Tag Archives: USA – Voice of America

Trump, Pelosi Trade Taunts Over Border Wall, Government Shutdown

U.S. President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traded taunts Thursday, but there was no end in sight for the record 27-day partial government shutdown in a dispute over his demand for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

“While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal, Speaker Pelosi won’t let them negotiate,” Trump contended in a speech at the Defense Department. “The party has been hijacked by the open borders fringe within the party, the radical left becoming the radical Democrats. Hopefully Democrat lawmakers will step forward to do what is right for our country, and what’s right for our country is border security at the strongest level.”

Pelosi said Trump’s “insistence on the wall is a luxury we can no longer afford.”

She called for Trump to delay his scheduled Jan. 29 State of the Union address until the government reopens. He, in turn, said he was denying her use of military aircraft for her planned trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan because of the shutdown.

Pelosi said that 90 percent of illegal drugs and other contraband are brought into the United States at ports of entry, which would not be prevented by a wall. She called for more security spending that is “evidence based,” and filling 3,000 vacant border patrol jobs.

Trump argued that a quarter of government operations “remains shut down because congressional Democrats refuse to approve border security. We’re going to have border security. It’s going to be tight, it’s going to be strong.”

Pelosi called again for Trump to reopen the government while talks continue on border security, a plea Trump has rejected. She voiced concern for the 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed by the shutdown or forced to work without pay, although Trump has signed legislation mandating retroactive pay when the impasse ends.

“Not only are these workers not paid, they are not appreciated by this administration,” said Pelosi, who leads the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. “We should respect what they do for their country.”

Pelosi, after suggesting Wednesday that the Republican president delay the State of the Union address out of security concerns because many security agents are furloughed or working without pay, on Thursday said bluntly, “Let’s get a date when the government is open.”

Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen said her agency and the Secret Service, which guards Trump and his family, “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.” Pelosi said Nielsen instead “should be advocating for her employees to be paid.”

Pelosi said the White House has been “very silent” about her call to delay the annual State of the Union address, but declined to say what Democrats would do if Trump holds to the Jan. 29 date.

Pelosi’s move drew sharp criticism from Senate Republicans.

“By disinviting POTUS for SOTU, Pelosi erased any pretext for her unwillingness to negotiate an end to the shutdown. It is personal, petty, and vindictive,” Senator John Cornyn from Texas Tweeted Thursday.

Some Republican lawmakers say that Pelosi is merely trying to keep Trump from pressing his case for a border wall by delaying the annual high-profile speech.

Pelosi said, “I’m not denying the president a platform,” just looking for a better date as soon as the government resumes full operations.

Trump has called for more than $5 billion in taxpayer funding for the wall, while Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new money for border security, but none specifically for a wall.

 

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2CqmEei

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American’s Brother Says Russia Delays Consular Prison Visit

The brother of an American being held in Moscow for alleged spying says a prison visit by U.S. Embassy staff has been postponed.

David Whelan expressed disappointment that Russian authorities didn’t allow the visit scheduled for Thursday, but said he hoped it could be rescheduled soon and British diplomats also would be given access to his twin brother, Paul.

Paul Whelan lives in Michigan and holds citizenships from the U.S., Britain, Ireland and Canada. Russia promised to permit consular visits while he is imprisoned.

David Whelan says a Wednesday visit by Irish officials “was very helpful and gave us an opportunity to receive specific guidance from Paul.”

He says the visits “will help ensure his continued health and well-being while the family continues to work with government officials to try to bring Paul home.”

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2CsGWDM

Watchdog: Many More Migrant Families May Have Been Separated

Government investigators said Thursday that thousands more migrant children may have been separated from their families than the Trump administration has acknowledged.

A report from the Health and Human Services inspector general’s office found that family separations were occurring before the spring of last year, when the administration announced its “zero tolerance” policy on the southwest border.

“The total number and current status of all children separated from their parents or guardians … is unknown,” according to the report. It could be thousands more because family separations were taking place much earlier, during an influx that began in 2017, investigators found.

The administration has identified a little more than 2,700 children who were separated from their families. That figure was released as part of a court case in which a federal judge ordered the families reunited.

Despite “considerable” effort by the department to locate all the children who were placed in its care after immigration authorities separated them from their families, officials were still finding new cases as long as five months after the judge’s order requiring reunifications, the report said.

Investigators raised concerns about the children who have not been identified because they were not covered by Judge Dana Sabraw’s reunification order. That directive did not apply to “an estimated thousands of children whom [immigration authorities] separated during an influx that began in 2017,” the report said. Most of those children would have already been placed with sponsors before the court case.

“There is even less visibility for separated children who fall outside the court case,” investigators concluded.

Moreover, inaccurate and incomplete information in government files may be hampering efforts to identify more recent cases of family separations.

President Donald Trump rescinded the family separation policy last summer after an outcry. In some cases, toddlers had been separated from their parents and placed into HHS custody.

“Zero tolerance” for border crossers, under which everyone who enters the U.S. illegally faces potential criminal charges, triggered the family separations. Children cannot be kept indefinitely with parents or relatives under federal detention.

The watchdog’s report found ongoing problems keeping track of children, which could affect their well-being. It said “it is not yet clear whether [HHS’s] recent changes are sufficient to ensure consistent and accurate data about separated children, and the lack of detail in information received from [immigration authorities] continues to pose challenges.”

The border continues to be a crucible for the Trump administration, with a partial government shutdown that has dragged on nearly a month over the president’s demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall that congressional Democrats are unwilling to provide.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2FGTFGo

Ex Trump Lawyer Cohen Paid Man to Rig Online Polls

President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen admitted Thursday that he paid a man in 2015 to rig online opinion polls to favor Trump as he began running for the presidency.

Cohen confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that in early 2015 he paid the head of a small technology firm, John Gauger, to write computer script that would place multiple votes for Trump in an online poll of news broadcaster CNBC.

They repeated the effort in an online poll of website Drudge Report, which is popular with conservatives.

Cohen, who also paid Gauger to create a social media account to promote himself, confirmed the main elements of the Journal story.

“What I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of @realDonaldTrump @POTUS. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it,” he wrote on Twitter.

Cohen, who was the real estate billionaire’s right-hand-man and fixer at the Trump Organization in New York at the time, pleaded guilty last year to charges that he violated campaign finance laws by arranging hush payments ahead of the 2016 election to women who claimed credibly to have had extramarital affairs with Trump.

Cohen implicated Trump in that crime, saying he directed the payments.

The New York lawyer, 52, was sentenced to three months in jail for the campaign finance violation and other charges.

But his incarceration has been delayed while he provides support to ongoing investigations into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia and Trump’s finances.

He is scheduled to testify to the newly Democratic-controlled House Oversight Committee on February 7 on his work for Trump.

The Journal report said Gauger, who is chief information officer at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia, was paid over $12,000 in cash for the job, allegedly less than the $50,000 he was promised.

Cohen disputed that, insisting that Gauger was paid by check.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2TYD7NY

Giuliani: Trump Campaign May Have Colluded With Russia, but Not Trump

Rudy Giuliani, one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers, is acknowledging that some officials with Trump’s 2016 campaign may have colluded with Russia to help him win, but says that Trump himself did not.

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign,” Giuliani, a former New York mayor, told CNN late Wednesday.

“I said the president of the United States,” he added. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack” the opposition Democratic National Committee.

Giuliani’s new concession about Trump campaign involvement with Moscow is sharply at odds with what Trump himself has tweeted at least 13 times, that his successful campaign for the White House did not collude with Russia, more recently last month.

Russia has rejected the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Moscow’s agents meddled in the election to help Trump win, although President Vladimir Putin acknowledged at last July’s Helsinki summit with Trump that he wanted the then-real estate mogul to defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors have been investigating Trump campaign links to Russia for 20 months and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings, after already securing guilty pleas or convictions of key officials in Trump’s orbit, including his personal attorney Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one-time campaign aide Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, among others.

Giuliani’s acknowledgement about Trump campaign ties to Russia came days after news surfaced, inadvertently, that Manafort shared campaign polling data with a former business associate of his in Ukraine alleged by U.S. prosecutors to have ties to Russian intelligence.

But Giuliani said Trump never shared polling data with anyone. “Donald Trump wasn’t giving polling data to anyone,” he said

“He did not know about it until it was revealed a few weeks ago in an article,” he added.

Challenging Mueller

Giuliani challenged Mueller to produce evidence of wrongdoing by Trump.

“Let’s see if he’s got anything,” he said. “I challenge him to show us some evidence that the president was involved in anything approaching criminal conduct.”

Earlier this week, Trump, after news reports suggested he might be beholden to Russia and Putin, declared, “I never worked for Russia” and told a reporter, “I think it’s a disgrace you even asked that question.”

The New York Times reported last weekend that two years ago Federal Bureau of Investigation officials started investigating whether Trump “was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence” because of his behavior after he fired former FBI chief James Comey in May 2017 when he was leading the investigation into Russian meddling during the election.

A Washington Post report said Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his conversations the five times he has met with Putin over the last two years, including one time Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist to not discuss what had transpired with other Trump administration officials.

At the Helsinki summit, Trump and Putin met with only their interpreters in the room and there have been no transcripts released of their conversation. Trump said they talked about a number of issues, including security for Israel and a planned natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RxiXgZ

Trump to Unveil Space-Based Missile Defense Strategy

U.S. President Donald Trump will unveil a new strategy Thursday for a space-based missile defense system, the White House has announced.

Trump will disclose details of what’s known as the Missile Defense Review at the Pentagon just outside Washington.

The review concludes the U.S. military must expand and enhance its space-based defense technologies to counter sophisticated weapons systems developed by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

A senior administration official told reporters Wednesday the strategy calls for the placement of sensors in space to more quickly respond to enemy missile launches and for the consideration of placing interceptors in space.

The official said the administration believes the development of space-based defense systems is the next logical step to stay ahead of foreign threats.

Any development of defense systems in space would compete with other U.S. military priorities, including a new generation of nuclear weapons for which billions of additional dollars have been allocated.

 

 

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2TU6kti

US Lawyer Who Represented Saudi Men Who Fled Facing Threats

The Oregon attorney who represented Saudi nationals who fled the country after their government paid their bail has temporarily closed her law practice because of threats made since the cases were detailed by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Ginger Mooney, of Hood River, told the newspaper she has received dozens of terrifying emails and calls with violent and virulent anti-Muslim messages.

Mooney has handled at least nine criminal cases involving Saudi students across Oregon who were accused of crimes including sex abuse and harassment.

Most ended with the charges dropped or reduced. In at least four of those cases, the men fled the country before trial or completing their jail sentence. The Saudi government paid for the bail in three of those cases.

Mooney’s lawyer said Mooney acted ethically in her representation of the men. She says the cases represent a fraction of her overall practice.

      

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2SUWHuh

US Lawyer Who Represented Saudi Men Who Fled Facing Threats

The Oregon attorney who represented Saudi nationals who fled the country after their government paid their bail has temporarily closed her law practice because of threats made since the cases were detailed by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Ginger Mooney, of Hood River, told the newspaper she has received dozens of terrifying emails and calls with violent and virulent anti-Muslim messages.

Mooney has handled at least nine criminal cases involving Saudi students across Oregon who were accused of crimes including sex abuse and harassment.

Most ended with the charges dropped or reduced. In at least four of those cases, the men fled the country before trial or completing their jail sentence. The Saudi government paid for the bail in three of those cases.

Mooney’s lawyer said Mooney acted ethically in her representation of the men. She says the cases represent a fraction of her overall practice.

      

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2SUWHuh

US Lawyer Who Represented Saudi Men Who Fled Facing Threats

The Oregon attorney who represented Saudi nationals who fled the country after their government paid their bail has temporarily closed her law practice because of threats made since the cases were detailed by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Ginger Mooney, of Hood River, told the newspaper she has received dozens of terrifying emails and calls with violent and virulent anti-Muslim messages.

Mooney has handled at least nine criminal cases involving Saudi students across Oregon who were accused of crimes including sex abuse and harassment.

Most ended with the charges dropped or reduced. In at least four of those cases, the men fled the country before trial or completing their jail sentence. The Saudi government paid for the bail in three of those cases.

Mooney’s lawyer said Mooney acted ethically in her representation of the men. She says the cases represent a fraction of her overall practice.

      

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2SUWHuh

US Alarmed as Zimbabwe Targets, Beats Activists Amid Unrest

The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said Thursday it is “alarmed” by credible reports that security forces are targeting and beating activists and labor leaders after a local doctors’ rights group said it had treated 68 gunshot cases and scores of other cases of assault.

The U.S. also urged Zimbabwe’s government to restore access to social media as the country faces its worst unrest since deadly post-election violence in August. Zimbabweans this week heeded a nationwide stay-at-home call after the government dramatically increased fuel prices, making gasoline in the economically shattered country the world’s most expensive.

 

Hungry residents of the capital, Harare, on Wednesday reported being tear-gassed by police as they ventured out to seek food. “Are we at war?” one resident asked. The city was quiet on Thursday as people stayed home, with schools and many shops closed and soldiers controlling long lines at the few gas stations open.

Zimbabwe’s state security minister late Wednesday said more than 600 people have been arrested. Prominent pastor and activist Evan Mawarire was in court in Harare on Thursday, accused of inciting violence online. Police added a charge of subverting a constitutional government, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said.

 

President Emmerson Mnangagwa while traveling overseas has denounced what he called “wanton violence and cynical destruction” but appeared to side with authorities who blame the opposition for the unrest. He had announced the more than doubling of fuel prices shortly before leaving the country.

 

Zimbabweans had briefly rejoiced when Mnangagwa succeeded longtime leader Robert Mugabe, who was forced out in late 2017, thinking the new president would deliver on his refrain that the country “is open for business.” But frustration has risen over the lack of improvement in the collapsed economy, which doesn’t even have a currency of its own.

 

While Mnangagwa makes an extended overseas trip that will include a stop at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to plead for more foreign investment, former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, a hardliner, is in charge at home.

 

In a grim recounting of alleged police violence this week, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said late Wednesday it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and more.

 

It noted bites from the alleged unleashing of police dogs, and the “dragging of patients with life-threatening conditions” to court.

 

Death tolls this week have varied. Eight people were killed on Monday when police and military fired on crowds, Amnesty International said. Zimbabwe’s government said three people were killed, including a policeman stoned to death by an angry crowd.

 

The demonstrations amount to terrorism,'' Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, blaming the opposition. In announcing the hundreds of arrests, State Security Minister Owen Ncube thanked security forces forstanding firm.”

 

Some Zimbabweans said the lack of social media meant they didn’t know the situation and preferred to stay in their homes.

 

“I can’t tell whether it’s safe or not, why should I take a risk?” said Elsy Shamba in Harare’s Kuwadzana suburb, one of the areas where residents said soldiers indiscriminately assaulted people earlier in the week.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2MgDYa2

Chinese Trade Negotiator to Visit US in Late January

China’s economic czar, Vice Premier Liu He, will travel to the United States later this month for the second round of negotiations aimed at resolving the ongoing trade war between the global economic giants.

Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters in Beijing Thursday that Liu will visit Washington on January 30-31. He was invited by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

U.S. negotiators were optimistic after the first round of talks in Beijing last week that the two sides would be able to resolve tariff disputes that have upset global markets.

The trade talks are the result of an agreement last month between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to stop the tit-for-tat tariff conflict between the two countries for 90 days starting on New Year’s Day.

The United States has long complained about access to the vast Chinese market and Beijing’s demands U.S. companies reveal their technology advances.

If no deal is reached by March 2, U.S. tariffs on $200 billion Chinese goods will rise from 10 percent to 25 percent.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2Mkyds0

Analysis: US, Britain Mired In Political Crises With No End in Sight

The United States and Britain are mired in political crises with no end in sight. U.S. freshmen representatives urged the Senate on Wednesday to schedule a vote on the longest ever U.S. government shutdown and British Prime Minister Theresa May barely survived a second no-confidence vote in just over a month, after her Brexit deal suffered a crushing defeat in Parliament. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke looks into the government gridlocks plaguing two allied nations across the Atlantic.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2VXAygS

Pakistan Trying to Rescue US-led Afghan Peace Talks

Pakistan has intensified efforts to keep the U.S.-led dialogue with the Afghan Taliban on track, but official sources in Islamabad maintain the responsibility for the “success or failure” of the fledgling peace process rests “exclusively” with the various negotiating sides.

The caution comes as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, landed in the Pakistani capital Thursday amid expectations a direct meeting could take place between his delegation and Taliban negotiators during his stay in the country.

Meanwhile, in a significant move, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday and discussed the efforts being made for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Khan’s office said in a statement that Ghani expressed his gratitude for Pakistan’s “sincere facilitation” for Afghan peace and reconciliation.

It said the prime minister “assured President Ghani that Pakistan was making sincere efforts for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan through an inclusive peace process, as part of shared responsibility.”

Official sources in Islamabad expected “important developments” over the next two days but they would not share further details. “There is no room for missed opportunities” under the circumstances, they insisted.

Pakistani officials maintain in background interviews with VOA that the U.S.-Taliban talks are being facilitated in the hope that they would ultimately lead to an intra-Afghan dialogue for political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. All sides in the peace process will share “the credit and benefits of a success,” they insisted.

“Similarly, given sincere desire and efforts of everyone, no one should be exclusively blamed if the main interlocutors fail to agree due to own lack of flexibility that is very much required from both the U.S. and the Taliban at this stage,” a senior official privy to the Pakistani peace diplomacy told VOA.

Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan where he briefed Ghani and other top officials of Afghan government on the U.S.-led peace initiative.

The Taliban has held several meetings with Khalilzad’s team in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but the insurgents have persistently refused to engage directly with the sitting administration in Kabul. Their refusal is blamed for a lack of progress in negotiations that started last summer, after American diplomats gave in to a major Taliban demand and met them directly.

Khalilzad, however, made it clear on Wednesday the insurgent group would have to engage with the Afghan government for the process to move forward.

“The road to peace will require the Taliban to sit with the Afghan government. There is a consensus among all the regional partners on this point,” the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy told reporters in Kabul.

He went on to warn that if the Taliban chose to fight over peace talks, the United States would support the Afghan government.

The Taliban threatened earlier in the week to pull out of all negotiations if the United States backed away from discussing the key insurgent demand for a troop withdrawal plan and pressured the insurgents into speaking to the Afghan government.

Diplomats privy to the peace process support the U.S. effort for the Taliban to speak directly to the current administration in Kabul to resolve internal Afghan matters. They see the Ghani-led National Unity government as a “legitimate” entity possessing official representation at the United Nations and maintaining diplomatic missions in world capitals.

The last substantial talks between Khalilzad and Taliban officials took place in Abu Dhabi about a month ago and Pakistan took credit for arranging it and bringing an authoritative team of insurgent negotiators to the table.

Officials in Islamabad say that Pakistan’s “biggest contribution” has been that it has “broken the political stalemate that was there in Afghanistan for several years.”

Prime Minister Khan has repeatedly stated that finding a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan is a top foreign policy priority for his government. While speaking to Khan on Thursday, Ghani invited him to visit Kabul at his earliest convenience and the Pakistani leader reciprocated by inviting the Afghan president to visit Islamabad.

Pakistan has long been accused of sheltering Taliban leaders and covertly helping them orchestrate insurgent attacks, charges Islamabad rejects.

U.S. officials, however, acknowledge the “positive role” Pakistan has played in the current Afghan peace effort. The thaw in traditionally mistrusted bilateral ties was visible earlier this month when U.S. President Donald Trump announced he intended to maintain a “great relationship” with Pakistan.

“So, I look forward to meeting with the new leadership in Pakistan. We will be doing that in the not too distant future,” said Trump.

Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington, though the Trump administration has so far given no such indication.

 

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2QUHg3m

Microsoft Pledges $500 Million to Ease Seattle Housing Crisis

Microsoft pledged $500 million to address homelessness and develop affordable housing in response to the Seattle region’s widening affordability gap.

Most of the money will be aimed at increasing housing options in the Puget Sound region for low- and middle-income workers at a time when they’re being priced out of Seattle and some of its suburbs, and when the vast majority of new buildings target wealthier renters, said Microsoft President Brad Smith.

The pledge is the largest in the company’s 44-year history, and, according to the company, is one of the heftiest contributions by a private corporation to housing, The Seattle Times reported. In comparison, the amount dwarfs the $100 million in annual funding for Washington state’s Housing Trust Fund.

It’s too early to say exactly how much affordable housing will ultimately result from the $500 million, Microsoft officials said. Smith said the company, based in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, hopes to leverage the fund to help create “tens of thousands of units.”

​Funds split three ways

The initiative comes as Microsoft and other tech giants that have driven the region’s economic boom face increasing pressure to help mitigate affordable-housing shortages. Microsoft is coupling its contributions with a call for other companies to step up, and for Seattle’s Eastside suburbs, of which Redmond is one, to facilitate more housing.

The company, which plans a news conference Thursday, will split the funds three ways.

Microsoft will loan $225 million at below-market interest rates to help developers facing high land and construction costs build and preserve “workforce housing” on the Eastside, where the company has 50,000 workers and is planning for more. The developments will be aimed at households making between $62,000 and $124,000 per year.

Secondly, $250 million will go toward market-rate loans for construction of affordable housing across the Puget Sound region for people making up to 60 percent of the local median income ($48,150 for a two-person household). The remaining $25 million will be donated to services for the region’s low-income and homeless residents.

Acknowledging the reality

Smith said he views the fund as an acknowledgment of the economic realities faced by low-salary workers at the company and elsewhere in King County. 

“At some level we as a region are going to need to either say there are certain areas where we’re comfortable having more people live, or we just want permanently to force the people who are going to teach our kids in schools, and put out the fires in our houses and keep us alive in the hospital, to spend four hours every day getting to and from work,” he said. “That is not, in our view, the best outcome for the community.”

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2CvXH0O

Mayor to Mediate Talks in LA Teachers Strike

Negotiators for 30,000 striking Los Angeles teachers and America’s second-largest school district have agreed to return to the bargaining table Thursday, with Mayor Eric Garcetti acting as mediator, his office said.

Wednesday’s announcement of the breakthrough capped the third day of a strike that has disrupted classes for nearly 500,000 students as teachers pressed their demands for higher pay, smaller classes and more support staff.

Representatives of the two sides, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the United Teachers Los Angeles, have not met since union leaders rejected the LAUSD’s latest contract offer last Friday night, setting the stage for district teachers’ first strike in 30 years.

There was no immediate word from district officials to the overture for mediated talks, first unveiled by union leaders at a Wednesday night news conference. But Garcetti’s office confirmed that both sides had agreed to resume face-to-face sessions Thursday.

Mayor steps in

Union officials said the mayor, who has voiced support for the teachers’ cause, had met with the two parties Wednesday.

California’s top education official, its superintendent of public instruction, Tony Thurmond, “has also been in touch with both parties and offered support,” Arlene Inouye, chair of the union’s bargaining team, told reporters.

Thurmond could help to secure extra funding the district may need to close a deal. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner has said the teachers’ demands would strain the budget too much.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the union was counting on Thurmond and Garcetti to make the case that funding could be found.

“California is the richest state in the union,” he told reporters. “The money is there for the kids.”

The teachers, who have been without a contract for nearly a year, walked off the job Monday. School district officials have kept all 1,200 schools open on a limited basis with a skeleton staff, but attendance has been about a third of normal.

Rainy rallies

Thousands of striking teachers joined in boisterous rallies and pickets across the sprawling school district Wednesday, although a third day of showers seemed unable to dampen their spirits, or those of parents who turned out in support.

Huddled under an umbrella in a downpour, Diana Castillo, a teacher at Harbor City Elementary School, said she discounted assertions by Beutner, a former publisher and investment banker, that the district could not afford the union’s demands.

“He makes $350,000 a year, has a district car and a driver,” she said. “The money’s there.”

At another rally across town, teacher Elizabeth DiMartino said classrooms at her school in the San Fernando Valley had been decrepit for so long that “people think this bare minimum is normal in Los Angeles.”

She added, “We spend so much of our own money just to make the classrooms look presentable,” and cited a lack of on-site nurses and instructors in art, music and physical education.

Wave of walkouts

The Los Angeles walkout follows a wave of teachers’ strikes last year across the United States over pay and school funding, including work stoppages in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.

Those represented battles between teachers’ unions and Republican-dominated state governments focused on cutting costs, while the Los Angeles strike is unfolding in a Democratic-controlled state.

Denver teachers could vote to strike by Saturday if no deal on a new contract is reached.

Beutner said the district had proposed staff increases that would cost $130 million a year — more than county officials have said is available — while the union’s demands would cost $800 million.

The union wants a pay rise of 6.5 percent, but the district has offered a 6 percent hike with back pay. LAUSD teacher pay now averages $75,000, state figures show.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RyDGB5

US to Roll Out New, Space-Based Missile Defense

The Trump administration will roll out a new strategy Thursday for a more aggressive space-based missile defense system to protect against existing threats from North Korea and Iran and counter advanced weapon systems being developed by Russia and China.

Details about the administration’s Missile Defense Review — the first compiled since 2010 — are expected to be released during President Donald Trump’s visit to the Pentagon with top members of his administration.

The new review concludes that in order to adequately protect America, the Pentagon must expand defense technologies in space and use those systems to more quickly detect, track and ultimately defeat incoming missiles.

Recognizing the potential concerns surrounding any perceived weaponization of space, the strategy pushes for studies. No testing is mandated, and no final decisions have been made.

​Missile sensors in space

Specifically, the U.S. is looking at putting a layer of sensors in space to more quickly detect enemy missiles when they are launched, according to a senior administration official, who briefed reporters Wednesday. The U.S. sees space as a critical area for advanced, next-generation capabilities to stay ahead of the threats, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose details of the review before it was released.

The administration also plans to study the idea of basing interceptors in space, so the U.S. can strike incoming enemy missiles during the first minutes of flight when the booster engines are still burning.

Congress, which ordered this review, has directed the Pentagon to push harder on this “boost-phase” approach, but officials want to study the feasibility of the idea and explore ways it could be done.

The new strategy is aimed at better defending the U.S. against potential adversaries, such as Russia and China, who have been developing and fielding a much more expansive range of advanced offensive missiles that could threaten America and its allies. The threat is not only coming from traditional cruise and ballistic missiles, but also from hypersonic weapons.

For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled new strategic weapons he claims can’t be intercepted. One is a hypersonic glide vehicle, which could fly 20 times faster than the speed of sound and make sharp maneuvers to avoid being detected by missile defense systems.

“Developments in hypersonic propulsion will revolutionize warfare by providing the ability to strike targets more quickly, at greater distances, and with greater firepower,” Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress last year. “China is also developing increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile warheads and hypersonic glide vehicles in an attempt to counter ballistic missile defense systems.”

Current U.S. missile defense weapons are based on land and aboard ships. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have both emphasized space-based capabilities as the next step of missile defense.

Senior administration officials earlier signaled their interest in developing and deploying more effective means of detecting and tracking missiles with a constellation of satellites in space that can, for example, use advanced sensors to follow the full path of a hostile missile so that an anti-missile weapon can be directed into its flight path.

Implications for diplomacy

Any expansion of the scope and cost of missile defenses would compete with other defense priorities, including the billions of extra dollars the Trump administration has committed to spending on a new generation of nuclear weapons. An expansion also would have important implications for American diplomacy, given long-standing Russian hostility to even the most rudimentary U.S. missile defenses and China’s worry that longer-range U.S. missile defenses in Asia could undermine Chinese national security.

Asked about the implications for Trump’s efforts to improve relations with Russia and strike better trade relations with China, the administration official said that the U.S. defense capabilities are purely defensive and that the U.S. has been very upfront with Moscow and Beijing about its missile defense posture.

The release of the strategy was postponed last year for unexplained reasons, though it came as Trump was trying to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

While the U.S. continues to pursue peace with North Korea, Pyongyang has made threats of nuclear missile attacks against the U.S. and its allies in the past and has worked to improve its ballistic missile technology. It is still considered a serious threat to America. Iran, meanwhile, has continued to develop more sophisticated ballistic missiles, increasing their numbers and their capabilities.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2FEMMW3

FBI: Man Wanted to Attack White House with Anti-tank Rocket

A Georgia man accused of plotting to use an anti-tank rocket to storm into the White House was arrested in a sting Wednesday after he traded his car for guns and explosives, authorities said.

Hasher Jallal Taheb, 21, of Cumming was arrested Wednesday and is charged with attempting to damage or destroy a building owned by the United States using fire or an explosive, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said.

 It wasn’t immediately clear whether Taheb had an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

 A local law enforcement agency contacted the FBI in March after getting a tip from someone who said Taheb had become radicalized, changed his name and planned to travel abroad, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit filed in court.

No passport

The affidavit says Taheb told a confidential FBI source in October that he planned to travel abroad for “hijra,” which the agent wrote refers to traveling to territory controlled by the Islamic State. Because he didn’t have a passport, he couldn’t travel abroad and told the FBI source that he wanted to carry out an attack in the U.S. against the White House and the Statue of Liberty.

He met with the undercover agent and the FBI source multiple times last month and was also in frequent contact using an encrypted messaging application, the affidavit says.

During one meeting with the agent and the source, Taheb “advised that if they were to go to another country, they would be one of many, but if they stayed in the United States, they could do more damage,” the affidavit says. Taheb “explained that jihad was an obligation, that he wanted to do as much damage as possible, and that he expected to be a ‘martyr,’ meaning he expected to die during the attack.”

Hand-drawn plan of attack

At another meeting, he showed the undercover agent a hand-drawn diagram of the ground floor of the West Wing of the White House and detailed a plan for attack, the affidavit says. He asked the undercover agent to obtain the weapons and explosives needed to carry out the attack, and they discussed selling or exchanging their cars to pay for them.

Taheb told the undercover agent they needed a “base” where they could regroup and where he could record a video to motivate people: “He stated he would be the narrator, clips of oppressed Muslims would be shown, and American and Israeli flags would be burned in the background.”

Last week, Taheb told the undercover agent he wanted to pick up weapons this week and drive directly to Washington to carry out the attack, investigators said.

Taheb said they would approach the White House from the back road, causing a distraction for police and then would proceed into the White House, using an anti-tank weapon to blow open a door and then take down as many people and do as much damage as possible, the affidavit says.

Never shot a gun

Taheb told the undercover agent he had never shot a gun but could learn easily and also said he had watched some videos of how grenades explode, authorities said.

Taheb met with the FBI source and undercover agent on Wednesday in a parking lot in Buford to exchange their cars for semi-automatic assault rifles, three explosive devices with remote detonators and an anti-tank rocket, the affidavit says. 

A second FBI source met them and inspected the vehicles, and a second FBI undercover agent arrived in a tractor trailer with weapons and explosives that had been rendered inert by the FBI. The undercover agent and Taheb talked about the guns, how to arm and detonate the explosives and how to use the anti-tank rocket, the affidavit says.

Taheb and the undercover agent and FBI source whom he believed to be part of his group turned over their car keys to the second confidential source and then loaded the inert explosives and guns into a rental vehicle, the affidavit says. Then, after they got into the car and closed the doors, agents arrested Taheb.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2swXA0A

US Considering Allowing Lawsuits over Cuba-confiscated Properties

The Trump administration is considering allowing a law that has been suspended since its creation in 1996 to go into effect, allowing U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies and individuals over property confiscated from them by the Cuban government.

The so-called Title III rule forms part of the Helms-Burton Act, which codified all U.S. sanctions against Cuba into law 23 years ago. It has been waived by every president ever since, Democrats and Republicans alike, due to opposition from the international community and fears it could create chaos in the U.S. court system, analysts say.

However, the administration of President Donald Trump on Wednesday suspended it for just 45 days rather than the customary six months and said it would take a fresh look at allowing it to go into effect.

“This extension will permit us to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action under Title III in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba,” the State Department said in a statement.

“We encourage any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting this dictatorship.”

Dash foreign investment

If Title III went into effect, it would likely dash foreign investment that Cuba has been seeking to drum up to support its beleaguered state-dominated economy.

In the first official Cuban response to the news, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez wrote on Twitter that the decision to suspend Title III for just 45 days was “political blackmail” and a “brutal attack against international law.”

U.S.-Cuban relations have nosedived since Trump became president, partially rolling back the detente initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama and reverting to Cold War rhetoric, albeit maintaining re-established diplomatic relations.

Cuba hardliners

Analysts say changes to the administration over the last year, including the appointment of Cuba hardliners to top posts, suggest the Trump government could further toughen its stance on Cuba.

John Bolton, who became Trump’s national security adviser last April, called Cuba and its top allies Venezuela and Nicaragua a “troika of tyranny” in November.

The right to sue over property confiscated by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution is one of the long-standing claims of older generations of Cuban-Americans.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the administration to ensure that … the victims receive the justice which is long overdue,” said Florida Representative Mario Diaz-Balart on Twitter.

Move could backfire

However, analysts said such a move could backfire.

“It would cause an enormous legal mess, anger U.S. allies in Europe and Latin America, and probably result in a World Trade Organization case against the U.S.,” said William Leogrande, a professor of government at American University.

The State Department estimated in the past that allowing Title III to go into effect could result in 200,000 or more lawsuits being filed, he said.

‘Sowing havoc’

Even U.S. businesses could get caught in the crossfire, said Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University.

U.S. airlines and cruise companies started operating in Cuba following Obama’s detente, paying fees to Havana’s airport and port, properties that may have been confiscated.

“Legitimate property claims need to be resolved, but in the context of a bilateral negotiation,” said Bustamante. “Those backing the enforcement of Title III seem most intent on sowing havoc rather than achieving a positive good.”

 

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2VUPoEZ

John Bogle, Founder of Vanguard, Dies at 89 

John C. Bogle, who simplified investing for the masses by launching the first index mutual fund and founded Vanguard Group, died Wednesday, the company said. He was 89.

Bogle did not invent the index fund, but he expanded access to no-frills, low-cost investing in 1976 when Vanguard introduced the first index fund for individual investors, rather than institutional clients.

The emergence of funds that passively tracked market indexes, like the Standard & Poor’s 500, enabled investors to avoid the higher fees charged by professional fund managers who frequently fail to beat the market. More often than not, the higher operating expenses that fund managers pass on to their shareholders cancel out any edge they may achieve through expert stock-picking.

Mutual fund industry critic

Bogle and Vanguard shook up the industry further in 1977. The company ended its reliance on outside brokers and instead began directly marketing its funds to investors without charging upfront fees known as sales loads.

Bogle served as Vanguard’s chairman and CEO from its 1974 founding until 1996.

He stepped down as senior chairman in 2000, but remained a critic of the fund industry and Wall Street, writing books, delivering speeches and running the Bogle Financial Markets Research Center.

The advent of index funds accelerated a long-term decline in fund fees and fostered greater competition in the industry. Investors paid 40 percent less in fees for each dollar invested in stock mutual funds during 2017 than they did at the start of the millennium, for example. But Bogle continued to maintain that many funds were overcharging investors, and once called the industry “the poster-boy for one of the most baneful chapters in the modern history of capitalism.”

Bogle also believed that the corporate structure of most fund companies poses an inherent conflict of interest, because a public fund company could put the interests of investors in its stock ahead of those owning shares of its mutual funds. Vanguard has a unique corporate structure in which its mutual funds and fund shareholders are the corporation’s “owners.” Profits are plowed back into the company’s operations, and used to reduce fees.

$5 trillion under management

Vanguard, based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, manages $5 trillion globally. It helped usher in a new era of investing, and index funds have increasingly become the default choice for investors. In 2017, investors plugged $691.6 billion into index funds while pulling $7 billion out of actively managed funds, according to Morningstar.

Vanguard offers both index and managed funds, but remains best-known for its index offerings. Vanguard’s original index fund, now known as the Vanguard 500 Index, is no longer the company’s biggest, but remains among the company’s lowest-cost funds.

Bogle spent the first part of his career at Wellington Management Co., a mutual fund company, then based in Philadelphia. He rose through the ranks and, in his mid-30s, was tapped to run Wellington.

He engineered a merger with a boutique firm that was making huge sums, but was ousted after the stock market tanked in the early 1970s, wiping out millions in Wellington’s assets. He said he learned an important lesson in how little money managers really know about predicting the market.

Knack for math

Bogle suffered several heart attacks and underwent a heart transplant in 1996, the year he stepped down as CEO. He reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 for Vanguard directors in 1999 and left as senior chairman the next year.

Vanguard did not provide a cause of death. Philly.com is reporting he died of cancer, citing Bogle’s family.

John Clifton Bogle was born in May 1929 in Montclair, New Jersey, to a well-off family; his grandfather founded a brick company and was co-founder of the American Can Co. in which his father worked.

Bogle attended Manasquan High School in Manasquan, N.J, for a time, then got a scholarship to the prestigious all-boys Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey. It was at Blair that Bogle discovered his knack for math. He graduated from Blair in 1947 and was voted most likely to succeed.

Bogle graduated from Princeton with a degree in economics in 1951. His thesis was on the mutual fund industry, which was then still in its infancy.

Bogle is survived by his wife, Eve, six children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2VYwtJi

Giant US Bank Reveals 29 Percent Pay Gap Between Men, Women

Female employees at Citigroup Inc around the world are paid just 71 percent of what men earn, the giant bank said on Wednesday, declaring its intentions to close its gender pay gap.

A Citigroup shareholder group that sought data on the pay gap said the bank is the first U.S. company to disclose such figures.

The U.S.-based bank employs more than 200,000 people in more than 100 countries, and more than half those employees are female, it said.

Tackling the 29 percent gap means increasing the number of women in senior and higher-paying roles, promoting women to at least 40 percent of assistant vice president through managing director jobs, Citigroup said in a statement.

Citigroup said it disclosed the data in response to a shareholder proposal from Arjuna Capital, an investment management firm.

The bank said its “raw pay gap” showed median pay for females globally was 71 percent of the median for men.

The raw gap measures the difference in median total compensation not adjusted for job function, level and geography.

With those adjustments, women are paid an average of 99 percent of what men are paid, it said.

“We have work to do, but we’re on a path that I’m confident will allow us to make meaningful progress,” Sara Wechter, head of human resources, said in a statement.

In the United States overall, women last year working full-time year-round earned 80 percent of what men earned, according to commonly cited data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Congress outlawed pay discrimination based on gender in 1963, yet public debate over why wages still lag drastically for women has snowballed in recent years.

Globally, the World Economic Forum reported an economic gap of 58 percent between the sexes for 2016, costing the global economy $1.2 trillion annually.

Last January, Citigroup said it was increasing compensation for women and minorities to bridge pay gaps in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, becoming the first big U.S. bank to respond to a shareholder push to analyze and disclose its gender pay gap.

This past year it expanded its pay equity review beyond those three countries to its workforce globally, it said.

 

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2CsKTID

Rights Groups Worry Barr Will Continue Sessions’ Policies

A day after reassuring members of Congress that he’d allow the special counsel to complete his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, attorney general nominee William Barr drew fresh criticism Wednesday over his support for the controversial policies of his ousted predecessor, Jeff Sessions.

A parade of character witnesses and subject matter experts appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to offer sharply divergent views of the nominee, a tough-on-crime former attorney general who has praised Sessions. While friends and associates lauded Barr’s integrity and commitment to the rule of law, civil rights leaders worried that he would carry on Sessions’ policies.

“For the past two years, the Justice Department has been led by an attorney general intent on restricting civil and human rights at every turn,”  said Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, a leading civil rights advocacy organization. “The nation needs an attorney general who will dramatically change course and enforce federal civil rights laws with vigor and independence. Based on his alarming record, we are convinced that William Barr will not do so.” 

NAACP opposition

Other major civil rights organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest, have opposed Barr’s nomination, which is widely expected to be approved by the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority.

Although Sessions was praised by many for cracking down on violent crime and illegal immigration, he was criticized by the NAACP and others for undoing key Obama-era Justice Department policies, including reform agreements with police departments involved in shootings and rights violations, as well as protections for LGBTQ students.

Barr has supported many of the initiatives enacted by Sessions. In an opinion piece he co-authored with two other former Republican attorneys general after Sessions’ ouster in November, he praised Sessions for “[restoring] law and order” by reinstituting tough sentencing guidelines for drug dealers, cracking down on illegal immigration, overseeing a record number of prosecutions of violent crime defendants and “refocusing” the Justice Department’s efforts to protect freedoms of expression and religion.

Asked whether he’d continue Sessions’ policies, Barr told lawmakers on Monday that he supported ending the police department reform agreements known as consent decrees and opposed a controversial decision by Sessions to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where marijuana use is legal. But he was noncommittal on other initiatives, saying he’d have to examine their legal bases before deciding which to keep.

Barr also offered strong support for enforcing civil rights statutes and laws against hate crimes, which have been on the rise in recent years. 

“We must have zero tolerance for such crimes,” he said. 

‘Prisons work’

Barr has drawn scrutiny in recent weeks for his past opposition to criminal justice reform. In 1992, he said “our system is fair and does not treat people differently.” Also in 1992, the then-attorney general wrote the preface to a Justice Department report, The Case for More Incarceration, that argued “prisons work” and “we need more of them.”  As recently as 2015, he opposed bipartisan legislation on sentencing reform.

Under questioning, Barr defended his position, saying he advocated for incarcerating violent and chronic offenders at a time of rising crime in the country. He also acknowledged that heavy penalties for crack offenses had “harmed the black community.”

Barr also pledged to “diligently” enforce the First Step Act, a sweeping new criminal justice reform law that lowers some mandatory sentences and gives prisoners added opportunities to earn reductions in jail time.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2VZNDWL

Ex-Marine Held in Russia on Spying Charge Gets Prison Visit 

The brother of a former U.S. Marine with multiple citizenships says Irish government representatives have visited Paul Whelan at the Russian prison where he is being held on an espionage charge.

David Whelan said in a Wednesday statement that according to diplomatic staff members from Ireland, conditions were good in the Moscow prison where his brother was detained. The statement said U.S. officials were expected to visit Thursday; the U.S. ambassador saw him on Jan. 2.  

Whelan was detained Dec. 28 and charged with spying, which carries a potential sentence of 20 years upon conviction. Russian officials have not released details of the allegations against him.

Whelan, who was living in Michigan and working as global security director for a U.S. company, also holds British and Canadian citizenships.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2DeXr7W

Trump EPA Chief Pick: Global Warming Not ‘Greatest Crisis’

President Donald Trump’s choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency says he does not believe global warming is the “greatest crisis.”

Andrew Wheeler said at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday that while climate change is a “huge issue,” it is something that needs to be addressed globally.

A report by the EPA and several other government agencies concluded last year that climate change is a man-made phenomenon that will cost the U.S. billions of dollars a year and lead to more wildfires, stronger hurricanes, and other weather-related calamities.

Wheeler, who has been acting EPA chief since July, said he has not read the report but that a staffer briefed him on it.

He said the news media jumped on what he calls the report’s “worst-case scenarios.”

Criticism

Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey responded by saying Wheeler’s policies easing federal regulations on fossil fuel emissions are the problem.

“You are a former coal industry lobbyist that is sitting here. That’s the worst-case scenario, what you are proposing here. … You are putting up a smokescreen to ensure there is an advancement of Donald Trump’s dirty policies,” Markey said.

Other Democrats wondered if Wheeler’s job pushing pro-coal polices in Congress should disqualify him.

They also said his actions as acting EPA chief, including moves to roll back mileage standards for cars and trucks and lifting federal protection for wetlands and waterways, undermine the health and safety of the American people.

Praise

Wheeler’s Republican defenders praised him. They said federal regulations are a burden on industry, farmers and ranchers, and could cost jobs. They said they agree with Wheeler that states should take on much of that responsibility.

Wheeler said easing federal rules can still mean Americans can have clean air and water while the economy thrives.

Protesters yelling “Shut down Wheeler, not the EPA,” briefly interrupted Wednesday’s hearing.

Wheeler was deputy EPA head when he took over the agency from Scott Pruitt, who was forced to resign last year over alleged ethics violations.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RBLxy8

Does US President Have to Give State of the Union Speech? No

The U.S. Constitution mandates in Article II, Section 3, that presidents “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

But the Constitution offers no specifics on how that should be done. Indeed, the modern State of the Union address — the pageantry, the televised address and the agenda-setting message — is a far more recent phenomenon. And the practice of delivering an in-person address before a joint session of Congress has not always been the norm.

Here’s a look at the history of the State of the Union address as the White House weighs its response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion that President Donald Trump delay this year’s address or give it in writing because of the partial government shutdown:

Q: Who delivered the first State of the Union address?

A: George Washington on Jan. 8, 1790, in New York.

Q: Does it have to be a speech?

A: No. For Thomas Jefferson’s first address on Dec. 8, 1801, he sent written copies to both houses of Congress to be read by each chamber’s clerks. Jefferson wanted to simplify what he believed was an aristocratic imitation of the British monarch’s speech from the throne, which he thought ill-suited for a republic.

The practice of sending written copies to Congress continued for more than a century, when Woodrow Wilson resumed the tradition of delivering the annual message in person on April 8, 1913. He’s also credited with transforming the speech from a report on executive branch activity into a blueprint for the president’s legislative agenda for the year.

​Q: When did the annual message become known as the State of the Union address?

A: Franklin D. Roosevelt applied the constitutional phrase “State of the Union” to both the message and the event. It became the popular terminology from then on and has officially been known as the State of the Union address since 1947. The speech was formally known as the “Annual Message” before that.

Q: How has the speech been affected by advances in communications technology? 

A: Calvin Coolidge delivered the first speech broadcast on radio in 1923. Harry S. Truman’s address in 1947 was the first broadcast on television. Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the importance of having a national audience when he moved the speech from midafternoon to prime time in 1965 to attract the largest number of TV viewers. George W. Bush’s 2002 speech was the first available as a live webcast on the White House website.

Q: Has the speech ever been postponed?

A: Yes, there have been several instances, though all appear to have been initiated by the White House, historians say.

Ronald Reagan’s 1986 address, for instance, was postponed after the Challenger space shuttle exploded in flight on Jan. 28 of that year. And in 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt was scheduled to deliver his address on Jan. 11 but instead transmitted a written message because of his poor health.

Q: What about during a shutdown?

A: The State of the Union address has yet to coincide with a full or partial government shutdown since the beginning of the modern budget process in the late 1970s.

The closest the country has come was Trump’s 2018 State of the Union, which was delivered on Jan. 30, in the week after a two-day shutdown that ended Jan. 22. In 1996, Bill Clinton delivered his State of the Union several weeks after the end of a 21-day shutdown that had previously been the country’s longest, offering to “all of you in this chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again.”

Q: Is security really an issue?

A: In her letter, Pelosi raised concerns about holding the speech during a shutdown, citing the fact that the address has been designated a “national special security event” in which “the full resources of the federal government” must “be brought to bear.”

She noted that the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have been operating without funding, “with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen rejected that assessment, tweeting that DHS and the Secret Service “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”

About 5,978 of 7,222 Secret Service employees remain on the job.

Q: Can’t Trump just show up?

A: No. Anytime a president comes to speak, it must be at the request of Congress, said Donald Ritchie, the former historian of the Senate. “It’s a very inflexible arrangement,” he said.

A resolution agreed to by both chambers specifies a date and time for a joint session of the House and the Senate “for receiving such communication as the president of the United States shall be pleased to make to them.”

Q: Is there a State of the Union speech every year?

A: No. Recent presidents — Reagan in 1981, George H.W. Bush in 1989, Clinton in 1993, George W. Bush in 2001, Barack Obama in 2009 and Trump in 2017 — have chosen not to deliver official State of the Union addresses during their first years in office. Those speeches would have come soon after their inaugural addresses. However, many, including Trump, have delivered major speeches in front of Congress that have had the feel of the State of the Union without the title.

“It’s up to the president,” said Ritchie, “whether or not he wants to come at all.”

Q: Has the State of the Union speech always been delivered in person since Wilson resumed the practice?

​A: No. Truman sent his final message in print, as did Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961 and Jimmy Carter in 1981. As Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack in 1956, he prepared a seven-minute filmed summary of the message from his retreat in Key West, Fla., that was broadcast nationwide. Richard Nixon sent a printed message in 1973; his staff said an oral message would have come too soon after his second inaugural address.

Q: Which presidents didn’t deliver a State of the Union message?

A: William Henry Harrison, who died 32 days after his inauguration in 1841, and James A. Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881 after 199 days in office.

Q: Could Trump choose an alternative?

A: There’s no reason why not. Trump could deliver a speech from the Oval Office or organize an alternative event on Jan. 29 — the date Pelosi had originally invited Trump to deliver his address before a joint session of Congress. The White House also could choose to delay the speech, as Pelosi has suggested. It was unclear how the White House planned to respond.

But Ritchie said it would be to the president’s advantage to find a way to deliver the address.

“You don’t want to waste a dramatic moment,” he said.

Sources: Congressional Research Service, White House. 

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RASJdB

Does US President Have to Give State of the Union Speech? No

The U.S. Constitution mandates in Article II, Section 3, that presidents “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

But the Constitution offers no specifics on how that should be done. Indeed, the modern State of the Union address — the pageantry, the televised address and the agenda-setting message — is a far more recent phenomenon. And the practice of delivering an in-person address before a joint session of Congress has not always been the norm.

Here’s a look at the history of the State of the Union address as the White House weighs its response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion that President Donald Trump delay this year’s address or give it in writing because of the partial government shutdown:

Q: Who delivered the first State of the Union address?

A: George Washington on Jan. 8, 1790, in New York.

Q: Does it have to be a speech?

A: No. For Thomas Jefferson’s first address on Dec. 8, 1801, he sent written copies to both houses of Congress to be read by each chamber’s clerks. Jefferson wanted to simplify what he believed was an aristocratic imitation of the British monarch’s speech from the throne, which he thought ill-suited for a republic.

The practice of sending written copies to Congress continued for more than a century, when Woodrow Wilson resumed the tradition of delivering the annual message in person on April 8, 1913. He’s also credited with transforming the speech from a report on executive branch activity into a blueprint for the president’s legislative agenda for the year.

​Q: When did the annual message become known as the State of the Union address?

A: Franklin D. Roosevelt applied the constitutional phrase “State of the Union” to both the message and the event. It became the popular terminology from then on and has officially been known as the State of the Union address since 1947. The speech was formally known as the “Annual Message” before that.

Q: How has the speech been affected by advances in communications technology? 

A: Calvin Coolidge delivered the first speech broadcast on radio in 1923. Harry S. Truman’s address in 1947 was the first broadcast on television. Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the importance of having a national audience when he moved the speech from midafternoon to prime time in 1965 to attract the largest number of TV viewers. George W. Bush’s 2002 speech was the first available as a live webcast on the White House website.

Q: Has the speech ever been postponed?

A: Yes, there have been several instances, though all appear to have been initiated by the White House, historians say.

Ronald Reagan’s 1986 address, for instance, was postponed after the Challenger space shuttle exploded in flight on Jan. 28 of that year. And in 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt was scheduled to deliver his address on Jan. 11 but instead transmitted a written message because of his poor health.

Q: What about during a shutdown?

A: The State of the Union address has yet to coincide with a full or partial government shutdown since the beginning of the modern budget process in the late 1970s.

The closest the country has come was Trump’s 2018 State of the Union, which was delivered on Jan. 30, in the week after a two-day shutdown that ended Jan. 22. In 1996, Bill Clinton delivered his State of the Union several weeks after the end of a 21-day shutdown that had previously been the country’s longest, offering to “all of you in this chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again.”

Q: Is security really an issue?

A: In her letter, Pelosi raised concerns about holding the speech during a shutdown, citing the fact that the address has been designated a “national special security event” in which “the full resources of the federal government” must “be brought to bear.”

She noted that the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have been operating without funding, “with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen rejected that assessment, tweeting that DHS and the Secret Service “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”

About 5,978 of 7,222 Secret Service employees remain on the job.

Q: Can’t Trump just show up?

A: No. Anytime a president comes to speak, it must be at the request of Congress, said Donald Ritchie, the former historian of the Senate. “It’s a very inflexible arrangement,” he said.

A resolution agreed to by both chambers specifies a date and time for a joint session of the House and the Senate “for receiving such communication as the president of the United States shall be pleased to make to them.”

Q: Is there a State of the Union speech every year?

A: No. Recent presidents — Reagan in 1981, George H.W. Bush in 1989, Clinton in 1993, George W. Bush in 2001, Barack Obama in 2009 and Trump in 2017 — have chosen not to deliver official State of the Union addresses during their first years in office. Those speeches would have come soon after their inaugural addresses. However, many, including Trump, have delivered major speeches in front of Congress that have had the feel of the State of the Union without the title.

“It’s up to the president,” said Ritchie, “whether or not he wants to come at all.”

Q: Has the State of the Union speech always been delivered in person since Wilson resumed the practice?

​A: No. Truman sent his final message in print, as did Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961 and Jimmy Carter in 1981. As Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack in 1956, he prepared a seven-minute filmed summary of the message from his retreat in Key West, Fla., that was broadcast nationwide. Richard Nixon sent a printed message in 1973; his staff said an oral message would have come too soon after his second inaugural address.

Q: Which presidents didn’t deliver a State of the Union message?

A: William Henry Harrison, who died 32 days after his inauguration in 1841, and James A. Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881 after 199 days in office.

Q: Could Trump choose an alternative?

A: There’s no reason why not. Trump could deliver a speech from the Oval Office or organize an alternative event on Jan. 29 — the date Pelosi had originally invited Trump to deliver his address before a joint session of Congress. The White House also could choose to delay the speech, as Pelosi has suggested. It was unclear how the White House planned to respond.

But Ritchie said it would be to the president’s advantage to find a way to deliver the address.

“You don’t want to waste a dramatic moment,” he said.

Sources: Congressional Research Service, White House. 

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RASJdB

Busiest US Port Sets All-Time Cargo Record in 2018

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on Wednesday said they set all-time records for moving cargo in 2018, after U.S. retailers and manufacturers pulled forward imports to avoid higher tariffs on Chinese goods. The Port of Los Angeles, North America’s busiest container port, handled 9.46 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) last year, the most in its 111-year history and 1.2 percent more than in 2017.

The neighboring Port of Long Beach processed more than 8 million TEUs for the first time last year, after container cargo totals jumped 7 percent from 2017.

“This is a rush of cargo based on political trade policy,” said Gene Seroka, executive director for the Port of Los Angeles, where direct trade with China accounted for just over half of the $284 billion in cargo the port handled in 2017. “Many people were fearful that we were going to go from a 10 percent tariff on certain items to 25 percent on January 1,” Seroka said.

The U.S. and China in late November agreed to a 90-day cease-fire in their bitter trade war. Under that deal, the U.S. will keep tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports at 10 percent.

That news came after many importers sped up orders for everything from apparel to auto parts to avoid the higher tariffs.

The cargo surge at Los Angeles/Long Beach and other major U.S. ports spurred disruptions that are rippling through the supply chain. U.S. warehouses are stuffed to the rafters, forcing some importers to delay port cargo pickups or to park containers in parking lots.

The National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates’ Global Port Tracker expect 2018 imports to jump 5.3 percent to a record 21.6 million TEUs. They also project cooling in the early months of 2019, as imports typically soften due to a post-holiday drop in demand and Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia.

“We’ll see a little bit of a lull during Lunar New Year and thereafter. That in and of itself will allow us to catch up,” Seroka said.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2RwsQvG

WSJ: US Investigating Huawei for Alleged Trade Secret Theft

Federal prosecutors are investigating Huawei Technologies, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, for allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S. businesses and could soon issue an indictment, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the Journal said that one area of investigation is the technology behind a device that T-Mobile U.S. Inc used for testing smartphones. Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.

The action is the latest in a long list taken to fight what some in the Trump administration call China’s cheating through intellectual property theft, illegal corporate subsidies and rules hampering U.S. corporations that want to sell their goods in China.

The investigation arose out of civil lawsuits against Huawei, the Journal said, including one in Seattle where Huawei was found liable for misappropriating robotic technology from T-Mobile.

A Huawei spokesman and a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in the western district of Washington declined comment. T-Mobile alleged in a 2014 lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle, that Huawei employees stole technology relating to a smartphone-testing robot T-Mobile had in a lab in Bellevue, Washington.

The robot, Tappy, used human-like fingers to simulate tapping on mobile phones.

According to T-Mobile’s lawsuit, Huawei employees photographed the robot and attempted to remove one of its parts. In May 2017, a jury said Huawei should pay T-Mobile $4.8 million in damages.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2TOr1a2

$5 Billion for the Border Wall and Standing Firm

President Donald Trump began insisting on $5 billion for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico at the end of November after submitting a budget that contained $1.6 billion for border security, including parts of the wall.

“I am firm,” Trump said of his $5 billion demand in November.

 

Twenty-six days into a government shutdown, he is still firm. But what is not clear is why he is holding firm at what he now says is $5.7 billion for a wall to “stop the crime at our southern border.”

 

“He totally changed his own budget,” Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen told MSNBC news last week. “They asked for $1.6 billion. And now at the very last minute in December, they came back with this request.”

 

Trump first kicked around the $5 billion figure in July when it was buried in a Washington Post story about budget discussions between the administration and Republicans.

“Trump never formally requested $5 billion for the wall, instead communicating the number privately to lawmakers in recent weeks,” the Post said.

 

‘A big fight’

A few days later, Trump threatened to shut down the government.

 

“What the president wants to do is get a bigger down payment so it (the wall) can be built faster,” former House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a speech at the National Press Club in October. “We intend on having a full-fledged discussion about how to complete this mission of securing our border, and we will have a big fight about it.”

 

Locked in a stalemate since Dec. 22, the conflict between lawmakers and the president has shut down parts of the federal government for nearly a month. Newly elected House leader Nancy Pelosi is standing firm on zero dollars for the wall.

“The fact is, a wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation,” she has said.

$5 billion worth

The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that $5 billion would pay for 375 kilometers (234 miles) of a “new physical barrier” on the southern border with Mexico that stretches more than 3,100 kilometers (just under 2,000 miles).

 

“We know that a border wall system works,” a Customs and Border Patrol official told reporters at a briefing Wednesday, his wording suggesting that a wall would not work by itself.

 

The U.S. government oversight agency, the General Accountability Office, reported last year that CBP lacked the data to fully determine the cost-effectiveness of the border wall.

 

“CBP does not have complete information for prioritizing locations to use its resources in the most cost-effective manner,” GAO officials noted in August 2018, and not for the first time. The year before, another report by the agency spelled out similar problems.

 

CBP did not respond to a VOA request Wednesday for an update on the status of that data, which it had pledged would be completed by this month.

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2T3kyIs

US Senate Upholds Lifting Sanctions on Russian’s Companies   

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday narrowly upheld a Trump administration plan to lift sanctions against three companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

 

Eleven Republicans in the Senate joined Democrats in an effort to enforce the sanctions against the giant aluminum firm Rusal and two companion companies, but their effort failed on a 57-42 vote, three short of the number needed to advance the measure. 

 

Numerous lawmakers had questioned the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision in December to lift the sanctions that were imposed on Deripaska’s core businesses — Rusal; its parent, En+; and the power firm EuroSibEnergo — in response to Moscow’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. 

 

Treasury argued that it was appropriate to lift the sanctions imposed last April because Deripaska had committed to curtailing his ownership of the companies and sever his control.   

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that Deripaska remains under sanctions, “his property and interests remain blocked, and any companies he controls are also sanctioned.” 

 

In pushing for the sanctions to be enforced, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said, “For a very long time, the Republican Party predicated its foreign policy on taking a tougher line against Russia and Putin. In so many campaigns for president, we Democrats were accused of not being tough enough on the Russians.”  

 

But now, Schumer said, “it seems that acquiescence to [President Donald Trump], a fear of breaking with the president, has held back too many of my Republican colleagues from supporting this resolution.” 

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reiterated that Deripaska’s influence over the companies was being limited and called the vote a “Democratic stunt,” even as the 11 Republicans joined Democrats in the unsuccessful effort to overturn Treasury’s action. 

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2Cr9v4F

Pelosi Suggests Trump Delay State of the Union Address

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Wednesday that President Donald Trump delay his State of the Union address later this month unless the record-setting partial government shutdown ends this week, or present the speech in writing.

Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, cited security preparations needed for the annual high-profile event before Congress, which is scheduled for Jan. 29.

In a letter to Trump, she noted the U.S. Secret Service, which guards Trump and his family, and the Homeland Security agency have not been funded during the 26-day shutdown, “with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs.” Trump’s security detail has been working without pay.

But Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the agencies “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union. We thank the Service for their mission focus and dedication and for all they do each day to secure our homeland.”

In asking Trump to delay his State of the Union address, Pelosi, a staunch opponent of his call for taxpayer funding of a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart illegal migrants, said she would work with him to find a suitable date for the speech after the government is reopened or he could hand the speech in writing to Congress on Jan. 29.

The U.S. Constitution calls for presidents from “time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union.” Throughout the 19th century and until about a hundred years ago, the messages were delivered in writing. In recent years, both Republican and Democratic presidents have used the nationally televised speeches to outline their legislative agendas, often leaving one party’s lawmakers cheering and applauding while the other’s sits silently.

Postponing the speech beyond the shutdown would deny the president a highly visible platform in which he could continue to pressure Democrats to meet his demand for more than $5 billion in taxpayer funding for the wall.  Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new border security funding, but none specifically for a wall.

Meeting with lawmakers

Trump and aides met Wednesday at the White House with Democratic and Republican lawmakers from a group that calls itself the Problem Solvers Caucus about the shutdown and his call for a wall. Later, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called it a “constructive meeting. …They listened to one another and now both have a good understanding of what the other wants. We look forward to more conversations like this.”

But there was no immediate end in sight for the shutdown, the longest in American history.

Financial strain

On Tuesday, Kevin Hassett, the chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, doubled the previous estimate of the cost of the shutdown, saying the country’s robust economy has already lost a half percentage point from the government closures, during which 800,000 government workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay. He said quarterly economic growth is being reduced by .13 of a percent each week the shutdown continues.

Trump is set Wednesday to sign a bill to guarantee that federal workers, regardless of whether they were forced to work or furloughed during the shutdown, eventually get paid their lost wages, as has been done during previous shutdowns during the past several decades. Workers for private contract companies hired by the government, however, are unlikely to recoup lost wages. If the shutdown lasts another week, government workers will miss their second paycheck this month.

Trading blame

While Trump and Democratic leaders blame each other for the situation dragging on, a number of recent polls have put more of the responsibility on the president.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday indicated 51 percent of respondents blame Trump and 34 percent blame congressional Democrats. In the same poll, 62 percent of people said they support adding more border patrol agents, and there was a roughly even split of 43 percent of people both supporting and opposing additional fencing at the border.

The Senate and House are to be in recess next week, but leaders in both chambers have said that break will be canceled if the shutdown is still in effect.

 

from USA – Voice of America http://bit.ly/2FySdq0