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Starbucks under pressure to keep restrooms open to public

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“Let the people go!” an activist group is telling Starbucks after the coffee chain’s boss threatened to close down its bathrooms.

The American Restroom Association is marking World Toilet Day on 19 November, an awareness-raising day started by the United Nations to celebrate toilets and advocate for proper sanitation systems, by calling on Starbucks to keep its restrooms open to the public.

In June, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz specifically mentioned the Starbucks bathroom situation while speaking at a conference.

“We serve 100m at Starbucks, and there is an issue of just safety in our stores in terms of people coming in and using our stores as a public bathroom,” he said. While Schultz did not specify what problems the business has been having with its open-restroom policy, Schultz said the company has to “harden our stores and provide safety for our people”.

“I don’t think we can keep our bathrooms open,” he said.

The stance is different from the one the chain has had since 2018, when it told employees that all patrons, paying customers or not, would be allowed to use the restroom in stores.

The announcement came after two Black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia – an encounter that was filmed and went viral. One man asked to use the restroom, and an employee informed him that he needed to purchase something to stay at the store and use the facilities. Moments later, police arrived and arrested them, seemingly without any clear reason.

In a memo to employees in 2018, Starbucks said that the open-restroom policy “is intended to help maintain the third-place environment in alignment with our mission”, referring to the sociological concept of a “third place” – a place of community that is neither the home nor a workplace.

In a statement to the Guardian, a Starbucks spokesperson said: “No changes to our bathroom policy have been made. Our local leaders have a number of options at their disposal to support our Third Place Policy, which includes the ability to modify store operations and restroom access, following local jurisdiction laws where applicable.”

While Starbucks has not officially changed its bathroom policy after Schultz’s comments, the American Restroom Association (ARA), which advocates for safe and well-designed public restrooms, notes that some Starbucks locations have closed their restrooms to the public.

Steve Soifer, the group’s president, pointed out that international plumbing codes require business establishments to keep their toilet facilities open to both visitors and customers – essentially anyone walking into their business. Such plumbing codes exist around the country, but enforcement can be non-existent.

Still, Soifer argues that Americans have few other options.

“The problem is there aren’t any other choices,” Soifer said. “You go to New York City, for example, and you’re walking around. The only places you can go are public libraries or museums. They have to keep the bathrooms open for the public. Everything else is hit-or-miss.”

“Try to find city-built public toilets in New York City, they’re virtually non-existent.”

Part of the problem, Soifer said, is that there is no official count of how many government-operated public restrooms are in the US. One study, conducted by British bathroom supply company QS Supplies, estimates that there are 8 public toilets for every 100,000 Americans, ranking below the UK, France and Canada. In comparison, Iceland, which has the highest number, has 56 public toilets for 100,000 people. Soifer said the ARA is trying to get funding to create a “national toilet map” for the US which will show all public restrooms in the country.

Pay-to-use toilets, more commonly seen across Europe, were once prolific in the US. People protested that Americans should not have to pay to use public facilities, but instead of building free-to-use restrooms, the restrooms shut down entirely in the 70s with nothing to fill the gaps.

“We thought by eliminating pay toilets, cities and counties would invest in building public toilets, and that just never happened. Now we have no options,” Soifer said. “There’s such a dearth of public toilets in the US for people to use.”

Some progressive local governments have made efforts to construct public toilets. Soifer pointed to Portland’s “Portland Loo” initiative, where the city constructed free-standing restrooms around the city. Other cities have started to take on the concept, including San Diego and Sacramento.

But building more restrooms can be costly and politically difficult for local governments. California governor Gavin Newsom criticized plans to build public restrooms in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. The toilets would cost $1.7m and take up to three years to build. The ensuing anger over the plan was nicknamed “Toiletgate”.

Because businesses like Starbucks already have functioning facilities, the immediate solution is allowing access to the public with broader hopes that people can push governments to build clean and accessible municipally funded restrooms.

“This is such a widely felt issue,” Soifer said. “I mean, everyone I talk to has a public toilet horror story.”


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Evergrande halts share trading as woes mount for China property giant

Embattled Chinese property giant Evergrande has suspended share trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange only a month after it resumed trading after a 17-month suspension.

Trading in its two other units – the property services and electric vehicle groups – also stopped at 9am on Thursday, according to notices posted by the stock exchange.

The halt in trading comes a day after reports that the chair of Evergrande had been put under police surveillance. Hui Ka Yan, who founded Evergrande in 1996, was taken away earlier this month and is being monitored at a designated location, according to Bloomberg.

It is not clear why Hui might have been placed under residential surveillance, which falls short of a formal detention or police arrest and does not mean a criminal charge follows.

Evergrande had only resumed trading on 28 August after the company was suspended for 17 months for not publishing its financial results. Earlier this month, several employees of Evergrande’s wealth management unit were arrested in Shenzhen on unspecified charges.

Two former executives were also reportedly detained recently. Pan Darong and Xia Haijun had resigned last year after it emerged that 13.4bn yuan (£1.5bn) of deposits had been used as security for third-party loans.

Earlier this week, Hengda Real Estate, Evergrande’s primary unit in mainland China, missed principal and interest payments on a 4bn yuan bond. Hui resigned from his position as Hengda chair in 2021.

On Sunday, Evergrande said it was unable to issue new debt as Hengda was being investigated.

And on Friday it said meetings planned this week on a key debt restructuring plan would not take place, adding it was “necessary to reassess the terms” of the plan in order to suit the “objective situation and the demand of the creditors”.

China’s property sector is a key pillar of growth – along with construction, it accounts for about a quarter of GDP – and has experienced a dazzling boom in recent decades.

The massive debt accrued by the industry’s biggest players has, however, been seen by Beijing in recent years as an unacceptable risk for the financial system and overall economic health.

Authorities have gradually tightened developers’ access to credit since 2020 and a wave of defaults has followed – notably that of Evergrande.

Another Chinese property giant, Country Garden, narrowly avoided default in recent months, after reporting a record loss and debts of more than $150bn.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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Musk ditches X’s election integrity team ahead of key votes around world

Elon Musk, owner of X, has confirmed he has ditched his team working to prevent disruption to elections, just days after the EU announced the platform, formerly known as Twitter, had the highest proportion of disinformation in three European countries.

Ahead of 70 elections around the globe in the coming year, the controversial businessman confirmed on X: “Oh you mean the ‘Election Integrity’ Team that was undermining election integrity? Yeah, they’re gone.”

According to reports, several staff working out of the Dublin office including the co-lead of election disinformation team, Aaron Rodericks, have left the company.

Overnight Musk appeared to give his first reaction to EU claims that X had the highest ratio of disinformation of the large social media platforms with a picture of three penguins bearing the logos of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube saluting another penguin bearing the X logo.

Rodericks had recently secured an injunction against the company restraining the company from taking disciplinary action after he had posted information about the company’s recruitment of staff for his team on his personal account.

He claimed the company did nothing after he had been subjected to a barrage of abuse from people who accused him of trying to suppress freedom of speech on X.

Last month he posted an advert on LinkedIn for eight new roles revealing he was seeking people with a “passion for protecting the integrity of elections and civic events, X is certainly at the centre of the conversation”.

Sweeping new laws came into force in August, compelling social media platforms to remove fake accounts, disinformation and hate speech, with X rivals Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Google and Microsoft all taking action and reporting back to the EU.

While Twitter quit the code of practice designed by the EU to help the companies comply with the new laws, Musk promised earlier this year he would comply with the rules.

Concerns over the platform’s approach to content moderation under Musk’s leadership have triggered an advertising boycott of the company, which relies on ads for the majority of its income.

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Musk has admitted that advertising revenues have fallen by about 60% since he bought the business last year and has blamed anti-hate speech campaign groups for the decline. He is suing the Center for Countering Digital Hate over its coverage of X and has also threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League, which has raised concerns about antisemitic content on the platform.

Farhad Divecha, managing director of London-based digital marketing agency Accuracast, said: “The fact that Elon Musk seems to have disbanded the team that deals with election integrity sends a clear signal that preventing disinformation or maintaining a level of integrity isn’t a priority for X. This is one more factor adding to the concerns about brand safety, or ensuring brands aren’t associated with objectionable content.”

The company was approached for comment.

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Trump’s business empire could collapse ‘like falling dominoes’ after ruling

Donald Trump’s real estate empire could collapse “like falling dominoes”, experts believe, following a New York judge’s ruling that the former president’s business fortune was built on rampant fraud and blatant lies.

According to Michael Cohen, his former attorney and fixer, Trump is already effectively “out of business” in New York after Judge Arthur Engoron on Tuesday rescinded the licenses of the Trump Organization and other companies owned by Trump and his adult sons, Eric and Don Jr.

“Those companies will end up being liquidated … the judge has already determined that the fraud existed,” Cohen told CNN, hailing Engoron’s pretrial ruling in a civil case brought by Letitia James, the New York attorney general.

On Wednesday morning, in a confrontational post on his Truth Social website that branded the judge a “political hack”, Trump said Engoron “must be stopped”.

At a hearing on Wednesday afternoon, Trump’s legal team asked Engoron if his ruling meant Trump’s assets and businesses must be sold, or if they could continue to operate under receivership.

Engoron said he would address the issue at the non-jury trial beginning on 2 October, and extended to 30 days his original 10-day deadline for both parties to suggest names to act as receivers for the various companies.

The lawyers have said they will appeal the rescinding of the licenses, the appointment of receivers, and Engoron’s assertion that Trump and executives lived in a “fantasy world” of routinely, repeatedly and illegally overvaluing property values and his personal net worth to gain favorable loan terms and reduced insurance premiums.

But if the appeals are unsuccessful, the collapse of the Trump empire, upon which the former reality TV host staked his reputation as a successful business tycoon, could be imminent.

It would probably start with the sale of Trump’s most prestigious real estate assets, experts say, including Trump Tower in New York, golf courses and resorts around the US, and possibly his prized Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, if it is determined to be a business operation instead of his primary residential home.

In his post on Wednesday, Trump decried the judge’s $18m valuation of Mar-a-Lago, claiming it was worth “100 times more than he values it”.

William Black, a white-collar criminologist, corporate fraud investigator and distinguished scholar in residence for financial regulation at the University of Minnesota law school, said: “In finance, once the dominoes start falling, it becomes basically impossible to save it.

“These properties are even more damaged goods today because of the success in demonstrating they are massively overvalued. The most likely thing, if you get an honest agent or receiver, they’re going to sell the properties at a loss. And when you’ve got a whole bunch of properties, with the first one you just desperately need to get some action and that gets discounted the most.”

Black, who helped expose congressional wrongdoing in the Lincoln Savings and Loans scandal of the 1980s, in which the financier Charles Keating inflated his company’s worth to bilk taxpayers for billions, called Engoron’s ruling “devastating”. He believes Trump insiders and employees would have incentive to come forward with more information if he loses his wealth and influence.

“What we experienced in the Savings and Loan debacle, we would put in an honest manager and employees would start coming to that person over time and say, ‘You know, you really ought to look at this,’” Black said.

“Trump is monumentally, stupidly greedy in that he isn’t actually paying for a number of key lieutenants in terms of their legal needs, and they’re facing financial collapse of their own, [such as] the Rudy Giulianis of this world. But a lot of folks can sink Trump.

“Having this ability to control all these assets, even if they’re massively overvalued, meant hope springs eternal among the Trump folks that he can use that money and influence to help them, but if Trump instead ends up bereft of control over the overwhelming bulk of his assets, and has lots of liabilities, sugar daddy goes away.”

Engoron’s independent court-appointed monitor for the Trump Organization, the retired federal judge Barbara Jones, reported last month she had identified inconsistency and incompleteness in financial disclosures.

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Others also see the writing on the wall.

“Donald Trump is no longer in business,” David Cay Johnston, author of the Trump-themed book The Big Cheat, wrote in DC Report.

“Barring a highly unlikely reversal by an appeals court, Trump’s business assets eventually will be liquidated since he cannot operate them without a business license. The various properties are likely to be sold at fire sale prices and certainly not for top dollar when liquidation begins, probably after all appeals are exhausted.

“I give Trump’s chances of prevailing on appeal at somewhere between zero and nothing except perhaps on some minor procedural point, which you can be sure Trump will describe as complete vindication.”

Joyce Vance, a retired US attorney and University of Alabama law school professor, called Engoron’s ruling “justice”.

“This is New York’s corporate death penalty, applied to Trump because of years of misconduct,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Black said Trump’s downfall would be self-inflicted.

“The key to these frauds is not genius, it’s audacity, but Trump never wanted to do it himself, he’s too lazy, right?” he said.

“And now he doesn’t control the people who have to actually do the deals. So they’re now forced into thousands of discussions, first with this judge, now this receiver, and that can’t work.

“You won’t be able to do the scams, and you won’t be able to do things quickly, either. That means a domino effect in credit failings and bankruptcies. As people start taking action against your properties, the liquidity you’re boasting isn’t going to be there and you’re going to get a bankruptcy.”

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