Verizon deepens ties with Apple, offers free Apple Music to some U.S. customers

FILE PHOTO: An Apple company logo is seen behind tree branches outside an Apple store in Beijing, China December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

(Reuters) – Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) said on Tuesday it will include free Apple Music subscriptions in some of its top-tier U.S. data plans, deepening its ties with the iPhone maker.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) is increasingly turning for growth to its services segment, which includes businesses such as iCloud storage, Apple Music and the App Store, and has been partnering with rivals in recent months. Two weeks ago, it cut its revenue forecast, blaming iPhone sales in China.

Verizon customers opting for its “Beyond Unlimited” and “Above Unlimited” plans will also get access to free Apple Music from Jan. 17, the U.S. wireless carrier said in a statement vz.to/2RtAiYk.

Last year, Verizon and Apple announced a partnership, giving some customers six months of Apple Music streaming service along with their data plan. The Verizon “Go Unlimited” plan will continue to get a six-month free trial of Apple Music.

Apple in the last few months has made its iTunes service available on some of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s (005930.KS) newer smart televisions and has made Apple Music available on Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) Echo smart speakers.

The Cupertino-based firm is facing a saturated global smart phone market and many users are hanging on to their old iPhones longer than ever.

Reporting by Subrat Patnaik and Supriya Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Northern California county ravaged by wildfire sues utility

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The Northern California county where a deadly wildfire killed 86 people last year sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Tuesday, a day after the utility announced it will file for bankruptcy.

Butte County’s lawsuit blames the utility for the wildfire that sparked Nov. 8 and “effectively eradicated” the city of Paradise, California, population 27,000. The blaze destroyed nearly 15,000 homes and is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

People who lost their homes in the wildfire have already sued PG&E.; The utility’s bankruptcy filing means all wildfire-related lawsuits will be consolidated and go before a bankruptcy judge, not a jury. Butte County counsel Bruce Alpert said the pending lawsuits likely would have been consolidated anyway.

Bankruptcy proceedings could result in wildfire victims not getting everything they are owed, experts say.

The county filed Tuesday to “demonstrate to the public that we’re moving forward after this horrendous occurrence in Butte County,” Alpert said. “We’re seeking the make the taxpayers of Butte County whole with respect to all of the costs and damages.”

The county is seeking damages for repair and replacement of damaged or destroyed property, loss of wages and business profits and more. The lawsuit does not outline a specific monetary amount.

The company said safety is its top concern and noted the cause of the fire hasn’t been determined. “Our focus continues to be helping our communities recover and rebuild,” spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said in a statement.

The lawsuit says PG&E; equipment sparked the wildfire. State officials are still investigating what caused the blaze, but PG&E; has told state regulators about issues with its equipment near one of the places the fire sparked.

The lawsuit says PG&E; was negligent in operating its equipment and managing vegetation near its transmission and distribution lines. It also hits the company for failing to turn off power during weather conditions of high fire risk on the morning of the blaze. The company said in a November filing with the state Public Utilities Commission that it chose not to follow through with warnings to shut off power Nov. 8 because weather conditions no longer warranted it.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

Judge declines to grant immediate pay, other relief to workers in throes of gov’t shutdown

A judge Tuesday refused to order the Trump administration to pay federal employees kept on the job during the partial shutdown, as the IRS said it was bringing back tens of thousands of employees to process tax returns.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Richard J. Leon said he sympathizes with workers struggling to make ends meet, but he said he can’t wade too far into a political squabble between the legislative and executive branches.

He rejected a labor union’s demand that he order the government to pay air traffic controllers who are working without guaranteed paychecks and said it would be “profoundly irresponsible” for him to issue an order that lets essential workers decide to stay home if they’re not being compensated.

“At best, it would create chaos and confusion,” said the judge, an appointee of President George W. Bush. “At worst, it would be catastrophic.”

His reluctance to pay or trim the active workforce coincided with President Trump’s moves to put even more people on the job without pay.

The IRS said Tuesday it was recalling about half of its furloughed employees to work during tax-filing season, which starts Jan. 28, after the administration promised to get Americans their refunds on time.

Roughly 46,000 of the 80,000 workers on the IRS payroll will be required to report, compared to roughly 10,000 who remained on the job at the start of the shutdown.

The Federal Aviation Administration brought back 500 safety inspectors and plans to recall more, while the Food and Drug Administration said it recalled roughly 400 inspectors, including 150 who work on food safety.

Other FDA inspectors will examine items such as medical devices and drugs.

Judge Leon is managing a mounting set of lawsuits from workers who say the funding impasse, spurred by Mr. Trump’s demand for border wall funding, has already inflicted harm on people who have been working since the start of the shutdown 25 days ago.

More than 420,000 people are deemed “essential” and working without pay, while more than 300,000 more are furloughed at home and didn’t receive paychecks Friday.

Congress has passed legislation to pay them all at the end of the shutdown, but lawyers for the workers still on the job say they deserve immediate relief.

They wanted the judge to approve options ranging from immediate paychecks and extra damages, to permission to find paying side gigs.

Daniel Schwei, a lawyer for the Justice Department, said workers are “understandably frustrated” with the standoff, but the courts should not insert themselves into a fight that’s unfolding on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The department says tapping funds to pay workers without authorization from Congress would violate the Constitution.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys said the problem is that it’s not clear when the shutdown will end, as House Democrats refuse to pony up $5 billion in wall funding, Mr. Trump refuses to back down and the Republican-led Senate seeks a compromise that can win over the White House.

Federal workers are reportedly rationing insulin or selling personal possessions to make ends meet, while those who still must work need to provide for child care, yet cannot afford it.

“It’s hard not to empathize with the plaintiffs’ positions,” Judge Leon said, though he feared the judiciary would be used as “another source of leverage” in the fight.

Judge Leon’s refusal to grant immediate relief through temporary restraining orders was just the first step in the legal process.

He asked the parties to brief the court ahead of another hearing at the end of the month, as the court moves into the deeper legal issues involved, such as whether requiring employees to work without pay is akin to slavery — and thus a violation of the 13th Amendment.

Michael Kator, a lawyer for four employees of various agencies, argued just that. He also said workers should be free to get additional jobs that pay, noting some federal agencies prohibit the practice or force workers to get permission.

Judge Leon was intrigued by that idea. Over and over, he theorized that workers could drive an Uber car, wait tables at local restaurants or work at a grocery store outside of their typical eight-hour day.

Mr. Schwei said that could raise outside issues, such as a conflict of interest for the Uber driver who also works for the Transportation Department and oversees regulatory issues.

Molly A. Elkin, a lawyer for the air traffic controllers, said it’s unrealistic to think her clients could work part-time jobs after a grueling day of making sure airplanes take off and land safely.

“That is just going to be another stressor,” she said.

Instead, she emphatically asked Judge Leon to drop his “legal hammer” on the executive branch and pay the workers.

“How can you not do it?” she said, noting the skies won’t be protected forever. “They’re safe — for now, judge. For now, they’re safe.”

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Brexit vote: Theresa May’s deal defeated by record margin

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Hindu ascetics lead millions of Indians in holy bath, but politics weigh

PRAYAGRAJ, India (Reuters) – Millions of pilgrims began bathing on the first official day of India’s Kumbh Mela on Tuesday, the world’s largest religious festival where politics play an important role ahead of a general election later this year.

Naga Sadhus or Hindu holy men take a dip during the first “Shahi Snan” (grand bath) at “Kumbh Mela” or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

During the eight-week festival at Prayagraj in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, up to 150 million people, including a million foreign visitors, are expected to bathe at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.

More than 18 million pilgrims led by naked, ash-smeared ascetics had entered the grounds by 1600 local time (1130 GMT) on Tuesday, said a spokesman for the Kumbh Mela Adhikari, the main organizing committee.

“This time there is so much more space,” he said. “All indications are this will be bigger than the last Kumbh.”

Estimating crowd numbers at the site, two thirds the size of Manhattan, is difficult, and the official did not say how the committee had arrived at the figure.

However, if the trend continues, it would be the largest ever Kumbh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs the state, sees a successful festival as a way to burnish its credentials as a defender of the Hindu faith.

Giant cardboard cutouts of Modi, who faces a tough test in a general election due by May, adorned the sacred site.

“Modi is a good man,” said Varun K Seth, a saffron-clad priest who gestured at a figure of Modi. “He is watching over us.”

Devout Hindus believe bathing in the waters of the Ganges absolves people of sins and at the time of the Kumbh Mela, or the “festival of the pot”, it brings salvation from the cycle of life and death.

A highlight is the appearance of the Naga sadhus, or ascetics, who worship Shiva and bathe on the first day.

Many sadhus belong to monastic orders called Akharas and some live in remote caves, stepping out for the Kumbh Mela, generally held once every three years in four cities.

Shortly before dawn on Tuesday, the first ascetics, the Panchayati, plunged into the water amid cries of “har har Mahadev”, or “everyone is Mahadev”, another name for Shiva.

“It is out of this world,” said Seth. “When you get in the water, you feel like you are alive.”

Members of the largest monastic order at the festival, the Juna Akhara, raced down to the water carrying tridents and spears as police held back throngs of spectators.

“The river gives us immortality,” said a naked sadhu from the Juna Akhara as he covered his body in ash after bathing.

POLITICAL FLAVOR

Modi’s chief minister in Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest pictured on billboards across the city, has championed policies that play to the BJP’s core Hindu base.

This year he transformed a smaller Ardh, or “half” Kumbh Mela, into a full version of the festival. He also replaced the Muslim names of several cities with Hindu names – including Prayagraj, which was Allahabad until October.

“Yogi is a great leader who cares for the people,” said Kuldeep Banderi, a pilgrim from Delhi. “If this Kumbh is Ardh think what the next will be like.”

The BJP lost power in three states in assembly elections in December, and want to avoid a similar result during the general election in Uttar Pradesh, a state of 220 million people where a strong showing can often decide the outcome.

For the first time at the Kumbh Mela, a transgender ashram known as the Kinnar Akhara and led by rights activist Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi from Mumbai, joined the first bathing day.

India legalized gay sex in September, but the LGBT community still faces prejudice in the deeply religious country.

Slideshow (12 Images)

Members of the Kinnar Akhara received a police escort to the bathing site, where Tripathi plunged into the waters fully clothed to the cheers of her followers.

The festival has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality from demons.

In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell to earth, in the cities of Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik, which now share the Kumbhs.

Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Darren Schuettler

AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley ‘behemoths’

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Freedom Caucus calls for Congress to work on shutdown through break Democrat previews Mueller questions for Trump’s AG nominee Trump inaugural committee spent ,000 on makeup for aides: report MORE’s pick to lead the Department of Justice, William Barr, suggested during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that the agency should take a closer look at tech giants’ dominant market power and handling of user data.

During an exchange with Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGrassroots political participation is under attack in Utah and GOP is fighting back Romney sworn in as senator Both sides play blame game on first day of shutdown MORE (R-Utah), Barr said that he wanted to better understand the dynamic between Silicon Valley and the nation’s antitrust officials who have allowed tech companies to grow so big.

“I’m sort of interested in stepping back and reassessing, or learning more, about how the antitrust division has been functioning and what their priorities are,” said Barr, who previously served as attorney general under the George H.W. Bush administration. “I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers.”

He added that he doesn’t know if internet giants have run afoul of antitrust laws.

Barr only said that he wanted to learn more about the DOJ’s antitrust approach and did not indicate whether he would push for a tougher stance towards Silicon Valley if confirmed. 

Still, his comments suggest he is in line with a growing number of lawmakers and consumer advocates that are concerned about the influence companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google wield through their market power.

In a later exchange with Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyThree GOP Senate candidates, NRA may have illegally coordinated ads: report Overnight Defense: Appeals court sides with Trump on transgender military ban | Trump threatens years-long shutdown | Trump floats declaring national emergency to build wall with military Romney sworn in as senator MORE (R-Mo.), who as a state attorney general launched investigations into Facebook and Google, Barr echoed his concerns about their effects on competition and how they handle user privacy.

He declined to address whether the DOJ should involve itself in a Federal Trade Commission investigation into Facebook’s handling of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, since it’s an active probe that he may have to oversee.

But he made clear that he has a personal interest in the issue of privacy and questions about Big Tech’s market power — and believes the DOJ should look into them.

“I would like to wade into some of these issues,” Barr told Hawley. “I also am interested in the issue of privacy and the question of who owns this data. It’s not an area I’ve studied closely or become an expert in, but I think it’s important for the department to get more involved in these questions.”

Updated at 2:27 p.m.

Federal workers take on odd jobs to make ends meet

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – When her paychecks dried up because of the partial government shutdown, Cheryl Inzunza Blum sought out a side job that has become a popular option in the current economy: She rented out a room on Airbnb.

Other government workers are driving for Uber, relying on word-of-mouth and social networks to find handyman work and looking for traditional temp gigs to help pay the bills during the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

The hundreds of thousands of out-of-work government employees have more options than in past shutdowns given the rise of the so-called “gig economy” that has made an entire workforce out of people doing home vacation rentals and driving for companies like Uber, Lyft and Postmates.

Blum decided to capitalize on the busy winter travel season in Arizona to help make ends meet after she stopped getting paid for her government contract work as a lawyer in immigration court in Tucson. She says she has no choice but to continue to work unpaid because she has clients who are depending on her, some of whom are detained or have court hearings.

But she also has bills: her Arizona state bar dues, malpractice insurance and a more than $500 phone bill for the past two months because she uses her phone so heavily for work. Blum has been tapping every source she can to keep herself afloat – even her high school- and college-aged children – and is even thinking about driving for Uber and Lyft as well.

“So after working in court all day I’m going to go home and get the room super clean because they’re arriving this evening,” she said of her Airbnb renters.

“I have a young man who’s visiting town to do some biking, and he’s going to come tomorrow and stay a week,” she added. “I’m thrilled because that means immediate money. Once they check in, the next day there’s some money in my account.”

The shutdown is occurring against the backdrop of a strong economy that has millions of open jobs, along with ample opportunities to pick up Uber and Lyft shifts.

The Labor Department reported that employers posted 6.9 million jobs in November, the latest figures available. That’s not far from the record high of 7.3 million reached in August.

Roughly 8,700 Uber driver positions are advertised nationwide on the SnagAJob website, while Lyft advertises about 3,000.

But the gig economy doesn’t pay all that well – something the furloughed government workers are finding out.

Pay for such workers has declined over the past two years, and they are earning a growing share of their income elsewhere, a recent study found. Most Americans who earn income through online platforms do so for only a few months each year, according to the study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

Chris George, 48, of Hemet, California, is furloughed from his job as a forestry technician supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture forest service. He’s been driving for Lyft but has only been averaging about $10 for every hour he drives. Paying for gas then eats into whatever money he has made.

He just got word that he’ll be getting $450 in weekly unemployment benefits, but hadn’t received any money as of Monday. In the meantime, he’s taking handyman or other odd jobs wherever he can.

“I’ve just been doing side jobs when they come along,” he said Monday. “I had two last week, and I don’t know what this week’s going to bring.”

George Jankowski is among those hunting around for cash. He’s getting a $100 weekly unemployment check, but that’s barely enough to pay for food and gas, he said.

On Monday, he made $30 helping a friend move out of a third-floor apartment in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Jankowski is furloughed from a USDA call center and does not expect to get back pay because his job is part-time and hourly.

Jankowski, an Air Force veteran, calls the situation “grueling.”

“It’s embarrassing to ask for money to pay bills or ask to borrow money to, you know, eat,” he said.

Some employers were looking at the shutdown as a way to recruit, at least temporarily.

Missy Koefod of the Atlanta-based cocktail-mixer manufacturer 18.21 Bitters said the company needs temporary help in the kitchen, retail store and getting ready for a trade show, and decided to put out the word to furloughed federal workers on social media that they were hiring.

“I can’t imagine not getting paid for a couple of weeks,” Koefod said.

American Labor Services, a staffing agency that employs 500 people a week in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, sent out an appeal to furloughed federal workers on Monday, asking them to get in touch for clerical or light-industrial work.

“Some might not realize that they could get something temporary, it could last for a short period,” said Ben Kaplan, the company’s president and CEO.

Israel Diaz sought out an Uber job and applied to be a security guard after he was furloughed from his Treasury Department job in Kansas City. He said federal work has become increasingly demoralizing and that he and many of his co-workers are considering quitting.

“In the old days, you work for the federal government, you get benefits, great,” said Diaz, a Republican and Marine Corps veteran. “Now, it’s not even worth it.”

___

Associated Press writers Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Chris Rugaber in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

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House denounces white supremacy; Steve King supports resolution of rebuke

Rep. Steve King voted Tuesday to denounce white supremacy — joining the very colleagues who had intended the vote to be a rebuke to the Iowa Republican and recent controversial statements attributed to him.

The 424-1 vote follows a decision a day earlier by House Republicans to keep Mr. King from serving on any committees this Congress, effectively sidelining him from much of the business of Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers said the moves — one symbolic, the other substantive — were intended to draw lines in American political discussion, making it clear that racist rhetoric, or anything that could be taken that way, should not be tolerated.

“If we do not speak out now, collectively as a Congress, clearly and without reservation, we will send the message that these views are acceptable, and they will continue to fester,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The resolution quoted Mr. King’s most recent controversial comments, made last week to The New York Times: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

The resolution then defined white supremacists and white nationalists, declared those ideologies anathema, and connected them to the 2015 massacre at a predominantly black South Carolina church and another shooting spree at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year.

“I agree with every word you put in this,” Mr. King said, though he said his comments to the newspaper last week were taken out of context. There is no tape of the interview to settle the matter, he said.

Some Democrats questioned whether Mr. King understood why he was being denounced, saying the newspaper interview was not the first time they have been offended.

“We all know that the record of these kinds of comments is long,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and immigrant from India.

It’s not clear whether the resolution is the end of Mr. King’s troubles.

Two Democrats on Monday introduced resolutions of censure which they could demand receive floor votes later this week.

But Democratic leaders said they believed Tuesday’s rebuke was the best possible bipartisan statement.

The sole vote against the resolution was from a Democrat.

Some Republicans and Democrats have urged Mr. King to quit.

“I think he should find another line of work,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the GOP stripping Mr. King of his committee posts should be a major signal.

“I wanted to make a statement,” he said.

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Brexit bedlam: Parliament sinks PM May’s EU divorce deal by 230 votes

LONDON (Reuters) – British lawmakers defeated Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit divorce deal by a crushing margin on Tuesday, triggering political upheaval that could lead to a disorderly exit from the EU or even to a reversal of the 2016 decision to leave.

Prime Minister Theresa May sits down in Parliament after the vote on May’s Brexit deal, in London, Britain, January 15, 2019 in this screengrab taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS

Parliament voted 432-202 against her deal, the worst parliamentary defeat for a government in recent British history. Scores of her own lawmakers – both Brexiteers and supporters of EU membership – joined forces to vote down the deal.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn promptly called a vote of no confidence in May’s government, to be held within 24 hours.

With the clock ticking down to March 29, the date set in law for Brexit, the United Kingdom is now ensnared in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project that it joined in 1973.

May’s crushing loss, the first British parliamentary defeat of a treaty since 1864, marks the collapse of her two-year strategy of forging an amicable divorce with close ties to the EU after the March 29 exit.

“It is clear that the House does not support this deal, but tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support,” May told parliament, moments after the result was announced.

“We need to confirm whether this government still enjoys the confidence of this House,” May said.

May said parliament had spoken and the government had listened. The small Northern Irish DUP party, which props up her minority government and had said it would oppose the deal, said it would still back May in the no confidence vote.

The EU said the Brexit deal remained the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal from the EU.

“The Brexit deal is basically dead,” said Anand Menon, professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London.

CROSSROADS

Ever since Britain voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016, the political class has been debating how to leave the European project forged by France and Germany after the devastation of World War Two.

While the country is divided over EU membership, most agree that the world’s fifth largest economy is at a crossroads and that its choices over Brexit will shape the prosperity of future generations.

Before the vote, May had warned pro-Brexit lawmakers that if her plan was rejected, it was more likely that Britain would not leave the EU at all than that it would leave without a deal.

She has also warned fellow Conservatives not to let the opposition Labour Party seize control of Brexit.

Supporters of EU membership cast Brexit as a gigantic mistake that will undermine the West, smash Britain’s reputation as a stable destination for investment and slowly weaken London’s position as a global capital.

Slideshow (22 Images)

Many opponents of Brexit hope May’s defeat will ultimately lead to another referendum on EU membership, though Brexiteers say that thwarting the will of the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit could radicalize much of the electorate.

Brexit supporters cast leaving as a way to break free from a Union they see as overly bureaucratic and fast falling behind the leading economic powers of the 21st century, the United States and China.

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Ski chic on Berlin catwalk as Fashion Week kicks off

BERLIN (Reuters) – Comfy puffer jackets, brightly printed tops and sleek goggles gave Berlin a cool start to its fashion week late on Monday, with German brand Bogner mixing ski and clubbing for its latest looks.

Models strutted in oversized jackets teamed with tops printed with the logo of the brand founded by ski jumper Willy Bogner in 1932. They paired the looks with cozy hats and shiny tie up boots in the “Alpine Clubbing” fashion show, which drew inspiration from mountain sports and Berlin’s clubbing scene.

“Bogner…has always been involved in sport fashion,” Bogner Chief Executive Andreas Baumgaertner said, adding this was the second time the brand, which has dressed the German Olympic team for Winter Games, was showing at the Berlin event.

“This year we have to do even more and are excited…we are bringing sport and fashion together but with a new interpretation.”

Berlin Fashion Week, which runs until Friday, is known for its edgy mix of shows. On Tuesday, Sri Lankan designer Amesh Wijesekera presented a bright collection, filled with vibrant colors.

Reporting By Petra Haverkamp; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alexandra Hudson