Cameron to business: Campaign against Brexit

Cameron to business: Campaign against #8217

David Cameron could hardly have chosen a better audience for his call for businesses to “get out there” and campaign against a British breakaway from Europe.

Taking the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the British prime minister urged the CEOs and chairmen of more than 1,000 of the world’s biggest companies to campaign for the U.K. to stay in the European Union.

“You can start to look at your own businesses and come up with examples and ideas about the benefits [of EU membership],” Cameron said. “Help to explain and set the context for this vitally important question.”

Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on the so-called ‘Brexit’ question by the end of 2017. He repeated Thursday that he would campaign for Britain to stay part of the EU, provided the bloc of 28 countries and 500 million people is willing to change.

It will be the first time in 40 years the issue has been put to the test, and the U.K. is deeply divided.

Cameron wants Europe to agree to reform before he sets a firm date for the vote. He wants Britain to have more control over migration, and for Europe to impose less regulation. A meeting of EU leaders next month could be crucial in determining the outcome.

Many of the world’s biggest companies have already come out in support of Britain staying in.

Deutsche Bank has warned it could move business out of the U.K. if the country were to leave the union. Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and other major U.S. banks are reportedly considering donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the “in” campaign.

A survey of the top 350 publicly traded U.K. companies showed 70% say leaving the EU would damage their business, up from 63% last summer.

Ferrari once split in half in crash goes up for auction

Ferrari once split in half in crash goes up for auction

You can crash a Ferrari, but apparently you can’t destroy one.

Here’s proof: A Ferrari that was split in half in spectacular crash 10 years ago is going up for auction in Paris next month and is expected to fetch between 1.5 million to 2 million euros, or $1.6 million to $2.2 million.

The car, a 2004 Ferrari Enzo, has been completely rebuilt and restored since the accident.

It was going about 194 miles an hour when it crashed into a pole on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu on Feb. 21, 2006, according to news reports quoting the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s spokesman.

The auction listing at RM Sotheby’s only says that the car “was unfortunately damaged in a road accident” in the United States in 2006. But spokeswoman Amy Christie confirms the car being auctioned is the one that split in half in the accident.

She said it was rebuilt at the Ferrari Technical Assistance Service and now has features that aren’t available on any other Ferrari Enzo.

No one was seriously injured in the crash. Police at the time said driver, Swedish gaming entrepreneur Stefan Eriksson, suffered only a bloody lip. Eriksson also reportedly had a blood alcohol level of 0.09, above the legal limit.

But in an unrelated matter, he was soon charged with more serious crimes and eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement and one count of illegal gun possession. He served three years in jail and was subsequently deported, according to news reports.

Remarkably, the most expensive car ever sold at auction was a Ferrari with a similar history. The 1962-63 Ferrari GTO Berlinetta was sold in California last August for $38 million. This particular car had two different model years because shortly after it was first sold, it was badly damaged in a racing crash that killed driver Henri Oreiller. After that, it was sent back to the Ferrari factory where it was rebuilt as a 1963 model.

It is virtually impossible to total a car as expensive as these Ferraris. No matter how badly wrecked they are, the amount of work required to fix them will not exceed the value of the restored car.

CNN’s Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

Mario Draghi calms markets with hint of more money

Mario Draghi calms markets with hint of more money

Mario Draghi gave fearful markets a shot in the arm Thursday without actually doing anything.

His promise that the European Central Bank could pump out more money as early as March if necessary was enough to give stocks a lift and send the euro lower against the dollar.

The ECB kept interest rates unchanged, as expected, and said it would continue to buy government bonds and other assets at a rate of 60 billion euros ($65 billion) a month.

Speaking to reporters after the bank’s policy meeting, the ECB president said the outlook for the eurozone economy had clearly worsened since December due to uncertainty about global growth, volatile markets and geopolitical risks.

“It will therefore be necessary to review and possibly reconsider our monetary policy stance at our next meeting in early March,” he said. “There are no limits to how far we’re willing to deploy our instruments.”

That could mean increasing the pace of asset buying – or quantitative easing – or cutting interest rates to new record lows.

Europe’s economy is stagnating – growth in the third quarter of 2015 was just 0.3% – and the region is facing rising tension from the refugee crisis and the risk of a breakaway by the U.K.

The 40% slump in oil prices since the ECB compiled its most recent set of forecasts will make it even harder for the bank to revive inflation from near zero.

But it should support consumer demand at a time when the weaker outlook for emerging markets, and in particular China, is weighing on exports.

“Our best bet is that the stimulating impact of lower oil prices will roughly offset the drag from the emerging market crisis and the financial turbulence in the next six weeks,” wrote Holger Schmieding at Berenberg bank. “If so, the ECB would not have to act in March. Of course, the short term risk to that call is obvious.”

Draghi also sounded relaxed about the current market turmoil, which has seen European stocks crash into bear market territory. Banking stocks have been particularly hard hit.

“So far, we have not seen signs of potential financial instability of the like we’ve seen in the pre-crisis times,” he said. “One should be very cautious here about being too self complimentary, but certainly the gyrations we are observing would have severely tested the resilience of the banking sector at that time, and so far we have seen they stand pretty resilient.”

Turning to China, he said the ECB was carefully monitoring market volatility and the “sizeable capital outflows,” but that the slowdown in the economy was broadly in line with expectations.

“The Chinese authorities have a reputation for acting responsibly. What they have done in the last two weeks shows they are gaining control over their policy making.”

Birth control on demand s office required

Birth control on demand s office required

Birth control is a pain to get. Skipping it can have life-altering consequences. Unfortunately for busy women in a pinch, the United States requires a prescription for birth control, unlike the majority of countries in the world.

A new app called Nurx wants to make it dead simple to get hormonal birth control on-demand. The San Francisco startup wants to do for the pill what Instacart did for groceries and Uber did for cabs.

You don’t need a previous prescription to use the app. There is no physical examination and no time consuming trip to a doctor’s office. All that’s required is an online questionnaire. The information is sent to a partner doctor who writes a prescription, then Nurx fills and mails it. Your pills, patch or ring arrive within a day or two, and refills can be scheduled automatically.

The service, including shipping, is completely free to patients who have health insurance.

“We wanted to pare it down to the simplest form, to make it a one-step process, and still make it legal,” said Hans Gangeskar, who cofounded Nurx with Edvard Enges?th. Ganeskar is an attorney and computer engineer, while Enges?th is a medical doctor licensed in their home country of Norway.

Launched in November, Nurx isn’t sharing customer numbers but said it had 70 new sign-ups in a single day last week.

Interacting with doctors over technology isn’t new, but getting a prescription without a phone or video call is unusual. To start, Nurx is smartly focusing on birth control, a low-risk reoccurring drug prescribed primarily to healthy people.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it supports all increased access to birth control. It advocates for over-the-counter birth control, similar to what California and Oregon will allow later this year.

Nurx’s web-app asks many of the same questions a doctor does during an in-person visit for birth control: queries about weight, age, smoking, existing medical conditions and other medications.

The data is stored in a HIPAA-compliant system and forwarded to one of three doctors who review it, typically later that day.

The process is not completely impersonal. There’s a box to type questions or comments for the doctor, who can follow up via a secure message or phone call.

Not everyone supports using technology in this way. The American Medical Association says a “valid” relationship needs to be established between the doctor and patient first, ideally in person or on a phone or video call. The concern is that a text-only interaction isn’t sufficient for gathering information about a patient or monitoring them later.

Things could get trickier with Nurx’s plans to offer HIV prevention medication in the future. The company is working with a number of organizations to offer controversial pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Nurx will need to add in an additional blood test step to make sure patients are HIV negative.

PrEP is not a drug most primary care physicians are going to prescribe easily, if at all. The CDC says 1.2 million people are candidates for PrEP, but only 20,000 are currently on it. Gangeskar thinks Nurx has the ability to close that gap.

Nurx is currently only available in California, but the company will expand to New York and other states where laws allow soon. Starting later this week, Nurx will use to Postmates offer same-day delivery of birth control, including Plan B, in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

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Going forward, company will continue to enhance people’s lives the world over by providing energy-efficient, connected lighting solutions that deliver value beyond illumination.

Walmart increasing wages; union says its all show

Walmart increasing wages; union says its all show

Walmart will be giving 1.2 million of its U.S. workers a pay hike next month.

Starting February 20, every Walmart and Sam’s Club employee hired before January 1, 2016, will earn at least $10 per hour, the company announced Wednesday.

It will be the second round of pay increases, part of a plan to boost wages that Walmart first announced last year.

The first round came last April. It increased the pay of 500,000 Walmart workers to at least $9 per hour.

After that took effect, Walmart said its average hourly rates were “about” $13 for full-time employees and $10 for part-time.

The company said Wednesday that the second round of wage hikes in February will bring the average hourly wage to $13.38 for full-time workers and $10.58 per hour for part-timers.

Walmart does not release data about how many full- or part-time workers it employs in the U.S., but the company said in a statement that it converted about 150,000 employees from part-time to full-time status last year.

The group behind Making a Change at Walmart – a longstanding campaign for better employment terms – said the pay raises are nothing but a publicity stunt.

“It’s easier to find a unicorn than a Walmart worker who has gotten a meaningful raise, or hasn’t had their hours cut,” United Food & Commercial Workers Union spokeswoman Jessica Levin said via email. “America’s hard-working families expect better from a company that makes billions in profit a year.”

The organization, along with a coalition of employees called OUR Walmart, have lobbied the company for a “living wage” of at least $15 an hour.

The news comes just five days after Walmart announced that it’s shutting down 154 of its U.S. locations. That affects 10,000 workers who will either be laid off or relocated to a different store.

Like most retailers, Walmart suffered in 2015. Its share price dropped 30% over the course of the year.

When the company issued its latest earnings report in October, CFO Charles Holley said workforce investments – like increasing paychecks – will put a dent in its bottom line. Walmart expects operating profits to decrease by $1.5 billion in its fiscal year ending January 2017.

Volvo promises deathproof cars by 2020

Volvo promises deathproof cars by 2020

Volvo has made a shocking pledge: By 2020, no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car or SUV.


“If you meet Swedish engineers, they’re pretty genuine,” said Lex Kerssemakers, CEO of Volvo Cars North America. “They don’t say things when they don’t believe in it.”

There is one big caveat. If someone really wants to hurt themselves, or is just really, really stupid well, Volvo can’t do anything about that. But, assuming you’re not a suicidal maniac or a total idiot, in four years, you’ll be safer driving a new Volvo than you are climbing a ladder to screw in a light bulb.

Fatality-free vehicles are not unprecedented. In fact, there already are some, and they’re not just Volvos. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are nine vehicle models – including the Volvo XC90 – in which no one in the United States died in the four years from 2009 to 2012, the most recent period for which data is available.

Volvo, still based in Sweden but now owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, wants to make this the case for its entire vehicle line up throughout the world. The automaker already tracks how many people die in its vehicles in order to monitor safety. That way, engineers can tell how much safer their vehicles become each time they roll out a new crash-prevention technology. That also helps Volvo predict how much safer its vehicles will be with each new advancement.

Ultimately, all these new technologies will be tied to together to create a car that can, literally, drive itself. In fact, a number of automakers, not not just Volvo, have promised to sell autonomous cars by 2020.

“With the development of full autonomy we are going to push the limits of automotive safety,” said Volvo safety engineer Erik Coelingh, “because if you make a fully autonomous vehicle you have to think through everything that potentially can happen with a car.”

That doesn’t mean that drivers will necessarily have to use the car’s autonomous driving mode in order to be safe, though. Even when the driver is in full control of the car, these systems will still run in the background, ready to take over the instant there’s danger.

Most of the technology that’s required for autonomous driving is already available from Volvo and other carmakers. Here’s a look at the features that, when combined all together in one vehicle, will essentially make it crashproof.

Adaptive Cruise Control: Adaptive cruise control, which is already available on many new cars, uses radar and sometimes other sensors to detect vehicles on the road ahead. You set a maximum speed and then your car maintains a safe following distance on its own, operating the gas and the brakes for you. Some systems like this only work at highway cruising speeds, but many can work even in stop-and-go traffic.

Auto lane keeping assist: Cameras detect lane lines and road edges, and the car steers itself to stay in its lane.

Collision avoidance: Radar, cameras or other sensors detect obstacles ahead and warn the driver. If the driver still doesn’t react, the car can apply the brakes automatically to avoid, or at least reduce, the impact of a crash. In the United States, auto safety regulators have found this technology particularly effective in reducing crashes.

Pedestrian detection: Cameras, including ones that can see in the dark, are programmed to detect human forms that might wander into the path of the car. Drivers can be alerted and again, the car can brake automatically.

Large animal detection: Hitting a moose, deer or elk is definitely bad for the animal but it’s also very bad for a car’s passengers. Volvo has created a system that can detect when a big animal is walking in front of your car, saving both you and the absent-minded animal.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the time period during which nine vehicles, including the Volvo XC90, had no crash-related fatalities.

Bill Ot book Ted Cruz

Bill Ot book Ted Cruz

Bill O’Reilly says that he has been unable to book Ted Cruz on his show.

The Fox News host was asked by a viewer on Wednesday why he repeatedly interviewed Donald Trump but didn’t interview the Texas senator, who is currently in second-place behind Trump in both national and early-state polls.

“We’ve been trying to get Sen. Cruz on for weeks and we’ll keep trying,” O’Reilly said.


O’Reilly did not expand on why he had been unable to book Cruz, and neither Fox News nor the Cruz campaign immediately responded to request for comment.

But on Thursday morning, Cruz’s opponents were publicizing O’Reilly’s claim on Twitter.

“@tedcruz won’t sit down with @oreillyfactor??” Alex Conant, the communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign, tweeted.

Rubio has appeared on O’Reilly’s show several times, as recently as last Friday.

Cruz’s absence from the O’Reilly Factor comes as the Republican primary campaign reaches a fever pitch in Iowa, with less than two weeks to go before the caucuses there.

Trump and Cruz are neck-and-neck in the Hawkeye State, while Rubio is a distant third.

ACLU unveils privacy fight in 16 states

ACLU unveils privacy fight in 16 states

Frustrated with increasing surveillance by the federal government and corporations, politicians in 16 states are pushing for sweeping privacy laws.

On Wednesday, officials proposed legislation to guard personal privacy and student data, and to make it harder for police to use high-tech spying tactics.

The measures, which vary in topic and scope, would protect the personal information of 100 million Americans, a third of the nation.

Hawaii is considering a law that prevents a boss from demanding access to an employee’s personal email or social media accounts. A measure in Missouri would offer that protection to students and workers.

Nebraska legislation would force police to stop using Stingrays, controversial gadgets that mimic real cell phone towers and trick nearby phones to announce their locations.

New Hampshire proposed an “expectation of privacy” law that would limit how government agencies and corporations can access credit histories, DNA profiles and other personal information.

In all, 16 state bills strengthen student privacy. Three tackle concerns over Stingrays. Two bills limit automatic license plate readers.

Why the push for privacy?

We live in the Age of Data. Our movements, habits, purchases – nearly everything is tracked. But there are few limits on how that information can be used.

Companies amass sensitive information to better target the sale of products. But they also use Big Data to determine individual insurance rates, borrowing fees and even airline prices.

The companies behind college entrance exams have been sued for selling sensitive student data.

Federal investigators secretly track our location via phone call signals and license plates, collecting data on millions of Americans. Sometimes agents even hover over us using spy planes.

Yet Congress hasn’t passed broad reform restricting the use and access of data.

Instead, advocates have turned to state legislators. The American Civil Liberties Union is leading this massive effort, dubbed #TakeCTRL, with the broad support of local conservative and liberal politicians.

“There’s growing recognition that our laws are inadequate in dealing with privacy rights of Americans,” ACLU national executive director Anthony D. Romero said on Wednesday. “The federal government has been missing in action on these debates.”

Michael Boldin is the executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center, which pushes for states to initiate national reforms. He said privacy is the only issue that’s energizing “everyone from Tea Party patriots to Occupy activists.”

“It’s essential for states to draw a line in the sand and say your information will only be collected with your permission or a warrant,” Boldin said.

Nine in 10 Americans believe they have no control over their personal information, how it’s collected, or how it’s used by companies, according to the Pew Research Center.

Michigan State Rep. Peter Lucido, a Republican, said this push for privacy attempts to let Americans retake control.

He criticized data brokers, who collect and sell data in bulk, for “abusing us as Americans” and making us “vulnerable to consumer profiling, identity theft.” In the past, data brokers have been caught selling lists of rape victims and AIDS patients.

“We’re exploding with information and data across our nation,” Lucido said. “Who is the data being shared with? How long is the data being kept? After I’m dead and gone, what are they going to do with that data?”

Why you should worry about cheap oil

Why you should worry about cheap oil

Millions of Americans are laughing their way to the gas station. But should they be?

Sure, the stunning crash in oil prices below $30 a barrel seems great for consumers because it’s driven gas at the pump below $2 a gallon. And the thinking is that it should help boost the U.S. economy, with people spending their gas savings.

But cheap oil is also causing mayhem in global stock markets. The Dow is off to its worst start to a year ever. The financial headlines at the start of 2016 are downright scary. With that backdrop, any euphoria over low oil prices is questionable. Here’s why:

It’s rocking your retirement account: The Dow has plummeted 1,500 points so far this year and CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index is flashing “extreme fear.” You’re not going to be happy when you open your 401(k) statement. The freakout on Wall Street has been largely driven by the crash in oil. It’s caused energy profits to plunge and hurt stocks like Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Oil companies are dying: The U.S. energy boom was fueled by expensive drilling technology that was designed for far higher oil prices and paid for with lots of debt. Those loans are now much harder to pay off. Last year alone, 81 oil and oilfield services companies filed for bankruptcy, according to law firm Haynes and Boone. Many more are expected to succumb to financial trouble in the coming months.

Big banks are bracing for losses: It’s never a good sign when the country’s financial lifelines are under stress. Large U.S. banks JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo that helped bankroll the energy boom are already setting aside billions to cover potential loan losses in the oil industry. High yield bonds in your investing portfolio wont be looking good either – Standard & Poor’s warned that half of all energy junk bonds are at risk of defaulting.

Pink slips are flying in the oil patch: Profits at energy giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil fell over 50% around the middle of last year. No wonder many American oil companies, including Halliburton and ConocoPhillips have aggressively slashed expenses to counter lower earnings. Government statistics indicate the energy industry slashed 130,000 jobs in 2015. Actual job losses that include oil-related businesses are likely higher.

Cheap oil could signal trouble in the global economy: When economies are booming, they consume lots of oil – and vice versa. That’s why Wall Street is worried that the drop in energy prices suggests the global economy is slowing down more than already feared. A severe global slowdown would be very bad news for large U.S. companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to Caterpillar that serve customers abroad.

Emerging markets are getting crushed: The oil crash raises the risk of a full-blown crisis in the emerging market world. Many economies like Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and Russia are powered by energy exports. Brazil’s longest recession since the 1930s is getting worse and Russia’s currency just plunged to an all-time low. The U.S. has deep trade relations with many of these countries, and that will undoubtedly take a blow.

More trouble in the Middle East: The decline in oil prices adds a new element of instability to the Middle East. Tensions are on the rise between OPEC kingpins Saudi Arabia and Iran, which can’t help the already-volatile region.

Home foreclosures are rising in oil states: It’s a big negative for previously-booming oil states like Texas. The Lone Star state experienced a 16% jump in foreclosure activity in 2015, while foreclosures in Oklahoma and North Dakota also rose sharply.

U.S. energy independence dealt a blow: Domestic oil output has skyrocketed in recent years, leaving the U.S. less reliant on countries in the Middle East for energy. However, with some U.S. oil companies closing shop, production is now expected to decline. That’s exactly what Saudi Arabia wanted when it embarked on a strategy of flat-out production that has kept prices lower than U.S. companies can survive on.

Are people even spending their gas savings? The idea that cheap oil is a net positive for the U.S. hinges on the consumers spending the money they’re saving at the pump. But it remains a bit of a mystery whether that’s actually happening at a significant level. U.S. retail sales actually fell slightly in December despite the fact that gas prices continued to fall at the end of last year.

Record 2,653 guns found in carry-on bags last year

Record 2,653 guns found in carry-on bags last year

Travelers kept TSA on its toes in 2015.

The Transportation Security Administration intercepted a record 2,653 guns in carry-on luggage during 2015. And more than 82% of those weapons were loaded.

The guns were found at security checkpoints in 236 airports around the country.

The five airports with the most confiscated guns were: 1. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: 153 2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: 144 3. Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport: 100 4. Denver International Airport: 90 5. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: 73

The previous record was set in 2014, when 2,212 firearms were intercepted. The numbers have been climbing for a while – in 2005, TSA found only 660 guns.

“The transport of firearms by commercial air in carry-on bags represents a threat to the safety and security of air travelers,” TSA said in a statement. “Through increased training in detection methods, our officers are becoming more adept at intercepting these prohibited items.”

In 2015, TSA screened over 708 million passengers – more than 1.9 million a day. It also screened roughly 432 million checked bags and 1.6 billion carry-ons.

Travelers who are found with guns can face criminal charges and penalties.

Firearms, firearm parts and ammunition are strictly prohibited in carry-on bags, but it’s not necessarily illegal to bring a gun on a plane. Travelers are allowed to put a weapon into a checked bag as long as it’s unloaded and they inform the airline.

Iran: Well grow 8% soon

Iran: Well grow 8% soon

Iran is planning for a big economic boom.

The Iranian economy will grow an average 8% a year over the next five years, according to Mohammad Nahavandian, the chief of staff to Iran’s president.

“Iran may be one of the most promising emerging markets of the coming decades,” Nahavandian said.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he hinted about Iran’s huge business ambitions now that economic sanctions are finally gone.

Western sanctions were lifted on Saturday, following a landmark nuclear deal last year.

“After the lift of the sanctions 8% is feasible,” Nahavandian said. “There are so many companies who have expressed interest in the energy sector, ICT [information and communications technology] and transit,” he added.

Iran is now able to welcome new investors, and boost the region’s economy, by providing new cost-effective transit routes, Nahavandian said.

“The world economy has not benefited from this economic opportunity,” he said.

The end of sanctions also means Iran will soon be able to access up to $150 billion of its previously frozen assets abroad.

Tehran is planning to pour this money into the economy, and invest heavily into its vital, but outdated, oil sector. It wants to quickly reclaim its share of the global oil market and plans to increase the output by as much as 1.5 million barrels a day by the end of this year.

Iran has the world’s largest combined reserves of oil and natural gas oil.

“[Iran] can be one of the best sources of energy security, especially for Europe,” Nahavandian said.

Twitters Jack Dorsey is having a worse year than you

Twitters Jack Dorsey is having a worse year than you

Think your portfolio is taking a big hit this year? Well, you probably haven’t lost as much as Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square.

In less than 12 days of trading, Dorsey’s paper losses on the two companies total almost $500 million.


The value of Dorsey’s stake in Twitter has plunged more than $165 million – or nearly 35% – since the beginning of 2016. That’s based on prices from early trading on Wednesday and the most recent holdings data available for Dorsey.

Twitter fell 7% Wednesday morning and hit a new all-time low of below $15.50 a share. Dorsey owns a 3.2% stake in Twitter, making him its sixth largest shareholder.

Square, the mobile payments startup founded by Dorsey that went public in November, has also plummeted 35% in the first few weeks of this year.

The stock nosedived more than 11% Wednesday and is now trading for less than its initial public offering price of $9.

But Square’s cringe-worthy start is making a bigger dent in Dorsey’s net worth. That’s because he is Square’s largest shareholder. He owns more than 20% of the company.

The value of Dorsey’s Square stake has fallen by about $330 million in 2016.

So if schadenfreude is your thing, this may make you feel a little better after you take a look at your 401(k) today. You probably haven’t lost nearly half a billion dollars in two-and-a-half weeks.

Defiant Saudi Arabia says it can handle low oil prices for a long, long time

Defiant Saudi Arabia says it can handle low oil prices #8217

If you are waiting for Saudi Arabia to save the oil market, don’t hold your breath.

The country will not cut production and give up its market share in order to prop up prices, the chairman of Saudi Aramco said at the World Economic Forum in Davos

“We are not going to accept to withdraw our production to make space for others,” Khalid al-Falih said at a panel hosted by CNN’s emerging markets editor John Defterios.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s second biggest oil producer and the top crude exporter. “This is the position that we’ve earnedwe are not going to leave that position to others,” al-Falih said.

He said Saudi Arabia has in the past played the role of a “reserve bank” in the oil market, smoothing short terms shocks. The country has acted during the financial crisis and during civil unrest and wars in oil producing regions that have disrupted supplies.

But it will not step in to fix the hugely oversupplied market.

“Saudi Arabia has never advocated that it would take the sole role of balancing market against structural imbalance,” he said at the CNN panel.

“If there are short term adjustments that need to be made and if other producers are willing to collaborate, Saudi Arabia will also be willing to collaborate,” he said.

Oil prices have crashed to $27 per barrel from well over $100 in just 18 months. Saudi Arabia has paid a heavy price for the slump. The government announced an array of austerity measures as its oil revenues collapsed, and even hiked the price of gasoline by 50%.

But the country keeps pumping robustly in order to protect its market share. It has faced increasing competition, first from the U.S. shale industry, and most recently from Iran which is gearing up towards a big return to global oil markets now that economic sanctions have been lifted.

“If the prices continue to be low, we will able to withstand it for a long long timeobviously we hope it will not happen,” he said.

He said the current prices are “unreasonable,” but are probably not likely to climb much any time soon. “Short term, it’s very bleak picture,” he said.

- CNN’s David Brandt contributed to this article.

Facebook makes an app that tries to bypass Chinas censors

Facebook makes an app that tries to bypass Chinas censors

A tweak that Facebook made to its Android app could allow mobile customers in restricted places like China and Iran to connect to the social network.

It’s a big step forward for human rights activists – and it could greatly expand Facebook’s reach into countries where its services are banned.

China and Iran have a combined population of 1.4 billion people, potential Facebook users that are otherwise off-limits.

Facebook doesn’t say it updated the app specifically to reach people in China and Iran. But the new feature attempts to circumvent censorship on cell phone networks – and that’s really only useful to people living under authoritarian regimes.

Starting this week, the mobile Facebook app will pair up with the best online anonymity tool out there: Tor.

Tor is a system that encrypts and bounces Internet signals around the globe. It helps you evade censors when surfing the Web – and it hides your computer’s true location.

Because of that, Tor is used by criminals to dodge law enforcement. But also protects people from tyrannical governments that track what they do online – and punish them violently.

There’s a mobile app for Tor, called Orbot. Facebook tweaked its Google Android app so that you can tap a button in settings, and the Facebook app will automatically use Orbot to connect to the Internet.

That encrypts the connection, hiding it from network censors. Then it bounces your signal to computer servers around the world several times, so that Facebook doesn’t even know your true location.

There’s no guarantee it’ll work 100% of the time, though. The Chinese government often updates its massive Internet barrier, nicknamed the Great Firewall of China, to block these kinds of connections. That forces Tor to keep coming up with new methods for sneaking past those blocks.

Facebook said this project was started by a summer intern last year.

This is really just another step forward for a Facebook effort that began years ago. In 2014, Facebook did the same thing for desktop users. It created a special website portal for anyone using the Tor Web browser.

But this latest move is potentially much more effective, because 88% of Facebook’s 1 billion daily users use their phones to connect to the social media service.

“It’s really about making the experience better for people who are already connecting to Facebook over Tor,” Facebook spokeswoman Melanie Ensign said.

It might sound odd that Facebook – the data-hungry giant that wants to track where you are, what you’re eating and who your friends are – is willing to protect a degree of anonymity. It’s kind of like ordering a Super Size meal with a Diet Coke.

But this isn’t about keeping your identity anonymous from the company. Facebook’s “real name” policy still requires you to use your true identity (except in rare instances that are judged on a case-by-case basis).

“Facebook is mostly doing this to extend its reach, which of course is how it makes more money in the long run,” said Richard Windsor, an analyst at Edison Investment Research.

The vast majority of Facebook’s growth depends on other nations. In the third quarter of 2015, 92% of Facebook’s new daily users were outside the United States.

China is a huge market that Facebook now has a better opportunity to tap.

“They want to make sure they get everyone in the world connected to Facebook, and this is the only way they’ll get people to do it,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

This experiment also shows Tor isn’t just a tool for visiting illegal websites in the dark.

“Facebook is pointing out that Tor is truly for everyone,” said Nathan Freitas, who developed Orbot.

This isn’t available on iPhones, though. There’s no official Tor app for Apple devices.

Illinois paid lottery winners before college students

Illinois paid lottery winners before college students

Some of Illinois’ neediest college students are falling victim to the state’s budget mess.

Thousands returned to school after winter break confused and worried about having to come up with a couple thousand dollars more for tuition this semester.

The money for grants awarded to low-income students is tied up while Democratic lawmakers continue to hash it out with a Republican governor over the state’s financial mess – seven months after a budget was due. Without it, Illinois cannot pay out funds for most state programs.

Don’t worry about lottery winners, though. The state found a way to push through the money for them while the budget battle continues.

Jacqueline Suriano was counting on her state grant to pay tuition at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She already works two jobs on campus to cover the $3,000 she pays out-of-pocket each semester – all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Now she owes an additional $2,360 to cover the cost of the missing grant.

In anticipation of the extra cost, Suriano picked up odd jobs over winter break, and skipped buying Christmas presents for friends and family. But she’s still in the hole.

Meanwhile, lawmakers released some funds in December for programs like the statewide 9-1-1 service, firefighter and police trainings, and pension funds. The grant program, which could cost less than $380 million, didn’t make the list. But $1 billion – with a “B” – was appropriated to pay the lucky winners who hit the jackpot.

Unlike the lottery funds, which are fixed because they are raised through ticket sales and not through tax revenue, the grant funds are voted on by the state and can change from year to year. The grant program awarded an average of $2,800 to 140,000 students for the previous school year.

Most colleges notified students in December, warning them that they might be on the hook if the state doesn’t fund the grants. But many students still aren’t sure when they’ll have to come up with the money.

“It feels awkward, but we encouraged students to proceed as usual with the understanding that we could work something out. What that might mean depends on each student’s financial situation, but for some, it’s kind of like trying to ring extra drops out of a dry towel,” said Mike Gosz, the VP of Enrollment at Illinois Tech.

It could be setting up a payment plan, taking out another loan, or getting a work-study job on campus.

“These families don’t have the resources to just come up with this money,” Gosz said.

About 26 colleges said that students would not be able to enroll in the next semester or graduate if they have an unpaid balance due to the missing grant, according to an anonymous survey conducted earlier this month by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

That’s the case at Illinois Tech, a small private school in Chicago, and Lake Land Community College in Mattoon. Both say they would reimburse students who paid for the cost of the grant if and when the state finally appropriates the funds

Suriano won’t be able to sign up for classes for the fall semester when registration opens in April if she hasn’t paid her full bill yet. She said the school is allowing her to set up a payment plan, splitting the cost into three monthly installments, the first of which is due January 25.

There’s a lot of uncertainty for students, even at schools that aren’t requiring them to pay anything extra yet.

“I just know that the policy at my institution is that if you haven’t paid by graduation, you don’t get your degree,” said Valerie Madero, who is on track to complete her nursing degree this spring at the Resurrection University. The school did not respond to a request for comment about this story.

Madero applied for seven scholarships over winter break just in case. She received one that will cover just one semester of her grant, and she may have to take out a private loan for the remaining cost. Students are discouraged from getting jobs during their last semester so they can work three, 12-hour clinical shifts each week.

Colleges are in a tough spot. For the fall semester, most essentially fronted the money for the grants that never came in. But some can’t afford to do that any longer. It’s especially hard for public Illinois colleges and universities, which rely on state funds each year to cover the cost of a big chunk of their operating budget.

In a normal year, Lake Land Community College has usually received enough money from the state to fund about 30% of its operations by now, President Josh Bullock told CNN Money.

This year, it’s received zero. Spending cuts have been made and new projects, building maintenance, and new hires are on hold. Layoffs could be on the horizon if state funds don’t come.

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve heard speculation from some lawmakers that it could be November, after the general election, when a final budget gets passed,” Bullock said.

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