Wall Street Gains on Better Signs in US-China Trade Talks

Wall Street stocks finished higher on Wednesday due to improved hopes for the US-China trade talks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.6 percent at 24,527.27.

The broad-based S&P 500 advanced 0.5 percent to 2,651.07, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index jumped 1.0 percent to 7,098.31.

Wall Street stocks have been volatile in recent weeks in part due to unpredictable and ambiguous events connected to the Beijing-Washington trade negotiations.

The latest indicators have been more upbeat, with a Chinese Huawei executive granted bail in a Canadian court in a closely-watched legal case and confirmation from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a television interview that Beijing had offered to cut tariffs on autos imported from the United States and resume soybean purchases.

Unlike the last two sessions, there were no major gyrations lower on Wednesday. But stocks still finished well below their session highs, with the Dow falling about 300 points from its peak in the last three hours of trading.

Gainers included some equities that have been seen as vulnerable to a trade war with China. Boeing advanced 1.5 percent, Caterpillar 1.7 percent and Deere 0.8 percent.

Tech shares were also upward-bound, with Google parent Alphabet winning 1.1 percent, Amazon 1.2 percent and Netflix 3.6 percent.

Tencent Music, in its first session after going public, jumped 7.7 percent a day after the music streaming company raised $1.1 billion in an initial public offering.

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OMG: California Regulators Consider Charge on Text Messaging

California regulators are considering a plan to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones to help support programs that make phone service accessible to the poor.

The Mercury News reports Wednesday that the proposal is scheduled for a vote next month by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The wireless industry and business groups have been working to defeat the plan.

Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy group, says it would essentially put a tax on conversations.

The newspaper says it’s unclear how much money individual consumers would be asked to pay their wireless carrier for texting services under the proposal. But it likely would be billed as a flat surcharge — not a fee per text.

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OMG: California Regulators Consider Charge on Text Messaging

California regulators are considering a plan to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones to help support programs that make phone service accessible to the poor.

The Mercury News reports Wednesday that the proposal is scheduled for a vote next month by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The wireless industry and business groups have been working to defeat the plan.

Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy group, says it would essentially put a tax on conversations.

The newspaper says it’s unclear how much money individual consumers would be asked to pay their wireless carrier for texting services under the proposal. But it likely would be billed as a flat surcharge — not a fee per text.

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McCaskill Says She Won’t Run Again but Will Stay Active

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill says she won’t run for another office after her term expires next month, but that she will remain active in Democratic politics.

The veteran senator sought re-election to a third term last month but lost to Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley. On Thursday, she will give her final Senate floor speech before she leaves office in January.

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from her Senate office, McCaskill squashed any speculation that she’d run for Missouri governor by saying she’s done running for office. Instead, she said she’s planning a yet-to-be-announced initiative and that she sees potential in the non-elected public role that former Missouri Sen. John Danforth, a Republican, has taken since he left office 24 years ago.

“I am not going to disappear,” McCaskill said. “I am going to help and I think I can help in terms of the party recruiting good candidates, being prepared. I envision trying to help teach candidates some of the basics.”

One thing she won’t miss?

“I will never make another phone call asking for money,” said McCaskill, who raised nearly $40 million for her re-election bid, almost four times more than Hawley. “It’s terrible, terrible. It is a horrible part of the job and I have done it for a long time.”

McCaskill, 65, told the newspaper that she considered not running this year but did so partly out of duty. She also said she had made up her mind before she announced she was running that it would be her last campaign.

After Donald Trump’s strong showing in Missouri in 2016 en route to winning the presidency, McCaskill said she felt obliged “to stand and fight and not just walk off the field. And so we gave it our best. But I am really at peace about being done.”

Danforth, who has served as United Nations ambassador and in a variety of governmental roles since retiring from the Senate, was among those who called her the day after the election, McCaskill said.

“She has got a lot of life ahead of her,” Danforth said of McCaskill. “There are a lot of opportunities for people who want to continue to be engaged.”

McCaskill leaves a Congress torn over Trump’s agenda. Lawmakers also face a potential constitutional showdown over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

McCaskill said she has no idea what Mueller will ultimately conclude, but warned: “If it continues down the path it appears to be going, my colleagues here — if more of them don’t speak up — I think they will have a crisis.”

She said Trump’s Republican allies in Congress “are all conflicted right now. They don’t know what to do. All you have to do is look at the state of Missouri, where Trump’s blessing was all a Republican needed. So you want to risk that if he is not going down? It will be interesting to see.”

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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McCaskill Says She Won’t Run Again but Will Stay Active

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill says she won’t run for another office after her term expires next month, but that she will remain active in Democratic politics.

The veteran senator sought re-election to a third term last month but lost to Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley. On Thursday, she will give her final Senate floor speech before she leaves office in January.

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from her Senate office, McCaskill squashed any speculation that she’d run for Missouri governor by saying she’s done running for office. Instead, she said she’s planning a yet-to-be-announced initiative and that she sees potential in the non-elected public role that former Missouri Sen. John Danforth, a Republican, has taken since he left office 24 years ago.

“I am not going to disappear,” McCaskill said. “I am going to help and I think I can help in terms of the party recruiting good candidates, being prepared. I envision trying to help teach candidates some of the basics.”

One thing she won’t miss?

“I will never make another phone call asking for money,” said McCaskill, who raised nearly $40 million for her re-election bid, almost four times more than Hawley. “It’s terrible, terrible. It is a horrible part of the job and I have done it for a long time.”

McCaskill, 65, told the newspaper that she considered not running this year but did so partly out of duty. She also said she had made up her mind before she announced she was running that it would be her last campaign.

After Donald Trump’s strong showing in Missouri in 2016 en route to winning the presidency, McCaskill said she felt obliged “to stand and fight and not just walk off the field. And so we gave it our best. But I am really at peace about being done.”

Danforth, who has served as United Nations ambassador and in a variety of governmental roles since retiring from the Senate, was among those who called her the day after the election, McCaskill said.

“She has got a lot of life ahead of her,” Danforth said of McCaskill. “There are a lot of opportunities for people who want to continue to be engaged.”

McCaskill leaves a Congress torn over Trump’s agenda. Lawmakers also face a potential constitutional showdown over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

McCaskill said she has no idea what Mueller will ultimately conclude, but warned: “If it continues down the path it appears to be going, my colleagues here — if more of them don’t speak up — I think they will have a crisis.”

She said Trump’s Republican allies in Congress “are all conflicted right now. They don’t know what to do. All you have to do is look at the state of Missouri, where Trump’s blessing was all a Republican needed. So you want to risk that if he is not going down? It will be interesting to see.”

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Trump Campaign Russia Contacts Alarm Intelligence Experts

Intelligence experts say Russian outreach to the Trump campaign fits the pattern of an intelligence operation.

Former officials have reviewed the attempts by Russians to establish contact as laid out in recent court filings by special counsel Robert Mueller. They conclude they were apparently targeted and more frequent than would be expected during a typical presidential campaign.

Mueller has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election for more than a year and has not revealed clear evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Much of the investigation is still under wraps.

Court filings from Mueller show Russian contacts with the Trump campaign began within months of Trump announcing his candidacy in June 2015.

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Trump Campaign Russia Contacts Alarm Intelligence Experts

Intelligence experts say Russian outreach to the Trump campaign fits the pattern of an intelligence operation.

Former officials have reviewed the attempts by Russians to establish contact as laid out in recent court filings by special counsel Robert Mueller. They conclude they were apparently targeted and more frequent than would be expected during a typical presidential campaign.

Mueller has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election for more than a year and has not revealed clear evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Much of the investigation is still under wraps.

Court filings from Mueller show Russian contacts with the Trump campaign began within months of Trump announcing his candidacy in June 2015.

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Sports, Deaths Among 2018’s Top Google Searches

Sports, disaster and death were among the top searches on Google last year.

Each December, the technology company releases it’s top trending searches of the year. Topics that drew the interest of Americans included the World Cup, Hurricane Florence and three people who died in 2018 — rapper Mac Miller, designer Kate Spade and TV host and author Anthony Bourdain.

Google does not come up with its lists based on the number of total searches. Instead, the company looks at the search terms that enjoyed the highest spike compared to the previous year.

“Black Panther” topped the list of most searched movies, while rising stars in the Democratic party dominated the list of most searched politicians.

Here are the Top 10:

  1. World Cup

  2. Hurricane Florence

  3. Mac Miller

  4. Kate Spade

  5. Anthony Bourdain

  6. Black Panther

  7. Mega Millions Results

  8. Stan Lee

  9. Demi Lovato

  10. Election Results

Other categories include:

News

  1. World Cup

  2. Hurricane Florence

  3. Mega Millions

  4. Election Results

  5. Hurricane Michael

People

  1. Demi Lovato

  2. Meghan Markle

  3. Brett Kavanaugh

  4. Logan Paul

  5. Khloe Kardashian

Politicians

  1. Stacey Abrams

  2. Beto O’Rourke

  3. Ted Cruz

  4. Andrew Gillum

  5. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Movies

  1. Black Panther

  2. Incredibles 2

  3. Deadpool 2

  4. Avengers: Infinity War

  5. A Quiet Place

All of the 2018 Google top trending search lists can be found here.

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Former Trump Lawyer Gets 3 Years in Prison

Michael Cohen, the longtime personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison, after telling a New York judge that his “blind loyalty” to the U.S. leader led him to “cover up his dirty deeds.”

U.S. Judge William Pauley imposed the sentence on Cohen for an array of crimes, including his role in arranging $280,000 in hush money payments to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump, and for lying to Congress about Trump’s efforts to build a skyscraper in Moscow.

The judge told the 52-year-old Cohen that somewhere along the way, he had “lost his moral compass.”

Cohen, who worked for Trump for 12 years, once bragged that he would “take a bullet” to support Trump. More recently, however, Cohen had turned against Trump and said at his sentencing that working for Trump was a “personal and mental incarceration.”

“My weakness could be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump,” Cohen said.

Now, Cohen also holds the distinction of being the closest figure to Trump sentenced to prison in the wide-ranging criminal investigations of Trump’s 2016 campaign, its links to Russia and whether, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probes being conducted by federal prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller in Washington.

Several other prominent figures in Trump’s orbit, including his former campaign chairman and his first national security advisor, have yet to be sentenced for various offenses.

Cohen attorney Lanny Davis said that after Mueller completes his investigation, Cohen would cooperate with congressional committees as they consider possible wrongdoing by Trump and his aides. Some Democrats in the House of Representatives have called for Trump’s impeachment when they assume control of the chamber next month.

“Mr. Trump’s repeated lies cannot contradict stubborn facts,” Davis said.

Cohen’s lawyers asked that he serve no prison time, but Cohen took “full responsibility” for his crimes, “including those implicating the president of the United States. He said that his allegiance to Trump led him “to take a path of darkness instead of light.”

Pauley rejected leniency for Cohen, saying, “This court firmly believes that a significant term of imprisonment is fully justified in this highly publicized case to send a message.”

The judge ordered him to surrender March 6 for his prison term and also pay nearly $1.9 million in financial penalties.

Prosecutors said that Cohen, at Trump’s direction, facilitated the payments — in violation of campaign finance laws — to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal shortly before the 2016 election to buy their silence about alleged liaisons with the real estate mogul a decade before he ran for the presidency.

After Cohen was sentenced, the New York prosecutors announced they had reached a “non-prosecution agreement” with American Media Inc., which publishes the grocery store tabloid National Enquirer, to acknowledge that it paid McDougal $150,000 shortly before the 2016 election for her story about her claims that she had a months-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007 with the “principal purpose” of killing the information so it would not damage Trump’s chances of winning the election.

Cohen’s lawyers said he was in “close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel” when he prepared for congressional testimony last year falsely claiming that Trump had ended his efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow by early 2016, before Republican presidential nominating contests started.

Cohen more recently said that actually Trump had pursued the Moscow project through June 2016, the entirety of the Republican primary election calendar two years ago. Cohen said he briefed the then-candidate about his efforts to win approval for the Moscow project, although eventually it was abandoned.

Federal prosecutors in New York had called for a “substantial term of imprisonment,” perhaps 3 1/2 years or more, because they say Cohen never fully cooperated with investigators about his crimes, which also include tax fraud and making false statements to a bank.

Trump and his lawyers have sought to downplay the payments to Daniels and McDougal, saying that at most, it was a civil, not criminal, violation of U.S. election laws.

On Twitter, Trump contended that Cohen was “just trying to get his sentence reduced” by making claims against him.

The U.S. leader, angered by Cohen’s allegations, has said that the lawyer deserves a “full and complete” sentence.

There was no immediate White House comment about Cohen’s sentence.

But Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said, “This is the real criminal sentence. I have no idea if it’s the right one or not, but I do know he’s proven to be a consummate liar who has lied at all stages of his situation.”

 

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Sustainable Tree Farming Means Better Lives for Kenyan Farmers

Wood consumption — including logging and the production of charcoal — is a leading cause of forest degradation in Africa. In some of Kenya’s coastal regions, recurring droughts have made the problem even worse.  Now, farmers in those regions are planting trees, putting their once-barren land to use in a venture that enables them to earn a living and conserve the environment at the same time. 

At Be Sulubu Tezo, in Kilifi county, Kenya, Kanze Kahindi Mbogo tends to her tree farm. She thins out the trees whose wood is now strong enough for her to sell for home-building and making fences.  

The money she makes is for her six children. 

A better life

Kahindi says she has been able to educate her children, pay a couple of debts and do lots of other things. She adds she was also able to take one of her sons to college and right now he is a driver.

Before growing trees, putting food on the table was difficult in this land where droughts are common and crops often fail.

With the help of NGOs and entrepreneurs, farmers are learning how agroforestry can make them money and at the same time save the environment. One of those firms is Komaza, a Kenyan firm that is working with 14,000 farmers to plant drought-resistant trees for harvest, reducing the drive to deforest. 

Help with the harvest

“Farmers are able to nurture the seedlings into trees, and then the trees become fully grown trees ready to harvest,” said Allan Ongang’a, a manager at Komaza.  “Once they are ready for harvest we have the operations team from the forestry department that identify trees that are ready for harvest, agree with the farmers on a fair price, the trees are marked and harvested.”

The firm trains farmers on cultivation and selective harvesting.  

But not all farmers have the resources to plant a tree and wait for it to grow, so some farm subsistence crops among the trees.  Researchers say this arrangement counters the effects of climate change. 

Everybody benefits

“Trees end up absorbing carbon dioxide when they making their food and therefore essentially the trees are actually getting to bring carbon from the atmosphere into the tree stem and therefore on land,” explained researcher John Recha with the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Program, a private entity in Nairobi.. “That means there is the benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emission through more enhanced agroforestry systems.”

For these Kenyan farmers, environmentalism begins to make sense when it starts to translate into a sustainable income. 

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