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Economists: Political Uncertainties, Trade Tensions Affect Economic Growth

Economists warn that political uncertainties and trade tensions could undermine global economic growth. Rights groups warn of the dangers of growing economic inequality. About 3,000 political and economic leaders have gathered in the Swiss resort town of Davos to discuss global business and economic trends at an annual economic forum. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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UN Forecasts Global Economic Growth Around 3 Percent in 2019

The United Nations is forecasting that the global economy will grow by around 3 percent in 2019 and 2020, but says waning support for multilateralism, escalating trade disputes, increasing debt and rising climate risks are clouding prospects

The United Nations is forecasting that the global economy will grow by around 3 percent in 2019 and 2020, but says waning support for multilateralism, escalating trade disputes, increasing debt and rising climate risks are clouding prospects.

The U.N.’s report on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2019 also stresses that economic growth is uneven and often doesn’t reach countries that need it most.

Per capital income is expected to stagnate or see only marginal growth this year in parts of Africa, western Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says in the forward of the report launched Monday that while economic indicators remain “largely favorable,” the report “raises concerns over the sustainability of global economic growth in the face of rising financial, social and environmental challenges.”   

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UN Forecasts Global Economic Growth Around 3 Percent in 2019

The United Nations is forecasting that the global economy will grow by around 3 percent in 2019 and 2020, but says waning support for multilateralism, escalating trade disputes, increasing debt and rising climate risks are clouding prospects

The United Nations is forecasting that the global economy will grow by around 3 percent in 2019 and 2020, but says waning support for multilateralism, escalating trade disputes, increasing debt and rising climate risks are clouding prospects.

The U.N.’s report on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2019 also stresses that economic growth is uneven and often doesn’t reach countries that need it most.

Per capital income is expected to stagnate or see only marginal growth this year in parts of Africa, western Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says in the forward of the report launched Monday that while economic indicators remain “largely favorable,” the report “raises concerns over the sustainability of global economic growth in the face of rising financial, social and environmental challenges.”   

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Trump: US Civil Servants Working Without Pay Are ‘Great Patriots’

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday described hundreds of thousands of federal civil servants working without pay during the partial government shutdown as “great patriots,” but there was no movement toward ending the record 31-day closure of a quarter of U.S. government operations.

Trump renewed his call for a wall along part of the U.S.-Mexican border, on Twitter.

About 800,000 federal workers have been affected by the shutdown, with more than half ordered to continue working without pay and the rest sent home.

During the weekend, Trump offered a compromise to resolve the shutdown spawned by a dispute with opposition Democratic lawmakers over his demand for $5.7 billion to build the border barrier to thwart illegal immigration.

In exchange for wall funding, Trump’s plan calls for three years of protection against deportation for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country illegally when they were children, as well extensions of protected status for people who fled Latin American and African countries because of violence or natural disasters.

Democrats object to the border wall as ineffective and immoral, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying Trump’s proposal is a “non-starter.

“They want Trump and Republicans to agree to reopen the government first and then discuss other border security initiatives, while offering $1.3 billion in new border security money, but none specifically for a wall.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to bring Trump’s proposal to a vote in his chamber this week, although he will need some Democratic support to win approval.

Pelosi said she is planning votes this week on adding more immigration judges and money for scanning vehicles and drugs at the country’s ports of entry.

The House has already passed several measures that would reopen the government, but McConnell has refused to bring them up for a vote in the Senate, saying he will not consider any bill that Trump would not support.

Trump assailed Pelosi on Twitter on Sunday.

Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement there is “simply no reason” for the shutdown to continue while the two sides “are engaged in a complex policy discussion.”

She said protecting the immigrants from deportation “is the right thing to do.

“But Lowey said Trump “is wrong to hold them hostage over money for a wasteful wall that could be better spent on more effective border security measures. The president’s trade offer — temporary protections for some immigrants in exchange for a border wall boondoggle — is not acceptable.”

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but major legislation in the chamber almost always requires a 60-vote majority. It is unclear if Trump will be able to convince at least seven Democrats to vote for his proposal.

Even if the Senate approves Trump’s plan, it would face defeat in the House. A Senate victory for Trump, however, could force new negotiations over his border wall plan and over reopening the government, as furloughed federal workers are set to miss their second paycheck next Friday.

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France Fines Google $57M for Data Privacy Violation

France’s data watchdog fined Google nearly $57 million on Monday, saying the tech giant failed to provide users with transparent information on its data consumer policies and how their personal information was used to display advertising targeting them.

The French agency CNIL said U.S.-based Google made it too difficult for internet users to understand and manage their personal preferences online.

“The information provided is not sufficiently clear,” the regulatory agency said, “for the user to understand the legal basis for targeted advertising is consent, and not Google’s legitimate business interests.”

It was the first ruling using the European Union’s strict new General Data Protection Regulation since it was implemented last year, a sweeping set of rules that has set a global standard forcing large American technology firms to examine their practices or risk huge fines.

Google said it was studying the ruling to determine its next steps.

“People expect high standards of transparency and control from us,” Google said. “We’re deeply committed to meeting those expectations and the consent requirements” of the new regulations.

 

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House Democrats Eager to Bring DeVos Under Closer Oversight

House Democrats are preparing to bring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos under the sharpest scrutiny she has seen since taking office.

DeVos has emerged as a common target for Democrats as they take charge of House committees that wield oversight powers, such as the authority to issue subpoenas and call hearings.

At least four committees are expected to push DeVos on topics including her rollback of regulation on the for-profit college industry.

Rep. Bobby Scott is a Virginia Democrat leading the House education committee. He says he’ll bring DeVos forward for hearings “as often as necessary.”

DeVos is also expected to face scrutiny from committees overseeing veterans’ affairs, government oversight and appropriations.

Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill says DeVos will work with any member of Congress who wants to rethink education.

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House Democrats Eager to Bring DeVos Under Closer Oversight

House Democrats are preparing to bring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos under the sharpest scrutiny she has seen since taking office.

DeVos has emerged as a common target for Democrats as they take charge of House committees that wield oversight powers, such as the authority to issue subpoenas and call hearings.

At least four committees are expected to push DeVos on topics including her rollback of regulation on the for-profit college industry.

Rep. Bobby Scott is a Virginia Democrat leading the House education committee. He says he’ll bring DeVos forward for hearings “as often as necessary.”

DeVos is also expected to face scrutiny from committees overseeing veterans’ affairs, government oversight and appropriations.

Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill says DeVos will work with any member of Congress who wants to rethink education.

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King Holiday Draws out Democratic Presidential Hopefuls

As Americans commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to the nation, Democratic presidential hopefuls are fanning out across the country to honor the civil rights leader.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., used the holiday to launch a presidential campaign that, if successful, would make her the first woman and the second black candidate to become president.

 

Meanwhile, an annual rally to observe King’s birthday held in the capital of South Carolina, a critical early-voting state in the Democratic primary, will feature two senators expected to seek the White House in 2020, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s weighing his own presidential bid, is set to speak at a King holiday event in Washington alongside former New York mayor and possible 2020 rival Michael Bloomberg. Two candidates who have already opened exploratory committees — Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York — will also appear at King-centered events.

 

While the Democratic field for 2020 is only beginning to take shape, the year that would have marked King’s 90th birthday gives the party’s prominent members a valuable opportunity to address race and, potentially, draw a contrast between their own views and those of President Donald Trump, whose approach to questions of racial justice has sparked criticism from multiple minority groups since he took office.

 

How Democratic contenders, both those officially in the race and those still mulling campaigns, celebrated the King holiday:

 

Kamala Harris

 

Harris, a first-term senator and former California attorney general known for her rigorous questioning of Trump’s nominees, opened the holiday by declaring her bid on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” She abandoned the formality of launching an exploratory committee, instead going all in on a presidential campaign.

 

“I love my country,” she said when asked what qualifies her for the presidency. “And this is a moment in time that I feel a sense of responsibility to stand up and fight for the best of who we are. And that fight will always include, as one of the highest priorities, our national security.”

Harris, 54, is a daughter of immigrant parents who grew up in Oakland, California. She cited her years as a prosecutor in asserting: “My entire career has been focused on keeping people safe. It is probably one of the things that motivates me more than anything else.”

 

The senator plans a formal campaign launch in Oakland in a week and will have her headquarters in Baltimore. She’s already planning her first trip to an early primary state as a declared candidate. On Friday, Harris will travel to South Carolina to attend the Pink Ice Gala in Columbia, which is hosted by a South Carolina chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which Harris pledged as an undergraduate student at Howard University. The sorority, founded more than 100 years ago, is a stronghold in the black community.

 

 

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UK Leader Unveils Brexit Plan B, Looks a Lot Like Plan A

British Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled her Brexit Plan B on Monday — and it looks a lot like Plan A.

May launched a mission to resuscitate her rejected European Union divorce deal, setting out plans to get it approved by Parliament after securing changes from the EU to a contentious Irish border measure.

May’s opponents expressed incredulity: British lawmakers last week dealt the deal a resounding defeat, and EU leaders insist they won’t renegotiate it.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party accused May of being in “deep denial” about her doomed deal.

“This really does feel a bit like Groundhog Day,” he said, referring to the 1993 film starring Bill Murray, in which a weatherman is fated to live out the same day over and over again.

Outlining what she plans to do after her EU divorce deal was rejected by Parliament last week, May said that she had heeded lawmakers’ concerns over an insurance policy known as the “backstop” that is intended to guarantee there are no customs checks along the border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland after Brexit.

May told the House of Commons that she would be “talking further this week to colleagues … to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House.

“And I will then take the conclusions of those discussions back to the EU.”

The bloc insists that it won’t renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

“She is wasting time calling for a revision or clarification over the backstop,” said German politician Udo Bullmann, head of the socialist group in the European Parliament.

Amendments

While May stuck doggedly to her deal, she also acknowledged that control over Brexit wasn’t entirely in her hands. She noted that lawmakers will be able to amend her plan when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons on Jan. 29, exactly two months before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Groups of “soft Brexit”-backing lawmakers — who want to keep close economic ties to the bloc — are planning to use amendments to try to rule out a “no-deal” Brexit and make May ease her insistence that leaving the EU means quitting its single market and customs union.

Britain and the EU sealed a divorce deal in November after months of tense negotiations. But the agreement has been rejected by both sides of Britain’s divide over Europe. Brexit-backing lawmakers say it will leave the U.K. tethered to the bloc’s rules and unable to forge an independent trade policy. Pro-Europeans argue it is inferior to the frictionless economic relationship Britain currently enjoys as an EU member.

After her deal was thrown out last week by a crushing 432-202 vote in Parliament, May said she would consult with lawmakers from all parties to find a new way forward.

But Corbyn called the cross-party meetings a “stunt,” and other opposition leaders said the prime minister didn’t seem to be listening.

On Monday, May rejected calls from pro-EU lawmakers to delay Britain’s departure from the bloc or to hold a second referendum on whether to leave.

In a nod to opposition parties’ concerns, she promised to consult lawmakers, trade unionists, business groups and civil society organizations “to try to find the broadest possible consensus” on future ties between Britain and the EU, and said the government wouldn’t water down protections for the environment and workers’ rights after Brexit.

May also said the government had decided to waive a 65 pound ($84) fee for EU citizens in Britain who want to stay permanently after Brexit.

Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the EU Parliament Brexit steering group, welcomed news that the fee was being dropped for 3 million EU nationals, saying it had been a “key demand” for the EU legislature.

Irish border

May’s immediate goal is to win over pro-Brexit Conservatives and her party’s Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party. Both groups say they won’t back the deal unless the border backstop is removed.

The backstop proposes to keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU in order to avoid checks on the Irish border. It is meant as a temporary measure that would last until a permanent solution is found. But pro-Brexit U.K. lawmakers fear Britain could become trapped in it, indefinitely bound by EU trade rules.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz broke ranks with EU colleagues Monday by suggesting the problem could be solved by setting a five-year time limit on the backstop.

The idea got a cool reception. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said that “putting a time-limit on an insurance mechanism, which is what the backstop is, effectively means that it’s not a backstop at all.”

Britain’s political impasse over Brexit is fueling concerns that the country may crash out of the EU on March 29 with no agreement in place to cushion the shock. That could see tariffs imposed on goods moving between Britain and the EU, sparking logjams at ports and shortages of essential supplies.

Threat of ‘no deal’

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said Monday was “another bleak day for business.”

“Parliament remains in deadlock while the slope to a cliff edge steepens,” she said.

Several groups of lawmakers are trying to use parliamentary rules and amendments to May’s plan to block the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

One of those legislators, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, said May was shirking her responsibility to the country by refusing to take “no deal” off the table.

“I think she knows that she should rule out ‘no deal’ in the national interest because it would be so damaging,” Cooper told the BBC. “She’s refusing to do so, and I think she’s hoping that Parliament will do this for her. That is not leadership.” 

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For the Poor, Safety Net in a Shutdown Doesn’t Feel Safe

Doris Cochran, a disabled mother of two young boys, is stockpiling canned foods these days, filling her shelves with noodle soup, green beans, peaches and pears – anything that can last for months, or even years. Her pantry looks like she’s preparing for a winter storm. But she’s just trying to make sure her family won’t go hungry if her food stamps run out.

For those like Cochran who rely on federal aid programs, the social safety net no longer feels so safe. As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history stretches into a fifth week with no end in sight, millions of poor Americans who depend on food and rental assistance are becoming increasingly worried about the future. Most major aid programs haven’t dried up yet. But each day the stalemate in Washington drags on, the U.S. inches closer to what advocates call a looming emergency. Those dependent on the aid are watching closely under a cloud of stress and anxiety.

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Cochran said, “and that’s what scares me the most.”

With no indication of an imminent compromise, the Trump administration in recent weeks has scrambled to restore some services across the government. But two agencies crucial to the federal safety net – the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Agriculture Department – remain largely shuttered.

USDA announced earlier this month that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food aid to roughly 40 million Americans, will be fully funded through February. But should the shutdown stretch into March its status is unclear: with just $3 billion in reserves, USDA won’t be able to cover the roughly $4.8 billion it pays in monthly benefits.

The department was able to stretch the program for another month based on a loophole in a spending bill. But as a result of congressional rules, food stamp benefits allotted for February are being given out early, before Jan. 20. There is no guarantee recipients will get food stamps for March, but if even if the program continues without a lapse, recipients would have to stretch their current allotment for at least six weeks, rather than four.

The impact of any lapse in these programs would be dramatic and unprecedented: USDA says there has never before been a break in food stamp benefits since the program was made permanent in 1964.

Food banks are already stretched thin thanks to a notable spike in demand from furloughed federal employees, contractors and others out of work due to the shutdown, said Carrie Calvert, the managing director for government relations at Feeding America, a hunger relief organization. For every meal Feeding America’s network of food pantries serves, federal food aid provides 12.

“This is a potentially catastrophic situation. This could be an immediate emergency that grows exponentially,” Calvert said.

Since the shutdown began, HUD has been unable to renew hundreds of contracts with private building owners who receive significant federal subsidies to provide housing to low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities. Under these contracts, tenants pay a portion of the rent and the federal government covers the rest. But between December and the end of February, roughly 1,700 contracts are slated to expire, meaning that HUD won’t be able to make their payments. The agency has asked landlords to dip into their reserves to cover rental costs until the government reopens, with a promise of reimbursement.

Similarly, come February, 700 rental assistance contracts administered through a USDA program that offers aid to low-income people in rural areas, will also expire. A spokesman said the office “is exploring all options to mitigate any potential negative impact” to tenants.

Those unknowns are causing anxiety and anguish among America’s most vulnerable.

Eneaqua Lewis, 36, lives in a HUD-subsidized apartment on Roosevelt Island in New York City. She said she found out earlier this month her building’s HUD contract expired January 9. A single mother raising a 10-year-old, Lewis was laid off from a construction job in December. Without an income or any significant savings, Lewis said she’d be forced to drain her meager retirement fund to cover the full amount due with no rental assistance subsidy offsetting the expense.

“People are really afraid right now and just don’t know what to do,” Lewis said. “I can’t afford market rate rent here. Where would I go, where would everyone go? One side of the building is all elderly or handicapped. The other side is all families. Where would we all go?”

For Cochran, the mother stockpiling food, a disruption could throw her life into chaos.

She lives in subsidized housing in Arlington, Virginia, with her six- and eight-year-old sons. She used to drive a truck, but recent health issues have left her unable to work. She relies solely on government subsidies to survive, cobbling together just enough to support her children using social security payments, food stamps and cash assistance payments. If any one of those federal programs were to stall, Cochran could end up on the street.

Cochran said she’s trying to sell some homemade crafts, and clothes to secondhand stores to squirrel away a few extra dollars. She returned the toys she’d bought for her sons for Christmas-a Hot Wheelz racetrack for the eight-year-old, a Mighty Beanz game for the younger boy-so she could buy them shoes.

“It was hard, but you have to make choices,” she said. “I’m experiencing quite a bit of anxiety.”

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