Actor James Franco admits to sleeping with students, says he had a sex addiction

Oscar-nominated actor James Franco has acknowledged sleeping with students of an acting school he previously ran, saying he struggled with sex addiction and has been working to improve his behavior in recent years.

In excerpts from The Jess Cagle Podcast made public on Wednesday, Franco, 43, said that while teaching, he “did sleep with students, and that was wrong.” He said he did not start the school to lure women for sexual purposes.

“I suppose at the time, my thinking was if it’s consensual, okay,” he added in the SiriusXM podcast. “At the time I was not clearheaded.”

The remarks were Franco’s first extended comments about accusations levelled against him nearly four years ago when the Los Angeles Times reported that five women had accused Franco of conduct they considered inappropriate.

Later, in October 2019, two women filed a civil suit against the Pineapple Express star, accusing him of exploiting aspiring actors at his now-defunct school and duping young women into shooting explicit sex scenes.

Franco said he developed a sex addiction after he became sober from an alcohol addiction he developed at a young age.”It’s such a powerful drug,” he said. “I got hooked on it for 20 more years. The insidious part of that is that I stayed sober from alcohol all that time.”

Franco co-hosted the Oscars ceremony in 2011 and was a nominee at the 2012 awards for his performance in 127 Hours.

The actor agreed this year to pay $2.2 million to settle the 2019 civil lawsuit, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

In the podcast interview, Franco also said he has been in recovery from sex addiction since 2016 and has “been doing a lot of work” after the allegations against him “and changing who I was.”

“I didn’t want to hurt people,” he said.

Ramiz assures England, Australia and NZ will tour Pakistan with top players

KARACHI: Times were so turbulent after Ramiz Raja was elected Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman that he feels he’s aged 30 years in his three months in the job.

Things have calmed down since and as Pakistan looks ahead to an exciting cricketing year, the former captain vowed he will leave no stone unturned in bringing about the game’s renaissance in the country.

He spoke about breaking barriers, that the recent highs were just a pit-stop and about dealing with the pressure of his own expectations.

“There is a still a lot of work to do,” Ramiz told a news conference here on Wednesday, a day after the meeting of the PCB Board of Governors.

“The upcoming season is the real test,” he added, with Aust­ralia, England and New Zealand all set to tour the country over the next year.

Those tours seemed shrouded in doubt in September, barely days after Ramiz took over as chairman, when New Zealand abandoned their tour of the country hours before the first of three One-day Internationals in Rawalpindi due to a perceived security risk. It also meant that the three-match Twenty20 series, that was to follow, was also scrapped.

England, who were due to send their men’s and women’s team in October — with the men’s team due to play two Twenty20s, then withdrew their teams due to concerns over their players’ mental health while travelling to Pakistan.

At that point in time, it seemed Australia’s scheduled tour in March next year would also not go ahead.

Ramiz needed to do some convincing. And he succeeded. After Australia assured it will not back out, England and New Zealand made peace with the PCB.

England agreed to play two extra matches during its tour in September as compensation for their cancelled tour while New Zealand has also agreed to play an additional series in April 2023, after its tour of the country in December next year.

“We have made the world realise about our presence at the International Cricket Council meetings,” Ramiz reflected, sitting alongside incoming PCB chief operating officer Faisal Hasnain.

That wasn’t the only challenge for Ramiz.

Ahead of his imminent election Pakistan’s head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis quit their roles, leaving the team without a coach months before the Twenty20 World Cup in the UAE.

Wasim Khan, the PCB chief operating officer at that time, also tendered his resignation.

Despite that turmoil, the Pakistan team rose to the occasion at the T20 World Cup with a sensational run to the semi-finals where they lost to eventual champions Australia.

They then swept Bangladesh in the T20s (3-0) and Tests (2-0) there and earlier this month romped to another T20 series sweep (3-0) against the West Indies here at the National Stadium before the ODI series was called off due to a number of Covid cases in the tourists’ camp. That series has been rescheduled for June next year.

Ramiz termed the West Indies T20s as an “eye-opener” for the PCB as despite it being the first series for Pakistan at home since their stunning World Cup performance, the National Stadium never reached full capacity.

Part of it was also due to the West Indies arriving with their second-string squad.

“Of course for fans, so many security checks are a hassle,” Ramiz admitted. “At the BoG mee­ting, fan engagement was a crucial part of the discussion and we’re looking at options to upgrade the viewing experience for fans.

“Our fans are of course exposed to seeing good teams and that is one reason why we’ve planned the series against Australia, England, and New Zealand at a time when their best players are all available.”

Faisal, who has previously worked at the ICC and Zimbabwe Cricket, said Pakistan needed to work to change its perception across the world.

“It has to change,” he remarked, drawing his experience from his time at the ICC. “Of course, the players who come here don’t want to be locked up in the hotels during their tours.”

IMPROVING PITCHES

Since taking over, Ramiz has been very vocal about improving the quality of pitches in the country and Faisal backed the PCB chairman on that.

“International teams want better pitches, not slow pitches with no bounce,” the PCB chief remarked.

The PCB has recently struck a collaboration deal with the Arif Habib Group to install drop-in pitches from Australia in Karachi in Lahore in a bid to simulate Australian conditions for its players.

Pakistan has never won a Test series in Australia and the 2022 T20 World Cup is also scheduled to be held Down Under.

“We’re striving to make cricket a strong product,” Ramiz stated. “The aim is to beat Australia in Australia.”

Ramiz admitted that while Pakistan had formed a winning combination in T20s, it remains a work in progress in Tests and ODIs.

“We are a mid-tier team in Tests and ODIs and the good thing about that is that gives us a chance to experiment,” Ramiz said, when asked about his views on the appointment of a full-time head coach for the team.

Former Pakistan spinner Saq­lain Mushtaq has been interim coach since the World Cup, where he was assisted by former Aust­ralian batter Matthew Hayden and former South African all-rounder Vernon Philander as batting and bowling consultants.

“I don’t have a set opinion on coaches,” Ramiz said, saying he had an “old school thought process” where leadership mattered most.

“Long-term coaching contracts get stuck sometimes and we’d rather hire specialists on a series-by-series basis,” he said. “Saqlain has created an environment in the team but I believe the best coaches should be at the grassroots and youth levels.”

Ramiz informed that the BoG also discussed about creating pathways through which the best players can come up to first-class level and then get the best coaching at the National High Performance Centre.

“We discussed on how we can have youngsters growing up to become Test cricketers and we will award contracts to the best 100 cricketers at youth levels who will train at the NHPC,” he said.

Ramiz has long spoken about improving Pakistan’s cricket economy, and creating properties including an U-19 Pakistan Super League and Women’s Pakistan Super League.

“We have to create properties of commercial value in order to reduce our dependency on ICC funding,” he stressed.

For now, it is the HBL Pakistan Super League which remains PCB’s biggest property. The seventh edition of the league begins next month and Ramiz said the PCB was going all out to ensure that it will not be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last season, the league had to be shifted from Pakistan to the UAE due to several breaches of its bio-secure bubble while its matches were being played in Karachi.

“We’ve learnt from the past and we will ensure that the whole of the PSL is held in the country,” he said.

UN Security Council adopts resolution to facilitate Afghan aid

WASHINGTON: The UN Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday unanimously adopted a US resolution, which Pakistan believes opens the door to providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan without violating UN sanctions on the Taliban.

The resolution allowed the “payment of funds, other financial assets or economic resources, and the provision of goods and services necessary to ensure the timely delivery of such assistance or to support such activities.” It noted that such assistance “supports basic human needs in Afghanistan” and was “not a violation” of sanctions imposed on entities linked to the Taliban.

In Washington, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued three general licenses on Wednesday to facilitate the continued flow of vital assistance and support for the Afghan people.

“These licenses expand upon existing authorizations for the provision of humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs and enable broader support for the Afghan people consistent with the resolution adopted by the UN Security Council earlier today,” the US State Department said.

The UNSC resolution, drafted by the United States and unanimously adopted by the 15 members of the UN Security Council, “establishes a carveout in the UN 1988 sanctions regime to “ensure urgently needed aid can reach the Afghan people,” statement added. The resolution also requests periodic updates by the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator to “ensure assistance is reaching the intended beneficiaries, not being diverted to the Taliban,” the State Department said.

“UN sanctions are an important tool to respond to threats and human rights abuses, but we must make sure these sanctions do not hinder the delivery of urgently needed aid to the Afghan people,” it added.

Later, at a news briefing in New York, Pakistan’s UN ambassador, Munir Akram, said the UN resolution made it clear that “activities supporting basic humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are not a violation of the provisions of the Security Council sanctions.”

The resolution also “permits the processing and payment of financial assistance or economic resources, and the provisions of goods and services” to prevent Afghanistan’s collapse, Mr Akram added.

Experts in Washington said that the resolution could help avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, without benefitting the Taliban.

Afghanistan has been pushed close to an economic meltdown after the Aug 15 Taliban takeover. The United States responded to the takeover by freezing $9.5bn of Afghanistan’s assets under its control. An earlier US resolution, which sought case-by-case authorization of every exemption, was blocked by veto-wielding China and Russia.

“Humanitarian aid and life-saving assistance must be able to reach the Afghan people without any hindrance,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said in a tweet. “Artificially created conditions or restrictions are not acceptable “We thank the United States for presenting a resolution. We also thank China and Russia for improving and clarifying it,” said Ambassador Akram while commenting on the process that led to the adoption of the second US resolution.

“We hope that with the adoption of this resolution, the international community, member states, UN agencies, NGOs will be able to provide all possible assistance to the Afghan people without being concerned without legal impediment,” he added.

In Kabul, a Taliban spokesperson also welcomed the UNSC resolution.

“We appreciate it (as) it can help Afghanistan’s economic situation,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, adding he hoped the international community would also “speed up” removal of crippling economic and banking sanctions imposed on entities linked to the group.

US authorises Pfizer Covid-19 pill, first for at-home use

The United States on Wednesday authorised Pfizer Inc’s antiviral Covid-19 pill for people ages 12 and older at risk of severe illness, the first oral and at-home treatment as well as a new tool against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Pfizer’s antiviral regimen, Paxlovid, was nearly 90 per cent effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to data from the company’s clinical trial. Recent lab data suggests the drug retains its effectiveness against Omicron, Pfizer said.

Pfizer raised its 2022 production projections to 120 million courses of treatment from 80m and said it was ready to start immediate delivery in the United States. The treatment’s two-drug regimen includes a new medicine and a second older antiviral called ritonavir.

The US government will have 265,000 treatment courses available by January and supply will ramp up in subsequent months, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told a briefing. The government expects to receive the 10m courses it has ordered within six months.

“Paxlovid’s approval is a major milestone that marks another step towards making Covid-19 a much more manageable infection,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Health Security.

“There are two key issues, however, that remain: It will be scarce in the coming weeks and its optimal use requires prompt diagnosis, which can be difficult with the continual testing problems that plague us,” Adalja added.

Pfizer has said it has 180,000 treatment courses ready to ship this year. The US government’s contract for 10m courses of the drug is priced at $530 per course.

The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to issue emergency authorization for the treatment comes as the US combats a surge in Covid-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant, with President Joe Biden announcing plans for more federal vaccination and testing sites.

Pills can fill treatment gap

The pills can fill a treatment gap opened by the Omicron variant, said William Schaffner, a leading infectious disease expert from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. The most widely used monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid-19 have proven to be less effective at fighting the variant and there is a limited supply of the one remaining treatment that works, he said.

Monoclonal antibodies are typically given intravenously in hospitals, are not widely available, and are more than twice the cost of the Pfizer pill.

The Omicron variant, first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong in November, has spread across the world and now constitutes over 70pc of new coronavirus cases in the United States, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Prior infection and vaccines have been shown in studies to only partly prevent infection from the variant, though a booster shot does increase protection.

Every 12 hours for 5 days

The FDA said it authorized Paxlovid for emergency use for the treatment of mild-to-moderate disease in adults and children 12 years and older who are at high risk for progression to severe Covid-19.

The drug is available by prescription only and should be initiated as soon as possible after a diagnosis of Covid-19 and within five days of symptom onset, the FDA said. The pills are meant to be taken every 12 hours for five days.

While the clinical trials did not include patients under the age of 18, Pfizer said, the authorized adult dosing regimen is expected to result in comparable blood concentration levels of the drug in pediatric patients 12 and older weighing at least 40 kg.

The second drug, ritonavir, is known to have interactions with some other prescription medicines. Pfizer has said that should be manageable and suggested most patients would be able to lower the dose of their other medications while being treated for Covid-19.

Pfizer said it plans to file a new drug application with the FDA in 2022 seeking full regulatory approval.

Pfizer has agreed to allow generic manufacturers to supply versions of the treatment to 95 low- and middle-income countries through a licensing agreement with the international public health group Medicines Patent Pool (MPP).

A rival pill from Merck & Co is under review by the FDA. The drug, molnupiravir, developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, cut hospitalization and death risk by 30pc in a trial.

Pfizer shares ended up more than 1pc at $59.45 on Wednesday