Albert Einstein's Letters On Quantum Theory And God To Be Auctioned

Albert Einstein’s letters are to be auctioned on June 20.

Jerusalem:  Letters from Albert Einstein giving colleagues his thoughts on physics, God and Israel in the 1950s go under the hammer at a Jerusalem auction house on June 20.

The website of Winners auction house describes five signed letters written in English between 1951 and 1954.

The site gave current estimates of their combined value as between $31,000 and $46,000.

In a 1951 letter to eminent physicist David Bohm, Einstein discusses Bohm’s linkage between quantum theory and “relativistic field theory”.

“I must confess that I am not able to guess how such unification could be achieved,” Einstein writes.

The typed letter includes an equation added in neat handwriting and the writer’s signature.

Bohm, born in the United States to Jewish immigrant parents, had worked with Einstein at Princeton University before fleeing to Brazil after losing his post in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunts.

In a 1954 letter to Bohm, who was living in Sao Paulo, Einstein empathises with his friend’s struggles in his complex theoretical work.

“If God has created the world his primary worry was certainly not to make its understanding easy for us. I feel it strongly since fifty years,” he writes.

Winners said the letters came from the estate of Bohm’s late widow.

Another 1954 letter refers to the possibility of Bohm moving to Israel, which had been founded in 1948.

Einstein, who had turned down an offer to be the fledgling country’s president, believed the time was not ripe for such a move.

“Israel is intellectually alive and interesting but has very narrow possibilities and to go there with the intention to leave on the first occasion would be regretable,” he wrote.

Bohm did, in fact, take up a visiting professorship at Israel’s renowned Technion technological institute in 1955.

“Two years later, he moved to England where he worked in the Universities of London and Bristol,” Winners’ online catalogue said.

Einstein had earlier served as a non-resident governor of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, and when he died in 1955, he left it his archives — making it the world’s most extensive collection of his documents

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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'Jihadi Jack' Escapes From Clutches Of ISIS Terrorists

Jack Letts from Oxford, dubbed “Jihadi Jack”, is suspected of going to Syria to fight for ISIS.

London:  A 21-year-old British man, who travelled to the ISIS-controlled area of Syria in 2014, says that he has escaped from the clutches of the dreaded terror group and he now “hate them more than the Americans.”

Jack Letts from Oxford, dubbed “Jihadi Jack”, is suspected of going to Syria to fight for so-called Islamic State.

But he claims he is opposed to ISIS and has left their territory and is now being held by Kurdish forces fighting the group.

Jack Letts spoke to the BBC via text and voice messages.

Speaking about leaving ISIS territory, Jack Letts said: “I found a smuggler and walked behind him through minefields.”

He said he and the smuggler “eventually made it near a Kurdish point where we were shot at twice and slept in a field”.

He said he is now in solitary confinement in a jail in Kurdish-held north-east Syria.

Jack Letts converted to Islam while at Cherwell comprehensive school in Oxford.

He travelled to Jordan, aged 18, in 2014, having dropped out of his A-levels. By the autumn of that year he was in ISIS controlled territory in Syria.

His family deny he went there to fight and instead say he was motivated by humanitarian reasons.

He married in Iraq and now has a child.

He said that he had been injured in an explosion and had gone to Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS in Syria, to recuperate.

He claimed he became disillusioned with the group about a year ago after it killed its former supporters.

“I hate them more than the Americans hate them,” he said.

“I realised they were not upon the truth so they put me in prison three times and threatened to kill me.”

He claimed he had escaped from low-security detention and had been in hiding when he managed to find a people smuggler to take him out.

His parents have pleaded not guilty to charges of funding terrorism after being accused of sending cash to their son.

John Letts and Sally Lane told the BBC that, having not heard from their son for several weeks, they suddenly received a message saying he was in a safe zone.

“It was the news we’ve been waiting for for three years ever since he went out there – and now we just want to get him home,” said Ms Lane.

They believe their son is not being treated badly but are concerned about his mental health.

Letts’ parents are calling on the British authorities to do “whatever they can” to help him.

The government had told them that they could only help if he left ISIS territory but now he is out “no-one wants to take responsibility”, said Ms Lane.

John Letts, an organic farmer, acknowledges that his son “will have to account for his actions” once he returns to Britain, but the family is not convinced “he has done anything at all”, from what he has told them.

The UK government advises against all travel to Syria and parts of Iraq and a number of people who returned from these areas have been prosecuted.

Asked by the BBC why the UK government should help him, Jack said: “I don’t want anyone to help me.”

“I’ll just chill here in solitary confinement till someone decides it’s easier to kill me,” he added.

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Qatar's Isolation Violates Islamic Values, Says Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan

Ankara:  Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced the isolation of Qatar by neighbouring states as a violation of Islamic values and tantamount to a “death penalty” against Doha in a crisis reverberating through the Middle East and beyond.Erdogan’s comments marked the strongest intervention yet by a powerful regional ally of Doha eight days after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and imposed stringent economic sanctions on it.

Qatar denies the allegations of supporting Islamist militants and Iran.

The measures against Qatar, a small oil and gas exporter with a population of 2.7 million people, have disrupted imports of food and other materials and caused some foreign banks to scale back business.

Qatar, which imported 80 percent of its food from bigger Gulf Arab neighbours before the diplomatic shutdown, has also been talking to Iran and Turkey to secure food and water.

“A very grave mistake is being made in Qatar, isolating a nation in all areas is inhumane and against Islamic values. It’s as if a death penalty decision has been taken for Qatar,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party in Ankara.

“Qatar has showed the most decisive stance against terrorist organisation Islamic State alongside Turkey. Victimising Qatar through smear campaigns serves no purpose.”

Turkey has maintained good relations with Qatar as well as several of its Gulf Arab neighbours. Turkey and Qatar have both provided support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and backed rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Gulf Arab states have issued no public demands; but a list that has been circulating includes severance of diplomatic relations with Iran, expulsion of all members of the Palestinian Hamas group and of the Muslim Brotherhood, the freezing of all bank accounts of Hamas members, ending support for “terrorist organizations” and ceasing interference in Egyptian affairs.

Some analysts say demands could also include closing down satellite channel Al Jazeera, or changing its editorial policy.

There has been no breakthrough from Kuwaiti efforts to mediate in the crisis, but a U.S. official in the region said Kuwait was continuing with what is seen as a “slow, painstaking, deliberate” process focused inside the GCC.

“The parties are still defining what it is they want out of this confrontation…It’s difficult to conduct negotiations if you don’t really know what everybody wants. So there is an assessment phase going on right now.”

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Monday Doha “still had no clue” why Arab states had cut ties with his country. He denied Doha supported groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that its neighbours oppose, or had warm ties with their enemy Iran.

International Diplomacy

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Erdogan would discuss the Gulf rift in a telephone call with U.S. President Donald Trump in coming days, but gave no specific time.

Turkey last week approved plans to deploy more troops to a military base it has established in Qatar under a 2014 agreement with the Gulf Arab state. The move was seen as support by regional power and NATO member Turkey to Doha.

In Moscow, the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman discussed the Qatar crisis in a phone call on Tuesday. The Kremlin said that the row was not helping to unite efforts to try to find a Syria settlement or fight terrorism.

Morocco has also waded into the crisis, announcing it was sending plane-loads of food supplies to Doha as part of its Islamic duty during Ramadan.

Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita was also in the Gulf on a mission by King Mohammed to try to mediate.

A diplomatic source in the region said Bourita had met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan in Abu Dhabi on Monday and was due in Kuwait on Tuesday. He was also expected to fly to Jeddah for talks with Saudi officials on the crisis.

So far, the measures against Qatar do not seem to have caused serious shortages of supplies in shops.

Some people have even joked about being “blockaded” inside the world’s richest country: a Twitter page called “Doha under siege” pokes fun at the prospect of readying “escape yachts”, stocking up on caviar and trading Rolex watches for espresso.

But an economic downturn could have more dire consequences for the vast majority of Qatar’s 2.7 million residents, who are not citizens but foreign workers.

Migrant labourers make up 90 percent of Qatar’s population, mostly unskilled and dependent on construction projects such as building stadiums for the 2022 soccer World Cup.

(Reporting by Ercan Gurses and Ece Toksaba in Ankara, additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Sylvia Westall in Dubai, and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Ralph Boulton)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Bloodhound supersonic car set for October trials

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The Bloodhound project was first announced in 2008

The Bloodhound supersonic car will run for the first time on 26 October.

It is going to conduct a series of “slow speed” trials on the runway at Newquay airport in Cornwall.

Engineers want to shake down the vehicle’s systems before heading out to South Africa next year to try to break the land speed record.

This stands at 763mph (1,228km/h), and Bloodhound‘s aim is to raise the mark in two stages – by getting first to 800mph and then to 1,000mph.

The Newquay trials will not see anything like those speeds. The 9,000ft-long (2,744m) runway at the former RAF base is simply too short to allow Bloodhound to use the full thrust at its disposal.

Instead, driver Andy Green will take the car up to about 200mph using just its Eurofighter-Typhoon jet engine. The rocket motor that would ordinarily provide additional power will not even be in the car as its development has yet to be completed.

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The runway is long, but not long enough for Bloodhound to get fully into its stride

Nonetheless, engineers see the Newquay event as an important opportunity to gain some key early data on a rolling Bloodhound.

“It will be a big emotional moment for the team,” said chief engineer Mark Chapman. “We’ve gone from a computer design to an actual thing that will move down the runway. It will be a huge validation for the people who’ve stood by us all these years; it is happening. And, yes, it will also be a great shop window as we look to attract a bit more money to get us over the last few hurdles.”

Thursday 26 October will be restricted to the media, VIPs, sponsors, and members of the Bloodhound 1K Club. But the following Saturday will then see a public day of running, with an education day scheduled for the Monday.

In between all this publicity activity, Mark Chapman’s team will be trying to understand how the air enters the jet intake at slow speed and what that means for managing the power unit’s performance. It will also be the first chance to assess all of the electronics built into the car.

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One of the old RAF hangars used by the Bloodhound project

“Newquay will demonstrate that the cockpit talks to the rest of the car, and the rest of the car talks to the cockpit – and the whole thing then talks to the outside world.” And that includes feeding high-definition video from the more than 10 cameras that will be embedded around the vehicle’s bodywork.

It will be a critical day too for driver Andy Green, because it will be his first experience of the steering feel, throttle and brake action, noise and vibration – things that cannot be truly simulated in a computer.

The expectation is that Bloodhound will head to Hakskeen Pan – a dried-out lakebed in Northern Cape, South Africa – in just over a year’s time to begin its assault on that initial 800mph target.

For this to happen, the next phase of rocket development has to be concluded.

The Norwegian aerospace company, Nammo, will supply the motor and has a basic unit available already. However, the Bloodhound team wants the thrust levels increased slightly, and that requires a period of testing.

“We would hope to be starting this programme in the next two-to-three months,” said Mr Chapman. “We’re fairly confident that we’ll have a rocket being tested within six months; and then the fully operational rocket will be within 12 months.”

October marks the 20th anniversary of Andy Green setting the existing land speed record in a car called Thrust SSC.

Two other key figures from that effort in the American Black Rock Desert have returned to work on Bloodhound: Richard Noble, the director of the project; and Ron Ayers, the aerodynamicist.

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A flat track has been prepared on Hakskeen Pan to enable Bloodhound to reach very high speeds

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US Congress Readies Fresh Sanctions On Russia

US Senate is aiming to punish Vladimir Putin for interfering in last year’s presidential election.

Washington, United States:  The US Senate is aiming to punish Russia’s Vladimir Putin for interfering in last year’s presidential election by drafting sanctions that would prevent President Donald Trump from unilaterally easing pressure on Moscow.

The bipartisan amendment, released late Monday, comes as the White House is deeply embroiled in a crisis over whether Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russian officials to help sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

The measure would require a green light from Congress in the event sanctions on Russia are relaxed, suspended or terminated.

It would codify in law the sanctions imposed by executive decree by Barack Obama, especially against the Russian energy industry.

And it would impose new sanctions on “corrupt Russian actors,” those implicated in serious human rights abuses or who supply weapons to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, and people who conduct “malicious cyber activity” on behalf of the Russian state.

“I believe it’s particularly significant that a bipartisan coalition is seeking to reestablish Congress as the final arbiter of sanctions relief — no matter what the administration does — considering that this administration has been too eager to put sanctions relief on the table,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.

Democrats and Republicans alike were standing united in “ensuring that the United States continues to punish President Putin for his reckless and destabilizing actions,” Schumer added.

In addition to Russia’s cyber-attacks that helped it interfere in the US elections, the reasons for tightening sanctions include responding to Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s and Crimea’s territorial integrity, and its continuing aggression in Syria.

The amendment is being attached to an Iran sanctions bill aimed at punishing Tehran for its “continued support of terrorism.” The measure is widely expected to pass Congress.

The Senate holds a procedural vote Wednesday and a final vote possibly this week. It then heads to the House of Representatives.

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Donald Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions Faces Russia Grilling

Washington, United States:  US Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before Congress Tuesday in another point of high drama regarding the Russia election meddling probe, under pressure to explain his role in the scandal battering President Donald Trump’s administration.

Sessions appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee at 2:30 pm (1830 GMT) for what will be a closely-watched grilling over his Russia contacts and how he was involved in the firing of FBI director James Comey.

It will be the first sworn public testimony from Sessions, a longtime former senator, since he was confirmed as the nation’s top law enforcement officer in February, and comes as political intrigue pulses through the US capital following explosive testimony by Comey last week.

Trump has expressed frustration with Sessions, one of his earliest high-profile campaign backers, who has recused himself from investigations into alleged Russian interference in last year’s election, and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

The Justice Department has said Sessions recused himself because his involvement in the campaign, but in his dramatic appearance last Thursday, Comey said the Federal Bureau of Investigation was aware of information that would have made it “problematic” for Sessions to be involved.

Trump sacked Comey in early May. Given that as FBI director Comey was overseeing the Russia probe, the firing has led to questions about potential obstruction of justice.

Rumors have since circulated that the president may seek to sack special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to head the high-stakes investigation following Comey’s ouster.

But Sessions, who recommended Comey be fired, may end up declining to discuss his conversations with the president, invoking the so-called executive privilege that allows the president and others in the administration to keep their internal discussions private.

Whether he does so “depends on the scope of the questions,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday, saying it would be “premature” to say how Sessions will act.

Although Sessions backed Trump’s campaign, he was also one of the first administration officials to fly into turbulence.

During his January confirmation hearing, he failed to disclose two meetings he held with Russian officials.

“He didn’t tell us the truth,” Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy told MSNBC Monday, saying there were now indications he had a third meeting.

“Let’s find out under oath what it was,” Leahy said.

‘Confidence’ in special counsel

Sessions heads to Capitol Hill in a perilous position with his boss, with Trump reportedly growing displeased with his attorney general, notably over his recusal on the Russia probe.

He may also face questions about comments by Trump confidant Chris Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax, who suggested Monday that the president was considering firing Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department to lead the FBI’s Russia probe.

Democrats have bristled at that prospect, and several experts have warned that such a move could prove politically disastrous.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said Tuesday he has “confidence” in the special counsel.

“I think the best thing to do is to let Robert Mueller do his job,” he said.

In a separate Senate hearing, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein — who following Sessions’ recusal from the Russia probe is the official with authority to fire Mueller — told lawmakers he has seen no evidence of good cause to do so.

Asked if he would fire Mueller should Trump ask him to, Rosenstein responded: “I’m not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful.”

Sessions may be under a further cloud after Comey suggested the attorney general may have failed to take appropriate steps to protect the FBI chief from political pressure from Trump’s White House.

At the conclusion of a February 14 meeting, the sacked FBI chief testified, Trump urged everyone else but Comey to leave the Oval Office, including Sessions. Comey said the president then leaned on him to halt an investigation into one of his top aides, former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

Comey recalled that he felt “something big” was about to happen, and “my sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn’t be leaving.”

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US Blames North Korea For Cyber Attacks Since 2009

North Korea has denied involvement in cyber attacks against other countries. (Representational)

Washington/Toronto:  The U.S. government on Tuesday issued a rare alert on the activities of a hacking group it dubbed “Hidden Cobra,” saying the group was part of the North Korean government and that more attacks were likely.The joint alert from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said that “cyber actors of the North Korean government” had targeted the media, aerospace and financial sectors, as well as critical infrastructure, in the United States and globally.

North Korea has routinely denied involvement in cyber attacks against other countries. The North Korean mission to the United Nations was not immediately available for comment.

The alert said Hidden Cobra has compromised a range of victims since 2009 and that some intrusions had resulted in thefts of data while others were disruptive. The group’s capabilities include denial of service attacks, which send reams of junk traffic to a server to knock it offline, keyloggers, remote access tools and several variants of malware, the alert said.

Hidden Cobra commonly targets systems that run older versions of Microsoft Corp operating systems that are no longer patched, the alert said.

North Korean hacking activity has grown increasingly hostile in recent years, according to Western officials and cyber security experts.

The cyber firm Symantec Corp said last month it was “highly likely” that a hacking group affiliated with North Korea called Lazarus Group was behind the WannaCry cyber attack that infected more than 300,000 computers worldwide, disrupting operations at hospitals, banks and schools.

Tuesday’s alert said Hidden Cobra’s cyber attacks have been previously referred to by private sector experts as Lazarus Group and Guardians of the Peace, which have been linked to attacks such as the 2014 intrusion into Sony Corp’s Sony Pictures Entertainment.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington and Jim Finkle in Toronto; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Child sex offenders using Facebook investigation finds

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Leicestershire Police

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Kayleigh Haywood, 15, was killed after being groomed on the social media platform

Facebook accounts belonging to convicted child sex offenders have been uncovered by a BBC investigation.

BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme discovered 22 profiles belonging to men convicted of child sex offences, which included grooming a child on Facebook and attempting to meet her for sex.

Six of the accounts remained live three weeks after the BBC reported them.

Facebook’s UK policy director Simon Milner said the company was effective in dealing with the issue.

He said he appreciated the BBC bringing the pages to light but said Facebook worked proactively to search out behaviour that should not be happening on the site.

According to the platform’s own rules, convicted sex offenders are not allowed to use the social media network.

‘Absolutely vile’

Among the profiles uncovered was one belonging to Bruce Cordwell, 20, who groomed 15-year-old Kayleigh Haywood through Facebook and Whatsapp just days before she was raped and murdered by another man, Stephen Beadman, in November 2015.

“It’s absolutely vile,” said Stephanie Haywood, Kayleigh’s mother, when she was shown Cordwell’s page.

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Leicestershire Constabulary

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Bruce Cordwell pleaded guilty to attempting to arrange the commission of a child sex offence

Kayleigh, from Measham, Leicestershire, was contacted by 28-year-old Luke Harlow on Facebook in 2015 and the pair exchanged more than 2,600 messages during a two-week period.

After Harlow convinced art enthusiast Kayleigh he was her boyfriend, she agreed to stay over at his flat in Ibstock.

The following night, his neighbour Stephen Beadman came round to the flat and later raped and murdered the teenager before dumping her body in a hedgerow.

Beadman was jailed for 35 years for murder, rape and false imprisonment, and Harlow received a 12-year sentence for meeting a child following sexual grooming, sexual activity with a child and false imprisonment.

But while detectives were investigating the case, they discovered Cordwell, then 19, had also been sexually grooming Kayleigh.

In February, he was jailed for three years and seven months after pleading guilty to attempting to arrange the commission of a child sex offence.

Stephanie, a mother-of-eight, said convicted child sex offenders who remained on social media posed a huge risk.

“There is a risk they could do what they’ve done again, or worse,” she said.

“I say, ‘Once a groomer always a groomer.’

“Once they’ve been inside for whatever they’ve done, I think they should remove it. I think it’s horrible.”

By comparing police mug shots and media coverage of child sex abuse cases and cross-referencing them with the details on Facebook, File on 4 tracked down accounts belonging to 22 convicted offenders.

Facebook has a rule that forbids convicted sex offenders from using its site and has a portal for people to report pages belonging to offenders.

The portal requires people to supply a link to the offender’s page and provide evidence of their offending, which could be a link to a media report of the court case.

Facebook then checks on the offenders with the police before removing them from the site.

When the BBC reported the 22 pages it had found, most were removed within 48 hours – but six remained live three weeks after the BBC reported them.

Facebook said it was waiting for confirmation from police that the final six were convicted offenders before it could remove the pages.

In response to File on 4’s findings Facebook’s UK policy director Simon Milner, said: “We appreciate you did that, we appreciate it when anybody reports to us things that are happening on Facebook that shouldn’t be.

“Our teams that focus on this work with the relevant local police force to get authorisation from them and it works.”

Mr Milner said Facebook worked proactively to search out behaviour that should not be happening on the site.

He added: “We’ve found in terms of our working relationship with law enforcement in this country and elsewhere they think we are amongst the most effective companies in dealing with this issue and we actually do have the right kind of arrangements in place.”

Meanwhile, exclusive figures obtained by File on 4 through Freedom of Information requests revealed the most popular social media platforms had been linked to more than 7,000 reports of child sex crimes over the past three years.

Figures from 22 police forces revealed 7,162 child sex offences had been recorded between 2014-15 and 2016-17, with a 44% increase recorded over the three-year period.

The offences included rape, sexual activity with a child and child sexual grooming involving children as young as three years old.

File on 4: Online Grooming is on BBC Radio 4, 13 June at 20:00 BST – catch up on BBC iPlayer Radio.

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Astronomers Just Achieved Something Albert Einstein Said Was Impossible

Astronomers measured the effect of white dwarf Stein 2051B on the light of a more distant star.

Albert Einstein himself believed it couldn’t be done.

A few decades after he published his theory of general relativity, a colleague asked the famous physicist whether the concept could be used to calculate the weight of a star. Theoretically, yes, was his reply. If one star passed in front of another, the closer star’s mass would distort the light of the star behind it. A savvy scientist could then figure out how much the forward star weighed by measuring the degree of that distortion.

But good luck actually trying to do this experiment. “There is no hope of observing this phenomenon directly,” Einstein wrote in a December 1936 issue of the journal Science. He doubted that two stars would ever line up so perfectly. And even if they did, it was beyond the capability of the era’s best telescopes to bring such an event into focus.

That may have been true 80 years ago. But Einstein had no way of knowing that people would one day build a telescope so powerful it can see galaxies in the making 10 billion light-years away, or that we would launch this instrument into space. With the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers had a hope of proving Einstein right about light bending but wrong about our inability to see it.

The stars finally aligned in March 2014, when Stein 2051B, a white dwarf about 18 light-years from Earth, passed in front of a more distant background star. White dwarfs are the cooling remnants of dead stars – extremely dense spheres of matter that form when a star has run out of fuel for nuclear fusion and collapses.

As predicted by Einstein’s theory, the gravity of a massive object like Stein 2051B makes the star act like a lens, bending the light that passes by it. This effect, called gravitational lensing, is minuscule. Stein 2051B appears 400 times as bright as the background star (which is 5,000 light-years from Earth), so measuring the deflected light is as difficult as detecting a firefly hovering near a lightbulb from 1,500 miles away.

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This illustration reveals how gravity of a white dwarf star warps space.

But Hubble was up to the challenge. When Stein 2051B eclipsed the background star, gravitational lensing made the background star appear to move by milliarcseconds (the unit used to measure distance in space). The researchers used this tiny deflection to calculate that the mass of Stein 2051B is about 68 percent the mass of our sun – or 1.4 octillion tons (that’s 14 followed by 26 zeros). Their results were published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, (81 years after Einstein wrote in the same journal that such a feat was impossible) and presented at an American Astronomical Society meeting last week.

Poetically, it was this same phenomenon – gravitational lensing – that first demonstrated the validity of general relativity almost 100 years ago. In 1919, just two years after Einstein published his theory, astronomers used the apparent movement of stars around the sun during a total solar eclipse to determine that massive bodies like the sun do warp space-time, causing light to bend. A century later, even the most outlandish-seeming aspects of Einstein’s theory are still being proved right: the expansion of the universe and gravitational waves.

Aside from offering a rare opportunity to contradict Einstein, the study of Stein 2051B offered important insight into the physics of white dwarf stars. They are the “fossils” of the universe, astrophysicist Terry Oswalt wrote for Science, and like fossils, they offer important insight into the evolution of stellar generations past. In 1935, Nobel Prize-winning astronomer Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar predicted that the mass of a star as it died would determine whether it collapsed into a white dwarf or evolved into a different kind of stellar remnant – a neutron star or black hole.

Previously, the mass of a white dwarf could only be measured if it orbited close to another star, allowing scientists to gauge the celestial bodies’ gravitational influence on one another. Calculating the effects of gravitational lensing lets astronomers measure the mass of any white dwarf they can find.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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US Attorney General Calls Notion He Colluded With Russia 'Detestable Lie'

Washington:  U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, appearing at a high-stakes Senate hearing, on Tuesday denounced as “an appalling and detestable lie” the idea that he colluded with Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Sessions testified about his dealings with Russian officials and whether he intentionally misled Congress as the Senate Intelligence Committee probes the Russia matter.

“I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected with the Trump campaign,” Sessions said.

“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honour for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” he said.

As Sessions entered the crowded hearing room, a swarm of news photographers clicked away with their cameras. Sessions is the most senior member of President Donald Trump’s administration caught up in the controversy over whether associates of the president colluded with Russia to help Trump win the election.

The committee’s chairman, Republican Richard Burr, told Sessions the hearing was “your opportunity to separate fact from fiction” and “set the record straight on a number of allegations reported in the press.”

Even before Sessions testified, attention in Washington swivelled to whether Trump might seek to fire Robert Mueller, the former FBI director named last month by the Justice Department to head a federal probe into the Russia issue.

Such a move would be complicated and potentially politically explosive. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the person who would be responsible for carrying out any such dismissal, told a different congressional panel on Tuesday he would not fire Mueller without good cause and he had seen no such cause.

Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee just five days after James Comey, whom Trump fired as FBI director on May 9, told the panel Trump ousted him to undermine the agency’s investigation of the Russia matter. Sessions had written a letter to Trump recommending Comey’s firing.

Burr said he wanted to know from Sessions what meetings he had with Russian officials or their proxies on behalf of the Trump campaign, why he recused himself from the Russia investigation and what role, if any, he played in the firing of Comey.

The testimony by Comey marked the latest chapter in a saga that has dogged the Republican Trump’s first five months as president and distracted from his domestic policy agenda including major healthcare and tax cut initiatives.

Sessions, a former Republican U.S. senator and an early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign, is expected to be asked to explain why he told senators in January that he had no dealings with Russian officials last year while serving as an adviser to candidate Trump.

In March he acknowledged he met twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak. His staff said Sessions did not mislead Congress because the encounters were part of his job as a U.S. senator, not as a Trump campaign representative. But the revelations prompted Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation in March.

The abrupt dismissal of Comey prompted Trump’s critics to charge that the president was trying to interfere with a criminal investigation.

The attorney general will also face questions about whether he met Kislyak on a third occasion. Several media outlets have reported that Comey told the Intelligence Committee in closed session last week that the FBI was examining whether Sessions met with Kislyak at a Washington hotel last year. The Justice Department has denied such a meeting occurred.

Mueller’s Fate

Trump has been publicly dismissive of the Russia investigation for months. A Trump confidant, Chris Ruddy, told “PBS NewsHour” on Monday the president was weighing whether to fire Mueller.

Amid the firestorm over Comey’s dismissal, the Justice Department’s Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to oversee the probe into Russian election interference and any collusion by Trump aides. Russia has denied interfering in the U.S. election. The White House has denied any collusion.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump in part by hacking and releasing damaging emails about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

If Trump were targeting Mueller, dismissing him would not be a simple matter. Trump could recommend to the Justice Department that the special counsel be fired. Since Sessions is recused from these matters, he would likely would send such a recommendation to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.

In a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Rosenstein offered assurances about Mueller. “I am confident that he will have sufficient independence,” he told a Senate panel evaluating a Justice Department budget request.

Rosenstein told the panel he had seen no evidence of good cause for letting Mueller go, and that lacking such evidence he would not follow any theoretical order to fire him.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Moment Of Truth At Uber As Internal Probe Results To Be Released

Last week, Uber said it had fired 20 people following preliminary results of the investigation.

San Francisco, United States:  Uber was to release results Tuesday of an internal investigation into misconduct and ethics, setting the stage for reforms at the ridesharing giant known for its no-holds-barred style of management.

The results of the probe led by former US attorney general Eric Holder are aimed at cleaning up a corporate culture marred by accusations of harassment, discrimination, and cutthroat practices to thwart rivals and evade regulators.

Uber has already parted ways with a handful of key executives — including its number two Emil Michael this week — but the fate of chief executive Travis Kalanick was not clear.

Some reports said Kalanick could take a temporary leave of absence as part of the effort to restore confidence in Uber. But as one of the key founders, Kalanick holds a large number of voting shares which could potentially block an effort to sideline him.

It remained unclear what further changes will be made at Uber, which is the world’s richest venture-backed startup valued at some $68 billion.

As part of the revamping at Uber, Nestle executive Wan Ling Martello was named as an independent board member, according to a source close to the company.

Michael had been linked to a number of questionable practices at Uber, media reports said, including a visit to a South Korean escort-karaoke bar and an attempt to dig up embarrassing information on journalists.

Last week, Uber said it had fired 20 people following preliminary results of the investigation, after examining 215 claims of discrimination, harassment, unprofessional behavior, bullying, retaliation and “physical security.”

The company also recently ousted Eric Alexander, who headed Asia-Pacific operations, after reports said he read and discussed medical information about a woman raped in India in 2014 during an Uber ride.

Last month, Uber fired executive Anthony Levandowski, who came from Google’s self-driving car unit now known as Waymo, for failing to meet a deadline to turn over information for an internal investigation.

Waymo’s lawsuit contends that Levandowski in December 2015 downloaded files from a highly confidential design server to a laptop and took the data with him to the startup.

Whither Kalanick?

Uber’s board met Sunday with Holder and consultant Tammy Albarran to discuss the findings and “unanimously voted to adopt all the recommendations” of the report, according to the source.

The recommendations were not immediately known, but Uber is facing pressure to rein in its take-no-prisoners style led by Kalanick and to reform a workplace culture.

Jack Gold, analyst at J. Gold Associates, said Uber may have a hard time replacing Kalanick.

Kalanick “has done some stupid things but he’s the force behind what Uber is today,” Gold said.

“Kalanick can’t leave, there’s no one to put in” to replace him, Gold said.

Uber also faces questions about its covert use of law enforcement-evading software and tactics apparently aimed at disrupting rivals in the ridesharing business

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Boss threatened staff with redundancy if they voted Labour

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The email was sent to staff at Storm Technologies in Watford on the day of the general election

An IT boss who told staff they would be first in line for redundancy if they voted Labour has said the threat was just “banter”.

John Brooker sent an email to employees at Storm Technologies in Watford on 8 June, the day of the general election.

It said: “Labour voters will be made redundant first if Labour do win and things slow down”.

The GMB union said it was “unacceptable and morally wrong” but Mr Brooker insisted it was “totally made in jest”.

Managing director Mr Brooker sent the email to more than 100 employees at the company’s offices on Croxley Business Park.

It said he would have to “re-think a few things here at the company” if Labour won.

“So if you value your job and want to hold onto your hard earned money vote Conservative,” it continued.

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The GMB union said the email was “unacceptable” but the company’s boss called it “internal banter”

Warren Kenny from the GMB said: “A boss should not be harassing employees or interfering with their right to vote for who they wish – it’s Dickensian, workhouse nonsense.

“Any staff working for John Brooker should have been able to vote for their candidate or party of choice without fear for their jobs and their livelihoods.”

‘Internal banter’

In a statement, Mr Brooker said: “The email was a ‘tongue in cheek’ note sent immediately after a large group of my staff and I were having a joke in the company canteen on the day of the election and was totally meant in jest.

“No offence was intended, nor was there any threat whatsoever levelled at staff. This was nothing more than ‘internal banter’ now completely taken out of context.

“Obviously in hindsight I regret any offence this has caused and have reiterated to all my staff the respect I have for their political views and opinions.”

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AFP/Getty Images

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The email warned Labour voters at the company would be made redundant first if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minister

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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick To Take Leave Of Absence

Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick said Tuesday he is taking an unspecified leave of absence as Uber announced dozens of changes intended to increase diversity, guard against inappropriate sexual behavior and bolster the independence of a board tied too closely to Kalanick.

He disclosed the leave in a company-wide email as the company sought to reverse months of controversy — much of it over allegations of sexual harassment and other unprofessional conduct — that had brought the ride-hailing service to crisis.

“The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders,” Kalanick wrote to employees. “There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve. For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.”

Uber also announced recommendations Tuesday from a report by former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., hired by Uber to address mounting criticism of the company amid a wave of scandals. The full report is being withheld from the public and the bulk of the company’s 14,000 employees worldwide.

The recommendations, which were released at an employee meeting at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, were accepted by the board at a marathon meeting on Sunday.

The recommendations are sweeping and touch virtually every aspect of company management. They advocate for weakening the grip of Kalanick and his allies on Uber’s board by adding new members and appointing an independent chair.

Under the proposals, senior managers will undergo mandatory leadership training, and Uber’s current Head of Diversity will be renamed as the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and report directly to the chief executive or chief operating officer. The report called for employee complaints to be handled using a comprehensive process, and for upgrades to employee benefits including equal family leave time for both male and female workers.

Reports that Kalanick was considering a leave had sparked intense speculation over who might lead a company that has been built in the chief executive’s brash image.

The corporate shakeup already has prompted several executive departures, including Monday’s announcement that Senior Vice President for Business Emil Michael, a close Kalanick ally and confidante, was leaving amid pressure from the board.

Uber also announced Monday that it was adding a new member, Nestle executive Wan Ling Martello, to one of several empty seats on the board. She is expected to bring financial expertise while also providing another high-profile woman to a company criticized as exemplifying Silicon Valley’s male-dominated “bro” culture.

As part of the internal investigation led by Holder, Uber already has fired 20 employees while issuing reprimands and requiring new training for others amid 215 reports of possible sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation and other unprofessional conduct. (Some cases remain open pending further investigation by a second law firm, Perkins Coie.)

The Uber board has been struggling to right the trajectory of company, worth nearly $70 billion by some estimates, but have limited ability to remove or even reprimand Kalanick, who along with other allies have outsized voting power because of a special class of shares they control. The controversies have reportedly cut into Uber’s popularity and once-commanding position within the ride-hailing marketplace in 75 markets worldwide.

Rival Lyft now accounts for 25 percent of all trips taken in the U.S. ride-hailing market, up from 18 percent at the beginning of the year, according to data from TXN. In recent months, the company found, even loyal Uber customers who have stayed with the service have also increased their spending on Lyft. In the first quarter of 2017, ridership had surged to 70.4 million rides, significantly exceeding expectations. Uber didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The public mood over Uber began to turn when Kalanick joined an advisory board for President Donald Trump and appeared to undermine a New York taxi strike related to the president’s controversial effort to impose a travel ban, sparking the #DeleteUber movement.

A scathing blog post by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, who reported that an unwanted sexual advance by her boss was ignored by company management, triggered a wave of denunciations of the corporate culture at Uber.

The Justice Department then launched a criminal investigation over allegations that the company used a software tool to evade regulators. At the same time, Uber got in a highly public legal battle with Waymo, the self-driving-car unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, over alleged theft of intellectual property. Uber fired the head of that program, Anthony Levandowski, last month for failing to comply with a court order to turn over documents in the case

Waymo has accused Uber of stealing the laser-sensing technology that allows driverless cars to see their surroundings. The legal fight’s outcome could have serious ramifications for Uber’s long-term business model.

Kalanick has effectively bet the business on self-driving technology. Without it, he has said, Uber cannot hope to compete in a world of growing automation.

A court ruling against Uber could undermine to the company’s efforts to develop self-driving cars, some analysts said, raising questions about its ability to survive in a world where companies from Tesla to Ford are vying for dominance over the future of automated transportation.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Turkish President Erdogan Says Qatar Isolation Violates Islamic Values

Ankara/Dubai:  Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced the isolation of Qatar by neighbouring states as a violation of Islamic values and tantamount to a “death penalty” against Doha in a crisis reverberating through the Middle East and beyond.

Erdogan’s comments marked the strongest intervention yet by a powerful regional ally of Doha eight days after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and imposed stringent economic sanctions on it.

Qatar denies the allegations of supporting terrorists and Iran.

The measures against Qatar, a small oil and gas exporter with a population of 2.7 million people, have disrupted imports of food and other materials and caused some foreign banks to scale back business.

Qatar, which imported 80 percent of its food from bigger Gulf Arab neighbours before the diplomatic shutdown, has also been talking to Iran and Turkey to secure food and water.

“A very grave mistake is being made in Qatar, isolating a nation in all areas is inhumane and against Islamic values. It’s as if a death penalty decision has been taken for Qatar,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party in Ankara.

“Qatar has showed the most decisive stance against terrorist organisation Islamic State alongside Turkey. Victimising Qatar through smear campaigns serves no purpose.”

Turkey has maintained good relations with Qatar as well as several of its Gulf Arab neighbours. Turkey and Qatar have both provided support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and backed rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Gulf Arab states have issued no public demands; but a list that has been circulating includes severance of diplomatic relations with Iran, expulsion of all members of the Palestinian Hamas group and of the Muslim Brotherhood, the freezing of all bank accounts of Hamas members, ending support for “terrorist organizations” and ceasing interference in Egyptian affairs.

Some analysts say demands could also include closing down satellite channel Al Jazeera, or changing its editorial policy.

There has been no breakthrough from Kuwaiti efforts to mediate in the crisis, but a US official in the region said Kuwait was continuing with what is seen as a “slow, painstaking, deliberate” process focused inside the GCC.

“The parties are still defining what it is they want out of this confrontation…It’s difficult to conduct negotiations if you don’t really know what everybody wants. So there is an assessment phase going on right now.”

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Monday Doha “still had no clue” why Arab states had cut ties with his country. He denied Doha supported groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that its neighbours oppose, or had warm ties with their enemy Iran.

International diplomacy

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Erdogan would discuss the Gulf rift in a telephone call with US President Donald Trump in coming days, but gave no specific time.

Turkey last week approved plans to deploy more troops to a military base it has established in Qatar under a 2014 agreement with the Gulf Arab state. The move was seen as support by regional power and NATO member Turkey to Doha.

In Moscow, the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman discussed the Qatar crisis in a phone call on Tuesday. The Kremlin said that the row was not helping to unite efforts to try to find a Syria settlement or fight terrorism.

Morocco has also waded into the crisis, announcing it was sending plane-loads of food supplies to Doha as part of its Islamic duty during Ramadan.

Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita was also in the Gulf on a mission by King Mohammed to try to mediate.

A diplomatic source in the region said Bourita had met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan in Abu Dhabi on Monday and was due in Kuwait on Tuesday. He was also expected to fly to Jeddah for talks with Saudi officials on the crisis.

So far, the measures against Qatar do not seem to have caused serious shortages of supplies in shops.

Some people have even joked about being “blockaded” inside the world’s richest country: a Twitter page called “Doha under siege” pokes fun at the prospect of readying “escape yachts”, stocking up on caviar and trading Rolex watches for espresso.

But an economic downturn could have more dire consequences for the vast majority of Qatar’s 2.7 million residents, who are not citizens but foreign workers.

Migrant labourers make up 90 percent of Qatar’s population, mostly unskilled and dependent on construction projects such as building stadiums for the 2022 soccer World Cup.

(Reporting by Ercan Gurses and Ece Toksaba in Ankara, additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Sylvia Westall in Dubai, and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Ralph Boulton)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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US Envoy To Qatar To Step Down Amid Gulf Crisis

Dana Shell Smith has served in Qatar for the last 3 years.

Doha:  The US ambassador to Qatar said Tuesday she is leaving her post in Doha, in the midst of the worst diplomatic crisis involving America’s Gulf allies in years.

“This month, I end my 3 years as US Ambassador to #Qatar. It has been the greatest honor of my life and I’ll miss this great country,” Dana Shell Smith said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Shell Smith did not say why she was stepping down, if she was staying within the diplomatic service or who would replace her.

Many US ambassadors leave their posts after serving around three years.

Her departure comes with Washington sending mixed signals over the Gulf crisis, which saw Saudi Arabia and several of its allies cut ties with Qatar claiming that Doha supported terrorist groups.

Qatar strongly rejects the allegations.

US President Donald Trump has signalled his support for the Saudi-led move but other US officials have been more cautious and called for dialogue to end the crisis.

Shell Smith was appointed ambassador to the Gulf emirate by Barack Obama in 2014.

Last month she appeared to express dissatisfaction with political events back home in another message posted on social media.

She took to Twitter in the hours after Trump’s dramatic sacking of FBI director James Comey, tweeting: “Increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home, knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions.”

Qatar is home to Al-Udeid, the largest US airbase in the region, which houses around 10,000 troops.

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E3 2017: Super Mario Odyssey gets October date from Nintendo

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Mario appeared in several Mexican-themed scenes in footage from a forthcoming game

Nintendo has said its next major Mario game will go on sale on 27 October.

The date means the firm will be able to promote Super Mario Odyssey alongside its new Switch console in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping seasons.

The news was revealed at the end of a pre-recorded video stream broadcast to coincide with the start of the E3 expo.

Nintendo hosts demos at the Los Angeles gaming event, but has not held a large press conference there since 2012.

The Japanese company recently reported a surge in profits thanks to the release of the Switch, which went on sale in March.

The company sold more than 2.7 million units of the device – which doubles as a handheld and desktop machine – in its first month. That made it the firm’s fastest-selling hardware product in the US.

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Nintendo has said the Switch should help it double its annual profit

Nintendo told investors at the time that it now hoped the console would match the success of the Wii, of which more than 100 million units were sold before production was discontinued in 2013.

“Zelda: Breath of the Wild has got the Switch off to a great start, but it’s not until a Nintendo console has a proper Mario game that they can call it a proper success,” commented Katharine Byrne, news editor of the games trade magazine MCV.

“Releasing it ahead of Christmas is a good idea because if people haven’t bought the console yet then offering it with a Mario game is a strong proposition.

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Mario appeared as a moustachioed turtle for reasons unexplained in the trailer

“The Mario games on the Wii U slightly disappointed because everyone had been hoping for a successor to the original Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy titles, and Super Mario 3D World didn’t hit the same levels.

“But, by the look of things, Super Mario Odyssey is that successor and is what people have been waiting for.”

New gameplay from the title showed Mario and his cap – which now acts as an autonomous flying character – in a range of scenarios including a clash with a Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur, a visit to a Mexican-themed land and a situation in which the plumber is transformed into a saucepan-wielding turtle.

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The pink puffball Kirby gets a graphics upgrade in its first Switch adventure

Mario fans were also told they would be able to play a new role-paying title by France’s Ubisoft – Mario and Rabbids Kingdom Battle – which will be released in August.

Other footage screened during the 24-minute video included:

  • the forthcoming Zelda add-on packs, The Master Trials and The Champion’s Ballad
  • the first Kirby game for the Switch, which is due for release in 2018
  • a demo of Rocket League – an award-winning car-based football game that has already been a hit on rival consoles – with the promise of exclusive vehicles that will be detailed at a later date

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Link gets to wear new masks and armour in add-ons for the latest bestselling Zelda adventure

In addition, it was announced that a new Pokemon-themed role-playing game was in development, as is a fourth major entry to the Metroid Prime sci-fi adventure series.

“Metroid Prime 4 is something that Nintendo fans have been clamouring for for ages, so it was a nice just to be able to say it is coming,” commented Ms Byrne.

“I think some people would have also expected news of a port of Super Smash Bros for the Switch, but personally I wasn’t surprised that it wasn’t discussed.

“Having another multiplayer fighting game at this point might be too much, but perhaps it will be announced next year.”

Analysis from E3: Chris Foxx, Technology reporter

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Psyonix is adapting its e-sports title Rocket League for the Switch

Finally, Nintendo is fleshing out the games line-up for the Switch – and it has whipped out some of its most popular characters to do it.

Last year, the company only had one big game to show off at E3 – but now Nintendo fans have games featuring Mario, Yoshi and Kirby to look forward to.

The arrival of smash hit Rocket League shows that third-party developers also see the Switch as a viable marketplace for their games.

Players have been gagging for a full Pokemon game on the Switch and finally one was announced – although it’s still “coming soon” and we don’t know exactly what it will be.

Hotly anticipated new titles such as Mario Odyssey are still months away, with this summer’s releases such as Pokken Tournament DX and Splatoon 2 retreading old ground.

And there are still some Nintendo franchises missing from the line-up, including Animal Crossing.

There’s a lot for fans to be excited about – it’s just going to take months for them to get their hands on the games.

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Indian-Origin Alok Sharma Appointed Britain's Communities Minister

Indian-origin Conservative Party leader Alok Sharma was elected MP a third time.

London:  Indian-origin Member of Parliament Alok Sharma was today appointed Minister of State in the Department for Communities and Local Government in the British government. The Conservative party MP had held on to his Reading West seat by 2,876 votes in the June 8 general election.”I am absolutely delighted to be elected MP for a third time and I will do my very best for the people of Reading West,” Mr Sharma said.

The 49-year-old’s victory was precarious as he was contesting a marginal seat, meaning it was a constituency with a slim majority for the sitting MP, leaving it up for grabs for any party.

“With any election in a marginal seat, which Reading West has been for a number of years, there’s always an amount of nerves,” he said. “Over the past seven years, the big issues I have tackled include securing more spaces at schools, getting more business investment and securing more standard class seats on trains from Reading into Paddington. Those are the big issues and that’s what matters to the people of Reading West,” Mr Sharma said.

In his new ministerial post, Mr Sharma will serve as a junior minister under Pakistani-origin Sajid Javid, who was re-appointed secretary of state for communities and local government last week.

In the previous Theresa May-led cabinet last year, Mr Sharma had been parliamentary under-secretary for Asia and the Pacific in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or FCO. He was the FCO minister in charge of India.

In another development, senior-most Indian-origin minister Priti Patel attended her first cabinet meetings this week after being re-appointed secretary of state for international development.

The Labour party improved its record from five to seven MPs, with the Tories retaining their five Indian-origin MPs, taking the total up from 10 in the 2015 general election to 12.

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Trucker body to seek cartel compensation

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Getty Images

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MAN Group avoided a fine after it blew the whistle on the cartel

A UK industry body that represents thousands of truckers is to seek compensation from a cartel of five big truck firms over price-fixing.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) wants to bring a claim against MAN, Volvo Group, Daimler, Iveco and DAF that could total up to £3.9bn.

The attempted action stems from a European Commission fine in 2016 for 14 years of collusion over truck-pricing.

Four of the firms were fined a record 2.93bn euros in 2016.

MAN did not have to pay a fine after whistleblowing.

The RHA says it will seek compensation of £6,000 per truck from the five firms, and has calculated that between 1997 and 2011 about 650,000 new trucks were sold.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “UK truck owners affected by the truck cartel have potentially paid too much for their lorries over a 14 year period and we’re determined to get a fair deal for them…

“They [truck owners] have made it clear that they feel angry about the truck pricing cartel and want us to represent them.”

A spokesman for the RHA said the body was expecting thousands of its members to sign up due to the numbers who had been in touch.

The action will be backed by litigation funder Therium Capital Management, which will cover the costs and provide insurance.

“There’s no cost to joining the claim, or any other risks if the claim is unsuccessful,” Mr Burnett said, adding that truckers need not be members of the RHA to join the claim.

The next stage of the process is for the RHA’s legal team at Backhouse Jones, Exchange Chambers and Brick Court to apply to the Competition Appeal Tribunal in London to become representatives in the action.

The RHA hopes for the first hearing before the end of the year.

MAN declined to comment.

Daimler, Iveco, and Volvo were approached for comment.

DAF was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

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In Audio Statement, ISIS Urges More Attacks Worldwide During Ramzan

ISIS spokesperson urges more attacks since the “skies of paradise open in Ramzan.”

New Delhi:  Three years after proclaiming the so-called Caliphate of the ‘Islamic State’, group spokesperson Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajer has released a near half hour audio statement calling for more attacks worldwide. The statement released by Al-Furqan media, which is reserved for statements from the leadership, is titled, ‘When the believers saw the confederate forces.’ Muhajer urges more attacks during Ramzan in the US, Russia, Europe, Australia, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Philippines and elsewhere. Clearly recorded in the last week, the terror group’s spokesperson congratulates the attackers in Tehran who killed 17 people in the parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini’s tomb last week – describing Iran as a ‘spider’s web’. He also praises the ongoing siege in the Philippines for ‘conquering the city of Marawi.’

There is no mention of the group’s self-styled Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Uncorroborated reports in the last few days had again claimed he had been killed. The ISIS spokesperson urges more attacks since the “skies of paradise open in Ramzan.” Three years ago, during Ramzan in June 2014 is also when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself as the ‘Caliph’ of the ‘Islamic State. ISIS continues to hang on to small parts of Iraq’s second largest city – Mosul – three years after it was captured. The group is also under pressure in its self-styled capital Raqqa in Syria, with increased US-led coalition, opposition group and Syrian government attacks.

The Islamic State terrorist group uses Al Furqan to announce important statements by its leadership. ISIS uses other media wings like Al Amaq News Agency and Nashid to make operational announcements and claims after attacks all over the world.

The group’s self-styled Caliph, Abu bakr al-Baghdadi, last issued an audio statement in November 2016 urging fighters to remain steadfast as coalition forces first breached the ISIS stronghold in Mosul. That was his first audio message in almost a year and was issued to counter several reports of his killing. Baghdadi, proclaimed himself the Caliph of the ‘Islamic State in his only video release from a Mosul mosque in June 2014. There were reports of another Baghdadi statement in March 2017 acknowledging defeat in Iraq – but that was never verified by the group’s normal media wings. Reports of his killing again surfaced last week, but again there was no corroboration from verified ISIS sources or from the US and its coalition partners.

The last audio statement from spokesperson Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajer was in April 2017. In that for the first time, he referred to US President Donald Trump. In a 36-minute audio statement, the spokesperson called the US ‘bankrupt’ and said “the sign of your elimination is now clearer to everyone, as the most clear signs that you are ruled by a stupid idiot who does not know what Sham (an area that includes Syria) and Iraq are, or what Islam is.” The previous spokesperson and the terror group’s second-in-command Abu Muhammad al-Adnani last issued a statement in May 2016 before he was killed in a US airstrike in Syria. Before that, Adnani regularly issued statement encouraging attacks in the western world. The group acknowledged his death in August 2016.

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Uber chief to take leave from company

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Uber boss Travis Kalanick plans to take time away from the company.

He revealed the decision in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The leave comes after an internal review of the firm’s culture and practices, which was sparked by a former employee’s claims the company ignored her complaints about sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

At a meeting on Sunday, Uber’s board voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations from the review.

The email did not say how long Mr. Kalanick would be on leave.

Uber has been rocked by a series of controversies in recent months, including an investigation of its business practices and lawsuit from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, over alleged theft of trade secrets related to driverless cars.

Criticism of its aggressive corporate culture has also circulated, inflamed earlier this year when Mr Kalanick was caught on video berating an Uber driver.

He said in response to the video: “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.”

In the email to staff, Mr Kalanick said his decision to take leave, which also comes after the sudden death of his mother in a boating accident, is part of an effort to create “Uber 2.0”.

“For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team,” Mr Kalanick wrote. “But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.”

The leave from Mr Kalanick comes after the departure of other high-ranked executives.

Uber last week also said it had fired more than 20 staff and taken actions against others following a separate review of more than 200 human resources complaints that included harassment and bullying.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder also conducted a broader review of the firm’s practices. Recommendations from that report were released to employees and the media on Tuesday.

“Implementing these recommendations will improve our culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated,” Liane Hornsey, the firm’s chief human resources officer, said in a statement. “While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers.”

Uber: Travis Kalanick’s rollercoaster reign

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Soon, Your Car May Be Able To Tell If You're Having A Heart Attack

A cardiac attack for a driver leads to other drivers being endangered as well (Representational)

Washington:  Scientists are developing a new system that can predict if a car driver is about to have a heart attack, a feature that would help avoid road accidents due to an unexpected cardiac event.

When a person has a medical emergency behind the wheel, fellow passengers and motorists also face risk of death or serious injury.

“A large number of traffic incidents are caused by medical conditions while driving, specifically cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infraction and myocardial ischemia,” said Kayvan Najarian, from University of Michigan in the US.

“The medical event interferes with the driver’s ability to safely drive and operate the car, causing the accident,” he said.

Researchers, in collaboration with Japanese automotive manufacturer Toyota, wanted to move towards technology that can monitor and analyse the physiology of the person driving and predict if they are going to have adverse cardiac events.

“We identified the challenges, potential solutions, hardware options and algorithmic approaches that could be potentially used,” Mr Najarian said.

“We concluded that cardiac events were conditions that are more feasible to detect with technology in the vehicle,” he added.

Researchers are creating a system that could be placed in the vehicle to monitor and predict an adverse cardiac event.

“We would like to test hardware we had previously identified, and improve and validate our algorithmic solutions to see what it will take to generate a system that could look at the physiology of a person, provided by high-density electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements, as well as other medical measurements,” Mr Najarian said.

Their goal is to come up with a system that would predict the occurrence of adverse cardiac events in real time. Researchers are using machine-learning models to analyse the data collected from in-hospital and in-vehicle subjects.

The research team will then test the system on real-time prediction of cardiac events.

“There are actually quite a few obstacles that were identified,” Mr Najarian said.

“You can’t have clinical-grade monitoring devices in the vehicle. You need to use a high-quality monitoring device in the vehicle that, despite all the in-vehicle noise, could reliably register the driver’s ECG without being large and obtrusive,” he added.

The research team will begin gathering the physiological data from the driver using heart monitors approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Such monitors are patches placed on the driver’s chest that analyse physiological data in real time.

Researchers will continue to test and validate algorithmic and hardware options that could be placed inside the vehicle to monitor the driver’s heart. The team hopes to report results in 2020.

“When we analysed crash statistics already reported by different agencies, we found that drivers 65 years of age and older have a lot of medical-related issues that are related to vehicle crashes,” Mr Najarian said.

“We can infer from that information that there could be a higher number of crashes in the future as the population is ageing,” he added.

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Uber: Travis Kalanick's rollercoaster reign

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There is no doubt that Travis Kalanick, the billionaire founder of the Uber lift-sharing platform, built a company that is one of the giants of Silicon Valley.

However, recent months have seen him make a series of apologies for both his own behaviour and that of members of his leadership team. He has now told staff he is going to take some time away from the firm. He is set to have fewer responsibilities upon his return.

Uber now operates in 662 cities around the world and is valued at nearly $70bn (£55bn).

Mr Kalanick’s reputation for ruthlessness and machismo has led to some deeply uncomfortable reports about the culture inside Uber: with persistent stories about organisational sexism and disputes with drivers over their terms and with local authorities and taxi companies.

“Travis’s biggest strength is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals,” investor and mentor Mark Cuban told the New York Times.

“Travis’s biggest weakness is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals. That’s the best way to describe him.”

‘Scrappy entrepreneur’

Travis Kalanick’s informal “bro-like” tone has not always helped.

In a widely reported email to staff ahead of a company party in Miami in 2013, Mr Kalanick – known as TK – asked employees not to have sex with each other if they were in the “same chain of command” or to throw beer kegs off tall buildings, and levied a $200 (£158) “puke charge” for anyone who was sick, presumably as a result of over-indulgence.

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Arianna Huffington has said Travis Kalanick needs to change his leadership style

It’s difficult to imagine Apple’s Tim Cook or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg writing a similar missive.

Board member Arianna Huffington said in March that Mr Kalanick needed to evolve his leadership style from “scrappy entrepreneur” to “leader of a major global company.”

President Jeff Jones is one of a stream of executives who have parted ways with the company in recent months. Mr Jones left after less than one year in post.

“It is now clear… that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business,” he said in a statement to Recode.

Mr Kalanick himself acknowledged that he needed to “grow up”, after a video of him swearing at an Uber driver in a row over rates was shared online.

He said he was “ashamed” of his behaviour and accepted that he needed “leadership help”.

He now has a private driver.


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It has been claimed that Mr Kalanick saw the medical records of a woman who accused an Uber driver of rape in India, after they were obtained by Uber Asia executive Eric Alexander.

Uber did not comment directly but confirmed that Mr Alexander no longer worked there.

In February 2017, a blog post by former Uber engineer Susan J Fowler, which documented her experiences of sexism at Uber, went viral.

It led to Mr Kalanick launching an investigation into the culture of the organisation.

He described her experiences as “abhorrent” and against the company’s values.

Another Uber employee who wrote about her time there said it had been suggested to her – by another woman – that a male manager couldn’t look her in the eye because she was wearing a sleeveless tank top.

There are other anecdotes about Uber’s attitude to women that have raised eyebrows.


During an interview with the magazine GQ in 2014, Mr Kalanick joked about a service for women on demand, which he nicknamed “Boob-er”.

Ex-girlfriend Gabi Holzwarth recalled going with Mr Kalanick and a team of employees to an escort-karaoke bar in Korea where women sat in a circle at the bar, wearing tags with numbers on them.

He did not get involved and the pair did not stay for long.

She said she had later been asked by senior vice-president Emil Michael to tell reporters they had sung karaoke and “had a good time”.

Mr Michael said this was not his recollection of the conversation.

Uber said the event had been reported to human resources and the workplace culture report investigators.

Mr Michael left the company on 12 June.

Also in 2014, a promotion by Uber in Lyon promised to pair riders with “hot chick” drivers for a maximum period of 20 minutes – Buzzfeed obtained screenshots of the blog post, subsequently deleted, which featured models in lingerie.

The same year Emil Michael suggested at a dinner that the company should hire researchers to dig dirt on its critics, singling out one female journalist in particular.

Mr Michael later apologised for the “off the record” remarks.

Breaking the rules

Some of Uber’s operations under Travis Kalanick’s watch have been in decidedly grey areas.

The New York Times revealed that it had been using a computer program called Greyball, which it claimed had been used to identify officials trying to catch its drivers and deny them service in areas where Uber had not yet been authorised.

Uber said the program had been used to prevent “fraudulent users” from violating its terms.

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Apple forbids apps from tracking its devices

It was also reported that Apple boss Tim Cook had personally intervened when his company had discovered Uber had been using “fingerprinting” code to track iPhones by collecting their serial numbers, which is against the terms of the app store.

Uber claimed the process deterred criminals from installing its app on stolen handsets.

Waymo, the self-driving car firm owned by Google’s parent firm Alphabet, has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets.

In court, Waymo alleged that Anthony Levandowski, a former employee, downloaded 14,000 confidential files before leaving the company in 2016 and later joining Uber to head up its self-driving car project.

Uber denies receiving or using stolen technology.

In May 2017 it fired Mr Levandowski for allegedly declining to assist in its investigation relating to the lawsuit.

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An Uber driverless car in San Francisco

The idea of driverless cars was never going to sit well with Uber’s thousands of drivers, even though it appealed to its investors, and the company approached it with the steamrolling tactics favoured by Mr Kalanick.

A research collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics centre soured after 40 of its researchers and scientists left to join the ride-sharing firm.

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Uber was criticised for raising prices during heavy snow in New York

Uber has also been criticised over its price-surging policy, where the price of a journey goes up if it is in high demand.

On that subject, Mr Kalanick was unapologetic.

“We did more trips because of our approach, not fewer,” he told Wired following a price surge during heavy snow in New York in 2013.

“We gave people more options to get around, and that is the whole fricking goal.”

Perhaps it is his burning ambition to meet that one “fricking goal” that might ultimately have driven Travis Kalanick to bad behaviour.

“We characterise him as aggressive, dog-eat-dog, and he’s obviously an extremely driven individual, that’s how he’s achieved what he’s achieved,” said John Blakey, executive coach and author of The Trusted Executive, in a recent BBC interview.

“[But] what got you here, won’t get you there. Those attributes – the challenge, the boldness, the brashness – to get to the next stage of the game, he has to recognise he needs new qualities.”

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US Senators Reach Deal On Russia Sanctions

US President Donald Trump’s campaign has been accused of having links with Russia. (File)

Washington:  U.S. senators reached an agreement on Monday on legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia, including a provision that would prevent the White House from easing, suspending or ending sanctions without congressional approval.

The agreement, to be filed as an amendment to an Iran sanctions bill, is intended to punish Russia over issues including its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for the government of Syria in that country’s six-year-long civil war.

The Iran bill is due come up for a vote as soon as this week.

Besides the provision setting up a process for Congress to review changes in sanctions, the measure would put into law sanctions previously established via presidential executive order, including some on certain Russian energy projects and debt financing in some industries.

It would impose new sanctions on Russians found to be guilty of human rights abuses, supplying weapons to Syria’s government and conduct cyber attacks on behalf of Russia’s government, among others.

The measure also would allow new sanctions on Russian mining, metals, shipping and railways.

The legislation is backed by both Republicans and Democrats, and is expected to easily pass the Senate.

It was introduced amid an intense focus in the U.S. capital on relations with Russia, and investigations by the Department of Justice and congressional committees of whether Russia sought to influence the 2016 U.S. elections to help elect Republican President Donald Trump, and whether Trump associates colluded with Moscow as it sought to influence the election.

To become law, the legislation would have to pass the House of Representatives and be signed into law by Trump. If Trump objected, some of its backers said they expected enough congressional support to override a veto.

“These additional sanctions will … send a powerful and bipartisan statement to Russia and any other country who might try to interfere in our elections that they will be punished,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Russia has denied attempting to interfere in the U.S election, and Trump has dismissed any talk of collusion.

The measure also authorizes “robust assistance” to strengthen democratic institutions and counter disinformation in European countries that might be targeted by what the legislation’s sponsors described as Russian aggression.

In December, the final full month of President Barack Obama’s administration, Washington sanctioned Russian businessmen and companies for Moscow’s role in Ukraine via executive order.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Trott and Michael Perry)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Hundreds Suffer Food Poisoning At Iraqi Camp East Of Mosul

Displaced Iraqi people who fell ill in a mass outbreak of food poisoning near Mosul. (Reuters)

Erbil:  About 800 people fell ill in a mass outbreak of food poisoning at a camp for displaced people east of the Iraqi city of Mosul, officials and aid groups said on Tuesday.More than 300 people were taken to hospital for treatment after breaking their Ramadan fast with an iftar meal on Monday night, aid groups told Reuters. About 800 in total were affected.

“Ten of my family were poisoned,” said a black-clad woman under a tent used as makeshift treatment centre at the camp, with an intravenous rehydration drip in her arm. “It was rice, tomato sauce and chicken legs.”

Another woman held in her arms a child gasping with pain.

United Nations agencies working at the camp said nobody had died as a result of the poisoning.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported earlier the death of a woman and a child.

“It is tragic that this happened to people who have gone through so much,” said Andrej Mahecic, from the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR, which runs the camp and 12 others in the war-torn area with Iraqi authorities.

Many of the camp residents had fled fighting around Mosul as Iraqi government forces and their allies press an offensive to push Islamic State militants out of the northern city.

The IOM said a Qatari aid group had paid a local restaurant to provide the food for the meal, though that was not confirmed by other agencies.

“I don’t know the name of the restaurant, but that’s what our person on the site is reporting today,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman said in Geneva.

The camp in al-Khazer, on the road linking Mosul and Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, houses 6,300 people, the UNHCR said.

About 800,000 people, more than a third of the pre-war population of Mosul, have already fled the city, seeking refuge with friends and relatives or in camps.

“We threw up on the floor, I felt severe pain in the stomach, the doctors came at night but some remained in serious condition till morning,” said a young man at the camp.

Some of those who had been taken to hospitals returned to the camp in the afternoon, in ambulances or in minibuses, many holding serum bags.

(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli in Erbil and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva,; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Ed Osmond)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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We Are Not Winning In Afghanistan: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis

Jim Mattis said he is crafting a new war strategy to brief lawmakers. (File)

Washington:  The United States is not winning in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress on Tuesday, saying he was crafting a new war strategy to brief lawmakers about by mid-July that is widely expected to call for thousands more U.S. troops.The remarks were a blunt reminder of the gloom underscoring U.S. military assessments of the war between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and Taliban insurgents, classified by U.S. commanders as a “stalemate” despite almost 16 years of fighting.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Afghan government was assessed by the U.S. military to control or influence just 59.7 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts as of Feb. 20, a nearly 11 percentage-point decrease from the same time in 2016, according to data released by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

A truck-bomb explosion in Kabul last month killed more than 150 people, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

Reuters reported in late April that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump was carrying out a review of Afghanistan, and conversations were revolving around sending between 3,000 and 5,000 U.S. and coalition troops there.

Deliberations include giving more authority to forces on the ground and taking more aggressive action against Taliban fighters.

Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate committee, pressed Mattis on the deteriorating situation, saying the United States had an urgent need for “a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around.”

“We recognize the need for urgency,” Mattis said.

Some U.S. officials questioned the benefit of sending more troops to Afghanistan because any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security. To date, more than 2,300 Americans have been killed and over 17,000 wounded since the war began in 2001.

On Saturday, three U.S. soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them in eastern Afghanistan.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Trump administration unveils plan to defang consumer watchdog

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The Trump administration has said it wants to ease oversight of smaller banks and curb the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s powers.

The report from the Treasury Department outlined administration priorities for rolling back rules imposed on the financial sector after the 2008 crisis.

It comes just days after the House of Representatives approved a sweeping financial reform bill.

The Senate has also started hearings on the measure.

What’s the plan?

The changes – some of which require congressional action – were proposed late on Monday by the administration and include:

  • The White House wants the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to be removable at-will by the president and to make the agency dependent on Congress for funding
  • Exempting banks with less than $50bn (£39bn) in assets from annual stress tests and tailoring rules to allow other, larger institutions to opt-out
  • Exempt some firms, particularly smaller ones, from the Volcker Rule, which prohibits publicly insured institutions from proprietary trading

Where has this come from?

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement: “We are focused on encouraging a market environment where consumers have more choices, access to capital and safe loan products – while ensuring taxpayer-funded bailouts are truly a thing of the past.”

US President Donald Trump ordered a review of financial rules earlier this year, pledging a “major haircut” of the 2010 law known as the Dodd-Frank Act.

Supporters say that law has made the financial system safer.

But critics say it created an overly complicated oversight structure, which has raised compliance costs for businesses, slowed a rebound in lending and inhibited economic growth.

Where does it go from here?

The report endorses many of the proposals included in the so-called Financial Choice Act passed by the House last week.

But it does not go as far as that bill, which a spokesman for Senator Dick Durbin, one of the leading Senate Democrats, said is dead on arrival in the Senate.

Mr Mnuchin said the recommendations in Monday’s report, some of which could be enacted by orders from the president, will move on a “parallel track” to congressional efforts.

A report by Goldman Sachs on Tuesday said it expects the recommendations that can be enacted without congressional action to go into effect next year at the earliest.

It said the odds of some of the more ambitious reforms are less certain.

“While we do expect some additional activity in the near term, financial regulatory reforms are likely to occur gradually, stretching well into next year and most likely the next few years,” Alec Phillips of Goldman Sachs wrote in the report.

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Rain-Triggered Landslides Kill Over 100 In Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s Rangamati hill district alone has witnessed 76 deaths due to the landslides. (AFP)

Dhaka:  A series of landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains have killed at least 105 people, including several army officers, in Bangladesh with the majority of the deaths reported from a remote hill district close to the Indian border, officials said today.

The worst affected Rangamati hill district alone has witnessed 76 deaths, including four military personnel, who were on duty to remove the rubble to clear a major highway.

According to local media reports, the death toll has touched as high as 105 and could rise further as many people remain buried under tonnes of rubble.

Landslides killed 23 people in Rangunia and Chandanaish upazilas of Chittagong, Dhaka Tribune reported.

In Bandarban, six people were killed and five others injured in landslides, police officer Rafiq Ullah was quoted as saying by the daily.

The reports said that over 100 people were injured, many of them critically, while searches were underway for more bodies even as many remote areas were difficult to reach due to inclement weather.

“Most of the casualties were caused by landslides, but some died of electrocution, drowning and collapse of walls,”said an official at the southeastern port city of Chittagong.

A military spokesman in Dhaka said an army major and a captain were among four of their dead personnel who were called out to remove landslide rubble from a highway linking port city of Chittagong with Rangamati.

“A fresh landslide at the scene buried the detachment killing the four while one soldier is still missing . . . ten personnel were wounded in the (fresh) landslide,” he said.

Many of the victims belong to the ethnic minority or tribal groups in Rangamati and Bandarban who live in makeshift structures along the hills, officials said.

The officials said many people were asleep when the landslides hit, causing more casualties, especially among children.

“The rescue campaign is underway. We can get a clearer picture of the casualties later,” a spokesman at the Disaster Management Ministry said, adding that the casualty figures could rise as many remain missing.

The landslides triggered by the monsoon rains came two weeks after Cyclone Mora hit Bangladesh, leaving eight people dead and damaging hundreds of homes.  

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EU Opens Case Against Warsaw, Budapest And Prague Over Migration

The case brought up a feud within the EU on how to deal with migration. (Reuters)

Brussels/Strasbourg:  The European Commission launched a legal case on Tuesday against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for refusing to take in asylum-seekers, ratcheting up a bitter feud within the 28-nation bloc about how to deal with migration.The eurosceptic, nationalist-minded governments in Poland and Hungary have refused to take in anyone under a plan agreed by a majority of EU leaders in 2015 to relocate migrants from frontline states Italy and Greece to help ease their burden.

The Czech Republic, another ex-communist central European state, initially accepted 12 people but has since said it would not welcome more.

“I regret to see that despite our repeated calls to pledge to relocate, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have not yet taken the necessary action,” the EU’s migration chief, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told a news conference.

“For this reason, the Commission has decided to launch infringement procedures against these three member states… I sincerely hope that these member states can still reconsider their position and contribute fairly.”

The ‘infringement procedure’ is a way for the EU’s executive to take to task countries that fail to meet their obligations. It opens the way for months, even years, of legal wrangling before a top EU court could potentially impose financial penalties.

“The Czech Republic does not agree with the system of relocation,” Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said in response.

“With regard to the worsened security situation in Europe and dysfunctionality of the quota system, it will not participate in it.”

In a separate legal battle on the matter, Hungary and Slovakia have challenged the relocation agreement in a top EU court, with an initial indication of the ruling due next month.

Unity at stake

The easterners vindicate their stance on asylum seekers by citing security concerns, noting a series of militant Islamist attacks in western Europe since late 2015. The bulk of refugees come from the mainly Muslim Middle East and North Africa.

They also hope their resistance to pressure from Brussels will earn them credit with eurosceptic voters at home.

Many other EU states have also dragged their feet over taking in refugees, with fewer than 21,000 people relocated from Italy and Greece so far under a plan that had been due to cover 160,000 people.

Wealthier EU states including Italy – now the main gateway to Europe for the refugees – have threatened to reduce generous development funds earmarked to help the easterners close the gap in living standards.

The Commission’s move comes ahead of an EU leaders’ meeting in Brussels next week that will also seek to break the impasse, though diplomats are sceptical about their chances of success.

After more than a million migrants and refugees reached the EU in 2015, mostly via Greece, Brussels sealed an accord with non EU-member Turkey that sharply cut the overall number of arrivals, though the deal was criticised by rights groups.

Italy remains under pressure, but the EU treats the vast majority of the 64,000 people who made it to Italian shores from Africa this year as migrants – rather than refugees requiring legal protection – and does not plan to let them stay.

The internal EU dispute over relocating asylum-seekers is largely a political one about values, as Avramopoulos stressed in his renewed appeal to the easterners.

“Europe is not only about requesting funds or ensuring security. Europe is also about sharing difficult moments and challenges as well as common ideas,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Miles in Brussels and Robert Muller in Prague, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Gareth Jones)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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North Korea Has Released US Student: Rex Tillerson

US student Otto Frederick Warmbier is taken to court in Pyongyang. (Reuters, Kyodo)

Washington:  North Korea has released Otto Warmbier, a U.S. university student who has been held captive there since January 2016, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday.

Warmbier, a University of Virginia student from suburban Cincinnati, is on his way back to the United States, Tillerson said in a statement.

The State Department is continuing to discuss the situation of three other detained Americans with North Korea, Tillerson said.

The Washington Post cited Warmbier’s parents as saying he had been medically evacuated from North Korea in a coma.

“Our son is coming home,” Fred Warmbier told The Washington Post on Tuesday.

“At the moment, we’re just treating this like he’s been in an accident. We get to see our son Otto tonight.”

Tillerson, at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, declined to comment on Warmbier’s condition.

His release comes as former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman visited the reclusive country. A senior administration official said the Trump administration did not authorize this trip.

“This is him freelancing,” the official told Reuters.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh; additional reporting Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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London could lose EU euro clearing role

The European Union has revealed a draft law to give it the power to move the lucrative euro clearing business out of London and keep it in the EU after Britain leaves the Union in 2019.

London currently processes three-quarters of the trade in this financial sector, providing thousands of jobs.

But European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said Brexit needed “certain adjustments to our rules”.

The law will decide if London will have the right to host the work post-Brexit.

London is currently the world leader for the clearing of all types of currency-denominated derivatives including the euro.

Clearing is the process by which a third party organisation acts as the middleman for both buyer and seller of financial contracts tied to the underlying value of a share, index, currency or bond.

Trillions of euros are handled through clearing houses every year, mostly through London.

In a statement, Mr Dombrovskis said: “As we face the departure of the largest EU financial centre, we need to make certain adjustments to our rules to ensure that our efforts remain on track,”

The financial industry has warned that forced “relocation” of the work would split markets, increase trading costs, weaken the euro and threaten the jobs associated with the clearing houses in London.

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Waymo retires Firefly driverless car

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The self-driving bubble car developed by Waymo, part of Google’s parent firm Alphabet, is to be phased out, the firm has announced.

The two-seater vehicles, which have no pedals or steering wheels, travelled millions of miles in road tests.

Waymo is now concentrating on integrating its technology into other vehicles rather than building its own.

In a blog post, the firm said it was working on a fleet of 600 Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Unlike the Firefly, which could only travel at 25mph, the minivans can drive at full speed.

“From the beginning, Firefly was intended as a platform to experiment and learn, not for mass production,” wrote lead industrial designer YooJung Ahn and lead systems engineer Jaime Waydo.

“By designing and building a truly self-driving vehicle from scratch, we were able to crack some of the earliest self-driving puzzles — where to place the sensors, how to integrate the computer, what controls passengers need in a car that drives itself.”

The pair added that using an existing car would enable the firm to bring self-driving technology “to more people, more quickly”.

Fireflies will be displayed in Austin and Mountain View in the US and at the Design Museum in London.

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Hungary Passes Tough Anti-Foreign NGO Law

An Anti-Foreign NGO Law passed by the Hungary Parliament targeted billionaire George Soros (File Photo)

Hungary:  Hungary’s parliament approved Tuesday a crackdown on foreign-backed civil society groups despite an international outcry, in a move seen as targeting US billionaire George Soros.

A new law, passed by 130 votes to 44, will force groups receiving more than 24,000 euros ($26,000) annually in overseas funding to register as a “foreign-supported organisation”, or risk closure for non-compliance.

They will also have to use the label “foreign-supported organisation” on their websites, press releases and other publications.

The government of populist premier Viktor Orban says the measures are aimed at improving transparency as well as fighting money laundering and terrorism funding.

But the European Commission and the United Nations have condemned the law, with experts saying it could “discriminate against and delegitimise” non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Two prominent NGOs said they would boycott the law and take the matter to the constitutional court and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“One of the fundamental pillars of a strong democracy is a strong independent civil society,” said Marta Pardavi of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), a local refugee rights group.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union also said it would “not comply with the requirements of an unlawful law”.

Amnesty International meanwhile called the measures “a vicious and calculated assault” on civil groups critical of Orban’s hardline policies.

The organisation said the move resembled legislation introduced in Russia in 2012 requiring foreign NGOs to register as “foreign agents”.

The Hungarian law marks a hardening of frontlines in Orban’s battle with foreign-funded NGOs, in particular those receiving support from Hungarian-born emigre Soros.

Government-backed billboard and media campaigns have targeted the philanthropist, while a questionnaire sent to households nationwide urged support for the registration of foreign-funded NGOs.

In January, a senior official from Orban’s ruling Fidesz party said the “Soros empire’s fake-civil groups” should be “swept out” of Hungary for attacking the government’s anti-immigration line.

Earlier this month the EU’s rights watchdog Venice Commission said the NGO bill was “excessive” despite pursuing “legitimate aims”, and urged the government to consult local civil society groups.

It also accused “some state authorities” of staging a “virulent” campaign against NGOs.

Budapest said it took the Venice Commission concerns into account when amending the proposal last week, for example dropping a requirement for the details of all foreign donors to be named on a group’s publications.

But the HHC dismissed the amendments as “cosmetic changes”.

“NGOs can still be closed down if they fail to comply with the new rules,” Pardavi told AFP.

“No consultations took place before the vote, while the general intent to stigmatise also remained,” she said.

Tuesday’s vote follows the hasty approval of another law in April that threatens to shut the Soros-founded Central European University in Budapest.

The crackdown on the CEU and NGOs sparked large protests in April in the Hungarian capital.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Pakistan's Trade Deficit Widens To Record USD 30 Billion

Pakistan’s annual trade deficit was USD 20.435 billion when the PML-N came to power in 2013

Islamabad:  Pakistan’s trade deficit ballooned by 42 per cent year-on-year to an all-time high of USD 30 billion in the first 11 months of the current fiscal year on the back of falling exports and a sharp increase in the import bill, a media report said today.

The high deficit came weeks after the government claimed that it has turned around the economy by achieving 5.3 per cent GDP growth.

Pakistan’s annual trade deficit was USD 20.435 billion when the PML-N came to power in 2013. It has been on the rise since then due to rising imports and falling exports, the Dawn reported.

Trade deficit stood at USD 3.465 billion in May, a rise of nearly 61 per cent compared to the same month a year ago, according to the data released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics yesterday.

Two reasons explain the trade deficit: rising import bill of capital goods, petroleum products, and food products; and a steep fall in exports despite prime minister’s support package to boost exports. The trade deficit is said to be posing a serious threat to external balance of payment.

In July-May, the overall import bill rose 20.6 per cent year-on-year to USD 48.54 billion. In May alone, it increased 28 per cent to USD 5.09 billion.

In the year 2012-13, the import bill was at USD 44.950 billion. It is expected to reach over USD 53 billion this fiscal year.

Exports fell 11 per cent year-on-year to USD 1.627 billion in May after witnessing paltry growths in the previous two months. Export proceeds grew 5 per cent in April and 3 per cent in March.

Exports are in decline despite government claims of providing the industry with round-the-clock power supply since November 2014. Similarly, the government was also providing Rs 3 per unit concession in electricity tariff since 2016 to export-oriented industries.

In the 11 months through May, the export proceeds fell to USD 18.54 billion from USD 19.14 billion a year ago.

Under a three-year Strategic Trade Policy unveiled last year, the government set an annual export target of USD 35 billion by 2018. To boost exports, the prime minister announced a subsidy package of Rs180 billion for textile, clothing, sports, surgical, leather and carpet sectors. The impact of this package on exports has yet to be seen.

The government has recently removed the commerce secretary, Azmat Ali Ranjha, for failing to promptly implement the trade policy. He was replaced by Younis Dagha, who was shunted out from the Ministry of Water and Power for his alleged failure to manage power load-shedding issues.

Under the Strategic Trade Policy 2015-18, the Ministry of Commerce notified five cash support schemes to improve product design, encourage innovation, facilitate branding and certification, upgrade technology for new machinery and plants, provide cash support for plant and machinery for agro-processing and give duty drawbacks on local taxes.

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Apple Mac computers targeted by ransomware and spyware

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Apple Mac computers are being targeted by two types of malware being spread on the “dark web”

Mac users are being warned about new variants of malware that have been created specifically to target Apple computers.

One is ransomware that encrypts data and demands payment before files are released.

The other is spyware that watches what users do and scoops up valuable information.

Experts said they represented a threat because their creators were letting anyone use them for free.

The two programs were uncovered by the security firms Fortinet and AlienVault, which found a portal on the Tor “dark web” network that acted as a shopfront for both.

In a blog, Fortinet said the site claimed that the creators behind it were professional software engineers with “extensive experience” of creating working code.

Those wishing to use either of the programs had been urged to get in touch and provide details of how they wanted the malware to be set up. The malware’s creators had said that payments made by ransomware victims would be split between themselves and their customers.

Researchers at Fortinet contacted the ransomware writers pretending they were interested in using the product and, soon afterwards, were sent a sample of the malware.

Analysis revealed that it used much less sophisticated encryption than the many variants seen targeting Windows machines, said the firm.

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NHS computers were hit by a high-profile ransomware attack last month

However, they added, any files scrambled with the ransomware would be completely lost because it did a very poor job of handling the decryption keys needed to restore data.

“Even if it is far inferior to most current ransomware targeting Windows, it doesn’t fail to encrypt victim’s files or prevent access to important files, thereby causing real damage,” wrote the researchers.

The free Macspy spyware, offered via the same site, can log which keys are pressed, take screenshots and tap into a machine’s microphone.

In its analysis, AlienVault researcher Peter Ewane said the malicious code in the spyware tried hard to evade many of the standard ways security programs spot and stop such programs.

Mr Ewane said Mac users needed to start being more vigilant as malware creators targeted them.

“As OS X continues to grow in market share we can expect malware authors to invest greater amounts of time in producing malware for this platform.”

Statistics gathered by McAfee suggest that there are now about 450,000 malicious programs aimed at Macs – far fewer than the 23 million targeting Windows users.

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Media captionWhat is ransomware?

Aamir Lakhani from Fortinet said Mac users should make sure their machines were kept up to date with the latest software patches and be wary of messages they receive via email.

“Mac ransomware is definitely becoming bigger,” he told EWeek. “Although market share is still small, hackers know that there is valuable data on the Mac.”

Apple declined to comment on the developments.

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Saudi Arabia Says Airspace Ban For Qatar Flights Was To Protect Citizens

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar a week ago.

Dubai:  Saudi Arabia’s aviation body said on Tuesday that the closure of its airspace to flights from Qatar was within the kingdom’s sovereign right to protect its citizens from any threat. The comments were in reaction to remarks by Qatar Airways’ chief executive that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were violating international law by shutting out Qatari flights. The airspace closure was to protect the country and its citizens from anything it sees as a threat and as a precautionary measure, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation said in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency.

Similar statements were also issued by the UAE and Bahraini aviation authorities after a CNN interview of Chief Executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar al-Baker, who criticised the three Arab countries for the airspace closure.

The United Arab Emirates and Qatar have long been major proponents of open-skies policies, which remove restrictions on flying between states.

These policies helped the region’s largest airlines — Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways — to emerge as super connectors linking passengers travelling between East and West.

“From an industry view point it’s unfortunate and disappointing when airlines get caught up in broader political sensitivities which inhibit the benefits of competition and consumer choice, which the region is renowned for,” independent aviation consultant John Strickland told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar a week ago, accusing it of fomenting regional unrest, supporting terrorism and getting too close to Iran, all of which Doha denies.

In all, 18 destinations in the region are now out of bounds for Qatar Airways, which has also been forced to close its offices in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Al Baker had appealed to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency that administers the Chicago convention that guarantees civil overflights, to declare the airspace closure as illegal.

The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority said it is fully committed to the Chicago convention, but that the state reserves the sovereign right under international law to take any precautionary measures to protect its national security if necessary, UAE state news agency WAM reported.

The three countries’ aviation bodies also said that non-Qatari private and chartered flights from Qatar must submit requests to them at least 24 hours before crossing the airspace.

The request should include a list of names and nationalities of crews and passengers, as well as the cargo carried by the aircraft, they said.

(Reporting by Celine Aswad, Saeed Azhar and Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and David Goodman)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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The 'COVFEFE' Act Would Preserve Trump's Tweets As Presidential Records

‘COVFEFE’ Act ensures that Donald Trump’s social media posts are archived as presidential records.

Born from a deleted, after-midnight tweet from President Donald Trump, the true definition of “covfefe,” remains unsettled, even to the commander in chief, who appeared to mis-type it into existence on Twitter one night last month. But a congressman from Illinois wants to bring new meaning to the word.

The “COVFEFE” Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., Monday, aims to preserve tweets from the president’s personal twitter account, ensuring that Trump’s social media posts are archived as presidential records.

“In order to maintain public trust in government, elected officials must answer for what they do and say; this includes 140-character tweets,” Quigley said in a statement. “If the President is going to take to social media to make sudden public policy proclamations, we must ensure that these statements are documented and preserved for future reference.”

Quigley’s bill would add an explicit mention of “social media” to the Presidential Records Act, a law mandating the preservation of presidential communications. Quigley also hopes to ensure that messages from Trump’s personal twitter account, @RealDonaldTrump, get archived in the same way as the official @POTUS account. Deleting tweets would also violate the Records Act, under the proposed law.

Spelled out, the “COVFEFE” Act stands for: Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement.

This isn’t the first time Quigley has deployed topical wordplay to challenge what he sees as President Trump’s lack of transparency. Earlier this year, he introduced the MAR-A-LAGO Act, which would require the administration to publish the visitor logs tied to the White House and any other location, like Trump’s luxurious private club in Palm Beach, where the president conducts official business.

The MAR-A-LAGO Act, like the COVFEFE Act, are likely to face uphill battles to become law in the Republican-controlled Congress.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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What on earth is this euro clearing – and why should you care?

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The fate of a business worth billions of pounds to London’s financial sector will become clearer later after the European Commission announces its plans to regulate the sector.

The EU is expected to call for a new system to vet the vast market in euro-denominated derivatives post the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Currently London is the undisputed market leader in the sector.

It processes three quarters of the vast trade, supporting thousands of jobs.

Concerns that the UK should still have a such an important role when it will no longer be covered by European Union rules have prompted a review.

The draft law could call for euro-denominated clearing transactions to move from London to the Continent if it thinks such dealings pose a risk to EU financial stability.

We take a look at what this would mean for London.

What is euro clearing?

Long considered the unglamorous “plumbing” of financial services, clearing is the process by which a third party organisation acts as the middleman for both buyer and seller of financial contracts tied to the underlying value of a share, index, currency or bond.

Buyers and sellers deal with the clearing “house” rather than each other which centralises everything and makes the whole complex business easier and quicker.

Crucially, clearing houses also bear the risks if one side of the transaction doesn’t pay up.

In return for that risk, buyers and sellers have to keep money in a special account with the clearing house in case there are problems. The more business you do with them, the less money proportionately of your trading volumes you need to keep in that account.

This structure aims to reduce the dangers of a domino-effect of a debt default spreading across the system.

It also means that bigger clearing houses are cheaper for their customers.

How dominant is London?

Very. London is the world leader for the clearing of all types of currency-denominated derivatives including the euro.

The London Clearing House (LCH), which is part of the London Stock Exchange, says it clears a whopping 927bn euros-worth of euro-denominated contracts a day, this is some three quarters of the global market.

In contrast, Paris the second-biggest operator in the sector, clears just 11% of the transactions.

But why us? We don’t use the euro

Fair question. But thanks partly to the widespread acceptance of English law and language and the City’s financial power it’s managed to corner the market.

This hasn’t stopped the European Union trying to get some of this lucrative market. Rival financial centres like Frankfurt and Paris would love to get their hands on the business and the jobs that would bring.

In fact, in 2011 the European Central Bank in Frankfurt tried to insist that all euro trades were done inside the eurozone.

However it was overruled by the European Court of Justice which said the European Central Bank didn’t have the legal power to do this.

The UK, which bought the case, also argued that this would discriminate against non-eurozone countries who are part of the EU. Once the UK is outside the EU that defence would obviously no longer work.

Isn’t the EU just trying to punish the UK for voting for Brexit?

Critics say insisting euro-denominated transactions are conducted in the eurozone would create a fragmented and less competitive market which would lead to higher costs for European customers.

The London Stock Exchange says a smaller domestic pool of trading would make trades less efficient. It argues it would also be harder for the members of a smaller pool to absorb any losses and says risk would therefore increase not decrease.

LSE chief executive Xaiver Rolet says in total a move could cost investors 100bn euros (£83bn) over five years.

A defeat for London still might not be a victory for the EU. Some euro clearing also happens in the US and many think that the way firms will minimise the cost of disruption and fragmentation will be to do their business in New York which has the scale to offer similar efficiencies to London.

What would it mean for UK jobs if this trade moves?

An independent report conducted by EY for the London Stock Exchange last autumn said up to 83,000 clearing jobs could be lost in a worst-case scenario over the next seven years.

And London Stock Exchange chief executive Xavier Rolet warned last year that at least 100,00 UK jobs would be at risk – in areas such as risk management, compliance, middle office and back-office support functions.

However, the LSE says that relocation would have little financial impact as LCH has a clearing house in Paris that is fully authorised under EU rules.

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Typical house price up £12,000 in a year, says ONS

The typical home in the UK cost £220,100 in April, a rise of £3,500 on the previous month, official figures show.

This was a £12,000 increase from the same month a year ago, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, despite lenders reporting a relatively stagnant housing market.

House prices rose sharply in Scotland over the year, the ONS said.

Meanwhile, the cost of renting a home rose by 1.8% in a year, the ONS said.

Contrasting views

The ONS said that average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.6% in the year to April, accelerating from 4.5% in the year to March.

This contrasts with recent figures from the Nationwide Building Society and Halifax Bank, which have shown the market stalling in recent months.

“These figures go against the recent trend of a Brexit-related slowdown that we predicted last year but remain consistent with our guidance of 2% to 5% growth in 2017 as a whole,” said Richard Snook, senior economist at accountants PwC.

The ONS survey includes cash buyers but economists point out that it still uses only a small sample of transaction data – making the short-term conclusions prone to fluctuations.

Over the course of the year to April, the fastest house price rises among the nations of the UK was 6.8% growth in Scotland.

Among the English regions, prices went up fastest in the East of England, rising by 8.1%. The slowest was a 0.6% rise in the North East.

The annual growth in the cost of renting has slowed from 2.5% a year ago to 1.8% now. Research published on Monday showed that affordability of rent and house buying was the biggest issue for tenants of private landlords.

In separate figures, the ONS said that prices in general, as measured by inflation, rose by 2.9% in the year to May – driven by the cost of foreign package holidays for British tourists, and the price of computer games and equipment.

Where can I afford to live?

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Hello's sleep-tracking Kickstarter hit collapses

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A sleep-tracking tech start-up founded by a Briton, which was one of Kickstarter’s biggest success stories, has collapsed.

Hello raised more than $2.4m (£1.9m) for its Sense bedroom monitor via the crowdfunding site in 2014, and went on to attract a further $40.5m.

Private backers included Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek and Facebook Messenger chief David Marcus.

Hello confirmed it would “soon be shutting down”, via Medium’s news site.

“The past few months have been incredibly tough, especially on the team of Hello. For that I’m incredibly sorry,” wrote its chief executive, James Proud.

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Mr Proud was aged 22 when Sense launched in 2014

“Hello has been my whole life for five years, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to have travelled with.”

The product had been on sale for $149.

Customers have been told that the company is “unsure” whether the online service that supports the hardware will continue to operate – it would need to be acquired by a third-party. But they can export their existing data.

Owners have also been advised to request refunds from shops they bought the devices from.

However, if they purchased the kit directly from Hello itself, they have been told there will be no way to get their money back.

According to the news site Axios, Hello had held “fire-sale talks” with the fitness tracker specialist Fitbit, but failed to reach a deal.

Missed lifelines

Sense comprised:

  • an orb that monitored the owner’s bedroom
  • a clip that attached to their pillow
  • a mobile phone app

The equipment produced a unique score for the previous night’s sleep and aimed to wake the owner up at the best point in their sleep cycle.

It had gained voice controls in November, in its last major update.

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The Sense sleep monitor raised nearly as much on Kickstarter as the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset

Mr Proud – who was born in London – gave up plans to go to university to create the gadget and moved to California after receiving a grant from Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who co-created PayPal and now acts as an adviser to President Trump.

The Briton had originally planned to create a wearable sleep-tracking gadget.

But he switched focus to create a table-top device after deciding that this would make customers more likely to keep using it.

“We spend a third of our day [asleep],” he told the BBC in 2014, “It’s the most critical part of the day.”

He managed to attract money from other big name backers, including ex-Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo, Facebook’s virtual reality vice-president Hugo Barra and Spotify’s head of special projects, Shakil Khan.

But Sense struggled against competition from bigger brands, including Withing’s Aura sleep-tracking alarm clock and Fitbit’s sleep-tracking wristwear.

In addition, Apple acquired another rival, Beddit.

“Kickstarter can give you a good basis to get your product off the ground and an awful lot of PR, but translating that into a successful commercial product is difficult,” said Ben Wood, from the CCS Insight tech consultancy.

“Going to the next level, finding more funding and getting backing – or a takeover offer – from a big company is often the lifeline that these companies need to keep going.”

The failure has not deterred another British entrepreneur currently using Kickstarter to raise funds for a new sleep-tracking device.

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Circadia has developed both a table-top sleep tracker and a separate lamp

Fares Siddiqui has already secured more than $100,000 for Circadia, and hopes to distinguish his product by selling an add-on Smart Therapy Lamp designed to “tune” users’ body clocks.

“The market is too saturated now with products that just do tracking, and people want to be able to do something about how they sleep,” he told the BBC.

“Treatment is important and [Hello] missed that key part of the loop.”

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Toshiba facing fresh demand for damages

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Japanese electronics giant Toshiba says it is facing a fresh lawsuit from another group of foreign investors seeking damages following its $1.2bn accounting scandal.

The company says it has now been served with 26 complaints in total, demanding nearly $1bn in compensation.

Last month, Toshiba warned it could collapse because of soaring losses.

Originally known for its consumer electronics products, Toshiba has faced a series of difficulties.

An accounting scandal, uncovered in 2015, led to the resignation of several members of the firm’s senior management, including the chief executive, after the company was found to have inflated the previous seven years’ profits by $1.2bn.

Toshiba said it received the most recent complaint, demanding $399m in compensation, on Monday. It had been filed on 3 April with the District Court in Tokyo by 70 shareholders, foreign institutional investors and individuals.

The company said it had received prior warning from some of the shareholders that the action would be brought.

As a result, part of the impact of this latest claim for damages was reflected in the financial outlook Toshiba published last month, when it warned it was likely to report an annual loss of 950bn yen ($8.4bn; £6.5bn).

Toshiba’s problems are not confirmed to the accounting scandal. Its problems came to a head again in January this year, when it became clear its US nuclear unit, Westinghouse, was in financial trouble.

Westinghouse subsequently filed for US bankruptcy protection. It had been hit by bit losses having suffered huge cost overruns at two projects in Georgia and South Carolina.

Toshiba’s troubles

Feb 2006: The Japanese giant, famous for consumer electronics, buys US nuclear firm Westinghouse

Mar 2011: The Fukushima disaster makes nuclear power a much harder sell around the globe

Jun 2015: Toshiba is found to have inflated its financial results by $1.2bn over the previous seven years

Dec 2016: The company warns that its Westinghouse subsidiary is set to lose $4.3bn. Toshiba’s share price falls by more than 40% over three days

Jan 2017: Toshiba says the unit that makes memory chips for smartphones and computers – NAND – will be split off so it can sell a slice to raise funds

Feb 2017: Toshiba delays reporting its Q3 earnings (Oct-Dec 2016). Chairman Shigenori Shiga resigns. And the company says it will take a $6.3bn hit due to losses at its US nuclear unit

Mar 2017: The company misses a second scheduled date for filing its Q3 results. Westinghouse files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

Apr 2017: Toshiba finally puts out its Q3 results, without the stamp of approval from its auditors, with a warning that its future may be in jeopardy

May 2017: The firm misses a deadline to publish results for the year to March 2017 but estimates losses will be 950bn yen ($8.4bn; £6.5bn).

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Care worker zero-hours contracts tackled by Welsh Government

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There has already been a consultation on recruitment issues facing the care sector

A planned curb on zero-hours contracts for thousands of care workers has been unveiled by the Welsh Government.

Workers will be given the choice after three months whether they want to carry on with the arrangement or move onto a minimum-hours contract.

Proposals also aim to tackle so-called “call-clipping”, when care time is cut short by travel between visits.

Research found a “substantial number” of workers caring for people in their own homes were on zero-hours contracts.

The figure has been estimated at anywhere between 56% and 80% of the workforce in domiciliary care.

However, the chairman of Care Forum Wales said the proposals would “do nothing” to address the “serious issues” in the sector.

Most of the estimated 18,000 care workers in Wales work for private care companies, as opposed to being directly employed by local councils.

But those representing independent care providers say zero hours contracts are not the main issue. Instead they are concerned about how councils commission care services – a process which they said is “driving prices and standards down”.

‘Fairer deal’

Under the new Welsh Government proposals, employers would have to offer the worker a range of contracts, including a minimum-hours contract based on the average hours previously worked.

Social Services Minister Rebecca Evans said: “While some staff prefer zero-hours contracts, valuing the flexibility they can offer, for many the uncertainty and insecurity they pose can have a hugely-detrimental impact on their lives.

“Crucially the plans we are putting out to consultation today will ensure employees have a choice. After three months of employment, they will be able to choose whether to move onto another zero-hours contract, or take up alternative contractual arrangements.”

She said it was also about safeguarding the quality of care, addressing issues around the continuity of care and communication between workers and the people they supported.

Under the proposals, care providers would also need to distinguish clearly between travel time and care time when arranging services. Research has found 39% of home visits in Wales are less than 30 minutes.

Ms Evans added: “Doing so will help tackle ‘call-clipping’, ensuring people’s care and support time is not eroded by travel time between visits.”

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“All or nothing – at the moment we’ve got loads of hours but as soon as someone goes into hospital we lose four calls a day and then it affects us a lot.

“And because we do four on, four off, so we work three days, so then you get hardly anything for the week.”

Extract from interview during research into domiciliary care workers recruitment in Wales by the Centre for People and Performance, Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, 2016.

Read more: Q&A – social care and Wales

Social care headache for councils

  • 336 care providers

  • 18,000 workers

  • 80% of workers are female

  • 43,000 service users

  • 75% care to elderly people

  • 13.1m domiciliary care hrs a year

Getty Images

The proposals have emerged following research for the Welsh Government published last year.

It also heard from independent care providers, who believed local councils, under budget squeezes, were putting an emphasis on price over quality.

Councils paid an average hourly price of £14.24 when commissioning care services in the home in 2015.

The UK Home Care Association has already warned of “desperation” from financial and recruitment pressures.

Mario Kreft, chairman of Care Forum Wales, said there needed to be “a root and branch” review and an end to the “economics of the lowest common denominator”.

“The chronic problems afflicting the domiciliary care sector run far deeper than the issue of zero hours contracts,” he said.

“Domiciliary care in Wales is mired in crisis and these proposals will do nothing to address the serious issues which are resulting in companies either closing down or relinquishing contracts because they are just not viable.”

He said one Wrexham company was forced to hand back a nearly £1m contract to the council because it was costing them money to provide a service that was totally unsustainable.

Unison Cymru’s organiser Andy Rutherford said the care sector had been starved of money through UK government cutbacks, and zero-hours contracts were a symptom.

“Yes, the Welsh Government is to be commended for taking action here, but let’s look at the procurement process as a priority. Councils should not be allowed to pass the buck,” he said.

A two-month consultation on the proposals will run until 7 August. Ministers want them to come into force in April 2019.

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Bangladesh Diplomat Charged With Labour Trafficking By New York

Md Shaheldul Islam, Bangaldeshi diplomat, could face 15 years of prison for labour trafficking.

New York:  Bangladesh’s deputy consul general in New York appeared in court Monday, charged with labor trafficking and assault for allegedly forcing a household helper to work 18 hours a day without pay for four years.

Md Shaheldul Islam, 45, faced a 33-count indictment for grand larceny, assault, labor trafficking, unlawful imprisonment, failure to pay the minimum wage and harassment, the Queens district attorney’s office said.

He was arraigned before a Queens Supreme Court judge, who set bail at a $50,000 bond or $25,000 cash and ordered Islam to surrender his passport.

He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted and has only limited diplomatic immunity, the district attorney’s office said.

Islam is accused of forcing a Bangladeshi employee to work in his Queens family home without pay from 2012 until his escape in May 2016.

He used “both physical force and vile threats” to control the employee, threatening to kill his mother and young son, and shaming his daughter, if he left, and confiscated his passport, District Attorney Richard Brown said.

If the victim disobeyed orders, he was allegedly hit by the defendant’s hand or a wooden shoe, Brown added.

The victim’s only sources of income were tips from party guests and a minuscule amount of money that the defendant sent to Islam’s family in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh consulate general could not be immediately reached for comment.

In December 2013, India’s deputy consul general, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested and strip-searched in New York on charges of mistreating her servant in what sparked a bitter row between India and the United States.

She denied the charge and subsequently returned to India, but was later stripped of her foreign ministry post for making unauthorized statements to the media.

US authorities accused her of paying a domestic worker a fraction of the minimum wage and for lying about the employee’s salary in a visa application.

The row between the two countries strained bilateral ties and left resentment on both sides.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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UK inflation rate rises to 2.9%

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UK inflation rate rose to 2.9% in May, up from 2.7% the previous month, official figures show.

It is the highest rate since June 2013 and keeps inflation above the Bank of England’s 2% target.

The Office for National Statistics said one of the main reasons for the rise was the cost of foreign package holidays for British tourists.

Another factor was the price of computer games and equipment, which are usually imported.

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Jim Mattis 'Shocked' By US Military Readiness, Warns On North Korea

Jim Mattis, US Pentagon chief, blamed Obama-era budget caps for the poor state of the military.

Washington, United States:  US Pentagon chief Jim Mattis told lawmakers Monday he was “shocked” by the state of the US military’s readiness, blaming legal budget caps and the grind of 16 years of constant war.

The defense secretary also warned that North Korea has become the most urgent threat to peace and security, and said — without giving details — that America must do things differently in Afghanistan.

Pointing to Obama-era budget caps known as sequestration, Mattis said limits on military spending have left troops at greater risk and blocked important new programs — even though the defense budget is already greater than that of the next seven countries combined.

“I retired from military service three months after sequestration took effect,” Mattis, a former Marine general, told the House Armed Services Committee.

“Four years later, I returned to the Department (of Defense), and I have been shocked by what I’ve seen about our readiness to fight… No enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration.”

Mattis was addressing lawmakers seeking additional information about President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget.

He wants to slash State Department spending but give a significant boost to the Pentagon’s vast budget, although it falls short of the historic spending bonanza sought by more hawkish Republicans.

The Pentagon has called for $574 billion in general defense funding, with an additional $65 billion for supplemental wartime spending — for a total of $639 billion.

That represents a more than $50 billion increase — about 10 percent — over 2017 funding levels for the base budget, although it amounts to only about three percent over projections previously envisioned by the Obama administration.

Committee Chairman Congressman Mac Thornberry and other Republicans bemoaned the increase as insufficient.

“We have spent six years just getting by, asking more and more of those who serve, and putting off the choices that have to be made. We cannot keep piling missions on our service members without ensuring they have all they need to succeed,” Thornberry said.

Although many Democrats on the committee agree, they worry where the money will come from, given the Trump administration’s pressure to cut taxes.

Afghanistan and N. Korea

Mattis pointed to the war in Afghanistan, which has dragged on since late 2001 with no end in sight, as exacting a heavy price.

Such campaigns have “exhausted our equipment faster than planned. Congress and the Department (of Defense) could not anticipate the accumulated wear and tear of years of continuous combat use,” he said.

Lawmakers repeatedly asked Mattis for an update on Afghanistan, and about whether Trump will deploy thousands more troops to help Afghan partners reverse a stalemate against the resurgent Taliban.

“We’ve got to do things differently,” Mattis acknowledged, noting only that any Afghanistan decision would come “soon.”

Ahead of the four-hour hearing, Mattis also warned that North Korea poses the most urgent threat to international peace and security, calling the regime’s weapons program a “clear and present danger” to all.

In written testimony, he said Pyongyang is increasing the pace and scope of its nuclear weapons program that leader Kim Jong-Un wants to be capable of delivering a bomb on the United States.

“The regime’s provocative actions, manifestly illegal under international law, have not abated despite United Nations’ censure and sanctions,” Mattis said.

The defense secretary also warned of a return to “Great Power competition,” where countries like Russia and China gain military assertiveness and place long-held global security protocol at risk.

“Both Russia and China object to key aspects of the international order so painstakingly built since the end of World War II,” he said.

Pyongyang has test-fired a string of missiles this year, building on launches and nuclear tests that have ratcheted up tensions over its quest to develop weapons capable of hitting the United States — something Trump has vowed “won’t happen.”

But Mattis and his top military officer, General Joe Dunford, said any military action against North Korea would have disastrous consequences for the peninsula.

“It would be a war like nothing we have seen since 1953,” Mattis said about the end of the Korean War.

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Pound and FTSE steady in early trade

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The pound edged higher in early trade, having fallen on Monday as the fallout from last week’s shock election result continued to reverberate.

Sterling was up about 0.2% against the dollar at $1.2680 and also climbed 0.2% against the euro to 1.1327 euros.

Shares also saw modest gains, with the FTSE 100 up 0.2%, at 7,529.30.

But shares in Madame Tussauds and Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments fell 3% after it said recent terror attacks had led to fewer visitors.

Merlin said the terror attack in Westminster on 22 March led to a “softer domestic, day-trip market”.

“However, the subsequent attacks in Manchester and London over the past month have resulted in a further deterioration in domestic demand and, given the typical lag between holiday bookings and visitation, we are also cautious on trends in foreign visitation over the coming months.”

In the FTSE 250, shares in Capita jumped 12% after the outsourcing company reported signs of recovery.

It said it expected profitability to improve in the second half of the year, with trading predicted to improve steadily.

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