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Chinese Supplements Supplier Sentenced for Fraud

A Chinese national has been sentenced to 18 months in a U.S. prison in connection with a scheme to sell mislabeled dietary supplements to U.S. companies. 

Xu Jia Bao, an executive with Shanghai Waseta International Trade Co., was also sentenced to one year of probation for selling synthetic stimulant ingredients to a purported U.S. manufacturer of dietary supplements.  The U.S. company was, in fact, an undercover informant for the U.S. government. 

The prosecutors said Xu admitted that he and other executives at Waseta knew major American retailers would not carry supplements known to contain certain stimulants, such as DMHA. Xu also admitted that he and Waseta were responsible for a falsely labeled shipment of DMHA that was sent to Texas.

“Consumers are entitled to trust that dietary supplement products accurately identify their ingredients,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “We will vigorously pursue and prosecute those who attempt to circumvent.” 

Xu was arrested in September 2017 while attending a dietary supplement trade show in Las Vegas.

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Trump Renews Attack Alleging Social Media’s Political Bias

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday accused social media platforms Facebook, YouTube and Twitter of favoring his Democratic opponents over him and his fellow Republicans.

“But fear not, we will win anyway, just like we did before! #MAGA,” he said in a tweet. MAGA refers to Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Facebook and Twitter declined to comment. Alphabet’s Google, which owns YouTube, did not immediately comment.

The president and other conservatives have repeatedly complained that these big tech platforms treat them unfairly.

Trump has previously accused Twitter of restricting the visibility of prominent U.S. Republicans, without any providing evidence, and the avid social media user has promised to investigate the company’s practices.

Trump and other conservatives say Twitter targets fellow Republicans with a practice dubbed “shadow banning,” limiting the visibility of a Twitter user, including in the platform’s auto-populated dropdown search box.

Representative Devin Nunes of California has sued Twitter over the alleged practice, according to court documents.

Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey has said that algorithms have been changed to fix that issue.

The Justice Department held a meeting last fall between federal officials and state attorneys general to discuss allegations that conservative ideas are suppressed online, but so far no concrete action has been taken as a result.

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High-Stakes Boeing Inquiry Hinges on Ethiopia Black Box Secrets

The investigation into the final minutes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 turned on Tuesday to the secrets in the cockpit voice recorder as Boeing and a shaken global aviation industry hung on the outcome.

The voices of Captain Yared Getachew and First Officer Ahmednur Mohammed could reveal what led to the March 10 crash of the Boeing 737 MAX that has worrying parallels with another disaster involving the same model off Indonesia in October.

The twin disasters killed 346 people.

Black box data was downloaded in France but only Ethiopian experts leading the probe have heard the dialogue between Getachew, 29, and Mohammed, 25. The data was back in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, sources familiar with the probe told Reuters.

Experts believe a new automated system in Boeing’s flagship MAX fleet — intended to stop stalling by dipping the nose — may have played a role in both crashes, with pilots unable to override it as their jets plunged downwards.

Both came down just minutes after take-off after erratic flight patterns and loss of control reported by the pilots.

However, every accident is a unique chain of human and technical factors, experts say.

The prestige of Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa’s most successful companies, and Boeing, the world’s biggest planemaker and a massive U.S. exporter, is at stake.

Awkward questions for industry

Lawmakers and safety experts are questioning how thoroughly regulators vetted the MAX model and how well pilots were trained on new features. For now, regulators have grounded the existing fleet of more than 300 MAX aircraft and deliveries of nearly

5,000 more — worth well over $500 billion — are on hold.

Pressure on the Chicago-headquartered company has grown with news that federal prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Transportation are scrutinizing how carefully the MAX model was developed, two people briefed on the matter said.

The U.S. Justice Department was looking at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of Boeing, one of the people said. And a federal grand jury last week issued at least one subpoena to an entity involved in the plane’s development. The rest of the world is watching anxiously.

The European Union’s aviation agency EASA promised its own deep look at Boeing’s software updates and failure modes.

“We will not allow the aircraft to fly if we have not found acceptable answers to all our questions,” its executive director Patrick Ky told an EU parliament committee hearing.

“Whatever the FAA does. OK? This is a personal guarantee that I make in front of you.”

Canada said it would independently certify the MAX in future, rather than accepting FAA validation, and would also send a team to help U.S. authorities evaluate proposed design changes.

In the hope of getting its MAX line back into the air soon, Boeing said it will roll out a software update and revise pilot training. In the case of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, it has raised questions about whether crew used the correct procedures.

The MAX, which offers cost savings of about 15 percent on fuel, was developed for service from 2017 after the successful launch by its main rival of the Airbus A320neo.

Argus Research cut Boeing stock to “hold” from “buy”, giving the planemaker at least its fourth downgrade since the crash, Refinitiv data showed. Its shares, however, were enjoying a rare respite on Tuesday, up 1.6 pct to $378 and cutting losses since the crash to under 11 pct.

Global ramifications

In the hot seat over its certification of the MAX without demanding additional training and its closeness to Boeing, the FAA has said it is “absolutely” confident in its vetting.

The crisis has put pressure on airline companies.

Norwegian Airlines has already said it will seek compensation after grounding its MAX aircraft.

Various firms are reconsidering Boeing orders, and some are revising financial forecasts given they now cannot count on maintenance and fuel savings factored in from the MAX.

Illustrating the hoops airlines were jumping through, Air Canada said it intends to keep its MAX aircraft grounded until at least July 1, would accelerate intake of recently acquired Airbus A321 planes, and had hired other carriers to provide extra capacity meantime.

Beyond the corporate ramifications, anguished relatives are still waiting to find out what happened.

Many have visited the crash site in a charred field to seek some closure, but there is anger at the slow pace of information and all they have been given for funerals is earth.

“I’m just so terribly sad. I had to leave here without the body of my dead brother,” said Abdulmajid Shariff, a Yemeni relative who headed home disappointed on Tuesday.

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NY Mulls Medication-assisted Opioid Treatment in All Lockups

Laura Levine says she never smoked a cigarette or touched a drink until age 35. Then the mother of five tried heroin, and she was hooked.

After some brushes with the law — petty larceny to support her habit — she was booked into Nassau County jail and withdrawal started kicking in. As the nausea, shaking and sweating grew worse, she began pleading with guards for help.

“They kind of laughed and said, ‘You’ll be fine. Nobody dies from heroin withdrawal,’” said Levine, who is in recovery and now works to help others struggling with opioids. “I would rather give birth to all five of my children again without medication than go through withdrawal again.”

More help for people like Levine could be on the way, as lawmakers in New York are considering a measure to make medication-assisted treatment such as methadone or suboxone available to all prison and jail inmates struggling with opioid addiction.

States across the country are considering similar approaches amid research that shows that the drugs along with behavior therapy can help addicts reduce the withdrawal symptoms and cravings that drive many addicts to relapse.

Federal statistics suggest more than half of all inmates in state prisons nationwide have a substance- abuse problem. New York officials say that percentage could be as high as 80 percent in state and local lockups, which at any given time have about 77,000 inmates.

Drug policy experts point to the success of a similar program in Rhode Island, which has seen a sharp drop in the number of former inmates who died of overdoses, from 26 in 2016 to nine last year.

Other successes have been reported in local jails in Louisville, Kentucky; Sacramento, California and in Massachusetts.

“It makes no sense that people who have a public health issue don’t have access to medicine,” said Jasmine Budnella, drug policy coordinator at VOCAL-NY, a group that advocates on behalf of low-income New Yorkers on such issues as criminal justice, drug policy and homelessness. “In the U.S., we talk about human rights but we are literally torturing these people.”

Two years ago, 24-year-old Matt Herring died of a drug overdose after years of struggling with addiction and bouncing in and out of correctional facilities. His mother, Patricia Herring, said Matt once tried to smuggle suboxone into jail in order to avoid the horrors of withdrawal. Guards found the medication and took it away.

Patricia Herring has now become a self-described “mom on a mission” to push for greater resources for addiction treatment in correctional facilities.

“If he had been given medication-assisted treatment when he entered, I don’t know, maybe things would have been different,” she said.

With no organized opposition, the debate over supporting medication-assisted treatment in correctional settings comes down to dollars and cents. Some counties have paid for programs in their jails; others have not. A total of six state and local lockups in the New York City area, for example, have limited drug-assistance programs for opioid addicts.

Albany County became the first county in the state outside of New York City to offer medication-assisted treatment. Sheriff Craig Apple said he’s become a believer.

“It took me a while to get on board with this, but we’re already seeing early success,” he said.

A state budget proposal from Democratic Gov. Andrew would spend $3.75 million to expand access in county jails, and use more than $1 million to expand its use in state prisons. Democratic leaders of the state Legislature have called for more, and advocates say they want to see at least $7 million in the annual budget.

A decision is expected before April 1, when the new budget is due.

“Addiction is a disease,” said New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who is sponsoring the drug-treatment legislation. “We should treat it like a disease.”

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Warner Bros.’ Chief Tsujihara Steps Down Following Scandal

Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsujihara, one of the highest ranking Hollywood executives to be felled by sexual misconduct allegations, stepped down from the studio Monday following claims that he promised roles to an actress with whom he was having an affair.

WarnerMedia chief executive John Stankey announced Tsujihara’s exit as chairman and chief executive of Warner Bros., saying his departure was in the studio’s “best interest.”

 

“Kevin has contributed greatly to the studio’s success over the past 25 years and for that we thank him,” said Stankey. “Kevin acknowledges that his mistakes are inconsistent with the company’s leadership expectations and could impact the company’s ability to execute going forward.”

 

Earlier this month, WarnerMedia launched an investigation after a March 6 Hollywood Reporter story detailed text messages between Tsujihara and British actress Charlotte Kirk going back to 2013. The messages suggested a quid pro quo sexual relationship between the aspiring actress and the studio head in which he made promises that he’d introduce her to influential executives and she’d be considered for roles in movies and television.

 

In a memo to Warner Bros. staff on Monday, Tsujihara said he was departing “after lengthy introspection, and discussions with John Stankey over the past week.”

 

“It has become clear that my continued leadership could be a distraction and an obstacle to the company’s continued success,” said Tsujihara. “The hard work of everyone within our organization is truly admirable, and I won’t let media attention on my past detract from all the great work the team is doing.”

 

Tsujihara’s attorney, Bert H. Deixler, earlier stated that Tsujihara “had no direct role in the hiring of this actress.” He declined further comment Monday.

 

Tsujihara, who has headed the Burbank, California, studio since 2013, earlier pledged to fully cooperate with the studio’s investigation and apologized to Warner Bros. staff for “mistakes in my personal life that have caused pain and embarrassment to the people I love the most.”

 

The scandal unfolded just as Warner Bros. was restructuring on the heels of AT&T’s takeover of WarnerMedia, previously known as Time Warner. Tsujihara’s role had just been expanded on Feb. 28 to include global kids and family entertainment including oversight of Adult Swim and the Cartoon Network.

Kirk appeared in Warner Bros.’ “How to Be Single” in 2016 and “Ocean’s 8” in 2018. She has denied any inappropriate behavior on the part of Tsujihara or two other executives, Brett Ratner and James Packer, who she communicated with. “Mr. Tsujihara never promised me anything,” Kirk said in an earlier statement.

 

But the details of the leaked text messages between Tsujihara and Kirk immediately put his future at Warner Bros. in jeopardy. Kirk wrote in one 2015 message to him: “Are u going to help me like u said u would?” Tsujhara responded, “Richard will be reaching out to u tonight,” referring to Richard Brener, president of Warner Bros.’ New Line label.

 

Other exchanges suggested the kind of give-and-take of Hollywood’s “casting couch” culture. Kirk was introduced to Tsujihara by James Packer, the Australian billionaire. Warner Bros. was then finalizing a $450-million co-financing deal with Packer and Brett Ratner, the director-producer. In a message to Ratner, Kirk said she was “used as icing on the cake.”

 

WarnerMedia, the studio’s parent company, said Monday that its internal investigation into the situation, carried out by a third-party law firm, will continue.

 

Tsujihara’s exit follows other high-profile executive departures in the post-Harvey Weinstein (hash)MeToo era. CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves was pushed out after numerous women accused him of sexual harassment. Walt Disney Animation chief John Lasseter was ousted after he acknowledged missteps in his behavior with employees.

 

The 54-year-old Tsujihara, the first executive of Asian descent to head a major Hollywood studio, presided over a largely positive Warner Bros. era with little fanfare. A former home video and video game executive at the company, Tsujihara focused on franchise creation, some of which have worked, some of which haven’t.

 

After poor marks from fans and critics, the studio’s DC Comics films have recently been retooled and found their footing in hits like “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman.” Other franchises — like “The Lego Movie” and the “Harry Potter” spinoff “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” — have seen diminishing returns on their latest incarnations. The studio has also fostered its connection with filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”) and Bradley Cooper (whose “A Star Is Born” was Warner Bros.’ top Oscar contender). Warner Bros. last year amassed $5.6 billion in global ticket sales, its best haul ever.

 

The studio will now begin a search for a new chief as it also prepares to launch a streaming service designed to compete with Netflix.

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AP Source: Justice Dept. Probing Development of Boeing Jets

U.S. prosecutors are looking into the development of Boeing’s 737 Max jets, a person briefed on the matter revealed Monday, the same day French aviation investigators concluded there were “clear similarities” in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 last week and a Lion Air jet in October.

 

The Justice Department probe will examine the way Boeing was regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the inquiry is not public.

 

A federal grand jury in Washington sent a subpoena to someone involved in the plane’s development seeking emails, messages and other communications, the person told The Associated Press.

 

The Transportation Department’s inspector general is also looking into the FAA’s approval of the Boeing 737 Max, a U.S. official told AP. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The Wall Street Journal reported on the probe Sunday said the inspector general was looking into the plane’s anti-stall system. It quotes unidentified people familiar with both cases.

 

The anti-stall system may have been involved in the Oct. 29 crash of a Lion Air jet off of Indonesia that killed 189 people. It’s also under scrutiny in the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet that killed 157.

 

The Transportation Department’s FAA regulates Chicago-based Boeing and is responsible for certifying that planes can fly safely.

 

The grand jury issued its subpoena on March 11, one day after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press.

 

Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the inspector general said Monday they could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any inquiries. The FAA would not comment.

 

“Boeing does not respond to or comment on questions concerning legal matters, whether internal, litigation, or governmental inquiries,” Boeing spokesman Charles Bickers said in an email.

 

The company late Monday issued an open letter from its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, addressed to airlines, passengers and the aviation community. Muilenburg did not refer to the reports of the Justice Department probe, but stressed his company is taking actions to ensure its 737 Max jets are safe.

 

Those include an upcoming release of a software update and related pilot training for the 737 Max to “address concerns” that arose in the aftermath of October’s Lion Air crash, Muilenburg said. The planes’ new flight-control software is suspected of playing a role in the crashes.

The French civil aviation investigation bureau BEA said Monday that black box data from the Ethiopian Airlines flight showed the links with the Lion Air crash and will be used for further study.

 

Ethiopian authorities asked BEA for help in extracting and interpreting the crashed plane’s black boxes because Ethiopia does not have the necessary expertise and technology.

The Ethiopian Accident Investigation Bureau intends to release a preliminary report within 30 days.

The United States and many other countries have grounded the Max 8s and larger Max 9s as Boeing faces the challenge of proving the jets are safe to fly amid suspicions that faulty sensors and software contributed to the two crashes in less than five months.

 

Both planes flew with erratic altitude changes that could indicate the pilots struggled to control the aircraft. Shortly after their takeoffs, both crews tried to return to the airports but crashed.

 

Boeing has said it has “full confidence” in the planes’ safety. Engineers are making changes to the system designed to prevent an aerodynamic stall if sensors detect that the jet’s nose is pointed too high and its speed is too slow.

 

Investigators looking into the Indonesian crash are examining whether the software automatically pushed the plane’s nose down repeatedly, and whether the Lion Air pilots knew how to solve that problem. Ethiopian Airlines says its pilots received special training on the software.

Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and a spokesman for their union, said Boeing held a discussion with airlines last Thursday but did not invite pilots at American or Southwest, the two U.S. carriers that use the same version of the Max that crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

 

Tajer said airline officials told the unions that Boeing intends to offer pilots about a 15-minute iPad course to train them on the new flight-control software on Max jets that is suspected of playing a role in the crashes. He called that amount of training unacceptable.

 

“Our sense is it’s a rush to comply — ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,'” Tajer said. “I’m in a rush to protect my passengers.”

 

A spokesman for the pilots’ union at Southwest Airlines also said Boeing representatives told that union they expected the upgrade to be ready the end of January.

 

The spokesman, Mike Trevino, said Boeing never followed up to explain why that deadline passed without an upgrade. Boeing was expected to submit a proposed fix to the FAA in early January.

 

 

 

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In Thai Election, New ‘War Room’ Polices Social Media

In Thailand’s election “war room,” authorities scroll through thousands of social media posts, looking for violations of laws restricting political parties’ campaigning on social media that activists say are among the most prohibitive in the world.

The monitors are on the look-out for posts that “spread lies, slander candidates, or use rude language,” all violations of the new electoral law, said Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission, who gave a Reuters team an exclusive tour of the facility.

When they find an offending post, on, for example, Facebook, they print it out, date-stamp it, and file it in a clear plastic folder, to be handed over to the Election Commission and submitted to Facebook for removal.

“When we order content to be removed, we’ll reach out to the platforms, and they are happy to cooperate with us and make these orders efficient,” Sawang said.

Sawang said the tough electoral laws governing social media for the March 24 election, the first since a 2014 military coup, are a necessary innovation aimed at preventing manipulation that has plagued other countries’ elections in recent years.

“Other countries don’t do this. Thailand is ahead of the curve with regulating social media to ensure orderly campaigning and to protect candidates,” he said.

A Facebook representative said it reviewed requests from governments on a case-by-case basis.

“We have a government request process, which is no different in Thailand than the rest of the world,” the representative said.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Democracy advocates, worry the social media restrictions laid out by the military government may be impeding parties from freely campaigning.

The rules require that candidates and parties register social media handles and submit a post to the commission, stating what platform it will appear on and for how long.

Parties and candidates are only allowed to discuss policies, and posts that are judged to be misleading voters or that portray others negatively could see the party disqualified, or a candidate jailed for up to 10 years and banned from politics for 20.

Pongsak Chan-on, coordinator of the Bangkok-based Asia Network for Free and Fair Election (ANFREL), said the rules go far beyond combating “fake news” and raise questions about how free and fair the election will be.

“The rules are stricter than in any recent elections anywhere. They’re so detailed and strict that parties are obstructed,” he told Reuters.

‘Doesn’t Bode Well for Democracy’

The monitoring center, with a signboard reading “E-War Room,” has three rows of computers and stacks of printouts, with half a dozen workers spending eight hours a day searching for violations of the law.

Sawang said another intelligence center scanned for violations 24 hours a day but it was “off-limits” to media.

The election is broadly seen as a race between the military-backed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, and parties that want the military out of politics.

But the stringent rules have left anti-junta parties fretting about how to campaign online, nervous that they could inadvertently break a rule that triggers disqualification.

Up to now, the new rules have not been used to disqualify any candidates though the very threat has had a dampening effect and encouraged self-censorship.

“They create complications for parties,” said Pannika Wanich, spokeswoman for the new Future Forward Party, which has attracted support among young urban folk who have come of age on social media.

She said her party had to consult a legal team before making posts.

Some candidates have deactivated their Facebook pages while others have removed posts that might cause trouble.

Last month, Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit faced disqualification over an allegation that he misled voters in his biography on the party’s website. The commission dismissed the case last week.

In another petition, the commission was asked to ban the party’s secretary-general for slandering the junta in a Facebook post.

“It’s very restrictive and doesn’t bode well for democracy,” said Tom Villarin, a Philippine congressman and member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). “Putting more restrictions on social media during a campaign season defeats the purpose of holding elections in the first place.”

Fighting Fake News

About 74 percent of Thailand’s population of 69 million are active social media users, putting Thais among the world’s top 10 users, according to a 2018 survey by Hootsuite and We Are Social.

Thailand is Facebook’s eighth biggest market with 51 million users, the survey showed.

Facebook said it has teams with Thai-language speakers to monitor posts and restricts electoral advertisements from outside the country.

“Combating false news is crucial to the integrity and safety of the Thailand elections,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s Global Politics and Government director, during a Bangkok visit in January.

Sawang said the election commission has also gained cooperation from Twitter and Japanese messaging app Line, used by 45 million Thais.

Line Thailand told Reuters it did not monitor chats for the election commission but helped limit fake news by showing only articles from “trusted publishers” on its news feature.

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S. Korea Alert System Warns ‘Smartphone Zombies’ of Traffic

A city in South Korea, which has the world’s highest smartphone penetration rate, has installed flickering lights and laser beams at a road crossing to warn “smartphone zombies” to look up and drivers to slow down, in the hope of preventing accidents.

The designers of the system were prompted by growing worry that more pedestrians glued to their phones will become casualties in a country that already has some of the highest road fatality and injury rates among developed countries.

State-run Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT) believes its system of flickering lights at zebra crossings can warn both pedestrians and drivers.

In addition to red, yellow and blue LED lights on the pavement, “smombies” – smartphone zombies – will be warned by laser beam projected from power poles and an alert sent to the phones by an app that they are about to step into traffic.

“Increasing number of smombie accidents have occurred in pedestrian crossings, so these zombie lights are essential to prevent these pedestrian accidents,” said KICT senior researcher Kim Jong-hoon.

The multi-dimensional warning system is operated by radar sensors and thermal cameras and comes with a price tag of 15 million won ($13,250) per crossing.

Drivers are alerted by the flashing lights, which have shown to be effective 83.4 percent of the time in the institute’s tests involving about 1,000 vehicles.

In 2017, more than 1,600 pedestrians were killed in auto related accidents, which is about 40 percent of total traffic fatalities, according to data from the Traffic Accident Analysis System.

South Korea has the world’s highest smartphone penetration rate, according to Pew Research Center, with about 94 percent of adults owning the devices in 2017, compared with 77 percent in the United States and 59 percent in Japan.

For now, the smombie warning system is installed only in Ilsan, a suburban city about 30 km northwest of the capital, Seoul, but is expected to go nationwide, according to the institute.

Kim Dan-hee, a 23-year-old resident of Ilsan, welcomed the system, saying she was often too engrossed in her phone to remember to look at traffic.

“This flickering light makes me feel safe as it makes me look around again, and I hope that we can have more of these in town,” she said.

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