Obama spokesman defends reported $400,000 Wall Street-backed speech

A spokesman for Barack Obama spoke out Wednesday against critics who called out the former president for reportedly accepting a $400,000 speaking fee, backed by a Wall Street bank.

Eric Schultz, the spokesman, told Fortune that in 2008, then-candidate Obama pulled in more money than any candidate in history, and went on to implement the toughest reforms on Wall Street since FDR.

Fox Business reported that Obama has agreed to speak at a Wall Street conference run by Cantor Fitzgerald LP. The speaking fee will be $400,000, which is nearly twice as much as Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, and the 2016 Democratic Party candidate, charged private businesses for such events.

Obama has agreed to speak at Cantors health care conference in September and will be the keynote luncheon speaker for one day during the event, people at the firm told Fox Business. These people say Obama has signed the contract, but the company, a mid-sized New York-based investment bank, is waiting to coordinate with the former president before making a formal announcement.

Is there an irony here because he spoke incessantly about the income gap and is now earning from those same people he criticized? Yes it is, said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. Should we expect it? Yes, we should because all former presidents do this. He went on the attack against Wall Street and now hes being fed by those same people he called fat cats. Its more hypocritical than ironic.

Schultz went on to say that Obama will continue to give the occasional speech, but he will devote much of his time to writing his book and focusing his post-presidency work on training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/04/27/obama-spokesman-defends-reported-400000-wall-street-backed-speech.html

Botched energy scheme inquiry to get under way – BBC News

Image copyright Other
Image caption RHI offered a financial incentive for businesses to install renewable heat systems, such as biomass boilers

The preliminary hearing of the public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme is to take place at Stormont.

The chairman of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry will make an opening statement when it sits in Parliament Buildings.

Retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin is expected to give some indication of when formal evidence sessions might start.

He may also outline in general how long the whole process could take.

And he will detail the work done to date to gather documents and other evidence.

Spiralling costs

The green scheme was set up in 2012 to encourage businesses and other non-domestic users to move from using fossil fuels to renewable heating systems.

In what has been dubbed the “cash-for-ash” scandal, the flawed scheme meant users could legitimately earn more cash the more fuel they burned.

The inquiry was announced in January by the then Finance Minister Mirtn Muilleoir.

It was set up to investigate the design and operation of the scheme, which at one point had a projected overspend of 490m.

Cost controls have now been introduced for the current financial year.

Image copyright Other
Image caption A handful of wood pellets, the main fuel used in the RHI scheme

The inquiry will consider the delay in implementing cost controls in 2015 and allegations of political pressure to keep the scheme open at a time when applications were flooding in and the projected costs were spiralling.

The inquiry will establish the facts surrounding the RHI scheme but will not determine any person’s civil or criminal liability.

The fallout was cited as one of the reasons for Sinn Fin withdrawing from devolved government and forcing the recent assembly election.

The party has said it will not share power with Arlene Foster as Democratic Unionist Party leader until the inquiry has fully investigated her role.


Mrs Foster was the minister in charge of the former Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment, which ran the scheme.

She has said she expects to be vindicated.

Meanwhile, some recipients of the RHI subsidy have said cuts to tariff rates have had a big impact on their business.

The changes were applied from April, but a usage cap means some people who borrowed tens of thousands of pounds to put in a boiler are receiving no subsidy payments and are struggling to repay the banks.

A group of about 500 boiler owners is going to court in an attempt to have the new reduced tariffs set aside.

They say they signed up to a government scheme in good faith and they had factored in the promised subsidy payments to bank loans.

Related Topics

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-39726411

Lloyds Bank’s profits rise despite ‘challenging’ times – BBC News

Image copyright Reuters

Lloyds Banking Group has reported a rise in profits in the three months to the end of March, despite a “challenging” environment.

It said pre-tax profits doubled from a year ago to 1.3bn in the first quarter, although last year’s figure included a hefty one-off cost.

Underlying profit was 1% higher at 2.1bn, beating analysts’ expectations.

Lloyds boss Antonio Horta-Osorio said its “simple and low risk” business was able to cope with difficult trading.

Mr Horta-Osorio also said he expected UK interest rates to remain at record lows this year.

Analysts have said that low interest rates make it harder for banks to increase profits.

The bank, which was bailed out by the taxpayer at the height of the financial crisis, is expected to be fully returned to private ownership later this year.

‘Sins of the past’

Lloyds’ profits were boosted by the absence of last year’s 800m charge from its controversial move to buy back expensive bonds from investors.

Philip Augar, an author and banking expert, told the BBC: “This time last year they had to disclose a horrible loss due to volatility in their own bond prices.

“There’s none of that this year, [but] they still had to make another provision for about half a billion pounds for sins of the past, PPI [payment protection insurance] and things like that.”

Lloyds recently set aside an extra 350m to cover mis-sold PPI claims and 100m to cover compensation for victims of fraud by former HBOS staff.

Mr Horta-Osorio said on Thursday that the victims of the fraud would be “fairly, swiftly and appropriately compensated”.

Lloyds is the UK’s biggest mortgage lender, and unlike many of its rivals does not do investment banking.

“It’s plain and simple, vanilla banking,” Mr Augar said. “If they do it right, if they don’t get too greedy, if they behave themselves it should be a wonderful business.”

Related Topics

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-39729481

United Airlines to offer up to $10,000 for passengers to give up seats on flights

The carrier announces shakeup of booking policy after outrage at the forcible removal of a passenger

United Airlines will offer passengers up to $10,000 (7,700) for giving up their seats on overbooked flights as part of the carriers efforts to repair the damage from the forcible removal of a passenger.

The offer came after rival Delta outlined plans to offer up to $9,950 in such cases.

United said it would increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000, and also promised action to reduce overbooking and improve customer satisfaction.

Our goal is to reduce incidents of involuntary denial of boarding to as close to zero as possible and become a more customer-focused airline, the carrier said in the statement.

United has been embroiled in controversy after videos recorded by fellow passengers showed David Dao, 69, yanked from his seat aboard a United flight set to fly from Chicago to Louisville to make room for crew members.

Play Video
United Airlines passenger forcibly removed from overbooked flight video

Dao lost two front teeth in the scuffle, incurred a concussion and broke his nose, according to his lawyer, and will likely sue the airline.

United typically oversells flights by less than zero to 3% of the planes seat capacity to account for no-shows.

United said it would no longer call law enforcement to deny passengers boarding, nor would passengers who were already seated be required to give up their seats on overbooked flights.

United will adopt a no questions asked policy on permanently lost baggage, paying customers $1,500 for the value of the bag and its contents, beginning in June.

This is a turning point for all of us at United, chief executive Oscar Munoz said in a statement.

Munoz, who took the helm at United in 2015 as part of an effort to improve customer relations, has faced calls to step down after referring to Dao as disruptive and belligerent in a statement following the incident.

It sparked a national conversation on airlines treatment of customers in an industry comprising just a handful of competitors following years of mergers and consolidations.

United announced last week that Munoz, in a move he himself initiated, would not become company chairman in 2018 as stated in his employment agreement.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/27/united-airlines-to-offer-up-to-10000-for-passengers-to-give-up-seats-on-flights

Even Trump’s Twitter binges aren’t enough to make it worth $11bn | Nils Pratley

Twitter chief says he is proud daily usage is rising, but revenues just fell and profits are nowhere to be seen

As Jack Dorsey, the Twitter chief executive, said he was proud to report a 14% increase in daily usage of the social media service, the shares moved higher. Its hard to understand why. Quarterly revenues fell by 8% to $548m (427m), the first time they have dropped since Twitter became a public company in 2013. Meanwhile, profits are nowhere to be seen. In the first quarter, the company lost $62m, an $18m improvement on a year ago, thanks to cost cutting, but hardly justification for a stock market value of $11bn less than it was, yet still substantial.

While we continue to face revenue headwinds, we believe that executing on our plan and growing our audience should result in positive revenue growth over the long term, Dorsey said. The plan is probably the only one worth backing: get the audience up and hope revenues follow. But the current breakdown in the relationship between audience and revenues suggests Twitters clout with advertisers is fading fast.

Maybe it is being outgunned by Facebook and Google, with their vastly greater audiences and budgets. Or perhaps Twitter, despite Dorseys many modifications, is simply less suited to commercial messages. If so, even Donald Trumps tweeting flurries, which boost the audience statistics, wont bring salvation or a reason to value an 11-year-old company making a loss so highly.

GSKs new chief takes on the perennial question

Emma Walmsleys first big call as chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline was easy to make and correct: she ruled out a breakup and committed herself to a corporate structure that houses complex pharmaceuticals, vaccines and consumer products such as toothpaste and Horlicks under one roof.

In truth, nobody expected any other decision. Walmsley was an internal appointment, blessed by her predecessor Sir Andrew Witty. He spent ages deflecting calls for GSK to do the splits and she used to run the consumer division. Still, theres no harm in Walmsley addressing the perennial question, as she called it, in her first month in charge.

Like Witty, she argued that reliable cashflows from vaccines and consumer products are a natural counterweight to the higher risk and more volatile business of developing pharmaceutical drugs. And she agreed that there are benefits from being able to switch prescription medicines to the consumer category when patents expire. Neither argument is 100% convincing in itself, but both are more persuasive than a disruptive separation in which the only guaranteed winners would be investment bankers and lawyers.

There were no major fireworks, then, which may explain why the shares were the biggest fallers in the FTSE 100, down 2%, despite first-quarter figures that showed revenue and profits marginally ahead of City forecasts. But Walmsley was clearly signalling a shakeup of some sort in pharmaceuticals with her pointed criticism that GSK has sometimes pursued interesting drugs that lack sufficient commercial potential. Some programmes may be dropped or shoved into partnerships.

Until full details are published in July, its hard to tell whether the plan represents a tweak or a serious reform. But the markets yawn seems odd. A new CEO who talks about disciplined choices to make the labs more commercial usually gets applause from investors.

The Lloyds investigation is welcome, but a mess

It is understandable that Lloyds Banking Group feels the need to answer definitively the charge that its board and executives were complacent about fraud at the Reading branch of HBOS.

The bank has appointed Dame Linda Dobbs, a retired high court judge, to examine whether Lloyds handled the matter properly and met its reporting obligations after buying HBOS in 2009. The fraud, for which six people were jailed in February, ran from 2003 to 2007, but victims have long argued that Lloyds wouldnt listen to their complaints after the takeover. That allegation is serious, and an investigation is overdue.

Everybody happy then? Not really. The natural investigator is the Financial Conduct Authority, which is supposedly on the job. The regulators inquiry into HBOS Reading, which was suspended in 2013 when Thames Valley police leapt into action, reopened last month. The primary focus may be on what HBOS did under its own steam, but Lloyds actions after it bought the ailing lender will also be under the microscope.

Indeed, Lloyds will not be allowed to publish the Dobbs report or any of its findings until the FCA says so. Put another way, Lloyds has launched an independent inquiry into itself that wont be regarded as independent or credible until the regulator allows. Its good that this affair is getting the attention it deserves, but the process is a mess.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/nils-pratley-on-finance/2017/apr/26/twitter-quarterly-revenues-profits-jack-dorsey-donald-trump-gsk-lloyds

Go with your gut: Harnessing the power of intution

Image: Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke

Intuition. Its that voice in the back of your head telling you that you should bring a raincoat or umbrella. Its that sinking feeling you have in the pit of your stomach when feeling that youve been betrayed. Its the instant connection that you have with your best friend. Its that hunch that you should make that investment or take a business risk.

Intuition has long been studied. From Aristotle to Carl Jungs groundbreaking studies in the early 20th Century. More recently, intuition has been linked to successful executive management and been favored by successful individuals like Steve Jobs, who said, Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. Thats had a big impact on my work.

However, intuition also has a bad reputation. Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer, a German social psychologist and director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, told The New York Times that is because it is not thought to be rational. That can be a problem in some situations, that demands too much information. Plus, its slow.

Dr. Gigerenzer adds, When a person relies on their gut feelings and uses the instinctual rule of thumb go with your first best feeling and ignore everything else, it can permit them to outperform the most complex calculations.

A gut feeling, Dr. Gigerenzer says, is a judgment that is fast. It comes quickly into a persons consciousness. The person doesnt know why they have this feeling. Yet, this is strong enough to make an individual act on it. What a gut instinct is not is a calculation. You do not fully know where it comes from.

Despite the misconceptions, intuition is beneficial. Its a form of intelligence that allows you to understand and use information that will guide you throughout life.In fact, Bruce Kasanoff makes the argument in Forbes that intuition, is in fact, the highest form of intelligence.

Sometimes, a corporate mandate or group-think or your desire to produce a certain outcome can cause your rational mind to go in the wrong direction. At times like these, it is intuition that holds the power to save you, writes Kasanoff.

That bad feeling gnawing away at you is your intuition telling you that no matter how badly you might wish to talk yourself into this direction, it is the wrong way to go.

Smart people listen to those feelings, concludes Kasanoff. And the smartest people among us – the ones who make great intellectual leaps forward – cannot do this without harnessing the power of intuition.

How Intuition Enhances Your Life

There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence, combined with solid research efforts, that suggests intuition is a critical aspect of how we humans interact with our environment and how, ultimately, we make many of our decisions, Ivy Estabrooke, a program manager at the Office of Naval Research, told the New York Times in 2012.But, what exactly do intuitive people do differently and how does that enhance their lives?

  • They listen to their inner voice, instead of ignoring it. Slow down, spend some time by yourself, and listen to that voice in the back of your head. We often make our best decisions when we balance our instincts and rational thinking.

  • They practice empathetic accuracy. This means that they can read others body language and tone of voice to understand their thoughts and feelings. Its an effective way to develop more meaningful relationships.

  • They create. Creativity does its best work when it functions intuitively, writes researcher and author Carla Woolf.

  • They practice mindfulness. Mindfulness can help you filter out the mental chatter, weigh your options objectively, tune into your intuition and ultimately make a decision that you can stand behind completely, explains the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

  • They trust their gut. Theres a reason why we refer to intuition as a gut feeling. Sometimes our body is telling us that somethings wrong. We either feel sick to our stomachs or still to get clammy. Dont ignore your Spidey senses. Theyre telling you that something isnt right.

  • They analyze their dreams. While some dreams are nonsense, there are plenty of other dreams that are trying to tell us something. Dont dismiss these dreams. The ask, Where did this dream come from? and What can I take away from it?

  • They let go of negative emotions. Your intuition can fail when youre depressed or angry. And, those negative emotions arent good for your health or productivity as well. Those who are intuitive, however, are able to accept and let go of these emotions.

Make no mistake about it. Intuition is a powerful part of our intelligence that can assist us in making better decisions.

Tips to Harness the Power of Intuition

Thankfully, intuition is something that we can turn up by following these tips:

  • What is your gut feeling? When making a decision, youre probably going to be competing with your thoughts and your gut. Instead of overthinking or overanalyzing the situation, consider how you feel about making this decision, as opposed to thinking about it. Keep in mind that when listening to your gut you should be calm.

  • Inside or outside? Are there outside forces, your family, friends, or colleagues, pushing you in a certain direction? Thats not always a bad thing. But, remember, these outside forces always have an agenda, so take their advice with caution. Unlike your inner sense that always has your best interest at heart without an agenda attached.

  • Keep a journal. Writing your thoughts and feelings down on papereven if you think you have little to say helps the nonconscious mind open up, advises Francis P. Cholle, author of The Intuitive Compass: Why the Best Decisions Balance Reason and Instinct.

  • Knowing or thinking? I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics, wrote Virgin Group founder Richard Branson in his memoir. I tend to make up my mind about people within thirty seconds of meeting them. In other words, sometimes we just know an answer before being asked and having time to think about.

  • Silence your inner critic. Allow the inner dialogues to happen without fear or ridicule, writes Cholle.

  • Remember, your gut feeling could be wrong. While you should listen to your gut or inner voice, there are times when it can be wrong. Before making any rash, risky, or major decisions, make sure that you instincts gel with your thoughts. For instance, you may have the gut feeling that you need to start a business, but youre still going to need to think about your industry, audience, marketing, etc. After your research, you may decide that you need to develop a different business because the one you had wont be profitable.

Image: john rampton

John Rampton is serial entrepreneur who now focuses on helping people to build amazing products and services that scale. He is founder of the online payments company Due. He was recently named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine. Time Magazine recognized John as a motivational speaker that helps people find a “Sense of Meaning” in their lives. He currently advises several companies in the bay area.

WATCH: This self-proclaimed cyborg turned his prosthetic eye into a tiny camera

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/04/25/harnessing-the-power-of-intuition-aka-your-gut/

HuffPost shows off its slick new look

Image: huffpost

When talking about the future of the Huffington Post brand, editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen points to the homepage “splash” following the news that Bill O’Reilly had been let go from Fox News.

“BILLY ON THE STREET” blared the headline in big, red letters.

Image: mediaite

That’s a sensibility that Polgreen wants to not just keep but expand. On Monday, the Huffington Post is rolling out its biggest redesign ever and first-ever rebrand and its biggest move since the exit of cofounder and namesake Arianna Huffington.

And about that namesake role. The media company will now call itself HuffPost, and it’s got a new logo and website to go along with the new name.

The new website keeps the classic “splash” homepage and three-column setup, but cleans up the top. It looks more like a modern website as opposed to the older design that Polgreen notes was part of the site’s original homage to the newspapers it was designed to imitate.

Image: HuffPost

Not only is the splash still there, get ready to see it elsewhere.

“This is a fun way for us to take what we see as our voice and users see as our voice and take it off platform,” said Julia Beizer, HuffPost‘s head of product.

The redesign comes a little more than eight months since Arianna Huffington left the publication that she started in 2005. Under her leadership, the website grew into a major digital media destination, winning a Pulitzer Prize and eventually selling to AOL for $315 million in 2011.

Huffington’s reign wasn’t without its problems. The website struggled to turn a profit (an issue that continues to dog digital media startups), while the company’s reliance on unpaid bloggers and its internal culture faced plenty of critiques.

Now, HuffPost is in the midst of a transition period. The website, now technically owned by Verizon (after it bought AOL), announced in December the appointment of Polgreen, then a well-respected veteran editor at the New York Times.

Since taking over, Polgreen has emerged as a strong public face for the publication while also pushing it forward. The website was (and in many ways still is) openly left-leaning with a heavy dose of coastal elites writing for it, but Polgreen has said she hopes to appeal to a broader audience yes, even Trump voters.

The redesign, Polgreen said, is meant to hang on to the voice and sensibility of HuffPost while taking it forward. The website first found popularity in the era of search engine optimization, best known for satisfying Googlers asking things like “What time does the Super Bowl start?

Now, digital media has transitioned to social media, where HuffPost remains a major player particularly on Facebook, where it often tops Newswhip’s monthly rankings.

Image: huffpost


Along with its new website and name, HuffPost has a new logo. Goodbye H, hello slash. It’s meant to symbolize that HuffPost isn’t your basic news website. The color is also undergoing a slight tweak.

“So what sets us apart? It’s that editorial voice, and so when we’re trying to figure out how to show that in logo form… we came back to the idea of a slash, it leans forward, literally,” Beizer said.

WATCH: This personal helicopter is the motorcycle of the sky

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/04/25/huffpost-redesign/

Has the presidency changed Trump?

(CNN)For a man used to tracking his TV ratings — as well as his poll numbers — the measurement of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days is a tougher score to reckon with.

Now he refers to it as a “ridiculous standard.”
It may well be, but it’s been used to measure every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt — and the White House knows it, as it prepares lists of accomplishments, charts and a rally to sing their own praises.
    We sat down with two of the president’s biographers to ask those who know Trump well about what they have watched as the 100-day marker approaches. Their responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

    On the concept of the first 100 days:

    Michael D’Antonio, author of “The Truth About Trump”: He is not a man who is really willing to let other people determine the standards by which he’ll be judged. He doesn’t like for there to be an umpire calling balls and strikes. This is why he doesn’t like the press. … But he is aware of what the real score is and he is aware that now we are getting to the 100-day mark that presidents have been judged by.

    On whether presidency has changed Donald Trump:

    D’Antonio: I didn’t think the presidency had changed Donald Trump until he acted in response to the gas attack in Syria. When I saw him do that, I realized that he might have been acting out of a certain sense of moral outrage. I think that is something new for Donald Trump. In the past, his outrages had been personal …
    Timothy O’Brien, author of “Trump Nation”: We’re really early on in this. … I don’t think someone who is about to turn 71 years old and has been the same person since he was 4 years old is going to get changed overnight by the presidency.

    On the role of Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner:

    D’Antonio: Loyalty is the first priority. And [Donald Trump] knows that in the case of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump that he has two advisers for whom there is no other priority but the success of this presidency. Others may have ambitions for themselves and ambitions in the future. But Trump can count on Jared and Ivanka serving him in the way that he prefers and putting his presidency first.
    O’Brien: At the end of the day, he’ll always come back to family. It’s true of his business life. That’s how the Trump organization was run — it was a little boutique business, populated with family members or quasi-family members. And he’s trying to replicate that in the White House… He just doesn’t trust people.

    On whether Donald Trump is happy — or lonely — in the White House:

    D’Antonio: I don’t see much evidence that he is happy in the Oval Office. Where he does seem happy is at Mar-a-Lago. When you see the images of him in his home environment — and he really is a homebody — he’s relaxed, he’s smiling, he seems at ease. I still don’t think that he is comfortable sitting at that desk in the most awesome office on Earth making these decisions and dealing with the pressure that comes with actually being the president of the United States.
    O’Brien: I don’t think he’s ever been authentically happy at all. … I think when he’s in his element, with an audience giving him unbroken attention, he is a very happy man. The problem is that he needs undivided attention every hour of the day and I don’t think he’s someone who does well on his own. I think the White House can be a big lonely place.
    D’Antonio: This is why he would have Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin to the White House for dinner. This is a way for him of dealing with the boredom and the isolation of being alone in the White House by himself in the evenings. So I do think he’s lonely. I don’t know that there’s a cure for it, other than what he is trying to do now, which to connect with his home base in Mar-a-Lago whenever he can.

    On whether the presidency has humbled him:

    D’Antonio: I do think he’s understanding now that he needs friends, he needs allies, he needs the world to be on his side as often as possible. So, yes, I think the office is humbling him a bit and it may have been the only responsibility on Earth that would ever visit humility upon Donald Trump.
    O’Brien: I don’t think anything will ever humble Donald Trump.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/25/politics/trump-presidency-change/index.html

    US businesswoman Phan Phan-Gillis sentenced in China on spying charges

    Sandy Phan-Gillis disappeared while on a business trip to China in 2015 and little had been heard of her case until her sentence

    An American woman detained during a business trip to China and charged with spying was sentenced on Tuesday to three and a half years in prison, raising the possibility that she may be allowed to return home soon.

    Phan Phan-Gillis has faced an uncertain fate since March 2015 when she disappeared from her group traveling in southern China. She was later accused of espionage, which carries a possible death sentence. A United Nations panel has said her detention violated international norms and the US has long pressed China to resolve the case fairly.

    The US state department confirmed that she had been sentenced on Tuesday. While Phan-Gilliss trial was closed to the public, a representative from the American consulate in Guangzhou, China, was allowed to attend the public announcement of the verdict against her, the department said.

    Under Chinese law, Phan-Gillis could be eligible now for parole and deportation, said John Kamm, founder of the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which monitors human rights and legal issues in China. Kamm said he expects China to parole Phan-Gillis fairly soon.

    The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a message about her case.

    Phan-Gillis is of Chinese descent, but was born in Vietnam and is an American citizen who lived in Houston and worked as a business consultant. Known by friends as Sandy, she made numerous trips to China for business and as a volunteer to promote cultural and business exchanges.

    She disappeared from the rest of her group during a trip in March 2015 to promote business opportunities in Houston. It took her husband, Jeff Gillis, almost two weeks to confirm through American consular officials that she had been detained by Chinese state security.

    Chinas opaque legal system often provides little or no explanation for why someone is detained or punished. Her Chinese lawyer, Shang Baojun, told the Associated Press last year that Phan-Gillis was charged with spying, but he could not discuss the case further because it involved state secrets. Jeff Gillis, who did not return a message on Tuesday, said last year that he was told his wife was accused of conducting a spy mission in 1996, then trying to recruit new spies the following two years allegations he called beyond ridiculous.

    Jeff Gillis looks through documents he has collected in support of his wife in Houston. Photograph: David J. Phillip/AP

    I have the passport that shows that she didnt even have a visa in 96, no entries or exits, he said. I have her pay stubs that show that she was not off on extended leave.

    The Dui Hua Foundation said Phan-Gillis was the first American citizen to be convicted of spying in a Chinese court since 1973. But Phan-Gillis three and a half year prison term is on the low end of sentences for espionage charges, according to Dui Huas research.

    China sometimes releases foreigners as an apparent sign of goodwill. Last year it allowed Kevin Garratt, a Canadian citizen held for two years and accused of spying, to return home after Canadas prime minister, Justin Trudeau, mentioned Garratt to top officials in Beijing.

    In Phan-Gillis case, Kamm credited the Trump administration and particularly secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who visited Beijing last month. Kamm said he was told by people who were in the room that Tillerson pressed Phan-Gillis case in private meetings.

    If US-China relations were not going as well as they are right now, I think this outcome would have been different, Kamm said.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/26/us-businesswoman-phan-phan-gillis-sentenced-in-china-on-spying-charges

    Miffed over border wall talk, top Mexican official floats American entry fee

    A top Mexican official on Tuesday said that Mexico may consider charging a fee for Americans entering the country in what could be seen as a retaliation to President Trump’s call for a border wall.

    Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray, in a meeting with Mexico’s top legislators, called Trump’s plan an “unfriendly, hostile” act, and called on his colleagues to consider the entry fee.

    “We could explore not necessarily a visa, that could impede a lot of people from coming to Mexico but we could perhaps (have) a fee associated with entry, Videgaray said. This is something that I’m sure will be part of our discussion, and I believe we can find points of agreement.”

    Videgaray went on to say that Mexico would not pay a cent towards the wall. He said if talks between the U.S. and Mexico fail to satisfy both countries, the Mexican government would consider reducing security cooperation.  

    “If the negotiation on other themes immigration, the border, trade isn’t satisfactory to Mexico’s interests, we will have to review our existing cooperation,” Videgaray said. “This would be especially in the security areas … and that involves the national immigration agency, the federal police and of course, the armed forces.”

    Trump has asked congress to include a down payment on the wall in the spending bill but because of scrutiny from both sides, the President announced Monday that hed be willing to wait until September to revisit the issue of funding; however, his stance on Mexicos role in paying for the wall hasnt changed. 

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.