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More Americans are moving to smaller cities in search of a better quality of life.

They’re leaving places like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York for mid-sized cities such as Phoenix, Las Vegas and Dallas, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A huge draw for these second-tier cities is that the cost of housing consumes a much smaller chunk of people’s salaries. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of the people who move do so for housing-related reasons. They’re looking for a new or better home, cheaper housing, or to buy a home rather than rent.

It costs about $4,100 a month to rent a place in Manhattan. That’s almost two-thirds of New York City’s median household income of $83,500. Buying a home is even more out of reach. The average cost of a home in the area is $1.1 million.

More than half a million people left the New York boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens over a five-year period between 2012 and 2017.

In Los Angeles, the metropolitan county with the largest outbound net domestic migration, rent costs about $2,100 a month — about 38 percent of average income. Houses cost around $630,000, almost 10 times the average annual salary of $66,000.

LA County lost about 381,000 people over a five-year period.

According to the report, the cost of living can be a lot less expensive in the Phoenix area, which welcomed more net domestic newcomers over the past five years — 221,000 people — than any other part of the country.

The average household income in Phoenix is about $63,000, rent is about $1,100 a month, and the median price of a house is $280,000 — that’s $350,000 less than in the LA metropolitan area.

In the Las Vegas area, the rent ($1,000) will only consume 21 percent of the average salary ($57,000) and purchasing a house would set a buyer back about $273,000.

 

The analysis found that housing is about two times cheaper in the top markets that attracted people than in the areas that are losing the most in terms of population.

Chicago appears to be an exception. People are leaving the Windy City to get away from high taxes. Property taxes are higher there than almost anywhere else in the United States.

It is not as though the places that are losing people are suffering due to the exodus. Eight of the 10 counties with the biggest net population losses are still growing overall because of births and immigration.

Sears has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, buckling under its massive debt load and staggering losses. 

Sears once dominated the American retail landscape. But the big question is whether the shrunken version of itself can be viable or will it be forced to go out of business, closing the final chapter for an iconic name that originated more than a century ago.

Holdings will also close 142 unprofitable stores near the end of the year. Liquidation sales at these stores are expected to begin shortly. This is in addition to the previously announced closure of 46 unprofitable stores that is expected to be completed by November 2018.

The company, which started out as a mail order catalog in the 1880s, has been on a slow march toward extinction as it lagged far behind its peers and has incurred massive losses over the years. The operator of Sears and Kmart stores joins a growing list of retailers that have filed for bankruptcy or liquidated in the last few years amid a fiercely competitive climate. Some like Payless ShoeSource have had success emerging from reorganization in bankruptcy court but plenty of others haven’t, like Toys R Us and Bon-Ton Stores Inc. Both retailers were forced to shutter their operations this year soon after a Chapter 11 filing. 

“This is a company that in the 1950s stood like a colossus over the American retail landscape,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. “Hopefully, a smaller new Sears will be healthier.”

Given its sheer size, Sears’ bankruptcy filing will have wide ripple effects on everything from already ailing landlords to its tens of thousands of workers. 

Edward S. Lampert has stepped down from his role as CEO of the company, effective immediately. He will remain chairman of the board. The company’s board has created an Office of the CEO, which will be responsible for managing day-to-day operations during this process.

The filing, which is happening ahead of the crucial holiday shopping season, comes after rescue efforts engineered by Lampert have kept it outside of bankruptcy court – until now. 

Lampert, the largest shareholder, has been loaning out his own money for years and has put together deals to prop up the company, which in turn has benefited his own ESL hedge fund.

Last year, Sears sold its famous Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker Inc., following its earlier moves to spin off pieces of its Sears Hometown and Outlet division and Lands’ End.

In recent weeks, Lampert has been pushing for a debt restructuring and offering to buy some of Sears’ key assets like Kenmore through his hedge fund as a $134 million debt repayment comes due on Monday. Lampert personally owns 31 percent of the company’s shares. His hedge fund has an 18.5 percent stake, according to FactSet.

“It is all well and good to undertake financial engineering, but the company is in the business of retailing and without a clear retail plan, the firm simply has no reason to exist,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, in a recent analyst note.

Sears’ stock has fallen from about $6 over the past year to below the minimum $1 level that Nasdaq stocks are required to trade in order to remain on the stock index. In April 2007, shares were trading at around $141. The company, which once had 350,000 workers, has seen its workforce shrink to fewer than 90,000 people as of earlier this year.

The company has racked up $6.26 billion in losses, excluding one-time events, since its last annual profit in 2010, according to Ken Perkins, who heads the research firm Retail Metrics LLC. It’s had 11 years of straight annual drops in revenue. In its last fiscal year, it generated $16.7 billion in sales, down from more than $50 billion in 2008.

As of May, it had fewer than 900 stores, down from about 1,000 at the end of last year. The number of stores peaked in 2012 at 4,000, including its Sears Canada division that was later spun off.

In a March 2017 government filing, Sears said there was “substantial doubt” it would be able to keep its doors open – but insisted its turnaround efforts would mitigate that risk. 

But its losses continued into this year. In the fiscal second quarter ended Aug. 4, net losses in the quarter swelled to $508 million, or $4.68 per share, compared with a loss of $250 million, or $2.33 cents per share in the same quarter a year ago. 

Such financial woes contrast with the promise that Lampert made when he combined Sears and Kmart in 2005, two years after he helped bring Kmart out of bankruptcy. Back then, it operated 2,200 stores in total.

Lampert pledged to return Sears to greatness by leveraging its best-known brands and its vast holdings of land, and more recently planned to entice customers with a loyalty program. But it struggled to get more people through the doors or to shop online. 

Jennifer Roberts, 36 of Dayton, Ohio, had been a long-time fan of Sears and has fond memories of shopping there for clothes as a child. But in recent years, she’s been disappointed by the lack of customer service and outdated stores. 

“My mom had always bought her appliances from Sears. That’s where my dad got his tools,” she said. “But they don’t care about their customers anymore.” 

She said a refrigerator her mother bought at Sears broke after two years and it still hasn’t been fixed for almost a month with no help from the retailer. 

“If they don’t value a customer, then they don’t need my money,” said Roberts, who voiced her complaints on Sears’ Facebook page. 

Sales at the company’s established locations tumbled nearly 4 percent during its fiscal second quarter. Still, that was an improvement from the same period a year ago when it fell 11.5 percent. Total revenue dropped 30 percent in the most recent quarter, hurt by continued store closings. 

The bleak figures are an outlier to chains like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Macy’s, which have been enjoying stronger sales as they benefit from a robust economy and efforts to make the shopping experience more inviting by investing heavily on remodeling and de-cluttering their stores.

For decades, Sears was king of the American shopping landscape. Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s iconic catalog featured items from bicycles to sewing machines to houses, and could generate excitement throughout a household when it arrived. The company began opening retail locations in 1925 and expanded swiftly in suburban malls from the 1950s to 1970s. But the onset of discounters like Walmart created challenges for Sears that have only grown. Sears faced even more competition from online sellers and appliance retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot. Its stores became an albatross.

Store shelves have been left bare as many vendors have demanded more stringent payment terms, says Mark Cohen, a professor of retailing at Columbia University and a former Sears executive.

Meanwhile, Sears workers are nervous about what kind of severance they’ll receive if their store closes.

John Germann, 46, works full-time and makes $14 per hour as the lead worker unloading merchandise from trucks at the Chicago Ridge, Illinois store, which has been drastically reducing its staff since he started nine years ago. Germann now has only 11 people on his team, compared with about 30 a few years ago. 

“We’re doing the job of two to three people. It’s not safe,” he said. “We’re lifting treadmills and refrigerators.”

Real estate experts believe that Sears’ move to further shutter stores as part of its restructuring would be a mixed blessing for landlords. For the healthy malls, landlords would welcome a Sears departure, allowing them to cut up the space and fill it with several smaller successful stores that combined would bring in higher revenue. 

But for the struggling malls, Cohen says it will be a “death knell” since it will be harder for them to bring in new tenants. Many of these malls already have had difficulty filling in the void from J.C. Penney and Macy’s closures. 

Saunders of GlobalData Retail spared no criticism of Sears in his analyst note, listing failing after failing of the company.

“The problem in Sears case is that it is a poor retailer,” he wrote. “Put bluntly, it has failed on every facet of retailing from assortment to service to merchandise to basic shop keeping standards. Under benign conditions, this would be problematic enough but in today’s hyper-competitive retail environment it is a recipe for failure on a grand scale.” 

An increase in world oil prices is helping Vietnam earn money that will quicken its already fast economic growth and may help the country build new infrastructure. The only red light: higher fuel prices among Vietnam’s consumers.

Vietnam, though not a major oil-producing nation like much of the Middle East, has counted energy-related commodities as its fifth highest source of exports. The industry is largely state-owned, including energy supplier PetroVietnam, with $3.1 billion in annual sales. Much of Vietnam’s energy comes from under the seas off its east and south coasts.

If crude oil prices hold at an average $65 per barrel this year, above last year’s average of US$60, economic growth will exceed the 6.7 percent target set by the legislature, the Communist Party of Vietnam’s website said last week. 

“Vietnam has a huge level of natural gas reserves and a level of oil, so if the prices go up that would definitely be a boon for Vietnam,” said Ralf Matthaes, founder of the Infocus Mekong Research consultancy in Ho Chi Minh City.

“It would be another benefit for Vietnam, that look, Vietnam has more exports. It’s not just about coffee and rice,” he said.

World oil price hikes

The Vietnamese Ministry of Finance forecasts that total state revenue from crude oil exports will reach $3.13 billion in the first nine months of 2018, up 42.5% over the same period last year. The total for January through September would beat a full-year target.

The revenue increases for Vietnam reflect higher income from oil sales worldwide. World prices should reach $73 per barrel within the year and $74 next year, per estimates by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Prices have gone up, the administration says, because of supply issues, including reports that U.S. sanctions on Iran will cut purchases.

“For the government and their state-owned enterprise PetroVietnam, it’s definitely good news,” said Frederick Burke, partner with the law firm Baker McKenzie in Ho Chi Minh City. “They’ve been really strained by that sort of weakness in their budget portfolio.”

Vietnam exports oil largely to Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Those sales contribute to a $224 billion economy that has grown by around 6 percent every year since 2012. Much of the growth comes from foreign-invested factories that make items such as auto parts and consumer electronics.

Vietnam will export around 11.23 million tons of crude oil this year, the Communist Party says. 

What to do with the money

Oil revenue would give the government more funding for public infrastructure, Matthaes said. Vietnamese officials are building transport infrastructure so manufacturers can better move exports from factory floors to overseas markets. Ease of cargo shipping will help keep producers in Vietnam, which competes with China and much of Southeast Asia to win factory investment.

The government is spending now on expressways and urban mass transit to handle what the domestic news website VnExpress International calls “the country’s logistics shortcomings.” 

State-owned enterprises might eventually build more oil refineries, as well, Burke suggested. Despite export revenues, Vietnam is a net importer of refined oil products because onshore refineries cannot meet the demands of a 95 million population along with industry.

Vietnam imports about 70 percent of its fuel for actual usage, mostly from China, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. 

Officials want to build more refineries to ensure Vietnam always has a steady fuel supply, Burke said. But he said a global “overcapacity” of refineries has cast doubt on ideas about opening more refineries in the country.

Inflation threat

Reliance on imports will raise the price of what common Vietnamese people pay for fuel, a threat to inflation, analysts and domestic media predict. Gasoline prices will rise 5 to 15 percent and may increase inflation by up to 0.64 percent over the year, the Communist Party says.

Officials in Hanoi set an inflation target of 4 percent for this year, but as of June it had already gone higher. Low prices help foreign investors as well as the millions of common motor scooter riders who still live in poverty.

Common consumers “feel the heat,” said Trung Nguyen, director of the Center for International Studies at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities. “They are used to the oil price rise, so I think that they can still withstand it, but I don’t know how far they can.”

A world without hunger by 2030 is the theme of this year’s World Food Day, and the goal of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Events around the world on October 16th will promote awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. Advances in technology and artificial intelligence can help feed the world. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee explains.

One of the joys of computer algorithms and machine learning is their ability to extract new data from old technologies. Doctors at the University of London in Oxford for instance have figured out a way to take regular CT heart scans and predict heart problems years in advance. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Facebook says hackers accessed data from 29 million accounts as part of the security breach disclosed two weeks ago, fewer than the 50 million it initially believed were affected.

The hackers accessed name, email addresses or phone numbers from these accounts, according to Facebook. For 14 million of them, hackers got even more data, such as hometown, birthdate, the last 10 places they checked into or the 15 most recent searches.

 

An additional 1 million accounts were affected, but hackers didn’t get any information from them.

 

Facebook isn’t giving a breakdown of where these users are, but says the breach was “fairly broad.” It plans to send messages to people whose accounts were hacked.

 

Facebook said third-party apps and Facebook apps like WhatsApp and Instagram were unaffected by the breach.

 

Facebook said the FBI is investigating, but asked the company not to discuss who may be behind the attack. The company said it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of smaller-scale attacks that used the same vulnerability.

 

Facebook has said the attackers gained the ability to “seize control” of those user accounts by stealing digital keys the company uses to keep users logged in. They could do so by exploiting three distinct bugs in Facebook’s code. The company said it has fixed the bugs and logged out affected users to reset those digital keys.

 

At the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg – whose own account was compromised – said attackers would have had the ability to view private messages or post on someone’s account, but there’s no sign that they did.

 

 

Котирування нафти еталонного сорту Brent уперше за три тижні опустилися нижче від позначки 80 доларів за барель. Як вказують аналітики, це сталося через поєднання кількох чинників.

Серед них – відчутне падіння на фондовому ринку США, яке фіксувалося впродовж цього тижня і спричинило серед інвесторів побоювання щодо уповільнення темпів зростання світової економіки. Цей чинник впливає і на попит на нафту.

Також уперше за кілька тижнів у США зафіксоване зростання кількості бурових установок. Це свідчить про те, що нафтовики готові за нинішнього рівня цін (а котирування еталонного американського сорту нафти також зросли – більш ніж до 70 доларів за барель) інвестувати в інфраструктуру транспортування, недостатність якої дотепер гальмувала зростання видобутку.

Ціни на нафту еталонного сорту Brent на американській торговельній сесії ввечері 3 жовтня сягнули максимуму на рівні 86,73 долара за барель. Настільки високого котирування не було з 30 жовтня 2014 року.

World stocks are climbing Friday after two days of sharp losses. Major U.S. stock indexes are up more than 1 percent, but they’re still on track for their biggest one-week loss since late March.

Technology and internet companies were some of the hardest hit over the last two days and they led the market higher Friday. Apple climbed 2.7 percent to $220.18. Consumer-focused companies also rallied, as Amazon jumped 3.8 percent to $1,783.96 and Netflix surged 4.7 percent to $336.30.

The S&P 500 index climbed 37 points, or 1.4 percent, to 2,766 at 9:45 a.m. Eastern time. The benchmark index tumbled 5.3 percent over the past two days and as of Thursday it had fallen for six consecutive days. The S&P is down 5.6 percent from its latest record high, set Sept. 20.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 305 points, or 1.2 percent, to 25,358. The Nasdaq composite surged 138 points, or 1.9 percent, to 7,467. The Russell 2000 index gained 17 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,563. That index, which is made up of smaller and more U.S.-focused companies, has fallen into a 10 percent “correction” since reaching a record high at the end of August.

On the New York Stock Exchange, winners outnumbered losers eight to one.

Stocks in Europe and Asia also recovered some of their recent losses. The French CAC 40 and the DAX in Germany both rose 0.8 percent while Britain’s FTSE 100 was 0.7 percent higher. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index gained 0.5 percent after sinking early in the day and following a nearly 4 percent loss on Thursday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng surged 2.1 percent and the Kospi in South Korea rose 1.5 percent.

The market’s recent losing streak started when strong economic data and positive comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell helped set off a wave of selling in the bond market. Investors were betting that the U.S. economy would keep growing at a healthy pace. The sales pushed bond prices lower and yields higher. That drove interest rates sharply higher, which worried investors who felt that a big increase in interest rates could eventually stifle economic growth. Higher yields also make bonds more appealing to investors versus stocks.

The worst losses went to stocks that have led the market in recent years, including technology companies, as well as companies that do better when economic growth speeds up, like industrial firms.

Banks rose as they began to report their third-quarter results. Citigroup jumped 2.4 percent to $70.04. Last year’s corporate tax cut and rising interest rates have helped banks make more money.

Bond prices turned lower as the stock market stabilized. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.16 percent from 3.13 percent.

High-dividend stocks lagged the rest of the market, and utilities and household goods makers were little changed. Those stocks held up a bit better than the rest of the market over the last six days. Investors view them as relatively safe, steady assets that look better when growth is uncertain and the rest of the market is in turmoil.

U.S. crude oil added 0.6 percent to $71.43 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, was up 0.6 percent to $80.77 a barrel in London.

The dollar rose to 112.17 yen from 111.94 yen. The euro fell to $1.1548 from $1.1594.

Just in case any of the global central bankers and finance ministers gathered in Indonesia missed the message delivered repeatedly this week, the host nation said it again Friday: Everyone stands to lose if trade wars are allowed to escalate.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo didn’t mention the United States or China, the world’s two largest economies, but it was clear who he was talking about in an address to the plenary session of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings on the island of Bali.

 

WATCH: IMF Urges US and China to De-escalate Tariff Wars

“Lately it feels like the relations among the major economies are becoming more and more like Game of Thrones,” Widodo said in a speech peppered with references to the HBO series about dynasties and kingdoms battling for power.

“Are we so busy fighting with each other and competing against each other that we fail to notice the things which are increasingly threatening, all of us alike, rich and poor, large and small,” he said.

Poorer and populous emerging market countries like his are among the most vulnerable to the fallout from the ongoing U.S.-Sino tariff war, and rising U.S. interest rates that are drawing investors away and driving down currencies.

“All these troubles in the world economy, are enough to make us feel like saying: ‘Winter is coming,'” Widodo said, using a phrase that characters in the popular fantasy series constantly repeat to refer to spectral dangers that could destroy them all.

With rivalry growing in the world economy, Widodo said “the situation could be more critical compared to the global financial crisis 10 years ago.”

The market ructions have now cascaded through to developed markets with Wall Street extending a slide into a sixth session on Thursday amid the trade war fears.

The United States and China have slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods over the past few months.

The tariffs stem from the Trump administration’s demands that China make sweeping changes to its intellectual property practices, rein in high-technology industrial subsidies, open its markets to more foreign competition and take steps to cut a politically sensitive U.S. goods trade surplus.

Rubbing salt in U.S. wounds, China reported on Friday an unexpected acceleration in export growth in September and a record $34.13 billion trade surplus with the United States.

Mnuchin: China trade talks must include yuan

In an interview with Reuters, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he told China’s central bank chief that currency issues need to be part of any further U.S.-China trade talks and expressed his concerns about the yuan’s recent weakness.

Mnuchin also said that China needs to identify concrete “action items” to rebalance the two countries’ trade relationship before talks to resolve their disputes can resume.

The U.S. Treasury chief and People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang extensively discussed currency issues on the sidelines of the meetings in Bali.

Mnuchin’s comments on China’s currency come ahead of next week’s scheduled release of a hotly anticipated Treasury report on currency manipulation, the first since a significant weakening of yuan began this spring.

Mnuchin said re-launching trade talks would require China to commit to taking action on structural reforms to its economy.

If the relationship could be rebalanced, he said the U.S.-China total annual trade relationship could grow to $1 trillion from $650 billion currently, with $500 billion of exports from each country.

G-20 members and trade issues

Meanwhile, the chairman of a meeting of finance leaders from the Group of 20 leading industrialized and emerging economies admitted that the trade tensions within the group could only be solved by the countries directly involved.

“The G-20 can play a role in providing the platform for discussions. But the differences that still persist should be resolved by the members that are directly involved in the tensions,” Nicolas Dujovne, Argentina’s Treasury Minister, told a news conference after chairing the G-20 meeting in Bali.

More than 19,000 delegates and other guests, including ministers, central bank heads and some leaders, were attending the IMF-World Bank meetings, and Widodo asked them to “cushion the blows from trade wars, technical disruption and market turmoil.”

“I hope you will each do your part to nudge our various leaders in the right direction,” Widodo said, adding that “confrontation and collision impose a tragic price.”

The IMF’s twice-yearly report on the Asia Pacific region, released Thursday, warned that the market rout seen in emerging economies could worsen if the Federal Reserve and other major central banks tightened monetary policy more quickly than expected.

At Friday’s plenary, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde estimated that the escalation of current trade tensions could reduce global GDP by almost one percent over the next two years.

IMF forecasts of global economic growth for both 2018 and 2019 were cut to 3.7 percent, from 3.9 percent in its July forecast.

“Clearly, we need to de-escalate these disputes,” Lagarde told the plenary session.

Національний банк України за підсумками торгів на міжбанківському валютному ринку 12 жовтня встановив на перший робочий день наступного тижня, 16 жовтня, курс 27 гривень 92,81 копійки за долар.

Це майже на шість копійок менше, ніж передбачав офіційний курс на 12 жовтня.

Новий курс є найвищим для національної валюти від літа. Наприкінці серпня долар посилився до рівня понад 28 гривень за одиницю, пікове значення майже 28 гривень 50 копійок було зафіксоване 5 вересня 2018 року.

З того часу і до цього тижня американська валюта стабільно оцінювалася вище рівня 28 гривень.

Фахівці вважають причиною посилення гривні додаткові обсяги валюти, які на ринок поставили українські експортери, а також те, що НБУ не викуповує у свої резерви весь надлишок валюти з ринку. За повідомленнями учасників ринку, регулятор 12 жовтня придбав близько 20 мільйонів доларів.

The head of Russia’s space agency said Friday that two astronauts who survived the midair failure of a Russian rocket would fly again and would provisionally travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in spring of next year.

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, was speaking a day after Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin and American Nick Hague made a dramatic emergency landing in Kazakhstan after the failure of the Soyuz rocket carrying them to the orbital ISS.

Rogozin Friday posted a picture on Twitter of himself next to the two astronauts and said they had now arrived in Moscow. Both men escaped unscathed and feel fine, Roscosmos has said.

The mishap occurred as the first and second stages of a Russian rocket separated shortly after the launch from Kazakhstan’s Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur.

Thursday’s accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launch pad explosion.

The Interfax news agency Friday cited a source familiar with the Russian investigation as saying that a faulty valve had caused the first stage of the Soyuz-FG rocket to malfunction even though the valve had been properly checked before take-off.

NASA has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the United States retired its Space Shuttle program in 2011, although the agency has announced plans for a test flight carrying two astronauts on a SpaceX commercial rocket next April.

Space is an area of cooperation between the United States and Russia at a time of fraught relations. Asked about the mishap, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House he was “not worried” that American astronauts have to rely on Russia to get into space.

Moscow has suspended all manned space launches, while Rogozin has ordered a state commission to investigate what went wrong. Russia’s Investigative Committee has also opened a criminal investigation into the matter.

Unmanned launches of the Progress spacecraft, which carry food and other supplies to the ISS and use the same rocket system as Soyuz, might also be suspended, Interfax has said.

 

WATCH: US-Russian Space Crew Makes Emergency Landing

A U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut made an emergency return to earth Thursday shortly after launching on what was supposed to be a mission to the International Space Station. Rescuers reached American Nick Hague and Russian Alexei Ovchinin after their emergency landing in Kazakhstan. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb recently sat down with Hague to talk about his future in space, a future now up in the air after his unexpected fall to Earth.

Facebook announced Thursday that it had deleted over 800 mostly U.S.-based pages and accounts that were posting politically oriented spam and engaging in “inauthentic behavior.” 

The social media giant declined a request from VOA News to name the 559 pages and 251 accounts. Nation in Distress, a pro-President Donald Trump page identified by The Washington Post as being among the banned, had over 3 million followers.

Facebook said that many of the pages and accounts had posted political clickbait across multiple fake accounts to drive users to their websites, where they were often targeted with ads. 

“Many used the same techniques to make their content appear more popular on Facebook than it really was,” Facebook said on its news blog. “Others were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.”

Facebook said “the ‘news’ stories or opinions these accounts and pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate,” noting the proximity of the 2018 midterm elections.

In the past, Facebook has purged dozens of pages spreading fake news originating from Iran and Russia, countries that have antagonistic relations with the U.S. The company says most of the pages and accounts banned this time were from the U.S.

Elon Musk replied with a tweet saying “This is incorrect” after the Financial

Times reported that outgoing Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. Chief Executive James Murdoch was the lead candidate to replace him as Tesla Inc. chairman.

Tesla has until Nov. 13 to appoint an independent chairman of the board, part of settlements reached last month between Tesla, Musk and U.S. regulators after Musk tweeted in August that he had secured funding to take the electric car maker private.

The SEC settlement capped months of debate and some investor calls for stronger oversight of Musk, whose recent erratic public behavior raised concerns about his ability to steer the money-losing company through a rocky phase of growth.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which said Musk’s tweeted statements about going private were fraudulent, allowed the billionaire to retain his role as CEO while requiring he give up his chairmanship.

Musk had said he was considering taking Tesla private at a price of $420 a share, a number that is slang for marijuana. He tweeted the three-word denial of the Financial Times story on Wednesday at 4:20 pm PDT (2320 GMT), about six hours after the newspaper’s post.

In a vote of confidence for Musk, shareholder T. Rowe Price Group Inc. said in a regulatory filing on Wednesday that it had raised its stake to 10.2 percent at the end of September from just under 7 percent in June.

The Financial Times cited two people briefed on discussions saying Murdoch was the lead candidate for the job. Murdoch, already an independent director of Tesla, has signaled he wants the job, the report said.

The son of Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch, he joined Tesla’s board last year after years of work with media companies. He has no experience in manufacturing and has never led a company that makes cars or electric vehicles.

Murdoch could not immediately be reached for comment. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. Twenty-First Century Fox declined to comment.

​Board roles

Musk is the public face of Tesla, and any chairman would have to contend with his powerful personality. Thanks to his vision and audacious showmanship, Tesla’s valuation has at times eclipsed that of established U.S. automakers with billions in revenues, and the company has garnered legions of fans, despite repeated production issues.

“The question when it comes to James Murdoch is, ‘Is he the guy who’ll be able to establish that level of authority with Elon Musk?’ ” asked Abby Adlerman, CEO of Boardspan, a corporate governance consulting company.

Murdoch, who at 45 is a near contemporary of 47-year-old Musk, recently navigated a takeover battle between Fox and Comcast Corp. to buy European pay-TV company Sky, which he also chaired.

His record in ensuring Sky’s independent shareholders were represented throughout was exemplary, media analyst Alice Enders said.

“His experience is very recent and very relevant,” she said.

Investor concerns that Tesla’s board was too closely tied to Musk led to the company’s addition of two independent directors, including Murdoch, in July 2017.

Earlier this year, leading U.S. proxy advisers Glass Lewis & Co. and Institutional Shareholder Services and union-affiliated investment adviser CtW Investment Group had recommended investors cast votes “against” the re-election of Murdoch as a Tesla director at the company’s annual meeting held on June 5.

While CtW cited a lack of relevant experience and a “troubled history as an executive and director,” both proxy firms warned that Murdoch already served on too many boards.

Murdoch currently serves on the boards of Twenty-First Century Fox and News Corp. He stepped down from Sky Plc on Tuesday following the completion of Comcast’s takeover of the broadcaster.

He was appointed chief executive of Sky, founded by his father, in 2003, becoming the youngest CEO of a FTSE 100 company.

“Under his leadership, Sky went down the technology route,” Enders said. “It’s no accident he oversaw that strategy, which was really distinct from the strategy other pay-TV companies followed, and in my view was his most valuable contribution.”

Murdoch replaced his father as chairman of Sky in 2007, but was forced out in 2012 after being embroiled in Britain’s phone-hacking scandal. He returned to Sky’s board in 2016 after rebuilding his career at Fox.

Parties to a new global treaty to combat the illicit sale of tobacco products have taken the first steps toward cracking down on this multi-billion dollar trade.  At a three-day meeting at the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva they have outlined a plan to shut down the lucrative black market trade in tobacco.

A global tobacco treaty (Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products) entered into force on September 25, with 48 countries joining the new protocol, which is part of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC).  Two-thirds of the parties have enacted or strengthened national legislation aimed at tackling illicit trade in tobacco products.

Parties attending the meeting have set up a working group to create a monitoring system to track and trace the movement of tobacco products. They hope this global information sharing system will be up and running by 2023.  

Head of the FCTC Secretariat, Vera da Costa e Silva, says illicit trade accounts for one in 10 cigarettes consumed.  She says these cigarettes are low-priced and more affordable for young people and vulnerable populations.  She says this results in increased consumption of the toxic product by these groups.

She told VOA the black market in tobacco thrives in both rich and poor countries, but it is a much bigger problem in developing countries.

“In the streets of developing countries, you can see all over the world sales of illicit trade of tobacco products.  They are openly in their markets…. When it comes to the distribution, this is linked to street sales, to bootlegging as well through borders and even to sales to and by minors.  That is a real problem of illicit trade in tobacco products,” she said.

Da Costa e Silva said this flourishing illegal trade undermines tobacco control policies and public health.  She said it also fuels organized crime and increases tobacco profits through tax evasion, resulting in substantial losses in governments’ revenues.   

She said studies show governments lose $31 billion in taxes annually from the illegal trafficking in tobacco products.  

The World Health Organization reports seven million people die prematurely every year from tobacco-related causes.

 

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