Newly freed family leaves Pakistan for Canada after rescue

Oct. 13 (UPI) — An American-Canadian family of five held captive by a militant group in Pakistan for five years boarded a flight to Britain Friday, en route to Canada.

After being freed Thursday, American Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their three children — who were all born in captivity — left on a Pakistan International Airlines flight.

The family’s final destination is expected to be Canada, after Boyle declined to board a plane to the United States — over to concerns over his association with a Guantanamo Bay inmate, Pakistan’s Geo News reported.

The Guantanamo detainee, Omar Khadr, is the brother of Boyle’s ex-wife.

Coleman and Boyle were abducted in Afghanistan in 2012 while Coleman was pregnant with the couple’s first child. They were held by the Haqqani network, a wealthy and well-connected group associated with the Taliban.

“It’s a blessing that those children have survived and they’re young enough that they can live a normal life,” Boyle’s aunt said of the family’s release.

The Pakistan military said it was alerted to the family’s movement across the Afghan border and surrounded the vehicle, following a car chase.

“We moved the hostages via helicopter to Islamabad. They were then handed over to U.S. authorities,” a spokesman for the Pakistani military said.

“This is a positive moment for our country’s relationship with Pakistan,” President Donald Trump said Thursday. “The Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region.”

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Lebanon gets two bids for offshore gas exploration

Oct. 13 (UPI) — Lebanese ambitions to draw investors to its offshore reserve potential, notably for natural gas, brought in only two bids, the government reported.

Lebanon in January filed a request to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a body that aims to cast light on how countries manage their oil, gas and mineral resources. Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said that, as the country opens itself up to foreign energy investors, accountability was essential.

Decrees put forward by the Lebanese government outline a model for revenue sharing, something that derailed previous efforts to court foreign investors. The Lebanese government estimates there are 95 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 750 million barrels of oil in its territorial waters.

Khalil said Thursday the government received two bids for offshore gas operations, but offered few specifics on the details, the English-language Daily Star reported.

Lebanon has been at odds with Israel over maritime borders in the Mediterranean Sea. Parliament members from Shiite group Hezbollah have pushed for the development of offshore reserves. According to Israeli military leaders, Hezbollah’s military arm could hit emerging energy infrastructure centered on the port of Haifa with its missile arsenal.

Israel is working to exploit the gas reserves in the Leviathan and Tamar natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea. Delek Drilling, an Israeli company, estimates Leviathan, the larger of the two, holds about 21.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, an estimate that’s about 13 percent higher than when the field was discovered in 2010.

Beirut postponed offshore natural gas auctions several times after rancor erupted over the amount of revenue Beirut would get from energy companies.

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Hurricane Ophelia sending rain to Azores

Oct. 13 (UPI) — Hurricane Ophelia is headed toward Europe as the 10th Atlantic storm this year, forecasters said Friday.

The Category 2 hurricane was located in the central Atlantic Ocean about 615 miles southwest of the Azores, the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. advisory. It has maximum sustained winds of 105 mph and is traveling east-northeast at 8 mph.

“On the forecast track, the center of Ophelia will pass near or to the southeast of the southeastern Azores Saturday and Saturday night.,” the NHC said.

Hurricane Ophelia is expected to produce 2 to 4 inches of rainfall over the southeastern Azores through Saturday with flooding possible. Other islands of the Azores can expect 1 to 3 inches of rain.

Only slight weakening is expected within the next 48 hours.

There are no hurricane watches or warning in effect, however, interests in the Azores, Ireland, and Britain should monitor the storm.

The storm is the 10th consecutive hurricane this year, tying a record set in the late 1880s.

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Quentin Tarantino ‘stunned and heartbroken’ over Weinstein allegations

Oct. 13 (UPI) — Filmmakers Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone have broken their silence regarding allegations producer Harvey Weinstein sexual harassed and/or abused dozens of women.

The Weinstein Co. fired co-founder Weinstein this week and his wife, Georgina Chapman, left him in the wake of the scandal. He reportedly is now in rehab.

Rodriguez is the former boyfriend of Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan. He also worked with The Weinstein Co. and Weinstein’s previous Miramax studio on several films, including The Spy Kids movies, Roadracers, Four Rooms, From Dusk Til Dawn and Sin City.

“I find the behavior of Harvey Weinstein truly disgusting, both what he did and how he covered his tracks, and it makes me wonder how many others can’t come forward and tell their full story because of legal and personal intimidation,” Variety quoted Rodriguez as saying in a statement. “His repulsive behavior was an abuse of power. Thankfully, he’s now discovering what true power is.”

Rodriguez’s frequent collaborator Tarantino did not immediately condemn Weinstein.

Tarantino and Weinstein worked together on most of Tarantino’s projects. Among them are Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Jackie Brown, The Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hatefeul Eight.

Tarantino is not on social media and asked his friend, actress Amber Tamblyn, to share a statement on his behalf.

“For the last week I’ve been stunned and heartbroken about the revelations that have come to light about my friend for 25 years Harvey Weinstein,” Tarantino’s message said. “I need a few more days to process my pain, emotions, anger and memory and then I will speak publicly about it.”

“I’ve been travelling for the last couple of days and wasn’t aware of all the women who came out to support the original story in the New York Times. After looking at what has been reported in many publications over the last couple of days, I’m appalled and commend the courage of the women who’ve stepped forward to report sexual abuse or rape,” Stone said in a statement to Variety. “I’ll therefore recuse myself from the Guantanamo series as long as The Weinstein Co. is involved.”

Stone was previously quoted by The Hollywood Reporter as saying: “I’m a believer that you wait until this thing gets to trial. … I believe a man shouldn’t be condemned by a vigilante system. It’s not easy what he’s going through, either. During that period he was a rival. I never did business with him and didn’t really know him. I’ve heard horror stories on everyone in the business, so I’m not going to comment on gossip. I’ll wait and see, which is the right thing to do.”

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Northern California fires: 31 now dead, hundreds still missing

Oct. 13 (UPI) — At least 31 people have now died as a result of Northern California’s wildfires, as firefighters said Friday they have made little progress containing at least 21 separate blazes.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said the wildfires, strengthened by high winds, continue to burn and “have the potential to shift in any direction at any time.”

A statewide summary by Cal Fire late Thursday said nearly 200,000 acres have burned since the fires started last weekend. Over 8,000 firefighters, many from other states, are trying to extinguish flames across the region’s wine country.

More than 3,500 homes and other structures have been destroyed in the area — nearly 3,000 homes and 400,000 square feet of commercial space in Santa Rosa alone. Mayor Chris Coursey said he expects those figures to increase, and noted that the city’s new firehouse was leveled.

Officials said 17 people have died in Sonoma County, eight in Mendocino County, four in Yuba County and two in Napa County. Sonoma County officials listed over 1,100 missing persons. Although about 600 were located, about 400 remain missing, Sheriff Rob Giordano said on Thursday.

The wildfires are among the deadliest in California’s history.

Officials said 64 of 77 damaged cellphone towers in the area have been damaged, but repaired. Progress on the fire itself, though, has been elusive. The Atlas Fire, for example, is only seven percent contained, officials said early Friday.

The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for the East Bay hills and North Bay mountains, which indicate high fire danger. NWS meteorologist Rick Canepa said winds are expect to increase to 20 to 30 mph — with gusts up to 60 mph — on Friday and Saturday, conditions that are expected to make fighting the flames even more difficult.

The smoky air, which has penetrated San Francisco and San Jose, is not expected to improve though the weekend, either. Air quality was rated as “unhealthy” in most of the Bay Area and “unhealthy for sensitives groups” farther south, said Kristine Roselius of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Schools and businesses closed throughout the area, and numerous events scheduled for the weekend were canceled.

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Trump administration ending ACA cost-sharing subsidies

Oct. 13 (UPI) — The Trump administration will end federal subsidies that have been available for years to help Americans purchase insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, as part of his efforts to dismantle the Obama-era health law.

The decision was announced late Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services, and is an effort in new administration plans to uphold a promise by President Donald Trump to get rid of the ACA — a move that Congress has failed to deliver on this year.

Although the HHS continued to make cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments worth an estimated $7 billion to insurers as part of the law, Trump had previously threatened to end the subsidies — which help millions of Americans afford heath coverage through federal exchanges.

“After a thorough legal review by HHS, Treasury, [Budget Office], and an opinion from the Attorney General, we believe that the [Obama] administration overstepped the legal boundaries drawn by our Constitution,” a statement by Health and Human Services said late Thursday. “Congress has not appropriated money for CSRs, and we will discontinue these payments immediately.”

Calling the ACA a “bad policy” and a “bad law”, the statement notes that the Obama White House never received an appropriation from Congress, as legally required for the subsidies. A legal opinion by Attorney General Jeff Sessions solidified the opinion to cut out the subsidies.

The House of Representatives attempted in 2014 to sue to stop the cost-sharing subsidies, and last year a federal court ruled that the Obama administration had circumvented the appropriations process and unlawfully used federal money to fund reimbursements to insurers.

In a joint statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the decision, “a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America.”

Cutting off cost-saving reductions could create even greater instability in the ACA marketplace. The Congressional Budget Office noted in August that up to 1 million people could be uninsured by next year as a result of the move.

According to current White House data, nearly 7 million Americans chose to pay ACA penalties last year for failing to buy coverage required by the individual mandate — and current exchange enrollment is 60 percent below what the CBO first estimated when the law took effect in 2010.

Thursday’s announcement came just hours after Trump signed an executive order to loosen ACA “association” restrictions on insurance plans, which could also help to destabilize the law.

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Small island nations display climate solidarity

Oct. 13 (UPI) — Small island states and nations with developing economies pledged to take a stronger initiative in the fight against climate change, low-carbon leaders said.

Dozens of government ministers and senior officials met Friday in the Maldives to coordinate efforts on renewable energy development and other ways to stave off the impacts of a changing climate.

“Small island developing nations have been frontrunners in the global drive to scale-up renewables,” Adnan Amin, the director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, said in an emailed statement. “This meeting is further evidence of their collective commitment to strengthen the momentum of the global energy transition as they pursue economic growth, energy security and increased national resilience.”

Amin’s organization estimates small island developing states, or SIDS, have a total installed renewable energy capacity of about 2 gigawatts, with at least 6 GW in the pipeline. According to IREA, several SIDS have made commitments to reach a 100 percent share for renewable energy in their electricity mix.

One gigawatt of power is the rough equivalent of two coal-fired power plants, or enough to meet the energy demands of around 500,000 homes. Based on 2010 U.S. Census data, 1 GW of renewable energy would meet about a third of the total demand for the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico.

Debt-strapped Puerto Rico has struggled to recover from a string of hurricanes that swept through the Caribbean in late August and September. The pace of recovery has become a source of frustration for U.S. President Donald Trump, who is working to pull the country out of the Paris climate agreement.

“In the wake of a deadly hurricane season in the Caribbean and at a time when the resolve to tackle the climate crisis has been called into question, small islands are sending the world a clear message: we are seizing the promise of renewable energy to grow our economies today and build a better future for tomorrow,” Thoriq Ibrahim, the Maldives Environment Minister and chair of Alliance of Small Island States, said in a statement.

In the Pacific region, the Marshall Islands has a population of about 68,000 spread over 34 low-lying coral atolls, comprising 1,156 individual islands and islets. The average height of the islands is about 6 feet above sea level.

Already, it is experiencing the effects of climate change, mostly from rising sea levels which have caused flooding and inundation of crops. Government officials said that if climate change continues as it is now, there could be 2 million people from the Pacific region who will become refugees.

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‘X-Men’ series gets creepy with first trailer for ‘New Mutants’

Oct. 13 (UPI) — Fox’s X-Men series has traded in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters for an insane asylum in the first trailer for New Mutants.

The clip, released Friday, offers a new horror take on the X-Men franchise as a group of mutant teenagers navigate their way through a mental hospital that appears to be haunted.

“Did you know baby rattlesnakes are more dangerous than adult ones?” the young mutants are told as they discover that they are being kept at the facility due to their dangerous powers.

The trailer offers looks at the cast of New Mutants including Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, and Alice Braga.

Directed by Josh Boone, New Mutants is set to arrive in theaters on April 13, 2018.

“We are making a full-fledged horror movie set within the X-Men universe. There are no costumes. There are no supervillains. We’re trying to do something very, very different,” Boone said previously to Entertainment Weekly about the film.

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‘Pack of hyenas’: how Harvey Weinstein’s power fuelled a culture of enablers

It was Harvey Weinstein’s most ambitious production. A storyline stretching over 20 years with a rotating cast of actors, multiple locations across the US and Europe, a disciplined crew of assistants, producers and fixers, savvy dealmaking, and a publicity machine like no other.

But this was not The English Patient, Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, The King’s Speech or any other of his films that earned more than 300 Oscar nominations.

It was a shadow production, an inverted version of Hollywood that leveraged entertainment industry might into an alleged spree of sexual harassment and assaults, including rape, and into a methodical way of hushing it all up with payments, threats and non-disclosure agreements.

Facilitators included colleagues and associates who set up meetings under false pretences and teams of lawyers and publicists who suppressed complaints.

It was a system of abuse involving some of the most famous people on the planet, in which success was measured not in awards or fame or box office revenue, but in silence.

Weinstein, 65, clenched his films in a tight grip but lost control of his shadow production when the New York Times published accounts of harassment and assault, prompting a cascade of other reports that led to Weinstein tumbling into disgrace, joblessness and possibly jail. Police in London and New York have opened investigations.

Weinstein has made an apology in vague terms for his behaviour but denies any accusations of non-consensual sex. He is a pariah – fired by his company, dumped by his wife, denounced by a roll call of stars and top politicians who used to defer to him for jobs and donations.

A vertiginous fall. But attention is shifting to those who were complicit, turned a blind eye, might have known or should have known – the assistants, producers, fixers, executives, publicists and lawyers who surrounded the co-founder of Miramax and the Weinstein Company.

“We’re all used to predators working alone, but when they band up like a pack of hyenas, that’s a whole other ballgame,” said Zoë Brock, a model and writer who accused Weinstein of making unwanted sexual advances.

“There are enablers all over the place,” said Jeff Herman, an attorney who represents sex abuse victims and is investigating options for some of Weinstein’s alleged victims. Predators’ companies often facilitated abusive encounters masquerading as work meetings, he said. “Sending limousines to pick up the victim, making flight arrangements. These guys aren’t making their own plans, making reservations.”

Other industry figures agreed, saying that transactions conducted amid sunshine, palm trees and dazzling smiles often concealed darker agendas.

Harvey Weinstein with Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz at Miramax Golden Globes party

Harvey Weinstein with Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz at a Miramax Golden Globes party in 1999. Photograph: J. Berliner/BEI/Rex/Shutterstock

The French actor Florence Darel told Le Parisien that she had repeatedly resisted calls to see Weinstein alone on different occasions but that her agent had insisted she must meet him. “Why do agents send women actors to predators?” she said. “Why are we supposed to go to meet producers in hotel rooms?”

Sex abuse in Hollywood required wider complicity than abuse in the Catholic church, said Lorien Haynes, a Los Angeles-based writer who worked on An Open Secret, a documentary about abuse of underage boys. “It’s even a little more insidious with Hollywood because men and women are involved.”

Peter Biskind, the author of Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film, a 2004 book chronicling Weinstein’s rise in the 1990s, said facilitators ensured the alleged sexual abuse ran smoothly. “It does seem that way. They refined their technique.”

Employees at Miramax put up with Weinstein’s methods and intimidation – he kept a baseball bat in his office – because the company made great films and gilded CVs, he said. “Most people there were ambivalent and made a deal with the devil for what they could get out of it. Not to justify it, but they were only human. Anybody is a potential enabler if they work in that industry.”

In an essay last year titled Why the Assholes Are Winning, Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford professor, wrote that proximity to power and wealth could lead to moral rationalisation and moral decoupling. “Great success and performance create their own reality,” he said.

Weinstein was for many years Hollywood’s King Midas, a producer and dealmaker who nurtured talents including Quentin Tarantino and turned quirky low-budget films such as The Crying Game into major hits. He turned pitches into films and marketed the hell out of them, wooing the media and Academy Award voters with charm, bluster and guile.

“Everybody has everything to gain by staying in his good graces: actors, writers, creative people – he is the conduit,” said Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids. “He is the gatekeeper to getting projects made, getting your face on screen, to you getting an Oscar.”

When someone with such power abuses it, people “just mum up”, said the director. He said he had not heard the stories of sexual misconduct until they burst into the open last week with accounts from Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and other female actors.

Hollywood has a long tradition of casting couch abuses dating from the silent era and through the golden age, snagging the likes of Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe. Roman Polanksi and Woody Allen are still revered despite, respectively, a rape conviction and sex abuse allegations.

The brazenness shocked Haynes, a Brit, when she first moved to LA. A studio head was among those who propositioned her, she said.

“I just said, ‘You’re married, does your wife know about this?’. He put the phone down when I said no. People do the most amazing things for power and money, and make the most amazing compromises.

“People think there is an untouchable element.”

In Weinstein’s case there was a panoply of people who wittingly or not facilitated his modus operandi of inviting a young woman – usually an actor or model – to a hotel room or private office on the pretext of discussing her career, then allegedly demanding a massage or sex.

The New Yorker quoted three women who accused him of rape, an accusation the producer has vehemently denied. The article also cited 16 former and current executives and assistants at Weinstein’s companies who said they had witnessed or had knowledge of unwanted sexual advances.

One former assistant, who gave her name only as Karen, told ITV the atmosphere in the office made it hard for anyone to speak out. “I think Harvey is a multifaceted person. I think he is exceptionally bright and intelligent, I think a lot of people were in awe of him.”

Michael Reiss, 47, who said he briefly worked as a marketing assistant at Miramax in the 90s, recalled a culture in which junior and senior employees feared Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein, centre, at Miramax’s New York office in 1989

Harvey Weinstein, centre, at Miramax’s New York office in 1989. Photograph: Barbara Alper/Getty Images

“Fear was the driving force, but at the same time they were such a prestigious organisation, especially after Pulp Fiction. No one wanted to buck the system. Some people were planning their escape, but tried to stay long enough to have something on their résumé. The culture of silence back then was not just for people to preserve their jobs. It was presumed that these people, these movie star producers, could just do whatever they wanted.”

Weinstein cultivated journalists who ran glowing pieces about favoured actors – and negative pieces about those who angered or defied him.

Even so, at least eight women made complaints, according to the New York Times. None became a public scandal.

The plaintiffs accepted payment and settled out of court, bound to secrecy – a typical outcome, said Haynes, in sex abuse cases. “Lawyers encourage people to come forward and then settle. There’s a whole industry about making money off plaintiffs.”

The Weinstein company board knew of at least three confidential settlements, according to David Boies, a lawyer who represented the co-founder. There was no sanction.

Nevertheless, rumours seeped out. “Congratulations,” the comedian Seth MacFarlane told five best actress Oscar nominees in 2013. “You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

Emily Best, an LA-based film producer, said women have shared information privately in various networks about potential abusers: “It’s a ‘whisper circle’. We have to do that. The law doesn’t protect us. The culture doesn’t protect us. So we have to protect ourselves. People will come out and say, ‘I had this experience. Nobody work with this person.”

Industry analysts say the Weinstein Company’s ebbing success in recent years – the stream of hits became a trickle – made its co-founder vulnerable.

So did the eruption of rape allegations against Bill Cosby and Donald Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” recording.

“You can’t turn a blind eye to this shit. It’s 2017,” said Feig, the director. “We are liberal Hollywood. We’ve got to stand up to it no matter who is doing it.”

He was unsure if Weinstein’s career was over. “Who knows? I thought Mel Gibson would never work again [after his antisemitic outburst in 2006].”

Some are convinced this is a watershed – that Weinstein’s fall was so sudden and so steep it will rattle other offenders.

Biskind, one of Hollywood’s leading chroniclers, is not so sure. “The shock value of what’s happened to Harvey will reverberate for some time. But as long as you have men, money and power it will come back. Maybe come back in a more guarded way but it’s not gone forever.”

Additional reporting by Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

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Bitcoin now bigger than Bayer, Goldman Sachs & Nike

Its market capitalization is approaching $97 billion. If bitcoin were a company, its market cap puts it in the same league as some of the world’s top corporations.

The cryptocurrency would be in 77th in PwC’s list of the top 100 corporations, bigger than Bayer, Goldman Sachs, UPS, Nike, and Mitsubishi.

Bitcoin is up over 480 percent year-to-date.

The reason behind the rally is talk China may reverse the ban it imposed on cryptocurrency exchanges last month. The Chinese central bank also declared initial coin offerings (ICOs) illegal and banned fundraising through ICOs.

After the Chinese ban, the Japanese yen consolidated the global trade volume, with 57 percent of bitcoin’s fiat exchange volume. The US dollar and South Korean won follow.

Some investors say bitcoin bulls could test a new ceiling of $6,500. They are also buoyant that banking giant Goldman Sachs is likely to start trading bitcoin.

Mike Novogratz, Galaxy Investment Partners, recently told CNBC that bitcoin can hit the $10,000 mark soon, but with a warning.

“Remember, bubbles happen around things that fundamentally change the way we live,” he said.

“The railroad bubble. Railroads really fundamentally changed the way we lived. The internet bubble changed the way we live. When I look forward five, 10 years, the possibilities really get your animal spirits going.”

Bitcoin is likely to become “the biggest bubble of our time,” he added.

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