U.S. FCC chief confident 5G wireless dispute can be resolved

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Communications Commission chair Jessica Rosenworcel said Thursday she is confident questions raised about the impact of planned use of spectrum for 5G wireless communications on aviation safety can be resolved.

“You asked if I have confidence in our ability to resolve these issues with mitigation. The answer to that is yes,” Rosenworcel said, adding “discussions are ongoing.”

Earlier this month, AT&T and Verizon Communications agreed to delay commercial launch of C-band wireless service until Jan. 5 after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) raised safety concerns.

FAA chief Steve Dickson said Tuesday “we will figure this out” but said it is unclear what mitigations will be needed to address safety concerns.

The FAA issued a Nov. 2 bulletin warning action may be needed to address potential interference caused by the 5G deployment with sensitive aircraft electronics like radio altimeters.

People briefed on the matter told Reuters potential mitigation measures include small exclusion zones around airports, downward tilt of some antennas and reduced power levels to areas around airports to reduce the amount of skyward energy.

More meetings are scheduled Friday as the White House, FAA, FCC and other U.S. agencies try to resolve concerns. The goal is to reach agreement before Dec 5, officials said, which is roughly when the FAA would need to issue a formal directive to airlines on safety concerns without a new delay.

A coalition of wireless and other trade groups on Thursday told the White House “further delays in launching C-Band could have serious consequences for our nation’s ability to leverage the economic growth associated with 5G” and argue there have no been C-Band aviation safety issues in other countries using the spectrum.

RTCA, previously known as the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, issued a 2020 report on the 5G aviation issue raising concerns. RTCA defended the report Tuesday, saying “calls for dismissal have not been validated by hard science or engineering analysis.”

Boeing Co, Airbus SE and U.S. airlines have urged administration action to resolve concerns, saying 5G could “cause harmful interference to radio altimeters, which are crucial systems used by every commercial aircraft and helicopter.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Cathay Pacific fires 3 pilots infected with COVID-19 on layover

(Reuters) – Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said it had fired three cargo pilots who were infected with COVID-19 during a layover in Frankfurt, over an unspecified “serious breach” of crew rules while overseas.

“The individuals concerned are no longer employed by Cathay Pacific,” the company said in a statement issued on Thursday.

The South China Morning Post, which first reported the firings, cited a source as saying the pilots were suspected of leaving their hotel rooms in Germany.

The discovery of the infections led to more than 150 other Cathay employees, including pilots and flight attendants, as well as many household members and community contacts being sent to a government quarantine facility for three weeks.

“As a result of these findings, we have requested the government to review the decision to place certain groups into government quarantine,” Cathay said.

Hong Kong has recorded barely any local coronavirus cases in recent months but authorities in the global financial hub have tightened up quarantine rules.

Hong Kong is following Beijing’s lead in retaining strict travel curbs, in contrast to a global trend of opening up and living with the coronavirus. The city government hopes the tighter rules would convince China, its main source of economic growth, to gradually open its border with Hong Kong.

After the pilot cases were reported last week, Cathay said it would step up compliance checks at overseas ports to ensure health and safety protocols were being strictly followed during layovers.

All of Cathay’s crew have received COVID-19 vaccines and the airline said it would require a booster dose as well.

Hong Kong’s strict rules, which include up to three weeks of hotel quarantine for arrivals, have led to a plunge in travel demand.

Cathay said this week it operated in October at only 10% of the pre-pandemic passenger capacity and posted a 97.2% decline in passenger numbers from 2019.

However, cargo demand has been far more robust and the airline achieved close to operating cash break-even for the period from July to October.

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Richard Chang and Richard Pullin)

Panicked shoppers clear out grocery stores in flood-hit British Columbia

By Nia Williams and Rod Nickel

(Reuters) – Shoppers in Canada’s flood-hit province of British Columbia have emptied grocery shelves following catastrophic flooding, although the shortages are as much down to panic buying as disrupted supply chains, industry associations said on Thursday.

Even as flood waters start to recede, some parts of the province are expected to face to temporary shortages of dairy supplies, with retailers and officials calling for calm.

A police car escorted a convoy of four Save-On-Foods delivery vans through a roadblock on Highway 7, which was hit by mudslides during the storm, to reach the stranded town of Hope on Thursday afternoon, according to a Reuters witness.

Canada’s westernmost province declared a state of emergency on Wednesday after a phenomenon known as an “atmospheric river” brought a month’s worth of rain in two days. The rainfall washed out roads and railways, cutting off Vancouver and the lower mainland region from the rest of the country, and blocking access to some towns entirely.

Pictures on social media showed empty shelves and refrigerators in grocery stores, reminiscent of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as shoppers scrambled to stock up. Photos of one store’s produce section showed nothing left but lemons, limes and cranberries.

Save-On-Foods, western Canada’s largest grocery retailer, and part of the Jim Pattison Group, appealed to customers to avoid hoarding.

“We understand that this is a very stressful and challenging time for many of our communities,” the company said on Twitter. “Please – buy only what your family needs at this time.”

Some three-quarters of B.C.’s milk production was stranded for several days, amounting to a few million litres that farmers had to dump, said Holger Schwichtenberg, chair of the BC Dairy Association.

Collections are now resuming, but the region will see a temporary milk shortage before it can access supplies from other regions or provinces, he added.

Some of the worst-affected areas are in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver, where 63 dairy farms were ordered to evacuate. The city of Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley supplies half of the dairy, eggs and poultry consumed in British Columbia, with many farms situated on the fertile soils of the low-lying Sumas Prairie, a former lake that was drained a century ago to make way for agriculture.

The mayor of Abbotsford estimated damage to his city alone could be up to C$1 billion ($793 million).

While some towns like Hope, 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Vancouver, are facing food shortages because they were cut off by highway washouts and mudslides, others are seeing shelves picked clean by panic buying.

“In parts of the province, particularly the interior, there has been significant and not well-understood consumer panic,” said Greg Wilson, director of B.C. government relations for the Retail Council of Canada.

“There are highways open between B.C. and Alberta and there is capacity in Alberta to supply the interior of B.C.”

Wilson said Vancouver and the lower mainland can access more food supplies from Washington state to the south, and the rerouting of supply chains was already underway.

($1 = 1.2607 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Nia Williams and Rod Nickel; Additional reporting by Jesse Winter in Agassiz, British Columbia; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Biden’s $1.75 trillion bill is not fully paid for, Congressional Budget Office says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.75 trillion domestic spending bill does not raise enough revenue to cover its costs, a nonpartisan arbiter said on Thursday, a finding that could undercut moderate Democrats’ confidence and threaten passage.

The Congressional Budget Office, charged with evaluating the cost of legislation, found that the “Build Back Better” act, intended to strengthen the U.S. social safety net and fight climate change, would raise the federal deficit by $367 billion over the next decade.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Chinese envoy likens Australia to ‘sabre wielder’ over submarine deal -The Guardian

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia has become a “sabre wielder” rather than a defender of peace because of its plans to build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology, China’s top envoy in the country told The Guardian.

Australia in September entered into the trilateral security partnership, cancelling a submarine deal with France in a move that enraged Paris. It also riled China, the major rising power in the Indo-Pacific region.

China’s acting ambassador, Wang Xining, said in an interview with the newspaper published on Friday that the nuclear submarine deal jeopardised Australia’s “peace-loving reputation”.

Wang said people of his age in China saw Australia as a peace-loving country, “but nowadays people know that a nuclear-powered submarine is designed to launch long-range attack against a target far away”.

“So who are you going to attack? You are no longer a peace lover, a peace defender, you become a sabre wielder in certain form,” he said of Australia.

Canberra has defended the trilateral deal, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying he did not regret the decision “to put Australia’s national interest first.”

Wang in the Guardian interview urged Australian politicians to “refrain from doing anything that is destructive” to the relationship between the two countries.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said last week it would be “inconceivable” for Australia not to join the United States should Washington take action to defend Taiwan, the democratically governed island claimed by Beijing.

The acting ambassador signalled Beijing would not take the initiative to end the freeze on calls between the two countries, saying speculation about engagement in a military conflict was “not a conducive environment” for high-level talks.

Australia’s relationship with China, its largest trading partner, soured after it banned Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on several Australian commodities.

(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Peter Cooney)

U.S. ‘closely following’ treatment of Georgian hunger-striking ex-president

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – The United States is “closely following” the treatment of Georgia’s hunger-striking former President Mikheil Saakashvili since his arrest on Oct. 1, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

“We urge the Government of Georgia to treat Mr. Saakashvili fairly and with dignity,” the Department said in a statement. “We also strongly urge the Government of Georgia to ensure Mr. Saakashvili is able to attend all court hearings for his pending criminal cases.”

Saakashvili, who has been on hunger strike in prison for more than a month and a half, may soon face various health complications, a rights group said on Wednesday.

The Public Defender group said the prison hospital treating Saakashvili lacks proper medical equipment and other inmates have threatened and abused him.

Saakashvili was arrested on Oct. 1 after returning from exile to Georgia to rally the opposition on the eve of local elections, in what he described as a mission to save the country. He faces six years in prison after being convicted in absentia in 2018 of abusing his office during his 2004-2013 presidency, charges he rejects as politically motivated.

Saakashvili is the most prominent and divisive living figure in Georgia’s post-Soviet history, having come to power via a peaceful “Rose Revolution” in 2003. He led the country into a disastrous war with Russia five years later.

His case has drawn thousands of his supporters onto the streets in recent weeks and raised political tensions in the country of 3.7 million people. The state security service has accused him of plotting a coup.

Georgian authorities have said Saakashvili will not be pardoned.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Chris Reese and Dan Grebler)

At Pentagon, Ukraine’s defense chief calls for world unity to deter Russia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov called for global unity to prevent a new Russian “escalation” against Ukraine during a visit to the Pentagon on Thursday, as Kiev and Washington warn of what they say is unusual Russian military activity.

The U.S. military has so far stopped short of describing Russia’s buildup as a preparation for attack. On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin conceded that “we’re not sure exactly what Mr. Putin is up to.”

Reznikov met Austin at the Pentagon and cautioned about the consequences of any Russian military moves.

“This possible escalation will certainly have catastrophic consequences for the whole of Europe,” Reznikov said, according to a Pentagon transcript of a portion of his remarks.

“Whether it will take place depends to a large extent on the unity and determination of the civilized world to stop the aggression.”

Austin, who was a four-star Army general when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, told Reznikov the Pentagon was closely monitoring Russian movements on Ukraine’s borders.

“And we made clear our concerns about Russia’s destabilizing activities and our desire for more transparency,” Austin told him, according to the Pentagon transcript.

Moscow has dismissed such rhetoric as inflammatory and complained https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/putin-says-west-not-taking-russias-warnings-red-lines-seriously-enough-2021-11-18 about increasing activity in the region by NATO.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that the West was taking Russia’s warnings not to cross its “red lines” too lightly and that Moscow needed serious security guarantees from the West.

The Kremlin said in September that NATO would overstep a Russian red line if it expanded its military infrastructure in Ukraine, and Moscow has since accused Ukraine and NATO of destabilizing behavior, including in the Black Sea.

In a televised speech, Putin complained that Western strategic bombers carrying “very serious weapons” were flying within 20 km (12.5 miles) of Russia’s borders.

“We’re constantly voicing our concerns about this, talking about red lines, but we understand our partners – how shall I put it mildly – have a very superficial attitude to all our warnings and talk of red lines,” Putin said.

Despite a growing list of disputes, the Kremlin has maintained high-level contacts with Washington and spoken repeatedly of a possible summit between Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden to follow up their initial meeting in Geneva in June, which Putin said had opened up room for an improvement in ties.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Grant McCool)

Prada expects to join Richemont-Farfetch talks over online tie-up

By Claudia Cristoferi and Silvia Aloisi

MILAN (Reuters) -Italian fashion group Prada expects to join talks between Cartier-owner Richemont and online retailer Farfetch about launching a joint e-commerce platform as it seeks to boost online sales and grow overall revenues by 40%.

Richemont said last week it was in advanced talks with Farfetch about selling it a minority stake in its online business Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP). It added it would also invite other firms to participate in turning YNAP into an industry-wide platform with no overall controlling shareholder.

Farfetch chief executive Jose Neves said during the company’s third-quarter earnings call that the luxury brands are still in negotiations. He could not provide timing on transaction as “there is no guarantee any deal will be successfully completed.”

“I think…we will be invited to participate in the discussions,” Lorenzo Bertelli, the group’s 33-year-old marketing chief and son of CEO Patrizio Bertelli, told an investors’ presentation in Milan.

“It’s premature and the scenario is still not clear enough to answer, but we are not saying “no” a priori,” he said when asked if Prada could invest in the venture.

Patrizio Bertelli, who with his wife and creative designer Miuccia Prada has transformed a family-owned brand into one of the world’s top luxury groups and vowed to keep it independent, said he could hand over the reins to Lorenzo in the next three to four years. Bertelli senior is 75.

SALES TARGET

Unveiling Prada’s medium-term strategy, the pair said they aimed for sales to reach 4.5 billion euros ($5.1 billion), compared with 3.2 billion euros in 2019, before the pandemic struck, and record sales of 3.6 billion euros it posted in 2013.

The focus will be on moving Prada upmarket and doubling the online share of retail sales to 15% – still below an industry average of around 20% but way above the 2% level prior to the global health emergency.

The Hong Kong-listed group, known for its minimalist looks, was in the middle of a strategic revamp to revive sales when the crisis hit retailers across the globe by forcing them to temporarily shut stores and depriving them of tourist shopping.

It said on Thursday that retail sales in the three months to September had grown by 18% compared to the same period in 2019, an acceleration from the 13% growth rate of the second quarter.

It expects revenues to grow above 2019 levels this year after falling to 2.4 billion euros in 2020.

In the medium term it targets an operating profit of 20% of total sales, more than twice the 2019 level, a goal that some analysts said was underwhelming when compared with brands like Gucci or Louis Vuitton.

Executives said that Prada, less exposed to higher-margin leather goods and handbags than rivals, was planning to invest in those product categories to boost margins. “We think those targets are not under-ambitious, but reasonable and realistic,” said Alessandra Cozzani, the group’s finance chief.

($1 = 0.8807 euros)

(Additional reporting by Arriana McLymore in New York City. Editing by Keith Weir and Alistair Bell)

Two men exonerated after decades in prison for Malcolm X’s 1965 murder

By Karen Freifeld and Julia Harte

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Two men who spent decades in prison for the murder of Black activist and civil rights advocate Malcolm X in 1965 were exonerated on Thursday after the Manhattan district attorney apologized for what he called “violations of the law and the public trust.”

Applause broke out in the courtroom as New York State Supreme Court Justice Ellen Biben vacated the convictions against Muhammad Aziz, 83, and Khalil Islam, who died in 2009. Both were released from prison on parole in the 1980s.

Aziz told the court that his wrongful conviction had stemmed from “a process that was corrupt to its core, one that is all too familiar to Black people in 2021,” and said he hoped the system would take “responsibility for the immeasurable harm it caused me.”

Two of Islam’s sons who were also present in court, Ameen and Shahid Johnson, told reporters outside the courthouse that they felt “bittersweet” about the exoneration because it could not replace everything their family had lost.

Ameen was 1-1/2-years old and their mother was pregnant with Shahid when Islam, who was formerly known as Thomas Johnson, was arrested. The exoneration was a “very, very long time coming,” Ameen Johnson told Reuters earlier while waiting to enter the courtroom. “I honestly didn’t think I’d live to see the day.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in court that new exculpatory evidence uncovered during a two-year-long investigation had made it clear that Aziz and Islam were wrongfully convicted for murdering Malcolm X.

Investigators withheld from both defense and prosecution “dozens and dozens” of documents from the New York Police Department and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, including reports that implicated other suspects, according to Vance.

The conviction of a third man for murdering Malcolm X still stands.

“IGNOMINY” OF BEING SEEN AS ASSASSINS

Malcolm X rose to prominence as the national spokesman of the Nation of Islam, an African-American Muslim group that espoused Black separatism. He spent over a decade with the group before becoming disillusioned, publicly breaking with it in 1964 and moderating some of his earlier views on racial separation.

He was shot dead at New York City’s Audubon Ballroom while preparing to deliver a speech. All three of the men convicted were members of the Nation of Islam.

Before tossing the convictions on Thursday, Biben said she regretted the court could not give Aziz and Islam back the years they had lost.

Islam’s family and Aziz could each reasonably seek $1 million in restitution for each year they spent in prison, according to New York-based civil rights lawyer Richard Emery, who has represented wrongfully convicted people.

Emery said there were two ways to seek restitution: suing the state for unjust conviction, and filing a federal civil rights case against the law enforcement agencies involved.

Still, there’s “no hard and fast formula” for such settlements, according to Zachary Carter, who represented New York City in its $41 million settlement with five men wrongfully convicted of the 1989 rape of a woman jogger in Central Park.

If Islam’s family and Aziz seek settlements, their lawyers likely will also point to the damage their reputations suffered from the wrongful convictions, according to Carter.

Aziz and Islam suffered the “ignominy” of being viewed as assassins of a beloved figure in the U.S. civil rights struggle, Carter said. “What should be the compensation for having been a pariah in your community for so many years?”

One of Malcolm X’s daughters, Ilyasah Shabazz, said in a statement on Thursday that she hoped the “long overdue” exonerations would bring some peace to Aziz, his family and Islam’s family. But Shabazz said her family still wants to know the full truth behind her father’s murder.

“Full justice will not be served until all parties involved in the orchestrated killing of our father are identified and brought to justice,” she said.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)

Column: U.S. Social Security office reopenings bring opportunities – and some challenges

By Mark Miller

(Reuters) – The Social Security Administration has announced plans to begin reopening its vast national network of field offices to the public in January following a 20-month COVID-19 shutdown. The reopening will give the agency a needed opportunity to improve public service, but also presents some thorny challenges.

The pandemic forced an abrupt closure by the agency last March of its network of more than 1,200 field offices, which provide assistance on retirement and Medicare claims. The offices also assist on applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the benefit program for low-income, disabled or older people. In 2019, the offices had 43 million visitors, but since the pandemic began nearly all public service has been available only online, and by phone and mail.

Earlier this month, the agency announced tentative plans for employees to return to their office posts on Jan. 3, 2022, with managers reporting to work in December. The agency also will continue to allow telework to varying degrees for different jobs.

Social Security describes the phased re-entry as an “evaluation period,” and Mark Hinkle, press officer, said via email that some aspects of the shift still must be determined in negotiations with unions that represent the agency workforce – including the reopening date. The agency also will be “phasing in” its plans to allow walk-in service at the offices, beginning in January, he said. Currently, in office, in-person service is available only by appointment and only for limited, critical issues.

Processing of Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare claims has not been impaired during the office shutdown, agency records show. But there was a sharp drop in 2020 in benefit awards for SSI (down 18%) and disability insurance (down 10%). 

“The most serious problems are related to the drop in awards for the most vulnerable people,” said David Weaver, a former associate commissioner in Social Security’s Office of Research, Demonstration and Employment Support. “It’s people who might have less ability to get information off the internet, or easy access to information on how to contact the agency. And people seeking SSI and disability may have serious mental impairments or be homeless.”

Had benefit awards continued at pre-pandemic levels for SSI and SSDI, 500,000 more people would be receiving benefits for these two programs, according to Weaver’s calculation. (https://bit.ly/3CcX49v)

BUDGET, LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES

Reopening the field office network presents an opportunity to address the inequities – but also some tough challenges as the agency works to keep employees and the public safe as the pandemic continues.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 43,000 employees working across a wide array of agency functions, generally is supportive of reopening. But it is seeking to bargain with the agency over specifics of the reopening plan related to COVID-19 safety.

“We are concerned that the plan is vague and full of gaps,” said Rich Couture, president of the AFGE council representing hearings and appeals office personnel and spokesman for a committee made up of six AFGE bargaining councils. “It doesn’t specify what the plan will be for occupancy rates, or how we’ll make sure that waiting rooms don’t get overwhelmed.”

Social Security notes that it is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and government-wide guidelines for occupancy and physical distancing. “Our offices will use signage, seating arrangements, floor markings and Plexiglass barriers to assist with distancing and occupancy requirements,” Hinkle said. The agency also is monitoring the Nov. 22 deadline for all federal workers to be vaccinated, and is collecting vaccination information from workers.

The vaccine mandate is another issue for some AFGE members, Couture noted. “We have some who are very vocally opposed, some who are vocally in support and others who are silent,” he said. “Our position has been to encourage people to get vaccinated, based on the science, but we want to bargain over all aspects of the mandate and we’ve asked for more flexibility on it.”

Social Security also is waiting on a decision by the U.S. Congress to meet the funding needs to serve the public. Congress cut the agency’s budget by 13% in inflation-adjusted terms from 2010 to 2021 – a period when the number of Social Security beneficiaries grew by 22%. The Biden administration requested a 10% increase for the coming fiscal year – a bit less than the agency says it needs to avoid rising backlogs of disability claims, longer wait times for other benefit claimants and also on the toll-free number.

Another issue is the lack of a confirmed leader for the Social Security Administration. Andrew Saul, the commissioner appointed by former President Donald Trump, was forced out in July by the Biden administration after a tenure marked by contentious relations with labor at the agency. Since then, the agency has been run by an acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, a Biden appointee who had been serving as deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy.

The Biden administration has yet to nominate a permanent commissioner, who would need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“It is important that the Biden administration nominates a commissioner and the Senate confirms the nominee,” said Weaver. “That will provide SSA with stable leadership in a difficult operational and budget environment.”

If you need to conduct business with Social Security during this transition, the agency advises that you use its website https://www.ssa.gov wherever possible or to call its national toll-free number 1-800-772-1213(1-800-772-1213) as a starting point to receive assistance.

Corrects number of people receiving benefits to 500,000 people in seventh paragraph

(Writing by Mark Miller in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Florida bans strict vaccine mandates in schools and businesses

By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) – Florida on Thursday banned schools and businesses from requiring vaccination against COVID-19 and set the stage for a possible withdrawal from the federal agency aimed at protecting workplace safety.

Governor Ron DeSantis, a right-wing Republican widely believed to be planning a run for the U.S. presidency, signed the new laws in a community called Brandon, the same name used as a euphemism for a coarse epithet in a chant against Democratic President Joe Biden.

“We’re making sure that people have a right to earn a living, people have a right to have protections at their place of employment and that parents have protections to be able to direct the upbringing of their kids,” said DeSantis.

In a later announcement of the bills’ signing on Twitter, DeSantis referred to “the free state of Florida.”

Echoing anti-vaccine rhetoric, DeSantis repeated a misleading claim that vaccines do not protect against coronavirus infections, and said “natural immunities” should qualify people to return to in-person work.

The bills drew immediate condemnation from public health officials and Democratic leaders.

“Gee,” California Governor Gavin Newsom wrote on Twitter. “What could go wrong…”

The bills were passed in a three-day special session of the Republican-dominated Florida legislature called by DeSantis with the goal of thwarting coronavirus vaccine mandates imposed by the federal government as well as by private employers and school districts.

The laws allow employers to ask employees to become vaccinated, but also require them to allow people to opt out for religious, health and other reasons. People who previously had COVID-19 would be exempt despite evidence the vaccines provide greater protection against reinfection as well as serious cases that require hospitalization.

Employers who refuse to allow the exemptions can be fined up to $50,000 per violation. The new laws also ban government entities from requiring vaccinations. Schools districts may not require vaccinations or ask teachers and students to wear masks.

The laws also ban school districts from requiring otherwise healthy students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine before returning to class.

The legislature also directed the governor’s office to develop a plan to set up the state’s own agency for the protection of workers, which would replace the authority of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Florida is among several conservative states suing the federal agency to stop it from enforcing the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.

About 61,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Florida, the third-most-populous U.S. state, although new cases have decreased dramatically there in recent weeks as the summer surge ebbed.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Macy’s says it is working with AlixPartners to review its business structure

(Reuters) – Macy’s Inc said on Thursday it is working with consulting firm AlixPartners to review its business structure, just a month after activist investor Jana Partners urged the department store chain to sell its e-commerce business.

Jana Partners, which owns 4.6 million shares, or about 1.5% stake in the company, said early in October that Macy’s could double its share price if it separated its e-commerce business as customers buy more online.

“(We) recognize the significant value of the market assigning to pure e-commerce businesses. And as we look at the landscape today, we are undertaking additional analysis that could help inform our long-term strategy to further unlock value for Macy’s,” Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Gennette said on a post-earnings call on Thursday.

Jana Partners said that Macy’s decision to engage with advisers to review its business was commendable.

Separately, Macy’s raised its annual sales and profit outlook, easing fears that the department store chain would struggle with product shortages during the crucial holiday season.

Macy’s shares closed up 21% at $37.37 on Thursday.

(Reporting by Mehr Bedi and Uday Sampath Kumar in Bengaluru and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)

S&P 500, Nasdaq hit record closing highs; Turkey’s lira plunges

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The S&P 500 and Nasdaq notched record closing highs on Thursday, boosted by upbeat corporate earnings news from companies including Nvidia, while Turkey’s lira weakened further after its central bank cut rates.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe was flat, and the Dow Jones industrial average ended lower. Nvidia’s stock jumped and was among the biggest supports for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq after it beat quarterly estimates and forecast strong fourth-quarter revenue. Macy’s shares shot up 21.2% after it raised its earnings outlook.

On the flip side, Cisco Systems shares fell 5.5%, a day after it forecast current-quarter revenue below expectations due to supply chain shortages and delays. It was the latest in a growing list of U.S. companies citing supply chain problems.

Investors have been concerned over further increases in price pressures. Retail giant Target warned of higher costs earlier this week.

New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams said Thursday that inflation is becoming more broad-based and that expectations for future price increases are rising.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 60.1 points, or 0.17%, to 35,870.95, the S&P 500 gained 15.87 points, or 0.34%, to 4,704.54 and the Nasdaq Composite added 72.14 points, or 0.45%, to 15,993.71.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 0.46% and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.03%.

Turkey’s lira shed another 2.83% after its central bank cut rates by 100 basis points to 15%, even in the face of inflation near 20%, sending the Turkish currency hurtling southward.

“The lira remains a punching bag, and further weakness has no end in sight,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda.

The lira has lost around 11.5% of its value this month amid President Tayyip Erdogan’s renewed criticism of interest rates and calls for stimulus despite the risks. It was last at 10.909, having earlier hit a record low of 11.30 per dollar.

The dollar edged back from a 16-month high as traders weighed whether the U.S. currency’s recent surge had gone too far.

The dollar index, which measures the currency against a basket of six rivals, was last down 0.3%.

In the U.S. Treasury market, yields fell after the relative success of a 20-year bond auction on Wednesday reduced fears about further rapid yield increases.

Benchmark 10-year notes were last at 1.587%. They have jumped from a low of 1.415% last week and are holding below five-month highs of 1.705% reached on Oct. 21.

Oil prices rose slightly after dropping to six-week lows.

Brent crude settled up 96 cents, or 1.2%, at $81.24 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures closed 65 cents, or 0.8%, higher at $79.01.

U.S. gold futures settled down 0.5% at $1,861.4.

(Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney and Marc Jones and Sujata Rao in London; Karen Brettell and John McCrank in New York; editing by Shri Navaratnam, Sam Holmes, Philippa Fletcher and Dan Grebler)

Fed’s Bostic: could start normalizing interest rates next summer

(Reuters) – Atlanta Federal Reserve President Raphael Bostic on Thursday said he believes the Fed could start raising interest rates in the middle of next year, when the U.S. economy will have regained the vibrant labor market it had before the pandemic hit.

“Right now, our projections suggest that by the summertime of next year, the number of jobs that we have in the economy will be pretty much where we were pre-pandemic,” Bostic said in an interview with NPR’s Marketplace. “And at that point, I think it’s appropriate for us to try to normalize our interest rate policy.”

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Chris Reese)

Travis McMichael testifies he misspoke to police after killing Ahmaud Arbery

By Jonathan Allen and Rich McKay

(Reuters) -Pressed by a prosecutor about inconsistencies in his testimony, Travis McMichael said at his murder trial on Thursday that he misspoke to police in the hours after fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who ran by McMichael’s home in Georgia.

McMichael, one of three white men on trial for Arbery’s death, had told the jury a day earlier that Arbery was grabbing his shotgun at the end of a five-minute chase, so he fired in self defense. On Thursday, he conceded that he told police that day that he could not say for sure whether Arbery actually grabbed it.

The defense teams rested their cases on Thursday, and jurors were told to return on Monday morning for closing arguments.

McMichael said the accounts he gave of the shooting to police initially were “choppy” because he was nervous and under stress. He at times misspoke to police, he said, or “had it wrong” in his statements made soon after the shooting on Feb. 23, 2020, in Satilla Shores in coastal Georgia.

“I just killed a man,” he said. “I had blood on me still. It was the most traumatic event of my life.”

Prosecutors and relatives say Arbery was an avid runner jogging in a neighborhood a couple of miles from his home.

Outside the Glynn County Superior Court building, hundreds of Black pastors assembled from around the country to offer prayers for Arbery and his family.

The rally was organized after Kevin Gough, a lawyer for co-defendant William “Roddie” Bryan, unsuccessfully asked for a ban on Black pastors coming into the courtroom after Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights activists sat with Arbery’s parents in the courtroom’s public gallery.

McMichael told jurors on Wednesday that while he and his father and co-defendant, Gregory McMichael, were chasing Arbery in their pickup truck, Arbery “turned and ran” when the younger McMichael told him the police were on their way.

In cross-examination by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski on Thursday, McMichael agreed that he did not explicitly mention such a moment in a police interview the afternoon of the shooting, nor include it in a written statement he made that day. He later conceded that his father had not called the police while they were pursuing Arbery.

“You’re telling this jury you’re all confused and you can’t get your facts straight when you’re telling the police why you shot and killed a man?” Dunikoski asked.

“I’ve never been through a situation like that,” he said.

The younger McMichael said he tried to be calm when calling out to Arbery during the chase and used polite language including “please.”

Dunikoski contrasted this with the threatening language McMichael’s father used, according to his accounts to police.

Quoting from one of the police interviews, Dunikoski asked the younger McMichael if he heard his father shout at Arbery: “‘Stop or I’ll blow your fucking head off?'”

McMichael said he did not recall hearing that.

The two McMichaels presented a joint defense. Their neighbor Bryan, who jumped in his own pickup truck and joined the chase after seeing it go past his driveway, did not call any witnesses.

McMichael left the stand after more than six hours of testimony over two days. His lawyers have argued that McMichael’s neighborhood was on edge over some recent thefts, and called some Satilla Shores residents to testify who said they did not know the McMichaels but had seen thefts discussed in a community Facebook group.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Octavio Jones in Brunswick; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Cynthia Osterman)

Starbucks faces expansion of labor union drive beyond New York

By Hilary Russ

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Employees at a Starbucks Corp cafe in Mesa, Arizona, have said they want to join a union, marking an expansion of efforts by organized labor to target more of the coffee chain’s locations.

Six of the company’s stores in Buffalo, New York have already said that they aim to join Starbucks Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

Eligible employees at three of those locations are currently voting by mail on whether to join, with ballots due Dec. 8.

The union on Thursday tweeted a letter that it said was sent to Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson regarding the Arizona location.

In the letter, six employees of the store who are leading the organizing said they were forming a union “because we believe that this is the best way to contribute meaningfully to our partnership with the company” and ensure they have equal power.

Starbucks, which calls its employees partners, said in a statement, “We support our partners’ right to have their voices heard and we are committed to listening.”

It said that its success “has been built on the belief that by working directly together as partners, we can build a different kind of company.”

Bloomberg, which first reported the organizing in Arizona, said Workers United planned to petition the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday for an election there.

In Buffalo, Starbucks has pushed back against the union by challenging aspects of the election with the NLRB. It has also brought in more managers – and even ex-CEO Howard Schultz – to talk directly to employees, holding meetings and extolling the virtues of the company’s wage hikes and benefits.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

France to push migrant issue during EU presidency, Macron says

PARIS (Reuters) – France will push for action on migration when it hosts the European Union presidency from January, President Emmanuel Macron was quoted as saying on Thursday, and he vowed to quickly crack down on illegal migrant camps in northern France.

France takes the rotating presidency of the EU in six weeks’ time just as the bloc is confronted by a new crisis with Belarus engineering major migrant flows https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/more-migrants-try-enter-poland-belarus-east-west-standoff-2021-11-18 by flying them from the Middle East and pushing them to attempt to illegally cross its borders into Poland and Lithuania.

In an interview with the northern French regional newspaper la Voix du Nord, Macron said ministers would act in the coming weeks.

“We must take several actions: prevent the establishment of lasting camps, act to dismantle the smuggling networks and strengthen work with the countries of origin to prevent these flows,” he said. “I will carry reforms under the French presidency of the EU.”

The bloc has been deeply divided for years on the issue.

The EU’s reluctant eastern members, the affluent northern states where many of the newcomers aspire to live, and the Mediterranean-shore countries where they mainly arrive have been clashing over where to locate people since the 2015 migration crisis showed existing EU migration rules were inadequate.

European diplomats say finding compromises to those divisions during the French EU presidency is likely to prove even more difficult given that the usual six-month mandate will be overshadowed by the French presidential elections.

For Macron, appearing to act on migration is important given that conservative and far-right parties will seek to focus part of the debate on the migrant issue, something on which he is deemed weaker.

With some 22,000 migrants crossing the Channel this year, Macron also said there was a problem between London and Paris.

“We have the British, who oscillate between partnership and provocation. We need to further strengthen collaboration,” Macron said. “If those who want to join Britain have family there, it must be part of family reunification. If they are smuggled, we have to break this system.”

(Reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

South Korea October producer prices mark fastest growth in 13 years

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s producer prices index (PPI) in October posted its sharpest growth in 13 years, central bank data showed on Friday, underlining oil-led inflationary pressure and supporting further policy tightening.

The PPI last month jumped 8.9% from a year earlier, the Bank of Korea data showed, the fastest pace since October 2008 and extending the growth to an 11th straight month. It rose 7.6% in September.

Breakdown of data showed a 15.4% jump in producer prices for industrial goods was the biggest driver, with that for coal and petroleum products surging 85.6% year-on-year.

Producer prices for electricity, gas and tap water, agricultural, livestock and fisheries goods, and services also grew 6.2%, 2.6% and 2.4%, respectively.

After recent surge, oil prices, however, slid to near six-week lows on Thursday after China said it was moving to release reserves following a Reuters report that the United States was asking big crude consumers to consider a coordinated release of stocks to lower prices.

South Korea’s central bank will hold the last rate decision meeting of the year on Nov. 25, after its governor last month said “the bank can consider raising rates further at the next meeting”.

The policy interest rate currently stands at 0.75%.

The bank is also expected to release revised forecasts for inflation next week, after having said in mid-October that it was seen exceeding the 2.1% rise projected in August.

Friday’s data also showed the PPI rose 0.8% on a monthly basis, accelerating from a 0.4% rise in September.

(Reporting by Joori Roh; Editing by Toby Chopra)

S&P, Nasdaq end at record peaks on strong earnings

By David French

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq eked out record closing highs after a topsy-turvy Thursday on Wall Street, as investors focused on upbeat retail and technology earnings which outshone hawkish inflation comments from a Federal Reserve policymaker.

By contrast, the Dow continued to play the laggard, registering its third decline this week, as Cisco Systems Inc weighed on the benchmark.

Inflation remains front and center for investors, and stock markets initially slipped after New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams said inflation is becoming more broad-based and that expectations for future price increases are rising.

Both the S&P and Nasdaq had rebounded by late morning though, with the latter supported by Nvidia. The chipmaker jumped 8.2% after beating quarterly estimates and forecasting strong fourth-quarter revenue.

The performance helped the Philadelphia semiconductor index advance 1.8% to hit its second record close in three sessions.

The S&P consumer discretionary sector led gains among its peers, ascending 1.5% as positive retail earnings from Macy’s and Kohl’s joined upbeat reports from Walmart Inc and Target Corp earlier this week.

Macy’s Inc surged 21.1%, its largest one-day percentage gain in decades, after it raised its annual earnings guidance and flagged plans for a potential spinoff of its ecommerce division.

Peer Kohl’s Corp advanced 10.6% after raising its forecast.

The S&P 500 retailing index gained 2.8% to break its record peak for the third session this week, as investors viewed the earnings as a signal of robust consumer demand that has persevered through rising inflation, and that retailers were set for a strong holiday season.

“The consumer is stronger than expected; it’s good news for the country as a whole. A stronger consumer is a reflection of a strong economic bounce,” said Mike Zigmont, head of research and trading at Harvest Volatility Management in New York.

Still, concerns over further increases in price pressure, along with uncertainty over the Fed’s plans for tightening have kept Wall Street muted this week.

“We definitely hit overbought territory and settling in is going to be healthy for us to take the next leg up,” said Eric Metz, chief investment officer of Chicago-based SpiderRock Advisors.

“Outside of Fed policy or large earnings disappointments, I think there’s some pretty stable footing underneath us, but markets can be fickle and so staying prudent is the name of the game right now.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 60.1 points, or 0.17%, to 35,870.95, the S&P 500 gained 15.87 points, or 0.34%, to 4,704.54 and the Nasdaq Composite added 72.14 points, or 0.45%, to 15,993.71.

The Dow lagged its peers on steep losses in network gear maker Cisco, which tumbled 5.5% after it forecast current-quarter revenue below expectations due to supply chain shortages and delays.

Visa Inc declined for a second day, with its 0.8% fall taking it to its lowest close since Feb. 3, after news that Amazon.com Inc may pare back its relationship with the payments company.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 11.09 billion shares, compared with the 11.14 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

The S&P 500 posted 40 new 52-week highs and nine new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 103 new highs and 407 new lows.

(Reporting by Ambar Warrick and Devik Jain in Bengaluru and David French in New York; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. state attorneys general probe Instagram’s effect on kids

By Elizabeth Culliford and Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A bipartisan coalition of U.S. state attorneys general said on Thursday it has opened a probe into Facebook, now known as Meta Platforms, for promoting its subsidiary Instagram to children despite potential harms.

The investigation, involving at least nine states, comes at a time when Facebook is under scrutiny over its approach to children and young adults.

The attorneys general are investigating whether the company violated consumer protection laws and put young people at risk, they said in emailed statements.

“Facebook, now Meta, has failed to protect young people on its platforms and instead chose to ignore or, in some cases, double down on known manipulations that pose a real threat to physical and mental health – exploiting children in the interest of profit,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a news release.

A Meta spokesperson responded in a statement that “these accusations are false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts.”

“While challenges in protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders,” the spokesperson said.

The company is continuing to develop parental supervision controls and exploring ways to provide age-appropriate experiences for teens by default, they added.

Instagram, like other social media sites, has rules against children under 13 joining the platform but has said it knows it has users this age.

In September, the company said it was pausing its plans for a version of Instagram for kids, amid growing opposition to the project.

The move followed a Wall Street Journal report that said internal documents, leaked by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, showed the company knew Instagram could have harmful mental health effects on teenage girls. Facebook has said the leaked documents have been used to paint a false picture of the company’s work.

In previous months, a group of more than 40 state attorneys had written to the company asking it to abandon plans for the kids-focused app and lawmakers had raised concerns.

States involved in the investigation include Nebraska, Massachusetts, California, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vermont, New York and New Jersey.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and Diane Bartz in Washington; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Richard Chang)