Indian Retirees Maintain Independence, Fun and Freedom Later in Life

Young people come from around the world to work in Silicon Valley, California. As these workers build a life away from home, many struggle with how to bring their aging parents to their new community. But what happens to foreign parents entering their later years in a new country? VOA’s Deana Mitchell visits a unique community in Silicon Valley that caters to retirees from India.

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Britain Seeks ‘Bespoke’ EU Trade Deal, Pact With China

British Finance Minister Philip Hammond said Saturday it is likely Britain will want to negotiate a bespoke arrangement for a future trade deal with the European Union, rather than copying existing arrangements like the Canada-EU deal.

The European Union agreed Friday to move Brexit talks onto trade and a transition pact, but some leaders cautioned that the final year of divorce negotiations before Britain’s exit could be fraught with peril.

Summit chairman Donald Tusk said the world’s biggest trading bloc would begin “exploratory contacts” with Britain on what London wants in a future trade relationship, as well as starting discussion on the immediate post-Brexit transition.

No off-the-shelf deal

Speaking in Beijing, Hammond it was probably not helpful to think in terms of off-the-shelf models like the Canada-EU deal.

“We have a level of trade and commercial integration with the EU 27 which is unlike the situation of any trade partner that the EU has ever done a trade deal with before,” he told reporters.

“And therefore it is likely that we will want to negotiate specific arrangements, bespoke arrangements,” Hammond added.

“So I expect that we will develop something that is neither the Canada model nor an EEA model, but something which draws on the strength of our existing relationship.”

The Brexit negotiations have been a vexed issue for the global economy as markets feared prolonged uncertainty would hit global trade and growth.

A transition period is now seen as crucial for investors and businesses who worry that a “cliff-edge” Brexit would disrupt trade flows and sow chaos through financial markets.

China visit

Hammond’s China visit is the latest installment in long-running economic talks between the two states, but it has now taken on new importance for Britain as it looks to re-invent itself as a global trading nation after leaving the EU in 2019.

China is one of the countries Britain hopes to sign a free trade agreement with once it leaves the EU, and London and Beijing have been keen to show that Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc will not affect ties.

Hammond sought to offer reassurance to Chinese firms post-March 2019 when Britain formally leaves the EU.

“We won’t technically or legally be in the customs union or in the single market, but we’re committed as a result of the agreement we’ve made this week to creating an environment which will effectively replicate the current status quo,” he said.

Addressing the press after Hammond had spoken, Chinese Vice Finance Minister Shi Yaobin said China hopes Britain and the EU can reach a win-win agreement.

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Moore: Alabama Senate ‘Battle is Not Over’

Alabama Republican Roy Moore on Friday told supporters that the “battle is not over” in Alabama’s Senate race even though President Donald Trump and others have called on him to concede.

Moore sent a fundraising email to supporters asking for contributions to his “election integrity fund’ so he could investigate reports of voter fraud.

“I also wanted to let you know that this battle is NOT OVER!” he wrote.

Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday defeated Moore by about 20,000 votes, or 1.5 percent, according to unofficial returns. But Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, has not yet conceded the heated Alabama race to fill the seat that previously belonged to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Moore told supporters that the race was close and some military and provisional ballots had yet to be counted. Those are expected to be counted next week.

Moore said his campaign is collecting “numerous reported cases of voter fraud” to send to the secretary of state’s office.

Secretary of State John Merrill has said it is unlikely that the last-minute ballots will change the outcome of the election or even trigger a recount.

Merrill said his office has investigated reports of voting irregularities, but “we have not discovered any that have been proven factual in nature.”

Trump, who had endorsed Moore, called Jones to congratulate him on his win. Trump on Friday said that he believed Moore should concede the race.

The results of Alabama’s Senate race will be certified between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3 after counties report their official totals.

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Tillerson: North Korea Must ‘Earn its Way Back’ to the Negotiating Table

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday looked to clear any confusion regarding the U.S. position on negotiating with North Korea. During a special U.N. Security Council meeting focused on Pyongyang’s Nov. 28 missile launch, the top U.S. diplomat said North Korea must choose between giving up its “unlawful” nuclear weapons program or continuing to condemn its own citizens to poverty and isolation. VOA Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more from the State Department.

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Huge Tax Bill Heads for Passage as GOP Senators Fall in Line

After weeks of quarrels and qualms and then 11th-hour horse-trading, Republicans revealed their huge national tax rewrite late Friday, along with announcements of support that all but guarantee approval next week.

The legislation would slash tax rates for big business and lower levies on the richest Americans in a massive $1.5 trillion bill that the GOP plans to pass through Congress before the year-end break. Benefits for most other taxpayers would be smaller.

“This is happening. Tax reform under Republican control of Washington is happening,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told rank-and-file members in a conference call. “Most critics out there didn’t think it could happen. … And now we’re on the doorstep of something truly historic.”

According to the 1,097-page bill, today’s 35 percent rate on corporations would fall to 21 percent, the crown jewel of the measure for many Republicans. Trump and GOP leaders had set 20 percent as their goal, but added a point to free money for other tax cuts that won over wavering lawmakers in final talks.

Party’s first achievement of 2017

The legislation represents the first major legislative achievement for the GOP after nearly a full year in control of Congress and the White House. It’s the widest-ranging reshaping of the tax code in three decades and is expected to add to the nation’s $20 trillion debt. The debt is expected to soar by at least $1 trillion more than it would without the tax measure, according to projections.

Support is now expected from all Senate Republicans, ensuring narrow approval. Democrats are expected to oppose the legislation unanimously.

“Under this bill, the working class, middle class and upper middle class get skewered while the rich and wealthy corporations make out like bandits,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “It is just the opposite of what America needs, and Republicans will rue the day they pass this.”

The bill would drop today’s 39.6 percent top rate on individuals to 37 percent. The standard deduction, used by about two-thirds of households, would be nearly doubled.

Those who itemize their taxes face mixed results. The $1,000-per-child tax deduction would grow to $2,000. The bill makes a smaller amount — $1,400 — available to families even if they owe no income tax. The money would come in the form of a tax refund, which is why it’s called a “refundable” tax credit. In an earlier verison of the bill, the amount was $1,000.

But the deduction that millions use in connection with state and local income, property and sales taxes would be capped at $10,000. Deductions for medical expenses that lawmakers once considered eliminating would be retained.

Only on Friday did Republicans cement support for the major overhaul, securing endorsements from wavering senators.

Rubio, Corker relent

Marco Rubio of Florida relented in his high-profile opposition after negotiators expanded the child tax credit, and he said he would vote for the measure next week.

Rubio had been holding out for a bigger child tax credit for low-income families. After he got it, he tweeted that the change was “a solid step toward broader reforms which are both Pro-Growth and Pro-Worker.”

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the only Republican to vote against the Senate version earlier this month, made the surprise announcement that he would back the legislation. Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has repeatedly warned that the nation’s growing debt is the most serious threat to national security.

Although he deemed the bill far from perfect, he said it was a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“I realize this is a bet on our country’s enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make,” Corker said.

Members of a House-Senate conference committee signed the final version of the legislation Friday, sending it to the two chambers for final passage next week. They have been working to blend the different versions passed by the two houses.

Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, including two ailing senators who have missed votes this past week.

John McCain of Arizona, 81, is at a Washington-area military hospital being treated for the side effects of brain cancer treatment, and Thad Cochran, 80, of Mississippi had a non-melanoma lesion removed from his nose earlier this week. GOP leaders are hopeful they will be available next week.

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Facebook Highlights Dangers of Using Facebook

With nearly 2 billion users, Facebook’s survival depends on people continuing to use its service. 

That’s why observers were surprised by an unusual company blog post Friday that highlighted some of the potential harm of using the social media service. 

Titled Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?,

the company cited studies that suggested some of the possible downsides of using social media. 

In one study, people who passively read about others’ lives reported feeling worse about themselves. One possibility is “negative social comparison” when reading about others online, the company said, because “people’s posts are often more curated and flattering” than how they are in their real, offline lives. 

But there’s a potential solution, according to Facebook, which reported $10 billion in revenue — its highest ever — in the last quarter: Don’t be a bystander to others’ lives. Use Facebook more and with friends and family.

Facebook users who spend more time on Facebook — actually post and interact with close friends — experienced more positive effects, according to a company study conducted with Carnegie Mellon University.

“Simply broadcasting status updates wasn’t enough,” the post said. “People had to interact one-on-one with others in their network.”

New features

The Facebook post came as some former top executives have spoken about Facebook’s potential negative effects on society and individuals. Facebook exploits a “vulnerability in human psychology,” Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, said recently.

To aid in supporting people’s well-being while using its service, the company recently tweaked its News Feed — what people see when they sign on — to promote friendships and demote what the firm called “clickbait headlines.” 

Also, it launched a new feature called “Snooze” that lets a user hide a person, Facebook page or group for 30 days without having to “unfollow.” It gives a Facebook user more control of what he or she sees, the company said. 

Effects on kids

The company acknowledged that people are worried about the short- and long-term effects of Facebook use on young people. It pledged $1 million toward research to “better understand the relationship between media technologies, youth development and well-being.”

Observers praised the company for acknowledging that using social media may have unintended, negative consequences, but noted that it was unusual for a corporation, one that typically presents itself as a force for good, to point out some of the risks of using its service. 

One unanswered question is whether Facebook with new features and tweaks can offset potential negative effects. 

Or will people put a Snooze button on Facebook? 

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Powerful CEOs Demand DACA Fix

Two titans of U.S. business have come together to demand that Congress find an immediate solution for DACA recipients, whose legal immigration status will come to an end in March without intervention.

Charles Koch, chairman and chief executive of Koch Industries, and Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, wrote in an opinion piece published Thursday in The Washington Post that “we strongly agree that Congress must act before the end of the year to bring certainty and security to the lives of dreamers. Delay is not an option. Too many people’s futures hang in the balance.”

Dreamers is another term for participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has protected undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and provided them with work permits.

President Donald Trump ended the DACA program in September although it will not begin to phase out until March, 2018.

His action put the ball in Congress’ court to find a long term solution for dreamers.

In their op-ed piece, the two CEOs note that both of their companies employ DACA recipients. “We know from experience that the success of our businesses depends on having employees with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. It fuels creativity, broadens knowledge and helps drive innovation.”

Koch Industries encompass a variety of companies including manufacturing and refining of oil and chemicals. Forbes Magazine lists Koch as the second largest privately held company in the U.S. Apple is the world’s largest information technology company, producing such familiar products as the iPhone and the Mac computers.

‘Firmly aligned’ on DACA issue

Koch and Cook are as different politically as their companies. Deeply conservative, Charles Koch has made significant financial contributions to rightwing causes and mostly Republican candidates. Tim Cook has been more bipartisan in his donations but did host a fundraiser for Democrat Hillary Clinton when she was running for president.

“We are business leaders who sometimes differ on the issues of the day,” the two concede in their piece. “Yet, on a question as straightforward as this one, we are firmly aligned.”

Congress seems unlikely to provide a DACA solution by the end of the year.

While some Democrats have remained firm in linking the spending legislation to a measure that would allow nearly 800,000 DACA immigrants to continue to work and study in the United States, the effort seems to have lost momentum.

Speaking Wednesday to a group of DACA recipients, Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois said he wished he could “tell you that we’re totally confident we can get it done. I can’t say that. I don’t want to mislead you.” Durbin is a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act which would protect DACA recipients.

Republican lawmakers have maintained that there is no reason to act on DACA in 2017.

“There is no emergency. The president has given us until March to address it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Sunday on ABC’s This Week program. “I don’t think Democrats would be very smart to say they want to shut down the government over a nonemergency that we can address anytime between now and March.”

But that was said before a major Republican donor urged immediate action.

“We have no illusions about how difficult it can be to get things done in Washington, and we know that people of good faith disagree about aspects of immigration policy,“ Koch and Cook write.

“By acting now to ensure that dreamers can realize their potential by continuing to contribute to our country, Congress can reaffirm this essential American ideal.

“This is a political, economic and moral imperative.”

 

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US House Opens Probe of Nevada Democrat Misconduct Claims

The House Ethics Committee said Friday it had opened an investigation into Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen over allegations of sexual harassment.

A former campaign aide said Kihuen, a freshman congressman, propositioned her for dates and sex despite her repeated rejections during his 2016 campaign. This week, a lobbyist told the Nevada Independent that he touched her thighs and buttocks and made unwanted sexual advances while he was a state senator.

In a statement, the Ethics panel said it was “aware of public allegations that Representative Ruben Kihuen may have engaged in sexual harassment.”

The top House Democrat, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has called on Kihuen to resign, a request that he has resisted. Kihuen also apologized after the first allegation was made public, but said he didn’t remember the events the way the former campaign aide had described.

“As I’ve said previously, I intend to fully cooperate, and I welcome an opportunity to clear my name,” Kihuen said in response to the Ethics Committee one-page statement.

The announcement came from Republican Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana, the panel’s chairwoman, and Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, the ranking Democrat. They said the fact the committee was investigating the allegations does not indicate any violation has occurred and that the committee would make no further public statements pending completion of its initial review.

Kihuen is among a growing number of lawmakers whose political careers have been thrust into uncertainty or ended altogether by allegations of sexual misconduct.

On Thursday, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said he would not seek re-election amid sexual harassment allegations that he has denied.

Last week, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., retired weeks after former aides shared stories of habitual sexual harassment. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., announced he would step down after he was accused of improper behavior by at least eight women and his support from fellow Democrats collapsed.

On Friday, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., abruptly resigned over revelations that he’d asked two staff members to act as surrogates to have his child, offering one $5 million.

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US Adds New Requirements for Visa Waiver Countries

The United States is expanding the requirements for dozens of countries taking part in the Visa Waiver Program, demanding that the countries check traveler information against U.S. counterterrorism information.

Trump administration officials said Friday that the countries will have to use U.S. information to screen travelers crossing their borders from third countries. Many countries in the program already do that, one administration official said.

The changes also affect VWP countries that have higher rates of citizens overstaying their visas to the U.S.

If more than 2 percent of a country’s visitors stay beyond the expiration of their visa, that country will be required to carry out a public information campaign aimed at reducing those overstay violations, the Department of Homeland Security announced.

In the 2016 fiscal year, four of the VWP countries —Greece, Hungary, Portugal, and San Marino, a wealthy enclave landlocked inside central Italy — had overstay rates higher than 2 percent, according to a DHS report.

The Visa Waiver Program permits citizens of 38 countries, mostly in Europe, to travel to the United States for business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa.

President Donald Trump has sought to tighten the rules for those seeking to visit or live in the United States in several ways, saying restrictions are necessary for security reasons. The newly-confirmed Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, attributed the changes to anti-terrorism efforts.

“The United States faces an adaptive and agile enemy, as terrorists continue to explore ways to reach our country and to direct, enable, and inspire attacks against us. … These enhancements will strengthen the program, and they are part of our continued efforts to raise the baseline for homeland security across the board,” Nielsen said, via an emailed DHS statement announcing the modifications.

VWP and terror attacks

In a review of terror attacks on the U.S. from 1975 to 2015, a researcher for the Cato Institute found zero deaths attributable to people in the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.

The same report found three people out of nearly 400 million visitors under the VWP during that time committed non-lethal acts of terror. 

“That makes the VWP the safest visa category,” the report’s author concluded.

The three incidents involving visitors on VWP were:

• French national Zacarias Moussaoui, who was originally part of the 9/11 conspiracy but was in jail on immigration charges during the attacks;

• British national bomber Richard Reid, who tried but failed to light explosives hidden in his shoe during a transatlantic flight to the United States;

• British national Qaisar Shaffi, who was convicted in 2007 for his role in a foiled terror plot on financial landmarks in New York City.

The VWP changes will apply to all countries in the program.

Material from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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Trump Leaves Open Pardon Possibility for Flynn

U.S. President Donald Trump Friday left open the possibility of a presidential pardon on behalf Michael Flynn, who Trump fired after serving just over three weeks as his national security adviser because Flynn lied about his interactions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

“I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet,” Trump told reporters outside the White House before departing for the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy in nearby Quantico, Virginia. Trump added: “We’ll see what happens. Let’s see. I can say this: when you look at what’s gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.”

Following Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey while he led the agency’s probe into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the the 2016 election, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller to lead a special counsel probe into the matter.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department disclosed hundreds of text messages between two FBI officials on Mueller’s team of investigators that revealed an anti-Trump bias, prompting some, particularly Republicans, to question the non-partisan nature of the law enforcement agency and its investigation into Russia.

The number two person at the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, defended Mueller Wednesday in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and said he had no reason to dismiss him.

“It’s a shame what happened to the FBI but we’re going to rebuild the FBI,” Trump said. “It’s going to be bigger and better than ever but it is very sad when you look at those documents and how they’ve done that is really, really disgraceful and you have a lot of very angry people who are seeing it.”

After agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, Flynn pleaded guilty on December 1 to one felony count of lying to the FBI last January about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. The conversations occurred weeks before Trump’s inauguration.

Amid mostly Democratic speculation Flynn’s plea might prompt the Trump administration and its allies to attempt to prematurely end Mueller’s probe and curtail several congressional investigations, Trump did not rule out the possibility of pardoning Flynn.

The president has the authority to issue pardons, as he did in August when he pardoned Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt charges stemming from the hard-line tactics he used when pursuing undocumented immigrants.

An individual who has been convicted of a federal crime and wants to be pardoned must submit a request to the Justice Department, which assists the president in exercising his authority to pardon. The Justice Department informs pardon seekers to wait at least five years after their conviction date or their release from prison, whichever is later, prior to submitting a pardon application.

Arpaio did not, however, submit an application to the Justice Department and his pardon took effect before he was sentenced.

 

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