Fiji urges “absolute dedication” to toughest climate target

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OSLO (Reuters) – Fiji called on Tuesday for “absolute dedication” to the strictest limits on global warming as it prepares to preside over U.N. talks next month seeking to keep the Paris climate agreement on track despite a U.S. pullout.

Fiji is hosting a preparatory meeting of delegates before the Nov. 6-17 talks in Bonn, Germany, where environment ministers from around the world will work on a set of international guidelines for the Paris accord.

“We can no longer ignore this (climate) crisis,” Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said in an address to the delegates.

The 2015 Paris agreement was dealt a major blow in June when President Donald Trump announced he was pulling the United States out of the accord. The United States, the world’s second highest gas emitter after China, is the only one of the deal’s 195 original backers to pull out.

The accord sets a target of limiting a rise in average surface temperatures to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, ideally 1.5C (2.7F).

“An absolute dedication to meet the 1.5 degree target is what we need and what we must take to Bonn,” Bainimarama said.

“It’s hard to find any part of the world that is unaffected” by a changing climate, he said, listing Atlantic storms such as Ophelia battering Ireland, wildfires in California, Portugal and Spain, and floods in Nigeria, India and Bangladesh.

VULNERABLE

Some of Fiji’s islands are vulnerable to the effects of rising seas, aggravated by storm surges, but less so than low-lying states such as the Maldives, Tuvalu and Kiribati.

Many scientists say that the 1.5 degree goal is fast slipping out of reach because of insufficient action by almost all governments to rein in climate change.

Bainimarama did not refer to Trump, who has sometimes dismissed mainstream scientific findings about rising temperatures as a hoax and says that instead he wants to bolster the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

In Oslo, Hoesung Lee, head of the U.N. panel of climate scientists which is studying the 1.5C goal, declined to say whether early drafts indicated it was still feasible.

“The conclusion will be available one year from now… we should be patient,” he told reporters in Oslo after a meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Solberg said the Paris temperature targets had to be built into wider development goals. “We have to make sure that we do have job creation, fight poverty at the same time,” she said.

Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Gareth Jones

Amazon and eBay ‘profit from VAT evasion’

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Amazon and eBay have defended themselves as a report by MPs accuses online marketplaces of profiting from VAT evasion.

The Public Accounts Committee was particularly scathing of the taxman, saying HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) had failed to get to grips with the scale of fraud, carried out by non-EU sellers on such sites.

Its report said the traders’ fast-growing and “illegal” practice of failing to charge customers VAT on goods housed in the UK was anti-competitive as it allowed them to undercut rivals by at least the 20% tax rate – putting UK retail staff out of their jobs.

It said the online platforms hosting the sellers were making more money than they should as they were raking-in commissions on sales that should have been blocked.

Image:Amazon says it removes any seller UK authorities say is non-VAT compliant

The committee described HMRC’s estimate of an annual loss to the public purse of up to £1.5bn as “out of date and flawed” and hit out at its failure to bring any prosecutions under new enforcement powers.

It urged officials to ensure, by March next year, that online platforms had imposed greater VAT controls on non-EU traders – with Brexit likely to exacerbate the problem as new trade arrangements become clearer.

PAC chair, Meg Hillier, said: “HMRC needs to be far tougher in protecting the interests of British businesses and taxpayers.

Image:Ebay argues it has gone beyond UK requirements in ensuring VAT compliance

“As a priority it must inject more urgency into enforcement action. But it should also push the case for further new powers.

“Online marketplaces tell us they are committed to removing ‘bad actors’, yet that sentiment rings hollow when those same marketplaces continue to profit from the actions of rogue traders.

“They can and should do more to drive them out and we will expect online marketplaces to co-operate fully with HMRC in tackling non-compliance.”

An eBay spokesman said: “We want a fair marketplace for all our buyers and sellers.

“That’s why we have been working together with HMRC – and going above and beyond their requirements – to continue to ensure that our site is the best possible place to do business.”

An Amazon spokesman responded: “We are reviewing the committee’s recommendations and support efforts to ensure businesses and individuals selling across all marketplaces are VAT compliant.

“We offer extensive information, training and tools to assist sellers in their VAT obligations, and we work closely with HMRC on this matter sharing all requested data on non-EU sellers and promptly removing any seller they inform us is not VAT compliant.”

An HMRC spokesman said: “The UK has led the way in holding online marketplaces jointly liable for VAT evaded overseas.

“We introduced tough new rules last year allowing us to hold online marketplaces liable for unpaid VAT by overseas sellers and since then we have seen a ten-fold rise in the number of sellers registering for VAT.

“The new reforms will secure an extra £875m in tax to help pay for vital public services.”

Q&A: Jewel learned her life lessons from nature, books and pain

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Jewel’s rise in the music world from the Alaska frontier to first-name-only star is almost unbelievable: Girl endures an abusive environment, becomes homeless – and then not only survives, but reaches the pinnacle of her profession.

Now 43, Jewel (born Jewel Kilcher) is branching out with a business based on the mindfulness tools she used to survive that harsh upbringing. For the latest in Reuters’ “Life Lessons” series, Jewel sat down to share some words of hard-won wisdom.

Q: Who was passing along life lessons back in Alaska?

A: Nature, and books, and pain. My mom left when I was eight, and my dad took over raising three children, and he was an abusive alcoholic. In Alaska you are often parented by nature. It teaches you how to be human.

In those kind of extreme environments, you don’t eat unless you killed it or canned it. So there is a lot to overcome, but it also teaches that if you work hard and put your head down, you can get anything done.

Q: What did living out of your car teach you about money and survival?

A: Most people think that period was because I was pursuing my music career, but that’s not quite true. My boss propositioned me, and when I turned him down, he fired me. So I lived out of my car for a couple of months, but then my car got stolen. I got sick, I had panic attacks, I almost died of blood poisoning. That’s when I started stealing a lot.

When I was 18 and homeless, I saw a reflection of myself in a mirror, and knew that I had become a statistic. At that point I decided to turn my life around, based on a saying of Buddha: Happiness doesn’t depend on who you are or what you have, it depends on what you think.

Q: What was it like going from that life, to one of success and wealth as a musician?

A: I almost didn’t sign my record deal, because I was scared. I actually turned down a million-dollar signing bonus. I did take a portion of the back end, though, in case the record ended up making money.

Q: How are you turning this interest in mindfulness into a business?

A: The website (jewelneverbroken.com) is a nonprofit and free to the world. It’s an emotional fitness destination, where people can access simple mindfulness tools to create change in their lives.

As a mom, I didn’t want to be totally dependent on touring to make a living. I still wanted to make music, but I also want to help people with their pain in other ways.

So one part of my business will be B2B, working with Zappos.com to create the next frontier of corporate culture. Another aspect will be schooling, for how people can achieve fitness in their emotions and parenting and finances. I‘m also creating a curriculum for students with mindfulness baked into it, so kids with addictions or anxiety can become the architects of their own lives.

Q: How do you decide where to devote your charitable dollars?

A: I founded Project Clean Water back in 1997, because when I had been homeless, I had bad kidneys and couldn’t afford bottled water. If we are not able to drink our tap water, we’re all in trouble. I also founded the Never Broken Foundation, to help people with emotional health and mindfulness.

Q: How does crafting fit into your latest tour, “Handmade Holiday,” which kicks off on Nov. 24 in Las Vegas?

A: What I see in our culture is anxiety, and families breaking apart, and people feeling incapable. So with this holiday tour I wanted to promote the values of self-sufficiency and connectedness and industriousness. So there is crafting during the day, where you can learn how to make things for yourselves and create memories with your family.

Q: As a single mom of a 6-year-old son, any advice for other single parents on how to thrive emotionally and financially?

A: You have to let go of the myth of perfectionism. Single parents always feel like a failure, if they are working and raising a child at the same time. But you are not a failure, and you don’t have to do things perfectly. Remember your kids are watching you, and it’s okay to let them see mistakes. This is real life, and we’re all responding in real time.

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Andrew Hay

George Soros foundations now control $18 billion: reports

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investor George Soros has transferred about $18 billion, the majority of his estimated fortune, to his Open Society Foundations, making them the second largest philanthropic grant-making group in the United States, according to media reports on Tuesday.

The foundations already controlled billions of dollars, but Soros, 87, has in recent years increased the pace of transfers from his hedge fund-turned-family office, Soros Fund Management LLC, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported earlier on Tuesday, citing Open Society officials.

Representatives for Open Society did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

Open Society works globally to “build vibrant and tolerant democracies” and has given away nearly $14 billion since inception in 1979, according to its website.

Hungarian-born Soros, who made a huge profit betting against an overvalued British pound in 1992, is a vocal supporter of liberal causes and was a large contributor to the fund-raising Super PAC group backing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton last year.

Soros early this year hired former UBS Group AG asset management executive Dawn Fitzpatrick to serve as the latest chief investment officer for New York-based Soros Fund Management, which also manages money for Open Society.

Only the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is now larger than Open Society among U.S. grant-making groups, with an endowment of about $40 billion.

Soros is worth an estimated $23 billion, according to Forbes.

Reporting by Lawrence Delevingne; Editing by Bill Rigby

Ackman, ADP board nominees to discuss plans for company Thursday

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(Reuters) – Activist investor William Ackman’s dissident director candidates for board seats at Automatic Data Processing Inc will answer questions about their plans for the company on Thursday ahead of November’s proxy vote.

Sanford C Bernstein & Co investment analyst Lisa Ellis will interview director candidates Veronica Hagen and Paul Unruh as well as Ackman at an event organized by Bernstein, Ackman’s hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management said.

The event will be streamed live online on Thursday at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) at adpascending.com/.

The event comes before the Nov. 7 vote where Ackman is vying for three seats on ADP’s 10-member board. While the 51-year-old investor has been giving public presentations since August, his two candidates have stayed largely out of sight.

Ackman is pushing ADP to cut bureaucracy, consolidate its real estate holdings and enhance technology, all to boost earnings.

Ellis published a research note last week that said a survey of shareholders commissioned by her firm many applauded Pershing Square’s push for change at ADP.

“The survey results, in our view, increase the likelihood that Pershing will win meaningful support in the Nov. 7 shareholder vote, although we still consider it unlikely the activist wins seats,” Ellis said in the note.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston; Addiytional reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

‘Dr. Doom’ commentator Marc Faber faces backlash over race comments

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NEW YORK/VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Marc Faber, the Swiss investor based in Thailand, provoked a backlash from business television and investment management firms on Tuesday after comments in his latest newsletter suggested the United States had only prospered because it was settled by white people.

The investor and commentator, known as “Dr Doom” for bearish calls on stocks and the economy, was dismissed from the boards of Canadian fund manager Sprott Inc (SII.TO), NovaGold Resources Inc (NG.TO) and Ivanhoe Mines Ltd (IVN.TO) after his remarks.

Business television networks such as CNBC and Fox Business said they would remove Faber from booking lists for their shows.

In the October edition of his newsletter, “The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report,” in a section discussing capitalism versus socialism, Faber criticized the move to tear down monuments commemorating the U.S. Civil War military leaders of the Confederacy, and said:

“Thank God white people populated America, not the blacks. Otherwise, the US would look like Zimbabwe, which it might look like one day anyway, but at least America enjoyed 200 years in the economic and political sun under a white majority.”

“I am not a racist,” Faber continued, “but the reality – no matter how politically incorrect – needs to be spelled out as well.”

The comments in his newsletter were circulated on Twitter after subscribers scanned and posted it.

CNBC and Fox Business Network, the business news television channels where Faber has been an occasional guest commentator for years, said Tuesday that Faber was now off their booking lists for their shows.

A CNBC spokesperson said, “We do not intend to book him in the future” and a Fox spokesperson said, “Faber has not appeared on the network often, and will not be on in the future.”

In response to CNBC’s decision, Faber told Reuters in an email: “What else would you expect?”

“If stating some historical facts makes me a racist, then I suppose that I am a racist,” Faber said by email.

“Maybe I am wrong and the U.S. would be far more prosperous if the blacks had populated it but then please explain to me why you would think so.”

Sprott, a Toronto-based alternative asset manager where Faber had served as a director since 2010, demanded his resignation and he complied, effective immediately.

“The recent comments by Dr. Faber are deeply disappointing and are completely contradictory with the views of Sprott and its employees,” Sprott Chief Executive Peter Grosskopf said in a statement. “We pride ourselves on being a diverse organization and comments of this sort will not be tolerated.”

Late Tuesday, NovaGold Resources and Ivanhoe Mines, both Vancouver-based mine development companies, announced the departure of Faber from its boards of directors, effective immediately.

“Ivanhoe Mines disagrees with, and deplores, the personally-held views about race that Marc Faber has published in his current investment newsletter,” Ivanhoe said in a statement.

Faber has been on the board of Africa-focused Ivanhoe since 2004 and was paid $120,305 in fees and share-based awards last year, a company filing showed.

Faber, who has been a director of Novagold since 2010 and is on the board’s corporate governance committee, was paid $199,019 in cash, stock and options by the miner in the fiscal year ended Nov. 30, according to a Novagold filing.

Faber, who has said that he predicted the 1987 stock market crash, made his comments after a lengthy critique of socialist policies which were prefaced by a reference to this summer’s violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one woman was killed.

Faber described monuments commemorating the U.S. Civil War military leaders of the Confederacy, which were at issue in the protests, as “statues of honorable people whose only crime was to defend what all societies had done for more than 5,000 years: keep a part of the population enslaved.”

Editing by Dan Burns and Clive McKeef

EU watchdogs to study cost, performance of mutual funds

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PARIS (Reuters) – European Union financial regulators will conduct a large-scale study of the cost and performance of mutual funds, a top regulator said on Tuesday.

Steven Maijoor, chair of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), told a conference in Paris that the regulators would look at both passive and active funds.

Passive investing, where funds typically charge the cheapest fees for tracking a stock index, has grown enormously.

Active funds charge more for their services, but some have been accused by critics of being “closet” trackers, meaning they track an index by stealth rather than – as they advertise – using their expertise to pick investments.

Regulatory agencies in Europe have become more focused on fees charged by investment funds in order to encourage people to invest more in their own retirement, rather than relying on the state.

Maijoor said ESMA and the European Banking Authority would assess the reporting of costs and past performance of retail investment products, to “increase investors’ awareness of the net return of these products, and the impact of fees and charges.”

The regulators will obtain more data on costs and charges under new EU securities rules known as MiFID II that come into force in January, Maijoor said.

Maijoor told Reuters that today’s very low interest rates on investments mean that costs and charges have become an important issue.

“We want to see to what extent do costs and charges affect performance,” Maijoor said.

However, increased transparency under MiFID II from next January will boost competition and help to drive down charges for investors, Maijoor said.

Valdis Dombrovskis, vice president of the EU’s executive European Commission, told the conference that Brussels would publish proposals to remove obstacles to the cross-border sales of funds regulated under EU law.

“This would … broaden the offer of fund products across the EU,” Dombrovskis said.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Maya Nikolaeva and Larry King

Obituary: Jim Saft, Reuters columnist, a man of humor and insight

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(Reuters) – “No one is paid to front run the apocalypse”.

This headline by Jim Saft, who died on Monday after suffering a stroke last month, was typical of the writing of one of Reuters smartest and most engaging columnists on investment and markets. [SAFT/]

Saft brought immense expertise, sensitivity and good humor to each of his roles over more than 20 years at Reuters.

An American, he joined Reuters in London, leading the financial reporting team during the early days of the euro zone and during the internet bust of the early 2000s.

He was global treasury editor from 2002 until 2007, when he became Reuters first columnist, in part so he could later relocate his family to Alabama.

Saft made an immediate mark with prescient commentary on the threat from the U.S. subprime mortgage bubble, a recurrent theme in columns that ran twice weekly on Reuters, in the International Herald Tribune and elsewhere.

His work won him an award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 2008.

Writing three columns a week in recent years, Saft said he never felt short of topics.

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said Saft’s insight and humor will be missed by his colleagues.

Edited by Clive McKeef and Jeremy Gaunt

Reese Witherspoon says she was assaulted at 16

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Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon has said she was assaulted by an unnamed film director when she was 16.

In a speech at an Elle Women in Hollywood event on Monday, the Legally Blonde and Walk the Line star said she felt “true disgust at the director”.

And she felt “anger… at the agents and producers who made me feel silence was a condition of my employment”.

She said she had suffered multiple other “experiences of harassment and sexual assault” during her career.

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She didn’t go into detail about her experiences as a 16-year-old, but added: “I wish I could tell you that that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly, it wasn’t.”

The A-lister, who also stars in TV series Big Little Lies, said she didn’t speak about those experiences “very often”.

But she went on: “After hearing all the stories these past few days… the things that we’re kind of told to sweep under the rug and not talk about, it’s made me want to speak up and speak up loudly because I felt less alone this week than I’ve ever felt in my entire career.

“And I’ve just spoken to so many actresses and writers, and particularly women who’ve had similar experiences, and many of them have bravely gone public with their stories.

“And that truth is very encouraging to me and to everyone out there in the world because you can only heal by telling the truth.”

‘A new normal’

The actress said she didn’t sleep before giving her speech because of “the feelings I’ve been having about anxiety, about being honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier or taking action”.

She referred to the fact it had “been a hard week for women in Hollywood” following the Harvey Weinstein allegations.

But she said she believed there was a new attitude towards harassment, which would address “the abuse of power in this business and every business”.

She added: “I feel really, really encouraged that there will be a new normal.”


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NHS surgery waits run into years in Northern Ireland

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Patients in Northern Ireland are waiting three years to see a consultant about having surgery following a GP referral.

The BBC has obtained exclusive figures showing long waiting times before a decision to operate.

In Northern Ireland, targets say most patients should be seen within 9 weeks and none should wait over 15 weeks.

Yet some patients are waiting 155 weeks or more to see a specialist for spinal conditions.

A spokesman for the Health and Social Care board said it was ‘unacceptable’ that waiting lists had grown so long.

Longer and longer waits

The health service has not met the targets for several years.

Figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests in April this year and seen by the BBC show that in one of Northern Ireland’s five healthcare trusts, the minimum waiting time for an appointment with an orthopaedic consultant specialising in spinal conditions was 155 weeks.

For upper limb conditions, the minimum wait was 127 weeks.

By June, waits for spinal appointments at the same trust had risen to 159 weeks.

Megan’s story

Megan Fleming, who is 14 years old, needs an urgent operation to correct a curvature, or scoliosis, of her spine.

Her health is deteriorating fast, and she has trouble breathing. Despite her condition, the teenager from Carrickfergus continues to go to dance classes, but says her future is on hold until her operation, which surgeons have told her will be a year away.

Her mother Karen said: “Megan loves dancing. It’s just her life at the minute. She just wants to dance.

“But at the minute she needs the surgery to help her. You could see the consultant was absolutely gutted and you could see it was hurting to say a year, but it’s out of his control.

“I’ve paid taxes, I’ve paid national insurance. So why can’t I get the surgery that she deserves?”

Megan and Karen are now trying to raise the £50,000 that her surgery will cost privately, fearing that the long wait will put Megan’s long-term health at risk.

Dr Ursula Brennan, a GP in Belfast, said that seeking private healthcare was a decision more and more patients were having to make in the current climate.

“You’re going to have to wait, and it may be several months. It may be into 52 weeks, or 80 weeks, or beyond.

“It’s very difficult to turn this conversation to – and these are our elderly folk – that you may have to use your life savings to actually improve your quality of life.”

When asked about the long waits, which are far higher than in other parts of the UK, the deputy chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board, Michael Bloomfield, said: “That is absolutely unacceptable, and that’s why we need to clearly illustrate the need for reform.

“There are about 35,000 more surgical procedures required than the health service currently has capacity for.

“Without the additional funding to see those patients or have them treated in different ways, it is regrettably inevitable that waiting times will increase to the position that they are now in.”

Political vacuum

The political commentator Deirdre Heenan is working on a report with the Nuffield Trust into the emerging healthcare crisis in Northern Ireland.

She said: “In the last nine months we’ve had no government in Northern Ireland. We’re in a political vacuum.

“This system reverts to keeping the show on the road, and any ideas about transformation or change are simply mothballed.”

In a blog co-authored with health economist John Appleby, she writes: “There is a difficult backdrop: austerity, increasing demand, rising expectations, and political uncertainty.

“It is not clear that the public are in a position to call for change. They may not have good information about how well the service meets their needs, and have not necessarily been made part of the long conversations about change, which as a result can sound like it brings bad news.

“But the impact on patients of the current impasse in implementing necessary changes is stark. In June this year, for example, one in six of the entire Northern Ireland population was currently on an outpatient or inpatient waiting list. In England the figure is one in 14.

“And over 64,000 people had been waiting over a year for their first outpatient appointment – a quarter of all those on the waiting list. In England, by contrast, around 1,500 people were still waiting over a year – just 2 per cent of the number in Northern Ireland for a population over 30 times larger.”

On Wednesday, the BBC will be publishing its NHS tracker, which allows users to look at how their local hospitals are performing on waiting times for A&E, cancer and planned operations.