

Source: newsmax – Michelle Obama Won’t Run for Office – for Sake of Children

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Economic Growth Weakens to 3-Year Low of 0.7 Percent

The U.S. economy turned in the weakest performance in three years in the January-March quarter as consumers sharply slowed their spending. The result repeats a pattern that has characterized the recovery: lackluster beginnings to the year.

The gross domestic product, the total output of goods and services, grew by just 0.7 percent in the first quarter following a gain of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

The slowdown primarily reflected slower consumer spending, which grew by just 0.3 percent after a 3.5 percent gain in the fourth quarter. It was the poorest showing in more than seven years. Analysts blame in part the unusually warm winter, which meant less spending on utility bills.

Economists believe the slowdown will be temporary. They forecast GDP growth will rebound to 3 percent or better in the current quarter.

Averaging the two quarters, they forecast growth of around 2 percent for the first half of this year. That would be in line with the mediocre performance of the eight-year economic expansion, when growth has averaged just 2.1 percent, the poorest showing for any recovery in the post-World War II period.

President Donald Trump repeatedly attacked the weak GDP rates during the campaign as an example of the Obama administration’s failed economic policies. He said his program of tax cuts for individuals and businesses, deregulation and tougher enforcement of trade agreements would double growth to 4 percent or better.

In unveiling an outline of the administration’s tax proposals on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he believed growth above 3 percent would be achievable.

Private economists are more skeptical. They are forecasting growth of this year around 2.2 percent. That would be an improvement from last year’s 1.6 percent, the weakest showing in five years, but far below Trump’s goal. Many analysts believe that the impacts of Trump’s economic program will not be felt until 2018 because they are not expecting Congress to approve some version of Trump’s tax program until late this year.

The GDP report released Friday was the first of three estimates the government will make of first quarter growth.

The 0.7 percent increase was the worst showing since GDP contracted by 1.2 percent in the first quarter of 2014.

In addition to warmer weather holding back spending on utility bills, the slowdown also reflected a cutback in restocking of store shelves. The slowdown in inventory rebuilding cut nearly a percentage point from growth in the first quarter. Also acting as a drag was a reduction in government spending, which fell at a 1.7 percent annual rate with both the federal government and state and local governments seeing cuts.

On the positive side, business investment rose at a 9.4 percent rate, helped by a 449 percent surge in spending in the category that tracks spending in the energy sector. This category had seen sharp cutbacks in recent quarters, reflecting reductions in exploration and drilling as energy prices declined.

In recent years, the first quarter has often turned out to be the weakest for the year, reflecting in part problems the government has not been able to resolve in adjusting its figures for normal seasonal changes.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, which prepares the GDP report, has a three-year program aimed at addressing this problem, which has been particularly problematic in the first quarter. Analysts say that lingering issues in this area may artificially hold down Friday’s initial GDP estimate for the first quarter.

Many economists believe growth in the current April-June quarter will rebound to a rate of 3 percent or better as consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of economic activity, regains momentum.

“There are a lot of tailwinds behind consumers going into the spring, including low unemployment, better wage growth, high consumer confidence and record stock prices,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

Job growth was strong in January and February before slowing in March, and the unemployment rate is at a nearly decade-low of 4.5 percent.

Trump noted the weak 2016 GDP performance in a tweet Wednesday and contended that “trade deficits hurt the economy very badly.” For the first quarter, trade was actually a small positive after a major drag in the fourth quarter.

Part of the problem for the administration is that its efforts to boost the economy are coming after the economic expansion has been underway for nearly eight years. At this point in a recovery, stimulus measures tend to have less impact. The Federal Reserve, in fact, has begun raising interest rates to ensure that the tight job market doesn’t trigger high inflation pressures.

For now, analysts say they think Trump’s stimulus efforts and the Fed’s gradual tightening can co-exist. Yet they also caution that the Fed may eventually raise rates to a point where they will begin to constrain growth, making it harder for Trump to achieve his GDP goals.

Source: newsmax – Economic Growth Weakens to 3-Year Low of 0.7 Percent

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S&P Warns: Sears, 9 Other Public Retailers Most in Danger of Default

Researchers at S&P Global Market Intelligence recently released a list of 10 publicly traded retailers they consider most at risk of default within the next 12 months.

The firm’s analysis is based on industry factors, such as intensity of competition and barriers to entry, as well as company-specific metrics, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“The shift to online shopping has left a lot of financial distress in its wake,” Jim Elder, director of risk services at S&P, wrote in a research note. “The results from the first quarter do not suggest that a quick recovery is on the horizon,” quoted Elder as saying.

“The number of bankruptcies so far this year has already come close to the total in 2016, with 14 retailers filing compared with 18 last year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Payless Inc., RadioShack Corp. and Limited Stores Co. are among those that have sought relief from creditors,” the Journal explained.

Here’s S&P’s ranking:

  • Sears Holdings Corp.
  • DGSE Companies Inc.
  • Appliance Recycling Center of America Inc.
  • The Bon-Ton Stores Inc.
  • Bebe Stores Inc.
  • Destination XL Group Inc.
  • Perfumania Holdings Inc.
  • Fenix Parts Inc.
  • Tailored Brands Inc.
  • Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores Inc.

Retailers reportedly are filing for bankruptcy protection at a disturbing rate that’s flirting with recessionary levels.

Meanwhile, a steady stream of store closures continues to haunt the battered American retail industry.

“It’s only April, and nine retailers have already filed for bankruptcy since the start of the year — as many as all of last year,” Business Insider explained.

“2017 will be the year of retail bankruptcies,” Corali Lopez-Castro, a bankruptcy lawyer, told Business Insider. “Retailers are running out of cash, and the dominoes are starting to fall.”

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close over the next several months, BI reported.

Annual retail bankruptcies peaked at a total of 20 in 2008. The U.S. could hit that dismal milestone by September if the rate is sustained, CNBC has reported.

The pace of store closings this year is already ahead of 2008, that measurement’s most recent peak, according to Credit Suisse Group AG.

Steve Beaman, chairman the Society to Advance Financial Education, recently told Newsmax TV that mass store closures and layoffs by Sears, Macy’s and Kmart only prove that the retail industry continues to undergo a sea change because of online shopping.

And this seismic shift may soon extinguish a cultural landmark of the recent past – the American shopping mall.

JD Hayworth asked Beaman on Newsmax TV’s “America Talks Live” if malls are a relic of a bygone era.

“My personal opinion is they are,” he said. He cited many many requiring adults to chaperone those under the ages of 21 or 18.

“So we’re already going to see the demise of it being the hang out for kids and I think that will change the retailing habits of it. The overall security concerns of the brick-and-mortar retailers is going to become a draining cost on them. So, they’re going to think more and more let’s go to the internet,” he said.

To be sure, Newsmax Finance Insider Jeff Snyder said the retail malaise just may be indicative of a deeper economic malady.

“When analyzing the shift in consumer preferences it is usually presented as “all or nothing,” meaning that shoppers leaving brick-and-mortar stores are bestowed with a convenience option that they are exercising,” Snyder wrote for Newsmax Finance.

(Newsmax wires services the Associated Press, Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report).
Related Stories:

Source: newsmax – S&P Warns: Sears, 9 Other Public Retailers Most in Danger of Default

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Obama Disses Trump's Twitter Use

Former President Barack Obama criticized President Donald Trump’s frequent use of Twitter during an appearance Thursday, according to the New York Post.

Interviewer Doris Kearns Goodwin, at an advertising event for the A&E TV network, asked Obama how he handled moments of frustration during his presidency.

“For starters, by not having a Twitter account,” Obama responded.

The former president earned $400,000 for the appearance, the same as his fee for a September speech at a Wall Street bank-sponsored healthcare event, The Post reported.

Obama’s $400,000 fee drew criticism, but his spokesman Eric Schultz defended it, saying the former president would remain true to his values and his vision in his speeches regardless of payment.

Source: newsmax – Obama Disses Trump’s Twitter Use

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State Dept. Wants to Clear Nikki Haley's Comments in Advance

The State Department wants to clear all remarks by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley before she speaks, The New York Times is reporting.

The outspoken Haley often comments on major foreign policy issues, ranging from military strikes on Syria to sanctions against Russia. And much of the time her words come as a surprise to officials at the State Department, according to the Times.

Officials are urging her to rely on “building blocks” prepared by the department to prepare her remarks, the newspaper reported.

If she substantially differs from the building blocks, particularly on high profile issues such as Syrian, Iran, Israel-Palestine or North Korea, her comments should be “re-cleared from Washington,” according to a State Department email viewed by the newspaper.

Haley has praised President Donald Trump for letting her speak out on major policy issues.

“He has given me a lot of leeway to just say what I think and interpret what he thinks,” Haley an interview with CNN. “I would never go rogue, because I’m very aware of who I work for.

“I’m a strong voice by nature. I’m sometimes a bull in a china shop. And, you know, he allows me to do that.”

Trump has joked about firing Haley, The Washington Post reported.

“Now, does everybody like Nikki?” Trump asked at a meeting of U.N. Security Council ambassadors and their spouses. “Otherwise she could easily be replaced. Right?”

But he quickly added: “No, we won’t do that. I promise. She’s doing a fantastic job.”

Source: newsmax – State Dept. Wants to Clear Nikki Haley’s Comments in Advance

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Tillerson Eyes 9 Percent Cut in State Department Workforce

The State Department plans to cut 2,300 U.S. diplomats and civil servants — about 9 percent of the Americans in its workforce worldwide — as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson presses ahead with his task of slashing the agency’s budget, according to people familiar with the matter.

The majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, will come through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been publicly announced. William Inglee, a former Lockheed Martin Corp. official and policy adviser in Congress, was hired to help oversee the budget cuts and briefed senior managers on the plan Wednesday, the people said.

The personnel cuts, which may be phased in over two years, represent the most concrete step taken by Tillerson as he seeks to reverse the expansion the department saw under former President Barack Obama’s administration and meet President Donald Trump’s demand — outlined in an executive order signed last month — to cut spending across federal agencies. A draft budget outline released in March for the year that begins Oct. 1 seeks a 28.5 percent reduction in State Department spending from fiscal 2016.

The proposed cuts reflect a belief shared by many conservatives that the State Department and other government agencies have grown too large and drifted away from their core missions. Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas, according to one person familiar with his thinking.

Current and former diplomats fear that the cuts will bite into the work of the State Department and undermine the voice of the U.S. overseas.

‘Simply Mindless’

“Just cutting without deciding what change you want to make is simply mindless,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs who served as U.S. ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union.

“A new administration is right to look at what Cabinet departments do, but does it want the United States to do less in the world — and if so, exactly what?” he added. “Those are the questions that need to be answered before you make big cuts at State.”

The planned jobs cuts come as the State Department is preparing a major reorganization of its work and mission. The rethinking is part of a process of asking if the State Department is “set up to meet the needs of the next two decades” after 16 years focused on counterterrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to R.C. Hammond, Tillerson’s communications adviser.

90-Day Mark

Tillerson will address staff next week to mark the first 90 days since he came into office to tell them his vision for the department, Hammond said. In excerpts of an interview with NPR News airing Friday, Tillerson said the department’s mission is to deliver on Trump’s policies to “to provide the national security needs of the American people and to advance America’s economic interests around the world.”

“I think the issue for us is how well we deliver on that mission through all of the various aspects of what the State Department does, from diplomacy to our assistance programs to helping nations that are just emerging to dealing with conflicts,” he said.

That reorganization plan will also involve a survey that will be sent next week to all 75,000 or so State Department staff, including foreigners, as well as employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development and diplomats’ family members to determine whether they have the resources they need to do their jobs.

“Do you have the tools you need to do your job? If you do, what’s working and if you don’t, what do you think you need?” Hammond said. “And from there you will see what comes back and will make the next decision.”

Hiring Pace

The survey, being conducted by consulting company Insigniam, will later select several hundred State Department and U.S. AID staff and diplomats for in-person interviews. Hammond said there wouldn’t be a conflict between cutting spending and the outreach to see if employees have the resources they need.

“This is what we work out through the budget process,” Hammond said. “Our plan is to start with priorities and work backwards. You start with the resources you do have and you prioritize your choices.”

State Department officials are also seeking to ease concerns about the slow pace of hiring in the department: Almost all Senate-confirmed jobs, including ambassadorships and assistant secretaries, remain unannounced.

Policy is being determined by a relatively small group that includes Tillerson, policy planning chief Brian Hook, chief of staff Margaret Peterlin and a few acting assistant secretaries of state at regional bureaus.

But the lack of clarity has damaged morale among the department’s rank and file, according to the people. Departments are supposed to be in the thick of planning for the 2018 and even the 2019 budgets, and many of those conversations have been frozen by a lack of clarity.

“They’re behind the curve, but they’re not totally off base,” said Richard Boucher, a former assistant secretary of state under secretaries from both parties. “Generally I’d say people don’t have a sense of direction, and the rumors of what the reorganization is going to look like are just rampant and nobody knows if jobs are going to be there and what’s going to happen.”

Source: newsmax – Tillerson Eyes 9 Percent Cut in State Department Workforce

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New Scrutiny of Timeline After Arkansas Executes 4th Inmate

Arkansas wrapped up an accelerated executions schedule with a lethal injection that left the condemned inmate lurching and convulsing before he died, prompting calls for investigations and renewed scrutiny of the state’s efforts to put multiple inmates to death on a compressed timeline.

Kenneth Williams on Thursday became the fourth convicted killer executed in Arkansas in eight days as the state sought to carry out as many lethal injections as possible before one of its drugs expires Sunday.

An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution said that about three minutes in, Williams’ body jerked 15 times in quick succession — lurching violently against the leather restraint across his chest — then the rate slowed for a final five movements.

J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson who did not witness the execution, called the movements “an involuntary muscular reaction” that he said was a widely known effect of the surgical sedative midazolam, the first of three drugs administered.

Williams’ attorneys released a statement calling witness accounts “horrifying” and demanding an investigation into what they called the “problematic execution.”

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before one of its lethal injection drugs expires on Sunday. That would have been the most in such a short time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but courts issued stays for four of the inmates. The four lethal injections that were carried out included Monday’s first double execution in the United States since 2000.

Williams read a prepared final statement before the execution began, apologizing to the families he “senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones.” He also spoke in tongues, the unintelligible but language-like speech used in some religions. But his prayer faded off as the midazolam took effect. He said, “The words that I speak will forever be, will forever …” before he fell silent.

The inmate breathed heavily through his nose until just after three minutes into his execution, when his chest leaped forward in a series of what seemed like involuntary movements. His right hand never clenched and his face remained what one media witness called “serene.”

After the jerking, Williams breathed through his mouth and moaned or groaned once — during a consciousness check — until falling still seven minutes into the lethal injection.

A Friday morning tweet from the account of a Republican state Sen. Trent Garner, who witnessed the execution, said Williams did not “seem in pain. … It was not cruel, unusual, botched or torture.”

Williams was sentenced to death for killing a former deputy warden, Cecil Boren, after he escaped from prison in 1999. At the time of his escape in a 500-gallon barrel of hog slop, Williams was less than three weeks into a life term for the death of a college cheerleader.

“Any amount of movement he might have had was far less than any of his victims,” said Jodie Efird, one of Boren’s daughters, who witnessed the execution.

State officials have called Arkansas’ string of executions a success, declaring justice served and “closure” for victims’ families. Some concerns had been raised about Monday’s execution of Jack Jones, whose mouth moved after attorneys said he should have been unconscious, though a federal judge determined it did not appear to be “torturous and inhumane.”

All of the Arkansas inmates — including Williams — have died within 20 minutes of their executions beginning, a contrast from troubled midazolam-related executions in other states that took anywhere from 43 minutes to two hours. Though witnesses to those lengthier executions also described hearing inmates breathe heavily, snore or snort or seeing them struggle against their restraints.

“The long path of justice ended tonight and Arkansans can reflect on the last two weeks with confidence that our system of laws in this state has worked,” Hutchinson said in a statement issued after Williams’ execution.

Davis, the governor’s spokesman, said later that he was sure Hutchinson would follow up “as he does with every execution,” but that the governor was confident the Department of Correction “did what it was supposed to do.”

Davis stood by his previous description of the state’s executions as “flawless.”

Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who witnessed a flawed 2014 Arizona execution that took two hours, said in an email early Friday that after reading media reports, “It appears from witness accounts that Mr. Williams was not fully sedated when the paralytic was administered.

“At a minimum, this was a deviation from the protocol.”

Williams’ lawyers had said he had sickle cell trait, lupus and brain damage, and argued the combined maladies could subject him to an exceptionally painful execution in violation of the U.S. Constitution. They argued Arkansas’ “one size fits all” execution protocol could have left him in pain after a paralytic agent rendered him unable to move. State and federal courts rejected the claims.

Williams was sentenced to death for killing Boren after escaping from the Cummins Unit prison in a barrel holding a mishmash of kitchen scraps. He left the prison — where the execution chamber is located in another part of the facility — less than three weeks into a life prison term for killing University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique Hurd in 1998.

At the conclusion of that trial, he had taunted the young woman’s family by turning to them after the sentence was announced and saying “You thought I was going to die, didn’t you?”

After jumping from the barrel, he sneaked along a tree line until reaching Boren’s house. He killed Boren, stole guns and Boren’s truck and then drove away to Missouri. There, he crashed into a water-delivery truck, killing the driver. While in prison, he confessed to killing another person in 1998.

At the time of Boren’s death, investigators said it did not appear Boren was targeted because of his former employment by the Arkansas Department of Correction.

Source: newsmax – New Scrutiny of Timeline After Arkansas Executes 4th Inmate

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Every Combat Fighting Course Isn’t The Same – SEALFIT Gives You More

During my time in the Army. All 8 years of the time I spent in old BDU’s was an adventure when time for the combat fighting course time came around.. Of course, my adventures during the last four years were spent primarily out of BDU’s (Battle Dress Uniform) and in civilian clothes. Being attached to a special missions unit like SOCEUR was definitely like nothing else in the Army. When you are primarily assigned to a joint operations unit, the training can become very ingenious. Cost is usually of the least of the unit’s concern.

Our hand to hand training was taught by a NAVY SEAL in the J2 section. He was a boyish face man with the hulking physique of what could be easily deemed a football tight end in today’s sports. I can recall watching this guy swim like the proverbial seal. And of course he drank many of us under the table during trips down rang in Stuttgart. He was a very cool friend and when it came down to missions and training , nothing else consumed him more.

I opened up a current email authored by Mark Devine. a NAVY SEAL officer, who runs the SEALFit training. Have a look see at the enclosed email and please respond via the comments section if you have any questions regarding getting setup with the SEALFit program in your area.

BUDs combat fighting course going into the sea

I told you how much of what I’ve incorporated into your SEALFIT training goes back to my BUD/S days…

Specifically, to a program that was part of the Combat Fighting Course. One of the key elements you learn is that your fitness level often has little to do with your ability to successfully handle violence.

Tim showed me story after story of even world-class martial artists severely beaten or even killed when going against simple street thugs.

One I remember was a skilled and highly successful combat sports competitor jumped by two men with knives in a Vegas parking lot where Tim lives.

After a classic takedown and knockout of one guy, this competitor had a textbook arm bar on the second…

…When the guy suddenly taps out. And just as he trained the combat sports competitor let go… only to be stabbed multiple times. He survived but lives with lifelong issues from his wounds.

“But, no one in their right mind would choose to let go of the arm with the knife!”

And you’re correct – no one would willingly choose that action if the choice were presented to them any other time.

The thing about training – you ingrain your choices ahead of time, patterning yourself for the way you want to behave in future situations.

The problem is that few of us understand just how bad actual violence really is. And unless you take your brain (and your training) into this admittedly horrid world of criminal violence BEFORE it happens for real.

You’ll likely end up as the competitor above – in a place where even your elite level of fitness can’t save you.

It’s a bad time for on-the-job training.

What Tim is offering you today – for free – takes your brain into this world and back out again, without the consequences the fighter above lives with.

There’s no question. it’s highly disturbing and beyond ugly.

A place no one likes, including me.

But it’s nothing compared to the alternative.

If for no other reason than to make sure YOUR brain understands what it likely doesn’t today don’t miss this opportunity to get Tim’s free material now.

And if not for you, for others that may depend on you.



After reading all of the above would you still attempt to take the SEALfit training regimen called the Combat Fighting Course? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

China Welcomes US Saying It's Open to Talks on NKorea

China on Thursday welcomed an apparently softer tone by the United States on the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis but stressed its opposition to a U.S. missile defence system being deployed in South Korea.

China has long promoted dialogue to resolve the “Korean nuclear issue” as North Korea has repeatedly threatened to destroy the United States which in turn has warned that “all options are on the table” in ending North Korean provocations.

The Trump administration said on Wednesday it aimed to push North Korea into dismantling its nuclear and missile programmes, which are in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, through tougher international sanctions and diplomatic pressure.

“The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies,” it said in a statement.

Asked about the U.S. comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had noted that many U.S. officials had recently made such remarks.

“We have noted these expressions, and have noted the message conveyed in these expressions hoping to resolve the Korean nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue and consultation,” he said.

“We believe this message is positive and should be affirmed.”

South Korea and the United States agreed on Thursday on “swift punitive measures” against North Korea in the event of further provocation. The South also said the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile defence system was moving ahead effectively a day after angry protests against the battery and fierce opposition from China.

South Korea on Wednesday moved parts of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to its deployment site on a golf course about 250 km (155 miles) south of the capital, Seoul, signalling a faster installation of the system.

Several hundred South Korean villagers protested near the site, hurling water bottles at vehicles moving the parts in.


The top U.S. Commander in the Pacific, Admiral Harry Harris, said on Wednesday the THAAD system would be operational “in coming days” bolstering the ability to defend the U.S. ally and the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed there.

A photograph taken of the site showed a THAAD interceptor on the back of a mobile launcher erected and pointed skywards on green lawn as a military transport helicopter hovered nearby.

China says the system’s advanced radar can penetrate deep into its territory and undermine its security. It is adamant in its opposition.

China’s Defence Ministry, asked about THAAD, said on Thursday it would conduct live fire drills and test new weapons to safeguard its national security.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats described North Korea on Wednesday as “an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority”.

The U.S. signal of a willingness to exhaust non-military avenues came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group approached Korean waters, where it will join the USS Michigan nuclear submarine.

North Korea, which conducted its biggest ever artillery exercise to mark the 85th anniversary of its military’s creation on Tuesday, says it needs to develop weapons to defend itself from U.S. aggression.

A North Korean official speaking on CNN said the country would not be influenced by outside events.

“As long as America continues its hostile acts of aggression, we will never stop nuclear and missile tests,” said Sok Chol Won, director of the North’s Institute of Human Rights at the Academy of Social Sciences.

Moon Jae-in, the front-runner in South Korea’s May 9 presidential election, has called for a delay in THAAD deployment, saying a decision should be made after gathering public opinion and more talks with Washington.

Source: newsmax – China Welcomes US Saying It’s Open to Talks on NKorea

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Dish Reaches Agreement With Hearst TV Stations

Dish Network and Hearst Television have reached a new retransmission consent agreement covering the broadcaster’s 31 local stations.

Terms of the multi-year deal were not disclosed. The deal ends a blackout of Hearst stations on Dish services that began in early March, affecting stations in 26 markets, including Boston, Baltimore, Milwaukee, New Orleans and Orlando, Fla.

Dish has, in recent years, engaged in frequent retrans standoffs with broadcast groups including Sinclair Broadcast Group, Tribune Media, Tegna Media and CBS Corp. Hearst, for its part, saw its stations go dark on DirecTV for six days in January while a retrans deal was hammered out.

Tensions between programmers and distributors are rising at a time when both sides are feeling the effects of heightened competition for viewers and new entrants in the pay-TV eco-system, including a number of so-called “skinny bundles,” broadband-delivered channel packages.

Dish and other MVPDs have pushed for the overhaul of FCC rules governing retransmission consent agreements. Broadcasters, however, argue that private negotiations for retrans rights helps ensures they receive fair value for the share of viewing on MVPD platforms generated by local TV stations.

Hearst’s TV station assets include 15 ABC affiliates and 12 NBC affiliates.

Source: newsmax – Dish Reaches Agreement With Hearst TV Stations

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NASA Spent $200M Past 10 Years on Unfinished Spacesuit

NASA has spent close to $200 million on a project over the past 10 years that is nowhere near finished, USA Today reported.

Space auditors Wednesday reported the space agency had failed to make headway on creating a new spacesuit ready for deep space exploration missions despite heavy funding for the project, which continued in 2011 with additional funding after the Johnson Space Center recommended it be terminated.

“We question the agency’s decision to continue to fund the contract after Johnson [Space Center’s] leadership recommended its termination,” auditors wrote in the 52-page report.

NASA, meanwhile, failed to focus on its current inventory of suits used for ISS spacewalks through 2024 as a result, a challenge that will “escalate significantly,” USA Today reported, if the station’s life is extended to 2028. 

Source: newsmax – NASA Spent 0M Past 10 Years on Unfinished Spacesuit

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Lawyer Threatens Fox Host: 'We Brought O'Reilly Down. Maybe You Should Be Next'

The lawyer who played a role in getting Bill O’Reilly fired from Fox News is now targeting the former host’s protégé for making what she felt was a sexually suggestive remark on the air.

Lisa Bloom, the daughter of civil rights attorney Gloria Allred, tweeted her disgust at what some claimed was an inappropriate comment by Fox News’ Jesse Watters on Tuesday night:

Watters, a political humorist who debuted Monday on Fox News’ “The Five” when the show moved from the 5 p.m. slot to 9 p.m., had this to say about Ivanka Trump during Tuesday’s show:

Bloom later said this:

Bloom represented three women who accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment over the years. It was reported in early April that O’Reilly and Fox News paid off five women over the years who claimed O’Reilly verbally or sexually harassed them. Last week, Fox fired O’Reilly after severe public backlash that included advertisers dropping their support of his show.

Source: newsmax – Lawyer Threatens Fox Host: ‘We Brought O’Reilly Down. Maybe You Should Be Next’

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Chaffetz Leaves Congress for Month Amid Medical Emergency

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, announced Wednesday an old injury triggered a health emergency that will likely keep him out of work for up to a month.

In an Instagram post, the GOP chairman of the House Oversight Committee said doctors at the University of Utah recommended he get immediate surgery to prevent a serious infection from screws still in his foot after a fall from a ladder 12 years ago.

With a busy agenda ahead for House Republicans — both on healthcare and government funding – Chaffetz said he regretted he will not be able to help work out those major issues.

“My recovery is expected to take three to four weeks,” he wrote. “I’m sorry to miss the important work we are doing in Washington . . . but medical emergencies are never convenient.”

Last week, the Utah lawmaker shocked Washington with an announcement he will not seek re-election next year, suggesting he might leave Washington even before the end of his term.

Source: newsmax – Chaffetz Leaves Congress for Month Amid Medical Emergency

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Report: Trump Restores Troop-Level Authority to Pentagon

President Donald Trump has reportedly given Secretary of Defense James Mattis the authority to determine troop levels for the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

“At the request of Secretary of Defense Mattis, the president has delegated force management authority to the secretary,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway told CNN.

The change was first reported by BuzzFeed News.

Under the Obama administration, troop levels were set by the White House, and staff were deeply involved in setting its limits compared to previous administrations, CNN reported.

The Pentagon characterized the change as a return to previous practice.

“The Secretary of Defense has historically maintained force management authority during contingency operations,” Rankine-Galloway said.

“This is not new. This restores that authority and is a more effective way of managing combat power.”

The troop levels for Syria are currently 503, but the number of troops on the ground is closer to 1,000, CNN reported. In Iraq, the “real number” of troops ia bout 7,000, CNN reported.

The change does not effect the current deployment numbers, nor does it “portend a change in our mission in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS,” Rankine-Galloway told CNN.

“Our strategy remains to work by, with, and through local forces and to conduct all operations in Iraq with the approval of the government of Iraq,” he told the outlet.

Rankine-Galloway told CNN the change will let “military commanders to become more agile, adaptive, and efficient in supporting our partners.”

Source: newsmax – Report: Trump Restores Troop-Level Authority to Pentagon

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French Intel Report: Obama Deal Failure, Syria Maintains Chemical Weapons Arsenal

A declassified French intelligence report showing the April 4 sarin attack in Syria was carried out by the Assad regime also underscores the failure of the Obama administration chemical weapons deal.

The Syrian government was supposed to give up its chemical weapons arsenal in 2014 under the deal promoted by the Obama administration, but the French report, posted by The Daily Caller, came to a different conclusion.

Using evidence from the deadly April 4 attack, the French evaluation found that not only was Assad’s regime behind the massacre, but that measures to ensure Assad gave up his stockpile were inadequate.

“France assesses that major doubts remain as to the accuracy, exhaustiveness and sincerity of the decommissioning of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal,” the 6-page report states.

“In particular, France assesses that Syria has maintained a capacity to produce or stock sarin, despite its commitment to destroy all stocks and capacities. Lastly, France assesses that Syria has not declared tactical munitions (grenades and rockets) such as those repeatedly used since 2013.”

The Assad regime was required to disclose and relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile as part of a 2013 agreement, partially facilitated by Assad’s ally Russia. The Obama administration promoted the agreement and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body that monitors such accords, called the agreement a success, the Daily Caller noted.

“France informed the OPCW that Syria’s explanations on the quantities of [sarin] declared — approximately 20 tons — as having been used in tests or lost in accidents were exaggerated,” said the report.

Additionally, French intelligence noted attempts on the part of Syria to acquire “dozens of tons” of isopropanol, a key component in sarin, since 2014.

Source: newsmax – French Intel Report: Obama Deal Failure, Syria Maintains Chemical Weapons Arsenal

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Steven Mnuchin: Tax Plan Aimed to Help Middle Class, Not Rich

President Donald Trump’s tax plan unveiled Wednesday aims to help middle-income Americans by creating jobs and growing the economy, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The plan also is about making tax filing simpler by limiting most deductions, while doubling the personal deduction, Mnuchin told Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

“The effective tax rate will not be a reduction for the rich,” Mnuchin said, answering a common criticism of Democrats.

Carlson asked if that meant the rich would pay higher taxes.

“We’ll see,” Mnuchin said. “It won’t be a reduction. It is about creating jobs.”

The purpose of the plan, which is short on details, is middle-class tax cuts and lowering taxes on businesses to make them more competitive, Mnuchin said.

“We have high business rates; we tax on worldwide income,” he said. “This is all about changing that. This is about massive reductions in business rates, for corporations, and for small businesses. Many studies show that 70 percent of the tax burden falls on American workers.”

The secretary said he would hope that would help lure Democratic support.

“This is good for America, good for the economy,” he said.

Trump’s overall goal is creating growth whether that be through trade policies, regulatory relief or tax cuts, Mnuchin said.

The plan will be hard to pass before summer, though the administration wants to “do this fast,” he said.

Source: newsmax – Steven Mnuchin: Tax Plan Aimed to Help Middle Class, Not Rich

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Scientists Grow Mini-Brains With Human Retinas in Lab

Researchers have grown mini-brains, including one with a human retina, in labs — breakthroughs scientists said could eventually lead to gains in learning about Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Daily Mail, researchers at Stanford University used human skin cells, stem cells, and genes to create what’s called forebrains. The mini organs are 1/16 of an inch across and have circuits similar to what a two-month-old fetus has.

A separate research team at Harvard University was able to create a forebrain that contained a human retina, which was sensitive to light just like a human eye.

Professor Paul Matthews of Imperial College London told The Daily Mail, “These reports describe continued advances of the fundamentally important new methods for a generation of self-assembled ‘brain organoids.’ This is thrilling science.”

The development could help scientists study how epilepsy, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease develop in the human brain.

The BBC spoke with another scientist last fall about her brain-growing project, in which she had 200 mini-brains developing in petri dishes. The finished product were specimens four millimeters wide with roughly two million neurons each.

Source: newsmax – Scientists Grow Mini-Brains With Human Retinas in Lab

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Le Pen Upstages Macron in Battle for Blue-Collar Votes

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen turned an appliance factory into a battleground Wednesday for France’s blue-collar vote, upstaging rival Emmanuel Macron with a surprise campaign stop at the plant threatened with closure.

Chaotic scenes followed as Macron, a pro-European Union centrist, sought to wrestle back the initiative by making his own, impromptu stop at the Whirlpool clothes-dryer plant in Amiens, spending over an hour in Le Pen’s wake trying to reason with angry employees who asked why the former finance minister hadn’t come there earlier.

The remarkable drama, broadcast live on French news channels, transformed the plant in northern France into a symbol of the diametrically opposed campaigns of Le Pen and Macron before their May 7 runoff election.

As Macron met elsewhere with the workers’ union leaders, Le Pen displayed her political guile by grabbing the spotlight and popping up outside the factory itself. Surrounded by employees in bright-yellow hazard vests, she declared herself the workers’ candidate and vowed that if elected, she would not let the factory close.

“We’ll get you out of here,” Le Pen said as she hugged a woman in the crowd outside the plant, its fences decorated with workers’ banners. “I am the candidate of workers, the candidate of the French who don’t want their jobs taken away.”

Her wily campaign maneuver stole Macron’s thunder and put him on the defensive. It prompted him to make his own trip to the factory a few hours later — which quickly looked like he had fallen into a trap set by Le Pen. Live TV coverage of his visit looked chaotic and potentially damaging, with people whistling, booing and chanting “Marine, president!” in the background.

“Why didn’t you come before?” one woman asked.

“Save our jobs, Monsieur Macron!” yelled a man.

But Macron, appearing in a suit and tie amid the workers, held his ground. Where Le Pen’s visit was short — with a few selfies, hugs, kisses and a quick speech to the cameras — Macron spent over an hour patiently, and at times passionately, explaining in often-heated exchanges that as president, he wouldn’t be able to stop companies from laying off workers. The back and forth was shown live on Macron’s Facebook page, signaling a desire not to let Le Pen hog the limelight.

“I won’t lie to you,” he said. “There is no miracle recipe.”

The contrasting images of Le Pen smiling with workers and Macron debating them spoke to her political experience and laid bare their contrasting styles.

The 48-year-old populist is fighting her second presidential campaign after coming in third in 2012, while the 39-year-old former investment banker is waging his first, having never held elected office.

Le Pen hit Macron close to home with her politicking: He was born in Amiens.

Needing millions more votes to beat Macron in the runoff, Le Pen hammered home her arguments that more French jobs would be lost abroad under Macron’s more economically liberal program.

“I’m here, in my place, exactly where I should be, in the midst of Whirlpool’s employees, these employees who are resisting this wild globalization, this shameful economic model,” Le Pen said.

In a dig at Macron’s meeting with union leaders, she added: “I’m not eating little cakes with a few representatives who, in reality, represent only themselves.”

During an evening political rally in nearby Arras, Macron tried to reverse the unflattering image he gave in the afternoon. He vehemently attacked Le Pen, saying she “stirs up hatred, lies, speaks about fears in order to use them, but gives no answers.”

While Le Pen presents herself as an anti-establishment candidate, Macron claimed on the contrary that she is “the heiress of this system. She was born in a party castle, even if she claims to be from the people.”

He also criticized Le Pen for proposing that the French state take a share in the plant if needed. He dismissed such an idea, saying in an interview with BFM TV channel that “the mission of a state is not to produce clothes dryers.”

In Arras, Macron also tried to appeal to left-wing voters and non-voters.

“Faced with this threat, facing those who hate the Republic and create disorder and hatred, choose a camp,” he said. “I need your vote. Your vote is not a blank check.”

Even before Le Pen’s surprise appearance at the plant, Macron’s intervention in the Whirlpool factory’s future, in a region where Le Pen got more votes in Sunday’s first-round balloting, was fraught with risk. He had to tread a fine line between defending his program to tackle France’s chronic unemployment without falling into the trap of making campaign promises that he may struggle to keep.

Because production at the Whirlpool plant is due to stop next year and move to Poland, the workers’ plight is a prickly issue for Macron as he campaigns on a pro-EU platform.

Le Pen seized on Whirlpool as a sign of the EU’s ills, calling it “the symbol of this odious globalization, which leads to plants moving abroad, destroying thousands of jobs.”

Macron insisted he did the right thing by meeting with union leaders before going the factory itself.

“If you don’t speak to employees’ representatives and engage in direct democracy, using invective or false promises, you don’t solve any of the country’s problems,” he said.

He shot down Le Pen’s plans to re-establish French borders — part of her program calling for “French-first” economic and social protectionism.

“The closure of borders is a promise made of lies,” Macron said.

The Amiens factory joins a list of threatened plants that have become symbolic of job losses in French presidential campaigns.

In the 2012 race, Socialist Francois Hollande traveled to a threatened steel plant in eastern France’s rust belt in a similar pursuit of blue-collar votes. Union leaders later felt betrayed when the Hayange plant’s blast furnaces were mothballed in a deal that Hollande’s government struck with steel giant ArcelorMittal.

John Leicester reported from Paris. Philippe Sotto contributed to this report.

A previous version of this story has been corrected to show that production at the Whirlpool plant is scheduled to halt next year, not this year.

Source: newsmax – Le Pen Upstages Macron in Battle for Blue-Collar Votes

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Monday, April 24, 2017

New Google algorithm destroys search rankings for old media sites

Uh oh, here comes Google’s Fred…

Has Google’s “Fred” update killed your search engine rankings? Bring them back from the dead with our best practices for ads and links!

This Google update was designed to favor websites that put a positive user experience over getting favorable search results, and among the hardest hit are sites that Google deems as too ad-heavy and/or that offer low value content. The drop in traffic directed to such sites, which includes many affiliate marketing websites, has been reported to be anywhere from 50% to 90%.

The bad news is that this algorithm shift not only affected sites that prioritize SEO over user experience, but also quality sites that offer an excellent user experience, yet may have some structural and content-related pitfalls.

The good news is that there are several steps you can take to improve the quality of your site, recover your webpage rankings, and safeguard it from any future updates to Google’s algorithm.

eBay’s head of SEO contributed to an in-depth blog post that provides an analysis on the update, and what you can do to stay relevant.

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