Comcast in 'advanced stages' of 21st Century Fox bid


A 21st Century Fox flag flies outside the News Corporation building in Midtown Manhattan, December 14, 2017 in New York City.Image copyright
Getty Images

Cable TV giant Comcast says it is considering a takeover offer for Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, setting the stage for showdown with Walt Disney.

Disney has agreed to pay $52.4bn for Fox, but Comcast said it was in the “advanced stages” of preparing a better bid.

Any offer would be “all-cash and at a premium” to Disney’s all-share offer, oComcast said in a statement.

But the US firm, which owns NBC, said no final decision has been made.

Rumours about Comcast’s interests in Fox have circulated for weeks, but it is the first time it has confirmed its intentions.

Like Disney, it wants to buy all of Fox’s assets except its news channel and main sports and business networks.

Image copyright
AFP/Getty

Image caption

Fox is controlled by Rupert Murdoch

That would include the 20th Century Fox film studio, the Fox television network and the Asian pay-TV network Star TV.

It would also include a 39% stake in Sky, for which Comcast tabled a separate bid in April, taking it into direct conflict with Fox, which wants to acquire the British broadcaster outright.

Regulatory scrutiny

Any takeover attempt by Comcast would be likely to face regulatory scrutiny, as will Disney’s offer.

In Comcast’s case, the US government is currently suing to block a merger between its parent company, Time Warner, and the telecoms giant AT&T.

Experts say the firm would be unlikely to proceed with an offer for Fox until a judge rules on that case in June.

However, in its statement, Comcast promised to pay a significant break fee should regulators scupper a deal. It said this “would be at least as favourable to Fox shareholders” as Disney’s offer of $2.5bn.

The fight for 21st Century Fox comes as traditional media groups scramble to consolidate in the face mounting competition from online challengers like Netflix and Amazon.

It has driven broadcast giant CBS to try to merge with Viacom, which owns the MTV and Nickelodeon television stations.

It has also spurred AT&T’s $85.4bn offer for Time Warner, whose other assets include pay TV channel HBO.

However, analysts believe such tie ups will face close scrutiny from US regulators who fear consolidation could drive up prices for consumers.

5 Places: Five Places to Shop in Verona


5 Places

Shopping isn’t the first thought that springs to mind about Verona, a picturesque city in Italy’s Veneto region. (Think of Romeo and Juliet.) But shops in the town’s historic center are worthy of attention.

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Art & Chocolate is one of many eye-catching local shops in the cobblestoned historical center of Verona.CreditAndrea Wyner for The New York Times

Shopping isn’t usually the first thought travelers have when they visit Verona, a picturesque city in Italy’s Veneto region that is about an hour’s drive from Venice. Most come here in the summer to catch an outdoor opera in the Roman amphitheater, Arena di Verona, and year round, the city attracts tourists who want to learn more about the real-life love story said to have inspired William Shakespeare to write “Romeo and Juliet.” But some of the boutiques in the pretty town center, an area lined with cobblestone streets, are also worthy of attention. Though the goods they sell ranges from clothes to wine and chocolate, these shops stand out for their loyalty to Italian brands.

Art & Chocolate

Don’t come hungry to this chocolate boutique, which carries truffles, pralines and bars from several renowned Italian chocolatiers such as Amedei, Venchi, Domori and Manjani: the temptation to not buy and immediately consume something from the enticing display will be that much harder to resist. Look for seasonal flavors such as strawberry truffles in the summer and pumpkin pralines in the fall. The shop also has a cafe that serves coffee and cocktails. Prices from 1 euro.

Gallery Café Vicolo Cavalletto, 16; artandchocolate.it


Signorvino sells more than 1,500 labels of Italian wine.CreditAndrea Wyner for The New York Times

Signorvino

Part of a small Italian wine store and restaurant chain, this spacious three-level Verona location sells more than 1,500 labels of Italian wine, including a large variety from the surrounding Veneto region. The knowledgeable staff guides customers who may be unfamiliar with the local grapes or vast range of choices — many of which aren’t readily available outside of Italy — and also offers tastings of some bottles. Prices from 7 euros.

Corso Porta Nuova, 2; signorvino.com

Al Duca D’Aosta sells trend-setting fashion for women and men.CreditAndrea Wyner for The New York Times
New Galles, with its stylish yet classic clothing, is a half-century-old Verona institution.CreditAndrea Wyner for The New York Times
Carlotta’s Perfumery is a local fragrance shop in Verona’s historic center.CreditAndrea Wyner for The New York Times

Tax rises needed 'to prevent NHS misery'


HospitalImage copyright
PA

Taxes are going to have to rise to pay for the NHS if the UK is to avoid “a decade of misery” in which the old, sick and vulnerable are let down, say economists.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Health Foundation said the NHS would need an extra 4% a year for the next 15 years to keep going and improving.

It said the only realistic way this could be paid for was by tax rises.

It comes as ministers are arguing behind the scenes about NHS funding.

The prime minister has promised a long-term funding plan for the NHS.

This is expected to cover the next decade and could be announced as soon as next month, in time for the 70th anniversary of the creation of the NHS.

The Treasury is believed to want to keep average rises at about 2% a year, but other ministers, including Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, are arguing for more, the BBC understands.

If you can’t see the NHS Tracker, click or tap here.

As those discussions continue, the IFS and Health Foundation have revealed the findings of their review, commissioned by the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS trusts.

It warned the ageing population and rising number of people with long-term conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, meant the health service needed more than it had been getting in the past decade.

Since 2010, the annual rises once inflation is taken into account have been limited to just over 2%.

But continuing in this vein would lead to a continued deterioration in performance, the report warned.

Instead, it said, 5% extra was needed in the next five years, and then just under 4% for the following decade if it was going to improve.

That would work out at an average of 4% a year over the period, while 3.3% would simply maintain services.

On top of that, extra money would also be needed to fund council-run social care for the elderly.

That would mean spending as a proportion of national income rising from 8.4% currently to 11.4%.

The report said it was “hard to imagine” raising that sort of money without increases in taxes.

To increase spending by that amount, it would require rises of 3p in the pound on each of income tax, VAT and National Insurance by 2033.

Although the report said other options, including taxes on property and businesses, could be explored too.

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson urged ministers not to rush into a quick fix, but warned any attempts to limit rises to 2% would backfire.

“It is now undeniable that the current system and funding levels are not sustainable,” he said.

The Department of Health and Social Care said plans were being ut in place to agree a multi-year settlement.

Meanwhile, a report from the Care Quality Commission on A&E performance warned that some patients received care that was “wholly unsatisfactory”.

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Bank holiday warning over gardening and DIY accidents


Man using a lawn mowerImage copyright
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With the bank holiday weekend coming, many of us may be planning to trim the lawn or do a bit of home improvement.

But surgeons have urged us to take care, saying there can be a spike in accidents involving gardening and DIY equipment at this time of year.

Severed fingers and broken bones are among the gruesome injuries one surgeon says she often encounters.

It comes as figures show there were 25,763 gardening and DIY-related injuries in England from 2014-17.

The accidents were caused by hand tools, lawn-mowers and other household machines and 90% of them involved men, figures released by the Royal College of Surgeons show.


‘I was in disbelief’

Image caption

Helen Langford had to have her middle finger and part of her ring finger amputated

Helen Langford, from Manchester, was injured last year in an accident involving a second-hand electric saw.

She had been cutting timber in her garage to make a side table when the saw slipped, cutting into four fingers on her right hand.

“It was horrific,” Ms Langford, 56, said.

“I didn’t realise exactly what I’d done. I wasn’t in pain, and I wasn’t in shock. I was in disbelief.”

She was taken to hospital after neighbours and a passer-by heard her screams, but in the end doctors had to amputate her middle finger and part of her ring finger on her right hand.

Since then, she has had to undergo months of physiotherapy – along with trauma counselling – to regain some use of this hand.

The injury, along with rheumatoid arthritis she’s developed in her left hand since the accident, means she can no longer play the piano, paint or do sculptures, which were some of her main interests.

Ms Langford added: “Without the help of my neighbours, this accident could have had an even more tragic ending.”


‘Lasting psychological impact’

Of hospital admissions for DIY and gardening injuries, 58% were between April and September.

Children and young people up to the age of 19 were involved in 2,082 of the incidents, with 397 of these involving those aged four or under.

But when it came to lawn-mower accidents, it was the middle-aged and elderly who were most likely to get hurt, with 58% of admissions being of 40-74-years-olds.

Prof Vivien Lees, of the Royal College of Surgeons, who works as a consultant hand and plastic surgeon, said this was typically one of her busiest times of the year.

She said: “Over the past 20 years of working in the NHS, I have treated patients who have suffered some very serious injuries – from severed fingers and broken bones to painful infections.

“These injuries often leave a lasting physical and psychological impact on their lives.

“Some of my patients have been unable to work after having an accident while making home improvements or gardening.”

Prof Lees added that people catching fingers on hedge trimmers was a common cause of injury, as were infections from thorn pricks from roses.

She urged to people to take the following precautions to avoid injury:

  • Read and follow instructions for electrical equipment
  • Use protective gear, such as gloves, helmet, or goggles
  • If machinery is not working, unplug it before you investigate what the problem is
  • Keep pets and children well out of the way when you are gardening, or using electrical equipment in the garden
  • Do not handle electrical equipment if you have drunk alcohol or are drowsy from taking medication

'Relax A-level grades for some medical students'


doctorImage copyright
Getty Images

Academic entry requirements for medical degrees should be relaxed for students applying from the worst UK secondary schools, researchers say.

A study from the University of York says these students should be able to drop one or two A-level grades.

The study finds those on medicine courses with lower A-level grades do at least as well as their peers.

The Medical Schools Council said the research added “important data” to the entry requirement debate.

Competition for a place to study medicine in the UK is fierce, with about 11 or 12 applications made for each place on offer and entry grade requirements are high – at least AAA at A-level.

But the research paper says there is an over-representation of socioeconomically privileged individuals in the medical profession and that most of the schools that provide medical students are selective.

“It is known that 80% of UK medical students come from 20% of secondary schools and tend to come from economically advantaged backgrounds,” it says.

The researchers gathered and analysed data from 2,107 students who started medical school in 2008 and grouped them into three groups:

  • those with grades AAA
  • those with AAB
  • those with ABB or lower

They assessed their prior educational attainment and school background alongside performance on the United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) and subsequent undergraduate knowledge and skills-related outcomes.

Their analysis found that those with lower A-level grades (AAB or ABB) from the worst secondary schools tended to have equivalent undergraduate performance to those from the best schools with top grades (AAA).

The study says: “Importantly, the findings suggest that the academic entry criteria should be relaxed for candidates applying from the least well performing secondary schools.

“In the UK, this would translate into a decrease of approximately one to two A-level grades.”

‘Able to keep up’

Lead author Lazaro Mwandigha said: “This study suggests that relaxing A-level grade entry requirements for students from the worst performing secondary schools is beneficial.

“Although there are important further questions about how to fairly classify schools, the study demonstrates that these students are, on average, just as able to keep up with the pace of a medical degree”.

Supervising author Dr Paul Tiffin said: “This study is the first robust evidence that grade-discounting for pupils from underperforming schools is justified.

“At the moment around 20% of UK schools are providing 80% of our medical students, so A-level achievement should be viewed in terms of the context in which a pupil learns in order to help increase fairness and widen participation in medicine.

“The NHS needs more doctors from under-represented minority groups – having doctors from a wider range of backgrounds would enable health professionals to better understand and meet the UK’s diverse healthcare needs.”

What do medical schools say?

The Medical Schools Council says it monitors medical schools’ performance on widening admissions.

Clare Owen, assistant director of the MSC, said: “This research adds important data to our understanding of how entry requirements relate to subsequent performance.

“The Medical Schools Council recognises the benefits of admissions which take applicants’ backgrounds into account and this year published a guide which collects together the best practice of medical schools as they implement contextual admissions.

“Each medical school must decide on the best approach for its circumstances. And this research will help them by making a significant contribution to the evidence base.”

Ebola outbreak: Experimental vaccinations begin in DR Congo


A nurse administers an injection on the first day of the Ebola vaccine study in Monrovia, Liberia, on February 2, 2015 .Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

The vaccines were first used in a limited trial during the 2014-16 West Africa Ebola outbreak

Health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have begun an immunisation campaign in an attempt to halt the spread of an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

The experimental vaccine proved effective when used in limited trials during the epidemic which struck West Africa in 2014-16.

At least 26 people are believed to have died in the current outbreak.

Health workers were among the first to receive the vaccine on Monday.

What is Ebola?

It is an infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal.

It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid, and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

More than 11,300 people died in the earlier outbreak in 2014-16.

How serious is the current outbreak?

At least 45 cases of Ebola have been reported, including three health workers, since the outbreak began earlier this month.

The virus has already spread from rural areas to the north-western city of Mbandaka, a major transport hub on the River Congo, where at least four cases have been confirmed.

This has sparked fears that the outbreak could reach the capital, Kinshasa, as well as neighbouring countries.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it has “strong reason to believe that the outbreak can be brought under control”.

At an emergency meeting, on Friday WHO experts said that “the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have not currently been met”.

What do we know about the medicine being used?

The vaccine, made by pharmaceutical firm Merck, is not yet licensed, but was effective in limited trials during the West Africa outbreak.

Dr Michel Yao, from the WHO, told the BBC that the vaccine had been tested in Guinea and that “almost all of the people who were vaccinated could not get the disease”.

The WHO has sent more than 4,000 doses to the Democratic Republic of Congo, with another batch set to follow.

Health care providers and funeral workers are being vaccinated initially, before the programme is extended to more than 500 people who may have come into contact with those infected with the virus, in a so-called “ring vaccination”.

What are the challenges?

One of the most immediate obstacles to the immunisation campaign is the country’s unreliable electricity supplies, as the vaccine needs to be stored at a temperature of between -60 and -80 C.

Initial stocks of the vaccine have arrived in Mbandaka city, but they must now be transported through densely forested areas to reach remote rural areas where many cases have been reported.

A further issue is that, as the vaccine has not yet been approved, its use is dependent upon informed and signed consent from all patients. This means that translators will need to be brought in to aid communication between health workers and local communities.

Life in the Ebola zone

One teacher in the region told the BBC’s Newsday programme that people had stopped shaking hands when they greet. Ziko Ilema said: “I tried to greet a friend by shaking hands and he said: ‘No, did you forget that Ebola is here?’

“They forbid people to greet by using hands, eating animals from the forest, and people are now living with fear.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionSome simple techniques can help prevent spread of Ebola.

Ebola is thought to be spread over long distances by fruit bats and is often transmitted to humans eating contaminated bushmeat – meat from wild animals such as monkeys or antelopes.

  • Was bushmeat behind the 2014 Ebola outbreak?

Bars, restaurants and offices in Mbandaka have started to provide soap and basins of water for people to wash their hands as a way to prevent the spread of the disease, according to the AFP news agency.

It also reports that officials are using infrared thermometers at the city’s river ports to scan travellers in case they have a fever.

“But we don’t have enough of the thermometers, so people are crowding up and getting annoyed,” said Joseph Dangbele, an official at the private Menge port.

Health Minister Oly Ilunga has announced that all healthcare in the affected areas would be free.

This is the ninth outbreak of Ebola in DR Congo – it was named after the country’s Ebola river.

Google 'stole my video', says film-maker Philip Bloom


Snow stormImage copyright
Philip Bloom

Image caption

Footage filmed of tourists caught up in a snowstorm was among that used by Google

Google has enraged a leading film-maker by using his footage in a corporate video that later leaked online.

The technology company used material from more than half a dozen of Philip Bloom’s films to make a provocative presentation about ways it could exploit users’ data in the future.

Mr Bloom makes a living from selling rights to his footage, among other activities.

Google insisted that it took copyright law seriously.

It said that the “thought-experiment” video had been intended to be seen by only a handful of people.

It was made in 2016 by the head of design at X, Google’s research and development division.

Google added that the executive had now been reminded about its strict copyright rules.

Image copyright
Sarah Seal

Image caption

Mr Bloom has worked with Star Wars creator George Lucas among other celebrities

However, despite being aware of Mr Bloom’s claim since last Friday, the technology company declined to say whether it now intended to make a payment.

“My footage is represented online by two major stock-footage companies. And I license it for all sorts of projects and uses, from commercials to broadcast to corporate films,” said Mr Bloom.

“A fair amount of my footage has been licensed for internal use only, so to hear Google not state that they will compensate me for its use is very surprising.

“Google via their YouTube platform are pretty strict when it comes to copyright breaches, so this is rather hypocritical of them and most certainly does not set a good example.

Image copyright
Philip Bloom

Image caption

Footage filmed at Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway was also used in The Selfish Ledger

“They have used 73 seconds of my footage from seven different videos without permission and they know they are in the wrong… so therefore I expect to hear from them regarding compensation.”

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, reported a $12.6bn profit in its last financial year.

Slow-mo snow

The corporate video – titled the Selfish Ledger – had already provoked controversy after The Verge news site published a copy of it last week. The website described it as showing an “unsettling vision of Silicon Valley social engineering”.

This helped bring its existence to Mr Bloom’s attention.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

The X laboratory is the division behind Google’s Loon balloon trials and helped create its self-drive cars

Mr Bloom – a former camera operator for the BBC, Sky and CNN – has a high profile on social media, where he offers film-making tips.

His YouTube channel has more than 168,000 subscribers and may have been the source for at least some of the copied footage, which included slow-motion video of a snowstorm in New York.

One US-based intellectual property expert said Google might find it hard to defend its behaviour, if the matter were to come to court.

“It just looks bad from a PR perspective for a big company that deals with copyrighted material every second of every day not to respect someone else’s rights,” said Jennifer Van Doren, from the law firm Morning Star.

“Even if the video was for internal use, the film-maker still has the right to stop its use or require payment to prevent it being copyright infringement.”

US law does allow a “fair use” defence to permit unlicensed use of video in some circumstances, but Ms Van Doren said it was typically limited to education, news reporting and criticism of the material itself.

Common problem

It is not unusual for the media industry to avoid copyright payments where they are due.

Image copyright
Philip Bloom

Image caption

Footage Mr Bloom filmed to promote the charity Shelter UK was also used

Film editors, for example, commonly use soundtracks lifted from other films without permission until their own scores are ready, and these can sometimes be played to test audiences.

Mr Bloom has previously complained of his footage being “nicked all the time”, including one instance when an online reviewer had used his images in a title sequence used for multiple videos.

But Google has long faced accusations of failing to do enough to respect others’ intellectual property – whether it be scanning books, presenting others’ photos or “enabling piracy”.

And Mr Bloom has signalled he intends to chase the matter up in this instance.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionWATCH: Mr Bloom tested a variety of drones for the BBC in 2016

“This is a good opportunity for people to realise that you can’t just download someone’s content from [YouTube] without permission or licensing – even if you own the company like Google do,” he said.

Hollywood films 'had fewer LGBT characters in 2017'


Thor: RagnarokImage copyright
Marvel Studios

Image caption

Valkyrie’s (centre) bisexuality is not mentioned in Thor: Ragnarok

The Hollywood film industry has been criticised for a drop in the number of LGBT characters in film in 2017.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) found that 12% of mainstream releases featured LGBT characters last year.

That was down from 18% in 2016 and is the lowest level recorded by GLAAD, which started the index six years ago.

GLAAD’s study did find some positives, including that the racial diversity of characters had improved in 2017.

Of the 109 studio films released last year, 14 featured LGBT characters, according to the Studio Responsibility Index. Of those LGBT characters, 43% were white, with 28.5% black and 28.5% Latin American.

Examples include Zoe Kravitz’s character Blair in Rough Night and Demian Bichir’s character Lope in Alien: Covenant.

GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis said there had been some signs of “welcome progress” in 2018 with films like Love, Simon; Annihilation; and Blockers.

Image copyright
Marvel Studios

Image caption

Black Panther has been criticised for not developing character’s sexualities in the film

She said: “If Hollywood wants to remain relevant with these audiences and keep them buying tickets, they must create stories that are reflective of the world LGBTQ people and our friends and family know.

“This needs to take place in the major studio releases that play in wide release all over the country – and indeed, all around the world – as well as in the indie films that have long been home to stand-out queer and trans stories.”

There was criticism for some superhero movies, such as Thor: Ragnarok, which cut a scene that would have confirmed the character Valkyrie as bisexual.

The group also noted how the sexualities of comic book characters Wonder Woman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn didn’t make it into film adaptations.

Of the “inclusive” studio films, 64% featured gay men, 36% had lesbian characters and 14% included bisexual characters, but none had transsexual or non-binary characters.

Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.

Blocked by Trump: Twitter Users Sound Off on Being Barred


By blocking users on Twitter, President Trump has violated the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.

The lawsuit was brought by seven Twitter users — including a Texas police officer, a New York comedy writer and a Nashville surgeon — who claimed that Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed was an official government account and that preventing users from following it was unconstitutional.

In her ruling, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote that the plaintiffs who sought to view and engage with Mr. Trump’s tweets alongside those who were not restricted were “protected by the First Amendment.” The judge, though, did not require the president or Twitter to unblock anyone.

The number of users blocked from the president’s account @realDonaldTrump, which has more than 52 million followers, is known only to Mr. Trump, to those who have access to his account and to Twitter.

After months of enjoying the “exchange of ideas” in replies to the president’s tweets, she was blocked in July 2017 for suggesting that Mr. Trump not use the platform to boast about his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. She felt he was profiting from his position.

Getting blocked made her feel muzzled and disenfranchised, she said. She had noticed many others getting barred, those she’d previously conversed with, but she never thought it would happen to her because she said she never made insulting comments. She later noticed that users who had targeted her with violent threats were still commenting on the president’s posts. “This was viewpoint discrimination, an injustice and a violation of my rights,” she said.

The verdict on Wednesday was “incredibly vindicating,” she said. “It shows that it wasn’t just a wacky perspective that I had.”

‘Every tweet — in which we protest Trump’s abuses of his office — is important’

Anne Rice, a 76-year-old author most famous for her series “The Vampire Chronicles,” has long been a vocal critic of the president and was blocked years ago, she said on Wednesday.

While she couldn’t remember the exact tweet that caused her to be barred, “it certainly was not abusive,” she said.

Being blocked has been a nuisance, she said. “I have to look up Trump’s tweets every day to see what the national discussion is about,” she said. She called his proclivity unfair, “considering how widely he has used Twitter for policy.”

With this ruling, she hopes to be unblocked. “Every tweet — in which we protest Trump’s abuses of his office — is important,” she said. “If we can respond to Trump’s own tweets directly, we can reach some of his ‘base.’”

‘What he’s done is create an echo chamber’

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William LeGate, a tech entrepreneur, engaged with President Trump’s Twitter posts until he was blocked for suggesting the president had a crush on Hillary Clinton.CreditStephen McCarthy/Sportsfile for Web Summit

William LeGate, a 23-year-old tech entrepreneur living in Los Angeles, started interacting with President Trump’s tweets in January 2017, and quickly grew fond of replying to the president and others in the forum beneath Mr. Trump’s posts.

When he was blocked six months later for suggesting that the president had a crush on Hillary Clinton, he had a “feeling of disbelief that the person with the highest authority in the land is censoring.”

“That’s the primary method he communicates official government information,” he said. “His tweets are official statements.”

Mr. LeGate, who’s now the digital director for a congressional campaign, said the issue of the president’s blocking users is not superficial. “What he’s done is create an echo chamber, and it makes it seem that public opinion of him than is much better than it is,” Mr. LeGate said. “Once he started blocking people, it changed the perception.”

‘It was kind of a joke, at first’

Norma Kwée, a 33-year-old from Los Angeles who works in the technology sector, was confused as to why she was blocked by President Trump in June 2016 because she had never, at that point, tweeted anything political, nor had she commented on the president’s tweets.

She combed through her posts to see what may have irritated him, but found nothing, Ms. Kwée said on Wednesday. Maybe it was because she was gay, or maybe it was because she worked in tech, she had wondered. Maybe an automated bot did the culling? She never found out why.

“It was kind of a joke, at first, almost like an honor that someone way more powerful than me would take the time,” she said.

But now that he’s become the president, “I find it frustrating,” she said. Instead of using a roundabout way to see his tweets, “I would like to be able to verify these things myself,” she said.

As for the ruling, “I can’t imagine that this will be an instant change,” but she hopes it will help clarify what’s acceptable on social media.

‘He didn’t want other people to see what I was writing’

When Caroline Orr, a 32-year-old researcher from Richmond, Va., tweeted that she had been blocked, it resonated with thousands of people on the platform.

She wrote: “Trump blocked me today for 1 (or both) of these threads. It’d be a shame if anyone RTd them.”

More that 20,000 people did.

Ms. Orr thinks the president barred her because “he didn’t want other people to see what I was writing.” His effort backfired, she said.

As for her interactions with his tweets: “I think it struck a chord with him and he realized that he couldn’t redefine reality for his supporters until he got his most effective critics out of the way,” she said. “I think it’s dangerous to let Trump’s false claims and lies go unanswered.”

Brexiteers' customs plan 'would cost firms £20bn'


The boss of HMRC has told MPs the post-Brexit customs option favoured by Brexiteers would cost businesses up to £20bn per year.

Theresa May’s Brexit “war cabinet” is divided in its support for two different options for when the UK leaves the EU’s customs union.

The prime minister has ordered her top ministers to split into two groups to work on the competing models.



HMRC boss Jon Thompson




0:26

Video:
HMRC warns of £20bn bill for ‘max fac’ Brexit

These are a “max fac”, or “maximum facilitation”, proposal supported by Brexiteers, and new customs partnership said to be backed by Chancellor Philip Hammond and Mrs May herself, but branded “crazy” by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

The warning came as it was revealed the government will bring key Brexit legislation back to the House of Commons next month to set up crunch votes on post-Brexit customs arrangements.

This includes the EU Withdrawal Bill, on which MPs will have to decide whether or not to scrap 15 House of Lords amendments, such as peers’ demand for the government to negotiate a customs union with the EU – despite the prime minister having previously ruled this out.

Customs and trade bills will also be brought before MPs next month, the government is expected to announce on Thursday.

It had previously been thought the prime minister would delay returning Brexit legislation to the Commons in fear of Tory rebellions from both the Leave and Remain sides of her parties.

:: What are Theresa May’s customs options?

Appearing before the House of Commons Treasury Committee on Wednesday, HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson set out significantly different costs for businesses between the two models.

Detailing how there were almost 200 million intra-EU consignments in 2016, Mr Thompson described how the “max fac” model – known as a “highly streamlined customs arrangement” by the government – is estimated to add £32.50 in costs per customs declaration.

That would add a £6.5bn cost to businesses on the UK side of the customs border, with Mr Thomson saying this figure would be double to take account of declarations on the EU side.

Along with EU rules of origin requirements, for example proving Cheddar cheese is actually produced in Cheddar, Mr Thompson told the committee the total cost to businesses of the “max fac” model is “somewhere between £17bn and £20bn” per year.

The “max fac” or “highly streamlined” model proposes the use of technology and a “trusted trader” plan to reduce post-Brexit customs checks.

A new customs partnership would see the UK collect EU tariffs for goods coming into Britain on behalf of Brussels.

In the event the UK sets a trade tariff below that of the EU, companies would then have the difference refunded.

It is argued the customs partnership would allow goods to pass freely between the EU and UK and prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland; although Brexiteers fear the plan would hinder the UK’s chances of being able to sign new trade deals.

Mr Thompson told MPs: “To be crystal clear about that, the highly streamlined [model] is somewhere in the £17-20bn and the cost of the new customs partnership, the estimate of the set-up cost of around £700m and then the reclaim would pay for itself.”



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2:19

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What are Theresa May’s customs options?

Mr Thompson’s deputy, Jim Harra, added: “Obviously the work that we’re doing on the new customs partnership, if the administrative costs came out equivalent to the tariffs, then there’s not much of an incentive for businesses.

“So a lot of the work that we are doing is about keeping that administrative cost of the repayment mechanism as low as you can possibly make it so the tariff differential is as valuable as possible.”

Mr Thompson also told MPs the running costs to HMRC of the “max fac” model is around £250m per year, compared to £180m per year for the new customs partnership.

Commenting on HMRC’s revelation, Labour MP Stephen Doughty, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a referendum on the final Brexit deal, said: “The admission by UK’s most senior customs official that the Brextremist’s fantasy ‘max fac’ option could cost British businesses up to £20bn should finally put this ridiculous idea to bed.

“Businesses are growing increasingly restive over the government’s ideological insistence on wrenching the UK out of the customs union and the single market, as they know it will be a bombshell of bureaucracy for British businesses and will cost jobs.”

Downing Street dismissed “speculation” about the impact of different post-Brexit customs models, with the prime minister’s official spokesman saying the £20bn cost was “not a figure that I’m aware of”.

He said: “The Prime Minister has asked for work to be done on both customs models, that work is ongoing and therefore any speculation about implementation is just that.”

Earlier, it was revealed Mr Thompson had written to the House of Commons Exiting the EU committee to warn elements of the “max fac” model could take three years to put in place – beyond the Brexit transition period, which ends in December 2020.

Asked if the prime minister was confident a new customs model could be in place by the end of 2020, Mrs May’s spokesman said: “We have been clear on a number of occasions that our intention is to be ready for the end of the implementation period.”