‘Lady Bird’ Named Best Picture by New York Film Critics

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird has been named best picture by the New York Film Critics Circle, which also awarded Gerwig best director and its star, Saoirse Ronan, best actress.

The film critics’ group announced its awards Thursday on Twitter, throwing its fullest support behind Gerwig’s coming-of-age tale. Considered one of the year’s top Oscar contenders, Lady Bird also has the distinction of setting a record for perfection from Rotten Tomatoes as the most-widely reviewed movie to receive only positive reviews.

Call Me By Your Name breakthrough star Timothee Chalamet took best actor. Tiffany Haddish, the Girls Trip breakout, took supporting actress.

Other winners include Willem Dafoe for his supporting performance in The Florida Project and Paul Thomas Anderson for his screenplay to Phantom Thread.

German Jobless Rate Hits Best Figure Since 1990 Reunification

Germany, Europe’s most robust economy, said Thursday that its unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent in November, the lowest figure since West and East Germany were unified in 1990.

Even as Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Berlin politicians struggle to form a coalition government, the German economy remains strong, with a months-long dip in the country’s jobless rate and solid demand for German products from other countries.

The German report came as Eurostat, the statistics agency for the European Union, said the jobless rate for the 19-nation eurozone bloc that uses the euro currency dropped to 8.8 percent in October. It was the lowest figure since January 2009, when Europe and countries across the world were in the midst of a steep recession.

The German and European jobless rates trail those in the United States, the world’s largest economy, where unemployment has dropped to 4.1 percent, a 17-year low. But the U.S. and European numbers point to steady improvement that had been slow to emerge after the devastating job losses and high unemployment seven to nine years ago.

Eurostat said more than 14 million people remained out of work, but that was 1.5 million fewer than a year ago. In Spain, the jobless rate has been cut from about 25 percent to 16.7 percent.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said that while wages still are not increasing much, they could rise in the coming months as the continent’s economy continues to rebound.

Patrick Chovanex, chief strategist at New York-based Silvercrest Asset Management, told VOA the U.S. is in the eighth year of its recovery.

“It’s a recovery that has kind of waxed and waned,” he said. “One of the things that has been happening over the past couple years is that different parts of the economy were waxing and waning out of sequence with one another. So housing would be strong while manufacturing would be weak, and then vice versa. Every so often they happen to coincide.

“Right now we’re seeing a pattern of several elements of the economy being strong at once. Hopefully, that will continue.”

Jim Nabors, TV’s Gomer Pyle, Dies at 87

Actor Jim Nabors, best known for his U.S. television character Gomer Pyle, died Thursday at his home in Hawaii at age 87.

Nabors, born in Alabama, exaggerated his Southern accent for the Pyle character. The dull-witted but lovable Pyle became a beloved presence on television’s The Andy Griffith Show in 1962. The show about a sheriff and his family and friends in North Carolina is remembered today for its idyllic portrayal of small-town American life in the 1960s.

After two years, the popular Nabors character was given his own spinoff. In Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., the gentle, sweet-natured Pyle joined the U.S. Marine Corps and delighted audiences by clashing repeatedly with a no-nonsense drill sergeant, played by Frank Sutton. The show ran for five seasons.

Nabors gave his character a number of catchphrases still remembered by fans today. Among them were “Surprise, surprise, surprise!,” “Shazam!,” and an awestruck utterance of “Gollll-ly!” that stretched the word into four syllables.

For two seasons beginning in 1969, CBS presented The Jim Nabors Hour, on which he joshed with guest stars, did sketches with Sutton and fellow Gomer Pyle veteran Ronnie Schell, and sang country and opera.

‘Difficult to believe’

Offstage, Nabors retained some of the awed innocence of Gomer. At the height of his fame in 1969, he admitted, “For the first four years of the series, I didn’t trust my success. Every weekend and on every vacation, I would take off to play nightclubs and concerts, figuring the whole thing would blow over someday.

“You know somethin’? I still find it difficult to believe this kind of acceptance. I still don’t trust it.”

He was an accomplished singer, recording 28 albums of love songs, sacred music and holiday tunes in his rich baritone voice.

Among his regular gigs was singing Back Home Again in Indiana at the Indianapolis 500 auto race each year, which he first did in 1972. The first time, he wrote the lyrics on his hand so he wouldn’t forget.

“I’ve never thought of [the audience reaction] as relating to me,” Nabors said. “It’s always relating to the song and to the race. It is applauding for the tradition of the race and the excitement.”

Illness forced him to cancel his appearance in 2007, the first one he had missed in more than 20 years. He was back performing at Indy in 2008, saying, “It’s always the main part of my year. It just thrills you to your bones.”

In 2014, Nabors announced he would be singing for the last time at the race, because his health was limiting his ability to travel from his home in Hawaii.

Nabors lived in Hawaii with Stan Cadwallader, his partner of more than 40 years. He had told Hawaii News Now, years earlier, that he had first visited the farthest-flung U.S. state in the 1960s and knew he wanted to make it his home.

Friendliness of Hawaii

“I just walked off that plane and knew this is where I wanted to be,” he said. “It was the air and the friendship and the friendliness and the people, you know. I just knew — there’s something inside me that told me, ‘Hey, you’re gonna end up here.’ ”

Nabors ended up buying a flower-and-nut farm on the island of Maui.

Nabors, who underwent a liver transplant in 1994 after contracting hepatitis B, died peacefully at his home in Hawaii after his health had declined for the past year, said Cadwallader, who was by his side.

“Everybody knows he was a wonderful man. And that’s all we can say about him. He’s going to be dearly missed,” Cadwallader said.

The couple married in early 2013 in Washington state, where gay marriage had recently been made legal. Nabors’ friends had known for years that he was gay, but he had never said anything to the media.

“It’s pretty obvious that we had no rights as a couple, yet when you’ve been together 38 years, I think something’s got to happen there, you’ve got to solidify something,” Nabors told Hawaii News Now at the time. “And at my age, it’s probably the best thing to do.”

In 1991, Nabors got a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in ceremonies attended by pals Carol Burnett, Loni Anderson, Phyllis Diller and Florence Henderson. His reaction? “Gollll-ly!”

The late Associated Press Entertainment Writer Bob Thomas wrote biographical material for this story.

OPEC Agrees Oil Cut Extension to End of 2018

OPEC agreed on Thursday to extend oil output cuts until the end of 2018 as it tries to finish clearing a global glut of crude while signalling it could exit the deal earlier if the market overheats.

Non-OPEC Russia, which this year reduced production significantly with OPEC for the first time, has been pushing for a clear message on how to exit the cuts so the market doesn’t flip into a deficit too soon, prices don’t rally too fast and rival U.S. shale firms don’t boost output further.

The producers’ current deal, under which they are cutting supply by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in an effort to boost oil prices, expires in March.

Two OPEC delegates told Reuters the group had agreed to extend the cuts by nine months until the end of 2018, as largely anticipated by the market.

OPEC also decided to cap the output of Nigeria at around 1.8 million bpd but had yet to agree a cap for Libya. Both countries have been previously exempt from cuts due to unrest and lower-than-normal production.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has yet to meet with non-OPEC producers led by Russia, with the meeting scheduled to begin after 1500 GMT.

Before the earlier, OPEC-only meeting started at the group’s headquarters in Vienna on Thursday, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said it was premature to talk about exiting the cuts at least for a couple of quarters and added that the group would examine progress at its next meeting in June.

“When we get to an exit, we are going to do it very gradually… to make sure we don’t shock the market,” he said.

The Iraqi, Iranian and Angolan oil ministers also said a review of the deal was possible in June in case the market became too tight.

International benchmark Brent crude rose more than 1 percent on Thursday to trade near $64 per barrel.

Capping Nigeria, Libya

With oil prices rising above $60, Russia has expressed concerns that such an extension could prompt a spike in crude production in the United States, which is not participating in the deal.

Russia needs much lower oil prices to balance its budget than OPEC’s leader Saudi Arabia, which is preparing a stock market listing for national energy champion Aramco next year and would hence benefit from pricier crude.

“Prices will be well supported in December with a large global stock draw. The market could surprise to the upside with even $70 per barrel for Brent not out of the question if there is an unexpected interruption in supply,” said Gary Ross, a veteran OPEC watcher and founder of Pira consultancy.

The production cuts have been in place since the start of 2017 and helped halve an excess of global oil stocks although those remain at 140 million barrels above the five-year average, according to OPEC.

Russia has signaled it wants to understand better how producers will exit from the cuts as it needs to provide guidance to its private and state energy companies.

“It is important… to work out a strategy which we will follow from April 2018,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Wednesday.

Hollywood’s Long-Awaited Movie Museum to Open in 2019

The founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, said at its inception in 1927 that the organization needed a library and museum. The Academy, best known for giving Oscars at its annual awards ceremony, soon got its library, but has been waiting nearly a century for the museum. 

The long wait is nearly over, said film historian Kerry Brougher during a tour of the site of the $388 million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is under construction and scheduled to open in 2019 with Brougher as its director. The 27,000-square meter facility will be built around a historic department store that was built in 1939, and which, since 1994, has been used for exhibitions of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next door. The expanded facility will include a glass-domed sphere with a view of the Hollywood Hills and a 1,000-seat theater.

​Brougher says the museum will open as Hollywood enters a new phase in creating entertainment, extending its reach beyond movie theaters. “Film is expanding,” he says. “It’s in the theaters still, but it’s also projected onto buildings, it’s also on your iPhone, it’s on your computer…It’s part of the art gallery world, with film installations.” And while films and multi-media projects are made worldwide, he says the heart of the industry is still in Hollywood.

​The museum will feature exhibits from the Academy’s collection of 12 million photographs and 80,000 screenplays, and which include props, costumes and set elements from such classic films as Casablanca, Psycho and The Ten Commandments.

Known as the Academy Museum, the venue will also feature Oscar statuettes donated by people who won them.

Brougher says visitors will have the feeling that they are in a movie in immersive exhibits. They will even get a chance to walk on a red carpet and accept their own Academy Award.

It will be “like a journey,” Brougher says. “You won’t necessarily know what’s coming next, what’s around the next corner. And you’ll be in environments sometimes that make you feel like you’ve gone back to the past, that you’re in the era that you’re actually exploring.”

​Visitors to Los Angeles have been able to tour movie studios and view the sidewalk plaques that honor movie stars or the footprints of them in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. They can visit the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars are presented, but beyond that, they are often at a loss, says Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “I think they wander around wondering where they can experience this great golden ticket…to the movies,” he says. “Now they’ll have a place.” That will include the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the movie business and who will finally be able to visit a site that celebrates LA’s iconic industry, Garcetti notes.


Poll: Nearly Half of Americans Oppose Republican Tax Bill

Opposition has grown among Americans to a Republican tax plan before the U.S. Congress, with 49 percent of people who were aware of the measure saying they opposed it, up from 41 percent in October, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

Congressional Republicans are trying to rush their tax legislation to a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the week. President Donald Trump strongly backs the bill and wants to sign it into law before the end of the year.

In addition to the 49 percent who said they opposed the Republican tax bill, 29 percent said they supported it and 22 percent said they “don’t know,” according to the Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll of 1,257 adults conducted from Thursday to Monday.

When asked “who stands to benefit most” from the plan, more than half of all American adults surveyed selected either the wealthy or large U.S. corporations. Fourteen percent chose “all Americans,” 6 percent picked the middle class and 2 percent chose lower-income Americans.

The tax bill being crafted in the Senate would slash the corporate tax rate, eliminate some taxes paid only by rich Americans and offer a mixed bag or temporary tax cuts for other individuals and families.

As congressional discussion on the bill has unfolded, public opposition to it has risen, on average, following Trump’s unveiling of a nine-page “framework” on September 27 that started the debate in earnest, Reuters/Ipsos polling showed.

On October 24, for example, among adults who said they had heard of the “tax reform plan recently proposed by congressional Republicans,” 41 percent said they opposed it, while 31 percent said they “don’t know” and just 28 percent said they supported it.

Trump and his fellow Republicans are determined to make a tax code overhaul their first major legislative win since taking control of the White House and Congress in January.

The House of Representatives on November 16 approved its own tax bill. The Senate is expected to decide on Wednesday whether to begin debating its proposal, as the measure moves toward a decisive floor vote later this week.

The two chambers would need to reconcile differences between their plans before legislation could be sent to the White House for Trump’s signature.

In the November 23-27 poll, 59 percent of Republicans supported the tax bill, 26 percent said they did not know and 15 percent opposed it. Among Democrats, 82 percent opposed it, 11 percent said they did not know and 8 percent supported it.


МЗС України засудило черговий запуск ракети в КНДР

Міністерство закордонних справ України заявляє, що Київ рішуче засуджує запуск Північною Кореєю нової міжконтинентальної балістичної ракети Хвасон-15, здатною нести ядерний заряд.

«Дії Пхеньяна, спрямовані на розвиток більш потужних ракет, а також погрози застосувати ядерну зброю є серйозною загрозою не лише безпосереднім сусідам КНДР, але і глобальній стабільності й безпеці вже далеко поза межами Корейського півострова. Продовження Пхеньяном таких запусків є свідомим і систематичним порушенням міжнародного права та низки відповідних резолюцій РБ ООН щодо північнокорейської ракетної програми», – йдеться в заяві МЗС.

У відомстві закликали керівництво КНДР негайно припинити провокації.

Північна Корея заявила, що 28 листопада випробувала новий вид міжконтинентальної балістичної ракети, яка може досягти території США.

Після цього президент США Дональд Трамп пообіцяв посилити санкції проти Пхеньяна. Рада безпеки ООН відкрила позачергову сесію, щоб обговорити випробування.


Snapchat Seeks to Attract More Users by Redesigning App

Snapchat is separating what friends share and what media organizations publish in an attempt to appeal to a broader range of users.

The photo messaging app has not been gaining enough users, especially beyond its core of younger people. Parent company Snap Inc.’s stock is down sharply since its initial public offering earlier this year.

Users will now see two separate feeds — one from friends and one from publishers and non-friend accounts they follow. Before, Snapchat was mixing those posts, much the way Twitter, Facebook and other rivals continue to do. Snap hinted at changes three weeks ago, but didn’t provide details then.

CEO Evan Spiegel took a jab at rivals, writing that social media “fueled ‘fake news’” because of this content mixing.


Туреччина видала Росії двох підозрюваних у шпигунстві в обмін на Чийгоза й Умерова – ЗМІ

Влада Туреччини видала Москві підозрюваних у шпигунстві громадян Росії Олександра Смирнова і Юрія Анісімова в обмін на звільнення лідерів кримськотатарського національного руху Ахтема Чийгоза й Ільмі Умерова, повідомляє турецька телекомпанія Haberturk.

Смирнова й Анісімова заарештували в квітні 2016 року. Їх звинуватили в участі в угрупованні, відповідальному за вбивство семи чеченців у період з 2000 по 2015 рік, повідомляє телекомпанія.

За даними Haberturk, підозрювані відкинули звинувачення на свою адресу, серед яких були «спроби отримати секретну державну інформацію для цілей політичного чи військового шпигунства» і «сприяння вбивству».

Турецькі і російські чиновники не коментували цю інформацію.

Російська влада 25 жовтня звільнила засуджених в анексованому Криму заступників голови Меджлісу кримськотатарського народу Ахтема Чийгоза та Ільмі Умерова і передали їх Туреччині. Після цього Умеров і Чийгоз приїхали до Києва.

Президент України Петро Порошенко 25 жовтня подякував президентові Туреччини Реджепу Тайїпу Ердогану за його зусилля у звільненні засуджених в Криму Чийгоза і Умерова.

З моменту звільнення Умерова та Чийгоза не було достеменно відомо, на яких умовах Росія відпустила їх.

Кримський адвокат Едем Семедляєв направляв запит до Адміністрації президента Росії, в якому просив роз’яснити, на підставі якого указу вивезли з Криму засудженого Умерова.

US, Britain, France Accused of Snubbing Anti-nuclear Nobel Prize

The anti-nuclear group which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize accused the United States, Britain and France on Wednesday of snubbing its disarmament work by

planning to send only second-rank diplomats to the award ceremony next month.

“It’s some kind of protest against the Nobel Peace Prize,” Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told Reuters of a plan by the three nations to send only deputy chiefs of mission.

“They like their nuclear weapons very much and don’t like it when we try to ban them,” she said, accusing the three of wrongly opposing ICAN’s work “when North Korea and the United States are exchanging threats to use nuclear weapons”.

The annual December 10 Nobel prize ceremony in Oslo, attended by King Harald and Queen Sonja, is the highlight of the diplomatic calendar in Norway. The prize comprises a diploma, a gold medal and a check for $1.1 million.

Olav Njoelstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, confirmed the three nations would send only deputies. He said the awards committee always preferred to see chiefs of mission.

“That being said, we are neither surprised nor offended by the fact that sometime foreign governments prefer to stay away from the ceremony in protest or, as in this case, because they prefer to be represented by their deputy chiefs of mission,” he told Reuters.

“The Nobel Peace Prize is, after all, a political prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee takes notice of the joint decision of the British, French and U.S. embassies,” he said.

The British embassy confirmed it was sending a deputy ambassador and said in a statement “the U.K. is committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. We share this goal with our partners across the international community including U.S. and France.”

The U.S. and French embassies were not immediately available for comment. Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump nominated Kenneth Braithwaite to the post of ambassador in Oslo, currently held by an acting ambassador.

ICAN, a coalition of grassroots non-government organizations in more than 100 nations, campaigned successfully for a U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by 122 nations in July this year.

But the agreement is not signed by – and would not apply to – any of the states that already have nuclear arms, which include the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, as well as India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Israel neither confirms nor denies the widespread assumption that it controls the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal.

It was not clear whether other nuclear powers would send Oslo ambassadors to the Nobel ceremony.

The absence of ambassadors from the United States, Britain and France “is disappointing but at the same time we are focused on getting a majority of states in the world to join this treaty,” Fihn said.

She said the three nuclear states were exerting pressure on other nations “not to engage in this treaty.”


«1+1» висловив обурення забороною серіалу «Свати»

Телеканал «1+1» висловив обурення анулюванням прокатного посвідчення серіалу «Свати».

«З 2015 року в Україні існує так званий «чорний список» Міністерства культури. Наразі до нього входять 113 осіб, які вважаються такими, що представлять загрозу національній безпеці України. Наскільки ми зрозуміли, причиною попадання до нього Добронравова і заборони серіалу «Свати» стали висловлювання актора щодо Криму. Проте чому саме зараз постало питання заборонити популярний серіал українського виробництва, для нас залишається загадкою. Натомість інші серіали і фільми за участі Добронравова, які демонструвалися на українському ТВ, залишилися поза увагою органів влади», – йдеться в заяві, оприлюдненій на сайті телеканалу.

29 листопада голова Державного агентства України з питань кіно Пилип Іллєнко повідомив у Facebook, що Держкіно скасувало державну реєстрацію і визнало недійсними прокатні посвідчення на всі сезони серіалу «Свати».

Минулого тижня Служба безпеки України повідомила про заборону Федору Добронравову, який знімається в серіалі «Свати», на в’їзд в Україну терміном на три роки. У відомстві повідомили, що росіянин робив антиукраїнські публічні заяви, в яких, зокрема, підтримував анексію Криму Росією, він також неодноразово відвідував Крим з порушенням встановленого українським законом порядку.

28 листопада Міністерство культури України внесло Добронравова до переліку осіб, які загрожують національній безпеці держави.

Раніше заступник Державної агенції з питань кіно Сергій Неретін у коментарі Радіо Свобода пояснював, що Держкіно буде зобов’язане заборонити серіал «Свати» в тому випадку, якщо Міністерство культури включить Добронравова до переліку осіб, які загрожують нацбезпеці держави.

Серіал «Свати» виходить із 2008 року, знімає його студія «Квартал 95».

With Deforestation Rising, Colombia Businesses Join Fight to End Destruction

Colombia’s palm oil industry and big businesses have pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains as the country battles to reverse the growing destruction of its tropical rainforests.

The commitment signed this week makes Colombia the first country in the world to launch its own chapter of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a global effort by governments, companies and nongovernmental organizations.

The TFA 2020 Colombia Alliance aims to help businesses shift to deforestation-free supply chains by sharing best practices, monitoring forest clearance and training small farmers in sustainable agricultural methods.

It also aims to promote development of certified sustainable products from beef to palm oil for consumers to buy in local supermarkets.

Rainforests in Colombia, Latin America’s largest palm oil producer, are coming under increasing pressure, and deforestation is rampant.

Deforestation in the country’s Amazon region rose 23 percent and across the country rose by 44 percent from 2015 to 2016, said Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s environment minister.

Norway is one of four main donor countries, along with the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands, backing the TFA 2020, an initiative hosted by the World Economic Forum.

“These numbers have been higher than what we expected and that’s why it is important to intensify efforts,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Getting the private sector to commit to deforestation-free supply chains is a “critical part of the puzzle” to protect forests, he said.

First such cooperation

“This is the first time in Colombia we see the government and the private sector joining forces like this,” he said.

“My hope and belief is that this partnership will find ways of ensuring that it is not only an agreement on paper but something that will happen in practical terms.”

Protecting forests helps cut carbon emissions, a key driver of climate change. When forests are degraded or destroyed, the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere.

Colombia is home to a swath of rainforest roughly the size of Germany and England combined and has declared a goal of zero net deforestation by 2020 and halting the loss of all natural forest by 2030.

Its rainforests have been increasingly threatened since a 2016 peace deal to end its decades-long civil war opened up former conflict areas to business, agriculture and development, Helgesen said.

Trees also are being cleared for cattle ranching, illegal mining and growing coca — the raw ingredient for cocaine.

Signing up with the Alliance are about 25 palm oil producers and buyers, Colombia’s Federation of Oil Palm Growers and Alqueria S.A., its third-largest dairy company. Also signing up are retail giant Grupo Exito and international companies operating in Colombia such as consumer goods company Unilever.

“The launch of the TFA 2020 Colombia Alliance is important as a strengthening mechanism for joint action in Colombia to reach our deforestation goals,” said Mariana Villamizar, a spokeswoman for Grupo Exito.

Producers and buyers from the beef, dairy and timber sectors are expected to join the partnership soon.

Each company will set targets to achieve zero deforestation across their often complex supply chains, and the government and NGOs will help monitor deforestation.

Foreign Visitors to US Fall Sharply From 2016

The number of international visitors to the United States through June fell sharply from last year, according to government data released Wednesday.

And the number of business travelers fell by much more than the drop in tourists, according to the monthly report from the Commerce Departments National Travel and Tourism Office.

Total foreign visitors fell four percent compared to the first six months of last year, with travelers from Mexico down more than nine percent and from Britain down six percent, but visits from Canada up nearly five percent.

Excluding Canada and Mexico, overseas visitors fell nearly six percent, but business travel dropped nearly nine percent compared to a 5.6 percent decline in tourists.

President Donald Trump in his first year in office repeatedly promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and has ordered bans on visitors from several Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Visits from the Middle East plunged 30 percent in the first half of the year, and from Africa dropped 27 percent. There also were double-digit declines in visitors from South and Central America, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.

Among the top 20 countries with the most visitors, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and India saw travelers fall well over 10 percent.

In contrast, arrivals from South Korea jumped 18 percent, while Ireland saw a 4.7 percent increase, Italy was up 4.2 percent, Spain 3.5 percent and France 1.5 percent, according to the monthly data.

Sundance Lineup Includes Robin Williams, Gloria Allred Docs

Documentaries about Robin Williams, Gloria Allred and Ruth Bader Ginsber and a Lizzie Borden film with Kristen Stewart are among the 110 features set to premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

The Sundance Institute announced the diverse lineup of films Wednesday for the annual festival in Park City, Utah.

Debra Granik’s long-awaited follow up to “Winter’s Bone” will also premiere during the festival, which runs from Jan. 18-28.

Festival programmers say the films this year highlight the stories of alternative voices and points of view, including films by and about women, and the experience of the African-American male in the world right now.

The Festival last year premiered films like “Get Out,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “The Big Sick.”

US Trial Threatens Funding for Turkey’s Dollar-dependent Banks

Turkey’s deteriorating finances are hurting the country’s banks whose reliance on dollar funding makes them vulnerable to the worst-case scenario: a sudden halt or reversal of foreign investment flows.

International investors are growing nervous about Turkey for a variety of reasons. But U.S. legal action against a number of Turkish individuals over alleged Iran sanctions busting – and the risk that some of the country’s banks might be sucked into the case – lies at the heart of the latest concerns.

Since Turkey’s financial crisis in 2000, its banks have earned a reputation as being among the best-run in emerging markets, holding capital reserves far above those required by global rules.

They are still borrowing funds on international markets for lending on to domestic clients, and executives say they do not expect any significant future difficulties.

Nevertheless, borrowing costs are rising for the banks, which have accumulated dollar debt piles equal to a third of Turkey’s total foreign debt. Bank shares are down 20 percent since mid-August, outstripping a 5 percent fall on the broader Istanbul index in this period.

The lira has fallen more than 10 percent against the dollar and euro in the past three months alone, clocking losses of over 50 percent since the end of 2012 .

Several factors are at work, including fears that Turkey’s credit rating might be downgraded, government resistance to higher interest rates despite double-digit inflation, and tensions between Ankara and NATO ally Washington.

Now a Turkish-Iranian gold trader on trial in New York has pleaded guilty to conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran and will testify against a Turkish bank official charged with arranging illegal transactions involving American lenders.

Any possibility that Turkish banks themselves might become involved, landing the kind of huge fines slapped on others for sanctions-busting, would have severe consequences for the lenders and the wider economy.

“If [fines] do materialize, I would assume that all lending would stop until it becomes clear if institutions around the world can lend to Turkish banks or not,” said Alaa Bushehri, an emerging debt portfolio manager at BNP Paribas Asset Management.

Turkey’s bank regulator and government officials have denied reports in Haberturk newspaper that six unnamed Turkish banks could face fines worth billions of dollars.

But Turkish banks’ dollar bonds generally reflect investors’ nervousness, Bushehri said. On average, yields are 100 basis points above sovereign debt, whereas most big Turkish non-bank firms have lower funding costs than the government, she noted.

Turkish banks also trade with higher yields than similarly-or worse-rated banks in Russia, an emerging market peer which is directly subject to Western sanctions.

Adverse implications

U.S. prosecutors have charged nine people in the case, including the deputy general manager of Turkey’s Halkbank, who is also on trial in New York. He denies all charges.

A former Turkish economy minister is among the defendants, although he is not currently on trial and likewise denies all charges. Ankara says the case is politically motivated, while Halkbank has said all of its transactions have fully complied with national and international regulations.

“If the trial were to end with fines on Turkish lenders, economic implications for Turkey could be highly adverse,” TD Securities said in a note to clients.

Inflation hit a 9-year high of 11.9 percent in October, while Turkish bond yields have reached record levels above 13 percent. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said on Wednesday an insufficient response by the central bank would be an immediate concern for Turkey’s sovereign debt rating.

Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek has promised the government will do whatever is necessary if its banks are hit by the U.S. trial but Mehmet Emin Ozcan, CEO of state-owned Vakifbank, expects no negative impact.

“We didn’t face any problem with borrowing from international markets and I don’t think we’ll have a problem in the future,” he said this week.

Still, investors’ fears persist. While international sanctions on Iran were eased last year, U.S. measures remain and penalties for any infringements can be devastating – as a $9 billion fine on French bank BNP Paribas last year attests.

The potential damage of any fines on Turkish bank reserves has exaggerated the lira’s weakness, compounding the problems of the banks which have about $172 billion in external debt, according to Fitch ratings agency. Of this, $96 billion is due within the next year, the data showed at the end of September.

Health and growth

The issue is central to Turkey’s economic health and growth.

As in other countries with low domestic savings, it relies on foreign borrowing, with banks acting as the conduit for a major part of the flows. Any stop in the financing could wreak havoc.

Turkish banks have average capital ratios that are double the 8 percent minimum stipulated by Basel 3 global banking rules. Also, the lira’s depreciation should not compromise their ability to repay dollar debt as the regulator does not permit lenders to hold open, or unhedged, hard currency liabilities.

Fitch reckons banks can, if needed, access up to $90 billion over 12 months by tapping reserves they hold at the central bank and by unwinding currency derivatives positions. But a prolonged funding crunch will be a different story.

That would risk “pressures on foreign currency reserves, the exchange rate, interest rates and economic growth”, Fitch warns.

That’s because the lenders’ capital buffers held with the central bank – totaling just over $60 billion – are a major part of authorities’ $117 billion reserve war chest, and any depletion of this would leave the lira dangerously exposed.

“Usable” reserves – excluding gold and bank reserves – are around $35 billion, analysts estimate. That means the central bank will have no option but to raise interest rates sharply to counter any lira selloff, with damaging consequences for economic growth.

So far, the banks have avoided refinancing stress; Turkish lending is lucrative for European banks which may be unwilling to risk those long-standing ties.

Indeed, external debt rose around $9 billion in the first half of 2017, Fitch data showed, while Garanti Bank last week announced a $1.35 billion syndicated loan, with 38 banks participating.

But costs are rising – Garanti paid 1.25 percent above LIBOR on a one-year loan, while in 2016 and 2015 it paid 1.10 percent and 0.75 percent above LIBOR respectively.

Huseyin Aydin, chairman of the Banks Association of Turkey, told Reuters he had not observed any low appetite for taking Turkish risk. However, he added: “Foreign borrowing interest rates increased around 50-60 basis points in a tough year like 2017. It is possible that a limited increase will continue in

rates in 2018.”

Paul McNamara, investment director at GAM, has been among those who have warned for some time of trouble. He said he has sold all his Turkish debt because of the banks’ vulnerability.

“Local banks have borrowed an immense amount – north of $100 billion – abroad and lent that money on locally,” he said. “Any stress on Turkish bank syndications and this goes bad very fast.”


Study: Rising Seas Will Swallow 14,000 US Historic Sites

Almost 14,000 archeological sites and national monuments in the United States could be lost by the year 2100 as seas rise due to climate change, scientists said on Wednesday.

The findings offer a glimpse into the vast amount of global cultural heritage that could be destroyed, the study said. One in 10 archeological sites that it analysed on nine southeastern coastal states risk inundation.

“The data are sobering: projected sea level rise … will result in the loss of a substantial portion of the record of both pre-Columbian and historic period human habitation,” the authors said in the journal PLoS ONE.

“(There are) serious concerns over the threat of global climate change to the archaeological and historic record.” Scientists predict sea levels are on track to surge by an average of one meter globally by 2100.

‘A tiny fraction’

In the first study on such a scale, researchers combined data on the elevation of archeological and historic sites along in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts with sea-level rise predictions.

“This is only a tiny fraction of what’s out there,” co-author David Anderson, an archeology professor at the University of Tennessee, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by


“The record of human occupation of coastal regions goes back thousands of years and we stand to lose a lot of that.”

Salvaged history

Florida’s 17th century Castillo de San Marcos fortress and Fort Matanzas, which date back to European colonial struggles for the New World, are among the historic national monuments that could disappear. Other sites are in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

The authors called for a debate about which fragments of human history should be salvaged through relocation and documented for posterity.


NATO Official: NATO Should Defend Sweden, Finland If Attacked

NATO should defend Sweden and Finland in the event of an armed aggression, although neither country is an alliance member, a senior NATO official said on Wednesday at an event that underscored growing concerns about Russia’s military buildup.

Commodore Hans Helseth, special adviser to the NATO Joint Warfare Center in Norway, said the two nations’ growing ties to the western alliance increased their risk and NATO had a moral obligation to come to their assistance if they were attacked.

“Their non-membership actually lowers the threshold of an armed aggression against the two countries. In my opinion, NATO simply has for moral reasons and other reasons to come to the two countries’ assistance,” Helseth said at the Berlin Security Conference.

He said NATO remained open to welcoming both nations as members if they chose to join.

Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland agreed this month to step up defense cooperation and exchange more air surveillance information, part of a broader effort to build up their defenses to counter Russian activities.

Officials from both Finland and Sweden spoke at the conference about their concerns about Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic and northern Europe in general, citing its 2014 annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine as a wakeup call.

The two countries take part in NATO military drills, but they are not covered by Article V of NATO’s foundational treaty which says an attack on one member is an attack on all. Both countries know any move to join the alliance would create a backlash in Moscow, which opposes any expansion of NATO.

A senior Russian foreign ministry official on Tuesday called for efforts to rebuild ties with European countries, including more communication among military experts.

But Helseth said there could be “no return to business as usual” with Russia given its annexation of Crimea and its role in supporting violence in eastern Ukraine, as well as its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and use of “unfriendly attacks in the cyber domain.”

Top military leaders from NATO and member countries spoke at the two-day event about their efforts to build up a bigger deterrent to any military aggression by Russia.

U.S. Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who heads U.S. Army forces in Europe, said Russia had missed a big opportunity to mend ties with the West by not being more transparent about military exercises this year.

U.S. and NATO officials say Russian forces far exceeded the 13,000 threshold beyond which a country is obligated to invite military observers. Russia says western officials are exaggerating the scope of the exercises.

Hodges said western nations had achieved an unprecedented level of information-sharing during the exercise, and said he hoped that would continue even as NATO expands its own capabilities to rapidly move forces to the eastern flank.

He cited concerns about recent activities by Russia, including its purchase of 2,000 vehicles to transport tanks by road and moves to take advantage of melting ice in the Arctic.

“Russia is not sitting around waiting to see what happens.”

Springsteen, Top Ticket on Broadway, Extends Run

Bruce Springsteen on Tuesday announced four more months of intimate concerts on Broadway after his initial run triggered massive interest — and wide disappointment among fans who couldn’t get tickets.

The rock legend, who for decades has sold out arenas with his adrenaline-fueled marathon performances, said he would extend his residency at the 960-seat Walter Kerr Theatre from February 28 to June 30.

Springsteen opened the shows on October 3 and already extended once, until February 3, with tickets selling out nearly instantly.

The 68-year-old balladeer of working-class America set prices at $75 to $800 — but tickets immediately reappeared on resale sites at much higher prices.

As of Tuesday, the cheapest ticket on resale site StubHub was $1,449, significantly higher than Broadway’s other coveted theater seats, including those for Hamilton and Bette Midler’s revival of Hello, Dolly!

Springsteen has tried to reduce scalping through a new verification system by Ticketmaster, which asks fans to sign up and uses algorithms to determine the likelihood that they will attend before providing a code to allow purchases.

In light of the number of fans who were unable to buy tickets initially, the ticketing company said it would not start a new verification round, instead sending codes to fans who already signed up.

Springsteen has said he was inspired to create a more intimate concert experience after he played a somber private show at the White House as a gift from departing President Barack Obama to staff.

Instead of Springsteen’s high-octane arena shows with his E Street Band — whose surprise song choices once marveled fans — the Broadway concerts feature the rocker alone on piano and guitar and a standard set list.

The shows, which follow the release of Springsteen’s autobiography, start with his early song Growin’ Up, about his teenage years, and culminate in Born to Run, his classic hit of escape and ambition.