Lady Gaga halts tour due to ‘severe pain’

Lady Gaga has cancelled the last 10 dates of the European leg of her world tour due to “severe pain”.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the pop star apologised to fans and said she was “devastated”, but needed to put “myself and my well-being” first.

The Grammy award-winning singer has fibromyalgia, a long-term condition which can cause pain all over the body.

Shows in London and Manchester are among those affected.

In the statement, it said the “tough decision” had been made on Friday night with “strong support from her medical team”.

“I’m so devastated I don’t know how to describe it,” Lady Gaga, 31, wrote. “All I know is that if I don’t do this, I am not standing by the words or meaning of my music.”

The announcement comes after she started the UK leg of her tour at Birmingham Arena.

The European leg of her Joanne World Tour had already been rescheduled due to her condition and followed a decision to pull out of a performance at Rock In Rio in Brazil in September, after she was hospitalised with “severe physical pain.”

The Born This Way singer was due to perform in Zurich, Cologne, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris and Berlin in the coming weeks.

At the end of last year, the star announced a two-year residency in Las Vegas, starting late in 2018.

But many are disappointed.

Alice Outten had bought tickets for a London show as a birthday treat.

“I have train tickets and hotels booked in London,” the 23-year-old, from Llandudno, said.

“I love Lady Gaga – she has been my idol for over 10 years, but this is just such a disappointment when I’ve been saving and saving to afford this trip and I was so excited.”

Robert Miller, from Derby, has also been left out of pocket.

“My husband originally bought me tickets for us both to go for my birthday for the date in London last year costing £150 each,” he said.

“We’d booked hotels and travel for then and couldn’t cancel. It’s happened again and we’ve been left with yet another costly trip to London for nothing.”

Source: BBC

Russia condemns US nuclear bomb plans

Moscow has condemned US military proposals to develop new, smaller atomic bombs mainly to deter any Russian use of nuclear weapons.

Russia’s foreign minister called the move “confrontational”, and expressed “deep disappointment”.

The proposals stem from concerns that Russia may see current US nuclear weapons as too big to be used.

This could mean, according to the US military, that those weapons are no longer an effective deterrent.

Russia’s counterblast

The Russian foreign ministry accuses the US of warmongering in its statement, issued less than 24 hours after the US proposals were published.

The latest thinking was revealed in a Pentagon policy statement known as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

Russia says it will take “necessary measures” to ensure Russian security.

“From first reading, the confrontational and anti-Russian character of this document leaps out at you,” the statement says.

A foretaste of Mr Lavrov’s anger came in a statement on Friday from the Russian senator and defence expert Frantz Klintsevich, who dubbed it “a very dangerous bet on breaking up the world strategic balance of forces” in favour of the US.

What is behind the US proposals?

They are not just about Russia.

The US military is worried about the nuclear arsenal becoming obsolete and potential threats from countries such as China, North Korea and Iran.

But a major US concern is over Russian perceptions. The document argues that smaller nuclear weapons – with a yield of less than 20 kilotons – would challenge any assumption that US weapons are too massive to serve as a credible deterrent.

Such bombs would have the same explosive power as the one dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki at the end of World War Two, killing more than 70,000 people.

“Our strategy will ensure Russia understands that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is unacceptable,” the document says.

The proposed “tactical” nuclear weapons would not increase America’s arsenal, which is already considerable, but would repurpose existing warheads.

Critics have accused the Trump administration of challenging the spirit of non-proliferation agreements.

What is the US doing to its nuclear weapons?

  • Land-based ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and air-delivered weapons – to be extensively modernised as begun under ex-President Obama
  • Proposed modification of some submarine-launched nuclear warheads to give a lower-yield or less powerful detonation
  • Return of sea-based nuclear cruise missiles.


Trump-Russia: Republican memo accuses FBI of abusing power

The US Congress has released a memo accusing the FBI of abusing its power in its investigations into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The memo, written by Republicans, alleges the FBI used unsubstantiated evidence to spy on a Trump aide.

The FBI had warned against the memo’s release and said key facts had been omitted.

Democrats said it was aimed at derailing ongoing investigations into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia.

The memo has become a flashpoint in the bitter dispute between Republicans and Democrats over investigations into whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.

What’s in the memo?

It centres on court-approved wiretapping of Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who was put under electronic surveillance by the FBI.

But the memo accuses the FBI and the justice department of using an unsubstantiated and Democratic-funded report to obtain the October 2016 warrant that gave permission to spy on Mr Page.

Memo reaction – as it happened

It says that they did not tell the authorities their claim to the warrant was partially based on a dossier funded in part by the rival Hillary Clinton campaign.

It also says that the author of that dossier, a former British intelligence agent called Christopher Steele, told a senior justice department official that he was “desperate” that Donald Trump not win the vote.

The report says that all this represents “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses”.

The memo was top secret, but it was approved for release by the House Intelligence Committee on Monday and by Mr Trump on Friday.

Analysis: Bomb or dud?

By the BBC’s North America reporter Anthony Zurcher

The mystery is over, the memo is out, and the results are… pretty much what everyone expected.

Whether the Republican-generated document is as explosive as it had been made out to be depends on how one views the now-infamous Christopher Steele dossier and whether one believes the memo’s assertion that it was an “essential part” of the Carter Page Fisa warrant’s approval – or if there was other pertinent information the Republican memo-writers omitted.

The memo makes the case that the Fisa judge should have been told about information about Steele that could call his objectivity into question – including his expressed views about Donald Trump, his contacts with the press and the fact that his investigation was funded, in part, by Democratic Party interests.

Would such a disclosure have been enough to make the Page warrant request one of only a handful of the tens of thousands of Fisa applications that have been rejected by judges since the system was set up in 1978? And is the surveillance of Page – who had drawn the attention of US intelligence services as far back as 2013 – enough to call into question the entire Russia investigation, which had been initiated months before the warrant was approved?

The answers to those questions will determine whether the memo was a bomb or a dud.

presentational grey line

How have Republicans reacted?

Republicans who support the release of the memo say it exposes malpractice and political bias within the FBI and justice department.

Asked about the contents of the memo, Mr Trump said a lot of people should be “ashamed of themselves”.

Earlier on Friday the president accused top officials of politicising FBI and justice department investigations to damage his Republican party.

Devin Nunes, who commissioned the memo, has said it shows “serious violations” of public trust and he hopes it will trigger reforms.

Mr Page, the Trump aide who was the subject of the surveillance, said he would use the memo in upcoming legal action against the justice department.

What has the other reaction been?

Democrats say the memo is a “shameful effort to discredit” the FBI and inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi said: “By not protecting intelligence sources and methods, [Trump] just sent his friend Putin a bouquet.”

Democrats have warned Mr Trump in a letter not to use the memo as a “pretext” to fire senior justice department officials or the special counsel appointed to investigate alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia.

They said this would provoke a constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, FBI agents say they “have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract” from their work.

In an email to his staff, FBI Director Christopher Wray said: “Talk is cheap; the work you do is what will endure.

“I stand by our shared determination to do our work independently and by the book. I stand with you,” he said.

And former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Trump in May, tweeted that the memo had “dishonest and misleading”.


Amazon joins up with US firms to enter healthcare sector

Amazon, JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway are joining forces to create a healthcare firm aimed at cutting costs for their US employees.

The independent firm would be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints”, the firms said.

They said their aim was to provide care to staff at a “reasonable cost”.

Nonetheless, the announcement sparked fears that tech giant Amazon could disrupt the healthcare sector in the same way that it has the retail sector.

The firms are the three largest private employers in the US, collectively employing over 500,000 staff.

The three companies said they would focus on technology to provide “simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare”.

“Our people want transparency, knowledge and control when it comes to managing their healthcare,” said Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase.

“The three of our companies have extraordinary resources, and our goal is to create solutions that benefit our US employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans.”

Shares in US health insurers UnitedHealth, Anthem and Cigna Corp all fell over 5% in early trading following the announcement.

Analysis by BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones:

He’s the man who started with what was effectively a mail order bookshop with an email address and ended up building a vast machine that has transformed the world’s retail industry.

Along the way he has sparked a revolution in enterprise computing, putting thousands of organisations into the cloud, bought the Washington Post, and is trying to rival Elon Musk as a space entrepreneur.

No wonder Jeff Bezos thinks he can do anything, including the fearsome task of finding a middle way for American healthcare, which even Donald Trump has described as “so complicated”.

Just as with Mr Trump, many analysts have predicted over the years that Jeff Bezos and his various ventures are heading for failure or bankruptcy. B

ut the world’s richest man – well this month at least – has stuck by his own vision and charged ahead. Don’t expect him to give up on his audacious health plan in a hurry.

Unexpected development

“Investors have continually asked what unexpected development might spoil the strong investor sentiment towards managed care.

“Unfortunately, this seems tailor-made to fit the bill,” BMO Capital Markets analyst Matt Borsch said.

Initially, the company’s formation will be headed by Todd Combs, an investment officer of Berkshire Hathaway; Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, a managing director of JPMorgan Chase; and Beth Galetti, a senior vice president at Amazon.

Plans for a longer-term management team and how the company will operate have yet to be decided.

“The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” said Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos.

“Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort.

“Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.”

The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has forecast that the cost of a medical insurance policy would increase by 25% in 2018 and double by 2026.


State of the Union: A smoother Trump with same hard edge

Donald Trump took a measured tone. His speech was garnished in flowery, high-minded language. But beneath it all was the same hard edge.

On immigration, deregulation, taxes and cultural flashpoints, the president offered policies – and claimed victories for accomplishments – that have won him the praise of his base and stirred the ire of his political opponents.

Last year in his address to Congress, Trump laid out an ambitious agenda, but aside from tax reform, many of his big-ticket legislative directives were either derailed in Congress or languished without ever becoming concrete proposals.

On Tuesday night it was time to reform the battalion and head, once more, unto the breach. Here are some key takeaways – as well as an early judgement on how they might fare in the battles to come.

A change of tone, but…

Eleven months ago, the newly inaugurated president gave a speech to Congress that was warmly received, even by some Trump critics on the left. Mr Trump at one point pledged to put “trivial fights behind us”.

It hasn’t exactly turned out that way.

Now the president is again preaching national unity. The question is whether a divided American public – nearly half of whom “strongly disapprove” of the president – can still be converted.

Claims of a “new American moment” and lines like “for the last year we have sought to restore bonds of trust between our citizens and our government” may fall on deaf ears among all but the president’s loyal followers.

In particular Democrats may have tuned out because that “trust” line came immediately after talk about honouring the flag and standing for the national anthem – not-so-veiled references to the president’s sharp attacks on NFL player protests.

The president has a list of accomplishments of which he can – and does – boast, but they were largely moves to please his base. His task, which will take more than one night, is to convince more of the public that his accomplishments are in their interest.

There’s a reason Mr Trump touted the US economy right at the top of his speech. He hopes Americans, many of whom view the nation as on the wrong track, will change their minds when they look at their bank accounts in the months to come.

OutlookJust a few days after his last congressional speech, Mr Trump tweeted about his suspicions that Barack Obama had his “wires tapped” during the campaign. The “kinder, gentler” Trump was gone in a flash. How long can this one last?

Immigration ‘open hand’

Democrats want protections for undocumented migrants who entered the US as children. The president wants sweeping changes to rules governing legal immigration and billions of dollars for border security, including his border wall.

Mr Trump promised in his address on Tuesday to extend an “open hand” to Democrats. Several weeks ago he said that any comprehensive agreement needed to be a “bill of love”.

In between those two lines, however, was a government shutdown and considerable acrimony. The president has belittled his Democratic opponents and accused them of endorsing open borders and increased crime.

And that “open hand” quote, which was released to the press before the speech, looked considerably different when it turned out to be surrounded by extended passages about immigrant crime, gangs and a not-so-veiled swipe that “Americans are dreamers too”.

Perhaps this is all just part of his negotiating style, to be shrugged off when a deal is near. But with Democrats worried that their base won’t allow them to back down from a fight, a promise of co-operation probably won’t be enough.

Outlook: An open hand can be a gesture of kindness or the prelude to a slap. The chasm between the two sides is just as wide as it was yesterday. In fact, it may be wider.


‘Emotional support peacock’ barred from United Airlines plane

A female traveller was recently banned from taking a large “emotional-support peacock” on board a United Airlines flight, it has emerged.

She had offered to buy the bird its own plane ticket, according to travel blog Live and Let Fly.

Nonetheless the airline refused to let the bird board at Newark airport in New Jersey, saying it did not meet guidelines due to its weight and size.

United says this was explained to the traveller before she arrived at Newark.

Pictures of the striking bird and its owner, attempting to travel to Los Angeles, emerged via The Jet Set, a travel-based talk show.

The images show the animal perched on an airport baggage trolley, as fellow passengers gaze at it in shock.

After six hours at the airport, the exotic bird and its human companions decided to take to the road and instead drive across the US.

Bought for art

The peacock, reportedly called Dexter, belongs to Brooklyn-based artist Ventiko, who documents its life on social media.

“I have never left the house without having at least one person react,” Ventiko told a local culture website in 2017.

The artist, whose real name is not known, told Bedford and Bowery that the feathery giant “really changed my life in a positive way”.

She originally bought Dexter and a peahen called Etta for an art installation. She later found them a new home from which Etta and her offspring disappeared.

The loss affected Dexter’s behaviour and Ventiko came to his rescue after hearing that the bird was housed in a garage. Following a failed stint at an upstate New York farm, Ventiko finally decided to welcome Dexter into her Bushwick loft.

Now involved in her photography and performance art, the exotic bird appears to enjoy his New York life.

However, he avoids public transportation, like the subway, because Ventiko doesn’t “want to traumatise him”.

Animals in the air

Airlines have allowed some passengers with emotional or psychiatric problems to take therapy animals on board with them.

But the number of emotional support animals has been rising in recent years, sparking suggestions that people are abusing the system.

In 2014, a woman was escorted off a US Airways flight when her pig, named Hobie, defecated and squealed before the plane took off.


Ismail Haniya: US designates Hamas leader as terrorist

The United States has designated the political leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas as a terrorist and imposed sanctions on him.

The state department said Ismail Haniya had “close links with Hamas’ military wing” and been a “proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians”.

Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, is already designated a terrorist group by the US, Israel, the EU and UK.

It denounced as “worthless” the blacklisting of Mr Haniya.

A statement from the group said the decision would “not dissuade us from continuing to hold fast to the option of resisting and expelling the [Israeli] occupation”.

Who are Hamas?

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and is held responsible by the US for the killing of 17 Americans in attacks.

The state department also designated three militant groups as terrorist entities:

  • Harakat al-Sabireen, an Iranian-backed group that operates primarily in the Gaza and the West Bank and is led by Hisham Salem, the former leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It is accused of planning and executing attacks, including firing rockets from Gaza into Israel
  • Liwa al-Thawra, a group active in Egypt’s Qalyubia and Menoufia provinces that has said it was behind the assassination of an Egyptian army commander in Cairo in 2016 and the bombing of a police training centre in Tanta in 2017
  • HASM, another Egyptian group that has claimed it assassinated an officer from Egypt’s National Security Agency and carried out an attack on Myanmar’s embassy in Cairo

“These designations target key terrorist groups and leaders – including two sponsored and directed by Iran – who are threatening the stability of the Middle East, undermining the peace process, and attacking our allies Egypt and Israel,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“Today’s actions are an important step in denying them the resources they need to plan and carry out their terrorist activities,” he added.