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NY Court Considers Cold War Secrecy Over Muslim Surveillance

New York’s highest court will consider on Tuesday whether the New York Police Department can use a Cold War-era legal tactic to conceal information about whether it put Muslims under surveillance.

The Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the cases of two Muslims who say the NYPD overstepped its reach by responding to a 2012 public records request related to the surveillance by saying it could “neither confirm nor deny” the records even existed.

The lawsuits over that so-called Glomar response were prompted by a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning stories by The Associated Press that detailed how the NYPD searched for possible terrorists after 9/11, in part by infiltrating Muslim student groups and putting informants in mosques.

The cases of former Rutgers University student Samir Hashmi and Manhattan imam Talib Abdur-Rashid were initially heard separately, with two lower court judges issuing conflicting rulings. In Hashmi’s case, a court denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In Abdur-Rashid’s case, the court ruled the Glomar doctrine was allowable in response to state Freedom of Information Law requests.

The cases have since been combined, with Manhattan attorney Omar Mohammedi representing the two men.

“It would be a detriment to all New Yorkers if the decision goes the NYPD’s way,” Mohammedi told The Associated Press. “We might as well not have FOIL.”

New York City’s Law Department did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Last year, spokesman Nick Paolucci told the AP after the Abdur-Rashid ruling that “the NYPD is not required to reveal the targets of counterterrorism surveillance.”

The Glomar doctrine is named for the Hughes Glomar Explorer, a massive salvage ship built by the eccentric industrialist who died in 1976. Two years earlier, the CIA had used the ship to retrieve a portion of a Soviet submarine that had sunk in the Pacific Ocean in 1968, killing everyone aboard. The Glomar featured technology designed to lift the sub more than 3 miles (4 kilometers) to the surface, but most of the sub broke apart and fell back to the ocean floor.

When a journalist sought information on the Hughes-built ship in 1976, a federal court issued a ruling that allowed the CIA to “neither confirm nor deny” whether records existed on the mission. The Glomar doctrine has since been used by agencies if information falls within certain exemptions.

But Mohammedi said the NYPD is overstepping its reach in applying the tactic to cases involving the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

“The Glomar doctrine was initiated based on national defense,” he said. “This issue should be decided by legislators, not decided by the NYPD just because they want to do this.”

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US Trade Gap Hits $566 Billion in 2017, Highest Since 2008

The U.S. trade deficit hit the highest level in nine years in 2017, defying President Donald Trump’s efforts to bring more balance to America’s trade relationships.

 

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that the trade gap in goods and services rose to $566 billion last year, the highest level since $708.7 billion in 2008. Imports set a record $2.9 trillion, swamping exports of $2.3 trillion.

 

The U.S. ran an $810 billion deficit in the trade of goods and a $244 billion surplus in services such as banking and education.

 

The goods deficit with China hit a record $375.2 billion in 2017, and the goods gap with Mexico rose to $71.1 billion. Trump has sought to reduce the deficits with China and Mexico. His administration is weighing whether to impose trade sanctions on China for the theft of U.S. intellectual property. It is also renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

 

The overall December trade deficit in goods and services rose to $53.1 billion, up from $50.4 billion in November and highest since October 2008.

 

Countries run trade deficits when they buy more from other countries than they sell.

 

Trump sees trade deficits as a sign of economic weakness and largely as the result of unfair competition by America’s trading partners. Most economists see them largely as the result of bigger economic forces: Americans spend more than they produce, and imports fill the gap.

 

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Glasses Capture 360 Video From Wearer’s Perspective

Imagine putting on a pair of glasses and immediately being able to record 360-degree video, hands free, regardless of what you are doing. It will soon be possible with glasses made by Orbi.

“We’re making the first 360-degree video recording eyewear,” said Adil Suranchin, chief of operations at Orbi, a company headquartered in Berkeley, California, with its software team in Russia and with hardware developed in Taiwan, Japan, China and Canada.

Pair of glasses, four lenses

The glasses have a built-in camera with four lenses, two in front and two in the back. The result is 4K resolution immersive video. The glasses allow video to be recorded from the user’s perspective.

“You put them on, press the button, and you can say goodbye to all the mounts and rigs and tripods required for current action cameras.” Suranchin continued, “Every camera has a field of view of 180 degrees so it allows you to capture a complete dome view.”

The dome view means if the person wearing Orbi’s glasses isn’t looking down when recording, the video will have an area where it is just black.

Privacy concerns

Video-recording glasses also raises privacy concerns of the people being recorded.

“We have LED indicators, LED lights that light on when the recording is being done so that all surrounding people would know that the recording is happening,” Suranchin said.

The video can be shared instantly, and the files are saved on an SD card. The glasses are water-resistant, polarized and can be pre-ordered for $399 to be shipped starting August.

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Nigeria’s President Signs Order to Boost Local Production, Employment

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday signed an executive order aimed at boosting the local production of goods and create jobs in the west African country.

Buhari, a 75-year-old former military ruler, has frequently spoken about ending the OPEC member’s dependence on oil exports while also creating jobs by boosting local food production.

And in 2015, months after Buhari came to power in May of that year, the central bank restricted access to foreign currency to import certain goods in a bid to stimulate local manufacturing.

The president “ordered that all ‘procuring authorities shall give preference to Nigerian companies and firms in the award of contracts, in line with the Public Procurement Act 2007,'” said the presidency in a statement circulated on Monday.

“The executive order also prohibits the ministry of interior from giving visas to foreign workers whose skills are readily available in Nigeria,” added the statement.

Around four out of every 10 people in the country’s workforce were unemployed or underemployed by the end of September, according to data released by the statistics office in December.

The order states that consideration will only be given to a foreign professional, “where it is certified by the appropriate authority that such expertise is not available in Nigeria.”

The country, which has Africa’s largest population and biggest economy, in 2016 fell into its a recession largely caused by low oil prices and militant attacks on energy facilities in the Niger Delta region.

It emerged from recession in the second quarter of 2017, largely on higher on oil prices.

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Will US Intelligence Agencies Stop Confiding to Congress?

Top intelligence and law enforcement officials warn that last week’s release of a congressional memo alleging FBI surveillance abuse could have wide-ranging repercussions: Spy agencies could start sharing less information with Congress, weakening oversight. Lawmakers will try to declassify more intelligence for political gain. Confidential informants will worry about being outed on Capitol Hill.

The GOP-produced memo released last week contends that when the FBI asked a secret court for a warrant to do surveillance on a former associate in then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, the bureau relied too heavily on a dossier compiled by an ex-British spy whose opposition research was funded by Democrats.

Critics accuse Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., of abusing his power as chairman of the House intelligence committee to do the president’s bidding and undermine the investigation into whether any Trump campaign associates colluded with Russian during the 2016 election. His office rebuts that claim, saying the real abuse of power was using unverified information bought and paid for by one political campaign to justify government surveillance of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

This is’t the first time intelligence has been politicized. Both Democrats and Republicans used the release of the so-called torture report in late 2015 outlining the CIA’s detention and interrogation program as political ammunition. In the 1960s, while intelligence agencies warned that the Vietnam War was being lost, the White House was telling the public the opposite. During the George W. Bush administration, cherry-picked intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction fueled momentum for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Former CIA Director Mike Hayden worries that the memo’s release will damage congressional oversight and the effectiveness of law enforcement.

“We are chiseling away at processes and institutions on which we currently depend — and on which we will depend in the future,” said Hayden, who has worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Hayden, who also directed the National Security Agency, wrote an op-ed in The Cipher Brief, an online newsletter focused on intelligence issues, to urge Justice Department and intelligence professionals to speak out. He wondered, though, if they would, given Trump’s penchant for honoring loyalty.

“A senior official in justice or a senior official in intelligence needs to say, ‘We need to take a knee here. We need to take a deep breath’” Hayden said. “What we are now doing is destroying the institutions we need to keep America safe.”

Josh Campbell, a former supervisory special agent with the FBI who investigated counterterrorism, recently resigned to do just that. Partisan attacks undermine the agency and national security, according to Campbell, who said he disagrees with colleagues who advised staying mum until the current controversy passes.

“FBI agents are dogged people who do not care about the direction of political winds,” Campbell said in an editorial published Feb. 2 in The New York Times. “But to succeed in their work, they need public backing. Scorched-earth attacks from politicians with partisan goals now threaten that support, raising corrosive doubts about the integrity of the FBI that could last for generations.”

FBI director Christopher Wray and the second-ranking official at the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, had urged Trump to keep the memo classified and out of public view, but the president declined. Last week, Trump attacked both agencies through his Twitter account, saying their leadership and investigators had “politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.”

Wray has defended the bureau and its agents throughout the memo controversy.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who is a member of the House intelligence committee, said the memo is not a rebuke of the FBI rank-and-file or special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The memo is about a process and what kinds of information should be used in order to allow the federal government to spy on Americans,” said Hurd, a former covert CIA officer. “In my opinion, unverified information, circular reporting and rumors should not be used in an application to spy on American citizens. We should be protecting our civil liberties.”

Robert Litt, the former general counsel for the director of national intelligence, said the future relationship between intelligence agencies and their congressional overseers has been put at risk.

“The precedent that’s been set here is very dangerous’ Litt said. “You can only imagine if the Democrats get control of the House in the mid-year election; they will now be able to say look, ‘We’ve established a precedent here. You’ve released classified information, and we’re going to start doing it as well.’”

Democrats have prepared their own memo in response to the one Nunes released last week and have asked the committee to authorize its release.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said he too fears lawmakers will start seeking to disclose intelligence information in politically biased memos.

Schiff also worries that confidential sources could become more reluctant to provide information to U.S. intelligence agencies for fear that Congress could out them. Moreover, the American public could start wondering whether actions that law enforcement and intelligence agencies take to protect the country will be mischaracterized for political reasons, he said.

The contract between intelligence agencies and the House intelligence committee is broken, he warned.

“I have to think that it’s going to have a chilling effect on what they’re willing to share with us,” he said “It’s also going to be very demoralizing for people at the FBI to see them being used as a piñata for partisan reasons.”

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Deal on US Immigration Reform Remains Elusive

With three days to go before U.S. government funding runs out yet again, the path to an immigration deal remained murky on Monday, with President Donald Trump rejecting core elements of a bipartisan proposal put forward in the Senate.

“Any deal on DACA that does not include STRONG border security and the desperately needed WALL is a total waste of time,” Trump tweeted, restating some of his demands for approving a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants brought to America as children.

“We’re building the wall. Believe me, we’re building the wall,” the president later emphasized during a speech in Ohio. “The ones that don’t want security at the southern border or any other border are the Democrats.”

Trump spoke out as Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware unveiled a proposal granting legal status to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama administration program Trump set for expiration next month.

The bipartisan bill seeks to boost border security but would mandate a study to determine the most effective means to do so — neither ruling out a border wall nor providing immediate funding for one, as Trump has demanded. Setting a goal of attaining “operational control” of U.S. borders by 2020, the proposed legislation mirrors a House bill that has dozens of co-sponsors of both political parties.

Immigrant rights groups praised the proposal for its limited scope, saying a bill that focuses on DACA and border security has a better chance of passing in Congress than comprehensive legislation addressing both legal and illegal immigration.

“Narrow gets it done. A radical and massive overhaul does not,” said Frank Sharry of Washington-based America’s Voice, which urges a swift path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

In his tweet, Trump noted that March 5, when DACA recipients lose protections from deportation, “is rapidly approaching.” He said Democrats “seem not to care about DACA. Make a deal!”

For their part, Democratic leaders signaled a growing resistance to key planks of the White House’s blueprint for immigration, including a reduction in legal immigration and prioritizing newcomers with advanced skills to benefit the U.S. economy.

“This is not an acceptable premise,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said on CNN. “They (Trump and some Republican lawmakers) want to cut legal immigration into the United States of family members, some of whom have waited 20 years or more to join up with their families here.”

A continued impasse would put to the test a pledge by Senate Majority Leader McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. Last month, McConnell secured enough Democratic support to end a three-day partial government shutdown by promising to start a floor debate on a DACA fix if no bipartisan immigration agreement had been reached by Feb. 8, when federal spending authority expires once again.

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House Committee Votes to Send Democratic Version of Memo to Trump

The House Intelligence Committee has voted to release the Democratic rebuttal to a Republican-approved memo alleging that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) abused its power in probing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The memo now goes to U.S. President Donald Trump, who will review the Democratic rebuttal to see if it exposed classified information. Trump claims the Republican memo crafted by House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes and others “totally vindicates” him of wrongdoing in the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the election and whether he obstructed justice in trying to limit the probe.

In a Twitter remark early Monday, Trump assailed the top Democrat on the panel, referring to him as “Little Adam Schiff.” The California congressman has called the Republican memo a “political hit job” on the FBI.

The president said Schiff “is desperate to run for higher office.” Trump claimed Schiff “is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there” with former FBI director James Comey, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, former Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan and former director of National Intelligence James Clapper —all of whom Trump has feuded with over national security issues.

“Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped!” Trump claimed.

Schiff responded on Twitter, saying, “Mr. President, I see you’ve had a busy morning of ‘Executive Time.’ Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or … really anything else.”

Meanwhile, Trump praised Nunes, saying, “Representative Devin Nunes, a man of tremendous courage and grit, may someday be recognized as a Great American Hero for what he has exposed and what he has had to endure!”

Later, in a speech in Ohio extolling his tax cut legislation, Trump called Democrats “un-American” and “treasonous” for not applauding his State of the Union speech last week.

Republican memo

Several Republicans on Sunday disputed Trump’s contention that the Republican memo vindicated him in the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The four-page memo concluded the FBI relied excessively on opposition research funded by Democrats in a dossier compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, as its sought approval from a U.S. surveillance court in October 2016 to monitor Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser, and his links to Russia.

But the memo also noted that the FBI investigation that eventually led to Mueller’s probe started months earlier — in July 2016 — when agents began looking into contacts between another Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos, and Russian operatives. Papadopoulos, as part of Mueller’s probe, has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his Russian contacts and, pending his sentencing, is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, one of the key authors of the Republican memo, told CBS’s Face the Nation the document does not undermine Mueller’s months-long investigation.

Gowdy said that “there is a Russia investigation without a [Steele] dossier” because of other Trump campaign links to Russia, including a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York set up by Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., on the premise that a Russian lawyer would hand over incriminating evidence on Trump’s election opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Gowdy said the Steele dossier “also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice.”

Another Republican on the Intelligence panel, Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, told Fox News, “I think it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest the special counsel should not continue his work. This memo, frankly, has nothing to do at all with the special counsel.”

Opposition to memo

In a letter Sunday, Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer pushed Trump to approve the release of the Democratic response to the Nunes memo, saying Americans should “be allowed to see both sides of the argument and make their own judgments.” 

Democratic lawmakers opposed to Friday’s release of the memo contend that the Republican-approved statement “cherry-picks” information and overstates the importance of the Steele dossier in the FBI’s effort to win approval from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court for the monitoring of Page’s activities.

The FBI also opposed release of the memo, saying it had “grave concerns” about its accuracy because of omissions concerning its request to the surveillance court to monitor Page. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Mueller investigation, also opposed its release.

Nunes said last week he hoped release of the memo would “shine a light” on what he called “this alarming series of events.”

“The committee has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes,” Nunes said. “Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies exist to defend the American people, not to be exploited to target one group on behalf of another.”

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Venezuela Announces 99.6 Percent Devaluation of Official Forex Rate

Venezuela’s central bank on Monday announced a devaluation of more than 99 percent of its official exchange rate with the launch of a new foreign exchange platform, a move critics quickly said would not create a functioning currency market.

The central bank said the first auction of its new DICOM system yielded an exchange rate of 30,987.5 bolivars per euro, equivalent to around 25,000 per dollar.

That is a devaluation of 86.6 percent with respect to the previous DICOM rate and 99.6 percent from the subsidized rate of 10 bolivars per dollar, which was eliminated last week.

Venezuela is undergoing a major crisis, with quadruple-digit inflation and shortages of food and medicine. Economists consistently describe the 15-year-old currency control system as the principal obstacle to functioning commerce and industry.

The new rate is still dwarfed by the black market rate for greenbacks, currently at 228,000 bolivars per dollar according to website DolarToday, which is used as a reference.

The existence of such disparate exchange rates has for years encouraged Venezuelans to buy dollars on the cheap and flip them on the black market for a profit. That has created shortages of hard currency, which in turn fuels shortages of imported products such as food and medicine.

The government has repeatedly created foreign exchange mechanisms similar to DICOM, but business leaders say they never provided a steady supply of hard currency.

The government would repeatedly end up shuttering the foreign exchange platforms in part because maintaining an exchange rate so divergent from the black market rate proved to be unsustainable.

“If the exchange rate is imposed arbitrarily, it will perpetuate the crisis,” wrote Alejandro Grisanti of local consultancy Ecoanalitica on Twitter.

(1 eur = 1.24 dollars)

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UN: US Tax Overhaul May Drain $2 Trillion From Foreign Projects

U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax reform could bring almost $2 trillion back to the United States as U.S. firms repatriate cash piles from foreign affiliates, a U.N. report said Monday.

Ending the incentive to hoard cash overseas could produce a stimulus effect in the United States, and Trump has credited the tax reform with spurring a $350 billion investment plan by Apple.

“Now is the perfect time to bring your business, your jobs, and your investments to the United States of America,” Trump told the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

The reform ends a system whereby companies defer tax on foreign earnings until the funds are repatriated. Instead it treats those earnings as if they were being repatriated, with an 8 percent tax on non-cash assets and a 15.5 percent tax on cash.

“This measure is widely expected to have the most significant and immediate effect on global investment patterns,” said the report by the U.N. trade and development agency UNCTAD.

Big firms had long awaited such a tax break, having last received one in the 2005 U.S. Homeland Investment Act, which brought $300 billion back from abroad, the report said.

Since then, U.S. overseas retained earnings have grown to $3.2 trillion, half of U.S.-owned foreign direct investment, with about $2 trillion in cash. Unlike in 2005, companies are not required to actually repatriate the funds.

The biggest overseas cash hoarders are in the tech sector, with Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Alphabet and Oracle holding $530 billion, a quarter of the total, the report said. Other major cash holders are in pharmaceuticals and engineering.

Almost 40 percent of the funds are located in the United Kingdom or its Caribbean offshore territories such as the British Virgin Islands, UNCTAD said, citing data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Even if the money was not invested in tangible assets, its withdrawal could still have a macroeconomic impact, said Richard Bolwijn, UNCTAD’s head of investment research.

“It’s still a part of … the external sources of finance helping to make up for savings shortfalls in developing countries,” he said.

Much of the impact depends on how other countries react, and there is still uncertainty as the details of the tax bill are clarified. In addition, there are some concerns that the U.S. reforms could violate tax treaties and trade rules, the UNCTAD report said.

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