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Tom Cruise Tweets as Production Starts on ‘Top Gun’ Sequel

Tom Cruise is back on the flight line for a sequel to the 1986 film “Top Gun.”

The actor on Thursday tweeted a photo of himself as Navy pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in a flight suit, looking at a fighter jet. The photo includes the phrase “feel the need.” In the original movie, Cruise’s character talks about how he feels the need for speed.

Cruise writes #Day 1 of production of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

The movie is scheduled for release in July 2019.

 

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Trump Renews Call for ABC Apology

U.S. President Donald Trump again asked the ABC TV network Thursday for an apology for reasons that were not entirely clear. The request came a day after the network canceled Roseanne Barr’s television show following racist remarks she posted about Valerie Jarrett, an African American who served as a White House adviser to President Barack Obama.

 

Trump’s request comes after he suggested Wednesday he should get an apology from Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC.

On Thursday, though, Trump was more direct when he tweeted: “Iger, where is my call of apology? You and ABC have offended millions of people, and they demand a response. How is Brian Ross doing? He tanked the market with an ABC lie, yet no apology. Double Standard!”

Trump did not elaborate on how the network offended people. ABC correspondent Brian Ross, however, was suspended for four weeks last year after erroneously reporting that Trump asked former national security adviser Michael Flynn to make contact with Russian officials before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Although ABC has not apologized directly to Trump for Ross’ error, the network issued a statement shortly after recanting the story that said, “We deeply regret and apologize for the serious error we made yesterday.”

Trump has not denounced Barr, who is white, for posting a tweet Tuesday that was later deleted saying Jarrett is a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and the “Planet of the Apes.” She later tweeted she was sorry “for making a bad joke” about Jarrett.

But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee-Sanders said Wednesday Barr’s remarks were “inappropriate” and complained about the hiring of Trump critic Keith Olberman by ESPN, which is also owned by Disney. “This is a double standard that the president is speaking about.”

Barr’s offensive remarks triggered intense backlash, including ABC’s cancellation of her show which had been renewed for a second season.

“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” said ABC entertainment President Channing Dungey.

Trump’s Twitter response Wednesday was somewhat surprising after Huckabee-Sanders said in response to a question about Barr Tuesday that he is focusing on trade, North Korea and other issues and “not responding to other things.”

After saying Tuesday she would stop tweeting, Barr resumed posting, blaming the effects of the sleep medication Ambien for her racist remarks in one of her more than 100 subsequent postings.

“guys I did something unforgivable so do not defend me. it was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting — it was memorial day too — i went 2 far & do not want it defended — it was egregious indefensible. I made a mistake I wish I hadn’t but…don’t defend it please.”

 

The maker of Ambien, Sanofi S.A., responded to Barr’s claim saying, “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Iger, who once considered challenging Trump for the presidency in 2020, indeed called Jarrett to inform her about the show’s cancellation.

“He wanted me to know before he made it public that he was canceling the show,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett has not commented on Trump’s response nor has Iger replied to Trump’s suggestion he was treated differently by the network.

Barr’s TV show was a new version of her 1988-97 sitcom “Roseanne.” It returned this year with Barr playing a character who is supportive of President Trump.

Barr in real life is an avid supporter of Trump. He hailed the new show two months ago for its strong ratings.

“Look at her ratings! Look at her ratings,” he said at a speech in Richfield, Ohio. “Over 18 million people,” Trump said, “and it was about us.” They haven’t figured it out yet; the fake news hasn’t quite figured it out yet. They have not figured it out. So that was great.”   

Trump’s response to the Barr controversy was not his only controversial remark in recent days. On Memorial Day, a solemn U.S. holiday to honor military personnel who died in the line of duty, Trump tweeted: “Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!”

The tweet drew criticism from some, including retired Admiral John Kirby, a State Department spokesman during the Obama administration.

“This is one of the most inappropriate, ignorant and tone-deaf things our Commander-in-Chief could have said on a day like today,” Kirby wrote on Twitter.

 

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Oregon’s Marijuana Story a Cautionary Tale for California

When Oregon lawmakers created the state’s legal marijuana program, they had one goal in mind above all else: to persuade illicit pot growers to leave the black market.

That meant low barriers to entry that also targeted long-standing medical marijuana growers, whose product is not taxed. As a result, weed production boomed — with a bitter consequence.

Now, marijuana prices here are in free fall, and the craft cannabis farmers who put Oregon on the map decades before broad legalization say they are in peril of losing their now-legal businesses as the market adjusts.

Oregon regulators on Wednesday announced they will stop processing new applications for marijuana licenses in two weeks to address a severe backlog and ask state lawmakers to take up the issue next year.

​California takes heed

Experts say the dizzying evolution of Oregon’s marijuana industry may well be a cautionary tale for California, where a similar regulatory structure could mean an oversupply on a much larger scale.

“For the way the program is set up, the state just wants to get as many people in as possible, and they make no bones about it,” Hilary Bricken, a Los Angeles-based attorney specializing in marijuana business law, said of California. “Most of these companies will fail as a result of oversaturation.”

A staggering inventory

Oregon has nearly 1 million pounds (453,600 kilograms) of marijuana flower, commonly called bud, in its inventory, a staggering amount for a state with about 4 million people. Producers told The Associated Press wholesale prices fell more than 50 percent in the past year; a study by the state’s Office of Economic Analysis found the retail cost of a gram of marijuana fell from $14 in 2015 to $7 in 2017.

The oversupply can be traced largely to state lawmakers’ and regulators’ earliest decisions to shape the industry.

They were acutely aware of Oregon’s entrenched history of providing top-drawer pot to the black market nationwide, as well as a concentration of small farmers who had years of cultivation experience in the legal, but largely unregulated, medical pot program.

Getting those growers into the system was critical if a legitimate industry was to flourish, said Sen. Ginny Burdick, a Portland Democrat who co-chaired a committee created to implement the voter-approved legalization measure.

Lawmakers decided not to cap licenses; to allow businesses to apply for multiple licenses; and to implement relatively inexpensive licensing fees.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which issues licenses, announced Wednesday it will put aside applications for new licenses received after June 15 until a backlog of pending applications is cleared out. The decision comes after U.S. Attorney Billy Williams challenged state officials to address Oregon’s oversupply problem.

“In my view, and frankly in the view of those in the industry that I’ve heard from, it’s a failing of the state for not stepping back and taking a look at where this industry is at following legalization,” Williams told the AP in a phone interview.

But those in the industry supported the initial decisions that led to the oversupply, Burdick said.

“We really tried to focus on policies that would rein in the medical industry and snuff out the black market as much as possible,” Burdick said.

​Consolidation

Lawmakers also quickly backtracked on a rule requiring marijuana businesses have a majority ownership by someone with Oregon residency after entrepreneurs complained it was hard to secure startup money. That change opened the door to out-of-state companies with deep pockets that could begin consolidating the industry.

The state has granted 1,001 producer licenses and has another 950 in process as of last week. State officials worry if they cut off licensing entirely or turn away those already in the application process, they’ll get sued or encourage illegal trade.

Some of the same parameters are taking shape in California, equally known for black-market pot from its Emerald Triangle region.

The rules now in effect there place caps only on certain, medium-sized growing licenses. In some cases, companies have acquired dozens of growing licenses, which can be operated on the same or adjoining parcels. The growers association is suing to block those rules, fearing they will open the way for vast farms that will drive out smaller cultivators.

Beau Whitney, senior economist at national cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data, said he’s seeing California prices fall.

In contrast, Washington knew oversupply could draw federal attention and was more conservative about licensing. As the market matured, its regulators eased growing limits, but the state never experienced an oversupply crisis.

Colorado has no caps on licenses, but strict rules designed to limit oversupply allow the state to curtail a growers’ farm size based on past crop yields, existing inventory, sales deals and other factors.

Chain stores

In Oregon, cannabis retail chains are emerging to take advantage of the shake-up.

A company called Nectar has 13 stores around the state, with three more on tap, and says on its website it is buying up for-sale dispensaries too. Canada-based Golden Leaf Holdings bought the successful Oregon startup Chalice and has six stores around Portland, with another slated to open.

William Simpson, Chalice’s founder and Golden Leaf Holdings CEO, is expanding into Northern California, Nevada and Canada. Simpson welcomes criticism that he’s dumbing down cannabis the same way Starbucks brought coffee to a mass market.

“If you take Chalice like Starbucks, it’s a known quantity, it’s a brand that people know and trust,” he said.

Amy Margolis, executive director of the Oregon Cannabis Association, says that capping licenses would only spur even more consolidation in the long-term. The state is currently working on a study that should provide data and more insight into what lies ahead.

“I don’t think that everything in this state is motivated by struggle and failure,” she said. “I’m very interested to see … how this market settles itself and (in) being able to do that from a little less of a reactionary place.”

​Craft growers

For now, Oregon’s smaller marijuana businesses are trying to stay afloat.

A newly formed group will launch an ad campaign this fall to tell Oregonians why they should pay more for mom-and-pop cannabis. Adam Smith, who founded the Oregon Craft Cannabis Alliance, believes 70 percent of Oregon’s small growers and retailers will go out of business if consumers don’t respond.

“We could turn around in three to four years and realize that 10 to 12 major companies own a majority of the Oregon industry and that none of it is really based here anymore,” he said. “The Oregon brand is really all about authenticity. It’s about people with their hands in the dirt, making something they love as well as they can. How do we save that?”

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Doctors Race to Vaccinate 1,000 People in Congo Against Ebola

Health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are racing against time to contain an outbreak of Ebola. So far, the World Health Organization reports at least 25 people have died out of the 58 people who have gotten the virus. VOA’s Carol Pearson reports that efforts to vaccinate people exposed to Ebola started more than 10 days ago.

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New Delhi Peace House Fosters Tolerance, Peaceful Coexistence

In an attempt to bridge the gap of understanding between different Indian communities, a house in the Indian capital of New Delhi is trying to foster the message of tolerance and peaceful coexistence in a unique manner. The house gives people from different religions and communities the chance to live together as a family for up to six months as a way to promote understanding. VOA’s Ritul Joshi reports from New Delhi.

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Gravity Could Be Source of Sustainable Energy

In today’s energy-hungry world, scientists are constantly revisiting every renewable resource looking for ways to increase efficiency. One researcher in the Netherlands believes even gravity can be harnessed to produce free electricity on a scale sufficient to power small appliances. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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Trump Planning Tariffs on European Steel, Aluminum

President Donald Trump’s administration is planning to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminum imports after failing to win concessions from the European Union, a move that could provoke retaliatory tariffs and inflame trans-Atlantic trade tensions.

The tariffs are likely to go into effect on the EU with an announcement by Friday’s deadline, according to two people familiar with the discussions. The administration’s plans could change if the two sides are able to reach a last-minute agreement, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Trump announced in March the United States would slap a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum, citing national security interests. But he granted an exemption to the EU and other U.S. allies; that reprieve expires Friday.

​Europe bracing

Europe has been bracing for the U.S. to place the restrictions even as top European officials have held last-ditch talks in Paris with American trade officials to try to avert the tariffs.

“Realistically, I do not think we can hope” to avoid either U.S. tariffs or quotas on steel and aluminum, said Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Union’s trade commissioner. Even if the U.S. were to agree to waive the tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, Malmstrom said, “I expect them nonetheless to want to impose some sort of cap on EU exports.”

European officials said they expected the U.S. to announce its final decision Thursday. The people familiar with the talks said Trump could make an announcement as early as Thursday.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross attended meetings at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris on Wednesday, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer joins discussions in Paris on Thursday.

The U.S. plan has raised the threat of retaliation from Europe and fears of a global trade war — a prospect that is weighing on investor confidence and could hinder the global economic upturn.

If the U.S. moves forward with its tariffs, the EU has threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. orange juice, peanut butter and other goods in return. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire pledged that the European response would be “united and firm.”

Limits on cars

Besides the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs, the Trump administration is also investigating possible limits on foreign cars in the name of national security.

“Unilateral responses and threats over trade war will solve nothing of the serious imbalances in the world trade. Nothing,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in an impassioned speech at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris.

In a clear reference to Trump, Macron added: “These solutions might bring symbolic satisfaction in the short term. … One can think about making voters happy by saying, ‘I have a victory, I’ll change the rules, you’ll see.’”

But Macron said those “who waged bilateral trade wars … saw an increase in prices and an increase in unemployment.”

Tariffs on steel imports to the U.S. can help local producers of the metal by making foreign products more expensive. But they can also increase costs more broadly for U.S. manufacturers who cannot source all their steel locally and need to import the raw material. That hurts the companies and can lead to more expensive consumer prices, economists say.

Ross criticized the EU for its tough negotiating position.

“There can be negotiations with or without tariffs in place. There are plenty of tariffs the EU has on us. It’s not that we can’t talk just because there’s tariffs,” he said. He noted that “China has not used that as an excuse not to negotiate.”

But German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier insisted the Europeans were being “constructive” and were ready to negotiate special trade arrangements, notably for liquefied natural gas and industrial goods, including cars.

WTO reforms

Macron also proposed to start negotiations between the U.S., the EU, China and Japan to reshape the World Trade Organization to better regulate trade. Discussions could then be expanded to include other countries to agree on changes by the end of the year.

Ross expressed concern that the Geneva-based World Trade Organization and other organizations are too rigid and slow to adapt to changes in global business.

“We would operate within (multilateral) frameworks if we were convinced that people would move quickly,” he said.

Ross and Lighthizer seemed like the odd men out at this week’s gathering at the OECD, an international economic agency that includes the U.S. as a prominent member.

The agency issued a report Wednesday saying “the threat of trade restrictions has begun to adversely affect confidence” and tariffs “would negatively influence investment and jobs.”

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41 Advance to Spelling Bee Finals

This year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee drew the largest number of competitors in its history, 516. But the field is far smaller, as only 41 spellers advance to the finals Thursday. 

The finalists were announced Wednesday after two days of onstage spelling during which nearly 200 spellers were eliminated for getting words wrong. Scores on a written spelling and vocabulary test determined who advanced to the finals.

“There were no perfect scores on the test,” spelling bee Executive Director Paige Kimble says, “We thought it was an easy test. We were wrong.”

“They made it hard on purpose” said Jacob Williamson, a former competitor who is coaching five spellers this year. 

But that didn’t seem to shake the confidence of those who have traversed the road before.

“It was fine, actually. I didn’t expect it to be fine,” said Erin Howard, 13, of Huntsville, Alabama. “I think at worst I missed five.”

According to Scripps, 113 of the spellers this year had previous national finals experience and 45 have relatives who are former competitors, including Atman Balakrishnan, from Chicago, whose father Balu Natrajan was the winner in 1985, and the first Indian-American to take the title. 

The top scorers this year are Shruthika Padhy, Aisha Randhawa and Karthik Nemmani. 

Shruthika came into the bee as one of the favorites, having finished in seventh place last year.

The past 13 champions and 18 of the last 22 have been Indian-American.

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