Analysts Outline Goals for All Sides in Proposed US-North Korea Summit
A proposed U.S.-North Korea summit is, for now, just that: a proposal. On this week’s edition of VOA’s “Plugged In With Greta Van Susteren,” analysts say that while the logistics and timing of talks are up in the air, so is the definition of real progress for all sides involved. VOA’s Robert Raffaele has more.
US Elections Face Continued Cyberthreats
U.S. officials conceded more work needs to be done to protect elections in America from continuing Russian cyberthreats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Capitol Hill, where current and former Homeland Security secretaries testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Facebook Under Fire for Data Misuse
Facebook is coming under intense criticism following reports that information from 50 million users was gathered by a voter data firm. Lawmakers are demanding answers, and Facebook stock has lost about $35 billion in its value. Michelle Quinn reports on the threats the company faces.
Fed Signals at Least Three More Rate Hikes in 2018
U.S. Federal Reserve officials voted to raise the central bank’s benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percent this week, signaling perhaps three or more rate hikes this year as economic conditions improve. But as Mil Arcega reports, rising rates mean higher borrowing costs for consumers, many who have yet to see a significant increase in wages.
Trump Expected to Turn Up the Heat on China in Looming Trade War
U.S. President Donald Trump is expected at any time to fire a salvo directly at China in what could escalate into a full-scale trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
Trade actions against China, partly in response to the theft and improper transfer of American technology to Chinese companies, are expected to be announced by Trump as soon as Thursday. His schedule includes a midday signing of a memorandum “targeting China’s economic aggression.”
On the anticipated eve of the measures, U.S. officials spoke to reporters about their monthslong investigation under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 of Beijing’s trade practices.
China has long been considered by many in the international community to have contravened fundamental principles of global trade, despite joining the World Trade Organization in 2001.
There have been a “number of specific failings by China to live up to its WTO obligations,” said an official of the U.S. Trade Representative in a Wednesday background briefing for reporters.
The briefing and other comments not for attribution by officials are seen as clear signals the administration, in response to an Aug. 14 memo by Trump, intends to use the Section 301 trade tool.
The last time it was wielded was by the Clinton administration against Japan to pry open that country’s automotive sector.
China has been “ripping off” the United States, Trump has emphasized numerous times in public remarks during which he has harshly criticized his predecessors for not doing anything about it.
According to published reports, Trump is expected to impose tariffs, valued at tens of billions of dollars, on a number of Chinese products. Sources say that in addition to tariffs, restrictions on Chinese investment in the United States are likely as a response to Beijing using state funds and enterprises under the government’s control to purchase intellectual property here.
Trump in January hit the Chinese-dominated solar panel and cell industry with tariffs. Earlier this month, he launched global tariffs on steel and aluminum (from which Canada and Mexico were quickly given indefinite exemptions), a move China’s commerce ministry said it “strongly opposed.”
U.S. Trade Representative officials on Wednesday declined to specify what new actions will be taken, but they did not disagree that an announcement is expected as soon as Thursday.
“We’re getting very close,” said a USTR official speaking to reporters on condition of not being named. “The president will have the final say.”
Bracing for an anticipated harsh reaction from China, the official noted, “We recognize the potential gravity of the situation here.”
Depending on the severity of the measures taken by Trump, stock markets in Asia and elsewhere could be roiled, according to market analysts.
Trade groups representing American retail giants, such as Walmart, and tech companies, including Apple, warn that sweeping tariffs would raise prices for consumers in the United States and might not do much to reduce the trade deficit.
US Congress Races to Pass $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill
U.S. congressional leaders have reached a deal on a $1.3 trillion spending bill as a budget deadline looms.
Lawmakers now have until midnight Friday to approve it and prevent the year’s third government shutdown. Passage of the massive bipartisan effort seems certain.
The bill, which will keep the government funded until the end of September, has President Donald Trump’s support, the White House said in a statement released Wednesday.
“The president had a discussion with (House) Speaker (Paul) Ryan and (Senate) Leader (Mitch) McConnell, where they talked about their shared priorities secured in the omnibus spending bill,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Deadline late Friday
The bill will give Trump a huge budget increase for the military, including a 2.4 percent pay raise for military personnel.
It also will include a measure strengthening the federal background check system for gun purchases.
WATCH: Federal Budget Explainer
The “Fix NICS” measure would provide funding for states to comply with the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check system and penalize federal agencies that don’t comply.
It also will include money to improve school safety, including money for training school officials and law enforcement officers on how to identify signs of potential violence and intervene early, installing metal detectors and other steps to “harden” schools to prevent violence.
GOP aides said that Trump will win $1.6 billion for a wall and physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. But Trump would be denied a far larger $25 billion request for multiyear funding for the project.
To the Democrats’ disappointment, the bill makes no mention of protections for so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
No insurer subsidies
It also won’t provide subsidies to health care insurers who cut costs for low-earning customers. And it won’t have federal payments for carriers to help them afford to cover their costliest clients.
Both parties touted the $4.6 billion in total funding to fight the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic and a record $3 billion increase for medical research at the National Institutes of Health.
The House is expected to vote on the bill by Thursday, followed quickly by the Senate, to meet Friday’s midnight deadline.
Nestle Provides Lifeline for Struggling Kenyan Coffee Farmers
When Nestle executive Stephan Canz attended the German school in Nairobi in the early 1980s, it was surrounded by lush coffee farms.
Today, the trees have long since been uprooted and replaced by a shopping mall and upmarket homes, driving a sharp drop in
production of Kenya’s premium beans.
“The coffee has disappeared,” said Canz, who co-manages Swiss-based Nestle’s partnerships with coffee farmers globally. “You have to go almost to the slopes of Mount Kenya to find coffee.”
Kenya accounts for just 1 percent of the global crop, but its high-quality arabica beans are sought-after for blending with other varieties.
Alarmed by a steep drop in the country’s production, Nestle, which buys 10 percent of the world’s coffee and has the leading packaged coffee business, is working with farmers to guarantee its supplies.
In a $1 million project, begun in 2010, it says it is boosting bean production and quality.
Mary Wanja, with 350 coffee trees on her plot in rural Kirinyaga at the foot of Mount Kenya, is one of more than 40,000 of Kenya’s 600,000 coffee farmers participating in the project.
She harvested 1,200 kg of coffee last year, double the previous year, and saw her annual earnings rise to 100 shillings ($0.99) per kg, from 70 shillings.
“We are planting more trees so we can harvest more,” she said, standing amid newly planted seedlings provided by the Nestle project, which she joined three years ago.
Since Kenya’s production peaked at 129,000 tonnes in 1988/89 it has dropped steadily due to poor management and global price swings. Farmers have switched crops or sold their land.
Nestle, which is counting on growth in its coffee business as it overhauls its business to improve performance, works with a local milling and marketing company, Coffee Management Services (CMS), to train farmers regularly on fertilizer application, pest and disease control. It provides seedlings for farmers wishing to plant more.
“People didn’t know how and when to apply fertilizer properly. Nestle has taught us a lot,” said William Njeru, a farmer who harvested 7,600 kg last year, up from around 1,200 kg a year before he joined the project five years ago.
“If we can have other partners who are doing what Nestle is doing, the multiplier effect on productivity in Kenya can be very high,” said Peter Kimata, deputy head of Nestle’s partner CMS.
A half hour drive up the road from his office sits an abandoned coffee factory with rusting machinery.
Farmer Moses Wachira says it was closed in 2013 after its management embezzled farmers’ money. That forced 500 farmers to start selling their coffee to brokers who offer lower prices.
“These problems are causing production to fall because nobody watches to ensure managers do not misappropriate farmers’ money,” said the white-bearded farmer.
Kenya’s harvest fell 12 percent in the 2016/17 season to 40,700 metric tonnes, according to government data.
Government efforts to revive the sector have faltered. Last year, a judge stopped the government from acting on the recommendations of an official report on ways to boost coffee production after farmers claimed they were not consulted.
Some Kenyan farmers will miss out on expanding the crop to meet 2-3 percent annual growth in global demand for coffee, according to Nestle, as consumers discover new ways of consuming coffee, including capsules and cold brews.
Demand for coffee is also growing locally.
In Kenya, cafe chain Java, owned by Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj, opened its first shop in 1999 and has grown to 68 retail outlets, as an emerging middle class and young professionals develop a taste for lattes and mocha.
“The coffee has to come from somewhere,” said Canz.
French Protests to Cause Widescale Train Disruption on Thursday
French commuters face major train service disruptions on Thursday due to an unexpectedly large walkout by railway workers angry at the government’s plans to shake up the state-owned and highly indebted SNCF rail company.
Labor unions said last week they would launch rolling strikes in early April, but France’s transport minister said many were planning to join a wider day of public service protests on Thursday, reducing rail services by 50 percent.
“There will ultimately be serious disruption tomorrow,” Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said.
Unions are on a collision course with the government over its plans for the biggest shake-up of SNCF (Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer) since the nationalization of the railways in the 1930s. Among the government’s plans are the trimming of benefits received by SNCF’s 260,000 employees and a cut in its 45 billion euro ($56 billion) debt.
The showdown was due to start with strikes two days a week over three months from April 3. It is shaping up as the biggest test of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency since the 40-year-old came to power last May on a promise of sweeping economic reforms.
Thursday’s stoppages are not part of the programmed rolling strikes. They are being organized to dovetail with a day of demonstrations by civil servants and public service employees opposed to plans to change the retirement system.
Minister Borne said the stoppages would halve regional rail services nationally and that high-speed TGV connections between major cities would be cut to 40 percent of normal levels.
Москаль заборонив носити балаклави під час масових заходів на Закарпатті
Голова Закарпатської облдержадміністрації Геннадій Москаль підписав розпорядження, яким заборонив учасникам масових акцій закривати обличчя балаклавами чи масками під час проведення масових заходів у області, йдеться в повідомленні на сайті ОДА.
«Це ненормальна ситуація, коли одні українці збираються на масові заходи й ховають свої обличчя від інших українців, прикриваючись при цьому патріотичними гаслами. Для справжніх патріотів немає жодного смислу ховати обличчя, це роблять хіба що злодії чи хулігани. Нормальні люди, тим більше патріоти, збираються на акції й проголошують свої лозунги з відкритими обличчями», – прокоментував своє рішення голова Закарпатської ОДА.
Документ, зокрема, рекомендує обласному управлінню поліції вжити додаткових заходів щодо захисту громадян під час проведення масових заходів і забезпечити недопущення участі в них осіб у балаклавах, шоломах або з використанням інших засобів маскування обличчя.
«З профілактичною метою міліції доручено ідентифікувати таких людей із подальшою перевіркою на причетність до скоєння злочинів», – йдеться в повідомленні.
Останніми днями в Ужгороді були посилені заходи безпеки через відзначення річниці створення Карпатської України. 17 березня представники націоналістичних організацій провели «Марш слави». Голова Нацполіції Сергій Князєв пізніше заявляв, що поліція Закарпаття не допустила «шовіністичних чи якихось інших хуліганських проявів» в ході цих заходів.
White House Defends Trumps Phone Call to Putin
The White House has defended U.S. President Donald Trump’s phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his election victory. The call early Tuesday coincided with the announcement by a Senate panel that a careful investigation showed Russia had meddled in the U.S. 2016 presidential election. Trump made no mention of the finding Tuesday but rather spoke of the need to meet with Putin to discuss important global issues. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.
Amid Political Turmoil, Republicans Warn Trump Not to Fire Mueller
Political turmoil continues to swirl around President Donald Trump. In recent days, Trump has stepped up his criticism of the Russia probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller. This comes in the wake of last week’s firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a congressional loss in Pennsylvania that could portend a Democratic wave in the November midterm elections. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
Activity by Violent Latino Gang MS 13 Rising Across US
When making a case for reinforcing the U.S. southern border, President Donald Trump sometimes points to MS-13, the violent Latino gang whose members include some undocumented immigrants as well as homegrown Americans. Some 40 states report rising activity by the gang, especially in poor Hispanic immigrant communities. Cristina Caicedo Smit reports.
Peter Peterson, Billionaire and Philanthropist, Dies at 91
Peter G. Peterson, a billionaire and business executive who became one of the most prominent voices to argue for entitlement reform and reducing the U.S. national debt, died of natural causes early Tuesday, his family said. He was 91.
Born in the small town of Kearney, Nebraska, to Greek immigrants, Peterson was CEO of two major U.S. companies and co-founded one of the world’s largest private-equity firms.
He was a national figure in business by the early 1960s, serving as chairman and CEO of Bell and Howell, one of the largest manufacturers of movie cameras at the time.
He left Bell and Howell to work for the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, eventually serving as secretary of commerce from 1972 to 1973.
He took over as chief executive of the investment bank Lehman Brothers in 1973 after leaving the Nixon administration. In 1985, he co-founded the private-equity firm Blackstone Group with Stephen Schwarzman.
“His intelligence, wit and vision made him an inspirational leader who brought people together from the White House to Wall Street,” his family said in a statement.
Blackstone went on to become one of biggest private-equity firms in the world, with $434 billion in assets under management at the end of last year. When the firm went public in 2007, Peterson’s stake in the company made him a billionaire. His wealth was estimated at $2 billion, according to Forbes Magazine.
Peterson dedicated the rest of his life to what he called “key fiscal challenges threatening America’s future,” donating $1 billion to create the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in 2007.
He never publicly endorsed the fiscal ideals of the Tea Party. However, his ideas did give him some common ground with them.
He long argued that the United States’ entitlement programs, principally Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, had to be restructured or benefits cut back to avoid bankrupting the government. Through his foundation, he disseminated his ideas among the public and politicians.
“The fact he was able to start a serious debate about the future of Social Security and other entitlement programs was a huge accomplishment,” said Fred Bergsten, founder of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who worked with Peterson in various capacities going back to the 1970s.
Peterson was not considered ideological when it came to dealing with Social Security and Medicare. A life-long Republican, he still believed that raising taxes should be considered as part of any major restructuring of the U.S. budget, Bergsten said.
The foundation quickly became a major voice on all budget-related matters, repeatedly quoted in national media outlets. In 2008, his organization helped bankroll the documentary “I.O.U.S.A,” with the goal of making the federal government’s ballooning national debt, then around $10 trillion, a central campaign issue.
“What is most significant is most of our challenges are not really being discussed,” Peterson told The Associated Press in 2008 when he created his foundation. “I’ve been a very lucky beneficiary of the American dream as the son of immigrants. And, the more I look at some of these problems, the more persuaded I am they will pose a serious threat to this country.”
Peterson is survived by his wife, Joan Ganz Cooney, who co-founded the Children’s Television Workshop, and children John Peterson, Jim Peterson, David Peterson, Holly Peterson and Michael Peterson, and nine grandchildren.
Egyptian Court Rules Uber, Careem Illegal; Appeal Expected
An Egyptian court on Tuesday ordered authorities to revoke the operating licenses of the Uber and Careem ride-hailing services and block their mobile apps and software.
The government and the companies are expected to appeal the administrative court verdict, which would prevent it from being implemented until a higher court weighs in.
The administrative court in Cairo ruled that it is illegal to use private vehicles as taxis.
Both companies provide smartphone applications that connect passengers with drivers who work as independent contractors.
In a brief statement posted on its Facebook account, Careem said it “hasn’t been notified officially to stop its operations” and was operating normally. There was no immediate comment from Uber.
Uber was founded in 2010 in San Francisco, and operates in more than 600 cities across the world. Careem was founded in 2012 in Dubai, and operates in 90 cities in the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey, and Pakistan.
The applications took off in Cairo, a city of 20 million people with near-constant traffic and little parking. The services have recently started offering rides on scooters and tuk-tuks, three-wheeled motorized vehicles that can sometimes squeeze through the gridlock.
The apps are especially popular among women, who face rampant sexual harassment in Egypt, including from some taxi drivers. Cairo’s taxi drivers are also notorious for tampering with their meters or pretending the meters are broken in order to charge higher rates.
In 2016, taxi drivers protested the ride-hailing apps. They have complained that Uber and Careem drivers have an unfair advantage because they do not have to pay the same taxes or fees, or follow the same licensing procedures.
У Львові стартував марафон «Напиши лист політв’язню Кремля»
У Львові у музеї «Територія терору» стартував марафон «Напиши лист політв’язню Кремля». Кілька десятків молодих людей відгукнулись на ініціативу і написали листи людям, які перебувають у російських в’язницях.
«Я хотів сказати – головне, що життя продовжується. Коли пишуть лист політв’язневі часто кажуть «тримайся, тримайся», а не говорять, що життя продовжується. Людина не повинна почуватись в’язнем, важливо, щоб вона розуміла, що її підтримують і чекають», – каже учасник марафону Ілля Смірнов.
Є кілька умов написання листа – російська мова, не розповідати про політику, війну і агресію, але своїми словами підтримати силу духа «бранця Кремля».
«Листи важливі, бо підтримують бойовий дух політв’язнів і несуть у собі простий меседж: вдома їх чекають, пам’ятають і стежать за їх долею. Бо листи – це теж зброя проти режиму в Росії. Наше завдання озвучити імена людей, які є бранцями Кремля і кожен, хто прийде зможе обрати, кому б він хотів написати лист», – говорить директор музею «Територія Терору» Ольга Гончар.
Марафон триватиме місяць і кожен охочий може прийти у музей, ознайомитись з історією кожного українського політв’язня, який перебуває за ґратами в Росії, і написати йому лист.
«Коли пишуть до в’язнів багато листів, то це зауважують, тоді політв’язня, як мінімум не будуть катувати», – наголосив Юрій Яценко, який був арештований спецслужбами Росії у 2014 році.
На сьогодні понад 60 громадяни України вважаються «бранцями Кремля».