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US Justice Ginsburg Gets Israeli Achievement Award

A prestigious Jewish organization gave its first lifetime achievement award Wednesday to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Genesis Prize Foundation cited what it calls Ginsburg’s “groundbreaking legal work in the field of civil liberties and women’s rights” when it announced late last year she would be the recipient.

“I am a judge, born and raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice, for peace, for enlightenment runs thorough the entirety of Jewish tradition and Jewish history,” Ginsburg said in her acceptance speech in Tel Aviv. 

She said she hopes to have the “strength and courage to remain steadfast in service to that demand” as she continues serving on the United States’ highest court.

Former President Bill Clinton, who appointed Ginsburg in 1993, sent a congratulatory letter, saying he is proud to have named her to the court.

“Your groundbreaking legal work has pioneered civil liberties and women’s rights in the United States,” Clinton wrote.

A group of wealthy Russian-Jewish businessmen, working with the Israeli government, established the Genesis Foundation in 2013 to honor Jews who have made major contributions to humanity.

It comes with a $1 million prize.

Past recipients have been former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, classical violinist Itzhak Perlman, British sculptor Anish Kapoor and actress Natalie Portman.

Portman created a controversy last year when she refused to attend the ceremony, saying she did not want to look like she was endorsing the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ginsburg is the first recipient of the foundation’s lifetime achievement award.

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Students Object to University Role in Movie on Trump

A book about an alleged prophecy describing Donald Trump’s win as U.S. president is being produced as a movie by Liberty University, but students at the Christian college are pushing back on the film.

The production, in which Liberty University students are technicians, editors and set decorators for class credit, tells the story of Mark Taylor, a retired firefighter from Orlando, Florida. Taylor said in 2011 God told him Trump would become president of the United States. Trump won the election in 2016.

“This movie could reflect very poorly on all Liberty students and Liberty University as a whole,” states an online petition called “Cancel the Liberty University Film Programs Heretical Film Project,” created by Liberty students.

The author’s “claims to have received prophecies directly from God … do not align with the Bible’s message,” states the petition signed by more than 2,000 respondents.

Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia, partnered with Christian filmmaker Rick Eldridge, owner of Reel Works Studio in Charlotte, N.C., to produce the book, which was published in July 2017. 

Liberty University staff contends that this has been an excellent learning experience for students in cinematic arts at the university.

“We think this feature-length work experience is unique to our department among film schools,” said Stephan Schultze, Liberty professor of cinematic arts and director of the film. “This distinction gives our students a skill set that makes them ready for the workforce upon graduating.”

Movie production experience

Students agree they have gained hands-on experience working on the movie production. But some said they object to the alleged prophecy and the message.

In their online petition, they cited a later interpretation of the Bible, 1 John 4:1, that suggests believers “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

“We should be very wary of modern-day prophets,” the petition says. “Mark Taylor has claimed God told him that electing Trump will save the world, which is unbiblical at best and heretical at worst.”

“Liberty’s mission statement and purpose is to be a light on a hill and to train champions for Christ,” the petition continues. “Openly supporting both a ‘modern-day prophet’ and Trump as a school does not convey this mission.”

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is an outspoken Trump supporter and was appointed to the Trump Task Force for Higher Education in 2017.

Schultze said the Liberty students who worked on the film served in positions that usually go to people with at least five years of experience in the film industry.

The Liberty students pushed back, saying they were “of the distasteful opinion that the producer had only come to Liberty to make his film because he could get free student labor that would significantly lower the cost of making the film,” according to a source who asked to remain anonymous. “Many of us felt used at times, which was another reason why we petitioned against the film in the first place.”

Students were given other options to working on the prophecy film, but those were of lesser experience, the source said. Well into the making of the film, students said, “it became clear … after the initial script reading and the many rewrites … the film did have a political agenda, which we were against.”

Biopic-style film

Schultze said the film is a biopic that “chronicles real-life events, following a fireman [Taylor] suffering from PTSD who believes he has heard a message from God, that Donald Trump will be the next president.” He did not respond directly to whether he thought the film was heretical but said he would “advise people to watch the movie first.”

“I think the film will be well-received, and people will be inspired to know that our students have created a narrative film whose quality is strong enough to warrant a national theatrical release on more than 1,200 screens,” he said.

“This is been a great experience for students, and I believe it will provide them with the edge they need for employment upon graduating,” Schultze added.

He said that Liberty University did not receive or pay any fees in exchange for the movie being produced there. He said there was a “cost benefit to student involvement,” but there was also “a risk to engage newly skilled labor still in a steep learning curve. It all evens out in the end because additional shooting days are required for the teaching process to take place on set. Our students’ education is a huge benefactor in the process.”

Students contested that the experience had enhanced their learning.

“Many do not want this movie on their resume and some are even considering … dropping out,” the student petition said.

Eldridge of Reel Works said he wants the film’s message to resonate with its viewers.

“We hope that they will be inspired by all that is great about our country,”  Eldridge said of the audience in an email to VOA. “All the while we hope that they will be entertained by the story and the many voices who will speak during our reflective conversations after the dramatic story.”

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Woman Climbs Statue of Liberty in Standoff With Police

The Statue of Liberty, a powerful symbol of US freedom and long a beacon to immigrants, was shut down Wednesday on Independence Day as a woman refused to leave its base in a lengthy standoff with police.

New York police assisted U.S. Park Police in removing the woman from the monument.

Local media first reported that demonstrators opposed to President Donald Trump’s immigration policy protested there and that the woman was among the demonstrators.

But Rise and Resist NYC, which organized the protest, said the woman was not affiliated with the group.

At least seven people were arrested earlier for hanging a banner from the base of the statue that read “Abolish ICE,” referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency at the forefront of the immigration debate. 

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US Celebrates Independence Day

The United States is celebrating its Independence Day on Wednesday.

Americans will mark the 242nd anniversary of the split from Britain with the customary day full of picnics, parades and fireworks displays across the country.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, are hosting a picnic for military families at the White House.

The July 4th holiday includes a traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the National Archives in Washington. Inside the building, the original document is prominently displayed along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for the public to see.

Shortly after the reading, a parade attended by thousands of people begins in front of the building on Constitution Avenue and stretches 10 blocks to the west, ending just after passing between the White House and a monument to the first U.S. president, George Washington.

Washington D.C. will also feature a concert at the U.S. Capitol with performances from The Beach Boys, Chita Rivera, Andy Grammer, The Temptations, CeCe Winans and the National Symphony Orchestra, among others.

The celebration wraps up with a huge fireworks show after sunset.

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Divisions on Display as US Marks 4th of July

The July 4 Independence Day holiday holds a special place in the hearts of Americans. Nationwide, citizens traditionally gather for picnics and fireworks to celebrate the country’s birth back in 1776 and reaffirm the vibrancy of U.S. democracy.

For one day at least, the nation comes together to catch its collective breath and reflect on the democratic ideals upon which it was founded.

In recent years, however, democracy has increasingly come under strain in a politically polarized country, where voices are often raised across the political spectrum and common ground is hard to find.

Protests in the streets

Those democratic ideals have turned to action in the streets in recent days, including immigration protests that drew thousands around the country.

It can also be seen in the coming battle to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to announce his replacement for Kennedy on Monday, and activists in both political parties are gearing up for a Senate confirmation fight.

“People are rising up. Donald Trump is not king. No one makes it to the Supreme Court without going through the United States Senate,” said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, at a rally in front of the high court last week.

Backing Trump

Trump supporters have also been vocal of late, enthusiastically standing with a president who vowed to disrupt Washington and restore America’s greatness.

As often as he can, Trump touts the strong U.S. economy and tax cuts passed through Congress, due to Republican majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.

“We are bringing back our pride. We are bringing back our jobs. We are bringing back our wealth,” Trump told a White House gathering recently. “And for the citizens of this great land, we are bringing back our beautiful American dreams.”

Political differences have sharpened during Trump’s presidency and that includes scrutiny of the ongoing Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Polls show most Americans support the investigation; but, an increasing number of Republicans, like Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, see it as divisive.

“Whatever you got, finish it the hell up, because this country is being torn apart,” Gowdy told Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during a House hearing last week.

Polls show concern

The strains in democracy are beginning to show up in public opinion polls. A recent bipartisan survey commissioned by the George W. Bush Institute, The University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center and Freedom House found Americans increasingly concerned about the state of their democracy.

Fifty-five percent of those polled said democracy in the U.S. was “weak” at the current time. And eight in 10 said they were either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the condition of U.S. democracy.

In addition, a new Quinnipiac University poll published Tuesday found that 91 percent of those surveyed believe that the lack of civility in politics is a major problem for the country, compared to just 7 percent who do not.

The political divisions are real and so, at times, is the fear of where it could all lead, according to American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman.

“People feel like they are being written out of America simply because of their political beliefs, their gender, their race, their religion, and really, we have not had that for quite some time in modern America,” Lichtman told VOA in a recent interview.

Widening divide

Analysts note that because of the intense loyalty and opposition that Trump generates, the president has come to symbolize the widening political divide, even though the polarized state of U.S. politics has been evolving for decades.

“Trump himself is very polarizing. The public is very polarized,” said Gallup pollster Frank Newport. “They are worried about government, worried about long-term economic strength and the change with artificial intelligence and everything that is going on. So his great economic success, on a relative basis, has not been translated into personal approval or overall satisfaction.”

WATCH: Strained Democracy

​Seeking common ground

Americans usually manage to set aside politics on the Fourth of July and celebrate democracy, but in recent decades that has become increasingly difficult, given the political change and tumult the country has experienced.

In the past 20 years, Americans have withstood a massive terrorist attack on the homeland, elected the first black president and then turned to a political novice with a conservative, nationalist agenda as his successor.

The polls show that many Americans are uneasy with the current state of political discourse. Many worry that the sharp political divisions displayed on an almost daily basis make it harder to come together and tackle some of the difficult issues that face the nation.

In short, American democracy, while still vibrant, is also under strain.

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Sharp Divisions on Display as Americans Mark Independence Day

The July 4th Independence Day holiday holds a special place in the hearts of Americans. All across the country, citizens traditionally gather for picnics and fireworks on July 4th to celebrate the country’s birth in 1776 and to reaffirm the vibrancy of U.S. democracy. But in recent years, democracy has increasingly come under strain in a politically polarized country where voices are often raised in anger and common ground is hard to find. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more.

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Trump Interviewing More Potential Supreme Court Nominees

U.S. President Donald Trump is interviewing two or three more possible Supreme Court nominees this week after four on Monday before making his selection to fill a pivotal life-time appointment to the country’s highest tribunal.

Trump plans to announce his choice next Monday before heading to Europe for NATO meetings and later to London for face-to-face talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May and then Helsinki for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump described the four federal appellate court judges he met with Monday – reported to be Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar – as “very impressive… incredible people in so many different ways, academically and in every other way.”

Among other possibilities, Trump is expected to meet with another appellate court judge, Thomas Hardiman, who news reports say was among the president’s finalists last year when he ultimately selected Neil Gorsuch, a conservative appeals court judge who won Senate confirmation and has served on the court for more than a year.

Trump remains undecided on a new choice, White House aides say, and the selection process remains fluid. But some Republicans say that Kavanaugh, who worked in the administration of former Republican President George W. Bush, and Barrett, a former Notre Dame Law School professor, are possible favorites.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined Tuesday to say who else Trump would be interviewing, but said, “I can tell you that he’s got a great list and we’re excited about who he’s going to pick.”

Trump is choosing from a list of 25 conservative Supreme Court nominees he developed when he was running for the White House and during his presidency to assure his most ardent political supporters that he would pick someone to their liking. If confirmed by the Senate, Trump’s selection would become one of the nine justices, replacing long-time Justice Anthony Kennedy, who last week announced his retirement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will oversee Republican efforts to win approval for Trump’s selection in the politically divided Senate, said Monday of the coming fight over the nomination, “I think there will be a big national, campaign rage. But in the end, I’m confident we’ll get the judge confirmed.”

Sanders said Trump met with each of the first four candidates for about 45 minutes on Monday. She said Trump is looking for someone who will uphold the U.S. Constitution and who has the “right intellect” and “right temperament.”

When asked if Trump is looking for a candidate who will overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, Sanders reiterated Trump’s stance that he is not asking the candidates their views on abortion rights.

“The president is pro-life, but in terms of the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee, as the president said last week, he is not going to discuss specific cases with the nominees,” Sanders said.

Trump said Friday that he thinks the topic of Roe v. Wade is “inappropriate to discuss.”

Trump has also said that his final list of potential Supreme Court nominees includes two women.

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in an opinion column in The New York Times that people should pressure senators to oppose Supreme Court nominees who would overturn abortion rights. Schumer argued that while Democrats are outnumbered by Republicans in the Senate, 51-49, a majority of senators support abortion rights.

A new poll Monday shows that 63 percent of American voters agree with the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide. Thirty-one percent of Americans disagree with the ruling, according to the Quinnipiac University National Poll.

The survey also found that 50 percent of Americans think the Supreme Court is mainly motivated by politics, while 42 percent think it is primarily motivated by law. The survey was based on telephone answers from 1,020 voters nationwide from June 27-July 1.

 

The retirement of Kennedy, the key swing vote between four conservatives and four liberals on the court, gives Trump a coveted opportunity to make a second appointment to the nation’s highest court.

 

Trump nominated Gorsuch in January 2017. The president said last week that he is looking for another justice who closely models Gorsuch, saying he has been an “outstanding” justice for the Supreme Court.

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July 4: A Holiday of Fireworks and History

What is July 4?

July 4, also known as Independence Day, is the day in 1776 that delegates from the 13 U.S. colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, announcing the severing of ties with Britain.

The day has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941 and is traditionally a day when Americans celebrate with firework displays, parades, concerts and cookouts.

Fireworks

July 4 is known around the country as a day of fireworks. Thousands of communities across the nation organize annual displays of fireworks with one of the most dazzling displays taking place in Washington, the nation’s capital.

Fireworks on July Fourth are not new. Congress authorized the use of pyrotechnics as part of Independence Day celebrations in 1777 in Philadelphia, and they have been a popular way to celebrate the holiday every since.

WATCH: Fireworks Safety 

Each U.S. state has its own laws governing the sale of fireworks, with many states allowing residents to buy and set off certain types of fireworks at their homes.

Security

As millions of Americans celebrate the holiday, local law enforcement and federal officials are working to ensure the celebrations remain safe.

Police will be out in force in New York City, where the largest firework display will take place. Last year, around 3 million people gathered in the city to celebrate the holiday. A large police presence is also expected in Washington, where hundreds of thousands of people are set to gather to watch fireworks and listen to a concert at the Capitol.

This week, police in Ohio arrested a man they say was planning to detonate a bomb at Cleveland’s Fourth of July celebrations. Officials say Demetrius Pitts, an American-born citizen, had expressed allegiance to the al-Qaida militant group, and had also intended to target other locations in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

History

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence. Two days later, delegates from the 13 U.S. colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson.

WATCH: Why does the U.S. celebrate July 4th?

Some constitutional scholars argue that Americans should actually celebrate on July 2 — not July 4 — because of the historic vote.

The U.S. rebellion against the British began a year earlier in 1775, and fighting continued until the United States and Britain signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which formally recognized the independence of the United States of America.

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Trump Quietly Reshapes US Judiciary

President Donald Trump’s opportunity to name a new Supreme Court justice to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy caps a reshaping of the U.S. federal judiciary that has already been long under way.

Well before Kennedy announced his retirement last week, Trump began quietly and methodically naming conservatives to federal courts, including a record number of jurists to the powerful courts of appeals that are just one rung below the Supreme Court.

The lifetime appointments of relatively young judges with solidly conservative records will all but ensure Trump’s mark on the federal judiciary — and on American society — for a generation to come. 

“The judge story is an untold story. Nobody wants to talk about it,” Trump said at the White House in May.

“But when you think about it,” he added, standing next to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “Mitch and I were saying, this has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge — but 40 years out.”

Trump campaigned for the White House on the promise to name conservatives to the Supreme Court and other federal benches.

Federal judiciary

When he took office, Trump inherited more than 100 vacancies in the federal judiciary, thanks to Republican efforts block virtually all judicial nominations during the final two years of former President Barack Obama’s term.

Federal judges require Senate confirmation. Until recently, the minority party in the Senate — now the Democrats — could block judicial nominations through a parliamentary procedure known as the filibuster.  

But with the procedure abolished in recent years, first for federal judges and then for Supreme Court justices, the Republicans have been able to push through Trump’s judicial nominees even with their razor-thin majority in the Senate.

According to the Alliance for Justice, Trump has had 21 federal appeals judges confirmed by the Senate during his 17 months in office, far outpacing the rate held by former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush at this point in their first terms.  

But the president has had less success with appointments at the district level. Out of his 96 nominees for district courts, just 20 have been confirmed, fewer than Obama’s and Bush’s records. 

The power of federal judges has been on full display over the past year and a half. Federal judges temporarily blocked Trump’s so-called “travel ban” and his decision to end the program that protects from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Trump has denounced the court rulings by district judges, but in his judicial appointments he has prioritized nominating federal appeals judges. 

That is because federal appeals courts are the final arbiter in the overwhelming majority of federal cases, said John Malcolm, director of the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank that advises the White House on judicial selections. (The Federalist Society is another conservative group that helps the White House select judicial candidates.) 

The Supreme Court takes up between 70 and 75 cases a year, compared with more than 50,000 cases filed in federal appeals courts.

“On a number of important constitutional and statutory cases, they’re often the last word,” Malcolm said. “So, the people who sit on those courts can have a very large impact on the direction of the law.”

Some controversial nominees

Trump’s judicial candidates have not been without controversy. One was forced to withdraw his candidacy after it was disclosed that he’d called transgender children part of “Satan’s plan.”

Liberals have been sounding the alarm about a “right-wing takeover” of the federal courts, pointing to the decisive votes Trump-nominated judges have cast in a string of court cases. 

“He has picked people who have been ideologically far to the right,” said Caroline Fredrickson, president of left-leaning American Constitution Society (ACS).

Trump allies defend the president’s selections as sound choices that will restore the judiciary’s role as the interpreter of laws.

White House Counsel Don McGahn, who spearheads judicial selections for Trump, said earlier this year that the president wants judges who have a “commitment to the notion of a rule of law” and who “read the law as written.”

“He ran on the idea of the judicial branch needing some help. He’s delivered on those promises,” McGahn said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.

Currently, about 17 percent of federal judgeships are vacant. With more likely to open up over the next two years, Trump could end up appointing 15 percent to 20 percent of the judiciary by the end of his current term, said Fredrickson, of the ACS.

Republicans hope to keep control of the Senate after the November congressional elections, which would allow them to swell the ranks of the judiciary with Trump’ nominees.

McConnell, a key Trump ally on judicial selections, said in May that if Republicans keep their majority in the Senate, “we can do this for two more years, so that through the full four years of President Trump’s term, he will make a lasting generational contribution to the country, having strict constructionists on the court.”

On the other hand, a Democratic takeover of the Senate could effectively put an end to Trump’s judicial appointments, Fredrickson said.

“There will be no more judges confirmed unless they happen to be people recommended by Democratic senators,” she said.

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Top US Business Group Assails Trump’s Handling of Trade Dispute

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday denounced President Donald Trump’s handling of global trade disputes, issuing a report that argued tariffs imposed by Washington and retaliation by its partners would boomerang badly on the American economy.

The Chamber, the nation’s largest business lobbying group and a traditional ally of Trump’s Republican Party, said the White House is risking a global trade war with its push to protect U.S. industry and workers with tariffs.

The group’s analysis of the harm each U.S. state could suffer from retaliation by U.S. trading partners painted a gloomy picture that could bring pressure on the White House from Republicans ahead of congressional elections in November.

For example, nearly $4 billion worth of exports from Texas could be targeted by retaliatory tariffs, the Chamber said, including $321 million in meat the state sends to Mexico each year and $494 million in grain sorghum it exports to China.

Trump has slapped tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of steel and aluminum imports from China, the European Union, Canada and others, prompting retaliation against U.S. products.

He is considering extending the levies to the auto sector.

The Chamber, which says it represents the interests of three million companies, had praised Trump for slashing business taxes in December, but mounting trade tensions have opened a rift with the White House.

“The administration is threatening to undermine the economic progress it worked so hard to achieve,” Chamber President Tom Donohue said in a statement. “We should seek free and fair trade, but this is just not the way to do it.”

Asked at a briefing about the Chamber’s report, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters: “The president is focused on helping protect American workers and American industries and create a fair playing field.”

The Chamber is expected to spend millions of dollars ahead of the November elections to help candidates who back free trade, immigration and lower taxes. It has already backed candidates who share those goals in Republican primaries.

Retaliation

Perhaps most unsettling to businesses and investors, Washington and Beijing have engaged in tit-for-tat tariffs and threatened retaliation that has raised the prospect of a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

The United States is set to impose tariffs on $34 billion worth of additional goods from China on July 6. China has threatened to retaliate in kind with its own tariffs on U.S. agricultural products and other goods.

Although Trump has previously been persuaded to back off trade threats based on the fact that they would hurt states that supported him in the 2016 presidential election, he has taken a more aggressive tack in recent months.

On Monday, he threatened to take action against the World Trade Organization after media reports said he wanted to withdraw from the global trade regulator. Trump says the WTO has allowed the United States to be taken advantage of in global trade.

Trump initially granted Canada, EU members and other nations exemptions on the metal tariffs — 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. But he lifted the exemptions the same week he met with Group of Seven leaders in Quebec last month.

Trump railed against his trading partners during the meeting, according to sources, and withdrew his support for a joint communique after leaving the summit, angering and bewildering some of Washington’s closest allies.

Retaliation for his tariffs came swiftly.

Early last month, Mexico imposed tariffs on U.S. products ranging from steel to pork and bourbon, while the EU levied duties of 25 percent on 2.8 billion euros of U.S. imports, including jeans and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Harley-Davidson, which dominates the heavyweight U.S. motorcycle market, subsequently announced it would shift some U.S. production overseas to avoid higher costs for EU customers.

Trump slammed the company’s move, saying it was tantamount to surrender, and threatened punitive taxes.

Canada, a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Mexico, on July 1 imposed retaliatory measures on C$16.6 billion ($12.63 billion) of American goods, including coffee, ketchup and whiskey.

Global equities fell Monday as investors worried about an escalation of the trade disputes.

The Chamber based its state-by-state analysis on data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and government agencies in China, the EU, Mexico and Canada.

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