Film Producer Working on Syrian Prison Torture Movie Survives ‘Assassination Attempt’

An old cement prison cell. There is a metal bed frame in the center of it.

Photo courtesy of Bill Dickinson via Flickr Creative Commons.

Syrian moviemaker Muhammad Bayazid is in stable condition after surviving what his friends and family are calling an “assassination attempt.”

Bayazid was working on his latest film, “The Tunnel,” when he was stabbed in the chest. The film is about a Syrian-American man who spent 20 years in Palmyra prison.

Palmyra is a well-known torture/execution site where thousands of Islamists and Assad opponents anguished. The Islamic State destroyed the prison in 2015 after conquering the city.

A friend who was with Bayazid during the attack said that they were attempting to meet with a businessman when the stabbing took place. The businessman reached out to Bayazid online, stating that he also suffered in Palmyra and wanted to help raise funds for the film. But when Bayazid and his friend arrived at the meeting location, they could not find a residential building.

That’s when an unknown male approached the duo while they were still in the car. The man asked to speak to Bayazid. After inquiring about his identity, the man then stabbed Bayazid in the chest. The friend then rushed Bayazid to the infirmary.

“Along the way he lost a lot of blood and fainted a few times, but we arrived at the emergency room in time,” the friend stated. “He has started his recovery, and we have contacted the police and authorities and informed them about all the details of the incident.”

Bayazid’s wife and film-making partner, Samah Safi Bayazid, told the Guardian that she believes it was an assassination attempt.

“When we chose this life we knew what it meant, because we aren’t from places like America where we can express our opinions,” Samah Safi Bayazid explained. “It’s very hard if you’re an Arab to fight against oppression, your life is always in danger. He was stabbed and I nearly had a stroke just because we wanted to do a film on human rights.”

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Hollywood Film Producer Harvey Weinstein Accused of Sexual Harassment

A photo of Harvey Weinstein taken at the de Grisogono Party during the 66th International Cannes Film Festival in 2013.

Harvey Weinstein at the de Grisogono Party during the 66th International Cannes Film Festival in 2013. Weinstein is a renowned film producer and co-founder of Miramax.
Photo credit: Denis Makarenko / Shutterstock

Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein is in hot water after several former female employees of his accused the entertainment mogul of sexual harassment. One of his accusers is none other than Hollywood actress Ashley Judd, who’s played in several well-known films including, “Kiss the Girls,” “Double Jeopardy,” “High Crimes,” and more recently, “Divergent.”

The allegations were made public in a New York Times article that was published yesterday. Judd said that her first inappropriate encounter with Weinstein happened about twenty years ago, when the film studio executive invited her to his hotel for a business breakfast meeting. When she arrived at the hotel, he sent her up to his room, where he greeted her in a bathrobe. He then asked her to give him a massage or watch him shower.

“How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” Judd recalled thinking.

Other women have accused the him of similar misconduct. According to documents obtained by The New York Times, in 2014, Weinstein offered to boost temporary employee Emily Nestor’s career if she accepted his sexual advances. Nestor later told her colleagues that Weinstein had propositioned her. Her colleagues then reported the incident to Weinstein Company executives.

In 2015, yet another female employee said that Weinstein had coerced her into giving him a massage while he was nude. This particular employee recounted her experience to colleague Lauren O’Connor, who recorded the incident in a memo. In her memo, O’Connor described her fellow co-worker as “crying and very distraught.”

“There is a toxic environment for women at this company,” Ms. O’Connor wrote in a letter addressed to several senior-level executives at the Weinstein Company.

The New York Times uncovered sexual harassment allegations spanning the course of nearly three decades. Some of these complaints were resolved in the form of lawsuit settlements.

Lisa Bloom, Weinstein’s lawyer, said that Weinstein “denies many of the accusations as patently false.” However, yesterday, Weinstein made the following statement to The New York Times:

“I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”

Many take that statement as a partial-admission of guilt. However, Weinstein has not yet elaborated on what specific behavior caused his colleagues “a lot of pain.”

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Puerto Rico’s Mayor Pleas for Help in Wake of Hurricane Destruction

Palm trees juxtaposed against a stormy sky. The name "Maria" is superimposed on the image.

Image credit: Sergsta / Shutterstock

Carmen Yulín Cruz—the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico—is not happy with the way that the Trump administration has responded to the island’s natural disaster crisis. The U.S. territory was hit hard by Hurricane Maria, leaving the entire island short of food, water, shelter, and power.

“We are dying here,” a tearful Yulín Cruz said during a press conference. “I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics … for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles.”

Although the U.S. has undertaken FEMA relief efforts, Cruz and other officials say it just isn’t enough. Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello praised the U.S. for sending aid, but stipulated that, “The response still is not where it need to be.”

“We’re talking here about major devastation,” said Carlos Mercader, a spokesperson for the Puerto Rican government. “And when we say major devastation, that means that in terms of infrastructure, we have full communities that 80 or 90 percent of the homes are a complete disaster. They are totally lost.”

President Trump has repeatedly come under fire for talking about Puerto Rico’s “massive debt” while the island struggles to recover from the devastation brought on by Hurricane Maria. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke added fuel to the fire when she called the relief effort in Puerto Rico a “good news story.”

“Dammit, this is not a good news story,” Yulín Cruz told CNN. “This is a people are dying story. This is a life-or-death story.”

A desperate Yulín Cruz called on President Trump to send more aid and supplies. “Mr. Trump, I am begging you to take charge and save lives. If not, the world will see how we are treated not as second-class citizens but as animals that can be disposed of. Enough is enough.”

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Iran Responds to Trump’s Threat of Exiting the Nuclear Deal

The Iranian and American flags placed side-by-side. Both are shattered, signifying that their relationship is falling apart.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had some tough words for US President Donald Trump, after the American leader threatened to renege on the Iran nuclear deal.

“It will be a great pity if this agreement were destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics,” Rouhani told the UN at today’s general assembly.

When a reporter asked Trump if he’d made up his mind on the deal, Trump responded, “I have decided. I’ll let you know what the decision is.” However, he is yet to announce what that decision is.

Experts believe Trump will back out of the deal, based on recent statements he’s made about the agreement.

“Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment,” Trump told the UN on Tuesday.

But Rouhani warns that breaking the agreement will only result in a loss of credibility for the US. In total, five other countries have signed the agreement, including the UK, Germany, China, Russia, and France. If the US were to back out, the international community may never trust America again.

Iran also made it clear that it would not be the first to violate the agreement. Indeed, intelligence data gathered from the International Atomic Energy Association confirms that Iran is abiding by the terms of the deal.

Even US Strategic Command. Gen. John Hyten said that Iran is honoring the agreement. However, Hyten also had concerns regarding the country’s advances on ballistic missiles.

“At the same time they are rapidly, rapidly deploying and developing a whole series of ballistic missiles and testing ballistic missiles at all ranges that provides significant concerns to not just the United States, but our allies,” Hyten said earlier today in a statement captured by CNN.

Other world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have advised against exiting the agreement. There is no word yet on when President Trump will announce his final decision.

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Europe Becoming More Attractive to Private Equity Investors

A map of Europe.

Image credit: Shutterstock

As economies across Europe started to escape their multi-year slump, private equity and venture capital funders began to see opportunities for investment. It turns out that their optimism was well placed.

In a 2016 New York Times interview, PE firm General Atlantic’s CEO, Bill E. Ford, said that there was already starting to be a “real turning of the tide” in terms of the investment environment, with a significant valuation reset in the public markets.

“That’s likely to follow through to the private markets,” Ford said. “I think we’re in the early stages of the private market revaluation. It will take on the order of six to 12 months to take hold.”

It looks like Ford was right.

According to a recent Financial Times article, in 2016, private equity fundraising across Europe hit its highest level since 2008, with a whopping €74.5 billion (about $89 billion U.S.) raised—a 37 percent year-on-year increase. PE investment in European companies is also strong: €53.7 billion (more than $64 billion U.S.) were invested last year. Nearly 6,000 companies across the continent benefited from those investments.

“This data demonstrates high investor confidence in European private equity, in an otherwise low-yield global investment environment,” said Michael Collins, Chief Executive of Invest Europe. “All European economies are now growing and investors value the proven ability of European fund managers to find attractive investment opportunities across sectors and geographies.”

Invest Europe isn’t the only group seeing the benefits of investing in Europe.

According to Graham Elton of Bain Insights, private equity investments in developed Europe have performed as well as, or better than, those in the U.S. The most recent five-year net internal rate of return for PE investments was 12.5 percent in developed Europe versus 11.6 percent for the U.S.

Elton said that even if on the surface Europe appears less attractive than the U.S. due to structural challenges inherent in the EU and economic issues like high unemployment rates in some nations, the region still offers great potential.

“Western Europe has more large-scale companies per unit of GDP than many other parts of the world,” Elton wrote. “Most of its countries rank relatively high on indexes measuring attractive conditions for investment.”

As hedge funds lose their appeal and U.S. and European investors look for profits in an environment with record low interest rates, PE firms like General Atlantic are finding Europe an attractive investment environment.

“Over 40 percent of capital raised by European private equity last year came from investors outside of Europe,” said Collins, “while a third of investments made into companies were cross-border.”

Not only that, but European markets have long offered an advantage to investors who have local knowledge and relationships cultivated through a local presence.

That may be one reason why General Atlantic recently hired former AXA CEO Henri de Castries to help advise it on European investment opportunities.

“With a distinguished career leading one of Europe’s most prominent financial institutions, Henri’s wealth of experience as a global business leader will be an important and valuable addition to both General Atlantic and our global portfolio companies,” Ford said.

All in all, it looks like European companies are becoming an increasingly attractive investment opportunity for the private equity and venture capital sectors.

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