Category Archives: Business

economy and business news

Hotel in DC Offers a Cooking Class for Couples before Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is probably the most romantic holiday. In the United States, with people sending 190 million Valentine’s Day cards and spending around $100 per person on gifts. Instead of going out for a restaurant dinner for the holiday, a new idea is taking hold. These days more couples are planning to do something together. Classes like painting and cooking are a popular. Mariia Prus checked out the options for couples at one of Washington’s fanciest hotels.

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GM to Close Auto Plant in South Korea in Restructuring

General Motors said Tuesday it will close an underutilized factory in Gunsan, South Korea, by the end of May as part of a restructuring of its operations.

 

The move is a setback for the administration of President Moon Jae-in, who has made jobs and wages a priority.

 

A GM statement said Monday the company has proposed to its labor union and other stakeholders a plan involving further investments in South Korea that would help save jobs.

 

“As we are at a critical juncture of needing to make product allocation decisions, the ongoing discussions must demonstrate significant progress by the end of February, when GM will make important decisions on next steps,” Barry Engle, GM executive vice president and president of GM International, said in the statement.

 

The company’s CEO Mary Barra has said GM urgently needs better cost performance from its operations in South Korea, where auto sales have slowed.

 

South Korea’s government expressed “deep regret” over the factory’s closure. It said it plans to study the situation at the business and will continue talks with GM.

Korea’s finance ministry said earlier this month that GM had sought government help. The government has denied reports that South Korea will raise the issue in trade talks with the U.S.

 

The factory in Gunsan, a port city about 200 kilometers (125 miles) southwest of Seoul, has been making the Cruze, a sedan, and the Orlando model SUV. It employs about 2,000 workers, and only used about 20 percent of its full production capacity in 2017, rolling out 33,982 vehicles.

 

GM Korea has made 10 million vehicles since it was set up in 2002. In 2017, it sold 132,377 units in Korea and exported 392,170 vehicles to 120 markets around the world.

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Opioid Makers Gave $10 Million to Advocacy Groups Amid Epidemic

Companies selling some of the most lucrative prescription painkillers funneled millions of dollars to advocacy groups that in turn promoted the medications’ use, according to a report released Monday by a U.S. senator.

The investigation by Missouri’s Senator Claire McCaskill sheds light on the opioid industry’s ability to shape public opinion and raises questions about its role in an overdose epidemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives. Representatives of some of the drugmakers named in the report said they did not set conditions on how the money was to be spent or force the groups to advocate for their painkillers.

The report from McCaskill, ranking Democrat on the Senate’s homeland security committee, examines advocacy funding by the makers of the top five opioid painkillers by worldwide sales in 2015. Financial information the companies provided to Senate staff shows they spent more than $10 million between 2012 and 2017 to support 14 advocacy groups and affiliated doctors.

The report did not include some of the largest and most politically active manufacturers of the drugs.

The findings follow a similar investigation launched in 2012 by a bipartisan pair of senators. That effort eventually was shelved and no findings were ever released.

While the new report provides only a snapshot of company activities, experts said it gives insight into how industry-funded groups fueled demand for drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin, addictive medications that generated billions in sales despite research showing they are largely ineffective for chronic pain.

‘Pretty damning’

“It looks pretty damning when these groups were pushing the message about how wonderful opioids are and they were being heavily funded, in the millions of dollars, by the manufacturers of those drugs,” said Lewis Nelson, a Rutgers University doctor and opioid expert.

The findings could bolster hundreds of lawsuits that are aimed at holding opioid drugmakers responsible for helping fuel an epidemic blamed for the deaths of more than 340,000 Americans since 2000.

McCaskill’s staff asked drugmakers to turn over records of payments they made to groups and affiliated physicians, part of a broader investigation by the senator into the opioid crisis. The request was sent last year to five companies: Purdue Pharma; Insys Therapeutics; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, owned by Johnson & Johnson; Mylan; and Depomed.

Fourteen nonprofit groups, mostly representing pain patients and specialists, received nearly $9 million from the drugmakers, according to investigators. Doctors affiliated with those groups received another $1.6 million.

Most of the groups included in the probe took industry-friendly positions. That included issuing medical guidelines promoting opioids for chronic pain, lobbying to defeat or include exceptions to state limits on opioid prescribing, and criticizing landmark prescribing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Doctors and the public have no way of knowing the true source of this information and that’s why we have to take steps to provide transparency,” said McCaskill in an interview with The Associated Press. The senator plans to introduce legislation requiring increased disclosure about the financial relationships between drugmakers and certain advocacy groups.

‘Front groups’

A 2016 investigation by the AP and the Center for Public Integrity revealed how painkiller manufacturers used hundreds of lobbyists and millions in campaign contributions to fight state and federal measures aimed at stemming the tide of prescription opioids, often enlisting help from advocacy organizations.

Bob Twillman, executive director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, said most of the $1.3 million his group received from the five companies went to a state policy advocacy operation. But Twillman said the organization has called for non-opioid pain treatments while also asking state lawmakers for exceptions to restrictions on the length of opioid prescriptions for certain patients.

“We really don’t take direction from them about what we advocate for,” Twillman said of the industry.

The tactics highlighted in Monday’s report are at the heart of lawsuits filed by hundreds of state and local governments against the opioid industry.

The suits allege that drugmakers misled doctors and patients about the risks of opioids by enlisting “front groups” and “key opinion leaders” who oversold the drugs’ benefits and encouraged overprescribing. In the legal claims, the governments seek money and changes to how the industry operates, including an end to the use of outside groups to push their drugs.

U.S. deaths linked to opioids have quadrupled since 2000 to roughly 42,000 in 2016. Although initially driven by prescription drugs, most opioid deaths now involve illicit drugs, including heroin and fentanyl.

Companies and their contributions

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, contributed the most to the groups, funneling $4.7 million to organizations and physicians from 2012 through last year.

In a statement, the company did not address whether it was trying to influence the positions of the groups it supported, but said it does help organizations “that are interested in helping patients receive appropriate care.” On Friday, Purdue announced it would no longer market OxyContin to doctors.

Insys Therapeutics, a company recently targeted by federal prosecutors, provided more than $3.5 million to interest groups and physicians, according to McCaskill’s report. Last year, the company’s founder was indicted for allegedly offering bribes to doctors to write prescriptions for the company’s spray-based fentanyl medication.

A company spokesman declined to comment.

Insys contributed $2.5 million last year to a U.S. Pain Foundation program to pay for pain drugs for cancer patients.

“The question was: Do we make these people suffer, or do we work with this company that has a terrible name?” said U.S. Pain founder Paul Gileno, explaining why his organization sought the money.

Depomed, Janssen and Mylan contributed $1.4 million, $650,000 and $26,000 in payments, respectively. Janssen and Mylan told the AP they acted responsibly, while calls and emails to Depomed were not returned.

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African Immigrant Truckers Turn a Profit on Open Road

It’s a long way from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast to the interstate highway near Chicago where trucker Mamoudou Diawara relishes the advantages that come with traveling the open road.

“Trucking is the freedom,” Diawara says. “It is the freedom and the money is right. I am not going to lie to you. You make more than the average Joe.”

Increasing demand for long-haul truckers in the United States is drawing more African immigrants like Diawara onto America’s roads. He says truckers in the United States can make as much as $200,000 a year. The sometimes dangerous work involves long hours, but it’s a chance to make a new life in a new country on his terms.

“You got to get the goods to the people,” he says. “This is how the country is built. It does not matter where you were born, you can be whatever you want. This is what this country teaches me everyday.”

Elias Balima took a similar journey from Burkina Faso. He saved for years to buy this truck and now not a day passes without someone offering him work.

“People like me who did not go far in the school system, it is an opportunity for us,” Balima says. “It is tiresome. But after the labor, the result is good.”

After several days on the road stuck inside a five-square-meter compartment, it’s the little things that count — like a free shower. And a good night’s sleep after a long day’s drive.

But time is money so Balima is up early. On this morning, he’s thinking of home.

“I am almost 34 years old now. I am still not married,” he says. “Because I cannot make my mind up. My mind is between Africa and America. Sometimes I see younger brothers newly arrived from Africa telling me, ‘I will not stay more than two years in the States.'”

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As much as Balima and Diawara have grown to love McDonald’s french fries and the opportunities and freedoms in America, they believe that in the current political climate, many Americans will always see them as Africans.

Balima says he tries to stay out of the U.S. immigration debate.

“I know they are all politicians,” he says. “I am not afraid of him. If Americans did not like Trump, he would not be where he is today.”

Most of the time there’s no room for politics inside Balima’s cab. For these African immigrants turned American truckers – keeping their eyes on the road is the key to success.

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Who’s at Fault in Amtrak Crash? Amtrak Pays Regardless

Federal investigators are still looking at how CSX railway crews routed an Amtrak train into a parked freight train in Cayce, South Carolina, last weekend. But even if CSX should bear sole responsibility for the accident, Amtrak will likely end up paying crash victims’ legal claims with public money.

Amtrak pays for accidents it didn’t cause because of secretive agreements negotiated between the passenger rail company, which receives more than $1 billion annually in federal subsidies, and the private railroads, which own 97 percent of the tracks on which Amtrak travels.

Both Amtrak and freight railroads that own the tracks fight to keep those contracts secret in legal proceedings. But whatever the precise legal language, plaintiffs’ lawyers and former Amtrak officials say Amtrak generally bears the full cost of damages to its trains, passengers, employees and other crash victims — even in instances where crashes occurred as the result of a freight rail company’s negligence or misconduct.

​No ‘iron in the fire’

Railroad industry advocates say that freight railways have ample incentive to keep their tracks safe for their employees, customers and investors. But the Surface Transportation Board and even some federal courts have long concluded that allowing railroads to escape liability for gross negligence is bad public policy.

“The freight railroads don’t have an iron in the fire when it comes to making the safety improvements necessary to protect members of the public,” said Bob Pottroff, a Manhattan, Kansas, rail injury attorney who has sued CSX on behalf of an injured passenger from the Cayce crash. “They’re not paying the damages.”

Beyond CSX’s specific activities in the hours before the accident, the company’s safety record has deteriorated in recent years, according to a standard metric provided by the Federal Railroad Administration. Since 2013, CSX’s rate of major accidents per million miles traveled has jumped by more than half, from 2 to 3.08 — significantly worse than the industry average. And rail passenger advocates raised concerns after the CSX CEO at the time pushed hard last year to route freight more directly by altering its routes.

CSX denied that safety had slipped at the company, blaming the change in the major accident index on a reduction of total miles traveled combined with changes in its cargo and train length.

“Our goal remains zero accidents,” CSX spokesman Bryan Tucker wrote in a statement provided to The Associated Press. CSX’s new system of train routing “will create a safer, more efficient railroad resulting in a better service product for our customers,” he wrote.

Amtrak’s ability to offer national rail service is governed by separately negotiated track usage agreements with 30 different railroads. All the deals share a common trait: They’re “no fault,” according to a September 2017 presentation delivered by Amtrak executive Jim Blair as part of a Federal Highway Administration seminar.

No fault means Amtrak takes full responsibility for its property and passengers and the injuries of anyone hit by a train. The “host railroad” that operates the tracks must only be responsible for its property and employees. Blair called the decades-long arrangement “a good way for Amtrak and the host partners to work together to get things resolved quickly and not fight over issues of responsibility.”

Amtrak declined to comment on Blair’s presentation. But Amtrak’s history of not pursuing liability claims against freight railroads doesn’t fit well with federal officials and courts’ past declarations that the railroads should be held accountable for gross negligence and willful misconduct.

​Maryland crash, backlash

After a 1987 crash in Chase, Maryland, in which a Conrail train crew smoked marijuana then drove a train with disabled safety features past multiple stop signals and into an Amtrak train — killing 16 — a federal judge ruled that forcing Amtrak to take financial responsibility for “reckless, wanton, willful, or grossly negligent acts by Conrail” was contrary to good public policy.

Conrail paid. But instead of taking on more responsibility going forward, railroads went in the opposite direction, recalls a former Amtrak board member who spoke to the AP. After Conrail was held responsible in the Chase crash, he said, Amtrak got “a lot of threats from the other railroads.”

The former board member requested anonymity because he said that Amtrak’s internal legal discussions were supposed to remain confidential and he did not wish to harm his own business relationships by airing a contentious issue.

Because Amtrak operates on the freight railroads’ tracks and relies on the railroads’ dispatchers to get passenger trains to their destinations on time, Amtrak executives concluded they couldn’t afford to pick a fight, the former Amtrak board member said.

“The law says that Amtrak is guaranteed access” to freights’ tracks, he said. “But it’s up to the goodwill of the railroad as to whether they’ll put you ahead or behind a long freight train.”

A 2004 New York Times series on train crossing safety drew attention to avoidable accidents at railroad crossings and involving passenger trains — and to railroads’ ability to shirk financial responsibility for passenger accidents. In the wake of the reporting, the Surface Transportation Board ruled that railroads “cannot be indemnified for its own gross negligence, recklessness, willful or wanton misconduct,” according to a 2010 letter by then-Surface Transportation Board chairman Dan Elliott to members of Congress.

That ruling gives Amtrak grounds to pursue gross negligence claims against freight railroads — if it wanted to.

“If Amtrak felt that if they didn’t want to pay, they’d have to litigate it,” said Elliott, now an attorney at Conner & Winters.

Same lawyers

The AP was unable to find an instance where the railroad has brought such a claim against a freight railroad since the 1987 Chase, Maryland, disaster. The AP also asked Amtrak, CSX and the Association of American Railroads to identify any example within the last decade of a railroad contributing to a settlement or judgment in a passenger rail accident that occurred on its track. All entities declined to provide such an example.

Even in court cases where establishing gross negligence by a freight railroad is possible, said Potrroff, the plaintiff’s attorney, he has never seen any indication that the railroad and Amtrak are at odds.

“You’ll frequently see Amtrak hire the same lawyers the freight railroads use,” he said.

Ron Goldman, a California plaintiff attorney who has also represented passenger rail accident victims, agreed. While Goldman’s sole duty is to get the best possible settlement for his client, he said he’d long been curious about whether it was Amtrak or freight railroads which ended up paying for settlements and judgments.

“The question of how they share that liability is cloaked in secrecy,” he said, adding: “The money is coming from Amtrak when our clients get the check.”

Pottroff said he has long wanted Amtrak to stand up to the freight railroads on liability matters. Not only would it make safety a bigger financial consideration for railroads, he said, it would simply be fair.

“Amtrak has a beautiful defense — the freight railroad is in control of all the infrastructure,” he said. But he’s not expecting Amtrak to use it during litigation over the Cayce crash.

“Amtrak always pays,” he said.

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As Brexit ‘Cliff-Edge’ Fears Grow, France Courts Japanese Firms in Britain

There are growing fears that Britain could be headed for a so-called cliff-edge exit from the European Union, as big differences remain between Brussels and London over the shape of any deal. It comes as Japan warns its businesses may pull out of Britain if they face higher costs after Brexit. A leaked government analysis suggests that economic growth in Britain will decline by up to 8 percent after it leaves the bloc. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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OxyContin Maker Purdue Pharma to Stop Promoting Opioids

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP said Saturday that it has cut its sales force in half and will stop promoting opioids to physicians, following widespread criticism of the ways that drugmakers market addictive painkillers.

The drugmaker said it will inform doctors Monday that its sales representatives will no longer be visiting physician offices to discuss its opioid products. It will now have about 200 sales representatives, Purdue said.

“We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the Stamford, Connecticut-based company said in a statement.

New marketing push

Doctors with opioid-related questions will be directed to its medical affairs department. Its sales representatives will now focus on Symproic, a drug for treating opioid-induced constipation, and other potential non-opioid products, Purdue said.

Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Amid the opioid epidemic, Purdue and other drugmakers have been fighting a wave of lawsuits by states, counties and cities that have accused them of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing.

The lawsuits have generally accused Purdue of significantly downplaying the risk of addiction posed by OxyContin and of engaging in misleading marketing that overstated the benefits of opioids for treating chronic, rather than short-term, pain.

Lawsuits in 14 states

At least 14 states have sued the privately held Purdue. Most recently, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing Purdue of deceptively marketing prescription opioids to generate billions of dollars in sales.

Purdue is also facing a federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut.

Purdue has denied the allegations in the various lawsuits.

It has said its drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and account for only 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions.

Purdue and three executives previously pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Justice Department probe.

That year, Purdue also reached a $19.5-million settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit by Kentucky.

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Experts: More Stock Volatility Ahead, but No Reason to Panic

It’s been a tough week on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial average closed more than 300 points higher Friday, after plunging more than 1,000 points the day before, the second steepest decline in history. The biggest dive happened Monday when the blue chip index fell more than 1,100 points. It’s enough to make even the most experienced investors swoon. But does this mean the end of the nine-year bull market? Is it time to worry? Mil Arcega spoke with economic analysts to get some answers.

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US Stocks Slump After Opening Higher in Last Trading Session of Turbulent Week

U.S. stocks slumped Friday afternoon after opening higher in the last trading session of a turbulent week in which the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index plunged into correction territory for the first time in two years.

The Dow, the more broad-based S&P 500 and the technology-laden NASDAQ composite were all about one percent lower in afternoon trading.

Earlier Friday, global stock indexes closed out the week in negative territory, deepening the weeklong sell-off. France’s CAC 40 Index fell 1.2 percent, Britain’s FTSE 100 Index lost seven-tenths of one percent and Germany’s DAX finished 1.2 percent lower.

Asian benchmarks fell more sharply. China’s Shanghai Composite Index plummeted 4 percent, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 retreated 2.3 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index lost just over 3 percent.

The U.S. sell-off began a week ago after the U.S. Labor Department reported wages grew rapidly in January, sparking concern of higher inflation and lower corporate profits.

European markets were rattled by a signal from the Bank of England that it may boost interest rates in response to a strong global economy.

Despite this week’s heavy losses, U.S. benchmarks are still posting strong gains over the past year. As of Friday morning, the Dow was 19 percent higher, the S&P was up 12.5 percent and the NASDAQ was ahead by more than 19 percent.

Many Wall Street observers had been expecting a correction — a drop in stock values of 10 percent or more over the most recent record high — because the market is currently in the middle of its second-longest bull run, or market that is expected to rise, of all time. Until now, the booming market had not seen a correction in two years, an unusually long time.

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