Day: January 14, 2021

Google Closes Deal To Buy Fitbit As U.S. Justice Department Probe Continues

WASHINGTON: Search and advertising giant Google has closed its deal to buy fitness tracking company Fitbit, the companies said on Thursday, even as the U.S. Justice Department said it was continuing its probe of the $2.1 billion transaction.

The Justice Department, which sued Alphabet Inc’s Google in October for allegedly violating antitrust law in its search and search advertising businesses, said it “has not reached a final decision about whether to pursue an enforcement action” regarding the Fitbit deal.

Google said in a statement that it had worked with the department during a 14-month probe. “We continue to be in touch with them and we’re committed to answering any additional questions,” a Google spokesperson said.

It is rare for a big deal to close without antitrust approval.

Australia has also not yet approved the transaction. Google won EU antitrust approval last month for its Fitbit bid after agreeing to restrictions on how it will use customers’ health-related data.

Fitbit makes a watch-like device to measure physical activity that competes with Apple Watch and others. Google said it was buying the company in order to compete in this market.

“We worked with global regulators on an approach which safeguards consumers’ privacy expectations,” Google said in a blog post, which said Fitbit had 29 million active users.

“(That includes) a series of binding commitments that confirm Fitbit users’ health and wellness data won’t be used for Google ads and this data will be separated from other Google ads data.”

While Alphabet is best known for a free service, its search engine, it has many other businesses, including online advertising services, audio device and thermostat maker Nest, video streamer YouTube and self-driving car company Waymo.

Google’s plan to buy Fitbit immediately raised concerns when it was announced in late 2019 because of its already rich trove of data about people, what they buy, where they travel, and more.

Fitbit’s fitness trackers and other devices monitor users’ steps and calories burned. They also measure floors climbed, heart rate, and how long and how well people sleep.

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Jill Biden To Name Director For Military Families Program

WASHINGTON: Days before Joe Biden becomes president, incoming first lady Jill Biden is taking a step toward fulfilling a campaign promise to revive a support program for military families that she once led with former first lady Michelle Obama.

Jill Biden on Thursday was naming an executive director of that program, known as Joining Forces.

Rory Brosius, 37, is on the president-elect’s transition team and was a senior adviser to Jill Biden during the campaign. Brosius previously was deputy director of Joining Forces.

Military families still needed support, Brosius told The Associated Press in a telephone interview before she was to join Jill Biden for a virtual listening session with organizations that support military families.

We’ll be spending the next few months listening and learning, said Brosius, the wife of a Marine Corps veteran. The community supported by Joining Forces is the community that I’m part of.

Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, as the wife of then-Vice President Joe Biden, launched Joining Forces in 2011 to encourage members of the public and the private sector to find ways big and small to support service members, veterans, their families and their caregivers. The program focused on education, employment and wellness.

Jill Biden brought to the White House a unique awareness to military family issues. Her late son, Beau, had served in the Delaware Army National Guard. Jill Biden continued her work with military families through the Biden Foundation after leaving the White House in 2017.

The Trump administration focused on veterans and the military, with President Donald Trump increasing the military budget during his term. Outgoing first lady Melania Trump and Karen Pence, the wife of vice president Mike Pence, also worked on military family support issues, but without the banner of Joining Forces.

Disclaimer: This post has been auto-published from an agency feed without any modifications to the text and has not been reviewed by an editor

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Will stand firm against any attempt to ‘unilaterally’ change status quo: Army chief | India News

NEW DELHI: The Indian Army will stand firm against any attempt to “unilaterally” change the “status quo” at the borders and its desire for peace and tranquillity should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness, Army chief Gen MM Naravane said on Thursday, remarks that came against the backdrop of the Ladakh standoff with China.
In a message aired on All India Radio (AIR) on the eve of the Army Day on Friday, Gen Naravane said the Army is committed to resolving disputes through dialogue.
He also said the Army was swift and decisive in its response to the design of the adversary but at the same time prevented the military stand-off in eastern Ladakh from escalating further.
Referring to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, the Chief of Army Staff said the Army shall not hesitate to strike at the very source of terrorism to safeguard India’s interests.
Gen Naravane said he was confident that the Army’s military character built on secular credentials, robust discipline and astute professionalism will continue to strengthen the force in meeting the aspirations of an emerging India.
The Army chief said the armed forces remained vigilant and determined to maintain “operational ascendancy” across all of India’s borders, be it the Line of Control(LoC), Line of Actual Control(LAC), AGPL (Actual Ground Position Line) or the international border (IB with Pakistan)
“We will stand firm against any attempt to unilaterally change the ‘status quo’ at our borders, as is evident from the fact that the Army was swift and decisive in its response, while at the same time, preventing the stand-off from escalating further,” he said.
“We are committed to resolving disputes through dialogue and diplomacy. However, our desire for peace and tranquillity should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness,” Gen Naravane said without naming China.
In a clear reference to Pakistan, he said the scourge of state-sponsored terrorism has been effectively countered by relentless operations, both in the hinterland and across the borders.
“The message is very clear: ‘The Indian Army shall not hesitate to strike at the very source of terrorism to safeguard our interests’,” he said.
The Chief of Army Staff said the past year has been full of challenges and opportunities.
“Our active borders have repeatedly tested our resolve and resilience. The Indian Army has been steadfast in safeguarding the security and territorial integrity of our nation. Our brave Officers, JCOs (junior commissioned officers) and soldiers have given a befitting reply to our adversaries, many laying down their lives in the highest traditions of the Indian Army,” he said.
Gen Naravane said the Indian Army has carved a special place in the national conscience as an institution that prides itself in upholding its core values and ethos.
“I am confident that our military character built on secular credentials, robust discipline and astute professionalism will continue to strengthen us in meeting the aspirations of an emerging India. We will forever remain firm in our resolve to uphold the trust reposed in us by the nation.”
Gen Naravane said the operational challenges have been further exacerbated due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With its wide footprint across the country, the Army was able to considerably augment the national effort,” he added.
Talking about modernisation of the force, he said the future demands a well-trained, modern and capable force supremely committed to the nation and “jointmanship” will be fundamental to achieving success on the battlefield.
“We have undertaken a number of steps towards force modernisation and restructuring. These include focused capability enhancement of the Army through emergency and fast track procurements and rapid development of infrastructure. These efforts have greatly enhanced our operational preparedness,” he added.
“Our families too have risen to the challenges faced by us and have been steadfast in their support to their husbands, wives, fathers and mothers. We are equally grateful to you all. You are the bedrock on which we are able to perform our duties and face these challenges,” he said.

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Coronavirus | Narendra Modi to launch pan-India rollout of COVID-19 vaccination drive on January 16

A dedicated 24×7 call centre – 1075 – has also been established for addressing the queries related to COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine rollout and the Co-WIN software.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the pan-India rollout of COVID-19 vaccination drive on January 16 at 10:30 am via video conferencing said a release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday.

It added that this will be the world’s largest vaccination programme covering the entire length and breadth of the country.

“A total of 3006 session sites across all States and UTs will be virtually connected during the launch. Around 100 beneficiaries will be vaccinated at each session site on the inaugural day,” said the release.

The vaccination programme will use Co-WIN, an online digital platform developed by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which will facilitate real time information of vaccine stocks, storage temperature and individualized tracking of beneficiaries for COVID-19 vaccine. This digital platform will assist programme managers across all levels while conducting vaccination sessions.

A dedicated 24×7 call centre – 1075 – has also been established for addressing the queries related to COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine rollout and the Co-WIN software.

“Adequate doses of both COVISHIELD and COVAXIN have already been delivered across the country to all States/UTs with the active support of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. These have been further delivered by the State/UT governments to the districts. All preparations are in place to initiate the programme on the principles of Jan Bhagidari,” added the release.

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Mumbai: 821 BEST staffers move labour court to claim gratuity post retirement | Mumbai News – Times of India

Image used for representational purpose.

MUMBAI: The labour court is flooded with 821 cases from BEST retired staffers who are fighting a legal battle to claim the gratuity which is due for the past two years. BEST has to pay over Rs 300 crore as gratuity to retired personnel, said committee member Sunil Ganacharya on Wednesday.
“These staffers, both in junior as well as senior positions, had retired with plans to spend the money for personal purposes or for medical purposes. But they are still awaiting the gratuity and this is uncalled for. Some of them have served for three decades in the organisation,” he said.
Nagesh Zore, one of the petitioners, who had retired from BEST, told TOI : “We could have got good interest rates on deposits from financial institutions two years ago, but now the interest rates have dropped. Also, many of us had planned to use the money for moving to a new house/apartment after leaving the official quarters.” A few others had planned to get their children married and the gratuity money along with few more dues were pending, sources said.
Ganacharya said that some of the retired staffers, who are old, will need the money to meet the medical expenses. “The money is due since September 2018,” he stated.
BEST workers union leader Shashank Rao said that the unions have made representations on behalf of the employees. “We have demanded that all gratuity be paid to ex- staffers and also those retiring in 2021,” he said.
A BEST official said that gratuity has been paid in recent years to other ex-employees. But, as far as those who did not get the money, he refused to comment as the matter was subjudice.
The BEST panel members plan to take up the issue on a priority at the forthcoming committee meeting. “Majority of cases in labour court pertains to BEST staffers who are seeking payment of gratuity,” Zore added.


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US blacklists China’s CNOOC, S&P deletes from stock indices

WASHINGTON: The US Commerce Department on Thursday added China’s state oil giant CNOOC to its blacklist over what it called “belligerent” actions in the disputed South China Sea.
The move was the latest in escalating sanctions against the firm that prompted S&P Dow Jones Indices to de-list the company late Wednesday.
It also reflects outgoing President Donald Trump‘s flurry of last minute pressure on Beijing as his days in office wind down, following four years of aggressive diplomatic and trade policies against the rival economic power.
“China’s reckless and belligerent actions in the South China Sea and its aggressive push to acquire sensitive intellectual property and technology for its militarization efforts are a threat to US national security and the security of the international community,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
“CNOOC acts a bully for the People’s Liberation Army to intimidate China’s neighbors, and the Chinese military continues to benefit from government civil-military fusion policies for malign purposes.”
The territorial dispute has festered for years, with Beijing ignoring US protests as it built a series of artificial islands to expand its military and commercial reach in the region that is believed to have valuable oil and gas deposits.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it.
“CNOOC has repeatedly harassed and threatened offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction in the South China Sea, with the goal of driving up the political risk for interested foreign partners, including Vietnam,” the Commerce Department said.
Commerce’s decision follows the Treasury Department announcement last week that it would add CNOOC to its sanctions list, which aim to freeze any assets under US jurisdiction and bans American firms — including banks and other companies with branches in the United States — from doing business with them.
S&P Dow Jones Indices said the company will strip CNOOC from its stocks list “on or before February 1.”
Commerce also tightened restrictions on Chinese tech firm Skyrizon, citing ties to the Chinese military which “pose a significant threat to US national security and foreign policy interests,” Ross said.
That means US firms will need a license to do business with the company.

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See How Jokingly Big B Explains The Similarity Between These Two PHOTOS

Bollywood’s Shahenshah Amitabh Bachchan never fails to amuse his fans and his latest Instagram reminds us why. On Thursday, the 78-year-old actor shared a picture collage on his social media profiles and he pointed out a striking similarity in both the pictures. The first photograph happens to be from his infant days, while the second shot is a relatively recent one (from 2020 to be precise). In case you are wondering what the aforementioned similarity in the two drastically different pictures is, Amitabh Bachchan’s caption might help clear the confusion. ‘Topi ka style same (the style of the caps is same),’ wrote Big B. He added, ‘Just add 78 years, some eye wear, and lots of undeclared hair…And…Whoooom!.. 1942 to 2020.’ The actor also made a reference to his evergreen Agneepath dialogue and added, ‘Aur ye solva ghanta chalu hai. Nahi, nahi nahi 2021 chalu hai.’

Needless to say, Amitabh Bachchan’s post cracked the Internet up. The comments section of his post was filled up with LOL emojis. Take a look at Amitabh Bachchan’s post here:

Check out some of the posts shared by Amitabh Bachchan here:

In terms of work, Amitabh Bachchan was last seen in Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo, co-starring Ayushmann Khurrana. The film released on Amazon Prime Video and it opened to largely positive reviews. The actor is also seen hosting the current season of the TV quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati 12.

The actor’s upcoming projects include Ayan Mukerji’s Brahmastra, co-starring Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor, and Chehre, alongside Emraan Hashmi. He will also be seen in the sports drama Jhund. Last year, Big B signed a film called Mayday, which will be directed by Ajay Devgn and it will star Rakul Preet Singh.

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No charger, no earphones with Galaxy S21: Samsung does an Apple. Again

When Apple announced that the latest iPhone 12 series will not come with charging adapters and free earphones, Samsung was among the first to make fun of Apple. Now, just months after the iPhone 12 launch, Samsung is simply following Apple. This is not the first time for Samsung. Samsung had earlier mocked Apple for removing the headphone jack and opting for a new notch display design. It’s easy to guess that Samsung did travel the same path.
Now, with the Galaxy S21 launch, Samsung has announced that there will be no free earphones or charging adapter inside the box of any of the Galaxy S21 series phones. So, if you don’t have a Samsung fast charger, you would need to buy one. Inside the box, Samsung will only offer a USB-C to USB-C cable for free.
While both Apple and Samsung claim this to be an ‘environment friendly’ decision, we really can’t ignore the direct cost savings for the brands.
Another noteworthy development is that Samsung has eliminated the microSD card slot from the Galaxy S21 series. That’s right, you will not be able to use your old microSD card with a new Samsung Galaxy S21 series phone any longer.
Samsung in a statement said, “We discovered that more and more Galaxy users are reusing accessories they already have and making sustainable choices in their daily lives to promote better recycling habits. To support our Galaxy community in this journey, we are transitioning to removal of the charger plug and earphones in our latest line of Galaxy smartphones.”
Interestingly, Samsung may even remove the earphones and wall adapter for more devices as well. As per the statement, “We believe that the gradual removal of charger plugs and earphones from our in-box device packaging can help address sustainable consumption issues and remove any pressure that consumers may feel towards continually receiving unnecessary charger accessories with new phones.”
Samsung, however, has promised to stick to USB Type-C charging ports for future phones, at least for now.

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Bhupinder Mann recuses from SC-appointed panel on farm laws, 9th round of talks on Friday: Top 10 developments | India News

NEW DELHI: Negotiations with the protesting farmers received a setback on Thursday when one of the four members on the committee appointed by the Supreme Court to engage with the unions recused himself. However, the other members would go ahead with their task and meet for the first time on January 19. Meanwhile, the both the farmers’ unions and the government would hold the ninth round of talks on Friday.
Here are the top 10 developments of the day:
1. Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) national president Bhupinder Singh Mann recused himself from the four-member committee appointed by the Supreme Court to resolve the deadlock between farmers and the centre over the new agri-marketing laws. Mann’s announcement came on a day when his organisation’s Punjab unit decided to disassociate itself from him. Farmer unions and opposition parties too had raised doubts over the composition of the panel, insisting that its members have been in favour of the three laws in the past. Mann said he is thankful to the apex court for nominating him to the panel but would give up any position to prevent farmers’ interests from being compromised. “As a farmer myself and a union leader, in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general, I am ready to sacrifice any position offered or given to me so as to not compromise the interests of Punjab and farmers of the country,” he said in a statement. “I am recusing myself from the committee and I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab,” said Mann who was also an ex-MP. The committee comprised Bhupinder Singh Mann, national president of Bhartiya Kisan Union, All India Kisan Coordination Committee; Parmod Kumar Joshi, director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist and former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices; and Anil Ghanwat, president of Shetkari Sanghatana.
2. Protesting farmer leaders welcomed BKU president Bhupinder Singh Mann’s decision to recuse himself from a Supreme Court-appointed committee, and reiterated that they do not want any panel and will not settle for anything less than the repeal of the three contentious laws. They said the other three members of the committee should follow suit as the agitating unions had never demanded formation of any committee to resolve the impasse between farmers and the centre over the new agri laws. Some leaders also invited Mann to join the agitation against the legislation.
3. The government’s ninth round of negotiations with protesting farmer unions will take place as scheduled on Friday and the centre is hopeful of positive discussions, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said. “The government is ready to hold talks with farmers’ leaders with an open mind,” Tomar told reporters. Clearing the confusion over the fate of the ninth round of talks, which was the only outcome in the last meeting on January 8, in the wake of the Supreme Court on January 11 appointing a four-member panel to resolve the impasse and a key member of the proposed committee subsequently recusing himself, Tomar said the talks between the government and the union representatives will take place as scheduled for 12 pm on January 15.
4. BKU leader Rakesh Tikait said the protesting farmer unions will attend the scheduled ninth round of talks with the government and asserted it is necessary to continue the dialogue to resolve the deadlock and end the agitation. Tikait also said the protesting unions will attend the meeting with union ministers on Friday. Asked if unions have any hope from the Friday meeting, Tikait said: “Let’s see what happens tomorrow. But, our meetings will continue with the government till our protest ends as it is necessary… We will not oppose the meetings with the government,” the BKU leader said when asked whether the Friday talks could be the last one if there is no solution.
5. The Supreme Court-appointed panel on farm laws is likely to hold its first meeting on January 19 at Pusa campus in the national capital, one of its members Anil Ghanwat said and asserted the committee will have no “ego or prestige issue” if it has to go to farmers’ protest sites to talk to them. The panel members were scheduled to have a virtual interaction earlier in the day to discuss its future course of action, but it could not take place after ex-MP and farmer leader Bhupinder Singh Mann recused himself from the committee. The existing members can hold their virtual interaction on Friday now, Ghanwat said, while asserting that he will not leave the committee unless asked by the apex court and he does not expect any other member to recuse.
6. “Truly independent” persons should have been appointed on the committee formed by the Supreme Court to resolve the impasse over new farm laws, NCP chief Sharad Pawar has said. Speaking to reporters, Pawar, a former Union agriculture minister, said the agitating farmers do not have faith in the panel as these members were said to have supported the new farm laws of the centre in the past. “Hence, the farmers don’t think anything will come out of discussions with the committee. And I agree with them. It would have been better if independent – in a true sense independent – persons had been appointed,” he said.
7. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi hit out at the centre over the contentious new farm laws, alleging that the government was “conspiring to destroy” the farmers and assured that his party will stand with them. Speaking to reporters in Madurai, the Lok Sabha MP also accused the BJP-led NDA government at the centre of trying to benefit “two or three of their friends” on the matter. “The government is not just neglecting them (farmers), the government is conspiring to destroy them. There is a difference. Neglecting is ignoring… they are not ignoring them,” he said in response to a query. “They are trying to destroy them, because they want to benefit two or three of their friends. They want to give what belongs to the farmer to two or three of their friends,” he alleged. “They want to take the land of the farmer, produce of the farmer and they want to give it to their friends,” Gandhi alleged. “You are suppressing the farmers, helping a handful of businesses,” he said. Extending his party’s support to the farmers, Gandhi said the laws will indeed be repealed.
8. The Punjab cabinet asserted that nothing short of a repeal of the centre’s three new farm laws would break the deadlock between the Union government and protesting farmers in the matter. It also said that the Congress-led Punjab government would take all measures to protect the interests of the state and farmers. “The central government is out of touch with the ground realities,” chief minister Amarinder Singh said at a meeting of the state cabinet. The council of ministers also demanded that the centre make minimum support price (MSP) a statutory right of farmers, who had been “getting extremely low prices for their produce” for the past several days despite being responsible for feeding the nation. The state cabinet also observed a two-minute silence in the memory of farmers who have died during the agitation against the farm laws. An estimated 78 farmers have so far lost their lives.
9. The Rajasthan Congress will lay siege to the Raj Bhavan in Jaipur on Friday in support of the farmers’ agitation against the centre’s new farm laws. The leaders and workers of the state unit of the party will observe Friday as ‘Kisan Adhikar Diwas’ and gherao the Raj Bhavan from 11 am to 2 pm in support of the farmers’ resentment also against the anti-farmer attitude of the Modi government, the Congress said in a statement. All India Congress Committee general secretary and Rajasthan in-charge Ajay Maken, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president Govind Singh Dotasra and chief minister Ashok Gehlot will also be present during the gherao of the Raj Bhavan, it added.
10. The Trinamool Congress has claimed that the new agriculture laws will leave small and marginal farmers at the mercy of big corporates and demanded that the legislation should be immediately repealed. Prices of vegetables such as potatoes and onions have skyrocketed as these have been taken off the essential commodities list, the party’s Barasat MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar said, adding that the concept of MSP has been totally bypassed. The way the centre passed the farm laws shows that the Union government is anti-farmer and anti-people, she told reporters in Kolkata. “Farmers will now be forced to sell their produce to big corporates at prices dictated by the firms. In case of a crop failure, however, these companies are not bound to buy the produce from the agriculturists,” the MP said.

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Is Trump a ‘flight risk’, asks US media

WASHINGTON: With less than 144 hours to go before he exits the White House, Donald Trump is being called a “flight risk” amid White House disarray, Republican Party dissidence, aides’ desertion, and family members decamping.
Talk of Trump fleeing the country if he is convicted in a Senate trial and faces criminal prosecution after he leaves office was triggered off by reports in both the conservative media (Washington Times) and liberal press (Politico) which cited experts discussing his prospective destination countries and whether the US has extradition treaties with them.
“He’s got money. He’s got property. He’s got access. The government would argue that he’s a flight risk,” an international extradition expert told the Times, which named UAE, Ireland, and Scotland, where he has assets, as his potential destinations.
“He’s not going back to New York and he is not going to enjoy the comfort at Mar-a-Lago he would have in the pre-Capitol-ransacking world. I’ll bet the feasibility of fleeing has come up because, in my mind, it is the only way to avoid instant accountability and reckoning,” a former intelligence officer told the paper.
The tattle about tee-ing off abroad came even as several Trump associates began deserting him and making critical remarks after four years of unquestioning loyalty. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf are among those who dumped on the departing President as the lights started going out at the Trump White House.
Deprived of his personal Twitter account and disdained by banks, financial institutions, big tech and big business, Trump is reported to be “isolated and angry,” raging in a near empty White House. According to one account, he has instructed his aides not to pay his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani his $20,000 a day legal fees after the latter failed to make the case for the election being stolen from Trump.
The Trump family, including his daughters Ivanka and Tiffany, and his sons Eric and Don Jr, are all packing up from not just Washington DC, but also New York City where they grew up, and heading down to Florida, where the President has now established residency.
The defeated President is being taunted and trashed as he departs, with his critics taking it out on him after suffering four years of his bragging and bluster. “Barack Obama has a Grammy, an Emmy, a Nobel Prize, 2 terms as President and a Twitter account. Donald Trump has 2 impeachments,” read one social media post on Thursday.
Politically, the Republican Party is splintering into factions still loyal to Trump, opposed to Trump, and those who are treading a delicate middle ground concerned about their political fortunes given the following the soon to be ex-president still commands in the base.

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