Category Archives: News

worldwide news

AP Fact Check: Trump Marginalizes Adviser Snagged in Probe

President Donald Trump is working to discredit and marginalize an adviser to his 2016 campaign who took steps to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from a Russian source close to the Kremlin. Trump branded George Papadopoulos “low level” and a “liar” Tuesday, a turnaround from describing him as an “excellent guy” when he joined his campaign team.

 

It’s become harder for Trump to speak dismissively of the Russia investigation now that his former campaign chief is under house arrest and Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying about his Russian interactions. But he’s trying.

 

A look at statements by Trump and spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders after the special counsel’s investigation unsealed criminal charges against Paul Manafort and his business associate and revealed Papadopoulos’ plea:

 

Trump tweet Tuesday: “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.”

The Facts: Papadopoulos, though not senior, was not obscure. Trump named Papadopoulos to his foreign policy advisory council in March 2016, where he joined a short list of experts helping the candidate with international affairs.

 

“He’s an oil and energy consultant,” Trump told The Washington Post at the time. “Excellent guy.” Trump tweeted a photo of his March 31 advisory council meeting, with Papadopoulos among several advisers at the president’s table. Jeff Sessions, then a senator and now attorney general, was helping Trump’s campaign and attended at least two meetings of the advisory council with Papadopoulos also there.

 

Papadopoulos was based in London at the time but did not operate in a bubble.

 

In April 2016, he met a Russian professor close to the Russian government for breakfast in London and was told Moscow had “dirt” helpful to Trump, namely Clinton emails. Investigators said Papadopoulos emailed a Trump campaign policy adviser the next day, saying “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

 

Court filings say the adviser met later with an unidentified Russian woman who claimed to be related to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a third person who claimed connections with the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry. The two men then exchanged emails about a possible meeting between Trump campaign aides and Russian government officials.

 

Altogether, this episode has provided evidence in the first criminal case connecting Trump’s team to alleged intermediaries for Russia’s government. Papadopoulos is cooperating with investigators.

 

His lie? He told the FBI his Russian interactions came before he joined Trump’s team. These steps came after he joined.

 

Trump tweet Monday: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”

 The Facts: Not true, according to the indictment.

 

Manafort and his associate Rick Gates are charged with criminal activities that go back to 2006 but extend to February of this year. The charges do not refer to Manafort’s activities with the campaign but rather accuse him of laundering money and conspiratorial acts before, during and after he was campaign chairman.

 

Manafort and Gates face 12 counts, which do deal largely with activities from 2006 to 2015, before Manafort joined the campaign in March 2016.

But both are charged with conspiring together and with others to knowingly and intentionally defraud and commit crimes against the U.S. from 2006 to this year.

 

And both are charged with conspiring together to make false statements and conceal crimes against the U.S., and to causing others to do so, from November 2016 to February 2017.

 

The indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates acted as unregistered agents of Ukraine’s former pro-Russia leader, government and party from 2006 to 2015. The indictment says that “from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, MANAFORT and GATES laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts.”

 

Manafort was hired in late March 2016 as the campaign’s manager for the Republican convention in July. He was promoted to campaign chairman in mid-May, after he had essentially assumed control, and then was pushed out August 19 when questions intensified about his lobbying for Ukraine interests.

 

This indictment emerged from the broad investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It does not go to the heart of that matter.

Sanders: “Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity.” – briefing Monday.

 

The facts: It’s true that Trump himself isn’t wrapped up in the charges, but his campaign adviser is.

 

Sanders said Papadopoulos’ work for the campaign was “extremely limited. It was a volunteer position.”

Yet investigators said his position was significant to those who wanted to pass on information helpful to the campaign. The allegations unsealed Monday state “the professor only took interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS because of his status with the Campaign.”

Sanders: “What the Clinton campaign did, what the DNC did was actually exchange money …. actually paying money for false information.” – briefing

 

The facts: She is right that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party hired a firm that came up with sensational allegations about Trump’s connections to Russia. The material is unverified. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s false.

Kushner Partner All But Kills Plan for Fifth Ave Skyscraper

The co-owner of a Fifth Avenue skyscraper controlled by the family of Jared Kushner says demolishing the tower to build luxury apartments is not practical and the building will likely remain as offices.

 

Vornado Realty Trust CEO Steven Roth told investors on Tuesday that the Kushner family’s plan to raise billions from investors to rebuild the tower is “not feasible.” He added that “it’s likely that the building will revert to an office building.”

The project drew criticism after media reports that the Kushner Cos. was negotiating with a Chinese insurer with ties to the ruling Communist Party, among other big foreign investors. Critics say such deals would raise conflicts of interest issues with Jared Kushner serving in the White House as an adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

 

Trump Disparages Ex-aide Cooperating With Prosecutors in Russia Probe

U.S. President Donald Trump disparaged one-time foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos on Tuesday, a day after it was disclosed that he pleaded guilty to charges of lying to federal agents but has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

A year ago, Trump described Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old energy and oil consultant, as an “excellent guy.” But in a new Twitter comment from the White House, Trump said, “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar. Check the DEMS!”

Trump said, “The Fake News is working overtime,” referring to mainstream U.S. news outlets’ widespread coverage of Papadopoulos’ guilty plea in early October and the indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his protege Rick Gates on money laundering and conspiracy charges linked to their multimillion-dollar lobbying effort for one-time Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych. Trump’s campaign was not implicated in the charges against Manafort and Gates.  

“As Paul Manafort’s lawyer said, there was ‘no collusion’ (between Trump aides and Russia) and events mentioned took place long before he came to the campaign,” Trump tweeted.

He added, “I hope people will start to focus on our Massive Tax Cuts for Business (jobs) and the Middle Class (in addition to Democrat corruption)!”

In a statement of facts underlying Papadopoulos’s guilty plea, special counsel Mueller detailed several emails Papadopoulos sent to high-level Trump aides during the height of the election campaign about his efforts to set up a meeting between Trump campaign and Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin. The meeting never occurred.

The statement did not name the Trump aides Papadopoulos emailed about his overseas contacts involving Russia, but The Washington Post said that it had identified Manafort, Gates, national campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis and one-time campaign chairman Corey Lewandowski as the recipients.   Clovis called Papadopoulos’s efforts “great work.”

The documents also say one of the contacts told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russians had “dirt” about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”  Starting in July 2016, WikiLeaks released thousands of Democratic National Committee emails, with many of them showing embarrassing behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic operatives to help Clinton win the party’s nomination. She has partly blamed her loss on the disclosure of the emails.

Monday’s allegations and disclosure of the Papadopoulos guilty plea have left Washington speculating where Mueller’s investigation is headed next, but legal experts expect more charges to be filed.

Mueller has been investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia and Turkey in recent years, ahead of his brief White House tenure at the outset of Trump’s presidency. Flynn was an outspoken campaigner for Trump last year, but Trump fired him as national security adviser as news surfaced that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington in the period before Trump took office in January.

Mueller is also probing whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired then-Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey last May while he was heading the agency’s Russia investigation before Mueller, over Trump’s objections, was named to take over the probe. Monday’s allegations against Manafort and Gates and disclosure of the Papadopoulos guilty plea were the first charges Mueller has brought in his five months as special counsel.

The White House says Trump has no intention of firing Mueller or pardoning the campaign aides charged so far.

Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, told ABC News on Tuesday, “The president has not indicated to me or to anyone else that I work with that he has any intent on terminating Robert Mueller.”

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a report made public in January that Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine U.S. democracy and help Trump win.  On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the allegations, saying there is no evidence of election meddling in the United States or other countries.

Both Manafort and Gates turned themselves in to the FBI in Washington for processing and later pleaded “not guilty” in a federal court.  A judge ordered both placed under house arrest.

The indictment against them alleged that Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager from June to August last year and was a key figure in the campaign before then, enriched himself with his lobbying for the Ukrainian leader before he was forced from power by a popular uprising in 2014 and fled to Russia.

Mueller alleged that Manafort hid his assets in accounts in Cyprus, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines and the Seychelles and then “spent millions of dollars on luxury goods” to “enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States.”

The 12-count indictment alleged that more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, with Manafort laundering more than $18 million to buy property and goods in the United States and Gates sending more than $3 million to accounts he controlled.

Mueller charged that Manafort and Gates conspired to carry out the scheme between 2006 and this year, failed to register as foreign agents and then offered “false and misleading” statements to federal agents about their activities.

In addition to Mueller’s investigation, there are three separate congressional probes into Russian meddling and possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

 

Vietnam Tech Startups Seek Next Phase

There’s a short but not-so-simple question facing Vietnam’s technology startup fans: Now, what?

The communist country was not immune to the startup craze that swept the globe, but much of the early period was spent talking about tech and all the local potential. In what could be called the next phase of the craze, Vietnam now hopes to go beyond just talking. The focus now is on getting entrepreneurs to deliver on their pitches and meet concrete benchmarks, whether that’s to turn a profit, expand overseas, or find “exits” for their businesses, such as through acquisitions.

At a basic level, Vietnam has what’s needed to be a place prime for startups. Citizens have high literacy rates and math proficiency, which eases the path to creating an army of programmers for the economy. The country also has a balance that combines, on the one hand, a large consumer market on par with those of Thailand and the Philippines, and on the other hand, a lower level of development with high growth rates on par with those of Laos and Cambodia. And the low cost of things like wages and Internet plans allows people to establish companies at minimal expense.

But these are only ingredients, not, so far, action toward a modern culture of enterprise.

“Vietnam usually does copy-paste,” said Lam Tran, CEO of the startup WisePass, adding that locals should move past the model of copying a business idea from a foreign country and pasting it into the domestic market. “We don’t know how to internationalize.”

WisePass, an app that connects monthly subscribers to bar and restaurant deals, launched in Ho Chi Minh City with plans to cover seven countries in the near future.

Taking advantage of cross-border ties is one effective, increasingly popular strategy, startup aficionados say. For one thing, Vietnam has a huge postwar diaspora, known as Viet Kieu, who help connect the Southeast Asian country to investors, advisers, and developers abroad. For another, the tech scene inside the border is more cosmopolitan than ever.

To give one example, the Vietnam Innovative Startup Accelerator (VIISA) has invested in 11 companies for the second batch of what it calls “graduates.” All have domestic links, but have partners operating in locales as disparate as Ukraine, South Korea and France.

Sangyeop Kang, investment officer at VIISA partner Hanwha Investment, said he’s “delighted about the diversity” of this sophomore batch.

“The foreign teams were able to expand their business in Vietnam, while helping Vietnamese companies with global insights,” Kang said. “This is a step forward for the ecosystem.”

In a sign of official interest, the government has a carve-out for startups in its Law on Supporting Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, which will take effect Jan. 1. The law offers young companies support with co-working spaces, technical equipment, intellectual property training, and low interest rates, among other things.

To do more than copy and paste, new businesses are contemplating how to outfit themselves for Vietnam. The startup But Chi Mau, for instance, makes games that tap into the unquenchable thirst for education, while MarketOi deploys motorbike drivers to let customers customize their food deliveries.

“The question is how to differentiate ourselves,” MarketOi founder Germain Blanchet said, before proceeding to answer that question: “This is with flexibility.”

 

Eurozone Recovery Helps Unemployment Fall to Near 9-Year Low

Official figures show that the robust economic recovery across the 19-country eurozone persisted during the third quarter, helping unemployment fall to a near 9-year low.

 

Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, said Tuesday that the eurozone economy grew by 0.6 percent during the July to September period. Though that’s slightly down on the stellar 0.7 percent tick recorded in the second quarter, it’s modestly higher than expectations for a 0.5 percent rise.

 

Separately, Eurostat said unemployment fell to 8.9 percent in September from 9.0 percent the previous month. That’s the lowest rate since January 2009.

 

Elsewhere, Eurostat said annual inflation in the eurozone dipped to 1.4 percent in October from 1.5 percent as the core rate, which strips out volatile items, surprisingly fell to 0.9 percent from 1.1 percent.

 

 

DNA Lab in Netherlands to Help Find Missing People Worldwide

An organization that has been helping find people missing from the 1990s Balkan conflict has now expanded to tackle the cases of millions of missing people around the world. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), based in the Netherlands, will use the latest DNA technology to identify bodies and provide closure to family members of the missing people. The laboratory findings also will be used to serve justice and support demands for reparations. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

Robotic Eel Seeks Water Pollution, Aids Researchers

Trash and tires floating in a river are easy to see. But there’s a lot of harmful water pollution that isn’t visible to the naked eye. Researchers in Switzerland are testing a robotic version of a sea monster that’s helping them get a better look at what’s floating in the water. Arash Arabasadi reports.

African Development Bank Calls Off Proposed Loans to Nigeria

The African Development Bank has called off a loan to Nigeria that would have helped fund the country’s budget, instead redirecting the money to specific projects, a vice president at the lender said on Monday.

The African Development Bank had been in talks with Nigeria for around a year to release the second, $400 million tranche of a $1 billion loan to shore up its budget for 2017, as the government tried to reinvigorate its stagnant economy with heavy spending.

But Nigeria refused to meet the terms of international lenders, which also included the World Bank, to enact various reforms, including allowing its currency, the naira, to float freely on the foreign exchange market.

Rather than loan Nigeria money to fund its budget, the African Development Bank is likely to take at least some of that money and “put it directly into projects,” Amadou Hott, African Development Bank vice president for power, energy, climate change and green growth, told Reuters in an interview during a Nordic-African business conference in Oslo.

Because prices for oil, on which Nigeria’s government relies for about two-thirds of its revenues, have risen and the naira-dollar exchange rate has improved, the country is relying less than expected on external borrowing, Hott said.

No one from the Nigerian finance ministry was immediately available to comment.

Nigeria’s 2017 budget, 7.44 trillion naira, is just one in a series of record budgets that the government has faced obstacles funding, pushing it to seek loans from overseas.

In late 2016, the AfDB agreed to lend Nigeria a first tranche of $600 million out of $1 billion. But negotiations over economic reform later bogged down, blocking attempts to secure the second tranche of $400 million, sources told Reuters then.

Now, AfDB’s loans will be more targeted, Hott said.

“It’s hundreds of millions of dollars, just in one go, that we were supposed to provide in budget support, but we will move into real projects … ” he said.

Earlier this month, the head of Nigeria’s Debt Management Office said the country is still in talks with the World Bank for a $1.6 billion loan, which will help plug part of an expected $7.5 billion deficit for 2017.

The administration is also trying to restructure its debt to move away from high-interest, naira-denominated loans and towards dollar loans, which carry lower rates.

U. of Michigan Expert Puts Bird-like Robot Through Its Paces

A rare bird has landed at the University of Michigan: a two-legged robot named “Cassie” that researchers hope could be the forerunner of a machine that one day will aid search-and-rescue efforts.

 

Cassie — whose name is derived from the cassowary, a flightless bird similar to an ostrich — stands upright on legs with backward-facing knees. The biped that weighs about 66 pounds (29.94 kilograms) may not have feathers or a head, but she is attached to a short torso that holds motors, computers and batteries and is able to walk unassisted on rough and uneven terrain.

 

Cassie, which stands a bit over 3.25 feet (1 meter) at full leg extension, was built by Albany, Oregon-based Agility Robotics and purchased by Michigan researchers using grant money from the National Science Foundation and Toyota Research Institute. Although other institutions have acquired similar models, Michigan’s team is excited to use its version to put Michigan Robotics’ cutting-edge programming to the test, said Jessy Grizzle, director of Michigan Robotics.

“This stuff makes our old math look like child’s play,” Grizzle said.

 

Although there is considerable excitement about Cassie and the potential she represents, certain real-world applications are still a bit out of reach.

 

Search-and-rescue “is a hard problem and serves as a template for ‘unsolved problems in robotics,’ which is one of the reasons you see it pop up so much when robotics companies talk about applications,” said Agility Robotics CEO Damion Shelton, who added that it is “difficult to even speculate” when a robot could be used for such a purpose.

 

Other applications will be launched sooner, according to Shelton, who said a robot capable of walking around the perimeter of an industrial site taking 3-D scans is no more than two years away from becoming reality.

 

For now, Grizzle and some of his students are putting Cassie through her paces on and around Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. During a recent a stroll on a pedestrian walkway, Cassie ambled on a grassy, sloped surface, then took a serious tumble and did a face-plant on the concrete.

 

“Well, I think that’s the end” of the test, Grizzle said, as Cassie lay in a heap on the ground, slightly nicked and scratched but no worse for wear.

 

The programs Grizzle and his students tested “are version 1.0,” he said.

 

“They are simple algorithms to make sure that we understand the robot. We will now focus on implementing our super-cool latest stuff,” Grizzle said.

World Economic Forum: Silicon Valley Must Stem IS Violent Content

The World Economic Forum’s human rights council report issued on Monday, warns that tech companies might risk tougher regulations by governments to limit freedom of speech if they do not stem the publishing of violent content by Islamic State and the spread of misinformation.

The report urged tech companies to employ thorough monitoring on their services, and “assume a more active self-governance rule,” recommending that tech firms must apply more rigorous rules.

This report comes before the three tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google, testify before a U.S. congressional committee in November about using their platforms for spreading political misinformation during the 2016 presidential elections.

The use of tech platforms and tools has helped the Islamic State spread its agenda and attract recruits. Digital propaganda motivated more than 30,000 people to journey thousands of miles to join IS, according to a report published by Wired, a magazine published in print and online editions, that focuses on how emerging technologies affect culture, the economy, and politics.

“ISIS’s supporters embraced new social media platforms and encrypted communications tools to compensate for law enforcement and platform owner actions against ISIS since June 2014,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its report “The Virtual  Caliphate.”

Silicon Valley tech companies convened last August with representatives from the tech industry, government and non-governmental organizations in the first Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism. The forum was formed by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube.

The meeting focused on how participating parties can cooperate to block the spread of terrorism and violent extremism using tech platforms and services.

In the past year, social media companies edited and updated their user guidelines to address such sensitive topics as extremism and terrorism, death, war and sexual abuse.

In August 2016, Twitter announced that it suspended 360,000 accounts for violating the company’s prohibition on violent threats and the promotion of terrorism. Twitter added that although there is no “one magic algorithm for identifying terrorist content on the internet, they will continue to utilize other forms of technology and expanded its partnerships with organizations working to counter violent extremism (CVE) online.”

Last August, Google’s YouTube announced joining efforts with more than 15 additional expert NGOs and institutions to help the company better identify content that is being used to radicalize and recruit extremists.

“We’ll soon be applying tougher treatment to videos that aren’t illegal but have been flagged by users as potential violations of our policies on hate speech and violent extremism,” YouTube said.

In a speech for the Global Coalition on March 22 in Washington D.C., Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “We must break ISIS’s ability to spread its message and recruit new followers online. A digital caliphate must not flourish in the place of a physical one.”

“We must fight ISIS online as aggressively as we would on the ground,” Tillerson said.