Woodward, Bernstein Still Atop the News, Long After Watergate

More than 40 years after they became the world’s most famous journalism duo, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are still making news.

Bernstein was among three CNN reporters who last week broke the story of former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s allegation that Trump knew in advance of the June 2016 meeting between representatives of his presidential campaign and Russian officials. On Tuesday, Woodward’s upcoming book, Fear: Inside the Trump White House, was No. 1 on Amazon.com, within a day of its announcement. 

The former Washington Post colleagues known for their Watergate coverage speak regularly, they say, comparing notes on the Trump era.

‘He’s a news junkie, and I’m a news junkie,” Woodward, 75, explained Tuesday during a telephone interview, adding that he includes a tribute to Bernstein in his new book’s acknowledgements.

“We keep each other posted pretty well,” Bernstein, 74, said during a separate phone interview. “Obviously, we do different things. But we also have a lifetime of understanding each other and looking at news together.” 

Successful author

Woodward, an associate editor at the Post, is among the most successful nonfiction authors of his time, with a long series of best-selling accounts of sitting presidents from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. A new Woodward book even became a political tradition — coming out in the fall of an election year.

But after the 2012 release of The Price of Politics, Woodward stepped away from the present, publishing no works on Obama’s second term, and instead focused on Watergate-era news. The Last of the President’s Men, his work on White House aide Alexander Butterfield, the man who revealed Nixon’s taping system, came out in 2015.

A Trump book was an easy choice for Woodward, who calls the current president’s rise a “pivot point” in American history. According to his publisher, Simon & Schuster, Woodward will show the “harrowing life” of the Trump White House and the president’s decision-making process as he draws upon “hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, contemporaneous meeting notes, files, documents and personal diaries.”

What is power?

The book’s title draws upon an interview Woodward and Post reporter Robert Costa had with Trump that was published in April 2016. Costa had noted that Obama defined power as “you can get what you want without having to exert violence.” Trump had a different interpretation.

His answer was, Woodward said, checking his notes, “Real power is — I don’t even want to use the word — ‘fear.’ ”

Bernstein is a political commentator for CNN whose books include A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the two Nixon-era classics he wrote with Woodward, All the President’s Men and The Final Days. He is currently working on a memoir about his early years of journalism, when he was starting out at the now-defunct Washington Star.

“My time at the Star was a great learning experience, and then there was the Post and Watergate. Those two experiences inform pretty much everything I do,” Bernstein said.

“Imagine,” he added, referring to himself and Woodward, “here we are, 74 and 75 years old, and we still get to do this.”

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Mexico Still Preparing for US Car Tariffs, Backs WTO Reform

Mexico is still preparing all options to respond to possible U.S. tariffs on car imports, Deputy Economy Minister Juan Carlos Baker said on Tuesday, despite U.S.-European talks last week that were supposed to have seen off the immediate threat.

Last week European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he had secured a “major concession” from President Donald Trump, having agreed that as long as the two sides were negotiating on trade, they would hold off on imposing further measures, including U.S. tariffs on cars and auto parts.

Baker was speaking after meeting senior trade officials from Canada, Japan, South Korea and the European Union in Geneva, which is also home to the World Trade Organization.

The countries — long term U.S. allies which are at odds with Trump over trade relations — were not coordinating their response, Baker told reporters. However, they were all determined to respond if tariffs on cars were imposed, he said, noting that the U.S. process to introduce them had not stopped.

“We take that very seriously. Until that process is fully concluded and no tariffs are imposed, we need to be serious and consider the possibility that those tariffs may be established.

We need to make clear that we are prepared to react,” he said.

Over several hours of talks at the EU mission, the five powers — all of them hit by Trump’s steel tariffs imposed in March, and concerned about his disruption of the WTO — also discussed reform of the 23-year-old trading club.

Trump is demanding a shake-up of the WTO, saying it treats the United States unfairly and gives China undue advantages.

To force the issue, he has brought the WTO’s system for settling international trade disputes to the brink of collapse by blocking the appointment of judges when the terms of others expire, a situation that diplomats and trade officials have described as hostage taking and the “asphyxiation” of the WTO.

Baker said there were several sets of reform ideas on the table for the WTO and he was encouraged. “We would not be doing this if we believed the process is doomed to fail,” he said. “We all feel the sense of urgency here. We do not necessarily have a due date … but the sooner we start the better.”

Proposals are likely to be polished in the next few months, including at meetings of the G20 major economies, an APEC forum of Pacific rim countries, and at a Canadian-hosted meeting in October. A trade ministers’ meeting in Davos in January would be an important moment to take stock of progress, he said.

“Today was only a very initial, incipient discussion but I believe it was good in terms of knowing how much running round we have ahead of us.”

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Trump Administration Considering Tax Break on Capital Gains

The Trump administration is studying the idea of implementing a big tax break for wealthy Americans by reducing the taxes levied on capital gains, but no decision has been made yet on whether to proceed.

Administration officials said Tuesday Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin prefers deferring to Congress. But he does have his department studying the economic impact of such a change and the legality of proceeding without congressional approval.

The change would involve taxing capital gains — profits on investments such as stocks or real estate — after taking into account inflation, which would lower the tax bite. Capital gains taxes are currently determined by subtracting the original price of an asset from the price at which it was sold and taxing the difference without adjusting for inflation.

For example, a stock purchased in 1990 for $100,000 and sold today for $300,000 would produce a $200,000 capital gain. That amount, taxed at the top capital gains rate of 23.8 percent, would result in a tax bill of $47,600. However, if the $200,000 gain was trimmed to just $103,000 by adjusting for inflation over the past 28 years, the tax bill would be $24,514.

“There has been a great deal of interest in this provision for a long time,” said a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. “Treasury is currently evaluating the economic impact and whether it can be achieved without legislation.”

Indexing capital gains for inflation would reduce federal revenue by about $102 billion over a decade, according to the Penn-Wharton Budget Model. The Congressional Research Service has estimated that about 90 percent of the benefits would go to the top 1 percent of households.

The New York Times and the Washington Post reported Tuesday that the proposal was under active consideration by the administration. It has long been supported by Larry Kudlow, head of the president’s National Economic Council. Mnuchin, however, has signaled caution in approaching the idea.

Republicans, led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady is leading an effort to extend and expand the $1.5 trillion tax cut President Donald Trump pushed through Congress last December.

“If it can’t get done through a legislative process, we will look at what tools at Treasury we have to do it on our own and we’ll consider that,” Mnuchin said in an interview with the Times in which he emphasized that he has not yet concluded that Treasury has the authority to act alone.

“We are studying that internally, and we are also studying the economic costs and the impact on growth,” Mnuchin told the Times.

Democrats, however, vowed to oppose the change to how capital gains are taxed.

“Once again, Republicans have exposed the true priorities of their tax scam: billions in tax breaks for the wealthiest at the expense of everyone else,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “American families are drowning under the weight of stagnant wages, higher health costs and soaring prescription drug costs, but the GOP continues to pick their pockets to give more handouts to the wealthiest 1 percent.”

In an interview in June with The Wall Street Journal, Mnuchin declined to speculate on whether Treasury has the legal authority to make the capital gains change on its own.

Democrats in the Senate have urged Mnuchin not to take the step, saying Treasury does not have the authority. They pointed to legal opinions written by the Justice and Treasury departments in 1992 finding that Congress intended the word “cost” to mean the price paid in nominal dollars — without adjusting for inflation.

Treasury acting on its own “would almost exclusively benefit the wealthiest Americans, add $100 billion to the ballooning deficit, further complicate the tax code and ignore the need for congressional” approval, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and other Democratic panel members said in a letter to Mnuchin in May.

“The $100 billion price tag is a conservative estimate because it does not consider the abundant tax-sheltering opportunities that would arise,” the Democrats wrote. “Further, the proposal would fail American workers, investment and the larger U.S. economy.”

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Study: Heat Deaths to Jump in Absence of Changes

The number of people dying from heat waves is likely to rise sharply in some regions by 2080 if policymakers fail to take mitigating steps in climate and health policies, according to the results of a study released Tuesday.

Deaths caused by heat waves could increase dramatically in tropical and subtropical regions, the study found, followed closely by Australia, Europe and the United States.

Published in the journal PLOS Medicine, the study’s results suggest stricter mitigation policies should be applied to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because lower greenhouse gas emissions are linked with fewer deaths due to heat waves.

Antonio Gasparrini, an expert from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who co-led the research, noted that several countries around the world are currently being hit by deadly heat waves and said it was “highly likely” that heat wave frequency and severity would increase under a changing climate.

“The good news is that if we mitigate greenhouse gas emissions … then the projected impact will be much reduced,” he said.

The researchers said they hoped their research, which used mathematical modeling, would help decision-makers in planning strategies for climate change.

Different scenarios

The model used different scenarios characterized by levels of greenhouse gas emissions, preparedness and adaption strategies, as well as population density to estimate the number of deaths related to heat waves in 412 communities across 20 countries from 2031 to 2080.

The results found that compared with the period 1971 to 2020 and under the extreme scenario, the Philippines would suffer 12 times more excess deaths caused by heat waves in 2031 to 2080.

Under the same scenario, Australia and the United States could face five times more excess deaths, with Britain potentially seeing four times more excess deaths from heat waves in the same period.

These predictions improved, however, when scenarios were modeled with policies implemented to fulfill the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Under the least extreme scenario, and compared with the period 1971 to 2020, the study predicted that Britain would see only around double the number of excess deaths caused by heat waves in 2031 to 2080.

The researchers note that their work had some limitations, since it could model only relatively simple assumptions of how countries may or may not adapt climate policies.

The findings “should therefore be interpreted as potential impacts under hypothetical scenarios, and not as projections of [the] future,” they said in a statement.

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Robotic Hand Can Juggle Cube — With Lots of Training

How long does it take a robotic hand to learn to juggle a cube?

About 100 years, give or take.

That’s how much virtual computing time it took researchers at OpenAI, the nonprofit artificial intelligence lab funded by Elon Musk and others, to train its disembodied hand. The team paid Google $3,500 to run its software on thousands of computers simultaneously, crunching the actual time to 48 hours. After training the robot in a virtual environment, the team put it to a test in the real world.

The hand, called Dactyl, learned to move itself, the team of two dozen researchers disclosed this week. Its job is simply to adjust the cube so that one of its letters — “O,” “P,” “E,” “N,” “A” or “I” — faces upward to match a random selection.

Ken Goldberg, a University of California, Berkeley robotics professor who isn’t affiliated with the project, said OpenAI’s achievement is a big deal because it demonstrates how robots trained in a virtual environment can operate in the real world. His lab is trying something similar with a robot called Dex-Net, though its hand is simpler and the objects it manipulates are more complex.

“The key is the idea that you can make so much progress in simulation,” he said. “This is a plausible path forward, when doing physical experiments is very hard.”

Dactyl’s real-world fingers are tracked by infrared dots and cameras. In training, every simulated movement that brought the cube closer to the goal gave Dactyl a small reward. Dropping the cube caused it to feel a penalty 20 times as big.

The process is called reinforcement learning. The robot software repeats the attempts millions of times in a simulated environment, trying over and over to get the highest reward. OpenAI used roughly the same algorithm it used to beat human players in a video game, Dota 2.

In real life, a team of researchers worked about a year to get the mechanical hand to this point.

Why?

For one, the hand in a simulated environment doesn’t understand friction. So even though its real fingers are rubbery, Dactyl lacks human understanding about the best grips.

Researchers injected their simulated environment with changes to gravity, hand angle and other variables so the software learns to operate in a way that is adaptable. That helped narrow the gap between real-world results and simulated ones, which were much better.

The variations helped the hand succeed putting the right letter face up more than a dozen times in a row before dropping the cube. In simulation, the hand typically succeeded 50 times in a row before the test was stopped.

OpenAI’s goal is to develop artificial general intelligence, or machines that think and learn like humans, in a way that is safe for people and widely distributed.

Musk has warned that if AI systems are developed only by for-profit companies or powerful governments, they could one day exceed human smarts and be more dangerous than nuclear war with North Korea.

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Draft Poster for "The Empire Strikes Back" Sells for $26,400

A rare draft poster for the “Star Wars” sequel “The Empire Strikes Back” has sold at auction for $26,400.

Heritage Auctions says a long-time pop culture collector who wished to remain anonymous made the winning bid Sunday in the Dallas auction.

 

The poster features Han Solo and Princess Leia in an embrace similar to one from a “Gone With the Wind” poster featuring Rhett Butler carrying Scarlett O’Hara while surrounded by flames.

 

Grey Smith, Heritage’s director of vintage posters, says the draft poster for the 1980 movie “The Empire Strikes Back” is unique because it shows Roger Kastel’s complete artwork in the original color palette.

 

After final revisions, the poster had a darker color scheme than the draft’s vibrant reds and oranges. It was also more streamlined with fewer characters.

 

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Facebook Removes Accounts ‘Involved in Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior’

Efforts to influence U.S. voters ahead of the 2018 midterm elections in November appear to be well underway, though private companies and government officials are hesitant to say who, exactly, is behind the recently discovered campaigns.

Facebook announced Tuesday it had shut down 32 Facebook and Instagram accounts because they were “involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Specifically, the social media company said it took down eight Facebook pages, 17 Facebook profiles, and seven Instagram accounts, the oldest of which were created in March 2017.

Facebook said the entities behind the accounts ran some 150 ads for about $11,000 on Facebook and Instagram, paid for with U.S. and Canadian currency.

“We’re still in the very early stages of our investigation and don’t have all the facts — including who may be behind this,” Facebook said in a blog post. “It’s clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past.”

Effort to spark confrontations

At least 290,000 accounts followed the fake pages, most of which appeared to target left-wing American communities in an effort to spark confrontations with the far right, according to an analysis done by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

 

“They appear to have constituted an attempt by an external actor — possibly, though not certainly, in the Russian-speaking world,” the Digital Forensic Research Lab said in its own post.

It said similarities to activity by Russia’s IRA included “language patterns that indicate non-native English and consistent mistranslation, as well as an overwhelming focus on polarizing issues at the top of any given news cycle with content that remained emotive rather than fact-based.”

Facebook’s announcement came the same day top U.S. officials warned the country is now in “a crisis mode.”

“Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a National Cybersecurity Summit, citing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

“It is unacceptable, and it will not be tolerated,” Nielsen said. “The United States possesses a wide range of response options — some of them seen, others unseen — and we will no longer hesitate to use them to hold foreign adversaries accountable.”

Homeland Security officials said they had been in touch with Facebook about the fake accounts and applauded the move to take them down. The White House also praised Facebook’s actions.

“We applaud efforts by our private sector partners to combat an array of threats that occur in cyberspace, including malign influence,” NSC spokesman Garrett Marquis told VOA.

Nielsen, who did not comment on the Facebook announcement directly, also said officials were “dramatically ramping up” efforts to protect U.S. election systems with the help of a new Election Task Force.

She also announced the launch of a National Risk Management Center to make it easier for the government to work with private sector companies to counter threats in cyberspace.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has at times cast doubt on findings by the U.S. intelligence community regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election, chaired a meeting of his National Security Council on election security on Friday, with the White House promising continued support to safeguard the country’s election systems.

Vice President Mike Pence, speaking Tuesday at a Homeland Security-sponsored summit, echoed that, saying, “Any attempt to interfere in our elections is an affront to our democracy, and it will not be allowed.”

Pence assured the audience that the White House did not doubt Russia’s attempts to influence U.S. elections, saying, “Gone are the days when America allows our adversaries to cyberattack us with impunity.”

“We’ve already done more than any administration in American history to preserve the integrity of the ballot box,” he added. “The American people demand and deserve the strongest possible defense, and we will give it to them.”

Hackers targeted congressional campaigns

Less than two weeks ago, Microsoft said hackers had targeted the campaigns of at least three congressional candidates in the upcoming election.

Tom Burt, Microsoft’s vice president for customer security and trust, refused to attribute the attacks, but said the hackers used tactics similar to those used by Russian operatives to target the Republican and Democratic parties during their presidential nominating conventions in 2016.

Late last week, The Daily Beast reported one of the targets of the attack was Missouri Democratic senator Claire McCaskill, who has been highly critical of Russia and is facing a tough re-election campaign.

Until recently, both U.S. government and private sector officials had said they had not been seeing the same pace of attacks or influence campaigns that they saw in the run-up to the 2016 election.

“I think we’re not seeing that same conduct,” Monika Bickert, head of Facebook’s product policy and counterterrorism, said during an appearance earlier this month at the Aspen Security Forum. “But we are watching for that activity.”

Still, many officials and analysts said it was likely just a matter of time before Russia would seek to strike again.

“I think we have been clear across the entire administration that even though we aren’t seeing this level of activity directed at elections, we continue to see Russian information operations directed at undermining our democracy,” Homeland Security undersecretary Chris Krebs said.

Facebook said it was sharing what it knows because of a connection between the “bad actors” behind the Facebook and Instagram pages and some protests that are planned next week in Washington, D.C.

Facebook also canceled an event posted by one of the accounts — a page called “Resisters” — calling for a counterprotest to a “Unite the Right” event scheduled for August in Washington, D.C.

U.S. lawmakers’ reactions

Key U.S. lawmakers applauded Facebook’s actions Tuesday, though they warned more still needs to be done.

“The goal of these operations is to sow discord, distrust and division in an attempt to undermine public faith in our institutions and our political system,” Sen. Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “The Russians want a weak America.”

“Today’s announcement from Facebook demonstrates what we’ve long feared — that malicious foreign actors bearing the hallmarks of previously identified Russian influence campaigns continue to abuse and weaponize social media platforms to influence the U.S. electorate,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

“It is clear that much more work needs to be done before the midterm elections to harden our defenses, because foreign bad actors are using the exact same playbook they used in 2016,” Schiff added.

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Israel Jails Arab Poet for Online ‘Incitement to Terrorism’

An Israeli court jailed an Israeli Arab poet for five months on Tuesday after convicting her of incitement to terrorism for a poem and remarks she posted on social media during a wave of Palestinian street attacks.

Dareen Tatour, 36, posted on Facebook and YouTube a video of herself reading out her poem “Resist, My People, Resist”, as a soundtrack to footage of masked Palestinian youths throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli soldiers.

Tatour published her poem in October 2015 during a spate of deadly Palestinian stabbing, shooting and ramming attacks on Israelis. She was arrested a few days later, and prosecutors said her post was a call for violence. She denied this.

Her case became a cause celebre for freedom of speech advocates in Israel and abroad. It drew attention to the advanced technology used by Israeli security agencies to trawl through social media to identify and arrest users suspected of incitement to violence, or of planning attacks.

Tatour said her poem was misunderstood by the Israeli authorities as it was not a call for violence, rather for non-violent struggle.

U.S.-backed negotiations on a Palestinian state in territory Israel captured in a 1967 war have been stalled since 2014.

Tatour was also charged with supporting a terrorist group. Prosecutors said she had expressed support for the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad’s call for an uprising.

“I wasn’t expecting justice to be done. The case was political from the start, because I am Palestinian and support freedom of speech,” she told reporters at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court in northern Israel.

Arab minority

Tatour belongs to Israel’s Arab minority, which comprises mainly descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their land after the 1948 Arab-Jewish war that surrounded the creation of the state of Israel. Hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes.

The court added a six-month suspended sentence to Tatour’s jail time, according to the official minutes distributed by the Justice Ministry. Her lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said Tatour would appeal both the verdict and the sentence.

Israel says the string of Palestinian attacks that began in 2015 was fueled by online incitement and it has launched a legal crackdown to curb it.

Indictments for online incitement have tripled in Israel since 2014. Prosecutions by the Israeli military have also increased in the occupied West Bank – most of those charged are young Palestinians.

The campaign against alleged incitement has raised questions about the balance between security and free speech.

On July 18 the Israeli parliament was set to pass legislation that would have empowered the justice system to order Internet providers, such as Facebook and Google, to take down social media posts in Israel deemed as incitement.

But hours before the scheduled vote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shelved the bill. An adviser to Netanyahu, Jonatan Urich, said the law was open to a too-wide interpretation that could allow cyber-censorship and harm freedom of speech.

 

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From Homeless to Employment in Silicon Valley

As tech giants expand in San Francisco, homelessness and job displacement for locals continues to rise. Deana Mitchell explores one program, created by a formerly homeless man, that’s helping to merge the two worlds for local job seekers.

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With Drones and Satellites, India Gets to Know its Slums

Satellites and drones are driving efforts by Indian states to map informal settlements in order to speed up the process of delivering services and land titles, officials said.

The eastern state of Odisha aims to give titles to 200,000 households in urban slums and those on the outskirts of cities by the end of the year.

Officials used drones to map the settlements.

“What may have takes us years to do, we have done in a few months,” G. Mathi Vathanan, the state housing department commissioner, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last week.

Land records across the country date back to the British colonial era, and most holdings have uncertain ownership, leading to fraud and lengthy disputes that often end in court.

Officials in Mumbai, where about 60 percent of the population lives in informal settlements, are also mapping slums with drones. Maharashtra state, where the city is located, is launching a similar exercise for rural land holdings.

In the southern city of Bengaluru, a seven-year study that recently concluded used satellite imaging and machine learning.

The study recorded about 2,000 informal settlements, compared with fewer than 600 in government records.

“Understanding human settlement patterns in rapidly urbanizing cities is important because of the stress on civic resources and public utilities,” said Nikhil Kaza, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina.

“Geospatial analysis can help identify stress zones, and allow civic authorities to focus their efforts in localized areas,” said Kaza, who analyzed the Bengaluru data.

About a third of the world’s urban population lives in informal settlements, according to United Nations data.

These settlements may account for 30 percent to 60 percent of housing in cities, yet they are generally undercounted, resulting in a lack of essential services, which can exacerbate poverty.

Identifying and monitoring settlements with traditional approaches such as door-to-door surveys is costly and time consuming. As technology gets cheaper, officials from Nairobi to Mumbai are using satellite images and drones instead.

About 65 million people live in India’s slums, according to census data, which activists say is a low estimate.

Lack of data can result in tenure insecurity, as only residents of “notified” slums – or those that are formally recognized – can receive property titles.

Lack of data also leads to poor policy because slums are “not homogenous,” said Anirudh Krishna, a professor at Duke University who led the Bengaluru study.

Some slums “are more likely to need water and sanitation facilities, while better off slums may require skills and entrepreneurship interventions,” he said.

“Lack of information on the nature and diversity of informal settlements is an important limitation in developing appropriate policies aimed at improving the lives of the urban poor.”

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50 Years on, McDonald’s and Fast-Food Evolve Around Big Mac

McDonald’s is fighting to hold onto customers as the Big Mac turns 50, but it isn’t changing the makings of its most famous burger.

The company is celebrating the 1968 national launch of the double-decker sandwich whose ingredients of “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun” were seared into American memories by a TV jingle. But the milestone comes as the company reduces its number of U.S. stores. McDonald’s said Thursday that customers are visiting less often. Other trendy burger options are reaching into the heartland.

The “Golden Arches” still have a massive global reach, and the McDonald’s brand of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries remains recognizable around the world. But on its critical home turf, the company is toiling to stay relevant. Kale now appears in salads, fresh has replaced frozen beef patties in Quarter Pounders, and some stores now offer ordering kiosks, food delivery and barista-style cafes.

The milestone for the Big Mac shows how much McDonald’s and the rest of fast-food have evolved around it.

“Clearly, we’ve gotten a little more sophisticated in our menu development,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a phone interview.

As with many of its popular and long-lasting menu items, the idea for the Big Mac came from a franchisee.

In 1967, Michael James “Jim” Delligatti lobbied the company to let him test the burger at his Pittsburgh restaurants. Later, he acknowledged the Big Mac’s similarity to a popular sandwich sold by the Big Boy chain.

“This wasn’t like discovering the light bulb. The bulb was already there. All I did was screw it in the socket,” Delligatti said, according to “Behind the Arches.”

McDonald’s agreed to let Delligatti sell the sandwich at a single location, on the condition that he use the company’s standard bun. It didn’t work. Delligatti tried a bigger sesame seed bun, and the burger soon lifted sales by more than 12 percent.

After similar results at more stores, the Big Mac was added to the national menu in 1968. Other ideas from franchisees that hit the big time include the Filet-O-Fish, Egg McMuffin, Apple Pie (once deep-fried but now baked), and the Shamrock Shake.

“The company has benefited from the ingenuity of its small business men,” wrote Ray Kroc, who transformed the McDonald’s into a global franchise, in his book, “Grinding It Out.”

Franchisees still play an important role, driving the recent switch to fresh from frozen for the beef in Quarter Pounders, Easterbrook says. They also participate in menu development, which in the U.S. has included a series of cooking tweaks intended to improve taste.

Messing with a signature menu item can be taboo, but keeping the Big Mac unchanged comes with its own risks. Newer chains such as Shake Shack and Five Guys offer burgers that can make the Big Mac seem outdated. Even White Castle is modernizing, recently adding plant-based “Impossible Burger” sliders at some locations.

A McDonald’s franchisee fretted in 2016 that only one out of five millennials has tried the Big Mac. The Big Mac had “gotten less relevant,” the franchisee wrote in a memo, according to the Wall Street Journal.

McDonald’s then ran promotions designed to introduce the Big Mac to more people. Those kind of periodic campaigns should help keep the Big Mac relevant for years to come, says Mike Delligatti, the son of the Big Mac inventor, who died in 2016.

“What iconic sandwich do you know that can beat the Big Mac as far as longevity?” said Delligatti, himself a McDonald’s franchisee.

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Accusations Fly as US Firms Seek to Avoid Trump’s Steel Tariff

U.S. companies seeking to be exempted from President Donald Trump’s tariff on imported steel are accusing American steel manufacturers of spreading inaccurate and misleading information, and they fear it may torpedo their requests.

Robert Miller, president and CEO of NLMK USA, said objections raised by U.S. Steel and Nucor to his bid for a waiver are “literal untruths.” He said his company, which imports huge slabs of steel from Russia, has already paid $80 million in duties and will be forced out of business if it isn’t excused from the 25 percent tariff. U.S. Steel and Nucor are two of the country’s largest steel producers.

“They ought to be ashamed of themselves,” said Miller, who employs more than 1,100 people at mills in Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Miller’s resentment, echoed by several other executives, is evidence of the backlash over how the Commerce Department is evaluating their requests to avoid the duty on steel imports. They fear the agency will be swayed by opposition from U.S. Steel, Nucor and other domestic steel suppliers that say they’ve been unfairly hurt by a glut of imports and back Trump’s tariff.

U.S. Steel said its objections are based on detailed information about the dimensions and chemistry of the steel included in the requests. “We read what is publicly posted and respond,” said spokeswoman Meghan Cox. Nucor did not reply to requests for comment.

The 20,000-plus waiver applications that the Commerce Department has received illustrate the chaos and uncertainty ignited by Trump’s trade war against America’s allies and adversaries. It’s a battle that critics of his trade policy, including a number of Republican lawmakers, have warned is misguided and will end up harming U.S. businesses.

Trump and European leaders agreed this past Wednesday not to escalate their dispute over trade, but the tariff on steel and a separate duty on aluminum imports remains in place as the U.S. and Europe aim for a broader trade agreement. The metal taxes would continue to hit U.S. trading partners such as Canada, Mexico and Japan even if the U.S. and the EU forge a deal.

Miller bristled over insistence by Nucor and U.S. Steel that steel slab is readily available in the United States. “That’s just not true,” he said.

His company isn’t the only one looking overseas for a product described as being consistently in short supply. California Steel Industries, a mill east of Los Angeles in Fontana, described the slab shortage as “acute” on the West Coast and declared that its waiver request is critical to its survival.

Aiming to rebuild the U.S. steel industry, Trump relied on a rarely used 1962 law that empowers him to impose tariffs on particular imports if the Commerce Department determines those goods threaten national security. He added a twist: Companies could be excused from the tariff if they could show, for example, that U.S. manufacturers don’t make the metal they need in sufficient quantities.

But there are hurdles to clear on the path to securing an exemption. A single company may have to file dozens of separate requests to account for even slight variations in the metal it’s buying. That means a mountain of paperwork to be filled out precisely. If not, the request is at risk of being rejected as incomplete. All this can be time-consuming and expensive, especially for smaller businesses.

The requests are open to objections. The Commerce Department posts the exemption requests online to allow third parties to offer comments — even from competitors who have an interest in seeing a rival’s request denied. But objections are frequently being submitted just as the comment period closes, undercutting the requester’s ability to fire back.

Willie Chiang, executive vice president of Plains All American Pipeline, told the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade last week that his company had no opportunity to respond to objections that contained “incorrect information” before the Commerce Department denied its exclusion request. Chiang didn’t say who submitted the inaccurate information.

“The intent here is to restrict imports on a broad scale,” said Richard Chriss, executive director of the American Institute for International Steel, a free trade group opposed to tariffs. “It wouldn’t make sense from the administration’s perspective to design a process that readily granted exclusions.”

The Commerce Department declined to comment for this story.

Department officials have so far made public only a small number of their rulings.

An analysis of the numbers by the office of Rep. Jackie Walorski, an Indiana Republican and one of the most vocal opponents of the steel tariff on Capitol Hill, shows that 760 requests have been approved while 552 have been denied. The department hasn’t yet approved a waiver request that triggered objections, according to Walorski’s review.

The congresswoman’s office also examined the more than 5,600 publicly available comments and found they were submitted on average about four days before the end of the 30-day comment period. More than 50 percent of the comments weren’t delivered until 48 hours or less before the comment window closed. It took department an average of nine days to post comments online after receiving them, according to the analysis. The most prolific commenters were Nucor and U.S. Steel with 1,064 and 1,009, respectively.

A waiver request Seneca Foods Corporation submitted for tinplated steel it had already agreed to purchase from China was among the denials. U.S. Steel had objected, calling the tinplate a “standard product” that’s readily available in the United States. In fact, U.S. Steel said it currently supplies the material to Seneca Foods, the nation’s largest vegetable canner.

The New York-based Seneca Foods declined to comment. But in its waiver application, the company said domestically made tinplate “is of inferior quality to imported material.” Seneca Foods also said it’s unclear, at best, if U.S. suppliers have the ability or willingness to expand their production in the long term to meet the company’s annual demand for the material.

Philadelphia-based Crown Cork & Seal, a manufacturer of metal packaging for food and beverages, submitted a sharply worded attachment to its waiver application that anticipated pushback from domestic manufacturers. American steel mills, the document said, cannot meet aggregate demand for tinplate and have no plans to increase their capacity.

“We anticipate the U.S. mills will attempt to rebut this statement when they object to this exclusion request, but we encourage the Department of Commerce to see through their manipulative attempt to exploit the rules of the exclusion request process,” the application said.

Daniel Shackell, Crown Cork & Seal’s vice president for steel sourcing, said he’s not optimistic about the company’s chances of getting all 70 of its waiver requests approved. Eight have been granted so far primarily because the metal specified in those requests is not made in the United States. Twelve others have been denied, leaving 50 still to be decided.

“It’s hard not to interpret that the Commerce Department wants domestic suppliers to have an edge,” Shackell said.

Jay Zidell, president of Tube Forgings of America, a small company in Portland, Oregon, said he’s filed 54 exclusion requests and U.S. Steel has objected to 38 of them. U.S. Steel declared it is “willing and ready to satisfy” Tube Forgings’ demands for carbon steel tubing. But Zidell said the comments ignored past problems with metal quality and workmanship that led his company to sever a prior relationship with U.S. Steel.

Still, he’s worried the Commerce Department won’t approve all of the requests. Tube Forgings already has spent $600,000 on tariffs, he said, and may be on the hook for much more than that.

“The entire system is just screwed up,” Zidell said.

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WHO: Breastfed Newborns Get Best Start in Life

Breastfeeding babies within an hour of birth significantly increases their chances of survival, the World Health Organization reports, citing data from 76 countries that find that mother’s milk is rich in health-giving nutrients and antibodies.

However, only 40 percent of infants are breastfed in the first hour of life, according to WHO’s infant and young child feeding specialist, Laurence Grummer-Strawn.

“The delay of breastfeeding puts the babies at increased risk of infection and ultimately increases their risk of death. Just delaying beyond the first hour can increase mortality by about one-third, and waiting until the second day doubles the rate of mortality,” he said.

The worst rates are found in East Asia and the Pacific, where only 32 percent of babies are breastfed in the first hour after birth, Grummer-Strawn said. He added that the numbers are much better in Africa, with eastern and southern Africa seeing average rates of 65 percent.

“What is interesting is this varies tremendously from country to country,” he said. “As we look across Africa, you can see some countries that have very low rates, as low as 20 percent, but other countries, as high as 90 percent. Similarly, in Asia, a substantial difference from one country to another country in these rates.” 

Grummer-Strawn says the difference in rates is not driven by regional patterns, but is mainly driven by the kind of education and medical care prevalent within a country.

The report warns that formula or other drinks must not be given to newborns unless absolutely necessary. It says formula can be dangerous because it sometimes is mixed with contaminated water and delays the infant’s first critical contact with his or her mother.

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Trump Suspends Duty-free Status for Rwanda’s Apparel Exports to US

U.S. President Donald Trump has suspended Rwanda’s ability to ship apparel products duty-free to the United States due to a trade dispute over Rwanda’s increased tariffs on American used clothing and footwear, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said on Monday.

The ban, ordered by Trump in a proclamation that followed a 60-day notification period, will maintain Rwanda’s other duty-free benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

“We regret this outcome and hope it is temporary,” Deputy USTR C.J. Mahoney said in a statement. He adding that the move would affect about $1.5 million in annual Rwandan exports, or only about three percent of the country’s total exports to the United States.

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Lindsay Lohan to Make US TV Comeback in MTV Reality Series

Lindsay Lohan, whose promising movie career crashed in a string of legal woes and substance abuse, is returning to U.S. television in a reality series about her night club ventures in Greece.

MTV said on Monday that “Lohan Beach Club” will follow the actress as she works to expand a recently launched nightclub and restaurant business in Greece.

The TV network said the show, expected to air in 2019, will see Lohan, 32, lead a team of “brand ambassadors” who will help promote her business “while striving to rise above the temptations the Mykonos night life scene has to offer.”

Lohan, once one of Hollywood’s most-sought after young actresses after starring roles in “The Parent Trap” and “Mean Girls,” went to rehab six times between 2007 and 2013, and was in and out of jail and court repeatedly for offenses ranging from theft to drunken driving and drug possession.

Her last feature movie was the 2013 low-budget thriller “The Canyons” after which she moved to London, and later Dubai. Her biggest acting job since then is dark British TV comedy “Sick Note,” in which she plays a supporting role in the second season that began airing last week.

The Mykonos beach club is Lohan’s third business venture in Greece following the 2016 opening of a nightclub bearing her name in Athens and a beach house in Rhodes which is due to open this summer.

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Madonna Launches $60,000 Malawi Fundraiser to Mark 60th Birthday

Madonna on Monday launched a $60,000 fundraiser to support her work with children in Malawi, and had already raised more than $10,000 in the first 24 hours.

The “Rebel Heart” singer, who has adopted four children from the African nation in the past 10 years, said 100 percent of every contribution would go directly to her Raising Malawi foundation’s rural orphanage, Home of Hope.

She launched the fundraiser, which will run throughout August, through her Facebook page to mark her 60th birthday on Aug. 16.

“For my birthday, I can think of no better gift than connecting my global family with this beautiful country and the children who need our help most,” Madonna wrote.

“Every dollar raised will go directly to meals, schools, uniforms and healthcare,” she added.

According to her website, more than 200 people had contributed almost $11,000 of the $60,000 target on the first days of the project’s launch.

Madonna established the non-profit Raising Malawi in 2006 to provide health and education programs, particularly for girls.

In 2017 she adopted four-year-old twin Malawi girls, Esther and Stella, and opened a children’s hospital in the country’s second-biggest city, Blantyre.

Madonna’s family also includes Malawi children David Banda and Mercy James, and biological children Lourdes and Rocco from her previous relationships.

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