Category Archives: World

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Trump Falsely Claims Most-Watched State of Union Speech

President Donald Trump says the ratings for his first State of the Union address this week are “the highest number in history,” but that is not true.

Nielsen reports that about 45.6 million tuned in to watch Trump Tuesday night. That’s below viewership for President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union, which was about 48 million, and Trump’s own joint address to Congress last year.

It also trails the 46.8 million viewers who tuned into President Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union speech, and the 51.7 million who watched President George W. Bush’s 2002 address.

 

Trump falsely argued last year that his inauguration was the most well-attended one ever.

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5 Things: What Yellen’s Fed Tenure Will be Remembered For

When Janet Yellen leaves the Federal Reserve this weekend after four years as chair, her legacy will include having shattered a social barrier: She is the first woman to have led the world’s most powerful central bank, a position that carries enormous sway over the global economy.

 

Yellen will be remembered, too, for her achievements in deftly guiding the Fed’s role in the U.S. economy’s slow recovery from a crushing financial crisis and recession. She picked up where her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, had left off in nurturing the nation’s recuperation from a crisis that nearly toppled the financial system.

As Jerome Powell prepares to succeed Yellen as leader of the U.S. central bank, here are five areas in which Yellen’s era at the Fed will be remembered:

 

Crisis management

 

Yellen served not just the past four years as Fed chair but for 2½ years in the 1990s as a Fed board member, then six years as president of the Fed’s San Francisco regional bank and then for four years as the Fed’s vice chair during Bernanke’s second four-year term. In all those roles, Yellen proved herself an able economic forecaster. She often detected perils before others saw reason for alarm, and she became a forceful advocate, especially during the Great Recession, for an aggressive response to economic weakness.

 

Transcripts of Fed policy meetings from the fall of 2008, when Lehman Brothers’ collapse ignited the most dangerous phase of the financial crisis, show that Yellen helped drive the Fed to unleash just about everything in its economic arsenal, including slashing its key short-term interest rate to a record low near zero.

Bold actions

 

As the recession deepened and millions more Americans lost jobs, Yellen was an assertive voice backing up Bernanke in the path-breaking move by the Fed to buy enormous quantities of Treasury and mortgage bonds to try to drive down long-term borrowing rates to support the economy. Critics warned that the bond purchases, which eventually swelled the Fed’s balance sheet five-fold to $4.5 trillion, could trigger high inflation. So far, inflation has not only remained low but for six years has remained below even the Fed’s 2 percent target rate.

 

The Yellen-led Fed continued to support the bond purchases in the face of skepticism. Later, it rebuffed pressure to start selling off its record-high bond holdings. Finally, in October, after the Fed felt it had achieved its goal of maximum employment, it began gradually paring its bond portfolio.

 

Clear communications

 

Yellen extended an innovation of the Bernanke Fed by holding quarterly news conferences after four of the eight policy meetings each year. At these roughly hour-long sessions, Yellen usually managed to shed some light on the Fed’s thinking about its rate policy while cautioning that any future policy changes would hinge on the latest economic data. By all accounts, she avoided any major communication stumbles by telegraphing the Fed’s moves in advance to avoid catching investors off guard.

Her success in this area contrasted with a rare but memorable stumble by Bernanke: In 2013, as Fed chairman, Bernanke triggered what came to be called the “taper tantrum.” It occurred when he first raised the possibility that the Fed could start gradually tapering its bond purchases sometime in the months to follow — unexpected remarks that sent bond prices plunging.

 

Jobs above all

 

Yellen, more than her predecessors, stressed the overarching importance of increasing job growth to the greatest level possible. Maximum employment is one of the two mandates Congress lays out for the Fed. The other is to manage interest rates to promote stable prices, which the Fed has defined as inflation averaging 2 percent annually.

 

Yellen’s predecessors typically worried most about triggering debilitating bouts of inflation of the kind that the United States suffered in the 1970s. That meant favoring higher rates to limit borrowing and spending.

 

Yellen was different. She believed the U.S. economy had entered an era in which the gravest threat was not a resurgence of inflation but a prolonged period of weak job growth. She argued that the Fed could leave its key policy rate at a record low near zero for far longer than had previously been thought prudent.

 

The Fed’s benchmark rate remained near zero from late 2008 until December 2015, when the central bank raised it modestly. Since then, the Fed has gradually raised rates four additional times, leaving its key rate in a still-low range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent — well below the level usually associated with a prolonged economic expansion and a tight job market.

 

History’s judgment

 

So far, Yellen has been proved correct in her bet that rates could remain lower for longer without causing high inflation. The unemployment rate has reached a 17-year low of 4.1 percent with still-low inflation.

 

Yet many of Yellen’s critics remain unconvinced. They contend that her insistence on low rates has helped swell dangerous bubbles in such assets as stocks and perhaps home prices. They further warn that because the Fed took so long to begin raising rates, a Powell-led Fed could trigger market turbulence with further rate increases and end up harming the economy — possibly even triggering a recession.

 

Yellen’s supporters, though, argue that once again she will be proved correct and that the Fed will be able to achieve an economic soft landing: Raising rates enough to keep the economy from overheating but not so much as to derail the expansion, already the third-longest in U.S. history.

 

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Trump’s Softer Tone Wins Positive Reviews, but Democrats Skeptical

Public opinion polls indicate President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address got a generally positive response from viewers. The president emphasized unity and bipartisanship in his speech, which pleased many Republicans, but left Democrats skeptical about his true intentions and the road ahead. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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US Official: Controversial Republican Memo to Be Released Quickly

The White House plans to release a classified House Intelligence Committee memo that Republicans say shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department, U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said on Wednesday.

“It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it,” Kelly said in an interview on Fox News Radio, adding he had seen the four-page document and that White House lawyers were reviewing it.

Kelly’s comments follow Trump’s response to a Republican lawmaker after his State of the Union speech on Tuesday that suggested there was a “100 percent chance” the memo would be made public.

Justice Department officials have warned that releasing the memo would be reckless. On Monday, department officials advised Kelly against releasing the memo on the grounds it could jeopardize classified information, the Washington Post reported.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has told the White House the memo contains inaccurate information and offers a false picture, according to Bloomberg News.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told CNN on Wednesday the memo was still being reviewed and “there’s always a chance” that it would not be released.

The memo has become a lightning rod in a bitter partisan fight over the FBI amid ongoing investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and any possible collusion by Trump’s campaign, something both Russia and Trump have denied.

Republicans, who blocked an effort to release a counterpoint memo by Democrats on the panel, have said it shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department in seeking a warrant to conduct an intelligence eavesdropping operation.

Democrats have said the memo selectively uses highly classified materials in a misleading effort to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Justice Department’s Russia probe, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired him.

The House panel this week voted along partisan lines to release the memo. Trump has until the weekend to decide whether to make it public.

“The priority here is not our national security, it’s not the country, it’s not the interest of justice. It’s just the naked, personal interest of the president,” U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, said at an event hosted

by the Axios news outlet.

Sanders told CNN Trump had not seen the memo before his address on Tuesday night or immediately afterwards.

The document was commissioned by Representative Devin Nunes, the House committee’s Republican chairman who had recused himself from the panel’s Russia probe.

Sanders said she did not know if Nunes had worked with anyone at the White House on it: “I’m not aware of any conversations or coordination with Congressman Nunes.”

 

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Train Carrying GOP Lawmakers to Policy Retreat Hits Truck

A train carrying several Republican lawmakers from Washington to a retreat in West Virginia was involved in an accident with a truck Wednesday in southwestern Virginia.

The White House said none of the lawmakers or their staff members were seriously injured but that one person was killed and another seriously injured. News accounts said the person killed was on the truck.

“The president has been fully briefed on the situation in Virginia and is receiving regular updates,” the statement said. “There is one confirmed fatality and one serious injury. There are no serious injuries among members of Congress or their staff. Senior administration officials are in regular contact with Amtrak and state and local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone that has been affected by this incident.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne, a passenger on the train, posted on Twitter that he and his wife Rebecca were not injured.  “The train carrying GOP members to our retreat had a collision, but Rebecca and I are both okay.  Security and doctors on board are helping secure the scene and treat injuries.”

Congressman Greg Walden also tweeted he was not injured and said emergency personnel are helping those who were on the truck.

“We are fine, but our train hit a garbage truck.  Members with medical training are assisting the drivers of the truck.”

The crash occurred about 20 miles outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

The lawmakers were en route to the Greebrier resort in the state of West Virginia to discuss how to sell their new tax law and how to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to join the legislators Thursday.

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Clinton Regrets not Firing Adviser Accused of Harassment

Hillary Clinton says she should not have let a senior campaign adviser keep his job after a female staffer accused him of sexual harassment in 2007.

“The most important work of my life has been to support and empower women,” Clinton wrote on Facebook Tuesday night. “So I very much understand the question I’m being asked as to why I let an employee on my 2008 campaign keep his job despite his inappropriate workplace behavior. The short answer is this: If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t.”

 

Clinton said that senior campaign staff and legal counsel confirmed that the behavior by faith-based adviser Burns Strider had occurred after the woman came forward. Her campaign manager recommended that Strider be terminated, but Clinton said she instead demoted him, docked his pay, required counseling, separated him from the victim, and warned him that he’d be fired if he did it again.

 

The Times reported that Strider declined to attend the counseling sessions. He did not immediately respond Wednesday to a call and email requesting comment. Strider told BuzzFeed News that he didn’t consider his behavior “excessive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t to” the woman.

 

Clinton said that there were no further complaints against Strider during the rest of the campaign, but that she is troubled that he was terminated from a job leading an independent political action committee supporting Clinton for inappropriate behavior several years later.

 

“I believed the punishment was severe and the message to him unambiguous. I also believe in second chances,” Clinton said in the post published shortly before the start of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. “But sometimes they’re squandered.”

 

She said that the reoccurrence of the behavior “troubles me greatly” and leads her to question whether it would have been better if she had fired him.

 

“There is no way I can go back 10 years and know the answers. But you can bet I’m asking myself these questions right now.”

 

Clinton said that her first thought after the Times report “was for the young woman involved” and that she reached out to her “to see how she was doing, but also to help me reflect on my decision and its consequences.”

 

“She expressed appreciation that she worked on a campaign where she knew she could come forward without fear,” Clinton said. “She was glad that her accusations were taken seriously, that there was a clear process in place for dealing with harassment, and that it was followed. Most importantly, she told me that for the remainder of the campaign, she flourished in her new role.”

 

She said the woman “read every word of this and has given me permission to share it.”

 

 

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FACT CHECK: Snapshots From Trump’s Speech

The AP is fact-checking prepared remarks from President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech. Here’s a look at some of the claims we’ve examined:

Tax cuts

Trump: “We enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.” — excerpt released by White House.

The Facts: No truer now than in the countless other times he has said the same. The December tax overhaul ranks behind Ronald Reagan’s in the early 1980s, post-World War Two tax cuts and at least several more.

An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in the fall put Trump’s package as the eighth biggest since 1918. As a percentage of the total economy, Reagan’s 1981 cut is the biggest followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War Two.

Valued at $1.5 trillion over 10 years, the plan is indeed large and expensive. But it’s much smaller than originally intended. Back in the spring, it was shaping up as a $5.5 trillion package. Even then it would have only been the third largest since 1940 as a share of gross domestic product.

 

Worker bonuses

 

Trump: “Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.” — excerpt of speech released by the White House.

The Facts: This appears to be true, but may not be as impressive as it sounds. According to a tally of public announcements by Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group that supported the tax law, about 3 million workers have gotten bonuses, raises or larger payments to their retirement accounts since the tax law was signed.

That’s about 2 percent of the more than 154 million Americans with jobs. The Labor Department said before the tax package was signed into law that 38 percent of workers would likely get some form of bonus in 2017.

Few companies have granted across-the-board pay raises, which Trump and GOP leaders promised would result from the cut in corporate tax rates included in the overhaul. Many, such as Walmart and BB&T Bank, said they will raise their minimum wages. Walmart made similar announcements in 2015 and 2016.

 

Energy production

 

Trump: “We have ended the war on American energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal.” — excerpt of speech released by White House.

 

The Facts: Energy production was unleashed in past administrations, particularly Barack Obama’s, making accusations of a “war on energy” hard to sustain. Advances in hydraulic fracturing before Trump became president made it economical to tap vast reserves of natural gas. Oil production also greatly increased, reducing imports.

Before the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. for the first time in decades was getting more energy domestically than it imports. Before Obama, George W. Bush was no adversary of the energy industry.

One of Trump’s consequential actions as president on this front was to approve the Keystone XL pipeline — a source of foreign oil, from Canada.

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Sources: Russian Spy Chief Met US Officials in US Last Week 

Russia’s foreign spy chief, who is under U.S. sanctions, met last week outside Washington with U.S. intelligence officials, two U.S. sources said, confirming a disclosure that intensified political infighting over probes into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Sergey Naryshkin, head of the Russian service known by its acronym SVR, held talks with U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other U.S. intelligence officials, the sources said. The sources did not reveal the topics discussed.

A Russian Embassy tweet disclosed Naryshkin’s visit. It cited a state-run ITAR-Tass news report that quoted Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, as telling Rossiya-1 television that Naryshkin and his U.S. counterparts discussed the “joint struggle against terrorism.”

Antonov did not identify the U.S. intelligence officials with whom he met.

The Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment. Coats’ office said that while it does not discuss U.S. intelligence officials’ schedules, “any interaction with foreign intelligence agencies would have been conducted in accordance with U.S. law and in consultation with appropriate departments and agencies.”

News of Naryshkin’s secret visit poured fresh fuel on the battles pitting the Trump administration and its Republican defenders against Democrats over investigations into Moscow’s alleged 2016 election interference.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded that the administration “immediately come clean and answer questions — which U.S. officials did he meet with? Did any White House or National Security Council official meet with Naryshkin? What did they discuss?”

The key question, Schumer told reporters, is whether Naryshkin’s visit accounted for the administration’s decision on Monday not to slap new sanctions on Russia under a law passed last year to punish Moscow’s purported election meddling.

“Russia hacked our elections,” Schumer said. “We sanctioned the head of their foreign intelligence and then the Trump administration invites him to waltz through our front door.”

A January 2017 U.S. intelligence report concluded that Russia conducted an influence campaign of hacking and other measures aimed at swinging the 2016 presidential vote to Trump over his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton.

Last week, the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported that the Netherlands intelligence concluded that some of the Russians running a hacking operation, known as “Cozy Bear,” against Democratic organizations were SVR agents.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the BBC in an interview last weekend that he had not “seen a significant decrease” in Russian attempts at subversion in Europe and the United States, and he expects Moscow to meddle in November’s U.S. mid-term elections.

Congressional panels and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are investigating Russia’s alleged interference and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s election campaign. Russia denies it meddled and Trump dismissed the allegations of collusion as a political witch hunt.

Naryshkin’s visit coincided with other serious disputes in U.S.-Russian relations. They include Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and its interference in Ukraine and Russia’s military intervention on the government’s side in the Syrian civil war.

Washington and Moscow cooperate in some areas, including the fight against Islamic militant groups, officials said.

For example, a month ago the United States provided advance warning to Russia that allowed it to thwart a terrorist plot in St. Petersburg, the White House said.

Naryshkin, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to head the SVR in September 2016, was sanctioned by the Obama administration in March 2014 as part of the U.S. response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. At the time, he was speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament.

He was banned from entering the United States, but sanctions experts said there are processes for providing people under sanction permission to enter for official business. Meetings between foreign intelligence chiefs, even from rival nations, mostly are kept secret but are not unusual.

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White House ‘Embarrassed’ By NBC’s Pre-Olympic Coverage from North Korea

An American news outlet that made a rare visit to North Korea to cover the country’s Olympic team is being criticized by the Trump administration for coverage that, in the words of one official, depicted “the most totalitarian country on the planet … as a cheerful winter holiday resort.”

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt broadcast last week from the Masikryong Ski Resort, where South Korean and North Korean alpine ski teams are slated to train.

In some segments of the program, Holt was framed against a backdrop of children sledding, skiers in brightly colored gear, and jumbo screens displaying singers in military uniforms. Holt said that he and his crew had undergone an extensive customs search when entering North Korea, noting that the resort was “certainly” an aspect of North Korea that its leaders “would like us to see.”

Criticism of the broadcast erupted online, accusing NBC of misrepresenting a stage-managed piece of North Korean propaganda for American viewers. Holt defended the coverage, saying, “You go to a place like North Korea with your eyes wide open.”

A spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s National Security Council (NSC) told VOA’s Korean Service on Thursday that council members were ashamed of the network’s coverage.

“We are embarrassed for NBC. A first-year journalism student would know to highlight the severe constraints on their ability to report on North Korea as it truly is,” the official said. “It is no small feat of the most totalitarian country on the planet to be depicted as a cheerful winter holiday resort, but somehow NBC has managed to do it.”

The controversy over Holt’s coverage comes amid a slight easing of tension between Pyongyang and Seoul, a change which could undercut the Trump administration’s campaign of international sanctions and “maximum pressure” on North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile programs.

In response to last week’s White House comment, an NBC spokesperson told VOA that Holt clearly stated that the North Korean “government escorts determined where they could go, watching and listening to every move.” In one report, Holt said, “What you’re seeing here certainly flies in the face of a country that’s undergoing crippling sanctions, and that may be part of the reason we were invited to see this.”

Holt told Adweek on Monday that the Olympic Games will be conducted with a major news story in the background.

“The world is holding its breath on the issue of: Is this the breakthrough? Is this the moment when they can start having a useful dialogue?” he said. “On a geopolitical level, this may complicate how the White House views the North Korean nuclear threat if this sets a pattern for a stronger relationship between the North and South.”

North, South agreement

Earlier this month, the two Koreas held the first high-level talks in two years following Kim’s offer to discuss his country’s participation in the Olympics.

The discussions produced an inter-Korean agreement, officially announced on Jan. 20, under which the two sides agreed to march together under a single flag at the opening ceremony of the games and field a combined women’s ice hockey team. The North also agreed to send 22 athletes and a large delegation, including a cheerleading squad and performers. The athletes will compete in ice hockey, figure skating, short track speed skating, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing, the International Olympic Committee said.

North Korea on Monday canceled a joint cultural event, citing South Korean media coverage of its participation in the games.

The NBC broadcast from Masikryong came several weeks ahead of the Winter Olympics, scheduled to be held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang from February 9-25. The games are a prized franchise for NBCUniversal, the Comcast subsidiary that is parent company of NBC, which also broadcast The Apprentice, the show that launched Trump’s reality TV career.

Since 1995, NBCUniversal has paid the International Olympic Committee (IOC) $15.63 billion for the rights to broadcast the Olympics through 2032. The money helps support the Olympic movement, according to the IOC.

VOA’s Christy Lee contributed to this report.

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