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- Tesla's Elon Musk could make billions — or nothing — from new CEO compensation deal.
- Russian Culture Ministry censors take aim at foreign films.
- Controversial Hong Kong bookseller arrested, adding to concerns that personal freedoms are being eroded by the Chinese government.
Elon Musk goes for broke
Elon Musk, the CEO of electric vehicle maker Tesla, has a new compensation deal; one that will either make him very rich or have him working for nothing.
The 10-year agreement, announced in a company release this morning, will see the 46-year-old inventor receive no salary, bonuses or vested stock options over the coming decade.
All future compensation is instead tied to performance, with 12 "tranches" of stock options linked to Tesla's market cap.
The first will kick in when the car maker — now worth around $59 billion US — adds $100 billion to its valuation. The remaining targets fall with each increase of $50 billion.
In every case, Musk will receive options equal to one per cent of the company's outstanding stock. That currently translates to 1.69 million shares.
At midday, Tesla was trading at around $355 US per share. So today, even one of the tranches would be worth $600 million.
If he ultimately succeeds in building the automaker into a $650 billion firm as envisioned — bigger than Walmart or Facebook — he will stand to take home $58 billion in stock, says the release.
Musk is already worth more than $20 billion, according to the Forbes ranking of billionaires. And his pay was already almost exclusively tied to performance.
Which explains why he took home just $49,920 in salary in 2017. Investors love Tesla, but the company has struggled to turn a profit and is experiencing serious production problems.
Earlier this month, the firm announced that its targets for the mass market Model 3 sedan have been downgraded yet again to 2,500 vehicles a week by the end of March, half the previous prediction.
Even that would be a big improvement — the company delivered just 1,550 of the cars in the final three months of 2017.
The news has been slightly better for Musk's other high-profile venture, SpaceX.
Last week, the U.S. government absolved the private rocket firm of blame for the failure of a multibillion-dollar secret military satellite.
The launch, via a SpaceX's Falcon 9, seemed to go well at first. The satellite — codenamed Zuma — reached orbit, but it quickly fell back into the atmosphere and burned up on re-entry.
At present, the theory is that the satellite's booster motors didn't fire when it separated from the rocket — putting maker Northrop Grumman on the hot seat.
And SpaceX's new rocket, the Falcon Heavy, is finally on a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The most powerful rocket ever built by the company, it's supposed to be the vehicle that will ultimately propel astronauts to Mars and beyond.
The Falcon Heavy's first test flight will come later this winter.
The payload, however, is no secret.
In a December tweet, Musk announced that it will be his "midnight cherry Tesla Roadster," with the stereo playing David Bowie's Space Oddity.
It is the kind of publicity that you can't buy.
The Kremlin has cancelled the Russian premiere of The Death of Stalin, a dark comedy by British director Armando Iannucci.
According to a report today by the TASS news agency, a private screening of the movie for Russian lawmakers and historians resulted in a multitude of complaints, and the culture ministry has now pulled a licence that it had previously granted for a general release.
"It's a despicable film," Nadezhda Usmanova, head of the Russian Military Historical Society's department of information, which helped organize the screening, told Reuters.
"It's a bad film, it's a boring film, and it's vile, repugnant and insulting."
It marks the second time in a week that Russia's Culture Ministry has halted distribution of a foreign flick.
The exhibition licence for Paddington 2, the family friendly update on the adventures of Britain's second-most-famous anthropomorphic bear, was revoked on Jan. 17, one day before the film was to be released across the country.
In that case, Russian authorities were trying to push back the premier until early February to help drive audiences to a domestic movie, Skif [Scythian], an action/fantasy film about 9th century Eurasian nomads. They quickly relented in the face of Hollywood pressure and complaints from cinema owners, and the bear movie debuted on Jan. 20.
Government restrictions on what Russians watch and read have steadily expanded over the course of Vladimir Putin's 17-year rule, with the blocking or banning of independent or foreign content.
The government instead favours films, books and theatre productions that promote what it describes as patriotic "Russian values," like a strong state and a socially conservative worldview.
Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, a former member of the Presidential Commission Against the Falsification of History, has been at the forefront of these efforts.
"The result of this campaign to control and confine the contours of free expression and to populate it with 'approved' ideas has been to limit thought and discourse, induce self-censorship, close avenues of public engagement, raise the risks of dissent, and attempt to subordinate universal norms such as the right to freedom of expression," says a report released last year by the writer's group PEN.
The situation continues to get worse, says Human Right Watch, with new laws limiting free speech, crackdowns on opposition groups in advance of the March presidential elections, and a sharp uptick in arrests and fines for "unauthorized" public gatherings.
Still, it's hard to believe that anyone at the culture ministry ever thought The Death of Stalin was going to please Putin.
Iannucci, the creator of HBO's Veep and the BBC's Thick of It (perhaps the most biting and profane political comedy ever made), is not known for his sensitivity or restraint.
And the film's official blurb doesn't hide its point of view:
Moscow, 1953: When tyrannical dictator Joseph Stalin drops dead, his parasitic cronies square off in a frantic power struggle to be the next Soviet leader. Among the contenders are the dweeby Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the wily Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and the sadistic secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale). But as they bumble, brawl, and backstab their way to the top, just who is running the government?
Or maybe somebody at the culture ministry just should have clicked on the trailer:
China's Hong Kong crackdown
A controversial Hong Kong bookseller has been arrested by Chinese authorities for a second time, raising questions about the limits of democracy and free speech in the former colony.
Gui Minhai, the publisher of Mighty Current Media, was snatched from a Beijing-bound train by 10 plain clothes police this past weekend. A dual citizen of China and Sweden, Gui was travelling with two diplomats from the Swedish consulate in Shanghai and on his way to a medical appointment in the capital when he was taken into custody.
Gui was one of five booksellers who were effectively kidnapped by the Chinese in 2015 — in his case, vanishing from a vacation home in Thailand.
All were associated with Mighty Current, a publishing house that specialized in gossipy Chinese language tell-all books about the private lives of China's leaders. The works, with provocative titles like The General Secretary's Eight Love Stories, were more compilations of rumours than fact. And they sold like hotcakes, despite — or rather because of — a mainland ban.
The disappearances attracted international attention. Three of the men returned to Hong Kong from China in March 2016, denying that they had ever been held against their will.
A fourth — Lam Wing-kee — told a very different tale when he returned that June. He said he spent months in solitary confinement in a Chinese jail as authorities pushed him to confess to crimes that he had not committed.
Gui eventually showed up on state television, copping to having killed a man while driving drunk in 2003.
When was released this past October, Chinese authorities said he had served his "full sentence" for a "traffic offence." No mention was made of earlier allegations that he had delivered 3,800 banned books to customers on the mainland.
The publisher, who is reportedly showing the early symptoms of ALS, has been living in the city of Ningbo, near Shanghai, ever since.
Gui's renewed detention, which has already drawn protests from Sweden and rights groups like Pen, has put the spotlight on Hong Kong's deteriorating human rights situation.
Paddy Ashdown, the former leader of the U.K.'s Liberal Democrats, undertook a fact-finding mission to Hong Kong last fall. Ashdown issued a report on Jan. 16, charging that personal and public freedoms have been "increasingly eroded" in the former British colony.
"The rule of law is under pressure, human rights are undermined and the city appears no closer to democracy," he wrote.
It echoed the findings of an Amnesty International report from a year ago that said the local human rights situation was at its worst point since Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.
Carrie Lam, who was selected as Hong Kong's new chief executive this past March, hit back at the "unfounded and unfair" criticism yesterday.
She accused Ashdown and other outsiders of "interfering in Hong Kong's internal affairs," and wondered aloud why people criticize Beijing for meddling, while accepting the input of foreigners at face value.
Quote of the moment
"I see many moving from need-based consumption to greed-based consumption. The question is: Is this really development, or is it the beginning of society's downfall?"
- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a keynote address to open the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this morning. He warned that the world appears unprepared for the challenges of the future.
What The National is reading
- Sherman family private investigation could cost up to $1 million (CBC)
- Slain rebel becomes the focus of resistance in Venezuela (Miami Herald)
- The kill chain: Inside the unit that tracks targets for U.S. drones (Guardian)
- Kevin Spacey cost Netflix $39 million (CNN)
- Volcano eruption near Japanese ski resort kills 1, injures 11 (CBC)
- Zimbabwe family leaves Bangkok airport after three months (BBC)
- Hawaii Gov. forgot his Twitter password during missile false alarm (Honolulu Star Advertiser)
Today in history
Jan. 23, 1984: Satanic messages in the ear of the beholder
U.S. televangelist (and very natty dresser) Pastor Gary Greenwald got a lot of traction with his early-'80s claims that artists as diverse as Kiss, Electric Light Orchestra and Olivia Newton-John had secret, backwards messages from the devil embedded on their recordings. But researcher John Vokey, of the University of Lethbridge, created an experiment to prove the pastor wrong — all while letting his freak flag fly.
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