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.

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Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods Crack Down on Gun Sales  

Two major U.S. retailers changed their gun sales policies Wednesday in the fallout over a Florida high school massacre.

Walmart, the country’s biggest retailer, announced it is raising the age restriction for buying guns and ammunition to 21.

“We take seriously our obligation to be a responsible seller,” it said in a statement. 

Walmart is also dropping toys and other items that resemble assault-style weapons from its website. The retail giant stopped selling assault-style guns in 2015 and does not sell handguns except for its stores in Alaska.

Earlier Wednesday, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would no longer sell assault-style rifles or any gun to anyone younger than 21.

The chain went one step further and urged Congress to ban assault-style weapons and raise the minimum age.

The alleged Parkland high school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15.

Dick’s says Cruz had bought a shotgun at one of its stores after going though all the proper procedures, but stressed it was not the exact weapon or the type allegedly used in the Feb. 14 massacre. 

Both Walmart and Dick’s say they are committed to serving sportsmen, hunters, and the majority of gun owners whom they call law-abiding citizens.

WATCH: Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO: ‘We Don’t Want to be a Part of This Story’

 

The mass shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has had an impact on the corporate world, which is seemingly taking a close look at nationwide polls that overwhelmingly favor tighter gun laws.

More than a dozen major companies are ending discounts for members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). They include Delta Airlines, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, MetLife Insurance and Best Western Hotels. 

President Donald Trump, who has been a huge supporter of the NRA and whose campaign was a recipient of millions of dollars in NRA funds, said earlier this week that sometimes you just have to fight the NRA.

At a discussion on gun safety with U.S. lawmakers Wednesday, he also accused Republican politicians who have given tepid support for stronger gun laws of being “afraid” of the powerful pro-gun lobby group.

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New Operating Systems, Improved Cameras on Display at Barcelona’s Mobile Phone Congress

The world’s biggest mobile phone trade fair, the Mobile World Congress, or MWC, opened earlier this week in Barcelona, Spain. Except for Apple, which traditionally stays away, all other big and small phone manufacturers and developers are displaying their wares as they continue to battle a market valued at $478 billion in 2017. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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Indexes Point to Cooling Growth in China This Year 

Growth in China’s manufacturing sector in February cooled to the weakest in more than 11/2 years, raising concerns of a sharper-than-expected slowdown in the world’s second biggest economy this year as regulators tighten the screws on financial risks.

The weakness was driven by disruption to business activity by the Lunar New Year holidays and curbs to factory output from tougher pollution rules, but there are worries of a bigger loss in momentum.

“Although a recovery looks possible in the short-run as the anti-pollution campaign winds down, the risk is still that the economy fares worse this year than is generally expected,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China Economist at Capital Economics.

Index raises concern

The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) released Wednesday fell to 50.3 in February, from 51.3 in January. But it remained above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis, the 19th straight month of expansion.

The drop may raise some concerns for China’s leaders as they prepare for the start of the National People’s Congress (NPC) next week where Beijing will unveil its economic targets for this year.

Globally, solid demand has kept many export-reliant economies humming over the past year or so, though a move toward tighter policy in advanced nations could cut into growth this year.

The latest PMI’s subindex of new export orders fell to 49.0, the lowest in at least a year, as the yuan currency appreciated against the dollar.

Chen Zhongtao, an official with China Logistics Information Center (CLIC), said that “13.6 percent of firms reported concerns over the appreciating Chinese currency and greater currency fluctuations,” the highest number of companies to do so since March 2017.

CLIC said in a statement that export sluggishness is expected to continue this year as steel firms are more reluctant to ship goods in the face of rising global protectionism.

Lunar New Year effect

The index for output stood at 50.7, down from 53.5 in January as the Lunar New Year holidays disrupted factory activities, the statistics bureau said. Total new orders also expanded much slower in February.

Raw material input prices fell for the second consecutive month to the lowest since July 2017, indicating cost pressure from price rises on manufacturing firms is easing.

“I think besides the Lunar New Year factor, the stricter pollution measures in the north before the National People’s Congress might have weighed on activities as well,” said Betty Wang, Senior China Economist at ANZ.

Wang expects momentum to pick up in the months ahead as the pollution crackdown tapers off.

Still, there are signs that China may continue with the pollution crackdown, with top steelmaking city of Tangshan proposing new restrictions on production once the current curbs expire in March.

The weeklong Lunar New Year holidays, which fell in February this year but January in 2017, tend to distort data early in the year.

Many factories and offices start to scale back operations ahead of time before shutting for the entire holiday or longer, while some manufacturers front-load shipments or replenish inventories ahead of the break.

Moderating growth in 2018

Boosted by government infrastructure spending, a resilient property market and unexpected strength in exports, China’s manufacturing and industrial firms helped the economy post better-than-expected growth of 6.9 percent in 2017.

A sister survey showed activity in China’s service sector slowed to lowest since October last year in February. The official non-manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 54.4 from 55.3 in January.

The services sector accounts for more than half of China’s economy, with rising wages giving Chinese consumers more spending clout.

Chinese policymakers are counting on growth in services and consumption to rebalance their economic growth model from its heavy reliance on investment and exports.

Economists polled by Reuters expected China’s economic growth will moderate to around 6.5 percent this year as the property market cools and as authorities press ahead with a clamp down on riskier financial activity that is driving up borrowing costs.

Analysts and financial markets are widely expecting the government to announce a 2018 growth target of around 6.5 percent at the NPC, the same as last year.

A composite PMI covering both the manufacturing and services activity stood at 52.9 in February, down from January’s reading of 54.6.

“Looking ahead, we think growth is likely to fall short of expectations this year, with many underestimating the headwinds from slower credit growth and a cooling property sector,” Capital Economics’ Evans-Pritchard said.

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US Proposes Anti-dumping Duties on Chinese Aluminum Foil

The U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday recommended raising import duties on Chinese-made aluminum foil it said is being sold at unfairly low prices due to improper subsidies to producers.

 

The ruling was praised by the Aluminum Association, a trade group that pressed the case and said cheap imports were threatening thousands of jobs.

 

Beijing faces complaints from the United States, European Union and other trading partners that a flood of Chinese aluminum, steel and other exports are being sold at unfairly low prices, threatening jobs abroad.

 

The Commerce Department said it concluded Chinese exporters were selling aluminum foil at 49 to 106 percent below fair value and were receiving unfair subsidies of 17 to 81 percent of the goods’ value.

 

Importers will have to post cash bonds to pay potentially higher duties while the recommendation goes to the U.S. International Trade Commission for a final decision, said a Commerce statement.

 

China’s Ministry of Commerce complained Washington was harming Chinese exporters and said Beijing was ready to take unspecified “necessary measures” to defend its interests.

 

Beijing has accused Trump’s government of disrupting global trade regulation by taking action under U.S. law instead of through the World Trade Organization.

 

“China will take necessary measures to defend its interests in response to the wrong practice of the United States,” said a Commerce Ministry official, Wang Hejun, in a statement.

 

The Trump administration earlier raised duties on Chinese-made washing machines, solar modules and some aluminum and steel products to offset what it said were improper subsidies.

 

The American Chamber of Commerce in China says Chinese officials have warned of possible unspecified retaliation if Washington took excessive steps in trade disputes.

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Ford, Miami to Form Test Bed for Self-driving Cars

Ford Motor Co. is making Miami-Dade County its new test bed for self-driving vehicles.

The automaker and its partners — Domino’s Pizza, ride-hailing company Lyft and delivery company Postmates — are starting pilot programs to see how consumers react to autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. Self-driving startup and Ford partner Argo AI already has a fleet of cars in the area making the highly detailed maps that are necessary for self-driving. Ford also will establish its first-ever autonomous vehicle terminal in Miami, where it will learn how to service and deploy its test fleet.

More services will likely be introduced as the partnership goes on, including Chariot, an app-based shuttle service owned by Ford. It’s all part of Ford’s effort to find viable business models for fully autonomous vehicles and get them on the road by 2021.

“This is, I think, the future of any automotive company or mobility company. If a majority of the world’s population is going to be living in cities, we need to understand how to move those people around,” said John Kwant, Ford’s vice president of city solutions, who inked the deal with Miami-Dade.

Ford isn’t the first automaker to run test fleets of autonomous vehicles. General Motors Co. will start testing autonomous vehicles in New York City this year, while Nissan Motor Co. is launching an autonomous taxi service in Yokohama, Japan, next week. Technology companies like Waymo — a division of Google — are also testing self-driving vehicles on public roads in Phoenix, San Francisco and Singapore, among other cities.

But the partnership with a specific metropolitan is less common. Both sides envision a deep relationship where Ford can help Miami-Dade solve specific issues, like how to most efficiently move people from its suburbs to its downtown monorail, and Miami-Dade can offer solutions like dedicated lanes for automated vehicles or infrastructure projects like advanced traffic lights that can send signals to connected cars. 

“We want to be on the forefront of this because we want to give our people choices,” said Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, which is home to 34 cities and 2.7 million people. 

Traffic congestion a concern

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president of autonomous vehicles and electrification, says the company also intends to work closely with local businesses. The company wants to learn, for example, how a florist might use an autonomous delivery vehicle.

“Autonomous vehicle technology is interesting, but it’s a whole lot more interesting with a viable business model,” he said.

The city of Miami is the fifth-most congested in the U.S., according to a recent traffic study by the consulting firm Inrix. After more than a century of selling people vehicles, Kwant says Ford now wants to figure out ways to move people more efficiently in order to cut down on that time in traffic.

Making money

Sam Abuelsamid, a senior research analyst with the consulting firm Navigant Research, says Ford and others must figure out how to make money on self-driving cars.

“If this does take off, if people do adopt automated vehicles and use them for ride-hailing, that’s going to result in a decline in retail vehicle sales,” Abuelsamid said. “They need to figure out, if we’re going to have a decline in the number of vehicles we sell to consumers, how do we keep our business stable?”

Kwant says the testing will also help Ford determine what its future self-driving vehicles need to look like and how they must perform.

“If you don’t have steering wheels, how do you begin to use that package space? How do you begin to look different in terms of carrying more people?” he said.

Ford won’t say how many vehicles it will have on the road in Miami-Dade, but says it will be Ford’s largest test bed for autonomous vehicles by the end of this year. 

Backup safety drivers

All of the vehicles will have backup safety drivers. Domino’s experimental vehicles aren’t even technically autonomous; they’re equipped to be, but for now they have actual drivers. The windows are blacked out so customers can experience how to get pizza from the car without dealing with a person.  

Miami will give Ford new challenges. Previously, it tested Domino’s cars in suburban Michigan, where parking wasn’t an issue. But in busy Miami Beach, the cars will have to figure out where they can go to allow apartment-dwellers to safely retrieve their pizzas. An autonomous delivery vehicle from Postmates might have to switch between Spanish and English commands when it picks up a meal and delivers it to a customer. Self-driving Lyft vehicles will be tasked with mapping out the best places to wait for customers without causing more traffic headaches.

Kwant says Ford will announce more city partnerships as this year progresses. But Miami-Dade was a natural, since it has good weather, lots of different urban and suburban terrain and support from Gimenez and other government leaders.

Cheaper and safer

Gimenez, who began talking to Ford in 2017 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, says he’s not worried about consumer acceptance of self-driving cars. He thinks his community will embrace them as companies prove that shared autonomous vehicles can be cheaper and safer than regular ones.

Gimenez says self-driving vehicles also can potentially improve traffic flow without significant new investments in roadways. They can travel more closely together, for example, because they’re always watching the car in front of them and can brake automatically.

“That’s why I’m really high on this technology,” he said.

 

 

 

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White House Reaches Informal Deal with Boeing for Air Force One

U.S. President Donald Trump has reached an agreement with the Boeing Co to provide two Air Force One planes for $3.9 billion, the White House said on Tuesday.

“President Trump has reached an informal deal with Boeing on a fixed-price contract for the new Air Force One Program,” Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told Reuters. He said the contract will save taxpayers more than $1.4 billion, but those savings could not be independently confirmed.

Trump has said Boeing’s costs to build replacements for Air Force One aircraft – one of the most visible symbols of the U.S. presidency – were too high and urged the federal government in a tweet to “Cancel order!”

The Boeing 747-8s are designed to be an airborne White House able to fly in worst-case security scenarios, such as nuclear war, and are modified with military avionics, advanced communications and a self-defense system.

“President Trump negotiated a good deal on behalf of the American people,” Boeing said in a news release.

U.S. aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia said the White House was engaging in “political theater.”

“There’s no evidence of a discount,” said Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon released Air Force budget documents for fiscal year 2019 disclosing the $3.9 billion cost for the two-aircraft program. The same 2018 budget document, not adjusted for inflation, showed the price at $3.6 billion.

Boeing would only have so much room to offer discounts given the high proportion of supplier content on Air Force One, from refrigerators to missile warning systems, Aboulafia said by phone.

The big U.S. defense contractor said the deal includes work to develop and build two planes, including unique items such as a communications package, internal and external stairs, large galleys and other equipment.

The “informal deal” will need to be codified in a formal contract with comprehensive, complex terms and conditions said Franklin Turner, a partner specializing in government contracts at law firm McCarter & English, suggesting a final deal was still a ways off.

Boeing stock was up 1.4 percent at $368.54, trading at an all-time high.

 

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Fed’s Powell Nods to ‘Gradual’ Rate Hikes, Close eye on Inflation

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, pledging to “strike a balance” between the risk of an overheating economy and the need to keep growth on track, told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that the central bank would stick with gradual interest rate increases despite the added stimulus of tax cuts and government spending.

Fed policymakers anticipate three rate increases this year, and Powell gave no indication in prepared remarks to the House Financial Services Committee that the pace needs to quicken even as the “tailwinds” of government stimulus and a stronger world economy propel the U.S. recovery.

“The [Federal Open Market Committee] will continue to strike a balance between avoiding an overheating economy and bringing … price inflation to 2 percent on a sustained basis,” Powell said in prepared remarks for his first monetary policy testimony to Congress as Fed chief.

“Some of the headwinds the U.S. economy faced in previous years have turned into tailwinds,” Powell said, noting recent fiscal policy shifts and the global economic recovery. Still, “inflation remains below our 2 percent longer-run objective. In the (FOMC‘s) view, further gradual rate increases in the federal funds rate will best promote attainment of both of our objectives.”

The testimony sent Powell’s first signal as Fed chief that the massive tax overhaul and government spending plan launched by the Trump administration will not prompt any immediate shift to a faster pace of rate increases. “Gradual” has been the operative word since the Fed began raising rates under Powell’s predecessor, Janet Yellen, in late 2015.

The Fed is expected to approve its first rate increase of 2018 at the next policy meeting in March, when it will also provide fresh economic projections and Powell will hold his first press conference.

“This is a continuation of where this Fed was under Chair Yellen,” said Robert Albertson, principal and chief strategist at Sandler O‘Neill & Partners in New York.

“They are normalizing, they are not tightening … The surprises, if we are going to see them, are going to be after more data comes out in the next month or two,” and accounts for things like the tax cuts and whether business investment spending continues higher, he said.

Market reaction was muted. U.S. stocks were trading slightly lower while the dollar .DXY was stronger against a basket of currencies. Prices of U.S. Treasuries were mixed.

Valuation pressures

Powell’s appearance before the House panel is his first as Fed chief. He used his prepared remarks to strike notes likely to be welcomed by the Republican majority on the panel – including promises of “transparency” and a nod to the monetary policy rules some of them favor.

“I am committed to clearly explaining what we are doing and why we are doing it,” Powell said.

But in his remarks and in a monetary policy report issued to Congress by the Fed last week he also stuck close to a safe script, mentioning none of the new initiatives that some of his colleagues have pushed for, such as a review of the Fed’s system for managing inflation.

That report acknowledged “valuation pressures” in parts of the economy, and noted the recent return of volatility in stock markets.

Though rising long-term interest rates and recent equity market volatility have tightened financial conditions, Powell said, “we do not see these developments as weighing heavily on the outlook for economic activity, the labor market and inflation.”

Rather, “the robust job market should continue to support growth in household incomes and consumer spending, solid economic growth among our trading partners should lead to further gains in U.S. exports, and upbeat business sentiment and strong sales growth will likely continue to boost business investment,” he said.

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New Study Finds Diverse Audiences Drive 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.

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‘Disagree’ Banned on China Social Media

Authorities in China have launched an intense crackdown on online commentary in the wake of a proposal by the country’s communist party leaders to amend the constitution and scrap a two-term limit on the president’s time in office.

A wide range of phrases in Chinese have been banned such as “constitutional amendments,” “constitution rules,” “emigration” and “emperor.” Even the phrase “I disagree” has been blocked from China’s SinaWeibo social media site.

Many were caught off guard by the announcement and the response online has been persistent, despite efforts to silence the debate.

The announcement comes a little more than a week ahead of meetings for China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress. During the gathering, which wraps up around mid-March, the proposal is widely expected to become China’s new reality.

And while party backed media have said the amendments have the public’s broad support, clearly there is much more to the debate than the communist party is letting on.

On social media, some phrases and comments were taken down shortly after they were posted. However, phrases in Chinese such as “lifelong tenure,” “emigration” and “disagree” are blocked immediately when a user attempts to post the phrase.

Of those posts that managed to make it past authorities’ dragnet, some called the decision to allow Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely a “step backward,” others argued that China is becoming more like North Korea.

In one comment, a user said: “5,000 years of civilization and in one night, a step backwards 5,000 years.”

For some critics, the proposal to allow Xi to stay in office indefinitely and scrap what has become a predictable system of two five-year terms, marks a worrisome return to the days of Mao Zedong. Some argue the move is a sign that Xi may want to become emperor for life.

On the streets in Beijing, those we spoke with, who were willing to talk — despite the sensitivity of the issue — voiced similar concerns.

“It was a very sudden and bold move that has raised many questions and concerns and there are some who cannot understand,” why the change is needed, said one man surnamed Ding, who works in the finance sector.

Ding said China’s communist party leaders need to answer the public’s questions and concerns and clarify whether the move is meant to give Xi lifelong tenure or just to allow him to stay in office a little longer.

“The public will undoubtedly draw comparisons and have thoughts about what is happening now and China under the leadership of Mao Zedong,” Ding said.

One said emigration was something he was now considering. Others said they were taking a wait and see approach, and that they were willing to see how Xi used his extra time in office to promote more difficult reforms.

One woman surnamed Gan, an unemployed petitioner, said more time in office could be a good thing.

“If a leader is constantly being changed every two to three years, can they really do a good job and be responsible? If a leader can really focus on his work more can get done,” Gan said.

But now, given that the proposal is unlikely to be stopped, that is something that will only become clearer over time.

The New York-based rights advocacy group Freedom House warns that the end of term limits is a sign that stepped up control and repression under Xi is likely to worsen.

And the implications are both regional and global.

In a statement, Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz said, “the decision sends a chilling message to democratic voices in Hong Kong and to Taiwan, both of which have come under intense pressure from Beijing.

He said it also “signals that Beijing’s drive to create a new world order in which democratic institutions and norms play little or no role will be accelerated.”

Party controlled media in China have rejected suggestions that the proposed amendments mean Xi is aiming to become China’s next emperor or its leader for life.

Willy Lam, a veteran China watcher based in Hong Kong said that it looks like Xi will at least stay on for a third term until 2028, and perhaps one more until 2033 if health permits. At that point, Xi would be 80 years old.

Yang Kai-huang, head of Ming Chuan University’s Cross-Strait Research Center in Taiwan said that Xi does not strike him as someone who wants to repeat the mistakes of Mao, nor is he someone who wants to honor the two-term limit former leader Deng Xiaoping established.

“Judging from Xi’s past traits, the abolishment [of term limits] may have paved an easy path for Xi to seek his third term, but I don’t think Xi wants to be an emperor for life,” Yang said.

Xi is impatient and eager to get things done and put his own thoughts of governance into practice, Yang adds. And that’s why the announcement of the constitutional amendment package was so sudden.

Allen Ai contributed to this report.

 

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Microsoft, Justice Department in Showdown Over Foreign-stored Data

The U.S. Justice Department and Microsoft will face off against each other Tuesday when the Supreme Court hears arguments on whether tech companies’ desire to protect user data is at odds with the government’s interest in pursuing criminals who use the internet.

The case, known as United States v. Microsoft Corp., has global implications and could potentially trigger an international backlash, subjecting Americans’ data to seizure by foreign governments, legal and digital rights experts warn.

“The case is important for privacy, it’s important for security, it’s important for the future of the internet,” said Jennifer Daskal, a professor at American University Washington College of Law.

At issue is whether a U.S.-based email provider can be forced, under the 1986 Stored Communications Act, to turn over communications stored outside the United States.

Email records

Federal prosecutors believed it could when they went to Microsoft in 2013 with a court warrant, demanding that the tech giant turn over the email records of a suspect in a drug-trafficking investigation. But there was a problem.

Although Microsoft kept the account’s metadata such as address books on servers in the U.S., the contents of the user’s emails were stored at a data hub in Ireland — one of over 100 such data centers the company operates in more than 40 countries.

U.S.-based internet providers had long cooperated with government requests for foreign-stored data.

But in 1993, Microsoft, under fire along with other tech companies for their role in a secret government surveillance program exposed by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, drew a line.

The company handed over the metadata to prosecutors but refused to disclose the actual emails, arguing that the data was beyond the warrant’s reach because it was stored overseas. That set off a legal battle that eventually led the Supreme Court to take up the case last year.

The case has galvanized international attention.

The governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom have both filed briefs in the case as have the European Commission and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy (SRP).

The central dispute is whether a warrant issued under the Stored Communications Act can be applied outside the United States.The government says it has long relied on the law to obtain electronic communications regardless of their location and that it needs the authority to secure such data for criminal investigations.

Microsoft argues that the Stored Communications Act does not have extraterritorial application. It says that the laws of the country where the data is stored — in this case, Ireland — not the laws of the United States, govern its disclosure.

Digital rights advocates and some transnational legal experts have weighed in on the side of Microsoft, arguing that a decision in favor of the government could encourage foreign governments to seize Americans’ private communications. 

“You can bet many other governments in the world will come knocking on the doors of providers in the United States,” said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based organization that has filed a brief in support of Microsoft.

European governments are already pushing back.

Belgium recently ordered U.S. providers to destroy data that the providers store in the United States, Nojeim said.

Austen Parrish, dean of the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University, noted that past attempts by the U.S. government “to extraterritorially seize documents or information from foreign countries (have) led to protests (and) blocking statutes.”

“It upsets a lot of countries because they view it not only as a violation of international law but as a violation of their own sovereignty,” Parrish said. On both counts, there is an assumption that the laws passed by Congress are designed for Americans and that they don’t violate international law, he added.

“In this case, the best result is to read the 1986 Stored Communications Act as only applying to communications within the United States,” Parrish said.

Ways to obtain data

Proponents of Microsoft acknowledge the U.S. government’s interest in foreign-stored data and point to other ways U.S. law enforcement agencies can obtain the data.One is the so-called Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, an international agreement that allows for the exchange of evidence in criminal investigations.

Another is a bilateral cross-border data sharing agreement. The U.S. and U.K. recently negotiated such an agreement, and Congress is working to clear the way for its approval.

Regardless of how the court rules, the issue could become moot if Congress passes a recently proposed bill called the CLOUD Act. The bill would enable the U.S. government to obtain user data from email providers regardless of its location while allowing providers to decline a request if it violated the host country’s laws.

Daskal, the professor at American University, said the bill “strikes the right balance.”

But critics say it can be used by foreign governments to gather data from U.S. providers for intelligence purposes.

Both the Justice Department and Microsoft have endorsed the proposed legislation.

Short of congressional action, the court should try to strike a balance between the U.S. government’s need for data in criminal investigations and foreign governments’ need to protect the privacy of citizens, Daskal said.

“My hope is that if the court rules in favor of the government, that it does so in a way that reminds the lower courts of the importance of issuing warrants in a way that also respects conflicting rules in foreign governments as well,” she said.

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Likely Centrist Brazil Presidential Contender Says He Would Sell Petrobras

The governor of Sao Paulo and likely centrist presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin said on Monday that he would privatize Brazil’s state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA if he wins the elections in October.

Alckmin, who has single digit support in opinion polls, said during a television interview with Band TV that he favored private ownership of Petrobras, as Brazil’s biggest company is known, as long as the sale was conducted within a strict regulatory framework.

Once a taboo issue in Brazilian politics because of national sovereignty concerns, the privatization of Petrobras is set to become a campaign issue this year as Brazil struggles to bring an unsustainable budget deficit under control.

Brazil’s left fiercely rejects the sale of Petrobras, but the leftist leader leading early opinion polls, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, will likely be barred from running because of a corruption conviction and there are no obvious politicians who can fill his shoes.

It is not clear where the far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who is currently second in opinion polls, stands on relinquishing state control of Petrobras.

But his economic policy advisor Paulo Guedes told Valor newspaper in an interview published on Monday that he favored selling all state companies to raise 700 billion reais that would help pay off one fifth of Brazil’s public debt.

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Trump Org. Donates Foreign Profits, But Won’t Say How Much

The Trump Organization said Monday it has made good on the president’s promise to donate profits from foreign government spending at its hotels to the U.S. Treasury, but neither the company nor the government disclosed the amount or how it was calculated.

 

Watchdog groups seized on the lack of detail as another example of the secrecy surrounding President Donald Trump’s pledges to separate his administration from his business empire.

 

“There is no independent oversight or accountability. We’re being asked to take their word for it,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Most importantly, even if they had given every dime they made from foreign governments to the Treasury, the taking of those payments would still be a problem under the Constitution.”

 

Trump Organization Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Counsel George Sorial said in a statement to The Associated Press that the donation was made on Feb. 22 and includes profits from Jan. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017. The company declined to provide a sum or breakdown of the amounts by country.

 

Sorial said the profits were calculated using “our policy and the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry” but did not elaborate. The U.S. Treasury did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

 

Watchdog group Public Citizen questioned the spirit of the pledge in a letter to the Trump Organization earlier this month since the methodology used for donations would seemingly not require any donation from unprofitable properties receiving foreign government revenue.

 

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said that the lack of disclosure was unsurprising given that the Trump’s family businesses have “a penchant for secrecy and a readiness to violate their promises.”

 

“Did they pay with Monopoly money? If the Trump Organization won’t say how much they paid, let alone how they calculated it at each property, why in the world should we believe they actually have delivered on their promise?” Weissman said.

 

Ethics experts had already found problems with the pledge Trump made at a news conference held days before his inauguration because it didn’t include all his properties, such as his resorts, and left it up to Trump to define “profit.” The pledge was supposedly made to ameliorate the worry that Trump was violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans the president’s acceptance of foreign gifts and money without Congress’ permission.

 

Several lawsuits have challenged Trump’s ties to his business ventures and his refusal to divest from them. The suits allege that foreign governments’ use of Trump’s hotels and other properties violates the emoluments clause.

 

Trump’s attorneys have challenged the premise that a hotel room is an “emolument” but announced the pledge to “do more than what the Constitution requires” by donating foreign profits at the news conference. Later, questions emerged about exactly what this would entail.

 

An eight-page pamphlet provided by the Trump Organization to the House Oversight Committee in May said that the company planned to send the Treasury only profits obviously tied to foreign governments, and not ask guests questions about the source of their money because that would “impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.”

 

“It’s bad that Trump won’t divest himself and establish a truly blind trust, and it’s worse that he won’t be transparent,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, ranking member on the House Oversight Committee. He called the Republicans refusal to do oversight, such as subpoena documents, that would shed light on Trump’s conflicts of interest “unconscionable.”

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Greece Enters Final Round of Reform Talks With Creditors

Greece entered a last round of reform talks with creditors Monday, just five months before the country’s massive rescue program ends — and with the government and central bank publicly disagreeing on how to finance the nation after the bailout.

 

Government officials said the talks with representatives of Greece’s European partners and the International Monetary Fund in Athens would cover privatizations and energy.

 

But the negotiations were upstaged by a continued spat between Greece’s central bank governor, Yannis Stournaras, and the government over financing policies after the bailout runs out in August. The country will then have to raise money from international investors in bond markets — at a much higher rate than bailout creditors charge.

 

Stournaras repeated his argument that the government should consider setting up a precautionary credit line from the bailout rescuers that would secure the country — and its banks — cheap funding if needed, particularly as the country’s bonds are still rated well below investment grade. The finance ministry countered that this would create market jitters as to Greece’s ability to finance itself.

 

“Regardless of intentions, (Stournaras’) position … creates objective doubts regarding the prospects of the Greek economy, increases uncertainty and impedes Greece’s smooth exit from the bailout,” said Franciscos Koutentakis, the ministry’s general secretary for fiscal policy.

 

Greece signed the first of its three multi-billion euro bailouts in 2010, after it admitted its budget deficit was much higher than initially reported and investors stopped buying Greek bonds.

 

To secure the funds that kept it solvent, the country has slashed spending and public sector incomes, hiked taxes and extensively reformed its economy.

 

But the measures worsened a recession that wiped out more than a quarter of the economy and sent unemployment spiraling up by 16 percentage points between 2008 and 2016. The third bailout runs out in August.

 

Over the past eight months, the country has raised money from bond markets on three occasions through issues that were amply oversubscribed but offered high interest rates to attract investors.

 

Stournaras argued Monday that the possibility of an official credit line, to be used if needed, “should not be dramatized” as it would lower borrowing costs and “offer security as to state and bank access to financing after the end of the bailout.”

 

He also warned that the economy would remain under supervision from its European creditors until 75 percent of its debts have been repaid. Presenting the Bank of Greece’s annual report for 2017, Stournaras said economic growth is expected to accelerate to 2.4 percent this year, mostly on the wings of higher tourism receipts and exports.

Also Monday, some 2,000 municipal employees marched through central Athens to protest planned changes in school policy that unions say would threaten jobs in municipally-run kindergartens. Minor scuffles with police broke out outside parliament, but no arrests or injuries were reported.

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Cryptocurrency Newcomers Cope With Wild Swings

After researching digital currencies for work last year, personal finance writer J.R.

Duren hopped on his own crypto-rollercoaster.

Duren bought $5 worth of litecoin in November, and eventually purchased $400 more, mostly with his credit card. In just a few months, he experienced a rally, a crash and a recovery, with the adrenaline highs and lows that come along.

“At first, I was freaking out,” Duren said about watching his portfolio plunge 40 percent at one point. “The precipitous drop came as a shock.”

The 39-year-old Floridian is part of the new class of crypto-investors who do not necessarily think bitcoin will replace the U.S. dollar, or that blockchain will revolutionize modern finance or that dentists should have their own currency.

Dubbed by longtime crypto-investors as “the noobs” — online lingo for “newbies” — they are ordinary investors hopping onto the latest trend, often with little understanding of how cryptocurrencies work or why they exist.

“There has been a big shift in the type of investors we have seen in crypto over the past year,” said Angela Walch, a fellow at the UCL Centre for Blockchain Technologies. “It’s shifted from a small group of techies to average Joes. I overhear conversations about cryptocurrencies everywhere, in coffee shops and airports.”

Walch and other experts cited parallels to the late-1990s, when retail investors jumped into stocks like Pets.com, a short-lived online seller of pet supplies, only to watch their wealth evaporate when the dot-com bubble burst.

Bitcoin is the best-known virtual currency but there are now more than 1,500 to choose from, according to market data website CoinMarketCap, ranging from popular coins like ether and ripple to obscure coins like dentacoin, the one intended for dentists.

Exactly how many “noobs” bought into the craze last year is unclear because each transaction is pseudonymous, meaning it is linked to a unique digital address, and few exchanges collect or share detailed information about their users.

A variety of consumer-friendly websites have made investing much easier, and online forums are now filled with posts from ordinary retail investors who were rarely spotted on the cryptocurrency pages of social news hub Reddit before.

Reuters interviewed eight people who recently made their first foray into digital currency investing. Many were motivated by a fear of missing out on profits during what seemed like a never-ending rally last year.

One bitcoin was worth almost $20,000 in December, up around 1,900 percent from the start of 2017. As of Friday afternoon it was worth about $10,000 after having fallen as much as 70 percent from its peak. Other coins made even bigger gains and experienced equally dizzying drops over that time frame.

“There was that two-month period last year where all the virtual currencies kept going and up and I had a couple of friends that had invested and they had made five-figure returns,” said Michael Brown, a research analyst in New Jersey, who said he bought around $1,000 worth of ether in December.

“I got swept by the media frenzy,” he said. “You never hear stories of people losing money.”

In the weeks after Brown invested, his holdings soared as much as 75 percent and tumbled as much as 59 percent.

Buy and ‘Hodl’

Investors who got into bitcoin before its 2013 crash like to refer to themselves as “OGs,” short for “original gangsters.”

They tend to shrug off the recent downturn, arguing that cryptocurrencies will be worth much more in the future.

“As crashes go, this is one of the biggest,” said Xavier Levenfiche, who first invested in cryptocurrencies in 2011.

“But, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a hiccup on the road to greatness.”

Spooked by the sudden fall but not willing to book a loss, many investors are embracing a mantra known as “HODL.” The term stems from a misspelled post on an online forum during the cryptocurrency crash in 2013, when a user wrote he was “hodling” his bitcoin, instead of “holding.”

Mike Gnitecki, for instance, bought one bitcoin at around $18,000 in December and was sitting on a 43 percent decline as of Friday, waiting for a recovery.

“I view it as having been a fun side investment similar to a gamble,” said Gnitecki, a paramedic from Texas. “Clearly I lost some money on this particular gamble.”

Duren, the personal finance writer, is also holding onto his litecoin for now, though he regrets having spent $33 on credit card and exchange fees for a $405 investment.

Some retail investors who went big into cryptocurrencies for the first time during the rally last year remain positive.

Didi Taihuttu announced in October that he and his family had sold everything they owned — including their business, home, cars and toys — to move to a “digital nomad” camp in Thailand.

In an interview, Taihuttu said he has no regrets. The crypto-day-trader’s portfolio is in the black, and he predicts one bitcoin will be worth between $30,000 and $50,000 by year-end.

His backup plan is to write a book and perhaps make a movie about his family’s experience.

“We are not it in it to become bitcoin millionaires,” Taihuttu said.

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French Farmers Heckle Macron at Agricultural Fair

President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday faced heckles and whistles from French farmers angry with reforms to their sector, as he arrived for France’s annual agricultural fair.

For over 12 hours, Macron listened and responded to critics’ rebukes and questions — only to return home to the Elysee Palace with an adopted hen.

“I saw people 500 meters away, whistling at me,” Macron said, referring to a group of cereal growers protesting against a planned European Union free-trade pact with a South American bloc, and against the clampdown on weedkiller glyphosate.

“I broke with the plan and with the rules and headed straight to them, and they stopped whistling,” he told reporters.

“No one will be left without a solution,” he said.

Macron was seeking to appease farmers who believe they have no alternative to the widely used herbicide, which environmental activists say probably causes cancer.

Mercosur warning

He also wanted to calm fears after France’s biggest farm union warned Friday that more than 20,000 farms could go bankrupt if the deal with the Mercosur trade bloc (Brazil, which is the world’s top exporter of beef, plus Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) goes ahead.

Meanwhile, Macron was under pressure over a plan to allow the wolf population in the French countryside to grow, if only marginally.

“If you want me to commit to reinforce the means of protection … I will do that,” he responded.

And he called on farmers to accept a decision on minimum price rules for European farmers, “or else the market will decide for us.”

But it wasn’t all jeers and snarls for Macron at the fair.

He left the fairground with a red hen in his arms, a gift from a poultry farm owner.

“I’ll take it. We’ll just have to find a way to protect it from the dog,” he said, referring to his Labrador, Nemo.

It was a far cry from last year, when, as a presidential candidate not yet in office, Macron was hit on the head by an egg launched by a protester.

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Investor Warren Buffett: Good Deals Hard to Find on Wall Street

Investor Warren Buffett says Wall Street’s lust for deals has prompted CEOs to act like oversexed teenagers and overpay for acquisitions, so it has been hard to find deals for Berkshire Hathaway.

In his annual letter to shareholders Saturday, Buffett mixed investment advice with details of how Berkshire’s many businesses performed. Buffett blamed his recent acquisition drought on ambitious CEOs who have been encouraged to take on debt to finance pricey deals.

“If Wall Street analysts or board members urge that brand of CEO to consider possible acquisitions, it’s a bit like telling your ripening teenager to be sure to have a normal sex life,” Buffett said.

Berkshire is also facing more competition for acquisitions from private equity firms and other companies such as privately held Koch Industries.

Sticking with guideline

Buffett is sitting on $116 billion of cash and bonds because he’s struggled to find acquisitions at sensible prices. And Buffett is unwilling to load up on debt to finance deals at current prices.

“We will stick with our simple guideline: The less the prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we must conduct our own,” Buffett wrote.

He said the conglomerate recorded a $29 billion paper gain because of the tax reforms Congress passed late last year. That helped it generate $44.9 billion profit last year, up from $24.1 billion the previous year.

Investors left wanting

Buffett’s letter is always well-read in the business world because of his remarkable track record over more than five decades and his talent for explaining complicated subjects in plain language. But this year’s letter left some investors wanting more because he didn’t say much about Berkshire’s succession plan, some noteworthy investment moves or the company’s new partnership with Amazon and JP Morgan Chase to reduce health care costs.

Edward Jones analyst Jim Shanahan said he expected Buffett to devote more of the letter to explaining his decision to promote and name the top two candidates to eventually succeed him as Berkshire’s CEO. Buffett briefly mentioned that move in two paragraphs at the very end of his letter.

That surprised John Fox, chief investment officer at FAM Funds, which holds Berkshire stock.

“He didn’t say a lot about succession. I was expecting more,” Fox said.

Greg Abel and Ajit Jain joined Berkshire’s board in January and took on additional responsibilities. Jain will now oversee all of the conglomerate’s insurance businesses while Abel will oversee all of the conglomerate’s non-insurance business operations.

Bet pays off for charity

Buffett, 87, has long had a succession plan in place for Berkshire to ensure the future of the conglomerate he built even though he has no plans to retire. Until January, he kept the names of Berkshire’s internal CEO candidates secret although investors who follow Berkshire had long included Jain and Abel on their short lists.

Shanahan said it also would have been nice to read Buffett’s thoughts on why he is selling off Berkshire’s IBM investment but maintaining big stakes in Wells Fargo and US Bancorp.

But Buffett did offer some sage investment advice based on his victory in a 10-year bet he made with a group of hedge funds. The S&P 500 index fund Buffett backed generated an 8.5 percent average annual gain and easily outpaced the hedge funds. One of Buffett’s favorite charities, Girls Inc. of Omaha, received $2.2 million as a result of the bet.

Buffett said it’s important for people to invest money regularly regardless of the market’s ups and downs, but watch out for investment fees, which will eat away at returns.

Succeeding in the stock market requires the discipline to act sensibly when markets do crazy things. Buffett said investors need “an ability to both disregard mob fears or enthusiasms and to focus on a few simple fundamentals. A willingness to look unimaginative for a sustained period — or even to look foolish — is also essential.”

Buffett said investors shouldn’t assume that bonds are less risky than stocks. At times, bonds are riskier than stocks.

Berkshire owns more than 90 subsidiaries, including clothing, furniture and jewelry firms. It also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.

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