Africa at Special Risk From Cyber Attacks, Warn Experts

The dangers posed by cybercrime are on the rise across the globe – with high profile incidents like the recent ‘Wannacry’ ransomware attack an example of the growing threat. As the adoption of Internet and mobile technology grows, cyber experts say Africa is particularly at risk, as the continent’s cyber security lags behind. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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US House Bill Targets Recidivism with Enhanced Prison Job Training

The rate of incarceration in the U.S. is the world’s highest, leading to what many lawmakers and policy analysts say is a nationwide imprisonment epidemic. But the beginning of the end of that epidemic started Tuesday, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York, told VOA.

A bipartisan prison reform bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 360-59 vote “strikes an opening blow against the overcriminalization of the nation,” Jeffries, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said “the strong bipartisan vote paces the way for action by the Senate.” Last week, Trump endorsed the bill at a White House summit on prison reform, saying, “Our whole nation benefits if former inmates are able to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens.”

If the bill reaches the president’s desk for a signature, it would provide $50 million in funding for five years to provide job training, education and substance abuse treatment for prisoners as well as a number of quality-of-life measures aimed at reducing chronically high rates of recidivism among former inmates.

Contentious issue

But the contentious issue of criminal justice reform has split Democrats and Republicans within their own parties, possibly jeopardizing the bill’s chances of passage as it heads to the U.S. Senate.

In a letter to colleagues last week, Democratic Senators Kamala Harris, Dick Durbin and Cory Booker joined two House Democratic colleagues, Representatives John Lewis and Sheila Jackson Lee, in saying the bill could not be implemented effectively and could possibly lead to prison privatization.

Jeffries told VOA many of the arguments against the First Step Act “were anchored in falsehoods.”

He added the legislation passed today “is a first step towards eradicating the cancer of mass incarceration”  a move also welcomed by many House Republicans.

“Rather than allowing the cycle of crime to continue, this legislation takes a practical, intelligent approach to rehabilitation,” House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, said, speaking of the bill’s reform measures on the House floor Tuesday.

The bill represents the first significant criminal justice reform effort since the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, a measure that reduced the disparity in the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine required to trigger mandatory sentences for drug offenders.

But the First Step Act faces tough odds in the Senate, where a bipartisan group of senators is pushing for more comprehensive criminal justice reform.

The rival Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, championed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican, promises lower sentences for nonviolent, low-level offenders and gives judges greater discretion at sentencing, among other provisions.

Nearly two dozen senators have signed on to the bill, but the White House opposes the measure.   

“We need a more strategic approach to drug sentencing that focuses law enforcement resources on violent career criminals and drug kingpins instead of nonviolent, lower-level offenders,” Grassley wrote in a recent op-ed for Fox News.

Sentencing laws

Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, instituted in the 1970s and 1980s, are widely blamed for a sharp rise in the number of U.S. prisoners in recent decades.

Though the number of U.S. prisoners has fallen in recent years, nearly half of the 184,000 inmates currently held in federal correction facilities are serving time for drug offenses, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

The divide in Congress over prison reform mirrors an unusual schism among longtime advocates of overhauling America’s criminal justice system.

At one end of the spectrum is a coalition of more than 100 advocacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who say the bill falls short of bringing about “meaningful” criminal justice reform.

In a letter on Monday, the group urged House members to vote down the bill, saying it fails to address “racial disparities, draconian mandatory sentences, persistent overcrowding, lack of rehabilitation, and the exorbitant costs of incarceration.”

At the other end of the divide is an unlikely grouping of more than 70 other organizations that support the legislation, ranging from Koch Industries, headed by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that opposes mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Kevin Ring, the group’s president, says the prospect of sentencing reform under the Trump administration is slim, leaving prison reform as the only viable alternative.

“What we don’t want to do is make the perfect the enemy of the good: kill a bill that has modest reforms that will help real people just because we’re waiting for something that’s not likely to happen in this administration,” Ring said.

Ring said he hopes negotiations in the Senate can lead to a compromise between the First Step Act and the bill advocated by Grassley.

At the White House summit last week, Trump urged lawmakers to “work out their differences” and send him a reform bill to sign.

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Federal Reserve: US Households, Businesses See Good Times Ahead

Households are feeling more stable, small businesses are making money and many expect to expand and hire in the coming year, signs of continued optimism in two key parts of the economy, the Federal Reserve reported Tuesday in a pair of annual surveys.

Among more than 8,000 small businesses and more than 12,000 households covered in separate surveys late last year by the Fed and its 12 regional banks, the message was similar: economic conditions have been getting better and the expectation is for the good times to continue.

“We see a decided uptick” in the economic and credit conditions faced by small businesses, said one Fed official involved in the small business survey. “We are seeing improved business confidence and improved business performance,” with profitability and access to finance increasing in 2017, more than 70 percent of firms expecting revenue growth next year, and 48 percent expecting to add employees.

Among households, 74 percent of U.S. adults said they were financially comfortable or at least okay in 2017, four percentage points higher than in 2016 and 10 percentage points higher than the first survey year of 2013. Improvement was strongest in lower income households. The percentage of households that reported they were struggling financially fell to 7 percent from 9 percent last year.

The results from the surveys show that improvements in household and business conditions that took root under President Obama continued through the first year of the Trump administration.

Both findings are potentially significant for the economy’s future performance. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees generate perhaps 60 percent of new jobs, the New York Fed estimated in material released with the small business survey, and many report plans to expand in 2018.

Consumer spending, meanwhile, accounts for the bulk of U.S. gross domestic product, and strong household income growth in recent years has buoyed the economy overall.

“The mass of the consumer sector is in pretty good shape and that should continue,” Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income said in an interview.

However, based on answers to a series of questions, about 2-in-5 adults faced what the Fed judged to be a “high likelihood of material hardship,” such as an inability to afford sufficient food, medical treatment, housing or utilities. About 4 in 10 said they could not meet an unexpected expense of $400 without carrying a credit card balance or borrowing from a friend.

Among the smallest firms, those with less than $100,000 in revenue, about 74 percent had trouble paying their bills, and a majority of those were either averse to borrowing or worried they would be turned down and so did not apply for credit.

But in overall the results for positive, said Fed officials.

Among firms that did apply for loans, for example, 46 percent received all they requested, compared to 40 percent last year. Nearly 60 percent wanted to use the money to expand. 

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Federal Reserve: US Households, Businesses See Good Times Ahead

Households are feeling more stable, small businesses are making money and many expect to expand and hire in the coming year, signs of continued optimism in two key parts of the economy, the Federal Reserve reported Tuesday in a pair of annual surveys.

Among more than 8,000 small businesses and more than 12,000 households covered in separate surveys late last year by the Fed and its 12 regional banks, the message was similar: economic conditions have been getting better and the expectation is for the good times to continue.

“We see a decided uptick” in the economic and credit conditions faced by small businesses, said one Fed official involved in the small business survey. “We are seeing improved business confidence and improved business performance,” with profitability and access to finance increasing in 2017, more than 70 percent of firms expecting revenue growth next year, and 48 percent expecting to add employees.

Among households, 74 percent of U.S. adults said they were financially comfortable or at least okay in 2017, four percentage points higher than in 2016 and 10 percentage points higher than the first survey year of 2013. Improvement was strongest in lower income households. The percentage of households that reported they were struggling financially fell to 7 percent from 9 percent last year.

The results from the surveys show that improvements in household and business conditions that took root under President Obama continued through the first year of the Trump administration.

Both findings are potentially significant for the economy’s future performance. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees generate perhaps 60 percent of new jobs, the New York Fed estimated in material released with the small business survey, and many report plans to expand in 2018.

Consumer spending, meanwhile, accounts for the bulk of U.S. gross domestic product, and strong household income growth in recent years has buoyed the economy overall.

“The mass of the consumer sector is in pretty good shape and that should continue,” Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income said in an interview.

However, based on answers to a series of questions, about 2-in-5 adults faced what the Fed judged to be a “high likelihood of material hardship,” such as an inability to afford sufficient food, medical treatment, housing or utilities. About 4 in 10 said they could not meet an unexpected expense of $400 without carrying a credit card balance or borrowing from a friend.

Among the smallest firms, those with less than $100,000 in revenue, about 74 percent had trouble paying their bills, and a majority of those were either averse to borrowing or worried they would be turned down and so did not apply for credit.

But in overall the results for positive, said Fed officials.

Among firms that did apply for loans, for example, 46 percent received all they requested, compared to 40 percent last year. Nearly 60 percent wanted to use the money to expand. 

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Advocacy Groups Want Facebook ‘Monopoly’ to End

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told EU lawmakers Tuesday that the social media network will always be in “an arms race” with those who want to spread fake news, but that the company will be working to stay ahead and protect the network’s users. The social media giant has been under scrutiny since April when it became known that the Cambridge Analytica company harvested information on Facebook users to help Donald Trump during his 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Advocacy Groups Want Facebook ‘Monopoly’ to End

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told EU lawmakers Tuesday that the social media network will always be in “an arms race” with those who want to spread fake news, but that the company will be working to stay ahead and protect the network’s users. The social media giant has been under scrutiny since April when it became known that the Cambridge Analytica company harvested information on Facebook users to help Donald Trump during his 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Official: Trump Administration to Publish Proposed Rule Changes for Gun Exports

The Trump administration is preparing to publish on Thursday long-delayed proposed rule changes for the export of U.S. firearms, a State Department official said on Tuesday.

The rule changes would move the oversight of commercial firearm exports from the U.S. Department of State to the Department of Commerce.

The action is part of a broader Trump administration overhaul of weapons export policy that was announced in April.

Domestic gun sales drop

Timing for the formal publication of the rule change and the opening of the public comment period was unveiled by Mike Miller the acting secretary for the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, the State Department’s body that currently oversees the bulk of commercial firearms transfers and other foreign military sales.

He was speaking at the Forum on the Arms Trade’s annual conference at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank.

Reuters first reported on the proposed rule changes in September as the Trump administration was preparing to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers.

Domestic gun sales have fallen significantly after soaring under President Barack Obama, when gun enthusiasts stockpiled weapons and ammunition out of fear that the government would tighten gun laws.

A move by the Trump administration to make it simpler to sell small arms abroad may generate business for gun makers American Outdoor Brands and Sturm, Ruger & Company in an industry experiencing a deep sales slump since the election of President Donald Trump.

Remington recovers from bankruptcy

Remington, America’s oldest gun maker, filed for bankruptcy protection in March, weeks after a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people and triggered intensified campaigns for gun control by activists. Remington emerged from bankruptcy last week.

The expected relaxing of rules could increase foreign gun sales by as much as 20 percent, the National Sports Shooting Foundation has estimated. As well as the industry’s big players, it may also help small gunsmiths and specialists who are currently required to pay an annual federal fee to export relatively minor amounts of products.

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Official: Trump Administration to Publish Proposed Rule Changes for Gun Exports

The Trump administration is preparing to publish on Thursday long-delayed proposed rule changes for the export of U.S. firearms, a State Department official said on Tuesday.

The rule changes would move the oversight of commercial firearm exports from the U.S. Department of State to the Department of Commerce.

The action is part of a broader Trump administration overhaul of weapons export policy that was announced in April.

Domestic gun sales drop

Timing for the formal publication of the rule change and the opening of the public comment period was unveiled by Mike Miller the acting secretary for the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, the State Department’s body that currently oversees the bulk of commercial firearms transfers and other foreign military sales.

He was speaking at the Forum on the Arms Trade’s annual conference at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank.

Reuters first reported on the proposed rule changes in September as the Trump administration was preparing to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers.

Domestic gun sales have fallen significantly after soaring under President Barack Obama, when gun enthusiasts stockpiled weapons and ammunition out of fear that the government would tighten gun laws.

A move by the Trump administration to make it simpler to sell small arms abroad may generate business for gun makers American Outdoor Brands and Sturm, Ruger & Company in an industry experiencing a deep sales slump since the election of President Donald Trump.

Remington recovers from bankruptcy

Remington, America’s oldest gun maker, filed for bankruptcy protection in March, weeks after a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people and triggered intensified campaigns for gun control by activists. Remington emerged from bankruptcy last week.

The expected relaxing of rules could increase foreign gun sales by as much as 20 percent, the National Sports Shooting Foundation has estimated. As well as the industry’s big players, it may also help small gunsmiths and specialists who are currently required to pay an annual federal fee to export relatively minor amounts of products.

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