NEW YORK (AP) — The online trading platform Robinhood is moving to restrict trading in GameStop and other stocks that have soared recently due to rabid buying by smaller investors. GameStop stock has rocketed from below $20 earlier this month to more than $400 Thursday as a volunteer army of investors on social media challenged big institutions who had placed market bets that the stock would fall. Among the restrictions announced by Robinhood on Thursday, investors would only be able to sell their positions and not open new ones in some cases, and Robinhood will try to slow the amount of trading using borrowed money. Besides GameStop, Robinhood said trading in stocks such as AMC Entertainment, Bed Bath & Beyond, Blackberry, Nokia, Express Inc., Koss Corp. and Naked Brand Group would be affected by the new restrictions. Some big institutions such as Citron Research and Melvin Capital had placed bets that GameStop shares would fall as the company tries to transform itself from a bricks and mortar retailer to a seller of online video games. But smaller investors rallied to the stock. By sending the stock soaring higher, they forced the big players to cover their bets by buying the stock, increasing the stock even further. Robinhood's stated goal is to “democratize” investing and to bring more regular people into investing. But the company has run afoul of regulators who say the company downplays the risks of trading. Robinhood says it is making moves to better educate users of its platform about those risks.
SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — Sales of new homes rose 1.6% in December after a big decline in November that was even worse than previously thought.The increase last month pushed sales of new homes to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 842,000, the Commerce Department reported Thursday, though that was fewer than analysts had projected. And the big drop reported earlier for November's was revised downward further, from 841,000 to 829,000 new homes sold. That's a decline of 12.6% from October.After a spring slump due to the coronavirus outbreak, housing came back strong in the summer and fall until last month's significant drop. Commerce estimated that 811,000 new homes were sold in 2020, an increase of nearly 19% over 2019's 683,000.Historically low mortgage rates are helping nudge buyers into the market, but there is still a lack of inventory, which is pushing prices up.The median price of a new home sold in December jumped to $355,900 up more than 8% from a year ago. Soaring lumber prices are also adding thousands of dollars to the cost of new homes. Framing lumber prices more than doubled over the summer due to pandemic-related declines in domestic production, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Although lumber prices retreated in the fall, they are back up again near their August peak when NAHB estimated it was adding nearly $16,000 to the price of a new home.Regionally sales were uneven in December, with the biggest movement in the Midwest where sales jumped more than 30%. Sales in the Northeast and South fell between 5% and 6%, while the West saw sales increase almost 9%. In a separate report last week, the National Association of Realtors reported sales of existing homes rose 0.7% in December, pushing the entirety of 2020 to a pace not seen since height of the housing boom in 2006. The housing market has mostly weathered the economic fallout of the pandemic, but economists say the near-term prospects for the economy will remain uncertain until the vast majority of Americans have been vaccinated. The Commerce Department said Thursday that the U.S. economy shrank in 2020 by the largest amount in 74 years, and the Labor Department reported that layoffs remain elevated, with 847,000 Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week.
Cybercriminals shifted away from stealing individual consumers' information in 2020 to focus on bigger, more profitable attacks on businesses, according to a report from the Identity Theft Resource Center. The nonprofit, which supports victims of identity crime, found that the number of U.S. data breaches fell 19% in 2020 to 1,108. But the number of individual victims of such cybercrimes fell 66% compared with the year prior. Ransomware and phishing attacks are now the preferred form of data theft because they require less effort and generate bigger payouts. The ITRC said that one ransomware attack can generate as much revenue in minutes as hundreds of individual identity theft attempts over months or years. According to cybersecurity firm Coveware, the average ransomware payout has grown from less than $10,000 per event in 2018 to more than $233,000 per event in 2020. However, experts urge consumers not to let down their guard. According to the ITRC report released Thursday, even with the decline, there were still 300.5 million individuals impacted by data breaches in 2020. Although this figure may include repeats, where a person is victimized multiple times. “People should understand that this problem is not going away,” said Eva Velasquez, ITRC's president and CEO. “Cybercriminals are simply shifting their tactics to find a new way to attack businesses and consumers."One rising trend is attacks on third parties, such as a vendor, that would yield access to multiple organizations through a single attack. Often, the organization is smaller, with weaker security measures than the companies they work for. Additionally, the pandemic may have fueled some changes, with employees working remotely and potentially exposing their company networks to criminals. There was also an increase in unemployment fraud as cybercriminals tapped into those systems, which were overwhelmed with claims and new protocols. Velasquez urged consumers to remain vigilant in protecting their personal and professional information. Criminals will continue to use personal information even if the means by which they obtain it has changed. “We are not out of the woods," she said. “It’s not time for consumers to breathe a sigh of relief."
ROME (AP) — Prosecutors from northern Italy traveled to Rome on Thursday to question the health minister and others as part of their broadening investigation into whether to lay any criminal blame for Italy’s horrific coronavirus toll, and whether a lack of preparedness contributed to it.Back in June, Bergamo prosecutors questioned Premier Giuseppe Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and other top officials about the delayed lockdown in two Bergamo towns where infections were reported in the early days of the outbreak.Bergamo subsequently became Italy’s COVID-19 epicenter, the first in the West, registering a 571% increase in excess deaths in March compared to the previous five-year average.The Bergamo probe, though, has now expanded to look into Italy’s preparedness going into the pandemic, investigators say. A scandal over a spiked World Health Organization report into Italy’s response has revealed that the health ministry’s influenza pandemic preparedness plan hadn’t been updated since 2006.But Bergamo investigators are also looking looking into indications that even that 2006 plan was never implemented in Lombardy once the outbreak hit, contributing to what the WHO called Italy’s “improvised, chaotic and creative” response to the thousands of sick who quickly overwhelmed Lombardy’s hospitals. “What is emerging is that they never implemented what they had, which is more serious than the fact that it wasn’t updated,” a Bergamo investigator told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to reveal details of the investigation.Lombardy officials have defended their handling of the outbreak, while those responsible for updating the pandemic plan have noted that the 2006 document was an influenza pandemic plan, not a coronavirus one. Investigators however say there was plenty of crossover that could have been applied, such that the WHO recommended Jan. 5 that member states adopt guidance plans for influenza or virus pandemics to be prepared for what was then believed to be a still-contained outbreak in Wuhan, China.The pandemic plan isn't the only headache for Lombardy officials. They are also under the spotlight for having apparently provided the Italian Superior Institute of Health with incomplete virus data that resulted in the region being declared a “red zone” for part of January, with all nonessential commercial activities shuttered, when it didn’t necessarily deserve to be. Lombardy Gov. Attilio Fontana has blamed the institute and vowed legal action, saying its monitoring mechanism that classifies Italian regions for virus risk factors was unfairly penalizing Lombardy and “delivering a huge hit to the Lombardy economy."But the institute says Lombardy failed to provide updated data on people who eventually tested negative or were cured of COVID-19. That led to inflated numbers of current cases that skewed the institute's monitoring system, showing that Lombardy had far more sick people than it really did. The mishap and ensuing “red zone" closures resulted in millions of euros in lost revenue for businesses in Lombardy, Italy's economic engine, prompting the National Association of Consumers, unions and some individual lawyers to announce a class action lawsuit to try to recover some of the losses.To date, no one has been indicted in the Bergamo investigation, and it’s not clear what, if any, criminal responsibility might be assigned to public officials for decisions taken or not. Italy has recorded more than 87,000 COVID-19 dead, more than any other European country except Britain.___Follow AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccinehttps://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Anyone visiting Tampa's popular outdoor destinations for the Super Bowl will be required to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.Tampa Mayor Jane Castor signed an executive order Wednesday saying masks must be worn outside while downtown, in neighborhoods around Raymond James Stadium — where the Super Bowl will be held — and in other tourist hotspots.The order says those who are not wearing a mask can be cited with a “nominal civil infraction” that carries a penalty up to a $500 fine. It will remain in place until Feb. 13 — nearly a week after the Super Bowl ends.There are a few exceptions, including children under 5.“We are incredibly excited to host a fun and safe Super Bowl here in Tampa — but we need everyone to do their part. We want fans to feel confident knowing that when they come out to celebrate Super Bowl LV, they can do so safely in a city that takes this pandemic seriously,” Castor said in a statement Thursday morning.The NFL is allowing 22,000 visitors to be inside Raymond James Stadium for the game and all will be required to wear masks. It normally has a capacity of 75,000 fans.There will be official game events around the city, including The Super Bowl Experience, which features live music, food, beverages and football-themed activities. That will be held at multiple parks along the 2.7-mile (4.3-kilometer) Tampa Riverwalk and it is one of the places where masks are required even outdoors.___Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
BEIRUT (AP) — A Washington-based Syrian rights group filed a case with the International Criminal Court on Thursday, calling for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity by Greece for its mistreatment of refugees. The Syria Justice and Accountability Center said witness testimony and video evidence back its claims of mistreatment and abuse of refugees at Greece's borders and inside overcrowded camps. It cites instances of security guards using tear gas to disperse refugee protests, and shabby and unhealthy conditions at the sprawling camps. Mohammad Al-Abdallah, the group's executive director, said this was the first legal challenge to the European Union over its treatment of refugees. Throngs of migrants, mostly from war-torn Syria, have crammed into small dinghies on dangerous journeys over the Mediterranean Sea to escape fighting and persecution, overwhelming the European asylum system, starting in 2015. Over 1 million migrants arrived, many of them Syrian refugees, entering the Greek islands via Turkey. “If this case proceeds, it would send a clear message that yes, you have good policies in some countries, others (not) — but that you are actually governed by international law and by your refugee treaties, not by your individual member state's decision making,” said Al-Abdallah. Prosecutors at the ICC will review the case before deciding whether to open a full-scale investigation, which would likely take months to complete. The court receives hundreds of submissions each year from groups and individuals urging it to look into alleged crimes, but has so far mostly taken on cases referred to it by the U.N. Security Council and member states. In the past, the court based in The Hague has faced criticism for looking into cases mainly in African countries, though it is currently probing cases world over.The mistreatment documented since March 2016, the Syrian group argues, extends to Greece’s territorial waters where it has documented sabotaging of migrant boats, leaving them to drift back to sea — even pushing them back into water. Such “pushback" incidents are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which say people shouldn’t be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety may be in danger. The Syria Justice and Accountability Center said there is evidence that personnel from Frontex, the agency that monitors and polices migrant movements around Europe’s borders, participated in or were complicit in these abuses, which it says could amount to crimes against humanity. Frontex is already under fire after an October investigation by media outlets said evidence in video and other public data suggests its members were “actively involved in one pushback incident at the Greek-Turkish maritime border in the Aegean Sea.” Frontex maintains there is no evidence of its involvement in such actions, insisting that EU member countries have control over operations in their waters. But the allegations have been embarrassing for the European Commission, which in September unveiled new reforms to the EU’s asylum system. In a relevant case, independent human rights experts working with the United Nations and who were probing the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Italy seven years ago, called on Italian authorities to “proceed with an independent and timely investigation and to prosecute those responsible” for the deaths of over 200 people. The Human Rights Committee said Italy failed to protect the “right to life” of the migrants or respond promptly to the distress call of the vessel that had departed from Libya in 2013, carrying 400 in all, mostly Syrians. The boat was shot “by a boat flying a Berber flag in international waters” some 113 kilometers (71 miles) south of the Italian island of Lampedusa. Berbers are an ethnic group in North Africa. Nesma Bashi, a legal fellow with the Syria Justice and Accountability Center who conducted research on the Greek Islands, urged the ICC to investigate the allegations on Greece, and the “international community to recognize and provide support to end the plight of refugees, including Syrians, who continue to suffer in Greece.”The plight of refugees and poor conditions in camps took a dramatic turn last September when a fire broke out on the island of Lesbos in what used to be the most overcrowded camp on the Greek islands, where over 12,000 people lived in a facility designed for nearly 3,000. Al-Abdallah said that by resorting to international law, he hopes the case would influence debate in individual EU member states.“We are hoping this would also influence the policy and discourse on refugees within the EU, not only in Greece,” Al-Abdallah said. “No EU country wants an accusation of crimes against humanity." ___Associated Press writers Mike Corder in the Hague and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this report.
MADRID (AP) — Political parties in Spain's Catalonia region are scheduled to start campaigning Thursday for an election set to be held in two weeks amid uncertainty due to vote fragmentation and a persistently high coronavirus infection rate.The northeastern region loosened a ban on traveling between municipalities to allow for political rallies with reduced attendance and mask-wearing and social distancing requirements. The election taking place as scheduled on Feb. 14 is not 100% certain. Catalonia's High Court needs to confirm its preliminary decision earlier this month to overturn a regional government order to delay the vote for nearly three months due to health concerns.Like the rest of Spain, Catalonia is grappling to contain a sharp increase of COVID-19 patients amid a vaccination rollout slowed down by hiccups in the supply of shots. Although growth in the infection rate seems to be stabilizing, experts are worried about the potential impact of new virus variants with hospitals already operating at their limits.Catalonia's ruling coalition, which supports the region's secession from Spain, granted prison privileges Thursday to eight politicians and activists who are serving terms ranging from nine 9 to 13 years for their roles in a failed 2017 push for Catalan independence. The regional government's move will allow some of them to campaign for their parties during the day before returning to prison to spend the night. Two months ago, Spain’s Supreme Court overturned the granting of similar privileges as “premature,” A half-dozen political parties, divided along the lines of left and right, but also between support or opposition for the region's independence, are competing for 135 seats in the regional parliament.Several spin-offs in the ranks of Catalan separatist parties and the emergence of the far-right on the side of remaining in Spain are likely to complicate efforts to form a governing coalition after the vote.Salvador Illa, who until this week was Spain's health minister in charge of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, is seen as the frontrunner to become Catalonia's next regional president. He is with Catalonia's Socialist Party, which has not been in power in the region since 2006.Official polls show strong support for Laura Borràs and Pere Aragonès, who represent respectively the pro-independence Together for Catalonia and Republican Left parties that are currently part of the region's ruling coalition.
Once a month, Magena Morris, Tyler Bone and Nic White bring racks loaded with clothes into Charlotte’s largest homeless encampment and invite residents to shop at no cost. The idea is to give residents of “tent city” the feeling of browsing at a normal store and spare them from having to dig through piles of secondhand apparel. “It’s much more humanizing,” Bone said. “It creates more of a real experience — not just, ‘Dig through this box and hopefully you’ll find a pair of shoes that match.’” “We see them smiling,” White agreed. “Because they’re like, ‘Oh, you cared about me enough to provide me the opportunity to choose my own clothing in a way that dignifies me.’”Relying on donated items to stock their “mutual-aid free store,” Morris, Bone and White are providing not just clothes but much-needed goods from batteries to books for homeless people in North Carolina’s largest city — a population that’s grown during the pandemic and economic downturn. It all started soon after the coronavirus hit, when Bone noticed the increasing number of tents sheltering displaced Charlotteans while driving to work. He mentioned it to Morris, who sewed 300 face masks to distribute. She worried about what conditions would be like for them in the winter, so the married couple built donation boxes from scrap wood from her grandmother’s old deck and stationed them near local businesses. They collected more donated goods than they expected. And then they set out to launch the free store, teaming up with White, who a year earlier founded the homeless support group Not Fade Away.To facilitate the effort, Morris and Bone repurposed BleachImpaired.com, an online shop where previously they sold T-shirts and buttons to make a bit of extra money. Today it directs people to the drop boxes, lets users donate money for tent city relief and lists specific items requested by people, everything from underwear to heating equipment to rat-proof storage. Some of what they collect goes to other aid groups and some directly to the people they meet. Bone, a carpenter by day, makes deliveries at night. One day it may be 50 blankets for an organization that is collecting them; the next, a tent for someone living on the street. The three get to know the people they help, establishing relationships rather than doing one-off donations. They also try to address needs beyond the essentials: One day a man mentioned that he had lost a treasured graphic novel; when Morris returned, she brought a copy wrapped in gift paper. Since that experience she has teamed up with two bookstores on a project she hopes will bring a library to the tent city. For Morris, the mission is personal.She was born into homelessness and spent many a night sleeping in cars, motel rooms and tents, or on the couches of friends and relatives. It was through support from others that she eventually achieved stability in her own life. “Mutual aid saved my life,” Morris said. “It was the people that helped.” She, Bone and White are now focusing on providing Internet access, phones and charging stations, things that are needed to get an important document, apply for a job or graduate from school. “Our mutual aid free store is how we build relationships with this community,” Morris said. “It is not going to solve homelessness. It does meet needs, though — it meets needs to sustain life, and that’s why it’s valuable.”___“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing___Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
NEW YORK (AP) — At dinner with a friend, Jazmine Sullivan broke down with tears flowing from her eyes. She had been dealing with a severe case of writer’s block and unsure where to turn or how to move past the drought.“I was crying to one of my girlfriends... like, ‘Girl, I can’t even write.’ That’s how I express myself. That’s how I communicate, and I can’t do that,” Sullivan recalled. “I felt so stuck in that moment.”Sullivan, a fierce songwriter who has not only written her own R&B hits that range from seething to sweet, has also penned songs for Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Monica and other R&B stars. To take the pressure off, she decided to produce an EP instead of an album — “it felt easier to look at it that way” — and she came up with a concept to help the project flow easy. It resulted in “Heaux Tales."“It was painful. It was not easy to come up with this,” Sullivan said. But her efforts were worth it. “Heaux Tales” has been lauded for its exploration of feminism, sexuality, classism and body-shaming. It debuted at No. 4 on Billboard’s all-genre 200 albums chart — a career high for Sullivan, who dropped her debut in 2008.Some of the songs came in bits and pieces, with Sullivan unsure if they were good enough or worth finishing, including “Bodies,” “The Other Side” and “Lost One,” which her mom convinced her to complete after hearing it. In between those songs are interludes — which Sullivan calls the “meat” of the project — of the singer and her girlfriends freely chatting about one-night stands, drunken escapades and bad breakups.“Usually people don’t want to hear interludes but these kind of hit home in a way; they were a voice to the voiceless, really,” the Philadelphian said. “The topics that were talked about were things that people want to say but don’t necessarily get to say on a bigger platform.”In an interview with The Associated Press, Sullivan talked about writer's block, men’s reactions to her album and possibly working with Issa Rae.AP: How scary was it to go through writer’s block when that’s a big part of your artistry?Sullivan: My songs are really my form of communication. If you want to get to know me, listen to a lot of my songs and you’ll get to know the nuances of my personality, stuff that I may not show if you’re just meeting me. I’m private, but I spill my guts out in my music. Because that was my therapy release, it was hard not to have that. I didn’t know where to turn to. AP: What made you come up with this particular concept for the EP?Sullivan: I wanted to share the behind-the-scenes stories that I have with my girlfriends that I’ve had all my life since we were in high school. I felt like it was so much wisdom in the years that we’ve really grown up together. I also felt like these are stories that you don’t hear a lot about. You don’t hear Black women’s stories. You don’t know a lot about Black women and the many sides there are to Black women. I just wanted to share our personal stories. I didn’t know that it would resonate with people as much as it did, but I understand why. My story is everyone’s story. My girlfriend’s story is all of our stories. I’m just glad that it’s meaning more to people than just a project. It’s not just songs that people like. I feel like it’s transforming some women and definitely helping people to self-reflect and grow and feel strong and love themselves more.AP: “Mascara” from your last album, 2015’s “Reality Show,” felt like it could have easily fit on this EP.Sullivan: Yeah, “Mascara” could have definitely lived on this project. I would say it’s probably the beginning of some of the aspects of the characters on this particular project. When I was writing “Mascara,” I was on Instagram and I was looking at the lives of the Instagram girls, kind of in awe of all the things they were afforded because of their beauty. I just wanted to tell their story. I thought it was interesting. What I feel like happens on this project is you kind of go into depth, why that particular woman is the way that she is and why her mind is the way she is. A lot is probably based on the fact that a lot of women who grow up not having anything and wanting a better life and not being able to afford it and lacking, they try to figure out how to survive, how they will never end up in that space — that’s what motivates them. That’s the part of the story that we miss. We go straight to judging a woman and calling her a gold digger and not respecting her.AP: What has been the reaction from men? Have some said they’ve learned about women from listening to the album, and have some dissed the album and chatter?Sullivan: Yes, I’ve gotten both. There were some men that were able to hear the project and have learned more about women. Some men who are like, “I’ve been on that wave anyway. I totally understand what y’all feeling and am in total support of y’all owning and taking agency of your space and who you are and loving who you are.” There are some men who are very basic and are like, “Girl, you ain’t gotta be no ho, you ain’t gotta talk about being no ho.” I’m like, “Sir, I’m not responding to you because you’re not in tune with me. You’re not listening.”AP: You and Issa Rae traded tweets about a possible visual to go with the album. What’s happening with that?Sullivan: I wanted Black Twitter to kind of bully her into doing it (laughs). But they didn’t even have to bully her because she wanted to do it anyway! Thank God. We exchanged numbers and we talked on the phone. ...I think she’s the perfect fit for it because she has a way of being in tune with her characters, especially women and showing the depth of a woman. She really gets us as Black women because she is one.
TOKYO (AP) — Masahiro Tanaka is returning to pitch for his former team in Japan after seven seasons with the New York Yankees.The Rakuten Eagles said Thursday the 32-year-old free agent had signed a two-year contract. Local media reported it was worth almost $9 million annually.“WELCOME HOME our HERO!!!!” the Eagles posted on Twitter.The Yankees recently added two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and traded for Pittsburgh pitcher Jameson Taillon. New York appeared to have no room for Tanaka in its 2021 rotation and didn’t appear to be trying to re-sign the two-time All-Star.“I have decided to return to Japan and play for the Rakuten Eagles for the 2021 season,” Tanaka wrote on Twitter. “I wanted to make sure and touch base with you, and thank you for all the love and support you have given me for the past 7 seasons.”“I feel extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to take the field as a member of the New York Yankees, and play in front of all you passionate fans. it has been an honor and a privilege! Thank you so much!!”Tanaka went 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 10 starts last year during the pandemic-shortened season.The right-hander pitched for Rakuten from 2007-13, going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in his final season and leading the Eagles to the Japan Series title.Tanaka then signed a $155 million, seven-year contract with the Yankees ahead of the 2014 season and quickly became a steadying, consistent presence in their rotation.Tanaka went 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA and 991 strikeouts in 1,054 1/3 innings. He was an All-Star in 2014 and 2019 despite pitching with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.The Yankees often chose Tanaka to start in big games and he went 5-4 with a 3.33 ERA in 10 starts during the playoffs.New York hasn’t won the World Series since 2009 and lost in the AL Division Series to Tampa Bay last season. Gerrit Cole leads a rotation this year that includes Taillon, Kluber, Deivi García and left-hander Jordan Montgomery.Luis Severino should be ready to return at some point this season from Tommy John surgery last Feb. 27 and Domingo Germán is expected back from a domestic violence suspension that caused him to miss last season.Tanaka was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in Japan, where he had 53 complete games in 172 starts.March 11 marks the 10th anniversary of an earthquake, tsunami and the resulting meltdown of three nuclear reactors in the northern Pacific coast area of Japan where the Eagles are based. That date is sure to add to the drama around Tanaka’s return to Japan.Spring training starts next week for Japanese clubs, which have been able to play in stadiums with a limited number of fans attending.Japan, with a population of 126 million, has attributed just over 5,000 deaths to COVID-19. Cases have been surging recently, particularly in urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka.___More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports