Tuesday, March 20, 2018

President Trump tweets 'WITCH HUNT' after lawyer Ty Cobb says the president isn't thinking about firing special counsel Robert Mueller - CNBC News

President Trump tweets 'WITCH HUNT' after lawyer Ty Cobb says the president isn't thinking about firing special counsel Robert Mueller
White House lawyer Ty Cobb said on Sunday that President Donald Trump was not considering or discussing firing special counsel Robert Mueller.
Cobb's statement came after Trump earlier Sunday criticized Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
On Monday, Trump continued his social-media onslaught against the Mueller probe by again calling it a "witch hunt."
Mike Calia | @Michael_Calia
Published 8:37 PM ET Sun, 18 March 2018  Updated 18 Hours Ago
 President Donald Trump waves as he arrives to speak in support of Republican congressional candidate Rick Sacconne during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 10, 2018. Trump vents anger towards Mueller investigation 
20 Hours Ago | 03:40
White House lawyer Ty Cobb said on Sunday that President Donald Trump was not considering or discussing firing special counsel Robert Mueller – even after the president directly lashed out at Mueller's probe during the weekend.

The lawyer's assurance wasn't likely to assuage concerns that the president would act against the special counsel, however. On Monday, Trump continued his social-media onslaught against the Mueller probe by again calling it a "witch hunt."

A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!

12:07 AM - Mar 20, 2018

The president's latest attack on Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election came soon after he promoted, in a tweet, Fox News host Sean Hannity's upcoming appearance on "Fox and Friends," a favorite of Trump's. Hannity would go on to say: "The only person that colluded in that campaign, with the Russians, was Hillary Clinton."

Cobb's statement Sunday night came after hours after Trump tweeted criticism of Mueller's investigation. On Saturday, John Dowd, one of Trump's personal lawyers representing him in the Russia probe, called for a quick end to Mueller's investigation.

"I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier," Dowd wrote in a statement provided to CNBC. The Daily Beast first reported it Saturday morning.

The president followed suit over the weekend with a series of tweets targeting Mueller's probe, fired FBI Director James Comey and the recently fired former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe.

18 Mar

The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!

The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!

11:12 AM - Mar 18, 2018

Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added...does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!

11:35 PM - Mar 18, 2018

Dowd's statement and Trump's subsequent tweets set off renewed speculation that the president might fire the special council. Even some Republicans voiced their concern over the matter.

Firing Mueller "would be the beginning of the end of his presidency," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Republican Sen. John McCain, a frequent Trump critic, tweeted that Mueller should be able to complete his investigation "unimpeded."

Special Counsel Mueller has served our country with honesty and integrity. It’s critical he be allowed to complete a thorough investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — unimpeded.

8:25 AM - Mar 19, 2018
Sunday night, however, Cobb, another of the president's attorneys, sought to tamp down speculation that Trump would move soon to fire Mueller.

"In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller," Cobb said.

Reuters, The Associated Press and CNBC's Valerie Block and Javier David contributed to this report.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in police custody for questioning over 'funding from Gaddafi' - Independent

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in police custody for questioning over 'funding from Gaddafi'
Detectives probing claims Mr Sarkozy's victorious 2007 election campaign received €50m cash payments from Libya

Chris Baynes

Nicolas Sarkozy has been taken into police custody over claims he received millions of euros in illegal election financing from the regime of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, according to French judicial sources.

The former French President was being questioned by officers at Nanterre police station, west of Paris, on Tuesday as part of a five-year investigation into the allegations.

The probe centres on funding for Mr Sarkozy's victorious 2007 presidential election campaign.

Police launched an investigation in alleged misuse of power, forgery, abuse of public money, and money laundering in April 2013.

A year earlier, the investigative news website Mediapart published documents suggesting Libya made cash payments to Mr Sarkozy's campaign of up to €50m.

More follows…

How Long Will The World's Most Powerful Leaders Last? - NDTV

How Long Will The World's Most Powerful Leaders Last?
Whether democrats, dictators or somewhere in between, they're all balanced atop a shifting ziggurat of potential rivals
World | (c) 2018 Bloomberg | Ben Sills, Andre Tartar, Patricia Suzara, Bloomberg | Updated: March 19, 2018 19:01 IST

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How Long Will The World's Most Powerful Leaders Last?
Donald Trump's first year in office has seen surging markets

The international pecking order is usually defined by economic and military might. That puts the US at the top of the pile, with China gaining fast in second place.

But when it comes to tackling long-term global challenges such as climate change, poverty or peacemaking, it's also vital to identify which leaders are likely to stick around.

Whether democrats, dictators or somewhere in between, they're all balanced atop a shifting ziggurat of potential rivals. And only those with the home front under control are in a position to make meaningful promises for the 2020s or beyond. That's why France's Emmanuel Macron can map out a seven-year programme for reforming the European Union while Theresa May can't look beyond the date of Britain's exit from the bloc next year.

So for an alternative take on who really matters in global affairs, we picked 16 countries and analysed how long their leaders might hold off the palace coups, election defeats or waning powers that end political careers.

We've ranked them on their domestic muscle to see whether they are likely to be shaping events, or shaped by them.

Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman isn't king yet but he's already effectively running Saudi Arabia at the age of 32 and he could conceivably govern for another half century -- his father, King Salman, is 82, and former King Abdullah died at 90.

Even sceptics say that the prince has cleverly outmanoeuvred competitors, positioning himself to rule the absolute monarchy for decades by pushing aside other royals, though he has made enemies along the way.

"If he remains healthy and the politics, culture, society and economics of the country and the region go in a way that would support a long-term ruler, he could be in leadership for 50-plus years," said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. "This is very rare."

Kim Jong Un, North Korea
A coup, assassination or war with the US appear to be the main risks to Kim Jong Un. But if none of them topple him, he will probably maintain his iron grip on North Korea for decades, just as his father and grandfather did.
kim jong bloomberg graphic

Kim is believed to be in his thirties, so his natural lifespan could easily stretch for another forty or fifty years. Though his weight issues add an element of risk, his father, Kim Jong Il, died at 70, while his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, lived to be 82.

"I do not see any likely scenario in the near future that would undermine Kim Jong Un's power," said Sebastian Maslow, an assistant professor at Kobe University. "Unless we witness action by US or South Korean special military units to remove him by force, we will have to deal with Kim Jong Un as North Korean leader for some time to come."

Xi Jinping, China
After the Chinese Communist Party's move to repeal presidential term limits in February, the main question is how long will President Xi Jinping stay.

The constitutional provision barring heads of state from more than two consecutive terms was the only formal barrier keeping Xi, 64, from staying on past 2023. After being elevated to the same status as Mao Zedong in October, when his name was written into the Communist Party charter, he's positioned to influence China for decades to come.

"Xi has set out his ambition to lead China for the long-term, at least through the 2020s, I think we can assume, if he remains healthy," said Tom Rafferty, the Economist Intelligence Unit's regional manager for China. "Event risk still pertains, however. A bout of economic instability or a mishandled international confrontation -- neither of which can be discounted -- would weaken his position internally and give an opportunity to others."

Vladimir Putin, Russia
Over his 18-year rule, President Vladimir Putin has methodically neutralised any threat to his power, from ambitious oligarchs to Chechen separatists to Western sanctions.

putin reuters

But in 2024 a constitutional limit should force him to give up the presidency. He's already sidestepped those rules once, and he's suggested that's not something he'd do again. The challenge is to ensure his system and his inner circle are safe after he goes.

"Putin wants to keep the levers of influence to give him a veto over his successor's decisions," said Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst at the R Politik think-tank. "He has to build a system that will maintain the status quo even when he isn't president -- the Putin regime must remain even without Putin."

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey
Recep Tayyip Erdogan could become even more influential if he's reelected in November 2019, when more power will be concentrated in the Turkish presidency.

Prime minister from 2003 to 2014 before becoming the country's first directly elected president, the 64-year-old Erdogan survived a coup attempt in 2016 and enjoys strong support from voters as well as the backing of a nationalist opposition party. Although Erdogan is theoretically limited to two five-year terms, he can stretch that if a snap election is called during his second term.

A New York trial last year over the role of some Turkish nationals in an alleged multi-billion dollar conspiracy to undermine U.S. sanctions on Iran has fed the narrative of western conspiracy against Turkey and allowed Erdogan to tighten his grip on power.

"Erdogan is forming political alliances and overhauling laws to get elected as the first executive president," Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, said. "If he wins, Erdogan could possibly stay in power at least another decade."

Narendra Modi, India
Prime Minister Narendra Modi dominates India's political landscape. Although he lacks the upper-house majority necessary for big structural reforms, PM Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has proven its popularity, winning numerous state-level elections since he came to power in 2014.

pm modi generic pti

Regional rivals are vulnerable to the BJP's formidable election machine. "Certainly, it seems like they will come back into power in 2019 given their success in state elections and massive popularity -- and in 2024, that's also on the agenda," said Reshmi Khurana, a Singapore-based managing director at the consultancy Kroll. "The absence of a strong opposition makes that highly possible."

Ali Khamenei, Iran
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was initially elected president of the nascent republic in 1981, has survived an assassination attempt, frontline combat and prostate surgery. Backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and many religious and working-class Iranians, the 78-year-old hardliner is likely to be in power until he dies.

That could mean about another nine years, according to actuarial calculations by Scott Kush of the Life Expectancy Group in Menlo Park, California.

"One doesn't ascend to the pinnacle of power from the position of a virtual underdog in Iran's cutthroat politics without having canny Machiavellian skills," Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group said. "No one could pose a serious challenge to him."

Emmanuel Macron, France
The French electoral system has been kind to President Emmanuel Macron, enabling him to turn 24 percent of the vote in last April's first round into total dominance of France's executive and legislative branches as the country's traditional parties imploded.

Fixed five-year terms for both the head of state and the National Assembly mean he shouldn't have to face a national vote until 2022.

macron reuters

Forty-year-old Macron's popularity took a beating in his first months in office as he pushed through policies that were seen as benefiting the wealthy but he recovered toward the end of the year. If unpopular measures such as abolishing the wealth tax and liberalizing labor laws can bring economic growth and jobs, the president may well repeat his winning combination in 2022.

"The left-right split hasn't disappeared," said Jerome Fourquet, the head of Ifop's opinion surveys. "But the emergence of a vast central block means that those who embody that split are for the moment condemned to being minority parties."

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela
President Nicolas Maduro faces newfound challenges with an election set for May and ruinous inflation and hunger prompting months of bloody street protests last year. Yet the 55-year-old former bus driver still has the support of the military and could extend two decades of sweeping victories for his socialist party with the opposition demoralized and divided.

Maduro has increased government spending in recent months, started the process of rewriting the constitution and ramped up the arrests of high-ranking oil industry executives-sidelining potential Chavista rivals-as he seeks to secure his own six-year mandate.

"Maduro governs with an instability fueled by the economic crisis," said Edgar Gutierrez, a political analyst in Caracas. "If the opposition manages to unite and just voting conditions are achieved, then there could be political change. If not, Maduro could remain."

Donald Trump, US
US President Donald Trump's first year in office has seen surging markets and the lowest unemployment in 17 years. But that's still to translate into support for the president.

Trump, 71, has the lowest approval rating of any modern US leader over his first 14 months. The last two presidents to fight a campaign with such poor poll numbers were George HW Bush and Jimmy Carter. Both were defeated.
trump bloomberg graphic

Still, the special counsel investigation into possible ties with Russia is unlikely to cut short his term. Removing Trump from office by impeachment would need a two-thirds majority in the Senate, a distant goal even if the Democrats were to win back control in November.

"A lot of people have been speculating this is the end -- for a year and a half," said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government at American University in Washington. "It's unlikely that anything would happen."

Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria
Muhammadu Buhari is likely to retain his grip on Nigeria's presidency until at least the end of his current term in 2019, so long as his health holds out.

The former military ruler spent more than five months in London last year undergoing treatment for an undisclosed ailment, but has displayed renewed vigor since returning home in August.

While 75-year-old Buhari made some headway against an Islamist insurgency, he's struggled to improve living standards in the oil-dependent economy. Though he would start as favorite for reelection given his overwhelming popularity in the north, he'll need to rebuild the coalition that secured him victory last time around.

"He stands more than a fair chance," said Robert Besseling, executive director of political risk advisory firm EXX Africa. "It's not going to be plain sailing though."

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel
Benjamin Netanyahu's scandals have gripped Israel for a year. But the country's longest-serving prime minister since founding father David Ben-Gurion held his fractious coalition together all the same.

His partners aren't rushing to bring down a nationalist government that's given in to ultra-Orthodox demands, while efforts to rush through a budget suggest there's little appetite for elections before they're due.

israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu afp

If the 68-year-old Netanyahu survives the police investigations, he could win another four-year term in 2019 and he might even be around for longer, said Avraham Diskin, professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. That could all change if Netanyahu is indicted, though, and several politicians have begun to prepare for the post-Netanyahu era.

"Some people are starting to write him off but I don't think it's time for that just yet," Diskin said.

Shinzo Abe, Japan
Until a few weeks ago, Abe looked like a sure bet to win a party leadership election in September that would clear the way for him to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister. Yet a land-deal scandal has dented his chances. The 63-year-old has denied ordering officials to tamper with documents, but even his allies are starting to turn on him. One thing going in his favor: He faces scant competition within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Already in office for a total of about six years, Abe could yet choose to step down before the end of his term, for example, if he succeeds in his goal of revising the pacifist constitution to incorporate a reference to the Self-Defense Forces.

"I think he will serve another term as party leader, but I think it will be his last," said Steven Reed, a professor of political science at Chuo University in Tokyo.

Angela Merkel, Germany
Angela Merkel, 63, is settling down for another four years as German chancellor, but she looks more vulnerable than ever before. While few would count her out even after 12 years in power, a much-criticized coalition deal, restive younger leaders and signs that voters want fresh faces in charge present a growing challenge.

merkel reuters

A popular backlash against Merkel's open-borders refugee policy and an inconclusive national election in September forced her Christian Democratic bloc to seek support from the Social Democrats again, an alliance symbolizing the political center.

While there's still speculation that Merkel could leave midway through a fourth term and she's in the twilight of her chancellorship, she's defied expectations before and hasn't anointed a successor.

"There will be more young, promising people in her party that challenge her, and then she will realize her time is over," said Andrea Roemmele, a professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. "I'm quite confident that she won't run another time."

Theresa May, UK
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May could be gone by the end of the month or she could limp on to see Brexit over the finish line in March 2019. Few of her lawmakers think she will still be in office come the next scheduled election in 2022.
theresa bloomberg graphic

May, 61, came close to quitting after losing a 20-point poll lead and her parliamentary majority in an unnecessary snap election last June. Normally that would mean resignation, but her party doesn't want a leadership contest with Labour ahead in the polls and Brexit negotiations to deal with. Keeping May also allows potential successors a scapegoat if Brexit talks go south.

"She is very vulnerable," said Nick Anstead, a lecturer in political communication at the London School of Economics. "Her greatest strength is that there is no obvious candidate to replace her who could unite the Conservative Party."

Michel Temer, Brazil
Michel Temer is the oldest and least popular president since Brazil's return to democracy in 1985. He will probably also be the briefest.

Elections are due in October and 77-year-old Temer has repeatedly said he won't be running. Though the economy is gradually recovering from the worst recession on record, most Brazilians aren't feeling much improvement yet and Temer has been pushing a series of unpopular austerity measures including a liberalization of labor laws and a cut in pension benefits. "There's been significant progress on the economic front under the Temer government and that has helped confidence to recover," said Camila Abdelmalack, an economist at CM Capital Markets in Sao Paulo.

michel temer afp

In December even Temer himself joked about his approval ratings, saying that his government's support had doubled-to a whopping 6 percent. Even if he rides out the rest of his term, he'll have been in office for only two years and five months, less even than Fernando Collor, who was toppled by impeachment.

That's the consensus for now. But as Xi Jinping showed last month, even long-term prospects can change quickly when a serious player makes their move. We'll be watching carefully for more events that could reshape the outlook.

Elon Musk remembers the SpaceX of 10 years ago: ‘We couldn’t even reach orbit with little Falcon 1’ - CNBC News

Elon Musk remembers the SpaceX of 10 years ago: ‘We couldn’t even reach orbit with little Falcon 1’
Catherine Clifford 1:43 PM ET Tue, 6 March 2018
 Elon Musk remembers the SpaceX of 10 years ago: ‘We couldn’t even reach orbit with little Falcon 1’ Elon Musk remembers the SpaceX of 10 years ago: ‘We couldn’t even reach orbit with little Falcon 1’
Tuesday morning, SpaceX successfully launched into space its largest satellite ever — it was nearly the size of a city bus, according to founder Elon Musk.

Falcon 9 flight 50 launches tonight, carrying Hispasat for Spain. At 6 metric tons and almost the size of a city bus, it will be the largest geostationary satellite we’ve ever flown.

6:48 AM - Mar 6, 2018

Successful deployment of Hispasat 30W-6 to a geostationary transfer orbit confirmed.

5:07 PM - Mar 6, 2018

After the launch, Musk celebrated his team, congratulating them on the 50th launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, notable because it is reusable.

6 Mar

Successful deployment of Hispasat 30W-6 to a geostationary transfer orbit confirmed. pic.twitter.com/PHctrfzwKa

Very proud of the SpaceX team! Can’t believe it’s been fifty Falcon 9 launches already. Just ten years ago, we couldn’t even reach orbit with little Falcon 1.

5:51 PM - Mar 6, 2018

But Musk also reminded everyone that the recent success of SpaceX belies the struggle of its early days.

"Just ten years ago, we couldn't even reach orbit with little Falcon 1," Musk tweeted.

Indeed, SpaceX has come a long way.

"A lot of people really only heard of SpaceX relatively recently, they may think Falcon 9 and Dragon just instantly appeared and that's how it always was. But it wasn't," said Musk at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) conference in Adelaide, Australia, in September.

"We started off with just a few people who really didn't know how to make rockets," the CEO of SpaceX recalled.

Elon Musk
Photo by Bloomberg
Elon Musk
The Hawthorne, California-based aeronautics company was founded in 2002 to "revolutionize space technology" and enable multiplanitary human existence and the ability to live on Mars in particular.

To try and compete in the rocket industry was risky.

"I had so many people try to talk me out of starting a rocket company, it was crazy," Musk told Scott Pelley on CBS's "60 Minutes" in 2014. "One good friend of mine collected a whole series of videos of rockets blowing up and made me watch those. He just didn't want me to lose all my money."

Musk had made a reported $180 million when online payments company PayPal sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.

Early on, Musk had a hard time bringing on top talent.

"The reason I ended up being the chief engineer or chief designer was not because I wanted to, it was because I couldn't hire anyone. Nobody good would join. So I ended up being that by default," Musk said at IAC in 2017.

And in 2008, SpaceX almost died.

At the time, the company was trying to successfully launch the its first rocket, the Falcon 1.

"I messed up the first three launches. The first three launches failed," Musk remembered, speaking at IAC in Australia.

Plus, his electric automobile company, Tesla, founded in 2003, was struggling. The U.S. economy was tanking. "And I'm getting divorced, by the way, add to that. That was definitely the worst year of my life," Musk told Pelley.

"A fourth [rocket launch] failure would have been absolutely game over," said Musk. "Yeah. It's bad enough to have three strikes, having four strikes is really kaput."

But finally, a ray of hope.

"[F]ortunately, the fourth launch, which was ... the last money that we had for Falcon 1 — that fourth launch worked. Or it would have been — that would have been it for SpaceX. But fate liked us that day. So, the fourth launch worked," Musk said at IAC.

After SpaceX successfully launched its first rocket that September, the company got a government contract, which buoyed business.

"NASA called and told us that we'd won a $1.5 billion contract. And I couldn't even hold the phone, I just blurted out, 'I love you guys,'" Musk told Pelley.

Since the dark days of 2008, SpaceX has evolved from a near failure to a success story.

According to Musk, it's all driven by his desire to get to Mars, so that he can help build a better future.

"It's important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing," said Musk in a 2017 TED talk.

"I just think there have to be reasons that you get up in the morning and you want to live. Like, why do you want to live? What's the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future?

"And if we're not out there, if the future does not include being out there among the stars and being a multiplanet species, I find that it's incredibly depressing if that's not the future that we're going to have."

Fiscal Conservatives Poised for Defeat in U.S. Spending Bill - Bloomberg

Fiscal Conservatives Poised for Defeat in U.S. Spending Bill
By  and
March 19, 2018, 7:00 PM GMT+11
Lawmakers are set to increase domestic spending by $63 billion
Unresolved issues include N.Y.-N.J. train tunnel under Hudson
Conservative Republicans are poised to lose another fiscal fight this week as leaders in Congress prepare a $1.2 trillion government spending bill that will increase domestic costs instead of imposing the cuts they want.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plan to rely on Democratic help to push the bill through over the conservatives’ objections. If Congress can’t pass it by Friday night -- or agree to a temporary spending extension -- the government could partially shut down for the third time this year.

Lawmakers are set to release details of the spending plan late Monday. So far it’s unclear whether the measure will include funding for President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, money for the Gateway rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey that Trump seeks to block, or immigration provisions sought by Democrats.

Mark MeadowsPhotographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Democrats have leverage in the negotiations because the GOP needs their help to get the 60 votes to advance the bill in the Senate. It’s already clear the amount of spending will leave fiscal conservatives fuming.

"I don’t have a whole lot of optimism that there will be any significant conservative wins," said House Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican. "Having not seen the bill but having heard about its contents, the lack of conservative principles in there is a disappointment."

Meadows predicted that many of his colleagues will support the measure, however, because they believe the military needs more funding and the increased domestic spending is a price that must be paid.

Budget Caps
The spending bill, which would fund the government through September, will adhere to a February budget-cap agreement that most House Republicans backed over the objection of fiscal conservatives. Many Republicans voted for the plan because it would boost defense spending by $80 billion this year, while many Democrats agreed because it would increase non-defense spending by $63 billion.

"The spending levels are going to be egregious," said Dan Holler, vice president at Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

GOP Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, an opponent of increased government spending, delayed a vote on the budget measure, shutting down the government for several hours on Feb. 9 to protest the added spending. Most of the 28 senators who opposed the cap deal were Republicans protesting spending.

Congressional spending disputes also led to a three-day partial shutdown in January.

Border Wall
In talks for this week’s spending bill, the White House floated the possibility of adding funds for Trump’s border wall in exchange for Democrats’ demand to temporarily shield from deportation thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

Trump wants to block $900 million in the bill that would help fund the Gateway tunnel, which is part of a $30 billion series of repairs and expansions for travel between New Jersey and New York. The president contends the states need to contribute more to a project coveted by lawmakers from the region including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. The tunnel would supplement a century-old tube that provides the only rail link between New Jersey and Manhattan and is regarded as critical for the Northeast economy.

This week’s bill may also include measures to shore up Obamacare, re-activate the Export-Import Bank and impose an internet sales tax.

Republican leaders are worried about losing more support for the bill if Obamacare language is included, Representative Tom Cole said. Negotiations on that have stalled as leaders pushed for anti-abortion restrictions to be tied to any subsidies to Obamacare insurers, something Democrats say is a poison pill.

Opioid Addiction
Ryan and his team will argue there’s much in the plan for their party to like, including increased spending to combat opioid addiction and funds to rebuild infrastructure, both of which are backed by Trump.

The bill likely will include other measures designed to attract conservative support. It would block new benefits for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions and other women’s health services, and eliminate funding for a United Nations program that supports developing countries’ response to climate change.

Most House Democrats opposed the budget-cap agreement to protest Ryan’s refusal to consider legislation to the shield young immigrants, known as dreamers, from deportation after Trump sought to rescind an Obama-era order protecting them. A federal judge has temporarily blocked deportation of the dreamers.

The broad spending measure is set to come to the floor as the GOP agenda is rapidly thinning out, raising the possibility that it will be the last major legislation to clear Congress before this year’s congressional election. Republicans are at risk of losing control of both the House and Senate.

Republicans are eager to start campaigning, especially after Democrat Conor Lamb’s apparent victory last week in a Pennsylvania special election in a House district that Trump won by 20 percentage points. Tuesday’s vote was close and a final result hasn’t yet been certified.

Losing Momentum

Significant measures that lawmakers and the White House sought to advance earlier this year are losing momentum.

Trump’s proposal for at least $200 billion in infrastructure spending over 10 years is dissolving, in part because top Republicans say there’s no consensus on how to fund it. A possible debate over gun control and school safety after last month’s high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, appears stalled in the Senate.

GOP leaders in both chambers have said they probably won’t advance legislation to nullify Trump’s announced tariffs on aluminum and steel, which many lawmakers have said could hurt the U.S. economy and lead to retaliation from other countries.

“There’s really not a lot of time to get much done,” said Stan Collender, a former congressional budget aide and now executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGroup in Washington. “Congress is going to want to leave early, especially with the prospects of a Democratic wave. The Republican majority is going to want to be home.”

This Is What Record-Low Unemployment Looks Like in America - Bloomberg

This Is What Record-Low Unemployment Looks Like in America
In towns where workers are scarce, employers are boosting pay and perks and stepping up recruiting—all while trying to avoid raising prices.

By  and March 15, 2018, 8:00 PM GMT+11
What will happen when the U.S. unemployment rate falls below 4 percent, which is expected to occur by this summer? One way to tell is to look at cities where joblessness is already lower than that. Bloomberg News reporters traveled to Iowa, Georgia, and Maine. What they saw there is encouraging. They discovered that employers have found ways to cope with tight labor markets and still make money. Businesses have pulled in workers from the sidelines—including retirees, immigrants, and the homeless—and retooled processes to use less labor. Some have raised pay considerably for certain jobs, but so far there are no signs of an overall wage explosion. That should embolden those at the Federal Reserve who want to raise interest rates slowly to give growth a chance.

Portland, Maine: Making Do With Fewer Workers
Population: 66,937
Unemployment rate: 1.8%
Average weekly wages: $924
From polished sea-salt caramel balls to truffles packaged with hand-tied bows, the treats on sale at Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections in Freeport exude artisanal charm. While that’s a source of pride for owner Andrew Wilbur, whose parents started the business, he’s staring down a dilemma. Manufacturing workers are hard to come by in Freeport, which is 15 miles north of Portland and part of its statistical area. At 1.8 percent, the unemployment rate is the third-lowest in the country. “It’s made me think, Do I go to more mechanization?” Wilbur says from inside his production plant, where three employees are making candy in what look like mini cement mixers.

Employees at Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections in Freeport.PHOTOGRAPHER: GREGORY HALPERN FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
Wilbur has raised wages for his 40 employees by more than 20 percent over the past three years, but he’s passed hardly any of his costs onto consumers. Business at his three brick-and-mortar outlets is already unchanged or down, and he would have lost online and wholesale customers if he’d raised prices substantially, he says.

It takes a full year for these employees to get up to speed and five for them to hit what Wilbur, without a hint of irony, calls “the sweet spot.” With inexperienced workers starting at $12 to $14 an hour, onboarding is becoming a major expense. Lowering his voice a little, Wilbur admits that he’s changed some of his packaging to make it less labor-intensive, including doing away with hand-applied labels.

Shipwreck & Cargo, a souvenir shop in downtown Portland that stocks items such as lobster-printed boxers and Maine blueberry tea, staffed its floor with only two sales assistants during the busy summer season instead of the usual three. The supply of workers has dried up just as the tourism industry is on an upswing, says store manager Jennifer Smith. “You want the right people, standing and smiling in front,” says Smith, who adds that the applicant pool has gotten smaller and less qualified in the five years she’s been running the shop.

The leisure and hospitality sector is the backbone of the local economy, but professional and business services have been engines of growth in recent years. Weekly wages in the Portland region have been moving up gradually, climbing in line with the national average through the first three quarters of 2017, the latest figures show. Inflation in the Northeast has been running below 2 percent.

One big reason employers are struggling to fill slots is that Maine’s population growth has leveled off. The state has the highest median age in the country at 44. “Last year, I was unable to get how many people I needed. I was probably short one and a half people,” says Tammara Croman, the manager of Portland’s Pomegranate Inn, whose eight guest rooms are outfitted with exuberant floral wallpapers and works by local artists. She says the operation ran at full capacity last summer, though with too-few housekeepers, it wasn’t able to accommodate as many early check-ins. “We end up having to hire people who we wouldn’t normally,” says Croman, who’s already put out feelers for the summer.

Applicants with no relevant experience are asked to come in for three-week trials, which gives Croman a chance to see if they’re cut out for the work—a mix of housekeeping and customer service. “It allows you to see the person’s work ethic, if they’re showing up on time, if they’re doing a good job,” she says.

The workforce challenges have been “top of mind for a while, and I don’t know if we see an end in sight,” says Quincy Hentzel, head of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. That said, it isn’t all bad. “Businesses are extremely appreciative of their good employees and working really hard on retention,” she says. “That’s wonderful.”

A tight labor market also means that employees can afford to be picky. At Wilbur’s chocolate shop, two store managers left last year because they had better prospects in administrative work. While the business managed to hire replacements, mounting payroll costs are weighing on profit margins. Pointing to a large, hand-painted chocolate Easter bunny in his factory, Wilbur shakes his head. “We probably make a lot of people happy,” he says, “but I’m not sure that we cover the bills.” —Jeanna Smialek

Marietta, Georgia: Casting a Wider Net
Population: 60,941
Unemployment rate: 3.7%
Average weekly wages: $1,139
Lanre Bakare, a 36-year-old Nigerian immigrant, was homeless and had little marketable work experience when he was accepted into a training program run by CobbWorks Inc., a federally funded nonprofit that matches workers and businesses in the construction, logistics, information technology, and health-care fields. Now he earns $40,000 annually as an analyst managing vendors and supplies at residential construction sites in Cobb County, Ga., and the surrounding area. Eleven months into the job, Bakare still marvels at his salaried status and is looking forward to that most dreaded of employment rituals: the performance review. “I’m really excited,” he says. “We’re going to talk about if they are going to increase my job, what are my possibilities.”

CobbWorks has been around since 2000 but has recently expanded its outreach, training people with spotty work histories or criminal backgrounds who employers wouldn’t have considered a few years ago. Companies can no longer afford to be as picky. Unemployment in Cobb County, whose seat is Marietta, a city of 61,000 about 20 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, was 3.7 percent in December. Weekly wages in the area rose more slowly than the national average through the first three quarters of 2017, the latest figures show. Inflation, meanwhile, has been moving up relatively quickly in the Atlanta area, climbing 3.3 percent in February compared with the nation’s 2.2 percent.

Marietta’s biggest employer, hospital network WellStar Health System, says it’s not feeling the labor crunch because of a decade-long campaign to ensure its pay and benefits are competitive. Attrition at WellStar is below the national average for the sector, according to spokesman Keith Bowermaster. The city’s No. 2 employer, Lockheed Martin Corp., is relatively insulated from local labor trends because the market for aerospace engineering work is national.

But some smaller businesses in the area are scrambling. That’s particularly true in the Cobb Galleria and adjacent Cumberland Mall areas, a few miles south on I-75, where office buildings, hotels, stores, restaurants, and a new ballpark for the Atlanta Braves compete for workers. “We’ve had fast-food restaurants offering bonuses,” says Roger Tutterow, an economist at Kennesaw State University. He’s also seen signs that labor shortages are constraining certain industries, noting that the number of building permits issued last year was half what it was during the boom that preceded the housing bust, even though demand for new homes is running high.

Several Marietta companies report they’re improving benefits to hang on to employees and attract new ones. InfoMart Inc., a 137-person operation that performs background screenings for companies, began paying 100 percent of its employees’ health insurance premiums this year, up from 75 percent. It also rehabbed its office space to make it more “collaborative-looking,” says Senior Vice President Tim Gordon, who’s especially keen to attract millennials. InfoMart also allows its tech employees to work from home four out of five days a week.

Just outside the city limits, Gas South LLC, a natural gas retailer, raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour in late 2016 and now offers every employee—including those in its call center—a one-month paid sabbatical every five years on top of regular vacation time. It also pays its workers’ health insurance premiums and has equipped its call center employees so they can work from home. “We did some research into the cost of living and discovered that some of our people were really struggling,” says Chief Executive Officer Kevin Greiner. “With more money comes less stress. It helps us recruit and keep quality people.”

Paul’s Pot Pies is one of several storefronts lining Marietta’s well-appointed town square, which is outfitted with a gazebo, flowering trees, and boxes of blooming tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Its proprietor, Paul Lubertazzi, added $2 to the hourly pay of his minimum-wage workers eight months ago because he says he was afraid he’d lose them to other businesses. A pickup in sales of his frozen pastry pies, which cost $9 to $25, helped pay for the increase. But the cost of many of his ingredients, particularly vegetables, has risen too, which is why he plans to raise prices sometime this year: “I wanted to do it in January, but I’m holding off,” Lubertazzi says. “People do complain.” —Margaret Newkirk

Ames, Iowa: Building an Employee Pipeline
Population: 66,191
Unemployment rate: 1.5%
Average weekly wages: $833
“Join our team,” beckons the chyron in foot-tall red lettering outside the Taco John’s in Ames, Iowa. Across the street, a cactus-shaped sign at TacoTime declares that it, too, is hiring.

“Help wanted” signs are a common sight in Ames, which boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the nation—1.5 percent. From behind the beige laminate cashier counter of the Taco John’s, manager Justin Cornelius says this outpost of the Tex-Mex chain raised pay by 50¢ an hour in the fall. Still, turnover has increased, because workers have more options than they did a few years ago. Cornelius himself is a fill-in; he’s been on loan from a Des Moines restaurant since December. Usually, it takes four to six weeks to find a permanent manager. In Ames it’s been 10 weeks and counting.

Two miles north, at O’Donnell Ace Hardware, manager Tausha Tjernagel says her store has lifted wages every six months for the past year and a half. She’s now starting full-time workers with no experience at $11 an hour, well above the state’s $7.25 minimum. Even so, Tjernagel has had to ask employees to be flexible to fill holes in the schedule. Older part-timers who’d prefer a weekday morning shift are spending their Saturdays ringing up lawn fertilizer or stocking shelves with hammers and nails. But that’s better than letting checkout lines get longer, which is what several town residents say is happening at other retailers. Says Tjernagel: “We make it so that it’s not noticeable to our customers.”

Wait times aren’t the only pain a supercharged labor market is causing in this city of 66,000, home to the world’s largest gnome statue and Iowa State University. The school is Ames’s largest employer, as well as a magnet for companies across the Midwest that are fighting the region’s brain drain. Locals say prices haven’t been picking up rapidly, and inflation in the Midwest as a whole continues to run below 2 percent. Average weekly wages grew slightly faster than national wages through the first three quarters of 2017—though a separate data series on hourly earnings showed a pop in Ames in January, which is early evidence that faster gains may be materializing.

There are other signs the local economy is running hot. A home price index shot up 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017. Kellie Mullaney, a career development adviser at Iowa State, recalls that when she and her husband bought their home three years ago, listings sold in a day: “It seemed like the price range we were in, everyone else was in, too.”

To get around the housing constraint, businesses are trying to make it easier for workers to commute in from elsewhere. Mary Greeley Medical Center—one of Ames’s largest employers—is working on setting up a ride-sharing program for employees who live in nearby Story City or Des Moines, where the unemployment rate is 2 percentage points higher.

The Ames Chamber of Commerce has been targeting the 6 percent of the local population that’s underemployed. It’s promoting a community college program in Des Moines that will train people, often at no charge, for jobs in advanced manufacturing. Staffers have been pushing it at local food banks and through local faith leaders, hoping to absorb any labor market slack.

Some companies are trying to snap up workers before they hit the job market. At Iowa State’s College of Engineering, internship postings by Ames companies rose 20 percent in 2017, far exceeding the 2 percent increase in postings overall, says Mullaney.

A collection of modern buildings perched in the middle of a former cornfield abutting the campus is a freshly built monument to employers’ growing desperation. Workiva Inc., a software company that’s referred to locally as the “Google of the Midwest,” expanded its presence in the research park in 2014, and John Deere & Co. opened a “strategic technology office” last year.

The lobby of Vermeer Corp.’s two-year-old office, where 3D-printed art displays hang on the wall opposite minimalist lounge chairs, looks more like a trendy hotel than the outpost of a manufacturer of heavy machinery for the agriculture, mining, and construction industries. Vermeer’s headquarters are more than an hour’s drive away, in Pella, Iowa, but the company enlarged its operation here in part because managers wanted to keep in touch with summer interns, who were getting recruited to other companies amid intense demand. “If we want the top talent, we have to be competitive,” says Sara Hunter, whose job is to build relationships between Vermeer and the university, while strolling through a massive warehouse where students can come to design test equipment. “That pipeline is key.” —Jeanna Smialek

Population figures as of July 1, 2016; Unemployment rates as of December 2017; Average wages as of 3Q 2017; Sources: Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Facebook's value plunges $37 billion on data controversy - CNN Money

Facebook's value plunges $37 billion on data controversy
by Chris Isidore   @CNNMoney
March 20, 2018: 2:25 AM ET

Facebook shares took a big hit Monday, shaving about $37 billion off the value of the company.
The stock tumbled about 7% Monday on news that data firm Cambridge Analytica, which had ties to Trump's campaign, reportedly accessed information from about 50 million Facebook users. This is the stock's biggest drop, on a percentage basis, in four years.

Even after Monday's plunge, Facebook is still one of the nation's most valuable companies, with a market cap of about $500 billion. It's behind only Apple (AAPL), Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN), Microsoft (MSFT) and about even with Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA).

Mark Zuckerberg holds about 400 million shares of Facebook (FB), and his net worth plunged by about $5 billion Monday afternoon. Shares closed the day down $12.53.

Of course even with the single-day drop the value of his holdings, Zuckerberg still owns about $70 billion worth of Facebook shares. That's enough to make him the sixth richest man in the world, according to Forbes' real-time billionaire tracker.

To put the dollar drop in context though, when Zuckerberg took Facebook public in 2012, the value of Zuckerberg's Facebook shares was about $19 billion. Facebook posted a drop of greater than 7% in a single day on seven different occasions in its early days of trading. But this is the biggest single-day slide ever in terms of dollar value for the stock.

The stock fell Monday after the Cambridge Analytica controversy prompted some outside observers to suggest that Facebooks should be more regulated. Some users have vowed to stop using Facebook and there are also questions about what the company will have to do to restore public trust in Facebook's commitment to privacy and data protection.

-- CNN's Paul La Monica, Patrick Gillespie, Matt Egan and Dylan Byers contributed to this report


Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica (right) and Mark Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica Political Global (left) / Channel 4 News
Chief executive offers to 'send some girls around to candidate’s house', adding Ukrainian girls 'are very beautiful, I find that works very well'


Senior executives at troubled data company firm Cambridge Analytica have been secretly filmed saying they can entrap politicians in compromising situations, a new investigation claims.

Chief executive Alexander Nix said the company could offer bribes and the services of sex workers to officials and use evidence of the interactions as leverage, according to the footage.

Cambridge Analytica is credited with helping Donald Trump win the US presidency and was employed by the Leave campaign during the UK’s referendum on EU membership.

Cambridge Analytica: Chris Wylie tells Channel 4 News data for 50 million Facebook profiles was obtained
The undercover footage, to be broadcast on Channel 4 on Monday night, comes after The Observer reported the firm illegally harvested 50 million Facebook profiles to target certain voters.

The films provide further insight into the apparent extent of the company’s power and how much sway over political systems the group seemed to believe they had.

When asked about finding damaging material on political opponents, Mr Nix was filmed saying the company could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”.

In another exchange in the footage, Mr Nix described how the company could bribe politicians and use evidence of the exchange against them. “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the internet,” he said.

The conversations were secretly filmed at a series of meetings at London hotels over four months, between November 2017 and January 2018, where an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.

Facebook stock loses $25bn amid huge ‘data breach’ scandal
It has been alleged Mr Nix misled the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is now asking him to provide further information. He denies the claims.

Also in attendance at the meetings were Mark Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica Political Global, and the company’s chief data officer, Dr Alex Tayler.

Mr Turnbull described how Cambridge Analytica could gather damaging material on opponents and discreetly post it on social media and the internet.

He said: “... we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’”.

The executives were also filmed saying Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories had worked on more than two hundred elections across the world, including in Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.

On Monday, the Information Commissioner's Office announced it was seeking a warrant to raid Cambridge Analytica and seize the company's servers.

A Cambridge Analytica spokesman said: “We entirely refute any allegation that Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes, or so-called ‘honey-traps’ for any purpose whatsoever.

“Cambridge Analytica does not use untrue material for any purpose.”

They also said opposition research and intelligence gathering were common and legitimate practices.

Donald Trump hires lawyer who accused FBI and Justice department of 'plot' to frame president - Independent

Donald Trump hires lawyer who accused FBI and Justice department of 'plot' to frame president
I 'have full confidence that he will be a great asset in our representation of the President', says other Trump attorney Jay Sekulow

Alexandra Wilts Washington DC

Joseph E diGenova during a television interview in March 2016 C-Span
Donald Trump has hired a lawyer who accuses the FBI and Justice Department of trying to frame the president with false charges of colluding with the Russian government.

Joseph diGenova, a Washington lawyer and former US attorney for the District of Columbia, will join the legal team later this week, according to attorney Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s other personal lawyers.

“I have worked with Joe for many years and have full confidence that he will be a great asset in our representation of the President,” Mr Sekulow told the New York Times.

Ex-Trump aide says Mueller interview would be ‘fraught with peril’
Mr diGenova has pushed the theory that the Russia investigation is all just a “brazen plot” to frame Mr Trump.

“There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime,” he said on Fox News in January. “Make no mistake about it: A group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.”

Little evidence has emerged to support Mr diGenova’s theory.

The addition of Mr diGenova to Mr Trump’s legal team is another possible indicator that the President is working to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Mueller is attempting to figure out if Mr Trump’s campaign advisers coordinated with the Kremlin.

Robert Mueller has former FBI chief’s memos of interactions with Trump
Mueller reportedly issues subpoena to Trump Organization
Donald Trump ‘discussed Robert Mueller’s investigation with key witnes
Over the weekend, Mr Trump criticised the Russia investigation on Twitter, saying that it should not have been started because there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.

“It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the [Democratic National Committee], and improperly used in [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” Mr Trump tweeted, questioning the legitimacy of the investigation.

Cambridge Analytica: Warrant sought to inspect company - BBC News

Cambridge Analytica: Warrant sought to inspect company

Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica was filmed by undercover reporters for Channel 4 News
The UK's Information Commissioner says she will seek a warrant to look at the databases and servers used by British firm Cambridge Analytica.

The London-based company is accused of using the personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential election in 2016.

Its executives have also been filmed by Channel 4 News suggesting it could use honey traps and potentially bribery to discredit politicians.

The company denies any wrongdoing.

Fresh allegations
On Monday, Channel 4 News broadcast hidden camera footage in which Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix appears to suggest tactics his company could use to discredit politicians online.

In the footage, asked what "deep digging" could be done, Mr Nix told an undercover reporter: "Oh, we do a lot more than that."

He suggested one way to target an individual was to "offer them a deal that's too good to be true and make sure that's video recorded".

He also said he could "send some girls around to the candidate's house..." adding that Ukrainian girls "are very beautiful, I find that works very well".

Mr Nix continued: "I'm just giving you examples of what can be done and what has been done."

Cambridge Analytica: The story so far
Facebook data sharing - time to act?
Channel 4 News said its reporter had posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get a political candidate elected in Sri Lanka.

However, Cambridge Analytica said the report had "grossly misrepresented" the conversations caught on camera.

"In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our 'client' from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios," the company said in a statement.

"Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called 'honeytraps'," it said.

Media captionMr Nix spoke to BBC Newsnight before the Channel 4 report was aired on Monday night. He declined to be interviewed after the undercover footage was broadcast
Mr Nix told the BBC's Newsnight programme that he regarded the report as a "misrepresentation of the facts" and said he felt the firm had been "deliberately entrapped".

UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is investigating Cambridge Analytica over claims it used personal data to influence the US presidential election.

Christopher Wylie, who worked with the company, claimed it amassed the data of millions of people through a personality quiz on Facebook that was created by an academic.

Ms Denham demanded access to the firm's databases and servers after it missed her Monday deadline.

"I'm not accepting their response so therefore I'll be applying to the court for a warrant," she told Channel 4.

She said she wanted to understand how data was "processed or deleted by Cambridge Analytica".

Cambridge Analytica insists it followed the correct procedures in obtaining and using data, but it was suspended from Facebook last week.

Facebook, meanwhile, will hold an open meeting with its employees later to discuss the matter, tech news website The Verge is reporting.

Facebook said it has hired its own digital forensic team to audit Cambridge Analytica.

"This is part of a comprehensive internal and external review that we are conducting to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists," the firm said.

Facebook's value falls $37bn amid backlash
Zuckerberg pressed to face breach concerns
"If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook's policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made."

Facebook said Aleksandr Kogan, the creator of the personality app from which the data had been harvested, had agreed to be audited, but Mr Wylie - who made the claims about the way the data was gathered and used - had declined.

How to protect your data on Facebook
There are a few things to be aware of if you want to restrict who has access to your data.

Keep an eye on apps, especially those which require you to log in using your Facebook account - they often have a very wide range of permissions and many are specifically designed to pick up your data
Use an ad blocker to limit advertising
Look at your Facebook security settings and make sure you are aware of what is enabled. Check the individual app settings to see whether you have given them permission to view your friends as well as yourself.
You can download a copy of the data Facebook holds on you, although it is not comprehensive. There is a download button at the bottom of the General Account Settings tab. However bear in mind that your data may be less secure sitting on your laptop than it is on Facebook's servers, if your device is hacked.
You can of course, simply leave Facebook, but the campaign group Privacy International warns that privacy concerns extend beyond the social network.

"The current focus is on protecting your data being exploited by third parties, but your data is being exploited all the time," said a spokeswoman.

"Many apps on your phone will have permission to access location data, your entire phone book and so on. It is just the tip of the iceberg."

Cambridge Analytica: The story so far - BBC News

Cambridge Analytica: The story so far
By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter, BBC News

It's a sensational story containing allegations of sleaze, psychological manipulation and data misuse that has provoked an internationally furious response.

Tech giant Facebook and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica are at the centre of a dispute over the harvesting and use of personal data - and whether it was used to influence the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election or the UK Brexit referendum.

Both firms deny any wrongdoing.

How has Cambridge Analytica been accused of sleazy tactics?
Channel 4 News sent an undercover reporter to meet executives from data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

The firm had been credited with helping Donald Trump to presidential victory.

The reporter posed as a Sri Lankan businessman wanting to influence a local election.

Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix was apparently filmed giving examples of how his firm could discredit political rivals by arranging various smear campaigns, including setting up encounters with prostitutes and staging situations in which apparent bribery could be caught on camera.

Alexander Nix, CEO, Cambridge Analytica: "These sort of tactics are very effective"
The firm denies all the claims and says the documentary was "edited and scripted to grossly represent the nature of those conversations". It claims the conversations were led by the reporters.

"I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called 'honeytraps', and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose," said Mr Nix.

What was Facebook's role?
In 2014 a quiz on Facebook invited users to find out their personality type.

It was developed by University of Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan (the university has no connections with Cambridge Analytica).

As was common with apps and games at that time, it was designed to harvest not only the user data of the person taking part in the quiz, but also the data of their friends.

Facebook has since changed the amount of data developers can scrape in this way.

Christopher Wylie, who worked with Cambridge Analytica, alleges that because 270,000 people took the quiz, the data of some 50 million users, mainly in the US, was harvested without their explicit consent via their friend networks.

Mr Wylie claims the data was sold to Cambridge Analytica, which then used it to psychologically profile people and deliver pro-Trump material to them.

Cambridge Analytica denies any of it was used as part of the services it provided to the Trump campaign.

Is this against Facebook's terms?
The data was gathered using Facebook's infrastructure at that time, and many other developers had taken advantage of it - but the data was not authorised for them to share with others.

The other key point is that even the people directly taking part in the personality quiz would have had no idea that they were potentially sharing their data with Donald Trump's election campaign.

Facebook say when they learned their rules had been breached, they removed the app and demanded assurances that the information had been deleted.

Cambridge Analytica claims that it never used the data, and deleted it when Facebook told it to.

Both Facebook and the UK Information Commissioner want to find out whether it was properly destroyed, as Mr Wylie claims it was not.

What has the official response been?

There are calls for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress
US senators have called on Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress about how Facebook will protect users.

The head of the European Parliament said it would investigate to see if the data was misused.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said she was "very concerned" about the revelations.

How can you protect your data?
There are a few things to be aware of if you want to restrict who has access to your data.

Keep an eye on apps, especially those which require you to log in using your Facebook account - they often have a very wide range of permissions and many are specifically designed to pick up your data
Use an ad blocker to limit advertising
Look at your Facebook security settings and make sure you are aware of what is enabled. Check the individual app settings to see whether you have given them permission to view your friends as well as yourself.
You can download a copy of the data Facebook holds on you, although it is not comprehensive. There is a download button at the bottom of the General Account Settings tab. However bear in mind that your data may be less secure sitting on your laptop than it is on Facebook's servers, if your device is hacked.
You can of course, simply leave Facebook, but the campaign group Privacy International warns that privacy concerns extend beyond the social network.

"The current focus is on protecting your data being exploited by third parties, but your data is being exploited all the time," said a spokeswoman.

"Many apps on your phone will have permission to access location data, your entire phone book and so on. It is just the tip of the iceberg."

Monday, March 19, 2018

The UK and EU agree terms for Brexit transition period - BBC News

The UK and EU agree terms for Brexit transition period

The UK and EU have agreed on a "large part" of the agreement that will lead to the "orderly withdrawal" of the UK.

Brexit negotiators Michel Barnier and David Davis said they had agreed terms for a transition period, calling the announcement a "decisive step".

But issues still to be resolved include the Northern Ireland border.

The transitional period is set to last from 29 March, 2019 to December 2020, and is intended to smooth the path to a future permanent relationship.

Mr Barnier said there was also an agreement on the rights of 4.5m EU citizens in the UK and the 1.2m UK citizens in the EU after Brexit, including giving EU citizens arriving in the UK during the transition the same rights and guarantees as those who arrive before Brexit.

Laura Kuenssberg: Done deal but work ahead
Brexit: All you need to know
The proposed deal will include an emergency "backstop" option to avoid a hard border that would allow Northern Ireland to stay in the single market and the customs union - a move which Theresa May had opposed.

The UK will also be able to negotiate and sign trade deals during the transition period.

BBC Breaking News

EU's negotiator Michel Barnier hails "decisive step" towards UK's orderly withdrawal from EU http://bbc.in/2FRRZag 

11:04 PM - Mar 19, 2018
Both the UK and the EU hope the terms of an agreement on the transitional period can be signed off by Theresa May's fellow leaders at the EU summit this week.

Mr Barnier said the new draft legal text marks a "decisive step" but added that it was "not the end of the road".

Mr Davis said the move provided further certainty for businesses and included safeguards for fishing quotas during the transition period.

"We must seize the moment and carry on the momentum of the last few weeks," he said.

"The deal today should give us confidence that a good deal for the UK and EU is closer than ever before."

Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer MP welcomed the transition deal, calling it "a step in the right direction".

'Extend transition' call divides MPs
What is the Brexit 'transition' phase?
"It is welcome that they have finally struck a deal on transition and now the government must prioritise negotiating a final agreement that protects jobs, the economy and guarantees there will be no hard border in Northern Ireland," he said.

But Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said the agreement for fishing during the implementation period fell "far short of an acceptable deal".

"We will leave the EU and leave the Common Fisheries Policy, but hand back sovereignty over our seas a few seconds later," he said. "Our fishing communities' fortunes will still be subject to the whim and largesse of the EU for another two years."

Skip Twitter post by @daily_politics

BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics

“When the giddiness dies down in Brussels, what happens next?” @jo_coburn asks @adamfleming about the future status of UK-EU Brexit agreement document, which was revealed on Monday morning #bbcdp

11:32 PM - Mar 19, 2018
See BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics's other Tweets

Among other issues the two sides have had to negotiate for the transition period have been what role the European Court of Justice has in the UK, whether the UK can negotiate future trade deals with non-EU countries as well as the continuing issues of Gibraltar post-Brexit.

The current proposal includes the emergency "backstop" to avoid a hard border in Ireland which BBC Europe editor Katya Adler said was "something Theresa May said no UK PM could sign up to".

The UK and EU hope that if a transition deal is agreed negotiations can focus on what sort of permanent future relationship the UK and EU will have - with the aim of a deal being agreed in the autumn to allow time for EU member states and the UK Parliament to ratify it before Brexit next March.

Putin's defeated presidential rivals claim he falsely DOUBLED his share of the vote in rigged election - Daily Mail

'Russia is turning into North Korea': Putin's defeated presidential rivals claim he falsely DOUBLED his share of the vote in rigged election
Vladimir Putin officially won Sunday's election with 77 per cent of the vote
But his political opponents say his real level of support is around 40 per cent
Putin was accused of trying to turn Russia into a dictatorship like North Korea
CCTV captured ballot boxes in Moscow being stuffed with voting slips

PUBLISHED: 20:08 AEDT, 19 March 2018 | UPDATED: 20:25 AEDT, 19 March 2018

Vladimir Putin has been accused of fraudulently doubling his vote share in the dirtiest election since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Russian strongman won Sunday's election with a reported 77 per cent of the vote on a 67 per cent turnout, his best result in four elections which grants him another six years in power.

But his political opponents have accused him of using blatantly dishonest tactics amid video evidence of ballot boxes being stuffed, claims of goons waiting at polling stations, and other irregularities in voting data.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a political opponent of Vladimir Putin, has said the strongman fraudulently doubled his share of the vote in Sunday's election +10
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a political opponent of Vladimir Putin, has said the strongman fraudulently doubled his share of the vote in Sunday's election

Pavel Grudinin (left) called the ballot the 'dirtiest' since the Soviet Union collapsed, while Grigory Yavlinsky (right) insisted the country was moving toward a 'dangerous abyss'

Putin officially received 77 per cent of the vote on a 67 per cent turnout, but that comes amid video evidence of ballot boxes being stuffed and other irregularities +10
Putin officially received 77 per cent of the vote on a 67 per cent turnout, but that comes amid video evidence of ballot boxes being stuffed and other irregularities

Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky - who came third - said rigging was so great that Putin's real level of support in a free poll would be no more than 40 per cent.

Communist candidate and runner-up Pavel Grudinin said the poll was 'dishonest' and 'the dirtiest' since the Soviet Union collapsed.

'Regretfully, [opposition politician Alexei] Navalny was right. One can vote two or three times, and there are such examples in Moscow region.'


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Navalny - seen as the biggest threat to Putin - was banned from standing but his calls for a boycott of the election flopped if the turnout figure is accurate.

The independent mayor of Yekaterinburg Yevgeny Roizman warned of a lurch towards authoritarianism with Putin back in the Kremin.

'The quality of life will get progressively worse,' he said.

'But each new election turnout will be higher, the president's rating will keep rising — and North Korea will grow closer and closer.'

Zhirinovsky - aged 71 and a veteran of six presidential elections - said: 'There is no democracy [in Russia], there is no competition.

Ksenia Sobchak, the only female election candidate, said her supporters had been arrested and her campaign intimidated during the election +10
Ksenia Sobchak, the only female election candidate, said her supporters had been arrested and her campaign intimidated during the election

Mayor of Yekaterinburg Yevgeny Roizman warned that Russia is turning into North Korea as memes began circulating of Putin superimposed on to the body of Kim Jong-un (left) and showing him as a Tsar (right)

'[There is] just one candidate from the Kremlin and all others are 'pugs'.

'In reality, Putin should have a lesser percentage.'

His genuine figure in a free European-style election would be 'no more than 40 per cent', he insisted.

The only female candidate, TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak, said sarcastically: 'I do acknowledge that today Putin enjoys majority support, secured by various methods.'

She described a 'dirty campaign…particularly…the arrests of our supporters in various cities, as well as attempts at intimidating us.'

Another veteran candidate trounced in the poll, liberal Grigory Yavlinsky, insisted it was not a 'real election'.

'The county is moving to a dangerous abyss, bad times are ahead and there are fewer opportunities to change this,' he warned.

Critics looked at the results in Chechnya - where almost 92 per cent were reported to have backed Putin - as evidence is suspicious results.

Putin won the same percentage in Tuva, home region of loyalist defence minister Sergei Shoigu in Siberia.

Putin is now poised to shake-up his regime after his election landslide, with lacklustre premier Dmitry Medvedev tipped for the axe by the scheduled 7 May inauguration date.

Video playing bottom right...
The latest result is officially Putin's best in four elections, meaning he will end his political career on a high note unless he changes the constitution so he can run again +10
The latest result is officially Putin's best in four elections, meaning he will end his political career on a high note unless he changes the constitution so he can run again

CCTV captured ballot boxes being stuffed with filled-in votes in one district of Moscow +10
CCTV captured ballot boxes being stuffed with filled-in votes in one district of Moscow

In another Moscow district and election official was also seen filled a ballot box with votes +10
In another Moscow district and election official was also seen filled a ballot box with votes

Veteran foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who led the charge against Britain in the current nerve agent spy scandal, is also set to depart.

Putin - who will be 71 if he completes a full term - is seen as wanting to revitalise his regime by propelling younger cadres into power and grooming an ultra-loyal successor to protect himself from corruption charges in his retirement.

The Russian constitution bans Putin from standing for election again, unless he changes the rules. 

Memes of the all-powerful Putin went wild on Russian social media - mocking him as a tsar-for-life, and morphing into Soviet-era stagnation ruler Leonid Brezhnev - or Kim Jong-un.

Putin's supporters hailed the result and claimed it showed Britain's attempts to interfere with the poll - by exploiting the Salisbury nerve agent poisoning - had spectacularly failed.

Valentina Matviyenko - speaker of the Russian upper house of parliament - hit out at the 'brazen and cynical interference in Russia's internal affairs'.

She wanted this 'will not be left unnoticed', making clear she was referring to the West.

'We faced a really powerful Russophobic information, political and economic pressure on the country, which was expected to influence the attitudes of people,' she said.

The aim was to force people to boycott the poll or vote against Putin, she indicated.

'We proved once again that one cannot speak the language of ultimatums with our country,' said Matviyenko.

'The opposite happened. People got united … and the fact that more people came to polling stations than at the previous election is the main sign.'

Putin in his victory speech said the outcome showed the 'confidence and hope' of the Russian people.

Hinting at changes, he said: 'Our thoughts will turn to the future of our great country -and the future of our children.'

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5517417/Putin-rivals-claim-falsely-DOUBLED-vote-Russias-election.html#ixzz5ABx0L7hq
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Does China Produce More Competent Leaders Than America? - Huff Post ( source : Associated Press )

Does China Produce More Competent Leaders Than America?

By Daniel A. Bell

This piece is adapted from Daniel A. Bell’s new book, “The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy,” Princeton University Press.

BEIJING — Do the meritocratic features of the China model produce more competent leaders than democratic elections in America? In key ways, this seems certainly true.

Political meritocracy has a long history in China. Its modern incarnation dates from the post-Mao reform era. Following the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, China’s leaders decided that public officials should have the managerial skills, professional knowledge and broad understanding of China and the world necessary to lead the country to full modernity and global prominence. Hence, party leaders emphasized that the selection and promotion of cadres should be based on expertise rather than revolutionary energy.

The government established (reimposed) a competitive national university entrance examination system in the late 1970s, and the first step for most officials is to be admitted to university. Then they must be admitted to the party — students compete fiercely to join the party, and usually the party selects students with high academic achievement and leadership qualities, preferably from elite universities. In the early 1990s, the government established nationwide ultracompetitive public service examinations (including written and oral tests), and today most aspiring officials must succeed at these examinations after they graduate from university.

There is more emphasis on technical competence for appointment to posts in the government system compared to recruitment for positions in the Communist Party hierarchy, but there are not separate tracks for professional civil servants and political officials, and appointment to posts for successful candidates depends on level of education and experience.

The most important provisions for the management of cadres above the county/division level (xianchu ji) are contained in the “Regulation on Selection and Appointment of Party and Government Leading Cadres“ issued in 2002 by the CCP Organization Department. There are requirements of education and experience for appointment and promotion to political posts; generally, the higher the level, the more demanding the requirements.

To be promoted to leading party and government posts at the section (village) head level, officials must have at least a college diploma and have worked at a deputy post for more than two years. To be promoted to posts higher than the county (division) level, candidates must have held at least two positions at lower level organs, and candidates who are promoted from deputy to head generally must have worked at the deputy post for more than two years.

Leading cadres at the bureau level (ju, si, ting) or above should have at least a bachelor’s degree. Once a year, the Organization Department reviews quantitative performance records for each official in the higher grades, carries out interviews with superiors, peers and subordinates, vets the official’s personal conduct and uses public opinion surveys to assess the public’s general satisfaction or dissatisfaction with that official’s performance. Committees then discuss the data and promote the winners.

Getting to the Top Takes Decades

To get to the top, party officials must typically start from leadership at a primary level office and then be promoted successively to the township level, a county division, a department bureau and the province/ministry level. A public official aiming to reach the position of vice-minister has to be promoted from senior member to deputy section chief, section chief, division chief, deputy division chief, division chief, deputy bureau chief, bureau chief and vice-minister. If one meets the minimum length of service at each rank, one needs at least 20 years to reach the position of vice-minister.

During this process, officials are typically rotated through the civil service, state-owned enterprises, and government-affiliated social organizations such as universities and community groups, as well as serving in different parts of the country. The top candidates are sent for further training at party and administrative schools in China, and many promising officials are sent to top universities abroad to learn best administrative practices from around the world.

“Out of seven million leading cadres, only one out of 140,000 makes it to the province/ministry level.”

Out of seven million leading cadres, only one out of 140,000 makes it to the province/ministry level. A select few move up the ranks and make it to the party’s Central Committee and then the 25 member Politburo. The members at the very apex of political power — the Standing Committee of the Politburo — must normally have served as governors or party secretaries of two provinces, each the size and population of most countries.

In short, top leaders must pass through a battery of merit-based tests and accumulate decades of extensive and diverse administrative experience. In contrast, as Eric X. Li puts it, “a person with Barack Obama’s pre-presidential professional experience would not even be the manager of a small county in China’s system.” Notwithstanding its importance for understanding China’s reforms and future political prospects, political meritocracy is perhaps the least-studied aspect of the China model.

This process of meritocratic selection at the top fits within the broader frame of the “three planks” of the Chinese model. The other planks are democracy at the bottom and experimentation in the middle.

This three-plank model points to different ways of selecting and promoting leaders at different levels of government. Each combines elements of the other.

Democracy at the Bottom

The first plank — democracy at the bottom — includes elements of the other planks of experimentation and meritocracy. Electoral democracy at the bottom started off as an experiment in selected villages before it was generalized to the rest of the country; and there is a meritocratic check on the system in the form of a party secretary at the village level appointed from above who is often more educated than elected leaders and has the task of trying to ensure the implementation of Beijing-driven policies that may be unpopular, such as birth control and land acquisition.

Experimentation in the Middle

The second plank — experimentation in the middle — includes forms of democracy and meritocracy: there have been democratic elections in selected townships in Sichuan province and experiments with democratic practices such as public opinion polling as part of the evaluation process for cadres at higher levels of government; and meritocratically selected leaders at the top often decide which experiments to carry out and which ones should be generalized to other parts of the country.

The third plank — meritocracy at the top — also includes forms of democracy and experimentation: there has been increased use of democratic practices such as contested intraparty balloting to select and promote leaders at high levels of government; meritocratic practices such as open and competitive examinations for public officials started as pilot projects in certain provinces and central administrative organs in the late 1980s before they were spread to the rest of the country, and there has even been experimentation with different practices and institutions at the very top, such as varying the number of spots on the Standing Committee of the Politburo to suit different needs at different times.

“The higher the level of government, the more meritocratic the political system.”

Overall, however, political reform over the past three decades has been informed by commitment to the general principles of the China model: the lower the level of government, the more democratic the political system; experimentation is more likely to take place, including experiments with brand new practices and institutions, in between the lowest and highest levels of government; and the higher the level of government, the more meritocratic the political system.

This system of vertical democratic meritocracy is, in my view, the best way of reconciling political meritocracy and electoral democracy in a large country, although I believe the time will come when it will have to be put to a referendum to boost its legitimacy.

With all the issues we know — the tendency toward cronyism and corruption above all — there clearly remains a large gap between the ideal and the reality of political meritocracy in China. But it is possible, and desirable, to substantially reduce that gap without introducing electoral democracy at the top.

World's top economists warn US to pull back from triggering global trade war - Telegraph

World's top economists warn US to pull back from triggering global trade war

 Donald Trump
Donald Trump has slapped tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, but top economists warn he is doing more harm than good to the US CREDIT: ALEX WONG/GETTY
 Tim Wallace
17 MARCH 2018 • 7:21PM
Dozens of the world’s top economists have called on the US to pull back from a trade war, warning that it will have ruinous consequences for the country and the wider world economy.

President Donald Trump’s aluminium and steel tariffs will hurt far more Americans than they will help, Chicago Booth University’s IGM Forum of 43 economists, warned.

Every one of the esteemed panel disagreed with the statement that the tariffs would “improve Americans’ welfare”.

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Chicago’s Austan Goolsbee said the tariffs are the economic equivalent of “punching [your]self in [the] face”.

Nobel prizewinner Richard Thaler said: “In net we want more trade, not less. This is unlikely to help and runs the risk of starting a trade war.”

“Sad,” he added, in imitation of President Trump’s tweeting style.

When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!

9:50 PM - Mar 2, 2018

Yale University professor Christopher Udry said: “It will improve some Americans welfare, and hurt many others. On balance it’s a very costly way to help those who gain.”

Harvard’s Eric Maskin compared it to the Smoot-Hawley tariffs of the Thirties which were blamed for worsening the Great Depression.

“I thought we had learned our lesson with Smoot-Hawley,” he wrote.

The decisive survey is a sharp rebuke to President Trump’s claim that “trade wars are good, and easy to win”.

He has argued that the US’s trade deficits mean it is “losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with”.

 Richard Thaler
Nobel prizewinning economist Richard Thaler is one of those critical of the protectionist plans CREDIT: GEOFF PUGH
Mr Trump’s tariffs of 25pc on steel imports and 10pc on aluminium are being introduced on grounds of “national security” as the US’s own metals industry is struggling to compete with cheaper imports.

The row has been intensified by accusations of subsidised metal being unfairly “dumped” on US markets.

The EU has hit back, threatening to retaliate with tariffs on imports of US orange juice, bourbon, Harley-Davidson motorbikes and Levi’s jeans – all iconic American products, typically made in critical swing states in US elections. Such a response is aimed at hitting the US economy where it hurts, but also shows how quickly trade spats can balloon into full-scale trade wars across swathes of products.

Economists at ING calculated that a 1pc rise in the price of all imports into the US and into the EU would boost domestic production in the US by 0.07pc and the EU by 0.1pc, but hit the wider economy to the tune of 0.36pc and 0.28pc of GDP respectively. As a result, any benefit of the tax is more than outweighed by the damage inflicted.

Former Goldman Sachs executive and ardent free-trader Gary Cohn was the president’s top economic adviser until the first week of this month, when he resigned after losing the argument on tariffs.

That raised fears Mr Trump was moving in a more protectionist direction. But his new choice to head the White House’s National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, is also a critic of the tariffs.

Congress aims for six-month shutdown ... of budget squabbles - Reuters

MARCH 19, 2018 / 1:09 AM / UPDATED 20 HOURS AGO
Congress aims for six-month shutdown ... of budget squabbles
Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress, facing yet another government shutdown deadline at midnight on Friday, will try this week to approve a massive spending bill that would end lawmakers’ nettlesome budget infighting, at least through Sept. 30.

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives hope to unveil soon the product of long negotiations over a $1 trillion spending bill. It would fund all of the federal government’s activities, except for the gigantic “mandatory entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which do not have to be renewed annually.

The Republican-controlled Congress was supposed to have completed this work by Sept. 30, 2017, the start of fiscal 2018, but it has not done that. Instead, the government has been running on a series of short-term, stopgap funding measures.

Senator Durbin: No government shutdown over budget
Senator Durbin: No government shutdown over budget
As of Sunday, negotiators were still trying to put the finishing touches on a longer-term bill. Its progress has been slowed by partisan flashpoints between Republicans and Democrats, including immigration policy.

Failure to pass this major spending bill by the end of Friday would leave Congress with two options: force federal agencies to suspend operations ranging from national park lands to medical research due to a lack of funds; or pass another in a series of stopgap bills.

In January, Washington was plunged into partial shutdown mode for a weekend because of disagreements on a stopgap bill.

Some conservative Republicans are likely to vote against the major bill, which could push budget deficits for fiscal 2018 to more than $800 billion. That would give Democrats leverage to make demands to win their votes needed for passage.

Democrats are resisting President Donald Trump’s call for money to start building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and to hire more immigration enforcement agents.

Republicans want to insert gun-related measures, including one to provide new grants for school safety programs and one to tighten background checks on gun purchases. Both fall far short of what gun control advocates want.

Republicans regularly push for anti-abortion initiatives in spending bills, and this year’s is no different.

Negotiators were also seeking to fund new infrastructure projects. There also was a fight underway over the costly New York-to-New Jersey “Gateway Program” railroad tunnel project, which Trump opposes.

If Congress does manage to pass its “omnibus” spending bill by Friday, that would not end budget infighting for good.

Lawmakers would then have until Sept. 30 to pass a dozen separate spending bills for fiscal 2019, which begins on Oct. 1, or resume their game of blaming each other for possibly causing shutdowns.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis