Day: April 13, 2017

Trump, Yellen May Not Be an Odd Couple After All

At first glance, U.S. President Donald Trump and Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen may have little in common.

Yellen is an academic economist and veteran of Democratic administrations who is committed to an open global economy, while Trump is a real estate mogul with an electoral base suspicious of the economic order Yellen helped to create.

Yet the two may have interests in common now that Trump is president and both want to get as many Americans working as possible.

Since her appointment as Fed chair in February 2014, Yellen has kept interest rates low and she currently pledges to raise them only slowly even though unemployment, at 4.5 percent, is at its lowest in nearly 10 years.

Meanwhile, Trump’s election campaign promises to cut taxes, spend money on infrastructure and deregulate banking, have helped propel a surge in the U.S. Conference Board’s consumer confidence index to its highest level since the internet stocks crash 16 years ago.

Former Fed staff and colleagues who know Yellen said Trump’s surprising remarks this week in a Wall Street Journal interview, in which he did not rule out Yellen’s reappointment to a new four-year term next year, are not as outlandish as they may appear now that the president has a vested interest in keeping markets and the economy on an even keel.

And the same staff and colleagues say Yellen may well accept reappointment, despite Trump’s criticism of her during last year’s election campaign.

Many in Trump’s Republican party have called for tighter monetary policy and a less activist Fed, but “the president would not really find that useful,” said former Fed vice chair Donald Kohn.

If Trump fills three existing Federal Reserve board vacancies with people Yellen thinks she could work with, “it would be really difficult to turn down” a reappointment when her term as chair expires in February 2018.

“If she continues to do well, he’d be nuts to ditch her for an unknown quantity,” said University of California, Berkeley, economics professor Andrew Rose, a long-time colleague and co-author with Yellen of an oft-cited study of labor markets.

Yellen took over from Ben Bernanke as Fed chair in February 2014 with the U.S. economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis still on shaky ground, and she has made no secret she puts a priority on growth in jobs and wages and a broad recovery in U.S. household wealth.

In a slow return to more normal monetary policy, Yellen has stopped the purchase of additional financial securities by the Fed and in December 2015 began raising short term interest rates for the first time in 10 years.

So far those policy shifts have been engineered with little apparent impact on job growth, and so mesh with Trump’s core election campaign promises to restore employment and earnings.

The slow rise in interest rates in the past year has also happened while U.S. stock prices have risen to record highs, though Trump has claimed the credit for himself.

Precedent for Fed Chair to Stay On

There is precedent for Trump to stick with a former president’s Fed chair appointment. Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, the three previous Fed chairs, served at least two four-year terms and were nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents.

However it may be a more difficult step for Trump.

During last year’s election campaign, Trump accused Yellen of accepting orders from then President Obama to keep interest rates low for political reasons, and he said he would replace her as Fed chair because she is not a Republican party member.

In a particularly biting moment last year, in a campaign video advertisement, he labeled her as among the “global special interests” who had ruined life for middle America.


The Fed on Thursday said it had no response to Trump’s comments published on Wednesday on Yellen and or on whether Yellen would consider a second term.

Much Could Still Go Wrong

Some of Trump’s advisers and some Republican lawmakers want a more conservative Fed in which the chair has less power and would see a Yellen reappointment as yet another step away from his promise to “drain the swamp” of the Washington establishment.

There are also three current vacancies on the Fed’s seven member Board of Governors, and unorthodox new members could make it difficult for Yellen to manage policy or accept another four-year term.

But if the choice is her consensus style or someone unproven in their ability to manage public and market expectations, “he’d be wise to reappoint her,” said Joseph Gagnon, a former Fed staffer and Berkeley colleague of Yellen’s currently at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“I don’t see what is in his interests to appoint someone who is going to jack up interest rates.”


Montana Hunter’s Find Leads to Discovery of Prehistoric Sea Creature

A fossil found by an elk hunter in Montana nearly seven years ago has led to the discovery of a new species of prehistoric sea creature that lived about 70 million years ago in the inland sea that flowed east of the Rocky Mountains.


The new species of elasmosaur is detailed in an article published Thursday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Most elasmosaurs, a type of marine reptile, had necks that could stretch 18 feet, but the fossil discovered in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is distinct for its much shorter neck — about 7{ feet.


“This group is famous for having ridiculously long necks, I mean necks that have as many as 76 vertebrae,” said Patrick Druckenmiller, co-author of the article and a paleontologist with the University of Alaska Museum of the North. “What absolutely shocked us when we dug it out — it only had somewhere around 40 vertebrae.”


The smaller sea creature lived around the same time and in the same area as the larger ones, which is evidence contradicting the belief that elasmosaurs did not evolve over millions of years to have longer necks, co-author Danielle Serratos said.


Elasmosaurs were carnivorous creatures with small heads and paddle-like limbs that could grow as long as 30 feet. Their fossils have been discovered across the world, and the one discovered in northeastern Montana was well-preserved and nearly complete.


Hunter David Bradt came across the exposed fossil encased in rock while he was hunting for elk in the wildlife refuge in November 2010, Druckenmiller said. He recognized it as a fossil, took photographs and alerted a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee.


The refuge along the Missouri River is popular with hunters for its big game and remote setting.


“This is a vast, remote and rugged place that has changed very little since Lewis and Clark passed through these lands more than 200 years ago,” refuge manager Paul Santavy said.


Bradt, who lives in Florence, Montana, did not immediately return a call for comment.


It took three days to excavate the fossil, but much longer to clean and study it before the determination could be made that it was a new species, Druckenmiller said.


He and Serratos submitted their findings to the journal last year.


Druckenmiller said the inland sea that stretched the width of Montana to Minnesota and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico was teeming with marine reptiles, but relatively few of their fossils have been excavated.


“It’s a total bias — just more people out there are interested in land-living dinosaurs than marine reptiles,” he said. “There would be a lot more known if more people were studying them.”


Tesla Set to Unveil Electric Semi-truck in September

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the company plans to unveil an electric semi-truck in September.


Musk tweeted the announcement Thursday. He offered no other details about the semi, such as whether it will be equipped with Tesla’s partially self-driving Autopilot mode.


Musk also said the company plans to unveil a pickup truck in 18 to 24 months.


Tesla currently sells two electric vehicles, the Model S sedan and Model X SUV. Its lower-cost Model 3 electric car is due out by the end of this year.


But Musk revealed last summer that the Palo Alto, California-based company is working on several more vehicles, including the semi and a minibus.


Tesla shares rose nearly 3 percent in late trading Thursday in response to Musk’s tweet.


Make Music Day Festival Coming to Dozens of US Cities

More than 50 U.S. cities will be hosting Make Music Day, a free one-day outdoor festival celebrating music and music-making.

The annual event is June 21, the summer solstice.

Highlights of Make Music Day in the U.S. will include Sousapaloozas in Chicago; Cleveland; Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis-St. Paul; New York; and San Jose, California.

Part of Make Music Day is an event called Mass Appeal in which musicians play together in single-instruments groups. Featured instruments will include guitars, harmonicas, accordions, trombones, bassoons, French horns and harps. More than 150 are scheduled.

Street Studios in Atlanta; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Minneapolis-St. Paul; New York; and Philadelphia will give passers-by a chance to collaborate in producing original music.

The festival began in France in 1982 and has since spread to 750 cities across 120 countries.


University of Michigan Unveils 1,500-pound Rubik’s Cube

University of Michigan mechanical engineering students have made one of the most popular puzzle games much larger. And tougher to solve.

Seven former and current students unveiled a 1,500-pound Rubik’s Cube during a ceremony Thursday inside the G.G. Brown engineering building on the Ann Arbor campus. The massive, mostly aluminum structure is meant to be played by students and others on campus.

Four students came up with the idea three years ago and handed down the project to other students.

“It’s the largest solvable mechanical stationary Rubik’s Cube,” said Ryan Kuhn, a 22-year-old senior who helped assemble the giant puzzle this week. “It was kind of an urban myth of North Campus, this giant Rubik’s Cube that’s been going on for a while.”


The oversized version of the brain-teasing 3-D puzzle, which has flummoxed players since its heyday in the 1980s, is much harder to decipher than its diminutive counterpart, said Kuhn, who called it an “interactive mechanical art piece.”

The puzzle is solved when the player is able to manipulate the cube until all nine squares on each of its six sides display an individual color.

“It’s very reasonable that it could take at least an hour” to solve, said Martin Harris, who helped conceive the project in 2014 while hanging out in the College of Engineering honors office.


Tiger Woods Wins First of Four Golf Masters on This Day in 1997

Twenty years ago on April 13, 1997, American athlete Tiger Woods made history, winning one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments, the Masters, in Augusta, Georgia. He became the youngest golfer to win – and he did it by 12 strokes, a record that still stands.

​That day, Woods not only shot a 72-hole score of 18-under-par 270, but he also shattered the Masters record of 271 that Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd had shared. 

By June 1997, Woods was ranked No. 1 in the world.

Two years later, he won eight PGA tournaments, earned a record $6 million in prize money and began a winning streak that eventually tied Ben Hogan’s in 1948, the second-longest in PGA history. 

Much of his success is owed to Tiger’s close relationship to his father, Earl, who coached his prodigal son since childhood.

In June 2000, Woods won his first U.S. Open, considered the most challenging golf tournament in the world. Woods shot a record 12-under-par 272 to finish 15 strokes ahead of his nearest competitors. 

It was considered the greatest professional golf performance in history, surpassing even his 1997 Masters’ triumph and the 1862 showing by Old Tom Morris. 

In July 2000, Woods captured the British Open, and in August the PGA championship. At the age of 24, he was the youngest player ever to win all four major golf titles and just the second to win three majors in a year.

His winning streak slowed in the 2000’s around the time he married Elin Nordegren, a Swedish former model with whom he had two children.

The golfer won his 10th major, the British Open, in 2005. 

His performance fluctuated throughout the rest of the decade as he struggled with a torn ACL. His career took a further hit in 2009 in relation to a car accident outside his Florida home.

Later, several women came forward alleging they had affairs with the famous golfer. Nordegren divorced him in August 2010.

Woods’ last win took place in 2013.  

Woods planned to play throughout 2017, but a nagging back injury forced him to announce last month that he was withdrawing from the 2017 Masters. 


IOC Commits to Meeting Set for Flood-hit Peru

The International Olympic Committee said Thursday that it still planned to hold its annual meeting in Lima despite the devastating recent floods in Peru.

The 2024 Olympic hosting vote between Los Angeles and Paris is set for September 13, the opening day of the IOC session.

Peru’s suitability for the weeklong Olympic meetings was questioned in ongoing fallout from heavy rains and mudslides last month.

The IOC said the Peruvian government confirmed Thursday that its preparations were “going ahead as planned.”

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said hosting the Olympic meetings would “send a vital message to the world and to Peru that we are ready to welcome the world after the emergency situation.”

Last week, the IOC and Pan American Sports Organization made a $600,000 donation to flood recovery work.


IAAF Report Finds ‘Little Progress’ by Russia in Ending Doping in Athletics

Russia’s lack of progress in cleaning up its doping culture and introducing a satisfactory testing regime continues to impede the country’s reinstatement to athletics, the IAAF said Thursday.

Providing its latest update on Russia’s state-sponsored doping system, the  International Association of Athletics Federations also criticized the country’s decision to make Yelena Isinbayeva the head of the country’s scandalized anti-doping agency.

“It is difficult to see how this helps to achieve the desired change in culture in Russia track and field, or how it helps to promote an open environment for Russian whistle-blowers,” Russia task force chairman Rune Andersen said in his report to the IAAF Council.

Isinbayeva repeatedly criticized the World Anti-Doping Agency, framed doping investigations as an anti-Russian plot and called for a leading whistle-blower to be banned for life.

The two-time gold medalist and world-record holder missed the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because of a ban on Russia’s athletics team that is unlikely to be lifted soon, based on the IAAF’s fresh concerns.

Tough stance stays

“There is no reason why better progress has not been made,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe said, adding that the IAAF would not soften its tough stance.

“There is testing but it is still far too limited,” Coe said. He said the Russian investigative committee was “still refusing to hand over athlete biological passport samples for independent testing from labs”; some athletes remained in “closed cities that are difficult or impossible to get to”; coaches from a tainted system were still employed; and “we have got the head coach of RUSAF [Russia’s athletics federation] effectively refusing to sign their own pledge” to clean up its culture.

The IAAF is allowing some Russians to compete internationally as neutrals while their country remained banned, with 12 athletes proving they have been adequately tested for drugs over a lengthy period by non-Russian agencies.

The athletes are still “subject to acceptance of their entries by individual meeting organizers,” such as the Diamond League series, the IAAF has said. The 14-meet circuit opens on May 5 in Doha, Qatar.


Microsoft: US Foreign Intel Surveillance Requests More Than Doubled

Microsoft Corp said on Thursday it had received at least a thousand surveillance requests from the U.S. government that sought user content for foreign intelligence purposes during the first half of 2016.

The amount, shared in Microsoft’s biannual transparency report, was more than double what the company said it received under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the preceding six-month interval, and was the highest the company has listed since 2011, when it began tracking such government surveillance orders.

The scope of spying authority granted to U.S. intelligence agencies under FISA has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks, sparked in part by evolving, unsubstantiated assertions from President Donald Trump and other Republicans that the Obama White House improperly spied on Trump and his associates.

Microsoft said it received between 1,000 and 1,499 FISA orders for user content between January and June of 2016, compared to between 0 and 499 during both January-June 2015 as well as the second half of 2015.

The number of user accounts impacted by FISA orders fell during the same period, however, from between 17,500 and 17,999 to between 12,000 and 12,499, according to the report.

The U.S. government only allows companies to report the volume of FISA requests in wide bands rather than specific numbers.

FISA orders, which are approved by judges who sit on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, are tightly guarded national security secrets. Even the existence of a specific FISA order is rarely disclosed publicly.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the FBI obtained a FISA order to monitor the communications of former Trump advisor Carter Page as part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

Parts of FISA will expire at the end of the year, unless U.S. lawmakers vote to reauthorize it. Privacy advocates in Congress have been working to attach new transparency and oversight reforms to any FISA legislation, and to limit government searches of American data that is incidentally collected during foreign surveillance operations.

Microsoft also for the first time published a national security letter, a type of warrantless surveillance order used by the FBI.

Other technology companies, including Twitter Inc and Yahoo Inc, have also disclosed national security letters in recent months under a transparency measure of the USA Freedom Act that was enacted into law by the U.S. Congress in 2015.


Facebook Cracks Down on 30,000 Fake Accounts in France

Facebook said on Thursday it is taking action against tens of thousands of fake accounts in France as the social network giant seeks to demonstrate it is doing more to halt the spread of spam as well as fake news, hoaxes and misinformation.

The Silicon Valley-based company is under intense pressure as governments across Europe threaten new laws unless Facebook moves quickly to remove extremist propaganda or other content illegal under existing regulation  

Social media sites including Twitter, Google’s YouTube and Facebook also are under scrutiny for their potential to be used to manipulate voters in national elections set to take place in France and Germany in coming months.

In a blog post, Facebook said it was taking action against 30,000 fake accounts in France, deleting them in some, but not all, cases. It said its priority was to remove fake accounts with high volumes of posting activity and the biggest audiences.

“We’ve made improvements to recognize these inauthentic accounts more easily by identifying patterns of activity — without assessing the content itself,” Shabnam Shaik, a Facebook security team manager, wrote in an official blog post.

For example, the company said it is using automated detection to identify repeated posting of the same content or an increase in messages sent by such profiles.

Also on Thursday, Facebook took out full-page ads in Germany’s best-selling newspapers to educate readers on how to spot fake news.

In April, the German cabinet approved proposed new laws to force social networks to play a greater role in combating online hate speech or face fines of up to 50 million euros ($53 million).  

These actions by Facebook follow moves the company has taken in recent months to make it easier for users to report potential fraud amid criticism of the social network’s role in the spread of hoaxes and fake news during the U.S. presidential elections.

It has also begun working with outside fact-checking organizations to flag stories with disputed content, and removed financial incentives that help spammers to cash in by generating advertising revenue from clicks on false news stories.



Aspiring Tech Prodigy Tries to Re-route Self-driving Cars

Austin Russell, now 22, was barely old enough to drive when he set out to create a safer navigation system for robot-controlled cars. His ambitions are about to be tested.


Five years ago, Russell co-founded Luminar Technologies, a Silicon Valley startup trying to steer the rapidly expanding self-driving car industry in a new direction. Luminar kept its work closely guarded until Thursday, when the startup revealed the first details about a product Russell is touting as a far more powerful form of “lidar,” a key sensing technology used in autonomous vehicles designed by Google, Uber and major automakers.


Lidar systems work by bouncing lasers off nearby objects and measuring the reflections to build up a detailed 3-D picture of the surrounding environment. The technology is similar to radar, which uses radio waves instead of lasers.


Russell says Luminar’s version, consisting of its own patented hardware and software, will provide 50 times more resolution and 10 times the range of current lidar systems. Those improvements, he said, will enable self-driving cars to be sold on the mass market more quickly.


Thiel backbone


During an interview in an empty warehouse on a San Francisco pier where Luminar has been testing its lidar, Russell wasn’t shy about making big claims for its technology. “When you see your vehicle is powered by Luminar, you will know you will be safer,” he said. “We need to get to the point where humans don’t have to constantly baby-sit and take control” of autonomous cars.


If Luminar’s lidar lives up to its promise, some of the world’s biggest technology and auto companies may have been upstaged by a precocious entrepreneur who says he memorized all the periodic table of the elements when he was 2 years old. By the time he turned 11, Russell says he was tinkering with supercomputers.


Like another technology prodigy — Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg — Russell won the early support of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who became a billionaire after investing $500,000 in Facebook during the company’s infancy.


One of Luminar’s early investors is a venture capital firm backed by Thiel and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Russell also dropped out of Stanford University after just three months when he won a Thiel fellowship, which pays students $100,000 to work on promising ideas instead of pursuing a degree.


Cost or safety?


Also like Zuckerberg, Russell is CEO of his company. Most of Luminar’s roughly 150 employees are older than him, including his former mentor in photonics, 45-year-old Jason Eichenholz, now the company’s chief technology officer. Russell’s father, a former commercial real estate specialist, is the company’s chief financial officer.


Now Russell will have to prove he has indeed invented something revolutionary.


While lidar is a key component in self-driving clears, some believe Luminar may be working on the wrong problem. The big issue for lidar systems these days is cost, not safety, said Alex Lidow, CEO of Efficient Power Conversion, which supplies chips for lidar. The systems currently cost thousands of dollars apiece.


“You don’t need the resolution that would allow a car to stop before a bug hits its windshield,” Lidow said. “The question comes down to, what is the exact right amount of information for the car to make exactly the right decision all the time?”


Luminar plans to being manufacturing 10,000 lidar units at a 50,000-square-foot plant in Orlando, Florida, this year. Russell won’t disclose what they’ll cost. About 100 of the lidar systems will be tested by four makers of autonomous cars that Luminar isn’t identifying. The partners include technology companies and automakers, Russell said.


The lidar landscape


Luminar will be competing against other lidar suppliers such as Velodyne and Quanergy Systems, which have each raised $150 million so far. Velodyne’s backers include Ford Motor, which invested $75 million last summer .


By comparison, Luminar has raised $36 million, some of which has been used to set up its headquarters on a former Silicon Valley ranch that used to be home for a collection of vintage military tanks.


Waymo, a company spun off from Google’s early work on self-driving cars, also looms as an imposing competitor. It hopes to sell its technology, which includes a lidar system, to automakers.


One sign of lidar’s importance: Waymo has accused Uber of stealing its technology in a high-profile legal battle. Uber has denied the allegations , contending it is designing its own superior lidar system.


Waymo’s lidar has a solid track record so far. Its self-driving cars have logged more than 2 million miles in autonomous mode on city streets without being involved in a major traffic accident. Most of the roughly three dozen accidents that Google had reported through last year were fender benders.


Russell isn’t impressed. “It’s very easy to build an autonomous vehicle that is safe 99 percent of the time,” he said. “It’s that other 1 percent that’s the tricky part.”




Photo of Ella Fitzgerald Going on Display at DC Museum

The National Portrait Gallery is putting up a photograph of American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, often referred to as “The First Lady of Song.”

The portrait is on view beginning Thursday, ahead of the 100th anniversary of Fitzgerald’s birth. Fitzgerald, who died in 1996 at the age of 79, would have celebrated her 100th birthday April 25.

The National Portrait Gallery said in a statement the photograph on display is of Fitzgerald in performance flanked by Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie and Milt Jackson. It was taken around 1974 by William Gottlieb, who learned to use a camera to take pictures to accompany his weekly music column for The Washington Post.

It’s the first time the photograph has been displayed at the museum. It will be on view through May 14.


Coppola, Kidman and Virtual Reality in Cannes Lineup

A Civil War film by Sofia Coppola, a Ukrainian road movie and a drama about AIDS activism are among 18 films competing for prizes at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which organizers hope can help counter nationalist sentiment.

The festival is embracing virtual reality and cell phone video as it marks its 70th birthday this year. Festival general delegate Thierry Fremaux and President Pierre Lescure announced the dozens of films competing and showing during the May 17-28 festival at a press conference in Paris on Thursday.


Contenders for the Palme d’Or include Coppola’s spooky Civil War drama “The Beguiled,” starring Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst; American director Noah Baumbach’s family saga “The Meyerowitz Stories,” starring Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler; and fellow American Todd Haynes’ 1920s-set drama “Wonderstruck.”


Also in the top competition are “Okja,” a fantasy thriller by South Korea’s Bong Joon-Ho starring Tilda Swinton; French director Michel Hazanavicius’ tribute to the French New Wave, “Le Redoubtable”; sex-trafficking drama “You Were Never Really Here” from Britain’s Lynne Ramsay; and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” a thriller from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos starring Kidman and Colin Farrell.


Austere Austrian director Michael Haneke, a two-time Palme d’Or winner, returns with “Happy End,” whose title, Fremaux noted, bears little relation to its content.


French filmmaker Robin Campillo’s “120 Beats Per Minute” looks at the rise of AIDS activism, while Fremaux called Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s “A Gentle Creature” a road movie “about the situation of Russia.”


The festival is embracing changing technology, with inclusion of Alejandro G. Inarritu’s virtual reality short “Meat and Honey,” reported to be about migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.


Fremaux said it was “a beautiful film, you are shivering when you come out of it.” He compared the wonders of virtual reality to the wonders unleashed by cinema founding fathers the Lumiere brothers more than a century ago.


Security will be tight for the French Riviera festival, just down the coast from Nice, where an Islamic State group-inspired truck attack killed 86 people in July.


Lescure said security was “at its maximum” in 2016 and “there were no serious incidents.”

“I hope to see the same results this year,” he said.


Global events will cast a shadow over Cannes’ Croisette, the town’s picturesque seafront promenade, after a year that has seen Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the election of unpredictable U.S. President Donald Trump. France will have a new government by opening night, with the final stage of its two-round presidential election set for May 7. Far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen is among the front-runners.


Lescure said he hoped that “North Korea and Syria will not cast a shadow on the 70th edition, which we hope will be stable and happy.”


Fremaux said he hopes the festival can “look to the future” and hold “the promise of living together in harmony.”




Cosby Loses Bid to Question Accuser Before Trial

Bill Cosby has lost his bid to question his accuser in court before his sexual-assault case goes to trial near Philadelphia.


The 79-year-old comedian’s lawyers lost their appeal on the issue of whether accuser Andrea Constand should have been forced to testify at a preliminary hearing last year.


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to take up Cosby’s appeal.


Pennsylvania case law allows prosecutors to use an accuser’s statements to police in court to spare victims the ordeal of having to testify repeatedly.


Cosby is charged with drugging and molesting Constand in 2004. He has pleaded not guilty and remains free on $1 million bail.


Jury selection is set to get underway next month.



India’s Biggest Film Franchise Hot on Hollywood’s Heels

 Dozens of animators work into the night in India’s southern city of Hyderabad, fueled by caffeine and huddled over computer screens in a darkened studio to put the finishing touches on India’s biggest and most ambitious film.

The makers of “Baahubali 2” hope its top-notch visual effects will wean Indian audiences from Hollywood blockbusters, enticing them with the magical kingdoms, rampaging armies and towering palaces of a homegrown fantasy epic.

“If art was easy, everybody would do it,” said Pete Draper, co-founder of Makuta VFX, which is stitching the film’s live-action scenes together with computer-generated imagery. “Every single shot has its own challenges. Working hours right now are crazy. We are finishing daily at 4 a.m.”

Agencies that closely track the box office say “Baahubali 2” is the most highly awaited Indian film of the decade. But the competition for Spider-Man and other movie franchises from overseas isn’t coming from Bollywood.

When it opened in cinemas in 2015, dubbed versions of “Baahubali: The Beginning,” made in the Telugu language widely spoken in India’s southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, resonated with audiences nationwide.

It used computer-generated imagery to depict ancient kingdoms and bloody wars in a quintessentially Indian battle of good versus evil.

Filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli aims to do even better when the next installment is released on April 28.

Inspired by Hollywood epics such as “Ben Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” when growing up, Rajamouli wanted to create a tentpole franchise that delivered a memorable movie experience.

But younger audiences were looking to Hollywood franchises such as “The Fast and the Furious,” and the superheroes of the Marvel and DC Comics universe for the big-screen thrills Indian cinema was unable to provide.

“They have heavy budgets, they have huge star casts and huge studios backing them,” Rajamouli, 43, said in an interview in Hyderabad, his home city. “But if we make 10 percent of it in an Indian context, with our stories, our heroes and heroines … we can easily compete.”

Visual effects head Draper was at the sprawling movie set every day of filming to make sure location shots and actors’ movements synchronised with CGI-enhanced rendering on screen.

By day, the half-built palace, an arena, the torso of a statue and a stone temple flanked by blue screens don’t look sufficiently formidable, so the team of nearly 80 animators has been given the task of fleshing out the heft and detail.

To keep down production costs on a budget of $67 million, work on the CGI-heavy movie was distributed among 35 studios across continents.

“We didn’t have any studio backing us. Raising capital was a challenge,” said Prasad Devineni, one of the producers.

If all goes well, a record-breaking run for “Baahubali 2” would be a wake-up call for Bollywood, where cinema attendance has halved from a decade ago.

In 2016, Indian box-office collections fell to 99 billion rupees ($1.5 billion), down from 101 billion a year earlier.

Bollywood, reliant on a tried-and-tested formula of romances and masala thrillers, has failed to develop its own big-ticket franchises, piggy-backing instead on “Baahubali,” with top producer Karan Johar marketing the movie in Hindi this month.

With a spinoff TV series, an animated offering for Amazon videostreaming, a comic book and a possible third film in the works, “Baahubali” could lure back Indian audiences.

“It has shown us the way — how to market, build euphoria around it,” said Rajkumar Akella, India managing director at global box-office tracker comScore.

The makers always envisaged the film as a franchise, with many narratives branching off its storyline, to hook the maximum number of viewers later.

“Our audiences might be watching English films, or Hollywood films, and getting used to them, but the blood doesn’t change, the DNA doesn’t change,” said Rajamouli.



Innovative Art, Music, Technology Highlight Baltimore Festival

Every night, the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland glistens with an array of lights from the waterside restaurants and shops, creating lovely water reflections. But during the Light City festival, illuminated sculptures and colorful interactive light displays add to the beauty along the waterfront.


Exoskeleton Under Development to Help With Rehab

After years of experimenting and refining, robotic devices that could help disabled people walk may soon be available to rehabilitation centers. The Japanese auto company Toyota says that before the end of this year, elderly and infirm people in Japan will be able to have therapy sessions with a walk-assist robot.


In Win for Boeing and GE, Trump Says He Wants to Revive Export-Import Bank

President Donald Trump plans to revive the hobbled Export-Import Bank of the United States, his office said, a victory for American manufacturers like Boeing and General Electric which have overseas customers that use the agency’s government-backed loans to purchase their products.

Trump first told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday he would fill two vacancies on the agency’s five-member board that have prevented the bank from having a quorum and being able to act on loans over $10 million. Trump’s picks must gain approval from the Senate, which blocked nominees by former President Barack Obama.

Trump told the Journal that the bank benefits small businesses and creates jobs, a reversal of his earlier criticism of the bank being “featherbedding” for wealthy corporations.

Bank offers loans to foreign entities

The Export-Import Bank, an independent government agency, provides loans to foreign entities that enables them to purchase American-made goods. For example, it has been used by foreign airlines to purchase planes from Boeing and farmers in developing nations to acquire equipment.

The bank’s acting chairman, Charles “CJ” Hall, was not immediately available for comment.

The bank has become a popular target for conservatives, who have worked in Congress to kill the bank, arguing that it perpetuates cronyism and does little to create American jobs.

Trump’s about-face on the export bank comes after meeting on Tuesday with former Boeing Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney, who left the company last year but oversaw the corporation’s aggressive lobbying effort in support of the bank in 2015.

Trump also met at the White House on Feb. 23 with GE CEO Jeff Immelt and Caterpillar Inc CEO Mark Sutton, both vocal supporters of the bank.

It is not known if they discussed the bank at those meetings.

Bank helps level playing field

Large American corporations that do significant amounts of exports say other countries have similar agencies and the export bank levels the playing field.

“This is an encouraging development on a key competitive issue for U.S manufacturers and their extensive supply chains,” Boeing spokeswoman Kate Bernard said in statement to Reuters.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, which includes companies like Ingersoll-Rand, United States Steel and Pfizer, cheered the move.

“Manufacturers are encouraged by President Trump’s vocal support for the bank,” said NAM Vice President of International Economic Affairs Linda Dempsey in a statement.

A 2015 fight to shutter the bank led by conservatives in Congress allowed the bank’s charter to expire for five months.

After overwhelming bipartisan support emerged to renew the bank’s charter, which is needed for it to operate, conservatives blocked nominees to the board, preventing it from financing large exports like aircraft and power turbines.

Groups work to shut down bank

Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity, two groups funded by the Republican donor Koch brothers, worked aggressively for years to kill the bank. Brothers Charles and David Koch have opposed the bank for what they call damaging interference into the free market by government.

Nathan Nascimento, Freedom Partners vice president of policy, called the bank on Wednesday “the epitome of what’s wrong with Washington.”

“Reopening the flood gates to Ex-Im’s corporate welfare is a bad deal for hardworking taxpayers and a bad deal for American businesses,” he said.

The Club for Growth, which spends heavily in electing conservative candidates and was one of the few groups to campaign against Trump during the Republican primary in 2016, also lamented the change in position.

“Ex-Im has a long history of cronyism and corruption that is well-known to many in the Trump Administration, and while we hoped it would be done away with, the administration now has taken on the almost impossible challenge of reforming a federal agency whose mission has been to pick winners and losers with taxpayer dollars,” spokesman Doug Sachtleben said in a statement to Reuters.