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2014/09/30

Hong Kong protesters continue blockade, threaten escalation

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  • Pro-democracy protesters continued their occupation of central parts of Hong Kong Tuesday, threatening to escalate their action if the head of the city’s government didn’t start talks with them.
    News agencies reported that third day of protests passed off peacefully, as police continued to keep their distance, having used tear gas against the protesters in an unsuccessful effort to disperse them Sunday evening.
    Reuters reported that the protesters, largely made up of students, had begun to stockpile supplies and erect sophisticated barricades in a sign that they are preparing for a lengthy stand-off.
    The protesters had earlier challenged Leung Chun-Ying, the chief executive of Hong Kong’s Executive Council, to start talks with them by midnight local time on Tuesday, or else face an escalation of action.
    Leung rejected their demands and called on the protesters to go home immediately, the BBC reported.
    “Occupy Central founders had said repeatedly that if the movement is getting out of control, they would call for it to stop,” Mr Leung said.
    “I’m now asking them to fulfil the promise they made to society, and stop this campaign immediately.”
    Leung had said earlier that there was no chance of Beijing backing down from its plans to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s next elections with a committee of Communist Party loyalists. The protesters are insisting on the freedom to choose their own candidates, rather than have them picked by the nomination committee.
    With neither side showing any willingness to compromise, it appears likely that the demonstrations will step up a gear on Wednesday, a Chinese national holiday commemorating the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.
    Leung has, however, said that he intends to do without help from the People’s Liberation Army in keeping order on the streets, a statement that appears to lessen the risk of a crackdown like that on Tiananmen Square in Beijing 25 years ago.
    “When a problem arises in Hong Kong, our police force should be able to solve it. We don’t need to ask to deploy the PLA,” Reuters quoted Beijing-backed Leung as saying at a briefing on Tuesday.
    The local stock market again sold off sharply Tuesday on concerns as to how the situation will play out. The Hang Seng index finished down 1.3% and has now fallen 10% this month.

    EBay to spin off its PayPal division

    Activist investor Carl Icahn had pushed for the online marketplace to split.

    EBay has unveiled a plan to separate the company’s namesake company and its PayPal business, creating two independent publicly-traded companies next year — a separation that activist investor Carl Icahn called for earlier this year.
    The move, which is expected to result in a tax-free spin off to be completed in the second half of 2015, will allow the separated businesses to focus more on their distinct core competencies: e-commerce and payments. EBay  EBAY 7.99%  said the businesses have mutually benefited as one company for “more than a decade,” but that a strategic review conducted by the company’s board showed that “keeping eBay and PayPal together beyond 2015 clearly become less advantageous to each business strategically and competitively.”
    “The industry landscape is changing, and each business faces different competitive opportunities and challenges,” said eBay’s President and CEO John Donahoe. In aseparate statement, eBay said American Express  AXP -0.36%  executive Dan Schulman would join PayPal as its new president effective immediately, and would become CEO of that business at the time of its spinoff.
    Donahoe and Chief Financial Officer Bob Swan intend to lead the separation of the businesses though neither will have an executive management role at either of the new companies. They are expected to serve on one or both of the boards of directors, eBay said. Executives Devin Wenig (currently president of eBay Marketplaces) and Scott Schenkel (CFO of eBay Marketplaces) will become CEO and CFO, respectively, of the new eBay.
    Earlier this year, Fortune’s JP Mangalindan spoke with eBay’s John Donahoe about Icahn and eBay’s stock price.
    Icahn, who had called for a breakup at eBay in January of this year, ultimately conceded his fight after being given a board member. But as Fortune reported last month, if eBay were to go forward with a PayPal spinout in 2015, it would be considered an admission that Icahn had been right all along.
    EBay’s move is lifting shares in premarket trading, raising the value of Icahn’s 2.5% stake in the company by nearly $130 million.
    The eBay business is slightly larger, generating about $9.9 billion in revenue versus the $7.2 billion generated by PayPal. But the payments business is growing faster, reporting 19% revenue growth, better than eBay’s 10%. Segment margins are higher at eBay, while PayPal has a slightly larger active user count.


    Earlier this year, Fortune’s JP Mangalindan spoke at length with eBay’s John Donahoe about Carl Icahn, eBay’s stock price and the outlook for the company.

    Wal-Mart faults Tracy Morgan for not wearing seatbelt in limo crash

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  • This post is in partnership with Time. The article below was originally published at Time.com.
    By Noah Rayman, TIME
    Walmart said Monday that comedian Tracy Morgan and several others injured in an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike in June were partially responsible for their injuries, for failing to wear seatbelts.
    A speeding Walmart  WMT 0.67%  driver allegedly hit Morgan’s limo on June 7, badly injuring the comedian and killing friend and colleague James McNair. Morgan and three othersbrought a suit against the company in July, alleging that driver Kevin Roper was fatigued and that Walmart acted negligently.
    In a response Monday, the company largely refrained from responding to the allegations brought in the suit, citing National Transportation Safety Board regulations regarding ongoing investigations.
    But in a list of affirmative defenses, the company said that the injuries “were caused, in whole or in part, by plaintiffs’ failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device.”
    “By failing to exercise ordinary care in making use of available seatbelts, upon information and belief, plaintiffs acted unreasonably and in disregard of plaintiffs’ own best interests,” the response says. “Accordingly, all or a portion of the injuries could have been diminished or minimized by the exercise of reasonable conduct in using the available seatbelts.”
    Brooke Buchanan, a company spokesperson, provided an emailed statement on Monday.
    “Walmart filed its official response to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit earlier today, and the company continues to stand willing to work with Mr. Morgan and the other plaintiffs to resolve this matter,” said Brooke Buchanan, a Walmart spokesperson, in an emailed statement.

    EBay splits and China gets iPhones — 5 things to know today

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  • Good morning, friends and Fortune readers.
    Today is the final trading day of the third quarter, and stocks look set to rally at the open amid continued volatilityand unrest overseas. Here’s what else you need to know today.
    1. The iPhone 6 is (finally) a go in China
    After delays for security concerns, Apple’s  AAPL 1.10% iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will be for sale in China on Oct. 17, according to Reuters reports. The sale date was approved after Apple was able to assure the Chinese government it wouldn’t be able to give user data to the Us government.
    2. Microsoft pulls back the curtain
    Windows 8 was, to put it lightly, a bit of a disaster. So when Microsoft  MSFT -0.18%  previews part of the soon-to-be-released Windows 9 today, the company will likely be hoping it can start erasing users’ bad memories.
    3. Ebay is saying goodbye to PayPal
    Ebay  EBAY 7.33%  has unveiled a plan to spin off PayPal in 2015 — a separation that activist investor Carl Icahn called for earlier this year. The move essentially splits Ebay into two equal halves, as PayPal currently accounts for about half of its revenue.
    4. News Corp is on the Move
    Rupert Murdoch’s media giant has made an acquisition,buying real estate website Move for $950 million. Reutersnotes that the move was made to expand the company’s presence in digital marketing.
    5. Netflix is going after new releases
    Netflix  NFLX 0.94%  has already changed the TV world through its award-winning series “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” Now the streaming service wants to take on Hollywood. With the release of a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” scheduled for next year, Netflix is announcing in a big way that it wants to change the way movie releases work.

    There will be a Tetris movie and it will be 'epic'

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  • This post is in partnership with Time. The article below was originally published at Time.com.
    By Laura Stampler / TIME
    Are you sitting down? Please, tell me you’re sitting down. Because, the Wall Street Journal reports, Tetris will be coming to a theater near you.
    No, not for a World Cup competition — the company is determined to turn the classic blockbusting game into aspectator sport — but for a movie. That’s right, there is going to be a Tetris movie. And according to Threshold Entertainment CEO Larry Kasanoff, “It’s a very big, epic sic-fi movie.”
    While we don’t know what to expect, Kasanoff, who turnedMortal Kombat into a film in 1995, told the WSJ what we shouldn’t expect. “This isn’t a movie with a bunch of lines running around the page,” he said. “We’re not giving feet to the geometric shapes . . . What you [will] see in Tetris is the teeny tip of an iceberg that has intergalactic significance.”
    May this please open the door for other spinoffs of Marble Madness and Pong, too. Blip. Blip. Bloop.

    A look at the key marijuana legalization votes in 2014

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  • This post is in partnership with Time. The article below was originally published at Time.com
    By Katy Steinmetz, TIME
    (TIME)–Election Day this year will be big on pot.
    The battle over legalizing recreational marijuana in California—the big enchilada that may tilt legalization not only in the U.S. but other countries—is already being set for 2016. But while many reformers’ eyes are focused on the next presidential election, this year’s votes on marijuana initiatives have the power to shape that fight.
    Here are the races to watch in November.
    Alaska: Legalization with tax and regulation
    A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling found that the right to privacy in the state included the right to grow and possess a small amount of marijuana at home. Though opponents have still fought over whether possessing marijuana is legal—sometimes in court—reformers are hoping that a long history of quasi-legalization and a noted libertarian streak will lead Alaskans to vote yes on Ballot Measure 2: It would concretely legalize retail pot, giving the the state the power to tax and regulate like in Colorado and Washington state.
    Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the pro-marijuana reform group NORML, called this measure a “wobbler,” with supportlong hovering around 50%. That sentiment is echoed by Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, which spearheaded legalization in Colorado and has contributed heavily to the campaign in Alaska. “A lot of it will depend on the campaign getting its message out,” Tvert said. The message got a boost this month when a local on-anchor quit her job live on TV to support the legalization effort.
    Oregon: Legalization with tax and regulation
    Oregon almost went along with Colorado and Washington on their experimental journey in 2012, when residents narrowly rejected a pot legalization measure 56% to 44%. This year, more activists—and more organized ones at that—have been on the scene, working with groups like the deep-pocketed Drug Policy Alliance. Still, the prospects forMeasure 91 are far from a lock; a recent poll found that while 44% of likely voters support legalization, 40% oppose it.
    Like Alaska, the Beaver State has a long history when it comes to marijuana, having become the first state to decriminalize it in 1973. St. Pierre said Oregon’s proximity to Washington state, where creating a legal market has so far gone pretty smoothly, will help push people to vote “yes.” He said Oregon is the “most viable in terms of moving the national needle,” keeping up the momentum for drug-law reform that Washington and Colorado started. “Oregon will likely help lead the way for more states to follow,” said Anthony Johnson, who launched the campaign for Measure 91.
    Washington, D.C.: “Soft legalization”
    Those are the words of St. Pierre, describing a measure that falls short of creating a full-on regulated, taxable pot market.Initiative 71 would, however, allow people to possess up to 2 oz. of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants at home without fear of criminal or civil penalty—at least in theory. If the initiative does pass, there remains a hazy line between the reaches of the local and federal governments in the District, and Congress could choose to intervene, passing laws that supersede the actions of D.C. officials.
    The initiative will very likely pass: Locals support it by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The big question is whether Congress will continue to stand down, as it did while D.C. legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana. Allowing pot plants to flourish in backyard gardens down the road from the White House could force a more serious conversation about the conflict between federal drug laws that still view marijuana as an illegal substance and newer laws that do not.
    Florida: Medical marijuana
    At a time when states are legalizing pot for recreational purposes, it might not seem that significant whether Floridajoins the growing list of about two-dozen states that allow medical marijuana. But St. Pierre said that nothing marijuana-related is taken lightly when it comes to political bellwether states like this one. So far, polling on support for Amendment 2has been all over the place. And the political frenzy over the initiative has drawn huge spenders like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who shelled out at least$98 million in the 2012 elections.
    Amendment 2 has a steep hill to climb, requiring a 60% supermajority to pass; neither Colorado nor Washington got past the 55% range. “Florida is a national battleground,” St. Pierre said, noting how uncommon it is for people to be dropping $2.5 million checks to oppose such measures or $3.7 million checks to support them. “We’ve never seen a green rush like we’re seeing in Florida.”
    Looking ahead to 2016
    There are also a handful of municipalities that are going to vote on “soft legalization” measures of sorts, including the Maine towns of Lewiston and South Portland. Portland, Maine’s biggest city, passed a similar measure in 2013, giving authorities the ability not to punish pot-possessors with civil or criminal penalties.
    Maine is one of the states the Marijuana Policy Project will be working hard to push the way of Colorado and Washington come 2016, and even symbolic local wins could boost that effort. “Ultimately our plan is to bring a tax-and-regulate initiative statewide in 2016, so these campaigns are a way to get the message out,” said David Boyer, MPP’s Maine political director.
    In addition to California, Tvert said his group is already hard at work in Nevada, collecting petition signatures. And he said campaigns will be ramping up in Arizona andMassachusetts soon. Generally, marijuana initiatives do better when there is larger voter turnout, and voter turnout is typically bigger in presidential election years.
    “This is the penultimate year for marijuana law reform,” St. Pierre said of 2014. “California is totally on reformers’ menu. … No one else moves if they don’t move.”

    Iceland is running a gender-equality conference without any women

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  • This post is in partnership with Time. The article below was originally published at Time.com.
    By Rishi Iyengar, TIME
    Iceland is organizing a gender-equality conference that won’t have any female attendees.
    In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said the “Barbershop” conference aims to bring together a group of men discussing gender equality among themselves, focusing particularly on violence against women.
    “For our part, we want to bring men and boys to the table on gender equality in a positive way,” he said, describing the first-of-its-kind conference as an “exceptional contribution to the Beijing+20 and #HeforShecampaigns.”
    The event will take place in January and will be co-hosted by the South American nation of Suriname, according to Sveinsson.

    Why you should embrace late-night work email

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  • This post is in partnership with Time. The article below was originally published at Time.com
    By Denver Nicks, TIME
    (TIME)–Eight hours to work. Eight hours to play. Eight hours to sleep.
    But in our ever more connected lives the old barriers between work and personal life are increasingly fuzzy. The smartphones in our pockets ding and buzz with messages from our workplaces late into the night, making the notion of eight hours of uninterrupted recreation seem very quaint indeed. Smartphone-dependent professionals are justifiably worried about where this road leads. In Germany, policymakers are toying with the idea of an outright ban on contacting employees after the official workday is over.
    Never fear, humanity. The smartphone will set you free. Here’s why.
    Robert Owen, and other labor activists who fought and died for the right to leave work at a reasonable hour, were responding to a world rapidly changing from one of independent contractors (farmers, artisans, etc.) to one of wage-earning employees. You went to work at a factory or an office where you worked under the watchful eye of a floor boss or a manager. You sold your labor away in large blocks of time during which you were not, for all intents and purposes, free. Today, we’re headed in a different, and altogether better, direction.
    The workplace today is becoming increasingly flexible, which is to say that workers today, in the developed world, are increasingly free. You see it in the rise of telecommuting and of the flexible workday. Today, 34% of the U.S. workforce are freelancers, according to a recent survey from the Freelancer’s Union. We’re heading in the direction of a labor force that is increasingly free to move freely and to divide up their time in a way prioritizes their own goals and schedules, to run a midday errand or spend time at home with the family even on a late work night. The smartphone and the era of constant connectivity is what makes that freer world possible.
    That’s a good thing and most workers in the U.S. agree. In a Gallup poll earlier this year, 79% of workers said having the ability to connect with work remotely using a computer or a smartphone or the like was a positive development.
    As in an earlier era that needed new laws to protect the rights of factory workers, it may be that today’s changing workplace demands new laws of its own. Today’s always-on workplace can morph into a monster if unchecked and freer workers will need to be willing to say no sometimes and just turn off the phone. As in all things, with freedom comes responsibility — and that includes responsibly maintaining your all important email account. The difference is that today’s freer workers are freer to do that than in eras past.
    Robert Owen’s prescription for the good life, eight-hours for work, play and sleep, still seems a useful framework. The only thing really different today is that we’re freer to divide up those eight hour blocks than before.

    J&J buys Alios BioPharma to gain access to infant medicine

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  • Johnson & Johnson  JNJ 0.43%  has agreed to buy Alios BioPharma for $1.75 billion in an all-cash deal, the company announced Tuesday.
    The privately-held biopharmaceutical company is focused on developing medicines to fight viral diseases, including a valuable treatment for infants with the respiratory syncytial virus, which causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract.
    Commonly referred to as RSV, the virus is the last major pediatric disease with no available vaccine or other preventative, said Dr. William Hait, the global head of research and development for Janssen Pharmaceutical, the drug-development unit of J&J.
    The drug is currently in Phase 2 studies, which means the treatment has passed initial safety and side effect tests and is now being given to a larger group of patients to prove its effectiveness and safety on a broader scale. Medicines are commonly submitted for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval after a successful Phase 3 study.
    The RSV drug complements J&J’s current portfolio of treatments, “which aims to prevent and treat this disease, the leading cause of acute lower respiratory infection in children under the age of five,” said Hait.
    The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter this year.

    What the EC said to Ireland about Apple

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  • The punchline of European Commission’s 21-page letter to the Irish government released Tuesday comes three paragraphs from the end:
    The Commission wishes to remind Ireland that Article 108(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union has suspensory effect, and would draw your attention to Article 14 of Council Regulation (EC) No 659/199935, which provides that all unlawful aid may be recovered from the recipient.”
    The “recipient” in this sentence is Apple Inc. The “aid” came in the form of a pair of Irish tax rulings — in 1991 and 2007 — that didn’t pass the EC’s smell test.
    How much Apple might be on the line for in unpaid taxes the EC doesn’t say. Estimates range from the Wall Street Journal‘s up to $200 million to Business Insider’s $8 billion.
    The rest of the commission’s letter — in which it made public for the first time its objections to Apple’s Irish tax loophole — is almost unreadable. There may be a winnable case there, but you’d have to be a international tax lawyer to makes heads or tails of it.
    The best parts — snippets of actual Apple-Irish negotiations conducted by e-mail — are spoiled by clumsy bracketed identifiers, as in
    [The representative of Irish Revenue] pointed out that in the proposed scheme the level of fee charged would be critical. [The tax advisor's employee representing Apple] stated that the company would be prepared to accept a profit of $30-40m assuming that Apple Computer Ltd. will make such a profit.”
    The clearest paragraph is the one describes why companies like Apple seek — and countries like Ireland offer — tax incentives in the first place. Here the prose snaps into sharp focus:
    Multinational corporations pay taxes in jurisdictions which have different tax rates. The after tax profit recorded at the corporate group level is the sum of the after-tax profits in each county in which it is subject to taxation. Therefore, rather than maximise the profit declared in each country, multinational corporations have a financial incentive when allocating profit to the different companies of the corporate group to allocate as much profit as possible to low tax jurisdictions and as little profit as possible to high tax jurisdictions. This could, for example, be achieved by exaggerating the price of goods sold by a subsidiary established in a low tax jurisdiction to a subsidiary established in a high tax jurisdiction. In this manner, the higher taxed subsidiary would declare higher costs and therefore lower profits when compared to market conditions. This excess profit would be recorded in the lower tax jurisdiction and taxed at a lower rate than if the transaction had been priced at market conditions.”
    Ireland, which has become a favorite second home to a long list of U.S. corporations, is sticking to the response it gave in June: it’s “confident that there is no state aid rule breach in this case.”
    An Apple spokewoman and the company’s CFO have also denied any wrongdoing. But perhaps the most detailed response is the one Tim Cook offered a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigated the same Irish subsidiaries last year. In words that would have been carefully vetted by lawyers, he told the Senators: (I quote)
    • Apple has real operations in real places, with Apple employees selling real products to real customers.
    • We pay all the taxes we owe – every single dollar.
    • We not only comply with the laws, but we comply with the spirit of the laws.
    • We don’t depend on tax gimmicks.
    • We don’t move intellectual property offshore and use it to sell products back into the U.S. to avoid U.S. taxes.
    • We don’t stash money on some Caribbean island.
    • We don’t borrow money from our foreign subsidiaries to fund our U.S. business in order to skirt the repatriation tax.
    Ireland has said it will vigorously defend its tax rulings. Apple, the party that would have to pay the piper, will no doubt do the same.
    Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple  AAPL 1.17%  coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.