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Trump Urges House Republicans to Move Quickly on Budget, Tax Cuts

President Donald Trump urged House Republicans to move swiftly on passing a budget bill during a conference call Sunday, clearing the way for what he described as an historic push for tax cuts.

 

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both joined the House GOP call in which Trump called on members to adopt the budget passed by the Senate this week, so that they can move on to passing his tax reform plan.

 

Trump told the members they were on the verge of doing something historic, according to one Republican official on the call, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss publicly what was intended as a private update for members.

 

Another GOP aide familiar with the conversation said that Trump told the members again and again that the party would have a steep price to pay in next year’s midterm elections if they failed to pass his plan, which would slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent and double the standard deduction used by most average Americans. The president also said multiple times that, beyond the looming elections, his plan was the right thing to do for country, the person said.

 

The Senate last week passed a budget that includes rules that will allow Republicans to get tax legislation through the Senate without Democratic votes and without fear of a Democratic filibuster.

 

Desperate for legislative victory

Republicans are desperate to rack up a legislative win after a series of embarrassing failures that have come despite the fact that the party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House.

 

On the call, House Speaker Paul Ryan told members he hoped to pass a revised Senate budget bill this week to increase the changes that tax reform can be enacted by the end of the year.

Trump will also work to rally support for the plan on the Hill Tuesday at a lunch with Senate Republicans.

 

Congress also continues to wrestle with the health care system.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he’s willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor – if Trump makes clear he supports it. A proposal by two senators – Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington – would extend for two years federal insurance payments that Trump has blocked. But Trump has offered mixed signals, alternately praising and condemning the effort – confusing Democrats and Republicans alike.

 

Asked whether he would bring the bill to the floor, McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he was waiting “to hear from President Trump what kind of health care bill he might sign.”

 

“If there’s a need for some kind of interim step here to stabilize the market, we need a bill the president will actually sign.  And I’m not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I will be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it,” the Republican said. He added of Trump: “I think he hasn’t made a final decision.”

 

Compromise on health care?

The plan unveiled last week likely has 60 votes in the Senate, mostly from Democrats, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday urged McConnell to bring it to the floor “immediately, this week.”

 

“This is a good compromise,” Schumer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He predicted it would pass “by a large number of votes” and that the president would ultimately sign it to avoid the blame for rising insurance premiums.

 

“If Republicans think that if premiums go up they’re going to avoid the blame, if Senator McConnell thinks that, he’s wrong,” Schumer said.

Trump at first suggested he supported the temporary fix as he continues to hold out hope for the passage of legislation that would repeal and replace former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have repeatedly failed to achieve. But White House officials said later that Trump would only sign an interim bill that also lifts the tax penalties that Obama’s health care law imposes on people who don’t buy coverage and employers who don’t offer plans to employees. The White House also wants provisions making it easier for people to buy low-premium policies with less coverage. Top Senate Democrats reject those demands.

 

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who was also spotted at Trump’s Virginia golf course Sunday, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Trump doesn’t want to back a plan “without also getting something for folks who are being hurt.”

 

“And I think the criticisms you’ve heard this week are like, ‘Look, I’m okay with doing a deal.’ This is the president now. ‘But I’m not getting enough for the folks who are getting hurt. So give me more by way of associated health plans. Give me more of the things that we know we can do for folks back home to actually help them,’” Mulvaney said.

 

“I think there’s actually a pretty good chance to get a deal,” he added. “It’s just Murray-Alexander in its current form probably isn’t far enough yet.”

 

McConnell, in his interviews, also but pushed back against former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s efforts to recruit candidates to challenge Republican incumbents who support McConnell’s leadership, arguing that what Republicans need is candidates who can win.

 

“Look, this is not about personalities. This is about achievement. And in order to make policy, you have to actually win the election,” he said on Fox News. “And some of these folks that you’ve been quoting, as I said are specialists on nominating people who lose.”

Debate Sharpens in Washington on Nuclear Pact with Iran

Debate is sharpening in Washington on the merits and potential pitfalls, the risks and possible rewards, of the United States possibly pulling out of the international nuclear accord with Iran. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the U.S. Congress has decisions to make now that President Donald Trump has withheld certifying Iran’s compliance with the pact co-negotiated by the Obama administration.

Key US Senators Call for More Information on Niger Attack

Key U.S. senators called Sunday for the White House to be more forthcoming about the country’s military involvement in Niger after four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush there earlier this month.

In separate interviews on NBC’s “Meet the Press” news show, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senate leader Charles Schumer said they support an effort last week by Republican Senator John McCain to find out the details of the attack as well as the scope of the U.S. campaign against Islamic State in the west African country. Both Graham and Schumer said they had been unaware of the substantial number of the U.S. troops in Niger.

“I didn’t know there was 1,000 troops in Niger,” Graham said. “This is an endless war without boundaries and no limitation on time and geography. You’ve got to tell us more.

“We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily and what we’re doing,” Graham said. “So John McCain is going to try to create a new system to make sure that we can answer the question, why were we there, we’ll know how many soldiers are there, and if somebody gets killed there, that we won’t find out about it in the paper.

“I can say this to the families,” Graham said. “They were there to defend America. They were there to help allies. They were there to prevent another platform to attack America and our allies.”

Schumer said, “We need to look at this carefully. This is a brave new world. There are no set battle plans.”

He said that he would favor revisiting the current congressional authorization for overseas military action that is 16 years old, an agreement stemming from the 2001 terror attacks on the U.S.

“There is no easy answer but we need to look at it,” he said. “The answer we have now is not adequate.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Graham and McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, last week that the military is shifting its counter-terrorism strategy to focus more on Africa. The defense chief said military leaders want to expand their ability to use force against suspected terrorists.

U.S. officials believe the Niger attack was launched by a local Islamic State affiliate, but the Pentagon is still investigating the circumstances of how it occurred.

 

Trump Defends Frequent Twitter Bickering with US Officials

President Donald Trump is defending his frequent bickering on Twitter with officials across the U.S. political spectrum, saying it sometimes pushes officials “to do what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Trump told Fox News anchor Maria Bartiromo in a wide-ranging interview that aired Sunday, “Sometimes it helps, to be honest with you.”

Republican lawmakers have often suggested Trump end his frequent tweets, but he said, “I doubt I would be here if it were not for social media, to be honest with you.”

He said he views social media as way to present his views unfiltered by the mainstream national media, “because there is a fake media out there. I get treated very unfairly by the media. You have to keep people interested also.

“You know what I find,” he said, “the ones that don’t want me to are the enemies. The people who really don’t like what happened with me and winning the election and of all the things.

“I don’t think I want to take any chances,” Trump said. “And we do get points out there. I mean, we get tremendous points. I can express my views when somebody expresses maybe a false view that they said I gave.

“It works, it just seems to work. I mean, it is a little unconventional,” he said.

On Sunday, Trump continued his attacks against a Florida congresswoman, Democrat Frederica Wilson, who quoted Trump as telling the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger that he “knew what he was getting into” when he joined the military.

In a tweet, Trump said, “Wacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party, a disaster for Dems. You watch her in action & vote” for Republicans.

In the interview, Trump said he wants Congress to move quickly on tax cuts and reforms.

“I will say this,” Trump said, “I want to get it by the end of the year, but I’d be very disappointed if it took that long.”

 

 

South African Bakery Slices Prices and Sees Sales Skyrocket

A bakery in a low-income area of Johannesburg slashed prices of its popular bread, with unexpected results. What started as a way to help feed the community became a recipe for success as the bakery has a lot more business than ever. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports.

((NARRATOR))

Fed’s Powell, Economist Taylor, Yellen on Trump’s Federal Reserve List

President Donald Trump is considering nominating Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell and Stanford University economist John Taylor for the central bank’s top two jobs, in an apparent bid to reassure markets and appease conservatives hungry for change.

Under that scenario, either Powell or Taylor would take the reins from Fed Chair Janet Yellen when her term expires in early February, and the other would fill the vice chair position left vacant when Stanley Fischer retired this month.

“That is something that is under consideration, but he hasn’t ruled out a number of options. He’ll have an announcement on that soon, in the coming days,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday.

​Powell a centrist

Making Powell, a soft-spoken centrist who has supported Yellen’s gradual approach to raising interest rates, the next Fed chief would provide the continuity in monetary policy that investors crave.

The addition of Taylor, who has backed an overhaul of the Fed and embraced a more rigid rule-oriented monetary policy, would be a feather in the cap of conservative Republicans who feel that monetary policy has been too loose under Yellen, who was named as Fed chair by Democratic President Barack Obama and has led the central bank since February 2014.

“I think Powell might be the safer pick insofar as we know what we’re getting,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan Chase. “He’s a guy who obviously knows the Fed culture, how the (policy-setting) committee operates, so for some of those soft skills we know he would be effective.”

Powell has embraced the Yellen Fed’s monetary policy, keeping the faith that a tighter job market will eventually push wages higher and end a lengthy period of worryingly low inflation.

Taylor has spent the last two decades refining and advocating wider use of a rule that lays out where interest rates ought to be, given certain conditions of inflation and the broader economy. His rule implies that rates should be higher than they are now.

​Yellen’s defense

Yellen, speaking at an economic conference in Washington Friday evening, mounted a strong defense of the tools the Fed has used to fight the sharp economic downturn triggered by the financial crisis and said there was a risk of another crisis in which those “unconventional policies” may be needed again.

Yellen, who Trump has indicated could still be named to another term as Fed chair, was not asked about the Fed job and did not offer any comment on the selection process.

Taylor inflexible?

Although Taylor is highly regarded within the Fed, his rule-based rate-setting position has spurred criticism that he would handcuff U.S. monetary policy.

Taylor pushed back at a meeting at the Boston Fed on Saturday, saying he favored a flexible implementation of policy rules and did not want to tie the Fed’s hands or suggest that he was motivated by a distrust of policymakers.

“I think that’s completely incorrect,” he said. “I trust policymakers; (rules) are an effort to make policy better.”

Some analysts suggest that fears that Taylor would bring an inflexible monetary policy with him to the Fed, as some Republicans in Congress hope, are likely exaggerated.

“There is some scope for disappointment if people think putting Taylor in will just lead to mechanical-based policy,” Feroli said.

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, speaking with reporters Friday, seemed to agree.

“Even if you pick a rule, the rule itself would need to be modified given the structure of the economy,” she said. “But I do think being systematic, looking at the kinds of information we look at systematically over time, articulating our strategy for policy and being less discretionary is a good idea.”

Confusing signal

At the same time, there are concerns that the combination of Powell and Taylor atop the world’s most powerful central bank could send a confusing signal to markets.

It is unclear whether Trump, who has criticized Yellen’s stewardship but also said on several occasions that he preferred rates to stay low, wants to dramatically alter the Fed’s direction.

Although he appears to be tilting to Powell and Taylor, in addition to Yellen the Republican president has interviewed his top economic adviser Gary Cohn and former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh for the Fed chief position.

US Warns About Attacks On Energy, Industrial Firms

The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation warned in a report distributed by email late on Friday that the nuclear, energy, aviation, water and critical manufacturing industries have been targeted along with government entities in attacks dating back to at least May.

The agencies warned that hackers had succeeded in compromising some targeted networks, but did not identify specific victims or describe any cases of sabotage.

The objective of the attackers is to compromise organizational networks with malicious emails and tainted websites to obtain credentials for accessing computer networks of their targets, the report said.

U.S. authorities have been monitoring the activity for months, which they initially detailed in a confidential June report first reported by Reuters. That document, which was privately distributed to firms at risk of attacks, described a narrower set of activity focusing on the nuclear, energy and critical manufacturing sectors.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Scott McConnell declined to elaborate on the information in the report or say what prompted the government to go public with the information at this time.

“The technical alert provides recommendations to prevent and mitigate malicious cyber activity targeting multiple sectors and reiterated our commitment to remain vigilant for new threats,” he said.

The FBI declined to comment on the report, which security researchers said described an escalation in targeting of infrastructure in Europe and the United States that had been described in recent reports from private firms, including Symantec Corp.

“This is very aggressive activity,” said Robert Lee, an expert in securing industrial networks.

Lee, chief executive of cyber-security firm Dragos, said the report appears to describe hackers working in the interests of the Russian government, though he declined to elaborate. Dragos is also monitoring other groups targeting infrastructure that appear to be aligned with China, Iran, North Korea, he said.

The hacking described in the government report is unlikely to result in dramatic attacks in the near term, Lee said, but he added that it is still troubling: “We don’t want our adversaries learning enough to be able to do things that are disruptive later.”

The report said that hackers have succeeded in infiltrating some targets, including at least one energy generator, and conducting reconnaissance on their networks. It was accompanied by six technical documents describing malware used in the attacks.

Homeland Security “has confidence that this campaign is still ongoing and threat actors are actively pursuing their objectives over a long-term campaign,” the report said.

The report said the attacker was the same as one described by Symantec in a September report that warned advanced hackers had penetrated the systems controlling operations of some U.S.

and European energy companies.

Symantec researcher Vikram Thakur said in an email that much of the contents of Friday’s report were previously known within the security community.

Cyber-security firm CrowdStrike said the technical indicators described in the report suggested the attacks were the work of a hacking group it calls Berserk Bear, which is affiliated with the Russian Federation and has targeted the energy, financial and transportation industries.

“We have not observed any destructive action by this actor,” CrowdStrike Vice President Adam Meyers said in an email.

Turkey Bank Regulator Dismisses ‘Rumors’ After Iran Sanctions Report

Turkey’s banking regulator urged the public on Saturday to ignore rumors about financial institutions, in an apparent dismissal of a report that some Turkish banks face billions of dollars of U.S. fines over alleged violations of Iran sanctions.

“It has been brought to the public’s attention that stories, that are rumors in nature, about our banks are not based on documents or facts, and should not be heeded,” the BDDK banking regulator said in a statement, adding that Turkey’s banks were functioning well.

The Haberturk newspaper on Saturday reported that six banks potentially face substantial fines, citing senior banking sources. It did not name the banks. One bank faces a penalty in excess of $5 billion, while the rest of the fines will be lower, it said.

Asked to comment, a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury, which is responsible for U.S. sanctions regimes, said only: “Treasury doesn’t telegraph intentions or prospective actions.”

Two senior Turkish economy officials told Reuters Turkey has not received any notice from Washington about such penalties, adding that U.S. regulators would normally inform the finance ministry’s financial crimes investigation board.

U.S. authorities have hit global banks with billions of dollars in fines over violations of sanctions with Iran and other countries in recent years.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump last week adopted a harsh new approach to Iran by refusing to certify its compliance with a nuclear deal struck with the United States and five other powers including Britain, France and Germany under his predecessor Barack Obama.

Trump argues the deal was too lenient and has effectively left its fate up to the U.S. Congress, which might try to modify it or bring back U.S. sanctions previously imposed on Iran.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said Trump’s strategy involved placing additional sanctions on Tehran and that Washington had been “engaging our allies and partners” with the aim of denying funds to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Haberturk report comes as relations between Washington and Ankara, which are NATO allies, have been strained by a series of diplomatic rows, prompting both countries to cut back issuing visas to each other’s citizens.

U.S. prosecutors last month charged a former Turkish economy minister and the ex-head of a state-owned bank with conspiring to violate Iran sanctions by illegally moving hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system on Tehran’s behalf.

President Erdogan has dismissed the charges as politically motivated, and tantamount to an attack on the Turkish Republic.

The charges stem from the case against Reza Zarrab, a wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was arrested in the United States over sanctions evasion last year. Erdogan has said U.S. authorities had “ulterior motives” in charging Zarrab, who has pleaded not guilty.

Democratic Chairman: Trump ‘Most Dangerous’ President Ever

Trying to quell accusations that he is ousting activists from the party’s left flank, Democratic Chairman Tom Perez told fellow Democrats on Saturday that unity is crucial in the fight against President Donald Trump, whom he lambasted as an “existential threat” to the nation.

“We have the most dangerous president in American history and one of the most reactionary Congresses in American history,” Perez said as he addressed the first Democratic National Committee gathering since his February election.

The former Obama Cabinet official blistered “a culture of corruption” that he said extends to Trump’s Cabinet, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he warned that internal ruckuses over party priorities and leadership would distract from the goal of winning more elections to upend Republicans’ domination in Washington.

The chairman’s plea comes amid a rift over his appointments to little-known but influential party committees and the 75 at-large members of the national party committee. Perez and his aides plug his choices as a way to make the DNC younger and more diverse, but the moves also mean demotions for several prominent Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries and then supported Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison over Perez in the postelection race for party chairman.

Perez spent time during this week’s proceedings meeting privately with frustrated DNC members, including some he did not reappoint. He apologized publicly Saturday for not reaching all of those members before he announced his appointments, but he defended his overall aim.

“If someone ever asks you which wing of the party you belong to, tell `em you belong to the accomplishment wing of the Democratic Party,” he said, “because you’re trying to get s— done. That’s what we’re trying to do here, folks. We’re trying to move the ball forward.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have exalted in the internal wrangle, painting the DNC as incompetently discordant.

“The Democratic Party’s message of doom and gloom has left them leaderless and nearly extinct in most of the country,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said. “If Tom Perez wants his party to stick with that same failed strategy, Republicans will gladly keep working to help the middle class by cutting their taxes and fixing our broken health care system.”

To some extent, the Democrats’ developments reflect routine party politics after an unusually contentious chairman’s race, but they also fit into the ongoing philosophical tussle on the left.

Sanders’ backers accused the DNC in 2016 of stacking the nominating process in Clinton’s favor and shutting out the Vermont independent who still seeks to pull the party toward his ideology. Those frustrations carried over into the DNC chair race between Perez, the former labor secretary, and Ellison.

Now, Perez’s appointees will hold sway over setting the primary calendar in 2020 and, perhaps most importantly, whether the party’s superdelegates, including the 75 at-large members, will continue to cast presidential nominating votes at Democratic conventions without being bound to any state primary or caucus results.

Democrats are looking next month to hold the Virginia governor’s seat and wrest the New Jersey governor’s seat from Republican control. Next year, Democrats need to flip at least 24 Republican congressional seats to regain control of the House. They face an uphill battle in gaining control of the Senate, because they must defend 10 incumbents in states Trump won last November. Democrats also want to increase their gubernatorial roster from the current 15 state executives.

Separately, former Attorney General Eric Holder urged the party to play the long game necessary to overcome Republican advantages scored when GOP-run legislatures drew congressional and legislative districts around the country after the 2010 census.

Holder leads a political action group, with fundraising support for former President Barack Obama, to back candidates in states where gerrymandering gives Democrats an uphill path to majorities. He singled out Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, among other states, where Republicans “picked their voters” with districts that “are impressive in their geographic creativity but they are destructive to representative democracy.”

The Supreme Court earlier this month heard oral arguments in a case challenging the Wisconsin districts. Legal analysts expect Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote, will decide whether the court for the first time declares partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.