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SPD’s Scholz wins third TV debate as German election draws close By Reuters

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SPD’s Scholz wins third TV debate as German election draws close By Reuters


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures during a news conference with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama at Tirana Business Park, in Tirana, Albania, September 14, 2021. REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo

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By Christoph Steitz and Paul Carrel

FRANKFURT/BERLIN (Reuters) -Social Democrat Olaf Scholz brushed off a last-gasp attack from his conservative rival in a televised election debate on Sunday, cementing his position as front runner to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel after Germans go to the polls in a week.

The debate, the last of three ahead of Germany’s national election slated for Sept. 26, comes as pressure on the conservative Christian Democratic Union party candidate Armin Laschet intensified to close a gap in polls which have consistently put him behind SPD’s Scholz.

Scholz, who serves as finance minister, used the issue of social inequality to lash out at his main opponent, reiterating that as chancellor he would push through a minimum wage of 12 euros ($14.08) per hour, something the CDU opposes.

“Mr Laschet, that may be the difference between you and me. I’m not doing that because there is an election campaign right now. I have made this demand for years,” Scholz said.

“To me it’s about the dignity of citizens. That is, however, what perhaps distinguishes us on this issue.”

A snap poll shortly after the event, which also included Annalena Baerbock of the Greens and featured issues ranging from climate change to digitalisation and security, declared Scholz as winner, giving him a clean sweep in the series of debates.

Earlier, an INSA poll for Bild am Sonntag had put the SPD at 26% support, stable from a week ago, while the conservative bloc of Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, added half a percentage point to come in at 21%.

The gap has been even wider in polls measuring the popularity of the individual chancellor candidates, indicating the uphill struggle Laschet is facing against Scholz ahead of the election.

Laschet has been under fire since he was caught on camera laughing during a visit in the summer to a flood-stricken town.

FRAGMENTED PICTURE

Current polls, which show a highly fragmented picture as voters increasingly flock to smaller parties, leave room for several coalition scenarios, giving the liberal Free Democrats a potential king-maker role in upcoming coalition talks.

FDP party chief Christian Lindner on Sunday rebuffed demands by the CDU to rule out a so-called traffic light coalition with the SPD and the Greens. “We will not take orders from this (CDU),” he said at a party event.

Meantime, Scholz on Sunday expressed his preference for a coalition with the Greens, which current polls put at 15%.

Merkel’s chief of staff had earlier called on all parties to agree quickly on who should succeed her after the election and avoid the kind of protracted coalition talks that followed the last vote four years ago.

The likelihood of long coalition talks after the vote means Merkel will not be leaving office any time soon. She remains chancellor until a majority of Bundestag lawmakers elect a successor, who is then sworn in.

“My wish is for a swift government formation,” Helge Braun told Reuters, adding that even though the current government would continue to govern during looming coalition talks there were certain limitations over the scope of leadership.

“So I warn against losing time due to a very long government formation. One can certainly ask for the parties to swiftly express their preferences after the election over what their favoured coalitions are – so that one does not endlessly lose time in discussions.”

There are no formal restrictions on Merkel’s powers until a successor is chosen, but she is a consensus seeker and previous chancellors have not taken radical decisions during this time.

Following Germany’s last general election in 2017, it took a record six months before the new government was sworn in.

($1 = 0.8525 euros)

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Hollywood’s Behind-the-Scenes Workers Reach Deal on New Contract

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Hollywood’s Behind-the-Scenes Workers Reach Deal on New Contract


LOS ANGELES — You might say that the people behind the cameras have found their voices.

Late Saturday, a union representing Hollywood’s version of blue-collar workers — camera operators, makeup artists, prop makers, set dressers, lighting technicians, editors, script coordinators, hairstylists, cinematographers, writers’ assistants — reached a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with film and television studios, according to officials from both sides.

The union, IATSE, which stands for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, had said that its members would go on strike beginning on Monday, a move that would have resulted in a production shutdown at a particularly inopportune time for the entertainment industry.

The studios, which include stalwarts like Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia and insurgents like Amazon, Apple and Netflix, have been scrambling to make up for lost production time during the coronavirus pandemic. Another shutdown would have left content cupboards dangerously bare — particularly at streaming services, a business that has become crucial to the standing of some of the companies on Wall Street.

IATSE negotiators agreed to a deal after winning concessions on several fronts.

Crews will now receive a minimum of 54 hours of rest on weekends — on par, for the first time, with actors. (Studios were previously not required to give crews weekend rest time, although they were required to pay overtime.) Crews will also receive a minimum rest of 10 hours between leaving a set and being required to return, which IATSE had deemed the rest time essential to personal health, especially since shoots can routinely run as long as 18 hours. The proposed contract also includes pay increases and a commitment by the companies to fund a $400 million deficit in the IATSE pension and health plan without imposing premiums or increasing the cost of health coverage.

Studios will also give crews an extra day off by finally recognizing Martin Luther King’s Birthday, which has been a federal holiday since 1983.

“We went toe to toe with some of the richest and most powerful entertainment and tech companies in the world,” Matthew Loeb, IATSE’s president, said in a statement, calling the agreement “a Hollywood ending” for the union.

A spokesman for the studios, Jarryd Gonzales, confirmed the agreement but had no immediate comment.

IATSE has 150,000 members in the United States and Canada. The contract in contention, however, only covered about 60,000, with the majority in the Los Angeles area, followed by pockets of workers in production-hub states like Georgia and New Mexico. A large portion of the union’s remaining 90,000 members work in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. But they have a different contract that had not expired.

Still, solidarity within IATSE was remarkable, with members in New York making it clear on Twitter and Instagram that, should a partial strike be called, they would treat it as a full one. For their part, the 60,000 members with the expired contract voted two weeks ago — by a margin of 99 percent — to authorize a strike.

Crews have long felt underappreciated in Hollywood, where hierarchies are not subtle. Discontent became more palpable when crews returned to sets after the pandemic shutdown. As with workers in many professions, the down time had given crews a new perspective about work-life balance. Making the situation worse, studios and streaming services started to speed up content assembly lines to make up for lost time.

Anger turned to rage over the summer, when Ben Gottlieb, a young lighting technician in Brooklyn, started an Instagram page dedicated to work-related horror stories. More than 1,100 entertainment workers have since posted harrowing anecdotes on the page, which has 159,000 followers.

Throughout negotiations, which started in May, the Hollywood companies insisted that it was taking IATSE’s demands seriously and negotiating in good faith. An organization called the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers negotiates union contracts for the studios. The organization has been led by Carol Lombardini since 2009 and no entertainment-related union has gone on national strike under her tenure. She has worked for the group since its founding in 1982.

But many studio executives privately greeted IATSE’s aggressive negotiating stance with a shrug, noting that the union had never mounted a significant strike in its 128-year history. Crews represented by any union had not walked a picket line since World War II. Back then, IATSE was controlled by the Chicago Mafia, which studios bribed to thwart labor unrest. (The crews that went on strike in 1945 were part of the now-defunct Conference of Studio Unions.)

Heightening the studios’ confidence that IATSE would blink in the current negotiations: Crew workers had just endured the financial hardship of a pandemic-related production shutdown, and IATSE does not have a strike fund.

Alarm bells did not start ringing across Hollywood’s corporate ranks until Wednesday. That is when Mr. Loeb said in a statement that “the pace of bargaining doesn’t reflect any sense of urgency” and set Monday as a strike date. Ominous comments from IATSE followed on Thursday. “If the studios want a fight, they poked the wrong bear,” the union said on Twitter. Another union post quoted J.R.R. Tolkien: “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all.”

Studios pushed to minimize IATSE gains for several reasons. Production costs have already soared because of coronavirus safety measures, and longer rest periods and higher pay endanger profitability even more. Costs associated with Covid-19 safety protocols can expand a project’s budget by as much as 20 percent, producers say.

To lure subscribers, streaming services have been offering exorbitant paydays to A-list actors, directors and producers. That means looking for cost savings in other areas, including crews, or what is known in the entertainment industry as below-the-line labor.

And the companies were concerned about reverberations: Notable contractual gains by crews will inevitably embolden other unions. The Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America and the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, all have contract negotiations coming up, with streaming at their center.



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Even If They Win, Atlanta Braves Figure To Have Different 2022 Roster

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Even If They Win, Atlanta Braves Figure To Have Different 2022 Roster


Even before the Atlanta Braves opened the 2021 National League Championship Series at Truist Park Saturday, many fans who filled the Cobb County ballpark wondered whether this series might be the last hurrah for the NL East champions.

The lineup figures to be considerably different next year – even if star first baseman Freddie Freeman signs a contract extension rich in dollars and years.

Freeman, the league’s defending Most Valuable Player, hit the most significant home run of Atlanta’s current post-season run – a two-out, eighth-inning blast against star Milwaukee closer Josh Hader Oct. 12 – but even he must have wondered if the curtain call he made might be his last in the Atlanta ballpark.

Although the Braves have re-signed two other significant veterans in starting pitcher Charlie Morton and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, Freeman could become a free agent five days after the World Series ends. He would immediately become the most attractive player on the market.

Both he and the Braves say they want to maintain the status quo but Freeman, at 32, allegedly wants more years than the team is willing to give. The answer could be a contract lesser in years but packed with both incentives and mutual options.

It would certainly be the largest in club history, certainly exceeding the five-year, $130 million the St. Louis Cardinals gave Paul Goldschmidt after acquiring him from Arizona before the 2020 season.

Because of his durability, there’s no heir apparent to Freeman in the Atlanta farm system. If he doesn’t sign, however, the team could pursue other free-agent first basemen, including long-time Cubs standout Anthony Rizzo, who finished this season with the Yankees.

In addition to figuring out the Freeman finances, the Braves must decide what to do about their excess of outfielders. They acquired four via trade during the 2021 season after injuries idled Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna and big-league pitching proved too tough for blue-chip defensive whiz Cristian Pache.

General manager Anthony Anthopoulos, refusing to throw in the towel when injuries kept his team under .500, added Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, and ex-Brave Adam Duvall before the July 30 deadline and watched his team take off in the NL East race, passing both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies to win their fourth straight divisional title.

Although Acuna might miss a month or two at the start of 2022, Ozuna remains a giant question-mark because of a possible MLB suspension following his arrest in May for alleged domestic violence. Atlanta doesn’t want a repeat of last winter, when Duvall was non-tendered to avoid arbitration and signed instead with Miami.

After leading the National League in runs batted in, Duvall will almost certainly receive a multi-year contract offer if he declined the mutual option in his contract.

There’s also a $10 million club option in Joc Pederson’s pact but the Braves must decide whether he’s a platoon player and pinch-hitter or an anomaly who does his Babe Ruth imitation whenever the curtain rises on postseason play. He went 3-for-3, with two home runs, in his first three pinch-hitting appearances against the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Division Series.

As the only regular left-handed hitter in Atlanta’s lineup beyond Freeman and switch-hitting second baseman Ozzie Albies, Eddie Rosario will almost certainly win a new contract offer from the Braves. So may Jorge Soler, a former American League home run king who thrived as Atlanta’s unlikely lead-off man down the stretch.

Unfortunately for the Braves, the hard-swinging Soler missed the last game of Atlanta’s NLDS when he tested positive for COVID-19 and may not be cleared in time to return before the current best-of-seven series ends. But he earned a new deal – from the Braves or someone else – with his performance while still active.

With Acuna making good progress in his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in July, and with the defensively-gifted Pache virtually certain to get another shot in center field, it’s not likely that the Braves can – or should – keep all four of their mid-season acquisitions.

So the betting is on Duvall, who can play any of the three outfield spots, to be the best bet for a new contract, followed by Pederson because of his postseason pedigree, pinch-hitting prowess, left-handed bat, and relatively inexpensive option.

If the universal designated hitter returns next year, the Braves will need someone to fill that role – presumably Soler or Rosario unless Ozuna beats the odds and returns to the team. But both Soler and Rosario will be unrestricted free agents who might find greener grass – and more playing time – elsewhere.

There could be changes on the pitching staff too, especially since veteran left-hander Drew Smyly failed to deliver dividends on a one-year, $11 million contract. He was hardly used after Labor Day.

The jury is also out on Huascar Ynoa, who began 2021 as a breakout starter but then broke his pitching hand smashing the dugout bench in frustration after a bad game. Never the same after missing three months, he pitched poorly in the NLDS and was omitted from the NLCS roster.

Atlanta will need to settle on a backup catcher, with William Contreras the favorite, and infield subs, especially if versatile Ehire Adrianza offers his services elsewhere after playing the season on a one-year contract earned in spring training.

No matter how long the Braves survive in the playoffs, speculation over what’s next is sure to increase as the calendar inches toward Halloween.

Hovering over everything is the Basic Agreement between owners and players. Failure to hash out a new one by Dec. 1, when the old one expires, could result in the first work stoppage since the 232-day player strike of 1994-95.



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Venezuelan government suspends negotiations with opposition By Reuters

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Venezuelan government suspends negotiations with opposition By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman walks by a mural in support of the liberation of Colombian businessman and envoy Alex Saab, who is detained in Cape Verde on charges of laundering money for the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela S

By Mayela Armas and Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS/PRAIA (Reuters) -Venezuela on Saturday said it would suspend negotiations with the opposition that were set to resume this weekend, after Cape Verde extradited Colombian businessman Alex Saab, a Venezuelan envoy, to the United States on money laundering charges.

The announcement was made by Socialist party legislator Jorge Rodriguez, who heads the government’s negotiating team. Rodriguez said the Venezuelan government would not attend the talks set to begin on Sunday.

The Venezuelan government in September named Saab – who was arrested in June 2020 when his plane stopped in Cape Verde to refuel – as a member of its negotiating team in talks with the opposition in Mexico, where the two sides are looking to solve their political crisis.

Rodriguez, reading from a statement, called the decision to suspend negotiations “an expression of our deepest protest against the brutal aggression against the person and the investiture of our delegate Alex Saab Moran.”

The leadership of Venezuela’s opposition did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Venezuela, in a Twitter (NYSE:) post by the Ministry of Communications, denounced the extradition as a “kidnapping.”

Hours after Saab’s extradition, Venezuela revoked the house arrest of six former executives of refiner Citgo, a U.S. subsidiary of state oil company PDVSA, two sources with knowledge of the situation and a family member told Reuters.

The U.S. Justice Department charged Saab in 2019 in connection with a bribery scheme to take advantage of Venezuela’s state-controlled exchange rate. The U.S. also sanctioned him for allegedly orchestrating a corruption network that allowed Saab and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to profit from a state-run food subsidy program.

Saab’s lawyers have called the U.S. charges “politically motivated.”

Cape Verde national radio reported the extradition on Saturday. The government of Cape Verde was not immediately available to comment.

The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a Twitter post, Colombian President Ivan Duque called Saab’s extradition “a triumph in the fight against drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption by the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro.”

The former Citgo executives, who were arrested in November 2017 after being summoned to a meeting at PDVSA headquarters in Caracas, were taken from their homes to one of the headquarters of the intelligence police, two sources said.

The six former executives had been released from jail and put on house arrest in April.

The group is made up of five naturalized U.S. citizens and one permanent resident. The U.S. government has repeatedly demanded their release.

“My father cannot be used as a bargaining chip,” said Cristina Vadell, daughter of former executive Tomeu Vadell. “I’m worried for his health, even more given the country’s coronavirus cases.”

The Ministry of Communications and the Attorney General’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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