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Congressman Displays His Loaded Gun Over Coffee to Make a Point

A South Carolina congressman pulled out his own loaded handgun during a meeting with constituents Friday to make a point that guns are dangerous only in the hands of criminals.

Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman placed the .38-caliber gun on a table during the “coffee with constituents” meeting at a Rock Hill restaurant, news outlets reported.

“I’m not going to be a Gabby Giffords,” Norman said, referring to the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot outside a grocery store during a constituent gathering in 2011.

Giffords’ husband, retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, said in a statement that Norman is “no Gabby Giffords” and noted that his wife has dedicated her life to ending gun violence.

“Americans are increasingly faced with a stark choice: leaders like Gabby, who work hard together to find solutions to problems, or extremists like the NRA and Congressman Norman, who rely on intimidation tactics and perpetuating fear,” Kelly said.

Norman said he’ll display his gun at future constituent meetings.

“I’m tired of these liberals jumping on the guns themselves as if they are the cause of the problem,” Norman told The Post and Courier. “Guns are not the problem.”

School teacher Lori Carter of Charlotte, North Carolina, said she thought the move was contradictory because Norman didn’t know if someone there had mental health issues.

“What was to prevent me from leaning across the table to take that gun?” she said.

This story was written by the Associated Press.

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Muslim-American Advocates Hail New York Police Surveillance Settlement

Muslim-American advocacy organizations are hailing a legal settlement with New York City police over the department’s surveillance of the community, saying the agreement sends a message that simply being Muslim is not a crime.

The settlement, announced Thursday by lawyers for New York City, the New York Police Department and the Muslim community, resolves a 2012 lawsuit brought by Muslim groups. The suit challenged the lawfulness of a program New York police created after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to gather intelligence on Muslims.

Under the terms of the settlement, the New York Police Department confirmed that it has dismantled the unit responsible for carrying out the intelligence-gathering operation and agreed not to conduct suspicionless surveillance based on religion or ethnicity.

Victory for American Muslims

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy organization that initially filed the lawsuit, hailed the settlement as a victory for American Muslims.

“Today’s settlement sends a message to all law enforcement: Simply being Muslim is not a basis for surveillance,” Khera said during a press call with reporters.

Omar Farah, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a progressive legal advocacy organization that later joined the lawsuit, agreed that the settlement bears the same message.

“Attempting to predict criminality on the basis of race or religion is repugnant and it never works — except to humiliate and criminalize targeted communities,” Farah said.

​Years of spying, not one lead

Muslim Advocates filed the lawsuit after the Associated Press revealed in a series of investigative reports in 2011 and 2012 how the New York Police Department infiltrated Muslim groups and put informants in mosques in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

As part of the counterterror program, the police monitored at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools and two Muslim student associations in New Jersey, Khera said.

The monitoring included video surveillance of mosques, photographing of license plates, community mapping, and infiltration of mosques, student associations and businesses, she said.

Khera said the surveillance did not produce a single investigative lead.

“This was not lawful policing but just blatant discrimination against innocent Americans,” she said.

The settlement came after an appeals court in 2015 struck down a lower court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit, prompting New York City to initiate talks with the plaintiffs.

Farhaj Hassan, a U.S. Army reservist and the lead plaintiff in the case, said the settlement was a victory for the United States.

“We believe the legal rulings and settlement in this case will endure as part of a broader effort to hold this country to account for its stated commitment and its obligation to uphold religious liberty and equality,” Hassan said.

This story was written by VOA’s Masood Farivar.

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Muslim-American Advocates Hail New York Police Surveillance Settlement

Muslim-American advocacy organizations are hailing a legal settlement with New York City police over the department’s surveillance of the community, saying the agreement sends a message that simply being Muslim is not a crime.

The settlement, announced Thursday by lawyers for New York City, the New York Police Department and the Muslim community, resolves a 2012 lawsuit brought by Muslim groups. The suit challenged the lawfulness of a program New York police created after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to gather intelligence on Muslims.

Under the terms of the settlement, the New York Police Department confirmed that it has dismantled the unit responsible for carrying out the intelligence-gathering operation and agreed not to conduct suspicionless surveillance based on religion or ethnicity.

Victory for American Muslims

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy organization that initially filed the lawsuit, hailed the settlement as a victory for American Muslims.

“Today’s settlement sends a message to all law enforcement: Simply being Muslim is not a basis for surveillance,” Khera said during a press call with reporters.

Omar Farah, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a progressive legal advocacy organization that later joined the lawsuit, agreed that the settlement bears the same message.

“Attempting to predict criminality on the basis of race or religion is repugnant and it never works — except to humiliate and criminalize targeted communities,” Farah said.

​Years of spying, not one lead

Muslim Advocates filed the lawsuit after the Associated Press revealed in a series of investigative reports in 2011 and 2012 how the New York Police Department infiltrated Muslim groups and put informants in mosques in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

As part of the counterterror program, the police monitored at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools and two Muslim student associations in New Jersey, Khera said.

The monitoring included video surveillance of mosques, photographing of license plates, community mapping, and infiltration of mosques, student associations and businesses, she said.

Khera said the surveillance did not produce a single investigative lead.

“This was not lawful policing but just blatant discrimination against innocent Americans,” she said.

The settlement came after an appeals court in 2015 struck down a lower court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit, prompting New York City to initiate talks with the plaintiffs.

Farhaj Hassan, a U.S. Army reservist and the lead plaintiff in the case, said the settlement was a victory for the United States.

“We believe the legal rulings and settlement in this case will endure as part of a broader effort to hold this country to account for its stated commitment and its obligation to uphold religious liberty and equality,” Hassan said.

This story was written by VOA’s Masood Farivar.

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Justice Department Considers Joining Harvard Affirmative Action Case

The U.S. Justice Department said Friday it might formally enter a lawsuit accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian-American applicants as the agency probes its admissions policies for potential civil rights violations.

The department disclosed its plan in a brief urging a federal judge in Boston to not allow the Ivy League school to file pretrial court papers and documents provisionally under seal.

Harvard had cited the need to protect the privacy of applicants and students as well as the inner workings of its admissions process, arguing that various documents should be initially filed under seal pending the judge’s review.

Privacy protections

The Justice Department said it opposed Harvard’s request, joining Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), the group behind the case, which has urged the disclosure of “powerful” evidence showing Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

“Harvard College is responsible for protecting the confidential and highly sensitive personal information that prospective students — none of whom asked to be involved in this dispute — entrust to us every year in their applications,” Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane said in a statement.

“We are committed to safeguarding their privacy while also ensuring that the public has the access that it is entitled to under the law,” Dane said.

William Consovoy, a lawyer for SFFA, declined to comment.

Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled universities may use affirmative action to help minority applicants get into college. Conservatives have said such programs can hurt white people and Asian-Americans.

The Justice Department under Republican President Donald Trump has been investigating a complaint by more than 60 Asian-American organizations which say Harvard’s policies are discriminatory because they limit the acceptance of Asian-Americans.

“The public funds Harvard at a cost of millions of dollars each year, and thus has a paramount interest in any proof of these allegations, Harvard’s responses to them, and the Court’s resolution of this dispute,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in Friday’s filing.

The department said that while it had obtained much of the case’s evidence through its own separate probe, it wanted to review the court records as it considers whether to file a “statement of interest” arguing a position in the case. A hearing before U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs is scheduled for Tuesday.

Harvard says its admissions policies comply with U.S. laws and that it has worked to increase the financial aid it offers to ensure economic, as well as racial, diversity in its classes.

 

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Justice Department Considers Joining Harvard Affirmative Action Case

The U.S. Justice Department said Friday it might formally enter a lawsuit accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian-American applicants as the agency probes its admissions policies for potential civil rights violations.

The department disclosed its plan in a brief urging a federal judge in Boston to not allow the Ivy League school to file pretrial court papers and documents provisionally under seal.

Harvard had cited the need to protect the privacy of applicants and students as well as the inner workings of its admissions process, arguing that various documents should be initially filed under seal pending the judge’s review.

Privacy protections

The Justice Department said it opposed Harvard’s request, joining Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), the group behind the case, which has urged the disclosure of “powerful” evidence showing Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

“Harvard College is responsible for protecting the confidential and highly sensitive personal information that prospective students — none of whom asked to be involved in this dispute — entrust to us every year in their applications,” Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane said in a statement.

“We are committed to safeguarding their privacy while also ensuring that the public has the access that it is entitled to under the law,” Dane said.

William Consovoy, a lawyer for SFFA, declined to comment.

Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled universities may use affirmative action to help minority applicants get into college. Conservatives have said such programs can hurt white people and Asian-Americans.

The Justice Department under Republican President Donald Trump has been investigating a complaint by more than 60 Asian-American organizations which say Harvard’s policies are discriminatory because they limit the acceptance of Asian-Americans.

“The public funds Harvard at a cost of millions of dollars each year, and thus has a paramount interest in any proof of these allegations, Harvard’s responses to them, and the Court’s resolution of this dispute,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in Friday’s filing.

The department said that while it had obtained much of the case’s evidence through its own separate probe, it wanted to review the court records as it considers whether to file a “statement of interest” arguing a position in the case. A hearing before U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs is scheduled for Tuesday.

Harvard says its admissions policies comply with U.S. laws and that it has worked to increase the financial aid it offers to ensure economic, as well as racial, diversity in its classes.

 

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Scandal-hit U.S. Republican Congressman Farenthold Steps Down

Republican U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas, accused by a female former aide of sexual harassment, abruptly resigned from Congress on Friday after admitting to allowing an unprofessional culture to flourish in his Capitol Hill office.

“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” the 56-year-old congressman who represented Corpus Christi in the U.S. House of Representatives said in a social media video statement.

Former radio show host

While Farenthold has denied the sexual harassment accusation, the former conservative radio show host said in December he would not seek re-election. He made that announcement a week after the House ethics committee said it was investigating him over allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation involving a female former staff member.

“I had no idea how to run a congressional office, and as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” Farenthold said in December.

The ethics committee said it was also looking into whether Farenthold had made inappropriate statements to other members of his staff.

His resignation took effect on Friday afternoon. Farenthold, who began serving in Congress in 2011, is the latest of several U.S. lawmakers who have stepped down or not sought re-election after being accused of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment claim settled

Politico reported in December that the congressional Office of Compliance had paid $84,000 from a public fund on behalf of Farenthold for a sexual harassment claim.

In 2014, his former communications director, Lauren Greene, filed a lawsuit accusing him of creating a hostile work environment, gender discrimination and retaliation, court documents showed. 

The two reached a confidential mediated agreement in 2015, according to a statement from Farenthold’s office that denied any wrongdoing by him.

Reuters has been unable to verify the allegations against Farenthold.

This story was written by Reuters.

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Scandal-hit U.S. Republican Congressman Farenthold Steps Down

Republican U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas, accused by a female former aide of sexual harassment, abruptly resigned from Congress on Friday after admitting to allowing an unprofessional culture to flourish in his Capitol Hill office.

“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” the 56-year-old congressman who represented Corpus Christi in the U.S. House of Representatives said in a social media video statement.

Former radio show host

While Farenthold has denied the sexual harassment accusation, the former conservative radio show host said in December he would not seek re-election. He made that announcement a week after the House ethics committee said it was investigating him over allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation involving a female former staff member.

“I had no idea how to run a congressional office, and as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” Farenthold said in December.

The ethics committee said it was also looking into whether Farenthold had made inappropriate statements to other members of his staff.

His resignation took effect on Friday afternoon. Farenthold, who began serving in Congress in 2011, is the latest of several U.S. lawmakers who have stepped down or not sought re-election after being accused of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment claim settled

Politico reported in December that the congressional Office of Compliance had paid $84,000 from a public fund on behalf of Farenthold for a sexual harassment claim.

In 2014, his former communications director, Lauren Greene, filed a lawsuit accusing him of creating a hostile work environment, gender discrimination and retaliation, court documents showed. 

The two reached a confidential mediated agreement in 2015, according to a statement from Farenthold’s office that denied any wrongdoing by him.

Reuters has been unable to verify the allegations against Farenthold.

This story was written by Reuters.

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Trump Administration Mulls Stiffer Rules for Auto Imports

The Trump administration is considering ways to require imported automobiles to meet stricter environmental standards in order to protect U.S. carmakers, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Responding to the story, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump “will promote free, fair and reciprocal trade practices to grow the U.S. economy and continue to [bring] jobs and manufacturers back to the U.S.”

Citing unnamed senior administration and industry officials, the Journal said Trump had asked several agencies to pursue plans to use existing laws to subject foreign-made cars to stiff emission standards.

It appears such nontariff barriers could have a greater potential effect proportionately on European automakers, which collectively import a greater percentage of cars from plants outside the U.S., according to sales figures from Autodata.

In comparison, Japanese and Korean brands made about 70 percent of the vehicles they sold last year in the United States at North American plants. European brands built only 30 percent in North America.

The White House initiative was still in the planning stage, with officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency working to craft a legal justification for the policy, the paper said. It said there were hurdles to its implementation, including opposition from some in the administration.

The EPA and the Commerce Department, which the newspaper said was also involved in the effort, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters. Neither did representatives for Ford, General Motors or Fiat Chrysler.

This story was written by Reuters.

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Trump Administration Mulls Stiffer Rules for Auto Imports

The Trump administration is considering ways to require imported automobiles to meet stricter environmental standards in order to protect U.S. carmakers, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Responding to the story, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump “will promote free, fair and reciprocal trade practices to grow the U.S. economy and continue to [bring] jobs and manufacturers back to the U.S.”

Citing unnamed senior administration and industry officials, the Journal said Trump had asked several agencies to pursue plans to use existing laws to subject foreign-made cars to stiff emission standards.

It appears such nontariff barriers could have a greater potential effect proportionately on European automakers, which collectively import a greater percentage of cars from plants outside the U.S., according to sales figures from Autodata.

In comparison, Japanese and Korean brands made about 70 percent of the vehicles they sold last year in the United States at North American plants. European brands built only 30 percent in North America.

The White House initiative was still in the planning stage, with officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency working to craft a legal justification for the policy, the paper said. It said there were hurdles to its implementation, including opposition from some in the administration.

The EPA and the Commerce Department, which the newspaper said was also involved in the effort, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters. Neither did representatives for Ford, General Motors or Fiat Chrysler.

This story was written by Reuters.

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Trump Dismisses Fears of Trade War With China as Threats Ramp Up

U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration said Friday that the United States was not engaged in a trade war with China, even as Trump threatened to impose tariffs on an additional $100 billion worth of Chinese goods and Beijing warned it was willing to fight back.

“This is just a proposed idea, which will be vetted by USTR [the U.S. trade representative], and then open for public comment, so nothing has happened, nothing has been executed,” said White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow amid growing concerns about escalating rhetoric between Washington and Beijing.

The economic adviser said Beijing’s theft of intellectual property was “at the root” of U.S. concerns and added “we can’t allow them [China] to steal our technology, because when they steal our technology, they are stealing the guts of the American future.” 

Leaders have good relationship

​The adviser stressed Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a good relationship, and “ongoing talks may solve a lot of problems, but we are serious. I just really underscore this, we are serious.”  

The White House blamed China for trade practices it said were illegal and unfair. 

“China created this problem, and the president is trying to put pressure on them to fix this, and take back some of the terrible actions that they’ve had in the last several decades,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during a briefing on Friday.

The U.S. and China are in routine contact, but “this is a negotiation period, that’s why it doesn’t happen immediately, and there’s a process, and we’re going through that process,” said Sanders. 

China offers warning

Meanwhile, Beijing showed no intention of backing down. 

 “China is already fully prepared. If the United States announces an additional $100 billion list of tariffs, we will not hesitate to immediately make a fierce counterstrike. We are not ruling out any options,” said China’s Commerce Ministry spokesman, Gao Feng.

“Under these conditions, it’s even more impossible for both sides to conduct any negotiations on this issue,” Gao added. 

In a Twitter post Friday morning, Trump continued to protest China’s trade practices and the World Trade Organization:

On Thursday, Trump announced he had instructed the U.S. trade representative to consider whether tariffs on another $100 billion of Chinese goods would be appropriate after China issued a list of U.S. goods, including soybeans and small aircraft, worth $50 billion for possible tariff hikes.  The United States had proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods earlier this week. 

Last month, after a monthslong investigation under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, the U.S. trade representative determined that China had repeatedly engaged in unfair trade practices to obtain America’s intellectual property and pressure technology transfer from U.S. companies to Chinese entities.  

Tariffs a tactic? 

Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics, told VOA it was unclear when and whether the threatened tariffs would be imposed.

“It seems likely the tariffs are being used as a negotiating tactic to try to get concessions from the Chinese side in terms of market access for U.S. firms and protection of its intellectual property, so there’s still a possibility that these tariffs will never come into force,” he noted. 

While it was not a surprising the White House pushed back against China’s retaliatory threats, some experts were surprised by how swiftly it did, according to Riley Walters, Asia economy and technology policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Walters cautioned it was a risky move to use tariff threats as a negotiating tactic because it can affect lives and income of Americans.

Expect more rhetoric

​If the tariffs go into effect, “what it could mean is both increasing cost for American consumers, but also an uncompetitive edge for American exporters to China. If you are a soybean producer, and if your goods go up 25 percent in China, then you are less price competitive than other exporters to China of soybeans,”  Walters said.

Walters expects more rhetoric between the White House and China in the coming weeks. Evans-Pritchard predicted that if the USTR published another list of goods worth $100 billion to be subjected to tariffs, China would respond with the same measures.  

“Once we started talking about $150 billion — which would be what’s on the cards, given the $50 billion existing tariffs plus $100 billion proposed — basically that is all of China’s goods imported from the U.S. So it will start looking elsewhere to retaliate,” Evans-Pritchard said.  

This story was written by VOA’s Peggy Chang. Jingxun Li of VOA’s Mandarin service contributed to this report.

 

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