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Kelly Says He’s Not Leaving as White House Chief of Staff

The White House chief of staff said Thursday that he was not leaving his job, and he chastised reporters for speculating that his tenure would be brief.

“I’m not quitting today, I don’t believe. And I just talked to the president. I don’t think I’m being fired today,” Kelly told reporters from the White House briefing room podium.

In a rare, extended, on-the-record interaction with journalists, the former Marine Corps general also criticized reporters — in concert with his boss — saying “it’s astounding to me how much is misreported” about President Donald Trump and what occurs in the West Wing.

Kelly suggested reporters develop better sources at the White House for their stories.

Asked what the president’s biggest frustration was, Kelly replied, “One of his frustrations is you. Not all of you, but many of you.”

Kelly, who was secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, succeeded Reince Priebus in late July, whom Trump ousted. Priebus, a former Republican National Committee chairman, had struggled since the inauguration to bring order to the West Wing.

Chief of staff’s role

Kelly also told reporters that they had mischaracterized his role.

Stories have emanated from the White House of a president bristling under a more disciplined and authoritative chief of staff, himself reportedly exasperated by Trump’s controversial ad lib comments in speeches and on Twitter that upended attempts to carefully set policy.

Kelly denied he was bothered by Trump’s frequent tweets and that his job did not include managing the president.

“I was not brought into this job to control anything but the flow of information,” Kelly said.

The chief of staff added that he did not restrict anyone from going in to see the president, as has been reported, but acknowledged now that instead of “onesies and twosies” entering the Oval Office to speak with the president, advisers go in as groups.

Kelly acknowledged North Korea as the most serious threat the Trump administration was now dealing with but said Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons were “not an immediate concern.”

Manageable threat, for now

“That state simply cannot have the ability to reach the homeland,” he said. “Right now, there is great concern about a lot of Americans that live in Guam. Right now, we think the threat is manageable, but over time, if it grows beyond where it is today — well, let’s hope diplomacy works.”

In recent weeks Trump and others in the administration have made clear a military option is under consideration for preventing Pyongyang from achieving the ability to hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kelly also pushed back on the perception that the president strongly desires to increase America’s nuclear arsenal.

Kelly said that what he’d heard Trump say most often about nuclear weapons was, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get rid of them all?”

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Facebook Chief Absolutely’ Supports Releasing Russia-linked Advertisements

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said Thursday she “absolutely” supports the public release of all advertisements produced by a Russia-linked organization during the 2016 presidential election.

Sandberg said the company is “working on transparency” following the revelation last month that a group with alleged ties to the Russian government ran $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook promoting “divisive” causes like Black Lives Matter.

“Things happened on our platform that shouldn’t have happened,” she said during the interview with Axios’s Mike Allen.

Later Thursday, Sandberg is set to meet with Congressional investigators who are looking into what role the advertisements which began running in 2015 and continued through this year may have played in the 2016 presidential election.

The $100,000 worth of ads represent a very small fraction of the total $2.3 billion spent by, and on behalf of, President Donald Trump and losing-candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaigns during the election.

Multiple congressional investigations have been launched, seeking to determine what effect alleged Russian meddling may have played in the election.

In addition, Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is conducting a criminal probe, including whether President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian operatives during the election season. Trump has denied working with the Russians.

Facebook had previously agreed to disclose the thousands of Facebook ads to congress. Sandberg said Thursday she thinks “it’s important that [the investigators] get the whole picture and explain that to the American people.”

In response to the Russian ad buys, Sandberg said Facebook is hiring 4,000 new employees to oversee ads and content. She said the company is also using “machine learning and automation” to target fake accounts that spread fake news.

She defined fake news as “things that are false hoaxes” and said Facebook is working to stamp out the bad information by teaming up with third-party fact checkers and warning users before they share news deemed fake by Facebook.

She said it is important to be cautious when going after fake news because “a lot of what we allow on Facebook is people expressing themselves” and “when you cut off speech for one person, you cut off speech for all people.”

“We don’t check the information posted on Facebook before people post it, and I don’t think people should want us to,” she said.

Hundreds of fake accounts were used to distribute the Russia-linked advertisements, Sandberg said. But had those ads been posted by legitimate users, “we would have let them run,” she said.

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Report: Waymo Demands at Least $1 Billion to Settle Uber Suit

Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo sought at least $1 billion in damages and a public apology from Uber Technologies Inc as conditions for settling its high-profile trade secret lawsuit against the ride-services company, sources familiar with the proposal told Reuters.

The Waymo self-driving car unit also asked that an independent monitor be appointed to ensure Uber does not use Waymo technology in the future, the sources said.

Uber rejected those terms, said the sources, who were not authorized to publicly discuss settlement talks.

The precise dollar amount requested by Waymo and the exact time the offer was made could not be learned.

Waymo’s tough negotiating stance reflects the company’s confidence in its legal position after months of pretrial victories in a case that may help to determine who emerges in the forefront of the fast-growing field of self-driving cars.

The aggressive settlement demands also suggest that Waymo is not in a hurry to resolve the lawsuit, in part because of its value as a distraction for Uber leadership, said Elizabeth Rowe, a trade secret expert at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Waymo recently persuaded a San Francisco federal judge to delay a trial to decide the dispute from October to early December, citing the need to investigate evidence Uber had not disclosed earlier.

No further settlement talks are scheduled, the sources said. The judge overseeing the case mandated that the companies enter mediation with a court-appointed magistrate.

Amy Candido, a Waymo attorney, declined to comment on any settlement talks, but said the company’s reasons for suing Uber are “pretty clear.”

“Waymo had one goal: to stop Uber from using its trade secrets,” she said. “That remains its goal.”

An Uber spokesperson declined to comment.

Waymo sued Uber in February, claiming that former engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files before leaving to set up a self-driving truck company, called Otto, which Uber acquired soon after.

Uber denied using any of Waymo’s trade secrets.

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Evergrande Property Magnate Seizes Top Spot On China Rich List

China has a new richest man, according to the annual Hurun rich list of the country’s top movers and shakers.

Xu Jiayin, the chairman of developer China Evergrande Group, has seized top spot – beating out more familiar faces such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Jack Ma and rival property magnate Wang Jianlin of Dalian Wanda Group.

Xu’s reported $43 billion wealth – a gain of around $30 billion against last year – comes on the back of a surge in Evergrande’s shares, up over 450 percent so far this year amid plans to cut debt and focus on profit over scale.

The Hurun Report, established in 1999, is the leading China-based organization ranking the wealth of the country’s rich and famous, and its list gives a temperature check on the winners and losers in China.

Growth in China stabilized this year, but while the world’s second largest economy averted a hard landing, some major corporations have buckled under the weight of their debt or been sanctioned by authorities over risky investments overseas.

Wanda’s Wang – who took top spot for the last two years – dropped to fifth in the list after Wanda sold off much of the firm’s hotel and theme park assets to rivals in July, after coming under regulatory scrutiny over its high leverage.

Close behind Evergrande’s Xu were China’s top tech titans – Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Tencent Holdings Ltd’s Pony Ma, who has seen his firm’s value rise on the popularity of its WeChat messaging app and its popular online games.

The list also underlined those who have fallen from grace in corporate China.

Jia Yueting, founder of sprawling conglomerate LeEco that once looked to rival both Tesla Inc and Netflix, dropped to 1,978th place from 31st last year.

Yang Kai, chairman of embattled Huishan Dairy – 66th last year – dropped off the list entirely as his firm fights off creditors amid billions of dollars of unpaid debt.

On the up was Wuxi Pharma Tech’s Li Ge and his wife, propelled by China’s push towards drug innovation, Zhang Lei of fast-growing online news portal Toutiao and Li Shufu of carmaker Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd.

“It has been a good year for manufacturing, cars, education, TMT and healthcare,” Hurun founder Rupert Hoogewerf said.

While many of those on the 2,000-strong list were members of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, only a few were delegates at the upcoming five-yearly Party Congress that begins next week.

These included corn magnate Li Denghai, alcohol billionaire Wu Shaoxun and Pan Gang of dairy giant Yili.

The list, with a combined wealth of $2.6 trillion, saw average wealth rising 12.5 percent – faster than broader economic growth – pointing to the growing financial muscle of China’s super-rich elite.

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Odd Mix of Industry, Environmentalists Fight Trump Coal, Nuclear Plan

The Trump administration says coal is back and nuclear energy is cool. Not at the expense of natural gas, wind and solar, insists an unusual coalition of business and environmental groups.

Dow Chemical, Koch Industries and U.S. Steel Corp. are standing with environmentalists in opposing an Energy Department plan that would reward nuclear and coal-fired power plants for adding reliability to the nation’s power grid and are pressuring the administration to shift course.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry says the plan is needed to help prevent widespread outages such as those caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and a 2014 “polar vortex” in the Eastern and Central U.S. The plan aims to reverse a steady tide of retirements of coal and nuclear plants, which have lost market share as natural gas and renewable energy flourish.

“The continued loss of baseload generation … such as coal and nuclear must be stopped,” Perry wrote in a Sept. 28 letter urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to adopt the new rule. “These generation resources are necessary to maintain the resiliency of the electric grid” amid sharp shifts in the U.S. energy market.

Perry’s plan coincides with President Donald Trump’s vow to achieve U.S. “energy dominance” while ending what he and other Republicans call a “war on coal” waged by the Obama administration. Perry, who has said he wants to “make nuclear energy cool again,” is certain to face questions about the plan and the opposition at a congressional hearing Thursday.

Critics see a bailout

The plan would compensate power plant owners that maintain a 90-day fuel supply protected against the elements. Critics say it could result in subsidies worth billions of dollars.

Environmental groups say the plan would boost dirty fuels and harm consumers, while the energy industry warns about interference in the free market and manufacturers complain about higher energy prices that could be passed on to consumers.

“Rick Perry is trying to slam through an outrageous bailout of the coal and nuclear industries on the backs of American consumers,” said Kit Kennedy, an energy policy expert for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This radical proposal would lead to higher energy bills for consumers and businesses, as well as dirtier air and increased health problems.”

A coalition of industry groups, ranging from the American Council on Renewable Energy to the American Petroleum Institute and the Natural Gas Supply Association, also blasted the plan, saying it could harm “entire industries and their tens of thousands workers.”

Amy Farrell, senior vice president of the American Wind Energy Association, said the proposal could “upend competitive markets that save consumers billions of dollars a year.”

Oil, gas: Let markets work

Marty Durbin, executive vice president of the petroleum institute, the top lobbying group for the oil and gas industry, said officials “need to be careful that government doesn’t put its thumb on the scale” in energy markets. “It’s better to let markets choose, which is what the United States is seeing with the growth of natural gas” as the leading U.S. electricity source, Durbin said.

The Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a trade group that represents Dow, Koch Industries and other manufacturing giants, is among those lobbying against the plan. In a letter to Congress, the group called the proposal “anti-competitive” and said it could distort or “destroy competitive wholesale electricity markets, increase the price of electricity to all consumers” and harm U.S. manufacturing.

The manufacturers and other critics say there is no evidence of a threat to the grid’s day-to-day reliability that would justify the emergency action Perry is seeking.

Indeed, in a report commissioned by Perry and delivered in August, the Energy Department said “reliability is adequate today despite the retirement of 11 percent of the generating capacity available in 2002, as significant additions from natural gas, wind, and solar have come online since then.”

Gerry Cauley, CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., an international regulatory authority, said at a conference in June that “the state of reliability in North America remains strong, and the trend line shows continuing improvement year over year.”

Coal, nuclear groups hail plan

Even so, coal and nuclear groups hailed the plan. National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn called Perry’s action “a long-overdue and necessary step to address the vulnerability of America’s energy grid,” while Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said disruptions caused by hurricanes and other extreme weather events show that “the urgency to act in support of the resiliency of the electric grid has never been clearer.”

The Energy Department seeks final action by mid-December, although industry groups and some members of Congress have pushed for a delay.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the energy commission should reject Perry’s plan.

“Secretary Perry has embraced an obsolete view of the grid (that) would bail out coal and nuclear power plants at the expense everyone else,” she said.

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First Latina Makes History in Fortune 50 Most Powerful Women List

The ranking of the 50 most powerful women by Fortune magazine is out. The list include such stalwarts as General Motors Mary Barra and PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi. But it also seven newcomers, including the first foreign-born Latina CEO on the Fortune 500, Geisha Williams. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo was at their annual gathering in Washington this week and has this report.

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Congress Bracing for Trump’s Decision on the Iran Nuclear Deal

President Donald Trump is expected to announce Thursday that Iran is not complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama to curb Iranian nuclear activities. Trump’s decision would trigger a 60-day deadline for Congress to set the next steps in dealing with Tehran. VOA’s Congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has more on why the president’s decision would put Capitol Hill lawmakers in a tough position.

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Cross Continent Solar Car Race Sets Grueling Pace

Every two years, Australia holds the World Solar Challenge. It is a grueling 3-thousand kilometer race across the Australian outback in cars powered only by the sun. Everyone from high school engineers to corporate sponsored giants is free to compete, and every year the cars go farther, and faster than before. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Somali Musician, Kept from US Internship, Blames Trump Travel Ban

The Somali musician Hassan-Nour Sayid — known by his stage name, Aar Maanta — and his band, the Urban Nomads, were supposed to be in Minnesota last week, where they were to kick off a monthlong internship of performances and workshops set up through the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.

Visa delays, however, have led to the cancellation of the event, and Aar told VOA he thinks it is because the Trump administration has delayed his visa to come to the U.S. because he is Muslim and Somali.

“After months of planning these peaceful events, I was expecting only the inevitable reasons could bring them to a disappointing halt, but now I think it is because of being Muslim and Somali. Why I was discriminated and singled out in the visa process,” Aar told VOA Somali. “I blame the current U.S. government.”

Dual citizenship

Aar is a respected and well-known band leader, with dual citizenship in Somalia and Britain, though he says these qualifications did not help him get a U.S. visa “easily and on time.”

“My four other colleagues — musicians in the band — are Italian, French, Nepalese-Scottish and British-Caribbean, and all received their visas with no trouble. Only me. I think it is because I am the band’s sole Somali and Muslim member,” he said.

He said his passport was held by the U.S. consulate, and he was told his application was placed under “additional administrative processing.”

In an email, a State Department official told VOA they were not able to discuss individual visas.

“Since visa records are confidential under the Immigration and Nationality Act, we are not able to discuss individual visa cases. We would also note that visa applications do not include questions pertaining to religious identity/affiliation. U.S. immigration law does not contain visa ineligibilities based on religious identity/affiliation,” the official wrote.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, who on Tuesday addressed a question by VOA on a visa denial to the ousted Venezuela attorney general, said visa applications are confidential under federal law.

“So visa applications — and those are confidential, so no matter who it is or what the cause is, that’s something that we don’t comment on. I think we’ve talked about that before. They’re confidential under a federal law,” Nauert said.

Musician

Aar — a Somali singer, songwriter, actor, composer, instrumentalist and music producer — moved to the United Kingdom in the late 1980s, on the eve of the civil war in Somalia. He has lived there since, and has received his British citizenship. But he says he always realized that holding a Western passport would not change “his true identity.”

“I was always telling my Somali fans that it does not matter whether you have a British passport or American passport or the passport of any other Western country, you will always and forever remain Somali,” he said.

Under a revised travel order signed last month by President Donald Trump, travelers to the United States from eight countries face new restrictions, which take effect Oct. 18. The new executive order will affect citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.

The new restrictions ban Somali immigrants from entry to the U.S., according to immigration attorneys. However, non-immigrants who are seeking business or tourist visas, such as Aar, must undergo additional screening measures.

According to tour organizers, the Urban Nomads have worked with the Cedar Cultural Center twice before, where they performed live music, led songwriting and held poetry workshops for young people. During the planned trip, though, the band would have extended its performances outside the metro area, carrying a message of unity for Somali-American communities.

Surprised by visa challenges

In a written statement, Fadumo Ibrahim, the program’s manager at the Cedar Cultural Center, said she was surprised by the visa challenges the musician faced, given his work with the center in the past.

“This case is a concrete example of how travel restrictions and the travel ban limit artistic voices and freedom,” Ibrahim said. “While it’s obviously important for the artists, it’s equally important for the community who had been anticipating this residency.

“Aar Maanta’s visit to Minnesota would have brought hope and positivity to the Somali and larger communities here at a time when we all really need it,” she said.

Midnimo, the Somali word for “unity,” is a program that features Somali artists from Minnesota and around the world in residencies and events that increase understanding of Somali culture through music.

The center said, “Midnimo is reviving and preserving Somalia’s rich musical traditions while fostering social connections between generations and cultures in the heart of the largest Somali diaspora in North America.”

VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributes to the story.

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