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- 12/30/18--10:03: _Military women, fem...
- 12/30/18--10:27: _Emails reveal how O...
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- 12/30/18--13:48: _AP poll shows high ...
- 12/30/18--17:12: _Emails reveal how O...
- 12/30/18--21:45: _AP Poll: Veterans' ...
- 12/31/18--01:38: _10 things in tech y...
- 12/31/18--06:16: _As the new year beg...
- 12/31/18--12:08: _Green Growth Brands...
- 12/31/18--12:38: _Connor Barwin frust...
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- 12/31/18--01:38: 10 things in tech you need to know today
- 12/31/18--12:08: Green Growth Brands Reaffirms Commitment to Takeover Aphria Inc.
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It had been months since retired Lt. Cmdr. Michele Fitzpatrick paid attention to news coverage. She was turned off by...
Reported by Deseret News 5 hours ago.
Newly released documents offer a glimpse into how high-level government officials grappled to respond to the revelation that Veterans Affairs was funding the PTSD treatment of a Halifax man convicted of killing an off-duty police officer.
Reported by CTV News 5 hours ago.
Thousands of pounds have been raised for a PTSD charity in memory of Detective Inspector Terry Hopkins
Reported by Wales Online 4 hours ago.
Nearly 6 in 10 military veterans voted for Republican candidates in the November midterm elections, and a similar majority...
Reported by Deseret News 1 hour ago.
Newly released documents offer a glimpse into how high-level government officials grappled to respond to the revelation that Veterans Affairs was funding the PTSD treatment of a Halifax man convicted of killing an off-duty police officer.
Reported by CBC.ca 6 hours ago.
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Good morning! This is the tech news you need to know this Monday.
1. *Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel and wife Miranda Kerr only allow their seven-year-old child to have 1.5 hours of screen time per week.* In an interview with the Financial Times, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel also said that he wasn't allowed to watch TV while growing up.
2. *China has ended its freeze on licensing video games.* China has approved 80 new video game titles after a nine-month freeze.
3. *Documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux was among those targeted by a Twitter hack perpetrated by a security company to expose a security flaw.* British cybersecurity company Insinia was able to post tweets on other people's accounts, The Guardian reports.
4. *A startup may have found a way to build longer lasting, less expensive lithium batteries for electric cars.* 24M launched in 2010, and in an interview last week, its chief executive said it's working to deliver its first products by 2020, according to the MIT Tech Report.
5. *A clinic is using a $3 million grant from the US Department of Defense to develop a treatment for PTSD using VR.* The clinic specialises in treating emergency services workers and veterans.
6. *Players who have been barred for cheating in videogame "Fallout 76" are being told to write an essay to reclaim their account.* Players accused of cheating by Bethesda, the game's developer, received an email from the company saying that to appeal their ban, they would need to write an essay explaining why "cheat software" is detrimental to online games.
7. *A judge dismissed a suit against Google over the use of its facial recognition software.* A woman filed the suit in 2016 and accused Google of taking her biometric data without informed consent.
8. *Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is on the right track in fixing its problems, and people are watching 50 million fewer hours of viral videos a day.* Zuckerberg wrote in a post on Friday that he's "proud of the progress we've made."
9. *Instagram accidentally released an update last week that removed scrolling and replaced it with a horizontal feed, resulting in a backlash from users.* Instagram said it didn't mean to roll the update out as widely as it did, and that it was only intended as "a very small test."
10. *Amazon's Alexa suffered outages on Christmas Day in Europe as people around the world started using their new Echos.* The connection issues lasted a few hours but were ultimately corrected by Amazon.
Have an Amazon Alexa device? Now you can hear 10 Things in Tech each morning. Just search for "Business Insider" in your Alexa's flash briefing settings.
Join the conversation about this story »
NOW WATCH: The true story behind the name 'Black Friday' is much darker than you may have thought Reported by Business Insider 18 hours ago.
The Australian is typically a time of hope for most players, but for a few veterans, it could be the venue for more setbacks.
Reported by ESPN 14 hours ago.
· Welcomes early expressions of interest from a growing number of frustrated Aphria shareholders who want a way out of a failed investment
· Offer valued at C$11.00 per Aphria share represents significant and compelling premiums of 45.5% over Aphria’s closing price on the Toronto Stock Exchange (the “TSX”) on December 24, 2018 and 46.0% over Aphria’s volume weighted average price on the TSX for the last 10 trading days ended December 24, 2018
· Aphria shareholders will maintain control of the pro forma entity, with ~60% ownership
COLUMBUS, Ohio, Dec. 31, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Green Growth Brands Inc. (“Green Growth”) (CSE: GGB) reaffirms its commitment to launch an offer (the “Offer”) to purchase all of the issued and outstanding common shares of Aphria Inc. (“*Aphria*”) (TSX: APHA and* **NYSE: APHA*) which it does not already own and welcomes early expressions of interest from Aphria shareholders who are frustrated with Aphria’s performance and absence of compelling future plans for the company.
“Since we announced our intention to launch the takeover of Aphria we have seen two things. First, Aphria shareholders are welcoming a 45%+ premium offer because they understand the significant value that can be unleashed by our combined teams, assets and geographies. Second, a real interest in the market to understand Green Growth and our valuation,” said Peter Horvath, CEO of Green Growth. “When investors consider our trailing revenue, recent license wins in Nevada, and a buildout in the new market of Massachusetts they agree that it is not a question of if Green Growth reaches C$7.00 per share, but when. We understand that there are some in the market who want to focus on destroying value at Aphria, but we are committed to creating it.”
*Why Green Growth and Aphria are the Right Match*
By acquiring Aphria, Green Growth represents a way for shareholders of Aphria to participate in the much larger U.S. market, with significantly greater long-term sales potential. The combination of the two companies will create an unparalleled North American player with operations on both sides of the border, combining Aphria’s Canadian supply and wholesale agreements with Green Growth’s vertically integrated operations including cultivation, manufacturing and retail. The combination also marries the talent of Aphria’s veterans in the greenhouse industry and pharmaceutical operations with Green Growth’s team of retail experts from well-known retailers including Designer Shoe Warehouse Inc. and L Brands Inc. (Victoria’s Secret). Together the combined company will be the largest U.S. operator by market capitalization and the only North American cannabis operator.
*Green Growth’s Record of Success and Why a C$7.00 Valuation Makes Sense *
Green Growth has a strong track record of success, doing in months what has taken other cannabis companies years to achieve. Green Growth has a current fully-diluted^1 market capitalization of over C$1.1 billion.
Management believes that the additional value creation from recent announcements and near-term business initiatives expected to be executed shortly have not yet been reflected in its share price and has confidence in a minimum C$7.00 per share valuation for the following reasons:
1. Green Growth has raised more than C$150 million in capital since inception and, in late 2018, went public by way of a reverse takeover. Today, Green Growth owns, operates and/or licenses two premier retail cannabis stores under the banner “The+Source”^2 as well as a cultivation and processing facility, all of which are located in Las Vegas, Nevada. The cultivation and processing facility comprises 12,000 sq. ft. and has a potential annual capacity of ~1,600 kg. Additionally, Green Growth, subject to regulatory approval, has an irrevocable purchase agreement to acquire a cultivation facility in Pahrump, Nevada. The Pahrump facility will be producing product in the near future.
2. Green Growth was recently awarded seven additional licenses in Nevada for retail dispensaries, which, together with its current operations and the Pahrump facility, are expected to generate total revenue of ~C$275 million by 2020.
3. Green Growth has a first-to-market cannabidiol (CBD) business.
4. Green Growth recently announced the acquisition of Just Healthy LLC, which holds provisional certificates of registration for a registered medical marijuana dispensary in Northampton, Massachusetts, and a cultivation and processing site, also located in Northampton. The license allows for up to three total medical dispensaries. Just Healthy LLC is expected to generate an incremental ~C$130 million in revenue by 2020.
5. Green Growth has an extensive pipeline of value-creating initiatives and strategic partnerships, including working with six different large developers who represent a vast network of malls in the U.S., to launch over 450 mall kiosks in prime locations. Moreover, to illustrate confidence in the value of the C$7.00 consideration under the Offer, Green Growth expects to complete a concurrent brokered financing of C$300 million at that same per share price, with Green Growth insiders committing to backstop the entire financing.
At a C$7.00 per share valuation, Green Growth would have a fully-diluted^3 total enterprise value of ~C$1.6 billion. Based solely on Green Growth’s current Nevada operations, the Pahrump facility, and Just Healthy LLC, Green Growth would trade at an implied 12x TEV/2020E EBITDA, which is a discount of over 50% to current large cannabis peer multiples. Furthermore, factoring in the value creation from its near-term business initiatives expected to be executed shortly (including mall kiosks, e-commerce, and wholesale), Green Growth would trade materially below the 12x TEV/2020E EBITDA.
Aphria shareholders will continue to maintain control of the pro forma entity, with ~60% ownership. Green Growth shareholders will have a ~34% ownership interest, with subscribers to the C$300 million financing holding a ~6% ownership interest.
*Green Growth is Not a Related Party to Aphria*
To our knowledge, Aphria does not own any shares of Green Growth, nor do any of Aphria’s directors sit on Green Growth’s board. As those who participate in the small, yet growing, cannabis industry know, there are many overlapping informal relationships between participants. Any informal relationships that may exist are separate from Green Growth’s business decisions and Green Growth has no related party influence with Aphria, nor does Aphria have a related party influence over Green Growth.
For further clarity, Aphria’s CEO, Vic Neufeld, who is listed as one of many advisors to Green Acre Capital through its Green Acre Opportunity Corp. fund has no influence over Green Growth. Green Acre has invested in multiple cannabis entities and many are considered competitors to Aphria. There is nothing noteworthy about Green Acre investing in another up-and-coming cannabis entity, regardless of overlap in a small, emerging industry.
The clearest evidence for lack of influence in Green Growth’s acquisition of Aphria is the fact Aphria’s board has refused to engage and rejected Green Growth’s premium offer thus making a transaction much more difficult and expensive to achieve.
*Misinformation from Self-Interested Market Participants Does Not Change the Merits of the Premium Offer *
Certain market participants have spread misinformation related to Green Growth with the objective of destroying value in Aphria. This misinformation was generated by comments from those with a stated short position in Aphria and whose trade will be impeded by Green Growth’s premium offer. Shareholders should be aware of the facts related to a number of incorrect statements made. Specifically:
· Green Growth has confirmed the Schottenstein family does not own Aphria shares. The Schottensteins applied for a cultivation, processing and dispensary license with an affiliate of Aphria, Liberty Health Sciences, in the state of Ohio. The venture was awarded a processing and dispensary provisional license in Ohio. At such time that state law permits transfers, the JV will be dissolved. Subsequent to making the application in Ohio, Aphria divested its interest in Liberty Health Sciences.
· Shawn Dym is not a director on Green Growth’s board.
*Green Growth Will Launch its Offer for Aphria*
Green Growth has been willing to work with Aphria’s board to find ways to enhance value for shareholders of both companies. Green Growth is confident in the certainty of a C$300 million financing at C$7.00 per share. Over 10% of Aphria’s shareholders have already indicated their support of the Offer. Aphria’s board has two options: Engage with Green Growth as a serious buyer to create real value or continue their endless analysis which will result in the destruction of shareholder value.
We look forward to continued direct engagement with Aphria’s shareholders as we work together to build the leading cannabis company in the world.
Questions? Need more help? Aphria shareholders should contact Kingsdale Advisors, the information agent and depositary for the Offer, at 1-866-851-3214 (North American Toll-Free Number) or +1-416-867-2272 (Outside North America) or via email at email@example.com.
*Intention to Make an Offer*
Full details of the Offer are expected to be set out in the formal Offer and take-over bid circular which is expected to be mailed to Aphria shareholders, a copy of which is expected to be available at www.sedar.com under Aphria’s profile. Green Growth expects to formally commence the Offer and mail the Offer and take-over bid circular to Aphria shareholders in the coming weeks.
*Readers are cautioned that Green Growth may determine not to make the Offer if (i) Aphria implements or attempts to implement defensive tactics in relation to the Offer, (ii) Green Growth uncovers or its contemplated funding sources uncover or otherwise identify information suggesting that the business, affairs, prospects or assets of Aphria have been impaired or uncovers or otherwise identifies other undisclosed material adverse information concerning Aphria or (iii) Aphria determines to engage with Green Growth to negotiate the terms of a combination transaction and Aphria and Green Growth determine to undertake that transaction utilizing a structure other than a take-over bid such as a plan of arrangement. Accordingly, there can be no assurance that the Offer will be made or that the final terms of the Offer will be as set out in this news release. **In addition, the contemplated consummation of a concurrent brokered financing of C$300 million, at a price per share of C$7.00, and the contemplated backstop commitment in that regard, are subject to a variety of contingencies and conditions, including satisfactory completion of customary due diligence as to both Aphria and Green Growth, agreement on mutually agreeable definitive documentation, and other customary undertakings and conditions. No binding commitment of any kind has yet been made in this regard, and readers should not assume any such commitment will be made unless and until reflected in a binding instrument agreed by the contemplated funding sources, which cannot and should not be assumed or assured.*
The Offer will be undertaken in accordance with National Instrument 62-104 – Take-Over Bids and Issuer Bids and will be subject to a number of customary conditions, including: (i) there being deposited under the Offer, and not withdrawn, at least 66 2/3% of the outstanding Aphria Shares (calculated on a fully diluted basis), excluding Aphria Shares held by Green Growth; (ii) receipt of all governmental, regulatory, stock exchange and third party approvals that Green Growth considers necessary or desirable in connection with the Offer; (iii) there being no legal prohibition against Green Growth making the Offer or taking up and paying for the Aphria Shares; (iv) Aphria not having adopted or implemented a shareholder rights plan, disposed of any assets, incurred any material debts, implemented any changes in its capital structure or otherwise implemented or attempted to implement a defensive tactic; (v) no material adverse change having occurred in the business, affairs, prospects or assets of Aphria; (v) Green Growth not becoming aware of Aphria having made any untrue statement of a material fact or omitting to state a material fact that is required to be made to any securities regulatory authority; (vi) approval by the shareholders of Green Growth in accordance with the policies of the Canadian Securities Exchange; and (vii) the statutory minimum condition that 50% of the Aphria Shares having been tendered to the Offer, excluding Aphria Shares held by or over which control is exercised by Green Growth (which cannot be waived). If the Offer proceeds, Green Growth expects to call during the first quarter of 2019 a meeting of its shareholders to consider a resolution to approve the issuance of the Green Growth Shares in connection with the Offer. *Green Growth expects the Offer, when made, will remain open for an acceptance period of at least 105 days from the date of mailing its take-over bid circular. It is within the power of the Board of Directors of Aphria to significantly shorten this minimum bid period, allowing shareholders to receive the benefits of Green Growth’s offer in only 35 days. Shareholders of the Company are encouraged to contact Aphria and to urge management and the Board to allow Green Growth’s takeover bid to proceed in the minimum time frame allowed.*
Green Growth Brands has retained Canaccord Genuity as its financial advisor, Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP as its legal advisor, and Kingsdale Advisors as its strategic shareholder and communications advisor and depositary.
*About Green Growth Brands
*Green Growth brands expects to dominate the cannabis and CBD market with a portfolio of emotion-driven brands that people love. Led by renowned retailer Peter Horvath, the GGB team is full of retail renegades with decades of experience building successful brands. Join the movement at GreenGrowthBrands.com.
Executive Vice President, Communication Strategy
*Investor Contact: *
CEO, Green Growth Brands Inc.
*Cautionary Statement in Forward-Looking Information *
This press release contains certain statements and information which constitute “forward-looking information” within the meaning of applicable securities laws. Wherever possible, forward-looking information can be identified by the expressions "seeks", "expects", "believes", "estimates", "will", “plans”, “may”, “believes”, “anticipates,” "target" and similar expressions (or the negative of such expressions). The forward-looking statements are not historical facts, but reflect the current expectations of Green Growth regarding future results or events and are based on information currently available to it. The forward-looking events and circumstances discussed in this release include, but are not limited to, (i) the Offer, the terms of the Offer and the anticipated timing of commencement of the Offer, (ii) the benefit of the Offer to both Green Growth and the Company, including the creation of wealth and value and the synergies that may be created by the Offer, (iii) the C$300 financing, its timing and terms, (iv) expectations regarding the ownership, management, operation and size of Green Growth following completion of the Offer, (v) the future strategy and plans of Green Growth, including following the Offering, and (vi) the cannabis industry and regulatory environment. Certain material factors and assumptions were applied in providing this forward-looking information. All material assumptions used in making forward-looking statements are based on Green Growth’s knowledge of its business and the business of Aphria, and, in some cases, information supplied by third parties, including the public disclosure made by the Company. Certain material factors or assumptions include, but are not limited to, (i) the current business conditions and expectations of future business conditions and trends affecting Green Growth and Aphria, including the US and Canadian economy, the cannabis industry in Canada, the US and elsewhere, and capital markets, and (ii) that there have been no material changes in the business, affairs, capital, prospects or assets of the Company, except as publicly disclosed by the Company before the date hereof. All forward-looking statements in this press release are qualified by these cautionary statements. Green Growth believes that the expectations reflected in forward-looking statements are based upon reasonable assumptions; however, Green Growth can give no assurance that the actual results or developments will be realized by certain specified dates or at all. These forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results or events to vary materially from current expectations. In addition to risks noted elsewhere in this news release, material risks include, but are not limited to, (i) the risk that the Offer will not be commenced or that the conditions to the Offer will not be met, or met on a timely basis, or that the transaction will not be consummated for any other reason, (ii) changes in general economic conditions in Canada, the United States and elsewhere, (iii) changes in operating conditions (including changes in the regulatory environment) affecting the cannabis industry, (iv) fluctuations in currency and interest rates, availability materials and personnel, and (v) Green Growth’s ability to successfully integrate the operations of Green Growth and Aphria following completion of the Offer, including ability to retain key Aphria personnel and renegotiate certain contracts to obtain economies of scale or other synergies. Readers, therefore, should not place undue reliance on any such forward-looking information. Further, forward-looking information speaks only as of the date on which such statement is made. Green Growth undertakes no obligation to publicly update any such statement or to reflect new information or the occurrence of future events or circumstances except as required by securities laws. These forward-looking statements are made as of the date of this press release. Cautionary Statement Respecting the Proposed Offer
GREEN GROWTH HAS NOT YET COMMENCED THE OFFER NOTED ABOVE. UPON COMMENCEMENT OF THE OFFER, GREEN GROWTH WILL DELIVER THE TAKE-OVER BID CIRCULAR TO HOLDERS OF THE SHARES IN ACCORDANCE WITH APPLICABLE CANADIAN SECURITIES LAWS AND WILL FILE A TAKE-OVER BID CIRCULAR WITH THE SECURITIES COMMISSIONS IN EACH OF THE PROVINCES AND TERRITORIES OF CANADA. THE TAKE-OVER BID CIRCULAR WILL CONTAIN IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE OFFER AND SHOULD BE READ IN ITS ENTIRETY BY APHRIA’S SHAREHOLDERS. AFTER THE OFFER IS COMMENCED, APHRIA’S SHAREHOLDERS WILL BE ABLE TO OBTAIN, AT NO CHARGE, A COPY OF THE TAKE-OVER BID CIRCULAR AND VARIOUS ASSOCIATED DOCUMENTS UNDER APHRIA’S PROFILE ON THE SYSTEM FOR ELECTRONIC DOCUMENT ANALYSIS AND RETRIEVAL (SEDAR) AT WWW.SEDAR.COM. THIS ANNOUNCEMENT IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE OR FORM PART OF ANY OFFER TO BUY OR INVITATION TO SELL, OTHERWISE ACQUIRE, OR SUBSCRIBE FOR ANY SECURITY. THE OFFER WILL ONLY BE MADE PURSUANT TO A FORMAL OFFER AND TAKE-OVER BID CIRCULAR. THE OFFER WILL NOT BE MADE IN, NOR WILL DEPOSITS OF SECURITIES BE ACCEPTED FROM A PERSON IN, ANY JURISDICTION IN WHICH THE MAKING OR ACCEPTANCE THEREOF WOULD NOT BE IN COMPLIANCE WITH THE LAWS OF SUCH JURISDICTION. HOWEVER, GREEN GROWTH MAY, IN ITS SOLE DISCRETION, TAKE SUCH ACTION AS IT DEEMS NECESSARY TO EXTEND THE OFFER IN ANY SUCH JURISDICTION*. *
*Additional Information for U.S. Investors*
This communication does not constitute an offer to buy or solicitation of an offer to sell any securities. This communication relates to a potential transaction with Aphria proposed by Green Growth, which may become the subject of a registration statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). This material is not a substitute for any prospectus or other document Green Growth would file with the SEC regarding the proposed transaction if a negotiated transaction is agreed between Green Growth and Aphria or if the Offer is commenced or for any other document that Green Growth may file with the SEC and send to Aphria shareholders in connection with the proposed transaction. No tender or exchange offer for the common shares of Aphria has commenced at this time. In connection with the proposed transaction, Green Growth may file Offer documents with the SEC, including a registration statement. Any definitive Offer documents will be mailed to shareholders of Aphria. U.S. INVESTORS AND SECURITY HOLDERS OF APHRIA ARE URGED TO READ THESE AND OTHER DOCUMENTS THAT MAY BE FILED WITH THE SEC CAREFULLY IN THEIR ENTIRETY IF AND WHEN THEY BECOME AVAILABLE BECAUSE THEY WILL CONTAIN IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE PROPOSED TRANSACTION. Investors and security holders will be able to obtain free copies of these documents (if and when available) and other documents filed with the SEC by Green Growth through the web site maintained by the SEC at http://www.sec.gov.
^1 Treasury method.
^2 Includes Henderson, where Green Growth has an irrevocable option to acquire all of its membership interests.
^3 Treasury method. Reported by GlobeNewswire 8 hours ago.
While most Giant free agents and veterans are more than happy to say they want to return to the team in 2019 and continue building, one seemed a little discouraged by the way 2018 played out.
Reported by Newsday 7 hours ago.
Humu, a Silicon Valley start-up, applies data-driven lessons in human resources to the goal of improving employee satisfaction.
Reported by NYTimes.com 6 hours ago.
There are longtime NFL veterans on the New England Patriots who have never had to play on wild-card weekend
Reported by FOX Sports 5 hours ago.
She's done this before
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With new regional and international tensions, internal political quarrels, stagnating economies and worsening public services, many people in the Balkans will probably want to forget the past year as 12 wasted months.
From deepening political divisions and tensions over the general elections in Bosnia, to worsened relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and from mass protests in Serbia and Romania to the arrests of so-called “Gulenists”, sought by Turkey, the Balkans saw a good deal of turmoil and political and economic instability in 2018.
In addition to country reports looking at each country’s perspectives in 2019, which promises to be at least as interesting as this year, BIRN is offering this brief overview of the key developments in the Balkan countries in 2018.
**Bosnia in 2018: Politics overshadowed by elections**
One of the defining events in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the general election held on October 7. As in previous years, the election year was dominated by radical rhetoric, populist moves and statements as well as by blocked reforms. Before, during and after the ballot, there were allegations of election fraud, none of which were upheld by the local courts, however.
Another election-related controversy concerned the fact that the vote took place under a part-annulled election law, which Bosnia’s state parliament had failed to amend.
The law was missing the section regulating elections in Bosnia’s Federation entity to the House of Peoples. The state-level Constitutional Court struck it down two years ago.
Reform of this and other parts of the election law was a hotly disputed issue throughout the year.
Bosnian Croat parties complained that, under the current rules, far more numerous Bosniaks used their superior numbers to outvote Croats and in effect elect nominally Croat candidates.
This issue also triggered tensions between Bosnia and Croatia, which also called for legislative and constitutional changes in Bosnia to bolster Croats rights with other two ethnic groups.
However, some local and international experts insisted that the ruling Croatian party in Bosnia, the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, and its leader, Dragan Covic, did not truly want to resolve this issue so much as to use it to block the formation of new governments and push for the re-creation of an autonomous Croat entity.
The elections, meanwhile, saw another victory of the three main national parties, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats SNSD, of Milorad Dodik, Covic’s HDZ and the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, SDA.
The SNSD and SDA candidates, Milorad Dodik and Sefik Dzaferovic, won seats on the state’s tripartite presidency.
However, in another controversy, the third, Croat, seat went to Zeljko Komsic who clearly won thanks mainly to Bosniak votes. The result, while fully legal, created more tension with the Bosnian Croat community and with Croatia.
The elections results also showed that the HDZ and SNSD could not be left out in the formation of state and entity governments, while their most likely coalition partner from the Bosniak parties would be the SDA.
Late in December, Bosnia’s much-criticised Central Election Commission finally fixed the broken election law, to allow the lawful formation of a Federation government, but its decision was likely to end up before the Constitutional Court, after Bosniak leaders said they would challenge it.
Because of this and other political quarrels, formation of new governments and progress on key reforms remained uncertain.
**Bulgaria in 2018: Euro-presidency success marred by scandals at home**
Bulgaria showed two distinct faces in 2018. On one hand, it was the European Commission’s darling, hosting the Council of the European Union Presidency for the first time during the first six months of the year, and organizing two international summits at which the EU first met Turkey and then the Western Balkan states.
Despite the modest results of both events, Bulgaria showed good organizational skills and seemingly pushed forward its agenda of joining the passport-free Schengen area, at least partially, and the European Banking Union in 2019.
But Bulgaria also showed another face during 2018 as Bulgarian nationalists in government and MEPs backed Hungary’s nationalist leader Victor Orban, when the EU decided to penalise him for undermining the rule of law and the freedom of expression in Hungary.
A seemingly never-ending wave of public discontent against controversial decisions or, in other instances, lack of adequate measures, meanwhile shook the country and forced the government to replace four ministers including one deputy prime minister in only a few months.
Two other ministers, of Energy and Social Welfare, almost resigned, but Prime Minister Boyko Borissov did not let them quit.
The year started with the Save Pirin protests against the decision of the government to allow some construction in the Pirin National Park and UNESCO site, which activists fear could pave the way towards the widespread destruction of the precious mountainous area.
The government’s troubles continued with the controversial attempted sale of CEZ, the country’s largest energy supplier, to a small, family-controlled company with connections to Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova.
This was followed by an announcement that Bulgaria was re-starting two large energy projects that looked likely to tighten Russia’s grip over the country.
After a quiet summer, a new wave of discontent sprung up – first after a badly communicated mass cull of sheep and goats in the Strandzha region in August, and then after a deadly bus crash near Svoge, close to Sofia.
This led to three ministerial resignations and half-hearted admissions that corruption in the road infrastructure sector might have contributed to the deaths of 20 people.
The topic of corruption in the field of public procurements was heightened by the arrests of investigative journalists, Attila Biro from Rise Project Romania, and Dimitar Stoyanov from Bivol-Bulgaria.
They were detained after they tried to stop the destruction of evidence of public procurement fraud involving one of the largest winners of public tenders for road repairs and construction, GP Group.
This was followed by the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov for offending protesting mothers of children with disabilities, and by a 77-million-euros fine for not complying with EU competition rules.
While the ruling GERB-United Patriots coalition continued to claim it offered the country “stability”, the picture was, clearly, a lot less rosy.
**Kosovo in 2018: Raising the stakes with Serbia**
In March, the Kosovo parliament finally ratified the long delayed border agreement with Montenegro, a controversial deal that since 2015 had sparked violent clashes between the opposition and the ruling coalition.
After three years of leading opposition to the border agreement with Montenegro, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj accepted the deal, with a new annex that left open the possibility of “correcting” the exact borders later on.
The European Union had insisted on the deal as one of the criteria for granting Kosovo visa-free access to the passport-free Schengen area – which had not happened by the time 2018 ended, however.
Meanwhile, that same month, tensions were sparked with Serbia following the arrest of Marko Djuric, the head of the Serbian government’s Kosovo office. Despite being banned from entering Kosovo by the authorities, Djuric visited the Serbian stronghold of North Mitrovica to participate in a debate with Kosovo Serb leaders.
After the arrest, Djuric was taken to Pristina in handcuffs with his head held down before numerous journalists, photographers and TV crews. Djuric later described the treatment as an attempt to humiliate him, and Serbia, saying that he was “walked liked a dog”.
Further tensions with Serbia erupted in November when Kosovo imposed a 10-per-cent tax on Serbian and Bosnian imports.
Despite international pressure to withdraw the decision, the government did the opposite and sharply increased the tax from 10 to 100 per cent, one day after Kosovo failed to join the international police organisation Interpol at its general assembly in Dubai.
This setback was credited to strong Serbian lobbying. Haradinaj stressed that Kosovo would not revoke the tax until Serbia recognised Kosovo’s independence.
In December, the Kosovo parliament adopted another controversial decision, a package of three draft laws expanding the competences of the Kosovo Security Force, KSF, and creating a legal base for its transformation into a regular army.
By adopting laws on merely changing the KSF’s remit, parliament bypassed the need to adopt the regular constitutional changes required to change the KSF into an official army – which Serbia and Kosovo Serbs bitterly oppose.
Representatives of the main Kosovo Serb party, Srpska Lista, said the new de-facto army would have no mandate to operate in mainly Serbian north Kosovo – and it would challenge the vote before the Constitutional Court.
**Macedonia in 2018: Breakthrough marred by ex-PM’s escape **
Macedonia in 2018 witnessed a major breakthrough, with the signing of the historic “name” agreement with Greece.
But this achievement was undermined by events at home, when the scandalous escape of the former autocratic Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, who had been sent to prison, caused major ripples.
After spending much of the first half of the year in hard UN-sponsored “name” talks with Greece, on June 17, the two countries finally signed an agreement on ending the decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name, under which the country would be renamed Republic of North Macedonia.
The signing of the agreement won international praise and was regarded as the most positive political development in the Balkans that year.
However, it also stirred tensions as far-right nationalists in both countries staged sometimes violent protests.
At the consultative referendum that followed in September 30, the majority of Macedonian voters supported the agreement. But the turnout failed to meet the required 50 per cent threshold, which emptied the result of any real force.
Despite this setback, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev narrowly steered the agreement through parliament and the process is expected to end by late January. In return, Greece agreed to stop blocking Macedonia’s accession to NATO and the EU.
Amidst renewed optimism over this breakthrough, Macedonia was shocked in November when former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who was ousted in May 2017, mysteriously fled the country, so avoiding serving a jail sentence.
This was a major blow to Zaev’s government, which took power on a promise to deliver justice for the past regime’s crimes.
While some critics attributed the escape to government incompetence, many suspected that Gruevski had been allowed to escape as part of an elusive deal with the government.
Gruevski was supposed to report to start serving his two-year jail term on November 9, but failed to do so.
On November 13, a post on his Facebook account announced that he was in Hungary, where he was seeking political asylum, having supposedly received numerous threats to his life.
Hungary soon granted Gruevski asylum, a move attributed to Gruevski’s long political friendship with Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orban. Albania, Montenegro and Serbia meanwhile confirmed that Gruevski had used their territory to flee to Hungary, and that Hungarian diplomats had aided his escape.
**Moldova in 2018: Populism puts EU path in danger**
Throughout 2018, Moldova witnessed growing political tensions and quarrels, which posed a threat to the EU-Moldova Association Agreement signed in 2014.
The worst political unrest occurred in June, after an allegedly politically influenced court ruling cancelled the results of the mayoral elections in Chisinau, which an opposition leader Andrei Nastase, had won – fairly in the view of most observers.
Soon after, the European Commission suspended 100 million euros in macro-financial, accusing Moldova of backsliding on democratic standards.
As a counter-measure, aimed at getting more money into the budget, all the main three institutions in Moldova – parliament, government and the presidency – gave the green light to a highly controversial fiscal reform.
Critics said the new law would enable people to clean “dirty” money as it allows any Moldovan citizen to register and keep any illegally gained financial gains or assets, as long as he or she pays a 3-per-cent fee to the state.
Moldova also offered 5,000 passports to anyone wanting to purchase Moldovan citizenship for a 100,000-euro donation to the government, or a 250,000-euro investment in any business in Moldova.
The name of the “new” citizens will also remain secret. The changes disturbed many in the country, and abroad.
Besides these and other decisions, which clearly went against Brussels’ advice and demands, the ruling Democratic Party hardened its nationalist rhetoric ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, due in February 2019.
By the end of 2018, relations between Moldova and EU had turned distinctly frosty.
**Romania in 2018: Political turmoil and social uprisings**
Romania experienced continuous political turmoil in 2018, with politicians entrenched in a battle against prosecutors over the policies of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, DNA.
Street protests against the government intensified throughout the year, some ending up in violence.
Under the management of Laura Codruta Kovesi, the youngest and first woman prosecutor to lead the DNA, the agency had in recent years indicted hundreds of politicians and former dignitaries, many of them Social Democrats. The Social Democrat-led government in Bucharest duly fired her in July.
The battered anti-graft agency lacks a new chief in 2019 as President Klaus Iohannis has refused to appoint the government’s nominee, Adina Florea, citing her cooperation with the intelligence services.
Kovesi’s dismissal came too late for Social Democrat strongman Liviu Dragnea, however.
He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail in a second corruption trial, although the June 21 verdict was not final and he is now appealing the sentence.
Following a rally organized by the ruling party to show its large support base on June 9, and following Kovesi’s dismissal, several anti-government groups, including some based in Romania’s large diaspora, announced a large protest of their own on August 10.
The rally drew tens of thousands of people from across Romania, but ended in a violent clash with the riot police, which used tear gas to disperse demonstrators around the government building in Bucharest.
The incidents on August 10 left hundreds wounded and police, as well as the Interior Minister, faced harsh criticism for using disproportionate force against peaceful protesters, including elderly people and children.
Prosecutors started an investigation into the allegations of violence, which the government dismissed, saying the use of force had been “justified”.
The violent crackdown on August 10, as well as the push by the Social Democrats to change the criminal codes and several laws on the organization of courts and prosecutor’s offices – all designed to relax the fight against corruption – resulted in the European Commission slamming the government in November with the harshest report on the country since it joined the EU.
Moreover, the fact that neighbouring Bulgaria simultaneously received praise from the EU for its progress, and various politicians in Brussels called for its speedy admission to the Schengen area, caused further discontent in Romania.
The year ended with Romania still mired in controversies and rumours that the cabinet was still mulling a decree on amnestying and pardoning corruption convicts similar, to the one that triggered the January-February 2017 protests – the biggest the country has seen since 1989.
**Serbia in 2018: Worsening tension with Kosovo**
Unresolved relation with Kosovo remained the main political issue in Serbia. While EU increased pressure on both sides to resolve their decade-long dispute over Kosovo’s independence, proclaimed in 2008, their relations were dogged by arrests, cancelled meetings, exchanges of strong words and import taxes.
Tensions in Serbia increased in March, after Kosovo police arrested the head of the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, for entering Kosovo despite a ban on his presence.
In September, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic scrapped a planned meeting with his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, in Brussels.
He then paid a visit to the Serbian community in Kosovo instead.
After Kosovo war veterans blocked roads leading to the village of Banje, south of the Ibar River, the Kosovo government cancelled Vucic’s planned visit to the Serbian village, though it caused no problems about him holding a rally in the Serbian stronghold of North Mitrovica.
In his speech, the Serbian President praised Serbia’s late president Slobodan Milosevic, a hate figure in Kosovo, sparking strong reactions also from Kosovo officials.
Two months later, Kosovo imposed taxes on imports from Serbia and Bosnia. The decision caused four mayors in Serb-majority municipalities in North Kosovo to resign and to end their communications with Kosovo institutions.
Another row erupted between two countries in December. On December 18, at a UN Security Council session, called by Belgrade, when Kosovo’s President Thaci defended the controversial decision to transform the country’s lightly armed security force, the KSF, into a de facto army, which Serbia claimed would jeopardise peace in the region.
Besides rockier than ever relations with Kosovo, another key development in 2018 in Serbia was the series of anti-government protests, which started in early December, following the brutal beating of the leader of opposition Serbian Left party, Borko Stefanovic. He was assaulted late in November.
Thousands of people gathered weekend after weekend in the Serbian capital, condemning the attack, the widespread corruption and political violence in the country, and demanding that the public broadcaster give them fairer treatment in its reports.
The calls for a fairer media were strengthened following an incident on December 12 when the home of a journalist for the website Zig Info, Milan Jovanovic, was shot at and then set on fire by unknown individuals, apparently because of his reporting on local corruption.
On December 23, the Interior Minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, said three persons had been arrested for this crime.
The latest BIRN report on the state of the media in Serbia notes abuses of funding, lack of pluralism in terms of content, an unclear legislative framework and administrative pressure on independent media as some of the most concerning issues.
While the street protests came relatively late in the year, the number of people attending them grew steadily.
The protests are expected to continue in 2019, and their impact on the country’s political scene, and on the regime of President Vucic, has yet to be tested.
**Croatia in 2018: Sporting triumph – and shame, too**
The event that Croats will surely remember most from last year is winning the silver medal in the 2018 World Cup. After the national football team took the silver, the country threw itself a massive party, with hundreds of thousands of people pouring onto the streets to welcome the players back from Moscow.
Marketing experts said it could be another great way to promote Croatian tourism.
However, another sector of the Croatian sporting world aroused less national pride.
On June 6 in a first-degree ruling, controversial football mogul Zdravko Mamic was found guilty of siphoning money off from football clubs and damaging the state budget.
This verdict was major news, but Mamic – who also holds Bosnian citizenship – fled there to avoid imprisonment at home.
Many commentators remained unsure whether this would mark an end to the endemic culture of corruption in Croatian football.
The key event for the Croatian economy was the much trumpeted rescue of the indebted food giant Agrokor, Croatia’s biggest private company, which found itself in major financial trouble from the beginning of 2017.
The firm was taken under state-appointed management in early 2017 under a special law dubbed the “Lex Agrokor” to avert its collapse and the loss of more than 50,000 jobs across the Balkan region.
In October, a debt restructuring deal was confirmed by Zagreb’s High Commercial Court. But many questions were left hanging in the air. Experts noted that Agrokor’s new shareholders, the biggest of which is Sberbank of Russia, with 39.2 per cent, have little interest in food production.
While Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic claimed that the process of saving Agrokor was a great success, and tried to close this topic, many media and commentators said the country will not forget it so quickly.
A former member of his government, Martina Dalic, resigned in May as Economy Minister and Deputy Prime Minister after leaked emails suggested that she had used her position to help her friends and business associates during the process of passing the law imposing state management on Agrokor.
In December, the Conflict of Interest Commission decided that Dalic, and the current Finance Minister, Zdravko Maric, violated the principle of holding public office in connection with the Agrokor food and retail conglomerate. However, the violation does not carry any penalties.
The fate of Ivica Todoric, Agrokor’s former owner, was also uncertain. After spending a year in London, escaping pre-trial detention, he was extradited to Croatia in November.
After only 13 days of pre-trial detention, he was released on paying a million euros in bail. He is now on conditional release until the end of the investigation process and the eventual filing of an indictment. Interestingly, he has announced that he intends to run for elections.
Some “worldview” battles also erupted in 2018 in Croatia, as in other countries, between conservatives and liberals.
One of the main disputes was about so-called Istanbul convention, the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against woman and domestic violence. Conservatives noisily argued that ratification of the convention would undermine family values and promote a so-called gender ideology.
As in some other Balkan countries, Croatia also saw a great split over the UN’s non-binding Global Pact on Migration, signed in Morocco, which conservatives also denounced, insisting it would only encourage more migration.
**Turkey in 2018: Economic fears and rows with West**
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the presidential election for the second time by a tight margin, thanks mainly to the alliance between his ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, and nationalist parties.
Erdogan maintained his majority in parliament but was obliged to draw on the support of nationalist allies to pass laws.
After the elections, the new executive presidential system, which was endorsed in a highly controversial referendum in 2017, took force.
The new system gives the President almost unchecked power and makes him the only real decision maker in domestic and foreign politics.
Erdogan’s authoritarian rule continued to undermine Turkey’s once warm relations with the West.
Kati Piri, the EU rapporteur on Turkey, even said the EU should formally suspend membership negotiations with Turkey. The EU also reduced “pre-ascension funds” for Turkey by 105 million euros and froze an additional 70 million euros of previously announced spending because of “the deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law and human rights worrying”.
The US was also displeased, imposing new sanctions on Turkey on August 1, including not delivering F-35 fighter jets to Turkey as had been agreed.
In response, Turkey tried to get closer with Russia, especially on the issues of Syria, the defence industry, energy and the economy. Turkey took steps in 2018 to get Russian S-400 missile systems and the offshore section of Turkish Stream pipeline project was opened November 19.
Amid internal political quarrels and worsening relations with the US, the EU and NATO, the Turkish currency, the lira, plummeted by more than 50 per cent between January and December 2018.
The drop in the value of the lira was followed by other alarming indices in the economy and the government had to increase taxes and the price of main commodities, including gas, electricity and petroleum. This all also affected Turkey’s GDP growth, which shrank to a puny 1.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2018.
Besides strengthening his powers at home, Erdogan increased his hunt for supporters of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016 and describes as the leader of the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation”, or FETO.
Erdogan and his government pushed Balkan countries on every occasion to shut Gulen-linked institutions and arrest his followers and deport them to Turkey.
Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT, conducted two such operations. One was in Kosovo on March 29.
The other one was in Moldova on September 6. The abduction of these alleged “Gulenists” to Turkey caused consternation in both countries, with Kosovo leaders claiming not to have been informed.
Several other court cases in which Turkey demanded the extradition of alleged Gulenists to Turkey continued in several Balkan countries. Reported by Eurasia Review 4 hours ago.
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Task Force Dagger Foundation receives donation from American Airlines and the Airpower Foundation.
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Stillinger, who continues to serve part-time as an officer in the Texas Army National Guard, said that the organization is "giving much needed hope to those who have served and sacrificed for our nation.”
Without your donations, we cannot achieve our Mission supporting the US Special Operations Command’s service members and their families.
The Task Force Dagger Foundation’s three core programs: (1) Immediate Needs, (2) Special Operations Forces (SOF) Health Initiatives, and (3) Rehabilitative Therapy Events provide resources and healing for SOF members and families. Our SOF Health Initiatives provides program recipients care and treatment that is designed to treat the issue and not the symptom through functional medicine and other treatment modalities that are holistic in nature. Task Force Dagger Foundation supports Army Green Berets, Rangers, Civil Affairs, Military Information Support Operations, Army Special Mission Units, Navy SEALs, Air Force Special Tactics/Operations and Marine Special Operations and their families. These are some of the units that comprise the US Special Operations Command.
Since 2009, we have supported USSOCOM and our Special Operations families with over $5.1M dollars of support The Task Force Dagger Foundation’s overhead rate is 14.68%.
For more information, please contact the Task Force Dagger Foundation Office at (214) 420-9290 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us on the web at http://www.taskforcedagger.org. Reported by PRWeb 10 hours ago.
· *Google is developing "Minority Report"-style gesture controls for computers.*
· *The company first announced Project Soli, which lets you operate devices by making gestures in the air, back in 2015.*
· *This week, the FCC granted the Alphabet-owned company a crucial waiver to allow it to continue developing the tech.*
Google's wild plans to build computers you can control with hand gestures just took a significant step forward.
Late on Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US regulator, said it would grant Google a waiver to operate sensors for "Project Soli" at higher power levels than currently allowed.
It's a sign that the Alphabet-owned company continues to push forward with developing the "Minority Report"-style tech, years after it was first flashily announced in 2015.
The FCC said the decision "will serve the public interest by providing for innovative device control features using touchless hand gesture technology."
A Google spokeswoman did not immediately comment on Tuesday, citing the New Year's day holiday.
The tech — in theory — lets users control computers by making hand gestures in the air around them. You might press an individual button with your thumb and index finger, or turn a virtual dial by rubbing your thumb and index finger together.
The company says that "even though these controls are virtual, the interactions feel physical and responsive" as feedback is generated by the haptic sensation of fingers touching.
Google says the virtual tools can approximate the precision of natural human hand motion and the sensor can be embedded in wearables, phones, computers, and vehicles.
The FCC said the Soli sensor captures motion in a three-dimensional space using a radar beam to enable touchless control of functions or features that can benefit users with mobility or speech impairments.
In March, Google asked the FCC to allow its short-range interactive motion-sensing Soli radar to operate in the 57- to 64-GHz frequency band at power levels consistent with European Telecommunications Standards Institute standards.
Facebook, however, had raised concerns with the FCC that the Soli sensors operating in the spectrum band at higher power levels might have issues coexisting with other technologies.
After discussions, Google and Facebook jointly told the FCC in September that they agreed the sensors could operate at higher than currently allowed power levels without interference but at lower levels than previously proposed by Google.
Facebook told the FCC in September that it expected a "variety of use cases to develop with respect to new radar devices, including Soli."
In its order, the FCC also said that the Soli devices can be operated aboard aircraft — but must still comply with Federal Aviation Administration rules governing portable electronic devices.
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· Read more:
· Google CEO Sundar Pichai's testimony to Congress exposed the abject failings and futility of Washington's version of tech policy
· Facebook endured a staggering number of scandals and controversies in 2018 — here they all are
· Facebook quietly killed its Building 8 skunkworks unit as it reshuffles its cutting-edge experiments and hardware
· Facebook veterans are changing the world of blockchain and crypto startups: Here are 15 ex-Facebook employees who went crypto
Join the conversation about this story »
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