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Private intelligence companies are part of a booming business in London and the British government complains it is having trouble retaining talented agents who are being drawn by high salaries and more growth opportunities in a blossoming industry estimated to be worth $19 billion.

 

“Our mission is to fill a gap of knowledge or information in any situation,” said Patrick Grayson, founder and CEO of GPW, a respected mid-sized London intelligence firm. “There’s always something people should or could know in addition to what they do know. Our job is to answer that question. To fill that gap in knowledge.”  

 

With legal firms as their key clients, Gray’s company has set up shop on London’s Chancery Lane in the heart of the city’s legal district, where solicitors and judges dressed in the traditional court garb that includes white wigs and black robes can be seen walking between the courts and their offices in the medieval Inner Temple area.   

 

The business of private investigations was once regarded as less than respectable and downmarket – that of the stereotypical private eye in a trench coat under a streetlight; but industry observers note the private investigators of today have been pulled from the gutter and into the boardroom, where they take their places next to lawyers and accountants.

 

The man some in the industry credit as the inventor of the modern private corporate investigations sector is former prosecutor Jules Kroll, a New Yorker who in 1986 started Kroll investigations. The company’s revenues now top $1 billion.

 

It is at Kroll’s company that Grayson and other big names in the field learned the trade and brought it to London, where the city’s strategic geographic location between the United States and Asia and its long-established history as a center of espionage made it the right locale for the new industry.

 

Crowded playing field

Industry observers say the playing field has become crowded, mostly with small firms of as few as three people; but the sector continues to grow as big corporations expand operations overseas and seek to minimize risks in environments they do not fully understand.   

 

“Large companies draw on us because they don’t have the investigative capacity internally and where that capacity has its work more recently is in the international context. Our firm understands cultural sensitivities,” says Nicholas Connon, director of Quintel Intelligence, a London firm.  

 

Clients include companies taking new clients and investing in emerging markets of Africa, eastern Europe, and east Asia that are unfamiliar territory and where things are sometimes not what they appear.

 

“We’re actually getting lots of requests, with the basic question, ‘can you tell me what’s going on,’” said Alex Bomberg of International Intelligence, which works in faraway places like India. “Even if you look at the books of the company, it’s not necessarily going to give you the full picture.”   

 

Among their services, companies like Bomberg’s provide pattern of life studies that give a picture of the people in a company that can be different from the image portrayed on its website, and insight on how a company is really doing. “A swan might look great above the water line, but how people are living their lifestyle within that company can be a different kind of fish,” Bomberg said.

 

Usually not James Bond stuff

The work of corporate intelligence agents is more often not the exciting stuff of James Bond movies.  It can involve combing through individuals’ credit histories and analyzing personal habits – work that can include going through people’s trash. “We’re talking about what car they drive, what’s going into their dust bin, where their wives are shopping,” said Bomberg.

 

Although the modern industry had its start in New York, London is a breeding ground for firms, and one where they naturally thrive. The city has for centuries been a center of espionage and the British are credited with being in the spying business perhaps longer than anyone else.   

 

One reason is the nation’s history as a great colonial power.

“Britain has been a very fertile place for information, intelligence gathering, and that has to do with our position in the globe, the British tradition of exploring foreign parts and relying on accurate information to expand its interests,” said Grayson.

 

Getting that accurate information requires tools that are reminiscent of the movies. Gear commonly used include jamming equipment to ensure that boardroom discussions are not being recorded and bug-searching devices.

 

$1,000 an hour

Intelligence company officials and operatives interviewed agreed there is no piece of equipment that beats the human eyeball, and the knowledge and experience to know what to look for.

 

Observers say the British government faces a brain drain as agents employed by police forces, the military and civilian intelligence agencies leave their jobs for better paying positions in private sector firms that often bill at rates of more than $1,000 an hour.

 

“If they’ve been working for a government agency for a long time, the draw is money. There’s not a lot of money working for the government. Even the pensions are not great these days. You could quite easily double that overnight,” Bomberg said.   

 

It is not only former intelligence officers who seek out firms. Recruits include financial advisers with backgrounds that include things like experience in property or construction, lawyers, and sometimes academics.

 

When the companies recruit people, they essentially buy experience.

 

“We recruit among whoever is the best,” said Connon. “We draw our expertise across the board to get into the specific situation.”

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One of the major U.S. credit ratings agencies says the Trump administration represents a risk to international economic conditions and could alter global sovereign credit fundamentals.

The Fitch Ratings agency says risks have increased because U.S. policy predictability has diminished under Donald Trump, raising the prospects of unanticipated policy changes that could have global economic consequences.

The economic implications include the possibility of disruptions to trade relations, reduced capital flows and limits on migration and remittances, all of which could lead to heightened currency and financial market volatility.

But Fitch says parts of Trump’s agenda could be positive for growth. That includes the president’s promise to boost infrastructure investment, decrease regulations and cut taxes. Fitch says a lot will depend on whether those policies lead to bigger deficits or expand the U.S. debt.

All told, the balance of risks points toward a less benign outlook, given the administration’s abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its desire to renegotiate established trade deals with Canada and Mexico. Much could still change, but Fitch says the aggressive tone from the White House is likely to make negotiations or compromise with other countries more difficult.

Countries most at risk from increased U.S. unpredictability are those with close economic ties that are now under scrutiny because of perceptions of unfair trade arrangements or exchange rate practices. They include Canada, China, Germany, Japan and Mexico.

Fitch says that, due to the size of the U.S. economy and its integration in the global supply chain, any actions Washington takes to limit trade in one country are bound to have effects on other countries.

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Delta Air Lines has announced plans to hire as many as 25,000 workers over the next five years.

 

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement Thursday that the Atlanta-based company is growing its ranks as it expands and upgrades its hubs at several of the nation’s airports. Bastian’s statement was released after he and other airline CEOs met with President Donald Trump at the White House.

 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the 25,000 figure includes a combination of growth and backfilling attrition, but Delta didn’t specify the breakdown. Delta currently has about 80,000 employees.

 

Likely referring to competition from Middle East carriers, who receive subsidies from their governments, Bastian said the hiring could be contingent on the support of the government in establishing “a level playing field.”

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In southern Africa, business is booming for a popular Malawian winery, which makes Linga fruit wine. Linga is made from guava, plums and even some local flowers. The winery’s owner has been expanding into international markets while giving back to his community. For VOA, Lameck Masina has the story from Lilongwe.

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Africa needs to reform its systems for buying and selling land and invest aggressively in urban infrastructure to create jobs, end poverty and reduce cities’ high living costs, the World Bank said Thursday.

Africa’s urban population will double over the next 25 years, reaching 1 billion people by 2040, it said.

But complicated procedures for land transactions, a lack of urban planning and under-investment in infrastructure connecting homes, jobs and shops are hampering development, the bank said.

“How can we best prepare for the unprecedented wave of people moving to towns and cities to pursue their hopes and dreams?” asked the World Bank’s vice president for Africa, Makhtar Diop, via videoconference. “African cities, in order to be drivers for economic growth, in order to be the platforms for poverty elimination, they really need to be connected and open to the world.”

Network of trains, buses needed

The bank called on governments to make transport connections in rapidly growing cities a priority, saying the lack of a reliable network of buses and trains had a negative impact on the economy.

In the Kenyan capital Nairobi, seven out of 10 people either spend an hour walking to work or on a minibus, which means they can only reach about 20 percent of the city’s potential jobs, the bank said in a report.

“Nairobi — a metropolis of 3 million people — in reality functions as a set of villages with very local markets because people cannot move efficiently across the city,” said Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, the bank’s director for Social, Urban, Rural, Resilience Global Practice.

Vicious cycle

African cities are almost 30 percent more expensive than other countries at similar income levels, the bank said.

Housing is 55 percent more costly, and food prices are 35 percent higher than in other low- and middle-income countries.

This creates a vicious cycle, driving up wages, reducing business profits and deterring investment.

“It’s by reducing the cost of living in African cities that we will be able to create the type of jobs that are needed for Africans to escape poverty,” Diop said.

Land prices in some African cities are as high as in the United States because there is a shortage of land that can be easily and safely traded, the report said.

“There is enough physical land; there is not enough tradable land with clear property rights,” said Ijjasz-Vasquez. “Therefore the prices have gone absolutely crazy.”

Corruption, inefficiency major problems

Corruption and inefficiency are major problems in many African land ministries. Investors risk being given fake title deeds, or finding their plot has multiple titles, experts say, with swathes of land being traded informally because they have not been demarcated.

Urban plans, that lay out zones for houses, streets and public spaces, must be respected, Ijjasz-Vasquez said.

“The efficiency of Manhattan today was due to a very simple urban plan, on one sheet of paper, that was agreed and enforced by everybody,” he said. “They were able to grow a city in an organized way that allowed it to be efficient for the next two centuries.”

Lack of decent housing an issue

Money also needs to be poured into decent housing, with up to two-thirds of residents in cities like Lagos living in slums where more than three people share a room, the bank said.

Ijjasz-Vasquez praised Senegal for introducing a law enabling people with temporary occupancy permits in urban areas to convert them into permanent title deeds at no cost.

“They can start investing in housing because their properties are more secure,” he said.

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More than 700 people took to the streets in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Thursday to protest against the government’s economic policy in a sign of mounting public anger in the oil producer grappling with recession.

Africa’s largest economy is mired in its first recession for 25 years as low oil prices have hammered public finances and foreign reserves while driving up annual inflation to almost 20 percent.

President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on pledges to diversify the economy and fight corruption. But critics say he has made little progress, with Nigeria still heavily dependent on crude exports whose price has halved since 2014.

The 74-year-old former military ruler is currently on medical leave in Britain.

“The Buhari administration came to power on the promise of change,” said Ismail Bello, a labour union and protest leader.

“We are yet to feel the impact of change. We are rather feeling the pain of lack of good governance, we are feeling the pain of corruption, we are feeling the pain of joblessness,” he said.

The protesters marched to the presidential villa to see Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who asked for patience.

“Every time you fight corruption the way we are trying to fight corruption, there is a major fight back, because corruption in this country is wealthy, powerful, influential and it is in every aspect of our lives,” Osinbajo said.

“Things might be difficult today, but I am completely sure if we stay the course this country will not only get out of recession but always go to the path of sustainable development,” he said.

There was also a smaller demonstration in the commercial capital Lagos.

Buhari has been in Britain since mid-January for treatment for an unspecified medical condition and, with no indication of when he might return, many Nigerians suspect his health is worse

than officials admit.

Hundreds of people had already staged a similar protest on Monday in Abuja and other cities.

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A small U.S. manufacturing company is growing and hiring more people, in part because of lessons it learned from discovering revolutionary processes for making lobster traps and applying those skills to other projects, such as security fencing for the U.S. border with Mexico.

Riverdale Mills has expanded from 60 people to 185 employees during the past few years, and Chief Executive Officer Jim Knott says he is trying to hire another 35 workers. The expansion comes at a time when about one-third of U.S. manufacturing jobs nationwide have disappeared because of trade problems and a rising tide of automation.

The Northbridge, Massachusetts, firm says its wire mesh products are used in most of the lobster traps in the United States and Europe, replacing traditional wooden devices. Riverdale uses proprietary processes to improve its rustproofing and preserve the rust protection in harsh environments. A government report says commercial landings of American lobsters totaled 67 million kilograms and were valued at $567 million in 2014.

 

Lessons from lobstering inform other designs, including security fences that protect nuclear facilities, U.S. embassies and borders. Knott would like to sell more security fence as part of President Donald Trump’s plan to put a wall along the Mexican border, but says the government’s plans and specifications are not yet clear.  

Riverdale’s products are also used in the aquaculture industry to help grow oysters and fish in environments that pose a challenge for many materials. That could also lead to more sales and jobs, because a report from Grand View Research, a business consulting firm in San Francisco, says aquaculture is expanding as demand for healthy protein grows and stocks of some wild caught fish falter.

 

Riverdale can make thousands of different kinds of mesh out of steel and other materials. It draws steel rods through ever smaller openings until it gets wire of just the right thickness. The wires are then arranged in a crisscross pattern on huge, highly automated, noisy machines that can apply hundreds of welds at a time.  

The completed mesh is then run through a vat that holds many tons of molten, glowing zinc, a process that yields a rust-resistant product that can survive in saltwater. For lobster traps and other marine applications, the mesh may also be coated with a plant-based plastic powder that offers further protection.

Riverdale has expanded the proportion of its products that are exported, recently rising to 45 percent. Knott says exports are one key reason the firm has been able to grow.

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Caribbean tourism officials say the region received a record number of visitors last year as arrivals topped 29 million. But they say they expect a slight drop this year because of the uncertainty surrounding actions that U.S. President Donald Trump might take.

The majority of last year’s visitors came from the U.S., although the region also saw an 11 percent growth in visitors from Europe and the United Kingdom.

The secretary general for the Caribbean Tourism Organization said Thursday that the growth was uneven. Hugh Riley said some islands saw no increase while others recorded a 19 percent jump.

 

Officials said the Caribbean also received a record 26.3 million cruise ship arrivals.

 

In 2015, some 26.3 million people visited the Caribbean.

 

 

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The expected demise of transparency regulations for minerals and oil companies listed in the United States will not cloud the global drive for financial clarity in extractive industries, company executives told Reuters at an Africa mining conference.

Efforts to shine a light on payments such companies make to foreign governments are considered key to eliminating graft, conflict and the so-called resource curse — the distressingly common failure of less developed countries to translate mineral wealth into wide prosperity.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has begun dismantling such transparency requirements.

Republican-controlled Congress last week repealed one such rule and Trump also plans to issue a directive ordering suspension of another that requires companies to disclose whether their products contain “conflict minerals” from a war-torn part of Africa.

But companies with European Union and Canadian listings — or which work in countries that have signed up to the voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) — still have to abide by strict disclosure rules, executives say.

“Over half of our members would fall into this category,” the chief executive of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), which represents 23 leading mining companies, told Reuters.

Companies in this category include goliaths such as Rio Tinto and Anglo American, ICMM chief Tom Butler added.

‘Social license’

Butler was critical of the Trump administration’s actions, but said they would not derail the broader global push for increased transparency.

“It’s disappointing because overall the global trend is in the other direction. The train has left the station,” said Butler.

“It is driven by investors and other stakeholders and the desire of the industry to maintain its social license to operate. One way to maintain that is for everyone to see that the taxes and other payments the mining industry makes are applied sensibly to the development of the country.”

Nick Holland, chief executive of South African bullion producer Gold Fields, which has a secondary U.S. listing, said that companies are not about to start altering their behavior.

“We’re going the other way irrespective of the legislation. We’re not going to suddenly start doing deals with illegal miners to buy their gold,” he said.

That view is also supported by Vedanta Chief Executive Tom Albanese, who said that transparency builds trust.

“It allows for Vedanta to have a richer conversation with host governments around the world and makes the job of the chief executive easier in terms of engaging with host governments and stakeholders, which is one of the biggest challenges a mining CEO faces right now,” he said.

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Construction of the Dakota Access pipeline under a North Dakota reservoir has begun and the full pipeline should be operational within three months, the developer of the long-delayed project said Thursday, even as an American Indian tribe filed a legal challenge to block the work and protect its water supply.

The Army granted Energy Transfer Partners formal permission Wednesday to lay pipe under Lake Oahe, clearing the way for completion of the 1,200-mile, $3.8 billion pipeline. ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado confirmed early Thursday that construction resumed “immediately after receiving the easement.”

Workers had already drilled entry and exit holes for the crossing, and oil had been put in the pipeline leading up to the lake in anticipation of finishing the project.

“The estimate is 60 days to complete the drill and another 23 days to fill the line to Patoka,” Granado said, referring to the shipping point in Illinois that is the pipeline’s destination.

Work was stalled for months due to opposition by the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, as well as a prolonged court battle between the developer and the Army Corps of Engineers that oversees the federal land where the last segment of the pipeline is now being laid. President Donald Trump last month instructed the Corps to advance pipeline construction.

The Cheyenne River Sioux on Thursday asked a federal judge to stop the Lake Oahe work while a lawsuit filed earlier by the two tribes against the pipeline proceeds. Attorney Nicole Ducheneaux said in court documents that the pipeline “will desecrate the waters upon which Cheyenne River Sioux tribal members rely.”

ETP didn’t immediately respond in court to the filing. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg didn’t immediately rule. Standing Rock Sioux attorney Jan Hasselman has said that tribe will also try to block the lake crossing in court.

An encampment near the construction site has drawn thousands of protesters since April in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, leading on occasions to clashes with law enforcement and hundreds of arrests.

Granado said she was not aware of any incidents involving pipeline opponents in the area. The Morton County Sheriff’s Office also said it had not responded to any incidents.

Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement late Wednesday that the tribe is prepared to keep up the battle “in the courts.”

“We will continue to fight against an administration that seeks to dismiss not only our treaty rights and status as sovereign nations, but the safe drinking water of millions of Americans,” the chairman said.

The tribe fears a leak in the pipeline could contaminate drinking water at its reservation that is just downstream from the proposed Missouri River crossing. ETP says the pipeline will be safe.

In a statement Wednesday, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum urged “cooperation and restraint” from all parties and requested federal law enforcement assistance to keep the peace during construction that would transport North Dakota oil across four states to a shipping point in Illinois.

Protesters rallied in several cities across the country Wednesday. Demonstrators in Chicago targeted a bank. Others went to an Army Corps of Engineers office in New York City but were asked to leave when they started filming without a permit. Several people were arrested for blocking public access to a federal building in San Francisco.

Joye Braun and Payu Harris, two pipeline opponents who have been at the North Dakota encampment that’s been the focus of the pipeline battle since April, said in an interview at a nearby casino that there’s frustration but also resolve in the wake of the Army’s decision.

“The goal is still prayerful, nonviolent direct action,” Braun said.

The tribe maintains the decision violates its treaty rights, and its attorneys have vowed to keep fighting in court.

The Corps has notified protesters still at the encampment that the government-owned land will be closed February 22. But according to Harris, a new camp is being established on private land.

“This is not over. We are here to stay. And there’s more of us coming,” he said.

An assessment conducted last year determined the river crossing would not have a significant effect on the environment. However, the Army in December decided further study was warranted to address tribal concerns.

The Corps launched an environmental impact study on January 18, but Trump signed an executive action six days later telling the Corps to allow the company to proceed with construction.

 Blake Nicholson reported from Bismarck, North Dakota.

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Some of America’s most popular cars and trucks are made in Mexico – for now.

 

Many Americans have benefited from Mexico’s emergence as a production hub. Low-cost production helps keep sticker prices lower on vehicles such as the Ford Fusion and Nissan Sentra.

 

But Mexico’s growing share of the auto market is a sore spot for President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose border taxes on Mexican imports to force companies to make cars in the U.S.

 

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico’s share of North America’s vehicle production has risen to 20 percent from 3 percent three decades ago. It’s expected to hit 26 percent by 2020, according to LMC Automotive, a forecasting firm.

 

Most cars sold in the U.S. are still made here. Of the 17.5 million new vehicles sold in the U.S. last year, 9.8 million were made in the U.S. and just under 2 million were made in Mexico, according to WardsAuto. Canada and Japan followed closely behind.

 

Here are the most popular Mexican-made vehicles in the U.S. and the total number sold in 2016 that were built in Mexico. In cases where vehicles were built in both the U.S. and Mexico, WardsAuto estimated the amount of Mexican-built production.

 

Ford Fusion: 257,865

 

Ford Motor Co. has built the midsize Fusion sedan at its plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, since its introduction in 2005. In 2013, Ford added Fusion production to a plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. But car sales have been slipping as consumers gravitate toward SUVs, so Ford stopped making the Fusion in Michigan last year. The Fusion starts at $22,120.

 

Ram: 246,000

 

The Ram pickup is Fiat Chrysler’s best-selling vehicle. Fiat Chrysler makes some Rams at its 79-year-old truck plant in Warren, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. But it has also made them in Saltillo, Mexico, since 1995, the year after NAFTA went into effect. The Ram 1500 pickup starts at $26,395.

 

Chevrolet Silverado: 222,000

 

The Silverado pickup is General Motors Co.’s best-selling vehicle. Most Silverados are made at plants in Flint, Michigan, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. But four-door crew cab versions are made at GM’s assembly plant in Silao, Mexico, which opened in 1995. A Silverado crew cab starts at $36,840.

 

Nissan Sentra: 214,709

 

The Sentra small car was made in Smyrna, Tennessee, from 1985 to 2000, when it was moved to Aguascalientes, Mexico, so the Smyrna plant could make SUVs. Since then, Nissan Motor Co. has built a second plant in Aguascalientes to make Sentras for global export. Nissan is Mexico’s market leader and the biggest automotive manufacturer in the country, with total production of 848,086 vehicles in 2016. The Sentra starts at $16,990.

 

Nissan Versa: 132,214

 

The subcompact Nissan Versa went on sale in the U.S. in 2006. It’s made at one of Nissan’s two plants in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The Versa starts at $11,990.

 

Volkswagen Jetta: 121,107

 

The Jetta small car is Volkswagen AG’s biggest seller in the U.S. It was made here briefly in the late 1980s before Volkswagen closed its plant in Pennsylvania. When Volkswagen built a new plant in Tennessee in 2011, it was intended for larger vehicles like the Passat sedan. Volkswagen has been making the Jetta in Puebla, Mexico, since 1993. In 2016, Volkswagen had the highest percentage of Mexican-made U.S. sales among major automakers, at 32 percent. The Jetta starts at $17,895.

 

Dodge Journey: 106,759

 

Since its introduction in 2009, the Dodge Journey midsize SUV has been made at a Fiat Chrysler plant in Toluca, Mexico. The Toluca plant, which opened in 1968, has made numerous other vehicles over the years, including the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The Journey starts at $21, 145.

 

GMC Sierra: 99,000

 

Like its corporate twin, the Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC Sierra is also built in Flint, Michigan and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Four-door crew cab versions are built in Silao, Mexico. The Sierra crew cab starts at $38,015.

 

Toyota Tacoma: 86,000

 

When Toyota Motor Corp. introduced the midsize Tacoma pickup in 1995, it was made at a joint General Motors and Toyota plant in Fremont, California. In 2003, Toyota built a new plant in Baja California, Mexico, to expand Tacoma production. Toyota still makes some Tacomas in the U.S., but it moved production to San Antonio, Texas, in 2010 after selling the California plant to Tesla. The Tacoma starts at $24,320.

 

Ford Fiesta: 48,807

 

Ford reintroduced the subcompact Fiesta to the U.S. market in 2010. It’s built at a Ford plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico, that opened in 1964 and used to build pickup trucks for the Mexican market. The Fiesta starts at $13,660.

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When McDonald’s opened its first Russian restaurant in 1990 in Moscow, it was not unusual to see wedding receptions held there, so strong was the appeal of the quintessential American brand at the end of the Cold War.

In recent years, with U.S.-Russia ties increasingly frosty, the fast-food chain has pursued a different strategy: Go native.

“We say it every time: We are a Russian company,” Khamzat Khasbulatov, the head of McDonald’s Russia, told Reuters. “I don’t think there’s a single company that can call itself more Russian than us.”

Nearly all the restaurant’s suppliers are Russian and its executives are all Russian, Khasbulatov said in an interview.

The familiar McDonald’s logo outside the restaurants is all in Russia’s Cyrillic script.

As for the golden arches, he said: “They are Russian arches. They shine wherever they are.”

Sanctions brought closures

The company has reason to play down its U.S. associations.

After Washington imposed sanctions on Russia over its role in Ukraine in 2014, Russia’s public health watchdog briefly closed down dozens of McDonald’s outlets, including its original Moscow flagship in Pushkin Square, citing hygiene concerns.

Some Russian politicians called for the chain to be shut down completely.

Khasbulatov acknowledged the link with the United States was sensitive. “We don’t want to be drawn in when something’s going on,” he said.

A wholly owned unit of the firm headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois, McDonald’s Russia has 609 restaurants around the country and plans to add at least 50 in 2017 after expanding last year to the far-flung Urals and Siberia.

A high-growth market

McDonald’s does not disclose its Russian unit’s profit numbers but counted it among high-growth markets in its 2015 annual report, with high expansion and franchising potential.

Its Pushkin Square branch is one of the busiest in the world.

Khasbulatov said he hopes to increase the share of franchised branches, which currently account for only 15 percent of outlets in Russia, compared with the global McDonald’s norm of 80 percent.

Khasbulatov declined to comment on what the future holds for McDonald’s Russia, now that Donald Trump is U.S. president. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken about Trump in warm terms, and Trump has said he wants the relationship to improve.

McDonald’s has to be pragmatic, said Bob Goldin, a partner at Pentallect, a food industry consulting firm in Chicago.

“My sense is they have to play a real balancing act,” he said in an email.

For customers, politics doesn’t seem to be that big a deal, however.

One customer told a reporter at one branch near the Kremlin in Moscow, “It’s food. Food isn’t to blame for political differences.”

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U.S. governors Wednesday sent the Trump administration a list of 428 “shovel-ready” projects they regard as high priorities for President Donald Trump’s plan to fix the nation’s infrastructure.

The list of projects covers 49 U.S. states and territories, the bipartisan National Governor’s Association said in an email. The NGA will not be making the final list publicly available.

Florida plans to lobby the president directly, its Republican Governor Rick Scott has said.

The NGA had said January 23 that it had, at the request of the White House, assembled a list of 300 projects costing billions of dollars from 43 states and territories, with more expected to come.

Trump’s presidential campaign throughout last year included a promise to pursue a $1 trillion infrastructure program, which would come at a time when major public works projects are crumbling.

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ infrastructure report card has estimated the United States needs to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020.

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A group of conservative thinkers led by leaders from the Reagan and Bush administrations have proposed what they are calling a “Conservative Answer to Climate Change.”

The group, including two former U.S. secretaries of state – James Baker and George Shultz – held a press conference Wednesday in Washington to unveil its plan.

Confronting the threat

The plan, available online, opens with a simple admission: “the risks associated with future warmings are so severe that they should be hedged.”

Team members were also willing to openly call out their Republican colleagues for refusing to confront the issue.

“For too long,” the group says, “many  Republicans have looked the other way, forfeiting the policy initiative to those who favor growth-inhibiting command-and-control regulations, and fostering a needless climate divide between the GOP and the scientific, business, military, religious, civic and international mainstream.”

Looking to regain that initiative, the team unveiled its plan which centers around four pillars. The first pillar is an old idea made new again: a carbon tax.

It’s just what it says it is – a tax on planet warming emissions from oil, coal and natural gas.

In this case, the team is suggesting a tax on carbon starting at $40 for roughly every metric ton of emissions.

The second pillar demands that any money made off of that tax be sent directly to U.S. consumers. And they do mean directly, by way of “dividend checks, direct deposits or contributions to their individual retirement accounts.”

The third pillar sets out the way we deal with the world. It looks to punish polluters by that same carbon tax on countries that are big polluters. Any money made from that tariff would go directly to American citizens.

And once the plan is in place, the fourth pillar kicks in: An end to “the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority over carbon dioxide emissions … including an outright repeal of the Clean Power Plan.”

Devil in the details

It sounds simple. But it is also a tax. The Trump administration and the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate are looking to cut taxes, not raise them. So far, there has been little reaction from Capitol Hill or the White House.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the plan and would only say: “we have nothing to announce on that.”

And some environmental groups, while backing a carbon tax in general, are less excited about the prospect of abandoning the progress made during the last administration.

The Natural Resources Defense Council put out a statement that a carbon tax alone won’t solve the problem.

But whether it succeeds or not, one of the real goals is to give conservatives a chance to get beyond what many see as their history of climate change denial.  “…this is an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the conservative canon by offering a more effective, equitable and popular climate policy based on free markets, smaller government and dividends for all Americans.”

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Madam C.J. Walker embodies the quintessential American success story, as someone who fought seemingly insurmountable odds to become one of the 20th century’s most successful self-made woman entrepreneurs.

The daughter of former slaves, Walker built a cosmetics empire selling hair care and beauty products for African-American women. By the time she died at age 51, she was among the first African-American millionaires in the United States. It was just over 50 years after the end of slavery. 

“She was a woman who provided employment for thousands of women and she used her money and her influence as a philanthropist and a political activist,” said A’Lelia Bundles, who speaks glowingly of her famous great-great grandmother.

Bundles, a former television news executive and biographer, spent decades researching the life of her famous ancestor.

“She really embodies the dream, the American dream, with opportunity for everyone, with the ability to take your God-given talents and to educate yourself and then to do something for others,” said Bundles. 

Unfortunate upbringing

Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, in 1867, was orphaned at age 7 and married at 14, but her husband died a few years later, according to Bundles.

“So, there were all of these blows, all of these things were stacked against her, but somehow she had such a survival instinct, soaking up everything she saw around her” she said. 

Self-made millionaire

Following her experience as a sales agent for Annie Malone’s black hair care business, Poro, Walker decided to create her own line of hair care products.

She saw the opportunity as a means of providing for her family, primarily her daughter A’Lelia.

“Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower,” sold in homes and churches, helped catapult her business. Bundles says Walker traveled across the country, knowing that a black woman somewhere would be in need of her hair care line.

“Walker’s experiences enabled the self-made businesswoman to develop key marketing skills that would drive her future success,” she said.

As part of her marketing strategy, Walker utilized her own image as the before and after for her advertisements, while also being on the seal of the products. One would also find her advertisements in black-owned newspapers.

Additionally, she printed business cards, fliers, and created various packaging to get her name out in black communities across America. Walker was known for giving her customers more than hair products, but offering them a lifestyle, according to Bundles. 

Her hard work paid off. In May 1918, Walker moved into her brand new estate outside New York City. This caused surprise and dismay among her white neighbors but did not deter Walker. 

Empowering African American women

Walker used her fortune to hire women at all levels of her company. Bundles says Walker wanted them to know that their roles would be as leaders in their community. 

She held the first national convention of her sales agents in 1917.

According to Bundles, in Walker’s keynote speech, the businesswoman said, “I want you as Walker Agents to show the world that you care not just about yourself but about others.”

At the end of the convention, the women sent a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson urging him to support legislation to make lynching a federal crime.

“She wanted them to speak up; she wanted them to use their power and their influence and their money to make a difference,” Bundles said. 

Working for Walker provided the women a means to provide for their family and to be economically independent.

Bundles notes a former worker once said, “‘C.J. Walker made it possible for a black woman to make more money in a day than she could in a month working in somebody’s kitchen.’ So, this was really showing women, who would have been sharecroppers and maids and laundresses, how they could support their families and be their own bosses.”

Maintaining Walker’s legacy

When Madam C.J. Walker died in 1919, she left tens of thousands of dollars to charitable organizations and schools, leaving behind a legacy of political activism while establishing a pattern of corporate giving.

Bundles is committed to maintaining Walker’s legacy.

“For all my life, I’ve been trying to tell Madam’s story and really it’s a labor of love just to make sure people know about her and the empowerment she gave to other women,” Bundles said. “Madam Walker’s legacy lives in her philanthropy as well as in an amazing line of hair care products.”

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