What’s Next for Immigration Reform After Trump Profanity?

The on-again, off-again effort to decide the future of almost 800,000 undocumented youths in the United States swung wildly from Thursday to Friday, with one of the top Republicans in Congress calling President Donald Trump’s reported use of an expletive to disparage some immigrants’ home countries “unfortunate” and “unhelpful.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan joined politicians from both parties who were critical of the president following the remark, made Thursday during a meeting on immigration policy at the White House. Trump allegedly referred to Haiti and African nations as “s—hole” countries.

While Trump denied the widely reported comment in a tweet, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of the top-ranking Democrats and a longtime supporter of immigration reform, said he “personally heard” the president’s comment, and that Trump had repeatedly used “hate-filled, vile and racist” words.

No one is denying, however, that Trump rejected a bipartisan immigration deal brought to him by six senators that addressed not only the now-ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but also the diversity lottery and temporary protected status programs, funding for border security, and some aspects of the family-based migration system. The deal was a nonstarter for conservative senators at the meeting and also for Trump.

“This is like throwing gasoline to the fire,” Representative Adriano Espaillat, a New York Democrat, said of Trump’s reported language. Espaillat immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic, located next to Haiti on the island of Hispaniola.

​A week to get it done

Next Friday is the deadline for Congress to pass a national budget, something many Democrats, whose votes are needed, have said they will not do unless there is a fix for DACA. Absent a budget, the federal government will have to shut down.

Durbin said Friday that he had hoped for White House approval of the bipartisan deal. Without it, “here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to prepare our bipartisan agreement for introduction into the Senate next week. If the Republican leadership has a better alternative, bring it forward. If they don’t, for goodness’ sake, give us a vote.”

He said he would be on the phone Friday “begging” his colleagues in both parties to support the measure.

But Trump, meanwhile, was disparaging the plan on Twitter as a “big step backwards.”

In a statement Friday, conservative Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia had a different take on the previous day’s meeting.

“What he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest. We, along with the president, are committed to solving an issue many in Congress have failed to deliver on for decades,” the statement said.

What now?

In a statement Friday, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), which held events to help DACA applicants process their paperwork, said, “It is unacceptable that the president of the United States would attack a bipartisan effort with his racist, xenophobic, and ill-informed language and beliefs.”

One of the overarching questions as the vote on the federal budget approaches is which components of immigration reform and border security will be included.

NAKASEC joined other groups in calling for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to be attached to the federal budget vote, in lieu of a massive reform bill that would include cuts to other aspects of the U.S. immigration system.

“The DREAM Act must not be used to implement a family ban by altering the current family sponsorship system, cancel the diversity visa program or allocate our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to building a wall,” the statement read.

Each of these issues has been discussed as a component — in some cases referred to as bargaining chips — of a broader reform package.

Trump has repeatedly expressed interest in restricting immigration levels. Republican lawmakers introduced legislation in 2017 that would cut or eliminate some long-standing parts of the U.S. immigration system, but none of the bills passed.

The White House has also led a nearly yearlong campaign to reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States, as part of broader immigration restriction efforts.

The turmult comes after a court ruling earlier this week that buoyed the hopes of advocates for the DACA program, which Trump rescinded in September. As VOA reported Wednesday, a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to again process DACA renewal applications.

But recipients may not see any benefits soon, or at all. The ruling applies only to those who had been enrolled in DACA before Trump rescinded the program and does not apply to first-time applicants. Moreover, the Trump administration has already announced its intention to appeal.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Report: Trump Lawyer Brokered $130,000 Payment to Porn Star

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer brokered a $130,000 payment to a porn star to prevent her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump, according to a report Friday in The Wall Street Journal.

Trump met Stephanie Clifford, whose goes by the name Stormy Daniels in films, at a golf event in 2006 — a year after Trump’s marriage to his wife, Melania.

According to the Journal’s report, Clifford began talking with ABC News in the fall of 2016 for a story involving an alleged relationship with Trump, but reached a $130,000 deal a month before the election, which prevented her from going public.

Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen arranged for the payment through Clifford’s lawyer, Keith Davidson, the Journal reported.

In a statement to the Journal, Cohen did not address his role in negotiating the supposed payment but said Trump denies any such relationship with Clifford. Clifford has previously denied an alleged relationship with Trump.

On Friday afternoon, the White House issued a statement calling the Journal’s story “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.”

Cohen also accused the Journal of perpetuating “a false narrative for over a year.”

Just days before the 2016 election, the Journal published a story stating that the National Enquirer — run by David Pecker, a fervid supporter of Trump — had paid $150,000 to silence former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal about a sexual relationship she allegedly had with Trump a decade ago. 

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Most Americans ‘Don’t Want’ Oprah to Run for President

Americans may love Oprah Winfrey, but most don’t want the chat show queen to run for president, although if she did she would beat Donald Trump, a poll revealed Friday.

Winfrey’s rousing speech at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony ignited speculation that the billionaire entertainment mogul, the first black woman to own a television network, is harboring Oval Office ambitions.

Sixty-four percent of respondents have a favorable view of Winfrey, including 43 percent of Trump supporters, according to the NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist survey.

But when asked if they wanted Winfrey to run in 2020, only 35 percent said yes. A majority — 54 percent — said no and 11 percent said they were unsure.

Yet if a hypothetical presidential head-to-head was held today, 50 percent of national registered voters said they would vote in Winfrey as a Democrat. Only 39 percent said they would return Trump to office.

Voters were predictably split along party lines. Ninety-one percent of Democrats backed Winfrey. Eighty-five percent of Republicans said they would vote for Trump.

While there is little indication that 63-year-old Winfrey wants the job, Hollywood’s loathing of Trump and Democrats’ bafflement that a reality TV star could win with no previous government experience has fueled talk of finding their own celebrity candidate.

Trump said Tuesday he doubted Winfrey would run, but if she did, he would win.

The survey was carried out among 1,350 adults earlier this week, after Oprah’s speech made headlines. The poll carried a margin of error of 2.7 percent and three percent among registered voters.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

No Pedal to Metal in GM’s Planned Self-driving Cruise AV Car

General Motors Co is seeking U.S. government approval for a fully autonomous car — one without a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator pedal — to enter the automaker’s first commercial ride-sharing fleet in 2019, executives said.

For passengers who cannot open doors, the Cruise AV — a rebranded version of GM’s Chevrolet Bolt EV — has even been designed to perform that task. It will have other accommodations for hearing and visually impaired customers.

This will be one of the first self-driving vehicles in commercial passenger service and among the first to do away with manual controls for steering, brakes and throttle. What is the driver’s seat in the Bolt EV will become the front left passenger seat in the Cruise AV, GM said.

Company President Dan Ammann told reporters GM had filed on Thursday for government approval to deploy the “first production-ready vehicle designed from the start without a steering wheel, pedals or other unnecessary manual controls.”

GM is part of a growing throng of vehicle manufacturers, technology companies and tech startups seeking to develop so-called robo-taxis over the next three years in North America, Europe and Asia. Most of those companies have one or more partners.

On Friday, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed GM had petitioned for approval to operate up to 2,500 vehicles without steering wheels or human drivers.

 “Safety is the [Transportation] department’s top priority. The department will review this petition and give it careful consideration,” the agency said in a statement.

Ford Motor Co said on Tuesday it will partner with delivery service Postmates Inc as the automaker starts testing ways to transport people, food and packages this spring in its self-driving cars, which are being developed by Ford’s Argo unit.

Other companies, from Uber Technologies Inc to Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, have been testing self-driving vehicle prototypes in limited ride-sharing applications, but have been less explicit than GM in announcing plans for commercial robo-taxi services.

GM executives said the automaker has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow 16 alterations to existing vehicle safety rules — such as having an airbag in what would normally be the driver’s seat, but without a steering wheel — to enable the deployment of the Cruise AV.

The automaker would then need to obtain similar approval from individual U.S. states. GM executives said seven U.S. states already allow the alterations sought by the automaker.

In other states — including those that stipulate a car must have a licensed human driver — GM will work with regulators to change or get a waiver from existing rules.

The company declined to identify the first states in which it plans to launch the vehicle or say when it would begin testing.

GM wants to control its own self-driving fleet partly because of the tremendous revenue potential it sees in selling related services, from e-commerce to infotainment, to consumers riding in those vehicles.

At a Nov. 30 briefing in San Francisco, GM’s Ammann told investors the lifetime revenue generation of one of its self-driving cars could eventually be “several hundred thousands of dollars.” That compares with the $30,000 on average that GM collects today for one of its vehicles, mostly derived from the initial sale.

GM’s Cruise AV is equipped with the automaker’s fourth-generation self-driving software and hardware, including 21 radars, 16 cameras and five lidars — sensing devices that use laser light to help autonomous cars “see” nearby objects and obstacles.

The Cruise AV will be able to operate in hands-free mode only in premapped urban areas.

GM’s prototype self-driving vehicles have been developed in San Francisco by Cruise Automation, the onetime startup that GM acquired in March 2016 for a reported $1 billion.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Jeff Bezos Contributes $33M to ‘Dreamers’ Scholarship Program

Scholarship program TheDream.US said on Friday it had received a $33 million donation from Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos to fund 1,000 college scholarships.

The scholarship program will fund U.S. high school graduates with a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, an Obama-era program protecting young immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents — commonly known as Dreamers.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday blasted the federal court system as “broken and unfair” after a judge blocked his administration’s move to end the DACA program.

2,850 students are currently enrolled in different colleges as part of TheDream.US scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition, fees and books.

Bezos’ parents, Mike and Jackie Bezos, were among the early donors to TheDream.US. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pershing Square Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are also among the other major contributers to the program.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Cybersecurity Firm: US Senate in Russian Hackers’ Crosshairs

The same Russian government-aligned hackers who penetrated the Democratic Party have spent the past few months laying the groundwork for an espionage campaign against the U.S. Senate, a cybersecurity firm said Friday.

The revelation suggests the group often nicknamed Fancy Bear, whose hacking campaign scrambled the 2016 U.S. electoral contest, is still busy trying to gather the emails of America’s political elite.

“They’re still very active — in making preparations at least — to influence public opinion again,” said Feike Hacquebord, a security researcher at Trend Micro Inc., which published the report . “They are looking for information they might leak later.”

The Senate Sergeant at Arms office, which is responsible for the upper house’s security, declined to comment.

Hacquebord said he based his report on the discovery of a clutch of suspicious-looking websites dressed up to look like the U.S. Senate’s internal email system. He then cross-referenced digital fingerprints associated with those sites to ones used almost exclusively by Fancy Bear, which his Tokyo-based firm dubs “Pawn Storm.”

Trend Micro previously drew international attention when it used an identical technique to uncover a set of decoy websites apparently set up to harvest emails from the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in April 2017. The sites’ discovery was followed two months later by a still-unexplained publication of private emails from several Macron staffers in the final days of the race.

Hacquebord said the rogue Senate sites — which were set up in June and September of 2017 — matched their French counterparts.

“That is exactly the way they attacked the Macron campaign in France,” he said.

Attribution is extremely tricky in the world of cybersecurity, where hackers routinely use misdirection and red herrings to fool their adversaries. But Tend Micro, which has followed Fancy Bear for years, said there could be no doubt.

“We are 100 percent sure that it can attributed to the Pawn Storm group,” said Rik Ferguson, one of the Hacquebord’s colleagues.

Like many cybersecurity companies, Trend Micro refuses to speculate publicly on who is behind such groups, referring to Pawn Storm only as having “Russia-related interests.” But the U.S. intelligence community alleges that Russia’s military intelligence service pulls the hackers’ strings and a months-long Associated Press investigation into the group, drawing on a vast database of targets supplied by the cybersecurity firm Secureworks, has determined that the group is closely attuned to the Kremlin’s objectives.

If Fancy Bear has targeted the Senate over the past few months, it wouldn’t be the first time. An AP analysis of Secureworks’ list shows that several staffers there were targeted between 2015 and 2016.

Among them: Robert Zarate, now the foreign policy adviser to Florida Senator Marco Rubio; Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who now runs a Washington consultancy; and Jason Thielman, the chief of staff to Montana Senator Steve Daines. A Congressional researcher specializing in national security issues was also targeted.

Fancy Bear’s interests aren’t limited to U.S. politics; the group also appears to have the Olympics in mind.

Trend Micro’s report said the group had set up infrastructure aimed at collecting emails from a series of Olympic winter sports federations, including the International Ski Federation, the International Ice Hockey Federation, the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation, the International Luge Federation and the International Biathlon Union.

The targeting of Olympic groups comes as relations between Russia and the International Olympic Committee are particularly fraught. Russian athletes are being forced to compete under a neutral flag in the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics following an extraordinary doping scandal that has seen 43 athletes and several Russian officials banned for life.

Amid speculation that Russia could retaliate by orchestrating the leak of prominent Olympic officials’ emails, cybersecurity firms including McAfee and ThreatConnect have picked up on signs that state-backed hackers are making moves against winter sports staff and anti-doping officials.

On Wednesday, a group that has brazenly adopted the Fancy Bear nickname began publishing what appeared to be Olympics and doping-related emails from between September 2016 and March 2017. The contents were largely unremarkable but their publication was covered extensively by Russian state media and some read the leak as a warning to Olympic officials not to press Moscow too hard over the doping scandal.

Whether any Senate emails could be published in such a way isn’t clear. Previous warnings that German lawmakers’ correspondence might be leaked by Fancy Bear ahead of last year’s election there appear to have come to nothing.

On the other hand, the group has previously dumped at least one U.S. legislator’s correspondence onto the web.

One of the targets on Secureworks’ list was Colorado State Senator Andy Kerr, who said thousands of his emails were posted to an obscure section of the website DCLeaks — a web portal better known for publishing emails belonging to retired Gen. Colin Powell and various members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign — in late 2016.

Kerr said he was still bewildered as to why he was targeted. He said while he supported transparency, “there should be some process and some system to it.

“It shouldn’t be up to a foreign government or some hacker to say what gets released and what shouldn’t.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Fiat Chrysler to Invest $1 Billion in Michigan Plant, Add 2,500 Jobs

Fiat Chrysler Automobile said on Thursday it will shift production of Ram heavy-duty pickup trucks from Mexico to Michigan in 2020, a move that lowers the risk to the automaker’s profit should President Donald Trump pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Fiat Chrysler said it would create 2,500 jobs at a factory in Warren, Michigan, near Detroit and invest $1 billion in the facility. The Mexican plant will be “repurposed to produce future commercial vehicles” for sale global markets. Mexico has free trade agreements with numerous countries.

Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne a year ago raised the possibility that the automaker would move production of its heavy-duty pickups to the United States, saying U.S. tax and trade policy would influence the decision.

If the United States exits NAFTA, it could mean that automakers would pay a 25 percent duty on pickup trucks assembled in Mexico and shipped to the United States. About 90 percent of the Ram heavy-duty pickups made at Fiat Chrysler’s Saltillo plant in Mexico are sold in the United States or Canada, company officials said.

Negotiators for the United States, Mexico and Canada are scheduled to meet later this month for another round of talks on revising NAFTA. Canadian government officials earlier this week said they are convinced that Trump intends to announce his intention to quit the agreement.

Trump has threatened to force the rollback of NAFTA, which enables the free flow of goods made in the United States, Canada and Mexico across the borders of those countries.

He also has criticized automakers for moving jobs and investment in new manufacturing facilities to Mexico and prodded them to add more auto production in the United States.

On Wednesday, Toyota Motor Corp and Mazda Motor Corp announced they would build a new $1.6 billion joint venture auto assembly plant in Alabama, drawing praise from Trump.

Vice President Mike Pence praised Fiat Chrysler’s announcement. “Manufacturing is back. Great announcement. Proof that this admin’s AMERICA FIRST policies are WORKING!” Pence said in a Twitter posting.

Chrysler raised its output in Mexico by 39 percent in 2017 to 639,000 vehicles, according to Mexican government data. That made Fiat Chrysler the third-largest producer of vehicles in Mexico in 2017, after Nissan Motor Co and General Motors Co.

The United States and Canada are the principal markets for full-size heavy-duty pickup trucks, most of which are produced in the United States by FCA, GM, Ford Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co.

Miguel Ceballos, FCA spokesman for Mexico, said the company in 2018 and 2019 expects more growth in Mexico, and the moment it stops producing the Ram Heavy Duty pickups it will start to produce the new commercial vehicle, “which still does not have a name,” Ceballos said.

“It is going to be for global distribution, at the moment the Ram is only distributed at the level of NAFTA,” he said. Ceballos said there was no current plan to either reduce or grow the workforce in Mexico.

GM has been readying a plant in Silao, Mexico, to build a new generation of large pickup trucks.

FCA on Thursday said it also would make a special bonus payment of $2,000 to about 60,000 FCA hourly and salaried employees in the United States totaling about $120 million.

Typically, U.S. automakers only pay bonuses to hourly workers as part of collective bargaining agreements.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!