VulcanForms was founded in 2015 by Dr. Hart and one of his graduate students, Martin Feldmann. They pursued a fresh approach for 3-D printing that uses an array of many more laser beams than existing systems. It would require innovations in laser optics, sensors and software to choreograph the intricate dance of laser beams.

By 2017, they had made enough progress to think they could build a machine, but would need money to do it. The pair, joined by Anupam Ghildyal, a serial start-up veteran who had become part of the VulcanForms team, went to Silicon Valley. They secured a seed round of $2 million from Eclipse Ventures.

The VulcanForms technology, recalled Greg Reichow, a partner at Eclipse, was trying to address the three shortcomings of 3-D printing: too slow, too expensive and too ridden with defects.

Arwood Machine this year.

Arwood is a modern machine shop that mostly does work for the Pentagon, making parts for fighter jets, underwater drones and missiles. Under VulcanForms, the plan over the next few years is for Arwood to triple its investment and work force, currently 90 people.

VulcanForms, a private company, does not disclose its revenue. But it said sales were climbing rapidly, while orders were rising tenfold quarter by quarter.

Cerebras, which makes specialized semiconductor systems for artificial intelligence applications. Cerebras sought out VulcanForms last year for help making a complex part for water-cooling its powerful computer processors.

The semiconductor company sent VulcanForms a computer-design drawing of the concept, an intricate web of tiny titanium tubes. Within 48 hours VulcanForms had come back with a part, recalled Andrew Feldman, chief executive of Cerebras. Engineers for both companies worked on further refinements, and the cooling system is now in use.

Accelerating the pace of experimentation and innovation is one promise of additive manufacturing. But modern 3-D printing, Mr. Feldman said, also allows engineers to make new, complex designs that improve performance. “We couldn’t have made that water-cooling part any other way,” Mr. Feldman said.

“Additive manufacturing lets us rethink how we build things,” he said. “That’s where we are now, and that’s a big change.”

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Netflix Says It’s Business as Usual. Is That Good Enough?

While being honored at the Banff Film Festival in Canada in early June, Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s head of global television, surprised some with what she didn’t say. Despite the recent turmoil at the streaming giant — including a loss of subscribers, hundreds of job cuts and a precipitous stock drop — she said Netflix was charging ahead, with no significant plans to change its programming efforts.

“For me, looking at it, the business works,” Ms. Bajaria said from the stage. “We are not doing some radical shift in our business. We’re not merging. We’re not having a big transitional phase.”

Two weeks later, after Netflix had laid off another 300 people, Reed Hastings, the company’s co-chief executive, doubled down on Ms. Bajaria’s message, reassuring the remaining employees that the future would, in fact, be bright and that in the next 18 months the company would hire 1,500 people.

“Spiderhead” and the series “God’s Favorite Idiot” have been critically derided.) A producer who works with Netflix said the word “quality” was being bandied about much more often in development meetings.

Emily Feingold, a Netflix spokeswoman, disputed the idea that focusing on a show’s quality was somehow a change in strategy, referring to such disparate content as “Squid Game,” the reality television show “Too Hot to Handle,” and movies like “Red Notice” and “The Adam Project.”

“Consumers have very different, diverse tastes,” Ms. Feingold said. “It’s why we invest in such a broad range of stories, always aspiring to make the best version of that title irrespective of the genre. Variety and quality are key to our ongoing success.”

The producer Todd Black said that the process for getting a project into development at Netflix had slowed down but that otherwise it was business as usual.

“They are looking at everything, which I get,” said Mr. Black, who last worked with Netflix when he produced “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 2020. “They are trying to course correct. We have to be patient and let them do that. But they are open for business. They are buying things.”

Indeed, the company still intends to spend some $17 billion on content this year. It paid $50 million last month for a thriller starring Emily Blunt and directed by David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”). And it plans to make “The Electric State,” a $200 million film directed by Joe and Anthony Russo (“Avengers: Endgame” and “The Gray Man”) and starring Millie Bobby Brown and Chris Pratt, after Universal Pictures balked at the price tag. The company also just announced a development deal for a television adaptation of “East of Eden” starring Florence Pugh.

On Tuesday, Whip Media, a research firm, said Netflix had fallen from second to fourth place in the firm’s annual streaming customer satisfaction survey, behind HBO Max, Disney+ and Hulu.

The most significant change coming for Netflix is its advertising tier, which, as it has told employees, it wants to roll out by the end of the year. Netflix’s foray into advertising stoked excitement among media buyers at the industry’s annual conference in Cannes last week.

“It was pretty intense,” said Dave Morgan, who is the chief executive of Simulmedia, a company that works with advertisers, and who attended the conference. “It was one of the top two or three issues everyone was talking about.”

Mr. Hastings said Netflix would work with an outside company to help get its nascent advertising business underway. The Wall Street Journal reported that Google and Comcast were the front-runners to be that partner. Still, advertising executives believe that building out the business at Netflix could take time, and that the company might be able to introduce the new tier only in a handful of international markets by the end of the year.

It could take even longer for advertising to become a significant revenue stream for the company.

“You have a lot of media companies duking it out, and it’ll take quite a while to compete with those companies,” Mr. Morgan said. “I could imagine it will take three or four years to even be a top 10 video ad company.”

In an analyst report this month, Wells Fargo threw cold water on the notion that subscriber growth for an ad-supported tier would be quick. Wells Fargo analysts cautioned that the ad model would offer “modest” financial gains in the next two years because of a natural cannibalization from the higher-paying subscriber base. They predicted that by the end of 2025 nearly a third of the subscriber base would pay for the cheaper ad-supported model, roughly 100 million users.

Bank of America went further last week. “Ad-tiering could serve as a way for consumers across all income brackets to extend their streaming budget by trading down to subscribe to an additional service, benefiting Netflix’s competitors much more than Netflix itself,” it said in an analyst letter.

Netflix has also reached out to the studios that it buys TV shows and movies from in recent weeks, seeking permission to show advertising on licensed content. In negotiations with Paramount Global, Netflix has mentioned paying money on top of its existing licensing fee rather than cutting the company in on revenue from future ad sales, said a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss active talks.

This mirrors the approach Netflix took with studios when it introduced its “download for you” feature, which allowed users to save movies and TV shows to their devices to watch offline. When Netflix added that feature, executives at the streaming service agreed to pay studios a fee in addition to their licensing agreement.

In the end, though, Netflix’s success will most likely come down to how well it spends its $17 billion content budget.

“Netflix, dollar for dollar, needs to do better, and that falls on Ted Sarandos and his whole team,” Mr. Greenfield said, referring to the company’s co-chief executive. “They haven’t done a good enough job. Yet, they are still, by far, the leader.”

Benjamin Mullin contributed reporting.

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Legal clashes await U.S. companies covering workers’ abortion costs

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June 27 (Reuters) – A growing number of large U.S. companies have said they will cover travel costs for employees who must leave their home states to get abortions, but these new policies could expose businesses to lawsuits and even potential criminal liability, legal experts said.

Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Lyft Inc (LYFT.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) were among companies that announced plans to provide those benefits through their health insurance plans in anticipation of Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion nationwide. read more

Within an hour of the decision being released, Conde Nast Chief Executive Roger Lynch sent a memo to staff announcing a travel reimbursement policy and calling the court’s ruling “a crushing blow to reproductive rights.” Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) unveiled a similar policy on Friday, telling employees that it recognizes the impact of the abortion ruling but remains committed to providing comprehensive access to quality healthcare, according to a spokesman. read more

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Health insurer Cigna Corp (CI.N), Paypal Holdings Inc (PYPL.O), Alaska Airlines Inc (DKS.N) also announced reimbursement policies on Friday.

Abortion restrictions that were already on the books in 13 states went into effect as a result of Friday’s ruling and at least a dozen other Republican-led states are expected to ban abortion.

The court’s decision, driven by its conservative majority, upheld a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. Meanwhile, some Democratic-led states are moving to bolster access to abortion.

Companies will have to navigate that patchwork of state laws and are likely to draw the ire of anti-abortion groups and Republican-led states if they adopt policies supportive of employees having abortions.

State lawmakers in Texas have already threatened Citigroup Inc (C.N) and Lyft, which had earlier announced travel reimbursement policies, with legal repercussions. A group of Republican lawmakers in a letter last month to Lyft Chief Executive Logan Green said Texas “will take swift and decisive action” if the ride-hailing company implements the policy.

The legislators also outlined a series of abortion-related proposals, including a bill that would bar companies from doing business in Texas if they pay for residents of the state to receive abortions elsewhere.

LAWSUITS LOOMING

It is likely only a matter of time before companies face lawsuits from states or anti-abortion campaigners claiming that abortion-related payments violate state bans on facilitating or aiding and abetting abortions, according to Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois and expert on healthcare law.

“If you can sue me as a person for carrying your daughter across state lines, you can sue Amazon for paying for it,” Wilson said.

Amazon, Citigroup and other companies that have announced reimbursement policies did not respond to requests for comment. A Lyft spokesperson said: “We believe access to healthcare is essential and transportation should never be a barrier to that access.”

For many large companies that fund their own health plans, the federal law regulating employee benefits will provide crucial cover in civil lawsuits over their reimbursement policies, several lawyers and other legal experts said.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) prohibits states from adopting requirements that “relate to” employer-sponsored health plans. Courts have for decades interpreted that language to bar state laws that dictate what health plans can and cannot cover.

ERISA regulates benefit plans that are funded directly by employers, known as self-insured plans. In 2021, 64% of U.S. workers with employer-sponsored health insurance were covered by self-insured plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Any company sued over an abortion travel reimbursement requirement will likely cite ERISA as a defense, according to Katy Johnson, senior counsel for health policy at the American Benefits Council trade group. And that will be a strong argument, she said, particularly for businesses with general reimbursement policies for necessary medical-related travel rather than those that single out abortion.

Johnson said reimbursements for other kinds of medical-related travel, such as visits to hospitals designated “centers of excellence,” are already common even though policies related to abortion are still relatively rare.

“While this may seem new, it’s not in the general sense and the law already tells us how to handle it,” Johnson said.

LIMITS

The argument has its limits. Fully-insured health plans, in which employers purchase coverage through a commercial insurer, cover about one-third of workers with insurance and are regulated by state law and not ERISA.

Most small and medium-sized U.S. businesses have fully-insured plans and could not argue that ERISA prevents states from limiting abortion coverage.

And, ERISA cannot prevent states from enforcing criminal laws, such as those in several states that make it a crime to aid and abet abortion. So employers who adopt reimbursement policies are vulnerable to criminal charges from state and local prosecutors.

But since most criminal abortion laws have not been enforced in decades, since Roe was decided, it is unclear whether officials would attempt to prosecute companies, according to Danita Merlau, a Chicago-based lawyer who advises companies on benefits issues.

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Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Grant McCool and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine News: Mariupol’s Mayor Describes Grim Russian Rule

Credit…Clemens Bilan/EPA, via Shutterstock

BRUSSELS — European leaders meeting in Brussels this week were eager to focus on granting Ukraine E.U. candidate status, but have also had to address a pressing problem linked to the war: Russia has slowly been turning off the gas tap.

The tapering of gas to Germany in recent days has forced the country, Europe’s economic engine, to escalate its energy emergency protocol and urge Germans to save power. The next step is rationing.

E.U. leaders on Friday asked the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, to come up with policy proposals to collectively handle the possibility that Russia, using Europe’s enduring dependence on its gas supplies to inflict pain on Ukraine’s supporters, could further reduce the gas flow or even cut off countries completely.

“We have seen the pattern not only of that last weeks and months, but looking back in hindsight, also the pattern of last year, when you look at Gazprom filling the storage — or I should say not filling the storage, because last year they were at a 10 years low,” the commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Friday.

“Now it’s 12 member states that have either been totally cut off or partially,” she added.

Ms. von der Leyen said she would ask her experts to propose an emergency plan to tackle possible shortages going into the winter. The commission has already promoted joint purchasing and storing of gas by E.U. members as a safety measure, should one nation get disconnected. After gas supplies were cut off to Bulgaria, for example, Greece stepped up to help supply its neighbor and fellow E.U. member.

But if Russia decides to hurt Europe for its support of Ukraine by further slashing supplies from its energy giant, Gazprom, it is far from clear that such ad hoc solidarity would work in the winter, when the bloc’s energy demands are much higher.

The E.U. has imposed sanctions on Russian fossil fuels, including a broad ban on Russian oil imports that will come into effect at the end of the year. But it has not been able to do the same with Russian gas, on which it is hugely reliant, because it has not yet lined up sufficient alternatives. Gas prices, meanwhile, have surged, costing European buyers dearly and softening the effect of the sanctions on Russia.

And whatever solutions European leaders devise for the growing problem would take effect in months. For now, member states have to tackle possible shortages largely on their own.

Ms. von der Leyen said that she had been asked to present her proposals at the next E.U. leaders’ summit in October, and that she expected her staff to finish drafting them in September.

In the meantime, she urged people to use less power.

“We should not only replace the gas, but also always take the opportunity of the energy savings. I cannot emphasize that enough,” she said, adding that Europeans could save greatly if they turned down their air-conditioners in the summer and their heaters as the temperature drops.

Gas is not the only urgent question facing world leaders. Diplomats also gathered in Berlin on Friday, ahead of a G-7 summit in Germany on Sunday, to discuss the growing global food crisis set off by the inability of Ukraine to export its grain. Earlier this week, the United Nations said that the war had pushed tens of millions of people into food insecurity.

Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, welcomed Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi di Maio; and other officials to discuss possible solutions.

Before the war, Ukraine exported millions of metric tons of grain monthly, mostly via seaports that are now blockaded. Officials weighed the possibility of moving the grain by land, a far slower and more complicated endeavor.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Blinken said that while the food crisis would continue for some time, it was important to not let Russia get away with violating fundamental human rights of the Ukrainian people.

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Russia’s Blockade of Ukraine Is ‘War Crime,’ Top E.U. Official Says

LONDON — The Russian blockade that has stopped Ukraine from exporting its vast storehouses of grain and other goods, threatening starvation in distant corners of the globe, is a “war crime,” the European Union’s top foreign policy official declared Monday.

The remarks by the official, Josep Borrell Fontelles, were among the strongest language from a Western leader in describing the Kremlin’s tactics to subjugate Ukraine nearly four months after it invaded, and with no end to the conflict in sight.

Before Russian forces began pounding Ukraine in February, it was a major exporter of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer. But the Black Sea blockade — along with Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian farmland and its destruction of agricultural infrastructure — has brought exports to a near standstill. The latest blow came Monday, when, Ukrainian regional authorities said, a Russian missile razed a food warehouse in Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port.

arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world, people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made the same point in a remote address to the African Union on Monday. Moscow has deep ties to many African countries, which have been reluctant to criticize the invasion.

similar announcement on Sunday by Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. Denmark said it was also activating a plan to deal with looming shortages of gas that had been supplied by Russia.

The developments came as Russia, far from feeling the pain of lost fuel sales, found a savior in China, which reported on Monday that it was now the biggest buyer of Russian oil.

considering a suspension of fuel taxes to ease the strain on consumers.

NBC News, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that the two Americans, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were “soldiers of fortune” who had been engaged in shelling and firing on Russian forces and should be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed.”

The sanctions imposed on Russia also played a role on Monday in an escalating confrontation with Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO.

The Russian authorities threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic country did not swiftly reverse its ban on the transportation of some goods to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Citing instructions from the European Union, Lithuania’s railway on Friday said it was halting the movement of goods from Russia that have been sanctioned by the European bloc.

Mr. Peskov told reporters the situation was “more than serious.” He called the new restrictions “an element of a blockade” of the region and a “violation of everything.”

small town of Toshkivka in Luhansk Province, part of the eastern region known as Donbas. That is where Russian forces have concentrated much of their military power as part of a plan to seize the region after having failed to occupy other parts of the country, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, in northern Ukraine.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Russian forces had broken through the Ukrainian front line in Toshkivka, about 12 miles southeast of the metropolitan area of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Those are the last major cities in Luhansk not to have fallen into Russian hands. As of Monday, it remained unclear whether Russia had made any further advance there.

But Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had intensified shelling in and around Kharkiv, weeks after the Ukrainians had pushed them back, suggesting that Moscow still had territorial ambitions beyond Donbas.

“We de-occupied this region,” Mr. Zelensky said in an address to a conference of international policy experts in Italy. “And they want to do it again.”

Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from London, Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv; Dan Bilefsky from Montreal; Monika Pronczuk from Brussels; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Stanley Reed from London; and Zach Montague from Rehoboth Beach, Del.

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Bitcoin Plummets Below $20,000 for First Time Since Late 2020

Square, another payments company, bought $50 million of Bitcoin and changed its name to Block, in part to signify its work with blockchain technology. Tesla bought $1.5 billion of it. The venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz raised $4.5 billion for a fourth cryptocurrency-focused fund, doubling its previous one.

Excitement hit a peak in April last year when Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, went public at an $85 billion valuation, a coming-out party for the industry. Bitcoin topped $60,000 for the first time.

Last summer, El Salvador announced that it would become the first country to classify Bitcoin as legal tender, alongside the U.S. dollar. The country’s president updated his Twitter profile picture to include laser eyes, a calling card of Bitcoin believers. The value of El Salvador’s $105 million investment in Bitcoin has been slashed in half as the price has fallen.

Senators and mayors around the United States began touting cryptocurrency, as the industry spent heavily on lobbying. Mayor Eric Adams of New York, who was elected in November, said he would take his first three paychecks in Bitcoin. Senators Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, proposed legislation that would create a regulatory framework for the industry, giving more authority to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an agency that crypto companies have openly courted.

Through the frenzy, celebrities fueled the fear of missing out, flogging their NFTs on talk shows and talking up blockchain projects on social media. This year, the Super Bowl featured four ads for crypto companies, including Matt Damon warning viewers that “fortune favors the brave.”

That swaggering optimism faltered this spring as the stock market plummeted, inflation soared and layoffs hit the tech sector. Investors began losing confidence in their crypto investments, moving money to less risky assets. Several high-profile projects crashed amid withdrawals. TerraForm Labs, which created TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin, and Celsius, an experimental crypto bank, both collapsed, wiping out billions in value and sending the broader market into a tailspin.

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European leaders visit Ukraine, dangling hope of EU membership

  • Zelenskiy thanks EU leaders for solidarity visit
  • Leaders tour ruined town of Irpin
  • Fighting rages in Sievierodonetsk and southern Ukraine

KYIV/IRPIN, Ukraine, June 16 (Reuters) – The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, all criticised in the past by Kyiv for support viewed as too cautious, visited Ukraine on Thursday and offered the hope of EU membership to a country pleading for weapons to fend off Russia’s invasion.

Air raid sirens blared in Kyiv as the visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Italy’s Mario Draghi began, with the leaders touring a nearby town wrecked early in the war. read more

After holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the leaders signalled that Ukraine should be granted European Union candidate status, a symbolic gesture that would draw Kyiv closer to the economic bloc.

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Scholz said Germany had taken in 800,000 Ukrainian refugees who had fled the conflict and would continue to support Ukraine as long as it needs.

“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” he said.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said their troops were still holding out against massive Russian bombardment in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, and described new progress in a counteroffensive in the south.

But they said battles on both main fronts depended on receiving more aid from the West, especially artillery to counter Russia’s big advantage in firepower.

“We appreciate the support already provided by partners, we expect new deliveries, primarily heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery, anti-missile defence systems,” Zelenskiy said after the talks with his European counterparts.

“There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people, our land,” he said.

Macron said France would step up arms deliveries to Kyiv, while NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels pledged more weapons for Ukraine while making plans to bolster the U.S.-led military alliance’s eastern flank.

“This will mean more NATO forward deployed combat formations… More air, sea and cyber defences, as well as pre-positioned equipment and weapon stockpiles,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

‘MAKE EUROPE, NOT WAR’

The visit to Ukraine by the three most powerful EU leaders had taken weeks to organise while they fended off criticism over positions described as too deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The leaders, who were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, toured Irpin, devastated soon after the invasion began on Feb. 24.

Noting graffiti on a wall that read “Make Europe, not war”, Macron said: “It’s very moving to see that. This is the right message.”

Scholz, Macron and Draghi all say they are strong supporters of Ukraine who have taken practical steps to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and find weapons to help Kyiv.

But Ukraine has long criticised Scholz over what it regards as Germany’s slow delivery of weapons and reluctance to sever economic ties with Moscow, and was furious this month at Macron for saying in an interview that Russia must not be “humiliated”.

Italy has also proposed a peace plan which Ukrainians fear could lead to pressure on them to give up territory. After the talks in Kyiv, Macron said some sort of communication channel was still needed with Putin.

While Europe’s leaders attempted a show of solidarity for Ukraine, the continent’s dependency on Russia for much of its energy supplies was laid bare, with gas deliveries through a major pipeline falling in recent days. read more

A lack of grain shipments from Ukraine, meanwhile, has created an emerging global food crisis.

Russia blames sanctions for both, while Italy’s Draghi said Moscow was making “political use” of the situation.

In an interview with Reuters, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko said Moscow was facilitating the export of grain and oilseeds through Russian-held transit points on the Azov Sea, without explaining who was providing the foodstuffs for export. read more

‘GHOST VILLAGES’

Ukraine is taking hundreds of casualties a day as the war has entered a brutal attritional phase in the east.

The main battle in recent weeks has been over the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces are holed up in a chemical factory with hundreds of civilians.

“Every day it becomes more and more difficult because the Russians are pulling more and more weapons into the city,” Sievierodonetsk mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on Thursday.

An airstrike on Thursday hit a building sheltering civilians in Lysychansk across the river, killing at least four and wounding seven, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

In the south, Ukraine says its forces have been making inroads into Kherson province, which Russia occupied early in its invasion. There has been little independent reporting to confirm battlefield positions in the area.

Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote in a tweet that he had visited an area some 3 to 4 kilometres (around 2 miles) from Russian positions, where dozens of “ghost villages” were depopulated by the combat.

“Our guys on the ground – the mood is fighting. Even with limited resources, we are pushing back the enemy. One thing is missing – long-range weapons. In any case, we will throw them out of the south,” he wrote.

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Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Toby Chopra and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Alex Richardson and Rosalba O’Brien

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How a Religious Sect Landed Google in a Lawsuit

OREGON HOUSE, Calif. — In a tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a religious organization called the Fellowship of Friends has established an elaborate, 1,200-acre compound full of art and ornate architecture.

More than 200 miles away from the Fellowship’s base in Oregon House, Calif., the religious sect, which believes a higher consciousness can be achieved by embracing fine arts and culture, has also gained a foothold inside a business unit at Google.

Even in Google’s freewheeling office culture, which encourages employees to speak their own minds and pursue their own projects, the Fellowship’s presence in the business unit was unusual. As many as 12 Fellowship members and close relatives worked for the Google Developer Studio, or GDS, which produces videos showcasing the company’s technologies, according to a lawsuit filed by Kevin Lloyd, a 34-year-old former Google video producer.

critically acclaimed winery; and collected art from across the world, including more than $11 million in Chinese antiques.

Revelations.” Mr. Burton described Apollo as the seed of a new civilization that would emerge after a global apocalypse.

sold its collection of Chinese antiques at auction. In 2015, after its chief winemaker left the organization, its winery ceased production. The Fellowship’s president, Greg Holman, declined to comment for this article.

The Google Developer Studio is run by Peter Lubbers, a longtime member of the Fellowship of Friends. A July 2019 Fellowship directory, obtained by The Times, lists him as a member. Former members confirm that he joined the Fellowship after moving to the United States from the Netherlands.

At Google, he is a director, a role that is usually a rung below vice president in Google management and usually receives annual compensation in the high six figures or low seven figures.

Previously, Mr. Lubbers worked for the staffing company Kelly Services. M. Catherine Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, won a similar suit against Kelly Services in 2008 on behalf of Lynn Noyes, who claimed that the company had failed to promote her because she was not a member of the Fellowship. A California court awarded Ms. Noyes $6.5 million in damages.

Ms. Noyes said in an interview that Mr. Lubbers was among a large contingent of Fellowship members from the Netherlands who worked for the company in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

At Kelly Services, Mr. Lubbers worked as a software developer before a stint at Oracle, the Silicon Valley software giant, according to his LinkedIn profile, which was recently deleted. He joined Google in 2012, initially working on a team that promoted Google technology to outside software developers. In 2014, he helped create G.D.S., which produced videos promoting Google developer tools.

Kelly Services declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Under Mr. Lubbers, the group brought in several other members of the Fellowship, including a video producer named Gabe Pannell. A 2015 photo posted to the internet by Mr. Pannell’s father shows Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell with Mr. Burton, who is known as “The Teacher” or “Our Beloved Teacher” within the Fellowship. A caption on the photo, which was also recently deleted, calls Mr. Pannell a “new student.”

Echoing claims made in the lawsuit, Erik Johanson, a senior video producer who has worked for the Google Developer Studio since 2015 through ASG, said the team’s leadership abused the hiring system that brought workers in as contractors.

“They were able to further their own aims very rapidly because they could hire people with far less scrutiny and a far less rigorous on-boarding process than if these people were brought on as full-time employees,” he said. “It meant that no one was looking very closely when all these people were brought on from the foothills of the Sierras.”

Mr. Lloyd said that after applying for his job he had interviewed with Mr. Pannell twice, and that he had reported directly to Mr. Pannell when he joined a 25-person Bay Area video production team inside GDS in 2017. He soon noticed that nearly half this team, including Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell, came from Oregon House.

Google paid to have a state-of-the-art sound system installed in the Oregon House home of one Fellowship member who worked for the team as a sound designer, according to the suit. Mr. Lubbers disputed this claim in a phone interview, saying the equipment was old and would have been thrown out if the team had not sent it to the home.

The sound designer’s daughter also worked for the team as a set designer. Additional Fellowship members and their relatives were hired to staff Google events, including a photographer, a masseuse, Mr. Lubbers’s wife and his son, who worked as a DJ at company parties.

The company frequently served wine from Grant Marie, a winery in Oregon House run by a Fellowship member who previously managed the Fellowship’s winery, according to the suit and a person familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“My personal religious beliefs are a deeply held private matter,” Mr. Lubbers said. “In all my years in tech, they have never played a role in hiring. I have always performed my role by bringing in the right talent for the situation — bringing in the right vendors for the jobs.”

He said ASG, not Google, hired contractors for the GDS team, adding that it was fine for him to “encourage people to apply for those roles.” And he said that in recent years, the team has grown to more than 250 people, including part-time employees.

Mr. Pannell said in a phone interview that the team brought in workers from “a circle of trusted friends and families with extremely qualified backgrounds,” including graduates of the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2017 and 2018, according to the suit, Mr. Pannell attended video shoots intoxicated and occasionally threw things at the presenter when he was unhappy with a performance. Mr. Pannell said that he did not remember the incidents and that they did not sound like something he would do. He also acknowledged that he’d had problems with alcohol and had sought help.

After seven months at Google, Mr. Pannell was made a full-time employee, according to the suit. He was later promoted to senior producer and then executive producer, according to his LinkedIn profile, which has also been deleted.

Mr. Lloyd brought much of this to the attention of a manager inside the team, he said. But he was repeatedly told not to pursue the matter because Mr. Lubbers was a powerful figure at Google and because Mr. Lloyd could lose his job, according to his lawsuit. He said he was fired in February 2021 and was not given a reason. Google, Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell said he had been fired for performance issues.

Ms. Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, argued that Google’s relationship with ASG allowed members of the Fellowship to join the company without being properly vetted. “This is one of the methods the Fellowship used in the Kelly case,” she said. “They can get through the door without the normal scrutiny.”

Mr. Lloyd is seeking damages for wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and the intentional infliction of emotion distress. But he said he worries that, by doing so much business with its members, Google fed money into the Fellowship of Friends.

“Once you become aware of this, you become responsible,” Mr. Lloyd said. “You can’t look away.”

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The Fed Raises Interest Rates by 0.75 Percentage Points to Tackle Inflation

The Federal Reserve took its most aggressive step yet to try to tame rapid and persistent inflation, raising interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point on Wednesday and signaling that it is prepared to inflict economic pain to get prices under control.

The rate increase was the central bank’s biggest since 1994 and could be followed by a similarly sized move next month, suggested Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, underscoring just how much America’s unexpectedly stubborn price gains are unsettling Fed officials.

As central bankers drive their policy rate rapidly higher, it will make buying a home or expanding a business more expensive, restraining spending and slowing the broader economy. Officials expect growth to moderate in the coming months and years and predicted that unemployment will rise about half a percentage point to 4.1 percent by late 2024 as their policy squeezes companies and workers.

economic projections they released Wednesday, which would be the highest level since 2008. They also foresee the Fed’s policy rate peaking at 3.8 percent at the end of 2023, up from 2.8 percent when projections were last released in March.

Consumer Price Index jumped 8.6 percent in May from a year earlier, the fastest increase since late 1981. The pace was brisk even after the stripping out of food and fuel prices.

While the Fed’s preferred price gauge — the Personal Consumption Expenditures measure — is climbing slightly more slowly, it remains too hot for comfort as well. And consumers are beginning to expect faster inflation in the months and years ahead, based on surveys, which is a worrying development. Economists think that expectations can be self-fulfilling, causing people to ask for wage increases and accept price jumps in ways that perpetuate high inflation.

“What we’re looking for is compelling evidence that inflationary pressures are abating, and that inflation is moving back down,” Mr. Powell said at his news conference Wednesday, noting that instead the inflation situation has worsened. “We thought that strong action was warranted.”

One Fed official, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Esther George, voted against the rate increase. Though Ms. George has historically worried about high inflation and favored higher interest rates, she would have preferred a half-point move in this instance.

Stock prices have been plummeting and bond market signals are flashing red as Wall Street traders and economists increasingly expect that the economy may tip into a recession. On Wednesday, the S&P 500 rose 1.5 percent, climbing after the release of the decision and Mr. Powell’s news conference, most likely because investors had already expected the Fed to make a large move.

The economy remains strong for now, but the Fed’s actions are beginning to have a real-world impact: Mortgage rates have risen sharply and are helping to cool the housing market; demand for consumer goods is showing signs of beginning to slow as borrowing becomes more expensive; and job growth, while robust, has begun to moderate.

While the economic path ahead may be a rocky one, the Fed’s policymakers contend that things would be worse in the long run if they did not act. As prices surge, worker pay is not keeping up. That means that families are falling behind as they try to afford gas, food and rent, even in a very strong labor market.

“You really cannot have the kind of labor market we want without price stability,” Mr. Powell said Wednesday, explaining that what officials want is a job market with lots of job opportunities and rising wages. “It’s not going to happen with the levels of inflation we have.”

The White House has been emphasizing that the Fed plays the key role in bringing down inflation, even as the Biden administration does what it can to reduce some costs for beleaguered consumers and urges companies to improve gas supply.

“The Federal Reserve has a primary responsibility to control inflation,” President Biden wrote in a recent opinion column. He added that “past presidents have sought to influence its decisions inappropriately during periods of elevated inflation. I won’t do this.”

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What Happened on Day 106 of the War in Ukraine

LYSYCHANSK, Ukraine — Just to move about town, Ukrainian soldiers accelerate to breakneck speeds in their SUVs, screech around corners, zip into courtyards, then pile out and run for cover.

“They see us and they open fire,” Colonel Yuriy Vashchuk said of the need to move quickly or become a vulnerable target for Russian artillery. “There’s no place in this town that is safe.”

He was careering around on the high ground of Lysychansk, across the river from Sievierodonetsk, the site of the fiercest fighting in Ukraine’s East. To be prepared, he placed a hand grenade in the cup holder between the front seats of his vehicle. A box of pistol ammunition slid back and forth on the dashboard as he drove.

Signs of Ukraine’s tenuous military positions are everywhere: On the hills overlooking Sievierodonetsk, smoke from a dozen or so fires testify to weeks of seesaw urban combat. The single supply route to the west is littered with burned vehicles, hit by Russian artillery.

The clanging, metallic explosions of incoming shells ring out every few minutes.

These two cities, separated by the Seversky Donets River, have become the focal point of the battle in the East, though weeks of bombardment have driven away most civilians, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine recently referred to them as “dead cities.’’

Russia’s goal is clear: It aims to capture the cities, even if that means flattening them, and continue its march westward.

Yet Ukraine’s strategy there remains unclear. Analysts say Sievierodonetsk, with its empty streets and hollowed-out buildings, is of limited military significance, and in recent days, Mr. Zelensky has spoken both of the merits of pulling back and the longer-term risks of doing so.

On Wednesday night, he swung back toward emphasizing its importance, framing the fighting here as pivotal to the broader battle for the region. “In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there,” he said in his nightly speech to the nation.

“We defend our positions, inflict significant losses on the enemy,” Mr. Zelensky said. “This is a very fierce battle, very difficult. Probably one of the most difficult throughout this war.”

Still, the government’s mixed signals emerged again on Thursday when Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, made a desperate plea for more powerful weapons. “We have proved that, unlike many others, we do not fear the Kremlin,’’ he said. “But as a country we cannot afford to be losing our best sons and daughters.”

He warned that as many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers were being killed every day.

Indeed, the fighting on the plains in eastern Ukraine has become a race between Russia’s tactic of making slow, methodical advances that gain ground even as they reduce towns to rubble and kill untold numbers, and the delivery — far too slow, Ukrainians say — of powerful Western weapons needed to halt the invaders.

The Ukrainian military and government are now making no secret of the challenges they face in the East, three and a half months after Russia invaded. Their daily updates that highlight real setbacks are atypically honest by the standards of military press offices, a tactic perhaps intended to add a sense of urgency to their daily calls for heavy Western weaponry

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Russia has also been moving swiftly to punish Ukrainian soldiers captured on the battlefield.

On Thursday, two Britons and a Moroccan who fought for the Ukrainian military were sentenced to death by a court in a Russian-occupied region of eastern Ukraine, after they were accused of being mercenaries, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

The death sentences for the men — Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, of Britain and Brahim Saadoun of Morocco — alarmed human rights advocates and raised questions about the protections for thousands of foreign-born fighters serving in Ukraine, some of whom have been taken prisoner.

In Russia, investigators said on Thursday that they had opened 1,100 cases of potential “crimes against peace” committed by captured Ukrainian service members, possibly paving the way for a mass show trial.

The fighting in Sievierodonetsk has come down to bloody, block-by-block combat, though a senior Ukrainian official, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, suggested Thursday that Russia may have partially withdrawn to clear the battlefield for further artillery bombardments.

Sievierodonetsk lies on the mostly flat, eastern bank of the river and the Ukrainian forces’ sole supply line is a partially obstructed bridge. Two other bridges were blown up earlier in the fighting. On the river floodplain below one of the ruined bridges lies the upside-down wreck of a truck that plunged when the span was destroyed.

Seversky

Donets R.

Sievierodonetsk

Lysychansk

Sea of

Azov

On the high, western bank is the city of Lysychansk. The two cities form a single metropolitan area, separated only by the river. Lysychansk, on the high bank, is seen as a more defensible fallback position for the Ukrainians fighting in this area.

In Lysychansk, asphalt chunks, sheared-off tree branches and other debris from shelling litter the city’s streets, which were otherwise mostly empty on a visit this week. Broken power lines droop from poles. At one spot, an unexploded Russian rocket juts out of a sidewalk.

Across the river, the streets in Sievierodonetsk were at moments eerily quiet, at other times a cacophony of gunshots and explosions.

Rapid fire from the large-caliber guns on armored personnel carriers, sounding like a jackhammer at work, echoed around the area.

A few miles to the west, another battle is raging across a pastoral landscape of rolling steppe and small villages, as Russian forces try to cut supply lines, surround the two cities and trap the Ukrainian fighters there. The two armies continually fire artillery at each other, with the Russians getting the upper hand for now.

A maze of rural back roads is now the only route in for the Ukrainians, and it is vulnerable to Russian artillery. In a field a few hundred yards off a road on Wednesday, a Ukrainian military vehicle burned and sent up a plume of black smoke.

“They are trying to make a circle, to trap all soldiers inside and destroy them,” said Mariana Bezugla, the deputy head of the Security, Defense and Intelligence Committee in Ukraine’s Parliament.

The military does not disclose troop numbers, but Ms. Bezugla said several thousand Ukrainian soldiers are now deployed in the area at risk of being surrounded.

Ms. Bezugla wears a military uniform and gold-tinted aviator glasses while driving about in a van once used as an armored vehicle for a bank. She has been living in the potential encirclement zone for the past two weeks, she said, working to ensure that military aid to Ukraine is not misused. That issue is likely to rise in importance as billions of dollars in Western aid arrives.

That weaponry is flowing in, but not reaching the front quickly. Poland has promised tanks and armored vehicles, according to the Polish government. Norway has sent self-propelled howitzers, along with spare parts and ammunition. The United States and allies sent towed howitzers. And earlier this month, the United States and Britain promised advanced, mobile, multi-rocket launchers, what the Ukrainian military has said it needs to hit Russian targets far from the front.

But it’s unclear how much of it has arrived in the places it is most needed, and whether it will be enough.

“I cannot say that I am satisfied with the tempo and quantity of weapon supplies. Absolutely not,” said Mr. Reznikov, the minister of defense. “But at the same time, I am extremely ​grateful to the countries that support us.”

Ms. Bezugla said she was also thankful. “But for me, it’s hard to understand why help is given in doses, just enough to survive but not enough to win,” she said. “It worries me. Our people are dying every day here.”

Out in a field of green wheat shoots, one sign of the need for additional American military aid was the blown-up debris of earlier assistance. An American M777 howitzer had lost an artillery duel; it was blasted into several blackened, charred pieces amid craters from Russian artillery.

Reporting was contributed by Oleksandr Chubko from Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Marc Santora from Warsaw, Michael Levenson from New York, Dan Bilefsky from Montreal, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia and Valerie Hopkins from Chernihiv, Ukraine.

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