Facebook: No New Evidence Russia Interfered in Brexit Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Winning Super Bowl Play Be Winning Marketing Ploy?

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

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

Watch the play here:

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

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

“Play of the century”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newsjacking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report: Harper Lee Estate Transferred to Trust

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Giant Retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods Ends Sales of Assault-Style Weapons

Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of the largest sports retailers in the U.S., will immediately end the sale of assault-style rifles in its stores and stop selling guns of any type to anyone under age 21.

The company made the announcement Wednesday, precisely two weeks after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“We deeply believe that this country’s most precious gift is our children. They are our future. We must keep them safe. Beginning today, DICK’S Sporting Goods is committed to the following: http://d.sg/RTC,” the company said in a post on Twitter.

“We need to make a statement,” chairman and CEO Edward Stack said in an interview Wednesday on CNN. “We don’t want to be part of this story any longer.”

Stack said the Florida shooting suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, legally purchased an AR-15 assault rifle from Dick’s in November, but it was not the one used to kill 14 students and 3 staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Stack, who said he remains a strong advocate of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, asserted the nation’s gun laws do not prevent dangerous people from buying guns and that lawmakers must act to strengthen those laws.

The executive called on elected officials to ban assault-style firearms, high-capacity magazines and “bump stocks,” which are devices that enable semi-automatic rifles to fire hundreds of rounds per minute. Stack also proposed raising the minimum age to buy guns to 21.

He said Dick’s, which also stopped selling high-capacity magazines, is prepared for any backlash but will not change its policies on gun sales. “We’re comfortable with our decision,” he said, adding that Dick’s will continue to sell an array of hunting and sport firearms.

The announcement is one of the strongest positions taken by a major U.S. corporation since the massacre, which has reignited the national gun debate and sparked a wave of gun-control rallies across the country.

More than a dozen U.S. corporations have ended partnerships with the National Rifle Association since the mass shooting, including Delta Airlines and United Continental Holdings, Inc., which owns United Airlines.

NRA ties

Other companies that have cut ties with the NRA include Avis, Best Western International, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Metlife, the Hertz Corporation, and Wyndham Worldwide Corporation.

The NRA is one of the country’s most powerful lobbying groups for gun rights and claims 5 million members. In the 2016 elections, the NRA gave $54 million in political donations, much of that during the presidential race.

It is not unusual for some members of Congress to have individually received hundreds of thousands of dollars — even millions — from the NRA. While some Democrats are also recipients of NRA financial support, the top benefactors are currently members of the Republican Party.

NRA reaction

Last week, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington that those advocating for stricter gun control were exploiting the Florida shooting.

Gun control advocates have noted that many teenagers in America can legally purchase assault rifles before they’re eligible to vote or drink alcohol. Twenty-eight of the 50 states have no minimum age requirement for owning a rifle.

Another giant U.S. retail seller of guns, Walmart, Inc., stopped selling AR-15 rifles and other semi-automatic weapons in 2015.

IOC Reinstates Russia’s Membership

The International Olympic Committee has reinstated Russia’s membership after suspending it over state-sponsored doping allegations.

“The Russian Olympic Committee has had its rights fully restored,” said Alexander Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee.

The IOC had banned Russian athletes from competing under the country’s flag during the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea because of allegations Russia ran a state-sponsored doping program during the last Winter Olympics, in Sochi in 2014. However, the Olympic Committee allowed more than 160 Russians to compete individually at the 2018 Games.

Two of the Russian athletes failed drug tests at the Pyeongchang Games. However, the IOC said Wednesday that all remaining test results were negative.

“The IOC can confirm that all the remaining results are negative. Therefore, as stated in the Executive Board decision of 25th February, the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee is automatically lifted with immediate effect,” an IOC statement said.

Russia repeatedly has denied it carried out a doping operation.  

A DC Dig at Russia: Avenue in Front of Embassy Renamed for Activist

The Russian Embassy in Washington has a new address, at least symbolically.

A one-block section of Wisconsin Avenue directly in front of the embassy was officially renamed Boris Nemtsov Plaza on Tuesday, in what amounts to a D.C.-sponsored effort to troll the Russian government.

A former deputy prime minister, Nemtsov became an opposition activist and vocal public critic of President Vladimir Putin. He was shot dead while walking on a bridge near the Kremlin three years ago.

The move to rename the street started in the U.S. Congress at the urging of Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and others.

“This serves as an enduring reminder to Vladimir Putin and those who support him that they cannot use murder and intimidation to suppress dissent,” Rubio said.

Such politicized street-naming games are not new to Washington. In recent years, there have been moves to name the street on which China’s embassy is located after famed Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in prison in 2017. Members of Congress have also supported a similar effort to rename a portion of the road that is home to Cuba’s embassy after Oswaldo Paya, a pro-democracy activist who died in a 2012 car accident that some believe may have been set up by the Cuban government.

Tribute to Sakharov

And this isn’t even the first time that Russia has been targeted by provocative street naming. Back in the Cold War days, when what was then the Soviet embassy was located on 16th Street, the city named a portion of the street after famed dissident Andrei Sakharov.

The United States is not alone in such trolling. There is a long history of both national and municipal governments trying to score political points by renaming streets to irritate other countries.

During the Vietnam War, India renamed the street where the U.S. consulate in Kolkata is located after North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. Iran and Egypt had no diplomatic ties for decades, and restored them only after Iranian officials agreed in 2004 to change the name of a Tehran street that had been named after the man who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. 

More recently, some Russian politicians have suggested retaliating for the Nemtsov change by renaming a street outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “North American Dead End.”

The decision to create Boris Nemtsov Plaza also represents a rare moment of harmony between Congress and Washington’s city government, which normally chafes under the federal government’s oversight power over all District of Columbia decisions.

Turned to D.C. Council

When the original street-renaming bill stalled in the Senate, Rubio turned to the D.C. Council for help. Councilwoman Mary Cheh agreed to sponsor the bill, which breezed through the council in January after public hearings that included testimony from Nemtsov’s daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova.

Cheh on Tuesday noted that Moscow police have prevented Nemtsov supporters from maintaining a shrine at the site of his killing, repeatedly clearing away candles and flowers from the bridge.

“This commemoration will not be removed,” Cheh said. “Let them steal the candles. Let them steal the flowers. They can never steal his memory.”

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the nonvoting representative of Washington in Congress, noted with satisfaction that the council was able to quickly accomplish what the Senate couldn’t.

“We might have been here in time for next year’s anniversary [of Nemtsov’s killing] if we were dependent on the Congress,” she said.

Several speakers, including Rubio, took the opportunity to criticize Putin, not only for his repression of dissent but also for Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Rubio condemned both Putin’s “aggressive policies inside Russia” and his “effort to interfere in the democratic process inside the United States.”

Deluge of Oscars Politics Began With Brando

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salutes for speaking out

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

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

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

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

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

​Comments linked to movies

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

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

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

​Moore draws boos

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

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

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

The audience laughed and cheered.

White House: Senior US, Chinese Officials to Meet This Week on Trade

Three of President Donald Trump’s senior economic aides are expected to meet this week with a top Chinese economic official to discuss trade disputes between the United States and China.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Reuters that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Trump’s economic adviser, Gary Cohn, are expected to meet Chinese economic adviser Liu He in Washington.

The talks are likely to cover a range of differences including intellectual property and steel.

Trump has long called for a more balanced trade relationship with China and threatened to impose a big “fine” against China to protect American intellectual property. U.S. officials said Trump has been discussing imposing a global tariff on imports of steel from China, the world’s largest steel producer, and other countries.

The talks with Liu may help determine the trajectory of the U.S.-Chinese trade relationship, which Trump believes is heavily tilted in favor of China.

A senior U.S. official said there was skepticism on the U.S. side that a trade breakthrough could be achieved any time soon.

“We’re trying to treat this with an open mind. But the Chinese don’t really want to make a deal. They like the status quo,” the official said.

There was no plan for Trump himself to meet Liu, but officials did not rule it out if progress was being made.

Liu, a Harvard-trained economist and trusted confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has emerged as the front-runner to be the next governor of China’s central bank, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Liu is the top adviser to Xi on economic policy and is also expected to become vice premier overseeing the Chinese economy.

Steel

A source close to the White House said Trump had expressed interest in imposing a tariff on steel imports of at least 24 percent. The White House said no final decision had been made.

The Commerce Department on Feb. 16 recommended that Trump impose stiff curbs on steel imports from China and other countries and offered the president several options ranging from global and country-specific tariffs to broad import quotas.

A blanket tariff on steel would cover every steel and aluminum product entering the American market from China.

China has expressed concerns over excessive protectionism in the U.S. steel sector and urged restraint. It has also said it will oppose any “unfair and unreasonable” trade measures by countries such as the United States.

WTO Chief Reacts Coolly to Trump’s Criticism of Trade Judges

The head of the World Trade Organization diplomatically took issue with U.S. President Donald Trump’s description of the WTO as a catastrophe on Tuesday, pointing out that the United States actually had a better deal than other countries in the club.

“World Trade Organization — a catastrophe,” Trump said on Monday at a meeting with U.S. governors, according to a White House transcript.

“The World Trade Organization makes it almost impossible for us to do good business. We lose the cases, we don’t have the judges. We have a minority of judges. It’s almost as bad as the 9th Circuit,” Trump said.

Asked about Trump’s remarks, WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, a former Brazilian trade negotiator, told reporters in Sofia that it was not news that the United States had concerns about the work of the WTO. 

“Just one clarification,” he said.

“No member has more than one judge at the WTO. The members of the Appellate Body, they are seven, and they come from different regions, so no country has a majority there. The United States, in fact, has always had one of the Appellate Body members with U.S. nationality, which is very unusual, but it is the situation.”

Since last year, the United States has been vetoing the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s Appellate Body, in effect the supreme court of world trade.

The lack of judges has slowed down the handling of trade disputes and could halt the appeals process altogether after the next judge retires in September.

Trump has said he thinks the United States does not get a fair deal, but trade negotiators from other countries say he has not yet set any conditions for resuming judicial appointments, making it impossible to meet U.S. demands.

“This is a very serious situation that we are trying to discuss with members, to see how we can overcome this,” Azevedo said.

Former WTO chief Pascal Lamy said last week that Trump’s view of trade was “medieval,” and the U.S. win/lose rate in WTO disputes was similar to that of other countries.

“The question is whether the U.S. problem is trying to fix a number of issues or whether the U.S. strategy is trying to wreck the system,” Lamy said.

Venezuela Says US Sanctions Hampering Debt Renegotiation

Venezuela’s foreign minister said Tuesday that U.S. sanctions against the ailing oil nation were making foreign debt renegotiation more difficult and causing “panic” at global banks.

Venezuela is undergoing a major economic crisis, with millions dealing with food and medicine shortages, and President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government is late in paying interest of $1.9 billion on its debt.

The U.S. government imposed financial sanctions on Venezuela in August, prohibiting dealing in new debt from the Venezuelan government or state oil company PDVSA, in an effort to halt financing that Washington said fuels a “dictatorship.”

Venezuela has repeatedly said Washington is trying to force a default.

“The renegotiation of external debt is underway, but it has been made more difficult by U.S. sanctions,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters in Geneva. “It’s incredible how global banks have reacted with panic. If a bank somewhere in the world works with Venezuela, they feel they are going to be sanctioned.”

According to Arreaza, global banks have opted to close accounts belonging to the government, business people and embassies. He added that some U.S. companies were unable to pay for Venezuelan oil.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised the specter of sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry. The OPEC nation obtains 95 percent of its export revenue from oil, though production is down significantly in recent months.

“If the international financial system blocks Venezuela, we are working with Russia, China and Turkey to find new mechanisms,” said Arreaza.

Turkish Parliament Strips Status of Two More Pro-Kurdish Lawmakers

Turkey’s parliament stripped two lawmakers from a pro-Kurdish party of their parliamentary status on Tuesday for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and sharing a picture of a fighter who fought alongside a Kurdish militia in Syria.

The move further reduced the parliamentary strength of the Democratic People’s Party (HDP), the second-largest opposition party in the chamber. The party’s seats fell to 50 from 59 it won in the last election, and nine other HDP lawmakers are in detention and could also be stripped of their status.

Ahmet Yildirim, member of parliament for the eastern province of Mus, lost his seat after he was jailed for 14 months for insulting Erdogan.

Ibrahim Ayhan, a representative of the southeastern town of Sanliurfa, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for sharing online the photo of a Turkish citizen who died in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane while fighting Islamic State. He was convicted of sharing terrorist propaganda.

The court rulings to strip the two lawmakers of their status were read out in parliament following their conviction.

“Our people will not accept this!” the HDP said in a tweet.

The government says the HDP is an affiliate of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an armed insurgency in the largely Kurdish southeast for more than three decades. The HDP denies direct links to the PKK.

PM: Macedonia has Four Options to Resolve Name Dispute with Greece

Macedonia is looking at four options to settle a decades-long dispute with Greece over its name, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told Reuters in an interview Tuesday.

The small ex-Yugoslav republic and its southern neighbor Greece have agreed to step up negotiations this year to resolve the dispute, which has frustrated Skopje’s ambition to join NATO and the European Union.

Athens, which like all members of both organizations has a veto over admissions, objects to the use of the name Macedonia, arguing that it, along with articles in Skopje’s constitution, could imply territorial claims over a northern Greek region of the same name.

Macedonia hopes the issue can be resolved in time for an EU meeting in June and a NATO summit in July, and is proposing a geographical “qualifier” to ensure there is clear differentiation in the two names.

“The suggestions are Republic of North Macedonia, Republic of Upper Macedonia, Republic of Vardar Macedonia and Republic of Macedonia (Skopje),” Zaev said in a television interview after attending a summit on the Western Balkans in London.

Asked whether Greece would be happy with one of these options he added: “Yes … they have more preferred options and some not so preferred options [in terms of the name].”

He said the question that remained was whether there was “a real need” to change Macedonia’s constitution, something Greece had also asked for in recent months.

Dignity

Greece’s demand for an amendment of references to the “Republic of Macedonia” in the national constitution could prove the toughest issue, although there seems to be some room for maneuver.

The foreign ministers of the two countries are due to hold further talks and Zaev also plans to meet Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in March.

“Of course, we hope we would find a solution [on the constitution]. But we must take care about the dignity and identity of both sides because friends take care of each other,” he said.

Several thousand people gathered in Skopje on Tuesday evening to protest negotiations with Greece. They waved Macedonian flags and held banners reading “Stop Greek racism” and “Stop negotiations.” A Greek flag was set on fire during the protest.

Asked what changes Greece wanted to the name in the constitution and what issues Skopje might have with that, Zaev used the examples of Germany and Greece which also have national variations in their own constitutions.

“We are prepared to do a change [of the constitution],” Zaev said, adding that it would not be by very much “because it is very difficult.”

“They [Greece] don’t have a region of the Republic of Macedonia, they are the Republic of Greece. And inside [our country] how we use it to communicate, from ministries to municipalities and other institutions, is really our right and doesn’t have implications for anybody.”

Referendum

The Macedonian government later said in a statement that Zaev had not stated there could potentially be a small change to the constitution but was referring instead to the broader name issue that had been discussed earlier.

If an agreement between the two countries can be found, Macedonia will hold a referendum to ask its population of around two million to back the change.

“I think if we save dignity — that is the important thing — of course the citizens will support it. Why? Because it is that [on which] depends our integration in NATO and the European Union.”

У Македонії відбувся багатотисячний протест проти перейменування країни

Кілька тисяч людей вийшли на вулиці в столиці Македонії Скоп’є 27 лютого, щоб висловити протест проти можливої зміни назви країни за наполягання Греції, щоб покласти край тривалій суперечці довкола назви «Македонія».

Протестувальники вимагали припинити переговори і вигукували «Хай живе Македонія!», ховаючись від снігу під парасольками, і тримали в руках македонський прапор.

Протест організував Всесвітній македонський конгрес і декілька інших організацій. Вони звинуватили і уряд прем’єр-міністра Зорана Заєва, і головну опозиційну націоналістичну партію VMRO-DPMNE в зраді національних інтересів Македонії. Політичні партії, в тому числі VMRO-DPMNE, заявили, що не мають ніякого стосунку до протесту.

Раніше сьогодні прем’єр-міністр Македонії Зоран Заєв заявив, що запропонував чотири варіанти Греції в спробі вирішити багаторічну суперечку щодо назви «Македонія». За його словами, йдеться про такі варіанти перейменування: Республіка Північна Македонія, Республіка Верхня Македонія, Республіка Вардар-Македонія або Республіка Македонія (Скоп’є).

В останні місяці Македонія проводить широкі переговори з сусідньою Грецією з метою вирішити суперечку щодо назви «Македонія». 

Афіни протягом багатьох років блокували заявки Македонії на вступ у ЄС і в НАТО, стверджуючи, що називатися Македонією не може одночасно дві території – ця країна і традиційний регіон на півночі Греції. Крім того, Афіни також заявляють, що, претендуючи на цю назву, Македонія «привласнює» частину давньої історії Греції.

Афіни погодилися з назвою балканської країни як «Колишньої югославської республіки Македонії», в англійському скороченні FYROM, на міжнародних майданчиках як тимчасовий захід до вирішення суперечки.

У Вашингтоні з’явилася адреса Boris Nemtsov Plaza

У третю річницю вбивства Бориса Нємцова адреса з іменем російського опозиціонера офіційно з’явилася у столиці США Вашингтоні. Ініціативу назвати частину Вісконсин-авеню перед посольством Росії у США, висунуту в 2016 році сенатором-республіканцем від Флориди Марком Рубіо, схвалила міська рада Вашингтона на початку січня цього року.

У церемонії взяли участь дочка вбитого політика Жанна Нємцова, його соратник, заступник голови руху «Відкрита Росія» Володимир Кара-Мурза, а також Марко Рубіо, співголова Гельсінської комісії США сенатор Роджер Вікер та інші офіційні особи США.

У Кремлі не зробили офіційної заяви до роковин убивства Нємцова, як і не коментували сьогоднішню подію щодо назви його іменем адреси перед російським посольством.

У столиці Росії Москві 27 лютого люди упродовж дня несли квіти до Великого Москворецького мосту неподалік Кремля, де три роки тому пострілами в спину був убитий Борис Нємцов.

У треті роковини вбивства політика США закликали російську владу зробити все, щоб причетні до вбивства, включаючи організаторів і замовників злочину, були притягнуті до відповідальності.

У квітні розглянуть апеляції екс-лідера боснійських сербів Караджича щодо звинувачень у геноциді – трибунал

Апеляції захисту колишнього лідера боснійських сербів Радована Караджича проти 40-річного ув’язнення за звинуваченням у геноциді Міжнародний кримінальний трибунал у Гаазі заслухає в квітні поточного року. Голова Міжнародного трибуналу з воєнних злочинів у колишній Югославії Теодор Мерон 27 лютого заявив, що «апеляції у справі» розглядатимуть 23 і 24 квітня.

Тюремний термін тривалістю в чотири десятиліття оскаржується як Караджичем, так і прокурорами, які наполягають, щоб вирок був збільшений до довічного ув’язнення.

У березні 2016 року суд ООН засудив Радована Караджича до 40 років в’язниці, визнавши його винним у різанині в Сребрениці, де вбили близько восьми тисяч чоловіків і хлопців, босняків-мусульман. Крім того, Караджича визнали винним у дев’яти інших злочинах, скоєних під час війни в Боснії-Герцеговині 1992-95 років, у тому числі в облозі Сараєва, в якій загинули близько 10 тисяч цивільних. Караджич не визнав себе винним.

22 листопада Міжнародний кримінальний трибунал ООН з колишньої Югославії також визнав екс-командира армії боснійських сербів Ратка Младича винним за 10 з 11 пунктів обвинувачень у воєнних злочинах і злочинах проти людства, зокрема геноциді, і засудив його до довічного ув’язнення.

 

Cuban Artist Switches Havana’s Neon Lights Back On

After dusk in Havana, an ice-blue neon sign illuminates the faded facade of the Cine El Megano, one of many abandoned movie houses in the Cuban capital, lighting up a once vibrant corner at the heart of the Caribbean city that had gone pitch black in recent decades.

The glowing neon italic letters fill the building’s colonial facade with an art deco accent between the doors below and the wraparound balcony above. It is the work of Cuban artist Kadir Lopez Nieves, who is restoring the vintage signs of the cinemas, hotels and cabarets that lit up Havana’s nightlife in its 1950s heyday.

His project, dubbed “Habana Light Neon + Signs,” has so far restored around 50 signs, reflecting a broader revival in Havana. The city, one of the architectural jewels of Latin America, has been enjoying a tourism boom.

“They called it the Broadway or Paris of the Caribbean because it had so much light and brilliance,” said Lopez Nieves, during an interview in his workshop and gallery. “But when I started out the project … Havana was switched off in terms of light.”

After Fidel Castro’s 1959 leftist revolution, many of Havana’s ritzy entertainment venues, often run by American mobsters and frequented by the rich and famous, were shuttered or slowly became run-down.

Effects of weather

Over the decades, tropical weather wrought havoc on their neon signs. The communist-run island, laboring under a U.S. embargo, often lacked the funds and know-how to fix them.

As elsewhere, other forms of lighting, such as LEDs, proved cheaper and the ornate neon signs were abandoned. 

Lopez Nieves set about restoring the neon lights of a dozen cinemas as a project for the Havana Biennial arts festival in 2015. His work delighted locals.

“It’s lending more life to the city at night,” said Alberto Echavarria, 68, guarding a parking area down the road from the Cine Megano. He said the sign recalled the once “fabulous” ambiance of the neighborhood, which lies close to Havana’s neo-classical Capitol Building.

Shining incandescent from afar, the sign also helped to make the run-down area more salubrious by chasing away shady characters, he said.

“Obscure zones would go from being marginal to being photographed,” said Lopez Nieves, who then started restoring other neon signs, using historic documents such as old photographs for guidance. “A personal project turned into a social project.”

The initiative has become self-financing, thanks to the ale of new commercial signs to Cuba’s fledgling private sector, costing between $200 and $3,000.

Close to Havana’s seafront, the Bar Cabana sign flashes red, while around the corner the La Farmacia restaurant sign burns white.

​Tropicana lights

Lopez Nieves says he has a large contract to restore the lights at Havana’s famed Tropicana nightclub, which in its prime boasted famous patrons such as Hollywood stars Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart.

Amid a global neon revival, the initiative started attracting enthusiasts from all over the world, who offered their expertise, he said.

“I love [neon] because it’s an organic light that lives and breathes. And then to discover an entire city — it’s almost like finding a treasure box,” Jeff Friedman, who runs a New York neon sign manufacturing company, said during a trip to Havana.

Foreign expertise has come in handy, Lopez Nieves said. There are only a few craftsmen left in Cuba who know how to bend the neon tubes into letters and fill them with gas to create different colors.

Lopez Nieves hopes to safeguard that knowledge with his next project: the creation of a neon center in the abandoned art deco cinema Cine Rex. It would host a museum and workshops, as well as a store for new and classic designs. He plans to open it in December.

“Neon is having an important revival,” he said, “and I’m glad we’re part of that.”

New Study Finds Diverse Audiences Drive Media Blockbusters

Just as “Black Panther” is setting records at the box office, a new study finds that diverse audiences are driving most of the biggest blockbusters and many of the most-watched hits on television.

UCLA’s Bunche Center released its fifth annual study on diversity in the entertainment industry Tuesday, unveiling an analysis of the top 200 theatrical film releases of 2016 and 1,251 broadcast, cable and digital platform TV shows from the 2015-2016 season. Among its results: minorities accounted for the majority of ticket buyers for five of the top 10 films at the global box office, and half of ticket buyers for two more of the top 10.

“There has been some progress, undeniably. Things are not what they were five years ago,” said Darnell Hunt, director of the center, which focuses on African American studies, at the University of California, Los Angeles. “People are actually talking about diversity today as a bottom-line imperative as opposed to just the right thing to do. We’ve amassed enough evidence now that diversity does, in fact, sell.”

Minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, but Hispanic and African-American moviegoers over-index among moviegoers. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, Latinos make up 18 percent of the U.S. population but account for 23 percent of frequent moviegoers. Though African Americans are 12 percent of the population, they make up 15 percent of frequent moviegoers.

UCLA found that films with casts that were 21 to 30 percent minority regularly performed better at the box office than films with the most racially and ethnically homogenous casts.

Hunt believes that the wealth of data, as well as box-office successes like “Black Panther,” have made obvious the financial benefits of films that better reflect the racial makeup of the American population.

“I think the industry has finally gotten the memo, at least on the screen in most cases, if not behind the camera,” said Hunt. “That’s where there are the most missed opportunities.”

The report, titled “Five Years of Progress and Missed Opportunities,” covers a period of some historic high points for Hollywood, including the release of the best picture-winning “Moonlight,” along with fellow Oscar nominees “Hidden Figures” and “Fences.”

But researchers found the overall statistical portrait of the industry didn’t support much improvement in diversity from 2015 to 2016.

“With each milestone achievement, we chip away at some of the myths about what’s possible and what’s not,” said Hunt. “Every time a film like this does really well, every time we see a TV show like ‘Empire,’ it makes it harder for them to make the argument that you can’t have a viable film with a lead of color. Or you can’t have a universally appealing show with a predominantly minority cast. It’s just not true anymore because the mainstream, itself, is diverse.”

Some of the largest disparities for minorities detailed by the UCLA report were in roles like film writers (8.1 percent of 2016’s top films) and creators of broadcast scripted shows (7.1 percent). Hunt blamed the lag behind the camera on, among other factors, executive ranks that are still overwhelmingly male.

“It’s a white-male controlled industry and it hasn’t yet figured out how to incorporate other decision-makers of color and women into the process. So you have these momentary exceptions to the rule,” said Hunt, pointing to “Black Panther,” which has grossed $700 million worldwide in two weeks of release.

Such films, he said, show the considerable economic sense of making movies and television series that don’t ignore nearly half of their potential audience.

“It’s business 101,” Hunt said.

Ed Sheeran Named Best-selling Global Artist of 2017

British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was named the world’s best-selling artist of 2017 on Monday, thanks to his album “Divide” and singles “Shape of You” and “Perfect.”

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said that “Divide,” which was released in March 2017, went multi-platinum in 36 nations.

Sheeran’s pop ballad “Shape of You” was also the best-selling single globally of 2017 and has been certified as multi-platinum in 32 nations, the organization said.

The IFPI said it was the first time that a recording artist has had both the best-selling album and single of the year.

Sheeran, 27, first found success in England in 2009 and 2010 by self-releasing his music online.

“Ed is truly an incredible songwriter, vocalist and performer, whose ability to tell stories and make people feel is what stands him out from the crowd,”  Max Lousada, chief executive of recorded music for Sheeran’s Warner Music Group record label, said in a statement on Monday.

Sheeran, known for his ginger hair and shy demeanor, delighted fans last month by announcing his engagement to his childhood friend Cherry Seaborn, who he has known since he was 11 years old.

Canadian rapper Drake and his album “More Life” was named the second biggest seller globally for 2017 and the IFPI said Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” was third, despite being released only in November 2017.