Thursday, April 19, 2018

Men arrested at Starbucks say they feared for their lives

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Rashon Nelson initially brushed it off when the Starbucks manager told him he couldn’t use the restroom because he wasn’t a paying customer.

He thought nothing of it when he and his business partner, Donte Robinson, were approached at their table and were asked if they needed help. The 23-year-old entrepreneurs declined, explaining they were just waiting for a business meeting.

A few minutes later, they hardly noticed when the police walked into the coffee shop — until officers started walking in their direction.

“That’s when we knew she called the police on us,” Nelson told The Associated Press in the men’s first interview since video of their April 12 arrests went viral.

Nelson and Robinson, black men who became best friends in the fourth grade, were taken in handcuffs from the Starbucks in Philadelphia’s tony Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, where Robinson has been a customer since he was 15.

The video, recorded on a white customer’s cellphone video, galvanized people around the country who saw the exchange as modern-day racism. In the week since, the men have met with Starbucks’ CEO and have started pushing for lasting changes to ensure what happened to them doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“We were there for a real reason, a real deal that we were working on,” Robinson explained. “We put in a lot of time, energy, effort. … We were at a moment that could have a positive impact on a whole ladder of people, lives, families. So I was like, ‘No, you’re not stopping that right now.'”

Robinson said he thought about his loved ones and how the afternoon had taken such a turn as he was taken to jail. Nelson wondered if he’d make it home alive.

“Anytime I’m encountered by cops, I can honestly say it’s a thought that runs through my mind,” Nelson said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney, who is white, said what happened at the Starbucks “appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.” Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who’s black, said in a Facebook post that arresting officers “did absolutely nothing wrong,” and added that Nelson and Robinson were disrespectful to officers.

Ross said officers did what they were supposed to do and were professional in their dealings with the men, “and instead they got the opposite back.”

Nelson and Robinson originally were supposed to meet Andrew Yaffe, a white local businessman, at a Starbucks across town. But the plan changed, and they agreed to meet at the Rittenhouse Square location, where they’d met several times before on a potential real estate opportunity.

The black men arrived a few minutes early. Three police officers showed up not long after.

Nelson said they weren’t questioned but were told to leave immediately.

Yaffe showed up as the men were being handcuffed. He can be seen in the video demanding an explanation for the officers’ actions. Nelson and Robinson did not resist arrest, confused and unsure of what to think or what might happen next.

“When you know that you did nothing wrong, how do you really react to it?” Nelson said. “You can either be ignorant or you can show some type of sophistication and act like you have class. That was the choice we had.”

It was hardly their first encounter with police, a rite of passage that becomes a regular occurrence for many black men their age. But neither had been arrested before, setting them apart from many of their peers in the gritty southwest Philadelphia neighborhood where they grew up.

Robinson briefly wondered what he might’ve done to bring the moment on himself.

“I feel like I fell short,” he explained. “I’m trying to think of something I did wrong, to put not just me but my brother, my lifelong friend … in this situation.”

Attorney Stewart Cohen, representing Nelson and Robinson, said the men were illegally profiled. He pointed to Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race in hotels, restaurants, theaters and other public accommodations.

Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. has said the location where the arrests occurred has a policy that restrooms are for paying customers only.

Nelson and Robinson spent hours in a jail cell with no outside contact and no sense of what would happen next. They were released after midnight, when the district attorney declined to prosecute them for trespassing. They had no idea the video of their arrests was making the rounds on the internet.

The day after their arrests, they thought about what to do next.

“You go from being someone who’s just trying to be an entrepreneur, having your own dreams and aspirations, and then this happens,” Nelson said. “How do you handle it? Do you stand up? Do you fight? Do you sit down and just watch everyone else fight for you? Do you let it slide, like we let everything else slide with injustice?”

Robinson, still focused on the previous day’s business deal, called Yaffe to reschedule. Yaffe told him about the video and the traction it had gotten.

Over the weekend, attention and outrage over the video grew, prompting a protest at the local Starbucks restaurant and a national boycott. By Monday, the men were set to meet with Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to discuss what happened.

Johnson has responded quickly to public outcry around the arrests, calling them “reprehensible,” apologizing and ordering stores closed for mandatory training to tackle unconscious bias.

Nelson and Robinson said they’re looking for more lasting results and are in mediation proceedings with Starbucks to implement changes, including the posting in stores of a customer bill of rights; the adoption of new policies regarding customer ejections, racial profiling and racial discrimination; and independent investigations of complaints of profiling or discrimination from customers and employees.

Robinson said he appreciates the public support the men have received but anger and boycotting Starbucks are not the solution.

“We need a different type of action … not words,” he said. “It’s a time to pay attention and understand what’s really going on. We do want a seat at the table.”

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Whack is The Associated Press’ national writer for race and ethnicity. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous

Nepal honors 1st conquest of Everest without bottled oxygen

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Nepal’s government has honored two climbers who were the first to scale Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen 40 years ago.

Minister for Tourism Rabindra Adhikari praised the climbers at a ceremony Thursday in the capital, Kathmandu.

Italian Reinhold Messner and Austrian Peter Habeler reached the summit without the use of supplementary oxygen, while others on their team used bottled oxygen. Until then, all climbers carried oxygen cylinders to aid them at high altitudes where oxygen levels are low.

Since Everest was first scaled in 1953, thousands of climbers have reached the summit and hundreds more make an attempt every year. This year nearly 350 foreign climbers have already been issued climbing permits. Most climbers continue to use supplementary oxygen.

P&G's quarterly sales beat estimates

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FILE – This July 9, 2015, file photo, shows signage outside Procter & Gamble corporate headquarters in downtown Cincinnati. Procter & Gamble Co.’s fiscal first-quarter results beat Wall Street’s view as it controlled expenses and saw solid sa

(Reuters) – Procter & Gamble Co (PG) reported better-than-expected quarterly revenue on Thursday, boosted by strong sales in its beauty, and fabric and homecare businesses.

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Earlier in the day, P&G agreed to buy the consumer health business of Merck KGaA <MRCG.DE> for about 3.4 billion euros ($4.2 billion), giving its vitamin brands such as Seven Seas and greater exposure to Latin American and Asian markets.

Net income attributable to the company fell to $2.51 billion, or 95 cents per share, in the third quarter ended March 31, compared with $2.52 billion, or 93 cents per share, a year earlier.

Net sales for the world’s largest consumer products maker by market value rose 4.3 percent to $16.28 billion, compared to analysts’ estimate of $16.21 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Howard commencement to feature “Black Panther” Boseman

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The “Black Panther” is returning to his alma mater to give the commencement address at Howard University.

The university announced Wednesday that Chadwick Boseman will give the keynote address at Howard’s 150th commencement ceremony on May 12.

News outlets report Boseman will be presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, the university’s highest honor.

Howard University President Wayne Frederick said his role in the blockbuster “Black Panther” film “reminds us of the excellence found in the African diaspora and how Howard continues to be a gem that produces the next generation of artist-scholars, humanitarians, scientists, engineers and doctors.”

The South Carolina native also starred in movies portraying Jackie Robinson, James Brown and fellow Howard graduate Thurgood Marshall.

Comey memos could land Rosenstein in contempt of Congress: Top Democrat

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The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee says Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is poised to subpoena the Justice Department for former FBI Director James Comey’s memos, which the agency so far has failed to produce.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., warned such a move puts Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in jeopardy of being placed in contempt of Congress and the special counsel investigation of being shut down prematurely.

Nadler announced in a statement that Goodlatte informed him Wednesday that “he intends to issue a subpoena to the Department of Justice — in this case to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.”

A spokesperson for Goodlatte did not immediately return the Washington Examiner‘s request for confirmation.

The Justice Department also did not immediately return a request for comment.

Goodlatte was one of three committee chairmen who pressed the Justice Department to turn over the Comey memos. Comey, who was fired by President Trump in May 2017, testified before a congressional committee that he wrote memos detailing various conversations he had with Trump. In one memo, Comey claimed that the president pressured him to end the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. In another, Comey recalled how Trump demanded loyalty from him.

The three chairmen, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., argued there is “no legal basis for withholding these materials from Congress” and set a Monday deadline for the DOJ to comply.

Click for more from Washington Examiner. 

Comey friend hints forthcoming report could be damning for Loretta Lynch

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“good friend” of former FBI Director James Comey’s said he is “very much” looking forward to what the upcoming Justice Department inspector general report on the Clinton email investigation has to say about former Attorney General Loretta Lynch — the former Obama administration official now engaged in a war of words with Comey.

Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare, wrote at length Wednesday about the backstory of Comey’s new tell-all memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. While he said Comey isn’t without blame for how he handled the FBI’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized private email server, he said the consideration of other decision-makers, “particularly Lynch,” paint a full picture for those people who believe the probe was a “train wreck” that cost Clinton the 2016 presidential election.

Noting the “selective outrage” against Comey for announcing the case was reopened less than two weeks before the election, Wittes said, “Lynch was a compromised figure with respect to the emails ‘matter.'”

The mention of a “matter” is a reference to Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last year, in which he said Lynch requested he minimize Clinton’s email investigation, urging him to call it a “matter” instead of an “investigation.”

Wittes described how Lynch appeared to be “only too happy to have Comey fall on this particular grenade,” in reference to how, according to Comey’s book, Lynch told him, “Try to look beat up” about the renewed email probe.

“Comey told me this story shortly after it happened, and for a lot of reasons, it has bothered me ever since. Partly because of it, I very much look forward to how the forthcoming inspector general’s report on the Clinton email investigation treats the attorney general,” Wittes wrote.

Click for more from Washington Examiner. 

College apologizes to students after professor curses

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A community college in New Jersey has issued an apology after one of its professors was captured on video cursing at a student who considers himself a conservative.

Howard Finkelstein used the vulgarity to Christopher Lyle during a sociology debate about sexual harassment, saying “f— your life.”

In a statement released Wednesday, Brookdale Community College said “the faculty member acted in an uncivil manner.” The school says the matter remains under investigation and it will determine “an appropriate course of action.”

Lyle tells the Asbury Park Press he was singled out because he’s conservative and supports President Donald Trump. He says he doesn’t want the professor fired or to lose retirement benefits.

The professor did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

&#039;Pharma Bro&#039; arrives at low-security federal prison

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The pharmaceutical-industry entrepreneur vilified for jacking up the price of a life-saving drug has been placed in a low-security federal prison in New Jersey.

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Martin Shkreli was moved Tuesday from the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center in New York to the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix. According to its handbook , there are no bars, towers, or locks on rooms. Inmates must demonstrate a high degree of responsibility, and “the expectations are that each inmate will comply.”

Shkreli, who was dubbed “Pharma Bro” for his loutish behavior, was sentenced last month to seven years in prison for securities fraud. He was also fined $75,000.

The 35-year-old Shkreli was found guilty in August of lying to investors in two failed hedge funds and cheating them out of millions.

Grueling Marathon des Sables completes another edition

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Under a hot desert sun and with the desolation of the Sahara all around, about 1,000 competitors from 50 countries took part in this year’s Marathon des Sables, or Marathon of the Sands.

The 33rd edition of the annual race, considered to be one of the most demanding ultramarathons in the world, finished Saturday after six grueling days and about 250 kilometers (150 miles).

Defending champion Rachid El Morabity of Morocco won his sixth title in what is known as “Toughest foot race on Earth,” while Magdalena Boulet of the United States won the women’s event.

The race takes runners and walkers through intense heat, steep climbs, sand dunes and rocky mountains.

After extensive training and suitable medical preparations, the competitors start under the watchful eyes of local officials. The rules require that everyone be self-sufficient. They carry everything they need to survive – except water – on their backs. During some stages, competitors walked all night as they tried to reach the next checkpoint on time.

For some, the marathon provided moments of solitary splendor in the stunning desert scenery. But for the less fortunate ones, the conditions were just a little too inhospitable – with some having to pull out despite receiving specialized and immediate medical attention.

In the end, 95 percent of the starters made it to the finishing line, with emotions getting the best of them.

Is Helmerich & Payne Inc. (HP) a Buy?

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Oil and gas drilling services contractor Helmerich & Payne Inc. (NYSE: HP) was crushed after oil prices tumbled in mid-2014. And for good reason, with its active U.S. land rig count falling a massive 70% in just six quarters. However, after hitting a bottom, things have started to turn around. Better yet, there appears to be another upgrade cycle taking shape that Helmerich & Payne is set to take advantage of, and that could make this drilling services company a buy — but don’t expect huge price gains from here.

Pain at the pump

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Helmerich & Payne’s stock price fell more than 60% following the top in oil prices. That makes sense, as oil companies pulled back hard on drilling in the U.S. land segment of the market as prices tumbled. Roughly 90% of the company’s nearly 400 rigs operate in the U.S. onshore market.

At the worst, Helmerich had only 86 U.S. rigs working. Today, however, that number is over 200 — which helps explain the stock price recovery. Although still down around 40% from its mid-2014 peak, the stock price is up around 40% from its recent lows. Despite all that volatility, Helmerich remains a well-financed company with debt making up just 10% of its capital structure (among the lowest figures in the industry) with industry-leading market share. In fact, it has gained roughly five percentage points of market share since oil peaked.

Leading the way

There are a couple of reasons to be excited about Helmerich’s future. For starters, large oil companies like ExxonMobil Corporation have made material commitments to U.S. onshore drilling. So, there’s likely to be plenty of demand for the onshore oil drilling services that Helmerich provides.

However, there’s also a subtle change taking place. In recent years, the big shift involved oil companies looking to move from mechanical rigs to alternating current (AC) rigs. That upgrade cycle was a huge boon to Helmerich because it had been focusing on building AC rigs, which are more flexible and efficient than older rigs. AC rigs commanded higher rates from customers. That change has largely played out.

Now, the company is upgrading its rig fleet to even higher standards. So-called “super spec” rigs are gaining material market share as relatively low oil prices are forcing oil companies to increase efficiency even more than they already have. Helmerich has roughly half its U.S. rigs upgraded, and believes it can bring that number up to at least 80%. In fact, it recently upped its capital spending plans by roughly 25% so it can move more quickly here.

That bodes well for the company’s top and bottom lines, even though the extra spending means higher costs and reduced free cash flow over the short term, since super-spec rigs command higher day rates. The overall improvement in the company’s business is notable, with revenue from the U.S. onshore segment increasing 75% year over year in the most recent quarter. However, after a notable stock price advance, investors seeking big stock price gains should probably look elsewhere. That said, income investors attracted by Helmerich & Payne’s hefty 3.8% yield should take comfort in the oil services provider’s prospects, since it means the dividend is likely to hold.

It depends on your goal

Looking at the big picture, Helmerich & Payne has had a nice stock run, and while its prospects look strong, the big price recovery suggests that stock gains will be more modest from here. The company’s price to book value and price to tangible book value both currently sits above their trailing 3-, 5-, and 7-year averages. However, the improving business landscape should interest income investors who are attracted to the company’s hefty dividend yield. While there were concerns about its ability to pay at one point, the industry upturn, improving performance, a new upgrade cycle, and Helmerich’s strong industry position and balance sheet all suggest that the dividend is safe. If you are a dividend investor, Helmerich & Payne looks like it’s worth a deep dive.

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Rapture prediction for April 23 just latest of kooky doomsday calls

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The end is near.

The world will cease to exist on April 23, according to a prediction that has some laughing, some yawning and yet others making preparations that could leave their lives in shambles. The warning about an upcoming Rapture, from numerologist David Meade, follows a long tradition of end-of-days predictions.

In the past, such dire warnings have spurred a small number of gullible believers to give away their possessions, and otherwise behave as if they were poised to meet their makers.

“Cranks!” said author Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International, referring to Meade, the numerologist. “These [predictions] are not consistent with the biblical stories. Everything Meade said about April 23 he said last year. At some point we have to stop believing people who keep crying ‘wolf.’”

“I wish people would stop saying these things and stop scaring people,” Sarfati said.

Meade’s recent Rapture warning marks the second time in less than a year that he has warned about the end of the Earth. Last year Meade said the end was imminent. The end has failed to come many times previously, as well, with predictions going back to at least the Revolutionary War.

Cranks! At some point we have to stop believing people who keep crying ‘wolf.’’

– Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International

Meade based the April 23 coming of the Rapture, when conviction holds that believers will be absorbed into the heavens while nonbelievers are left behind and die over a period of about five months, on the premise that the sun, moon and Jupiter, which supposedly represents the Messiah, will be in Virgo. Virgo is said to represent the woman from the biblical passage.

In 2011, a warning by a U.S. preacher, Harold Camping, that the Rapture would happen that year on May 21 prompted many followers of his evangelical ministry to quit their jobs and sell everything they owned. Camping’s Christian media empire spent millions of dollars to warn about the Rapture on thousands of billboards around the country.

A volunteer from the U.S. religious group Family Radio, a Christian radio network, hands out pamphlets with warnings of an impending Judgment Day at Times Square in New York May 13, 2011. The designation of May 21came from Family Radio president Harold Camping, who predicted that date through a series of mathematical calculations and the unraveling of codes behind the Bible story of the great flood. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY) - GM1E75E08B501

Man sits in New York’s Times Square in 2011 warning about the end of the world, as predicted by Evangelist preacher Harold Camping  (Reuters)

When May 21 came and went Rapture-less, Camping said that he had gotten the day wrong, and that it would happen five months later. Then he said he realized that the significant day would not involve any physical manifestation, but a spiritual kind of Judgment Day. Camping, who died in 2013 at the age of 92, gave up prophecies shortly after his failed prediction.

“We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ’s return,” Camping wrote in March 2012. “We humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing.”

“I had some skepticism but I was trying to push the skepticism away because I believe in God,” Keith Bauer told the New York Daily News in 2011, when he packed his family in a car and drove from Maryland to California for the supposed May 21 Rapture. The Bauer family visited Camping’s Oakland headquarters of Family Radio International.

“I was hoping for it because I think heaven would be a lot better than this Earth,” he said when the day came . . . and went.

‘We humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing.’

– Harold Camping, evangelical preacher, in 2012 after his predicted Rapture did not occur

Experts advise against selling all your belongings, going off your diet, ending training for that half-marathon next month, and quitting your job.

Sarfati says that such doomsday predictions reflect little understanding of astronomy and theology.

He said that the movement of the planets, which Meade cited, occurs every few years — and the Earth continues to exist.

That’s not to debunk the belief and biblical teachings about an end and Judgment Day, experts say.

While people of different faiths believe that there will be some religious end to life on Earth, they disagree about how it will happen.

“Evangelical Christians, genuine Christians, disagree about whether there’s going to be a Rapture,” Sarfati said. “Even among those who agree that there will be a Rapture, some say it will come but that we don’t know when it’s coming.”

Courtney Campbell, a professor of religion and culture at Oregon State University, said that in biblical writings, Jesus himself tells followers to beware of false prophets, and that no person will know the day or hour that the end will come.

Harold Camping, 89, the California evangelical broadcaster who predicts that Judgment Day will come on May 21, 2011, is seen in this still image from video during an interview at Family Stations Inc. offices in Oakland, California May 16, 2011. The U.S. evangelical Christian broadcaster predicting that Judgment Day will come on Saturday says he expects to stay close to a TV or radio to monitor the unfolding apocalypse. The head of the Christian radio network Family Stations Inc says that he is sure an earthquake will shake the Earth on May 21, sweeping true believers to heaven and leaving others behind to be engulfed in the world's destruction over a few months. REUTERS/Reuters Television (UNITED STATES - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY) - GM1E75L089E01

Evangelist preacher Harold Camping caused a stir in 2011 when he predicted that a series of earthquakes would end the world.  (Reuters)

“People who make predictions are, in a certain sense, appealing to a portion of the biblical teachings [that address an end] and are trying to connect dots,” Campbell told Fox News.

The idea of a spectacular end to life on Earth is a central theme in such faiths as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Campbell said. Campbell said that St. Paul told of a Rapture-like event in a letter to the first Christians.

Predictions of a Rapture became common in the 1840’s, Campbell said.

It resonates at times of uncertainty, he said, “when people have a sense of losing control, when there are attacks on institutions, on the rule of law, the things that have provided a sense of security.”

Campbell, who is fairly certain that alarm clocks will still go off after April 23 and beyond, advises this: “Prepare for April 24.”

Previous end-of-world predictions include:

● 1997: Author Richard Noone predicted in his book, “Ice: The Ultimate Disaster,” that on May 5, 2000, the planets would align and cause melting ice to strike the Earth’s Equator.

● 2000: Y2K fears were rampant that the end of one century and start of the next would lead to computer mayhem, affecting electricity and even causing airplanes to drop from the sky.

● April 2007: Evangelical Christian leader Pat Robertson set that month and year as the end of the world. It is one of several times that Robertson warned about the end.

● September 2009: The Large Hadron Collider fired up, leading to the speculation that the world’s biggest atom smasher could create a black hole that would swallow Earth.

● October 2015: Chris McMann, the leader of the eBible Fellowship group in Philadelphia, warned that a fire would end the world. When it failed to happen, McMann expressed shock.

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.

3 LA Fitness employees in NJ fired for asking black men to leave, calling cops, report says

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An LA Fitness gym in New Jersey says it has fired a manager and two other employees after an online video showed them calling police on two black customers — one a club member and the other a guest with a pass, a report said.

The customers allege they had a right to be at the club, but instead were racially profiled.

Customer Tshyrad Oates says he signed in at the Secaucus gym under a four-day guest pass, while his friend was already a member. Oates says an employee — whom Oates claims was unaware that her manager had already signed in his friend — approached them as they were working out and told them to either pay or leave.

“I’ve been having multiple problems with this club,” his friend says in one of the videos. “I’ve been a member here for at least eight years.”

They told the employee that his friend was an “active and current member” and had left his gym tag in a locker before starting their workout again. But police officers arrived shortly afterward and questioned them, Oates wrote.

“We explained to them about our guest pass and re-scanned my friend’s member tag and it resulted in ‘current active’ status. (The LA Fitness employee did look at the computer screen that showed current member status and said nothing),” Oates wrote.

They again started their workout, but about 10 minutes later an LA Fitness manager told the men to leave without providing a reason and threatened to ban them and terminate his friend’s membership, Oates wrote.

Moments later five officers surrounded them and asked them to leave.

Oates wrote that his friend “felt racially profiled and embarrassed” by the staff’s treatment of them in front of the other gym patrons.

An employee at the Secaucus gym told NJ.com that the manager and two female workers were “removed from the company.”

“Regrettably, our staff unnecessarily escalated the situation and called the police rather than work through it,” LA Fitness told the news outlet in a statement Wednesday.

“Clearly, this is a long time member with a current, valid membership,” the statement read. “We want to clarify that no membership was cancelled and no one, including the member’s guest, was banned from the club. We have spoken to the member to apologize and assured him that he and his guests are welcome in our clubs at all times.”

The incident followed a similar situation at a Philadelphia Starbucks last week, where two black men were arrested for refusing to leave when a store employee denied them access to the restroom.

Syrian rebels hand over arms, leave another town near Douma

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Syrian state media say hundreds of rebels fighters in a town northeast of Damascus have handed in their weapons and started to leave under an evacuation deal.

Under the agreement, the rebels are allowed to move with their families to opposition-held areas in the country’s north, effectively surrendering their turf to Syrian government forces.

The state SANA news agency says the Army of Islam fighters and their families are leaving the town of Dumayr on Thursday. The report says 1,500 rebels and 3,500 of their next of kin are to leave Dumayr for the town of Jarablus, near the Turkish border.

Dumayr is in the Qalamoun mountains, near the eastern Ghouta region which came under full government control last week after a weeks-long offensive and an alleged chemical weapons attack.

You May Be Paying More in Bank Fees Than You Realize

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You may not recognize it because they hit your account balance gradually, but bank fees can really pile up: The average American spent $329 on them in 2017, according to Chime Bank’s Bank Fee Finder Summary Report. Some of these fees are well-known costs of doing business, or the price we chose to pay for certain types of convenience. Others, however, are far less known, sneaking little bites from customers’ wallets without them even noticing it.

Case in point: A new study on bank fees from international money transfer platform TransferWise examined 15 different bank fees, and found that overall customer awareness of them varied greatly. For example, 91% of consumers were highly aware of ATM fees, 89% were similarly clear about investment fees, and 88% checked that box regarding overdraft fees. But fully 57% of the 1,000 people surveyed said they were unaware some banks charge a returned mail fee, while 45% did not know that their banks might be charging them to redeem rewards points.

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“The reward point fee is definitely something people should know about,” said Certified Financial Planner Bobbi Rebell in a press release. “It may be time to reevaluate which merchants you support to get those rewards. No one wants to read the fine print, but if you want to get what you have earned — and you have earned it — put it on your reading list.”

What other fees are people surprised by?

On the positive side, only the above-mentioned returned mail fee surprised more than half of those surveyed. Still, 39% were not aware of transaction search fees, 35% had not heard of early account closure fees, and 34% did not realize that some banks charge a minimum balance fee.

In addition, the survey showed that only two-thirds (66%) of Americans were aware that they had been charged some sort of bank fee in the past five years. The most common charges people knew they had paid were ATM fees (38%) followed by overdraft fees (28%).

“The lack of awareness is shocking — not that the fees exist, but that people are still paying them and not getting any real value for them,” Rebell said.

You are in control

Banks have an easier time charging you hidden or semi-hidden fees because they have direct access to your money. In addition, while you can always switch banks, it’s a fairly large hassle, which means they have more leeway to take advantage as long as they don’t push it too far.

In reality, consumers should take firmer control of their banking. That means being aware of any fees they are charged, and challenging ones that don’t make sense.

As the customer, you have the ability — and really, the responsibility — to take your business elsewhere if you feel the fees you’re being charged are unfair. And sometimes, it may make sense to switch banks even when your old one has done nothing particularly wrong.

For example, if you don’t live near any in-network ATMs, and are forced to pay fees to access your cash because of that, making a move would be a good idea. Even without such an obvious incentive, it’s a smart idea to evaluate your banking options at least once a year.

Go through your account statements, and examine what fees you’ve paid. Then, look around at banks and credit unions in your local market (not to mention the online alternatives), and see which ones might offer you a better deal based on the way you live your financial life. It may not be a pleasant chore to switch banks, but if you can save hundreds of dollars or more every year, it’s probably worth it.

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7 Things You Need to Know About Social Security Disability Benefits

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One out of four of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before age 67, according to the Social Security Administration. In other words, the chance that you won’t be able to work until retirement age is greater than you may think.

Fortunately, Social Security is a lot more than just a program to provide retirement income for older Americans. There’s also a Social Security program that pays disability benefits based on your work history, which can provide a valuable inflation-protected income stream if you become unable to work. With that in mind, here are seven things American workers and their families should know about Social Security disability insurance.

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1. There are two forms of Social Security disability insurance

Generally, when you hear someone refer to “Social Security disability,” they’re talking about Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI. This is the program designed to replace lost income if a worker who is covered by Social Security becomes disabled.

In addition, there is a program called Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, that is based on financial need, not an individual’s work record. We have a separate, thorough article about the SSI program, but for the remainder of this article, you can assume that I’m referring to Social Security Disability Insurance.

2. Who is eligible for Social Security disability?

To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, two main criteria must be met.

First, you need to have worked in Social Security-covered employment for a certain amount of time. You’ll need to satisfy a “duration of work” test, and the minimum requirement depends on your age. The minimum duration of work required varies from 1.5 years for workers who become disabled before age 28 to 9.5 years of work for workers who become disabled at age 60.

You’ll also need to satisfy a “recent work” test. In a nutshell, you’re required to have worked for half of a certain period of time (depending on your age) immediately prior to your disability. For example, if you become disabled after the age of 31, you need to have worked for five years out of the 10-year period ending with the calendar quarter when you became disabled.

Second, you need to be disabled (obviously). Specifically, Social Security disability benefits are generally paid out to people who can’t work because of a medical condition that’s expected to last for at least one year or result in death.

It’s also important to point out that you need to be completely unable to work. There is no such thing as partial disability benefits or short-term disability benefits from Social Security.

3. How much would you get if you became disabled?

Just like with retired workers, your average Social Security-taxed earnings are used to determine your disability benefits.

In general, the amount you can expect to receive from Social Security Disability Insurance is slightly less than you could expect to receive had you worked until full retirement age. This makes sense — after all, workers generally earn more later in their careers, so by becoming disabled before reaching peak earnings years, the Social Security formula gets skewed lower.

The data backs this up. In February 2018, the average retired worker received a Social Security benefit of $1,407.96 per month, while the average disabled worker got $1,197.14.

The most accurate way to determine how much you could get if you were to become disabled is to view your most recent Social Security statement. You’ll need to create an account at www.SSA.gov if you haven’t done so already, and you can then view your statement, which is packed with valuable information about your Social Security and Medicare benefits, including how much you could expect to get from disability benefits if you were to qualify for them this year.

4. What is the application process like?

The application process to file a disability claim is relatively easy, but it is slightly more complex than the 15-minute application process for Social Security retirement benefits.

You can apply for disability benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov, and you’ll need to have the following information:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your birth certificate
  • Medical information, such as names of doctors and hospitals where you’ve received care, medications you take, medical records you have, and relevant lab test results
  • Details of your work history
  • Your most recent W-2 or tax return

Once you’ve applied, there are a few other forms that need to be completed. You’ll need to file a form that tells the SSA information about your medical condition, and your healthcare professionals may need to fill out forms as well. The SSA will then make a decision on whether you meet its definition of “disabled.”

As you might imagine, all of this paperwork, and the subsequent evaluation of your case, takes time. The SSA advises that processing a disability benefits application can take three to five months, so if you become disabled, apply as soon as possible.

5. Some of your family members could get benefits, too

Disability benefits aren’t just for people who can no longer work. In many cases, family members of disabled workers can get SSDI benefits as well. This includes:

  • Your spouse, if they are at least 62 years old
  • Your spouse at any age if they care for your child, who is under 16 or disabled
  • Your child, who is under 18 (or under 19 if in high school)
  • Your disabled child over 18, if their disability started before age 22

Keep in mind that even if you have several family members entitled to benefits if you become disabled (say, a spouse and two children), there’s a maximum amount of money that can be paid out on any one worker’s record. Including your own benefit, this ranges from 150% to 180% of that worker’s full Social Security retirement benefit amount, and if the calculated disability benefits exceed the allowable maximum, your family members’ benefits can be proportionally reduced.

6. If you get Social Security disability, you can also get Medicare early

Generally, Medicare benefits don’t kick in until you turn 65. However, there’s an exception for disabled workers who get benefits through Social Security. Specifically, disabled workers will get Medicare coverage automatically after receiving disability benefits for two years, and in certain cases (such as with kidney failure), they can qualify sooner.

7. You may still need disability income insurance

Social Security retirement benefits are designed to replace about 40% of the average worker’s income. And since disability benefits are based on what your retirement benefit would eventually be, it’s fair to say that the average worker should expect a similar level of income replacement.

The point is that while Social Security disability benefits are certainly a valuable safety net, if you become disabled, they may not be enough. Could you pay all of your living expenses and maintain your standard of living on 40% of your salary? If the answer is no, you might still need other disability income insurance to help replace your income if you happen to become disabled.

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Italian PM in Romania for talks on Brexit

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Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has discussed the future of Europe after Britain leaves the European Union next year in talks with top Romanian officials.

Gentiloni met Romanian counterpart Viorica Dancila Thursday and then headed for talks with President Klaus Iohannis.

Dancila said they also talked about Romanian and Italian communities living in each other’s countries and she discussed Romania’s role when it takes over the presidency of the EU on Jan. 1, 2019.

Italy is one of Romania’s top trading partners with about 14 billion euros ($17.36 billion) of bilateral trade in 2016, the last available year for statistics.

There are an estimated 1.1 million Romanians working in Italy, and the two countries share a Latin-based language.

Cuba’s new president unlikely to undo Castro economic legacy

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Miguel Diaz-Canel will inherit a struggling economy when Cuban President Raul Castro transfers power to his handpicked successor on Thursday, and it’s highly unlikely that the longtime Communist Party loyalist will enact sweeping reforms to the largely state-run system.

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Diaz-Canel, the 57-year-old vice president of Cuba, is set to assume the presidency a day after members of Cuba’s national assembly named him the sole candidate to succeed a dynasty that began when Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. The transition of power is unfolding amid long-term economic turmoil for the island nation.

While Diaz-Canel’s relative youth, civilian background and advocacy for reforms such as internet access for Cuban civilians have stoked optimism about an economic policy shift, multiple experts on Cuba told FOX Business that the life-long Communist Party member is unlikely to buck the system – especially with Raul Castro installed as head of Cuba’s only political party through 2021.

“Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez is a long-time party activist, conservative and not one to argue for a market opening,” said Riordan Roett, a political scientist and director of Johns Hopkins University’s Latin American studies program. “Diaz-Canel is sort of a caretaker for the Castro legacy, and only after Raul is no longer able to influence policy will Diaz-Canel – possibly – be able to take the country in a different direction.”

Minor reforms enacted during Raul Castro’s presidency have done little to jumpstart foreign investment or bolster average state worker wages of just $31 per month, according to the Associated Press. The government remains wary of private industry and opted to stop issuing licenses for private businesses in 2017. Cuba is contending with a complicated dual currency system, troubled relations with the U.S. government under President Donald Trump and the economic freefall of its key trade partner, Venezuela.

Cuba’s economic growth has all but stalled because of negative factors including the U.S. trade embargo that has remained in place since the early days of the Cold War. While Cuban officials said their economy grew by 1.6% in 2017 after a downturn in prior year, independent economists are skeptical of that claim.

More on Cuba’s new president

Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is smaller today than it was in 1985, when Cuba was supported by the Soviet Union, Reuters reported, citing a study. The country is largely reliant on imports to feed its population.

“The [Communist Party of Cuba] confronts a situation where most Cubans and many party members no longer believe their system works, but the party fears that dismantling the economic structure could cause the whole system to collapse,” John Caulfield, the former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, told FOX Business.

Cuba’s tourism industry has boomed since President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic ties with the country and unwound some barriers to business in 2015; the total of international visitors more than doubled, according to the AP.

But relations have once again grown frosty since Trump re-tightened elements of the embargo last November. Trump ordered most U.S. diplomats to leave Cuba in response to a mysterious incident that left American embassy workers with neurologic damage, including hearing loss. Cuba has denied responsibility.

China, which the Trump administration recently targeted with a series of tariffs, has emerged as a key investor on Cuba. The Chinese government earmarked $36 million earlier this year to modernize elements of Cuba’s infrastructure, while the island’s famous cigars have become a sought-after product in China, USA Today reported.

With Castro still in control of the political landscape and longtime Communist party hardliners still populating key government positions, economic reforms are expected to unfold at a slow and uneven pace. Any significant changes to economic structure, such as a rollback in restrictions on private industry, could stoke social tensions and destabilize the government’s hold on the island.

“Diaz-Canel has not shown any signs of being a radical reformer of the Cuban economy, or of the political model for that matter,” said Pedro Freyre, international practice chair at the law firm of Akerman LLP and an expert on Cuban economic policy. “To the contrary, his public statements have reaffirmed the traditional party line. [But] Cuba is in dire need of significant economic reform to let loose entrepreneurial drive, energize agriculture and make Cuba an attractive site for investments and business development.”

The end of the Castro dynasty offers a rare opportunity for a fresh start between Cuba and the U.S., Freyre added.

“If it is possible for the United States to reach out and negotiate with North Korea, Cuba should be considerably easier,” he said.

Suspected 9/11 recruiter for Al Qaeda captured in Syria, report says

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Kurdish forces in Syria have detained a man who is believed to be a Syrian-born German jihadist suspected of recruiting some of the 9/11 hijackers to al-Qaeda, a senior Kurdish commander said.

The detainee, identified as Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who is his mid-fifties, was apprehended in northern Syria and was being interrogated, the commander told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday. His fate remained unclear.

The jihadist is best known for allegedly helping plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S., the report said, including recruiting some of the hijackers to the terror group.

Zammar fled Germany after the attacks and relocated to Morocco, where he was soon arrested in an operation involving CIA agents.

He was later handed to Syrian authorities who, in 2007, sentenced him to 12 years in prison for being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

He was released from prison after the Syrian civil war broke out in the region and most hardline jihadists and Islamists were released. Zammar, among many others, is believed to have joined the Islamic State group.  

The Kurdish official didn’t say if Zammar has been actively engaged in fighting for the terror group in Syria.

The Pentagon hasn’t yet confirmed the suspect’s capture, but reportedly said it was looking into it.

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.

TNT reporter asks LeBron James about death of Spurs coach&#039;s wife, gets slammed on social media

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A TNT basketball reporter was slammed on social media Wednesday night after asking LeBron James about the death earlier in the day of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife.

Allie LaForce came under fire for asking James the question immediately after his 46-point performance against the Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of an opening-round NBA playoff series, which helped James’ Cleveland Cavaliers tie the series at two games apiece.

James appeared to be surprised by the question, but gave a heartfelt answer, the New York Post reported.

“Obviously I’m a huge Pop fan. I love Pop,” James said, using the coach’s nickname. “That’s such a tragedy and my best wishes go out to Pop and his family. I know that’s devastating news and holy … It’s just a lot. The NBA family, we all sit together and compete every night. But something like this happens, it puts everything in perspective. So I send my well wishes and my prayers up to the heaven above.”

But many NBA fans on Twitter wondered whether LaForce chose an appropriate time to ask James the question.

“Why would Allie LaForce ask LeBron about Greg [sic] Popovich’s wife passing away in the immediate post game interview?” one Twitter user asked. “Just an absolute bomb to drop on him after a game, and put him on the spot because the news came in during the game.”

Another user speculated that perhaps that James didn’t know about the death until LaForce broke the news to him.

“Can’t believe Allie LaForce just broke the news to LeBron post-game, mid-interview that Popovich’s wife passed and after blindsiding him, asked his thoughts on this sensitive topic in front of millions on live TV. Extremely unprofessional and uncomfortable. TNT should be ashamed.”

TNT basketball anchor Ernie Johnson clarified on the post-game show that LaForce gave James a heads-up before asking about Popovich’s wife.

James also tried to put out the fire in a video on his UNINTERRUPTED platform.

“A lot of people think I was blindsided. That is absolutely false,” James said. “Allie LaForce told me she was going to ask me the question and if it was OK. Once I started talking about it on-air, actually my emotions kind of took over and that was just my emotions coming straight from the heart.”

Ryan Gaydos is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGaydos.

Cohen would turn on Trump if charged, counselor warns Trump

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One of President Donald Trump’s longtime legal advisers said he warned the president in a phone call Friday that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer and close friend, would turn against the president and cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges.

Trump made the call seeking advice from Jay Goldberg, who represented Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s. Goldberg said he cautioned the president not to trust Cohen. On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Cohen “isn’t even a 1,” he said he told Trump.

Cohen is under criminal investigation for potential bank fraud and campaign-finance violations. FBI agents raided Cohen’s home, hotel and office last week, seeking documents about, among other things, a $130,000 payment he made in October 2016 to a former adult-film actress to prevent her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, The Wall Street Journal previously reported, citing people familiar with the matter.​ Trump and Cohen deny such an encounter occurred.

Investigators are examining whether Cohen committed bank fraud in using a home-equity line of credit to pay the former porn star for her silence, as well as potential campaign-finance violations related to the payment, the people said.

“Michael will never stand up [for you]” if charged by the government, Goldberg said he cautioned the president.

Neither Cohen, who hasn’t been charged, nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment. The White House confirmed the phone call of Trump and Goldberg.

The 15-minute discussion between the two men provides an inside peek at the president’s efforts to seek guidance amid the rapidly escalating developments involving Cohen.

Goldberg is one of several longtime advisers Trump has reached out to as he and his legal team try to assess the potential fallout from the criminal investigation of Cohen and devise a response.

Goldberg said the volume of correspondence taken and the potential pressure the government can bring to bear on Cohen to testify put the president in more potential peril from the Cohen matter than from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller is examining whether members of Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians to affect the 2016 election. Russia officials have denied meddling in the election, and Trump has denied any collusion took place.

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo discussed imprisoned Americans with Kim Jong Un, report says

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo and dictator Kim Jong Un reportedly discussed the three Americans currently held in North Korea when the two met over Easter weekend.

President Donald Trump hopes the Americans would be released soon, a senior White House official told the Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Trump– who was alongside Japanese President Shinzo Abe– said at a press conference the U.S. and North Korea were negotiating their release. Trump had said he thinks “there’s a good chance of doing it” around his potential summit with Kim.

In this April 12, 2018, photo CIA Director Mike Pompeo testifies on his nomination to be the next secretary of state on Capitol Hill in Washington. Two U.S. officials say Pompeo recently traveled to North Korea to meet with leader Kim Jong Un. Pompeo’s trip to the isolated communist nation came in advance of a potential summit between Kim and President Donald Trump. The officials spoke anonymously about Pompeo’s trip because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un over Easter Weekend.  (AP)

“We are doing out very best,” Trump said.

Kim Dong Chul, a South Korean-born businessman and naturalized U.S. citizen, has been held in North Korea since October 2015 over alleged espionage, according to BBC.

Kim Sang-duk has been held since April 2017 and was arrested before boarding a flight from Pyongyang for allegedly trying to undermine the country’s government, according to Reuters.

Kim Hak-song was arrested in May 2017 over alleged “hostile acts” against the country, according to BBC.

Trump also pledged to free Japanese citizens who have been abducted and held captive by North Korea, saying that he had “made a promise” to Abe and knew the issue was “one of the truly most important things on Shinzo’s mind.”

Trump said he would not hesitate to walk out of a planned summit meeting with Kim “if I think it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful.”

President Donald Trump talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before dinner at Trump's private Mar-a-Lago club, Wednesday, April 18, 2018, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Trump said the release of Japanese citizens from North Korean captivity was an important issue for him.  (AP)

“If we don’t think it’s going to be successful, we won’t have it. If I think it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we’re not going to go. If the meeting when I’m there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting,” he said.

Trump spoke one day after it was revealed Pompeo had met with Kim in an effort to lay the groundwork for a potential meeting between the two. Trump has said it could take place by early June.

Fox News’ Samuel Chamerlain and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ryan Gaydos is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGaydos.

Tesla probed on occupational safety

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A Tesla charging station is seen in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S. September 28, 2017. (Reuters)

Tesla is being probed for occupational safety issues after a report that the maker of electric vehicles failed to disclose serious injuries at its San Francisco Bay Area factory.

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On Wednesday, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) confirmed the inspection was underway, two days after website Reveal reported that Tesla underreported injuries at its sites.

The probe began Tuesday, Cal-OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said. The investigation was first reported by Bloomberg.

A Tesla spokesman said Cal-OSHA is required to investigate any claims.

“We have never in the entire history of our company received a violation for inaccurate or incomplete injury record-keeping,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Word of the probe coincided with Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s announcement that the company would ramp up production at its Freemont, Calif., facility toward a goal of 6,000 cars per week by the end of June.

The injury rate at the Fremont factory, which it took over from General Motors and Toyota Motor, is reportedly half what it was in its final years under the previous owners.

Shares of Tesla are down 3 percent over the past year.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba sets plans for Thailand

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The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has agreed to step up investments in Thailand.

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The founder of the online shopping giant, Jack Ma, met with Thailand’s prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, on Thursday and signed an agreement to help set up a “smart digital hub” to facilitate trade between Thailand, China, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Reports said the hub, due to be completed next year, would also serve as a research and development center for Alibaba.

The government said Alibaba also plans to help train Thai entrepreneurs and small businesses in e-commerce and to set up an online tourism platform.

The announcements included no dollar figures. Thai media reported that Alibaba plans to invest 11 billion Thai baht ($350 million) in a showcase government project called the Eastern Economic Corridor.

Berlin councilwoman wants to shut legendary Berghain club

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A nationalist councilwoman in Berlin has been ridiculed online for proposing to close one of the city’s most famous techno clubs because of its long opening hours as well as partygoers’ drug consumption and lascivious behavior on the dance floor.

Sibylle Schmidt, a district councilor for the fa-right Alternative for Germany party, demanded that a future owner of the Berghain club should install “better lighting and staff to prevent sexual acts” inside. She said it should open only from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to protect revelers’ health, instead of offering all-weekend raves.

She also complained about the club’s “unintelligent, ugly” bouncers.

Using the hashtag #berghain, Twitter users made fun of the proposal and compared Schmidt’s agenda to that of “hardcore Islamists.”

The proposal is unlikely to be approved.

Australian bank charges dead client service fee for a decade

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An Australian government inquiry has heard that financial advisers working for Australia’s largest bank continued charging clients service fees after they died — in one case for more than a decade.

Documents presented Thursday to the inquiry into misbehavior in Australia’s financial sector showed the Commonwealth Bank had been receiving complaints from clients of being charged for services that had not been provided since 2002.

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But the bank did not report the illegal behavior to the industry regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, until August 2014.

The bank’s subsidiary, Count Financial, discovered a financial adviser knew his client had died in January 2004 but was still reaping 1,000 Australian dollars ($780) a year in service fees in late 2015.