Ohio Race Shows How NRA Flexes Its Political Muscle

The National Rifle Association pounced when former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, declared at an AFL-CIO event in Cleveland that the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “happened at a good time.”

Scalia remains a hero to many gun owners and the NRA alerted its members to Strickland’s disrespect. It was part of a barrage by the group to portray its one-time ally as an anti-gun politician interested only in money and power.

“That was painful,” said Strickland, recalling the NRA’s effort to tear down the public trust he’d spent years building. “They were out to get me.”

The anti-Strickland campaign in the battleground state of Ohio two years ago is a window into how the influential gun rights group wields its political muscle. That clout will be on display heading into the 2018 midterm elections as gun control advocates demand swift action following the Feb. 14 shooting at a high school in Florida.

The NRA’s deep pockets and bare-knuckled approach leave the impression it effectively purchases loyalty from lawmakers. But the NRA actually donates small amounts of money to candidates when compared to the large sums it spends on potent get-out-the-vote operations and ad campaigns.

NRA-funded advertisements that air on cable networks and travel across the internet during the months and weeks before an election are carefully crafted to warn members of candidates that, if elected, will come for their guns. The NRA’s political action committee, the Political Victory Fund, also grades elected officials on an A to F scale, a shorthand voting guide that steers members to pro-gun candidates.

The Political Victory Fund and the NRA’s lobbying arm spent about $52.5 million overall during the 2016 elections on “independent expenditures,” according to political money website OpenSecrets.org. There’s no limit on this type of campaign spending and it includes money for television and online advertising, mailers and other forms of communication designed to support or oppose a particular candidate.

Nearly 70 percent of the NRA’s 2016 budget was used to target Democrats, with Hillary Clinton topping the list of candidates the group sought to defeat. The rest went to backing Donald Trump and congressional Republicans who’ve consistently shot down attempts by Democrats to approve gun control measures in the wake of mass shootings in the United States.

But pressure for at least modest firearms restrictions is heavy after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which in turn raises the stakes for the NRA. Trump stunned his GOP allies last week when he sided with Democrats by urging quick and substantial changes to the nation’s gun laws. Yet later, after meeting with Trump, NRA leaders declared the president and his administration “don’t want gun control.” The mixed messages brought action on gun legislation in Congress to a halt.

The figures compiled by Open Secrets show that in Ohio the NRA spent nearly $1.6 million to oppose Strickland in the 2016 Senate race, while devoting about half as much to support the Republican incumbent, Sen. Rob Portman, who defeated Strickland by a wide margin.

The NRA donated $9,900 directly to Portman’s campaign, the same amount the group gave to 12 other Republican lawmakers. Unlike independent expenditures, donations from individuals and PACs are capped for each election cycle. Portman said the NRA’s money represented just a fraction of the more than $25 million his campaign raised in 2016 and he denied the gun group acquired any leverage through the donations.

“I never make a decision based on a contribution,” Portman said. “That’s just not how you operate.”

The NRA’s Political Victory Fund ran its first ad against Strickland in July when the Ohio Senate race was still competitive, and the 30-second spot illustrates the gun group’s tactics. Strickland is portrayed as a traitor for turning his back on gun rights.

“Ted Strickland. Out for power. Out for money. Out . . . for himself,” the narrator said as suspenseful music plays in the background.

Strickland said the NRA succeeded in shifting the impression many Ohioans had of him. Suddenly it didn’t matter as much that he was a steelworker’s son who’d grown up on a dirt road in the state’s Appalachia region. Or that he was raised among guns and just a few years before the Senate race had earned the NRA’s coveted A+ rating.

All that mattered to the NRA was that Strickland, troubled by a spate of mass shootings, had changed his mind. After stepping down as governor, he joined a liberal advocacy group and backed comprehensive background checks for gun buyers and a ban on assault-style rifles.

David Niven, a professor of American politics at the University of Cincinnati, said the NRA almost certainly wanted to punish Strickland for being an “apostate” on top of ensuring the gun-friendly GOP maintained its majority in the Senate. Political action committees and other outside groups tend to sweep in during the last stages of an election, but Niven said the NRA got an early start in Ohio.

“I don’t think there’s any question that they intended their participation in this race to send a message,” Niven said. “There was something intolerable to them about having an ally turn into a skeptic.”

Strickland served in Congress for more than a decade until 2006, when he successfully ran for governor with the NRA’s backing. He got the group’s support a second time when he ran for re-election in 2010, but lost to Republican John Kasich as the governor’s race centered on economic woes gripping the state.

The NRA’s endorsement commended Strickland as “an unwavering defender of our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms” and noted his opposition to a 2004 ban on certain semi-automatic weapons while in Congress and his signature on an update of concealed carry laws.

But that opinion changed drastically after Strickland in 2014 became president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action, which the NRA called a “radical anti-gun group” for proposing gun control measures.

When Strickland sought to unseat Portman two years later, the NRA “reframed the race in ways that were detrimental to me,” he said. Trump won Ohio by about 447,000 votes. Scioto, Strickland’s home county on the border with Kentucky, backed Trump and Portman overwhelmingly.

The NRA’s opposition had an effect, Strickland said, but he didn’t believe it was the deciding factor in his loss to Portman.

Portman raised $25 million, more than twice as much as Strickland did, and won over labor unions that had once been firmly in Strickland’s corner. As Strickland failed to gain traction with voters, national Democrats pulled millions of dollars in planned pro-Strickland ads out of the state more than a month before the election.

The NRA wasn’t the only one funneling money into Ohio. Outside groups, including those tied to the billionaire Koch brothers, spent upward of $30 million on anti-Strickland ads focused on Ohio’s economy during his governorship, which coincided with the national recession.

The NRA struck out in Nevada and New Hampshire, where the Democratic candidates won despite the gun group’s opposition. In Nevada, a battleground state like Ohio, the NRA plowed $2.4 million into the race to stop Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. She narrowly won.

“They spent millions of dollars to try to beat me and didn’t,” said Masto, a former federal prosecutor who served for eight years as Nevada’s attorney general before her Senate run. “It was ridiculous.”

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Ohio Race Shows How NRA Flexes Its Political Muscle

The National Rifle Association pounced when former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, declared at an AFL-CIO event in Cleveland that the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “happened at a good time.”

Scalia remains a hero to many gun owners and the NRA alerted its members to Strickland’s disrespect. It was part of a barrage by the group to portray its one-time ally as an anti-gun politician interested only in money and power.

“That was painful,” said Strickland, recalling the NRA’s effort to tear down the public trust he’d spent years building. “They were out to get me.”

The anti-Strickland campaign in the battleground state of Ohio two years ago is a window into how the influential gun rights group wields its political muscle. That clout will be on display heading into the 2018 midterm elections as gun control advocates demand swift action following the Feb. 14 shooting at a high school in Florida.

The NRA’s deep pockets and bare-knuckled approach leave the impression it effectively purchases loyalty from lawmakers. But the NRA actually donates small amounts of money to candidates when compared to the large sums it spends on potent get-out-the-vote operations and ad campaigns.

NRA-funded advertisements that air on cable networks and travel across the internet during the months and weeks before an election are carefully crafted to warn members of candidates that, if elected, will come for their guns. The NRA’s political action committee, the Political Victory Fund, also grades elected officials on an A to F scale, a shorthand voting guide that steers members to pro-gun candidates.

The Political Victory Fund and the NRA’s lobbying arm spent about $52.5 million overall during the 2016 elections on “independent expenditures,” according to political money website OpenSecrets.org. There’s no limit on this type of campaign spending and it includes money for television and online advertising, mailers and other forms of communication designed to support or oppose a particular candidate.

Nearly 70 percent of the NRA’s 2016 budget was used to target Democrats, with Hillary Clinton topping the list of candidates the group sought to defeat. The rest went to backing Donald Trump and congressional Republicans who’ve consistently shot down attempts by Democrats to approve gun control measures in the wake of mass shootings in the United States.

But pressure for at least modest firearms restrictions is heavy after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which in turn raises the stakes for the NRA. Trump stunned his GOP allies last week when he sided with Democrats by urging quick and substantial changes to the nation’s gun laws. Yet later, after meeting with Trump, NRA leaders declared the president and his administration “don’t want gun control.” The mixed messages brought action on gun legislation in Congress to a halt.

The figures compiled by Open Secrets show that in Ohio the NRA spent nearly $1.6 million to oppose Strickland in the 2016 Senate race, while devoting about half as much to support the Republican incumbent, Sen. Rob Portman, who defeated Strickland by a wide margin.

The NRA donated $9,900 directly to Portman’s campaign, the same amount the group gave to 12 other Republican lawmakers. Unlike independent expenditures, donations from individuals and PACs are capped for each election cycle. Portman said the NRA’s money represented just a fraction of the more than $25 million his campaign raised in 2016 and he denied the gun group acquired any leverage through the donations.

“I never make a decision based on a contribution,” Portman said. “That’s just not how you operate.”

The NRA’s Political Victory Fund ran its first ad against Strickland in July when the Ohio Senate race was still competitive, and the 30-second spot illustrates the gun group’s tactics. Strickland is portrayed as a traitor for turning his back on gun rights.

“Ted Strickland. Out for power. Out for money. Out . . . for himself,” the narrator said as suspenseful music plays in the background.

Strickland said the NRA succeeded in shifting the impression many Ohioans had of him. Suddenly it didn’t matter as much that he was a steelworker’s son who’d grown up on a dirt road in the state’s Appalachia region. Or that he was raised among guns and just a few years before the Senate race had earned the NRA’s coveted A+ rating.

All that mattered to the NRA was that Strickland, troubled by a spate of mass shootings, had changed his mind. After stepping down as governor, he joined a liberal advocacy group and backed comprehensive background checks for gun buyers and a ban on assault-style rifles.

David Niven, a professor of American politics at the University of Cincinnati, said the NRA almost certainly wanted to punish Strickland for being an “apostate” on top of ensuring the gun-friendly GOP maintained its majority in the Senate. Political action committees and other outside groups tend to sweep in during the last stages of an election, but Niven said the NRA got an early start in Ohio.

“I don’t think there’s any question that they intended their participation in this race to send a message,” Niven said. “There was something intolerable to them about having an ally turn into a skeptic.”

Strickland served in Congress for more than a decade until 2006, when he successfully ran for governor with the NRA’s backing. He got the group’s support a second time when he ran for re-election in 2010, but lost to Republican John Kasich as the governor’s race centered on economic woes gripping the state.

The NRA’s endorsement commended Strickland as “an unwavering defender of our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms” and noted his opposition to a 2004 ban on certain semi-automatic weapons while in Congress and his signature on an update of concealed carry laws.

But that opinion changed drastically after Strickland in 2014 became president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action, which the NRA called a “radical anti-gun group” for proposing gun control measures.

When Strickland sought to unseat Portman two years later, the NRA “reframed the race in ways that were detrimental to me,” he said. Trump won Ohio by about 447,000 votes. Scioto, Strickland’s home county on the border with Kentucky, backed Trump and Portman overwhelmingly.

The NRA’s opposition had an effect, Strickland said, but he didn’t believe it was the deciding factor in his loss to Portman.

Portman raised $25 million, more than twice as much as Strickland did, and won over labor unions that had once been firmly in Strickland’s corner. As Strickland failed to gain traction with voters, national Democrats pulled millions of dollars in planned pro-Strickland ads out of the state more than a month before the election.

The NRA wasn’t the only one funneling money into Ohio. Outside groups, including those tied to the billionaire Koch brothers, spent upward of $30 million on anti-Strickland ads focused on Ohio’s economy during his governorship, which coincided with the national recession.

The NRA struck out in Nevada and New Hampshire, where the Democratic candidates won despite the gun group’s opposition. In Nevada, a battleground state like Ohio, the NRA plowed $2.4 million into the race to stop Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. She narrowly won.

“They spent millions of dollars to try to beat me and didn’t,” said Masto, a former federal prosecutor who served for eight years as Nevada’s attorney general before her Senate run. “It was ridiculous.”

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Trump Would Exempt Canada, Mexico from Tariffs if New NAFTA Deal Reached

U.S. President Donald Trump says Mexico and Canada would be exempted from his planned tariffs on steel and aluminum imports if they can reach a “new and fair” trade agreement with the United States.

The three countries are currently in negotiations on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the latest round of talks wrapping up in Mexico City.

Trump contended Monday on Twitter the 24-year-old agreement “has been a bad deal for U.S.A.  Massive relocation of companies & jobs.”  He added, “Canada must treat our farmers much better.  Highly restrictive.  Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S.  They have not done what needs to be done.  Millions of people addicted and dying.”

He said that “To protect our Country we must protect American Steel! #AMERICA FIRST.”

In 2016, the last year with complete government statistics, the United States said it sent $12.5 billion more in goods and services to Canada than it imported, while it had a $55.6 billion trade deficit with Mexico.

Canada is the largest U.S. trading partner and last year shipped $7.2 billion worth of aluminum and $4.3 billion of steel to the United States.

The tariffs –  25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum – would hit other U.S. allies: Britain, Germany, South Korea, Turkey and Japan.  But China, the world’s biggest steel producer would be less affected, it only sends two percent of its supply to the United States.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday that Trump is not planning to exempt any countries from the tariff hike.

Navarro told CNN that final details on Trump’s anticipated 25 percent tax on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum should be completed by later in the week or early next week at the latest.

Trump’s new tariffs for the key metals have drawn wide condemnation from business-oriented Republican lawmakers in the U.S., as well as Canada and the European Union. But Navarro said the tariffs are needed to “protect our national security and economic security, broadly defined.”

He dismissed concerns from Defense Department officials who voiced support for targeted tariff increases aimed at specific countries but not increases on the imported metals from throughout the world.

Navarro called it “a slippery slope” to target only some countries with increased tariffs while exempting others. He said there would be a mechanism to exclude some businesses, on a case-by-case basis, from having to pay higher prices for the imported metals.

Navarro said the message to the world on U.S. trade practices is simple: “We’re not going to take it anymore. We don’t get good results,” Navarro said, adding that U.S. trade overseas is “not fair and reciprocal.”

In another news talk show appearance, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told ABC News that Trump has talked with “a number of the world leaders” about his trade tariff plans.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said that in a Sunday phone call with Trump she had “raised our deep concern at the president’s forthcoming announcement on steel and aluminum tariffs, noting that multilateral action was the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity in all parties’ interests.”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Ross said the total value of the impending U.S. tariffs amounts to about $9 billion a year, a fraction of 1 percent of the annual $18.6 trillion U.S. economy, the world’s largest.

“So, the notion that it would destroy a lot of jobs, raise prices, disrupt things, is wrong,” Ross said.

Ross dismissed European Union threats of imposing retaliatory tariffs on such prominent American products as Harley Davidson motorcycles, bourbon and Levi’s jeans as unimportant and a “rounding error.”

In response on Saturday, Trump threatened European automakers with a tax on imports if the European Union retaliates against the U.S.

Ross called the possible European levies a “pretty trivial amount of retaliatory tariffs, adding up to some $3 billion of goods. In our size economy, that’s a tiny, tiny fraction of 1 percent. So, while it might affect an individual producer for a little while, overall, it’s not going to be much more than a rounding error.”

Trump weighed in Saturday on his rationale for the tariff hikes with a pair of Twitter comments.

 

“The United States has an $800 Billion Dollar Yearly Trade Deficit because of our ‘very stupid’ trade deals and policies,” he said. “Our jobs and wealth are being given to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years. They laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!

“If the EU wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S.,” he added. “They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!”

In 2017, the U.S. imported $151 billion more in goods from Europe than it exported to EU countries.

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Trump Would Exempt Canada, Mexico from Tariffs if New NAFTA Deal Reached

U.S. President Donald Trump says Mexico and Canada would be exempted from his planned tariffs on steel and aluminum imports if they can reach a “new and fair” trade agreement with the United States.

The three countries are currently in negotiations on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the latest round of talks wrapping up in Mexico City.

Trump contended Monday on Twitter the 24-year-old agreement “has been a bad deal for U.S.A.  Massive relocation of companies & jobs.”  He added, “Canada must treat our farmers much better.  Highly restrictive.  Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S.  They have not done what needs to be done.  Millions of people addicted and dying.”

He said that “To protect our Country we must protect American Steel! #AMERICA FIRST.”

In 2016, the last year with complete government statistics, the United States said it sent $12.5 billion more in goods and services to Canada than it imported, while it had a $55.6 billion trade deficit with Mexico.

Canada is the largest U.S. trading partner and last year shipped $7.2 billion worth of aluminum and $4.3 billion of steel to the United States.

The tariffs –  25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum – would hit other U.S. allies: Britain, Germany, South Korea, Turkey and Japan.  But China, the world’s biggest steel producer would be less affected, it only sends two percent of its supply to the United States.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday that Trump is not planning to exempt any countries from the tariff hike.

Navarro told CNN that final details on Trump’s anticipated 25 percent tax on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum should be completed by later in the week or early next week at the latest.

Trump’s new tariffs for the key metals have drawn wide condemnation from business-oriented Republican lawmakers in the U.S., as well as Canada and the European Union. But Navarro said the tariffs are needed to “protect our national security and economic security, broadly defined.”

He dismissed concerns from Defense Department officials who voiced support for targeted tariff increases aimed at specific countries but not increases on the imported metals from throughout the world.

Navarro called it “a slippery slope” to target only some countries with increased tariffs while exempting others. He said there would be a mechanism to exclude some businesses, on a case-by-case basis, from having to pay higher prices for the imported metals.

Navarro said the message to the world on U.S. trade practices is simple: “We’re not going to take it anymore. We don’t get good results,” Navarro said, adding that U.S. trade overseas is “not fair and reciprocal.”

In another news talk show appearance, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told ABC News that Trump has talked with “a number of the world leaders” about his trade tariff plans.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said that in a Sunday phone call with Trump she had “raised our deep concern at the president’s forthcoming announcement on steel and aluminum tariffs, noting that multilateral action was the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity in all parties’ interests.”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Ross said the total value of the impending U.S. tariffs amounts to about $9 billion a year, a fraction of 1 percent of the annual $18.6 trillion U.S. economy, the world’s largest.

“So, the notion that it would destroy a lot of jobs, raise prices, disrupt things, is wrong,” Ross said.

Ross dismissed European Union threats of imposing retaliatory tariffs on such prominent American products as Harley Davidson motorcycles, bourbon and Levi’s jeans as unimportant and a “rounding error.”

In response on Saturday, Trump threatened European automakers with a tax on imports if the European Union retaliates against the U.S.

Ross called the possible European levies a “pretty trivial amount of retaliatory tariffs, adding up to some $3 billion of goods. In our size economy, that’s a tiny, tiny fraction of 1 percent. So, while it might affect an individual producer for a little while, overall, it’s not going to be much more than a rounding error.”

Trump weighed in Saturday on his rationale for the tariff hikes with a pair of Twitter comments.

 

“The United States has an $800 Billion Dollar Yearly Trade Deficit because of our ‘very stupid’ trade deals and policies,” he said. “Our jobs and wealth are being given to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years. They laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!

“If the EU wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S.,” he added. “They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!”

In 2017, the U.S. imported $151 billion more in goods from Europe than it exported to EU countries.

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China Sets Ambitious Growth Target, Promises Steel Cuts

China’s top economic official set a robust growth target Monday and promised more market opening and cuts in a bloated steel industry that has inflamed trade tensions with Washington and Europe.

The growth target of “around 6.5 percent” announced by Premier Li Keqiang to China’s ceremonial legislature, little-changed from last year, would be among the world’s strongest if achieved. The premier also promised progress on developing electric cars and other technology and better regulation of China’s scandal-plagued financial industries.

The meeting of the National People’s Congress is overshadowed by constitutional changes that would allow President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely, but businesspeople and economists also are looking for signs Xi is speeding up reform. That follows complaints Beijing did too little while Xi focused on amassing power since becoming Communist Party leader in 2012.

“We will be bolder in reform and opening up,” said Li in a nationally televised speech to nearly 3,000 delegates to the ceremonial legislature in the Great Hall of the People.

Possible developments this week include the elevation of Xi’s top economic adviser, Liu He, who has told foreign businesspeople he supports free markets, to a post overseeing reform.

“The top priority over the past five years was power consolidation,” said economist Larry Hu of Macquarie Capital in a report. “Now the power consolidation is close to completed. It remains to be seen how policy priority would change for the next five years.”

The growth target officially is a basis for planning instead of a promise about how the economy will perform, but allowing activity to dip below that level could erode public confidence and make investors skittish.

The economy grew by 6.9 percent last year but that was supported by a boom in bank lending and real estate sales that regulators are trying to curb due to concern about rising debt. Analysts have questioned whether Beijing can hit this year’s target without stimulus from bank lending and government spending, which would set back reforms aimed at nurturing self-sustaining growth and curbing debt.

Li promised Beijing would open its economy wider to foreign investors by “completely opening up” manufacturing and expanding access to other industries, but gave no details.

Foreign business groups complain previous industry-opening pledges have been diluted by conditions such as ownership limits or requirements to hand over technology that make them unappealing.

At the same time, Li tempered the market-friendly promises by affirming plans to build up state-owned enterprises that dominate most Chinese industries including energy, telecoms and finance.

“Our SOEs should, through reform and innovation, become front-runners in pursuing high-quality development,” he said.

The premier promised “substantive progress” in a multi-year campaign to reduce production capacity in steel, coal and other industries in which supply exceeds demand. The United States and the European Union complain that surplus of Chinese steel and aluminum flooding into global markets depresses prices and threatens jobs.

This year’s targets include eliminating 30 million tons of production capacity in the politically sensitive steel industry, Li said. It was unclear how that might affect China’s annual output of about 800 million tons.

Li also promised to improve oversight of scandal-plagued Chinese financial industries and to control surging corporate debt that prompted rating agencies to cut Beijing’s credit rating last year.

Last month, regulators seized control of one of China’s biggest insurers, privately owned Anbang Insurance Group, amid concern about whether its debt burden was manageable. Authorities announced its founder and chairman would be prosecuted on charges of improper fundraising.

On Monday, the premier tried to defuse worries rising debt could trigger a banking crisis or drag on economic growth by repeating assurances that Beijing is “completely capable of forestalling systemic risks.”

In a sign Beijing might accept slower growth, Li cut the government’s budget deficit target to 2.6 percent of gross domestic product from last year’s 3 percent, which would reduce the stimulus from public spending.

“The government’s bottom line for economic growth is likely to be 6.3 percent,” said Tom Rafferty of the Economist Intelligence Unit in a report. He said that was the minimum required to meet Beijing’s goal of doubling economic output from its 2010 level by 2020.

The proposal to remove term limits for president from China’s constitution has prompted concern a slide toward one-man rule will erode efforts to make economic regulation more stable and predictable.

Officials say China needs continuity as Beijing carries out long-range changes including making state industry more competitive and productive and developing profitable high-tech industry.

Li, the premier, made no mention of the constitutional change or the controversy surrounding it but promised progress on an array of politically challenging goals including the restructuring or bankruptcy of “zombie enterprises,” or money-losing but politically favored companies that are kept afloat by loans from government banks.

The premier said Beijing will speed up state-led development in an array of technology fields including artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, mobile communications, aircraft engines and electric cars.

“We will develop intelligent industries,” said Li.

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China Sets Ambitious Growth Target, Promises Steel Cuts

China’s top economic official set a robust growth target Monday and promised more market opening and cuts in a bloated steel industry that has inflamed trade tensions with Washington and Europe.

The growth target of “around 6.5 percent” announced by Premier Li Keqiang to China’s ceremonial legislature, little-changed from last year, would be among the world’s strongest if achieved. The premier also promised progress on developing electric cars and other technology and better regulation of China’s scandal-plagued financial industries.

The meeting of the National People’s Congress is overshadowed by constitutional changes that would allow President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely, but businesspeople and economists also are looking for signs Xi is speeding up reform. That follows complaints Beijing did too little while Xi focused on amassing power since becoming Communist Party leader in 2012.

“We will be bolder in reform and opening up,” said Li in a nationally televised speech to nearly 3,000 delegates to the ceremonial legislature in the Great Hall of the People.

Possible developments this week include the elevation of Xi’s top economic adviser, Liu He, who has told foreign businesspeople he supports free markets, to a post overseeing reform.

“The top priority over the past five years was power consolidation,” said economist Larry Hu of Macquarie Capital in a report. “Now the power consolidation is close to completed. It remains to be seen how policy priority would change for the next five years.”

The growth target officially is a basis for planning instead of a promise about how the economy will perform, but allowing activity to dip below that level could erode public confidence and make investors skittish.

The economy grew by 6.9 percent last year but that was supported by a boom in bank lending and real estate sales that regulators are trying to curb due to concern about rising debt. Analysts have questioned whether Beijing can hit this year’s target without stimulus from bank lending and government spending, which would set back reforms aimed at nurturing self-sustaining growth and curbing debt.

Li promised Beijing would open its economy wider to foreign investors by “completely opening up” manufacturing and expanding access to other industries, but gave no details.

Foreign business groups complain previous industry-opening pledges have been diluted by conditions such as ownership limits or requirements to hand over technology that make them unappealing.

At the same time, Li tempered the market-friendly promises by affirming plans to build up state-owned enterprises that dominate most Chinese industries including energy, telecoms and finance.

“Our SOEs should, through reform and innovation, become front-runners in pursuing high-quality development,” he said.

The premier promised “substantive progress” in a multi-year campaign to reduce production capacity in steel, coal and other industries in which supply exceeds demand. The United States and the European Union complain that surplus of Chinese steel and aluminum flooding into global markets depresses prices and threatens jobs.

This year’s targets include eliminating 30 million tons of production capacity in the politically sensitive steel industry, Li said. It was unclear how that might affect China’s annual output of about 800 million tons.

Li also promised to improve oversight of scandal-plagued Chinese financial industries and to control surging corporate debt that prompted rating agencies to cut Beijing’s credit rating last year.

Last month, regulators seized control of one of China’s biggest insurers, privately owned Anbang Insurance Group, amid concern about whether its debt burden was manageable. Authorities announced its founder and chairman would be prosecuted on charges of improper fundraising.

On Monday, the premier tried to defuse worries rising debt could trigger a banking crisis or drag on economic growth by repeating assurances that Beijing is “completely capable of forestalling systemic risks.”

In a sign Beijing might accept slower growth, Li cut the government’s budget deficit target to 2.6 percent of gross domestic product from last year’s 3 percent, which would reduce the stimulus from public spending.

“The government’s bottom line for economic growth is likely to be 6.3 percent,” said Tom Rafferty of the Economist Intelligence Unit in a report. He said that was the minimum required to meet Beijing’s goal of doubling economic output from its 2010 level by 2020.

The proposal to remove term limits for president from China’s constitution has prompted concern a slide toward one-man rule will erode efforts to make economic regulation more stable and predictable.

Officials say China needs continuity as Beijing carries out long-range changes including making state industry more competitive and productive and developing profitable high-tech industry.

Li, the premier, made no mention of the constitutional change or the controversy surrounding it but promised progress on an array of politically challenging goals including the restructuring or bankruptcy of “zombie enterprises,” or money-losing but politically favored companies that are kept afloat by loans from government banks.

The premier said Beijing will speed up state-led development in an array of technology fields including artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, mobile communications, aircraft engines and electric cars.

“We will develop intelligent industries,” said Li.

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Roles Reduced, Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s Fate Uncertain

They spent their first year in Washington as an untouchable White House power couple, commanding expansive portfolios, outlasting rivals and enjoying unmatched access to the president. But Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have undergone a swift and stunning reckoning of late, their powers restricted, their enemies emboldened and their future in the West Wing uncertain.

Kushner, long the second-most powerful man in the West Wing, is under siege. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law has lost influential White House allies. He remains under the shadow of the Russia probe and has seen his business dealings come under renewed scrutiny. He has been stripped of his top security clearance, raising questions how he can successfully advance his ambitious agenda — including achieving Mideast peace, a goal that has eluded presidents for generations.

Kushner’s most powerful patron, the president himself, has wavered recently on whether his daughter and son-in-law belong in the White House anymore.

A frustrated Trump has griped about the wave of bad headlines generated by probes into Kushner’s business dealings and the status of his security clearance, according to two people familiar with the president’s thinking but not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. The president also has wondered aloud if the couple would be better off returning home to New York.

At the same time, though, Trump has said he believes many of the attacks against Kushner are unfair and has lamented that the couple is going through such a turbulent time, according to the two people.

“I think he’s been treated very unfairly,” Trump said late last month. “He’s a high-quality person.”

Kushner’s woes mushroomed in the past month, when accusations of spousal abuse emerged against White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Initially, the resulting firestorm — including questions about how Porter had interim clearance for top-secret information despite red flags in his background — threatened to engulf Chief of Staff John Kelly, the retired Marine hired to bring order to Trump’s chaotic West Wing.

Kelly seemed to stabilize his own standing, in part by ordering a reform of the White House security clearance process. And among senior aides, that change fell the hardest on Kushner, who had been working with interim access to top-secret information. And he was doing that as investigators worked through his family’s complicated real estate dealings and as special counsel Robert Mueller probes Russian connections to the Trump team.

A week ago, Kushner’s security clearance level was downgraded, leaving White House aides to wonder just how many indignities Kushner and Ivanka Trump are willing to suffer. Even if recent events and revelations don’t trigger a departure, they have demonstrated that the West Wing clout of “Javanka,” as the couple is often referred to, is a far cry from what it once was.

Since taking office last year, Kelly has prioritized creating formal lines of authority and decision-making. Kushner resisted efforts to formalize his role — which early in the administration made him something of a shadow secretary of state — and he has grown frustrated with the chief of staff’s attempts to restrict the couple’s access to the president. The couple perceives Kelly’s crackdown on security clearances as a direct shot at them, according to White House aides and outside advisers.

Kelly, in turn, has been angered by what he views as the couple’s freelancing. He blames them for changing Trump’s mind at the last minute and questions what exactly they do all day, according to one White House official and an outside ally. Kushner prevailed in previous power struggles within the White House, including one against former chief strategist Steve Bannon, but allies of the president on the outside openly cheered the power couple’s weakened position.

“Only a son-in-law could withstand this sort of exposure and not be fired,” said Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for President Barack Obama. “Kushner’s vulnerable and in an accelerated fall from grace. Even though his departure would leave Trump even more isolated, a decision could be made that it’s just not worth it for him to stay.”

Those close to the couple insist the duo has no plans to leave Washington. But a soft landing spot has emerged if they choose to take it.

At a senior staff meeting Wednesday, Kushner spoke about the 2020 campaign at Kelly’s behest, talking up the selection of Brad Parscale to run the campaign, according to an administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly about internal discussions. Kushner has a close relationship with Parscale, whom he recruited to work on the 2016 campaign.

News of Parscale’s appointment was first reported in the Drudge Report, a favored outlet of Kushner’s, in a move that was seen by some in the West Wing as an attempted reminder of Kushner’s clout just hours before his humbling security clearance downgrade became public.

One veteran of the 2016 campaign suggested that there had always been a tentative plan for Kushner to resume a role on the re-election campaign but not this early in the president’s first term.

In a White House populated with attention-seekers, Kushner has been an ascetic, discreet figure. Almost always standing at the periphery in dark business suits, Kushner is rarely heard in public, his impact felt but not seen. His diplomatic trips abroad have either been shrouded in secrecy or conducted with minimal media coverage.

“I am not a person who has sought the spotlight. First in my business and now in public service, I have worked on achieving goals, and have left it to others to work on media and public perception,” Kushner told congressional investigators in a prepared statement last July.

But it is not immediately obvious what he’s achieved. There has been little progress on Mideast peace and relations with Mexico, another top Kushner priority, remain contentious over Trump’s proposed border wall. Kushner’s much ballyhooed project to reinvent the federal government has gained little traction. And questions persist about his family business’s global hunt for cash just a year before a $1.2 billion mortgage on a Manhattan skyscraper must be paid off by the company.

The Kushner Co. says it is in solid financial shape, but skeptics note that the company has been scrambling to raise funds from investors in nations with which Kushner has had government dealings and questions about potential Kushner conflicts of interest have scuttled some efforts.

Ivanka Trump, meanwhile, promotes the administration’s tax overhaul, including a family-friendly tax credit she championed. She continues to talk with lawmakers about paid family leave and recently led the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

But her role has come with unique challenges and calculations. Trump has portrayed herself as an advocate for women and families within the administration, which at times puts her in an awkward position given the allegations against her father and some of his public comments about women.

Trump recently said in an NBC interview that she believes her father’s denials of sexual misconduct, but argued that questions to her on the topic were “pretty inappropriate” — an answer that prompted eyerolls in some quarters of the West Wing yet again.

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Roles Reduced, Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s Fate Uncertain

They spent their first year in Washington as an untouchable White House power couple, commanding expansive portfolios, outlasting rivals and enjoying unmatched access to the president. But Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have undergone a swift and stunning reckoning of late, their powers restricted, their enemies emboldened and their future in the West Wing uncertain.

Kushner, long the second-most powerful man in the West Wing, is under siege. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law has lost influential White House allies. He remains under the shadow of the Russia probe and has seen his business dealings come under renewed scrutiny. He has been stripped of his top security clearance, raising questions how he can successfully advance his ambitious agenda — including achieving Mideast peace, a goal that has eluded presidents for generations.

Kushner’s most powerful patron, the president himself, has wavered recently on whether his daughter and son-in-law belong in the White House anymore.

A frustrated Trump has griped about the wave of bad headlines generated by probes into Kushner’s business dealings and the status of his security clearance, according to two people familiar with the president’s thinking but not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. The president also has wondered aloud if the couple would be better off returning home to New York.

At the same time, though, Trump has said he believes many of the attacks against Kushner are unfair and has lamented that the couple is going through such a turbulent time, according to the two people.

“I think he’s been treated very unfairly,” Trump said late last month. “He’s a high-quality person.”

Kushner’s woes mushroomed in the past month, when accusations of spousal abuse emerged against White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Initially, the resulting firestorm — including questions about how Porter had interim clearance for top-secret information despite red flags in his background — threatened to engulf Chief of Staff John Kelly, the retired Marine hired to bring order to Trump’s chaotic West Wing.

Kelly seemed to stabilize his own standing, in part by ordering a reform of the White House security clearance process. And among senior aides, that change fell the hardest on Kushner, who had been working with interim access to top-secret information. And he was doing that as investigators worked through his family’s complicated real estate dealings and as special counsel Robert Mueller probes Russian connections to the Trump team.

A week ago, Kushner’s security clearance level was downgraded, leaving White House aides to wonder just how many indignities Kushner and Ivanka Trump are willing to suffer. Even if recent events and revelations don’t trigger a departure, they have demonstrated that the West Wing clout of “Javanka,” as the couple is often referred to, is a far cry from what it once was.

Since taking office last year, Kelly has prioritized creating formal lines of authority and decision-making. Kushner resisted efforts to formalize his role — which early in the administration made him something of a shadow secretary of state — and he has grown frustrated with the chief of staff’s attempts to restrict the couple’s access to the president. The couple perceives Kelly’s crackdown on security clearances as a direct shot at them, according to White House aides and outside advisers.

Kelly, in turn, has been angered by what he views as the couple’s freelancing. He blames them for changing Trump’s mind at the last minute and questions what exactly they do all day, according to one White House official and an outside ally. Kushner prevailed in previous power struggles within the White House, including one against former chief strategist Steve Bannon, but allies of the president on the outside openly cheered the power couple’s weakened position.

“Only a son-in-law could withstand this sort of exposure and not be fired,” said Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for President Barack Obama. “Kushner’s vulnerable and in an accelerated fall from grace. Even though his departure would leave Trump even more isolated, a decision could be made that it’s just not worth it for him to stay.”

Those close to the couple insist the duo has no plans to leave Washington. But a soft landing spot has emerged if they choose to take it.

At a senior staff meeting Wednesday, Kushner spoke about the 2020 campaign at Kelly’s behest, talking up the selection of Brad Parscale to run the campaign, according to an administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly about internal discussions. Kushner has a close relationship with Parscale, whom he recruited to work on the 2016 campaign.

News of Parscale’s appointment was first reported in the Drudge Report, a favored outlet of Kushner’s, in a move that was seen by some in the West Wing as an attempted reminder of Kushner’s clout just hours before his humbling security clearance downgrade became public.

One veteran of the 2016 campaign suggested that there had always been a tentative plan for Kushner to resume a role on the re-election campaign but not this early in the president’s first term.

In a White House populated with attention-seekers, Kushner has been an ascetic, discreet figure. Almost always standing at the periphery in dark business suits, Kushner is rarely heard in public, his impact felt but not seen. His diplomatic trips abroad have either been shrouded in secrecy or conducted with minimal media coverage.

“I am not a person who has sought the spotlight. First in my business and now in public service, I have worked on achieving goals, and have left it to others to work on media and public perception,” Kushner told congressional investigators in a prepared statement last July.

But it is not immediately obvious what he’s achieved. There has been little progress on Mideast peace and relations with Mexico, another top Kushner priority, remain contentious over Trump’s proposed border wall. Kushner’s much ballyhooed project to reinvent the federal government has gained little traction. And questions persist about his family business’s global hunt for cash just a year before a $1.2 billion mortgage on a Manhattan skyscraper must be paid off by the company.

The Kushner Co. says it is in solid financial shape, but skeptics note that the company has been scrambling to raise funds from investors in nations with which Kushner has had government dealings and questions about potential Kushner conflicts of interest have scuttled some efforts.

Ivanka Trump, meanwhile, promotes the administration’s tax overhaul, including a family-friendly tax credit she championed. She continues to talk with lawmakers about paid family leave and recently led the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

But her role has come with unique challenges and calculations. Trump has portrayed herself as an advocate for women and families within the administration, which at times puts her in an awkward position given the allegations against her father and some of his public comments about women.

Trump recently said in an NBC interview that she believes her father’s denials of sexual misconduct, but argued that questions to her on the topic were “pretty inappropriate” — an answer that prompted eyerolls in some quarters of the West Wing yet again.

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Applications for Facial Recognition Increase as Technology Matures

From shopping centers and airports to concert venues and mobile phones, facial recognition technology can now be used in all of them due to advances in technology. 

Countries including China and the United States are developing, testing and using facial recognition technology. At the Los Angeles International Airport, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, has been trying out several security devices, including a facial recognition technology that takes a picture of the passenger and compares it to the passport picture just before he or she goes through airport security. 

“We’re always looking at technology, processes, even doctrine changes on how to better our security at an airport,” said Steve Karoly, acting assistant administrator with the TSA’s Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis.

If any one of the technologies being tested is implemented in the future, it will take two to three years for the TSA to install them in U.S. airports.

 

It is just one way facial recognition technology can be used for security.

Software to aid authorities

U.S. company FaceFirst has developed facial recognition software that can help police. Officers can take a picture of a suspect with a smartphone. The photo then can be compared to a database to see whether the person has a criminal history. The software can also be used in a private facility or store.

“We install a complete solution that allows our customers to be able to match people who are entering a facility against a database that already exists of bad people and so if there is a match that occurs, we’re able to send an alert to a mobile device like an iPhone or an Android phone in near real time,” said Peter Trepp, FaceFirst’s chief executive officer.

Beijing start-up Horizon Robotics showed off its facial recognition applications at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year by showing a crowded street in China as well as a store where faces are being captured.

“For surveillance, you can catch the face in the public and find what you want to find, and for the commercial use, you can find VIPs [very important persons] when they come to the store, and so you can have special service for them,” said Hao Yuan Gao of Horizon Robotics.

Strides in facial recognition technology

 

Facial recognition technology has made great advances in recent years. 

 

“That has a lot to do with – computers are finally fast enough. We have GPUs (graphics processing units) and hardware that is fast enough to process all the data that we need to process,” said FaceFirst’s Trepp.

 

Machines can now match faces that are not in a controlled environment with good lighting and a full shot. A side shot or moving image of the face may be enough for artificial intelligence to make a match.

“Where this is going is very exciting. We think about everyday items that we have that are going away. Our house keys, our car keys, our ATM cards, our passwords are all starting to go away and instead, we’re going to be using facial recognition. Smartphones, of course are now using facial recognition. Laptops have facial recognition on them,” Trepp said.

“I think the fact that you can use this in uncontrolled environments makes it a much more interesting technology commercially,” said Prem Natarajan, research professor of computer science and the Michael Keston executive director at the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute.

The idea of privacy

The ability to capture an image of a person without consent is a gray area when it comes to privacy, especially when many smartphones now have facial recognition in them so photos taken by the phone can pull up faces of friends with a timestamp and location information. On social media, such as Facebook, faces can be tagged. It is technology widely accepted and used by many people.

“There is visual of you, who you’re with, so it’s no longer just about your privacy. Whoever you’re with, the photos you’re taking of them, it’s like secondhand smoking – everybody you take a selfie with, etc., you’ve compromised as an individual their privacy, too, in some sense and we’re not seeking consent from any of them,” Natarajan said.

However, the idea of privacy has evolved for the younger generation, who have grown up with the internet and social media.

“The new generation, I think, has a different perspective on privacy than we do. My kids, your kids, all of our kids are growing up in a much more shared experience world,” Natarajan added. “My biggest privacy concern is actually not the government, it’s the big companies where there are really no limits on how they can share data, what they can use it for, how they can exploit it.”

 

“It’s a powerful tool and with power comes responsibility,” Trepp said.

FaceFirst designed privacy into its software. The company says as the default setting, its surveillance footage of unknown people is automatically purged from the system at regular intervals.

Facial recognition researchers say a social framework should be created to guide the use of this technology so it can be used safely to benefit society and not exploit it.

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