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Trump, White House Defend Action on China Trade

The Trump administration says China is responsible for a trade war with the United States because of its long-term unfair practices. A senior White House economic adviser said Thursday no measures have been enacted, but the situation cannot continue. U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States and China will have a “fantastic relationship” once they straighten out their trade issues. But analysts warn that raising tariffs is not good for the global economy. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

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Facebook: Public Data of Most Users Probably Has Been Scraped

Facebook’s acknowledgement that the personal data of most of its 2.2 billion members has probably been scraped by “malicious actors” is the latest example of the social network’s failure to protect its users’ data.

Not to mention its seeming inability to even identify the problem until the company was embroiled in scandal.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters Wednesday that Facebook is shutting down a feature that let people search for Facebook users by phone number or email address. Although that was useful for people who wanted to find others on Facebook, it turns out that unscrupulous types also figured out years ago that they could use it identify individuals and collect data off their profiles.

The scrapers were at it long enough, Zuckerberg said, that “at some point during the last several years, someone has probably accessed your public information in this way.”

The only way to be safe would have been for users to deliberately turn off that search feature several years ago. Facebook had it turned on by default.

Several investigations

“I think Facebook has not been clear enough with how to use its privacy settings,” said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy for Arizona State University’s Global Security Initiative. “That, to me, was the failure.”

The breach was a stunning admission for a company already reeling from allegations that the political data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica inappropriately accessed data on as many as 87 million Facebook users to influence elections.

Over the past few weeks, the scandal has mushroomed into investigations across continents, including a probe by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Zuckerberg himself will be questioned by Congress for the first time Tuesday.

“The FTC looked the other way for years when consumer groups told them Facebook was violating its 2011 deal to better protect its users. But now the Cambridge Analytica scandal has awoken the FTC from its long digital privacy slumber,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Washington-based privacy nonprofit Center for Digital Democracy.

Problem found after Cambridge Analytica

Neither Zuckerberg nor his company has identified those who carried out the data scraping. Outside experts believe they could have been identity thieves, scam artists or shady data brokers assembling marketing profiles.

Zuckerberg said the company detected the problem in a data-privacy audit started after the Cambridge Analytica disclosures, but didn’t say why the company hadn’t noticed it — or fixed it — earlier.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday on when it discovered the data scraping.

In his call with reporters Wednesday, Zuckerberg said the company had tried “rate limiting” the searches. This restricted how many searches someone can conduct at one time from a particular IP address, a numeric designation that identifies a device’s location on the internet. But Zuckerberg said the scrapers circumvented that defense by cycling through multiple IP addresses.

Public information useful 

The scraped information was limited to what a user had chosen to make public — which, depending on a person’s privacy settings, could be a lot — as well as what Facebook requires people to share. That includes full name, profile picture and listings of school or workplace networks.

But hackers and scam artists could then use that information, and combine it with other data in circulation, to pull hoaxes on people, plant malware on their computers or commit other mischief.

Having access to such a massive amount of data could also pose national security risks, Winterton said.

A foreign entity could conceivably use such information to influence elections or stir up discord, exactly what Russia is alleged to have done, using Facebook and other social media, in the 2016 presidential elections.

Oversharing

Privacy advocates have long been critical of Facebook’s penchant for pushing people to share more and more information, often through pro-sharing default options.

While the company offers detailed privacy controls — users can turn off ad targeting, for example, or face recognition, and post updates that no one else sees — many people never change their settings, and often don’t even know how to.

The company has tried to simplify its settings multiple times over the years, most recently this week.

Winterton said that for individual Facebook users, worrying about this data scraping won’t do much good, after all, the data is already out there. But she said it might be a good time to “reflect on what we are sharing and how we are sharing it and whether we need to.”

“Just because someone asks us information, it doesn’t mean we have to give it to them if we are not comfortable,” she said.

She added that while she no longer has a Facebook account, when she did she put her birth year as 1912 and her hometown as Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Neither is true.

This story was written by the Associated Press

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Going Off Script, Trump Bashes Immigration at Tax-Cut Event

Tossing his “boring” prepared remarks into the air, President Donald Trump on Thursday unleashed a fierce denunciation of the nation’s immigration policies, calling for tougher border security while repeating his unsubstantiated claim that “millions” of people voted illegally in California.

Trump was in West Virginia to showcase the benefits of Republican tax cuts, but he detoured to talk about his immigration and trade plans. He linked immigration with the rise of violent gangs like MS-13 and suggested anew that there had been widespread fraud in the 2016 election that cost him a loss in the popular vote.

“In many places, like California, the same person votes many times. You probably heard about that,” Trump said. “They always like to say, ‘Oh, that’s a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people. And it’s very hard because the state guards their records. They don’t want us” to see them.

While there have been isolated cases of voter fraud in the U.S., past studies have found it to be exceptionally rare. Earlier this year, the White House disbanded a controversial voter fraud commission amid infighting and lawsuits as state officials refused to cooperate.

Pushing back

In recent weeks, Trump has been pushing back more against the restraints of the office to offer more unvarnished opinions and take policy moves that some aides were trying to forestall.

“This was going to be my remarks. They would have taken about two minutes,” Trump said as he tossed his script into the air. “This is boring. We have to tell it like it is.”

As he has done before, Trump conjured images of violence and suffering when he described the perils of illegal immigration, though statistics show that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than citizens do. He dubbed MS-13 gang members “thugs” and said his administration’s crackdown on the group was “like a war.”

“MS-13 is emblematic of evil, and we’re getting them out by the hundreds,” said Trump, who sat on stage at a long table in a gym draped in American flags and decorated with signs that read “USA open for business.” “This is the kind of stuff and crap we are allowing in our country, and we can’t do it anymore.”

Invoking the lines of his June 2015 campaign kickoff speech, in which he suggested that some Mexican immigrants were rapists, the president appeared to claim that a caravan of migrants that had been working its way north through Mexico toward the United States was besieged with violence.

“Remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower when I opened? Everybody said, ‘Oh, he was so tough,’ and I used the word ‘rape,’ ” he said. “And yesterday it came out where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before. They don’t want to mention that.”

It was not clear what Trump was referring to. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Trump wasn’t talking about the caravan but rather about extreme victimization of those making the journey north with smugglers in general.

Trump also defended his proposed tariff plan, which many of his fellow Republicans fear will start a trade war with China. He criticized West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat who has expressed openness to working with the White House, for opposing the GOP tax plan. He praised local West Virginia politicians running for office and reminisced about his 2016 electoral victory in the Mountain State.

All of that overshadowed any time spent promoting the tax plan.

Positive feedback

While Trump went off script, the attendees — an assemblage of state politicians, local business owners, workers and families — stayed dutifully on task, talking about how the tax cuts had helped them.

Jessica Hodge tearfully told Trump: “I just want to say thank you for the tax cuts. This is a big deal for our family.”

U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins, a Republican, said that “West Virginians understand your policies are working” and that Trump was “welcome to come back anytime.”

This story was written by the Associated Press.

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Venezuela Cuts Commercial Ties With Panama Officials, Firms

Venezuela said on Thursday it was halting commercial relations with Panamanian officials and companies, including regional airline Copa, for alleged involvement in money laundering, prompting Panama to recall its ambassador.

The resolution names Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and nearly two dozen Cabinet ministers and top-ranking officials, adding that Panama’s financial system had been used by Venezuelan nationals involved in acts of corruption.

Venezuela said the individuals named in the resolution “present an imminent risk to the [Venezuelan] financial system, the stability of commerce in the country, and the sovereignty and economic independence of the Venezuelan people.”

The statement came a week after Panama declared President Nicolas Maduro and about 50 Venezuelan nationals as “high risk” for laundering money and financing terrorism.

Caracas did not detail whether the move would halt the operations of Copa in Venezuela, which is one of the crisis-stricken country’s few providers of international flights following a sharp reduction in airline services.

Copa’s website showed its planned Panama City-Caracas flight later Thursday was canceled. Copa flights Friday between the two cities were listed as scheduled.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Panama’s Varela, in brief comments to reporters Thursday, described the Venezuelan announcement as nonsensical.

“We have not heard anything about breaking relations but rather about a set of supposed sanctions, it’s gibberish,” Varela said.

The South American country has been hit with sanctions by Canada, the United States and a number of other countries over issues ranging from human rights violations to corruption and drug trafficking.

Maduro says the country is victim of an “economic war” led by his adversaries with the help of Washington, and says the sanctions are part of foreign countries’ efforts to undermine his government.

This story was written by Reuters.

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Venezuela Cuts Commercial Ties With Panama Officials, Firms

Venezuela said on Thursday it was halting commercial relations with Panamanian officials and companies, including regional airline Copa, for alleged involvement in money laundering, prompting Panama to recall its ambassador.

The resolution names Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and nearly two dozen Cabinet ministers and top-ranking officials, adding that Panama’s financial system had been used by Venezuelan nationals involved in acts of corruption.

Venezuela said the individuals named in the resolution “present an imminent risk to the [Venezuelan] financial system, the stability of commerce in the country, and the sovereignty and economic independence of the Venezuelan people.”

The statement came a week after Panama declared President Nicolas Maduro and about 50 Venezuelan nationals as “high risk” for laundering money and financing terrorism.

Caracas did not detail whether the move would halt the operations of Copa in Venezuela, which is one of the crisis-stricken country’s few providers of international flights following a sharp reduction in airline services.

Copa’s website showed its planned Panama City-Caracas flight later Thursday was canceled. Copa flights Friday between the two cities were listed as scheduled.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Panama’s Varela, in brief comments to reporters Thursday, described the Venezuelan announcement as nonsensical.

“We have not heard anything about breaking relations but rather about a set of supposed sanctions, it’s gibberish,” Varela said.

The South American country has been hit with sanctions by Canada, the United States and a number of other countries over issues ranging from human rights violations to corruption and drug trafficking.

Maduro says the country is victim of an “economic war” led by his adversaries with the help of Washington, and says the sanctions are part of foreign countries’ efforts to undermine his government.

This story was written by Reuters.

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Trump: US Will Weigh Tariffs on Another $100B Worth of Chinese Goods; China Responds

The trade war rhetoric between the United States and China escalated Friday with President Donald threatening tariffs on an additional $100 billion worth of Chinese goods and Beijing warning it will fight the United States “at any cost.”

Trump said Thursday he had instructed the U.S. trade representative to consider the additional tariffs 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.

China’s commerce ministry said in its statement Friday that if Washington persisted in what Beijing describes as protectionism, China would “dedicate itself to the end and at any cost and will definitely fight back firmly.”

WATCH: Trump, White House Defend Action on China Trade

U.S. stock futures dropped on Trump’s latest trade directive. Dow futures fell and were down about 400 points in after-hours trading.

Financial markets have swung wildly over the past few days in response to fears of escalating trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.

“Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers,” Trump said.

Since the start of this week, the United States and China have been engaging in a tit-for-tat trade spat. On Monday, in response to earlier tariffs on steel and aluminum imposed by the Trump administration, China started tariffs of up to 25 percent on 128 U.S. products, including fruits, nuts, pork, wine, steel and aluminum.

Later on the same day, the USTR proposed to increase tariffs on 1,300 imported goods from China, mostly aerospace, medical and information technology products.

Less than 12 hours later, China said it would impose retaliatory duties of 25 percent on 106 politically sensitive American goods, including soybeans, automobiles and aircraft.

The proposed U.S. list is now entering a “public notice and comment process, including a hearing,” the USTR said. After this process is completed, the USTR will issue a final determination on the products subject to the additional duties.

China’s commerce ministry said the question of when the measures would go into effect would depend on when the U.S. tariffs became active.

China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, told reporters on Wednesday, “Negotiation would still be our preference, but it takes two to tango. We will see what the U.S. will do.”

A senior U.S. official told Reuters late Thursday that the United States was willing to negotiate with China on trade, but only if talks were serious, as previous attempts produced little progress.

No formal negotiating sessions have been set, but there have been “ongoing communications with the Chinese on trade,” said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the Trump administration’s trade strategy.

Some information for this report came from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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Chinese Viewpoints on US-China Trade Dispute

The trade dispute rumbling between China and the U.S. has raised the possibility consumers in Beijing may end up paying higher prices for American beef, liquor and tobacco if Beijing goes ahead with hikes on tariffs for such products.

Below are thoughts shared with The Associated Press by a few Beijing residents.

 

The investor

 

Yang Shumei, 29, a freelance worker from southwestern China’s Guangxi province: “I think this [the threat of a trade war] does influence my life and other areas to a certain extent. I invest in stock markets, and shares have fallen sharply as the risk is high.”

 

The optimist

 

Feng Weifeng, 36, a salesman from Beijing: “I believe imposing extra tariffs from both sides is just a temporary measure and a win-win situation is the trend.”

 

The price-sensitive buyer 

 

Wang Xiaoyu, 20, student from Beijing, Higher prices “Will definitely influence my decisions. For daily necessities, mobile phones or electrical products, I am more likely to choose domestic brands or choose products with prices the same as those of U.S.-made products before the price hike.”

 

The anti-tariffs student

 

Liu Boshu, 18, a student from central China’s Zhengzhou, in Henan province: “Actually I’m against the measures from either side. Because trade barriers like this will harm both countries in the long term.”

 

 

 

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Chinese Viewpoints on US-China Trade Dispute

The trade dispute rumbling between China and the U.S. has raised the possibility consumers in Beijing may end up paying higher prices for American beef, liquor and tobacco if Beijing goes ahead with hikes on tariffs for such products.

Below are thoughts shared with The Associated Press by a few Beijing residents.

 

The investor

 

Yang Shumei, 29, a freelance worker from southwestern China’s Guangxi province: “I think this [the threat of a trade war] does influence my life and other areas to a certain extent. I invest in stock markets, and shares have fallen sharply as the risk is high.”

 

The optimist

 

Feng Weifeng, 36, a salesman from Beijing: “I believe imposing extra tariffs from both sides is just a temporary measure and a win-win situation is the trend.”

 

The price-sensitive buyer 

 

Wang Xiaoyu, 20, student from Beijing, Higher prices “Will definitely influence my decisions. For daily necessities, mobile phones or electrical products, I am more likely to choose domestic brands or choose products with prices the same as those of U.S.-made products before the price hike.”

 

The anti-tariffs student

 

Liu Boshu, 18, a student from central China’s Zhengzhou, in Henan province: “Actually I’m against the measures from either side. Because trade barriers like this will harm both countries in the long term.”

 

 

 

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Mueller’s Russia Probe Shows it Pays to Cooperate

George Papadopoulos, taken by surprise by FBI agents at an airport last summer, now tweets smiling beach selfies with a Mykonos hashtag. Rick Gates, for weeks on home confinement with electronic monitoring, gets rapid approval for a family vacation and shaves down his potential prison time. Michael Flynn, once the target of a grand jury investigation, flies cross-country to stump for a California congressional candidate and books a speaking event in New York.

 

The message is unmistakable: It pays to cooperate with the government.

 

That’s an age-old truism in any criminal investigation, but it’s especially notable in a case as pressing and high profile as special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, where deals afforded to cooperators have raised speculation about incriminating information they’re providing.

 

The perks of cooperation have manifested themselves in freer travel, lenient punishment prospects and even public comments by defendants that might have been unthinkable months ago. They form a counterpoint to the experiences of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who has refused to cooperate and faces decades in prison, and send a message to others entangled in the Mueller probe that they too could receive favorable treatment if they agree to work with investigators.

 

“There’s no question that it’s in the government’s interest to take what steps they can to show that cooperating is in the interest of the defendant,” said Daniel Petalas, a former federal prosecutor. “A basic principle of plea bargaining is that you have to make it worth it to the defendant to admit liability in a criminal matter.”

 

The latest example came Tuesday when Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison for lying to the FBI. Though his plea deal didn’t explicitly require cooperation, the charge he pleaded guilty to carries a maximum five-year sentence and it’s likely the attorney, whose wife is pregnant in London, risked a longer punishment if convicted at trial. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said some incarceration was necessary to deter others from lying to investigators.

 

To be sure, defendants who admit guilt are stained with criminal convictions, forego liberties including the right to vote, put their jobs and reputation at risk — and can still wind up with tough sentences. Given that uncertainty and stress, it’s common practice for prosecutors looking to induce cooperation to make concessions, such as dismissing charges or agreeing to recommend a lighter sentence, especially for someone they think can help them build a case against a higher-value target.

 

“There is a societal interest, frankly, in having people cooperate with prosecutors because often the government only can know what’s happened based on documentary evidence and witnesses that it speaks with,” said Sharon McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor in New York. “But insiders who can give insight into conversations and planning and things like that are crucial to being able to make cases.”

 

There’s nothing new about cutting deals, including for violent mobsters, but the tactics have drawn renewed scrutiny especially in conservative legal circles. Former Manhattan federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote last month in the National Review that Mueller was breaching Justice Department protocols by offering Gates, Manafort’s co-defendant and a key Trump campaign aide, a “penny-ante plea deal” instead of requiring him to plead to the most serious charges he faced.

 

Gates was initially charged in October in a 12-count indictment and faced well over a decade in prison, but he pleaded guilty in February to just two charges and now faces fewer than six years — or less, depending on the extent of his cooperation. He spent months on home confinement as a potential flight risk, repeatedly requesting — and generally receiving — permission to attend children’s sporting events and Christmas parties in the area.

 

The home confinement condition was lifted in January, and days after his plea, he received a judge’s permission and the government’s blessing to ditch the electronic monitoring and to travel freely between his Virginia home and Washington. He also got approval for a family trip to Boston for spring break, though that plan was aborted after he said threatening comments were posted online.

 

“Everybody who practices in federal court knows you’re going to get more leeway from prosecutors on bail if your client is cooperating,” said Duke University law professor Samuel Buell.

 

Meanwhile, Papadopoulos’s carefree tweets, including smiling snapshots of his wife on his lap and beside him at the beach, are a far cry from the frowning mug shot taken after his arrest at Dulles Airport last summer. Accused of lying to the FBI, and facing the possibility of a years-long sentence, he pleaded guilty in a secret court hearing and agreed to cooperate. Since then, he’s resurfaced with a Twitter profile of more than 7,300 followers.

 

Mueller’s team includes lawyers with deep experience in organized crime and financial fraud cases, which frequently require flipping witnesses and sometimes involve aggressive maneuvering. Andrew Weissmann, one of the Gates prosecutors, for instance, in 2003 indicted the wife of Enron’s chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow. The move was interpreted as designed in part to encourage Fastow himself to plead guilty and cooperate, which he ultimately did.

 

Still, prosecutors understand that juries may look askance at sweetheart plea deals, especially with those who’ve been publicly demonized, and that defense lawyers may subject cooperators to bruising cross-examinations.

 

“Prosecutors are going to be cognizant that there are always going to be credibility issues with cooperators,” said former prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, “but these are very experienced prosecutors and they’re making a decision that, on balance, they’re getting something in return.”

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After Scandals, Colorado Lawmakers Study Misconduct Policy

As the Colorado Legislature grapples with sexual misconduct allegations, lawmakers are set to receive recommended changes to the workplace harassment policy.

Lawmakers hope to use an outside report being presented Thursday as a blueprint for a new policy.

Five Colorado lawmakers have been accused of misconduct. One was expelled and a second survived an expulsion vote.

Colorado’s policy considers allegations, investigations and punishment confidential and off-limits to the public. It’s up to the accuser whether to release his or her complaint. It defines offensive conduct, but leaves it up to chamber leaders to decide what punishment, if any, to mete out.

Legislators vow to have an updated policy in hand before the 2018 session ends in May.

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