Action film producer dies


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FILE -- In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 photo government commissioner in charge of the development of Hungary's film industry, Andy Vajna, participates in a discussion in the headquarters of the Hungarian National Film Fund in Budapest. On Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 the Hollywood producer, who was a prominent figure of the Hungarian and international film industry, died at the age of 74 after a long illness in his Budapest home. (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP, file)

FILE -- In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 photo government commissioner in charge of the development of Hungary's film industry, Andy Vajna, participates in a discussion in the headquarters of the Hungarian National Film Fund in Budapest. On Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 the Hollywood producer, who was a prominent figure of the Hungarian and international film industry, died at the age of 74 after a long illness in his Budapest home. (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP, file)

‘Rambo,’ ‘Total Recall’ producer Andy Vajna dies at 74


Associated Press

Monday, January 21

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Andy Vajna, a Hungarian-American film producer who worked on several “Rambo” movies with Sylvester Stallone, “Total Recall” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Madonna’s “Evita,” has died. He was 74.

Vajna, who produced many other films, died Sunday at his Budapest home after a long illness, Hungary’s National Film Fund said.

Schwarzenegger remembered Vajna as “a dear friend and a revolutionary force in Hollywood.”

“He proved that you don’t need studios to make huge movies,” Schwarzenegger posted on Twitter. “He had a huge heart, and he was one of the most generous guys around. I’ll miss him.”

Stallone paid tribute to Vajna on Instagram, calling him “a pioneer” and “the man that made Rambo” happen. Vajna believed in “First Blood,” the first Rambo film, “when no one else did. This truly breaks my heart,” Stallone said.

Vajna was also owner of the TV2 Group, a Hungarian company which owns several television channels, including TV2, one of Hungary’s two main broadcasters and politically aligned closely with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.

“We are bidding farewell to the greatest Hungarian film producer,” Orban posted on his Facebook page. “Hasta la vista, Andy! Thank you for everything, my friend!”

Since 2011, Vajna had been a commissioner in the Orban government, in charge of developing Hungary’s film industry.

Hungarian films have won several top prizes at recent international festivals. In 2016, “Son of Saul,” financed mostly by Hungary’s National Film Fund, won the Oscar for best foreign language film.

Vajna, who enjoyed a state-granted monopolistic concession on Budapest casinos, was recently listed by the Hungarian edition of Forbes magazine as the 18th richest Hungarian, with a net worth estimated at nearly $240 million. He also owned Radio 1, a radio station popular across the country.

The producer was born Andras Gyorgy Vajna in Budapest on Aug. 1, 1944, and escaped Hungary’s communist regime in 1956 with help from the International Red Cross. After some time in Canada, he was reunited with his family in Los Angeles.

After studying at UCLA, Vajna operated cinemas in Hong Kong, where he also established a successful wig-making company.

In the mid-1970s, Vajna set up Carolco, a film production firm, with Mario Kassar. Besides the Rambo series, the two men were also behind films like “Victory” — starring Stallone, Michael Caine and Pele; “Red Heat” and “Total Recall,” starring Schwarzenegger; and “Angel Heart” and “Johnny Handsome” with Mickey Rourke.

After leaving Carolco in 1989, Vajna’s films included “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” ”Die Hard with a Vengeance,” ”The Scarlet Letter,” ”Nixon” and “I Spy.”

He also produced several successful Hungarian films and was co-owner of Korda Studios, in the village of Etyek, near Budapest, where “The Martian,” ”Inferno” and “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” were filmed.

Late last year, Vajna was among a handful of businesspeople close to Orban who donated most of their media holdings to a nonprofit foundation overseen by an Orban ally, a move which put over 470 publications under even closer political control.

Vajna is survived by his wife, Timea.

Cartoon library gets Marmaduke collection spanning 56 years


The Columbus Dispatch

Sunday, January 20

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Great Dane known for making mischief has a permanent home in Columbus.

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum has acquired more than 16,000 Marmaduke cartoons from 1954 to 2010. The cartoons are part of a collection that includes strip’s creator Brad Anderson’s original art, correspondence, fan mail, memorabilia and more.

Anderson had no significant connection to Columbus but, before his death in 2015, had been in contact with the library’s curators about housing his work at the venue, curator Jenny Robb said. The library, on the Ohio State University campus, also serves as an archive for the National Cartoonists Society, of which Anderson was a member.

“My dad had said for a number of years that he wanted all his Marmadukes and all his collection of cartoons and other artifacts to go to the museum because he thought they did a wonderful job” said Christine Potchernick, one of Anderson’s four children. “He was very impressed with the museum.”

Robb said the museum is grateful for the privilege of maintaining such a beloved strip.

“Marmaduke is one of the most popular (comics) of the 20th century and beyond,” she said. “So many people who are pet owners can identify with it, and it has … entertained people for decades.”

The library is working to catalog and digitize the collection — a process that could take a year or more, Robb said. Once that is complete, she said, the museum might display some of the work in a gallery.

In the meantime, Robb said, the public, upon request, can view any part of the collection in the library’s reading room. Some of it is already available as part of the Billy Ireland’s digital collection.

Anderson, who grew up drawing cartoons in Jamestown, New York, created Marmaduke in 1954. He drew the series about the havoc-wreaking but lovable dog and his family until his death, since which his son Paul has continued to create the syndicated strip.

In addition to those cartoons, the collection obtained by the Billy Ireland includes Anderson’s early watercolor paintings from his undergraduate years at Syracuse University in New York and 3,000 of his magazine cartoons from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Potchernick, who lives with her husband in Montgomery, Texas, is excited to see her father’s life work live on at the museum.

“I just think so many people with dogs can relate to Marmaduke,” she said. “He thought comics were an important part of everyday life, and he always said, ‘If they give a little smile or chuckle, I’m happy.’”


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch,

EU’s antitrust cop lays groundwork for more tech scrutiny


AP Business Writer

Monday, January 21

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Silicon Valley’s notorious nemesis, Margrethe Vestager, plans to end her term as the European Union’s antitrust enforcer this year with a bang, laying out a long-term plan to intensify scrutiny of the world’s big tech companies.

As the EU’s competition commissioner, Vestager is arguably the world’s most important tech regulator. Since 2014, she has slapped Google with eye-popping multibillion-dollar antitrust penalties, ordered Apple and Amazon to pay back taxes and fined Facebook over its WhatsApp acquisition — flagship enforcement cases that have struck fear into Silicon Valley while drawing attention in Washington.

Now, in her final year in office, the 50-year-old Danish politician is laying the groundwork for a new phase of regulation beyond the end of her term in October.

She’s planning a report meant to guide EU competition policies in the era of digitization. Feedback from companies, business groups and experts shows many see the need for more regulation and when it’s published in March, the report by three expert advisers will reflect the need for new or tougher rules, she told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

“The most important thing is that the majority of input is pro-enforcement,” Vestager said during one of her frequent visits to Copenhagen from her Brussels base. The digital technology industry can no longer be allowed to shape itself, she added. “We are way beyond that.”

It’s unclear yet what shape the new enforcement will take but it may not bode well for the big U.S. technology companies that have landed in Vestager’s crosshairs.

Vestager has cultivated a down-to-earth image — she likes to knit elephants during meetings — that belies her formidable powers of enforcement.

She opened three antitrust cases against Google, including one that resulted in a record 4.3 billion euro ($5 billion) fine for forcing cellphone makers to use the internet giant’s software on Android phones. Another 2.4 billion euro ($2.8 billion) penalty was punishment for manipulating shopping search results. She aims to wrap up a probe before her term ends of whether Google blocked rivals from its Adsense ad service.

Vestager ordered Apple to pay back up to 13 billion euros ($15 billion) in back taxes from Ireland. Apple CEO Tim Cook called it “total political crap” and President Donald Trump referred to her as the “tax lady” who “really hates the U.S.”

The EU competition commissioner, with a 900-strong staff, is unusually powerful in the Brussels bureaucracy because it can enforce bloc-wide rules, giving it the power to take on countries and companies. Other departments typically share regulatory duties with national governments. Vestager’s job includes approving or rejecting mergers and investigating cartels and antitrust behavior. She also makes sure EU states don’t give tax breaks to individual companies that are not available to other corporations — legitimate business strategy in the U.S. but illegal in Europe.

A lot of attention is now falling on data, the commodity that drives the digital economy.

Information collected by web browsers, apps, smartphones and other devices can be enormously valuable to companies because they can provide insight about, for example, an individual’s buying habits and movements. Data can power artificial intelligence or be used to show targeted advertisements. Vestager is concerned that a small group of companies could corner the market and abuse their power.

She started confronting the problem with an informal probe launched last year into whether online shopping giant Amazon is using data to gain an edge on third party merchants, who are both its customers and rivals. She hopes to decide within six months whether to open a formal investigation.

Many people still aren’t sure how to take control of their personal information. New European privacy rules introduced last year were a start, obliging companies to be more transparent with customers about what they do with people’s data. But consumers are often still overwhelmed by detailed consent forms for third-party tracking on each new site they visit or the fine print of an app’s service terms.

Vestager, a member of a small left wing political party who believes in free markets, said the private sector can play a role in finding solutions.

“I think you need products that will help you exercise your rights. Independent digital assistants that will make sure that your privacy settings are maintained no matter where you go. That kind of stuff,” she said.

Vestager, whose party was founded by her great-grandfather, was Denmark’s deputy prime minister and economy minister before taking up her post in Brussels in late 2014. She reportedly keeps a sculpture of a hand with an extended middle finger in her office, a gift from a Danish trade union angered by her welfare cuts. She’s said to be one of the inspirations for the lead character in the Danish TV show “Borgen,” about an ambitious minor politician trying to become the country’s first female prime minister.

Although Vestager’s term runs out in October, she’s hoping for a second stint, an unlikely prospect because her party is out of power in Denmark and its prospects look uncertain in upcoming elections. The EU’s executive commissioners are nominated by their country’s governments.

“Sometimes things are unlikely but not impossible,” Vestager said. “I’m in the middle of something and we’re not done yet,” she added, referring to the new era of digital regulation.

Vestager brushes off criticism that she’s stifling innovation by targeting U.S. companies to help prop up European firms. She has also taken on Starbucks, McDonald’s and this month opened an investigation into Nike’s tax arrangements. But other targets have included Italian automaker Fiat and Russian gas giant Gazprom.

“When you look at our cases you’d see that what they have in common is not nationality. It’s the fact that they’re multinationals,” she said.

Her aim, she says, is to keep competition fair.

“That was the idea before the world became digital,” Vestager said. “And it becomes an even more important idea when the world becomes digital because things are so fast moving.”

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World economy forecast to slow in 2019 amid trade tensions


AP Economics Writer

Monday, January 21

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — The world economy absorbed more bad news Monday: The International Monetary Fund cut its growth forecast for 2019. And China, the world’s second-biggest economy, said it had slowed to its weakest pace since 1990.

The IMF cut its estimate for global growth this year to 3.5 percent, from the 3.7 percent it had predicted in October and down from 2018’s 3.7 percent. The fund cited heightened trade tensions and rising interest rates.

“After two years of solid expansion, the world economy is growing more slowly than expected and risks are rising,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde as she presented the forecasts at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The IMF is not alone in its pessimism. The World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other forecasters have also downgraded their world growth estimates.

Among the key concerns is the Chinese economy. The country is slowing just as its leadership tries to turn it into a more modern economy by reducing its reliance on manufacturing and exports and increasing consumer spending.

The country reported Monday growth of 6.6 percent in 2018, the weakest since 1990. Demand for Chinese exports weakened last year and the IMF expects China’s growth to decelerate again this year — to 6.2 percent.

The IMF left its prediction for U.S. growth this year unchanged at 2.5 percent — though a continuation of the partial 31-day shutdown of the federal government poses a risk.

The IMF trimmed the outlook for the 19 countries that use the euro as their currency to 1.6 percent from 1.8 percent. Germany got a big downgrade from the IMF, the result of weaker demand for German exports and problems in the country’s auto industry.

Britain’s messy divorce from the European Union and Italy’s ongoing financial struggles also pose threats to growth in Europe.

Emerging-market countries are forecast to slow to 4.5 percent from 4.6 percent in 2018. That is partly a result of China’s deceleration, which pinches developing countries that supply it with raw materials such as copper and iron ore.

“China’s growth slowdown could be faster than expected especially if trade tensions continue, and this can trigger abrupt sell-offs in financial and commodity markets” — something that happened when Chinese growth sputtered in 2015, said IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath.

Under President Donald Trump the United States has imposed import taxes on steel, aluminum and hundreds of Chinese products, drawing retaliation from China and other U.S. trading partners.

“Higher trade uncertainty will further dampen investment and disrupt global supply chains,” Gopinath said.

Rising interest rates in the U.S. and elsewhere are also pinching emerging-market governments and companies that borrowed heavily when rates were ultra-low in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

As the debts roll over, those borrowers have to refinance at higher rates. A rising dollar is also making things harder for emerging-market borrowers who took out loans denominated in the U.S. currency.

Follow the AP’s coverage of Davos here:

Ice glazes over swath of US as wind chills fall below zero


The Associated Press

Monday, January 21

BOSTON (AP) — Bitter cold is setting in after a major winter storm blanketed a wide swath of the country in snow, sleet and rain this weekend, creating dangerously icy conditions that promise to complicate cleanup efforts and make travel challenging on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Some of the coldest temperatures felt so far this season started to set in across the Midwest and Northeast Sunday and are expected to plunge further overnight.

Wind chills will bring temperatures into teens in the New York City area and down to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius) in upstate New York, the National Weather Service predicted.

In New England, they’ll fall to as low as 20 F (29 C) below zero around Boston and as low as 35 F (37 C) below zero in parts of Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, the service said.

Temperatures across the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and the Mid-Atlantic will drop 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit below average, the service said.

“It’s life-threatening,” said Ray O’Keefe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany. “These are dangerous conditions that we’re going to be in and they’re prolonged, right through tomorrow.”

The freeze will follow the weekend’s run-ins with power outages, canceled trains and planes, overnight stays at the airport and traffic jams.

Local officials warned residents to limit their time outside to prevent frostbite and to avoid treacherous travel conditions. They also said places could see strong wind gusts, flooding and further power outages.

Utilities in Connecticut reported more than 20,000 customers without power by Sunday afternoon.

“We had more freezing rain and sleet than we expected,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said Sunday as public works crews across the state raced to clear and treat major roadways before dangerous black ice could form.

Amtrak canceled trains across the Midwest and Northeast over the weekend, but promised full service would resume Monday. Boston’s transit system urged commuters to allow 10 to 15 minutes of extra travel time and warned of icy conditions for pedestrians come Monday.

The storm — caused by the clash of an Arctic high-pressure system with a low-pressure system coming through the Ohio Valley — wreaked havoc on air travel and other forms of transportation all weekend.

More than 1,500 flights were canceled nationwide Sunday, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking company.

Among the hardest hit was Boston’s Logan Airport, where stranded passengers lingered Sunday as typically bustling security lines, ticketing counters and baggage claims were largely deserted.

Xavi Ortega, a 32-year old engineer from Spain, said he and his wife slept overnight at the airport after their Saturday night flight home to Barcelona was canceled. He said the couple hoped to board a flight Sunday night.

“We’ve been sleeping, playing Candy Crush,” Ortega said when asked how’d they been passing the hours.

A ferry service route across Lake Champlain between Vermont and New York was also closed Sunday and flights were mostly cancelled at major airports in Vermont and New Hampshire.

In the Midwest, where it dumped 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow in parts, the storm caused a plane to skid on a slick runway at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Saturday, though no injuries were reported.

In Kansas, a snowplow driver was killed when his vehicle rolled over, and in southeastern Missouri, slippery conditions caused a 15-vehicle crash on Interstate 55 on Saturday.

One saving grace of the storm: heavily populated coastal communities from New York to Boston largely escaped major snowfall after days of sometimes dire predictions.

Manhattan saw mostly rain while places along Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts’ coast recorded 2 to 5 inches (5 to 13 centimeters) of snow.

Mountain regions saw significantly more, to the delight of ski resort operators.

New York’s Adirondacks registered up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) while western Massachusetts’ Berkshires saw as much as 10 and parts of northern New England were on track to approach 24 inches of snow.

Nicholas Nicolet and his 6-year-old son Rocco welcomed the fresh powder as they cross-country skied on the sidewalks of Montpelier, Vermont early Sunday morning.

“We think it’s great,” Nicholas Nicolet said during the storm.

President Donald Trump urged Americans affected by the winter storm to “be careful” in a tweet early Sunday. But, as he’s done in the past, Trump conflated the short-term weather phenomenon with longer-term climate change.

The White House’s own National Climate Assessment recently rejected the idea that a particular plunge in temperatures can cast uncertainty on whether Earth is warming.

“Amazing how big this system is,” Trump tweeted. “Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!”

Associated Press reporters Bob Salsberg in Boston, Deepti Hajela in New York, and Lisa Rathke in Montpelier contributed to this story.

FILE — In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 photo government commissioner in charge of the development of Hungary’s film industry, Andy Vajna, participates in a discussion in the headquarters of the Hungarian National Film Fund in Budapest. On Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 the Hollywood producer, who was a prominent figure of the Hungarian and international film industry, died at the age of 74 after a long illness in his Budapest home. (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP, file) — In this Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 photo government commissioner in charge of the development of Hungary’s film industry, Andy Vajna, participates in a discussion in the headquarters of the Hungarian National Film Fund in Budapest. On Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 the Hollywood producer, who was a prominent figure of the Hungarian and international film industry, died at the age of 74 after a long illness in his Budapest home. (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP, file)

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