Super Rugby AU introduces ‘golden try’ as officials seek clarity on rule confusion


RA’s release, sent to media under embargo on Tuesday evening, read: “If a penalty or drop goal is successful within extra time, the game will continue until either a try is scored, or the 10-minute period expires. This update is to encourage attacking play in the extra time period.”

Last year’s Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds match at Brookvale Oval went to extra time and while both sides had chances to win the game through penalties, it was clear that they were playing conservatively rather than trying for a five-pointer. The match finished in a draw.

“We saw a couple of games … [where] teams basically tried to not lose the game rather than win it,” said RA’s national referee manager Scott Young. “This is innovation to try and encourage them to play attractive football.”

However, Young and Australia’s director of rugby, Scott Johnson, were quick to assure reporters on Tuesday evening they would seek answers after a hypothetical scenario was put to them that had not been thought through.

If for example, the Waratahs and Reds were locked at 20-20 at full-time, would the team who then kicked two penalties in extra-time be victorious (six points) or the side who scored a try (five points).

The scenario would be made easier if RA banned penalties or drop-goals in extra time, therefore meaning the only way to win would be with a try.

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Johnson and Young said they would seek clarity ahead of the season opener next Friday when the Waratahs take on the Reds at Suncorp Stadium.

“It’s a good point and it’s not been raised. We’ll take that offline. I’ll get an answer,” Young said.

Meanwhile, RA has decided against implementing a “captain’s referral” – similar to cricket’s DRS – that will be used across the ditch in Super Rugby Aotearoa. It was felt the review system would be too difficult to officiate on given how many previous phases would need to looked over.

“It got too complicated for us,” Johnson saiod. “We’re not saying it can’t be done, but unlike rugby league, we’re a complex sport. New Zealand were prepared to go back 31 phases. I’m not sure there is a big enough risk/reward for that. We’re trying to speed up the game.”

Meanwhile, infringements around kick-offs and restarts will result in a free-kick rather than a scrum or lineout option.

Referees will also be policing the breakdown more by telling teams to use the ball within five seconds of it being made available.

Officials have been told to limit the number of scrum resets.

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Gadget makers seek gold in eerie Tokyo trade show


After 20 minutes with Hideyo Watanabe, I am lost in his saga of the Tanzo pouch-opener: a stainless steel implement with no moving parts that could be set to benefit from demographic change, the whims of professional kitchen investment and the pandemic.

These dreams have brought Mr Watanabe as an exhibitor to Care Show Japan, a three-day nursing-home, personal care and medical-facility themed trade fair. It would normally be just one of hundreds of such events held in Tokyo every year. Today, given Japan’s official state of emergency, it is remarkable the gathering is happening at all. 

The immense vaults of the Big Sight convention centre, with ceiling fans turned up full and widely spaced booths, accentuate the all-consuming sensitivities of holding a trade show during a pandemic. Exhibitor and visitor numbers are way down on previous years, and the weird, unsettled calculus of Covid-19 makes for glaring oddities. Big companies, organisers said, want to maintain a presence at an important industry gathering. But they cannot be seen sending staff into a potential infection cluster. Most have opted to pay for and brand their allotted space — and then leave it unattended. 

Even in ordinary times, business salesmanship demands a balance of aspiration, desperation and conviction. Trade fairs try to squeeze a whole industry’s supply of all these into one room, even if it has to be behind masks and social distancing.

Such events provide an instant snapshot of an assembled sector of the economy. There is a concentration of customers and expertise; companies from mammoths to minnows also jostle together. Nothing online can replicate it. If you are lucky, says Christopher Eve, a 30-year veteran of Tokyo trade shows and the organiser of this one, an empty hall becomes an instant community. 

Superficially, the community aspect does seem to be stirring. Small companies, for whom these shows are vital, are more effusive and co-operative in their peddling than ever before, says the representative of a company selling products based on deer placenta. Pent-up commercial instincts feel released, after nearly a year of forced bottling. Trade shows, says the manufacturer of softened meat products for care-home canteens, provide a condensed hit of person-to-person contact — the vitamin that Covid-19 has denied so many enterprises. And this show has at least partially delivered.

If there is a consensus at Care Show Japan, though, it is that many people are deciding to think of Covid-19 as part of the long term business scene, rather than assuming it will eventually be gone.

That, once the sales patter ends, is what lies behind the calculations of Mr Watanabe about his company’s lone product. This opens food bags with a single, razor-edged stroke and has the neat slogan “faster than scissors, safer than a knife”. He is a natural adapter: his growth strategy, he says, has historically depended on working out which kitchens favour knives or scissors for their pouch-opening, and adjusting the pitch accordingly.

Like any business, Tanzo is adjusting to fundamental changes in the environment. For many years, some of its largest customers were workplace canteens and Japan’s ubiquitous “family restaurants” — franchised eateries famous for value and notorious for overworking staff. The pouch openers are perfect in the white heat of these kitchens, which rely on pre-packaged ingredients. 

Covid-19, Mr Watanabe notes, has been disastrous for restaurants and workplace canteens. Even where it has not directly forced closures, it has amplified the problems of an industry serving a shrinking population. But he contends the pandemic has not altered the demand from Japan’s ever-expanding care home industry. These will be the pouch-opener’s future customers, he judges, and is why he has invested in a booth at the show.

His decision, says Mr Eve optimistically, may even pay off more effectively than before Covid. When a show is low on quantity, it may be high in quality. Only the serious visitors have braved Covid to come, he says, leaving the “office skivers and the ones who turn up to shows for the free ballpoint pens” at home.

leo.lewis@ft.com

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Italy PM Quits To Seek New Govt As Pandemic Rages


Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday in the hope of forming a new government after weeks of turmoil in his ruling coalition, leaving Italy rudderless as it battles the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

He tendered his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella, the ultimate arbiter of Italian political crises, who invited him to stay on in a caretaker capacity pending discussions on what happens next.

The uneasy coalition that has led Italy since September 2019 was fatally weakened earlier this month by the withdrawal of former premier Matteo Renzi’s small but crucial Italia Viva party.





Conte survived a parliamentary vote of confidence last week but failed to secure a majority in the Senate
 POOL / Yara NARDI

Ahead of a key vote in parliament this week that he looked set to lose, Conte informed his cabinet on Tuesday that he would quit in what supporters said was a move to form a new government.

After the meeting with Mattarella, a spokesman for the president said he “reserves the right to decide (what to do next) and invited the government to stay in office in a caretaker capacity”.

Mattarella will open discussions with party leaders on Wednesday afternoon which are likely to lead into Thursday — leaving a vacuum at the top of the eurozone’s third largest economy at a crucial time.

Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the Covid-19 pandemic and has since suffered badly, with the economy plunged into recession and deaths still rising by around 400 a day.



Media reports suggest Giuseppe Conte will seek a mandate to form a new government to replace a ruling coalition has been on the edge of collapse


Media reports suggest Giuseppe Conte will seek a mandate to form a new government to replace a ruling coalition has been on the edge of collapse
 POOL / Olivier HOSLET

Parts of the country remain under partial lockdown, the vaccination programme has slowed and a deadline is looming to agree plans to spend billions of euros in European Union recovery funds.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, one of the leaders of the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), the largest in parliament, earlier said it was time to rally around Conte.

“The country is going through one of its worst ever periods due to the pandemic,” he tweeted late Monday. “Now we need unity, we all have to gather around Giuseppe Conte.”



Journalists wait for the arrival of Conte at the Presidential Quirinale Palace in Rome for a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella


Journalists wait for the arrival of Conte at the Presidential Quirinale Palace in Rome for a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella
 AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE

Conte’s government had been on the verge of collapse since Renzi pulled out on January 13 in a row over the premier’s handling of the pandemic.

Renzi in particular warned he risked wasting the EU funds with a 220-billion-euro ($267 billion) spending plan that he said failed to address Italy’s long-term structural issues.



IMAGES Italian PM Giuseppe Conte arrives at the presidential palace, the Quirinale, to resign.


IMAGES Italian PM Giuseppe Conte arrives at the presidential palace, the Quirinale, to resign.
 AFPTV / Giovanni GREZZI

The prime minister survived a vote of confidence in parliament last week but failed to secure an overall majority in the upper house, the Senate.

Despite days of talks with senators to seek their support, he looked set to lose a crucial vote on judicial reform in the coming days.

“Conte’s calculation is that by moving early, and thereby avoiding a humiliating defeat in the Senate later this week, he would increase his chances of securing a mandate from Mattarella to form a new government,” noted Wolfango Piccoli of the Teneo consultancy.

Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the other main partner in the coalition, so far is backing Conte.

He tweeted that he was “with Conte for a new government that is clearly pro-European and supported by a broad parliamentary base”.

But other lawmakers will be needed to form a viable new government — and “it is currently unclear whether Conte can succeed in such an effort”, Piccoli noted.

If he cannot, the M5S and PD could “ditch Conte and look for another candidate” to head a new coalition government.

They are keen to avoid snap elections, which opinion polls suggest would lead to victory for the centre-right coalition comprising billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party.

Conte, a once obscure law professor, has proved himself remarkably adept at navigating the famously choppy waters of Italian politics.

Since the 2018 elections he has been at the helm of two governments of different political shades.

The first was a fractious and unashamedly populist coalition between M5S and Salvini’s League, which ended when the latter pulled out in August 2019.



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UK doctors seek review of 12-week gap between vaccine doses


A medical staff member prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Tudor Ranch in Mecca, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A major British doctors’ group is says the U.K. government should “urgently review” it’s decision to give people a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine up to 12 weeks after the first, rather than the shorter gap recommended by the manufacturer and the World Health Organization.

The U.K., which has Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, adopted the policy in order to give as many people as possible a first dose of vaccine quickly. So far almost 5.5 million people have received a shot of either a vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech or one developed by U.K.-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

AstraZeneca has said it believes a first dose of its vaccine offers protection after 12 weeks, but Pfizer says it has not tested the efficacy of its jab after such a long gap.

The British Medical Association on Saturday urged England’s chief medical officer to “urgently review the U.K.’s current position of second doses after 12 weeks.”

In a statement, the association said there was “growing concern from the medical profession regarding the delay of the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as Britain’s strategy has become increasingly isolated from many other countries.”

“No other nation has adopted the U.K.’s approach,” Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA council, told the BBC.

UK doctors seek review of 12-week gap between vaccine doses
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference at 10 Downing Street in London, Friday Jan. 22, 2021. Johnson announced that the new variant of COVID-19, which was first discovered in the south of England, may be linked with a possible increase in the mortality rate. (Leon Neal/Pool via AP)

He said the WHO had recommended that the second Pfizer vaccine shot could be given up to six weeks after the first but only “in exceptional circumstances.”

“I do understand the trade-off and the rationale, but if that was the right thing to do then we would see other nations following suit,” Nagpaul said.

Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, defended the decision as “a reasonable scientific balance on the basis of both supply and also protecting the most people.”

Researchers in Britain have begun collecting blood samples from newly vaccinated people in order to study how many antibodies they are producing at different intervals, from 3 weeks to 24 months, to get an answer to the question of what timing is best for the shots.

The doctors’ concerns came a day after government medical advisers said there was evidence that a new variant of the virus first identified in southeast England carries a greater risk of death than the original strain.

  • UK doctors seek review of 12-week gap between vaccine doses
    Resident Margaret Keating, 88, receives the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Abercorn House Care Home in Hamilton, Scotland, Monday Dec. 14, 2020. (Russell Cheyne/PA via AP)
  • UK doctors seek review of 12-week gap between vaccine doses
    A pharmacist prepares a syringe of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at Queen Anne Healthcare, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle. Pfizer has committed to supply up to 40 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year to a World Health Organization-backed effort to get affordable vaccines to 92 poor and middle-income countries. The deal announced Friday, Jan. 22 will supply the shots to the program known as COVAX. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
  • UK doctors seek review of 12-week gap between vaccine doses
    A health worker prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine inside Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Salisbury Cathedral opened its doors for the second time as a venue for the Sarum South Primary Care Network COVID-19 Local Vaccination Service. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
  • UK doctors seek review of 12-week gap between vaccine doses
    People sit and relax after receiving their Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination at Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Salisbury Cathedral opened its doors for the second time as a venue for the Sarum South Primary Care Network COVID-19 Local Vaccination Service. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
  • UK doctors seek review of 12-week gap between vaccine doses
    Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference at 10 Downing Street in London, Friday Jan. 22, 2021. Johnson announced that the new variant of COVID-19, which was first discovered in the south of England, may be linked with an increase in the mortality rate. (Leon Neal/Pool via AP)

Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said Friday “that there is evidence that there is an increased risk for those who have the new variant,” which is also more transmissible than the original virus. He said the new strain might be about 30% more deadly, but stressed that “the evidence is not yet strong” and more research is needed.


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Homeless in India Seek Vaccine on Priority to Get Rid of ‘Untouchable’ Tag Amid COVID-19 Pandemic



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Earlier this month, India kicked-off its COVID vaccination drive. An estimated 300 million healthcare and frontline workers will be inoculated in order of priority, followed by those above 50 and under 50 with comorbidities.

As social stigma has stung the homeless hardest in India, thousands are eagerly awaiting the free vaccination to reach them, so that they can reintegrate into society.

“If we get the vaccine, at least we will not be treated as untouchable”, Sonu, a homeless man, who lost his job as bus ticket collector, lamented.

Sonu is seeking help from the government to treat homeless individuals on a priority basis when it comes to vaccination.

According to him, he was earning something around $5-6 a day before the outbreak of the pandemic last year.

“But now employers are not giving any work to the homeless because they believe that we are COVID-19 carriers. It has been ten months since I earned a penny”, Sonu told Sputnik.

Sonu is one among 1.77 million homeless people who have been promised shelter over their heads by 2022 by the Narendra Modi government. As per the 2011 census, around 256,000 people are living as homeless in urban India. Nevertheless, the decadal growth showed a grim situation in urban areas, with a jump of around 36 percent in homelessness between 2001-11. It is estimated that this trend might have accelerated following the economic crisis in the country.  

Since a COVID-19 vaccine was rolled out in the country, social activists have urged the government that homeless people should get vaccinated on a priority basis.

“Homeless people have weak immunity and are more exposed to the coronavirus after healthcare and frontline workers”, Sunil Kumar Aledia, founder of the Centre for Holistic Development (CHD) and a social activist working for homeless people, told Sputnik.

“People living in the streets begging for food are more vulnerable than others. Since the outbreak of the pandemic they have suffered the most”, Aledia said.

Not all homeless individuals in urban areas are vagrants or destitute. The census of India classified one out of five individuals as beggars and destitute. As per the government data, the remainder of homeless people constitute migrant workers and nomadic tribes.

The World Health Organisation, while suggesting social distancing and using masks to curb the spread of the pandemic, said that the government should take care of homeless people more during this period. Last month, the Delhi High Court expressed concerns about the plight of the homeless and the conditions in shelters while hearing a petition filed by an NGO, the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan.

Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan stressed that homeless people are experiencing economic distress due to the pandemic, and therefore, the government should continue the supply of dry rations to persons without proper documents.

The Centre for Holistic Development (CHD) has also written a letter to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and federal Health Minister Dr Harshvardhan requesting them to prioritise the homeless and migrants for vaccination. 

“Let’s see if they take cognisance of our request”, Aledia added. 



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Judges seek recusal as major Italian mafia trial kicks off



Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri stands outside during a pause in a trial against more than 320 suspected ‘Ndrangheta mafia mobsters and their associates, accused of an array of charges, in Lamezia Terme, Italy, January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

January 13, 2021

By Yara Nardi and Gabriele Pileri

LAMEZIA TERME, Italy (Reuters) – One of Italy’s largest-ever mafia trials kicked off on Wednesday with more than 330 suspected mobsters and their associates facing an array of charges, including extortion, drug trafficking and theft.

The case targets the ‘Ndrangheta clan, which is based in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and is considered by prosecutors to be the most powerful mafia group in the country, easily eclipsing the more famous Cosa Nostra gang in Sicily.

The trial is being held in a converted call-centre in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme, with metal cages installed for the defendants and rows of desks set up for the hundreds of lawyers, prosecutors and spectators expected to attend.

But the initial hearing hit an immediate snag after the three judges assigned to the case asked to be recused, saying they had been involved in earlier aspects of the investigation.

Their request will be reviewed by a separate court, which will delay proceedings for several days, lawyers said.

Many of the accused are white-collar workers, including lawyers, accountants, business people, local politicians and policemen, who chief prosecutor Nicola Gratteri says willingly aided the ‘Ndrangheta in building its crime empire.

Speaking to reporters as he entered the courthouse, Gratteri said the investigation had encouraged locals to speak out.

“In the last two years we have seen a surge in lawsuits from oppressed entrepreneurs and citizens, victims of usury, people who for years have lived under the threats of the ‘Ndrangheta,” said the prosecutor, who has spent more than 30 years fighting the mob.

The state will call on 913 witnesses and draw on 24,000 hours of intercepted conversations to support the myriad charges. Gratteri said he expected the trial would take a year to complete, with the court due to sit six days a week.

Another 92 suspects have opted for a fast-track trial in the same case, with their hearings due to start later in January, while a much smaller group of defendants will stand trial in February over five murders – including the killing of a mafia hitman who was shot dead because he was gay, prosecutors say.

The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi simultaneously was in 1986 in Palermo in a case that represented a turning point in the fight against Cosa Nostra, marking the beginning of the group’s sharp decline.

That trial had a huge impact because it targeted numerous mob families. The Calabrian trial focuses primarily on just one group – the Mancuso clan from the province of Vibo Valentia – leaving much of the ‘Ndrangheta’s top hierarchy untouched.

“The road ahead is still very long, but we mustn’t give up because there are thousands of people who believe in us. We can’t let them down,” Gratteri told Reuters.

(Reporting and writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Mike Collett-White)



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Three US-listed China tech companies seek over $6bn in Hong Kong


HONG KONG — Three Chinese technology companies — Tencent Music Entertainment Group, online retailer Vipshop Holdings and livestreaming platform Joyy — are seeking secondary listings in Hon Kong, joining a parade of U.S.-listed mainland companies establishing fallback positions amid moves by Washington to push them out.

According to four people familiar with the plans, Tencent Music, a unit of Tencent Holdings, is in talks with banks for a Hong Kong offering that could raise up to $3.5 billion while Vipshop is targeting up to $2.5 billion and Joyy is looking to raise just under half that amount.

Tencent has yet to determine a listing timetable, two of the people said. The offerings of Vipshop and Joyy could take place in the second or third quarter of this year, subject to regulatory approvals and market conditions, three of the people said.

A spokesperson for Tencent Music declined to comment while Vipshop and Joyy did not immediately respond to queries from Nikkei Asia.

The trio would join online search operator Baidu, video-sharing site Bilibili, travel portal Trip.com and online automobile sales platform Autohome in putting together plans for secondary listings in Hong Kong, as they face the possibility of forced delistings from American exchanges.


Vipshop Holdings has a market capitalization of $20 billion, while Joyy is valued at $6.7 billion. (Source photos by Getty Images and screenshot from Joyy’s website)

“Investors have been largely eager to get a slice of these Chinese companies,” one of the persons familiar with the plans said. “The companies offer a chance to partake in the fastest-growing segments of the Chinese economy — and, given they are already customers, investors are also familiar with the companies.”

Nasdaq-listed Bilibili has filed a confidential application for a secondary listing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to raise up to $3 billion as soon as March. Baidu has started preparations for an offering of at least $3.5 billion while Trip.com and Autohome are planning share sales of $1 billion each, said the people familiar with the Chinese offerings.

A secondary listing in Hong Kong allows Chinese companies to expand their investor base and also serves as a hedge against potential delisting in New York.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order in November that bans U.S. investors from buying and selling securities issued by 35 Chinese companies. Congress last year enacted a law that will boot Chinese companies off U.S. exchanges unless American regulators are permitted to review their financial audits. Beijing forbids such reviews, citing national secrets.

Since November 2019, when Alibaba sold shares in a secondary listing in Hong Kong, 10 U.S.-listed Chinese companies have raised $30 billion in the territory, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

As of October 2020, there were 217 Chinese companies with total market capitalization of $2.2 trillion trading on American exchanges, according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Tencent Music could be the first company to make use of a rule change made late last year by the Hong Kong exchange.

The new regulation allows companies from greater China which have corporate stockholders with enhanced voting rights, such as Tencent Music, and primary listings on a qualifying overseas exchange — including the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq — to pursue secondary listings in Hong Kong. Those which have listed abroad since October 2020 will not qualify.

The rule change has expanded the number of New York-listed Chinese companies that could list in Hong Kong from 20, excluding those already trading in Hong Kong, to as many as 60, according to analysts.

Tencent Music, which could offer from 5% to 10% of its shares in its Hong Kong listing, chose the NYSE for its initial public offering in December 2018 because, among other things, it allowed corporate dual class shares. It has a market valuation of $35 billion and has climbed more than 50% over the past year.

Tencent Music, which also counts Spotify as an investor, has more than 600 million monthly active users on its mobile apps and has been expanding aggressively through acquisitions. Together with Tencent Holdings, it has built a 20% stake in Universal Music Group over the past year. It also acquired a minority stake in U.S. virtual concert company Wave and a 1.6% stake in U.S. music label and publisher Warner Music Group valued at $240 million.

Vipshop, known for selling branded products at a discount, has a market capitalization of $20 billion, and Joyy is valued at $6.7 billion.

Joyy, founded in 2005, was among China’s earliest livestreaming companies. But its growth has been lackluster in recent years compared with ByteDance, the operator of TikTok, and Kuaishou Technology, which is also seeking a Hong Kong IPO.

Joyy agreed to sell YY Live’s China business to Baidu in November, but the business was hit by allegations of accounting fraud in a report published by short-seller Muddy Waters shortly afterward. Joyy denied the allegations.

Additional reporting by Nikki Sun.



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Young extremists will still seek Abu Bakar Bashir’s blessing


Today, Indonesian firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir will walk free from prison. The 82-year-old, who earned infamy in Australia for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings, has served as a bellwether for the Indonesian extremist community: never far from centre frame of its terrifying successes or its abject failures. His release from prison could provide a window into what is next for Indonesia’s floundering terrorist networks.

Bashir has been an ever-present feature of Indonesia’s extremist movement at every key juncture in its rise to international notoriety. In 1993, he helped set up the first regional terrorist network, Jemaah Islamiyah and forge ties with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, which attracted funding for the 2002 Bali attacks. His 2014 pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State brought a large chunk of local extremists into the group’s fold.

But time in prison has curbed his ability to shape the extremist community. Indonesian prisons’ management of convicted terrorists, while still patchy, has vastly improved over the past decade. During previous prison stints, Bashir was able to publish books promoting his extremist views, address his supporters via mobile phone and hold court with dozens of fawning visitors. But in recent years, authorities have effectively isolated Bashir and other high-profile extremists from everyone on the outside except their close family.

After his release Bashir will also find that the terrorist networks he nurtured are shadows of their former selves. Police counterterrorism unit, Special Detachment 88, largely snuffed out the ability of Islamic State, or IS, supporters to mount mass-casualty terrorist attacks (as in Europe), let alone an insurgency (as in the Middle East or West Africa). The tiny band of militants in Poso, Central Sulawesi doesn’t count – it has never been a threat to the Indonesian state.

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Merry day at the opera as organisers seek out first timers


New research by OA and the SOH has found more than half of Sydneysiders have never stepped foot into the iconic building to watch an opera. A significantly higher percentage of younger people aged under 40 years had been to an opera than older generations.

Of the 43 per cent surveyed that had visited the opera, many had done so as a one-off experience – ticking off their bucket list; the result of a school excursion; or a milestone birthday celebration.

Neither Moncrieff and Wasson, who travelled from Sydney’s far west, were intimidated stepping inside the Sydney Opera House, though both had never seen live opera before.

“I’m happy to try new things all the time, it’s a case of why not?” Ms Wasson said. “I do see a lot of musicals in the entertainment world, very occasionally I’ll go to concerts. I used to dance when I was younger so I do like that performing aspect, and especially at the moment with everything online and digital, live theatre is something to capture our attention.”

Ms Moncrieff, a Qantas flight attendant, was keen for an insider’s peek. “Not a lot of people are aware of what goes on behind the scenes and the level of artistic expression that goes on in the making of the final product,” she said.

Growing up, opera would never have been “first choice” for a family outing, Ms Moncrieff says. “My parents took me to [Australia’s] Wonderland and holidays on the beach, we’d go out to dinner or play board games at home, the arts weren’t really on the menu. I got into it after I left school and I now paint.”

Back on stage after COVID-19 devastated its 2020 season and blasted a multi-million dollar crater in its budget, the OA is opening its summer season with the crowd-pleasing The Merry Widow.

The Merry Widow is a story of lovers’ spats, gold-digging aristocrats, bumbling suitors, and glittering parties – all set in art deco Paris.

“I wanted to do The Merry Widow coming out of this annus horribilis because quite frankly we do La Boheme every year, and Mimi dies of a terrible disease, tuberculosis, and I didn’t think that was a good look and I wanted us to have fun,” said Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini.

The two leads of West Side Story on Sydney Harbour, Julie Lea Goodwin and Alexander Lewis, head the all-Australian cast directed by Graeme Murphy. Both Ms Moncrieff and Ms Wasson appreciated Murphy’s spirited choreography, the show’s humour, and its high production values. They would not hesitate to see the opera again, wondering out loud about the cost of tickets.

“When I was watching it I felt I was in their world and I think that is important,” Moncrieff says.

Relief came when the women realised The Merry Widow was performed in English. “We have both worked overseas before and we find that Australians honestly aren’t too tolerant of other languages,” Ms Moncrieff says. “We like everyone to be able to speak English so being an English opera it is very easy to connect and it takes the complete worry away of not being able to understand it.”

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They had also stressed about not dressing correctly and disrespecting the artists. Ms Wasson had swapped jeans for a dress at the last minute, only to be assured on arrival of a relaxed dress code.

Part of the battle of overcoming misconceptions that “people who go to Sydney Opera House are toffs” came down to changing the attitude of the country’s political leaders, Mr Terracini says. Regrettably, they preferred to be photographed at the football than at the opera.

“It’s a pity. Angela Merkel will see Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Opera and it’s a very important statement to make about the importance of your place, and I would argue that the culture of Australia is extremely important.”

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US layoffs remain elevated as 803,000 seek jobless aid – Long Island Business News


The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 89,000 last week to a still-elevated 803,000, evidence that the job market remains under stress nine months after the coronavirus outbreak sent the U.S. economy into recession and caused millions of layoffs.

The latest figure, released Wednesday by the Labor Department, shows that many employers are still cutting jobs as the pandemic tightens business restrictions and leads many consumers to stay home. Before the virus struck, jobless claims typically numbered around 225,000 a week before shooting up to 6.9 million in early spring when the virus — and efforts to contain it — flattened the economy. The pace of layoffs has since declined but remains historically high in the face of the resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

“The fact that more than nine months into the crisis, initial claims are still running at such a high level is, in absolute terms, bad news,” Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at the economic consulting firm Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc., wrote in a research note. “With the pandemic again worsening, it is likely that claims will remain quite elevated for some time.’’

The latest data on unemployment claims came on the same day that the government reported that consumer spending — the principal driver of the economy — fell in November for the first time since April. The 0.4% drop, coming in the midst of the crucial holiday shopping season, added to concerns that weak consumer spending will slow the economy in coming months. Economists suggested that the viral crisis, combined with diminished income and colder weather, likely led Americans to pull back in November.

Also on Wednesday, the government said that sales of new single-family homes sank 11% from October to November, though purchases remain up nearly 21% from a year ago. Boosted by rock-bottom mortgage rates, housing has proved resilient since the health crisis erupted last spring.

Another report Wednesday showed that orders to U.S. factories for high-cost manufactured goods rose a moderate 0.9% in November, with a key category that tracks business investment plans showing a gain. The rise in orders for durable goods, which are items that are expected to last at least three years, followed even stronger gains in recent months. The pace of orders has now nearly regained its pre-pandemic level.

In its report on applications for unemployment aid, the government said the total number of people who are receiving traditional state benefits fell to 5.3 million for the week that ended Dec. 12 from a week earlier. That figure had peaked in early May at nearly 23 million. The steady decline since then means that some unemployed Americans are finding work and no longer receiving aid. But it also indicates that many of the unemployed have used up their state benefits, which typically expire after six months.

Millions more jobless Americans are now collecting checks under two federal programs that were created in March to ease the economic pain inflicted by the pandemic. Those programs had been set to expire the day after Christmas. On Monday, Congress agreed to extend them as part of a $900 billion pandemic rescue package.

On Tuesday night, though, President Donald Trump suddenly raised doubts about that aid and other federal money by attacking Congress’ rescue package as inadequate and suggesting that he might not sign it into law.

The supplemental federal jobless benefit in Congress’ new measure has been set at $300 a week — only half the amount provided in March — and will expire in 11 weeks. A separate benefits program for jobless people who have exhausted their regular state aid and another benefits program for self-employed and gig workers will also be extended only until early spring, well before the economy will likely have fully recovered.

A tentative economic recovery from the springtime collapse has been faltering in the face of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases: An average of more than 200,000 confirmed cases a day, up from fewer than 35,000 in early September. Hiring in November slowed for a fifth straight month, with employers adding the fewest jobs since April. Nearly 10 million of the 22 million people who lost jobs when the pandemic hit in the spring are still unemployed.

According to the data firm Womply, closings are rising in some hard-hit businesses. For example, 42% of bars were closed as of Dec. 16, up from 33% at the start of November. Over the same period, closures rose from 25% to 29% at restaurants and from 27% to 35% at salons and other health and beauty shops.

The number of jobless people who are collecting aid from one of the two federal extended-benefit programs — the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offers coverage to gig workers and others who don’t qualify for traditional benefits — rose by nearly 27,000 to 9.3 million in the week that ended Dec. 5.

The number of people receiving aid under the second program — the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides federal jobless benefits to people who have exhausted their state aid — fell by nearly 8,200 to 4.8 million.

All told, 20.4 million people are now receiving some type of unemployment benefits. (Figures for the two pandemic-related programs aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations.)

States and cities have been increasingly issuing mask mandates, limiting the size of gatherings, restricting or banning restaurant dining, closing gyms or reducing the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses, all of which has slowed economic activity. With vaccines now beginning to be gradually distributed, though, optimism is rising about 2021.

Months from now, economists say, the widespread distribution and use of the vaccines could potentially unleash a robust economic rebound as the virus is quashed, businesses reopen, hiring picks up and consumers spend freely again.

Until then, the limited aid Congress has agreed to won’t likely be sufficient to stave off hardships for many households and small companies, especially if lawmakers balk at enacting further aid early next year. And a widening financial gap between the affluent and disadvantaged households will likely worsen.

“Recession risks are very high,″ said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “I do think the economy’s going to start losing some jobs here. Unemployment will probably go higher. The only thing that will save us from recession is that $900 billion fiscal rescue package.″





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