Facebook Launches Job Search Feature for Low-Skilled Workers

Facebook wants to make it easier for people to find low-skilled jobs online.

After testing the new software in U.S. and Canada since last year, Facebook added job postings Wednesday in another 40 countries across Europe and elsewhere.

The software works with both Apple and PC operating systems.

Users can find openings using the Jobs dashboard on Facebook’s web sidebar or its mobile app’s More section. The search can be filtered according to area and type of industry, as well as between full-time and part-time jobs.

Users can automatically fill out applications with information from their Facebook profile, submit the applications and schedule interviews.

Businesses can post job openings using the Jobs tab on their page, and include advertisements.

Separately, Facebook announced the introduction of a face recognition software that helps users quickly find photos they’re in, but haven’t been tagged in. The new software will help users protect themselves against unauthorized use of their photos, as well as allow visually impaired users learn who is in their photos and videos.

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Moon to Get Its Own Mobile Network

Several high-tech companies are teaming up on a plan to put a mobile phone network on the moon next year.

Vodaphone Germany, Nokia, and Audi are working on a mobile network and robotic vehicles that are part of a private expedition to the moon, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary year of the first manned lunar landing.

The project with PTScientists in Germany would use a 4G network to send high-definition information from rovers back to a lunar lander, which would then be able to communicate it back to Earth. 

Project scientists say the system uses less energy than having rovers speak directly to Earth, leaving more power for scientific activities. 

They plan to launch the vehicles from Cape Canaveral next year on a Space X Falcon 9 rocket. 

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US Olympic Committee Chief Steps Down Amid Abuse Scandal Fallout

U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun is resigning for health reasons, the organization said Wednesday, following months of sustained criticism in the wake of the sex abuse scandal involving former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

In a statement, the USOC cited Blackmun’s “ongoing health issues” related to prostate cancer, for which he has been receiving treatment. The group also announced new reforms aimed at protecting its athletes from abuse.

The USOC, which announced the change less than a week after the Winter Olympics ended in South Korea, had resisted calls to fire Blackmun over the Nassar case.

“Given Scott’s current health situation, we have mutually agreed it is in the best interest of both Scott and the USOC that we identify new leadership so that we can immediately address the urgent initiatives ahead of us,” USOC Chairman Larry Probst said in a statement.

“The important work that Scott started needs to continue and will require especially vigorous attention in light of Larry Nassar’s decades-long abuse of athletes affiliated with USA Gymnastics,” Probst added.

200 accusers

Nassar pleaded guilty of molesting female athletes under the guise of medical treatment and was sentenced to life in prison. Around 200 women, including several Olympic gold medalists, have accused Nassar of abuse.

The scandal prompted the entire board of directors at USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body in the United States, to resign, along with the president and athletic director at Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked.

A series of criminal and civil investigations were launched into the USOC, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State after numerous accusers said their complaints about Nassar’s treatments were ignored for years.

USOC board member Susanne Lyons, who in January was chosen to lead a working group to address problems that the Nassar case had exposed, will serve as acting CEO while the organization searches for a permanent replacement.

The USOC will increase funding for support and counseling for victims as well as investigations into abuse allegations, among other reforms, according to the statement.

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Facebook: No New Evidence Russia Interfered in Brexit Vote

Facebook Inc has told a British parliamentary committee that further investigations have found no new evidence that Russia used social media to interfere in the June 2016 referendum in which Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Facebook UK policy director Simon Milner in a letter Wednesday told the House of Commons Committee on Digital, Culture Media and Sport that the latest investigation the company undertook in mid-January to try to “identify clusters of coordinated Russian activity around the Brexit referendum that were not identified previously” had been unproductive.

Using the same methodology that Facebook used to identify U.S. election-related social media activity conducted by a Russian propaganda outfit called the Internet Research Agency, Milner said the social network had reviewed both Facebook accounts and “the activity of many thousands of advertisers in the campaign period” leading up to the June 23, 2016 referendum.

He said they had “found no additional coordinated Russian-linked accounts or Pages delivering ads to the UK regarding the EU Referendum during the relevant period, beyond the minimal activity we previously disclosed.”

At a hearing on social media political activity that the parliamentary committee held in Washington earlier in February, Milner had promised the panel it would disclose more results of its latest investigation by the end of February.

At the same hearing, Juniper Downs, YouTube’s global head of public policy, said that her company had “conducted a thorough investigation around the Brexit referendum and found no evidence of Russian interference.”

In his letter to the committee, Facebook’s Milner acknowledged that the minimal results in the company’s Brexit review contrasted with the results of Facebook inquiries into alleged Russian interference in U.S. politics. The company’s U.S. investigation results, Milner said, “comport with the recent indictments” Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller issued against Russian individuals and entities.

Following its Washington hearing, committee chairman Damian Collins MP said his committee expected to finish a report on its inquiry into Social Media and Fake News in late March and that the report is likely to include recommendations for new British laws or regulations regarding social media content.

These could include measures to clarify the companies’ legal liability for material they distribute and their obligations to address social problems the companies’ content could engender, he said.

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Could Winning Super Bowl Play Be Winning Marketing Ploy?

A company’s value is often tied to the message it portrays to customers. But what happens when other companies try to take advantage of your brand?

Take the Philadelphia Eagles, for instance. The American football team wants to exclusively own the phrase: “Philly Special.” That was the trick play that helped them win the Super Bowl, and the Philly Special is, by far, the most talked-about play of the Super Bowl.

Watch the play here:

It is a gutsy move. In football-speak, it is a direct-snap reverse pass to quarterback Nick Foles, who usually throws the ball. But the coach gives the OK, and Foles tells his teammates the plan in the huddle.

The team lines up, Foles runs up the field. Tight end Trey Burton throws the football, and Foles catches it in the end zone for a touchdown.

“Play of the century”

Now, the phrase, ‘Philly Special,’ has turned into a city-wide phenomena. Bakeries are making Philly Special pastries. Some people are getting the words or even a sketch of the play tattooed on themselves.

And stores, like Ashley Peel’s Philadelphia Independents, cannot keep enough Philly Special T-shirts in stock.

“It’s the ‘Nick Foles play of the century,’ as I’m dubbing it from the Super Bowl,” Peel said. “It has a layout of the [specifics] from the play. We just got it in and we’re almost already sold out of it. It’s definitely moving well.”

It’s moving well, even as several entrepreneurs are competing to be awarded a trademark — in other words, exclusive rights — to the phrase.  Many of the businesses filed their own trademark applications ahead of the Eagles.

“I do have a client that’s applied for the mark, ‘Philly Special,’” said Philadelphia-based lawyer Nancy Rubner Frandsen.

She filed a trademark application on behalf of a company called Whalehead Associates. She can’t comment too much about the application without violating attorney-client privilege, but admits the phrase goes beyond a football play.

“Obviously it brings everyone together, it was our Super Bowl championship that brought it all about,” she said. “It’s got the term ‘Philly’ in it — from the trademark standpoint, it would be deemed to be descriptive. But then you combine it with the term, ‘Special,’ and it could make a very unique trademark.”

Some of the other businesses that want to trademark the term include a sandwich maker, a gift shop manufacturer … and the Philadelphia Eagles. The team was actually the last to file a trademark application. Even so, experts say, it’s likely the rights will be awarded to the Eagles.

Newsjacking

“This particular term, ideally, should belong to the Eagles,” said Dr. Jay Sinha, an associate marketing professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

He added the phenomenon around ‘Philly Special’ is not the first time there’s been a rush to trademark a term after a big event, like the Super Bowl. And it’s even got a name: ‘newsjacking.’

“The term, newsjacking, means where a company rides or takes advantage of some event happening in current affairs and uses it for their own commercial purposes, especially for marketing in branding,” Sinha said.

For example, think of famous movie lines, like: ‘May the force be with you,’ from “Stars Wars.” When sequels are released, other companies often try to take advantage of the film’s popularity for marketing purposes, like an ice cream shop that posts a sign reading, ‘May the swirl be with you.’

“If there’s anything which is relevant in popular culture as well as the news, companies like to ride on it,” Sinah said.

In this case, it likely will be several months before the U.S. Patent Office announces who will be awarded the rights to the now famous phrase. By then, though, another Super Bowl will be approaching and the excitement of the Philly Special could be fading.

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Report: Harper Lee Estate Transferred to Trust

The will of “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee is public following a lawsuit by The New York Times, but details on her estate remain a secret.

The Times reports the will unsealed Tuesday shows most of Lee’s assets were transferred into a trust days before her death two years ago in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

 

But the contents of her estate remain private because trust documents are private.

 

A probate court sealed the will of the famously private writer following her death, and the newspaper filed suit in 2016 to have the document made public. The suit argued that Lee’s desire for privacy wasn’t sufficient legal reason to keep her will hidden from public view.

 

Records show the estate recently dropped its opposition to unsealing the will.

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Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods Crack Down on Gun Sales  

Two major U.S. retailers changed their gun sales policies Wednesday in the fallout over a Florida high school massacre.

Walmart, the country’s biggest retailer, announced it is raising the age restriction for buying guns and ammunition to 21.

“We take seriously our obligation to be a responsible seller,” it said in a statement. 

Walmart is also dropping toys and other items that resemble assault-style weapons from its website. The retail giant stopped selling assault-style guns in 2015 and does not sell handguns except for its stores in Alaska.

Earlier Wednesday, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would no longer sell assault-style rifles or any gun to anyone younger than 21.

The chain went one step further and urged Congress to ban assault-style weapons and raise the minimum age.

The alleged Parkland high school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15.

Dick’s says Cruz had bought a shotgun at one of its stores after going though all the proper procedures, but stressed it was not the exact weapon or the type allegedly used in the Feb. 14 massacre. 

Both Walmart and Dick’s say they are committed to serving sportsmen, hunters, and the majority of gun owners whom they call law-abiding citizens.

WATCH: Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO: ‘We Don’t Want to be a Part of This Story’

 

The mass shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has had an impact on the corporate world, which is seemingly taking a close look at nationwide polls that overwhelmingly favor tighter gun laws.

More than a dozen major companies are ending discounts for members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). They include Delta Airlines, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, MetLife Insurance and Best Western Hotels. 

President Donald Trump, who has been a huge supporter of the NRA and whose campaign was a recipient of millions of dollars in NRA funds, said earlier this week that sometimes you just have to fight the NRA.

At a discussion on gun safety with U.S. lawmakers Wednesday, he also accused Republican politicians who have given tepid support for stronger gun laws of being “afraid” of the powerful pro-gun lobby group.

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Refugee Women Get a Taste of Entrepreneurship

When refugees arrive in a new country, they bring little to no material possessions. But many bring something more valuable: their talent and skills. Twenty refugee women and asylum seekers from different parts of the world recently came together at a pop-up store in Phoenix, Arizona, to display their homemade products and tell their compelling stories. VOA’s June Soh spoke with some of the women in this report narrated by Carol Pearson.

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New Operating Systems, Improved Cameras on Display at Barcelona’s Mobile Phone Congress

The world’s biggest mobile phone trade fair, the Mobile World Congress, or MWC, opened earlier this week in Barcelona, Spain. Except for Apple, which traditionally stays away, all other big and small phone manufacturers and developers are displaying their wares as they continue to battle a market valued at $478 billion in 2017. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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U.S. Attorney General Announces New Task Force to Combat Opioid Epidemic

Joined by several state attorneys general and the acting DEA administrator, U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions announced a new task force to crack down on opioid manufacturers and distributors. He also announced the hiring of a federal prosecutor to lead anti-opioid efforts at the Department of Justice. From Washington, VOA’s Jill Craig has more.

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Indexes Point to Cooling Growth in China This Year 

Growth in China’s manufacturing sector in February cooled to the weakest in more than 11/2 years, raising concerns of a sharper-than-expected slowdown in the world’s second biggest economy this year as regulators tighten the screws on financial risks.

The weakness was driven by disruption to business activity by the Lunar New Year holidays and curbs to factory output from tougher pollution rules, but there are worries of a bigger loss in momentum.

“Although a recovery looks possible in the short-run as the anti-pollution campaign winds down, the risk is still that the economy fares worse this year than is generally expected,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China Economist at Capital Economics.

Index raises concern

The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) released Wednesday fell to 50.3 in February, from 51.3 in January. But it remained above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis, the 19th straight month of expansion.

The drop may raise some concerns for China’s leaders as they prepare for the start of the National People’s Congress (NPC) next week where Beijing will unveil its economic targets for this year.

Globally, solid demand has kept many export-reliant economies humming over the past year or so, though a move toward tighter policy in advanced nations could cut into growth this year.

The latest PMI’s subindex of new export orders fell to 49.0, the lowest in at least a year, as the yuan currency appreciated against the dollar.

Chen Zhongtao, an official with China Logistics Information Center (CLIC), said that “13.6 percent of firms reported concerns over the appreciating Chinese currency and greater currency fluctuations,” the highest number of companies to do so since March 2017.

CLIC said in a statement that export sluggishness is expected to continue this year as steel firms are more reluctant to ship goods in the face of rising global protectionism.

Lunar New Year effect

The index for output stood at 50.7, down from 53.5 in January as the Lunar New Year holidays disrupted factory activities, the statistics bureau said. Total new orders also expanded much slower in February.

Raw material input prices fell for the second consecutive month to the lowest since July 2017, indicating cost pressure from price rises on manufacturing firms is easing.

“I think besides the Lunar New Year factor, the stricter pollution measures in the north before the National People’s Congress might have weighed on activities as well,” said Betty Wang, Senior China Economist at ANZ.

Wang expects momentum to pick up in the months ahead as the pollution crackdown tapers off.

Still, there are signs that China may continue with the pollution crackdown, with top steelmaking city of Tangshan proposing new restrictions on production once the current curbs expire in March.

The weeklong Lunar New Year holidays, which fell in February this year but January in 2017, tend to distort data early in the year.

Many factories and offices start to scale back operations ahead of time before shutting for the entire holiday or longer, while some manufacturers front-load shipments or replenish inventories ahead of the break.

Moderating growth in 2018

Boosted by government infrastructure spending, a resilient property market and unexpected strength in exports, China’s manufacturing and industrial firms helped the economy post better-than-expected growth of 6.9 percent in 2017.

A sister survey showed activity in China’s service sector slowed to lowest since October last year in February. The official non-manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 54.4 from 55.3 in January.

The services sector accounts for more than half of China’s economy, with rising wages giving Chinese consumers more spending clout.

Chinese policymakers are counting on growth in services and consumption to rebalance their economic growth model from its heavy reliance on investment and exports.

Economists polled by Reuters expected China’s economic growth will moderate to around 6.5 percent this year as the property market cools and as authorities press ahead with a clamp down on riskier financial activity that is driving up borrowing costs.

Analysts and financial markets are widely expecting the government to announce a 2018 growth target of around 6.5 percent at the NPC, the same as last year.

A composite PMI covering both the manufacturing and services activity stood at 52.9 in February, down from January’s reading of 54.6.

“Looking ahead, we think growth is likely to fall short of expectations this year, with many underestimating the headwinds from slower credit growth and a cooling property sector,” Capital Economics’ Evans-Pritchard said.

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US Proposes Anti-dumping Duties on Chinese Aluminum Foil

The U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday recommended raising import duties on Chinese-made aluminum foil it said is being sold at unfairly low prices due to improper subsidies to producers.

 

The ruling was praised by the Aluminum Association, a trade group that pressed the case and said cheap imports were threatening thousands of jobs.

 

Beijing faces complaints from the United States, European Union and other trading partners that a flood of Chinese aluminum, steel and other exports are being sold at unfairly low prices, threatening jobs abroad.

 

The Commerce Department said it concluded Chinese exporters were selling aluminum foil at 49 to 106 percent below fair value and were receiving unfair subsidies of 17 to 81 percent of the goods’ value.

 

Importers will have to post cash bonds to pay potentially higher duties while the recommendation goes to the U.S. International Trade Commission for a final decision, said a Commerce statement.

 

China’s Ministry of Commerce complained Washington was harming Chinese exporters and said Beijing was ready to take unspecified “necessary measures” to defend its interests.

 

Beijing has accused Trump’s government of disrupting global trade regulation by taking action under U.S. law instead of through the World Trade Organization.

 

“China will take necessary measures to defend its interests in response to the wrong practice of the United States,” said a Commerce Ministry official, Wang Hejun, in a statement.

 

The Trump administration earlier raised duties on Chinese-made washing machines, solar modules and some aluminum and steel products to offset what it said were improper subsidies.

 

The American Chamber of Commerce in China says Chinese officials have warned of possible unspecified retaliation if Washington took excessive steps in trade disputes.

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Three Astronauts Back on Earth After Space Station Mission

Three astronauts returned from the International Space Station to the snowy, bitingly cold flat lands of Central Asia, ending a 5½-month mission highlighted by robotic renovations, schoolteacher pep talks and heavenly greetings from Pope Francis.

The two Americans and one Russian landed in a Soyuz capsule shortly after sunrise Wednesday, local time, in Kazakhstan, where the temperature was below freezing. Flight controllers feared snow and freezing rain might hamper recovery efforts, but NASA said the weather wasn’t nearly as bad as had been feared and the pickup teams got to where they needed to be.

NASA’s Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei, and Russia’s Alexander Misurkin emerged from the capsule one by one, smiling, waving and pumping their fists in the air as they were carried to outdoor chairs. Medical staff wrapped them in thick blankets, while taking their pulse and making sure they were fine.

The astronauts checked out of the space station just a few hours earlier, hugging the three men remaining behind.

“We’re already missing you,” radioed station commander Anton Shkaplerov as the capsule backed away.

McAuliffe experiments

In handing over the skipper’s job to Shkaplerov, Misurkin joked that at least he and his two crewmates didn’t break anything and hopefully accomplished some good science. They’d lived on the space station since September.

Acaba is the first astronaut of Puerto Rican heritage and a former schoolteacher. He teamed up with another educator-astronaut, Ricky Arnold, who’s launching in three weeks, to perform the science lessons prepared by Christa McAuliffe 32 years ago. She died in the shuttle Challenger launch disaster.

During a series of spacewalks spanning months, Acaba and Vande Hei helped replace the aging mechanical hands of the station’s big robot arm. And last fall, they had a chance to chat with Pope Francis, discussing the beauty and fragility of the home planet.

As is customary, NASA planned to hustle Acaba and Vande Hei back to Houston, with Misurkin heading to cosmonaut headquarters at Star City, Russia.

A replacement crew, including former teacher Arnold, will lift off from Kazakhstan on March 21 and bring the space station back up to a full crew of six.

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Long Kryptonite to Superheroes, the Oscars Begin to Relent

Aside from the posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) and best animated film for The Incredibles, no superhero film has ever penetrated the top categories of the Academy Awards.

Though regular honorees for their bombastic visual effects or thunderous, wall-to-wall sound, comic-book movies have been denied the upper reaches of achievement. Marvel Studios — one of the most dominant pop-culture juggernauts the movies have ever seen — hasn’t won a single Academy Award.

But there are signs that the deep freeze for superheroes is thawing. Logan, James Mangold’s acclaimed final chapter of Wolverine, the long-clawed X-Men character played by Hugh Jackman, is nominated for best adapted screenplay at Sunday’s awards. The nod, which Mangold shares with co-writers Michael Green and Scott Frank, is the first screenplay nomination for a superhero film.

That could be read as a sign that the film academy is finally starting to give in to the era’s most bankable box-office force. Last year, Deadpool seemingly came just shy of scaling the Dolby Theatre walls after a quixotic awards campaign netted the hyper-violent and hyper-verbal R-rated film two Golden Globe nominations. This year, Patty Jenkins’ female empowerment blockbuster Wonder Woman was considered a definite contender but came up short despite a nod from the Producers Guild. 

A tide may be turning just as the sensation and acclaim of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther has positioned the Marvel release to be a potential heavyweight at next year’s Academy Awards. A decade after Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was denied a best picture nomination — an omission that sparked the academy’s expansion of the best picture field from five films to up to 10 — Black Panther is poised to score the first best-picture nod for a superhero film, not to mention potentially a host of other categories including directing, costume design, visual effects, production design, score and, maybe, Michael B. Jordan as supporting actor.

​Expanding the possibilities

Any shift for the academy, though, may be less about changing tastes than the rising ambitions of filmmakers — like Coogler, Jenkins, James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Mangold — who are expanding the possibilities of the genre.

“It’s people opening up to consider something that might have been seen wholly as a money-making effort to see that in some cases these films might constitute more ambition than previously imagined,” Mangold said of his nomination in an interview. “It’s a stepping stone and it won’t be the last.”

Mangold is a veteran of star-led but naturalistic character-driven dramas (Walk the Line, Cop Land). In Logan he endeavored to, like a revolution launched from within, invert most of the genre’s conventions. Its title bares no sequel-signifying numbers, just a simple, unadorned name. Logan connects to no future installment but, after a 17-year run for Jackman’s character, has the finality of death. Where other superhero films are all heroism and invincibility, the violent, R-rated Logan — styled after a Western — is filled with pain and vulnerability. It’s a human-sized movie in a supersized genre.

“I wanted to make my own kind of commentary about this kind of film, the comic-book film if you will, where there’s huge amounts of casualties but they are largely unfelt by the audience,” said Mangold. “Cities fall. Planets explode. Extras fall and topple. But the actual ending of lives is not felt. In a quest for scale, lives become cheap.”

Mangold speaks with both optimism for superhero movies that can take the mold of any genre (“There’s infinite possibility”) and derision for the assembly-line product that Hollywood has often favored that give a filmmaker little room for personal expression.

“At the point you’re locked into all the design, casting and story choices that have already been made, you’re hamstrung,” said Mangold. “It’s why films like Guardians or Black Panther or Wonder Woman where they break free of some of the narrative-lock and style-lock that was coming from the previous films that I think you get the biggest sense of freshness.”

Benefits of popularity

Logan grossed $616.8 million, vindicating the risk that Mangold and 20th Century Fox took in deviating from formula. It was relatively cheap by superhero movie standards with a production budget of $97 million. The film opened all the way back on March 3, after premiering at the Berlin Film Festival, with little expectation of being remembered in Oscar season.

Disney’s Black Panther may do even better at next year’s Oscars for many of the same reasons. It largely stands apart from Marvel’s cinematic universe. It eschews many of the typical beats of a superhero film. And it’s identifiably the work of a filmmaker. 

“If it gets in, it has more to do with Ryan Coogler than it does with any of the phenomenon around it,” said Glen Weldon, author of The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. “This film feels like the third film that a guy named Ryan Coogler would make. Though it’s part of this arc, it does feel very personal. It does feel like it’s about something.” 

With Academy Awards ratings falling in recent years, the broadcast could certainly benefit from welcoming the most popular movies on the planet into the show. That would be quite a turnaround for the Oscars, where the closest a superhero film has come to winning best picture was when Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) took the award in 2015. But that movie, starring Michael Keaton as a former superhero star, vilified the genre as a scourge for art.

“When people tell me — and they tell me very often — ‘I hate superhero films and they’re all same,'” said Weldon, “I tell them, ‘Yes, they have been but they don’t have to be.'”

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US Task Force Will Target Opioid Crisis ‘at Its Root’

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new initiative Tuesday that will target painkiller manufacturers and distributors who overprescribe and allow the misuse of prescription drugs by addicts.  The initiative, Sessions said, will tackle the opioid crisis “at its root.” 

The Prescription Interdiction and Litigation (PIL) Task Force will “use criminal and civil actions” to ensure that prescription painkiller manufacturers and distributors adhere to Drug Enforcement Administration rules against diversion and over-prescription of pain drugs.

 

WATCH: U.S. Attorney General Announces New Task Force to Combat Opioid Epidemic

The task force will use the False Claims Act to target pain management clinics, drug testing facilities and doctors who improperly prescribe opioids, the Justice Department said. 

“Over the past year, the Department has vigorously fought the prescription opioid crisis, and we are determined to continue making progress,” Sessions said at a press conference in Washington. “Today, we are opening a new front in the war on the opioid crisis by bringing all of our anti-opioid efforts under one banner. We have no time to waste.”

Over-prescription of painkillers

Rampant over-prescription of painkillers have long been seen as a driving force of the opioid crisis in the United States. The vast majority of opioid addicts start off with prescription painkillers before switching to heroin, the synthetic opioid fentanyl and other more potent drugs.

The United States, which represents less than five percent of the global population, consumed more than 30 percent of the world’s opioid supply in 2015, according to the International Narcotics Control Board.

“It is estimated that we use many times more opioids than is medically necessary for a population our size,” Sessions said.

In 2016, a record 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, most of them from opioid painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Preliminary data indicate 2017 “was even worse, albeit with a much smaller increase,” Sessions said.

Leading cause of death

Amid the opioid epidemic, drug overdose has become the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. 

“These are not acceptable trends, and this new task force will make us more effective in reversing them and saving Americans from the scourge of opioid addiction,” Sessions said.

The attorney general said the newly created task force of senior officials from across the Justice Department will also review pending state and local lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors to determine what support the Justice Department can lend to those legal efforts.

To that end, the Justice Department plans to file a “statement of interest” in support of hundreds of lawsuits brought against opioid manufacturers and distributors, Sessions said.

The lawsuits, filed by a number of cities, municipalities and medical institutions, seek to recover the costs associated with providing treatment and public safety measures instituted in response to the drug crisis.

Medicare pays for opioids

The Department of Justice will argue that federal agencies have borne substantial costs as a result of the opioid crisis and seek reimbursement.

In 2016, the federally funded Medicare prescription drug program paid more than $4 billion for opioids, according to Sessions.

The attorney general described the creation of the task force as the latest in a series of steps the justice Department has taken to combat an epidemic that is showing few signs of letting up.

Last month, Sessions announced a 45-day surge of DEA agents to focus on pharmacies and prescribers who were dispensing an unusual or disproportionate amount of drugs.

Last year, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency,” but critics say the declaration was not followed by the deployment of additional resources to tackle the crisis.

Sessions, however, defended the administration’s commitment to combating the epidemic, saying the Justice Department has taken “historic new actions to reverse the rising tide of addiction and death.”

Among the steps, he cited the indictment of more than 120 defendants, including doctors, the takedown of a Dark Net drug bazaar and the creation of a unit to detect evidence of overprescription and opioid-related health fraud.

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Deluge of Oscars Politics Began With Brando

Should any of this year’s winners at the Oscars use the occasion to promote a political cause, you can thank — or blame — Marlon Brando.

Brando’s role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather remains a signature performance in movie history. But his response to winning an Academy Award was truly groundbreaking.

Upending a decades-long tradition of tears, nervous humor, thank-yous and general goodwill, he sent actress Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to the 1973 ceremony to protest Hollywood’s treatment of American Indians.

In the years since, winners have brought up everything from climate change (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant, 2016) to abortion (John Irving, screenplay winner in 2000) to equal pay for women (Patricia Arquette, best supporting actress winner in 2015 for Boyhood).

“Speeches for a long time were relatively quiet in part because of the control of the studio system,” said James Piazza, who with Gail Kinn wrote The Academy Awards: The Complete History of Oscar, published in 2002. “There had been some controversy, like when George C. Scott refused his Oscar for Patton [which came out in 1970]. But Brando’s speech really broke the mold.”

Producers for this year’s Oscars show have said they want to emphasize the movies themselves, but between the #MeToo movement and Hollywood’s general disdain for President Donald Trump, political or social statements appear likely at the March 4 ceremony.

Salutes for speaking out

Winners at January’s Golden Globes citing the treatment of women included Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon, who thanked “everyone who broke their silence this year.” Honorary Globe winner Oprah Winfrey, in a speech that had some encouraging her to run for president, noted that “women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up. Their time is up.”

Before Brando, winners avoided making news even if the time was right and the audience never bigger. Gregory Peck, who won for best actor in 1963 as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, said nothing about the film’s racial theme even though he frequently spoke about it in interviews. When Sidney Poitier became the first black to win best actor, for Lilies of the Field in 1964, he spoke of the “long journey” that brought him to the stage, but otherwise made no comment on his milestone.

When Jane Fonda, the most politicized of actresses, won for Klute in 1972, her speech was brief and uneventful. “There’s a great deal to say, but I’m not going to say it tonight,” she stated. “I would just like to thank you very much.”

Political movements from anti-communism to civil rights were mostly ignored in their time. According to the movie academy’s database of Oscar speeches, the term “McCarthyism” was not used until 2014, when Harry Belafonte mentioned it upon receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. “Vietnam” was not spoken until the ceremony held April 8, 1975, just weeks before North Vietnamese troops overran Saigon.

No winner said the words “civil rights” until George Clooney in 2006, as he accepted a supporting actor Oscar for Syriana. Vanessa Redgrave’s fiery 1978 acceptance speech was the first time a winner said “fascism” or “anti-Semitism.”

​Comments linked to movies

Political or social comments were often safely connected to the movie. Celeste Holm, who won best supporting actress in 1948 for Gentleman’s Agreement, referred indirectly to the film’s message of religious tolerance. Rod Steiger won best actor in 1968 for the racial drama In the Heat of the Night and thanked his co-star, Poitier, for giving him the “knowledge and understanding of prejudice.” The ceremony was held just days after the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., whose name was never cited by Oscar winners in his lifetime, and Steiger ended by invoking a civil rights anthem: “And we shall overcome.”

Hollywood is liberal-land, but the academy often squirms at political speeches. Redgrave was greeted with boos when she assailed “Zionist hoodlums” while accepting the Oscar for Julia, a response to criticism from far-right Jews for narrating a documentary about the Palestinians. She was rebutted the same night: Paddy Chayevsky, giving the award for best screenplay, declared that he was “sick and tired of people exploiting the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own propaganda.”

Producer Bert Schneider and director Peter Davis, collaborators on the 1974 Oscar-winning Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds, both condemned the war by name (they were the first winners to do so), welcomed North Vietnam’s impending victory and even read a telegram from the Viet Cong. An enraged Bob Hope, an Oscar presenter and longtime Republican, prepared a statement and gave it to Frank Sinatra, who was to introduce the screenplay award: “The academy is saying, ‘We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening.’ ” 

​Moore draws boos

In 2003, Michael Moore received a mixed response after his documentary on guns, Bowling for Columbine, won for best documentary. The filmmaker ascended the stage to a standing ovation, but the mood soon shifted as he attacked George W. Bush as a “fictitious president” and charged him with sending soldiers to Iraq for “fictitious reasons.” The boos were loud enough for host Steve Martin to joke that “right now, the teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo.”

Sometimes, the academy tries to head off any statements before they’re made. Whoopi Goldberg, host of the 1994 show, hurried out a list of causes during her opening monologue.

“Save the whales. Save the spotted owl. Gay rights. Men’s rights. Women’s rights. Human rights. Feed the homeless. More gun control. Free the Chinese dissidents. Peace in Bosnia. Health care reform. Choose choice. ACT UP. More AIDS research,” she said, before throwing in jokes about Sinatra, Lorena Bobbitt and earthquakes.

The audience laughed and cheered.

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